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Silver Poplars

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Kim Dokja is thirty-two years old, looking like he’s still in his mid twenties, and working a job as a paper pusher in a small publishing company.


Contrary to all what paper pushers must feel, Kim Dokja does like his job. He’s an assistant editor and he gets to read stories even before they go into public, and for some reason, Kim Dokja has an unhealthy obsession with stories. It also helps that his coworkers has friendly camaraderie with each other since there’s only a handful of employees. 


Kim Dokja feels like he lucked out with his job, despite the less than stellar pay.


It also helped that the world is apparently recovering from an Apocalypse that Kim Dokja doesn’t remember happening. That’s in fact the crux of his problems—he doesn’t remember anything from before three years. Before three years, when the Apocalypse was in full swing and ended just as abruptly. 


His coworkers tells him it must be the trauma. Maybe something happened to Kim Dokja that is so traumatic that his brain put a stop gap on his memories? Kim Dokja would be inclined to agree, but his heart that feels like it’d been punched out from how hollow it is strongly disagrees.


Kim Dokja knows that he forgot something important. He doesn’t feel scared of that something—in fact, he yearns it. So much, that he feels empty without it. 


Perhaps Kim Dokja should be more vocal, more active in his search for his heart, but there’s something else inside Kim Dokja that hesitates. Cowardice—the fear of being unwanted.


Everyone has moved on with their lives, who’s to say that if Kim Dokja finds his heart—finds them, they’d already moved on? What if that person already moved on? Kim Dokja would be an interloper to their new found peace then.


Kim Dokja doesn’t like thinking about it so he continues on with his life. He puts those unceasing worries behind him and paints on a cheery façade that looks natural more than anything, despite him faking it. He has a vague recollection that for the longest time, he’d been the kind of person who was subdued and doesn’t speak up, but now, light sarcastic remarks and guiding those who seek advice from him is as easy as breathing.


Kim Dokja is still stagnant and unmoving.


Then, he finds a guy passed out on a bench in the park near his apartment.


Well, he’s not really the type to approach people who clearly knows their businesses and doesn’t want someone like Kim Dokja sticking his nose into them, but it’s in the middle of winter. Today’s forecast tells him there’s going to be a snowstorm at 7 pm and it’s currently 6. 


(And the man looks really familiar and Kim Dokja gets hit by an all-consuming want to hug the man and never ever let go—)


Kim Dokja clenches his jaw and approaches the prone form, the lamp post beside the bench flickering to life and bathing that section of the park with warm light. Snow is starting to fall and it lands on the man’s dark hair and black coat and black long lashes. A closer inspection shows dark circles beneath the man’s eyes.


And then those eyes snap open.


Kim Dokja blinks because holy shit those eyes are gorgeous and then, it catches up to him that he’s been caught staring like a creep, “Er, hi?” 


Those eyes that could be almost gold but Kim Dokja assures himself must be the trick of the light from the lamp post, dilate imperceptibly, and Kim Dokja can’t help but stare some more because the man is really gorgeous and familiar.


And then he remembered that one news about the terrorist months ago. And wow, Kim Dokja is a fucking idiot.


“I, uh, I just wanna warn you there’s an incoming snowstorm in about,” Kim Dokja checks his phone and inwardly thanks his fortitude of not shaking in fear, “forty-seven minutes. You might want to, um, move before it hits.” 


Kim Dokja clears his throat anxiously and moves to run back to his apartment without being conspicuous that he’s running. But before he could, his wrist is held captive by a large scarred hand that must be iron shackles or something because holy moly, if the guy squeezes a bit more he’d probably break Kim Dokja’s wrist clean.


“Name.” The guy says and even his voice is gorgeous and a danger to Kim Dokja’s delicate sensibilities as another man. The guy should probably be locked up for whatever terrorism he did and for being a potential sexuality changer of straight men. 


“Er, Kim Dokja.” Kim Dokja responds and sees in his mind’s eye his future funeral. He should’ve probably given a fake name but excuse Kim Dokja for being bedazzled by a beautiful creature that has taken a human form. Kim Dokja prays for strength to whatever gods and demons would be willing to listen to him.


The grip intensifies and this time, Kim Dokja winces. His face in pain must’ve come across because the grip lightens, not quite to the point that Kim Dokja could break free from it and run for his life screaming for help. 


“You…” The guy trails off, his singular utterance of the word strangled, and Kim Dokja tucks in his fear so he could ogle the man’s perfect face in abject confusion.


“Er, look, you don’t have to thank me or anything, yes? I’m just being a decent human being offering warning to another in such dire times, I, ah—” 


Kim Dokja is interrupted from his embarrassing rambling and is crushed against a chiseled chest. He realizes after a beat that he’s being hugged. A complete stranger who is definitely the terrorist he saw on the news is hugging him. Is the guy that thankful that Kim Dokja warned him about the weather?


“Kim Dokja.” The man says and there’s something almost soul-crushing in his tone, something that makes Kim Dokja wrap his arms around those broad back that looked almost fragile despite Kim Dokja’s form being swallowed by it.


The man says his name like he’s been saved after a long time under. He hugs him like Kim Dokja would disappear on him and leave him with nothing.


They hug until Kim Dokja’s arms grow weary and the snow falls more heavily with the dry, biting, wind picking up. Kim Dokja has no hobby of embracing gorgeous men he doesn’t know, much less inviting them over to his apartment after the hugging session, but there’s something about the man that makes Kim Dokja take him home in the guise of the unavoidable snowstorm.


Kim Dokja only regrets when he’s in his apartment, face to face with the guy who still keeps looking at him like Kim Dokja’s an illusion conjured by his mind, and is now holding both of Kim Dokja’s hands with his. It’s really becoming too awkward even for Kim Dokja who wears awkwardness like a second skin.


“Um.” Kim Dokja winces at his inability to form words like a complete and utter moron, “So, I don’t know you and your circumstances but I can offer to house you for a night?” 


While Kim Dokja’s internal screaming has reached a new crescendo, he doesn’t quite manage to take note of the man’s silence, which could be comparable to palpable shock, but he does hear him say, “You… don’t know me?”


Kim Dokja gulps nervously because is the man seriously asking him if Kim Dokja knows that he’s a wanted terrorist?? Kim Dokja shakes his head a few times in quick succession. 


Plausible deniability! If he doesn’t know the man’s name then he must’ve not known he’s a terrorist and consequently, he didn’t just invite a terrorist in his home with that knowledge because that’d make him an accomplice. 


“I’m Yoo Joonghyuk.” The man sees it fit to introduce himself and Kim Dokja tries not to scream at him to take back his name, he doesn’t know any terrorists named Yoo Joonghyuk, no sir! He didn’t just house a terrorist! 


“Right.” Kim Dokja says, unsure of what to say further, but because he’s a polite and cultured adult, he says, “Nice to meet you, Yoo Joonghyuk-ssi.”


Yoo Joonghyuk sucks in a breath and beneath those windswept hair that still looked stylish, his eyes has a strange sheen to it, like a gathering of moisture—


“Nice to meet you, Kim Dokja.” 


There’s heartbreak in his words and Kim Dokja’s mouth becomes dry from all the surging emotions in his chest. He feels disappointed that Yoo Joonghyuk seems to be disappointed for some reason that Kim Dokja’s not privy to. 


Even so, Kim Dokja startles when he feels hurt, joy and wonder in his heart where it’s supposed to be nothing but hollow before. Kim Dokja has already opened his mouth even before he realizes what he’s saying, “I have no memories before three years ago.”


Kim Dokja doesn’t know why he shared that at all, to a complete stranger at that, but it feels right that the man should know. Somehow, expectedly, the man’s eyes widen again in the light of the new information. Kim Dokja continues, “So if I knew you before that, well, I’m sorry that I forgot.”


“I see.” The man says, contemplative, but at least he stops giving Kim Dokja that kicked puppy look “Before three years. After the… Apocalypse ended?” 


Kim Dokja nods and tells the man honestly, “I forgot everything except my name.”


The man brings Kim Dokja’s right hand close to his lips and Kim Dokja feels his breath, feels his chapped lips, feels the tremor in those large hands, “Where have you been? The past three years, what have you been doing?”


“I’ve been working in a small publishing company as an assistant editor. Well, it’s not much but I—”


“You get to read a lot of stories.” Yoo Joonghyuk finishes and Kim Dokja’s mouth clicks shut because this man, he probably is acquainted with this man before his amnesia, maybe even close to him with how the man has been acting. Only his coworkers should know about Kim Dokja’s obsession.


“That’s right,” Kim Dokja agrees levelly, “I get to read a lot of stories.”


A small quirk upwards that’s almost easily dismissible to anyone who’s not looking as closely as Kim Dokja is curves Yoo Joonghyuk’s lips. He looks strangely happy for Kim Dokja, “You should’ve worked for a publishing company from the start.”


One of Kim Dokja’s eyebrows lifts at that statement. He’s mostly assured now that the man truly knew him Before. There’s too much familiarity in his words and actions and Kim Dokja’s gut feeling has been telling him that the man is trustworthy. Possibly, he might have known the man for a long long time.


“Where’d I work if not in a publishing company?” Kim Dokja asks, curious.




The other eyebrow now joins the lifted one, “The gaming company? How’d that even happen?”


“Don’t ask me. I’m as clueless as you are.” Yoo Joonghyuk replies, his thumb now stroking Kim Dokja’s knuckles, massaging them, “You don’t bother explaining things before doing them.”


Kim Dokja’s eyes flick back to Yoo Joonghyuk at that, since he found himself distracted by the gentle massaging. He gets the message when he sees the bitterness in those eyes, “I see that it’s been a topic of many disagreements then?” 


Yoo Joonghyuk scowls and it should, by all rights, look scary, but there’s amusement of all emotions in Kim Dokja’s chest at seeing that disagreeable expression.


The possibility that Kim Dokja might have brought the amnesia upon himself one way or another becomes stark clear. 


“Well, my apologies won’t exactly mean anything If I have no idea what I’m apologizing about, so let’s save that to another date and have dinner instead.” Kim Dokja says, crushing his uncertainty with false enthusiasm, and Yoo Joonghyuk gives him a look.


He doesn’t let him cook dinner.


Kim Dokja is sidelined as his kitchen is overtaken by a terrorist who probably should have been a masterchef candidate because his cooking skills must be international if he’s slicing onion with such speed and exact sliced onion thickness without looking at it.


Kim Dokja’s nerves is shot just by looking at him cook and at the same time, he’s really, very impressed. Kim Dokja doesn’t have to wait for long before he’s served a Korean beefsteak and a bowl of ttekboki. 


He eats them, praises Yoo Joonghyuk, and proposes jokingly to the man or at least, let Yoo Joonghyuk adopt him so he could eat such cuisine everyday.


Yoo Joonghyuk is pleased and there’s a glint in his eyes.


And then suddenly, his apartment has a new tenant. Housing him for one night becomes one more night, until Kim Dokja and Yoo Jonghyuk just… forgot that Yoo Joonghyuk doesn’t officially live there. Yoo Joonghyuk feeds him three times a day, brings his laundry to the laundromat, cleans the house, and pays half of the rent. 


Kim Dokja feels like he gained a maid and a roommate at the same time and when he tells Yoo Joonghyuk that it’s okay if Kim Dokja would be the one to cook some time, Yoo Joonghyuk violently reacts by banning him from the kitchen. He similarly glares at him when Kim Dokja offers to take the laundry or to clean the apartment. He growls at Kim Dokja when he offers to pay the full rent.


… Kim Dokja feels like a pampered wife, really. Or a freeloader in his own house.


And then winter thaws into spring, and spring blooms into summer, and Kim Dokja has been cohabiting with a wrongly accused terrorist, as Yoo Joonghyuk had gladly informed him while he shoved croquettes in Kim Dokja’s mouth, for a full three months. That winter day of the past seems too far away now.


Although Yoo Joonghyuk still looks at Kim Dokja sometimes like he might fade away and some days, Kim Dokja phones his workplace of his absence because Yoo Joonghyuk refuses to let him go. Yoo Joonghyuk has rough nights that gets soothed when Kim Dokja’s near, so after a mere ten days, they’d taken to sleep together on the same bed or sofa. 


Kim Dokja starts to have dreams—tiny bits and pieces of what must be his lonely childhood, his gray life before the apocalypse, the apocalypse and a party of faceless and nameless people that are unarguably his heart, and of Yoo Joonghyuk who is the biggest piece of them all. His inability to remember everything frustrates him but he knows Yoo Joonghyuk is grateful enough that he remembers anything at all. 


He suspects Yoo Joonghyuk is grateful that he’s alive at all. 


It makes him guilty, knowing that he caused most of Yoo Joonghyuk’s nightmares, that Yoo Joonghyuk still wakes up thinking that he’s inside a dream where Kim Dokja is alive. Kim Dokja is fully aware that Yoo Joonghyuk’s been in contact with the rest of the party, in a sense that he tells them that he’s still alive and goes radio silent on them until they blow up his phone with messages and missed calls again out of worry. 


Kim Dokja also suspects that the reason why Yoo Joonghyuk doesn’t tell them anything is because even after three months, he’s still expecting Kim Dokja to suddenly disappear or become a corpse and then the party would have to mourn for him again.


Or maybe because Yoo Joonghyuk wants to monopolize him before sharing him? Maybe it’s just Kim Dokja’s narcissism talking.


But the second one looks more likely with every second that Yoo Joonghyuk glares murderously at his phone that has been pinging nonstop for the past two hours and doesn’t bother to tell Kim Dokja off about eating from the ice cream tin directly instead of scooping it up and placing it on a glass and eating from there or eating chips at the same time and getting salt all over the couch.


When the murderous glare migrates to Kim Dokja and his unscrupulous eating habits, it surprisingly ebbs away. Yoo Joonghyuk crosses the kitchen counter to the living room’s sofa very quickly, even though it’s quite spacey, and Kim Dokja eyes him suspiciously, hugging his tin and chips protectively.


“What.” Kim Dokja says, or demands, ready to fight a battle that he’ll most assuredly lose if Yoo Joonghyuk exerts even a fraction of his efforts.


The gaze turns fond and Yoo Joonghyuk leans forward and kisses Kim Dokja. On the lips. 


Kim Dokja’s eyes are wide open in undiluted shock that his supposed apocalyptic companion turned metaphorical house husband has kissed him. Did Kim Dokja see it coming? 


Of course he didn’t because he’s a fucking idiot!


Yoo Joonghyuk kisses him chastely and doesn’t relent until Kim Dokja responds. When they part, Yoo Joonghyuk is the epitome of contentment that even monks who’s cultivated for decades would probably be envious of.


“Are you staking a claim?” Kim Dokja blurts out, eyes still wide and looking at Yoo Joonghyuk – who’s flicking a tongue to his lips and grimacing at the combination of the ice cream’s sticky sweetness and msg from the chips – like he’s an alien from outer space who started calling himself Secretive Plotter or something similarly stupid and edgy.


“What else.” Yoo Joonghyuk says, as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world.


“But why.” Kim Dokja asks and Yoo Joonghyuk shoots him a look that’s probably questioning how many braincells are in Kim Dokja’s head or if it exceeded one at all because Kim Dokja’s brand of stupid is appalling.


“Ugh, not that!” Kim Dokja strongly exclaims, because he does know about Yoo Joonghyuk’s more than platonic feelings for him okay? He’s not that blind, especially not to someone he’s also holding more than platonic feelings for, “I mean, why are you staking a claim now?” 


That question brings back the petulant scowl on Yoo Joonghyuk’s face and he flops on the couch, bearing his weight upon Kim Dokja who is barely a three-fourth of his weight. Nonetheless, Kim Dokja is squashed and unhappy.


“They’re going to visit me. Rain check, they say.” Yoo Joonghyuk complains and how can someone swing the attractive look while complaining? Seriously, this guy and his charisma.


“So, let me get this straight: You’re staking a claim because the rest of the party is coming to see if you’re still breathing? You know I barely even remember them, right? And even then, I have no romantic attraction whatsoever to any of them from what my dream feelings implied?” 


Even in Kim Dokja’s angle, he can see Yoo Joonghyuk’s thinning his lips in displeasure. Dear gods, he never expected that Yoo Joonghyuk’s quite this selfish and jealous of his time even when he’s practically owned it for three months. 


“I can’t believe you’re jealous of my kids and my spiritual siblings.” Kim Dokja mutters incredulously, “Or are you maybe just scared that they’d know that we’ve practically lived together for three months already and none of them are the wiser?” 


When he sees Yoo Joonghyuk’s jaw tightening, presumably because he’s gritting his teeth, Kim Dokja hollers in triumph, “You are!”


Yoo Joonghyuk slaps a hand on Kim Dokja’s mouth and glowers at him. Kim Dokja grins under the calloused palm and because he’s not entirely a mature adult, he licks at the pad of the palm to provoke.


Yoo Joonghyuk’s glower intensifies.


Afterwards is a roughhousing that consists of Kim Dokja badly losing and Yoo Joonghyuk pinning him down when it suited him, and by the end of it, they end up on the floor below the wall hung TV, with Kim Dokja wriggling like a fish that landed on the dirt and Yoo Joonghyuk wrapped around him like an octopus.


“Well,” Kim Dokja starts after taking multiple gulps of much needed air, “As much as I’m flattered that you’re going this far, I had to admit that I’m not ready too.”


“I know.” Yoo Joonghyuk mutters on the hollow of his throat.


“Wait, you do?”


Yoo Joonghyuk lifts his head so he could see Kim Dokja’s face and send him an unimpressed look, “You look at me sometimes like guilt is consuming you, Kim Dokja. I know you enough to know that you’re probably scared of letting their hopes up that they may have gotten you back, but you don’t even remember their faces and names.” 


Kim Dokja winces, “Was I that transparent?”


“No, I just know what to look for.”


Kim Dokja stares at Yoo Joonghyuk’s handsome face for a beat before his lips pulls up into a tremulous smile, “If I encountered them on the street, I probably won’t even know it’s them, Joonghyuk-ah. I just, I don’t—” 


Kim Dokja’s breath hitches and Yoo Joonghyuk crawls forward to pepper his face with kisses, which is surprisingly sweet and comforting, “They’ll be disappointed that you won’t remember but it won’t keep them from loving you back. They’ll be with you all the way. But we’ll take it slow, okay?” 


“I didn’t know that you moonlight as a therapist too, Joonghyuk-ah.” There’s wetness and hoarseness in Kim Dokja’s tone but he doesn’t shed tears.


“Only for you.”


Kim Dokja snorts but the tight knot in his chest slowly untangles, “A part-time comedian too, I see.” 


Yoo Joonghyuk hums and strokes Kim Dokja’s hair. Kim Dokja closes his eyes and becomes a bit more desperate for every scrap of memories he can pick up, in hopes that he’d remember them on his own and not have to introduce himself to them again so they could introduce themselves back. He never asks Yoo Joonghyuk for their pictures that is undoubtedly in Yoo Joonghyuk’s phone gallery, nor does he ask for their names but he’ll probably do once he’s sorted out his jumble of feelings a bit more.


Maybe it’s for the best that Yoo Joonghyuk would be the one to reintroduce him to them using the pictures. Maybe that way, he’ll finally have faces and names in his dreams.


Maybe it’s much more better than seeing heartbreak in their eyes, like how Yoo Joonghyuk had looked that one winter evening—


Kim Dokja opens his eyes the next day, enveloped by Yoo Joonghyuk’s warmth, and still doesn’t remember any of them. He takes it as a personal failure.


Days and weeks pass by, and Kim Dokja still hasn’t asked for information. He’s gotten their hair colors and general builds in his dreams at least, but he hopes it showed more. Yoo Joonghyuk has already met them somewhere else to ease their worries but he doesn’t tell them where he lives now.


But that all comes to an abrupt halt when the leaves start to fall for autumn and he meets a high school girl in the grocery store, who looks at him wide-eyed like she’s seen a ghost and keeps tugging at another boy her age for his attention. When she has it, and the boy follows her line of sight, he similarly freezes, and the three of them stand around the cup noodles section with the two gawking at him and Kim Dokja feeling terribly lost.


“A-ahjussi.” The girl says, or stutters really. She steps forward and falters.


Kim Dokja offers a tentative smile, and his heart tears and gets remade, and it’s his kids, god, they’re so big now and Kim Dokja wasn’t there to see them grow, wasn’t he?


Instead, he says, “Hi.” 


That one word breaks the dam and the two highschoolers run over to him and bowls him over to hug him, embrace him, never let him go—


“I-it’s you! You’re back, hyung!” The boy manages and devolves into a crying mess, the girl already ahead of him and bawling rather loudly in the middle of the grocery store. The people passing by give them looks of curiosity, and some in annoyance, so Kim Dokja takes it upon himself to be the bigger man and they find somewhere else to talk. 


That somewhere else turns up to be his apartment.


The two doesn’t let him out of sight as he prepares snacks and beverages for them, and when the three of them are seated, Kim Dokja says, “I don’t remember anything before three years ago.” 


The two of them startle and their eyes start to get moist again, so Kim Dokja amends quickly, “But I get flashes, so I have the general idea who both of you are. I’ve been working on it and I, well, I wanted to come to all of you when I properly remember but that hasn’t been working out really well, hasn’t it?”


And then he bows his head, and tells them honestly, “I’m sorry.”


Kim Dokja doesn’t get a reply so he lifts his head in dread, only to see that both of them are smiling at him wobbly. The girl sniffs, “You’ve always been so silly, ahjussi. You don’t have to be ashamed of that. As long as you’re here, alive, that’s enough for all of us.” 


“We’ll help you gain back your memories.” The boy promises determinedly. 


“Can I—” Kim Dokja clears his throat, “May I know your names?” 


They introduce themselves as Shin Yoosung and Lee Gilyoung, and unlike that winter evening with Yoo Joonghyuk, there’s no heartbreak in their eyes, only unbridled happiness.


They stay in his apartment until the sun has set and Kim Dokja has already messaged Yoo Joonghyuk about the two new additions. Yoo Joonghyuk replies that he’ll do the grocery shopping that Kim Dokja failed at and cook all three of them a healthy dinner because Shin Yoosung has apparently rebelled and had a cup noodles streak going on for more than a month now. Similarly, Lee Gilyoung has only eaten chocolates, and Kim Dokja gets flooded by a text rant. 


Kim Dokja couldn’t help his lips breaking out into a grin. God, Yoo Joonghyuk is such a mother hen.


Shin Yoosung and Lee Gilyoung hardly lets him go as they watch something about aquamarine life in Animal Planet. They’ve already told their “guardians” that they’ll be staying with a friend because Kim Dokja told them that he wants to meet the rest one by one, not at the same time. Concerned if Kim Dokja would be overwhelmed if they all came at once, both of them acquiesces. 


When the front door opens, both Shin Yoosung and Lee Gilyoung get surprised out of their reverie in listening to the monotonous ramblings of the narrator and listening to Kim Dokja’s heartbeat, and they take a defensive stance. Which should be bad.


“It’s fine.” Kim Dokja  calms them before they attack the ‘intruder’, “It’s just my personal chef cooking us dinner.”


“You have a personal chef?!” Lee Gilyoung exclaims and Shin Yoosung gapes at him. Kim Dokja winks at them.


“Stop calling me that, Kim Dokja.” The alleged personal chef says even before he’s rounded the corner, and he gives Kim Dokja a deadpan look when he’s in sight. He unloads the grocery bags on the counter top and ignores the two teenagers who are gawking at him in shock.


“T-traitor!!” Lee Gilyoung cries out and points at Yoo Joonghyuk and stands up abruptly all at the same time. Shin Yoosung glares at Yoo Joonghyuk with murder in her eyes. 


Ah, such warm family bonding. Kim Dokja relishes in the chaos as he drinks his pitch black coffee.


Yoo Joonghyuk rolls his eyes at them, “We’re having curry for dinner.”


Both of them gasp and Shin Yoosung says, “Spicy and sour!” which gets combatted by Lee Gilyoung with a, “Don’t you dare! It should be spicy and sweet!” 


“Sweet?! Excuse you, you heathen, who eats sweet curry?!” 


“You’re the heathen!” 


Kim Dokja watches in amazement at the impromptu screaming match and how Yoo Joonghyuk managed to turn both of them against each other in an instant when both of them were previously ganging up on him. What a fearsome man.


They get a spicy savory curry by the end of it but the teenagers eat them and asks for seconds and even thirds for Lee Gilyoung. 


They sleep on the couch, or at least, Kim Dokja falls asleep on the couch. He wakes in the middle of the night hearing the somber murmurs of discussion and falls back into sleep after a moment when both of his kids says something in agreement. Kim Dokja knows all three of them will be fine. 


The hardest part the next morning, is to see his kids go back somewhere else which is their home, but for the next days, they visit Kim Dokja constantly enough that Kim Dokja doesn’t feel their absence. Yoo Joonghyuk tells him one night that they’re starting to eat healthy stuff again and are seemingly over that terrible streak. 


But they get suspicious enough that some of their ‘guardians’ follow them.


It’s a cool cloudy day when Kim Dokja hears an incessant doorbell. Yoo Joonghyuk is out for the day doing god knows what and Kim Dokja is lounging on the couch with his secret stash of sweets that he knows that Yoo Joonghyuk knows exists and even knows where it’s hidden but for some reason, didn’t confiscate it.


Kim Dokja’s eyebrows knit at his abused doorbell because the kids doesn’t bother with it anymore and the delivery man should be at least respectful to have patience when summoning the owner of the house. Kim Dokja plods over to the door and tears it open, ready to lay over his complaints.


Except a man and a woman stand stock beyond the door. The woman’s face, which had been previously occupied by rage, morphs into shock. The man who looked like he’s trying to stop the woman from doing something violent and regrettable also pauses to stare at Kim Dokja with a hopeful face.


“Um.” Kim Dokja says because he knows them. They’re one of his party members, who went through thick and thin with him. Who stood tall with him.


So he says, “Hi.”


He gets punched on the face for his troubles.


Later, when Kim Dokja is nursing his swollen cheek and pouting and the man and woman had finished their respective crying jags, and Kim Dokja has already finished retelling his situation, the woman, Jung Heewon, tells him, “I should be sorry for punching you but I’m really not. You deserve it.”


“Don’t say that Heewon-ssi.” The man, Lee Hyunsung, says. His nose is still red from excessive crying and he says his words but looks very much like he doesn’t mean them.


“So, Gilyoung-ah and Yoosung-ie had been visiting you without telling the rest of us?” Jung Heewon says with false calm, but Kim Dokja can foresee her reprimanding them with iron in her tone. 


“Don’t blame them! I asked them to.” Kim Dokja defends them hurriedly and the false calm bravado shatters a bit to show deep seated anger behind it.


“And why did you not want the rest of the party to not know that you’re alive?” She asks, and Kim Dokja flinches at the undercurrent of hurt in it. 


“Because I don’t even remember your names and faces, okay? I wanted to remember it before I face you lot so that, so that—” 


“So you won’t disappoint us.” Lee Hyunsung finishes for him, and there’s understanding in his eyes and sadness.


“God, why are you like this, idiot Dokja.” Jung Heewon relents her anger, “Gilyoung-ah and Yoosung-ie should’ve told you that that doesn’t matter to us.” 


“They did.” Kim Dokja admits, “I’m sorry for being selfish.” 


“You are. You always are.” Jung Heewon says, subdued but there’s the beginnings of a smile in her lips, no matter how faint it is, “But you wouldn’t be our Dokja if you weren’t.”


Lee Hyunsung laughs thickly. They leave after promising to very frequently visit him, and tells him too to start packing because all of them lives in one house with the exception of Yoo Joonghyuk who disappears on them for months on end and tells them with one single text message that he’s “Ok”. They say that they saved the master’s bedroom for him and it’s implied that it’s for Yoo Joonghyuk too.


Lee Hyunsung shifts nervously when Jung Heewon tells Kim Dokja about the man who’s been waiting for him all these years and living like a ghost while at it, so Kim Dokja tells her apologetically that, “Yoo Joonghyuk’s been living with me for seven months now.”


“HE WHAT?!” 


“Jonghyuk-ssi.” Lee Hyunsung says, or growls, and Kim Dokja knows he gets angry rarely but it’s a sight to behold. He sees Jung Heewon sending a massive message of threats as they walk away and Kim Dokja laughs at his companion’s misfortune. 


Yoo Joonghyuk punishes him by confiscating all his secret stashes. 


It’s another two days that he meets another. He’s in his workplace when he’s told by his supervisor to train an intern who has a budding interest in working as an editor. When the said ‘intern’ sees him, she drops her stack of papers on the ground. 


And then, “YOU!” 


She introduces herself as Lee Jihye after she grilled him for his sins, told what has happened exactly, and at the end, she looked contrite enough for suddenly attacking him. Their supervisor hand waves over and gives them time to catch up, and Lee Jihye cries less than the rest of them, but she’s also chatty and fills him about what had happened, about their daily lives now, and Kim Dokja knows that she’s psyching herself up to be more positive so Kim Dokja won’t feel alienated.


It’s another story when he tells her that Lee Gilyoung, Shin Yoosung, Jung Heewon, Lee Hyunsung and her “master” Yoo Jonghyuk already knows that he’s among the living, and that her master has been living with him for months.


He gets ignored for three days and only accepts his apologies after consuming an unholy amount of parfait paid from Kim Dokja’s wallet. They gain another member every Sunday meet up in Kim Dokja’s apartment, which also opens up the discussion about, “Shouldn’t we just tell the other two? I mean aside from them, this is the rest of us.”


There’s silence and the corded arm looped on Kim Dokja’s waist tightens, and even if Kim Dokja can’t see him, he can feel Yoo Jonghyuk shooting Lee Hyunsung a glare for even suggesting it.


Kim Dokja slaps the arm and says, “Why not? We should get this over and done with. It’s been terribly stupid of me for being a coward in the first place. I should’ve just met up with all of you from the start.”


Jung Heewon lifts a strong eyebrow, “You should’ve. But maybe this order is much better too. All of us would’ve been overwhelmed. At least all of us had time to adjust.” She then sweeps a look at the man behind Kim Dokja, “Some of us had too long even.” 


Lee Gilyoung snickers openly and Shin Yoosung’s shoulders are shaking from controlling her own laughter.


“I texted both of them to come here.” Lee Jihye informs them, still typing on her phone and nibbling on a pocky, “I also told them about your circumstances, ahjussi.” 


“Thanks, Jihye-yah.” Kim Dokja says and squeezes the arm around him in warning when Yoo Joonghyuk’s glare turns to Lee Jihye.


They didn’t have to wait long, almost only thirty minutes even. Lee Hyunsung opens the door and one footstep barrels forward, a beautiful woman with a harried face who clearly dropped everything to rush over appears and looks at Kim Dokja like he’s the most precious thing in existence.


“Dokja-ssi.” She sighs, and her shaky smile lights up her face, erasing the grief. She falls on her feet in front of him and embraces him even though Yoo Joonghyuk’s also hugging him from the back. 


It should be awkward, but it isn’t. 


When she pulls away, she wipes at her eyes and everyone around them are also showing their own happiness in their own way.


“Well, I guess I’m late to the party.” A voice says, and it’s a very familiar voice to Kim Dokja. In fact, he hears it every Thursday.


A woman rounds the corner and Kim Dokja says, “Han Sooyoung.” 


Everybody freezes from where they’re perched. It’s only broken by Yoo Joonghyuk who demands, “You remember her?”


Kim Dokja expertly dismisses the jealousy in that voice and says, “No, but I’ve been her editor for two years and a half now. Isn’t that right, Han Sooyoung-ssi?”


Han Sooyoung beams at him unrepentantly. 


She gets mauled.


“I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU!” Yoo Sangah, sweet Yoo Sangah who is the epitome of feminine grace, is screaming at the top of her lungs after twenty minutes of Han Sooyoung being beaten black and blue and admitting to all of them that she knew that long and never told a soul. Yoo Sangah is shaking Han Sooyoung with her lapels like a rag doll, and Han Sooyoung tells them excuses after excuses that are far from believable.


The rest are lining up behind Yoo Sangah for their turn.


Everyone is glaring at her in affront and utmost betrayal, even Kim Dokja because Kim Dokja remembers confiding to her about the hole in his heart, and that time, Han Sooyoung told him that he’ll eventually find them or will be found by them.


That sentence alone should’ve rang the warning bells inside Kim Dokja’s head but Kim Dokja was drunk and pouring his grievances to the author who writes stories that are very familiar to Kim Dokja but Kim Dokja doesn’t remember why. 


The stories must have been what Kim Dokja and his party experienced. 


After being chewed out, spat on, and hours and hours of being screamed at, everything finally calmed down and they prepare for dinner cooked by Yoo Joonghyuk himself and assisted by Yoo Sangah. The teenagers and Lee Jihye are making the easy desserts and both Lee Hyunsung and Jung Heewon went to the mall for the refreshments and additional snacks to consume for the rest of the night because they’ll be having a movie marathon after dinner. Han Sooyoung is tied up on a corner but she’s discussing the next few chapters of her most popular story while Kim Dokja is jotting it down, nodding along, and asking when he has questions. 


They eat after everything’s done and Kim Dokja feels his heart being repaired. If only Biyoo was here too. 


Kim Dokja blinks at that thought, and his head that is comfortably leaning on Yoo Joonghyuk’s shoulder starts to get an influx of memories from Before. He doesn’t say anything, doesn’t show anything, but his hand that’s entwined with Yoo Joonghyuk’s tightens, and he carefully keeps his eyes on the movie even when it’s something else he’s seeing. 


He closes his eyes, and after almost four years of hoping for more, he gets his wish.


When he’s awake yet again but with a complete memory of who he was and the man he became, he finds himself on the sofa with a blanket over him. Around him, his precious family is sleeping, littered comfortably on the carpeted floor with their own comforters. The sun shines through the semi-transparent curtain and the glass walls, and there’s a delicious scent wafting from over the kitchen.


Kim Dokja can see Yoo Joonghyuk’s broad back from where he’s sitting at and remembers reading 1864 versions of him, remembers him declaring that he wants to meet him in that 0th turn, when there shouldn’t have been 1864 turns at all. Kim Dokja remembers being chosen, and he remembers choosing this man too, over and over again.


He stands up and goes to the kitchen and wraps his arms around that much huger physique and buries his face on that back.


“Hey.” Yoo Joonghyuk greets, lowering the heat so that the saucy breakfast he’s cooking is brought from boiling to simmering. 


“Hey.” Kim Dokja greets back and Yoo Joonghyuk turns over so they’re hugging face to face.


“What’s wrong?” Yoo Joonghyuk asks, cupping his cheeks very gently when Kim Dokja knows that those hands could destroy anything so very easily. 


Kim Dokja wants to apologize for making him wait for so long, even in the Epilogue where he should’ve been happy but how could he when Kim Dokja isn’t even there to share the future with him? Kim Dokja wants to worship this man for his fortitude, wants to shake him so bad for even wanting someone like Kim Dokja. 


Instead, Kim Dokja kisses him.


When they part, he says, “I’m home, Joonghyuk-ah.”


Yoo Joonghyuk’s eyes dilate and there’s flecks of gold in those dark orbs, and like that winter evening, there’s flickering hope in his face that grows more pronounced when Kim Dokja offers him a watery smile of endless love and—


Yoo Joonghyuk crushes his mouth against Kim Dokja again, and does it over and over until both of them are crying and laughing, and because Yoo Joonghyuk is a brilliant perfect bastard, he manages to kill off the heat of the stove so they won’t have inedible dish for breakfast before both of them lands on the floor.


The rest of the party gets woken up by Kim Dokja’s incoherent babbling as he cries hard on Yoo Joonghyuk’s black shirt and they immediately realize that he remembers when that babbling includes Biyoo, and missed you and everyone, and a litany of apologies for leaving them all. 


After that, well, they finally got the happy ending they deserve.