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    Loves Error

    #007

    2. First Resolve

    When nine-year-old Ha-gyeom first arrived at the center, his physical condition was a wreck. His mental state, scarred by tragedy, was no different. As a result, he would either overreact to slight stimuli or behave dully as if he felt nothing at all.

    His body was gaunt, his breathing shallow, and his gaze vacant. He had no appetite and couldn’t sleep well due to nightmares.

    Even in a safe environment, he couldn’t manage his daily life, and it was Baek Seung-woo, who had just started working in the field, who took care of him.

    “Give me your hand.”

    Standing in front of the small bathroom sink, Ha-gyeom extended his hand. Baek Seung-woo gently took the trembling hand, checking for deep wounds before the water touched it. Ha-gyeom was just embarrassed by the small scars on his body.

    “It might sting a bit, but it will be okay once we wash it and apply some medicine.”

    Ha-gyeom was at a point where he needed practice just to get up from bed, wash his face, and start the day. Before the monsters appeared, he could do it all by himself, but now even that seemed overwhelming.

    For a week now, Baek Seung-woo had been responsible for Ha-gyeom’s daily routine. He voluntarily took on the task of helping him wash, change into new clothes, and have breakfast.

    “Shall we try?”

    Despite the struggle, Ha-gyeom felt a bit stronger when he saw Seung-woo, who smelled good, was sturdy, and kind. Though he was older than his older brother and younger than his parents, Seung-woo had a steadfastness that made it seem like he could handle anything.

    “I’m not forcing you, but can you answer me?”

    “…Yes.”

    “Do you think you can do it today?”

    “Yes.”

    Ha-gyeom put his hands into the warm water Seung-woo had prepared. Lacking strength, he did his best to lather the soap and rub it on his face. After successfully washing his face and looking in the mirror, Seung-woo gently wiped away the remaining bubbles and water with a towel.

    “Good job.”

    He smiled proudly. When Ha-gyeom met his eyes in the mirror, he felt embarrassed and quickly lowered his head.

    After leaving the bathroom, he applied the lotion Seung-woo had squeezed out for him. The clothes he handed over were not high-quality but were freshly laundered. While Seung-woo made the bed, Ha-gyeom changed clothes and combed his tangled hair.

    Someone at the center had trimmed his hair three days ago. Though it still looked scruffy, Ha-gyeom saw a hint of his former self in the mirror for the first time.

    “Today, we’re going to eat with others outside.”

    Baek Seung-woo approached Ha-gyeom and said. Startled, Ha-gyeom turned around and looked up at him for a long time.

    Seeing the discomfort in the child’s strained neck, Seung-woo quickly knelt to match his eye level.

    “There’s no chance of getting hurt or feeling pain. So, today, let’s go out and eat together. Is that okay?”

    Ha-gyeom had no idea what awaited him outside this room. Even though Seung-woo repeatedly assured him it was safe, he couldn’t shake his doubts.

    When tears welled up in his scared eyes, a flustered Seung-woo gently dabbed them with his sleeve.

    “Staying in the room all the time is too stifling, Ha-gyeom. If you don’t like it, we can go back to eating in the room from tomorrow. …How about it?”

    His face showed a hint of anxiety as he waited for an answer. Ha-gyeom hated the idea of going outside more than anything, but he hated the idea of troubling Seung-woo even more.

    “A promise…”

    “Yes, it’s a promise.”

    So, he finally nodded.

    When he took his first step out of the room with Seung-woo, his heart pounded as if it would burst. Holding Seung-woo’s hand, they entered the dining hall, and the chatter stopped abruptly as if doused with cold water.

    Everyone was looking at them. Even young Ha-gyeom could sense that behind their curious glances at him, there was a mix of admiration and interest directed at Seung-woo.

    Seung-woo, focused on Ha-gyeom, paid no attention to the others. But he was handsome and popular; the connection was clear.

    Ignoring the stares, Seung-woo led Ha-gyeom to a sunny spot by the window and gestured to a chair.

    “Sit here.”

    Ha-gyeom bowed his head in thanks and climbed onto the chair. As the dining hall grew noisy again, his face flushed. He felt unbearably embarrassed, knowing it wasn’t something to be proud of, insisting on staying in Seung-woo’s room.

    “Just bear it for ten seconds.”

    Seung-woo quickly went to get their meal trays at a frightening speed. He sat down right next to Ha-gyeom. A woman with red hair placed her tray opposite Ha-gyeom.

    “People might think you’re his parent.”

    “Watch your mouth, Yang Ga-eun.”

    Ha-gyeom flinched as she sat down without asking. Seung-woo patted his back soothingly.

    “Don’t provoke the kid.”

    “Provoke? I just came to see. Rumor has it the kid is super cute.”

    Yang Ga-eun smiled, reaching out to touch Ha-gyeom’s cheek. Seung-woo blocked her hand and instead placed a spoon in Ha-gyeom’s hand.

    “Don’t upset him. Why don’t you eat somewhere else?”

    It was the first time Ha-gyeom saw Baek Seung-woo so stern. At his cold response, Yang Ga-eun pouted rebelliously.

    The problem was that Ha-gyeom misunderstood the spark between them as a fight. He could easily imagine what people who exchanged such looks would eventually do. Having lived a life recently marred by violence, he froze in place.

    Seeing Ha-gyeom start to tremble, Yang Ga-eun’s expression hardened as well. She stood up.

    “…Sorry.”

    Sensing the tense atmosphere, she left cautiously. However, even after she left, Ha-gyeom remained motionless for a while.

    Baek Seung-woo waited silently until Ha-gyeom relaxed. Time passed, and it was only when the food had almost gone cold that Ha-gyeom slowly put down his spoon.

    “Were you scared?”

    Baek Seung-woo asked. Ha-gyeom nodded. Baek Seung-woo handed the spoon back to Ha-gyeom, frowning playfully.

    “I know you don’t like being touched. That’s why I stopped her. You saw that, right?”

    “……”

    “You also heard her apologize because you didn’t like it… right?”

    Baek Seung-woo reiterated what Ha-gyeom had seen and heard. Hearing the situation clearly from Baek Seung-woo reassured Ha-gyeom.

    “Everyone here will listen to what you say. So don’t be too scared. If something scares you or you don’t like something, just say so. Got it?”

    “…Yes.”

    Ha-gyeom answered in a small voice, gripping the spoon tighter. Watching him, Baek Seung-woo began eating first to set an example. Ha-gyeom, who had been just filling his stomach rather than properly eating, was reminded of his life before the monster invasion by watching him.

    At nine years old, he knew how to eat on his own.

    Ha-gyeom quietly took a bite of rice. Even though the side dishes were simple, that bite tasted sweet like honey. He knew it was polite to finish his meal, so he scraped his tray clean.

    Baek Seung-woo, who had finished eating, was smiling at him.

    “Do you want some water?”

    “Yes.”

    The water he poured was cold. It made his head ache, but he could endure it.

    * * *

    As daily life became possible with Baek Seung-woo’s help, a structured routine was established. The primary focus was on trauma treatment and energy analysis, which didn’t take much time, but each session left Ha-gyeom exhausted.

    Facing the tragedy again and visiting the lab because of some unknown energy was all very draining. Ha-gyeom was confused about whether he was improving or getting worse, especially since Baek Seung-woo had fully resumed his missions. Most nights, he fell asleep in an empty bed.

    He thought he was managing well enough until one night, he experienced sleep paralysis. A dark figure strangled him, and flashes of his past appeared and disappeared incessantly.

    Waking abruptly from the nightmare, Ha-gyeom found his eyes wet with tears.

    “…Ugh.”

    The usual darkness and Baek Seung-woo’s absence quickly turned into terror. Ha-gyeom clutched the sheets and buried his face in the pillow.

    He was gripped by the delusion that someone watching him would suddenly attack. Even the faint noises from outside made him tremble like a leaf. At times like this, he couldn’t help but think this place was no different from that other place.

    Without realizing it, he fell asleep again and was tormented by more nightmares.

    When he finally woke up, a large hand was suddenly on his forehead.

    “Ugh.”

    The familiar smell of blood made Ha-gyeom groan unconsciously. Though he knew it was Baek Seung-woo checking his fever, he couldn’t easily acknowledge him.

    It was clearly not the scent of a monster. The addition of a thick sweat smell confirmed that Seung-woo had just returned from a mission.

    “…Are you hurt?”

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