[identity profile] leen-go.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] leengonanowrimo
Length: 2804 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 paced in his study, hands wringing each other numb as innumerable scenarios of what was happening in the dining room since his departure.

“You’re going to need a new rug at that rate,” Zitao remarked as the doors closed behind him.

Yifan scowled with irritation, stopping in his tracks only to glare at his cousin, “If you don’t have anything useful to say, just shut up,” he grumbled, not caring that his tone was terse and brought an alarmed eyebrow up into Zitao’s forehead. “And weren’t you supposed to be escorting Ah Mei back to her room?” he added with a snap.

Zitao folded his arms across his chest, “You mean that thing that her fiancé should’ve been doing? Not her fiancé’s cousin?”

Yifan groaned and leaned backwards against his study table, “What do you want, Zitao?” His fingers folded around the edge of the desk and Yifan could tell even without looking that his knuckles were probably bone white but if he let go any, he felt like he’d collapse.

The Duke's cousin shook his head with a sigh, “Can’t I just come by to see how you are?”

Yifan watched as Zitao took a seat across the room from him without another mocking word, which was odd for a man who had always been so outspoken. He didn’t voice his concerns, only letting out a long sigh and opting to get moving again; how long was his mother going to keep with this torture.

“She’s going to be fine, Yifan,” Zitao finally piped up again.

For a second time, Zitao brought Yifan’s pacing to an abrupt stop, the latter spinning around to face the former who was simply picking at a seam on his sleeve. The Duke let out a long sigh as his shoulders slouched and he moved forward to join his cousin in the adjacent seat. “This is my fault, I shouldn’t have brought her here,” he mumbled, leaning his elbows into his knees and dropping his head between his hands. Maybe that move with Lay just before he left the latter alone with the Duke’s mother wasn’t the best idea…

Zitao shrugged next to him, “Sure, but regretting that isn’t going to help right now. Besides, it was bound to happen sooner or later.”

Yifan turned to scowl, “What? What do you know, anyway?”

A snort and then a smirk, “I know that you like this one. More than you’ve liked anyone. Ever.”

The Duke groaned and got back to his feet, unable to keep still with his worry, “You know, I liked you better when all you did was make smart retorts about my life and put your dirty boots all over my furniture.”

“Mm-hmm,” Zitao hummed, going back to investigate his robes in his seat.

Yifan let out another sigh; yes, he had to admit that he did like Lay more than most people in his life. Right now though, that hardly seemed to matter because his mother was probably well into her methods and Lay, well… Yifan pressed his thumbs into his temples with a groan, trying to convince himself that the thousands of images his head had to be worse than what was actually happening.

“Your mother has agreed with my mom to give me lessons on being all hoity toity like you, by the way,” Zitao chimed, an obvious attempt to get Yifan’s mind off his current worry but the Duke laughed anyway.

“Seriously? That’s what she meant when she said she’d get you wiped into shape?” Yifan grinned, the image of his delinquent cousin sitting still at a desk learning calligraphy and taking history lessons pulling his lips up to his ears. “Wow, well wouldn’t that be a sight for sore eyes,” he chuckled.

“Shut up,” Zitao groaned, smacking the Duke on the shoulder, only to get a louder chuckle before Yifan quieted again, anxiety about Lay too strong to be ignored for an amusing picture of Zitao studying.

Silence fell in the room again and Yifan chewed on his thumbnail, ignoring the nagging voice of his mom when he was a child. “Thanks,” Yifan remembered to say, maybe a little delayed but he needed his cousin to know that his efforts hadn’t gone by unnoticed.

“Mm-hmm,” Zitao hummed again, “She’ll be fine,” he repeated quietly beside him.

Yifan was loath to believe him but what was he to do but wait for either his mother to deliver the bad news herself or for Minseok to come back from spying on Lay’s conversation.

Yixing waited in silence for the Duke’s mother to speak first, head hung and avoiding the latter’s gaze vehemently. It seemed like a year had passed before she finally let out a sigh, the sound echoing in the empty room and startling Yixing in his seat.

“How long?” she asked simply.

“What?” Yixing replied in alarm, looking up at the regal woman who narrowed her eyes before he noticed his mistake. “I mean, pardon?” he corrected himself.

The Duke’s mother seemed to sigh with exasperation, “Nevermind, it doesn’t matter anyway. It’s not like I don’t know what my own son likes to do on his off time, but I never imagined he’d bring one of you home with him. How’d you manage that, by the way?”

“I-…? What?” Yixing barely managed in response, hoping his expression didn’t’ betray even half of the confusion he felt. Thankfully for him, he managed to pull himself together long enough to realize that the Duke’s mother was hardly expecting an actual response to her questions. She didn’t seem to care what Yixing’s replies were, like she was really only talking out loud to herself and Yixing only had to be a quiet audience.

“But right now? With the wedding coming up? What is that boy thinking? I’d blame you, but really, Yifan’s been such a good child, I knew my luck had to run out eventually.” She seemed to pause in her monologue, focus nowhere near Yixing anymore as she spoke to the empty room.

 “Would you… like me to leave then?” Yixing eked out.

 Her head spun around to fix her gaze on Yixing, as if she’d forgotten he was there, and proceeded to rub her temples through tightly shut eyes. Without another word she simply got up, glared at Yixing a moment before turning her back on him and speaking to the nearest manservant, “Don’t let her leave until I return. I need to have a word with my son.”

Yixing watched on silently as she left the room to be replaced with two guards stepping in to block the only way out of the room. Alone save for the mute guards in the room, Yixing slouched into his seat, staring blankly at the dining table until the doors swung open again moments later.

“Leave us,” Ah Mei announced in much the same way as the Duke’s mother had done earlier, only this voice didn’t send the same terrifying shivers up Yixing’s back.

“The Duke’s mother has forbade-” one of the guards defending, standing solidly in the way.

“Let me remind you that I will be your Mistress in but a month, perhaps I should have a discussion with my betrothed about your disobedience,” she pressed with her calm grace.

One of the guards flinched noticeably, “The Duke’s mother’s word is absolu-”

“I will be but a moment. And if my future mother-in-law returns before I am finished, I will take responsibility for your actions. Stand guard outside for the time being.”

Yixing could see the hesitation in the guards’ eyes, contemplating through silence glances to each other whether to oblige. Ah Mei crossed her arms, eyes expectant as though it was already decided. “Well?” It was another moment before the guards stepped aside, letting Ah Mei through as they took post outside the closed doors.

Ah Mei turned slightly as if to make sure the doors had closed completely before walking briskly towards Yixing, who tensed in expectation. “I’m sorry about that, and I must be quick.”

Yixing’s eyebrows stitched together in suspicion but kept quiet, wondering what this woman wanted; he was plenty used to the other girls at The Star and how they would treat him if he’d stolen one of their clients, by accident or not. He braced himself, grabbing the edge of his seat anxiously.

“Don’t worry,” Ah Mei consoled, as if reading his mind, “I just want to talk,” she smiled, and Yixing found it hard not to want to believe that lovely smile. Then again, the girls at The Star also had lovely smiles. Still, Ah Mei’s seemed more earnest than most, so he let her take the seat next to him without argument.

“You must be the ‘shop owner’ the Duke was talking about,” she started, though its meaning was lost of Yixing.

“Uhm, shop owner…?”

Ah Mei laughed, its gentleness shaking Yixing who grab onto his seat tighter still.

“We’ve met once before, do you remember?” she asked, ignoring Yixing’s inquiry about this ‘shop owner’.

Yixing nodded slowly, “Uhm, yes. At the Duke’s weekend party, yes?” he answered in a whisper, still trying to gauge the hostility to come.

Ah Mei clapped her hands together ecstatically and Yixing flinched slightly at the action, expecting to have been hit across the cheek instead. “Yes! I’m glad you remember!” she answered as Yixing waited anxiously for the other shoe to drop. “The Duke really cares for you, doesn’t he?” she asked, round eyes betraying nothing.

Yixing stayed quiet once more, not sure if that was even true but mostly just worried for whatever threat it was that Ah Mei was currently withholding for whatever reason. Instead, he was taken by surprise once again as Ah Mei chuckled quietly once more, “Do forgive him, won’t you? He’s really awful at expressing himself and I can only imagine he’s a lot worse when he’s actually with you, isn’t he?”

Yixing bit his lip and continued to stay quiet; what was she getting at? Was this to prove that she knew him much better than he did? Of course she did, she’s the fiancé and Yixing was just some whore the Duke visited on occasion whenever it tickled his fancy.

Ah Mei frowned slightly as if she realized she was talking to a wall and let out a defeated sigh, “I don’t know if you’ll believe me, but all I really wanted was to just say hello. I hope we can get to know each other well, especially if the Duke’s got an eye for you. I really do hope we can get along.” She offered another smile and Yixing returned what could only pass for a half grimace. “Well, I better go before Mother-in-Lay returns, she seemed pretty upset.” She got to her feet and pressed one hand lightly on Yixing’s should as thought in comfort, “Don’t hesitate to come talk to me if you ever need to, okay?”

Yixing watched the Duke’s fiancé leave just as quickly as she arrived, wondering what devious plot she had hidden behind those kind words. ‘I really shouldn’t have come here,’ he swallowed nervously as the guard duo returned to their posts inside the door, to stay stationed there until the Duke’s mother returned with whatever wrath she’d determined in her absence.

Maybe he could fight his way out, those guards didn’t seem that intimidating.

Yixing eyed the swords secured at each guards side and resigned to staying in his seat; until the Duke’s mother returned with her bit and left Yixing to his devices, he had no hope of stealing away. ‘After, then,’ Yixing thought to himself. Yes, he’d wait for now, but then he was leaving immediately at the first opportunity.

He thought momentarily about whether to bring Lu Han along with him but the boy seemed acclimated here and it was certainly a decent enough place for him to spend the rest of his youth. Lu Han seemed well cared for here at least, always in good spirits and laughing whenever Yixing found him. Yixing sighed at the idea of going alone, but that was always how it would end anyway, alone.

He sighed and waited impatiently for the Duke’s mother to return.

Yifan could hardly be considered ‘surprised’ when his mother burst into his study but he jumped out of his seat next to Zitao all the same. She wore an obviously agitated look on her face and the Duke braced himself for the inevitable reprimand.

Zitao didn’t need to be told that this was a discussion he needed to have no part in and he excused himself quickly, resting a hand on Yifan’s shoulder before he left, “If you make it out of this alive, we’ll go grab a drink tonight.”

Out of habit, the Duke stood at attention, waiting for his mother to whether she was going to sit or remain standing. She chose to stay standing, eyes boring into his own until he had to speak first, “Is she okay?” he asked flatly, afraid of the answer.

Yifan’s mother finally broke her stern stance to scowl, “You make it sound like I took a knife to you friend,” she bit out the last word spitefully, not bothering to hide her disdain at the situation.

“Did you?” Yifan returned, in no mood to be making jokes about Lay’s wellbeing.

His mother rolled her eyes and finally took the seat that Zitao had recently vacated. “She’s fine,” she sighed, “And I’m fine too, if you even bothered to ask. You know, besides the fact that my son has brought some bimbo to stay in my home.”

“She’s not ‘some bimbo’,” Yifan retorted, “And of course you’re fine mother. What could Lay possibly do to hurt you?”

“Besides brainwashing my other child? Oh, I don’t know, she could’ve killed me and then pretended that I attacked her, all to get your pity. And then you’d fall for all her tricks and then get all the riches she’d ever want.”

Yifan’s jaw clenched and he resisted to urge to rudely cross his arms, opting instead to grip his fingers tightly behind his back, “Lay isn’t the type to do that.”

One of the corners of her lips twitched up into a skewed smirk, “Oh really? And how would you know that? Where’s she from?”

The Duke swallowed hard, only just realizing that he had no idea what part of the nation Lay hailed from; it had never mattered anyway, Lay was just Lay.

“Just tell me which brothel that whore is from,” she amended, almost looking bored.

“Lay is not a whore!” Yifan snapped sharply before he could knew he was doing it, but he held the defiant gaze all the same.

His mother raised an eyebrow, “My, aren’t we defensive. What happened to that good filial son of mine?”

Recognizing words meant to get him to back down, Yifan’s gaze hardened, “He’s standing right here in front of you, asking what you did to his friend.”

With a sigh, she replied with calm, “Nothing. At least not yet, anyway.”

Yifan was almost comforted to know that Lay was okay, but the ‘yet’ worried him, “And not ever.”

“You’re getting married to Ah Mei in a month, you realize,” she reminded him, “The General is a very good man, but he is not a particularly forgiving man.”

“Lay is not leaving my side,” Yifan pressed tersely, unrelenting. He loved his mother and respected her for her advice in all other aspects, but this one time, he wasn’t backing down. “The Emperor himself has many concubines, does he not.” It wasn’t a question, just a statement and Yifan watched his mother’s lip press into a dangerous thin line.

Silence hung in the study for a moment before she continued again, “You love her, don’t you?”

Yifan swallowed at the sudden question, hard gaze wavering a moment as he contemplated it. He’d never really thought about it, he just knew that right now, he wanted Lay to be by his side. His mother chuckled and sighed, as if in defeat, “Of course you do. You are your father’s son, after all.” She cleared her throat and moved to standing, straightening her dress before returning Yifan’s steady gaze. “You still can’t marry that woman though,” she finished flatly, in a tone that Yifan knew meant the last of the discussion. She spun on her heels with her usual grace and headed to the exit once more.

“Since we’re being honest, then there’s just one last thing I need to share with you,” Yifan waited for his mother to pause before the door, “Lay is a man, and whatever you plan on doing to him, I can promise you that he is not going to leave my side.”

A/N: HAHAHA another update so soon?? What is this?! Madness, is what it is =P As usual, comments are lovely as usual! ^^
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