Final Word Count: 22k
Note: song quoted is Rameses B - I Need You ft. Charlotte Haining
i wait, i hesitate
my mind is made up
and now it's time to wake up
it's late, but i can't stop and stay
(i need you)
He finds them on a hunting trip, small and underfed and shivering in the bend of a large tree root, only an arm’s length from a stream. At first he doesn't even pick up on their species, as covered in dirt, bits of hair and leaves as they are. When he realizes they're human his horror grows at an equal pace with his determination to get them out of there, to get them to safety.
The larger one snaps and growls when he comes closer, but this isn't the first time he's dealt with something wild and feral, so he simply gets close enough so the two creatures won't be able to run off without going past him. He sets to gutting one of the rabbits he retrieved from his snares earlier, knowing the smell of blood will do most of the work for him. And pretty soon the smaller of the two is whining, softly, insistently. Minho doesn't have to understand them to be able to translate that whine; I’m hungry, so hungry. His companion isn't having it, snapping at him when he tries to sneak closer, firmly planting his body between him and the newcomer. His eyes leave Minho only for the briefest of seconds, flitting to his charge – to make sure he's not going anywhere – and down to the freshly killed rabbit before going back to him.
Minho is done skinning the rabbit, cuts of a few bite size pieces and throws it to them.
“Eat," he says, keeping his voice even, and then turns away and continues his task of cleaning the rest of the cadavers. He's started in on the third rabbit before he registers movement out of the corner of his eye, so incredibly fast and minute he thinks he might have imagined it. When he turns back the larger one is still staring at him, still as a rock, but the sounds of feeding are clear. Minho realizes how fast they are, and that they could easily outrun him if they wanted to, but apparently they haven't grasped that fact yet.
He cuts up some more of the first rabbit, the pieces not as neat now, and throws them as close as he can, careful not to startle them into taking a chance on running off after all. The smaller one is quick to tackle the food this time, brushing off the predictable snap at his head so he can reach out and round the meat close enough for him to eat. He goes for the largest morsel, watching his companion out of the corner of his eyes while doing so, as if he's never allowed the bigger piece under normal circumstances and is taking advantage now. Minho smiles, which causes the bigger one to growl, a harsh and rumbly sound coming from the centre of his chest.
“Sorry. No smiling."
He barks at that, sharp and short. It takes a lot out of Minho to keep a straight face - unprepared to see a human bark quite so earnestly.
He's thankful it's early morning, because earning enough trust to capture them is clearly going to take a while, and he doesn't like his chances in these woods at night. He would probably be able to get himself out of a pickle if needed, but by then these two would be far gone, never to be seen again.
The one that's eating is almost finished with his morsel, keeping part of it pressed to the ground as he tears at it. It's clear that they're used to eating their catches whole, so Minho throws the rest of the rabbit without cutting it up any further. The smaller one lets out a happy little yelp, leaning over to snatch up the whole thing – but this time his crime doesn't go unpunished, and he cowers after a snap dangerously close to his face. No. Mine.
“Well if you're not gonna let him eat it, you eat it," Minho suggests, and then turns back to his rabbits and finishes up his work. He does it more slowly than usual, not willing to give up on his one thing to pass the time with, and the pelts come off nearly unscathed. His work is accompanied by the sounds of eating – and occasional growling – slow and reluctant at first, but with more gusto towards the end. When the tearing sounds are becoming obscene he takes a chance on sneaking another look. Both of them are lying belly down, their legs stretched at an angle, with parts of the rabbit clamped between their front paws (hands, he reminds himself); their faces are covered in blood, and they have their eyes partly shut to protect them from protruding bones and splatter.
“Good?" Minho asks. He regrets it a little when the bigger one immediately ceases eating and starts growling again. The little one isn't bothered in the slightest, continuing his chomping with a blissed out look on his face.
“Don't worry, I’m not gonna do anything, you can keep eating," he says reassuringly. “Here, have another one."
A short but ferocious battle ensues, and the larger one immediately starts tearing at the rabbit to keep the smaller one from stealing it. Mine! Mine!
The smaller one responds with something that Minho can only describe as a shrug, and seems satisfied with sitting and licking his lips, cleaning the blood off of them. When the first one has had his fill he sneaks a few more bites, but it's clear that they're both pretty full.
Minho remembers he was cleaning his catch, and turns his back to them to finish up his work. He neatly cleans the pelts of any residual blood with water from the stream, and rolls them and the intestines into one of the cloths he carries, tying the cleaned cadavers to his belt again. When he checks up on the creatures - kids? - they're lying very close to each other, curled up in the recess of the tree. They still look like they're trying to get as far away of him as possible, but it's less frantic now, their limbs not as painfully wound up with fright. They're currently taking turns in licking each other's faces, an act exuding equal measures of disturbing and adorable.
“Was that good? Had enough?"
He gets a growl in response, but it's not nearly as heartfelt as the earlier ones.
Now comes the tricky part, and Minho is glad he wore his gloves today. He gets up, stretching, keeping a careful eye on the both of them, and reaches for his slingshot. He has a collection of pebbles in his pouch, and feels around for one that’s not too big; he not looking to permanently injure.
He brings the weapon up slowly, counting on the pair not knowing what it is. The smaller one gives him a curious look right before he releases the stone, knocking out the bigger one in an instant.
The baby yelps when its kin falls to the forest floor, pawing at him and nuzzling him, producing frightened whimpers. When Minho approaches he cowers, looking up at him with big, accusing eyes.
“Shh, shh, it’s okay, he’s fine. Can I pick him up?”
Predictably, the little one snarls and attacks when he touches the limp body. He tears at his gloves with his teeth, shaking his head and fighting for all his worth; things that might have done some actual damage if he’d had animal teeth, but his blunt human teeth aren’t sharp enough to cut through the leather. Minho is patient, lets the little one work off its fright. He runs out of energy a lot sooner than Minho anticipated, and he worries that they’re more malnourished than they appear.
“All done? Come on then, be a good boy, follow your brother. This is your brother, isn’t it?”
He picks up the one he knocked out, throwing him over his shoulder. This close he can pick up on the smell of unwashed body, but it’s not as terrible as he thought it would be. What worries him more is how light he is – much too light for a child his size.
He starts walking, throwing back a surreptitious glance. At first it looks like the smaller one isn’t going to move, and he worries he’s going to have to drag him home by a piece of rope in addition to carrying his brother. But when Minho starts to disappear from sight he appears to have a change of heart and bolts after them. He has a funny way of running, his arms stiff and fast-moving, his hind legs bent at an uncomfortable looking angle. Minho hopes this unnatural way of moving around hasn’t done any permanent damage to his bones.
“Tsik, tsik,” he calls voicelessly. “Good boy.”
The walk home takes up more time than it would’ve taken Minho on his own, the little one very hesitant and easily startled. At one point he runs off when an acorn drops down, and Minho spends five minutes standing in the same spot, debating whether it would be better to go looking for him, or wait until he gathers up the guts to come back on his own. He puts the other down and checks his breathing – still good – and hopes he doesn’t wake up before they get to his house, because he doesn’t want to knock him out again.
Then he sees a nose and a watchful eye peeking from behind a tree, and he calls out to him.
“Come on little one, it wasn’t anything. Just an acorn. See?” He picks it up and shows it to him, and throws it back to the ground. The creature jolts when the acorn hits the ground, frozen in his spot, but when nothing else happens he slowly relaxes.
“That’s right. Just an acorn, nothing to worry about. Come on now.” He looks up at him, seemingly nervous about being watched.
When he picks up the unconscious boy again he does it slowly, not looking back; fast movements and direct eye contact are clearly not going over very well. But when he starts walking again he hears the soft, stilted tread of the smaller boy behind him.
He’s more worried about what he’ll do with them once he gets home – and when the one currently slung over his shoulder wakes up. Maybe he could lock them up in the wood shed? He hadn’t been very diligent about restocking his supply, so there was a good amount of room in there. He couldn’t bring them into the house straight away, convinced they’d tear the place to shreds.
Once home he decides the wood shed is actually a shit idea; it doesn’t lock up and it’s cold and splintery inside. He might as well have left them in the woods if that’s the alternative he’s offering. He shrugs and opens his front door, carrying the bigger boy into his house.
The small one is extremely hesitant about following them, lingering near the door opening and yelping with thinly-veiled fright.
“Nothing is going to happen to you, I promise. I need to tie up your brother before he wakes up – he’s your alpha, isn’t he? That makes him a little dangerous.”
The creature stares at him, baring his teeth. Minho knows it’s supposed to be a threatening gesture, but on his human face it looks like a wonky smile. He smiles inwardly; it’s cute.
“You’ll come in when you feel like it.”
Inside he ties the still unconscious alpha to his cast iron stove, figuring that should be heavy enough. He secures him at the chest, tying the knot at the back, hoping that will delay him figuring it out. Then he walks to the closet in his bedroom and gets out clean sheets, planning to fashion a makeshift bed out of them until he can figure out something better.
When he walks back into the room, the small one is still nowhere to be seen. He sighs, and is rewarded with a little growl.
The alpha is awake, tucked away between the couch and the stove, trying to press himself out of sight as much as possible.
“You’re up, huh?” Minho asks, crouching and looking the alpha straight in the eye. “I’m sorry about hitting you earlier, I just wanted to make the trip as least stressful as possible. I could have knocked out your brother instead of you, but I’m pretty sure that would not have ended well.”
The alpha doesn’t blink, just stares him down. Minho doesn’t budge; he’s determined to assert his dominance early on. Then a little whimper comes from outside, and the alpha’s eyes go for the door. It’s not a real victory, but Minho has time. The little one is looking just round the corner, watching the both of them.
He barks, short. It’s like a question.
The alpha barks too, commanding. For a moment Minho fears he’s told him to leave, but then the small one starts entering the house, one step at a time.
“Good boy,” Minho praises him, slowly rounding him. The little one catches on to his intentions however, and is back out the door in two seconds flat.
“Smart boy,” he laughs, looking outside. The creature is on the other side of the clearing, looking at him from behind a tree. “You’re not letting yourself be caught that easily, huh? Guess I’ll go get dinner started while you figure this out.”
When Minho returns by himself the alpha barks angrily, stretching his neck to look behind him.
“Don’t worry, he’s coming. How does rabbit sound for dinner?”
Another angry bark.
“Two rabbits, then.”
“I’m sorry buddy, I only have the four left. Unless you’re in the mood for some deer? It’s a little old though, I don’t know if you’re into that.”
Good, Minho thinks. He needed to get this fight out of them, if they were ever gonna pass as civilized beings. But when he looks at the little animal-person cowering against his wall, he can’t help but doubt if he’ll ever get them even halfway to human.
Oh well, no sense in giving up the battle before it’s even begun.
He takes his time to clean the rabbit, and then debates whether he should cook it or not. They’re definitely used to raw meat, but maybe he shouldn’t be indulging that habit. He settles on searing the meat, leaving it raw on the inside – that way they’d get a little bit of both – counting on the taste of butter to convince them to eat this at all.
“Dinner is served guys. Or guy, rather. Is your brother still out there?”
The sun is beginning to set, and Minho feels a pang of worry. What if the little thing had decided to accept his loss and split? He’d been counting on him to get the alpha to warm up to him, and on top of that he wasn’t so sure he’d be able to make it on his own. They both looked like they’d barely been getting on together.
“Food,” he says into the dusk, and there’s the typical scurry of small animals flittering into the underbrush, but no answering yelp.
“Guess it’s just you and me for now, huh? Do you think he’ll be back?”
He puts the plate of briefly fried rabbit next to the alpha, who doesn’t even look at it, still focused on the door. Minho takes the opportunity to study him – up close like this he looks older than the age he’d initially pegged him, and when he takes in his limbs he thinks the boy might actually stand almost as tall as him. He had to be at least a teenager.
“How old are you? Where did you come from?”
The alpha growls, but keeps his eyes on the door.
“Suit yourself – I’m gonna cook up the rest of the meat.”
He makes a simple dinner, no frills, just something that would keep him going until his next meal. Sometimes he got into it and made himself elaborate dishes, with cream he got from the local grocer, but tonight he was having grilled roots and rabbit.
When night has fully set in, it’s still just him and the alpha. He looks at the black square of the door opening, and then at the animal tied to his stove. The food is still sitting untouched on its plate, looking increasingly unappetizing.
“Not hungry, huh? You must be worried too.”
He’s ignored, but he’ll let it pass. “I’ll leave the food out for you, it should keep through the night with the door cracked. You won’t let in anything weird, right?”
After he’s tied up the rabbit carcasses and skins in the wood shed, and put the furs into a tanning solution, he lays out some blankets, arranging them so they form a big comfy pile. Then he settles down into it, and pulls one of the blankets over himself. “Like this, see?”
The alpha is looking at him warily, his upper lip pulled away in a sneer. “It’s for sleeping. Get it?”
Minho yawns extensively, and closes his eyes, nestling in the blankets. When he opens his eyes again the alpha is still in the exact same spot, regarding him with disdain.
“Well, I’m sure you get the gist. So g’night, I’ll see you in the morning. Two of you, hopefully.”
He goes into his bedroom for the night, the disapproving expression on the face of his new house guest the last thing he sees before he closes the door.
The next morning the house is freezing. When he enters the living room the alpha is fast asleep in the pile of blankets, the plate next to him empty. He’s shivering in his sleep.
“Jesus,” Minho mutters, very carefully picking up his quilt from the couch and even more carefully draping it over the sleeping form. It’s a testament to how exhausted the creature must be that none of this wakes him up – there’s no way they survived out in the wild for years on end without a keener sense of their surroundings.
He equally silently starts working on lighting a new fire in the stove, startled when he accidentally drops a piece of wood. There’s a little sniffling noise from the pile of blankets, but that’s it.
After the room is heating up and he’s made sure the alpha isn’t lying close enough to accidentally singe himself, he quietly grabs a coat and some rubber boots and closes the front door behind him. Outside he puts on the boots and wraps the coat around him, scanning his surroundings.
“Little one?” he shouts softly. Everything is grey in the morning light, the surfaces wet and clammy. A few birds respond to him, something croaks to his left. Damn frogs, he thinks.
“Are you still out here?”
There’s another croak, and he feels a little queasy. He walks towards the sound, and there, curled against the side of his wood shed, is the little one. He’s drenched and his teeth are audibly shattering, his fingers and toes an unhealthy blue colour.
“Stupid, stupid! Why didn’t you come inside,” Minho scolds in a panic, picking him up. The boy tries to get away from him, but his trembling is preventing him from doing anything besides throwing Minho a little off-balance. “Will you stop squirming? How did the two of you make it up until now – you must have had a burrow of some kind, huh?”
Inside they’re greeted by the perfectly awake alpha, who starts whining at the sight of his charge. “I’ll get him to you in a minute – I need to put him in a hot bath first,” he says while closing and locking the front door. The alpha is definitely not happy when Minho starts to move away from him, letting out clipped, angry barks and stretching his cord to the max. It looks like it’s starting to cut into his chest. Minho puts the little one down for a second, close enough so the alpha can sniff him, but not so close that he can bite Minho.
“See? He’s okay. But I need to help him. And that looks really painful buddy, will you stop pulling?”
The sound of his voice, low and even, seems to calm the alpha down at least a little. He sits back on his haunches, licking the little one’s face while Minho talks and staring at him from the corner of his eyes.
“I would untie you if I could, but I need to focus on your brother for a second, alright? I can’t have you trying to kill me while I see to him.”
When Minho picks him up again the bubble of calmness immediately bursts, the alpha snapping at him with even more ferocity. He pulls the rope tight with such force that Minho is scared it might snap, or cause him to bleed, but neither happen. At most it looks like it’s causing him some difficulty breathing.
“Okay, so you’re not gonna calm down, and your brother isn’t going to get any warmer by himself. Stay put, ya hear?”
Another series of angry snaps.
He resolutely goes into the bathroom, locking the door behind him – just in case – and putting the little one on a chair. He’s thankful he didn’t have a shower yet, meaning there should be just enough hot water to fill the tub. He turns on the tap, and then grabs the biggest towel he owns and wraps it around the shivering little creature. It makes absolutely no attempt to attack him or escape, its eyes bleary and its skin feeling blazing to the touch.
“You’re running a fever. Is that good or bad? I guess it’s better than being dead, huh? Come on, let’s get some of this soaked gunk off of you.”
That’s easier said than done, the collection of leaves and other forest crap appearing to be welded to his skin. The only part that he gets relatively clean is his neck and face, which are both drenched in sweat. After five minutes of being rubbed with the towel he still pretty much looks like someone did a crap job of removing camouflage paint.
“Okay so fuck that plan… let’s get you into the water.”
He adds in a bucket of rain water he keeps under the tub (no sense in wasting money on cold water), feeling for temperature. It’s perfect, as expected, since he takes this bath once a week and has the temperature thing down to a t.
“Come on little guy, up you go,” he says, lifting him up easily and carrying him to the tub. Getting him into the tub isn’t as easy, as the warmness of the water seems to wake him from his dazed state long enough to let out a frightened whimper and struggle in his hold. It’s rewarded with a series of angry barks from the living room.
“Shh, it’s alright, it’s just warm water. I’m sure you’ve at least swam in warm water in the summer? It’s gonna help with the cold.”
He doesn’t actually believe the boy can understand him, but still almost wants to swear he did for a second there, because he gives a faint nod and relaxes in his hold. Minho lets him sink in the rest of the way, the water almost instantaneously clouding up with dissolving mud.
“This is going to be one gross bath once I’m done with you. Okay, you just sit for a while, and I’m gonna go pet your brother or something. He sounds like he’s gonna have a stroke out there. Don’t drown while I’m gone, you hear?”
The living room is in a lot worse state than he’d expected, the older brother apparently having utilized every second not spent barking on shredding his sheets apart. When he sees Minho he keeps ripping, his mouth latched onto a corner of a sheet and his fists holding it down.
“Stop that!” Minho shouts, clapping his hands. The unexpectedness of the sounds startles the alpha into dropping the sheet, his eyes wide.
“Look, I have sympathy for what you’re going through right now, I really do, but bad boy.”
A look of immense sadness flits across the creature’s face, and Minho’s certain that if he’d had moveable ears they would be lying flat right now.
“Lord help me, I did not sign up for any of this when I dragged you two out of the forest… or if I did I am calling bullshit on myself right now, because holy shit.”
His little guest whimpers.
“Of course you’re making that sound, because I don’t feel bad enough already. Are you gonna bite me if I untie you?”
That earns him a curious look.
“Maybe? I guess I’ll take my chances, like how many terrible diseases could you really give me. Twenty, at most.”
When he’s untied the alpha from the stove, a pair of nervous eyes having followed his every moment, he doesn’t get wrestled to the ground like he feared. Instead the alpha bolts across the room, and smacks into the bathroom door with a sickening crash.
His command probably wasn’t all that necessary, considering the alpha is lying on the floor and trying to uncross his eyes. He leans over him, trying to avoid the dangerous end of the creature. “Let me just… open this door for you. There.”
When the alpha doesn’t get up straight away he steps over him and walks in first, anxiously checking up on the brother sitting in his bathtub. Didn’t drown. Good.
The alpha comes in behind him, wobbling to the side of the tub and sticking his face over the edge. He’s limping, producing a soft but continuous whine.
“You really hurt yourself, didn’t you? Stupid.”
The one in the tub is whining too now, turning his head, touching nose to nose.
“I wish you guys could understand how surreal this is, because I am standing in my bathroom right now, and two naked, filthy, underfed dog-children are nuzzling in my tub, I mean, I kind of feel like I should be turning myself in somewhere? Also, I’m talking to myself.”
The two continue to pay him little to no attention, though him grabbing a wash cloth and wiping it down the little one’s face earns him a glower from the alpha.
“I’m not gonna do nothing, just cleaning off some of this muck. You understand, right? I mean, you’re not trying to arrange a divorce between me and my limbs, so I’m gonna assume you do, on some level at least.”
The warm water seems to be doing a lot of good, because the one in the tub gradually goes from being barely responsive to actually paying attention to what Minho is doing to him, following the wash cloth where it trails over his skin. When Minho has reached his legs he obediently lets him pick up the first one, watching as he wipes it down, and before Minho can grab the second one he’s offering it up to him.
“Thanks!” Minho says, glad to avoid any and all contact with the grey murk that is currently trying to pass as bath water. “Okay, I’m done rubbing you down – at this point I’m pretty much just moving dirt around, anyways. Can you stand up?”
They both blink at him, and he shows them repeatedly. “Stand up. Like this? See? Stand up.”
The alpha tries it first, only rudimentary, but Minho is still shocked at how fast he picked it up. It encourages the little one to try it too, and Minho grabs him before he can slip and fall. At first he seems uncomfortable with being touched, but when nothing unpleasant happens he relaxes in Minho’s grip.
“You two are really bright, aren’t you? That’s how you survived in the woods all those years, I bet. Come on, out you go.”
Once he’s no longer being supported by Minho the boy immediately goes back to a sitting position, producing happy little groans when his alpha cuddles closer.
Minho studies them, two fingers pressed to his chin. When they notice him staring and stop what they’re doing to stare back, he gives him a quizzical look. “I’m trying to figure out… how are you still managing to look about as dirty as your brother, little one? He hasn’t even had a bath yet.”
The smaller one yips, as if he understands that he’s being spoken to.
“No, I’m serious, it’s legitimately kind of amazing. Oh well, there has to be an end to all that dirt some time, right? Let’s see if we can draw you another bath.”
The boiler hasn’t recovered enough for a full bath, so Minho adds a little more cold water (from the tap this time, gathering rain water was a lengthy process and he didn’t trust these two by themselves yet), but the brothers don’t take issue with it. Brothers, because he can’t keep the alpha out this time.
“You are seriously not helping, you’re gonna get the little one all dirtied up again!”
The alpha is ignoring him in favour of walking tight circles in the tub, trying to get comfortable despite the tap poking him.
“I guess I should just be grateful you’re being so accepting of the whole bath-thing at all, huh? It definitely beats out having to hose you down in the yard.”
After the second bath the little one is skin-coloured all over, down to his pruney toes, and the alpha no longer looks like his hair consists mainly of sticks. It’s still heavily matted though, and Minho figures he’ll either have to cut it or spend a long afternoon untangling it. But he’s still pleased, since they’re starting to look like actual boys. He helps them out of the tub while the water drains, making a face at the layer of sludge sitting at the bottom.
“Good enough for today, I’d reckon.”
He helps the younger to stand halfway up and quickly starts rubbing him dry, using a fresh towel. The alpha looks on with wide eyes, trying to sniff the towel as it moves up and down. “Would you like a towel too, buddy? To dry off? Here, he’s dry enough, you wanna try it now?”
He hands the alpha the towel, who just looks at it. Minho shrugs and puts it down at his feet. There’s enthusiastic sniffing from both of them.
“Cute. I’ll be back in a second, you two try to figure out the whole towel deal while I’m gone.”
When he returns with two t-shirts and two pyjama bottoms (also known as his entire collection of sleepwear) the alpha is pulling the towel back with his teeth while the little one tries to curl up tight enough so he can lie down on it.
Minho laughs. “Creative, but no. Come on, hand that over.”
When he’s rubbed the alpha down as well – only having to avoid two biting attempts – he begins the process of dressing them. They are incredibly resistant about the process, and even the more docile little one is starting to snap at him when he tries to force a leg into a pair of pants for about the twentieth time, only to have him wring out of the first before he can get to the second. After about fifteen minutes of this and of Minho becoming increasingly frustrated and sweaty, he gives up. Both boys have lost the glows from their baths, looking kind of pale and sickly, still clearly suffering the consequences from malnutrition and their temperature drop and head wounds respectively.
“Okay, so let’s nix the pants and just do t-shirts? How are you feeling t-shirts?”
Not at all, it turns out, and Minho just gives up and lets them back into the living room. The stove is down to its last cinders but has done an amazing job of heating up the room, and the boys contently curl up in front of it in a big circle, nose to feet.
“Yup, that’s adorable. Come on guys, too much.”
He rakes up the fire again, and finally sets to making himself some breakfast. It has to be at least noon by now, and his stomach isn’t shy about letting him know. He still has some eggs in the fridge, and wonders if the boys will eat one too if he gives it to them raw.
He decides on soft-boiled eggs, cooking them two each. This pretty much depletes his egg stock, and he’s beginning to realize how much it will take to keep the three of them fed.
“We’re gonna have to work out some kind of hunting system, because otherwise the three of us are going to be royally fucked. How much time is soft-boiled again? Two or three minutes?”
It turns out he cooks them a little too long, but the eggs are a huge hit, both his guests pretty much inhaling their portion, shells and everything.
“So… I guess I should have peeled those before giving them to you, huh?”
Two sets of satisfied eyes look back at him, unbothered.
“No, it’s cool, it’s cool. Not weird at all.”
Shortly after both boys slip into a nap that extends into almost a full day of sleeping. Minho figures they’ve been through a lot and need their rest, softly pacing around the house and only occasionally approaching them to rekindle the fire. While he takes a bath of his own – after giving the tub a thorough cleaning – and has some raw turnips and strips of dried deer meat for dinner, he keeps thinking about all the things that still need doing. Like stocking up on food and firewood, and making serious attempts to find out who these kids even are. But he figures they’ve deserved one day of rest. He locks the door and watches them for a bit, or rather watches the few bits of them that are sticking out of the pile of shredded blankets. They’re making little sounds in their sleep, and he shakes his head.
“G’night you two.”
The next morning when he emerges from his bedroom he’s greeted by two extremely well-rested boy-pups, looking like they would be wagging their tails if they’d had any.
“Well aren’t you guys up bright and early,” he yawns, stretching himself. The little one barks excitedly, and lets out a huge yawn as well.
“Were you really yawning, or are you making fun of me?”
The alpha responds by producing his own massive yawn, letting his tongue loll of out his mouth when he’s done.
When he walks towards the kitchen he’s immediately surrounded by the two, and gently herded towards the other side of the room.
“What? Don’t you want breakf– oh, right.”
It had completely slipped his mind that these two didn’t know how to use a human toilet, and he sheepishly unlocks the front door. They bolt from sight, and he wonders how long they’d been holding it in, grateful they decided against going inside. Then he wonders if they’re coming back at all.
“Sorry!” he yells after the two disappearing figures.
They’re back not even ten minutes later, attracted by the smell of frying eggs and rabbit innards. He neatly divides the contents of the pan into three, dropping them onto three plates, and glances at his pile of dirty dishes – which was slowly taking on frightful proportions – telling himself to tackle them after breakfast.
“It’s not much, this is really the time I should spend foraging and stocking up on things. But I hope you like it.”
They seem a little hesitant about the buttery quality of the food at first, but after the alpha has carefully pressed his teeth into a bit of baked rabbit liver he swallows the whole morsel in one go. The little one watches him with interest, picking up a piece of liver of his own and copying his brother’s actions. They finish their entire plates this way, the alpha leading the way and the little one following suit, and Minho doesn’t even realize he has yet to touch his own food until their plates are empty and they start longingly staring at his.
“No guys, I really need to eat this, I have to keep up my energy. And I have some errands to run today.”
When he’s finished up his plate – and done the dishes – he looks back at the two boys. They’re back to lying by the fire, looking like the epitome of blissful satisfaction.
“Will you two be alright while I’m gone? Maybe you need to take another whiz?”
The little one takes him up on his offer, lifting his leg and peeing against the side of the wood shed before quickly heading back inside again. The brief trips outside have left them almost as dirty as when he first found them, and Minho sighs while putting on his running shoes and grabbing his rucksack.
“Guess I should also get some bubble bath, huh? Alright, be back in a bit.”
The centre of town is only a ten minute run away, but he has a hard time keeping his pace steady while he runs down the forest path. What if they broke out and got lost, and he never saw them again? By the time he is running into the shopping street he’s gone over the things he wants to buy several times, determined not to linger for friendly chats today. He briefly wonders if he should make a stop at the police station and ask about missing children cases, but worries it will attract unwelcome attention; if the kids still have parents somewhere he definitely wants to reunite them, but he has to be careful, and do it in a way that will prevent the media from catching wind.
He buys a good amount of pasta, something he only rarely gets for himself because he’s not overly fond of the stuff, but he figures it will work well as filler in the boys’ diets. He also gets a refill for his usual order of grains – wheat, barley, oats and rice – and a big bag of split peas. At the last moment he remembers to grab a bottle of bubble bath.
“Planning for a family dinner?” the grocer asks when he rings up the food, smiling.
“Yeah,” Minho smiles back. You could say that.
Then he heads to the library, hoping they’ll be able to help him out. The girl that likes exchanging flirty banter with him is working today, and he crosses his fingers in his pocket for luck.
“Hi! I was wondering, do you guys keep a backlog of the local newspapers?”
“We sure do,” the girl says, giving him a bright smile. “We have nearly every edition, all the way back to when the town was first founded. You can look at all of ‘em on the top floor, the stairs are right–”
“Actually,” Minho interrupts, giving her what he hopes is his most charming smile, “I was hoping I could take a couple of them home with me? It’s for a research paper.”
As expected the girl frowns, pursing her lips. “I don’t know about that, sir, some of them are really fragile–”
“I wouldn’t be needing any of the really old ones, I’m looking at ten years old at most.” He leans forward a little, close enough to be able to smell her perfume. “I promise to take excellent care of them.”
“Welll,” she says, drawing the word out a little. When he hears the smile hidden at the end of it Minho knows he’s won her over.
He returns home half an hour later – he’d walked the way back, afraid he might tear one of the big plastic bags that held the newspapers and face never being allowed into the library again – to two very non-frantic boy-pups. They’re still napping by the fire, and the alpha barely opens his eyes when he walks in.
“By all means, don’t get up,” Minho says, walking in sideways and dropping his purchases on the floor.
“Right, first things first – you two, bath time.”
The bubbles are an absolute hit, although they’ve got him silently hoping they’re non-toxic because the little one won’t stop biting at them.
“No!” he says for about the hundredth time when he eats another one. “You’re going to regret this later, when all that soap has to leave your body again.” The little one just looks at him with a pleased expression, smacking his lips a little. His brother is leaning back and enjoying himself, looking pleased to have gotten the side without the tap.
This time it’s a lot harder to get them to come out again, and only when the water is ice cold do they allow Minho to lift them out.
“Oof – you could cooperate at least a little. I’m looking at you alpha, you’re like a sack of bricks.”
At least they’re actually all the way clean this time, he thinks to himself. They also seem more naked than ever, and Minho decides to give the t-shirts another go. He does it very gradually, frequently taking off his own shirt and showing them how it goes back on. The little one yields first, yipping and wriggling when he’s pulling it down over his head.
“See, alpha? Nothing to it.”
It still takes a good deal of coercing, but this time when he opens the bathroom door two no longer naked boys go lie down by the fire, and Minho silently congratulates himself on having convinced the boys under his care of t-shirt, at least. “You guys are in a pretty serious relationship with that stove, huh? I guess those woods were cold a lot.”
For dinner he starts preparing split-pea soup, throwing in the last remnants of the rabbit carcasses, and the last strips of his deer meat. It reminds him that he should go hunting again soon, which in turn reminds him that he needs to flesh the rabbit skins today.
“You guys wanna watch me clean some fur while we wait for dinner? I’ll be honest, you can’t really say no.”
He brings in the skins and sets to work, carefully patting them dry before scraping off the last remnants of flesh and fat. The pups watch him but keep their distance. Once all the skins are cleaned he takes them back into the shed, dropping them into a new container of tanning solution and making sure they’re fully submerged. When he heads back into the house the boys are waiting for him patiently, looking up at him.
“There, all done. Daddy’s gotta earn that money.” He shivers, making a disgusted face. “Nope, I took it too far. So, are you ready for some food? I think the soup is just about done by now.”
At the mention of the word ‘food’ two heads perk up.
“You learned that word fast, huh?” Minho laughs, grabbing three plates and ladling the thick soup into them. “Food!” he says again when he’s carrying the plates to them. They both bark in excitement before sitting back on their haunches in unmoving copies of each other, sitting perfectly still while eyeing the plates of food.
“Man, you two are super well-behaved. Whoever raised you did a good job. I used to have a German Shepherd, and he’d be slobbering down his food before the plate even hit the ground. Here you go, and you.”
Once the plates are set down and he’s stepped back they start eating, the alpha only occasionally nipping at his brother. He knows the nipping is because he’s given them equal portions, but he figures it’s okay to ignore their dog sensibilities, since those would only hold them back in the long run.
“Don’t nip,” he says when the alpha does it again, softly pushing his face away, and he’s surprised by the easy compliance. “Huh. Did I become the alpha, alpha?”
Neither responds, focused on their soup. He realizes it makes for pretty messy eating, but he figures they’ll lick each other clean when they’re done.
“I should really start feeding you properly, with the use of chairs and tables and napkins and stuff,” he muses from where he’s sitting, slowly ladling his soup into his mouth. “One thing at a time, though.”
When everyone has had another serving and he’s finished with the washing up, he drags one of the huge fortified bags with newspapers towards the table and gets comfortable. “Where should I start, guys? You seem to have no concept of language… or at least don’t seem to remember… so I’m gonna guess you went missing when you were toddlers. That is, if you did in fact go missing.”
He looks at them with his chin resting in his hand, observing as the smaller one rubs his face against his brother’s clothed stomach and makes happy little sounds. His brother lets himself be accosted, giving Minho a resigned look, like he’s saying ‘kids’.
“What’s your story, you two?”
He’s ignored in favour of playtime, and smiles and sighs. “Guess I’m gonna have to find out on my own, huh?”
And so, he reads.