The place is magical.
The wooden floors, ancient but maintained, are nearly a meter higher than the ground, and he needs to jump over or look for the stairs. Pillars of dark wood, the same material as the floor, stand tall, supporting high ceilings. The doors are all slide doors, made of wood and some cloth that is thick enough to hide details but one can still see shadows from behind it when the sky is dark and the room is illuminated.
He walks around the temple, eyes wide, smile big and uncontained. He’s spending the summer before he takes over a higher position in their company here, with a far related branch of his family. It was a suggestion from his father, who noticed how much stress Seokjin was under (or perhaps grew stressed from Seokjin) and Seokjin had reluctantly agreed to take the short trip from Incheon to Bukchon Hanok village. Now that he’s here, relatively far from the chatter of tourists navigating the old city, he admires the traditional Pagoda roofs, breathes in the scent of old wood then agrees with his father. Coming here was a good idea.
The yards and gardens of the temple are a wonder of their own. Flowers in full bloom, arranged in several places, planted to be in the shape of circles and often surrounded by rocks to give a natural look. A small stream cuts through the temple grounds; two red bridges arch over it even though it’s small enough to skip. Seokjin’s heart settles and the remaining traces of exhaustion from his last case evaporate.
A construction zone in the western area sends knocking and hammering to Seokjin’s ears as he walks to the main entrance.
Hurried footsteps, then several voices, one in particular catches his attention. Something like an excited squeal, a high pitched, happy voice.
The door slides open and a small man smiles at him, full lips and full cheeks, his eyes have completely disappeared into crescents. His hair is fluffy, dyed bright orange and he’s wearing an oversized white shirt and black jeans.
“You must be Kim Seokjin-ssi,” he says, he’s the owner of the high pitched voice. “I’m Park Jimin and-”
Before he can finish, someone jumps to hug him from the back. The newcomer is taller than Jimin by a few centimeters, hair jet black and eyes big, he hooks his chin over Jimin’s shoulder and pulls him close, then looks at Seokjin and offers a smile.
“Jeon Jeongguk,” he introduces.
“Kids, leave him be!” A voice booms. Jimin and Jeongguk separate, and a tall man -not really older than the ‘kids’- appears with an apologetic smile and two dimples. Seokjin smiles back at him. The man has short, brown hair styled as messy spikes, he’s wearing thick rimmed glasses and he sighs long and loud as he turns to Jeongguk and chastises him about his inappropriate behavior in front of visitors.
“I’m sorry. I’m Kim Namjoon, I’m kinda the manager here. You must be Seokjin-ssi, your father called me. I hope these two didn’t cause you trouble.” Namjoon bows and Seokjin does the same.
“No trouble at all. I’m the one inconveniencing you by dropping here.”
The two guys duck their heads, their cheeks pink. Seokjin knows shame when he sees it, feels a familiar shame in his gut. “And you two are very cute,” he adds, watching as Jimin and Jeongguk lift their heads to give him a happy expression. The line of Namjoon’s shoulders relaxes, and his dimples make a reappearance.
“Oh no, no. Your family owns the place, we all just work here.” Namjoon leads him inside. A long corridor made of wood and lit by several lanterns fixed to the walls. Curiosity takes root in his chest and Namjoon smiles at him.
“We don’t use electricity here, part of keeping the place as it is. Our living quarters are a large house that isn’t a part of the temple, but is connected to it, you can choose to occupy a room in the temple or we can give you the guest room in our house, if you want.”
Seokjin has a feeling the room offer isn’t extended to all the guests, and he doesn’t know if it’s his readily acceptance of Jimin and Jeongguk or if it’s his relation to the owner of the place.
“Whatever is easier for you guys,” Seokjin replies. Namjoon laughs.
“It can be hard living here with no electricity, only candles at night and no internet connection. I’ll tell them to prepare the guest room.”
“Actually,” Seokjin starts, looking around the place. “I think I want the full ‘living in the past’ experience.”
Namjoon stops walking to look at him with raised eyebrows, then he smiles, dimples dotting his cheeks. “Of course. You seem like a very nice person, Seokjin-ssi.”
“Thank you. You, too.”
They lead him to the room at the end of the hall, it’s spacious and mostly empty, a futon on the ground, a closet and to the side, a low table with a seating mat. On the table an oil lamp, candles, an inkwell, a brush and some papers.
The room has many windows, all of which are opened and letting in enough light to illuminate the place, the air is clean and refreshing and Seokjin breathes in deeply, relishing the smell of grass and wet dirt.
“This place is gorgeous.”
A loud set of footsteps echoes, running towards him, then someone calls “Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh,” in a singsong way. Namjoon shakes his head just as the door slides open.
“Yahoo! Welcome!” The skinny, over excited man dances into the room and grabs Seokjin’s hand, shaking it as he babbles, “I’m Jung Hoseok, but they call me J-hope, I’m so glad to have you here, hyung. Can I call you hyung, by the way? I heard you’re two years older than me. And already a very accomplished lawyer, that’s very impressive!”
Seokjin’s smile drops, but he nods at Hoseok, not wanting to look rude. “Thank you for having me here.”
“We’re happy to! A lot of people visit in the evenings, but rarely to stay, and frankly I’m getting bored of these idiots.” He points with his thumb at Namjoon, who huffs and crosses his arms. Seokjin knows that he’s also including Jimin and Jeongguk with “idiots”
“You’re sleeping here, but you’ll have your meals with us, and in case you get scared alone, or you want to catch the civilization and connect to the net, you’re welcome back in the house. Let’s arrange your things here, and I’ll show you around, alright?”
Seokjin’s drained just listening to Hoseok talk this fast, and his smile is a bit too bright. He dyed his hair brilliant red, cut like a bowl, his fringe falling over his eyes, giving his head the shape of a strawberry. He’s friendly, if a bit over excited. Seokjin likes all four of them.
True to Hoseok’s word, the four help Seokjin unpack and settle in, then Hoseok takes him around the temple. The place is big even when it’s smaller than the more popular temples. A huge hall is meant for worship and holding ceremonies, in the back there’s a wooden stage, old-fashioned musical instruments lined on the far end of it. Jimin and Jeongguk are there, fixing up ribbons and lanterns.
Jimin waves at him. “You’re coming tonight, right? We do a traditional dance show almost every night during summer, get tons of tourists!”
“I’ll be here,” Seokjin answers.
“Great! The place looks stunning during the night, all the candles and the lat-
“Jimin-ssiiiee! Go back to work,” Jeongguk scolds playfully. Jimin salutes, throws Seokjin a smile before he turns to fix the decoration in his hand to the wall. “Jeonggukie, don’t be scary,” he says, and Jeongguk mock growls at him, making him giggle.
It’s long perfected, comfortable banter and Seokjin misses Yoongi. He can only be this comfortable with his best friend.
“Come on!” Hoseok calls. They continue their tour around the temple, passing through the gardens again, and past the construction site. Hoseok warns him from going there, saying that the ceiling is in danger of collapsing and the workers aren’t anywhere near done fixing it.
Just as Jimin promised, the place is indeed stunning at night. Lit by gentle fire from the numerous hanged lanterns and the scattered candles on the floor, and the dramatic torches. A big crowd has gathered in front of the stage, most of them foreigners. Seokjin stands near the wings, closer to the performers than anyone else. Beside him Namjoon is talking to one of the many musicians as they prepare to go on stage.
Tambourines sound, then loud drums and high pitched flutes, the melody intimidating as if announcing war. A number of performers, dressed in a modern rendition of the traditional Korean clothes, wearing masks and carrying wooden swords mount the stage. They beat with their feet, standing side by side until they form a long row, pulling their swords out they point, and with a sudden movement they all fall to the ground. A graceful dancer jumps over them, and the crowd cheers.
The dancer is Hoseok, dressed in something similar to traditional clothes, but cut to be more suitable for movement. He dances, leaps and powerful moves, breathtaking performance, then from the inside of his jacket, he pulls out a big fan and throws it to the side.
Jimin catches the fan Hoseok has thrown and opens it. He waves it around him, twirls with his neck curved back, then falls back, letting the dancers catch him and turn him in the air. They put him down again, and he leads a stunning dance with the fans, his movements fluid and beautiful.
He closes the fan, the back dancers form something like a chair and before he takes a seat, he unties a white ribbon that was fastened to his belt and throws it to the side.
Fire effects explode, and another group of dancers flock the stage, Jeongguk appears in the middle, holding two large white ribbons. He dances in complete contrast to Jimin, while Jimin is smooth and subtle, Jeongguk is intense and powerful. The two performances following each other is something stunning, Seokjin’s heart rises with the drums. On the stage Jeongguk is doing a series of leaps and twirls, like he’s fighting, the dancers swirling around him like he’s controlling them. They lift him up and one of them presents him with a mask, and he covers his face with it in the dramatic finale.
The torches are all put down together, then they are lit again and all the dancers, led by Hoseok, Jimin and Jeongguk stand in a row to bow to the crowd that has gone absolutely insane with cheering. Seokjin is no different, he claps and shouts until his hands are red and his throat is raw, light and excited and inspired. These three are beyond skilled.
The crowd dwindles, scattering around to see what else the city has to offer them, Seokjin climbs the stage with Namjoon.
“You are amazing!” he gushes. Hoseok smiles at him, while Jimin runs to hug him.
“Impressed?” Jeongguk asks. Seokjin nods fervently.
“Very! That was...Wow!”
Namjoon laughs at his reaction, extending a hand he asks: “Want me to take you a picture with them on the stage?”
Seokjin hands his phone, and the dancers line up. He stands in the middle, Jeongguk and Jimin on his right and Hoseok on his left, many backup dancers behind them. Namjoon snaps several pictures.
Most of the dancers scatter, carrying the musical instruments or removing the hanged lanterns. Seokjin helps them clean up the stage despite Namjoon’s insistence that he doesn’t have to.
They have dinner in the house they kept talking about. It’s a two storey house, built in the old style, but furnished modernly. There are four rooms: Namjoon’s, Hoseok’s, and Jimin shares the master room with Jeongguk. The fourth is a guest room on the second floor, that according to Namjoon was Jeongguk’s before he and Jimin got together and decided they wanted to sleep in the same bed.
Namjoon thanks him for his comment to Jimin and Jeongguk, says that the few staying guests they had before weren’t so nice, and once again offers the extra room to him. Seokjin likes them, but he isn’t keen to break their privacy or his. No one was hurt from some lack of luxuries, no electricity could be good for him.
They share a lot of stories over dinner. They share some of themselves with Seokjin. Hoseok and Jimin have been friends forever, both of them took dancing classes in Seoul since they were seventeen and moved here with the job opportunity although Hoseok speaks wistfully of the city, like he might want to go back someday. Jeongguk has recently finished college. He studied photography, and filmmaking and he took dance on the side. Jimin jokingly adds that Jeongguk does everything on the side, from drawing and painting to taekwondo to near professional pottery.
Namjoon has a business degree, Jeongguk brags about it like it’s his own. He tells Seokjin that Namjoon graduated with honor and got offered a position in a prestigious company. Namjoon steers the subject away from that and Seokjin doesn’t ask how he ended up here in a job that has nothing to do with his major.
Namjoon is a genius. He’s well versed in poetry, literature and history and he even writes poems. Some of them are published under his pen name RM. Seokjin remembers reading one in a magazine once, and he was quite impressed.
Seokjin offers some information about himself; finishing law school and joining his father’s firm. All the pressure of inheriting it that pushed him to near breakdown and made his father suggest he spend some time away. He leaves out the real reason he’s so against inheriting the company, but the way they all look at him tells him they understand there’s more to it. Luckily, none of them asks.
“And?” Namjoon asks, “Do you like it here?”
“Yes, I do,” Seokjin says, surprise in his tone. “I was hesitant about this, but I feel better already.” He smiles at Namjoon, who returns it, dimples denting his cheeks.
Hoseok takes them a selfie with the empty dishes just because. Seokjin sends the photos to Yoongi.
Yoongi instantly crops the photo so only Hoseok is there and captions it with:
Who’s the eye candy?
Seokjin rolls his eyes.
Way out of your league, loser.
Give me his number or I will block your ass.
Fuck you, Kim Seokjin.
Another eye roll, and he closes the chat. When he lifts his face, there are four pairs of glittering eyes, and suggestive smiles.
“That’s your girl?” Namjoon asks. Seokjin snorts.
“It’s my best friend. I sent him some pictures, and he’s planning to embarrass me already.”
“Oh?” Hoseok asks.
“He’s actually asking for your number, I’m sorry.”
Hoseok’s brows lift up “Is he hot?”
“Eh. I guess he’s more grumpy-cute?” Seokjin gets his phone out to show him some pictures, Hoseok makes a give me gesture with his hand and he passes the phone over.
“Oh my God. Give him my number right now.”
Jimin slaps Hoseok’s arms, “You’re so easy.” Hoseok wordlessly shows the phone to Jimin.
Jimin lets out a thoughtful hum and nods. “Not my type but I get it.”
Before he sends the number, Seokjin gets a promise out of Yoongi that he owes him forever. He takes a screenshot of the conversation in case Yoongi tries to deny it later.
He goes to sleep in his room in the temple with a light chest and a smile on his face. There’s a lot to worry about when the summer is over but right now as he pulls the covers to his chin and stares at the wooden ceiling he’s in a fantasy world and all his fears are miles away, tucked in a metaphorical box somewhere in Inochen.
He wakes up from a vague dream. His throat is dry and his ears are ringing. He doesn’t recall what he’s seen, but there was someone there, trapped, calling for help. He scrunches his nose, rubs his face. He reaches for the bottle of water he’s set beside his futon before he’d gone to sleep and gulps the water down, closing his eyes and enjoying the coolness against his raw throat. He feels like he’s been screaming. His skin pebbles, and he shivers. There’s nothing in the room, and yet when he closes his eyes he hears whispers of a far away song.
There’s a bitter sweetness to it. Voice dripped in honey, deep and melancholic Seokjin’s chest constricts. He removes the covers and lights a candle, then walks towards the sound.
The song is coming from the eastern end of the temple. Seokjin moves on until he sees a silhouette of a man sitting on the thick railing.
He steps closer, the person getting clearer as the clouds move and allows the moon to illuminate the way.
Seokjin loses his breath.