“Him?” asked Baekhyun the floor lamp.
“Yes,” said Chanyeol the lighter. “He could be The One!”
Together they hopped closer to the open door of the dining room, peeking into the entrance hall to observe the visitor, the only one they've had in years. It was a young man who had pushed the huge ornate entrance doors open, bringing gusts of icy raindrops and fluttering leaves born by the storm outside.
“Hello? Excuse me. Is anyone home? I don't mean to intrude. I saw a light on...” He stepped on the thick carpet inside and pushed the door close, shutting it finally against the angry force of the thunderstorm. In the resounding quiet, he let his gaze wander over the huge luster hanging from the ceiling and the pair of stairs leading in an elegant half circle along the far wall to the upper floors of the mansion.
Baekhyun craned his lampshade so he didn't miss the visitor pulling the soaked hood of his sweater down and shaking a few drops from his hair. It was dyed a burgundy red. “He's delightful!” Baekhyun let his LEDs emit a soft pink glow to underline his words.
“Lift me up, I can't see,” Chanyeol hopped up and down on the floor. “I hate being smaller than you!”
“Suddenly I'm thinking we shouldn't try to get this curse lifted,” Baekhyun smirked but curled his cable around Chanyeol and lifted him up before he could sprout a flame out of his head, as he was wont to do when he got too angry at Baekhyun's teasing.
“Haven't you invited him in yet, you useless idiots?”
Engrossed in watching the visitor step further into the huge entrance hall, calling out Hellos tentatively, the unexpected voice made Baekhyun and Chanyeol jump and whirl around.
“Kyungsoo!” Chanyeol gasped. If he had his hands, he'd have clutched his heart.
“Invited him in,” Baekhyun mocked, imitating Kyungsoo's voice, ignoring the wooden spoon's angry creaking. “You know we haven't. Because that went so well last time. People usually run screaming from the house and never return when they're greeted by a bunch of talking household items. Not to mention... you know... the master.”
As if on cue, they heard heavy steps booming on the upper floor of the house.
“You better bring our guest into the dining room. I'll be in the kitchen preparing the meal with Sehun who is, you know, actually helpful.” And the little wooden spoon hopped back where he came from.
“Maybe he's right,” Chanyeol whispered.
“Yes. But don't tell him I said that,” Baekhyun whispered back, and together they started laying the table with their finest plates and cutlery.
The young man in the entrance hall heard the clanging and approached the door to the dining hall which was still opened a crack from when Baekhyun and Chanyeol had peeked at him.
“Hello? May I come in please?” He asked in a firmer voice, puzzled that he hadn't gotten an answer even though there was obviously someone moving about in the house. He pushed the door open just as Baekhyun and Chanyeol finished and stood still, waiting for the visitor to sit in the invitingly pushed back chair.
In the kitchen, Kyungsoo the wooden spoon stirred a large bubbling pot on the stove and told Sehun the swiffer duster in a hushed voice to go call the master.
Sehun lifted himself into the air and zipped from the kitchen, through the other door at the far end of the dining room, and up the stairs which led to Jongin's quarters.
“We have a guest!” He burst into Jongin's room, shaking his microfiber hairs excitedly.
“Guests,” Jongin growled while Sehun was still trying to find his whereabouts in the darkness. “The only people who come here anymore are thieves, vandals, tramps, and stupid kids on a dare. I do not welcome them.”
A flash of lightning illuminated the room for a split second and Sehun could see the silhouette of huge deer antlers against the floor to ceiling windows overlooking the dark park outside. Years of lacking care had let it grow completely out of control, an impenetrable thicket save for the main path leading towards the mansion. Guests were indeed rare these days.
Sehun floated closer to the windows where he thought he could make out Jongin's form. “I don't think he's either of those. He seems nice,” he tried to placate Jongin, “he's probably just seeking shelter from the storm. Or maybe he got lost. Anyway, he's well-mannered. Handsome, too, and just enough on the cute side, you know, a bit small, apple cheeks, hair dyed red just like the rose in your-”
A pained roar hit Sehun, bearing such a mighty gust of breath that his light duster body tumbled through the air and he couldn't finish his sentence. He apologized, knowing he had touched upon Jongin's sore spot.
“We're all hoping he could be The One.” A tremble in Sehun's voice revealed how much this meant to him. “Would you please come down to the dining room? We kind of prepared dinner for the two of you.”
“You did what?” Jongin shouted and drew himself up to his full height. The blanket with which he had covered himself fell from his shoulders, rustling, and the next flash of lightning illuminated his whole monstrous form, the deer antlers on his tiger head and the massive hunched back of his body which resembled a bear.
He stomped out into the hallway, and Sehun flew behind him.
“Are you going to have dinner with him?”
“No, I'm throwing him out.”
Sehun bristled his duster hairs and cried. “Why won't you at least try?!”
Jongin hissed in exasperation and stopped in the hallway, turning to the wall where a mirror used to hang. Jongin had covered it with a cloth which he now tore aside and faced his ghastly reflection.
Sehun waved over the glass to remove dust from the surface. “It's not so bad once you get used to it. Remember to smile, it softens the, uh-”
Jongin pulled his lips up in what was supposed to be a smile, revealing a row of sharp, yellow teeth. Over his canines, large and dangerous like sabres, his whiskers quivered as he dropped the failed smile and threw the cloth back over the mirror.
“Nevermind,” Sehun said quickly. “Just work with your charming personality then.”
He zipped ahead and opened the door to the brightly lit dining room, making a strip of light fall into the dark hallway. Jongin tried to set his heavy footsteps carefully so they didn't boom too loudly on the floor and scared the guest.
The young man heard him approaching and hurried towards the door, thinking he finally got to greet the eccentric resident of this house.
“Hello, I'm Kim Joonmyun,” he called. “Sorry for bothering you at so late an hour. My car got stuck in the muddy road outside...”
His voice rang in Jongin's ears, bright and melodious, making him press his back flat against the wall and stay in the darkness. “Sehun,” he hissed from the corner of his mouth, “I can't do this! He sounds so... sweet.”
“Yes, you can. Introduce yourself. Invite him for dinner.” Sehun cheered Jongin on and peeked around the corner into the dining room. Joonmyun their visitor was standing right next to Jongin, they were only separated by a wall and couldn't see each other yet.
“Welcome. My name is Kim Jongin.”
Sehun saw Joonmyun jumping from the sudden booming voice and waved his duster hairs at Jongin. “Softly, softly.”
“Ah, yes. Sorry.” He cleared his throat and tried to make his deep, roaring voice as friendly as possible. “Would you like to stay for dinner?”
“Uhm,” Joonmyun called into the dark hallway with a healthy dose of scepticism, “show yourself first!”
“I will,” came Jongin's answer, follower by a few heavy steps as he neared the doorway. “But I'm not exactly... easy on the eyes.”
Jongin drew a breath and squared his shoulders, forgetting that it made him look even more beefy and fearsome, and stepped into the light. The forked pan of his antlers and the pawed foot he had stretched forward were illuminated first and in no time the rest of his massive, fur-covered body followed, revealing his cursed form to the eyes of his onlooker.
Joonmyun drew back and stared.
Everyone did. Why should he be different. What a foolish hope.
Jongin knew that look of fear, the disgust slowly creeping in, and, surely soon to come, the eventual rejection. He deflated, hunching his back, and trudged over to the head seat at the end of the table.
“Before you ask, no, it is not a Halloween trick.”
“You- you are-!” Joonmyun gasped.
“A beast, yes.” Jongin averted his gaze from the visitor, expecting his awe to turn into disgust and fear as it had always done when he showed himself to past visitors.
“You know about the curse?!”
Jongin's humourless laugh boomed through the dining room. He picked up a spoon and eyed his ugly reflection in the stainless steel, reminding him of his beastly exterior like every mirrored surface in his home did. “How could I not know!” He flung the spoon aside in rage, hearing it clang in a far corner.
“Everyone I've told about the curse so far has told me to see a psychologist. I'm- honestly, I'm so glad you believe me. Can we... go out for a coffee or something?” With sparkling eyes, Joonmyun laid his small human hand on Jongin's huge clawed bear paw.
“No, we cannot!” Jongin growled and tore his paw out of Joonmyun's grip. “How could I go out looking like this?!”
He motioned his paws along his enormous fur-covered body and heaved a dejected sigh.
Joonmyun blinked. “But- but you only look like this to me, that's how the curse works.”
Jongin glared at him, looking quite scary as his yellow eyes flashed. “No, I look like this to everyone, that's how the curse works.”
“Huh,” Joonmyun made and scratched his cheek. “So, everyone you meet is cursed...?”
“No!” Jongin growled and slammed his huge, wrinkled forehead into his paws. How could anyone be so dense? “I am cursed.”
It wasn't that Joonmyun was dense. He just hadn't considered it possible. “You are? Are you. Huh, what are the odds...” He chuckled, incredulous.
Jongin lifted his face and glowered at Joonmyun. “What's there to laugh about?”
“Sorry. It's just... unbelievable. But I think I've got it. I think we're both cursed, each with his own curse. If it's true what you say, you always look like this?”
“Why would I lie?” Jongin burst out hissing, taking the way Joonmyun asked for confirmation as an affront. He bared his long fangs in Joonmyin's face threateningly, but then he remembered to reign himself in and sighed.
“I am cursed to look like this, yes. I was arrogant. I had everything, riches, fame, beauty. But it was never enough, I always wanted more. The greed made me cold and bitter. I was-” He shook his huge, shaggy head and averted his gaze from Joonmyun. But only when he walked over to the fireplace, speaking with his back to Joonmyun he could finally admit.
“I was more of a monster than I am now.”
He hunched his massive back and tried to warm his claws over the electric fire. “I could deceive people until I got turned into this. Everyone turned away from me, and in my loneliness I began to understand.”
“We didn't turn away from you,” Sehun whispered and flew over to perch on Jongin's shoulder, tickling his ear.
Jongin flicked his ear and smiled sadly. “And look where that got you.” He held his palm open for Sehun the swiffer duster to lie in.
“It's definitely an improvement for Baekhyun,” Chanyeol the lighter piped up. “His head was never this bright before.”
Baekhyun growled and stamped his metal foot in angry little hops and Chanyeol roared in laughter until Kyungsoo the wooden spoon smacked him on the head. Sehun chuckled lightly from his lofty place.
“They're moving. And talking,” Joonmyun squeaked, eyes wide and round as marbles.
“Well,” Jongin turned back towards Joonmyun and, as far as tiger faces could show expressions, became serious again, “now that you know about my curse, tell me about yours.”
“I was a bit of a player.” Joonmyun scratched at a fold in the table cloth and forced a laugh. “I...”
Joonmyun shook his head as if to himself, then pinched the bridge of his nose. When he lifted his gaze to Jongin again, there was no trace of laughter, forced or not.
“No, I have to be honest. Even if it means you might not want to have me as a guest in your home. I'm a heartbreaker. I used to make people fall for me, have sex with them, and then throw them away... for fun. I changed partners like other people change their shirts. Not because I was looking for 'The One' or something noble like that – but just because I could, and because I loved the conquest, the power I thought I held over their hearts. I was a real asshole but one day I messed with the wrong one, a mage. He put a curse on me when I broke his heart, that when I'd grow tired of my games and would want to settle down with someone, any person I might view as a real love interest would appear in the form of a horrible beast to me.”
Jongin stayed quiet, taking Joonmyun's story in, and Joonmyun read his silence as a cue to continue. He said.
“I laughed in his face. I thought his stupid curse wouldn't have any effect on me 'cause I wasn't looking for love, and I thought I never would. So I kept on picking up as many dates as I pleased, and I felt nothing. I loved none of them, so the curse didn't matter to me. ...Except, of course, eventually I met someone who grew important to me. As I started to fall in love he became uglier to me. The more I loved him, the beastlier he looked to me, until I couldn't take it anymore and ran away. It broke my heart, even more so because it was only my weakness that didn't allow me to accept and love him no matter how he looked, and overcome the curse.”
Joonmyun fell into a silence, and pulled one corner of his lip up. “Go on, judge me.”
Jongin let out a short, deep laugh. “Who would I be to judge you. We're both a... work in progress.”
“I'm going to keep with the honestly, so please forgive me if I sound too forward, but I have to admit that in that first moment I saw you appearing like that before me, I wondered if something like 'love at first sight' exists, after all. Have I turned into a sappy romantic, I thought. I didn't have any other explanation.”
Jongin couldn't help laughing at that, and said in a light tone.
“But for all we know, you could feel a hundred percent indifferent about me, and it's only my curse showing me in this beast form, not yours.”
“I don't feel indifferent about you.” Joonmyun let the words fall from his mouth before he could think about what he was saying and stop himself. He shook his head abruptly and brought his gaze back to Jongin standing by the fireplace. His kind host, the fearsome beast.
“Quite honestly, I don't know what I feel. It was too easy with my curse showing me who I don't care about and who I could fall in love with. The former look like normal people to me, the latter turn into beasts. Because of your own curse, it doesn't work on you. It's amazing! With you, I... I can learn to understand my own sentiment again. It's a selfish reason, I know, and for that I'm sorry. But I am glad that we met.”
Jongin drew away from the mantelpiece of the fireplace. “Selfish or not, I'm just grateful for not being judged by my appearance for once. Dinner?”
Joonmyun smiled, the most sincere smile he'd shown in a long time. “Actually, I'm starving.”
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