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    Deep Pivot, Episode 32

    An inexperienced, untrained new guide took on guiding Ji Seo-joon one-on-one.

    Rumors spread like wildfire, just like a swift wave moving through the ocean. This wasn’t surprising to most awakened ones, and of course, it reached the ears of other team members who knew Ji Seo-joon was a no-name.

    “Our Seo-joon really has no manners.”

    “What manners?”

    What nonsense is he spouting now? Seo-joon, who was running on the treadmill at the Awakener Center’s internal gym, frowned at the sudden, baseless criticism.

    Cheong-oh, with a towel draped over his shoulder, casually pressed the power button and said,

    “So, you just fed him and sent him back? After all that hardship?”

    “…I didn’t just feed him and send him back. I disinfected his wounds and told him to get proper treatment from Hee-min hyung.”

    “And didn’t let him sleep.”

    “He said he was fine without sleep.”

    “You’re really heartless, Ji Seo-joon.”

    After finishing his blue ion drink, Cheong-oh threw the empty plastic bottle into the trash.

    “Do you know how much our Baby suffered? If you knew, you couldn’t be so cold-hearted, seriously.”

    Seo-joon, who had gotten off the gradually slowing machine due to Cheong-oh turning off the power, quietly opened his drink and drank. Cheong-oh had been following him around, describing in detail how much Cha Yeon-woo had struggled on the field, down to the second.

    Having already watched the guiding process through his home camera footage, Seo-joon felt he had no words to refute the fuss Cheong-oh was making.

    “When he came out of the tunnel, I thought he’d lost a limb to you. He was bleeding so much.”

    This was the third time hearing this story. Cheong-oh went on about how Cha Yeon-woo went alone to rescue Seo-joon despite everyone trying to stop him, and that when he emerged from the tunnel, everyone present was so moved that they gave him a standing ovation.

    Only a fraction of it was likely true; Seo-joon deliberately let the exaggerated and fabricated story go in one ear and out the other.

    “If you don’t assign someone like him exclusively to you, who would you hire exclusively, Seo-joon?”

    “What? He’s not your exclusive guide yet?”

    Someone interrupted just then. A woman in a sports bra top and jogger pants, with her bright blue hair tied up, approached them. Cheong-oh’s expression stiffened upon noticing her. “Ah, why is Kang Mi-yeon here?” he muttered a curse under his breath.

    “Is eavesdropping on other people’s conversations your hobby?”

    The woman snickered at his retort.

    “No, but someone should keep their voice down. I was trying to work out after a while, but you were so annoyingly loud.”

    Cheong-oh slapped her hand away from his waist with a scowl, while she smiled and exchanged a quick glance with Seo-joon before saying,

    “They say Ji Lieutenant got an exclusive guide. Was that just a rumor? Then who was that guide who did an incredible job at Yeonseon My Park Mall?”

    “Why are you so interested in other teams, Team Leader Kang?”

    Before Seo-joon could respond, Cheong-oh snapped back in anger.

    …This is why I shouldn’t come to the gym in the center. You run into too many other team members, whether they’re pleasant or difficult.

    Captain Kang Mi-yeon, another special team leader, had once been a member of the SAU team. Like Chae-won, she was an Esper specializing in physical combat, and had been partnered with Cheong-oh. After frequent clashes, she left the SAU and started her own team.

    According to Cheong-oh, she was completely ill-mannered when being guided, but whether that was true or just his exaggeration wasn’t clear.

    “Look at how harsh your words are. Are we strangers? I’m just curious. If he’s not exclusive, who’s this guide working so hard?”

    “Stay out of it.”

    Kang Mi-yeon shrugged and took a step back, maintaining her cool demeanor.

    “Well, if Lieutenant Ji isn’t going to hire him, why not send him to me? Let’s at least do a matching test.”

    “Hey.”

    Cheong-oh’s expression hardened.

    “You’re really making my morning miserable. Where did you learn to steal teammates so blatantly in front of people like a scumbag?”

    “Lieutenant Jin, that’s enough.”

    Seo-joon lightly patted his shoulder. He didn’t particularly hold a grudge against either Kang Mi-yeon or Jin Cheong-oh; he just found this confrontation that erupted before him in the morning tiring.

    “Oh, scary. Lieutenant Ji, let’s talk later.”

    “What do you mean ‘talk later’? Try scheming behind my back, and it’s do or die, you’ll see….”

    With his voice rising sharply and drawing attention, Seo-joon covered Cheong-oh’s mouth. Smiling, Kang Mi-yeon turned and waved mockingly as she left.

    “Mmph…! Let me go! You’re—mmph….”

    Only after she had fully disappeared did Seo-joon release his grip on Cheong-oh.

    “Why are you so worked up? Team Leader Kang acts like this all the time. We have plenty of extra team members anyway.”

    “Plenty? We have only one precious Baby! You can hand out any of the other rookies, but Cha Yeon-woo is non-negotiable!”

    Seo-joon couldn’t understand why Cheong-oh was so riled up, as if someone had touched a sensitive nerve. In fact, he didn’t particularly want to understand.

    After the last guiding session, he had lost interest in hiring Cha Yeon-woo as his dedicated guide.

    Sure, it was true that Cha Yeon-woo, with his high matching rate, was tempting—one hug with him had more impact than kissing dozens of other guides. But keeping him as a partner was another matter entirely. It had been so long that Seo-joon had forgotten what it meant to have a dedicated guide.

    He was an esper with a history of letting a dedicated guide die.

    No matter how charming Cha Yeon-woo’s actions were, some things were simply out of the question. Some might argue that as long as pairing wasn’t involved, everything would be fine. Even putting that aside, Seo-joon didn’t see himself as a suitable esper, especially for a guide as dedicated as Cha Yeon-woo.

    Oblivious to Seo-joon’s thoughts, Jin Cheong-oh was dreaming ambitiously. His grand plan was to have Cha Yeon-woo seated as Seo-joon’s partner and eventually ensure that they would pair up.

    If Seo-joon had a stable partner, there would be no need to worry about him anymore.

    Cheong-oh recalled a scene from the recent field incident. Despite doting on Cha Yeon-woo and calling him their “Baby,” he hadn’t fully trusted him until the matching rate of 98.8% and the incident won him over completely.

    ✽✽✽

    — I’ll handle it myself.

    “Yes, Baby. Your courage is admirable, but handling it yourself isn’t really an option….”

    — I studied hard.

    With that oddly defiant line, the rookie guide abruptly cut off communication, leaving Cheong-oh speechless for a moment.

    Studied hard? What is this, a high school exam?

    In truth, Cheong-oh had never intended to leave him alone down there. He had planned to monitor the situation via radio and pull the rookie out with blinker if needed.

    But that crazy Baby had turned off his radio.

    So he immediately took Park Min-gun and Kang Chae-won down with him. However, on their way down, they were delayed by a fight with aberrant creatures.

    About an hour later, with the assistance of espers from other teams, they finally arrived at the station. By then, Cheong-oh had already resigned himself to the possibility that the guide might be dead. It was too quiet beyond the tunnel.

    “Requesting a response, Baby.”

    Their repeated attempts at communication yielded nothing. Kang Chae-won, flexing his already impressive muscles even further, said,

    “Hey, let’s just head in. If it goes sideways, I’ll Kill Ji Seo-joon!”

    “What do you mean Kill…? For heaven’s sake, put away those scary arms. If you swing wrong, the tunnel will collapse. Requesting a response, Baby.”

    “Let’s go, Lieutenant Jin. This silence means that either Seo-joon or the aberrant has been taken down.”

    “Requesting a response, Baby. Are you just assuming Cha Yeon-woo has been taken down?”

    With Kang Chae-won and Min-gun’s comments adding to his anxiety, Cheong-oh felt like his insides were burning. These merciless assholes.

    “Baby, please respond… Do you really want to see me lose my mind?”

    As he muttered helplessly into the radio, something moved inside the tunnel.

    Click. Cheong-oh and Min-gun quickly drew their revolvers from their holsters and aimed into the darkness. Finding his night-vision goggles broken from fighting the Pasa, Kang Chae-won pulled out a flashlight.

    The white beam illuminated the target in the darkness. Covered head to toe in blood, Yeon-woo squinted against the sudden light.

    “Whoa…”

    Min-gun gasped. They called Yeon-woo “the Baby” partly because of the code name Cheong-oh had given him, but also because they genuinely thought of him that way.

    An inexperienced rookie who hadn’t even gone through training. The type to die first while recklessly trying to help others. Sweet, but not exactly strong.

    But at that moment, Min-gun’s impression of Yeon-woo completely changed. The same went for Jin Cheong-oh, who saw the scene unfold. Kang Chae-won, the esper, felt an unexplainable chill only guides would understand.

    “Could you… turn off the light? The lieutenant is feeling uneasy.”


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