Title: The Dance
Author: Jordanna Morgan
Author’s Email: email@example.com
Permission to Archive: Please request the author’s consent.
Characters: Mainly the Foggs.
Summary: Phileas Fogg grudgingly faces his birthday.
Disclaimer: Jules and company, and everything that goes with them, belong to Talisman Crest. I’m just having fun with them.
Notes: This one-shot is actually an edited and slightly revised excerpt from a story I began back in 2002. The full epic plot of it eventually broke my brain, but at the very least, I always wanted to salvage this scene. At the urging of my friend Ginger, I’ve finally gotten around to it.
“Oh, smile, Phileas. After all, you are the man of the hour.”
Phileas glowered at Rebecca, mutely following her about the busy kitchen of Shillingworth Magna. His cousin sampled this and remarked upon that, with a smile and a kind word for every servant who crossed her path. She was the antithesis of everything he was feeling at the moment.
It was madness, really. This particular day of each year gave him no end of trouble, simply because it was the anniversary of his birth. Given the nature of his first forty-two years of life, Phileas had never been quite convinced the event was something to be celebrated. All the same, every year, Rebecca insisted on making a merry fuss about it.
The house was already filling with people Phileas either didn’t know or didn’t care to know. There were friends of his father, friends of other dead relatives, perfect strangers who knew a friend of a friend of one of the former; politicoes, socialites, and their teeming herds of dull-witted sons and man-hungry daughters. The last group might have entertained Phileas on some other day, but the mere gloomy fact of his birthday compounded by this unwelcome social circus put him in far too bad a mood.
Yet for some unfathomable reason, it made Rebecca happy.
In the end, that was why Phileas bore this annual misery. Rebecca deserved anything that would give her happiness. Too much of her life was spent in danger, tension, anger, fear, and all the other things attendant to her career as a Secret Service agent. Whatever she wanted to do in her precious few moments of safety and contentment, he would try his best to bear it cheerfully.
He forced a wan smile, nodding politely to a serving-girl who tried to offer him a pastry.
Just at that moment, Rebecca had turned to him, and a little smile lighted her lips. She stepped toward him in a swish of sky-blue skirts, reaching out to adjust the lapels of his jacket. “Come on. We should be getting back to our guests.”
Phileas sighed, but he managed a genuine smile as he offered her his arm. There was something to be said for the added affection she bestowed upon him on these tiring occasions. It helped to quiet the small voice of doubt inside him. The one that pondered how he had survived to see another birthday… and why.
“I understand Sir Jonathan was quite surprised you invited him,” Rebecca remarked, as they made their way from the kitchen toward the ballroom.
“He very well ought to be, considering I didn’t.”
His cousin chuckled. “Now, Phileas, you know I really couldn’t leave him out. He’s known our family all his life.”
“Rebecca, he despises me. He only comes every year for the food, and you know it.”
“Actually, he comes for the food, the champagne, and the young ladies,” Rebecca remarked, and Phileas almost faltered in his step. He gave her an astonished glance, but she was wearing her coolest poker face—with the exception of a very slight crook to one corner of her mouth.
The snort of laughter that escaped Phileas was short and abrupt. Rebecca smiled.
Tonight the underused ballroom of Shillingworth Magna was a riot of noise and color. Music competed with conversation and clinking glasses, and a rainbow array of ladies’ vibrant gowns contrasted sharply against the blacks and greys of formally dressed men. The cousins stepped through the doorway just in time for Phileas to catch the arm of Passepartout, who was hurrying by with a tray of champagne glasses expertly balanced on his left hand.
“Where is Verne?” Phileas queried, relieving his manservant of two glasses and handing one to Rebecca with a flourish.
Passepartout pointed across the room. Verne stood by a table laden with hors d’oeuvres—blushing furiously at a bony, harsh-featured young woman who gave every appearance of having cornered him. “Master Jules is being the flower on the wall.”
“Hmm.” Phileas gave Rebecca a faint smirk. “Ambassador Mori’s daughter… It appears our young friend is in need of rescue.”
“As usual,” Rebecca added with a smile.
Phileas clapped Passepartout fondly on the shoulder, then proceeded to guide Rebecca through the clusters of conversing guests and dancing couples. Several times they were intercepted by people offering birthday wishes, which Phileas accepted uneasily. It was Rebecca who beamed and responded with just the right words, leaving a path of good cheer in their wake.
She was a marvel, Phileas reflected. For all the fire that was in her, she could be so gracious and poised and charming: a perfect hostess. He envied that warmth. He envied those to whom she gave of it, and he envied her for having it to give.
Jules had spent much of the day helping Passepartout and the servants with preparations for the festivities. Now he was dressed in a fine grey suit Passepartout had obtained for him at Rebecca’s bidding—and tugging restlessly at his burgundy-colored cravat with an index finger. He hated the things. It was one of the more prominent obstacles in Phileas’ campaign to make a proper gentleman of him.
“Ah, Verne,” Phileas said by way of greeting, as the cousins approached him.
The young writer grinned at them too broadly and almost upset his champagne glass as he hurriedly set it down, looking like a man prepared to fling himself upon a life preserver. He spilled out a profuse and babbling apology to Miss Mori, then turned to shake Phileas’ hand and clasp Rebecca’s. “Happy birthday, Fogg.”
Phileas came as close as he ever did to shrugging. “It’s simply another day.”
Miss Mori opened her mouth to speak, but Rebecca smoothly cut her off, giving Verne an affectionate smile. “Remember, Jules, you promised me my first dance tonight. And I’m afraid there may be a bit of a line forming behind you, so…”
“Oh—uh… of course!” Not quite able to hide the tremendous relief that washed over his face, Verne quickly offered Rebecca his arm. She took it, and there was not a man in the room who failed to notice her as she glided regally across the floor with him.
Phileas watched them begin a tentative waltz, not quite sure what he was feeling… until he realized with a swell of amusement that Rebecca was leading.
They looked well together, all the same. Verne didn’t have Rebecca’s grace, and he wasn’t quite tall enough to be a suitable match for a woman of her height, but somehow she made up for all of that. Besides, by this point, Verne was showing every symptom of blissful oblivion.
Miss Mori gave Phileas her approximation of a winsome smile. He stared back at her flatly, and she went away with an indignant sniff.
Before he could pick Rebecca and Verne out of the crowd again, he saw Sir Jonathan Chatsworth trudging toward the table. The spymaster had a glass in his hand, and he was a bit more red-faced than usual, but he was clearly nowhere near drunk enough to be tolerable. Phileas briefly contemplated a dive into the surrounding tangle of humanity, but it was too late.
“Fogg,” Chatsworth greeted him indifferently, drawing up beside him with a winded huff.
“Mm. Enjoying yourself, Chatsworth?” Phileas inquired lazily.
Chatsworth declined to dignify the sarcastic question with a reply; his attention was focused on the caviar. He would, of course, gladly indulge at Phileas’ expense. “I suppose I should congratulate you on having survived for another year.”
“Much to your dismay, no doubt,” Phileas murmured.
“That isn’t true, Fogg. Even if only for her sake.” Not quite turning to Phileas, Chatsworth waved his glass in Rebecca’s general direction. His voice had taken on a peculiar soft tone which, for some reason, genuinely stirred something in Phileas.
Mainly contempt, but that wasn’t quite all.
The agents in his charge were commodities to Chatsworth, and Rebecca was surely the most valuable. Time and again, Phileas had seen him treat her in precisely those terms—yet just now, his voice had almost betrayed some flicker of actual feeling. One could nearly have suspected, for a moment, that the callous prig might even be something close to human.
The champagne must have been getting to Chatsworth’s head.
“Incidentally, Fogg.” Chatsworth was talking again. “Ambassador Mori and I were discussing matters of his country earlier. He believes there’s been an unseemly amount of Prussian activity on the border. I don’t like the sound of it in the least—seems something we’d best have a closer look at. I was thinking that with the Aurora…”
But Chatsworth’s audience had been lost two sentences back, when Rebecca and Verne finally reappeared among the other dancing couples. The spymaster forgotten, Phileas watched the pair ruefully. He was a lucky dog, that Verne.
It’s my birthday, for heaven’s sake.
“Excuse me,” Phileas unceremoniously interrupted Chatsworth. He set down his glass and started across the floor, toward his cousin and their friend. Rebecca was gazing over Verne’s shoulder with a thoughtful, contented look… but something else came into her eyes when she saw Phileas approaching them.
“May I have the next dance?” he asked gracefully.
They stopped, and Verne woke up from his trance, his dreamy expression fading into an understanding smile. He inclined his head and handed his partner off to Phileas, almost elegantly; perhaps the boy wasn’t a lost cause, after all. Rebecca was willing, and she settled easily into her cousin’s arms, laying her head against the crook of his neck with a small sigh.
She didn’t lead anymore.
This was all Phileas could have asked for his birthday. He held her against him, lightly but possessively, enjoying the smoothness of her movements and the fragrance of her perfume. She felt like an extension of himself; even her heartbeat seemed to match his. Presently she smiled and looked up into his eyes, with an expression remarkably similar to the one Verne had worn when he was in her arms.
“Happy birthday, Phileas.” Her voice was a low, soft purr of pleasure.
It might have been the most dangerous moment he had ever faced.
Phileas closed his eyes and laid his cheek against her fiery hair, trying not to feel anything. The unrelenting scent of her perfume did not help. Roses and lilies and musk; he couldn’t breathe. He wondered if he would suffocate, but it didn’t matter, because if he did, he would die a very happy man.
She exhaled a long, slow breath that shivered against his neck, and his heartbeat suddenly lost its pace with hers. He took in a discreet gulp of air and drew back, shifting to a more reserved and formal stance.
She gazed up at him somewhat quizzically, and he could only give her a weak smile.
“I, um… I think perhaps I should… see about supper.” How he hated that stammer. It wasn’t the impediment of his childhood, but something developed as a grown man, betraying the secret stores of emotion he could never express in words. Rebecca knew it too well. She knew him too well.
Lowering her gaze, she breathed a sigh that shattered his heart into several pieces. “Yes… I know.”
Oh, but it all hurt so much sometimes.
With a creaky nod, Phileas stepped back and offered her his arm, to guide her back to Verne’s company. She took it, and the fragments of his heart fell back into place as her fingers interlaced with his, squeezing very gently.
© 2009 Jordanna Morgan - send feedback