There is a man in Kim Dokja’s living room.
He is a very pretty man, with the kind of face that the Gods would kill for and eyes that would make even them most expensive gold look dull in comparison. He was a beautiful man, with the kind of physique that most would die for and tall enough that Kim Dokja has to tilt his neck back to meet his eyes. He is the kind of man who looks like he is a movie star, the kind of man whose face would launch a thousand ships, and perhaps, under a different circumstance, he’d be the kind of man whose face Kim Dokja would be happy to see in his living room.
As it was, Kim Dokja has never met this man before in his life, and was a little bit busy trying to figure out what the fuck is going on. One moment he’d been sitting on his couch, reading through another webnovel to try and get himself out of the prison that was his own mind. The next, there was an explosion of light, and when Kim Dokja could see again, there the man was.
And he had a sword. Why did he have a sword? Is this a runaway cosplayer? Is this some kind of advanced role play?
Did a chuunibyou just break into Kim Dokja’s house?
Hopefully it’s not a real sword. Kim Dokja really doesn’t want to know why someone would have a real sword in this day and age, let alone why they’d have a sword in his house. Being murdered would probably be easier than being alive, and Kim Dokja can’t honestly say that he hasn’t thought about dying before, but dying by sword just seemed so dramatic. Like this were some kind of novel and Kim Dokja had mortally offended someone’s honour.
So yeah, dying through sword wielding murderer in his shitty living room was not on Kim Dokja’s Top Ten Ways To Die list.
Though, at least this way it would mean that in some sick, twisted way, he wouldn’t be alone when he died. That someone would think of him, if only for a few moments.
That maybe, just maybe, he might be important to someone, even if only until his body was dealt with.
(Kim Dokja wonders, not for the first time, not for the last time, if his mother will feel sad when he dies. If she will miss the man who was once her son.
Kim Dokja wonders, but the answer is one he’ll never get to know).
“Kim Dokja,” the man says, his voice a leaf that trembles in the wind, as thin as a blade of crass and with as much emotion as human bodies have water. He is staring at Kim Dokja like this is a dream and blinking would cause it to shatter, like he wants to reach out and touch but is terrified at what might happen if he does, like he finally has something he’s been yearning for and he is still trying to figure out how to react.
He looks like he might cry.
He looks at him like Kim Dokja’s mother does, from behind the prison glass.
“That is my name,” Kim Dokja agrees. “And this is my living room. Which you aren’t supposed to be in.”
The man stumbles a step forward, and his breathing is unsteady, like its only sheer force of will keeping him standing, like he is a man lost at sea who has just found his lighthouse.
“Did you break into my house to just say my name?” And then, frowning, “How did you even break into my house, actually. Light does not count as public transportation.”
The man breathes in, and out.
And then, he is hugging Kim Dokja tight, so very tight, as if he wants to open his ribs and tuck Kim Dokja inside them, to keep him close and safe; as if to so much as give Kim Dokja room to breathe would be to let him dissapear. As if Kim Dokja is sand and he the fool trying to cradle it. He is holding Kim Dokja like he is precious, like he is important, like he knows him and knows him well, and his touch is as gentle as it is desperate.
He presses his face into Kim Dokja’s shoulder, and breathes.
The man is shaking.
Kim Dokja thinks getting murdered might have been easier to deal with than this.
“Um.” Kim Dokja pats his back, awkwardly. “There there?”
The man starts crying.
Well, Kim Dokja thinks. Shit.
It takes the man half an hour to stop crying, and then ten minutes more to let Kim Dokja out of his arms. Up close like this, Kim Dokja is able to observe the way he radiates exhaustion in a way that goes far deeper than just a lack of sleep. This is a man who is tired of the world, who has been dragging around baggage far heavier than any one man should carry alone, and somehow- somehow- Kim Dokja is part of the baggage.
The man lets go of Kim Dokja, but he does not move away, staring at Kim Dokja with hope worn like an ill fitting coat on a man not used to it. He looks at Kim Dokja, taking in the bags under his eyes and the thinness of his frame, the hair long enough that he needs to tie it back, and Kim Dokja looks back.
This is a sad man, to the point that he may as well sweat the stuff, and Kim Dokja is intimately familiar with that kind of bone deep despair.
Which is why he sighs, and asks, “Do you drink tea?”
The man, eyebrows furrowing slightly, nods.
“Then I’m going to make us tea.”
Which is how Kim Dokja ends up in his kitchen at 3am with a stranger sitting at his shitty table. The man had followed his ushering without protest, and now he seemed rather docile, watching Kim Dokja’s every move with the attentiveness of a particularly depressed hawk that had walked straight off the cover of vogue. Kim Dokja really did not understand his life, but tea cheered people up, right? That’s how you comfort people? You give them a hot drink and try to avoid looking them in the eye?
Kim Dokja isn’t very good at this whole people thing. It gives him hives.
“So,” he says, once the stranger and him both have tea, “I’m guessing from the crying and hugging thing that you didn’t break into my house to murder me.”
“I wouldn’t kill you again,” the stranger said. “Not now. Not after everything. I made a promise.”
“??????????????????????????????????” said Kim Dokja.
“How the fuck did you make that sound with your mouth?” The man sounded horrified, which was rich coming from someone who had just confessed to having murdered him before. Kim Dokja was the one who had the right to be horrified here; he’s pretty sure he’d remember dying, especially at the hands of a snacc like this. It seems like a pretty memorable life event. And if he killed Kim Dokja, then why would Kim Dokja still be here?
Has Kim Dokja been a ghost the whole time and not known it? Or is this man just crazy?
Is Kim Dokja immortal?
“I have many secrets,” Kim Dokja said, which meant that he had no idea. “And what the hell do you mean by ‘again’?”
“I had to kill you, once. “ He looked older, like there were thousands of ghosts upon his shoulders and they were screaming, like he had failed and failed and failed so often he’d forgotten what it was like to succeed. “The scenarios demanded a sacrifice. You chose yourself. I delivered the final blow.”
Okay, so he’s a chuuni.
Kim Dokja is drinking tea with a chuuni at 3am.
A chuuni who somehow managed to materialise from thin air.
Chuuni are really advanced these days huh.
“Sounds fake, but okay.” And then, to himself, “Are the police even open at this kind of time?”
“It’s not fake.”
“I am pretty sure I would remember something as big as dying.”
“Not if it hasn’t happened yet.”
Kim Dokja opened his mouth and then closed it again. Opened it, and then closed it. He never thought he’d be at the point in his life where he wished it was an axe murderer instead of whatever this is, but yeah, an axe murderer would probably be better.
Because the thing is, Kim Dokja is an intelligent person. He is smart, far smarter than he ever lets anyone know, and so he is able to piece together things pretty easily. He is able to read inbetween the lines, read the clues and hints and secrets, and so he is able to figure out what is going on here.
He is able to figure out the truth that this man carries with him, even if said truth was something that made no feasible sense.
“Are you trying to tell me that you’re a time traveller?”
Kim Dokja breathed. And then he breathed again. And then he stood up and poured his cup down the sink, setting the kettle to boil once more.
He was going to need something stronger than tea to get through this.
Three cups of coffee and quite a few hours later, and the story is finished. It’s an impossible story, one too long to properly convey without a million words and a lot of time, but they get a summary, and it is enough for Kim Dokja to understand the situation. It’s a long story, and it is a sad one, and a moving one, and it is
It is a tragedy, and its about a Kim Dokja in seven years time. It’s about a Kim Dokja who had a novel, a novel that kept him breathing, who found that novel coming true. It’s about a Kim Dokja who learnt to fight and survive, about a Kim Dokja who turned his middle fingers up at the system and walked backwards into hell. It’s about a Kim Dokja who found a family he would die for. It’s about a Kim Dokja who did die for them over and over and over again, until one day he reached an ending that nobody had wanted.
It’s about a Kim Dokja who was never able to return to his family because he died on a bridge under a hateful sky.
It’s a story, but more than that it is a life.
It is the protagonists life, and it is Kim Dokja’s life as well.
“Well,” Kim Dokja said, after a very long silence, “if that’s all made up then you’re certainly the best liar I’ve ever met, Yoo Jonghyuk.”
“It’s not a lie,” said Yoo Jonghyuk. “I would never lie to you.”
Kim Dokja raised an eyebrow.
“I wouldn’t lie to you now,” Yoo Jonghyuk amended.
“You realise that this sounds crazy.”
Kim Dokja sighed, running his hand through his hair. “So we were friends in the future? And then a while after I died-died you were enveloped by light and ended up here?”
“We were more than friends. We were life and death companions.”
“Okay,” Kim Dokja said. “Okay.”
“You were our heart. Then you were gone. And now you are here.” He scrubbed at his face, like he was close to crying again. “You are alive.” And then, “I won’t fail this time. I won’t let you die again.”
And the thing is, Kim Dokja isn’t used to love. Usually the most positive emotion he receives is tolerance and even that’s rare. Kim Dokja is a man who has lived alone, and thought he would always be alone. He thought he would die like that, too. He thought no-one would grieve him, because there was no-one around to do so, and yet, here is a person who cried for him.
Here is a person who cared for him.
Here is a person who looked at Kim Dokja like he held the world in his body and the stars in his soul, like Kim Dokja was the God and he the worshipper, like Kim Dokja was the most precious treasure that could have fallen into a dragon’s hoard.
Here is a person who mourned him, knew him, and liked him, and it felt like relearning what it was like to be warm after years of living in a morgue.
Here is a person who called Kim Dokja a companion when he’d thought such a thing was beyond him, who did something Kim Dokja had given up hope for, and perhaps this is why Kim Dokja says, “If you don’t have a place to stay then you can stay here.”
And so the first step was made.
And so Kim Dokja was no longer alone.
At 6am, Kim Dokja finally hit the limit on how much he could take, and so he started to try and shuffle them into bed. He didn’t have a spare toothbrush so Yoo Jonghyuk would just have to deal without dental care tonight, and though Kim Dokja’s clothes were all too small on him, they were able to find something that fit good enough to serve as a stand in until they could go shopping. They were things that could be dealt with later because it had been enough of a night as it is, and Kim Dokja really just wants to lie down.
The problem comes in sleeping arrangements.
“Are you alright with the coach?” Kim Dokja asks. “There’s a sleeping bag or some blankets that you can use, and I can give you one of my pillows.”
“I will sleep with you,” Yoo Jonghyuk says.
“I will sleep with you. In the future, we always shared a bed. It’s better to start these things early.”
“…you know what, I’m too tired to argue at this point. Just don’t kick me.”
“I won’t. It’s Han Sooyung who kicks in her sleep.”
(Kim Dokja falls asleep basically the moment his head touches his pillow.
In the morning, he wakes up to a strong arm slung around his waist and the steady rise and fall of Yoo Jonghyuk’s chest against his back. He wakes up with a warmth at his side, and the story of a world he doesn’t remember.
In the morning, Kim Dokja wakes up and thinks that its nice, not being alone).
As Kim Dokja discovers over the coming months, Yoo Jonghyuk was the best roommate he’s ever had.
This was not hard considering that Kim Dokja seems to have an unfortunate track record with finding bullies wherever he goes, and that most of these bullies seem to be incapable at basic housework. The bar was low on the ground, and yet Yoo Jonghyuk yeeted himself skywards and sprouted wings.
He’s a good cook, for one, and makes sure that Kim Dokja eats three meals a day rather than just eating when he’s too hungry to ignore it anymore. He’s also respectful, in his own tsundere apocalypse survivor kind of way, and although it takes a few weeks Kim Dokja soon finds it easy to talk to him. They get along, as if they are old friends, and it is comfortable.
It is easy, and Kim Dokja is not used to things being easy.
It is easy because Yoo Jonghyuk already knows him inside and out, and Kim Dokja sways towards the affection like the touch starved rat he is.
It is easy because Yoo Jonghyuk treats Kim Dokja like he is precious, like he is someone worthy of love, and Kim Dokja is a weak, weak man.
It is easy, which is why Kim Dokja soon grows used to having two people in his bed instead of one. It is easy, which is why Kim Dokja starts actually looking forward to returning home where he’d once put it off with all his might. It is easy, which is why Kim Dokja helps Yoo Jonghyuk set up a gaming station in the corner of the living room. It is easy, which is why Kim Dokja grows used to smiling again.
It is easy to live with Yoo Jonghyuk.
It is even easier to fall in love with him.
So naturally, that’s exactly what Kim Dokja does.
Three months after Kim Dokja gained his unconventional roommate, there’s another break in.
It’s a real one this time, not with any kind of magic light bullshit, and it’s at a reasonable time of day. Kim Dokja had been sitting on the couch doing some of his work whilst Yoo Jonghyuk read a webnovel next to him. It had been peaceful, and then a woman kicked her way in through the window.
The window which is on the fourth floor.
Kim Dokja’s life can never just be normal, can it?
“Oh, of course you’re here, you asshole,” said the woman. “You always did try to live like you’re sonic.”
“Han Sooyung,” Yoo Jonghyuk said, barely even glancing up from the novel. “There is such a thing as doors.”
“But that’s boring.”
“You’re paying to fix the window.”
“This is no way to greet your mother.”
You Jonghyuk looked like that statement made him want to throw up. “You’re not my mother.”
“I created you. That makes me your parental figure.”
“I reject your influence.”
“That would mean suicide.”
“Then I’m going to kill you.”
“Then you’d upset your boyfriend. Speaking of-“ and then she yanked Kim Dokja up off the couch and into a hug. “Hi, I’m your best friend, and if you ever die on me again I’m going to murder you.”
“Uh,” Kim Dokja said. “Okay?”
“I missed you, you bastard.”
“I’m sure if I remembered you then I’d have missed you too.”
And then she too started to cry, squeezing him like she was trying to fuse with him.
Kim Dokja really hoped this wasn’t going to became a regular thing.
It becomes a regular thing.
Han Sooyung moves herself into Kim Dokja’s apartment and into his life. She brings her own futon, setting it up on the ground in Kim Dokja’s room, and soon Kim Dokja grows used to hearing the breathing of two people instead of one. She is sharp and she is clever and yet, she isn’t cruel; and yet, she never makes Kim Dokja feel like she doesn’t care.
Kim Dokja grows used to having two people in his life, and then things once again change. Only this time it comes in the form of a knock. It’s a very insistent knock, as if the person knocking might fall down and die if he doesn’t answer the door right this second, and Kim Dokja frowns. He doesn’t know why anyone would be here; he isn’t expecting any deliveries, and the people he can consider friends are already inside.
“Is this more time travel bullshit?” Kim Dokja asks the room at large.
The answer he receives is Yoo Jonghyuk picking Kim Dokja up from where he was sitting on the floor and carrying him to the door.
“Open it,” he orders, and then takes a few steps back to lean against the wall. Han Sooyung pads over to stand beside him, a smirk plastered on to her face as if she knows exactly what is about to happen. Kim Dokja really has bad taste in friends.
The knocking gets louder and more insistent.
Kim Dokja sighs, and opens the door.
And then he blinks.
Standing there is two children. They don’t look any older than ten, their clothes scuffed with dirt, and they are short of breath, as if they have been running; as if they have always been running, chasing a back that won’t turn back. The girl is clutching a phone to her chest, its screen cracked and case stained with something that looks like blood; it is an old thing, a remnant as broken as the man who used to own it, and yet she holds it like it is a treasure. The boy is wearing a coat far too big for him, a coat that is as white as the moon and its gentle, guiding light, a coat that looks like it is well loved and well worn; it is a coat that was not made for a child but his father, and yet when the father is no longer there to hold the child, it is the closest thing he has to warmth.
There are two children standing at Kim Dokja’s door and his heart aches for reasons he cannot understand.
“Hyung,” the boy says, his voice a violin strung too tight, and he is shaking; and he is standing there, so very small, looking like he is relearning what it is like for a heart to beat. “Hyung.”
Kim Dokja says, “…you certainly are the tiniest time travellers I’ve seen so far.”
Tears well up in too sets of eyes. The girl cries, “Ajhussi! Ajhussi, it’s really you!”
And then Kim Dokja is being tackled to the ground.
The kids squeeze him with all their might, their tiny arms holding him like he is a star and if they don’t anchor him then he will go flying. They hold him like he is the messiah and they the worshippers, like he is a father who was lost and is now found, like he is the one who gave them light and their world has been dark until they found him again. They hold him like he is important, and they cry for a grief that can finally end.
The cry, and call his name like it is a prayer, and all Kim Dokja can do is run his fingers through their hair, trying to figure out what the fuck is going on.
“Congratulations,” said Yoo Jonghyuk, unhelpfully, “You’re a father.”
“We should change his name to Kim Dadja,” said Han Sooyung.
They’re both smiling, the bastards.
Kim Dokja sighed. Maybe he’s going to need a bigger apartment.
(When the kids have finally stopped crying, they latch onto his sides and stay stuck there, like if they could get away with it then they’d superglue themselves to Kim Dokja’s legs. They stick close to him, looking at him like they might start crying again any minute now, and Kim Dokja finds himself having to learn how to be a good parental figure at a speed he’d never expected.
The kids stick close to him, like they’d try to fight anyone who took him away from them, and Kim Dokja ends up sharing a bed with more than just Yoo Jonghyuk.
The kids stick close to him, and five days later the adoption papers are finalised).
“I’m a writer,” Han Sooyung said, one day.
“That’s nice,” Kim Dokja said. “I’m a reader.”
“I’m writing a story.” And then, after a pause, “I’m writing your story.”
“I want you to read it and give me feedback.”
And so Kim Dokja becomes an editor.
“Ajhussi,” Shin Yoosung said. “You don’t remember anything, do you?”
She was talking quietly. Everyone else was already asleep, in that bedroom that seems to be becoming some sort of inn. Kim Dokja had been unable to sleep, mind haunted by faces he couldn’t remember and a pain that felt like dying, and the thought of lying there in the dark with only the sound of breathing had been suffocating.
Like always on those kinds of nights, he had crept his way out into the kitchen to read and drink tea.
Unlike always, Shin Yoosung had joined him.
“I don’t,” Kim Dokja agreed. There was something reflective in the air, something considering; the kind of quiet of two people who are thinking of their places in the world, the kind of silence of sleepless nights and nightmares that cling to eyelashes.
The kind of quiet of a daughter who remembered and a father who did not.
She nodded, and somehow this seemed to relieve her, a little bit. As if it was better that he didn’t remember. As he would be happier if he didn’t.
As if she could protect him this way.
“When you first met me, I was going to become a disaster that would destroy Seoul. It would have been easier if you’d killed me. You might have been able to save a lot of people if you did. You said it was option 1.”
“Killing does tend to be the easier option.”
“You saved me. And when you did, you told me something.” And in that moment, the look in her eyes wasn’t that of a ten year old; it wasn’t that of a child, but of someone who had been through the end of the world and come out the other side. It was of a child who had taken the hand offered to her and decided that this was a hand she would hold until the day she died. It was of a child who had held that hand when it was limp and lifeless, and had mourned like she was dying.
It was of a child who would have become a disaster if not for one man’s choice.
“What do you think you told me, Ajhussi?” she asked.
And Kim Dokja thought.
And Kim Dokja felt, in his heart, with a certainty he could not explain and a familiarity he should not feel, that he knew.
And Kim Dokja said, “’I chose you over Seoul. I don’t regret it.’”
And Shin Yoosung smiled. “This time it’s our turn to protect you, Ajhussi.”
That night Kim Dokja falls asleep on the couch with Shin Yoosung curled up at his side, and he dreams of a girl who rules over beasts and a contract that binds stronger than blood.
There is a woman waiting at the university gates.
This is not unusual, as a lot of people attend the university and therefore a lot of people will loiter at various spots throughout it. It’s not even unusual considering the time, when the sky is long since darkened and most places are closed. It’s not even unusual that the woman punches Kim Dokja in the solar plexus, as a lot of people seem to take one look at him and decide they want to make it their lives mission to hurt him.
What is unusual is that she says, “That’s for dying, you absolute bastard,” and then hugs him.
What is unusual is that she says, “My name is Jung Heewon and I am your sister.”
What is unusual is that she says, “I will kill for you, if you need me to.”
She follows him home and never leaves.
Kim Dokja really needs a bigger apartment.
Sometimes, they have bad days. They have those days where the shadows of that forgotten future blocks out the sun, the days where demons dog their every step and their shoulders slump under the weight of a baggage long lived. They have days where they wake up and think that maybe the peace had been a dream and they have returned to that hell where they have lost their heart.
Sometimes, they have days where they look at Kim Dokja and see someone lying still on the ground, eyes unseeing and skin red with blood. They see a dead man, a ghost, and all them find themselves holding their breaths, waiting for the moment Kim Dokja turns into whisps of smoke. They wait for the moment that they lose him again, because no matter how much they tried they could never hold onto a star.
Sometimes, they have days where they cannot let Kim Dokja out of their sight. They have days where they watch him like a hawk, following him around like they’re trying to merge into his shadow. They have days where they keep needing to touch him, to remember that he is there, that he is alive, that he is real.
Sometimes they have bad days, but none deal with these worse than Lee Gilyoung. Because the thing is, he is young; and the thing is, Kim Dokja is his everything. Because the thing is, Kim Dokja was the first person who ever wanted him, who ever chose him, and Lee Gilyoung was an unwanted child. Kim Dokja gave him love, as best as he was capable of giving love, and for that he became Lee Gilyoung’s most important person.
He became a father to a boy who had never known parents could love you, and as a result, losing him was a wound that Lee Gilyoung would never recover from.
Because Lee Gilyoung lost his father twice, and that is a wound that can fester.
Because Lee Gilyoung is a child, and like all children, he deals with the bad days by getting angry.
Sometimes they have bad days, and today is one of them.
Today, Lee Gilyoung gets angry.
He’d been on edge all day, snapping over little things and glaring at the world, plastered against Kim Dokja’s side like he wanted to chain himself there. Not even Shin Yoosung had been spared from his dark looks, and no matter how much attention Kim Dokja gave him or what they tried, Lee Gilyoung would not brighten. He’d been on edge, and he’d been angry, and it was a pan waiting to boil over.
And in the end, the trigger was Yoo Jonghyuk.
In the end he trigger was Kim Dokja making a joke in Yoo Jonghyuk’s direction, and Yoo Jonghyuk responding.
In the trigger was pulled, and Lee Gilyoung exploded.
It’s long, and it’s messy, and Yoo Jonghyuk bears the tirade with a stoicness that comes from living multiple lives. He bears it gracefully whilst Lee Gilyoung yells and yells and yells and the rest of the room watches with the silence of people who know that this is an event that needs to take its course.
It’s long, and it’s messy, and it ends with Lee Gilyoung screaming, “It’s your fault! You promised you’d protect Hyung! You promised you’d bring him back, but you didn’t and he died! You took him from us, just like you did when you killed him!”
It ends with Lee Gilyoung screaming, “You stole Hyung from me!” and then he starts to cry.
Kim Dokja goes to comfort him. Han Sooyung ushers Shin Yoosung into the bedroom. Yoo Jonghyuk walks out of the door and out of the house, his every muscle tense. Jung Heewon starts making hot chocolate in Lee Gilyoung’s favourite mug.
Kim Dokja hates the bad days.
“On the day that you died that final time,” Lee Gilyoung says, when he’s calmed down. His eyes are red, Kim Dokja’s jumper gripped tight in his fingers, but there’s none of the anger left, none of the fury; just the tiredness. Just the sadness. “Yoo Jonghyuk promised me that he’d protect you. That he’d make sure we all get to the happy ending together. But he didn’t. You died, and I didn’t even get to say goodbye.” And then, “You died, and it was his fault.”
Kim Dokja stroked Lee Gilyoung’s head, considering what was said and what needed to be said. He considered this boy who had become his son, this child who had walked through the apocalypse and came out the other side. He considered himself, and the kind of person he would have been in a future where he finally had value.
Kim Dokja considered because he had never been an impulsive man.
“I don’t remember the future,” he says, “so I can’t speak for then, but the Yoo Jonghyuk I know now isn’t someone to be careless. If he was unable to protect the me of the future then it was because there was nothing anyone could have done, or because I had made a plan that involved me dying.”
“But he killed you. He killed you before, and then he failed you.” And then, darkly, “Anyone who kills Hyung is a bad man.”
“From what I’ve been told, it was me who sacrificed myself and the dokkaebi that forced us into that situation. Someone had to die, and if I could protect my family, then dying is something I accept easily.” A pause, letting it sink in, and then, “Do you know what would have made Yoo Jonghyuk a bad man in my eyes?”
“If he hadn’t protected you and the others. If he hadn’t killed me and I had ended up hurting people I cared about, or if someone else had died in my place.” Kim Dokja smiled. “I’m not used to having things to protect. To actually have a treasure like that would be a thing I’d die for.”
Lee Gilyoung made a quiet, reedy noise, a child weighed down by grieve for a man who still walks. “But he promised me. He promised he’d protect you.”
“He may have been the protagonist, but he’s still only human. He has his limits, and on that day it was too much.”
“You left me behind.” Lee Gilyoung is close to tears again, his grip tight on I couldn’t protect you because I wasn’t there and he didn’t do it good enough.”
“I would have wanted you to be safe. If I left you behind, it’s because I believed that it was safer for you.”
“I don’t like it when you go, Hyung. I don’t like not knowing if you’ll come back.”
“I won’t leave you,” Kim Dokja promises. “Not if I have a choice.”
Kim Dokja pinky promised. He sat on the ground until Lee Gilyoung fell asleep, stroking his hair and humming the same quiet lullaby his mother used to sing on those days that his father was particularly violent. He sat there until Lee Gilyoung fell asleep, and then he tucked him into bed, pressing a kiss against his forehead.
He hoped that Lee Gilyoung’s dreams would be peaceful.
“Has the sunfish returned yet?” Han Sooyung asks, quietly. She is sitting on the cheap airbed they’d got from ikea, watching him with bright eyes. Jung Heewon is unconscious next to her, Shin Yoosung curled inbetween them, and Kim Dokja is glad they didn’t leave her alone.
“Not yet,” Kim Dokja answers. “I’ll wait up for him.”
“Okay.” And then, “You’ve always been best at dealing with him when he’s in one of his moods. Just-” And then, “You were the person who taught him how to live rather than just survive. Losing you for good nearly broke him. It took four of us ganging up to beat the shit out of him to stop him from killing himself and regressing.”
“It’s strange, to think that I was ever that important to anyone.”
“Oh, even then you didn’t understand it. We all would have followed you into Hell, even those of us who’d started out hating you.” She smiled, a little wistfully. “You’re a depressed bastard, but you’re our depressed bastard.”
“As long as he isn’t a dead bastard,” Jung Heewon grumbled, half-asleep.
“I make no promises,” Kim Dokja said, half-joking, and dodged the pillow Han Sooyung threw at him.
Yes. Yes, Kim Dokja was a lucky bastard indeed, to have family like this.
The clock has hit 3:30AM by the time Yoo Jonghyuk walks in the door, and Kim Dokja nearly drops his phone on his face as he scrambles to sit up. Yoo Jonghyuk’s expression is pensive, eyes like lanterns as he stared at Kim Dokja, and Kim Dokja is reminded of that night all those months ago where a mourner in a human’s skin appeared from a burst of light. Yoo Jonghyuk watches him like his mind is submerged in tar and his emotions are too loud, too much.
Yoo Jonghyuk watches him, and Kim Dokja smiles at him.
“Gilyoung-ah is asleep,” he says. “He calmed down, though it still may be best to wait for him to approach you first.”
And Yoo Jonghyuk approaches him, steps quiet where his eyes were loud, and it was a little like a hawk circling its prey, it was a little like a religious man approaching the confessional. He comes to a stop at Kim Dokja's feet and kneels down in front of him. Even at such a difference in level he is big, his head almost level with Kim Dokja’s, and looking at him like this KIM Dokja thinks that Yoo Jonghyuk could block out the world.
Kim Dokja thinks that Yoo Jonghyuk could keep him hidden and safe, with his body as a shield.
“Kim Dokja,” he says, and there is something about his voice that is steady, that is strong, that is a tree standing tall after the forest burnt down around it and knowing that it will continue to grow. It is the voice of a steady heart and a steeled soul, a man who knows the ending he wants from this story. “You are my heart. You are the one who made me believe. You are the reason we all made it to an ending. You are my everything, and yet because I was too weak you died.”
He reaches out and lifts one of Kim Dokja's limp hands in his own, cradling it like a prayer, like something that holds the world. The touch sends goosebumps up Kim Dokja's skin, and he stares wide eyed. He wonders if this is going the direction he thinks it might go. He wonders if Yoo Jonghyuk means it.
He wonders, but more than that he wants.
He wants, with all his heart, for it to be so.
“I failed to protect you before. And I was given a second chance. I will not fail you again.”
Yoo Jonghyuk presses a kiss to Kim Dokjja's fingers, lips soft and gentle, and Kim Dokja shivers at the touch. Yoo Jonghyuk's eyes hold his gaze hostage, and Kim Dokja wonders if Yoo Jonghyuk knows the way Kim Dokja's knees feel weak. He wonders if Yoo Jonghyuk knows that there are flowers blooming in his ribcage, their petals trembling in time with his heart. He wonders if Yoo Jonghyuk knows the way it is hard to breathe, the way his entire focus is narrowed down to the feel of those lips against his fingertips, and then his palm, and then finally his wrist, where they linger for a moment, two.
He wonders if he knows that when Kim Dokja dreams of love, he sees gold.
Yoo Jonghyuk says, “You are my life and death companion, and my heart beats only for you.”
And Kim Dokja breathes in, and out, and feels himself tremble.
And then he says, “You could have just said I Love You like a normal person, you bastard,” but he is smiling. But he is tugging Yoo Jonghyuk onto the couch, and pressing close to him. He is winding his arms around Yoo Jonghyuk's neck, and kikissing every inch of his face, and he is loved, and he loves, and feeling a warmth that would put the sun to shame.
He is happy.
“I am your bastard,” Yoo Jonghyuk corrects, hands gentle on Kim Dokja's hips, and his eyes are soft, his smile softer, his heart softest.
And Kim Dokja laughs. “That you are.”
They’re in love, my dear reader, and it is beautiful.
(The two of them stay like that until morning comes and the rest of the apartment stirs, wrapped up in each other and this feeling shared, this feeling grown. They stay like that until Jung Heewon walks out covering a yawn, takes one discerning look at them, and says, “fucking finally.”
Kim Dokja thinks it’s the start to a good day, even with as little sleep as he had).
Lee Gilyoung walks up to Yoo Jonghyuk later in the day, his hands twisted in his hoodie, his face drawn tight. Yoo Jonghyuk looks at him, as patient as a lighthouse standing tall at sea, and Lee Gikyoung breathes.
“Hyung said that you did the best you could,” Lee Gilyoung said. “And that him dying was how it was meant to be, but I don't know if I can accept that. I don’t know if I can forgive you yet I don’t know if I ever will.” And then, after a pause, “But I am sorry for yelling at you.”
And Yoo Jonghyuk crouched down so he is at eye level.
“I cannot change the past,” he says. “But I will protect your Father with my life. I will do better this time.”
“You swear it?”
“I swear upon my grave. I won’t fail him again, and if I do then my life is yours to end.”
Lee Gilyoung studied him for a few minutes, searching for something in his expression, and then he nodded. “Good.” And then, after, more quiet, “Can I watch you game?”
Yoo Jonghyuk nods, and pulls out another chair.
And so peace returns once more.
(By the time they stop for dinner Yoo Jonghyuk has helped Lee Gilyoung make a druid character called Titano and get him to level 15. Lee Gilyoung proudly informs the household about this, and receives applause from everyone except Shin Yoosung.
“But beasts are mine!” she said. “Stay in your lane, bug!”
“Its not my fault the game company is narrow minded,” Lee Gilyoung replies. “There was no options to use bugs.”
Four days later the company announced a mod that introduces a new sub class of druids focused on insects, and a tame able monster called Titano. Yoo Jonghyuk is the first to receive it, and Lee Gilyoung the first to play it, and he is delighted.
Lee Gilyoung also gets a gamer station, after that.)
A high schooler with a sword climbs in through Kim Dokja’s window and the first thing out of her mouth is, “Oh hey, you’re actually pretty when your face isn’t being censored!!”
Kim Dokja sighs, and starts trying to figure out how to fit one more person into his already crowded room.
Kim Dokja started looking at houses. His apartment may not be the smallest in the world, nor is it the worst, but it was not built to house seven people. It was starting to resemble an overstuffed tin can, and apparently there were still more people yet to arrive. The only reason he stuck out this long was because moving was more of a hassle than it was worth, and giving up his apartment to accommodate the time travellers felt like giving in.
As it is, stubbornness can only get you so far, and Kim Dokja has given up. He has a family now, a big one, and that means he needs a place that can house them all.
(“You know,” Han Sooyung said, “This wouldn’t have been a problem if you’d just moved earlier.”
“That would require money,” Kim Dokja said. “And surprisingly, being a Literature Professor does not pay that well.”
“But your boyfriend is rich. What’s the point of dating an ex pro gamer if not to use his funds?”
“He only became my boyfriend three weeks ago.”
“But he’s been in love with you for years. He would literally have flipped over backwards if you asked him to be your sugar daddy.”
“Don’t project your kinks on to me.”
“It’s not my fault that financial security is sexy as hell.”)
Kim Dokja started looking for houses, but in the end, there was no point. In the end, someone else bought him one instead.
In the end, it happens like this:
Kim Dokja arrives back from work one day to find two strangers in his house. This is not unusual, considering the fact that strangers have been making themselves at home in his life for quite a while now, but what is unusual is that these two feel… different. Like, even as Kim Dokja is looking at them, he is not really seeing them; like somehow, they are much bigger than they appear to be. Like they are woven from life and death and power, and they have stuffed themselves into a plastic bag in order to see him.
Like they are not human, but something more.
“Hello, son,” the woman says, smiling. “Happy re-adoption. We’ve missed you; the Underworld has been so very drab without you to bring light to it.”
Let’s head on down to compartmentalisation station.
“Underworld?” Kim Dokja asked, because that seemed like the most pressing part. The ‘son’ part held a little too much ????????????? and quite a bit of aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.
A lot of aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa, in fact. Kim Dokja could probably break the world record for internal shrieking just with this one development. Nobody had warned him that he’d been adopted in the future, and that was really rude because he could have used a little time to process that. Like okay, everything else he could deal with, but parents?
Kim Dokja hasn’t had a healthy parental figure in his life since he was six, and he doesn’t know what to do with one now. He’s basically raised himself, and most of his memories of his mother come from talking to her through glass, and yet????? This couple were calling him their son??????
We don’t have time to unpack all that right now, Kim Dokja decided.
“Yes,” the man said, his face carved from stone but his eyes soft, and if it wasn’t for the fact that Kim Dokja wasn’t a little caught up in the fact that Hades is sitting in his kitchen and declaring himself to be Daddy, then Kim Dokja would have admired how pretty he was. As it was, Hades was in Kim Dokja’s kitchen and declaring that Kim Dokja was his kid, and Kim Dokja may need a minute. “It’ll be your Kingdom, when you’re ready to take the throne, but you can take however much time you need.” And then, quieter, “We want you to live a long life, this time around.”
“We want you to be happy, little prince,” Persephone said, and now Kim Dokja could see that there were flowers blooming around her feet, in her hair. “To live well. In that other life you never managed to, but this time you can.” And then, darker, “This time, we’ll destroy anything that tries to interfere.”
Hades nodded, and the two of them exchanged a quiet, firm look; the kind of look that people shared when they were planning some very large-scale murder. Kim Dokja was still a little caught up on the whole God thing.
“But we didn’t come here to discuss business,” Persephone said, decisively. “Husband, give him the thing.”
‘The thing’ turns out to be nine identical keyrings with an assortment of keys on them, and when Kim Dokja stars at them in confusion, Hades pets Kim Dokja’s head with his lips turned up into a smile.
“We bought you a house. We have as many vans as you need, so just let us know when you’re ready to move and we’ll send people to help.”
“It’s not fitting for our Prince to be squatting in a place like this,” Persephone said, smiling. “And this way there’ll be a guest room for us to stay in when we visit.”
All Kim Dokja’s biological parents gave him was a lot of trauma and a reputation that was buried under dirt. This was the first time he was meeting these two, at least for the him without his memories of a future yet to happen, and yet already they had shown him kindness. Already they had shown him affection and care and all those things Kim Dokja had once thought impossible for him.
It was overwhelming, and Kim Dokja felt a little like he was going to cry.
Kim Dokja can’t remember the last time he cried.
As if sensing his mood, Hades gave Kim Dokja a hug, and says, “We’ll visit you soon.”
“Take care, little prince,” Persephone said. “We love you.”
The two of them are swallowed by darkness, because apparently everyone from the future hated doors, and Kim Dokja is left with keys in his hands and a storm in his heart.
The two of them leave, and Kim Dokja sits on the kitchen floor and allows himself to break.
Yoo Jonghyuk finds him there a while later, and sits beside him quietly, an arm around his shoulders. They sit there, the only noise between them the sound of Kim Dokja crying, and then once Kim Dokja has calmed down, Yoo Jonghyuk shifts them so Kim Dokja is on his lap, comfortably settled into an embrace. He traces soothing circles against Kim Dokja’s back, holding him close, and waits until Kim Dokja is ready to talk.
Eventually, Kim Dokja says, in a hoarse voice, “I didn’t know that a parent’s love could be so warm.”
And Yoo Jonghyuk understands. Because to Kim Dokja, a father’s love was raised voices and bruises and the stench of alcohol and a fear that was trumped only by the pain. Because to Kim Dokja, a mother’s love was determined eyes and hands stained in blood and a cold voice heard only through a telephone in a prison’s waiting room. Because to Kim Dokja, a parent’s love was something strange, something forgotten.
Because to Kim Dokja, he was not a person built for live.
“You are the son they chose. Of course they love you,” Yoo Jonghyuk says, “And you will have all the time in the world to get used to it.”
“But they’re literal Gods.”
“And you were a Demon King. You’re more special than you realise, Kim Dokja. You are loved by so many, and saved even more.”
“But I haven’t done any of those things yet. I’m not that person everyone knew.”
“Kim Dokja,” Yoo Jonghyuk said, “You are loved not for your actions, but for your soul.”
And Kim Dokja buried his face in the side of Yoo Jonghyuk’s neck, making a noise like a particularly defeated tea kettle. “You’re bad for my heart.”
“And you are my heart.”
And so Kim Dokja stayed there, safe in the arms of someone who loved him, until he was ready to face the world again.
“Oh, thank fuck,” Han Sooyung said, upon being told that they were getting a new house, “I thought we were going to end up using plan C.”
“What’s plan C?” Kim Dokja asked.
“The kids get you out of the apartment, Jonghyuk gets all the stuff out of the apartment, and then we set the apartment on fire.”
“…then what was plan B?”
“In our defense, a lot of us have wanted to tie you up and keep you in a secure location for a very long time. This would have just been wish fulfilment.”
“You concern me.”
“Says the one who made dying his hobby.”
“I don’t do that anymore.”
“Good, because I’m pretty sure fifty percent of our group will become yanderes if they lose you again.”
Moving out goes smoothly, far more so than Kim Dokja had expected. Between the seven of them and the help of Kim Dokja’s new parents its very easy to get things boxed up and into the cars. From there, its simply a matter of driving, and that’s hardly the most high intensity sport out there.
Moving in, however, is a different story.
Because what Kim Dokja was expecting was a house. A regular people house, the kind you see on most streets; the kind of house that you would look at and think yeah. Yeah I can see people living there. A normal, six person house. Kim Dokja had been expecting a house.
What they got was a mansion. No, more than that- this was a place that was like five mansions smashed together. It was perhaps the biggest place that Kim Dokja has ever seen, with land spread as far as the eye can see and architecture that would make even the richest man in the world cry in jealousy. It was beautiful, it was bourgeoise, and it was probably the most expensive place Kim Dokja has ever seen in his entire life. It was, without a doubt, the kind of place people dream of living in.
It just wasn’t a house.
“I thought you said you bought a house,” Kim Dokja said, sounding as shell-schocked as he looked.
“This is a house,” Hades said, and then frowned. “Do you not like it? We can buy you something better, if you’d prefer. How about a castle-“
“No! There’s no need for that! I was just expecting- a house. Like, a regular one. Something small.”
Hades looked confused, as if Kim Dokja was the one being strange here. Had Kim Dokja missed something? Was it normal to give people mansions like they were candy? “But you’re our son. Why would we not buy you the best?”
“But this must have cost millions-“
“And you’re worth all the money the world has to offer.”
Kim Dokja made the kind of noise you’d hear from a tea kettle filled with helium. Persephone put her hands on his shoulders, smiling gently.
“Kim Dokja,” she said. “You’re our son. We lost you, once, and now we have you back. It’s only fair we spoil you enough to make up for lost time.”
“We love you,” Hades said. “Let us show it.”
And, well. How could he say no to that?
“We have like, twenty rooms now,” Kim Dokja said. “Why are you all still sleeping in mine?”
“Because the other rooms don’t have you,” Han Sooyung said, as if that was a reasonable answer. And maybe it was; maybe Kim Dokja was the strange one here, for thinking that actually making use of the space available was a smart idea. He didn’t have that patented time traveller logic, after all. Maybe he was just a fool in a man’s shoes. “And besides, the beds big enough to fit twelve people. It’s not like it’s an inconvenience.”
“That’s not the point-“
“We drew up a schedule!” Lee Jihye said. “Master gets you to himself two to three days a week, the kids for another two to three, and then we all share you for the remaining days!”
“Do I get any say in this?”
“No,” they all said, in synch. One of them even threw a pillow at his face, to emphasise their point.
“Shut up and let us love you,” Jung Heewon said. “You dumbass.”
Kim Dokja sighed, but it wasn’t enough to hide the smile twitching at his lips.
And then he threw the pillow back, and all hell broke lose.
(They finished the pillow fight in a pile, all out of breath and smiling as Kim Dokja’s laughter filled the air. His was a laugh they would die to protect, but before that, they would make sure that he lived.
Kim Dokja’s laugh was a treasure, to them, just like everything about him was).
“I’m going to teach you how to fight,” Jung Heewon said.
“No,” Kim Dokja said. “Not even if you pay me.”
She taught him how to fight.
Sometimes Kim Dokja really hates this fucking family
(“I hate you,” Kim Dokja wheezed, flat out on the ground after Jung Heewon flipped him once again. She laughed at him, like she did every time he said this, and threw a bottle of water at him.
She hadn’t even broken a sweat. This is unfair. This is prejudice.
“I hate you,” Kim Dokja said again, but with more feeling.
“It’s a bit early for that,” she said, far too cheerfully for someone whose been doing three hours of intense exercise. “We haven’t even started weapons training yet.”
“I want a refund.”
“Too bad.” She knelt down so she could pet his hair, beaming down at him like some kind of avenging angel come from the heavens to teach him five hundred different ways to destroy a man. “You’re stuck with us forever, Brother dearest. No refunds, returns or exchanges allowed.”
That night Kim Dokja dreamed of a woman wreathed in flames, of a sword who remained loyal and strong at his side until there was no side left to stand by; he dreamed of a judge and the angel who watched over her, of a sister who saw right through him and still believed in him. He dreamt in flashes, in images and scenes and words, and in the morning, the dream was half forgotten.
Kim Dokja dreamed of a sister, and he woke up with tears on his face and an ache in his heart he couldn’t explain).
Being a Literature professor had not been the career Kim Dokja was aiming for, but it is one that he is glad that he took. It’s something that he’s actually interested in, doubly so when he was able to help pioneer a department focused on the more contemporary forms of literature, such as webnovels, fanfiction and the like. His colleagues are nice people, to the point that he’d consider some of them friends, and Kim Dokja finds that he has fun.
(Though, he’d enjoy it more if Uriel would stop writing fanfiction about him where he can see it).
So yes, Kim Dokja can quite certainly say he loves his job. Which is why it’s unfortunate that he’s going to have to burn the university to the ground to erase all witnesses and then move to a rural town far, far away.
It had started out as a normal day. Yoo Jonghyuk had made him lunch, packaged in a neat bento, and kissed him before taking the kids to school. Jung Heewon had gone to a job interview, declaring that if she wasn’t legally allowed to beat up bastards soon then she might go insane, and Han Sooyung had escorted Kim Dokja to the university before heading off, declaring that she had to go hunting.
Kim Dokja hadn’t thought much about it, at the time. It hurt his head if he tried to hard to understand their strange, time travelling ways.
This is something he would later regret.
It had started out as a normal day. Sun Wukong had greeted him with a smile and a one armed hug, and Uriel brewed some coffee as the three of them settled into their shared office. The three of them chatted for a bit, laughing and joking, and then they got to work. Kim Dokja only had one class that day, a lecture on the presentation of sexuality in one of the texts they were studying, and then he was going to spend the rest of his time working on lesson plans. Uriel pretended to work when she was really writing smut again, Sun Wukong read it over her shoulder in between marking, and Kim Dokja laughed at the both of them.
It was peaceful.
And then Han Sooyung walked in through the office door, dragging a stranger, and it all went to shit. He was a buff man, this stranger, made from such fine beef that it could almost stand up against Yoo Jonghyuk, and he had soft eyes in a face that was cut sharp. He was the kind of man who would definitely be called handsome, even if he wasn’t quite at the point of being beautiful, and there was something about him that was reassuring.
He was an absolute snacc, and if Han Sooyung brought him, that meant he was a time travelling snacc.
And if there was one thing that Kim Dokja learnt about time travellers, it’s that they’re emotional.
“I found the cartridge,” the man croaks out, sounding like it’s only a sheer force of will. “I won’t lose it again.”
Kim Dokja sighs and opens his arms in invitation, already resigned to his fate. Barely a second after he moves the man is hugging like a very oversized teddy bear, face buried against Kim Dokja’s neck. Kim Dokja pats his back and dutifully ignores the shaking shoulders and the wide-eyed stares of his colleagues.
‘Fuck you,’ he mouths at Han Sooyung, over the man’s shoulder.
She beams right back at him.
Kim Dokja ends up leaving work early that day, not wanting to have to deal with the barrage of questions that would no doubt come his way the moment there was a chance. He’d take crying time travellers over that any day.
And so, Lee Hyunsung found his way home.
(The next day Uriel greets Kim Dokja by standing up from her chair, points a finger at him and says, “Love triangle!”
“No,” Kim Dokja said. “Whatever you are thinking, you’re wrong.”
“So that wasn’t your long lost childhood love come to challenge Yoo Jonghyuk for your heart?”
“Awww.” She frowned. “I had half of the story written out and everything.”
Sun Wukong looked Kim Dokja up and down and hummed. “It’s probably for the best. Kim Dokja would break if you tried to force two dicks in at once.”
“Not if there’s enough preparation!”
“I don’t think there’s enough preparation in the world for something like that.”
Kim Dokja put his head in his hands and groaned. They both patted his shoulder, not stopping their intense argument about the feasibility of double penetration, the details of Kim Dokja’s sex life, and a combination of these two thereoff. At one point they asked him for Yoo Jonghyuk's dick size, and his preferences in lube. Uriel even had Sun Wukong lift Kim Dokja up with one arm, just to prove it was possible.
Kim Dokja hates his life, sometimes.
He made Han Sooyung clean the every bathroom in the mansion for the next three months, out of revenge).
One day Yoo Jonghyuk came home with one more child than he left with.
“Jonghyuk-ah,” Kim Dokja said, “Kidnapping is illegal.”
Yoo Jonghyuk frowned. “I didn’t kidnap her. She’s my sister.”
Said sister waved, bouncing on her toes. “Hey Ajhussi! Congrats on not being dead anymore!”
Kim Dokja thought, well. At least there’s no crying this time.
(He spoke too soon. Yoo Mia does burst into tears at dinner and Yoo Jonghyuk glares at Kim Dokja until he comforts her.
Kim Dokja wants a refund).
When Kim Dokja is out with Lee Hyunsung, he gets assaulted.
Or, to be more specific, his leg gets assaulted. The vicious criminal assaulting him is a ball of white fluff that is barking with the kind of excitement that is almost physical in its intensity. It runs circles around him a few times, tail wagging so hard Kim Dokja fears that it might fall off, and then attempts to use his trousers as a climbing post.
Kim Dokja kneels down, petting it, and it practically vibrates as it leans against him. It’s adorable, and Kim Dokja thinks he would die for this dog.
“Oh,” Lee Hyunsung said, softly, almost reverently, “Biyoo found you, even like this.”
“Another time traveller?”
“Yeah. She’s your biological daughter.”
“Yeah, you hatched her from an egg and everything.”
Biyoo comes home with them, because of course she does, and so their family is one step closer to being whole.
(“She’s your daughter,” Yoo Jonghyuk said. “You clean it up.”
“She’s your daughter as well!”
“Legally, no she is not. Not until we’re married.”
“Then marry me!”
Yoo Jonghyuk frowned. “Did you just propose to me so I’d clean up dog shit?”
Yoo Jonghyuk broke a plate. Kim Dokja vaulted off the chair and out of the door. Yoo Jonghyuk gave chase.
“Press F to pay respects,” said Jung Heewon, watching them go with the solemnity of someone sitting in a room with a pile of dogshit in the middle of it.
“F,” everyone echoed. And then they proceeded to fight over who had to do the doody duty.
Lee Hyunsung lost because he was the only person who didn’t cheat.
It was a sad day for Lee Hyunsung).
The thing about living with people who remember a future you do not is that they have quirks. They have these things that make no sense unless you’ve lived through it, these rules that they won’t explain and habits they keep despite how unusual it is. They are unusual because the life they led made them so, and for all that Kim Dokja cannot fully understand it, he does accept it.
They are unusual, but they are his, and so he grows used to it. He grows used to the way they all sleep with swords near them, the way that sometimes Kim Dokja will wake up in the middle of the night to find several sets of eyes watching him without blinking. He sees the scars on their bodies and hearts, the way that when they have nightmares or bad days they come to him, and he knows that sometimes, they forget.
He knows that sometimes they are grieving him even as he stands before them, whole and alive.
He knows them, and so he knows that they care about him; he knows that they love him, and they worry about him, and that there is nothing they fear more than losing him once more.
He knows them, and this is why he does not fight the rule that he is not allowed to take the subway alone. It doesn’t matter where he needs to go or which train it is or what time; if Kim Dokja is going near a train, then someone has to be with him. This a non-negotiable rule, and it is one underlined twice and written in red. It is an important rule, and so Kim Dokja does not grumble about the inconvenience of it. He does not complain about having to inform people when he’s going out, he does not complain about having to wait as they clamour over who will go with him.
Kim Dokja does not complain because, in truth, there is nothing to complain about. He’s used to being alone in everything he does, to living his life as one endless trudge where his screams are swallowed by a world that does not care and the only comfort offered to him is in the form of words on a page. Kim Dokja is used to being alone, to being unwanted, unloved and unknown; this is his past, the reality that has made up his life for twenty-something years.
It was his past, but it is not his present; it is not his future.
Kim Dokja was used to being alone, but he doesn’t have to be anymore. Now he has people he can call a family, people he can confide in when he needs to and lean on when to stan by himself is too much; he has people who love him, where he has never been loved before. Now when Kim Dokja turns, there is someone at his side; there are people to make his house a home, to fill his greyscale life with shades of colour. There are gold eyes and a reliable back, a sharp smile and a slap on his shoulder, a sword and a shield both reaching for him with open arms, the patter of tiny feet and excited voices.
Now Kim Dokja is learning that he too can live and love and thrive.
Kim Dokja used to read webnovels on the subway. He used to fill the hollowness in his life with stories, to wrap himself up in these worlds that are not his and pretend that he too can walk a path pathed in glory. He used to sit there, all alone in the world, and try to fill the hollowness in his chest with these stories and remind himself to keep his heart beating.
“You can’t kill yourself yet,” he would tell himself, on those days where every breath felt like he was drowning and even putting his feet one in front of the other was too much, “because then you will never learn what happens in the next chapter.”
“You just have to keep going until the next chapter,” he would tell himself. “Just hang on until then.”
He would tell himself this, and he would keep telling himself this, and so he thought it would continue until the day it stopped being enough; until the day that the next chapter wasn't enough, until the day that stories no longer helped his heart remember how to beat. He would tell himself this because this was all he had, and it was all he would ever have. There was just him and the story; this far off ending that he wants to see.
Live so you can reach the ending; this was his mantra, this was what kept him alive.
Kim Dokja has never lived for himself, because to live was to suffer; to live was to walk across needles and hot coals and think that for all the world it would be easier if you were dead.
Kim Dokja has never lived for himself, and so he used to live for the stories. And now, he lives for them. He lives for his family, for these people who found him and gave him the things he thought he’d never have, these people who Naruto ran through time and brought him salvation.
Kim Dokja lives for his family, and so he does not mind the inconvenience of needing an escort every time he takes the train.
Kim Dokja is on the subway, and he is not alone. Lee Gilyoung was the one who won the honour of being his escort today by virtue of winning in rock-paper-scissors. He falls asleep shortly into the journey, hands gripping Kim Dokja’s coat tightly in his sleep, and Kim Dokja sat still so as to avoid disturbing him, running gentle fingers through his hair. The fondness in his chest feels like the blooming of flowers, like the sunlight in spring, like the parental love he never received himself.
Kim Dokja is on the subway, and a woman walks up to him. She is a beautiful woman, gentle in appearance and demeanour, and she smiles at Kim Dokja like he is the one person she wanted to see in the world. She smiles at him like he is someone important, someone precious, and considering that Kim Dokja has never met her in his life, this should make him think about if he’s about to be mugged.
As it is, Kim Dokja has grown rather used to strangers who remember him where he does not, so he simply tilts his head and says, “Please don’t start crying. I like this train.”
She laughed, sitting down on his free side, and her eyes are warm; so very warm. If she and Yoo Jonghyuk were to stand next to each other the world would probably combust from that much concentrated beauty.
“Don’t worry, Dokja-ssi,” she said, “I’ll save my crying for when we’re at the station.”
“Thank you, that’s very considerate of you. I’m assuming you’re going to be following me home?”
“Yes! Hyunsung-ssi and Heewon-ssi should have already moved me in. They told me where to find you, so I could have a bonding moment.”
Of course they did. Why did nobody tell Kim Dokja these things? It’s technically his house. Legally speaking, he’s the one who needs to know if they’re getting a new tenant.
“Eugh,” he said. “Time Travellers.”
“Time travellers,” the woman agreed, though her tone was still amused. “I’m glad to see you again, Dokja-ssi.”
“Well this is my first time meeting you, so I’m at a bit of a disadvantage.”
“That’s fine,” and her smile became a little bit fond, a little bit sad, “You waited years for us to find you. We can wait how ever long it takes for you to get to know us again.”
“I can live with that.” He put out the hand that wasn’t holding Lee Gilyoung. “Hi, you already know who I am and apparently what I look like dead. Hope you don’t mind living in a circus.”
She shook his hand. “My name is Yoo Sangah. Anywhere is home if Dokja-ssi is there.”
(True to her word, Yoo Sangah waited until they were standing on the station to start the hug-and-cry routine. Lee Gilyoung, who was awake now, filmed the whole thing.
And so Kim Dokja gained a sister).
One day, Kim Dokja comes downstairs in the morning to find a box on the table. It is wrapped in simple paper, and taped to the top of it is a note.
The note reads:
This is for you from all of us.
You’ll look great in it. You always did.
Yours forever and always,
Kim Dokja’s Company.’
Inside the box, Kim Dokja finds a coat. It is white, vaguely reminiscent of a trench coat, and when Kim Dokja picks it up, it feels like there is a ringing in his soul, a settling that rights itself without him even realising.
Kim Dokja thinks, I am never going to take it off.
Kim Dokja is sitting across from his mother, the two of them separated by a sheet of glass. She looks tired and pale, hard in the way of someone who was never soft, and she looks at him with emotions Kim Dokja cannot read. He does not understand her, and he never has, but he thinks he would like to try.
“Hello, Mother,” he says, through the telephone, “I have a family now.”
And so, he tells her about them; about these people who showed him that he too could be loved. He tells her about her grandkids, about how Lee Gilyoung talks to bugs like they are his friends, about how Shin Yoosung had started drawing recently. He tells her about how Biyoo always waits by the door for him to return home, about how Lee Jihye comes to him for recommendations on reading material, about how Yoo Mia asks him for help with homework.
He tells her about his siblings, about how Jung Heewon has started training to become a policeman, about how Lee Hyunsung has discovered a talent for floristry. He tells her about how Yoo Sangah has founded her own company, how Han Sooyung has hired him as her full time editor.
He tells her about his adoptive parents, about how they pamper him, about how they make him feel safe in a way he hadn’t known parents could.
He tells her about Yoo Jonghyuk, and how through him Kim Dokja rediscovered the beauty of life.
He tells her about this, about everything, and she listens attentively, a smile on her face for the first time in over a decade.
“You seem happy,” she says, when their time is running out.”
“I am,” Kim Dokja says. “I think, for the first time in a very long time, I really am.”
Kim Dokja leaves the prison and feels, for the first time, that maybe theirs is a bond that can be fixed.
Thinks that maybe, just maybe, she can be his family too.
Kim Dokja has a family.
They are not conventional, not in the slightest, but they are his and he loves them. And in turn, they love him; they gather around him like they are the body and he is the heart, like they are the cradle and he the child. They gather, and they smiles, and they love, and through them, Kim Dokja learns what it is like to belong. They are his and he is theirs and he knows that this is a bond that is stronger than death.
Kim Dokja has a family, and they remember a future Kim Dokja does not.
They remember an apocalypse. They remember Constellations and Dokkaebis and the humans made to dance for their entertainment. They remember Scenarios and a Hell that never ends; they remember fighting and fighting and fighting until it felt like the only thing left was to die. They remember worlds saved and worlds destroyed, they remember losing and gaining and hurting.
Kim Dokja has a family, and they remember him.
They remember a him who devoted his entire soul to a single novel. They remember a him who was twenty eight years old and thrust into a world where that novel became a reality. They remember a him who had no face, only a blur and a distinctive smile. They remember a him who became a King who became a Demon who became a God. They remember a him who died for them over and over and over until it became a party trick, until it became a monicker. They remember a him who died for them and then never woke up.
Kim Dokja has a family, and he does not remember them.
The future is one that never comes to this world, and so he does not need to live it; he does not need to know it. He does not remember, and maybe he never will. Maybe the dreams will stay dreams. Maybe the visions, those scenes half-forgotten, these memories that swirl disconnected when he sleeps- maybe they never become something more concrete. Maybe he never remembers the future, or maybe he does.
It doesn’t matter, in the end. It doesn’t matter because his family loves him and he has grown to love them. They lost him and found him again, and no matter what happens they are not going to lose him again.
Kim Dokja has a family, for now and forevermore.
Kim Dokja has a family, and they would fight time itself if it meant saving him.
Kim Dokja has a family, and they have a Kim Dokja.
And in the end, they owe this all to a God.
(There is a thing that Yoo Jonghyuk and Yoo Jonghyuk alone knows, and that is this:
After Kim Dokja died that one final time, Yoo Jonghyuk met a God in his dreams. This was a God tall enough for their head to be hidden by the clouds; a God with music in their soul and a trench coat woven from stars.
Yoo Jonghyuk met a God, and their name was No Stanger to Love.
“The Star Stream is no more,” Yoo Jonghyuk says. “Why have you appeared before me?”
“The two of you have known each other for so long,” No Stranger to Love said, voice reverberating from miles around, making bones ache and blood vessels burst. An ordinary human would have fallen to their knees. Yoo Jonghyuk is not an ordinary human, and so he remains standing tall. “Gotta make you understand.”
There is only one person this could refer to, as there is only one person for whom Yoo Jonghyuk feels deeply enough that it could move a God.
“You are referring to Kim Dokja.”
No Stranger to Love gives him finger guns, and the movement makes a mountain explode somewhere in the background. ”If you get another chance with him, are you never gonna give him up? Are you never gonna let him down? Are you never gonna say goodbye?”
And oh, isn’t that something Yoo Jonghyuk has dreamed of. Isn’t it something he yearns for with all his heart.
Isn’t it something he’d kill himself for, if it would bring Kim Dokja back.
“I would tell him how I’m feeling.” He feels so much, because of Kim Dokja. He feels and he lives and yet he never got to tell the one who made it so. “I would treasure him. I would protect him.”
“You swear it?”
“On my life.”
“Your hearts been aching but you were too shy to say it. You know the game, and now you’re gonna play it.” And then, “Never give him up, Yoo Jonghyuk. You won’t get a third chance.”
And then, light.
And then Yoo Jonghyuk was standing in an unfamiliar living room, and Kim Dokja was there, younger and alive.
And then Yoo Jonghyuk got his second chance, and by the Gods was he going to use it).