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    Loves Error

    #009

    The day Ha-gyeom was rescued by Baek Seung-woo, around twenty children from Zone 0 were brought into the center. Among them were four ability users: two guides, including Ha-gyeom, and two espers.

    Even though civilians and ability users were rescued at the same time, they were separated and started completely different lives. Civilians received general education to grow their personal talents and abilities and become part of society, while ability users underwent training as resources and agents, having little interaction with the civilians.

    Most of the rescued ability users were young and typically trained with peers of the same age. After a year of trauma treatment, Ha-gyeom’s condition improved, and he joined the training team on his tenth birthday.

    The team, consisting of eleven children, had started training much earlier than Ha-gyeom. Although they had already established a hierarchy among themselves, it wasn’t strictly based on the level of their abilities but rather on personality traits.

    “The new trainee’s name is Shin Ha-gyeom. Some of you might already know him. Help him adapt well.”

    The first instructor was Yu Hae-na, a guide who was the same age as Baek Seung-woo. Ha-gyeom knew about her thanks to Seung-woo.

    Staring at Yu Hae-na, Ha-gyeom eventually looked straight ahead. Though the atmosphere wasn’t heavy, he could sense the unfriendly gazes of his team members.

    Despite this, no one challenged Yu Hae-na’s words, so Ha-gyeom quietly went to sit in a corner.

    The first lesson was about explaining the concepts of espers and guides. Thanks to extensive research, humanity had successfully developed a purification system using the energy of guides. While Ha-gyeom was somewhat familiar with this information, the existing trainees looked utterly bored.

    The problem arose after the class ended.

    “You’re an S-class guide, right?”

    Everyone at the center brought up this fact whenever they started a conversation with Ha-gyeom. A child sitting next to him in the corridor asked, and Ha-gyeom nodded.

    “Is that why you’re staying with Esper Baek Seung-woo?”

    “…What?”

    “You don’t stay in the same dormitory as us. Isn’t it because you’re an S-class guide? S-class guides are rare.”

    At that moment, a sharp comment came from somewhere and pierced through.

    “I heard it’s because you have mental issues.”

    When the speaker stood up, his height was imposing, a head taller than the other trainees. Although not incorrect, Ha-gyeom felt ashamed.

    “I heard you still wet the bed at night.”

    “Can’t eat or sleep properly, so that’s why Esper Baek Seung-woo takes care of you, right?”

    “Everyone here has issues. Why does he get a private room?”

    Although he knew his treatment was a privilege, it was the first time he had been openly criticized for it. Ha-gyeom bit his lip, his face turning red. By then, Yu Hae-na had left the training room, and all the kids had gathered around him.

    “Just because he’s S-class? And it’s not just any esper, it’s Baek Seung-woo.”

    With their stares focused on him like he was an animal in a zoo, Ha-gyeom’s heart pounded. He started sweating, lowering his head. He knew avoiding the situation wasn’t the best solution, but as always, he wanted to shut his eyes and ears.

    “…Sorry.”

    Ha-gyeom managed to say in a tiny voice. However, the response was cold.

    “What did he say?”

    “What are you sorry for?”

    “If you know, shouldn’t you be staying in the dormitory now?”

    “What if he wets the bed in the dormitory? Ew…! That would stink.”

    The kids burst into laughter. A small girl with her hair in pigtails spoke up in a clear voice.

    “If you talk like that, the instructor might scold you.”

    It wasn’t just an attempt to end the situation. The added mockery made Ha-gyeom even more uncomfortable. Many of the kids’ remarks poked at Ha-gyeom’s insecurities.

    “He’s like this because he has mental issues.”

    As he wiped the sweat beading on his forehead, someone made a blunt comment. The kids instantly fell silent as if on cue. Ha-gyeom slowly raised his head.

    This time, a boy who seemed to be a head and a half taller than the others stepped forward, parting the crowd to stand in front of Ha-gyeom.

    “They said that just like a body can be sick, the mind can be too. That doesn’t make someone crazy.”

    Although the boy’s words were blunt, his face didn’t show any malice. There was an odd kindness in his demeanor, making Ha-gyeom furrow his brows awkwardly.

    “Hey, Seok Ji-ho. There you go again, acting like you know everything.”

    A shorter boy snapped, but Seok Ji-ho didn’t seem to care at all. Ha-gyeom looked up at the confident Seok Ji-ho with curiosity.

    “You must be feeling better if you’re here now…. Hey, Shin Ha-gyeom. Do you really wet the bed every night?”

    “…No. I’ve never done that.”

    Out of everything the kids said, that was the one thing that wasn’t true. Ha-gyeom had never wet Baek Seung-woo’s bed. He often soaked it with tears and sweat due to nightmares, but never with urine.

    “He says no. I thought so too. He doesn’t look like the type to wet the bed.”

    Though Ha-gyeom had no way of knowing what a bed-wetter looked like, he was relieved to have at least one ally. Finally, he could breathe properly, and his heartbeat began to slow down.

    Thanks to Seok Ji-ho leading the change in atmosphere, no more harsh words came his way. Ha-gyeom sat there blinking like a doll. The class was over, and the situation had more or less resolved, but none of the kids left the training room. Their eyes remained fixed on him.

    Soon, Ha-gyeom realized they were observing him.

    “Why are your eyelashes so long?”

    “Your face is really pale.”

    “Aren’t your eyes huge?”

    The conversation quickly shifted away from the previous hostility, now focusing on Ha-gyeom’s appearance. The small black eyes of the children roamed over him, scrutinizing every detail.

    Ha-gyeom felt uncomfortable. However, there was a limit to what ten-year-olds could discuss. They could only comment on his looks and nothing more.

    Ha-gyeom’s appearance became a more serious issue when he turned fourteen. Inside the center, Baek Seung-woo’s popularity and admiration reached great heights. Ha-gyeom’s appearance, deemed not masculine by their standards, became the main reason for criticism.

    “Isn’t Baek Seung-woo sleeping with him because he wants him as his exclusive guide?”

    “That would only work if their compatibility rate matches. If it doesn’t, it’s all for nothing.”

    “But he’s the team leader. Isn’t there a way to secretly find out in advance?”

    “Who knows? Even if he doesn’t guide, if he gets horny, he could still do it…”

    Ha-gyeom, sitting alone in the cafeteria eating lunch, couldn’t help but hear the crude remarks. Though he was just entering puberty, the ones talking were three or four years older than him, almost adults. While such sexual conversations might be expected, it was different when they involved him and Baek Seung-woo. Ha-gyeom’s face had already twisted into a frown as soon as he heard the familiar names.

    Just then, Seok Ji-ho, carrying a tray, sat across from Ha-gyeom. Ha-gyeom’s gaze was fixed on the trainees beyond Seok Ji-ho.

    “What are you staring at…”

    Seok Ji-ho turned his head to follow Ha-gyeom’s gaze. The trainees didn’t stop talking.

    “They said the rumors have been around since he first came. A pretty boy might not be much, but a pretty guide is a different story.”

    “He’s got no strength, so his good looks are probably his weapon. If Baek Seung-woo has eyes, he’d… Ow!”

    Suddenly, a loud crack echoed from the white-faced trainee, who fell to the floor with his chair. Ha-gyeom had thrown his spoon at him, hitting him squarely. The others who had been gossiping were now covered in the food that had spilled from the overturned trays.

    “Ugh, shit!”

    All eyes turned to the scene. Ha-gyeom stayed seated, glaring at the chaos he had caused.

    “Fuck, are you crazy! This bastard!”

    One of the trainees shouted, glaring daggers. In the past, Ha-gyeom might have endured silently, but now, having grown up under Baek Seung-woo’s protection, he wouldn’t.

    As Ha-gyeom’s eyes shot back a sharp glare, Seok Ji-ho, who had been watching, spoke.

    “Why don’t you just eat?”

    Instead of answering, Ha-gyeom asked dryly.

    “If they come at me, you’ll cover me, right?”

    “Of course.”

    Seok Ji-ho replied without hesitation and began eating, indifferent to the commotion. Though he didn’t seem entirely trustworthy, he was still an esper. If the trainees tried to show off their strength, Ha-gyeom planned to hide behind Seok Ji-ho.

    With that thought, nothing seemed frightening. He could endure personal insults, but he couldn’t stand Baek Seung-woo being publicly disrespected by other trainees.

    “Do you think you can act all high and mighty just because Baek Seung-woo favors you?”

    The boys, brushing off the food from their clothes, shouted angrily. Though they might not believe it, Ha-gyeom didn’t take Baek Seung-woo’s protection for granted or feel proud of it.

    “Yeah, you’re right. I don’t care about anything.”

    But he had no intention of explaining his feelings to people who had no intention of understanding him.

    “If you have complaints, say them to my face. Don’t talk shit behind my back.”

    “What, you dare talk back to us?”

    As Ha-gyeom added defiantly, three boys simultaneously pointed fingers at him, threateningly. One even looked ready to leap over the table.

    Despite the growing murmur and the increasingly hostile atmosphere, Ha-gyeom remained unbothered. He slammed the table with his hand, signaling the start of another tiresome fight.

    The cafeteria buzzed with tension, but Ha-gyeom stood his ground, ready to face the confrontation head-on.

    * * *

    It was purely by chance that Ha-gyeom overheard the conversation between Baek Seung-woo and Yu Hae-na.

    After finishing his training and heading back to his room, Ha-gyeom froze upon hearing familiar voices. He pressed himself against the wall.

    “You heard, right?”

    “Of course, I heard.”

    Baek Seung-woo and Yu Hae-na seemed to be chatting in the meeting area between Buildings A and B. With no one else around, Ha-gyeom quietly moved closer to the bench behind them, lowering himself to avoid being seen.

    Following the incident earlier that day, Ha-gyeom had already received a warning from Yu Hae-na. The boys who had started it got demerits, so in the end, it wasn’t such a bad outcome for him.

    “This is a sensitive topic, but since you’re practically Shin Ha-gyeom’s guardian, I need to tell you.”

    Yu Hae-na lit a cigarette, a rare luxury in the center. Baek Seung-woo, who had been lounging comfortably, crossed his arms as he watched her.

    “No need to cushion it so much. Why, what’s going on?”

    To Ha-gyeom, the fight was justified, but he felt uneasy about Baek Seung-woo knowing every detail. He rubbed his hot neck in embarrassment.

    “You two… don’t still share a bed, do you?”

    Yu Hae-na asked, causing Baek Seung-woo to twitch his eyebrows.

    “Do you realize how weird that sounds?”

    “Right? It sounds weird, doesn’t it? That’s why it’s an issue.”

    “So, what’s your point? Are you suggesting we sleep separately?”

    Baek Seung-woo’s voice carried a note of irritation. Ha-gyeom, hiding behind the bench, held his breath, feeling a mix of anxiety and curiosity about the conversation.

    “You know, it’s not about the bed. It’s about the perception. People talk, and you know how rumors start. It’s for his sake as much as yours.”

    Ha-gyeom’s heart pounded. He knew Yu Hae-na meant well, but the thought of being separated from Baek Seung-woo filled him with dread. He strained to hear more, desperate for reassurance from Seung-woo.

    “Listen, Haena, Ha-gyeom’s been through a lot. If sharing a bed helps him sleep without nightmares, then that’s what I’ll do. Let people talk. We know the truth.”

    Yu Hae-na sighed, exhaling smoke.

    “I get it. But think about his future. At some point, he needs to stand on his own. The sooner he starts, the better it will be for him.”

    Baek Seung-woo was silent for a moment.

    “I’ll think about it. But for now, he needs stability. He’ll get there, just not yet.”

    The conversation drifted to other topics, but Ha-gyeom stayed hidden, processing what he had heard. The idea of separating from Baek Seung-woo was terrifying, but a small part of him understood the necessity of growing stronger on his own. He just wasn’t ready to face that reality yet.

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