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    Deep Pivot, Episode 65

    “The swelling has gone down, so you look better now. When I first saw you, I thought something serious had happened.”

    Song-hee said as she adjusted the IV line for Yeon-woo. While busy writing in the chart, she continued speaking.

    “Fortunately, no damage to the organs or nerves, and both your shoulder and side were grazed, not directly hit. It’s all treated now, and… let’s see. No vision problems, no loose teeth. Once the wounds inside your mouth and the scratch above your eyelid heal, you’ll be fine.”

    “What about Colonel Jin?”

    Seo-joon asked tersely. Song-hee shrugged her shoulders.

    “Who knows? He seems super busy. But he said you two should stay here for now. It’s like a replacement safe house.”

    She scanned Seo-joon up and down.

    “Make sure you rest, and you’ll need guiding too, right?”

    His injuries clearly hadn’t fully healed. Seo-joon frowned with a brief chuckle. Covering his face with one hand, he muttered to himself in resignation.

    “How can I get guiding when my guide is lying there like this?”

    “…”

    Song-hee’s face, now void of humor, was filled with pity. She’d clearly made a mistake. Regardless of the nature of the relationship between Espers and guides, such a remark was unwise in the current situation.

    She gently touched Seo-joon’s shoulder.

    “Yeon-woo will wake up soon. Don’t worry too much, Lieutenant.”

    A sigh slipped through his fingers as they covered his face. Clutching her chart, Song-hee quietly left the room. Even after she left, Seo-joon couldn’t bring himself to look up for a while. When he finally did, he gazed at Yeon-woo.

    Though not in the same gruesome condition as when he was first carried in, the wounds were still visible. Seo-joon gently held Yeon-woo’s hand resting on the sheet and carefully stroked his cheek.

    The hand with the IV needle flinched and softly gripped Seo-joon’s intertwined fingers.

    “…”

    A deep sense of helplessness overwhelmed him. Because of him alone, Yeon-woo ended up like this, and Seo-joon felt he couldn’t do anything for him.

    Holding Cha Yeon-woo’s hand, stroking his cheek, even hugging him couldn’t change the fact that Seo-joon could only take from him and give nothing in return.

    Despite that, Cha Yeon-woo always tried to reach out to him.

    ✽✽✽

    “…Lieutenant.”

    A faint voice echoed through the haze of exhausted consciousness.

    “Lieutenant…”

    Seo-joon opened his eyes in the dark. He quickly sat up and looked at Yeon-woo.

    “Yeon-woo, are you with me? Are you okay?”

    Blinking drowsily, Yeon-woo muttered.

    “I’m thirsty…”

    “Hold on.”

    As Seo-joon got up to fetch water, he glanced down at the hand gripping his.

    “Don’t go…”

    In the faint moonlight seeping through the window, Yeon-woo’s expression was visible. His face was no longer swollen, and his smile was clear, even in the darkness.

    Seo-joon let out a breath, partly amused.

    “But you said you’re thirsty. I need to go get water.”

    “Let’s just stay like this for three seconds, together…”

    He didn’t know what Yeon-woo found so amusing as he smiled brightly. Seo-joon sighed and looked down at him.

    “Did you hold my hand the entire time I was asleep?”

    “It seems you’re feeling well enough to be cheeky. What’s so funny?”

    “I woke up, and you’re here, Lieutenant. That makes me happy.”

    “…Three seconds are up. Now, let go.”

    Seo-joon placed Yeon-woo’s hand back on the sheets and poured water into a glass. When he turned back, he saw Yeon-woo trying to sit up alone. Seo-joon quickly approached and supported his back.

    “Drink slowly.”

    As he brought the glass to Yeon-woo’s lips, Yeon-woo drank obediently, grimacing as he let out a soft groan. Laying him back down, Seo-joon instinctively frowned too, as if feeling his pain.

    “No damage to your organs, no vision loss, no teeth missing. Just focus on recovering from your wounds, so don’t worry.”

    Unsure of what else to say, Seo-joon relayed what Song-hee had told him. Yeon-woo smiled and intertwined his fingers gently with Seo-joon’s.

    “I must be lucky. I dodged bullets twice.”

    Seo-joon sighed.

    “…If you were with me, even luck wouldn’t have helped. You were alone, which is why you’re this lucky.”

    Seo-joon had been shot seven times and stabbed and slashed repeatedly with sharp blades. He couldn’t even imagine what would have happened if Yeon-woo had been there with him.

    “I held up well, didn’t I?”

    Seo-joon glanced at Yeon-woo with a deliberately grumpy look and answered after a few moments.

    “I’m sorry I was so late… I almost got you killed.”

    “Even if you’d come later, I wouldn’t have died.”

    Seo-joon grasped Yeon-woo’s hand more firmly and replied in a grumbling tone.

    “What makes you so sure of that?”

    “I won’t let you regret anything, Lieutenant.”

    He pulled Seo-joon’s hand to his cheek and looked up at him with a soft smile. His expression was so lovingly tender that it pained Seo-joon to see it.

    “…Are you just talking nonsense because you’re on medication?”

    “Yes… That’s right…”

    Yeon-woo pulled Seo-joon’s hand into his embrace, and Seo-joon’s awkward posture pulled him closer, resting his palm against Yeon-woo’s warm neck. Seo-joon braced himself beside his head.

    “…”

    Their eyes met in the dim air. Seo-joon looked down at Yeon-woo gazing up at him before averting his eyes.

    “…You don’t intend to sleep like this, do you? This position is really uncomfortable.”

    “Sleep beside me, Lieutenant.”

    Yeon-woo shifted to make room beside him. The bed, which had been prepared for both of them, wasn’t particularly small.

    With little choice, Seo-joon carefully climbed onto the bed, adjusting the IV line to avoid lying on it. He rested his head on a pillow. In the dark, their eyes met quietly.

    Seo-joon reached out to gently caress Yeon-woo’s cheek. Yeon-woo closed his eyes and grinned.

    “Are you guiding me?”

    …I wish I could, Yeon-woo. I wish I could heal you.

    Seo-joon swallowed the poignant response, forcing a smile.

    “Feeling a bit better?”

    “Yes… I feel great…”

    Yeon-woo’s voice slowly faded as he teetered on the edge of sleep. Soft breathing drifted between them. After gazing at him for a long time, Seo-joon gently kissed Yeon-woo’s forehead.

    “Goodnight, Yeon-woo. Have sweet dreams.”

    ✽✽✽

    “So, are those two doing better now?”

    “How would I know? I haven’t seen them since,” Cheong-oh replied, pulling a cigarette from Min-gun’s pack. Young-gyo, who arrived late, snatched the pack, saying, “Let me have one too!”

    In front of the kalguksu (knife-cut noodle) restaurant, they gathered around the outdoor terrace set up for smokers, lighting their cigarettes and sighing almost simultaneously.

    “What did Colonel Jin have to say?”

    Chae-won asked. Cheong-oh shrugged.

    “No idea. I haven’t seen my dad since.”

    Min-gun frowned, crossing his arms.

    “So, what’s the status of everything? What about those people with their heads blown off? Were they Yanbian?”

    “The ones who attacked this time weren’t Yanbian, but… just foreigners. Hard to tell their nationality with their heads blown off.”

    “Then how did they even get in?”

    Young-gyo asked while stubbing out his cigarette in the ashtray.

    “Awakeners can’t leave the country.”

    “Probably?”

    Young-gyo hummed and leaned his chin on his hand, looking across the street.

    “Maybe I should secretly leave the country too. I’ve always wanted to see Boracay.”

    With the airport nearby, people with luggage often walked past. For awakeners, overseas travel was an unattainable dream due to the travel ban.

    “When I was a kid, I went to Japan with my parents, but I barely remember it now.”

    Min-gun made a casual comment at Young-gyo’s lament.

    “I’ve been to Boracay.”

    “Really? How was it? Wasn’t it great?”

    “I don’t remember either.”

    The travel ban had been in place for over ten years, meaning that long-term awakened individuals had been stuck in the country for more than a decade.

    “Do you really want to travel, Young-gyo? How about we go to Jeju Island once this is over?” Cheong-oh suggested.

    Young-gyo pouted, “Jeju Island is boring.”

    “Excuse me.”

    At that moment, a foreign man approached them. Dressed in outdoor gear and carrying a backpack, he seemed to be on a backpacking trip in Korea.

    “How can I get to Seongyeong Market?”

    He showed a map app to ask for directions.

    “It doesn’t appear in the search results.”

    Cheong-oh glanced at the screen and replied, “Ah, that’s because Seongyeong Market changed its name a while ago. Try searching for ‘District 2 Central Market.'”

    “Thank you.”

    Young-gyo, slumped over the table, watched as the foreign man walked away.

    “Man, I envy him. I want to go on an overseas trip too.”

    But the man headed the opposite way of Seongyeong Market while making a call.

    [Yes, everything has been cleared up.]

    He spoke into the phone.

    [I saw them.]

    As he crossed the crosswalk, he continued, “The No-Named here is pretty fast. You’d need at least an S-Class Blinker with good reflexes to face them.”

    When asked a question, he chuckled faintly.

    [Well, compared to other No-Nameds, this one seemed exceptionally well-trained… Though who knows. We might have succeeded if the operation hadn’t been called off. We even used an RPG-7.]

    A faint voice echoed from the receiver.

    [So, this operation is completely over.]

    The man glanced back across the street at Cheong-oh’s group.

    [Yes, I’ll watch over them until everything is wrapped up, then I’ll return.]

    With a spring in his step, he disappeared from their sight.

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