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It’s a standard quiet day, plentiful in this new everyday life of a somewhat recently discharged hospital patient. Typically Kim Dokja spends them lazing about, helping take care of chores around the new house, or antsily trying to find something to fill the void. Today he opts for lazing - that is, until a certain someone had come into his room to hand him a fresh cup of tea. 

“Yoo Joonghyuk,” he calls for the other man’s attention at his bedside. “Really, what do you think you’re doing?” 

He’s currently crouched by Kim Dokja’s bed, just shy of elbowing the bedside lamp onto the floor were he to suddenly move his arm. He won’t - his hands are currently occupied by Kim Dokja’s on top of the other man's blanketed lap. 

Yoo Joonghyuk shushes him. "You're cold."

Kim Dokja huffs as Yoo Joonghyuk cups his fingers in his hands, thumbs rubbing over the palms in a circling rhythm in an attempt to warm them. Something shamefully soft has been trying to worm its way out of Kim Dokja's chest since Yoo Joonghyuk decided to sit next to him in this ridiculous position. 

“You’re such a mother hen. The tea will go cold at this rate.” Kim Dokja's emotions say to him that he smiles, but it shows on his face as more of a dejected smirk. 

Yoo Joonghyuk hums in reply, glancing up to Kim Dokja, then to the abandoned cup of tea on the bedside table, before returning his careful attention to the scarred expanse of his hands. The effects of multiple weathered probability storms present similarly to snaking burns - leaving much of his body covered with rough patches of skin, weakened muscles, and messed-up nerves. Lucky for him the effects of the system and his status during their scenarios fended off the worst-case afflictions to his body, such as the total collapse of his nervous system, but... 

He shakes the dread-creeping thoughts from his head and observes their hands for a moment. Really, he doesn’t mind the touch itself. It’s just that he hasn’t quite gotten used to Yoo Joonghyuk's attempts at emotional honesty. They’re clumsy and uncertain, but still backed by an unwavering bravery Kim Dokja can’t openly admit to lacking. 

It’s a little bit cute?  

Yoo Joonghyuk is... careful. His touch serves as an assurance that he’s there, with Kim Dokja, in this moment. Not as a back being followed after, or a hero left behind, or letters marching across a page, or a role for Kim Dokja to model himself after, but as… Whatever this is. Whatever he is now. Simply ‘Yoo Joonghyuk’. 

Kim Dokja sighs, his chin dropping to his chest in self-defeat. He catches Yoo Joonghyuk’s head tilt up a bit but he doesn’t meet his gaze.

“At least get up off the floor... Seriously, my legs hurt just looking at you.” 

“I’m perfectly fine here.” Yoo Joonghyuk says this, but stands up anyway. His matter-of-fact words conflict with his actions more and more lately. He taps the back of his hand against Kim Dokja’s knee once, then twice when he makes no moves.

Alright, well, we’re doing this now…

He's learned from household experience that he can’t flee from the invitation without an anxiety-fueled push-back, so he scoots aside to make space. He’s been attempting these honesty exercises as well, albeit with far more teeth pulling. When it comes to Yoo Joonghyuk specifically he receives and halfway reciprocates more than he initiates, still too afraid of any potential resentment to comfortably assume Yoo Joonghyuk wants any part of his companionship.

He knows, but knowing is only one small part of taking in information. 

Yoo Joonghyuk sits atop the large bed, the new luxurious mattress accepting the additional weight with quiet ease. He huffs as he settles, reminding Kim Dokja of the way dogs let out their big sighs. His lip quirks up at the association as Yoo Joonghyuk reclaims his hands. 

Kim Dokja allows him to do what he wants for a disorienting moment before blurting out half-thought words. “What use is this anyway? My hands will get cold again when you let go. Just get me gloves, or hand warmers, or something. Or maybe a hot cup of tea, which was your original goal?”

“Then I won’t let go.” 

“Well, you’ll have to eventually.” 

“No.” 

Really, this…

“Any of our companions would do this.” He pointedly looks up to him on ’our’.  

Kim Dokja’s face screws up in a funny way. That’s… well, it’s true. They all hold his hands. A lot. He’s gotten more used to it now, and finds himself craving it sometimes even if he can’t always physically feel it. Some of them are brave enough to kiss him - his forehead, his cheeks, his hands... He doesn’t know what to do with all the affection rooting in his heart. He feels so full these days, wants and desires fantasized of in his lonely childhood somehow now being realized. 

“Kim Dokja.” He hears, breaking his reverie.

He looks up to find Yoo Joonghyuk sitting a little closer - their knees touching, hands held together at the meeting point. He hums in acknowledgement and Yoo Joonghyuk thinly swipes his thumbs over his scarred knuckles. 

“…They feel a little warmer now.” Kim Dokja notes quietly, almost to himself. In truth, he can’t quite tell if they are. But it seems right to say. 

“Mmh.” 

Kim Dokja bites the inside of his lower lip. This gentle Yoo Joonghyuk is such a mystery to him. Though… then again, maybe not so much. He had his moments during the scenarios - even when he was still just a character living in the pages on his phone he would read about him mentally fretting over the others, caring for them in his distant way, assuring their safety as best he could. He always tried to protect the things most precious to him, even after failure upon failure upon failure upon failure. 

That silent and steadfast emotion was the basis of his fantasies, the desires that ruled his teenage years. To be protected, to have something to protect. The thought of having something like that fascinated him amidst the fog of his empty heart and distant brain. 

...Life and Death Companions.  

But what about when ‘life’ wasn’t expected to be followed by ‘death’ so soon anymore? What is there to do when those you love are no longer in mortal danger? How do you express these feelings without a clear threat to silently protect someone from? 

Yoo Joonghyuk cares for his companions. Thus, Yoo Joonghyuk also cares for Kim Dokja. Mutually. It’s a fact that can be stated with such simple words. But accepting and acting is an entirely different matter to stating. 

Kim Dokja swallows thickly, steeling himself. He wiggles one hand out of their hold, mechanically sliding their fingers together before Yoo Joonghyuk can tense in response and assume he’s behaving cowardly. Even this much is almost terrifying. It’s somewhat easier to reach out to the others. He has no real precedent with Yoo Joonghyuk; the detriment to only using swords the few times they chose to communicate, he supposes. 

For five absolutely agonizing seconds they sit there, one hand held properly and the other in an awkward tangle. Yoo Joonghyuk very lightly squeezes their chained fingers, as if testing something. It’s a lot of bone. It isn’t a very comfortable hold. It still soothes his impatient heart a little regardless. 

Yoo Joonghyuk releases the properly held pair, mirroring this baffling position instead. One palm facing up, the other palm facing down.

An insert illustration depicting two very scarred hands held as described above.

“…It’s uncomfortable.” Ahgh, you’re too blunt!

Kim Dokja grimaces as Yoo Joonghyuk pulls their fingers apart, leaving him feeling almost shameful. Yes, he isn’t any good at this. He’s never had much practice, even as a child with his mother. It’s only natural he’d fail so horribly at something so simple. 

He’s about to take his own hands back into his personal space when Yoo Joonghyuk forklifts his own under his, tilting them, sliding his fingers up his palms and slotting them together that way. 

Kim Dokja is suddenly struck with a strange scandalized feeling, as if he’s doing something he shouldn’t be.

An insert illustration depicting two very scarred hands held with clasped fingers.

He stares at their clasped hands in a wide-eyed daze before hearing a sound that is the emotional equivalent of being hit in the back of the head with a hammer.

He snaps his head up to look at Yoo Joonghyuk - his eyes slightly crinkled, lips curling into a little smile, head tilted slightly as he chuckles at him. 

“What?”

Yoo Joonghyuk shakes his head. “Nothing.” He reigns in his face, putting on that cool and composed look that lets Kim Dokja know he feels caught. 

He sighs dramatically, putting on his best annoyed tone. “Ehhhh, really? It’s nothing?? I’ve only ever known Yoo Joonghyuk to laugh while killing something. ” 

“Untrue.” He retorts simply. “I have a healthy level of amusement.” 

“That is… Maybe the most bizarre way you could defend yourself.” 

He hadn’t noticed, but he feels much more relaxed now. 

“Kim Dokja.” His voice, once so cold and distant, crafted for bluntness and tactics and anger, now sounds so deeply, carefully, painfully fond. “Let me care for you like the others do.” 

It’s worded like a demand, but emotionally it’s a request. To an outside observer everything on display right now says he’s uncertain, waiting for the other to pull away again, prepared to accept the defeat if he does. Kim Dokja can't readily accept these feelings from his words, because Yoo Joonghyuk is Yoo Joonghyuk. 

It’s out of character, but it isn’t. It’s not the dynamic they have, but it is. Push and pull. 

He wants to say something more - to question him, to refute him, to annoy him, to tease him, to rile him up, to make him pull away, to make him make that strange sound again. But his words die off in his cowardly throat, so he takes to staring down at their hands again. 

It’s odd to him, how these two left more scars than skin in the wake of tragedy could feel so tender in this moment.