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    Loves Error

    Ten years ago, a new building was constructed on a plot of land that had been abandoned as a vacant lot for a long time. As people watched the construction, they all commented similarly.

    As predicted, the building, erected amid such negative remarks, didn’t last long and eventually became a ruin. The surrounding commercial area contributed to its downfall. The bus stop was a 20-minute walk away, and there were numerous vacant houses around the building. The building, along with the downfall of its once-prosperous construction owner, became deserted. The building’s owner, said to be the son who had fled overseas, was not well-known. There was no interest in the details.

    Han Naeyung sniffled and wiped his nose with the hand holding his phone. He turned on the phone’s light to illuminate the entrance of the building, cutting through the pitch-black interior. He carefully stepped inside, avoiding the broken glass door. The wind seeping through the broken windows felt chilly. Han Naeyung found mailbox 207 and reached inside. He felt a paper slip amid the dust.

    Han Naeyung pocketed the paper and turned away without hesitation. Something clunked against his foot and rolled away. It was an empty soju bottle. The blanket tossed carelessly in the hallway seemed to be the remnants of someone who had stayed there during the summer. In this cold, not even homeless people sought refuge in the building. It was colder inside, as if the negative energy had accumulated. Han Naeyung turned off the phone light and put his hands in his pockets.

    Outside, he looked up at the dark wall of the building. This was the place where Jaemin and he had been trapped. After that incident, the building was demolished, and it had remained a vacant lot until the new one was constructed. When his parents were considering locations for his animal clinic, they had looked for a spot in a busy area of Seoul. However, Han Naeyung made his first and last request to his parents, asking to go to a quiet and secluded place. His father, after some silence, told him to go wherever he wanted.

    When his father saw the location for the future animal clinic, he had a complex expression but soon spoke kindly.

    It was the same thing his father had said on the day he first brought Han Naeyung home. Though he worked in the provinces at the time, he had sent his child and wife to Seoul because the child needed a lot of care. Han Naeyung’s family life was relatively smooth, except for his obsessive-compulsive disorder. Months turned into years, and he lived well in his parents’ care. Despite suffering from nightmares and sleepwalking every night, he endured it.

    A renowned psychologist and family friend of his father had told him that Han Naeyung’s gloves were his shield. Everyone has their mechanisms for self-protection, so it was fine. However, he didn’t realize that Han Naeyung was skillfully concealing his unfaded anger beneath that shield.

    On the day he left his parents’ home, perhaps his father had sensed his true feelings. His father had never visited the clinic since its opening.

    Han Naeyung took a lollipop from the inner pocket of his coat. He wished he could have given a better gift, but this was the only thing that came to mind that Jaemin had loved the most. He gently placed the lollipop on the dried-up grass.

    “Happy birthday, Jaemin.”

    Although they were twins born on the same day and at the same time, he was called by a different name. He silently repeated his real name, hidden beneath the identity of Han Naeyung. There was no one to call him by that name anymore.

    * * *

    Mission accomplished. Nuri Church in XX-dong. Engaged in missionary activities. Attached is a map. Request completed.

    The detective agency, driven by neither justice nor injustice but by money, contacted him through a burner phone. Han Naeyung chose the rendezvous location, and the agency decided the date. Han Naeyung burned the letter and envelope with a lighter he had bought at a convenience store. He crushed the completely burned remnants with his shoe. As he lifted his foot, the ashes scattered in the wind.

    The destination was now clear. Han Naeyung walked to the bus stop. There were no buses at dawn, so he had to walk for nearly two hours, but fortunately, it was already time for the first bus of the day to run.

    The location marked on the map was Nuri Church. It matched the neighborhood of the target’s residence provided earlier. The bus Han Naeyung boarded had several empty seats, and most passengers were dozing off. Han Naeyung sat down and rested his forehead against the seatback pole in front of him.

    The bus often passed by stops on the quiet road. Han Naeyung, eyes closed, gauged his stop by listening to the announcements. About 30 minutes later, he got off at his destination. He looked up at the hill extending from the left of the bus stop. With his hands in his pockets, he climbed the narrow, steep hill. Locals referred to this place as “the Five-Way Intersection.”

    It was a bit far to walk to his animal clinic from here, about ten minutes by car. Though it would take some time, he decided to walk back. He relied on the streetlight’s glow, looking up at the closely packed buildings in the distance. There were old-fashioned corner shops, hardware stores, and stationery shops, seemingly frozen in time.

    Han Naeyung stopped in front of an empty commercial building. Unlike the vacant first floor, a sign was glowing upstairs.

    Nuri Church

    It was a small church with a chapel on the second floor. People began climbing the stairs one by one for the early morning service. Han Naeyung approached the building’s entrance, momentarily hesitating as he stared at the stairs leading to the second floor.

    ‘What if someone recognizes me…?’

    He hesitated but then reassured himself that no one would recognize him. Twenty years had passed since that day. Blending in with the others, Han Naeyung entered the chapel.

    He did not sit down, instead looking around. A cross hung behind the central podium. People took seats on the long benches one by one. For a small church, the turnout was quite good. There were even a few students in school uniforms and some foreigners.

    It seemed ordinary—just a normal church. Han Naeyung sat in the sparsely populated back row, staring blankly ahead. At exactly 5 AM, the dawn service began, and the pastor started his tedious sermon.

    The pastor’s passionate sermon revealed no peculiarities. During the service, Han Naeyung scanned his surroundings. It had been 20 years for him as well. He could barely recall the target’s face clearly.

    When the hour-long service ended, people rose from their seats. Han Naeyung brushed his face with his gloved hand. Was he tricked? With everyone leaving, sitting alone became awkward. Finally, he got up too.

    Navigating through the friendly crowd, he covered his mouth with his hand. His gloves didn’t completely block out the smell of others. Among those descending to the first floor, someone ascended carrying a large plastic bag, smiling cheerfully.

    “The service is over already, I see.”

    Han Naeyung fixed his gaze on him.

    “I brought some hot canned coffee; please take one.”

    The man handed out coffee mid-staircase. Someone tapped Han Naeyung’s shoulder and passed by. Han Naeyung swallowed and carefully descended the stairs. The middle-aged man’s hand with the coffee extended towards Han Naeyung. The man’s pinky finger was bluntly cut off.

    “Oh! A new face. Have you moved here? Welcome, brother.”

    Han Naeyung blinked and quickly shed his unease. Without showing surprise, he took the coffee.

    “Thank you.”

    “I hope to see you often. You have such a good impression; maybe consider joining the youth group.”

    A foul smell wafted over. Han Naeyung nodded slightly, keeping his mouth shut. He gripped the canned coffee tightly. His entire being seemed to crackle with tension.

    In his memory, the target was a young man, not middle-aged. Yet, the voice and breathing were strikingly similar. He couldn’t be certain yet. The services were daily; he could come back repeatedly if necessary.

    Just as Han Naeyung opened the glass door on the first floor,

    “The pastor is calling you, Deacon.”

    “Yes, yes, I’m coming.”

    Han Naeyung turned around.

    Deacon…

    The middle-aged man’s voice overlapped with the voice of the person from Han Naeyung’s memory. Once outside, Han Naeyung threw the canned coffee into the trash. His heart tightened. He wanted to run back and plunge a sharp knife into the man’s throat immediately. Would the sight of blood gushing like a fountain ease his anger? Would the sight of a shattered head after being pushed from the rooftop bring satisfaction? Han Naeyung exhaled a white breath as he looked at the cross atop the building. His breathing grew rougher.

    He turned his back on the building and quickened his pace. The sharp cutter knives displayed at the hardware store caught his eye. Han Naeyung tried to ignore them and started to run. When his breath reached its limit and he exhaled uncontrollably, he covered his mouth.

    He ducked between the buildings and started to retch, but only thin stomach acid dripped to the ground. If the private investigator’s information was correct, the target was hiding under the guise of a deacon. But what if he had genuinely repented? What if he had truly atoned to God…?

    It didn’t matter. Forgiveness wasn’t something for God to bestow. The target needed to atone to Jaemin and him. Atonement meant the target’s life. So, he had to be killed.

    Suddenly, Jin’s voice flashed through his mind. He wiped his wet lips with the back of his hand as if erasing the thought of him. He remembered Jin’s face, smiling awkwardly with clumsy chopstick skills while wearing gloves.

    Why did Jin appear now, just when he had found the target? If only he had met Jin after killing the target, then to him, Han Naeyung would have been just the director of an animal hospital, not merely a murderer. But, perhaps it didn’t matter since he had already started fitting the pieces of his revenge by taking one life.

    He did not regret the day he cut off Lee Kyung-chul’s tongue. However, he did regret meeting someone with such a dear breath. Their short-lived relationship ended that day anyway.

    Two days after leaving Jin’s house, Han Naeyung left his clothes at the security office and hadn’t visited again by today, his regular day off. Perhaps his past was burdensome to him.

    Han Naeyung staggered away from the wall. He removed his soiled gloves and held them in his hand. His wet lips felt frozen. The sun was faintly rising over the low buildings. His eyes, having not slept at all, stung.

    As Han Naeyung exited the alley, the CCTV light above his head flickered.

    * * *

    On xx, xx, 20xx, a body was discovered at the construction site of xx apartments. Specifics: 23 bruises, 8 fractures. The fatal injury was a blow to the back of the head.

    Jin slammed the documents down as he flipped through the corpse photos. His mood plummeted at the sight of the dead child’s body, swollen and bruised.

    The five-year-old’s bones and skin were utterly battered. It was a case of extreme domestic violence, where the parents dumped the body in the hills. The parents turned themselves in within a day, and the body was found where they had indicated.

    “Prosecutor.”

    Lee Inyoung’s voice was filled with anger as she called Jin.

    “The investigator will bring additional materials this afternoon. Should I hand them over with the documents from family court?”

    “Yes, please.”

    “How could they do this to their own child…? And they even turned themselves in, so the sentence is predictable.”

    “The defense will likely argue for involuntary manslaughter, so we need to prove intent beyond doubt.”

    Jin could already picture the defense claiming they only intended to discipline the child, shedding tears and pleading for leniency. Proving implied intent was their best shot. But how could such severe beating result in implied intent? It was a clear case of deliberate intent.

    Jin shook his cigarette pack, hearing the rattle indicating only a few left. He couldn’t smoke in the office, so he tossed the pack back on the desk. The mountain of paperwork remained unaffected by the cigarette pack’s assault.

    He was chasing deadlines for complaint cases and detention expiration dates, and handling cold cases on top of it all. Winter brought a surge in incidents, making overtime and all-nighters routine. It wasn’t surprising, but his cigarette consumption had doubled.

    Along with the rage ignited by the sight of the child’s photo, he also thought of the pale man.

    He had said he was abused. Cold sweat trickled down as he looked at the dead child’s photo. It reminded him too much of Han Naeyung.

    Han Naeyung had told him that his past trauma was severe and that he should give up. Though he hadn’t said it directly, the hidden meaning was clear enough. Normally, Jin would have pushed forward without a second thought, but doing so might have had the opposite effect.

    He shouldn’t have asked about it in such a way that day. Over time, he had been so engrossed in his legal mindset that he ended up interrogating someone he cared about. Since the day he lost Han Naeyung, he had been racking his brain endlessly, but to no avail.

    ‘Giving up is absolutely not an option.’

    That thought had been clear from beginning to end. Jin suddenly stood up. Lee Inyoung looked up at him with wide eyes.

    “I’m going to step out for a bit. I’ll be back by the afternoon.”

    Jin quickly put on his coat and left the office. All the elevators were going up, so he took the stairs down to the parking lot. Even on the road, traffic lights kept stopping him. He tapped the steering wheel with his gloved hand. His impatience had reached its peak.

    Every night, he passed the hospital with its blinds down, checking the second floor. The lights were never on. Only the flickering sign on the curtained window was visible. It made him wonder if he had been hallucinating the night they drank soju together. That night, Han Naeyung hadn’t rejected his approach and even led him to the hospital.

    Because of that clear rejection, he hadn’t been able to move forward recklessly. But if Han Naeyung truly believed that, he would have pushed him away from the beginning.

    Despite his urgency, there was no suitable place to park. Jin saw a camera monitoring illegal parking but still parked his car. He didn’t care about getting a ticket. He turned off the engine and headed straight to the animal hospital. From outside, he could only see Lee Seolhwa, with no customers in sight.

    Jin took a deep breath and pushed the door open.

    “Hello.”

    “Oh? Mr. Nari’s father, hello.”

    Ignoring her greeting, Jin asked, “Is there a patient inside?”

    “No, the doctor is alone right now.”

    Jin immediately stood in front of the consultation room. He ignored Lee Seolhwa’s puzzled gaze and knocked on the door. Then, with his gloved hand, he turned the doorknob.

    Han Naeyung looked up from his book. His eyes showed surprise and confusion when he saw Jin, clearly not expecting him.

    “What brings you here?”

    “Dr. Han.”

    “……”

    Han Naeyung pulled the door handle behind him to close it. Then he strode over to Han Naeyung, who was still seated with his pale hands exposed from reading.

    “Take my hand.”

    Jin extended his gloved hand. Han Naeyung looked at him with difficulty.

    “If you want me to give up, don’t take it. Otherwise, take it.”

    “I won’t take it.”

    The cold air that took away the suffocating flow around them emanated from Jin’s coat. Retracting his hand, Jin spoke words contrary to his earlier statement.

    “I have decided not to give up.”

    Since Jin had entered, the sweet scent of his breath lingered. Han Naeyung deliberately took a deep breath.

    “I already told you, I won’t take it.”

    Then, a rare stiff expression crossed Jin’s face, followed by a quick smile.

    “You won’t take it, not that you can’t.”

    That’s why I won’t give up. Jin said. There’s a difference between not taking it and not being able to. Han Naeyung realized his slip of the tongue but stayed silent because it was the truth.

    “I left work in the middle, so I have to go back. I’ll come back in the evening.”

    “No. Don’t come.”

    Han Naeyung spoke coldly. His clasped hands had lost their color. Despite his firm refusal, he wasn’t looking directly at Jin.

    “Do you dislike me, or do you just want to avoid me?”

    “……”

    “If you truly dislike me, just say so. I have no intention of bothering you, Dr. Han.”

    It didn’t matter if Jin came across as underhanded in front of Han Naeyung. He was someone Jin could never catch without going to such lengths. Jin continued to question Han Naeyung, who still hadn’t responded.

    “I kissed you that day, fully prepared to get punched. I was disappointed when it didn’t even come to that. Was I so insignificant that you didn’t even need to punch me?”

    Han Naeyung shifted his gaze to Jin’s lips. That day, it didn’t just end with a kiss. Any lie would be easily uncovered.

    “It’s not that…”

    “Then what about sex?”

    Han Naeyung was taken aback by the bluntness.

    “Prosecutor Jin.”

    “You said you’re not someone who can be with anyone, but you managed with me, didn’t you? So why not start by at least trying to connect physically?”

    “I would only be a burden to you, Prosecutor Jin. Sooner or later…”

    “I think I’m the one being a burden right now.”

    “……”

    Jin reached out to touch Han Naeyung’s face. The cold leather brushed across his forehead, causing only a slight flinch.

    “If you show any opening, I’ll come right in, like now.”

    If Han Naeyung wanted to push Jin away, he couldn’t leave any gaps. Facing Jin, Han Naeyung couldn’t completely shut him out. Seeing Jin instantly alleviated his persistent suffocating feeling. It was hard to push him away because Jin carried a scent that was too comforting and familiar.

    “Prosecutor Jin… Do you like candy?”

    Jin gently touched the hair on Han Naeyung’s forehead.

    “People who smoke usually don’t like candy. Why do you ask?”

    “There’s just… a scent.”

    Jin raised his arm to smell his suit. He couldn’t detect anything. Then he bent slightly, inhaling from a distance where he wouldn’t touch Han Naeyung. He smiled, his eyes crinkling.

    “I’ve always thought you had a sweet, pleasant scent, Dr. Han. Is it perfume?”

    “Yes.”

    Jin’s eyes widened. He had assumed Han Naeyung’s scent was his natural body odor, as it was hard to imagine him wearing perfume.

    “It smells nice. Could you recommend some to me?”

    “Ah…”

    Han Naeyung let out a distressed sound, then closed his mouth. Jin assumed he couldn’t recall the name of the perfume.

    “It’s dog perfume. It’s technically a mist… but when I spray it on animals, the scent tends to linger.”

    Jin laughed quietly. The scent he associated with Han Naeyung was actually dog perfume, like the one he’d smelled on Nari.

    “Do I smell weird?”

    “No.”

    You smell wonderful… Han Naeyung thought to himself. The knock on the consultation room door snapped Han Naeyung back to reality. Jin pulled at the cuff of his leather glove, adjusting it to fit better.

    “I should go. Nari seems to have a bit of a cold, so I’ll bring her in this evening. And that’s not just an excuse.”

    He flashed his charming smile. As Jin exited, a pet owner carrying a Maltese widened their eyes, startled by the sudden appearance of the tall, handsome man.

    The Maltese, held by its owner, reached out with curiosity toward Jin, getting its wet nose on his black suit. Jin brushed it off and approached Lee Seolhwa.

    He apologized for any inconvenience.

    What on earth did they talk about? Lee Seolhwa wondered, noticing the bright look on Jin’s face in contrast to the seriousness with which he had entered.

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