A/N the First: I wrote this awhile back for OrangeShipper when she had a cold, and I thought I'd transfer it over to ff-net to live with the rest of my fics. This, of course, is inspired by the days of Fred and Ginger. There will be dancing. And feathered headdresses. You have been warned. Also, we don't need no stinkin' historical accuracy here.
As ever, many thanks to the wonderful quistie64, who inspired some of the song choices and read this while I wrote it.
Dancing Cheek to Cheek
"Miss Mary, there's a problem."
Mary Crawley looked up from the mirror—she had her own, being the headlining act, while her sisters crowded together over at the next bulb-lined mirror over. "What can it be now?" she asked, weary at the thought. "Did Patrick throw another fit?"
"No, mum." Anna Smith, who ran the dressing rooms at Club Downton so swiftly and efficiently that Mary was not surprised there weren't more than two of her running around backstage, bobbed a short curtsey. "That's the problem, you see. Mr. Crawley never showed up."
"What?" Mary twisted around in her chair, the mascara wand in her hand completely forgotten.
"His dressing room's empty. Mr. Carson's sent Thomas and William out to look for him, but so far, no luck."
"Trust Patrick to skive off the day we might entertain royalty," Mary said, rolling her eyes. "We've still got half an hour until the show begins. He'll likely come slinking in." Reeking of booze, no doubt, which meant she would have to dance twice as hard to cover for his slow feet.
"Mrs. Hughes wants you to start practicin' with an understudy, just in case."
"Who? Patrick never had an understudy."
"Mr. Grantham's been trainin' a new lad up, outside of Patrick's knowing, of course. Mrs. Hughes thinks he's got some promise. He's from Manchester, so he's nobody we know, but if Mrs. Hughes thinks so, you can bet he's pretty good. You're to report to the stage in five minutes."
"Help me with my hair, then, I'll never get it fixed in time."
Mary turned back to the mirror and began applying the rest of her makeup, her mind whirling while Anna fixed her hair. Club Downton, which had been opened up five years before by a retired dancer, Robert Grantham, was the headlining jewel in her crown, and she knew it. She'd gotten that job through hard work, hours of sweat, sore feet, and sorer vocal cords. Robert hadn't wanted a woman headlining his cabaret show, but Mary had shown him the error of his ways early and often, and now she had the part.
She wasn't going to let some upstart from Manchester upstage her.
She walked out onto the stage, tap shoes clicking, four minutes later and gave Mrs. Hughes, the show's director, a haughty look. "Well, here I am. Where is he? Late? How predictable."
"No, Miss Mary." Mrs. Hughes turned toward the wings, and a tall blonde man emerged. Mary first thought was that he seemed far too scholarly for a dancer, and her second was that he did indeed have the leading man good looks that Patrick had had to work hard to maintain. On this man, they seemed effortless. He turned amused blue eyes on her before he gave her a short, almost mocking bow. He wasn't in costume yet, wearing only shirtsleeves and a pair of rather common trousers. "Miss Mary Crawley, Matthew Crawley, Patrick's replacement."
"How do you do," Matthew murmured.
"Charmed, I'm sure," Mary lied.
"We haven't much time. Miss Mary, we'll be replacing your numbers with Patrick with The Marple Strut—"
Mary had to bite her tongue on that one, as the Marple Strut featured the chorus line heavily, even if it was another solo number and another feather to her cap.
"—And Smoke Gets In Your Eyes."
"What about Patrick's Jolly-Town Jig? Should we not replace it with My Blue Valentine?" After all, that production number was easy to handle; it was simply her on the stage with a microphone.
"No, Matthew will be dancing the jig," Mrs. Hughes said without looking up from her notes. "He's capable."
Mary gave Matthew a cool look. "Are you?"
He seemed amused. "We should practice Smoke Gets In Your Eyes. I'm familiar with the steps, but not with you."
"Quite." She moved over to the top level, by where the orchestra was already beginning to warm up, her heart thumping a little. When she reached her mark, she turned back and gave Matthew a look. "Well?"
"Oh. Oh, right." He hurried over to stand next to her.
"There," Mary said, correcting him.
When he was finally in place, Mary turned to the orchestra and lifted an eyebrow at Clarkson, who was conducting that evening. He cleared his throat and waved his baton around, looking a bit puzzled as he did so. The orchestra, used to Clarkson's incompetence, began to play the song at the proper tempo.
Since it was a rehearsal, Mary and Matthew danced without singing, as the footwork was infinitely more important to Mrs. Hughes. Mary wasn't sure if she was pleased or disgruntled to find out that Matthew was a fine dancer, with a much better sense of timing and tempo than Patrick. For the first time in a long time, Mary didn't have to help on the lifts and though they stumbled a little in the beginning, they found their rhythm by the end of the song.
How they would do with the words added, Mary didn't know. Mrs. Hughes had them run through the number again.
Mary hated how easy it seemed after months of striving with Patrick.
At the end of the dance—Mary's heart was still pounding, but in a much different way, that had to everything to do with how Matthew's hand felt at her back, and how good he smelled—Mrs. Hughes shooed them off. "Matthew, into costume. Mary, see O'Brien about the costume changes. We haven't much time!"
By the time the show opened, Patrick still hadn't shown up, nor had the stagehands found him where Mary suspected they might: in an alley stinking of sick. So it appeared that Matthew Crawley was indeed to headline with the show with Mary Crawley after all. Mary peeked through the curtains as Mr. Carson, in his capacity as club manager, announced that the evening had begun. There was tittering in the audience as it was announced that Matthew Crawley and Mary Crawley would be the featured entertainment.
"Do they think us married, do you suppose?" asked a voice at her left, and Mary turned—mindful of the feathered headdress—to see Matthew Crawley standing there, kitted out tuxedo.
"I daresay they do," she said, and peeked back through the slit in the curtains, not really interested in conversation, no matter how well he looked in the tuxedo or not.
After a second, she heard his throat clear. "Mind if I have a look?"
"Certainly." She stepped aside.
He peeked through and cleared his throat again. "Crikey," he whispered.
"Going to be able to handle it?" Mary asked, smirking. She ignored the fact that her first night at Club Downton, she had nearly thrown up in the alley outside due to nerves.
Matthew drew back from the curtain and raised an eyebrow back at her in turn. "I can if you can," he said, a challenge in his voice, before he strode off, back to the wings. Mary, realizing that they were about to lift the curtain and start the show, hurried to her first mark.
The show went well; there wasn't any royalty in the audience after all, but the patroness, Lady Violet, was in attendance with Lady Rosamund and a Turkish diplomat in tow. Mary, Sybil, and Edith opened the show with a perfectly harmonized number—except for the part where Edith tried to horn in on Mary's solo—and the dancers, despite the lack of Patrick, showed well in the kicklines. The Marple Strut, always a crowd favorite, had the house on its feet, and Mary, back in the dressing rooms, heard another tremendous round of applause for Matthew's Jolly-Town Jig.
Even though jealousy burned in her stomach, she gave him a nod and murmured "Good work," on the way back from the dressing room. He didn't reply, which annoyed her.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes was supposed to close out the show, unless they call for an encore, in which case they were to dance Cheek to Cheek. How they planned to do this, Mary didn't know, as they hadn't rehearsed it. But feeling exhilarated as she always did from a good show, she stood in the wings and waited for the cue to walk out in front of the orchestra. Matthew, brushing at his white tuxedo coat, hurried up to join her at the last second.
"I have a question," he said.
"Can't it wait?" They were about to go on.
"Not really. Why do you hate me?"
Mary flinched, surprised by such a direct question. She turned to give Matthew a baffled look. "Hate you? I don't hate you. Why would you think that?"
"You've been giving me these horrible black looks all night. I'm just making sure I didn't accidentally hurt your dog or something like that."
"No, nothing of the sort." Mary paused. "Though you have been ignoring me," she admitted.
"What?" Matthew looked at her, aghast. "When did I do that?"
"I spoke to you earlier. You made no reply."
"I didn't hear you, clearly."
"Oh." Now she felt foolish, which was a feeling she didn't cherish in the slightest.
Matthew's eyes warmed. "I wouldn't ignore you. Ever. I just—"
The curtain rose, cutting him off and getting them both stuck in the limelight. Like the professionals they were, they recovered easily, bowing and curtseying to the audience, who was already cheering, before they moved to their marks.
"Ready?" she asked Matthew, smiling at him in a sudden burst of charity.
"As I'll ever be," he said, and he took her up in his arms as the music started. Later on, entertainment writer R. Carlisle would remark in his column, rather sarcastically some felt, that anybody in the room for that iconic dance between M. Crawley and Miss Mary Crawley might have felt that the lead pair needed to get a room, but the rest of the world clearly disagreed, as the standing ovation, the demands for an encore, and the second dance of Cheek to Cheek would suggest.
A/N the Second: Favorite Fred and Ginger movie? Mine's Top Hat. Though I loooooves me some Judy and Fred in Easter Parade for the toy shop dance alone.