In Kim Dokja’s defense, it’s not like it’s exactly a secret or anything. It’s just that no one has really bothered to ask.
With the whole apocalypse thing going on, there are more important things to discuss and he isn’t really one to talk about himself unprompted. Knowledge about something as banal as his career is unimportant, considering the knowledge of the scenarios that he’s holding close to his chest.
The title of Prophet has much more comparative weight when put against something like Idol, after all.
One could convince a paranoid regressor to spare you and entice his interest if you use the right words on him. Bringing up the other would just get you stabbed for wasting his time.
His record sales serve him no use in the new world he lives in. Instead, he settles himself in the identity of Kim Dokja, Yoo Joonghyuk’s companion, and throws Dokja the idol away with a surprising amount of ease.
Maybe it wasn’t that surprising though if he thought about it. He hadn’t become an idol willingly to start with, having essentially been sold off by his relatives into the industry.
Kim Dokja was proud of the work he’d put into his career for the last eleven years of his life but it was never his passion. It was just something he had to do, legally bound by a contract someone else signed in his name.
It was good to have the freedom to just be Kim Dokja again for once.
Even if Yoo Sangah knew who he was, she was smart enough to not ask. The flash of recognition in her eyes when he quietly introduced himself on that bloodied subway train remained as just a vague acknowledgment of his former status.
When Kim Dokja continued to not mention it, she never brought it up either. Yoo Sangah was good at reading between the lines.
As for the others, he was certain that they had no idea. Yoo Joonghyuk, Lee Hyunsung, Lee Jihye, and Shin Yoosung had the incredibly strong defense of being ripped from a novel. Meanwhile, Lee Gilyoung was probably too young to care about idols and Jung Heewon didn’t seem the type to care about music.
He was content to keep things as they were.
Again, it wasn’t like his idol career was a big secret—Kim Dokja still had a Wikipedia page up for himself, and they all had access to the internet due to Han Donghoon—but if no one asked, he had no reason to talk about it either.
If Kim Dokja personally preferred that it would continue to stay hidden, then that was just for him.
In the end, it’s Han Sooyoung that ends up bringing up the topic one night while they’re camping in-between scenarios. It’s fitting, really.
Like Yoo Sangah, Han Sooyoung was also good at reading between the lines. Unlike Yoo Sangah though, the plagiarist writer in front of him seemed to delight in crossing them and poking at the boundaries of other people.
She had recognized him ages ago back when she had attacked Chungmuro and had made brief comments about it back when they ended up pairing up after the Fifth Scenario, throwing song requests at him as they traveled together.
Truthfully speaking, Kim Dokja was surprised that she had waited so long to properly talk about it. Then again, Han Sooyoung was a woman who had her priorities in order.
“So,” she drawls, almost too casually around the lemon lollipop in her mouth as they’re sitting by the fire. “Is it true that you wrote Fix Your Heart while you were recovering from a breakup?”
The response to that question is reflexive at this point after years of constantly being asked this very specific question. Fix Your Heart was considered his breakout song, making him an international success; it sold more than 1.1 million copies in South Korea and reached #3 on the Billboard’s World Digital Songs chart.
It was also written based on his incredibly embarrassing yearning for the 999th regression turn Yoo Joonghyuk, which was a secret Kim Dokja planned to take to his grave at any cost.
Without even thinking, Kim Dokja slips into his Work Mode to answer her. He angles himself to face her, twisting his body to draw attention to the lines of his slim waist and the jut of his hip, and flashes her his Idol Smile #3.
“I’m loyal to my fans, first and foremost,” he says, crinkling his eyes warmly in the way that his fans are crazy about. “I haven’t had the time to dabble with romance with how busy my career has been, but I’m glad that my lyrics resonated enough that they felt right despite that.”
Han Sooyoung gapes at him. The lollipop slips right out of her open mouth and clatters onto the dirt.
Kim Dokja blinks, suddenly remembering himself and returning to reality. Han Sooyoung isn’t the only one staring. He slowly returns to his normal sitting position and pointedly does not meet anyone’s eyes.
Old habits truly tend to die hard.
[The constellation ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’ is screaming.]
[The constellation ‘Prisoner of the Golden Headband’ is staring at you.]
[The constellation ‘Secretive Plotter’ is stunned speechless.]
“Ahjussi, what the heck?” Lee Jihye asks, gawking at him so hard that her eyes look like they might bug out of her skull. “What was that?”
“It’s the equivalent of pulling out a customer service voice,” he says with a grimace. “Just ignore it.”
She continues to stare at him. Unfortunately, he has no intention to elaborate any further.
For a moment, he considers if there’s any possible explanation he can give instead of having to discuss his former idol career. Kim Dokja decides no, considering the absolutely boggled looks on Jung Heewon and Lee Hyunsung’s faces.
Yoo Sangah shoots him an understanding smile, though she also looks like she’s holding back a laugh. “Ah… My older brother’s wife was a fan so I’ve seen clips from some of your interviews before, Dokja-ssi. You often get asked that question, don’t you?”
“I do,” Kim Dokja confirms and lets out a tired sigh, slumping in his seat. Just thinking about that question tends to give him headaches.
He gets asked about the song every one out of three interviews he attends; it’s like they think he’s eventually going to slip up eventually and reveal he’s been hiding a secret lover for the last ten years of his career.
Kim Dokja is not. All he’s been hiding is a very sad thirteen-year-long obsession with a web novel and its (now very real) protagonist that his manager worked very, very hard to stop him from advertising.
May she rest in peace wherever she is.
The mention of interviews invokes a variety of different reactions from his party: Lee Jihye begins sputtering at the idea, Lee Hyunsung and Jung Heewon share confused looks, and even Yoo Joonghyuk’s eyebrows are furrowed in a subtle way that means he’s bewildered by the situation.
As for the kids, well. Both Lee Gilyoung and Shin Yoosung’s little eyes start shining in excitement. It’s kind of cute how excited they are at the idea of there being footage of Kim Dokja out there, even if they have no idea what it’s for and why.
“Hyung has interviews? I want to watch them!” Lee Gilyoung says, tugging on the end of Yoo Sangah’s sleeve.
Shin Yoosung grabs the other sleeve with a sweet little smile. “Sangah-unnie, do you know if they’re still online anywhere? Can you show me?”
“No,” Kim Dokja groans at the same time that Yoo Sangah cheerfully says, “Of course!” to the two kids holding onto her.
They both take a moment to look at each other before they look at Lee Gilyoung and Shin Yoosung with their bright, happy eyes. Kim Dokja looks away first and begins to pretend that he’s not here right now.
Yoo Sangah bends down slightly to pull out her phone for the kids. With a sense of incredible horror, he sees Yoo Joonghyuk also walking over to her to take a look over her shoulder as well.
“If Dokja-ssi has fans and interviews, does this mean he’s secretly an idol or something?” Jung Heewon asks jokingly with a laugh that trails off awkwardly when neither Kim Dokja nor Yoo Sangah denies it. “…Seriously?”
Kim Dokja does not meet her eyes. Yoo Sangah shoots her an apologetic smile.
“He was pretty popular,” she says. “I have a couple of the songs he wrote on my phone but um, my brother’s wife owned a lot of his merchandise. It was… a bit of a point of contention between the two.”
[The constellation ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’ is excited by the new information revealed.]
[The constellation ‘Abyssal Black Flame Dragon’ scoffs at your profession.]
“I’ve never heard of him before now,” Lee Jihye grumbles with a small frown. “Just how popular could he be?”
Despite himself, Kim Dokja is a little bit hurt by that comment—he was dubbed Korea’s darling, at some point! He reminds himself that it’s not his fault that Lee Jihye didn’t exist in the same reality that he did until a few months ago.
“He was popular enough to be on television regularly. I don’t really remember the details anymore but my sister-in-law mentioned that he also had a lot of fans overseas as well.”
There’s visible doubt on Lee Jihye’s face like she genuinely can’t believe any of that. If it were anyone else, it’d be clear that she would try to call bullshit on them and accuse them of lying.
Unfortunately, the one saying these things is the relatively good-natured and kind Yoo Sangah, of all people. Yoo Sangah could tell people the sky was green and they’d believe her, even if it clearly wasn’t.
“Popularity is hard to quantify,” Jung Heewon murmurs before turning a thoughtful look towards him. “What’s more important is knowing just how much his autographs sold for.”
Kim Dokja opens his mouth to estimate a price but Yoo Sangah beats him to it. Her response is immediate and, frankly speaking, incredibly unnerving.
“About 750,000 won to 1,500,000 won for a single signed album.” There’s something deeply tired and vaguely traumatized in her eyes. He wants to apologize to her just out of principle on behalf of her sister-in-law.
Lee Jihye audibly chokes at the numbers. Lee Hyunsung looks incredibly impressed.
Jung Heewon lets out a low whistle, shaking her head. “Some lucky bastards have it all. Successful and rich before the apocalypse and still successful and rich during too…”
Meanwhile, Yoo Joonghyuk is staring intently at Kim Dokja like he’s searching for either the meaning of life or a shortcut to get to the end of the scenarios hidden in his face. There is meaning in that gaze that Kim Dokja just can’t parse.
The expression on his face is not one that precedes violence but it is also not an expression that does not precede violence. The ambiguity of it is terrifying. Kim Dokja wishes that he’d stop.
Han Sooyoung takes this moment to jerk back to life after instigating all this chaos. With shaking hands, she pulls out another lollipop to shove into her mouth as she shoots incredulous looks at everyone.
“Wait,” she suddenly says. “You’re telling me that no one knew? His face is on billboards. It’s right there!”
She points across the street. Kim Dokja’s face is indeed plastered on a billboard over there, winking and flashing a finger heart. In bubbly text, it advertises the release of his new single. The slated release date was two days after the apocalypse began.
Kim Dokja had actually forgotten about that. Absently, he wonders if the song has even been released considering the current state of the world.
“It never really came up,” he says very weakly in his own defense. “We have been very busy since the apocalypse started. Besides, it’s not like it’s that important or anything to know.”
[The constellation ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’ disagrees with you!]
[The constellation ‘Prisoner of the Golden Headband’ agrees with the ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’.]
Lee Hyunsung’s eyes keep going back between the cheerful Kim Dokja on the billboard and the tired-looking Kim Dokja sitting in front of him like he can’t believe that both are the same person.
“...It makes sense,” Yoo Joonghyuk eventually grunts, sounding like the admission had been forced out of him. It’s the only thing he’s said so far.
Kim Dokja has absolutely no idea what the fuck that’s supposed to mean and desperately wishes that those three words came with an explanation. Then again, it’s probably better if he didn’t know, judging by the expression on Yoo Joonghyuk’s face.
“Thank you,” he says awkwardly and accidentally flashes his Idol Smile #1, lowering his eyes slightly to look up through his lashes. This smile is the slightly bashful, sweet one that practically launched Kim Dokja’s career overnight when he first debuted at seventeen.
[The constellation ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’ is screaming.]
[The constellation ‘Abyssal Black Flame Dragon’ is disturbed by your act.]
[The constellation ‘Secretive Plotter’ is...]
[5,000 coins have been sponsored.]
Yoo Joonghyuk looks like he’s a second away from lunging at him to strangle him again for it. Kim Dokja immediately drops the smile and goes back to not being here anymore.
“I’m not really that into music,” Jung Heewon says. “Still, I’m sure that your songs are very nice, Dokja-ssi.”
“Nice,” Han Sooyoung parrots mockingly before she jerks a hand to gesture at Kim Dokja. “This man in front of you regularly topped the Gaon Digital Chart with every single he dropped and you think his music is nice.”
The staring returns. Kim Dokja shrinks slightly with all the eyes on him, curling up a little in on himself.
“I want to listen to Ahjussi’s song!” Shin Yoosung says. “Sangah-unnie, can you put on the one that Sooyoung-unnie brought up earlier?”
[The constellation ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’ agrees with this idea.]
Kim Dokja pales and stands. “No!” he shouts with enough desperation that everyone in the party startles, hands inching towards their weapons.
It’s quite possibly the loudest he’s ever been in his life but it’s also the most urgent situation he’s ever experienced. None of his plotting and scheming throughout this regression turn have prepared him for something like this.
They could play literally anything but that song. The third regression’s Yoo Joonghyuk had no way of knowing that Fix Your Heart was a love song written for him (of a different regression) but Kim Dokja knew and that was enough.
Han Sooyoung sees the panic on his face and realization dawns in her eyes. Once again, her jaw drops before her gaze begins flicking back between him and Yoo Joonghyuk.
“Kim Dokja,” she begins quietly, voice faint. “Did you really—?!”
He swivels around to tackle her to the ground. Yoo Sangah screams.
[The constellation ‘Abyssal Black Flame Dragon’ cheers at the violence.]
“I was nineteen when I wrote that song!” Kim Dokja screeches in Han Sooyoung’s face before she can out him for his sins. “You cannot blame me!”
“Yes, I fucking can!” Han Sooyoung hisses back, clipping his ear with a swing of her fist. “You sold 1.1 million copies of it. I used to hear it all the time on the radio! I knew the lyrics by heart and now it’s ruined forever!”
Lee Hyunsung physically removes him from Han Sooyoung’s person. Being grabbed under his armpits like he’s a particularly misbehaving cat, Kim Dokja attempts to kick her in the face. He only misses because Lee Hyunsung pulls him back just in time.
“Dokja-ssi!” the man shouts, appalled.
Crawling away from him, Han Sooyoung still looks shaken. It’s probably not because he jumped on her but because she’s been cursed with the knowledge that one of her favorite songs was written for (a) Yoo Joonghyuk.
“Hey,” she says, voice hoarse. “Kim Dokja, answer me this. Were all of your songs…?”
Kim Dokja can’t bring himself to meet her eyes.
A string of loud, volatile curses escapes from Han Sooyoung’s mouth. Yoo Sangah immediately covers Lee Gilyoung’s ears while Jung Heewon takes Shin Yoosung’s. It’s a kind gesture, but Kim Dokja knows that the kids have already heard much worse said before.
“What is even going on anymore?” Lee Jihye asks. She looks like she can’t decide who to help.
Before Kim Dokja can even think of an excuse, Han Sooyoung’s cursing suddenly halts. The woman looks up at him with crazed, wild eyes from her position kneeling on the ground in front of him.
Lee Hyunsung raises him a little higher as if to keep him away from her grasp.
“Guilty Trouble,” Han Sooyoung snaps. “Which number?”
Ah. That song.
It didn’t sell nearly as much as Fix Your Heart did but the song was still a big fan favorite. It was surprising since it was a bonus song from one of his albums instead of being an actual released single.
Guilty Trouble was also one of his… more adult songs, as his manager described it. The lyrics were as close to explicit as he was willing to get.
With a heavy, heavy heart, Kim Dokja gives her the truth. Holding out his hand in front of her, he tucks down his thumb to gesture the number four. Then, he tucks down all his fingers except for his pointer.
[The constellation ‘Secretive Plotter’ is choking.]
[The constellation ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’ doesn’t understand the hidden meaning behind the numbers.]
Han Sooyoung’s eyes reflexively dart over to Shin Yoosung for a split second, fast enough that only Kim Dokja notices. She looks horrified. “You’re fucking with me.”
“He’s very sexy,” Kim Dokja defends himself begrudgingly. “Like, he’s objectively just incredibly sexy.”
“I lost my virginity to that song!” Han Sooyoung shrieks which is, well. It’s certainly a thing to hear about someone you’re acquainted with.
Kim Dokja can’t decide if he should congratulate her or apologize to her for ruining the presumably positive association she has with the song. He chooses to do neither and just keeps staring at her with a grim expression.
“Han Sooyoung-ssi!” Yoo Sangah calls out sternly. “Please, remember that the kids are here! This isn’t an appropriate topic to discuss.”
“I don’t care!” Han Sooyoung screams back. “I lost my fucking virginity to his stupid fucking song about a war criminal—”
“Okay, he had a lot of issues, but you can’t classify him as a war criminal!” Kim Dokja retorts. “Nothing he ever did was against the Geneva Convention. I checked!”
Everyone reels at that. Even Yoo Joonghyuk.
[The constellation ‘Prisoner of the Golden Headband’ is concerned about your taste in men.]
[The constellation ‘Abyssal Black Flame Dragon’ is interested in the man you’re talking about.]
[The constellation ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’ wails and wants to remind you that the Incarnation ‘Yoo Joonghyuk’ is right there instead.]
[The constellation ‘Secretive Plotter’ is incredibly troubled about your taste in men.]
“You’re deranged,” Han Sooyoung hisses. She looks at him like he’s crazy. “You’re deranged. There has to be something wrong with you. War criminal or not, he’s still a scumbag!”
“Listen, Scum Gong is an incredibly popular brand of character archetype for a reason,” Kim Dokja snaps before he can even think to control himself. “It’s about the draw when he picks you out of everyone! Him being awful doesn’t matter; he’s just attractive enough that those flaws become appealing!”
For a brief moment, he feels like he’s seventeen again, arguing on forums online with Kim Namwoon fans over Yoo Joonghyuk in the dead of night except his roommate isn’t here to snatch his phone away from him and force him to go to bed.
This is not a good thing to feel at his age of twenty-eight. The post-rant clarity hits him immediately after the words finish leaving his mouth and he just feels… exhausted and embarrassed.
It’s worse when Han Sooyoung doesn’t dignify him with a response. Instead, she gives him a disturbed look and stands up just to create some distance between them.
Yoo Sangah and Jung Heewon are aggressively whispering to each other as they steal looks at him. Kim Dokja is certain he’s going to be sat down for a serious discussion about avoiding men with red flags soon.
“Kim Dokja,” Yoo Joonghyuk says, but even that lacks the usual amount of heat. He just sounds openly confused. “What the hell are you even on about?”
Kim Dokja does not answer that question because he has no idea either. Instead, he says, “Can we please change the topic? Please, I’m begging you.”
“Agreed,” mutters Lee Jihye. Her expression is twisted in a repulsed grimace. “Seriously… Ahjussi, I feel like I’ve learned way too much about you today.”
Thankfully the kids are still obediently watching the footage from his past interviews. They don’t seem like they’re even aware of the world around them, focused intently on whatever the little Kim Dokja on the phone screen is doing and missing the questionable behavior of the real Kim Dokja.
Praise be to the addictive powers of phone screens.
“...Dokja-ssi, what does scum gong mean?” Lee Hyunsung asks quietly from behind him.
Kim Dokja, still dangling from Lee Hyunsung’s hold, slumps bonelessly and stares up at the night sky for guidance and for help. For anything, really.
[The constellation ‘Secretive Plotter’ would like you to re-evaluate your standards in men.]
[The constellation ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’ wants to remind you once again that the Incarnation ‘Yoo Joonghyuk’ is right there instead.]
[The constellation ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’ believes that the Incarnation ‘Yoo Joonghyuk’ will treat you better than this other man.]
[The constellation ‘Prisoner of the Golden Headband’ reluctantly agrees with the ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’.]
[The constellation ‘Abyssal Black Flame Dragon’ laughs loudly at your situation.]
He closes his eyes. Right, he reminds himself. What did he expect?