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    #034

    Baek Sa, dressed in training clothes, looked different than usual. His shirt clung to his muscles, and Ha-gyeom couldn’t help but stare.

    Without further ado, Baek Sa pointed to a nearby door and said, “Go inside and change into training clothes.”

    Even though it had been days since they’d last seen each other, there was no greeting, nor an explanation for why he had been summoned. Ha-gyeom glared at Baek Sa, feeling irritated.

    “Why the training clothes?”

    “For a test.”

    “What kind of test?”

    “You’ll find out.”

    Baek Sa’s usual dismissive look was irritating. However, he opened the door for Ha-gyeom, who went inside to change into the training clothes. The design was similar to those at the center, but the fit was perfect, as if his size had been measured in advance.

    Not remembering any measurements being taken, Ha-gyeom inspected the clothes, muttering to himself.

    “…How does it fit so well?”

    He hadn’t intended for Baek Sa to hear, but he immediately reached out, running his hands over Ha-gyeom’s back, waist, and knees, checking the fit.

    Feeling a rush of heat to his neck, Ha-gyeom quickly pushed Baek Sa’s hands away.

    “Geez…”

    Baek Sa, cutting his words short, led Ha-gyeom to a table filled with various firearms.

    From handguns to rifles and sniper rifles, some of which Ha-gyeom had handled before, and others he hadn’t.

    Testing his ability to handle weapons…

    Ha-gyeom’s eyes lit up. It was clear they intended to put him into action rather than leave him idle. As an S-rank guide, he knew he would be used somehow, but he didn’t expect to be deployed so quickly. Participating in missions and being recognized as part of the team would be a great opportunity to get closer to Baek Seung-woo.

    “Finally decided to put me to proper use, huh?”

    Ha-gyeom said, loading a handgun. Baek Sa, standing with his hands on his hips, asked,

    “How much experience do you have with missions?”

    “Well…”

    “Don’t exaggerate. Exactly, how many times?”

    So picky.

    “Three…”

    Realizing how important experience was for missions, Ha-gyeom hesitated to lie.

    “No, two…”

    Even though Baek Sa’s eyes showed complete disdain…

    “…Once. This is my first time here.”

    Telling the truth was better than shortening his life. Though he was being logical, his pride took a hit. Ha-gyeom rubbed his earlobe, feeling awkward.

    Contrary to his fear of being mocked, Baek Sa just thoughtfully stroked his chin. He gestured to the gun in Ha-gyeom’s hand.

    “Shoot.”

    Baek Sa pressed a switch on the table, and with a loud noise, ten targets sprang up.

    The targets moved at different speeds, crossing paths. Hitting the center of the target was easy for an esper, but for a guide whose physical abilities were similar to non-ability users, it was a challenge.

    Despite knowing this, Ha-gyeom didn’t feel any inferiority complex. He had long accepted the gap between espers and himself, resolving to reach the highest combat ability a guide could achieve.

    Ha-gyeom gripped the Glock 17 with both hands, spreading his legs apart as he aimed at the target.

    At that moment, Baek Sa quietly approached and adjusted Ha-gyeom’s elbow, lifting it to correct the angle of his arm. He even widened the stance between Ha-gyeom’s feet.

    “What’s with all this?”

    Ha-gyeom narrowed his eyes at Baek Sa. In actual combat, having the perfect stance to fire a handgun was rare. This was just a test, so the unnecessary touches felt like an esper’s typical power play.

    “What are you looking at? Shoot.”

    Annoyed but properly provoked, Ha-gyeom pulled the trigger.

    Bang!

    The bullet hit the center of the nearest target. Ha-gyeom quickly fired three more shots, each hitting the mark, before changing his stance.

    He stood sideways, extending one arm to fire again. Five more shots clustered in the center of the target. Despite having more bullets left, he discarded the magazine and picked up a rifle.

    Considering the number of espers who had tried to put him down, getting worked up over this would be amateurish. Although it was unfortunate that his opponent was Baek Sa, Ha-gyeom asked with a calm face,

    “Do I shoot this too?”

    Baek Sa smirked and nodded. Ha-gyeom aimed the K2 rifle at the second target and pulled the trigger. He demonstrated his habit from training by lowering his stance while shooting, causing the condescending look on Baek Sa’s face to diminish slightly.

    As the deafening noise of the gunfire faded, an unusual silence filled the room. Ha-gyeom put down the rifle and stepped back from the table, looking at Baek Sa.

    “What did you think?”

    He didn’t really care for an answer but asked because it felt like something he would have done in front of his brother. Baek Sa responded with a meaningful gaze.

    “Not bad.”

    The answer, neither good nor bad, left Ha-gyeom deflated. He quickly averted his gaze from Baek Sa to prevent the nostalgia from overwhelming him.

    Despite his efforts, Baek Sa closed the distance between them. The next item on the table was a sniper rifle, something Ha-gyeom had never handled, making him feel uneasy as he awaited the next command.

    However, Baek Sa merely picked up a knife from the edge of the table and placed it in the sheath on Ha-gyeom’s belt. It was a small, finely sharpened dagger. Ha-gyeom looked at the sniper rifle with a skeptical expression.

    “What about this?”

    “Useless. Especially for you.”

    Puzzled by the statement, Ha-gyeom tilted his head, and Baek Sa tapped the sheath.

    “The danger you should be most wary of is the one right in front of you, not the one that could come from a distance. To eliminate immediate threats, this is better.”

    Baek Sa drew a knife from his own belt across his chest, its sharpness evident even in the dim light.

    “Or, this is better.”

    He then took a Glock from behind his waist and placed it in Ha-gyeom’s holster.

    In hunting or combat, it was obvious that a guide could never surpass an esper. There was even a joke among guides that the esper next to you was more troublesome than a monster hovering above. And in a world where even such powerful beings were controlled by non-ability users, it wasn’t wrong.

    Realizing this, Ha-gyeom found Baek Sa standing barely a span’s distance away. Feeling his breath, Ha-gyeom unconsciously licked his dry lips. Once their eyes met again, he found himself unable to look away, as if entranced.

    “Isn’t this yours?”

    Ha-gyeom mumbled, touching the holster. Baek Sa nodded nonchalantly and picked up another Glock from the table, placing it in his belt.

    “It’s not like it has my name on it.”

    His indifferent face suggested it wasn’t worth overthinking. After all, espers didn’t need to cling to handguns. Feeling irrationally stubborn, Ha-gyeom issued a half-hearted threat.

    “What if I cause trouble with this?”

    “What, are you going to shoot everyone?”

    If he wanted to, he could. Suppressing his agitation, Ha-gyeom exchanged glances with Baek Sa, who watched him with an amused expression and then tugged on his earlobe again.

    “If a guide has the guts for that, I’d welcome it.”

    His fingers dropped away quickly, but Ha-gyeom felt his insides churn.

    ‘There it is again!’

    The calm eyes of Baek Sa were proof that he had completely lost his memory, but the echoes of the past lingered strongly. Realizing that the small touches that once made his heart race meant nothing now was a cruel reality.

    “Stop that.”

    “What?”

    “Treating me like a child.”

    Ha-gyeom pointed to his ear. Baek Sa, finally seeming to understand, looked at his own reddened earlobe before slowly taking in Ha-gyeom’s now defiant eyes.

    “If you’re not a child, you wouldn’t tell me to stop treating you like one.”

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