There's a lot of room for fanfic about Rodney Skinner. This is pretty much my take on what could be an interesting back-story. It shouldn't be terribly long since I definitely don't have the patience for that, but it will be longer than anything I've finished before (providing I actually finish it.)
Possible smut in a later chapter because of my invisibility kink, but I'll write it in such a way that it is not necessary to read that chapter to get the full effect of the "story" in case the hypothetical reader would rather not.
Note: There are cameos and mentions of other fictional works that take place in a similar time period as LXG did. It's all pretty fudged around and whatnot, but I'll leave another note at the end telling you which references I'd intended. You know, for those of you who are interested.
Oh, and in case I have to say this: I don't own anything here, really.
Some might say that powers come with a certain responsibility. The power of invisibility is not one of those powers, and to tell the truth, people don't seem to expect much from you if that's what makes you "extraordinary." At the very least, they assume you're dishonest, and at worst they think you're a raving lunatic likely to go off on a killing rampage at any second.
After meeting the original invisible man, I can't say I blame them.
Excuse me; I'm being rude, aren't I? Allow me to introduce myself; Rodney Skinner, Gentleman Thief and Invisible Man II.
I started my criminal career at the tender age of seven. Or was it four? I was young is all I know. Dearest Frankie said they'd picked me up down at the docks where Crusty Old Jake sat, mumbling to himself and anyone who'd stop and listen. I was taken in, as most of the street rats were, by an old kidsman known as the Artful Dodger, perhaps you've heard of him.
Well, he raised us right, the old Dodger did. I grew up in a caring home where there was always someone around to help you, for a reasonable price, and though most of us would go out and find our own shelter more and more as we got older, if you ever hit a rut the Dodger was always there with a leaky roof over your head, moth-eaten rags for your blankets, and some ill-gotten food to drive away the hunger pains. And when his less savory suppliers came a-calling he'd do his best to keep us safe.
Obviously, he couldn't keep all of us safe, but he sure tried to. I guess I'll never really know what made him protect us like that.
I had a few buddies I worked closely with through those years. There was Frankie, of course, but he was usually off with the older boys as I was growing up. I spent most of my life with Alfred Doolittle. Alfie and I had adventures, usually with Ralph until Ralph ran off to join the navy and "make his fortune." Can't say I ever forgave the little bastard for it. But Alfie and I got along just fine without him.
"It's right damn selfish is what it is, if you ask me," Alfie grumbled, "that's what it is, Rodney, just another case of the selfishness of human beings. All they ever do is think about themselves, what they want, what's good for them, never once stopping to think of how they're affecting the people around them."
I glanced over at him, covered in dirt examining the pocket handkerchief he'd just lifted from an old woman's purse, "You're talking about other people, right Alfie? Not yourself and your noble and selfless occupation as a pick-pocket?"
He looked up at me, shocked, "Well, of course I mean other people, Rodney, what you take me for? I have to be selfish; it's how you and I keep up business. Problem is, there's different types of selfish, Rodney, and Ralph was not a useful type of selfish. He'll figure it out in the end, Rodney; he'll find out that it was a stupid kind of selfish that he got all caught up in and then he'll be sorry for it, though it won't do him much good. It's 'cause of what I said, Rodney, that there's different kinds of selfish." I nodded. There wasn't anything I could do to stop Alfred from voicing his views on the world, no matter how silly they might be, and I wasn't in the mood to try. I just needed to work, get some odd trinkets of value, get them back to Dodger, get some food in my stomach and thoughts of Ralph out of my head. Ralph Rackstraw was gone and there was nothing to be done to get him back. "You see, Rodney, there's selfish like you and me and the rest of Dodger's gang, we're doing it so we can live and all, because what are we going to do otherwise? We'll be shipped off to the workhouses otherwise and never see another happy day; you know that's the case in those places. And we know all these high-born ladies and gents don't need half the stuff they run around with," he waved the handkerchief at my face and I shoved him away. He stumbled but recovered and put the square of silk back in his pocket. "You know how we know this, Rodney?"
"Because we get along fine without it?" I answered.
"Cause WE get along fine without it! We don't need fancy things except to sell them back to the people we stole them from and buy our food. Now, Rackstraw was always a different kind of selfish. He'd off and fall in love with ladies above his station and the trick is they'd actually like him back. He had secrets, I tell you, secrets to a lady's heart, and that slimy old codger never bothered to share them with anyone else, especially not me. And then, then he up and leaves us for the bloody navy claiming he could make more money on it than on anything we do, wouldn't listen to a word of sense when I says he's being an idiot, just gets offended and takes off. Just like that, out of our lives forever." Alfie tugged down the brim of his hat and folded his arms over his chest. "Worst mistake of his life, if you ask me."
I nodded, "Well, you're right on most everything there."
He turned around indignantly, "I'm right on everything, what makes you think I've got something wrong?"
I grinned at him, my best debonair and charming grin, "He didn't tell YOU anything on how to woo upper-class ladies, but I was his number one apprentice." I dodged Alfie's halfhearted attempt to throw a punch.
"Ah, come off it, Rodney, we both know you're as hopeless I am. You wouldn't have the charm to woo an upper-crust whore. You'd just grab at her and run off as she set her dogs on you."
"Maybe true, but at least I've got the option to never meet her."
I put on my best smug grin as Alfie grumbled, "bloody hell, not this again."
"Now, Alfie, mind your language and be happy that I had the patience to learn all the fancy writing and reading that you and Ralph thought was ridiculous. I told you it could come in handy if we actually paid attention to that fancy book stuff we got when that idiot Jack mistook that library for a mansion."
"Hey, hey," Alfie clamped a dirty hand over my mouth, "watch what you say about Jack. You know he's Big Charlie's favorite, you want to get us killed?"
I pushed him off of me and made a show of spitting the taste of his hand out on the pavement. "Relax, Alfie, do you see Big Charlie around here? Calm down." Alfie checked the streets a few more times and shook his head. "Spoken words have a power, Rodney, I've seen it and it sure isn't right to try and challenge it. You know if you talk about something long enough it influences things. The rest of the world , or even just the person next to you, words affect them, Rodney, they change the things what are already there and there isn't much you can do to change them back once they have been changed. And that's because-"
I growled in mock anger and stopped to lean up against a wall "God, Alfie, would you give it a rest? I know for a fact I've heard this speech at least a billion times before and it doesn't get any more interesting with each retelling." Alfred stared at me and crossed his arms, surprisingly quiet. "There, that's better. Now, we ready to head back to Dodger's?" I stuck my hands in my pockets and made a mental note of the contents. Two handkerchiefs, one embroidered but it was good quality silk and worth the extra work of removing the stitching; a pocket watch that seemed to be in working order, Alfie and I had wasted some time standing in front of a clock tower, seeing if the two were truly matched up; and half a roll that I'd stolen from a bakery for some sort of lunch. All in all, it wasn't bad for a weekday afternoon. "And you've got a handkerchief and that wallet, right?"
"I do. It's too bad that wallet didn't have much in it. Could've used the extra money."
"We could use a lot of things, Alfie. Come on, let's get on back home."
As I've said before, the Dodger was a kidsman and to some of you gentler folk this might be considered the worst crime a person could commit, forcing children to do his dirty work, but he was a lot better than most of the criminals I saw crawling through the back alleys and I tell you there's some out there treating people like I was much worse than Dodger ever treated his gang. Big Charlie was one of them.
He started out as a smalltime pickpocket and thief, like the rest of us, living in rundown buildings and coming to Dodger for a bite to eat every once in a while. Thing is, he was always a lot larger than the average boy and, unlike how it usually is in storybooks, his vicious looks were definitely in line with his personality. I hear he used to be careless as a pickpocket because he figured that even a grown man wouldn't be able to win against him in a fight and take the stolen items back again, and for the most part he was right. According to Mrs. Hope, the lunatic old prostitute on Fleet Street, he got stealthier after being caught and beaten by the police, but I don't know how true any of the story is. That's the way with history back then. If you weren't there, all you had to go by was the overblown gossip of street rats and whores.
By the time I showed up Big Charlie was a successful house-breaker but, as is often the case, he needed the help of a smaller companion who could fit in windows and open the house from the inside. This partner had to be small, a short and skinny man or, more often, a child. I was on the list of possible sneaks to be used, although I was in my mid-teens by then, so I was a great deal larger than many other possible children. But what I lacked in the most efficient size, I more than made up for with stealth and smarts.
Well, this may seem entirely off-topic, and probably is but you're listening to what are possibly the ramblings of a madman so you don't have much room to complain. The point is that in pondering the question of "Could I be a better thief than Charlie and his gang?" I began my journey towards meeting the original invisible man, both in flesh and in spirit. I say once again, he is an awful man, but I guess we'll get to that later.
In any case, once I had realized that I wouldn't need a breaker like, I had the brilliant idea to share my marvelous findings with Alfred. His response was a little more cynical and sarcastic than one would hope from a lifelong bosom friend and all.
"Oh, congratulations, Rodney! This is amazing! You've just invented robbery."
"Well, there, see? It would work."
"Don't even think of it."
"But it would."
"We're PICKPOCKETS, Rodney."
"I'm going to do it."
"Goddammit, Rodney, why do you want to do more work for less pay?"
"Who says it'd be less pay?"
"I says! What can YOU come out of a house with that will make it worth the effort of breaking in?"
"I dunno… Jewelry, silverware maybe?" I pondered this for a few moments, "I could sew a lot of pockets on the inside of my shirt, store more things in them. A lot of valuable small things ought to be worth the same or more than one valuable large thing" Alfred glared at me.
"You aren't seriously considering this," he said. I grinned at him. "God, Rodney, it's a stupid idea."
"But, see, that's why it's brilliant! And you know it'll work."
Alfie was very quiet for a while, which was unusual. I usually counted on him to talk me out of my stupidest ideas, like when I'd suggested that we steal a delivery cart full of baked goods. I was always thinking things up, but they were usually ridiculous and not exactly helpful. For the most part I went through with them anyways. I'd stolen that cart and driven it about three blocks before the runners caught up with me. I was rarely successful, but I also never seemed to get caught. Now, Alfie's lack of protest either meant that he agreed with my stupid idea or was too worn out to reason against it anymore. Neither of those options seemed very likely.
"You're right, you know," he sighed, "if anyone of this group was meant to be a house-breaker on his own, it'd be you." I blinked in surprise. I was right? No, that couldn't be, I was wrong and it was a stupid idea but that never stopped me from doing these things anyways. "Besides" Alfie said, echoing my thoughts "no matter how much I try to drive some sense into you, I know you'll still go through with it."
The grin on my face stretched from ear to ear, "Oh, I knew you'd come around, Alfie! I knew it was just a matter of time before you got bored of the lazy route and came to join me on the stupid and reckless side."
"Now, hold onto your hat, Rodney, I said 'on your own'"
"Of course you did, Alfie, but I'll need someone to stand as my lookout, won't I?"
The lookout trick worked perfectly. Alfie was lazy and always wanted more credit than what he was worth, but I needed him along. Call it nerves or paranoia or whatever you like but I always work better in a group than by myself, no matter what I might say. Having him along for this job was really more of a security blanket than anything else.
It was a relatively simple break-in. We chose a house in the wealthier side of town, and as fewer and fewer people were walking the street I crept in through the back door used by the servants. I passed by the table where the butlers and maids would prepare tea for the house and I noticed a newspaper folded open to the "help wanted" section. Perhaps I was more stressed than I thought because I took the worthless paper and tucked it into one of the many new pockets in my outfit.
I opened cabinets and drawers, leaving the silverware which portrayed the family crest and was actually made of tin, anyways. Silly westies, the crested platters and odds and ends might've made them look richer from far away, but you don't hold a spoon eighteen meters away from your face when you're trying to eat with it. Still, I found a few things that would fetch a decent price and fit in one of my pockets. Bagged spices from the Far East, some fancy place-setters that were easily folded up and tucked away, this was going to be easier than I'd originally thought. I could leave now and the money we could get would be entirely worth the effort I'd made, but there was probably more upstairs.
After perhaps three seconds of inner debate, I decided to take my chances on the rest of the house. If I found some family jewels, even cheap ones, I could truly call this outing a success. I snuck through each room in near darkness, feeling around for small objects of value, slowly and carefully and as quiet as I could possibly be. By the time I made it up the stairs and found the family rooms where the more valuable possessions were kept, I was feeling much more confident.
I pushed open the door to the first room and made straight for the dimly outlined armoire where I figured the jewelry would be held. I slid my hand around the smooth surface and found what I was looking for. Light chains, lace pendants, there was a cameo pin that I decided to leave put in case it was a portrait of someone specific, the rest, I stuck in my pocket. I moved on to the first drawer, but as the wood slid over wood, I heard the rustling of fabric behind me.
"Edmund? Lydia? Are you back already?" croaked the tired voice of an older woman. My blood ran cold. I hadn't thought there would be someone else in the house when I'd broken in. We'd made sure that the family who lived here would be out and about when I was working but there was obviously still someone here. It wasn't that I was afraid of this woman, she sounded weak and frail, but she could scream and bring neighbors and police running in no time at all. "Are you there?" she asked and then she waited for a very long while. I stood very still, praying that it was dark enough that she couldn't see me. My ears strained against the silence, broken by the steady ticking of the clock, but eventually I could tell that the woman had gone back to sleep. I let out a sigh of relief and realized I'd been holding my breath the entire time.
Right, that was too close; it was definitely time to get out of here. I grabbed what felt like a string of pearls, tucked it in my shirt and made for the door. I'd only just gotten to the stairs when I heard the front door crashing open under the force of a small, drunken parade. Apparently Edmund and Lydia had brought home some friends.
Not good, not good, not good at all. I backtracked down the hall to the window. That was my only option now. True, I was on the second floor of the building, but getting out of this with my life and perhaps a broken leg would be better than being dragged to the clink by a group of drunk-mad westies.
I frantically tore open the narrow outlet and looked out at the hard, unforgiving ground below. I paused; barely any distance away from me was a balcony on the second floor of the building right next to this one. That was my new best-case scenario. Without a second thought, I launched myself through the window and scrambled onto the platform that kept me from smashing painfully against the rock pathway below. I quickly ducked inside the dark room to catch my breath and arrange a plan of action.
"Hello there," I whirled around to see a ten year old girl, lighting a candle by the side of her bed. The excitement of the night had enhanced my senses and in the first seconds of our encounter I noticed and memorized every detail of this little girl. She wore a pale blue nightgown with a darker blue lace trim, her hair was light brown and hung in loose curls around her shoulders, she was skinny in a sickly way and her skin had a yellowish color that I don't think was only the fault of the candlelight. Her eyes were dark brown and she stared at me with curiosity. The bedclothes piled up around her were pure white, the likes of which I'd only seen on newly stolen handkerchiefs and on the ruffled shirts of the wealthy. Suddenly, I realized she'd said something.
"I'm sorry, what?"
The girl looked at me in surprise, "I asked you what your name is. Why do you talk so strangely like that and why did you come in through my window?"
It seemed she was too curious to scream for an adult, which was a great relief to me. I smiled my most charming smile and made a large show of bowing to her, "The humblest of apologies, my lady, I'm Rodney Skinner, Gentleman Thief and I've come in through your window because I had a bit of a problem next door. Nasty people there, don't you know?"
She frowned, "You don't sound like a gentleman. Have you come to rob me? Well you can't. I'm sick and it's a terrible crime to steal from a sick little girl."
"You're sick? Well, dear lady, that's dreadful, but I'll tell you this, any thief who isn't a gentleman, like myself, would laugh at you and take everything you own, anyways. Me? I'm more respectable than that. I wasn't planning on robbing you, anyways, but now that I know of the poor lady's hardships, why it pains me to think that such an idea could pass through anyone's mind." The girl smiled. Oh, this was fun; I'd never gotten to play the morality game with anyone but beggars and thieves before. Now, an honest-to-god blueblood was impressed with my manners.
"Well, your talking is strange, but I think you sound like a gentleman," she said, "I think I shall call you Sir Rodney the honorable. You shall be a nobleman in disguise. Like a knight! Have you read of King Arthur, Sir Rodney?"
"Only a small amount, my lady," I answered, "We don't put much stock in books where I come from."
"Oh, well, they're lovely stories and I read them all the time. That's all I can do when I'm sick. I read books and the newspapers when I can get them. Mrs. Dean says a young lady shouldn't read the papers and that they will just upset me, but I don't mind."
"But of course!" I exclaimed, remembering the old folded up paper in my pocket. I brought it out with a flourish. Her eyes lit up brighter than the candle at her side.
"Sir Rodney, would you be as kind as to hand me the gossip section of that paper?" I bowed to her and flipped through, removing the dull help-wanted ads and anything else that didn't seem exciting. I passed her the rest. Her eyes darted across the pages, fully sunk into those stories of scandal. I sat down on the floor and glanced through the pages I had left.
I don't know how long the two of us sat in silence. Everything was calm and quiet, which was strange for me. Considering what had happened earlier that night, it was a very nice sort of strange. Eventually, though, I began to think of Alfie. He was still on lookout, or perhaps he'd given up on me and run off to drink his sorrows and talk the ears off of anyone who happened to pass by. "I'm ruined, I tells you, ruined. My old chums, if you could even call them that, have left me. That idiot Rackstraw went off to fight for mother England what hasn't done nothing to help him his whole life and Skinner went and got himself caught and likely killed since he's used up all his luck, he has." I could hear it now. And how was I to call myself a gentleman when I let some poor sob get himself talked to death all because I was reading a newspaper with a little girl?
I stood up and bowed to her. "My lady, I must be getting off soon to save a poor soul the torture of having to listen to my friend and his ravings."
She nodded, "Do you think you could come back, Rodney? It gets awfully lonely here."
I smiled at her, "Of course, and I'll bring you a newspaper every time, alright?"
"Thank you, sir." She paused, "if you don't want to go through the house, there's a pipe next to the balcony that goes all the way to the ground. Sometimes I think I'll slide down it and run away to have an adventure, but I know I can't."
"Well, I thank you kindly miss…"
"Earnshaw. I'm Catherine Earnshaw III."
"Well, my lady Earnshaw, I wish you a lovely evening and I shall be sure to come back very soon. Good night."
"Good night, Sir."
Reference for my references:
The Artful Dodger- Oliver Twist
Alfred P. Doolittle- Pygmalion/My Fair Lady
Ralph Rackstraw- H.M.S. Pinafore (and here you can see I smudged the timeline quite a bit)
Mrs. Hope- Sweeney Todd (a grim possible future for the poor tormented Johanna)
Catherine Earnshaw III- Wuthering Heights (the granddaughter of the second Catherine Earnshaw)
Mrs. Dean- Wuthering Heights (obviously not THE Nelly Dean, but a descendant who still serves the Earnshaw household as Cathy's maid)