On Leave (4)
Park Yu-Min sobered up quickly and gestured at Kang Jin-Ho.
“For now, come inside.”
“I'd like to do that, but…” Kang Jin-Ho looked down at all the kids clinging to his legs.
Park Yu-Min burst into raucous laughter while walking up to his friend.
“There, there! Guys, please let Jin-Ho in, okay?”
A vein ever-so-slightly bulged on Kang Jin-Ho's forehead.
'Looks like the effect of my education has been forgotten already.'
Before his enlistment, Kang Jin-Ho possessed enough clout to scare the kids into getting in line with just one word.
However, it took only three months for the once-loyal soldiers to forget all about his clout and busy themselves with clinging to him.
Kang Jin-Ho finally breathed a sigh of relief when the kids released his legs, then followed Park Yu-Min into the building.
He asked his friend while glancing at the ladle, “Were you in the middle of cooking?”
I gotta feed the kids, you know.”
“That's your job? Since when?”
“It turned out that way somehow.”
Kang Jin-Ho furrowed his brow.
Park Yu-Min should be knee-deep in practice at this time of the day, yet why was he at 'home' cooking food to feed the rest of the orphans? “What's going on, Yu-Min?”
“Let's talk about it later.
I guess you haven't had anything to eat yet, right?”
“Wait for a bit.
I'll get the food ready in no time.”
“Hmm…” Kang Jin-Ho had lots of things to say, but…
It was a little past the usual lunch hour.
After thinking about how the kids outside must be starving, Kang Jin-Ho couldn't delay Park Yu-Min any longer.
Park Yu-Min glanced at the outside.
“Can you watch over the kids while I cook?”
“Sure…” Park Yu-Min smirked as he slipped back inside the kitchen.
With the suppressor named Park Yu-Min gone, the kids' attention began gathering on Kang Jin-Ho again.
“Huh…” More cold sweat trickled down Kang Jin-Ho's forehead.
“Today's menu is curry.
I hope you're okay with… Huh.” Park Yu-Min carrying plates of food outside the kitchen forgot what he wanted to say after witnessing Kang Jin-Ho's transformation into a children's theme park ride.
“I've been thinking…” Kang Jin-Ho sitting on the floor and giving airplane rides to kids with both of his hands spoke in a stiff tone, “…These kids seemed to have gotten a lot rowdier lately.
Don't you think so?”
Park Yu-Min laughed while placing the plates on the table.
“They are growing up, you know.
They are almost two years older than when you first met them, so there's no way they'd still be a bunch of docile kids.”
“They were not docile back then, though.” Kang Jin-Ho continued to pat and gently suppress the children rushing at him from practically all sides.
Thankfully, his patience finally paid off when the kids noticed the food on the table.
“Come, it's time to eat.”
The kids all rushed toward the table, finally bringing peace to Kang Jin-Ho's surroundings.
He ungainly stood up and headed to the kitchen to help with bringing out the dishes.
Park Yu-Min handed him a plate of curry.
“Here, this is yours.”
“Mm…?” Kang Jin-Ho stared at the plate with at least three times the food than the other kids and began wondering if his friend saw him as an elephant or something.
Park Yu-Min noticed the weird look on Kang Jin-Ho's face.
“I heard soldiers eat a lot, though? It's not true?”
“Generally speaking, you're right.” Kang Jin-Ho had to acknowledge the veracity of that claim after remembering just how much the senior soldiers hoovered up the food back in the base.
He had also noticed the slight pang of his own hunger, so he accepted the offered food without saying anything else.
What he hoped for was a peaceful mealtime, but…
“Don't touch mine!”
Kang Jin-Ho had almost reached the state of nirvana in the midst of all the chaos.
'This must be hell.'
He had finally learned what it was like to sit down for a meal surrounded by a dozen or so kids no older than six.
He had barely managed to hold on to his sanity that threatened to quit on him, so the thought of touching his food wasn’t even on his mind right now.
He ignored his own plate for now and busied himself with feeding the kids sitting nearby.
That wasn't all; he removed a child who tried to climb up on the table, captured another one trying to escape, and threatened a different kid who was throwing a tantrum about not wanting to eat.
How many times did he have to repeat these tasks before all the kids were finally fed? After the kids left the table, Kang Jin-Ho slumped over his chair in exhaustion, sagging like a soggy mop.
'Being gangho's number one enemy is better than this…!'
Back then, all he had to do was fight the enemies aiming for his life.
It didn't matter who they were as he was not such a kind-hearted person to obediently give up on his life for some random strangers.
Unfortunately, the story was different with these small, adorable kids.
These new 'enemies' targeting his mind were impossible to fight against.
Words wouldn’t get through to them, quite literally, while Kang Jin-Ho couldn't lose his cool at them either.
Obviously, hitting them was out of the question, too.
Confronted by a group of enemies that couldn't be fought against, Kang Jin-Ho found himself utterly helpless and powerless.
“Guys~, it's time to go to the playroom.
Your older siblings will come home soon, you know?” Park Yu-Min announced with a smile.
The full-bellied kids ungainly got up and headed to the playroom.
Park Yu-Min accompanied them, distributed various toys for them to play with, then returned to the dining table.
He noticed the sagging figure of the utterly-exhausted Kang Jin-Ho and laughed before pointing at the plate of curry.
“Aren't you gonna eat?”
“…I lost my appetite.”
“Still, you gotta eat something, right?”
“Mm…” Kang Jin-Ho slowly picked up a spoon.
Just as he placed a spoonful of half-cold curry in his mouth, he noticed Park Yu-Min hurriedly wolfing the food down.
Kang Jin-Ho cocked an eyebrow.
“Slow down, Yu-Min.”
I gotta quickly finish up here, clean up and start preparing for dinner.”
Kang Jin-Ho's expression went rigid, the light in his eyes withdrawn.
Park Yu-Min shouldn't have to do all those chores, so why? “What happened to the director? Where is she?”
“Well…” Park Yu-Min put his spoon down after noticing the look on Kang Jin-Ho's face.
“I was planning to tell you later, but…” Park Yu-Min mulled his words for a bit before sighing softly.
“I need to show you something.”
Park Yu-Min waited until the older kids came home from school, then handed over the figurative baton to them.
He led Kang Jin-Ho outside the orphanage.
Once outside the gates, Park Yu-Min sheepishly asked, “…Can't we get a taxi?”
Kang Jin-Ho tilted his head.
“Why? Are we going somewhere far?”
“Well, not exactly, but…” Park Yu-Min glanced at the Golden Elephant proudly showing off its frame and groaned at length.
'Do I have to ride on that thing again?'
Of course, he had already accepted that Kang Jin-Ho's bicycle was faster and boasted a more comfortable ride than a regular taxi.
Moreover, with Kang Jin-Ho's superhuman-like control, there was almost zero chance of getting into an accident.
However, no sane person would want to willingly climb aboard a runaway train.
That was simply what human nature dictated.
Back when he was riding the bike out of convenience, Park Yu-Min hadn’t been fully aware of it, but not being under the Golden Elephant's evil influence for a while had allowed a certain level of fear to creep back into his heart.
Park Yu-Min cautiously piped up.
“Humans have the product of science called automobiles, you know?”
“My Golden Elephant is faster, though?”
Of course, you're right.
But my friend…’
Park Yu-Min was about to voice his opinion, but then Kang Jin-Ho beat him to the punch.
“In that case, should we go back to my home to get my car?”
“…Nice to see you again, Golden Elephant.” Park Yu-Min quickly changed his attitude after remembering the terror of riding in a car driven by Kang Jin-Ho.
“Stop being silly, will you?” Kang Jin-Ho chuckled while undoing the lock on his bicycle, then got on the saddle.
Park Yu-Min performed a quick sign of the cross, then climbed up on the back of the bicycle, a look of resignation on his face.
He gripped the handle tightly and muttered, “If I get into an accident, please remember that there’ll be no one left to look after the kids, Jin-Ho.”
“Accident?” Kang Jin-Ho frowned deeply as if his pride was wounded.
“Whenever I give you a ride, I go at half my usual pace to make sure we don't get into one.”
That was half of his usual pace?! Park Yu-Min had learned something new today.
That insane speed…
was Kang Jin-Ho holding back.
Park Yu-Min gulped and cautiously asked, “Can you, uh, go at one-quarter of your usual pace?”
“…Hold on tight.”
Park Yu-Min gave up and gripped the Golden Elephant's handle as hard as possible.
His hearing was bombarded by the noise of bicycle pedals being abused.
If one were to keep their eyes closed, they might be fooled into thinking that the sound was coming from a V12 engine or something similar.
Kang Jin-Ho asked without glancing back, “Where are we going?”
“…For now, keep going straight!”
But tell me the destination.”
Kang Jin-Ho tutted unhappily.
“I'm telling you, you won't get into an accident.”
“That's not it…
The hospital is our destination!” Park Yu-Min shouted against the rushing winds, thinking that he might really have to get admitted there as a patient instead of as a visitor if they kept traveling at this pace.
“…Blergh!” Park Yu-Min stumbled off the Golden Elephant and began retching while leaning over a wall.
Kang Jin-Ho tutted loudly.
“Looks like your constitution has gotten weaker.”
“…Just what have I been riding around in the past?!” Park Yu-Min gasped breathlessly while wiping his mouth.
He had realized how dumb and immature his past self had been for traveling to and from school on that deadly bicycle while being blissfully unaware of all the dangers.
“It's a miracle that I'm still alive…”
“N-no, it's nothing.” Park Yu-Min shook his head.
He had a feeling that Kang Jin-Ho wouldn't understand even if the truth was laid bare in front of his eyes.
As for Kang Jin-Ho, he switched his attention away from the still-recovering Park Yu-Min to the humongous modern building looming over him.
His first impression of the modern hospital wasn't so great, and he still felt that way.
One of the biggest differences between modern humans and their ancient counterparts was undoubtedly their longer lifespan brought on by advancements in medicine.
Kang Jin-Ho agreed with that and knew that hospitals played a vital role.
However, something about this place made him less than willing to come.
Of course, not many people would want to visit a hospital for fun unless they were sick, so maybe, he wasn't so different from the others in that regard.
Park Yu-Min finally recovered his bearings and stood straight.
“Let's go inside.”
“Mm…” Kang Jin-Ho nodded and followed his friend leading the way, even though it felt like his legs weren't so keen on the idea.
They walked past the busy lobby and entered an elevator.
It went up for a surprisingly long time to reach the ward.
Kang Jin-Ho wasn't exactly what people called 'directionally challenged'—except for that one time—but a hospital's various wards seemed rather perfect for trapping someone for many days if they weren't careful.
“It's this way.
Hurry.” Park Yu-Min walking ahead urged his slower-than-usual friend.
“…Okay.” Kang Jin-Ho nodded and followed him until they arrived at a hospital room.
“We're here,” said Park Yu-Min.
Kang Jin-Ho silently stared at the doorway, unmoving.
“…Let's go inside, Jin-Ho.”
Park Yu-Min pushed the door and stepped inside first.
Kang Jin-Ho sighed under his breath and followed his friend.
“It's me, Director,” said Park Yu-Min in a warm voice.
The kind-faced orphanage director lying on the hospital bed turned her head.
“Oh, and I brought Jin-Ho with me.
He finally got his vacation, you see.”
“Oh…” The director nodded as a small smile formed on her lips.
Kang Jin-Ho bowed his head at the orphanage's director lying on the bed closest to the window.
“It has been a while, ma'am.”
“Jin-Ho, you look more manly with your shorter hair.
And how was the army? Was it difficult?”
It's something most people have to do, after all,” Kang Jin-Ho replied smartly, but his focus was on the nun's figure hidden under the blanket.
“Let me take a closer look at you, Jin-Ho.” The nun's thin, bony hand slipped out from underneath the blanket.
Kang Jin-Ho was left speechless at how frail her hand looked.
Seeing that hand caused something within him to swell up.
The orphanage's director had always been a thin person, but this…
She had become so gaunt that it felt like she had become basically nothing but skin and bones.
Kang Jin-Ho slowly reached out and held the nun's extended hand.
She smiled gently at him.
“It must have been hard on you.”
“No, not at all, ma'am.”
“Whether it's you or Yu-Min…
You must've gone through so much.
And Yu-Min can't even practice because of me…”
“Eii~. Please don't say that.” Park Yu-Min waved his hands.
“That's not important, you know.
What's important is that you quickly recover your strength and get back on your feet, ma'am.”
“Yes, of course.” Another gentle smile spread on her lips.
“How are the children doing? Are they well?”
I should bring them here at least once, but…
With how many kids there are, I thought it might inconvenience other patients in the hospital, so…”
“No, you made the right choice, Yu-Min.
Besides, I would not like the children to see me in this state, either.”
“Cheol-Jung and Su-Yeon said they will bring the older kids here later, ma'am.
But they can only come during the visiting hours, so I think it'll have to be on the weekend.”
“Tell them it's okay—that they don't have to come.
They must be so busy with their studies, after all…”
Park Yu-Min began tidying up the bed.
“Have you been eating as the doctors recommended, ma'am?”
“I know I need to eat and regain my strength, but…
It's not as easy, Yu-Min.”
“Still, you shouldn't give up, ma'am.”
I must get better soon.”
While Park Yu-Min and the orphanage's director were giggling and chatting away, Kang Jin-Ho took a seat by one of the chairs in the corner and kept his mouth shut.
He just sat there, quietly observing their interaction.
After a while, the time to leave had come.
Park Yu-Min got up first.
“I'm sorry, but I have to get going now, ma'am.
I'd like to stay for a bit longer, but I'm also worried about the kids back home.”
The director slowly nodded.
“Yes, I feel the same way about them.
You should hurry on home, Yu-Min.”
“I'll come to visit again soon.”
And Jin-Ho? You enjoy your vacation, too.”
“Yes, ma'am.” Kang Jin-Ho bowed his head.
As the orphanage’s director waved goodbye, the two exited the hospital room and wordlessly headed to the elevator.
Park Yu-Min said nothing, so Kang Jin-Ho followed suit and remained silent as the elevator took them down to the lobby.
The first place Park Yu-Min searched for after exiting the hospital's lobby was an outdoor smoking area.
He wordlessly plopped down on a bench, his complexion ashen.
Kang Jin-Ho stared at his friend for a long time before finally breaking the heavy silence.
“What's going on, Yu-Min?”
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