They’d been walking for weeks when they’d found Taemin. In woods these dense, with no supplies, a child never should have survived, unless they had just been abandoned there. They barely had enough to get by just the two of them, but neither of them even considered leaving the poor boy. And so their makeshift family grew by one.
“Here,” Minho offered his hand to Jinki to help him up the short escarpment that had formed in the woods. Constant hiking was tiring, but having a partner like Minho really took a load off his shoulders. It wasn’t that Jinki was a submissive beta that needed an alpha to lead him, it was just nice to have a partner. Especially one like Minho who never acted as if he was above him.
“Thanks,” Jinki replied as he grabbed Minho’s hand and was hoisted up. Taemin made a whining noise from the makeshift child sling strapped to Minho’s back and Jinki shifted his attention to the small omega.
“I’m sorry Taeminnie, I know you don’t like being stuck in there for so long but this part of the hike is too dangerous for you to walk on your own. The land will flatten out soon, don’t worry buddy,” Jinki soothed, stroking his thumb across the boy’s cheek. In response, Taemin simply huffed and turned away. Minho and Jinki shared a tired smile before continuing their march for another few hours, hoping and praying they at least found land suitable enough to set up camp for a while. It had been months since they’d last seen people at all, somehow surviving by hopping from caves to abandoned shelters and back to caves again, hunting and gathering as they went. They had almost lost all hope of finding a welcoming village for their rag-tag family.
“Jinki, look!” Minho exclaimed, pointing to the base of a nearby tree. He followed Minho’s gaze to find an abandoned woven basket. Their first sign of human life in months. He couldn’t help the laugh that bubbled up and out of him.
“We must be getting close to a village if they’re established enough to be crafting baskets,” Minho said with a smile. “This is our chance.”
They looked at each other with so much hope it was almost hard to look away. This was it. Their months of searching, of barely getting by, could finally come to an end.
“Come on, let’s keep moving,” Minho said as he turned the makeshift child sling around to his chest and lifted Taemin out and onto his feet. Immediately Taemin attempted to take off but Minho was prepared for his built up energy, scooping him up quickly before he actually got anywhere.
“Taemin, you have to stay close, okay? Here, hold my hand,” Minho instructed as he placed Taemin down again, quickly snatching his hand to keep him close. Taemin grumbled but held Minho’s hand back.
“Just a little longer,” Jinki told the child with a pat to his head.
“Ok,” Taemin pouted.
All the travelling had clearly taken its toll on him. Taemin didn’t speak much anymore, he was sad often, and he cried whenever one of them left his sight. He had no stability in his life from the constant travelling, all he had was them. They hoped this village would be just what Taemin needed to become a lively child again.
They set a brisk pace, considering the length of Taemin’s legs, in an attempt to reach the village before nightfall. Minho and Jinki kept their eyes peeled for any more signs of human life that could lead them to their destination. But something must have caught Taemin’s eye - or nose - while they were distracted as one moment he was next to them, and the next he had broken through the bushes in front of them.
“Taemin!” Minho shouted, immediately racing after the child.
Taemin almost lost them as he ducked under branches, rushing through the forest a way only someone his size could. He ran like a hound that had caught a scent, but what could he have smelt that they didn’t? It wasn’t until they had almost caught up to Taemin that they smelt it too. An omega. A person.
They ducked under the last set of branches and entered a clearing to see little Taemin hugging the legs of a startled, and incredibly beautiful, omega.
“Um, hello. Is this your child?” the omega asked, arm gently petting Taemin’s head, as he watched the two of them enter the clearing.
“Yes, I’m so sorry,” Minho said as he rushed forward to pull Taemin off the stranger. Minho grabbed under Taemin’s arms and started to lift him away, but Taemin just held on tighter and began to cry.
“I’m sorry, it’s been- well, we don’t really know how long it’s been since he last saw another omega. We found him alone in the woods a few months back and kind of took him in,” Minho explained.
“Oh, you poor thing,” the omega replied and picked up the little boy himself, letting him burrow into his neck. He stroked his back and hummed a short tune for the child. It took barely any time at all for Taemin to settle. Jinki felt drawn to him already. The omega looked up from the child and smiled.
“I’m Kibum,” he introduced with a slight bow.
“Minho. And this is Jinki,” Minho responded.
“Nice to meet you both. Do you belong to a village or are you wanderers?”
“Wanderers, currently,” Jinki said sadly, “we’ve been looking for a village for months, hoping to settle and build a home for Taemin.”
Kibum smiled and looked at the two of them for a while before glancing back down to Taemin, “I think I can help you with that.”
"Really?" Jinki said, hardly able to hold back all the emotions overtaking him. Hope, relief, and a slight feeling of hesitancy. Was Kibum actually going to help them? What if this was some sort of trap? All these months in the wilderness taught them to be cautious, but they couldn't turn away from this. This was their chance, they just had to put their trust in a stranger.
"I can't promise acceptance from the village leaders, but I can certainly take you to them," Kibum offered.
"Thank you, so much. We would be honoured to accompany you back to your village," Minho said politely, and Kibum just gave him a look of amusement at the sudden formality.
"Follow me," Kibum instructed, Taemin on one hip and his basket balanced on the other, as he turned and led the way through the woods.
Jinki and Minho shared a look before linking hands and following Kibum. As they walked, Jinki pondered what the village awaiting them would be like. His gaze fell on the omegas clothes: long flowing pants, simple sandals, and a fitted long-sleeved shirt. Not particularly practical, but pretty and comfortable. He wondered if his clothes were his choice or that of the village. He turned his attention to the basket next. Beautifully woven and filled with various herbs and spices, by the looks of it. Some medical, but some not. Was this village truly established and comfortable enough that they had time to weave beautiful baskets and cook flavourful meals? God Jinki missed cooking for people, trying new things and seeing the joy on people's faces when he made something especially delicious. He felt the familiar sting of tears in his eyes and he fought them down. This was not the place to cry.
He looked over to his partner beside him, wondering what he was thinking but unsure how to ask. Minho, however, had his eyes locked on Taemin and Kibum in front of them. He looked over and saw that Taemin had emerged from Kibum's neck, and was now chirping away over seemingly anything that came to his mind, Kibum nodding along and reacting at all the right points. It made him smile seeing Taemin so happy, and Kibum was so good with him. He supposed that there really was a special connection between omegas that didn't exist between other sub-genders.
He felt Minho squeeze his hand and he looked over to meet the alpha's eyes.
"Do you… do you think he could be the one?"
Jinki looked back to the omega in front of him. They barely knew him but he gave the impression of a kind and caring partner, not to mention he was absolutely beautiful. He watched as Kibum whispered something in Taemin's ear that made the boy burst into the most adorable giggles, before rubbing his face into Kibum's neck in an attempt to be scented. Taemin really seemed to like Kibum.
Jinki looked back at Minho with a smile, "I hope so."
Not long after, they began to see signs of civilization. Wooden ornaments hung from the trees and lined their path, symbols of peace, happiness, and family amongst them. The trees began to thin out and soon they found themselves at the edge of a small, but beautiful village.
Kibum turned to them, "I'll take you to the Alpha's house first."
As the pair were led through the village, they took their time observing their surroundings. The buildings were simple wooden cottages, but they looked so warm and welcoming in comparison to the caves they were used to. There wasn't a particularly large populace, but those that were out and about looked at them with kindness. Hesitant, sure, but not unwelcoming.
When they reached the building in the center of the village, Kibum stepped forward and knocked twice on the door.
"Alpha, I have returned from my gathering and I have brought a family of wanderers with me."
Footsteps were heard and then the door opened. The man behind the door was a tall, strong looking alpha, everything a head Alpha should be. But despite his clear power, he looked kind. Jinki's thoughts were confirmed when he spoke.
"I was wondering why you were being so formal all of a sudden, but I suppose we should be polite in front of our guests," he laughed and put a hand on Kibum’s back before turning his attention towards the two of them. "Welcome to our village, my name is Yunho. What brings you to our little corner of the woods?"
“Thank you, Alpha,” Minho said as the two of them bowed in greeting. “We are wanderers from the south, our villages were washed away during the Great Storm and we met while travelling the woods in search of civilizations that survived.”
“A tragic, yet common story, to be sure. I mourn the loss of your villages with you. We are no strangers to the devastation of the Great Storm, many of this village came seeking shelter the same as you do now. We were lucky that the worst of it missed us,” Yunho said softly. “Have you come looking to build a home here?”
“It would be an honour,” Minho replied, surprised at how quick things were moving.
“Then I will teach you who we are and what we stand for. Please join me for a late dinner,” Yunho turned to Kibum. “Could you fetch the others for dinner?”
Kibum bowed to his leader before passing a sleepy Taemin back to Jinki. He flashed a smile before scurrying off with his basket.
Yunho held the door, “Please, come in.”
Minho managed to feed Taemin a small snack before putting him to bed in the front room of the building, close enough to hear if he needed them but far enough that their dinner conversations shouldn’t disturb his sleep. By the time Jinki and Minho settled at the table for dinner, most of the group had arrived. They sat in silence while the rest made idle chit-chat while waiting for the remaining two guests. When they finally arrived and took their places, Yunho stood.
“Minho, Jinki, I would like to introduce you to everyone. First, I will reintroduce myself. My name is Yunho, I am the head Alpha of this village as well as one of the founding members. To my right is Taeyeon, alpha advisor and another founding member. To my left is Jungsoo, omega advisor and leader of our biggest group of wanderers to join at one time. The three of us work as a council to guide this village through any and all adversity. Aside from Taeyeon and myself, we have 3 other founding members of our village. There is Kibum, who you have already met, as well as Hyukjae and Donghae. The 5 of us belonged to a small, hunting village in the mountains prior to forming our own. My father was the head Alpha of the village, and, quite frankly, he was a monster. I wished to change our violent ways, but he was obsessed with ‘carrying on the ways of our founders.’ He refused to pass his title down to me, and without it, I knew I could not make the change I wished to see. The 5 of us left the village behind to build one we could be proud of,” Yunho’s face was stern, but his eyes were kind. “We accept wanderers from all over, but we must insist that you live by a code of non-violence. Our village was created as a safe haven from the violence of the world, to be a place that focuses on creation rather than destruction. If you are not able to live by our ways, you will be asked to leave. Do you understand?”
“Completely,” Minho responded and Jinki nodded.
Taeyeon and Jungsoo stood to match Yunho.
“Welcome to the village,” the two advisors said warmly.
“Let’s eat then!” Yunho announced.
The conversation was led primarily by Jungsoo as he seemed to ask them as many questions as he could think of. It would have been overwhelming if they weren’t so starved for human contact. Throughout the course of dinner, they learned that Alpha advisor Taeyeon was Kibum’s older sister, that Jungsoo’s village was also lost in the Great Storm, and that Hyukjae and Donghae were a pair of beta soulmates who had known each other since they were infants. As the topic of soulmates continued, the questions flipped to them once more.
“Wait, so you never met before despite being from neighbouring villages?” Donghae asked in disbelief. “Did you not feel some sort of pull like something was missing?”
Minho and Jinki glanced at each other, unsure of how to answer.
“Well, sure,” Minho said. “But we didn’t know we were missing something until we found it. Soulmates are not as common where we’re from.”
The idea of living without a soulmate seemed completely incomprehensible to Donghae, meanwhile Jungsoo simply said, “I think it’s wonderful you were able to find each other despite everything. Although, it is still strange to me to grow up without at least thinking about meeting your soulmate.”
“Actually, on the topic of soulmates, I was wondering if you could tell me… if it’s possible to have more than one,” Minho asked cautiously.
Across the table, Kibum and Yunho were deep in conversation, unaware of the question posed on the other side of the table. Taeyeon, however, seemed to be rather interested in their conversation.
Jungsoo hummed, “I believe so, but I would not say it is particularly common. Even less common is being lucky enough to find all your soulmates, if you truly do have multiple. Why? Do you believe you have more than one, Minho?”
Jinki spoke up, “Not just him, I feel it too. We believe we may have a shared third soulmate.”
“That’s incredible,” Jungsoo praised. “I truly wish you are able to find your shared soulmate.”
They both thanked him. Across the table, Taeyeon smiled.
“We tend to keep an empty house at all times in case of emergencies. In this case, it will become your new home so you do not have to bunk with anyone else while your house is being built.”
“Thank you so much, we are forever in your debt.” They bowed.
“Nonsense, this village is made for people like us. I hope it will feel like home for you all soon.”
“Good night, Minho, Jinki, and Taemin. If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to visit me in the village center,” Yunho told them. They thanked him for the millionth time that day before saying their goodbyes and entering their new home.