109 Far from Fine Pt.2

    With his pale hands gliding over the taut strings of his guzheng, Jongin's full lips curled upwards into a slight smile. It was only when he was creating music did he find solace; unrestricted by his ailing body; free from inevitable worldly troubles and most of all, he was just surrounded by utter bliss. For him, music was like an escape from his reality. With music, he was not the sick brother in the family-he was just Jongin. It was the only activity that did not impede on his health; the only activity that put him on equal ground with the rest of his brothers; the only one that he could excel at without feeling cheated whenever anyone had to compromise their ability for his sake.

    Jongin peered down at his beloved guzheng amorously. If music was his escape, then his guzheng was the door that made it possible.


    The pale-faced boy glanced up from where he sat, his hands still hovering above the strings. "Brother..." he spoke softly, "I did not hear you come in."

    A faint smile played on Junmyeon's lips as he drew closer. "You were so busy playing your guzheng that you did not hear me enter." He sat down on the cushion closest to his brother and admired the instrument near his lap. "The piece you were playing," he observed, "it sounded cheerful."

    "There was a refreshing breeze earlier" Jongin stated without ever taking his eyes off his guzheng. "When it passed by, the trees outside swayed along with the wind and the leaves shimmered. The flowers danced, and the birds soared high." Finally, he locked eyes with him. "When the breeze reached me at last, it was like it was carrying the scent of life."

    Junmyeon eyed his brother curiously.

    "In other words," Jongin elaborated with a grin, "something good must have happened today." He tilted his head questioningly at Junmyeon. "How was your day?"

    Taking note of his inquisitive stare, Junmyeon chuckled. "You know me too well" he replied. "Something good did happen at court today."

    "Oh?" Jongin sat up eagerly. Seeing his brother in high spirits always gave him a surge of energy. "What?"

    "I was appointed to be the liaison for His Majesty and the Waekugin."

    Jongin blinked. "The liaison?" he repeated. He watched as his brother tried to suppress the smile that was threatening to grow even wider. "That is excellent news, brother!"

    "Thank you, Jongin" he murmured bashfully. "I was quite surprised when His Majesty suggested it."

    "Brother, it is only right that you get that position. You have worked tirelessly to learn their tongue. Even Brother Minseok cannot speak their language."

    "Yes, but there were so many more qualified officials in court who have studied as rigorously as I." A boyish grin tugged at his lips as he modestly mentioned, "I cannot speak as well as they and yet His Majesty personally chose me to undertake this task."

    "Then, His Majesty must have recognised your potential" Jongin concluded. "He must have a lot of faith in you to appoint you as liaison." He gaped at his brother, his chest swelling with pride. "Does that mean you will engage a lot with the Waekugin?"

    Junmyeon nodded. "I will mainly be interpreting for the Waekugin who cannot speak Saimese. Apart from that, I am to work closely with them as well as Brother Minseok and His Majesty."

    Jongin hummed in satisfaction as he directed his attention back to his guzheng. "It sounds like a very difficult role."

    "One of the Waekugin diplomats speaks Saimese very well" Junmyeon divulged, to which his brother raised both his brows in surprise. "It astonished many of us."

    "A Waekugin speak our language?" he thought aloud. "How very bizarre."

    Junmyeon laughed lightly. "Indeed."

    A short silence ensued as the brothers contemplated the Waekugin. But while Junmyeon was still grinning over being appointed by His Majesty for the liaison position, Jongin, on the other hand, was secretly watching him. He beamed.

    You deserve that position, brother, he internally spoke. You have been working so hard all your life.

    Casting his gaze down to his guzheng, Jongin allowed himself to get lost in the recesses of his mind. Like a film reel, his memories played before his eyes as he thought about his brother. He remembered how the candle lights in Junmyeon's room remained alight even nearing the break of dawn; how his brother, whenever he visited him, would have dark rings encircling his eyes like a sleepless badger and, how Junmyeon would endlessly mutter to himself in a foreign language as he proceeded with his daily responsibilities in court.

    There was no doubt in Jongin's mind that his elder brother was a hardworking man-the most diligent individual he knew. And yet, why can't their father see that? Why were Junmyeon's efforts still going by unnoticed by the man his brother respected the most?

    With a conflicted expression, Jongin peered up at Junmyeon, who was still quietly grinning to himself. It is unfair, he kept thinking. You work so hard and yet Father refuses to acknowledge your talents. Jongin averted his gaze back down to his guzheng, frustration overwhelming him. It upset him to find his brother mistreated all the time. Growing up, Jongin had always found it odd that Jumnyeon never received the same treatment as his other brothers or himself. Their father had always given him the cold shoulder, dismissing his presence as if he was invisible.

    But Junmyeon was anything but invisible.

    No matter how many times his father belittled him, he kept getting back on his feet, diligently perfecting every part of himself that he deemed lacking so that he had no fault. He worked so hard that he excelled in Literature, Martial Arts and even Philosophy. Junmyeon outshone the rest of the Kim brothers like the sun. He had accomplished so much and yet, their father refused to acknowledge him, the brightest of the Kim brothers as if he was a shadow.


    What could Junmyeon have done for their father to treat him like so?

    Jongin peered at Junmyeon before tentatively asking, "Have you told Father yet?"

    Junmyeon's grin faded away. "No... not yet."

    "You do not have to tell him" Jongin quickly said in a bid to salvage what good ambience they had. "Brother Minseok will probably tell him when he visits."

    A hopeful look fleeted across Junmyeon's eyes before they dimmed in defeat. "No, Father would not like it if I keep this information from him." He forced a smile to reassure his younger brother. "I will tell him when he summons me for our weekly report."

    Jongin stared at his brother woefully.

    "Do not look at me like that, Jongin" Junmyeon's tone was sharp but his eyes showed no malice. "Please. Do not look at me as if you pity me."

    "It is unfair" Jongin murmured as he averted his gaze. "You work just as hard as Brother Minseok and yet, Father refuses to acknowledge you-"


    "I do not understand him at all" Jongin snapped as he glared at the floor. "It is like choosing a star over the sun!"

    Startled, Junmyeon blinked. It was the first time Jongin had vented his frustrations.

    "I do not understand why Father remains blind to your endeavours" he muttered, his voice trembling with subdued anger. "You bring so much to our family. You work so hard. And yet, he does not give you even the slightest praise that you deserve."


    "Brother, compared to me, a sickly invalid, you definitely deserve the praise and attention that Father showers me. I have done nothing to deserve his attention. Nothing to deserve his praise. Nothing." His voice croaked as he looked away ashamedly. "I am no use to this family as I am, so why does he treat me better than you?" With a pained expression, he asked, "Why...?"

    "Jongin, do not ever think of yourself in that way" Junmyeon sternly answered. "You are not an invalid. Sickly, yes, but you will get better-"


    "No. Listen to me" Junmyeon interrupted. "Do not ever question your worth as a Kim. Father treats me differently because..." Junmyeon's voice trailed off as he searched for the reason he had been seeking all his life. He had been asking himself the same question for so long that it had become ingrained in his being-an unhealthy obsession that transformed into his drive to succeed just so that he could earn the slightest bit of acknowledgement in their father's eyes. But alas, Junmyeon knew that there was no use in pondering over the true reason behind their father's conditional love.

    A sigh escaped his lips as he settled for the explanation their mother had given him long ago. "Father... is a stoic man" Junmyeon explained, "so, he finds it difficult to express his love. It is just his way of helping me to prepare for the challenges ahead."

    Jongin gaped at him with doubtful eyes.

    "Do not worry about me" Junmyeon added, "instead, you should focus on getting better so that you can learn Martial Arts or even Archery." He stared out to the garden, where the cicadas were singing their summery serenade. "While it is still summer, we should enjoy the outdoors as much as possible."

    Jongin followed his brother's gaze and took in the bright colours of the picturesque garden before him. He knew that Junmyeon was trying to shift the conversation onto something else to avoid speaking about what truly troubled him. Such was his habit when he was uncomfortable.

    Am I so unreliable that he cannot share his burden with me?

    "You are right."

    Junmyeon looked back at him.

    "I shall try and recover."

    A small smile spread across Junmyeon's lips again as he watched his younger brother resume playing the merry tune from before. But as he closed his eyes and swayed along to the effortlessly calming music, little did he know of the turbulence that still tormented Jongin.

    You really do deserve more, brother, he thought. I should be receiving Father's scorn, not you.

    With the cheerful music disguising the anxiety, worry, and concern he harboured for Junmyeon, Jongin continued to pluck the strings of his instrument with fervour.

    Like the strings on his guzheng, the path before Junmyeon was taut and narrow. Treading along this path was like walking along a tightrope with one foot stepping in front of the other. It was difficult but not impossible. However, life for Junmyeon was not as simple as others'. While walking along the tightrope, Junmyeon must balance weights which resemble their father's expectations of him as well as the weight of his own ambition. He must tread lightly, carefully crossing the rope while evenly spreading the weight so as not to fall.

    A frown riddled Jongin's features as he thought of his brother and the path he was embarking on.

    To reach his intended goal, Junmyeon must avoid leaning too much on one side: everything must be equal. However, what if he can only carry one weight to get across? Will he continue to be enslaved by their father's wishes in the bid to please him? Or will he start living his life unbound by the expectations of aristocratic life?

    He must choose.

    But the main question is... will he choose correctly?

    Jongin abruptly halted as he accidentally caught the wrong string, creating a jarring sound. "I apologise" he murmured when he noticed Junmyeon wince. "I lost concentration for a moment."

    "Are you tired?" he enquired. "It is unlike you to play a discord."

    Jongin shook his head. "No, I am fine."

    But inside, Jongin was far from fine. He smiled forcibly to conceal his inner thoughts.

    Brother, you cannot continue bearing all the weight, he thought to himself, or it will lead to your downfall.
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