part i: dreams
When Min Yoongi was seven years old, he began to dream of angels.
They happened almost every night. Each dream might have been grand, might have been an entire movie in his mind, might have included all sorts of details and clues and explanations, but when he awoke, all that was left were vague flashes of memory, a piece of film cut-and-slashed until it was merely a solitary puzzle piece. Always, though, these bare fragments of dreams were accompanied with music. Something soft that sounded like it could have been made a million years ago, as old as the Earth itself. It was the same song, the same handful of delicate notes, over and over again.
Each night, Yoongi awoke with a sort of ache below his chest, right before his stomach, inside his ribs. Not once had he found a word to explain the sensation. And, always, without fail, a brilliant white feather was tucked under his pillow when he woke.
At first he didn’t think much of it. He was seven years old, after all. He figured it was a little prank, a joke by his older brother. That would explain the feathers (but it wouldn’t explain the dreams).
He showed the feathers to his parents, once. They both had been busy, working in the restaurant, and brushed him off. (Looking back now, maybe he could have chosen a better time. So many things he could have done better.)
So, as with everything else, Yoongi kept the feathers to himself. He didn’t realize it, but he had begun collecting them, these remnants of his otherworldly dreams. The feathers elbowed each other for room inside an old suitcase he dug up from their basement. As he grew up, he started to notice that no matter the dust that collected within the old suitcase, the feathers shown as bright and luminous as ever.
part ii: the mundanity of real life
The ache inside him grew at the same time as he did, as well as the pile of feathers he kept close to him each night.
Min Yoongi was now seventeen years old. It had been a decade since his first dream. He wasn’t sure why he remembered the dates so particularly, when the dreams themselves seemed to elude his grasp at all costs. When he was fourteen, he had begun to keep a journal which he wrote in every morning, trying to piece scenes together. Some nights were clearer: a quick shot of a wing, the back of someone’s bare legs. Once, even a lightning-fast look at someone’s profile, a sharp nose and a pointed chin, jutting out slightly. He couldn’t remember much of anything else, but somehow he knew it was the same person over and over again, each night appearing in his dreams without fail.
Seated on a piano bench now, Yoongi flipped through the notebook, at his haphazard sketches. He had never been good at drawing, but now he realized something that should have been obvious long ago: the angel boy was growing up with him. When he was younger, the angel seemed younger too. A faraway sound of childish glee; a small hand. Yet as he grew older, the angel in his dreams grew older too. It was apparent in his ugly, messy sketches. Looking at them now felt like some sort of mirror into a world he could never know, a person he could never meet.
Yoongi frowned at his drawings. They really were ugly. If he could just draw better…maybe then he’d be able to piece together the angel’s face. Maybe he could describe the dreams to someone, and they could help in visualizing them. Except that idea sort of terrified Yoongi. He had grown up mostly keeping to himself. He wasn’t shy, but he seldom talked at school, only spoke when spoken to. He was the polar opposite of his older brother, the golden boy at Apgujeong High School. Most people never even assumed they were related.
And besides, he had no friends, if you didn’t count the few theater boys who talked to him whenever he played the piano for their production of Les Miserables. They were friendly enough, Yoongi supposed. Taehyung, who played Javert, was always trying to get Yoongi to join one of the many after-parties, along with Jin, who played Valjean. Still, they were probably just the type of people who were everybody’s friend, and they didn’t really care for Yoongi at all. He didn’t take it to heart. He knew it wasn’t personal.
Now, who would draw the angel boy for him?
Well, there was one kid he had in mind. A couple of years younger than him, he supposed. They always saw each other in the café Yoongi frequented in between Les Mis productions when he was trying to write songs or create music. The boy was always drawing in his sketchpad, headphones blasting the sort of music Yoongi was interested in making. They never said a word to each other but regarded each other with the familiarity of strangers who saw each other almost every day. Once, the boy had not been in the café but Yoongi found a notebook-sized piece of paper tucked between his usual table and the wall. He opened it and found a picture of him staring back. The boy had captured Yoongi at his most familiar state: headphones in, a scarf and gloves because of the biting wind outside, wearing glasses and his eyes squinting behind them, staring at his laptop. It had felt surreal. Yoongi felt seen, scary as that was.
After that day, Yoongi and the boy tried to acknowledge each other in the most miniscule ways. A nod when their eyes meet, a smile or two.
What Yoongi was trying to convince himself was: it wouldn’t be that weird if he just went up and talked to the guy and described his dreams to him, right?
Yoongi sighed now, fingers splayed over a few dissonant keys. Though his family was far from rich, they could never afford to part ways with the grand piano. It’s been with his family for generations, and had been as much of a member of it as any other Min. Yoongi taught himself to play—not very good, but he was getting better—and over and over he found himself playing the same tune; the angel song from his dreams. His dreams gifted him with only a small part of the song, a tiny handful of notes, yet now the song flowed from him fluidly, like the soft waves of the ocean. He didn’t know where these other notes were coming from, only the realization that they had been inside him for so long, tucked between the oldest folds of his memory. Music to him was a sort of nostalgia of something he couldn’t even remember experiencing.
And just as abruptly as it began, the music stopped. Yoongi barely had time to jot down the notes he remembered on his journal before the music evaporated from his memory, as quick and as devastating as every single one of his dreams; here one moment, then gone as soon as he opened his eyes. Only after he had written them all out did he realize the notes he drew collectively formed a shape like an angel’s wing.
He didn’t understand anything. He didn’t understand at all. Who was this angel boy who kept appearing in his dreams? What was he trying to tell him with his song? Because for as long as Yoongi has been trying to convince himself that the dreams meant nothing, the ache that developed inside his chest every morning told him otherwise.
All of this has to mean something. A decade of non-stop dreams, all about the same thing.
The same person. The same angel.
Yoongi pounded on the keys accidentally, sending forth a cacophony of angry notes. He didn’t understand anything. He didn’t understand at all.
Tomorrow he’d ask the boy from the café for his help. Maybe then things would start to make sense.
“So you finally talked to me, huh?” The boy said, looking up at Yoongi, who was standing up and hovering sort of awkwardly by the boy’s table.
“I—what?” Yoongi said, caught off guard. He had been staring at his laptop screen for the past ten minutes, drumming his fingers across the table, trying to think of a way to approach the kid. He could write an entire song in just under fifteen minutes, could talk to people from all over the world in the website he was uploading his music in, could compose paragraphs and paragraphs worth of emails to producers from all over Korea, but in real life he didn’t know why it was so hard for him to talk to people. Especially this kid who was probably two or three years younger than him—taller, yes, but lankily built. Yoongi swallowed—his throat was dry. Get you shit together. And then he walked up to the boy and said hi.
Well, he said, “Hey.”
And then: “So you finally talked to me, huh?”
The boy smiled, a little shy under his black baseball cap, not meeting his eyes. Somehow this reassured Yoongi. Also, the boy sort of resembled a rabbit, Yoongi thought. You can’t be nervous talking to a rabbit.
“My name is Jungkook,” the boy said, gesturing for him to sit down, coughing a little. “In my head we’re kind of friends already, but what’s your name?”
“Yoongi,” he barely got out over his shoulder, grabbing his laptop and headphones and other such things from his table and transferring them onto the boy’s—Jungkook’s—table.
Jungkook tipped his head. “Nice to meet you Yoongi.”
He nodded. “So anyway, I want you to draw something for me,” Yoongi said.
“Hmm,” Jungkook replied as Yoongi pulled out the journal from his backpack. He flipped through the pages and settled on a sketch of the angel’s profile. Sitting in front of Jungkook now, with the boy’s sketchbook open in between them, made Yoongi self-conscious.
“I’m not an artist, obviously, which is why I came to you for help,” he said, staring at Jungkook’s sketchbook. It was filled with the people who frequented the café but drawn in a weird way. The bald guy with the beard who always, always ordered a complicated Frappuccino had curved stag’s antlers erupting from his head, accompanied with tiny, fluttering birds, Disney style. The young barista had fairy wings behind her, shaded delicately with charcoal. The couple who always split a slice of cake both had translucent skin, their organs and muscles and bones exposed for the world to see.
It was jarring, to say the least. And, honestly, Yoongi was willing to admit, really rather beautiful. Jungkook had an eye for detail, capturing people at their most natural, yet somehow using these qualities he observed and transforming them into the bizarre. It was something he couldn’t quite put into words, how perfect the otherworldly aspects seemed to fit their real-life counterparts. Somehow, those fairy wings did seem natural on that perky barista, and that couple really did look see-through and transparent when they wore their hearts on their sleeves, and all their emotions in their eyes. Which was why he was somehow both shocked and relieved, both surprised and unbothered, when he spotted the drawing of himself by the corner of the page, hunched over his laptop as usual, headphones obscured by a bright halo, and, behind him—a magnificent pair of angel wings.
Yoongi looked up from the drawing and saw Jungkook looking right at him, and then they both looked at the drawing—the angel wings—and then at Yoongi’s own ugly sketches of basically the same thing—angel wings!—and then back at each other.
“Tell me everything,” Jungkook said, and for the first time in their whole conversation he truly looked like a kid, eyes wide and excited. So for that reason, or maybe because of the angel wings, or maybe because he really had nothing to lose—except maybe his dignity if Jungkook decided that this was all stupid, but then again did Yoongi care about that in the long run?—Yoongi decided to tell Jungkook everything.
It had been two months since Yoongi met Jungkook. The two now regularly sat together at the café they frequented. Yoongi found out that Jungkook was fourteen years old, and that he and his family moved here from Busan, and he went to the local middle school. In turn, Jungkook learned about Yoongi’s thing with music.
“What does that do?” he would frequently ask, pointing at some random function on Yoongi’s laptop screen. Whenever he did so, Yoongi allowed himself a small, secret smile dedicated to his happiness at finally being able to share his music with someone besides the people online he knew only by their screennames. While Yoongi was not exactly friendless in his school, he was the type who was sort of friends with everybody and nobody at the same time, so it felt slightly euphoric to share his music with someone, this thing that was such a big part of his life. Music, he felt, was half his soul.
(And yes, he played music for people twice a week, every Tuesday and Thursday at the Daegu community center with the rest of the theater kids. He loved playing the piano, following the rise and fall of each key as each character belted out their solos. The piano, beneath his fingers, was as much a character in the story as Jean Valjean; the slow creep-crawl of the keys as a song ends, or the triumphant thump-thump-thump together with the violins and the cellos as a song reaches its peak.
Performing his own music—music he felt like he dug from his bones, music he felt like he harvested from the deepest parts of himself—was different. It was like letting other people hear an entirely new part of him, baring his emotions for everyone to see. It was like having transparent skin, like letting passersby gawk at the inner workings of his body, the very pumping of his blood.)
“You always do that song over and over,” Jungkook remarked one afternoon as Yoongi was tinkering around with some piano samples he’d recorded himself earlier that day. The two boys sat side by side and had an earbud in each ear, sharing the tinny music that came out of Yoongi’s prehistoric laptop. He knew he would have to get better equipment soon, which was why he only went to the coffee shop when Jungkook was already there, since he couldn’t be bothered to spend money on coffee and he wouldn’t have been able to stay at the coffee shop otherwise. He had also begun working night shifts at his parents’ restaurant every night when he didn’t have to play music for the theater kids. All of this added up little by little to his savings, and he had even considered busking around Daegu, especially in the plaza where an ornate grand piano sat, inviting players with its delicately-carved keys.
Yoongi had dreamed of playing that very piano for a long time, yet he had never quite been able to make himself do it, partly because he convinced himself he didn’t have the time in between all of his side-jobs, but mostly because he convinced himself no one would bother to listen even if he did.
“Is that his song?” Jungkook said. He didn’t even have to ask, and the both knew that. His song. The angel’s.
“Yeah,” Yoongi muttered, frustrated with himself at never being able to finish the song. He always woke up with half a melody stuck in his brain, another puzzle piece in the mosaic he felt like he would never see completed.
By then Jungkook had bought a notebook—slightly bigger than Yoongi’s palm, black and unruled—and filled half of it with sketches of what they thought the angel boy looked like by now. They both theorized that he aged as Yoongi aged, and so he was seventeen as Yoongi was seventeen, yet they imagined him tall whereas Yoongi was short, and with features that seemed both harsh and soft at the same time, an avenging angel staring down at them from the Sistine chapel. Jungkook had drawn his wings, bright and magnificent, left uncolored as he filled in the angel boy’s skin and made him golden as freshly spilt ichor.
These were guesses only, of course—except for the wings, since Yoongi had the feathers to prove their existence. Maybe they can never really be sure what the angel boy looked like, whether he was tall or tan or if he was even real. He had to be, Yoongi thought. He wouldn’t know what to do if a lifetime of feathers and songs led him to absolutely nothing.
“It’s beautiful,” Jungkook said simply as the melody in their ears faded to nothing.
part iii: earth-bound
The night before Yoongi turned twenty-seven, the dreams inside his head started changing. Usually it went like this: the slow, delicate start of the angel song, as if from a ballet, filling the space around them. Then, suddenly: he was skyward, watching the angel boy from afar, yet only in lightning-quick glances. The song began to speed up, and it was coming from both everywhere and nowhere. Yoongi could not see himself—if he looked down he would not have seen his feet, if he held his arms out he would see only his invisible fingers—yet he knew he was still there because the angel was still there, in front of him, but between them was some sort of a barrier, a mist he struggled to see through. Yoongi could make out the barest glimpse of a hand, fingers delicate as a cherub’s, juxtaposed by the powerful shoulder blades of a seraphim. The song in Yoongi’s ears pounded, the keys becoming dissonant. The ache within him grew, spreading from stomach to ribs to chest. It was eating him alive.
And finally: Yoongi would wake up, sort of out of breath, eyes wide as the moon still bright outside his window. He would feel under his pillow and pull out a lone feather, shining silver-white in the darkness.
This was how it always went.
Except for tonight.
Tonight Yoongi’s dreams were bathed in red. The clouds seemed to spill blood, as disorienting as a Dali painting but about ten times more grotesque. He realized the song he had become so familiar with was, for the first time in two decades, not playing in his ears. Instead, he heard the sickening cries that were associated only with slaughter. He swallowed—if he didn’t, he was fairly sure he would throw up.
He searched for his angel boy, heart pounding. Where was he, where was he? He didn’t even care what was happening around him anymore. The sky was falling apart and revealing itself to be some twisted version of hell, but he couldn’t care less. He had to find him. His angel.
There he was. He was alive. He was alive! Yoongi almost breathed a sigh of relief, except—
Something was wrong.
The barrier was still between them, crimson as a battlefield, distorting his angel’s features. But he was looking at him. The angel was looking right at him. Yoongi didn’t even register it at first, so used to years and years of seeing only the angel from behind, or the occasional profile he would be blessed with. This was—this was almost too much. Even through the scarlet barrier Yoongi could see his angel’s face, and, more starkly, the expression that was sown into it. Eyebrows knitted with worry, eyes—eyes—wide and round as halos. And his mouth—he was saying something. No, he was screaming it. Yoongi couldn’t make out the words. All he could hear were the deafening cries of the fallen all around him. Dozens and dozens of angels, all screaming in agony as creatures—he didn’t know what else to call them, they were barely even tangible, only a panel of smoke in the vague form of a human—appeared behind them and ripped their wings out, leaving vermillion gashes in their perfect skin. There was the bone-deep scream of pain, and then the echoing shout of surprise as they fell from the sky and down into the faraway earth below.
His angel kept screaming the same thing, over and over. Yoongi tried to will himself to move closer, look harder, shut out the other sounds in his ears and find the one voice he was looking for. It was all futile. His body felt locked in place. Had it always been like this?
One of the shadowed creatures appeared behind his angel. Yoongi screamed, or maybe he only thought he did, as he watched his angel fly as fast from the creature as possible. His wingbeats were frantic and frenzied—Yoongi could tell as much—as his angel boy tore one lone feather from his left wing and hurled it at Yoongi, shattering the barrier between them like glass.
Yoongi woke up.
There were no feathers underneath his pillow.
Instead, he was holding one in his hands, and one end of it was still dripping blood.
He didn’t know when the angel boy became his angel boy, only somewhere along the way he began to recognize the ache in his chest whenever he woke up was the acute feeling of lost love. He couldn’t quite explain it to himself, but he knew it to be true: he was in love with an angel from his dreams, who visited him only in the pitch-black hours of the night and left him only feathers and a song older than the Earth itself.
Min Yoongi was twenty-seven years old. When he woke up again that morning, after having fallen asleep, still clutching the bloodied feather, he found several birthday messages from his friends and family. A simple greeting from his parents, a promise to catch up soon from his older brother, and several texts from his friends.
Jungkook sent him a picture of a drawing he had made. It was striking enough to be a mural, to be emblazoned on streets and graffitied onto walls. It showed Yoongi bent on one knee, head bowed, as black angel wings were spread wide and glorious behind him, feathers flying astray. Yoongi saved the picture; Jungkook would give him the real painting when they met up on Monday.
Yoongi decided to spend his birthday at the plaza. The grand piano sat there as always, beautiful with its golden keys, ornate and old and elegant. He always passed by it, always dreamed of playing it, of laying his fingers on its delicate keys, yet he had never done it. (In his memory, no one had every played that piano before, though community service workers came and went and made sure the piano stayed as pristine as ever.)
For some reason, today, Yoongi sat down on the piano bench.
It was early morning, still. Birds were the only ones who were awake, singing their tunes together with the crickets’ one-note song. The air was cool, the first few wisps of summer beginning to creep in.
Yoongi placed his hands on the keys, and began to play.
For the first time in his life, he played his angel’s song as freely and as easily as if he was just breathing. Every note came and went and soared. It was everything he had ever wanted, everything he had ever dreamed about. He imagined it now; pulling his heart out of his chest and laying it out onto the keys, right there so the birds could feast. It was every single part of him laid out for the world to see. The music spilled and spilled and spilled, a single cup forced to hold the weight of the ocean. He didn’t know he had this in him; two decades worth of unexplainable dreams. He remembered his last dream, the blood and gore of it.
His angel. His wordless scream, his haunted eyes.
Yoongi was almost pounding his fists; it took everything in him to restrain himself. It frustrated him so much, how he could never understand what was happening to him. So many dreams, so many feathers, no explanations at all. He wished he could just set them all aside, forget about them even though the dreams were always, always stuck in his head. But the ache in his chest was something he could never ignore. It was like love, he thought, or at least the last few remnants of it, or maybe even the anticipation of it. It was something like heartbreak without even knowing you had a heart to break in the first place.
The notes erupted from the piano. Yoongi’s heart erupted from the piano.
He had not even noticed his eyes were closed; he had played the song blind. When the song ended, he felt like the wind was knocked out of him. Breathless and bruised, he opened his eyes, and he realized he was not alone.
There, in front of him, was his angel.
Stripped of his wings, wearing jeans and a white button-down shirt, untucked. Halo-less. Radiant.
He looked different than how Yoongi and Jungkook imagined him to be. Shorter, softer. More tired, too. Yoongi couldn't stop looking at his eyes, his tired eyes. His eyes were enough to rip through Yoongi’s skin. He was real he was real hewasreal. He was here. Here.
“Took you long enough,” the angel said, and his voice was every bit as lovely as Yoongi could have ever hoped for. “My name is Jimin.”