Author Notes: Hello everyone! I'm new to the site, and this is my first Master and Commander story. While I am a HUGE fan of the Aubrey/Maturin novels, this story takes place in the movieverse (because it's easier, and because James D'Arcy is unholy beautiful). I've tried to keep the characters' backgrounds close to the books where appropriate, however. All feedback and constructive criticism is heartily welcomed! I've already got 10 chapters written (in addition to this prologue) so I'll try to post new chapters fairly frequently if there's any interest in the story.
Warning: This story takes place directly after the movie, and therefore might contain spoilers, so consider this a blanket warning. There might also be some spoilers for the series of books, but I'll warn about those before the chapter if they come up.
The Lieutenant and the Lady
Not A Moment To Lose
First Lieutenant Thomas Pullings answered the door to his hotel room expecting a maid with a basin of hot water; the man he found standing there in the hallway was about as far from his expectations as it was possible to be. He was tall and broad, his commanding air heightened by his splendid naval uniform, the shining epaulettes proclaiming him to be a captain. Tom needed no hint from the epaulettes to know this, of course, having served almost his entire seafaring life under Captain Jack Aubrey. What he did not know was the reason for this sudden visit (or the location of the longed-for basin of hot water).
He saluted smartly, despite his shameful lack of formal attire. "Captain Aubrey, sir! I did not expect you." His voice was apologetic. Standing before his immediate superior in nothing but shirtsleeves and breeches- with bare feet, no less- made him feel uncomfortably like a callow midshipman about to be severely reprimanded.
As it happened, he wasn't far off. "Mr. Pullings," the captain said, nodding in acknowledgement. "I have come to tell you that it simply will not do." His stern, powerful voice echoed so in the hallway that Tom immediately stepped back to allow the man into his room. Captain Aubrey brushed past him, and Tom closed the door.
For a moment he felt ashamed of his pitiful accommodations, which consisted only of a small bedstead with an obviously straw-stuffed mattress and his sea chest against the wall. However, he comforted himself with the knowledge that the captain would hardly expect him to have better; he knew precisely what Tom's salary was. He therefore put it from his mind and addressed the issue at hand. "Forgive me, sir, but what simply will not do?" he asked, genuinely confused.
The captain gave him a reproving look. "Your refusal of Admiral Lord Fanshaw's invitation to tonight's ball, Mr. Pullings. It absolutely, positively will. Not. Do."
Tom felt his confusion deteriorate into alarm. "…I sent it with my very best compliments, sir." He could have kicked himself for making such a feeble excuse. It was unworthy of him, he knew, but then so was his refusal really. And yet he had refused the invitation without a second thought, had never even considered accepting it.
Shaking his head in disapproval, Captain Aubrey considered Tom's uniform coat, which was draped across the bed. "Your very best compliments bedamned, Tom. When one of the highest ranking lords of the Admiralty invites you to a ball specifically to celebrate an action you yourself took part in, you do not send your very best compliments and a refusal."
"Sir," Tom began, "I had not thought… I mean, it had occurred to me… That is, I am not much for Society, sir."
"That is certainly not true," the captain objected. "I have known you for years, Tom, and you have always been a sociable creature. Not one for society indeed."
Sighing, Tom tried to think of the best way to explain what he meant, a way that would hopefully neither expose himself to ridicule nor make the captain uncomfortable. "Sir, I did not mean that I do not enjoy society, the society of my peers in the gunroom, for example, or your very excellent company when I am honored with an invitation to dine with you. I meant High Society, London Society."
"And what of it?" Captain Aubrey demanded. "London society is the only kind to be had in London town."
"You mistake my meaning once more, sir," Tom replied, distressed. "This ball will be attended by many of London's elite, lords and ladies, peers of the realm. As the son of a well-known general, a Member of Parliament with his own estate, it undoubtedly seems quite natural to you," he added, in absolution, not accusation. "But I am the son of a poor tenant farmer, a younger son yet. I hardly belong in the gunroom, much less a ballroom." It was a perfectly valid argument, of course, but one he wished he had not had to make aloud.
The captain looked attentively at Tom. "I am well aware of your history, Tom," he said, gently. "And you must attend this ball both in spite of your history and because of it. I am doing my best to get you made, but my influence is negligible and you have no interest of your own. This ball is the perfect opportunity to make such connections as can assist you in achieving your own command."
Tom looked at his captain with something like wonder. He had known, of course, that Captain Aubrey was fond of him and respected him as a sailor and an officer. For his part, Tom had always looked upon Captain Aubrey as the perfect example of a fighting captain and was grateful to have him as his mentor. Yet somehow it had never occurred to him that the captain would actually go out of his way to assist him in gaining his own command. Yes, he had sent Tom into Valparaiso with the Acheron (and it had been glorious, glorious to have his own ship for even a short voyage, the unpleasantness with the French captain notwithstanding), but he'd hardly had a choice in that case. It would have been a dreadful affront to send the Second Lieutenant in with a prize over the First.
"Sir, I don't…" he trailed off, searching for the right words in vain. "I don't know what to say."
"Say you'll put on your dress uniform and come to the ball," Captain Aubrey urged. "You must, you know. This whole business with the Acheron has become quite infamous. Everyone knows that the French captain lied to remain onboard, then released our prisoners and attempted to retake command. Likewise everyone knows of your decisive victory against them, your daring sword fight with the captain right against the rails of the ship… You are quite the hero, if you will simply capitalize upon it."
"And yet I would be so horribly out of place," Tom muttered uncomfortably.
The unexpected sound of the captain's laughter filled the tiny room. "And so will we all be, Mr. Pullings. For consider: I might be the son of a general and Member of Parliament, but you and I and nearly every other naval officer who will be there tonight went to sea when barely out of leading strings. We all belong on ships, with the natural roll of the ocean under our feet, not the unyielding marble tiling of a ballroom floor, regardless of our family situations."
Tom smiled at that, recognizing the truth of the words. From the first moment he'd set foot aboard a ship, he'd known he could never belong to the land, working it and eking a living out of it, like his father. He was ashamed to realize it had never occurred to him that this epiphany wasn't unique to him. "You are quite right, sir. I had not considered it in quite that light before."
"Well now that you have," the captain began, "pray be quick about getting into your dress uniform. Mr. Mowett is waiting for us in the carriage outside, and you must know-"
"There is not a moment to lose," Tom finished with a smile.
Lady Evelyn Fanshaw stood before her pier glass and examined herself critically. She would never be beautiful like her mother, of course, but for once she thought she might not be an utter disgrace. The new gown her friend Bethany had helped her select was quite flattering, its simple crossover v-neck bodice, high waist and delicate puffed sleeves perfectly accentuating her full, lush figure even as the soft peach of the silk accentuated her coloring. It lent an agreeable warmth to her pale complexion and even seemed to brighten the red of her hair until it shone copper in the light from the chandelier hanging from her ceiling. Her maid had dressed it earlier, coiling it into an elegant chignon before threading it with a ribbon of spring green velvet and allowing a few softly waving ringlets to spill free. Evie smiled shyly at her own reflection. Perhaps tonight, for once, she would not be a wallflower.
"Goodness, child!" the voice of her mother, Lady Fanshaw, interrupted Evie's pleasant daydream. "Is that what you're wearing? It simply will not do! You must change at once, my dear. Our guests will be arriving shortly." She examined her own image in the mirror, much as her daughter had done, looking far more pleased than her daughter ever had.
"Mother?" Evie inquired, confused. "Do you not like it? Lady Bethany Firth helped me choose the fabric and pattern; she assured me it was in the first stare of fashion. I find myself rather fond of it, to be quite honest."
"Perhaps the dress itself is in the first stare of fashion, darling," Lady Fanshaw began pointedly. "You, however, are not. For one thing, you are far too voluptuous for a neckline of that kind, and heaven knows voluptuousness is not at all the style these days. Has your hair always been so gaudy? Well, never mind," she added briskly when Evie gave her a blank look. "We can use one of your caps to hide it, and Jane can fetch one of your more modest dresses."
Hurt, Evie glanced back at her reflection uncertainly. "I would prefer to wear this, if you have no serious objection, Mother. Only married women wear caps, you know. I realize blonde is much more the thing but as my hair is not blonde I suppose I shall have to work with what I have, shall I not?" She tried to keep her tone light but didn't believe she'd entirely succeeded.
Her mother looked at her sharply. "You dare speak in this impertinent manner to your own mother?" she demanded, sounding scandalized. "It is not to be borne! I have already conveyed to you my objections; ring for Jane, she will help you change. And it is not only married women who wear caps. Spinsters wear them as well, and at two and twenty I cannot imagine what else you might be."
"I am hardly a spinster," Evie murmured, fighting a losing battle to keep the anger from her voice. "I have a few years before I find myself leading apes in hell, I believe."
"That remains to be seen," her mother snapped. "But I assure you, two and twenty is far too old to be wearing such a delicate, debutantish shade and flaunting your garish hair with no cap!" With that, she swept out of the room, pausing only to jerk once on the bell pull to summon Jane.
Devastated, Evie examined herself in the mirror, keeping part of her mind detached to observe the effects of extreme distress on her appearance. Her face had gone even whiter, of course, drained of all color by anger, and her lips were taut with the effort of holding back tears. They shone in her eyes, distorting their accustomed clear green color, but didn't fall through sheer willpower alone. That was all she needed, to give into a serious crying fit less than an hour before the ball, and then be forced to appear with a blotchy face, puffy eyes and running nose.
There was a hesitant tap on her door, and Evie called out "Enter!" in a rough voice, assuming it was Jane. Much to her surprise, however, her father Admiral Fanshaw entered instead. He had a deeply concerned expression on his normally jovial face.
"Evie?" he asked gently. "Are you quite well, my love?"
"Oh, Father," she sighed, the tears once more threatening. "Mother was just here to inspect my attire and I…"
"And you…?" her father prompted.
"And I left something to be desired. As always," she added bitterly.
"Evie, Evie, Evie," the admiral murmured soothingly, enfolding her into his arms. "Your mother may not always say the right thing, may not always comfort you. But she loves you, and she had your best interests at heart."
Shaking her head, Evie looked at her father questioningly. "Does she? Does she really? I felt wonderful before she arrived; I felt almost pretty, for once. And then she pointed out that I'm far too fat, my hair is too gaudy, I'm already a spinster… She may have my best interests at heart, I suppose, but the effect could hardly be worse if she didn't."
The admiral shrugged helplessly. "I am sorry she hurt you, my love. And for all my opinion is worth I disagree with her, quite strongly. You are a beautiful, intelligent woman, and you ought never let anyone tell you otherwise, including your mother."
Evie brightened momentarily. "Does that mean I get to wear this gown to the ball?"
"I'm afraid not," her father sighed. "I disagree with her, of course, but your mother is the acknowledged expert in all things related to fashion and fripperies. If she says you must change, you must change. But never let it depress you, my love."
"I cannot simply will my anger and sadness away, Father. Would that I could." Evie pointed out.
"Perhaps not," the admiral conceded. "But you must do the best you can. And again, if your mother says you must change, there is nothing for it. I believe Jane has already been summoned and ought to be here momentarily. Please just do as your mother bids, start no wars tonight. Our first guests are already beginning to arrive, and you know how important punctuality is. There is not-"
"A moment to lose," Evie muttered sullenly. "I know, I know."
"Good girl," her father said, patting her cheek affectionately. "I shall see you downstairs for the receiving line. Change as quickly as ever you can."
The admiral exited her room with a last fond glance, and Evie was left to consider her reflection in despair. With her mother's voice in her head, it was easy to see how immodest her neckline was, how flashy and tacky her hair was, how much it seemed as though she were trying to look younger than her far advanced years. My god, she thought, fighting back tears once more, do you not think I should change if I could?