[identity profile] leen-go.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] leengonanowrimo
Length: 3147 words
Prompt: in simplified terms, Kris is a duke, Lay is a courtesan who has a jaded view on life and has trust issues.
Notes: see here. Unedited/unbeta-ed (no seriously, I'm running on three hours of sleep).

Yifan paced in front of the dining table, eyeing the empty chairs with mild contempt; he’d thought he’d been clear about wanting Lay to join him for lunch. “Maybe I should have been more firm,” the Duke thought out loud to himself before shaking his head and tucking his hands in opposite sleeves as he continued to wear out the strip of floor under him. He frowned as he contemplated his own suggestion; he could never make it out like an order with Lay. He’d paid for the courtesan’s release from The Star for the very opposite reason, so Lay would never be obligated to do anything anymore.

The Duke sighed and his legs finally stopped moving as he settled in the nearest chair and dropped his forehead into his hand. Where was Minseok? Shouldn’t he have been back with Lay by now? Maybe his plan to give Lay his choices was backfiring. Should he go check on Lay himself? No, a Duke does not go around looking for someone, that someone should be brought to him. Yes, but Lay wasn’t just someone. Or would that make him seem to be too aggressive?

Hardly caring that his attendants were still standing within seeing and hearing distance, the Duke groaned with frustration that he was talking to himself and pushed his fingers up his temples. He dropped his forehead towards the table, swearing out loud when the marble table top came up a little faster than he had anticipated. A hand moved to rub at the throbbing spot for a moment before his cousin’s voice rang through one of the windows, followed by a familiar soft laugh that really had no place coming after Zitao’s obnoxious voice. Yifan’s hand hovered in front of him as his eyebrows stitched together in confusion, eyes turning towards the entrance in expectation.

A couple of the Duke’s servants opened the dining room’s entrance to let in Yifan’s cousin, walking in backwards as he chatted with his audience: a shy Lay with his sleeve brought up to cover the obvious smile behind it. Inexplicable irritation flooded through the Duke and he scowled at the scene, clearing his throat loudly as he got to his feet.

Zitao snapped around in midsentence, “Oh, didn’t see you there, cousin!”

The Duke grumbled something about this being his home before he noticed the wary look on Lay’s face. He cleared his throat again and motioned to the seats with a smile that he hoped didn’t seem too forced. “Please, join me,” he invited, avoiding his cousin’s infuriating goofy face as he addressed Lay directly.

“Of course!” Zitao cut in wandering around the table and planting himself in the spot next to Yifan that the Duke had intended for Lay. “What’s for lunch?” he asked, turning to one of the servants and ignoring the deadly daggers shooting from Yifan’s eyes.

The Duke turned his attention back to Lay who seemed decidedly set on avoiding Yifan’s gaze, making it difficult for Yifan to motion to the seat of the other side of him. Instead, Lay hurried to take the spot next to Zitao, thanking the servants that pulled his seat out and proceeding to keep his head down even as lunch came in.

Yifan knew the furrow in his brow did little to hide his disappointment; Lay had always been the one to initiate conversation whenever they had been together and this sudden shyness was alarming, and unsettling. He swallowed and pressed on, “So, uhm, was Minseok with you?” he asked, once again directing his words at Lay only to have his idiot cousin cut in.

“Nope, why?” Zitao answered through bites of rice and beef without bothering to look around to deliver his response.

“Oh, he…” Yifan frowned as he tried not to scowl, deciding that it would only give away his impatience for Lay to join him for lunch if he answered honestly, “He was just supposed to be back by now,” he supplied instead.

“Mmm,” Zitao nodded with his mouth full, uncaring as he reached across the table. Yifan’s own pair of chopsticks hung in the air between his bowl and his mouth as the Duke swallowed hard at the scene before him; his cousin picking up a piece of chicken to deposit in Lay’s bowl, rice barely touched, and the latter smiling softly as he stuttered out a quiet thanks.

Yifan didn’t notice he was standing or that he had gripped his fingers so tightly together that whatever it had been that he’d picked up (Why did it matter what he was about to eat? It would’ve been unpalatable anyway.) had fallen to the table top with a messy splat across his waist band until he realized both Zitao and Lay had stopped eating to look up at him. A servant hurried to his side in an attempt to clean the stain off his clothes, giving Yifan an excuse to leave the room. He swatted at the servant’s hand and gave the couple seated before him a curt glare before making for the door. “I, uh, I forgot that I still have some things to do,” he added, without turning around, as his mother’s nagging words about being proper towards guests rang in his head.

As soon as the doors closed behind him, Minseok turned the corner and proceeded to shoot the Duke a questioning look, clearly taking note of the fowl expression on the latter’s face. Yifan scowled harder at the sight of his tardy servant, “You’re late,” he snapped before pushing past Minseok and towards his bed room.

It only took a moment for Minseok to dismiss the Duke’s escorting party and fall into step beside Yifan, holding his silence until Yifan spoke first, “You were supposed to bring Lay over for lunch, what the hell happened?”

“Something pulled my attention away for a minute,” Minseok explained in his typical calm way, “I apologize for my failure, My Lord, but it was my understanding from the other servants that Lay made it to lunch on his own.”

“‘On his own’?” Yifan snorted derisively, “As if. He showed up with Zitao, of all people,” Yifan grumbled as he turned another corner into a garden, heading for the gazebo in the center.

“Of all people?” Minseok repeated as he followed his master, clearly not understanding the problem.

The Duke groaned as he settled into the marble seat, “Well, you know,” he gestured, only to have the concerned lines across Minseok’s forehead draw tighter. “That idiot of a cousin of mine was all you know..! And then he was all smiley towards the idiot while he could hardly be bothered to give me the time of day!”

Minseok didn’t reply immediately, even as Yifan watched him expectantly; the Duke could see slow realization slip across the servant’s face and when the latter finally breathed out a knowing ‘ahhh’, Yifan threw his hands up in frustration, still trying to erase the image from his memory.

“So… if I’m getting this properly, My Lord is… jealous… of the Young Master Huang?”

“What?!” Yifan snapped, having expected Minseok to agree that the behavior he’d observed at the lunch table was inappropriate, not turn around and accuse the Duke of trivial emotions like jealousy. “I’m not jealous. It’s just… improper the way they were acting.”

“Ah, improper,” Minseok repeated, over-exaggerating the word to almost mockery, “Yes, and so you left them because they were being improper, correct?”

Yifan shot a glare at his personal attendant, only to receive an amused glint in return, “What’s so funny?”

 “Nothing, My Lord,” Minseok shrugged, hardly bothering to stop grinning. “So,” he continued, unfazed, “What exactly was the Young Master Huang doing with Lay that was so improper, My Lord?”

Instead of answering, Yifan only frowned at Minseok further, getting to his feet abruptly and heading to his room as he has intended to earlier, ignoring the chuckle that followed behind him.

Yixing tried to pay attention to the many stories of Tao’s overseas adventures, only to find that he couldn’t remember where Tao had started the current journey; he had been too busy trying not to catch the Duke’s eyes, worried about what the latter would say and how Yixing should respond. He was actually glad for the distraction of Tao, providing him an excuse to pay attention to something other than the heavy gaze of the Duke.

“T-thank you,” he stuttered out, barely above a whisper, and he wondered if Tao had even heard the appreciation as he dropped the chicken in Yixing’s outstretched hands, continuing on about something on a road. Or was it a boat? Train?

Yixing could feel the burning stare of the Duke on the opposite side of the table but he didn’t dare look up, keeping his head down as he poked at the rice in his bowl, pushing the piece of chicken back and forth absently. It wasn’t until there was a loud clunk and a rattle of a ceramic bowl that Yixing finally jolted his head up, swallowing hard when he found the Duke on his feet, chopsticks still in hand, knuckles white with exertion.

“Y-your… Gr-?” Yixing started before watching the steamed fish fall from the Duke’s chopsticks with a splatter that made Yixing cringe. It was going to be difficult to get that stain out, was the first thought to cross Yixing’s mind, before realizing that it would hardly matter to a duke; he had servants to clean that, and if it was unsalvageable, the Duke could simply purchase new garments.

“I, uh, I forgot that I still have some things to do,” the Duke eked out before making a dash for the exit, leaving Yixing frowning before he let out a long sigh and put down his unused chopsticks next to his equally untouched lunch. What exactly was the Duke thinking when he decided to buy Lay out of The Star? Why invite Yixing to lunch only to disappear abruptly?

“Lunch not for your tastes?” Tao asked, putting down his own chopsticks and folding his arms on the table, leaning into them as he chewed and swallowed his bite.

“Huh?” Yixing almost jumped in his seat, having forgot that the Duke hadn’t been the only one Yixing was sharing the table with. “Oh, uh no, I just don’t have much of an appetite today.”

Tao narrowed his eyes, leaning closer towards Yixing, “Oh? Is that really all?” he asked, eyes flicking back and forth as he scanned the other. “Come on, you can tell me what’s bugging you,” he continued, shifty back into his seat and letting Yixing breathe comfortably once more.

“Nothing’s bothering me,” Yixing repeated, wondering when it was acceptable to just get up and leave this conversation.

“Right,” Tao drawled, “Just like nothing is wrong with that idiot cousin of mine.” He picked up his chopsticks again, picking at smaller pieces of food that lined the edged of the dish plate before them.

“I’m sorry?”

“My cousin. You know, that guy who was just standing there,” – he pointed to the recently vacated seat – “with this dumb look on his face before making that awful excuse and disappearing like the room was on fire.”

None of the words that came out of Tao’s mouth made any sense to Yixing. “I… don’t understand what you mean.”

“I mean,” Tao continued with a sigh, “Yifan doesn’t just forget about things he has to do. He remembers everything, one of his more annoying traits, actually. I mean who remembers that someone owes him a doll that someone might’ve broke out of jealousy when they were kids; it was practically two cycles ago now!”

Yixing could only offer a blank stare to the story, not sure if he should be offering condolences for the other’s “troubles”. Tao groaned and rolled his eyes, “The two of you, seriously,” he grumbled, obviously to himself, before he cleared his throat, “The Duke, I don’t think he likes that you and I are so… friendly.”

“Are we?” Yixing asked, “Friendly, I mean. And if we are, why would he not like that? Are you not his cousin?”

Tao raised an eyebrow as if in disbelief. “Uhm, how do I put this? He… he didn’t pay your freedom from The Star so that you could spend time with another man.”

“He likes you,” Tao added when Yixing failed to offer an indication of understanding. “He paid for your freedom so that you can stay by his side. Everyday. And yet here you are, sitting here with me. He’s upset that you chose to sit next to me and not him. Is this making sense to you yet? Aren’t you supposed to be good at this kind of stuff, you know given your… history?”

Yixing kept quiet as he processed Tao’s words, leaving the latter to shake his head with an amused chuckle before shoveling a mound of food into his mouth and then getting up to leave, “Tell my cousin I probably won’t be back in time for dinner so don’t wait up.”

Yixing supposed that he should be good at this, but then it had always been for show, always so easy to tell the lie. With a heavy sigh, he made up his mind and asked the nearest servant to pick a selection of lunch items and have them delivered to his room. “As soon as possible, please,” he added as he left the dining room towards his quarters again.

Yifan chewed on the back of his ink brush, staring at the blank page under him with unseeing eyes, replaying the image of Lay’s subtle smile towards Zitao over and over in his head.

A soft knock sounded on the door and Minseok left the Duke’s side to address the visitor, shooting behind him, “You’re going to gnaw off the end of that brush if you keep doing that, My Lord.” Yifan ignored him; he had yet to forgive his manservant for his mocking attitude earlier.

“H-hi,” came a familiar voice and Yifan immediately dropped the brush he’d been fiddling with. “May I have an audience with My Lord?”

Yifan looked between Lay and Minseok, who nodded encouragingly before dismissing himself and closing the door to allow some privacy.

“If it’s not too much trouble, I mean,” Lay continued, voice shaky in an obvious expression of nervousness.

“Yes, of course,” Yifan managed, getting to his feet to walk around his desk, only then noting the tray in Lay’s hands, full of covered plates.

“You didn’t stay at lunch very long, and I figured My Lord might be hungry,” Lay continued, placing the tray down on the table closest to the door. He proceeded to lift the lids and piling them to the side.

Anxious and somewhat bewildered with the sudden change in attitude, Yifan stepped forward and settle into the nearest seat, signaling for Lay to do the same. Hardly expecting nothing short of the same awkward behavior from lunch, the Duke drew in a sharp breath when Lay took the seat next to the Duke, picking up the pair of chopsticks and picking up a piece of fish and holding it up for Yifan. Left hand cupped to catch any droppings, Lay brought the food close enough to feed a hesitant Yifan, who continued to stare in bafflement.

“I’m sorry,” Lay said after a silence. “I’ve been exceptionally rude to My Lord, and I hope that you may find it in you to forgive this insolent servant. I understand if what I have done has offended My Lord too much, I shall leave this pl-”

“No, it’s quite alright,” Yifan scrambled, “There’s nothing to forgive, really,” the Duke found himself saying, a smile gracing his lips despite having earlier been positively annoyed at the other.

“I, uhm, may I be so bold to ask a favour of My Lord, despite my poor behavior?”

Anything, the Duke wanted to say, surprised at how quickly he’d forgiven Lay for such improper behavior at lunch. Anything as long as you promise not to ignore me again. “I, ahem, yes, of course,” he offered instead, urging the smile he was sure was threatening to break his cheeks to settle.

Lay looked down again, shooting an uncomfortable pain through Yifan’s chest again, an unknown instinct terrified that Lay might’ve taken to avoiding the Duke’s eye again. To his relief, Lay looked up a brief moment later, holding a familiar article in both hands, as if in offering to the Duke. “I… also would like to stay by My Lord’s side… for as long as My Lord will have me.”

Yifan glanced from Lay down to the very hair ornament that he’d purchased for the courtesan, surprised that the latter had kept it amidst all the gifts the Duke was sure so many other clients would have purchased to show their affection for the beautiful courtesan. “You kept it,” he said flatly, taking it gingerly in his hands.

Lay had been hanging his head as soon as he’s said his part, and Yifan could see the faint rosy glow in the former’s cheeks. The Duke swallowed once before getting to his feet, “May I?” At that, the ex-courtesan’s head shot up, letting out a heavy breath he must have been holding as the smile the Duke loved pulled at Lay’s lips, as if he’d been waiting, hoping, that Yifan would do this.

“Yes, please,” Lay breathed out, turning in his seat.

It was refreshing for the Duke to see this side of Lay, unsure and not in total control of conversation. He found an empty spot (as if Lay had purposely vacated the area for this very purpose) and pressed the ornament into place, hands falling to rest on Lay’s shoulders as he admired the piece in the assembly atop Lay’s head. As an afterthought, he bent his legs slightly at the knees and dropped his arms to wrap around the shorter’s shoulders.

Thank you.”

Yixing could feel his heart skip a beat as he felt the warmth of the Duke settle around him and he had to remind himself that this was what he’d made up his mind to do, this was what he’d wanted in the first place when he’d started those tallies so long ago. That ever since that first client, this was what he’d dreamed he could be worthy of.

Maybe it was time he stopped dreaming, this was reality after all.

Certainly, the Duke could grow tired of him and drop him like that wealthy businessman, that sweet talking army general, that owner of a popular bakery, that lecherous doctor. But right now, Yixing let himself relax just a little into the Duke’s warm touch, hand reaching up to fold fingers around the latter’s strong wrist.

Maybe, just maybe, things might be okay now.

A/N: HAHAHA I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT'S HAPPENING ANY MORE HAHAHAHA CAN I JUST QUIT NOW. Is it over yet halp. Honestly, 3k and like... I'm like a millimeter closer to the end geeezzzz
Anyway, comments are lovely as usual! Sorry for the obscenely late update, I completely lost track of time and only just realised that this hasn't been updated in over a month. I'm running on three hours of sleep because of work right now so if I don't make any sense, I'm sorry *runs in circles singing circus songs
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