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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.

Chapter Text

Dokja’s never thought of himself as a particularly competitive person. In fact, he’s probably one of the least competitive people he knows — he’ll only try hard at things when he’s on a team, and that’s just because he doesn’t like dealing with the aftermath of causing others to lose. So really, it makes no sense that he’s visiting every fried chicken stop within a thirty mile radius to see if they match Yoo Joonghyuk’s capabilities.

“It’s hopeless,” he sighs. “It’s like I don’t even like chicken anymore.”

“It can’t have been that good.” Han Sooyoung squints at her laptop, sticking her tongue out as she frantically deletes and retypes something. “Do you think I can tell my editor I’m never doing deadlines again?”

Dokja blinks at her. “Maybe,” he says, and then, “I lied. No.”

She groans. “You’re useless.” Before Dokja can say thanks, he knows, she glowers as if daring him to do so in her presence and continues, “Apparently Lee Hyunsung’s friend has a good recipe. I can ask him to send it over for you if you’re that obsessed.”

“I’m not obsessed,” snaps Dokja. He clears his throat. “But yes, please.”

Han Sooyoung rolls her eyes, typing with a renewed vigor. “Acceptance is the first step to recovery, you know.”

“Then have a full conversation with Yoo Sangah.”

“I don’t — it’s not like — it’s not the same situation,” says Han Sooyoung finally, easing back into practiced nonchalance, “and I don’t even like her like that. I don’t even like her at all .”

“Acceptance is the first step to recovery,” Dokja parrots.

She glares. “I hope your date is shit.”

“Not a date.” Dokja looks down to a text from Lee Hyunsung — sure enough, it’s a recipe for fried chicken, though ridiculously long for no reason. Whoever he’s friends with has to be a huge stick in the ass, but if it helps Dokja, he’s not one to complain. “Do you think I should text him now or after I make it?”

“Ugh,” grumbles Han Sooyoung. “It’s like giving advice to a high schooler.”

“I’m never talking to you again.”

“Finally,” she fires back, but she adds, “Text him now, not later. At least you’ll have a deadline then.”

Dokja stares at his phone. “You’re right,” he agrees, wondering why he feels so strangely nervous.

To: Unknown Number
It’ll be done by tomorrow at noon. Same spot?

To: Unknown Number
I’d say get ready for the best meal of your life, but you already know that.

Yoo Joonghyuk doesn’t reply, but Dokja wasn’t particularly expecting him to, so he doesn’t sulk too much. “Are you smiling at your phone?” Han Sooyoung demands, snapping him out of whatever semi-reverie he let himself sit in.

Dokja fixes his mouth back into a neutral line. “I was just smiling because I love chicken so much.”

“You’re disgusting.”

“You’re one to talk.”

Han Sooyoung flaps her hands in the air and slams her laptop shut. Dokja weighs the pros and cons of lecturing her on the price of breaking a laptop as a writer before wisely deciding to keep his mouth shut. “I always forget I can’t get work done with you around.”

“You say that like it’s my fault,” he replies as she packs her things. “Send me your draft when you’re done.”

“Whatever,” Han Sooyoung calls as she leaves, flipping him off.

Now that he’s alone, Dokja opens the recipe and stares at the mountains of text in front of him. “All right,” he murmurs, steeling himself. “I can do this.”

Theoretically, making fried chicken shouldn’t be too hard. Unfortunately, it’s one of the things he’s stayed away from — the combination of his incoordination, his skittishness around hot objects, and splashing oil is one he’s not particularly fond of exploring. It’s only natural that he wouldn’t be fantastic at it on his first try.

“Yeah,” Dokja says to himself aloud, fully aware that he both looks and sounds insane, “I’m doing fine. This is normal. By tomorrow, I’ll be a chicken cooking genius — ”

His monologue is interrupted by rapping at the door. He wonders why the last time he was able to be at peace in his own apartment was the day before he met Yoo Joonghyuk. Seriously, the man has to be some sort of bad omen. “Hyung,” Lee Gilyoung calls plaintively from outside. “Can we come in?”

“The door’s open,” Dokja replies, and Lee Gilyoung practically breaks it down anyway, a mildly disgruntled Shin Yoosung in tow. “It’s late.”

“It’s only ten,” says Lee Gilyoung, clambering onto a stool and resting his elbows on the table. Shin Yoosung looks as if she’s debating shoving him off. “Yoosung’s parents aren’t home, so we told the lady next door you were my dad so we didn’t have to go to my place.”

“And she believed you?” Really, how old does he look?

“She said it’s no wonder you’re not married,” Shin Yoosung relays cheerfully. Before Dokja can consider the implications of that (and ponder upon the apparent judginess of his neighbor), she adds, “What are you making, ahjussi?”

“Fried chicken,” says Dokja, dipping his tongs into the pot and flinching back when oil flies up toward his face.

“My friend’s brother makes really good fried chicken,” sighs Lee Gilyoung. For a brief, desperate moment, Dokja almost asks if he can have the recipe. “And really good dumplings. And he’s really good at video games and he drives a really cool car, too. He’s good at everything.” 

Shin Yoosung eyes Dokja anxiously. “You’re good at everything too, ahjussi,” she offers with a bright beam.

“Thanks.” Dokja struggles to keep his smile plastered on. “I’m not sure I’m good at everything, though. You don’t need to be.”

“You are,” Shin Yoosung insists, and Lee Gilyoung nods vehemently. Dokja wonders exactly how pathetic it is that he’s fishing for compliments from ten year olds, but that’s a problem for another day. She peers over him into the pot — when did she get that close to the stove? — and stares for a moment before stepping back. “I think your chicken is done.”

Dokja looks into the pot to see just barely charred chicken, which would be serviceable under most circumstances but will undoubtedly get him killed (or worse, give Yoo Joonghyuk a reason to feel so superior) under this one. “Ah.” He turns off the oil. “Thank you; you saved me.”

Shin Yoosung smiles so brightly that for a moment, Dokja’s fine with the fact that his chances of proving Yoo Joonghyuk wrong are foiled. (This time. He’s sure he can get away with pretending this was a one-off, maybe.) “Can I pour the sauce on?” asks Lee Gilyoung after a minute, fingers already twitching toward the bowl.

“Go ahead,” Dokja replies as he gingerly sets the final now dried drumstick in a bowl. Lee Gilyoung beams as he empties the sauce onto the chicken. The coating is mildly uneven, and Yoo Joonghyuk is bound to point this out with whatever almost-smile he wore the other day, but it strikes Dokja that he doesn’t really mind anyway.

+

He’s a liar. He does mind, and even thinking about it is giving him a headache. He’s never been one to back down, though (that’s also a lie, but he doesn’t need to think about it), so at eleven thirty in the morning, he walks out the door with a basket he stole from Han Sooyoung in one hand and a Minion patterned picnic blanket he bought as a joke in the other.

Annoying someone to death while accepting defeat is an art, Dokja thinks, and he’s going to master it.

He arrives exactly two and a half minutes late. Yoo Joonghyuk is already standing under the tree, throwing him a painfully unimpressed look. It doesn’t even have enough energy in it to be a glare, and somehow, this is more infuriating than anything else could be. “You’re late.”

“Traffic,” replies Dokja with an easy smile. There was no traffic, but it’s also only been two minutes, so he thinks he’s fine. He spreads the picnic tarp out and plops down on top of it, setting the basket down and patting the spot next to him. “Join me.”

“What the hell is this,” says Yoo Joonghyuk, staring down at the blanket.

“Minions,” Dokja answers. He blinks. “Have you never seen the films? The first one is sweet, but I think the next few went a little off the rails, and by the time they got their own movie — ”

“Is this the only blanket you have?” Yoo Joonghyuk’s voice sounds mildly strained already. It’s so easy to get under his skin that Dokja might just have to do it forever.

Dokja looks up at him and shifts his smile into something innocent. “It’s my favorite one.” He shakes his head. “Are you really going to shame me for my interests, Yoo Joonghyuk? You’re twenty-eight and still playing games; I don’t know if you’re one to talk.”

“How do you know how old I am?”

“You have an entire Wikipedia page; I was just curious about if I was older,” says Dokja, although now he’s wondering if he sounds obsessed. “I’m sure I could find your height, too, if I wanted.” Yoo Joonghyuk seems too confused to answer — which is good, because that saves Dokja from an awkward conversation on exactly how far he went during his deep dive. “Are you sitting down or not?”

Although Yoo Joonghyuk looks as if it physically pains him to do so, he takes a seat on the blanket a careful distance from Dokja, like he’s afraid of touching him. It’s a little funny. “I’m older, by the way,” Dokja adds, just to fill the space. “And happy belated.”

Yoo Joonghyuk squints at him. “How old are you?”

“You don’t need to know,” Dokja says airily. If he admits it’s only a few months, he’ll lose whatever small edge he has now. “Just know I’m older.”

“You’re lying,” Yoo Joonghyuk decides.

“I’m not. You can ask Yoo Sangah yourself.”

“I will.”

“And you’ll be disappointed.” Dokja cheerfully pops the lid off the basket, peeking inside to confirm that yes, this is his food and yes, it’s unevenly coated and a little burnt on the edges and yes, he will be humiliating himself once again.

Yoo Joonghyuk glares at the chicken before picking a piece out of the basket and bringing it up to eye level. “This isn’t your recipe.”

“Who’s to say it’s not?” Dokja argues, silently wondering how Yoo Joonghyuk figured that out so fast. Seriously, does he have some sort of telepathic power? Is Dokja in a — whatever this is — with a psychic? “Maybe it’s been passed down my family for generations. You know, my ancestors might curse you just for — ”

“It’s my recipe,” Yoo Joonghyuk interrupts, “and you butchered it.”

Ah.

“You’re friends with Lee Hyunsung,” says Dokja, his voice coming out weaker than he wants it to. 

Yoo Joonghyuk glances at him impassively before turning back to the chicken and saying, “The coating is awful.”

“Hey.” Dokja frowns. “A ten year old helped me with that; be nice.” He’s half-expecting Yoo Joonghyuk to say the ten year old is awful, then, but something in his face shifts instead.

“It’s not that bad,” he admits finally.

Yoo Joonghyuk has a soft spot for kids, Dokja notes. Weird.

“Are you going to eat it?” Dokja asks.

“What if you poisoned it?”

Yoo Joonghyuk is capable of both making a joke and remembering past conversations, Dokja notes. Really weird.

“Very funny,” says Dokja flatly, and before he can bluff about the chicken being a little ugly but fantastic on the inside, Yoo Joonghyuk takes a small bite.

“This is horrible.” He makes an expression far too dramatic for what Dokja thinks is incredibly average chicken. “Do you even cook at all?”

Dokja clears his throat. “I have a lot of theoretical knowledge.” He used to read cookbooks to destress during university because they didn’t take too much work to get through. Whether he retained any of that information remains to be seen. “How do you know Lee Hyunsung?”

“It’s none of your business,” Yoo Joonghyuk says coldly.

“Ah, is it because you’re friends with Jung Heewon?” Dokja continues. “I forgot they were dating now.” He pauses, considering. “Wait.” Yoo Joonghyuk doesn’t say anything, but he’s looking at Dokja with something that could be interpreted as curiosity.

There’s no way, Dokja thinks, that every avenue of his adult life ties back to this man, but he asks, “Do you know a kid named Lee Gilyoung?”

Yoo Joonghyuk’s stare is suspicious now. He has to think Dokja’s a stalker. Honestly, he’s a little justified. “Yes,” he says, cautious, and then he doesn’t say anything else.

“He’s the one who helped me with the chicken,” says Dokja brightly. “Is he friends with your sibling? He only really ever talks to one other kid outside school; I was getting worried.” Yoo Joonghyuk opens and closes his mouth, a complicated look crossing his face for just a moment. It’s unnerving. He’s usually freakishly easy to read.

“My sister,” he answers finally, splaying his fingers so that his hand fully covers a minion and gazing up at the sky. He really is handsome, Dokja thinks, eyes drifting across his jawline before he tears them away. It’s disgusting. “I drove him home a few times.”

“Maybe you can bring her over to hang out with him sometime,” Dokja says thoughtfully. “He’s always at my place or in the hallway.”

“You want to — ” Yoo Joonghyuk makes a face that Dokja thinks would signify bewilderment on a normal person, even if his eyebrows are drawn close enough that it feels angry instead. “You want to meet up again?”

Oh. Dokja really must be coming off like a freak right now. “For the kids,” he explains hastily. “Lee Gilyoung’s a little lonely sometimes.”

Yoo Joonghyuk inhales, then exhales, then inhales again. “Sure. Fine.”

“Great.” Dokja beams, fully genuine, and it strikes him that this is the first civil conversation they’ve ever had. “Text me whenever you’re free.”

Yoo Joonghyuk frowns. “No. You text me.”

Ah, well. It had to end sometime.

“I don’t have your entire schedule memorised,” Dokja says, as if explaining math to a child. He revels in the way Yoo Joonghyuk’s jaw clenches so tight it looks like it’ll lock. “I’m sure you’re very busy. Besides, since I’m hosting, you should send me a time so I can get the place adequately ready.”

“Do you live in a dump?”

“No.” Dokja forces his smile wider. “Is it such a crime to want things to be cleaner for guests? I’m a good host, you know.” The only adult he ever has at his apartment is Han Sooyoung, but Yoo Joonghyuk doesn’t need to know that. “Unless you want me to bring Lee Gilyoung to your place, but I’m sure you don’t.”

Yoo Joonghyuk’s face looks as if it’s stuck in an even more severe version of his permanent scowl. “Fine.”

“You’ll text me?” Dokja asks even though he doesn’t need the clarification. Yoo Joonghyuk nods once, seemingly unwilling to provide a verbal answer. “Good. I’ll see you soon, then.”

He really has to stop scheduling these, he thinks as he walks away, but somehow, he doesn’t want to.

Chapter Text

Quitting his job and deciding to work at a bookstore wasn’t so much a conscious choice as a circumstance forced upon him, but all things considered, Dokja thinks it worked out for the best. He spends most of his time in the inventory, preferring to let Yoo Sangah deal with customers, but when they pick out a favorite of his, she calls him up front to wax poetic about it himself. It’s a good system.

“Dokja-ssi,” Yoo Sangah says. “Could you come over here?”

As Dokja walks to the cashier’s desk, he idly wonders which either insanely obscure or insanely trashy novel he’ll have to defend today. Really, it’s not his fault he enjoys bad literature — it’s bad literature’s fault for having aspects he likes to look into. He spends approximately thirty seconds mentally preparing himself to explain to a middle-aged man why the novel with the woman and the shirtless pirate on the cover is worth reading for its character work, so he thinks it’s understandable that he’s confused and mildly disappointed when instead of a middle-aged man, he sees Yoo Joonghyuk.

“Why are you here?” they ask at the same time. Dokja blinks.

“I work here,” he answers first. He squints up at Yoo Joonghyuk. “What about you?”

“This is a bookstore,” says Yoo Joonghyuk, like it isn’t obvious, and then, “I wanted to buy a book.”

Dokja thinks of several responses: you know how to read? or are you stalking me are the first to come to mind, but before he can say either, Yoo Sangah confesses, “I’ve never read it.” She scratches the back of her neck. “I thought it looked like something you might be familiar with.”

Yoo Joonghyuk throws him a judgmental look, which Dokja thinks is completely unfair given he’s the one buying the book in the first place. “All right,” says Dokja, cautious. “What’s the book?”

He’s expecting a few things — a self-help book, maybe, or one of those young-adult literature novels, since he said he had a younger sister. He’s not expecting Yoo Joonghyuk to unapologetically slam down a romance novel with two men embracing under the moonlight as its cover. Dokja swallows a choked laugh. “You want this?” he asks.

Yoo Joonghyuk glares. “Is there an issue?”

“It’s a bad book.”

“Because it’s two men?”

“No, not because it’s — are you kidding?” Dokja’s voice pitches up so that it almost cracks, so he clears his throat. “It’s just a bad book. There’s nothing wrong with — I’m not — I am — ”

“Dokja-ssi,” Yoo Sangah says kindly. “You’re not making much sense, so I can take over from here.”

“Thank you, but I should be fine.” He takes a deep breath and throws on his most advertising-friendly smile. After all, he should just be thinking of Yoo Joonghyuk as a customer, not as Yoo Joonghyuk, who apparently likes shitty gay romance novels. “I can see why it might have appeal, but there are better books out there. For example, this one,” he reaches back and puts another book beside it, “has the same concept, but more interesting execution and characters, not to mention a better ending.”

Yoo Joonghyuk raises his eyebrows. “You’ve read both,” he says — not a question, but a confirmation.

Dokja considers lying and saying he’s just read reviews, but he’s admitted significantly more embarrassing tastes to worse people, so he just shrugs. “And I only liked this one.” Yoo Sangah looks as if she’s trying her best to act like she’s not listening, busying herself with rearranging books in the classics section.

“I’ll buy this one, then,” decides Yoo Joonghyuk, shoving Dokja’s choice toward him. Dokja, despite his best efforts, lets a bewildered smile spread across his face.

“Do my recommendations mean a lot to you?” he asks, regaining his composure as Yoo Joonghyuk swipes his card through the register. “How sweet.”

“Shut up.”

“I hope you enjoy the novel,” Dokja continues, handing Yoo Joonghyuk his bag. “Let me know how you like it.”

It might be wishful thinking, but he swears he sees a ghost of a grin cross Yoo Joonghyuk’s features before he’s back to his usual disgruntled frown. “I won’t,” he says, and he leaves with the bag on his arm, his coat billowing behind him. It’s thirty one degrees outside. Dokja wonders if he’s somehow immune to heat.

“So everything’s going well between you two?” Yoo Sangah asks, no longer bothering to pretend she hasn’t been eavesdropping. Dokja shoots her a quizzical glance.

“What do you mean?”

She frowns. “Sooyoung-ssi said you guys are going on dates.”

For a moment, Dokja’s too blindsided by the fact that Han Sooyoung apparently gathered enough courage and awareness to have a civil conversation with Yoo Sangah to focus on what exactly she said. “We’re not,” he denies quickly after his brain catches up, but the hesitation makes it seem more suspicious than it is.

“Of course,” Yoo Sangah replies politely. She smiles, ever-angelic. “You know I wouldn’t have an issue with it if you were, right?”

“Yes.” He feels a flush spread down to his neck and curses himself for acting even more suspicious. “I know, Sangah-ssi; don’t worry, but I — that’s not what’s happening. At all.” He doesn’t know what else to say that won’t further convince her otherwise, so he just continues, “You and Han Sooyoung are on friendly terms now?”

Predictably, this flusters Yoo Sangah enough for them to leave the conversation behind altogether, and Dokja spends the rest of his shift listening to her stumble over a clumsy explanation about what exactly she and Han Sooyoung are. Even as he leaves, though, Yoo Sangah’s excuses fresh in his mind, he finds himself wondering why he can’t stop thinking about Yoo Joonghyuk’s split-second smile.

+

“Hyung,” Lee Gilyoung says, tugging on Dokja’s sleeve. “My friends aren’t all girls, you know.”

Dokja nods patiently as he sets out a bowl of snacks for the kids. “I’m sure they’re not.” He glances down at Lee Gilyoung. “But even if they were, there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Lee Gilyoung brightens. “You’re right. Your only friend is Sooyoung-noona, right? And she’s a girl.” That’s not at all the conclusion Dokja expected or wanted him to reach, but he supposes if it teaches him the right lesson, it’ll do.

“Is Yoosung-ah joining us today?” he asks instead of continuing that discussion or worse, arguing with a ten year old about how many friends he has.

“Yes.” Lee Gilyoung wrinkles his nose. “She thinks Mia’s brother is handsome.” Well, Dokja thinks resignedly. She’s right. At least they still love Dokja for his winning personality.

Ten minutes later, after the apartment has been judged sufficiently clean and safe for children (though it’s not like it was unsafe before — he barely owns kitchen knives, let alone actual weapons), Dokja settles down on the couch with Lee Gilyoung. “How do you know Mia, hyung?”

“Ah, her brother’s my…” Dokja pauses, feeling an odd sense of deja vu, before he amends, “I know her brother.”

“Is he your friend too?”

“He’s definitely something,” says Dokja vaguely. He’s saved from clarifying what exactly that something is by someone knocking at the door. Lee Gilyoung reaches it before Dokja does, opening it to find Yoo Joonghyuk accompanied by Shin Yoosung and a mini-Yoo Joonghyuk clone Dokja assumes must be his sister.

“This is my friend Yoo Mia,” Shin Yoosung says, gesturing at mini-Yoo Joonghyuk, and then, pointing at Dokja, she says, “this is Dokja-ahjussi.” She beams, pointing up at Yoo Joonghyuk, whose mouth is obscured by a black face mask. Dokja can only imagine that he’s frowning under it. “And that’s Joonghyuk-oppa.”

“Dokja-hyung and Joonghyuk-hyung are friends,” says Lee Gilyoung, seemingly proud at knowing a Dokja Fact that Shin Yoosung doesn’t yet. Yoo Joonghyuk’s eyebrows draw together.

“Oppa,” Yoo Mia says disapprovingly before Dokja can clarify that they’re not, “you’re friends with ugly people?”

“Ahjussi isn’t ugly!” Shin Yoosung looks as if Yoo Mia just insulted her child, which Dokja’s both touched and confused by. She turns to him. “Ahjussi, you’re not ugly.” 

“The heart matters more than the face, anyway,” Lee Gilyoung says wisely.

“Are we getting everyone’s thoughts on this?” Dokja asks, exhausted. “Yoo Joonghyuk, do you have an opinion on my face, too?”

Yoo Joonghyuk, now conspicuously maskless, gives him a long, complicated stare before saying, “We’re not friends.”

“Not what I asked.” Dokja clicks his tongue against his teeth thoughtfully. “Avoiding the question is a little suspicious, though.”

“Don’t,” Yoo Joonghyuk warns. Dokja doesn’t particularly feel like coming off as more immature than the children he’s supposed to be taking care of, so he just nudges Lee Gilyoung aside to let everyone in. The kids immediately run to the living room, Lee Gilyoung and Shin Yoosung punching each other while Yoo Mia eggs them on, leaving Dokja and Yoo Joonghyuk awkwardly standing at the entrance together.

Dokja shuffles toward the kitchen. “Did you like the book?” he asks, pouring himself a cup of coffee. “I didn’t think it would be your style.” Then again, he didn’t think the first book would be Yoo Joonghyuk’s style either. The man is full of surprises.

“It was fine.” Yoo Joonghyuk sits at the stool Lee Gilyoung usually occupies. He dwarfs it entirely, making him look slightly ridiculous as he hunches over the counter. “The plot was weak.”

Something like a snort escapes Dokja, and he quickly moves past it. “It’s a romance novel. They’re not known for being plot heavy. Were the characters any good, at least? I thought the love interest was a bit annoying sometimes, but the protagonist was cool.”

“I bought it for someone else,” says Yoo Joonghyuk instead of answering.

“A friend?” Dokja asks. He sighs. “No, I forgot you don’t have friends. A colleague, then? Do you work with people? How do you like your coffee?”

“What?”

Dokja gestures at the coffee machine. “Do you want some?”

“You probably use instant coffee,” Yoo Joonghyuk says, eyeing the machine warily.

“It keeps me awake,” says Dokja defensively as he stirs. He dumps two more sugar packets than he usually would just to see Yoo Joonghyuk grimace. “Do you only buy gourmet Peruvian dark roast or something?”

Yoo Joonghyuk is silent — interesting, because if it were false, Dokja thinks he would defend his honor through at least a be quiet . He suppresses a smile. “I’ll stock up on gourmet Peruvian dark roast for you, then.” He realises a moment too late that this implies Yoo Joonghyuk will be coming back, but he’s made his bed and he’ll lie in it. When he turns around, coffee in hand, Yoo Joonghyuk’s watching him, unreadable. “Is something wrong?” he asks.

Yoo Joonghyuk glares down at the table. “No.”

After a long moment of silence, Dokja considers asking if he wants any food, if only so that he can watch Yoo Joonghyuk’s confused glare turn into rage at his collection of microwave meals. Before he can, though, Yoo Joonghyuk says, “I liked the love interest.”

Dokja tilts his head. “Really?” he asks. “He never shut up.”

Yoo Joonghyuk stares at him as if daring him to question his taste again. Maybe he would get along with Han Sooyoung, then, Dokja muses as he takes a sip of his coffee. If they ever got to know each other, that is. He should invite both of them to an event together just to see the fallout.

“Your sister looks just like you, you know,” says Dokja, pulling over a chair and sitting at the counter. “I bet you get that all the time.” He sighs, tapping the cup and watching the coffee swirl inside. “It’s nice that you guys live together.”

“It is,” Yoo Joonghyuk agrees, surprising him, and then he doesn’t say anything else.

“When I was little,” Dokja continues (carefully, because thinking about when he was little usually ends in decisions he regrets), “I always wished I had a sibling. A brother to take care of or something.” He grins, a little rueful. “And now Lee Gilyoung is here all the time, so I guess it worked out.”

If Yoo Sangah were here, she’d say he’s a good man for taking care of Lee Gilyoung like he does. If Han Sooyoung were, she’d slap him upside the head and take him to a restaurant to distract him. Yoo Joonghyuk’s here instead, though, and he has neither Yoo Sangah’s natural affinity for emotion nor Han Sooyoung’s full knowledge of Dokja’s past. Still, he says, “He’s a good kid,” and it makes Dokja feel just as warm anyway.

An odd feeling is settling in Dokja’s chest and he’s not sure if he likes it, but he wants to stop thinking about it. “Did you know,” he asks, too fast, “that if you want to reheat something in the microwave, you should put it in between paper towels and leave it in for a minute on low power?”

Yoo Joonghyuk looks unimpressed. This, at least, is familiar. “Why would I ever need to know that,” he says.

“Do you not use a microwave?”

“I cook.”

“Do you never have leftovers?”

“I make the right portions.”

“So you’ve never had to rewarm leftovers in your life?” Dokja sighs. “Yoo Joonghyuk, I’m starting to think you’re not human.”

“Be quiet,” says Yoo Joonghyuk, but it sounds less irritated than normal. Maybe Dokja’s growing on him. Like a leech, he thinks fondly.

They go back and forth over the merits of microwaving meals until the sun begins to set, bathing the kitchen and Yoo Joonghyuk’s face with an orange glow. It suits him, Dokja thinks, like everything else in the world — makes him look softer, somehow. “We should leave,” Yoo Joonghyuk mutters. His hair glints gold. For some reason, Dokja feels like he should look away.

“If you’re sure,” Dokja says, standing up and stretching. He walks to the door with Yoo Joonghyuk, smiling when the kids run over, slipping on the wood and quickly righting themselves. “It was nice meeting you, Yoo Mia-ssi. I hope we’ll see each other again.”

“It was nice meeting you too. I’m sorry for calling you ugly,” says Yoo Mia, looking as if she’s being forced to. Shin Yoosung nods approvingly, and Dokja ruffles her hair.

“I’ll see you later, then?” he asks, directed at Yoo Joonghyuk. It feels odd not having an official next meeting scheduled, but he gets the feeling that they’re past that. He hopes. Either that, or they’ll never see each other again and this will be marked down as one of the stranger months of Dokja’s life.

Luckily, Yoo Joonghyuk nods. “You text me,” he says as Yoo Mia tugs him toward the elevator. Dokja knows it’s supposed to be an order, but it feels more like a reassurance anyway. Something has to be seriously wrong with his brain.

He pulls his phone out after everyone’s left and opens his messages.

From: Yoo Sangah
I read the book you sold Joonghyuk-ssi the other day.

From: Yoo Sangah
The love interest reminded me a little of you.

That has to just be a coincidence, Dokja thinks, but he finds himself smiling all the same.

Chapter Text

“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.

Chapter Text

Not bringing an umbrella to work when there was a ninety percent chance of rain today was probably one of Dokja’s poorer decisions, all things considered, but now he’s stuck here and he’ll make the best of it. “Hi, just wondering,” he says over the phone, easy and timid in the way that usually gets superiors to like him well enough, “is there a chance I could stay in here until the storm calms down?” It’s five minutes from midnight, but he’s always been a dependable worker, so really, he thinks he deserves this.

“It’s raining until six tomorrow morning,” his boss replies. “So unless you want to sleep on a bookshelf, I’d suggest you get a ride.”

“Right,” Dokja says. He pauses. “Thanks. I’ll — I’ll get one.” He always walks home, and there’s no way Han Sooyoung’s going to be willing to pick him up this late when she’s usually bothering Jung Heewon right now, but he has to try.

To: Han Sooyoung
Can you pick me up from work?

From: Han Sooyoung
no

She doesn’t offer any other explanation, which is weird, and her refusal leaves Dokja with very few options. He could text Yoo Sangah, but he doesn’t think they’re quite close enough for that — or he could ask Jung Heewon, but she’s working right now, and Lee Hyunsung is probably asleep because he has his life together, and Lee Gilyoung and Shin Yoosung are actual children, which just leaves —

To: Unknown Number
Are you awake right now?

The answer is worryingly immediate.

From: Unknown Number
What do you want

To: Unknown Number
You probably have a nice car.

From: Unknown Number
Get to the point or I’ll block you

Dokja grins, quickly tapping at his phone before Yoo Joonghyuk can follow through on his threat.

To: Unknown Number
Since we’re friends, can you pick me up from work?

To: Unknown Number
Han Sooyoung’s busy.

To: Unknown Number
I’m counting on you ≧◠◡◠≦

He’s expecting a no — though what he’s going to do after that, he’s not sure — but luckily, Yoo Joonghyuk replies with Fine and nothing more, oddly generous. (Though if Dokja really thinks about it, Yoo Joonghyuk’s generous most of the time. He’s just so mean.) 

Dokja’s planning to spend his last twenty minutes safely in the bookstore. After ten, though, his boss calls him and says he has to get out now or else, so he walks outside and stands in the rain and curses capitalism while he slowly catches a cold. Yoo Joonghyuk’s car probably has those leather seats with warmers inside, Dokja thinks. At the very least, he can bother him for being obnoxiously rich.

Yoo Joonghyuk, unfortunately, arrives on foot, dry and still wearing his damn jacket in the middle of a horrifically humid night. “I had to park a few minutes away,” he says. “It’s busy.”

“There’s a bar nearby,” Dokja explains. He tilts his head, letting his smile widen even as rain drenches his hair. “Interesting look.”

“Shut up,” says Yoo Joonghyuk. Dokja’s eyes flicker from his all-black ensemble up to the pink floral umbrella held stubbornly over his head. “Shut up,” he repeats, looking a fascinating cross between constipated and murderous.

Dokja holds his hands up innocently. “I was just admiring your outfit,” he replies, biting his tongue so he doesn’t laugh as Yoo Joonghyuk’s glare deepens. “It’s brave to wear black day in and day out. Consistency is a good trait, you know.”

Yoo Joonghyuk looks as if he’s about to take the umbrella and jab it into Dokja’s eye. Instead, he gestures at Dokja’s shirt, soaking wet. (He definitely looks pathetic right now, but he always seems to look a little pathetic around Yoo Joonghyuk, so he thinks he can handle it.) “I’m going to walk away,” Yoo Joonghyuk warns, and Dokja hurries under the umbrella’s shelter, wondering if he can get away with stealing his jacket too.

“Thanks,” he says, soft, and that feels a little too sincere on its own, so he adds, “are those frogs? On the umbrella, I mean.”

“I borrowed it,” says Yoo Joonghyuk, wearing an expression of such pure regret and agony Dokja almost feels bad for just a second.

“They’re very cute, Joonghyuk-ah,” lectures Dokja. “There’s no need to be ashamed of liking frivolous things every once in awhile.” Yoo Joonghyuk’s cheeks color a faint red — just enough that if Dokja makes fun of it, it’ll be obvious he’s staring.

“Don’t call me that,” he says.

Dokja frowns. “I thought we were friends.”

“We’re not.”

Yoo Joonghyuk, Dokja thinks, is becoming more predictable by the day. Still, he’s interesting to listen to — like a foreign specimen Dokja’s studying, or something. A freakishly handsome foreign specimen that’s rude for no reason. He’s getting off track. The umbrella is ridiculous.

“Did you borrow it from your sister?” Dokja asks. Yoo Joonghyuk looks at him like he’s some sort of idiot, as if it’s so unreasonable for a nine year old to like pink frog umbrellas.

“No.”

“Then who?”

“Someone else.”

Dokja clicks his tongue against his teeth. “No offense, Joonghyuk-ah — ”

“Don’t — ”

“But you don’t strike me as the type to have a lot of friends,” he finishes easily. Yoo Joonghyuk looks exhausted. Dokja thinks this is the most fun he’s had on a walk in awhile, even as the storm pours against the umbrella so loudly he has to yell. “Is it a gift from a fan? I thought they would all be teenage boys, but I guess I shouldn’t stereotype.” He pauses, considering. “Though maybe teenage boys would give you that too, huh? Or maybe you bought it on your own and you’re just embarrassed — which you shouldn’t be — ”

“We’re here,” Yoo Joonghyuk interrupts. He does have a nice car. For a brief moment, Dokja considers robbing him.

“Aren’t you going to open the door for me?” he asks instead, batting his lashes. Yoo Joonghyuk’s eye twitches violently. “I’m a guest, you know. Mind your manners.” 

In a quick, smooth motion, Yoo Joonghyuk takes a key out of one of the pockets of his stupid trenchcoat and unlocks the car door. “Open it yourself,” he says, “or I’ll leave without you.”

Dokja gets in, but not without grumbling about how unfair this all is. Yoo Joonghyuk steadily ignores him as he starts the car — and of course he’s the kind of cool person who drives with one hand on the road and the other on the windowsill. Of course he looks concentrated and intense when he’s driving in the middle of Seoul on a rainy, busy night, when Dokja would just look frazzled and slightly deranged. Of course.

After six and a half minutes, Yoo Joonghyuk parks just outside Dokja’s apartment complex — and he does that perfectly too, even as he drives past the weird part of the curb where everyone ruins their tires. “Thank you,” Dokja says, overly sweet so Yoo Joonghyuk won’t hold his sincerity against him.

“I’ll walk you up,” says Yoo Joonghyuk suddenly. He looks almost surprised at himself, which would be funny if Dokja weren’t so caught off guard.

“Huh?”

Yoo Joonghyuk stares at him. “Is there something wrong?”

Isn’t that a date thing? Dokja wants to say, but he’s walked Yoo Sangah to her apartment before, just to make sure she’s safe, and he and Han Sooyoung have accompanied each other to their flats more times than he can count. Why, then, does it feel so charged when Yoo Joonghyuk asks?

It has to be the humidity affecting him, he decides. “No,” he chirps. “I just didn’t think you’d be so nice.”

If Yoo Joonghyuk were the eye-rolling type, Dokja thinks he would right now. Instead he just strides into the building, holding the umbrella over his head so Dokja has to speedwalk beside him to keep dry. Once they reach his apartment, Dokja rocks back and forth on his heels before remembering that’s embarrassing and stopping.

“Um,” he says, awkwardly. “Thank you. Really.” The hallway light illuminates Yoo Joonghyuk’s features in a way that makes them seem even sharper, bright and intelligent and all too close.

“No problem,” he replies, his eyes dark and clear. Unbidden, Dokja’s mind hisses that if this were a date, now is when he’d kiss him goodnight. He really needs to stop thinking.

“I’ll, uh.” Dokja takes a step back. “I’ll see you around. Drive safe.”

Yoo Joonghyuk’s expression is indecipherable. “I will,” he says, and then he turns around and leaves.

If Dokja lies awake for another four hours staring at his ceiling and wondering what the hell any of this means — that’s not anyone’s concern, anyway.

+

It has to be normal to occasionally wonder about kissing your friend, Dokja thinks. Back in college, he had a nightmare he kissed Han Sooyoung at a party and when he told her about it, she laughed so hard she began hiccuping. This is basically the same thing, but without the existential dread and during his waking hours and significantly less funny for both parties involved. It’s normal. He’s normal.

Han Sooyoung takes one look at him when she arrives at his apartment and says, “I don’t have time for whatever bullshit you’re about to say.”

Dokja frowns. “How do you know it’s bullshit?”

“Everything you say is bullshit,” Han Sooyoung explains. She lies down on the couch and kicks her legs over the armrest. “I met with Yoo Sangah yesterday.”

“Congratulations.”

“Shut up.” Han Sooyoung throws a hand across her forehead. “I think it might’ve been a date. We got dinner and drinks and I walked her home.” Dokja’s a horrible friend, because all he can think about right now is Yoo Joonghyuk walking him home after what was most certainly not a date. “But I don’t — and I don’t even — and she’s — and — like — ”

“You should probably talk to her about it.”

“Ugh,” Han Sooyoung groans. “But if it wasn’t a date it’s gonna be so humiliating for me.”

“If it wasn’t a date, you can just make plans for one next time, and if she says no, just go back to annoying her like before.” Dokja feels like he’s giving advice to a child. “She’s not mean; she won’t stop talking to you just because she doesn't feel the same.”

Han Sooyoung scowls at him. “I’ll think about it.” Her gaze turns shrewd like it always does when she’s trying not to talk about herself. “Hey, what bullshit were you about to say?”

“Oh, just,” he shrugs unconvincingly, “stuff. Do you want breakfast?”

“Was it about Yoo Joonghyuk?” Her smile is sharklike. Dokja sometimes wonders whether she’s secretly some sort of demon masquerading as a person. “Did you go on a date?”

“You’re not funny.”

“Come on, I admitted my embarrassing crush — ”

“It’s not a crush,” Dokja interrupts, because it’s not. He’d have to be insane and have horrible taste to like Yoo Joonghyuk of all people. If anything, he thinks his brain is getting muddled because Yoo Joonghyuk’s both handsome and painfully flawed in a way that makes him less untouchable than Yoo Sangah or something. This line of thought can only lead to disastrous consequences, so he clears his throat. “Seriously, do you want breakfast or do you want to get out?”

Han Sooyoung stands up and stretches, yawning obnoxiously. “I don’t want your ugly soggy cereal, but I’m hungry.” Dokja opens his mouth, and she rolls her eyes. “Don’t say it’s not ugly; it is.”

“I wasn’t going to,” he lies. “Yoo Joonghyuk gave me a bunch of pancakes to heat up whenever; he said he didn’t want me feeding the kids shit.” Han Sooyoung looks absolutely delighted at this turn of events, which is always a bad sign.

“He’s cooking you meals ?”

“He has a lot of extra batter,” he mutters. Now that he’s saying it out loud, it does sound kind of like a weak excuse, but there’s no way Yoo Joonghyuk’s going out of his way to make Dokja breakfast for a week, so it has to be true. “Do you want the food or not?”

“Obviously.”

“Then shut up.”

She heads over to the kitchen and opens the fridge before he can. “Oh, shit, he can actually cook?”

“He can do everything,” Dokja says — not in an I-have-a-crush-on-him way, but in a permanently exhausted at the unending abilities of that freak of nature way. Judging from Han Sooyoung’s expression, it comes off as the former, so he continues, “Hey, you know he can cook; he made us lunch a couple weeks ago.”

She shrugs. “I thought it was like, the one gimmick. Like he makes really good fried chicken but he’s shit at everything else. Man, he sucks.”

“He does.”

“These pancakes are good, though,” she says through a muffled bite. Dokja snatches the plate from her.

“At least warm them up, you animal,” he snaps. Han Sooyoung makes a face at him. While they’re waiting for the pancakes to warm up (in the microwave even though Yoo Joonghyuk made him promise to use a stove), Dokja pulls out his phone.

To: Unknown Number
Did you get home okay last night?

To: Unknown Number
Because of the rain, I mean.

He doesn’t know why he’s doing this. If Yoo Joonghyuk were involved in some sort of disastrous car crash, he thinks he’d know by now. Still, he glances down at the screen as he waits for an answer.

From: Unknown Number
Yes

To: Unknown Number
I’m glad.

That feels too — vulnerable, almost, so he quickly adds: 

To: Unknown Number
Since you’ll be my chauffeur from now on, it’s important that your car stays in shape.

From: Unknown Number
I’ll kill you

To: Unknown Number
Come on, Joonghyuk-ah. Help a friend out.

From: Unknown Number
Be quiet

Yeah, he thinks, smiling as he pockets his phone. He definitely doesn’t have a crush on that idiot.