[identity profile] leen-go.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] leengonanowrimo
Length: 2357 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 refilled the empty cups on the table in front of him, both topped up perfectly with levels just under the brim. Gifting a practiced shy smile towards his patron of the night (the owner of an herbal shop who had an uncanny luckiness in gambling), he picked up the cups and handed one to his guest before taking his own in both his hands. “To health,” he announced as he brought he cup forwards to meet that of his client, who pulled back at the last second, spilling several drops on his robes.

“Ah, no. To the return of The Star’s most beautiful!”

The courtesan feigned modesty behind his glass, blinking his eyes closed as the fiery liquid burned his throat, hoping that it was enough to hide the slight roll that he barely caught in time. He covered with another smile as he reached for his patron’s cup to fill once more; yes, Lay was back up on the list of favourites at The Star, but it had taken almost a full moon cycle for the regulars to start noticing that the Duke had grown tired of Lay, and then another couple full moons for the courtesan to reacquire the higher end regulars he was used to before the Duke had so thoughtlessly scared away.

This one liked his wine, almost always insisting on at least a handful of drinks in a private room before stumbling towards the bed. Yixing never asked too much about his clients (they were always so willing to talk anyway) but this one, he figured, needed a bit of wine in his system to help him forget that he had a loving wife and two children back home.

The courtesan lifted their sixth round, “Shall we?” he asked, looking away from the table towards his bedroom.



Yifan couldn’t decide whether he enjoyed his cousin’s visits. Zitao certainly brought with him an air of irresponsibility but even a Duke like himself could enjoy the odd time off. All the same, the older Royal gave his younger counterpart a glare that was reserved only for when the latter propped his feet up on his tables.

“How long are you staying in town this time, Zitao?” Yifan asked as he used the back of his writing brush to poke the bottom of Zitao’s feet, eliciting a tickled yelp from across his desk. He replaced his brush onto its plate, resigned to accepting that no more work would be completed with Zitao in the room. He waved away his attendant (who bowed before stepping out of the way) and got up from his seat towards the round table in the middle of the room, inviting his cousin to join him, where he could dirty a table top that wasn’t his work desk.

Zitao shrugged as he blatantly ignored the sigh that Yifan heaved as soon as the younger’s foot started upwards. “I dunno. A couple days at least. Enough for you to bring me to that lovely place that I hear you’ve been frequenting lately.”

An eyebrow raised on the Duke’s face, “Excuse me?”

Zitao grinned widely, “What was it called again? The Star?”

Yifan frowned at the name; as he’d promised, he hadn’t visited The Star in a more than a few full moons. “And who told you that?”

A derisive snort echoed in the room, “Told is a bit of a stretch. I may or may not have threatened Minseok into telling me which House had your favourite girls this season.”

“You threatened my manservant?” Yifan stated flatly, less of a question than an exclamation of disbelief, receiving a bored shrug in response.

“Might’ve said something about having the ability to get his whole family killed if he didn’t spill the beans about you.”

The Duke scowled at the immaturity, “Oh, so now you want to abuse your birth rights? To gain information about me? You could’ve just asked me, you know.”

Another snort, “Right, because Your Uptightness would just tell me,” he mocked. Before Yifan could come up with a defense, he pushed on, “So how about tonight? Surely you can spare a night to show your dear cousin around?” Hardly waiting for a reply, Zitao kicked off the table onto his feet, “Well, I’ll be in my room until dinner, taking a nap. You better not back out on me, cousin.”

Yifan grumbled, hoping the disgruntled tone covered up the slight excitement he felt at finally going back to The Star after so long.

Maybe Lay would be there tonight.

The Duke bit the bottom of his lip in irritation; he shouldn’t be thinking about him, he’d promised he wouldn’t intrude on his life any more.

*

“Oy, what are you waiting for, cousin?” Zitao called from the entrance of The Star, crossing his arms impatiently as he looked down at Yifan. The Duke muttered an almost inaudible ‘huh’ as he blinked a couple times, only just realising that he had stopped before the steps, staring up at the washed out sign hanging above the doors.

He cleared his throat with a muttered ‘nothing, just work,’ excuse before stepping forward onto the steps to catch up, following his cousin through the familiar frame and into the open hall of The Star. If it weren’t for the anxiety of possibly crossing paths with him again, Yifan might have been amused by the shocked look on Lady Pearl’s face, obviously not expecting the Duke to return to The Star after so many months. She pulled herself together quickly though, standing up and straightening her dress with her hands before sauntering over, “Your Grace. What a pleasant surprise. Your usual, then?”

Yifan held up a hand and cleared his throat to stop Lady Pearl as she turned towards one of her employees, “No, that’s quite alright,” he dismissed quietly, before turning to gesture beside him, “This is my cousin, Huang Zitao.”

“Ah, of course. I can see the handsome resemblance,” she gushed, “Please take your time and look around. I’ll have some wine brought to your table immediately.” With a parting smile, she disappeared at the back of the room behind some hanging sheets.

“So,” Zitao started smugly as Yifan started towards an empty table near the back left of the open floor, “You have a ‘usual’? I’ve never known you to stick to a single option.”

Yifan scowled, trying to keep his eyes trained on his destination, not allowing himself to look around.

“Oh, come on, Yifan. If you point her out, I’ll promise not to pick her,” Zitao singsonged, “Can’t have you wrecking this beautiful face.”

Yifan scoffed at his cousin’s usual vanity, sliding into a chair and thanking the waitress who immediately dropped off a bottle of rice wine at their table. “Can you just pick one so I can get this over with?” he grumbled, keeping his head down as he poured himself a cup of wine.

“Awww,” the younger whined, “Well, you’ve gotta pick one too. I can’t have all the fun.”

Yifan scowled; he knew there was only one face here he’d want to pick but also knew he couldn’t. “Just pick one for me,” he bit out, annoyed as he downed his drink in one gulp, face contorting slightly as the liquid burned his throat.

It was a few minutes of Zitao starting a running commentary of each individual girl in the House while Yifan stared at his full cup, swirling a chopstick in the wine listlessly as he hummed at appropriate intervals without paying much attention.

“Oooh, she’s pretty,” Zitao announced, his voice a little more pointed than the last million comments.

Yifan didn’t bother to look up. “That’s kind of the point here, Zitao,” he sighed, putting down the chopstick and getting to his feet. “I’m going to the bathroom. I hope by the time I get back, you’ll have made up your mind already.”

“Yeah, I definitely like her,” Zitao continued out loud to himself, having not heard a single one of Yifan’s words as he stared towards the upper balconies that overlooked the main area.

The Duke only rolled his eyes before starting towards the back exit, berating himself internally when he started to hope that he would run into someone accidentally.



Yixing hummed a tune he used to dance to as he peered down at the busy first floor of The Star, scanning through the faces to find his next client, frowning when none of them looked interesting. That one scams his fellow villagers, this one likes them too young and that one… Yixing stopped when his eyes landed on an unfamiliar face. Well you’re new, Yixing thought to himself, head cocking slightly to the side as he studied this new discovery.

He certainly wasn’t from around here; Yixing could tell from the scruffy hair cut shamelessly short and the boots crossed at the ankle and resting on the table that this man had yet to realise that The Star was reserved for a class higher than wherever he’d come from. Then again, his robes and the confident way he surveyed the room suggested otherwise. Lu Han would probably name him Boots, Yixing thought idly, lips curving upwards at the terrible nickname.

As if he knew he was being watched, Boots looked up towards the second floor, looking eyes with Yixing who didn’t miss a beat as his natural initial delight pulled up in a wide smile, gifting the stranger with a small wink.

‘She’s pretty,’ the courtesan read off Boots’ lips. For a brief moment, Yixing wondered who Boots was talking to for a moment before he noticed the other figure sharing the table, bent over his cup.

How long has he been here? Yixing wondered to himself, fingers gripping the bannister tightly as he tried to pacify whatever it was that had started to settle in the bottom of his stomach when he first set eyes on him.

What was he doing here? He promised.

Yixing swallowed uneasily as he continued to hold a smile towards his stranger, eyes flickering to the side to watch him stand up and mutter a few words before turning to leave through the back door. For a moment, irritation bubbled under his fingers as they folded tighter around the banister; why had no one sent for Lay upon his arrival?

Boots sent Yixing a wide smile, the former waving for the latter to descend and join him at his table. The courtesan nodded slightly in response, watching as Boots hailed down the nearest waitress and signalled towards Yixing and then to his table, obviously asking for an additional cup.

By the time Yixing had made it down the steps and across the floor, the third cup had already been brought and Boots had filled it, waiting for Lay to take a seat before holding out the filled cup to the courtesan. “So what’s your name?”

Yixing downed his drink and smiled as he put down the cup silently on the marble surface, “I’m-”

“Lay?”

Yixing joined his patron in looking up abruptly at the voice, one swallowing hard while the other laughed jovially, “Oh, so you know of this one, dear cousin?”

The Duke didn’t bother providing a reply, and instead, held Yixing’s gaze steadily. The latter watched a muscle in the Duke’s lower jaw clench a couple time before purposely looking away and smiling widely at Boots as he rest his hand softly on the latter’s,“Ah! I never knew the Duke had a cousin, I’m terribly embarrassed, My Lord.”

A snort sounded from across the table and Yixing took a deep breath, hoping that his growing irritation went unnoticed. Why was he here?

“Don’t call him ‘My Lord’ if you want to get into his good books. I do believe he prefers ‘Tao’. He seems to think he’s too good for his full name, right, Huang Zitao?” the Duke explained, smirking at his cousin as he slid back into his seat, gaze fully settled on Yixing the entire time.

Yixing frowned at the condescending tone, almost sure that there was an oddly forced cheer in his voice. Tao, on the other hand, rolled his eyes with mock offense, lifting his leg to pretend to kick the Duke off his chair. Yixing raised an alarmed eyebrow at the action, surprised that there was anyone that would attempt to kick a Duke off his chair.

The Duke simply uttered a simple ‘tch’ of disapproval, keeping silent as he continued to stare down Yixing, who turned away to shift his chair closer to Tao. “So, Tao, how come I’ve never seen you around here before?”

“He doesn’t live here,” the Duke answered, prompting Yixing to draw in another breath to calm down, still avoiding the speaker’s eye.

“Dear cousin, I love you and all, but I’m trying to have a conversation here.” Tao piped up, picking up one of his chopsticks and throwing it at the Duke. “Shut up, will ya? Don’t make me beat you up in public.”

Yixing had to cough to cover up the shocked choke that had come up, finally glancing across the table at the Duke, who had finally tore his gaze away from Yixing to glare at Tao. Silence hung at the table for a moment as the Duke continued to scowl at his visibly increasingly concerned cousin who had started to raise his eyebrows in question. “Uh, I’m not actually going to beat you up in public…” Tao started before the Duke’s look hardened.

“We need to talk,” the Duke stated flatly before getting to his feet abruptly and swivelling around on his heel, starting for the back door once more with swift steps.

Yixing turned his attention to Tao who only shrugged after a moment of disbelief, “Uh, sorry, Lay,” he apologized, carefully removing Yixing’s hand from his own, “You’ll have to excuse me for a little bit while I go talk to my suddenly crazy cousin.”

Yixing could only sit in his chair quietly with a somewhat bewildered look on his cocked head as he watched the two cousins disappear.

What the hell just happened?




A/N: Er sorry, "what the hell just happened?" is basically what I'm asking myself at the moment. This chapter wasn't supposed to take so long and was supposed to include the scene after this but it's already at 2.3k so I just left it here. Something happens, okay, I promise. I'm not just word vomitting. Mostly, anyway >.<
As usual, hope you liked it, and if there's anything you want to say, don't hesitate to comment! I heart comments. ^^
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