Han Se-Yeon blinked her eyes.
Kang Jin-Ho urged her again.
“Get on my back.”
“…No, it's fine.
I'll just walk by myself.”
“Just do it, will you? You're wasting time.”
Kang Jin-Ho sighed.
“Please don't make me repeat myself.”
“O-okay…” Surprisingly, Han Se-Yeon didn't play hard to get and climbed up on his back.
After securing her on his back, Kang Jin-Ho began heading toward Han Se-Yeon's home on foot.
Catching a taxi was an option, but he wasn't a fan of riding in the back of a car driven by a stranger.
Besides, carrying a passenger on his back wouldn't trouble him, anyway.
But Han Se-Yeon's thoughts were quite the opposite of Kang Jin-Ho's.
She cautiously asked him.
“Am I too heavy?”
“Really? I'm not?”
Han Se-Yeon looked flustered before hurriedly muttering a reply, “R-right, you're crazy strong, aren't you?”
“That's right,” Kang Jin-Ho replied to her rhetorical question and sighed under his breath.
Rather than feeling apologetic, she should have behaved better earlier.
'I'm definitely not going to buy her a drink anymore.'
It seemed that today was the day of learning new life lessons.
Han Se-Yeon quietly buried her face on Kang Jin-Ho's broad back for a while, then whispered to him, “I'm going to start dating once we settle down in university.”
“I'll find a good-looking and cool guy and…
Have fun, you know?”
Another bout of silence descended between the two.
Kang Jin-Ho wondered if she had dozed off on his back and tried to sense her breathing, only for her quiet voice to stop him.
“Don't you have anything else to say besides that?”
“What else should I say, then? I hope you meet a good guy?”
“Thanks, I guess…”
Kang Jin-Ho felt Han Se-Yeon's forehead press against his shoulder.
For some reason, though, she seemed to be trembling a little.
He asked in confusion, “Are you feeling cold?”
“Hmm…” He furrowed his brow a little but continued walking without saying anything else.
He figured that she was cold; he figured that she simply chose not to tell him for some reason.
He belatedly remembered that it was pretty chilly at night.
Since the hot or cold weather couldn't affect him, he had unconsciously overlooked the fact that Han Se-Yeon was a regular person.
In that case, it would be wiser to take her home as soon as possible.
Kang Jin-Ho raised his speed gradually so Han Se-Yeon wouldn't notice it.
Before she raised her head to look, he strengthened his legs and dashed forward like a streak of lightning.
He even unleashed his internal energy to eradicate the air resistance so that she wouldn't notice the change in speed from the sudden cold winds.
“Mm…?” Even then, Han Se-Yeon fidgeted on his back after noticing that something didn't quite feel right.
Kang Jin-Ho sneakily slowed down but accelerated again when she stopped moving around.
They eventually reached her home after repeating this cycle a couple of times.
He softly called out to her.
“Hey, we've arrived.”
“…Eh?” Han Se-Yeon raised her head and looked around in confusion.
They really were in front of her home.
how could that be? She only lowered her head and closed her eyes for a little while, so how could they be here already? “I-I guess I dozed off a little?”
“Did you carry me all the way here? It must've been tiring…”
“No, it was fine.”
Let me down, please.”
Kang Jin-Ho wordlessly put her down.
Han Se-Yeon staggered a little before regaining her balance, then looked back at him with a slightly concerned face.
“It must've been hard carrying me here.”
“It's always 'not really' with you, you know.” Han Se-Yeon groaned.
“Still, I'm sorry.”
“Sorry about getting mad at you for no reason.
I was just being immature.
I'm not like this usually, so…
I'm really sorry.”
Kang Jin-Ho was taken aback.
“You were mad at me all along?”
“Why do I even bother…” Han Se-Yeon glared at the heavens in frustration, then fixed her posture as if she had resolved herself.
“I'm truly sorry for today.
Please forgive this small-minded girl.” She suddenly bowed her head ninety degrees.
Kang Jin-Ho was even more confused by this development.
He simply couldn't figure out what had gotten into her tonight.
She straightened up and tucked her hair behind her ear.
“In any case, thanks for the ride.
Be careful on your way home.”
“Okay, I will.” Kang Jin-Ho nodded, then turned around to leave.
But then Han Se-Yeon called out to him again.
“What is it now?”
She trotted over to him, then jumped into his arms and held him tight.
More confused than ever before, Kang Jin-Ho cocked an eyebrow.
Han Se-Yeon didn't reply and continued hugging him tightly.
Eventually, she let go and looked up at his face.
“While on your way home, I hope you fall on your face and break your nose.”
“See you later!” Han Se-Yeon quickly dashed inside her home.
Kang Jin-Ho stood there and watched her back disappear through the doorway in a daze.
He scratched his head in vexation.
“I just can't figure women out…”
That was his honest feeling on the mysteries of the opposite sex.
Kang Jin-Ho stepped inside his home.
“Welcome back, son.” Baek Hyeon-Jeong waved her hand at him, then narrowed her eyes.
“Were you out drinking?”
“Does it look that way?” Kang Jin-Ho's expression stiffened.
He thought he succeeded in ridding himself of any remaining traces of alcohol from his body with internal energy, but it seemed that he was mistaken.
Baek Hyeon-Jeong nodded.
“You look fine, but I can smell the booze from your clothes, son.”
Yes, I went to a bar with other freshmen, but I didn't drink a lot, Mother,” he replied with a straight face, even though he drank fifteen soju bottles.
From his perspective, they weren’t a lot since he didn’t get drunk.
Of course, he would have to endure Baek Hyeon-Jeong’s lamentation of how her son was now a useless alcoholic if she discovered his drinking spree today.
Kang Jin-Ho definitely wanted to avoid that situation at any cost.
“Is that so? You did the right thing, son.
A university student stumbling about drunk out of his mind is such an eyesore, don't you agree? Besides, you got your dad's and my genes, so you probably can't hold much liquor, anyway.
You should keep moderating yourself in the future.”
“Of course, Mother.”
‘…Mother, I apologize.
Your son has acquired the title of God of Liquor tonight.
And your son even finished off fifteen bottles, too.’
Kang Jin-Ho's mind muttered words that couldn’t be said out in the open as guilty conscience threatened to take over him.
Still oblivious, Baek Hyeon-Jeong asked him another question, “Did you already have dinner?”
What was your impression of the university?”
Kang Jin-Ho wondered how he should reply here.
Should he say that it didn't seem any different? Or, say that it's different, but he shouldn't have any trouble acclimatizing?
“Mm… I'm not sure yet, Mother.”
Baek Hyeon-Jeong nodded sagely.
It's only the first day, after all.
It’s not like you've already started attending lectures and all.”
“That's true, Mother.”
Don't you regret it?”
Kang Jin-Ho tilted his head.
“I mean, you could've gone to a better university with your grades.
For instance, the Hanguk Uni.” Baek Hyeon-Jeong couldn't fully erase the traces of disappointment from her expression.
She hadn't mentioned it before, but the truth was…
Baek Hyeon-Jeong had always hoped for her son to enter Hanguk University, South Korea's No.1 tertiary learning institution.
However, the circumstances had 'forced' her son to choose Jaegyeong Uni instead.
Kang Jin-Ho shrugged his shoulders slightly.
“Well, Jaegyeong is closer to our home, after all.”
“Is that really your reason, son? Not because Chairman Hwang asked you to?”
“I do have other reasons, yes.
But…” Kang Jin-Ho held himself back, thinking that his mother would definitely get mad at him for choosing Jaegyeong over Hanguk just because Park Yu-Min wouldn't have been accepted into the latter university.
In all honesty, going to a university held no significance to Kang Jin-Ho.
He thought long and hard about this, and the task of living an ordinary life while working for a regular company seemed like a tall challenge for him.
To him, this road was something he had to walk alone.
And on this particular path, a degree from a university was nothing more than a useful decoration.
He wasn't interested in furthering his studies, but his parents had invested twelve years of their lives in their son's education.
As such, the least he could do was thank them for their hard work by attending university.
That was why he wasn't interested in going further than what he had already done.
“Jin-Ho, my son.”
“Even though you're my child, lately, it feels like I can't tell what you're thinking of.
It probably means you've become an adult yourself.”
Kang Jin-Ho was momentarily lost for words.
The fact that his mother felt alienated from him was bad news.
This result was unavoidable since he couldn’t perfectly replicate the old 'Kang Jin-Ho' before his return.
No matter what, it wasn’t good that a parent felt something was strange with their child.
“I heard that that's how kids grow up, though.
Even so, I'm a little rueful, son.”
Kang Jin-Ho could only make a cramped smile.
Baek Hyeon-Jeong waved her hands off, perhaps thinking that she had said something unnecessary.
“In any case, go ahead and wash up, son.”
Kang Jin-Ho scanned the living room and asked.
“He should be home soon after closing up his shop.
The business seems to be going well since he's forced to close so late these days.”
Kang Jin-Ho tilted his head.
“Even though the closing time has been set?”
“He has changed the closing hours.
Closing the doors early even when customers keep coming in would be a problem, after all.”
“But, Mother, it's not like our family is hurting for money.
He should think about taking it easy for his health.”
“You know that there's no stopping your father when he's like this.” Baek Hyeon-Jeong groaned deeply.
What could she do about her husband's workaholic nature when he would be nothing but a shell without it? Indeed, her husband wasn’t the type to kick back and relax just because his family had stumbled upon some money.
Kang Jin-Ho noticed his sister wasn’t home.
“Mother, where is Eun-Yeong?”
“I am also having a hard time seeing her these days.
I don't get why she's practicing so much… Ah, right.
She did say she'll be making her debut soon.”
Kang Jin-Ho instantly picked up a trace of gloominess in his mother's expression.
“Are you worried about something, Mother?”
“Worried, is it…
Baek Hyeon-Jeong spoke in a composed tone.
“My wish has always been for my children to pursue their dreams and live however they want.
And that's why I tried not to nag you two.”
“When Eun-Yeong wanted to become an idol, and when she managed to pass the talent agency's audition, I honestly wasn't happy about someone as young as her giving up on her studies to sing.
Even then, I let her pursue her dream.”
Baek Hyeon-Jeong quietly sighed and carried on.
“That's what I did, but now…
I am wondering whether I had made the right call or not when I can't even see my child's face, and when she has to work so hard at her age.”
“I heard that plenty of idol groups get lost in the shuffle without making their debuts, so I’m worried if Eun-Yeong can make it.
What if that happens to her? She'll be too old to try something else by then.”
It won't be too late for her.”
Baek Hyeon-Jeong responded with an unconvinced expression, “Even if you say that…”
Kang Jin-Ho nodded after getting an idea of what his mother was worried about.
“Mother, Eun-Yeong will be successful.”
“Do you believe so?”
She's your daughter, after all.
And my little sister…”
Looks like I've become a worrywart after getting older, son.” Baek Hyeon-Jeong replied with a forced smile, her complexion remained gloomy.
Kang Jin-Ho felt his irritation level creep up.
He usually wouldn’t get emotional, but the subtle changes to his mother's expression were enough to make him react harshly.
And this response fascinated him.
'I see… So, it's not just my head that knew about the familial bond, but also my heart.'
He thought that things like this wouldn't affect him since he and his family had been apart for so long.
Kang Jin-Ho mulled on his new discovery while stepping into the bathroom.
'I've been too inattentive until now.'
He realized that he had been indifferent to Kang Eun-Yeong's situation.
Her happiness played a major role in him putting his life back in order and rediscovering his happiness.
Despite knowing how important her happiness was to him, Kang Jin-Ho had been too disinterested in what she was actually doing.
He frowned upon realizing this.
He had a lot of things to do, and trying to acclimatize to modern society was taking most of his free time.
This was his excuse, but he knew he was being disingenuous.
His life was important, but so were his family's lives.
Without their happiness, he couldn’t be happy.
While turning on the water, he muttered quietly to himself, “I need to talk to her sooner rather than later.”
Perhaps for the first time in his life, Kang Jin-Ho felt the weight of the responsibility as an older brother.
It felt different from the emotions he felt toward his parents.
The idea of protecting someone felt rather unfamiliar to him.
Sure, there were many occasions during his time in the demon cult when he had to personally step up to the battlefield while ordering his subordinates to fall back.
However, Kang Jin-Ho didn't do that to protect them but to minimize inefficient sacrifices.
What he was thinking of doing right now was different from that.
This desire to protect came from somewhere deep within his heart.
Something he hadn't felt in such a long time.
'Have I changed?'
Would it be more correct to say he had regained it?
As the water fell on him, Kang Jin-Ho began thinking that he had certainly changed a lot.
He wasn't sure whether this change was a good thing or not.
No matter what, though, he knew that he'd never return to being 'Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor' before his return to the modern era.
A smile floated up on his lips.
'It isn't necessarily a bad thing, then.'
Regardless of the era, he knew that a person's life wouldn't be filled with fun and happiness all the time.
It was possible that his life could get a whole lot worse than what others could imagine as he still only had one foot in this era's doorway.
Even then, he…
He couldn't deny that the now felt pretty good.
And maybe the future would get even better…
Kang Jin-Ho closed his eyes and let the water cascade over him.
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