[identity profile] leen-go.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] leengonanowrimo
Length: 1742 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.

“Cheers!” The chorus rang through the room as ceramic glasses of rice wine came together.

Yixing had always assumed that political figures were always proper, even when in their office, but seeing all these men with rosy cheeks and half lidded eyes swaying off balance wiped that assumption clean. He himself was having a hard time hiding the smile that slipped at the idea of the general population finding their officials in such a state.

Feigning interest in yet another politician’s personal hobbies, Yixing snuck a glance to his right where the Duke had been seated ever since he had returned with the courtesan on his arm. Yixing had been led around the room, greeting each member individually before taking a seat on one side of the Duke, his other side occupied by the woman who had earlier been introduced to Yixing as the Duke’s fiancé. It had been another hour after the dinner dishes had been cleared before all the ladies in the room retired to the garden as their husbands (and fiancé) continued to be entertained by Lay’s presence, insisting they drink together to good health and to good company.

As he’d proposed before leading Yixing into the dining room, the Duke never left his place beside his Guest of Honour, turning towards the courtesan frequently with reassuring glances that Yixing returned with grateful smiles before his attention was drawn away once more.

Yixing had lost count of how much rice wine he’d had shared with all of the Duke’s political guests, each one insisting on personal time with Lay, while the others gave their efforts towards making the Duke drunk. Somewhere after ‘nine’, the Duke had declared that Lay was probably getting overwhelmed with all the attention and that they should come together as a group, spewing a riddle for the group to solve, “The first one who gets it doesn’t have to drink,” he laughed, shifting closer to Yixing, almost unnoticeably.

A stout man with pair of fat lips shouted ‘The answer’s a cow!’ before the Duke had properly set up the riddle, the entire room falling silent as they turned to stare at the man for a moment before breaking in raucous laughter again, the Duke that loudest of all as he shook his head, “That’s not even close, and for that, you’re all going to have to drink.” The Duke lead by taking his cup and downing its contents in an instant, glaring at his guests when they shook their heads at the Duke with sloppy grins.

“Won’t you be joining us?” the guest sitting closest to Yixing asked, holding out a cup filled with cloudy wine, a toothy grin under a pointed nose.

Before Yixing could accept the offer, a hand reached across him to take the cup from him, “I do believe our Lady Lay has already had too much because of you.”

The man (was he the treasurer of something?) made an indignant expression, “You’re the one who said we all had to drink! A Duke shouldn’t go back on his words!”

Yixing’s eyebrow twitched at the casualness, though he should have already become accustomed to it; it had taken about five drinks for all formalities to be dropped within the group, Yixing the only exception with his training engrained into his everyday actions. Before Yixing could open his mouth to say he was fine, the Duke downed the drink he’d intercepted, “Then I will just have to take her place then, won’t I?”

The man with the pointed nose paused for a second before grinning with poorly concerned mirth, “Oh? Well, this should be interesting, does this mean you’ll be drinking twice as much as what we’re already forcing you to have?”

The Duke let out a ‘tch’ but offered little argument, resulting in a chorus of cheers as everyone started shouting out suggestions on how to get the Duke to pass out.

With a sigh of relief to get the spotlight off himself for the moment, Yixing stood up to let the man crowding her gain easier access to the Duke; Yixing needed a minute to himself anyway. The courtesan stared at the rowdy group for a second before remembering that he should probably make sure the Lu Han was back in their room, staying out of trouble.

Ditching a failed last minute attempt to grab the Duke’s attention to let him know where he was going, Yixing slipped out the doors, hoping that he wouldn’t be gone long enough for the party inside to notice his disappearance. “Please, please, don’t be making trouble, Lu Han,” he mumbled to himself as he drew the doors closed quietly behind him.

It occurred to Yixing as he tried to recall his way back to his guest room that he was breaking his agreement with the Duke to stay by the latter’s side, but Lu Han was just a kid, and Yixing should really be responsible for making sure that the child wasn’t wandering the grounds, trying to steal food wherever he can. “It’ll only be a minute,” Yixing reassured himself out loud.

“What’ll only be a minute?” a familiar voice called out after him.

Yixing turned around in alarm to find the same man with the pointed nose grinning at him, head slightly tilted to the side curiously. “Oh, uhm,” he fumbled, mind clouded from the drinks; he should have probably bowed somewhere in that answer. “I’m just, uh…”

“If you need anything, I’m sure I can help,” the man continued, a lewd grin crooked as he approached Yixing, intent obvious in his alcohol lidded eyes.

Yixing swallowed hard as he took a stumbling step back. This really hadn’t been part of the deal the Duke had struck with Lady Pearl and Yixing was in no mood to play along. A tight grip wrapped around his wrist and Yixing bit down on his lower lip as he tried to free himself.

“I think you’ve had a little too much, Counselor.”

The pointed-nose-man’s head spun around abruptly and Yixing took advantage of his surprise to pry his hand back to himself before looking up himself to find the Duke at the edge of the terrace, eyebrows stitched together and the muscle in his jaw twitching so much that Yixing could see him from this distance.

“Perhaps it’s time you found your wife and went home to rest.”

Yixing hardly noticed how the man dismissed himself with a stutter, his focus wholly on the Duke, who barely blinked as he turned his hard gaze from his counsellor to the courtesan, freezing the latter on the spot. The Duke waited until he was alone with Yixing before stepping towards him, expression still stern and forcing something uneasy into Yixing’s stomach.

The Duke stopped a foot from Yixing, staring down for a long moment with his hard look before he finally let out a breath, “Are you okay?”

Yixing’s eyebrows raised slightly as he watched the Duke’s shoulders fall from tenseness Yixing hadn’t noticed before. His gaze met with the Duke’s searching eyes and guilt flooded through him as he found genuine concern there, translated in the soft voice. “Y-yeah,” Yixing managed, tearing his eyes from the Duke’s as he turned away, aware that he shouldn’t be showing his back to royalty. He stepped ahead a few paces and took a seat on one of the decorative stones that littered the garden.

“I thought we agreed that you wouldn’t leave my side tonight for this reason exactly?” the Duke’s voice called after him softly. “You should have at least told me where you were going before you left.”

Yixing frowned at the scolding tone, “I was fine,” he returned obstinately. “I was just going to check in on Lu Han, make sure he wasn’t getting up to trouble.”

The Duke sighed heavily as he moved towards Yixing, tone softening, “You could’ve asked Minseok to do that.”

“Lu Han is my responsibility, Your Grace. I don’t need you to keep intervening on my life.” The words were out of his lips before Yixing could think them and he clapped a hand over his mouth, immediately getting to his feet and bowing deeply, “I’m sorry, My Lord. I didn’t mean it that way-”

The Duke put up a hand to stop Yixing’s apology in mid-sentence as he let out another sigh and held his hands behind his back. “No. You’re absolutely right. That’s why I invited you here, in fact.”

Yixing unfolded into an upright position again as confusion took over his expression. “Your Grace?” he prompted as he watched the Duke start to pace.

“You remember what you said to me that night you showed up here unannounced? You told me that I was the reason why you were struggling to hold on to your clients.”

Yixing swallowed at the memory.

“You don’t dance at The Star any more, do you?”

Eyebrows stitched together as the courtesan tried to recall the night exactly; he was pretty sure he hadn’t said anything about his performances to the Duke.

“That’s why I’ve asked for you this evening, to try to undo my errors. Tonight was your last dance. And it will also be the last time I’ll intrude in your life.” The Duke let the end of his sentence hang in the silence, holding Yixing’s gaze steadily for a long beat before he smiled and blinked away. “I will no longer be paying The Star any more visits in the future. You can reacquire your clients and we will continue on our separate ways peacefully. This is the last you’ll see of me. I’ll send Minseok out to help you pack your things. I’ve enjoyed our time together, Yixing.”

Yixing stared after the Duke blankly and uncomprehending as the latter headed back to his guests without another glance backwards. He should really be glad to be rid of the Duke, to be given a chance to maybe climb his way back into Lady Pearl’s good books. He should be grateful to the Duke for the opportunity to have performed this last dance.

Yixing hadn’t known what to expect when he first arrived at the Duke’s home two days ago, but a curt goodbye had certainly not been on the list.

Dismissed so simply.

Yixing’s drew in a deep breath when Minseok appeared in the Duke’s place to escort him back to the guest room.

This won’t be my last dance.

A/N: What's this? Two updates within a month?! What madness is this?! It's a little shorter this time, but I hope it's okay! I want to get back to writing more, so here's my effort! Hopefully, next chapter will be up soon-ish too =) As always, let me know what you thought in the comments! They really help ^^
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