[identity profile] leen-go.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] leengonanowrimo
Length: 3471 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




Yixing let out a loud groan as a servant prodded him several times through the blankets. He couldn’t remember at what point he’d finally managed to fall asleep the night before, but it clearly felt it wasn’t too long ago. He let out a whine and pulled his blankets over his head before having them taking away gruffly by the servant. Shielding his eyes from the sunlight coming in through his window, he yawned and muttered an ‘Okay, okay, I’m up.”

The previous day’s events flooded back at him and he groaned again, wondering why he hadn’t listened to his first instinct and gotten as far as he could from this place. As he hauled himself into an upright position, strings of pain shot through his temples and he grabbed his forehead in an effort to steady himself.

Today was supposed to be the start of those so-called classes that the Duke’s mother was so keen on forcing on him and, having missed almost an entire night’s sleep, Yixing hardly had the energy to get up and pretend to be and act like someone he wasn’t. Even the servant who had been assigned to him at the moment seemed to disapprove, barely concealing the slight shake of her head as she laid out clothes on the bench at the other end of the room.

With more effort that it really should’ve taken him if he’d had a good night sleep and wasn’t still hungover from the drinks last night, Yixing started on his feet only to end up falling in a jarring tumble to the floor. “Owww…,” he  mumbles, rubbing a particularly raw point on his knee until he noticed an all too familiar hand offering to help pull him up.

“God, you’re a mess,” Tao remarked when Yixing was finally on his feet before chuckling in a way that only Tao could when Yixing pulled his hand back sharply as soon as he could stand on his own.

“Uh, thanks, I guess,” Yixing managed to gather, though he was still having a hard time actually looking straight at Tao.

“So,” Tao began, clearly in an effort to put Yixing at ease with casual conversation, “You ready for whatever my crazy aunt has in store for us?”

Yixing didn’t offer up a reply, afraid that if he tried to open his mouth again, only bitter bile would come up in place of words. Besides, what he really wanted to say included foul language and a rude demand of what Tao’s business was in Yixing’s room. Instead, he swallowed his nerves and headed to the clothes laid out for him, sighing with unfamiliarity of having someone to tend to him steadily. He deigned, however, to accepting the help today; it’d been a while since he’d donned the socially accepted attire for his sex and this morning of all mornings was not the time for him to try to remember the proper layers and orders. He was also certainly appreciative of the subtle ‘ahem’ that the servant paid Tao, signalling for the latter to leave the room.

“Let’s have breakfast together when you’re done, okay?” Tao suggested before taking his leave.

Yixing didn’t reply, realising that despite waking up with an empty stomach, he didn’t feel hungry at all.

---

It didn’t take very long for Yixing to notice the Duke’s absence.

Despite his best efforts, Yixing found himself searching for the Duke after every ridiculous session (in equally ridiculous attire) - be it calligraphy, history, or politics - even when he kept reminding himself that he should really be looking for another opportunity to ditch this establishment. Instead, he often found himself in the company of Tao, given that the pair shared the same schedule of ridiculous classes.

Their first day together, of course, was a combination of awkward silences and forced conversation that was insisted on being a reminder of Yixing’s previous night of bad decisions. And while Tao made no sign of having been affected by the events, Yixing had a hard time pretending he felt the same way. He was embarrassed, having made a fool of himself and not even the excuse that he’d been drunk at the time made it any better.

The pair shared an interest in finding the best restaurant to eat in, and they wandered into a new establishment almost daily. While there were certainly a selection of good fare to be had, Yixing and Tao found twice as many places that were quite the opposite. On these occasions, they made a trip to retrieve a skewer of roast pork at the dully painted cart at the end of a line of similar mobiles that sold jewelry and other miscellany trinkets.

Tao’s most admirable personality trait was probably his ability to make conversation so easy that Yixing simply forgot the embarrassment of rejection within the first day. Their shared revulsion for the teachings of whatever-professor-that-was and the terrible reasoning of the Duke’s mother’s demands made Tao easy to relate to.

While Yixing couldn’t stand remembering how he’d climbed out of his own bed in horror when he saw the Duke resting in the chair beside him, or how Tao had stopped him from climbing into his, he was partly thankful; If Tao hadn’t so adamantly proven his loyalty to his cousin, Yixing was certain there’d be no way he’d be able to share their current conversation about their favourite wine types; Yixing had forgotten what it was like to have a friend.

Whenever Yixing was alone though, he often found himself getting drawn towards the Duke’s study where every scroll and ink brush lay untouched for days. He’d get annoyed with himself long enough to remove himself from the office only to find himself in front of the Duke’s bedroom; the Duke’s mother had banned his entry but had been nonspecific about peering through cracks between door panels or windows and their frames.

“You can admit that you miss him, you know,” Tao piped up once, having caught Yixing in the study playing with the hairs on one of the writing brushes resting in its stand.

Yixing spun abruptly, dropping the box’s lid with a clatter in a jerk reaction, scowling as Tao made himself at home with feet up on the table in the center of the room. Sometimes, he really regretted asking Tao that night to let him stay for a bit, just to get over his unease. He sighed with exasperation as he bent over to pick the fallen lid up off the floor.

“I don’t bite, you know. Not unless you want me to, anyway,” Tao joked with a wink, pointing to the empty seat beside him at the table.

“I don’t miss him,” Yixing shot back, though probably a little too forcefully to be honest. “I’m just tired from all these damn lessons,” he tried to explain, but judging by the sceptic look on Tao’s face, Yixing was fooling no one, and certainly not himself. He let out an indignant pout, but dropped into the seat across Tao.

“Ah…, so instead of treating your tiredness by taking a nap in your own bed, you decided to come into my cousin’s study and play with his calligraphy brushes?” Tao returned, mockery evident in his tone and his words.

Yixing felt his cheeks flame up as he crossed his arms, head sinking past his shoulders. “Shut up,” was all he could come up with as he tugged on his robes, still not used to the relative roughness and heaviness of the cloth compared to his dresses.

“He’ll be back tomorrow, so you can stop worrying,” Tao continued, frowning when he discovered the wine bottle in the center of the table was empty.

“I’m not worried!” Yixing snapped back to a raised eyebrow.

“Sure, sure,” Tao hummed, getting up to rummage through the shelves for anything to drink.

Yixing growled low in his throat at the implication but couldn’t deny the skip in his chest that took place over the heaviness that had sat there for the last few days.

“I’m still rooting for you two, by the way. Even if it’s less than two more weeks until-”Tao continued, stopping himself in mid-sentence only too late. He stood up straight, suspending his search, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-”

Yixing swallowed and shook his head, “No, it’s fine.” Yixing had actually momentarily forgotten about the imminent wedding, his mind having been recently occupied with anxious thoughts about the Duke’s unknown whereabouts. “That’s always been part of the deal, right?”

‘Deal’? What ‘deal’? Yixing laughed to himself sardonically, The deal where the Duke’s mother hates my guts and forces me into silly outfits? In return for what?

Tao cleared his throat loudly, as if he knew Yixing needed to be distracted from his own thoughts, “You getting hungry? Cus I am starving. I’m going to see what I can steal from the kitchen, wanna join?”

Yixing swallowed hard, “No, thanks,” he declined, though he could do with the distraction from his resurfacing worries that he’d foolishly forgotten about. There was also that sneaky suspicion that surfaced every so often that Tao’s continual presence around Yixing was on purpose, as if Tao had made it his mission to make sure Yixing didn’t try to run away, again (he didn’t like to admit though, that he was thankful for the excuse for his ‘failures’ to escape, though could he use that term if he hadn’t tried since?).

“You sure? Heard from one of the guys that Yifan’s mother ordered up her fave. They they only serve her the best looking pieces of cake, but we both know it’s really the mis-shapen and imperfect ones that are best.”

Yixing looked up and eyed Tao suspiciously, wary of the words he’d spoken, wondering if the last bit about ‘imperfect’ had been just for him. Dispelling the thought, he shook his head again, “I think I’ll stay here a while longer. I, uh, I like the smell of the books,” he tried, though the excuse sounded weak even to himself.

Tao rolled his eyes, “Fine, but don’t mess anything up if you don’t want my cousin jumping down your throat for shifting his brush half a finger’s width. Unless, you know, that’s what you want.” He grinned toothily with a wiggle of his eyebrows.

Yixing scowled, “You know what, fine, let’s just go see what there is in the kitchen,” he accepted reluctantly, pushing past Tao to the door with the latter laughing behind him.

*

“I knew from the moment I set eyes on you that you were hopeless,” the Duke’s mother reprimanded with pursed lips as she used her folded up fan to prod Yixing in the back, a signal to get him to stand straighter.

Yixing’s teeth ground together but he bit his tongue and corrected his posture all the same. There was no point in getting into a fight with her now; it wasn’t as if he hadn’t expected this from her when she’d forced him into these “lessons” of hers.

“It’s like he was born to be a begger, back hunched over all the time,” she muttered, directing her speech at a servant as if they were equals, above Yixing. “What my son sees in him, I’ll never know,” she continued absently while shaking her head. The servant’s eyes flickered quickly up to Yixing and then away again, hanging her head deeply without offering any kind of reply to the Duke’s mother.

Perhaps it was the hot weather, or having to constantly wear these uncomfortable clothes, or the fact that this woman seemed to be in control of all the aspects of his life for the past week, or perhaps it was all of the above combined, but mention of the Duke pushed the last of Yixing’s patience and he dropped his hands to his side. He’d been in an increasingly annoyed state since the Duke’s return two and a half days ago (he wasn’t keeping track, of course), though he wasn’t sure why (it certainly wasn’t because he’d been getting the distinct feeling that the Duke was avoiding him).

“Who the hell is going to care if I can walk with my hands in my goddamned sleeve?” Yixing spat loudly, “It’s a stupid way of walking anyway. And I’m so sorry that I’m such a street rat, but hey, that is where I came from, so why don’t I do us both a favour and get the fuck out of this hell hole?!” He spun in his heel and headed purposely to the room’s exit, pausing at the table to topple the stack of history books the Duke’s mother had been using earlier this morning to test Yixing’s knowledge of their country’s history.

Yixing didn’t care that he’d just given the Duke’s mother the satisfaction of watching him finally crack. Besides, what would it matter? Why did he have to put up with this woman’s insanely unachieveable demands, especially if the Duke was most likely going to evict Yixing from his home in a few days anyway? He tore the annoying hat that the Duke’s mother had made him wear off his head and tossed it into the garden before rushing past alarmed guards and right out the front door.

---

“What?!” Yifan’s roar echoed dangerously in his office, making the messenger who delivered the news about Lay’s departure jump and take a precautionary step backwards. “And you didn’t stop him?!” Yifan demanded, standing tall from his desk and slamming his brush into its cradle, sending ink splattering across his desk and ruining his pages. Yifan saw from the corner of his eye Minseok scramble to clean it up beside him, but he waved him away; what was a little spill on his papers when compared to Lay disappearing again?

“We-we were instructed by your mother to stand clear,” the messenger replied, head bowed as far as he could get.

Of course, Yifan scowled, trying not to completely lose his composure. He took a deep breath and tried again, his suddenly calm tone sending chills even down his own spine, “And where is my mother now?”

“My Lady is taking a lunch in the dining room.”

Lunch, she was taking lunch in the dining room. Yifan’s teeth ground together and heard Minseok behind him whisper a quiet “My Lord” as if to remind him to remain calm. “You’re dismissed,” he managed to get out in an acceptable tone, relieving the flustered messenger (who scampered away more quickly than usual after bowing) from his office.

“Lunch?” Yifan exclaimed at the room, sending Minseok a misplaced angered look before rounding the table and heading towards the door himself, “She’s eating lunch!”

As was his specialty, Zitao most inopportunely opened the door after a brief knock (not bothering to be acknowledged before speaking). “Uh, dunno if you were made aware yet, but saozi just vacated the premises. You planning on doing something about it?”

“Aren’t you two in the same class?! How could you let him go like that?!” Yifan scowled, shoving his shoulder against Zitao’s as he headed towards the dining room.

“Hey, don’t blame this on me,” Zitao defended, an intrigued arch in his eyebrow as he turned to follow Yifan, “If you’d been around since you got back, you’d know that sao zi and I don’t share all the same classes. Your mother likes to personally make our lives miserable by giving us one-on-one sessions from Hell.”

Yifan hissed, almost tripping on a twig as he hurried towards the wing on the opposite side of the manor, but there was nothing he could say to that point. “Stop calling him that,” he grumbled instead.

*

“What the hell did you do?” Yifan thundered as he pushed open the dining room doors, barging into the room unceremoniously with complete disregard for proper etiquette. Servants scrambled to greet him properly but Yifan waved them off, demanding to be left alone with his mother, “Leave us.”

“Pardon me?” his mother replied, looking up with a painted look of shock on her face that barely concealed her amusement as she put down her chopsticks. “You can all stay.”

Yifan had momentarily forgotten how powerful his mother’s voice could get and his eyes narrowed as several of the servants, including his mother’s personal attendant, stood frozen in place, trying to determine who was worse to defy.

Zitao, who had never had any problems disobeying anyone, was the first to react, “We really don’t need, or frankly want to be in this room right now,” he explained as he ushered everyone out, having to physically remove the last of them. Yifan had little doubt that even though his cousin was the one volunteering to leave him alone with his mother, he had his ear pressed up against the door to eavesdrop, potentially with Minseok beside him.

“You heard me, Mother, what the hell did you do?” Yifan repeated, stepping and inch away from the table where his mother sat.

Mother looked up at son, a poor representation of shock and confusion on her features, “I’m afraid I have no idea to what you are referring.”

Yifan rolled his eyes, “Drop the act, Mother. I know it was intent right from the beginning to use any means to get rid of Lay. So just tell me, what did you do?”

His mother got up carefully to walk around the table and face Yifan at his level, “As I said, I’m afraid I have no idea what you are talking about,” she pressed, tone turning haughty, “Your whore of a friend just couldn’t handle the truth of his situation, I guess. That’s hardly my fault.” She folded her arms on her chest, “And when and where on earth did you learn to speak to your mother in such a tone? I did not raise you to be a brute.”

Yifan took a careful step towards his mother, anger brimming and threatening to spill violently, “No, you brought me up to be exactly this. Didn’t you teach me to fight for what is right? And to find happiness? When Lay makes me happy and he is right, right for me. So please, just stop all this; I let you go on with your way at first because I thought you’d get it out of your system and get over it, but clearly not.

“As of right now, Lay is done being you little puppet to sing and dance for you as you please. You are done criticising everything about him and if you become the reason I lose him for good this time, I won’t forgive you.”

Yifan almost regretted the way his words had turned his mother’s face white as a ghost, eyes wide in shock, but he ground his teeth together in determination; it had to be said. He took a step back and both let out a breath held over the confrontation. He turned on his heel and left in the same manner he arrived, pausing at the door only to give a final warning, “And for the last time, Lay is not a whore. I won’t correct you again.”

Yifan swung the dining room doors to have his cousin nearly fall on him. Zitao made no effort to pretend that he hadn’t eavesdropped on the entire exchange and grinned as he stepped back from the door he’d had his ears pressed against. “Wow,” Zitao exclaimed as he brought his hands together to applaud. “I didn’t think you had it in you to confront the dragon lady like that. Colour me impressed,” he chuckled.

Yifan glared at Zitao as he hurried back to his office, Minseok in tow. “Don’t call her that,” Yifan snapped despite his behaviour only moments ago, “She’s my mother.”

Zitao rolled his eyes, “Good, not that we’ve established that your mother-son relationship is still intact, maybe you should be sending people to look for sao zi?”

“Would you please stop calling Lay that?”

“Well, I think it says something that you automatically know I’m talking about Lay and not Ah Mei when I mention sao zi.”

Yifan scowled, pushing away the reminder of his betrothal to Al Mei to the back of his mind for the moment; he needed to focus on finding Lay before anything else. He chose to ignore the comment, falling back on the earlier conversation instead, “Where do you think I’m going now? Come on, make yourself useful for once in your life.”

“I’m going to ignore that jab since I know you’re in a foul mood and you don’t really mean it,” Zitao chirped as he fell into step beside Yifan, who only growled at his attitude. Zitao cleared his throat and stopped, “Yup, okay, I’m going. I’ll let you know if I find anything.”


A/N: Hahahaha yes, that's right, nothing actually happened cus Tao is a good friend and cousin, sorry for the cop out D; But no really, Yixing was supposed to have made SOME sort of progress, can't have him really throw it all away when I'm trying to wrap this up properly! If anyone didn't catch the subtle (?) hints, basically, Yixing wanted to spiral again but instead, Tao rejected him and Yixing ended up acting like a child and needing a friendly cuddle anyway. And then Tao fell asleep cus he was drunk pmsl.
If anyone is keeping track of how long this fic might end up being, I've managed to whittle down my draft that started at 13k to about 8k now. It'll probably be max 5 chapters before I'm finally done this beast D;
Anyway, as usual, thanks to everyone who reads and comments! You're the best! ^^
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