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on the art of unplanned serenading

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“We’re going to the movies today,” Han Sooyoung announces. She slams her bag onto Dokja’s countertop. Someday, her laptop is going to break, and when it does he won’t replace it. “There’s this one with — ”

“With the alien girl and the monster superhero and the guts scene,” Dokja completes. “It looks bad.”

When Han Sooyoung smiles, it looks scarily close to a wolf baring its teeth. “I have to watch it before Yoo Sangah spoils it for me and I’m not going to the movies alone like some kind of loser — ”

“I go to the movies alone,” he says mildly.

“Yeah.” She seems almost painfully unimpressed. Were it not for his Han Sooyoung related immunity, he would be a little hurt. “Exactly. Anyway, you’re coming with me.”

Dokja glances down at his phone, checking his (admittedly nearly empty) schedule. “I guess I could pencil you in for this afternoon.”

“You can pencil me in for right now,” she decides, grabbing his arm and tugging him out the door and into the elevator. “She doesn’t have work this afternoon. I’m not taking that chance.”

“Hey,” he realises as they step into the car. “Why do you know her schedule?” Han Sooyoung glares at him for exactly four and a half seconds before slamming the door and climbing into the driver’s seat. Dokja isn’t sure what exactly is happening there, but he silently wishes Yoo Sangah the best of luck whenever they get it sorted out.

She seems to have calmed down by the time they reach the theater, which Dokja’s grateful for: he appreciates Han Sooyoung at her most insane, but he also appreciates not being escorted out of public spaces. “Is it really that bad?” she asks as they enter. Dokja shrugs.

“It has a one and a half star rating,” he reads aloud from his phone. “Critics called it miraculously unimaginative, considering the outlandishness of every plot point.”

“A lot of big words,” Han Sooyoung mutters. Dokja’s about to say that she shouldn’t be fazed by them given her line of work, but he’s distracted by a very familiar dark coat in front of him.

“Yoo Joonghyuk?” he calls.

Yoo Joonghyuk turns around, looking as if he somehow expected this. “Kim Dokja.”

“What,” says Han Sooyoung, “are you just gonna say each other’s names? Is that how you people say hi?” Dokja elbows her.

Next to Yoo Joonghyuk, a woman in dark sunglasses waves. It takes Dokja a moment to figure out that it’s Jung Heewon, and by the time he does, Han Sooyoung’s already begun to harass her, leaving him alone with Yoo Joonghyuk across from him.

“So,” he says, a little awkwardly, “fancy meeting you here.”

Yoo Joonghyuk makes a face — or, more accurately, his eyebrow twitches. “Don’t talk like that.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Like — ” Yoo Joonghyuk doesn’t finish his sentence, instead opting to cross his arms and glower at the floor like a particularly petulant child.

“What movie are you seeing?” Dokja asks instead of making fun of him, because he’s feeling gracious and kind today. Yoo Joonghyuk has the audacity to redirect his stare at him. “I don’t know the title of ours, but it’s the eleven o’clock showing of the one with the aliens and the monsters and the superheroes.”

“We’re seeing the same one.” Yoo Joonghyuk uses a tone that suggests even entertaining Dokja’s interrogation is beneath him, which feels a little rude. He thought they were making progress after last time.

“At the same time?”

“Dumbass,” says Han Sooyoung, now for some reason being princess carried by Jung Heewon, “why else would he be here?”

“Don't listen in on conversations; it’s rude,” Dokja replies with a saccharine smile. 

Jung Heewon snorts, almost dropping Han Sooyoung in the process. “Hey, if we’re all watching at the same time, we should sit together,” she says cheerily. “I didn’t know Yoo Joonghyuk had friends; it’s like seeing a kid grow up.”

“Shut up,” says Yoo Joonghyuk.

Han Sooyoung rolls her eyes. “What a varied vocabulary.”

He sends her a glare that would make anybody with a sense of shame cower. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have one, so she just glares back. “I think,” says Dokja, strategically positioning himself between them, “we should watch it together. It would be fun.”

This is how he finds himself watching an alien fight a superhero zombie monster thing with impressively horrible CGI next to Yoo Joonghyuk, who looks as if he’s somehow gleaning meaning from it all. “Hey,” Dokja whispers. Yoo Joonghyuk pretends not to hear him. 

“Hey,” Dokja whispers again, louder.

“Do you always talk during movies?” Yoo Joonghyuk asks.

Dokja beams. “Only when I’m bored. What’s going on, by the way?”

“You’re an idiot,” Yoo Joonghyuk snaps, but he launches into an explanation about the alien girl’s romantic history with the superhero monster anyway. It’s a little funny that the plot was so dull that Dokja almost fell asleep through around half the movie, but when Yoo Joonghyuk explains it, suddenly it feels interesting. He thinks his talents were wasted on being some sort of gamer god, because he’d be a good storyteller too.

“And that’s why — are you listening?”

“Of course I am.” Dokja props his elbow onto their shared armrest and lets himself silently laugh when Yoo Joonghyuk flinches back. “You never talk this much; I have to pay attention, don’t I?”

When he glances over, Yoo Joonghyuk is looking at him with a quiet, unreadable expression — or maybe it’s not that unreadable and Dokja’s just thrown off by the reflection of the film across his face, casting blue-black shadows over his skin. Either way, it’s strange in a way that’s not uncomfortable, and Dokja doesn’t want to deal with it right now.

“Kim Dokja,” he murmurs, soft, and then, “watch the movie.”

Dokja sighs and turns to watch the sixth battle scene in a row, but through the rest of the film, he finds himself sneaking glances at Yoo Joonghyuk — and, more disconcertingly, Yoo Joonghyuk always seems to be staring back.

+

“Today was fun,” says Jung Heewon as she slings an arm around Yoo Joonghyuk, who looks like he’s going to bite it off. “Hey, Hyunsung-ah asked a bunch of us to come over for lunch; you were invited, right?”

“Ah,” says Dokja. He hasn’t checked his texts in a week. “Probably.”

Jung Heewon gives him a look that makes it clear that she’s judging. “I was gonna ask you if you were planning to come.” She pauses. “This guy’ll be there.”

“You’re going?” Dokja asks. Yoo Joonghyuk inclines his head forward in a motion that’s not exactly a nod. He wonders how Yoo Joonghyuk acts in — well, not his natural habitat, which Dokja suspects is some sort of isolated space pod or something — but in a setting where he’s forced to behave like a human being. “I’ll come.”

Jung Heewon’s eyes flicker between him and Yoo Joonghyuk before she raises an eyebrow at Han Sooyoung, who shrugs. “Hm,” she says.

Dokja blinks at her. “What?”

“Hm,” she repeats, and then she smiles, knowing and a little wicked. “See you in twenty, then. Come on, asshole; let’s go.”

Yoo Joonghyuk crossly mutters something in reply, but he follows her out anyway, shooting Dokja a glance behind his back before they leave. “What was that about?”

“You’ll see someday,” says Han Sooyoung, ruffling his hair as they reach her car. The condescending effect is somewhat offset by the fact that she has to stand on her tiptoes to reach, but he slaps her hand away anyway. “Am I on volunteer duty or can I just drop you off?”

“Yoo Sangah will probably be there.” Dokja closes the door. “So if you want to talk to her — ”

Han Sooyoung splutters for about ten seconds straight, which Dokja thinks has to be some kind of record. “Why the hell would I care?” After a few moments of silence, she grumbles, “I’ll stay, I guess.” Dokja snickers, and she punches his shoulder without taking her eyes off the road.

They arrive just as the others do, and as Han Sooyoung moves forward to walk with Jung Heewon, Yoo Joonghyuk falls back. Dokja chooses not to ask why he wants to walk by him (he assumes it’s because he’s the lesser of two evils) and instead asks, “Are you cooking?”

“Only the chicken.”

“Oh, good,” Dokja says. “Then we’ll see if it was a fluke or not.” Lately, his words have inspired a worryingly little amount of murderous rage from Yoo Joonghyuk, so he’s relieved to see his entire face contort for just a moment.

“It wasn’t.”

“We’ll see,” Dokja repeats brightly. “Hey, since we’re friends now — ”

“We’re not friends.”

“I think I should get to call you Joonghyuk-ah, right?” he continues. Yoo Joonghyuk is silent for so long Dokja thinks he might have genuinely not heard him.

“If I say no,” he says just as Dokja’s about to ask again, “will you listen?”

Dokja grins. “Probably not.”

“No,” Yoo Joonghyuk answers anyway.

“It’ll grow on you,” Dokja promises. “You’ll see.” He patiently listens to Yoo Joonghyuk threaten him with grievous bodily injury for two minutes as they reach the kitchen, where Lee Hyunsung and Yoo Sangah are poring over chocolate chip cookie ingredients together. Han Sooyoung promptly begins to complain about why Yoo Sangah’s baking, when she apparently has the taste buds of a grandfather, and Dokja silently makes his way to the counter and takes a seat.

Lee Hyunsung lifts his eyes toward him. “Are you not cooking, Dokja-ssi?” he asks.

“He’s not,” Yoo Joonghyuk says before he can.

“Hey.” Dokja glares at him. “Don’t speak for me; what if I wanted to cook?”

“Do you want to cook?” asks Yoo Sangah calmly, smiling at him even as she wrestles a cookbook out of Han Sooyoung’s grip.

Briefly, Dokja considers whether it’s better to humiliate himself now or after everyone finds out his food is shit. He’s already gone down that avenue once, though, so he just sighs. “No, I don’t.” Yoo Joonghyuk seems oddly triumphant as he begins to dice onions. A small, vengeful part of Dokja wants to grab the knife from him just so that he won’t look so damn pleased with himself.

He ends up not doing much of anything for the next hour — he offers to help Jung Heewon with the refreshments, but she declines, which is fair given that she’s a bartender and he tries not to drink. It would make him feel a little guilty if Yoo Joonghyuk didn’t look so satisfyingly frustrated. “What,” asks Dokja, “should I help you?”

“I’ll kill you.”

When they sit down, Yoo Joonghyuk serves the chicken to everyone: once again, it’s beautiful, and once again, it probably tastes like some piece of heaven fell to Earth. He glances at Dokja with another strange expression as he sits beside him — almost challenging, maybe. “Try it.”

“Don’t order me around,” Dokja replies airily. He takes a cautious bite. It’s perfect, as expected. “Better than last time, at least.”

“I think it’s great,” Lee Hyunsung says earnestly. While Yoo Sangah echoes the sentiment, Jung Heewon throws him another long, discerning stare. He doesn’t know quite how to respond, so he digs into his chicken and ignores Yoo Joonghyuk’s stupidly smug face.

“Ah, Joonghyuk-ssi,” says Yoo Sangah, leaning forward. “How did you end up liking that book?”

For a moment, Dokja thinks Yoo Joonghyuk might deny he read it, or say something about how he doesn’t feel like discussing it here in front of everyone. Yoo Joonghyuk must be lacking in the shame department too, though, because he just answers, “It was okay.”

“His favorite character was the love interest,” Dokja says abruptly. He’s not quite sure why.

Yoo Sangah’s lips curl into a small smile. “That’s nice,” she says. “You know, I read it too, and the love interest — ”

“Hey, Jung Heewon,” Han Sooyoung calls loudly, interrupting her. “Pour me a drink.”

“Pour it yourself, bastard,” Jung Heewon barks back. Yoo Sangah clicks her tongue against her teeth before she begins to mediate whatever’s going on there.

Yoo Joonghyuk’s brows are furrowed. “Do you know what she was going to say?”

“Nope,” Dokja lies cheerfully, though he’s not quite sure why he does that either. Yoo Joonghyuk shakes his head and continues eating in silence, staring at each cut of meat like it’ll kill him before he puts it in his mouth. Dokja realises, a moment later, that he’s sort of cute, objectively.

Well, he decides as he picks up his own food. He’ll shove that in the back of his mind to deal with later.

When they leave, Han Sooyoung drives in silence for forty seconds before saying, "You're never allowed to get mad at me for flirting weird again."

"So you're admitting you were flirting?" Dokja asks reflexively before his brain catches up. "Wait, why?"

She looks a cross between disappointed and resigned. "You really don't know, huh?"

Dokja doesn't know why, but her question lingers long after he's gotten home.