“...Dammit,” Noh Yeong-Deok quietly swore while staring at his own house, his expression wasn’t very good.
Although he had some fun and managed to blow off some steam last night, looking at that house reminded him of his son's wretched state.
Noh Yeong-Deok parked the car and angrily slammed the car door shut.
Instead of heading straight inside, Noh Yeong-Deok remained in the garage and lit up a cigarette.
While sucking in the unhealthy smoke, he scanned his house again, a hint of helplessness creeping into his expression.
Regardless of what happened or how he felt, this matter still involved his one and only son.
Seeing the boy come home in that state did make Noh Yeong-Deok's heart ache.
“...How should I handle this”
Noh Yeong-Deok's current dilemma was deciding whether to turn that damn artillery company on its head or wait a little longer for better timing.
Depending on how he used it, his son coming back home from the military service mentally ill could become a powerful political weapon.
Scions of rich families dodging the draft happened frequently in Korea, so to have the only son of the serving member of the National Assembly meet with misfortune during his enlistment...
Maybe, this event could become the decisive turning point in earning the public's sympathy and trust.
'I shouldn't handle this quietly, at least.'
If Noh Yeong-Deok were thinking of going for it, he would have to make it flashy—noisy.
The media shouldn't be able to take a critical stance on his action this time.
Which could give Noh Yeong-Deok the necessary opening to bring the focus of the public to himself.
All he had to do was argue for a wholesale change to South Korea's military.
“I'm sure that's gonna make those geezers froth at their mouths...”
Imagining the faces of the military higher-ups losing their crap over this matter gave Noh Yeong-Deok a serious migraine.
However, suppressing their opposition should be possible if he managed to have a fruitful discussion with his party.
Having decided on his next course of action, Noh Yeong-Deok tossed the cigarette away and stubbed it before heading inside the house.
He thought it wouldn't be too late to make a move after observing his son's state for a little longer.
Unfortunately for his plans, though...
Noh Yeong-Deok was greeted by unexpected news as soon as he stepped through the front door.
“What did you say!”
The secretary remained silent.
His stiff and pale expression hinted at the wretchedness of the current situation.
Noh Yeong-Deok roared, “W-what the hell did you say just now!”
“Sir, during the night...”
“Get out of my way!” Noh Yeong-Deok shoved the secretary aside and rushed toward his son's room.
He roughly pushed the door open and entered, only to be greeted by the sight of Noh Su-Bong's dazed and unmoving figure.
“Su-Bong! My boy!”
Noh Su-Bong didn't respond, even though he had to have heard his father's voice.
“H-hey! My son! Can you hear me!” Noh Yeong-Deok hurriedly held his son's face and looked closer.
Noh Su-Bong's irises were glassy while his mouth was slack.
Drool trickled from the corner of his chin.
“Su-Bong! Su-Bong! Can't you hear me, son! Su-Bong!” Noh Yeong-Deok shook his son around and even slapped the boy in the face.
However, Noh Su-Bong didn't respond at all.
It seemed as if his soul was no longer in his body.
Noh Yeong-Deok turned his head and roared at the secretary, “Did I not tell you to keep an eye on him!”
“...Sir, no one has entered this room during the night.”
“Yet, you're telling me my son is in this state!”
Before anyone could answer, Noh Yeong-Deok began to throw and shove everything he could touch.
“Call the doctor, now! Now, damn it! You useless sons of b*tches!”
The engine in Jo Gyu-Min's car let out a low rumble as it traveled on a lonely stretch of the road.
Jo Gyu-Min glanced at the back seat through the interior mirror.
Kang Jin-Ho was sitting in the back, his eyes closed.
He probably wasn't asleep.
Well, Jo Gyu-Min couldn't recall seeing Kang Jin-Ho sleep in a car before, so this time should be no different.
Besides, didn't Kang Jin-Ho usually close his eyes and stay quiet if he had a lot of things on his mind
Jo Gyu-Min cautiously spoke up, “I've filed this trip as you meeting up with the chairman, Mister Jin-Ho.”
Kang Jin-Ho slowly opened his eyes.
Jo Gyu-Min continued, “However, Chairman Hwang was wondering about what will happen to this month's house call in that case.”
Kang Jin-Ho replied nonchalantly, “Please tell him he will be fine until the next appointment.”
“...Will that really be fine”
“You don’t believe me”
That was a slip of my tongue.” Jo Gyu-Min quickly apologized before clamping his mouth shut.
Kang Jin-Ho wouldn't have responded like that in the past.
Actually, he would try to be helpful by explaining things.
He could be rather unfriendly and curt at times, but he wouldn’t outright refuse to talk if someone engaged him for a chat.
Jo Gyu-Min had been watching Kang Jin-Ho for a long time, so he could see that there had been some kind of a shift in the latter's mentality.
Kang Jin-Ho was gradually revealing the 'power' he possessed little by little.
His behavior was also changing to match this shift.
'What will happen in the end, then'
Jo Gyu-Min suddenly sensed a chill creep down his spine.
He had already witnessed Kang Jin-Ho revealing his hidden power once before, and that left quite a powerful shock, didn't it
'Will he go back to being that person'
No one could tell for sure.
However, Jo Gyu-Min could still see that Kang Jin-Ho's current 'politeness' contained a trace of unnaturalness.
Even a casual observation was enough to notice that now.
It was as if Kang Jin-Ho was a powerful beast that had willingly locked itself inside a prison and bolted the door shut.
However, it wasn’t to protect itself but to protect those outside the prison.
But now, that bolted door was slowly being pried open.
A shiver ran down Jo Gyu-Min's spine as this vague fear crept into his mind.
However, he was having some difficulty figuring out what exactly he was feeling right now.
Where has he been, I wonder'
Of course, Jo Gyu-Min knew not to ask.
He began as 'secretary,’ after all; his duty was to assist Kang Jin-Ho, not monitor every one of the young man's actions.
Still, he could make some educated guesses.
When Kang Jin-Ho was walking up to the car, he...
Jo Gyu-Min was unfortunate enough to spy this bone-chilling murderous intent within Kang Jin-Ho's expression that hadn't dissipated just yet.
No one knew what he had been doing during the night, but Kang Jin-Ho was making such a face, so it could only be...
Jo Gyu-Min quickly shook his head.
He told himself not to think too much about it.
It was a... bad habit to judge the person he should be serving.
Jo Gyu-Min should simply accept his 'boss' as who they were.
Even if that was easier said than done.
Jo Gyu-Min was rescued from his thoughts by his phone's brief buzzing.
“Hmm” He confirmed the content of the text message and smiled a little.
“It seems your return to the base will have to be delayed somewhat.”
“I don't follow” Kang Jin-Ho tilted his head slightly and stared at Jo Gyu-Min in the driver's seat.
Jo Gyu-Min glanced at the interior mirror and chuckled.
“Mister Ju Yeong-Gi has regained consciousness, you see.”
Jo Gyu-Min's car came to a stop outside the hospital.
Kang Jin-Ho quickly opened the door and stepped on the pavement.
Unlike his usual self, his expression was somewhat expectant—excited, even.
After closing the car door shut, he hurriedly headed to the elevator.
His nervousness was clearly written on his face as he waited for the lift to arrive.
In the end, though, he ran out of patience and rushed to the nearest staircase instead.
The rarely-used stairwell soon echoed Kang Jin-Ho's urgent footsteps.
He only needed the proverbial blink of an eye to run up fifteen floors and reach Ju Yeong-Gi's ward.
And when he threw open the door to Ju Yeong-Gi's room...
You're here” Ju Yeong-Gi, half-leaning on the raised hospital bed, waved at Kang Jin-Ho.
“...!” Kang Jin-Ho wordlessly stared at Ju Yeong-Gi.
The latter's face was still gaunt and pale, but his eyes were open and staring back at Kang Jin-Ho.
Without a doubt, Ju Yeong-Gi was wide awake—he was fully conscious.
“Can you come closer for a bit I still can't see well, you know” Ju Yeong-Gi beckoned with his hand.
“Sure.” Kang Jin-Ho nodded and walked up to the bed.
Ju Yeong-Gi raised his head and scanned Kang Jin-Ho's face before grinning a little.
What was he supposed to say here Kang Jin-Ho felt a bit lost and remained silent while staring back.
Ju Yeong-Gi's expression suddenly took on a mischievous streak.
“I have a favor to ask.”
A smirk formed on Ju Yeong-Gi's face.
I finally feel alive.” Ju Yeong-Gi sitting in a wheelchair stretched his limbs grandly.
“I don't think this is a good idea, Yeong-Gi.
If someone catches us…” Kang Jin-Ho helplessly muttered.
“Come on, gimme a break.
I was dying of stuffiness in there, you know”
“Hmm…” Kang Jin-Ho groaned and glanced at Ju Yeong-Gi.
It didn't seem like the wisest thing to take a patient outside when the patient had just regained consciousness.
However, Ju Yeong-Gi said he had already gone through a round of examinations, so...
'...No, it still isn't a good idea.'
Kang Jin-Ho groaned again.
Whether Ju Yeong-Gi had been examined thoroughly or not didn't matter as he had been comatose for almost a month.
Being outside like this for 'fresh air' couldn't have been a good idea for someone like that.
“Yeong-Gi, let's hurry up and go back inside.”
I got it.
So, hand it over already, will ya”
“...Hmm.” Kang Jin-Ho made an unreadable expression before taking out a cigarette and handing it over to Ju Yeong-Gi.
“Keuh~” Ju Yeong-Gi made a face of a man who had everything he could ask for, then hurriedly mouthed the offered cigarette.
After Kang Jin-Ho lit the cigarette up, Ju Yeong-Gi sucked in the unhealthy smoke and sighed contentedly.
He then stared at the sky above with contemplative eyes.
“Yeah, it is.”
“The sky can actually be so blue, eh” Ju Yeong-Gi muttered, his eyes becoming a little more sentimental than before.
Kang Jin-Ho wordlessly observed him for a bit before saying, “How are you feeling Is your body okay”
“I have no strength.
Like, none at all.”
You've been bedridden for a month, after all.
Your muscles should have atrophied by now.”
“Man, to think my body would end up in this state...
How much do I need to eat to go back to my old self” Ju Yeong-Gi chuckled and took another deep drag of the cigarette.
But then, he hurriedly held his head.
“Urgh, I'm even getting dizzy from this”
Kang Jin-Ho cocked an eyebrow.
“In that case, how about quitting”
“Easier said than done, you dumbass.” Ju Yeong-Gi cackled before looking back at Kang Jin-Ho.
Kang Jin-Ho narrowed his eyes, but he didn't reply.
What was he being thanked for The news regarding Kim Hak-Cheol and Noh Su-Bong shouldn't have reached Ju Yeong-Gi yet, so what could he be so thankful about
“You brought me to this hospital, didn't you”
“You know, I couldn't help but think that...
I can search this world high and low, but only you can take care of me like this.” Ju Yeong-Gi smiled weakly.
“You know what I swear to you I'm gonna repay this favor one day.”
Kang Jin-Ho flatly replied, “No need.”
“No, hang on.
I'm serious, you know Don't you know Ju Yeong-Gi is a man of his word I'm gonna repay you.”
“No, I don't need it.
Instead…” Kang Jin-Ho's voice got a little louder.
“Don't ever do this again, okay”
Ju Yeong-Gi clamped his mouth shut, then quietly sucked on the cigarette while staring at the distant sky.
His vaguely languid figure imprinted itself painfully in Kang Jin-Ho's memories.
Ju Yeong-Gi remained silent as he stewed in his thoughts for a while.
Eventually, he slowly broke his silence.
“You know, while I was doing that...”
“You know what I was thinking about”
Kang Jin-Ho shook his head.
“Of course not.”
Ju Yeong-Gi stubbed the cigarette on a nearby ashtray.
He playfully dusted his hands, then spoke again in a slightly-exhausted voice.
“While I was fading back there, I...
When I realized, Oh, wow, so I'm gonna die like this...” His voice became emotional, a little shaky.
“...I began thinking that if only I had told just one person how difficult it was for me.
Just one person—things wouldn't have ended this way.
That's what I thought.”
Kang Jin-Ho was suddenly left speechless.
Wasn't he the one who failed to reach out first Shouldn't he have reached out to Ju Yeong-Gi first before this idiot made such a drastic choice Just like what Sister Yi had told him before.
Wasn't that the case
“But then, you know what I thought after waking up” Ju Yeong-Gi chuckled weakly.
Kang Jin-Ho still didn't say anything, although he was getting more puzzled now.
“...Ah, so there was someone.” Ju Yeong-Gi's emotional voice echoed quietly in the hospital's garden.
“There is someone.
take my hand if I reach out and ask for help.”
Kang Jin-Ho gritted his teeth and clenched his fists.
“...I'm so stupid.
I should've reached out first, and everything would've worked out just fine.” Ju Yeong-Gi smiled sheepishly as if he was embarrassed.
I promise I won't do anything dumb again, so you can stop worrying now, Jin-Ho.”
Kang Jin-Ho wordlessly stared at the distant heavens.
He had never reached out, but Ju Yeong-Gi still said there was someone to hold his offered hand—to lend him a helping hand.
The question now was...
Just from where did Ju Yeong-Gi draw such a conclusion Kang Jin-Ho couldn't tell since he felt like he hadn't done anything of note.
It seemed that being a person capable of reaching out first was a lot harder than anything Kang Jin-Ho had experienced so far.
Jin-Ho, my wish is for you to become a different person.
A person who can also accept other people's frailty.
Kang Jin-Ho closed his eyes.
‘I'm still not…’
‘I'm still not sure how to do this, Sister Yi.’
For some reason, the biting chill of the wintry weather felt a little warmer than usual today.