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Study Reveals: You can’t suffer if you’re dead

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The thing about love is sometimes you don’t fall at all. Sometimes you take the steps one by one by one without even realising it, and then suddenly you are in the centre of the earth, burning up with the heat of a thousand suns and the certainty that even this pales in comparison to the warmth you feel when that person smiles at you. Sometimes it’s not sudden, or even special.

Sometimes love isn’t an oh, oh, oh no, but the drip, drip, drip of tears becoming a puddle becoming a lake becoming an ocean until you are drowning and you are fine with it, as long it is for them.

Sometimes love is slow, is steady, and for someone like Yoo Jonghyuk, this is the only kind of love he can believe in.

For someone like Yoo Jonghyuk, this is the only kind of love that can believe in him.

Yoo Jonghyuk is a man who has lived four lifetimes, each harder than the last; he is a man who has lost and lost until he thought it would be easier to not have at all; he is a man who looked at the world, who looked at the future, and thought that it would always be endless, that it would always be painful.

Yoo Jonghyuk is a man who died before he could live. He is a mourner in human skin, a hero whose mantle is a pair of shackles, a man who has been broken and held together with duct tape, stubbornness, spite and depression.

Yoo Jonghyuk is a man- but before that, he is the protagonist.

Yoo Jonghyuk is the protagonist- but before that, he is in love.

Yoo Jonghyuk is in love, and it is a slow love. A quiet love, the kind that started with a seed that grew into a flower that grew into a tree until one day Yoo Jonghyuk woke up six feet underground, Kim Dokja’s name tattooed on his heart. It was the kind of love that was built up brick by brick by brick until there was a castle in his ribs and an infuriating rat of a man sitting on its throne.

Yoo Jonghyuk is in love, and the person he is in love with is the one who calls him a companion.

Yoo Jonghyuk is in love, and it is a fact; it is something he knows, something he understands.

Yoo Jonghyuk is in love.

But the thing is, Yoo Jonghyuk is the protagonist; and if there is one thing protagonists are, it is traumatized; and if there is one thing trauma does, it is render you incompetent at dealing with emotions. Emotions are dangerous, are things that should be kept deep inside, and so as with all trauma, coping mechanisms develop. For Yoo Jonghyuk, this means repression.

And this means that when Yoo Jonghyuk feels emotions that cannot be repressed, he is in uncharted waters. And sometimes, when these waters are uncharted enough, it makes him panic.

This means that when Yoo Jonghyuk’s heart goes doki doki, his fight or flight response is triggered.

And Yoo Jonghyuk has never been chosen flight, not in this life, not in any life.

Which brings us to now. It is just Kim Dokja and Yoo Jonghyuk sitting at the campfire, taking the first watch. The light makes Kim Dokja looks soft, ethereal, and Yoo Jonghyuk thinks about tracing the constellations the are scattered across his nose and cheeks like freckles. He thinks about running his hands through Kim Dokja’s hair and finding out if the stars are real. He thinks about kissing Kim Dokja until he’s breathless, about pressing him into the ground and-

“Jonghyuk-ah, are you alright?” Kim Dokja asks. “Your face is red.”

Kim Dokja’s eyelashes are long, his eyes the inky blackness of infinity, and Yoo Jonghyuk thinks that he could get lost in them. He thinks he’d be okay with that. There are flecks of gold in Kim Dokja’s eyes, like stardust sprinkled from the sky above, and they seem to eyes dance as he watches Yoo Jonghyuk, searching for something.

Yoo Jonghyuk thinks, he’s beautiful.

“Jonghyuk-ah?” Kim Dokja asks again, sounding concerned. “Do you have a fever?”

Kim Dokja reaches out and touches his forehead, checking his temperature.

Yoo Jonghyuk’s heart goes doki doki.

He panics.

He punches Kim Dokja in the face.

 

 

 

 

 

“What the hell happened to you,” Jung Heewon asks, in the morning. She’s turning Kim Dokja’s face from side to side, observing the damage with the kind of concern that is natural when trying to figure out if someone’s jaw is broken. “It’s only been eight hours since we saw you last.”

“Yoo Jonghyuk happened,” Kim Dokja said, scowling. This is fair, considering that he got punched in the face when he hadn’t even done anything.

“Why did he punch you in the face?”

“I don’t know!”

“Yoo Jonghyuk!” Jung Heewon shouted. “Why the hell did you punch Kim Dokja?”

Everyone in the vicinity looked at Yoo Jonghyuk. Yoo Jonghyuk scowled,

“Because it was either that or kill him,” Yoo Jonghyuk said.

Kim Dokja shuddered and hid behind Jung Heewon.

[Father of the Rich Night is annoyed at this rudeness towards the Heir of the Underworld].

[Queen of the Darkest Sprint is rallying for Yoo Jonghyuk’s head].

[Secretive Plotter is covering his face].

[Demon-Like Judge of Fire trusts in the power of comradeship].

Yoo Jonghyuk drew his sword. Kim Dokja yelped.

“Please don’t kill Dokja-ssi,” Yoo Sangah said, tiredly. “It’s only been six days since the last time he died.”

But Yoo Jonghyuk was already moving for the kill.

“Kim Dokja?” Han Sooyung said, watching it unfold. “More like Kim Deadja.”

 

 

 

 

 

“Maybe it was just a one time thing,” Kim Dokja tells himself. “Maybe Yoo Jonghyuk just slipped and his fist landed on my face.”

[Prisoner of the Golden Headband has pressed x to doubt].

[Secretive Plotter thinks your denial is cute].

[Queen of Darkest Spring suggest crushing Incarnation Yoo Jonghyuk’s penis if he tries again].

[Father of the Rich Night recommends knocking on wood].

[Demon-Like Judge of Fire is supporting you].

“Yeah,” Kim Dokja said. “It’ll be fine.”

It was not fine.

He got punched again not even four hours later, when he said Yoo Jonghyuk would be good husband material.

Being alive is suffering when your name is Kim Dokja.

 

 

 

 

 

“You really are handsome,” Kim Dokja said, without thinking. “It’s a shame your personality is shit.”

Yoo Jonghyuk glared at him, advancing on him like an executioner about to beat some ass. Some Kim Dokjass, to be more specific.

[Abyssal Black Flame Dragon says RIP in fucking pieces].

“Welp,” Kim Dokja said, because he could recognise when he’d fucked up. He was smart like that.  “Guess I’ll die then.”

Yoo Jonghyuk grabbed him by his throat, lifting him off the ground. Kim Dokja had a moment to wonder why it was always the throat. Was this a kink thing? Should they change his name to Yoo Kinkhyuk?

And then, his face was very close to Yoo Jonghyuk’s.

And then he couldn’t breathe.

And then-

“Yeet,” Yoo Jonghyuk said, and somehow that was the most threatening thing in the world when it’s from him.

And then Kim Dokja was airborne, and all he could do was shriek.

 

 

 

 

 

“There there, Dokja-ssi,” Yoo Sangah said, patting him on the shoulder. “The mind of a sunfish is a complex thing. He’ll surely get over it soon.”

“He better,” Jung Heewon said. “Otherwise I’ll be legally obligated to slit his throat in his sleep.”

Kim Dokja sat with his head in his hands and groaned.

Unlike what Yoo Sangah said, Yoo Jonghyuk did not get over it anytime soon. In fact, it just got worse with every passing day, and now, weeks later, it had become another thing that Kim Dokja had unfortunately gotten used to. Wake up, try to pass the scenarios, plan, and at some point, Yoo Jonghyuk is probably going to lose his shit.

The fourth wall really had its work cut out for it, keeping his mental health from breaking under the weight of all this shaking.

Someone hits on Kim Dokja? Yoo Jonghyuk breaks his sword and then attempts to break Kim Dokja.

Yoo Jonghyuk walks in on Kim Dokja bathing? Yoo Jonghyuk kicks him.

Kim Dokja calls Yoo Jonghyuk handsome? Yoo Jonghyuk throws him like the worlds weirdest game of baseball.

Today Kim Dokja had to wear a dress because of scenario requirements and Yoo Jonghyuk punches him in the solar plexus hard enough that he ends up on the ground, Lee Hyunsung holding him up.

“This,” he wheezes, “is bullying. Why am I getting bullied in the apocalypse? I got enough of that in the before times. I thought we were companions, Jonghyuk-ah. I thought we had something special!”

Yoo Jonghyuk scowls and walks away.

“I died for you, you jerk! You bastard! Yoo Jongyeet!” Kim Dokja yells at his back, slumping further into Lee Hyunsung’s supportive grip.

“Sorry, Dokja-ssi,” Lee Hyunsung said,  looking troubled.

“Why are you apologising? It’s not like you’re the one who punched me.”

“We haven’t been able to get Jonghyuk-ssi to stop.”

“It would be a miracle if anything could stop him, when he puts his mind to it.”

Lee Hyunsung frowned. “Is there anything I can do for you?”

“I mean, it’d be great if you punched Yoo Jonghyuk in the face, but I’ll settle for you helping me to my tent. I don’t think I can walk right now.”

Lee Hyunsung nodded, very gently lifting Kim Dokja into his arms. He stepped careful, as if Kim Dokja might break any second, and Kim Dokja could have swooned.

“If only I’d fallen for you, Hyunsung-ssi,” Kim Dokja sighed. “You know how to treat a man right. Jonghyuk-ah should learn from you.”

[Secretive Plotter is frowning].

[Demon-Like Judge of Fire does not approve of this comradeship].

[Father of The Rich Night has sponsored Incarnation Lee Hyunsung 1000 coins].

Lee Hyunsung’s ears were red.

 

 

 

 

 

(Yoo Jonghyuk turned up to breakfast the next day looking contrite, a very impressive bruise over one eye. Lee Hyunsung, sat next to Kim Dokja, looked proud, and Jung Heewon was looking between the two of them like she was trying to figure out the state of the world.

“Hyunsung-ssi,” Kim Dokja said, very seriously, “if you asked me to marry you, I would say yes.”

Lee Hyunsung laughed. Yoo Jonghyuk broke his bowl. Jung Heewon and Han Sooyung exchanged coins. Shin Yoosung and Lee Gilyoung bickered over who would get to sit on Kim Dokja’s remaining side. Yoo Sangah urged Lee Jihye into eating her vegetables.

All in all, it was a regular apocalyptic day.)

 

 

 

 

 

“You know,” Han Sooyung said, “I think you may have misunderstand something here. Having a crush means you want to kiss a person, not crushing them emotionally and physically.”

“There’s a first time for everything,” Yoo Jonghyuk said.

“Whoever wrote you into existence really didn’t give you any wisdom stats, huh.”

“Nobody has wisdom when it comes to Kim Dokja. He melts braincells.”

She sighed. “You realise he’s just going to get the wrong idea from all this. Can’t you flirt like a normal person instead of through repeated murder attempts?”

“If Kim Dokja didn’t want to die then he shouldn’t have made me feel an emotion.”

And then, because she had been eavesdropping, Jung Heewon said, “Don’t you mean ‘Kim Dokidokija.”

Han Sooyung cackled. Yoo Jonghyuk drew his sword. Jung Heewon drew hers. Somewhere away from all this, Yoo Sangah got a headache.

Kim Dokja did not get crushed that day but the camp certainly did.

 

 

 

 

 

“Does Yoo Jonghyuk really hate me that much?” Kim Dokja asked, from the safety of his tent.

[Demon-Like Judge of Fire is frowning].

[Secretive Plotter is sympathetic].

“There there, Hyung,” Lee Gilyoung said, patting Kim Dokja on the shoulder. “It’s alright.”

“Yeah!” Shin Yoosung agreed. “Sooyung-ajumma said it’s only him being a tsuntsun.”

“The witch says a lot of things, that doesn’t make them true.”

“But everyone agreed! Sangah-unni said Yoo Jonghyuk didn’t know how to deal with his emotions in a way that wasn’t dumb.”

“Heewon-noona called him a himbo,” Lee Gilyoung agreed. “And an asshole.”

Okay, well. If that many people supported it then Kim Dokja couldn’t exactly disagree, even if he wanted to. Yoo Jonghyuk being emotionally repressed isn’t suprising, though he doesn’t see how that translates into yeeting. And why the tsuntsun? What would Yoo Jonghyuk even have to be tsundere about?

Why does he only hurt Kim Dokja?

What do other people know that Kim Dokja doesn’t?

Kim Dokja sighed, petting the children’s hair. “Don’t be like your dad, kids. Don’t fall in love with a jerk.”

[Secretive Plotter is strangely offended].

“Don’t worry, Hyung,” Lee Gilyoung said. “We’ll learn from your suffering.”

“And if you need us to bury the body,” Shin Yoosung said, “then we’ll kill the jerk dead.”

Has Kim Dokja ever mentioned that he loves his kids? Because he does. He really loves his kids.

[Father of the Rich Night has sponsored 50,000 coins].

 

 

 

 

 

It was a beautiful morning.

The birds were singing, the sun was shining, and Kim Dokja went flying through the air once again. He landed in a tree, twenty feet away from the launch point, and Lee Hyunsung had to help him down. One of the branches had cut him on the face, and he looked miserable.

 “All I did was smile at him,” Kim Dokja said.

[Many constellations are feeling a concern].

[A few constellations believe the channel name should be changed to Biyeet].

[Secretive Plotter feels pity for Kim Dokja].

[Abyssal Black Flame Dragon is glaring at Demon-Like Judge of Fire].

[Demon-Like Judge of Fire has put the knife down, sheepishly].

“That’s so sad,” Han Sooyung said.

“Alexa play despayeeto,” Jung Heewon said.

They high fived. Bihyung actually set the song to play. Yoo Jonghyuk walked back into the camp, stony faced. Kim Dokja started to cry. Shin Yoosung also started to cry. Lee Gilyoung attempted to kill Yoo Jonghyuk. Yoo Sangah started drinking.

“I hate this fucking family,” Lee Jihye said.

 

 

 

 

 

In the end, what happens is this:

The stress starts to take its toll on the party. Kim Dokja is always on edge, his every step like he’s walking on egg shells; he doesn’t know what it is he does that sets Yoo Jonghyuk off, so he is careful of everything. Yoo Jonghyuk is in a near constant state of rage grip, to the point that some people start to worry he’s going to have a heart attack and regress. Lee Hyunsung and the children straight up refuse to interact with Yoo Jonghyuk unless needed, sticking close to Kim Dokja like they can guard him against the world, and the rest are in varying stages of disappointment.

Lee Jihye suggests a change of pace, and so they camp inside an empty city hall for the night instead of hunkering down outside. She thinks that maybe- just maybe- things will be smoother sailing if they have a roof over their head. She thinks that maybe they’ll be able to relax and sort things out.

Only, it doesn’t. Yoo Jonghyuk is more on edge than ever, not even able to storm off into the woods to get space, and Kim Dokja is a flight risk waiting to happen. Trapped in the same building it feels like the air is harder to breathe, and everyone is constantly glancing around, waiting for something to snap.

Not even the food makes it less uncomfortable, and that’s saying something.

In the end, what happens is this:

Yoo Sangah pulled Yoo Jonghyuk to the side, just far enough away from the rest of the group to be out of earshot.

“You’re a grown man,” She said, reproachful, “Sort your shit out already.”

And, well. Yoo Jonghyuk knew that. He knew that he had to something about this soon before he broke his relationship with Kim Dokja beyond repair. He knew that reacting with violence whenever his heart went doki doki was the worlds shittiest reflex. He knew that he was being a dick. He knew that this wasn’t okay. He knew that he had to sort his shit out, he really did.

He just didn’t know how.

Because the thing is, Yoo Jonghyuk is not experienced in love. He never had a romantic relationship before the apocalypse, and it wasn’t like this with Lee Seolhwa. With Lee Seolhwa, it hadn’t been simple; it had been a man and a woman finding a little refuge in a world gone mad, it had been a him who still had hope and a person who made his heart beat. It was love, but it hadn’t been soul consuming.

It had been love, but it didn’t make him feel like he wanted his every breath to be with her.

It had been love, but it hadn’t been like loving Kim Dokja.

Loving Kim Dokja was like loving the sun. It was like loving a supernova. It was like loving and loving until your entire world had shifted with him at the centre. It was like opening up your ribcage and finding your heart had been replaced by something that only beat for this infuriating bastard of a man.

Loving Kim Dokja is like dying so you can live.

Yoo Jonghyuk doesn’t think he could stop loving Kim Dokja, even if he tried.

So Yoo Jonghyuk says, “I know.”

“If you keep this up then you’ll turn into some kind of domestic abuser. And then I’d be legally obliged to kill you.”

“I know.”

“If you know then why haven’t you done something already?”

“He’s just so-“ Yoo Jonghyuk flapped his hand, as if trying to embody Kim Dokja’s everything in a gesture. “And it makes me feel things. And its easiest to deal with feelings when you translate that into stabbing things.”

“You really need therapy.”

“Don’t we all.”

In the end, what happens is this:

Someone takes pity on this disaster couple. Someone knows that they’re never going to sort their shit out on their own. Someone looks at them and knows they could be great, if they were just given a chance. Someone decides they need a miracle, and that that miracle is them.

Someone helps the two of them, and that someone is a constellation. He’s a cryptid among even the constellations, one whose name is known by few and who appears to even fewer. He’s always watching, always singing, but he remains as far off as the stars he so resides in. Even in The Way’s of Survival he is something of an enigma, only appearing twice and nearly upheaving the world on both occasions. He is a constellation who is benevolent, a constellation who thinks music is eternal, and he is a stan of romance.

He is a constellation, but to these two, he is a cupid.

And so, in the end, what happens is this:

[No Stranger To Love believes we all know what’s going on].

[No Stranger To Love sees your hearts have been aching but you’re too shy to say it].

[No Stranger To Love says we know the game and we’re gonna play it].

Everyone looked at each other, confused. It was a name they hadn’t seen before, and so they weren’t quite sure what to make of such statements; they thought, whomst the fuck?

They thought, what’s up with this clown?

They thought it was something insignificant.

Only Kim Dokja understood the sheer magnitude of this name, and that was why he looked like he’d just stared despair in the face and discovered it never used mouthwash. Only Kim Dokja understood what it meant when this constellation appeared.

Only Kim Dokja understood just how deeply they were fucked.

“Oh no,” Kim Dokja said.

And then, there was a ping.

And then, they all saw:

Special Scenario 

Issued by: No Stranger To Love
Participants: Yoo Jonghyuk, Kim Dokja.
Difficulty: I believe in miracles, and that miracle is you
Clear Conditions: I just wanna tell you how I’m feeling. Gotta make you understand.
Time Limit: Love like it’s the last night on earth and when you kiss, kiss for all you’re worth
Compensation: A full commitment’s what I’m thinking of
Failure: Come on and cry, cry, cry me a river, cry me a river

The group goes silent.

Yoo Jonghyuk meets Kim Dokja’s eyes from across the room.

Oh no,” Kim Dokja says, again, but with more feeling.

Yoo Jonghyuk takes a step.

Kim Dokja throws himself out the nearest window and sprints like his life depends on it.

 

 

 

 

 

Kim Dokja doesn’t have a plan.

This is rare for him. He’s always planning, always thinking, always eight steps ahead of life and everything it can throw at him; for every card he lays down, there are twelve more up his sleeve. Kim Dokja always has a plan because that is how he stays alive; because that is how he stays sane. If he doesn’t have a plan, if he doesn’t think, if he gives in to impulse, then everything crumbles and he loses control.

Bad things happen when Kim Dokja loses control.

Kim Dokja doesn’t like bad things.

Kim Dokja always has a plan because that is what makes him useful. That is what makes him valuable, being a thinker; being a schemer; it is what makes him powerful. If Kim Dokja isn’t powerful, then he is useless. If he is useless, then he is disposable. If he is disposable, then there is no point in Kim Dokja being alive.

Kim Dokja always has a plan, but he doesn’t have one now.

Kim Dokja doesn’t have a plan because this is not something he can plan for.

Kim Dokja doesn’t have a plan because this is not something he knows how to handle.

Because when it comes down to it, Kim Dokja is a reader. He knows facts and he knows stories and he knows logic, and he knows how to use three things to pathe a road to the stars. He does not deal in emotions. He does not deal in love. He doesn’t know what to do with these things, doesn’t know how to handle them, because that is not the kind of life he has had; that is not the kind of thing he has been able to do, without risking opening a wound that will bleed him out.

Kim Dokja has never planned for love because it never planned for him.

Because when it comes down to it, Kim Dokja knows the facts.

Here is a fact: Yoo Jonghyuk is the protagonist.

Here is a fact: Kim Dokja is a reader.

Here is a fact: Kim Dokja has never been a person who gets Happy Endings.

Here is a fact: Yoo Jonghyuk is Kim Dokja’s ideal.

Here is a fact: Kim Dokja will only ever love Yoo Jonghyuk.

Here is a fact: Yoo Jonghyuk will never love Kim Dokja.

Here is a fact: Kim Dokja is a stranger to love.

Here is a fact: Kim Dokja is afraid.

Here is a fact: when Kim Dokja is afraid, when he feels like the world is too big and the teeth that lurk in the shadows are too sharp, he will pretend to be Yoo Jonghyuk. He will draw the mantle of the protagonist around him like a cloak, curl up inside it and pretend that he is safe. Pretend that is okay. Pretend that he is strong and talented and the kind of person that people follow.

Here is a fact: When Kim Dokja is afraid he pretends to be Yoo Jonghyuk, because it means he can pretend to be loved.

Here is a fact: this is not a situation where Kim Dokja can pretend to be Yoo Jonghyuk, because Yoo Jonghyuk is the reason he is afraid.

Here is a fact: This is not a situation where Kim Dokja can pretend to be loved because he knows he is not.

Here is a fact: This is not a situation where Kim Dokja can pretend, nor is it a situation where he can plan, so instead he runs.

[Secretive Plotter is interested in this development].

[Demon-Like Judge of Fire is vibrating with excitement].

[Abyssal Black Flame Dragon is getting popcorn].

[Prisoner of The Golden Headband has pressed F to pay respects].

And that is the only warning Kim Dokja gets before he is tackled to the ground.

Kim Dokja struggles, because of course he does, but Yoo Jonghyuk is stronger than him and bigger than him and better than him, and that is something Kim Dokja will never be able to match against. That is something Kim Dokja will never be able to beat, no matter how many power ups he achieves or coins he spends.

Kim Dokja struggles, but Yoo Jonghyuk is the protagonist, and so Kim Dokja ends up with his arms pinned above his head and Yoo Jonghyuk’s weight on his legs, keeping him still.

Kim Dokja struggles, as he always does, but he ends up with his back on the ground and those sharp, sharp eyes staring him down. There is no escaping from this, no room to wriggle, and Kim Dokja knows he is fucked.

Gods, Kim Dokja thinks, I can’t even kill myself like this.

“Kim Dokja,” Yoo Jonghyuk says, and then stops. And stares. And just keeps staring, like he has forgotten how words work and must recalibrate before he can use them right.

“Jonghyuk-ah,” Kim Dokja returns. “To chase me all the way out here, you must really want to hit me.”

[Queen of the Darkest Spring is glaring at Incarnation Yoo Jonghyuk].

“Kim Dokja,” Yoo Jonghyuk says again, like a prayer, like a plea, like it was the only words that held any meaning anymore. And then, “I am sorry for hurting you.”

And, well. Those are words Kim Dokja never thought he’d hear from those lips.

“Uh, apology accepted?” And then, “Can you let me up now?”

Yoo Jonghyuk did not let Kim Dokja up. Instead he flexed the fingers holding Kim Dokja’s wrists and furrowed his brows deeper, studying Kim Dokja’s face like it held all the answers the world could offer. He stared at Kim Dokja like doing so would give him the future, like he was trying to peer into Kim Dokja’s soul.

Yoo Jonghyuk stared at Kim Dokja, and Kim Dokja wondered if this is what people meant by the mortal fear of being known.

“Jonghyuk-ah?” Kim Dokja asked, after three minutes passed in silence.

And then, Yoo Jonghyuk said, “I am in love with you.”

And the fourth wall shook, shook apart.

 

 

 

 

 

[Demon-Like Judge of Fire is yelling].

[Demon-Like Judge of Fire has sponsored 10,000 coins].

[Secretive Plotter is smiling].

[Prisoner of the Golden Headband is excited by this development].

[Many constellations have sponsored 30,000 coins].

Yoo Jonghyuk muted the indirect notifications, eyebrow twitching, and looked back down. It had been a few minutes since he had confessed and Kim Dokja is resembling a particularly shocked log. He didn’t even react when Yoo Jonghyuk freed his arms, just lying there on the ground, wide eyed and so very still. Yoo Jonghyuk isn’t even sure if he’s breathing.

Yoo Jonghyuk isn’t entirely sure if he’s still alive. It shouldn’t be possible to die from shock, not really, but Kim Dokja has always been fond of doing the impossible without a thought for the stress he causes other people. He’s a delicate man parading around like a strong one, and sometimes, Yoo Jonghyuk thinks even the gentlest of touches could shatter him.

Yoo Jonghyuk thinks that Kim Dokja doesn’t realise how fragile he truly is, when it comes to the heart.

Just to be safe, Yoo Jonghyuk checked Kim Dokja’s pulse. It was still there, thankfully, and Yoo Jonghyuk breathed a sigh of relief. If he had managed to kill Kim Dokja again through the simple act of confessing then he’d probably take his sword to his gut and abandon this world.

Regressing can be convenient, when it comes to avoiding situations like that.

“What,” Kim Dokja said, eventually. There was no attempts at word games, none of his usual fire, just the endless confusion of a man so traumatised it makes his emotional intelligence resemble a particularly hard boiled egg that’s been dipped in cement. To Kim Dokja, emotions were something that you repress until they stop being a problem, and if that doesn’t work then you find some other problem to occupy your mind. You compartmentalise and repress and dissociate until the world feels like something you can face.

Emotions are to be avoided, not felt, and in that sense, he and Yoo Jonghyuk were perfect for each other. Two halves of the same idiot and all.

“Kim Dokja,” Yoo Jonghyuk said, firmly, “I am in love with you.”

[Kim Dokja has used Lie Detection].

[Kim Dokja has confirmed that you are telling the truth].

Kim Dokja opened and closed his mouth, looking like he was trying to become a fish, and Yoo Jonghyuk wanted to kiss him. He wanted to hold his hands and never let go. He wanted to up Kim Dokja’s ribs and crawl inside, to curl around that heart and shield it from the world. He wanted to worship every inch of Kim Dokja’s body until he knew it better than anyone. He wanted to make Kim Dokja tremble under his touch, to take him apart and put him back together again.

Yoo Jonghyuk wanted a lot of things, but more than that he wanted Kim Dokja.

“But you hate me.”

“That is the opposite of the proof and we have just proven that.”

“Then why have you been so violent for the past few weeks?”

“You made my kokoro go doki doki. I didn’t know to deal with that. I panicked. My fight response triggered. Rinse and repeat a few dozen times.”

“Your bi panic involves punching people in the face?”

Yoo Jonghyuk shrugged. “Have I ever given the impression that I’m a well adjusted person?”

“Point taken.” And then, “So you’re in love with me.”

“Yes.”

“You are a strange, strange man, Jonghyuk-ah.”

“Hello pot, I’m kettle.”

Kim Dokja laughed at this, and flowers bloomed along the edges of Yoo Jonghyuk’s spine, wings fluttering inside his chest. Kim Dokja didn’t laugh often, if he laughed at all, and it was a beautiful sound; it was the kind of sound that Yoo Jonghyuk wanted to listen to on repeat for the rest of his life. Yoo Jonghyuk thinks he could die happy, if he heard it again.

Everything about Kim Dokja was beautiful, but none quite as much as when he was happy.

“You realise that crush isn’t meant to be taken literally, right.”

“That’s what Han Sooyung said.”

“Then the witch was right, for once.” And then, “You’re serious about this?”

“I’m always serious when it comes to you.”

“Okay,” Kim Dokja said. “Okay.” And then, again, for luck, “Okay.” And then, “I love you too, you bastard.”

And Yoo Jonghyuk felt something inside him settle. He felt warmth spread from his heart to his lips to his eyes, filling his entire body until it felt like he could take flight. He felt more at ease than he ever had, like his soul was finally complete, like the flowers had taken root. He was peaceful, and he was loved, and he was happy.

Yoo Jonghyuk was happy, and it was because of this man with stars in his soul and the world in his hands.

Yoo Jonghyuk was happy, and so he asked, “Can I kiss you?”

And Kim Dokja said, “Only if there’s no punching.”

And so they kissed. Kim Dokja’s lips were softer than Yoo Jonghyuk had imagined, his arms winding around Yoo Jonghyuk’s shoulders, warm and real and there, and it was like dreams coming into reality. It was like the gentle light of the moon after years of darkness, like the warmth of a sunset after a hard day, like shooting stars becoming fireworks, like the brush of magic against his skin and joy against his soul. It was everything, and it was love, and Yoo Jonghyuk wants it to last forever.

And then, they receive the announcement.

[Congratulations on completing the scenario! You have received your rewards].

[No Stranger To Love says there ain’t no mistaking, it’s true love we’re making].

[No Stranger To Love believes in miracles, and that miracle is you].

[No Stranger To Love says it’s a beautiful life, if you give it a chance it can make you dance].

[No Stranger To Love has bestowed his stigma ‘Can’t you hear me, I’m saying I want you for the rest of my life’ upon Kim Dokja].

[No Stranger To Love has bestowed his stigma ‘I would move heaven and earth to be together forever with you’ upon Incarnation Yoo Jonghyuk].

[No Stranger To Love has sponsored 1,000,000,000 coins].

There was quiet for a moment, two, three.

And then-

“Well,” Kim Dokja said, “That happened.”

And then he couldn’t say anything more, because Yoo Jonghyuk had a few years worth of missed kisses to make up for.

 

 

 

 

 

When they returned back to camp, hands clasped together and radiating enough happiness to give everyone in the vicinity serotonin, Han Sooyung takes one look at them and yells, “Fucking finally!”

There is a celebration, and the tension that had been haunting the group for months is all but forgotten. All that remains is a couple stupidly in love and not afraid to show it, and a family rejoicing over it. All that remains is laughter and smiles and teasing and cheers.

All that remains is a love realised, a love eternal, and those who watch it unfold.

All that remains is the steps towards their Happy Ever After.

 

 

 

 

 

Five years later, when the Star Stream has long since been defeated and a lot of the world doesn’t remember that there ever was an apocalypse in the first place, there is a wedding. It is a very special wedding, for two very special people, and it is held under the stars in a venue built by the Gods. It is a very special wedding, one for the saviours of the world, and it is one attended only by a very special family.

Five years later and there is not a dry eye in the house. This family who fought, died, and lived together and the few who supported them from amongst the stars all gather, watching this happy union. Sun Wukong is sobbing into Abyssal Black Flame Dragon’s shoulder, and nearby Yoo Mia looks about five seconds away from joining him. Han Sooyung and Yoo Sangah are holding hands, both smiling brightly, and Jung Heewon has an arm around an emotional Lee Hyunsung’s shoulder. Persephone sits with her three grandchildren, flowers blooming at her feet as she watches the procession down the aisle with the pride of a mother seeing her son grow up.

Five years later and Hades walks Kim Dokja down the aisle, his usual stony expression softened into a smile, and Kim Dokja looks radiant, the night sky woven into the form of a man in love. Yoo Jonghyuk is waiting at the end of the aisle, watching Kim Dokja with the eyes of a man watching the sun descend into his life, and behind him is a vibrating Uriel, who will be ordaining them. Hades presses a kiss to Kim Dokja’s forehead, nods at Yoo Jonghyuk, and goes to join his wife and grandkids in the seats. Yoo Jonghyuk takes Kim Dokja by the hands, and Uriel lets out a quiet squee before getting down to business.

Five years later and their family watches as these two companions pledge themselves to an eternity together.

Kim Dokja says, “I fell for you five hundred times and I’d fall five hundred more, just to be that man to wake up by your side every morning.”

Says, with wet eyes and a heart no longer blocked by walls built up to keep him alive, “You’re the person who taught me how to live, and now I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”

Says, “You are the protagonist of my heart, and I love you.”

And Yoo Jonghyuk says, “You saved the world but before that, you saved me.”

Says, the firmness of a warrior who is finally learning what it means to be at peace, “You are my life and death companion. The depression to my regression. The squid to my sunfish. The salvation to my sword.”

Says, “I love you, and I always will.”

And Uriel says, through happy tears, “Tradition would have me ask you to love each other until death do you part, but Kim Dokja would take that as a challenge and die next week.”

Kim Dokja grumbles, “Who do you think I am? I’d die tomorrow and make it explosive.”

Yoo Jonghyuk says, “if you die, I will kill you.”

“Challenge accepted.”

The room laughs.

“So fuck tradition,” Uriel says, “And instead, I ask this: Do you promise to love each other from now and forever, to step into eternity with your hearts beating as one? Do you promise to never give each other up, to never let each other down?

And they say, “I do.”

And they kiss.

And then, in the sky above them, is a shooting star.

Lee Jihye only makes it three minutes into her best man speech before she’s crying too much to continue. Yoo Jonghyuk gets up and hugs her and her valiant attempt to continue devolves into wailing into his arms.

(“I’m so happy for you, Master,” she cries, “you and Ajhussi are the true love of the century! Soulmates!”

Yoo Jonghyuk patiently pats her on the back, not saying anything but comforting her nonetheless.

“I’m sorry for calling you ugly, Ajhussi!” she wailed. “You’re not ugly at all! You’re the best!”

And so it went on, for five minutes).

Yoo Mia’s speech was much more successful, and soon the gathered people know more about Yoo Jonghyuk’s childhood than he would ever have wanted them to know.

(“When he was twelve,” she said, “I convinced Brother that our Father was actually Shadow the Hedgehog and that our parents had been lying to us. He believed me, surprisingly, and even made a father’s day card. When he found out the truth he said he’d never trust anyone ever again and threw all of his merch off a bridge.”

Han Sooyung choked on her wine, wheezing.

“This may or may not have been the start of his yeeting kink,” Yoo Mia said, “that’s something only he and Ajhussi will ever know, but it is proof that my brother always has been- and always will be- a chuuni. And now he chuuni-ed himself all the way to a husband. It’s a miracle, and Ajhussi is brave for dealing with him.”

Kim Dokja was laughing so hard that Yoo Jonghyuk had to hold him. The look that Yoo Jonghyuk shot Yoo Mia was too sharp to be called a glance, too soft to be called a glare. She merely beamed back at him).

On Kim Dokja’s side, the best men are Jung Heewon and Han Sooyung.

(“When the world ended, I gained a brother,” Jung Heewon said. “A suicidal, traumatized ass of a brother who told eight lies for every truth and who saved my life more times than I can count. A brother who was always sacrificing himself like his life was candy, and who believed in me more than I ever believed in myself. This brother always said he was aiming for an ending. And when I asked ‘where do you see yourself in this ending,’ he would dodge the question.”

Her cheeks were wet and her smile wide.

 “Well, brother, I see the ending before us, and in it you have a husband who adores you, three kids who idolise the ground you walk on, and a family who loves you very much.” And then, sniffing, “I love you very much, you dumbass brother.”

“Don’t call me a dumbass at my wedding,” Kim Dokja says, through tears, and he rises to hug her.

“Too late, dumbass.”

It’s a very emotional moment.)

(“The first time I met Kim Dokja,” Han Sooyung said, “I tried to kill him. And then I continued to try and kill him over and over again until we had no choice but to work together. If we were a fanfic, we’d be enemies to reluctant truce to allies to comrades to friends to siblings. And now, standing here, years later, I can say with no shred of doubt that I would definitely kill for him, and also would probably die for him.”

And most of the room murmured, “Mood.”

“I’m a writer,” Han Sooyung said. “And he is a reader. We are two sides of the same coin, and yet the one the world needed was a reader. He was the hero of this story, and as a writer, I don’t think there is anyone more deserving of a happy ending than him.”

And then, wiping at her face, “Stop crying you bastard, if you cry then it’ll make me start.”

Kim Dokja did not stop crying and Han Sooyung did start. There probably wasn’t going to be enough tissues for them to get through this whole thing).

The cake is cut with swords instead of knives, and the food is eaten with chatter and laughter and tears. Yoo Jonghyuk gets called ‘Step-dad’ for the first time. Kim Dokja steals kisses from Yoo Jonghyuk as they eat. Uriel nearly gets dehydration from how much she’s been crying. All the Gods bestow their own blessings. They all laugh over stories of the past. They are happy.

And then comes the first dance. They all gather around in a circle to watch, and when Kim Dokja and Yoo Jonghyuk take each other’s hands, the entire world narrows down to them. They look into each other’s eyes, hearts warm and smiles warmer, and make the first few steps.

And then, a miracle happens. An Aurora erupts above them, painting the night sky in shades of gold, and then the world is filled with music. Very special music, heavenly in both nature and in sound, and it is coming from the stars itself. Or, to be more specific, from A Star, from that constellation winking down at them, from that God who helped them so very much.

From No Stranger to Love, who believed in them before they believed in themselves.

And so, to the dulcet tones of Never Gonna Give You Up, the newly married couple dance, their hearts full of love and their eyes full of this person who brings them so much joy. They dance, full of each other and the life they have together.

And so, Yoo Jonghyuk says, “I love you, Kim Dokja.”

And Kim Dokja says, “I love you too, husband.”

And they know that this is a hand that they will never let go of. They know that they’re never gonna give them up, never gonna let them down. They’re together forever, and know that life is never lonely if they’re side by side. They can brave any storm as long as its with them.

And they know that this is a lifelong commitment and beyond. They know that this is love, and it is true, and it is one that will never end.

The know this, and the entire world will know it too.

And so, on this day, at this time, on this here occasion, this couple beloved by the Gods had their first dance and the entirety of the north and east hemisphere got rick rolled by the sky.

And so they lived Happy Ever After.