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    Deep Pivot, Episode 46

    After eating and shopping, they ended up catching the movie they had missed last time. Fortunately, this time it wasn’t a couple’s seat, and a gate didn’t open unexpectedly. As the day came to an end, Seo-joon glanced at the time, resting his hand on the steering wheel while looking at Yeon-woo.

    “We’ve spent nearly 24 hours together.”

    He wondered if Cha Yeon-woo might be tired of him by now, given how much time they had spent together.

    “I’ve never felt 24 hours pass so quickly before.”

    …Apparently, it hadn’t felt like a long time to Yeon-woo. Seo-joon chuckled and asked.

    “Was it that fun?”

    “Well… yesterday was nerve-wracking, but today was fun.”

    “I’m glad you enjoyed it. I worried I might have dragged you around too much.”

    Seo-joon stopped the car at the entrance to the narrow alley, beyond which the car couldn’t pass. He reached into the backseat for the shopping bags. Yeon-woo took them with a bow of gratitude.

    “Thank you. I’ll wear these well. I’ll make sure to wear them whenever I meet you, Lieutenant.”

    “Good night, Yeon-woo.”

    Seo-joon waved to Yeon-woo as he stepped out of the car. Yeon-woo returned the wave with a slight bow before disappearing into the alley. After seeing him off, Seo-joon drove away.

    He hadn’t ventured this deep into Yeon-woo’s neighborhood before and hadn’t realized how complex the roads were. Following the GPS, Seo-joon navigated the narrow streets and finally made it to a broader road.

    That’s when he checked the rearview mirror and noticed, That car’s been following me. On the narrow road earlier, only one car could pass at a time, so there hadn’t been much choice, but even on this wider road, the car hadn’t attempted to pass.

    The dimly lit road was quiet, with occasional broken streetlights casting shadows.

    “…”

    Seo-joon looked to his side. The car that had been following him was now tightly beside him. As the dark-tinted window rolled down, a man in a black suit became visible.

    It seemed like the man had something to say, so Seo-joon rolled down his window.

    “How do I get to Dugaero Mart?”

    The man’s accent was an unusual mix of standard Korean and Yanbian dialect.

    “I’m not sure. It’s my first time in the area.”

    As Seo-joon answered, he caught a glimpse of the GPS screen in the other car.

    Is Dugaero Mart not showing up on their GPS? That thought had barely crossed his mind when the man suddenly smirked, revealing a colorful set of braces.

    Bang! Before Seo-joon could react, the gunshot rang out. His car skidded across the asphalt, leaving skid marks as it swerved and crashed into a leaning streetlight.

    Smoke started to rise slowly from the crumpled hood. A few meters away, three men emerged from their stopped vehicle.

    The half-wrecked car remained silent. One man, armed with a silenced gun, approached the driver’s window and fired several more shots inside.

    In the old neighborhood with its tangled cluster of shabby houses, the sound of gunshots, despite echoing sharply in the ears of both the shooter and the victim, barely carried far enough to be heard by anyone else.

    ✽✽✽


    At this hour, the neighborhood was generally quiet, aside from the occasional shouts of a drunken passerby.

    Returning home, Yeon-woo set down the shopping bags and opened the window. Even at this late hour, he needed to ventilate the room for a moment.

    He turned to look at the five or six shopping bags and let out a small sigh as if remembering something forgotten.

    “Oh.”

    His uniform. He had left the shirt he’d taken off during their outing in the lieutenant’s car. Yeon-woo took out his phone.

    Cha Yeon-woo

    [Am I an idiot?]
    [I left my uniform in your car, Lieutenant.]
    [Just leave it there,]
    [I’ll pick it up next time.]
    11:14 p.m.

    [Thank you very much for today.]
    11:15 p.m.

    He almost wrote, I hope I can go on a date like this with you again, before quickly deleting it.

    A date? I must be out of my mind.

    Thankfully, messages can be edited before being sent. He couldn’t imagine what would have happened if he had said that out loud in front of the lieutenant.

    Tap, tap, tap. He carefully typed on the keypad, Can we spend more time like this together next time, Lieutenant? But he deleted the message before sending it.

    “Sigh…”

    Yeon-woo covered his face with both hands and let out a long sigh.

    Screeeeech! Bang!

    Suddenly, a loud noise came through the open window. It sounded like a car crash, not too close but not too far either.

    “…”

    Yeon-woo checked the time. It hadn’t been long since he parted ways with Seo-joon. With the complex layout of the area, it would have taken quite a while for the lieutenant to navigate out.

    After a few moments of thought, Yeon-woo checked his messaging app.

    The “1” indicating unread messages still hadn’t disappeared.

    ✽✽✽

    “Do you think that guy’s really dead?”

    It hurts. It hurts so much…

    Seo-joon slumped over the steering wheel, gritting his teeth. Blood gushed from his shoulder, chest, side, and back. The men outside were discussing whether to burn the car first or deal with the body.

    “Wait a second.”

    A low baritone voice seemed to echo in his ears, sending chills down his spine with its eerie monotone.

    While still slumped over the wheel, Seo-joon reached down and opened the compartment beneath, pulling out his gun. The pain was excruciating, as if his body would tear apart with even the slightest movement. Blood bubbled up in his throat and filled his mouth with a metallic taste.

    Cough! He couldn’t suppress the cough, and it left him sputtering. The voices outside fell silent. The nerves in his torn flesh and organs twitched and flared up. Footsteps drew closer.

    Click. His trembling hands loaded the revolver. The moment the figure approached the driver’s side, Seo-joon raised his upper body and pulled the trigger.

    Bang! Through his blurred vision, he could see the bullet flying through the air. He caught a glimpse of the smiling man’s teeth before the bullet stopped right in front of his nose and dropped harmlessly to the ground.

    A Controller, an esper who could manipulate any metal object telekinetically, particularly bullets. An S-class.

    “Ugh…”

    Seo-joon groaned in pain as he opened the driver’s door and tumbled out. He tried pressing the emergency alert on his watch, but the bezel crumpled instantly, and the screen shattered.

    “Argh!”

    Shrapnel embedded in his body began to shift, causing excruciating pain. He spat up blood and collapsed on the ground, his body wracked with agony. He could barely breathe, and each breath brought a painful groan. It almost sounded like he was sobbing, which made the man in front laugh mockingly.

    One of the men kneeled down to Seo-joon’s level, tilting his head as he grinned, exposing his colorful braces. He clasped his hands together and muttered something in Chinese.

    Someone next to him spoke to the man in Chinese, and a heated exchange followed.

    “Ugh.”

    Tendrils shot out from Seo-joon’s body, piercing the foreheads and necks of the two men. In an instant, they crumpled lifelessly to the ground.

    The movement twisted Seo-joon’s joints painfully, and he writhed in agony. Nerve clusters squirmed out of his wounds and expelled the bullet fragments mixed with blood.

    “No-Named…”

    A voice spoke from a little further away. It was the same baritone voice that had caught Seo-joon’s ear earlier.

    “Relentless, whether here or there.”

    The monotonous voice was so chilling that it wasn’t clear if he was talking to Seo-joon or to himself. Seo-joon struggled to lift his gaze and see the man.

    In his blurry vision, he could just make out a head with short-cropped hair. It hurts. It hurts… A fragment stuck near his heart tightened like a noose around his throat.

    Tap, tap. The clean shoes stepped closer to Seo-joon.

    “Let’s see if you can survive with your head blown off.”

    The man muttered slowly, aiming his gun at Seo-joon’s head.

    Bang!

    A loud gunshot echoed.

    The tall man staggered back, grimacing as he clutched his shoulder.

    Bang! Bang! With each shot, the man’s body slowly crumpled. Unlike before, the gunshots were loud enough to echo through the entire neighborhood.

    Hit in the shoulder, thigh, and calf, the man instinctively turned around.

    “Don’t move.”

    Seo-joon couldn’t see clearly, but he recognized the voice.

    …Cha Yeon-woo.

    He had arrived. Before he realized it, a large hand reached out toward him.

    Thud. Seo-joon fell forward and buried his face in that palm.

    “…”

    Ah, he could finally breathe.


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