Author's Note: Allow me a moment to explain this story a bit so I'm not attacked for some of the terms and/or ideas I use: this is an AU story set in New York in the 1920s (Prohibition, labor strikes, Progressive movements…). That being said, this is in no way historically accurate, apart from the general ideas of the era. I'm still modeling many aspects after the Dragon Age world, but I want the feel of the story to be set in the '20s. (Make sense? I hope so, heh.)
Now, the main focus of this story will revolve around the gay subculture present in urban areas (especially New York) during this time period. Not too many people are aware that such a thing existed back in the late 1800s, but it did and it was quite expansive—and VERY different from gay culture today, in many respects. Many of the terms used back then—such as fairy, queer, etc.—were not considered offensive until the subculture began to evolve beneath the watchful eyes of the dominant culture. As such, I will be using them in the context of the story because they fit the timeline.
I just wanted to explain that a bit so I don't get a bunch of hate mail saying that I'm insensitive or ignorant or whatnot. Most of the time, "derogatory terms" did not start out as such; rather they changed with the passing of time as one culture's attempted to deface another, or whatnot.
Ok, mini-rant now done, I hope you all enjoy the story!
(And if you don't believe me or if you would like to learn more about this fascinating, understudied subculture, I HIGHLY recommend reading Gay New York by George Chauncey.)
New York City – 1921
The Hanged Man
September 25, 9:30 PM
Garret Hawke had never been the type to throw himself behind a movement. Committing oneself to a lofty ideal only worked to build a cage—gilded though it may be, yet still cold and unforgiving. His way of life had always been centered on the ideas of living for the moment and seeing where the winds of change would take him.
But there were always those forces beyond his control that forced him to take a stand. God, how he hated those forces.
A year earlier, the city's leaders had enacted a Prohibition against the distribution of alcohol. It was a profound movement that had effectively split the population: some grateful, others bitter. Garret had found himself being pressed firmly into the latter group; after all, it was difficult to make money as a bartender when your regular patrons no longer showed their faces.
Not that the law had stopped him—or, more appropriately, his boss—from selling alcohol. They just had to be subtler about it: under the table sales to savvy customers; late-night pick-ups at secluded locations. Garret had never seen himself as a smuggler, but a job was a job and when you believed in something, you sometimes had to let go of the practical future.
It was late on a Wednesday night; the sun had long since set; the "respectable" folk had retired to their homes. Garret stood at his customary place behind the bar of the Hanged Man tavern, pretending to shuffle through his stock of legal beverages as he kept a close eye on the tavern beyond. Things were quiet overall, but that would soon change. The tavern's owner—a man who went by the name Varric—had been covertly advertising a "party" of sorts for the night and Garret was expecting a crowd to begin gathering any moment. It wouldn't be anywhere near the size the Hanged Man had once attracted in the years leading up to the Prohibition, but it would be one of the largest since.
A scandalously clad woman took a seat at the bar in front of Garret, her painted eyelids fluttering at him as her thick, red lips curled into a sly smile. Perfectly manicured, lightly painted nails tapped on the wood of the bar in front of her, somehow drawing the eye to the neck of her dress where an ample cleavage showed through low-cut silk.
"Excited?" she asked, voice a sultry purr.
"Nervous, worried, paranoid…but yes, excited, too." Garret grinned as he subtly poured the woman a shot of whiskey. She winked at him and downed the shot in one gulp, only wincing slightly as the alcohol burned its way down her throat. "What about you? Should be some good clientele tonight."
She shrugged, making even that simple gesture look alluring as her bronzed shoulders gently rolled and drew the arms of her dress just a bit lower. "I never have trouble finding customers. But you know that my heart belongs only to you, my dear. My services are always free for you."
Garret couldn't keep his gaze from her chest as she leaned over the bar, one hand reaching out to grasp at his shirt collar so that she could draw him close. Isabela was truly a master of her trade; she always knew the right things to say and the right ways to move to draw a hapless man right out of his wallet. She had been at the Hanged Man before his family—what was left of it, anyways—had immigrated to the city. When Garret had moved about looking for work, he had fallen for her tricks. Following her up to an empty apartment; head thrown back as her expert fingers worked his clothes off and brought him to completion…
And, of course, waking up confused and penniless in a gutter.
Isabela was a viper in some ways, but Garret had forgiven her long ago. It was impossible not to forgive her; not only did they work in the same establishment, but Isabela was a truly alluring figure both physically and mentally. As soon as Varric had hired him, Garret had gotten to know the beautiful prostitute's mind and the pair had become quick friends. His mother didn't approve of his camaraderie with her type—or many of the types who frequented the Hanged Man—but Garret had never been the type to let petty class differences effect the way he treated people.
Garret allowed Isabela to capture his lips in a soft kiss—even closed his eyes and inhaled her heady, womanly scent. When they parted, he smirked at her. She returned the gesture, tugging once at his collar before finally releasing him. It was a game they played often; one that Garret had learned to win, in his own little way. Any other man might have thrown the woman over his shoulder and headed up the stairs in the back to one of the many rooms Varric's establishment boasted. But ever since that first night, Garret had not really desired her in such a way again. Not just because she had duped him, but rather because he knew too much about her now to want to take advantage.
"I suppose I'm a fool to turn that offer down," he remarked, offering her a second shot.
"Yes. But you're a charming fool, so all is forgiven." Isabela threw back that drink with the same ease as the first, smiling widely as she did so. "Now I feel good! Has anyone told you what a handsome, excellent bartender you are, good ser?"
"All the time. It's why Varric keeps me around."
"Well, I'll be sure to give him my thanks. Without you, this place would be utterly boring."
Garret chuckled as Isabela moved away from the bar, striding effortlessly across the tavern toward the other prostitutes who were gathered at one of the larger tables, whispering and giggling and watching the door with eager delight. Leaning against the doorjamb was Aveline, the Hanged Man's grim-faced bouncer.
Varric was notorious for many things, but one of the most well-known and odd was the fact that he had chosen to hire a woman to police his tavern. Of course, one look at Aveline and anyone would understand why—the Irish woman was built like an Amazon, after all—but it was still strange to the "normal" populace outside the tavern's walls. Garret had been doubtful in the beginning like all the others; it had only taken one drunken night and his face being crushed into the wood floors for him to rectify that judgment. Aveline was not one to be taken lightly and though she frowned upon some of Varric's business practices, she took her job very seriously.
Ten o'clock rolled around and the first visitors began arriving. The very first one in was a slight man wearing the uniform of a police officer. Had he been anyone else, that might have meant trouble; because it was Fenris, Garret knew that they were quite safe. Varric and Fenris had a special arrangement that hinged around the officer's semi-alcoholic nature. So long as Varric kept the booze flowing—with an occasional slip of cash or hint of other criminal activities—Fenris kept his fellow officers' off of the Hanged Man's trail.
"Evening, messere," Garret greeted as Fenris took a seat at the bar. "What can I get you?"
"Don't play games, Hawke," he growled. "You know what I drink."
"Of course, of course. Just thought you might feel like something different tonight."
"A man can only change so much. Make it strong and quick and I'll be happy."
Chuckling, Garret poured the officer a glass of dark liquor and a shot of the same whiskey he had given Isabela. Fenris downed the shot and began sipping at the glass, turning slightly so he could keep an eye on the door.
"Any idea who's coming in tonight?"
"Nope. Varric only said that there would be more than usual. Should be interesting."
Fenris snorted. "Interesting doesn't normally denote anything good."
"Says the officer imbibing alcohol."
Garret grinned at the scowl Fenris shot him. It was always so easy to get under the slighter man's skin; he was a veritable wealth of irritation. Garret had gotten to know the man quite well in the past year; no matter how crotchety Fenris acted, he was one of the good lot overall: one of the few in authority who chafed under the reign.
The prostitutes' hum of conversation had ebbed a bit, their eyes turned towards the back stairway with mixed happiness and awe. Garret followed their gaze to where the owner himself had paused in the middle of the stairs to take a cursory glance over his tavern. Varric Tethras was a rather small figure at five-foot-four, but that didn't make him any less imposing.
It was easy for some to take his laid-back attitude at face value, always taking for granted the fact that it took more than charm and a silver-tongue to rise to his position. Garret had never personally crossed the slight Italian man, but he had seen the repercussions of some who had. It was never a pretty sight.
Varric smiled warmly at the women before allowing his gaze to sweep to the bar. Garret nodded his head and watched as his employer strode towards him in that smooth, easy glide the man had perfected beautifully. Varric wasn't a tall man like Garret—who stood a good six feet—but in a way he still managed to overshadow the young bartender with his presence.
"Good evening, messere," Varric greeted Fenris, bending slightly at the waist. "I hope the night is treating you well?"
"Well enough," the officer replied with a grunt. "I've kept this place clear for tonight. I do expect a good tip soon, though. It's not easy covering your hide."
"But of course! Anything for you, my friend! Hawke, get the good officer another drink—on the house, of course."
"Right away, ser." Garret refilled Fenris's glass; the pale man nodded at Varric—glared one last time at Garret—and then moved away from the bar to find a table in the back. Isabela watched him walk from the prostitutes' table, dark eyes gleaming with sinister intent.
"So, is everything prepared?" Varric aimed the quiet question at Garret though he faced away from the bartender, smiling at the few customers who had arrived thus far. "I want the night to go off without a hitch."
"Ser, you wound me! Don't I always come through?"
Varric chuckled. "That you do, my boy. I'm just making sure you haven't let that cocksure attitude get to your head."
"Ah, too late for that." They shared a conspiratorial smile. "But I assure you, everything will go wonderfully so long as Fenris keeps his word."
"Don't you worry about him. He's got just as much to lose as we do if his plan fails. Just make sure that everyone's kept happy and drunk."
"Except myself, of course."
The tavern door opened and a group of men and one woman stepped in wearing heavy, expensive-looking coats. Varric slid away from the bar to greet them, making a swift motion with his hand to Garret as he moved. He recognized the silent command immediately and began discreetly filling up glasses of scotch—one for each of the men. Garret arranged the drinks on a tray before moving out from behind the bar to approach the table.
Varric sat in a seat that allowed him to keep an eye on the door, though he appeared to have his full attention on the four men and woman seated around him. The men were all mostly middle-aged and wore very fine suits. A couple of prostitutes glided over to take their coats, letting fingers linger and eyes flutter suggestively as they did so. None of them quite reached the finesse Isabela claimed, but they were all very good at their jobs. Varric allowed only the best to work in his tavern, not any common tramp off the street.
Garret finished setting down the glasses and turned towards the woman to ask her pleasure—when he realized his mistake. He froze in place, unable to keep from gaping at the man who looked up at him with a pair of haunting honey-colored eyes. Long, golden hair framed a narrow face—with a light layer of stubble across his chin, now that Garret had a closer look.
It was obvious the man was a fairy from the light make-up that covered his lips and long lashes; the feminine way he was dressed. Normally that fact might have made Garret balked, for he had been to the downtown bars on occasion where the fairies sold themselves to transients and sailors, always so polite and yet far more aggressive than any normal prostitute. But for some reason, he couldn't stop staring at the man's face: he was breathtakingly beautiful enough to be a woman.
"Please excuse the boy," Varric said as the men fidgeted uncomfortably beneath Garret's unmoving stare—all except the fairy, that was, who smiled up at Garret in a way that made the young man's cock twitch. "Hawke, why don't you go and prepare the bar? I'm sure the others will arrive soon."
Reluctantly, Garret tore his gaze away from the fairy, bowing respectfully as he apologized. When he straightened once more, Garret tried not to look directly into those bewitching eyes as he asked the fairy what he would like to drink.
"Some brandy, if you have any," was the man's reply, and God, but wasn't his voice just as poignant?
"Y-yes. Right away."
Garret hurried back to the bar where Isabela waited for him, laughter in her eyes. She waited until he had served the fairy's drink and returned permanently to the bar before starting in on him:
"Oh, but aren't you just so adorable!"
"Shut up, Izzie."
"How can I stay silent after that little show? You fancy the man, don't you?"
Garret blushed furiously. "Of course not! He just…took me by surprise!"
"And how is that? Fairies are everywhere nowadays. Thanks to that scandal after the Great War, they get more business than I do." Isabela pouted a bit, which only managed to make her look even more beautiful. Normally that look would make Garret feel a little hot under the collar; right now, he couldn't get those honey-colored eyes or that silky-smooth voice out of his mind.
"I know. It's just not often that we see them around these parts. Varric won't hire them."
"Oh, don't be so sure of that. Serah Varric has been sniffing for new blood lately and he is nothing if not pragmatic. Fairies bring in a good amount of business and business is what it's all about."
Garret rolled his eyes, allowing his gaze to roam across the room. I'm just making sure no one needs a drink, he assured himself. That's it. Convinced, Garret's eyes passed over the table where Varric still sat—only to meet the liquid gaze of the fairy. Those eyes bored into his very soul, digging through all the layers of Garret's mind as if baring everything he was to the world.
"You really are adorable, Hawke," Isabela remarked, allowing Garret to tear his gaze away from those haunting eyes. "Go talk to him. I bet he'd be receptive to your advances."
"What makes you think that?"
"Who wouldn't be? You're sweet and dark and handsome—all the perfect things my kind hope for in a customer."
"And what makes you think he's a prostitute?"
Isabela winked at him. "Honey, I know a lot of things that you will never be able to understand. Just take my word for it."
"Isabela! Why don't you come over and meet our guests?"
The bronze woman rolled her eyes as she rose to her feet. It only took a matter of seconds for the woman to set up her professional persona: lidded, bedroom eyes; pouting lips; dress straps lowered just enough to give a teasing view of her full breasts. When Isabela walked, all eyes were on her: hips swaying just right, fingertips brushing against the bodies she passed—man or woman—with little murmured words that were just for you. Even Garret was affected by her though he was used to the act. It was impossible not to be.
Within a few hours, the tavern was busy. A couple of the prostitutes—who had yet to find a customer—had been relegated to help Garret serve everyone, acting as elegant waitresses to the many clients seated around tables. It was a tame affair overall with Aveline watching the patrons for any signs of rowdy play. Her attitude ruined the fun a bit, but then that was what Varric had hired her for.
"I don't run a bawdy house," the man had remarked once. "This is a respectable joint for respectable folk. We only do the vulgar business on weekends."
Garret placed one of the girls—a pretty, young thing named Norah—in charge of the bar so he could restock their supply from the back room. When he returned—several bottles of different liquors held in his arms—it took every ounce of willpower he possessed not to drop them all on the floor and cause a scene. The fairy had moved to the bar during his absence, honey-colored eyes laughing at him from behind the rim of a brandy tumbler.
"Are you all right, ser?" Norah asked, moving to help Garret set the bottles down.
"Y-yes, fine. You can return to work now. I can handle things from here."
The young woman glided back to the tavern floor, migrating to a table full of young, affluent-looking men who looked at her scandalous dress appraisingly. There were a few other customers at the bar, but they were either occupied in deep conversation with one another or one of the prostitutes. Essentially, Garret was alone with the fairy who continued to watch him as he sipped delicately.
"You're German, aren't you?" the man asked in that sinfully beautiful voice.
"Mmm. I can see it in your shoulders and jaw. Always a distinct look to Germans. Were you born there or in the states?"
"Munich, though my family immigrated here when I was young." Garret felt strange having such a normal type of conversation with this man. "Um…what about you?"
"Me? Oh, I'm from nowhere special." He didn't elaborate and Garret didn't press. "So, your name is Hawke?"
"What? Oh! Uh, yes, that's my family name." Garret fought back the burning in his cheeks. "My given name is Garret."
"Garret? Oh yes, I like that. A strong name." The fairy extended a slender hand across the bar, palm down. Garret couldn't help but stare at the long, tapered fingers and alabaster skin with a hunger burning deep in his gut. "You can call me Anders. It's a pleasure to meet you."
The way Anders had offered his hand insinuated that he expected Garret to kiss it, as one would a proper lady. But no matter how much a part of him desired to taste that smooth skin, Garret couldn't bring himself to comply and awkwardly grasped the ivory palm in a clumsy handshake. He half-expected Anders to look offended, but the fairy only smiled warmly.
"How long have you worked here, Garret?"
That voice, saying his name… "A-A few years now."
"I can guess at your view of Prohibition," Anders continued, sweeping his hand elegantly around the room where the many customers sipped at their illegal drinks, "but perhaps you can indulge me with a more detailed expression?"
"Um, well…I…" Garret cleared his throat nervously, wishing that he was doing something with his hands. Any kind of distraction would be welcome right about now if it meant saving him from making an ass of himself in front of this bewitching man. "I think it's a foolish law, I guess… I mean, outlawing something only makes people want it more—especially in this country. The government is only hurting itself, because now they don't receive any tax revenue from the alcohol sales that are still going on."
"I see. And what of those who argue that it keeps men from abusing their wives and children?"
"Well…I think that if a man is capable of that, he doesn't need liquor to do it. I'm certain it doesn't help, but blaming alcohol won't change human nature. Better legislation to pass would be something against domestic abuse. Or perhaps give women the freedom to leave their husbands if they so choose."
Anders smiled. "I like you, Garret. You have a good mind."
"Are you married, Garret?"
"No." God, why did the man insist on using his name? Every time it passed through Anders's lips, Garret felt his pants growing just a little more uncomfortable.
"No? Truly? That must be a crime somewhere. What woman wouldn't want a handsome thing like you on their arm?"
"I…I guess I've just never really thought about it."
"Would you like to kiss me, Garret?"
The question—spoken in a low, sultry tone that only the bartender could hear—took Garret completely off-guard. Until that moment, Garret hadn't realized that he had been staring at Anders's full lips. There was no way to fight back the angry flush that rose to his cheeks now and the only thing the poor young man could do was quickly duck down behind the bar in search of a glass that needed cleaning or a drink that needed pouring—something!—anything!
When he resurfaced, Anders was gone. A part of Garret felt immensely relieved, but at the same time he felt a little despondent. Garret hadn't meant to offend the man; he just hadn't been ready for such a direct query. Never before had he thought of having sex with another man—let alone kissing one—and now this Anders had appeared and completely turned his world around.
It was going to be a long night.
Author's Note: I started writing this last year and was never able to finish it, but reading over the chapters I have, I like how the story flows. Leave a review and let me know what you think and whether or not you want to read more. (Help me understand if it's personal pride blinding me or if this story is actually pretty good. ;) )