AN: So this is the offspring of an idea I had back in 2011 whilst watching a film set in the 1930s and thinking "someone really ought to put Gajeel in suspenders".
And so I did. And here we are: Fairy Tail meets the Roaring Twenties!
Warning: this fic is rated 'M' for coarse language and violence. There will be no explicit sexual content; only suggestions.
Disclaimer: I do not own Fairy Tail or its characters – Hiro Mashima does.
A small note on terms you might want to know:
The Prohibition: from 1920-1933 in the United States. A national ban on the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcohol.
speakeasy: establishment that sold alcoholic beverages illegally during the Prohibition. Also called 'blind pig', 'gin mill' and 'juice joint'.
bootlegging: the illegal sale, manufacture and transportation of alcoholic beverages.
dewdropper: insult. Basically: 'lazy, unemployed and good-for-nothing'.
by Miss Mungoe
He'd never been one for the hustle and bustle of the inner city.
"Hey, watch where you're going, dewdropper!"
No. What he preferred was the world residing in Magnolia's shadows – the dingy alleys with their illegal bars and shady clientèle. To be able to walk the streets without enduring the pointed stares and acid remarks of the city's nobility. To glare and spit and smoke as much as he damn well wanted without being kicked out on his ass.
"Oh, dear, look at that. They should really do something about keeping his kind off the streets," a muted murmur at his back followed his slouching footsteps, and he growled low in his throat.
High society. Fucking over-privileged fat-cats and their self-righteous attitudes. They were the true scum of the city – an insult to anyone having had to scrape by for a measly meal or a roof to sleep under. Perched on their high horses, looking down their noses...
Fucking pussies, the lot of them.
Pausing for a passing automobile, Gajeel shot the driver a glare before cutting across the street. A murmur of voices to his left reached his ears, and he levelled his stare on the group of young women having just exited the local hat-shop. They fell silent at his sharp gaze, but erupted into frantic whispers upon his passing. So no, Gajeel Redfox didn't like the inner city.
He fucking loathed it.
Crossing the road and rounding the corner, he broke through the throng of finely dressed passers-by like a dark smudge on a white sheet – worn boots scuffing against the cobblestones, hands in the pockets of his trousers and looking for all the world like the ruffian he was so called behind his back.
It hardly mattered, anyways. He'd been called worse.
Stopping at the corner of the next street, Gajeel passed a casual glance to both sides before slipping into the shadows of the nearest alley, although what passed for an 'alley' in this part of town was a far cry from the ones he'd grown up in. Making his way down the disgustingly clean cobblestones, looking for all the world like they'd been polished, he came to a stop by a red metal door, hidden amongst the red brick of the building. Pounding four consecutive times on the door, each strike a ringing clang in the alley, he waited, crossing his arms over his chest. In the distance the chattering sounds of Magnolia proper could be heard – like a persistent mosquito on the edge of his consciousness. The hum of automobiles and the laughter of the upper class. Disgusting.
He didn't need to wait long before the the latch was removed and the door swung open before him, revealing a head of spiky hair in the most atrocious colour the world had ever seen.
"You're back," Natsu greeted uselessly, to which Gajeel only nodded, before slipping past him, the lock sliding shut in his wake.
They walked down the hallway in relative silence until reaching the main room, where Gajeel set his course straight for the worn sofa in the corner. Propping his feet on the table, he lit a cigarette, inhaling deeply while his companion took a seat on the cardboard box stationed opposite, to continue the meal he'd been busy devouring before his interruption. They sat in relative silence for a few blessed moments, but true to the character of the man in front of him, it didn't last long.
"Any problems today?" he asked around a mouthful of food.
Exhaling a lungful of smoke, Gajeel snorted. "None – shit's too fuckin' easy these days."
Natsu hummed, taking a large bite of the bread on his plate. "Any good matches scheduled?"
He shrugged. "Didn't check. Might run by tomorrow if nothing comes up." Exhale. "I could use the cash."
"If you can win, that is," came the remark, and red eyes snapped up to see the flash of a teasing grin. "Been a while since you were in the ring – rumour has it the "Iron Fist" has gotten a little...rusty."
Gajeel rolled his eyes. "Hardy har har. And you're one to talk, Salamander – I ain't seen you in the ring in months."
Natsu shrugged. "Been busy," was all he said. Gajeel snorted, but didn't push further. Rivals they might be, but they were still associates, and in their line of work cue words like 'busy' meant a change of subject. He took another drag of his cigarette.
"So how have things been around here? The boss keeping up?"
At this, Natsu smiled, raising his glass in a salute. "Better than ever. Situation being what it is, no one wants to rat the old man out. 'Sides, he's respected pretty much everywhere in this town. The ban didn't change that."
Gajeel shook his head. "Businessman to bootlegger, and he's still got the city under his thumb," he said, a smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth. Natsu grinned.
"Hey, the company's got nothing on the speakeasy these days – we've never had this much food in stock!"
"Of course that's what you'd notice."
"What're you implying, rusty?"
"That you're a glutton, sissy-pants."
"You're one to talk! Where d'ya think all the damn scotch goes? I ain't seen anyone drink as much as you."
"Hey, I pull my weight around here," Gajeel growled.
Natsu snorted through his food. "Yeah, so do we all. What else do you do? Hell, I don't even know where you go during the day. You could be slacking off for all we know," he said with a shrug, mouth stuffed.
Gajeel crossed his arms over his chest, the picture of defiance. "I pull my weight," he stressed, glare fixed intently on the pink-haired man sitting across from him. Natsu rolled his eyes, swallowing heavily before pointing a finger at his companion.
"One day you'll realize that we're your family and stop being so damn mysterious. Seriously? It's getting a little old."
"You reminding me of that is getting a little old."
"Hey, I'm on behalf of everyone on this – you're too damn secretive."
"And you're too damn trusting – it's a miracle you're still alive with that naivety you've got going on," he retorted.
Both gazes snapped up at the sound of their boss' voice, eyes landing on the small but imposing form standing in the doorway. Arms crossed over his chest, Makarov Dreyar regarded them with furrowed brows, sharp eyes trained on their slouched forms. Natsu sat straight in his seat, and despite himself, Gajeel realized he'd taken his feet off the table in pure reflex. He shook his head, a smirk tugging on his lips, never failing to be amazed at the man's ability of rendering them all to errant boys. Size be damned – the crazy old geezer had a presence to fill a freakin' cathedral.
"Boss," they greeted. Makarov smiled.
"I'll have a talk with you in my office, Gajeel, if you're not otherwise occupied. Natsu...aren't you a little late for your new job?"
Glancing at the old clock on the wall, the pink haired man let out a yelp, practically falling over himself in surprise. Reaching for his shoes, he made a simultaneous grab for the last piece of bread on his plate, stuffing it in his mouth before making a mad dash for the exit.
"Sorry, Gramps!" he called over his shoulder, words muffled by food.
"Tuck in your shirt!" Makarov called after him, shaking his head when the entrance slammed shut behind him. "That boy..."
Gajeel smirked, but dropped it when his attention landed on his boss. Makarov looked oddly serious as he turned and strode into his office. Following in his wake, Gajeel closed the door behind him, but didn't bother to take a seat. Crossing his arms over his chest, he regarded the older man with a suspicious glare. Of the man's two offices, this was his least favourite to be called into. It served as a reminder that Makarov Dreyar was, when it all came down to it, a fat cat. The expensive tapestry and the mahogany desk...it was a far cry from the cluttered office in his speakeasy, but it was his office, regardless.
Dragging his eyes away from the offensively extravagant painting on the wall opposite, Gajeel's gaze came to land on his boss. Makarov smiled disarmingly, although it did little to remove the glower directed at him. "How are you holding up these days, my boy?"
Gajeel shrugged. "As good as ever."
"Been in the ring much lately?"
He felt his eye twitch at the subtle jab. "I've been busy," he ground out. Makarov smirked.
"Perhaps you should stop by one of these days. To relieve some stress? It'd do you good – you're about as relaxed as a strung wire."
"I'm fine, old man."
Makarov raised a brow, but didn't push further. And then the smile was gone, replaced with a serious expression he rarely wore around his children. "How is the situation with my son?"
No beating around the bush, eh? Gajeel grimaced. "Hard to tell – the man's too damn secretive. I haven't even figured out what he wants yet, other than your downfall, but that's a given."
Makarov sighed. "Yes, I'd gathered as much," he murmured with a shake off his head. A rueful smile tugged at his lips then. "You wonder what you do wrong, as a father, to have raised a son like that."
Not one for sentimentality, Gajeel snorted. "They guy's been bat-shit crazy from the start, Gramps. I don't think it had anything to do with you."
Makarov shrugged. "Perhaps not. Or perhaps it does. All I know is that he is a danger to my company and my children, and I will not allow him to succeed – whatever he is planning."
Gajeel nodded. "I'll continue to keep ya posted."
Makarov cracked a smile. "That is all well and good, my boy, but that was not what I called you in here for."
Gajeel frowned. "It wasn't?"
Makarov shook his head. "Your work as double-agent keeps you mostly occupied, but your constant absence and lack of menial jobs isn't sitting well with the others."
Gajeel closed his eyes, knowing where this was going. "Gramps–"
"Which is why," Makarov interrupted him sharply, before continuing pleasantly, "I have found you some extra work. That way, the others will get off your back, and my son will find nothing suspicious, should he choose to investigate what you actually do around here. Perhaps that is why he is withholding information form you – if you are under suspicion, you need to remove whatever doubts he may have."
Gajeel sighed, recognizing a losing battle, and nodded. "Fine. What've you got?"
Makarov's grin was strangely wicked. "Good call, my boy! And so little resistance – is my fatherly authority finally growing on you?"
"Whatever, old man. Just get it out. What is it? Lugging crates? Smuggling booze?"
The older man's smile never lost it's wicked edge, and Gajeel felt his brows furrow.
That look was never good.
Turning to his desk, Makarov fished out a sheet of paper from his drawer, before handing it to Gajeel. Taking it, he turned it over and found the image of a young woman looking back at him. The photograph was old, the edges creased and the image unclear, but she looked young – sixteen, if not younger.
"Levy McGarden," Makarov began, as he rifled through the drawer. "Heir to the McGarden fortune – you've heard the name, yes?"
Gajeel nodded cautiously, not liking where his situation was going. "Yeah, the takeover scandal, right?"
Makarov nodded. "She's the only living heir to the name, but was left without a penny upon her father going into hiding a month ago."
Gajeel snorted. "Hiding? More like running away like a coward, from what I heard."
"Yes, well..." Makarov cleared his throat. "I've taken her under my wing for the moment, but sadly, as you know I have many duties, what with the company and the speakeasy..."
Makarov sighed. "I haven't even said what I want you to do."
Gajeel shook his head, handing the photograph back. "No way, Gramps. I know what you're going to say, and I'll tell you now - it ain't happening."
"Sorry, old man," he said, shaking his head. "Double agent? That's fine. And I'll smuggle your liquor, and stack as many damn crates as you want, but I'm not playing lapdog to a spoiled little bitch." He turned to leave.
"Do you remember what you promised the day I let you join, Gajeel?"
Stopping in his tracks, Gajeel bit back a curse. Damn it.
Turning back to his boss, he levelled the smaller man with a glower. "But why the hell me? Why can't the damn Salamander do it?"
"He is," Makarov said. "He is currently 'playing lapdog', as you so eloquently put it, to Lucy Heartfilia."
"Heartfilia?" Gajeel asked, genuinely surprised. The Heartfilias were the biggest fat cats of them all.
Makarov nodded. "The one and only," he sighed. "There doesn't seem to be a lack of neglectful fathers in this city," he murmured.
Gajeel raised a brow. "So...what? You're going to be a good one for all their neglected children?"
The older man grinned. "Of course! Anything for pretty young ladies!~"
Gajeel shook his head. "Damn lecher. You never change."
"And I pray that I never will," came the easy reply, before he retreated to his desk. "Now, the details are all on the sheet I gave you. You're to keep a close eye on her and make sure she's safe. Remember, there are those that would go to extreme lengths to secure that fortune," he said.
"Or what's left of it," Gajeel interjected. "Her old man left, didn't he? Who's to say there's any money at all? And didn't he lose the company?"
Makarov shrugged. "I do not know the exact details," he said, although Gajeel would bet all the clothes on his back that he did, in fact, know. Nothing happened in Magnolia that Makarov didn't know about, and a scandal the size of the McGarden mess wouldn't have gone by without people asking questions. Makarov probably knew much more than the exact details, but Gajeel knew his place well enough not to pry. Makarov was the business mogul, not him. He was told what he needed to be told, and he didn't need anything else.
"What I do know is that from this day, she is my daughter, and you will ensure her safety and happiness in my stead. She is a kind-hearted child, and you will swallow your dislike for the upper class and treat her as an equal, for she will surely do you the same justice."
Gajeel snorted, tucking the information into his pockets. "I highly doubt that."
Makarov grumbled, "Troublesome, the both of you. At least Natsu agreed with the promise of a free meal a day."
"Of course he would," Gajeel muttered.
"And what about you, Gajeel?"
The man in question was silent for a long moment, weighing his options. Not that he had any – not really. He owed the old man more than his loyalty, after all. More than his life, even. And what the boss says, goes.
"Fine. I'll babysit the damn brat. Happy now?"
Makarov smiled. "Yes," he said, before his expression turned serious. "Now, I hope you understand that by keeping her safe, I mean out of the way of your usual...acquaintances."
Gajeel resisted the urge to roll his eyes again. "No, old man, I'll take her posh ass down the Alleys first thing, introduce her to the guys. What are you, dense?" He shook his head. "I'll regret the hell out of this, but...I'll keep her safe."
"But I ain't carrying her bags."
"It's not required of you."
"And I'll call her whatever I damn well want."
"As long as it is within the bounds of propriety," Makarov retorted. A moment of silence passed between them as they stared each other down, before Gajeel sighed.
"I guess I'll go pick her up, then," he said, turning to leave, hands tucked defiantly in his pockets. "Troublesome old fart," he grumbled.
"I heard that. And don't kick–"
Gajeel only smirked, kicking the door open as he strode out, the old man's voice drifting to him from within the office.
"–the door on your way out. Foolish boy!"
"And tuck in your shirt!"
It was safe to say, after meeting Levy McGarden, that Gajeel was not impressed.
In fact, as he watched the young woman across the street struggle with a suitcase that looked to be twice her size, cheeks flushed and the blue bob of hair – blue, he decided, was as ridiculous a colour as the pink the idiot sported on his head – a frizzled mess of tangles, and a far cry from the elegant up-dos that were so the fashion amongst the elite, Gajeel decided that Levy McGarden was about the most unimpressive woman he'd seen in a long time. She looked nothing short of ridiculous. And she was tiny as hell – he didn't even think she'd reach his shoulders. Stupid. Stupid and rich as hell – his two favouritethings.
At her fifth and most pathetic attempt yet at lifting the case sitting at her feet, Gajeel decided that enough was enough – the boss would have his head if her arms snapped off on his watch.
"Oye," he called, striding across the street. She didn't appear to have heard him, however, as her attention was fully focused on the suitcase in front of her. His eye twitched. "Oye."
This time her head snapped up, a pair of large brown eyes meeting his, and he felt a twinge of satisfaction at the brief flash of trepidation that passed through them. He was about to open his mouth when she beat him to it.
"I'm a little busy here – I don't have...whatever it is you're going to ask for," she said, waving him off, and then her gaze was back on the suitcase again. Gajeel resisted the urge to growl. Insolent little punk! Did he look like a fucking beggar?
"The name's Gajeel – Makarov sent me to pick you up," he ground out. At the sound of the boss' name, her head whipped back up, and she opened her mouth, before closing it sharply.
She at least had the decency to look embarrassed. "I apologize, I didn't–"
He stepped forward without preamble, grabbing the suitcase and hoisting it up, and managed to school his surprise into a neutral expression at the last second, because what the hell was she carrying in the damn thing? Fucking bricks?
She averted her gaze, before reaching a hand out, almost tentatively, fingers trembling ever so slightly. "U-um, I'm Levy," she stuttered out lamely. Gajeel resisted the urge to roll his eyes, but grasped her hand nonetheless. It was a quick, almost mechanical handshake, and he fought down the anger bubbling up at the sharp contrast of their hands – hers, small and pale and soft. Clean– the hand of a privileged child never having had to lift a finger in her life. And his – his were rough and calloused and smudged with dirt and grease, knuckles bruised and scarred from years in the ring. He snatched it back, clenching it against his side as he strode past her brusquely.
"You got anything else?" he called over his shoulder. He heard the patter of her heeled shoes as she jogged to catch up with him.
"No...no, that's all."
She fell in beside him as they walked towards their destination. From the wringing of her hands, she was nervous as hell, and she kept looking around them, as though searching for something. Tch. Probably expecting an automobile.
"We're walking," he snapped.
Her head shot up, eyes searching out his. "I didn't–" she began, but stopped herself...and then she surprised him by lifting her shoulders slightly, almost proudly. "I can walk," she declared, sounding almost offended. Gajeel snorted.
She huffed. "You're being very rude."
"Well, I ain't paid to be nice," he retorted.
"That doesn't mean you can't be civil," she said. "What's your problem?"
Looking down at her, Gajeel was surprised to find the shy little thing that had stuttered her sentences a mere minute ago had seemingly vanished. The girl walking beside him now was looking up at him with what was almost a glare, small hands clenched at her sides.
He picked up his pace.
"Hey! Where are you going?"
"Your new home – the hell do you think I'm going? Try to keep up."
She ran to catch up with him, and to his surprise, reached out to grab onto his shirt. "Hey–"
"What?" he growled, shaking her hand off. Still holding it towards him, as though expecting something, she levelled him with what he assumed was an attempted glower.
"I can carry my own case," she said. He raised a brow.
"Really? This case?"
"The one you couldn't even lift an inch above the ground?"
"Tch. Don't get any ideas, woman – I ain't your damn packhorse. I'm carrying it now so I can get the hell home and eat. So shut yer trap and keep up," he said, before tightening his grip on the suitcase and beginning his trek anew. She remained where she stood for a few moments as he walked away from her. A moment of silence followed before her indignant voice reached his ears.
"I don't need a packhorse!"
Then she was beside him again, feet walking at a brusque pace to keep up. "And I didn't ask for you specifically, you know, so you can stop looking at me like I've ruined your day," she said. "I told Mister Makarov that I could find the way on my own. I don't need a bodyguard."
"Well, too bad, Shorty – you've got one," he retorted. She seethed, but fell silent as they made a curving trek across the inner city. He hadn't bothered to change after his chat with the boss, so they attracted more than a few stares, him with his untucked shirt and suspenders, and her with her expensive dress and coat. But she didn't pay the whispers any mind, and remained silent where she walked beside him, not too close but not too far away, either. Her presence had almost become bearable when she decided it was time to start yapping again.
"Where are we going?"
"I told ya –your new home. You deaf or something?"
She even had the gall to roll her eyes. "No, you're just annoyingly vague. Where is 'home'? Is it in the city?"
He smirked as he continued his easy pace, taking silent pleasure in her efforts to keep up. She didn't complain, though, which was a surprise, but she asked enough questions to make up for the one positive trait he'd managed to find.
After having walked for a good half-hour filled with 'can you at least tell me how far we're going?' and 'are you sure Mister Makarov sent you?', he came to a sudden stop. She walked a few more paces ahead before stopping, and looked back over her shoulder. "What?" she asked, eyes scanning the area dubiously. "Here?"
All around them rose the shambled buildings of the Alleys – the notorious outskirts of Magnolia. Clothes-lines criss-crossed above their heads and crates were stacked by the dozen all around them. A cat leaped across the street not two paces ahead of them, making her jump. Gajeel smirked.
"Close," he said, motioning to the mouth of the alley they were standing in front of. If she'd looked dubious before, now she looked torn between outright refusing or taking off running back towards the city proper. Gajeel grinned, and it probably did little to alleviate whatever uncertainties she was having.
"Ladies first," he mocked, stepping aside to let her pass, knowing she'd refuse, having probably never been near the Alleys in her life, let alone in an actual alleyway.
She surprised him, however, by striding past him, chin stuck in the air and with a soft 'hmpf'. He blinked, momentarily caught off guard, before shaking his head and following her into the alley, a glare pulling his pierced brows down. He didn't particularly like to be surprised, and unpredictable people annoyed the hell out of him. But he'd figure her out soon enough – it couldn't be that bloody hard. She was probably just keeping up an act, anyway, trying not to show weakness around him. Stubborn bitch.
From there their route took them down another alleyway, through a securely locked fence and into an almost perfectly hidden side-alley. He'd taken the lead after rounding the first corner, and despite all her previous bravado, she kept close, never taking her eyes off their surroundings. It almost made him laugh. If she'd known who he was, she'd know there were few people worse to meet in a dark alley than the one she was practically clinging to. Although it was probably a good thing she didn't know. One less problem for him, anyway – his job would've been a lot harder if she'd refused to come with him in the first place. And maybe if he did a good job babysitting her rich ass, the boss would let him off the hook earlier, or shove her onto someone else.
It was a nice thought.
Arriving at their destination, Gajeel stopped, and smirked as she almost ran into his back. "We're here," he stated simply, before knocking four consecutive times on the rusted door before him. The girl blinked, looking around them at the dark brick walls. There were no windows on this side of the building, and night had long since fallen. He knew his way with his eyes closed and his hands tied behind his back, but for one new to the Alleys, it probably looked like a dump.
"Here?" she asked, proving him right, and he grinned as the door opened before them, revealing the boss himself, a large smile on his bearded face. Whatever she'd been about to say seemed to fall off her tongue as she stood there, gaping like a fish at the unexpected picture. For the boss was dressed in one of his horrifyingly flamboyant outfits – a far cry from the professional garb she had probably become used to see on him. A brightly coloured cotton shirt with a glaring silk vest, and on his head, a hat that might have been classy, if it hadn't been orange.
"Ah, Levy my dear, you've arrived safe and sound!" he greeted amiably, eyes crinkling with humour. From behind him, the rich tunes of a saxophone reached their ears, as well as rowdy laughter and the clinking of glasses. Gajeel knew what awaited her on the inside would be nothing like what she'd expect, coming from her part of town. There was no 'Prohibition' in their world, not on alcohol, and certainly not on behaviour.
Makarov grinned, and the roar of noise from behind him seemed to underline his next words.
"Welcome to Fairy Tail!"
AN: Like it, love it, would rather gouge your eyes out? Please let me know what you think, either way. Feedback fuels the fires of my heart!