“I can’t believe we got away with that.”
“We didn’t get away with that… that’s why we had to run.”
Miguel cackled at this, straightening up and brushing his golden hair out of his eyes, “Alright, I can’t believe we escaped from that.”
Nodding in agreement, Tulio slid down the wall until he was seated on the floor, with Miguel sitting next to him not long after. A comfortable silence fell between them, broken only by the sound of the bustling marketplaces.
And something crying nearby…. Loudly.
“Don’t even think about it.”
At Tulio’s stern words, Miguel twisted around to face him, frowning at the warning glare Tulio was giving him.
Tulio’s glare only deepened, “Don’t even think about going to investigate…. It’s none of our business.”
“… It sounds like a baby though.”
“Then let the mama deal with it…” Closing his eyes, Tulio rested his head against the brick wall, angling his face to the sun, “…babies are messy, and I already have my hands full dealing with you.”
No reply… usually that sort of remark would at least produce an indignant sound.
A silent Miguel was always a sign of trouble.
This was only proven when he glanced over and realised that Miguel was gone.
“Oh, for pity’s sake!” he exclaimed, pushing himself to his feet and rushing in the direction that he’d originally heard the crying coming from, knowing that Miguel would be there.
His footsteps echoing on the cobblestone path, Tulio frowned as he spotted Miguel knelt beside a simple basket, lifting the hem of a blanket and wriggling his fingers at whatever was inside.
‘Please let it just be a kitten’ Tulio pleaded silently, ‘Please let it just be a kitten.’
“Tulio…” Miguel then whispered in delight, “… it’s a baby!”
Tulio shook his head, “Oh no…” he groaned, watching his lover coo at the baby, “… this isn’t happening!”
“What do you mean?”
Not answering, Tulio glanced around frantically, hoping that the baby’s mama would suddenly appear and make everything better. Miguel would hand the baby over, charm the mama (as he usually did with women), be a little down for a few days before everything would go back to normal.
But no woman ever appeared.
“We need to- we need to- “ Tulio couldn’t force the words out, slowly starting to panic. They couldn’t just hand the baby over to the local orphanage, not when there was a chance that the child would just be abandoned back on the streets due to a lack of food.
Times were hard, and even he wasn’t cruel enough to leave the child to that fate.
“He’s so cute!” Miguel squeaked, tickling the little feet that started to peek out of the blankets, “Tulio, look! Look at his little button nose!”
Tulio watched in dread as his partner lathered praise on the baby, pointing out different things and gently poking and prodding at it. As he went to tickle the little belly, Miguel’s eyes widened in delight and his jaw dropped in glee as the baby laughed, squirming beneath his touch.
Please don’t ask it.
“… can we keep him?”
Glancing down at the blonde-haired man, Tulio winced at the pleading look on his face.
“Please Tulio… can we keep him, please?”
“…. He’s very little.”
He needed to dissuade Miguel from this, they couldn’t do this. “W-we don’t have anything to take care of a baby! Baby stuff is expensive!”
“Maybe we can split up! You con people with your ‘lucky’ dice and I’ll play my mandolin. My singing voice isn’t that bad, so I might be able to make a few more coins. That old farm wife won’t mind us using some of her cow milk, you know she has a soft spot for me. I’ll even do most of the work if you want, sing to him, play with him, feed him, dress him, wash him- “
“- He’s not ours though Miguel!” Tulio snapped. How could they love a baby who wasn’t even theirs?
Miguel paused, a sad look flashing across his face before it was quickly replaced with determination, arms gently lifting the baby out of the blanket as he got to his feet, “I like the name Eugene… I remember one of the nuns used to read a book that had a hero called Eugene in it.”
He then turned his attention to Tulio and scowled at him, “He might not be yours… but he’s mine.”
And then he walked off.
When he finally made it back to their little house (and he really meant little…. Two rooms, one bedroom and a living area), Miguel was already sat on the bed, rocking the baby from side to side and refusing to look Tulio in the eye.
He looked so natural with a baby in his arms.
“Eugene’s a good name…” he finally managed to blurt out, forcing a smile onto his face, “… it’s… different.”
Miguel didn’t seem to care about the hesitant tone in Tulio’s voice, looking up at him and beaming, “You really think so?”
“Yeah it… suits him.” Slowly he made his way over to Miguel and kissed him on the forehead, “I think we have some old blankets? And a basket for him?”
He wasn’t going to win this argument… maybe Miguel will see how difficult it was to raise a kid and agree to give him to someone else.
Later on, after getting some milk, feeding the baby… and then arguing over what toys the baby would need, Tulio had his arms wrapped around Miguel as they lay in bed.
“Do you think we’re going to be good parents?” Miguel asked quietly, settling into Tulio’s embrace.
“You’re going to be fantastic.”
Tulio shrugged, not wanting to commit to the idea of being a parent just yet.
“Tulio….” Miguel pushed himself up on his elbows and frowned at his lover, “… you’ll be a good Papa too. We’re partners, we do everything together!”
Feeling a little over-whelmed with the praise that Miguel was giving him, Tulio gave him a soft smile. “Thanks Miguel.”
Reassured by this, Miguel settled back down… but not to sleep of course as he continued his happy chatter. “It’s going to be perfect now…” he whispered, “… you, me and Eugene.”
“…. We can teach him how to be the perfect little pickpocket.” Tulio mused, “Darting in and out of the crowds whilst we play dice with them…. We’d get twice as much in once day.”
“Or we can actually send him to school like any other kid?”
Glancing down at Miguel, Tulio winced at the disapproving look on the man’s face. “Or… or we can send him to school.”
Satisfied, Miguel hummed happily and snuggled in further, his eyes slipping shut as he started to drift off. For a few more seconds, Tulio glanced between the sleeping man and the sleeping baby in the basket, a million thoughts running through his mind.
What if he completely failed at this?
What if he turned out to be just like his own Papa?
What if Miguel decided he wanted nothing more to do with him, and took Eugene with him?
Groaning under his breath, Tulio desperately pushed those thoughts away and squeezed his eyes closed.
Maybe when he next woke up, this would all be nothing but a dream.
The soft sounds coming from the basket woke him up immediately.
Miguel didn’t even stir.
“Really?” Tulio groaned, “The baby was your idea?!”
Knowing that Miguel could sleep through everything, Tulio made the sacrifice and slowly pushed himself into a seated position.
The fussy sounds coming from the basket threatened to become a full-blown and angry cry, prompting Tulio to rush over. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that Eugene didn’t need his cloth diaper changing… which probably meant that he was hungry.
Quickly, he prepared a bottle of milk and let the baby feed eagerly, watching as the milk disappeared and Eugene burped in delight.
However, when he tried to put the baby back into the basket, Eugene started fussing again.
“Why are you doing this to me?” Tulio found himself whining, gently rocking the baby from side to side, “I never asked for this, I never signed up to be a Papa.”
Eugene just gurgled, large brown eyes staring up at him as he watched the man talk.
The baby’s head fits quite easily in the palm of his hand, and Tulio found himself captivated by the attention Eugene was giving him…. He almost didn’t want to put him down.
So, he talked to the baby, keeping his voice at a low, comforting rumble. He talked about making loaded dice, Miguel and his dancing, what he would do when they struck big with the gold…. Everything and anything.
All this while, he couldn’t help but press tiny baby fingers to his mouth in little kisses, smirking as the baby giggled in delight.
He was utterly captivated, and he knew it…. The baby… Eugene was cooing and gurgling in all the right places. It was slightly reassuring to know that the baby might be another Miguel… someone who was kind, and who listened.
Coaxing Eugene into giving him a toothless smile and a giggle, Tulio know the smile would someday reflect Miguel’s… he could just sense it.
He knew perfectly well that his expression was… besotted when he glanced up to see Miguel smiling fondly at him.
“You should both really go back to sleep.” The blonde-haired man muttered softly, “Next thing I’ll know, you’ll both be up making plans and scheming until 3 in the morning!”
“Not until he’s old enough to run away,” Tulio dead-panned, causing Miguel to giggle.
In the end, Eugene really didn’t want to sleep in his own crib and the couple opt to settle in their bed, the baby cuddled safely in between them.
Chapter 2: Food Run
“We’re out of food.”
Tulio glanced over at Miguel, who was bouncing Eugene up and down, a concerned look on his face as he stared into the cupboard.
“What do you mean, we’re out of food?”
“I mean, we’re out of food.” Miguel sighed, “Do we still have some coins from yesterday?”
“No, because Eugene just ‘had to have that little wooden horse’, remember?”
Miguel winced sheepishly at this, thinking back to the day before when they’d made the mistake of passing the toy stall. Maybe he had been a bit pushy. “Then… we’re just going to have to split up.” He decided, “I’ll play music, and you should try and con some food with Eugene.”
“Wait, wait, wait!” Tulio held up his hands and waved them slightly, indicating that Miguel should just stop, “Why do I have to take the baby?”
“…. Well, it’s really hard to move around the streets with a six-month-old… and he’s so cute!” Miguel held Eugene up in front of him, the pair of them seeming to make the exact same, wounded puppy look, “How can anyone say no to that face?!”
Tulio tried… oh God did he try. But he never managed it with Miguel, so it was definitely a lost cause against Eugene.
“He would be useful with those little old ladies…” Tulio stated, acting like it was his idea all along, “… they defend their stalls like soldiers. A baby is a fantastic weapon against old ladies.”
“So… you’ll take him with you?”
Sighing, Tulio reached out and took Eugene into his arms. “Fine… but if he starts crying, I’m finding you as fast as possible.”
“Love you too!”
“Two teddies… why would you need two teddies?”
Eugene stared up at him, a beaming grin on his face as he chewed on the eye of one of his toys, drool dribbling out of the side of his mouth ever so slightly.
“I don’t know how these ladies keep falling for your cuteness…” he mused, “… how is drool cute?”
Eugene just cooed.
“Yeah… I don’t know either.”
As he continued down the streets, he resisted the urge to groan when every old lady in the damn town seemed to flock towards them, wrinkled fingers reaching out to pinch at Eugene’s cheeks, cooing as the baby squirmed.
“Sorry kid…” Tulio whispered, slowly allowing one of the old ladies to pull Eugene out of his arms, “… you’ve got to make that sacrifice.”
With the old ladies and several other people preoccupied with Eugene, Tulio slipped past their stalls, slipping the occasional piece of fruit, veg and fish into his inside pockets whenever he could.
It wasn’t a lot, but it would keep him, and Miguel occupied for a few days whilst they earned enough coins to buy food legally. Eugene would just have to rely on the free milk that they got, no matter how much he loved mushed up apple.
And then he spotted the soldiers marching up the streets.
Quickly, and making his excuses to the old ladies who had been cooing over Eugene, he took his son back and almost raced away from the scene, picking up speed when he heard the soldiers call out for him.
“Lesson number one in being a con-man… thief… always make a quick getaway.” He muttered to Eugene, darting into a side alleyway and watching as the soldiers ran past them, “Lesson number two, anywhere can be a hiding place.”
Once he was sure that the danger had passed, he cautiously made his way out of the alleyway and raced home.
“I’m back!” Miguel practically danced into the living room, lute in hand as he made his way over to a giggling Eugene, placing the instrument on the ground, “Did you guys have fun?!”
“He did…” Tulio groaned, still face down on the bed, “… He’s going to be quite the ladies’ man when he gets older.”
“He’ll take after me then!” Miguel lifted Eugene into his arms and started twirling around, “I think over half of those coins are from the lovely young women of this city!”
Tulio knew it was stupid of him to feel jealous… him and Miguel and been partners for years, and lovers for not much shorter… Miguel had shown no interest in cheating on him
But there was still that little bit of doubt.
“Well next time you can take the baby, and I’ll flirt with all the women.”
Instantly, Tulio knew he’d gone just a little too far.
“So… Did you get any food?” Miguel’s voice was low, subdued… instantly falling back to a time where he was expecting a beating for speaking out of turn or too loudly, “I- I mean, me and Eugene can head out into the market and get some if we need to.”
“No, it’s okay…” Slowly, Tulio pushed himself into a seated position, forcing a smile onto his face, “… I’m just being silly.”
“…. So, you’re just being you?”
Miguel’s tone was light again, and Tulip felt like a weight had been lifted from his heart, lifting up an arm and allowing Miguel and Eugene to snuggle up next to him.
“You’re the silly one, remember Miguel?”
“I’m also the one who’s going to lie here and watch you cook tea.” Rolling over, he beamed at Tulio, “I’ve been on my feet all day.”
“And I haven’t?”
When Miguel just smiled at him, Tulio rolled his eyes, leaned over to kiss the man on the forehead.
“Only for you….” He muttered, “… only for you.”
Chapter 3: Arguments
Tulio and Miguel beamed as the sailors reluctantly handed over their last few coins, popping them in the hat that Eugene was ‘protecting’.
“Good game guys!” Tulio smirked, “Better luck next time!”
The sailors probably wouldn’t have left so quickly if they knew about the dice.
“Finally!” Miguel exclaimed, as he lifted Eugene up with one arm and the cap full of money with the other, “We might have enough to get him a new bed now.”
“Why bother? He’ll just end up in ours.”
Miguel just chuckled, titling his head away as Eugene grabbed at his hair, “Still, I think- hey!”
Stumbling slightly, only just managing to keep his grip on Eugene and the cap, Miguel glared at the two teens who’d pushed into him. Whilst he seemed willing to let it go, Tulio was not as calm.
“Hey!” he called after them, stopping them in their tracks, “Didn’t your mum teach you any manners? Saying sorry maybe?”
He had to admit, he resisted the urge to take a step back as the twins twisted around to glare at him. He wasn’t sure how old they were, but they already had twice the muscles he did.
“Sorry…” one of them sneered, as the other just smirked at them, “… didn’t mean to make the pretty boy cry.”
As Tulio growled and moved forwards, Miguel quickly grabbed his arm, holding him back as the twins cackled and walked away.
“I hate them…” Tulio muttered, only relaxing when they were out of sight, “… I hate those Stabbington brothers.”
“Weren’t we going to stop saying the word ‘hate’?” Miguel asked, silently gesturing at Eugene, “You know, just in case- “
“- alright, alright.” Tulio knew what Miguel was getting at. Eugene was starting to actually produce sounds that could be mistaken for words. Words like ‘hate’ were on the list that Miguel didn’t want Eugene saying, “I seriously dislike those Stabbington brothers, does that help?”
“…. Not really.”
Tulio rolled his eyes, already storming off back towards their home.
“It’s okay…” Miguel muttered to Eugene as he quickly rushed after the taller man, trying not to drop any of the coins, “… he’s annoyed at those two mean teenagers, not us, okay?”
It didn’t look like Eugene believed him.
The one-year-old was right to be worried.
“Why are you getting so angry about this!” Miguel exclaimed as Tulio paced the small room angrily, “They bumped into me, it’s not like they tried to take the coins or anything!”
“I’m not getting annoyed about that!”
“Then what are you- “
Tulio span around angrily, gesturing at Eugene, who was starting to whimper slightly in his cot, “Did you see how the people were looking at us?! How they were looking at you cooing over him!”
Taking a step back, Miguel couldn’t help but frown at the anger in his partner’s voice…. He was actually a little hurt.
“He’s my son, our son…. What’s wrong with me paying him a little bit of attention?”
“Because people start getting suspicious! They were suspicious before we got him, and now it looks like we have a kid together!”
“But…” Miguel frowned, “…. We do have a kid together…. He’s our kid.”
“No, at the moment, he’s the ticket to certain death!”
The harsh words caused Miguel to take a step back, glancing over at Eugene as the baby whimpered, tiny fists clenched in his blanket.
“No-one will find out…” he whispered, “… we can be careful and- “
“- and what Miguel?!” Tulio growled, “Open the doors to the guards when they come and arrest us for sodomy?!”
Eugene was starting to cry quietly as his parents continued to argue. At the sound, Miguel stopped, spinning around and immediately lifting the one-year-old into his arms.
“Tulio, stop.” He sighed wearily, “I’m going to the marketplace. You…. You just calm down okay.”
“Calm down? I am calm?!”
But Tulio’s words fell on deaf ears… because Miguel and Eugene were already out of the door, the door closing behind them.
He earned a lot of curious looks as he walked through the streets.
Miguel knew why that was… no smile, no cheery waves, no lute… it was very unlike him, hence the shock of the people on the streets.
Eugene also wasn’t himself, unusually subdued as he buried his face into Miguel’s chest.
“I know…” Miguel muttered soothingly to his son, “… he’s just stressed. You’re too young to understand what would happen if they ever found out about us, about me and Tulio, but it wouldn’t be good… you’d be sent away, living with the nuns or something.”
He couldn’t help but shudder as he remembered his own childhood, the sting of a ruler across the back of his hand.
“You wouldn’t like it…” he whispered, “…. Maybe Tulio’s right. Maybe I should tone it down a little.”
Eyes widening in shock, Miguel pulled Eugene away from his chest. “What did you say?”
Eugene beamed up at him, “Dada!”
“… You spoke!” Miguel whooped in glee, leaping to his feet and twirling around, smiling as Eugene giggled in delight, “I have to- “ he stopped, suddenly remembering where he was and who might be listening, “- I need to get home.”
And with that, he was gone.
As Miguel burst into the room, he completely missed Tulio’s dejected look, far too excited with his new news.
“He’s speaking!” he announced, “He’s speaking! Eugene, say it again, say it again!”
Tulio immediately brightened up, pushing himself to his feet and moving over to stand in front of his family. “Clever little boy…” he whispered, running long fingers through the dark brown hair, “… can you say Papa?”
“Very good…. but can you say Papa?”
“That’s it, almost there!”
Eugene frowned in concentration, “Pa-Pa…. Papa! Papa! Dada! Papa!”
Both Miguel and Tulio whooped in glee at this, praising Eugene eagerly as he beamed up at them.
The fight was forgotten.
Chapter 4: Ball Games
If they had any neighbours, they’d be complaining by now.
“Keep going!” Miguel encouraged Eugene, laughing as the two-year-old kicked the leather ball against the wall again and again and again, “Eventually, we’ll find you some other kids to play with, but this’ll do at the moment.”
Eugene just nodded, a frown of concentration on his face as he continued to kick the ball at the make-shift ‘target’…. Aka, the space between the vase that Tulio had recently liberated from a nearby mansion, and a pile of clothes.
When he managed to get it in that space again, the toddler spun around and beamed at his Dad, hands up in the air in success. “Me win! Me win!”
“Si! Si!” You win, you win!”
“You want me to play?” Miguel pretended to think about for a few minutes, before suddenly lunging forwards and using his foot to bring the ball closer to himself, beaming as Eugene giggled in delight, clapping his hands as he chased after the ball.
“You’ve got to get it off me… you’ve got to take it!”
Slowly, he gently kept the ball away, giving Eugene the chance to grab it if he really started to run, however the toddler just seemed content to watch, occasionally pointing at the wall.
Miguel instantly knew what he wanted. “Alright…” he focused on the space between the two objects, “… here we go!”
He brought his leg back and kicked the ball…. Only to watch as it shot straight into the vase, shattering it into a million tiny pieces.
“Oh, no, no, no….” Miguel whispered desperately, lifting Eugene off the floor and placing him on the bed in order to prevent the toddler from stepping on any sharp shards, before falling to his knees beside the shards, “… Tulio is going to kill me!”
He glanced over at Eugene, trying to send him a reassuring smile, whilst motioning for him to stay where he was. “Everything’s okay… everything is okay. Please don’t start- “
Eugene started to cry, tears streaming down his cheeks as he sobbed.
“Okay, okay….” Ignoring the shattered vase for a few minutes, he headed back over to the bed and lifting the toddler into his arms, “…. Deal with crying baby now, shattered vase later.”
For the next few minutes, he bounced Eugene up and down in his arms, occasionally waving a teddy bear in his face in an attempt to cheer him up.
It took about ten minutes, before Eugene was back to his usual self, clapping his hands as his Dad gave the teddy silly voices.
And then the door opened.
“Alright, I won enough coins to get him some new shoes I think, and I’ve got a buyer lined up for the- “Tulio stopped, having only just noticed the shards lying on the floor, “- W-what?”
Miguel winced, “It was an accident!” He blurted out, “We were just playing and- “
“- Someone kicked the ball directly into the vase.” Tulip turned his attention onto Eugene, “Weren’t you keeping an eye on him?”
“… Was he keeping an eye on you?”
The guilty wince on Miguel’s face was all the answer that Tulio needed.
“Miguel!” he groaned, falling to his knees beside the shards, lifting several of them up, hissing in pain as one of the shards sliced his palm, “Do you know how long it took me to get this? And how much the buyer was willing to pay?!”
Tulio shook his head, stopping Miguel in his tracks, “Just… just help me clean this up before the kid cuts himself.”
Before the taller man could leave the room, Miguel darted forwards and grabbed his wrist, pulling him closer.
“We need to clean that!” he exclaimed, placing Eugene back on his bed and pulling Tulio over to their own, “You can’t go out there! It’s still bleeding, what if it gets infected?”
Tulio couldn’t help but smile softly at his partner as he watched the blonde man rummage around in the small box, throwing ragged shirts all over the room.
“What are you doing?”
Miguel was silent, continuing to look for something as Eugene slowly climbed down from his own bed, and toddled over, teddy bear in his arms as he patted Tulio on the leg.
“You ‘kay?” he whispered, glancing at the bloody hand every so often, “You ‘kay?”
“Of course…” Using his non-injured hand, he ran his fingers through his son’s messy brown hair, “… it’s just a little cut.”
Eugene then glanced at the shattered vase, with the ball lying close to it, shrinking in on himself and burying his face into Tulio’s legs. “Sowy…” he whispered, “… Sowy.”
“… So long as neither of you are hurt, that’s all that matters.” Tulio made sure to catch Miguel’s eyes when he said this as well, “I can always get another vase.”
“…. Really?” Miguel clearly wasn’t convinced.
“Really… except this time, you’re the one sneaking into the house and risking getting caught.”
Chapter 5: Bumped Head
It wasn’t hard to hear the creaking of wood in the dead of night.
With everything silent all around them, Tulio and Miguel were awoken almost instantly by the sound.
“That’s… not us.” Miguel whispered in confusion, glancing around as thought to definitely check, “Nope, definitely not us.”
The creaking continued.
“It’s Eugene…” Tulio eventually groaned under his breath, rubbing his eyes in exhaustion, “… why did you insist upon putting some fancy screen between us?”
“He needs his privacy.”
“He is a troublemaker!”
Miguel was silent… it was true after all. Even if he was only 3 years old, Eugene was starting to build up quite the reputation for being a mischief maker… he was going to run circles around the guards one day.
At the moment however, he was trying to run circles around them, which usually involved playing when it was actually time for bedtime.
Just before Tulio could get out of bed to scold the toddler, there was a yelp and a loud bang, a very similar sound to someone hitting the ground… hard.
The pair of them were out of the bed before Eugene could start crying, throwing aside the screen and staring down at the toddler.
Eugene stared up at them tearfully, hands rubbing at his head, which was slowly starting to bruise.
Just before Tulio could say, “And that’s why we told you not to bounce on the bed,” Miguel pushed past him, already lifting Eugene into his arms and holding him close, bouncing him up and down to try and soothe him.
“You’re okay…” he was whispering, shaking his head when Tulio rolled his eyes at him, clearly wanting Miguel to at least try and scold the toddler.
He was disappointed.
“Let me have a look.” Miguel gently pulled Eugene’s hand away from his head, “Ooooh, it’s all red… maybe we should have someone have a look at it?”
“Miguel…” Tulio whined, making his way over and examining his son’s head himself, “… doctors cost money, money which we don’t have! It’s just a bit red, he’ll be fine!”
“But what if- “
“- Miguel. He’s going to be fine, okay?”
Glancing back at Eugene, Miguel couldn’t ignore the fact that the three-year-old was now giggling merrily to himself, getting his fingers twisted in Miguel’s bed clothes.
He didn’t even seem to remember the fact that he’d just been screaming less than five minutes ago.
“Oh…” Miguel smiled sheepishly, “… yeah, I think he’s going to be alright.”
“You’re flying! You’re flying!”
Tulio tried not to groan in annoyance. With the rain pouring down from the heavens outside, they were confirmed indoors for a while… very few customers during rainy days.
The good thing was, they had enough money to last them a couple of days easily.
The bad thing was, that Miguel and Eugene were staring to lose their minds from being cooped up like pigeons.
Take now for example… Miguel held Eugene above his head and was running around the small room, pretending as if Eugene was actually flying.
Why he couldn’t fly quietly, Tulio would never know.
“Miguel please!” he piped up over the sound of his son’s giggling and Miguel’s whooping, “Isn’t there a quieter game you can play? Who can stay quiet the longest maybe?”
With Eugene still giggling, Miguel slowly brought him back into his arms and smirked over at his partner. “I think you’re allergic to fun sometimes.”
“No, I’m allergic to loud noise when I’m trying to work!” Tulio graoned, burying his face in his hands, “He has a lot of toys, make him play with them!”
“But he doesn’t want to play with them!”
The pair stared at each other for a few moments, before Eugene clambered onto the larger bed and started to bounce up and down.
“Didn’t you learn your lesson already?”
Eugene just giggled.
“How can you have so much energy… still?”
“He’s three Tulio… what did you expect?”
Tulio didn’t answer, instead rolling over and burying his face in the bedding, groaning loudly.
Chapter 6: The Missing Princess
“Come on! Come on!” Eugene turned, briefly scowling at them, before turning to start running again, “You two are too slow!”
Miguel and Tulio smiled fondly at the 4-year-old.
“Have you ever thought that maybe you’re too fast?!” Tulio called out to the child, laughing as Eugene just turned and glared at him.
“Too slow! Too slow!”
With both of them keeping their eyes on him, Eugene didn’t dare go too far ahead… not with the threat of being dragged back home, away from the day’s special trip.
“What is it about the docks?” Tulio mused, rubbing his hands in anticipation at the number of sailors he’d be able to con, “I don’t remember feeling so excited to see boats when I was a kid.”
“Really…” Miguel smiled softly, “… I used to run away from my Mum to go and see the ships as much as possible back in England. It wasn’t until I actually went on one that I realised they were over-rated.”
“I can’t remember how often I threw up. It was disgusting.”
Tulio grimaced at the thought, watching as Eugene suddenly stopped, before running back to them, a beaming grin on his face. “Big boats! Big boats!”
“You’re not going on one, remember?”
“I know! I know!” Eugene grabbed their hands, tugging and pulling on them, “Come on! Let’s go!”
As they practically raced towards the docks, the adults couldn’t help but beam at the sheer excitement in Eugene’s voice. As soon as they arrived, Tulio chose a spot relatively near the local watering hole, where all the sailors hung out when they weren’t working.
“Eugene, pay attention.” He gently ordered, “I’m going to be playing dice, and Miguel’s going to be playing his lute. Do you remember what you have to do?”
“Anything that’s loose, gets stolen.” Eugene reported solemnly, “Don’t be too obvious with the guards and if you do get caught, hide your face and run.”
“Good boy.” Ruffling Eugene’s hair, Tulio fondly sent him off, knowing that the boy was more likely to watch the ships, instead of doing his job.
If it meant less trouble for them, then Tulio was all for it.
“Shall we?” he asked, turning to Miguel, who started to pluck out a quick tune, drawing the crowds in.
When he grew up, he was going to be a sailor.
Eugene watched as one of the large boats slowly set off, heading further and further out to the sea. Sailors bustled around the area, none of them paying attention to the small child sitting on the wooden box.
In the distance, Eugene could just about see the royal palace, where the King and Queen lived.
His Dads had told him that the Queen was going to have a baby soon, and that they would be the next in line for the throne.
It was a nice palace…. But the sea looked nicer. More fun out there.
Suddenly, his attention was grabbed by a woman striding past him. She looked frantic, her dark hair almost totally grey.
“Are you alright?” he asked nervously. There was something off with this woman, but his Dads’ always told him to be polite to girls…. Even if most of them were icky.
The woman looked stunned by the question, her eyes scanning Eugene from head to toe, before she sneered. “I’ve had something stolen from me… so no, I’m not alright.”
Almost immediately, Eugene held up his hands, a nervous smile on his face, “Wasn’t me!”
“No…” the woman turned her head, to the point where she seemed to be looking at the royal palace, “… I’m afraid the thieves are of a much higher class than you.”
Those words didn’t sound very nice, but before Eugene could question her further, the woman was gone with a swirl of her cloak.
With the usual attention span of a four-year-old, Eugene turned his attention away from her and turned back to see where his parents were. Whilst he couldn’t see them over the heads of the crowd, he could hear his Dad’s lute and singing over the hustle and bustle of the passing people.
It was clearly a romantic song, and Eugene knew that whilst his Dad would have been singing it to the women who were gathered around, he would be glancing at Papa every so often.
He did at home after all.
Humming along to the vaguely familiar song, Eugene decided to have a bit more of a wander around the docks…. And maybe actually do what he was supposed to.
The birth of the princess was the first bit of good news the Kingdom had had in a long time, with the royal family even sending up a gorgeous lantern in order to celebrate the event.
The fact that she was kidnapped not long after her birth was the worst news they’d ever had.
It everyone hard.
“Daddy…” Eugene cautiously spoke up, “… are they going to find the princess?”
Miguel and Tulio both turned to each other, having a silent conversation between them, before Miguel slowly moved to sit next to him, wrapping an arm around him in comfort.
“Someday they will…” he whispered, ignoring how Tulio winced, “… They have all the guards looking, remember?”
“Do you think she’s scared?”
A brief pause, before “I think… I think she knows someone’s looking for her.”
Eugene thought to himself for a few moments, before shrugging. “I’d be scared… I’d be really scared if I was taken.”
“Well…” Tulio then moved to sit by Eugene’s side, “… you wouldn’t be scared for long. Because if you were ever taken, you can bet me and your Dad will move the Earth to find you.”
“Promise.” Tulio then lifted the child into his arms, “Come on, it’s bedtime for little thieves.”
When he was tucked up and the candle snuffed out, Eugene twisted around to the window, his thoughts turning to the princess as he slowly fell asleep.
He hoped she wasn’t scared.
Chapter 7: School
“Get back here you little brat!”
Eugene didn’t dare look back, clambering over boxes as he raced through the cobbled streets.
Oh, he wasn’t stopping, not when he had this priceless necklace in his hands.
“SOMEONE GRAB THAT CHILD!”
Thankfully, a lot of people were against the guards and did nothing to help them as Eugene climbed up a pile of crates, before nimbly hopping over a wall and rushing home.
“’M back!” he called out as he burst through the door and into the small room, “Look what I got!”
His Dad’s didn’t look very impressed, both of them with their arms folded over their chests.
“What do you mean, what?!” Tulio sighed wearily, “You were meant to be at the local school today, the teacher was expecting you!”
Eugene scowled, “What’s school gonna teach me. I already know everything!”
“You know how to pickpocket…” Miguel knelt down in front of him, “… you need to learn how to read and things like that. Counting. Geography. They’re all important!”
“But they’re all boring!”
“You like it when me and Papa read to you. Wouldn’t it be good to read all those books by yourself?”
“No!” Eugene stomped his foot slightly, “I just want to stay with you and Papa!”
Before Miguel could say anything else, Tulip groaned and spoke up, “Miguel, we’re not getting anywhere. We’ve tried to nice approach, and now we’re going for the strict one. Eugene, you’re going to school tomorrow. In fact, I’m going to take you and I’m going to make sure you stay there.”
“You can’t do that!”
“Yes, I can!”
Before Eugene could start to raise his voice again, Tulio held up his hand. “Enough. I’m not arguing with you all night… give me that necklace.”
The child pouted, “It’s my prize. I stole it fair and square.”
“Don’t care, hand it over.”
Eugene did, practically throwing it at his Papa before storming over to his bed. “I’m gonna be a guard when I grow up! And I’ll arrest you and throw you into jail!”
“No, no, no…” Tulio held up a hand, shaking his head as Miguel’s mouth opened in shock, “… He’s just saying that to hurt us. Well…” he turned to his sulking son, “… I’ve got a bit of bad news for you kid. You have to go to school to be a guard!”
“I hate you!”
“Yeah, I’m not that fond of you at the moment either!”
As Eugene started to kick his feet against his straw mattress, fists banging against the pillow, Tulio turned to Miguel and pulled him into a gentle hug. “Give him some time…” he whispered into the other man’s ear, “… he’ll be fine.”
“Are you- “
“- Just let him sulk.”
Miguel nodded, trying to shake off the hurtful comment shouted by Eugene previously as he and Tulio moved over to their own area of the small house.
“Do you remember going to school?”
Tulio frowned at the question. Eugene had gone to sleep hours earlier, so it was probably safe to talk about this again. “Not really…” he whispered, “… I know I didn’t enjoy it either, but it was important, I know that know.”
“…. I remember school back in England.” Miguel softly replied, “I could never concentrate on anything, but when I came here, I couldn’t speak a word of Spanish. There was really no point in going to school again. I learnt the language, and then got myself a low-paying job.”
“Thank God I saved you from that.”
Miguel buried his face into his pillow in order to muffle his laughter, nodding in agreement as Tulio chuckled by his side.
“Freedom! I want freedom!”
Tulio nodded at the other thieves and con-men of the city as he dragged his son past them, rolling his eyes as the Stabbington brothers laughed at him.
They could try and force a five-year-old to go where he didn’t want to, see how much they liked it, or how good they were at it.
“I don’t want to go!”
Eugene’s protests were ignored as they came up to the old school building, trying the new tactic of going completely limp as he was dragged on behind his Papa.
“Eugene, I’m starting to lose my endless patience!”
As they approached the door, a young woman, dressed in simple, yet new clothes, was waiting for them, a fond smile on her face.
“There’s one every year.” She shook her head, bending down to try and look Eugene in the eyes, “Hello, and what’s your name?”
Almost instantly, Eugene stopped his protests and turned to look at the pretty, young teacher who was speaking to him.
It was like Tulio was holding a completely different child.
“Hi, I’m Eugene!” his son exclaimed eagerly, holding out his hand for the teacher to shake, like his parents had taught him to.
“Hello Eugene…” The teacher beamed, gently shaking the offered hand, “… you may call me Madam Kiki. Would you like to come in?”
And just like that, Eugene was back to being his shy alter-ego, burying his face into Tulio’s legs.
“No? But we’re having a music lesson? Do you like music?”
Tulio nodded along with his son in answer to this question. Miguel was a huge music lover, and was trying to encourage Eugene into learning how to play the lute, allowing the five-year-old to pluck on the strings.
With Eugene often trying in the early hours of the morning.
“Well, why don’t you come in and join the rest of us?”
Eugene nodded, keeping a hold of Tulio as he started to walk inside, only for Tulio to stop and shake his head. “I’m not coming in as well kiddo. School is just for children.”
“That’s right. You’ll see your Papa in three hours, okay?”
Clearly a few seconds away from protesting, Eugene started to pout, not looking Tulio in the eyes when the older man got to his knees.
“Eugene…. You’ll enjoy it, I promise. But you don’t want me in there, not when you could be making new friends, right?”
“… Not even for five minutes?”
At the question, Tulio glanced up at Miss Kiki, who frowned and shook her head.
“No…” he sighed, “…. Not even for five minutes.”
“…. You’ll come and get me though, right?”
“Of course I will. As soon as school ends, I’ll be right here.”
Mollified by this, Eugene nodded and headed inside, giving his Papa one last look.
“I know it’s hard…” Miss Kiki sighed, “… but I find that most parents actually can’t wait for their children to spend longer at school.”
“Wait for it… you’ll know what I mean sooner or later.”