Author's Note: So! I'm attempting another AU Code Geass fic! Not to fear, they're all their original genders in this one, haha. I even came up with the prompt all by myself this time! Anyway, please enjoy, and if you do, please drop me a line to let me know. Also! a warning: this chapter isn't M-rated, but the story will get a bit spicy (well, it's me writing it, after all). I guess that's more a warning for the "where is the sex?!" people than anything else, though, haha.
No More A-Rovin': Thruppence
Half-frozen, Lelouch pondered his options. Only the night before, he'd been warm, snugly bedded against the fire-hot bricks of the kitchen hearth at the Pig and Whistle. Only the night before, he'd had the promise of another performance to fill his pocket, or at least another crust of bread to fill his belly. Only, the night before, the Pig's proprietor's wife had walked in while the man was trying to warm his hands before the fire--and under Lelouch's bed shirt. It didn't matter that he'd been fighting like a cat in water; he'd been chased from the pub with only the things he'd managed to grab while dodging the broom. He'd been lucky to snag his boots. He'd been unlucky enough to miss almost everything else. The cold wind tugged at the bottom of his bed shirt, threatening to expose him.
He sank to the cold stones miserably. By now, he imagined Nancy'd passed along the story of her ungrateful hussy of a boarder to everyone she knew. Of course Georges wouldn't have objected to the image painted of him as a slattern--it was better than letting it get around that he'd taken "payment" of a like kind no matter how much coin the violinist had brought the pub. That was the part that rankled the worst, Lelouch mused: the violin smashed on the fire, a thousand hours of music reduced to a moment of kindling. He stared at the pennywhistle in his hand and considered throwing it at the ground before the part of him that liked to eat rationalized that it was the only way he had to make money left to him.
'Not the only,' he considered, then frowned. Of course it wasn't even an option. He'd rather dance the Newgate jig for stealing before he let another pervert like Georges lay hands on him again. He could still feel the man's panting breath on his face, hot palms pawing at his thighs….
"--okay?" Lelouch turned toward the voice instinctively. A young sailor was standing over him, hand outstretched. He regarded it warily.
"Oh, come on, Suzaku. This one's off-hours, obviously," one of the sailor's companions sniggered, and Lelouch caught his meaning in the ribald gestures the other two shared. He hissed, recoiling from the hand before carefully pulling himself up. His joints were already stiff with cold and his teeth chattered as he stood, hand on his hip and arm cocked defiantly.
"Like a sailor lad could afford a piece as fine as me!" Lelouch sneered. The sailors laughed then--all but the first, who was already shrugging out of his coat. The whump of heavy fabric settling over his shoulders shook him from the glower he'd been throwing them. He blinked, turning to the man.
No, boy. Lelouch was startled to see that the sailor couldn't have been much older than him--maybe two years at best--but the coat over his shoulders bore the proud braid of a lieutenant. He fingered the gold trim suspiciously. The boy coughed.
"You looked cold," the boy said, a flush of embarrassment creeping over his cheeks.
"That's because it's cold outside," Lelouch said slowly, as if talking to a simpleton, ignoring the crude bantering about his lack of clothing by the other sailors.
"It is, isn't it?" The sailor grinned brightly, and Lelouch fought the urge to roll his eyes so hard they hurt. "C'mon," he added, offering his arm gallantly. "We were on our way to get something to eat. Why don't you join us? I'll pay."
One of the other sailors scoffed and another snickered. "Suzaku, we don't want to take the bang-tail to dinner with us," one of them complained. The sailor looked torn, and Lelouch reluctantly started to slide out of the coat. It really was quite warm….
"Then I'll meet you back at the ship," Lelouch's sailor said evenly, pushing the fabric back up his arm as he did. Lelouch turned to stare at him. Grumbling, the sailors trailed away and the sailor turned back to him. He finally noticed the boy's skin was turning pale with cold and blushed. "Lead on," the boy said, again offering his arm. "I'm sure you know the best places to eat around here."
"I do," Lelouch agreed slowly. He just wasn't likely to be welcome at them. Biting his lip, he cautiously accepted the boy's arm. It was between leading him to one of the rat holes Black Dan owned or the nobs' pub up the hill, and either one would be uncomfortable: Nancy had always been too eager to show off her prize violinist as 'the draw that'll make Black Dan eat his hat', and running the risk of being caught by one of his father's friends at the nobs' made him feel sick. "You'll pay for my time, too, then?" he blurted suddenly. A bit of recompense might make it worth his time and effort. The sailor blinked at him.
"I didn't think you were really--" the boy started, and Lelouch cut him off, blushing to the tips of his ears.
"I'm not! I'm a musician, but I'm not about to lead you around town in my bed shirt out of the grace of my good heart," he grumbled, curling his arms around himself nervously. It'd be a matter of hours--if he was lucky it wasn't minutes--before it got back to Nancy that he was parading around town in his unders with a complete stranger. It certainly wasn't going to help his reputation any. The wool of the boy's coat scratched his wrists when he shoved the sleeves back.
When the boy nodded slowly, Lelouch let out a breath he hadn't been aware he was holding. "What are your rates for leading me around town in your bed shirt?" he asked, and Lelouch snorted despite himself.
"Sixpence an hour," he said, tilting his jaw defiantly.
"I could hire a real whore for that," the sailor replied, an eyebrow raised. Lelouch flushed.
"Half that, then: threepenny an hour, plus food." The sailor considered it and, to Lelouch's relief, nodded.
"Still a bit steep, but I'm sure you'll make it worth my while." The sailor grinned at the indignant but halfhearted glare Lelouch sent his way.
"I shall endeavor--"
"Lookit that," a painfully familiar voice cut in and he turned to look, even though he knew who it was. One of the Pig's regulars, Mack had always been too familiar, too close to the stage and too fresh with the serving girls. "I always did wonder how much it took to get Lord High and Mighty in the sack, an' come to find out it's three coppers and a warm meal. Well, that is after he's had is ears boxed for fooling with the lady of the house's husband, o'course."
Lelouch cringed hard, ducking his head away from the sailor. A warm hand on his shoulder surprised him and he looked up as he was pushed out of the way. A long, thin blade hung in the air between Mack and the boy.
"Now, now," Mack laughed. "I'm not wantin' any trouble. Just let me know when you're all done with him. I've been waitin' for my turn on that a while!" The sailor hissed in disgust and raised his sword in threat.
"Fine, fine. If you ask me, though, you're getting one hell of a deal. Don't break it trying to get your money's worth; there's others want a ride." Mack's leer as he laughed and walked away made Lelouch's knees go weak. The sailor was silent.
"…so." Lelouch hummed awkwardly, shrugging out of the coat reluctantly. It hung limp from his extended arm as the sailor looked at him. "I'll offer you a one-time-only get-out-of-your-contract-with-the-slut deal if you'll just take it and go." The sailor stared dumbly.
"But you'll be cold again."
"I can take care of myself," Lelouch bristled. "It's not like I wouldn't have been cold when you left after eating, anyway." The sailor shook his head, wrapping the heavy material around him again. "I'm not a pet to be coddled!" Lelouch insisted. "Why are you being so nice to me, anyway? You don't even know me."
"What's your name?" the sailor asked, cocking his head to the side. Startled, Lelouch told him. "Well then, I'm Suzaku. Now we know each other."
Lelouch's eyebrow twitched. "You get some kind of thrill from helping poor, destitute boys on the street?"
"You looked cold," Suzaku said simply. Lelouch huffed, grabbing his arm.
"Come on, Suzaku. Let's go get something to eat."
Forty minutes later left Lelouch and his sailor standing in the warm doorway of the King George, lingering in the warmth as twilight settled its chill over the city. Stomach full and contentedly warm, the musician was still snugly wrapped in the sailor's warm jacket and sleepily leaning against the wall.
"I'd better get back to the ship," Suzaku said sheepishly, scratching at his curls almost shyly. "We sail in the morning, and Captain said if we weren't back by the start of third watch, it wasn't his fault if he left us."
"Is is so terrible to be left behind here? We're a gracious enough port. Lots of booze and floozies," Lelouch teased, and Suzaku laughed brightly.
"And the occasional musician, no less! No," Suzaku turned serious, "I can't lose my position. The Britannian navy's been too good to me; nowhere else can a poor boy from the colonies expect to have anything, and the Emperor's given me a lot. I aim to see how high I can go before they remember I'm not one of you." Suzaku's chuckle was dark with self-mocking and Lelouch shifted uncomfortably.
"I suppose I should give this back, then," he said, stroking the gold braid on the coat fondly. "You'll need it to pin all your badges to."
"Wear it for now. At least until we get to wherever you're staying," Suzaku insisted and Lelouch flushed.
"I'd better give it to you now, then," he responded as casually as he could. "I don't know where I'll end up tonight, and I'd hate to wear something this fine in the gutters."
Suzaku goggled. "You're sleeping on the streets?"
Lelouch's stare was deadpan. "You think I'd spend what little money I have--after you give it to me, of course--on a bed? What kind of bed do you think I could find for three coppers? And then I'd be hungry and cold tomorrow."
Frowning, Suzaku grabbed his arm, tugging him into the cold streets. "Wait a minute!" Lelouch called, struggling against his grip. "Where do you think you're taking me?"
"The ship," Suzaku said simply. Lelouch stared at the back of his head, tripping as his mind raced.
"The ship? Why?"
"You're not sleeping on the ground tonight, Lelouch. You look like a strong breeze could knock you over. You'd wake up in an anatomy lab tomorrow, looking at yourself inside out."
"Thanks for that gruesome thought, Suzaku. I do have so much to look forward to these days, don't I?" Lelouch bumped into Suzaku as the sailor stopped, turning abruptly.
"I won't let it happen." Suzaku's eyes were fiercely green. Lelouch swallowed, looking away. "I won't."
Lelouch let him lead him through the harbor without protest. "Wha--" he squeaked, then started again. "What will going to the ship do?"
"I'll get you signed onto the books. There's got to be something you can do, something that needs fine hands and wit. Most of us don't have much of either," Suzaku said cheerfully. Warmth blossomed in the space between their clenched hands. The ship was a huge black wall along the dock, and Lelouch was surprised how many dark figures he saw moving around on the deck. He glanced at Suzaku, who squeezed his hand reassuringly. "Wait here. I'll be right back." Lelouch watched him disappear into a dark door. Long minutes passed until finally, Suzaku leaned over the rail and beckoned to him.
He'd been on a ship once before as a small child, but he'd never seen the deck by moonlight. He was immediately assaulted by how familiar it was, even made stark and shadowed at night, but didn't linger to look around. Suzaku was standing with a man and a woman, each more officious than the last. He bit back the urge to bow.
"This is Captain Gottwalt," Suzaku told him. The man in question quirked his mouth as if restraining a wry smile.
"Sir." Then Lelouch did bow. The woman snorted.
"What sort of talents do you have to offer, young man?" the Captain asked, raising an eyebrow as the wind whipped Lelouch's bed shirt around his knees. "Beyond, of course, an intriguing sense of fashion and moral decency."
Lelouch flushed, tilting his jaw with wounded pride. "Talents?"
"Yes, talents. Because my ship is a flagship of his Majesty's royal navy, and I do not seek to employ whores on my ship," Captain Gottwalt said crisply. "Can you splice a line? Cook? Which knots do you know? Can you read?"
"Read, sir?" Lelouch asked, confused. Of course he could read. His father would have had kittens if he hadn't at least learned that much from the expensive tutors he'd hired. "Yes, sir. I can read and speak in three languages and recite poetry in even more. I'm a musician, sir. A violinist."
"I don't see a violin," the woman cut in pointedly. "I see a whistle--the kind of cheap whistle penniless parents buy their children to amuse them and distract them from their poverty."
Lelouch's fists clenched. "I'm not penniless." Suzaku started as Lelouch pointed at him. "That man owes me thruppence."
The Captain spoke over the woman's mocking laughter. "You learn quickly? This isn't the sort of ship where layabouts can get by on others' hard work. One mistake might kill you, and if it doesn't, I might." Lelouch gulped, nodding. "Good. Kururugi, take him to the ship's store and get him outfitted. He can't get in the rigging in that; he'd tangle his foot and end up giving the boys a show I'm not willing to pay for. We do represent the Emperor, after all."
Suzaku beamed gratefully at the man, and Lelouch had only the barest chance to nod his thanks before the boy dragged him below deck.