Disclaimer: I do not own the boys.
Summary: A modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast. And by modern I mean no magic or curses or castles, so bear that in mind please.
"You can watch me corrode like a beast in repose." -- My Chemical Romance
Optimists will say everything happens for a reason; when one door shuts, a window opens. Kyungsoo's life is a series of closed doors that lead to windows he's forced to pry open in desperation. Every dream and aspiration he's ever had has been crushed, burnt to ash as he watches the smoldering remains float away on the wind. At twelve years old his mother succumbs to cancer, leaving him with a father who was already showing signs of instability. It's no surprise when his mind goes less than a year later, a thirteen year old son left to take care of them both. The money runs out when he's sixteen, offering him no choice other than to find a job after school. It's not glamorous, but it pays the bills and he does it with a smile on his face because if he dares frown he's afraid he'll never stop.
Kyungsoo has always wanted to sing, to be on a stage surrounded by thousands of people who want to hear his voice. It's a dream that keeps him going during long hours of grueling labor and an unresponsive father when he finally drags himself home. At eighteen his father gets worse and he has no choice but to admit him to an institution to be taken care of. Because of this, he shelves his dream of singing. The bills are too much and he can't justify college when his own flesh and blood needs him. He's still forced to sell their family home for money and move into an apartment with a friend from school because he has nowhere else to go and the rent is cheap. Wufan is the one that takes care of Kyungsoo, making sure he eats enough and doesn't sleep too late to make it on time for his shifts. Wufan is the one Kyungsoo clings to and cries in front of when things become too much. Another hospital bill falls from his fingers and he collapses into his friend's arms and he knows Wufan will always catch him.
It's only inevitable that he falls in love. But things never go the way they should. In a moment of clarity, he confesses, tells Wufan how much he truly means to him and how much he loves him. He hopes to see the same love reflected back in his brown eyes, but he doesn't. All he sees is sorrow. Wufan loves someone else, someone he's never even mentioned before and it's only then that Kyungsoo realizes maybe they aren't as close as he thought. Heartbreak closes him off, keeps him in his room when Wufan is home and he begins slipping up at work. Two weeks of this and he's fired.
At twenty-one years old, Kyungsoo is jobless, inundated with bills and nursing a broken heart. He needs a change and he needs it now.
The sight before him is daunting, an old house that raises three stories into the sky. The paint is chipping around the shutters and the front gate is all but rusted shut. The hedges are growing into the wooden fence and the grass is overrun with weeds. A lonely porch is in need of a good washing and he feels sad. There's so much potential for beauty under all the neglect and he can only wonder why such a place was left to ruin.
"Do Kyungsoo, I presume?" He jumps a little, startled at the voice, but composes himself long enough to give a smile and a nod to the man at the door. "Do you need any help with your belongings?"
Kyungsoo looks down at the small bag clutched in his hand. "This is all I have, sir."
He thinks he sees pity in the other man's eyes, but it's quickly masked. "Come on in then."
The foyer is large, his sneakers squeaking on the hard wood floor and echoing against the high vaulted ceiling. The white paint is fresher inside although it doesn't make it seem any less drab. There are shades of white and grey in the simple decorations and furnishings, giving it an unlived in feel. For a home, it seems cold and empty.
"I'm Kim Joonmyun and I handle all the estate finances. If you'll follow me, I'll show you to your room."
Kyungsoo falls in step behind the man, eyes raking over immaculate floors and spotless rugs. He's taken up a flight of stairs before turning left toward a room near the end of the hall. It's simple as well, a twin sized bed against one wall and a dresser on the other.
"There's a bathroom just across the hall and it's for your use only. Feel free to make yourself at home in these two rooms." The underlying message is clear: don't overstep your bounds. "I have a schedule made up of Jongin's activities, along with a list of foods he prefers and rules to follow." The packet of papers feels heavy and he wonders briefly how much he's gotten himself in to.
"When will I meet Jongin?" Kyungsoo feels odd using his first name like that, but it's all he knows about the man he's supposed to take care of.
"Jongin doesn't like people. To be blunt, he's scared off the past three caretakers in less than a week. The last one was here an hour." Joonmyun removes his glasses and rubs his eyes before replacing them. "I certainly hope you fare better than the rest."
"What do you mean 'scared off'?"
"Just don't intrude on his space and follow the instructions I've given you and you'll be fine."
The advice isn't very reassuring.
"Oh, there's also a credit card in there," the man adds, tilting his head toward the papers. "Make sure to keep up with it. It's for groceries and anything else Jongin sends you out for."
Another nod and Joonmyun is leaving, his footsteps thudding fast down the stairs before Kyungsoo can even take in that he's been left alone in a strange house with a man he's never met who likes to scare people. The silence rings in his ears and suddenly everything seems darker. Walking to the bed, he gently sets down his bag and the packet, taking a moment to get his bearings. This is just a house and Jongin is just a person. Kyungsoo took care of his mother before she died and his father after. He can do this. If there's anything in this world he can do, it's take care of people.
Unpacking is a simple task, placing his small stack of folded clothes in their drawers before putting away his toiletries in the bathroom. The only thing left is a picture, framed in simple light wood as a younger Kyungsoo grins at the camera with his mother at his side. It was before she got sick, before the muscle deteriorated from her bones and the lines on her face deepened. He trails his fingers over the glass, fondly thinking of her tinkling laugh and the way she'd pick him up and swing him around. That's the way he remembers her. Not the husk of a person he put in the ground. That wasn't his mother. This is.
The picture is set on top of the dresser, tilted toward the window so the sun catches on the glass in the morning. His mother had always loved the sun. And with her here by his side, he'll be alright.
The stack of papers now in his hands is daunting and they nearly toppled onto the floor when he'd floundered to catch the piece of plastic that slipped out with them. Credit card tucked neatly in his back pocket, he skims over the first page. Rules.
Do not, under any circumstances, go into the basement.
That's a tad dramatic, but he supposes easy enough to follow. The bold print and underline would have gotten his attention, but the red font definitely makes it stand out. If that's the worst of it, it can't be too bad. Reading further, he discovers most of the rules revolve around as little contact with Jongin as possible and the importance of doing laundry on Wednesday afternoons, making sure his meals are on time and keeping the house spotless. It seems simple enough and with a house this big, avoiding someone shouldn't be hard either. He wonders what it is that forces Jongin to avoid people.
Papers in hand, he slowly makes his way out of the room to inspect the rest of the place. If he's going to be living here, he should at least familiarize himself with the layout because the map Joonmyun had left in the packet was a little impersonal. His room is the last on the hall, but there are two more, same in size as he heads for the stairs. One is similar to his with a small bed and dresser covered in white sheets to keep away dust from disuse. The other room is empty, distinct squares of brighter paint on the walls identifying there used to be posters and paintings on the walls. He closes the door with a soft click and heads downstairs, making sure to keep his steps quiet so as to not disturb Jongin.
Pissing off his new employer is not on his list of things to do.
Every room is the same, white and grey furnishings and decorations that leave a fake, trying too hard taste in his mouth. This isn't a home, it's a museum. He finds the kitchen to have a little more personality, wide sliding doors leading out into the backyard. It's almost as if he's pulled outside, an overgrown garden with flowers valiantly attempting to break through weeds calling to him. The colors are a welcome change from the monochrome decor of the inside. For the first time since he arrived, he smiles. A simple curve of his lips and a bud of hope begins to blossom in his heart. Maybe. Just maybe this place will be the right beginning.
Kyungsoo loses himself in the garden, hands cupping the small roses piercing through the cage of dandelions and thorns. It's midspring and they should be in full bloom, but they're too stifled, not taken care of and it's a miracle they're blooming at all. A little bit of beauty in a world built on loneliness. He loses time out there, carefully plucking the weeds away from the flowers, allowing the sun to shine through and help them grow. The hairs on the back of his neck stand on end and Kyungsoo looks up, peering around to find the reason. Turning to the side, he sees a curtain pulled back slightly and the sudden fluttering of it falling back into place. Jongin.
It pulls Kyungsoo out of his reverie and he wipes his dirty hands on his jeans before standing and going inside again. One look at the clock on the microwave shows him it's nearing 10:30. He flips through the papers, looking at the schedule to find that Jongin eats lunch at precisely 11am - as his first meal of the day. In a little bit of a panic, Kyungsoo finds the acceptable food list and hopes to find something quick because he can't afford to cook anything nice in half an hour.
Grilled cheese. He can do that. Cabinets and drawers are opened, doors shutting louder than he thinks they should, but he's in a hurry and he doesn't know where anything is. The flipping in his stomach stills and settles once he's located all he needs and begins cooking. The cheese is melted and the bread is buttery and toasted to a golden brown - perfect. A glass of water is set on the tray next to the plate of sandwiches and Kyungsoo pauses. He runs out into the garden and cuts one of the small red roses to place on the tray.
His hands shake as he carries the food down the hall, the corridor dark and the door closed. He can only assume he has the right room, the map starring Jongin's bedroom and the corridor as mostly offlimits. He has to balance the tray on his knee to open the door, letting it creak open slowly only to be met with more darkness. Heavy layers of drapes block out all light save for the small sliver let in by the open door. He can't even be sure anyone's in there, but there's a small table near the center of the room and he walks in timidly and places the tray on it. A shuffling of fabric and Kyungsoo's heart starts beating wildly in his ribcage. He tries not to let his sudden surprise show on his face as he sees a dark figure, black against black, slowly walking forward. Kyungsoo isn't even aware he'd been backing away until his hip hit the door.
"What's this?" a gruff voice demands coldly, plucking the rose from the tray and holding it up between two fingers.
Kyungsoo still can't see anything save for an outline and it takes a moment to school himself so his voice doesn't waver. "A rose," he manages to get out in a quiet voice.
"I didn't ask for a rose."
"You shouldn't have to." Kyungsoo hears a huff before the flower is tossed to the floor and a dark shoe descends to grind it into the carpet.
"Get out," comes the growled command and Kyungsoo does just that, slamming the door closed behind him and fleeing down the hall and into the light because it feels as if that darkness is going to reach out and pull him back. He grips the fabric of his shirt over his heart, willing the beating to calm because it's only a man. Only a man. With a temper. He will not be chased away so easily. With several deep calming breaths he pulls himself together, eyes peering down that hallway one more time before he makes his way to a different part of the house.
He takes the rest of the day to explore the other rooms, finding the entire thing disappointing when he's greeted with the same again and again. This place has all the potential to be breathtaking; add splashes of color against white walls, mix pieces of furniture instead of having all matching sets and decorate with small pieces from everywhere left out to be inspected. The only thing of interest he found was a fireplace, framed awards and trophies spanning the length of the hearth. They're all for Kim Jongin, medals and achievements in ballet. And now he knows a little more about Jongin but it makes him no more comfortable.
Unlike with lunch, he manages to begin cooking in time to make something nice for dinner off the list. He opts for spaghetti, hoping Jongin loves cheese as much as he does because he piles it on thick. The smell of the dish in the oven makes his stomach growl traitorously and he realizes that with the excitement of this new home, he'd forgotten to eat at all today. It's something he'll have to remedy after taking care of Jongin's dinner first.
The very idea of going back down there and into that room has his stomach coiling tight with anxiety. He's not really scared but more cautious because he knows nothing about this man or what he did to scare the others off. Was it just an emotional fear that had them running, or was it worse? Was it physical? When the timer on the oven goes off, he nearly jumps out of his own skin, startled from his unfounded fears and he feels so silly.
There's nothing to fear in the dark. It's a mantra he chants in his head as he carries a tray down to Jongin's room. This one is larger and he has a harder time balancing it to open the door, but it doesn't fall and he counts it as a small personal victory. The tray from this afternoon was left on the table and he switches them out before turning to leave as quickly as he can. There are eyes on his back and he can feel them as if they were trying to peer under his skin. The shudder of fear that goes through him is attributed to Jongin now and not some imagined evil. It is Jongin.
Despite his empty stomach, he only manages to eat a paltry portion of the food, wrapping the rest up to eat tomorrow. He feels wound up and tired all at once and his eyes hurt from the strain. When he goes upstairs to shower, he makes sure to lock the bathroom door. The water is hot and it helps release the tension in his muscles, but the underlying uncertainty is still there. He has to stop his hands from shaking when he darts out of the steam filled bathroom and into his bedroom, quickly shutting the door and flipping the lock. He doesn't know why he feels so much fear, but right now it's crawling across his skin and he wants nothing more than to curl under the safety of his blanket and stay there until the sun rises.
It takes a while for Kyungsoo to fall asleep, mind concocting absurd fantasies of his employer; of Jongin bursting in and throwing him out the window or dragging him down the stairs to be wrapped in rose vines because he clearly loved them so much. Each vision is worse than the last until he can't take it anymore, a few tears slipping out to wet his pillowcase. Hours pass and when sleep finally takes him, it is not to a better place.
Ever since his mother's death, Kyungsoo's been plagued with nightmares. They've gotten better over the years and he's learned to rationalize the endless white halls and beeping monitors as a need for the closure he'll never truly get. He dreams of cords wrapped around his neck, heart monitor racing as he panics until the steady thrum dies and a shrill noise announces his death. He sees himself in shades of blue, lips darker and eyes sunk in like his mother's were just before she took in her last breath. He dreams of his father's lifeless eyes, hands stretching out to smother him with only fear to hold him in place.
Kyungsoo hasn't had a nightmare in months, but tonight he does and it hits him hard. He wakes to the speedy drumming of his heart, the front of his shirt soaked with sweat and his throat dry. It takes minutes to calm down, sitting up and closing his eyes as he allows the cooler temperature of the wall seep into his heated skin. That's when he realizes the steady beat he's hearing isn't his heart. It's something else.
Fear momentarily forgotten, he slips out of bed to investigate. He tip toes needlessly down the stairs, peering around in the nominal light curiously. There's nothing there, but the beat is louder and he can feel it pulsing through his feet when they pad across the wooden flooring. No nook or cranny is left unchecked and he's nearly at his wit's end when he discovers it. There's a door tucked away at the opposite end of the house as Jongin's room. A dim line of light filters out under it and Kyungsoo wraps his fingers around the knob, about to pull it open. Until he remembers.
Do not, under any circumstances, go into the basement.
This door must be the one to basement and he releases the metal knob as if it were on fire and burned his skin. He takes five or six small steps back before spinning on his heel and running up the stairs to dive into the safety of his covers again. This time it takes longer for him to fall asleep, but at least he's spared his nightmares.
Kyungsoo picks at the leftover spaghetti, setting the plate aside after only eating the top layer of cheese off. His stomach isn't in the mood for food and it churns dangerously. There are bags under his eyes and his imagination is in overdrive, constantly looking around to make sure he's not being watched. It's ridiculous and he attempts to make his mind stop, but it won't. He's afraid. He's managed to let one phrase and two small encounters twist into something frightening. It's childish and he knows it is, but that doesn't make it stop.
And even then it's not enough to make him leave. Not when his father needs care and he's the only one who can pay for it. So he swallows it down until it settles in the pit of his stomach and puts on a smile if only to convince himself everything is perfect. After the dishes, Kyungsoo spends the rest of the morning out in the garden, pulling weeds from around the arched trellises leading down the pebbled path through the center of the enclosed yard. He's already spotted pink and white buds peeking through to mix with the red rose bushes planted along the sides. He doesn't have shears or gloves or anything to help for that matter, but he works anyway. His hands bear the markings of multiple thorns ripping through skin, but he pays it no mind.
He snips a red rose before going inside to begin lunch, setting it on the tray with the food just as he did the day before. It's not much, but it's a token that he's extending a hand, making an attempt; a hand that's shaking as it twists the doorknob to Jongin's room. Placing the tray on the table, he scans the room for a moment before turning to leave, every instinct telling him to run for it.
"Hey you," comes that deep, gruff voice again.
Kyungsoo bristles. "I have a name. It's Kyungsoo."
"There's a list of things I need on the table," Jongin continues, not even acknowledging he'd spoken at all. With a frown, he plucks the paper off the wood and leaves, letting the door slam behind him because he's too annoyed to be afraid. He may be here to take care of Jongin, but that doesn't mean he can treat him so poorly, like he doesn't even warrant a name. Jerk.
At least the list is simple, mostly consisting of necessities like toothpaste and shampoo and he's able to get out of the house for a little while. He doesn't have a car and he can't afford to pay for a taxi so he walks, taking his time to enjoy the scenery and warm air. It feels like a true breath of fresh air and by the time he's made it to the small shop and back, he's feeling a lot better. Even the anticipation of having to deliver these items to Jongin doesn't drag the smile off his lips. He knocks on the door lightly and waits until he hears Jongin grant him permission to enter.
The room is dark as per usual and he still doesn't know what Jongin even looks like, but it doesn't deter him in the least right now. Kyungsoo walks in and peers around, attempting to see more of the room and its occupant, but it's no good. Jongin is sitting in a chair facing away from him, only one leg visible from his position and he's not daring enough to walk over. So he deposits the bags on the table, takes the tray and leaves with a soft click of the door behind him.
This is his lot in life; take care of those who can't do it themselves and if he can't find a way to be happy doing it, he'll never be happy. Whatever it takes, however he may have to adjust, this is his life and he will not let someone else control so much of it. Not anymore.
Kyungsoo takes dinner to Jongin later that evening, smile faltering only a little when he sees the rose petals scattered carelessly over the floor. He leaves the food and the room, trying not to let the gesture get to him. If Jongin doesn't want to accept it, that's fine. But it doesn't mean he's going to stop. Sometimes it's the little things that matter the most and perhaps one day he'll get it.
When he wakes in the morning, the smile returns and he's humming as the makes his way down the stairs to the kitchen for breakfast. His appetite has finally returned and he's starving. Kyungsoo rounds the corner to the kitchen and it all comes to a halt. His lips pull down and surprise freezes him in place. The room is a disaster. Pots and pans are everywhere, food from the pantry is spilled across the floor and broken dishes lay around the sink. An angry sob forces its way out of his throat and Kyungsoo is livid.
With a turn on his heel, he marches down to Jongin's room and pounds on the door demandingly. No one answers and after a few minutes more, he lets his throbbing hand fall to his side, tears now pouring down his cheeks. He doesn't have the courage to barge in no matter what his body wants to do, so he leaves, goes back to the kitchen and takes in the damage again. His morning is spent cleaning up the mess and he stops every now and then to gaze fondly at the roses outside. He wants so much to be out there with them, but not today.
Lunch is late, anger ebbing away into a sad sort of defeat. It's as if Jongin knew he was going to make the best of things and decided to bring his worst. And yet, there's still a rose laying on the tray, bright against the silver, glinting red in its reflection. He all but slams the tray onto the table and turns to leave without a word or a moment to peer around because he wants to get out as fast as he can.
"What's the matter, Kyungsoo?" It's the first time he hears Jongin call his name and he decides right then and there that he never wants to hear it on his lips again. His name came out more akin to a cold hiss, sending a shiver up his spine and he stops in his tracks. He's being taunted, toyed with.
"It appears I was misinformed," he began, turning around with narrowed eyes. "I thought I was helping an adult, not a spoiled child." Before he can do or say anything else that could be classified as brave, Kyungsoo is through the door, feet taking him out of the dark and into the light of the kitchen where he still needs to finish. Tremors wrack through his hands and he grips the counter to get ahold of himself before he throws up. He's still shaking a little as he fishes small pieces of porcelain out of the sink, slicing the pad of his finger open on one of the larger pieces. The blood drips slowly, leaving a trail as it runs down the drain and Kyungsoo merely watches, letting the throbbing pain hold him in place.
What if he can't do this?
He dreams of a faceless man in a mask, his name falling from his mouth like poison and it resonates in his ears. The sound grows louder until it's all he can hear, all he can feel and it hurts. His name rips through his skin like small shards of glass and he falls to his knees, his mother and father standing just out of reach, watching him with their sunken eyes and ashen faces. Kyungsoo begs for release, begs for it all to stop, but it only gets worse. Warm blood spills from a fresh cut across his throat and he gags, hands slipping across the floor as he tries to hold himself up. His parents shatter and he screams.
Kyungsoo jolts upright, chest heaving and eyes blinking quickly to adapt to the minimal light streaming through the crack in his curtains. When he places where he is and that the sun is slowly starting to rise, he slumps down into his warm bed, clutching the covers tight to his chest. It takes him several minutes to adjust, to let the remnants of his nightmare fade into the back of his mind before he can move. He dresses quickly and unlocks his bedroom door, intending to make himself something small for breakfast. What happens, instead, is he trips over the basket of laundry left outside his door and he lands with a thud and a soft curse.
"Bastard couldn't have put it somewhere else?" he mutters under his breath as he heads down the stairs with the clothing.
Laundry in the wash, he hesitates before walking into the kitchen. He's fully expecting to see it in ruins again and he doesn't want to spend another day cleaning it all up, but when he walks inside, it's just the way he left it save for the tray beside the sink. A sigh of relief and he sags against the counter. At least this is a pleasant surprise.
Kyungsoo tames his gurgling tummy with a few pieces of toast before he meanders outside, mist falling from the sky and coating him in a sheen of water. But it doesn't stop him from spending his morning tending to the roses. He's soaked from head to toe and nursing a runny nose when he finally returns inside to begin lunch. A few sneezes later and he's heading to the bathroom to see if there's any cold medicine. It makes him drowsy, but it's better than the constant tickle in his nose and he's able to pull himself together long enough to leave lunch for Jongin along with his neatly folded laundry. He has to push the basket in with his foot and he leaves it at the door, attempting to ignore the fresh set of rose petals ripped to pieces on the floor.
That evening he tucks his pride away and calls a friend just to have someone to talk to. "Baek?" he asks quietly, clutching the receiver close and speaking low in the corner of the living room.
"Kyungsoo! Oh my god! Where are you? Are you alright? Please tell me you're safe -"
"I'm fine," he interjects, cutting off Baekhyun's string of questions. "I let Wufan know I was moving out for a new job. Didn't he tell you?"
"You left a note, Soo. That's not letting someone know. That's running away."
"I couldn't - I didn't - I mean. . . I did what I needed." His heart feels like it's beating in his throat.
"I know you did," comes the resigned response. "Is it better there?"
"No, no, I'm just adjusting. Don't worry. I'm fine."
"You don't sound fine."
"But I will be." His assurances seem to work because Baekhyun is changing the subject, letting him know everything he missed in his old life and he finds himself grinning and laughing along at some of the stories. Wufan's name isn't mentioned again and he can tell his friend is avoiding the subject altogether and he's thankful for it.
"Will you call again? I miss your stupid face."
Kyungsoo laughs, agreeing to keep in touch before he hangs up. Baekhyun is just what he needed, a pick me up to keep him going. And when he wakes in the middle of the night, terror thrumming through his body, he lets the steady beat of the music in the basement calm him. In some sort of twisted sense of responsibility, Kyungsoo finds himself in Jongin's room, cleaning up the pieces of roses that have been left to waste away. If Jongin notices the next morning, he doesn't say anything so Kyungsoo doesn't either.
There's no subtle breakthrough, no hints of their relationship as caretaker and brat changing into anything else. Kyungsoo follows his regime, cooking and cleaning and doing laundry while finding time to care for the garden. Slowly, it begins to look less like a mass of weeds and more like the beauty it was meant to be. There are still days when he wakes to find one of the rooms in the house a disaster and he takes it in stride, as if he were babysitting a toddler and not a man who should be ashamed of his actions.
He's no less frightened of Jongin, though. Not when all he sees is a shadow and all he hears is a nasty voice scolding him or sneering. His nightmares persist, coming most nights instead of just a few times a week and more often than not it's only Jongin's music that lulls him back into sleep's embrace.
Joonmyun stops in once a week or so and each time he seems surprised to see Kyungsoo still there. He stays long enough to make sure all is well before leaving with a smile and sometimes a pilfered cookie from Kyungsoo's baking. Every now and then he'll brave a question about Jongin, but Joonmyun always shakes his head and shoots him down. It's disappointing.
When things get bad and he feels like he's falling apart at the seams, he calls Baekhyun if only to hear his voice. He lets himself relax into the sound, lets Baekhyun talk his head off about nothing and everything until he can breathe again and things don't seem so bad.
It isn't until summer, nearly two months later, when something changes.
The music pulses through his body, moves his limbs as he loses control. It's liberating being able to let go, do as he wishes and not care about anything or anyone else. He drowns himself willingly as it crescendos off the walls. After the final chords pluck at his skin, it all fades into a bitter silence. This is where it comes crashing down because there are no adoring crowds cheering his name, no red roses being thrown at his feet for such a flawless performance. And it was flawless. Kim Jongin is never anything less than perfection.
Talent seeped out of his pores and everyone either wanted to be him or be with him. He dazzled and amazed on stage and left you wanting only more. He fucked any willing beautiful body and left them by morning because Kim Jongin was too good to be tied down, too good for the world to not open its arms and embrace him. Companies begged him to dance in their ballets and theaters threw money at him to grace their stages if only for one night. His life was perfect.
And now it's gone, ripped from him only to leave scars marring his once perfect skin, racing down from his face to his thigh and it made him so angry. Friends left him one after the other, the time between calls increasing until his phone stopped ringing altogether. He supposes it was only a matter of time because he is no longer one of those beautiful faces. No, he is nothing like them now.
He is a beast.
The tall mirrors that line the walls are covered in slathered on paint, only small cracks allowing his faint reflection to show through and sometimes even that is too much. He's trembling, his muscles warm and malleable after hours of dancing yet he's still not tired. His eyes fall to the larger than life photo on the side of the wall. He remembers the exact moment it was taken - on stage dancing to The Nutcracker Suite. He'd been the perfect Prince, tights molded to his toned body and glitter painted across all visible skin. His hair hung in his eyes and the sweat rolled down his temple, but he wouldn't trade it for the world. The photographer caught him mid-air, a technically perfect tour en l'air that captured the raw emotion of the dance. And it makes him sick because there will never be a night like that again.
Anger courses through his veins like blood, taking hold as it does every night and the melodies of classical music are replaced with bass heavy beats. His worn out limbs protest the harder dancing, the jerks and unfamiliar rhythms he was never trained for. But he continues until it becomes numb. The anger pours out in his steps, uncontrolled and violent until he's too exhausted to do anything more than drag what's left of himself up the stairs and across the house to his room. He falls in bed, sweaty clothing peeled off in favor of the silk sheets pressed against his skin and he falls into a fitful sleep.
Mornings are the worst, his body protesting the previous night's workout and being awake so early, but he never manages to fall back asleep. The first thing he does is shower, wash away the remnants of sweat and the bitter sting of regret. After he's finished, towel wrapped around his waist and wet hair clinging to his forehead, he peels back the side of his curtain. Kyungsoo is out in the garden again, scratched up hands digging through the dirt to uproot another stubborn weed. He watches for several minutes, eyes trained on the man's face, his pale skin a contrast to his black hair, pink lips parted in concentration before a smile pulls them up. It's a new tradition of his, watching the caretaker tending to the neglected flowers. And he doesn't fully understand why, only that he's pulled to him and it's frightening.
One thing he's learned is that people fail you when you need them the most. He's not about to make that mistake again.
Today he watches for longer, unable to move until he sees Kyungsoo's wide eyes flicker in his direction. His heart beats fast in his chest and he lets the curtain fall closed, fingers aching to pull it back again, but he won't let them. He wills himself to move away and pull on a pair of pants so he can use the towel to dry his hair. Only he gets lost partway through and flops down on the bed with his arms spread and towel abandoned on the floor. The soft fuzz of his blanket caresses his skin and he shifts, feels the tiny fibers from it and his pants catching on the rough skin of his scars and the anger begins again. Always the anger. He balls his fists in the covers and squeezes his eyes shut because he doesn't want to cry. Rogue tears slip through anyway, running into already wet hair.
He lays there until he has control of himself again, body calming and tears drying before he sits up to resume his routine. He's just started to towel dry his hair, fabric tousling in his ears making him deaf to any other noise. The first thing he hears when he pulls the towel away is Kyungsoo's voice. Panic jolts through him and he turns to see his caretaker's wide eyes directed at his bare skin, tray shaking in his hands.
"I'm - I'm sorry," the man stutters before putting the tray on the floor and running out of the room, door slamming closed behind him.
He's always been afraid of people seeing him, making judgments and flinching away in the fear of something they don't understand. The anger follows because it's not something he can control, not an outcome he can fix. People will continuously view him with pity and disgust and fear and it hurts. And he doesn't know, doesn't pretend to fathom why it hurts so much more when the look of shock is painted on Kyungsoo's beautiful face.
A rush of fury has him screaming, hands buried in his hair as he tugs, inflicting pain yet not feeling it through the adrenaline. Another scream that rips his throat and he flips the table, but it's not good enough. He picks it up and throws it at the wall, a small part of him mollified as it breaks into pieces. Jongin sinks to his knees, sobbing as he leans forward on his arms, face in the rug as the emotions fight it out in mind. When he squeezes his eyes closed all he sees is red, fingers clenching and unclenching as his nails dig into his palms.
Kyungsoo is terrified, body shaking and knuckles white as he clutches the edge of his bed. After seeing Jongin and how his face twisted in shock, he ran; ran all the way up the stairs and into his room, locking the door before collapsing on his bed. He squeezes his eyes shut and all he sees is Jongin's eyes, boring into his own and filled with anger. Yes he was taken by surprise at the scars running down half his body, but they have nothing on what he knows is underneath it all. Jongin's temper. That's what he's truly afraid of.
He waits for it, waits for the footsteps and the yelling or maybe even the sound of dishes being broken in the kitchen because that's Jongin's favorite room to destroy. But it never comes. It's silent after that last scream he heard from Jongin's room before he made it far enough away. A tremor goes through him and he doesn't know what's worse - the anticipation of a reaction or the silence that's eating away at him. He imagines creaking outside his door and his neck jerks his head toward it. His eyes focus on the doorknob, breathing ragged as every nerve in his body tenses in preparation. But it's all in his head and after a minute of nothing, he lets himself relax a little. His fingers hurt from the tight grip he's had on the bedspread and he flexes them in his lap as he calms his breathing.
When his heart resumes it's normal pattern of a steady beat, he musters the courage to move away from his bed, cautiously taking small steps toward his door. The first thing he does is press his ear to the wood, straining to hear for any sign that Jongin may be right outside.
Kyungsoo turns the knob and lets the door open a crack, peering through to find no one in the hall. A sigh of relief escapes his lips before he very quietly edges the door open enough to slip out. He suddenly feels like the protagonist in a bad horror movie as he tip toes across the floor to the top of the stairs. His hands grip the top of the railing and he crouches, hoping to catch any signs of Jongin being out of his room, but there aren't any. Ever so stealthily he slips down the stairs, one by one with a pause every time he lands all his weight on his feet.
There's a thick knot in his throat and a herd of cattle stampeding through his stomach by the time he makes it to the bottom and every instinct is yelling at him to dart back up and hide. His heart makes a temporary move to his throat, quickening each time he rounds the corner or opens a door into a different room. Jongin is nowhere to be found and Kyungsoo isn't brave enough to venture down the hall to his room. He does, however, stand at the end and stare at the door, almost as if willing it to open and Jongin to walk out. It's a different kind of emotion - wanting to at least see the man to make sure he's alright yet still fearing the repercussions of his mistake. If a mistake is what you can call it. He was only doing his job.
Everything is still and quiet and unnerving with so much tension surrounding him, so Kyungsoo goes outside. He's halfway down the small path in the garden when he sits, pulling his knees to his chest and burying his face. The sunlight helps erode some of the darkness he knows is clinging to him and it seeps under his skin to settle around his bones. A shudder travels down the length of his spine and he clutches tighter around his legs and wills himself to relax, find something else to think about. But no matter how hard he tries, the vision of Jongin is burned onto his retinas, never letting him forget. The fear races through him again and it takes all he has to not leave and never come back. He knows he can deal with this - has to deal with this - because he has nothing else. It means he needs to grow up, to do his job no matter what.
Eyes blinking in the sunlight, he looks over at the roses and one side of his mouth pulls up a little. If anything he still has this. Tentatively, he unwinds an arm and reaches out, outlining the ridges of a rose with his fingertips. He shifts, leaning to the side to reach the weeds growing around the small bush. It's a distraction that takes all his concentration and after a while, he forgets all about Jongin and his fear and all that's left is a pleasant happiness buzzing under his skin because he's doing something so calming. It's his sanctuary.
The sun begins to set and Kyungsoo realizes how long he's been outside, rushing in to cook a quick dinner because he's running late. The noodles are boiling before everything crashes down again. But it's not so bad. Not if he can make amends. So that's what he vows to do. There's a fresh rose on the tray (as an apology) and dinner even if it's an hour or two late. Each step he takes down the hall saps a little bit of his courage until he's left with shaking knees in front of Jongin's door.
He can't do it.
Kyungsoo carefully sets the tray outside and knocks loud enough for anyone inside to hear. Then he bolts, runs away before he's confronted with something he's not prepared to face yet. He knows it's cowardly and there will be a time when he has to face Jongin. Guilt forces his stomach to churn and he can't eat, deciding to wrap the rest of the food up for later and make it an early night.
This time, the rhythmic beat of the bass through the floor keeps him awake long into the night.
The house is silent as it is every morning when Kyungsoo wakes yet it takes only moments for yesterday's memories to race through his mind. Uncertainty keeps him in bed for longer than usual, but with a mild pep talk - don't be such a wuss, you idiot - he's dressed and heading down the stairs to inspect the place for signs of damage. It's safe to say the trail of blood drops he finds isn't what he expected and curiosity takes over. Still wet, the red stands out against the floor, leading him to the basement door, the place he's not supposed to enter. This time he does anyway.
It's dark and he fumbles against the side of the wall until he finds a light switch and flips it on. The stairs creak under his feet and the knot in his stomach twists a notch tighter every step down. He barely makes out a large room before finding a new light switch.
Kyungsoo's eyes widen and panic sets in, broken glass everywhere and a spread of red indicating this to be the cause. A hand comes up to cover his mouth, taking in the destruction and the rage that must have led to it. This is his fault. Thinking nothing of his forgotten fears, Kyungsoo runs up the steps and straight to Jongin's door. He bangs on the wood, the noise echoing down the hall, but no one responds.
"Open the door," Kyungsoo calls out yet still nothing. "Dammit," he mutters under his breath before turning the knob and walking in anyway. This time, when his heart picks up speed and the adrenaline kicks in, it's not because he's afraid. It's because Jongin is sitting on the edge of his bed, bloodied hands trying to cover his face as he shrinks from the light.
Kyungsoo is across the floor in moments, trailing fingers down one of Jongin's hands to pull it away. Jongin jerks away from his touch, twisting so the other man can't see his face, but it doesn't stop him. Taking hold of his wrist, Kyungsoo pulls it into the light to inspect the damage. Jongin's knuckles are busted, small cuts adorning the surrounding skin. It must be painful. "I need to clean these before they get infected," Kyungsoo says more to himself than anything, but it gets a reaction anyway.
"W-what?" Jongin looks at him, hair fallen in his face and his mouth open in surprise.
"Don't move," he orders before heading straight into Jongin's bathroom. Rifling through the cabinets, he finds the antiseptic and a wash rag that he soaks in warm water before returning. Jongin is still sitting just as he left him and Kyungsoo figures it's more out of shock than anything. "I have to turn on the light," he warns just before reaching over to turn on the bedside lamp. The injured man recoils, but the hand wrapped around his wrist again doesn't let him go far.
Pressing the warm cloth to Jongin's knuckles, he takes a moment to flick his eyes up to his face. It's pity more than anything that pulls at his heart when he sees the scars. A jagged line runs from above Jongin's left eyebrow to his right cheek, the skin lighter and slightly red in color. It's not the worst part though. Beginning just underneath Jongin's right eye are burn scars, licking down the side of his face and neck to disappear under the loose fabric of his shirt. Memories of seeing his back race to the forefront of his mind and he knows they travel all the way down. The skin is puckered and tinted pink, some patches smooth and shiny and others rough and brighter. The shadow from the light makes the ridges stand out, casting their own small shadows over his wide eyed face. All Kyungsoo can do is offer a small smile as a peace offering before returning his attention to the hand in his.
Jongin doesn't fight, doesn't pull away when he washes away the blood and begins cleaning the numerous cuts with the antiseptic. He merely watches and Kyungsoo can feel the eyes trained on his face like he's waiting for a reaction. Kyungsoo is still wary, despite his instincts to care for someone in need. The unpredictability in Jongin is enough to keep him on edge, waiting to run out in case he makes a move to hurt him.
Kyungsoo lets the cleaned and disinfected hand go and without even asking, Jongin offers him the other one freely. A smile finds its way onto his face again as he begins treating that one too. At least Jongin seems to be in a cooperative mood. Perhaps this will be it, the breakthrough Kyungsoo's been hoping for.
"You're shaking," Jongin observes aloud. "Does my face scare you?"
"No," Kyungsoo answers truthfully. "Your temper does." It takes a lot to not look at Jongin's face again because he's a little frightened at what he might find there. So he focuses further on wiping off the dried blood because the rag is covered in red now. "Is it why you hide? The scars?"
"I scare people." Jongin sounds bitter and he can't find it in him to blame him for that at least.
"Not me." This time he does look up and Jongin is looking at him curiously, as if trying to see inside him and find the lie. But it's not a lie and there's nothing to find. "It's your choice though, your decision to let something as superficial as a scar run your life."
"You don't know anything," Jongin spits out, pulling his hand roughly from Kyungsoo's with a glare. "Get out."
"Fine," the other man huffs before throwing the dirtied rag onto Jongin's lap and turning on his heel. He doesn't look back once, letting the door slam behind him as anger replaces pity. If that's how he wants to be, fine.
Kyungsoo grips the pole as the bus lurches forward, keeping himself steady on his feet. It's packed and he's already sweating through his shirt, but there's nothing to be done about it. They need groceries and he needs to get out before he goes crazy. Jongin causes such a spread of emotions to play out in his body that he's left reeling and confused. At least this way he's out of the environment if only for a little while. It's also nice to see other people even if they're complete strangers. Phone calls to Baekhyun can't replace the company of a friendly face and Kyungsoo misses it. When he'd been living with Wufan, Baekhyun had been a frequent visitor and it's times like this when he misses him the most. He'll definitely call later.
The grocery store isn't as crowded as the bus, but it's bustling and he has to weave through with his buggy to find the items on his short list. Checking out takes longer than the shopping did, but all too soon he's riding home, bags clutched in his hands. Every stop closer to his makes his stomach lurch a little harder and by the time he's walking off, he feels nauseous. Kyungsoo stands outside the front door, fingers stinging from the harsh pull of the plastic bags and his arms tired from carrying them so far. He sets them down gently, fishing for his key when the door opens on its own.
Surprised, he takes a step back as Jongin walks out just enough to pick the bags off the porch and carry them inside. Kyungsoo follows, but doesn't say a word as Jongin deposits them on the counter before turning and heading back to his room. Five minutes later and Kyungsoo is still staring down the hall at Jongin's closed door in shock. As far as apologies go, that one was fairly unexpected, but not unwanted.
Kyungsoo is in the middle of cooking dinner when he hears the footsteps and he raises his head just in time to greet Jongin as he walks into the kitchen. He looks sheepish, like a child afraid they're about to be scolded and Kyungsoo's heart goes out to him. He can't even imagine what Jongin's been through in his life and it makes him feel guilty for jumping to conclusions earlier and opening his mouth where it wasn't needed.
"Maybe . . . you're right," Jongin mumbles, staring at the floor with intent. Kyungsoo isn't prepared for the sadness when their eyes meet after another minute of silence. "If it doesn't bother you, maybe I could come out more?"
There are a hundred things he wants to say, like how it doesn't matter what he thinks because it's Jongin's house and he can do what he likes or he shouldn't let what others think determine what he does, but none of it comes out. "Of course you can," he says instead, smiling at Jongin in an attempt to get him to relax. He looks like a rubber band about to snap as it is and Kyungsoo definitely doesn't want anything to hinder their progress. "Want to help me with dinner?"
Jongin smiles when he nods and Kyungsoo thinks it's beautiful.