Here's the prologue of my AU fic...which is a WORK IN PROGRESS, PEOPLE!! Subject to change, etc. and so forth.
Title: Undecided as yet
Rating: NC-17 eventually, PG for now ^^
Summary (which I forgot when I first posted...;;; and this is a pretty bad summary): Sadaharu is a mercenary captain who happened to discover a very talented fighter in the form of a boy named Kaoru. Sadaharu wants to gain Kaoru's trust and possibly more...but Kaoru isn't making it easy.
The common room of the tavern was crowded and noisy, with serving girls and boys bustling past and around the drunks. One could hear the sound of men shouting across the room to each other, the noisy laughter of those who’d had one ale too many, a loud debate at the table by the hearth about whether the new trade policies were sound or no.
It stank in here, as it did in most lower-class city taverns. The ale, bad, cheap stuff whose very smell had a kick like a mule, soaked the thin layer of straw on the floor where it had been spilled. No one bothered to clean it up and probably hadn’t for a while now. It didn’t pay to look to closely where you stepped; there was worse than ale there in some places.
Kaoru’s nerves were taut as a bowstring as he gazed warily through the crowd. He tried not to look, tried to close himself off to the sights, the sounds, and the horrible stench of it all. He worked to ignore a serving boy’s wince as one of the men touched him in a way that was far too familiar. He tried not to pay mind to the men worse than the drunks, the quiet ones sitting in corners, the ones his mind labeled as predators. The ones who would show you a smile that anyone too innocent would mistake as friendly...
A boy threads his way through the common room of the Blue Lily Inn. The boy is young, around twelve years old by his reckoning, but he looks younger, maybe nine or ten. Trailing him like a shadow is another boy who looks like a smaller copy of him, one painfully small hand fisted in his older brother’s shirt as he stares wide-eyed around at everything.
The older boy tries not to show his bewilderment, tries to contain his own urge to stare. He knows that to look confused is to make yourself a target. His mother told him that not too long ago, and he obeys what she tells him. He doesn’t know what kind of target he would make, doesn’t really know why his mother tells him these things, but he will still obey.
“Oi, you there! Boy!” A too-loud voice in his ear makes him whirl, startled. A man with a grin and yellowed teeth waves a mug, splashing the boy with what remains of his ale. “Fetch me s’more, willya?”
The boy nods, too taken aback to do much else. He grabs his younger brother’s hand to pull him away from staring at the man, tries to weave his way through the crowd to where he thinks the kitchen must be.
It’s been four days since their mother left for her job as a serving maid at the Blue Lily. It’s been three days since the boys had anything to eat. It was only when the younger’s pleas for food became constant that the elder decided they should leave the tiny apartment to search for their mother.
Neither boy knows why their mother kept them in the house whenever she possibly could. Neither knows that pretty children disappear every day off the streets of the city. Neither one knows that some have disappeared from this very district, some from this very inn.
The younger boy stumbles, letting out a small cry and making his brother trip as well. The elder struggles to keep them both standing, to no avail. No one pays any notice to the young boys who’ve fallen to the floor in the midst of the hustle and bustle...no one except one man who seems to detach himself from the shadow of the wall.
“Here, let me help you.” The man is suddenly by the boys’ side, a hand extended, smiling at them to show a set of perfectly white teeth. The younger boy takes his hand immediately, smiling tentatively back at him, and the man laughs. “A real charmer you are, hm?”
The older boy rises on his own, feeling the barest ray of hope go through him. This man looks kind, certainly more friendly than any of the others in the common room. “Can...can you help us find our mother?” he asks hesitantly, having to nearly shout to be heard.
The man nods, turning his smile from the younger to the elder. “Certainly I’ll help you two lads find your mother.” He extends another hand to the older boy, who cautiously takes it and tries a faint smile of his own.
Neither boy thinks to question why and how a man in a place like this can afford the velvet, lace, and fine leather the man is wearing. Neither one notices that everyone else shies away or looks askance as their new companion leads them through the crowd...
A strong, warm hand on Kaoru’s shoulder made him start, breaking his reverie. A voice in his ear, quiet enough so that no one else can hear: “It’s all right, Kaoru.”
Kaoru nodded shortly, knowing that it was a weakness that he still could not tolerate the crowds of a tavern such as this one. “Thank you, Captain Sadaharu,” he murmured in reply.
The mercenary captain kept his hand on Kaoru’s shoulder for another moment before giving a nod of his own. It was...odd...how this simple gesture of friendship and warmth could confuse him, even after all the time they’d known each other.
But Kaoru could not afford to go through that mental turmoil at the moment. They were here at the King’s Scepter tavern on business. He and the captain were here to meet with a potential customer...someone rich who was only willing to meet here, where secrecy could be insured. At least in this place, at this time of night, they did not have to be overly discreet. Everyone here was either drunk or using some other manner of drug, and wouldn’t notice it if the king’s men rode in all a-horse and in full uniform.
They took a seat away from the fire, one where they could both see the whole of the common room. “I...apologize, Kaoru.” The captain’s sudden words made Kaoru jump again, then look at his commanding officer quizzically. “Captain...?”
The captain sighed and toyed with a mug on the table, undoubtedly left by a careless maid when the last customers at this table exited the tavern. “Perhaps I should not have...forced you to come here with me. I know that you have a particularly unpleasant set of memories that-”
Kaoru let out a faint but irritated hiss of breath, interrupting. “Captain, I-” I don’t want you to make special exceptions for me. I don’t want what you’ve been offering for a year now. I can’t accept this...
But of course, he would not say any of those things to his captain, the captain he served loyally and with respect. He let out another soft hiss and said merely, “I don’t mind.”
Captain Sadaharu always knew when it was best to leave a subject alone. He sighed and they were both silent for a moment.
Then the captain took in a breath, and his eyes widened. “Ah, I believe our customer is already here.”
Kaoru followed his bespectacled gaze and saw instantly who the captain meant. The crowd had parted momentarily, giving them a clear view of a young man with an arrogant smirk on his face, flanked by two other men who weren’t doing a very good job pretending not to be guards.
It took Kaoru another moment to realize why Captain Sadaharu had a look of almost-shock on his face: the young man was one of the most well-known in the kingdom. Lord Ryoma, cousin of the king...and next in the line of succession for the crown. And judging by the fact that no one else in the cheap tavern looked able to afford mercenaries, he had to be the one who wanted their services.