Sometimes, Kim Dokja gets a look on his face like he’s seeing a whole other world.
Yoo Sangah doesn’t think many other people notice. Kim Dokja is very good at concealing his emotions to the world at large, but being one of the few people to have the luxury of being close to him, she likes to think she can read him quite well at times. Of course, he’s still a mysterious figure, but somehow, he’s more human when he’s around his friends, even when he’s trying to close himself off.
So, sometimes, Yoo Sangah looks at him, and she sees him staring with something like longing. When they first met, she thought he was checking her out like most of their male coworkers did. She hadn’t been very inclined to hold a conversation with him, but unlike their coworkers, he was nothing but polite to her, no matter how unnerving his stare might have been. It was only until she saw him look at Jung Heewon and Lee Hyunsung the same way that she realized, Oh, that’s just Kim Dokja.
Now, years into their friendship, she knows that expression well. She’s never brought it up, but she’s observed it enough times that alongside longing, there’s something almost painfully sad in his eyes. It’s like there’s a piece of him missing. On particularly bad days, he comes into work or to gatherings with bags under his eyes and an invisible weight strapped to his back, and that expression is plastered on his face for the rest of the day.
She’s spoken to it with the others, a little bit. They’ve all noticed too—even those kids he informally adopted noticed. The only one who could have an answer is Han Sooyoung. Apparent childhood friend of Kim Dokja, Yoo Sangah thought to ask her first, but Han Sooyoung only shook her head and said, “Don’t ask. He’s just… wishing for another life, I guess.” Then she frowned, biting on her lip, and Yoo Sangah left it at that. She didn't want to be the one to question the intense displeasure that made its way into Han Sooyoung's eyes.
Once, Yoo Sangah thought she might try and date Kim Dokja. He was respectful, defended her from the men who looked at her like an object rather than a person, and he always clearly cared deeply about her. It was only when she realized it was the pressure and beliefs of their coworkers that made her think of dating him that she let go of the idea. Kim Dokja never looked at her like an object, but neither did he ever look at her as a romantic option. And Yoo Sangah, too, found that her interests lied… elsewhere.
She thinks maybe the reason he never looked at her as a romantic prospect was because he had someone else on his mind. That look he wears is one she would be more inclined to see on someone lovesick and missing someone. It’s not always like that, of course—the look he gives herself and the kids and Lee Hyunsung and Jung Heewon are different, sad sort of looks—but when he’s staring out of a window, or looking at a certain object, or doing anything utterly mundane, he has the look of a lost lover.
“Was Dokja-ssi ever in love? Or did he have a girlfriend at one point?” Yoo Sangah asks Han Sooyoung.
“Kim Dokja? Why do you ask?” She raises an eyebrow. She leans her chin on her hand with a teasing a smirk playing on her lips. Yoo Sangah flushes.
“I’m not asking because I want to date him!” she quickly clarifies. Han Sooyoung laughs. Yoo Sangah’s face burns even warmer. Yes, she definitely doesn’t want to date Kim Dokja. “It’s just that, you know when he looks sad? Sometimes I think… I think there's someone he misses.”
Han Sooyoung’s amusement is instantly dropped. Her face turns stony, solemn. “That’s… a bit complicated.” She fiddles with her pen. “He had feelings for someone a long time ago, and that someone returned those feelings, but I’m not sure if they ever got a chance to talk about it before circumstances… Let’s just say that things happened. I don’t know where that person is now, or else I would have done something about this already. Seeing Kim Dokja like that is so—” She cuts off, blowing agitatedly at a few strands of hair falling in her eyes. “It’s not him. That person better come back soon or I swear…”
Han Sooyoung and Kim Dokja’s relationship is funny, in Yoo Sangah’s opinion. They’re intimately familiar with each other’s habits and have inside jokes that totally fly over everyone else’s heads, but calling them friends to their faces is always met with rejection. Kim Dokja makes fun of the very idea while Han Sooyoung wrinkles her nose and spats at it. Yet, here and now, she’s righteously indignant on behalf of him, and Yoo Sangah can’t help the smile that spreads on her face.
“What?” Han Sooyoung says.
Yoo Sangah waves a hand. “It's nothing.”
There’s a new intern at the company—a girl years younger than them named Lee Jihye. Yoo Sangah thinks about her as just another coworker until she sees the look on Kim Dokja’s face, so similar to the one he wore when he met her yet a little different, a little more distant, but also a little more hopeful. Then Yoo Sangah looks at Lee Jihye’s file a little more closely, wondering and searching for what it is about her that makes Kim Dokja look like that.
The analysis brings up nothing, not that Yoo Sangah expected much to begin with. The people Kim Dokja gathers are all different in background and personality and she can never figure out what it is about all of them that makes him think of them as important. Lee Hyunsung was a former soldier, Jung Heewon works in security, Lee Gilyoung and Shin Yoosung are classmates who individually met him through their own circumstances, and Yoo Sangah is a normal woman who wanted to get an education. Whatever it is in common that he found in them, she can never figure it out.
(“Why does it matter?” Han Sooyoung asks, eyes searching.
“I care about Dokja-ssi,” Yoo Sangah answers. “I don’t want him to be sad anymore.”
Han Sooyoung taps a nail on her desk silently. One, two, three. “You know you might not be able to help him, right?”
“I can at least try to understand him.”)
Yoo Sangah is there when Kim Dokja pulls Lee Jihye to the side. She’s supposed to be doing her own work, but she can’t help listening in.
“Would you happen to know a man named Yoo Jonghyuk?” Kim Dokja asks Lee Jihye, voice low but not low enough that Yoo Sangah can’t hear.
“Yoo Jonghyuk?” Lee Jihye’s eyes brighten. “Yeah, he used to be my tutor! And I watch his gaming videos all the time, if that’s what you want to know.” The excitement is wiped away as she instead regards Kim Dokja with suspicion. “Why? What’s your relationship with him? Do you have a relationship with him?”
Kim Dokja mutters something under his breath, eyebrows furrowed, then says, “Actually, I heard about you from him. I lost touch with that guy a little while ago, so I was wondering if you were the Lee Jihye he’s told me about and if you had any way I could contact him.”
“Oh. Well…” Lee Jihye seems hesitant, but her suspicion slowly ebbs away. “I haven’t talked to him in a while and he might have changed his number, but I can give you the name of his gaming channel. Maybe you can find something there.”
Kim Dokja doesn’t look disappointed in the least. If anything, he looks a bit happier. Yoo Sangah has seen him happy before, especially on days particularly important to the kids, but nothing ever quite like the type of happiness that this is. “That works.” Yoo Sangah tunes out as Lee Jihye reaches for a pencil and a slip of paper, and she returns to work.
She’s heard the name before, but only briefly and in passing. At home, she runs a quick search and finds Yoo Jonghyuk, the well-known pro-gamer who is about their age. He has a handsome face, if a little on the passive side. She wonders how Kim Dokja, who lives his life in anonymity, would have come to meet this “Yoo Jonghyuk.” She never thought he would be the type to enjoy video games. He was always more of a reader.
At work the next morning, there’s an odd amount of life in Kim Dokja’s every movement. She’s never seen it before. She exchanges alarmed looks with Jung Heewon as they watch him walk with almost uncharacteristic confidence. He’s not overly chipper or anything of the sort, but the way he talks and moves and even blinks seems more lively than he’s ever been before.
When Han Sooyoung walks into work, she takes one look at Kim Dokja and promptly drags him away to have a whispered conversation.
Han Sooyoung returns without Kim Dokja. She looks conflicted.
“What’s up with Dokja-ssi?” Jung Heewon asks.
“That guy got some good news. The best news he’s heard in years, probably.” Despite her words, she doesn’t look happy.
“And that’s… bad?” Yoo Sangah says cautiously.
“No. I think. I haven’t seen him like this before, so I don’t know, but I do know he’s planning now.” Han Sooyoung’s words lower into a hiss. “I hate it when he plans. His plans are awful and they suck and every time he plans, someone always ends up—” She cuts off. Looks at the two of them like she’s just had a realization, like they're not the people she should be talking to, and then she shakes her head. Yoo Sangah can’t help but wonder. “Never mind. Just… Kim Dokja is the worst, no matter whether he’s happy or sad.”
Yoo Sangah doesn’t know what to say to that. Jung Heewon looks to be at a loss as well.
“…Okay,” Jung Heewon says, and walks away.
For the next few weeks, Yoo Sangah puts Kim Dokja’s behavior to the back of her mind. The only reason she can bring herself to do that is because for once, he doesn’t seem tortured by anything. He still gets those expressions, still opens his mouth and closes it like he’s thinking better of saying something, but they’re less pitiful. He doesn’t look as sad anymore, and Yoo Sangah takes that as the blessing it is. If her good friend has found a way to be happier, then she thinks it’s safe to not worry so much anymore.
They get news that Yoo Jonghyuk—famous pro-gamer—is going to be working with their company for a project. The name brings back memories of weeks before, and Yoo Sangah’s first instinct is to look at Kim Dokja. Kim Dokja is usually the best at keeping his emotions kept under lock and key, but now he can’t stop the shock from being written plainly across his face. It’s a little funny. Han Sooyoung and Jung Heewon muffle their snickers behind their hands, and even Lee Hyunsung seems amused by the reaction, if a little confused about why.
She catches her first glimpse of Yoo Jonghyuk in person the next day. She watched a few of his videos before when she was first researching him, but he completely slipped her mind when she decided to stop looking into Kim Dokja so much. She works in a different department than the one that Yoo Jonghyuk will be working with, but even the split-second glimpse she manages to catch amazes her. The camera photos don’t do his appearance justice. Unattracted to him as she is, she can still appreciate a handsome face. More than a few other coworkers of hers—mostly women, but also a few men—seem equally awestruck.
Not once does she see Kim Dokja leave his work. She assumed that he would leave at some point to talk to the man he seemed so interested in before, but he doesn’t. He sticks to where he is and never once does she see either men interact.
“That guy…” Han Sooyoung mutters, eyes narrowed suspiciously at Kim Dokja’s head.
“What?” Yoo Sangah says.
“He’s planning on doing something dramatic again.” She doesn’t elaborate.
It’s pure luck that Yoo Sangah gets to witness the thrilling confrontation when she clocks out of work. If she had left any earlier, she would have missed it, but she ends up forgetting something and she stays a few minutes late to get it done. She leaves the building not too long after Kim Dokja has, and Yoo Jonghyuk is only just ahead of her.
Kim Dokja is waiting outside when Yoo Jonghyuk exits the building. Their eyes lock. They walk slowly towards each other and meet in the middle, sizing one another up. Yoo Sangah pauses behind Yoo Jonghyuk, then inches ever so slowly around them, but she doesn’t take her eyes off of them. Neither of them notice in the midst of their staring contest.
Suddenly, Kim Dokja swings a fist and plants a solid punch into Yoo Jonghyuk's cheek. Yoo Sangah lets out a choked gasp, her hands flying to her mouth. Yoo Jonghyuk stumbles back, looking oddly unsurprised, and then Kim Dokja takes a step forward and grabs the collar of Yoo Jonghyuk’s shirt, pulling him closer and pressing their lips together in a chaste, determined kiss. It’s only then that Yoo Jonghyuk’s eyes widen in surprise, but he’s not unresponsive to the action. In the next second, he's grasping the back of Kim Dokja's coat and pulling him impossibly closer.
Oh, so that’s who Dokja was missing.
Yoo Sangah means to look away, but they part soon enough, and when they do, she’s stunned by how open and honestly happy her friend looks, and then she simply can’t look away. This. This is the look she’s been missing, the look that she’s always wanted to see so that Kim Dokja could finally, finally wipe away that awful sorrow he’s been holding for years and so she wouldn't be worrying about her distant, selfless friend's happiness anymore.
“You asshole,” Kim Dokja says, sounding fond despite the words. “What the hell took you so long?”
“You’re at fault more than I am,” Yoo Jonghyuk says. He sounds equally fond. “You’re going to compensate me for hitting my face, aren’t you?”
“What the hell? No way, you sunfish bastard! That was your own damn fault!”
Yoo Sangah takes a step back. Then another. Then she turns and begins heading home, the sound of their arguing following faintly behind her. She doesn’t notice that she’s smiling until she's closing her front door behind her.