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Chenle arrives at the Park Castle in a midsummer snowstorm.

 

An oddly fitting concept, Jeno would say, since Chenle was just about as irregular as a human can get (in the best way possible of course).

 

Donghyuck would snort, and tell Jeno to be faithful, come on, isn’t Jisung supposed to be your favourite?

 

A wild goose chase would ensue, and predictably, Jeno would try to turn their favourite pastry pest into a pancake - A common occurrence really (-welcome to daily life in the Park castle), almost as just as often as Chenle recounting his Grand Tale of Wooing Jisung Park to anyone (and anything) that would listen.

 

It’s absolutely no surprise that Jaemin is the only one who bothers to stay, cooing at how cute Jisung is while everyone else (Jisung himself included) hightails out of there.

 

Chenle’s story goes a little like this: A blizzard strikes in the middle of August on his way back from his town trip, it was all he could do to, rather poetically, “follow where the wind took him” into the unexplored woods, till he stopped in front of wrought iron gates of an old castle.

 

By some sort of miracle, he’d made his way across the courtyard and into the castle doors, and there, Chenle almost made a fatal mistake of kicking Doyoung across the room when the very out of place, very wary teapot found him in the foyer and started speaking to him out of caution and curiosity.

 

Having taken that as a sign that he was absolutely losing it, Chenle had valiantly tried to fight off his hallucination (Doyoung) with a feather duster he’d found nearby (Taeyong).

 

Thankfully Johnny had intervened before Chenle could permanently end the DoTae feud by using Taeyong to send Doyoung to his maker (meaning the large duvet had wrapped Chenle into a hug so tight, boa constrictor style, that Chenle passed out right there and then).

 

This whole incident (“Johnny-hyung just killed someone who tried to kill Doyoung-hyung with Taeyong-hyung!”) makes even less sense with the knowledge that Chenle was the first guest in more than a hundred years.

 

Donghyuck still brings it up to make Renjun laugh, and Doyoung still reprimands them for being absentee cups - heh, get it? Absent teacups - in the times when he needs them the most.

 

What Chenle would eventually come to learn, was that the castle was magical. Time was eternally suspended in the season of harvest, where a spell was cast because their prince, far too trusting, had somehow gained the favour of an enthusiastic fairy, all-too eager to help him find his true love.

 

Any sane soul would be able to tell you that Chenle should have followed instructions and left as soon as he could. The spell would not have bound him to the castle the same way Taeyong, Doyoung and Johnny were, he should have accepted their hospitality like a good guest, stayed put and waited the storm out before leaving.

 

But Chenle was, well, Chenle, which is to say, decidedly not quite sane, a bit reckless, a mini inquisitive storm himself, a chaotic human held together by pure stubbornness, sharp tongue, and a whole lot of cheek. And to him, inquisition meant to blatantly ignore the social rules of tact and to hell with politeness - this was a magic castle, he might as well make use of his time here.

 

Inquisition was what prompted Chenle to follow his gut feeling and explore.

 

Inquisition was what made his feet move further into the candlelit plant conservatory, stunned into silence by the millions of varieties of roses in full bloom.

 

Inquisitive Chenle is not a flower person, but inquisitive Chenle really couldn’t put into words what compelled him to walk to the centre of the conservatory, entranced by the largest, brightest rose in the centre.

 

Chenle only had his inquisition to blame for the (one, very important, historical) moment he reached out to stroke the rose in his trance.

 

Ironic, wasn’t it, that inquisition, a simple “Who are you?”, was what startled Chenle - made him yelp and flail, equal parts guilty and startled by the beast standing in the entryway with a teacup in its hands.

 

Future Renjun always chimes in at this part because he was there, watching from Jisung’s palm as Chenle reacted to Jisung’s question like a fool, tripping over his own feet and taking down the Guiding Rose with him with a snap as he sprawled across the conservatory floor.

 

Of course, this whole fiasco wouldn’t be complete without Jisung dropping Renjun onto the floor (“Like the klutz he is,” he’d say, all fondness and no bite, “Shit hands and shit feet, you two are a shitty match made in heaven”) and running off, eyes brimming with tears, far too mild-mannered to yell at a stranger even if the intruder might have destroyed his one chance of breaking the spell.

 

Renjun could recount this whole encounter in perfect detail, down to the exact words that he said (yelled, raged) on Jisung’s behalf, because this was when Chenle was finally privy to the little piece of hope that Jisung had clung to in the years under the spell, the meddlesome, but well-meaning fairy’s parting gift: A magical rose that would lead Jisung to his true love.

 

It was then that Chenle realised the magnitude of what he had done, and eventually, made his way to Jisung, to apologise, to make amends, to stay.

 

If you asked Jisung about that moment in time, he would duck his head down, heavy blush on his face, and try to run away.

 

If you asked Renjun, he’d roll his eyes and comment with a small, crooked grin “dumb calls to dumb”, that they were a perfect match for each other.

 

If you asked Jaemin or Donghyuck, they would light up and say that Jisungie, their little romantic, was likely a lost cause from that very start, when Chenle knocked tentatively on Jaemin’s door to coax Jisung out to properly apologise.

 

But everyone would agree, it was from that moment on, that Jisung’s time, along with the rest of the castle, started to move again.

 


 

“You cannot convince me to live like this.” Chenle had declared two days after announcing his move in, “You cannot convince me that you live like this.”

 

This being a castle pitched in darkness, drawn velvet curtains and sombre lighting.

 

Chenle’s been to tons of mansions, been summoned before by the rich and royal, been invited to far too many gaudy manors to analyse literature.

 

He’s seen it all, the winding staircases and the starlit studies up in towers, all the private libraries and literary alcoves.

 

Chenle hasn’t fully explored this castle yet, has yet to see the library or the rooms on all the wings, but still, it had to be the darkest he’s been to yet, autumn chill permeating the thick walls.

 

After Chenle announced his decision to become Jisung’s very own much more effective Guiding Rose (because realistically what was a plant going to do? Chenle would be able to see it if the rose was like, animated and capable of speech, but what can a continuously blooming flower do, strangle the potential love interest with a vine until they agreed to kiss Jisung? fairies were ridiculous), he made it a point to make friends with the entire household and familiarise himself with Jisung’s closest aides.

 

It had taken Chenle a day to acclimatise himself to the talking furniture, less time to get them on his side, and even less for him to learn that Prince Park Jisung underneath his furry exterior was very much at his core still a very squishy nineteen-year-old.

 

Donghyuck, with all his knowledge of Jisung had deemed Chenle to be a good influence - a good-enough soul, the other teacup had said to Renjun, kind but not nice, just what Jisung needs.

 

Kind-but-not-nice Chenle had managed to successfully, kindly, drag the prince out to have meals in the dining hall, where the broken rose now sits in an impromptu pot - carefully watered by Chenle every day, part of his attempt at assuaging whole the broken rose situation - instead of holing himself up in his study, which quickly has everyone perking up at the prospect of Chenle being able to bring Jisung out of his hundred-year depressive shell.

 

It’s definitely a start, and if he’s going to regrow (or replace, because Chenle clearly is the better option here) that rose, he needs to change things round here: Starting with the drawn curtains, because seriously, what’s wrong with a little bit of sunlight? They can’t rely on the Lord-turned-candelabra to illuminate everything now, can they?

 

(Even though Mark is a very cute candelabra, very twinkly, Chenle might just kind of want a hundred-year-old noble candelabra to be his son, just a tad bit)

 

Next to Chenle, the maître’d and head housekeeper of the Park castle wilt at his words, spout and feathers drooping respectively, and while Chenle shoots them a well-meaning, apologetic grin, he doesn’t take it back, even when he receives a stink eye from Renjun.

 

The small teacup, glaring from his perch on Jisung’s head, clearly still holds a minor grudge against Chenle for the destruction of the Rose, even though he had to admit that Chenle was a good influence. Bit noisy, all too loud for the silent castle really, but Chenle seems to be a mood lifter, and he will, probably, Renjun admits grudgingly, be good for their young prince.

 

Johnny is the only one who gives some sort of positive response to Chenle’s comment, he laughs heartily from where he’s wrapped around a pouting Jisung, corner lifted to pat his head in consolation. The majordomo’s grin is audible from across the table when he asks Chenle what he plans to do to this poor old castle, Taeyong had perked up immediately at the mention of cleaning it up.

 

The feather duster is so excited at the prospect of being able to spruce up the living area that he dashes across the dining table to Jisung’s end (Chenle doesn’t particularly like how they’re sitting on opposite ends of a giant banquet table, he’ll fix that soon, but he can wait till Jisung is comfortable enough with him), sweeping across the table to Jisung to enthusiastically back up Chenle’s proposal.

 

“So we’re cleaning up the castle…” Jisung says slowly, “for what exactly?”

 

“The banisters,” Chenle replies cheerfully before Taeyong can give them a strait-laced, moral reason why.

 

Chenle doesn’t do strait-laced, moral reasoning. He’s more of a chaotic mushroom and he’s intent on dragging Jisung into his ways, he’s his new life coach and everything now, right?

 

“The banisters.” The younger Lee Lord-turned-clock Jeno deadpans from his place on the table, where Donghyuck is practically jumping up and down next to him.

 

“Exactly! You have all these smooth long winding banisters, perfect angles and everything- it’s such a waste to not do anything with them! Once you clean them imagine all the sliding we can do!”

 

“YES,” Donghyuck roars, triumphant, “See- I told them those banisters were made to be used properly finally- Yes! Someone sees sense!”

 

Donghyuck bumps his teacup self against Chenle’s hand in a fist bump, it’s a bit of a strange manoeuvre, but hey, Chenle’ll take it.

 

“Well, a bit of a spring cleaning would do us all good,” Doyoung says thoughtfully, “I think we’ve all forgotten what this castle can really look like, might as well show Chenle while he’s staying here.” He pauses, thinks the better of it then continues.

 

“And,” the teapot sighs, he sounds like he’s regretting the words leaving his lips already, “I’ll even condone the sliding, if Jisung wants to join in.”

 

A few days later after one of the dusty curtains almost sends Jeno into a fit and a mini squabble over a tangled mess of candles strung on string, the castle watches, enamoured, as Chenle invents a crate system so the very sneezy clock, along with Renjun and Donghyuck could also have a ride down the stairwell.

 

(Mark had opted out, waxy countenance looking positively put off by the speed, and Jaemin- well, the full-sized closet was never going to be able to feasibly slide down anything, they were glad he was content to watch the chaos unfold and occasionally shriek unintelligible sounds of encouragement instead)

 

The castle sees Chenle going into every room to scavenge for cushioning to create an impromptu landing pad; it sees Johnny cheerfully volunteering, having gotten bored of watching Taeyong’s meticulous cleaning and opted to fold himself atop of the mattress pad to lessen the jostle of their falls.

 

(Doyoung finds him and accuses him of shirking, Johnny defends his position by pointing out that neither teacups nor clocks had any form of shock absorbency, and Doyoung had to reluctantly agree that the last thing he would want to find is his teacups, or worse, bless him, sneezy Jeno, smashed into splinters on the floor, so Doyoung yields and even gets a few rounds in the crate after that)

 

More importantly, the castle sees a rare burst of emotion from Jisung, an exasperated fondness when Chenle gets hopelessly tangled in string lights in his attempt to decorate the windows, a begrudging irritation as he willingly helps Chenle drag out spare mattresses, using the physique and strength of his enchanted form to move them down the winding hallways and flights of staircases, just to entertain a ridiculous idea which could possibly irrevocably damage the castle interiors, should they not stop in time and break the wooden railings.

 

Most of all, they all see Jisung genuinely laugh for the first time in a long while.

 

They watch as Jisung glides, clumsy and gangly, Chenle’s hand linked with his, grip adjusted carefully so his claws don’t mar Chenle’s skin as they slide down the stairwells of a castle that’s hundreds of years old, obliging when Chenle shrieks “Again!” and spins them round to run to the top of the stairwell, smile wide and boyish and thankfully untouched by the years.

 

(“Really,” Doyoung mumbles under his breath when Chenle issues a race that Jisung dodges, reluctantly accepts, then loses, “How old are they again?

 

Young,” Johnny answers, “Far too young.”)

 

Inside the dining room, away from the fun and the busy, the Guiding Rose quietly stands taller and blooms brighter.

 


 

It’s a well-established fact by now that Chenle is… inquisitive. Curious. Insatiable when it comes to learning and knowledge (and well, really many other things, you best believe Chenle can eat his weight in noodles).

 

Yes yes yes curiosity killed the cat and all that jazz, but Chenle (the cat in question) thinks he’s been in enough situations to convince himself that curiosity was framed, poor fellow, it was clearly ignorance that killed the cat. Chenle’s life goal is to free curiosity from its shackles and down with ignorance, a point of view that eventually cumulated into the events that led him to stay in the Park Castle, and really, it’s only logical he used that insatiable intellectual curiosity of his in the study of languages and worked as a transcriber.

 

His work is interesting, stimulating, Chenle loves it, even if he did almost set off a diplomatic emergency (it was way, way back when he was barely versed in foreign tongues and customs), and then there was that incident where a misspelt translation of an old tablet blew a small monastery off its perch on the cliff (in his defence, no one died). Being able to travel freely between borders to transcribe old texts, from scriptures to grimoires to old spell books, was a life that he’d proudly paved for himself.

 

It’s some kind of a glittering olive branch then, when Jisung offers to show Chenle the castle library after the human tells him over dinner (sitting right next to each other- progress!) of his work as a transcriber.

 

It’s the first time Jisung’s offered anyone anything, Donghyuck tells Chenle because apparently it justifies why there’s a small parade of household objects tailing them as Jisung reaches for the gold-inlaid handles of the library doors.

 

The scent of old scrolls and ink is what hits Chenle first, as well as the sheer size and height of the room. The most bizarre thought of I’m home, curls up in his head and refuses to be shaken.

 

He barely is able to react when the library scribe and ladder Sungchan cheerily introduces himself to Chenle, eager to meet the human who managed to upend the whole castle. Chenle is finally quiet for once, in absolute awe at the collection amassed in the Park Castle library, blue and white and golden gilded, floors gleaming, couches plush and tables polished.

 

The literary lover in Chenle’s chest beats harder upon seeing rows and rows and walls upon walls of old leathered spines, entire walls of yellowed pages, waiting to be pored over, waiting to be read.

 

It’s then, that Jisung points out to Chenle the untouched collection of the Old Scripts, books that spin foreign tales of magic, of enchantments, strange creatures and monsters and of the Fair Folk, a tongue so unused and exclusive with the blue-blooded that it’s turned obsolete, a language that Chenle never had the chance to master, the one thing he never had the privilege to access.

 

It’s there, where Jisung offered to read them all to him, the Old Scripts, the weathered scrolls, the well-worn books, the carefully bound pages, happy to answer questions, happy to patiently wait as Chenle takes notes, scrawls ink across parchment, unwilling to forget even a single tale.

 

It’s there, where Jisung offers to teach Chenle the Old Tongue, watching him be beside himself in glee when he understands a paragraph without Jisung’s help, watching Chenle being thrilled with learning another language, watching him advance one page at a time, every broken syllable transforming into legible phrases, till lessons fill their days, and reading to each other becomes a routine.

 

They’re in the middle of a cringe fest of story between a fae and a dwarf when a sudden question crosses Chenle’s mind, one very relevant to his mission.

 

“What’s love to you, Jisung?”

 

Jisung stops mid page flip, balking at the question, before he realises that Chenle wasn’t joking.

 

“That’s a bit of a trick question, isn’t it?”

 

Jisung fidgets when he finally replies, probably thankful that Sungchan was roped into helping Taeyong clean god knows where and that the library was empty save for the two of them (really, they had Johnny to thank, the duvet had swept up all the smaller pieces of nosy furniture and had rolled out of there at the first chance possible with the flimsiest excuses).

 

“Chenle, my perspective is obviously very very limited.”

 

“Well, you still have to tell me! And I’m like- your counsellor now! I’m supposed to help you find love- Go on!”

 

“This is what got me into trouble you know,” he mutters, “I told the fairy what I wanted in life and love, and look where it landed me-“

 

“You met me through it!” Chenle pouts, “Come on, you can tell a pretty stranger on your birthday banquet, but not me? You said we were friends!”

 

Jisung ducks his head, shy. There's a beat, and at Chenle’s insistent stare, he sighs, then gives in.

 

“Love- to me, is how my parents loved.” he says simply.

 

Jisung has always been sincere, he never dodges questions like Chenle would when confronted with an awkward topic, it might just be one of the traits that Chenle likes the most about Jisung: his ability to deliver answers in the softest, mellowest way possible, a gentle giant who cradles everyone’s emotions delicately in his large paws.

 

“Love to me is about growing through thick and thin, about wanting the best for people you care about, even if it means giving up, or sacrifice, that’s how my parents loved their country, and that’s how they loved me.”

 

Jisung clasps his paws together, and Chenle notices this, so he slips a hand between them to loosen their grip, and Jisung shifts his hands to hold his carefully as he continues speaking, shoulders relaxing at the touch.

 

“It makes me want to become a better version of myself-“ Jisung continues, “It makes me want to become a happier me, and I think that’s the only way I can ever repay the love I received, you know? It hasn’t been an easy hundred years for any of us,” he finishes ruefully.

 

Chenle hums as he contemplates Jisung’s surprisingly mature outlook, it’s really no wonder why the fairy went out of her way to craft such a large-scaled spell for Jisung.

 

Underneath that idealistic romantic and almost naïve behaviour, lies an inherent sense of practicality. Jisung’s far more mature than the attitudes of the people around the castle would suggest.

 

In fairer times, Jisung would have been a fine and just king, it’s a shame that he never wanted to rule and got caught up in this whole magical spiel as a result.

 

“Who knew you’d have this kind of reverse charm?” Chenle muses aloud.

 

The prince sputters and turns from him, flustered.

 

Cute, Chenle thinks, he laughs as he reaches across the table to ruffle the fur atop of Jisung’s head.

 

He wants to help Jisung break the curse, Chenle realises, and It’s not only to make up for breaking the rose anymore, it’s out of obligation as a friend and someone who wants the best for Jisung, a young prince far too kind for this world.

 

“Romantic Jisungie,” he coos, “I’m glad you shared this part of you with me.”

 

Jisung doesn’t push his hand away like he does with Mark or Jaemin or Donghyuck when they try to give him their form of petting. Instead, Jisung relaxes under Chenle’s hand, eyes closing as his shoulders slump, tension bleeding out of him as he accepts the affectionate touch. Chenle’s grin stretches wider.

 

Chenle likes challenges, he’s no quitter, only filled with the hard-headed determination to be the contrarian to everyone’s expectations.

 

(-Especially those monks, assholes, he’s already apologised, they didn’t have to go ahead and literally chase him out with broomsticks, aren’t they supposed to be peaceful and forgiving?)

 

Right there and then, Chenle decides that he’ll stop at nothing to make sure Jisung ends up with someone he belongs with, someone who’ll make him want to be happy for their sake.

 


 

Chenle’s job description in the castle is rather vague actually – Jisung’s life coach is one, matchmaker is another, curse-breaker, impromptu decorator, book potato, teacup carrier, kitchen exploder, are amongst others that Chenle has conveniently picked up, but none that he puts in more effort than being Jisung’s rose gardener.

 

It’s a regular event where Jisung will sit by him and watch him work. Unfortunately, Jisung has picked up on how Chenle can be incredibly entertaining when he’s riled up, so he occasionally (very often) finds the mirth in him to be in the mood to poke and prod at Chenle’s limited patience, starting with naming all of Chenle’s transgressions and all the troubles he’s caused in the past week.

 

Chenle calls it aggravating, Jisung calls it taking record of damage.

 

“You should never have dragged me into trying to make dalgona,” Jisung says, intent on ruining Chenle’s sunny afternoon, smile in his voice even though Chenle is clearly focused on pruning the stubborn branches of one of the bushes, “Try was the keyword.”

 

(“I’m an expert,” Chenle had insisted with absolutely no basis at all, he didn’t- still doesn’t- know anything about making dalgona, but he knows Jisung won’t burst his bubble.

 

Jisung has long shed his hesitant attitude at everything, either because Chenle has shown him the right way to live, or because he thinks Chenle getting into a mess is entertaining. Chenle fervently thinks it’s the former.

 

So Jisung watched as Chenle put in a heaping spoon of raising agent and the whole thing belched something terrible like a sick and sputtery volcano. It was rather funny to see Chenle’s face contort in panic.

 

Poor Taeil, the Head Chef had been suffering since Chenle entered the kitchen, pushing up his sleeves with a diabolical grin, eventually the giant pot Chenle tried to use to make a big batch all at once overflowed his workspace (his face, the poor stove, Chenle had to mop up the mess), Donghyuck had just stood there and laughed at his older brother as everything went up in flames.)

 

“It tasted fine!” Chenle snaps.

 

“Something exploded,” Jisung points out truthfully as he recalls what happened after the eruption, “because you were wondering about-“

 

Chenle squawks urgently before he can finish his sentence.

 

“-we made a star shaped one, it was a success-“

 

“-I made it.”

 

“-Because I had to spend half an hour scraping off the burnt bits left on Taeil-hyung! I made a good duck!”

 

“You did,” Jisung concedes, “That was a near perfect one.”

 

“It was perfect!”

 

“It was very golden. Like your tiff with the horse.”

 

“I’m holding shears right now Jisung,” Chenle warns, “and you have more hair on you than you need- Look, your horse clearly has issues-“

 

“Your posture was terrible-“

 

“I was almost catapulted off her back! I would have died right then and there if you hadn’t caught me!”

 

“Don’t you travel around to transcribe? How did you get around with your riding skill-“

 

“My riding skill is immaculate.”

 

Jisung pins him with a disbelieving stare and that Chenle fidgets under before he relents.

 

“Okay fine. My carriage riding skill. I have perfect carriage manners- Stop laughing- ’m fine with donkeys! They’re slow and short and easy to control, something is clearly wrong with your horse!”

 

“Snowball is flawless.” Jisung sniffs, just a tiny bit indignant, it doesn’t cover up how amused he is at Chenle’s distress

 

“It’s love or Snowball, Jisung,” Chenle says, Jisung needs him here as a matchmaker after all, he can’t believe he has to assert his authority over a horse, of all things, “Your horse with temperament issues and an insufferable attitude, or your true love, choose one.”

 

“You.” Jisung replies, earnest.

 

Chenle’s brain stops in its tracks.

 

Huh.

 

There are sides to Jisung that he’s discovering day by day, even though it’s been weeks, almost two months living in the castle.

 

Who knew Jisung could be such a charmer? Should it have worked as well on Chenle as it did? Jisung doesn’t need his help then if he’s going to be like this.

 

“Snowball’s a bit of a feisty one,” Jisung continues, “She only gives people she likes a hard time, she tried biting Jaemin-hyung’s hand off once, and he’s her favourite.”

 

Chenle is positive it might just be because Jaemin always has sugar cubes on him (even as a closet- how he’s not completely overrun by ants is beyond Chenle) than Snowball liking his character, but this just proves that Snowball is only about business and not to be trusted, really.

 

Chenle snorts at the thought of Jaemin running away from the awful, capitalist glutton of a horse and puts down the pruners before he jabs Jisung in the eye with it accidentally.

 

He takes the break to look around the conservatory and sighs contently at the fruits (flowers?) of his labour.

 

If anyone had told Chenle back in July that he’d be able to raise and make a whole conservatory’s worth of roses bloom, he’d call them crazy and point them to Junhui to fix their clearly ailing mind with a healing tonic, but the truth is that the castle conservatory has never looked greener.

 

Chenle has made good on his promise, to care for the rest of the roses so well that Jisung won’t miss the Guiding Rose: The blooms respond fervently to Chenle’s attention, growing almost to the size and splendour of the rose that he broke.

 

It’s nothing short of a miracle, really, Chenle has what the 17th Avenue Apothecary calls a brown thumb: An overwhelming ability to make even the strongest, most robust evergreen herbs wilt under his care. Junhui has taken extra measures to keep him out of the apothecary greenhouse for a reason, and Chenle’s just not going to mention that to Jisung, ever.

 

“Isn’t this amazing, Jisungie?” Chenle changes the topic, he snaps one of the roses that turned out well and offers it to him, “I made you this perpetual gift giving bush- winter is almost here in the outside world, maybe you’ll get another guest blown in like I was!”

 

“Maybe,” Jisung’s mood shifts from playful into something else, he studies the rose that Chenle offered, “I don’t know though.”

 

“Don’t know what?” Chenle turns from the bush to properly study the prince, he knows him well enough by now that he can tell through his mannerisms that Jisung’s being evasive.

 

“I don’t know,” Jisung says rather quietly, “if the person I love will ever return my feelings.”

 

Chenle lets the Jisung’s strange use of words and penetrating gaze fly over his head as indignation for his pessimism overrides his observance.

 

“We’ve been through this before-“

 

“Yes, but-“

 

“No- listen to me-“ Chenle cuts in firmly, he shucks off his gloves to lift Jisung’s face, “The Guiding Rose, have you seen it lately?”

 

Jisung doesn’t answer, but of course he would have, Chenle made a point to sit the rose on their dining table. It’s truly a thing of magic, opening far more than Chenle ever thought a flower would ever be capable of, colour so bright that it almost glows, even at night.

 

Which brings Chenle to his point:

 

“Doyoung-hyung always says that the spell responds to what you want and need right? The Rose hasn’t wilted yet, Jisung, it hasn’t given up yet. Your whole castle hasn’t given up at all, you-“

 

Chenle shifts to kneel in front of Jisung who’s still seated on the ground, he moves his hands to hold Jisung’s paws.

 

“You’re adorable, and I will bet on everything in me to make sure whoever you’re destined to fall for will come in here, riding on a far more cultured horse and sweep you off your feet, I’ll make sure they return your feelings, and spend the rest of their lives with you being sappy looking at sunsets and getting chased by stupid Snowball, you hear me?”

 

“What about you?” Jisung whispers.

 

“Me? What about me?” Chenle asks, a bit taken aback at the sudden question, his head still spinning from putting out his mini rant.

 

“What about you, when the spell breaks?”

 

Jisung’s eyes seem to bore into Chenle’s face, and Chenle blinks at the intensity of his gaze, surprised.

 

He’ll deal with thinking about that later, he reasons, right now Jisung wants reassurance, and it’s his job as his friend to give him that, assuage the worry that shouldn’t exist in the first place.

 

“I’ll be right there,” Chenle promises, “I’ll be right there to congratulate you then.”

 

“You will?”

 

Jisung’s eyes seem to waver, the emotion behind them is indecipherable to Chenle, it’s a bit unnerving, considering that it’s always been easy for Chenle to read him.

 

“I’ll hold you onto that.” Jisung says quietly, he shifts his eyes back on the roses.

 

His mood doesn’t seem to have lifted, but he’s shifted from pessimistic to contemplative, so Chenle lets it go for now.

 


 

“What the hell,” Chenle pants as he almost sprains his ankle again on the smooth marbled floor.

 

“How are you floating- Are you still the same person who tripped over his own feet and gave himself and me carpet burns? Who are you and what have you done to the Jisung I know?”

 

The Jisung he thought he knew had one day in the middle of lunch, shyly asked Chenle to let him teach him how to dance, for Chenle's approaching birthday, and lead him to the golden ballroom where Chenle frequents, but never properly used.

 

(It started as Chenle trying to get into Renjun’s good graces after the teacup has shown his unbelievable tenacity in keeping a grudge, and it simply wouldn’t be right for Chenle to let Renjun hop across the entire castle just to see his brother for a few hours, so he’d made it a habit every few days to carry Renjun over for his visits.

 

A week later he had grown close enough with the both of them to stay while they chat)

 

The Head Musician – now piano – Kun had been happy to play a few tunes occasionally whenever Chenle and Renjun stopped by, but never had he seemed so unbelievably overjoyed to play and sing compared to when Jisung led Chenle into the ballroom and asked the piano politely to play something for them to dance to.

 

Chenle doesn’t know a thing of ballroom dancing, it just wasn’t needed in his line of work, so he expects to be worse than Jisung, but not by this much –

 

There’s an unspeakable grace to Jisung when he takes Chenle’s hand and whirls him across the dance floor, a far stretch to how clumsy he is with his paws and claws.

 

“You should’ve seen me when I was human,” Jisung says, tone more prideful than wistful, “I was good, even better than Mark-hyung and Jeno-hyung, even though they were the ones to teach me.”

 

Chenle can picture the Lee brothers twirling a tiny Jisung across the floor, the younger’s jaw set in defiance and a determination to do better than his guiding light and study companion.

 

“What a waste that the spell was cast this early,” Chenle teases, “You could have been going around winning everyone’s affection and breaking hearts!”

 

He wouldn’t, Chenle knows, because Jisung is far too kind natured and willing to please to be breaking any hearts, but Jisung picks up on the jest and smiles.

 

“I could’ve,” Jisung agrees with easy confidence, taking it in stride, ”I was the best.”

 

“I’m honoured then,” Chenle doesn’t jab, happy to agree with Jisung’s self-assurance, “The Prince himself has graced me with his presence, is this payment for my services?”

 

Jisung only grins, preening with pride.

 

It’s a good look on him, Chenle thinks absentmindedly.

 

Jisung’s come a long way, from receding into absolute numbness and hopelessness, to letting himself get annoyed at Chenle (though most would say it’s really not a difficult thing, Chenle is very annoying when he wants to be), to laughing incredulously on the side-lines to then finally being willing to go along with Chenle’s wild ideas of showing him how to “live it up” around the castle.

 

It came as a surprise to Chenle when, Jisung asked him, of his own volition, if he could come with him to restore the paintings around the castle.

 

They spent the next week carefully pulling the many portraits out of storage, having been taken down long ago because they reminded Jisung too much of letting down his parents, his forefathers, for getting locked up in time and letting the royal power fall into some other bloodline.

 

(“I felt guilty for feeling relieved,” Jisung admitted on one of their lazy afternoons watching the sunset.

 

I didn’t want to rule, and after my father passed away too it became imminent that I would have to take up the throne as soon as I hit twenty and marry some other royal to consolidate our power. I didn’t want any of that.”

 

“For the first few years of the spell, I was secretly relieved and happy, but it doesn’t change the fact that I gave up what my parents have worked hard on for their whole lives.”)

 

They spent another whole week in the study with Mark and Jeno, meticulously restoring the paintings, then the next going around the castle and putting up the portraits in their rightful place, Johnny following them and guiding them through the process while Doyoung leaks tea watching (he insists he isn’t crying and that he was just old and tired and weathered, but Chenle thinks the latter is far scarier).

 

There are nights when he comes to Chenle’s bedroom, unable to sleep, and Chenle will sit with him inside the conservatory with the roses under the stars, listening to him tell stories of his parents, how much he misses them, even if the memory is hazy.

 

Jisung smiles so much more easily now, spends little to no bad days coping in Jaemin’s closet doors, it’s easy to say that the prince has lived far more in these few weeks Chenle’s been here more than all those hundred years of imposed self-blame.

 

He really has come a long way, from losing all his confidence and hiding in a closet as a way to cope, to offering, on his own accord, to show Chenle pieces of himself that he clearly holds dear.

 

Jisung gracefully sidesteps the moment Chenle stumbles in his arms, and Chenle’s foot lands blessedly on marbled floor instead of on Jisung’s toe.

 

Jisung’s better than good, flawlessly manoeuvring around Chenle to fall in pace with his steps, adjusting himself in time with Chenle while still effortlessly holding conversation.

 

He would be- is going to be- so popular once he’s human again, Chenle would have to fight to get even a bit of time from Jisung.

 

The thought makes him feel inexplicably empty, and before he runs the following train of thought through his filter, he blurts it out.

 

“Will you save me a dance?”

 

It’s Jisung’s stunned face that clues him in, and he scrambles to correct himself.

 

“When you turn back. As a friend.” he follows hastily, because of course Jisung’s first dance has to go to his true love, and maybe Mark, and then Jeno, maybe even Jaemin for all his troubles, but when Jisung’s done with all of them-

 

“I’ll save my first dance for you, Chenle,” Jisung says softly, ever gentle, and so, so pure.

 

Chenle stills, something tender unfurls in his chest.

 

Jisung smiles, “You’re my matchmaker, right? My curse-breaker, if anything you deserve the first dance, don’t you think?”

 

Oh, Jisung is the sweetest.

 

“That is,” Jisung continues cheerfully, “if you can manage not stepping on me once for an entire song.”

 

Never mind, Jisung can die alone.

 

Chenle stomps intentionally on Jisung’s left foot, but the prince doesn’t even flinch.

 

“You just said I was good for a beginner!”

 

“Yeah,” Jisung twirls him, and Chenle complies, spinning before returning to Jisung’s embrace, “but you’ll be dancing with me in front of everyone.”

 

“I will,” Chenle says with all the conviction in his chest, “get so good that I’m better than the whole fucking castle, okay- maybe except for you, because you naturally had a hundred years to get good at this and you’re kind of a cheat, but- mark my words, they won’t be able to tell who’s who in our first dance.”

 

“That’s impossible,” Jisung retorts, “your head is utterly recognisable.”

 

“Your head is as big as mine you twat,” Chenle bites back, “Not just your head now- I measured your old crown Park Jisung, a circumference of 60 centimetres, 2 whole centimetres larger than mine, I checked- Blasphemy! Our prince has a big head-“

 

Jisung lets out a laugh that sounds more surprised than anything, of course Chenle would go that far to find a leg to stand on, who did he think he was?

 

“What a good pair we make,” Jisung smiles as he makes Chenle twirl again, and Chenle aggressively obliges, and Jisung steadies him when he overshoots, “Big Heads One and Two, we should subjugate the nation, ban all the headwear.”

 

“Too much effort,” Chenle waves that idea off, “Too many legislations to pass. Plus, I would kill to see Mark-hyung in a crown- can you imagine? A crown too small for his head, eyes too big for his face, I think he’d look adorable.”

 

“You too,” Jisung whispers, “I think you’d look adorable too, in a crown, I’ve wanted to see you in one since I saw you in the conservatory, I think we’d look good together.”

 

Chenle blinks, taken aback by the sincerity of Jisung’s words and lapses into silence, heartbeat far too fast to be normal.

 

Jisung looks so captivating like this, even in the skin of a beast. Quiet confidence is a look that Chenle decides he really likes on Jisung.

 

No, shut up heart, he’s not yours to have.

 

He chalks it up to the physical activity before giving a wobbly laugh

 

“You’re going too fast, Jisungie- slow down, I’m a beginner, concentrate on teaching me, Big Head Two.”

 


 

Of course, Chenle wouldn’t be Chenle if he didn’t ask life changing questions in the most inopportune of timings.

 

(See: the Great Dalgona Explosion – “I wonder if leather is flammable”; the Unfortunate Fountain Incident – “I thought fish liked melon! I didn’t think it would land on the ugly statue! It’s not my fault they made the foot part so flimsy!”).

 

The realisation comes to Chenle in the most mundane of moments, in the middle of Chenle’s self-appointed mission to tidy and reshelve Jisung’s entire library while looking for new reading material.

 

Late morning in his third month of the eternal autumn sees Chenle teetering on the very top of Sungchan’s reach.

 

“Be careful Chenle, you’re up really high…”

 

Jisung has the bottom of the ladder in a death grip, and Chenle laughs at the cute furrow of his brow.

 

“Relax Jisungie, stop gripping at Sungchan like that-“

 

“It’s okay,” the ladder says, his panic second only to Jisung, like he can’t comprehend why Chenle has no sense of danger (he doesn’t, it’s been long established that he really doesn’t), “It doesn’t hurt, wood is sturdy, just don’t fall-“

 

Chenle laughs, “Sungchan-ah don’t worry-“

 

“Chenle, concentrate,” Jisung’s knuckles are white with strain, ears flattened against his head with how wrought with tension he is, “-if you fall you’ll die as a stain on the library floor-“

 

“Wouldn’t that be nice,” Chenle retorts cheerfully, “Then I’ll get to haunt Sungchan and be able to read books for all of eternity.”

 

“No, it wouldn’t- Chenle!”

 

Jisung panics again when Chenle teasingly mimes dropping the books, nervous rambling rising in pitch.

 

Chenle tunes him out as he studies the lines of worry on Jisung’s face, he lets his mind wander to drown out Jisung’s babbles.

 

What would his true love be like? It really would be a tall order to find someone who could match up to Jisung, someone so kind and gentle and lovable that most of his household would rather stay with him than walk out of his castle and live out their lives. So sweet that his cousins would rather renounce their titles to live with him as his desktop stationary than ever abandon him.

 

Jisung is easy to love once you get past that defensive shell he built up over the years. Unless they weighed in heavily on his enchanted exterior, who wouldn’t open a space in their heart for Jisung? Jisung readily gives love to people as well, outlook on the world far too trusting. Chenle himself probably would be far better off leaving the castle and living his own life, but Jisung here needs him more, and Chenle can’t deny that he wants to stay and see it through.

 

Chenle wants to stay to do what the household can’t, to make sure that his friend’s love is returned by someone worthy and to punch the living daylights out of them if they aren’t.

 

They would be smarter than Chenle (though Chenle would be the first person to pipe up that that’s an even taller order), probably kinder than him, maybe less pushy, less impulsive, and restless.

 

Suddenly he’s hit with how much that thought hurts, how much it pounds in his chest and churns in his stomach when he thinks of Jisung with someone who’s better for him, Jisung getting the love he deserves, the ache he feels in the core of his being, in his bones when he realises he wants, wants, wants, to be that person for Jisung, even if it hurts, if his prince or princess charming comes galloping into the courtyard in the next second, Chenle would let Jisung go if it meant he would be happy and the spell can be broken.

 

For Jisung’s happiness, at the cost of his own.

 

Isn’t that what love is? To put their wellbeing in front of before his, to think of them constantly, to want to care for them, to want to improve himself for them?

 

Wanting the best for people you care about, Jisung’s words bleed back into his thoughts, even if it means giving up, or sacrifice.

 

Oh.

 

Oh.

 

Late morning perched atop a ladder in the Park Castle library, Chenle realises, with a sinking feeling in his chest, that he’s in love with Jisung.

 

Jisung suddenly lets go of Sungchan, as if burnt, and crouches, head in his hands.

 

Panic rises in Chenle’s chest and immediately he makes to come down as quickly as he can, concerned protests from Sungchan ignored as he fumbles clumsily with the books in his arms. They slip off his grip and drop to the ground, each with a heavy bang.

 

Light starts glowing from Jisung’s body and fright like nothing else he’s ever experienced claws at Chenle.

 

What happened? What did he drop? Were those spell books? Did he accidentally curse Jisung?

 

He chokes out Jisung’s name as light fills the library, whiting out Chenle’s vision.

 

There’s a heart-stopping moment when he loses his balance on Sungchan, and he can hear Sungchan cry in alarm, Chenle blindly tightens his grip on the rungs in time before he could fall, he should be scared out of his wits for almost falling, but all Chenle is thinking is Jisung Jisung Jisung.

 

The moment the light fades, even before spots clear from his vision, Sungchan wobbles under his feet and suddenly vanishes, and Chenle is free falling, truly on his way to dying as a stain on the floor, unable to comprehend what just happened, mind too occupied by his revelation and worry for Jisung to even wonder what happened to Sungchan in his last moments.

 

He’s calling out for him before he realises it, and he’s caught by a pair of solid arms before he crashes them both into the floor, groaning.

 

He doesn’t pause to thank his saviour, he doesn’t try to check if he broke an arm or a leg or a tail bone, his eyes snap open in a panic.

 

“Jisung!”

 

He scrambles to get up and only then does he realise his saviour is still holding him.

 

“Chenle-“

 

He looks up to see high sculpted cheekbones and eyes that are staring at him in the softest way possible.

 

“You- You love me?”

 

“Come again?”

 

Chenle is baffled as the stranger holding him starts laughing, a bewildered kind of laugh, pure elated disbelief, like Chenle’s whole existence is too good to be true.

 

Chenle’s thoughts whip back to Jisung and he wriggles out of the stranger’s hold, pushing him away to get up and look wildly around the room.

 

“Jisung! Where’s Jisung-“

 

Where Jisung had been standing was a large empty overcoat.

 

Chenle’s vision tunnels, he whips around to glare at the stranger getting up from the floor.

 

He’s at least half a head taller than Chenle, if not taller than that, broader as well, if he had to take him in a fight Chenle’s not sure he could win, but he couldn’t care less, not when he could have taken Jisung away.

 

“Where’s Jisung? What did you do to him?”

 

The stranger only smiles wider, lips pulled back to reveal an endearing gummy heart-shaped grin. He holds up his large hands in surrender, palms facing Chenle, as if to try to placate him.

 

His expression tugs at Chenle’s heartstrings somehow, the way he looks at him, like Chenle is the only important person in the room - Chenle only wishes Jisung would look at him that way.

 

“Chenle- it’s me- I’m fine, I promise- It’s just- I can’t believe- You love me- You love me back- I changed back because you love me-“

 

There’s something about the inflection of his voice and how he phrases his sentence, he doesn’t recognise the stranger’s warm baritone, but the way he calls his name, the way he cuts off his sentences - He can almost hear them in Jisung’s low grinding rasp.

 

Chenle drags his gaze down to the silk shirt that the stranger is wearing, it’s incredibly loose, far too oversized, dipping so low that Chenle can see his collarbones, but he knows that shirt, it’s one of the newer ones that the castle tailor made Jisung after Chenle came, after Chenle got properly acquainted with Jaemin and they did a giant overhaul of Jisung’s closet, determined to give him clothes that fit him instead of barely getting by with his father’s big old clothing.

 

The stranger’s pants hang low on his hips, the hems pooling around his ankles.

 

That’s when Chenle notices another boy in the room, brown hair, fine-boned and seemingly quite a bit taller than Chenle in page boy clothing, sitting where Sungchan’s ladder used to be, out cold.

 

The tall wooden ladder is gone, Chenle can almost believe that Sungchan turned into that boy- which would mean the only other person in the room, Jisung transformed into-

 

Chenle whirls around to glance at the puddle of clothes on the floor. No shirt. No pants.

 

The possibility makes its way into his head and takes root there, sowing seeds of hope. His heart starts to beat wildly, his words are a bare whisper when he asks the smiling stranger,

 

“Jisungie?”

 

“I’m here,” Jisung grins, it’s the best sight Chenle has ever seen, that smile directed at him.

 

Jisung opens his arms, and Chenle all but throws himself into him, heart pounding, this time in relief.

 

“I’m here, I’m right here.”

 

Jisung tightens his hold around Chenle’s waist and suddenly all is right in the world.

 

Jisung’s spell is broken, Chenle broke the spell, Chenle is his true love.

 

Something inexplicably happy unfurls in his chest, and it jumps in beat with his pounding heart. He wants to run around, jump, scream in elation, but he wants Jisung close even more.

 

“Chenle,” Jisung says, so incredibly sincere, “Chenle, you love me.”

 

It’s not a question, and they both know the answer, the fact that Jisung stands in front of him as a human is proof enough.

 

Suddenly Chenle’s little internal waffle of loving Jisung enough to let go seems so silly now, now that he knows they’re meant to be and that Jisung reciprocates how he feels.

 

Though that doesn’t mean Jisung is pardoned for giving Chenle a mini heart attack. He tightens his hold around Jisung.

 

“Who said you could just spontaneously combust, huh?”

 

His delivery comes out a bit trembly and weaker than he would like it to be, but it gets the point across.

 

“I don’t care if I love you or not, I’ll punch you next time if you scare me like that again, you hear me?!”

 

Jisung laughs in his ear, low and deep, Chenle really really likes the timbre of his voice.

 

“You’re the one to talk- What were you thinking, zoning out on top of a ladder- I told you to concentrate on what you were doing! What if I wasn’t quick enough to catch you? Do you actually think I could live with losing you?“

 

Jisung pulls away to scan Chenle head to toe for injuries, and he tries not to squirm at the concern in his gaze.

 

Chenle’s heart squeezes into itself in his chest, in a good kind of way, but he can’t let up now.

 

“Don’t question what I did,” Chenle harrumphs, “I just broke your spell, there was a point to all of this: a purpose and method! It’s all your fault - You made me think of you!”

 

Chenle belatedly realises what he just said and tries to twist his body away from Jisung to hide his reddening face.

 

His second instinct is to bristle at Jisung’s cooed “Cute”, ready to fight.

 

“You-“

 

He’s cut short when Jisung reaches for his hand, and he melts. He hasn’t won the argument yet, but the fight in him fizzles out at the warmth in Jisung’s gaze.

 

Chenle’s hand isn’t small by any measure, but as a human Jisung’s hands still dwarfs his, though compared to his rougher and more calloused hands, Jisung’s is far smoother. The way he links Chenle’s fingers with his makes affection settle in his stomach, heavy and precious, like swirling liquid gold.

 

Jisung reaches to cup his face, eyes searching his, and Chenle answers the silent question by closing his eyes.

 

It’s the careful way Jisung holds his face, like Chenle is something to be treasured, it’s the same as when he reached for Chenle before, claws clumsy and afraid of even giving him the slightest scratch.

 

He wonders if Jisung’s still clumsy, maybe he’ll be unused to the human body he’s in now, maybe he’ll still have butterfingers like he did when he was still a beast. Or maybe Jisung may become every bit as graceful as he is when he dances.

 

For now, the way he kisses is careful, touch delicate, Chenle is smiling into the kiss before he knows it, he presses closer.

 

He’s not going to leave. He’s not going anywhere. He loves him. He’s in love with him. He’s loved back.

 

It’s the cheering that makes them break apart, there’s a small crowd by the open library door, all very much human and recognisable by voices and the two in the front is almost definitely Donghyuck and Jaemin.

 

The noise intensifies when Jisung tears himself away from Chenle enough to glare at them, and they take it as an affirmation to rush forward, eager to smother the youngest with affection.

 

Jaemin, tears welling in his eyes, all but forces Jisung’s cheeks together, pulling and pushing the surprisingly stretchy skin, it’s so strange to hear the wardrobe’s voice from a real life human. An incredibly handsome human, no less.

 

“Jisungieeee, our baby Jisungieee, hyung is so proud of you, our cutie Hamji is loved and in love, our pretty Jisungie is all grown up now, our heart stealer, man killer- I missed this, I missed squishing your adorable face-“

 

Jeno shows up with his legendary smile to relieve Jisung from Jaemin’s vise grip, even better now that he’s not seeing it from a clock face, Chenle laughs when Jeno ends up getting sandwiched between Jisung and Jaemin, eyes curved into crescents in his mirth.

 

And crowding up on the other side, is Donghyuck, every bit as warm and effervescent as people say he is, voice unmistakable. His warm hands grab at Chenle eagerly, and Chenle can certainly feel the toughened skin that comes with working with pastries.

 

“Chenle baby~ Let me handle the celebrations, I’ll plan the best wedding ever- come here lemme kiss you both-“

 

Jisung makes a valiant effort to try to fend them off before he burrows his face into the side of Chenle’s neck, the hyungs all coo at them.

 

Jisung ends up almost curled up in embarrassment, groaning at the affection he’s receiving. Before they know it, Mark and Renjun are also folding into them in a giant seven-part group hug.

 

“So the rose really did bring Jisung his true love, huh?” Mark mumbles into one of their shoulders. He’s even cuter now that he’s human again, how is that even possible?

 

Jeno snorts, “It’s not like it’s sheer dumb luck that a snowstorm practically blew Chenle into the castle and made him trip over half the garden.”

 

“The spell probably wanted to get a kick up Jisung’s rear and get him up and moving again,” Renjun says, thoughtful, “It must have felt Chenle, and thought that he was the one that Jisung needed, so it did what had to be done,”

 

”-else we’d still be hopping up and down the damn stairs, one step at a time.”

 

He lifts his head to level Jisung with a glare, “You know how hard it is to move across the castle as a fucking teacup?”

 

“You know how hard it is to control two rebellious teacups when you don’t have any hands?”

 

They break apart to see Doyoung, no longer fine bone china, with his hands on his hips at the door with a grinning Johnny flanking him. Doyoung is trying his best to come off as stern, but the wide grin on his face makes it clear he’s elated.

 

He runs into the room and crashes into the seven of them, hugging as many of them as his arms can afford to stretch, then, he releases them and reaches for Donghyuck to put him into a headlock.

 

Johnny chooses to drape himself across Chenle’s back, laughing. It’s a familiar weight that Chenle leans into, identical to the day he arrived at the castle when the duvet decided to snuggle in with him to protect him from the biting cold.

 

(and underneath all that, there’s relief, that even though everything’s changed back, some things are fundamentally the same, he still knows all of them, as they do him).

 

“Doie!! Everyone!!” Taeyong comes crashing in, eyes sparkling, every bit as offensively handsome as everyone says he is, “Come on outside- it’s snowing!”

 

There’s a beat before a gasp from Renjun gets them moving.

 

The eternal autumn has finally given way to winter, in the few months that Chenle has spent here, he’d really managed to break the spell.

 

Time has truly, truly started to flow once again.

 

There’s a squabble and a scramble to the door as the circus leaves to the courtyard, a still woozy Sungchan in tow, leaving the two of them blessedly alone.

 

Chenle looks over to find Jisung still looking at him like he’s never seen Chenle before- or maybe he has, maybe he’s been looking at Chenle like this, completely enamoured, like he hung the stars in the sky, Chenle has just never let himself entertain the possibility of capturing Jisung’s affections in the form of romantic love.

 

Now, it hardly needs to be spelt out, Jisung has had feelings longer than Chenle realised his, perhaps far longer. He’d just been oblivious to it, focused on making Jisung want to live again.

 

“So about my true love riding in through the gates and sweeping me off my feet-“ Jisung starts cheekily, “I’m not so sure you can guarantee that’ll happen… You’re a terrible rider-“

 

“Oi Park Jisung,” Chenle narrows his eyes, “Was that a challenge?”

 

Jisung shrugs, he gently takes a stray lock of hair in Chenle’s face and places it behind his ear.

 

Chenle ignores the flutter in his chest, no, shut up damn heart, this was about his pride, he has a score to settle.

 

“Maybe I should do the riding and sweeping instead?”

 

There’s a somewhat shy smile on Jisung’s face, despite his confident tease, it’s so at odds but somehow, it’s so Jisung that it works on Chenle like the fool he is.

 

Adorable. How dare he. True love or not, this was on.

 

“I’ll literally practice every day until I can sweep both you and Johnny-hyung off your feet, mark my words, Park Jisung.”

 

Two six-feet tall giants, but Chenle will do it just to prove his point.

 

“Sure,” Jisung says, like he believes that Chenle is absolutely capable, and it seriously messes with his conviction to stay mad. Chenle is outraged that he’s affected so easily.

 

Jisung continues, “We have the rest of our lives to do it,” he beams at Chenle, “Now that I know you love me.”

 

He steps away from Chenle, and Chenle’s confused until Jisung bows to him, hand up and eyes twinkling,

 

“Well? You asked for a dance, and you said you’d congratulate me. I’m cashing it in now: My love and curse-breaker, may I have this dance?”

 

It’s absolutely ridiculous, there’s no music here, and a library was definitely not the place to have any dance in, but the way Jisung says my love burns through his cheeks, and Chenle’s scowl gives way to a grin because he’s weak, because Jisung’s smile is beautiful, damn it all.

 

He places his hand in Jisung’s, hands slotting together like it was meant to be. Jisung’s face lights up even more, he drags Chenle to the middle of the library, hands, now human, easily finding their way to their positions.

 

Maybe it was meant to be from the start, Renjun might be right, the spell wanted this to work, and Chenle’s so glad it did.

 

He pulls Jisung close and lets go of his hand in favour of roping his arms around Jisung’s neck. Jisung’s hand falls naturally to Chenle’s waist to join the other as he pulls Chenle closer, proper steps forgotten in lieu of Chenle breathing onto Jisung’s lips. He did promise after all.

 

“Congratulations, dunder-head," Jisung huffs a laugh, breath warm on Chenle's cheeks.

 

Here's to a life ahead together.

 


 

The first thing Jisung does upon seeing the Guiding Rose snap, is panic, and bolt.

 

He runs entirely on reflex as tears pool in his eyes, and barrels straight into Jaemin’s embrace, as he’d done even when they were once human, slamming his doors shut and huddling on the floor of the closet.

 

Well, it is a little different. Before the change, the rest of them would also crowd around with hugs and soothing rubs, but since Jisung had brought the spell upon the castle, none of his hyungs have actual arms to hug him with anymore, except Jaemin, who, as the closet, had just enough room for Jisung to squeeze in, even in his beast form.

 

It’s dark inside, maybe a bit small and a little cramped, but it’s warm and it’s Jaemin, and it’s how Jisung deals with bad days- the shame, the regret, the guilt, the slowly diminishing hope, and Jaemin just takes it all, happy to house Jisung for a bit so he can escape reality for even a tiny moment.

 

He can tune out the low buzz of Jaemin’s voice in conversation with whoever’s out there, he can pretend for a moment in the dark that he wasn’t a beast, and that his closest hyungs weren’t doomed to spend an eternity with him.

 

He doesn’t know how long he’s been sitting there, head on his knees when there’s a hesitant knock on Jaemin’s door.

 

Jisung flinches, because he he knows that it’s not Mark or Jeno or Renjun nor Donghyuck, their knocks all sound different, usually accompanied by the calling of his name, this is the sound of a knock made by a human hand.

 

“Your Highness?”

 

No one calls him ‘Highness’ anymore, not since Jisung begged them to call him by his given name. He doesn’t deserve to be referred to as a prince, he’s let down everyone in this castle by being a fool, by being gullible. Only strangers would greet him as the lord of the castle now.

 

The stranger in the conservatory.

 

He’s not angry at him for breaking the rose, not really, he’s more mad at himself for making this situation possible in the first place, more mad at himself for thinking that it would be possible to break the spell one day, when the first human who’d proven to be pure of heart enough to enter had that sort of reaction to seeing him, when the stranger clearly mis-stepped because he feared the look of Jisung, his very being.

 

“Your highness, it’s Chenle, the- uh- guy who broke your rose- Will you please hear me out?”

 

Jisung slowly pushes the closet door open to see Chenle standing a comfortable speaking distance away from him, he almost recoils when he sees the human’s face, but something in his expression stops him.

 

Chenle swallows, “I was startled because it was almost like the rose called out to me, I didn’t know why I decided to touch it, I can’t explain it either, but when you asked what I was doing, I snapped out of it and panicked- I-“

 

He stops himself mid sentence and claps a hand over his mouth, “I’m rambling.”

 

He’s adorable, Jisung would laugh at his expression right now if he weren’t so miserable.

 

“What did you come here for, Chenle?” Jisung asks, lowly, already knowing the answer.

 

“I- I wanted to say sorry.”

 

Inwardly Jisung sighs, it’s okay, he wants to say, it’s about time I give up hope anyways, it just happened to be you who walked in there, we were both unlucky, but Chenle continues.

 

“-And I want to make it up to you.”

 

Chenle steps closer, he almost glows in the dim light of Jisung’s room, so much warmer than anything he’s seen for the past hundred years.

 

“I never had any intention of hurting it, I never would have plucked it or snapped it- I’m genuinely sorry that I destroyed something this significant.”

 

“I scared you,” Jisung says quickly, “It’s my fault as well.”

 

He should’ve been more mindful when he called out to him, but too many years have passed and everyone in the castle is long used to his presence, his appearance slipped his mind after living here for so long, he hadn’t considered that he would scare Chenle that badly.

 

Jisung sighs, “There’s no-“

 

“Please let me stay.”

 

“What?”

 

Jisung falls silent at the unexpected request, he’d expected Chenle to ask for forgiveness, and he was ready to give it- this curse was a cross to bear of his own, but Chenle seems to be full of surprises, and even Jaemin is holding his breath.

 

“I’ll stay,” Chenle said, determined, “I’ll make it up to you, I’ll grow the rest of your roses into the level of splendour of the one you lost, and you won’t even miss it.”

 

Jisung gulps back his protest, that the rose is irreplaceable, but Chenle’s determined face makes him listen.

 

“You won’t need it to be your match maker, I will be. I’ve been everywhere, seen people from all walks of life, you think I won’t be able to tell who’s genuine and who isn’t? I also know most of the languages in modern tongues-”

 

Chenle pauses to gauge Jisung’s stunned silence, and when he doesn’t give any response, he forges on.

 

“I’ll be your matchmaker, Your Highness! I’ll connect you with the person who’s supposed to be your true love, I’ll stay behind and be your rose instead!”

 

Something beautiful blooms in Jisung’s chest, an emotion that he can’t seem to comprehend, but doesn’t want to stop.

 

Is this the guest that the spell thinks Jisung needs? Is this the person that Jisung will fall for? Chenle is lovely, far lovelier than Jisung thought he’d be, far lovelier than he deserves.

 

“I can’t do that,” Jisung says softly, “What about your family? Your friends? I can’t possibly take you away from them.”

 

For the first time, he watches indignation knit itself across Chenle’s brow.

 

“You-“

 

There’s something in Chenle’s tone akin to disbelief, “You’re kidding me, you’re this nice, and you haven’t found someone yet? Why aren’t you yelling at me? This isn’t supposed to work this way, I’m not supposed to be angrier at myself than you are with me!”

 

He stops when he sees Jisung’s ears flatten at his reprimand, if Jaemin was a lesser person (person? closet?) he would have snorted, but the transformed young lord of the Na County is silent as he watches the exchange.

 

“I don’t like getting angry,” Jisung finally lets out softly, “and plenty of people are worried enough for me, it hurts less this way.”

 

Hurts less to feel less, to get disappointed less.

 

“What? No, no way, that’s not living! To live is to feel! To live is to have incredibly happy moments, and moments really sad, to feel really angry, to get hurt then get better- That’s growing, and that’s living.”

 

Jisung manages a laugh that tastes sour in his mouth, “If I did that, the 100 years that passed would be agonising, wouldn’t it?”

 

It would be even more of a roller coaster of emotions than Jisung already constantly puts himself through, there’s not much that he can be happy about in this castle- everywhere he looks is a reminder of his own gullibility.

 

This is the better way to survive, numbness, rather than having to bounce back and forth between sadness and anger.

 

“You- how old are you, Your Highness?”

 

Jisung jolts, surprised by the sudden question, he has to dredge up a far forgotten memory before responding.

 

“I’m- was- nineteen.”

 

“Still are,” Chenle says simply, “If time froze the way they told me it did. Look, Your Highness, you’re the same age as I am, that’s not the kind of outlook that a nineteen-year-old should have.”

 

Nineteen.

 

Jisung contemplates the number, he hasn’t allowed himself to think of his age for a while now, because it always just sends him into deeper despair. It’s been so long since he turned nineteen, the fateful day of the banquet where he met the fairy who changed the course of his destiny forever.

 

“You know what? Nope, I’m not only going to be your matchmaker- I’m staying here and showing you what living should be like!”

 

Chenle declares, bold and bright, determination fierce on the furrow of his brow, it’s tempting.

 

Jisung squeezes his eyes shut, this was what it meant by the spell completely tailored to him. Jisung’s heart thuds in his chest, all he wants is to say yes, to give in.

 

The spell knows all too well exactly what Jisung wants and needs, and it’s giving it to him, offering it to him on a silver platter, in the form of Chenle, blown in by a snowstorm that’s clearly magical to free him from a lonely eternity.

 

Chenle is the opposite of Jisung, burning so brilliantly and brightly like a little sun, and Jisung is transfixed, a lone flower blooming in the dark, finally seeing the splendour of the sun after years of barely getting by.

 

The spell has given him an offer too persuasive to refuse.

 

“Jisung,” he says finally.

 

“Excuse me?”

 

Jisung dies a little inside at the cute way Chenle leans in at the question.

 

How can Chenle possibly be the one for him? He’s far too good for Jisung, poor, gullible, trusting Jisung, withering away in the eternal autumn for a hundred years.

 

“I- You said you’d make it up to me, right? We’re the same age, please, call me Jisung, I’m not any higher than anyone in this castle, I haven’t been in a while now.”

 

“Okay,”

 

Chenle grins, and Jisung has to take a moment to process it, the sheer jubilance in his expression, the way that his appearance transforms, cheeks fluffing out and eyes squeezing into lines.

 

“Deal, Jisung.”

 

Jisung feels his heart quickening at the words, something in him fills up with light at Chenle’s smile.

 

“I’ll do a better job than your Guiding Rose ever did, I’ll make you live like you never have before.”

 

Jisung lets himself believe him.