I Alone Level-Up
Side Story 21
The last side story: Twelve years later (Fin)
Later that evening.
Jin-Woo headed to the local diner that he frequented with Yu Jin-Ho when they were much younger. Still did, as a matter of fact.
– “Hyung-nim! I have something important I must discuss with you.”
He felt the hints of determination, different from the kid’s usual self, emanating from Yu Jin-Ho’s voice on the phone. When Jin-Woo stepped into the diner, Yu Jin-Ho sitting anxiously by the table, easily visible from the entrance, quickly raised his hand up high.
After graduating from the university, Yu Jin-Ho continued to train in the art of running a business empire under Chairman Yu Myung-Hwan, which transformed his body and spirit into a proper man now.
However, he still came across as a little kid brother to Jin-Woo, even now.
He greeted back with a chuckle and settled on the other side of Yu Jin-Ho. His gaze then scanned the soju shot glass in Yu Jin-Ho’s hand, as well as the half-empty soju bottle for a brief moment.
‘This guy, he knows he can’t handle alcohol, so why….’
It was unknown just what he was psyching himself up for like this, but without a doubt, Yu Jin-Ho needed a massive boost to his courage to do it, it seemed.
So, Jin-Woo asked.
“What’s going on with you? You didn’t even tell me anything yet.”
Yu Jin-Ho greatly hesitated with his reply, before pulling out a small box from his inner pocket and opened it up. A rather expensive-looking ring was stored in there.
“This time, I’m gonna propose to Miss Jin-Ah for sure!”
‘That’s what this was all about.’
Jin-Woo was guessing that the kid got scolded by his little sister or some such and wanted to complain to someone trustworthy, but now that he knew the score, a smile automatically floated up on his face.
Yu Jin-Ho completely misinterpreted that smile, though, and a fierce glare of determination lit up within his eyes.
“Hyung-nim! I’m really serious this time! I’ll confess to her tonight! B-but, the thing is…. You think she’s going to like this ring?”
When Jin-Woo thought about how Jin-Ah always complained at home, wondering aloud just when the blockhead that was her boyfriend would come around to confess his feelings for her, he could picture her jumping up and down in happiness already, but well….
Jin-Woo deliberately left his words vague so the after-confession swelling of emotions could be even tastier for the couple.
“I wonder… I’m not very good with this sort of things, so….”
As if he felt tormented, Yu Jin-Ho dropped his head lower in agony before raising it back up again.
“I-it’s still fine, hyung-nim. Actually, I don’t know what she’d like to have anyway, so I prepared lots of presents in advance.”
And then, he began pulling out a large paper envelope out of the blue. What that contained was a blueprint of a building.
“Actually, there’s this new building about to be constructed in our company’s premises, so as soon as Miss Jin-Ah is done with her medical degree, we could build a hospit….”
Jin-Woo felt as if he had seen this blueprint lots of times from somewhere and quickly cut Yu Jin-Ho’s word off.
“By any chance, this building…. The estimated pricing is around 30 billion Won, isn’t it?” (TL: Around $25 million USD)
Yu Jin-Ho was taken by surprise and his eyes opened up wider.
“What the…. Hyung-nim, how can you know that….?”
Well, it was obvious how – because it was the exact same thing.
…The same as the blueprint of the building offered as the compensation for making Yu Jin-Ho the new Guild Master back in the erased timeline, that was.
Jin-Woo worked hard to keep his laughter in check. Yu Jin-Ho saw that expression and his complexion reddened considerably as he tried to come up with a suitable excuse.
“Hyung-nim, this is the best I can do for Miss Jin-Ah at the moment because I’m still learning about this trade from my father, but I….”
“No, that’s not it.”
To stop Yu Jin-Ho’s misunderstanding from getting any deeper, Jin-Woo wiped the grin off his face and spoke in a far more earnest tone of voice.
“Listen to me, Jin-Ho.”
“There’s no need for you to give her lots of presents to prove yourself so hard like this. Because… you are a good man. All you have to do is be you. Just you.”
Jin-Woo’s opinion rendered Yu Jin-Ho completely speechless, but he began tearing up greatly.
It was at this point that Jin-Woo belatedly remembered how this kid behaved when drunk and felt this ominous foreboding creep up on him.
And like clockwork, Yu Jin-Ho spoke in a tearful voice.
“Can I hug you just this one time, hyung-nim?”
Yu Jin-Ho failed to rein his emotions in the end, and pounced on Jin-Woo to embrace him, but the latter extended his hand and rather deftly stopped the former from getting too close.
Yu Jin-Ho struggled for a long time before finally regaining control over his emotions and settled back down on his spot.
“Sob, sob, sobbbb…”
He continued to sob away, though, and Jin-Woo could only smirk at this sight. Sure, this kid did have a bit of a moronic streak in him, but Jin-Woo knew the truth very well from what the kid had shown him during the moments of great life-or-death peril.
Back when they entered the rank C dungeon along with a bunch of con-men and were forced into making a decision, or when he was being tortured for information by a rank S Hunter blinded by thoughts of revenge, Yu Jin-Ho always chose loyalty over his safety.
He was a good kid, indeed. That was Jin-Woo’s honest impression of Yu Jin-Ho after observing him from a close vantage point after all this time.
Jin-Woo poured soju into his own empty shot glass.
“Why don’t we pray for your success with this toast?”
Yu Jin-Ho raised his head to find Jin-Woo pushing forward his shot glass.
“If your proposal is successful, then we will really become family, you know. So, how about we share a toast while praying for your success?”
“A real family with hyung-nim…..”
Yu Jin-Ho’s expression was soon overcome with a great swell of emotions once more and he lifted his own cup up, only for his gaze to stop by at Jin-Woo’s left hand.
He knew very well what was hidden behind that black glove, of course.
“Excuse me…. Hyung-nim?”
“If I’m not overstepping here, can I ask you about something?”
“Sure, go ahead.”
Yu Jin-Ho sneaked a couple of glances at Jin-Woo’s left hand before working up his courage once more.
“The scars on that hand…. What actually did happen to you, to get such serious scars?”
Those scars were so horrendous that just a casual glance would make people recall heart-wrenching pain in an instant. It must’ve been a rather serious accident for such a clear burn scar to be left behind like that.
Although Yu Jin-Ho found it pretty hard to ask this question up until now, he borrowed the powers of the booze to ask this rather difficult question.
“Oh, you mean this?”
Jin-Woo glanced at his left hand for a little while, before a smirk floated up on his lips.
“I got it while saving the world.”
Jin-Woo’s gaze had reverted back to Yu Jin-Ho by then. His reply was spoken as if it was nothing much to worry about, so the latter chuckled back lightly, too.
“Hyung-nim, you and your sense of humour….”
Jin-Woo also chuckled along as well.
Yu Jin-Ho belatedly realised that the shot glass had been stuck waiting for a while inside his hyung-nim’s hand and quickly raised his own higher.
“For the successful proposal!”
Jin-Woo brought his cup closer and prayed for the kid’s fortune as well.
“Yeah, for your successful proposal.”
They clinked their shot glasses and emptied them in one go.
Yu Jin-Ho’s face went into a scowl at the bitter taste of soju, but unlike him, Jin-Woo could only form a wry grin as he put the empty glass down.
‘I’d love to get just a little bit drunk on a day like today, though…’
It was then.
“Ah, I almost forgot.”
Yu Jin-Ho must’ve recalled Jin-Woo’s family life after hearing the word ‘family’ since he suddenly began discussing precisely that.
“Is sister-in-law doing well?”
“Yeah, she’s well.”
“What about Soo-Hoh, though? I should really stop by soon to see how the boy’s doing nowadays. Has he started walking yet?”
Jin-Woo chuckled and shook his head.
“No, not yet. He’s only six months old, so crawling is all he can do for now.”
“That’s weird. I thought that a kid sharing your and your wife’s genes would start running around the moment he was born, you know?”
“What the hell. Is that how you think of me and her?”
Yu Jin-Ho scratched the back of his head in a playful manner and Jin-Woo also chuckled as well.
But then, Yu Jin-Ho went “Oops!” and hurriedly spoke in a worried voice as he heard that the post-natal care was rather arduous for the newborn’s parents.
“Well, in that case, shouldn’t you go home as soon as possible?”
“Mm… Maybe I should?”
With good timing, Jin-Woo was also beginning to miss Hae-In and his son Soo-Hoh waiting for him back home after the word ‘family’ had been mentioned earlier.
A certain residence located in the outskirts of the city.
Arriving back home safe and sound, Jin-Woo parked his car in the vicinity.
Although the house was unimaginably huge for a detective to afford with his government salary, no one suspected a thing since the person sharing the residence alongside him just so happened to be the idol of the sporting world that pretty much every South Korean had heard of before in the past.
However, only he and Hae-In knew the secret of this house not being built by the hands of humans.
When Jin-Woo stepped into the house, the first thing that greeted him was the sight of his two Marshals in the middle of a war of nerves.
Bellion and Igrit were glaring at each other without backing down an inch, apparently not ready to give up on their ground. Soon, Hae-In came out to the living room while carrying their son, Soo-Hoh.
With a smile, Jin-Woo took over Soo-Hoh from Hae-In, and gently held him up. When he did…
Soo-Hoh broke out into boisterous laughter and extended his small hands towards him. The boy wanted to be hugged by his father, so Jin-Woo helped with that by embracing the baby against his chest, and then, pointed to his two Marshals with his chin.
“What’s up with those two?”
“Well, the thing is….”
Hae-In was fighting back to keep her own laughter from breaking out while hesitating with her answer, but Jin-Woo didn’t need long to figure out what was up with this situation.
Bellion shot back at Igrit with a harsh glare.
[What do you mean by we mustn’t teach our Lord Soo-Hoh the ways of the sword? Do you really think your suggestion makes any sense whatsoever, Igrit?!]
However, Igrit’s own fighting spirit didn’t lose out an inch, other.
[High academic success is the barometer of one’s capability in this world, Bellion.]
No one knew when or who ordered them online, but well, Igrit was holding home-schooling material for toddlers as he argued his case.
Jin-Woo watched the tightly-contested war of nerves between these two proud Soldiers and became utterly speechless. He stared at them with a dumbfounded face for a while, before he took a step closer to address them.
The Marshals finally realised that their liege was right in front of their noses, hurriedly turned around to face him, and knelt down on the floor.
Jin-Woo tutted audibly at the two Marshals far too obsessed in the matters of the post-natal care and spoke to them.
“It’s fine whether you want to teach my son swords or maths, but let’s worry about that only after the boy learns to walk first, shall we?”
Bellion and Igrit stared at each other for a little while before bowing their heads down to Jin-Woo.
[That is a reasonable approach, my liege.]
[You are correct, my liege.]
Jin-Woo grinned brightly while holding his son in his arms, and just like that, Soo-Hoh also grinned brightly in return, as well.
Nobody would doubt that they were a father and son; Hae-In watched the two’s smiles that seemed like a carbon copy of one another and chuckled softly herself.
Around the time Lee Seh-Hwan, joining the Unit as someone’s potential successor, had gotten more or less used to the life as a detective, Jin-Woo was summoned by the Station Commander for a private chat.
The senior detective leaving the commander’s office before him carried a rather suspicious glint in his eyes, so it was unlikely that this chat would be about a pleasant topic, thought Jin-Woo. He entered the commander’s office after the senior detective left and walked over to his superior’s desk.
“Did you call for me, sir?”
The commander was looking out of his office window at the time; he didn’t turn around and addressed Jin-Woo in a quiet voice.
“I heard that you’re still interfering in other detectives’ investigations….”
As expected – the senior of earlier carried that look of ‘I told you so’ as he was leaving, didn’t he? Jin-Woo inwardly swallowed his fake cough.
The commander turned around towards Jin-Woo and formed a refreshing grin.
“Please, I beg you to not go overboard and make other detectives resent you, Seong Hunter-nim.”
The commander’s face was someone quite familiar to him. It belonged to none other than Woo Jin-Cheol, the youngest Station Commander in Korean history.
Of course, that feat was built upon the hidden fact that Jin-Woo played a key role in solving many of Woo Jin-Cheol’s cases.
Jin-Woo smiled and corrected his current boss’s words.
“I’m not a Hunter anymore, Commander.”
“Even still, it’s a lot more convenient for me to refer to you as a Hunter-nim.”
While saying those things, Woo Jin-Cheol scanned the documents on top of his desk.
“Did you know that the legal guardian of the suicide victim, her father, suddenly went missing a few days ago?”
“Rather coincidentally, every CCTV camera around the missing man’s residence stopped working at the same time.”
“Oh my goodness. How can such a thing even happen?”
Jin-Woo’s feigned innocence brought about a helpless chuckle from Woo Jin-Cheol. He then threw the documents into the nearby trash can.
“Whatever you decide to do, I shall continue to believe in you, Seong Hunter-nim.”
Jin-Woo heard Woo Jin-Cheol’s declaration of unreserved faith in him and as a gesture of thanks, bowed his head just a little.
“Actually, I didn’t ask you to come and stop by because of that….”
Woo Jin-Cheol pushed forward a piece of memo paper that had been hidden in the corner of the desk until then. A name of a hospital, as well as a patient’s room number, was written on it.
“….I thought that you’d like to know.”
Jin-Woo asked back and Woo Jin-Cheol replied as if he was waiting for that.
“The Association President, no, Chairman Goh Gun-Hui is apparently in critical condition.”
This would be Jin-Woo’s second time coming to visit Goh Gun-Hui’s hospital room.
About ten years ago, he saved the older man’s life by using the ‘Divine Water of Life’ that he also used to save his mother’s life in the erased timeline.
And now, he was facing the gaunt Goh Gun-Hui once more as the latter found himself at the death’s doorstep. Since this was his second visit, the dying man didn’t get surprised by Jin-Woo’s unexpected appearance.
No, he simply nodded his head in the direction of the unfamiliar young man with a hood pulled up. He then tapped on the oxygen mask blocking his mouth.
Jin-Woo reached out and cautiously removed the apparatus, allowing Goh Gun-Hui to speak even though he wheezed heavily and laboriously in between each word.
“Young… man, you came back again…. Actually, I…. I’ve been searching for you… all this time.”
Jin-Woo looked on at this sight with sorrowful eyes before raising his voice.
“If Chairman wants this illness to be cured, then….”
Even before he could finish saying that he could cure the illness one more time, Goh Gun-Hui shook his head first.
“I’ve… lived for a long time now. I did what I had to do during the ten years you gave me. That is enough for me.”
Back in the erased timeline, Goh Gun-Hui sold off his company and became the first President of the Korean Hunter’s Association. But in this timeline, he had been acting as the role model to all the other corporate leaders by taking the lead in various charity work. And he no longer wished for his life to be extended anymore.
What he really wanted, though, was not what everyone would’ve expected.
“Actually…. I have a favour to ask you.”
Jin-Woo nodded his head. And that’s when he was met with Goh Gun-Hui’s pleading eyes.
“You told me that there was a world where we fought side by side, didn’t you?”
Jin-Woo nodded his head again without saying anything.
“Can you tell me more about that world? I’d like to know more. What I looked like, what you looked like back then….”
“Those might not be the memories you’d like to recall, sir.”
“It’ll be alright. I only wish to regain the memories now lost, that is all.”
Jin-Woo confirmed the earnest desperation on Chairman Goh Gun-Hui’s expression and gently grasped the dying man’s hand.
When he did….
….The memories of the time now erased rushed into Goh Gun-Hui’s mind like a tidal wave.
Tears began flooding out from the older man’s eyes.
Meanwhile, Jin-Woo slowly pulled the hood back and revealed his face to the Association President Goh Gun-Hui. He tightly grasped the younger man’s hands and confirmed the face now looking back as even thicker tears fell from his eyes.
“Hunter-nim, you have…. Again….”
Jin-Woo gently held the Association President’s hand as the latter’s breathing became harsher and noticeably more laborious.
Goh Gun-Hui’s gaze shifted back towards the ceiling.
“I… I really… Along with young heroes like you….”
His voice now contained traces of his satisfaction.
Goh Gun-Hui was overcome with the genuine happiness gushing out from the deepest part of his heart, and as his tears continued to flow, he quietly breathed his last.
Jin-Woo also stood there with tears in his eyes, before reaching down to gently close the older man’s eyes. Soon after, the life-support machines informed everyone involved of the passing of their patient.
By the time shocked doctors rushed into the room, the suspicious, uninvited guest had already left without a trace.
As Jin-Woo wordlessly walked the streets, electronic advertising boards installed here and there continued to display the breaking news of Chairman Goh Gun-Hui’s passing.
Emotions of sadness could be spied on the expressions of many watching the breaking news.
Back then, or even now….
Chairman Goh Gun-Hui was loved by many, and even more paid their respects after his death.
‘Be well…. You were also a hero who sacrificed so much of yourself for the sake of the others.’
Jin-Woo stepped away from the populated streets and made his way towards those avenues with little to no foot traffic.
Every time the wind blew, leaves that lost their colours from the influence of the encroaching autumn fell in droves from the trees lining up the streets.
Soon, winter would arrive.
‘And then, spring will come again, too.’
Jin-Woo fell into a deep train of thoughts while looking at the scattering leaves, before belatedly realising that his phone was ringing off the hook inside his pocket.
The call was from Hae-In.
As soon as he answered the phone, he was greeted by her incredibly urgent voice.
– “D-dear!! Soo-Hoh, he… Our son is….!!”
Could something have happened in their home, even though two Marshals were guarding it?? Jin-Woo’s own voice rose up higher at what seemed to be an unbelievable situation currently unfolding there.
“What’s the matter with Soo-Hoh?!”
When he did, Hae-In cried out as if she too couldn’t believe that it was happening, either.
– “He’s flying!!!”
– “Our son is flying around the house, right now!!”
It was right at that moment that Jin-Woo recalled what Yu Jin-Ho said a few days ago.
– That’s weird. I thought that a kid sharing your and your wife’s genes would start running around the moment he was born, you know?
He became completely speechless after recalling those words and stood dead still on the spot.
– “W-what should I do?”
For some reason, laughter tried to break out of his mouth after hearing his wife’s panicky voice over the phone. For the time being, he decided that calming his wife down would be his first priority.
“It’ll be fine. Don’t worry too much about it.”
– “What do you mean?!”
“I’ll teach Soo-Hoh how to fly step by step, soon.”
– “Babe, you…. know how to fly?!”
Didn’t I tell her that before?
When he was dating Hae-In back in the now-erased timeline, he wasn’t all that adept at flying around so they used his Sky Dragon ‘Kaisel’ to travel, instead.
Jin-Woo finally couldn’t hold back and guffawed out.
The autumn leaves shook around in the wind and fell to Earth once more.
After autumn, winter would come, and afterwards, spring would greet the world. Everything had a beginning and an end, and a new beginning would follow after the end.
– “Oh, no! Soo-Hoh, you mustn’t!!”
….It seemed that the winter of his household was still a long way away.
[Only I Level Up, Side Stories Fin.]