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    Loves Error

    Chapter 7

    He knew Jhi Yeonwoo wasn’t the type to frequent places like this. Quickly scanning the surroundings, Lee Hyun-jun’s eyes caught sight of a single place setting directly across from where Jhi Yeonwoo was seated.

    His attention completely captured, he stared intently as Choi Muhyuk, who had stepped out to take a call earlier, returned to his seat. Watching Choi Muhyuk exchange brief words before sitting across from Jhi Yeonwoo, Lee Hyun-jun’s expression soured.

    “Did he get a partner or something?”

    The atmosphere seemed different from just being acquaintances. Lee Hyun-jun’s heart began to churn at the realization that the man sitting across from Jhi Yeonwoo seemed quite well-suited for him.

    The omega woman who was about to enter one of the private rooms first noticed Lee Hyun-jun still standing there. Frowning, she approached and tugged at his arm impatiently.

    “What are you doing? Father is waiting.”  

    Only snapping out of it when the woman rolled her eyes and pulled at his arm, Lee Hyun-jun was led away by her grip.

    “Ah, I’m coming.”

    As he walked towards the private room, Lee Hyun-jun couldn’t help glancing back at Jhi Yeonwoo, his head tilting to the side as if reluctant to leave. But it was only momentary. As soon as the room door opened, Lee Hyun-jun’s expression changed as if donning a mask. ‘I hope you’ve been well, Father-in-law.’ Lee Hyun-jun politely bowed as he entered.

    ***

    Two days after his first date with Choi Muhyuk, the two made plans for a second dinner.  On the night they watched a movie before having a late dinner, Jhi Yeonwoo hadn’t been able to eat much. Seeming to take note, Choi Muhyuk said he would make a reservation somewhere other than the hotel lounge this time.

    It was never Jhi Yeonwoo’s intention to simply go along with Choi Muhyuk’s lead, but strangely, their conversations would naturally shift to a positive atmosphere. Perhaps it was because the more walls Jhi Yeonwoo tried to put up, the more Choi Muhyuk broke them down with kind words and actions, drawing ever closer.

    The restaurant Choi Muhyuk reserved this time was an upscale Korean dining establishment. Entering through ornate artificial landscaping so extravagant it was intimidating, the manager guided them somewhere after hearing Choi Muhyuk’s name.  

    Walking down a deep, winding narrow path, the manager stopped in front of a sliding door at the very back. Giving a courteous knock, the manager opened the paper door to reveal Choi Muhyuk already seated inside, turning to face them.

    “I’ve brought him, Director.”

    The manager maintained perfect manners. Choi Muhyuk, who lightly nodded in acknowledgment, took out a tip from his wallet.

    “Thank you. Please prepare the food as usual.”

    As the manager received the 100,000 won check from Choi Muhyuk, a spark lit up in his eyes. He understood better than anyone the significance of receiving a tip before the food even arrived.

    “Yes. I’ll get it ready right away.”

    As the manager left and Jhi Yeonwoo entered, he hung up his coat and took a seat opposite Choi Muhyuk.

    Although he was currently in a humble state, the family Jhi Yeonwoo had been married to was a wealthy family, and the people there loved to flaunt their wealth more than anyone else. Until Jhi Yeonwoo fell victim to pheromone deficiency, he was as rare an omega as a dominant alpha, and he was another source of pride for them.

    Trying to shake off fleeting thoughts, Jhi Yeonwoo turned his gaze outside the window. The room Choi Muhyuk had reserved was a prestigious spot in a Korean restaurant, where artificial landscaping was visible at a glance. The luxurious artificial landscaping, which replicated the scene of snow falling on a white waterfall, was impressive. He imagined that in summer, when the snow melted and the waterfall flowed, it would be a breathtaking sight.

    “Was it difficult to find your way here?”

    As Jhi Yeonwoo admired the scenery outside the window, Choi Muhyuk turned his gaze to him.

    “I was worried it might be hard to find since it’s not located by the roadside.”

    “You kindly guided me, so I could find it easily.”

    “Thankfully.”

    Choi Muhyuk acquiesced with a gentle expression. Watching him intently, Jhi Yeonwoo felt even more troubled for some reason.

    Even though he was already a thoughtful person, all he gained from this situation was caution. If he had been a common omega, he might have enjoyed and moved on from this situation. However, Jhi Yeonwoo, who had once eagerly accepted favors but was then left feeling abandoned, couldn’t do the same this time.

    Just like on their first date, it was the same this time. Jhi Yeonwoo kept questioning Choi Muhyuk’s kindness. Why was he treating him so well? Why? He wanted to know what this person was thinking, what his intentions were. Even though he had given a 100,000 won tip and had been pampered, once Choi Muhyuk finds out that Jhi Yeonwoo had no pheromones and was divorced, he might cut off the relationship without hesitation.

    Thinking that one hurt was enough, Jhi Yeonwoo suddenly became curious about the end of this ambiguous relationship.

    “Director….”

    As Jhi Yeonwoo was about to speak, he hesitated and turned his gaze towards the door. Along with the sound of a cart being pulled, a knock was heard from outside. Then, through the slightly opened door, a cart filled with food was pushed in. As Jhi Yeonwoo, who had been watching the food being arranged on the table, raised his head.

    When Choi Muhyuk and Jhi Yeonwoo’s eyes met, they both flinched slightly. With a straight posture, Choi Muhyuk’s gaze remained fixed on Jhi Yeonwoo without wavering. From his gaze, Jhi Yeonwoo felt a strong desire. If he could see through everything, even to the point of knowing about his family, why was he spending time here like this?

    After the staff member left and the door closed with a soft sound, Jhi Yeonwoo couldn’t bear it any longer and opened his mouth first.

    “Did your arranged meeting go well?”

    After taking a sip of water, Choi Muhyuk paused, holding the ceramic water cup in his hand. Jhi Yeonwoo, who noticed that his raised eyes were once again focused on his face, lowered his gaze to the white steaming porridge.

    “I didn’t intentionally eavesdrop on your conversation.”

    Jhi Yeonwoo offered unnecessary excuses, fearing that he might look strange.

    “These days, the call quality is so good that I can hear what’s being said nearby.”

    After stammering through his words, Jhi Yeonwoo glanced briefly at Choi Muhyuk. There was a sense of puzzlement in Choi Muhyuk’s gaze. It was as if he were asking, “Do you really not know?” Meeting his gaze, Jhi Yeonwoo couldn’t help but feel flustered.

    Without blinking, Choi Muhyuk lowered the water cup he was holding.

    “Well, I guess I’m the only one giving flowers that symbolize parting to someone.”

    The unexpected response actually left Jhi Yeonwoo more confused.

    “Pardon?”

    “On the day I bought the Marigold. I told you, they’re flowers given to cause hurt.”

    “……!”

    Jhi Yeonwoo blinked his large eyes rapidly. He retraced the previous conversation. The first thing that came to mind was Choi Muhyuk’s indifferent attitude when buying the Marigolds. Not knowing Yeonwoo’s color or scent preferences, or his taste, Muhyuk had carelessly chosen the flowers, which was quite memorable. 

    “Ah, so…”

    As soon as he realized the meaning of Marigolds, Yeonwoo let out a low exclamation, remembering how Muhyuk immediately changed his mind and asked for those flowers. Yeonwoo finally realized that the order of events he had guessed was incorrect.

    Instead of going far away to see someone special, did he actually have to go far because he gave Marigolds to that special person?

    He had never thought that Muhyuk might have bought Marigolds for someone he wanted to see.

    “It wasn’t the place you wanted to go.”

    “Ah…”

    “Just think of the far trip as an extension of that incident.” 

    “I didn’t think of it that way.”

    “Are all your questions answered now?”

    “…Yes.”

    Yeonwoo nodded, his face reddening in embarrassment. Seeing this, Muhyuk gave a rare smile.

    “Let’s eat first and talk. The food will get cold.”

    “Yes.”

    As they finished the appetizers, a server came in with the next course. Clearing the empty plates and placing new ones with neat dishes, the large table was set without empty spaces.

    The food was simple yet delicious. Normally Yeonwoo would have eaten heartily, but perhaps due to tension, the food didn’t go down well. As he picked at the rice grains with his chopsticks, Muhyuk scraped some grilled fish onto Yeonwoo’s rice bowl.

    “Is the food not to your taste?”

    “No, it’s delicious.”

    “Then why can’t you eat? Is the seat uncomfortable? Shall we move somewhere else?”

    “No need for that.”

    Reluctantly, Yeonwoo ate the grilled fish and rice Muhyuk had served him. Muhyuk stared intently at Yeonwoo. Whenever Muhyuk looked at him like that, Yeonwoo felt his innermost thoughts would be exposed.

    In fact, there was a mountain of questions he wanted to ask.

    ‘Why are you being so nice to me? What are your feelings when you meet me? Even if it’s affection, can you really accept all my flaws?’

    But the words swirling in his mind didn’t come out. As Yeonwoo hesitated, Muhyuk, having emptied his glass again, spoke first.

    “Shall I start if it’s hard for you to speak?”

    Yeonwoo, sitting quietly, met Muhyuk’s gaze. Relaxing his body, Muhyuk leaned back into his chair.

    “There’s something I’ve been wondering about.”

    “What…”

    “From the first time I saw you, I noticed you were missing certain things.”  

    Yeonwoo’s large eyes widened as they met Muhyuk’s.

    “For example, your omega pheromones.”

    “…!”

    “You’re an omega, Yeonwoo.”

    A look of astonishment flashed across Yeonwoo’s face. He didn’t think Muhyuk was unaware, but he didn’t expect him to state it so baldly.

    “Seems a bit late to be asking that question.”

    Lowering his hand under the table, Yeonwoo gripped the hem of his carefully chosen shirt tightly.   

    “Shouldn’t you have asked that the very first time we met, or when you came back?”

    “It felt rude to ask about someone’s nature upon first meeting.”

    “It’s still the same now. If I had been a beta or if I had a partner, it would have been unpleasant.”

    Muhyuk gently curved one corner of his lips into an inscrutable smile. Unable to decipher the meaning behind that smile, Yeonwoo furrowed his brows instead.

    “Even if both were true, it wouldn’t really be a problem.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “Because whoever gave you that marigold couldn’t have been a good person, whether it’s an ongoing relationship or over.” 

    “…!”

    “And you wouldn’t have any lingering feelings for someone who felt relieved after receiving Marigolds.”

    Despite Yeonwoo’s blunt response, Muhyuk’s expression remained unchanged as their eyes met, as if Yeonwoo was the only one surprised and flustered. 

    Yeonwoo’s immediate bristling upon having his omega nature revealed contrasted with Muhyuk’s calm, mature demeanor. Overwhelmed with shame, Yeonwoo’s face flushed red.

    “Then, I suppose that also means you’re not a good person for giving Marigolds to someone special.”

    The words slipped out before Yeonwoo could stop himself. His sensitivity had led to the blunder, and there was no taking it back now.

    He studied Muhyuk’s expression. Muhyuk remained serene, his expression unchanged, his thoughts completely inscrutable.

    Muhyuk, who had been holding Yeonwoo’s gaze steadily, slowly closed his eyes and looked away first. A low “Hmm” exhaled between his sealed lips as he seemed to ponder Yeonwoo’s words carefully.

    “You’re right. Someone who hurts others can’t be considered a good person.”

    Some thought made the corners of Muhyuk’s mouth quirk up wryly.  

    “But is this conjecture also from experience?”

    Ever since his omega nature was revealed, Yeonwoo’s rapidly beating heart showed no signs of calming down – not from excitement, but pure anxiety. Flashes of memories he had tried so hard to forget flickered through his mind.

    A bedroom bathed in red lights, a stifling alpha pheromone that made it hard to breathe, and Lee Hyunjun hovering over Yeonwoo sprawled on the bed.

    Yeonwoo’s downcast eyes flickered with unease. 

    “I…”

    The muscles in Yeonwoo’s face trembled as he trailed off. His fingertips began to feel numb and cold, a habitual reaction when tense. He clutched his tingling fingertips with his other hand.

    “I vowed never again to date someone who would hurt me.”

    To someone who readily admitted he wasn’t a good person either, that was the only thing Yeonwoo could say.

    Truthfully, he found it difficult to develop feelings for anyone. He didn’t want to become narrow-minded or petty, didn’t want to spend all day thinking only of that person, feeling like that person was his entire world, only to suffer the sense of loss when it inevitably ended.

    The pain of separation had imprisoned Yeonwoo behind thick, fortified walls.

    “Ah yes, conjecture from experience.”

    Muhyuk muttered to himself. The surroundings were so quiet that Yeonwoo, who heard him, opened his mouth to say something but quickly closed it again.

    People who have experienced heartbreak tend to become guarded. They don’t want to repeat the pain of separation. The agony of that one parting was enough for a lifetime.

    “Then the answer is clear. As long as I don’t hurt you, right?”

    Muhyuk looked at Yeonwoo and shrugged nonchalantly, as if it were no difficult feat.

    Seeing that only made Yeonwoo more flustered. That casual smile seemed to slowly dismantle the fortified walls around him. From the moment they first met, Muhyuk put Yeonwoo at ease, readily accepting both the good and the bad as equally himself – unlike other alphas who tried to hide their flaws and show only their best side.

    After gazing at each other quietly for a moment, Muhyuk changed the subject.

    “But it seems you’re not curious about my nature. You haven’t asked.”

    “I already know.”

    “You know?” 

    “Yes. You’re an alpha.”

    Muhyuk let out a small chuckle. 

    “Just an alpha?”

    Again caught off guard by Muhyuk’s nonchalant reply, Yeonwoo’s eyes widened. Could he mean…a dominant alpha? While unable to sense pheromones, Yeonwoo had an inkling – Muhyuk’s impressive physicality towering over him, his good looks, and high social status. 

    Putting it all together, Yeonwoo assumed he was an alpha, but never expected the 1% chance of him being a dominant alpha.

    Yeonwoo’s wavering eyes quickly scanned over Muhyuk.

    “But I’m curious, how did you know?”

    “Hm?”

    “You can’t smell my pheromones.”

    “…!”

    Yeonwoo parted his lips, inhaling sharply. 

    He felt lightheaded, blood rushing to his head. Without needing a mirror, he knew his face was draining of color. Not because Muhyuk had unethically tested him, but the realization that Yeonwoo no longer had anything left to lean on in this relationship.

    It was all over now. No alpha, dominant alpha or not, would want to continue seeing an omega who had lost their pheromones and couldn’t even smell them. It would surely be seen even more negatively by someone of Muhyuk’s dominant alpha status.

    With a dejected smile, Yeonwoo voiced the words he had been holding back.

    “You’re right. I’m an omega, but I have no pheromones.”  

    He saw no point in hiding it any longer.

    “Rather than none, it’s more accurate to say I lost them.”

    A glint appeared in Muhyuk’s previously languid eyes.

    “Is it a congenital deficiency?”

    “No, it’s not.”

    Yeonwoo hurriedly corrected him.

    “There was an accident.”

    But his rushed explanation only made it sound stranger. It wasn’t like he had lost a limb – there was no easy way to connect an accident to losing one’s pheromones. He should have just said yes when asked if it was congenital. Yeonwoo regretted it, but couldn’t take the words back.

    “I know pheromones are both a cumbersome hindrance and powerful weapon for us naturals. But before losing them, I was just a flawed omega.”

    “I’m curious why you’re willingly revealing this personal struggle.”

    “…”

    “You could have denied it.”

    “If someone has already noticed, it’s no longer a secret.”

    The fact that Yeonwoo was a dominant omega, that he had lost his pheromones and couldn’t even smell them – through conversation, Muhyuk had uncovered all of Yeonwoo’s secrets. The last remaining secret was his biggest flaw and weakness.

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