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    “What is that…”

    Seojin felt a sense of bewilderment at the unexpected situation, his long and lush eyelashes fluttering in confusion. Watching his innocent face, Do-beom couldn’t help but let a fierce smile creep across his twisted lips.

    “You’re drinking water in such an adorable way.”

    Then, Do-beom tilted his face diagonally down towards Seojin’s, as if he was about to kiss him. Yet, the seemingly complimentary words were laced with an unmistakable annoyance.

    “That’s more than unique; it’s like an overly childish habit.”

    The voice that pointed out Seojin’s behavior was deep and resonant, brushing against his ears as if digging underground. The condescending gaze was so cold it seemed like it would flay someone alive if provoked.

    The expression on his face turned frighteningly frosty. The sudden shift from a sly grin to a more menacing look made it appear all the more threatening.

    [Cha Do-beom’s (Compatibility: Excellent) affection has increased by 1.]

    However, the system message conveyed a completely different sentiment.

    [Name: Cha Do-beom]

    [Status: Disguising his cold demeanor to hide the turmoil caused by the user (Seojin) who brings back painful memories.]

    [Compatibility: Excellent]

    [Affection: 64 (Interested)]

    [Strategy: Try actions similar to what you are currently doing.]

    Furthermore, Seojin could clearly see through the heart of the man before him, resembling a fierce beast. Before following the recommended strategy from Do-beom’s status window, Seojin made a slightly wronged expression.

    “It seems like you’re about to cut off my tongue if I take another sip of water.”

    As Seojin put down the glass quietly, he remarked as if he couldn’t believe what was happening, causing Do-beom to twist his lips even more. The warmth of his breath, slightly heated by emotional turmoil, tickled the fine hairs on Seojin’s cheek in a strange way.

    “It would be a shame to do that, considering I wouldn’t mind mingling tongues with you, young master.”

    “Let’s not do something that would upset each other’s stomachs, shall we?”

    Seojin, feeling a chill, instinctively pushed Do-beom away with force. The large man gracefully receded, crossing his legs and sitting with an air of nonchalance.

    “Ha, that’s what I’d like to say.” Do-beom, who had been casually mentioning kisses, now issued a stark warning with a chilling voice. “Take this as a friendly advice, stop drinking water like that.”

    “…Are you upset?”

    “Would you believe me if I said it felt like my stomach was twisting for a moment?”

    A bitter smirk briefly crossed Do-beom’s face before disappearing. The comment about his stomach twisting made Seojin inwardly flustered.

    ‘The reaction is more intense than I expected.’

    Before his regression, Seojin only felt annoyed by the other’s seemingly excessive words and actions, but now, knowing the reason, a faint sense of guilt twined around his heart.

    He had never liked exploiting the memory of a child long gone from this world, and now, seeing the traces of bitter pain in Do-beom’s expressions, which he had not noticed in the past, his mood gradually darkened.

    “You might need to see a doctor.”

    However, Seojin offered indifferent advice as if nothing was amiss, recalling the pre-regression Do-beom who, despite always picking on his every word and action, lingered around him like a stalker.

    It’s not like I made a bubbling sound as if gargling water; I just swirled the water in my mouth silently once… Sure, one might dislike it, but is it really something to react so strongly to? He thought, defending his unique habit as if justifying it.

    “Maybe you, young master, should consider some behavior correction training.”

    “Since when are habits as easily fixed as horses?”

    “Who did you learn such a habit from?”

    Do-beom’s voice, tinged with sarcasm, carried an indistinct anger directed at someone. Seojin thought that if he hadn’t been of the prestigious Myeongseong Group lineage, he might have received at least a light beating for such a blatantly emotional expression.

    “My grandfather.”

    “Using that as an excuse doesn’t make the habit any more appealing.”

    Contrary to Do-beom’s skepticism, Seojin’s response, calmly facing the sharp gaze, was no clumsy lie. During his childhood in Pyeongchang-dong, he had to learn table manners by eye, observing the various wines presented at the dinner table every day.

    Chairman Yeon Kyung-taek had an obsession with ‘upper-class’ manners that would elevate his stature. To win his father’s favor, Seojin’s uncle memorized the types and origins of various wines. Seojin had to do everything to keep up.

    Although he was too young to drink alcohol and thus couldn’t taste the wines, he could mimic the process. And Chairman Yeon Kyung-taek, always stern, found it commendable when the young Seojin pretended to taste wine with plain water, giving him a nod of approval. Looking back, it was quite a ridiculous sight.

    “Well, in many ways, it’s an unpleasant habit.”

    This time, Seojin readily admitted it. It was a very old habit, and no one, until Do-beom, had pointed it out so directly and keenly, so he hadn’t been aware of it. Before the regression, he might have been more defiant, but now he thought it was a remnant of the past that needed to be corrected.

    “…I said it would be better to correct it, not that it was unpleasant.”

    But Do-beom, uncurling his arrogantly crossed legs and straightening his posture as if playing with words, made a statement that sounded like a pun. Then, glancing at his luxurious watch, he pulled a small incense holder, neatly placed on one side of the wooden table, towards him.

    “Do you smoke by any chance?”

    He then threw an unexpected question at Seojin, inserting a pristine white cigarette into the stylish incense holder, which looked like a specially crafted decorative piece, unlike the common incense burners used in temples, with a practiced gesture.

    “No, I absolutely detest it.”

    “Then step out for a bit, or hold your breath for a while.”

    “…What do you mean,”

    Before Seojin could even question the meaning, Do-beom, adjusting his attire as if he were a Buddhist devotee ascending the altar, lit the upside-down cigarette in the incense holder with a Zippo lighter. Then, closing his eyes and bowing his head as if in silent prayer, his actions reminiscent of a mourner at a funeral.

    The acrid, wispy smoke of the cigarette dispersed like the heat haze rising from a sunbaked road, spreading thinly into the air. Seojin, forcing his frowning brow to relax, quietly observed Do-beom, who sat with a solemn demeanor beyond the wavering haze.

    ‘Is this some kind of memorial ritual for him?’

    The gang members close to Cha Do-beom had little knowledge about the identity of the child he still seemed to mourn. They only knew that the child had died saving Do-beom from danger in a fire. The fire had been so intense that they hadn’t been able to recover the body.

    Due to Do-beom’s unusual and somber atmosphere, making it difficult to casually speak, Seojin simply kept silent, watching him. For a while, the only sound in the office was the whirring of the air purifier, working furiously.

    “What’s the matter, young master? You’re unusually quiet today.”

    Minutes later, after extinguishing his cigarette in the ashtray, Do-beom, who had been quietly observing Seojin, turned to him with a slight smile. The fiery anger seemed to have subsided, or rather, his mood appeared to have generally dampened.

    “Will you provide workers’ compensation if your employees get lung cancer from this?”

    Pointing out the occupational hazard of the harmful smoke, Seojin watched Do-beom’s expression closely as he chuckled. The fine muscles of his face were all slightly tensed. It wasn’t a genuine smile.

    “I’ll consider it.”

    With a fluid motion, Do-beom sprayed deodorizer on his clothes and then casually picked up the contract Seojin had been working on.

    “And I’ll accept this contract.”

    With those words, Do-beom hastily scribbled his signature, his gesture betraying a hint of annoyance. His expression seemed to convey a desire to dismiss Seojin immediately and take a break.

    ‘…Sorry, but it seems I can’t just leave like this.’

    Having received the signed contract back, Seojin, after a moment’s hesitation, picked up a pen and swiftly flipped the top, scribbling a few short lines in the margin. It was a habit left over from using ink-dipped quills or modern dip pens to accommodate Chairman Yeon Kyung-taek’s hobbies.

    Suddenly, Seojin felt a rough hand snatch his wrist holding the pen. Reflexively shaking off the grip, a stronger hand then rudely grabbed his collar and yanked him forward. Helplessly pulled along, Seojin narrowed his brows and raised his arm defensively, glaring at the impolite aggressor.

    “What the hell are you doing…”

    “What’s this about?”

    Do-beom, with a face devoid of any smile and hardened with seriousness, pressed him for an answer. It was exactly the reaction Seojin had anticipated.

    “Why are you doing this to me?”

    There was no chance to retort, to question who was in the position to make such a claim. Suddenly, the hand that had grabbed his collar shoved Seojin’s body against the backrest of the leather sofa with such force that the buttons on his shirt were torn off.

    “Did you pick up some rumors somewhere?”

    Do-beom’s large hand, reflecting his agitated mood, pressed down oppressively on Seojin’s neck and under his jaw, making it hard to breathe.

    [Cha Do-beom’s (Compatibility: Excellent) affection has increased by 1.]

    [Affection: 65 (Interested)]

    Meanwhile, the system’s affection meter once again jumped higher.

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