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Strange Birds

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Seo Moonjo could still remember the sweltering heat on his skin when he first laid eyes on the New Tenant.

“ Here comes another young one.” Bok Soon had stepped in next to him, her voice dripping with a sickening excitement. “ We’ll enjoy him greatly, won’t we, Moonjo?”

Moonjo simply smiled, eyes intent on the huddled figure struggling to haul his suitcase up the narrow flight of stairs that leads to the goshiwon building. “ Of course we will, Bok Soon-ah.”

Bok Soon chuckled. “ I better get ready now, you can’t leave the guest waiting!”

Moonjo listened as she scuttled away, humming church tunes under her breath. Being tone deaf, unfortunately, did not curb her desires for singing.

He let himself gaze at the man for a little while longer. His job as a dentist requires punctuality, and he doesn’t want to risk any unwarranted suspicion.

His chest burns with the thought of the police finding and toppling his precious, precious collection.

Still, Moonjo lets himself linger. It is only when the New Tenant stops and makes as if to raise his head that he finally decides to leave.

***

“ Are you the new guy?” Moonjo calls out, deliberately bringing his feet harder onto the cement ground to announce his presence. But he startles anyway, whipping his head around in the manner of a startled rabbit.

“ Yes.” His reply is polite enough, but his expression remains wary. When Moonjo gets close enough, he realises that the New Tenant is barely a man. He is petite - a rare occurrence for Korean men- and dresses shabbily, much like a school kid in hand me downs from older siblings and cousins. His clothes hang loosely off his slender frame, and his face...

Moonjo stares openly at him, taking in his delicate features. A lovely china doll itching to be broken.

A vivid image of dashing him to the ground and snapping his svelte neck swims in Moonjo’s vision, the heat rushing to his loins. He towers over him easily, a fact that did not go unnoticed by the New Tenant, for he seems to curl further into himself, which oddly sends a rush of adrenaline into his veins. It’s almost as euphoric as feeling the dying pulse of Tenant 302 beneath his fingertips.

Almost.

“ The landlady told me about you,” Moonjo begins, schooling his expression into genuine curiosity. “ You moved into Unit 303.”

“ Yes.”

And your name is Yoon Jong Woo.

It was what Bok Soon whispered to him, her eyes blown wide in glee and reeking of cheap hair dye.

Deuk Jong had told him the same thing, forcing out the syllables in between his stutters, simpering and stupid, rubbing his bald head as he goes.

But Moonjo asks him anyway, and pretends like he’s seeing him for the very first time.

“ What’s your name?” He makes sure he keeps his distance, curving his lips in the way Bok Soon does when she wants to gain trust. She gets on his nerves more often than not, but she knows the human mind. How to weasel in, and how to break them.

The trick proves successful when the new tenant finally speaks, albeit reluctantly. “ My name is Yoon Jong Woo.”

“ Seo Moonjo.” He smiles lightly, holding out his hand. “ It’s nice to see a new face around here.”

Jongwoo shakes his outstretched hand, though he pulls away quickly, the discomfort at Moonjo’s cold hands flitting across his expression.

“ Isn’t it nice up here?” Moonjo looks to the city lights and concrete buildings like it fascinates him. Jongwoo follows suit, gaze sweeping across them in obligatory interest. “ The rooms are suffocating, just like a coffin. If you have a beer up here, you would feel better.”

“ You would.”

Moonjo turns to him, trailing down the length of his body. He is pretty, Moonjo thinks, but would he be pretty on the inside, too?

“ Why do you keep smiling at me?” Jong Woo snaps, jolting Moonjo away from his thoughts. Any attempt at keeping up civil interaction crumbles away, the anger in his voice thinly veiled. It ripples beneath his bambi eyes and stretches taut across his jaw, his chin lifted in a fierceness that Moonjo did not predict.

“ Sorry if that was offensive.”

“ No,-” The fury diminishes as quickly as it came, and for some reason, leaves a hollow feeling in Moonjo’s chest. “ I just-”

“ Like it?”

Jongwoo pauses, staring blankly at him. “Huh?”

Moonjo turns away, pushing down the urge to smirk. He picks a can of beer he got from the convenience store, the metal as cool as the night air. He could have went on, watched as Jongwoo squirms in discomfort, but now is not the right time.

He hands the can to him, smiling dismissively. “ Do you want a beer?”

***

He sees a reflection of himself in Jongwoo that night.

A distant echo of what he once was, and a glaring possibility of what Jongwoo can be.

It is that glare that keeps him awake in the darkness of him room, peering at Jongwoo through a drilled peephole of the brittle walls. He drinks in his every move, revels in his every waking moment. He memorizes his every breath, every sceptical gaze, every perturbed expression. He listens for the rhythmic tap tap tap as Jongwoo types away at his keyboard, stopping only when he hears the nerves starts getting to him, or when he hears Deuk Jong’s unsettling giggles floating down the hall.

“ You’ve always loved the pretty ones.” Bok Soon sighs over dinner, chewing on the marinated meat. “ The strange, little birds.”

“ Birds!” Deuk Jong exclaims, laughing and clapping his hands, whilst his twin, Deuk Soo, smiles affectionately at him. “ We used to pluck their tiny feathers, remember?”

Moonjo gives off a distracted hum, getting up from the table. They never did interest him much. They were wicked to the bone, but they were foolish and ugly, ruffians who will never understand art. But Jong Woo was different. He could be different.

He will be. All Moonjo needed was time, and he has all the time in the world.