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  1. Niki

    Tug of War

    He thinks he's so fucking charming. Danny lifted his glass to one of the servers circling the room, eyes fixed on the girl across the dance floor as he blandly thanked the man and sipped from a now full glass of wine. There was nothing special about her, really, he thought. Pretty in a generic sort of way, with waves of auburn hair pulled back and piled high upon her head, brown eyes and a smattering of freckles across her nose. She could have been anyone among the crowd, her blue dress too simple for the lavish occasion, the white jewels in her hair downplayed by their diminutive size. Is that what he wanted, then? A princess who would fade into the background? That critical eye turned to the young woman's escort -- arguably too old for her, but so was he, he supposed -- his smile so broadly visible even from across the ballroom that Danny could all but hear the rasping bass of his bemused chuckle as the girl continued with whatever anecdote she'd decided to drawl for his entertainment. Scowling, he drained his glass in a single draft and left it sitting lonely on a table linen. Daniel Renaud was the only son of the wealthy and contemptuous Duke of Eshen, Andrew Duvall, and an illegitimate one at that. The product of an extramarital affair that had resulted in divorce, Danny had spent the better part of his life in and out of his father's home and his favor, not to mention his line of inheritance. That summer, however, as King Henry's eldest daughter Marie came to debut, he had found himself an opportunity to close the gap between himself and his father's title once and for all, convincing the old man to grant his support just long enough for Danny to work his way into Marie's affection. He had not, however, accounted for the likes of Nathaniel Crane. After a week at court, his father's handful of strings pulling him a small room in the palatial south wing, Danny had descended to breakfast with the royal family, only to find his seat taken by the handsome and charming Crane, younger brother to the Duke of Winship. Danny recognized him only by reputation then, but in the month since, he had quickly grown to detest his presence in every instance. Even more so, now that Marie seemed to have taken a stronger liking to the man, and had begun politely declining Danny's various invitations over the last few days. Crossing the room, he wandered between the guests with a casual smile, but a purposeful step in his long stride that carried him toward the King himself, engaged in boisterous conversation with a handful of noblemen near one of the tables piled high with food. Danny slowed his gait, slipping past a server with a silver tray of oysters and bumping gently into Henry's arm before immediately apologizing, his please for excuse met with laughter and a gentle clap on the shoulder. No, he thought, he would win this one way or the other. "How are you tonight, Daniel?" "Excellent, of course, Your Majesty is a gracious host." "And your father? His health is still in decline?" "Unfortunately--" liquid blue eyes dropped solemnly and he clasped his hands in front of him "--I am not sure how much longer he'll be with us." Henry squeezed Danny's shoulder gently. "I'm sorry to hear that. He's a fine man." "He is." Danny brightened visibly at the touch, regarding the King with an endearing smile. "I owe him very much. And you, Your Majesty, for the opportunity to share this time with you." Carefully, his hand rose to cover that of the King's, his expression wistful and soft. "I have treasured it so."
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