Author: Bookworm Gal PM
Bonds between friends can be forged that are as strong as those of blood. Family isn't only those you're connected to by birth. They can be the ones you'd least expect to share those bonds, but who care about you all the same. Family, those you love and trust completely, is the ones worth protecting. They're the ones you'll fight for and who'll fight for you in return.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Family - Skinner - Chapters: 13 - Words: 69,208 - Reviews: 55 - Favs: 16 - Follows: 16 - Updated: 10-22-12 - Published: 12-21-10 - id: 6576577
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
I should not be doing this. I have way too many stories going currently. But I was going through the possible stories in this fandom and found that I ran out of interesting ones way too soon. I began wondering why there wasn't more and (unfortunately) an idea sparked. I have a slight idea of where I'm going with this (I'll have to do some research for some later details), but I hope that I can get this story and the others written in a reasonable amount of time.
I always figured that the League would end up as this odd, highly-dysfunctional family after the movie. Most of them are either wanted men, "freaky darlings," or even both. There are not a large number of people who would welcome them (though they might still ask them for help in an emergency). In the end, they have only each other to depend on.
I must also state I can't write accents very well. So I didn't even attempt it with Skinner's dialog. But I think I still captured his style of speech even without it.
The blond-haired American stood on the deck of the Nautilus, staring out across the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. He knew that his old childhood friend would have loved to be there with him, living the adventure of a life time. He wished Huck could have seen some of the things he'd already experienced on board Nemo's submarine. He also wished that Quatermain was still with them. He had lost too many important people that should be standing with him. His best friend who was more like a brother and a man who became like father in the short time he knew him… Tom knew he would miss them for a long time to come. He wondered, not for the first time, if there was something he could have done to prevent either of their deaths.
An unseen force smacked the young man across the back of his head, interrupting his less-than-cheerful thoughts. He turned towards the source of the impact, a look of vague annoyance across his face. A black coat that seemed to float in midair greeted him, just as he expected. Out of all the people of the Nautilus, there was only one who would have thought that hitting him in the head was an appropriate greeting.
"What was that for, Skinner?" he asked, rubbing the afflicted area slightly.
"You had your 'weight of the world' face on, Sawyer," the invisible man answered, his voice demonstrating that he was smirking even though the actual expression couldn't be seen. "The one where you think that everything bad in the world is your fault and you end up moping around for a while. That face. I don't need the only person on this entire boat that has a sense of humor to lose it. Until we have someone who can change the past join our lovely gang of freaky darlings, you need to learn to let the past go. Otherwise, I won't have anyone to talk to and have to go risk my life bothering Mina instead."
Tom grinned slightly. It seemed that Skinner had made it his life goal to prevent him from dwelling on Quatermain's death or even the severe burns that the invisible man received rescuing the blond young man during the attack in Mongolia. Actually, he absolutely refused to let Tom apologize for him getting hurt. Once he got over the worse of the injuries (and was no longer knocked out by Jekyll so he could rest and recover without being in intense pain), Skinner told the young man that if he decided to play hero spontaneously and just happened to get "fried to a crisp" doing so, it was his own fault and not Tom's. But he did ask him to hit him over the head if the invisible man tried to get set on fire again since he didn't want to repeat the experience.
"Sorry, didn't mean to start dwelling on that again," he apologized to his fellow League member. "I just started thinking about how my old partner, Agent Finn, would have loved to have been here and…" He trailed off and shrugged. "We've all lost someone or something. We all have something we wish we could change."
"I wish we could get some more women on this floating sideshow," remarked Skinner. "Mina is nice looking, but she's a little too scary for my taste. I prefer a lady who won't rip my throat out when she's in a testy mood. Of course, a reflection might be a nice thing to wish for too. Turns out most girls like to see who is flirting with them."
Tom chose not to mention the fact he, personally, wouldn't mind if Mina saw him as more than a team mate. The last girl he really liked was back home in America and had been the classic girl next door. But Becky was a long way away and Mina was on board the Nautilus. The vampire woman had obviously noticed his feelings early one, but essentially told him that she wasn't interested. Still, he could hope.
Focusing on another part of Skinner's statement, the blond young man reminded, "You better be careful calling the Nautilus a 'boat.' You know how sensitive Nemo is about respecting his lady."
"Names ain't that important, Sawyer. They certainly aren't for me," replied the thief, straightening his black leather coat. "You can change a name as easily as a cornered traitor can lie. Look at that Moriarty fellow. Look at me."
Tom gave him a curious look, "So, your real name isn't 'Rodney Skinner'? What is it?"
"Don't worry about it," he answered, sounding oddly serious. "I haven't used my old name in years. I prefer my current one anyway. I've been going by it for longer than the old one. My point is that what you call someone isn't that important." Adopting his usual cheerful tone again, he added, "But I still know better than to insult the Nautilus where Nemo could hear. I'd rather not have to swim back to shore after he tosses me off his 'lady,' after all. Don't stay out here moping too long, Sawyer. You don't want to miss dinner."
With that, the invisible man vanished back into the interior of the submarine and left the American League member with something to think about.
Nemo stared at the vague message in his hand. The Morse code request for the League's assistance back in London filled him with suspicion. He wasn't a member of the British Empire. Rather the opposite. And their last encounter with a member of their government (or someone claiming to be part of it) left him less than willing to deal with such people again. He could simply not pass along the message to the others. There was no true leader since the death of Quatermain and it was his vessel. There was no reason why they should become involved and no one could argue if they did not know.
He may not have any loyalty to the Empire, but he did have loyalty to his fellow League members. Mina, Skinner, and even Henry all called London home at one point or another. The doctor would at least feel that they should learn what the circumstances of the request for help might be and Mina would undoubtedly be curious. They deserve the right to express their opinions.
Nemo would not dictate the lives the League must live. He was not the British Empire, after all. He was better than that. His crew and his allies were not part of any country's control, but they were not isolated from the world. What affected the members of that wide-spread and influential empire could eventually reach even his Nautilus. It was better to share the message with the entire League and to decide whether or not to answer the request as a group.
The captain quietly thanked the crew member who brought the message to his attention. The League would be together at dinner. He would share it with them and they could decide about if they should return to London together then.
It was rather relieving and almost comforting to realize that here, on board Nemo's amazing creation, he could find people who knew exactly who (and what) he and Edward were and could still look at him with more than fear and disgust. Both of their names could be linked to the deaths of innocent people and not-so-innocent ones. His own arrogance created a monster and he was the one who would have to live with the sins that Edward Hyde committed now. But, since he joined the League, things had begun to improve. Besides the young Sawyer, the members of the League had their own reasons to feel isolated from the world and most were also guilty of their own crimes. They didn't automatically condemn him for his past as long as he did not condemn them.
An even greater blessing was the change in Edward himself. While he was not and never would be a saint, he had found an outlet for his destructive desire. According to him, the more dangerous opponents that the League seems to find were far greater challenges than the helpless prey he preferred in the past and he was willing to exercise his small amount of patience in exchange for the greater thrill. And, even more surprising, Henry was beginning to believe that his other half actually liked the others. He obviously preferred some more than others, but Edward seemed less than inclined to murder any of the League members in their sleep.
"Though I wouldn't mind seeing her asleep," chuckled Edward from the reflection on a porthole as Henry walked down one of the Nautilus' many halls. "And don't act as if you wouldn't either."
Rather than respond to his words, the doctor continued in silence. His alter ego always knew how to ruin his moment of optimism. It seemed only natural that Edward would bring up Mina. If there was anyone who left him feeling both extremely happy and painfully out of his depths, it was her. Ever since he saw her and that traitor, Dorian, together, Edward had been mocking him about his feelings concerning her. Both of them agreed that not only was she someone they wanted to be closer to, she was also far beyond anyone that Henry could ever have a chance with. Edward's solution to that would be for him to handle things, but that would be a nightmare to imagine. On the other hand, a vampire might actually be too much for even his alter ego to handle.
"Hello, Henry," a voice greeted, drawing him out of his thoughts and causing another mocking chuckle from Edward at his expense.
He turned towards the speaker, trying to get control of his nervousness. Henry knew that his usual timid and anxious personality had diminished for the most part around his friends. He could actually be confident when dealing with the League. But, when faced with her alone (or as alone as he could with Edward constantly with him), he was reduced back to the same fretful person that first met them after the formula wore off.
"Hello, Mrs. Harker," he answered, trying to smile at the woman who was joining him without having his eyes dart to the ground out of shyness. "I was just heading down for dinner. Would you like to join me?"
She returned his hesitant smile with a more confident one of her own. She was just as cursed as he was, in her own way. She wasn't quite human anymore and could be just as dangerous as Edward at his worse. But that wasn't everything that there was about her. She was confident, brave, beautiful, and unlike anyone he'd ever met. And she was far too good for him. That didn't mean, however, she wasn't one of his fellow League members and a good friend.
"I would love to," she nodded. "I was on my way there, anyway. And you know I've asked you to call me 'Mina.'"
"Yes, I know you have. I'm sorry."
"It's fine. We're all friends here."
Henry allowed himself a brief moment to take pleasure in her company, ignoring one of Edward's comments, and forcing his hand not to start fumbling with his watch nervously. He could never say anything about how he felt about her, but he could still enjoy what interactions with her he might have.
The dining room, like everything else on the Nautilus, was elegant and decorated in a fashion that Skinner referred to as "fancy and way too clean." The group would eat a delicious meal prepared by the cooks of Nemo's vessel and any current suggestions or concerns could be addressed by the entire League. Any new destination or request could be brought to their attention over the meal or they could simply discuss whatever crossed their mind during the day. These discussions would generally become more important after they made port at a new location, bringing any local oddness or looming global crisis to their awareness and to learn if they wanted to become involved. But it was mostly an opportunity to be with the odd assortment of individuals that, somehow, could be called friends.
Mina slipped into her chair with the silent and effortless grace that came with her curse. She had long since come to terms with what her encounter with Dracula had done to her. She was not exactly like he had been. She still retained some of her humanity and thus had some benefits that the count had lacked while not quite as powerful as he'd proven to be. Unlike him, the sunlight would not kill her, she was not barred from a home without an invitation, and she could still find nourishment from other sources (though she preferred her meat in a far rarer state than once). But, that didn't change the fact that, especially in the early days, she felt nearly compelled to feed when the scent of blood was in the air and it had been too long since she last tasted it. Years of practice had strengthened her resolve to the point where it wasn't as painfully hard to not harm someone when she smelled the tempting aroma. She could resist and had done so at different points to the point where she could assist in caring for the injured after the explosion on the Nautilus, but it would always be a struggle.
After she was seated, Henry sat in his own chair. He was as polite and proper as Edward Hyde was violent and harsh. He was also a talented doctor who truly wanted to help others. This was partially from guilt for his alter ego's actions, but mostly because that was who he was. And she wasn't blind. She could see the way he looked at her when he thought she wasn't watching, just as she could see how Sawyer looked at her quite often. Both of them desired her affections, but she had no intention of returning their feelings currently. She had already lost her husband many years ago and had her heart broken more recently by that… traitor, Dorian. She didn't need another potential problem so soon. Unless something happened, she would be alive for longer than almost anyone she might meet.
But those kinds of thoughts were best to be left for another day. She turned her attention to the two individuals entering the room. One was her other admirer, Tom Sawyer, who gave her that naïve and hopeful smile as he walked over to the table. The other was Skinner, his face hidden by the white greasepaint and dark glasses so that the view of food being chewed in midair didn't distract everyone, followed in his usual black coat. Out of all the people on board, Sawyer was able to get along with the invisible thief the best. He seemed to have the most tolerance for Skinner's eccentric behavior, rude remarks, and complete lack of respect for any kind of authority or rules. Mina suspected their developing friendship that began after the events in Mongolia had to do with Sawyer's youth and Skinner's… childishness. Whatever the reason, the blond young man (barely more than a boy and yet growing more worldly by the day) enjoyed his presence. All of the League knew that they could trust Skinner (they wouldn't repeat the same mistake twice), but that didn't stop them from becoming irritated with the invisible thief when small object vanished from where they were left or they had to deal with his newest idea of annoyance.
"Hello, my freaky little darlings," greeted Skinner, sliding into his seat. "Did you two have a lovely day playing mad scientists or did you decide to explore the library instead?"
Mina gave him a slightly patronizing smile, meeting his teasing with a mild insult of her own. "Just because you've never chosen to read a book and to remain ignorant does not mean we choose to."
"I know plenty of useful things. My knowledge is just more practical than what you get out of a book. Besides, as long as you know something, I don't have to," he answered. "I'm happy not wasting my time with literature written by a dead man who lived in some ancient time."
Before the conversation could continue, Captain Nemo entered the dining room. Dressed in blue, as usual, his rather distracted expression caught the group's attention. The man might be the most serious member of the League, but he was usually slightly less solemn when it was just their group. Only if he was about to deliver grim news to them would he adopt such an expression at such a time. The sheet of paper in his hand also supported her theory that he had brought tidings of some kind. And she wasn't the only one who had guessed what his preoccupation might be.
Sawyer frowned slightly at him, "Nemo, what is it?"
"We just received a message from London," he answered carefully. "Someone is requesting out help."
"The British Empire is in danger once again," groaned Skinner, mockingly. "After our last encounter with the 'government' and those promises from the wonderful 'M,' I'm surprised we're still listening to their signals."
"It wasn't from the government itself," Nemo explained. "Simply from one of the aristocratic families who had enough influence or power to have someone in higher power contact us for them."
"And do we know what they want from us?" asked Mina.
Nemo shook his head, "They want to meet us in person to discuss the problem. They feel it is of a sensitive nature apparently and they want only the best to handle it."
"I feel so flattered," the invisible thief smirked, his greasepaint-covered face demonstrating his amusement at being referred to as one of the "best." Deciding not to wait any longer, he started to eat. Not wearing his gloves, his fork seemed to be floating in midair as it carried food to his mouth. He turned towards Tom and asked, "Money can get those stuffy old families anything, can't they? Even us, apparently."
"No one has responded to the summons yet, nor do we have to," reminded Nemo. "Whether or not we answer their request should be decided as a group."
"I say we go hear them out," Tom remarked. "They might actually have a serious problem that requires us. And it can't hurt to at least listen."
Mina smiled slightly at his curiosity and spirit. He sensed adventure and a mystery. That was part of the reason he wanted to join the League in the first place and probably the American Secret Service before that. Regardless of how much experience he gained or how else he may grow, she had no doubt he would always retain that youthful optimism and excitement.
Henry, looking a little more cautious, reminded, "It could be a trap of some kind. The Empire might be grateful to us for what we did to stop 'M,' but there undoubtedly are those still in power who do not look as kindly upon us. Remember, several of us are wanted for a variety of crimes and could be arrested." He sighed, "But if there is a true need for our help, can we truly do anything less than to try?"
"Do we at least get to know the name of who is asking for our assistance?" she asked.
Nemo examined the sheet of paper in his hand, "His name is Lord Talbot."
A loud clatter grabbed the group's attention away from the captain. Skinner's fork had dropped out of his hand to the plate. The thief's greasepaint-coated features were turned towards Nemo with an expression of shock and… maybe a little anger. Ignoring the fact he had swiftly become the center of attention, Skinner rose from his chair and walked over toward the captain.
"Who did you say it was?" he asked, his voice oddly tense.
"Lord James Talbot. Apparently his family manages…"
"No," the thief answered sharply. "I'm not going."
Sawyer slowly rose out of his own chair, "Skinner…"
"Tom, I'm dead serious. I'm still a part of the League and I have the right to state my opinion, ain't I? I say leave him to deal with his own problem," he interrupted.
"Do you know this person?" asked Nemo curiously.
"One of the victims of your past crimes, no doubt," suggested Mina. Honestly, she was growing slightly curious herself. Even after the entire crew thought he was a traitor, he was able to laugh it off and didn't keep a grudge. What did that man do to annoy their easy-going thief so much? "Perhaps an instant where you did not succeed?"
"You could say that," Skinner answered slowly. "Well, if all of you decide that you want to waste your time listening to him, that's up to you. I don't want anything to do with him." He straightened his coat. "If we go, don't expect me to talk to him or even look at him. Actually, the pompous, narrow-minded, selfish old man probably would only speak to Jekyll. No one else is good enough for him to deal with." He gestured at his friends, "Everyone else is either not British, not a man, or is simply too strange looking." He finished with a gesture towards his pale features. "Hope you're up to the task of dealing with him, doc. He isn't an understanding or forgiving man."
Without waiting for a response or even a decision to be made concerning the message, he walked out of the room. Even wearing greasepaint and a coat, Skinner still had a talent for disappearing.
He knew that his reaction would draw questions, but he didn't care at that moment. That name… Never would he have expected to hear it on board the Nautilus, let alone as the individual who would be seeking the help of the League. Guess he made friends high enough in the government to learn of their existence. He wanted nothing to do with that man and now it seemed he was going to have to deal with him again. Lord Talbot… He didn't want or need to see him, let alone speak to him. Not if he wanted to avoid someone getting hurt during the meeting.
Skinner knew most of the best hiding places on the Nautilus and was currently advantage of that knowledge. Nemo might have a greater understanding of his "lady's" secrets, but the invisible man had experience avoiding the large crew and the League itself during the time period where they thought he was a traitor. He'd explored the submarine from end to end, slipping into several rooms that none of the rest of the League had gone near and squeezing behind a variety of pipes and tanks. If he wanted to be left alone, no one would be able to find him, even without being invisible. And he honestly didn't want to talk to them.
They would ask questions. They would want to know about his past involvement with Lord Talbot and the entire Talbot… family. His history with that man… Well, it wasn't something this particular gentleman thief wanted to be reminded of. Maybe he could help them to forget the matter by sneaking a few key items from Mina's room of a private and delicate nature. This would result in pure rage from the woman, mild amusement from Tom, and embarrassment from Henry. It would be good for a laugh and might distract them away unwanted topics. That would be worth whatever wrath he might provoke from her.
With that cheery thought, he managed to banish the memory of that man's face once again to the past where it belonged. In doing so, however, another face appeared that was connected to Lord Talbot. This one was connected to happier memories. It even managed to cause a smile on his transparent features, his white greasepaint already removed and his coat left back in his room. Skinner might hate Lord Talbot, but she was a different story. And while she was connected to that black-hearted scoundrel, she was also connected to something far more pleasant and something he hadn't thought about in years.
His long, thin, fingers and steady hands were part of the reason he made such a great thief. Pick-pocketing and lock-picking were both skills that benefitted from natural talent. Silence and stealth were also key traits to his trade. But his hands also had another gift that he hadn't practice for some time. One that his exploration of the Nautilus had demonstrated he could fulfill quite easily if he chose.
It might be nice to see if he still could… As long as no one noticed since this particular talent would raise even more questions. Still, it would be fun. He just had to try before he came to his senses.
While Skinner's odd reaction had certainly raised their attention to the possible problems with answering the request, the curiosity of the League was also raised to the point they had no choice but to accept. Their invisible man would not be happy about it, but they weren't about to get any answers from him. No one had seen him… Well, no one knew where on board he was since he left earlier. Which was why Tom was currently scouring the vessel in an attempt to find him. Even though it seemed like an impossible task to locate someone you couldn't see and likely didn't want to be found, the blond-haired American knew that he had to try.
Logically, Skinner would be somewhere away from the main areas of the Nautilus where the League generally could be found. He would also try to be out of anyone's path so they didn't accidentally bump into him or trip over him, ruining his concealment. Unfortunately, that still left plenty of places to hide.
As he was beginning to believe that it was a complete lost cause (after all, they couldn't even find him when they thought he was a traitor), he began to hear a soft sound that seemed completely out of place in the empty hallway he was currently standing in. At first, the young man couldn't place it and simply followed it. As he grew closer to the source, he realized what he was hearing and found it to be even more out of place.
Another hallway connected to the one he was currently traveling through. As he went by the linked hallway, Henry came into view with an odd expression on his face. His gaze met with Tom.
"Is that," the doctor asked carefully, "a piano?"
"I think it is," he answered. "I guess Nemo really has everything on the Nautilus."
Henry nodded, "His extensive library demonstrates he is a cultured man. I suppose he has an appreciation of music along with literature. Though I pictured him as preferring something larger and grander than a simple piano. Perhaps a pipe-organ."
"But what I want to know is who is playing it?" wondered Tom.
The pair of them continued to follow the music down the hallway. The sound was soft and elegant, almost mournful in tone. Even though he never attending one of those formal balls that seemed to be a required activity of anyone with a great amount of money or power, but he could guess that this was the type of music that would be played at such events.
Finally, the room where the sound was emanating from was located. The door was open just a crack and his first guess was that it was some kind of storage room. The surrounding chambers were filled with what looked like spare furniture and other objects. Likely, they were kept here until something was destroyed and needed replacing or simply if the captain felt the need to prepare another room for occupation. Apparently one of these objects was a piano.
Out of a silent agreement, the two League members approached the door with as much stealth as possible. Through the crack, they could make out part of the piano. It was a white instrument with intricate carvings across the wood surface. Tom didn't know if it actually survived the chaos of the bomb explosion and the near destruction of the Nautilus or if it was repaired after the event or if it was only brought on board afterwards, but it sounded like it was in perfect condition. Even more peculiar was the fact that that there was no obvious evidence of someone actually playing it. Theoretically, it was conceivable that the Nemo would have a piano capable of playing on its own, but there was a far simpler explanation. That explanation, however, was harder to believe.
"Skinner?" Henry whispered incredulously.
Tom gave a brief shrug, watching the piano produce the hauntingly beautiful music with no visible player. As unexpected as it might seem, the thief seemed to be the source of the sound. And… he was good.
The song eventually came to an end, the final notes fading away into silence. Neither one of the listeners seemed to know if they should make their presence known to their friend and ally or if they should simply leave quietly. It would probably be easier on everyone if they didn't let him know they heard. Especially after Skinner's odd reaction earlier that day.
Before they could edge away from the door, the invisible thief gave a soft sigh, "Charlotte."
The sound of the bench being pushed back warned Tom and Henry that Skinner was coming, so the two men swiftly and silently back toward the other hallway before he could leave the room and see them. The day was proving to be full of odd developments, starting from the message from that Lord Talbot. They may have solved the small mystery concerning the source of the music, but more questions had sprouted in their place. Where in the world did their gentleman thief learn to play like that? And who was Charlotte?
Okay, I'm not certain how often this story will be updated. I will not abandon this, however. I have a rough outline already contemplated, meaning it is unlikely that I will write myself into a corner. Reviews are deeply appreciated, as are predictions, and they serve as great incentive to update more often. Thanks.