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    “Is that really it…?”

    Yu Hae-na cleared her throat, looking at Baek Seung-woo with a mixture of concern and exasperation.

    “You heard what happened today. Ha-gyeom isn’t a kid anymore. He’s fourteen, and that’s when puberty really starts kicking in. When he was young and unstable, it made sense for you to be close and take care of him. But now he’s stable and grown up. Is there really a need for him to stay in your room?”

    Ha-gyeom’s heart sank. The day he had hoped would never come seemed to be arriving.

    Yu Hae-na continued, her voice filled with worry. Baek Seung-woo, with a meaningful expression, asked, “Puberty?”

    “If he were a civilian, it might be different, but you’re an esper and Ha-gyeom is a guide. It’s a sensitive issue. Once he becomes an adult, he’ll start guiding, and it’s not unusual for someone his age to start getting curious about it.”

    Ha-gyeom’s face burned. He wasn’t ignorant about guiding, especially since he was no longer a child and had mingled with other trainees. Though he hadn’t started formal guiding training, there wasn’t a single guide his age unaware of what guiding entailed.

    “To me, he’s still a snot-nosed kid.”

    “Maybe to you, but it might be different for Ha-gyeom. Many ability users experience emotional turmoil because of guiding. It might be best to separate living quarters before it becomes an issue.”

    Ha-gyeom had never thought of Baek Seung-woo as an esper he would need to guide. Their relationship was more like that of siblings, and thinking of it otherwise was unsettling.

    But just because he felt confident in his own mind didn’t mean he could ignore the opinions of others forever. There was no guarantee that today’s incident wouldn’t repeat itself.

    “Do you know what kind of comments Ha-gyeom’s been hearing?”

    Ha-gyeom dreaded Baek Seung-woo finding out about the details of those rumors.

    “People are already treating him like your lover.”


    Baek Seung-woo’s brows furrowed visibly. His eyes grew fierce as if he was ready to explode.

    “They’re treating Ha-gyeom like that?”

    “Yes. It’s a good thing Ha-gyeom stands up for himself. If it were me, I’d be in tears. The kid’s pretty, so he’s a constant target.”

    Baek Seung-woo shook his head in disbelief, his jaw muscles clenching and unclenching.

    Ha-gyeom gritted his teeth. He could endure the rumors, but…

    “You don’t know how scary unaccustomed kids can be. They’re capable of saying some nasty things, as bad as any adult. Ha-gyeom might be hiding a lot, but this isn’t something to brush off.”

    “I get it.”

    Baek Seung-woo sighed deeply and glanced at Yu Hae-na’s cigarette. He snatched it from her and casually took a drag.

    “You must be really stressed, huh?”

    Yu Hae-na asked, a hint of amusement in her voice.

    Peeking out and seeing the scene, Ha-gyeom’s eyes widened in shock.

    ‘He just took the cigarette that the instructor was smoking?’

    No matter how close they were, there should be boundaries between colleagues. Just imagining Seok Ji-ho drinking from the same can he had was enough to make Ha-gyeom feel nauseous.

    “You should scold him properly for today’s incident. Ha-gyeom’s been emboldened by your protection.”

    “How exactly has he been emboldened?”

    Come to think of it, the relationship between Baek Seung-woo and Yu Hae-na felt different now. Ha-gyeom knew about her because she had experience guiding Baek Seung-woo.

    Ha-gyeom’s expression turned cold.

    “He didn’t back down even once against older boys.”

    Baek Seung-woo laughed. For a moment, Ha-gyeom found it strange to see him smile at Yu Hae-na like that.

    “They say he really flaunted his S-class status.”

    “Well, it’s true.”

    “See? There you go again, being all soft.”

    Yu Hae-na touched Baek Seung-woo’s shoulder. He didn’t react to the sudden contact and even looked down at her hand with a peculiar expression.

    Ha-gyeom unintentionally took a deep breath. It felt strange. Do adults normally act like this? Even if an esper and a guide have guided each other, guiding and physical relationships should be strictly separated.

    At least that’s what Ha-gyeom was taught. He didn’t know why it made his stomach churn so much…

    “What I’m saying is, stop shielding him so much.”

    “I will shield him. He’s the first person I saved.”

    “He’s not the only one you’ve saved.”

    “You never forget your first.”

    Baek Seung-woo glanced up at the sky, causing Ha-gyeom to feel a strange sense of calm. The uneasy feeling he had when Baek Seung-woo looked at Yu Hae-na lessened.

    “Ha-gyeom is the first person I saved, and naturally, I cherish him. You know as well as I do that being strictly fair isn’t always the best in every situation.”

    “You’re lucky you’re not an instructor. That’s a dangerous mindset.”

    “It’s better to be shrewd than fragile. I don’t want to see Ha-gyeom intimidated by others. I’d rather he pay them back twice or thrice as hard, like he did today.”

    “Baek Seung-woo.”

    “Not everyone has a long time. I intend to take care of him as best I can while I can.”

    Yu Hae-na, who had been stern like a strict teacher, slowly softened. She nodded reluctantly, as if conceding his point.

    “You’re right. Just surviving is something to be thankful for.”

    Yu Hae-na gently patted the back of Baek Seung-woo’s head, her long fingers threading through his hair. Sharing a cigarette and such intimacy were things Ha-gyeom couldn’t understand.

    Ha-gyeom disliked seeing Baek Seung-woo so casually close with others. He glared at Yu Hae-na, not knowing the true nature of his feelings. It was the first time he had looked at her that way.

    “What does that boy mean to you, really?”

    A smile slowly formed on Baek Seung-woo’s face. Ha-gyeom, feeling tense, couldn’t move from his spot.

    “Meaning, huh?”

    Baek Seung-woo looked directly at Yu Hae-na, and in that moment, his strong profile and piercing gaze filled Ha-gyeom’s view. He seemed resolute and unwavering, just as he had been when they first met. As Ha-gyeom’s eyes traced the line of his neck and broad shoulders, he found himself impatiently awaiting Baek Seung-woo’s response.

    “Ha-gyeom is like my first resolve. Something I must never lose.”

    Baek Seung-woo finally declared. Ha-gyeom’s stomach fluttered again, but this time not out of discomfort.

    ‘First resolve….’

    Gently, he touched his warming ears. Though he didn’t fully grasp the concept due to his lack of experience, he knew that everyone cherished their first resolve.

    The fact that Baek Seung-woo saw him as more than just a younger brother or a victim, comparing him to his initial resolve, felt overwhelming. That word might have struck him more deeply than he expected.

    Something that must never be lost.

    Ha-gyeom wondered if he had something like that. Only one person came to mind.

    Naturally, he recalled the first time he met the man, his kind eyes, and steady gaze. His cheeks and forehead warmed at the memory. Despite feeling immense gratitude, he didn’t understand why his heart was racing so fast.

    “Make sure to tell Ha-gyeom that. He’ll probably live the longest of anyone you’ve saved.”

    Even though he already knew Baek Seung-woo cared for him, hearing it again made his chest flutter. He bit his lower lip, watching as Baek Seung-woo’s face turned playful.

    Feeling overwhelmed, Ha-gyeom quickly looked away and pinched the back of his hand.

    It wasn’t a dream, yet it didn’t hurt at all.

    * * *

    Even after Baek Seung-woo returned to the room after his day’s work, Ha-gyeom kept his lips tightly shut. While folding the few pieces of laundry they had, he stole glances at Seung-woo, who then folded his arms pointedly.

    “Shin Ha-gyeom.”


    Ha-gyeom finally looked at him after hearing his name. He thought Seung-woo might scold him for what happened.

    “Are you hurt?”

    But what came was a gentle question and a kind look, not a reprimand. Biting his lower lip, Ha-gyeom slowly shook his head. The boy who had started the fight had a bruised eye. Seok Ji-ho had acted as his guard, so naturally, Ha-gyeom remained unscathed.

    “No, I’m not hurt.”

    “Then that’s a relief.”

    Instead of scolding, Seung-woo just stared at him, making Ha-gyeom’s face flush. He had been fine that morning, but after overhearing Seung-woo’s conversation with Yu Hae-na, his heart wouldn’t stop pounding.

    Wiping the sweat from his hands onto his pants, Ha-gyeom put the folded laundry into the drawers. As he busied himself to avoid facing Seung-woo, the latter added while rubbing his neck,

    “Using my name is fine, but if you do it too often, it’ll lose its effect. Try to ignore the bad comments as much as you can and only use my name when absolutely necessary…”

    Even though Ha-gyeom didn’t respond, Seung-woo cut himself off. Ha-gyeom, his face still burning, finished his chores without a word. Normally, he would talk about his day with Seung-woo, so the latter found his silence odd.

    “Ha-gyeom, I’m not going to scold you.”

    Seung-woo’s low voice made Ha-gyeom’s insides tingle.

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