"These will be your rooms, sir.”
Sehun sweeps past his new manservant and turns in a circle, visually inspecting the suite. It isn’t his parents’ home in Central District, but it’s nice enough, and it’s completely his, which makes it far better than any old mansion. The decor looks a bit outdated - the floral brocade on the curtains went out of style at least a year ago - but it’s well-furnished and everything looks well-made. It will do.
“I take supper at nineteenth bell each night,” he informs the servant, because one cannot expect the help to read one’s mind. “And Uncle has requested I be at his disposal beginning at sixth bell, so I will require breakfast at five. Please see it is done.” The servant - what was his name? Jonghun? No, Jongin, that’s right - bows to show that he has heard. Sehun hopes he is competent; there’s nothing worse than an incompetent personal assistant. “Other than that, I will likely be out the majority of most days, and will not be disturbed at night unless necessary. Am I understood?” Another bow, this time with a murmur of yes, sir. “Satisfactory. You are dismissed.”
The servant leaves without a further word, which Sehun appreciates. Finally alone, he takes the time to look around the rooms that will be his home for the foreseeable future. Two bedrooms, a sizable bath, a library, an entertaining parlor and, of course, a large office.
Sehun smiles as he walks into the office, looking around. It’s the biggest room in the suite, one wall lined in shelves of books, reference materials, notes bound in leather journals; another a floor-to-ceiling chalkboard for drawing out diagrams and plotting schemes. The desk is solid, imported oak and has an angled drafting board built-in, with a gear-crank mechanism hidden inside to lift the top from flat to sharply angled at the touch of a lever.
It’s an office fit for a business owner, and Sehun squelches down the childish urge to squeal in excitement. He is an adult now, as evidenced by the office and the new title that goes with it, and he is determined to act like one.
The majority of his belongings have already been put away, but there are a few boxes he specifically ordered remain untouched, and Sehun immediately turns to unpacking them. Family heirlooms, mostly, though there is a box of his most personal items - childhood mementos which would devastate him to lose, and personal pleasure toys which are no one’s business save his own. He finds locked, hidden places for those things, and sets the crates at the doorway to be removed, with one eye on the clock. It’s halfway to nineteenth bell, and if that manservant is worth keeping, supper will be arriving at nineteen on the dot despite him having less than an hour’s notice. It’s Sehun’s first test for the man - he will not keep an incompetent servant.
He is arranging his grandfather’s mechanical instruments on the mantle - sadly outdated now, but a testament to his family’s contribution to the Sciences and good conversation pieces besides - when there is a knock. Sehun glances at the clock. It is nineteen, precisely.
Perhaps the man is worth keeping, after all.
“Enter,” he calls, and sure enough it is Jongin, wheeling a cart full of cloche-covered plates.
“Where would you like to dine, sir?” the man asks, his voice soft and his manner direct. Sehun decides, in that moment, that he likes Jongin.
“The parlor, please,” he briskly replies. “And always in the future, unless otherwise stated.” Routines are important, after all - they lend security to an otherwise insecure life.
He gets a bow, and Jongin wheels the cart through the foyer and into the parlor. He is swift and efficient about transferring the meal to the main armchair’s rotating table, and even thinks to turn on the lamp overhead, tapping it when the bulb flickers until the goldenrod light is stable. Yes, Sehun will be keeping him.
Until this point, Jongin’s every move has been calculated and economical, so it is a bit of a surprise to Sehun when he crosses the room for the seemingly useless purpose of drawing the heavy brocade curtains tight over the shades. He bows again, and moves to leave, but Sehun, curious, catches his arm.
Jongin looks up at him, alarm veiled behind dark eyes. Sehun ignores it. He has no cause for alarm.
“Tell me,” he says, “why did you draw the curtains there, and not any others in the suite?”
Blinking, Jongin glances at the window in question, and then back to Sehun. “Sir,” he begins, sounding unsure, “the view is not desirable from that window.”
Sehun’s eyebrow raises. “Explain, please.”
“I - I’m sorry, sir,” Jongin says, sounding flustered. “The worker’s tenements are very close, only across the alley. It is a design flaw of the building, having windows facing that direction. Your uncle always ordered those curtains be closed.”
Oh. “I see,” he says, no longer interested. “So noted. Carry on.”
He releases Jongin’s arm, and the servant bows and lets himself out. Sehun settles in the armchair to eat, with the notes his uncle wanted him to review before beginning his introduction tomorrow spread out on the table beside him.
Jongin returns in precisely one bell to remove the cart and the used dishes, and bids Sehun goodnight at that time in few words. Sehun graces him with a nod of acknowledgement, noting with amusement that Jongin glances at the curtains, almost as if he had expected Sehun to move them again.
It brings the matter to Sehun’s attention, though, and once the door is shut behind his servant and he is again alone, Sehun cannot resist going to the window and twitching the curtain aside, long, thin fingers separating the slats of the shade to peer outside.
Jongin was not exaggerating about the tenements being very close. It’s a smog-coated, scarred brick building, lined with huge windows in rows and columns, laid out evenly in a grid. Why anyone would build with brick in a city plagued with acid rain was beyond Sehun, and yet, they did, and quite often; he can only assume the huge windows were meant to minimize rain damage, as glass can withstand the acid much better than brick.
His own windows are well-kept, clear of smog build-up and shaded with metal awnings to protect from the rain, but the ones across the way are fogged over with smoggy haze and visibly pitted. Still, Sehun is close enough that he can see directly into the windows across the way, or he would, anyway, if they weren’t all curtained in terribly ugly umber canvas.
Wait, no. All except for one. Sehun drops the curtain back into place and moves to the other side of the large window, directly across from the open tenement. He pulls the curtain and shade aside and looks into the window opposite.
It takes him a moment to adjust, for his eyes to focus on the distance and discern what shapes are inside the tenement and what are only swirls in smog. Part of the reason it is difficult is because he is apparently focusing much further into the room than he should be; he’d expected it to be at least the depth of his main bedchamber, but to his surprise, it’s barely the depth of his bath chamber, perhaps five or six lengths deep. Once he refocuses at the shallower distance, he can make out the width of the room as well, and the very fact that he can see both side walls from the window is shocking. It can barely be called a room, in all honesty, it’s more like a hallway.
A crowded hallway, it seems. There is a bed against the window; it seems to take up the entirety of that wall. Further in the room there is a small metal desk, little more than a single writing surface on legs, a low-backed, uncomfortable-looking metal chair, and an open bookcase, the contents of which are indiscernible from this distance but do not look like books. It’s a sad little room, really.
Movement catches his attention, and through the dirt on the window Sehun can see now that the room is inhabited, a figure outlined dimly in haze. He can’t make out any features, and it rather piques his curiosity, wondering who lives in such a tiny, depressingly crowded little space. So he steps away from the curtain and strides to his office to pick up his ocular and slide it onto his face, flipping down the magnifier lens. It isn’t truly meant for distance, but it does help, and standing at his own window it seems almost as if Sehun is standing on the ledge of the window opposite.
He’s glad he did, because once he refocuses, he sees that the man in the tenement across the way is quite striking.
Reclined on the bed with his back to the wall, the man’s whole body is in profile against the window. He’s slight, it seems; though his arms are bare and appear to be well-muscled, he’s not a large man, not tall. His clothes are rough and drab, mostly canvas and leather, functional and very not stylish. There is a respirator mask over the lower half of his face, a fairly standard-issue one, molded stitched leather fitted with filters in metal holders on both sides. From the side like this, it means Sehun can barely see any of his face at all, his cheekbone and eye shaded partially by his most striking, eye-catching feature - his ragged, asymmetrical, and bright rosy pink hair.
Sehun blinks, sure his eyes are playing tricks on him. He refocuses, but no, that ridiculous mop is, in fact, on that man’s head. And Sehun knows that hair dying like that is possible, of course; but it’s such a ridiculous extravagance that it’s looked down upon even in the upper classes, a waste of effort, money, and time. He’s barely ever seen anyone with unnaturally colored hair, let alone a worker.
He rather wonders what the man was thinking, where he got the money for the expensive chemicals, who he found to do it for him.
So distracted by the hair is he that Sehun barely registers the mask at first; but the man across the way reaches up with a broad, rough-looking hand to scratch at the edge of the leather, and Sehun abruptly realizes he’s wearing a respirator inside. Why would he bother? They’re terribly uncomfortable, a necessary evil outside in the smog but hardly needed indoors.
Clearly, the man is eccentric, possibly downright frivolous. Sehun resolutely removes his ocular and lets the curtain fall back into place, putting the man out of his mind in favor of the information he must absorb before morning.
Well, mostly out of his mind, anyway.
The factory isn’t at all what Sehun is expecting.
Thinking about it now, he actually isn’t certain what he was expecting. But his uncle meets him at the door with respirator on, and that’s the first hint Sehun has that maybe things are going to be...different here.
He wants to know why he has to wear his mask inside the factory. It seems ludicrous to him, a building that’s not fitted with purifiers in the vents; it’s senseless. He hates his mask - even though his is very nicely made, molded especially for his face, with active purifiers rather than filters, and even a little well for his favorite scented oil - and he knows everyone else in the damned city feels the same way, from the highest members of the Assembly down to the lowest street rabbit.
But he must wear it, and so he does, because despite the name, Beggar’s Lung is a danger to anyone who breathes too deeply. It’s not only a nuisance, it’s an active hindrance, particularly when his uncle introduces him to the management of the factory, the men and women who will become his subordinates in only a few weeks. He can’t see their faces, and therefore not only doesn’t know what they look like, he can’t judge their reactions to him. It’s hobbling.
With introductions made to management, Sehun’s uncle leads him out onto the catwalk, overlooking the factory floor. It’s a single huge, open room, striped with five long manufacturing lines, each one working on a different product. It’s darker than it should be in the middle of the day, and far too hot, and Sehun realises this is because the smog that leaks into the building is building up inside, blocking light and trapping heat. Streaky sunlight from rows of thin windows near the ceiling illuminates the miasma in the air, nearly as thick as it is outside; but the light does not penetrate down to the floor, so each line is illuminated with the golden light of electric lamps, casting the workers into harsh shadow.
Sehun leans on the railing, taking in each detail as fast as he can, because he knows his uncle will expect him to be knowledgeable right from the start. It takes a few moments to determine which lines are working on which products, and the line chiefs are easy enough to spot, because they’re the ones walking up and down the lines, inspecting work and encouraging workers.
The whistle blows for morning rest, and all the machines come to a grinding halt as the workers stand and stretch and shake out sore bodies. There’s surprisingly little conversation for the huge number of people on the floor; with over a hundred workers, Sehun would have expected the chatter to be deafening. It casts an eerie air, so many people being so silent.
Sehun’s uncle speaks into the megaphone, calling for the workers’ attention. They gather in a mob in front of line one, a crowd of dingy clothes and dirty faces hidden by respirator masks of varying qualities. His uncle’s explanation of his own promotion and the factory’s change in management is wordy and perhaps a bit pompous, but after so many years Sehun is used to his bluster, and listens with only half an ear as he peruses the crowd below.
It would be very nice to see faces. Sehun is used to adapting his manner to the perceptions and expectations of the people he is interacting with; without expressional feedback he feels a bit off-center. His uncle, he knows, would tell him it does not matter what the workers think of him, but Sehun believes otherwise, his theories of constructive management developed in university, over late night dinners and morning rides with friend and fellow schoolmate Kyungsoo. Just as one would not expect a mistreated dog to wag its tail, one cannot expect a worker to do their best work for a man they despise, no matter how much better-educated or higher-status that man might be.
He straightens his back as his uncle formally introduces him to the floor workers, his posture studiously relaxed and confident as he takes over speaking. Sehun’s introduction of himself is well-rehearsed and includes a short, not over-detailed outline of his achievements in university and in the field of manufacturing, as he wishes to establish himself as a knowledgeable figure from the get-go.
After all, he is young, and people will make assumptions.
He’s in the middle of his litany when a sharp voice calls up from the crowd. “Come down here and we'll show you education, you porcelain rump-humper!”
It startles him, and he stops mid-sentence, his eyes flicking to the part of the crowd from which the voice came. It’s impossible to tell who spoke, as everyone’s mouths are covered - another drawback of the respirators - but he spots a shock of bright pink hair and stops searching.
Now, he can see the eyes of the pink-haired man. They’re dark and almond-shaped, heavily-lashed, quite beautiful - and angry.
His uncle is tugging the megaphone from his hand, coldness in his eyes as he raises it to call for the cretin to step forward. No one does, of course, because even workers are not that stupid, and Sehun can hear the fury in his uncle’s voice as he orders the midday meal withheld from the entire floor as punishment.
“Uncle,” Sehun says, a hand on his uncle’s wrist and his voice raised to be heard without the megaphone, “that isn’t necessary.” He wishes, again, that his mouth wasn’t covered; a congenial smile would help considerably right now. “It hardly matters. Let them say what they wish.”
His uncle stares at him for a long moment, and Sehun tries to communicate confidence and sincerity with his eyes alone. Blasted masks.
“Very well,” his uncle finally says. “They’re going to be your problem soon, in any case.”
Excellent. Sehun glances down, taking in the reaction of the crowd; subdued but visibly surprised. Good. Let them realize that he will be different.
He catches the eyes of the pink-haired man, and finds them narrowed at him consideringly.
The first day is exhausting, which is to be expected, and Sehun is relieved to return to his suite, to take off his respirator and loosen his cravat. Before he forgets everything he’s seen and heard and considered and thought up today, he makes for his office, slides a new piece of chalk into the metal holder and starts to scribble on his chalkboard wall, noting down everything he can think of. He’s at it for what’s left of the afternoon and well into the evening, changing the colors to highlight certain thoughts and scratching lines to connect them, taking advantage of his height and long limbs to make use of every open place on the wall. When he’s done, he steps back, looks at the design he’s created, and searches for patterns; those patterns are transferred to a more legible, more permanent place in his ink-written notes, a plan of action taking shape on the parchment.
That done, he glances at the clock. It is still a bell until his dinner will be brought to him, so Sehun indulges in a bath, albeit a short one. His mind is still working as he soaks and scrubs, turning over his plans in his mind, looking for pitfalls, for flaws. He dresses in his office, scribbling more ideas with one hand while doing up his trousers with the other.
One of the things he was given today is the personal records of all of the management staff, and once he is clean and dressed for an evening alone, Sehun takes them to his parlor and sets them by his chair to be perused over dinner. The heavy, closed curtains catch his attention, standing out as the only ones in the suite that are drawn, and before Sehun thinks the better of it, he moves to the window and pushes the curtains aside just enough to look across the way.
The smog is lighter today, and Sehun can clearly see the pink-haired man, moving about in his room across the way. He’s pulling something off of his bookcase - clothes, Sehun realizes, seeing the way the fabric droops in his hands. His clothes are on the bookcase? What nonsense. A waste of good shelf space.
That thought is wiped totally from Sehun’s mind when the man’s fingers go to the buckles on his vest, and he realizes the man is undressing.
Sehun blinks in surprise, watching as the vest falls away and is carefully folded and placed on the shelf. The shirt comes next, opened one button at a time from top to bottom, revealing a larger and larger slice of extraordinarily pale skin. Muscled shoulders twist as the shirt is pulled off of them, and Sehun’s mouth is suddenly rather dry.
He wants to march over there and give the man a shake - you’re in full view of the window! But of course, every curtain on both sides of the alley is closed, but for his. Clearly, he thinks he is alone.
After all, why would anyone in the owner’s home be looking at the tenements?
The shirt is coarse and a terribly ugly color, but it is folded and put away with the same care as the vest. Sehun appreciates that about the working class, the way they take care of their things. Too many of his peers treat possessions as disposable, which strikes Sehun as an obnoxious waste of resources.
The pink-haired man is standing beside his bed now, fully facing the window, as close as he can be to Sehun with the furniture and the buildings and the chasm of the alley between them. Sehun sees that his original impression of the man as slight was a bit off-the-mark; he is slim of stature but surprisingly well-muscled, limbs thick and torso hard. His hands drop to his beltline, opening the buckle and pulling it from the loops casually, his attention clearly on something else.
And perhaps he is distracted, but Sehun’s focus is singlemindedly upon him, his breath held as the lacings of the trousers come undone. Calloused fingers curl into worn leather as Sehun’s own clench in the brocade of the curtains, and he catches a glimpse of dark hair very low down before a knock at the door startles him into jumping away, the drapes falling closed behind him.
Shit, it’s nineteen. Sehun tells himself he should not curse his servant for following orders so well, even if it is inconvenient in this case. “Enter,” he calls, moving away from the curtains and quashing his urge to send Jongin away.
Jongin brings the cart in and sets out the meal as the night before. Sehun watches him and realizes he may be neglecting a valuable resource here.
“Jongin,” he says. The young man looks up, his face carefully neutral and betraying none of the apprehension that’s visible in his eyes.
“What can you tell me about the worker’s tenements?” Sehun takes a seat in his chair and motions for Jongin to sit on the couch that is across from it. Jongin can’t hide his startlement, but he does as he is bade, perching rather uncomfortably on the edge of the soft cushions.
“What would you like to know, sir?” he asks, his always-soft tone made softer with hesitancy.
“There are several of them, yes?” he asks. Jongin nods. “How are the workers divided amongst them?”
“Alphabetically, sir,” Jongin murmurs, “by family name.”
“Do they all live in tenements?”
Jongin does not fidget under Sehun’s gaze, but he looks as though he wants to. “No, sir,” he says. “Only those who have no homes elsewhere.”
Ah, of course. “So, I suppose they are mostly the single workers, those without families or children.” Jongin nods, confirming his guess. That’s a good thing to know. “The tenements, what is the condition inside them? Are they well-maintained?”
Jongin opens his mouth, then closes it immediately, looking unsure and uncomfortable. Sehun knows that look - it’s the look servants always get when they know he isn’t going to like the answer to his question.
“Speak,” he says, gentling his tone. “I will never punish you for answering a direct question honestly.”
The servant does not look convinced, but he does continue. “I cannot speak to the maintenance, Sir,” he hedges. “I’m not privy to anything like that. But they are...barely more than horse stalls. Sir.”
Sehun’s lips press into a thin line. “Explain this comparison to me,” he says, rather more sharply than he intends.
“My apologies if I offend,” Jongin murmurs. His body is stiff, now, stiffer than ever before, and there’s something flinty in his normally gentle eyes. “They are cramped and smell of waste. Even for only one person, the space is quite...small. There is little privacy. And they are drafty.”
He doesn’t have to expound further - in this city, drafty can mean deadly. “The buildings are not sealed?” Sehun asks, his sharpness fading into confusion. It seems like such an incredibly basic thing, how could it have been overlooked? “The air is not scrubbed?”
There’s a fleeting quirk in the corner of Jongin’s lips. “No, sir,” he says, his voice its softest yet. He doesn’t say more, but Sehun does not like the volumes spoken in his silence.
“Hmph.” He waves a hand. “Very well, you are dismissed.”
Jongin inclines his head and slips out of the room, silent as ever, leaving Sehun with a plate full of rapidly cooling supper and a mind full of thoughts. He eats quickly, ignoring the files he’s supposed to be perusing in favor of more notes scribbled on a notepad.
He may not be able to make any changes for a few weeks, but when he takes control of the factory, he’s going to be ready.
Sehun manages to last until after Jongin has taken away the dishes before curiosity overcomes propriety and he peeks out of the window once more. Once his eyes focus, he sucks in a startled breath.
The pink haired man is sprawled on the bed, his leather work trousers replaced with soft linen pants and wearing nothing else but the respirator, and the waistband of said pants is pushed down, exposing a thick, hard cock to the air.
Shocked, Sehun tells himself he should look away. But though the window is dirty and the light is dim, it’s as if the man is framing himself just for Sehun to see, the muscled curves of his body outlined prettily in the light of a trio of candles set on the desk behind him. It’s only just bright enough for Sehun to see shapes, fleeting glimpses of details as the light reflects just right, and as a shadowy hand strokes slowly over that thick shaft, Sehun cannot help but respond.
He ignores the tightening of his own trousers resolutely. He isn’t that kind of perverse.
But he finds he also isn’t strong enough to pull himself away from the enticing image, to let the curtain drop and go back to his study and forget what he’s seen. No, instead he stands still and watches, watches as the man across the alley slowly and lazily pleasures himself, his chest heaving with breaths pulled through his cheap respirator, his knees raising after a few minutes to plant feet on the bed and thrust up against his hand. His soft pants are thin enough that the candlelight shines through them, outlining sturdy thighs and the undercurve of his ass, and Sehun’s not really certain why that is the thing that brings a soft whimper of need to his lips, but it does.
The man is close to his completion, Sehun can see it in the way his strokes become rougher and his head is thrown back, exposing long tendons that stretch up from his collarbones to disappear under the mask. Sehun finds his own breath coming short, his grip on the curtains constricting as the arch of the man’s back becomes more pronounced, the furrow of his eyebrows deeper, his movements more frantic. He comes, stripes of white that glisten in the candlelight, and Sehun lets out his breath in a long sigh, he knees going weak as if he is the one experiencing release.
The man collapses back down to the bed, and Sehun unclenches stiff hands from the curtain, regaining his normal breath as the man sits up and takes up a rag to wipe himself off. He re-settles his waistband low on his hips and gets up, crossing the bare distance to the desk. Sehun gets an utterly beautiful view of his side profile illuminated in candlelight before he blows the candles out and Sehun can see no more.
Sehun lets the curtain fall from numb fingers, suddenly feeling rather uncomfortable in his own skin. Why did he...what a rude thing, he’s just done. Very uncouth. He should be ashamed.
He should be ashamed, but he can’t quite manage it.
Somehow, though, he does manage to not touch himself for the rest of the night, steadfastly working on his duties until he can keep his eyes open no more. He does not touch his own hardness as he changes for bed, and he does not touch it once the lights are out.
He’s not sure why it’s important to him...but it is.
The next week passes in a blur of information.
By day, Sehun spends his time with his uncle, or with the management of the factory, or on the floor with the workers, learning the step by step processes.
He is surprised when his uncle points at the line and tells him to roll up his sleeves, but he shouldn’t be. After all, his university professors made him get under auto coaches, take apart clocks, disassemble and reassemble firearms; a basic and tactile understanding of mechanics is a necessary foundation for factory management. And he doesn’t mind working on the line for short periods, staying just long enough to learn what each station does and moving on before the work becomes too repetitive. It’s terribly, stiflingly hot, and Sehun does wish he’d worn something a little thinner today, but he manages.
As he goes down the lines, he hopes that he will see the pink-haired man, perhaps have a chance to ask his name, but he doesn’t. Wherever he is stationed, the other man always seems to be somewhere else, whether by accident or design.
Honestly, he doesn’t need more than a few repetitions to get each aspect of the process down pat - it isn’t difficult work, not in terms of skill - but he stays a few minutes longer in each and observes how each station is set up. Where the tools are, what the motions are, how the product is moved from station to station as each step of the process is completed. Much of the line system is quite outdated. There’s wasted money, effort and time throughout each line, and Sehun is surprised that his uncle has not already addressed at least the most glaring ones. Why, there are exposed machining parts, grinders and blades without guards of any description! Even while Sehun is there, a worker’s hand slips and the flood of blood that results leaves product ruined and the man unable to work for the rest of the day. It’s a loss that could have been prevented with a simple glass guard between the worker and the blade, and it baffles Sehun’s mind that no one has thought of that yet.
It’s things like this that have Sehun returning to his rooms every night absolutely bursting with ideas. In one week, he fills an entire journal with notes on the improvements he wants to make, to the factory at large, to the layout of the lines, to the individual workstations. His chalkboard is erased and scribbled and erased again, and Sehun is thankful that no one ever comes into his rooms save for Jongin, because some of his ideas are quite wild and would probably earn him scorn, or at least teasing.
His work would consume him utterly if it wasn’t for one thing - his window, and the pink-haired man across the alley. Because every night, after the supper plates are taken away and Sehun is guaranteed to be alone, he sets down his notes and wipes his chalky fingers off and stands at the window, leaning against the woodwork to watch and wait.
Sometimes, the pink-haired man is reading, or eating, or sleeping. Sometimes, he’s stretching, or doing calisthenics, and Sehun is as fascinated by the exercises themselves as he is by the way the man’s muscles clench. Sometimes he has someone with him, friends most likely, talking and laughing. Sometimes, he’s not there at all, but Sehun waits for him anyway, because standing still with his hands in the curtain and his eyes across the way is...contemplative, almost meditative. It’s the only thing that clears his mind of the thousands of ideas that run through them like a stream; without it he would never sleep.
He doesn’t catch sight of anything else...intimate.
He tells himself he’s not disappointed.
But when he sees workers outside the owner’s mansion, squeegees on long poles to clean smog build-up off the windows, he takes the foreman aside and quietly contracts him to clean the windows of the tenements as well.
The usual knock at his door at fifth bell startles Sehun out of wakefulness. Groaning, he mumbles something in the general direction of the door and turns over.
He doesn’t register why there was a knock until a soft, tentative voice at his bedroom door whispers, “Sir?”
Sehun blinks blearily. “Jongin? What is it?”
“It’s...it’s fifth bell, sir. Your breakfast?”
Panic courses through Sehun’s system - he’s late, why didn’t his alarm clock ring! - but then he remembers the date and collapses. “Jongin,” he groans. “It’s rest day.”
“Oh. I assumed…” He sounds mortified, and Sehun sighs, dragging himself up into a sitting position.
“No, it’s alright. Leave the tray, I should get up anyway.”
He reaches over and turns on the lamp, watching as Jongin sets breakfast next to his bed. He’s as pressed and starched as he always is, in crisp black and white save for the amber silk of his pocket square, and Sehun frowns. “Why are you even working today?” he asks. Rest days only come every twelve days; no one should be working.
He gets a blink. “Sorry, sir, but...why wouldn’t I be?”
By now, Sehun knows Jongin isn’t stupid. So he tries not to sound too condescending when he says, “Because it’s the twelfth?”
Jongin studies him carefully. “Forgive me, sir, but I see things must have been done differently in your home,” he says, soft and unassuming. “I am not allocated a rest day.”
“You are not?”
Something in his tone must warn Jongin, because his back stiffens. “No. Sir.”
A frown creases Sehun’s forehead. “Who is responsible for staffing?”
“The housekeeper, sir.”
“I’ll have to talk with him. In the meantime, take the rest of the day off.”
Emotions flit across Jongin’s face in waves - shock, happiness, horror, settling into apprehension. “Sir, I - that is generous, sir, but who will - how will you - ”
“What?” Sehun asks, amused. “How will I eat? How will I get by? I assure you, Jongin, I will survive without you for one day.” Jongin looks torn between wanting to take it before he loses it, and wanting to do his job well, and Sehun’s tone softens. “I have been here for only six days, and you have already been an immense help to me,” he says, and means it. “Take the day off. I’ll expect you again tomorrow at five.”
Jongin smiles, wide and handsome and grateful. “Thank you, sir,” he says, and it’s easily the most sincere he’s ever been. Sehun returns his smile with a nod, and Jongin lets himself out.
The door shuts, and Sehun groans and gets out of bed. Since he’s awake, he may as well make himself useful.
As it turns out, his rest day is quite productive indeed, beginning in the morning with a visit downstairs to see the housekeeper. He finds out the housekeeper is not in, on rest himself, and returns in a righteous huff, with his arms full of what he could raid from the kitchens, to write a sternly worded letter regarding the overworking of his manservant. A manager should work more than the individuals they manage, not less.
The rest of the day is filled with planning, and brainstorming, and maybe perhaps one nap, but only for a short period because rest day or not he is at a very important point in his career and he has precious little time to prepare. He nibbles all day from the foods he’s pinched from the kitchens, cold meats and savory flatbreads and a glass of brandy as a rare indulgence, and does not bother getting out of his sleep clothes at all.
The lack of social interaction and movement has him feeling stiff and hazy as the sun sets, streaking the smog in pale amber and deep rose. He’s run out of brainpower earlier than usual tonight, and puts his notes away around nineteen, standing and stretching. His feet take him to the other side of the parlor automatically, and he pushes the curtain aside, fully expecting that the room across the way will be empty and dark.
It isn’t. Not only is the little room alight with more candles than usual, but the pink-haired man appears to be entertaining, another young man sitting with him on the bed. The second man is smaller and slighter, his eyes catlike and dancing over a respirator even cheaper and less effective than the other’s, and they have a bottle between them, wine, it looks like. Sehun’s breath halts as the pink-haired man lifts the bottom of his mask; he catches view of a rounded jawline and red, curved lips before those lips purse around the bottle, and the man tilts his head back to pour the alcohol down his throat.
It’s impossible to miss how the man’s friend watches him drink, how they lay so comfortably close and how their hands wander so easily. They appear to be only talking, simply enjoying each other’s company, but the alcohol makes them both loose and lazy and touchy. The pink-haired man turns his body more fully towards the window, and Sehun can see that his usual vest is nowhere to be seen and his shirt is unbuttoned, making it too easy for his friend to slide a hand up his torso. The way the stranger’s fingers raise and dip over muscled ridges is clearly apparent through the now-clean window. Those fingers slide back down and gently cup a thickly bulging cock, outlined in worn, supple leather, and Sehun softly moans aloud, arousal warring with jealousy.
It’s odd, but neither of them seem to be intent on moving further than where they are. Other than light touches, skin sliding softly against skin, they don’t attempt anything truly sexual, don’t chase after release though they are clearly both achingly hard. And they don’t kiss, though their bodies angle close like they are thinking about it; the respirators make anything involving the mouth difficult indeed.
The way they are touching, Sehun expects that the man is planning to stay all night, but he finds he’s wrong less than half a bell later, when the other man stands, grabs a bag from the desk, waves his goodbyes and leaves. The pink-haired man lets him go with a friendly wave of his own, and slumps carelessly back on the bed, his shoulder pressed to the window and his legs folded under him. Sehun’s breath is held again - the man seems so much closer now that the window is clean, and the candlelight is bright enough for him to see more than a shadow, more than a shape.
He can see clearly the moment when the man remembers his own stiff cock, sees him look down and consider it for a moment. Sees the golden light gleam off of blunt fingernails as he palms himself through his straining trousers, sees his Adam’s apple bob and his eyelashes flutter. And he wishes, more than anything right now, that he could see those red lips parted around a gasp. That mask is utterly maddening.
When the man rises up to stand on his knees on the bed, though, Sehun loses the control he’s fought hard to maintain. The man’s unbuttoned shirt falls off of one shoulder, his untied cravat hanging loosely around his neck, and his fingers work steadily at the closures of his pants, unbuckling and untying and unlacing until he can shove them down and his cock springs free. He slowly wraps fingers around his cock, and as if controlled by strings, Sehun’s hand trails down to trace out his own.
With a forearm braced against the window, the pink-haired man starts to rock into his own fist. He takes his time, drawing it out, slow and even, and as is becoming habit, Sehun finds himself falling into a meditative, almost dreamlike state, watching him. The man across the way seems both totally unreal and the only thing in the world that matters. He’s barely aware that he’s touching himself, the soft, slow build of his own pleasure but a subtle counterpoint to the visual feast across the alley.
Sehun is so enraptured with the twist of his wrist, the play of his fingers, with cataloging the angles and the pressures and the spots he seems to like the most, that it’s a long time before he glances up...and sees that he is being watched.
He freezes, caught. Narrowed, dark eyes are locked onto him across the alley, half-shaded by raggedly cut pink strands, but, unmistakably, Sehun has been seen. It sends a terrible, sharp-edged thrill through him. It’s utterly mortifying, but his cock jumps against his hand anyway, pulsing thicker with each rapid heartbeat, because the man sees him, he sees him, and he’snot stopping.
And Sehun is nothing if not bold, so he steels himself, and he pushes the curtain further aside, exposing the length of his body to the view of the street. The man’s eyes slide down his body, as Sehun had hoped they would. He wraps his hand around his own cock and squeezes, showing him that he is hard, showing off his shape and size, watching in delight as the man across the alley grips his own tighter in response. The hand that’s up against the window clenches into a tight fist, and dark eyes narrow further, as if in challenge. Strong thighs and a strong stomach set to work, pumping forward on the smooth, even beat of a machine, and Sehun doesn’t think he’s ever going to be able to walk through the factory again without hearing sex in the rhythm of the production lines.
And now that he’s been seen, Sehun should probably at least attempt to make a good show of it, but honestly he’s struck dumb by the view. So he just...watches. With one hand on the curtain, and one hand on his cock, he stands still and watches as the man across the way brings himself closer and closer to orgasm, the lines of his body drawing tighter and the visible slice of his expression twisting up with need. His eyes never move from Sehun’s, though, and when he comes, Sehun nearly misses it, because he’s unable to break his gaze.
White streaks paint the inside of the freshly-cleaned glass. Sehun’s breath heaves, his hands constricting. There’s a moment of stillness between them.
The man across the alley sneers with his eyes and yanks the curtain shut, leaving Sehun staring at come dripping down the glass and wondering what just happened.