Yoo Jonghyuk had a problem.
Technically he had many problems, a lot of which built around the fact that they were in the middle of the literal apocalypse, but those all seemed insignificant in comparison to this. It was a very specific problem that was troubling him, one that started with Kim and ended with Dokja and had a worrying preoccupation with self-sacrifice. This rat of a man with his stupid face and his stupid bleeding heart and his stupid love for the people who were his; this bastard who looked him in the eyes and declared himself Yoo Jonghyuk’s companion.
Yoo Jonghyuk had a problem, and its name was Kim Dokja. Fucking Kim Dokja, the man who turned Yoo Jonghyuk’s world upside and showed him what it was like to live before you died.
Kim Dokja, who is always eight steps ahead of everything, secrets tucked between his teeth and a plan always whirring inside his mind.
Kim Dokja, who believes in Yoo Jonghyuk more than Yoo Jonghyuk ever believed in himself.
Kim Dokja, who has bound a group of broken people together and made them a family.
Kim Dokja, who looks impossibility in the face and laughs as he walks backwards into Hell.
Kim Dokja, who has died for the people he loves and will probably continue to do so until the day that someone gets it through his thick skull that he too deserves to live.
Kim Dokja, who Yoo Jonghyuk is in love with.
Kim Fucking Dokja.
“Fuck Kim Dokja,” Yoo Jonghyuk said.
“Wasn’t that your job, Master?” Lee Jihye asked.
Yoo Jonghyuk scowled at her, and she beamed at him right back, like a little shit. Yoo Jonghyuk had been glad when she started to grow out of her hero worship, but apparently he hadn’t considered the flaws of said plan; namely, her mocking his pain. There are enough bastards in his life already; he doesn’t need his student joining the ranks too.
(He still lives in fear of the day Yoo Mia and Kim Dokja join forces. The sheer chaos they could wreak would destroy civilisation as it is known. Yoo Jonghyuk gets grey hairs just thinking about it).
“No Jihye, it’s really not.”
“But you want it to be.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
[Demon-Like Judge of Fire says denial isn’t sexy].
[Demon-Like Judge of Fire has sponsored 900 coins].
[Queen of the Darkest Spring is asking if this is what they call a tsundere].
[Secretive Plotter thinks Incarnation Yoo Jonghyuk is not a tsundere].
[Secretive Plotter thinks Incarnation Yoo Jonghyuk is just a moron].
“It takes one to know one,” Yoo Jonghyuk said, scowling at the sky. The sky scowled back.
[Secretive Plotter says get your head out of your ass and confess].
[Secretive Plotter says if you don’t do it then Incarnation Kim Dokja may grow eyes and realise he deserves better than a walking trashfire].
“I don’t care for a bastard’s opinion on my relationships.”
[Secretive Plotter is annoyed].
[Secretive Plotter thinks you should treasure a precious thing when you have it].
Yoo Jonghyuk wonders if its worth the hit of dignity he’d take if he gave the sky the middle finger. He’s contemplating the pros and cons of this whilst gently pushing aside the parts of him that agree with the bastard, when Lee Jihye hums.
“You know,” she says, “He has a point, Master.”
Ah, yes; Yoo Jonghyuk knows this feeling well. It’s called betrayal. This wouldn’t have happened in his previous regressions; Lee Jihye was one of the few people he could rely on to not betray him, before Kim Dokja. And now, in this post-Dokja world, all the companions he had were people who had made Kim Dokja their heart, and their loyalty was to him and him over anything.
In this world, Yoo Jonghyuk was one of Kim Dokja’s companions, and not the other way round.
In this world, Yoo Jonghyuk was the protagonist, but he was not the Main Character. He was not the star, and so the bonds he had with people were a little more normal; a little more alive. They were people treasured with all the ferocity of a dragon to its hoard, people gathering around one man like he was their heart and they the body.
In this world, they were a family, and Kim Dokja was the one who brought them all together.
To them, to these people, Yoo Jonghyuk was just another person whilst Kim Dokja was their God, and so he was able to experience what it was like to have a normal bond with people.
And this meant that, right now, being Yoo Jonghyuk was to suffer.
“I’m disowning you,” he says.
“No you won’t.” And then, pointedly, “You know full well that Ajhussi is never going to make the first move. He’s too emotionally repressed for that.”
[The Queen of the Darkest Spring says not to forget depressed].
[The Father of the Rich Night adds traumatized to the list].
[Secretive Plotter believes low-self esteem is also an important thing to note].
“Yeah, those as well,” Jihye agreed. “The point is, Ajhussi would probably kill himself before doing something as painful as talking about his feelings.”
And, well- there’s the truth on which their party all tiptoes, this unfortunate face that they all know with absolute certainty. To Kim Dokja, the mortifying ordeal of being known is less of a joke and more of the one nightmare that he will do his utmost to avoid with every fiber of his being. To him, Lie Detection was a challenge that could be beaten and if it couldn’t be beaten, then he’d either reveal his true skill as an escape artist or just fucking die. Proper communication was an absolute last resort for him, and it was one he used so very rarely.
(On one notable occasion, Yoo Sangah had attempted to force him into an impromptu therapy session because he’d died eight times that week and Kim Dokja had responded to this by yeeting himself into the sky and taking refuge in a tree three miles away. It took them a few days to find him, and even then they only managed it because of Shin Yoosung’s use of the sponsorship bond.
Needless to say, the therapy session didn’t happen, no matter how much Kim Dokja clearly needs it).
So yes, Yoo Jonghyuk knows that if he wants there to be any progress in his and Kim Dokja’s relationship then either Yoo Jonghyuk is going to have to get his shit together and use his words or they’re going to need some divine intervention from some benevolent God.
(And somewhere in the Universe, No Stranger to Love sneezed).
“What is your point, Jihye,” Yoo Jonghyuk said. “Trying to talk to Kim Dokja is like dying 1863 times so you can save the world; it’s impossible.”
“I know, he’s a disaster,” she agreed. “That’s why you need to woo him! Show him with your actions, not your words!”
[Demon-Like Judge of Fire is an Incarnation Lee Jihye stan].
[Demon-Like Judge of Fire has sponsored 3000 coins].
“How do I do that? If I try to anything remotely romantic Kim Dokja will probably assume that I’m trying to kill him.”
Lee Jihye frowned here, unable to argue with the cold hard truth. How do you seduce someone with trust issues? It was a question for the ages, and if it wasn’t for the fact that they were in the middle of the end of the world, they would have probably need some sort of Guide for Dummies.
“Right, I forgot for a moment that seducing Ajhussi is a whole other ball park than seducing a regular person.” And then, after a pause, “Though to be fair, you’ve already seduced him quite thoroughly. It’s just the making him amenable to the lovey-dovey stuff that’s the problem.”
“I really don’t think he’s as seduced as you seem to think he is.”
“Master, the man walked around calling himself your companion through life and death after you yeeted him into the stomach of a sea monster. He died for you. When he needs to pretend to be someone, he chooses you. You literally fulfilled the prophecy declaring he will be killed by the person he loved the most. If that isn’t a man in love then I will shave all my hair off.”
“I’m still not convinced.”
“Then Secretive Plotter is right and you are a moron.”
[Queen of the Darkest Spring suggests wearing a cheongsam dress and a garter belt].
[Queen of the Darkest Spring believes that is the way to win the heir of the Underworld’s heart].
“Yes!” Lee Jihye says, at the exact same time Yoo Jonghyuk says, “Over my dead body.”
[Secretive Plotter says that can easily be arranged].
[Secretive Plotter believes Incarnation Yoo Jonghyuk's death would improve the channel as a whole].
[Prisoner of the Golden Headband is amused].
[Father of the Rich Night is once again asking Secretive Plotter to stop trying to make his son a widow].
[Secretive Plotter says he'll do what he wants].
[Queen of the Darkest Spring is frowning at Secretive Plotter].
[Demon-Like Judge of Fire says to shut up or suck it up].
[Demon-Like Judge of Fire says she's been dreaming of this day for years and she's not going to have it ruined by dicks].
[Demon-Like Judge of Fire says that Queen of the Darkest Spring's suggestion is a sound one].
"I don't care if it's sound," Yoo Jonghyuk said. "I'm not doing it."
“Maaaaaaaaaaster,” Lee Jihye whined, “Why are you such a spoil sport? You saw the affection points! It’s a magic item that makes Ajhussi’s kokoro go doki doki.”
“I’m not starting a relationship based on kinks. I have principles.”
“You’re boring is what you are.”
“And you’re too young to understand.”
Lee Jihye made a gagging noise. Yoo Jonghyuk wondered how his life had reached the point that he was taking love advice from a teenager.
Maybe it wasn’t the end of the world but the end of his sanity.
[Demon-Like Judge of Fire says that if you don't want to take the long road, then you need to be blunt about your feelings].
[Demon-Like Judge of Fire says that Kim Dokja doesn't deal well with talking about emotions].
[Demon-Like Judge of Fire says that you need to set up a situation where Kim Dokja can’t run away].
“That sounds vaguely illegal,” Yoo Jonghyuk said.
“No, it’s genius,” Lee Jihye said. “Listen to the Archangel, she clearly has the braincell right now.”
“There is no braincell, there is only Hell.”
Lee Jihye slapped his arm. Yoo Jonghyuk pointedly did not kick her back, because he is the adult here, unfortunately.
[Demon-Like Judge of Fire suggests the age old technique of And there was only one bed].
“Oh my God, there was only one bed!” Lee Jihye shrieked.
[Demon-Like Judge of Fire says that bed sharing is proven to be an effective seduction technique].
“Yes, it is! Haven’t you ever read fanfiction, Master? Wait, of course you haven’t, you’re old.” And then, standing up, because apparently she was more excited for Yoo Jonghyuk’s prospective romantic success that he was, “Oh my God, it’s perfect! If we set it so we’re one tent short for the night then the two of you can share, and woops! There’s only one bed!”
[Father of The Rich Night reminds you that the heir to the Underworld is rich and could just buy another tent].
“Oh, shit,” said Lee Jihye. “I forgot that he was the resident sugar daddy.”
“Please never use those words to describe him again.”
“I can do what I want,” And then, “Damn, that makes this entire thing impossible. Kim Dokja ruined everything.”
“You can’t ruin something that had no chance of success from the beginning.”
Lee Jihye ignored him. “Eat the rich is the gospel of every story, but especially this one..”
Yoo Jonghyuk sighed, and looked across the clearing to where Kim Dokja was sitting with Shin Yoosung and Lee Gilyoung. He seemed to be telling them a story or something, hugging them almost absently as he does so, and the kids hung onto his every word, looking up at him as if he were the messiah and they the worshipful masses. They looked at him like he were the sun who chased away the darkness in their world, and knew, in their hearts, that the sun looked back.
It was an expression common among people who have encountered the Kim Dokja Effect, amongst these wayward souls who call themselves a company. There was something about Kim Dokja that drew people in, a kind of charisma that burned so subtly you only realised what was happening when it was too late and there was a throne inside your chest with his name carved on it. There was something about Kim Dokja that made you love him even as you wanted to hate him, and the man himself had no idea about it.
Kim Dokja spoke, the centre of orbit of their little world, and Yoo Jonghyuk wants to hear him talk until Yoo Jonghyuk drowned under his words. He wants to kiss him, to swallow the sounds Kim Dokja makes, to wrap himself up in this infuriating wonder of a man. He wants to sweep him off his feet and hold him close, hold him tight, hold him and never let go. He wants to worship Kim Dokja, to kneel down and make him feel the extent of Yoo Jonghyuk’s devotion.
Yoo Jonghyuk wants to be free to love Kim Dokja, and he wants it more than he has ever wanted anything before.
Yoo Jonghyuk wants to love Kim Dokja, because otherwise his only other option is to die.
Yoo Jonghyuk wants Kim Dokja because he loves him, and he thinks he always will.
Yoo Jonghyuk wants, and maybe, just maybe, this is something he can have.
“This sharing a bed plan,” Yoo Jonghyuk asks. “You are sure it is effective.”
[Demon-Like Judge of Fire says it has never failed].
Yoo Jonghyuk’s eyebrow twitched as he continued to stare at Kim Dokja, tasting the idea on his tongue, weighing up the pros and cons. He thought, and he thought, and then, he activates Midday Tryst.
Kim Dokja pauses in whatever he is saying, a wrinkle appearing between his eyebrows as he glances over in Yoo Jonghyuk’s direction, and then, as quickly as it the hiccup in his giddy up came about, he continued to talk as if he had never lost composure in the first place. It’s always mildly impressive to see just how quickly he slams the mask in place, more so when it involves keeping track of multiple conversations at once.
-What? Can’t you see I’m in the middle of something right now. Or are those eyes just for show.
Yoo Jonghyuk sometimes wonders why of all people to fall in love with, he had to choose this asshole whose special skill was probably making people want to hit him. Kim Dokja took the image of a chaotic bastard and sharpened into a weapon that he utilised on the daily. It’s almost impressive, really- like someone took a cat and gave it human form just so it could take knocking glasses off of tables to the next level.
…no wait, that would actually explain everything. Has Yoo Jonghyuk finally solved the secret behind Kim Dokja’s existence?
Was it all because he was really Kim Catja all along?
Though Kim Fuckja would still be more accurate.
-Share a bed with me tonight.
And Yoo Jonghyuk got to witness the rare sight of Kim Dokja being struck speechless. And by speechless we mean choking on nothing, because apparently this was a great shock to Kim Dokja’s delicate sensibilities. It was a good look on Kim Dokja, the speechless confusion of someone who just got slapped in the face with something he was unable to predict. Yoo Jonghyuk thinks he'd like to see it more often. Yoo Jonghyuk thinks he'd like to see a lot of things more often, when it came to Kim Dokja.
Yoo Jonghyuk has never been a person to do things by halves, and something like romance is no exception.
Yoo Jonghyuk will give Kim Dokja his everything, even if he has to tie Kim Dokja up to do it.
Which is why he is here, sitting on a log beside his student as he follows love advice from a fanatical Archangel.
-Have you been possessed? Do you have a fever? Has dying twice melted your braincells?
-The only thing melting anything is your stupidity.
-Excuse me for being surprised when my telepathic ears deceived me. Which, what the fuck?
-You heard what I said.
-…you realise that there is such a thing as taking the whole stream thing too far, right? If you want coins there’s more efficient ways to go about it than something like this.
-It’s not for the coins or the constellations.
-Then what is it for?
-I want to share a bed with you.
-You could read my mind and find out. Or I can tell you tonight. It’s your choice.
Kim Dokja stared at him from across the camp, facial features tugged downwards in displeasure. Yoo Jonghyuk stared back levelly, keeping his expression calm, and watched the gears of Kim Dokja’s brain work at a speed fast enough it’s a miracle smoke didn’t start to come from his ears.
Kim Dokja stared at Yoo Jonghyuk and Yoo Jonghyuk stared back, and so it went until Kim Dokja sighed.
-Fine, you jerk. I’ll come to your tent tonight then.
And Yoo Jonghyuk smiled.
“Master?” Lee Jihye asked. “Is everything alright? You and Kim Dokja have been making very intense contact for a while now. Are you confessing your love telepathically or something?”
“Something like that,” And then, “Kim Dokja will be sleeping in my tent tonight.”
[Demon-Like Judge of Fire is shrieking in excitement].
[Demon-Like Judge of Fire has sponsored 10,000 coins].
[Abyssal Black Flame Dragon is glaring at Demon-Like Judge of Fire].
[Secretive Plotter is reluctantly impressed].
[Queen of the Darkest Spring is smiling].
[Prisoner of the Golden Headband has sponsored 5000 coins].
Lee Jihye’s eyebrows were reaching for the sky, her expression that of someone who wasn’t sure where to be confused or delighted. “Huh. Master really does a have a high charisma stat. I’m impressed.”
Yoo Jonghyuk messed up her hair and she swatted him away. She tried to kick him in the face, and he ducked.
And then they were sparring.
All in all, it was a pretty chill day.
Lee Gilyoung and Shin Yoosung come to find Yoo Jonghyuk later. It was rare for them to approach him, rarer for them to do it when Kim Dokja was nowhere to be found, and even rarer to do it with the kind of expressions you’d find in the middle of a particularly difficult scenario. Their hands are clasped together, as if doing so will unite them into one solid unit, and Biyoo is sitting on Lee Gilyoung’s hat, jumping up and down.
“Baat!” Biyoo says. “Baaaat!”
Its cute, as Kim Dokja likes to boast that his daughter always is, and completely at odds with the tension in the air. The Shin Yoosung of this world is not the same one who looked up to Yoo Jonghyuk as an idol, but one who found a father and a sponsor in the form of a man with arms trying to hold the entire world. She found someone who could give her far more than Yoo Jonghyuk ever was able to, and she is stronger for it.
She is happier than Yoo Jonghyuk had ever been able to make her, and for that he is glad.
(Yoo Jonghyuk was the protagonist, but he was not hero. He failed to save people more than he succeeded and pretty early on he gave up.
‘There’s always a next time,’ he would tell himself when his companions died again, when he was left alone with the grief in his heart and the despair on his shoulders, and then he would kill himself.
Yoo Jonghyuk stopped living in the present because to him, the present was merely a stepping stone.
Yoo Jonghyuk stopped living until Kim Dokja showed him that he too could be saved.
To Yoo Jonghyuk, Kim Dokja was a hero, and this was a view held by all within Kim Dokja’s company).
Lee Gilyoung is a variable that was not there in any other regressions, one who was saved and nurtured due to Kim Dokja’s direct interference, and he was, surprisingly, one of the few Yoo Jonghyuk found it easy to understand. He was a variable raised by Kim Dokja, but more than that, he was Kim Dokja’s son; he was a child who was taken in by an adult who showed him kindness and would therefore kill for that adult.
He was a child who loved his Father, and to him, all threats to his Father were ones that needed to be crushed.
He was a child, and like all children, he could feel insecure. He could feel afraid. He could feel resentful.
So yes, Yoo Jonghyuk could guess why this trio were approaching him, and so he gave them his full attention.
“Ajhussi told us he couldn’t be with us tonight,” Shin Yoosung said, “Because he had to share a tent with you.”
“Are you trying to steal Hyung from us again?” Lee Gilyoung asked, and his tone was angry not in the way of defiance, but in distress. It was the kind of anger of a child who had lost and lost and lost before they ever knew what it was like to love, and now someone was threatening to steal away the one who brought light to their life. It was the anger of a traumatised child whose orbit was being disrupted and didn’t know if this was the moment where they lose everything.
It was a child who would kill to make sure that loss never came.
It was a child who’d watched their Father die at Yoo Jonghyuk’s sword, and worried that maybe, just maybe, they were going to lose their father to him once more.
Yoo Jonghyuk knows what its like, to feel like people had been stolen from you by someone else.
Yoo Jonghyuk knows what its like, to fear abandonment.
So he says, “I will not steal him away from you because that is a thing no-one can do, but I would like to share him. He will always be your Father, even if he is my lover as well.”
The two children stare at Yoo Jonghyuk long and hard, before exchanging looks; discussing not with words, but with their thoughts. Yoo Jonghyuk didn’t know if Kim Dokja had got them Midday Tryst or if they were just at the point they were close enough to be able to understand each other.
Maybe it was a sibling thing. He’d always had to be a parent for Mia before he was a sibling, so he wouldn’t know.
“You swear it?” Shin Yoosung asks.
“I swear it.”
“Baat!” Biyoo said. And then, jumping forward so she bounced off Yoo Jonghyuk’s forehead, “Baaaaaaaaaat!”
Yoo Jonghyuk wasn’t sure but he thinks she was threatening him.
“Okay,” Shin Yoosung said. “Okay. We’ll share Ajhussi with you then. But you have to treasure him.”
“Hyung deserves good things,” Lee Gilyoung said. “If you’re a bastard to him then we’ll kill you.”
“He is the most precious thing in my life.”
“Then we’re on the same page.”
They nodded at him solemnly, and Yoo Jonghyuk nodded back, a mutual understanding founded on love for a man who thought himself unlovable. Biyoo ‘baat’-ed once more, and then they all turned away.
It was a conversation that would stay between the four of them and the constellations who were always watching.
It was a conversation, but more than that, it was an agreement that they would uphold until they were no longer alive to do so.
Dinner was a rowdy affair as per usual, with chatter and laughter filling the air. Lee Jihye kept on glancing between him and Kim Dokja as if hoping to see something that was going to overtly show the shift that is going to take place, and the Constellations were quiet for once, watching without comment. Biyoo was nestled on Kim Dokja’s shoulder, the kids sandwiching him between them, and he looked content, smiling softly as he listened to them bicker over some such or another.
Yoo Jonghyuk watched and his mind was quiet. He’d made his decision, and he was going to stand by it; either Kim Dokja would accept him tonight, or he would be rejected. Whatever happened he would make his peace with it.
Whatever happened he would accept, because even if Kim Dokja didn’t love him back, there was a name carved on Yoo Jonghyuk’s heart and feathers filling his rib cage.
Yoo Jonghyuk slips away to his tent after he’s finished eating, leaving with little more than a grunt and a ruffle of Mia’s hair, and settles down to wait. He meditates to fill the time, keeping his breath slow and even, calm in a way his heart will never be. It doesn’t take long for the indirect messages to start coming in, and through them, he gets warning about just when exactly Kim Dokja starts to make his way over.
[Demon-Like Judge of Fire is vibrating with excitement].
[Demon-Like Judge of Fire has sponsored 10,000 coins].
[Secretive Plotter is watching closely].
[Father of the Rich Night is wishing Incarnation Yoo Jonghyuk luck].
[Queen of the Darkest Spring is smiling].
[Prisoner of the Golden Headband is excited].
Kim Dokja ducks into the tent like he is heading to a high school reunion where the only people present are those who used to bully him; like this is a business meeting and he is ready for death. He looks like he is expecting pain or for this to be a grand plot to ruin him, and when he sits next to Yoo Jonghyuk on the bed, there is none of the certainty he usually wears like a cloak, none of the confidence; there is only a man who is anxious in a place that is usually safe for him.
For a few minutes they just sit, studying each other in the dim light of the tent, and Yoo Jonghyuk keeps his face carefully placid, not betraying the way he wants to reach out and haul Kim Dokja in by the back of his neck; the way he wants to kiss Kim Dokja until he’s breathless; the way he wants to press Kim Dokja back into the bed and cover pale skin with bite marks-
He wants to touch Kim Dokja more than anything he’s ever wanted, but he fears that if he does, Kim Dokja will fade away under his fingertips like a dream lost to time.
“So,” Kim Dokja says eventually, and his voice is quiet, like he is afraid of bursting whatever bubble they are in and sending the world crashing down on them, “I’m sharing a bed with you. Are you going to explain why now?”
And, well. Yoo Jonghyuk hasn’t gotten anywhere in life by beating around the bush, so he’s not going to bother doing it with something as important as this.
Yoo Jonghyuk says, “I was told sharing a bed is an effective way to woo someone.”
Kim Dokja looked like Yoo Jonghyuk had just revealed he was actually Kermit the frog all along. He looked like he’d been punched. He looked like the software in his brain had just shortcircuited, like he took a breath and got water instead of air, like Satan had crawled out of a hole in the ground and called him Daddy.
He looked like he was having a heart attack and a panic attack at the same time, and his body couldn’t decide which was worse.
A speechless Kim Dokja is a rare sight, with his eyes blown wide and his mouth agape, and it makes something in Yoo Jonghyuk feel soft. Gooey, even. Like a bag of marshmallows in a gas explosion.
It makes him reach out to curl one hand around the back of Kim Dokja’s neck, brushing a thumb gently against the base of his skull, and ask, “Are you feeling wooed, Kim Dokja?”
Kim Dokja’s next breath trembles, and Yoo Jonghyuk knows that if not for the hand on his neck then he would have already run away; that he would have fled the tent and Yoo Jonghyuk’s life, going to hide under some rock where no-one could try to make him suffer the feeling of being seen.
“I don’t understand,” he said. “Yoo Jonghyuk, I don’t understand.”
Yoo Jonghyuk can see the walls closing around him, can see the way his eyes dart to the tent door, can see the way he is trying to logic himself out of this; can see him drawing away, can see him trying to bury himself to cope with the fear; to lock things into neat little folders in his brain.
He’s trying to flee, and Yoo Jonghyuk isn’t going to let him, not when this is so important.
Not when both their hearts are riding it.
So Yoo Jonghyuk leans closer, squeezing ever so slightly at Kim Dokja’s neck so he has no choice to mee Yoo Jonghyuk’s eyes, and says, slowly, clearly, enounciating the words so that there can be no mistake, “I love you, Kim Dokja.”
[Kim Dokja has used Lie Detection].
[Kim Dokja has confirmed that you are telling the truth].
Kim Dokja is shaking now, his eyes wide, his breathing unsteady, as if this were worse than any of the battlefields he’s ever stood on; as if dying would be easier than this; as if these three words were ones he’s never heard and never expected to. As if he hadn’t realised how much he meant to the people around him, and how much he meant to the world.
As if he hadn’t realised that if their party was a single body, he was their heart.
“I don’t understand,” Kim Dokja repeats, quietly, unsteadily, like a leaf floating along the ocean’s surface in the middle of a storm, like a single string holding up all the burden’s of the world, like a lonely man discovering that he is not alone, “Why would you- you’re the protagonist! You could have anyone you choose!”
“And I choose you.”
Yoo Jonghyuk leaned closer, closer still, until his forehead was leant against Kim Dokja’s, until all it would take was the slightest push to press their lips together. Until he was close enough to see the constellations scattered across Kim Dokja’s cheeks and nose like freckles, until he was close enough that he could count the flecks of gold in his eyes, until he could shift his hand up and tug Kim Dokja’s bun loose, tangling his fingers in hair that held the night sky in its strands.
Yoo Jonghyuk leaned closer, until Kim Dokja’s face was a video in HD, a painting made from the hopes and dreams of a man who had only ever been taught how to despair, and he knew, in his heart, in his soul, in his entirety, that he would carve out his beating heart if it meant Kim Dokja would be happy.
Kim Dokja was a tapestry made of the inky blackness of infinity and stars that shine brighter than the sun; he was a God bound in the skin of a man, the sky in his soul and the world in his heart.
Kim Dokja was beautiful, and he didn’t even know it.
“You’re the most infuriating person I have ever met,” Yoo Jonghyuk whispered, and right there, right now, the rest of the world faded away. There was no star stream, no scenarios, no sponsors; there was no party waiting outside, there was no audience watching their every move; there was nothing except for the two of them, and the beating of their hearts. There was only them, and the emotions being brought into the world. “And I want to throttle you on a regular basis, but I can never look away from you. I never want to look away from you.” And then, “You taught my heart to beat, and now it beats only for you.”
Yoo Jonghyuk brought one hand to cup Kim Dokja’s face, brushing a thumb along the line of his cheekbone. Watched the way Kim Dokja shivered at the tenderness, and with the hand that was holding the back of Kim Dokja’s head, reached down and entwined their fingers together, clasping Kim Dokja’s hand tightly. And then gently, oh so gently, like soothing a frightened animal, like the whisper of a breeze through grass that’s freshly grown:
“You are my life and death companion, Kim Dokja. Will you be my lover as well?”
Kim Dokja’s silence hung in the space between them like a noose, like a gavel, like stardust that hasn’t decided whether to be poison or a saviour; like the hesitance of a person to whom kindness is so foreign. He was silent for long enough that it was almost uncomfortable, but Yoo Jonghyuk is a patient man; he waited three lifetimes to meet Kim Dokja.
He would wait a thousand more.
“…I’m not good at this,” Kim Dokja said, eventually, “Any of this.
“You don’t have to be.”
“I might fuck up a lot.”
“I don’t care.”
“I’m a mess.”
“I know. But you’re a mess that I love.”
“What about Lee Seolhwa?”
“We are little more than acquiantences.”
“But what if-“
“Kim Dokja, do you trust me?”
“Then trust in this” He brought their joined hands to rest over his heart, letting Kim Dokja feel the pulse through his ribs. “In us.”
Kim Dokja took in a breath, held it for four, and then breathed out. And then he did it again, and again, and then once more, for luck. And then, “Are you sure about this? About- wanting me?”
“I have never been surer of anything in my life.”
“Okay,” And then, again, “Okay.” And then, “I would like it, dating you. Because I have been in love with you for a very long time.”
[You have used Lie Detection].
[You have confirmed that Kim Dokja is telling the truth].
And with those words, Yoo Jonghyuk felt the name carved into his heart light up, the curve of something beautiful nestling in his ribs. He felt warmth spread from his bones all the way to his soul, the world be painted in brighter colours, the distant song of joy ringing in his ears. Every breath felt fuller, every sense and feeling and moment more there, more real. It felt like learning that there was hope; like there was an end; like the world was beautiful and it was all because of this man in front of him.
It felt like Yoo Jonghyuk knew the facts and the facts were this:
Kim Dokja’s face was red, there was only one bed, and Yoo Jonghyuk’s love was a love returned.
Yoo Jonghyuk loved and was loved, in turn.
So Yoo Jonghyuk asked with a smile in his voice, on his lips, in his soul, “Can I kiss you?”
Kim Dokja’s nod was small, his eyes fluttering closed, and it only took a fraction of a second to close the gap between them.
And they kissed, and Yoo Jonghyuk felt like he might burst; he felt like he wanted to take this moment in time and preserve it for all of eternity. He wanted to kiss every inch of Kim Dokja’s body, to make his body a shrine and Yoo Jonghyuk the worshipper, to hold him close and hold him tight and make sure anyone who saw him would know that Kim Dokja was loved.
Yoo Jonghyuk wanted to devour Kim Dokja, to take him apart and build him back up again, to learn him in body and soul- but that was for later.
For tonight, there was soft kisses and a happiness that would not be muted.
For tonight, there was hands held and hearts beating in sync.
For tonight, there was just the two of them and one bed.
For tonight, there was love and only love.
(They fall asleep with Kim Dokja’s head resting on Yoo Jonghyuk’s chest, the thump-thump-thump of his heart better than any lullaby the world has to offer. Yoo Jonghyuk’s arms hold him firmly, a comforting weight, and they cling to each others warmth like the world outside is a frozen tundra.
They fall asleep wrapped up in each other and know that they are safe; that they are loved).
Yoo Jonghyuk is the first to wake up, in the morning. Kim Dokja’s face is peaceful in sleep, no trace of the stress that normally haunts him so, and when Yoo Jonghyuk shifts, Kim Dokja nuzzles closer, murmuring wordlessly. It is a sight that fills Yoo Jonghyuk with joy, with affection, and he presses a kiss to the top of his head, holding him close.
When he checks his Indirect Messages, he finds a steady block of text.
[Demon-Like Judge of Fire is crying]
[Demon-Like Judge of Fire can die happy].
[Demon-Like Judge of Fire has sponsored 69,000 coins].
[Prisoner of the Golden Headband is happy for the new couple].
[Abyssal Black Flame Dragon has sponsored 5000 coins].
[Secretive Plotter is begrudgingly impressed by Incarnation Yoo Jonghyuk’s smoothness].
[Secretive Plotter is hoping that the Demon King of Salvation will be happy this way].
[The Queen of the Darkest Spring is making wedding preparations].
[Father of the Rich Night is smiling].
[Demon-Like Judge of Fire says !!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!]
And Yoo Jonghyuk smiles. “Thank you for your advice, Uriel,” he says.
[Demon-Like Judge of Fire says it was no problem].
[Demon-Like Judge of Fire is delighted it work].
[Demon-Like Judge of Fire is praising the wisdom of fanfiction].
[Demon-Like Judge of Fire is glad you two got a happy ever after].
“It’s too soon to call it a Happy Ending,” Yoo Jonghyuk said. “But whenever the epilogue comes about, we will face it together.”
[Demon-Like Judge of Fire wishes you luck].
[Demon-Like Judge of Fire believes in the two of you].
“Thank you. I believe in us, as well.”
And then Yoo Jonghyuk muted the indirect messages, returning his attention to the man asleep in his arms. Soon they will have to get up and face the world, to dress and ready themselves for another day of surviving. They will have to answer the inquisitive questions of the group, to accept well wishes and teasing alike. They will have to take on scenarios and work to prepare their nebula to face whatever comes their way. They will have to take the steps needed so that they can burn the Star Stream down to the ground and rebuild their lives in its ashes.
Soon they will walk out as Constellation and Incarnation, as two lovers standing side by side, hand in hand; they will fight to make sure that this is the world that makes it to the Epilogue.
Soon life will move on, and they will have to move with it.
But for now, they are happy.
For now, they are together, and they are safe, and they are in love.
For now, they deserve a little time to themselves.
The rest of the world can wait.