Disclaimer: No, unfortunately.
Warnings: Jack/Beckett slash, with some minor bending of the characters' personalities in order to make the fluff work.
In a fine carriage plodding slowly through the snow-driven streets of London town, a small, chubby hand pawed at the glass on which flecks of heaven slid and melted into obscurity. The fingers dragged pathetically against the pane, following the progress of a particular snowflake as it trailed down the window. Soon, the face of a girl-child appeared, her father raising her to heights that she had never dreamt of. A passing stranger might judge the round face peering out of the carriage to be sweet, but not particularly striking, or even memorable. This was due to the girl belonging to that subset of humanity that defied race, creed and gender, an exclusive club that demanded its members be nothing more than plain or even ugly children who would blossom into exquisite beauties upon entering adulthood.
The child's name was Elizabeth Swann; barely a year old, she sat, shrouded in silks and furs and lace, upon the lap of her doting father; her mother had remained in the country for the Season, suffering as she did from a weakness of the lungs. Beside her father, primly tucked away in a corner, sat the child's wet-nurse, Mrs Butler, stiff and austere in her starched blue gown. It would appear at first glance that Mrs Butler seemed to have been created for no other purpose than to look disapprovingly down upon the world; currently, she was studying the boy opposite her, a slight, slender youth who sat fiddling with his cane in a half-hearted attempt at hiding his resentment.
"Stop fidgeting," Mrs Beckett hissed, smiling disarmingly at the gentleman before her. She needn't have bothered; Weatherby Swann was too occupied with satisfying his daughter's fascination with the winter snow to take note of Cutler's petulance. Mrs Butler, of course, saw all.
Cutler glanced at his mother, smiled thinly, and propped the cane carefully against the carriage door. Accompanying Mrs Beckett on the occasional social visit was an irritating but necessary trial that he was forced to go through for the sake of his allowance; today, it had been to pay his respects to Lady Worthington and her three daughters, and as he was her brother by marriage, Cutler had had the misfortune of meeting Weatherby Swann, who he was certain would have been a very pleasant companion, had his conversations not revolved exclusively around his young daughter. But converse they had, and Cutler was rewarded for his measured politeness by an invitation to sup with Swann that very evening, an invitation which his mother had gleefully accepted. So now, here they sat, the five—well, four and a half of them, cramped into a carriage that singularly failed to keep out the cold English winter.
"That's quite enough now, Elizabeth," he heard Swann murmur from a distance. There was a low whimper, and the girl thrashed in her father's arms, determinedly reaching out to the window. She whimpered again, louder this time, as her father returned her to her nurse and deliberately twitched the curtain shut. In the darkness, Cutler heard his mother clear her throat and cough uncomfortably beside him. On the other side of the carriage, Swann chuckled nervously.
"It appears as if… due to the snow… we have been forced onto alternate routes, Mrs Beckett." Cutler's forehead wrinkled as he noted the embarrassment in the gentleman's voice; somewhere in front of him, he heard Miss Swann give a cry which he interpreted as a desire to return to the window.
"Oh yes," he heard his mother agree in measured tones. "Yes, of course, Mr Swann; I would never assume that you would choose to pass through a street such as this. Particularly with ladies present."
Cutler rolled his eyes; he was willing wager his monthly allowance that by tomorrow morning his mother would be whispering to her society friends over tea, "Are you familiar with Weatherby Swann, cousin of Baron Hanley and brother-in-law to Lady Worthington? Well, you'll never believe it…" A corner of his lip quirked in the delight that could only come of revelling in another's misfortune. Had Swann not been so exceptionally dull, Cutler might have found it in his heart to pity him; as it was Cutler, already more than displeased that the evening would not be his own, was determined to amuse himself to the best of his ability.
"I say, it's rather dark in here, isn't it? Perhaps we ought to let in some light."
"Cutler!" his mother snapped as her son twitched back the curtain, but her words went unheeded. It was nearing four, and the dimming light was made weaker by the snow heaven was determined to unleash on the resigned city. The majority of Londoners were already indoors; or, if they were unfortunate, huddling around street fires; or, in the likely event that they were very unfortunate, dying in the doorways of the warm and reputable. So how such respectable women such as Mesdames Beckett and Butler recognised this particular street, indistinguishable from any other wintry London avenue, as being morally questionable was therefore a curiosity in and of itself; but Cutler, though young, was wise enough to resist temptation: he knew that pulling back the curtain in the hope of revealing common whores in all their gaudy finery had already placed his allowance in some danger.
Not that there were any disreputables about to offend the ladies' chaste eyes, anyway. Frowning at the lack of scandalous activity, Cutler leaned back into his seat and fidgeted again, partly because he wished to annoy his mother, partly because he was impatient to return to his apartments, where his lover awaited him.
…Or rather, where he was supposed to be awaiting him; Cutler was almost certain he hadn't added, "Or, if you like, you can dally with whores whilst I am otherwise engaged," as he left his apartments that morning.
"Stop the carriage," Cutler commanded, rapping his knuckles smartly on the ceiling.
"Cutler! How dare you—"
Mrs Beckett's words fell on deaf ears, and as it would be improper to physically restrain him, she could only watch, mortified, as her son picked up his cane and brought the knob up against the ceiling with a series of thumps more powerful than his knocking.
"Cutler, I don't know what's gotten into you! This carriage belongs to Mr Swann—" she continued to prattle, scandalised, as her son adjusted his cloak and clambered into the snow without so much of a "If you'll excuse me."
The silence that followed the boy's departure was heavier than the snowfall itself. In it, Mrs Beckett twitched nervously, and pulled her cloak closer to her.
Mrs Beckett had always prided herself on successfully raising a gentleman who, unlike the majority of his contemporaries, knew better than to act impulsively or imprudently. The fact that Cutler had committed two social sins with one stroke without even offering an explanation therefore worried her.
"Cutler?" she called, leaning out of the open carriage with a hand clutching onto her cowl. Through the snow she could see her child stalking deliberately towards a crouched figure huddled on the steps of a building. Anxiety gnawing at the pit of her stomach, she squinted, determined to discover the identity of the stranger who had lured her son away.
"Mrs Beckett?" she heard Mr Swann query, but did not reply; leaning out ever further, her eyes widened as they finally focused on the waif's face—pale, drawn and nearly half-dead, yes, but still recognisable—and she jerked back into the carriage as though burned.
From her nurse's lap, the tiny Miss Swann giggled and clapped her hands approvingly. "Ghngf," she said, ignoring Mrs Butler's attempts to shush her. Somehow, the child's incomprehensible words clarified Mrs Beckett's jumbled mind; with a clenched jaw, she reached out for the door and slammed it shut, breathing deeply.
Thus prepared, she turned with a smile to apologise for her son's indecorum, and wove a tale of how Cutler was a nice, considerate, if slightly gauche young man, whose rooms at university were packed with the wounded animals he nursed to health when he wasn't at his studies; how he mingled and distributed alms amongst the poor and wretched, visited the sick and dying, and played with orphaned waifs of the parish. As she continued her outrageous lie, Mrs Beckett watched Mr Swann closely, determined to put to rest any suspicions that lingered in his good-natured brown eyes.
There were none.
But of course, she thought to herself, smiling inwardly. She knew full well that she was more than able to carry off such radical fabrications; Weatherby Swann and Cutler Beckett had only met that afternoon.
"Well," Mr Swann said, when his well-bred guest had finished speaking, "I say. Mrs Beckett, I must congratulate you; it appears you have raised a remarkable young man."
"Yes," Mrs Beckett agreed, almost simpering, "His father and I are very proud of him."
Except for the rentboys.
"A fine young man indeed," she continued aloud, flashing her false society smile. "But very shy; as you've just witnessed, Mr Swann, my son appears determined to—to continue playing the Good Samaritan; not because he prefers the company of," she hesitated for a moment, "unfortunates, shall we say, to I or you, but purely because he is clearly uncomfortable with the idea of dining with so new an acquaintance. Please, Mr Swann, take no notice of my son's eccentricities; do you know, Cutler rarely dines with me?" (Unlike the majority of what Mrs Beckett had said, this last was actually true.)
"Of course not, Mrs Beckett," hummed Swann, who had pulled his daughter back onto his lap and was now tickling her chin. Mrs Beckett wondered if he had actually paid any attention to her; if not, she supposed it was all the better for it. "Well. Yes; a very charming young man indeed—don't you agree, Elizabeth?"
Miss Swann stared owlishly up at her father, and shook her darkening head.
"Oh, you dear girl," Weatherby laughed, rubbing her brownish head affectionately; Mr Swann was an extremely unconventional parent in that he was perfectly happy to express his love for his daughter. "Shall we take Cutler Beckett and his, er, new friend—" here Mrs Beckett inwardly winced "—home to supper?"
"Nah-oh," Miss Swann replied. "Nohw."
"That's very kind of you, Mr Swann, but really, you needn't bother," Mrs Beckett interjected hurriedly; the last time Cutler had brought his favourite along to a dinner party, the damned catamite had flirted outrageously with the ladies and sang a song in which the virtues of bestiality were happily extolled—and that was while he had been sober.
"But we could at the very least escort the two of them home," Weatherby Swann pressed, and here Mrs Beckett flinched outwardly.
"Oh, I couldn't allow that! Cutler's apartments are in another part of London entirely, and besides, I'm sure he has some coin about him; he can simply call a hackney."
"Although I do of course appreciate your consideration, Mrs Beckett, I really must insist—"
"Mr Swann!" Mrs Beckett snapped, more out of rising panic than anger, "Mr Swann, please; just leave them be."
"But Mrs Beckett!" Weatherby rejoined, apparently shocked, "Surely you are not suggesting we simply leave him in the snow?"
Mrs Beckett merely blinked owlishly; though she did know that to leave one's child in the hands of London's wrathful winter would be frowned upon in most areas of society, the desire to punish Cutler—firstly, for embarrassing her, and secondly, for disobeying his father's orders to put aside this, this, this embarrassment—had been too great a temptation to resist. And besides, it was Cutler's health, rather than his life, that she would be endangering, although if she were to be honest with herself, Mrs Beckett would have behaved less cruelly had it not been for the presence of the boy.
The boy, the boy. Mrs Beckett's lip curled unpleasantly. The boy, as Mrs Beckett called him, was the cause of the recent embarrassment. The boy was the embarrassment.
Nearly a year ago, Mr Beckett had expressly told his wife to allow their son's dalliance with the boy to run its course, his reasoning being that Cutler would "soon grow out of it." Mrs Beckett now believed this indulgence to be a mistake; in the eight months since he had accompanied his father on a business trip to India and met Jack, Cutler had… changed. That is, he was smiling more, and—and laughing freely, and there was now a certain impishness, nay, impropriety in his conduct—recent examples including drawing back curtains and leaping out of other people's carriages—which had never before existed.
And it was all, she was certain, the boy's doing.
Unable to leash her disgust, Mrs Beckett shivered, the movement hidden underneath piles of fur and velvet and brocade; between a happy son and a successful one, she knew which she would prefer.
Only then did she remember Mr Swann's exclamation; she supposed that now was the time to address it.
"That is the general gist of it, yes," she replied at last, and smiled her prim smile.
"Ghngf," Miss Swann gurgled approvingly, raising her arms towards her father.