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Ten Years Ago

Eleven-year-old Kibum finds the puppy abandoned by the side of the road on his walk home from the bus stop. The little thing is tiny and scrawny and whimpering in pain as it tries to hide behind the post of a neighbor’s mailbox.

It whines in a terrified manner when Kibum bends down and scoops it up into his arms, little fuzzy paws flailing and ragged tail waving frantically about. 

“Shh,” Kibum coos, cradling it carefully to his chest. “It’s gonna be okay. I’m gonna take you home, and my mom will fix you. She fixes everything.”

The puppy just mewls like its world is ending and doesn’t stop the thin little noise the entire way home.

Once Kibum reaches his house, he runs straight into the kitchen without even stopping to take his school backpack off. His mother, sitting at the table and heavily involved in a stack of bills, looks up at him. 

“I found a puppy,” Kibum says breathlessly. “I think it’s hurt. Can you fix it?”

His mother sighs, then smiles. “I don’t know, sweetheart, but I guess we’ll see.” She holds out her arms. “Give it here and put your backpack away, then run and grab two of those plastic storage bins from the hall closet.”

Kibum nods feverishly as he transfers the squirming, unhappy puppy from his arms to his mother’s. Then he sprints from the kitchen, drops his backpack on the entryway floor and goes to see about the bins.

When he returns, his mother is sitting down again, gently petting the puppy in an attempt to soothe it. She directs Kibum to fill one of the bins partway with warm water and line the other one with soft towels.

“Is it gonna be okay?” Kibum demands. He watches her gently lower the shivering puppy into the bin filled with warm water. “It looks sick.”

“I don’t know,” his mother repeats. The puppy seems to like the water; it relaxes into it with a little huff of air and closes its eyes as Kibum’s mother gently rubs it down with a soft hand towel. “I’m not a vet, Kibum-ah. We’ll have to take it to a shelter later, and I’m sure they’ll take very good care of it there.”

“A shelter?” says Kibum, disappointed. He pouts. “I wanna keep it.”

“Your father’s allergic to things with fur,” his mother says. “You know we can’t keep a puppy for long, darling.” She sets the wet and fur-covered towel aside and picks up a dry one. “Push that other bin a little closer, would you?” 

Kibum dances back and forth on impatient feet as his mother lifts the puppy out of the bin and carefully dries it off. Once out of the warmth of the water, the puppy starts whimpering again, its paws twitching in distress.

“Maybe it’s hungry,” Kibum says anxiously. “Dogs eat meat, right? Can we give it some chicken?” 

“Puppies eat special food,” his mother says. She settles the puppy into the towel-lined bin, covering its small body with another soft towel so that only its little head is visible. “I’ll ask your father to pick some up on his way home from work. Until then, I think it’s probably safe to give it some water.”

“I’ll get some!” Kibum exclaims. He skids across the kitchen in search of a small bowl, which he quickly fills at the kitchen sink, standing on his tiptoes in order to be able to reach.

He walks slowly back to the table, careful not to spill any of the water. His mother takes the bowl from him and sets it down in the bin in front of the puppy. The puppy eyes the water suspiciously, before crawling forward a little and cautiously lapping at it.

“It’ll be okay, lil puppy,” Kibum whispers, peering intently at it. “Mom and I’ll take good care of you, I promise.”

~~~

His parents agree to let him keep the puppy for a week before they take it to a shelter, so long as he’s responsible about taking care of it. Kibum takes this responsibility very seriously. He helps his mother feed and brush the puppy and do everything necessary to take care of it. Each day after school, he runs home from the bus stop as quickly as he can, ready to pepper his mother with questions about whether or not the puppy is all right. 

The puppy- which Kibum doesn’t name because he doesn’t want to be any sadder than he already is about giving it up in a week- gets better by the day. It stops crying most of the time it’s awake and takes an interest in prowling everywhere on little puppy paws. It’s so cute that Kibum doesn’t even mind when it accidentally pees all over his bed sheets once or twice.

Kibum is secretly pleased that of all the people in his family, the puppy seems to like him the most. It tolerates his father with little disdainful sneezes, the same way his father tolerates the puppy by taking anti-allergy pills and sighing a lot. It likes his mother and lets her pet it and clean it and feed it, but it’s always Kibum the little thing runs to whenever it sees him, tail high and waving. 

Kibum takes a liking to sprawling on his bed to do his homework, the puppy curled up next to him, snoozing. Sometimes it will yawn in its sleep and nuzzle its head into Kibum’s armpit in a particularly jerky fashion, its entire body wiggling as it does so. It tickles and makes Kibum laugh and have fun even with doing math.

~~~

The day before they’re scheduled to take the puppy to a shelter, Kibum and his mother bring it out into their backyard to play. The puppy stays close to Kibum at first, warily refusing to go more than a few inches away from Kibum’s feet. After a while, it seems to realize that nothing out here will hurt it and so starts frolicking happily through the grass and mud.

At some point, the phone rings from within the house. Kibum’s mother goes inside to answer it, warning Kibum sternly not to open the backyard gate, lest the puppy run out and away.

The moment she vanishes out of sight, however, Kibum hears the gate lock click of its own accord and swing creakily open. He spins around to see what is happening, and nearly screams.

An enormous black dog- more of a wolf, really- prowls into the yard. The thing is nearly as tall as Kibum is and must weigh considerably more. It moves like a predator, graceful and confident and casual, tail swept straight back in a relaxed fashion. 

Kibum swallows, eyes wide with fear. He bends down, movements slow and stiff with terror, to collect his puppy, only to find that said puppy is no longer prancing at his feet, but running straight at the giant wolf-dog.

“Puppy, no!” Kibum cries, lunging forward after it.

He freezes in his tracks when the wolf- it has to be a wolf; Kibum’s never seen a dog that scary before- lifts its head, flattens its ears back and snarls at him.

This terrifying sight and sound doesn’t stop the puppy from bounding happily up to the wolf, however, tongue lolling playfully out of its mouth. The wolf eyes Kibum a moment longer, as if to ensure that he is continuing to stay where he is, then bends down to sniff the puppy.

Kibum trembles in place, absolutely certain he’s about to watch his little puppy get eaten by this monster of a wolf. 

The wolf doesn’t harm the puppy, however, even when the puppy licks at the wolf’s face and nips at its heavy jaw. The wolf makes a sound weirdly like a cat’s purr and licks the puppy back with enough force to send it rolling onto its back, barking gleefully as it lands in the mud. The puppy scrambles back to its feet almost immediately and winds its way around one of the wolf’s front legs, tail wagging frantically. The wolf just huffs and watches it, one ear still pricked watchfully in Kibum’s direction.

“Oh,” says Kibum softly, once it becomes apparent that the puppy is in no danger from the wolf. “I guess you must be its mom, huh? I took good care of it, I promise, wolf mama. I helped wash it and everything.”

The puppy pauses at the sound of Kibum’s voice. It takes a step in Kibum’s direction, then glances back at the large wolf, as if asking for permission. The wolf eyes Kibum for a moment with a surprisingly dubious expression for a wolf, then growls irritably and sits down with a grunt.

The puppy immediately sprints across the yard to Kibum, nearly tripping over its own paws once or twice on the way. Kibum kneels down and runs his hands all over the puppy, assuring himself that the little creature is in fact all right.

“I guess I have to let you go now, huh?” he says unhappily. “I’m glad you found your mom, lil puppy. I’m gonna miss you though.”

The puppy whines quietly and rubs its head against Kibum’s palm. Kibum swallows back an unexpected prickling of tears. Still, he knows that it would be very mean of him to keep the puppy from its mother for long.

“Okay,” he says finally, voice stuffy with sadness. “I guess this is good-bye. Please keep him safe, wolf mama, okay?”

The large wolf growls again, softer, at Kibum’s plea. It gets to its feet again and waits as the puppy plods back to it, head hung down as if it, too, is far from overjoyed at being separated from Kibum.

Then the wolf picks the puppy up by the scruff of the neck and walks out of the yard through the open gate, tail swishing calmly as they go. 

Kibum wipes his eyes dry with the back of one hand. Then he runs inside to tell his own mother what just happened.

~~~

Present Day

It probably hadn’t been the greatest idea to go out drinking by himself in one of the sketchiest areas of downtown, but hey, it’s not like this has been the greatest few months in terms of good decisions anyway. Kibum’s already fucked up his life enough as it is by failing a class, getting fired from his part-time job, having his girlfriend break up with him via fucking Facebook, and, oh yeah, giving himself the worst haircut in the history of haircuts. He’s pretty sure that one more less-than-fantastic decision on his part isn’t going to kill him.

Besides, it’s not like the girlfriend thing was entirely his fault. Lots of people get wasted at college parties and accidentally sleep with their girlfriend’s sister in their girlfriend’s roommate’s bed. Kibum can’t be the only one that’s happened to, right?

Yeah, sure. Kibum stuffs his hands resentfully into his pockets as he shuffles down a darkened alleyway he’s pretty sure is a shortcut back to the bus that takes him to his campus dorm. He’s mostly over the girlfriend thing anyway by now. They hadn’t been dating long, and it’s been three months since she’d broken up with him. He’s fine now, really. Except for maybe the whole failing a class thing and the getting fired thing and the fucking haircut

God, the haircut.

Kibum pauses in his ambling down said dark alleyway and pulls his iPhone out of his pocket. Maybe he should take a selca for future reference to cheer himself up. No matter what might happen to him in the future, it can’t possibly be as bad as the shitty situation he’s in right now- drunk as hell, staggering alone down some god-forsaken street downtown, contemplating all the ways he hates his life, with the bad haircut to doom all other haircuts adorning his head.

Yep, he definitely needs a selca to document this moment. Kibum turns the camera app on and stretches his arm out, smiling as sweetly as he can manage. There’s no point in looking completely terrible, after all, even if this is kinda rock bottom for him.

The moment before his finger can press the button to take the picture, however, a sudden deep snarl emanates from the other end of the alleyway. 

Kibum freezes and spins around. Then he fucking screams, because there is a pack of six or seven giant fucking wolves there, prowling forward with murderous intent.

“Nice doggies,” Kibum says weakly, fingers shaking as they clutch his iPhone tight. “Good little doggies.” He takes a slow, terrified step backwards. “I’m just gonna…go, okay?”

The lead wolf lets out a loud, vicious-sounding howl and sprints forward, straight at Kibum.

Kibum screams again and turns to run. He’s only vaguely aware of dropping his phone as he scrambles to flee, drunken limbs numb and not nearly as responsive as he would like them to be. He’s panting for breath by the time he gets to the end of the street, still screaming, utterly certain that any second now he’s going to be shredded by giant wolf claws. 

What a fucking great way to end this hell of a night. Why couldn’t he just have been mugged, like someone normal?

Kibum nearly trips over his own feet when something large and furry lunges past him out of the darkness. The sounds of snarling and barking behind him increase in volume severalfold. Kibum sneaks a look over his shoulder and spots another wolf, slightly smaller than the others, yowling loudly as it attacks them, blood and fur flying everywhere.

Kibum doesn’t wait around to see the outcome of the six-against-one giant wolf fight. He continues to run away, jogging desperately through the winding, narrow streets, becoming ever more utterly and completely lost. 

Eventually, he slows to a stop. He bends over, bracing his hands on his knees, and pants for breath. What the fuck is he supposed to do now? He doesn’t know where he is and doesn’t even have his phone’s GPS app to help him out.

Fucking great. Maybe he should just wander around, cross his fingers and hope he doesn’t run into another pack of hungry wolves mysteriously prowling around downtown Seoul. Since when were there wild wolves here, anyway? 

Just as he begins to drunkenly contemplate the possibility that the wolves are actually aliens from another dimension, something very large crashes into him and knocks him off his feet. 

“Ow!” Kibum yells as he hits the ground hard. “Ow, fuck, ow! What the-”

He bites his words off the moment one of the wolves calmly climbs on top of him and lays down, pinning him on his back to the filthy sidewalk. Kibum’s heart races with terror.

“Please don’t eat me,” he moans, shoving ineffectually at the wolf. Its fur, bloodstained though it is, is very surprisingly soft. “I’d taste terrible, I swear. I mean, that bar I went to isn’t exactly known for mixing the best drinks. Do you want to chew on meat that tastes like nasty cocktails? No? I didn’t think so.”

The wolf growls quietly at this rambling. Kibum promptly shuts up, though he can’t stop a high-pitched little mewl of fright from escaping his throat at the terrifying sound.

The wolf stretches its neck forward at this and nuzzles at the crook of Kibum’s shoulder and neck. Its massive body wriggles a little as it does so in a manner almost, but not quite, familiar. Kibum moans with fear again once he feels the rasp of the wolf’s tongue against his skin. 

“I’m serious,” he says, voice thin with terror. “I’d fucking taste awful. Please, please don’t eat me.”

The wolf makes a strange, purring sound and doesn’t stop licking him. The sensation isn’t as gross as Kibum would have expected it to be. Instead, it’s oddly soothing. Kibum soon finds himself relaxing, his eyes fluttering closed as the wolf continues to lick him and purr against him, vibrations rumbling through its chest. 

After a while, his fear seems a distant thing. Kibum smiles faintly and yawns, ready to fall comfortably asleep on the sidewalk, the wolf a warm, heavy weight pressing down on top of him.

The moment he yawns, the wolf climbs off of him. Kibum groans and opens his eyes again.

“Hey, wha…wait, come back!” 

The wolf trots a small distance away, then pauses, turning back to watch him with an expectant glint in its bright, dark eyes. Kibum fights past the dragging tiredness in his limbs and heaves himself to his feet.

“I didn’t mean that, you know,” he tells the wolf, mind clearing as the cold air hits him and makes him shiver. “You were just warm. But like, it’s cool, thank you for sitting on me, never mind that you probably concussed me and sprained my tailbone first. Go on, shoo. I’ll find my way back to somewhere somehow.” 

The wolf takes a few steps away, but backwards, head tilted pointedly to the side, as if it expects Kibum to follow.

“What, like you know where a bus stop is,” Kibum scoffs. He shivers again. “No thanks, dude.” 

The wolf doesn’t move, but it does open its mouth a little to let its tongue hang out, exposing two rows of very, very sharp teeth and fangs. It snarls, ears flicking back in a display clearly intended to be a threat.

“Okay, okay,” Kibum says weakly. “I get the point. If I don’t come with you, you eat me. I’m coming, I’m coming. Believe it or not, I don’t want to be wolf chow tonight.”

The wolf’s threatening behavior vanishes the moment Kibum starts to approach it. It barks happily, wags its tail, then turns and trots off down the sidewalk.

“I am so gonna die tonight,” Kibum mutters.

He follows the wolf anyway. 

~~~

The wolf takes fucking forever to get where it wants to go. By the time they arrive at a little door squashed between the openings to two shady businesses in the front of a very tall office complex, Kibum is about ready to fall over and pass out on the sidewalk.

The wolf mysteriously manages to work the lock on the door by nudging at it with its nose in a complicated fashion. The night has been so weird already that Kibum doesn’t even question this. He stumbles after the wolf into wherever the hell they are, ducking to get past the low doorframe.

The place seems to be a tiny little apartment. The entryway is a little alcove with a wall on the left side and a hall closet on the right. Straight ahead is a half-closed door which seems to lead to a bathroom. On the left side just before the bathroom is a small bedroom; on the right is a small living room. Straight in front of the bathroom, tucked behind the wall with the hall closet, is a little kitchen and eating area.

“Hello?” Kibum calls. He gropes along the wall to find the light switches, since it’s entirely dark otherwise. “Anyone home? Your dog brought me here.” 

No one answers him. After a quick check of all the rooms, Kibum discovers that this is because there is no one there, apart from him and the entirely too cheerful wolf.

“Okay,” Kibum mutters to himself. “This is fucking creepy.”

He yelps when the wolf brushes up against him, tail still wagging in a pleased fashion. Kibum sighs. Creepy this might be, but he’s drunk and exhausted and in no condition to figure out what the hell is going on.

“I’m gonna use your owner’s bathroom,” Kibum tells the wolf. “Then I’m gonna go sleep on their bed. If they mind, I’m blaming you.”

The wolf barks and grins at him in wolf-fashion, tongue lolling out of its mouth, along with a long string of drool.

“Ugh, gross,” says Kibum. He heads into the bathroom without bothering to close the door. It’s just him and the wolf, after all.

That done and his hands washed, Kibum stumbles into the bedroom. The room is crammed to the brink with stuff lying everywhere, including a good deal of dirty clothing. Kibum grimaces; whoever lives here is messy as fuck.

Still, unless he wants to go sleep on the cramped loveseat in the living room or a floor covered in wolf hair, it’s not like he has any better options on which to sleep.

Kibum gingerly tosses a pair of possibly worn boxers off the bed and climbs onto it. He’s asleep pretty much the moment his head hits the pillow, barely even registering the fact that the wolf has jumped onto the bed with him and curled up by his side.

~~~

He wakes the next morning with the hangover to top all hangovers and a wolf snoring loudly in his ear.

“Nnnghghh,” Kibum whimpers, rolling away from the source of the noise. “Oh God.”

He makes it out of the bed and into the bathroom just barely in time to throw up into the toilet. The wolf plods in at some point to sit next to him, poking its nose unhelpfully into Kibum’s armpit while he heaves his guts into the toilet bowl.

“Some help you are,” Kibum mutters once his insides have finally stopped trying to escape. He coughs, forces the nausea back down, and reaches out to flush the disgusting mess away. “Ugh, I feel so gross. You don’t suppose your owner has any spare toothbrushes lying around?”

The wolf’s ears perk up at this. It trots over to the cabinet beneath the sink and paws the door open. Kibum raises an eyebrow.

“Don’t tell me your owner’s trained you to find toothbrushes for unexpected guests,” he says disbelievingly. “Seriously, that’s just weird.”

The wolf barks. Kibum sighs.

“I’m coming, I’m coming.”

To his surprise, he does find a packet of new toothbrushes underneath the sink. Kibum fishes one out and makes liberal use of the mysterious apartment-owner’s toothpaste in an attempt to clean his mouth out. That done, he decides he needs a shower.

Unfortunately, he has less than no desire to put the clothes he’s currently wearing back on after he washes up. The things are filthy, stained with alcohol and sweat and wolf fur and whatever the hell else was on that sidewalk last night.

“I hope your owner’s okay with me borrowing some of his clothes,” Kibum tells the wolf as he rummages carefully through the bedroom dressers. “It’s either that, or they walk in on me smelling like a sewer.”

The wolf yips and jumps on the bed, where it proceeds to roll around like a five-year-old child, legs flailing in the air.

“I’ll take that as a sure, go ahead, borrow all the clothes,” Kibum decides. “Wow, look at me, I’m learning to speak wolf. Or giant dog. Or whatever the hell you are.”

The wolf just yelps happily and continues to flop around.

~~~

One shower later, Kibum is feeling much better and actually somewhat able to take on the world without throwing up and developing headaches at the slightest noise. He wanders into the kitchen and drinks a good amount of water, then attempts to find a phone.

However, there doesn’t seem to be a landline in the apartment. Kibum curses the day everyone decided to just have a cellphone and not bother with actual home phone service. 

In the end, he finds a Post-It note and a pen and writes a note for the owner of the apartment, explaining that he’d followed the person’s dog home and made use of the facilities and some items of clothing. Kibum leaves his own phone number, then remembers he lost his phone last night and crosses it out. He leaves his mother’s cell number instead, since it’s the only number he has memorized.

That done, Kibum sets the note on the kitchen table. His own clothes stuffed into a plastic garbage bag he’d found under the kitchen sink and slung over his shoulder, he heads toward the entryway. It’s time to go.

He doesn’t get any farther than the hall closet, however, before the wolf is suddenly in front of him, blocking the door and snarling menacingly.

“Whoa, whoa, hold on!” Kibum says, putting his free hand up, palm out, to calm the thing. “I’m just leaving, all right? I’m pretty sure your owner doesn’t want me to stick around forever, and I did leave my number for him so he can call me and arrange to get his clothes back. Okay?”

The wolf’s snarl deepens, its ears flattening back against its skull.

Jesus,” says Kibum exasperatedly. “Stop that! I can’t stay here forever, you stupid thing.”

The wolf lunges at him, jaws and fangs clicking together a bare inch from Kibum’s flesh. Kibum screams, drops the garbage bag, and stumbles backwards several steps. The wolf growls. Then it paces back to the front door and sits down in front of it, its intention clear.

“Fine,” Kibum cries, flinging up his hands in despair. “Whatever! I get it, I’m not allowed to leave. Fuck you, you- you- you kidnapping wolf!”

The wolf bares its teeth and considerable fangs at him. Kibum whimpers and despondently goes to set the garbage bag down somewhere where he won’t trip over it.

~~~

Once Kibum realizes that he’s essentially being held hostage here by the wolf, he decides that he really doesn’t care that much about the wolf’s owner’s sensibilities. This apartment is messy as fuck and if the mysterious owner doesn’t like Kibum cleaning it, then, well, he should make sure his fucking wolf doesn’t fucking kidnap people.

The wolf itself doesn’t seem to have a problem with Kibum going on a spiteful cleaning rampage. It follows him around, winding around his legs demanding to be petted and generally getting in the way of Kibum’s attempts to make the apartment less slovenly.

“I hate you,” Kibum informs it as he nearly trips over it for the fourteenth time. “You are so fucking annoying.”

The wolf just wags its tail.

Once Kibum has collected all the dirty clothing off the floor of the bedroom and stuffed it into a hamper, he decides he might as well do laundry. He also has his own clothes to wash, and he should probably clean the sheets he slept on last night as well.

There is very fortunately a stacked washer and dryer in a closet in the living room. Both machines are small, however, and it’s going to take Kibum forever to do all the laundry.

Well, whatever. It’s not like he has any plans today, besides sitting around and being a kidnap victim.

After he starts the washer for the first load, he goes through the living room and picks up in there. The wolf helps him as he stacks piles of paper in cabinets, tosses socks in the direction of the laundry closet and puts scraps of chip bags and candy wrappers in the trash can, where they belong.

“If you’re trying to win your way back into my heart, it’s not working,” Kibum informs the wolf when it fishes a hard-to-reach sock out from behind the loveseat. “Okay,” he concedes as the wolf trots over to deposit its prize with the rest of the socks. “Maybe it’s working a little.”

The wolf rumbles contentedly and sits down on top of the socks. Kibum sighs.

“C’mere and help me find a vacuum.”

~~~

Seven or so hours later, he finally finishes making the apartment look at least presentable. He flops down on the living room loveseat, the dryer humming in the background with its last load of laundry. The wolf jumps up on the seat next to him and sprawls all over him. Kibum scratches the underside of its jaw, and it thumps its tail with pleasure.

“I should eat something,” Kibum says reluctantly. It’s nice to finally sit, but his stomach has finally lost enough of the hangover queasiness to make eating seem an attractive option rather than another invitation to throw up.

The wolf wriggles on his lap, making that same odd, purring noise as it does so. Kibum doesn’t think he’s ever heard a wolf purr before. He didn’t think their anatomy could handle it. Purring is something only small cats do, isn’t it?

Or, no, wait. A scrap of memory, ten years distant, surfaces in his mind. There had been that one puppy he’d rescued when he’d been just a kid. He vaguely remembers his mother’s surprise when the little creature had, in fact, almost-kinda purred. He also remembers, although very, very faintly, that the larger wolf which had come to collect the puppy had also made that noise.

And that large wolf had resembled the animal purring in Kibum’s lap right now to a large extent.

Kibum frowns. He knows they can’t possibly be the same creature; that would be too much of a coincidence. Besides, his memory of the other wolf might be extremely blurry, but he does recall it being a lot more muscular than this wolf is, and black in color besides. This wolf’s coat is more of a very dark cinnamon shade.

What color had the puppy been? Kibum can’t remember. Something brown-ish, maybe? But this wolf can’t possibly be the same puppy he’d rescued all those years ago. That would just be too fucking weird to be true.

Maybe it’s the same breed of canine, though. That would make sense.

As if sensing that Kibum has fallen into deep thought, the wolf whines inquiringly and nips at the loose folds of Kibum’s borrowed overlarge T-shirt.

“Eh, whatever,” Kibum sighs. He shoves at the wolf in an attempt to remove it from his lap. “I need food, you useless lump. Get off me.”

The wolf rolls gracefully to the floor and emits a series of eager barks, probably at the word food.

“Yeah, I bet you’re hungry too,” Kibum agrees. He stands up and starts out towards the kitchen. “I didn’t see any dog food lying around, though. What do you eat? It better not be me.”

The wolf doesn’t even deign to respond to this.

Kibum’s explorations of the refrigerator and pantry reveal a selection of edible items that might have belonged to any overworked, clueless about cooking college student. There is a large collection of condiments (and at least three types of honey), but almost nothing to eat them with. Half the food in the fridge is nearing its expiration date. There is half a loaf of generic sandwich bread sitting out, the front piece stale. A quarter of a cucumber and a dozen cans of artichokes are the only vegetables to be seen.

“Your owner sucks at this whole life thing,” Kibum informs the wolf as he tries to figure out exactly what he can make with this nonsense. “They should pay me to clean up for them. I could cook, too. I do need the money, and I’m not bad at housekeeping.”

The wolf ignores him in favor of leaping at the freezer next to the fridge. Kibum hadn’t opened it before, afraid of what a full-size freezer was doing in an apartment like this, where wolves kidnapped people and held them hostage.

“Okay, okay,” Kibum says, shooing the wolf away from the freezer. “I’ll see what’s in there, stop hopping around, you irritating creature.”

The freezer proves to be full of meat. Raw meat. Kibum wrinkles his nose in disgust at the hunks of dead creatures shoved onto shelves in neatly carved pieces.

Well, at least now he knows what the wolf eats. Kibum finds a large baking tray in one of the cabinets, puts a significant chunk of meat on it and sets it on the counter.

“Stop that,” he orders the wolf when it rears up on its hind legs and places its front paws on the counter to stare hungrily at the meat. “I need to thaw it out first, unless you like chewing on rocks.”

The wolf whines and drools on the counter. Kibum heaves a sigh and preheats the oven, since the meat is too large to fit in the microwave. That ought to warm the stuff up faster.

“I don’t understand why you can’t just eat dog food,” he says, wiping the drool off the counter with a paper towel. “It would be so much easier.”

The wolf sits on his feet. Kibum rolls his eyes and scratches behind its ears with one hand.

“You’re oddly endearing,” he tells it, scrunching the paper up with his other hand and dropping it in the kitchen’s trash can. “For a kidnapping wolf, anyway.”

The wolf sinks its teeth into one leg of Kibum’s borrowed, baggy sweatpants. Kibum groans and hopes the wolf’s owner won’t mind if he gets holes in their pants from the wolf chewing on them.

~~~

He winds up eventually just eating toast with peanut butter while the wolf chows messily down on its warm hunk of meat. After they eat, Kibum does the dishes while the wolf goes and somehow manages to turn the bathtub tap on in order to wash its muzzle off. Kibum can’t help but to be impressed at how well trained it is. Its owner might not be any good at keeping house, but they certainly know how to look after their pet.

Except for the part where they just vanish and let said pet kidnap innocent strangers, but hey.

The apartment has neither a television nor a computer and only a meager supply of books. Kibum curls up on the loveseat with a copy of some classic novel. The book’s spine is so stiff that Kibum doubts it’s ever been opened, much less actually read.

The wolf stretches out on the floor at his feet and snoozes as he reads. The novel is incredibly boring, and Kibum soon finds himself dozing off as well.

“I give up,” he says eventually. “I don’t care how early it is; I’m going to bed.” It’s not like he has a schedule, anyway, being a kidnapping victim and all.

He goes to perform the necessary routines in the bathroom. The wolf is waiting for him on the bed when Kibum walks in, tail thumping eagerly on the freshly laundered blankets. Kibum yawns.

“Stop being cute,” he orders it. “I can’t deal.”

He crawls onto the bed and worms his way into the layers of sheets and blankets. The wolf proceeds to climb mostly on top of him again, its cold nose digging into Kibum’s ear.

Off,” Kibum demands, squirming around. “You’re fucking heavy.”

The wolf ignores him. It starts purring once more, a rhythmic rumbling shudder of its body against Kibum’s own. The sensation is strangely soothing. Before Kibum knows it, he’s relaxed and drifting off into sleep, the wolf licking possessively at the skin of his neck as dreams consume him.

~~~

The next two days prove to be very boring indeed. Kibum begins to regret that first day’s cleaning spree, because now there’s absolutely nothing to do. He briefly contemplates attempting to give the wolf a bath, remembers his ill-fated attempts to help wash his ex-girlfriend’s tiny and extremely vicious dachshund, and gives up on the idea of canine-cleaning almost immediately.

He instead spends his time alternately working through the apartment owner’s small collection of very boring books and telling his life story to the wolf. Neither of these activities is particularly enjoyable. Kibum doesn’t like reflecting on his life; it just reminds him of how badly he inevitably manages to screw everything up.

Really, he should stop making condescending comments about the apartment’s formerly messy state. At least whoever owns the place probably has a job and isn’t a complete disappointment to everyone they know, unlike a certain kidnapped university student.

The one good thing about being held hostage by a wolf is, well, the wolf. The animal is amenable to being petted and played with for Kibum’s entertainment. They play rousing games of fetch with balls of rolled-up socks and tug of war with a rolling pin from the kitchen. Kibum just hopes the wolf’s owner won’t mind the teeth marks on said rolling pin whenever they return from wherever the hell they are.

He’s beginning to doubt their virtue as a pet owner, however. If Kibum weren’t around, he doesn’t know how the hell the wolf would manage to feed itself. It’s not like a wolf can take meat out of a freezer and thaw it out to eat.

By the time Day Four rolls around, Kibum has become desperate enough to attempt making some sort of artichoke-and-mustard pasta which will probably taste terrible but at least be fun to cook. He resists the temptation to add some of the meat from the fridge to the dish, since he has no clue what kind of meat it even is. It might be human flesh for all he knows, and Kibum has less than no intentions of accidentally becoming a cannibal.

He’s rummaging around in the spice drawer looking for the salt when the doorbell rings.

The wolf, which had up until now been lazing around on the kitchen floor, sits up, ears pricked attentively towards the source of the sound. Kibum freezes, salt in hand.

“Is it your owner, wolf?” he asks in a whisper. “Are they home?”

The wolf whines softly and gets to its feet. Kibum watches it vanish around the wall cutting the kitchen off from the entryway. He takes a deep breath. Okay, then. He’s not sure whether he hopes more that the owner won’t mind what Kibum’s done to their apartment, or that they don’t turn out to be some sort of murdering cannibal.

Out of fear that it’s the second alternative, Kibum grabs a large kitchen knife and walks over to where the wall separating the kitchen from the entryway ends. He peers around the edge, watching as the wolf nudges at the door in the same complicated fashion it had done when letting itself and Kibum in.

The door swings open. Kibum sucks in a sharp breath and pulls his head back. He stands with his back to the wall, clutching the knife and breathing heavily.

“Hey, Taemin,” a deep, soft voice says from the entryway. The wolf yips happily. “Why are you…ow! Jesus, dude, don’t bite me!”

Taemin, Kibum thinks. That’s an odd name to give a dog. Or a wolf. Whatever.

The wolf starts barking, its nails clicking on the entryway tiles. Kibum can just imagine how it must be jumping around in excitement, like it does whenever Kibum feeds it.

“Okay, okay, slow down,” the mysterious man says. There’s a pause, then: “Hey, are you cooking something?”

Kibum rolls his eyes. No wonder the wolf has turned out so weirdly, if its owner talks to it as if it can actually do things like cook.

He takes a deep breath and swallows back his fear. The guy is going to find him eventually, and there’s no point in hiding forever. Kibum might as well make his presence known.

“No, that would be me,” he thus answers, stepping out from behind the wall with the knife pointed straight out in front of him. “Who are you? Why did you make your dog kidnap me?”

“I- what?” says the man. He’s a tall guy, skinny but broad-shouldered, with a mop of dark hair and very wide eyes. “What dog?”

“Uh,” says Kibum. He gestures with the knife. “That dog? The one that’s been keeping me here for the past three days?”

What?” says the man again. He’s staring at Kibum with a slack-jawed expression of utter shock. “Taemin, what the fuck is this?”

“Oh, sure,” Kibum says, a little hysterically. “Ask the dog.”

“I’m- he’s not-” The man stammers to a stop, then takes a breath. “Okay, look, I have as little idea what’s going on as you do, all right? You said Taemin brought you here?”

“If Taemin is your dog, then yeah. Knocked me over on the street a few nights ago and made me follow him here and won’t let me leave.” Kibum glowers. “You are a very bad pet owner, you know. If I hadn’t been here, how do you think your dog would have fed itself?”

The man’s mouth works soundlessly for a moment. Then he glares at the wolf.

“This is undoubtedly the worst idea you have ever had.”

“Fantastic,” says Kibum. He clutches the knife tighter. “I’m trapped in a tiny apartment with a kidnapping wolf and a man who thinks dogs can talk.”

One of the guy’s eyebrows twitches at the word wolf. The actual wolf whines hopefully and trots over to Kibum, nudging at his hip with its head. Kibum absently reaches down and scratches behind its ears, even as he continues to point the knife at the wolf’s owner.

The man heaves a sigh as he watches Kibum pet the wolf.

“Put the knife down,” he says wearily. “Taemin’s not my, er, dog, and I don’t have any intentions of hurting you.”

“Prove it,” Kibum challenges him. He waves the knife around in what he hopes is a threatening manner.

The man sighs again. Then, in a blur of movement almost too fast for Kibum’s eye to catch, he lunges forward and seizes Kibum, spinning him around and sending the knife flying. Kibum shrieks with terror, only to find his breath cut off when the man grabs him again and locks an arm tight around his throat to choke off his air.

The wolf growls, ears flattening back and lips curling to reveal all-too-sharp fangs. Kibum whimpers, terrified, certain he’s about to die at the hands of either this guy or his wolf any second now.

Instead, the man releases him and steps away.

“If I wanted to hurt you, I would,” he says, in a tone of voice that dares to be apologetic. “But I don’t want to.”

“Great,” Kibum wheezes, rubbing his throat and not quite over being scared to death. “Thanks a lot for that.”

The wolf bounds up to him and starts pawing anxiously at him. Kibum blinks, surprised. He wonders suddenly if the wolf’s reaction to its owner nearly strangling him wasn’t a trained reaction to someone the guy wanted to harm, but an attempt to protect Kibum.

And the guy had said he didn’t own the wolf. Add another point to Kibum’s massive confusion about everything ever.

“I’m okay, wolf,” Kibum reassures the wolf, petting its massive head again. “Your scary friend didn’t hurt me too badly.”

“I’m not scary,” the guy says indignantly. He offers a bow in greeting. “I’m Minho.”

Kibum side-eyes him, immediately distrusting anyone who attempts to prove his lack of scariness by fucking choking someone.

“I’m Kibum,” he answers anyway. “And do you have a phone I can borrow? I need to call people and let them know I haven’t been kidnapped and murdered. Well,” he amends. “Murdered, anyway. I’m pretty sure this counts as kidnapping.”

“Later,” Minho says. He brushes past Kibum, turning into the kitchen. “Can I see what you’re making?”

“Something awful with artichokes and mustard,” Kibum says, following him. The wolf tags along, tail waving high. “It’s not like there’s much to cook with around here.”

“It smells good,” Minho says. He pauses in his step, glances around. “This place looks a lot cleaner than it usually is.”

“Yeah, that would be me as well,” Kibum agrees. “I was bored, and there isn’t anything else to do here.”

“Huh,” says Minho thoughtfully. He eyes the wolf, which blinks rapidly back at him. “Kibum, I have a very awkward question. Can I sniff you?”

Kibum gapes at him. “Can you what?”

Minho shuffles his feet apologetically. “I know it sounds weird,” he says. “But I need to figure something out.”

Kibum flings his hands up. “Fine, sure, whatever! It’s not like I have a choice in the matter. You’ll probably try to kill me again if I say no.”

“I wasn’t trying to kill you,” Minho objects. He takes advantage of this permission anyway and comes forward to tilt his head down and delicately sniff at Kibum’s ear and the side of his neck.

Kibum shivers uncomfortably. “Well?” he demands. “I probably smell like mustard and wolf fur, you realize.”

“No,” Minho says slowly. He draws back, staring at Kibum with wide eyes. “I thought… especially when I was holding you just now… but I wasn’t sure…”

Kibum frowns, self-consciously running a hand through his hair. “What? I might smell like sweat, too. It’s hot in here, and that furry thing keeps climbing all over me.”

“I’m not surprised,” Minho mutters. He frowns down at the wolf. “You should really let him know the truth, you know. You can’t stay like that forever.”

The wolf barks. Kibum rolls his eyes.

“Look, dude, it’s a dog,” Kibum says exasperatedly. “Or a wolf or whatever. It can’t actually understand you.”

“Yes, he can,” Minho says, eyes fixed on a point behind Kibum, presumably where the wolf is sitting. “And he knows I’m right. What the hell were you planning on doing anyway?” he demands, glaring in the wolf’s direction. “You can’t just snatch people off the streets and keep them cooped up in here forever.”

Kibum tries again, more delicately. “Um, look, wolves can’t talk-”

“Depends on the wolf,” says another voice from behind him. “We can.”

Kibum shrieks and spins around. There’s suddenly no wolf in sight. Instead, a shirtless teenager with long, messy hair is standing there, beaming at him.

“Who- what- how-?” Kibum stammers, utterly unable to grasp this sequence of events. “What the fuck is going on?”

“We’re werewolves,” the kid says cheerfully. “See?”

His body stretches, contorts and changes. Suddenly the wolf is back, grinning wolfishly up at Kibum, tongue lolling from its mouth.

“Oh my God,” says Kibum in a voice much higher-pitched than usual.

Another moment of contorted motion later, and there’s the pretty teenager again, bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet with an all-too-familiar self-satisfaction.

“Taemin,” says Minho, disapproval evident in the way he bites his words out. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Explaining,” says the wolf- kid- Taemin. He saunters forward, thumbs hooked in his belt loops, black skinny jeans hanging low on slender hips. He smiles at Kibum. “Hi.”

“Hi,” says Kibum faintly, half creeped-out by the realization that the wolf he’s been hanging out with- and oh, God sharing his bed with- these past few days is actually a person, and half-turned on by the way Taemin’s chest muscles flex as he breathes. “Can you please put a shirt on?”

“Why?” Taemin asks innocently. He takes Kibum’s hands in his, turning them over and staring at them in fascination. His fingers are very warm. “It’s hot in here.”

Kibum snatches his hands back with great force of will. “We’re not all perverts like you,” he snaps. “It’s indecent to wander around shirtless in front of strangers.”

“We’re not strangers, though,” Taemin objects. “And what do you mean, pervert?”

“Uh,” says Kibum pointedly. “You’ve been sleeping with me these past three nights?”

Minho makes a choked noise from behind him. “What?”

“Not like that,” Taemin protests. “And I was in wolf form! And you liked it!”

“I thought you were a dog!” Kibum says loudly. “If I’d known you were a person, I’d have been creeped the hell out! I- fucking hell, you watched me take a shit!”

Taemin scrunches his face up.

“I did not,” he says indignantly. “I closed my eyes.”

Minho, unhelpfully, starts laughing in a strangled manner. Kibum scowls.

“Whatever,” he says as haughtily as he can manage. “You’re still creepy.”

“No, I’m not,” Taemin says. His eyes go very wide and hurt. “I didn’t want to scare you, so I figured I’d just stay a wolf until you liked me and then explain to you that I’m actually a werewolf. That’s considerate, not creepy.”

“I think you need lessons in what considerate actually means,” says Minho. He comes forward to stand next to Kibum. “Taemin, this is not five hundred years ago. You can’t just kidnap people, even your-”

“Don’t tell him!” Taemin’s gaze catches Minho’s, pleading. “It’ll scare him. Humans are weird about things like that.”

“Things like what?” Kibum crosses his arms over his chest. “I demand you tell me what the fuck is going on. You owe me.”

“But I-”

“You owe me,” Kibum repeats, stubborn. Taemin frowns.

“Much as I hate to admit it,” Minho says slowly. “Taemin is right about this. If you’re so freaked out about him just being a werewolf, you’re gonna hate the rest of the explanation.”

“Too bad,” says Kibum. “It’s not like I’m having the time of my life here anyway. Spill.”

Taemin swallows, rubs nervously at his bare arms. Minho looks away. Kibum’s sense of nervous apprehension deepens. Maybe werewolves really are cannibals, and the meat in the freezer really is human flesh, and Kibum’s about to be sliced and diced and murdered-

“You’re my mate,” Taemin says finally.

Kibum stares, panic derailed, as this is absolutely not anything he’d expected to hear.

“Your what?”

“Mate,” Taemin repeats. “It means we’re connected. We belong to each other. I think humans call it some kind of soul bond.”

Kibum laughs. The sound scrapes at his throat, half-hysterical.

“You’re telling me you just knock me over on a sidewalk and suddenly we’re soul mates?” he demands incredulously. “That’s fucking ridiculous.”

Taemin winces. “No,” he says quietly. “It happened years before, when we were pups. You took care of me for a week, remember?”

The wolf puppy from Kibum’s childhood. It’s just his luck, Kibum thinks miserably, that his innocent childhood adventure has led to him being kidnapped ten years later by a pair of fucking werewolves, which are supposed to be monsters from myth.

“Um,” says Minho into the awkward silence. “I think your noodles might be done.”

Kibum takes a breath, nods tightly and goes to deal with the food. He can hear Minho and Taemin arguing behind him in soft, agitated tones as he stirs the noodles. Minho’s voice is scolding, Taemin’s by turns embarrassed and indignant. Kibum can’t make out what they’re saying and doesn’t try. He just focuses on draining the pasta and scooping the artichoke-mustard mess into a serving bowl.

It’s a wonder he’s not freaking out more than this, he muses as he drizzles a nearly-empty bottle of olive oil over the pasta. Maybe it’s just that he’s freaked out about his life too much already, and this whole soul bonded to a shirtless werewolf thing is just too ridiculous to cry about.

Or maybe it just hasn’t sunk in yet. That could be it, too.

Kibum sighs and gives up on wondering. He’ll just roll with the punches, like always. At least being kidnapped by werewolves will be a more interesting story to tell his parents over break than explaining exactly how he got fired from his job and failed a class and lost his girlfriend, all in one semester of college.

“Hey, you two,” he calls over his shoulder. “You want some of this? I think there’s enough for three people. I made enough for leftovers for me, anyway…”

“That sounds wonderful,” says Minho. “Thank you, Kibum.”

“Yeah,” Taemin echoes, wistful. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Kibum says. “C’mere and help me set the table.”

Something about the mundane business of getting dinner on the table eases the rest of the tension between them. It helps that Minho talks throughout dinner, chatting about everything from the weather to his day job as a coach for a kid’s soccer team.

As helpful as Minho is, Taemin is equally unhelpful. He continues to be very shirtless and very distracting throughout the meal. It would be so much nicer if he weren’t so pretty. Kibum’s breath catches every time their fingers brush together when they reach for the salt at the same time. It’s really very unfair.

After dinner, the three of them clean up. Minho then heads into the living room, insisting that Taemin and Kibum need some time alone to discuss things.

Kibum has no intention of discussing anything. Despite the fact that it’s barely eight o’clock and he’s not tired, he announces his intention to go to sleep and flees into the bathroom to brush his teeth and such.

When he comes out and heads into the bedroom, he finds Taemin waiting there, sitting on the bed in human form, still shirtless.

“Get out,” Kibum orders him. “I’m not about to share a bed with you again.”

Taemin gives him the most adorable puppy-eyed gaze Kibum has ever seen.

“I could shift to wolf form like before,” he suggests. “Please? I don’t have anywhere else to sleep.”

“Turn into a wolf and sleep on the floor,” Kibum says. He crawls onto the bed and attempts to wrap himself up in blankets. “Dogs do that.”

“I’m not a dog.” Taemin reaches out and helps Kibum with the blankets, much to Kibum’s annoyance. “And the bed is softer than the floor.”

Kibum growls quietly. “Fine, then. Just don’t touch me, okay?”

“Okay,” Taemin says meekly. “I could calm you down, though-”

“I said, don’t touch me!”

“All right, all right!”

Kibum screws his eyes shut and tries to even out his breathing and relax. Sleep doesn’t come to him, however, prevented from doing so by the tangled mess of nerves and confusion and anger and fright that has consumed his soul.

Finally, he rolls onto his back and frowns at Taemin. The werewolf, who’d been curled up on his side, watching Kibum from a careful distance of several inches away, blinks and sits up.

“Taemin,” Kibum says. “What did you mean, you could ‘calm me down’?”

“We’re mates,” Taemin says, as if this should somehow explain everything. He hurries on when Kibum’s frown deepens. “It means we have a connection, so I can do things like make you relax. I’ve done it before, and you didn’t mind. I bet you could do it to me too, except you’re human and don’t know how.”

The incidents over the past several days in which Taemin has flopped on him and purred on him and indeed made him relaxed and tired suddenly acquire horrible new meaning.

“You can hypnotize me?”

“What? No!” Taemin cries, horrified. “It’s not like that!”

“Yeah? What is it like?” Kibum shifts away from the werewolf, breathing faster. “Seems to me like you can pretty much drug me unconscious by purring at me-”

No,” says Taemin, voice still distressed, pretty face unhappy. “It doesn’t work like that. Or it shouldn’t. I’m sorry; I didn’t know you would see it like that. Us werewolves do it all the time to each other. I didn’t realize that it might upset humans so much.”

Kibum forces himself to stop freaking out. It occurs to him that werewolves probably have a very different cultural outlook on certain things than humans. Taemin’s actions really might not seem as creepy to him as they do to Kibum.

“Please don’t be scared of me,” Taemin whispers, biting his lip. “I would never hurt you. You’re mine.”

Cultural differences, Kibum reminds himself. He takes a breath.

“It’s okay,” he says finally. “Just don’t do it again, all right? Not without asking me first.”

“All right,” says Taemin meekly. He fidgets. “I’m sorry.”

“Good,” says Kibum. He lets out a shuddery breath. “Apology accepted.”

He doesn’t bother to watch for Taemin’s reaction, instead just turning over onto his side and enfolding himself in the blankets again. He closes his eyes and tries for sleep, but it doesn’t come. That same tight and tangled mess of feelings just gets worse and worse the more he tries to ignore it, making his breath come quickly and the soothing oblivion of sleep edge ever further and further away.

Fifteen minutes of this incipient insomnia later, and Kibum gives up. He shoves the blankets away and rolls over onto his back. Taemin, still curled up in a wary, watchful ball, blinks confusedly at him.

“Hey,” says Kibum. “You can do the thing to me, if you want.”

Taemin frowns. “Thing?”

“The calming-me-down thing,” says Kibum. His fingers pick nervously at the edge of the blanket. “I can’t sleep.”

Taemin doesn’t move. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah.” Kibum breathes in and out, without taking his eyes off the werewolf. “Like I said, I can’t sleep, so you might as well…”

Taemin swallows. “Well, if you really want me to-”

“Didn’t I just say I did?”

“-then okay, I guess.”

Kibum expects Taemin to shift to wolf form for this. He tenses when Taemin instead remains human and crawls across the bed, before climbing on top of him to straddle him on hands and knees. Despite how scrawny Taemin is, Kibum can’t help feeling very small and vulnerable trapped beneath him like this, all too aware of how easily Taemin could shift back to his more dangerous form and do things to him.

“Um, dude-”

“Yeah?” Taemin frowns down at him. “What is it?”

Kibum swallows, fingers curling and uncurling against his chest. “I don’t exactly…”

“You’re scared again,” says Taemin. His eyes are wide and worried. “Why?”

“I dunno how werewolves do things,” Kibum says. “But humans don’t…I’m not interested in you like that. You’re cute and all, but no.”

Taemin’s face scrunches up in confusion. “I don’t understand.”

Kibum grits his teeth. “I’d rather you not fuck me or something, okay?”

Taemin’s confusion shifts immediately to horror. He recoils and sits down on Kibum’s hips, shaking his head frantically.

“I wouldn’t do that to you! Not without your consent!” He stares at Kibum, dismayed. “What kind of horrible person do you think I am?”

“Well, I dunno,” Kibum says with exaggerated patience. “You kidnapped me in the form of a mythical monster, kept me from leaving to let anyone know I’m all right, and now you’re on top of me, in a bed, shirtless, about to do your weird werewolf hypnotism sedation thing. Oh, and you keep calling me your mate. What else am I supposed to think?”

Taemin’s mouth moves soundlessly, like he’s too in shock to even speak. Kibum takes pity on him, realizing that this is probably another cultural difference thing.

“Okay,” he says gruffly. “So you’re not planning on ravishing me or anything. That’s cool. Sorry I misunderstood. You can get on with your…calming thing.”

Taemin just nods, the shell-shocked look not leaving his eyes. He visibly steels himself and leans forward again so that he’s on top of Kibum on hands and knees. There’s a certain hesitation to his movements now, however, as if he thinks Kibum is made of glass and might shatter if he gets too close.

This is irritating, so Kibum pokes playfully at Taemin’s biceps in attempt to get him to chill. Taemin blinks, blinks again and smiles shyly.

“Sorry,” he says softly. “I just don’t want to scare you again.”

“I’ll be fine,” says Kibum. “Just get on with it, all right?”

Taemin nods again. Then he lowers his head so that his nose is nuzzling at Kibum’s ear. Kibum tenses and tries to remember that Taemin is a werewolf, and he’d done this in wolf form often enough that he probably doesn’t mean any harm by it.

Taemin hums quietly and licks at the shell of Kibum’s ear. Kibum shivers. Taemin’s humming deepens. He presses a soft kiss to the bottom of Kibum’s ear, then continues in a slow line of gentle kisses and licks and careful scrapes of teeth along Kibum’s jawline.

Kibum closes his eyes, lulled by the warmth of Taemin’s breath against his skin. He can feel his muscles relaxing, his body going limp as Taemin nuzzles and kisses him into a yawning heap on the bed. The tips of Taemin’s long, soft hair brush against his neck in an oddly soothing fashion.

It’s not long before he falls asleep, all tension gone.

~~~

He wakes early the next morning to find Taemin curled up next to him, snoring and drooling on Kibum’s shoulder, one hand fisted in Kibum’s shirt.

Kibum himself feels oddly disinclined to leave the peaceful warmth of the bed, some tight knot deep within him relaxing at Taemin’s presence. Kibum feels safe, the way he hasn’t since he was a small child who ran to his parents for protection against thunderstorms and giant bugs and dreams of scary roller coasters.

More werewolf weirdness. Kibum untangles Taemin’s fingers from his shirt and rolls out of bed. Accepting that they had some kind of connection last night in order to be able to sleep had been one thing. Kibum refuses to give in to this nonsense in the clear light of day.

Or, well, the imagined clear light of day. The apartment has no windows; Kibum has no idea what the weather is even like outside right now.

He finds Minho snoring in wolf form on the loveseat. Minho’s wolf is noticeably larger than Taemin’s and jet black besides. Kibum wonders if Minho had been the one to collect the puppy Taemin ten years ago. He shakes the curiosity away. Minho isn’t that much older than Taemin is; it couldn’t have been him.

Since Kibum isn’t about to prod awake a sleeping werewolf- he has a healthy sense of self-preservation, thank you very much- he goes and fixes himself a breakfast of the last few pieces of bread instead, first toasting it, then slathering the remaining peanut butter over its crusty surface.

A loud growl of a yawn from the living room catches his attention sometime near the end of his breakfasting. Kibum stuffs the last folded half of toast into his mouth and goes into the living room.

Minho glances up at him, tail waving a little, before transforming back into human form.

“Good morning,” he says, greeting Kibum with a polite little smile. “What’s up?”

“Morning,” Kibum answers. He settles immediately onto the armchair opposite the loveseat. “So, I was wondering if you could tell me more about werewolves? I mean, since I’m stuck here, I might as well learn something useful about you guys.”

Minho doesn’t answer right away, a fact which should probably concern Kibum more than it does. Possibly some of the sense of security from earlier this morning is still lingering deep within him. Kibum licks peanut butter off the back of his teeth and tries not to think about that.

“C’mon,” he says, favoring Minho with a falsely sweet, hopeful flutter of eyelashes. “Talk to me.”

“I shouldn’t,” says Minho finally. “It’s not a good idea to let humans know things about us. They get…violent.”

Kibum snorts at this blatant hypocrisy. “Violent like kidnapping innocent strangers, you mean?”

Minho sighs. “So Taemin is a bit of an idiot. He didn’t mean any harm by what he did to you, I promise. Besides, the two of you aren’t exactly strangers, and…I don’t know; maybe I should make an exception for you about things. I just need to know you won’t tell anyone else about our existence.” Minho’s eyes are very serious. “It would be very dangerous for all concerned.”

Kibum rubs his fingertips over the fabric of his borrowed sweatpants and considers this. On the one hand, it’s going to be very difficult to think of a lie convincing enough to explain his several days’ disappearance to everyone he knows. On the other hand, how likely is the explanation of werewolves to convince anyone? Kibum can just imagine the incredulous queries of how much Twilight did you watch while wasted?? that he’d receive if he tried telling the truth to people.

“I promise to keep quiet on the werewolf front,” Kibum decides. He meets Minho serious stare for serious stare. “I mean, it’s not like anyone would believe me, anyway.”

Minho relaxes the slightest amount at that. “All right. Thank you.” He offers Kibum a smile. “So, what would you like to know first?”

Kibum wants to know everything, and says so. Minho laughs and launches into a flood of explanation that, somehow, is anything but boring. Kibum learns that werewolves do not in fact eat people (the meat in the fridge is from a nearby butcher’s shop which specializes in catering to a nonhuman clientele), that they have a small amount of inherent magic (Taemin, for example, has an innate, alarming ability to magically pick locks), and that their senses of smell and touch are both stronger and more often utilized than those of humans (thus, Minho’s ability to identify Kibum as Taemin’s mate by sniffing him yesterday).

Other newfound pieces of information are not quite so reassuring. For one thing, werewolf lifespans are apparently several times longer than human lifespans, a fact which startles Kibum considerably and prompts him to ask how old Minho and Taemin actually are.

“Taemin’s only a couple of years younger than you,” Minho answers, the set of his face amused at Kibum’s astonishment. “Our growth process doesn’t slow until we’re in our twenties; before that, we age pretty much like you humans. And you met him when both of you were pups, remember?”

“Right,” says Kibum. “So how old are you?” He tries to guess even as he voices the question; Minho looks maybe twenty-five or so, perhaps a little younger, but that might not be at all true.

“Forty-four,” says Minho, and grins at Kibum’s stare. “Don’t look at me like that; I’m still pretty young. You ought to be glad we’re not like vampires- they age even slower and live for, like, millennia. I once met one who claimed to have spent a night with Cleopatra- although I’m still not sure if she was joking-”

“There are vampires?” Kibum squeaks incredulously. Minho grins wider.

“Yeah. I wouldn’t worry about them, though; they tend to keep pretty much to themselves.”

Kibum opens and closes his mouth wordlessly for several seconds, rendered speechless by the discovery that apparently werewolves aren’t the only mythical monsters who aren’t actually, well, mythical.

Minho’s amusement at Kibum’s reaction fades after a moment, shifting back into something more serious and focused. He leans forward, his eyes intent on Kibum’s own. Kibum frowns and tucks his legs up onto the armchair, feeling a little too vulnerable to the werewolf’s stare.

“You know,” says Minho finally. “For someone so indignant about having been kidnapped, you don’t seem all that eager to persuade us to let you go.”

Kibum thinks about what he has to go home to- disappointed parents, an angry ex-girlfriend, friends weary of the endless drama that has consumed his life- and tightens his jaw.

“I just figured you’d let me go when you wanted to, and me nagging you about it wouldn’t do me much good, that’s all,” he replies.

Minho raises an eyebrow. Kibum glares at him in an attempt to pretend he’s a better liar than he is. Minho sighs.

“All right, look,” the werewolf says wearily. “I have no intentions of keeping you here forever, okay? You’re free to go when you want. But I do want you to know that you have options.”

“Options?”

“Yeah.” Minho holds up two fingers. “Two, in fact. One is, we let you go. You never tell anyone that you know of our existence, and we won’t contact you again.”

Kibum frowns, the unwanted memories of a toothy wolf’s grin and of last night’s quiet intimacy drifting vividly though his mind.

“What, that’s it?” he says, perhaps a touch more tensely than he’d intended. “You’re seriously never gonna talk to me again? Not even to Facebook-friend me or tweet me happy birthday?”

Minho shakes his head and lowers his hand.

“No, it would be too dangerous for you.” He pins Kibum with another of those annoyingly perceptive stares. “You remember those wolves who attacked you before Taemin dragged you here?”

Kibum’s frown deepens. “Yeah, but what-”

“They’re part of a rival pack,” Minho continues. “Undoubtedly they scented what I did- that you’re Taemin’s mate- and decided to piss off our pack by hurting or killing you. You’re lucky Taemin was there to drive them off, or who knows what might have happened.”

Kibum considers the revelation that any werewolf- and not just Minho- can apparently somehow associate him with Taemin just by smelling him, and decides he doesn’t like this very much. Particularly if their reaction to his scent is unprovoked murder.

“See?” says Mino, misinterpreting Kibum’s dislike of violent werewolf olfactory senses as an understanding of the situation in general. “They attacked you even though they had only the slightest bit of evidence that you were associated with us, on the off chance that they might hurt our pack. If it becomes clear to them that you really are friendly with us, they’ll intensify their efforts to possibly kill you, and we can’t be around all the time to protect you.”

“So, once I leave, that’s it, then? I’ll never see either of you again?” Kibum’s not sure why he’s so reluctant to accept that he might never see this particular pair of dangerous werewolves again, but he is. “Ever?”

Minho nods. “Yes. And I’d advise you to stay away from this part of town for at least a year, to really convince them that you don’t have anything to do with us.”

Kibum draws in a quick little breath. “You said there was a second option, though.”

“So I did.” Minho heaves yet another sigh. “You could stay.”

“Stay?”

“Yes, stay. With us. Permanently, as part of our pack.”

Kibum stares at him. “I’m not a werewolf.”

“No, but you are Taemin’s mate.” Minho appears to be perfectly serious about this, too. “Our pack alpha would welcome you, no problem, and Taemin would obviously love it if you chose to stay. If you lived with us, it would be easy to keep you safe. Of course, this option might not appeal to you much, given that you’d have to give up your life and abandon everyone you know if you were to join us. We can’t risk any other humans finding out about us, after all.”

Kibum thinks about this. More specifically, he thinks about never having to worry about grades or jobs or stress ever again. Of course risking being eaten by bloodthirsty wolves every once in a while might undoubtedly also count as stress.

But why is he even considering this, anyway? He barely even knows Minho, and most of what he knows about Taemin is that the guy considers kidnapping to be a great bonding experience. It’s not exactly the most reassuring of introductions.

Minho abruptly cocks his head to one side, in the manner of a wolf pricking its ears at some noise too quiet for human senses to discern.

“You don’t have to decide right now,” Minho says, still listening intently to whatever-it-is that’s audible to him. “There are other considerations as well, like- ah, Taemin! Good morning!”

Kibum turns his head sharply- and forgets how to breathe. Taemin is leaning against the doorway- still irritatingly shirtless- and yawning sleepily. His hair is a wild and tangled mess sticking out in every direction, and there’s a red mark on his cheek from where he’d been drowsing with his face on his fist. Kibum’s fingers itch with the unacceptable urge to reach out and stroke through those soft and tousled locks to set the mess to rights.

“Morning,” says Taemin through another wide yawn. “’Sup?”

“I was telling Kibum about werewolves,” Minho says. “Never mind that. Now that you’re awake, I think we should put together a grocery list, since Kibum’s eaten you out of your very healthy supply of ramen and peanut butter.”

“There’s no need for sarcasm,” Taemin mumbles, voice still low and husky with sleep. He stumbles across the room and flops onto the loveseat next to Minho. “Do I have to get dressed?”

Kibum, despite himself, snorts. Taemin blinks at this reaction, then grins playfully at him. Kibum looks quickly away, picking at the hem of his T-shirt in a futile attempt to conceal the flush coloring his cheeks at that grin.

This little exchange hadn’t escaped Minho’s notice; his next words have a deep rumble of amusement underlying them.

“No, you can lounge around in whatever the hell you want.” Kibum looks up in time to see Minho reach out and ruffle Taemin’s hair into an even more mussed state. “I figured I’d go out and do the shopping while you and Kibum stay here and maybe actually hold a substantive conversation for once.”

“Sounds good to me.” Taemin scratches absently at his naked chest- which Kibum definitely isn’t staring at. Not at all. “Can you pick up some ice cream?”

“I was thinking along the lines of something healthier,” says Minho dryly. “Like, God forbid, vegetables.”

Taemin scrunches his face up at that, in so adorable a manner that Kibum can’t help but join Minho in laughing at the sight. The sound of Kibum’s laughter surprises Taemin out of his display of vegetable-induced disgust; he shifts slightly on the loveseat and beams at Kibum instead, affection written clearly across every pretty angle of his face.

Kibum chokes on his laughter and scrambles hastily to his feet.

“I’ll go find paper and a pen,” he says quickly, to conceal the sudden flutter of his heartbeat against his ribcage. “I have a feeling this list is gonna get long.”

~~~

It takes maybe half an hour to hash out a grocery list (produced on a series of Post-It notes, given the lack of actual paper around here), after which Minho departs and leaves Kibum alone with his werewolf captor. His rather unfortunately endearing werewolf captor, who is curled up hopefully on one side of the loveseat in a clear attempt to get Kibum to sit next to him.

Kibum considers being obstinate and returning to his seat in the armchair, then thinks why the hell not? and obligingly settles down on the loveseat instead. They’d shared a bed last night without anything untoward happening. It’s probably fine.

Taemin beams happily at him. Kibum doesn’t fail to notice the way Taemin nevertheless draws up his legs so as to maintain a careful distance between the two of them, clearly more for Kibum’s comfort than his own.

Kibum is struck by a sudden pang of unexpected guilt. He ignores this irrationality.

“So, wolf boy,” he says, deciding he may as well wring some information out of Taemin as Minho had suggested. “Tell me your life story.”

Taemin chews on his lip for a moment, eyes wide and puppy-confused.

“Life story?”

“Yeah.” Kibum resists with great force of will the urge to pull Taemin to him and fix that damnable mess of tangled hair. “I mean, come on. You know practically everything about me, and I don’t know anything about you, except that you like to play fetch and eat raw meat.”

Taemin snorts out a little giggling puff of laughter at that.

“My life is pretty boring,” he says. “I mostly just do stuff for the pack and work at a convenience store and take online classes, because Minho and our alpha think it’s important for me to get an education.” The way he says ‘education’ is disdainfully annoyed. “I’ve never been anywhere cool or done anything interesting really.”

Kibum rolls his eyes. “You’re telling me a werewolf hasn’t ever done anything interesting? Uh huh, sure, I believe you.”

“I’m serious,” says Taemin indignantly. He slouches lower onto the cushions, smushing his hair outwards into a tangled, floppy halo. “Finding you was the most interesting thing I’ve done in a long time.”

“Ah, yes, kidnapping is a very fascinating venture indeed,” says Kibum dryly, and has the distinct pleasure of seeing Taemin squirm embarrassedly about. “Come on, there has to be something interesting about your life. Tell me more about this ‘pack stuff’ you said you do, or what classes you take, or something.”

Taemin considers this. “Um well, I’m majoring in literature…”

 “Literature,” Kibum repeats. He’s not sure why this surprises him so. “Is that why you have all those ancient books lying around?”

“Yeah,” says Taemin. “I wanted to study music, but I couldn’t do that online. So I decided to do lit instead.” He sighs. “I like it mostly, but I don’t understand half the symbolism we’re supposed to be analyzing.”

Kibum smiles. “Sounds tough.”

“Yeah.” Taemin smiles back. “The poetry is my favourite, since it’s almost like song lyrics, y’know?”

“Mm,” says Kibum. “Tell me more.”

They chat for a while, Kibum slowly relaxing as Taemin shyly opens up about his life and interests. Kibum listens to stories about the convenience store Taemin works at, and his misadventures with getting lost after accidentally wandering outside of his pack territory, and struggles with writing deep essays on centuries-old plays, and gradually decides that hey, maybe Taemin isn’t such a bad sort after all.

Taemin falls silent after a while, having exhausted all the interesting stories he thinks he has. Kibum eyes that annoying mat of hair again, then sighs and tugs lightly at the cuff of Taemin’s jeans.

“C’mere,” he says. “No, don’t turn back into a wolf.”

Taemin freezes mid-change, then ripples back into fully human form. He cautiously shifts about as Kibum directs, until he’s sitting between Kibum’s legs with his back only a few inches from Kibum’s front.

“What are you-” Taemin begins, then stops short when Kibum’s fingers settle against his scalp.

It’s difficult to finger-comb out all the tangles, but Kibum does his best. It helps that Taemin’s hair is silky-soft and easy to work with. It feels so nice to touch, in fact, that after Kibum’s detangled most of the mess, he continues to sit there and play with the inviting tresses, winding locks and locks of it about his fingers.

Taemin eventually starts humming a little, in what seems to be the human analogue to his wolf’s purr. He melts against Kibum, nuzzling sideways to tuck his head against the crook of Kibum’s shoulder and neck. This makes it difficult to keep playing with his hair, but Kibum finds he doesn’t really mind.

He leans his cheek against the top of Taemin’s head, still absently stroking his fingers through that silky softness, and eventually they both doze off.

~~~

When Minho returns with the groceries, they’re still lying sprawled against each other, drowsing comfortably to the distant hum of the refrigerator. Kibum yawns and stretches, unwilling to move at first, even as Minho bustles about the kitchen, yelling for them to get your lazy asses over here; these groceries aren’t going to put themselves away!

Taemin rolls off him first and trots into the kitchen to help his packmate out. Kibum allows himself another minute or two to snooze, then gets up and plods across the room as well, listening to Taemin and Minho talk over the rustle of plastic bags and clink of cans.

He pauses before he can round the corner into the kitchen and stands still just behind the separating wall, with the full intent of shamelessly eavesdropping for a moment on the werewolves’ conversation.

“I keep those in that drawer over there, that goes with the cheese…hey, what’s this?”

“Dunno, Kibum put it on the list. Probably some fancy ingredient for whatever he wants to make tonight.”

A dreamy sigh. “Kibum’s amazing, isn’t he?”

Kibum puts his hands over his mouth, embarrassing even himself with the shy grin that spreads across his face at Taemin’s words. Since when had he started caring about Taemin’s opinion of him, anyway?

Snap out of it, he orders himself sternly. He probably only likes you because of that weird bond thing, anyway.

Minho, for his part, snorts, clearly unimpressed with Taemin’s high praise.

“There are days I think you’d fall in love with a broomstick if it cooked you gourmet meals for free.”

“Fuck you. Wait, what’s this?” A pause. “What’d you get a Starbucks gift card for? I don’t like coffee.”

“It’s for Kibum, not you. He’s a university student, remember? They love Starbucks. I swear, half the chain’s profits must come from catering to sleep-deprived kids who think speed-writing essays at midnight the day before they’re due is a great idea…”

Kibum catches his breath, not bothering to listen to the rest of this spiel. A bit of silly sentimentality from Taemin isn’t too surprising, but Minho’s act of kindness takes Kibum by surprise. Why are these two being so nice to him, apart from the whole kidnapping thing? They don’t even know him.

(Although, maybe that is why, the pessimistic part of Kibum’s brain supplies. Maybe after they get more used to him, they’ll see that being nice is both pointless and undeserved.)

They won’t get used to him, though, because that would mean Kibum choosing to stay, and he’s still pretty sure that’s not a good idea for anyone concerned.

As if echoing this thought process, Taemin says, quieter and more contemplative than Kibum has yet heard from him:

“You don’t think he’s gonna stay with us, then?”

“Why would he?” Minho’s answer is swift, immediate. “He might be a bit depressed, but that doesn’t mean he wants to walk away from his entire life for a pair of werewolves he doesn’t even know.”

Another pause. Then, moodily:

“He knows us a little. Do you even want him to stay? Or are you worried about the-”

“I would be happy if he stayed.” The words are soft. “I think the two of you would be good for each other, and I like him too, you know. I just don’t think either of you really understand what you’d be getting yourselves into if you choose to further the bond.”

“He’s my mate.”

“He’s also human. They don’t do things the same way we do, and you know why.”

Taemin doesn’t seem to have a reply to this. Kibum lingers behind the wall for another moment to gather his thoughts and steady his nerves. Then he saunters out into the kitchen as if he hadn’t heard anything at all.

“So, did you get the flour I wanted? I was thinking that for tonight we could make this thing my grandmother used to…”

~~~

The rest of the day passes far too quickly, bringing to mind the old adage that time flies when you’re having fun. They mess around in the kitchen for a bit, Kibum directing the set-up for the meal he intends to make. Minho is a competent assistant, quietly puttering about to do as Kibum orders. Taemin, however, can only be trusted with the simplest of tasks, for not only does he have no idea what he’s doing, but also tends to get distracted and bored with any task lasting longer than a minute or two.

After everything is finished for the time being, Minho shifts to wolf form and trots up to Kibum. He nudges at Kibum with the solid bluntness of his large and shaggy head, and so Kibum indulges him with scritches behind the ears. He kneels down in front of Minho to be able to reach more easily and nuzzles their faces together, cooing ridiculously about what a fantastic assistant he is.

It takes barely any time at all for a jealous Taemin to drape himself all over Kibum’s back, pressing their cheeks together and demanding caresses as well.

“I dunno,” says Kibum, playfully. “Remember all that shit you spilled on the floor? Petting is for helpful wolves only.”

Taemin growls and shifts to wolf form at that. He licks and licks at Kibum’s cheek with a wet and scratchy tongue until Kibum’s face is slick and dripping with wolf saliva, which is absolutely disgusting. Minho throws his head back and howls canine laughter at the expression on Kibum’s face. Taemin barks and whuffs his own laughter far too loudly into Kibum’s ear, until finally Kibum too gives in to the hilarity of the situation and laughs as well.

In fact, he winds up laughing so long and so hard that his stomach aches, and he falls over onto the recently-mopped floor. Both wolves immediately pile on top of him. Kibum smiles and pets them and tries not to inhale too much wolf fur.

(When was the last time he laughed like this? Kibum can’t remember.)

After that, Taemin digs up a stack of old board games from somewhere, and they spend several hours sprawled on the living room floor trying to one-up each other at everything from various word games (at which Taemin is terrible) to Star Wars Monopoly (at which Taemin possesses disturbingly amazing skills).

At one point, the two werewolves have a disagreement over Taemin’s refusal to sell Minho a particular piece of property. The two of them go rolling about the floor in a snarling, slashing ball of fur and fangs. Kibum sneakily commits bank robbery by snatching several higher denominations of notes while the wolves are occupied with hashing out real estate differences via excessive application of teeth. He then plies Taemin with sweet compliments once the werewolf shifts back and victoriously crawls back to the board.

Kibum also pretends he doesn’t notice the amused, affectionate look Minho bestows on Taemin, indicating that he’d very obviously let the smaller wolf win. Kibum rather likes the way Taemin is smirking and preening vaguely in his direction, as if trying to convey to his mate just how impressive he is, and never mind that being impressive at Star Wars Monopoly is not exactly the most laudable of skills.

~~~

Dinner has a surprisingly natural flow to it, especially compared to the stiff awkwardness of last night. Kibum supposes a day of discovering that the werewolves really aren’t planning on eating him or something has a lot to do with it. Still, he can’t help marveling every now and then at how easy the conversation between the three of them is, as if Kibum’s known the other two for years, instead of less than a week.

Taemin leaves that evening to work his job at the nearby convenience store. He waves away Kibum’s queries- and badly veiled worry- that he will be in trouble for skipping his shifts over the past few days. The managers of the store have werewolf connections and understand that pack business might unexpectedly take Taemin away from work from time to time.

Never mind that the whole kidnapping stint hadn’t exactly been official pack business- Minho is apparently kind enough to pretend that it had been, in order to save Taemin from getting summarily fired.

After Taemin departs, Kibum makes himself a cup of tea and hopefully retreats to the bedroom in search of some quiet relaxation time after the activities of the day. Unfortunately, Minho follows him in and sits cross-legged at the end of the bed. There’s a familiar expression on his face that implies it’s now Serious Discussion Time. Kibum remembers the overheard conversation in the kitchen, and Minho’s mention of other considerations from this morning, and sighs.

“Don’t tell me,” he says, setting his tea down on the nightstand with a clink of ceramic against wood. “You’re here to talk me through my options again, like some kind of furry insurance broker.”

Minho has the grace to look briefly amused. “You could think of it that way, if you want.”

“Nah.” Kibum takes a breath. “Get on with it.”

“All right.” Minho pauses for a moment to organize his thoughts. “There’s another reason why you might not want to stay and join our pack.”

“Oh, really? You mean, besides the murderous werewolves who might eat me if I so much as drop by for dinner every other week?”

Minho gives him a look, clearly indicating that he does not at all appreciate the attitude. Too bad, attitude’s pretty much the only weapon Kibum has in his arsenal at the moment, and like hell is he about to give it up.

“Not all werewolves have a bonded mate,” Minho says finally, giving up on his futile attempt to stare the sarcasm out of Kibum. “Few do, in fact. It’s very, very rare to meet anyone whose soul is compatible enough with your own for a bond to form. We consider it extremely special when it does happen, partly because it heralds great happiness to the pair in their relationship, and partly because bonded pairs are so close to each other that they can do things like strengthen each other’s innate magic.”

Kibum remembers the purring-relaxation thing Taemin had done to him and wonders if that’s sort of what Minho means. His wondering is cut short by Minho continuing on with his explanation.

“Now, neither of those things really apply to you and Taemin. You’re human and don’t really have much innate magic. Worse, you’re not bonded to him the same way that he’s bonded to you. If you were to enter into a relationship with each other, whether romantic or not, the bond would strengthen for the both of you- but if you were to end that relationship, Taemin would not be able to handle the psychological trauma. You would be fine eventually, since you’re human, but a werewolf on the other hand…”

Kibum considers this. “Psychological trauma, huh? So what you’re telling me is that if I stay and become friends or whatever with Taemin, I can never unfriend him without screwing him up, right?”

“Essentially, yes.”

Kibum shrugs. “Then don’t worry about it. I know exactly how much of a fuck-up I am. I’m not under any illusions that I’ll be able to handle being friends with him without screwing everything sideways. Taemin’s a nice guy, apart from the whole kidnapping thing. I’m not interested in hurting him.”

Minho frowns. “Things going wrong between you two wouldn’t necessarily be your fault, Kibum.”

“Things usually are my fault,” Kibum informs him. “Take getting stuck here, for example.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, that was Taemin’s fault, for thinking kidnapping is an excellent first step to a relationship-”

“Yeah, but it was my fault for being out on the streets in the first place,” Kibum counters. “Or do people who don’t always fuck things up decide to deal with their inadequacies by deliberately going to sketchy bars alone and getting completely wasted in unfortunate parts of town? Yeah, no, I don’t think so.”

Minho rubs at his forehead for a moment, clearly at a loss for a response. Kibum smirks.

“Look,” Minho says finally, apparently deciding to return to the original subject at hand. “Any possible relationship problems really might not be anyone’s fault. You might decide to move far away from the pack territory due to job considerations or something, for example. Two bonded werewolves would find a way to work that kind of thing out, but with you being human, you wouldn’t feel the same need to do so, and it would be wrong of us to force you to try.”

Kibum doesn’t quite know what to say about this unwarranted optimism. He therefore settles for saying nothing, and instead takes his tea into his hands again and sips at it. It would probably dispel Minho’s illusions about him if Kibum told him exactly how he screwed up his last relationship, but on the other hand, it is kind of nice to have someone hold a good impression of him for once, even if that impression is deeply undeserved.

“I really am sorry about this,” says Minho. There’s a distinctly canine earnestness in his eyes as he speaks, gaze fixed on Kibum’s own. “Ordinarily, we wouldn’t force you to jump to a decision this important when you don’t even know us that well. But our pack is too weak for Taemin to court you properly – it just wouldn’t be safe - so, well… like I said, you’ve got two options, and the sooner you decide on one, the better.”

Kibum swallows down the tea. He doesn’t feel at all inclined to discuss his increasingly complicated feelings on the matter of staying or going.

“I’ll think about it,” he says. Then he adds: “You know, for someone trying to convince me to leave, you’re not doing a very good job of it. It’d help your case a lot if you stopped being so nice to me.”

Minho unfolds his legs and gets to his feet in an unfairly graceful manner.

“What makes you think I’m trying to convince you to leave?” he asks. “I just want you to know exactly what you’d be signing up for if you do choose to stay.”

Kibum slurps at his tea and doesn’t respond. Minho smiles at him with unexpected, very annoying gentleness, then shifts to wolf form and wanders out on four legs.

~~~

Sleep doesn’t come easily that night. It takes Kibum until maybe two in the morning to realize that this is because Taemin isn’t there.

How ridiculous- five days of knowing the guy and already Kibum can’t sleep without him around. But the sad fact remains that Kibum misses Taemin’s warm presence snuggled up against his side, whether in wolf form or human.

Thus, he’s only drowsing lightly at four in the morning when Taemin returns from work and crawls into bed with him.

“Hi,” Taemin whispers when Kibum yawns and stirs from beneath a cocoon of blankets. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“S’okay,” Kibum murmurs, too tired to form proper sentences. He sleepily tries to unwind part of the nest of blankets. “C’mere.”

Taemin helps him tug the edge free, but doesn’t immediately slide beneath the covers. Kibum shivers; it’s suddenly cold.

“Are you sure?” Taemin asks softly. “I know we were getting along better today, but I still don’t wanna scare you like I did before-”

Kibum remembers last night’s fears about werewolves and kidnapping and the unexplained word mate. It all seems so very distant to his exhausted brain right now.

“Shut up,” he says, unable to form a more coherent response at the moment. He wiggles his fingers impatiently at Taemin. “C’mere.”

Taemin blinks very rapidly at him, then wriggles down into the warmth of the blankets. Kibum squirms as close to him as he can get, mumbling something indistinct about being cold as he does so.

Taemin shifts to wolf form. Kibum sneezes at the sudden influx of fur, feeling unexpectedly and irrationally disappointed by the change. This fades when he realizes how warm the solid mass of wolf is.

He falls asleep for real this time, with his fingers tangled in Taemin’s layers of fur.

~~~

Kibum wakes late the next morning, closer to noon than not. Taemin is still fast asleep in wolf form, with one giant paw resting possessively on Kibum’s chest. Kibum yawns and spends a few minutes entertaining himself by braiding the shaggier bits and pieces of Taemin’s coat. Then he grins and extricates himself from wolf and blankets in search of a warm shower.

Afterwards, he finds a Post-It note from Minho lying on the kitchen table, explaining that the other werewolf had had to go out and attend to pack business for a while, but would be back later. Kibum reads the note several times, then shrugs and sets it down again.

He goes and sits in the living room, curled up with another of Taemin’s literature books. This one is dense enough that it would put him to sleep if he hadn’t just woken up, but Kibum determinedly forces himself through the passages anyway.

It’s not long before Taemin stumbles blearily into the living room as well, yawning and hair every bit as mussed as it had been yesterday morning. Kibum doesn’t understand how the fuck Taemin has managed this, since he’d spent last night as a wolf. But he supposes it’s just a particularly Taemin thing to have happen.

“Morning,” says Taemin, with another wide yawn. “’Sup?”

“Sit there,” says Kibum immediately. He gets to his feet and points to a spot on the floor just in front of the loveseat. “I’ll be right back.”

Taemin complains at him, but once Kibum returns from a quick trip to the bathroom with a hairbrush in hand, the werewolf is actually sitting on the carpet with his knees drawn up, right where Kibum had told him to be.

Taemin spots the hairbrush and frowns, nose crinkling up.

“My hair is fine.”

“No, it’s not,” says Kibum. He sits on the loveseat and maneuvers himself carefully so that Taemin is sandwiched between his legs, Kibum’s knees resting lightly against Taemin’s shoulders. “It looks like drunken birds have been partying in it.”

Taemin huffs in a manner eerily reminiscent of an irritated wolf, but straightens his back so as to let Kibum easily draw the brush through his hair.

Kibum had planned to maybe initiate some sort of conversation while they did this, but in the end says nothing, for the silence between them is too comfortable to break. Taemin closes his eyes after a bit, humming quietly, and tilts his head obediently in every direction Kibum prods it toward.

Kibum himself steadily and gently works out the matted tangles of Taemin’s hair, smoothing it into silky-soft order. When he’s finished brushing it out, Kibum lays the brush aside and combs his fingers through Taemin’s hair instead. Taemin relaxes contentedly into the strokes of Kibum’s hands, sighing with satisfied pleasure every so often when Kibum’s fingertips caress little circles against the skin of his scalp.

Kibum tries to attribute his own contentment at the activity to no more than the pleasure brought on by petting an affectionate furry animal. However, when Taemin finally arches his back and tips his head back onto the loveseat to nestle it between Kibum’s thighs, it becomes impossible to deny just how sensual this all is.

Kibum gives in to the moment and slides his hands down to cup Taemin’s face, fingertips hooking gently over the sharp line of Taemin’s jaw. He brushes the pads of his thumbs over Taemin’s closed eyelids, and breathes very carefully so as not to reveal just how jittery the oxygen in his lungs has become.

Taemin is, rather surprisingly, the one to finally break the silence between them.

“Hey.”’

Kibum strokes his thumbs over Taemin’s cheeks. “Hey yourself.”

Taemin’s eyes flutter open, a little smile dancing at the edges of his lips. “I like you.”

Kibum swallows. “I know.” He lets his hands slide away from Taemin’s face and ignores Taemin’s little sigh of disappointment. “C’mere, get up off the floor.”

Taemin sits up, then turns and climbs onto the loveseat next to Kibum. Kibum nudges the hairbrush onto the carpet, then reclines sideways on the seat. Taemin crawls on top of him and nuzzles into his armpit like an affection-starved puppy.

“You’re so weird,” Kibum sighs. He tugs at Taemin’s hair; Taemin leaves the armpit and starts nuzzling at Kibum’s shoulder instead. “Taemin…”

Taemin settles a little, one of his hands coming up to play with the sleeve of Kibum’s shirt.

“Yeah?”

Kibum braces himself. “There are things we need to talk about.”

“Like what?” Taemin grins. “Like how awesome I am?”

Kibum rolls his eyes. “Oh, sure, that’s exactly what I had in my mind, you kidnapping werewolf, you.”

Taemin mashes his nose into Kibum’s collarbone and mumbles something about irritatingly sarcastic humans. Kibum takes the opportunity to tickle him, whereupon Taemin yells and flails wildly about. This lasts until Taemin resorts to his wolf form to escape Kibum’s teasing fingers, and Kibum finds himself pinned to the loveseat by the heavy weight of enormous, furry wolf.

Taemin licks Kibum’s cheek, ears swiveling smugly back and forth and tail lashing happily through the air. Kibum twines his fingers into Taemin’s cinnamon coat and sighs.

“All right, all right, I give up, you win.” He arches up to rub his head against the underside of Taemin’s massive wolf chin. Taemin purrs. “Can you change back now? I really do need to talk to you about something.”

Taemin shifts back immediately. Kibum blinks, momentarily disconcerted by how close they suddenly are. Taemin is straddling his thighs with Kibum’s fingers hooked into the waistline of his jeans, and Kibum’s nose pressed into Taemin’s throat. Taemin smells nice- though he shouldn’t, given that he hasn’t bathed for at least six days- but there’s some underlying bright, bitter spiciness to his scent, like dark chocolate and oranges, that makes Kibum reluctant to draw away.

“Um,” says Taemin, a little breathlessly. Kibum shivers against him, hyper-aware of how nice it is to feel the vibrations of Taemin’s speech against his body from how closely they’re pressed together. “About what?”

It takes Kibum a moment to process that this is Taemin’s answer to the previous comment. He swallows and settles back against the couch; it’s difficult to pull away from Taemin- particularly when his mind seems intent on slipping into fantasies of what exactly their close proximity might lead to- but he manages to do so anyway.

“The bond,” Kibum replies. “We need to talk about this soul mate bond thing. Minho was telling me about it last night, and I think I need to clear some things up with you.”

 “Okay,” says Taemin. He flops down on Kibum again, squirming jerkily around until he’s tucked comfortably in the crook of Kibum’s arm and side. “What things?”

“Um,” says Kibum. He breathes in, breathes out. Taemin is very warm against him. “I was thinking it might be better if I didn’t stay, because of the bond.”

Taemin goes very, very still. “What? Why?”

“I’m not very good at relationships,” says Kibum. “You should know that; I confessed all my life woes to you when I thought you were still some kind of dog. It’s better that I leave now before this bond thing gets stronger and I wind up hurting you somehow.”

“You wouldn’t hurt me,” says Taemin. His voice is small, anxious. “And it doesn’t have to be a romantic relationship or anything for the bond to work- I know you’re kinda scared of that, so we could be friends-”

“I’m not any good at being friends, either,” Kibum reminds him. He sighs. “Taemin, it just wouldn’t work, okay? It’s best that I just go-”

No.” Taemin fists a hand in Kibum’s shirt, so tight that his knuckles turn white. “I like you.”

Fuck, Kibum had been hoping it wouldn’t come to this. He should’ve known better.

“Taemin,” he tries again, softer now. “Have you maybe considered the fact that you only like me because of the bond? There’s not much about me to like, otherwise, and we’ve only known each other a few days, and if it weren’t for that wacky soul-connection thing, you wouldn’t actually care-”

Don’t!” The sudden fierceness of Taemin’s voice startles Kibum quiet. “That’s not how the bond works. It only exists because it’s very, very possible for us to be friends and anything else we might want to be. If there wasn’t any chance of me liking you, then we wouldn’t be bonded. You’ve got it all backwards.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“It’s magic.” Taemin swallows, breath hitching unhappily in his lungs. “Magic doesn’t have to make sense. You think science can explain werewolves?”

Kibum considers that. His biology-major friends might have a thing or two to say about humans who can shift their anatomy into giant balls of fur and teeth on legs.

 “Well, no, I guess not,” he concedes.

“So there,” says Taemin, very firmly, as if this somehow settles everything. “If you decide to go, I won’t stop you, but you shouldn’t go for stupid reasons.” He snuggles closer, fingers still twined tightly in the fabric of Kibum’s shirt. “I know you probably don’t want to leave your family and all your other friends, but I want you to stay anyway. I’d take care of you and make you happy. I would, I promise. I’d be the best mate ever for you.”

“It’s not me being happy that I’m worried about,” says Kibum softly, through the truly embarrassing ache blossoming in his chest at these words. “I’m never happy, that’s how life is. I just don’t want to make you unhappy.”

“You wouldn’t.” Taemin’s words are serious, so serious it almost scares Kibum. “We might have problems- everyone has problems- but you wouldn’t completely screw everything up. That’s why the bond is so special, didn’t Minho tell you? It’s so hard usually to know how long you and someone else will get along, or even if you will, but people who are bonded do know that they’ll manage it. They just have to figure out how.”

Werewolves who are bonded know that,” Kibum says, very gently. “I’m not a werewolf, Taemin.”

“You’re an honorary werewolf,” Taemin says stubbornly. “That’s good enough for me.”

Kibum sighs and lets the issue go. It’s obvious he’s not going to convince Taemin of anything any time soon. He settles for petting Taemin’s shoulder instead, because really, what else can he do? He doesn’t understand why Taemin won’t see sense about this- unlike Minho, the guy knows what a fuck-up Kibum is- there’s no logical reason except the bond as to why Taemin seems to like him so much, or at all.

But then, maybe everything doesn’t have to be about logic.

“Besides,” Taemin says, breaking Kibum out of his moment of deep thought. “If you annoy me, I’ll eat you.”

Kibum squawks loudly at this random and very dire statement, only to glare when Taemin just bursts into uncontrollable fits of laughter and squirms around to giggle into Kibum’s armpit once more.

“You asshole,” says Kibum. He tugs reprovingly at Taemin’s hair, though he’s unable to conceal a reluctant grin of his own. “That’s not funny.”

“Okay,” says Taemin, wicked amusement still sparkling through his voice. “Maybe I’ll just shed on you, then. Minho hates it when I get fur all over his work clothes- never mind that he gets it everywhere too-”

Werewolves,” says Kibum, in tones of loud exasperation, only to squeak and flail when Taemin’s fingers find their way to his sensitive sides, and things descend into a second and much more prolonged tickle fight, which afterwards leaves Kibum flushed and breathless and desperately trying to conceal just how turned on he is from being at the mercy of Taemin’s wickedly playful fingers.

~~~

They spend their afternoon being lazy again. This involves more board games, some more talk about unimportant things, like the merits of various brands of beer, and several bouts of arm-wrestling, which Kibum smugly wins until Taemin shifts into wolf form and sits on him, thereby claiming default victory.

Eventually, Kibum persuades Taemin to actually go take a shower. He regrets this decision once Taemin emerges from the bathroom very clean, smelling attractively of cologne and dressed in an oversized T-shirt that keeps slipping down over one shoulder to reveal the tempting line of his collarbones.

Kibum really, really wants to lick those collarbones. This is a terrible idea, so he restrains himself. He might want to take things further with Taemin- and he’s pretty sure Taemin himself would be all for that- but if Kibum has learned anything from the disasters of the past few months, it’s that he doesn’t trust himself to sleep with people without fucking up badly.  There’s the catastrophe of him accidentally cheating on his girlfriend, for one thing, and then the embarrassing debacle of getting caught on his knees for his shift supervisor at his job a month after that, and then- yeah. Case in point. Other people might be able to manage such things, but not him.

So, he keeps quiet about the havoc Taemin’s infuriatingly attractive appearance is wreaking within him and drags Taemin into baking a pan of brownies instead. He figures that even Taemin can’t screw up at baking by-the-box brownies, and- with a little supervision- is proved correct.

They find a stack of word game magazines tucked in a kitchen drawer- a Christmas gift from the pack, Taemin explains sheepishly, because the other two like playing such games and are always trying to rope Taemin into playing them as well. Taemin, despite his university major, isn’t quite as fond of word problems as one might expect.

Kibum unfolds one of the magazines anyway, and they work their way through some of the easier crosswords while waiting for the brownies to bake. After that’s done, they set the tray on the counter to cool and turn their attention to word searches instead. These are both much easier and much more entertaining, especially when they give up trying to find the more cleverly hidden words and start circling accidental clusters of swear words instead.

They’re halfway through this activity when Minho returns to the apartment. Taemin immediately shifts to wolf form and scrambles out into the entryway to greet him. Kibum remains in the kitchen and goes to cut the brownies into bite-sized pieces. It’s an odd parallel to the first time he met Minho, and Kibum can’t help but to compare how terrified he’d been then to how oddly content he feels now.

The oddness deepens when Minho comes into the kitchen to investigate the source of the delicious chocolate-y smell wafting throughout the apartment. Taemin yips and barks and drools unhelpfully on the counter in a most unsanitary fashion as Minho tries to acquire a piece of still-hot brownie and nearly burns his fingers on it. Kibum scolds both of them, shoos Minho off to find plates and some kind of eating utensils, and wonders if he should classify the aforementioned sense of oddness as peaceful domesticity.

They get the brownies plated and carry them to the table. Taemin transforms back and hounds Minho about the pack business he’d been off seeing to while Kibum fetches them all glasses of cold milk. Taemin drains the entire glass in one huge gulp the moment he takes it from Kibum, and is promptly forced to go back to the fridge and pour himself another.

Kibum and Minho share amused grins. Kibum follows this by sitting down at the table and answering Minho’s queries about the crosswords and word searches which he’s clearly surprised to find that they’ve been doing. Taemin, meanwhile, accidentally knocks a bowl off the counter, curses inventively and has to go find a broom to sweep the mess up.

“Hey,” Kibum says to Minho while Taemin is thus occupied. “So, uh, I’ve been wondering… why do you guys not have a TV? Or, like, Internet?”

“Ask Taemin,” says Minho. He swallows down a mouthful of brownie. “It’s his apartment.”

Kibum twists around in his chair. “Yo, Remus Lupin, what’s with the lack of technology around here?” He ignores Minho’s choked-off laughter. “Don’t tell me you’ve got a secret love for these crosswords… I seriously thought you were about to chew your own hair off when you couldn’t figure out how to spell ‘onomatopoeia’-”

Nobody knows how to spell that,” Taemin informs him, looking over as he shakes pieces of bowl out of a dustpan and into the trashcan. “Or they shouldn’t, anyway.”

“That’s not the point,” says Kibum. He does the whole flirtatious pout, eyelashes-fluttering, aegyo-d up voice thing in an attempt to wring an answer out of the guy. “Please, Taemin? Can you answer me?”

Taemin accidentally drops the dustpan into the trash, his cheeks going very red. Kibum suppresses a smirk, irrationally pleased at his ability to turn the tables and fluster Taemin for once. Minho snorts, mutters something about sexually-frustrated younglings and shoves another brownie into his mouth.

“I just didn’t want to have to pay for that stuff,” says Taemin finally. He bends over to fish the dustpan out of the trash, presenting Kibum with a very nice view that he isn’t looking at. Really. “If I need to use the Internet for anything, like classes and shit, then I can go to a café or one of their houses or something.”

“Who’s ‘they’?” Kibum asks. “Minho, you mean?”

Taemin nods, straightening again. “Him or our alpha, yeah.”

“It’s Taemin’s official status in our pack,” Minho informs Kibum, a playful glitter to his eyes. “Official freeloader and couch potato.”

“Hey! It is not!”

“Mm-hmm, sure, pup.”

“Fuck you, I’m nineteen!”

Kibum laughs at this exchange, unable to help his amusement at how easily Minho is riling Taemin up. He pulls a half-finished crossword towards him as the werewolves continue to banter with each other, and starts working on it. Despite his inability to figure out what a melancholy instrument might be, he can’t help smiling a little at how comfortable this all is.

It beats dying under a Mt. Everest worth of homework and social drama by light-years, really.

~~~

Taemin has to leave for his night shift at the convenience store again that night, after another long and lazy afternoon spent relaxing and having fun together. Kibum bids him farewell, then retreats into the bedroom with milk and the last of the brownies. He considers it a victory when he doesn’t get cornered by Minho for more Serious Discussion Time, and instead happily revels in finally being alone and able to unwind.

For whatever reason, sleep comes easier this night, even without Taemin there. Still, Kibum wakes up the moment he feels the covers being tugged back as Taemin insinuates himself onto the bed at four in the morning.

“Cold again?” Taemin asks softly. Kibum shrugs and yawns.

“Nah.” He smiles when Taemin hesitates in his attempts to nestle closer. “S’cool. I like…” he wriggles his fingers around, too tired to figure out what exactly it is that he’s trying to say. “Things,” he concludes finally. “I like things.”

Taemin laughs quietly at his sleepy confusion. Kibum rolls his eyes and reaches over to grab Taemin’s hand and wave it around in passive-aggressive, wordless retort.

Taemin grins and twines their fingers together. His palm is very warm and very soothing. This is possibly because Kibum is half-asleep again, and cannot be bothered with letting go.

They fall asleep like that, still holding hands.

~~~

He wakes late again the next day and spends the first few minutes of alertness lying still in the bed and contemplating Taemin’s peaceful, sleeping visage. It’s not really a pretty sight- some people might look nice when they sleep, but Taemin certainly isn’t one of them. His face is smushed weirdly against his fist, his mouth slightly open with a string of drool hanging from it, his hair sticking out in every direction again.

Kibum smoothes down the hair as gently as he can manage, in order to avoid waking Taemin up. A few days ago, he muses, the prospect of leaving and never seeing the werewolves again had been mildly disappointing, but only mildly. But now… he swallows back a little pang at the thought that if he chooses to go, he’ll never be able to share a bed with Taemin like this, or cuddle him, or play games with him, or just… do anything with him.

It doesn’t surprise him anymore that he’s become so attached to a guy who’d thought it a great idea to kidnap him almost a week ago. Maybe it’s the way Taemin seems to like him without expecting anything from him, or maybe it’s that Taemin is just so chill, unlike everyone else Kibum knows, or maybe it’s that it’s been really cool to befriend someone who thinks playing fetch is a great way to pass the time.

Or maybe it’s Stockholm Syndrome. Whatever. Kibum finds he really doesn’t care. The point is, he knows he can’t put off making a decision about staying or going for much longer, and he really has no idea what choice he’s going to make. He’s not under any illusions that living with werewolves will be any less stressful in the long run than returning to the mess of his life thus far. Kibum’s very good at fucking things up, and he suspects that it would be very easy to fuck up being a human member of a werewolf pack.

And the consequences would be much worse. Like, at least accidentally cheating on your girlfriend doesn’t get you killed, whereas letting the wrong werewolf sniff you apparently might.

On the other hand, werewolves are a lot more fascinating than rightfully angry ex-girlfriends. Life might be shit no matter what he chooses to do, but Kibum supposes it might as well be interesting shit, and you can’t get much more interesting than werewolves.

But then there’s the question of exactly what he would do as part of a werewolf pack, especially if he has to drop out of university to join it. Is it really his life goal to become a glorified house spouse to a lazy as fuck (if also cute as hell) werewolf?

Well, maybe. Kibum can’t find it in himself to really care all that much about his future right now, too sick of perpetually worrying about it to force himself to worry more. Besides, maybe he can do the whole online class thing, like Taemin is. He’s a linguistics major- it should be fairly possible.

Kibum sighs and carefully maneuvers himself out of the bed. Maybe a hot shower will help him sort things out.

~~~

It doesn’t, really. Kibum wanders into the kitchen afterwards, threading his fingers through still-damp hair and frowning as he rehashes the pros and cons of staying versus going for the umpteenth time.

Minho is sitting at the kitchen table, heavily involved in a newspaper and making his way through a giant bowl of grapes. He lowers the paper to briefly offer Kibum a courteous good morning, which Kibum returns as he snags a handful of grapes and sits down at the other side of the table.

He pulls the Life & Entertainment section towards him and pretends to read it. The problem is, a very real part of him- the part that’s just tired of everything and all too willing to give up control to finally find some peace for once- desperately wants to stay. But he knows he can’t just let that bone-deep exhaustion win- rationally speaking, he shouldn’t just toss everything for a pair of werewolves he barely knows-

And here he is again, dragging himself through the same old circle of argument that’s gotten him exactly nowhere the three hundred times he’s thought it through before.

After perhaps half an hour of what consists more of frantic worrying than of actual newspaper-reading, Kibum gets up to go acquire a glass of water. Partway through this endeavor, he hears Taemin shuffle into the kitchen and be greeted by a Minho still distracted with the Business foldouts.

“Hey,” says Kibum, turning around slightly at the counter to wave at Taemin. “Good afternoon.”

Taemin rolls his eyes and ambles towards him. “Nyehhh.”

Kibum grins. “Tired much?”

“Mm-hmm.” Taemin wanders closer. “Wassup?”

“Grapes,” says Kibum, and grins wider at Taemin’s look of utter confusion. It’s so adorable that he can’t help but give in to the impulse to hold his arms out, in the manner of one asking for a hug.

Taemin blinks at him, wide-eyed at this unexpected display of affection, then beams and skips forward to happily fling his arms around Kibum’s waist and squeeze him hard. Kibum lets out a little oof of breath and hugs Taemin back, grin softening into a smile when Taemin nuzzles his cheek delightedly against Kibum’s own.

Kibum can still smell that lingering, intoxicating scent of oranges-and-chocolate as his nose brushes against the front of Taemin’s ear. It makes him wonder, suddenly, what he smells like to Taemin. He hopes it’s something nice and not, like, weed and bananas or some such shit. That would suck.

“You should know,” says Minho suddenly from the table. “That the act of rubbing one’s cheeks against each other is a common display of affection between werewolves who are extremely close, and also of fairly equal rank within the pack.”

“You sound like some guy off a nature channel,” Kibum says. He draws back from Taemin with some embarrassment. “You know, like- behold the wild, middle-aged wolf in its natural environment- reading stock options and eating grapes-

Minho makes an indignant protest about the term middle-aged. Taemin just laughs, eyes sparkling, and goes in search of brunch.

Kibum himself makes his way to the table again with his glass of water and sits down. He still feels embarrassingly all warm and fuzzy inside from his and Taemin’s ‘display of affection’ just now. Despite how clinical Minho had made it sound, it had felt anything but, just as all his interactions with Taemin have always felt unmistakably genuine, if also sometimes deeply weird.

The weird is kind of endearing though, now that he knows to expect it. Kibum breathes in, breathes out, and rolls a grape between his fingers. There’s so much more he wants to know about werewolves and Taemin and just- everything really.

And if he kind of desperately wants more face-nuzzling from Taemin every bit as much as he wants to indulge his curiosity, well. There’s that, too. Kibum eats the grape with inefficient slowness, contemplates things and comes to a conclusion.

“So,” he says finally, directing his words to Minho while Taemin continues to be occupied with finding something to eat. “I have a question. I was wondering if maybe tomorrow you could take me to meet the rest of your pack?”

“Sure,” says Minho, a touch surprised. He lowers his paper again. “We’ll have to go early tomorrow morning, though. Is that okay with you?”

Kibum shrugs. “It’s not like I’ve got any other plans.”

“Really? You don’t?” Taemin looks hopefully over from where he’d been gazing into the fridge. “Does this mean you’re planning on staying another day?”

“Nah,” says Kibum. He reaches over to snatch another grape, ignoring the crumpled look of disappointment on Taemin’s face at this. Then he adds, very casually: “I’m planning on staying forever.”

He pops the grape into his mouth. Minho’s face twitches in a manner that suggests he’s trying very hard to suppress a grin. Taemin yells loudly, abandons the quest for edibles and runs over to the table to fling his arms about Kibum and squeeze him in a tightly exuberant hug.

Ow,” Kibum wheezes, reaching up to sling one arm about Taemin’s waist. “Stop that-

“I knew it!” Taemin whoops, paying no attention to Kibum’s discomfort. “I knew it, I knew it, I knew it- hah, who said snatching people off the streets was a bad idea-”

“We’ll have to make a longer trip of it tomorrow, then,” Minho says, talking through Taemin’s excitement. “I’ll drive you back to your dorm so you can collect your things- and then maybe we should take a trip to your bank to make sure you’ll still have access to your account-”

“Sounds good,” Kibum agrees. “I was also thinking I’d call my parents and make some kind of announcement on Facebook so that no one thinks I’m lying in pieces in a back alley or anything-”

Minho’s response to this is drowned out by Taemin still babbling happily at Kibum’s announcement. Despite the fact that this rambling is really very cute, given how Taemin keeps tripping and stumbling awkwardly over his words and getting tangled up in his sentences, Kibum really does need to hash out the practical considerations with Minho.

He therefore tightens his one-armed grip on Taemin’s waist and pulls the werewolf down onto his lap. This doesn’t help much, because Taemin promptly starts squirming about in a very distracting manner. Kibum resorts to clamping a hand over Taemin’s mouth and glaring sternly at him. Taemin flutters falsely innocent eyelashes back, but then leans his head against Kibum’s shoulder and goes still, apparently content to be thus held.

“Okay,” says Kibum, and turns back to Minho. “So what were you saying?”

“That it’s a good idea, that Facebook thing,” says Minho. “Never mind, we can work out the logistics of things in a moment.” He smiles. “First, though, I need to tell you what I should’ve said first thing.”

“Yeah?” Kibum swallows nervously. “What’s that?”

Minho’s smile widens; Taemin hums happily against Kibum’s shoulder.

“Thank you for staying,” says Minho, warm and painfully sincere. “And welcome to our pack.”

(fin)