Yoo Joonghyuk was annoyed.
When his parents fought yet again, he’d ran out of the house. With nothing else in his pocket except his game, Yoo Joonghyuk decided to go to the local library. It was quiet, people rarely went there on a weekend afternoon, and it had the AC, a blessing considering summer was just around the corner.
The librarian gave Yoo Joonghyuk an odd look when he sat down on an empty table without borrowing any books. He sat still, muted his game, and was not causing any ruckus, so she let him be, going back to reorganize the returned books. Yoo Joonghyuk enjoyed the peace for precisely 17 minutes, something he could specifically predict because it was the amount of time to clear up 2 levels.
Suddenly, the chair on the other side of the table was pulled back. Yoo Joonghyuk spared a second to glance up, taking note of the small, meek-looking boy around his age who sat down with three books in his hands. The boy didn’t even spare him a glance, cracking open the first book right away, showing no signs of acknowledgment to Yoo Joonghyuk.
Something about the boy’s nonchalance rubbed Yoo Joonghyuk the wrong way. Maybe it was his almost borderline rudeness that irritated Yoo Joonghyuk. But aside from ignoring Yoo Joonghyuk’s entire existence, he hasn’t done anything.
Yes, the boy chose to sit down at the same table as Yoo Joonghyuk despite the numerous empty ones around them, but he sat far away enough that his presence wasn’t intruding. He was extremely quiet, making no move except to flip the pages of his book, and Yoo Joonghyuk found it all too easy to pretend he wasn’t there and went back to his game.
The two boys spent hours like this, each focused in their own little world, content to ignore the other. The silence was near deafening, but it wasn’t tense. It didn’t put Yoo Joonghyuk in a chokehold, instead it was almost… nice? Peaceful, in an amiable sort of way. When Yoo Joonghyuk noticed how the sun was starting to set, he reluctantly closed his game and stood up.
The boy finally spared him a look and out of a whim, Yoo Joonghyuk nodded towards his way. The boy paused, hesitant, and a little surprised as if he was shocked that Yoo Joonghyuk would acknowledge him in any way. Eventually, he returned the nod. It was with this odd, silent goodbye, that the two parted ways.
If Yoo Joonghyuk made a mental note to go back to the library some other time, then it was nobody’s business but his own.
Two weeks later, Yoo Joonghyuk’s parents fought again. He came back to the library and found the boy already sitting down in the same spot. This time, when Yoo Joonghyuk sat down, the boy looked up. A flash of recognition entered his eyes and he raised a hand in greeting. Yoo Joonghyuk nodded in return and opened his game. The boy went back to his books and Yoo Joonghyuk went back to his games. Neither of them made the initiative to start a conversation or interact with the other. Neither of them seemed to mind.
The boy was the first to leave this time. He waved silently at Yoo Joonghyuk before he left and for some reason, Yoo Joonghyuk waved back.
The next week, Yoo Joonghyuk’s parents both left for a business meeting. Being bored and alone in such a large house with nothing else to do. Yoo Joonghyuk went to the library for a change of pace. It would still be a quiet place, but at least Yoo Joonghyuk won’t be the only person in the vicinity.
The boy came an hour after Yoo Joonghyuk. He’s clutching a book close to his chest and something about him just seemed off today – more nervous and wary. It made Yoo Joonghyuk pause and after a tense second, raised his hand in greeting like he did the last time. The boy gulped, but his shoulders relaxed slightly, and he finally went to sit. Not on his usual seat, but the one next to it, just slightly closer to Yoo Joonghyuk’s own seat.
It’s only when Yoo Joonghyuk didn’t show any disdain or annoyance, only when Yoo Joonghyuk went back to his game despite his slight surprise, that the boy finally opened his book. Unable to help himself, Yoo Joonghyuk peered at the boy curiously and noticed the bandages on his arm, partly hidden by the long sleeve he was wearing. Yoo Joonghyuk chose not to say anything and the boy left as the sky darkened.
Having no one waiting for him back at the house, Yoo Joonghyuk chose to stay for a little while more. He silently wondered how the boy could get hurt.
Months passed this way.
Yoo Joonghyuk’s visit to the library became more frequent. What used to be once every few weeks, or whenever his parents were busy with something, turned to a weekly routine. Sometimes he only brought his game, and other times he brought along his homework to do. Sometimes the boy showed up and sometimes the boy didn’t.
Yoo Joonghyuk still didn’t know the boy’s name, but one of them would keep taking a seat closer to the other with every meeting. Now the two would sit side by side on the table. They still spent most of the time in silence, but sometimes someone would start a small conversation. It could be asking about a book or a game: How did the story go? Was the main character cool? Did it have a happy ending?
Yoo Joonghyuk later learned that the boy was in a grade above him and sometimes would ask if the other knew how to solve a particularly hard question in his homework.
The librarian, having gotten used to the two quiet, odd boys, now watched their blooming friendship with an endearing smile. She even purposely looked the other way whenever one of them tried to sneak in a snack or a small drink. As long as the two weren’t making a ruckus nor a mess, the librarian was more than happy to let them be.
“What happened to your eye?” Yoo Joonghyuk asked when the boy came one day with a black eye. Even the librarian was looking over them with concern.
“… I walked into a pole.” The boy said quietly, after a long time. Yoo Joonghyuk didn’t push him for answers nor ask him any more questions. Instead, he did something he’d never done before: offered his game to someone else. The boy took the game with a shy smile. Yoo Joonghyuk ended up spending the afternoon explaining game tactics and strategy. The boy listened to his every word and Yoo Joonghyuk tried not to preen under the attention.
One day, Yoo Joonghyuk’s mother came knocking on his door and told him he had a visitor.
“Who?” Yoo Joonghyuk asked in disbelief.
“He said he was your friend. I told him to wait by the door.”
To say Yoo Joonghyuk was shocked when he saw the library boy sitting on the front step of his house was an understatement. The nameless, library boy who Yoo Joonghyuk had somehow, maybe, befriended.
“How do you know where I live?” Yoo Joonghyuk asked incredulously.
The boy thrust out his hand. Sitting atop his palm innocently, was Yoo Joonghyuk’s library membership card. Yoo Joonghyuk, not even realizing he had lost his card before, grew oddly flustered. He supposed that answered his question though. His basic information was written on the card.
“Thanks.” He bit out, practically ripping the card away from the boy. “Are you only here for this?”
The boy shook his head. “Yoo Joonghyuk,” he hesitantly tried out. At Yoo Joonghyuk’s answering nod, the boy grew braver and he straightened up. “Do you have anything planned today?”
“Only to the library.”
“Great.” The boy then gave Yoo Joonghyuk a flyer. It’s about a small game tournament hosted in the next neighborhood over. The prize money was pretty big, almost thrice Yoo Joonghyuk’s monthly allowance. Yoo Joonghyuk noted that the competition was today. “I signed you up to the tournament. It starts in 3 hours.”
Yoo Joonghyuk was shocked silent, absolutely dumbfounded. He was taken aback by the boy’s audacity and impulsiveness. “Are you dumb?” Yoo Joonghyuk asked. “Why didn’t you ask me first?”
“I didn’t know if you’d say yes.” The boy shrugged. “I think you can win it easily. You’re really good at games.”
“I don’t want to.”
“You’re only going to play games in the library anyway. This is the same thing.”
“We’re strangers. I’m not going anywhere with you.”
“Aren’t we friends?”
“I don’t even know your name.”
“I’m Kim Dokja.” The boy, no, Kim Dokja, introduced himself. He looked almost impatient now. “I’ll leave my library card with your parents if you want to. It’s only a short bus ride to get to the venue, I’ll even get you something for lunch. You only have to go there and win, otherwise the registration fee I paid will be just a waste of money.”
“If I lose, your money will be wasted too. Why are you so sure I’d win?”
This time, Kim Dokja didn’t answer. He merely stared at him with conviction, body tense, and feet planted firmly on the ground. It’s as if he was declaring how stubborn he was.
After a few minutes in which Yoo Joonghyuk just stared at Kim Dokja like he was crazy, Yoo Joonghyuk really started to consider the offer. He thought of the pros and cons and he immediately cursed his dumb mind for coming up to the conclusion that it would not be such a bad experience. Yoo Joonghyuk might not know a lot about Kim Dokja, but he’s spent months with the boy and has grown to consider Kim Dokja as a… companion of sorts.
Besides, Kim Dokja was smaller than Yoo Joonghyuk. If something bad happened, Yoo Joonghyuk could easily punch him and run away.
Yoo Joonghyuk let out a long, suffering sigh and glared at Kim Dokja. “Go introduce yourself to my parents and explain the situation to them. I’ll go change my clothes.”
Kim Dokja immediately brightened. In fact, he almost looked smug in his small accomplishment. He straightened his clothes, fixed his bangs, and nodded in determination. “Lead the way, Joonghyuk-ie.”
Yoo Joonghyuk bulldozed through his matches with ease and brutal precision that terrified his opponents. By lunchtime, Yoo Joonghyuk had built a reputation for himself. When people saw they were matched up with him, they immediately cursed.
Kim Dokja watched at the sidelines while looking smug.
“I told you.” Kim Dokja teased, as he gave Yoo Joonghyuk a packaged lunch box and some drinks.
“Shut up.” Yoo Joonghyuk grunted. He accepted the food with his ears blushing red. Despite his stoic face, his happiness was quite obvious. “The semi-finals are held tomorrow. Are you coming too?”
“Of course.” Kim Dokja said, as if obvious. “I’m your manager, aren’t I?”
Yoo Joonghyuk nodded slowly. He opened the lunch box and saw that the rice was shaped to be a bear’s head and that the side dishes were cut into animal shapes.
“Ah.” Kim Dokja suddenly looked nervous, cheeks tinted pink. “My mom made this.”
Yoo Joonghyuk picked up one octopus-shaped sausage and noticed that Kim Dokja wasn’t eating. “Where’s yours?”
“My mom only made one.” Kim Dokja shrugged casually. “I’m not hungry though and you can pay me back by giving half of your prize money tomorrow.”
The two were silent for a while. Kim Dokja stared at his hands and tried not to fidget while Yoo Joonghyuk was looking alternatively at the lunch box and Kim Dokja with a contemplative look. All around them, people were avoiding the two odd, murderous (game-wise), children.
“If you sign me up to another tournament, I’ll give you all of the prize money this time.”
Finally, Kim Dokja faced Yoo Joonghyuk again. He was wide-eyed and slack-jawed, but his surprise was quickly taken over by happiness. He grinned and nodded determinedly. “Don’t take back your words.”
Ignoring the thumping of his heart, Yoo Joonghyuk looked away from Kim Dokja and began eating his lunch.
Of course, Yoo Joonghyuk won the tournament at the end.
Kim Dokja was thrilled when Yoo Joonghyuk gave him the money.
After that Kim Dokja signed Yoo Joonghyuk up to more tournaments and Yoo Joonghyuk kept winning those too. They’ve set up a system where Kim Dokja will get half of Yoo Joonghyuk’s prize money each time. Yoo Joonghyuk was the one who suggested the profits split, and though Kim Dokja was clearly taken aback, the boy didn’t dare to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Yoo Joonghyuk reasoned that Kim Dokja spared more efforts by searching and arranging all of the necessary things for the tournament. Then he thought of Kim Dokja’s old, worn-out clothes and skinny body, and decided that Kim Dokja needed the money more anyway.
Yoo Joonghyuk met Lee Sookyung a few months after, once Yoo Joonghyuk and Kim Dokja had won all the local competitions and the next one Kim Dokja found was a few towns over. Thankfully, it was only held for one day, so they didn’t have to stay the night. Instead, Lee Sookyung would drive and watch over them.
Yoo Joonghyuk’s parents didn’t even bat an eyelash when Lee Sookyung introduced herself and promised that she’d look after their child. They returned her courtesy, but then let Yoo Joonghyuk leave with nothing more than a curt goodbye. If this caused Lee Sookyung to pause and narrow her eyes, nobody noticed.
Yoo Joonghyuk and Kim Dokja both sat at the back and Lee Sookyung made sure they were comfortable with some snacks and a blanket before driving off. Neither of them said much in the ride, and Yoo Joonghyuk got the sense that Lee Sookyung was cautious of him, judging from how she’d glance at the rearview mirror every once in a while. It wasn’t awkward or tense though and Yoo Joonghyuk was soon distracted when Kim Dokja started talking to him about the people he heard will attend the tournament.
From the corner of his eyes, Yoo Joonghyuk thought he could see Lee Sookyung smiling faintly at the rearview mirror.
This pattern continued until they were in middle school.
Yoo Joonghyuk applied to Kim Dokja’s school as if it was natural and together, they continued making a name for themselves in the gaming community. Yoo Joonghyuk was quite famous in his area as a brutal player with a perfect winning streak and people learned that Kim Dokja was his unofficial manager. Sometimes, they’ll receive a tournament invitation, and other times, Yoo Joonghyuk even received offers to join a professional gaming team.
Yoo Joonghyuk rejected all of them, of course. He mostly played solo, so he didn’t need a team.
Plus, he already had Kim Dokja.
When Kim Dokja was 15, he was put in the hospital.
Yoo Joonghyuk ran there without stopping and arrived heaving with exertion. Lee Sookyung was waiting outside of the OR with bruises and tear marks on her face. She looked both devastated and livid as she paced around.
“...how?” Yoo Joonghyuk asked bluntly. He had to grab Lee Sookyung’s arm and pulled it away when she began biting into the meat of her fingers. The two of them stared as blood began to well up in Lee Sookyung’s fingers.
“His… father, ” Lee Sookyung started, practically hissing the word out in absolute disdain and hatred. “Got out of jail today. I put him there before because he used to hit us. He wasn’t happy to see us living well and happy while he was locked up. So he went to our apartment. He knew I would still be at work. I wasn’t supposed to be home, but I had a bad feeling and my instincts told me to go to Dokja.”
For the first time since Yoo Joonghyuk knew Lee Sookyung, the woman cried. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she closed her eyes. She was pale and shivering as if she was repeating some scene of tragedy over and over again in her mind.
“I should have gone back sooner. Instead, I arrived just in time to see that bastard throw Kim Dokja off the balcony.”
Kim Dokja lived on the third floor. It would have been a critical fall. Kim Dokja could have died if it wasn’t for some sort of miracle that he landed on bushes that cushioned his fall just the slightest. Yoo Joonghyuk’s whole body shook with anger. He was furious and at that moment, he wanted nothing more than to find Kim Dokja’s father and beat him to death.
“The police arrested him immediately.” Lee Sookyung said bitterly. When she opened her eyes, they were dark and sharp. “If they hadn’t dragged him off the premises, if Kim Dokja wasn’t injured, I would have killed that filth myself.”
Yoo Joonghyuk shared the sentiment.
The two waited anxiously together as the seconds ticked by.
“We’re moving away.” Lee Sookyung announced a few days later as the two sat by Kim Dokja’s bed.
Kim Dokja was stable, thankfully, but he was still unconscious, and the doctors weren’t sure when he’d woke up. He was wearing a breathing mask, with a neck brace and his limbs on splints. He looked peaceful, despite the gruesome injuries he suffered.
“After Kim Dokja recovered. I have a job offer in Jeju. I figured the neighborhood would be good for him and… I don’t think going back to that apartment would be good.”
Yoo Joonghyuk… was speechless for once. He didn’t know what he should feel. He felt angry and sad and betrayed at the fact that Lee Sookyung would take Kim Dokja away and leave him alone. He also felt relieved that Kim Dokja would be able to recover well and be far away from his almost murderer. His emotions were all over the place, but it came to one simple conclusion: he didn’t want to part from Kim Dokja.
His rational and logical mind knew that it would probably be best for Kim Dokja to go.
He wanted the best for Kim Dokja too.
He just couldn’t accept that “the best” didn’t include him.
Kim Dokja had signed Yoo Joonghyuk up to a tournament before his fall. He was still unconscious, but Lee Sookyung persuaded Yoo Joonghyuk to go anyway.
So, for the first time, the gaming community saw Yoo Joonghyuk arrived at the competition alone.
For the first time as well, the gaming community saw Yoo Joonghyuk’s "defeat" when he threw away the grand final’s match.
Yoo Joonghyuk didn’t care though. When he received Lee Sookyung’s text that Kim Dokja was awake, Yoo Joonghyuk left the venue immediately. He ignored the event's handlers and the numerous people trying to talk him to compete, Yoo Joonghyuk went straight to the hospital.
All he could think about was seeing Kim Dokja.
“I won’t see you off.” Yoo Joonghyuk said, on the day of Kim Dokja’s discharge.
Kim Dokja froze on the bed. He no longer needed a breathing mask, but his neck and limbs were still in a brace and splint. His complexion was getting better, but he still looked a bit haggard and frail. His hair was getting longer after weeks of not getting a cut.
“What do you mean?” Kim Dokja asked, voice small. “Are you busy then? The move is still in a few weeks, we could meet up before that.”
“I won’t visit you after this.” Yoo Joonghyuk’s voice was firm. He was staring at Kim Dokja blankly, but his hands were fisted tightly on Kim Dokja’s blanket. “I can’t see you again. This will be our goodbye.”
Kim Dokja began to shake and his eyes teared up. He would have tried grabbing Yoo Joonghyuk, but he couldn’t move his limbs, so all he could do was stare at Yoo Joonghyuk. He looked dumbfounded and miserable. “Did I do something wrong? Is it because you lost the tournament?”
Yoo Joonghyuk was quick to shake his head. His loss was all on him and his decision wasn’t caused by any of Kim Dokja’s actions either. He just found it hard to explain to the other teen that he was afraid he won’t be able to let him go if he was to see him off. For the first time in his life, he felt a need to possess something that was so strong, it terrified him. He knew that if he acted out on that emotion, he would only hurt Kim Dokja in the end.
Without saying anything else, Yoo Joonghyuk handed a small bag to Kim Dokja. “This is all of the prize money I have left. When you’re in Jeju, try some good food and buy yourself a few books.”
The first drop of tear fell from Kim Dokja’s eye. He glanced at the bag once and immediately shook his head.
“I can’t take this.” From all of his past victories, Yoo Joonghyuk could have easily gathered a few millions. Even if he had spent some of the money to buy better gaming equipment, it would still be too much. Kim Dokja couldn’t possibly accept it.
“Think of this as an early birthday present.” Yoo Joonghyuk reasoned. Seeing that Kim Dokja was still hesitant, he added, “If you think it’s still too much, then consider it as an apology for not being able to celebrate your birthdays with you.”
“I’d rather have you with me!” Kim Dokja loudly claimed. He was uncharacteristically petulant as he stubbornly refused to accept the bag. He was crying heavily now and Yoo Joonghyuk found it hard to keep his own tears away. “You can use this money to come and visit, Jeju isn’t that far away!”
“My parents are sending me abroad. I will continue my study in England.”
At Yoo Joonghyuk’s shocking revelation, Kim Dokja’s protests died down. The two of them were naturally logical people, so they would immediately know what moving away to another country would do to their relationship. If it was between Jeju and Seoul, visits would be more than possible. But England and Korea were too far apart. The time difference alone could sever their relationship.
“... so, this is it?” Kim Dokja’s voice shook and cracked. “We’re just going to part ways?”
Yoo Joonghyuk hesitated. He promised himself he would be strong. Kim Dokja was already crying. He won’t make it harder for either of them. But…
He’s allowed to be selfish one last time, right?
“For now.” Yoo Joonghyuk said with a determination that made it impossible to distrust him. “I’ll find you. I promise I’ll find you and I won’t let you go after that.”
Kim Dokja sniffled. “Promise?”
Despite the sadness of the whole situation, Yoo Joonghyuk couldn’t help his helpless smile. It felt as if an arrow had pierced his heart. “I’ll just follow you everywhere for the rest of my life.”
“... then I’ll watch over you for the rest of mine.” Kim Dokja smiled shyly. Then, hesitantly, “Can you kiss me?”
Kim Dokja was looking at the ceiling, his face flushed red and body tense, but he also looked hopeful. He nibbled on his bottom lip and if Yoo Joonghyuk didn’t have such good control of himself, he would have already surged forward and kissed him breathless.
With some difficulty, Yoo Joonghyuk looked away and rested a hand above Kim Dokja’s casted wrist. “I’ll kiss you when we meet again.”
The unsaid “I promise” was clearly heard.
So, Kim Dokja nodded, and the two spent the rest of the time holding hands.
If tiny sniffles and muffled sobs broke their peaceful silence every once in a while, then none of them teased the other about it.
Kim Dokja was 24 years old when he was lucky enough to find a temp job in a software company right after graduation. He was also severely overwhelmed and miserable in his own welcoming party. He was forced to sit in the middle of the table, open to the curiosity and scrutiny of other employees.
Han Myungoh, a man rumored to be the new Department Head by the next quartal, had poured him a drink and chided him in disapproval when he coughed after one sip.
“Being able to drink is one of the most basic skills an employee could have. What would you do if a superior or a client asked you out on a drink?”
“Aren’t young people supposed to drink well? Your liver is in mint condition, right? Why can’t you brave through a single glass?”
Kim Dokja mumbled a quiet apology and Han Myungoh clicked his tongue in disdain. The man next to Kim Dokja decided to take pity on him and quickly change the subject.
“Actually, I was a bit curious about something. You’re 24, right? Why didn’t you enlist before you graduate? It’s harder to get a leave permit when you’re working.”
“…I had an accident when I was young; shattered my left leg and arm.” Kim Dokja said stiffly. He really hated talking about this. Even the mere thought caused phantom pains in Kim Dokja’s limbs. “The doctor suggested delaying my conscription for a few years.”
Kim Dokja exempted the fact that it’s unlikely for him to enlist anyway. The fall left too many metal rods in his limbs and ensured his body would never recover completely. A lot of people gave him trouble for this, they thought he was a slimy bastard who was just trying to shirk off his responsibility to the nation. Kim Dokja knew right away that Han Myungoh would be one of those people, and he wasn’t in the mood trying to defend his honor as a man.
As if fates decided to have mercy on him, Han Myungoh’s phone suddenly rang. He took one glance at the screen and immediately forgot about Kim Dokja as he rushed out of the restaurant to answer the call.
The other employees tried to pry out the story of his accident, but Kim Dokja remained mostly tight-lipped. He purposely gave vague answers and took long sips of his water, feeling his mood plummet with each inquiry. He’s already miserable enough, the last thing he wanted was to pick on the scabs of his trauma.
Eventually, they grew tired of Kim Dokja’s half-assed answer and started a new conversation – one that wasn’t about Kim Dokja. Kim Dokja refrained from sighing in relief as he slumped in his seat and watched his colleagues talk listlessly.
How long did he have to stay here? Was there a minimum amount of time he had to spend before he could leave?
“Oh, that person is coming today, right?” a female employee suddenly asked. “He usually rejected our invitations.”
“If he rejected all invitations, it won’t be good for his reputation.” Another reasoned. She glanced at a partially confused, partially disinterested Kim Dokja and kindly explained. “Actually, a gamer that the company had consulted for a project is going to join us. He’s really cold and aloof, so Kim Dokja-ssi’s lucky. Your first day in and you’re already meeting an important person.”
So, the gathering Kim Dokja was forced to come to wasn’t even originally planned for him. He really should have guessed this. It’s not his fortune to ever have anything specially made for him. It’s a good thing Kim Dokja didn’t have many expectations in the first place.
Sullenly, Kim Dokja took a long sip of his water and blankly watched the meat sizzle on the grill. After a few moments, the chattering around him became background noises and Kim Dokja was too engrossed in zoning out, he didn’t notice when Han Myungoh came back with another man in tow. He was counting the clock, trying to find a way to make the time pass faster when a familiar voice called his name.
“Yes-'' Kim Dokja paused mid-turn when his eyes landed on the tall, young man standing behind Han Myungoh. It took a few seconds for his brain to catch up with its shock and Kim Dokja all but watched blankly as the man’s immaculate, handsome face slowly turned into an astounded expression.
Almost a decade’s worth of separation couldn’t make Kim Dokja forget that face. No matter how much that face had changed and grown, Kim Dokja could never forget nor misplace the man’s identity.
He’s handsome . Kim Dokja first thought. Then, I miss him.
The thought sent a pang in his heart and that spurred him to move. He stood up just as Yoo Joonghyuk took long strides toward him. They shared a contemplative gaze and Yoo Joonghyuk waited patiently for Kim Dokja to collect his things before grabbing his arm and pulling him wordlessly.
“Wait! What’s the meaning of this?” Han Myungoh stepped in their way, face contorted in annoyance. He looked disturbed and unnerved with the sudden turn of events. Behind them, Kim Dokja’s colleagues buzzed around in shock.
“Get out of my way.” Yoo Joonghyuk grunted coldly. Kim Dokja couldn’t see his face, but he must have glared at Han Myungoh, seeing as the latter paled considerably and immediately steered clear.
The two wasted no time and quickly left the restaurant. Kim Dokja followed Yoo Joonghyuk obediently, letting him drag him wherever he wanted with absolute trust. The hurried pace and the cold air brought sudden aching to Kim Dokja’s leg and he stumbled just as they turned around the corner.
Yoo Joonghyuk caught Kim Dokja before he could fall, steadying him with an arm around his waist.
“Sorry.” Kim Dokja said to Yoo Joonghyuk’s chest, voice slightly muffled. Awkwardly, he cleared his throat and backed away. Yoo Joonghyuk had grown considerably taller and Kim Dokja had to crane his neck to see his face clearly. “Sorry.”
Yoo Joonghyuk studied his face critically, arm still safely wrapped around Kim Dokja. “Does your body still hurt?”
“Sometimes. A little bit.” Kim Dokja admitted. He didn’t wonder how Yoo Joonghyuk found out, too focused on cataloging the physical changes in Yoo Joonghyuk’s face. The little baby fat he had disappeared, making way for the high cheekbones and strong jawline. His eyes had sharpened, further emphasized by the furrow between his eyebrows.
Kim Dokja was too focused on admiring Yoo Joonghyuk and almost didn’t notice when he himself reached out to cup Yoo Joonghyuk’s cheeks reverently. “You grew up well.” Kim Dokja commented happily. “I’ve missed this face.”
“Only my face?” Yoo Joonghyuk countered, raising an eyebrow mischievously.
“It’s more handsome than your personality.” Kim Dokja jokingly added. His eyes curved up from smiling widely. “My Joonghyuk-ie’s so good looking now.”
A smile graced Yoo Joonghyuk’s face, softening his features and somehow making him even more handsome. It’s a bit unfair really, Kim Dokja thought as his heart started to race. Yoo Joonghyuk pulled Kim Dokja a smidge closer and leaned down to knock their foreheads together. The two instinctively closed their eyes, slowly savoring their sweet reunion.
“I’ve found you.” Yoo Joonghyuk muttered in wonder as if he’s afraid the whole thing was just a cruel dream. “I’m not letting you go again.”
Kim Dokja’s breath hitched as memories of that one afternoon filled his head. He thought of the promise Yoo Joonghyuk had made; the promise that the fates had allowed him to fulfill and felt as if he could cry in joy.
“You have one more promise to keep,” Kim Dokja blurted out. He opened his eyes, watched as Yoo Joonghyuk’s already opened ones suddenly darkened. Kim Dokja smiled sweetly; challengingly. “Do you remember?”
Yoo Joonghyuk’s only answer was to huff and wrap a gentle hand around Kim Dokja’s nape. It was easy to ignore the people milling around the street, staring at their borderline scandalous display in curiosity. It was even easier for the two to lean in towards each other, slotting their lips together like matching puzzle pieces.
Kim Dokja was 24 years old when he reunited with his best friend. At the same time, he’d finally lost his first kiss to his first love.
It was raining heavily, Yoo Joonghyuk noted as he glanced out the window. His slight distraction was noticed by the team’s coach, who had no qualms in calling him out.
“Joonghyuk! Focus! The second wave’s coming soon!” the coach barked loudly, catching the attention of every gamer in the room.
Yoo Joonghyuk responded by easily slaughtering the opposite team’s waves once they appeared. His brutal attacks were so swift and quick that it took him almost no time to shove his own wave forward and reach the enemy’s turret.
The resounding groans from the defeated gamers were like music to Yoo Joonghyuk’s ears, who gave a pointed look to the coach. The latter, frankly, looked conflicted on whether he wanted to strangle Yoo Joonghyuk’s smug face or praise his wondrous gameplay. Yoo Joonghyuk put his focus back on the game. He casually roamed for any fallen items as he waited for his team members to finish snuffing out the rest of the enemy and prepared for the third wave.
“Nasty,” Yoo Joonghyuk’s team member, Changmin, snickered. “Are you trying to end the practice sooner because Dokja-ssi’s delivering food today?”
“Mind your own business.”
Changmin laughed under his breath, somehow catching the coach’s attention, who once again chided them for goofing off at practice.
When practice finally ended, everyone was more than happy to leave the gaming room. The more considerate ones like Yoo Joonghyuk subtly massaged and rolled out the kinks in their cramped limbs, whereas the carefree ones like Kim Namwoon obnoxiously cracked their bones as loudly as they could.
As it was the start of the season, only the main players had to stay in the gaming house, meanwhile the substitute players lived on their own. Some of the substitutes left right away and the gamers that stayed went to the dining room.
Much to the relief of the starving gamers, some of whom are males in their growing period, the dining table was already set up. It was clearly the work of their two managers, who were sitting in a corner of the long table while discussing something displayed on their tablets and phones.
The first one to notice them was the man sitting closest to the entrance. Kim Dokja looked up from his tablet and greeted the crowd with an easy smile. “How was practice? You came out sooner than expected.”
Changmin, the lousy snitch he was, jabbed a finger towards Yoo Joonghyuk’s direction. “Yoo Joonghyuk was too impatient and slaughtered through the last few games in a record-breaking time. Aside from both crushing the team’s personal spirit and boosting its overall morale, he was practically vibrating in his seat.”
“I see you’ve chosen death.” Yoo Joonghyuk coolly responded, staring flatly at Changmin, who, sadly, was already immune to Yoo Joonghyuk’s death threats, what with being Yoo Joonghyuk’s longest teammate.
“Wah, as expected of our Supreme King.” The other manager snickered, nudging Kim Dokja’s shoulder none too subtly. Kim Dokja made a show to ignore his colleague, instead patting the table and urging the gamers to sit down.
“Are you wearing my hoodie?” was the first thing to come out of Yoo Joonghyuk’s mouth, as he went to sit beside Kim Dokja. He recognized it immediately, remembering that it was at the top of his clean laundry pile that he hadn’t put away yet.
“I got rained on my way here, so my clothes got wet. You don’t mind, right?” Kim Dokja explained. His question more of a formality than an actual request of permission. “I just grabbed the first thing in your closet.”
Now that Kim Dokja said it, Yoo Joonghyuk noticed how Kim Dokja’s hair was a bit damp, the thin, fine locks sticking slightly to his forehead. Out of habit, Yoo Joonghyuk reached out to brush the hair out of Kim Dokja’s face and tucked them behind an ear. Then, his eyes accidentally trailed down. Yoo Joonghyuk’s hoodie was too big on Kim Dokja’s thin frame and in this angle, Yoo Joonghyuk could clearly see Kim Dokja’s prominent collarbone and pale neck.
“… It’s fine.”
“Ugh, stop flirting!” Kim Namwoon, the most recent addition to the team and the youngest player signed to the company, moaned miserably from his seat across from them. “It’s bad enough that most of us are single and now you two are scattering dog food everywhere. At the dining table nonetheless!”
“Ya, why are you raising your voice? Have some respect, brat.” Kim Dokja scolded. He was naturally a patient man and an even kinder manager who the players confided in the most, but somehow, his fuse turned short around Kim Namwoon, who frankly, had the least amount of self-awareness in the room.
Kim Namwoon rolled his eyes and took a bite of food to avoid talking. Kim Dokja huffed, while the other manager chuckled. “Okay, settle down, guys. Dokja and I have to update you guys on your schedule after dinner, so get to it.”
Everybody started on their own meals, soon delving into easy, non-gaming conversations with each other. Yoo Joonghyuk gave his own opinion on some topic but mostly stayed silent. Meanwhile, Kim Dokja had returned to his earlier conversation with the other manager, now speaking in quiet tones as to not disturb the players.
Under the table and away from the curious eyes, Yoo Joonghyuk reached out and grabbed Kim Dokja’s hand, who immediately interlocked their fingers together. Yoo Joonghyuk hid a satisfied smile behind his spoon.
For several reasons, Yoo Joonghyuk’s fans love Kim Dokja. For a fanbase that was incredibly hostile and protective to anyone who would dare slight or offend Yoo Joonghyuk in any way possible, they were highly accepting of Kim Dokja.
Yoo Joonghyuk and Kim Dokja made their relationship public a few months after the former joined a professional competitive team and the latter became one of its managers. It happened during a stream, where Kim Dokja appeared for a few minutes to play against Yoo Joonghyuk and the watchers noticed how close they were. When a brave soul dared to ask, Yoo Joonghyuk revealed their relationship in the shortest, bluntest way possible, much to the shock of the managers and producer.
Thankfully, there was no clause in Yoo Joonghyuk’s contract that denied him the right to date and Kim Dokja was just too good at his job to be fired. The company let them off with a light tap on the wrist.
The fanbase was then divided into three groups, each with their own contradicting beliefs : (1) Yoo Joonghyuk should just focus on gaming and not date; (2) Kim Dokja’s a shifty, sneaky, gold digger, who’s after Yoo Joonghyuk’s money and reputation; (3) What Yoo Joonghyuk wants, he gets, so let’s just leave them be.
No matter what side they were on, the fans were suspicious of Kim Dokja. So, they conducted an entire background check on him in a few short days and managed to find a considerable amount of information.
When they found out about Kim Dokja’s accident, they started to sympathize with him. When they found out Kim Dokja used to be Yoo Jonghyuk’s unofficial manager and was the reason Yoo Jonghyuk entered the gaming world in the first place, they began to accept and respect him. When they found the elaborate speedrunning videos Kim Dokja used to record back at university, they realized with glee that Kim Dokja himself was a dangerous force as a gamer and started their own Kim Dokja fanbase.
Kim Dokja and Yoo Joonghyuk didn’t really care what others had to say about their relationship, but the acceptance and adoration of them as a couple were pleasant and really appreciated.
Of course, sometimes, the fans’ enthusiasm brought up the occasional thorn in Kim Dokja’s side. Like today’s instance, for example.
“You want me to what ?” Kim Dokja asked incredulously to the Head Manager.
“Participate in the marketing of the company’s newest collaboration project,” the man slowly repeated his words, purposely using the most roundabout way to explain. “As you know, our company has struck a deal with Mino Soft for one of their future updates. They wanted to try and bring one of their DLCs to life in the upcoming convention and our COO suggested you.”
Kim Dokja was truly speechless and it took him a moment to try and reason his way out of the matter. “Sir, I’m not even a professional gamer, why would they want me for that role?”
The Head Manager shrugged. “You’re quite famous, you know. You’re even more well-known than some actual players. The fans love you. Mino Soft also agreed that your helping out in the marketing will help in creating a buzz.”
“Wouldn’t it be better if the players themselves do the promotion? After all, they are the ones actually involved in the project and they’re the ones who have an actual stage reserved during the convention.”
“They’ll be busy with the Q&A panel.” the head manager replied shortly. “Besides, you know how they are. They won’t make it through 10 minutes before they inevitably do something to destroy their costume. The last thing this company and Mino Soft need is for the professional gamer to literally trash a future project.”
“Sir, normally, I’d be more than happy to help out. But, cosplaying is just a bit,” Kim Dokja paused mid-sentence as he tried to think of a word to best describe the ordeal. “... Much . No, it’s a lot of much.”
Because it was. The company wanted Kim Dokja to cosplay a new character in an upcoming convention. Kim Dokja, who was only a manager and was certainly not involved in the creation of said character nor the collaboration project, bar driving the players around and buying whatever they needed. Kim Dokja , instead of the actual players .
“You’ll be cosplaying a male character for a short amount of time. You won’t have to crossdress and you won’t even have to say or perform anything. You just have to stand there and look pretty.”
“Well, that’s even more reason I shouldn’t be doing this, right?” Kim Dokja asked, looking far too convinced that this would be the reason that would change the Head Manager’s opinion.
“... Kim Dokja, are you implying that you’re ugly?” the Head Manager said after a moment, the words spat out slowly in disbelief. “You? The person who managed to charm Supreme King; who the fans adore and always asked for more pictures of; the person who won the company’s poll for the most good-looking employee? You ? Ugly? Have you ever looked at a mirror?”
Kim Dokja opened his mouth, only to be shushed by the Head Manager like a child.
“No, shut up. I’m not in the mood to listen to your insecurities.” the Head Manager grabbed a wad of paper and pushed it into Kim Dokja’s chest. “This is the details of the cosplay you’ll be doing. The actual costume making will be handled by Mino Soft, so just sit through it.
“In the meantime, I’ll try and ask Yoo Joonghyuk to somehow boost up your self-confidence. Damn it, I’ll even book you two a hotel if you need some privacy to make it work.”
The team were supposed to stay in a hotel for the duration of the convention. They had arrived a day earlier to catch some rest – thankfully, still paid for by the convention’s management. The Head Manager had insisted on making all of the preparations of the hotel, only telling the other managers the important information about the schedule.
What he failed to tell Kim Dokja was that they didn’t book him a room. Instead, he was handed over to Yoo Joonghyuk and the Head Manager gave them one room key.
“There’s one queen bed,” the man tried to say nonchalantly. “Make full use of it.”
While Kim Dokja blanched and tried to process the words, Yoo Joonghyuk nodded, an odd glint to his eye. With a face of great determination, he grabbed Kim Dokja’s wrist and made a beeline to the elevators. Kim Dokja fumbled and tried to keep up as best as he could. Behind them, some laughs and playful groans followed – Kim Namwoon seemed to be the most vocal of his disgust to the couple’s sappiness.
“Please get him back in one piece!” the Head Manager yelled after the two. “Preferably without a limp!”
Yoo Joonghyuk gave him a thumbs up, the view made comical by his still stoic face. Kim Dokja, already flustered by his side, slapped his shoulder in reprimand and tried to protest. His words were cut off as the elevator doors closed in before them, hiding them from the view of the other players and staff.
“… Is that why you cleared our schedule this evening?” Changmin smoothly asked when he grabbed his room key. “Is there any plan that we should know about?”
The Head Manager shrugged and smiled cryptically. “Just wait for tomorrow. There’s a little surprise that the company has planned.”
When the day of the convention came, Kim Dokja was swept away by the stylists generously provided by Mino Soft. The players, all kept in the dark about Kim Dokja’s surprise cosplay, could only stare in confusion as their listless manager was pulled away by a small group of well-dressed people. They were quickly ushered by the remaining managers to set up and prepare for the Q&A panel later on
Kim Dokja, after a series of failed attempts in trying to escape his fate, had resignedly let the stylists do whatever he wanted with him. He was unceremoniously thrown into a dressing room and was poked, prodded, stripped, and manhandled this way and that. Kim Dokja sighed heavily and tried to best compartmentalize the situation.
To the stylists’ credit, they actually did a really good job. Once the stylists were done, Kim Dokja almost couldn’t recognize himself. His blonde wig was fluffed up and arranged carefully to frame his face. The concealer and foundation helped hide his blemishes and ever-lasting eye bags, giving him smooth, almost glass-like skin. In addition to the purple makeup on his lips and eyelids, a sharp wing of eyeliner emphasized his now blue eyes.
“You have really good skin. You can pull off any color and still look good.” the make-up artist sighed appreciatively. She studied Kim Dokja’s face with a critical eye before clicking her tongue and reaching for the blush. “Too pale though. You bruise easily, right?”
It took everything for Kim Dokja not to flinch and defend himself. The team had previously insisted on helping him wear his costume, so they had seen the fading bruises on his hips and thighs. Professional as they were, they kept their mouths shut, but didn’t try to hide their gazes and raised eyebrows. Kim Dokja almost fainted from embarrassment when they started covering up the marks on his back and chest while stifling laughter.
“It’s okay,” the make-up artist chuckled good-heartedly. She then stuck an iridescent purple star tattoo on his cheek and stepped back to study her work. Nodding appreciatively at her work, she patted Kim Dokja’s shoulder once. “Just tell the king to restrain himself the next time you have a job.”
It took several rounds of pacing backstage for Kim Dokja to adjust to his clunky, heeled boots. It’s hard not to feel nervous when Kim Dokja looks like a 2D character brought to life amidst people dressed in casual or professional clothes. His fellow managers teased him once they got past their shock and the convention workers were all staring at him, making him more nervous.
When the call came for him to come out, Kim Dokja had to take a deep breath to steel himself. As practiced, Kim Dokja straightened his posture and fixed his expression according to his character.
It’s just acting. Kim Dokja assured himself as he walked out to the stage. The crowd immediately erupted into cheers and from the corner of his eye, Kim Dokja could see the team members do double-takes. Kim Dokja resolutely avoided looking at the panel as he walked to the center of the stage.
The MC came up next to him and began to describe his cosplay, talking several minutes about the costume and character design first and then began expounding on the new character’s skills and abilities. Thankfully, Kim Dokja didn’t have to say anything. His face was frozen in a smile that was both gentle and mischievous. He only had to wave to the fans and change poses in accordance with the mc’s explanations.
With 4 layers of clothing, Kim Dokja was easily the most and least dressed man on the stage. The gamers were ultimately free to wear whatever they wanted under their team jacket as long as they stick to the color code, so they look both casual and tidy. Meanwhile, Kim Dokja’s costume was backless with a cut-out on his chest and shoulders. He was wearing leather pants that clung so tight to his legs, it was basically a second skin. The boots, at least, were comfortable – small mercies.
Kim Dokja did one slow spin to show off his costume and some people in the crowd brazenly whistled when they saw his bareback, much to his embarrassment. Kim Dokja accidentally locked eyes with Yoo Joonghyuk mid-spin, who’s staring at him so intensely that Kim Dokja couldn’t help but look away.
Once Kim Dokja was staring back at the crowd, the MC finished his speech with a reminder that the other new characters’ reveal was scheduled in tomorrow’s showcase. That was Kim Dokja’s cue to bid goodbye to the crowd, walked around the stage once before exiting and letting the panel Q&A started.
So, it’s a surprise when Yoo Joonghyuk suddenly stood up from the table and came over to him, walking purposely slow like a predator would stalk its prey. Kim Dokja was flustered and surprised enough that he froze where he stood. He simply waited with bated breath for Yoo Joonghyuk’s next action. Even the MC was surprised enough that he spluttered as he tried to come up with an explanation to cover up Yoo Joonghyuk.
Once in front of Kim Dokja, Yoo Joonghyuk wordlessly took off his jacket and draped it over a frozen Kim Dokja’s shoulders. His hands lingered on his shoulder a moment too long as he slowly appraised Kim Dokja’s looks. Heart racing, Kim Dokja tried to keep a straight face. He knew he looked different and attractive, in some unconventional way. Kim Dokja was astounded when he looked into the mirror, so he could only guess what Yoo Joonghyuk must be thinking.
Wordlessly, Yoo Joonghyuk wrapped an arm protectively around his waist and guided him towards the stage exit. Dimly, Kim Dokja could see numerous camera flashlights went off and could already imagine the pictures Yoo Joonghyuk’s fanbase would flood the SNS with.
Once they were off the stage, Yoo Joonghyuk immediately turned Kim Dokja around and brought their lips together. Caught off guard, Kim Dokja gasped, and Yoo Joonghyuk took the chance to kiss him deeper. It lasted a mere few seconds, but it was searing and Kim Dokja was left breathless once Yoo Joonghyuk let him go.
It took Kim Dokja another second to realize they were in public and a quick sweep of his eyes confirmed the many people backstage who’re staring at them in shock and embarrassment.
“Yah! Are you crazy?!” Kim Dokja slapped Yoo Joonghyuk’s shoulder. “Did you forget where we’re at? There are people around!”
Yoo Joonghyuk looked amused as he listened to Kim Dokja’s half-hearted chiding. This caused Kim Dokja’s ire to grow, but then his eyes caught the smudge of purple on Yoo Joonghyuk’s lips and immediately cursed.
“Great. You’re holding back the rundown and now your face is a mess.” Kim Dokja tried to scrub off the lipstick on Yoo Joonghyuk’s mouth, but it was a stubborn stain. Yoo Joonghyuk let him worry over his face for a short moment before finally grabbing Kim Dokja’s wrists and pulling them away from his face. He looked way too calm for someone who just single-handedly caused the biggest gossip in the convention so far.
“I have to go back.”
Kim Dokja reluctantly let Yoo Joonghyuk go, appeasing himself with the fact that at least the stain wasn’t too messy or visible. His attempt to return Yoo Joonghyuk’s jacket was ignored as Yoo Joonghyuk waved him off and walked back up the stage. He waited until the mc was able to smoothly calm the crowd and start the panel before finally walking further backstage.
From the way everybody was whispering and discreetly glancing at him, Kim Dokja knew news must have traveled. The makeup artist immediately grinned when she saw him.
“I see the king is possessive.”
She pointedly stared at Kim Dokja’s smudged lipstick, slightly ruffled hair, and the jacket draped over his shoulders - all the signs of a man marking his territory. Kim Dokja glared and hissed. “Shut up.”