Author's Notes: You know they don't belong to me! I mean, c'mon! Jack and Damian would never leave my room otherwise! Dedicated to the Girls of the NDL, and my Slyness. Bring on the French Snark.
Chapter 2 - Social Engagements
By L.M. Griffin
Mrs. Van-Crife's party was well into its swing by the time the three officers arrived, promptly at six. All three were immediately swept in different directions. Mrs. Van-Crife snagged the Commodore to 'make the rounds'. Bush was pulled by the young ladies to the piano to sing duets. Gillette was surrounded by the young society men eager to hear about the latest raid and Commodore Norrington's 'gallant' charge up into the stronghold.
By six thirty, all three were bored beyond belief. It was a scant fifteen minutes before dinner was called when Gillette and Bush were allowed to catch their breaths and take up glasses of punch. Gillette, however, had not forgotten their earlier conversation, so fell into one of their old games to 'pass the time'.
"That is truly a lovely gown that Miss Tate is wearing this evening," Gillette said, lifting his glass of punch half-way to his mouth. Beside him, Bush tensed again, his lips twitching once. Gillette's dark eyes flashed, as he added. "I wonder how many old windowsashes she had to take down to find that particular shade of old and faded green? Not to mention the pattern of the fabric! Big, blooming red flowers. How very... subtle."
"Andrew, stop. I mean it," Bush whispered, stilling his expression as best he could. He smoothed down his dress uniform to stop the shaking of his shoulders. "If this is revenge for the Shakespeare...."
"Her sister's gown, however, is a true masterpiece of our country's seamstress trade. How else can so much fabric be used to emphasize so flat a bosom?" Gillette continued innocently, sipping from his cup. He was winning this round, hands down. Bush was practically begging for comeuppance and amusement all at once, and Gillette was more than happy to oblige.
The 'game' itself had started at a party not unlike this one. The two had stood against a wall, freshfaced, fidgeting midshipmen in their scratchy new dress uniforms. Completely ignored by the rest of the crowd to boot, for Gillette was too intimidated by making a mistake in nervousness and slipping into French, and Bush, the newest member of the cadre, was simply too nervous.
However, it was Bush who began the game by suddenly sniggering, then covering his mouth to hide his laughter. Curious, Gillette had leaned over and asked him what was so funny. Bush leaned back and murmured that he had, for a moment, mistaken the poodle in Miss Bothel's arms for the wig that her father was wearing. Although the wig seemed less frightening that the dog itself, he had added.
Gillette choked on a laugh, and Bush, noting that this was the first time that he had seen the young man ease up around him since he had come aboard the Interceptor, continued jovially the entire night. Gillette nearly snorted punch up his nose three times, and had the most enjoyable time he had had in ages. The next party, Gillette had taken the fore, and through repressed laughter a tight friendship was formed.
"Andrew, I swear to God, if you don't stop this very instant, I shall take you outside and hurt you severely," Bush growled, clamping down on the glass in his hand so hard that it looked like it might shatter in his grip.
Despite all threats to the contrary.
Gillette seemed to pause to contemplate this, taking another long sip of punch as the droning voices of the party washed over them. His nose and eye twitched a little, as he commented, gesturing with his glass. "Will it hurt me as much as the dress Mrs. Bilsworth is wearing? Because the color alone is making me half-blind."
Bush couldn't help himself. He glanced in the direction Gillette pointed, and choked. "...Dear God."
Gillette continued on, one eyelid still twitching. "Of course, I am only half blind because my other eye closed in self-defense. Tell me, do you think that shade really exists in nature, or Mrs. Bilsworth's obviously color-blind imagination?"
That did it. Bush shoved his glass into an amused Gillette's hand, and disappeared between the curtains behind them. Gillette's smug smile widened as he heard Bush's choked laughs, but the expression stilled when a familiar dry voice came from behind him. "I thought I told you two to stop playing that game in closed quarters?"
Gillette half turned towards his Commodore, forcing his lungs to keep working and his heart to slow in beating at the sight of him. As always, James was exquisitely elegant in his formal uniform. The slight smirk curling his lips, the flash in his green eyes... Gillette formed a reply, glad his voice didn't crack from guilt or longing. "What game, sir? We were merely conversing."
"You know very well what game, Gillette," Norrington retorted, moving to stand beside him. Towering, more like it.
Gillette noted the nice way the coat fit over Norrington's shoulders, mentally smacked himself for noting the fact in the first place, and put on his most innocent expression. "Now sir. You know very well we don't play that game any more. Why, it's rude, not to mention ungentlemanly. A fact you have pointed out more than once."
"Ye-es. I believe I have." Norrington folded his hands behind him, fixing a stern look at his second. "So why exactly is Lieutenant Bush hiding in the curtains, laughing hysterically?"
Gillette's mind raced for a moment, as he looked from the curtains, back to Norrington. Then he smiled, dazzlingly bland. "Well sir, you must admit. Those are very amusing curtains."
Norrington stared at him for a moment, the corners of his mouth twitching. Bush came up to Norrington's other side, adding with his own equally ingenuous expression, "Funniest things I've ever seen. Just look at the ridiculous way they hang over the windows."
Norrington glanced between them, then he broke down and flashed a wry smile. "Honestly. Can't you find one nice thing to say about anyone here?"
Bush and Gillette looked at each other, and Gillette spoke gravely, as he handed Bush back his punch. "Jonathan, I've been meaning to tell you just how marvelous you look in your uniform. Very dashing."
"Why thank you, Andrew!" Bush said, brown eyes twinkling. "And might I add that your uniform looks especially charming. It brings out your eyes beautifully."
"Oh stop. You'll make me blush." Gillette smirked, waving his hand a little, as he turned to look at Norrington. The Commodore looked like he was between laughing and glaring again, so Gillette took it one more step. "And James ... perfectly gorgeous. As always."
"Quite. A round of applause goes to you, James, for making a uniform look like more than a uniform. A uniform, with style." Bush clapped his hands together politely, but carefully, as he still had the punch in hand. After a mere second, Gillette joined in.
Norrington's lips quirked upwards, as he covered his mouth and coughed. "...If you two keep this up, I'll have to go visit the curtains myself."
"Yes, but be warned. They're hilarity inducing." Gillette warned, smiling warmly up at him. Norrington's lips parted (deliciously, at least in Gillette's opinion) to reply, when a slightly nasal female voice pulled their attention away.
"Oh there you are, gentlemen!" Mrs. Van-Crife swept down on them, a maroon-clad wave, fluttering her fan. "We're about to go in to dine, and of course I know if you start in everyone will follow, Commodore."
"Naturally. He inspires a great deal of it generally, after all." Gillette said with a straight face. "Sometimes we follow him all the way home from a battle, like lost puppies."
Mrs. Van-Crife laughed, then gestured around. "Now Lieutenant Gillette... I know your sharp eyes for such things. What do you think of my party?"
Norrington and Bush glanced at each other in alarm, but Gillette smoothly tipped his glass and his head respectfully. "Mrs. Van-Crife, you know exactly what I think. Would I ever even dream thinking otherwise?"
"Such a charmer you are, Lieutenant! A wonder some darling woman hasn't snapped you right up." Mrs Van-Crife fluttered her fan and her eyelashes, trailing off to the next guests.
Bush remarked dryly, as they watched her glide away. "You realize you never actually said you did like it, Andrew?"
Gillette shrugged with a little smirk, as he put his cup on one of the little tables. "Yes, but she really wasn't looking for my honest opinion, was she? Although my honest answer would have made for a much more interesting dining experience."
Norrington tossed him an amused glance that made Gillette's heart soar, then nodded towards the dining room doors. "Come along, troublemaker. Dinner is about to start."
"Yes, sir," both lieutenants chirruped obediently, each falling in to either side of Norrington. Like a small fleet, they cut through the stragglers to the dining room. There, the Commodore was sat between Mrs Van-Crife and her daughter Marybelle. Trapped, he could only make the lightest of polite chatter, occasionally looking down the table enviously, to where Gillette sat, moving his hands in what looked to be a very amusing story.
Good man was Gillette, for he turned towards Norrington and said pointedly at one point in the story. "Wasn't that so, sir?"
"...no, I think that lace doilies are quite charming ... what was that, Gillette?" Norrington said, shifting slightly to one side as Marybelle leaned in towards him.
"I said, oh... pardon me, Miss Van-Crife, you had something to say to the Commodore?" Gillette said loudly, eyebrows lifted at the young lady, drawing attention to her from all sides.
Marybelle flushed, then leaned away. "No, no, Lieutenant. Nothing that cannot wait. Pray continue."
"As I was saying... Commodore, wasn't it so that we caught the Viper with their pants down, pardon the expression, ladies. It's a bit.. French." Gillette smiled wickedly, as the ladies tittered and the gentlemen just guffawed.
Norrington watched in silent awe - he was never as good at charming and in turn shunning people with just the power of his personality as Gillette was. His Lieutenant always knew the latest fashions, and dances, thanks to the five older sisters who wrote to him constantly from London and Paris. His elegant manners made him a valuable commodity socially, and his wit was praised and feared. Bush often joked that they'd never be invited to half as many parties if Gillette hadn't been invited first.
And to think this was the shy young man who would barely give you greeting as you passed by him on deck, Norrington mused, as he leaned forward to answer. "Well, I wouldn't say they lost any clothing, Gillette, but they did certainly lose their heads."
Gillette flashed him a warm, knowing smile, as he turned to his audience, which now made up the length and breadth of the table itself. "Exactly, sir. Apparently we had caught them between trading points - they had all their plundered swag but none of the supplies they needed. So they were stuffing the first thing they could think of into the cannons, as they had no munitions, and very little powder. We came alongside of them, and they opened fire on us... with fruit."
"Fruit?" Miss Tate fluttered her hand in front of her. "Surely you're joking, Lieutenant!"
Gillette turned to Norrington for confirmation, black eyes flashing with humor. "Sir? A little help?"
"A full complement of fruit, Miss Tate. From English apples right down to Spanish oranges," Norrington said gravely, although his green eyes twinkled at Gillette.
"So what happened? Did any of the fruit hit the Dauntless?" Miss Tate said, eyes wide. Gillette had them in the palm of his hand, and he knew it.
"Well, it would have ... if the fruit hadn't exploded inside their own cannons and set fire to the ship itself." Gillette smirked. "We simply waited until they abandoned the Viper to fish them out of the water, still covered in a mishmash of fruity innards."
He waited for the titters of laughter to die down, before he gracefully lifted one hand. "Ah, but that wasn't the best part. Truly, the highlight of the little excursion was when our fine marines dragged the pirate captain, who had jumped right into one of our boats, in front of the Commodore himself."
"Covered, might we add, in apple and peach slush?" Bush added, leaning over to pour more wine into Gillette's goblet.
"Thank you, Jonathan, for the wine and the visual aid." Gillette took the glass up, twirling it in his goblet for a moment, before taking a long sip. He nodded his head in approval, smiling down at Mrs. Van-Crife. "Excellent vintage, as always, Mrs. Van-Crife."
Mrs Van-Crife fluffed up with pride. "Oh Lieutenant... really, you flatter too much."
Norrington caught Bush's eye from down the way, bemused. Bush raised his eyebrows once, and batted his eyelashes twice with a knowing smirk on his lips.
"Never enough for a wise hostess and a good wine. Now... where was I?" Gillette looked around, knowing someone would chime in.
Marybelle answered the call. "The pirate captain had just been dragged in front of the Commodore!"
"Thank you, Miss Van-Crife. The Commodore was standing at the helm, and when they brought the pirate captain before him, he took one look at the wretch and he said... " Gillette started to laugh, looking over to Bush, who had his hand over his mouth in an attempt to control the sniggering. "...and he said, 'Well, sir. I am not entirely sure if we should hang you, or put you into a pastry tin and bake you.'"
The entire table burst into laughter - gentlemen openly chuckling, while ladies lifted up their hankerchiefs daintily to giggle. A woman near the end of the table, one Gillette had never seen before, lifted her voice to be heard. It was, Gillette had to admit, a rather pleasant voice to have hit the ears. "So tell me, Commodore, how did you finally settle the matter?"
Norrington didn't glance down that far, however, but let his eyes rest on Gillette. "The decision was made to hang him. After all, pirate turnover is hardly what I would call appetizing."
This was met with more laughter, as the food was served. Norrington found the meal much more tolerable after that, for the talk changed from table settings to his exploits. While these were embarrassing to hear how Gillette and Bush raved of his bravery and so on, at least it wasn't about doilies.
An hour later, Gillette finally made his bid for escape as he slipped into the front hall, asking the steward for his and the others' coats and hats. His departure was noted, much to his dismay, by one of the Tate sisters. The sisters were notorious for cornering young officers, and Gillette was determined not to be one of them.
"Leaving so soon, Lieutenant Gillette?" Miss Tate said, a pout on her lips as she saw the young officer drawing on his hat and coat.
Gillette bowed gracefully, but at a distance. "I am afraid that the toils of office await us all on the morrow, Miss Tate. But we look forward to your upcoming ball." Like we would look forward to having a sword rammed into any part of our bodies. "In fact, I merely await the arrival of Lieutenant Bush and the Commodore."
"I believe they're in the front parlour, speaking with Lady Susan." Miss Tate gestured as she took two steps forward, making Gillette retreat warily back.
"Lady Susan?" Gillette asked, as he moved towards the front parlour. "I do not believe I know her Ladyship."
Miss Tate's smile went sharp. "I doubt any woman in your acquaintance would introduce you, Lieutenant."
"Really now." Gillette's eyebrow rose, as he dipped his head again. "This sounds intriguing enough for investigation. Good evening to you, Miss Tate." And good riddance!
Gillette walked, as quickly as he could without running, into the front parlour, looking for two familiar figures in dark blue frock coats. It didn't take him long to find James - it never did. Both he and Bush were smiling, deep in conversation with...
They parted, showing the lady who had spoken earlier. Gillette's eyebrows rose - he could understand on pure physical beauty why his friends looked so intrigued. With a fine figure, long, golden-straw colored hair bound into delicate curls, and dark blue eyes framed with goldenbrown lashes, she was certainly one of the better looking women Gillette had ever encountered. Not to mention her fine silken gown of violet was the only dress he had encountered so far this night that didn't make him want to twitch in pain.
Of course, Gillette was never really taken in by female beauty, so he moved forward while he saw so many gentlemen retired in shyness or awe. He paused a polite distance away, and then coughed a little before commenting. "Gentlemen, the hour grows late."
Bush glanced over, and his expression brightened more. "Gillette, there you are! Come and meet her Ladyship."
"The carriage can wait another moment." Norrington turned, gesturing Gillette forward, which he did without question, to stand before her Ladyship. "Lady Susan Foppingay-Phipps, this is my second-in-command, Lieutenant Andrew C. Gillette."
"Your Ladyship." Gillette dipped his head gracefully, putting on a polite smile, although a flash of something painful went through him at the sparkle in Norrington's eyes. He knew it wasn't for him.
"Lieutenant, you tell a charming and well-versed story." Lady Susan said with a smile, offering her slender hand to be taken. Gillette took it, kissing the back of it for a moment. She kept it in his grip a... moment longer than she should have, in his opinion, then took it back. "I was quite riveted by the Commodore's many adventures."
"Well, it's hard to not make the Commodore an interesting character in his own adventures." Gillette said smoothly, internally frowning. She was certainly intense, wasn't she? Her eyes never seemed to leave Norrington, even as she spoke to him.
"Of course not." Lady Susan's smile widened a touch, as she finally looked at him. "But I'm assured that nothing with the Commodore could possibly dull."
"You flatter me, my Lady." Norrington said with the slightest hint of a smile.
Yes you do, while apparently complimenting me. Gillette's internal frown deepened. "Well, as much as I would like to tell more tales for your amusement, we really must be off. Shall I go get the carriage, sir?"
"Hmm? Oh yes, Gillette." Norrington said slowly. "We really must be going...."
"Then I'll go get the carriage." Gillette said. A pause, as neither Bush or Norrington seemed to be moving, and he added a little more firmly, "Which of course means, we will have have to move towards the front door. The carriage can hardly come inside."
Norrington and Bush both blinked at Gillette, as if such a thought were uncommon. Gillette bit back the urge to ask 'Unless you two have had carriages come to get you at the very doors to your quarters?' Sarcasm was not going to help in this situation, however satisfying it may be.
With another apologetic bow to her Ladyship, wishing her a polite but brisk good evening, he moved towards the door. If they weren't following him in a minute, he would take the extreme pleasure of dragging them both out by their ears.
He stepped outside after saying his goodbyes, once more, to Mrs. Van-Crife. He was glad for the cold air coming off the bay, for it cooled his cheeks and some of his jealousy. It's ridiculous to feel this way. After all, he isn't mine to claim. He has a right to be charmed by a beautiful woman. There was a pause, as his fists clenched. ...But just not her!
The carriage pulled around front, and he climbed inside. After settling himself, he stared moodily out of the window, trying to piece together what so bothered him about Lady Susan. He didn't feel this sudden distrust for any of the other ladies who flirted with the Commodore. Why did she set off a feeling of grave alarm?
Two minutes later, Bush climbed in, smiling brightly at Gillette. "Well here I am, and you didn't even need to come up the front stairs with your carriage in tow."
Gillette flashed a thin smile, forcing down the sharp, painful jealousy once more. "Where's James?"
Bush nodded towards the front doors, where Norrington was bidding goodbye to Lady Susan. Gillette's frown came from the mental to the physical as he watched Lady Susan watching Norrington walk towards their carriage. Perhaps he was looking far too into things - and considering his emotions on the matter that was entirely possible - but there was just something... offish about her attentions.
Too focused, too fast, was the thought in his brain as Norrington closed the door, smiling at his two officers. "Well she was a very charming woman, wasn't she Jonathan?"
"A breath of fresh air, James." Bush added with a firm nod of his head, as he turned to Gillette. "What about you, Andrew? What did you think of her, as brief your meeting was?"
"Yes Cris, what did you think of her?" Norrington asked, one eyebrow raised curiously.
Gillette found himself in a similar situation to the one earlier with Mrs Van-Crife, and again he went with the easy, noncommittal answer. "I found her rather more interesting than I had upon being first introduced." This seemed to satisfy both of his friends, and left Gillette to his own thoughts.
Interesting, of course, was only one of the words that was flittering through his mind on the matter of Lady Susan Foppingay-Phipps.
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