For a moment, Yohan was at a loss for words. It had seemed odd that Noah had used the word ‘underling.’ It didn’t fit with what he knew about Noah’s personality. It turned out that Noah had been distinguishing between his true comrades and the underlings that he used to protect them. Protecting comrades. This was the Shin Noah that he knew. It was something that Yohan didn’t realize until now, unfortunately.
“You’re amazing and stupid.”
“Why do you have to be so rude?”
“How can you share all this information? What would you do if I go out to find and kill all your comrades?”
“Mapo isn’t some neighborhood park. If they hid, how would you find them?” Noah replied, calmly.
“What if I pour all my resources into finding them?”
“Let’s not talk about hypotheticals. Since you invited me to come here on my own, I was prepared to die. However, I knew that if my friends didn’t hear from me again, they would fight you, seeking revenge.”
“I see.” Yohan knew he had a point. If he was in the same position, he would’ve done the same thing and sent his most trusted comrades away while sacrificing himself. If that happened, his comrades would avenge him. They would stop at nothing to recover his body. “You’re right. I take back what I said about you being stupid. I apologize.”
“No, you’re right about me being stupid. I absorbed too many people into my camp, trying to stop another tyrant like Gae Baek Jung from gaining a foothold in Seoul. I was too greedy and arrogant.”
“You were still somewhat successful. No one could have done it as well as you have.” Yohan said.
Noah smiled earnestly at the compliment, looking as if his doubts had been washed away. The two men shared an indescribable kinship, the kind one might develop after many life-and-death experiences together.
“If I stay with you…I have a feeling that I might be able to protect my people this time.”
Yohan felt like he was about to gain a thousand troops. He hadn’t expected to be with Noah in this timeline. It was a dream that he had all but given up on. He was even prepared to kill him with his own hands. However, if they were to team up, they would have gained more than what they had anticipated they’d get when they first started this expedition. Yohan wanted to cement the partnership, but he was nervous.
“When we used to be together, who was the leader?”
“It was you.” Yohan replied. Noah nodded.
“I see. Is that why I lost to Gae Baek Jung in that timeline? You won in this one…”
“Maybe. However, in this timeline I had the advantage of knowing his existence and behavior. If I didn’t, I think we would have lost even harder than in the previous timeline.”
“Good. You’re still thinking about it objectively. Well then, it’s your turn this time.”
“Please take good care of my camp members. Leader.” Noah bowed his head slightly and sat down. When he lifted his head again, he had a big smile on his face.
“I’ll do my best. For the safety of my new comrades.” Yohan replied, earnestly.
“Wow, how cringey.”
“You started it first, treating me with respect like that.” Yohan gave Noah a friendly scowl and started untying his hands.
Noah massaged his wrists as the bindings came loose. The pair walked out of the cafe as if nothing unusual had happened. Everyone was waiting for them outside. They gathered around them, not hiding their stares as they glanced at Noah’s unrestrained hands.
“Did the old man leave already?” Yohan asked Sweeper, ignoring the stares.
“Yeah, he ran off in a hurry. About this guy…”
“He decided to join us. He’s our new comrade.” Yohan replied.
The recon team had hardened expressions on their faces. They held their weapons menacingly, looking ready to pounce the moment Noah made any suspicious moves.
“Relax.” Yohan said.
“But we were just fighting him a moment ago. Is this okay?”
Yohan nodded, but everyone still kept their weapons at the ready. Noah hesitated for a moment, before walking to a nearby corpse. He picked up a blood-soaked weapon and rested it against his shoulder. A mechanical click could be heard.
“Saeri, Corporal Ong. Put down your weapons.” Yohan said, sternly. The pair lowered their weapons, but looked unhappy. “It’s good to be on guard. It’s a good habit.”
“But he didn’t even bring a weapon when he came here to negotiate with me. Trust me. In the previous timeline, he was my most trustworthy comrade.”
Everyone stared at Yohan. Sweeper, who was in the front, was the first to visibly relax.
“Yeah friends, let’s relax. There’s more of us anyways.”
It wasn’t until they changed positions, and had someone pointing a gun at Noah’s back, that the recon team members lowered their guns. A few of them were still on guard, but that didn’t bother Yohan. It was how he trained them, after all. Even he was still on the lookout, so he couldn’t expect any less from his team.
“There’s something I’m still curious about.” Noah said, to the group behind him, a gun still pointed to his back. “Is everything your leader says always so cringey? I think it might be difficult for me to get used to him.”
A few recon team members couldn’t help chuckling.
* * *
“So that’s what happened. You’re pretty amazing and handsome, bro.”
The recon team members got filled in on the situation. Yohan lied a little bit and claimed that they had agreed to a merger, but one of Noah’s underlings didn’t like it and tried to attack Yohan. They learned about how they had been fighting underlings and how Noah’s true comrades were in hiding. With the explanation, they could understand Yohan’s decision. Not only did they understand it, but they began admiring Noah.
“Please stop with the flattery. I am an incompetent leader that let camp members die.” Noah said, waving them away. Still, the recon team members bombarded him with questions, both serious and silly ones. It was a hazing ritual that most new members went through.
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
“I don’t. I’m not interested in any right now.”
“What’s your type?”
“Um…a pretty girl.”
“How about one of these three?” Jae Ho asked. The female recon team members frowned at him.
“Um…I said a pretty girl.”
Yohan could hear the sound of someone spitting. Just as the mood was getting lively, he stopped them.
“Enough. Noah, do we need to go pick up your comrades or are you going to call them here?”
“Since you have to do something in Yongsan, I’ll ask them to pack their belongings and meet us there.”
“Okay then.” Yohan nodded. Noah pulled out his walkie-talkie.
— “Oh, Noah! What happened? Are you okay?” It was a voice that Yohan had never heard before.
“It’s a long story. Everyone come to Yongsan Station. We’ll meet there.”
“Yeah, everyone. Don’t leave anyone behind.”
“Shall we get moving now?” Yohan asked Noah.
“Wait.” Noah tugged on Yohan’s arm as he was about to start walking. Yohan turned around. “Can you give me some time? I want to take care of their corpses.”
“No, it’s fine. I want to do it myself.” Noah said, determination in his voice. Yohan looked at him for a moment and then nodded.
“Okay. Everybody else come inside and clean up. We’ll take a break.” Yohan ordered.
The recon team members stretched and relaxed on the cafe chairs. Noah disappeared from sight, but Yohan could hear him quietly apologizing to the dead as he took care of the corpses.
16. The Line Between Life and Death
After Noah finished with the corpses, they all started making their way to Yongsan Station. Jung Eun and Eddie looked a lot better than before. Luca and Saeri had helped change their bandages and the other recon team members took turns standing watch.
The sun was still high in the sky, but Yohan wanted everyone to rest. He didn’t know what to expect next and wanted them to conserve their energy. Fighting twice in one day was already taxing enough on the mind and body. Eventually they met up with Noah’s comrades. Choi Soo Hyun was the only one left that Yohan remembered. However there was an unexpected interaction.
“So Hee? Is that So Hee!?”
Some of the recon team members got a bit emotional as they witnessed a family reunion. One of Noah’s comrades ran out to So Hee and started crying.
“Is that person So Hee’s older brother?”
It was so hard to believe, despite witnessing the event with their own eyes, it was practically a miracle. The brother and sister pair felt like they were dreaming.
“I waited for you.”
“Sorry, I’m sorry.”
It was hard to describe what everybody else was feeling. They also had family and friends, but had all but given up on ever seeing them again. They had become numb to the feelings of sadness and yearning, but the scene before them dredged up those emotions once again. Yohan watched on with his arms crossed. Noah looked genuinely happy for the siblings. Yohan nudged his new comrade.
“I’m not sure. Soo Hyun did mention that he had a sister, but he said he had given up on finding her.”
Choi Soo Hyun was sent to Seoul for a military operation. His base was following orders to visit different shelters. However, a mutant attacked and their forces were split apart. After that, some soldiers started deserting while others followed a non-commissioned officer and joined Noah’s camp.
They had tried to contact family members at Yeongjong island. Soo Hyun kept himself occupied by trying to find any information about whether his family was still alive or not, but such information was scarce given the circumstances.
It was such a picturesque scene. The miracle-like reunion warmed everyone towards the merger of the two groups, forming an immediate bond between the strangers that was hard to describe with words.
“What a coincidence.” Hyuk mumbled. He was standing next to Yohan.
“Rather than coincidence, I would say it was inevitable. Oh, Hyuk, before I forget.”
“Be nice to Noah. You can learn a lot from him.” Yohan told him. He knew that, as Hyuk got older, there was a good chance that he would grow up to be a lot like Noah. He could become a cold-hearted person with an overflowing sense of justice, but he would need to learn how to ease off on his beliefs for the sake of his own people. To become warlike, but peaceful and self-discriminatory. Noah was Yohan’s own role model, but it was also a path that Hyuk should follow. If Gunn was still alive, he would also bear resemblance to Noah.
“Great. Good job everyone. We’ll rest up here and leave tomorrow, early in the morning. We’ll head to the Headquarters of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
“Wait, Yohan, we’re going to the headquarters?”
“Yeah, that’s our target. Is there a problem?”
“It’s not really a problem, but…”
There seemed to be one more obstacle in their way.
— Ω —