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    Cairo knew that to make this embrace fully his own, to completely possess Yujin, he needed to become even stronger than he was now.

    “Alright, let’s head back.”

    Although the sun had set long ago, they still needed to return before it got colder.

    ‘My body’s still in rough shape…’

    Yujin had been trying his best to suppress his coughs, worried that Cairo might feel guilty, but the chills coursing through his body were growing more intense. He had an ominous premonition that he was coming down with a nasty cold.

    ‘At least I brought some medicine, just in case. Never thought I’d be the one taking it, though.’

    Yujin swallowed a wry laugh as he thought about the medication he had packed in case Cairo got sick or injured, never imagining that he would end up using it first.

    “Careful not to trip.”

    “Okay.”

    The darkness was so thick that Yujin could barely see a foot in front of him. Tightly gripping Cairo’s hand, he took cautious steps forward.

    Of course, Yujin was the only one struggling with night vision. Thanks to Cairo’s exceptional eyesight, even if he couldn’t see as well as in daylight, he could still make out protruding tree roots and dips in the ground.

    However, he pretended to be just as blind, holding Yujin’s hand tightly and moving at a slow, deliberate pace.

    “Whew… We finally made it back.”

    Unbeknownst to Yujin, Cairo had subtly guided him along the path leading to their tent, avoiding unnecessary detours. Cairo clicked his tongue in disappointment. He would have liked to wander aimlessly all night, hand in hand with Yujin, but the heat emanating from Yujin’s palm was worrisome.

    “Yujin, lie down for now.”

    Even now, rather than being out of breath from walking, Yujin was gasping for air due to his rising fever.

    “Huh? Oh, yeah. I should lie down. Ah, I’m sweating so much…”

    As if the relief of safely reaching the tent had caused his condition to suddenly worsen, Yujin’s responses became sluggish, his body succumbing to exhaustion. Cairo took the lead, guiding him.

    Although he had only ever been on the receiving end of care and had never tended to anyone before, Cairo fumbled through the motions, helping Yujin into the tent and rummaging through the bag for the medicine, just as Yujin had mentioned.

    “Take this quickly.”

    When Cairo handed him the medicine along with a bottle of water, Yujin seemed too drained to respond, merely nodding his head and swallowing the pills.

    ‘He hasn’t eaten, but there’s no helping it.’

    “No, wait. Cairo, aren’t you hungry?”

    Even if he could endure an empty stomach, Yujin couldn’t let Cairo go hungry when he hadn’t eaten anything since noon. No matter how boundless a teenage boy’s energy might seem, wandering the mountains without food was sure to leave him famished.

    Just as Yujin was about to lie down after taking the medicine, he sprang up as if bouncing back, urgently trying to sit up.

    “Don’t get up.”

    But a hand stopped him, preventing his attempt. Yujin was surprised to find himself effortlessly pushed back down, blinking in disbelief at how easily he had been overpowered despite Cairo not even using much force.

    “No, but you need to eat something.”

    “It’s fine. I won’t die from skipping a day of meals.”

    As Cairo gently pushed Yujin back down, grumbling that he wasn’t that weak, Yujin’s body yielded limply to the touch.

    ‘Am I really this sick…?’

    Confused as to whether Cairo was exceptionally strong or he was simply that ill, Yujin tried to get up several more times, only to be thwarted by Cairo each attempt, eventually giving up.

    ‘At this rate, I’ll pass out from dizziness first.’

    His body already felt drained and listless, and with his vision spinning and head swaying back and forth, Yujin couldn’t muster the strength to sit up anymore, if only to avoid the vertigo.

    “…Fine. I won’t get up, so at least grab a snack from the bag and eat. If you just go hungry, it’s not…”

    Halfway through his sentence, Yujin drifted off into a deep slumber, as if the medication had taken effect, his breathing growing steady. Cairo sat up.

    He removed Yujin’s shoes, which he hadn’t had a chance to take off in his haste to make Yujin lie down, and pulled over his own blanket, cocooning Yujin in a thick layer. Only then did Cairo feel satisfied, fishing out a chocolate bar from the bag.

    ‘Yujin said not to go hungry.’

    Although his body could withstand three days without food and he wasn’t particularly hungry, Cairo obediently ate the chocolate bar since Yujin had asked him to.

    “…He won’t die, right?”

    The sound of Yujin’s breathing reassured him, but Cairo was still startled by how a mere hike up the mountain could cause such a high fever. So he remained by Yujin’s side, unable to stray, continually monitoring his breathing.

    If there was even the slightest hint of Yujin’s breath faltering, Cairo was prepared to use his ability to take Yujin to a hospital, despite Yujin’s warning against it.

    Fortunately, as the night deepened and the first light of dawn approached, Yujin’s breathing remained steady.

    “Phew.”

    Cairo had been so focused on watching over Yujin that he had nearly forgotten to breathe himself. Noticing the significant drop in Yujin’s fever and the visible improvement in his condition, Cairo let out a sigh of relief.

    He reached out to brush aside the sweat-soaked strands of hair from Yujin’s forehead, but at that moment―

    “…!”

    Cairo was startled to see his fingertips gradually turning transparent.

    ‘What about Yujin?’

    Cairo hastily unwrapped the tightly bundled blanket. However, Yujin’s body was unaffected. He double-checked from fingertips to toes, but Cairo alone was the one fading away.

    “No, this can’t…”

    Yujin! Cairo tried to wake Yujin. But even though he thought he was shouting, his voice seemed muffled, as if blocked by something.

    Yujin, too, appeared to hear nothing, remaining in a deep slumber. Cairo couldn’t bear the thought of returning like this. He couldn’t go back to a world without Yujin.

    “Yujin, Yujin!”

    Finally, his voice broke through. As if touched by the desperation in his tone, Yujin’s eyes fluttered open.

    “What’s…”

    Having fallen into such a deep, dreamless sleep, Yujin was roused by a heart-wrenching sense of emptiness. Upon waking, he was shocked to see Cairo gradually fading away, his eyes widening in alarm.

    “Cairo!”

    Ignoring the dizziness that assailed him, Yujin bolted upright, trying to grab hold of Cairo, but their hands passed through each other, failing to make contact.

    “…!”

    He’s going back. The realization struck Yujin instinctively. In these final, dwindling moments, he bit his lip hard and spoke.

    “Cairo, make sure to eat well even after you return. If there’s some rotten person trying to force you to use your power, scare them off, make them fear you. Ah, but using your ability will make you sick…”

    Perhaps it was the urgency he felt, but his words came out jumbled and disorganized, his heart racing. However, seeing Cairo’s lower body completely transparent and even his upper body beginning to vanish, Yujin’s desperation only grew.

    What should he say? What parting words should he choose? There was no time to ponder. In the end, what tumbled out was the raw, unrefined truth of his feelings.

    “Don’t get sick. Don’t fall ill and stay healthy.”

    “Yujin… I don’t want to go. I want to stay with you.”

    “It’s okay. You’ll be alright. Everything will be fine.”

    As Cairo’s body turned increasingly transparent, his voice grew fainter. Yujin worried that his own words might not be heard either, but he maintained a smiling face until the very end.

    If his words couldn’t be heard, he would convey them through sight. Don’t get sick. Stay healthy. Yujin mouthed the words once more, unable to conceal the emptiness he felt at the void left by Cairo’s complete disappearance.

    “…He’s gone.”

    Even though Cairo’s arrival had been sudden, Yujin never expected his departure to be just as abrupt. The tent, which seemed to have expanded vastly in the young boy’s absence, felt unfamiliar to Yujin.

    “If I had known this would happen, I should have gone on this trip sooner.”

    He tried to keep his voice bright, but the fact that he had sent Cairo away without creating any proper memories together was likely to weigh on his heart for a long time to come.

    ***

    “Yujin?”

    “Huh? Oh, what is it?”

    “Nothing. You just seemed a bit out of it for a moment.”

    Lips brushed against his cheek, accompanied by a question of whether he was feeling very tired. Yujin, about to praise Cairo for his concern, froze in place at the sudden soft sensation against his skin.

    “Wait, what? Why, why did you kiss…”

    His bewilderment was understandable. No matter how young that little rascal had been back then, he had now grown into a tall, dark-skinned adult man, with only a few years’ age difference between them… and he had just been kissed by another adult man.

    “Am I not allowed to? Now that I’m… Do you dislike it?”

    But no matter how much he had grown, Cairo was still Cairo. Yujin couldn’t bear to see him drooping his shoulders and looking crestfallen.

    “No, no. I was just a bit surprised, that’s all.”

    “Then can I do it more?”

    “Is that really necessary…?”

    It wasn’t that he disliked it, but Yujin couldn’t understand why there was a need for more kisses. However, Cairo was persistent. Not only was Yujin, whom he had only seen in dreams, now by his side, but he also wanted to touch him as much as possible before those two nuisances barged in.

    “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other. I never forgot about you for a single day, Yujin. Didn’t you miss me?”

    “Of course I missed you too.”

    It was just that after Cairo disappeared like that and Yujin later discovered he was a novel protagonist, he thought they would never meet again.

    “Then let’s do it.”

    ‘But what does missing each other have to do with kissing…?’

    Yujin still found it puzzling, but refusing here would be tantamount to denying that he had missed Cairo, so he had no choice but to obediently offer his cheek.

    “Ah, but I’m dirty.”

    “You’re not dirty.”

    “No, I mean I couldn’t wash up.”

    “It’s fine.”

    Why was Cairo so fixated on his cheek when he hadn’t even been able to clean himself properly? Yujin eventually gave up trying to break free from the embrace, resigning himself to the situation.

    ‘Do as you please…’

    As soon as Yujin stopped resisting, Cairo tightened his hold, enveloping Yujin’s entire body as if binding him, and peppered kisses all over his cheeks and neck.

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