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    After listening to Jae-chan’s story up to this point, Woo-jin spoke up.

    “You must have been worried.”

    “…I’m okay.”

    Jae-chan smiled, his nose slightly reddened by the cold wind.

    Woo-jin suddenly felt very sorry. From what he heard, it seemed Jae-chan hadn’t been able to contact Esper Gu Ji-eun for several days, yet he wasn’t by Jae-chan’s side while he was consumed with worry.

    “I’ll try to find out where your aunt is too.”

    Jae-chan looked up at those words. It was an appreciated offer, but he was conflicted about whether it was right to look into his aunt’s whereabouts. It felt unsettling to investigate his own aunt, who was family.

    However, he felt it was prudent to take every precaution given the questionable complete loss of contact. He didn’t want to experience the pain of loss at all. “Thank you,” Jae-chan conveyed his gratitude to Woo-jin with a warm heart, then suddenly asked,

    “Are you really not worried about Zone Z.”

    “I caused trouble to my teammates, so I have to go and make up for it.”

    Woo-jin answered, fiddling with the nearly empty coffee cup. Woo-jin felt he should return to Zone Z and work even harder to make up for the trouble he caused his teammates. Therefore, he didn’t regret his choice.

    “But I had an important reason to stay.”

    As he spoke, Woo-jin looked back at Jae-chan. The streetlight cast a slanted shadow on the clearly defined face. As their deep and clear gazes met, Jae-chan suddenly felt the warmth of the coffee cup wrapped in his palms transfer to his cheeks.

    The two people’s eyes twinkled slightly as if they were resonating. Woo-jin was the first to avoid his gaze.

    He lowered his long eyes, hiding his nervousness. Jae-chan still doesn’t give a definite answer to his feelings.

    Suppressing his anxious mind, Woo-jin only focused on the river flowing leisurely in the darkness.

    Somewhere along those densely forested riverbanks would be the fishing site where Jae-chan had been held captive by the kidnappers.

    His breath forming a thin mist from his lips, Woo-jin emerged from his brief reverie and spoke.

    “The mastermind behind the drug trafficking group called TZ is the President himself.”

    “…”

    “Gyeong Hye-in is that distributor.”

    Perhaps because the truth he had suddenly revealed was too abrupt, Jae-chan didn’t immediately react to the information.

    But Woo-jin didn’t mind. What he wanted to convey wasn’t a summary of the detailed information he would send via spreadsheet.

    “I can tell you everything if you want…but before that, there’s something I’d like to request.”

    He continued with what he truly wanted to say.

    “I hope you don’t do anything dangerous.”

    Woo-jin remembered the time in June when he found Jae-chan being held hostage in a damp and dim fishing spot. He recalled how his heart had raced and how relieved he had felt.

    He also recollected the grave anxiety and helplessness he experienced when Jae-chan recklessly swallowed a dangerous drug last month in an attempt to clear Gyeong Chang-hyun’s false charges.

    “I’m asking you as someone who likes you, rather than as a sponsor who helps you.”

    Woo-jin felt a little helpless. After unexpectedly falling into the quagmire of first love, struggling and agonizing to find a solution, he ended up back at square one. He was still an outsider without the qualification to be involved with Jae-chan.

    But there was a slight change. He properly realized the source of his confusion and conveyed his feelings to Jae-chan, albeit clumsily.

    Even if he only occupied a small portion of Jae-chan’s heart like a cute cat, even if he had to wait for Jae-chan’s response, he accepted it.

    Going forward, he would do his best to gain Jae-chan’s heart. Of course, he felt various anxieties – what if he didn’t receive reciprocation, what if Jae-chan came to dislike him even as a benefactor and went to Han Tae-hoon instead.

    However, such emotions were a luxury at the moment. It was far better than dragging Jae-chan into his own confusion. It had been the right choice.

    “… I will try.”

    And Jae-chan gave the expected answer.

    Woo-jin swallowed a bitter smile, hiding his gaze beneath his wind-blown hair. His eyes grew heavy with resignation. For now, all he could do was acquiesce to those words.

    It would be alright. He just had to take one cautious step at a time from here, encouraging himself as he felt a frail sense of contentment with the current situation.

    “It’s not just empty words… I’ll really try. Because I like you too.”

    Seon Jae-chan spoke in a slightly quiet voice.

    Jae-chan swallowed a sigh as he felt the night wind.

    Seon Jae-chan simply couldn’t bear not telling Woo-jin that he liked him too. He was on the verge of being engulfed in sweet despair. Woo-jin had made him an impossibly easy person.

    He thought he shouldn’t be a burden. Thought he shouldn’t cling to him. Thought he should maintain a mature distance.

    Yet Woo-jin had taken another step closer this time as well. Told him he was needed. Given him at least the minimum qualification to cling.

    Only the occasional passing of car sounds broke the silence behind the two of them. In the stillness and darkness, only their two silhouettes stood out beneath the streetlight.

    “…”

    Meanwhile, Woo-jin was slightly dazed.

    ‘Jae-chan likes me too…?’

    Woo-jin never thought his feelings would be reciprocated so quickly. Just as the world seemed to suddenly brighten before him, Woo-jin paused. While the feelings conveyed through Jae-chan’s guiding until recently could only be interpreted as fondness towards him, after experiencing various things lately, Woo-jin harbored some doubts. Did Jae-chan really like him?

    But he soon brushed those thoughts aside. He was the one pursuing. After receiving such a precious reciprocated confession from Jae-chan, it wouldn’t right to ask him, ‘I don’t fully understand your feelings.’

    Moreover, wasn’t the person directly saying he liked him? That Jae-chan likes Woo-jin. It was only right to trust Jae-chan’s confession and love him wholeheartedly.

    Therefore, around the time the third vehicle passed by, Woo-jin was simply beaming with joy.

    Facing him, Jae-chan was entranced by a tingling sensation as if bubbles were bursting under his feet and ended up blurting out something he shouldn’t have.

    “Then we’re dating from today.”

    Contrary to his bold voice, Jae-chan nearly bolted on the spot after suddenly letting those words slip out. After unintentionally hanging out with Gyeong Chang-hyun these days, it was clear that his mental age had dropped to the same level.

    As Jae-chan belatedly covered his face, which looked like it was about to burn with coffee, Woo-jin’s fair, slender hand took the still-warm disposable cup instead. Setting the cup on the railing, Woo-jin pulled Jae-chan into a warm embrace and immediately pressed their smiling lips together.

    Their winter coats brushed together as their chests met. Flustered and unsure of what to do with himself, Jae-chan nonetheless closed his eyes and hugged Woo-jin back, loving the kiss they shared too much. This time, Woo-jin did not avoid him.

    “Shall we have outdoor sex now?”

    Woo-jin burst into laughter after he asked in between their parted lips. A light chuckle escaped Jae-chan as well. Without question, their hearts were racing erratically, trembling with excitement.

    Even as the cold wind blew their hair into disarray, the flush on their heated cheeks refused to subside. Woo-jin waved his hand to still the air currents as he pulled Jae-chan closer into his embrace. Jae-chan returned a small kiss to Woo-jin’s handsome jawline. Despite the chaos in their minds and the static in their hair, the two of them, who had fallen for each other, only felt endless bliss.

    SECTION 9. Rescue

    The two people, who shared a mischievous kiss while laughing, biting, joking, and tickling under the observatory, called a taxi again. The night view was gorgeous, but it was quite cold when the coffee cooled down.

    “I’ll take you home today.”

    As they boarded the taxi and stated the destination, Jae-chan made an unexpected suggestion. Woo-jin was unaware, but Jae-chan had actually been wanting to do this for a while. Since Woo-jin had a car, he had always taken Jae-chan home. But Jae-chan wanted to take Woo-jin home as well.

    With Woo-jin’s car left behind, this rare opportunity presented itself. Jae-chan insisted so adamantly that Woo-jin nodded in agreement.

    And as soon as they got off on the main street where Go Woo-jin’s officetel was located, Jae-chan did what he had been thinking about the entire time he was taking the taxi. He took Woo-jin’s hand, which had been resting relaxed. A firm, warm temperature transmitted through their fingertips.

    Woo-jin, who had been just glancing at Jae-chan earlier without immediately looking at him to see what was going on, looked down at the hand he was holding with startled eyes. Seon Jae-chan looked to see if the progress was too fast, but soon Go Woo-jin’s lips curved into an elegant smile. With crinkled eyes, he turned his hand to grasp Jae-chan’s tightly and took the lead. Following him, Jae-chan felt bashful yet brimming with excitement, averting his restless gaze.

    Our parallel steps on the sparsely populated sidewalk soon reached the entrance to the officetel. Since they didn’t want to part ways, the two stopped and quietly took their time.

    Actually, Seon Jae-chan had something he wanted to say a while ago. ‘Want me to guide you?’ ‘Can I guide you?’ It was because Woo-jin’s wavelength he faintly sensed was uneven.

    If it had been in front of his own place, he would have casually offered. But since he had insisted on giving Woo-jin a ride, they ended up in front of Woo-jin’s home. Woo-jin seemed averse to allowing outsiders into his personal space. Jae-chan hesitated to bring up guiding, worried it might come across as an ulterior motive to visit Woo-jin’s home under that pretext.

    ‘Is this what it’s like when you like someone? Every little thing makes you overthink, seriously.’

    Well, there were plenty of Guides in Zone Z too.

    Jae-chan decided to just go home today and suddenly remembered the existence of Hae-sol.

    “…”

    Appearing awkward for a moment before collecting himself, Jae-chan spoke regretfully to Woo-jin.

    “Go in.”

    Jae-chan, who was wriggling our joined hands, was the first to say goodbye.

    Just as Jae-chan was about to say goodbye and let go of the hand he had been holding, Woo-jin urgently gripped the hand trying to slip away. With slightly reddened cheeks from the cold, he finally parted the lips he had been worrying about all this time.

    “Want to come up?”

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