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    Like a sharpened sword, Do-beom’s eyes, which had been honed, wavered dangerously like a sailboat caught in a storm. Soon after, he shook off the hand he was holding with Seojin and abruptly stepped back from their close contact.

    “What the…”

    Do-beom tried to hide his bewildered heart, roughly sweeping his bangs with a slightly trembling hand. It was a reaction like that of someone who fears the peace of mind they’ve just attained.

    He was a man who had lost a child precious enough to still miss in a fire incident, and had decorated the walls of his bedroom, a space that should be more comfortable than anywhere else in the world, with simulated flames.

    Perhaps the flames that filled the room were a punishment he had imposed on himself for not being able to protect his precious child, to ensure he never forgot that moment.

    Or perhaps they served as a medium to rekindle his desire for revenge every day. Given Do-beom’s intense determination to bring down the Red Faction before his regression, it must have stemmed from his past.

    “My head hurts.”

    Seojin felt perplexed as he guessed the reason why the direction of his thoughts and the other’s reaction had diverged again. To gain the healing effects of the penalty, Do-beom must not shy away from the physical contact they shared.

    His attempt to guide the violent form of physical contact towards a gentler direction had hit an unexpected snag. But he couldn’t just back down. Seojin felt the need to change the subject.

    “The moment I saw the LED panel with the flickering flames and your face, it came to me spontaneously.”

    Thus, he offered the answer Do-beom had been seeking all along.

    “A scene where a boy with a hastily bandaged face, holding a piece of broken glass, calls out the name Seo Yeon-woo in a desperate voice.”

    Startled, Do-beom closed and then reopened his eyes as if to suppress the urge to lash out violently again, unable to make the connection between his emotional turmoil and the physical contact. This time, Seojin chose to be as honest as possible, without hiding anything. He too had something he wanted to confirm.

    ‘I need to find out why I recalled a situation I don’t even remember.’

    As Seojin gave a frank and detailed answer for complex reasons, Do-beom, seemingly engulfed in shock, lost his words for a moment before asking again with a voice as tremulous as his wavering gaze, incongruous with his sharp demeanor and filled with desperate hope.

    “Are you… Seo Yeon-woo?”

    Almost simultaneously with the hopeful question, Seojin, who was sitting askew on the bed, shook his head. Regrettably, he could not meet Do-beom’s expectations.

    “That’s a name I’m hearing for the first time.”

    He had no intention of spinning a lie that would easily be uncovered without any contingency plan.

    “Unless you’re Seo Yeon-woo yourself, you couldn’t have described the situation as if you had witnessed it firsthand.”

    However, a peculiar certainty had already begun to settle in Do-beom’s eyes.

    “Why are you so certain?”

    “Because I killed all the gangsters who were there. Even the mere errand boys who could have known about the situation, all of them.”

    The leader of the organization Heukhae spoke with a nonchalant tone, chilling in its content, as he slowly approached Seojin, who was looking up at him with a complex expression. Do-beom, stopping close enough for their knees to touch, reached out his hand.

    “Unless there was a young errand boy, about Yeon-woo’s age, whom I didn’t know about back then.”

    His remarkably large palm enveloped Seojin’s small face as if covering it in one go. Do-beom’s sharp gaze intensely scrutinized Seojin’s expression, glimpsing through the gaps between his fingers.

    “It can only mean that you must be Seo Yeon-woo.”

    Even as Do-beom associated such a dearly cherished name with Seojin, affirmatively, he did not withdraw his scrutinizing gaze, as if considering the possibility that Seojin might be deceiving him.

    “Are you hiding anything else from me? If so, it would be better for you to tell me before I find out on my own.”

    “…When I was young, there’s a period that I don’t remember clearly.”

    Faced with Do-beom’s menacingly low voice, demanding a confession of secrets, Seojin brought up a story from his childhood that he had long forgotten. He did so with more honesty and compliance than ever before.

    “Not clear?”

    “My grandfather said it was aftereffects of a severe pneumonia, but it was always suspicious to me. However, that doesn’t mean I could be the Seo Yeon-woo you’re looking for…”

    Seojin chose the defense of memory loss, a shield in case it later became clear that he and Seo Yeon-woo were not the same person. This symptom, which was a fact in itself, made for a perfect excuse.

    “When did this happen?”

    “17 years ago, in winter.”

    Do-beom’s eyes widened at Seojin’s softly spoken answer. Was it a coincidence that it was around the same time Do-beom had lost Seo Yeon-woo? A peculiar light seemed to flow from Do-beom’s eyes as he looked down at Seojin.

    As if reflecting his turbulent emotions, system messages cascaded in a flurry.

    “Could it be…”

    Do-beom, about to ask something again, suddenly shuddered as if he had an epiphany, and then, with a sense of urgency, grabbed the remote control from the bedside table.

    The power to the giant LED panel was immediately turned off. Only after the simulated flames, which had been raging from all directions, completely subsided did Do-beom lower his arm and look at Seojin with a stiff expression.

    “So, just now…”

    His face was filled with misunderstanding, as if he had finally discovered the reason Seojin had been claiming to have mental issues whenever cornered. Do-beom’s gaze flickered with pain.

    He seemed to be connecting Seojin’s startled reaction to the hologram flames with the tragic trauma that a child named Seo Yeon-woo, who had died in a fire, would have experienced if they were alive.

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

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

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

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

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

    [As a reward for achieving an affinity of 80 (Intimate), a Platinum Talent Card has been awarded.]

    Do-beom’s expression, which had been changing moment by moment, gradually settled as if he had reached a clear conclusion.

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

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

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

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

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

    [As a reward for achieving an affinity of 85 (Trust), a Diamond Talent Card has been awarded.]

    Do-beom, as if holding something back, clenched his teeth and released his grip on Seojin’s face. Then, with a tender gaze, he caressed Seojin’s cheek and whispered an apology in a barely audible voice.

    Seojin was inwardly taken aback by the complete change in demeanor of the other party, who seemed to have solved a scattered puzzle in an instant. He had only intended to lightly exploit Do-beom’s confusion.

    ‘The form of physical contact has changed as I hoped, but…’

    He hadn’t intended to firmly convince Do-beom that he and the child named Seo Yeon-woo were the same person. Do-beom’s hand, wiping the sweat from Seojin’s forehead, was surprisingly gentle.

    ‘This is going to have a big backlash later.’

    Feeling an inexplicable anxiety about Do-beom’s dramatic change, as if he had suddenly become a different person, Seojin pushed away the hand that was caressing his cheek and shook his head.

    “It seems there’s been a serious misunderstanding, but I swear I have never heard the name Seo Yeon-woo.”

    However, Do-beom reached out again, disregarding Seojin’s words. His expression, silently stroking Seojin’s head, was filled with indescribable emotions, a complex mix of relief and bitterness.

    “I was just…”

    “Let’s just rest for now.”

    Do-beom, with a voice so tender it sent shivers down the spine, whispered as he laid Seojin back down on the bed, cutting off Seojin’s attempt to further explain.

    “But…”

    “Shh.”

    He made a soothing sound, akin to pacifying a child throwing a tantrum, and then laid down beside Seojin at an angle, never taking his eyes off Seojin’s face, which looked back at him with a complex expression.

    “I’ll be here with you.”

    He also uttered words that seemed to be his own interpretation of the phenomenon where Seojin’s PTSD-like symptoms, due to the penalty, seemed to calm down when in close physical contact with him.

    Seojin, feeling the patting on his body as if Do-beom was about to sing a lullaby, contemplated how the other might react once it’s revealed that he is not Seo Yeon-woo.

    The shock might be as great as the betrayal of expectations, possibly leading to a frightening outburst. The likelihood of a dramatic shift in attitude, revealing an inner violence, was high, in stark contrast to the current demeanor.

    However, Seojin was already planning to look for a solution to the [Sensory Conversion] issue. For now, he was content to go along with Do-beom’s tempo.

    ‘I’ll need to find a way to use that backlash to my advantage.’

    With a resolve set in mind, Seojin gently closed his eyes, making it seem as though he had given up on his thoughts, succumbing to the inexplicable comfort of Do-beom’s touch.

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