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    That day, a downpour resembling a sudden tropical squall had swept through from the morning.

    The ground was filled with the smell of wet grass. Ji-an’s mother was annoyed that her new light-colored summer suit had gotten splashed with mud. The dark lipstick she had applied looked glossy and out of place.

    The meeting between Ji-an’s brother and his prospective in-laws took place in a very quiet traditional Korean restaurant. At the long table, the parents of both families and the couple sat facing each other, with the siblings seated opposite one another.

    So, that day was the first time Ji-an saw Jeong Hee-seo as his in-law.

    He had an imposing physique befitting a dominant Alpha, so the overall tableware in front of him looked small. A jacket without a single crease and razor-sharp lapels. His neck, hidden by a neat shirt collar, cast a distinct shadow from his prominent Adam’s apple.

    He was skillfully concealing his pheromones, but he gave off a rich woody scent. It was different from the smell of rain-soaked grass. It was the kind of fragrance you could smell in the middle of a forest during a downpour.

    ‘Hello. I’m Seo Ji-hyuk’s younger brother, Seo Ji-an.’

    Ji-an, who had his gaze fixated on him, was startled by his mother’s nudging  and greeted him hurriedly. He hurriedly bowed, causing his forehead to brush against his water glass, splashing drops onto his face. As he flinched and wiped his now flushed face…

    Jeong Hee-seo covered his mouth with a napkin and chuckled.


    When Ji-an opened his eyes, he couldn’t immediately return to reality and remained still for a while.

    A ceiling with irregular patterns. A simple-shaped bed. A dim interior. Jeong Hee-seo’s pheromones.

    Oh! Ji-an sat up abruptly, causing a wave of dizziness. He turned his head to see the skyline of buildings beyond a wide glass window. It was night.

    Carefully lowering his legs off the bed, he found his shoes. Although it was an unfamiliar place, it wasn’t hard to guess where he was. The decor matched that of the General Manager’s office, making it clear.

    He had never been inside, but he figured it was the resting area located at the very back of the general manager’s office. Above all, Jeong Hee-seo’s pheromones, lingering like fog, explained it.

    Fortunately, his body was fine. He wasn’t staggering or short of breath. Before leaving the room at a leisurely pace, he tidied himself up in front of a mirror hanging on the wall.

    As Ji-an opened the door and walked through the dark passage to where Jeong Hee-seo’s desk was, he saw a faint light. Jeong Hee-seo was sitting with a lamp on and looking at the monitor.

    The dim office was quiet, as if everyone had already gone home. The adjacent rooms visible through the glass doors were also dark. He must have slept for a long time… Ji-an, feeling embarrassed, rubbed the back of his neck, and Jeong Hee-seo spoke without turning around.

    “The doctor stopped by. Just in case, I got some emergency medication, and he said he’d schedule an appointment for a day that’s convenient for you.”

    “…How did you know so well?”

    Ji-an asked the question that suddenly occurred to him. It was strange given that he should have asked if Jeong Hee-seo had been waiting for him all this time without being able to get off work.

    Jeong Hee-seo turned his chair around. The smooth swiveling motion of the chair was like a slow-motion video replay. Ji-an blinked his eyes as Jeong Hee-seo’s face, backlit by the monitor, looked exactly the same yet different from the one in his dream.

    “You should eat dinner, Ji-an. Still sleepy?”

    Jeong Hee-seo must have carried him all the way up to this high office from the emergency stairwell. Feeling awkward, Ji-an shook his head. Even if they were lucky enough not to encounter anyone in the emergency stairwell, the staff in the general manager office’s annex probably saw everything.

    Maybe it was because Ji-an was hugged like that, but the awkwardness he had felt while avoiding Jeong Hee-seo for the past two weeks had melted away like snow. It felt like he had carried him up for this very reason. It felt like he was apologizing for getting angry and biting and sucking his lip in the elevator.

    “No. I slept a lot.”

    Ji-an splashed some water on his face to shake off his drowsiness. He walked past Jeong Hee-seo and got some water from the purifier to drink. As he quenched his thirst by drinking a large amount of lukewarm water, his lips, which had become slightly pale, changed color and turned red.

    “Someone I knew used to have those sometimes.”

    Ji-an furrowed his brow for a moment, unable to follow the conversation thread as he set down his mug. Ah, he’s talking about panic attacks. He turned to face Jeong Hee-seo.

    “Someone you used to know?”

    “Yeah, back when I was studying abroad in college.”

    For someone he knew only briefly, Jeong Hee-seo had expertly helped him control his breathing and calm down…

    “He used to struggle before major presentations, so I helped him out. I didn’t want my grade to suffer.”

    Jeong Hee-seo shrugged his shoulders as if it was no big deal.

    “… You must have helped him a lot.”

    Embracing them, comforting them, even releasing pheromones to calm them down…

    “The grades were important, but also, hyperventilating is dangerous.”

    “I can see you’re a kinder person than I thought, Hyung.”

    “It was necessary. That person was good at subjects I struggled with.”

    Ji-an stretched his lips in a long line. Ah, I see. So you had subjects you were weak at too.

    “I told you, there are plenty of things I’m not good at.”

    Jeong Hee-seo smiled as he stood up facing Ji-an. Was he always someone who smiled so easily? Did Jeong Hee-seo laugh that day of the family meeting? Or was Ji-an’s memory playing tricks on him?

    Perhaps the impression of him being a scary person was just Ji-an’s preconception, and he was actually very affectionate. Ji-an averted his gaze downwards.

    Jeong Hee-seo looked at Ji-an with a puzzled expression.

    “So what should we do about dinner?”

    “…I’m not that hungry, actually.”

    Jeong Hee-seo could see that Ji-an was deliberately avoiding his gaze. Ji-an went to his desk and fiddled with his bag as if pretending to have something to pack. Jeong Hee-seo stood up and turned off the lamp. The office suddenly became dark, and Ji-an flinched, rustling around. It was clear he was startled but tried to act normal.

    Jeong Hee-seo approached Ji-an, releasing his pheromones lightly. He extended his arm as if to take Ji-an’s hand, but Ji-an just clutched the strap of his bag instead. Jeong Hee-seo scratched the inside of his cheek with his tongue and pulled the corners of his mouth into a smile.

    “Let’s go. I know a place that makes delicious braised ribs.”

    He really was a food hunter, instead of a businessman… Ji-an pouted his lips. He was right that figuring out this man, who seemed to make feeding him a personal mission, would be more difficult. He was an enigma.

    “I said I’m not hungry.”

    But before Ji-an could finish speaking, his stomach growled loudly. His earlobes grew warm with embarrassment.

    “If you’re not hungry, just eat one serving.”

    “Aish! If anyone hears that, they’ll think I normally eat three servings.”

    “…Don’t you?”

    Ignoring Ji-an’s grumbling, Jeong Hee-seo deliberately strode ahead, distancing himself. The sound of shoes clicking in the dark created an eerie atmosphere.He opened the glass door wide, as if leaving Ji-an behind, so Ji-an hurried to follow.

    Once again, Jeong Hee-seo extended his arm for Ji-an to take.

    Eventually, Ji-an’s hesitant fingertips traced along Jeong Hee-seo’s inner arm, tickling as they gently pressed into the crease of his elbow. Jeong Hee-seo pulled Ji-an closer, pressing his arm against his body.

    Ji-an held onto Jeong Hee-seo as they walked, being careful not to trip, clinging to him like a child terrified of the mere dimness.

    The body heat emanating from under Jeong Hee-seo’s suit jacket helped calm Ji-an down. Ah, he should admit it now. He liked being by Jeong Hee-seo’s side. The time had come to acknowledge that all of this was addictively difficult to resist.

    The long dark hallway that stretched all the way to the illuminated elevator felt cozy. Ji-an held his rumbling stomach and raised one hand to grab Jeong Hee-seo’s arm. He felt Jeong Hee-seo’s other hand cover the back of his, along with his gaze looking down at the top of his head.

    It felt like he absolutely should not turn his head to meet Jeong Hee-seo’s eyes, so he forced himself to walk while staring at the floor.

    As they walked together in the space-like darkness, which felt deeper than the night outside, Ji-an’s mind was free from worries about what kind of world this was or what to do next. It was just body temperature.

    * * *

    Standing in front of a small neighborhood hospital, Jeong Hee-seo frowned.

    When Jeong Hee-seo had insisted on going to the hospital, Ji-an had surprisingly agreed, saying it was time for his regular check-up anyway, so he might as well go. He even invited Jeong Hee-seo to join. But Ji-an had chosen this small hospital.

    “…Do you really have to come to a small place like this?”

    Ji-an pursed his lips. It was certainly not as small as Jeong Hee-seo claimed. It was a decent-sized hospital with basic testing capabilities, including a radiology room in the four-story building.

    “General hospitals feel too cold.”

    Jeong Hee-seo opened his mouth as if he had more to say but then glanced back and forth between Ji-an and the hospital building a couple of times before raising both hands. He was trying to follow the rule they had set that Ji-an should do whatever he felt comfortable with regarding the pregnancy.

    It seemed they would head straight into the hospital, but Ji-an opened the door to the convenience store on the ground floor instead. Knowing Ji-an’s habit of eating excessively and loving snacks, Jeong Hee-seo naturally followed him inside.

    “Didn’t you say that juice was too sweet before?”

    “Ah, this one.”

    Ji-an took out his cell phone from his pocket with his other hand. After tapping the screen a few times with his thumb, he pulled up a web community page and held the screen up to Jeong Hee-seo’s face.

    “Look here, people say… if you eat something sweet before the test, the baby will move around a lot.”

    “… Why?”

    For once, Jeong Hee-seo had a dumbfounded expression.

    “I don’t know either. They just say that it helps them see the baby better during the examination.”

    “Are the doctors’ baby handling skills so poor that they have to rely on the sugar intake of pregnant people?”

    What are you saying? Ji-an swallowed his juice and side-eyed Jeong Hee-seo.

    “How can they have any skills if they don’t even understand?”

    To Ji-an, the fetus was a vague existence. Some days when he woke up, both the possession and the baby in his belly felt like lies. It felt even more that way because he had no memory of having the sex that led to the pregnancy.

    But on days like this, that vague existence felt very real. Jeong Hee-seo seemed to feel the same, judging by his curious expression.

    “Alright. I guess I should study a bit too.”

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