This mansion has a special sort of grandiose to it that Kim Dokja has never seen in person before. Ever since he’s moved in to live with his godparents, he isn’t afraid to admit that he’s gotten used to a certain level of opulence, but this is on an entirely different level.
Essentially, he thinks wryly to himself, craning his neck up in an attempt to see how far it stretches towards the sky, the people here are swimming in Olympic size pools of cash.
The taxi has already left. His two bags of luggage are next to him, each at least half his size, and Kim Dokja eyes the steel gates warily. He had asked the cab driver to drop him off inside the compound, but the man laughed, waved his hand, and dumped Kim Dokja outside. He had also charged Kim Dokja extra for driving all the way out here.
Well, it’s not his fault that gigantic mansions glittering in the sunlight are usually located far away from the rest of civilization! Just a brief glance through the gates and he can tell that the compound is terribly large- a garden separates the front doors from the gates, and seeing as that garden has two fountains inside it… Kim Dokja sighs, looking at the doorbell hanging innocuously on the wall.
He rings it desolately, and resigns himself to carrying two heavy luggage bags through the mess of a garden and up the stairs towards the doors. From what he can see, the maintenance isn’t all there. Yes, the bushes are trimmed, the flowers are sort of blooming, but it could definitely be improved on. His godmother would hunt down the gardener in charge of the place and make him suffer.
Kim Dokja is much more generous, so he will just find the gardener and gently coax him to take more pride in his work, or Kim Dokja will show him how to do it.
A scratchy voice comes to life on the intercom. “Who is it?” It’s a grumpy voice. It sounds like it wants absolutely nothing to do with Kim Dokja and his two massive luggage bags.
“I’m here for the- uh-” Kim Dokja trails off, swallowing around the lump in his throat. Yeah, he probably shouldn’t have snuck away to come here early. But his mother was stuck with a huge political mess thanks to Han Myungoh, her soon to be fired Finance Minister, and his godparents were off on holiday. If he didn’t take the first flight out of the country, he would have gone insane.
He’s good at taking notes and planning things, but even he doesn’t want to stick his head into whatever terrible things his mother is sorting through. Kim Dokja will run away from home to preemptively visit his betrothed, thank you very much.
But the meeting between him and his royal fiancé is supposed to happen two weeks later, and Kim Dokja has no good excuse to pull out of his ass to explain his sudden appearance.
The voice crackles over the intercom. “Oh, is that today? Okay, hold on, we’ll get the gates open. Come in through the front door right in front, will you?”
“I- huh?” Kim Dokja says in response, bewildered. Today? They knew he was coming? No way. He definitely left before Yoo Sangah could catch him by the collar and making him stay in the house. “Okay?”
The intercom switches off with a messy, static noise, and the gates swing open soundlessly. At least the gates are oiled properly, Kim Dokja thinks idly, pushing both luggage bags in front of him. They move jerkily, the wheels more than a little broken- Kim Dokja hasn’t traveled in years, and these bags are probably as old as he is.
He was in a rush to leave, so he didn’t exactly search for brand new bags. The clothes inside are nothing befitting a prince either. If Yoo Sangah were here to see him now, he has no qualms about having his head torn off his body to be thrown into the nearest hole.
Still, there’s no reason for Yoo Jonghyuk and his servants to know that Kim Dokja is arriving today. Maybe there were security cameras at the entrance that he didn’t notice. Very likely, because Kim Dokja was distracted by the garden.
As he passes by, trying to corral the luggage bags in order, he clicks his tongue at the way the flowers are dull and drooping. Winter might be coming, but these flowers were the kinds that specifically bloomed during the snowy term. They should be flourishing right now! His godmother would be frothing at the mouth at the sight of this, he thinks fondly.
It takes him quite a while to reach the entrance. He does think it’s a little strange that no one came to get his bags for him, but he did come out of nowhere. Everyone might be having a last-minute meeting to settle his accommodations and such. He was probably causing a lot of trouble for them.
A frown pulls at his lips. “Ahh,” Kim Dokja murmurs unhappily under his breath, lifting his luggage one at a time up the many steps leading up to the doors. “Maybe I should have called ahead. This is probably very rude of me, isn’t it? Now I feel bad.”
Then he thinks about his mother’s thunderous face while looking at Han Myungoh, and instantly feels a lot better.
By the time he’s managed to lift both luggage bags onto the highest step, he’s sure it’s been at least fifteen minutes. Kim Dokja is mildly sweating even in the days before winter, the cold wind doing nothing to help temper the drops of sweat slipping down his neck and pooling in his collarbones. He has a newfound respect for footmen and butlers all over the world.
The knocker is gold plated. There’s a dangerous dragon snarling at him, a golden ring hanging from its lower jaw. It glints in the sun and Kim Dokja squints at it. He privately decides the tiger head knocker on his own set of front doors is much nicer.
He wipes the back of his hand against his forehead. Kim Dokja takes his phone out and checks his reflection against the black screen- he straightens his collar and tries to smooth out the creases in his pants. His luggage bags are hot pink and green, so there’s nothing he can do to salvage that part of the impression.
Kim Dokja raises the knocker and raps against the wooden door sharply. He hangs around for a while, waiting for someone to answer the door. It’s ample time for him to run a keen eye over the state of the garden and identify which parts need the most help.
The door opens, and an incredibly muscular man opens the door. He’s dressed casually, a loose white button-down tucked into black slacks, and his feet are bare. His eyes are dark, and he looks Kim Dokja up and down for a long moment.
It feels like he’s being measured against some unknown guidelines and he’s found extremely lacking in all areas. Kim Dokja blinks at the stern glare directed at him, and swallows tightly. The lump in his throat is getting thicker.
He knows this man standing before him. Yoo Jonghyuk, Duke of Seoul, first son of the late Third Concubine of the Heavenly King, Conqueror of the Western Lands.
Yoo Jonghyuk, Kim Dokja’s betrothed.
Kim Dokja opens his mouth. He should probably say something. Introduce himself and ask for forgiveness for his rudeness in arriving so abruptly. Yoo Jonghyuk doesn’t look mad, but he looks mildly irritated. That’s not a good expression for his future husband to have on his face, even if it does make him look incredibly hot.
“You,” Yoo Jonghyuk says first, interrupting Kim Dokja’s train of thought. “You’re the new live-in caretaker, aren’t you?”
What? Kim Dokja closes his mouth immediately, blinking slowly. Live-in caretaker? He remembers having read about Yoo Jonghyuk taking in his late cousin’s daughter, but Yoo Jonghyuk had been searching for a caretaker?
“Well?” Yoo Jonghyuk asks demandingly, and Kim Dokja’s brain short circuits.
“Yeah,” he replies hurriedly, eyes wide as his mind screams at his mouth. “That’s- that’s me. Kim Dokja.”
He despairs at giving out his name so quickly like that. Now Yoo Jonghyuk will know his true identity. Kim Dokja didn’t even get the chance to leave any good impressions on his fiancé during their first meeting before he’s been outed as a liar.
“Huh,” Yoo Jonghyuk says strangely, raising both eyebrows. “Must be a common name.”
Common name? Common name?! Kim Dokja is the only Kim Dokja he’s ever heard of in all twenty-three years of his life!
Yoo Jonghyuk pushes the door open wider, and casts a look at the two extremely colorful luggage bags next to Kim Dokja. His lips curve upwards slightly, showing a bit of his teeth, and Kim Dokja double takes.
“Hurry up and enter,” Yoo Jonghyuk says, the faintest smile on his face, and Kim Dokja feels his heart skip a beat. “I’ll introduce her to you, then my butler will show you around later.”
“Okay.” Kim Dokja feels dizzy, like he’s trapped in a dream. What exactly is happening? He’s suddenly not a fiancé, but a nanny instead? This career change is something he never thought would happen to him, but Kim Dokja doesn’t mind children. He doesn’t particularly like them either, but he entertains Lee Gilyoung just fine. Yoo Jonghyuk’s ward can’t be much different, can she?
He steps in, dragging his two luggage bags behind him, and considers if he should switch his phone back on to call Yoo Sangah for advice.
The door closes with a loud bang, sending shivers down Kim Dokja’s spine. His finger twitches on the handles of his bags, and he quietly wheels them towards the main hall.
If he winces under his breath every time they make a dubious creaking noise, Yoo Jonghyuk is surprisingly polite enough to not say a thing.
“Wait here,” Yoo Jonghyuk tells him, and turns to leave for somewhere. Then he pauses, turning back with an awkward expression on his face, and continues. “I’ll go and call her down.”
It’s like watching a barbarian learn manners. Kim Dokja nods his head furiously, hiding a brief smile at the way Yoo Jonghyuk stumbles over being polite, and watches as the man goes up the huge set of winding stairs set in the center of the hall.
His shoes were left at the entrance, and the carpeted floor feels heavenly against his bare feet.
Kim Dokja tries to sit on top of one of his bags. His legs are tired from dragging the luggage bags all the way from the airport to the cab, then into the cab, then out of the cab because the driver really didn’t know – or didn’t care – who he was, and then all the way up to the main hall now.
It’s really quite a beautiful home. Less homely than the one he left behind in his country, but Kim Dokja thinks he can get used to this. There are flowers prettily arranged in vases situated on carefully crafted oak tables and everything is polished to a glittering shine. It just doesn’t really look lived in. Like Kim Dokja’s staring at a show flat, but mansion size.
He reaches for his phone again. Kim Dokja had switched it off on purpose, not wanting to be tracked by Yoo Sangah or any of his other guards, but the situation at hand calls for some much-needed advice.
There is a very high chance that if he calls now, it will just be Yoo Sangah passive-aggressively mocking him, before passing the phone to his mother. Yoo Sangah learnt the art of subtle harassment from the knee of his mother the same way he did. If his mother gets a hold of him, Kim Dokja is afraid for his eardrums and his heart.
But Yoo Jonghyuk thinks he’s a… what’s the word he used? A caretaker. A live-in one, at that. Seriously, is he allowed to invite random people to live in his house just moments before his fiancé arrives? That sounds like a scandal waiting to be exploited by the media.
Kim Dokja thinks he’s a) way overqualified to be a live-in caretaker, b) too good looking to be one. Not to toot his own horn, but Kim Dokja knows he’s sort of attractive. Probably not as drop dead gorgeous as Yoo Jonghyuk, the most elite ex-bachelor of Seoul, but no one looks good when they’re standing next to a specimen like that!
If he wasn’t going to be a prince and get married off for diplomacy, he would probably have been a model. Or a streamer. He’s heard that those things were catching on nowadays. Then again, with his skill at accounts, he might really have just gone into a safe nine to five job working in a small cubicle. But he would still model part-time, at least.
Were all caretakers this good looking? Or was Yoo Jonghyuk so detached from the concept of aesthetic appeal because he looked in the mirror every morning and saw the peak male form?
“You’re lucky you’re good looking,” Kim Dokja mutters to the blank surface of his phone, finger hovering over the power button. “You’re so lucky I think your hotness makes up for your lack of intelligence.”
He immediately looks around warily, seeing if anyone caught him saying that. It was a joke, of course- political marriages were a dime a dozen these days, and Kim Dokja honestly wasn’t opposed to marrying Yoo Jonghyuk. As he said, the man really was hot, and even if he was a better fighter than ruler, Kim Dokja could tell he was trying his best to do justice to the people he ruled over in his extravagantly large plot of land.
Ah, this is really a troublesome situation. How is Kim Dokja supposed to confront Yoo Jonghyuk now and tell him he’s the stupid fiancé who turned up too early because he didn’t want to watch his mother rip into some guy who thought being a Minister meant he could bully the people?
Kim Dokja pinches the bridge of his nose, clicking his tongue in irritation. He’s already missed his chance to clear things up- every second he doesn’t say anything is another meter of the grave he’s digging for himself.
Then he stops thinking. Kim Dokja blinks, running a hand down his shirt to smoothen out the creases, and bites the inside of his cheek. Maybe he can just… not tell Yoo Jonghyuk who he really is? If everyone in this mansion is as poorly read as Yoo Jonghyuk is, then no one would know the difference! No one would know Kim Dokja’s real identity, and he can just quietly observe Yoo Jonghyuk to see what kind of man his future husband will be.
His godparents did tell him, after all. That if he didn’t like Yoo Jonghyuk, all he had to do was call them and they would settle everything else. His mother said Kim Dokja should be strong enough to whip Yoo Jonghyuk into whatever sort of shape he wanted him to be, but at least his godparents offered a contingency plan.
He pockets his phone again. No point calling them and letting them scold him. Kim Dokja knows for a fact that they have trackers on his clothes- And inside, probably, he thinks dubiously, shuddering at the thought. They definitely know where he is.
Yoo Sangah might be running interference. She’s a good friend who will definitely tear Kim Dokja apart the second she sees him in person, but she’ll let him run away for like, a week, before taking the entire army to drag him back herself.
Kim Dokja sighs happily at the thought of her. How cute, wanting to permanently tie him up and throw him in the dungeons so he can never run away on the basis of not wanting trouble to find him. He really appreciates all the effort she puts into helping him.
There’s a startled noise of surprise behind him, and Kim Dokja turns around. He stumbles in his attempt to stand up, the luggage bag sliding away from beneath his ass, and he takes three quick steps to avoid faceplanting into the carpeted floor.
“I’m okay,” he says hurriedly, both arms pinwheeling rapidly in the air to maintain his balance. Kim Dokja coughs, straightening, and tries to comb his hair into something more presentable. Maybe it’s best they think he’s a caretaker. This would be the absolute worst first impression on anyone if they thought he was a prince.
The man stares at him with a concerned look. He’s dressed in a nice black formal suit with coattails, so this is probably the rumored butler. Did he just wander around the house and accidentally come across Kim Dokja? What sort of household is Yoo Jonghyuk even running?
Unsightly garden, extraordinarily free butlers, carpeted floors- it’s giving Kim Dokja whiplash. He comes expecting quite a bit, and then his expectations are raised and lowered with every new thing he begins to understand about this house.
“Are you the butler?” He asks, trying to start conversation. The man is still looking at him with wide eyes, running his gaze quickly over him. Probably to check for any injuries, Kim Dokja thinks with great embarrassment. His fall and subsequent revival was quite the show.
“I am.” The butler straightens, his back going ramrod straight right before he sweeps into a bow. “Lee Hyunsung, sir. At your service.”
“Ah, I’m-” Kim Dokja pauses. He can’t use a fake name now, can he? He’s already outed himself to Yoo Jonghyuk, it’s just that damned man didn’t realize a thing! “I’m the live-in caretaker.”
His mouth moves before his brain catches up, and he snaps his jaws shut immediately after. What did he just say?! Now he’s perpetuating the idea that he really is the thrice-damned nanny!
Kim Dokja is not a nanny. He is an incredibly respectable prince who deserves to be treated as such, but he did think pretending to be the caregiver for now was a good idea, didn’t he? This is instant karma, he thinks bitterly.
Lee Hyunsung’s eyebrows furrow, and his stiff expression falters. “I thought you were the…” He trails off, tilting his head as he stares at Kim Dokja in consternation. Then he inhales a deep breath and gathers himself. “I must have made a mistake. You look terribly similar to a guest that’s scheduled to arrive a few weeks later, sir. Could I have your name?”
Looks terribly similar to a future guest? Kim Dokja is sweating on all planes of existence except physical. He needs to maintain a calm look to pull this off. He pastes a smile on his face and tries to look as un-princely as possible.
“I’m Kim Dokja,” he says, and Lee Hyunsung’s face twitches. The butler looks like he’s going through cardiac arrest and suffering from hypoglycemia all at once. Kim Dokja feels an immense sense of commiseration with this man, but he can’t falter now. The gig must not go up in flames.
The butler opens his mouth like he wants to say something terrible, and then thinks better of it and closes his mouth. Kim Dokja waits in trepidation. There must be some sort of pleading expression leaking through his face, because Lee Hyunsung stares very intently at him and adopts a pinched look.
“I… see,” Lee Hyunsung says finally. “The Young Master should be fetching the Young Miss right now. I will… show you to your accommodations once he has introduced the two of you. Please forgive us if they aren’t exactly… to your liking.”
He speaks as if he’s trying to calm a wild animal. His sentences come in bursts and spurts, and Kim Dokja is just a simple man who’s relieved that Lee Hyunsung is apparently going to join him on this con.
Kim Dokja’s thoughts abruptly verge down a different path. Are Yoo Jonghyuk’s butlers so easily bought? Just one sad look on Kim Dokja’s arguably rather handsome face and they melt to his whim? Does Kim Dokja really look that pitiable?
“It’ll be fine,” he says brightly. “I’m fine with anything, really. Don’t, uh, trouble yourselves on my accord. I’m the one troubling you.”
Lee Hyunsung looks extremely pained, and Kim Dokja really is very, very sorry.
Footsteps echo behind them. “Lee Hyunsung,” Yoo Jonghyuk murmurs in that low voice of his, and Kim Dokja’s heart despairs. He takes a few deep, calming breaths, and turns around to face the lord of the house.
There is a tiny child standing behind him, clinging to his slacks. She can’t be over nine years old, and she reaches up to Yoo Jonghyuk’s waist. She’s even smaller than Lee Gilyoung, just barely. It might be because so much of her body is hidden behind Yoo Jonghyuk, though, and that throws off Kim Dokja’s spatial awareness.
“Young Master,” Lee Hyunsung greets, nodding in a friendly manner. “Young Miss.”
They both proceed to stare at Kim Dokja. Is he- is he supposed to greet Shin Yoosung by himself? Isn’t Yoo Jonghyuk supposed to introduce them? He distinctly remembers being introduced to pretty much everyone in his life – except for the knights in the army, because Kim Dokja had been the one who went to search trouble out – so shouldn’t Yoo Jonghyuk say something?!
The silence is painful. Kim Dokja stamps three demerit points against Yoo Jonghyuk’s name on a piece of paper in his mind, and squats down to be at eye level with the girl. He tries to look around Yoo Jonghyuk’s legs, attempting to make eye contact, and Shin Yoosung shyly looks at him.
Her eyes widen. She glances up at Yoo Jonghyuk’s tall frame immediately, before shooting back to stare at Kim Dokja, and he knows. He knows she knows.
“I’m your new caretaker!” He bursts out wildly, throwing in jazz hands to distract her from ratting him out to Yoo Jonghyuk. “It’ll be a pleasure to get to know you better, Shin Yoosung. I mean, uh, Young Miss!”
She blinks at him, once, twice, and presses the back of her hand to her mouth. Her shoulders start to shake, and Kim Dokja’s heart speeds up. Is Shin Yoosung crying? Already? At the sight of him or after hearing his horrible self-introduction? Lee Gilyoung never cried!
Shin Yoosung looks up at Yoo Jonghyuk’s stoic face, and reveals the huge smile pulling at her lips. “I like him,” she says quietly, and her eyes twinkle when they return to look at Kim Dokja. “You said his name was Kim Dokja, right?”
“He’ll be in charge of your lessons, yes,” Yoo Jonghyuk replies, and a hand comes down to rest on her head, gently mussing her hair. “He passes?”
Kim Dokja knew there was a secret test he wasn’t aware of. Shin Yoosung looks at him again, eyes glittering with their shared secret, and nods. “I like him, Ahjussi.”
“Good.” Yoo Jonghyuk levels a heavy look at Kim Dokja, before turning away dismissively. “Lee Hyunsung, show him to his rooms and inform him of his duties.”
Lee Hyunsung gathers himself together and offers a slight bow. “Of course, Young Master. Kim Dokja-ssi, right this way, please.”
There is nothing to do but straighten, smile at Shin Yoosung, and settle for pushing his luggage bags to wherever Lee Hyunsung is taking him.
Shin Yoosung will grow up to be a formidable woman. Kim Dokja knows this very keenly, because he’s feeling the same sort of abject terror that Yoo Sangah can induce in him while sitting in front of Shin Yoosung and the girl is only ten years old. He’s the one shifting guiltily in his seat and avoiding eye contact while the ten-year-old stares him down.
“It’s not your fault Ahjussi doesn’t go online very often,” she says abruptly. “He doesn’t even read the news that much. Don’t be sad that he doesn’t recognize you.”
“I’m not sad,” Kim Dokja replies instantly, his voice defensive. He can’t get this mixed up by a little girl – he needs to make a stand for himself and assert that he came here to quietly observe his future husband. That’s a much better game plan than the actual truth. “I came here early to figure out if I even wanted to marry your cousin!”
She blinks, eyes widening slightly. “Huh?” Shin Yoosung says faintly, her pupils trembling. “You… don’t want to marry him?”
They’re in her room. Shin Yoosung is on her bed, fingers clutching at the sheets, while Kim Dokja is sitting at the desk, a short distance away from her. Shin Yoosung looks down at her bedsheets, her fingers digging harder into the creases, and Kim Dokja can see the way she tenses up.
“I mean, it’s not like I don’t want to marry him,” he adds on hurriedly, trying to backtrack. Was he always this bad with kids? Shin Yoosung is throwing him off his game. He’s never this uncomfortable with Lee Gilyoung, but then again, he’s never kept a secret with Lee Gilyoung from someone with the same status as his mother.
Kim Dokja knows for a fact that Lee Gilyoung would try to stay strong and keep the secret safe, but he also knows that Lee Gilyoung can, and will be bought by the strangest of things, like rare insects. All his mother has to do is pretend she’s considering – just considering, not even properly agreeing to buying – purchasing another rare insect for Lee Gilyoung to look after, and the boy will tell her everything.
Shin Yoosung, at least, seems a bit more trustworthy. Or maybe a bit cleverer. Better at keeping her mouth shut just to pull the wool over Yoo Jonghyuk’s eyes, at any rate.
“I just…” Kim Dokja flounders around for the right words, looking towards the ceiling for a sign from the Heavens. What is he supposed to say? Admit that he was running from his mother? He would rather go to Yoo Jonghyuk and confess right now. “I just want to know if he’s a good guy. Wouldn’t you want to know if your future husband is going to be a nice person?”
“Ahjussi said I could marry whoever I wanted in the future,” Shin Yoosung replies quietly, reaching to pull her bolster over her lap. She looks like she’s ready to wield it against Kim Dokja if he says another word that can be construed as an insult against Yoo Jonghyuk. He eyes it warily, and leans back in his chair.
“He said that? How nice.” It’s something of an empty promise at this age, because he distinctly remembers everyone telling him he could marry absolutely anyone in the world when he grew up, but here he is now.
But it’s not good to make children worry for their future. As they grow older and mature, they might understand the reason for arranged marriages. That they help maintain diplomatic relationships and aid in strengthening trade or even war efforts.
It’s a gilded cage. A brilliant, dazzling, gorgeous cage, but a cage nonetheless. The duty of a royal never ends until death, after all.
Well, he’s not going to be the one to burst her bubble. Kim Dokja sincerely hopes that Shin Yoosung will be able to grow up and marry whoever she wants – he wouldn’t wish the pressure of an arranged marriage on anyone at all. It makes the mind buckle under the stress and lands individuals in disastrous situations such as this one.
Shin Yoosung levels a careful look at him, and furrows her brows. “If you came to observe Ahjussi, you shouldn’t have known that today was the day the caretaker was supposed to arrive.” She thinks it over for a while more, before perking up, her eyes brightening as she stares at him with all the accusatory power of a lawyer. “You’re lying, aren’t you?”
Gee, Kim Dokja thinks weakly, resisting the urge to laugh at how Shin Yoosung managed to see through what Yoo Jonghyuk could not, what gave it away? My abysmal lying skills? “I managed to fool Yoo Jonghyuk,” he reminds her tartly, and she shakes her head.
“Ahjussi doesn’t count. He’s bad at remembering people and he doesn’t read the news.”
Kim Dokja stares at her, mouth slightly open in shock, and huffs out a laugh. Yoo Jonghyuk doesn’t remember faces and doesn’t read the news? Those were the first two skills he learnt when he became old enough to properly learn anything. He mastered the skill of skimming through pages and pages of boring news just so he could hold a conversation with representatives of different countries.
He shakes his head. The rumors might just turn out to be true. Yoo Jonghyuk is just good for brute fighting and making battle plans. “You’re making your cousin sound like a terrible royal. I’m really second thinking my decision to marry him, okay?”
“What?” She sits straighter, twisting her lips together. “No! I’ll tell Ahjussi to read more news. Don’t judge him just because of that!”
Shin Yoosung makes a face at his disbelieving expression, and tosses her hair over her shoulder. “Ahjussi just likes moving around. He’s a kinesthetic learner, not someone who can just sit down like you and memorize books and books of information!” Kim Dokja raises both eyebrows at the pointed insult, and the girl slams her palms over her mouth, wincing loudly.
It appears Shin Yoosung has never had a formal teacher. Unless she was taught by the same person who taught Yoo Jonghyuk – but in any case, that teacher should be fired. Stripped of their position and thrown to the gallows – better yet, throw them to the dogs and Kim Dokja can watch on dispassionately as the animals cleanse the world of yet another piece of useless trash.
“Okay,” he says simply, and resists the urge to put his head in his hands. “I guess it’s a good thing I’m your future caretaker-slash-governor. Did you know he was supposed to arrive at noon? I arrived at four-thirty in the afternoon!”
Kim Dokja pauses, sorting through the thoughts in his head, and bursts out again. “And that Yoo Jonghyuk is really something else! He came to open the door all by himself when that should have been something Lee Hyunsung did, and he left a guest unattended in the main hall, the nerve of him-!”
Shin Yoosung watches him rant with surprise. The corners of her lips pull up, like she finds this particularly hilarious, and Kim Dokja wants to impress it upon her that is not in any way funny at all. This is sad. He really wouldn’t be surprised if Yoo Jonghyuk was raised by barbarians.
“You could teach me,” she says suddenly, eagerly, interrupting the barrage of words leaving his lips. “Teach me how to act nice and proper, and you can teach Ahjussi as well! Our butler is quite new as well, because he came just two days after I did. Everyone here is new except for… the chefs? Maybe?”
“Everyone is new?” Kim Dokja echoes, his voice trembling. And he was supposed to marry into this sort of atrocity? God, if Kim Dokja had really arrived two weeks later with Yoo Sangah behind him, she would have torn this entire house apart and brought him home within two hours. Yoo Jonghyuk would have unintentionally ruined relations between their countries for the next generation.
He has to fix this. Forget just being a live-in caretaker, Kim Dokja is officially promoting himself to be the new lord of the house. It clearly needs a sterner hand to run it. The servants are doing a valiant job of keeping it clean, at the very least, but there is so much more to be done. And the garden, oh gods, the garden.
“Just for curiosity’s sake,” he says, trying very hard not to think about how curiosity killed the cat, and how he’s fairly certain there isn’t going to be satisfaction at the end of this to bring him back, “what exactly does Yoo Jonghyuk do in a day?”
Shin Yoosung leans back against the mass of pillows stacked up at the head of her bed. She puts a finger to her mouth, biting at the nail, and Kim Dokja has to grip the edge of the desk to stop himself from going over to pull her finger away. He distantly hears a faint cracking noise, and empathetically does not look down at where he is digging his fingers into the wood.
“Ahjussi wakes up really early to go and run,” she starts slowly. “Then we eat breakfast together, and he spends some time in his office. I think he goes through the huge stacks of paperwork inside with the help of the butler. After that, he trains the knights until lunch time. We eat together again, talk a bit, and then Ahjussi goes back to training the knights.”
“Isn’t he retired?” Kim Dokja asks in an affronted voice. “He’s still training the knights of the kingdom?”
Shin Yoosung shrugs. Kim Dokja instantly reevaluates his common sense – why did he think asking her would yield any sort of answers? Argh, he can find it out for himself. All he has to do is Google it online, but he already has his suspicions.
Yoo Jonghyuk is too valuable a battle entity to be released to retirement at his young age. It’s easy to see why the Heavenly King wants Yoo Jonghyuk to still be involved in training the future batches of knights even though they’re in peacetime.
“Continue, please,” he says, wearily, and Shin Yoosung barrels on with the enthusiasm of an ignorant child.
“Well, so he trains until evening and it’s dinner. We eat together and then he brings me into his office and I sit inside reading while he does his work until it’s time for me to sleep. Then he brings me to my room and I fall asleep. That’s it!”
That’s a very cute schedule, Kim Dokja thinks. Depression feels like it’s settling in way too quickly into his bones. A very cute schedule for someone who’s a Commander of Knights, not someone who’s a Duke.
“Okay,” he says out loud, mostly to himself in an attempt to calm his heartbeat that’s jumping all over the place. “It looks like there is a lot I have to teach you. And Yoo Jonghyuk.” Kim Dokja finally gives in – he hunches over, putting his head in his hands, and takes a few deep breaths.
“Ahjussi?” Shin Yoosung sounds a little worried.
“I’m fine.” Not fine at all! “Just- catching my breath and gathering my thoughts! Yoo Jonghyuk asked me to talk to you to get an idea of where your level of education was and how to start teaching you, and I think we need a very detailed lesson plan, don’t we?”
He lifts his head, and smiles at Shin Yoosung with his eyes closed. “Just out of curiosity, can you waltz and eat fine dining?”
The ten-year-old makes a face, and Kim Dokja puts his head back in his hands.
He has his work cut out for him. Kim Dokja sleeps through one fitful night, tossing and turning in his sheets as he pretends he’s living it up in a five star hotel with no worry over kicking an entire estate and its occupants into shape.
The first thing to do is call Yoo Sangah. He can’t put it off any longer, not when he’s decided that he really is going to step up and force the household to wake up. He needs advice. He needs something better than Google, and that is none other than Yoo Sangah.
At four in the morning, Kim Dokja warily sits on the edge of his bed and presses the power button. His phone flickers to life, the screen lighting up, and he sets it down on the end of the bed while he scoots towards the head.
There is a chance that Yoo Sangah is still asleep. There is also a chance that she has people on rotation to keep track of his phone and see when it comes back onto the network. Kim Dokja watches behind his shield of pillows as the white glow fades away, and his lock screen pops up.
He watches a bit more, waiting for the influx of messages to start rolling in, and making his eardrums shatter from the noise, but the phone only beeps once.
Kim Dokja peeks over the pillow at the suspiciously silent phone. The bright screen stares back at him, a single pop up bubble below the large unblinking numbers of 04:17, and he gingerly reaches out for it.
‘Call Me.’ That’s it. That’s the whole message. It isn’t even from Yoo Sangah, yelling at him to get his things together and come home. It’s from his mother.
His heart drops to somewhere in his gut, roiling about in a tumultuous ocean, and Kim Dokja slowly unlocks his phone to go to his contacts list. He can call Yoo Sangah now, but the person who asked him to call in such an ominous voice heard even over text message was his mother.
He lets his finger hover over his mother’s contact. All of a sudden, he feels the urge to turn around and call Lee Gilyoung instead. Just blow up the boy’s phone until he picks up, and then barrage him with questions to kind of estimate what level of nuclear rage his mother and Yoo Sangah are at.
“Okay, let’s just- okay. Just do it,” he murmurs to himself. He can’t stew in his uncertainty at four in the morning. It’s simple courtesy to call his mother and tell her he’s safe and sound in Yoo Jonghyuk’s estate.
His thumb trembles as he calls his mother. Kim Dokja puts the phone to his ear, biting the inside of his cheek as he listens to the dial tone, and it clicks through almost immediately.
He holds his breath. There’s utter silence on the other end of the line, broken by the sounds of deep, slow breathing, and Kim Dokja swallows tightly. Suddenly, he regrets running away to Yoo Jonghyuk’s estate without so much as a by-your-leave. It isn’t polite – most of all, it’s just not something family should do to each other, he thinks.
“Mom,” Kim Dokja says quietly. His mother’s breathing doesn’t change, still as steady as ever, but now there are muffled rustling sounds on the other end. Like she’s reaching for the clock on her bedside table to figure out what time it is, and why her idiotic wayward son is calling at this sort of unholy hour.
The silence is damning. It hangs in the still night air, punctuated by the clockwork breathing of either party. He’s never heard his mother this quiet before.
Then his mother sighs. “Dokja-yah,” she says into the phone, her voice heavy with sleep. Kim Dokja feels bad for waking her up at this hour, but if he put it off, he really might never have called her or Yoo Sangah. He might not have switched on his phone at all – Shin Yoosung has a phone that he can borrow to shoot off a quick acknowledgment text.
“Sorry.” He tries to put as much emotion as he possibly can into the word. Their family doesn’t do well with apologies; more often than not, it’s just them giving each other the silent treatment for a few hours post-argument and then pretending nothing happened during mealtimes. “Mom, I’m at Yoo Jonghyuk’s estate right now.”
“I know.” A tired, familiar laugh sounds over the phone, and it makes the edges of Kim Dokja’s lips curl up faintly. “Did you really think the only tracker we had on you was in your phone? Knowing you, you would lose your phone when you get off the flight.”
He makes a disgruntled noise. “Mom! Come on, I’m more responsible than that. And yes, I knew you all violated my right to privacy many, many times.” Kim Dokja leans back against the pillow, kicking the blankets back over him, and settles down for a long conversation. “Where is it? In my teeth? Movies always have it back there.”
“People only have trackers in their teeth if it’s a false tooth. How would I put a tracker inside enamel without you having a toothache for days?” His mother hums thoughtfully, and there are more rustling noises. She’s probably shifting to sit up as well, leaning against the back of the bed as she stares at the ceiling and talks to him over the phone.
What time is it over there? The time difference is only a few hours, so it might be around one in the morning. His mother must have just fallen asleep, entered her REM cycle, and then Kim Dokja rudely awoke her with his existential crisis.
“Well, where is it?”
“Above the inside of your left elbow,” she says wryly, and Kim Dokja immediately goes to prod that area suspiciously. It doesn’t feel hard, like there’s a piece of metal below. It doesn’t feel much like anything, but his mother doesn’t joke around like this.
Actually, it might be a punishment for running away like that. He huffs out a sigh, squeezing the skin there again. “Really? It doesn’t feel like there’s anything inside.”
“If you could tell that there were things inside then it wouldn’t be much use, would it?” His mother chuckles, and the sound makes something warm burst inside Kim Dokja’s gut. It feels mildly like indigestion. He’s not sure what to do with this feeling.
They talk about their kingdom for a moment, about Lee Gilyoung’s surprise at his departure, about Yoo Sangah’s breakdown as she packed her bags and a very large, very sharp sword and almost booked a plane ticket immediately after he left, and how his mother had to stop her with physical force.
“So, when are you coming home?” His mother asks suddenly. Kim Dokja’s entire body freezes, his breath stuttering in his throat, and he stares blankly at the end of the bed.
“Well,” he says, and his mother immediately sighs.
He can picture her shaking her head, judging him from over fifty kilometers away. “So, the next time I’ll be seeing you is two weeks later, at your wedding?”
“Well,” Kim Dokja says again, even slower this time, and the laugh that leaves her lips is pained. He winces, reaching up to scratch embarrassedly at the back of his neck even though she can’t see him. “Sorry.”
There’s another silence. It’s more comfortable this time, the two of them just breathing into the phone as they fiddle with their blankets. It’s a habit he learnt from his mother, apparently. Yoo Sangah always said they couldn’t sit still, no matter where they were.
“Tell me about him. How is Yoo Jonghyuk?” His mother says abruptly. “Is he your type?”
“Mom!” Kim Dokja cries out. It’s his turn to force a pained laugh from his throat. Yoo Sangah must have been the one to teach her that sort of slang. It’s so unnatural hearing it drop from the mouth of a woman almost twice as old as him. “No, I mean- he’s- he’s- he’s not very bright, I guess. He looks great, of course, because he’s uh, from the army, but his household is in shambles. There’s dust everywhere and the servants don’t know what to do. And I want to cry every time I walk by the garden.”
“He’s not very bright? What would make you, the paragon of politeness and diplomacy, say that about your soon-to-be husband?”
“He uh-” Kim Dokja stammers, his voice breaking in the middle. There’s no good way to say this. There is no easy way to break the news. All he can do is throw it at his mother and pray for the best. “He doesn’t actually know who I am. He thinks I’m the nanny he arranged for Shin Yoosung’s education and well-being.”
Kim Dokja thinks he can hear the sound of his mother’s rationality breaking over the phone.
“He what?” His mother asks, her voice dangerously soft. “Give me a moment. I will call Sangah and we will discuss what to do.”
“No! Mom, you don’t have to do anything,” he says quickly. “Look, his household is a mess and I want to uh, help spruce it up before you get here! I can do it by myself, but I mean- I’d like to have Sangah’s help with it, but you know. I can handle it. And Shin Yoosung reminds me of Gilyoung.”
“Are you satisfied with being thought of as a nanny?” She demands, and Kim Dokja winces. He can’t deny his ego was bruised. That his pride took a huge hit. That he spent a few hours in the mirror looking at his profile and tilting his face from side to side and wondering if he really was ugly, or something. Maybe it was a foreigner thing.
“Well,” he says for the third time, and the sigh his mother breathes into the phone is troubled.
“So this is what I want you to do: when Yoo Jonghyuk is off doing god knows what with the army he’s been tasked to train, you are going to gather all the servants in the main hall. Then you are going to-” Kim Dokja glances at Shin Yoosung, and swallows the words resting on the tip of his tongue. “-You will tell them what you think they could do better in your nicest tone.” He looks down at the sheets of paper in his hands.
Last night, after the call, he had randomly scribbled down all the thoughts that popped into his head, rearranged them to have some sort of legible order, and decided to make them his official lesson plan.
Shin Yoosung makes another face. “Can’t you do it? I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”
Kim Dokja levels a deadpan stare at her. She blinks at his expression, before sighing and hunching in on herself, pulling at the cloth of her skirts. Her gaze drops to the ground and she bites her lip.
“Lesson number one,” Kim Dokja says gently, and reaches out to unfurl her fingers from the tight grip they have on her skirt. His fingertips press lightly at the underside of her chin and tilt her face up. “Shin Yoosung, you are the Lady of the House. Hold your head up high no matter what happens.”
“I’m not Lady of the House. You’re higher ranked than me,” she points out, and he can hear her knees awkwardly knocking against each other as she shifts on the spot. “I should be- I should be respectful, shouldn’t I? That’s what I was told before I came here to live with Ahjussi.”
Yeah, alright, whoever taught Shin Yoosung anything was definitely trying to sabotage her. There is something called backing down in the face of authority, and there is something called a lack of self-pride.
“Look at Yoo Jonghyuk,” Kim Dokja says, and holds his laugh back. “Have you ever seen that man bow to authority? He looks like he wouldn’t even bow to the Heavenly Emperor.”
Shin Yoosung cracks a smile. She looks up shyly, letting go of her skirt and tries to pull her shoulders back slightly. “Ahjussi doesn’t bow to anyone. He’s been scolded many times for it.”
Ah yes, the man he is about to marry has been scolded by the Heavenly Emperor many times. This is fantastic information. Kim Dokja rolls his eyes so hard he almost blacks out, and raises both eyebrows at Shin Yoosung.
She must see something in his gaze, because she laughs lightly and nods. “Okay. I’ll try. What do you want me to say?”
“This is something we will decide together. You said Yoo Jonghyuk learns best through hands-on learning, right? I’ll teach you everything you need to know by using your estate as an example.”
“Is… is it that bad?” There’s worry in her voice, and Kim Dokja’s lips pull up at the sides at her concern. Shin Yoosung is a good girl, wanting to protect her cousin and help the estate. It was a pity that she had to be forced into the role like this without any sort of preamble, but she was far behind her peers in terms of progress.
Lee Gilyoung may be an irresponsible child who insists on tumbling in the mud with his pets and would always claim he’d rather die than wear those stuffy clothes to yet another event, but he could fake it almost as well as any other veteran royal.
That might be partially because he was adopted into Kim Dokja’s family. With his mother, Yoo Sangah and him as Lee Gilyoung’s role models… it’s no wonder that the boy can hold court with other diplomats at his age if he really tries, Kim Dokja thinks sheepishly.
“Well, it’s not that bad,” Kim Dokja says. “But that’s only because I’ve seen worse. It could be much, much better. Now come on, we’ll start by taking a tour of the estate, and you can tell me what you think is strange or lacking in the house.”
It’s the second day he’s been in this place. The butlers are still free as larks, there are slight dust marks on small surfaces like the lower frame of a painting or the mouth of a (fake) flower vase, and the- he sighs, shaking his head as he holds the door open for Shin Yoosung. He just can’t forget the sorry state of the garden.
They take a long walk around the house. There are four floors in total, each with around eight rooms, and they’re all in average condition. The windows don’t sparkle like they should, but they’re clean, which is much more than what Kim Dokja can say for Baron Cheon Inho’s estate.
Of the thirty-two rooms they check, there are five with creaky doors. Kim Dokja levels several blank expressions at Shin Yoosung as he opens and closes the door in front of her for her to clearly hear the way it squeaks, and she flushes more and more as the day goes by.
Wherever they wander, they see servants milling about. Shin Yoosung had said there were around thirty servants, which was about the right amount for an estate like this, but they were all new.
“By chance, do you dress by yourself?” Kim Dokja asks absentmindedly, inspecting the laundry basket as Lee Hyunsung hovers in confusion in the background. Shin Yoosung blinks in surprise, and tilts her head as she considers the question.
“... Am I not supposed to?” She asks in return, her question coming out slowly and hesitantly. “Ahjussi wears his clothes by himself too.”
“Is that why it’s always so crumpled?” Kim Dokja murmurs under his breath, and smiles briskly at Shin Yoosung. “I wouldn’t say it’s necessary to dress yourself. Your maids should be trained in the right way to help you get dressed to minimize wrinkles and folds. When you pull clothes over your head or try to put them over your shoulders, you might not know how to make the cloth flow in the right way.”
He pauses, and gestures at himself. “Of course, knowing how to dress yourself is important, but on key events or when you are visiting others, you should learn to rely on your maids. There are some styles that you just can’t wear properly by yourself, after all.”
Shin Yoosung eyes him carefully. “Your clothes are a bit crumpled!” She announces loudly, gleefully, and Kim Dokja gives her a blank look before turning to try and see where she was pointing at. It was a messy fold of his shirt where it was tucked into his pants.
It’s not like he could see that part very well, he thinks mulishly.
“Yes, well, I wasn’t dressed by my servants,” Kim Dokja says dryly, but Shin Yoosung is satisfied with her victory, so he decides to leave her be.
The kitchen has three chefs milling about, leaning against countertops and chatting. They straighten upon seeing Shin Yoosung, bowing slightly in greeting.
“Are they… supposed to be doing something?” Shin Yoosung whispers lowly to Kim Dokja. “You said they shouldn’t just be standing around, right?”
“They’re allowed breaks, as everyone is. The difference is that if their duties aren’t finished yet, there should be no reason for them to act like they have nothing to do. In this case, lunch was just over, and they have quite a few hours until dinner.” Kim Dokja glances over, a weak smile on his face as the chefs all stare at him with their eyebrows raised so high they’re hidden by their fringes. “So this is fine. Unless you’re a tyrant who wants them to be working all the time.”
It appears everyone in Yoo Jonghyuk’s estate reads the news marginally more than the Lord of the House does.
Shin Yoosung makes a disgruntled face. “What kind of person do you think I am?” She says, pouting, and Kim Dokja laughs, patting her shoulder gently.
“However, as for the people following behind us…” he trails off, nudging Shin Yoosung to peek behind them at the servants who had ended up following them, trying to see what they were doing. “You saw for yourself how dusty the rooms were, didn’t you? The laundry wasn’t done, no one was ironing anything - do you understand?”
She hums thoughtfully, leaning further around Kim Dokja’s body to peer at the servants who were gathered around the kitchen entrance. “I didn’t know there were so many things to be done,” she says in a small voice, and Kim Dokja squeezes her shoulder lightly.
Most lords and ladies aren’t aware either. This role usually falls to the Head Butler of the estate, someone who was raised to know how to take charge of this aspect of the house. It just so happened that Kim Dokja’s mother enjoyed making her son suffer, so she asked him to learn everything - every last thing - about running an estate, and he had fallen for it.
He tried to scam Lee Gilyoung into it, but the boy appears to have a higher IQ than him and Lee Gilyoung only knows the basics of how to take care of a household and nothing else. Kim Dokja can recite the brand names of the best detergents and bleach to use to scrub clothes and walls until they shone. Lee Gilyoung can only name one, and that one went out of date a few years ago.
Ah, Kim Dokja thinks for a moment, pride warring with satisfaction, Lee Gilyoung really is the best of him.
Shin Yoosung is over with the chefs, peering into a mixing bowl as one of the chefs explain to her about whatever they’re making, and a fond smile crawls onto Kim Dokja’s face.
She’s a good girl. A bit misguided because of the lack of skill on her previous tutor’s part, but Kim Dokja is confident he can turn her into someone that rivals Lee Gilyoung in every way possible. If Yoo Jonghyuk takes over her physical education, she might even be able to tackle Lee Gilyoung into the mud and make him eat dirt.
When he next sees Yoo Jonghyuk, Kim Dokja has entirely let go of his image. He’s dressed lazily in a grey button-down and black slacks, the pants hanging haphazardly off his waist because he couldn’t find his belt. His hair isn’t done properly, and his sleeves aren’t ironed out neatly to end at his wrists.
In fact, he’s missing a blazer and the sleeves are messily pushed up to his elbows. Kim Dokja’s just finished his second dancing lesson with Shin Yoosung, and the girl is resting up while reading about the history of the country. He was on his way to his room to grab a change of clothes, and then Yoo Jonghyuk rounded the corner and made Kim Dokja stop dumbly in his tracks.
Kim Dokja thought he looked sweaty after a lesson with Shin Yoosung. Dance lessons are always tiring, constantly moving around for three hours and exerting muscles he rediscovers whenever he dances, and it’s one of the most tiring skills he’s forced to master. It’s right up there next to horse riding and debating with his mother.
No, he retracts that statement. Debating with his mother is the hardest. At least dancing and horse riding only make him feel physically tired – debating with his mother makes him want to lie in bed and place an icepack against his head for the next three days to recuperate.
But Yoo Jonghyuk looks far worse. He’s drenched in sweat, looking like he just went swimming instead of training the knights out in the courtyard, and his shirt sticks to his chest like a second skin. The white shirt has gone translucent from how damp it is, and Kim Dokja lets his gaze wander on instinct before he catches himself and looks away. He isn’t sure if he’s allowed to look.
On one hand, he’s Yoo Jonghyuk’s betrothed. If anyone has the right to ogle Yoo Jonghyuk and all the muscles that come with the package, it’s him. On the other hand, right now he’s a live-in caretaker. He doesn’t think live-in caretakers are allowed to stare at their lords and daydream. Maybe in private, because he highly doubts anyone can look at Yoo Jonghyuk and not fantasise, but doing it in front of the man himself is pushing it.
He lets his gaze fall to the ground, and murmurs a quiet greeting.
A silence falls between them. It’s heavy and awkward – Kim Dokja bites the inside of his cheek, wondering when Yoo Jonghyuk is going to acknowledge him so he can leave this socially depressing situation and abscond to his room. The man knows he has to dismiss a servant before the servant can leave, right? The dismissal can be anything from a proper sentence to just a word- or even a noise if the master is lazy enough.
“Young Master?” He asks, and raises his head defiantly. Kim Dokja honestly has no clue how respectful the servants have to be in this household. It’s such a mess that even the hierarchy between the servants and the lord of the house is blurred. All Lee Hyunsung had to do was nod when he saw Yoo Jonghyuk.
Kim Dokja likes that sort of casual relationship, but he’s not sure if a caretaker is allowed to do that. Maybe Lee Hyunsung has been working in Yoo Jonghyuk’s household for a long time, or they’re secretly friends, so more leeway is given to the butler.
Normally, making eye contact with the lord of the house is expressly forbidden unless the lord has issued his permission.
Today, however, Kim Dokja really doesn’t care. If he has to stare Yoo Jonghyuk in the eye and leave, he will. This man needs to learn some etiquette sooner or later, and Kim Dokja is fully prepared to drag him kicking and screaming there.
He looks up, gaze meeting Yoo Jonghyuk’s stare, and something strange flashes through the man’s eyes. “Sir,” Kim Dokja says reproachfully, and raises a judgmental eyebrow. “Are you not going to dismiss me?”
Yoo Jonghyuk immediately frowns. “Dismiss you?” He asks, and his voice sounds like he’s just gargled gravel. Did he not hydrate himself properly? Kim Dokja judges himself for worrying over the man before he’s even married to him, but he tries to reason it as him wanting an entirely intact husband on the wedding day itself. The man already had a brain of dubious quality, it wouldn’t do for his physical qualities to weaken. Yoo Jonghyuk would lose all appeal.
He carefully doesn’t think about how he likes Yoo Jonghyuk’s low, growling voice.
“Yes,” he says impatiently. “You have to dismiss me so I can carry on with my daily duties, unless that’s not the sort of household you run. No one gave me a rundown of the rules, so I’m unsure of what level of respect I need to accord to you.”
Kim Dokja slides his hands into his pockets, pulling his shoulders back and shrugging in the laziest manner he can pull off. His mother would slap him for how rude he’s being right now, but she isn’t here and Kim Dokja has no other moral restraints.
Yoo Jonghyuk’s lips twist, and Kim Dokja’s insides jump at the strange smile that appears on his face. Is that meant to be menacing? A threat? Is Yoo Jonghyuk so handsome that even a grimace on the man’s face looks like a grin? Kim Dokja’s heart thuds, but he convinces himself he has so much control over his body that he can even prevent his blood from flowing into his cheeks, and maintains his eye contact with Yoo Jonghyuk.
“I wasn’t aware,” Yoo Jonghyuk says eventually, and ducks his head slightly- ducks his head to a caregiver, Kim Dokja notes dazedly. He’s scandalized beyond belief. It was one thing to relax the rules between servants and masters if they were friends, and it’s another thing altogether to bow to a servant.
He swallows, suddenly aware of how dry his mouth is, and takes a mental note to tell Shin Yoosung to thoroughly scold her guardian during dinner today. His tongue feels heavy in his mouth, and Kim Dokja isn’t sure of how to react.
Yoo Jonghyuk stands idly in front of him, his gaze tracing over Kim Dokja’s frame, and doesn’t say a word. If he knows he’s supposed to acknowledge and dismiss Kim Dokja but doesn’t do it, does it mean Yoo Jonghyuk can’t connect the dots or he’s a sadist and wants to watch Kim Dokja squirm? It’s one or the other; Kim Dokja isn’t sure which he’d rather it be.
Then it strikes him. Perhaps Yoo Jonghyuk wants to know more about Shin Yoosung’s progress! He’s just so incredibly socially stilted and non-verbal that he thought standing there and staring at Kim Dokja like he was figuring out the fastest way to make him disappear was enough to convey that message to Kim Dokja!
Kim Dokja feels incredibly relieved. It’s not easy to understand what Yoo Jonghyuk means when his face barely twitches in reaction to anything. One small step for Caregiver Kim Dokja, one large step for Future Husband Kim Dokja. All this will be critical in forming a foundation for his marriage in the future, if he chooses to marry this man.
“If you’re wondering about Shi- the Young Miss, I mean, she’s progressing rather well. There’s quite a big gap between what she knows and what her peers know, but she is working hard to catch up,” Kim Dokja rambles, eyes drifting to somewhere next to Yoo Jonghyuk’s eyes as he tries to recall what Shin Yoosung’s been doing over the past few days.
He’s a little too intimidated to look Yoo Jonghyuk in the eye and report right now. If he makes eye contact with the man, he’s quite sure he’ll just end up stuttering with a blank mind and a red face.
“Still…” he trails off eventually, biting his lip as he considers his next move. “There are a few problems with the… running of the estate. It’s not terrible, but it’s very different from what other estates are like, and I worry it might impact the Young Miss’s learning.”
That’s a nice way to say he vehemently disagrees with the way Yoo Jonghyuk is explicitly not running his estate. He wants to overturn this entire enterprise on its head, but he has absolutely no authority to do so. Kim Dokja’s hoping that using Shin Yoosung as an excuse will allow him to get through to Yoo Jonghyuk.
Something complex happens to Yoo Jonghyuk’s eyebrows. “Oh,” he says, and then closes his mouth.
Kim Dokja stares at him. Is that all he’s going to say? Kim Dokja is out here politely throwing his estate under the bus and claiming that it might be potentially ruinous to Shin Yoosung’s future and all Yoo Jonghyuk is going to say is oh?
He feels faint. He feels like he might attempt to punch Yoo Jonghyuk, no matter how undignified that is and ignoring the risk of retaliation. “Yes,” Kim Dokja says, and smiles with his eyes closed. He can’t find the energy to accord Yoo Jonghyuk the privilege of his gaze. “This might be me overstepping my boundaries, but I think a severe re-evaluation of your estate is needed, Young Master.”
He hopes he sounds rude enough to prick a nerve. But Yoo Jonghyuk doesn’t even react- the smile on his face seems to grow a little brighter, even, and Kim Dokja is terribly, despairingly confused.
Yoo Jonghyuk steps forward, and Kim Dokja takes a shaky step backwards. “You appear to know what you’re doing. I’ll be leaving it in your hands.” The man’s words are low, the sound leaving like a rumble in his chest, and Kim Dokja’s heart stutters.
His hip bumps against an oak side table, the sharp edge biting into his pants and reminding him of the role he’s playing right now, and he attempts to dredge up a smile. It feels more patronizing than anything else, but he hopes he looks as genial and cordial as ever. His mother didn’t waste half her life teaching him how to maintain a poker face only for his instincts to fail him at the first massive predator he encountered outside of his estate.
“I think you should be more active in managing your estate,” Kim Dokja retaliates dismissively. “I will do my best in educating the Young Miss, but the management of the estate really should be left up to you.”
He pauses, as if thinking of something, and bites his lip. Yoo Jonghyuk’s gaze drops down and flies back up, so quickly Kim Dokja thinks he might have hallucinated the whole thing, but it’s what spurs him to speak his thoughts. “Besides, Young Master, you should have the estate in good condition when your betrothed comes in a few weeks.”
Yoo Jonghyuk blinks. There’s something on his face, an expression like he’s been struck, and he recoils back slightly. He furrows his brows, and the smile slips off his face like a lover leaving in the night.
“You know of my betrothed?” Yoo Jonghyuk asks, his eyes twitching.
“Well,” Kim Dokja says, and shrugs while pasting a smile on his face. “It’s a common name.”
He repeats the words Yoo Jonghyuk directed at him when they first met, and Yoo Jonghyuk’s lips curl up slightly. The silence that falls between them is more comfortable now, strangely enough, and Yoo Jonghyuk hums lightly, eyes trained on Kim Dokja as he thinks of a response.
At least, Kim Dokja is hoping he’s thinking of a response. He doesn’t want to be stuck here again while feeling pressed to give Yoo Jonghyuk a crash course on etiquette to servants, of all things.
“My betrothed is a problem for a later occasion,” Yoo Jonghyuk says eventually. His eyes are dim, and there’s a twist to his lips as he looks to the side. “You don’t have to concern yourself with his opinions.”
Yoo Jonghyuk turns back to Kim Dokja. “It’s not as if my father taught me how to manage an estate,” he continues, a sardonic expression stealing across his face. “If my betrothed has any problems with you handling things, he can take it up with me.”
“Oh,” Kim Dokja says faintly, and grips the oak table with as much strength he possibly has in his body. If he doesn’t, he might seriously collapse on the heavily carpeted floor. His fall would be silenced, but the screams in his mind would not.
He heaves, and offers a smile. His body is moving on autopilot, and he blatantly ignores the way he feels his entire frame trembling. This might just be what shock feels like, the cold shock wracking through his entire body and making his head ache.
“I’ll take that into consideration, Young Master,” he says weakly, and throws etiquette out the window by stumbling past Yoo Jonghyuk without his dismissal, and hurries down to his room.