[identity profile] leen-go.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] leengonanowrimo
Length: 2138 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

Yifan saw the hesitation in Lay as the latter looked down at the piece of chicken that had been placed in his bowl. He watched the shoulders on the ex-courtesan come up slowly in a deep breath before Lay looked up with a soft smile that seemed grateful. Grateful for what, Yifan could only guess but he took the non-repulsed reaction a good sign; at least Lay had stopped ignoring the Duke. Yifan let out the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding and bent over his own bowl. “So, uhm,” he started, fumbling with his thoughts for something he could start a conversation about.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, what’s this? My dear cousin has the time to step away from his long list of duties to entertain a guest?”

Yifan had to ground his teeth together to keep from throwing his dish at Zitao, eyes squeezing shut as he tried to calm himself. Leave it to Zitao to come in at the most inopportune time, he thought to himself, though he couldn’t deny that he was only half upset; his cousin always knew how to lighten a mood and at the moment, Yifan could really use that skill.

“Are you two eating without me? Rude,” Zitao joked, waving away the servant who had stepped forward to set a third place at the table. Instead, the Duke’s cousin took liberties in seating himself on the other side of Lay, across from the Duke, and reaching into the nearest plate with his hand to pick up a piece of pork.

Yifan scowled, reaching out to rap his cousin’s knuckled with his chopsticks, an action he only just realized he took after his mother. “Really, Huang Zitao?” Of course, his cousin only shrugged, shaking out his hand more dramatically than needed. The Duke contemplated shooing his cousin, to tell the younger to find somewhere else to play but his thoughts were interrupted as a quiet chuckle rose from beside him; Yifan didn’t know how he felt about his idiot cousin of his always bringing out a laugh from Lay, something that the Duke himself had been having trouble doing. “See?” Zitao countered, clearly having noticed the quiet laugh from Lay, “You should have more of a sense of humour, like saozi.”

Yifan nearly choked on his food at the term, not sure if he should explain that if his cousin wanted to imply the relationship between Lay and himself, perhaps he should have chosen a more gender appropriate term. Beside him, Lay seemed to have the same reaction and Yifan put his chopsticks down to reach over and check, grinning to himself when he noticed the slight rosy flush in the latter’s cheek’s. “Please don’t – I’m not – this isn’t…?” Lay managed to stutter out as he tried to catch his breath, pointedly avoiding Yifan’s eye.

The Duke mentally berated himself; he really should’ve corrected his cousin, but truthfully, he enjoyed seeing Lay flustered. It was a nice change from the always-in-control courtesan anyway. Yifan cleared his throat when Lay finally recovered, unnecessarily straightening his own robes along with his expression, opening his mouth to finally tell his cousin to shut up only to be interrupted with the sound of a subtle clearing of the throat.

The trio all turned towards the door to find the Duke’s mother standing in the doorway, joined immediately by Ah Mei. “M-mother? I thought you’d be at the City until the day after next…?” Yifan scrambled, along with his cousin and his newest live-in guest, to get to his feet to greet her.

Yifan’s mother didn’t answer immediately, taking a slow look around the table, watchful eyes pausing notably on Lay and if Yifan hadn’t lived with this woman for twenty five years, he might not have noticed her gaze harden for the quickest moment.

Ah Mei seemed to do the same, without the judging look, eyebrows raising only in the slightest as her eyes flickered between Yifan and Lay, realization flooding her reaction. No one could’ve missed the look of surprise she initially wore, though she gathered herself quickly, “Future Mother-in-Law, perhaps I should have someone run you a warm bath. It was a long ride, after all. I’ll have the kitchen prepare something fresh for us.” she suggested, looking up at Yifan with eyes that seemed all too knowing. She was unexpectedly perceptive, Yifan decided, assuming that Ah Mei had already deduced that Lay was the shopkeeper they spoke of before.

The Duke’s mother hardly seemed to hear Ah Mei’s suggestion, sight focused on the space between her son and his guest; it didn’t take a genius to notice that he was standing too close to Lay for a man and a woman of respectful relations. Yifan swallowed hard at the plastered smile on his mother’s face, lips pressed tightly into the thin line that the Duke knew could only be bad news for him.

“Ah, Zitao, I’m not sure you’ve met your cousin’s fiancé yet, have you?” the Duke’s mother asked, attention seeming too focused solely on Zitao to be natural. Yifan flinched slightly at how emphatic she’d been about his fiancé; she knew. “This is Ah Mei, the general’s wonderful daughter,” she continued before taking the seat furthest from Lay, and Ah Mei taking the seat next to him.

Yifan swallowed again, daring a glance beside him to Lay who’s face had been completely drained of colour.

“So Zitao, how’s your mother?”

Yixing wanted to kick himself for agreeing to lunch with the Duke, though he wasn’t sure if “agreeing” was the right term; was it even possible to say no to a Duke? He kept his head hung, left hand playing with the edges of his bowl while the right hand fisted into his dress under the table.

“Same as always, I suppose,” Tao answered, deigning to finally use chopsticks instead of his fingers to represent his respect for the Duke’s mother.

“And you? Are you doing well? Will you be staying with us for a while?” Tao seemed to avoid the question, clearing his throat and reaching for the nearest plate, only succeeding to make the Duke’s mother laugh, a sound that startled Yixing. “Tell your mother not to worry, we’ll have you whipped into shape in no time.” Tao scowled but managed a mumbled thanks through a full mouth.

Yixing felt like he might throw up; agreeing to lunch with the Duke had been one thing, but the ex-courtesan hadn’t anticipated the Duke’s mother to show up, giving him a once over with stripping eyes that made Yixing feel exposed. And of course, who could forget this fiancé that had arrived with the Duke’s mother. He dared a glance up at this Ah Mei, realizing that he could never win against this beauty. He recognized her, but from where or when he couldn’t quite place. Curiosity winning a second time, he peered up again, only to have her stare straight at him. Yixing dropped his gaze immediately, wondering if she knew the real reason Yixing was here; certainly having a woman move into the home of one’s fiancé wasn’t what one dreamed of to come home to after a long trip.

So he kept his head down for the rest of lunch, desperate to get out of this stuffy room, to grab some fresh air, but too terrified to leave a room with a duke and his mother without their permission; he’d rather his head remained atop his shoulders, and not rolling at his feet.

He had thought the first time was an accident, but the second time Ah Mei reached over for his hand was more obvious, her fingers wrapping around his under the table. He looked up sharply in alarm, catching her offer him a smile that complimented the reassuring squeeze under the table, as if to say it was okay. She let go a moment later to pick up some veggies for the Duke’s mother, leaving Yixing to stew for the rest of the meal, wondering if Ah Mei knew and what she might do about it; he’d seen those smiles on the girls back at The Star before, right before they moved to steal each other’s clients.

A look up at the Duke only made Yixing more anxious; the Duke seemed unfazed, not the least bit concerned as he chatted with this mother about her trip to see the Emperor. It was as Yixing watched the other four at the table that he started to feel left out; he didn’t belong here with this family of royalty, he didn’t fit in and there was no way he would ever fit in. His back slumped into his chair, his focus now on the fiancé, wondering when it would be best to find an exit to this damned place and terrified of what he might be in for now that the Duke’s official fiancé seemed to be aware of the Duke’s affairs outside the official.

After what felt like an eternity, lunch came to an end and Yixing could barely contain his sigh of relief to be allowed to finally go back to the safety of being alone in his room. His legs itched for a stretch even as the last dishes on the table were getting cleared, but he reminded himself it was rude to be the first to leave the table.

“I’d like a private moment alone with your guest, Son,” the Duke’s Mother suddenly said as her son and his cousin got to their feet to leave.

Yixing looked up in surprise, eyes flicking between the mother and the son, trying to decipher the perplexed look on the Duke’s face. It was a moment later that Yixing realized that the guest in question was him. Dread started to find home in the pit of his stomach and he almost, almost, hoped that the Duke would deny the request. He could see Tao in his peripheral, the first person to move after the comment, hurrying quickly to beside the Duke’s fiancé when the Duke stood frozen on the spot.

“Whatever it is that you want to say to her, you can say to me,” the Duke finally piped up once Tao and Ah Mei had left the room, the latter turning around before she left, leaving Yixing with a feeling of unease; that smile seemed almost apologetic, but that was impossible.

The Duke’s mother didn’t seem to bother turning to address her son, keeping a hard gaze on Yixing that was enough to keep him staring down in his lap; he didn’t know what exactly it was that she wanted, but he doubted it was to welcome him with open arms. “It’s a matter just for us women,” she explained in a sickening sweet voice that sent shivers up Yixing’s spine as his chin dug further into his chest, wishing that she would stop staring him down. He could still see the Duke holding his position in the seat next to him and Yixing almost wanted to grab his hand to thank him.

“Leave. Us.”

The two syllables were curt and icy and made Yixing squirm in his seat so much more than the sickening sweet tone. “Fine,” the Duke replied barely audibly after a long defeated sigh. Yixing turned his head slightly to look up at the Duke only to have his anxiety grow; if even the Duke was folding to that tone, what chance did a lowly courtesan like himself have?

As if the Duke could read minds, he leaned over to press his lips quickly to Yixing’s cheek, one hand reaching out to squeeze the latter’s shoulder once comfortingly, “Don’t worry,” he whispered, “It’s going to be okay.” He stood up straight again and pulled Yixing’s chin upwards, “Come find me when you guys are done, alright?”

Yixing might’ve even believed those words if he wasn't pretty sure that doing what the Duke had just done in front of his mother might have just set Yixing’s death sentence in stone. The only thing to be decided would be the date. He watched frozen in place as the Duke shot his mother a triumphant look as if the whole thing had simply been to prove something. Yixing couldn’t bring himself to find use of his vocal cords and only nodded hesitantly; what was this lie when he was to die anyway?

A/N: hahahahaha is this fic actually still going?!??! what a stubborn author to not just let it die :| This chapter was supposed to be longer but then I figured I should post because it's been like two months since my last post, I hadn't noticed, being so busy! As usual, comments always welcome, anon is on. *goes back to neverending list of work things :|
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