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    Yeonwoo seemed to freeze in place, like a statue. Choi Muhyuk glanced at him, only moving his eyeballs. Yeonwoo’s face, already full of embarrassment, turned even redder, reaching up to his ears. Seeing Yeonwoo’s trembling gaze, it was almost a precise guess.

    “Surely it’s not dinner time yet, right?”

    Carefully, Choi Muhyuk leaned his head towards Yeonwoo’s face. Yeonwoo, stumbling back a step, quickly covered his stomach with both arms. It’s like he’s gone mad. Why is he acting like this now after being fine all day? At the soft murmured sound, Choi Muhyuk couldn’t help but smile. Seeing Yeonwoo blushing and looking embarrassed, he reluctantly confessed.

    “To be honest, I haven’t eaten anything all day.”

    “Oh.”

    He had some idea from the unusual sound, but not eating anything all day? Choi Muhyuk let out a low sigh filled with sympathy.

    “Today, there was a constant stream of customers, so I missed meal times.”

    “If I had known, we should have eaten before coming here.”

    “I usually either don’t eat much for dinner or just have something simple when I get home. It’s rare for me not to eat at all like today.”

    Choi Muhyuk turned to face Yeonwoo. Yeonwoo, still holding his stomach with both arms, awkwardly smiled as he looked up at Choi Muhyuk.

    “It’s okay. I didn’t make separate dinner plans. I can eat when you leave. So…”

    “When did I say I was leaving?”

    “What?”

    When he asked about wanting to explore the house in the first place, he thought Yeonwoo would have expected something. But now, he found it annoying that Yeonwoo was only waiting for him to leave after bringing an alpha who had become his lover into his house.

    Half of why Choi Muhyuk was drawn to Yeonwoo was out of curiosity about an omega without pheromones, and the other half was because the first impression was quite impressive. Even though their relationship was progressing slightly differently from the typical way he got involved with omegas drawn by pheromones, it wasn’t something that could change overnight.

    No matter how much there were no pheromones, now that he was an established lover of an omega, he couldn’t just look and see it like a bystander.

    “What’s that supposed to mean…?”

    Looking at Yeonwoo with eyes that seemed to be gauging what he said, Choi Muhyuk opened his mouth with difficulty. With his hands in the pockets of his dress pants, standing tall, Choi Muhyuk looked at Yeonwoo, who was still awkwardly smiling, and walked past him.

    “First, let’s eat and talk.”

    As Choi Muhyuk walked, he gently unbuttoned his cufflinks, taking off his jacket as if hanging it on the back of the sofa. Then he turned towards the kitchen.

    He opened the refrigerator door. There were a variety of ingredients visible. Still, most of them were fresh and highly usable food ingredients.

    After quickly scanning with his eyes, Choi Muhyuk closed the refrigerator door and turned back.

    “Do you have pasta noodles at home?”

    “Yes. Over there…”

    Approaching from behind Choi Muhyuk, Yeonwoo said. Choi Muhyuk opened the cabinet door, as if expecting there to be pasta noodles like it was his own house. He saw containers containing noodles for pasta and noodles for soup.

    “Is pasta okay? It seems like something easy to make.”

    “Sure. I like it… but…”

    “Then, sit down. It’ll be quick to make.”

    Yeonwoo looked at Choi Muhyuk and swallowed dryly.

    Choi Muhyuk turned around and placed the pasta noodles in a pot of boiling water and prepared the ingredients. Meanwhile, a sound of a chair being pulled out from behind was heard. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Yeonwoo sitting in front of the table, resting his chin on his hand and watching his way. Choi Muhyuk gently lifted one corner of his lips. It was good that he didn’t seem to mind him saying they could order food since it was late at night. 

    While the water boiled, he prepared the ingredients. He sliced the whole garlic, took out the frozen shrimp and rinsed them, and cut the bacon into bite-sized pieces. His hands were skilled, with no hesitation.

    Pasta was one of the dishes Choi Muhyuk often made and ate when he didn’t have much appetite or felt lazy. It was also easier to make than most Korean dishes.

    In no time, a bacon shrimp cream pasta was made by Choi Muhyuk.

    “Try it. I can’t guarantee the taste.”

    Choi Muhyuk extended the plate of pasta to Yeonwoo. As Yeonwoo looked at the beautifully arranged pasta sprinkled with parsley flakes, he gave Choi Muhyuk a curious look. It was as if he was asking where he found it, even though he hadn’t been told.

    With his shirt sleeves lowered, Choi Muhyuk sat down next to Yeonwoo. Yeonwoo, who alternated between looking at the pasta and Choi Muhyuk, picked up the fork and rolled up the pasta, covered in cream, from the edges with the fork. After a few bites, Yeonwoo’s eyes widened.

    “Director.”

    Even though he hadn’t chewed it a few times, Yeonwoo looked at Choi Muhyuk with wide eyes.

    “Why? Is it bad?”

    “No. It’s really delicious. I would believe it’s store-bought.”

    Choi Muhyuk chuckled at Yeonwoo’s innocent reaction.

    “Don’t exaggerate.”

    “No, really. It’s the most delicious pasta I’ve ever had. Do you also do cooking as a side job, Director?”

    Yeonwoo’s gaze seemed to hold admiration. Choi Muhyuk wondered whether he knew the cream was stuck on his lips but still acted like this? Chuckling, Choi Muhyuk reached out towards Yeonwoo’s face. As Yeonwoo reflexively tried to move away, Choi Muhyuk brushed his thumb against Yeonwoo’s lips. Then, facing Yeonwoo with a fixed gaze, he licked the cream sauce off his own thumb.

    “It’s not that delicious.”

    “Why would you…?”

    Yeonwoo, watching him, froze. However, Choi Muhyuk, who had tasted it, had an indifferent expression.

    “The other side too…”

    “….!”

    Surprised by his words, Yeonwoo wiped his mouth with a tissue. Seeing Yeonwoo like that, Choi Muhyuk chuckled and shook his head.

    “Director”

    After seeing that there was nothing on the tissue, Yeonwoo realized Choi Muhyuk was joking and glanced away.

    “Got it. I won’t joke anymore, so let’s eat.”

    Choi Muhyuk laughed heartily, then waved his hand. Yeonwoo, with slightly pursed lips, glanced at Choi Muhyuk before relaxing his expression. As Yeonwoo’s hand, which had been rolling the pasta with a fork, paused.

    “But why aren’t you eating, Director?”

    “I usually don’t eat much at night.”

    “But… I don’t want to eat alone.”

    “I’ll be here with you. Please eat a lot, Yeonwoo.”

    Nodding, Yeonwoo put the pasta-covered fork into his mouth. Choi Muhyuk, who had poured lukewarm water from the water purifier, placed a cup next to Yeonwoo. Then, sitting next to Yeonwoo, he leaned his elbows on the table and turned towards Yeonwoo.

    Perhaps because of his mood, Yeonwoo’s cheeks, which were slightly orange due to the cream with cheddar cheese, looked even whiter and softer than the creamy pasta. Choi Muhyuk gently pinched Yeonwoo’s plump cheeks with his thumb and index finger. Huh? The cheeks that were moving stopped. Yeonwoo’s eyes blinked as if asking why. With his cheeks puffed up, he looked like a hamster.

    Choi Muhyuk couldn’t bring himself to say that to Yeonwoo, so he just shook his head as if it was nothing. 

    When Yeonwoo finished eating the pasta, it was a little past 10 p.m. He quickly cleaned up the table and brought down the tea set onto the coffee table. He poured out the brown-colored tea, which emitted a radiant color, into the small tea cup placed in front of Choi Muhyuk. His skillful hands in handling teacups showed that he often made tea at home.

    “Recently, it was the most satisfying dinner I’ve had in a while.”

    “I’m glad you liked it. I’ll make it often.”

    Jhi Yeonwoo and Choi Muhyuk sat side by side on the rug-covered floor, leaning against the sofa. Even though it was the first time they used fresh tea leaves, the tea was clear. The taste was clean and refreshing. If someone handled flowers well and was good at tea, wouldn’t they be almost like a top-ranked artisan? As Choi Muhyuk sipped his tea and pondered, he glanced briefly at Jhi Yeonwoo.

    “I… I’m sorry about earlier.”

    Their eyes met, and Jhi Yeonwoo apologized abruptly. “Suddenly?” Choi Muhyuk looked at him with a puzzled expression, prompting Jhi Yeonwoo to explain, “For blocking off the bedroom.”

    “Oh, I see.”

    “It was messy, that’s why. It’s not because of anything else, really.”

    “….”

    “I didn’t want you to misunderstand.”

    Choi Muhyuk paused as he put down his teacup, his hand freezing. Slowly turning his head, he met Jhi Yeonwoo’s gaze.

    That face again. The shadow behind the smiling face. The Jhi Yeonwoo who talked about the meaning of flowers of a thousand years and vowed not to date someone who hurt him was wearing the same expression now, probably.

    Looking at that delicate face, Choi Muhyuk felt oddly uncomfortable. Something was suffocating and tingling. He still couldn’t quite put it into words.

    Choi Muhyuk turned towards Jhi Yeonwoo, resting his arm on the sofa and supporting his head, looking at him askance. Jhi Yeonwoo, in turn, slowly turned his body to match his posture, facing him.

    “Do you dislike it when I misunderstand?”

    “Of course.”

    “You want to show only the good side to me, don’t you, Jhi Yeonwoo?”

    “Who wants to show their flaws to their lover?”

    “You might think it’s just part of natural life.”

    “How can leaving the place messy and not cleaning it be considered part of natural life?”

    Jhi Yeonwoo asked, puzzled. Even when he was using the kitchen, there were no water stains common around the sink or island. He was someone who habitually cleaned and tidied up diligently, to the point where it was hard to find a speck of dust even after working tirelessly without a break on weekends. Perhaps even if the bedroom was messy, to an ordinary person, it would still seem clean 90% of the time, but Choi Muhyuk decided to believe Jhi Yeonwoo’s words.

    “When I observe quietly, it seems you worry a lot.”

    “Me?”

    Pointing at Himself with his index finger, Jhi Yeonwoo asked, surprised. Choi Muhyuk nodded, and Jhi Yeonwoo rolled his eyes, lost in thought, gazing at the ceiling. It was a calculating look, as if considering, ‘Is that really the case?’

    “Yeah, maybe. It seems plausible.”

    Looking over Jhi Yeonwoo’s shoulder as they sat face to face, Choi Muhyuk met his eyes again.

    “You do seem like the type who worries a lot. But then you forget things easily.”

    Jhi Yeonwoo glanced briefly at Choi Muhyuk, meeting his gaze with a smile. Then, he sipped his tea elegantly, like a white porcelain teacup, and set it down after a sip.

    “I can remember things, but I try not to dwell on them for too long. That’s why… I’ve been able to live like this.”

    His response was typical of Jhi Yeonwoo, straightforward. Accepting the roundabout answer, Choi Muhyuk chuckled and casually picked up his slightly cooled teacup. After taking a sip of warm tea and setting it back down, he suddenly remembered the day he first saw Jhi Yeonwoo.

    ‘The flower language of the marigold is pitiful love or the sorrow of parting.’

    The gentle voice explaining the meaning of themarigold felt as vivid as if it were being spoken beside him. Slowly moving his gaze to observe Jhi Yeonwoo, Choi Muhyuk spoke up.

    “Jhi Yeonwoo.”

    “Yes?”

    Setting down his teacup, Jhi Yeonwoo turned his head.

    “Do you still keep in touch with the person who gave you the marigold?”

    Caught off guard by the sudden question, Jhi Yeonwoo hesitated before replying. It might have been a question that could make Jhi Yeonwoo feel uncomfortable, but Choi Muhyuk didn’t regret asking. There’s an appropriate timing for everything, and he believed this was the right moment to inquire about this matter. Perhaps if not now, he might never be able to ask or hear the answer.

    “That’s not possible.”

    Although he hesitated for a moment, Jhi Yeonwoo answered while meeting Choi Muhyuk’s eyes.

    “I don’t know what he’s up to. I even blocked his contact, so…”

    “….”

    “I don’t care. I don’t want to care. It’s all in the past.”

    Choi Muhyuk nodded as if to say he understood. He trusted Jhi Yeonwoo’s words. Speaking while meeting his gaze meant that he was only speaking the truth.

    “Yeah. Don’t bother about such a person. If anything happens, leave it to me.”

    He lightly brushed Jhi Yeonwoo’s slightly fallen bangs with his fingers. Jhi Yeonwoo, who was receiving Choi Muhyuk’s gaze calmly, tilted his head slightly and spoke.

    “Leave it to you? Are you going to scold him on my behalf, Director?”

    “I could do that.”

    Shrugging, he replied, making Jhi Yeonwoo smile faintly as he covered his mouth with his hand. His eyes curved beautifully.

    “How would you scold him?”

    “I’ll follow Jhi Yeonwoo’s wishes, won’t I?”

    “Still.”

    “If I were to be arbitrary, there could be various ways.”

    Choi Muhyuk’s gaze sharpened as he paused for a moment.

    “I could either gouge out those eyes that looked at Jhi Yeonwoo, or break the wrist that gave you the marigold, or maybe even render him unable to walk for the rest of his life.”

    The eyes that were gracefully drawn gradually returned to their original state. Yeonwoo’s eyes couldn’t catch up with such cruel words.

    The atmosphere instantly became heavy. The silence represented the heavy mood. Choi Muhyuk, who had been casually speaking with a strange face and strange words, smiled slyly and changed the subject.

    “Well, for example…”

    Returning to his familiar face, Yeonwoo’s expression remained tense.

    “Why is your expression like that?”

    “Oh, I’m sorry. I was just surprised…”

    “You seemed very surprised. Your face turned pale.”

    “Ah, really?”

    Leaning a little closer, Choi Muhyuk grabbed Yeonwoo’s hand resting on his thigh. His fingertips were as cold as ice.

    “I don’t think the director would do such things.”

    Yeonwoo tried to deny it, avoiding eye contact. After all, the Choi Muhyuk he knew was someone who held a managerial position in a wealthy company, so he couldn’t imagine him doing the cruel things mentioned.

    “A kind person like director wouldn’t do violent things.”

    “Do you think so?”

    At Yeonwoo’s confirmation, Choi Muhyuk didn’t press further. His feelings were strange. It felt good, but at the same time, unnecessary worries crept in. Well, anyway, Choi Muhyuk had no intention of revealing his detailed circumstances.

    The title of Sunwoo Trading’s manager was just the most suitable among the various titles Choi Muhyuk held.

    Choi Muhyuk applied a little pressure to Yeonwoo’s cold fingers, which he had been gently stroking. Yeonwoo’s ordinary hand was completely enveloped by Choi Muhyuk’s large and thick hand. Yeonwoo’s eyes widened with curiosity.

    “Jhi Yeonwoo still doesn’t know much about me.”

    “…!”

    “There’s more I can do.”

    Choi Muhyuk grabbed Yeonwoo’s waist and lifted him up onto his lap. Yeonwoo’s body collapsed onto Choi Muhyuk’s chest as he was pulled. Yeonwoo reflexively held onto Choi Muhyuk’s shoulders. His trembling hand was felt.

    “Di, Director…”

    “I have one more question.”

    Anxiety crept into Yeonwoo’s hazel eyes, as if anticipating what would happen next.

    “What’s the meaning of a Tagetes marigold?”

    “Uh…”

    His eyes widened even more. He swallowed and let out a low sigh. He didn’t expect such a question.

    The hand that had been resting on the narrow waist descended. The rough hand touched the fullest part of the thin body, the buttocks. Yeonwoo closed his eyes and shrank back, trying to suppress a groan. His face showed that he was struggling to suppress the groan.

    “I know that Calendula mean pitiful love or the sadness of parting, but you haven’t told me the meaning of a tagetes.”

    “I thought you would look it up.”

    “I didn’t look it up. I wanted to hear it from Yeonwoo.”

    Yeonwoo’s eyes, distorted with minor wrinkles, wavered. Choi Muhyuk leaned closer and kissed Yeonwoo’s pale neck. He hugged Yeonwoo tightly against his chest.

    “So, tell me, Yeonwoo. What does it mean?”

    The sensation of his lips against the soft skin was dizzyingly soft.

    A muffled moan escaped through parted lips. As Choi Muhyuk gazed at the slightly reddened lips, he lightly kissed Yeonwoo’s lips several times. His other hand, which had been caressing his waist, slipped under Yeonwoo’s shirt.

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