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    2. Shadow 2 (Part 5)

    At Cheon Sejoo’s irritated retort, Sejin shouted, and yet he continued to look at Cheon Sejoo with the same eyes, clearly baffled by him. Cheon Sejoo met his gaze, rubbing his forehead as a headache started to form.

    If there were any reason to throw Kwon Sejin out immediately, it would be that Cheon Sejoo was a gay man with a penchant for young, pretty boys. However, Cheon Sejoo had no intention of touching a minor, specifically, nor was he interested in a child more than five years younger than himself.

    Although Sejin’s strikingly beautiful face was memorable enough to make him forget Doyoon’s face, with whom he had a relationship for several years, Sejin was still a minor. Besides, the brat had never once used polite language to him despite how clear who should be superior and inferior between them, which was far from Cheon Sejoo’s preferences.

    Ultimately, there was no other compelling reason to kick Sejin out right away. His lie about being a girl to meet his mother was something Sejoo could overlook as a cute lie, and there was no shortage of room in the house. In fact, Sejin’s pretense to meet his mother made him seem rather admirable, considering how embarrassing that must have been. As these thoughts passed through his mind, Sejin, sensing the right moment, spoke up.

    “…Did you really bring me here just to help me?”

    There was a glimmer of hope in Sejin’s eyes as he asked that question. Cheon Sejoo easily noticed that emotion and hardened his expression.

    He saw Hye-in’s last moments in Se-jin, who was crouching in the hallway, and he reached out to him because he wanted Sejin to have a different fate from Hye-in. Walking home, he felt pity for Sejin, who had lowered his pride to meet his mother. These were the emotions that had moved Sejoo—an urge to correct his past mistakes and a sense of pity, not the goodwill or kindness that Sejin hoped for.

    Cheon Sejoo drank the remaining beer in the can in one go and looked at Sejin. The child’s glassy brown eyes sparkled with hope. At that moment, Sejoo felt a chilling sensation as if his blood had turned cold.

    He knew what emotion Sejin harbored towards him, expectation. Based on the fact that Cheon Sejoo had tried to help him without expecting anything in return, he had an expectation that he might not be as bad a person as he thought. However, Cheon Sejoo no longer wanted to be the subject of anyone’s expectations. He had let down everyone who had ever had hopes for him. He didn’t want to repeat that. Though emotions belonged solely to those who held them, he disliked anyone holding expectations of him.

    His face, lost in thought, suddenly turned expressionless. The coldness returned in Cheon Sejoo’s eyes.

    “No.”

    With a crunch, the empty can crumpled in his hand. Sejoo tossed the crumpled can onto the table with a harsh sound. Then he buried himself into the sofa. With a twisted smile, he responded.

    “I was planning to sell you off because you’re pretty, but my plans got ruined.”

    It was a lie.

    However, Sejin’s expression collapsed in an instant at those words. He stepped back, clenching his fists and glaring at Cheon Sejoo. The hope in his eyes turned to hostility, and seeing this, Sejoo continued calmly.

    “Otherwise, why would I have fed a brat who still had a lot to learn and spoke to me informally? I’m not a charity worker.”

    “……”

    Sejin chewed his lips with the same expression as the day they first met. Cheon Sejoo took out his cigarette again, watching his once pink lips turn bright red.

    “Anyway, I’ll keep my promise and let you meet your mother. Just stay quiet until then. We’ll go tomorrow.”

    Just like last time, the tone of his voice which was made up of lies was extremely cold. Cheon Sejoo rested his chin on the armrest and turned his gaze. As if he was no longer interested in him, he looked down at the Seoul Forest and the Han River through the transparent glass window. As he was doing so, he soon heard Sejin getting up next to him. He said without even turning his head.

    “Come out when I call you later. We’ll order lunch.”

    “……”

    Sejin left without a word. As Cheon Sejoo watched his retreating figure, he raised his voice.

    “Aren’t you going to answer?”

    “…Okay.”

    Sejin responded, barely glancing at Cheon Sejoo. Then, he quietly walked away and disappeared.

    Left alone in the living room, Cheon Sejoo clutched his head as a throbbing headache took over. Now he felt that he had done something useless. Regret which something he hadn’t felt in a long time, flooded his mind.

    ⊹˚. ♡.𖥔 ݁ ˖ ⊹˚. ♡.𖥔 ݁ ˖

    On the day Cheon Sejoo discovered that Sejin was a boy, he also learned through the entry records that Sejin wasn’t attending school properly. For someone like Sejoo, who had ridden the bus to school even with a fever of 40 degrees, this was incomprehensible.

    However, Cheon Sejoo decided not to interfere with Kwon Sejin not going to school. He deemed it none of his business anymore. Despite having two more meals together since their argument, they hadn’t exchanged a single word.

    And so, Wednesday arrived.

    Ehwagak, where Kwon Sejin’s mother was now working, was situated in the mountains near Seoul. Waking up early, Sejoo went to the gym, sparred with Shin Gyoyeon, took a quick shower, and then changed into a suit. He then dragged Sejin out of the house.

    “Fasten your seatbelt.”

    His right arm was sore from the sparring session. As he started the car, Sejoo rotated his arm to loosen his sore muscles. Sejin was wearing the same clothes from the first day they met. Since Sejoo hadn’t given him any clothes he had promised, he had to wear the musty-smelling hoodie that he had washed in the bathroom.

    Click. As soon as Sejin silently buckled his seatbelt, the car started. Neither Cheon Sejoo nor Kwon Sejin spoke a word on the way to Ewhagak. They left Seoul in such a cold silence.

    After driving along the highway for a short while, they traveled a long way on a national road and then took a winding mountain road for another ten minutes before a grand hanok (traditional Korean house) came into view.

    Since today was the only rest day of the week, there were no cars in Ehwagak’s parking lot. Only the staff were busy, wiping dust off the walls and unloading food supplies from trucks. Cheon Sejoo drove past the main gate of Ehwagak and drive the car to the main gate. It was exactly 10 a.m., as scheduled after he finished parking in the staff parking lot. Sejin followed Cheon Sejoo as he got out of the driver’s seat.

    “Hello, Manager Cheon.”

    In front of the low wall leading to the staff dormitory, a woman dressed in a neat hanbok greeted them warmly despite it being a day off. It was Han Jiwon, the manager of Ehwagak. Sejoo returned her greeting with an unusually warm smile.

    “Hello, it’s been a while. Thank you for your help.”

    “Oh, not at all. When Manager Chae asked, and knowing it was your request, I couldn’t refuse.”

    The woman smiled and nodded, then she turned to Sejin with a welcoming expression.

    “You must be Sejin. Hello.”

    “…Hello.”

    Cheon Sejoo glanced at Sejin, who responded politely with a seemingly angelic face. It seemed Sejin only displayed his pride towards those who harmed him. It was not surprising that Sejoo was included in that category. Cheon Sejoo indifferently turned his gaze back to Han Jiwon and followed her.

    The two were led to the staff quarters. Despite it being a rest day, the staff who hadn’t gone out were either helping in the main building or prepping ingredients. In the warm living room, there was only a young woman with a gaunt face that was left.

    “Sejin-ah…!” [T/N: In Korean, “-ah” (아) is an honorific suffix used to address someone affectionately or respectfully. It’s similar to adding “dear” or “honey” in English when addressing someone you care about.]

    As soon as Kwon Sejin entered, the woman ran over and hugged him. Soon, she burst into tears, almost out of breath. Leaving behind the tearful reunion, Cheon Sejoo and Han Jiwon headed to the kitchen next to the living room. The only place to sit was the dining table. As soon as they sat down, Han Jiwon added ice to the coffee she had prepared and handed it to him.

    “Manager, have some coffee. I’ll be back after checking on the main building.”

    “Thank you, Manager.”

    Cheon Sejoo watched the reunion while sipping the coffee the manager gave him. The quarters were small, so he could hear every word they exchanged clearly.

    “Do you know how worried Mom was?”

    Sejin’s mother, Kim Hyunkyung, seemed to have gone through severe emotional turmoil over the past week. It was only natural. Suddenly separated from her son, no mother could stay sane. Her cheeks were sunken, and she had the characteristic fatigue of someone who hadn’t slept well.

    “What about your phone? Why didn’t you answer my calls?”

    Her voice was sharp, perhaps regaining some life after seeing her son. As soon as Sejin stopped crying, Kim Hyunkyung smacked his back. Wiping his red eyes, Kwon Sejin answered quietly.

    “At that time… I couldn’t pay the bill, so I could only receive calls, and that was cut off too…”

    “…Then you should have told Mom…!”

    “I’m sorry…”

    The conversation wasn’t pleasant. If possible, he wanted to block it out entirely. Despite telling him to speak up, it was clear she had no way of covering the phone bill either. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have made such a distressed expression.

    He couldn’t even begin to imagine how miserable Kim Hyunkyung, Sejin’s mother, must feel right now.

    I should have just gone and waited outside…

    Regretting his decision to stay in the kitchen, he pulled out his phone. Trying to avoid hearing their conversation, he browsed through his messenger app repeatedly, however, their voices still reached his ears.

    “Sejin-ah, the house…did you go back home?”

    “At that time, the people who came to our house took the deposit, so I couldn’t get in. The landlord kicked me out so I couldn’t grab any of Mom’s things. I’m sorry…”

    “There’s nothing to be sorry about. Mom’s things are all cheap anyway. I’m just glad you’re safe. Do you know how scared I was when I pleaded the Manager to call you and she said you weren’t answering your phone?”

    “I was wrong…”

    Sejin, who had seemed like a rebellious teenager full of discontent with the world, was now an obedient puppy in front of his mother. Sejin kept apologizing, curling into his mother’s arms. He buried his face in her shoulder As if asking her to look at him.

     Was eighteen really that young?

    Cheon Sejoo thought anew as he glanced at them.

    They were a striking pair. Despite her simple attire and hair tied back, Kim Hyunkyung looked like she had stepped out of a painting. Anyone unaware of her circumstances would never guess she worked in a restaurant kitchen because of debt. She looked more like someone who belonged in a VVIP lounge at a high-end department store. Moreover, she didn’t look very old, perhaps because she married early. At most, she looked thirty-five, possibly the same age as Cheon Sejoo.

    “How about sleeping? Where have you been sleeping? Did you have any money left? Did you sleep in a sauna? You didn’t skip school, did you?”

    Her thin dry hand constantly stroked Sejin’s cheeks and hair. She checked his body for any injuries and, with tear-filled eyes, hugged Sejin tightly again.

    “I went to school… and I slept at someone’s house… I was a bit indebted to them.”

    Kwon Sejin lied without batting an eye. He even identified the person in question while the person was in the same room. Cheon Sejoo smirked inwardly and shook his head. Just then, Sejin’s mother, with a worried face, pushed Sejin away and asked,

    “Who? Who let you stay? A friend? You don’t have friends. You weren’t helped by some strange person, right? They didn’t demand anything from you for letting you stay, did they?”

    It seemed like Kwon Sejin’s suspicion and wariness stemmed from his mother. Considering the hardships faced by a life blessed with nothing but a pretty face, it was understandable. She probably instilled this wariness in Sejin, who resembled her, to prevent him from experiencing the hardships she had faced.

    “No, they just helped me without asking for anything in return. That person over there…”

    He thought he would pretend not to know until the end, but Kwon Sejin hesitated and turned his head to point at Cheon Sejoo. He had been staring at his phone with his chin resting on his hand, but when he felt the gaze directed at him, he raised his head. Then, he made a brief eye contact with Kim Hyunkyung and gave her a slight nod.

    Kim Hyunkyung examined Cheon Sejoo with a scrutinizing gaze. Although she felt grateful for him taking care of her son, she also felt wary, wondering why he would help without any apparent reason. Despite having an appearance and personality similar to Sejin’s, she still knew how to show manners. Kim Hyunkyung quickly got up from her seat and bowed deeply to greet him.

    “Thank you for taking care of Sejin, sir. He must have been sensitive because he was going through puberty. He might lack manners, but he’s not a bad kid. Thank you for helping him.”

    “Ah… yes.”

    Even Sejoo was at a loss for words at her cold, yet honest evaluation of her own son. He nodded awkwardly, and she smiled with the corners of her lips raised and slapped her son’s thigh.

    “Kwon Sejin. How can you refer to someone who helped you as ‘that person’? He doesn’t seem much older than you, so call him hyung…”

     [T/N: hyung – older brother]

    “Hyung, my foot.”

    At her words, Kwon Sejin reverted to the sulky tone Cheon Sejoo was familiar with. Cheon Sejoo chuckled and met Sejin’s gaze before standing up. It was the perfect time to leave. Staying would only hinder their mother-son reunion. It seemed better to step outside and have a cigarette. He also had some errands to run.

    “Please feel free to continue your conversation.”

    With a slight smile, Cheon Sejoo excused himself, put on his shoes, and stepped outside the staff quarters. Before searching for the manager for his errand, he perched on the stone wall where an ashtray was placed and leisurely smoked a cigarette. Then, he called Moon Sunhyuk, who had left him a message.

    -“Yes, sir.”

    “Hey. Did you find him?”

    -“Yes, we caught him in Incheon. We’re bringing him in now.”

    “Good job. Take him to the workshop.”

    As the company became more corporatized, there were fewer occasions to engage in brawls, but DG, the company he belonged to, was still fundamentally based on organized crime. The history of Daegam Construction, which had elevated DG to its current stature, was a history written in blood. One could say that the DG headquarters, worth hundreds of billions of won, was built atop a mountain of corpses from its members.

    Over time, subsidiaries like DG Construction, DG O&M, and DG Entertainment have largely shed their organized crime identities, however, there were still many underground businesses run by DG, including loan shark operations like Shinsa Capital and clubs dealing in drugs.

    Cheon Sejoo and his team, acting under Shin Gyoyeon’s orders, primarily dealt with incidents in these shady businesses. Recently, they had been investigating a methamphetamine (crystal) theft from a club. The results came out in two days after tracking down the delivery man who ran away with the drugs. Now that they had caught the culprit, it was time to find out why he did it.

    It seemed likely there would be some bloodshed today.

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