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if it takes all night or a thousand years

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Yoo Jonghyuk knows something is wrong with Kim Dokja as soon as he looks at him.

 

He has been watching the man carefully ever since he first appeared. At first it was to assess his uses and threat level, but as time has gone on, Jonghyuk has found himself thinking less and less about his uses and more and more just… thinking. Kim Dokja’s distinctive smile, the way the sunlight catches on his eyelashes. The warmth of his hand when he took Jonghyuk’s hand in his.

 

The details have burned themselves so clearly into his mind it almost makes him feel ashamed, in the quiet of the night, the in between breaths, how this man is always on his mind. But for the first time, he is grateful -- because it means this time, Kim Dokja cannot hide away.

 

“Kim Dokja,” he says. “What happened?”

 

Kim Dokja raises an eyebrow, lips quirking up into an infuriating smile. “What do you mean?”

 

“Don’t joke around.”

 

“I’m not joking. When did something happen?”

 

Pulling information from him is, as always, worse than trying to pull teeth. Jonghyuk didn’t intend on using this weapon so soon, but sometimes, the situation forces his hand.

 

[You have used ‘Lie Detection’ Lv. 6.]

 

[You have confirmed that Kim Dokja’s words are false.]

 

Kim Dokja looks at him in brief disappointment, as though Jonghyuk is being the unreasonable one here. Having failed to pretend the problem doesn’t exist, he moves on to another favorite strategy of his: pretending everything is fine. Maybe he does think it’s fine. “There was a mishap, but it is okay now.”

 

Seeing as Kim Dokja has failed to be fazed by even his own death, this is not a reassuring statement. Not that Kim Dokja tries to reassure anyone. He always does this -- treating others’ worry for him as an obstruction to navigate around. It makes Jonghyuk want to hit him with a brick.

 

In a tremendous display of discipline and self-control, Jonghyuk does not do this. Instead, he reaches out and grabs Kim Dokja by the hand. Kim Dokja’s eyebrows furrow briefly before smoothing back out into their usual unaffected demeanor. “Something you want, Jonghyuk?” he says lightly, smiling, pulling his arm away. He isn’t quick enough to hide the faint tremor in his hand.

 

[The constellation ‘Demon-Like Judge of Fire’ is smiling delightedly.]

 

Jonghyuk ignores them. He steps forward with Kim Dokja’s movement and pulls up the sleeve of his coat, revealing an inky blackness creeping visibly down his veins.

 

“You have a strange definition of ‘okay,’ Kim Dokja.”

 

“Do you always have to be so difficult? If I say it is okay then it is okay.” Kim Dokja quirks an eyebrow at him. “You don’t believe in me after all this time?”

 

The thing is, Jonghyuk does believe in him. He trusts that Kim Dokja can and will save the world, so much that he was willing to gamble his life on it in the 10th scenario. But somehow, he cannot bring himself to believe that Kim Dokja will save himself.

 

He never does.

 

“I believe you,” Jonghyuk says, and then, because he can, he hits Kim Dokja on the head.

 

“Ow! What was that for, you jerk?”

 

“Lee Seolhwa,” Jonghyuk calls, not tearing his eyes away. Not letting go. Lee Seolhwa breaks away from where the party members have been talking casually in a way that suggests they are all eavesdropping. Kim Dokja tries to free himself again, more forcefully this time, but it is -- far easier than it should be, to keep him in place. With an annoyed twist of his mouth, he rolls his sleeve back down, but Lee Seolhwa rolls it back up, unimpressed.

 

She frowns.

 

She grabs Kim Dokja by the jaw and tilts his head towards her, peering into one eye and then the other. She puts a hand to his forehead, then she puts it to the fluttering pulse of his neck. Kim Dokja bears the inspection with ill grace, complaining emphatically but unable to tug himself free of Jonghyuk’s grasp on his wrist. “Will you stop that,” he says, and, “Can’t you go do your own thing like you usually do?” and, “Hey, are you even listening--”

 

Jonghyuk tears his eyes away from watching the way Lee Seolhwa is touching Kim Dokja, ignoring the burn of jealousy with practiced ease. “You talk too much.”

 

“You talk too little. Are you satisfied, now?”

 

Jonghyuk thinks, I won’t be satisfied until you start caring about yourself. He also thinks, I won’t be satisfied until-- He cuts the thought off. He looks at Seolhwa. She says, “It looks like poison, but it’s not any poison that I know how to treat. It will take time to find a cure.”

 

It is three days until the next scenario starts, and it will be a difficult one. Jonghyuk frowns. “What do you need?”

 

Kim Dokja chooses this time to interrupt. “Lee Seolhwa. This isn’t an affliction you can cure.”

 

The glare of a doctor whose pride has been offended is a sight to behold. “Perhaps you underestimate my capabilities, Kim Dokja.”

 

“I don’t,” he says, in that infuriatingly confident manner of his.

 

“Then you know what it is,” Jonghyuk says. Kim Dokja nods, but fails to explain. “Well?” Jonghyuk prods.

 

Kim Dokja shrugs. “I don’t think it’s any of your business, actually?”

 

Jonghyuk valiantly suppresses the desire to shake him like a ragdoll. “So it won’t affect your ability to complete the scenario.”

 

“Naturally,” says Kim Dokja.

 

[You have confirmed that Kim Dokja’s words are false.]

 

“I will be slightly inconvenienced,” Kim Dokja amends.

 

Jonghyuk levels an unimpressed look at him.

 

“Don’t give me that look. I will take care of it when I can.”

 

Still, if he knows what this poison is, then there is a path forward. He lets go of Kim Dokja’s hand, finally, and takes one step away. “Tell me what you need, then.”

 

“Huh?”

 

“For a cure.”

 

Kim Dokja stares at him for a moment. “Why?”

 

Because I wish you would stop taking your well-being so lightly, Jonghyuk doesn’t say. “You will be useless if you enter the next scenario in this state.”

 

Kim Dokja looks offended. “I will not.”

 

Jonghyuk looks silently at the slight flush of his cheeks, the way he has clasped his hands together to hide their slight shaking, the deliberately balanced way he has planted himself on the ground. His silence speaks enough.

 

Kim Dokja licks his lips and opens his mouth to say something, but Lee Hyunsung beats him to it. “Er, Dokja-ssi. I think you should tell him.”

 

The look that Kim Dokja gives him is incredible. Lee Hyunsung coughs and continues, “If anyone could help, it is probably Yoo Jonghyuk-ssi.”

 

Behind him, Jung Heewon and Yoo Sangah murmur their agreement. Their smiles are almost secretive.

 

[The constellation ‘Demon-Like Judge of Fire’ is nodding vigorously.]

 

Jonghyuk has a sneaking suspicion that there is something more going on, but… It’s fine. As long as it helps him achieve his goal.

 

Kim Dokja takes a deep breath and raises his eyes to the heavens as if asking for patience. Then, with obvious reluctance, “There will be a cure in five scenarios. It’s fine to wait until then.”

 

Jung Heewon snorts. “Come on, Dokja-ssi. Why wait five scenarios when you could cure it now?”

 

Kim Dokja, strangely enough, flushes and looks away.

 

“You mean to say,” Jonghyuk says, “that you have a way to cure yourself right now, but you won’t do it.”

 

“If you knew what it was you wouldn’t do it either,” Kim Dokja says sulkily.

 

Jonghyuk, expressionlessly, reaches over and whacks him over the head again.

 

As Kim Dokja clutches his head and complains with a wounded expression, Jonghyuk turns to the party members. “You know the cure, then?”

 

Jung Heewon grins. “We sure do.”

 

“Do not,” Kim Dokja says to her. “Listen, Yoo Jonghyuk, leave it alone, will you? I will take care of it eventually. I’ll tell you a hidden piece.”

 

Something must be really terrible if Kim Dokja is willingly giving up information, instead of running off on his own like he always does. “Just tell me.”

 

“Okay, good. You will find a hidden piece if you go to--“

 

“I meant the cure.”

 

“Oh,” says Kim Dokja. “No.”

 

Jonghyuk stares him down. Kim Dokja narrows his eyes right back. “It really is not worth pursuing.”

 

[The constellation ‘Demon-Like Judge of Fire’ disagrees vehemently.]

 

[The constellation ‘Abyssal Black Flame Dragon’ is snorting.]

 

“Then it can’t hurt to tell me,” Jonghyuk says.

 

Kim Dokja glances back but quickly looks away again, flushing harder. Jonghyuk watches the red creep up his ears, under the soft fringe of his hair. Kim Dokja clears his throat. “Just leave it alone, Yoo Jonghyuk. It isn’t anything worth thinking about. Really.”

 

“It’s sex,” Jung Heewon says loudly from across the camp.

 

Kim Dokja chokes. “ Jung Heewon.”

 

Anything he says after that is lost as Jonghyuk’s mind blanks. He can’t have heard that right. He scrambles for words, but all he manages is an echoed, “Sex?”

 

“Sex,” Jung Heewon affirms wisely.

 

[You have confirmed that Jung Heewon’s words are true.]

 

“Ah, I’m hurt, Jonghyuk-ssi, you don’t even believe me?”

 

Somewhere across from him, Lee Jihye has started laughing. Indirect messages are pouring into his ears.

 

Get yourself together, Yoo Jonghyuk. He takes a deliberate breath in, out. “Then what’s the problem?”

 

Kim Dokja stares at him. Lee Jihye has started laughing harder. Jung Heewon is patting her on the back, grinning with a mischievous glint in her eye.

 

“What do you mean, what’s the problem?” Kim Dokja says, lips pulling up into a sardonic smile -- like they always do, when he’s uncomfortable. “Do you think I can find people I’d be willing to -- to ask on every corner?” His cheeks are reddening again as he says this.

 

“Don’t you have a woman you love?” At Kim Dokja’s blank look, he elaborates, “Yoo Sangah.”

 

“I respectfully decline,” she says.

 

“She respectfully declines,” Kim Dokja tells him. “In the first place, there’s nothing between us. Even if there was, it isn’t as if this is something I can just ask of the party.” He adjusts his coat collar, adding, “This isn’t much more than an inconvenience anyways.”

 

Jonghyuk looks at him for a long moment. He shifts uncomfortably. “What are you looking at me like that for?”

 

I don’t need Lie Detection to know that last sentence was a lie, Jonghyuk thinks.

 

He turns away to get his thoughts together, facing away from the light of their campfire and towards the flickering shadows of the night time streets, letting the sound of the party’s conversation wash over him. They’re needling Kim Dokja now, arguing with each other about what to do, rambunctious as anything -- a tight knit group, but only because they have someone holding them together at the center. Jonghyuk has seen what happens to them when Kim Dokja is gone.

 

Kim Dokja. Jonghyuk pictures him in his mind’s eye again, with the practiced ease of hours upon hours alone with his thoughts. There is the familiar burn of frustration, how little he can control his own mind, and beneath it is the faint shame that he could want someone so desperately. He has tried to suppress it, keep it under lock and key, for Kim Dokja’s sake if not for his own. Anyone could see that Kim Dokja was close with Yoo Sangah, and even if Kim Dokja denied it, Jonghyuk wouldn’t get in the way of a slowly growing flame. No matter how much he might want to, or how much he might wish that Kim Dokja and Yoo Sangah were nothing more than friends.

 

But she rejected Kim Dokja so simply and so easily tonight, and Kim Dokja denied her just as easily, and -- and if there is a need, and if no one else will step up to the job, then -- is it so wrong for him to just…?

 

He shouldn’t. He should have more discipline over himself, more control, he should be better than giving into these selfish impulses -- the way it will only feed the yearning in him, how it could change the strange not-dance between him and Kim Dokja forever. But --

 

“I’ll do it, then,” he hears himself say, the words slipping out before he can get himself back under control.  

 

The camp goes utterly silent, and then it bursts into noise.

 

“No way, Master! You wouldn’t do it with someone as ugly as Ahjussi, would you?” Lee Jihye bursts out, and then Shin Yoosung says, “Stop calling him ugly! He isn’t!” And Lee Gilyoung stands up too, ready to swing his fists, and Yoo Sangah reaches out to hold him back, and Lee Hyunsung has put a hand to his face. Jung Heewon is laughing herself sick.

 

[The constellation ‘Great Sage Equal to Heaven’ has dropped his stick.]

 

[The constellation ‘Abyssal Black Flame Dragon’ is grinning wickedly.]

 

[The constellation ‘Demon-Like Judge of Fire’ is screaming in delight.]

.

.

.

[10,000 coins have been sponsored.]

 

Not for the first time, Jonghyuk wishes he had a skill to make other people shut the fuck up.

 

Only Kim Dokja, for once, has nothing to say. His mouth hangs open, and then it closes. If it were any other situation, Jonghyuk would savor the moment, but his heart has started beating faster and he can’t calm himself down.

 

“Well?” he demands.

 

Kim Dokja’s jaw works for a moment. “--Are you serious?” he says finally, his voice pitched higher than usual.

 

Is it so unbelievable, Jonghyuk thinks, that he would want this?

 

He doesn’t want to think about it. “This is a problem. It is easy to fix. We are fixing it,” he tells Kim Dokja instead. He grabs him by the hand and pulls him along as he starts walking down the street. “Don’t let anyone bother us,” he tosses over his shoulder to the party, and then ignores the burst of noise his proclamation stirs up.

 

“Wait a minute, Yoo Jonghyuk!” Kim Dokja stumbles after him. “What do you mean, fixing it? What do you intend on doing?”

 

He sounds like he thinks Jonghyuk has gone crazy, and he can’t blame him, because he must have gone out of his mind to do this. “What do you think, Kim Dokja? You don’t need to be a prophet to know what I intend.”

 

“But I -- you…”

 

Kim Dokja falls silent, and Jonghyuk doesn’t look back at him. His palm feels like it’s burning, where it touches Kim Dokja’s skin.

 

He finds an apartment that suits his purpose a slight way down the street: abandoned, a few windows broken, but otherwise in good repair. With his level of strength it’s child’s play to force the door open. The thin slice of moonlight cutting behind their shadows isn’t enough to illuminate the velveteen darkness within, and they fumble their way forward to the stairwell with nothing to light their way. Their clothes rustle as they move. Kim Dokja’s shoes tap gently on the floor, his breathing light and uneven and just a little too loud on the exhale. Jonghyuk hears his upcoming words in the brush of his coat, the sucked in breath, the pause.

 

“Yoo Jonghyuk. You don’t have to do this.”

 

“Be quiet,” Jonghyuk says. A little too forcefully, maybe, because Kim Dokja sucks in another breath -- and lets it out before he can vocalize anything. He is quiet as Jonghyuk guides them by touch up the stairs, into one of the first apartment doors he finds. He is docile, almost dazed, as Jonghyuk brings him forward into the bedroom and tugs the window curtains open, just enough for the starlight to illuminate the shapes of them in the dark.

 

“Stay here,” Jonghyuk orders. He slips out the bedroom and to the kitchen. A few minutes of searching and he finds what he’s looking for, tucked in a corner of a once cozy and lived-in living room. He returns to the bedroom with candles and a lighter, setting the candles down on the dresser by the bed. The click as he ignites the lighter seems unbearably loud in the silence.

 

The flames light up the room with a warm, dim glow, and the scent of roses starts to permeate the air.

 

Jonghyuk sets the lighter down and looks up. Kim Dokja is standing at the foot of the bed, one hand curled on the bedpost, staring down as though he’s never seen a bed before. Against the blank expanse of the wall, he seems so -- lost, and Jonghyuk wants more than anything to reach over and pull him close and promise him that it’s okay.

 

“Kim Dokja,” he calls lowly, instead.

 

Kim Dokja startles. He meets Jonghyuk’s eyes briefly before looking away again. “Yoo Jonghyuk,” he says, clearing his throat, and stops.

 

“Is there anything in particular that must be done?”

 

“No, just -- just sex.” He looks mortified when the last word leaves his mouth. Jonghyuk doesn’t comment. He just nods and strips off his coat.

 

As he folds it and puts it aside, Kim Dokja says suddenly, “Listen, Yoo Jonghyuk. Aren’t you going too far?”

 

“No,” says Yoo Jonghyuk. He pulls his sweater off and glances over. Kim Dokja is still not looking at him, gaze fixed pointedly on the wall by the door.

 

“This is a pretty extreme solution. The consequences of the poison are bearable for a while longer. I will only need to be more careful.”

 

Careful, like the way he took the blow from Shin Yoosung, or like the precise wound cut into his side so he’d bleed out on the cold rooftops of the city with no one beside him? Like the way he meticulously taught everyone the best way to kill him when he became the Demon King? Jonghyuk’s hands clench around the sweater. “No,” he says sharply. “We will proceed.”

 

“But--”

 

“Or will you waste another death to cure yourself of this, too?” Jonghyuk says, more snidely than he means to. He regrets it as soon as he says it, but not enough to apologize. When Kim Dokja looks sharply at him, he doesn’t lower his gaze. In the end it is Kim Dokja who looks away again.

 

“My life is hardly your responsibility,” Kim Dokja says quietly.

 

“I know.”

 

“Then you know you don’t have to do this just because you are concerned about the upcoming scenario. I don’t want you to do anything you don’t truly want to do.”

 

“Why?” Jonghyuk says, his voice going flat. “Do you not want to?”

 

For the second time that night, he gets to witness Kim Dokja at a loss for words. Kim Dokja hesitates, licks his lips. “I…”

 

Jonghyuk wants to push him forwards. Say yes, Kim Dokja. Let me do this one thing for you. Please. But more than that, he wants Kim Dokja to choose on his own.

 

The seconds, as they tick by, are agonizing.

 

“...If you want to,” Kim Dokja says. “Then. I. Yes.”

 

Without any conscious input from him, Jonghyuk’s mouth curls up into a smile. He turns his head to the side to hide it, but he sees Kim Dokja’s startled look from the corner of his eye. A moment later, Kim Dokja says, “Are the scented candles really necessary, though?”

 

There are any number of responses Jonghyuk could give. The electricity hasn’t worked in the city since the scenario started, the candles are for lighting, they’re there to make things more comfortable, to make things easier. What comes out of his mouth instead is, “If we’re doing this, we’re doing it properly.”

 

“Oh, there’s a ‘proper’ way to do this?” Kim Dokja snarks.

 

“Just take your clothes off.”

 

Kim Dokja huffs, but he he sheds his white coat easily, hanging it so it dangles insouciantly on the bedpost. He pops the top two buttons of his dark dress shirt, but the third button down and his progress stalls.

 

Jonghyuk puts his sweater to the side and looks over. “You’re nervous.”

 

An irritated twitch. “No, I think you’re too calm.”

 

Jonghyuk holds back a sigh. He steps over, just outside the usual radius at which he stands. “Kim Dokja. This is for your sake. If you truly are uncomfortable--“

 

“No! No, I just…” Kim Dokja gestures vaguely. “I’ve never…” His hands pause, fall back down.

 

“Been with another man?”

 

Kim Dokja hesitates, and dips his head.

 

Neither has Jonghyuk, but saying so won’t help right now, so he doesn’t. He just says, “Then we’ll go slowly. It isn’t so different in the end.”

 

“How would you know,” Kim Dokja mutters. “You haven’t been with a man before either.“

 

Of course he knows. Jonghyuk rolls his eyes, steps forward, and kisses him.

 

It’s a soft, chaste thing, lips on lips only. Jonghyuk draws back and looks searchingly at Kim Dokja’s dark eyes. Kim Dokja’s mouth parts, but no words come out. “Relax,” Jonghyuk murmurs. He dips his head and kisses him again, softer this time, waiting. An invitation.

 

Kim Dokja kisses him back. He is clumsy at it, almost -- inexperienced, but it’s okay. Jonghyuk rests his hands by Kim Dokja’s neck as they kiss again, then slides them down to slowly unbutton his shirt, in between kisses, in between breaths. How often has Jonghyuk slept with someone else before -- and yet how often has it been like this, a slow and eager exploration, a dizzying heat lingering in every touch, the way it almost burns his fingers to touch the other’s skin. The way Kim Dokja has laced his hands vindictively in Jonghyuk’s hair, tugging as if trying to steer the way Jonghyuk will go. The moan he lets out when Jonghyuk bites his lips in return. His eyelashes flutter lightly on his dusted red cheeks, the warm candlelight flickering to catch pools of gold as it refracts through his pupils, and how beautiful is this -- just this, Kim Dokja himself, on the brink of pleasure, simply enjoying himself. I did that, Jonghyuk thinks, I brought that happiness here. And the joy and the desire coils in his gut, a familiar heat sweeping over him, and he can’t resist cupping Kim Dokja’s neck and kissing him again.

 

“Good?” he murmurs, letting his hands trail down to rest at Kim Dokja’s waist.

 

“You’re asking that?” Kim Dokja looks at him almost reproachfully, fingers loosening and hands dropping down to rest on his chest. Jonghuk should meet his gaze, he knows, but he can’t stop looking at his lips. “You’re a terrible kisser.”

 

It’s such a Kim Dokja thing to say that Jonghyuk can’t help but laugh, burying his face into the crook of Kim Dokja’s shoulder. “Kim Dokja,” he says, because he can. He runs his hands up the other man’s back, under the shirt, savoring the feeling of skin on skin, this closeness. The warmth of a body next to his. “You are ridiculous,” he says, and he trails kisses down Kim Dokja’s jaw and neck, and he’d continue to the chest but they’re both standing and he’s too tall, and the bed has never felt so far away.

 

Kim Dokja’s breath hitches; his arms come to wrap around Jonghyuk in a warm embrace, and Jonghyuk takes the opportunity to kiss him and literally sweep him off his feet. “Ah -- Yoo Jonghyuk!” Kim Dokja squeaks, clinging to his shoulders as he carries him to the bed. Jonghyuk laughs a little and sets him down. As if to make up for the earlier shows of uncertainty, Kim Dokja goes on the offensive: straddling Jonghyuk’s lap and taking his face in his hands, kissing with such a clumsy but earnest passion that it coaxes an appreciative moan from his lips.

 

“How was that,” Kim Dokja says triumphantly, drawing back with a crooked smile. He looks -- radiant, that sly and mischievous glint in his eyes and the slant of his mouth, beckoning with a promise of secrets unknown just waiting in the hidden halls between candlelight and velvet dark. Jonghyuk smiles helplessly, hopelessly entranced, and Kim Dokja’s expression shifts a little. He straightens, mouth opening to ask.

 

“Passable,” Jonghyuk says before he can speak, and laughs outright at the outrage it sparks in Kim Dokja’s eyes.

 

“Not all of us can have three lifetimes’ worth of experience,” he says snippily, and he yanks off Jonghyuk’s shirt. Jonghyuk obligingly lifts his arms and Kim Dokja tosses the offending article to the side. He pushes Jonghyuk down, and Jonghyuk follows the movement, shifting to lay fully on the bed. Kim Dokja leans over him, hands resting on his pectoral muscles. He bends close, as if to share a secret, and the light shines softly on the graceful curve of his neck. Jonghyuk’s breath catches. No real reason for it, except that he’s here, and Kim Dokja is here, and he can feel the excited thump-thump of his heart against Kim Dokja’s palm -- and how warm he is, how present and alive, and how lucky Jonghyuk is to be here to see his crooked smile and feel his breath tickle his skin as he speaks.

 

“Okay, I’m ready. Let’s fuck.”

 

What a singularly Kim Dokja way to ruin the mood. Jonghyuk smiles helplessly against the warm swell of affection in his chest. Perhaps this world is ruined, but right now in this intimate dark, he can only think -- how lucky he is to be alive for this. “How would you like to do it?”

 

Kim Dokja pulls a face and shrugs. “Does it matter as long as it gets the job done? It’s not like we’re here to make love.”

 

-- and it all comes crashing down.

 

Yes. How could he be so stupid as to forget? This isn’t real love, and Kim Dokja isn’t his, and it isn’t luck and fortune that has brought him here but something far more bitter instead.

 

This is just a taste of something he cannot have.

 

“What’s wrong?” Kim Dokja says. He peers at Jonghyuk in the way he does sometimes, something unreadable behind the blank neutrality of his face. “Are you getting cold feet? You’re the one who suggested this.”

 

Jonghyuk lets out a short breath. “Kim Dokja. I want you to enjoy this.”

 

All that earns him is an eye roll. “You don’t need to prove your sexual prowess to me.”

 

Of course he wouldn’t understand from that; he mistrusts kindness and care unless it can be explained as selfishness, as if it’s beyond thinking that someone could simply love him as he is. It feels sour to rephrase in a way Kim Dokja might understand. “ I want to enjoy this.”

 

Kim Dokja pauses. “I could suck your dick?”

 

Jonghyuk makes a frustrated noise. It’s not -- it’s not about his pleasure, only, it’s -- what’s the point of doing this if only one of them enjoys it in the process? But more than that, Jonghyuk wants to do this for Kim Dokja. He wants Kim Dokja to enjoy himself, to allow himself some fleeting glimpse of happiness even if it’s just for one night.

 

He would say it, if he could, but his words got burned out of him two lifetimes ago. He doesn’t know how to make Kim Dokja understand. He reaches up and pulls Kim Dokja down for a burning kiss, ignoring the indignant sound he makes. Gripping Kim Dokja just a little too hard, he flips them over so he’s looking down at him.

 

“Yeah, yeah, you’ve made your point,” Kim Dokja says breathlessly. “We’ll do things your way.”

 

Jonghyuk closes his eyes briefly. That wasn’t his point. But it’ll work well enough; if Kim Dokja will agree to cooperate, for just this one night, it’s enough. “Good.”

 

He tugs Kim Dokja’s shirt fully off and kisses him on the lips once again, and then he kisses gently down one side of his neck, trailing his hand down the other. He feels the motion of Kim Dokja’s throat as he swallows. He breathes out over the hollow where the neck meets the chest, and when he kisses it, he can feel the hitch of Kim Dokja’s breath.

 

“Y-you don’t have to go so slow,” Kim Dokja says. His hands are resting on Jonghyuk’s shoulders, gripping firmly -- not enough to hurt, or to push away, but enough that his nervousness is apparent. Jonghyuk takes one of them in his, brings it up to rest on his cheek. He looks up at Kim Dokja intently, and Kim Dokja looks away a moment later, not quick enough to hide the beginning of a blush from the flickering candlelight.

 

“Then tell me how it feels,” Jonghyuk says, and he ghosts a kiss over the knuckles of Kim Dokja’s hand.

 

“It feels--” Jonghyuk rests a hand under Kim Dokja’s ribs and strokes downwards towards the hips. Kim Dokja shudders. “--fine,” he says, voice strained. “It’s fine.”

 

Jonghyuk feels his lips curling up into a smile. “Just fine?” he murmurs, letting his hands wander that sensitive stretch of skin down the sides.

 

“What do you want me to say? It’s the best thing I’ve felt in my--ah!” Kim Dokja covers his mouth with a hand as Jonghyuk teasingly slips a hand beneath the hem of his pants. The moan he lets out when Jonghyuk takes him in his palm almost seems to take him by surprise. A moment later and he starts to turn his head away, but Jonghyuk reaches for his hand and grips it in his. He tugs it away from Kim Dokja’s face and Kim Dokja looks up at him from underneath his lashes, uncertain, vulnerable.

 

“It’s okay,” Jonghyuk says. And before Kim Dokja can pull away from the reassurance, he says, “I want to hear your voice.”

 

Kim Dokja stares at him, and then he looks away. His hand curls around Jonghyuk’s, too. “You should be embarrassed, saying things like that out loud.”

 

It is the honesty, Jonghyuk thinks. Kim Dokja is embarrassed by honesty when it comes freely, willingly, and vulnerably; he doesn’t know how to accept something so frankly given. Jonghyuk doesn’t know, either; he only knows that this is what he wants to give. He squeezes Kim Dokja’s hand lightly. “I want to hear your voice,” he repeats. “I want to know it feels good for you.”

 

Kim Dokja shakes his head. “I already told you it doesn’t matter.”

 

“Then let me hear you.”

 

Kim Dokja gazes at him uncertainly. And if Jonghyuk was a different person, perhaps he would know how to tell him that it was okay to let go, to be uncontrolled in voicing his pleasure or his pain, to be heard so easily. If he was a different person, he would be able to reassure Kim Dokja with love, to tell him that it didn’t matter if he made a lot of noise or if he didn’t, because all that matters to Jonghyuk is that it’s Kim Dokja who’s doing it, and he will love him for all that he is.

 

But if he was a different person, he would have told Kim Dokja these burning feelings inside him already. Instead, all he has is this: an ache so deep it touches his bones, a yearning to be loved, a night so close to the nights of his dreams and yet so hollow. All he has is this: a leaning forward and a kiss, a tangling of tongues behind lips, a gasping beneath him as he takes Kim Dokja in hand and strokes him to hardness. Kim Dokja mewls under him, shuddering and arching against him with every stroke of his fingers.

 

Jonghyuk has dreamed of this for -- for how long? Only months, a drop in the ocean compared to the things he’s seen and the lives he’s lived. But has he ever dreamed so intensely, longing so deeply that every brush of Kim Dokja’s skin on his would light his nerves on fire; so deeply it ached down to his bones, that if he could, he would give just about anything to have a single night of love, to have the privilege of lying next to him and entwine their fingers together and know he is by his side?

 

It’s so close to him now, he could reach out and touch that vision, he could see it -- and the words are waiting, unbidden, on his tongue. I love you, Kim Dokja, he wants to say, and it burns in his mouth, it aches in his chest like a grief he has not allowed himself in three lives. I love you. I want to care for you. Gods above, he thought he could be satisfied if he could know what it was like, just once, to hold Kim Dokja in his arms, but he knows now it’s not enough. It’ll never be enough until he can say this to him: I love you. I am yours for ever and ever, until the sun burns out and the moon meets the sea. I am yours in every life, in any way you will have me.

 

But all he can say is this: “You’re doing so good,” he promises, his breath warming Kim Dokja’s neck where he is bent over. “You look so good.” Kim Dokja lets out a strangled moan into his ears, hips pushing up against Jonghyuk’s hand. And Jonghyuk has never seen him like this either, his composure unraveling before his very eyes to reveal someone so -- so human, so vulnerable and so worthy of love. The way he lies back on the pillow gasping for breath, strands of hair ink-dark against the cloth; the way his eyelashes flutter with pleasure when he groans. How lucky Jonghyuk is to see this. How he hates himself for letting himself taste this fruit, and know it is not his.

 

“Do you s-say that to -- aah -- to everyone you take to bed?” Kim Dokja says. His fingers dig into Jonghyuk’s back.

 

If only he could take a compliment the way it was meant; if only he could believe that someone’s love for him was real. “To everyone I like,” Jonghyuk replies, and it is too close to the burning truth to be safe, he should turn back, but he doesn’t want to. He wants Kim Dokja to know this, if nothing else. “You are just as worthy of the compliment as anyone else I’ve had.”

 

Kim Dokja snorts. “I don’t need you to protect my self-image, Yoo Jonghyuk. I know I’m not so…”

 

“When have I ever done anything for your ego’s sake?”

 

Kim Dokja laughs dryly. “You’re already doing something for me.”

 

Jonghyuk lets out a slow breath, past the frustration that bubbles up in his chest. He needs to stay in control of himself; he doesn’t have the luxury of indulging in his feelings. But -- “Is that all you think this is?” he says anyways, and he can hear how his voice has gone flat. “A pandering to your ego? An obligation? Politeness?”  

 

Kim Dokja’s face has gone still and serious again. He peers at Jonghyuk in the way he does sometimes, as if Jonghyuk is an open book that has suddenly gone wrong. “Then what is this to you?”

 

My love for you, in the only way I can. “Nothing,” he says. Stupid, he says to himself. Why are you so upset? You knew when you volunteered that this means nothing to him.

 

It is nothing. He has to remember that, or he’ll lose sight of what he needs to do.

 

Kim Dokja is still looking at him, a small crease appearing between his eyebrows. “Yoo Jonghyuk…”

 

“You have lube?” Jonghyuk says. He doesn’t care what Kim Dokja wants to say.

 

Kim Dokja hesitates, before nodding. He looks at something Jonghyuk can’t see for a moment, brings his hands up, and a small bottle appears in his hands. Jonghyuk moves to take it, but Kim Dokja doesn’t let go.

 

“Yoo Jonghyuk, I meant it when I said I would survive without your intervention here.”

 

Jonghyuk levels a look at him. Perhaps he would, but at what cost to himself? It’s not acceptable. It never is.

 

“When the next scenario starts, there is a hidden piece I can obtain to offset the poison’s effects. During the scenarios there are other things I can use to compensate for my condition as well. I will be a bit uncomfortable, but I will live.”

 

Jonghyuk presses his lips together. He pulls the bottle from Kim Dokja’s fingers, and this time Kim Dokja lets go. He is still looking at Jonghyuk with that careful consideration, though, the way he always does, the way he did before trying to save Lee Seolhwa for him, the way he did when he told Jonghyuk to live this life with determination -- before dying for everyone’s sakes.  

 

“You always do this, Kim Dokja.”

 

“--Huh?”

 

He can hear the biting anger in his voice, but he can’t bring himself to care. Twisting off the cap, he pours the clear liquid onto his fingers and reaches down again. “Every time it gets difficult, you take the burden onto yourself.”

 

Kim Dokja frowns and starts to sit up, but Jonghyuk presses a hand to his chest and stops him. Kim Dokja lies there, propped up on his elbows and looking at Jonghyuk as if he is the strangest thing he has ever seen. “Isn’t it the same as you?” Kim Dokja says. “Let someone else carry the burden for a while, sometimes. Isn’t that okay?”

 

It’s so ridiculous, hearing this from him, that Jonghyuk almost wants to laugh. It’s so funny. It’s not funny at all. Is Kim Dokja doing this because he doesn’t want to trouble him? This self-destructiveness -- is it because of him?

 

He remembers a sword in his hands, a heart on the blade. He remembers the way Kim Dokja laughed when he collapsed, the triumph and the self-deprecation all wrapped up in one. He remembers a body crumbling to ash in his hands, and he knows the answer. His throat tightens, and the truth burns him. “You should listen to your own words.”

 

Kim Dokja smiles sardonically. “I don’t think I need to. But Jonghyuk, it really is strange for you to be here. Don’t you have a woman you love?”

 

It’s for Jonghyuk’s sake, isn’t it? It’s always for him. Jonghyuk feels sick with anger, and the knowledge that it’s all his fault. “You know as well as I do that the woman I love is gone.”

 

“Then--”

 

“Kim Dokja.”

 

He stops talking.

 

“The same words you said to me, they also apply to you.”

 

Kim Dokja’s eyes narrow, his mouth parts. Jonghyuk plows ahead. “You told me that I wasn’t alone. That I shouldn’t act like I am, either.”

 

He cups Kim Dokja’s face with one hand and rests his forehead against his, so close he can feel his breath ghosting over his lips.

 

“You helped with the scenarios. You took care of things where I wasn’t there. You paved the way forward. Then let me help you too.”

 

He caresses his jaw softly and looks into Kim Dokja’s eyes, his pupils blown wide open.

 

“Take a break.”

 

He kisses him.

 

He is not gentle, this time. How can he be, with this anger burning in him. This frustration. That Kim Dokja keeps shutting others out; that he is responsible, unworthy subject of his love that he is. He kisses with fervor, without letting up, biting Kim Dokja’s lips vengefully and savoring the gasp it elicits. He doesn’t wait, this time, but devours instead. And when he can feel Kim Dokja’s hardness pressing against his again, he moves his attention downwards again: to the neck, the chest. Kim Dokja catches his breath, and then in a shaky voice, he says, “I guess this does work better for my plans.”

 

Jonghyuk hums an agreement, hands sliding down Kim Dokja’s sides, one under the hem of his boxers. Kim Dokja’s breath stutters, but he keeps going. “You should be careful though, tying yourself to me like this. I have enemies among the constellations, you know, and if they didn’t target you before, they certainly will now.” His gaze flits upwards. “Maybe we should stop after all…”

 

Even now, he can’t stop trying to do this on his own? He’s so angry that he’s bitten down on Kim Dokja’s shoulder, almost before he realizes it. Kim Dokja shudders underneath him. “Ah -- you jerk, just because you’re mad--!”

 

“Who’s mad?”

 

“What do you mean, who’s mad? If you weren’t mad, then what is this?”

 

“What could I possibly be mad about?” Jonghyuk returns. A strange expression crosses Kim Dokja’s face, and Jonghyuk meets his gaze, because he wants Kim Dokja to think about it. To realize it. He wants Kim Dokja to stop thinking about his plans, about the future, just stop thinking , stop making all these plans that end up with him bearing all the consequences, and just focus on the here and now. Kim Dokja, won't you let yourself enjoy things for once? Won't you let yourself be loved? It tears at Jonghyuk, how he seems so incapable of understanding or receiving love, blind to the possibility that he is loved and valued by others for reasons other than his future sight. Can’t he see what it does to everyone, to pour so much love into him only for him to not recognize it for what it is?

 

“If there’s nothing wrong,” he says, almost spitefully, “then let’s keep going.”

 

Kim Dokja looks at him for one moment longer before he nods, slowly. Jonghyuk looks away from the incomprehension in his eyes, and instead he kisses him again. He takes Kim Dokja in his hands and in between breaths and kisses, moves his hand further between Kim Dokja’s legs. He pulls back for just a moment and waits, and Kim Dokja catches his breath and nods, and Jonghyuk presses a finger in.

 

He knows when he finds the sweet spot by the way Kim Dokja’s breathing changes, the bobbing of his neck when he swallows.

 

“Is this good?”

 

“Yeah. Put it in.”

 

And even past the anger and the sick feeling in him, Jonghyuk can’t help a wan smile at how utterly Kim Dokja that response is. He positions himself in between his legs, and then he eases himself in.

 

Kim Dokja is tense, clinging to Yoo Jonghyuk’s shoulders, his face scrunched up. Jonghyuk smiles again, helplessly, and he hates himself a little bit for it, how easily Kim Dokja gets into his heart. “Relax,” he says. “You’re okay.”

 

“You have it easy; you’re on top,” Kim Dokja mutters, but he closes his eyes and takes a few deep breaths, and slowly he relaxes around him.

 

When his grip relaxes and he opens his eyes again, Jonghyuk says, “Ready?”

 

Kim Dokja nods. Jonghyuk leans down and gives him one more kiss, and then he leans over and blows the candles out, plunging them into dark.

 

[The constellation ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’ is screaming with excitement.]

 

[Some constellations are complaining about the dark.]

 

Let them complain. This isn’t for them. This has, from the beginning, been for Kim Dokja and Kim Dokja alone. He activates Midday Tryst.

 

-- Tell me if you need me to stop.

 

Then he begins to move.

 

The first roll of his hips elicits a gasp from Kim Dokja. Then a moan, then a breathless, “Yoo Jonghyuk,” torn from his lips as if he couldn’t hold it back anymore. “A-a- ah , Yoo Jonghyuk.”

 

“Jonghyuk,” he says.

 

“What?” Kim Dokja asks breathlessly.

 

“If you can call me Jonghyuk when you think it will irritate me, you can call me Jonghyuk now.”

 

“You demanding bastard, are you really going to complain about this now?

 

Jonghyuk doesn’t reply, but snaps his hips forward again. This time when Kim Dokja calls out, it is by his first name.

 

And like that, they settle into a rhythm, flesh sliding against flesh, the warmth of another body against his. And Jonghyuk had almost forgotten what it was like, to have companionship like this, the comforting promise of someone by his side even in the dark. He forgot how much he craved it, touching for the sake of being touched and knowing that there is someone there. The closeness, the intimacy. He holds Kim Dokja close to him, savoring the warm body in his hands and the heat of his pulse. The simple wonder of being alive, and just this fact: that he is not alone. In this moment, he is not alone.

 

And Kim Dokja is calling his name. And he says, “Jonghyuk,” and he says, “Fuck, right there, that’s it right there,” and he says, “Jonghyuk, it feels so good.”

 

And this is what Jonghyuk wanted. To give him this kind of pleasure, this enjoyment; to be able to help him in this way. But there are words burning inside him that want so badly to be spoken. And here in the dark, so intimately woven together and laid so bare and yet hidden away from sight, it is so easy for the thoughts to just slip out. And Jonghyuk says:

 

-- You’re too careless.

 

He kisses Kim Dokja under the jaw and rolls his hips forward, hearing Kim Dokja moan his name again. And Jonghyuk says:

 

-- You don’t love yourself enough.

 

Kim Dokja shakes underneath him. His legs are wrapped around Jonghyuk’s waist, pulling him closer as if he wants nothing more than to be one. And Jonghyuk says:

 

-- I wish you would protect yourself as easily as you protected everyone else.

 

He slides forward again and draws a keen out of Kim Dokja’s throat. “Jonghyuk,” he’s saying, “Jonghyuk.” Just this, the one name, as if he is so completely undone he can’t think of anything else to say but this.

 

And Jonghyuk thinks this thought, too vulnerable and too close to his heart to voice, even now: I wish you would let me take care of you, the way you have cared for me.

 

The way that Kim Dokja appeared out of the blue, a mystery and a threat and yet a hope for something more. The way he has loved and supported him time and time again. How every time Jonghyuk has been on the verge of despair, he has lifted him up again. How many times has Jonghyuk felt beaten down, almost broken, by the hopeless worlds ahead of him and the endless despair; how many times has he fallen on his knees and begged to a nothingness he knew would not listen, If there is any other way, O take this cup from me. And no one has ever answered his despair until this life, until the man before him, who reached out and took his hand when they stood before the stars. Who died over and over for his sake, who said with every action Whatever it takes, I will not let you die again.

 

Jonghyuk has seen the cost of it. He has seen Kim Dokja break himself time and time again, always paying the price for Jonghyuk’s mistakes. And yet there has never been any hesitation or regret; and he knows, if Kim Dokja had the choice, he would die as many times as it’d take to save him, the same way he has died over and over again for this world. How could that not change him? How could that not fill him with hope, and how could that not fill him with despair, that someone would do this for him? How could he not love?  

 

Kim Dokja’s fingernails dig into his back, gasps and moans and half-formed pleas spilling out of his lips. And Jonghyuk, bent over him like a sinner before the altar, stripped bare of all pretense until he has nothing left but this supplication, this begging to be heard: Kim Dokja, let me love you. Let me care for you. Let me give you all I have, for just this one night. I would give anything, if you would just let me love.

 

They’re both close, now, moving at fever-pace. Kim Dokja comes between them with a cry, and even though Jonghyuk cannot see him in the dark of the room, he can only think how privileged he is to be here with him . And feeling Kim Dokja’s neck in the curve of his palm, the heated pulse, imagining how he must have looked when he came -- head thrown back, eyelashes fluttering, lips parted and calling his name -- and it brings him over the edge.

 

“Dokja, ” he breathes, just this one name, this call, this plea, and he comes as well.

 

When he pulls out he sinks down onto the bed with a sigh. Kim Dokja collapses boneless in his arms, and Jonghyuk pulls him close and tugs the blanket covers over them. He closes his eyes. He lets himself imagine, then: that this is real. That he has Kim Dokja to himself, wholly and completely; one night of having the warmth of someone next to him and pretending that they love him back, that he can have someone who won't disappear under his hands; one night to pretend that the ache he feels when he looks at Kim Dokja is the same thing Kim Dokja feels in return. One night to pretend that Kim Dokja knows how much he loves him, and that Kim Dokja would be able to accept his love.

 

For this one night, he lets himself want, and he holds Kim Dokja close, and lets himself fall asleep to this most wonderful dream.

 

--

 

Kim Dokja is missing when morning comes. It aches, but it doesn’t come as a surprise to him. Kim Dokja has never done well with affection.

 

He opens the window curtains. He gets dressed and straightens the bed covers. He is just pulling his coat on when he hears the door open. Kim Dokja steps into the room, and unlike yesterday night, he is glowing with health. His footsteps are perfectly steady when he walks forward and into Jonghyuk’s space, the way he always does.

 

“Yoo Jonghyuk,” he greets with a smile, tilting his head back to look at Jonghyuk’s eyes. This, too, is no different than usual. But perhaps it is the bedroom, or the events of last night, but something electric passes in between them when their gazes meet.

 

Kim Dokja pauses, like he’s forgotten what he wants to say. The moment stretches out, the two of them within arm’s reach, and an endless potential hanging between them: something vast and terrifying and insurmountable, and yet a single step would bring them close. For a moment Jonghyuk is tempted, so tempted to step forward, but--

 

--if he did, would it be too much for Kim Dokja to accept?

 

He doesn’t step forward, but he doesn’t step away. He only says, “You are cured, then?”

 

The moment passes like a spell broken. Kim Dokja blinks as if waking from a dream. “Yes, it’s all taken care of,” he says. A pause. “Thanks to you.”

 

He waits. Jonghyuk does not say it was nothing, because it was not nothing. He does not say you’re welcome or no problem, because it was not a favor. He says nothing, because he cannot say what it was.

 

Kim Dokja clears his throat and looks away. He reaches out and takes Jonghyuk’s hand. Jonghyuk looks down in surprise, feels the heat where their skin touches.

 

“I got this for you,” Kim Dokja says. “I’ve been meaning to pass it along for a while now, but -- now seems as good a time as any.”

 

He pulls away, and Jonghyuk opens up his hand to see a small black wristband.

 

“What does it do?” he says.

 

“You’ll see in a bit,” Kim Dokja says. “Don’t throw it away, though. I worked hard to get that item.” He smiles at him, and Jonghyuk feels it again, that endless potential between them -- a hint of something more.

 

His fingers curl around the wristband, and he nods.

 

Satisfied, Kim Dokja tells him that he and his party will be taking care of a few things before the next scenario, and then he leaves. Before he goes, he also tells him the location of another hidden piece. It is uncharacteristic of him to part with information or items so easily, but he seems… happy. Giddy, almost. He reaches out and holds Jonghyuk’s hand one more time, for just a moment, flashing a bright and secretive smile before he disappears out the door.

 

Jonghyuk looks at the wristband. Sage’s Eyes don’t tell him much. But he trusts Kim Dokja, and he puts it on and gets ready to leave.

 

The candles on the bed stand catch his eye and he hesitates, struck for some reason by the inane desire to keep a memento of this night. Something to remember, to treasure… something that will distract him.

 

He lingers. He looks.

 

The wristband is warm on his skin. The sunlight spills through the window, a glowing promise that lights up the pillows on the bed. He remembers the warmth of Kim Dokja’s body beneath him, and Kim Dokja’s hand in his.

 

He leaves the candles behind.