A/N: Here, have the first chapter of my Steampunk Hetalia AU starring Lovino and Gilbert. More Hetalia characters to be introduced in the following chapters, and I'm pretty sure the Nordics, FACE, Germany, and Italy, the BTT, and the tomato family will be involved. Considering including the Asians as well. We'll see. (:
Rated M for later chapters and/or just in case. Written at some odd hour of the night, but I'll get proofreading done when I'm less tired.
If the industrious city of Ore was the backbone to the Three Regions, then Illus square was its elusive mistress, tucked deep within its heart yet operating to a tempo of its own. Here the poor abounded in their own little shops nestled within streets and traveled winding alleyways caught deep within the folds of her skirt, while the rich slinked in, hooded, disguised, for just a peek at her licentious ways, knowing full well that they did not belong but yearning for her services all the same. She was a jolt of colour in the midst of grey factories belching smog into hazy skies, a spark of life to dull people plodding off to work amid the heat and monotony among dangerous machinery, shoveling coal, tinkering parts, placing gears. Sure the rich held their parties in the cleaner areas of town, but nothing could compare to the chaotic vitality that throbbed through Illus.
Gilbert Beilschmidt cut through Illus Square whenever he could, weaving his way through the cramped corridors between buildings and wading through piles of trash to emerge in a throng of people. He'd usually peek in and among the shops, inhaling pungent spices and sweet fragrances, stopping by a bakery so that the aroma of baking bread could warm him to his core. It was never cold in Illus—the bubble of heat churned by factories staved off winter—but the smog choked out the sunlight on the days that the wind struggled to huff away its thick, lingering presence.
He pulled his trench closer around his body, hand digging into the pocket to close around the cold metal of his watch. Too long had they felt empty, even after deliveries and the meager salary that rich old women took to paying him for fixed jewelry and stupid trinkets. Maybe he'd dreamed of something more substantial when he settled down in this town a few months ago. But here he was in a borrowed grey coat—double breasted wool—buttons no longer shining, fabric thinning at the elbows. He kept dark pants pressed and tucked into lace-up boots, but no amount of polishing could make them gleam again or erase scars from old journeys. A burnished iron cross hanging from his neck lay close to his heart, buried beneath his clothes.
Beggars can't be choosers, Gilbert decided. A woman across the street tried to catch his eye, but Gilbert noticed a thick torsoed, muscular man watching from a nearby alleyway. Pimps and prostitutes. Prostitutes and pimps. To survive in Ore you had to find your shackles somewhere. To some it was to work, to others it was to pimps. To Gilbert it was to his loneliness.
He lowered his eyes and shook his head. The girls made an unspoken contract through captured gaze and were always on the prowl, standing idly at street corners in tattered skirts, hardly breathing for the corsets cutting into their waists. Gilbert was tempted, yes, but he knew better than to grow captivated by oily locks and batting eyes. In the end it was all meaningless and left his pockets and his heart even emptier than before. And he especially had no money to spare.
"You're interested in those girls, yes?"
Gilbert jumped back, nearly stumbling from the curb. He had not realized that anyone had lingered so close, and he chided himself for letting his guard down. Pickpockets abounded in this town, and Gilbert still had one last bracelet to deliver to a woman just beyond the square.
"I wasn't looking," he answered coolly. He tugged his coat more tightly about himself, glancing longwise over at the man who had spoken.
He didn't seem the type normally known for pimping in this city. No slicked, greased back hair, expensive rings, or thick layered clothes. He was just a middle-aged merchant with a receding hair-line and more than an ample waistline challenging the grip of his waistcoat, especially when he chuckled. "You've looked before. "
Gilbert blinked. "Most people do." He began to skim the street, looking for a passage among steam-powered motor cars to allow him to cross.
"But you particularly," the man insisted. "Your pale-ass skin and white hair stand out more than most." He shifted closer, an umbrella sliding from the side of his coat, tip digging into the toe of Gil's shoe before he could take a step. "I can get you in for free."
"I've learned to disregard what seems too good to be true," Gilbert growled, hitting him with the full intensity of jaded, red eyes. "Or trust people making extravagant promises." He kicked the umbrella aside and scoffed. "Promises are worth less than lies."
"You were a soldier," he stated. He chuckled again when Gilbert stiffened. "I can tell by the way you carry yourself."
"Were?" Gilbert said.
"The shame in your eyes suggests a 'were'," he said.
Gilbert shivered but shook his head, suddenly wary. For a moment his vision wavered, and he was sure the man flickered from view. But, blinking, he reassured himself that he had not moved and was as solid as ever. "Quite the trick you're playing. I'm not interested."
"I don't need the affirmation of trust, so your actions from this point are your own business," he said. "But the door down that alleyway—" he pointed with one gloved hand, a loop of chain from a watch concealed in his ragged sleeve dangling into the free space—"is usually unlocked." He dipped his head once. The chain glinted. "Perhaps there is something to be gained from straying from your rigid routine. A man without a purpose is hardly a man at all." The man dropped his hand and he waddled off, a steady stream of automobiles and people engulfing him.
"Fuck, tell me I didn't just hallucinate that," Gilbert said, putting a hand to his head. His eyes flitted to the alleyway in question then back to the street he'd been trying to cross. The road he needed to take to find his next delivery wound off into the Ara district where he usually met cold stares at his ragtag clothes and the general disapproval by pompous, "clean" society. His eyes returned to the alleyway again.
"I bet there isn't even a door," Gilbert said. He took a step forward but turned back and looped carefully over toward the darkened path, avoiding the women on the street corner. Eyes narrowed, he slipped into the shadow and felt along the wall. Worst-case scenario was that he'd be ambushed deep inside, lured in by his own stupidity. But Gilbert had his fingertips curled around the handle of his dagger and his wits about him, ears delving deeper into the darkness than his eyes could. He heard nothing but the drip of water and the rustle of rats through garbage.
His hand bumped into the cool iron of a handle, and his fingers wrapped around the lever like a trigger. He hesitated, shaking his head, and squeezed it. The door moved only half an inch, but would not budge until Gilbert threw his whole weight back and heaved hard enough to scrape a track into the grime caked on the ground. Immediately his nose was assaulted by ginger. The nape of his neck prickled at the slap of a leather whip.
"This is definitely off the beaten path…" Gilbert muttered. He double-checked to make sure the merchant was nowhere in sight before slipping through, then pulled the door shut behind him.
Gilbert had been in all manner of whorehouses in his past, most when he had the run of conquered towns in his days as a soldier. This house was no different. Velvet black lined the walls in swooping folds. Rotting doors granted little privacy to harsh moans and the slap of skin. Darkness clung to the soft pulse of overhead chandeliers. Overall it was a dank place, but whores and the men who requested them preferred the dark, because light had a habit of penetrating into exposed places and revealing the deepest, darkest corners of a man's soul.
The tread of shoes on carpet alerted Gilbert to the shadow of a man emerging from behind a corner. He hesitated then dove for the first door he saw, half expecting to interrupt two people mid-fuck. Nothing.
He took a deep breath and carefully eased the door shut, slipping into the shadow just outside the bar of dull light wedged under the entryway.
Several seconds dragged by. Gilbert strained his ears for the scuff of shoes but caught only the moans from a room next door. Still he waited, taking even breaths, heart barely quickening, until he was sure enough time had passed. He reached for the door.
"The hell are you doing in here."
A flame erupted toward Gil's right with a scrape of a match. The fingers of light only reached the bottom half of the holder's face, where Gilbert could only really make out a pointed chin, an annoyed frown, and the occasional flash of shadow from beneath a delicate nose. Gilbert judged his assailant as a male, a few inches shorter than him, but lithe from a glimpse of his wrist and hand.
"I could be asking you the same, slinking about in the dark." He edged closer to the door but kept an eye on the other. "The hell kind of whore are you?"
"Whore?! I'm no fucking whore, you bastard! Come near me and I'll bite your hand off!"
"Well you're in a whorehouse," Gilbert said.
"S-so are you!" The flame steadily ate at the short matchstick, wandering closer to the other's hand. He waved it out and his outline vanished. "Hey, maybe I'll let you off easy, which is better than what a bastard like you deserves. Give me your money and shit and I'll let you out of here without causing a ruckus. Trust me, if they catch you in here they'll chop your fucking midget dick off."
It was then that Gilbert heard the moan of a full grown man finally reaching consciousness a few feet away, followed by heavy, confused curses. The man yelped—presumably in response to a heavy thud—and went silent. The tread of footsteps marked the movement of the first unknown man back toward Gilbert.
"Wait a fucking second—"
"You wait a fucking seco—"
Gil's hand tightened around the handle of his knife. "Yeah, you're right, you're not a fucking whore. You're a fucking thief, aren't you. That old man in the square is working for you, luring guys in here so you can rob them. Isn't that right, pipsqueak?"
"Pipsqueak? My name is Lovino, and so what. Yeah, I'll steal from whoever I want." He hesitated. "But what the fuck? A guy? Fuck you, don't call her a guy just because she's a fucking who—"
With the escalation of their argument, the hall filled with the dangerous growl of voices and the trod of heavy shoes.
"Fuck, see what you did—"
"What I did—"
A flurry of movement shot toward the albino and Gilbert's head crashed into the prickly carpet, just short of a discarded crumpled pillow. Footsteps cracked through the silence. Once. Twice. They paused, a shadow pooled by the crack beneath the door.
Lovino had thrown himself onto him, shoved his shoulders down, and then opened his legs to straddle his waist. He leaned in close, eyes gleaming with a plea for silence as they darted back and forth into the dim light. The shadow at the door did not move. The floorboards creaked with the shifting of weight.
Swallowing, the Italian cleaned in closer to Gilbert. They were wedged between the bed and the wall so tightly that Lovino could barely move and he was sure that his acquaintance could hardly breathe beneath him. Would this be enough to conceal the two, or would he have to take matters into his own hands? His lips grazed Gilbert's face, but his fingers worked to loosen the knife he'd seen in the albino's belt so he could slip it upwards.
"Shhh…" Lovino breathed into the albino's ear when the other squirmed. "You're the fucker who got us into this mess. You better not be the fucker who gets us both killed." His grip tightened around the brass handle, and he shivered at the chill of roughly carved metal.
Silence. Gilbert closed his eyes and willed his heart to stop struggling against the confines of his chest. Everything in him screamed to shove this kid off of him, to pry those filthy hands from his knife and maybe even shove him down a stairwell. He opened his eyes into a glower, but Lovino shook his head and kneed against him in silent warning.
Another few minutes.
Gilbert dared not breathe.
The shadow did not dissolve.
"Shit," Lovino murmured. His breath was hot against Gilbert's ear. He clutched at his shirt, straining, listening, praying. "They catch either of us here and we're fucked." He swallowed with some effort, but slowly sat up.
The man on the other side of the bed was still unconscious; hopefully he would not stir and start moaning again—though that might prove convincing. Perhaps it was too silent in the room, and that was the issue, though surely they realized that this room currently was not occupied by one of their whores. He gnawed on his lip. "Shitshitshit."
Why was that shadow still there? Why wouldn't they leave?
Already Lovino could feel the uncomfortable heat rise in his cheeks as his heart pounded ever faster. Cornered as they were in the room, they did not stand much a chance against armed guards, daggers or no. Maybe if he tripped the dumbass bastard and made a run for it, but…
He seized. The knob rattled. The door clicked open. A sliver of light slowly cut an expanding triangle into the darkness.
"Oh fuck it." Without a second thought, Lovino crashed his lips to Gilbert's, their teeth scraping and noses colliding, sparks of tension striking into a mass of panic, confusion, loathing, surprise. He kissed as hard as he could, back arching over him, supplying the exaggerated moans as his body writhed and hips rutted. He felt Gilbert tense beneath him. He tightened his hands around his wrists and hissed a silent warning. Gilbert froze. His eyes fluttered half closed, a ragged gasp escaping into Lovino's mouth. The light hesitated over their bodies then vanished with the click of the door.
The footsteps cracked down the old hall.
Neither dared move.
Lips still tangled with Gilbert's, knee caught in the fork of his legs, Lovino felt the tension of the room coil tighter and tighter. The man beneath him finally released a breath.
Another few seconds.
Brain catching up with him, Gilbert shoved himself upright. His head knocked against Lovino's, just before his fist slammed into his jaw and sent him sprawling.
"W-what the actual hell was that."
Lovino groaned. The stars in his vision exploded light into the darkness but muddled the albino's words behind a thick blanket of confusion. He felt too warm. The carpet beneath his head and the weight of the darkness made no sense. "Ah fuck…" He felt a tight pull at his collar. Gilbert had hauled him upright. His feet dangled a few feet from the ground. Rapidly blinking, he tried to pull it together, gradually collecting his wits about him. "S-shit, you wanted them to catch you? Fucking shit, you don't get it. They catch me, it's over." He wiped at his eye but winced. A bruise was already forming across his cheek. "Fuck."
"You can't just fucking kiss someone, you fucking idiot!" Gilbert snarled. He shook him like a rag doll. "Maybe you deserve to be caught and castrated, ever think of that?"
Lovino gave a dry laugh and attempted to swallow. "You're…you're just mad because I kissed you and you liked it. Doesn't take" he took a few deep breaths—"Shit, put me down already. C-can't fucking…"-another gasp-"can't breathe."
Gilbert made as if to drop him, but flung him onto the bed so hard that his head hit the backboard and more stares exploded into his brain. His grip went lax around the dagger that he'd pilfered from Gilbert's belt, and the other snatched it back and dug the dull edge of the blade into his neck with a low snarl. "I've put up with a lot of shit in my lifetime, you little bastard, and I don't need you trying to fuck with me."
Lovino groaned again. "You think…I haven't—" He cursed silently to himself as he pushed himself back upright, and kneaded at the tender spot on his head, toes curling inwardly. "You think life hasn't fucked with me? How the hell do you think I get food to eat? You're just a stupidass who came in here and fell for it." He pressed himself further back to escape the cold bite of metal.
The door exploded open so loudly that both yelped—Gilbert whirling around so fast that his dagger nicked Lovino's throat and sent droplets of blood splattering into the wall. Men poured in armed with an eclectic mix of weapons ranging from daggers to broadswords to the occasional rusty pistol, one directed between Gilbert's eyes.
The owner of the gun was a large man who wore finery that seemed ill-suited to his size, a well cut black waistcoat and a silk-black overcoat with brass buttons. The cloth seemed liable to rip under muscles so large they seemed to fuse to one another in great bulges. He was clean-shaven with a face like a baby plopped on a too-thick neck and hair that hung in dreads to his shoulders.
"Who the hell are you?" He spoke with a thick accent that ran his words together.
"No one important," Gilbert snarled. He squared his shoulders and rose to the balls of his feet, knuckles tightening around his dagger. Years of military experience taught him not to fear those larger to him, and already calculating eyes were seeking out a disadvantage. Perhaps his weight would be his downfall. Gilbert could easily duck under him and upset his balance if he rammed his shoulder low enough on his legs. The disturbance might also impede the other men, who would scramble from the chaos long enough for Gilbert to dart past the—
"I've heard that before. Get the hell out of here," the man said. He gestured toward the door with his gun, and watched with beady black eyes as Gilbert sidled past and slipped out.
The gun trailed over to Lovino who was staring at the open door with a look of betrayal.
"Shit…" Lovino muttered. His fingers were bloody from where he'd pressed them to his throat to stem the bleeding, but he hardly felt the pain for the fear surging through him. All he could see was the endless hole retreating into the gun, where the gunpowder would ignite the bullet that would finally take his life.
"We captured your little accomplice last night," the man murmured. His tongue slithered over every syllable. "She won't be seducing anyone anymore. As for you…" A smile nudged at his lips. "Well, you have to make up for all that you stole somehow, and I think I'll make you suffer a few long years before you die."
The barrel brushed his temple and a vice-like grip wrapped around his arm like it was nothing more than a stick. The man hauled the trembling thief upright and started toward the door. "But first, we have a bit of business with a knife, don't we."
A shudder ripped down Lovino's spine. His legs turned to jelly. The snickers of the guards around him were drowned in a dull roar—a static that crackled in his ears and the thundering of a heart struggling to escape the confines of his chest, racing faster and faster opposite of time that crashed to a halt and gave the air an unreal chill. He felt numb inside, as if scraped clean by raw panting and constricted lungs. Sweat dripped down clammy hands.
The fist around his arm wrenched him into a joining hallway past the screams of some whore and through an area clouded thick with smoke. The scuff of polished shoes on the carpets beat out a prolonged march that gave away to the drumbeats of heels on cold stone. The floor sloped downward in a gradient of warm to cool, then finally to cold as the last bit of cloying smoke finally dissipated.
The door that separated the hallway from the head boss's office was solid steel without a window, but three locks with little scratches at the keyholes, indication of Lovino's past intrusions. This time it opened from the inside, and a man with cappuccino skin seized Lovino by the collar and jerked him in. The door slammed behind him with a resounding thud. The room was empty save for a huge mahogany desk, two leather chairs, sneering oil lamps, and a leather whip coiled in the corner.
It was just Lovino, the dreadlocked man, the boss, and the knife that gleamed with ill intent.
"This is the kid who's been sneaking around?" The boss asked. He stepped forward, but not before snatching the whip and unwinding it slowly. "A bit of a scrawny little bastard, isn't he." A low chuckle thundered within his chest. "But I think it's time to expand our customer base anyway." He cracked the whip once against the wall.
A smile slithered across the boss's cheeks. "Hold him."
Two arms looped around Lovino's shoulders from behind, pulling him so tight against a muscular chest that pain shot up and down his arms. The tips of his toes barely skimmed the floor, but he strained against them to lessen the pressure.
The man stepped closer, absently winding the whip from wrist to wrist as he sneered. "You've undermined my little business for six months, you little bastard. Don't act like you don't deserve this. Operating within our brothel, putting us in a bad light by drugging valuable customers and stealing from them. Hell, I know you've been in this office a few times as well. Don't think I don't count the gold in my safe. Who taught you to pick locks, little bastard?"
He cracked the whip, but this time it snapped up and tore into Lovino's shirt. Blood seeped through light fabric. The man holding him winced; the leather tongue had nicked his elbow.
"I taught myself," Lovino spat.
The boss rolled his eyes. "Well in addition to being the new fuckboy around here, you'll be using those skills for me. One wrong move, one little complaint, and you're fucking dead. Got it?"
Lovino felt his teeth clatter as he nodded.
"Good," the boss murmured. He picked up his knife and ran the blade over the candle until it was hot, the rubies on the hilt glowering sinister red. "Hold still, this will only hurt a little."
He felt fingers pry at the zipper on his baggy pants. Could feel the burn of heated metal at his skin. Tears squeezed from eyes screwed tightly shut amidst fear and useless struggling.
Two things happened at once. The grip around him slackened with a sharp jolt and the knife clattered to the floor as the man holding Lovino toppled forward into the boss, leaving only a small window of time for Lovino to duck out of the way. He landed on his hands and knees and scrambled for the door, right into a pair of scuffed boots.
"Get up, you bastard," the Gilbert said. When Lovino did not respond, he reached down and pulled him upright by the wrist, ignoring the gasp of pain from previously bruised skin. "Zip your damn pants and let's get the fuck out of here, before that bastard over there figures out what the hell happened."
Staring blankly at Gilbert, Lovino did as he told, then found himself slammed back into reality with a sudden sharpening of senses when the boss groaned and began pushing his unconscious henchman from on top of him.
"Run," Gilbert urged.
They pushed through hallway after hallway, taking sharp turns and shoving off of walls to keep their course. They could hear the boss thundering behind them, screaming at his men to join the pursuit, until it seemed like a stampede behind them—an entire pack of screaming and cursing men squeezing through the hallways, tripping over one another.
"Shit," Gilbert gasped, chancing a look back. They had a decent lead, but the convoluted nature of the underground portion of the brothel threatened dead-ends and locked doors.
Lovino pulled slightly ahead, shorter legs somehow matching Gilbert's strides. "Follow me. I know this place really well." Rather than waiting for an answer, he assumed the lead and took them on a path that sloped upward, until the clicking of shoes gave way to the hiss of carpet, and smoke choked the air from their lungs. Coughing, they emerged into the dim hallways.
"Watch out," Lovino gasped. Barely circumventing a woman limping across the hall and the man trailing after her, he snatched the newsboy cap from his head midstride, snickering. Gilbert burst past them less gracefully, shoving the man down and nearly tripping over the woman, though with some flailing he regained his balance and made it to the door that Lovino shoved open.
Dark night greeted them with a sudden chill that was like a blow to their stomachs, forcing the air from their lungs. Gasping, they stumbled and slipped through the grime in the alleyway, tripping over bags of trash and scraping knuckles on brick walls til they tumbled from the narrow passageway into roaring streets.
Not perturbed by need for sleep, cars spewed smog and commotion into the bubble of night past wanders and whores still waiting for a lay. Gilbert and Lovino disappeared into the chaos, moving quickly but stealthily, keeping an eye over their shoulders.
"This way," Lovino whispered. He tugged Gilbert down one of many alleyways feeding into the square, and out towards where the marketplace sat abandoned for the night, booths left bare under canvas cloths.
Rustling in the alleyway.
They wouldn't cross the square quickly enough to avoid detection-
Drawing in a sharp breath, Lovino dragged Gilbert down behind one of the market stalls and, getting down on his hands and knees, burrowed down into the space beneath. The albino scrambled in after him.
Heavy foot falls.
"I could have sworn I saw them go down this way," one voice snarled.
An uneasy tremor shook Lovino's body and he pressed himself closer the nearest source of warmth—Gilbert's chest-and curled up into himself. A shadow seeped through the rotting wood that served as a pathetic barrier between the two criminals and a man who wandered the aisles, dragging his pistol behind him.
Step by step, he walked painstakingly slow, shoes hollow on cobblestone. He walked and waited. One step, three seconds wait, independent of the men tearing through stall after stall, as if listening for the frantic breathing of his prey.
Gilbert drew Lovino in closer to him, like a father sheltering his child, willing him to calm the erratic beat of his heart. But it was no good. The thief's shallow breaths betrayed terror that constricted his pupils and drenched dark curls in sweat. He was not only shaking, but gnawing on his lips to the point that they bled, fists clenched, tendons bulging with the tension of locked muscles.
"Calm the fuck down," Gilbert mouthed into his hair. For this moment, he didn't mind the musky stench of sweat and poverty; he even dared run his fingers through thick curls, scratching at his scalp until his muscles finally slackened. His voice was soft but business-like. He did not coddle.
The scrape of the pistol tore through the silence. The men had circled the marketplace, and were loitering around Lovino's booth. Their shadows mottled the moonlight, and for a moment, Lovino feared that the slits and holes in the feeble walls revealed all, like a beacon screaming look at me. Look at what I'm hiding.
The man who spoke had a faint eastern tinge to his voice. He leaned against his pistol. "They must have slipped into one of the joining alleyways. We'll just alert our men around this region to look for a little bastard with a curl and an albino. They stick out." He lifted the gun and slung it over his shoulder. "Til then, we'll question the little bitch who was working with them. If she can even still talk"—he chuckled—"she'll know where the short little bastard stays at night. We'll get him. You'll see."
It was like the seeping of the tide from the sand when the man gradually drained from the square, until the night was quieter than before. Even when the two crawled from the booth, still shaking, they could no longer hear the cars clogging the streets or feel the bite of cold air wrapping around sweat-soaked limbs.
Gilbert's voice sounded hollow. "Let's…let's…we can't stick around outside. Let's go to my house."
A note for Miq especially—I'll describe Lovino's clothing in the following chapter. Considering how he was in the darkness for most of this chapter followed by intense action, there wasn't time for any of that information. He wouldn't be thinking about it, and Gil didn't have the time to process any of that. (:
New chapter coming soon, I hope!