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Apple of My Eye

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a roll of thunder, the flash of lightning. the rain started to pelt down in stripes, as the tumultuous clouds filled the black, starless sky. ominous, almost sinister-like clouds loomed, surrounding the sky above the castle. his sharp ears picked up the sound of ravens cawing, and he shivered.

another clap of thunder.

the three knocks on the castle’s main door echoed loudly, bouncing off the walls as jeongguk played with his wooden soldiers on the floor, large eyes flitting toward the entrance at the distinctive sound. nonetheless the rain had gotten even heavier.

who could it be at this time? the person must've been someone they knew, for they passed the hedge maze garden outside to reach an entrance of the main palace. tilting his head to the side, he dropped his general, jumping in his seat when the three knocks reverberated again, amidst the loud background pitter-patter of raindrops against the large windows. another flash of lightning made the 12 year old prince flinch.

for no reason, his heart seemed to be beating wildly as he walked towards the door, like whoever it was on the other side was silently beckoning him to come. the door suddenly looked much more gargantuan in comparison, the moonlight casting an all-engulfing shadow upon jeongguk's lithe frame.

the moment his hands swung open the brass handle of the door, he felt the hair on his arm stand, as if it were an intuitive foreshadowing. on the other side of the door, stood a hunched figure in a black cloak, complete with a hood to conceal their identity. the stick the figure held for leverage had a sinister vibe to it, yet elegant in its functionality.

the clean cut lines along the wooden stick seemed to look like aged wood ringlets, or marks of a craftsman; and yet on closer inspection, there seemed to be traces of dried blood- or could it be mud? there seemed to be teeth marks and scratches too- maybe a cat? jeongguk shivered again, goosebumps raised.

“please, sire, may i stay for the night?” the haggard figure with wizened skin peels off a portion of her cloak to reveal wispy grey strands, but alert emerald eyes that shone like jewels in the stormy, black night. a aquiline hooked nose, sharp pointed fingernails.

jeongguk feels a jolt of fear run down his spine, as the mysterious figure asks with the most dangerous and yet calm eyes he has seen.

“what can you offer me in return?” the meek boy asks, hands wrung nervously behind his back. the elderly woman ought to have a spare room, it's dark and stormy outside; but he daren't defy his parents’ orders either. he would have given her the spare room in the basements, but the thought of an interrogation and punishment from his parents made him gulp and think twice. it would be unbecoming of a prince to defy the king and queen.

“do you believe in magic, cursed child?” the old woman points an accusing finger at him, nail as sharp as a stiletto dagger; just a millimetre more and it would touch the tip of his nose. the smile she wears on her face leaves jeongguk a feeling of dread and unease, as she flashes brown, rotting teeth with gaps all over. one particular crooked tooth sticks out, making jeongguk feel queasy.

“m-my father tells me there is no such thing,” jeongguk whispers, eyes shutting as a defence mechanism, and he flinches when thunder strikes as soon as he completes his sentence.

whilst his eyes remain closed, he vaguely hears the flashback of his father mentioning a situation of a similar sort- it was the north wing, where a witch had come seeking for shelter, too. he had spat and called it a sham, blasphemous- he proudly retold his little tale to jeongguk, saying how the witch had pointed a long, black nail at him and cursed him to eternal damnation.

tomfoolery, he had scoffed, condescendingly warning jeongguk not to accept and believe in such childish fairy-tales. his mother only smiled- that one, thin smile she had, always at his father’s left hand, nodding in sentiment. his mother never had any of her own opinions; the only ones she had were his father’s.

ever since his father inherited the throne young, countless people of near villages and far countries, old and young, had tried to swindle him out of his wealth, buy their way into the kingdom; a young ruler that once put his heart on the line for the sake of his country and people soon morphed into one of a shrewd, miserly and calculative king. he never trusted again, slowly isolating the castle built by the ancestors and expanded by the future reigns from the common people, growing hedges and vines and thorns that would avoid any chances of being cheated out of his immense fortunes.

the family grew unhappy, as the hedge mazes grew more extensive, positively deterring even the most courageous of men and valiant of warriors from presenting themselves or delivering any form of news. as the only influence he had were his parents and their close mindedness, he grew to be wary of others; if they did not have benefits attached, do not bother associating with them. never say yes unless there was something of equal or higher to be offered.

prince jeongguk was an obedient child, and his parents became overly protective, since he was the only heir left to the throne- his supposed elder brother having died during childbirth. as he stares at the woman before him, he conjures the images of what his father had recounted: the curse of his parents meeting their downfall due to greed. he once had a dream of his grandfather, the then reigning monarch, throwing a banquet to celebrate his father's birth after five daughters, and three witches showed up instead of three fairies.

when he explained his prescient dreams to his parents, they waved it off with a superficial laugh, saying he had been reading too many fantasy books. in retrospect, perhaps the nervous laughter was real.

“you're just like them, aren't you, wicked thing,” the witch-woman cackles, pointing a talon-like sharp nail at him. “may you be cursed to turn into a beast on your coming of age, your twenty-first birthday!”

the maniacal laughter echoes in the empty hallway, with the lift of her cloak, a flash of lightning, the witch vanishes in a puff of black smoke, leaving behind a dusty locked book with a black rose resting above it. when jeongguk picks it up, a petal falls- and one of the hedges outside start withering away, as if burnt and untended to for months. he shudders, running to his room to hide the rose in a glass bell jar, shoving the book under his bed, never to be found.

 

jeongguk was twelve when the woman in the black cloak came from the north wing.


the years come and go, and the eventful night of meeting with the witch fades from jeongguk's mind. his parents have left on a voyage for almost two months now, with no news of their return. in his own charge, jeongguk had remodelled the garden, hiring gardeners to erect a fountain in the centre of the expansive garden outside to complement the nearby lake, converting some of the hedge mazes into bushes sprouting roses, adding a splash of colour here and there.

when three months came around, one of his butlers, seokjin, received news that his parents had been declared missing persons that were presumably dead, in search of the fountain of immortality. jeongguk was only eighteen. greed had poisoned his parents’ ideals and ways of thinking, which he personally felt was not everything- the futile bid to pursue such foolish things only led to their demise. nothing.

he'd grown used to just himself and the butlers and servants around, who often taught him the more open minded ways of the world, gave him a panoply of perspectives; they probably educated him better than his parents could.

when he visits his father's study to clean up his possessions, he chances upon the book that the witch had left behind, as good as new, with a golden rose engraved atop of it. padlock wrenched open. beside it lay the black rose, which he never paid mind to, never noticing its disappearance from his own room. somehow, the bell jar was now decorated with gold embellishments, rose seemingly preserved. when he tries to flip open the pages of the thick book, the edges of the paper stick resolutely to one another, like a block of wood instead of paper pulp. he feels a shiver run down his spine, and proceeds to transport the two items to the cordoned off north wing.

the padlock on the thick book seems to have transferred itself to the doors of their inbound orangery. he frowns, figuring it must've slipped his mind- it'd been years since he entered the northern territory of the palace grounds.

on his way down the stairs, a gust of wind blows; and a crisp, piece of paper torn at the edges lands in front of his feet. no windows are open.

 

the newly turned beast

will hold a feast-

and open his doors to the world;

 

the right will come, the wrong will too-

every detail prophesied will indeed come true.

 

in a fit of anger and terror, he crushes the paper, disgruntled at the nerve one of his servants had to play such a prank on him. some of his servants can be rather mischievous, he muses, that must be it. he tosses the paper ball into the air and catches it repeatedly, until it falls on the thirteenth toss as he walks down the flight of stairs.

there's something written on he other side of the paper:

mayhap true love doth break thy spell.


“jimin! get your useless ass over here!”

“y-yes, madam!”

the gaunt boy scurries over, face filled with grime from cleaning the chimney, moving the coals. jimin is thankful to be given a place to sleep- otherwise he would be living of the streets with no food. by living with his stepmother, at least he gets to eat the remnants of his stepsiblings’ food.

sometimes, when madam is feeling generous, jimin gets an easy day of doing the laundry and fetching the water, as well as doing the usual cooking and cleaning. on days like this, if he manages to be swift on his feet, he might be able to sneak outside the nearby school and secretly make notes on the pencil and paper from his stepsister. more often than not, he gets caught for trying to eavesdrop on what phonics and the alphabets are, proper grammar and intermediate vocabulary- he gets reprimanded and chased away with a cane, but he runs gleefully, having learnt enough for the day.

the rest of his siblings often shoot him sympathetic stares, and try to eat less so he gets to eat more of their remnants. he takes it all in with glee, despite still emerging as the runt of their family, scrawny in spite of his better than average looks. from scrubbing the floor to mending the spoilt clothes, wearing nothing but rags and forced to bear all the menial labour, jimin takes it all with a smile on his face.

his siblings often try to mend their own clothes, do the dishes to ease his burden, but when a bowl gets broken or a hole in a gown gets torn wider, jimin gets punished- beaten with a rolling pin or hanger, whooped with a feather duster. he still shakes his head and reassures them, even when his siblings are teary eyed but keep mum to avoid punishment. they comfort him after, when madam has gone to bed, by giving him their precious marbles, a wildflower, teaching him how to read and write in guilt and compensation.

even if his siblings stood up for him, they never had a chance- there was only one person in the household that held authority, and that was his stepmother. when jisoo once tried to defend him, his stepmother slapped her  across the face without the bat of an eyelash for talking back, banishing her to spend the night in the barn with no food for an entire day. nobody dared to commit such a heinous crime after that.

his own parents had picked his current stepmother, a distant aunt that his mother had eventually entrusted him to when he was twelve. the black plague had taken her as a victim, and his father followed soon after out of grief. jimin takes mild comfort in the fact that his father made it in time to hear her last words- so his mother could depart on to heaven with a smile on her lips.

since his father often traveled out of town, he would always ask jimin if there was something he wanted, in which his son would always politely decline. this time, he had specifically requested a flower, a red rose- but his father could only find so many tulips and daisies, none of them quite near a bright carmine. at least he made it back to reunite with them before his mother breathed her last. he took a longer time travelling back since he wanted to buy jimin a heart shaped locket carved in gold to make it up to him.

his parents had entrusted him to this particular aunt, who seemed to be kind, played nice and invited them to tea when a harvest was bountiful; he only found out one night after sleeping in the rags of the kitchen floor, that she had been hankering after his mother’s presumed wealth- an assumption his aunt had made since his mother was very well poised, and carried her head up high with grace and dignity. a small smile plays on his lips as his head touches the cold floor, devoid of warmth or extra blankets or clothes in the freezing weather.

thinking she could inherit her wealth, his aunt would bootlick her way into his mother's good books, unaware that she only saw the good sides of people. but when she died penniless, jimin was forced to bear the brunt of his aunt’s explosive and vengeful demeanour, assigned to do all the chores and labour while his cousins sat pretty and received freedom and education.

“the prince is throwing a ball! the prince is throwing a ball!” the messenger boy announces, running along the town square, allowing the word to travel far and wide in the village. sales for rouge and powders and exquisite fabrics and feathers skyrocketed, in hopes of catching the prince’s eye and marrying into the once secluded royal family. the young prince would turn twenty-one a fortnight later, when the ball was being thrown; tongues wagged incessantly, saying rumour had it that he would choose someone to wed that very day. all genders, sizes and descents were invited, and it became the talk of the town, even spreading to the adjacent villages.

his stepmother had shrieked in excitement, sent into a frenzy and picking the most delightful of cloths and pearls to doll her daughters and sons in, coming home with exotic hats and bows each evening. jisoo had gotten a wisteria gossamer gown, jiyoon and jiyeon blue satin and red velvet evening dresses. his stepbrothers, jihyun and jihoon, each got tailor-made suits, complete with mandarin collars and ruffled lace kerchiefs. it seemed like the whole village was dressing up to the nines for this occasion, despite a long journey to the palace.

his cousins scrambled all over, as did all the middle aged ladies and fine gentlemen in the town, desperate and enthralled to finally visit the palace grounds to catch a glimpse of the last royal standing.

on the morning of the grand ball, jimin manages to muster the courage to ask permission to go too- he doesn't have anything presentable to wear, but he hopes that he can at least manage to see what the royal library looks like- jisoo and jihyun, who taught him to read and write and mount a horse, often recounted their teachers bragging about the extensive literary texts the kingdom had to offer, which always caused jimin's eyes to light up.

jimin is now eighteen, and this, perhaps is the only other thing he has ever opened his mouth to ask for. the first time he had meekly asked to be given a chance to go to school, his stepmother whacked his head and twisted his ear, telling him to stop seeing himself as an equal to his cousins, and that he would be better off tending to the carrots and lettuces outside. he breaks into desperation as the time comes when the carriage is bound in a quarter past, only fifteen minutes till they depart for the palace.

“p-please, madam, may i also be allowed to go? i promise to behave myself, i swear- i won't even take a peek at the prince, i just want to see the boo-”

his stepmother, who's powdered her face a layer too plenty, rolls her eyes, scoffing at him. “oh for crying out loud, you burdensome runt, as if you even had anything to wear-”

“please, madam, i would do anything just to go-

her mouth twists into a cruel grin, as the galloping of horses are heard in the distance, his cousins getting ready to depart. jisoo’s staying in for the day, having been diagnosed with a hacking cough and recurring allergies, and his stepmother had spat in distaste, barring her from going lest her infectious form would stop the other four from being selected to be married in. she never quite wanted to go, anyway.

“do you really want to go, poor child?”

jimin nods eagerly, watching as the matriarch saunters into the kitchen, picking up a plate from their luncheon. “dear me, my bad,” she feigns, as a dish hits the floor, smashing into broken pieces. grabbing a bag of black beans and a handful of soybeans, she mercilessly throws them all into the fireplace.

“if you manage to sort out all the beans into two individual bowls, scrub the kitchens and toilets once more, and find something that is tasteful, perhaps i might consider.” she smirks, watching as jimin scrambles to his knees, picking up the porcelain pieces, sweeping them up like an obedient dog. the moment the fragments are cleared, a bell rings from the outside, with a holler for his aunt.

“it seems like the carriage is here,” she croons, sneering devilishly, “don't even think of getting any scraps tomorrow if you don't complete your assigned tasks, runt.” 

jimin feels the tears roll down his face, betrayed, hot and wet. “b-but-” i just want to see the library, i don't care for the prince at all! i just want to read! to sing, to dance-

“oh look at you, crying already!” she taunts, laughing the way an evil stepmother would, grabbing him by the jaw harshly, her tone mocking. “don't worry, i might consider hiring you to scrub the floors when one of my children get married to the prince! be grateful!”

with that, the door slams shut, leaving jimin kneeling down on the cold, hard floor, weeping. since nobody else is at home, he sings to himself, an elegiac melody, and the sparrows flutter in through the windows to help with the beans, wild hares and bunnies that tunnel through the gardens to help him with the soil. sometimes the animals would come and help when madam gave the most atrocious of orders, or he couldn't sleep or rest. sometimes they would talk to him and give him encouragement and comfort.

“thank you,” he whispers to the birds, who chirped back at him, “sorry, but who's watching me?” his head snaps up, only to see jisoo standing in the hallway, watching him with sorrowful eyes.

“i'm sorry i couldn't do anything, jimin.” she rasps sadly, “you know how mother gets, unreasonable and cruel and-” she stops short when the cough comes back. she was supposed to ring a bell from her bed upstairs if she needed help, and get ample rest while she could. in her hand was leather satchel.

“here,” she said kindly, handing it to jimin, “take these.”

those were the glass slippers that her mother had made for her to wear. since jisoo was the eldest daughter, she was entitled to wear the prettier ones, as compared to the heels studded with large faux jewels on her sisters’ feet. “your hands are rough, but your feet are small.”

“no, i can't take this-”

“i'll handle mother. she's a tough one, but i'll live. come, let's get you dressed.”

jisoo steals into her brother's room to get him a plain-looking black frock coat, double breasted with inward lapels- one that honestly could go undetected as a missing piece, and yet at the same time allow jimin to blend in effortlessly. a little brooch with diamonds was pinned at the side to allow a more androgynous style, for the glass slippers to match better.

“if i leave now, i might never make it there,” jimin mumbles, first string of words that weren't apologies, thanks, or worry. “if they had to take a carriage, then…”

“jihyun’s taught you to ride a horse, no?” jisoo asks, tying a rose corsage to jimin's wrist as he nods. “take rosé,” she declares, before bursting into a fit of coughs, “she's a good girl. she will know the way.”

the stepsiblings walk out to the stable, jisoo helping him onto the saddle of her white horse, with a birthmark near the eye that resembled a rose, hence the name. “but what if i don't ever come back, jisoo? what if i lose my way? what if-”

his eldest sibling raises a hand for him to stop. “if you can, run away, and never look back. tell rosé to bring back the corsage if you made it there.”

“jisoo, thank you.”

“you deserve all the libraries in the world, my brother. stay safe- bon voyage.”


as the guests start trickling in, jeongguk paces the halls more anxiously. he's dressed in navy, attire knitted with gold hairs adorning the design, threaded by hand; the detailing on his coat sewn with meticulous eyes.

more petals have fallen, leading to the crumbling of the rapunzel tower in the east wing, his servants one by one gradually turning into household items. most of the commonplace male servants that did the dusting and cleaning had already turned into inanimate tables and chairs- and what initially had him in hysterics had now become and oddly calming resignation; he had used some magic that the palace now seemed to conjure, with every downfall of another servant or steward or butler, to makeshift as illusions of them. however, they would all disappear at midnight.

out of his most dependable five men, one of them had faded into an intricate harpsichord, the other two brothers a teapot and a teacup made of fine china. the last two left went by yoongi and hoseok. as such, jeongguk was distraught and distressed, as the first of september loomed closer and closer; perhaps the curse could be revoked if he met his one true love before midnight- perhaps that meager faith in his father's untrustworthy words would render truthful.

some of the ladies that swarmed in were demure and beautiful fair maidens, some of the young men that arrived were handsome and charming. some, were painfully obvious with their hidden agendas and ulterior motives upon arriving at the extravaganza- obnoxious in their high pitched crooning and far too exaggerated dressing for jeongguk's tastes. as he made his way around, announcing his presence all over, it was made clear that most came after the prestige and opulence the lavish wedding with him would entail.

he grimaced as he began dancing with strangers out of cordiality, for a fatal error in the era was for a gentleman to turn a lady down. but none of which he met eye contact with were enough to blow him away, or evencatch his attention to turn twice. with every chime of the grandfather's clock, initially a servant named yugeom, it meant that another hour had passed, and jeongguk still hadn't found a suitable partner to wed. he had promised to save all the servants that had loyally serviced the kingdom, and this was the only way possible to repay that debt.

the minutes ticked with dread, cold sweat matting against his skin, buzzes of noise as people of all sorts tried to brush shoulders with him, touch him, come into any form of contact with royal blood; he only managed to catch a breather a few minutes shy of midnight. he remembers hoseok and yoongi escourting him to the corner of a hidden passageway, thanking him with tears in their eyes as they transformed into a little candlestick and mantle clock in a puff of gold smoke.

after setting them down on a proper table, the prince felt tears pricking at his eyes. the last of the humble and faithful stewards that had served him with utter devotion and loyalty had now turned into household items, like sand slipping through his fingertips, him a useless prince, incapable of stopping any of these actions.

the bells in the clock tower tolled.

midnight.

he felt a searing heat pulsing through his veins, his body hot, skin on fire; the background noise of the people in the palace thrummed even louder and louder in his ears, a soft buzzing transitioning into one of overwhelming shouting; his scalp felt like his hair was being ripped out, fingers and toes pulled mercilessly.

no, no, no- this wasn't happening to him, no-

with a futile roar, the pain dulled, into a throbbing ache at the back of his mind. something doesn't feel right, and when he hears the exclamation and gasp of the clock and candlestick, he knows what's happened.

 

he had now transformed into a beast.


jimin reaches the palace just a few minutes before midnight, giving rosé the corsage, and nuzzling her with a goodbye kiss, bowing to thank her for her hard work. the palace is filled with vivacity and excitement all round, with flamboyantly dressed commoners and beautifully played music. amidst the sea of people, with no guards in sight, jimin easily finds his way up the flight of stairs to find the revered library- and true enough, the number of books he finds there, of all colours, sizes, languages leave him speechless, eyes twinkling and sparkling in awe.

stealthily, he closes the ivory coated handles, careful not to rouse any suspicion, before running to grab the nearest book he can find, crouching by the ladder. he remains oblivious to the pandemonium that goes on just a floor beneath him.


“oh, look, the prince is back!”

“look at his royal highness, he should have informed us it was going to be a fancy dress party!”

the prince makes his way back to the ballroom, with heavy steps, the most majestic of stag deer antlers sitting on the top of his head. a glance of his own reflection in one of the many mirrors hung around the palace make him red with fury, blue with discontempt.

the strangers in his house only recognise him by his regal outfit, and do not understand his rationale behind today's scheme of events, or why all the servants have left all of a sudden. when a mother carries her infant to meet the prince, who growls with his protruding canines, everything goes to chaos. the wind outside seems to howl, the atmosphere surrounding the castle forming a wintery snow blanket, chilly and ice cold.

“go on, say hello to the prince,” the mother coaxes, the toddler gurgles, tugging harshly at the fur on his face. he snarls, but the facial hair does not fall off as expected. the mother shrieks at the top of her lungs, garnering the attention of every head, the infant child bawling as loud as he can.

“a beast has invaded the palace! everybody, run!”

with that, the beast roars the loudest he can, sending every human into a screaming frenzy, tables overturned, champagne flutes smashed; people are running in every direction, clearly disturbed and scared out of their wits.

“all of you, get out of my house!” jeongguk growls menacingly, “i don't want to see any of you again!”

he doesn't know that there's a boy hidden deep in the recesses of his library.


the gramophone, the gramophone, jeongguk chants in his head, dizzy from the sudden sour turn of events, vision blurring. he needs the gramophone to play that one song to calm his nerves. he heads for the library in a seemingly inebriated state, still adapting to his newly emerged form.

there it is.

when the needle touches the vinyl record, the prince seemingly calms down as the melody floats out of the cylindrical horn, filling the room with soothing melodies. his head reels from the paper that he had found at his feet, ripped at the edge, meaning that there was another part to it.

 

he was cursed to become a beast

desperate and hopeless he threw a feast

eager to find true love to break the spell

he struggled, fought and almost raised hell

 

the antidote is as white as snow

and on the inside gleams as bright as gold

only then can it withstand sin

is when the young master’s heart starts to begin

 

white on the outside and golden within,

the white that can withstand eternal sin,

when black meets white it forms gray,

only then will the curse go away.

 

as he ruminates over the mysterious torn note, senses now heightened, jeongguk detects the flipping of a page- and draws closer to the sound with padded steps. there's a boy reading a novel with the words ‘pride and prejudice’ on its green spine, huddled by one of the ladders- and as the feral, territorial rumble he voices resonates through the room, the boy's breathing becomes more shallow, hitching as he shuts the green book.

green and black, green and black.

the boy faints.


while unconscious, jimin gets tossed into the dungeon for trespassing. when yoongi and hoseok try to argue with his warped reasoning and now oddly temperamental behaviour, jeongguk bares his teeth, barking that he asked all of them to get out of the palace, but this boy didn't listen.

jimin rouses the next evening, suddenly unfazed that there's a candlestick that can talk, a clock at waddles over to squeeze through the bars of the cell.

“what's your name, trespasser?” the candlestick cheerfully beams, and jimin has to rub his eyes twice to realise that the candlestick is talking. the clock tries to hit him, but his hands are used to tell the time. “shush, hoseok, that's disrespectful,”

“what is your name, sir?” the clock asks again, and jimin blinks in surprise- maybe the fairytales were based on true stories?

“j-jimin.” he replies, and he finds out their names, that the castle has been under a curse, and the reason for this ball. he learns the beastie he had met was actually a prince charming. “i merely came because my stepmother denies me from reading my stepbrother’s texts, and i heard that the royal library has many, many wonderful books…”

jimin would kindly pick them up when they fell, not used to bouncing around as household items, and listen to their bantering, holding in giggles.

“you seem like a good child,” yoongi muses, “hoseok, should we let him go?”

the candlestick makes a face, “you know young master will throw a fit, and what are we going to do if we get thrown out, yoongi? the curse has made everything so terribly cold.”

the three of them spend a considerable amount of time debating, hoseok keeping them warm with lighted candles as multiple trips up and down are made, to bring jimin bread crumbs and a small thimble of water. it's the best a clock and candlestick can muster, along with the help of a ostrich feather duster and a spatula.

with the help of some other servants, they manage to pick the lock, cell door creaking as they gingerly pry it open. “shh, hoseok, you're making too much noise-”

jimin scoops them in his arms as they direct him to the kitchens, to get freshwater. on the way there, he grabs a red velveteen cloak strewn on the floor- judging by the way the whole palace is a mess, with broken ornaments, food splashed all over, jewellery and shawls left behind in haste, yesterday's events must have proceeded very unfortunately and he hadn't even noticed.

wrapping it around his body, he puts the hood up. it may be thin, but it would suffice for now. the servants prepared a little woven basket filled with some water and bread in case he were to become hungry on the way back home. thanking them, he cautiously enters the night barefooted, having left the glass slippers behind by accident. hopefully he wouldn't be beaten too badly when he arrived home and the household members arose without breakfast made or luncheon ready.

after walking quite a distance, in the way he was directed, jimin shivered as he approached the forked path on the wintery slope, spotting a glowing pair of amber eyes in the dark shadows. something in his mind screams danger- but when he drops his bread basket and breaks into a sprint, jimin accidentally trips over a fallen twig, allowing the lone wolf to edge closer.

it's difficult to get up and run since he's scraped his knee, and he sees the topaz eyes glimmer; he hears a growl- for some reason, the wolf looks like he's starving. famished. the words get lodged deep in his throat as his whole body gets gripped with fear, trembling hands reaching for the nearby twig as a weapon for self defence. the wolf grins, drool emanating from it's mouth, canines sharp enough to sink into jimin's creamy skin and draw blood.

buy some time, jimin urges himself, so that you can fully prepare yourself to swing into combat at the wolf’s weakest.

“o-oh, what pretty eyes you have, mister wolf,” he tries, praising the wolf who's looking at him like he's supper, with those terrifying, glowing ember eyes.

“all the better to see you with, red rose,” the wolf replies him. after all that he's experienced in the castle, he's accepted that anything could happen. the wolf opens its mouth to show off his canines, orifice twisting in to a sinister looking smirk. as if to say, you're done for, little red. it sort of reminds him of his aunt.

“w-what sharp t-teeth you have-” jimin shatters, voice starting to waver and another two wolves emerge from the pitch black foliage behind, joining their alpha. the trio seem to be grinning at him now; he's so visibly shaken he cannot seem to process what to do, hands frozen and leg bleeding. he just sits rooted, squeezing his eyes shut as he braces for sharp fangs to sink into his neck or leg.

with his vision forced close, his sense of hearing heightens, and he holds the twig closer to him, clutching in before his small form as if he were wielding a sword, a protective amulet. perhaps staying in a cold dungeon with crumbs would have been a better end.

he whimpers when he hears the padding of feet against the gravelly, desolate path coming from behind. i love you mama, papa, jimin thinks, your son is coming to meet you now. the whole pack must be coming for him, like ravenous scavengers- he wasn't that meaty or full of flesh, but at least he would make a decent meal.

suddenly, he hears the growls and snarls escalate, hands trembling further as he hears heavy steps pounding in his direction, and yelps as a plea when something touches his back. “the twig won't do much to protect you, peasant.”

it's his voice.

as his teary eyes flutter open, standing in front of him, the prince stands before a whole pack of six wolves, shadow casted over jimin's limp form.

“how dare you prey on my prisoner.” jeongguk gnarls, baring his teeth as the wolves put up a fight, detecting his smell immediately.

“you,” the alpha male, leader of the six growls, eyes flashing dangerously, livid as the memories haunting him flood back. “remember how you wrestled with my mate when you were six years old, kid? it was a draw, and yet your old man shot him down so he could praise you for winning? i'm offended you've become one of us- but i've waited long enough, beastie, to devour the thing you ardently pine for.”

the canine growls as it sinks its fangs into jeongguk's shoulder, the prince mercilessly being attacked all at once; he's stronger and bigger in physique, but outnumbered and ambushed. the pack charge at him, one of them snapping a part of his antlers, sending the beast into a crippling howl, slashing ruthlessly at his attacker with his claws. jimin makes deft work of the little time he has bought, tearing off a piece of his cloth garment to stop his gash from bleeding, before gathering a large branch, limping his way to the bloody scene.

jeongguk's done most of the damage, with only two left to defeat- jimin swings his tree branch with all the little energy he has left, helping jeongguk to better finish off the remnants of his attackers’ last breaths.

the beast staggers back as he pants heavily, breathing lightly, shoulder bleeding, paws bloody; the snow is dotted in red, and he almost collapses due to the sudden blood loss, overexertion.

within one of the wolves’ sliced stomachs lay a snow white egg and a golden egg, to which sparks a hope in the beast, who pockets it upon sight with ragged breaths.

“y-your highness!” jimin calls, hot tears running down his porcelain face. his cheeks are reddened from the cold, skin paler than usual, poor thing. jeongguk takes off his fleece, ripping off the bloodied parts, wrapping it around jimin wordlessly. it's the least be can do, since he's failed to teach his servants basic knowledge of the wintery tops on a night of the full moon.

“no, you should use it to keep warm-” jimin fusses, pulling off his red cloak to tie it around the shoulder wound that's bleeding profusely. he puts the two eggs into jimin's basket carefully.

“keep quiet, just take it when i order you to,” he interrupts gruffly, groaning with every movement. “if you want to thank me, take care of those two eggs.”

“y-yes, your highness, i- i will.”

jimin squeaks when jeongguk picks him up in a bridal carry, enduring the pain in his joints and antlers, as jimin guards the basket of eggs and bread, like it's as precious as gold or diamonds. “would you like some water, prince?” jimin asks meekly, fumbling with the interior of his basket to ensure the eggs make it safely to the palace.

at the mention of water, jeongguk's ears perk up, tongue running over his lips as his thirst finally registers. jimin slowly retrieves the tiny waterskin, popping open the cap and lifting it to jeongguk's lips. he's gotten used to the pain in his arm, the dull aches from the scrapes, and as they near the castle, he sees jimin's chapped lips and puffy eyes, looking smaller than ever in his fleece.

the receptacle holding the water is so puny he almost scoffs. trust his servants to prepare such a small amount of water and expect jimin to walk home in the blistering cold weather- he'd die of starvation and dehydration before he even met the halfway mark. how utterly pathetic.

he'd wanted to feed jimin something for dinner as a representation of an apology for his night in the cold dungeon, only to discover his servants- who were bad liars, might he add- had allowed such a miserably plotted escape, and of all days had chosen the night where the winter wolves came out to prowl.

“drink it yourself.”

jimin mumbles a tiny thank you as he lifts the leather to his lips, hands still trembling slightly in post shock. the beast harrumphs, grunting as jimin meekly wets a torn piece of cloth to dab lightly at his cheek; the moonshine reflects the gash at his left cheek, a minor injury he hadn't even realised the wolves had inflicted. jeongguk tries his best not to wince, and jimin falls asleep in his arms before they make it back to the castle.


after he brings jimin back to the castle, they exchange little words, with jimin coming at regular intervals to change the bandages of his wound, add the natural herbs he claimed would help the gash. his own scraped knee healed quickly, too, with the right ointments and tender loving care.

he limits jimin to a guest room, where he happily makes friends with his magical hairbrush named sungwoon, and his fairy godmother-like wardrobe called taemin. there's a little pearl aqua moon lamp glowing by his bedside for protection- he names it jonghyun. he gets dressed in better quality silks and cloths, to which he twirls in, singing and dancing as he makes merry with he servants who bring him his meals. even though jeongguk refuses to serve him a feast or plentiful portions, since he is held captive, of sorts- jimin notes that the dishes are rich in minerals and protein to aid in his recovery, are delectable to the palate.

thus, jimin counts his blessings before he goes to sleep, and he learns more about jeongguk from the servants, other than seeing the permanent scowl he wears whenever jimin goes to check on his wounds. hoseok and yoongi tell him that the prince is moodier than ever, still facing difficulties in adapting to his new form, but not coping as well as expected.

jimin takes care of the two eggs that jeongguk left him to safekeep, while he devours the small array of books in the shelves of his guest room. meanwhile, the servants egg the prince on, to be nice to the boy he keeps in captive, since jimin is, perhaps, their only hope now. nobody would even come anywhere in sight of the castle, for fear of a rabid beast, and distorted rumours grew to say that they saw ghosts and witches and trolls as well.

some say a fire broke out, as if hell had descended upon them- some said the prince was ugly to begin with, and only became more repulsive when the took the form of a minotaur; with disgusting horns of a buffalo, the arms and body of a wild bear, the facial structure and mane of a lion, the tusks of a wild boar and the legs and tail of a werewolf. the descriptions were made more ludicrous by the day, and the aura around the palace became dark, and foreboding, dangerous and wolf-infested.

nobody dared come near at all.


after severe and repetitive coaxing, jeongguk relents and allows the servants to invite jimin to dinner- after all, the peasant had successfully healed his wounds with those weird herbs and leaves he picked. it would make him seem like he was coming down from his high pedestal if he were to invite jimin personally- or worse still, make the prisoner conceited, so he gave permission for namjoon, his teapot, to cordially ask on his behalf during tea.

the teapot does his best to quickly and effectively explain the extensive sets of cutlery, basic mannerisms and dinner etiquette. jimin listens with intent, eager to learn, and even gives the teapot a hug when the darjeeling had cooled down. the servants warn him that the prince is very particular with table manners, and so jimin does his best to memorise whatever he can with serious, furrowed brows.

when jimin arrives at the elaborate dinner table, he starts panicking internally- why are there even more sets of cutlery, all laid out so prim and proper? but it all falls flat when jeongguk struggles to grasp a soup spoon, and instead smashing his snout into the soup tureen to gulp down his winter minestrone. jimin's eyes widen as the spoon graces his lips, softly giggling as the beast looks up in embarrassment. how unbelievably unbecoming of a prince.

“what are you staring at?” he says darkly, but it doesn't work that well when there are bits of tomato sauce staining the sides of his face, and jimin smiles, meekly walking over with his own napkin. curtsying before wiping off the excess, he accidentally coos when jeongguk just lets him do whatever he wants- in spite of putting up a tough front- and jeongguk does his best to glare at him as menacingly as he can, fighting the blush on his face, instead snatching the napkin to wipe the soup off himself.

“sit down, prisoner. the meal is being served.”

the servants groan amongst themselves, how very amiable of their young master, when he was the one waiting on jimin to possibly revoke the curse. jimin replies with a tiny “oh!” and scurries back, bowing to the magical household staff that serve his beef ragout, cheese soufflé, as he drinks tea from taehyung the teacup. namjoon's serving earl grey now, while jeongguk opts for wine.

jeongguk glares at how jimin easily makes friends with all of them, angrily chomping on his meat. how could they seem to warm up to a stranger, of all people, as familiar as they were to him? of all people, they make small talk with a trespasser, while jeongguk gloomily watches on in silence.

“look, young master!” the quirky little teacup boasts, “i'm kissing your lovely prisoner!” he and hoseok the candlestick topple over in tandem, laughing, taehyung spilling over with his tea, lighting out the candles.

“i'm so sorry jimin! i didn't mean to-” the teacup flails, explaining, as jimin hushes him and sets him upright, and relights hoseok’s candles easily. “young master truly does not deserve a kind hearted boy like you,” hoseok sighs, and yoongi nudges him sideways before the prince bangs the table with his fist.

frightened, the servants huddle towards jimin, who holds protective arms around them, the look of displeasure twisted in the form of a scowl on their young master’s face.

“you do understand i have you at my disposal, don't you?” jeongguk says dryly, idly tracing his untouched utensils with his claws, “and that i could easily get rid of-”

“you have to go through me before you lay a hand on them!” jimin interrupts, gently holding the chattering teacup in his hands, “you wield immense power, that i know- but as a powerless person all my life, i will defend your teacups and candles and clocks and whatnot with everything i have!”

his voice is resolute, despite the household items murmuring to him not to anger or incur the young jeon’s wrath. “young master hates this,” the teapot mumbles, hooting steam from his spout as a sigh.

“oh? so you would still defend taehyung, who is now a measly teacup, at the risk of me throwing you out? feeding you to the wolves?” his words are authoritative, but not as much bite to it. jimin gulps when he sees a twinkle in the beast’s eyes, but stands firm to his beliefs.

“that is correct, sir.”

“oh no, jimin, please-” the teacup pleads, trying his best to dissuade jimin from how determined he is.

“very well. back to the dungeon you go. no food or water for three days. let's see how you survive for such a feisty attitude, peasant,” jeongguk commands, standing and about to retire to his chambers, when the little teacup starts hopping over across the long table with little clinks against the dishes he passes.

“y-young master! i'm so sorry, but jimin, jimin does not deserve such treatment! he only tried to whoa-” taehyung, clumsy in his new cumbersome form, almost skids off the banquet table with a slippery silk table cloth, and jimin yells and sprints out of his seat to catch him before he cracks into smithereens- if his magical form disappears or gets smashed, so will his original human form cease to exist.

hoseok is shouting, all his candles burning down to melted wax at his alarm, namjoon steaming and boiling, yoongi’s hour and minute hands waving madly as they all fumble to reach him. jeongguk moves quickly too, stomping his way and instinctively holding out his hands in a bid to catch the falling teacup, who's close to tears and saying his last words. jimin tosses himself and slides across the hall with outstretched hands.

just millimetres before the porcelain touches the marble floor, taehyung finds himself nestled in jimin and jeongguk's hands, half and half. a wailing taehyung finds solace in jimin's touch, filling the teacup up with tear-like water as he cries, and jeongguk retracts his hand, as though burnt, the moment he knows taehyung is in safe hands. it somehow tingles where their hands had met, cupping his faithful servant, jimin's eyes flooded with relief and happiness as the presses the teacup to his cheek.

jeongguk feels awkward, as though he's disrupting an intimate family reunion, like he is the inducted outsider when taehyung has been around for almost as long as he was born; after turning into a beast, his emotions had been shut out, no sense of empathy at all for his hardworking and able bodied servants- only resentment, bitterness for his hopeless form. perhaps his servants would feel worse, in retrospect, the one job they were trained and hired to perform now being nullified.

his servants had been there the whole time, always indulging and giving in to him, nurturing him- and this is how he treats them at their most helpless, most susceptible? he sighs, steps heavy. being a prince was no easy job- even though it was nothing compared to his royal stewards toiling for the sake of his kingdom.

“taehyung, take a break for a week. prisoner, get back into your room.”

“i- young master, i'm so sorry, please don't send me away-”

“i'm not.” jeongguk retorts, voice laced with subtle nostalgia, traces of mild irritance,but also sorrow, regret. “rest well before you serve me again, taehyung.”

“thank you, prince.”

the voice that calls out to him is the peasant boy’s, not taehyung’s, who's too busy finding relief in jimin's presence and the other household items who are teary. he grunts in acknowledgment, catching a wistful smile shot in his direction as he bolts up the stairs to his bedroom.


jeongguk never drops by personally, but he delivers over a glass box to keep the two eggs in, and manage to get one of the magical items to convey the message that jimin is free to wander anywhere in the palace grounds, save for the north wing, or the dungeons it is again.

jimin claps in glee, immediately running out of his doors dramatically in a nightgown to head for the library. it seems like an abyss, with the colossal amount of books neatly stacked and arranged. but the gramophone is playing that same melody he heard the day he first encountered the prince, and therefore he had his suspicions.

nevertheless, he went about his way, scanning through the massive collections of classics, fantasy, romance, futuristic books; the genres catered were so diverse and expansive, jimin didn't quite know where to begin. but for someone that bulky, with majestic antlers that took up lots of space and cast a shadow impossible not to notice, it was obvious that the beast was watching him make his selection from the rack behind.

his wide smile never faded, selecting book after book to pile in his arms, “don't worry- you can come on out, i can see you peeking.” jimin says so softly without even looking up, so the prince awkwardly takes two steps out to present his miserable form, looking away in embarrassment of being caught this easily.

jimin beckons him over with the sleight of his hand. “don't worry, beastie, i'm not afraid.”

“excuse me, peasant? i am but a prince-! the disrespect you have for the prince of this very castle-”

jimin almost jumps from his spot at the sound of his booming voice, dropping his treasure trove of books, bowing deeply before kneeling. maybe he was a little scared after all, him being of a scrawny build, the beast towering over him. what if he was still angry about jimin's attitude yesterday-

“i'm so sorry, your highness- it's my fault for being unaware. i beg your pardon.” jeongguk's throat goes dry, so he does not utter a word- and with every second of silence jimin does not get up, heart thumping wildly. finally, he clears his throat, “you are forgiven, commoner.”

“thank you.” jimin beams up at him with an angelic smile, and jeongguk swears he almost went blind. alack! how could anyone be this tolerant to such despicable, spoilt behaviour?

“a-actually,” he starts, pinching himself so he gets it out of his mouth, “actually, i didn't mean it that way.” he coughs to hide his embarrassment, with every look jimin gives him, he feels himself unable to speak. how did he not know how beautiful his prisoner was? perhaps it was the sunlight flittering in that made him glow brilliantly at all the flattering angles possible.

“i wanted to apologise,” he gulps, looking at his own big feet, “a prince should not have such bratty behaviour, especially to someone who tended to his injuries.”

he feels his cheeks grow warm when jimin shifts closer to make sure he sees his endearing smile, “you're welcome, your highness. your apology is accepted.”


whenever jimin chatters away with the servants in his stead, he refers to him as jeonggukie, which in all honesty, the prince finds mildly adorable. he reminisces to that one time whereby his mother had addressed him as such, when he had laughed and cracked jokes with missing front teeth, but his father had chided her for being so casual, that it was improper, for jeongguk was a prince. since then, his mother never quite smiled genuinely anymore.

over time, his servants tend to give him away, he realises, divulging his childhood secrets, his bad tendencies; it is all but laid out in a fair barter trade, in return of jimin singing for them or reading them bedtime stories. perhaps by working in the palace since they were boys, coupled with his father's tyrannic veto ruling, their childhoods had been taken to be usurped by the iron throne as well.

not that he minds, jeongguk secretly finds it just a tad adorable when they loudly whisper and gossip at the end of the day, thinking he's not around, when he just happens to be a floor above the kitchen, watching them babble and squeal cutely.

it's no surprise when jimin finds him in the once splendid garden, by the edge of the fountain. he must do something about his blabber-mouthed stewards, they're leaving no habit of his unincluded. jimin dons a yellow coat today, and it makes his skin look even milkier. he had always liked to reside in the garden that he had reformed, the first thing he had a say in as the new ruler of the palace- amidst the flower bushes, the pretty greenery that now depleted into a shallow looking shrubbery, snow coated all over. some of the flowers still thrive, blooming in adversity. it serves as a resplendent reminder of how he, too, could be capable of being a good ruler one day.

of all the days jimin had to drop a surprise visit by the fountain, engraved with angelic cherubs playing the harp as the centerpiece, that had now transformed into two statuettes weeping in the bitter cold, the icicles there to stay.

“good day, your highness.” jimin greets, coming with flowers he had picked along the way, sliding on the ice coated seat next to jeongguk. the prince shuts his book immediately, hiding it behind his back in mortification. this was his personal indulgence, his guilty pleasure- jimin was not supposed to know! when jimin tilts his head in confusion at the sudden explosive reaction, jeongguk stutters. “n-no, i read scientific and factual books, and not romance novels.”

“pardon?” jimin eases the book out of his now lax paws, as they get more familiar with one another's presence, catching him off guard. “so, your majesty,” jimin smugly raises his eyebrows upon gleaning the title, “no romance, huh?”

beauty and the beast, the title writes in elegant swirls on the front, now nestled in jimin's lap, and jeongguk has half a mind to bury his burning face into the snow. since he's already been caught, why not speak how he feels?

“belle… she sounds a lot like you.”

“how so?”

“avid reader. good natured. kind hearted. brave. and also,” jeongguk pauses, picking at a red rose off the bushel next to him, “and s-she was very beautiful.”

jimin takes the opportunity to stand on the ledge of the fountain, weaving some of the flowers that he had plucked along the way, frozen in time, to decorate jeongguk's antlers. instead of intimidating, the prince now looks much softer and approachable; jimin giggles to himself, almost slipping as he flings himself, until jeongguk grabs him to steady him, claws almost scraping across jimin's skin; and he grimaces.

the prince now looks cute instead of scary, and jeongguk blushes, not understanding how jimin can be so trusting and precious to a person as undesirable and hated as he. he was generally level-headed and gentlemanly as a human, but sometimes, after his transformation, his temper and aggression was much harder to curb or contain. he sheepishly plucks off another red rose from the bushel beside him, as if to compensate for his carelessness.

the rose is still fresly bloomed, with a drop of dew on its petal, but when he tries to put it in jimin's hair, to return the favour, he accidentally tugs and pulls out some of the petals; his claws almost pierce the skin on jimin's cheek this time.

“i'm so sorry- did i hurt you?” he immediately pulls his hands back, and jimin feels his heart pang at the hurt expression the beast wears.

“you're not really a beast, you know? and i'm no beauty- beasts aren't supposed to be this… nice,

“i am a prince, peasant, i've been raised to tell apart genuine artifacts from the counterfeits-” only after his uttered sentence reaches his own two ears does he halt abruptly, “i apologise. i hadn't meant to call you a peasant, jimin- i just-”

it's the first time jimin has heard his own name roll off the prince’s tongue, and it sounds so fondly intimate and saccharinely sweet it makes his heart beat faster. laced with the bit of pizzazz, and the little haughty vibe attached to it when his princely status is challenged, jimin smiles to himself. this is the prince that i know.

jimin bursts into a laugh as he swats away the term with an understanding hand, a little shake of his head, “that's nothing, your highness- my stepmother used to call me bastard child, if you would please.”

jeongguk growls, standing up with his shoulders raised angrily, “this commoner! a mere village woman! she had the guts to call you, my royal subject, a bas-”

jimin stops him by standing on the fountain ledge again to gain the height advantage of a whole head, pressing his soft skin but calloused palms to jeongguk's lips, “she's good to my cousins, and i think that's enough. understandable, i reckon, if an estranged cousin were to barge in and share all your children's space and food.” the smile jimin forces on his pretty face is nothing but a wistful one, forlorn and saddened. when a fuming prince tries to interject and express his disapproval, jimin just shushes him sweetly and presses his index finger gently to his lips again to pause him.

jeongguk tugs him to safely sit back down, awkwardly tapping his own epaulette, “i-in case you need a shoulder,” jimin blushes, and jeongguk has second thoughts. weren't these the probable actions of a prince? at least, according to all the novellas he had read, prince charming would most definitely have done so. “that's too cute,” jimin mumbles to himself, bashful, but in hindsight, jeongguk's shoulders are way above his head when they're seated side by side.

judging by jeongguk's bright eyes, he seems to get the idea too, and thus he takes jimin's novel, stacking it with his, and tenderly lifts jimin to sit atop and gain some leverage. there. just right.

“do you feel better?” he murmurs, as jimin lands his fluffy black hair on his shoulder, humming in reply as he kicks his boots in the air.

“also, did you just call me your royal subject, your highness?”

“i-” jeongguk splutters, as butterflies flutter their way towards the flowers jimin had entangled in his antlers. it'd been a long while since he last saw butterflies come into his garden. “sorry, mayhap i said so at the pique of the moment- my bad.”

“so, i'm not a royal subject?” jimin pouts, pulling the most innocent face he can, with honey drooping eyes and plush lips jutted out. it just sends jeongguk into further confusion and shyness. he's panicking on the inside because all his mentors and advisors never mentioned anything like this, of how he should respond or what to do in such circumstances. what exactly is this reaction? it makes him nervous at how unprepared he is.

jimin has him dumbfounded, and rendered rooted to the spot, literally.

“you're my…” and he looks away, trailing off as jimin peers at him with his beautiful, glistening eyes, making him feel compelled to do anything for him, spend his whole life with him. maybe kiss him. “m-my royal companion.”

jimin blinks, moving a step back, cheeks flushed- and in his flustered form, he almost slips on the ice yet again, but jeongguk catches him quickly, instead also clumsily falling as jimin piles safely on his chest. he fully feels the reverberations of jeongguk's hearty laugh, “why are you so red, my little companion?”

my little love, he had wanted to say on impulse, heart squeezing painfully as he looked into jimin's eyes. it's a pity i wouldn't be able to spend my whole life with you- for i am but a beast doomed to stay this way forever.

“be-! because!” jimin huffs, getting up embarrassedly, patting his garments down, “because you made my heart flutter.” it's a tiny whisper that jeongguk catches, and jimin guides his fur-laden hand to his chest, voice small, vulnerable.

“and nobody else has made me feel quite so.”

 

thump, thump.

thump, thump.

 

“do you hear her? she's singing because of you, my prince.”


from then on, their interactions get perplexing, delicate- and his royal servants have to commence interrogations on both sides in order to successfully intervene. they've known by now that there was some form of affection between the two.

as jeongguk belts out melody after melody on seokjin the harpsichord’s keys, he’s rendered a stuttering mess when the rest of his butlers and servants corner him, demanding he answer why he'd suddenly willingly filed his nails, tried to pick up proper cutlery holding once again, added two more spritzes of cologne a day among others.

the obvious rift caused between them led to awkward nods and tentative steps if they ever bumped into each other- jimin could bow or curtsy, while jeongguk would nod in acknowledgment- unsure of what to do, if this was right, if it was acceptable.

“young master, you should go to the ballroom next to the library.” his servants whine, trying to push him there while he resides in his study, learning to paint again. the strength of a mantle clock and candlestick and teapot aren't powerful, so he acquiesces, making his way there whilst trying to make his steps as quiet as possible.

there jimin is, in all his glory, dancing in loops and circles and spins in the massive hall, with an ostentatious chandelier dripping with jewels above. he holds a black book in his hands, reading as he sings with the magical violins and harps playing in the backdrop, idly prancing about, lost in his own world.

jeongguk clears his throat, announcing his arrival, and the household objects scurry their way in.

“g-good evening, you startled me,” jimin starts, picking up the book he had dropped when the music stopped abruptly.

“were you trying to dance?” jeongguk asks, touching his antlers anxiously, as jimin flushes at his unprofessional steps, random patterns as he flitted about the room. he'd always wanted to learn how to dance, like they illustrated in the books- but he never got the chance to, despite his fascination and ardent passions.

“i've always wanted to... but my stepmother made me dig for the potatoes and scrub the floor- i even had to learn to read in secret.”

the beast strides over, a lopsided grin on his face, “here, step on my feet.”

“i- i'm heavy!” jimin retorts, and the prince snorts, lifting him by the underarms to meet his eye level, as if jimin were a mere three potatoes. “heavy indeed.”

“put your hand here, and hold my hand,” jeongguk instructs, gently holding jimin's waist as the shorter holds his arm. once jimin's gotten his form right, the music starts playing again, as if on cue.

he drifts into the mellifluous, mesmerising music, getting the gist of it easily. if jeongguk could say so himself, jimin's a natural. he's figured out the waltz in no time. at a corner, yoongi starts dancing with hoseok, the namjoon watching as taehyung dances with his other teacup pal, minho.

jimin twirls with the grace of his mother, satisfying smile of his father- the galop, the mazurka, the gavotte; jimin caught it all easily. the heart shaped locket around his ankle that he had to conceal with woolly socks was now adorned around his neck.


jeongguk stops coming to dance with him, after teaching him the quintessential steps of each particular dance- jimin would be lying if he were to say he hadn't felt lonely on those nights. he would still dance carefree, with an imaginary partner. when he asks the servants regarding jeongguk's condition, they say they too have no clue.

on the evening of june the thirteenth, jeongguk invites him to tea, after refusing to meet him for a midweek. jimin's relishing in the english breakfast tea served with buttered cranberry and mandarin scones, when jeongguk taps his plate to get his attention.

“jimin, would you like to dance with me tonight?”

jimin makes a surprised noise, mouth full, washing down his food with a sip of tea. it's the first time the prince has formally extended the invitation.

“me? tonight?” he sounds astonished, after how they've seemingly drifted a little in awkwardness and avoidance these days.

“it's my parents’ wedding anniversary- they used to throw a ball every year.”

“i see,” jimin swallows, “but i don't exactly have something presentable to wear-”

“i kept your glass slippers,” jeongguk blurts, “and i actually have something in mind, i would just require your input and consent, since the garment is more… effeminate.”

jimin adds in another sugar cube into his tea, setting the teaspoon down. he smiles softly, hands tucked between his thighs. “i may not be an extensive reader, your highness, but some of the books in your libraries tell me that clothing and gender are constructs- if you would be so kind to lend them to me, i promise to dress up only for your eyes to see.”


jeongguk's been pacing up and down the hallway, exhaling deeply, having two things left to bestow onto jimin. one lies in his hands, the other enclosed in a red velvet box. he fidgets in the ballroom an hour early, fathoming and conjuring every single consequence, head hurting when he envisions the unfortunate circumstances that may occur.

when the bells chime to signal eight o'clock, jimin steps into the ballroom with hesitant steps, having undergone a makeover in his room, his wardrobe and comb and all other servants fussing over him to make him look like the most beautiful creature. jeongguk's jaw drops when jimin curtsies, cheeks dusted a light pink.

jimin is wearing the yellow gown that he had chosen for his bride to wear- made of silk and tulle, satin organza for a light finish. the end of the gown has gold embroidery of roses and gold leaves, embellished with little crystals, with jimin wearing glitter in his hair. he looks like he's glowing, a lovely golden rose.

“you look exquisite, jimin.”

“t-thank you, your highness.”

“there's something else i have for you,” jeongguk says, taking a tiara out of the box prepared beforehand, “this is what my princess was supposed to wear on her wedding day.”

jimin almost trips on the train of his gown, refusing to wear such regalia. “heavy is the head that bears the crown, your majesty- i must decline,”

“this is an order.”

“b-but-”

ignoring jimin's weak protests against his command, jeongguk fits the crown atop his soft curls, and as if it were magic, gold dust flies down from the versailles-like chandeliers, the rococo ceiling, to complete the whole look.

“you look exquisite, jimin,” the prince reiterates, producing a small vial of purple liquid from the pocket of his navy tailcoat, “this is the last thing i would like to ask permission for,”

the vial gets handed over.

“i've been tinkering with the aid of an alchemy book, and if all goes right, it should grant you the illusion of the grandeur the palace would have on the annual anniversary ball.”

jimin stares blankly at the beast, and then the suspiciously pretty violet liquid. so, would he know how the prince actually looked like? how the servants went about, how the palace initially looked like at its peak; as he uncaps the tube, jeongguk warns him that it wears off at midnight.

after he gulps it down and closes his eyes, waltzing around the room on his own feet, he realises that the beast was actually a very handsome prince before. he still donned the same yellow vest and white dress shirt, paired with his royal blue tailcoat, all garments trimmed with gold, a little of lace ruffled in the front.

he actually has really pretty doe eyes.

the now prince seems to be smiling at him wistfully, using his head to nudge him to look around. the men dressed suavely, with top hats, cravats, suits and polished shoes; the women, on the other hand, dressed flamboyantly- hair coiffed up in extravagant styles, resplendent décolleté gowns, with mother of pearl fans decorated with ostrich feathers, hands hidden in cream or white satin gloves.

jimin takes it all in, the all too real illusions of a past ball, how hoseok had heart shaped lips, yoongi had cat like eyes; how seokjin was proficient in administering to any guest, how skilled taehyung and namjoon were at the cello and piano. jeongguk's voice is a honeyed and soothing one, too.

time flies, as jimin twirls and dances the night away, in jeongguk's embrace, strong arms holding him through every flip, every step of the way.

“jimin, i just wanted to tell you that-”

 

the bell in the clock tower tolls; it's midnight.

 

jimin's head throbs, dizzy, but after he shakes it off, everything disappears, just like the mirage of an oasis on a desert island. he loudly gasps when he realises jeongguk's peering at him intently, with the same doe eyes now incorporated into the figure of a beast.

what's going on? why is his heart skipping so many beats? why are the servants looking so downcast? why, why, why?

he tries to break into a run, almost tripping on his gown, glass slippers abandoned. he's running, but whatever for? alas, whence shall he run to?

“jimin! please, don't go!”

his feet guide him to one of the balconies, for a breath of cooling midnight air. it isn't supposed to turn out like this.

he props his elbows on the ledge, taking off his lemon yellow silk gloves. all the finery and grandiose- perhaps he was never meant to belong anywhere at all. jeongguk catches up to stand behind him, looking at the defeated silhouette.

“there's only one star tonight,” jimin whispers to himself, hands clasped together as if in silent prayer. he chokes back a sob.

papa, mama- what do you think i should do? i might love him both as a beast and as a prince- but a commoner is not entitled to such regalia, such nobility.

 

maybe there weren't happily ever afters in this world.

 

his mind starts racing, thinking of all sorts of things- his heritage, his stepfamily, what he had just seen, what he had just done; and out of the blue, the beast breaks his train of thought, gingerly tapping his shoulder.

“jimin, do you think i'm ugly? hideous?” jimin whips around, thoughts disrupted, staring at his intense caramel eyes. he now sees the stark contrast, and his lips part, mouth opening and closing but in silence- as if he had many things on his mind, but none of it would be effectively enunciated across.

jeongguk's stare slowly turns into a look of defeat, as he looks down at his repulsive paws and fur laden feet, slowly backing away. jimin bites on his lower lip, not sure what to do. his eyes are watery from seeing the prince pull such an expression.

“so i am repulsive,” the prince murmurs to himself, hands clasped behind his back, “i see. thank you for your time, jimin.”

he walks away in big strides, head bowed, eyes prickling, but jimin runs from behind to hold him close, putting his arms around the beast’s waist, holding him tight. he hears his parents speak to him- the answer he'd always been waiting for;

follow your heart, my son.

“stop this, jimin, i don't understand-”

“you're not ugly!” jimin retorts into the small of his back, and his heart sinks when he feels the prince’s shoulders sag, a sigh escaping from his lips. jimin may be sweet and enduring- but he's also honest. jeongguk is thankful. “jimin, i beg you- for 'tis but the truth- you shouldn't lie about things when they are as such.”

the tiny human takes a turn, standing before the overtowering beastie, using his rough hands to cup the prince’s face. “you may not be the most handsome now, but you certainly aren't ugly,” he says softly, voice firm, “you are still a prince at heart, and that's who i pledge allegiance to.”

“i- i don't think it works that way, jimin.” the prince says wanly, shaking his head as he tries to force a smile, prying jimin's hands off his face. “perhaps it was correct of me to presume it all an illusion- a mere fantasy, a daydream.”

why would a beauty like you fall in love with a beast like me?

jimin wants to stop him, but the words get lodged in his throat, lips numb, tongue made of lead- he ends up almost forgetting to breathe. there's something that causes his chest to feel so tight, incapable of inhaling enough air. he's reaching out to jeongguk with an outstretched hand, but he's so far away.

 

“you saw one star, but i saw two.”

 

the prince leaves him behind. all alone, with those words echoing over and over in his mind. all alone, with that one star in the night sky.

all alone with a heart that beats too loudly, too afraid of being heard.

 

a heart that shan't be heard.


while jimin helps with the setting of tables, helps hand the herbs and salt and pepper in the kitchen, hoseok kindly explains the one last hope they've all been clinging on to; that the prince will still find his one true love, and restore the palace to its original state.

“i've already been accustomed to moving my hands to tell time,” yoongi sighs, “but i do want to see young master truly happy again.”

the mood in the kitchen takes a darker turn, chatter dwindling as they reminisce the times when they had actual arms and legs, were able to walk about and go about with chores without falling down or taking such a long time to totter from one place to another.

“it's rather fun being a candlestick,” hoseok beams, his flames flickering like pretty ornaments, “but i just hope that young master won't die alone...”

“what do you mean jeonggukie will die alone?” jimin says, in shock, “if he never finds true love he will… die?

“not quite so- he has enough time until the last petal falls from the enchanted rose,” namjoon explains, while getting hot water refilled, “with every fallen petal, a piece of this kingdom disintegrates, which is why you feel tremors sometimes.”

jimin nods in quiet understanding, initially puzzled as to why the ground would shake when he went to bed, or why the bushes would suddenly shrivel and wither away all of a sudden.

 

“you're our last hope, jimin.”

he falls silent.


there's a thunderstorm tonight. the rain pelts down incessantly, noisily pitter pattering away against the glass, but more so of the electric lightning bolts that light up the starless sky, thunder booming and echoing shortly after.

jimin whimpers, cupping his ears, before swallowing and turning to his last resort, biting his lips in uncertainty.

he politely raps at jeongguk's chambers, finding his way into an ornate room furnished with extravagant exuberance, bearing dark tones of prussian blue and royal purple that baroque furnishings favoured. many of the furniture were embellished with whimsical gold lacquer, many of which of sinuous design and gold vines and leaves.

jeongguk lies on his side of his plush bed, sitting up as he hears jimin's knocks. “pardon me for the intrusion, your highness,” jimin says, walking closer, clutching the pillow he had brought over tighter, “can i sleep with you? i'm scared.”

the heavy downpour only allows the bad memories of sleeping with leaking roofs, waking up covered in soot from chimneys to resurface; jimin shudders when he gets reminded of the rats that he once spent the night with in the kitchen.

lightning strikes again, and jimin immediately shuts his eyes tightly, hands across his ears. “i will squash you,” jeongguk replies, incredulous, “my antlers- they are going to stab you if i roll over in my sleep,”

but jimin just laughs, like the rolling of dew off shiny waxen leaves at dawn after a night’s rain, running over to an uneasy jeongguk. “you won't! i trust you, your majesty.” he smiles, eagerly climbing into the king-sized bed, smiling warmly at jeongguk with such beautiful crescent eyes that the moon would be jealous in every phase possible. jimin's eyes were pure enchantment.

jeongguk gingerly reaches out a paw to pat his head, the latter purring, snuggled tight in the cocoons of armenien silk and egyptian cotton. jeongguk is better than the fireplace, jimin muses, as he pulls the quilt covers over them. the rain is still pouring outside, but he's not afraid.

“good night, beastie.”

“good night, jimin.”


jimin chooses to worm his way into his mattress more often than not, after that stormy night, no matter rain or shine. he feels indebted of sorts, and will sing lullabies to the prince when he has difficulty falling asleep.

jeongguk may or may not have become even more smitten with the way jimin narrates stories to his servants by the fireplace, as he watches from the floor above, going undiscovered. the two eggs that he had entrusted to jimin had, to his dismay, hatched into cygnets, after being incubated under magically temperate environments. if that wasn't the cure, what could it be? the torn paper had mentioned white and gold.

maybe in another life jimin would be his true love-

but it was too late. there were only four petals left with the slow rumble of the elaborate staircase. another part of the castle gone. he grabs a handheld mirror, one that he had found in his father's study- it was enchanted, and could show you whatever you wanted to see.

“jimin, you need to go.” jeongguk urges, “this place is no longer safe.”

the servants hush themselves, discreetly moving aside for jeongguk to talk to jimin. the weather is fair today. “i presume they've told you about the curse,” jeongguk utters, “the castle will fall one day, and i shall perish among the debris; the petals are falling even faster, jimin- you need to hurry and leave.”

“how do you know that the kiss of true love won't undo the spell? the books say that!” jimin is holding on to his sleeves with such intensity.

“i've kissed you good night before,” jeongguk looks away, quiet, “you need to leave, it's not safe- i know the monarchy of another nearby kingdom, we have a summer villa there, and a cottage. you need to go.”

“i'm not leaving!” jimin cries, stomping his foot down.

“please, go home, jimin-”

“i have no home- i'll get beaten up if i go back to my stepmother- you are my home, jeongguk. all of you are the family i never had.”

the palace goes silent, jeongguk thrusting the mirror into jimin's hands, eyes glazed over with tears, “then look into the mirror if you think of us, i promise it will work.”

the tears fall, staining jimin's pale cheeks.

“why are you so adamant in sending me away? i don't want to leave any of you! we could always perish together, if that's the ending you were fated for-”

 

“this is an order.”

 

jeongguk turns his back as the tears roll down, bearing semblance to the raindrops that made jimin afraid in numbers.

“fine.” jimin crack, lips pressed together to stop himself from breaking into an uncontrollable sob. “i will leave.”

armed with the mirror and a fur trimmed coat, jimin marches out, the servants in utter shock at his actions. jimin is gone for good. it no longer matters if jimin was their only hope to revoke the curse- it only matters that the master of the palace is weeping on the floor.

“i'm so sorry i couldn't save any of you,” jeongguk rasps, tears choking his words, “i'm sorry…”

his servants gather round to provide comfort and whatever support they can, crestfallen at the sudden turn of events. jimin is gone. gone for the better. maybe appearances do matter. maybe he had finally been harsh enough to drive jimin away. the cottage he had pointed jimin to also had a small library and a gramophone; jimin would love it.

it worries the stewards when jeongguk refuses to eat, shutting himself up in the library, ignoring any of their calls or words of concern. jimin's gone.

it rains on the second night of his departure, and it worries jeongguk to no end- his sweet jimin is afraid of the thunderstorm outside, how would he manage to-

the door of the main hall swings open, a tiny figure scurring his way in, partially drenched. jeongguk rubs his eyes, he might be hallucinating since he hasn't gotten a proper wink of sleep.

jimin collapses onto the floor, laying down purple flower like objects he's been carrying. towels and dry cloths cascade down to wrap around him, some servants gathering to inspect the plants jimin returned with.

“jeonggukie!” jimin yells in glee, running when he spots the prince, who catches him perfectly when he jumps into his arms. “did you really think i was going to abandon you?”

“but i said it was an order-” jeongguk replies, in a daze, shellshocked at another turn of events. “how did you-”

“you know i would never let you go,” jimin mumbles into his shoulder, “i brought back heart shaped herbs from the mountainside. one of your books contained a map.”

as jimin gets dried by the fireplace, jeongguk helps him to dry his hair with fluffy towels. “why did you go to such lengths, jimin? what good do these hideous glowing violet parsnips have, enough for you to put your life on the line?”

“they help boost the immunity and health of wild panthers,” jimin muses, “i envisioned you would benefit from it too.”

jeongguk's heart palpitates faster for no reason, having jimin smiling at him so tenderly as he dries the tiny human’s hair makes his chest flood with warmth. “have you any idea how much melancholy you induced in me?”

“oh, prince, did i make you weep for my departure?”

“n-no-”

“he did, he did!” the little tea cup sings, confirming jimin's view through the mirror, and jimin blushes, “you really did?”

the prince looks away, refusing to answer, but the heating up of his face is enough of a testament.


there are three petals left when jeongguk visits the north wing again. he finds the book beside turned open to a half-torn page; it's the prophecy- he takes the initial piece of paper, piecing it back to fully show its inscription.

 

he was cursed to become a beast

desperate and hopeless he threw a feast

eager to find true love to break the spell

he struggled and fought and almost raised hell

 

the antidote is as white as snow

and on the inside gleams as bright as gold

only then can it withstand sin

is when the young master’s heart starts to begin

 

white on the outside and golden within

the white that can withstand eternal sin

when black meets white it forms gray

only then will the curse go away

 

son of venus, they call him moonchild

stepchild, fairchild, through everything he still smiled

white, sweet, true and pure

he will prove to be the cure

 

he who wants to save them all

must be brave enough to rise then fall

like the blood moon that will rise

he then shall make a sacrifice

 

the price he pays will set you free

for he too a son of aphrodite

able to overrule the spell with his love

he falls into eternal slumber having put you above

 

for he wanted to take the price you had to pay

he sleeps peacefully as night turns into day

he loved you but he failed to say

so he thought this was the perfect way

 

all this time the master of jeon

had never quite managed to see beyond

what did you feel when he looked at you

your heart wanted him to love you too

 

do what you’d like, do what you may

your one true love is here to stay

come what might, come what may

your sleeping beauty will always be yours, even in disarray

 

he loves me, he loves me not

time passes, but fate never forgot

the night of thirteen black and white merge as one

do what the chosen one might have done

 

on the night of thirteen you are doomed to fail

but the black night is kind, white will prevail

only when winter has gone and spring has sprung

you have been blessed to live with him, forever young

 

nothing quite makes sense anymore.


after getting tucked into bed, he leaps out minutes later, remembering that he had to put out some milk for the stray cat he found the day before. the palace grounds look even more massive at night, since the only places he's familiar with are his frequent haunts- the library, the ballroom, the kitchen and the prince’s royal quarters.

it's nightfall when jimin gets lost in the palace, and loses his way.

that is, until he chances upon the north wing. it looks eerily dark there, and the only thing glowing is a black rose, seemingly inside a enchanted bell jar. jeongguk gets just a little more territorial these days, afraid of losing him again- but jimin waves it off with a pretty smile and gentle hug, i'll always be here in the palace with you, prince charming, what could possibly go wrong?

a shiver runs down his spine, as he inches closer to the bell jar, that seems to call out to him. where is this place? was this the portion of the palace that he was forbidden to enter? it's dark outside and equally dark there, with no torches or lights to guide the way. befuddled, he walks towards the glowing rose, entranced, breath escaping in little puffs as he mounts the flight of marble stairs. there's a thick book opened there, with a seemingly torn page- the picture it flips to is a mosaic painting of a boy in a yellow gown dancing with a beast, under the warm oranges of a chandelier and colourful tinted glass in its backdrop. this is all so strange.

curiously, he taps on the glass, and to his horror, the penultimate petal falls; he jumps when he feels the palace shake, hears a deep rumble- another part must have resulted in ruins. he panics, making a beeline toward the endless flight of stairs down to the main hall, back to the library- but the fall of the padlock securing the orangery resounds with a metallic clink, startling him.

turning around, he sees a beautiful tree under the dim lighting, a mirror just outside of the orangery. a sole, red delicious apple hangs from the tree, faintly glowing. there's so much black, so much green.

and then it hits him- it's the garden of eden from the book of genesis. the temptation that adam and eve had fallen into, run into sin.

there's a gorgeous sole vermillion apple hanging from the giant tree in the middle of the indoor greenhouse; it forms a ravishingly crimson hue in contrast to his alabaster skin.

“you want to save him, don't you, sweet child?” a serpent hisses, coiling itself down to reveal its incognito form, right beside the alluring red apple. this was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

“i- i do,” jimin breathes, taking a step closer. his legs are moving on its own will. “but jeonggukie- he, he said i'm forbidden to come,” he resists the strong temptation of the forbidden fruit, but the serpent lures him in, takes the form of the most effusive and ebullient voice he could ever have remembered.

“take the apple, it looks delicious, no?” his mother whispers in his ear, and he nods with stars in his eyes, steps snaking closer and closer, reaching out his hand to pluck it off, take a bite. “eat it and you can save all of them,” the snake hisses charmingly, and a sinister but beguiling chorus that the garden of eden echoes, beckons him in.

“give in, fair child- eat it, we will all be set free.”

the apple looks an even more alluring shade of red as the moon shines on it perfectly, through the glass panels.

“will the inhabitants of this house return to their original form?” he whispers, watching the forked tongue of the serpant flicker up and down in utmost delight, apple held preciously in his hands.

“they will, moonchild.”

jimin takes the bait, takes a bite-

before hearing maniacal laughter, the green vines and leaves dancing and mocking at him, the apple in his hand slowly turning rotted and black and green; his vision starts blotting, all the greenery waving at him, thanking him in the most wicked of symphonies, the condescending sneering of blurred countenances.

he sees black and green, black and green.

and then he sees nothing but black.


the latter part of the palace gets thrown into a hullabaloo;

“young master! when is the royal wedding?”

“good heavens! i can walk again!”

his servants are screaming in the middle of the night, waking the household up. jeongguk groggily rouses, having to face the sudden surge of all his servants running into his chambers, without even knocking- wait. running?

his servants are dressed in suits and running towards him. with legs. and hands. and faces and hair. eyes wide open, he looks down at himself, hands devoid of fur or claws; he bolts and runs to the mirror by the dressing table, touching his head, his face- the antlers are gone, he's a prince once again.

“did you kiss him, young master? have you two finally decided on tying the knot?”

“what happened? how did-” jeongguk mumbles, shocked and delighted all at once, perhaps all it took was time. but they'd never kissed, out of love, or whatever clause it was believed to have helped broken the spell. “but i sent jimin to bed early,”

“young master, what is this?” his butler, a broad shouldered seokjin, points at the note he picked up, passing it to namjoon to decipher. the servants gather round, reading the cryptic prophetic note, brows furrowed, overwhelmed with ecstasy upon returning to their original human forms. so that was the piece of paper that had made their young master so antsy and worked up. he had casually mentioned it during dinner once.

“maybe the eggs really worked, young master?” hoseok asks, “the one inside the winter wolf’s stomach- you know, it says here that the antidote was something gold inside something white.”

jeongguk frowns, offering a synonym of agreement, but recalling having accompanied jimin to release the baby cygnets that hatched into the lake by the garden that started to thaw. taehyung had witnessed the scene, and he relays that image to hoseok instead.

where was jimin? surely the fuss and noise would have woken him by now. jeongguk feels his heart beat rapidly, thumping wilding, as if something bad were to happen.

“hold on, where is jimin?” seokjin echoes his thoughts, holding his hands up, and all of them halt their discussions, faced with the most vital of questions.

suddenly, yoongi and namjoon, who haved been scrutinising each line, using a finger to go across the poem exchange looks- and namjoon runs to draw his plush curtains open with a fiery vivacity.

“there is a blood moon tonight, young master. it's the thirteenth today.”

all of them look at each other in panic, before running for the entrance and bolting towards the enchanted rose.


the book as miraculously turned to another page, with another inscription in gold:

thine curse ’tis done, shoud’st thou devour thy poisoned apple

 

lain on the floor with a rotted apple and a red rose in full bloom, jimin hardly moves or responds when jeongguk yells at him, shaking his lifeless body, embracing him close to his chest.

the garden within the orangery had shifted back to the original sweet smelling apple blossoms; the bell jar has disappeared. flowers of spring are blooming as night turns into day, instead of the frost flowers that gradually fade away. the whole palace seems to light up, in contrast to how the brightest person has now fallen into an eternal slumber.

“he still has a weak pulse, young master- weak, but still present.”

for a person that hardly shed tears as a child, the two salty streams from his eyes would not stop; despite the wintery curse being lifted, the sun shining again, jeongguk can't help but feel utterly torn and despaired. they carry jimin to the healing room, with an ice bed to preserve his current state. the flowers blooming and water fountain spraying outside, birds chirping and sun shining outside do little; it only serves as a greater juxtaposition to the dull, lacklustre mood of the palace.

only then, does the prophecy hit them.

jimin is glowing- his chest radiates a soft golden sheen, skin creamy and pale. his heart is glowing.

gold within white.

 

a heart of gold encased within porcelain skin.


the servants try their best to keep up with the tasks they've been holding back on, immediately taking to tending the gardens, polishing of the stairs, cleaning and scrubbing that a household item could not muster. even when jeongguk eats or sleeps for a little, he does nothing but watch over jimin's body, his already fragile human form on the brink of collapsing in fatigue.

he tries his best to remain optimistic, arranging the vase with jimin's favourite flowers, holding his ice cold hand as the gramophone plays the songs they danced to in the background. he thought he would be the one to let jimin go- but jimin slipped away from his fingers far more sudden and unfortunately than expected.

“you said we would perish together,” jeongguk whispers among his sobs, “you promised…”

he watches the glow in his chest turn dimmer and fainter with each day, and his own heart hurts. jimin never knew that there was something else that came together with his princess’ crown; he'd been carrying it in his pocket every single day after their encounter by the fountain, when jimin had told him that he made his heart flutter, even as a beast.

marry me, jimin.

he remembers the jimin with the most angelic of smiles, the most beautiful of laughs; the most endearing frostbitten nose, the prettiest of lips that berries could ever stain. he slides the ring onto jimin's fourth finger, kissing his knuckles. jimin hates the cold, and yet his body is like a whole pile of snow. wake up and scold me for putting you on an ice bed, jimin. it's time to wake up-

but the unmoving figure refuses to comply, heart of gold dulling with every beat.

“young master, it's been twelve days- we can't keep jimin in here anymore, the body will-” they can't bring themselves to say it, that jimin has passed, is deceased; this just cannot be true.

is it time to let you go, my little love?

his servants are right. jimin deserves to float into the pretty seas where he had yearned to visit, and jeongguk had promised. all the herbs and medicines have be tried and tested; he would only be delusional and irrational, as a patriarch and a ruler, to be unable to let go.

just a little more…

jimin wouldn't want to see this, either. he wanted the children in the villages to learn how to read and write, wanted the poor to have water wells- and these jeongguk could help with. i'll carry on your dream for you.

with a shallow, shaky breath, he exhales. the ruler of his kingdom rises. the prince that loved a boy who loved to dance and read commands.

“you may proceed with the casket.”


“jimin! don't forget me!” jeongguk hollers, hands cupping his mouth as the glass coffin floats, the other servants by his side at attention, mood sombre, atmosphere solemn. the tears flow down his cheeks like the river does- quiet, unending, enduring.

jimin's surrounded by the most beautiful of blooms, each one handpicked by every servant to bid him farewell, jeongguk taking care of everything else. he dresses jimin in that yellow evening gown, puts on his satin gloves, his glass slippers. he looks exquisite, and so, so peaceful. serendipitous.

“i love you!”

he falls to his knees when he sees the two swans that jimin nurtured come swimming by, circling him with their necks craned together like a heart, as though paying their last respects. his tears and sobs fall into the river surface like a rhythmic pattern of raindrops.

 

drip, drop.

drip, drop.

 

“young master?” yoongi quips from behind, as hoseok and namjoon rub his back and offer condolences, bringing a golden tray with three handkerchiefs laid on it, all embroidered by jimin- anemones for undying love, rosemary for remembrance, globe amaranths for immortal love. he sniffs even louder, body convulsed with grief and pain. the swans support the medium holding jimin's body- but jeongguk's too caught up in his bittersweet memories of jimin sewing on the flowers, teaching him patchwork back when he had clumsy and good for nothing paws.

“your highness- the crown,” yoongi repeats softly, offering the tiara made for his future princess. the crown that fitted so nicely on jimin's soft curls that night he invited him to dance in the grand ballroom. the night he knew he fell irrevocably in love with a peasant boy with a heart of gold.

“if jimin's not here, i'm not marrying.” jeongguk announces, slowly getting up and dusting himself off. “jimin is the only one my heart will ever yearn for, you hear?”

the bereaved servants back down in acknowledgment, and jeongguk clutches the crown for his beloved jimin; his countenance one of pain, loss and distraught. “this life is nothing but meaningless without you, jimin.”

without further hesitation, he kisses the jewel of the crown, rubies as red as jimin's cheeks when he smiled, tossing the crown into the river- notwithstanding the royal subjects expressing signs of alarm or horror. he takes one last glance at jimin's restful posture protected by the glass, dipping into the tranquil waters, the crown sinking into azure blue; and he turns his heel before he starts to break down once more. his servants follow with heads bowed, hearts wrangled.

until he hears something.

hears something flutter, sees the flash of a shimmer of gold.

could it be?

the young woman dressed in a draped golden cloak speaks to him in a way that he is unable to see her face, grey curls cascading down her face, but the glimpse of an emerald eye shines forth.

“he never got to kiss you goodbye.”

the enchantress, or witch, or whatever being she might've been, extends a hand towards jimin's faraway body, as though pulling the glass with invisible rope, as it glides across the water in graceful strokes. the crown jeongguk had thrown into the waters sits atop of jimin's lovely hair, completely dry.

“go on, prince.” the woman cracks a smile, flashing that one crooked tooth.

once the glass touches the land, it seems to melt away, like wax under the sun, snow melting into water. the flowers placed around jimin etch themselves to the river bank, or float away into the endless stream.

the sleeping beauty lands softly, rousing beneath the soft grass. “jeonggukie?”

“jimin! jimin-” the prince exclaims, running over and engulfing jimin in the tightest, bone crushing hug. the servants gather round, mouths hung agape, lost, confused but thankful- the woman turns away as the lovers reunite, golden cloak melding into black with every step. when seokjin tries to catch her name, tapping her shoulder, his hands pass through thin air.

“jimin, i love you-”

“y-your highness?” jimin says airily, sounding confused, like he just woke up unable to differentiate between dream and reality. “c-can't breathe-”

“oh, i'm so sorry,” jeongguk says, releasing his vice-like grip, steadying the crown on jimin's head.

“your highness,” jimin begins again, memories clearing up, albeit some parts of his memories not adding up- but he recalls eating an apple in exchange for their human forms- perhaps all it took was time.

“i had a beautiful dream after eating that apple,” the smile that tugs at the corner of his lips throws jeongguk off- who allowed him to look this ravishing after falling into a deep, deep slumber?

“jimin, you actually fell asleep for almost two-” taehyung gets cut off when the prince raises an authoritative hand, shooting him a glare. the butler stands down, nodding in understanding. jeongguk doesn't have the heart to tell jimin all the sadness and panic his unconsciousness had caused.

“hmm? i was asleep for two days? two weeks? two months?” jimin gasps drowsily, looking more confused than ever as he takes the crown off his head, “w-wait, what is this? what happened? i don't remember-” his hands start pointing at namjoon, yoongi, hoseok; then he makes confused noises as to why they're by the river bed at dawn. they're really no longer inanimate objects.

“y-your! your highness!” jimin exclaims alertly, eyes now wide open, cupping his cheeks, caressing his hair, “your antlers- they're gone, and you-! you're a prince again!” as he continues gushing, rambling with rosy cheeks and the brightest smile, the servants bowing extravagantly, thanking him for bringing them to their original selves, curse broken. jeongguk gives him such a tender smile that he feels nothing but warmth radiating and so many butterflies in his belly.

"oh!" jimin exclaims, as he cradles jeongguk's jaw delicately, as if he were made of fine china, thumbs stroking over honeyed skin. "prince, the scar on your cheek is still here..." he looks so worried, with his glassy eyes that hold the milky way and all the stars. "does it still hurt? i still remember that night when you saved me and this scar-"

“my darling, it is nothing much in comparison to you being alive and well; alas! on behalf of the kingdom, you saved us all- so thank you, from the bottom of my heart.” jimin feels his face heat up when jeongguk kisses his knuckles regally, on one knee like a knight in shining armour.

for you i would've done it a thousand times over.

he falls and bends over and melds into jeongguk's touch, malleable, melting like mush, sinking into every touch. they fit so perfectly; two broken halves that fit to form completion. jeongguk is crying silently in happiness, plucking flowers around them to thread into jimin's hair, just like it's a normal day lovers are spending in a garden, a leisurely picnic and morning stroll. jimin is glowing in the sun's halo, basking in amber hues as he giggles into jeongguk's embrace. 

“why are you crying, your highness? would you like to know what i dreamed of to cheer you up?” jimin mumbles sweetly, and jeongguk tips his chin up to meet with his rosy cheeks, fond, loving eyes. jimin has to resist the urge of kissing away his tears.

“what of, jimin?”

jimin blushes deeper, trying to bury his face in his hands, “i- i dreamt that we… we got married,” he huffs a little to calm himself down, “but now that there actually is a crown here, and i'm in your princess's wedding dress, i can't tell...”

jeongguk delights himself in pressing their lips together, as the sunlight shines down on them, birds chirping, flowers blooming; jimin tastes as sweet as honey, smells as fragrant as magnolia and orange blossoms. “p-prince!” he squeaks when jeongguk pulls apart, “that's not right, it was just one of my sinful fantasies, it's unbecoming of you to-”

jeongguk ignores his panicked words by taking the time to kiss him again, again, again. only when jimin shyly kisses back does he burst into laughter, a sound that jimin has never heard before in all his time spent at the palace. it's precious, and jimin thinks that jeongguk deserves only the most beautiful and intelligent and doting princess to take as his wife. he doesn't realise he's been mumbling it aloud to himself.

“but we're married,” jeongguk deadpans, “and indeed i married someone beautiful, intelligent and doting,”

“so it wasn't a dream..?” jimin asks, head tilted to the side, face getting hotter by the minute, “b-but i don't recall us trying to c-consume- i mean, we didn't do anything of that sort,” jimin fumbles, recalling how the stories he read often had a happy ending, mostly resulting in children or offspring.

consummate, you mean,” jeongguk laughs, tossing his head back, jimin curling into his embrace as a ball of embarrassment. “we can do that when we go back to my chambers, if that's what your heart desires.”

“n-no! no, i don't desire t-that, yet! maybe not at the moment, but someday,” jimin quietly says, face as red as a ruby, and jeongguk takes the opportunity to tease his beloved further. “you don't want to consummate with me, love?”

“i- i-” jimin stutters, “i want to, but i-”

“shh, it's okay, sweetheart, i'm just teasing you.”

jimin punches him in the stomach, and jeongguk pretends to suffer a big hit, jimin giggling as the servants watch from afar with opera glasses and broad smiles.

“so we really got married?”

“indeed, we did.”

 

mayhap true love doth break thy spell.


spring transits to summer, and then to autumn and back to winter. after praying to the heavens above, the gods granted their wishes; upon celestial guidance, they managed to find a child, in the middle of the flower fields, and thus raised her to be their daughter. they weren't expecting to find her sleeping inside a flower, the mere size of a thumb- but the heavens told them in a conception dream to lay her in a cot filled with dried persimmons and baby's breath for the blessings to reach completion.

this cycle was to be repeated for thirteen days. changing the fresh flowers and the dried fruit. on the night of the thirteen, the thimble-sized child grew into a beautiful young girl. she had skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, and hair as black as ebony.

they named her sulhee, or snow child. she grew to be a beautiful young princess, well mannered and thoughtful, kind and compassionate.

one night, it rains. the king is taking care of her other father, who's caught a cold, braving the rain to save a black cat by the name of brandley. sulhee thought he had the most gorgeous green eyes. the servants have retired to their chambers or are busy with their chores, leaving her to read at her own pace in the many halls. papa would come tuck her to bed soon.

it pours- a flash of lightning, a roll of thunder. it's raining cats and dogs.

suddenly, while reading her favourite fairytale snow white, sulhee hears three knocks on the entrance. it reverberates in the empty hallway; lights flickering, she opens the door with a sense of trepidation. if there's someone who needs shelter, she's sure her parents would allow it. but who could it be at this time?

she feels a jolt of fear run down her spine, as the mysterious figure asks with the most dangerous and yet calm eyes she has seen.

the hunched woman in the black cloak asks, grey hair dripping wet, “miss, i came in the rain because have an apple especially for you- it can grant you anything, anything at all.” under the hooded cloak, sulhee spies a pair of emerald eyes.

i want papa and father to be healthy and happy, and be with sulhee always!

with hands outstretched, she reaches for the delectably red apple, an innocent, thankful smile.

 

 

the woman in the black cloak came from the north wing.