Admittedly, when the girl started her journey into deciphering Namjoon’s message, she had originally pictured herself in a movie-montage setting. She’d be just like Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider movie. She’d figured out the message in no time.
It wasn’t till she actually sat and tried to figure it out did she remember some key differences between her and Lara Croft: Lara could read, write, and could face down rabid bears. Meanwhile, the girl could barely sound out the word “cup” without getting tripped up. She couldn’t even stand up to her bullies without getting overwhelmed, much less stand up to a bear.
It had taken all she had just to approach Astrid and her crew and look how great that turned out.
Before, the children her and kept it moving. Now, she constantly feels eyes drilling a hole through her back. Furthermore, it also seemed like every time she entered a room, all the children were giving her a wide berth of the room. She would think that they are secretly mocking her after the public-shaming she endured if not how sour their scents are every time she dares to give them direct eye contact. Almost like they are afraid of her.
Why? If anything, she’s probably the biggest coward there.
It isn’t long before the girl finally admits to herself that she needs help. At the rate she’s going, it would take months. She can’t wait that long.
But who would she ask? She doesn’t know personally know anybody that can read. Plus, she’s not too eager to share Namjoon’s message with anybody. Heck, she doesn’t wanna share Namjoon period.
Namjoon is a rare, exquisite flower that is strictly hers. Nobody else’s. They don’t deserve to be anywhere near him.
Well, neither does she if she deeps it…
Finally, a week after she discovered the note, the girl ultimately decides to see if Hobi can help her.
She knows that it’s a long shot. Hobi never publicly proclaimed if he could read or not. But, he’s the only person in this place that she trusts to help her. Also, he always knows the know about everything. He must’ve picked up some reading chops.
It’s just after one in the afternoon when the girl approaches Hobi. Having cataloged his refreshing pine scent into her brain, she has no trouble tracking him down.
She finds him outside, lounging in a massive oak tree. Since he perched himself on the highest branch possible, she has to crane her neck to see him. Except, instead of the chestnut-haired, lanky boy, she finds a breathtaking leopard gracefully hanging from the tree. His long, spotted tail swishing from side to side.
This is the first time the girl has seen Hobi in his animal form. If she was feeling more patient, she would take in the striking rosettes dotting his fur. Alas, the girl is on an impervious mission, that requires all of her attention.
“Hobi!” She calls out. His tail stops its rhythmic rocking. The leopard gazes down in her direction. Instead of the usual warm brown color they, his eyes are a pretty shade of cornflower blue. He chuffs out a greeting.
“Hobi, could you come down? I need your help with something.” The leopard does nothing but stares at her for a minute; as if he is contemplating her words. Then with no warning, he maneuvers his way down the tall oak. Unsurprisingly, he lands gracefully on his feet. He trots behind the tree. The girl assumes that’s where he left his clothes. The girl hears the loud exhale he makes from the brief metamorphosis from cat to boy.
He appears a second later, clothes somewhat askew due to him throwing them on in a hurry. He gives her his trademark heart-shaped beam.
“Hey, kid! Let it be known that Jung Hoseok is a man of his word!” He waves his arms in a dramatic gesture. “Got a gig coming up from a local supermarket. Nothing glamourous, mind you; just helping to sort the fresh fruits and vegetables from the rotted. I won’t lie: it’s a lot of work, especially for a little kid. But I know the owner wouldn’t an extra pair of hands and it’s easy to figure out. The bigger amount we sort, the higher the pay. You interested?”
Momentarily forgetting her purpose for seeking Hoseok, she can’t help but hop around in pure joy. “Sounds great! I promise I won’t let you down. I’ll do my best. Pinky swear!” She holds out her tiny pinky finger to confirm her vow.
Hoseok has to stop himself from clutching at his chest from the utter cuteness the girl is displaying. Struggling not to plant kisses all over her face, he diplomatically hooks his much longer pinky around hers.
“Then it’s a deal! We gotta be there at six, tomorrow morning.” The girl’s face nearly falls to the grassy Earth. She nearly has lost count of how many times her palm has been hit with a ruler because she overslept.
But she’d just have to suck it up and get used to it if she wanted to help Hobi.
Speaking of help…
“Oh! I nearly forgot! I was wondering if you could help me with something, Hobi. But you have to promise that you won’t tell anybody.”
Hoseok is taken aback by the sudden urgency in the girl’s voice.
He raises his eyebrow, “Okay?”
The girl takes a folded piece of blue paper out of her back pocket and gently unravels it to its original size. She hugs it to her chest with such tender care.
The girl firms her mouth up in what she hopes is a brave, resolute expression. Unfortunately for her, the fragile hope shining in her eyes has the opposite effect.
“Can you read?” she breathes. Now, both of Hoseok’s eyebrows raise. “I know enough to get by.” He doesn’t mention that he hasn’t read or written anything in months so he may be rusty. He doesn’t think that is what she needs to hear.
Her face brightens a fraction. “Oh good! It’s just that I was kinda wondering if you’d uh… if um…”
The girl is irritated with herself. Why can’t she just say it? It’s no big deal. It’s just a stupid note.
Except it isn’t just a stupid note. Not when Namjoon wrote it.
Especially when she knows that he wrote just for her. No one had ever made something just for her. And that makes it all the more precious. Heck, he even drew a picture for her, which she thinks is pretty darn good.
Just thinking about it makes her clutch the drawing a little closer to her scrawny little chest.
“You know I can’t read,” she reminds him with no short amount of self-loathing. “I was hoping that you could read this to me…” Her eyes dart in every direction except his eyes.
Hoseok shrugs. “Sure.” It seems to be important to the kid and besides, what harm could one little note do?
The girl feels her spine relax. She doesn’t know why she thought he would say no. It’s Hobi after all. Still, that doesn’t stop the didder in her hands as she passes the picture off to him.
Hoseok quickly scans the picture, taking in the motley drawing of the two children. The girl in the picture is recognizable enough, yellow eyes, and all. He can’t say he recognizes the boy. He’s memorized every face that comes and goes from the orphanage. Hoseok is pretty confident he would’ve remembered a boy with a shock of silver hair.
“Where did you meet this boy, sweets? I’ve never seen him around these parts.” The girl is rapidly losing patience as she’s eager to find out what Namjoon had written.
She stomps her foot and whines, “Hobi, c’mon!”
“Okay, okay!” He chortles. “I’m reading.” Coupled with the fact that it’s been a while since Hoseok has read anything and the sloppy handwriting that only a child could make, it understandably takes Hoseok a minute to decode the message.
It’s me, Namjoon! You know, the boy you met in the woods a while ago. I was hoping that we play together again. My big brother helped me download some really fun games on my phone that we could play. And maybe we could explore the forest together. It’ll be so much fun. It will be like a big adventure! Let’s meet again at the flower lady’s garden next Thursday afternoon, okay?
See you soon!
Hoseok frowns. Although he could discern from the letter that Namjoon was probably around the same age as the girl (the spelling errors), he hesitates to relay the message. He’s never seen this Namjoon around these parts and Hoseok doesn’t trust anything that he can’t see. He has come to care for the little girl and he doesn’t want her to be hurt; especially by no snot-nosed brat.
“So… what does it say?” Hoseok’s head snaps up at the girl’s hopeful tone. Her tiny fists are clenched up and she bites her lip, as though preparing for disappointment.
As it always does when it’s around the girl, Hoseok’s heart tightens.
Aside from Hoseok, the girl had no friends in this place. He’d lost count how many times he has spied the girl sitting by herself while watching other kids her age play and laugh with each other.
Always an outsider looking in.
Hoseok sighs in defeat. How could he deny her this?
As Hoseok reads the message out loud, he can’t deny that witnessing the sheer elation on the girl’s face quells some of his worries.
She begins to pace back and forth.
“Oh boy. Oooooooohhhhh boy! I’m gonna see him again! Can you believe it? What am I gonna wear? I only have one dress and it’ll take too long wash. Should I bring a board game? Or maybe I should…” Her pacing becomes more frantic as her thoughts begin to race. Hoseok is content to watch her freak out over her “date” when a thought occurs to him.
“Kid, when did you get that note?” The girl stops pacing long enough to glance at Hobi.
“Last week,” she confirms, “Why?”
“Namjoon said that he wanted to meet you a week from that time. Well, it’s been a week and today is Thursday and it’s…” He briefly looks at his beat-up iPhone 7 that he bought through an “anonymous” source, “1:27.”
The girl’s eyes widen as she realizes what Hobi is trying to say.
“Shoot!” She turns around, ready to dash to the forest.
“Hey! Don’t forget your picture.” Hobi hands it back to her.
The girl grins. “Thanks.”
“Be careful and have a good time.”
Hoseok watches her dart into the woods, wishing that his gut would quit churning.
Namjoon is nervous.
When he had come back to the florist’s shop on Monday and saw that his note was gone, he was ecstatic. Surely that meant that she found it and read it, right?
Since that time, he’s been antsy, impatiently waiting for Thursday to come. Maybe he could’ve done a better job of hiding his excitement/frustration. All through his lessons, he daydreamed about all the fun he and Eight could have together. His tutors, of course, scolded him for being distracted.
Namjoon didn’t care though. How could he when he knew that in just a few days, he was gonna see her.
For all the grandeur and the privilege of being in the royal bloodline of the most prestigious Wolf shifter clans, Namjoon is lonely.
Since his conceivement and birth were kept on a need-to-know basis to keep him safe from the threat of war, the number of people he was allowed to interact with was limited. It didn’t matter to Namjoon at first. He had his Eomma, Appa, and his Seokjin-Hyung.
They were his world. His paradise.
Then his parents were murdered, his Hyung was suddenly thrust into the role of king, and Namjoon’s tiny paradise crumbled underneath his feet and he’s been trying to stay afloat ever since.
Because Seokjin-Hyung wasn’t willing to take any chances with his little brother’s life, he limited the number of people who knew of Namjoon’s existence to his nanny, his tutors, advisors, any other personnel that was essential to the Kingdom.
Thanks to that tight circle, Namjoon has never interacted with children his age. It was too risky.
Namjoon is ashamed to admit that for a time, he resented his Hyung.
Since his parents were public figures and Namjoon isn’t, Seokjin had forbidden him to attend their funeral since the press was covering the event. During his Hyung’s coronation ceremony, he had had to watch the entire thing from the family room on the widescreen TV.
He had felt so… detached.
It didn’t help that Seokjin-Hyung seemed like he wasn’t even phased by their parent’s murder.
Every time Namjoon saw him, he was always shining his winning smile at him or someone else, laughing his infectious, high-pitched laugh, and cracking his ridiculous jokes. Coupled with that, he never had any time for Namjoon anymore.
Namjoon had begun to suspect that he was the only one that was truly grieving. Unspeakable thoughts began to plague his mind:
Seokjin-Hyung was secretly glad their parents were dead.
He was only pretending to love Eomma, Appa, and Namjoon so that he could be king with no problem.
He was enjoying the power.
Then one night, Namjoon’s eyes were opened to the cold reality.
He had snuck down to the kitchen to grab a popsicle from the freezer. Having completed his mission, he was running back to his room before one of the guards caught him when he heard something coming from his Appa’s office. He turned around and crept up to the door leading to his Appa’s study. Because his ears were already sharper than the average human’s, he was able to immediately recognize that someone was crying.
Despite him knowing that it was bad manners to spy, Namjoon couldn’t help himself.
As quietly as he could, he eased the door open.
At first, he didn’t see anything aside from his father’s massive, mahogany desk taking up almost the entirety of the room. It was when he turned his head to the corner of the room did he see his Hyung.
His proud, confident, cheerful, attention-grabbing Hyung was lying in a corner, curled up in a ball, sobbing. His shoulders were shaking from the force of his wails.
Seokjin-Hyung must’ve been able to sense his presence because he lifted his head and drilled his dark eyes through Namjoon.
Unlike Namjoon, Seokjin had acquired his dark hair and eyes from their father. He was handsome in that classic debonair way. His strong, masculine face had always attracted male and female attention from every corner of the world. On Twitter, he had fanbases dedicated to him. People wrote Y/N fanfictions about him.
But when he lifted his head, he didn’t look like what magazines called “A face carved by the Archangels”. His face and eyes were red and puffy, snot was coming down his nose. He sniffed and it was clear his sinuses were filled with snot at the moment.
“Ah, Namjoonie,” he rasped, “Don’t be scared, Hyung’s just having a moment.” He tried to smile, but the effect was ruined by the tears trickling down his face.
Namjoon’s red freezy-pop was melting as it dropped from his hand, but he didn’t even notice as he rushed over to his Hyung’s side. He wrapped his arms around him.
Namjoon will never forget the way his big brother sobbed into his arms. He kept moaning “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” into Namjoon’s ear. Namjoon didn’t know what to say to cure his Hyung’s anguish, so he just kept rubbing his back and fighting the stinging in his own eyes.
When Seokjin finally calmed down, he removed his face from Namjoon’s shoulder and looked him dead in the eye.
“I know I haven’t been around much and I’m sorry about that. You’re too young to be going through something like this. Hell,” he murmured, “I’m too young to be going through this. But Namjoonie,” Seokjin placed both of his hands on Namjoon’s shoulders. “Just because I’m busier than I used to be doesn't mean I have forgotten about you.”
“The truth is that you are the sole reason that I get out of bed and do my job. The throne, the media, keeping up appearances; it would mean nothing if I didn’t have you as my “why”. Because at the end of the day, all that really matters is that we’re together. And I promise you right now, we will be okay. It may feel like the sad days will never end, but the hurt will fade eventually. In the meantime, I will dedicate myself to being a better king than Appa was, and being a better Hyung to you.”
Seokjin then brought Namjoon into his arms and hugged him.
“We’ll get through this, Hyung promises you that.”
Now, keep in mind that Namjoon was only four years old. He didn’t understand a lot of what Seokjin was saying, but he recognized that his Hyung’s pain matched his. He was hurting just as bad. His Hyung was depending on him the same way Namjoon depended on him.
That confirmation was what Namjoon needed to release the tears he’d been holding in since he was told he couldn’t tell parents goodbye for the last time. He jumped into his Hyung’s arms and didn’t come out for a long time.
Seeing his Hyung so vulnerable melted Namjoon’s resentment away. Once his anger faded away, he began to see the chinks in Seokjin’s armor: the slight strain when he pasted on a smile for the cameras, the way he forced out a laugh around the royal officials.
He didn’t even have time to mourn their parents’ death because he also had to get ready to assume the throne. Namjoon could only imagine the doubts, panic, and stress his Hyung was under.
That was why he silently promised himself and his Hyung that he would do his best not to be a burden. He had to do his part too.
But he is awfully lonely.
She’s coming, he thinks to himself. She has to.
Although their afternoon together had been brief, Namjoon had never felt so free. He’d never talked to another kid before, much less the same age as he is.
Meeting Eight, with her sunflower-colored eyes, sweet scent, and outgoing personality was filling the gap inside Namjoon’s heart.
If he told her this, she’d probably never understand the pressure he faced and the depth of his loneliness.
It just a little after one when Namjoon decides that while he waits for Eight, he’s going to explore. If he’s lucky, maybe he can find another butterfly to add to his photo collection.
He wanders around aimlessly, trying not to stray too far from his starting point. He doesn’t want to repeat his mistake from last time.
Yet his resolve wavers when he smells something in the distance. There’s probably a flower patch somewhere around here. Sure, it probably isn’t a good idea to explore too deeply into the woods when Eight could come at any minute.
I’m a wolf, he reminds himself. This is a good opportunity to practice using his nose.
Because they are both wolf shifters, Namjoon and Seokjin were blessed with many attributes of the wolf, including a heightened sense of smell. Because Namjoon is still young, his senses would take some time to develop. Seokjin was always encouraging him to practice strengthen his five senses.
He takes off his jacket and wraps it around a tree branch. His scent is over his jacket and he could use that as a marker so that he won’t get lost.
He briefly considers peeing on it to mark the scent stronger but decides that might be taking things too far.
He closes his eyes and breathes in through his nose. He takes the pine of the trees, the fresh dung of some animal nearby, the earthiness of the grass and dirt and finally…
Namjoon grins and heads in the direction of the flowers.
He follows the sweet scent towards a grove with towering evergreens. Once he reaches the grove, he realizes that it isn’t a flower patch smelt, it was the evergreens.
Medium-sized, white flowers are growing on the trees and casting white petals onto the ground. Namjoon picks up one of the petals and observes the sturdy density of the petals. The syrupy scent of them is sweet, yet not overpowering like some flowers tend to be. He sticks a petal into his pocket for safekeeping.
He pulls his phone and snaps a few pictures of the evergreens, feeling like a true explorer. He couldn’t wait to tell Eight about his discovery.
No doubt she would be impressed with his findings. He visualizes the way her pretty eyes will light up when she smells how sweet the flower petal is.
A branch snapping behind him brings Namjoon out of his head.
Namjoon’s heartbeat quickens and he flushes with excitement. Eight!
Beaming, he turns around.
His ruddy cheeks drain of color and his tan complexion loses its definition.
The creature standing in front of him is most certainly not Eight.
The lynx in front of him shouldn’t be so intimidating: Namjoon’s taller and the lynx doesn’t look like he wants to take a chomp out of him.
If he wasn’t so scared, he might think that the lynx was kinda cute with its stubby tail and short tufts of black hair at the tips of its ears.
Namjoon’s whole body begins to tremble. He knows enough about the lynx to know to not be fooled by its fluffy and harmless persona.
He’s never encountered a wild animal before. The lynx gazes straight at the boy with unblinking hazel eyes. It cocks its head to the side as if sizing the boy up.
Poor Namjoon is on the verge of tears at this point. He can barely get enough air to pass through his lungs. He wants to run, but he pictures his legs giving out on him and the lynx attaching itself to Namjoon’s back for the killing blow.
Namjoon feels the first tear course down his cheek.
Trying to get around his inflating panic, he struggles to think. An opaque memory of a documentary comes to his mind. He can’t remember exactly what the documentary was about, but he does remember that the narrator advising the viewer to not run away if they encounter a wild animal. It would only encourage them to give chase.
Namjoon’s legs are this close to buckling and he’s starting to see black spots in his vision. He tries to swallow past the bitter bile in his throat.
Maybe if he slowly backs away from the creature, it won’t feel the need to take a chomp out of his neck.
But before he can even lift his feet, a figure burst out from the shrubs. And Namjoon’s senses are overcome by the glorious scent of candy apples and fresh-cut grass.
Eight doesn’t even give the lynx a second glance before she grabs Namjoon’s hand and yanks him out of the clearing, back into the woods.