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Immediate regret began to accumulate within the nervous depths of Kim Dokja’s stomach, anxious eyes peering down at the seemingly mundane dish before him which he knew brought nothing but impending doom upon his poor soul. He tried desperately to calm his trembling hands, maybe perhaps to convince himself that he could brave through this creature’s terrors and get it over as quickly as possible. Familiar faces turn to him, eager to observe his next move, spotlight aimed at his sure, imminent death sentence.

 

He should have thought things through when he agreed he’d take any type of punishment from his companions.

 

“Relax you big oaf, it’s just tomatoes.”

 

“Yeah ahjussi. Plus, you said you’d accept any form of punishment we give you!”  

 

“Remember, you gave us your word Dokja-ssi,”

 

Right, he did promise that. He was the one who offered after all. It was after another earth-shattering scenario was completed, and he may or may not have gone off the script that was agreed beforehand in favour of pulling out whatever alternative ‘methods’ to either gain the upper hand, or score some sweet rewards in the long run. To his credit, it’s not like he was anywhere near death’s doorstep this time around —he made damn sure of it—but the unnecessary anxiety he imposed upon his unsuspecting companions in his disappearance was probably what irked them the most. Especially considering his current reputation as a ‘suicidal rat’.

 

He thought that the rewards would be enough to assuage their worries, but that plan only seemed to backfire as he was assaulted with complaints about his disregard for his own life instead. As a result, he owned up to his mistakes, blamed his capricious nature, and for good measure—said he’d accept any punishment from his companions of Kim Dokja’s Company to any extent they see fit. He was its founder after all, he was responsible for resolving his companions’ complaints. And what better way to appease their grievances than to let them decide how to punish his misgivings, right?

 

Kim Dokja very much regrets this decision. He was fine with being thrown to the wolves, becoming their personal maid or even enduring any amount of beating and/or berating from his companions but no. They just had to choose the one thing he hated the most. 

 

Tomatoes. Of all the fleshy, seed-bearing plant structures across the known universe, they had to choose the one fruit he despised the most. Fucking… Tomatoes.

 

He just greatly dislikes the way it makes his tongue tingle and itch in an abnormal way. What kind of fruit does that to your tongue anyway? Fruits are supposed to be rejuvenating, fresh and occasionally even sweet and delicate to the tongue, not suck the life out of that poor appendage residing in your mouth. Why would people willingly eat such a dastardly thing? He’s never seen the appeal as to why tomatoes are such a staple in overall food culture. He hates it, and he hates it with a passion. As such, he’s taken good care of not having to come in contact with that cursed fruit longer than necessary. He prides himself at being able to avoid them with pinpoint accuracy, or if he’s unable to steer away from them, he is able to pick them out and throw them discreetly to the side. But now perhaps he wasn’t as discreet as he thought he was. 

 

He should have known, especially with that damn sunfish bastard who’s, for some reason, so obsessed with his eating habits. The bastard apparently took notes of it too? And if Kim Dokja knows anything about those in his company, it’s that news tends to spread faster than he can utter the word ‘shit’. Or perhaps, there were other observant bastards who noticed this peculiar tick of his as well and waited patiently for the perfect opportunity to strike, and that opportunity was here at his moment of weakness.

 

Speaking of which, that regressing sunfish was currently glaring him down, pinning him to his seat with just the sheer menacing presence of his aura alone. Kim Dokja even involuntarily swallowed the nonexistent bile in his throat due to the terrible vibes Yoo Jonghyuk has been emitting. Apparently, while Han Sooyoung was the one who came up with this cruel punishment, it was Yoo Jonghyuk who was most eager to exact it upon him. He even went out of his way to handpick the tomatoes, prepare it in a way that’s sure to make a ruse out of Kim Dokja and serve it to said man himself. The minute Kim Dokja tried to weasel his way out of the dining table he was tackled by the onslaught of Yoo Jonghyuk’s imposing presence. 

 

“S-surely there must be some other kind of penalty far more fitting than this right?” Kim Dokja tries once more to get himself out of this mess. Just some other person, please have mercy on him.

 

“Nah, this one’s the perfect punishment for you,” Han Sooyoung grins with such maliciousness in her voice.

 

“But—what if I puke all over the table?” 

 

“You’ve gotta hold it back in then, else your ‘buddy’ here’s gonna punt you to the next afterlife,” 

 

Kim Dokja could see Yoo Jonghyuk’s fingers grasp at the hilt of his sword. A clear threat. 

 

“Oh come on, you’ve gotta be kidding me.” Kim Dokja groans dreadfully.

 

“Eat the tomatoes Kim Dokja,” Yoo Jonghyuk pointedly orders, and as such there was no room for any response. 

 

Kim Dokja’s eyes dart around the dining room, looking at Lee Jihye, Shin Yoosung, Lee Gilyoung and Jung Heewon who seem to be eagerly awaiting the next few seconds in which his supposed humorous disgust fills the room. The rest were either ‘too busy’ or were planning their own punishment on him with just the same calibre. He looks up to the sky.

 

[Constellation ‘Demonic Judge of Fire’ says all will be fine.]

 

[Constellation ‘Abyssal Black Flame Dragon’ is eager to know what kind of faces you will make.]

 

[Constellation ‘Prisoner of the Golden Headband’ is already unable to contain his laughter.]

 

[Constellation ‘Secretive Plotter’ says that this is the perfect time to learn not to be picky.]

 

Damn, not even the constellations could recognize the current plight he’s in. With one last longing look at freedom, he takes in a deep breath before sadly looking at the plate of raw tomatoes before him. 

 

They’re nicely sliced and cut into manageable pieces, but the scent wafts in the air and ravages the poor nerves of his nose. He even hates the damn smell of that cursed fruit too. Even the way the tomatoes were arranged seemed to mock him too, the seeds and cavities formed to make a wicked smile on his plate, as if it was sneering at him. He shakes the image out of his head. ‘Get it together,’ he scolds himself.

 

He sighs dejectedly once more, scooping a bit of tomato in his spoon, then looks to his companions.

 

“Well,,, Here goes,” Then he eats it.

 

The reaction was immediate, as that dreaded tingle ravaged his poor tongue. A shiver ran down his entire body, Kim Dokja’s face scrunches in weird angles and folds in such a way that must have elicited some kind of ‘funny stimulus’ in his companions. He hears the kids' laughter while Han Sooyoung and Jung Heewon snicker. 

 

“Ahjussi, your face!” 

 

“I didn’t know hyung could make such a face,” 

 

His own kids, Yoosoung-ah and Gilyeong-ah, were laughing at his own misfortune. And here he thought he could garner their sympathy. 

 

“Oh my god ahjussi, you hate the taste that much?!” Lee Jihye tries but fails to stop the snort coming out of her. 

 

“Ugh, still don’t know how you people eat this,” Kim Dokja tries to shake off the feeling out of him, but his tongue continues to cry out in protest. 

 

“Well go on, gotta keep going man!” Han Sooyoung’s grin widens. 

 

Kim Dokja feels his gut reel in objection, and he looks to Yoo Jonghyuk, hoping he’d see his current predicament. 

 

Wait a minute… Was that a smirk on that bastard’s face?

 

“Finish the plate Kim Dokja,” Yoo Jonghyuk orders once more, not without that bastardly quirk of his mouth. 

 

Wow… Betrayed by his own life and death companion. Kim Dokja sighs in defeat and looks once more at the heaping amount of tomatoes left on his plate. As he digs through it, the scent continues to bombard the fried nerves of his nose. He takes another deep breath, pinches his nose and practically downs another helping. This time he could feel his tongue curling and beginning to itch in that way he despises so much, that dreadful feeling that even began to creep far into his throat. More snorts and chuckles erupt at his attempt to ease his troubles. Well, at least someone was enjoying the situation.

 

Another shiver racks through him, disgust apparent in every movement in his body. He feels something begin to rise from his stomach, but he forces it down. He’s reminded of Yoo Jonghyuk’s threat, and his ever-present eyes that appear to dare him to puke it out and see what happens. He doesn’t want to find out. So he grabs another scoop and practically throws it into his mouth hoping he wouldn’t have to dwell with the horrible aftertaste of the cursed fruit. 

 

With every scoop and bite he takes, the laughter seems to further grow louder and with such vivacity. Even the constellations are sending their own unhelpful observations and awful quips about the whole situation. Great, now even his throat is being assaulted by the tomatoes as well. He coughs and gags once after one particularly big helping with a spoonful of seeds and juices. Apparently the faces he involuntarily produces make for quite the entertainment, because Han Sooyoung seems to be on the verge of passing out. She wheezes and slaps her thighs, laughter completely racking her entire body—as small as it is. The rest are either in a similar state or on the verge of pissing themselves. The kids look as if they’re about to fall and roll around on the ground, Lee Jihge is making all sorts of weird snorts and chortles and Jung Heewon tries but horribly fails to keep her regal composure, and what he can only describe as the sound of the hissing of a teapot kettle coming out of her lips. Even the smirk Yoo Jonghyuk had earlier seemed to grow—though subtly—with every bite. 

 

“You guys had your fun, now can I please tap out?” He pleads once more as he feels his tongue wringing about in torment in his mouth. 

 

“No, no, no! You gotta finish the plate, remember?” Han Sooyoung manages through her laughs. A pointed glare from Yoo Jonghyuk is all the motivation he needs. He winces and looks dejected at the plate once again.

 

And so, he eats another one, and another, and another, and another, and another, and—

 

He’s even had to force himself to swallow another helping. He could feel the fruit sliding so grotesquely through his throat, its juices felt like acid filling into his lungs. Laughter and message logs continue to ring throughout the room, ringing in his ears and even in his head. Damn, the tomato was so terrible that it practically made his tongue numb. It’s so bad that he doesn’t think he can down another bite. Oh how he wished he could smack Yoo Jonghyuk and Han Sooyoung right now, he’s practically lost all feeling in his tongue because of them. And what kind of terrible, acrid, musty tomato did Yoo Jonghyuk pick that would cause his throat to start acting up like this? It’s almost making it hard to breathe—

 

Wait… His throat starts to feel tighter and tighter. It actually is getting harder to breathe. 

 

Kim Dokja stops from scooping another spoonful of tomatoes, much to the dismay of his companions. 

 

“Wait, are you stopping now? You haven’t even gotten halfway through the plate!”

 

“Come on hyung, you can do it!”

 

Their cackling and impish encouragement seem to start deafening his ears. But instead, he focuses on his breathing. He tries to gulp down whatever was in his throat in the hopes that it’d clear his airways somehow, but every swallow seems to force a soreness in his throat instead. Something begins to well up and threatens to burst behind his eyes and the frayed nerves of his nose start to practically shriek at him to get himself as far away from the revolting scent emanating in front of him as possible. On instinct, he drops the spoon and pushes himself off the table. 

 

“Hey hey! You can’t walk away now ahjussi, rules are rules—”

 

His companions' complaints fall on deaf ears as Kim Dokja can’t bring himself to follow anymore. The tightening in his throat begins to worsen, so he tries to breathe in whatever much air he’s allowed to gulp in. But it’s closing up too fast, it closes and closes and closes and closes until there is no room to breathe at all. He claws at his throat, gasping, coughing and wheezing to try to force in some air but he finds that he can’t. It’s physically impossible. It’s as if every speck of cell in his throat swelled up to an extreme degree until they all coalesced into a literal blockade in his esophagus, pain thrumming and bursting in waves with every movement he tries to make them do. With every contraction of his diaphragm, bouts of a prickly sensation undulate throughout his chest. He hears the laughter grind to a complete halt. Their faces shift from sheer elation to visible panic. 

 

“Kim Dokja!?” “Hyung!” “Ahjussi!”

 

He can’t breathe, he can’t breathe at all. It’s a vicious and painful cycle. The mechanism to breathe is inherent in almost all organisms, so he instinctively tries to take in deep breaths to make up for the lack of air. But every breath he takes, it seems to tighten up the swelling tissues of his throat, further blocking his already clogged airway. So he inhales again, but his throat tightens in response, further impairing his ability to breathe. What’s worse is that the nausea finally hits him full force, and the bile he’s been trying to force down from fear suddenly comes back with a raging fury as he feels the acid shoot up into his esophagus. But it’s stopped by the constricting muscles in his throat that don’t even allow any air to enter through. So instead it bubbles and eats away at his insides, clawing at the delicate tissue there. Pain begins to rip into his entire body, burning and searing him from the inside. He lets out a silent scream and muffled groans. 

 

[The personal skill, ‘The Fourth Wall’ has offset some of the pain!]

 

Great, but the fact that he still can’t breathe is posing a very dire problem at the moment. The lack of air causes him to lose balance and fall to his knees. Kim Dokja begins to suffocate in silence. 

 

What was once a lively room is suddenly filled with horrid screams and cries for his name. He vaguely registers a strong grip steadying both his shoulders, vague figures surrounding him, but he’s too preoccupied with the burning sensation in his lungs to see which is which. His chest twists and turns in agony—desperate for air—, his heart pumping so loudly it drowns out every other noise in the room, completely filling his ears. He could feel the blood rushing throughout his entire body, but the rush is completely useless if there’s no oxygen to deliver at all. His empty heaving turns into wheezes, then into shallow, frantic gasps. He eventually collapses but is caught by a pair of arms. Uncontrollable spasms rack his entire body as he writhes, his brain is screaming for air and his thrashing becomes more and more desperate but gradually loses its aim. His hands instinctively begin clawing at his chest in the hopes it could scratch out the skin and force any way for air to enter but it proves to be a fruitless endeavour. It feels as if he’s being drowned so deliberately by his own body, every cell feels as if they were slowly being strangled and there’s nothing he can do about it. He can’t breathe, and he is unfortunate to be conscious enough to suffer through all this excruciation at once. This has got to be one of the slowest, agonizing deaths he could have ever experienced. To be suffocated by his own body.

 

Of all the things in Kim Dokja’s list of possible ways of dying, this was a factor he failed to consider at all.

 

 

“Kim Dokja!”

 

The frantic weeps and terror-filled cries fill the room, but Yoo Jonghyuk only has his focus on Kim Dokja. Yoo Jonghyuk has the current man in question suffering and squirming in silence in his arms. Kim Dokja’s nails scratch angry red marks into his throat and chest. Red splots begin to appear and trickle down the furious marks he’s made.  Yoo Jonghyuk could see him trying so desperately to breathe evenly, but his breaths came out ragged, short, frantic and uneven. His mouth tries to gulp in air but to no avail. Kim Dokja’s face contorts and warps in a painful manner, an expression he’d never seen the older man don—not even during the demon selection, not when his legs were ripped from him and not when his organs were strewn across the singed earth. He feels the rest of Kim Dokja’s companions circling around him; horror, dread and regret evident on their faces. 

 

“What’s happening to him?!”

 

“He’s in shock, get him to Lee Seolhwa!” 

 

Someone, it was Han Sooyoung, finally screams out. Yoo Jonghyuk briefs a look at her, and he could see the colour completely drained from her face. Her eyes and lips were trembling, hands reaching out but quickly retracts, at a loss at what to do with them. The rest of them were in a similar state of pale complexions and horror. 

 

Oh, how quickly the whole room went from that of unrestrained elation to an infectious sea of panic and trepidation. 

 

The slowing thrashing of Kim Dokja’s body snaps Yoo Jonghyuk back to the current task at hand and at once his feet move with speed and fervour. He has the afflicted man in his arms, his writhing slows into spontaneous spasms. The muffled, choked sounds from his companion spur his legs to move faster and push harder. Yoo Jonghyuk has never been more panicked, scared nor anxious for Kim Dokja to this extent before, and a deep, embedding pain settles in his chest. 

 

He had forced Kim Dokja to this point. He had threatened him into such a state.

 

He should have been more considerate, Kim Dokja had pleaded with him and the rest of his companions from forcing him to eat that wretched fruit. There was a reason Kim Dokja had disliked them. Yoo Jonghyuk thought it foolish of himself to chalk this dislike up simply as some childish, picky habit. He shouldn’t have been so impulsive, so foolish and so conceited to hold onto such a grudge. And as a result of his own foolishness, now Kim Dokja suffers silently in his arms.

 

He’s never felt so helpless before his companion. 

 

A harsh, but weak, strangled noise erupts out of Kim Dokja. Yoo Jonghyuk looks down and sees Kim Dokja’s eyes becoming hazy, gradually losing their focus. His face loses its tension, his mouth stops its bobbing, his uneven gasps slow to an eerie stop and then after a pause, his arms finally fall limp to his side. 

 

Kim Dokja isn’t moving anymore. He’s deathly silent.

 

Dread fills Yoo Jonghyuk. 

 

No, no, no, no, no, no, no—

 

“No, he can’t… Kim Dokja can’t be…” 

 

He forces out the panic slowly gripping at every bone and cell in his body. He forces himself to move forward, to hasten his steps. He activates Red Phoenix Shunpo, letting everything fade into a blur as he holds Kim Dokja close. His pulse is faint, so very faint, but it’s there. It gives him momentary relief. 

 

“Kim Dokja will make it,” He thinks to reassure himself as he kicks open the door to Lee Seolhwa’s office.

.

.

.

 

The first thing Kim Dokja sees is the muted colours that are common within the rooms of the Industrial complex. The sight is jarring at first, as his eyes strain to adjust at the sudden change in lighting, but the sight is familiar nonetheless. The next sensation he registers is touch, and he could feel something in his arm. He looks to his left and sees an IV bag pumping a steady flow of fluids and stories into his arm. 

 

He remembers the events that occurred prior, of the painful reaction he had and the upsetting calls of his companions. 

 

What a day. 

 

“Hyung!” “Ahjussi!”

 

He’s immediately engulfed by two familiar weights, two heads dig into the divots of his shoulders and neck. He hears the mumbling, the sniffles and the sobbing. He smiles and pats both of their backs in reassurance. 

 

It was Yoosoung who pulled away from the hug first, eyes brimming with tears and lips bobbing up and down, trying to suppress another sob. Kim Dokja’s heart twinges at the sight.

 

“Ahjussi, I’m sorry—we’re so sorry for forcing you to eat tomatoes,” She says in between sniffles.

 

“I promise you won’t have to eat any more tomatoes hyung,” Lee Gilyoung adds, though his voice is muffled by the fabric on Kim Dokja’s shirt. There are for sure tears that have basically ruined his collar, but Kim Dokja finds he doesn’t mind. 

 

He smiles and places a hand on both their heads, he admits that he may have a bit of a bias towards these two children so he finds it easier to accept their apology—despite them being so adamant about being a part of witnessing his ‘punishment’. Plus, the kids are terribly racked up about it too, judging by the loud sobbing and unyielding clutch they have on him. 

 

“Apology accepted,” he says with a laugh, wanting to assuage their worries with some lighthearted banter but they still remain emotional.

 

It took quite some time before the two eventually calmed down to actually talk to him without being interrupted by their own tears and sniffles, but they do eventually recollect the events that happened after he passed out. He got carried off to Lee Seolhwa’s clinic where he was injected with epinephrine combined with the contents of a foreign story. Some other drugs were administered in order to relieve the constriction in his throat and was given some IV fluids for some good measure. Apparently, it’s been about 6 hours since that whole fiasco but Lee Seolhwa states that some side effects may take a day or two to actually disappear.

 

With that, Kim Dokja is presented with a new revelation which is one he actually greatly appreciates. 

 

His hatred for tomatoes was, actually justified.

.

[Constellation 'Demonic Judge of Fire' says she's so happy you're alive!]

 

[Constellation 'Abyssal Black Flame Dragon' says he was hoping you had died.]

 

[Constellation 'Demonic Judge of Fire' wishes to interject to say that the Constellation 'Abyssal Black Flame Dragon' was actually very nervous while you were unconscious.]

 

[Constellation 'Abyssal Black Flame Dragon' tells the Constellation 'Demonic Judge of Fire' to shut up.]

 

[Constellation 'Prisoner of the Golden Headband' cries out in relief.]

 

[Constellation 'Prisoner of the Golden Headband' says that he thought you had died.]

 

[Constellation 'Secretive Plotter' scoffs at your companions' negligence.]

 

Kim Dokja rolls his eyes at the message logs he received while he was unconscious. He does appreciate the concern from the constellations, as unexpected as it may seem. He gently strokes the head of his kids, who currently occupied both of his empty laps. The poor kids were apparently so stressed about him to the point that it had worn them out physically, so he lets them lie down and take some much-needed rest. 

 

[Constellation 'Demonic Judge of Fire' is sincerely apologizing!]

 

[Constellation 'Demonic Judge of Fire' hopes you accept her apology for previously revelling at your misfortunes.]

 

[Constellation 'Prisoner of the Golden Headband' shares the Constellation 'Demonic Judge of Fire's sentiments as well.]

 

He smiles at the messages, "It's alright. Thank you for your concerns,"

.

 

Sometime later after the kids got up and left, he gets a visit from the two main orchestrators of his unprompted misery and as such Kim Dokja steels himself to whatever amount of scolding, teasing or berating he’d expect to be subjected to from the duo. Han Sooyoung is the first to walk in—she’s somewhat stressed, Kim Dokja observes, as she’s munching quite menacingly on the lollipop in her mouth— followed by Yoo Jonghyuk, with an unrecognizable tension in his face. 

 

He looks at them expectedly, yet Han Sooyoung raises both her eyebrows at him.

 

“You didn’t tell us you had a tomato allergy?! All this time?? Shouldn’t you have let us known about this beforehand?!” She points at him furiously, but there’s a different twinkle in her eyes and a slight crack in her voice that betrayed her fury.

 

Kim Dokja blinks and raises his hands in defence, “H-hey, I didn’t even know I had a tomato allergy until an hour ago!” 

 

Confusion crosses the faces of the duo before him. 

 

“You didn’t know you had an allergy—” Han Sooyoung’s brows furrow further, “How did you not know you had an allergy?”

 

At that, Kim Dokja only shrugged. “I don’t know… I just… Didn’t, I guess. Well, I just thought that tomatoes always did that—make your tongue itch or something.”

 

Yoo Jonghyuk and Han Sooyoung both continue to peer at him, both urging him to elaborate further. 

 

“All I remember was that the first time I tried a tomato while I was trying to sneak something to eat it made my tongue itch and eventually I just, spat it out. Didn’t like how it did that so the most logical thing to do of course was to just not eat and avoid it. There’s not much else to say about it, I just thought it was a personal preference of mine since everyone else seemed completely fine with it.” He explains, expecting that to the end of his questioning.

 

Although he doesn’t quite expect the next line of questioning. 

 

“You tried to sneak something to eat?” Han Sooyoung asks.

 

“Uhm, at that time my relatives didn’t really… Care about what I ate, so they just left me to my own devices?” He responds, apprehensively. He didn’t think this conversation would go there. 

 

“No one cared to notice, or point it out,” Yoo Jonghyuk suddenly says out of the blue. Kim Dokja stares at him, gaze lingering for a moment before nodding in a pensive affirmation. 

 

The room was silent after that, an uncomfortable silence that lasted for a considerable amount of time. He knew what kind of silence it was—a solemn silence that came out of pity. Kim Dokja fiddled about uncomfortably, he didn’t really like this kind of silence, nor did he like the silent exchange Han Sooyoung and Yoo Jonghyuk had.

 

“Anyways!” He finally interjects, “It’s good that we found this out now rather than later. And as it seems, it looks like my distrust for tomatoes was actually justified.” He says in coltish triumph.

 

Han Sooyoung and Yoo Jonghyuk give him a look.

 

“Oh come on, look on the bright side. You found a surefire way to put me out of commission!” Kim Dokja tries to jest again.

 

They didn’t look like they appreciated that joke, as he was met with either a disgruntled glare or a smack straight to the top of his head. He grunts as Han Sooyoung further grinds down his head with her fist, “H-hey! If you got me into this predicament in the first place the least you can do is be a bit sympathetic!” 

 

“You’re the one who doesn’t seem the least bit concerned about yourself!” Han Sooyoung grinds down harder. 

 

“What part of my statement gave you that impression?”

 

“You just do, you asshole!” She finally relinquishes her assault on him, not without another good smack to his abused head once more. Then, he hears a long sigh withdrawing out of her. The bed he’s on dips and bounces a couple of times as the shorter woman settles herself next to him. He notices she’s avoiding his gaze while she fiddles around with the lollipop in her cheek.

 

“Hey, I’m… Sorry for… Pressuring you to go through with—you know—eating the tomatoes,” Han Sooyoung apologizes to the best of her ability, though she pauses and wavers through it.

 

Kim Dokja is completely shocked, however. Earning an apology from Han Sooyoung is about as rare as the constellations imposing ‘Deus Ex Machina’ to save their incarnation—an event that Kim Dokja has experienced personally only once so far. A majority of the time, the ‘apologies’ Han Sooyoung ever makes were sarcastic ones that were dripping with malicious compliance rather than sincerity or guilt. Kim Dokja was, without a doubt, surprised with this turn of events; he’s even somewhat proud to know that Han Sooyoung was capable of sympathy after all. He’s even touched. 

 

“What’s this? The great, plagiarist writer herself is apologizing to a lowly reader like me?” He smirks, elbowing her side. 

 

“I—What?! I’m not a fucking plagiarist asshole! And do you want my apology or not?! Because I can retract that apology and shove more tomatoes down your throat if you want!” She grits her teeth at him. 

 

Kim Dokja laughs and pinches her cheeks, though Han Sooyoung definitely did not appreciate that at all.

 

.

 

Han Sooyoung eventually left the room, not without mouthing something to Yoo Jonghyuk along the lines of ‘your turn asshole,’pointing two fingers over her eyes, then to Yoo Jonghyuk before she finally took her cue. Another pregnant silence lingers in the room, as Yoo Jonghyuk simply leans back on the wall with his arms crossed, that signature glare ever so present on his face. Kim Dokja doesn’t really know what to expect. He highly doubts Yoo Jonghyuk would actually apologize verbally to him—he’s still got some of his own pride, that bastard—so Kim Dokja’s next logical conclusion is that Yoo Jonghyuk is thinking up ways to beat him up. Those jet-black, menacing pair of eyes continue to bore into his soul.

 

Kim Dokja tries to think of ways to appease this sunfish bastard, “Uhm… The way you prepared the tomatoes was nice. It wouldn’t be too bad if that was the last thing I see before I—”

 

“Kim Dokja,” He interrupts with that commanding tone he so naturally possesses. 

 

“Yes?” Kim Dokja replies instinctively. 

 

There’s another pregnant pause, as an unfamiliar tension curves its way on Yoo Jonghyuk’s eyes and brows. The taller man looks down, a grave expression present on his face. Kim Dokja doesn’t recognize Yoo Jonghyuk ever making such a visage, he’s never imagined such countenance to ever be donned by someone like him anyway. Kim Dokja is uncertain about what Yoo Jonghyuk plans to do, though it’s not as if he fears what he could do next, but he waits with bated breath regardless. Finally, Yoo Jonghyuk looks back up at him.

 

“I apologize for forcing you to eat those tomatoes. I should have listened to your plea, it won’t happen again,” His words are succinct, yet determined. There’s a resoluteness and gravity in his eyes that’s directed straight at Kim Dokja.

 

“What,” He doesn’t believe it. To say Kim Dokja was surprised would be an understatement. He just doubted not even a second ago that Yoo Jonghyuk would apologize, yet he does so without hesitation nor waver. The bastard even sounded so heartachingly genuine that he doesn’t quite know how he could hope to quip at that. So he just sits there, mouth ajar. 

 

He must have been dumbfounded for a while because Yoo Jonghyuk had to call his name twice for him to snap out of his astounded stupor. Kim Dokja recomposes himself.

 

“I-well… I didn’t quite expect you to—actually…” He clears his throat, “Thank you. Apology accepted,” He says as formally as he could.

 

Yoo Jonghyuk simply nods, “Get some rest Kim Dokja. I will take care of things,” he states before Kim Dokja could interject with his own input, and leaves the room. 

 

Kim Dokja was both flabbergasted and touched the second time that day.

 

.

 

“Dokja-ssi! You’re alright!” 

 

Next thing he knows, Kim Dokja is engulfed in a crushing hug by Lee Hyunsung. He starts to squeeze the poor man a couple of times, and he’s had to tap on his back in fear of his lungs being pressed to oblivion by the man of steel. 

 

“I’m glad you’re recovering well Dokja-ssi,” Yoo Sangah says with that soothing smile she gives him. 

 

Kim Dokja simply chuckles, and spends the rest of the day walking around with them, chatting about whatever and humoring Lee Hyunsung’s weird allegories with cartridges and weapons. They spend a bit just strolling around the industrial complex, until they were intercepted in their routes by Jung Heewon and Lee Jihye.

 

“Dokja-ssi, are you sure you should be walking about?” Jung Heewon asks, worry still evident in her face. 

 

“Yeah, and there’s no need to stress. It’s not like my reaction yesterday impeded my ability to walk whatsoever,” He reassures her, and he sees the tension leave her shoulders. She then looks to the teen stationed at her side, the shorter girl has her head turned away from them.

 

“I wanted to apologize for yesterday, for laughing at you and realizing too late you were actually going into shock…” Jung Heewon states sincerely, before she grabs a handful of Lee Jihye’s head and forces it to face Kim Dokja. He could see the perturbed look on the teen’s face. 

 

She eventually yields, “I’m sorry for making fun of you ahjussi… I’ll take you seriously from now on,” 

 

He simply smiles and gives a passing wave, “I appreciate the apology guys,” The two new visitors soon joined their stroll, and the air was filled with many quips, conversations and jests that filled Kim Dokja’s chest with warmth.

 

.

 

Kim Dokja was spending his time humouring the kids with whatever knick-knacks or odd beasts they managed to summon. He listens on to their rambling and light bantering, yet somehow the conversation stirs back to the tomato incident.

 

“Wait, since hyung is allergic to tomatoes, then that means he can’t eat pizzas or spaghetti!” Lee Gilyoung suddenly comes to the revelation, and it must have been quite a discerning revelation that it caused Shin Yoosung to agree gravely with him.

 

“Right! Looks like we can’t have those at the PC bang,” Shin Yoosung sighs with despondency.

 

“Well, there are other alternative staples to those. I’d like to try carbonara sometime,” Kim Dokja says, and the two kids light up and agree enthusiastically, and thus began suggesting other dishes that he should try as well. 

 

Not a moment later, Yoo Jonghyuk emerges from seemingly out of nowhere and simply states, “Don’t go outside Kim Dokja,” 

 

Now curious at the abrupt order, Kim Dokja turns to Yoo Jonghyuk, “Why?” he asks.

 

“Han Sooyoung is burning tomatoes outside,” Yoo Jonghyuk replies. 

 

Kim Dokja blinks. They didn’t have to go that far to accommodate his newfound tomato allergy, and it’s not like the mere presence of them triggers his allergy either. As long as he just doesn’t consume any, he should be fine. “That’s a bit overkill don’t you think?” He points out.

 

Yoo Jonghyuk shakes his head, “We’re only doing all necessary precautions.”

 

Kim Dokja rolls his eyes, but his attention is caught by the large bag that seems to be just about the same size as the Breaking the Sky Sword Saint being dragged behind Yoo Jonghyuk as he finally walks into full view. He goes to ask what are the contents of the bag—and why there’s so much of it—until he spots a peek of a shiny red object within one of the openings. His eyes were trained enough to immediately know what they are from a single glance.

 

“Why are there so many tomatoes in that bag?” Kim Dokja points out.

 

Yoo Jonghyuk looks at him for a moment, and Kim Dokja thinks he sees a flash of guilt cross his face before the man suddenly turns his head and continues to make his way outside.That was all the info Kim Dokja need to extrapolate Yoo Jonghyuk’s silence to form a frightening conclusion.

 

“Were you—you were planning to feed me all those tomatoes?!?!” He blurts out in alarm.

 

.

 

The next day, Kim Dokja is pinned once again to the dining table by none other than Yoo Jonghyuk’s sheer menacing presence. This time, however, the dishes before him were no longer riddled with the dreaded scent of tomatoes but were alternative dishes he expressed some interest to his kids the previous day. 

 

There’s even that enticing plate of carbonara next to the alfredo pasta. Kim Dokja’s mouth waters at the sight, though he tries to maintain his composure. But this proves to be quite the challenge since these were cooked by none other than the cuisine master, Yoo Jonghyuk himself. 

 

“Eat, Kim Dokja.” Yoo Jonghyuk states, arms crossed and glaring down at him as per usual. The kids are hovering behind him, with big smiles on their faces, giving him a huge thumbs up. 

 

This time, he’s quite eager to dive into this dish. 

 

This has been the best apology he’s gotten thus far.