Flash (lighthouse): A light characteristic in which the period of light is significantly shorter than the period of darkness.
Seokjin glances up to see Jimin staring at him with narrowed eyes and his lips pressed firmly together, a tick in his jaw from the pressure. The second most terrifying sight to an author is their editor realizing they're stuck in the hell that is writer's block.
Seokjin smiles charmingly and flaps his hand up and down in Jimin's direction as if to dispel any remnant of his words. "Never mind, just thinking. Go back to your work. You have another meeting soon, right?"
Jimin's eyes don't leave Seokjin's, understanding morphing into horror, finally taking form into righteous anger. "You're blocked?"
Seokjin scoffs. "I'm not blocked," he lies easily.
"You are blocked," Jimin accuses, turning fully in his chair to face Seokjin directly, shoving his own laptop away from him as he inches closer to Seokjin threateningly.
"Yah!" Seokjin yells, angling his chin up so he can look down pointedly at Jimin, a false sense of indignation at his editor's accusation making him defensive. "I have written three best-selling novels in as many years. Worldwide successes, translated into ten languages, a film deal underway. I'm a half-a-million book seller. I know when I'm blocked." He thrusts his index finger into Jimin's face. "I'm not blocked," he finishes, breathless from the rant. He thinks his face is probably red from the exertion.
Jimin remains silent for several long moments, unflinching, that tick in his jaw more pronounced as he draws in a deep breath. "Hyung," he says, smiling with acidic sweetness, malicious intent in the stretch of his lips. "How much have you written?"
Seokjin purses his lips, caught. "Eleven," he says confidently, jutting his chin out even more. He's not blocked, he tells himself. It's only a temporary break.
Jimin gapes at him. "You told me you started working a month ago and you only have eleven pages?"
Seokjin sniffs and shifts in his chair. "Words," he corrects, his ears going red.
Jimin freezes and blinks at him. "Excuse me?"
"Eleven words," Seokjin repeats. Technically it's a lie since he didn't type out the sentence but he thinks he can count it. It's a start.
"That's not funny."
"It's not a joke."
"Why the fuck has Jungkookie been telling me you've been pulling all-nighters? Did the words run away in the middle of the night?" He whips his head over to Jungkook on his other side, opposite Seokjin at the conference table. "What the hell were you doing?"
"We've been playing video games," Jungkook answers.
Seokjin scowls and reminds himself that Jungkook has always been dangerously honest. He sends him a sharp glare.
Jungkook blinks wide, innocent eyes at Seokjin. "It's true," he defends to Seokjin before glancing back to Jimin. He jolts and inches his chair away at the deadly set of Jimin's jaw.
"'We'?" Jimin repeats, the sound slipping through gritted teeth.
"He," Jungkook quickly corrects. He points his finger at Seokjin. "He's been playing video games. I've been working."
"Liar," Seokjin counters. They die together, he thinks. With honor.
"I have seventy-three manuscript pages," Jungkook says, raising his hands, palms facing Jimin in a gesture of surrender. "Seventy-three really good pages."
Jimin turns his attention back to Seokjin, but Seokjin's eyes are still on Jungkook. "How the fuck did you get seventy-three pages?" he asks, incredulous and a little jealous.
Jimin lunges over the conference table in Seokjin's direction, making him skid away in his chair, heart leaping to his throat.
"We gave you an advance," Jimin spits out. "I put my neck on the line to get you that advance without even a synopsis and you're blocked?"
"I just need a little time – "
"You took four months off!" Jimin explodes. He covers his face with his hands and makes a low, keening noise of despair. "I'm ruined."
"You still have me, hyung," Jungkook says, leaning down on the table to try to peek at Jimin.
"You can't help me with fifty-three pages," Jimin laments.
"Seventy-three," Jungkook corrects quietly.
Seokjin glances towards the door as it opens, latch clicking as the knob turns. Hoseok leans into the room with his hand on the doorjamb, smiling.
"Hi, sorry to interrupt, but we got an appointment." He nods to Jimin, unconcerned that Jimin's head is still buried in his hands. "You ready to go? We have to be downtown in twenty minutes."
Jimin drops his hands from his face and says urgently to Hoseok, "Hyung, please give me Namjoon-hyungnim,
Hoseok blinks, his lips pursing as suspicion falls over his features. "What do I get in return?" he asks slowly.
Jimin gestures dramatically to Seokjin, index finger pointed. "That hyung."
Hoseok flicks his gaze over to Seokjin. He holds his eyes for two beats before realization lights his expression. "You're blocked," he whispers, almost like an accusation, horror in his tone.
Seokjin scrunches his nose. "My productivity could be better," he starts.
Hoseok jerks away from the door, backing into the hallway. "Don't go near Namjoonie," he shouts.
"Writer's block isn't contagious!" Seokjin shouts back.
"It is! Jimin, let's go," Hoseok bellows as he scurries out of sight.
Jimin stands, sighing. "This isn't over," he warns darkly as he follows Hoseok into the hallway.
Seokjin makes a face, glancing back to Jungkook. "How did you get seventy-three pages?"
Jungkook shrugs. "I'm not blocked."
"Neither am I!" Seokjin snaps.
Jungkook raises his eyebrows, unconvinced, but remains silent.
Seokjin shuts his laptop closed with a frustrated sigh and stands. "No more video game nights," he says to Jungkook. He gathers his things. "I'm going to get through this."
"Good luck, hyung," Jungkook calls out cheerfully as Seokjin leaves. There is an unspoken You'll need it, tacked onto the end of his sentence that Seokjin ignores.
He'll be fine, he just needs to focus, he tells himself. There's a story in his head somewhere. He just needs the time to find it.
"Taehyung," he starts, glancing over to him, arresting Taehyung in a vain attempt to escape unscathed. Taehyung clears his throat and clasps his hands behind his back, pretending he wasn't making a silent dash to the exit. "Last time I checked, you worked for me." Seokjin gestures to his couch in the living room where Jimin is currently unpacking his very large luggage. "Not him."
Taehyung smiles sheepishly. "It's sort of a dual employment. Mutual dependency."
"As your agent," Taehyung continues, though Seokjin notes his foot has shifted back towards the exit one step, "it's in my best interests if you do produce another novel." His other foot follows, shifting Taehyung back two steps. "I'm sure it will be brilliant. Jimin is just here to help you."
"He's here to nag me."
"I'm here to secure my investment," Jimin calls from the couch, arranging a plethora of skin care and hair products on Seokjin's once-pristine coffee table. "I'll be gone when you have fifty manuscript pages."
"See?" Taehyung grins, laughing anxiously. "Only fifty pages and Jiminie will be out of here. No biggie."
"It shouldn't be a problem if you're not blocked," Jimin snips, glancing up to smile at Seokjin, sickly sweet and insincere. "Right, hyung?"
Seokjin points his finger at Jimin. "Don't get comfortable. You'll be gone in two days."
"Good." Jimin pulls out a pile of what probably once was neatly folded clothes and dumps it onto the arm of the couch. "Until then, I need some counter space in the bathroom."
Seokjin scowls and glances back to his side to scold Taehyung some more. He exhales sharply and throws his arm in the air in a petulant flail when he sees that Taehyung has successfully escaped during his temporary lapse of attention. He never should have hired such a wily agent.
"Two days," he repeats as he heads to his bedroom in search of his laptop. He can get fifty manuscript pages done in two days and finally he can have some peace again.
It's a terrifying thought, losing what he's spent years nurturing and forming, losing what he based his life around. Losing what he thought he was, the source of his pride, the root of his enjoyment. Now he's a writer who doesn't write. He doesn't want to think about what that means.
Instead, he focuses his mind onto something more tangible. Like how much he cannot stand living with Park Jimin and the growing clutter of said man's belongings creating an uncontrollable mess in his home. The living room was first, and Seokjin could almost ignore it. Until the chaos spread like a flood into the bathroom and the dining table and the space by the apartment door. The kitchen is Seokjin's breaking point.
"Namjoon, you have to help hyungie," Seokjin pleads into his phone. He leans on his balcony rail and peers through the sliding glass doors leading back to his apartment. He sees Jimin in the living room, supposedly "cleaning" his clothes. It looks more like he's shifting it around into new assortments of chaos. "I can't live like this."
"Jimin's sweet," Namjoon says, disbelieving.
"Jimin's sweet but I can't see my coffee table anymore. I'm starting to think he's replaced it with laundry and lotion bottles."
Namjoon laughs. "What do you expect me to do?"
"That's why I'm calling you," Seokjin huffs. "Aren't you the one with all the answers?"
"I actually have more questions than answers most of the time."
"Namjoon," Seokjin says, displeased at Namjoon's lack of concern.
"You know, Hoseok told me not to talk to you," Namjoon quips, amusement heavy in his voice.
Seokjin sighs and squeezes his eyes shut. "Writer's block isn't contagious."
"No, it's not," Namjoon concedes. There is silence for a moment and Seokjin swears he can hear Namjoon's mind, an internal debate of if he should voice a thought or not. Seokjin waits as he always does with Namjoon. He trusts the other enough that he knows not to press.
"Hyung," Namjoon finally says quietly. "Have you considered that maybe you're tired? You wrote a lot over the last few years."
"That's why I took four months off."
Namjoon makes a sound in disagreement. "Did you really?"
Seokjin blinks, frowning. He shifts away from the rail, turning to look out onto the street below, cars jerking in stop-and-start traffic as they try to maneuver the narrow road. "What do you mean?"
"You finalized the film deal," Namjoon starts, "helped with the first draft of the screenplay. You've been doing promotions, too. You might not have been writing, but you've been working non-stop."
Seokjin remains silent, watching the cars start and stop and start again in a slow crawl out of his neighborhood.
"Look, hyung, I know what it's like. You work yourself to the bone to get the words out, to keep productivity up, and then eventually you wake up and all your sentences are wrong. And you don't know what you want to say anymore."
Seokjin's frown deepens, the truth in Namjoon's words hitting hard.
"I was there before. What worked for me was going away. That's when I went on that trip to the mountain for a few months. Remember?"
Seokjin snorts. "Hoseok thought you'd get eaten by a bear."
Namjoon chuckles. "My suggestion to you is to take some time just for yourself. Enjoy nature. Forget deadlines. Find a place where time doesn't exist."
Seokjin's lips quirk into a smile. "What if a bear eats me?"
"Go to the sea, then. I hear Busan is nice this time of year."
Seokjin scrunches his nose and turns back to look into his apartment. Jimin is standing with his hands on his hips, staring at Seokjin, eyebrows raised in that way he only gets when he's preparing to scold someone. That someone being Seokjin, presumably for talking on the phone for longer than three minutes when he could be writing.
"Not Busan," he says quickly. He's fairly certain Jimin would follow him there under the guise of visiting his family. "Thanks, Namjoon."
"Don't mention it," Namjoon says. "Especially not to Hoseok. He'll take my phone away if he knows I talked to you."
Seokjin snorts and ends the call just as Jimin slides the balcony door open. He pokes his head out of the apartment, his lips pressed firmly together. "Hyung – "
"I'm going away for the summer," Seokjin announces boldly.
Jimin's eyebrows twitch. "You think I'm dumb? You're going to skip town with the advance and think I'll just let you go?"
"I'm not skipping town," Seokjin defends. "I need time. And peace. I need to just...have a place to think." Jimin's lips tighten. "And write!" Seokjin adds quickly. "No distractions. No video games. Limited internet access. Back to the basics."
There's a hesitation in Jimin's eyes and Seokjin swallows down a triumphant smile. He has Jimin convinced, whether the other realizes it yet or not.
He inhales deeply, the air hazy, the artificial scent of the city subtle but still present. He can't wait for the salt of the sea, the gale coming off the coast. Just him and the open sky and the sea, lost to time.
When he runs across an advertisement for a small cottage in a tiny coastal village close to Yeosu, he thinks he's found his haven. When he sees the unusually low price listed to rent the space for the summer, he thinks it's too good to be true. There must be something wrong with the place to be so cheap. It's dilapidated or haunted. Or the whole thing is a scam.
He calls the number provided with heavy suspicion and perhaps too much hope that the cottage really is all it's presented to be. The contact person turns out to be a local real estate broker in Yeosu.
"There isn't anything...wrong with it, is there?" Seokjin asks tentatively after the formal introductions are made.
The realtor laughs. "It's really cheap, right?"
Seokjin smiles and huffs out a sheepish laugh. "Something like that."
"The grandmother who owns it started renting it out twenty years ago. She hasn't changed the price since, no matter how much we try to convince her. She says she doesn't need the money, she just wants someone to appreciate the house."
Seokjin makes a noise in acknowledgement.
"It might be cheap," the realtor continues, "but it's not easy to rent. Mrs. Kang has final say on which application she accepts. I just want to prepare your expectations. She usually rejects everyone until July."
"Oh." Seokjin frowns, disappointment a little stronger than he'd anticipated. He's only seen photos of the cottage online. He doesn't know why his heart seems to be set on it.
"I'll put your application through, though. You never know. Maybe you'll be lucky."
"Thank you. I hope to hear back from you," Seokjin says before he hangs up. He places his phone on the desk and shakes his head. Maybe he should try the mountains after all, he thinks, turning back to his computer to search for another place to rent.
He makes a few more inquiries to places he just isn't that enthusiastic about and is almost ready to stop for the day when his phone lights up with the realtor's number.
"She said yes," the realtor says, tone laced with disbelief. "As soon as I told her your name, she said yes. It's bizarre. You must be very lucky."
"Not usually," Seokjin says, grinning as excitement spreads in his chest.
"Huh. Well, maybe your luck has turned."
Seokjin isn't sure if it has, but he knows his adventure has begun.
He has a brief, meandering thought, wondering what else would fall from his mind, what other weight would drop away from his chest if he reached a higher speed. What he would lose at the speed of sound, or the speed of light.
His lips quirk into a small smile. Time, he answers himself. If the scientists are right. He would lose time itself at the speed of light. He lets the idea rattle through his head, fanciful and obscure, and tries to imagine what would remain of himself after he becomes timeless.
His fingers itch for his laptop, a hundred thoughts conglomerating into sentences, connecting into concepts and stories. His smile widens and he shifts in the driver's seat, anticipation sweet in his lungs.
Eventually, the expressway south empties, cars taking exits as they near the end of their journey while Seokjin continues on. The expressway shrinks as he navigates to Yeosu, wide lanes ebbing into single lane roads for brief stretches, like a forgotten patchwork of asphalt between cities. A connection built and never revisited, simple and bare as necessity prompted only existence and nothing more.
It's just past noon, the sun high and blinding through his windshield, when the road widens into an expressway again and the city of Yeosu emerges from the sprawling farmland. Nestled between towering mountains and the vast sea, Yeosu feels almost magical to Seokjin, like a secret place only the sojourners will discover.
He rolls down his window, breathing in the salty sea air, smiling as his fingers tap against the steering wheel. He has a strong desire to keep driving to the deep blue sea that he can see on the horizon, but he dismisses the thought from his mind. He navigates through the city to find the realtor's office, certain there will be time enough for the sea later.
Once he finds the office, the realtor hands over the keys to the cottage and gives Seokjin directions.
"The navigation systems usually drop off by the time you reach the island," the realtor explains. "But it's a small island, don't worry. If you get lost, just keep walking along the shore. You'll circle back around soon enough.
"There are quite a few fishermen on the island, you'll be able to buy fresh seafood off of them directly. Most have a small farm, too, so you can get vegetables. But I'd suggest stocking up in Yeosu while you're here. There is a village market on the mainland right before the bridge, too. They host a farmer's market three times a month. I'd definitely recommend attending. The local produce is amazing. Especially the cherries."
Seokjin smiles in gratitude. "Thank you. I'll check it out." He steps back to leave but pauses when the realtor calls out to him.
"Ah, one more thing. The grandmother who owns the cottage wanted to meet you." He scratches his head and sighs, bemused. "It's strange, she's never cared before about the tenants. But she might stop by one day." He smiles apologetically. "You'll have to forgive her for imposing. I couldn't talk her out of it."
Seokjin shakes his head. "No, it's okay. She's welcome anytime." He bows in farewell and heads back to his car. There is a vague sense of curiosity about the owner of the cottage in the back of his mind. The grandmother who never rents the cottage until July but made an exception for Seokjin. The grandmother who never visits her tenants, but wants to meet him.
The curiosity, however, is dull and weak, fading from his mind as he arrives at the grocery store, intent on stocking up on enough food for a couple weeks.
It takes another forty-five minutes to drive from Yeosu to the very end of the southern coast, and this time it really does feel like Seokjin is driving straight into the sea. He can see the deep blue water to his left, stretching far beyond the horizon, endless and vast, reflecting the bright sun off its surface like a mirror. He keeps his window rolled down, lets the salt rich air make a mess of his hair, strands twisting and flowing as he sings along to the radio, a giant, cheek-aching grin on his lips.
He passes through lush green mountains and spanning farmlands before a scatter of buildings start to emerge, growing in density as he continues on. This must be the village, he realizes, slowing his car down and glancing around to familiarize himself with the layout. It's quaint and small, exactly as he thinks it should be. A group of children yell as he passes them, waving and smiling at the strange car that's suddenly appeared in this place that only sees change slowly. Time works differently here, he thinks.
The bridge he has to cross to the island is simple and deceivingly unimposing. It is two lanes in the midst of an expanding ocean, the sun reflecting so brightly off the sea that Seokjin has a fanciful idea that there is a star trapped beneath the water, pressing up to the surface, seeking escape.
It takes just under ten minutes for Seokjin to find the cottage once he's off the bridge, the directions from the realtor accurate and precise. He first passes a cluster of houses with colorful roofs, presumably the few people who actually call the island home. There is a scattered collection of storehouses as he turns back to the coastline and the road thins from one lane asphalt to dirt, packed unevenly in the shape of tire tracks.
His car jostles a little but the slope up the hill is gentle and the road shortly gives way to the summit, the cottage he's only seen in photos appearing before his eyes. He brings his car to a stop by a lone, massive maple tree, the branches stretching across the sky in a network of intertwining and overlapping arms. There are a few bright green leaves breaking free from winter on the tips of the branches nearest the sky. Seokjin hops out of his car and takes a moment to stare up as the late afternoon sun filters through, casting patterns of shadows on the ground.
He lets his gaze fall to the small cottage a skip away. Built in the sixties, it stands at a single storey of height, cozy and inviting. There's peeling white paint on the wooden paneling, worn down by sea winds and the glaring sun. It is the very picture of quaint.
He unloads his luggage from the car and rolls it across the grass to the house. The lock is stiff as he turns the key but the door opens easily. There is a faint scent of stale dust from months of disuse. Seokjin sets his luggage by the door and slips off his shoes, taking a moment to explore the space.
There's a small kitchen with a window facing the great maple tree outside. The appliances are fairly new, a tiny laundry machine but no dishwasher set up under the counter. By the window, there's a seemingly handcrafted dining table with a chair on all four edges. He runs his hand over the top of one chair and peers at the empty vase in the center of the table. It looks sadly lonely. He should find some flowers to fill it, he thinks.
The kitchen has a small pantry room attached to it, wooden shelves empty for now. He glances briefly into the room before turning to explore the rest of the house.
The bedroom does not have a bed, but holds a cupboard that stores a futon to sleep. He lays it out to air and opens the double window in the room. Peering out, he sees a low wooden fence and a gravel pathway where the grass fades away.
At the back of the house there is a sitting room, furnished with a couch and two loveseats facing a series of large windows that look out to the beach. He grins, watching the waves in the distance, a sense of peace and relief in his chest.
He unpacks his groceries and his luggage, settling in as quickly as he can. When he's satisfied he is set up, he finally allows himself to grab a can of beer from the now stocked fridge and make his way outside.
He leaves through the backdoor and hops over the low fence to the gravel pathway, his feet crunching with every step he takes toward the sea. It's almost a melodic precursor, the theme song to the summer that awaits him.
The sun is dulling, sinking into another horizon somewhere west by the time he skids down the slope to the beach, feet slipping on the half-grass, half-sand.
He sits close to the waves, arms resting on his knees as he stares across the water. The waves are healing, patching him back together in places he didn't even know were fraying, the salt air refreshing as the wind cascades over him.
He lets his mind rest and thinks about absolutely nothing, a luxury he hasn't allowed himself in far too long. As the sun rolls over the edge of the horizon and the line between the sky and sea blurs to almost indistinguishable, Seokjin looks up and sees a galaxy of stars he's only ever known in books. Their number and brilliance is dim in the city, bright artificial lights drowning their very luminance until they're lost.
His breath catches in his throat as he tries to count the stars that spill across the dark sky. He realizes what he's been feeling since he started this journey all the way back in Seoul, that feeling that's intensified as he passed over the bridge of underwater stars and up the uneven dirt road.
It feels like he's finding something he didn't know he lost.
Yoongi isn't quite sure if he believes them or not, but when Bonghee speaks, there's a gravity in her voice that leaves little doubt in his mind. What she says is true; Yoongi was born out of time.
He doesn't know what that means. He had asked her but she shook her head apologetically, her shoulders shrugging up, and told him she didn't know either. "It is as the sea says. Only time will reveal."
Time has been steadily silent.
Yoongi's eyes catch the first line of dawn, a faint distinguishable plane emerging on the horizon to separate sea and sky. The sun is still half an hour away but Yoongi's work has ended for now. He leans against the iron railing of the gallery, face out to the sea, a gentle breeze keeping his fringe from his eyes. He purses his lips and watches the sky lighten as the sun creeps slowly, slowly up, wondering why the memory struck him suddenly again.
Maybe it's the rhythmic clanking of the lighthouse gears turning the lens in the lantern room that reminds him of the ticking of clockwork. He frowns, unconvinced of his own thought. He hears the same sound every night, the clank-clank-clank against a backdrop of waves breaking on the shore far below. It's more than noise that makes his mind wander.
It's the restlessness he's known from the first day he can remember, forgotten for a span but ever growing in the spaces between his ribs. It's pulling him away from here, from the place he's laid his head for years, to somewhere unknown again. With no family, no debts, no love, there's nothing to hold onto Yoongi, make him stay and rest and plant his feet, to see if roots can grow at the base of his soles.
He's homesick without a home, an aching in his bones that yearns for a belonging.
From Daegu to Pohang, up the coast and west to Seoul, down again to Busan and Yeosu, he's been everywhere he can, searching, seeking and never finding. Four years ago, he set himself further south, looking for the edge of the world. He stumbled on a village without a lightkeeper and a lighthouse in desperate need of repairs.
Days spent putting the lighthouse back together and nights spent winding the clockwork weight and keeping watch over the endless sea have occupied him long enough to make him forget. He thought he had finally settled. He bought a small plot of land at the northern point of the island, started a garden. He thought he had found a place to rest and live and be. A place where time can wash over him like the waves on the shore, breaking him down gently into sand.
He's afraid he was wrong.
His eyes catch the first glimmer of the sun as it breaks over the horizon. He wonders if he's meant to chase the light, always moving, always changing.
The sea told Bonghee that he was born outside of time, and he thinks she must be right. He still doesn't feel like he belongs any place this world has to offer. An outsider no matter where his feet take him.
He steps back from the railing and shakes the thoughts from his mind. The night is over but his work is not done. He climbs the wooden stairs from the watch room to the lantern room, the uppermost point of the tower. He laid down every step himself, new wood where splintered once lay. His hands have touched every inch of this lighthouse and yet his heart tells him it's not home. It is a garden he tends, that he will not harvest from.
He waits for the clockwork weight to reach the bottom of the lighthouse, the spinning stopped and silent, before he starts cleaning the glass, polishing it free of dust and debris. The wind kicks up, tugging at his hair. He can smell the salt from the water and it helps to keep him aware, the weariness of another night dragging at his eyes. He'll finish up the lens and head back down to his room to sleep until midday, he decides. The rest of his chores can wait a few hours.
Yoongi is nearly done when he hears the unmistakable rumble of the village head's motorboat, sputtering and uneven despite the latter's many attempts to fix it. He wipes his hands down on the rag and descends the stairs to the watch room, moving out onto the gallery overlooking the shore. He spots the boat quickly, recognizing the village head, tanned and wrinkled face distinguishable even from this distance. Oddly, he carries a passenger with him, dressed in what appears to be expensive clothes, probably from the best tailors in Yeosu.
The boat docks by a collection of flat rocks, a kind of small natural harbor that Yoongi uses whenever he brings back supplies from the mainland. He has a vague idea that he should build a true dock there this summer.
The stranger emerges from the boat and Yoongi arches a brow, the stranger obviously unused to the rocks and the sway of the water, struggling to find his footing in shoes and clothes ill-suited for the trek up to the lighthouse. A city man, he supposes, wondering what business he could possibly have with him.
He places his hands on the iron rail of the gallery and leans over to shout down to the base of the lighthouse. "Hyungnim!"
The village head looks up and waves his arm at Yoongi. The stranger peers up as well, a hand shielding his eyes from the sun, casting a dark shadow ominously over his features.
"Morning!" the village head bellows, cupping his hands around his mouth to project his voice across the distance.
"I'll come down," Yoongi shouts over the railing before stepping back and making his way down the lighthouse. The stairs spiral around the outer wall in a seemingly endless descent, past the watch room where he winds the clockwork weight, past his quarters with his humble cot and a window that faces the sea, past his small kitchen stocked with rice and the vegetables he grows in his garden. The lower levels of the lighthouse hold supplies and tools, whatever he needs to keep the structure functioning. The stairs transition from wood to brick as he nears the base, the sound of his feet against the steps shifting to a hollow echo.
When he took possession of the tower four years ago, this descent left him dizzy and out of breath. It is as easy as opening his eyes now, every step familiar, his feet certain with every landing.
The stranger and the village head have made it up the grassy hill by the time Yoongi reaches them, stepping out to join them, the earth soft against his soles through his shoes.
"Yoongi," the village head says, smiling tensely, and Yoongi immediately knows this will not be a pleasant visit.
He bows in greeting, lips tight and eyes focused and wary on the stranger from the city currently inspecting the lighthouse grounds as if he even knows what he's seeing.
"Yoongi, this is Mr. Choi," the village head says. "He's from the Busan government office."
Yoongi's shoulders stiffen and his lips tilt into a deep frown, defensive. There is little trust to be had in whatever they call the government these days. The village head gives him a sharp glare, most likely to warn Yoongi to behave himself and keep them off any government radar.
The stranger, Choi, finally turns to glance at Yoongi. His hair is perfectly slicked back, clothes somehow still immaculate even after the journey over. He's older than Yoongi but not by much from appearances. It's his eyes that are disconcerting, calculating and scrutinizing as they look Yoongi up and down, a cloud of dismissal and disregard falling over his face. "You're the lightkeeper."
Yoongi nods tersely. "Yes."
Choi steps closer to Yoongi. "How long have you been the lightkeeper?"
"So you know this shore fairly well."
Yoongi shrugs. "I guess."
Choi tilts his head up to peer at the lighthouse, eyes traveling the tower to the pinnacle. "Must have a nice view from up there. See quite a bit."
Yoongi schools his features into nonchalant neutrality. He knows exactly what the man from Busan is here for. "I see a lot of stars," he answers.
Choi glances back to Yoongi, his lips tipping into a disbelieving smile. "I thought the purpose of a lightkeeper was to watch the sea."
"The sea is dark," Yoongi says, matching Choi's smirk. "That's why there's a lighthouse."
Choi holds his gaze for a moment, studying him. "I'm sure you've heard about the smugglers in these waters."
"Mm. I've heard rumors. Strange that a government man all the way from Busan is concerned about our little village."
"When the Busan citizens who own the land in your little village aren't receiving their full harvest, it becomes my concern."
Yoongi resists the urge to clench his jaw and stares impassively at Choi.
"Our investigations point to this island," Choi continues, eyeing Yoongi sharply.
"You should send out patrols," Yoongi suggests coolly.
"We have. Somehow, we never seem to catch them."
Yoongi shrugs and bites down a smile. "They must be lucky."
"I don't believe in luck, Mr. Min." Choi turns to the village head. "We'll be sending out more patrols until we catch the culprit." He shifts his gaze back to Yoongi. "All the culprits. I suggest you keep your eyes on the water. You might see something. I'd hate to have to replace you with someone who has better eyesight."
Yoongi's jaw clicks but he manages a tight smile.
Choi nods to the village head. "Let's go."
The village head pauses and waits for Choi to step down the hill and out of earshot before he places a hand on Yoongi's shoulder. "Be careful, kid. They're going to be watching you," he warns, eyes intent. "I won't be able to save you if they decide to take the lighthouse from you. It belongs to them, you know."
Yoongi curls his hand into a fist but shrugs, outwardly dismissive. "The lighthouse belongs to the sea."
The village head steps back, shaking his head. "Stay out of trouble, Yoongi."
Yoongi smiles. "Nothing every happens around here. I couldn't get in trouble if I tried."
True, he doesn't hear any of that now. But the seaside is not a void. Not in the least.
He must be the only person in the world that doesn't find the crash of waves hitting the sandy shore lulling. It's nice during the day, he thinks, but the sound grows and morphs when he's lying on his futon, trying to drift off to sleep. It becomes a roar, alarming and unwelcome, his eyes flying open and his heart pounding against his chest as he jolts in surprise. Then there's the endless cascade of crickets chirping at volumes he doesn't think they should be capable of.
IF it were only the crickets and the waves, he would be able to fight his instincts and fall into slumber, but he swears there's an entire community of mice right outside his window, plotting to steal his food. Possibly kidnap him as well.
His first night in the cottage is, understandably, fitful. He wakes up still feeling groggy but unable to fall back to sleep with the sun bright and shining through the window. He gives up any ambition of sleeping longer and stumbles through his morning routine, washing his face and throwing on a clean outfit. He makes his way into the kitchen and puts a pot of water on the stove to boil for coffee. He stares at the pot and wonders if he should grab an electric kettle next time he's in Yeosu. He should write a list. Electric kettle, right below earplugs.
He sees the first tiny bubble in the water when he hears a small commotion outside. He cranes his neck to the front door, frowning, and steps toward the noise. The scene that greets him as he opens the front door is surprising but not immediately terrifying. Seokjin counts this as a plus.
Parked beside his car is a dirt-splashed jeep, the driver's seat unoccupied and the passenger's door open where a young woman is attempting to help what appears to be her grandmother down.
"Gran Gran, just let me – " the woman starts, securing her hand under her grandmother's elbow.
The elderly woman slaps at her hand and scowls, the wrinkles in her forehead and around her lips deepening with the action. "I'm old, not feeble."
"No one said you're feeble," the woman sighs, the words weary as if she's said them a hundred times before.
"I'm as spry as a spring chicken," the older woman says, hobbling down from the jeep, her feet planting solidly into the grass. "Ha! See?"
The woman smiles indulgently. "Yes, I see, Gran Gran."
Seokjin steps forward, smiling politely, his head tilted in curiosity. "Hello," he greets, bowing.
The two glance toward him. The younger woman bows in greeting and says, "Ah, hello."
The older woman's eyes brighten with something that looks like recognition. She advances over to Seokjin, her back slightly hunched steps small but quick. "Let me take a look at you," she says, peering up at him when she reaches Seokjin. "Come down here, my eyes aren't what they used to be," she grouses, waving her hand to beckon him down.
Seokjin bends obediently and she squints her eyes, studying him. She tilts her head back and forth to peer at him from all angles and Seokjin smiles in bemusement.
She finally grins and pats Seokjin's arm. "Yes, that's it. That's it."
"Gran Gran," the young woman says, mildly reproachful as she steps next to her grandmother. "At least introduce yourself before you bother your tenant."
"I'm not bothering him." She looks back to Seokjin. "I'm not bothering you."
He straightens and shakes his head. "No, you're not bothering me."
"We don't need introductions either," she continues, a glint of secretive humor in her eyes.
He smiles. "I don't think so, Mrs. Kang," he says, recalling the cottage owner's name and the warning from the realtor.
She grins. "Call me Gran Gran. Everyone does. Once you pass a certain age, you become everyone's grandmother." She laughs, a faint, wheezing sound, her lungs attempting to replicate a noise it can no longer carry. Seokjin thinks he can imagine what it used to sound like years ago, chortling and deep and joyful.
"I'm Kim Jiyoung," the young woman says, introducing herself. She smiles sheepishly. "Sorry, Gran Gran usually doesn't take an interest in her tenants but she insisted on visiting."
"It's okay, I like company." Seokjin gestures to the cottage. "I was just making coffee. Would you like a cup?"
Mrs. Kang beams at Seokjin. "That sounds lovely."
They settle around the small table in the kitchen as Seokjin brews three cups of coffee.
"Did you used to live here?" Seokjin asks as he uses the pour-over he brought with him from his apartment.
"I never lived on the island," Mrs. Kang answers. "We lived across the bridge in the village. My father would ferry people over in his boat when he wasn't fishing. My mother did it after he moved to Busan for work." She smiles, the wrinkles around her lips lifting up. "That was before they built a bridge. No one crosses over by boat anymore."
"Ah." Seokjin sets the first two mugs of coffee on the table for his guests. "Cream?"
Jiyoung shakes her head. "No, we're good with black coffee."
Seokjin nods and returns to the counter to retrieve his cup before he settles a the table with them. "So how did this cottage come to be?"
"My uncle gave me the property when he left us," Mrs. Kang says, her eyes wandering around the kitchen a little wistfully. "Back then, it was just a lot of land with a small garden." She chuckles and leans close to Seokjin conspiratorially. "And a secret."
Seokjin blinks and tilts his head. "Secret?"
"There's a hidden storage room at the edge of the property," Jiyoung explains. "Gran Gran keeps her moonshine there."
"It's not my moonshine," Mrs. Kang interjects. She turns to Seokjin. "My mother used to make it. Best cherry wine in the world. I'll show you."
Seokjin smiles. "I'd love to see it."
"Hmm." Mrs. Kang takes a sip of her coffee and sighs, looking over the space again. "I think my uncle would like this house. I tried to make it as close to his style as I could." She places her cup on the table. "You should always leave a place better than you found it. He gave me the land. I gave him the house."
"I'm sure he would love it," Seokjin comments.
Mrs. Kang hums.
Jiyoung explains about the island as they drink their coffee. Mrs. Kang used to take her grandchildren with her from Busan to visit every summer at her cousins' place. "They still have a small shop in the village. You'll probably run into them if you go over for supplies. Their family name is Joo. From Gran Gran's mother's side."
"Ah, I'll look out for them," Seokjin assures, and commits their name to memory.
Seokjin hasn't finished his coffee yet when Mrs. Kang places her hands on the table and slowly hefts herself back into a standing position.
"Seokjin, let's go. I want to show you the storage room."
Seokjin blinks and sets his cup down, a little surprised at the abruptness but more than willing to comply.
They make their way outside, Jiyoung leading the way as Seokjin supports Mrs. Kang with an arm around her shoulders. They turn away from the gravel pathway that Seokjin took last night to the beach and walk the property parallel to the shore. Seokjin had not realized how vast the property was until now.
He comments about it to Mrs. Kang and she cackles.
"No one lives on this island," she says. "Who would buy the excess space even if I put it up for sale? Besides. I think my uncle would be sad if I got rid of it." She leans up and whispers loudly, "He used the storage room to stash smuggled goods. That's how he made his money."
Seokjin's eyes widen, fascinated. "Really?"
"I wouldn't lie," she says. "Ah, there's where the garden used to be." She points to a patch of untended land, weeds and grass overgrowing. The only indication that a garden once stood is the line of rocks around the edges. She sighs. "I am sorry I couldn't keep it up. My uncle would grow such lovely things."
Seokjin frowns, Mrs. Kang's sadness touching his heart. "Couldn't the tenants keep it up?"
She sighs again. "No one wants to tend a garden that isn't theirs, Seokjin."
"Found it!" Jiyoung calls from the distance, waving at them. "It's here."
The storage room turns out to be an underground cellar with a large wooden covering. There are wooden steps leading down into a small, cool space with a dirt floor. The walls of the cellar are lined with shelves filled with dusty bottles of varying shapes and sizes, all with a slightly pink hue.
Seokjin helps Mrs. Kang down and she smiles when she looks around. "It's been so long." She hobbles over to peer at the bottles. "My mother left me these. She made a special batch every year." She beckons Seokjin over.
Seokjin obeys her command and steps next to her, his eyes roaming over the neat line of moonshine. They're all labeled in the same handwriting with simply the year. It starts at 1915 and ends at 1940. "Oh. 1923 is missing," he says, tapping the space between 1922 and 1924.
"I took that one," Mrs. Kang says. "It's from the year before I was born." She smiles sadly. "I wish I could still remember the taste."
Seokjin peers curiously at her but she shakes her head.
"You take one, Seokjin," she says, gesturing to the shelf.
Seokjin blinks in surprise. "I couldn't."
"It's your mother's wine," Seokjin says, shaking his head.
"Take it. I'll be personally insulted if you don't." She looks over to Jiyoung. "Tell him."
Jiyoung laughs and shrugs at Seokjin. "She'll be very offended and we'll never hear the end of it. Take one and spare us all."
Seokjin still hesitates, glancing between Mrs. Kang and the shelves of wine.
"We all get one," Mrs. Kang says. "Only one. Never take more." She pats insistently at Seokjin. "Choose."
Seokjin presses his lips together before he sighs and reaches for a bottle labeled 1933, the liquid a deep, rich pink, flower petals laying peacefully at the bottom. The bottle feels strangely heavy in his hands, the glass weightier than he thinks it possibly should be. He loses a few moments staring at the liquid, jolted out of his semi-trance when Mrs. Kang speaks again.
"Fine choice. I was nine. It was a good year."
"Thank you," Seokjin says. "I'll make sure to enjoy this well."
Mrs. Kang's smile turns wistful before she turns to her granddaughter. "Jiyoung dear, I'm growing tired. Let's go home."
Jiyoung shuffles over to her grandmother, slinging her arm around her waist. "Of course." She smiles at Seokjin. "Thank you for having us."
"Of course. Come by anytime you'd like," Seokjin says.
He follows them out and walks with them back to their jeep. He helps to settle Mrs. Kang into the passenger's seat. He moves to step back when she's buckled in but she stops him with a hand on his arm. He looks up at her curiously.
"It's a first and a last," she tells him. She moves her hand to lightly pat his cheek in affection. "A farewell and a see you again."
Seokjin's lips purses in confusion. Before he can ask anything, Jiyoung settles into the driver's seat and leans over, waving at him.
"Thanks again for indulging us," she says as she starts up the jeep.
Seokjin steps back and waves, still caught in bemusement, puzzling over Mrs. Kang's words and the entire visit as a whole.
It's curious, he thinks as he watches them drive off, the bottle of wine heavy in his hand, pulling him with far more gravity than it should. Very curious.
He spends time on the beach, playing in the sand like he used to as a child, running along the shore and chasing waves. It's refreshing, healing.
He walks the circumference of the island one day, setting out just as the dawn breaks on the horizon. It's just like the realtor told him; keep walking and eventually you'll find your way back home. That's a nice thought, he decides. That one can become lost on this island, but never stay that way if they keep moving.
About halfway around the island from his cottage, a little over an hour into his trek, he stumbles onto a lighthouse situated on the top of a hill, overlooking the sea. There is a long paved pathway up the hill to the lighthouse, wide enough for three people to walk abreast. Seokjin starts up the trail, hand brushing over the metal railing, tapping every post as he passes.
The lighthouse towers several storeys high and Seokjin has to crane his neck to catch a glimpse of the top as he approaches it. The interlaced brickwork is painted white until the bottom where a large slash of red coats the structure. There seems to be a wide balcony at the space right before the light, and second, smaller balcony above it.
His legs are protesting by the time he reaches the steps to the door of the tower. Curious, he reaches forward to try it but finds it locked, the door clanking against the hinges as he tries to pull it open. He lets out a short huff of breath and shrugs. He should have known. It's probably out of service by now. From the looks of it, the lighthouse seems to be quite old, constructed in a traditional style, different from the modern lighthouses he's seen before.
He walks around the base of the structure to the edge of the hill, looking out to the vast sea. To his left is a steep but walkable descent to a rocky shore, the waves lapping gently against a small wooden dock. There's a foot trodden path leading down the hill, soil packed hard in a thin line where feet have fallen countless times before. He wishes he brought his fishing hear suddenly. The dock looks like the perfect place to spend an afternoon catching fish.
To the right is a gentle grassy slope leading a long way down to a beach, the sand eventually seeping in between blades of grass until the green disappears and all that remains is the white grains and blue water. It is the very picture of serene.
Seokjin doesn't tarry long at the lighthouse, eager to explore more. He makes a promise to himself to return again soon and sets off down the winding pathway again.
He starts writing again, a few hours in the morning, in the afternoon, at night. It's just snippets so far, disjointed and hazy. They are pretty words on short strings that Seokjin hasn't quite figured out how to weave together yet, pattern and texture still uncertain.
It's better than nothing, he thinks, and allows himself to feel satisfied with his progress. He actually kind of likes what he's written so far. He's going to hold onto that feeling.
He's still sleeping fitfully. He thought by the end of the week he would be accustomed to the sounds of the island at night. And in a sense he is used to them. They don't startle him anymore. They are almost a welcoming ambience. Yet somehow, as he lies on his futon and shuts his eyes, the singing crickets make his feet fidget and the crashing waves inject a restlessness in his chest. It feels like he's waiting, searching for something as far away as the stars that blanket the sky.
He sighs and hefts himself up from his futon, kicking the covers off. The floor is cold on the soles of his feet as he stands and he exclaims in surprise, hopping back to the warmth of the futon. He doesn't think the floor should be so cold at the end of April, even if it is the middle of the night. He makes a face at the offending hardwood and grabs a pair of socks, slipping them on before he ventures out again, shuffling quickly to the kitchen.
He doesn't bother turning on the light. The moon is full and bright, shining like a small sun through the windows. It's still astounding to Seokjin how brilliant the light from the sky is at night. They lost that in the city, street lamps and advertising billboards replacing the stars, dimming the moon.
He makes his way over to the pantry, the space pitch dark where the moonlight fails to reach. He steps in and grabs for the soju he knows he lined up on the shelves. One bottle should help him sleep.
His fingers close around the neck of the bottle, the glass smooth and cool against his skin. It isn't until he slides the bottle off the shelf that he notices its weight, heavy and pulling like gravity. He frowns, confused, and steps back into the kitchen, turning to the window and the moonlight.
"Ah," he says, realization hitting him as he peers at the bottle. It's the cherry win from Mrs. Kang, the liquid a vibrant purple in the bluish hue of the dim room. The petals at the bottom of the glass float upward, disturbed from their rest by Seokjin's jostling. It's almost hypnotizing, watching the graceful movement.
He purses his lips. Well, moonshine might work just as well as soju. He sets the bottle on the counter and reaches into the cupboard for a cup. He selects a clear glass cup amongst the mismatched assortment.
He has a brief thought that uncorking a bottle that has been sealed shut for over eighty years will be difficult. Surprisingly the bottle opens with relative ease, as if it had waited anxiously for this moment.
The very first impression that hits Seokjin is the scent, strong and slightly sweet, enticing and inviting.
He's mildly wary of the homemade concoction so he pours just a small amount into his cup before he sets the bottle aside. He stares at the purplish liquid for a moment and finally takes a cautious sip.
It's tart and sweet at the same time, a taste that lingers on his tongue like a ghost, haunting.
He finishes the rest in one more swallow and sets his glass in the sink. He shuffles back to the bedroom and settles back under the covers on the futon, turning to his side. He lets out a tired sigh and closes his eyes, hopeful that sleep will deign to grace him.
He must have fallen asleep. He must have, because he wakes with a jolt and a hammering heart. He's cold. No, he's freezing, limbs shivering. Consciousness filters in quickly, a flood of observations that leave him panicked and unsettled.
He's outside. It's dark and cold, the ocean breeze a chill on his arms where his t-shirt fails to cover his skin. He sits up and tries to make sense of it all. His breath comes in quick pants as adrenaline courses through his veins. He is alert to every sound, every sight. He glances up, searching for the nearly full moon from before.
It's all in vain. All he can see if a small sliver of a waning moon and a sky cloudy with a thousand stars.
He must have sleepwalked. It's bizarre to think. In his twenty-seven years, he's never had an issue with sleepwalking before. He sighs and hefts up to stand, brushing grass from his pyjama pants. That's an issue to worry over later. For now, he's lost with no cell phone, no shoes, no idea how to get back to the cottage, and only the shimmer of light from the waning moon.
He ventures a few steps forward to a tree, a maple just like the one he's parked his car next to. Except his car isn't here and the tree is significantly smaller than his tree. He pats the bark are he passes, intend on walking until he hopefully stumbles upon a house or road. He's suddenly very grateful he put on a pair of socks earlier, even the thin barrier between his feet and the ground a small blessing.
He turns in a full circle, peering in all directions, trying to discern his location. His eyes widen when he catches a beacon of light in the distance. The lighthouse. He had thought it was inactive.
He smiles in relief and sets off toward the light, careful of his steps as he treads. It took him two hours to circle the island before and he'd much rather not do it again in the dark. But the lighthouse is a familiar structure, a beacon, and hopefully there will be a helpful lightkeeper with a car to drive him back to the cottage.
He's not lost anymore, he tells himself, eyes steady on the light. Just a little far from home.
An uncountable number of sailors have cast their eyes on his light and found safety and comfort in the dark night. But sitting up here and looking out to the water, Yoongi can't help the prevailing feeling of loneliness. He can imagine himself as the only person in the world from up here, solitary and unknown. A star without a satellite, no moons or planets to pull into his gravity.
His eyes catch the boat he's been watching for, a tiny thing in the vast sea, barely detectable if not for his expectation and experience. He pulls his legs back in and stands, reaching for the large blanket he brought up with him. He shakes it open and tosses it over the lens with practiced ease, blocking the beacon and plunging everything into darkness. He pulls the blanket off with a sharp tug and repeats the move once more.
It's the signal he's established with Gwangok and Sang. Blacking out the lighthouse beacon once means it is not safe to land. Blacking out twice means it is safe.
Despite Choi from Busan's warning, the sea is clear of patrols tonight. Yoongi smirks and tugs the blanket off the lens again, folding it back up as he descends to the watch room. He places the now folded blanket to the side and rolls up his sleeves. He has to wind the clockwork weight back up to the top of the lighthouse. He has two and a half hours from the uppermost position until it reaches the bottom and the lens stops turning.
The crank is difficult and taxing, the muscles in his arms and chest still protesting as he turns it slowly, even after all these years. He controls his breathing and steadily pushes through the pain, sweat breaking out on his brow. The weight tries to resist but he succeeds in the end, just as he does every night. When he hears it clank to the top, he releases the crank and shakes his arms out, taking in several deep gulps of air.
Once he's recovered sufficiently, he skips down the steps and outside. He grabs his bicycle from against the base of the lighthouse and speeds down the pathway. It is tricky to navigate when the moon is waning but he knows the island well enough to travel it with his eyes closed.
It takes twenty minutes by bicycle to reach his plot of land where Gwangok and Sang will be unloading their goods smuggled in from Busan. They make the trip once or twice a month, collecting rice from the tenant farmers for a low price and smuggling it to Busan, where they gather goods that are nearly impossible to obtain this far south. Yoongi allows them to use his land as a landing space and intermittent storage. He carved out a hidden room underground for the sole purpose of hiding smuggled goods.
By the time he reaches the sandy shoreline near his property, Gwangok and Sang have already unloaded their goods and are trudging it up the slope to the storage room.
"Hyung," he greets quietly as he approaches them, laying his bicycle down.
Gwangok glances over at him and smiles, waving. "Yah, Yoongi, how are you? Carry this bag for me, will you?" He shoves a weighted bag into Yoongi's hands.
Yoongi hefts the bag over his shoulder and follows after Sang's footsteps, the other already making his way to the storage room. The small lantern in Sang's hand almost seems like a miniature lighthouse to Yoongi, guiding his steps.
"How's life going?" Gwangok asks cheerfully, not minding the volume of his voice as he walks up with Yoongi.
"A man from Busan came around the other day to warn me about smugglers," Yoongi says in a lower tone.
Gwangok laughs, seemingly amused and unconcerned. "Really?"
"You should probably be a cautious, at least for the moment," Yoongi continues. "They'll be watching the island for a while, I think."
Gwangok shrugs, dismissive. "Eh, they've been trying to catch us for years. We're too smart." Yoongi raises his eyebrows and Gwangok shrugs again. "Well. At least Sang is too smart." He looks up to Sang several steps ahead of them. "Right, hyungnim?" he nearly yells.
Sang shifts his head to look back at them. "If you don't shut the fuck up yourself, I will do it for you."
Gwangok makes a face and looks back to Yoongi. "He's a pain, Yoongi. It's a wonder how I don't kill him on that boat."
Sang stops as he reaches the secret room. He bends to brush the foliage off the wooden covering and unlocks the padlock with his key. "If one of us is dying, it's you." He pushes the cover up and starts the descent down.
They make quick work of unloading the haul, organizing the items on the shelves. Gwangok shoves a small bag into Yoongi's hands as they finish. "Here. This one's for the shaman."
"Bonghee's not a shaman," Sang says dully as he folds up the sacks.
Gwangok glares at Sang. "She does magic."
Sang sniffs. "It's not magic."
"You always contradict what I say."
Sang pauses, looking up at Gwangok before he says, "No, I don't."
Gwangok sneers. "I hate you so much, you know that?"
"I don't really care," Sang replies. He pulls a small satchel from his jacket and tosses it to Yoongi. "Your fee."
Yoongi catches the bag and immediately opens it, counting the coins.
"Do you have to count that here?" Gwangok asks petulantly. "It seems like you don't trust us."
Yoongi shrugs, still counting. "The world is full of cheaters."
"He's right," Sang echoes.
Gwangok sighs and starts stomping up the stairs. "I'm going back to the boat."
"Good luck finding it without the lantern," Sang says.
"I know this island like I know my own wife!" Gwangok shouts back as he reaches the top step. There's a loud noise as he stumbles, followed by his muttered cursing. Yoongi presses his lips together to keep from laughing.
"Thanks for the warning," Sang says to Yoongi, grabbing his attention again.
Yoongi looks at him and blinks. "Hmm?"
"About the patrols."
"Ah. Well, you get caught, I get caught." Yoongi smiles, crooked and amused. "So don't get caught."
Sang's lips almost twitch in the closest thing to emotion that Yoongi has ever seen on his face. "We'll do our best." He pats Yoongi's shoulder and picks up the lantern. "Let's go."
Yoongi follows Sang back to the beach and says goodbye before he retrieves his bicycle. He ties the sack for Bonghee to the handle bars and sets off back to the lighthouse, letting the light guide his way. He still has plenty of time before the gear weight reaches the bottom of the tower and he's weary from the exertion of helping Gwangok and Sang unload their goods. He keeps his pace slow and relaxed as he cycles through the familiar route.
He's halfway home when he notices something - someone - ahead of him, treading carefully, each step cautious and deliberate. It's hard to make out who it is. It's hard to even imagine who it could be. The few residents of the island are fishermen and their families. They live by the sun, rising with it at dawn and settling down at night with it at dusk. He's the only breathing creature that keeps the waking hours in the dead of the night.
He can decipher an outline in the faint glow of the moonlight. The person is tall and lean with wide shoulders. He frowns as he hears the stranger mutter to himself in a voice Yoongi doesn't recognize. The stranger is not from this island, Yoongi is certain. He straightens in his seat, alert as his mind races with possibilities. He wonders if this man has been sent by Choi, an agent placed here to spy on Yoongi and catch the smugglers.
It would probably be best to avoid him, Yoongi decides. He still has Bonghee's package tied to the handlebar of his bicycle. He doesn't have a viable excuse as to why he's abandoned his post at the lighthouse. He should stay out of trouble.
The stranger missteps and shouts in alarm, hissing at the impact of running his foot into a protruding rock. He curses fluidly and vividly and Yoongi's lips twitch.
Without voluntary thought, Yoongi pushes the pedals of his bicycle and moves forward to the stranger, pulled towards him like the pull of gravity sending him into orbit.
"Excuse me," he starts as he nears the stranger.
The man yells loudly in alarm and stumbles back, his feet tripping under him with the momentum as he tumbles down to the ground.
Yoongi quickly hops off his bicycle. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." The stranger huffs out a breath and stands back to his feet, recovering quickly. "You scared me." He steps forward closer to Yoongi. "I'm glad I stumbled on you. It's a long story, but I'm a little lost."
Yoongi can discern in the faint light that the stranger doesn't have any shoes on, his shirt sleeves short and exposing his skin to the chilled night air. He frowns, a sudden thump of concern in his chest.
"I'm staying at the Kang place, on the northeast part of the island. Do you know which way I should head?"
Yoongi blinks, his brow furrowing. "There's no Kangs on the island," he says.
"I'm renting it," the stranger explains. "It's like five minutes from the bridge."
Yoongi shakes his head. This is too strange, he thinks. No one new comes onto the island without everyone finding out. There are no houses on the northeast side of the island. "There's no bridge," he says, glancing back to the stranger's eyes, gleaming in the glowing moonlight. Maybe he's an apparition, come to lure Yoongi away. Somehow, Yoongi thinks he wouldn't quite mind.
The stranger snorts. "Look, I know I'm new, but I drove over that bridge like a week ago. You can trick me just because I'm not a local."
Yoongi sighs and looks up to the beacon of his lighthouse. He's running out of time, the weight nearing the bottom. He can't let the lens stop turning. He has faithfully kept it going every night for four years. He glances back to the stranger, making a quick decision. He can use a little trouble, he thinks. "I don't know where you're trying to go, but I'm heading to the lighthouse over there. You can come with me, wait out the night. We can search for your place in the morning."
"That would be amazing, thank you so much," the stranger exclaims. Yoongi can't quite see his smile but he can hear it in the way his voice lifts. Yoongi can feel his own lips twitch into an answering smile.
He steps back and retrieves his bicycle. "Hop onto the back, I'll give you a ride," he says as he settles on the seat.
The stranger readily obeys, shifting onto the small board at the back of the bicycle that Yoongi uses to haul supplies. The stranger reaches his hands around Yoongi's waist to hold on. It's just a light hold, as polite and reserved as possible, but somehow the touch is still warm. Yoongi's heart beats faster and he swallows hard, clearing his throat. He pushes his feet on the pedals and drives forward, shaking his head.
"My name's Kim Seokjin," the stranger says behind him, conversationally.
"I'm Min Yoongi," Yoongi answers, navigating through the dark landscape on the familiar route.
"Nice to meet you, Min Yoongi. Are you the lightkeeper?"
Yoongi makes a noise in affirmation.
"That must be a nice occupation. There aren't many left."
Yoongi frowns. "How so?"
Seokjin hums in thought. "Most lighthouses are run by the coastguard. No one lives in them anymore, right?"
Yoongi snorts. Everything Seokjin says is strange. "Where would we live if not the lighthouse?"
"Maybe back in the day." Seokjin's hands tighten around Yoongi's waist as Yoongi runs over dip, jostling them.
Yoongi presses his lips together and wishes stupidly that Seokjin's hands would stay like that, tight against his stomach, directing the butterflies that flutter under his skin.
"I thought the lighthouse was out of commission, to be honest," Seokjin continues. "I didn't see the light until tonight." He laughs, the sound hiccuping and far too pleasant in Yoongi's ears. "Maybe because I wasn't lost until now? A magic light that appears when I need a guide."
Yoongi smiles. "I suppose you could say it that way."
Seokjin hums in agreement. They lapse into silence, the crash of the waves against the shore growing louder as Yoongi nears the coast again, almost to the lighthouse.
"What, uh," Yoongi starts, wanting to hear more of Seokjin's voice, a strange sort of comfort in the sound. Maybe he's just starved for company, or maybe there's something wondrous about Seokjin's voice that latches onto his heart, soothes his mind. He licks his lips and tries again. "What do you do?"
"Hmm? For work?"
Yoongi nods, realizing belatedly that Seokjin might not be able to see. "Yeah."
"I'm a writer. Maybe you heard of me? My last three novels have been really popular."
"We don't get many books around here," Yoongi answers regretfully.
"I'll bring them by later," Seokjin promises. "As payment for the ride."
Yoongi smiles. "Sure. That'd be nice." He waits a moment before asking, "What do you write about?"
Seokjin sighs, his fingers flexing against Yoongi's stomach. "Lonely people."
"Is there enough to say about lonely people for three books?"
Seokjin hums. "There's enough to say for a lifetime."
Yoongi blinks, the thought striking him as sadly true. They lapse back into silence the rest of the way as Yoongi bikes up the hill to the lighthouse.
"Sorry, I don't have a lantern down here," Yoongi says as they disembark. "It's usually just me." He opens the door to the lighthouse and holds out his hand to Seokjin. "Hold my hand, I'll guide you up."
Seokjin laughs and reaches forward, clasping his fingers around Yoongi's. "Are you sure you're the lightkeeper and not the light, Min Yoongi?"
Yoongi can feel his face heat and he's glad for the pitch darkness of the stairwell. He scoffs and gently pulls Seokjin behind him. "This isn't one of your novels."
Their steps echo against the brick walls as they climb the stairs. It's odd, Yoongi thinks, Seokjin's hand wrapped around his. He's so used to the isolation of this space, the solitude, that hearing a set of footsteps that aren't his own makes it feel like a dream, hazy and disjointed.
He kept the lantern burn in his quarters before he left earlier and as the light spills into the stairway, Seokjin's fingers slip from Yoongi's hand. He licks his lips and tries not to feel disappointed. He's being ridiculous, he scolds himself.
"This is my quarters," he says as he reaches the landing. He gestures to the cot by the window. "You can sleep here." He turns around, his voice trailing off, mouth falling open.
Seokjin looks around the room, curious. It's the first time Yoongi has seen him clearly, the room still dim but with enough light to make out colors and shapes and details. And Seokjin's colors and shapes and details are the most beautiful Yoongi has ever seen. His hair is a rich brunet, a soft and silky chestnut hue that shines even in the small flame of the lantern. His lips are plumb and deep pink, his nose long, his eyes gleaming and bright. And there's something more, something Yoongi can't quite think succinctly, a fleeting idea that skitters away as he tries to grab hold of it. Something that draws him in and arrests him, a gravity, unseen but forceful.
Seokjin looks back to Yoongi and smiles, cheeks puffing out. "Thank you so much. I can't tell you how much I appreciate this."
Yoongi shifts his eyes away and nods, a hand reaching up to scratch at his ear. "Yeah, no problem. I, uh." He moves to the stairwell again. "I have to keep watch," he says. "Make yourself at home. I'll just be up there if you need me."
Yoongi nods and starts up the stairs, resisting the urge to look back to Seokjin as he ascends. His heart beats too fast in his chest, and he knows it has nothing to do with the physical demands of the steps. He makes his way up to the watch room and opens the door to the gallery, moving out into the cold night air. He sucks in a deep breath, lungs filling with fresh air. He closes his eyes and slowly exhales.
It's ridiculous and fanciful and stupid. But his head feels light and his chest feels warm. He wonders again if Seokjin is some celestial creature, a fairy or apparition here to lure him away. He wonders again why it feels like Seokjin is leading him to a place he's never known.
A place that feels strangely like what he's been searching for all his life.
He licks his lips, remembering Seokjin's silly joke as they climbed the stairs. He might be the lightkeeper, but it feels like Seokjin is the light.
His brow furrows as his muscles protest, aching and uncomfortable. His eyes shoot open and he sucks in another breath in alarm. Gone are the soft covers and the warm futon, replaced by a hard wooden floor. He bolts into an upright position and blinks rapidly, trying to clear his vision. He's not in the cottage anymore.
He stands, limbs shaking as adrenaline starts flowing through his veins. The room he's found himself in is small and circular, a hardwood floor empty and dusty, the air stale and stuffy. A staircase built into the side of the room circles up and down to places unknown.
He rushes to the window, trying to get his bearings. His eyes widen as he spots the shoreline several storeys below the room.
He's in the lighthouse, he realizes, backing away from the window. He shakes his head and squeezes his eyes shut, a headache starting in his temples. He can't remember anything after he drank that moonshine and settled back to sleep. He reaches a hand up to card through his hair. He must have sleep walked.
It's bizarre to think. In his twenty-seven years, he's never had an issue with sleep walking before.
He sighs and moves to the staircase, heading down the creaky old steps. Maybe that moonshine had been a little too strong. He can deal with it when he gets back to the cottage. For now, he's in his pyjama pants with no shoes and no cell phone. He's thankful at least the sun is up to light his way.
He carefully makes his way down the stairs, hand trailing on the brick wall for safety. He wishes he had a railing. Or a hand to guide him.
He stops, right foot on the step ahead of his left, and frowns. There's something, something familiar about that thought, but he can't quite figure out why. It's faded and far away, like a dream slipping from his consciousness. Maybe it had been a dream.
He blinks and forces his feet to keep moving.
He wonders what kind of dream it had been, that would make his heart feel so unreasonably sad to forget.