The girl watches Hobi shrink from her vision. Then she falls back onto the itchy, soft earth, not caring about the dirt that is probably getting stuck in the tiny coils of her hair. She inhales deeply through her nose, allowing the various scents to assaulting her senses. The wind softly grazes her clothes.
It’s amazing how much better she feels. It’s no wonder Hobi is so respected at the orphanage. Not for the first time she wonders why he chose to latch onto her the way he did. He definitely didn’t gain any notoriety from being her friend, she knows that.
What did he see in her that made him wanna be around her? But then again, the same could be asked for Namjoon. Was he just so lonely he latched onto the first kid he saw?
The girl frowns at this. She doesn’t believe that Namjoon was that desperate. And besides, they had been friends for two years; wouldn’t someone desperate move along when they got tired of the same face?
No. Aside from her stupid mistake, her friendship with Namjoon was real. Her only wish is that she could see him again to explain why she did it and to say how sorry she is. But she doesn’t bet on it. If the roles were reversed, she wouldn’t want to see Namjoon again. In retrospect, Namjoon had handled her deception pretty well. She’d probably punch him in the face or scream until she lost her voice.
Or maybe she would crumble. She’ll never know now.
She stares up at the sky partially guarded by the swaying branches.
Although she and Namjoon did spend a lot of time playing together, there were plenty of quiet moments as well.
She recalls their reading lessons. Namjoon had brought all kinds of books: textbooks, pictures books, chapter books, and sometimes, three hundred to four hundred-page novels. In hindsight, maybe there could’ve been a little bit more structure to his lessons, but they muddled through.
She remembers one afternoon, a year after they met, Namjoon had been reading a poem, more of a limerick, to her. The poem, which was called “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly”, was something that Namjoon had guaranteed to make her laugh. And maybe on any other day, she would’ve. But she couldn’t get her mind off of what happened earlier that day.
She could never explain to Namjoon the pride she took out of learning new words being able to understand how they fit together in sentences. It gave her confidence that she never realized she could acquire.
And because of that boost of self-esteem, that where she had made her mistake.
About thirty or forty minutes earlier, she had just finished up her chores and was heading down the hallway that would lead her outside. She was meeting Namjoon and she didn’t want to be late. On her way, she heard some giggling coming from one of the adjacent rooms. Since there is a strict open-door policy during the daytime, the girl was able to peek her head.
A couple of teenage girls were hovering over one girl who was sitting on the bed with a magazine in her hands. Whatever they were looking at had the girls busting a gut. Intrigued, the girl ambled over to investigate.
Lucky for her, she didn’t have to get too close. The girl holding the magazine was laughing so violently the magazine jostled wildly. The page showed an advertisement of several unfairly beautiful young adults holding cans of what seemed to be Pepsi.
The girl frowned. “What’s so funny?” The girls’ laughter turned into shrieks when they finally registered that they weren’t alone. Once their shock wore, they all gave the girl one collective glare.
“What are you doing in here?” One of them, a human girl with shoulder-length, honey-blonde hair, demanded. The girl, undeterred (or at least trying to be), answered, “I heard you guys laughing and I wanted to see what all the… the hullabaloo was about.”
That was one of the many words she had learned from Namjoon’s reading lessons. He had been reading a picture book to her and the word “Hullabaloo” came up. The girl had liked it so much, she had adopted it into her vocabulary. No matter the situation, even for the absolute mundane, Hullabaloo made an appearance.
In truth, this was one of the rare times that the girl was using the word in the right context.
The girl smiled. She had felt very pleased with her colorful vocabulary and she was hoping that the word would inspire the girls to at least give a half-hearted chuckle.
No such luck. Mood dropping slightly, the girl straightened her shoulders and carried on.
“Well, what’s in the magazine that’s so funny?”
The girl holding the magazine, who had olive-toned skin, snapped it shut. “None of your business. Now get lost.” Any other time, the girl would’ve listened, thankful that it hadn’t been worse. But the girl was feeling stubborn that day. Perhaps it was because she was going to Namjoon later on that day, but she was feeling very much like Eight at that moment.
And Eight didn’t back down easily.
Before she knew what was happening, the girl nagged, “Oh c’mon! It’s got to be super funny for all you to be laughing so much. I just wanna see. Please?” For an extra kick, the girl even adopted the pout that she saw Namjoon usually had. Then again, it worked because Namjoon is really cute. She wasn’t confident if it worked for her but heck, she had to try. “Just one quick peek and I’ll be gone, I swear.”
“Even if we did show it to you,” the magazine girl sneered, “It’s not like you would understand what it meant anyway. It would require reading which we all know is beyond your capabilities.” The girls surrounding her laughed. Their screeches pierced the girl’s sensitive ears.
The girl’s face burned. Although it wasn’t talked about around her, the cafeteria incident still hadn’t left the minds of the children, even after a year had passed.
“I can read just fine!” The words came out before the girl had time to think about them. She was still learning and she still stumbled over big words. But Namjoon was always telling that she was getting better every time they read together and Namjoon had never lied to her before (unlike herself).
But it was too late to back down now. And in truth, the girl didn’t want to.
She had thought that her admission would stop them in their tracks, but if anything, their guffaws only grew louder.
“Right,” the magazine girl gasped in between chortles. “Because knowing your ABC’s counts as knowing how to read.” If their snickers got any louder, sooner or later the other kids would come to see what all of the racket was about.
The girl felt her heart thudding in her chest from the imminent threat of humiliation. She didn’t know if she could handle such unbridled hate again. Hobi might not be there to save her this time.
But she realized that she would rather save herself this time around.
“G-Gimme that magazine and I’ll prove to you!” She wished she hadn’t stammered but that couldn’t be helped. “I read it to you.”
Surprisingly enough, the girl abruptly stopped laughing. They all glanced at each other, having their own private conversation. Whatever was decided between them left bloodthirsty smiles on all of their faces. As if on cue, they all turned back to her, pleasant smiles on their pretty faces.
The girl was uneasy but not about to cower in the face of a challenge.
“Alright,” magazine girl purred. “Have at it then.” Feeling some of her confidence coming back, the girl reached for the magazine. But magazine girl pulled it back “Oh no, allow me.”
She flipped through the pages and finally settled on what the girl had believed to be the Pepsi ad page. Barely holding back her smirk, magazine girl closes the magazine, with her thumb as a temporary bookmark on the chosen page, and hands the magazine to the girl.
The girl took a deep breath and grasped the warm magazine, her thumb replacing magazine girl’s. Mentally reminding herself to just sound out the word if she didn’t automatically know it, she opened the magazine.
Fully expecting to be assaulted by the bright colors of the ad, the girl was brought up short by the bland, white backdrop of the page, only contrasted by the columns of tiny black words clumped together on the page.
Looking back at it afterward, the girl knew that it was just a viciously mean joke to them. They were never going to take her seriously. In another world, she would’ve slammed the magazine onto the ground and called out the girls’ mind games. She wouldn’t have taken their abuse. She would’ve been strong.
The reality was far less passionate and willful.
Her heart, which had already been beating pretty hard, was now trying to beat a hole in her chest and plop onto the wooden floor. She tried in vain to see what the first word on the article was. But how much reading could she do when she could barely hold onto the magazine?
Maybe she could’ve muddled her way through if she had focused, but she scared. They weren’t like the words she saw in Namjoon’s books, even if they didn’t have pictures in them. The girl had felt intimidated by Namjoon’s non-picture books words because they were easy to see and, eventually, read.
Plus, they had Namjoon’s peachy scent on every yellowed, crackly page. His scent always did calm her down.
The words she was seeing were so tiny and they were so many of them. How was she going to read all of that? Just the thought of being a failure after all of Namjoon’s hard work made her throat close up. How would she be able to face him? She dropped the magazine and her wobbly legs finally gave out.
Later on, she would be thankful that there her pulse was ringing in her ears. She didn’t hear the brays of laughter being rained down on her back as she ran/crawled out of the room.
“Eight?” She flinched. He had called her name several times before his voice finally filtered into her brain.
Dang it, she couldn’t even look at him without feeling ashamed.
Namjoon had been reading his poem, his tone losing ardor with every minute that he didn’t hear Eight. Ordinarily, Eight would’ve sat beside or behind him to get a good look at the pictures or the words. Strangely, she was sitting a few feet away from him, staring down at her hands.
“Eight, is something wrong?”
“N-No!” She gave him a grin that she hoped that he perceived as genuine. “Everything’s fine.”
“Are you sure,” Namjoon asked, his tone dubious. “You’ve been acting weird.”
“Namjoon,” she whined. “I’m fine, I really am.” She playfully shoves his shoulder, hoping that he would take a hint and leave it alone.
“Is it the book? You can be honest. It’s alright to say if you don’t like it. I got plenty of others.” The girl grimaced. It was becoming obvious that Namjoon was buying anything she was selling. He was going to keep at it until he got to the root of the problem.
Well, tough luck.
With a sudden burst of anger that she didn’t know she was carrying, the girl glared at him.
“Would you drop it, already? I told you I’m fine. Why would I tell you anyway? So you can prove how much better you are than me? So you can show off even more? I know you secretly get a kick out of seeing how stupid I am.” Namjoon’s sunny face fell like a house of cards. Hurt and confusion came off his body in waves.
Before the girl had the chance to say anything else, Namjoon dropped the book, stood up, and walked away into a nearby thicket.
When he was out of sight, it only took seconds before she collapsed in sobs. She curled up into a ball of misery and self-pity.
What was wrong with her? How could she say such mean things to Namjoon? Her best friend?
In all of the time that they knew each other, they had never seriously argued about anything. Everything about their relationship was so easy that it sometime scared the girl how compatible they were.
And she ruined it all with a few angry words. Worse part was that she didn’t even mean it. She was angry those girls for being purposefully mean, and she was mad at herself for not walking away and sparing herself the humiliation.
She knew Namjoon didn’t judge her for knowing how to read. She knew Namjoon admired her despite her illiteracy. He told her all the time how amazing he thought she was?
Now, because of her misplaced rage, she was gonna lose him. She really was stupid.
“I’m sorry,” she sobbed as she rocked back and forth. “I didn’t mean it.”
Over and over, she chanted her contrition, thinking that no one heard her. When something wet and rough licked her already damp cheek, she understandably shrieked.
Scooting backward, she rubbed her eyes. In front of her was a black wolf pup with big, silver eyes staring steadily at her.
Although this time, the pup was bigger than the last time she had seen him. Whereas his legs were once short and stubby, they were now becoming long and skinny. His muzzle was narrower, and his torso was leaner.
The girl didn’t say anything. She stared solemnly at the pup, letting him determine what happened next.
Once again, the pup licked teardrop stains off her face.
The girl couldn’t wait anymore. She choked out renewed sobs of remorse and carefully wrapped her arms around his neck.
She buried her face in his neck, basking in his calming scent, not a hint of negative emotion detected.
She truly did not deserve him.
“I’m so sorry, Namjoon. It won’t happen again.” He let out a muted whine. Somehow, the girl knew that meant that all was forgiven.
As much as the girl relished their shared moments of rambunctiousness, she looked forward to the lazy afternoons as well.
Sometimes, instead of talking and playing, Namjoon would shift into a wolf pup and the two of them would just spend the afternoon cuddling. He had gotten pretty good at knowing when the girl needed the silence. Never once did he complain. He was just naturally unselfish.
If she concentrates, she can still feel his soft fur brush against her cheek. His heartbeat thrumming a steady pace underneath her fingers. His soft scent lulling her into a hazy alternate universe.
The illusion is so strong, it nearly undoes her.
She can’t keep doing this to herself. She needs to do what Hobi said and move on. She made her bed and she had to lie in it.
And she promises herself that she will. But God, it won’t be an overnight thing. Especially since his scent is stuck in her head. She must be hallucinating because his scent, which had been faint just a few seconds ago, is getting stronger.
The girl groans and runs a hand down her face. What she needs to do is find Hobi and—
The girl goes still.
This has to be some cruel dream. There’s no way he’s here. He hates her. Why would he come back?
Unless he had forgiven her.
The idea seems so preposterous and yet she finds herself rising on shaky legs and no, she isn’t imagining it. Namjoon’s scent is getting stronger and it’s heading this way.
She can fix this. She can make this right.
All thoughts of following after Hobi oozing out of her mind, she stands on wobbly feet and follows the sound of Namjoon’s voice like a sailor being pulled in by a siren’s song.
Namjoon’s voice is lighting up that dark space within herself and it feels like she has wings as she scurries through the forest.
She’s getting her second chance with her Peach and this time; she will not screw it up.
I am here, Namjoon.
Namjoon isn’t entirely sure how he managed to get here.
All that he knows is that he needs to see her again. He has to.
He told his Hyung everything that had happened: getting lost in the woods to chase the Adonis Blue, how Eight had saved him twice, and how they fell apart.
To his credit, not once did his Hyung interrupt him during his retellings. He stared at with a pensive frown on his lips. Namjoon was bracing himself for the rage and punishment that was sure to follow.
“…and I haven’t seen her since,” he concluded. Seokjin-Hyung didn’t immediately answer. Namjoon didn’t offer up any follow-up, consciously aware that the ball was in his brother’s court.
“You were careful not to mention anything about your life at home?” All traces of his playful Hyung were gone. His eyes were flat, his back and shoulders straight, and his voice like granite.
King Seokjin waited for his reply with cool blackish-brown eyes.
Seeing made Namjoon’s back instinctively stiffen and he met his King’s gaze straight on.
“She has no inkling that you are related to me?”
“Do you plan on seeing this girl again?”
The questions were being snapped off in rapid succession so it took Namjoon momentarily off-guard when the King asked that question and he answered without really thinking about the ramifications of his answer.
But strangely enough, his response rings true throughout his entire body.
“Yes, sir, I do.”
The King’s eyes narrowed to slits and Namjoon felt his air briefly get stuck in his lungs. “You just sat here for the last ten minutes crying about how this girl lied to you about who she is. Now you want to break bread with this brat and act as if nothing ever happened? Why?”
Namjoon felt sweat dampen his back. The King was giving him no mercy and he knew that he had to think carefully about his next words. The King mercifully remained quiet as Namjoon thought up his response.
After taking a deep breath, he began.
“I know that Eight lied about a lot of things for a long time. But I thought about it a lot and I think that I’m not that different from her. Yeah, I didn’t lie like she did, but it’s not like I told her anything about who I am either. I am a little mad, I wanna know why she did it. Plus, I don’t she’s a bad person. She saved my life, Hyung. She’s still my best friend and I want to forgive her.”
Maybe his words weren’t what the King wanted to hear but Namjoon wouldn’t cower or recant his words.
Seokjin didn’t often use his King mask with his brother. But it was the only way he could think of to show Namjoon that he was dead serious.
Although he didn’t show it, he was proud of the way Namjoon stood his ground and didn’t get intimidated by his Kingly mask. Men four times Namjoon’s age recoiled when he stabs them with his icy glare. It took serious spine to look him head-on in the eye and not waver. Namjoon was already showing the markings of a King.
“Our family owns several properties out of the city.” Namjoon’s face went blank, blindsided by the abrupt change in topic.
“There is a lake house just outside the city. I sometimes go there to unwind. It’s got a game room, several widescreen TV’s, a pool, the fridge is always stocked, and there is plenty of wildlife.” The silver-haired boy just stared at him, not comprehending the meaning behind his words.
Finally, the King’s face softened and Namjoon was staring into the smiling face of his Hyung.
“I wouldn’t mind if you wanted to bring your little friend up there to play.” Namjoon’s jaw dropped and his eyes bugged out of his head. Then he leaped into his Hyung’s arms.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you, Hyung!”
“If what you said is true, then I owe this little girl my eternal gratitude for keeping you safe. This is the least I can do. Alright, alright! I get it, you’re happy,” Seokjin complained, but his squeaky peals of laughter were ruining the effect.
All too soon, he grabbed Namjoon by the shoulders and gently pulled him away from him.
“But before I can allow this, I have two conditions.” Namjoon fought the urge to roll his eyes and pout. He should’ve known it wouldn’t be that simple.
“One, you have to promise me that there will be no more sneaking off and putting yourself in danger.” Namjoon cringed but nodded his assent. “Two, if your friend is going to be at our lake house, I want Jimin and Taehyung to be there as well.”
Namjoon opened his mouth, ready to argue. Seokjin raised his hand, quelling any protest. “Jimin’s family has worked with ours for generations. I feel comfortable knowing that they were there.”
Namjoon grimaced. Recollections of what happened the last time Jimin and Eight got within breathing distance of each other filled his mind.
Yeah, he really didn’t want a repeat of that. But to get what he wanted; compromise was essential. Beggars can’t be choosy.
Seokjin smiled that smile that bunched up his cheeks. “Deal. Alright, Namjoonie, I gotta run to this meeting. I’ll see you at dinner.” Pecking his forehead, Seokjin rose from Namjoon’s bed and headed to the door.
Spurred on by impulse, Namjoon blurted, “Hyung?”
Seokjin stopped, hand on the knob. “Yes, sweetheart?”
Namjoon bit his lip. Should he be asking this so soon? Even after his Hyung had already been so lenient.
“Could we go to the lake house today?”
Namjoon is still surprised that his Hyung said yes, but that might have to do with him being in a hurry.
It doesn’t matter either way. He is going to find Eight and they’re going to work this out. Everything will go back to the way it used. Nothing had to truly chan—
“Joon-ah, wait up!”
Namjoon sighs. The dual scents of cherry blossoms and strawberries assault his senses as he waits for his companions to match his long-legged stride.
Ok, maybe not everything will go back to normal. But it was either this or have ten guards surrounding him. He briefly considered the latter option because he isn’t sure what Eight will do when she sees the duo.
She might leave Taehyung alone but he observed the murder in her eyes when she saw Jimin and vice versa. He still hasn’t worked out a plan on how he is going to keep those two in their separate corners, but he can put those problems on the back burner for now.
First things first, find Eight.
It’s Thursday, one of their days. It’s a longshot to hope that she will come but it couldn’t hurt to try. Plus, if that doesn’t, he’ll have Taehyung tell him where the orphanage is.
Namjoon smirks. This some evil genius-level thinking he doing here. But now’s not the time to revel in his intelligence. There is plenty of time to do that later.
“Eight!” Not only does he call her name, he inhales a deep gust of through his nostrils. He smells everything except Eight’s sharply sweet aroma.
Undeterred, he tries again. And again.
When he lets out another booming shout, he feels a cold hand grasp his arm. “Namjoon-ah, I think we should go back. She’s not here and your shouting is not going to magically produce her from thin air.”
Namjoon feels Jimin’s skepticism prick minuscular holes into his optimistic balloon. Maybe it would be smarter just to forget about her and end this chapter of his life.
But what kind of friend would he be if he gave up so easily?
With an amount of patience that he doesn’t know how he possessed; he shrugs Jimin’s hand from his arm. When he turns around, he tries his best to contort his face so that it mirrors his Hyung’s “king” face. While his eyes give the illusion of tranquility, his feverishly-bright, rain-colored eyes tell a different story.
“I’m going to find her whether you want me to or not.” Satisfied with Jimin’s momentary yet rare lapse of silence, Namjoon begins a tread towards the lake where he and Eight spent many lazy afternoons reading, playing, and cuddling together.
He can start there, he reasons, and if she’s not there then he’ll just—
“Hello?” Jimin grouses as he struggles to keep up with Namjoon’s gait. “You don’t know anything about this girl. Did you forget that she lied to you and made you look like an idiot? What makes you think that you can trust her? If you ask me, I think we should just turn an—”
“When I was six-years-old, I was nearly eaten by a wild animal. Eight risked her life to save me. She could’ve died right along with me but that didn’t stop her. That is who she is. That is who my best friend is.” Not once did Namjoon turn his head to glance at Jimin’s flushed face. All of his attention is zeroed in on finding Eight.
Not one to be dismissed, Jimin once again opens his mouth to jibe about something else when he finally registers something.
“Namjoon, Taehyung’s not here.” Namjoon fights the compulsion to send his eyes’ gaze toward the heavens. “Jimin…”
“No, I’m serious. He’s not here.”
“That’s impossible, he’s right behind…” He pivots around to prove his point only to discover that Taehyung is indeed missing. Even his ripe strawberry scent is becoming hard to distinguish.
Namjoon is swiftly losing the war against his impatience, but he tries not to show Jimin, who appears to be on the verge of hysteria.
“Jimin,” he prompts soberly. The older boy levels scared, wet in his direction. “Does he do this often? Wandering off?”
“Um,” Jimin closes his eyes, fighting for control. After wiping away a stray tear, he reopens his eyes, expression serious. “Y-Yeah. He gets easily distracted and sometimes just disappears without telling anyone where he went.”
“Okay,” Namjoon breathes, trying not to panic himself. He can do this. He and Eight have explored the forest a million times before. “His scent is still lingering around here so he couldn’t have gotten too far. I know the ins and outs of the forest; I can guide us through it. But I’m going to need your help. You know Taehyung’s scent better than I do. You’ll be able to pick on his trail better than I will.”
“Okay. I’ll do my best.”
“Hey,” Namjoon squeezes his hand. “We’ll find him.” Namjoon’s hand feels so warm in his own that Jimin can’t help but blush. Luckily, Namjoon is too focused to pay attention to Jimin’s pinking cheeks.
The children head into the general direction of where Taehyung’s scent meandered off to. After a few twists and turns and a couple of frustration-filled huffs, the children subsequently find Taehyung in a dwarf-sized clearing surrounded by pine trees. Taehyung is crouched down and something has obviously caught his eye.
“Taehyung!” Jimin surges to his spot. He wraps him up in a bone-crushing hug. “I was so worried about you!” While Jimin is busy fussing over a struggling Taehyung, Namjoon takes his surroundings, noting the familiar sweet syrupy fragrance wafting from the trees. He lets his travel upward and gapes when the medium-sized, papery-white flowers emerging from the leaves.
This is the same clearing where Namjoon encountered the lynx all those years ago. Suddenly, it’s two years ago and Namjoon is staring into the empty of the beast that wants to devour him. He can still the brush of its claws on the back of his t-shirt.
Shaking his head, Namjoon endeavors to bring himself to the present. It was years ago, he reminds himself, the lynx is long gone. Everything would be fine.
“I’m sorry Jimin-ah.” Taehyung’s soft voice trickles into Namjoon’s consciousness and breaks out of his stupor. “I wasn’t trying to lose you guys. But I heard this little guy crying and I just had to see if he was hurt. I mean, look at him, Jiminie. Doesn’t he look helpless?”
“Well, I don’t about helpless, but he is very cute.” Jimin coos at the unidentified “little guy”.
Intrigued, Namjoon takes his eyes off the trees and onto whatever caught his acquaintances’ eye. Now that they got Taehyung back, they get back to their primary mission. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t hurt to just take a cursory glance at Taehyung’s…
No, no, no, no!
When Taehyung described the animal as a “little guy”, Namjoon was thinking in the ballpark of a rabbit, a kitten, or, heck, even a baby skunk would’ve sufficed.
What graces Namjoon’s eyes is none of those animals. Instead, laying curled up in a tightly-wrapped ball is a creature with black fur covering its entire body. Its ears are the color of brownish-gold, a cute pink snout, and a short black tail.
A black bear cub.
And when a baby bear is usually by itself…
“Guys, we need to leave. Now.” He strives to keep his voice near-mute but his frenzied heartbeat reminds him of the proximate precariousness of their situation which raises his voice to a whisper-yell.
“Why? It’s not like there’s anything that can—”
“Jimin. Please we have to go. Let’s just leave it alone. We don’t want to startle it.” Namjoon tugs on his arm, head swiveling to survey if something is coming.
Jimin rolls his eyes. “Joon-ah, come on. What’s the worse that he can do? He just a cu— Taehyung? What…”
You’d think Namjoon would’ve learned his lesson the first time around to not take his eyes off of Kim Taehyung. Too late, Namjoon turns to see Taehyung tenderly stroke the bear cub on the head. It stirs and mews at the contact.
Namjoon storms over and yanks him back by the wrist. “You idiot!” he growls, losing all semblance of patience. “I said leave it alone. Can’t you do anything right?” Taehyung’s eyes fill up with tears at the harsh words.
“Stop it!” Jimin steps in between Namjoon and Taehyung. His glower could stop a human heart. “The only reason why we’re out here in the first place is because of you.” He pokes Namjoon squarely in the chest. “You don’t care about us; all you care about is your precious little liar.”
Letting out a snarl more wolf than human, Namjoon flings Jimin’s finger off of his chest. “You’re right, I don’t care about you two! I didn’t even want you to come. I could’ve found Eight a lot sooner if I didn’t have to worry about Taehyung running away like a little brat!” A small part of Namjoon’s knows that half the words he is spewing are a result of his frustration and fear. But he is not about to apologize. Not now anyway.
“That’s funny because the only brat I see around here is yo—”
The deafening wail punctures through the bickering. Jimin and Taehyung are frozen in confusion and anxiety, while Namjoon struggles to get feeling back into his numb legs
If Namjoon wasn’t so terrified, he would kick himself for losing his cool the way he did. But all he can do is be paralyzed by horror and fascination as the cub continues to bay out its distress.
It’s the thick, earthy, bloodthirsty scent odor that sends his mind back into overdrive. He snatches the motionless two boys by their wrists and drags them away from the bear cub. “Quick,” he rasps out, “we have to be quick! It’s coming, it’ll be here soon. Let’s go before…”
Taehyung’s whimper is his first clue. The blanching of Jimin’s usually ruddy cheeks is the second. The hot, fish-rotted, breath on his neck is the third.
Namjoon almost persuades himself that this is a bad dream that he can wake up from. He almost doesn’t turn around to face what he knows to be the stuff of nightmares. When he does turn around, he almost convinces himself that there isn’t an enormous black bear growling at him and showcasing her brown-stained canines and rage-filled, button eyes to him.
But when said bear stands up on her hind legs, towering over the three children like a vengeful beast god and lets out an almighty roar that rattles their bones, it’s suddenly not too hard to believe.
“RUN!” This time, Jimin and Taehyung don’t need to be told twice.
The children flee from the accursed clearing, the deranged Mama bear hot on their tails.
Namjoon is sure that his lungs will burst from how hard he is working them. He admittedly believes that he can outrun the savage beast. His wolf, coupled with the years he spent running through these woods, makes him slightly more confident about his chances of survival.
He doesn’t know if the same can be said about Jimin and Taehyung. He risks his sanity by turning his head a fraction to check on his companions. Thankfully, they are hot on his heels. But for how long?
Jimin looks like he can take of himself. He is almost right beside Namjoon as they continue to run. It’s Taehyung that concerns him. Taehyung is a wisp of a boy, that looks like he could be blown at any given time.
Even now, the poor boy’s cheeks are beet red, sweat pours down his caramel-coated face, and he is slowly lagging behind. Something needed to be done. Fast.
Namjoon makes his decision in that flash of time.
“I’ll distract it,” he says in a choked gasp. He pulls the boys so that they are in front of him.
“Go get help, I’ll keep her busy.”
“No! Namjoon, I—”
But Namjoon is already shifting.
The delicious pain surges through his body as his anatomy changes. Fabric tears, buttons pop, and seams are viciously torn as his new body emerges. It’s as familiar as his Hyung’s hugs.
Transformation complete, the wolf pup bravely charges toward the bear, hoping that she’ll more interested in him rather than the children he hopes are running away. Sure enough, when he barks at her, she gives an enraged snarl and gives chase.
He only prays that the calvary will come in time.
Seokjin is in a meeting discussing how to stretch the kingdom’s budget to increase employment in the poorer districts in Tuhan when his world implodes for the second time in his life.
Seokjin is giving his closing argument on how focusing their attention on the less privileged will ultimately reimburse the kingdom in the long when the young man in the black suit burst into the room. He is gasping for air as he steadies himself on the door frame. Two other men, equally dressed, rush behind him, their faces grim.
Seokjin, still in “King” mode, shows none of his irritation. “I would love to hear the reason why you three saw it fit to disrupt a meeting that could potentially cut the poverty rate in half. Please,” he sits back down in his chair. “I want to hear this.” The three men give audible gulps at the lack of emotion in their king’s voice.
“F-Forgive me, your majesty. The last t-thing I wanted was to disturb while you are conducting highly sensitive business. If the circumstances were different I—”
“Get on with it,” Seokjin lets the wolf deepen his voice slightly. He’s not an asshole by trade, but he is miffed. What could possibly be so important that his bodyguards felt the need to barge in his meeting?
The young man, a bull elephant shifter no less, squeaks like a mouse. “R-Right! Apologies, your majesty.” Taking a deep breath, the frazzled man starts again. “I just got off the phone with the Parks’ chauffeur. It seems that the young prince is in trouble, sir. The children ran into some trouble in the woods…”
The bodyguard barely got another word in edgewise before Seokjin’s smart, Tom Ford suit rips from his body, and standing in the wrecked suit is a savagely beautiful white wolf with sharp, white teeth. The government officials all step back in alarm. Seokjin didn’t make a habit of showing his wolf skin.
Seokjin couldn’t care less about what people thought about him at that moment. He cocks his head to the bodyguard and this time; the young man didn’t hesitate.
Even he was smart enough to know that was his King’s way of saying, Take me to him.
This is the end. It has to be the end.
Namjoon’s original plan was to lead the bear around the forest in a wild goose chase, hoping that she would eventually get tired and give up. He had been cocky in the fact that he knew the forest so well. Apparently, the bear knew familiar with the forest as well. Every time Namjoon believed that he had successfully eluded the manic creature, she always came out, claws bared.
Even with his wolf body giving him an extra boost, Namjoon is only eight-years-old. He couldn’t even feel his legs anymore as he ran aimlessly, the bear right on his haunches. He could feel that the end was near.
His last burst of adrenaline depleted, he collapsed. Even breathing felt like a chore at this point. He has to fight just to keep his eyes open. Worse still, the bear inches towards him. Sensing that his will is gone, the bear doesn’t go straight for the kill like Namjoon thought she would. No, this bear ambles, almost sashays, to her kill. The bear is basking in her victory and she wants to enjoy the spoils of her chase.
Namjoon can only pray that he passes out before she tears into him.
He hears the heavy pads of the bear’s feet as he shuts his eyes.
Maybe it won’t be so bad being dead, he consoles himself. He’ll see his Eomma and Appa again. And the hurt of losing them has never truly faded.
But what about Seokjin-Hyung? Who was going to look after him? Even though he’ll say it out loud, Namjoon knows how lonely he gets.
Eight, with her pretty eyes, amazing scent, and take-charge attitude.
He never got to see her; never got to say that he forgave her. He never had the chance to tell her that he…
An inhuman shriek punches a hole through Namjoon’s regrets. Before he can decipher what it is, the bear emits a thundering bellow and Namjoon feels her hovering presence disappear. Namjoon would open his eyes to who or what is his mystery savior but he’s too afraid that he’ll see the bear’s empty eyes staring into his.
So, he listens as the bear releases a series of growls, yelps, and shrieks while the thing attacking it continues to hiss at her.
It all becomes too much. Despite, his best efforts, Namjoon succumbs to oblivion.
He wakes up in his Hyung’s shaking arms.
Because he opens his eyes to darkness, he had thought it had been… y’know. But he soon realizes that his face is being mushed against a solid chest and recognizes his sharp mint scent.
He is alive.
After relishing in his apparent escape from death, he notices something: his Hyung, who he often thinks of as his hero, is crying. The side of his head is completely damp. As happy as Namjoon is that he is alive, his Hyung does tend to sweat profusely. Not to mention he is squeezing way too hard.
With great effort, he twists his shoulders to get his Hyung’s attention. “Hyung…” he wheezes. His throat is in serious need of some water.
The shaking pauses, and then is renewed with great force. “Namjoonie,” he sobs. He hasn’t seen his Hyung cry like this since that faithful night four years ago. And dang it if that doesn’t inspire tears of his own to rise.
The two brothers stay like that for a while, mutually satisfied to drown in each other’s tears.
Having got it out of his system, Namjoon pushes against Seokjin’s chest to survey his surroundings. He doesn’t recognize the tiny floral-scented bedroom.
“Mrs. Villanueva was gracious enough to let us use her room so that you could rest.” Villanueva? Who is that? Sensing Namjoon’s puzzlement, Seokjin-Hyung clarifies, “The florist.” Oh, so that’s her name.
Seokjin-Hyung sighs but it comes out more like a repressed sob. “God, Joon. You really know how to get my attention, don’t you? When I got the call that you… that you were…” He breaks off, pressing a hand to his eyes. Namjoon wants to say that everything is alright, that he’s fine now, but he doesn’t have the strength or want to give his brother falsehoods.
“I honestly don’t think I would’ve got there in time to save you. God, just the thought of you…” A few tears escape before his Hyung can stop them. “Thank God Jimin was there to protect you.” If Namjoon had been drinking something, he would’ve spitted it out or choked on it.
“Jimin saved me?”
“It was the damndest, I mean, darndest thing. When we tracked you down, that little boy was wrapped around you like Velcro. We had to physically remove him from you, he was hanging on so tight.” Seokjin-Hyung chuckles incredulously. “That little boy has a lot of courage.”
Namjoon hears what Seokjin is saying, but his gut is telling him something else. He just couldn’t wrap his head around it. Not to say that he thinks his Hyung is lying to him, but he just can’t see it.
Because right before he passed out, he is sure that he caught a faint whiff of…
“Is he here? Jimin, I mean.” Seokjin-Hyung blinks and then nods slowly. “Can I see him?” His Hyung grins. “Well, I’ll see what I can do, but it’s going to be hard considering that his father just declared that he won’t let him out of his sight.” He pulls his cellphone out of his pocket, dials, and talks to the other person on the line. Namjoon doesn’t listen, too caught up in his thoughts.
The answer on whether Jimin would come or not is answered only a few, short minutes later. The boy quietly enters the room. He bows deeply in front of the King and gives Namjoon a tentative smile. The boy’s face is dirty and his knees are wrapped in white bandages.
“Hyung, can I speak to Jimin?” He doesn’t say alone, but its implication is clear enough. Seokjin frowns but sighs. “I won’t be far if you need me. I’m practically right outside this door.”
Namjoon nods his head and Seokjin-Hyung gently untangles Namjoon from his lap onto the bed. When he leaves, the silence returns. Jimin hesitates before sitting on the bed next to Namjoon.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I’m fine.”
“Oh, good. That’s good.”
Yes, it’s uncomfortably quiet, but neither boy knows what to say at the moment. Namjoon decides just to come out with the question burning a hole through his tongue. “My Hyung tells me that you saved me. Is that true?”
Whatever Namjoon is expecting, it’s not the abrupt vehemence that enters his eyes and voice. “Well, of course, I saved you! You run off like an idiot to take on a bear that you most likely wouldn’t have been able to fend off and you expected me to do nothing? I told Taehyung to go get help and I ran back to come get you. I got the bear’s attention was able to lose it when I climbed up into the trees.” When Namjoon just stares at him, Jimin flushes. “What? I wasn’t about to leave my friend behind when he risked his life for me?”
Namjoon is floored. He hadn’t wanted to believe Jimin had saved partly because he couldn’t picture the boy willing to do something like this for someone he didn’t know too well.
Is it possible that he misjudged Jimin this entire time?
He’ll admit that part of the reason why he had been so hesitant to accept Jimin and Taehyung into his life was that he was afraid of the change it could trigger.
Maybe this is a sign. A sign that he needs to let go of the past and embrace something new.
And he can start with this.
“Thank you, Jimin.”
Park Jimin is a good boy.
He is an obedient son, a loyal best friend, and the best dongsaeng to ever live. Well, the last part was all according to his Hyung.
Jimin used to love and hate his Hyung. Hate, because he was everything Jimin knew that he could never be: Strong, brave, and smart. But his Hyung, bless him, made a point to always say, “Chim-Chim, you gotta stop being so hard on yourself. I guarantee when the time comes, you’ll see that you have more courage than you think you do.”
It’s that memory that propelled Jimin to do what he did.
Through nothing but divine intervention, Jimin and Taehyung made back to the florist’s house. They barely stepped onto the back porch, before Jimin was instructing Taehyung to call for help and running back into the forest.
Legs pumping, heart thumping, and mind thrumming with the plea “Don’t be dead, don’t be dead, don’t be dead,” Jimin pushed his heightened sense of smell to the limit. He’d never exercised his abilities to this level and had a hard time focusing on Namjoon and his surroundings. He fell more times than he could count and got small cuts on his hands and knees.
He briefly considered shifting into the leopard to cover more ground, but those thoughts vacate his head when he smelled Namjoon and the beast.
Hidden in the trees, Jimin watched as the bear crept closer to the wolf pup slumped against the tree Jimin was hiding in. It would’ve been so easy to jump down, in snow leopard form, and take the bear’s focus off of Namjoon. All he had to do was jump.
He wanted to. Oh, how he wanted to jump down in his snow leopard form and swipe that thing with his claws. He could hear the bear’s screech as it cradles its snout. The bear would realize that it was no match for Jimin and run away. Namjoon would wake up and see what Jimin had done, and see him for the hero he was.
Jimin would be what his Hyung always believed he could be.
But he couldn’t move. The claws, the teeth, and the menacing growl of the bear were shackles that demanded he stay attached to the tree, safe from its clutches.
Everything in him wanted to do something, but his hands and legs felt worthless in the face of a seven-hundred-pound bear that would surely eat him alive. He couldn’t do it.
I’m sorry, Namjoon, he thought as the bear neared him. Tears of horror and shame trickle down his face.
I’m sorry, Hyung.
But before he could look away from what he was sure to be a gruesome sight, a scream of pure animalistic rage cut through the hush of the forest. Forcing his gaze back, Jimin was just in time to watch as a small figure jumped onto the back of the bear and started clawing at its eyes.
Startled, the bear roars in pain as, whoever it is, continues to jab at its face. Jimin had thought that nothing would more terrifying than an angry bear, but this person with striking eyes the color of…
No. It couldn’t be. Not her, anyone but her.
But sure enough, it was the same girl that Jimin and Taehyung had exposed as a liar.
Jimin had been so sure that he had the girl (Eight, he remembered) pegged. He had been sure that she had been nothing more than a dirty thief who was looking to make a quick buck off of Namjoon. He had been furious by the obvious affection in Namjoon’s eyes and knew that he had to break them apart for the prince’s own good. Yes, the girl had cried, but they were the tears of a con artist. It’s not like she had genuine feelings.
Jimin’s perception of the girl was hard at war with what he was witnessing before his very eyes. Despite not having claws, wings, or visible signs of strength, the girl took the creature as if she were just as big and intimidating.
He watched as the girl wrapped her pudgy, long arms around the bear’s neck squeezed with all her might, nothing but grim determination on her face. She must’ve been stronger than she looked because the bear twisted its head, trying to wrench her off its back.
Suddenly, with no warning, the bear charged deeper into the forest, the girl locked on its back. Jimin listened to the snap of branches as the bear barreled through the woods.
After a moment of stillness, Jimin carefully climbed down the tree. First thing he did was check for Namjoon’s pulse. It was there, albeit a little erratic. He knew that he should stay with him until help arrived, but he wanted to see what had happened to the girl.
Admittedly, it’s counterproductive since he was so scared just a minute ago, but he wants to see what happened to the girl.
She did just save the prince.
After doing a final check on Namjoon, Jimin hurried after the girl and the bear’s tracks.
It wasn’t hard seeing as how the bear made its trail clear with the smash branches, pungent scent, and pawprints.
Jimin was being careful not to come too close, but it turned out that it wasn’t needed. When Jimin reached the end of the trail, the bear was gone, only leaving the girl.
What was left of her.
The stench of blood is so ripe in the air, Jimin had to breathe through his mouth so he wouldn’t be sick. When he laid eyes on the girl though, he feared might vomit anyway.
The girl was lying on her back. Her shirt ripped, exposing her belly, which was sliced open. Blood steadily pouring out. On closer examination, the half of the girl’s face was equally desecrated.
Four, long, thin yet deep claw lines were slashed on the left side of the girl’s forehead, coming all the way down to her chin. The area was already cresting over with dried blood. It didn’t look as if she was breathing.
The bear had literally chewed her up and spit her out. Jimin wasn’t even sure that she was alive. Against his better judgment, he risked getting closer to check for a pulse.
Right before his trembling hand reached her neck, her good eye snapped open and she jerked. Jumping back, Jimin felt like he just wet himself. After getting himself under control, he realized that she was mumbling something. Concentrating his hearing as his father taught, he listened.
“Peaches… peaches… peaches…” Over and over again, she chanted this word until she started coughing and blood filled her mouth.
Jimin remembered when he first saw the girl, that was what she had called Namjoon. Peaches.
Jimin didn’t like to admit when he was wrong. Mainly because he thought he was right about everything. But maybe, just maybe, he had been wrong about this girl.
That is who she is. That is who my best friend is.
Jimin understood in that instance what Namjoon had been trying to tell him. If she dared to save her friend at the cost of her own life, it spoke volumes about her character. The least Jimin could do was give her another chance at life.
He took a deep breath, prepared to call for help when something stopped him dead in his tracks. The girl was training her good eye at Jimin’s knees. He had skinned them on his trek to “save” Namjoon. The wounds were still fresh, evidence being the tiny droplets of blood trickling down his legs.
The girl’s eye followed the descent. Then she bared her reddened teeth in a hungry hiss.
Jimin had already seen the girl’s eyes do the unusual thing of turning from yellow to gold. But this…
He only saw this once before.
He can still remember clear as day watching the press conference on the television screen, hoping to see a glimpse of his brother. He had said that he would be there and that the cameras might catch him in action. Oh, how apt his prediction had been.
Because six-year-old Jimin was in the living room alone, nobody stopped him from watching the monster, who was aiming to shoot the King, shot his brother who had courageously stepped in front of the King to block the shot.
Jimin could watch helplessly as the bullet lodged itself inside his chest, creating a bloom of red on his uniform.
In the days to come, the news bulletin replayed the murder several times. Afterward, they were able to identify the assassin, who had shot himself in the head after he murdered the King, Queen, and Jimin’s brother. A picture of him was broadcasted on the top news’ stations.
If you asked Jimin what the monster looked like, he wouldn’t be able to tell. The only thing he remembered about the man was the way his pupils were dilated to the point where the black eclipsed the white of his eyes, making his eyes look completely black.
That was how Jimin learned how to identify vampires.
The girl’s eye is now black with hunger as she sought to move her broken body so that she could taste the blood on Jimin’s knees.
Jimin’s guilt was now replaced with deep-rooted disgust. In Jimin’s eyes, gone was the girl who had taken on a bear to save another, she was part of the race that killed his Hyung. She was just like the rest of the bloodthirsty monsters. She probably only saved Namjoon because she wanted to devour him herself.
Fists clenched, he wanted to kill her himself, but why should he get his hands dirty? Let the animals finish her off instead.
Later on, he came back to Namjoon’s side and curled around him, giving the illusion that he never left his prince’s side. And when everybody asked what happened, he told them that he saved Namjoon because honestly, he did.
If he had let everyone that that bloodsucker had done it, they would’ve been inviting the enemy into theirs, his, world.
So, in retrospect, he did save Namjoon. At least, that what he tries to tell himself as a minuscular smidge of guilt tries to worm its way into his heart.
Still, the question of what if she survives plagues him. So, after he leaves Namjoon in his room, he tells the King of how he was almost attacked by a rabid vampire in the woods while searching for Namjoon. He makes sure to be on the edge of tears so that it’s believable and the King doesn’t ask any further questions.
King Seokjin promises to send out a couple of his best men to take down the beast. After Jimin hugs him and tells him what a good king, the worried tumor clogging his mind evaporates.
His Hyung was right. He was brave. He just needed the right opportunity to show it.
In the span of only an hour, not only did he protect his prince, but his country as well. There’s no doubt in his mind that that girl would’ve killed the prince, destroying the delicate balance created.
Now that he has ensured that she’s dead everything will be as it should. And as an added bonus, everybody reveres him as a hero.
Park Jimin is a hero.
Well, whadda you know?
She can take on bears.
She didn’t win but that’s beside the point. All that matters is that Namjoon is safe. At least, she hopes he’s safe.
She guesses she’ll never know now.
Okay, she supposed this is the part where she supposed to be glad that if she has to die, she’s glad that it was something important or some type mess like that.
She guesses that it’s partly true, but overall, she’s terrified of dying. But when she heard the bear and the scent of rotting peaches, the telltale signal of Namjoon’s fear, the only thing she could focus on was Namjoon.
She hadn’t been thinking of anything else. In hindsight, maybe she should’ve had more self-preservation. But it’s too late for shoulda, coulda, woulda.
Hobi’s sweet smile, concerned eyes, and comforting pine scent fill her brain.
She wonders how long it’ll be before he realizes that she still hasn’t caught up yet.
She never thanked for all he did for her.
And Namjoon. She never thanked Namjoon for filling her days with endless wonder and possibility.
Come to think of it, did she ever tell him that she…
She can feel coming now. The creeping cloak of death. It won’t be long now.
But she’s scared. She’s so scared of dying alone.
To comfort herself as the cloak begins to muffle her, she thinks of things that made her happy in her short life:
Galaxies dancing in his eyes.
A wan smile tugs at her lips as she repeats the mantra in her mind.
Galaxies dancing in his eyes,
And then there’s nothing.
End of Part One