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The world and the stars and you

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0.

 

Clang, clang.

The boy was sitting in the train, caught between sleep and wakefulness.

This was an ordinary train. Its carriages rocked while it was in motion, and the empty handrails were swaying lightly as well. He leaned drowsily on the man sitting beside him, and nearly slipped down on three separate occasions. Each time, however, the man patiently pulled him back up. The boy’s thoughts were disintegrating, and the only thing he didn’t forget was to grab onto a corner of the man’s shirt with curled fingers. A few murmured words, incomprehensible even to him, slipped out of his mouth.

“This is it, you, ■■■■■?”

In the distance came the sound of conversation, its volume lowered so as not to wake him. Even though his consciousness was muddled, the boy understood what it meant. It was because that person was kind; he always was.

“Yes. It’s time to ■■■■.”

Even though he’s so sleepy that he can’t make out the conversation between the two people beside him, he knows that that person is leaving. The person who was the man beside him, but also not the man beside him. He wanted to say a proper goodbye, but the man’s large hand gently covered his eyes before he could open them. In that warm darkness, he heard the man say:

“Goodbye. ■■■.”

And then, the chime indicating the train’s arrival in the station sounded.



1.

 

The train station was boisterous in the evening when students and workers were leaving their schools and offices respectively. Without waiting for the train to come to a full stop, Yoo Joonghyuk stepped onto the ground and turned to the side, silently opening up a path for Kim Dokja to pass through. Some passersby were displeased by this behaviour, but the moment their eyes landed on Yoo Joonghyuk’s perfect face, their discontent instantly disappeared. In this strange and peculiar atmosphere, Kim Dokja staggered off the train.

Compared to Yoo Joonghyuk who was naturally the focus of any crowd, Kim Dokja was almost a little too ordinary. The only noteworthy part of him was his overly thin body and the scars that aren’t fully covered by his baggy school uniform. It was easy to imagine what kind of pure malice caused them, but at the same time, it was also unmemorable. Carrying his bag in his arms and his phone in his hand, Kim Dokja lowered his gaze and didn't look at the crowd around him. His expression was numb and indifferent, and he seemed like he’d disappear silently the moment someone stopped watching him.

However, there was someone who was always watching this pale ghost.

“Kim Dokja.”

Yoo Joonghyuk opened his mouth. His voice was low, and carried that unique hoarseness indicative of a young man in the midst of puberty. Kim Dokja raised his head slowly, expression languid and movements rigid, as if he were a rusty machine about to break down. Ignoring this, Yoo Joonghyuk reached out a hand to help straighten his crooked neckline for him.

“We’re going home,” he said.

Yoo Joonghyuk appeared out of the blue one day.

At first, no one knew anything about his existence and his past. Then one day, suddenly everyone who knew him could perfectly recount his glorious resume. Powerful parents, amazing talents, a rich family--Yoo Joonghyuk melded perfectly into this world, and only the outsider Kim Dokja remembered everything. The truth was, Kim Dokja couldn’t care less about any of this, except for one thing: the fact that everyone around him claimed that Yoo Joonghyuk was his childhood friend.

Otherwise, why would Yoo Joonghyuk protect that gloomy son of a murderer? On the day when those who bullied him were punished, rumours began spreading at school. Kim Dokja stood in the middle of this tumultuous whirlpool, yet at the same time he seemed indifferent to everything--until Yoo Joonghyuk walked over and reached for his hand. At that time, Kim Dokja got the strange feeling like he had been waiting for this moment for a very, very long time.

This was also the first time Kim Dokja’s gaze had moved away from the endless screen of his phone. It was also the first time he became convinced that Yoo Joonghyuk could not belong to this world. As he stared at those dark eyes in which an ancient loneliness dwelled, he thought to himself, you must all be crazy.

I must be crazy too.

That was what he was thinking when Yoo Joonghyuk asked him if they could live together and he nodded without a second thought.

Or perhaps it was because he simply didn’t care what Yoo Joonghyuk’s purpose was. Even if Yoo Joonghyuk was the protagonist of this world, that had nothing to do with him...or so Kim Dokja naively thought.

“You’re lost in thought.”

Ha. Kim Dokja exhaled slowly.

“I was just thinking about how long you’re going to continue to do this.”

“Don’t be shy, Kim Dokja.”

“Joonghyuk-ah, did you finally go insane?”

Yoo Joonghyuk wasn’t insane and his expression was also serious, just like it had been when he appeared for the first time and nearly killed Song Minwoo and his group, or when he grabbed his hand tightly and led him away from the suffocating storm of rumours. The protagonist should be this kind of person, someone determined and persevering. He should continue to move forward instead of stopping in front of a garbage heap and extending his noble hands, which should be used to save the world, towards a half-dead...

“Kim Dokja.”

“What?”

"You're thinking about useless things again."

So, did our protagonist have telepathy or not? Kim Dokja didn’t know. After all, he had never been a protagonist. However, he did know what it was like to be the antagonist opposing the main character. He lowered his head awkwardly and crammed his phone back into his pocket. Yoo Joonghyuk looked satisfied, if the slight curve to his eyes could be called satisfied. He took Kim Dokja’s hand in one smooth motion. Kim Dokja flinched instinctively, but he only held on tighter.

"Don't run away."

The natural command that poured from his lips rendered Kim Dokja speechless. He muttered something in a low voice, so quiet that it was barely distinguishable to the human ear. Yoo Joonghyuk, who was walking in front of him, didn’t falter, though he did smile.

Yoo Joonghyuk only did one thing. This Kim Dokja was still weak and unable to completely seal off himself. He wanted to destroy that wall, destroy everything that protected Kim Dokja from harm, and drag him out from behind it. He was the protagonist, determined and persevering. He fought against that wall over and over again,  with sight, with words, with hands that would never let go. After a very, very long time, he heard a faint, timid echo from behind it.

“...Joonghyuk-ah.”

Kim Dokja hesitated, and closed his mouth again, trying to gather his words. Fortunately, Yoo Joonghyuk was always waiting for him. He didn’t know how long he waited until he finally felt Kim Dokja’s grip--light and weak, like a feather brushing against his palm--tighten around his hand.

Kim Dokja tried to speak again. “...Webnovels. Are you interested in them…?”




2.

 

When he closed his book, the wooden door of the hut opened quietly.

Even though he immediately closed the door and shut out the raging blizzard, his entrance still brought some snowflakes into the house. Those little flakes, which looked even softer than cotton, floated onto the carpet and melted into small puddles of water. Standing at the door, Yoo Joonghyuk took off his coat. When he saw the scene in his room, his eye twitched.

The corner near the fireplace was full of books, and the fire was burning evenly within it, the firewood crackling every so often. Kim Dokja was lying in the middle of the books and dozing like a small animal. Even though the ground was covered with a warm woolen carpet, the normally heartwarming scene still infuriated Yoo Joonghyuk. He strode over there, eyes cold, and lifted Kim Dokja roughly off the ground. No longer able to maintain the illusion that everything was peaceful, Kim Dokja opened his eyes and blinked, face impassive. He raised his hand and greeted the expressionless Yoo Joonghyuk.

“Good morning, our Joonghyuk.”

It wasn’t morning. The sky outside the window was completely dark; Kim Dokja was lying to his face. Yoo Joonghyuk didn’t have the patience to deal with his bullshit and carried him all the way to the soft reclining chair, which he deposited him into. Kim Dokja was used to such treatment and soon found a comfortable position to curl up into, letting out a loud sigh.

“You should learn how to enjoy yourself, hm? Even Jihye knows how comfortable it is to lie on the carpet. Why don’t you give it a try, Joonghyuk?”

“She’s not coming,” Yoo Joonghyuk said coldly. “She has to go train. Indefinitely.”

“...Forgive me, Jihye-yah.”

Of course, the person he wronged couldn’t hear him, but Han Sooyoung, who was muttering complaints under her breath somewhere far away, let out a sneeze. The mixed-race dragon descendant swallowed a mouth of wine with a bleak expression and said, “I can already foresee that you’ll be tormented by those two bastards until you’re faint…”

But that's another story for another time.

The reality was, after saying something so insincere, Kim Dokja forgot all about the innocent person who was soon going to endure a hellish training regimen. Holding the blanket Yoo Joonghyuk threw at him in his arms, he reached out to poke his waist. Yoo Joonghyuk caught his hand in a death grip.

“Either way, isn’t it rude to disturb someone’s sleep?’

“People only pretending to be asleep have no right to complain.”

“Ah. No way, you could tell?”

Obviously. Even though he didn’t say it alright, the message was obvious from Yoo Joonghyuk’s cold eyes. Kim Dokja immediately began to sigh exaggeratedly, as if he were actually saddened by this. Yoo Joonghyuk’s head began to ache.

“Joonghyuk, our Joonghyuk, how did you become like this? You used to be so cute when you were young...so small, you used to cry when you were bullied…”

“...I never cried. Shut up, Kim Dokja.”

So you didn’t. Buried in the blanket, Kim Dokja couldn’t resist and started laughing, his shoulders trembling. Hovering over him, he could see the hideous scar that traversed his back through the wide collar of his shirt. Yoo Joonghyuk lowered his head as if he were frozen, his expression shadowed and unreadable. Kim Dokja didn’t seem to notice. After he finished laughing, he spread his arms in a gesture of an embrace. There were still leftover imprints on the skin of his wrists, as if they were once bound by chains.

“Joonghyuk-ah.”

The old god who had lost his wings smiled gently at him.

“Come here.”



The people of this land were once loved by God. The following sentence was written in every history book: The king fought bravely, and finally revealed God’s lies. It had all been the Devil’s tricks. People panicked, despaired, and under the king’s guidance, rallied together and began anew. Bloodied feathers sank to the depths of the rivers, and the demon king, who was defeated by the king, collapsed. From then on, people only relied on themselves to stand upon this earth. This was the story that had been circulating for a long time in this land.

“Come to think of it, I had a dream.”

The man was lying on his lap, his arms wrapped around his waist like a restless child instinctively yearning for his mother’s love. Our Joonghyuk is really clingy. He gently stroked his tangled hair. The smile was obvious in his voice when he spoke.

“I...used to be something enormous. Well, more specifically, I was only one part of that enormous being.”

“...One part?”

“Yes. I was one part of a star that was torn apart for a wish.”

“...Incomprehensible.”

“Haha, yes, it really does seem incomprehensible.” He laughed. 

For some reason, the man didn’t say anything and only held onto him tighter. Even the man himself didn’t understand why.”

“...I just...have that kind of feeling.”

The man's pale golden eyes stared at him silently.

“I think from that moment on, I knew that I would meet you.”

Was it possible for such a thing to happen? Yoo Joonghyuk didn’t know, Kim Dokja didn’t know, no existence could answer this question. 

“Ah, it’s fine, let’s not think about it. Speaking of, I dreamed about that time as well,” he murmured. Then, on a whim, Kim Dokja smirked and cradled Yoo Joonghyuk’s face in his hands. He lowered his head until their foreheads were touching and announced loudly in a sing-song voice:

“Joonghyuk-ah. We can save this world, you know?”

That was something from a very, very long time ago. Before he gave up his life as a human and chose to live on with the demon king, before he dragged the blind and stupid god back down to earth.

Yoo Joonghyuk said, “...Yes. I think I must have known that for a long time too.”



3.

 

“Ah...what…?”

Kim Dokja, male, 28 years old, employee of an ordinary company. At the gates of the train station he frequented everyday to go to work, he was pulled into an embrace by his boyfriend in broad daylight, in front of everyone.

I’m done. I’m really finished. This is crazy. Kim Dokja laughed awkwardly under the curious stares of countless passersby, and pulled his boyfriend away before someone could recognize him. Maybe I should call in sick to work. Kim Dokja glanced hopelessly at the closing train doors and covered his face with his hands. There were no words that could describe his embarrassment.

The truth was, Kim Dokja and Yoo Joonghyuk had a fight yesterday.

More specifically, it was a one-sided quarrel. One of Kim Dokja’s favourite books was ending tomorrow; it was an extremely lengthy and unpopular book, with only one other reader besides him. As a result, he invited them to meet him on an impulse. They didn’t immediately respond, but it didn’t stop him from getting excited about it. His excitement hadn’t completely faded when he felt the cold gaze of the man behind him on his back.

His childhood friend, the most famous professional gamer ever, and an abnormally possessive lover.

“Do you treat everyone you meet online like this?”

Of course not. Kim Dokja felt a little offended, but when faced with Yoo Joonghyuk’s frown that was so powerful it made criminals off themselves at the sight of it, he was speechless. Even if said criminal was himself. Due to this incident, Yoo Joonghyuk ignored him for the whole day. He threw him his usual bento with a furious expression this morning, and when Kim Dokja opened it up, he found it filled with exquisitely cooked tomatoes.

Our Joonghyuk...so cute even when he’s being an asshole… Kim Dokja left the house in a trance. He was still thinking about how to comfort him when he was suddenly hugged by his boyfriend who appeared out of nowhere. He tried to pry him off, but it was impossible; Yoo Joonghyuk was stuck to him like an oversized add-on. Kim Dokja dragged him to an empty corner with much difficulty. When his gaze landed on the dusty black coat, a faint suspicion arose in his frazzled brain.

Since when...did our Joonghyuk own a coat like this?

All of a sudden, Kim Dokja froze. He couldn’t move; it was like someone had doused him in cold water. He grabbed the man’s arm in a frenzy, fingers trembling, but he didn’t dare to hurt him. The words that spilled out of his mouth were jumbled, and his heartbeat was so loud that he could barely hear what he was saying.

“J-Joonghyuk-ah...where...did you get those wounds?”

Why was he hurt? Where did the wounds come from? What happened? Kim Dokja’s mind was a mess, and he couldn’t even tell that the few exposed wounds were old ones from many years ago. Even so, it was enough to make him panic. Before he fell into an even deeper fit of anxiety, the man who had buried his face in his neck spoke up.

“Kim Dokja.”

It was only to call his name.

“Yes, yes, I’m here. Where does it hurt? Right, we should go to the hospital...ah?”

Once again, the man embraced him tightly. For one delirious moment, Kim Dokja felt like his bones were getting crushed in his grip. But since it was Yoo Joonghyuk, it was fine even if that were the case. “Joonghyuk-ah, Joonghyuk-ah,” he said blankly, patting the man’s broad back. Strangely, he suddenly felt as though his lover standing in front of him was terribly unfamiliar. Yet his instincts told him that it was indeed Yoo Joonghyuk. How was that possible? This wasn’t a book.

“Kim Dokja.” The man called his name again in a hoarse voice.

He immediately brushed those complicated thoughts to the back of his mind and waited for his next words.

“Are you happy right now?”

That was a strange question--too strange. This sort of question should only appear on TV programs, as something for people to chat about to pass the time after dinner. But the man seemed really fixated on it, and he even asked it again when he remained silent. Kim Dokja couldn’t help but take it seriously.

“I’m really happy right now, Joonghyuk.”

“Are you,” the man whispered, then raised his head. At that moment, Kim Dokja felt dizzy for no discernible reason. In the slightly distorted light, he could only see the man’s smile.

 

It was a smile he had never seen before.



“...Kim Dokja!”

Thump. Kim Dokja startled and stopped in his tracks. He had been pushed to the edge of the train station by the crowd, and was currently staring blankly down at the tracks in front of him. No wonder the person who grabbed him was so angry and terrified. Kim Dokja turned around. Yoo Joonghyuk was standing there, staring at him.

“...What is it?” “Are you insane?”

Their words collided at the same time, and Kim Dokja started zoning out again. However, Yoo Joonghyuk didn’t share this problem, and he grabbed onto Kim Dokja’s hand. His palm was covered in cold sweat; Yoo Joonghyuk looked at it, but didn’t say anything. He dragged him brusquely away. Kim Dokja had the distinct feeling of deja vu. It seemed like he wouldn’t have time to go to work, so Kim Dokja sluggishly opened up his phone, only to discover that he had already called in sick.

“...Joonghyuk-ah?”

“Don’t say anything, Kim Dokja.”

Yoo Joonghyuk was truly angry this time. Kim Dokja finally managed to sort through his thoughts and said in a halting voice, “I...wasn’t trying to die.”

The response came quickly. “You almost fell down.”

“I really wasn’t. I promised you that I wouldn’t do that again,” Kim Dokja replied before falling into silence.

Yoo Joonghyuk didn’t say anything either, and their footsteps gradually slowed. Eventually, Kim Dokja came to a stop.

“I’m sorry.”

Yoo Joonghyuk finally turned to look at him. The edges of his eyes were red and his lips were pressed tightly together. Suddenly, Kim Dokja didn’t want to keep talking anymore. He reached out to him and fell into the familiar arms.

“...If there’s a next time, I’ll kill you.”

“Sure.”

He gently patted his lover's trembling back, and somehow the movement seemed familiar. A ringing phone interrupted their moment, and Kim Dokja belatedly realized that Yoo Joonghyuk was competing today. Evidently his lover didn’t want to deal with such things, and fumbled with the phone to turn it off. Kim Dokja caught a glimpse of the phone screen before it darkened, and saw a name he was intimately familiar with on it. It was the real culprit of their fight. 

“…tsp666?” 

He read it out subconsciously. Where he couldn't see, Yoo Joonghyuk’s expression froze.

 

∞.

 

Clang, clang.

The boy opened his eyes on the train.

It’s still the ordinary train. It’s still that man. They’re the only two people left in the train car, or rather, there were only two people to begin with.

“Is this okay?” asked the boy.

“Yes,” the man replied.

Outside the window, countless galaxies flow by. The boy gazed at the twinkling stars.

“Even if we become like that, is it still okay?”

“Yes. This is what I and the others wanted. Right now, I’m just Yoo Joonghyuk.”

“I don’t understand.” The boy was a little uneasy. Seeing this, the corners of the man’s mouth twitched upwards, and he placed his hideously scarred hand on the boy’s head and patted it gently.

“Where...is he going?”

“To find our ■■.”

“Are you going too?”

“No. My ■■ is here.”

Although he was still confused, the boy sighed in relief. The man won’t leave him. To him, that was something more important than his own existence.

The train was rocking gently, and the boy grew sleepy once more. However, he dared not sleep, for it seemed as if something irreversible would happen if he closed his eyes. The man seemed to see through his heart and carefully grasped the boy’s hand, which was shaking in fear.

"Go to sleep."

“...Can I?”

“I will always be with you,” the man said in a low voice. It sounded more like an oath.

It was unsure whether the man was saying this to the child leaning on him, or to some faraway existence elsewhere.

“I will continue reading.”

In the vast universe, the story unfurled, and bloomed. It was the star the boy had seen before. Dark ink marks revolved and converged into the shapes of countless types of words. Familiar, unfamiliar, and even those without a so-called shape, which were merely pictures. Countless stories, countless stars, countless universes. The train kept moving, soaring over the countless platforms, without knowing the beginning nor the end.

There was only one thing that was certain.

“The story is continuing.”

Countless words spread across the cover page like the fresh snow, fluttering in the wind. Even if the boy fell asleep, the story wouldn’t end. Those words grew recklessly, playfully; a carnival of the whole universe. 

“And so, you will continue living.”

The man who used to be the protagonist read out that name.

“Kim Dokja.”



Somewhere unknown, the chime indicating the train’s arrival in the station sounded.