Yoo Si Jin found himself cloaked and draped in his loose, white garments the moment he woke up. A tiny tilt of the head was too painful, so excruciatingly agonizing that he had to remain still with only his eyes shifting stares.
He remained reclined on a softly-cushioned bed, although he was certain even in his subtly-conscious mind that it wasn't his bed, nor was it any of the beds inside any of the empty furnished rooms of his household. The fragrant scent of clean sheets lingered everywhere: his clothes, his bed, the room in itself just felt clean and sterile—immensely clean that it felt uncomfortable—but it only led him to think he was lounging at a place he should not be in, as though the scent whispered to him he was at a sickroom. It felt different just by extending his hands an inch away from where it rested beside his hips. The bed was just too narrow. It was not wide like the one he shared with Mo Yeon. Not as comfortable as the ones he laid on at home.
All the more was he intrigued and worried of what was happening, making his eyes gaze around more to observe. One look, even with his hazy vision, he was certain he was indeed at the Royal Infirmary.
The interior of the facility instantly reminded him of this place in the palace; there was no other place that looked like this, no other place having the pungent odor of familiar scents of herbal leaves. No other locus could have medicinal plants hanging on the wall. He would have known it was the infirmary even if he kept his eyes closed.
He would have known he was in a tough situation with his eyes closed.
Moreover, he knew there was a discord of things as soon as he heard Myung Joo's usual loud whispers just a few distances away from where he was resting. Her frantic voice only made him conclude something was truly going out of hand.
"How do you suggest we tell her this?" He overheard Myung Joo on his right side, "When he doesn't feel pain in a sudden dysfunction, then he is at his worse. He is getting worse,"
"Myung Joo, he knows this will happen,"
"But what about the others? What about her?"
"I don't know. But it's time. We can't hide this. The princess has to know. And besides, it's not even our job to make it known to her. Yoo Si Jin has to tell her himself,"
Myung Joo scoffed, "How do you expect him to tell her he's getting weaker right now? You know he never would want to show his vulnerability towards her,"
"Myung Joo, you're overthinking things,"
"The pulse disappeared earlier. It took us minutes to get his heart beating. Minutes! If we weren't too quick, we could have lost him in nothing flat—"
"I know that. I know—"
"This is terrible, Seo Dae Young,"
"I know, but what's even there for us to do?"
"What did you just say? Do you even care?"
"Ya. You can't just tell me I do not care. If i did not, then I would not have rode from your house to Si Jin's house looking for you," Seo Dae Young defended himself to the woman, "But what else is to be done? This is what's happening. Things would get troublesome when you keep this hidden,"
"Listen to me," Dae Young's was trying to restrain the sternness of his voice, "This is what Yoo Si Jin had long accepted. Even the princess had accepted this. She would not have married him if she did not see this coming. They know they would be facing this soon,"
"I know... I get it, okay? But it's too soon,"
Si Jin did not want to hear any further about his friends talking and grieving about him while he was lying awake. He slowly got up and sat on the bed, taking a few seconds to just remain seated until the sharp pain in his temples ceased to afflict him. Turning to his side, he saw both Yoon Myung Joo and Seo Dae Young sitting side by side on the next free bed to his own. They had blank and gloomy stares.
"You never looked depressed whenever both of you are together," Si Jin massaged the sides of his forehead—a desperate attempt to get rid of the severe headache, "Until today,"
"You're awake," Dae Young remarked. Yoo Si Jin disliked it when he kept staring at him with distraught looks. With the years he spent with his fellow warrior, his second-in-command, and also his friend, Si Jin already knew how Dae Young would act whenever something was wrong. His face spoke a thousand words.
He was wearing the exact same face that told him exactly.
"How did the trial go?"
"Jin Young Soo will be sentenced to death three mornings from now. There is no need to worry about Kang Mo Yeon's safety anymore," Dae Young reported.
"I see," He paused.
"You can come watch if you want to,"
"Maybe I will. I don't know. I'm not sure," He sighed, "So now... How long?"
"How long?" Yoo Si Jin diverted, looking down on the creases left on the cream-white sheets of his bed.
Myung Joo was quick to answer, "A few hours already. It's sundown. You have been resting in bed since noon,"
"That's not what I meant,"
"What do you mean by it then?" Myung Joo asked while she observed him. Si Jin appeared even more tired now that his energy was drained and his lips were slightly pale in color. He lifted both hands in front of him and observed the small, fresh-pricked marks on his skin. They were from the acupuncture.
"How much time do I have left?"
"How long?" Si Jin asked once more as he shifted his seat on the bed to face Myung Joo fully. Seo Dae Young, who was sitting just right next to her, had his head down althroughout, like he had placed all his cards and decided not to interfere with whatever was being discussed.
Myung Joo was clueless on how to respond to Si Jin's queries. However, it was already needless to answer because it seemed like he already knew her response through her silence.
"Come on. Tell me,"
"Have you been listening earlier? Were you not asleep?" Myung Joo glared at him. "What did you hear?"
"Why do you care whether I have listened or if I have heard from it?"
"Waeyo? Why can't you answer?" Si Jin forced, "You could not bring yourself to tell me?"
"Yoo Si Jin—"
"Is it a year? A few months? A few weeks?"
"Tell me now—"
"Are you curious or are you just being plain inconsiderate!?" She finally snapped, "Do you even think it's easy for me to tell one of my dear friends that he does not have that much time?"
It may have sounded surprising but Yoo Si Jin was in no way alarmed; in fact, he was expecting that for an answer.
"You know that I know fate very well already," He heaved a sigh while she went on murmuring some things to herself.
"You should not be worried of me,"
"Babo. I am not that worried of you in the first place. I'm worried of her,"
"Nugu?" He asked, "Mo Yeon?"
Why would she even dwell on and worry about his wife? Even he does not understand why Myung Joo would be so aggressive in defending Mo Yeon from him this time, "Look. If that is what's keeping you preoccupied and distressed, it is not your responsibility,"
Myung Joo, on the other hand, disagreed with every word and decision Si Jin was making right in front of her. Her chest heaved in and out in her petulance. "You do realize how selfish you sound right now?"
"I do," Si Jin was not even proud of it.
"You said you love the Princess,"
"I did say that. And I meant what I said. She means the world to me,"
"Then you still are deciding to make things end this way?"
Si Jin let out a tired sigh once more; clearly, Yoon Myung Joo was just as stubborn as she always was, too difficult to satisfy with answers, "You know me. I never decide for my own ever since. I am trying, really, but you yourself said there's a limit to this. And this is it,"
"You have no idea,"
"I just need to tell her,"
"You are numb!" She suddenly sprung out of the bed she occupied as she threw one of her fists on the edge of Si Jin's shoulders. Dae Young was agile to lift her hand but was too late to stop her from hitting him with weak punches. Even with Dae Young's efforts, Myung Joo did not cease screaming and yelling in front of him.
"You speak of death as if... as if it were just one of the trivial games you would play... Nonsense! You do not even think about Kang Mo Yeon!"
"Ya," Si Jin did not expect her to say that, "How can you tell me that? This is all too sudden to arrive to that conclusion, don't you think?"
"Myung Joo," Dae Young intervened, gritting his teeth as he forcefully pull her away from Si Jin, "Stop it, you can't hurt him—"
"Babo! Babo!" Myung Joo cried, finally submitting to Dae Young as she rested her weight on him, "Get lost. Go and live things the way you want it!"
Si Jin could not ascertain if she meant what she said or if it was only born out of her sudden of anger, but either way, he was slightly disappointed that one of his dearest friends would wish him to get lost, regardless whether she meant it or not.
"Yoon Myung Joo, what is going on?" Si Jin took a step closer her, but she managed to budge out from Dae Young's grasp and bolted out of the room.
"If you won't get lost, then I will!"
The two men heard her yell as she walked out of the royal infirmary with hurried steps. Dae Young was left both appalled at what she had done, and at the same time ashamed of how she had left Si Jin in this situation. He turned towards him—now busy wearing back the outer garments—and tried to apologize when Si Jin faintly waved his hand, dismissing everything as though it had not happened.
"It was a surprise, but understandable," Si Jin said while he stood up from the bed and walked towards him. Before Si Jin could pass, Dae Young blocked him from passing through by raising his arm.
"She's just upset," Dae Young clarified.
"Of course. I know she is,"
"Myung Joo did not mean what she said,"
He nodded while tying the strings of his jeogori together, "Regardless of what she said or even what she did, it is fine. I'm off now. I have to tell the Princess about this...whatever is happening with me. I have to tell her before Myung Joo does,"
Dae Young lowered his arm, "She is right. You indeed speak of death as if it does not haunt you at all,"
"Death no longer haunts me. I've prepared myself for it a long time ago," He said in a rather quieter tone, "Leaving her alone haunts me greater than it,"
There were no appropriate words that Dae Young could think of, nor was he compelled to comfort Si Jin in his grief. He looked like he did need someone to tell him things were not going as haywire as it appeared to be, but he also did not seem to be seeking for comfort.
All the current war minister could do was stand while he wore a frown in front of his predecessor.
"I have to go and tell her. It has to come from me," Si Jin walked past Dae Young and towards the exit without speaking any further.
The other man, left alone inside the infirmary, watched him leave the room right where he remained standing. With fists clenched, Dae Young forcibly contained his pity and disappointment to himself.
Yoo Si Jin at that exact moment was on his way to the stables while his feet dragged against the whitestone concrete of the palace. Other than learning about his worsening condition, he was more frustrated that he never brought himself to ask how much time he had left. A weighty news deserved weighty explanations, and he forgot to take that into consideration.
How was he even to tell Mo Yeon about it when he knows nothing about what she should expect along the way? How was she going to react upon the situation?
The whole problem was affecting him that it was too painful to even think about it.
He was silent the whole ride. A lot has been coming in ang going through his cluttered mind, so loud that it brought him to keep his own mouth shut. The slow galloping of his steed plucked down on the road silently and at a slower pace while his hands remained steady on the leather ropes despite anxiousness clutching within him.
Finally, he arrived when one of the house servants came out to light the gate lanterns with a small torch.
"I arrived later than expected," Yoo Si Jin expressed his disappointment, looking around to see that nighttime has arrived.
"All is well. The Princess is waiting inside, daegam," The male servant bowed and answered before scurrying towards the gate. He pushed the wooden doors to make way for Si Jin to enter the estates.
The place was as quiet as it always was, with only the noise of the chirping crickets engulfing what was left of the night's silence.
After taking the horse to the stables, Si Jin walked towards the dining hall where he suspected his father and Mo Yeon were; two hazy silhouettes can be seen from outside the Hanji-covered door, one blurrier than the other. One step on the wooden plank was enough to make a creak audible from inside, causing one of the people inside to get up and walk towards the door.
He knew who was going to welcome him just by looking at the sharpened silhouette coming towards the door at the far end.
"Yoo Si Jin-ssi?" A worried-looking Kang Mo Yeon emerged from the doorway, but as soon as her eyes had met his, seeing him back in one piece, her distraught face altered to a relieved smile.
"Mianheyo. I was late," He said with a sheepish smile.
"Aniyo," Mo Yeon shook her head and walked to where he was standing. Her hands automatically wrapped around his waist, pulling him to a tight embrace, "You are here. That matters the most," She grinned.
His hand somehow involuntarily found its place on her back. The smile on her face was relieving, but to imagine it disappearing when he tells her about his retrogressing health would hurt twice as much as it was delightful to see her in her happiest.
If only every of his hand on her back could speak, it would have already whispered countless apologies.
I'm really sorry.
"Come with me," Mindless of his reserved sadness, Kang Mo Yeon looked up to see him while her hands grazed on the stray hair behind his ears, "I have made another attempt in cooking. Abeonim thinks I did a good job this time,"
"Does my father's judgement mean more to you?" Si Jin asked her while he let her pull him towards the door.
"Perhaps. You always think I cook well even if it tastes bad,"
Si Jin raised a brow, "I don't think anything you cook tastes bad at all,"
"Geotjimal. Quit lying to make me feel better, Yoo Si Jin-ssi. I can't improve if that is all you have to tell me. Arachi?"
"I...will be honest,"
"Hm. Okay. So I'll ask you again. How do you find my cooking?"
Si Jin looked up towards the ceiling, and then back at her, "It really doesn't taste bad,"
"Aish, meolla. You know what? Go and keep fibbing about it. I don't care,"
"I'm not lying, I really think you're doing fine,"
He loves me, she bit her lip, trying to keep the teethy grin kept beneath her lips while she scurried towards the mess hall. Yoo Si Jin followed shortly and saw in the middle of the room were three tables: one occupied by his father, the other taken by his wife, and the vacant one had a meal served on top of it.
"Sit here," Mo Yeon motioned her hands towards the seat in front of the empty table with a loving smile on her face, even if it was understood that it was really his to take.
He flashed her a smile before he greeted his father with a polite bow.
"You arrived late," Young Geun remarked to the man who knelt before him, "We haven't heard from anyone about where you've been. Weren't you at the palace as well?"
"I was at the palace the whole time, father," Si Jin lifted his head and walked to sit beside Mo Yeon, "Things came up unexpectedly, so I had to stay behind,"
"Other than the culprit Jin Young Soo being punished?"
Si Jin nodded, "Other than that, abeoji," Beside him, Mo Yeon remained quiet while she ate the rest of the meal, not interfering between his conversation with the patriarch of the household. He then took some of the prepared meal and tasted it.
"Kang Mo Yeon,"
She glanced at Si Jin when he called, "De?"
"See? I told you. Whatever you cook tastes good," He spoke, only to be given a bashful smile in reply.
"My son prefers eating things overcooked, that's why," Young Geun quipped.
"Abeoji, that was totally unnecessary,"
"But it's true, isn't it?"
"Yeah," Si Jin turned back at his wife, "There's no point asking why I married her. She makes it the way I like it,"
That dinnertime, Mo Yeon ate her meal with a proud look on her face. She need not try hard seeing thart she had been doing things right ever since. Si Jin, on the other hand, could not stop looking at her, wondering for how long would he be seeing the smile on her beautiful face.
Just how was he supposed to tell her?
Minutes flew by quickly, and dinnertime was through. The lady servants cleared the table for them while they prepared to leave the hall.
"I will be at my room," Young Geun dismissed himself from the group and hastily walked to the exit. Si Jin sat still before deciding to follow after his father.
"Wait for me," He told Mo Yeon before standing up to approach the older man leaving the room. The foot-thumping closed in which made Young Geun turn back before Si Jin could put the weight of his hand on his father's shoulder. "I've got grave news,"
"Behind that cheerful disposition awhile ago, I would not have sensed you would be telling me something unfortunate," His whole body turned to directly face his son, "Jin Young Soo?"
Si Jin shook his head, "It is about me,"
Without even further explanation, Young Eun already knew what his son tried to tell him. "Does she know?" His head tilted behind him. There, he saw clueless Mo Yeon remaining seated.
"I've yet to tell her,"
"If you tell her, you have to tell her now," His father remained firm even in his sadness. He gave Si Jin a reassuring glance before walking out of the hall. Si Jin was alone with her; his heart was heavy when he turned to see her standing up from her seat and walking towards him with a gentle smile.
"You look tired," Her voice was calm, and she spoke like she knew nothing about the news he was going to tell her. Si Jin felt the soft, delicate hands of hers reach for his wrists—the way she always would whenever she wanted to know if he was okay.
But before her fingers could firmly touch the hollows of his wrists, Si Jin pulled his arms up in the sleeves of his clothing.
"I always am, but never of you," He took a deep breath, finally deciding that it was the right moment to tell her. "I wish to talk to you,"
She nodded, "Okay, about what?"
He did not answer. Si Jin quietly turned around and began ambling out of the mess hall with small, slow steps, while Mo Yeon followed behind him. She did not demand an explanation, nor did she express how she found it odd for him to turn his back on her and keep moving. The soft padding of her cloth-covered feet against the floor--and the warmth accompanied by it--was the only thing that made Si Jin think that she was behind him, quietly, obediently following where he walked.
The two ended up inside their room, the mattresses still rolled out the way he saw it before he left for his palace appointment. "Have you been in bed all day?" Si Jin turned towards Mo Yeon, who made a soft nod.
"I felt like resting, that's all,"
"I see," Yoo Si Jin turned away from her. Both of them eventually found their place on the bed and sat facing each other, but heads down either facing the pillows or down at their fidgety hands.
Seconds turned into minutes like a time-lapse. None of them spoke a word. Even Yoo Si Jin had everything stuck at the tip of his tongue.
If I have to tell her, I have to tell her now.
"Kang Mo Yeon-ssi,"
He looked over towards her again, eyes staring at the depths of her fair cheeks. Later he was staring at the jade binyeo that kept her hair in a neat and tight bun, "I have to tell you something,"
She stiffened, "What is it?" Mo Yeon looked towards him, her entire face now directed to where he was. Si Jin looked at the way wonder masked the entirety of her expressions, her eyes wide and glistening with curiosity.
"I'm..." He gulped, "...not getting better,"
He paused with her, trying to sense where she was at the moment; was she lost, or was she taking it all in? Was she bothered by it? Did she even understand what he was telling her?
Does she even realize what it would mean?
Si Jin's moistened the dryness of his chapped lips with his tongue before talking, "I thought it was nothing. I thought the past weeks were just a phase, but it was a relapse. Earlier today... I just gave in. The pain was unbearable. I couldn't breathe,"
"Seo Dae Young told me that Myung Joo came quickly to the rescue. I woke up at the Infirmary and came home as soon as things were great," He looked at her, and he hated how his words made her look