105 Much Like Opium Pt.1

    Taeyeon thinned her lips as she silently watched Mayu pour tea into a cup. Her steady gaze, despite being harmless, was as penetrating as a knife. Mayu gulped as she tried to calm her shaking hand that was holding the iron teapot.

    "So, what brings you here today, sister?" Namjoon enquired as he smiled at Taeyeon from across the table.

    Taeyeon shifted her attention from Mayu as she replied, "I came today because you have not been answering my letters." She frowned at him crossly. "You have been ignoring my invitations to come and visit me at the Lee house!"

    "I apologise," Namjoon answered while guiltily grinning. "I have been dealing with the epidemic in the village as of late-"

    "I do not understand why you are making that your priority" she interrupted while scowling at him. "That is the work of physicians: people beneath your class. You are a lord in your own right so, why do you demean yourself with work such as that?"

    Namjoon's smile slowly slipped. "Sister, you know that I am studying medicine now-"

    "But that is the thing!" she exclaimed exasperatedly, "The truth is, I do not know why. Before I could understand why you wished to study it because of your position in the military but now, I just cannot make sense of it..."


    "...You were doing so well in the army. You had so much potential. Your men even gave you a nickname because of your innate talent..."


    "...You should have heard what they said when you abruptly left! Some even followed you out of the military, did they not? You were an excellent company leader..."


    "...If you had continued, you could have been general. You served in the same regiment as General Lee, correct? If you had stayed on, you would have been the head of the Guan Yu not-"

    "Enough!" Namjoon slammed his clenched fist on the wooden table, causing Taeyeon and Mayu to jump. Hot tea spilled across the varnished surface as a porcelain cup toppled over.

    Taeyeon stared at her brother, wide-eyed and afraid. It was uncharacteristic of him to ever lose his composure so when he did, Taeyeon knew she had crossed a line.

    Seeing the fright in her eyes, Namjoon let out a long breath. "I apologise," he mumbled, "I-I have not been sleeping well as of late."

    A worried expression crossed Taeyeon's features. "You need to take care of yourself, Joonie. I do not know why you are going all out to help these peasants, but you must also consider your health and your position."

    "I know."

    "But I do not think you do." Taeyeon's brows furrowed as she explained, "While Uncle is the head of the family, you are the lord of our branch of the Kim clan." She pursed her lips as she stated, "Frankly, I do not understand why you insist on remaining here when you can move into Father's house. It is yours now and has been since the day he passed."

    Namjoon watched as Mayu swiftly mopped the spilled tea. "I am aware of that. But I cannot just leave the household, not when Taehyung needs me here."

    Taeyeon sighed. "Joonie, Taehyung is much older now. You do not have to-"

    "I promised him" Namjoon abruptly interrupted.

    Taeyeon observed the gravity of his expression.

    "I promised him and his brother that I will look after him, sister. And I will honour that promise."

    Taeyeon sighed. "So be it. But you really should be living independently now since you are of marriageable age."

    Namjoon looked up.

    "You are Father's only son and, it is his legacy that you carry on your shoulders" Taeyeon reminded him. "And for that reason, you must find yourself a bride."

    "Sister, please" Namjoon groaned. "Not this again."

    "Namjoon," she uttered sternly, "you should settle soon. You have left that house untouched for so long that it is starting to rot."

    Namjoon got up from his seat, startling Taeyeon. "Sister, I really do not wish to talk about this. I already have so much on my plate." He grimaced as a throbbing pain pulsed through his temple. "First, there is the epidemic and then, there is the Waekugin..." He pinched his nose bridge as he recalled the men's profiles; their colourful irises and their distinct foreign attire awakening memories of bloodshed, screaming, her.

    He didn't want to revisit that part of his life. Not when he had been trying so hard to move on.

    "I do not need you meddling with my life, sister" he spoke sharply as he fought against his growing migraine. "You know better than anyone how suffocating that is."

    Wounded, Taeyeon folded into herself, her hands concealed by her long and elaborately decorated sleeves. "I-I am sorry if you feel that I am suffocating you" she murmured meekly. "But I am only trying to look out for your interests."

    Namjoon sighed when he spotted Taeyeon's hurt countenance. "I am sorry..." he mumbled as he sank back down on his seat. He let out another long breath as he buried his head in his hands. "I did not mean to snap at you..."

    Taeyeon played with her sleeves as she watched her younger brother massage his temples. With his eyes closed and his brows scrunched in pain, Taeyeon noticed the dark rings under his eyes become more visible. Worriedly she stared at Namjoon, his ashen complexion a stark contrast to her healthy, milky skin.

    Joonie, you must take care of yourself, she internally spoke. You are all I have left.

    Despite being endowed with all the privileges possible, Taeyeon had never once experienced true happiness. She had grown up with everything: the finest garments; the tastiest food; the most reputable society-everything a commoner would have only dreamed of experiencing-she had within her grasp. Yet, why wasn't she happy?

    Happiness is the one privilege a noble cannot afford.

    "It is fine," Taeyeon told him with a slight smile as she reached her hand out to hold his.

    Feeling her soft palm, Namjoon faintly smiled back.

    "I just worry about you, Joonie," Taeyeon told him earnestly.

    But Namjoon figured that Taeyeon was hinting at something else. He reassured her, "Do not worry, sister. I will not do anything that will give our relatives ammunition to fire us with" and with that, he gave her a knowing look.

    Taeyeon blushed. Had she been too transparent?

    "But enough about me, sister. How are things at the Lee household?"

    Taeyeon shifted uncomfortably in her seat. "Things are... satisfactory."

    Namjoon worriedly peered at her.

    "My in-laws have been tolerable" she carefully said. "And I have no complaints with my husband. He has been tolerable as well."

    "But are you happy?" Namjoon questioned, his eyes scrutinising her reaction.

    Taeyeon was quiet.


    With her brother's question circling her mind, Taeyeon fiddled with her sleeve. She was accustomed to the looks of envy targeted at her; used to the whispers of jealous noblewomen and even desensitised to the shower of forced flattery that came with her status. So, yes, at first glance, Taeyeon was happy. After all, she had married into a prestigious family and was living comfortably. She had everything she could ever want.


    She didn't.

    "I am" she lied with a forced smile.

    Despite her riches, the emptiness that had followed her all her life remained like a fathomless void. A void that she hoped to fill by focusing her energy on her brother's happiness in place of her own. After all, that was the only way she could hide the torment of her shackled marriage. How else could she forget the bruises found on her husband's neck? The scent of cheap incense that lingered on his body? The occasional rouge stain on his robes?

    With no children to distract her, Namjoon was the only one she could rely on to divert her attention away from her husband's infidelity.

    "That is good to hear" Namjoon replied but his eyes were woeful. As he grasped his newly filled cup of tea, Taeyeon joined him, all the while contemplating on when it was that she had begun lying to her brother.
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