The first time Namjoon sees him, it’s just before the downpour.
It’s just before the official start of summer, and the rainy season is here. The birds have been gathering for days. The world is humid in the night and hot in the day, everything sweaty and heat-bloated.
Namjoon is outside. It’s midday but the sky is so dark with rainclouds it seems like evening. He’s pouring soju onto the ground. Truth be told, he’s not entirely sure it’s safe for the trees in his jungle of a backyard, but watching it all disappear down the sink is a little too depressing for him. And he’s humming. It’s important to remember that he’s humming.
He’s always humming, now that he’s alone.
Namjoon is outside, he’s humming, he’s pouring soju from the bottle onto the ground at the base of the biggest tree of his garden, and thunder rumbles across the sky so loud and suddenly that the birds all begin to cry out.
And then, Namjoon sees him.
He’s buried deeper in the trees, where the huge tropical leaves overlap and everything is shadowed, his clothing a shock of white and his hair bluer than the most colourful birds Namjoon has ever seen.
And he’s looking right at Namjoon. Just watching him.
Lightning flashes across the sky, and the instant before Namjoon closes his eyes against the sudden brightness he sees the man the clearest yet. The features of his face are blurred a little with the distance but Namjoon can determine his expression.
“Kim Namjoon,” Sukwon says, voice almost as grizzled and creaky as his body when Namjoon carts the two four-packs of soju up to the counter. They’re little bottles, so Namjoon is always coming back for more.
“It’s me,” Namjoon says. He feels uncomfortable in a way he can’t name, coming into town. Sukwon scrutinises him for a second, the old, thick skin around his eyes folding deeper as he scowls at Namjoon. He’s probably thinking of ways he can talk Namjoon out of this apparent drinking habit. Namjoon knows what it looks like, but even if he did try and explain why he comes in and buys more soju every day, he doubts the old man would believe him. Not Sukwon, who has manned this bottle shop since before Namjoon was born, and apparently knows Namjoon better than himself.
“Ah, son,” Sukwon says, writing down the purchase on his daily log, “you have to talk to someone about this. You’re too young and smart for this.”
Yoo Sukwon, the old man in the bottle shop who wears the same white singlet every day with thinning hair and sun-aged skin probably isn’t anyone’s person for advice.
Namjoon is just kind of pitiful.
“It’s not bad,” Namjoon says. He’s also wearing a white singlet like Sukwon, he realises. They all grow into the same goddamn people.
“I know it’s been hard,” Sukwon says, groaning to himself as he reaches below the counter for a plastic bag, “losin’ your parents and all that, but it’ll be alright, yeah?”
Namjoon knows what it looks like: everyone’s favourite son dropping out of art school after his parents die, moving back home and suddenly buying at least two packs of soju a day. A fucking fortune to spend on a drinking habit.
“Yeah,” Namjoon says. “I know.”
Sukwon gives him another knowing old man look, and then hands him the bag. “Better fix up your house, ay? Wet season’s gonna be a bad one, this year.”
“I don’t reckon,” Namjoon shrugs. “Not as bad as last year.”
“Oh, you’ll reckon.” Sukwon sits back in his stool behind the counter. “Have a good day, Namjoon.”
Namjoon smiles, close-lipped and awkward, and takes the bag with a nod.
Sukwon’s bottle shop is towards the end of the main street of their town. One of those small ones along the coast, a little ways off the main interstate highway. The last census said the population was around four-thousand, mainly retirees and the old people that grew up here. It’s more popular in the summer holidays, when all the kids come back from school and the city people come and stay in their holiday houses. Until then, all they have is the one street of shops, a big wide thing with outdated cars parked along it intermittently.
The old ladies in the café across the road are watching Namjoon as he walks. They usually play bingo there. Namjoon used to play with them when he was a kid.
Namjoon walks away as fast as he can.
It’s stinking humid, and even though living here is synonymous with sweating constantly, the impending summer makes it worse. Plants are growing wildly from the spring, palm trees are dropping their coconuts but no one has bothered to pick them up yet.
But Namjoon knows the rain is coming because of the birds.
They’re so abundant in their sleepy town that they weigh down the powerlines in the morning. The mess of birdcalls wakes Namjoon up at dawn and keeps him up at night. The fairy wrens are always gathered on his table in the backyard. Parrots pick at his fig trees.
Namjoon always wants to give them seeds, but his mother used to stop him. “They’re just here for the rains, Namjoonie,” she’d say, “don’t try and make them stay.”
It hurts to think about her.
Namjoon walks unto the main road turns back into the bushy front yards of local’s houses, and then a little further, until he can turn right onto the next street. There are no fences between the houses here, so he cuts across the property of several neighbours until he can walk to his own backyard, back to his little white house.
It was his family home. The garden turns into jungle, turns into Council-owned land, riddled with walking and bike paths, turns into the tall banksia trees that extend down towards the coast. Namjoon likes to walk to the beach sometimes, like he used to with his sister and dad as kids, but it takes nearly an hour and lately he’s preferred staying in the green. Still, sometimes during the dry season, beneath the humming of the bugs and the shrieks of lorikeets, Namjoon can hear the surf.
(Sometimes Namjoon isn’t sure if the sea is the same without his dad.)
The bottles clink as he jimmies the back door open. There’s no need to lock doors, here. No need for much, except enough muscle to wedge bloated doors and windows open. Namjoon used to leave them all open, but then he’d get eaten alive by mosquitos in his sleep, so he decided against it.
“I’m home,” Namjoon says to the empty house. He tosses his wallet onto the nearest table and walks into the kitchen to set to work on his soju bottles.
In art school, Namjoon worked with installations. He loved recycling things into something new. In his first year, he and a partner melted plastics together and swirled the colourful parts into a vague face shape. It led him to glassblowing, to stained-glass windows, to sculptures, to civil engineering, at one point, and—
And then his parents died, and he came home.
Three years into a four-year degree, he dropped out of school. Arranged the funeral with his sister, lived with her until they had a falling out, over the house and the will and whether or not Namjoon was going back to school, and now it’s been six months since she’s contacted him.
He tries not to think about it.
The reason Namjoon buys the soju every day is because he has a project. He’s making a wall of them, like a feature window. He’s been working on it ever since Namseon left. He’s stacking the bottles so it fills up the whole window frame. If he had a glassworks set up, he’d melt them all together and make some big green window, but he doesn’t. And he can’t afford one, anyway. So instead he just stacks them up like bricks, after he saws the top half off. Ideally, he can get a plane of glass to press against the outside, too, so that they don’t come apart in the wind. He just wants them to sit and balance, rather than anything else. Namjoon wants the high summer sun to shine the green light on the dusty tiled floor of his house.
So Namjoon takes the soju bottles outside and begins to empty them into the grass, humming a nameless song he isn’t sure when and where he picked up, and listening to the birds.
And when he looks up, he is there again.
The blue-haired man, standing in the shadows of the huge fig tree. This time there is no lightning, no rain, and Namjoon stares and stares at him in the glare of the early afternoon light, all blue and white and the subtler gold of his skin.
All the sounds in the world grow more intense the longer they look at each other; the cicadas raw turns deafening, and it sounds like every bird in the world is singing and cawing until it turns into an intense hum. Until everything in the world seems like white noise except the blue-haired man.
“H-hello?” Namjoon calls, confused. “Can I help you?”
He’s not stupid enough to believe this is any ordinary person, but Namjoon can never keep his damn mouth shut.
The man keeps watching him, unmoving, and Namjoon sees a few little birds settle on his shoulders and head.
When Namjoon blinks, the man is gone.
Namjoon thinks he’s going crazy. The man always appears in the same spot, and always when Namjoon is pouring out the soju. No matter how hard Namjoon tries to get his attention, he never speaks. Namjoon has watched fairy wrens gather in his blue hair, the same shade as their tiny, blue feathered heads, and he’s watched red-tailed black cockatoos perch on his shoulder, but the man never speaks. Just looks at Namjoon. Like he’s waiting for something.
Namjoon doesn’t know what. The weather doesn’t change and nothing mysteriously starts going wrong in town, so he doesn’t know what to make of it. It sounds like the plot of a terrible horror movie, yet nothing else fits.
Therefore, he assumes he’s just going insane.
And maybe he is. It’s been a long time since he went to a therapist, and an even longer time since he’s confided in anyone. The only conversations he has are with Sukwon at the liquor store, as brief and painful as they are. Namjoon could be going insane. Not a violent, dangerous kind of insane, not yet—but there’s some screws coming loose, he’s sure.
He doesn’t do anything about it. Just works on the window.
He starts researching glass prices in town, stops eating any kind of figs, buys lots of cabbage and considers buying some jade for protection.
And then, on the first day of summer, things change.
Namjoon is walking home from town, and the sky opens up, drenching him. It’s so hot he doesn’t mind at all, and just keeps walking leisurely, but for the first time he sees the blue-haired man away from his backyard.
He’s in someone else’s, a big holiday house with a wide, open lawn, closer than ever. The birds have hidden themselves away from the rain, so there’s nothing else touching him.
“What is your name?” he asks.
His voice is—kind of like a parrot, Namjoon thinks. They look so sweet and colourful, but when they finally make noise their call is rough and intimidating. The blue-haired man is small and sweet-faced, but his voice is the same kind of rough.
“Namjoon,” he replies.
“Namjoon.” The blue-haired man tests it in his mouth. He scowls. “What have you summoned me for, Namjoon?”
“S—” summoned ? Namjoon can’t get the word out, and the blue-haired man scowls at him. When Namjoon looks at him, really looks at him—he does seem different. His skin is a little too unblemished, and the white clothes seem ambiguous all over, a little beyond formless.
Did Namjoon accidentally summon a demon?
“I’m sorry,” Namjoon says quickly, “I don’t—”
“The pouring of soju onto one of my roosts,” the man says, pointing to the bag of soju, “and the singing of my song. You have a wish for which you have summoned me. Speak, Namjoon.”
“I don’t—” Namjoon stumbles over his words, trying to spit the rainwater out of his mouth. “Who have I summoned?”
“Me ,” the man sighs.
“Who are you?”
“Min Yoongi,” he says. “The god of birds.”
When Namjoon was little, his father would take him into the backyard at dawn. They would sit at the base of the biggest tree, and his father would point up into the branches. “Look, Namjoon,” he would say. “Look at all these birds.”
And Namjoon would look. Every time. The big, white cockatoos and the green and red parrots, the rosellas and the rainbow lorikeets, the little finches, and then—
“The fairy wrens,” his dad would say. “Look at them. You know, it’s not common to see them in trees. They live in the grass. Do you know why?”
Namjoon knew, since his father had told him many times, but he always said no.
Namjoon’s father loved telling stories.
“Well, a long time ago,” he’d start, “all the birds got into a fight about who was the best, because the Magpie had the prettiest feathers, and the Heron had the prettiest little legs, and so the great old Owl said that the bird who could fly the highest would win! So all the birds flew as high as they could, the eagle, the cockatoo, the Ulga, and the little blue fairy wren that was there knew he was the smallest, so he had to be smart. So when it got to the last bird, the Pelican, he flew as high as he could, and then when flew the highest yet, the little blue wren flew out from under his wing! And he flew higher and said, ‘I flew the highest! I’m the best!’ but all the birds accused him of cheating, and chased him off into the grass. That’s why you never see fairy wrens flying overhead. They were bullied into the grasses forever.”
“But that’s not fair,” Namjoon would say. “That’s not fair at all.”
“Sometimes,” Namjoon’s dad would say, “life isn’t fair, Namjoonie.”
Yeah, Namjoon would think, twenty years later. Life isn’t fair, dad.
Namjoon leads the god of birds, Min Yoongi, back to his house.
“I’m sorry,” he says, “but I can’t help you. It was an accident, I swear.”
“Accident or not,” Yoongi says, “you have to have something . I’m bound by duty to answer your prayers, Namjoon. Wish for something, would you?”
“I can’t just wish something like that!” Namjoon protests, dropping the soju into the sink. “Look, just—let’s get settled down for a second. Do you want a towel? You’re kind of wet.”
Yoongi, the god of birds, shakes his head like a dog, spraying water everywhere. “I’m fine.”
“I’ll get you a towel,” Namjoon says. He pulls off his sodden singlet and tosses it onto the tiles before he moves to the linen cupboard and pulls out two towels. The rain is roaring down outside, steady and windless. The walk home had soaked them both to the bone, even though Namjoon doesn’t really know how gods work.
Yoongi says nothing when Namjoon hands him the towel. It probably isn’t right to accept a customary, half-assed thanks from a literal god, but he can’t help but feel a little put out. For all the time he spent watching Namjoon, Yoongi barely looks at him as he towels off his hair.
“Do you want tea?” Namjoon asks hesitantly, hovering near the stove. They have a small box of nice tea leaves his mother kept for guests, but Namseon took the nice teapot they used to use with her when she left.
“Sure,” says bird god Min Yoongi, and Namjoon bites his lip and gets to work putting the kettle on.
“Do you have a wish yet?” Yoongi asks, immediately after the stove has caught light.
“No,” Namjoon says. “And I don’t—I don’t have one! I can’t just come up with a wish on the spot.”
“Yes, you can,” Yoongi scoffs. “Humans do it all the time.”
“Well,” Namjoon says, turning back to his somewhat-divine guest, “I didn’t mean to summon you, and I don’t have any wish or divine requests, so I can only offer you tea.”
“I’ll have to stay with you until you wish something,” Yoongi says moodily, tossing the towel aside and sitting down on the nearest chair; the ones at the kitchen table. “You know that, right?”
“Can’t you just go back to the forest, or something? Turn into a bird?”
“It doesn't work like that,” Yoongi pouts, leaning heavily onto his hand. “I’m bound to you until you give me a task. You didn’t tell a bird in your garden what you wanted, you talked to me .”
“I didn’t tell you what I wanted either, though,” Namjoon points out, and Yoongi rolls his eyes.
“I gave you my name,” Yoongi says, “and you gave me yours. There’s a deal between us now, and it is only complete when I do whatever task it is you’ve summoned me for.”
“But I didn’t,” Namjoon insists. “I really didn’t.”
Yoongi shrugs. “Then we’re stuck together until you think of something.”
“Can it be anything?”
“Of course,” Yoongi says. Then pauses. “Within reason.”
“What’s ‘reason’?” Namjoon asks, feeling more than a little overwhelmed, since it’s been a while and Yoongi hasn’t even thought about giving up whatever act this is, so he’s inclined to think it could be genuine. He really could have summoned a god.
“No bringing dead people back to life,” Yoongi says thoughtfully, “things like forcing people to fall in love with you, turning your enemies into an animal—things like that.”
“So no messing with free will?”
“Exactly!” Yoongi says, pleased. “How did you know that?”
“I—” Namjoon thinks of watching Aladdin as a kid and falls quiet. “Just, uh, saw it somewhere.”
“Maybe you accidentally learned how to summon me from those sacred scriptures of yours,” Yoongi says, scowling in thought. “I haven’t been summoned in so long, I don’t remember what you humans are doing anymore. Do you still war?”
“Yes,” Namjoon says. “All the time. Right now, even, in other parts of the world.”
“Some things never change,” Yoongi shrugs.
“Are you—” Namjoon starts, and then loses his courage when Yoongi looks at him, watching him with the same intensity he spent the previous days and weeks doing, but much, much closer. “Are you really a god?”
Yoongi press his lips together in a tight smile. “Yes.”
“Yes,” Yoongi says. “I’ve been called many things by many different people, but yes. I am. The big ones, the small ones, even the ones that fall out of nests and get eaten by the foxes on the ground. They are my subjects.”
“Humans I am summoned by.” Yoongi regards him carefully. “Though, it has been a while. I wasn’t aware people like . . . well, people like you had come to this land, yet.”
“Oh—uh, yeah.” Namjoon rubs the back of his neck. “It was colonised a few hundred years ago. My family have only been here for two generations.”
Yoongi nods thoughtfully. “And what of the people here before you? What happened to them?”
Namjoon swallows. “Bad things,” he says. “Even now, bad things are happening to them.”
Yoongi sighs. “Humans.”
“Wouldn’t you know?” Namjoon asks, “if you’re a god?”
“Well, if you wanted a god of people,” Yoongi snaps, “you should have summoned one, Kim Namjoon.”
Namjoon sets Yoongi up in Namseon’s room. It’s gutted, most of her belongings taken from it after their row. He makes the bed with clean sheets and tries his best to spot for geckos and other critters, but it seems mostly clean. Yoongi, once again, does not thank him, but Namjoon no longer expects him to.
There’s a god in his house. Because Namjoon accidentally summoned him.
Over dinner he’d explained to Namjoon some other details about godhood. About how he serves the birds, not humans. About how many different gods he has befriended over the years, like his friend the god of dance, who he can thank for all the bird mating dances, or the young god of people who made too many deals with gods of war to become powerful, and now he can’t take it back.
“Birds were not always birds,” Namjoon remembers him saying as he lays awake in the dark, sweaty and overwhelmed. “They used to be what you call dinosaurs, so watch yourself.”
A god in Namjoon’s house.
(And he can’t even ask him to bring back his parents.)
It’s a little fresher at dawn, and Namjoon makes his way outside as the birds scream. The lorikeets are picking at rotting mangoes under the mango tree, and soon enough Namjoon’s going to watch them be too drunk to sit on the powerlines properly.
Namjoon stretches and breathes in the morning air as he waits for the kettle to boil, just a flyscreen door and a room behind him.
He hears some little frog noises from the bushes, and when he bends down to investigate there is, in fact, a tiny little green frog on the leaves.
“What are you doing?” Yoongi asks from over his shoulder, and Namjoon almost screams.
“Jus—just looking for some frogs,” Namjoon says, glaring at the ground. In some stupid way, he’d woken up thinking everything that happened yesterday was a dream, but nope. “Do you want to see?”
Namjoon doesn’t dare look up at him, but he supposes Yoongi must have nodded, because a second later he’s squatting down next to Namjoon on the grass, watching intently with his dark eyes as Namjoon coaxes the little frog off the long grass and onto his fingers.
“See?” Namjoon says, showing it to the god proudly, but the next second the frog is being snatched off his hand, and Namjoon has to watch this fucking god of birds swallow the baby frog in one go.
“You—” Namjoon starts, horrified when Yoongi just blinks at him. “You can’t do that!”
Yoongi frowns. “Why?”
“That’s—he’s not food!” Namjoon cries. “You can’t—you can’t do that!”
Yoongi blinks again, confused. “But I was hungry.”
“You can eat inside!” Namjoon says wetly. Oh, no. He’s crying. “You can’t—don’t eat him! He was so small! I was just showing him to you!”
Yoongi cocks his head, still confused. “Don’t eat him?”
“No!” Namjoon swipes the tears out of his eyes. God, he’s pathetic. “Don’t, okay? He’s—he’s just a baby. I’ll feed you human food, so don’t eat the little ones.”
Yoongi still doesn’t look like he understands. Namjoon drops his face into his hands, rubbing the tears out of his eyes. He’s not sure if he’s ever been much of a crier, but he’s always loved little things. And he feels so damn guilty, because it’s his fault.
He’s startled out of his weird bubble of guilt when Yoongi makes a weird noise. And then another. When Namjoon looks up Yoongi is hunched forward, and then when he makes the weird, choking noise again the tiny (very dead) green frog falls out of his mouth and back onto his hand.
“Here,” Yoongi says, holding it out to him.
“I—” Namjoon’s neurons are doing nothing but misfire. “What?”
“You said I shouldn’t eat him,” Yoongi says. “So here.”
The tiny green fog is just lying there, dead, belly up and covered in spit in Yoongi’s hand.
“Can you bring him back to life?” Namjoon asks, for lack of anything better.
“What? Of course not.” Yoongi scowls. “But you wanted him back.”
“It’s dead, Yoongi,” Namjoon says. He should say more, he really should, because it’s his fault the green frog died, and maybe Yoongi has some innate bird instinct that made him eat the frog, but he spat it back out for Namjoon—but Namjoon stares at the green frog and he suddenly feels a lot of nothing.
The bird god keeps scowling at him as Namjoon stands. “Why are you sad?”
“I’m not, I’m not,” Namjoon waves him away. “I just—wish I’d said something.”
Yoongi keeps scowling at him, but Namjoon heads back inside, where the kettle is about to boil. When he glances back at the door he sees a blue-winged kookaburra land on Yoongi’s hand and snatch the dead frog away, flying back towards the trees.
Morning clocks into midday, and Namjoon decides to go the shops.
Yoongi has been sitting at the kitchen table moodily all day, and Namjoon hasn’t felt up to starting a conversation, so he almost decides to just wag going out today. But then he thinks about the window and his goal and then he has to.
“Hey, so, I’m going—”
“I’m sorry I ate the frog,” Yoongi says quietly. “I’m not used to humans and I didn’t realise you just wanted to look at it. I won’t do it again.”
“I— okay,” Namjoon says, suddenly lost. Yoongi is just watching him again, in a way Namjoon doesn’t really understand. “It’s okay. I, um, forgive you. Maybe just don’t eat things? That aren’t in the kitchen?”
“Can I eat the geckos?”
“No!” Namjoon shrieks. “Don’t eat any geckos!”
“What about spiders?”
“You can eat the spiders, yeah.”
“And the moths.”
Yoongi nods to himself, pleased. “I can do that.”
“Kim Namjoon,” Sukwon says again with a sigh, “back again.”
Namjoon smiles, awkward as ever. “Yeah.”
“Hey, Kim Namjoon,” Yoongi calls as Sukwon is writing down the two 4-packs he’s buying on the purchase log. When he looks over his shoulder Yoongi is holding up some shiny blue bottle of what he assumes is vodka, but he can’t read the label from here. “What’s this?”
“Ah, that’s vodka,” Sukwon supplies for him. “Are you Namjoon’s friend? I’ll give you a discount.”
For a man trying to discourage Namjoon’s believed drinking habit, he sure is willing to sell.
It seems to make Yoongi happy enough, though, because he comes and puts it on the counter. A big, silvery-blue bottle that Namjoon suspects Yoongi likes because he’s a bird god.
It’s expensive, but not exorbitant. Yoongi hugs the shiny bottle to his chest, turning down the bag Sukwon offers. The old man squints at Yoongi’s bright blue hair, and then at Namjoon. “Do you go to art school, too?”
“Uh . . .” Namjoon hesitates, glancing towards a confused Yoongi and then back to Sukwon. “Yeah. He does architecture. Came to visit me.”
“Isn’t that nice?” says Sukwon. “What’d you say your name was, son?”
“Min Yoongi, god—”
“His name’s Yoongi,” Namjoon cuts him off. “Min Yoongi. We should get going, though. See you!”
Namjoon has to drag Yoongi out the door, in case Sukwon tries to ask him what he’s the god of. “Yoongi, you can’t—”
“What? Tell ‘em I’m a god?” Yoongi raises an eyebrow, and then scoffs when Namjoon nods. “Fine. But what’s ‘architecture’? What’s ‘art school’?”
“It’s—” Namjoon starts to lead them home, one hand carrying the soju and the other some groceries. “We have a system. When you’re young, you go to school with other kids, and adults teach you things. For thirteen years.”
Yoongi’s eyes are comically wide. “Thirteen years ? What are they teaching you, how to become gods?”
Namjoon has to laugh at that. “No, not really. And, um, art school is where I used to go. When you’re finished with school-school, you go to university, if you want, which is where young grown-ups get taught by older grown-ups how to do a specific thing that you get a job with.”
“And what did you do?”
“Uh.” Namjoon rubs the back of his neck. “A lot of things. I mainly did, like, installations?”
“And what’s architecture?”
“It’s like, designing,” Namjoon says. “Planning how to build something.”
It’s the first time Namjoon’s ever seen Yoongi with an expression of awe. “Really?”
In the weeks that follow, living with Yoongi, Namjoon starts to piece together who this bird god character is.
Mostly, he sits outside with a book on architecture Namjoon found for him, reading as much as he can and then drawing up some complex nest design. Sometimes he picks mangoes off the tree and leaves them to ripen inside. Sometimes the birds (usually sulphur-crested cockatoos) will approach him and try and steal his papers. Namjoon never gets involved, preferring to watch Yoongi get antsy and shoo them away. The fairy wrens do it too, but Yoongi always lets them get away with it.
Since his arrival, there is considerably fewer bugs around the house. The moths Namjoon used to listen to slapping against the flyscreen at night are gone, replaced with Yoongi slipping out and then reappearing later, looking awfully pleased with himself. True to his word, he hasn’t eaten any more frogs, and on the occasion that he’s snatched up a gecko, he always hands it to Namjoon.
Yoongi has also discovered music, and plays it as often as he can. He’s even, on one occasion, attempted to get various ravens to mimic it.
“The birds don’t fear you,” Namjoon notes, one evening, when Yoongi shoos away a curious curlew.
Yoongi gives him another one of his confused looks, but he looks a little offended, this time. “Why would they?” he asks. “I serve them. It is only humans that have been taught to fear their god.”
And Namjoon—thinks about that. Chews on it like the old rump steak he buys and attempts to cook, but it turns out too tough so he gives it to Yoongi, who apparently can’t unlearn the habit of swallowing things whole.
Living with Yoongi is nice. Yoongi is intelligent, if not a little intimidating, but some mornings when he wakes up with his hair a mess and will sit on the grass outside, and all the little birds from the trees will fly down to preen his hair until its tidy. Some mornings he says thank you when Namjoon passes him a coffee. Some mornings he even wears Namjoon’s clothes instead of whatever white godly robes he showed up in.
Sometimes Namjoon forgets this isn’t permanent.
Sometimes he forgets Yoongi is just waiting for a wish.
(And it can’t be stay .)
“What do you get all those bottles for, anyway?” Yoongi asks. He’s sitting on the grass with the architecture book again, watching Namjoon pour out the soju.
“I have, uh. A project,” Namjoon says. “An installation.”
Yoongi purses his lips, understanding. “Why do you pour out the bottles?”
Namjoon doesn’t know, not really. He used to pour them down the sink, but standing in an empty house pouring away alcohol feels like some metaphor he’s not sad enough for. And he likes it, being outside. He did it once on a whim and then kept doing it, again and again.
“I just do,” he says.
Yoongi shrugs, apparently satisfied. He’s silent until Namjoon pours out the eighth and final bottle.
“How’d you learn the song, then?”
“I don’t know,” Namjoon admits. “I just thought it was, like, something you pick up. Everyone hums their own tune when they do things.”
“Maybe, but you were humming my tune.”
“Well, I didn’t know that.” Namjoon gathers up the bottles, shaking the last of the soju out of them. “If I’d known, I would have hummed something different.”
“The one you sung,” Yoongi says, “is a song for grief.”
That gives Namjoon pause. This isn’t the first time Yoongi’s asked about how he knows this specific song, but it is the first time he’s said something about what it is. Yoongi isn’t even looking at him, just drawing something against the pages of the architecture textbook.
“Is that—is that all you’ll tell me about it?” Namjoon asks, and regrets the words instantly. He always sounds so aggressive, too used to being alone. At least Yoongi doesn’t seem to mind, probably too birdy to realise the nuances of human speech.
“I’m just telling you,” Yoongi says. “There are different versions, and somehow you knew the sad one.”
“I didn’t think birds got sad,” Namjoon admits, and Yoongi glares at him.
“Of course they get sad,” Yoongi scoffs, slapping the book shut with his pages still tucked inside. “Everyone gets sad. Birds just . . .” he pauses, thinking. “They just move on faster than humans. The dead stay dead. Everyone knows it except, well, you .”
“Is that a personal attack?” Namjoon jibes, and Yoongi rolls his eyes.
“Anyways, ape boy, what do you do with those bottles?” Yoongi sets the book aside and stands. He’s slowly but surely stopped wearing that white thing he first appeared in, changing it up for a ratty old black tee of Namjoon’s and what Namjoon thinks are a pair of boardshorts he got for Christmas when he was sixteen. It’s kind of funny to see a god have such chicken legs, all knock knees and pale skin.
“Oh, uh.” Namjoon swings the bottles in thought. “I’m, um. Doing an installation.”
“Oh,” Yoongi says. “Can I see?”
“I haven’t—I haven’t assembled it, yet,” Namjoon admits, “but yeah.”
He leads Yoongi around the side of the house, down to the room that used to be some porch section but his parents turned it into a store room of sorts, building walls and installing some tin roof. Inside, the tiles are grey and dusty, and scattered tools lie on all the benches. The large South window is empty, missing the glass that used to be there. The only clean section is the area around the window, from when Namjoon swept up the glass. Beside it, he has his collection of half-sawn-off soju bottles in a tub.
“Huh,” Yoongi says, sounding unimpressed. “Not much going on here, is there?”
Namjoon rubs the back of his neck. “Yeah, I—I’m trying to get enough bottles first. Here, this is my idea.” He takes a few of the half-bottles and starts lining them up against the brick windowsill. “I’m gonna fill the window with this. The idea is they should balance.”
“How are they gonna balance if the wind can just knock them out?” Yoongi frowns.
“Oh, yeah. I need the glass pane in first, too.”
Yoongi nods for a bit, clearly thinking. He steps forward, and the instant he starts looking at the old windowsill, Namjoon knows what his question is going to be.
“Why isn’t there any glass here already?”
It isn’t a loaded question, exactly, but it feels like that to Namjoon.
The window broke the same night his parents died.
“It broke,” Namjoon says instead. “In a storm.”
Yoongi’s looking at him, really looking at him, like he can pry the rest of the words out of him with a stare, but then he sighs and gives up, stepping back.
“It’s gonna be nice,” Yoongi says. An olive branch. “Bugs are probably gonna crawl in the bottles and die, though.”
“Fuck,” Namjoon says. “I didn’t think of that at all.”
Yoongi grins. “I’m not a god for nothing, boy.”
Namjoon knows as soon as he sees the ants crawling up the kitchen wall that the rain is coming.
So far it’s been a fairy mild wet season. Showers during the morning and evening, but mainly clear during the day. But today it starts, mid-wet season, and the ants know it. The birds are loud but Namjoon can’t see them, aside from the white cockatoo on the outside table. They love the rain.
But once it turns to evening and even the last of them is gone, Namjoon knows tonight’s rain will be rough.
Yoongi is still drawing his weird nest ideas at the table, and if he notices anything weird about Namjoon going around the house and switching off all the power outlets, he says nothing. Thunder rolls across the sky but the rain is still light and there’s no lightning.
Namjoon bolts the storeroom door shut.
By the time he gets back to the kitchen, Yoongi is watching him. Watches Namjoon secure all the doors, moving as quick as he can over the flyscreen, and then closing all the windows. The sky has darkened considerably by now. The storm is really coming.
“Everything okay, Namjoon?” Yoongi asks, frowning a little when Namjoon doesn’t respond. “Hey.”
“Sorry,” Namjoon is shivering, even though it’s the middle of summer. “There’s a storm coming, and I just—I’m nervous.”
“Don’t be,” Yoongi says. “Come sit down.”
“No, I—I think I’m gonna go to bed, actually,” Namjoon says. “Sorry.”
Namjoon doesn’t turn back to the bird god at all, instead retreating to his room. Namjoon used to love storms, he really did, but he can’t anymore. He doesn’t mind the rain or the clouds, but once the thunder claps start getting louder and heavier, rattling his window pain, Namjoon is burrowing under his blankets and trying to block it out.
It was storming when they died.
The thunder is so loud Namjoon doesn’t hear his bedroom door creak open, and he definitely doesn’t hear anyone padding across the tiles towards him.
He doesn’t notice anything, in fact, until the mattress dips. Namjoon startles, throwing off the blankets and is met with Yoongi watching him, lit up for a second in the lightning. “Hey,” he says.
“H-hey,” Namjoon says back, and when Yoongi takes his hand everything fades into that low hum of distant noise, the way it had when he first saw the god of birds in the distance. “Do you need something?”
“No, but I think you do,” Yoongi tells him, but there’s none of his usual roughness. He’s watching Namjoon like he always does; dark eyes roaming over his face, looking for something. “Are you okay?”
“Y-yeah,” Namjoon says, like he hadn’t just been hiding under the covers because of a thunderstorm. Like he doesn’t have this big, heavy thing under his ribs.
“I don’t know if you’re aware,” Yoongi deadpans, “but there’s a saying. ‘Eyes like a hawk’. Which, funnily enough, I happen to have.”
Namjoon doesn’t respond. Yoongi sighs.
“I’m here to serve you , Kim Namjoon,” Yoongi prods his arm. “Do you want to not be afraid of storms anymore? I can do that.”
I can do that, Yoongi says. The worst part is, Namjoon is so tempted. He’s so tempted to say, make me stop fearing them, make me stop remembering how they died, make me forget they’re gone.
“It’s not the storms,” Namjoon says, and he wants to turn away but Yoongi’s grip on his hand is strong. “I just—a bad thing happened in a storm, and now I just . . . I just kind of hate them, now.”
“What bad thing?” Yoongi asks, and he’s frowning, again, because he often is, but this time he looks a little softer. Like caution but a little warmer.
“I—” Namjoon hasn’t had to say the words before, ever. He heard the police and paramedics tell him over the phone, and he heard Namseon shouting them at him when they fought, but he’s never had to say them. Big strong Namseon was always the one explaining it to the relatives, the one explaining it at the funeral. Never Namjoon.
“They died,” he says instead. “In a storm.”
“How?” Yoongi asks, and Namjoon raises his free hand to cover his eyes.
“I don’t—” That heavy, sour feeling stretches up to his throat, behind his eyes. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Pretending it didn’t happen isn’t going to bring them back,” Yoongi says sternly.
“Yeah, but nothing will!” Namjoon snaps, tearing his hand away from Yoongi’s. He rolls onto his side, turning his back to the god. The sound of the storm returns instantly, with a thunderclap so loud it really sounds like the sky is breaking in two.
Nothing is going to bring Namjoon’s parents back. Absolutely nothing.
He’s never going to hear his father sit him underneath the big tree and tell him about the birds again. Never going to go to the beach and show him all the crabs he catches. He’s never going to watch his mother coax the rosellas towards her with some cut fruit, or help her plant the trees with tiny red flowers.
He’s never going to wake up in the grey mornings to his parents talking softly in the kitchen about things Namjoon never found out about. His mother isn’t around to do proper household repairs. His father isn’t around to cook them dinner. Even Namseon isn’t around to keep order. It’s just Namjoon.
The mattress dips again, and Namjoon half thinks Yoongi’s left the room. It’s not like he can hear much under the roar of the rain outside and the rattling of it against the tin roof. But then the sheets move and he realises Yoongi’s climbed in behind in.
“Shut up,” Yoongi tells him, very awkwardly spooning him from behind. He reaches over Namjoon’s side and grabs his hand again, holding it against Namjoon’s stomach. Sure enough, the sound of the storm fades again, melting into some lo-fi humming instead.
Namjoon expects Yoongi to ask another question, and lies there waiting for what feels like an eternity. Laying with Yoongi like this isn’t uncomfortable, but it is kind of weird. Yoongi hasn’t been especially touchy the entire time he’s been here, and the sudden change is making Namjoon choke on all the questions he wants to ask.
“What are you doing?” he whispers eventually.
“I was under the impression this is what humans do when they want to comfort someone,” Yoongi says. “Am I right?”
Namjoon, for all the conflicting emotions, smiles to himself. “Close, but not exactly.”
“Whatever,” Yoongi mumbles. “ I think it’s working.”
They’re silent for a bit, Namjoon thinks. The weird, sour thing is still in his chest, but he can breathe a little easier. Yoongi wanted to comfort him, and mistook hugging for spooning.
“Did you know,” Yoongi says after a while, “fairy wrens aren’t supposed to be this far north?”
Namjoon did know, but the instant he opens his mouth to answer, Yoongi talks over him.
“I don’t know why they’re here,” Yoongi admits. “They’re cunning little things, but they like it here. In this garden of yours.”
“My parents loved them,” Namjoon tells him, something in his throat burning.
Yoongi hums. “All the birds in your garden are very loved.”
The fairy wrens were always the favoured bird of Namjoon’s parents. So small, with that bright blue head. Namjoon’s parents were always careful never to give them food regularly, because it was important to them that birds never felt tethered, but sometimes, Namjoon’s mother would cut up an apple and wait for a rosella or parrot to fly onto her hand.
Namjoon remembers, one morning, his father sitting under the big tree in the rain, with a fairy wren perched on his knee. He’d been standing at the kitchen door, watching his old man and this tiny bird stare at each other, until the bird had enough and flew away into the bushes.
Fairy wrens aren’t the best birds. They’ve been labelled as some as ‘the least faithful birds’. Constantly precocious, sometimes pushing chicks from the nest. Namjoon brought it up with his parents, once, but they just shrugged it off.
“Good and bad doesn’t exist to birds,” his father had said. “It’s not fair to hold them to that.”
It’s still raining in the morning, but there’s no thunder or lightning. Namjoon is alone.
It must be early, because the room is washed in grey, and the birds are screaming. He can even hear the cockatoos cawing, and the tiny pin-prick scraping sounds of their talons on the outside table.
When he rolls over, he can see a warm yellow light bleeding through under his door. Yoongi must be awake already.
Then, Namjoon thinks—he will want to know about his parents. Namjoon will have to tell him what happened, and the god is going to look at him, in that way of his, and then Namjoon doesn’t know what he’ll do. What he’ll say. Will he tell Namjoon to quit moping, to man up and get his life back together? What’s he going to do ?
Namjoon could go back to sleep, with the rain and the low light, but he shouldn’t. He won’t.
Slowly, Namjoon extricates himself from his bed and shuffles to the kitchen.
Yoongi is sitting there, tipped back a little on the chair because he’s asleep, hands still loosely holding a cup of coffee. There’s another cup on the other side of the table where Namjoon usually sits. He doesn’t know how long it’s been there, and it’s probably gone cold, and something in Namjoon’s chest aches.
Yoongi startles awake when Namjoon sits down. He looks around for a second, confused, before his gaze settles on Namjoon and he relaxes, dropping his head back a bit. “Good morning,” he says to the ceiling.
“Morning,” Namjoon replies.
(There’s another one of those weights in his chest. Not sour, this time, but just as heavy.)
“Made you coffee,” Yoongi says, sitting back up. “Maybe it went cold. I was gonna wake you up but I fell asleep.”
“It’s okay.” Namjoon stares down at the dark liquid in his cup and chuckles to himself. Yoongi never puts milk in. Says it’s weird.
“So,” Yoongi says, very serious, but his eyes are already closed again. “You were upset last night.”
Namjoon scratches the back of his head. “Yeah. I’m sorry.”
Yoongi waves him away, still with closed eyes. “It’s fine.”
Namjoon braces himself for the I’d like an explanation, but it doesn’t come. When he finally looks up, he sees that the god has fallen asleep again.
The kettle clicks off, but Namjoon doesn’t move to get up.
It’s been raining all week, and Namjoon is getting antsy about being house-bound. It hasn’t stormed terribly since the last time, but the weather station on the television says it’s going to, and soon.
He knows it’s coming, but it still hurts.
“Why are you afraid of storms, Kim Namjoon?”
Yoongi isn’t looking at him when he asks it. He’s on his side of the couch, watching the weatherman narrate the weather across the rest of the state, hugging his legs to his chest.
And Namjoon—needs to tell him. Wants to, even.
“Me and my sister don’t— didn’t live here,” Namjoon starts. “She works in the city, and I was away at art school, and there was this storm .” Namjoon scowls to himself. “I don’t know what they were doing, exactly. They—they always used to watch storms. Or sit outside, under the trees. They were stupid.” Namjoon bites his lip. “They were so stupid .”
Yoongi reaches out for his hand, and Namjoon unfurls the tight fist he didn’t realise he’d made. “What happened next, Namjoon?”
Namjoon sucks in a breath, and it hurts. Everything hurts. Something old and sour settles in his throat. “I—I guess they were watching the storm at the flyscreen. Th-they always li-iked to, and th-then lightn-ning must have hit and—and it went ri-ight through the metal, a-and killed them.”
It hurts because Namjoon can see it, how stupidly in love his parents were. Old and grey and so fucking loving, holding hands at the flyscreen door, letting the rain spray them just a little bit, and then lightning came down and electrocuted them.
Namjoon and Namseon wouldn’t even hear about it until they’d been dead for days, after the storm had subsided enough for the neighbours to come check. The storeroom window had been blown out and his parents were dead at the door.
(He wonders sometimes if they’d died holding hands.)
Yoongi is sitting up, pulling him forward in a real hug, this time, and Namjoon presses his face into his shoulder, tries to breathe in the outside smell that always follows Yoongi, tries to feel anything other than that ugly thing that burns when he sobs and tightens when he breathes.
Life isn’t fair, he imagines saying to his dad, back when he was a child. How can it be fair?
But he says nothing, and lets Yoongi hum that sad, sad summoning song of his until he falls asleep.
The rain abates for a bit, and Namjoon and Yoongi use it to walk to the shops.
Namjoon doesn’t feel lighter, really, telling Yoongi what happened. Now he looks for pity in Yoongi’s watchful gaze, even if he can’t find it yet.
As they walk the birds seem to appear out of the trees to greet them. A sunbird briefly lands in Yoongi’s hair, who seems entirely unbothered by it. Namjoon hesitates, feeling gawky and silly, but eventually reaches out to scratch the tiny yellow bird’s head with a finger. Surprisingly, the bird lets him.
“What are you doing up there?” Yoongi grumbles, but keeps walking along fine. “My head isn’t a petting zoo.”
“Looks like a bird’s nest, though.”
Grocery shopping is slow, and people keep looking at Yoongi, since he’s the only one around here with bright blue hair, but he is dressed like the rest of them; baggy t-shirt and loose, thin shorts. Barefoot, of course.
Namjoon works on picking out vegetables while Yoongi rushes off and keeps dropping packets of seeds and nuts into the basket. Namjoon doesn’t mind, not really, but he can’t get over the weird way Yoongi runs, dragging his feet and sticking out his arms a bit. Namjoon isn’t sure if it’s okay to call a god cute, but it is cute. Terribly cute.
He doesn’t say anything, though. Whatever quiet friendship he and Yoongi have formed over the past few weeks isn’t something Namjoon is willing to mess with.
By the time they’re ready to go, Yoongi has discovered the Christmas section. Everything is all white and green and red, attempting to be frosty like it isn’t constantly hot.
“What’s all this stuff?” Yoongi asks.
“It’s for Christmas,” Namjoon says, shrugging. “My family never really celebrated it.”
Yoongi’s eyes roam all the decorations until they settle on some biscuit tin depicting the birth of Christ. “Who's the baby?”
“That’s Jesus,” Namjoon supplies. “You know, son of God?”
Yoongi’s face scrunches up. “Your religions are weird.”
“Yeah,” Namjoon agrees. “Kind of weird how all the white people have a god that looks like them, though.”
“No, no, that’s not the weird part,” Yoongi mutters. “Gods look like whoever summons them. It’s why I look like you. The weird part is how you . . . put him on food.”
“Yeah, there’s a whole thing about that,” Namjoon continues. “I don’t know . . . I don’t like that people have taken this image of him and forced people who look, act and feel different to believe in Him.”
Yoongi pulls another face. “And what do humans believe about their God?”
Namjoon sucks on his teeth, thinking. “Depends. Apparently He loves all of us, and if we spend our lives doing things that please Him we get to live forever in heaven, or something.”
“Odd flex, but okay,” Yoongi scoffs, turning away. “Is this your only religion?”
“No, no, not at all.” Namjoon leads them back towards the cashiers. “That’s just Christianity. There’s other ones like Buddhism, Taoism, Shintoism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, uh . . . they’re all the ones I can think of right now.”
“And you’re part of which?”
“None,” Namjoon starts unloading the groceries onto the conveyor belt. “My parents were Buddhist, I think, but they never made us anything. Well, they loved to tell us Dreamtime stories, but that was because they loved them.”
“Oh, I know about those,” Yoongi says, smiling. “I was told about that, last time I was around here.”
Namjoon can’t even begin to fathom how long ago that must have been. Yoongi would have looked different, too, and probably had a different, more appropriate name.
“Which ones do you know?”
“Hmm. The blood tree. The rainbow serpent,” Yoongi starts to list them on his fingers. Namjoon tries to keep listening but he has to pay the cashier, a tired-looking girl. Yoongi is still listing them as he helps carry the bags. “They’re all the ones I can remember.”
“Wow,” Namjoon says. “ Wow. ”
Yoongi smiles, but then draws into himself. “Now you know how old I am.”
“Well, you said it yourself. Birds used to be dinosaurs.”
Yoongi rolls his eyes. “Of course they did. Ah, times were simpler, back then. Not a phone in sight, just lizards living in the moment.”
Namjoon almost cries with laughter.
They talk so much Namjoon forgets to go to the bottle shop.
It’s late, the rain is back, and they’re watching some exaggerated, late-night romance movie. The interesting movies have been and gone, and now it’s some 90s soap. Yoongi has been diligently eating his way through a packet of sunflower seeds until now, peeling off the skin with his teeth and then dropping them back in the bowl. Namjoon might have grown up seeing rosellas and cockatoos do the same thing with their beaks, but he’s having a bit of an identity crisis as he watches Yoongi do it.
He’s barely watching the movie until Yoongi slaps his arm to get his attention. The two mains are in bed, obviously about to start kissing, but they’re holding each other. “That’s the thing!” Yoongi says. “I was doing that! To you!”
It’s at that moment that the two actors start kissing, and Yoongi pauses. He looks at Namjoon. “Humans do that? On the mouth ?”
Namjoon grimaces. He doesn’t want to have this conversation. “Yes.”
Yoongi looks a little bit horrified. “But you eat with your mouth.”
“Yeah, well.” Namjoon’s never tried to defend kissing. “I mean, birds preen each other.”
“That’s different,” Yoongi says. “They’re not putting their beaks on each other.” The actors are really playing it up, in a way Namjoon’s kind of concerned about on a family channel, late at night or not.
“Well, humans don’t do mating dances.”
“Then what’s that they’re doing?” Yoongi says, and Namjoon hates this movie. The actors are moving from kissing to some weird missionary arrangement, even though the woman still has some lacy undergarment thing on and the man has a nightshirt.
“That’s not dancing.”
“Fuckin’ oath it’s not,” Yoongi swears, chewing through his sunflower seeds in thought. “Looks terrible. Who came up with that ?”
The actors say some cheesy line about keeping each other warm, and then the scene cuts and it falls into a commercial break. Yoongi sets his bowl down with finality, before he turns to Namjoon.
“Humans do that ?” he hisses. “On the”—he makes vague gestures around his own mouth, which is currently sprinkled with seed crumbs—"mouth?”
“Yeah.” Namjoon has never hated his own species more. “It’s, uh. Very appealing. To humans.”
Yoongi sits back at that. “Why?”
“I don’t know!” Namjoon insists. “It just is!”
“Is it appealing to you ?” Yoongi asks, back to giving him that look, even though it looks a little disgusted, for once. When Namjoon doesn’t answer Yoongi grins a little. “It is, isn’t it?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“It’s all on your face, Kim Namjoon,” Yoongi says smugly. He makes some exaggerated, disgusted noise. “ Ew. ”
“Don’t make fun of me!” Namjoon snaps. “I don’t think laying eggs is very appealing.”
“Humans have to lay babies ,” Yoongi reminds him. He looks awfully smug. “Is that—that mouth thing even good? Who came up with that?”
Namjoon rubs at his face roughly. He’s embarrassed, for some reason. “It’s called kissing. Yes, it’s pretty nice. No, I don’t know who came up with it.”
Yoongi starts shuffling towards him, looking awfully interested. “Can we kiss?”
“ What?” Namjoon shrieks. “What? No—no, no, no.”
Yoongi rolls his eyes. “You said it was nice .”
“Yeah, but it’s like—” Namjoon struggles to find a cultural equivalent for kissing and birds. “It’s like, the start of, like, the mating dance.”
It’s probably the cringiest thing Namjoon’s ever said.
Yoongi pulls a face. “Is it mating if we’re both guys?”
“Wh—what kind of a question is that?” Namjoon’s yelling now, properly mortified, and Yoongi flops back to his corner of the couch dejectedly.
“ Kissing,” Yoongi tries out the word, then grimaces. “Sounds gross.”
It is for no one’s benefit that Namjoon doesn’t forget about how Yoongi asked to kiss him.
Yoongi is outside again.
It’s still grey and green, and everything is still a sweaty kind of wet from the morning rain and the muggy weather. The back of Yoongi’s shirt—one of Namjoon’s—is plastered to his skin. There’s a white cockatoo at his side, occasionally screaming to get his attention.
Namjoon doesn’t know what he’s doing. The architecture textbook is here on the kitchen table, all the papers still layered between the pages.
“Yoongi?” he calls, stepping outside. The cockatoo beside him side looks at Namjoon and squawks threateningly. “What’re you doing?”
“I’m thinking about the logistics of kissing,” Yoongi says. “With the aid of my very helpful subjects.”
“Are you shoving two birds together and considering that a kiss?”
“. . . maybe.”
The god spins around at him, and Namjoon can see there’s a rosella in each hand. “What?”
“Kissing wouldn’t work with beaks anyway,” Namjoon says. Those poor rosellas are looking right at him. “You should let them go.”
“They said they wanted to help,” Yoongi assures him. “Look.”
He moves the two birds closer together, and they lean forward and bump beaks. It makes a soft clack, and is pretty useless, but Yoongi looks very pleased with himself.
“Congratulations,” Namjoon says, watching the white cockatoo lean up and bump beaks with the nearest rosella. “You’re teaching your subjects new and unnecessary behaviours.”
Yoongi rolls his eyes and releases the birds. They crawl over his fingertips for a few moments before they fly back to the trees. “I doubt it, but whatever.” Namjoon watches him slap his thighs a few times to dust off his hands, and something tugs in the back of his throat. It’s Namjoon that does that. All the time.
“Are you hungry?” Namjoon asks, and Yoongi nods. “Okay. I’ll get some food on.”
“Hey, Namjoon?” Yoongi asks, just as he turns away. When he looks back, Yoongi is weirdly drawn in, in a way Namjoon’s never seen him before. “You know—you know the birds leave at the end of the rains, right?”
“Oh,” replies Namjoon. Yoongi nods, wrings his hands together and looks away. “Y-yeah. Yeah, I know that. Why do you ask?”
“It’s just—when they leave,” Yoongi starts, “I have to leave with them.”
Oh, thinks Namjoon.
It’s raining. Not heavily, but enough. The sky is grey and the grass is so, so green. Water runs off the big, wide leaves of the fig tree and the ferns in the garden in rivulets.
Yoongi is standing at the flyscreen door. A little ways off, never touching, and Namjoon thinks that might just be because of what he told him. About how his parents were standing a little more forward than where he stands now, and how the lightning came out of nowhere and just—got them. In one go.
Namjoon studies back and he remembers his mother telling him, the birds are just here for the rains, Namjoonie. Don’t try and make them stay.
When he goes to sleep at night, Namjoon feels the weight of the wish on his tongue. Stay, he wants to say. Wants to pair it with something like don’t leave me or I’d be so lonely without you, and maybe, you are the only person left in the world that knows I’m here.
Yoongi is very good at standing still, so Namjoon can watch him for ages. The small god stares out into the back yard, unmoving, and Namjoon wishes—
Too many things.
I wish my parents didn’t die.
I wish Namseon never left.
I wish I wasn’t here.
I wish you’d stay.
But Namjoon says nothing. It’s not fair. Just like his parents never let him own a pet bird, it isn’t fair to wish for Yoongi to stay. They’re not meant to be caged.
Birds have wings so they can fly.
“What happens when people die?” Namjoon asks one evening. They’re on the couch. It’s Christmas day. The end of it, that is. He and Yoongi have been watching the Christmas rom-coms on TV, and the jovial nature of it all has Namjoon looking inwards.
Yoongi sighs. “It’s complicated.”
“Do you—” Namjoon pauses for a bit, trying to force the sticky words out. “Do you think they’re okay?”
Yoongi doesn’t respond for a moment. When Namjoon turns to him, he’s bathed in the bright lights of the televised commercials and looking—old. In a way Namjoon hasn’t seen him before.
“Yes,” Yoongi says, eventually. “I should think they passed in peace. They raised their son and daughter into good people, and everything around them knows they were loved. You said they liked to watch storms, didn’t you? I think it isn’t the saddest way to die.”
The heavy feeling is back, but it feels bitter and old.
“Do you think so, too?” Yoongi asks him, and his voice is deep and soft and gentle, lost in the gloom of the room.
“Yeah,” Namjoon admits. “Even though they’re—”
“They’re gone,” Yoongi finishes for him. He shuffles along the couch until they’re pressed together. “Sometimes . . . you have to appreciate that they were here, they loved you, and now they’re gone.”
They were, they loved, they left.
“I miss them,” Namjoon admits. Yoongi is so much smaller than him, but their hands are the same size. “I miss them so much.”
“I know,” Yoongi says.
“They—they loved us so much,” Namjoon keeps going, coughing into the back of his hand when the words get tangled up in the knot in his throat. “A-and now me and Namseon don’t talk anymore, and I’m just here , and—” and soon, you’ll leave too, Namjoon almost says.
Yoongi takes his hand and leans against his shoulder, and Namjoon feels like he will miss them until he dies.
It’s the first clear day in a long while, but Namjoon is still in bed.
He has to make a wish.
He looks out the bedroom window and he can see Yoongi lying on the grass outside, belly-up and bored in the heat. Birds are preening his hair again, and pecking at his hands.
Namjoon wishes he had some friends to introduce him to. Someone more interesting than Namjoon, someone better than Namjoon, but he doesn’t. He cut all contact with his university friends very suddenly, and he hasn’t yet found the will to reach out again. It’s been a year, anyway. They’ve probably forgotten about him eventually.
One day, Yoongi will forget about Namjoon, too.
What is Namjoon going to do, when Yoongi’s gone? The house will be emptier than ever. The backyard will be full of birds, but not of Yoongi.
God, what is Namjoon going to do?
“Hey,” Yoongi walks back in, several hours later, when Namjoon has dragged himself to the kitchen table. “Do you want fish for dinner?”
“Uh,” Namjoon says, “yeah. Sure.”
“Great.” Yoongi says. “Come with me.”
Namjoon is confused, but he follows after the guy just the same. Yoongi takes his hand and leads him into the trees in the backyard, and Namjoon realises.
They’re going to the beach.
The trees are dark, and the birds are louder than ever. Namjoon doesn’t quite remember the path through, but Yoongi seems to navigate it fine. Soon the mess of undergrowth turns into a dirt path, and Yoongi glances back at him, grinning.
Namjoon grins back on instinct.
The stretch of beach Namjoon lives near isn’t exactly picturesque, nor is it fit for swimming. The waves are turbulent at the best of times, usually full of dangerous jellyfish, and in general, more suited to fishing than anything else.
But it’s their beach. Namjoon and his family’s.
Namjoon stops in the sand and looks out onto the waves. The air smells like salt and brine and Namjoon swears he keeps hearing his dad call out for him in the wind. Like if he turns around he’ll be there. Namjoonie, let’s go home, or, show dad your crabs.
He does look back, just once, but there’s nothing around them except for the stretching coastline.
“Come on,” Yoongi tugs on his hand. “I’m hungry.”
Namjoon lets the god tug him down further for a few minutes, until the trees get a little taller and the sea is a little rougher. Yoongi holds out his arm and after a few seconds, a huge grey sea eagle dives towards them, landing on Yoongi’s hand.
Namjoon realises very belatedly that eagles are huge .
“Are you hungry?” Yoongi asks, but Namjoon can’t answer, his mouth suddenly too dry. The eagle looks at him the exact same way Yoongi does; big dark eyes searching for something.
“Y-yeah,” Namjoon stutters. “Sure.”
Yoongi gives the eagle a look, and the huge grey bird lifts itself off his arm and disappears over the water.
“She said she’ll get you two,” Yoongi says, shoving his hands in his pockets while he waits.
“Do you—is this what you do?” Namjoon asks, meaning to look for the eagle in the distant sky, but his eyes don’t quite leave Yoongi’s face and the way the sea wind is blowing the blue hair off his face.
“I can usually do it myself,” Yoongi says, “but I’m kind of bound to this form right now, so yeah.”
Namjoon finds himself studying the profile of the god’s face instead of much else. There’s nothing particularly birdlike about him. His features are small; eyes, nose, mouth. In stature too, it feels like the vast majority of his body is from the waist up. His skinny legs swim in Namjoon’s too-big shorts. Perhaps that is birdlike about him. A bird’s wings are their arms and hands, after all.
“Have you ever been summoned as, like, a bird?”
“Oh, yeah,” Yoongi says. “Lots of times, a long time ago.”
“What did you look like then? You weren’t created in their image in that situation, were you?”
“No, no, of course not.” Yoongi scowls, probably remembering. “It was always things like a white eagle, or a black dove. Or, even a two-headed swan.”
“Do birds summon you?”
“No, that’s not how it works.” Yoongi puffs out his cheeks as he thinks. “Humans summon me. But I exist for the birds. You follow?”
“Maybe that’s for the best,” Yoongi gives him a wan smile. The big grey sea eagle is coming back, and when Yoongi holds out his hands, palm up, the bird drops two fish into it. Decent sized ones, too.
“She’ll get us another one,” Yoongi says. He holds out the still-wriggling fish to Namjoon. “Eat up.”
“Uh.” Namjoon hesitantly pinches it by the tail fin. “I prefer them cooked.”
Yoongi rolls his eyes, whacks the fish a few times on his leg, and then bites into it like a goddamn savage.
The fish is actually quite nice, once Namjoon cooks it. He’s not going to pretend he’s the best cook out there, but he does know how to fillet a fish and stick it in a pan. Yoongi makes fun of him the whole time, especially when he makes sure there’s no bones left in it.
“It was a mistake to teach humans about fire,” Yoongi mumbles as Namjoon cooks. He doesn’t tell Yoongi about all the times in his life he’s attempted to cook and burned himself terribly.
“Didn’t the guy who gave humans fire, like, get eaten by crows on a rock?”
“Eh,” Yoongi shrugs. “I don’t control what crows do, so, probably. Humans have been chaining each other to rocks for a long time, anyway. I know you say ‘bird brain’ is an insult, but they’re good at finding easy meals.”
“Does that mean you are, too?”
“Uh, yeah? I ask and I fucking receive. Talk about having brownie points with your subjects.” The speed at which Yoongi has picked up slang is probably alarming, but Namjoon, like with most things about him, chalks it up to his godliness.
“How long have you—well, you know.”
Yoongi doesn’t respond in favour of watching Namjoon use his chopsticks to start eating the fish. He put some rice on, but he’s too hungry to wait and eat it together. “No, I don’t know.”
“Well,” Namjoon starts, “how long have you been a god?”
“ Oh,” Yoongi says. He sits back in his chair and thinks about it for a bit, counting on his fingers until he gets to ten and then apparently gets lost. “I dunno.”
“A long time,” Yoongi says instead. “A very long time. Like, before flowering plants evolved long time.”
Namjoon pauses eating to look at him. Yoongi is staring right back at him, with the same intent as that sea eagle. Yoongi has always been too small and sweet-faced to be intimidating, but suddenly the vast, immortal nature of a god is a hard pill to swallow.
(Flowers evolved 125 million years ago.)
“You’re old ,” Namjoon says, and smirks when Yoongi looks offended. “You’re so old .”
“Shut up!” Yoongi hisses. “Age doesn’t apply to me.”
“Whatever you say, grandpa,” Namjoon gloats, and Yoongi huffs, crossing his arms and looking away. “You’re this old and you didn’t know what kissing was.”
“Yeah, because kissing is gross .” Yoongi shivers. “Mouths are gross, and you big stupid monkeys just go and stick them together.”
“Some people even like to put their tongue in other people’s mouths,” Namjoon tells him, and the colour falls out of Yoongi’s face.
“That’s disgusting,” he says, dropping his head into his hands. “ Ew .”
“They call it french-kissing,” Namjoon says thoughtfully, enjoying how grossed-out Yoongi looks. “My parents used to call it ‘pashing’, though.”
“Not better.” Yoongi stares at the table. “That’s not better at all.”
“It just gets worse from there,” Namjoon says, and Yoongi holds up a hand to stop him.
“There’s a limit to what I need and want to know about humans,” he says. “So shut your big fleshy beak.”
Namjoon leans against the doorframe. Yoongi is in the garden again, laying on his back. Birds keep coming to see what he’s doing and he has to shoo them away. He only stops once a gaggle of young fairy wrens settle on his stomach, still brown and their feathers a bit messy where their adult feathers are growing through.
It occurs to Namjoon that Yoongi has probably been doing this forever. Not laying around as a human, but just—doting on his birds. All the time. The mother hen of all mother hens.
“Having fun out there?” Namjoon calls to him. Yoongi gives him the finger, probably so he can avoid speaking and disturbing the comfortable birds.
Yoongi loves his birds just as much as they love him.
So, Namjoon decides.
He has to make a wish.
It’s New Year’s Eve, and their small town is suddenly bustling with activity. It’s the summer holidays now, so all the kids are back and the out-of-towners are back in their holiday houses. When Namjoon stands outside he can hear the distant cheers of people having gatherings. The air has smelled like barbeque all day. Namjoon is thinking about his New Year’s resolution.
“Why aren’t you cooking what they’re cooking?” Yoongi mopes. He’s currently tugging on the neck of his t-shirt an attempt to cool himself, but Namjoon knows it’s impossible. They’re in the middle of a heatwave, and last he checked, it was 90% humidity. The fans are whirring in every room, but they’re not helping at all.
“I can’t use a barbeque,” Namjoon admits. Yoongi winces.
“Can you go ask them for some food?”
“ Yoongi ,” Namjoon hisses, and Yoongi rolls his eyes. “No, I can’t do that.”
Yoongi throws himself over the back of his chair and groans loudly. “But it smells so good .”
“Well, give me your rice if you’re busy being ungrateful,” Namjoon says, but the god snatches the bowl away from him, holding it close. “That’s what I thought.”
“Can I eat a gecko today?”
“Come on , isn’t this some human holiday? I want to celebrate.”
“You already ate so much lamb,” Namjoon reminds him. “How are you still hungry?”
“At this rate I’ll have to eat stones , though,” Yoongi grumbles.
“Go eat them, then,” Namjoon says. “Isn’t that good for birds?”
Yoongi glares at him. “You suck.”
“Yeah, it’s a feature afforded to me by having lips. Must suck to be a bird with a beak.”
Yoongi sighs. “One day, you humans and your”—his hand makes weird shapes in front of his mouth, like he’s looking for the right word—“manipulate-able mouth cavity—”
Namjoon starts laughing.
“Shut up! One day you’ll go extinct and realise the beak is a much more sustainable adaptation!”
Namjoon keeps laughing, and Yoongi messes up his hair angrily. “You and your stupid primate sense of humour. No respect.”
They go on like that, back and forth, until it’s nearly midnight. Yoongi migrated to the couch once he saw the 8PM fireworks start, and Namjoon joins him a bit after. Every now and then, the New Year’s broadcast is interrupted with shots of people celebrating in the city.
“Are they drinking . . .” Yoongi squints as he looks at the screen. “Alcohol?”
“Yeah,” Namjoon says. “To get drunk and party.”
Something kind of evil passes over Yoongi’s face. “I’ll get the mangoes.”
Three mangoes for Yoongi and four beers later for Namjoon, Yoongi is edging into the tipsy side of drunk. Namjoon knows it makes the lorikeets drunk, but he didn’t think it would affect a god.
Drunk, Yoongi is clingy. Namjoon knows he likes contact, but he really likes it when he’s like this. The pale skin of his face is flushed red, and Namjoon isn’t exactly sober enough to stop looking at it.
He’s not exactly keeping track of the conversation, either. It slips through his fingers the instant he stops concentrating. Yoongi’s head is heavy on Namjoon’s shoulder, and his hands feel warmer than usual.
“What do people do, on New Year’s?” Yoongi asks, voice muffled where his mouth is half-pressed against the skin of Namjoon’s arm.
“I dunno.” The presenters are talking about all the things that have happened in the last year. This year does feel better than it had last year. Last year, he sat here alone and nothing could stop the strangling feeling. But this year is better. Much better. “Kiss, I guess.”
“Gross,” Yoongi mutters. The small count-down in the corner of the TV’s screen reads 2:21. “Kiss me for New Year’s.”
It gets closer and closer to midnight, and Namjoon barely thinks about what he’s agreed to. The room smells like mango and that vaguer, hot day smell, and Yoongi always smells like the outside.
And then it’s midnight.
It’s midnight and there’s fireworks on the television. It’s midnight and people are cheering outside. It’s midnight and everything smells like mango and sweat and the moist, tropical plant smell, and Min Yoongi the god of birds is looking right at him.
“Happy New Year,” Namjoon says, hearing it more on the inside of his ears than the outside, and leans down to kiss Yoongi.
It was never just going to be a peck, not when the god’s lips are still sticky and sweet with mango, and Yoongi’s cheek is so easy to hold in Namjoon’s palm. Not when the god meets him in the middle, messy and overeager.
It was never going to be just a kiss, when the small bird god’s lips make something in Namjoon’s tired bones dissolve.
Namjoon can’t really hear the TV anymore, not as much as he can hear Yoongi sighing out his nose, like he’s waited for this the same shy, buried way Namjoon has.
Maybe they should have stopped by now, but they haven’t. Namjoon is holding Yoongi’s much smaller face in both hands, and he can feel the other’s clenched fists against his chest, tugging him closer by the flimsy cotton of his singlet. He’s so light, Namjoon realises, even though he looks like a man he’s just feathers and hollow bones. Yoongi is so light but his kisses feel like the weight of the world, winding him.
Yoongi gasps suddenly, and Namjoon licks the mango juice off his bottom lip. Sucks on it when Yoongi makes the same strangled noise as the start of a blue-winged kookaburra call.
“Namjoon,” Yoongi says, kissing him harder, a little too eager, so their noses bump together. There’s a scalding hand on his neck, the thumb resting in the divot of his collarbones, the human wishbone.
Namjoon hums, sliding a hand into the god’s bright blue hair and kissing down his chin when Yoongi leans back into it. He presses his lips to the bumps along the god’s throat, smiling when he feels them jump as Yoongi gasps.
He’s leaning too far back so Yoongi wraps his arms around Namjoon’s neck and he’s still so light, so weightless that Namjoon doesn’t need hold him around the waist but he wants to, trying to twist around at the same time so they can be closer.
“Is that kissing?” Yoongi asks him breathlessly as Namjoon starts mouthing at his collarbone.
“Yeah,” Namjoon says.
“Not as good.” Yoongi leans back and tugs Namjoon down with him so they can fit their lips together again. They kiss until Yoongi gets brave and opens his mouth, giggling when their tongues touch.
They kiss until Namjoon can barely feel his lips. They kiss until they’re lying together on the couch. They kiss and Yoongi says “Happy New Year, Namjoon”. They kiss until they fall asleep.
Namjoon wakes up with a headache. There’s something ringing, and if it weren’t for the muscle memory of slamming his alarm off, he probably would have let it ring out. He has to reach over someone to get to the phone on the table, only to realise that someone is calling him.
“Hello?” Namjoon says into the phone, flopping back onto the couch. It’s Yoongi, still asleep next to him. He’s scowling a bit, half-waking up.
“Hey,” someone says on the other end of the line, hesitant. “Hey, Namjoon. It’s, um. It’s Namseon.”
“O-oh,” Namjoon suddenly feels very, very awake. “Hey. Why’d you call?”
“I wanted to tell you Happy New Year,” his sister says. “And to, y’know. Check up on you.”
Yoongi is blinking awake next to him. Namjoon wants to tell him to go to back to sleep but he’s kind of hyperfixated on the phone call. Namseon is calling him after nearly a whole year of radio silence, and Namjoon doesn’t exactly know what to do.
“Oh, uh. Thank you,” Namjoon says, and even though she can’t see him, Namjoon feels awkward to his bones. “Happy New Year to you too.”
“Thanks.” Namseon pauses. There’s some tinkering in the background of her call, probably someone having breakfast in the room with her. “How have you been?”
“Yeah, good.” Yoongi squints up at him expectantly. My sister, Namjoon mouths to him. “Yourself?”
“ Yeah. Good.” Namseon isn’t exactly talkative, but she’s usually a better conversationalist than this. “Did you—did you go back to uni, or are you still at home?”
“Nah, at home.” Namjoon would feel more pathetic if Yoongi wasn’t tugging his arm to a position where he can lay on it like a pillow. It’s gonna go numb soon, but Namjoon lets him have it. “What have you been up to?”
“Just. Things.” Namseon says. “Moved houses. Got a raise. Same old, same old.”
“Wow. That’s—that’s great, Namseon. Good on you.”
“Thanks.” There’s a pregnant pause that Namjoon knows he should break, but he can’t bring himself to. The TV is still on from last night, since he forgot to turn it off, and Yoongi is slowly rolling over so he can get up.
“Have you been all right, Namjoonie?” Namseon asks, very gently, because their parents taught them both to be gentle, if nothing else.
On the phone, Namseon sounds like his mother.
“I—” There’s a lot Namjoon can say. No, yes, maybe, I’m doing better. “It’s been rough,” he says. “But I guess it was like that for both of us.”
“Yeah,” Namseon sighs. “Well, it was nice talking to you, Namjoon. Take care of yourself, okay? Call me if you need help.”
“Yeah, nice to hear from you,” Namjoon says, and suddenly he feels very empty. “Have a good day. Bye.”
He has to stare at the call ended screen of his phone for a few seconds. Does this mean he and his sister are on good terms, now? Namjoon doesn’t know if he believes it. They’d screamed the house down, that day. Namseon wanted to sell the house and split the earnings, but Namjoon said no. He said no to a lot of things that, in retrospect, he could have agreed to, like selling the car, or paying someone to cut down stuff in the garden. Reasonable things, because Namjoon can’t drive and he can’t manage a garden as big as theirs on his own, nor can they afford to pay a gardener to do it for them. But back then, Namjoon was so caught up and so overwhelmed he said no to everything, because he was petrified of the change that would happen without his parents.
It happened anyway. Maybe it will always happen.
“You all right over there?” Yoongi asks loudly, snapping Namjoon out of it. The god’s hair is a bird’s nest again, sticking up wildly all over his head. Something in Namjoon’s chest pinches fondly.
“Yeah,” he says. “Fine.”
Namjoon crouches down above Yoongi. The god is laying spread-eagle in the grass. There were birds coming to investigate him but they flew away when Namjoon approached.
“Stay there,” Yoongi says. His eyes are closed. Maybe he’s trying to nap. “You have good shade.”
Namjoon glances up at the sky. It’s dark and low again, clouded over with oncoming rain. “It’s not sunny.”
“Well, if you just want to pick a fight, you can go back inside,” Yoongi deadpans. He squints up at Namjoon, everything about him still sleepy around the edges. “Why’re you out here, by the way?”
“Oh!” Namjoon says. “I called a glazier to come put some glass in the window.”
Yoongi does this thing, sometimes, where his smile grows very slowly. Namjoon likes to watch it. It gets bigger and bigger until he can see the god’s gums and his eyes crinkle up with excitement. “Really?”
“Yeah,” Namjoon feels a bit embarrassed by how happy Yoongi looks. “I just thought you’d want to know.”
“Let’s celebrate,” Yoongi says. “Kiss me in celebration.”
“Humans don’t kiss every time there’s a celeb—”
“Kiss me in celebration !” Yoongi demands, and it’s not like Namjoon’s gonna say no, so he bends down and pecks the god on the lips, upside down and feeling a little bit like that one scene from Spiderman.
Yoongi smiles. “Does this mean you’re gonna stop accidentally summoning gods?”
“I have a whole lifetime of that ahead of me,” Namjoon says, poking Yoongi’s forehead.
Once the new window is in, Namjoon is left to realise he never really imagined getting this far. It’s a single pane of glass, so if they have a cyclone he’ll have to figure out a way to give it some support, but he didn’t want anything to obscure the bottles. Yoongi helps to arrange them, but it’s slow work, since Namjoon has to try and saw some down the middle so the row is stable.
“What exactly is this going to do?” Yoongi asks, fed up with Namjoon’s vague answers.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” Namjoon admits. “It’s kind of dumb, but I feel like I have to do it at this stage, or I’ll never be happy. Or something.”
“Look, I’m not an expert,” Yoongi says, handing him a bottle, “but the public opinion about people who make these sort of things is not that great.”
“Oh, yeah,” Namjoon says, stacking the bottle. “Pretentious hippy influencer. That’s my dream job.”
“That sounds disgusting,” Yoongi says, face pinched like he’s bitten into something sour.
“You said that about kissing, and now look at you.”
“No, but like, actually gross,” Yoongi insists. “What was that video called? You ?”
“Don’t you dare quote it,” Namjoon starts, but Yoongi ignores him.
“You were buying celery,” he drawls in a terrible American accent, “I was buying rosé.”
“I think you’re the best painter in the world.”
“Don’t invade my safe space!” Namjoon hisses. “ You’ve been to LA, haven’t you? As a bird? Is there something in the water that makes people like that?”
“Nope,” Yoongi says. “Birds are fine. I guess I’ll ask Jungkook about the people next time I see him.”
“ Eh.” Yoongi pulls a face, clearly mulling it over. “He’s the young god of people I told you about. Currently at the top, but only because he got gods like war and stuff to support him.”
“Do you think he regrets it?”
“Probably a little,” Yoongi says. “But I think he’s hopeful. I mean, the first thing he wanted to give you guys was a sense of compassion.”
“Oh,” Namjoon says. “That’s—that’s nice of him.”
“Yeah,” Yoongi says.
“So, should I like, pray to Jungkook when I need him now, or . . .?”
“Don’t call him Jungkook,” Yoongi says. “He’s your god. He doesn’t have a name, to you.”
“Why’d you call him that, then?”
“Because I call him Jungkook,” Yoongi rolls his eyes. “Know your place, vile homo sapien.”
“Call me by my real name, Pretentious Hippy Influencer. Mr Influencer was my father.”
The kissing thing starts and buds and grows. Yoongi asks for kisses to celebrate everything he can, despite Namjoon repeatedly telling him it’s not a human custom. It’s always a good morning, Namjoon, you woke up just as the kettle boiled. Kiss to celebrate. Or sometimes, I watched all the way through this cringey YouTube video. Kiss me to celebrate my inner strength.
Sometimes Namjoon will talk his way around it, just to see how bad Yoongi wants it. It’s usually a choose a spot where to get a kiss and Yoongi snapping human fool, just kiss me multiple times.
Namjoon does, of course, but he likes to know Yoongi isn’t just doing it because he thinks it’s a thing humans do. Kissing to celebrate turns into kiss me goodnight and kiss me good morning and, more often, Yoongi kissing Namjoon on the cheek and demanding one in return.
It’s cute, Namjoon thinks. Yoongi never gets flustered, exactly, but it’s obvious kissing makes him happy. It makes Namjoon happy too, seeing Yoongi shuffle away, pink-faced and puffy-cheeked, after a kiss, looking like a mixture of smug and content.
“I’ve decided,” Yoongi says one February evening, “having a mouth is probably equally as good as a beak.”
“That’s a big statement.”
“I know,” Yoongi says. “That’s why it took me over a month to say it.”
“What made you change your mind?”
“Well, after a month of careful research,” the bird god says, “with the aid of very helpful subjects, I’ve decided that beaks are not as good in the whole ‘celebrating’ thing, but still better at eating.”
“Kissing is not just for celebrating.”
“Celebrating simple zest for life,” Yoongi insists.
“No, it’s really not—”
“Oh, wow, I didn’t realise there was another god in here,” Yoongi snaps. “God of bullshit .”
Namjoon rolls his eyes. “You don’t need an excuse to kiss. You just kiss when you want to.”
“Never seen you kiss that old man at the bottle shop,” Yoongi says matter-of-factly. “So, your rule doesn’t stand.”
“Well, me and Sukwon aren’t exactly in that kind of relationship.”
Yoongi squints. “So, you can’t just kiss anyone you want?”
“Believe me, I don’t want to kiss Sukwon.” Namjoon shivers at the thought. “Yikes.”
“Well, you’re the only person I’m around,” Yoongi mutters, “how am I meant to understand this thing? Birds preen everyone.”
“But they don’t mate with everyone, do they?”
“That’s disgusting, don’t say that to me ever again.”
“ Yoongi ,” Namjoon insists, barely swallowing his laughter. The god’s face looks stormy at best. “It’s the same. I told you, remember? It’s kind of like”—Namjoon braces for the cringe—“the start of the, like, mating ritual.”
Yoongi grimaces. “There’s a lot of grey area between bird species for that, you know.”
“I thought lots of birds were monogamous.”
“They are,” Yoongi says, “but fairy wrens aren’t.”
“I know fairy wrens aren’t exactly the most honourable of birds,” Namjoon starts, and then corrects with “to human standards” when Yoongi raises an eyebrow. “But humans are traditionally monogamous.”
“For how long?”
“Well . . .” Namjoon scratches the back of his head. “I guess it’s supposed to be until one of them dies. Lots of people divorce and remarry, though.”
“So if we’re doing this kissing thing,” Yoongi says, pointing between them, “are we married?”
“No!” Namjoon says. “No, no, no. Marriage is, like, a legal ceremony. We’re not married. We’re . . .” what ? What are they? Yoongi is watching him, waiting for him to finish his sentence, but the truth is Namjoon doesn’t know. Yoongi is bound to him, so it’s not exactly a fair go of getting into a relationship for him, but Namjoon won’t say that. They kiss sometimes. That’s what they do, but Namjoon doesn’t know what that makes them. “Casual,” he says. And regrets instantly. Casual. Like Namjoon can do casual.
“Casual,” Yoongi says uncertainty, testing the word. “In what way?”
“W-well,” Namjoon starts, “we’re not married, for a start, and, uh—I mean, I don’t call you my partner or anything, so . . .”
Namjoon regrets this conversation immensely.
“Oh, you mean like how people call each other boyfriends,” Yoongi says. “I see, I see. Does that mean we’re boyfriends?”
Namjoon chokes. “Uh? Are we?”
“I’m asking you!” Yoongi yells. “I don’t know how these human things work, and TV is confusing! They’re always off with other people and suddenly everyone’s mad at them?”
The fact that Yoongi doesn’t understand the concept of cheating is kind of hilarious, but Namjoon’s still reeling from the boyfriend potential. Namjoon’s had a boyfriend before, for two years, but the last few months were Namjoon desperately waiting for him to ask to break up because he couldn’t bear to do it himself. “I mean, do you know what a boyfriend is?”
“I guess it means you’re, like, kissing,” Yoongi says, but his voice fades. “I don’t know what else there is.”
“Well,” Namjoon starts slowly, “if you call someone a boyfriend—or girlfriend or your partner—you’re basically, in my opinion, saying that they’re your most important person. And that you kiss them and probably are intimate with them, and probably that they’re the person you most look forward to spending time with. I guess. That’s just me, and it’s probably not a great definition, so don’t take it too serious—”
Yoongi is watching him. The way he does. Like that big white-bellied sea eagle, black eyes looking for something in Namjoon’s face. It’s the second time Namjoon’s seen this kind of subdued awe, not since he first told Yoongi about architecture.
“I wanna be boyfriends,” Yoongi says.
“Oh,” Namjoon says.
(Namjoon has to make a wish.)
(A wish that can’t be stay .)
“Sure,” he says. “I’d like that.”
Yoongi grins. “Kiss to celebrate?”
Namjoon knows Yoongi is taking the boyfriend thing very seriously when he climbs into bed behind Namjoon in the middle of the night. He’s done it before, during a storm or two when Namjoon couldn't sleep, but today there’s little rain, and everything is calm.
“Everything okay?” Namjoon asks, and Yoongi hums.
“They did this on TV,” Yoongi whispers into the back of his head. Namjoon snorts. “The boyfriend and girlfriend.”
“Okay,” Namjoon settles back against the pillow, but can’t fight the grin when Yoongi spoons him, despite being so much smaller. The god smacks a kiss on the back of his neck.
The wish is right there on his tongue.
But then he remembers the fairy wren story, and remembers that sometimes, life isn’t fair.
February bleeds into March. Bleeds into April.
Namjoon has a boyfriend. He’s smaller than him, has bright blue hair, and the birds love him. He likes to kiss and be kissed, but likes it better when he doesn’t have to ask. He drinks coffee in the morning and leaves mangoes to ripen in the kitchen. His name is Yoongi.
And he’s leaving soon.
The rains are nearly over. They’ve probably been over for a week, now, but the birds haven’t left quite yet. Maybe it’s because Yoongi hasn’t left yet either. And that’s because Namjoon is keeping him here.
It’s always like this. Namjoon makes the other person do the hard work.
“Do you . . .” Namjoon swallows. “Do you know the fairy wren story?”
“Which one?” Yoongi’s distracted with a magazine. Namjoon supposes he isn’t stressed about packing up and leaving solely because he doesn’t really have anything of his own. At least, that’s his explanation for why Yoongi looks so calm.
“The one where the wren hides under the pelican’s wing and flies the highest.”
“Oh, yeah,” Yoongi says. Takes a sip of coffee. “What about it?”
“What do you think the moral of that one was?”
Yoongi glances up at him. “Why do you ask?”
“Because, well,” Namjoon has to swallow down the mess of words he wants to spit out. “I just—it’s not fair!”
“That’s an odd way to look at it,” Yoongi says thoughtfully. “You mean the story where he gets chased into the grasses, right?”
“And it’s the one where the birds are trying to compare themselves to see which is the best bird, so the Owl goes, ‘well, you all fly, so let’s compare that’?”
“That’s it,” Yoongi says. “That’s the meaning of the story.”
“You didn’t explain any of it.”
“The moral of the story is that you shouldn’t compare yourself to others,” Yoongi says. He sets down the mug of coffee so he can look up at Namjoon properly. “Do you get it?”
“I don’t know,” Namjoon admits. Yoongi is watching him again, but he doesn’t push. Namjoon thinks he’s leaving more and more openings for Namjoon to just say something, but now, Namjoon is trying to hold as many words in as he can.
“But you know,” his dad told him once, as they were sitting under the big tree in the garden, “the fairy wrens are clever. More clever than the other birds. The same way the magpie has the nicest feathers, and the heron has the longest legs.”
“What’s that mean?”
“It means,” his dad said, ruffling his hair, “that each bird is special in their own way, and it’s not fair to try and compare them. How is a tiny little bird designed to eat bugs going to catch a fish better than an eagle?”
“Then why did they chase the fairy wren into the grasses?”
“Well, I don’t know,” his dad said. “That’s where he came from, I suppose. Maybe that’s where he was meant to stay.”
“These fairy wrens aren’t in the grasses, though,” Namjoon had said, and that earned a chuckle.
“You’re right,” the man said. “They must just be extra clever.”
They finish the window. Sometimes, in the April evening, the light comes through and the white, painted brick wall opposite it is crawling with the dappled, green light that comes through the bottles.
Namjoon remembers how he’d asked Yoongi if they could kiss in celebration. Remembers the green light on the god’s blue hair and the way he’d looked so, so fond.
Namjoon has to remember as much as he can, because Yoongi is going to leave, soon. April is nearly over. The rains have come and gone, and now it’s time for the birds to go home.
Sometimes, Namjoon stays awake at night, watching the god sleep next to him. He’s so small, so damn
that Namjoon sometimes wants to ask if he can go with him. Like it’s just a road trip. It’s not, and Namjoon knows it, but sometimes he just
(Sometimes he just
“Hey, so,” Yoongi says, “I did some research, and I found zero good reason why you shouldn’t still be at this art school thing.”
Namjoon blanches. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Shut up, I know your money is running out.”
“Can’t I just wish for more?”
Yoongi groans. “Shut up and go back to school!” he insists, shoving the laptop in front of Namjoon. The Are You Going to re-enrol for Semester Two page is open in front of him. Yoongi must have been going through his emails. The truth is, Namjoon isn’t sure if he’s willing to jump through all the hoops he needs to re-enrol. He didn’t apply for a two-year break when he left, that’s for sure.
“I don’t know . . .”
“Just, do it, okay?” Yoongi insists. “You made the window. Make more. I don’t really know why this piece of paper is so significant, but it is. So get it.”
Namjoon rubs at his face and looks up at Yoongi. He looks—distraught, even, like the thought of Namjoon staying home upsets him.
“I don’t want to,” Namjoon says. “All my friends are gone by now, anyway. And school sucks, Yoongi. It’s boring and hard and—”
“Namjoon,” Yoongi says. “Please.”
The implications of a god begging are not lost on Namjoon. Yoongi could be right. There’s nothing for Namjoon here, and now that he’s finished the window, he’s beyond aimless. And when Yoongi’s gone, there really will be nothing for him. Nothing at all.
Maybe he can do a different course. He was a good student while he was there.
“I’ll—I’ll think about it,” Namjoon says. “I will. Promise.”
It seems to appease Yoongi enough for now. “Okay,” he says. “I’ll hold you to that.”
Namjoon is sitting under the big tree when Yoongi comes to him for the last time.
He’s wearing his white robe again, that god thing that Namjoon isn’t sure if it really exists, and it’s misting down, just some light rain, not seasonal, and Namjoon knows he’s about to leave. The birds have been ready for days.
“Hey,” Yoongi says, squatting down in front of him. Takes both of Namjoon’s hands in his own. “I—I have to leave, Namjoon. It’s time for me to go.”
There’s a bitter feeling behind his eyes and down his throat that just keeps spreading. “I know.”
“So,” Yoongi says, very soft, like the distant patter of morning rain, “I need you to make a wish.”
Namjoon feels pathetic. “I don’t want you to go,” he says, and Yoongi smiles wetly.
“I know,” he says. “I’m sorry.”
Yoongi is so small, and yet he looks like he’s holding the weight of the world. Namjoon sits up and hugs him, as if that will stop him. Yoongi returns it, face pressing into Namjoon’s shoulder so closely Namjoon can feel his eyelashes.
“I don’t know what to wish for,” Namjoon tells him. “What do I wish for, Yoongi?”
Yoongi’s wet cheek presses against his shoulder, and then his lips at the base of his neck. “Wish for me to come back.”
Namjoon sniffs, and then laughs. “Come back to me,” Namjoon whispers into Yoongi’s hair. “With the rains and the birds. Please.”
“I will,” Yoongi says. He sits up and takes Namjoon’s face in his hands. He’s crying, looking so damn sad and old, and still so fond. He looks, for the first time, like he’s found what he spent all those months searching for in Namjoon’s face. “Your wish has been heard. The first rain of the season, I’ll be here. So—wait for me, okay?”
Namjoon feels so full of love and longing he might break. “I will.”
“Kiss to celebrate,” Yoongi whispers, pressing their lips together. Namjoon tries to grab at his clothes, hold him here for a second longer, but his hands close around nothing, and then the lips on his disappear.
It stops raining.
The birds are gone.
“Kim Namjoon,” Sukwon says, voice almost as grizzled and creaky as his body when Namjoon carts the six-pack of beer and the bottle of mango wine to the counter. “Back from school, ay?”
“It’s me,” Namjoon says, running a hand through his hair awkwardly. He’s changed it, got it bleached. It was blue for a while but it washed out. “How’s things?”
“Yeah, good.” Sukwon isn’t looking at him in favour of noting down the purchased items. “You doing well?”
“Yeah, good,” Namjoon says. Sukwon bags the bottles and gives him a look, scrutinising him.
“It’s good to have you back,” he says at last. “Don’t drink these all at once, yeah?”
“For sure,” Namjoon agrees. “See you later!”
The weather is sweaty and muggy, the plants green and weighed down with all the water in their leaves. It’s about to rain, judging by the thunder rolling across the sky, so Namjoon hurries home as fast as he can, around the corner and through people’s backyards.
“I’m home!” he calls to the empty house after he opens the door. Namseon had been while he was away, and had the doors and windows fixed.
The thunder gets louder, and Namjoon hums to himself as he tucks the beers in the fridge and sets the mango wine next to the actual fruits he picked a few weeks ago. The mango tree has been dropping fruit the whole time he’s been gone, and so the rainbow lorikeets are around every day, pecking at them and then screaming for hours, trying to balance on branches or wires and ending up upside down.
The birds have been back for days. Namjoon got home last night, after catching a bus back from his university in the city, and he was greeted by a whole flock of cockatoos on the roof of his house. The fairy wrens woke him up this morning, chirping at his bedroom window. On the way to the shops just before, the rosellas followed him, tree to tree.
There’s another clap of thunder, and though it still makes Namjoon uneasy, the tiny pattering of rain that follows it makes it worth it.
The rain turns to a downpour, and Namjoon throws open the back door.
There’s a blue-haired man under the trees, waiting for him.
“Yoongi!” Namjoon yells, and Yoongi grins, rushing out to meet him. Namjoon is soaked to the bone by the time he makes it onto the grass, it’s raining so hard, and Yoongi jumps into his arms. He’s still so light.
“I missed you,” Yoongi tells him, once they’ve calmed down and Namjoon’s put him back on the ground. The small, blue-haired god of birds holds Namjoon’s face in his hands, and just looks at him, smiling and fond and he looks as glad to be back as Namjoon feels.
“Kiss to celebrate,” Namjoon tells him, and Yoongi beams, leaning up at the same time Namjoon leans down, kissing him in the first rain of the season with the birds singing all around.