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    #022

    Leaving the wound in Dr. Cha’s care, Ha-gyeom couldn’t hide his uneasy gaze. Though Dr. Cha’s suturing skills were impeccable, his constant, furtive glances over Ha-gyeom’s body through his glasses made him feel uneasy.

    “What are you looking at?”

    Unable to hold back any longer, Ha-gyeom snapped. Dr. Cha adjusted his glasses and replied,

    “You’re an S-class guide. Your muscle condition is excellent for a guide, and also….”

    In a world where not only espers but also monsters were the enemies, even guides needed to train their bodies.

    Ha-gyeom wanted to gouge out Dr. Cha’s lecherous eyes, but since his hands held the forceps and thread, he responded dismissively. Keeping an eye on Baek Seung-woo, who stood with folded arms, Ha-gyeom controlled his trembling hands and decided not to pick a fight, focusing instead on getting his wound properly stitched.

    Once the suturing was finished, Ha-gyeom finally received a shirt and dressed properly. As he was about to get up from the unpleasant steel bed, Baek Seung-woo pressed down on his chest to stop him.

    “Wait.”

    It was a command spoken as if to a dog. Baek Seung-woo sat on the steel bed next to him. Dr. Cha also moved busily, indicating they were about to quantify the guiding results.

    If this were the center, it would merely be boring, but the fact that Baek Seung-woo was the subject made it different.

    Baek Seung-woo’s consciousness hadn’t been fully intact, so what happened in the darkness couldn’t be considered normal guiding.

    Still, Ha-gyeom was curious. His energy control abilities had always been poor, and he had never expected much from guiding, especially with Baek Seung-woo.

    Ha-gyeom, tense, watched Baek Seung-woo sit beside him. Baek Seung-woo took off his jacket and rolled up his shirt sleeves, revealing his well-defined forearm muscles.

    Dr. Cha first attached sensors to Baek Seung-woo’s wrist, then connected several wires to Ha-gyeom’s body as well.

    “Now, just relax.”

    Ignoring Dr. Cha’s words, Baek Seung-woo turned his head to watch the monitor. Naturally, Ha-gyeom couldn’t take his eyes off Baek Seung-woo’s profile. Though the atmosphere was different from five years ago, there was no doubt it was still Baek Seung-woo.

    Does he really not remember me?

    Or is he just pretending not to?

    There was no way to know for sure at the moment. With a conflicted expression, Ha-gyeom waited, and soon the monitor beeped.

    “Wow…!”

    Upon seeing the numbers on the monitor, Dr. Cha exclaimed in amazement. He turned the monitor proudly to show the results.

    “Your guiding efficiency is a whopping… 90 percent!”

    It was a higher figure than Ha-gyeom had anticipated, although he had some expectations. Reaching even 50 percent at the center was difficult, but here he had achieved 90 percent in just one session.

    If Baek Seung-woo hadn’t gone missing, they would undoubtedly have become each other’s dedicated guide due to their efficiency. Thinking about this made Ha-gyeom feel even dizzier. It was obvious how Baek Seung-woo, who had treated him like a younger brother, would have reacted.

    “If you weren’t in a rampage state, it might have been even higher.”

    Even recalling the resonance they had created on the bed earlier, it was indeed extraordinary.

    ‘…Should I be thankful that he doesn’t recognize me?’

    Ha-gyeom naturally observed Baek Seung-woo’s reaction. However, he again showed no significant response. Pointing to the sensor on his wrist, Baek Seung-woo spoke.

    “Stop making a fuss and remove the sensors first.”

    Dr. Cha, his expression now composed, reached for the sensors. As Baek Seung-woo removed his sensors, Ha-gyeom noticed his heart rate displayed on the monitor, which greatly bothered him.

    ♥ 166 bpm

    …Even while lying still, his heart rate easily exceeded 160.

    Baek Seung-woo, who also saw the heart rate, looked at Ha-gyeom with a puzzled expression. Ha-gyeom wasn’t confident he could handle his reaction. He quickly turned his head in the opposite direction, but he couldn’t hide his flushed ears.

    As Ha-gyeom shifted his gaze beyond the glass wall, he suddenly noticed something.

    The room Ha-gyeom was in wasn’t large, but there were at least a dozen similar rooms. It was a space similar to the infirmary at the center, where people needing treatment came.

    Most of the rooms were empty. However, not far away, he saw a child. The child lay in what looked like a sterile room, hooked up to an oxygen mask.

    Just then, a commotion erupted from afar. Soon, Ha-gyeom saw the girl who had stabbed his abdomen and Tae-seong struggling as they entered.

    Dr. Cha clicked his tongue. Ha-gyeom gave Dr. Cha a questioning look, and Baek Seung-woo spoke up.

    “What do you think? The result of your operation.”

    ‘…The result of the operation?’

    Ha-gyeom touched his earlobe, not immediately understanding. The battle had ended in the center’s victory, and they had likely rescued the child from District 0 who was at risk of organ harvesting.

    “……”

    As he continued to think, Ha-gyeom’s eyes widened. He recalled what Kim Hye-jeong had said during the first operation meeting.

    ‘In four days, we will send a child from District 13 to District 0. It’s said that the child of someone influential in District 0 is sick…. Although it’s not confirmed, there’s information suggesting it’s for organ harvesting.’

    The target.

    From the center’s perspective, the main goal was to rescue the child who would be forcibly stripped of organs. Thus, there was no concern for the child who needed the organs during the meetings or operations.

    It was clear who was the victim and who was the perpetrator.

    That means….

    Ha-gyeom stood up from the bed and approached the glass wall. When he placed his hand on the cold surface, it felt as though his heart was beating in his palm. Along with his concern, a clear fact emerged.

    Since the team had safely rescued the target, the child in need of organs no longer had access to them.

    Ha-gyeom bit his lower lip hard. Hearing about it from Kim Hye-jeong was one thing, but seeing a dying child up close was a different matter entirely.

    Had he somehow harbored a grudge against an unknown girl….

    “Is that the brother of the girl who attacked me?”

    In response to Ha-gyeom’s question, Dr. Cha nodded.

    “Yes. They have different mothers but the same father. Not that it matters much now.”

    Tae-seong stood by the girl, looking somber. The sterile room was filled with an indescribably heavy atmosphere.

    “Tae-seong has often taken care of them since they were young, so he must be feeling terrible.”

    “What’s the diagnosis?”

    “Acute renal failure. Recovery is difficult without a kidney transplant. The days of a robust medical system are long gone, even before the invasion. There are always diseases that can’t be treated, then and now. Even here, which is supposed to be well-equipped, there are many illnesses we can’t cure. It’s no wonder, considering we’re living in a world where the apocalypse could come tomorrow….”

    “What about her parents? Even someone like me knows that family members have a higher success rate for transplants.”

    “Her biological mother is deceased, and her father….”

    Dr. Cha glanced at Baek Seung-woo. Did Baek Seung-woo know something about the children’s father? Despite Baek Seung-woo’s impassive expression, Dr. Cha hesitated and then began to speak vaguely.

    “Not everyone values universal principles….”

    “…Bullshit.”

    Ha-gyeom’s breathing was ragged as he closed his eyes tightly. Shouldn’t parents be ready to offer even their hearts for their children?

    Ha-gyeom recalled his own brother with vivid clarity. When he and his parents died, he had felt as if he wanted to bite his tongue and die. Despite the passage of time, the horrific pain remained like a scar, showing no sign of fading.

    For him, it was a problem that required no second thought. But here were parents who, instead of willingly giving a part of themselves, were willing to sacrifice an innocent child.

    “So, that girl….”

    “Will die.”

    Dr. Cha spoke with a tone of regret. Following his gaze, Ha-gyeom looked at the girl crying over her brother’s impending death.

    ‘…The result of the operation?’

    Reflecting on Baek Seung-woo’s words brought confusion. Ha-gyeom hadn’t considered the unintended consequences of the center’s operation. Rescuing the kidnapped child was fortunate, but watching another child’s death unfold in front of him was far from comforting.

    Saving one innocent child had resulted in the loss of another. Despite understanding the inevitability, Ha-gyeom’s eyes wavered as he watched the dying child. If he were still at the center, he wouldn’t have discovered or realized this harsh reality.

    Ha-gyeom stood frozen in front of the glass wall, unable to move. He watched as the boy’s unstable vitals triggered an alarm, causing commotion around the sterile room. His eyes, which had barely maintained composure, were now visibly shaken.

    Suddenly, he felt warmth behind him.

    Baek Seung-woo had silently approached and spoke in a low voice.

    “The world is inherently full of contradictions.”

    Startled, Ha-gyeom turned and looked up at Baek Seung-woo. The eyes that met his held neither anger nor sympathy, offering no answers.

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