The quiet is what makes Kim Dokja nervous. They’ve all been going through the scenarios for too long for them to pass up on an occasion to get some rest before being once again thrust into another life-or-death situation, but he still finds it hard to take a break. There’s always a fear, at the back of his mind, that the moment he lets his guard down is exactly the moment where something happens that deviates from the story he knows and throws all his plans in disarray. It shouldn’t happen, he knows. But, still, the fear persists.
So when the Industrial Complex gets quiet like this, his companions asleep and the streets silent and immobile, his mind kicks in and he wanders empty hallways for a while. He could almost convince himself that everything is just how it used to be, before the scenarios. Almost. He hasn’t convinced himself of anything in a while, now.
His steps falter when he notices light spilling out from under the meeting room’s door. Well, he calls it a meeting room—it’s nothing more than a room just like the other ones, in which they’ve stuffed every chair and couch-adjacent thing they could find, resulting in something closer to a furniture store model room than anything really practical. But the kids like it, and his mother likes it, and Lee Hyunsung likes it, and so it stays that way.
But it’s late, and everyone definitely should be in their own rooms, and Kim Dokja’s always been too curious for his own good, so he pushes the door open, slowly.
It’s Yoo Jonghyuk he finds there, to his surprise, sitting at the high table with his head in his arms. He looks like he’s asleep and, even with his sword next to him, it’s such a rare display of vulnerability that Kim Dokja can’t seem to move for a moment. Until curiosity—always curiosity, the same child-like wonder that’s led him to starting to read Ways of Survival in the first place and then never really stop—gets the better of him and pulls him forward.
He sits down next to him, quietly, and he can’t help but note how unfairly soft Yoo Jonghyuk’s skin looks now that he’s not busy frowning or scowling or some variation of either. As expected from the protagonist, he supposes.
Kim Dokja reaches out when he fails to quiet the impulse, gently, gently —until his fingertips just barely brush against Yoo Jonghyuk’s cheek and he retracts his hand as quickly as if he'd been burned.
He looks at his palm for a second, not expecting the words that soon ring in his ears.
“Are you perhaps,” Yoo Jonghyuk’s voice may be rough from sleep but that doesn't make it any less intimidating somehow, “under the impression that I’m some sort of dangerous animal?”
Kim Dokja glances at him and—yeah, the eye Yoo Jonghyuk has opened is looking straight at him, gaze clear and direct like he hasn't slept at all. How unfair, really. He thinks about Yoo Jonghyuk always being on such high alert that just Kim Dokja walking behind him silently was enough to wake him, and a corner of his heart aches.
“A little,” he says honestly. Yoo Jonghyuk’s eyebrow seems to barely move. “I mean, you’ve tried to kill me before, remember?”
Kim Dokja wonders if that’s the shadow of a smile he sees pulling at the corner of Yoo Jonghyuk’s lips as he closes his eye again. That bastard, does he have to look so satisfied about it? He entertains for just a second the idea of getting back at him, before sighing and accepting the reality that he can’t win against him.
Thinking about him, he can’t think of anyone he’s seen Yoo Jonghyuk let touch his face, except for his sister. The guy’s unapproachable enough as it is, nobody’s going to try their luck.
He considers the fact that he hasn't lost his hand yet, though, and reaches out again, this time to brush off stray hair falling over his forehead. Yoo Jonghyuk’s eyebrow twitches just barely enough to be noticeable, but he doesn’t have any other reaction. Kim Dokja looks in astonishment. This feels like something forbidden, like a line that can’t be crossed—but he’s greedy.
So he pokes at Yoo Jonghyuk’s cheek, and a hand wraps around his wrist before he can retreat again.
“Don’t push your luck,” comes a rumble again.
Kim Dokja smiles. “Am I?”
The hand doesn’t move. Kim Dokja peers into Yoo Jonghyuk’s half-open eye again that’s looking right at him, like he’ll find the answer to all his questions in the darkness of his iris. He doesn’t. Maybe he does. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe he doesn’t need it, when he understands just as well the situation they’re in, so he doesn’t bother saying anything else.
He’s not paying attention to the messages from the constellations rolling in—well, one Constellation—, and the hand on his wrist is shockingly gentle—thumb sliding down just slightly to rest against his pulse—, and the whole world is quiet.
Kim Dokja thinks, maybe, it’s not that bad.
It’s the quiet that catches him off-guard, again and again.
The big house they’ve all moved in is now empty most of the time, with the kids all at school and everyone else busy with their lives, so it ends up being only Yoo Jonghyuk and him most days. Turns out, being accused of an act of terrorism—really, Kim Dokja still is struggling to wrap his mind around that—is a kind of impediment to a pro gaming career. He doesn’t seem to mind all that much, though.
At least in his hospital room, there was always at least faint noise from the hallway or other rooms nearby. Here, it’s just silence and the rail sounds his mind seems to conjure up to mess with him. He’s getting better at recognizing when he starts to lose touch with reality, but only just. It’s a slow process, he knows, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating—terrifying, a part of him would say, that he can’t control his own mind anymore.
The padded sound of his steps rises lightly in the empty hallway, and he’s just walking past the kitchen when something catches his eye. It’s not an unfamiliar scene, Yoo Jonghyuk sitting at the table with his head in his arms rousing a similar picture from Kim Dokja’s distant memory.
The Industrial Complex feels an eternity away.
He sits down next to him.
And then he doesn’t know what to do.
He’d almost think he’s never seen Yoo Jonghyuk look this relaxed before—but he has, once. In the 0th turn, after watching him clear all the scenarios. The strands of silver in his hair now only emphasize that comparison, highlighted by the sunlight pouring through the open window.
And so, like a couple lifetimes ago, he reaches out before he can help it to brush his hair away from his forehead.
“Do you have something against my hair?” Yoo Jonghyuk mumbles without opening his eyes.
Kim Dokja keeps looking, the silver mesmerizing him. “Do you remember the 0th turn?”
One black iris is unveiled. “Not all of it. Enough.”
Kim Dokja’s throat feels dry, Yoo Jonghyuk’s gaze heavier now than he’s used to, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of turns’ worth of memories lying beneath the surface.
“Do you regret it?” He makes himself ask, eventually. He has to. Because there’s a side of him that’s still convinced Yoo Jonghyuk has to hate him the most, and he’s been trying really hard lately to stop assuming people’s emotions. “Deciding to regress. You already had a good ending.”
There’s a strand of hair resting a little awkwardly on Yoo Jonghyuk’s temple, and Kim Dokja reaches out to fix it because he’s desperate for a distraction from the silence. His wrist is caught, and Yoo Jonghyuk is still looking at him.
“No,” he says, and there’s multitudes Kim Dokja can hear in that single word— It was my choice , and I knew what I was getting into , and If I did, would I have regressed again and traveled across world lines? —and there isn’t anything he can reply to that with. Yoo Jonghyuk continues. “I met you, didn’t I?”
Kim Dokja feels his hand still in Yoo Jonghyuk’s grip tremble a little. And it’s not that he doubts him but he can’t seem to wrap his mind around it, even now—even when he’s spent an eternity and a half watching over all of his regression turns
The hand around Kim Dokja’s wrist shifts when Yoo Jonghyuk lifts himself up on an elbow, and the way his thumb slides perfectly in the middle of Kim Dokja’s palm is lost in the feeling of his lips against his.
“You said at the end of the 0th turn,” Yoo Jonghyuk continues after he moves back enough to let Kim Dokja remember how to breathe again, “that it was the story you always wanted to see.”
Kim Dokja nods. “It was.” For ten years as a reader, and then all the years spent in the scenarios, before he ever came to know the truth about the Oldest Dream, it was. In the end, it was the only story that mattered.
“It wasn’t mine,” he says firmly, and he’s still so close and Kim Dokja’s eyes keep darting from scars that weren’t there before and the silver in his hair, and his hand is itching to touch it again. To think he’s gotten to see Yoo Jonghyuk get grey hair twice, and that both times they’ve acted so differently from what he expected. It’s him, he realizes belatedly, and he sees Yoo Jonghyuk notice the way his eyes widen just a little. It’s been himself, changing the story and Yoo Jonghyuk’s predetermined course both times. How did he not notice? “It couldn’t be mine if you weren’t here.”
It’s Kim Dokja who leans in to kiss him again this time, his free hand sliding to the back of Yoo Jonghyuk’s head, and thoughts of deserving make themselves quiet in the face of everything.
The house is empty and quiet, but he can hear faint bird songs floating in through the open window, and the subway had never felt so far away than it does now.