ead 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…

“Oh, hey.
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.

“…Hey, Jin-Ho.


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.


“Haaaah, man.
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.”

“Yeah, yeah.
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.
“That's blue.”

“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.”

“…Makes sense.
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.
“Hey, man.”



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?”

“…I did.”

“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.
Someone who'd…
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.
“Okay, so…
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.

still difficult.'

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.

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