124 Beneath The Mask Pt.2

    With his face flushed from exertion and his body curled in his bed, Jongin's frail frame convulsed as a violent cough overcame him.

    "Is there nothing else you can give him?" Junmyeon demanded, his question aimed at the elderly physician. "He is in pain!"

    "Master Junmyeon, I am afraid there is nothing else I can do. I have given Master Jongin the best herbal medicine there is to offer-"

    "Your best is not good enough!" Junmyeon interjected in frustration. "There must be something else you can give him."

    In the dimly lit room, the elder watched as Junmyeon abruptly marched over to his medicinal box that was filled with vials, gauze and all sorts of surgical contraptions.

    "Master Junmyeon,  please. You need to remain calm-"

    "You are a physician" he seethed, "it is your job to make him better, not pathetic excuses."

    Physician Koh was immediately silenced.

    Desperately, Junmyeon returned to rummaging through the elder's medicinal box, his eyes darting left and right as he searched for anything that appeared as though it will relieve his younger brother's pain.

    All the while, Physician Koh eyed him with pity, paying no mind to the vehement tone at which Junmyeon uttered his words. After many decades serving the Kim household, Physician Koh was already accustomed to Junmyeon's fiery temperament. And today of all days, he judged that Junmyeon's mood was the foulest to date. I cannot blame him, he thought. The earlier news must have come as a shock. "Forgive me, Master Junmyeon" the elder muttered with complete sincerity. "I will try harder to find a more effective remedy."

    "And so you should," Junmyeon snapped, "since our father pays you handsomely for your service."

    Physician Koh lowered his gaze.

    Unsuccessful in finding anything of use, Junmyeon ceased his futile search and glared at the physician. "You are dismissed. Please leave immediately."

    The elder kept his eyes to the floor as he did Junmyeon's bidding, hastily collecting his things so as not to endure the intense glare for a moment longer. Once Junmyeon and Jongin were alone, he vented, "Such an ignorant fool! I cannot believe he used to be a royal physician!"


    At the sound of Jongin's wheezy voice, Junmyeon sprang to his side, where the younger remained curled up in his bed.

    "I am here, Jongin," he replied soothingly, his earlier anger dissipating. "Can I get you anything?" He peered down at the pale-skinned boy whose eyes had a hazy look about them. At last, his cough finally subsided.

    "You should smile more often, brother," Jongin croaked, earning a baffled look from Junmyeon. "Frowning will scare away your chances of marrying."

    Confused, Junmyeon softly replied, "Marriage is the last thing on my mind." He paused. "But more importantly, do you need anything? Water, perhaps?"

    "That is a shame," Jongin murmured, ignoring his offer. He smiled sadly as he mumbled under his breath, "I want to see you happily married before I..." His voice trailed off, too afraid to finish his utterance.

    "Pardon? Did you say something?"

    Jongin shook his head. "Nothing. But anyway, what did Physician Koh say to you earlier?"

    Junmyeon stiffened. "You need not worry about it."

    Witnessing his older brother's reaction, Jongin's face grew solemn. Wordlessly, he turned to face the veranda, where the sliding door was blocking his view of the garden. It was only afternoon, but his view of the gardens was already closed to him, submerging him in the lonely, dim-lit room to avoid catching a chill from the summer breeze.

    Jongin felt his throat tightening at the sight of the screen doors.

    Even though he knew he could easily pry them open, Jongin could not help but feel suffocated. For while the screen doors were meant to keep the cold out, they were also doing a good job of keeping him in.

    And Jongin feared they would continue to do so until his last breath.

    "I am sorry, brother," Jongin abruptly spoke, breaking the silence that ensued. "It seems I will not be able to learn Martial Arts again this year."

    Junmyeon regarded him with a small smile. "We have all the time in the world," he reassured. "Right now, your health is more important." He got up from Jongin's bedside to fetch a cup of water from the small table nearby. "So, just focus on recovering instead. Once you are better, you will be able to do all sorts of activities." Junmyeon turned his back on Jongin as he carefully poured water into a saucer.

    "Will I really?" Jongin mused. "I feel as though that day will never come."

    "It will," Junmyeon's voice was firm. He turned to face Jongin and the younger saw the determination burning within his elder brother's eyes. "I will do whatever it takes to make sure it does."

    Jongin sat up as he accepted the saucer that was being offered to him. "Thank you."

    As Jongin took small sips of water, Junmyeon watched him intently. Beneath the mask that he wore in the presence of everyone around him, Junmyeon was just a man who desired happiness. A happiness which he couldn't exactly define with tangible goals apart from the vague sense of achieving his personal ambitions. But despite his insatiable drive to succeed, Junmyeon knew that nothing would ever come above his brother's health.

    For him, Jongin would always be his top priority.

    And knowing what he does, the knots in his stomach tightened as he recalled Physician Koh's earlier words...

    "I am sorry Master Junmyeon, it may be what we fear. Master Jongin may have the same sickness as Lady Sooki..."

    Junmyeon's heart wrenched at the thought. No, he begged, Mother, please do not take Jongin yet.

    Unknown to Junmyeon, lost in his ruminations as he was, Jongin stared from behind the rim of his saucer.

    "Brother?" he called again, voice slightly raspy. "Brother, what are you thinking about?"

    Hearing Jongin's voice, Junmyeon looked up. "N-nothing." He leaned forward to collect the saucer from his hands while forcing a quick smile. "Do you want some more?"

    Jongin shook his head. Lately, all his brother ever did was lie to him... and it hurt.

    "Then, I shall leave you to rest." Junmyeon slowly got up from his side and paced over to the door, ready to leave. "If you need anything, I will be in my room."

    Jongin pulled his bed sheets closer to his chest as if to conceal his uneasiness. Too many things are being left unsaid between us, he thought. But instead of voicing this out he said, "See you later, brother."

    As the door softly shut behind him, the smile that stretched between Junmyeon's lips finally disappeared. He breathed in slowly. What am I going to do? He asked himself while covering his face with his hand. Mother, what should I do?

    With a weary gait, Junmyeon trudged to his room, his steps as heavy as the weight in his chest. Ever since his mother had passed away, he had taken it upon himself to look after his younger brother. After all, he was the only real family he had left. Neither his father nor his other brothers understood him as well as Jongin did: he was the only one who he could trust wholeheartedly; the only brother who he showed his real self to- the real Junmyeon beneath the cold mask.

    But could the same be said anymore?

    Junmyeon sighed as he approached his own quarters.

    Was he... starting to show Jongin his mask too?

    I cannot keep lying to Jongin to protect him, he thought as he hovered in front of his own door. I have to find a way to help him recover. There must be something that can help him...

    Suddenly, a pair of obsidian eyes flashed at the back of his mind's eye causing the hairs on Junmyeon's neck to rise. He swallowed.

    Something, or someone.

    Reluctantly, Junmyeon turned to the other direction and started pacing, each step growing more confident than the last. Despite the fear that threatened to overwhelm him, Junmyeon charged forward. He knew what he was about to do required more confidence than he currently possessed, but he didn't care. Not with what was at stake.

    "Master Jongin may have the same sickness as Lady Sooki..."

    Junmyeon clenched his fists.

    For Jongin, he kept reciting in his mind, Do it for him.
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