Jung Seok chuckles a little, his smile a little strained though real, his fingers a little tight around his cup and then cuts his brother off, “Hyeong, you trust me, right?”
Jung Ryeol’s trailing, “Jung Seok you…” dies on his lips as he wets it with the soju.
The Justice Minister swallows before his eyes are softening and melting apart in weakness. He trusts Jung Seok, but he doesn’t trust himself to be able to live without his younger brother.
“You are all I have left, maknae-ah.” And Jung Ryeol catches it, that stab of vulnerability that makes him so afraid.
His brother’s gaze flicks away from him for a moment and in that moment he cannot believe in that promise.
“I’ve always had a plan, Hyeong. Don’t worry. It’ll turn out alright.”
And then that laugh, “After this, I might even be the one looking down at you,” how ominous it sounds.
He would like to fool himself, order Jung Seok’s favourite spicy stir-fried pork, drink them both near to a stupor and call a cab to bring them home.
Jung Seok pours him another glass and he drinks, feeling the alcohol burn in his throat like it’s etching his fears into his shoulder.
“I’m sending that Kim Gi Tae back to Incheon as the Chief Prosecutor there. I will protect you, Jung Seok-ah. Give your brother a little time.”
They both know he is begging for something.
Jung Seok sighs before filling their glasses again, clinking them even though Jung Ryeol does not raise his. “Hyeong, can’t you just stay still this time? I’ve never disappointed you so far, right?”
Jung Ryeol makes up his mind, calling for a driver, signalling for the tab and reaching across the table to pour Jung Seok another drink.
“You will never be a disappointment to me,” he says empathetically, “I already told you that I can give up everything.”
There is a loose smile, almost broken on Jung Seok’s face, “And I told you that you have become soft. How are you going to handle the future challenges as a politician? I won’t weigh you down, Hyeong.”
Jung Seok takes another shot, Jung Ryeol knows he will stay sober for the incredibly important reason of stopping his brother’s masterplan, for everything it can be will not be good for Jung Seok.
Then his brother is sloshed and he thinks about how ten years ago when Jung Seok was a police reporter and he a prosecutor, of their monthly setbacks and their turn-taking, hauling each other home.
They haven’t done this in a while. With dwindling frequency even though they moved up their respective ladders into jobs purported to give them more autonomy. A lie of childhood carried forward. Somewhere along the way they grew together and grew apart, Jung Seon was their starting point.
When she died. His responsibility, his fault even.
“To our home, thank you,” he tells the driver as he supports Jung Seok into the car.
Jung Seok clutches at him like he’s twenty and just had his article trashed by a senior, Jung Ryeol balances his weight across his shoulders, one hand holding both their briefcases and the other hand fumbling with the key card.
Then with his speech slurring, Jung Seok whispers in his ear, “Hyeong… I killed them. I’m sorry.”
The vows he took as a legal officer are thundering in his head. Then the opposing arguments are wiggling in.
He compartmentalises, opening the door and then getting them both safely indoors. “You’re drunk, Jung Seok-ah.” And then his brother is making noises of protest. “I’ll take down Oh Jong Tae with me… then at least Hyeong you’ll be safe.”
His first thought is to viscerally reject that possibility. Instead, he lies.
“You are going to bed. I am going to take down Oh Jong Tae and then you will be safe.”
Jung Seok’s voice cracks, “He has evidence.”
Jung Ryeol moves mechanically, kneeling by the bed, removing Jung Seok’s shoes, socks, his tie his glasses. He threads his fingers through his little brother’s, pulling his hands close and pressing his lips to his knuckles in prayer.
By the time his knees have gone numb and he stumbles to stand, drawing Jung Seok’s phone from his coat’s breast pocket, his brother is fast asleep.
The Justice Minister leans down to gingerly murmur the only possible dream left. If only he were stronger, he would have cradled Jung Seok while he was awake, offered the comfort that Jung Seon used to provide him.
“Jung Seok-ah… if you can kill someone, your Hyeong can too.”
To Yoo Jung Ryeol, he doesn’t need Oh Jong Tae to be guilty. He needs him dead and there’s no way to expedite an execution.
Then the headline to be splashed across the pages of the Jeongahn Daily, his little brother’s beloved company is him, the victim, trussed up in bandages and then it’s ‘self-defence’ for his one clean blow in near inhuman rage. They called it adrenaline and desperation.
The medical experts rolled in, the coroner who testifies he only hit Oh Jong Tae once, with his name plaque. A one-hit, to live or die with the closest item within reach. A tumble where he hit the corner of the table (they both, actually, just different tables).
And then they pinned it all on Oh Jong Tae. The news moved since it was the truth that they wanted.
Jung Seok does not approve, he shouldn’t. But Jung Ryeol is free to tell his younger brother that he approves.
Now knowing that he could have, too.
“It is not a happy ever after, Jung Seok-ah,” he says it in half-apology. Jung Seok just shakes his head, burying his face in the clean hospital sheets.
“It’s not, Hyeong.”
He laughs – it’s his turn.
“But as long as we still have each other, Jung Seok-ah, I promise that I will protect you.”