“Ma’am, you are trying to cheer me up, aren’t you?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Eh? Cheer you up? I got irritated by looking at you moping around, so I’m simply telling you to pull your socks up, nothing more.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Urgh….” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon shook his head in resignation.
“Whatever the case may be, isn’t it time to focus on the present? In two days’ time, we’ll be heading to North Korea, so I don’t think now is the right time for you to worry about world peace and prosperity.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“You aren’t wrong there, ma’am.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
For sure, Seo Ah-Young was right in saying those things. He hadn’t even taken care of the affairs staring right back at him so it was wrong to pull his hair out over the matters of the distant future.
‘I know that. I really do, but…’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
But, the problem with him was that, although his head knew, his heart didn’t want to.
“You are so weird, you know that?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Urgh….” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon groaned when she glared at him with criticising eyes.
“You weren’t used to be like this.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Excuse me?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“When I met you the first time, you still had a lot of leeway even though work was trying to bury you under. And that’s why other people could place their trust in you and do their jobs. If you didn’t act as the core for everyone like that, none of us would’ve lasted this long, Mister Choi Jeong-Hoon.” (Seo Ah-Young)
‘When you say the first time you met me….’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
The first time they met each other was when their branch had only him and Seo Ah-Young in it and nobody else. Sure, they steadily hired more and more agents afterwards, but well, back then they were operating like a first-ever experimental branch and not some full-fledged head office.
So, the only person who could trust him and do her job back then was Seo Ah-Young.
“I see. Is that how it was?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Yes.” (Seo Ah-Young)
Seo Ah-Young began grumbling again, however.
“Compared to back then, now you’re…!!” (Seo Ah-Young)
“….Eh?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“You’re like a narrow-minded nitpicker.” (Seo Ah-Young)
Choi Jeong-Hoon’s expression crumpled.
Why did she have to go and say stuff like that?
“And also, you’ve gotten really old, too.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“H-hey, look here, ma’am!” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“And you’ve become unsightly, too.” (Seo Ah-Young)
He began to quiver in barely-checked rage.
Unfortunately for him, she completely disregarded stuff like his feelings and continued to speak of her honest impression of him.
“It feels like, meeting the cool guitar-playing oppa from the church again after a few years only for him to have morphed into a boomer. That’s why you need to put a lid on it. You gotta think about the sentiments of other people around you, you know.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Y-you could’ve put it in a nicer way, couldn’t you?! What do you mean, I’m a boomer?! I’m not that old!!” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“What else would you call someone acting like a boomer beside ‘boomer’?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Urgh…..” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon quivered even more grandly.
Yes, it was true that when a man grew older, people would start referring to him as an uncle. However, he was still at an age where he’d dearly love to avoid being called an uncle, especially by the opposite sex.
“I’ll reflect on it, ma’am.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Please do. And do it properly.” (Seo Ah-Young)
Choi Jeong-Hoon ended up chuckling just then.
‘I’m the sucker.’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
He always thought that it was his role to care for and cheer up the NDF affiliated agents. However, he never thought Seo Ah-Young would end up caring for him, instead.
“It’s as you said, I guess. No matter what, we gotta take care of the upcoming affairs first, ma’am. It’s not a simple problem in the first place, either.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Hmm….” (Seo Ah-Young)
Seo Ah-Young stared at Choi Jeong-Hoon with a dissatisfied expression.
“What’s wrong?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Nothing. Nothing at all.” (Seo Ah-Young)
What an idiot he was.
What could she expect from a guy like him, honestly?
“Anyways. Are we done with the preparations?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“I wanted to say that the preparations seem to be endless, but…” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“But?” (Seo Ah-Young)
Choi Jeong-Hoon scratched the back of his head.
“In all honesty, it’s not endless but I just don’t know where to even start. We might be pros when it comes to all things Gate-related, but we’re no different from laymen in matters like this, wouldn’t you agree?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Well yeah, that’s true.” (Seo Ah-Young)
Just when did they have an opportunity to fight other humans? Never, that’s what.
“….And to make matters worse, the incident itself is just too strange.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Strange?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Yes.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon slowly nodded his head.
If things unfolded in the way he predicted, then this affair would go down in history as the very first ‘ability user warfare’ where various users attacked other users with the aim of ending each other’s lives.
Sure, ability users had been mobilised in the theatres of war before. But those could be seen as nations breaking the unspoken rule of never deploying ability users in the battlefronts and taking their opponents by surprise. This particular mission, though, was being planned around the fact of ability users’ participation from the get-go.
“I hope they’ll perform well.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
In times like this, not being an ability user himself really irritated him. Hiding somewhere safe and cheering on the others wasn’t something a man should be doing.
If he was an ability user himself, then at least he’d be alongside them during the battles.
“I think I know what you’re grumbling about inside. Don’t forget that people have their own different roles to play.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“I know, ma’am.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“And besides all that, Mister Choi Jeong-Hoon. You’ve been doing your job better than anyone, anyway.” (Seo Ah-Young)
An unexpected flattery caused his cheeks to blush a little.
“Flattery will get you nowhere, ma’am.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“That wasn’t my aim. I really do think that way. Without you, the NDF wouldn’t have become what it is today. No, it wouldn’t even have existed in the first place. That’s why I’m always grateful.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“I’m telling you, you will get nothing this way. What is it that you’re trying to get your hands on, anyway?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon tried to use a light-hearted joke to let this slide, but Seo Ah-Young was sneakily biting her lower lip.
“You said that the world will be destroyed, right?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Pardon?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“How long do you think we have left?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“According to my calculation, it can’t be more than one year. But I’m not 100% sure about it. There are simply too many variables to count, after all.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
‘And the biggest variable is right beside us, too.’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
No one knew what Yi Ji-Hyuk would do if the push came to shove. They might have gone through lots of incidents together by now, but still, Choi Jeong-Hoon hadn’t figured out the depth of Yi Ji-Hyuk’s abilities yet.
To make matters worse, his ability was completely unique in this world, as well. A variable capable of using Gates and monsters was a weapon that no other ability user possessed.
“Okay, so we have around one year left, is that what you’re saying?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“….Isn’t it our job to ensure that doesn’t happen?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“What if we can’t?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Well, in that case…” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon’s voice trailed off.
“….Everything will be over, then.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Seo Ah-Young stared straight at Choi Jeong-Hoon, before shifting her gaze outside the car’s window.
“That means you’ll die without getting married to someone.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Ah….” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon imagined a depressing future and wiped away at his eyes.
“I-I’ll be alright. I’m a firm believer in celibacy, after all.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“A forced believer, isn’t it?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“N-no, I’m not.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
I’m still pretty d*m popular on the outside, I’ll have you know.
It’s just that I can’t find time to go outside in the first place! (Choi Jeong-Hoon’s inner monologue)
“Now that I think about it, you are a born-again solo player, aren’t you? Mister Choi Jeong-Hoon?” (Seo Ah-Young)
More tears welled up around Choi Jeong-Hoon’s eyes.
To think that he’d die without even holding a woman’s hands. He would definitely like to avoid such a future if he could.
“W-we need to stop that from happening no matter what.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Seo Ah-Young smirked in his direction.
“You said you were a believer in celibacy, but I guess you do want to get married.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Of course I’m still a believer, but… It’s just too unfair to die without even going out on a date with someone.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Going out with someone? You can just do that, can’t you?” (Seo Ah-Young)
Choi Jeong-Hoon got somewhat ticked off just then.
“You can’t go on a date with yourself, you know. You need someone who’s willing to go out with you first. And even if I try to date someone, just who in their right mind would want to go out with a man who only comes home two, three times a week just to sleep and go right back to work? I might as well stay single and save others from the inevitable pain and suffering.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“You don’t have to worry about that.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Eh? Why not?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“I can do that for you.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“…….Ehh?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Right in that instance, Seo Ah-Young slotted in the reverse gear and stomped hard on the accelerator.
“Uwaaaahk?!” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
I know you’re a fancy sports car and all, but why do your reverse also have to be so d*mn sporty?! (Choi Jeong-Hoon’s inner monologue)
The car powerfully reversed without any warning and caused his body to bend forward in half.
“P-please be gentle with your driving.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Don’t worry. I’ve never got into an accident before, so it’ll be fine. I’ll take you home safe and sound, I promise.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“N-no, hang on a second!! It looks like you just cut in front of that car, didn’t you?!” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon cried out loudly enough for flames to spit out from his mouth. However, Seo Ah-Young kept depressing the accelerator as if she couldn’t hear him and rolled down the windows.
Powerful gusts of wind rushed inside the cabin.
“B-by the way, what did you say earlier?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Pardon?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“You said something to me earlier, didn’t you?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“I didn’t say anything?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“No, hang on a minute here. I definitely heard you say something.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“What did you hear, then?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Wowsers, will you just listen to her?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon looked at her with a flabbergasted face and shouted out.
“I said, I did hear you saying something to me earlier.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“And I’m asking you what exactly you heard.” (Seo Ah-Young)
Choi Jeong-Hoon’s mouth clamped shut just then.
He was suddenly overcome with this fear of being on the receiving end of an unknown reprisal if he opened his mouth carelessly first. And if the false accusation of him trying his luck with her got out, then he wouldn’t even be able to save his skin, either.
“I-it’s nothing, ma’am.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Nitpicker.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“What did you say?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“It’s nothing, mister nitpicker.” (Seo Ah-Young)
Seo Ah-Young stomped on the accelerator once more.
“Uwaaah?!” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
What kind of a car kept going faster and faster just because you commanded it to?!
Choi Jeong-Hoon held on to the seat belt for dear life and cried out.
“You’re speeding!! Cops will show up!” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“There aren’t any cops around at this hour, you know.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Even if they are not, you should still not break the speed limit!!” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Hah….” (Seo Ah-Young)
Seo Ah-Young ended up shaking her head.
Why did I, with a guy like him….
By the time they arrived at his house, Choi Jeong-Hoon’s complexion was as blue as one could humanly get.
‘If I knew this was going to happen, I should’ve just stayed in the office….’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Trying to calm his pounding heart would probably require the whole night, meaning he should kiss his sleep goodbye now.
“T-thank you.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Still, he should express his gratitude.
“What time are you planning to go to work?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Eh? Why are you asking me that?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“….I told you, I’ll come get you in the morning.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“N-no, it’s fine!!” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon resolutely shook his head.
“When I think about it, I just can’t bear to inconvenience you any further like this. I’ll grab a taxi tomorrow morning, so please don’t concern yourself with my situation.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“We’ll be going the same way anyway, so it’s fine.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“N-no, I’ll take care of it, so please don’t worry about it. I’m an adult, so surely I can commute on my own no problem, wouldn’t you say so?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Mister Choi Jeong-Hoon.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Yes?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“What time?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“….Around seven.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Okay, then. I’ll come around seven to pick you up. Don’t be late and wait for me.” (Seo Ah-Young)
Choi Jeong-Hoon smiled.
Awkwardly, and rather sorrowfully, too.
“Oh, and also….” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Yes?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
She quietly stared at him for a bit.
That stare made the atmosphere just a bit too unbearable, so he ended up coughing a couple of times in a row.
“A man should….” (Seo Ah-Young)
“….Excuse me?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“….That’s why you don’t have it.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Excuse me, ma’am. Isn’t it about time that I get to figure out what you’re trying to tell me?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Seo Ah-Young spat out a helpless sigh, and waved her hand dismissively.
“It’s nothing. See you tomorrow morning.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Be careful on your way home.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“And next time, man up some more, please.” (Seo Ah-Young)
Her car then accelerated away twice as fast as when he was still riding in it.
Choi Jeong-Hoon could only chuckle hollowly, and stuck another cigarette between his lips.
“This is why I’ll die way before my time.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
It felt like his life expectancy was decreasing at the rate of knots. A situation like this was probably the hardest for him to deal with in this entire world.
Choi Jeong-Hoon shook his head and turned around to enter his home.
Suddenly, he began recalling Yi Ji-Hyuk’s face.
He couldn’t even deal with one woman and was going through so much hardship here, yet that guy was practically surrounded by females 24 hours a day. How did he even cope?
And the personalities of every one of those ladies were… more particular than Seo Ah-Young’s, weren’t they?
“What is Mister Yi Ji-Hyuk doing now, I wonder?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon suddenly missed Yi Ji-Hyuk for some reason just then.
“J-Jeo-Jeong, Jeong Hae-Min???” (Choi Chang-Hyuk)
Choi Chang-Hyuk’s jaw dropped all the way to the floor.
It was real.
The small and cute woman right before his eyes was the very same person from the TV screens.
He blinked his eyes several times and even wondered if his vision was tricking him, but there was no questioning it. The one and only Jeong Hae-Min was really waving her hand right before him.
“Hello, everyone.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“A-ah, yes!! Hello! How are you!!!” (Choi Chang-Hyuk)
Choi Chang-Hyuk jumped up from his chair in a hurry and bowed 90 degrees forward.
“It-it’s my absolute honour to meet you like this.” (Choi Chang-Hyuk)
“It’s nice to meet you too.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
A wide smile spread on Jeong Hae-Min’s face as she offered her hand towards Choi Chang-Hyuk.
He swallowed nervously as he stared at that hand.
I-is it really okay?
C-can I really shake that hand? (Choi Chang-Hyuk’s inner monologue)
To think that he’d one day get to shake hands with Jeong Hae-Min of all people.
Choi Chang-Hyuk shuddered grandly and reached out in a hurry, but too bad – Jeong Hae-Min’s hand shifted directions by then and now was extending towards Choi Seon-Mi, instead.
Seon-Mi looked a bit unhappy, but nevertheless, shook the offered hand of the diminutive idol.
He might have lost his timing and couldn’t shake the offered hand, but regardless of what, Choi Chang-Hyuk still felt happy at the fact that he got to see Jeong Hae-Min from up close like this.
However, if happiness existed, then misery was soon to follow, as well.
“Why don’t you just drop the act, eh?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
And Yi Ji-Hyuk was the very symbol of misery.
< 367. Is that a problem? -2 > Fin.
(TL: For what it’s worth, my thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by the c**********. My parents fall under the so-called “danger zone” for the c******* as well, and although relatively calm, I’m still very much worried. I can only hope that scientists come up with vaccine or cure as soon as possible.)