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on the art of unplanned serenading

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Dokja is used to being inconvenienced. Everything from his childhood should count as one giant inconvenience, and just after he escaped that, he became friends with Han Sooyoung, so it’s kind of like his struggles never ended. (“Hey,” Han Sooyoung snaps when he voices his thoughts aloud. “I picked you up off the street like a sea urchin.” When Dokja says sea urchins don’t live on streets, she whacks him with her folder.)

Still, he doesn’t think any amount of suffering could have quite prepared him for the demon that is Yoo Joonghyuk.

“He’s really famous for esports,” says Yoo Sangah, glancing nervously back at Dokja before continuing, “so that’s why he’s — difficult to get along with sometimes.”

“Difficult,” repeats Dokja.

Yoo Sangah smiles, a little helpless. “He has a good heart.” Dokja wants to be reassured by this, but he’s fairly sure Yoo Sangah’s the type to say everyone has a good heart if she sees them so much as thank a waiter. He pulls out his phone and texts Han Sooyoung.

To: Han Sooyoung
Meeting Yoo Joonghyuk. Do you know him?

Her reply is almost immediate.

From: Han Sooyoung
ESCAPE WHILE YOU CAN

Well, thinks Dokja, pocketing his phone and managing a smile at Yoo Sangah as she leads him inside. That’s not a good omen.

It’s only once they’re seated that Yoo Sangah mentions that she’s not actually a friend of Yoo Joonghyuk — she knows him because of Jung Heewon, who says they’re not friends but acts closer to him than anyone else, so who knows. “This is my first meeting with him alone,” she explains, waving a hand. “But he’s always been nice enough to me, so I think it’ll be okay.”

“Sangah-ssi,” Dokja says, trying his hardest to stay kind because if he’s mean to her he thinks he’ll land himself a place in hell by default, “did you invite me because you didn’t want to see him alone?”

Yoo Sangah blushes and gestures vaguely. “Not just because of that.” Her gaze flickers down to the table before she smiles at him, hesitant, as if she’s coming up with the kindest possible lie. “I think you two might get along.”

Before Dokja can properly discern whether she’s talking out of her ass, someone slings his bag into the booth across from them before sitting down, resting his arms against the table in one fluid motion. He’s handsome, Dokja notices, but more than that, he looks familiar. Maybe his fame reaches farther than Dokja realised.

“Hi,” says Dokja, sticking his hand out and smiling so wide his eyes close, “I’m Kim Dokja.”

Yoo Joonghyuk gazes at him for a long moment before turning to Yoo Sangah and saying, “I didn’t know anyone else was coming.”

Dokja stares at his arm, still outstretched, then at Yoo Joonghyuk, who seems to be trying his absolute hardest to pretend he’s not there, then at Yoo Sangah, whose mouth is flopping open and closed like a fish struggling to take its final breaths on the sand. If he were slightly meaner, he would get out of the booth and walk home. Instead he tucks his hand back into his pocket and pretends the humiliation doesn’t sting.

“Ah, we were just going out anyway, so I thought there would be no harm,” says Yoo Sangah. Dokja marvels at her ability to bullshit so smoothly.

“Hm,” Yoo Joonghyuk replies. Absentmindedly, Dokja wonders if this was supposed to be a date. Maybe that’s why he’s so angry — Dokja probably would feel a little jilted, too, if his date brought another man with them and then acted like it was okay. Is Yoo Sangah more socially unaware than he thought? Did he gauge her wrong? Is —

“Anyway, Seolhwa-ssi just asked me to return these,” she says cheerfully, handing Yoo Joonghyuk a watch, a necklace, and a few hair clips. “We can get lunch while we’re here, though; I’ve heard this place is good.”

So it’s not a date and Yoo Joonghyuk’s just insane. Fine. Dokja can deal with this.

“It’s the middle of summer,” he says. “Why do you have, like, six layers on? You can’t be that much younger than me; it’s not like you need to keep up with trends. Or is it because of your job? Do people see your whole outfit when you stream?”

Yoo Joonghyuk just scowls at him.

“A man of few words,” Dokja murmurs drily, and then, “Han Sooyoung said the fried chicken here was an experience.” Yoo Joonghyuk stiffens at the name. Dokja makes note of that for later.

“A good or bad experience?” Yoo Sangah asks, making a face despite her valiant efforts to remain neutral.

Dokja shrugs. “You know how it is with her; it could go either way.”

Yoo Sangah sighs, gentle, as Yoo Joonghyuk makes a strangled sort of angry noise that, from a normal person, could be seen as a groan. “She’s going to call us cowards if we don’t,” she says. Dokja nods.

“Do you mind being called a coward?” he asks, directing the question more at Yoo Joonghyuk even as he makes eye contact with Yoo Sangah. She seems to recognise it, too, because she inclines her head toward him and stays quiet.

“I don’t care,” says Yoo Joonghyuk, but his brows knit so closely together they almost form one line.

“You’re gonna get frown wrinkles,” Dokja warns. Yoo Sangah levels him with a gaze that reads be nice. If it were anyone else, Dokja would argue back, but it’s not, so he just settles back into the booth and smiles as Yoo Joonghyuk glowers at him.

When the fried chicken arrives at their booth, Yoo Sangah beams politely at the waiter until he’s out of earshot before staring at it with the most dejected pout Dokja thinks he’s ever seen. “Bad experience,” she says mournfully, picking at the rubbery skin.

Yoo Joonghyuk stares at their meal as if it’s just threatened to kill his family. Naturally, Dokja takes the opportunity to antagonise him. “Don’t be rude,” he says, taking an enthusiastic bite of his chicken and swallowing the meat despite how strangely bitter it is. “It’s not like you could do better.”

“I could,” Yoo Joonghyuk snaps.

Dokja shrugs. “I’d need to see proof.”

Yoo Joonghyuk’s expression is back to one of careful neutrality (or — his version of careful neutrality, which is a vaguely less intense bitch face), but his voice is taut. “If we ever meet again, you will.”

“If we ever meet again,” Dokja repeats mockingly, smile twitching despite his best efforts. He scrawls down his number on the receipt and shoves it toward Yoo Joonghyuk. “Text me when you make good fried chicken and I’ll judge it for myself.”

“Fine,” Yoo Joonghyuk snaps.

“Fine.”

It’s only when he and Yoo Sangah leave the restaurant and she gives him a long, meaningful look that Dokja realises he may have accidentally scheduled a date.

+

Dokja spends all night looking up Yoo Joonghyuk’s career. This is normal, he thinks — Yoo Sangah said he was famous, and Dokja’s completely baffled as to how someone that awful can claim any level of celebrity. (It’s his face, Dokja admits to himself. And his body. And most things about him, physically. The world is so incredibly unfair.)

Yoo Joonghyuk, also known as The Conquering King, has had a long and illustrious career in gaming caused primarily by his prodigious skill. Although his personality has been long known as difficult (Yoo Sangah used that word, too — Dokja prefers annoying and rude , among other terms), his talent makes up for it. The further down he reads into this man’s Wikipedia page, the more pissed off Dokja gets.

“Stupid bastard earned it all,” Dokja mutters to himself, switching between livestreams and fan accounts. Because his luck is possibly the worst in the world, Han Sooyoung chooses then to pound furiously on his door.

“I came over to get details,” she calls, opening it without asking and striding over to his side. “He was awful, right?” She pauses as Dokja quickly exits all his tabs, hoping desperately that she somehow missed the giant image of Yoo Joonghyuk surrounded by figurines of himself plastered on his screen.

“So not that awful,” she says.

“I’m just doing research,” replies Dokja defensively. His ears burn pink. “I was curious.”

“How long have you even been here?” she demands. “The kid next door said you didn’t water his plants today — were you stalking Yoo Joonghyuk instead — ”

“It’s not stalking if it’s available on the first three pages of search results,” he interrupts, and Han Sooyoung reels back as if she’s been shot.

“You went past the first page?” she gasps.

Ah. Dokja needs to learn how to control his mouth. “Um,” he says out loud. “I can explain.”

“Then do it.”

Dokja gestures at his laptop and then at the ceiling as if they’ll give him any answers. “I really was just curious.”

“So you found his merch line.” Han Sooyoung’s always had a talent for sniffing out Dokja’s bullshit in a way no one else has been able to. Right now, Dokja’s regretting letting her get as close as she has.

“I’m a thorough investigator,” he tries.

Han Sooyoung grabs his laptop before he can stop her. “Twenty-two tabs,” she sighs, going through each one. “I think the Wikipedia should be enough — why do you have six interviews up?”

“Research,” Dokja says adamantly. Han Sooyoung’s face goes through around forty different expressions before she settles somewhere between disgust and resignation. Dokja clears his throat. “Anyway, how do you know him?”

“Oh, you know,” she says vaguely. “Connections. Common friends.”

“Since when do you have friends?”

“Coming from you ?” Han Sooyoung snaps, tugging his hair until he yelps. “I have friends.” Her gaze flickers around the room, settling everywhere other than Dokja’s eyes. “And they’re friends with Yoo Joonghyuk, and we met and I don’t like him.”

Dokja’s about to reply when he gets a text from an unknown number.

From: Unknown Number
Food tomorrow

He frowns at his phone, resolutely ignoring the burn of Han Sooyoung’s gaze, before typing out a response.

To: Unknown Number
It’s two in the morning.

From: Unknown Number
You’re awake

“You’re getting food with someone? Is it a date?” asks Han Sooyoung. Her eyes widen. “You son of a bitch, don’t tell me — ”

“Then don’t ask.” Dokja turns his phone face down instead of answering Yoo Joonghyuk’s text. He’s not sure what he’d say, anyway. “And it’s not a date,” he adds belatedly.

“So if I asked to come along you’d say yes?” Dokja stays silent, and Han Sooyoung smiles, victorious. “That’s what I thought.”

“Only because I don’t trust you not to kill him.”

“If you hated him so much, you’d let me,” murmurs Han Sooyoung. “Just saying.”

“Get out of my apartment.”

Han Sooyoung sits in his chair instead, resting her elbows on his desk as she faces the window before she turns her head to gaze at him ominously. Dokja thinks this gesture would be far more threatening if he hadn’t seen her cry at a dog commercial last week, but he appreciates the effort nonetheless.

“Kim Dokja,” she asks, deceptively gentle, “are you a gold digger?”

“What.”

She shrugs, propping her feet onto his desk and knocking off a cup filled with pens in the process. “I’m trying to figure out why you’d want to date that bastard.”

“For the last time, I don’t —  ”

“If it’s because of the money, I get it.” Han Sooyoung waves her hands. “It’s a lot of money.” She stares at his laptop, now sitting on the desk, still with Yoo Joonghyuk full-sized onscreen. “Obviously, you know that, since you were doing research.”

Dokja makes a face. “Don’t say it like that.”

“I said exactly what you said,” Han Sooyoung replies flatly. Before Dokja can reply with something scathing about how bored she must be with her own romantic prospects, she stands up and yawns. “I’m going home now. I’d say tell me about your date, but I don’t really want to know.”

“It’s not a date,” Dokja calls again, but Han Sooyoung’s already gone, once again leaving him alone with Yoo Joonghyuk’s annoyingly pretty face.

+

Dokja wakes up at ten in the morning with bleary eyes and a text from Yoo Joonghyuk, who he stubbornly refuses to list as a contact in his phone. After getting up (or —  trying to fall asleep again, staring at the ceiling, and reluctantly trudging out of his room to go make coffee), he glances at it. It’s the address of a park nearby, a location he’d gone for a failed blind date once. Dokja swallows whatever emotion is simmering in his gut and texts back.

To: Unknown Number
How romantic. Are you planning to serenade me?

From: Unknown Number
No.

For a moment, Dokja strongly considers the merits of having Han Sooyoung assassinate someone. Instead, he responds:

To: Unknown Number
It was a joke.

To: Unknown Number
It’s fine. I know you laughed.

From: Unknown Number
When will you be there

Dokja grits his teeth as he shoves a piece of bread into the toaster.

To: Unknown Number
Three hours. Impress me╭( ・ㅂ・)و ̑̑

Yoo Joonghyuk doesn’t reply after that, and Dokja only finds it disappointing because he spent three minutes looking for the most annoying emoticon possible. He spends an embarrassingly long time wondering what the appropriate outfit would be for the occasion (because he’s not letting himself have any weak points in front of Yoo Joonghyuk, nothing more), and he finally decides on a white shirt and a nice pair of slacks — not too formal, but not slovenly.

( Have fun on your date, Han Sooyoung’s voice whispers in his mind treacherously. He shoves it out.)

“Wow, look,” says Shin Yoosung as Dokja enters the hallway, pointing at him like he’s a particularly fascinating museum exhibit, “Ahjussi looks like a person today.”

“Hyung always looks like a person,” Lee Gilyoung argues loyally. “Kind of.” Dokja’s eye twitches, but he reaches down to ruffle Lee Gilyoung’s hair regardless.

“Are you going to a party?” Shin Yoosung’s eyes are shining. “Shouldn’t you be wearing a suit?”

“Not a party,” says Dokja, making a mental note to buy a suit —  the only one he owns is from when he was sixteen, and he doesn’t know how his ego is going to take it if it still fits whenever he needs to wear it again. “I’m meeting a…” He pauses, considering. Yoo Joonghyuk certainly isn’t a friend, but he’s not a colleague, either. “I’m meeting someone.”

“Like a date?” Lee Gilyoung asks, making a face. Shin Yoosung elbows him. 

“Not a date,” Dokja says, too quickly and too loudly. Gentler, he adds, “Just a meeting.”

Shin Yoosung sighs, disappointed. “Ahjussi,” she says, with all the wisdom of a child parroting the words of a well-meaning parent, “you’re almost thirty, aren’t you? Most people are married by now.”

“Ah, well,” Dokja backs up toward the elevator, shooting a smile at them as he pushes the button and gets in, “I’m special that way.”

“Okay,” says Shin Yoosung, eyes narrowed. “Bye, Ahjussi.”

“Bye,” he replies, keeping his grin fixed on until the elevator doors close him in.

By the time he’s reached the park, he’s accumulated a series of increasingly nosy texts from Han Sooyoung about how his not-date (although that makes it sound like something that’s almost a date, which it’s not) is going. If he were slightly kinder, maybe, or more easily annoyed, he’d let her know he hadn’t gotten there yet. Instead, he turns off his notifications and scans the area for Yoo Joonghyuk.

The man in question is currently sitting on a black and grey picnic blanket (of course) next to a basket of something Dokja assumes is fried chicken. He looks a little absurd — glaring at a patch of grass and sitting rigidly upright so that he won’t lean against the tree behind him. Dokja’s lips twitch upward automatically before he reminds himself that this man, despite being the type of idiot he often finds endearing, is also a complete asshole.

“Yoo Joonghyuk,” he calls, waving enthusiastically. Yoo Joonghyuk looks over, impassive save for the clench of his jaw. Dokja doesn’t know why he finds this so satisfying. “Did you remember to season?” he asks as he sits down.

“Obviously.” Yoo Joonghyuk shoves the basket toward him with a side of pickled radish. Dokja imagines him delicately painting the sauce onto the crust before he stops that train of thought — it’s cute, unfortunately, and also unlikely, considering Yoo Joonghyuk’s probably a mediocre chef and definitely the worst person on the planet.

“Are you going to eat it?” Yoo Joonghyuk asks, arching an eyebrow.

“I don’t know.” Dokja shrugs even as he brings the food to his mouth. “What if you poisoned it?”

Yoo Joonghyuk’s mouth snaps open and then closes again when Dokja takes a bite. “So?” From a normal person, this question would seem eager. From Yoo Joonghyuk, it seems pushy.

“Let me absorb the taste,” Dokja admonishes. He has. It’s delicious — the best chicken he’s ever had in his life, probably. The meat is cooked just right and the seasoning is perfect and this man is apparently blessed with not only ridiculously good looks but a chef’s talent as well, and the world is so unfair that Dokja might just go insane.

Out loud, he says, “It’s okay.”

“Okay,” Yoo Joonghyuk repeats.

Dokja shrugs, resisting the urge to lick the sauce off his lips. “It’s fine. Nothing to write home about.”

“Fine.”

“Yes, fine. Can you come up with words on your own, or will you keep stealing mine?”

Yoo Joonghyuk grits his teeth. “You’re lying.”

“I’m not,” says Dokja easily, and then, foolishly, like Icarus flying too close to the sun, “I can probably do better.”

He knows he’s made a mistake when Yoo Joonghyuk’s lips tilt upward into something not quite a smile. “You can do better?”

“I can,” Dokja replies, because once he’s started lying he won’t stop.

“Then prove it,” says Yoo Joonghyuk, voice low, and Dokja is struck with a few realisations at once.

One — he isn’t a good cook at all. He relies on microwave meals for the vast majority of his diet.

Two — when it’s revealed that he’s not a good cook, he’ll almost certainly never hear the end of it.

Three — Yoo Joonghyuk has a really nice voice. Goddamnit.

Dokja smiles, wondering how the hell he’s going to get himself out of this one. “I will,” he says, and both Yoo Joonghyuk’s eyebrows are raised now and Dokja is so incredibly screwed.

“Good.”

When Dokja walks away and opens his phone, he has twenty-four texts and six missed calls from Han Sooyoung. One in particular jumps out at him:

From: Han Sooyoung
lol did u get a second date

He’s not sure how to tell her that he has.