Youngjae doesn’t really know what he was expecting. It doesn’t seem right or fair that any of them should be pushed back between the bars of Susin High School’s immorally strict security systems, nor does it seem just than when he drops down onto his bed the book he was reading for history on the last night before the holidays is displaced and lands next to his suitcase.
This place feels haunted, Youngjae thought the point was that that shouldn’t bother any of them anymore. Sure, he doesn’t see fear in the eyes of Jihoon (how can you add fear to a body that never knew how to feel it?) and these days Mooyeol’s stare is cold, but the rest of them…
The fact that Gangmo walks a little taller, that Eunseong’s silence seems a little less miserable, that Jaekyu found the courage to open his damn mouth and make some friends; none of that makes up for the fear Youngjae can practically see, bleeding from every glance they dare take out of the corner of their eyes. If none of them are going to talk about it then he’s not going to start the conversation, but he can’t pretend he doesn’t know what’s going on.
Once upon a time, Yoonsu had told them all about a monster in the corner. The monster, Youngjae can learn to live with, but the angel in the rafters is proving more troublesome.
The freshmen call him Plague like it’s branded on his forehead. Youngjae doesn’t mind so much, it’s just a word. It doesn’t have any power unless he gives it power, and really, that’s where he went wrong in the first place. He’s stuck here now, forever the Plaugue – his reputation precedes him.
And Cho Youngjae proceeds his reputation, isn’t that something? It took him an awfully long time to learn the distinction between knowing fear and running scared but here he is, larger than life. More scared than ever before but finally in possession of enough common sense to ground himself.
“Chin up!” Mireu barges past Youngjae on his way to the cafeteria. Once upon a time Youngjae would have taken that as invitation to start a fight, now he knows how to play the long game and let things go.
He knows far too much about letting things go.
Youngjae remembers fingers slipping off the edge of a hospital rooftop, remembers how long it seemed to take the body to fall. He remembers that he had more than enough time to stop it happening, but he had been so sure that what he was doing was right and so scared that whatever wasn’t right would only get him killed.
Mireu smiles through cold eyes. His gaze flicks to a point above the students as they gorge their way through overpriced school dinners, Youngjae doesn’t miss that. They all find themselves looking skywards these days, towards a greater light.
They nod at each other and Mireu passes – they’re not friends and they never were. Youngjae is starting to suspect that he doesn’t really have friends, only lackeys too scared of him to say no and heroes he’s too scared not to follow. Human interaction is crude, after all. Everyone’s just trying to survive as best they can and the rest be damned.
Well, almost everyone tries to survive. Eunseong had a slip up on that count, and Yoonsu…
The glass panels over the cafeteria are held in place by window frames too slim and elegant to see from the ground floor. Up a little higher, and Youngjae can begin to pick them out, splayed across the building like wing bones.
The bones of a bird too feeble to fly or Icarus’s latest trick? The sun can melt wax in a heartbeat but glass is more robust. Until you drop it of course, then it shatters faster than anything Youngjae’s ever known.
Sitting alone at the end of a table, Youngjae sees Mooyeol staring back at him. His face is expressionless, and even if he was smiling Youngjae no longer trusts him to mean it. It’s scary, they all are, and anyone can be, it’s not their fault they’re ahead of the game on that count.
Youngjae points towards the sun and watches Mooyeol follow his finger, squinting against the unbearable might of a star too far away to ever touch in their lifetime. Astounding, that something so far away should be able to blind human eyes and break human wings.
All wings will break, all hearts will harden, and all humans must try not to look too hard at the monster in the corner, lest it lay its eggs in their hearts and let its young take root. There is an unseen shadow cast across every student in this school, across every teacher, every janitor, every librarian, all of them.
Because some angels are made of wax, false idols at the foot of a greater power. Some angels burn as bright as the sun, and some angels are made of glass. Flying ever higher, casting no shadows, hoping against hope not to lose the wind beneath their wings lest they should fall and shatter.
Youngjae shudders, he doesn’t want to think about it, but everyone’s monster comes to them in its own way.
Blue paint drips off the tip of Youngjae’s nose, it almost feels real. Every angel has a monster, the same as the rest of them, but monsters aren’t made of anything as fragile as glass. So Park Mooyeol can go on pretending like his consummation will prove absolute, but Youngjae’s wiser than anyone ever gave him credit for. Yoonsu’s egg was just as ready to hatch as the rest of theirs, and the monster within will not be content to simply fade away.
From up here, if he looks hard enough, Youngjae can make out the shadow of a boy sitting high above the assembled masses of the school. Burning brighter than the sun, slipping through his fingers like so much hot wax.
Glass wings spread around them. As if to shield them from an evil they should have all seen coming. Youngjae reaches out but cannot touch him, Yoonsu exists on a plane too far for his mortal hands to breach.
Mortal souls and monsters, while the angels dance around them. Maybe heaven and hell aren’t so far apart after all.