The usual void between worlds emerged. But this time, it felt different.
Was it because I had grown stronger? Or because my actions had disrupted the flow of destiny?
The usual culprits staring at me didn't even glance my way as we traveled back to Earth.
But while that was the case, I could sense some powerful beings that I couldn't before.
A chaotic swirl of light and dark, a being that felt like a star of pure fire, hotter than the sun.
Interesting, but not important. They were going about their own business, so as long as they didn't bother me, I wouldn't bother them.
And then we were back.
"Urgh." Flone wobbled, holding onto me for balance. "I don't think I'll ever get used to that..."
"Sorry." I patted her back and said, "I'll try to get better for next time."
Flone shook her head. "It's fine, Jihu. You're recovering anyway, so don't stress yourself for me." She straightened herself and let go of me before looking around. "So we're back in your home..."
"Yep." I walked over to my desk and checked on my phone. And as expected...
"Gah. Looks like they're worried..."
...Jinhee left a bunch of messages. All of them varying forms of asking where I was and what happened to me since I'd gone dark for a few weeks. Mom and Dad leaving voice mails telling me to visit and not be a stranger.
And also some messages from Hannah saying to call her when I wake up and that I owe her dinner for making her worry, and some from Seora saying that she wanted to talk about what we mentioned last time.
I rubbed the back of my neck and started typing out replies to them all.
Flone walked over, craning over my shoulder and said, "What are you doing, Jihu?"
"Replying to messages. Seems like I worried more people than I thought."
"Hmph." Flone hugged me and said, "Make sure you don't do it again then."
"Yeah, yeah. I'll keep that in mind, Wifey."
"You'd better, Hubby!"
I chuckled and then finished typing out the messages. After that, I unplugged my phone from the charger and slipped it into my pocket. Turning back to Flone, I said, "Anything you want to do now that we're back here, Flone?"
"Hm..." Flone placed a finger on her lips and then said, "Can I meet your family?"
I froze. "That's-"
Before I could answer, my phone buzzed. I pulled it out to check the message, expecting it to be Hannah or Seora.
But it wasn't.
"...Well." I tapped the message open and sighed. "Guess that's happening whether I want it to or not."
Oppa, you bastard! You'd better stay put! I'm heading over to your apartment, and I expect you to be there when I arrive!
Flone tilted her head. "What do you mean?"
I sighed. "Just sit down. We're going to need to come up with a cover story for you."
Jinhee parked her car in the parking lot outside of her big brother's apartment. Slamming the door as she got out, she muttered, "Stupid Oppa. Making me worried all the time like this..."
She clicked the lock button on her car keys and then made her way to the elevator leading up to Jihu's apartment.
As she did, Jinhee pursed her lips, reflecting on the past few weeks.
It had been odd. First of all, he went out of contact. AGAIN. Not only for a week this time, but almost a whole month.
Since he was busy, Jinhee was willing to let it slide. But then she saw how that Miss Hannah as well as Miss Seora were acting.
The two of them had started to hang out with Jinhee more frequently. Taking her out to lunch, hanging out at the shopping mall, and even dinner at times. Just casual things.
But each time she asked how her Oppa was doing, she would always get back evasive answers.
Oh, he was wrapped up in the latest project. His phone died, so he's trying to get a new one. Some important people came in and Jihu couldn't afford to leave...
Things like that.
Fishy. It was too fishy. While Hannah and Seora seemed perfectly fine and didn't seem to be lying, Jinhee's intuition told her they were. And her intuition didn't prove her wrong yet.
...No. It did once. When Oppa went to go blacklist himself from the casinos last year, her gut told her that he was lying again. That he would betray her again.
And when he almost drove off with her car, Jinhee was heartbroken. Heartbroken because she was right.
Or so she thought.
But Oppa had turned around. Not only that, but he picked her up and carefully tended to her wound, just like the kind Oppa she remembered from all those years ago.
That was the only time her intuition had been wrong. When her Oppa decided to go against his own self for her sake.
Jinhee walked into the apartment elevator and pressed the button to Jihu's floor. After the doors closed, she frowned, lost in thought.
He was different. No, he had turned back into the Oppa she remembered. The kind and caring Oppa who would always help people. The one that she admired above everyone else.
But it seemed like he still couldn't let it go.
"Oppa... You idiot." Jinhee muttered.
Her intuition was telling her again. The same feeling that she had before when Jihu was gambling all the time.
That he was lying to her. That he was hiding something from her.
It wasn't anything bad. No, her intuition told her that it wasn't like he had gone back to gambling money or gained another obsession that would ruin his life.
But her intuition told her that he was in danger.
Was it because of her? It had to be. The situation with Sinyoung had been resolved too easily, and with the recording she heard last time...
The elevator door opened.
Jinhee frowned and walked towards Jihu's apartment. As she did, she held her head up high and nodded, resolving herself.
She would find out the truth.
If it was because of her... If Oppa was putting himself in danger to protect Jinhee, she wouldn't allow it.
He had already gone through so much just to drag himself back to a normal life. If the reason why he was in danger again now was her...
Jinhee didn't know what she would do. But she knew that she wouldn't allow it.
If it meant that she had to resort to those sorts of things as well...
No. If it meant that Oppa could go back to a normal life, then-
Jinhee cut her thoughts off.
She could think about that later. For now...
She looked up at the door to her Oppa's apartment. Then, with slight hesitation, she knocked.
Silence. And then the door opened.
Jinhee quickly fixed her face into a frown, going to scold her Oppa. But then she froze when she saw the person standing behind him. Or rather, the woman. "Eh?"
A beautiful foreign woman that could pass for a supermodel- No, better than a supermodel. She was so pretty that Jinhee doubted her eyes.
Flowing silver hair, clear blue eyes and flawless white skin. Lovely pink lips set in a shy smile, and a sky blue dress hugging a lithe body with modest curves in all the right places.
Perfect. A woman that couldn't exist. One that looked like a person had taken all the best parts of a woman and photoshopped them together, removing the imperfections with careful photo editing.
Except she was real.
And not only that, Jinhee was more than familiar with plastic surgery and all the sorts of 'corrections' that people could have in real life with enough money. Enhancements, implants, lifts...
The woman standing there looked like one who had gone through all of that. Or rather, it was the only explanation for how beautiful she was.
Except it was all natural.
Jinhee didn't see any of the signs that should be there for a woman who had gone through those procedures.
Not only that, but her Oppa was a person who wouldn't hang around a woman like that in the first place.
But even so... How the hell did he meet her? And why was she in his room? No, why was she acting so shy?!
Jinhee shifted her gaze to Jihu.
Her Oppa looked embarrassed. That in itself was odd. Since that time where he turned his life around, Jinhee couldn't remember a time where he was embarrassed. At least, not like he was right now.
Fortunately, Jihu wasn't injured or anything. He looked just as healthy... No, a bit healthier than the last time Jinhee had seen him. His muscles even seemed a bit more defined, with clear edges that stuck out even through his shirt.
Jihu coughed and then stepped back. "N-Nice to see you again, Sis."
Jinhee nodded her head and walked inside. She adjusted her purse around her shoulder and said, "Nice to see you again too, Oppa." She looked towards the beautiful foreigner woman and said, "So, who's your friend?"
"A-Ah. She's... Well..." Jihu trailed off and rubbed the back of his neck.
As if to cover for him, the silver-haired beauty walked over and said, "It's nice to meet you! I'm Flone." She bowed her head and said, "I hope you won't be too hard on Jihu. He's been really busy recently, you know?"
"Uh-huh." Jinhee tilted her head, carefully examining the beauty... Miss 'Flone.'
Up close, Jinhee had to admit that her eyes weren't playing tricks on her. Flone was really that perfect. And standing next to Oppa like that, the two made for a picture perfect couple-
Dots started connecting in Jinhee's head and then she glanced at Flone's left hand.
There was a silver ring there. A beautifully crafted band with an elegant sapphire rose. Not only that, but it wasn't on just any finger. No, it was on her ring finger.
Jinhee held out her hand and smiled. "It's nice to meet you too, Miss Flone. I'm Jinhee, Jihu's younger sister."
In the corner of her eye, Jinhee saw Jihu let out a sigh of relief.
When he did, Jinhee ticked another box in her head.
Flone smiled back at Jinhee and shook her hand. "Just Flone is fine, Jinhee. Oh! You can call me Flonnie too if that's easier. You're Jihu's sister, so I don't want you to feel too uncomfortable..."
"Alright." Jinhee nodded. "Then... Unni." She put on an innocent expression and then said, "Is the reason why Oppa's been so busy recently because he's been on a honeymoon with you?"
"E-Eh?!" Flone turned a deep red and placed her hands on her cheeks. "H-Honeymoon?! M-M-Me? And Jihu?"
"O-Oi!" Jihu quickly cut in and said, "What sort of crazy ideas are you thinking of, Sis?"
Jinhee hummed and gave a meaningful look at Flone's left hand. "Oh, I dunno. It just seems odd that my dear Oppa went missing for a few weeks and the two other women in his life keep giving me evasive answers. Now when I finally see you again, there's a beautiful woman in your room wearing a ring on her left hand... And come to think of it, her voice is the same one that I heard on the phone last time, isn't it?"
After hearing Flone speak, Jinhee realized that it was the same voice she heard asking for Jihu to help put on her dress.
That was a few weeks ago.
More than enough time for the results of a certain 'test' to come through if her Oppa had been careless.
Jinhee turned towards her older brother, watching his expression.
It was amusing. Countless emotions flickered past in the blink of an eye. And then it seemed like he realized what she was thinking about, since he let out a deep sigh.
Jinhee put on a smug look and said, "Should I tell Mom and Dad to be expecting a grandchild soon?"
"G-G-Grandchild?!" Flone turned an even deeper shade of red.
Jihu quickly shook his head. "It's not like that, Sis."
"Then is Miss Flone already married? My, I didn't think you were into NTR, Oppa."
Flone let out a nervous laugh.
Jinhee blinked and then she started to get nervous as well. "Um... Oppa. I was just kidding, but..." She turned to look at Flone.
The beautiful silver-haired woman was averting her gaze, seeming a bit embarrassed. A reaction like Jinhee had hit the mark right on its head.
Jinhee looked back to Jihu and remembered what she overheard last time.
Unexpectedly dangerous, dealing with the fallout...
And now, a beautiful foreign woman with what could only be a wedding ring on her left hand.
Jinhee frowned and said, "...Did you really NTR someone important overseas and steal Miss Flone away?"
Today, I learned two important things.
First, no matter what you said, if you suddenly showed up in front of your family with a beautiful woman at your side who was shy and subconsciously relied on you when she got nervous, they wouldn't believe anything other than the fact that you were a couple.
Second... Misunderstandings really had a scary way of stacking on top of each other.
While I tried to explain things to Jinhee, she got it stuck in her head that Flone was my overseas wife who I stole away from an important businessman and that I'd been spending the past few weeks eloping with her.
Apparently, since Seora and Hannah had been cagey about explaining what I was up to, Jinhee misinterpreted that as them being upset at my actions.
But not only that... Flone herself was a massive bundle of misinformation.
My dining room table. After the development that could only have come from some two-bit K-drama at my front door, I pulled the two girls back in and shut the door before anyone could see. After that, I ushered them over to the table and set off to make some tea and snacks.
Of course, while I was doing that, Jinhee was chatting away with Flone at the table.
"So Unni. How did you meet Oppa anyway?"
"Um... It's a bit embarrassing to say out loud."
"What's there to be embarrassed about? We're family, right? I mean, unless that ring is just for show."
"Of course not! Jihu gave me this ring to promise that he would- Ah."
I let out a deep sigh and focused on brewing the tea.
Turned out, Flone wasn't a good actor.
No, that wasn't true. She was pretty good at acting. After all, it wouldn't have been possible to fool Yun Seohui last time if she wasn't at least decent.
Unfortunately, it seemed like my sister was a woman just as foxy as Hannah was.
And a fox determined to wring out every juicy bit of detail that she could from Flone.
I would have loved to interrupt and straighten out the details... Except, I had a feeling that would only make things worse. And from what my Transcendent Insight was telling me, Jinhee wasn't going to listen anyway to what I said, so...
Tea. Tea and snacks.
While the two chatted... Or rather, while my foxy little sister ripped into the naïve Flone, I went about baking some cookies.
Chocolate chip, with caramel glaze and light sugar dusting. A mix of Jinhee's favorite things, and something that I knew Flone would enjoy.
Focusing on baking, I tried to ignore the conversation happening behind me.
"Fine, fine." Jinhee laughed and said, "I won't ask you to tell me the details. But is it true that Oppa stole you away from someone?"
I felt Flone's gaze on me. A desperate and pleading gaze.
I pointedly ignored it.
Flone sighed and then said, "...Jihu didn't steal me away. But he did take me away from a bad situation."
"A bad situation, huh? Was it an arranged marriage then?"
"Huh? Did Jihu tell you about that?"
"So it was..."
I resisted the urge to sigh. And I also resisted the urge to curse the world.
Was it because I bypassed the oath? I 'could' answer Jinhee and tell her the truth. And so could Flone.
But I knew that would lead to her worrying more... and definitely insisting on helping me.
I couldn't allow that. Especially not when I had so many enemies in that world at the moment.
So instead... I would just eat the embarrassment at the misunderstandings instead.
"Wow, Oppa." Jinhee turned towards me and said, "You're really something. Stealing away a married woman like that..."
"First of all." I brought back some tea for the girls and poured out a pair of cups, sliding one towards both. "Flone was a widow and never consummated her marriage. Second of all, I didn't steal her away from anyone. I just... helped her out of a bad place, alright?"
"Oh. Like how you helped Miss Seora?"
I blinked and said, "Did you two get that close already?"
I didn't think they would have gotten along that well...
I narrowed my eyes at Jinhee.
She smiled, giving me an innocent expression.
I sighed and went back to cooking. "Could you stop trying to pry into my relationships, Sis?"
"I can't help but worry, Oppa. Ever since breaking up with Seonhwa, you keep bringing around these beautiful women... Who all seem head over heels for you. It's not good to play around like that, you know?" She turned towards Flone and said, "Tell him, Unni."
So she had switched from calling Seonhwa Unni to calling Flone Unni now, huh? Seemed like a massive misunderstanding was starting...
"H-Huh?" Flone blinked and said, "Oh. Um... I don't mind though? As long as a part of me is in Jihu's heart, I'm fine with not being number one."
"Eh?" Jinhee froze and then she rounded on me. "Oppa!"
"What?" I checked on the cookies in the oven and then pulled them out, seeing that they were ready.
Jinhee huffed and said, "To think you were like this... stringing along women."
I slid some cookies into a plate and walked back, setting it on the table. "I'm not stringing anyone along. Like I said, you're just misunderstanding things."
"That's worse!" Jinhee glared at me and pointed at Flone. "You have this beautiful, kind, and perfect woman right here, and you're telling me that you're not even committing to her? When she's at least ten times better than Seonhwa was?"
"Hey." I frowned and said, "Leave Seonhwa out of this. That's not the reason why."
Jinhee stared at me and then sighed, rubbing her face in her hands. "Whatever, Oppa." She grumbled and then lowered her hands. Grabbing a cookie, she blew on it a few times to cool it down and took a bite. "Not like you're going to listen to me anyway."
"Pot calling the kettle black here. And like I said, you're misunderstanding. Ah, and here, Flone." I picked up a cookie with a napkin and carefully fanned it to cool it down. After making sure it wasn't too hot, I handed it to her. "It's not the best, but it should be pretty tasty."
Flone smiled and took the cookie. "Anything from you is delicious, Jihu." After saying that, she took a bite. And when she did, she let out a happy hum, meekly nibbling on the cookie some more.
Jinhee looked between me and Flone and said, "Misunderstanding, huh?"
I coughed and said, "Anyway... You're awfully free, Sis. I thought you were working on a web novel or something?"
Jinhee waved her hand and said, "I've got the next few chapters scheduled already. Besides, I've gotta make sure my dear Oppa hasn't gone and gotten himself in trouble. Though I didn't expect to meet my future sister-in-law today..."
Flone choked on her cookie and quickly took a swig from her tea to wash it down. But it was hot, so she coughed again and started tearing up.
I sighed and walked over to her, lightly tapping her back. "Be more careful, Flone."
"...Yes, Jihu. Sorry."
I felt a gaze on me. Jinhee's.
And then I realized what I was doing and coughed again.
Jinhee sighed and shook her head. "Oppa's definitely something... Getting Miss Hannah, Miss Seora, and now Miss Flone..." She paused and said, "Do they all know about each other?"
I walked back to my seat and said, "What do you take me for? A shameless womanizer?"
Jinhee nodded. "Yes."
Flone nodded as well. "Absolutely."
She giggled and then stuck out her tongue. "Just kidding, Jihu."
Jinhee rolled her eyes. "Fine. I'll stop bugging you about your love affairs. But don't play around too much, alright? I get that a great guy like you is going to have a few women on the side, but make sure to treat them all properly."
"...Again, I think you're misunderstanding something here, Sis."
Jinhee scoffed. "Keep telling yourself that, Oppa. Anyway..." She pulled out her phone and said, "I should get going. I need to get back to writing to keep up my schedule... And I don't want to be a third wheel in Oppa's affair."
"Again, it's not an affair."
Jinhee stood up. "Honeymoon, then. And don't worry. I'll keep this a secret from Mom and Dad... Ah, and Wooseok as well. Don't want to give them heart attacks or anything..."
Jinhee smiled and waved. "Bye, Oppa. Bye Unni! Make sure to hold onto Oppa tight! He's the sort of person who'll disappear on you if you don't chase after him."
Flone nodded. "It was nice meeting you, Jinhee! And I know." She gave me a meaningful look.
Jinhee gave one last wave and then left. After hearing her footsteps fade away, and after making sure she was gone with my Transcendent Insight, I let out a deep sigh.
"That... could have gone better."
Flone giggled. "Maybe. But it was pretty fun." She turned towards me and said, "Your sister cares a lot about you."
"A bit too much at times..." I grumbled and started cleaning up Jinhee's plate and cup.
"Maybe. But that's how family is, isn't it?"
I smiled. "I suppose it is."
"So..." Flone took a sip from her tea cup and said, "When are you going to introduce me to the rest of your family, Hubby?"
While she teased me a bit more about meeting my family over tea and cookies, after some time passed, Flone stopped, simply content to spend time with me.
...Which made things awkward.
It wasn't like I didn't enjoy being with Flone. And like Jinhee said, I'd have to be the dumbest guy in the world to not like her considering how kind and beautiful she was.
Still, romance wasn't a priority right now. At least, I couldn't allow it to be. Not just yet.
But perhaps sensing my mood, Flone said that she was fine staying at home and letting me catch up with any business I had to deal with on Earth.
Of course, I couldn't just leave her with nothing to do, so I gave her a basic rundown on the internet, how to use it, and what not to do before handing her my laptop.
I also warned her not to go around too much since there were other people here that might get upset. And I'd very much like to not start up a fight just after finishing a big one in Paradise.
After some reassurances that she would behave... and also while having eyes filled with curiosity about my laptop and the internet, I decided to leave Flone be and head out to meet some people and finish some business here on Earth.
First off, meeting with Hannah.
The usual French-styled café.
Like how it had been recently, I was the first one to arrive. So because I had time, I ordered ahead for Hannah. The usual sandwiches for lunch that we always got. After that, I pulled out my phone.
Since I had been busy dealing with Jinhee as well as Flone when I got back, I didn't have a chance to contact everyone in Carpe Diem yet. So while I still had that time, I decided to do it.
Everyone seemed to be busy since they forgot to send me their contact info, but that wasn't a problem for me. So, using a bit of Transcendent Insight, I got everyone's contact information and started making my way through the list.
First off, Ghio. After changing my keyboard setting to Romanian, I sent off a text.
[Hey Ghio. This is Jihu. Just texting to make sure this is the right number. Let me know when you get this message.]
I sent that text off and opened up a new one to go down my list of contacts. But less than a minute after I finished sending the text, I got a response back.
[Leader! I'm surprised that you know Romanian. Truly, you are a man of many talents.]
After reading that text, I rubbed the back of my neck.
It was one thing to be complimented on something I worked hard for, but... Well, this was kind of a cheat, so I felt a bit bad about that.
Still, it wasn't something worth dwelling on.
My phone vibrated again. Another message from Ghio.
[Currently, I am preoccupied with Marika. She is strong, but the experiences with Vulgar Chastity are... Well, we intend to create many more memories together to move past those times. I will thank you in full at a later date.]
[What the heck are you saying about worrying about thanking me? Just spend time with your fiancée already. Women might seem tough on the outside, but they're emotional creatures, you know? Even if she seems fine, make sure to pamper her a lot.]
[Thank you for your wisdom, Leader. I will make sure to do so.]
A formal reply.
I sighed and saved Ghio's number before running down the list.
Next up, Hugo.
[This is Jihu. Just texting to check up on you and make sure you have my number.]
A simple message in English.
Unlike Ghio, I didn't get an immediate response. But considering the type of guy Hugo was, that was to be expected.
Next up... Well, since my keyboard was already in English, I picked the other person who spoke that next.
[Good afternoon, Maria. This is Jihu. Just texting to make sure you have my number. Let me know when you got this message so I know to pass on other contact info.]
I sent off that text and then immediately got a response.
For a split second, I thought that Maria had responded. But then I realized that it wasn't her.
[YOOOO! Bro! You're so good at English! Did you study overseas or something?]
I chuckled at Hugo's message and then replied.
[No. It just comes naturally to me.]
[Lucky bastard! Hey, let me know when you've got a lot of time free, alright? Since you picked up all the chicks in the other place, you gotta help me pick up chicks here, k?]
[Despite how it looks, I'm not a womanizer. I think you'll have better luck by yourself, Hugo. Besides, weren't you the guy having lovey-dovey time in public when we met?]
[That's that, and this is this! Besides, I can pump and dump, but I haven't gotten a serious girl yet. You gotta show me how you do it! Promise!]
[Fine, fine. Maybe when we have a group vacation in the future.]
[You promised! I'm holding you to it, Bro!]
"This musclehead... Is all he can think about alcohol, food, and women?" I chuckled at Hugo's texts and then looked at the other message I got while replying to him.
[Oppa! You're too scary! Do you know how spooked I was to get a text from you in English? How'd you even get my number?!]
I smiled and tapped out my reply.
[I am a man of many talents.]
[Freaking tell me about it... Are you this fluent in speaking too? No, actually don't tell me that. Fuck. Doesn't this mean that you'll have chicks crawling all over you when you go overseas?]
[...Do you like thinking in texts or something?]
[Ah, shit! I have speech to text on since I'm busy cooking- Dammit! Off, off! Don't send!]
[...Heh. Anyway, just checking on you. I'll send a group text out later with everyone's contact info.]
Did she manage to turn off the speech to text? I didn't get a response from Maria after that, so I moved on to the next contact.
And since my keyboard was still in English... that would be Ian.
[This is Jihu, Ian. Just checking to make sure I've got the right number. Let me know so I can add you to the group chat later.]
I sent the message and started to move onto the next. But barely a few seconds later, I got a reply.
[Your English is really fluent... I'm guessing you've got some special tricks here too, eh?]
[Yeah, yeah. But you've got great timing. I was just about to turn off my phone to get to work. I might miss the other messages, but you've got the right guy here. Or maybe not? Hahaha.]
[I mean, considering that I can pinpoint your exact location, I'm pretty sure it's the right number, Ian.]
[...Have I said that you're a scary person before, Jihu?]
[Anyway, thanks for the message! I'll talk to you later. Busy, busy, busy...]
I rolled my eyes at Ian's last message.
The guy was more likely catching up with Anime than being actually busy... but I wasn't the type to judge.
Anyway, the next person... There were only a few left, and they all spoke Korean, so I changed my keyboard settings in my phone back to normal. After that, I decided to start off with Maldong.
I would have liked to check-in with Sora considering that I hadn't seen her for a while, but she'd probably overreact if I texted her out of the blue... And I also wanted to check up on her in person.
But that was later.
[Coach. This is Jihu. Just texting to make sure you have my number.]
I didn't get a response right away, so I went down to the next two. Sungjin and Seol-Ah.
Since they were siblings and probably lived together, it was only really necessary to text one of them. But since that'd be like playing favorites, I just added them both to a small group text.
[This is Jihu. Just checking to make sure you two have my number. Let me know when you get this message so I can add you to the group chat.]
Again, I didn't get a reply. But that was expected. The pair had spent a long time away from their mother, so they probably wanted to catch up.
Which reminded me that I needed to check in with them on that issue and heal her. Something that I might as well do on Earth... Ah, and I should probably introduce them to Jinhee as well. Maybe a shopping trip or something-
"You son of a bitch. You really don't have a sense of shame, do you?"
A sharp female voice echoed from across the table.
I blinked and looked up.
A familiar woman was seated in the booth across from me. And, true to her word from last time, she was dressed more formally, wearing a sleek business suit and black slacks. Paired with her square rimmed glasses as well as her sharp gaze, she looked every bit the part of an office lady that was upset at her boss.
Kim Hannah, my lovely partner.
I put my phone away and let out a sheepish smile. "Sorry about that. I didn't notice you arrived."
Hannah looked like she was about to scold me. But then she registered my words and frowned. "Didn't notice? ...Are you sure you're alright?"
I waved my hand. "I'm fine. My concentration's just a bit slacking from being asleep so long."
Hannah's frown deepened. "It's good that you're back here then. If that's true, you should take it easy for a while. That place is boiling over right now after what you did."
"I know. Which is why I'm here." I glanced at the table and realized that our food had arrived too. Seeing that, I grabbed my plate of sandwiches and a glass of water.
Hannah did the same and then took a bite from her sandwich. As she did, she stared at me, a weird expression on her face.
I blinked and tilted my head. "What? Is something wrong?"
"No." Hannah shook her head. "Just... I'm glad. I heard that you were in bad shape after the battle, so I thought it might have aftereffects here too. Especially since you're such a cheat."
"Ah..." I rubbed the back of my neck. "About that."
Hannah narrowed her eyes. "What's with that tone of voice? Don't tell me that you did something crazy and mess up your body?"
"No? Well, not because of recent events. Just..." I coughed and muttered, "I can't revive if I die there."
Hannah blinked and then said, "Excuse me?"
I glanced around and waved my hand, damping our sounds from leaving the table. And then I sighed and said, "I recently learned that if I die there, I die here too. Something or another about the divine protections not meshing well with my-"
"WHAT?!" Hannah slammed her hand and stood up.
I noticed some people glance over, but thankfully my barrier prevented her scream from carrying.
"Sit down, Hannah-"
"You never said that would happen to you!"
I sighed and motioned for her to sit. "People are staring."
Hannah looked like she was going to keep standing. But then she sighed and sat back down. But from her sharp eyes, she was still furious. "What the hell do you mean if you die there you die here? Explain."
I took a sip from my glass of water and frowned. "It's a bit complicated... but basically, Earthlings are kept safe by the divine blessings of the gods in that place. When they die there, the blessing whisks us back to Earth. Unfortunately for me-"
"You don't have that because you broke the oath, didn't you?"
I coughed. "More like I never got it to start with?" I rubbed the back of my neck and said, "I... may have stolen the divine power to use for myself at the start?"
It wasn't my fault. I mean, who could have known that the divine power was essential to having a second life?
Hannah let out a deep sigh. But then she looked up at me and said, "Then stop."
Hannah gave me a serious look and said, "Stop going over there. No matter what, that place isn't worth risking your actual life over."
"I can't do that."
"You can. And you should!" Hannah shook her head and said, "Everything is going well for you here, Jihu. You turned your life around, you reconciled with your family... And with me here, you don't have to worry about money for the rest of your life. Why do you want to keep going to that place when you already have someone waiting for you here?"
I smiled and said, "My. I didn't know that we were married already."
Hannah slammed her left hand on the table and said, "Stop joking around, asshole! This is serious!"
I sighed. "I know. But you don't need to worry too much, Hannah."
"Oh?" Hannah leaned back and crossed her arms. "And why not? Think you're invincible or something now just because you took care of a few important people?"
"No. Because I literally and figuratively can't die anymore. Well, not permanently, at least? Even if my body gets blown to bits, apparently my soul can last forever and reform a body with enough time."
Well, that part wasn't true yet, but I had some ideas on how to make it true.
Hannah blinked. Then she blinked again. And then she leaned on the table, rubbing her forehead.
"...Aren't you going to ask how?"
"Why do I even worry about you crazy bastard? Mom was right. Maybe I should have just gotten married back then instead of trying to be a career woman... If I knew I was going to be this stressed out all the time..."
I coughed. "Er... sorry?"
Hannah took a deep bite from her sandwich. After that, she took a long drink from her water.
Seeing that she wasn't in a mood to chat, I started eating my food as well.
After a while, Hannah sighed and said, "Fine. As long as you know your limits... But you can't run off and do something like that again, alright? I'm already dealing with enough stress as it is. If I die from a heart attack, I'm going to haunt you for the rest of your life."
"That won't happen."
"What? You saying that you finally learned your lesson, you crazy reckless bastard?"
"No. Just that if you die, I'm going to rip the world apart to bring you back."
Hannah blinked. And then her ears turned red and she looked away. "You and your damned smooth tongue."
"Hm?" I frowned. "What are you... Ah. My bad." I sighed. "Bad habit."
...Maybe I really was spending too much time around beautiful women. I mean, it wasn't like I was lying about what I said, but it really wasn't helping my situation any in regards to dealing with the whole having like a dozen women in love with me deal that I still needed to sort out...
"Whatever." Hannah set her sandwich down and said, "So what do you plan to do here? It's near August, but there's not much going on until September." She frowned. "And then it's going to get busy."
I started to nod, but then I paused when her words registered. "September? What's happening then?"
Hannah sighed and leaned back in her booth. "It's the September Halfway point. Because of the war, we're in a pinch to recruit people for that place. And I'm going to be swamped with work now too... Though since a certain someone ended things quickly, it might work out."
I hummed and tapped my chin.
Hannah tilted her head. "What? You interested?"
A faint memory flickered in my mind. There was someone and something that I had to meet in the Tutorial area. Someone important... but I couldn't remember when.
Hannah laughed. "I guess a crazy guy like you that can pull money out of the air would be able to run it... but this Halfway point's already taken. The next one would have to be in March."
"March, huh...?" I nodded. "Alright. Then do you think you could set things up for that?"
Hannah blinked and then smiled. "My. Someone's getting ambitious."
"Well, since I'm famous now, I might as well start acting the part, you know?"
"Mm... Maybe. But it'll still be hard, you know? It'd be one thing if you had an organization, but Carpe Diem is still just a team. You might be a giant tree, but you don't have any land right now to spread your roots."
I frowned. "True..."
Hannah stretched and said, "Well, you'll figure it out."
I raised an eyebrow. "You got over your worrying pretty fast there, Partner."
"That's because I figured that worrying about my dear Partner Jihu is only going to give me gray hairs. And a beautiful unmarried woman like myself can't afford to have any if I want to find suitors, you know?" She paused and then let out a teasing smile. "Unless you want to take responsibility?"
I blinked and then frowned.
...That was true. I *was* causing Hannah a lot of stress. And if that resulted in her not being able to find a match and be happy...
"Geez, you don't have to think so hard about it." Hannah reached over and bopped my head. "It's fine. I don't think it'd be good to be hitched together anyway. God knows I'll just have to deal with even more of your bullshit."
I laughed and said, "Like I'd let that happen. I'll have you know my wife will be taken care of better than anyone else in the world."
"Careful now. Saying things like that around other women might cause a bloodbath, my dear partner."
I paused, suddenly realizing that she had a point.
Flone wouldn't mind, and I was fairly sure Yuhui might be okay with that. Claire seemed to be the submissive type despite everything else, so she would be okay. But Resa and Seonhwa... Not to mention Seora and then Maria...
I started to sweat. "...Maybe I should do a vow of silence too..."
It would be bad to get jumped before I set the stage to settle everything neatly and end this all with a happy ending instead of broken hearts.
Hannah laughed and then stood up.
"Huh?" I looked at her and said, "Leaving already?"
"Mm. Like I mentioned, I'm going to be busy soon, so I just wanted to check up on my dear partner before things kick into high gear."
I frowned. "Do you need any help? If there's something I can do-"
"I'm not some dainty princess, Jihu. Relax." She gave me a genuine smile and said, "Just take the time and get some rest. You've earned it after all the craziness you've gone through recently."
"No but's. Now... I'll pick up the tab on this one, so treat me out next time, alright? And to your cooking! I'm the only one of your girls you haven't cooked for, you know? You can't be playing favorites like that."
I nodded. "Yeah, I can cook you some- Wait. My girl? H-Hold on-"
Hannah laughed and then walked off, waving the receipt with her left hand... as well as showing off the classy black diamond titanium ring I gave her last time... that she was still wearing on her ring finger. "See you around, Partner."
I watched her leave. Particularly, I watched the crimson threads connecting us. Threads that were suddenly as thick as chains.
I let out a deep sigh and went back to eating.
...This was going to be a mess later. I didn't need my Transcendent Insight to tell that.
On the bright side, Hannah was used to dealing with my bullshit... So maybe she'd help me sort this out too?
A guy could only hope...