The man blinks.
Leon blinks back.
If there was a third eyelid involved somewhere in that first blink, Leon is trying very hard not to think about it. No third eyelids, no slithery forked tongue, no trace of scales on the back of the man’s hands, nope, not seeing them. Probably just D playing his tricks again, ha-ha what a jokester . The fact that D has been gone running errands the whole afternoon and hasn’t gotten to meet the snake-man yet is completely irrelevant.
Leon would know.
He hasn’t seen D yet, either. But the door had opened unprompted even when the sign said Closed , and Leon is too familiar with the shop not to enter, not to take his usual seat at the low mahogany table. Snake-man had come in while he’d been fiddling with the box of (far-too-expensive, stupidly dainty, flower-pink) macaroons he’d brought so he could watch D’s expression shift into something bordering on sheer rapture, the press of dark fingernails against darker lips-- Er. He’d brought it as a bribe. Totally a bribe. So that D won’t get all pissy when Leon questions him about the latest murderous animal in the precinct files, of course.
Snake-man hadn’t been part of the plan.
Damn it, it’s not like it’s even a snake-man at all . Vampires are one thing, he can deal with those - presumably, more or less , though he’s still trying very hard not to think about that whole situation without at least a couple beers in him and his apartment walls as a shield against the world. Vampires. Okay. Sure. And he doesn’t really mind the whole ‘speaking telepathically to his little brother’ thing; he’s read all those novelty articles about parents understanding their baby’s cries and shit of the sort. Close enough. And hell, even if he has witnessed D’s animals behaving surprisingly human-like (understatement of the year: he’s fairly sure the weird raccoon is a pigtailed girl in a poofy dress, at least whenever he forgets that she’s supposed to be a weird raccoon. He’s actually talked to her at one point, and she talked back . Leon tries very hard to forget about this, most days), then he just rationalizes himself into seeing animals again. Because, once again, not possible .
Leon blinks again.
The man blinks back.
Yeah, there’s definitely a third eyelid there somewhere.
“So,” Leon says hesitantly, fiddling with the box of macaroons in a way that is definitely not defensive, thank you very much, he’s just protecting them from being eaten by weird snake-men before D comes back, “known D for long?”
“Not at all,” snake-man says. There’s a hiss in these words, hidden beneath his smooth way of speaking; suddenly, Leon remembers D saying that snakes can’t blink. “I wass familiar with his grandfather, however.”
“Ah.” Awkward pause. “I keep hearing about him, actually. Never met him myself.”
Snake-man offers him quite the fanged smirk. “I’d ssay you’re all the better for it.”
Is it rude if he asks about the eyelids thing? Snakes don’t have eyelids ; now that the thought has crossed his mind, he can’t quite let go of it. Snakes don’t have eyelids. D has definitely lectured him about this at some point, one of the times when Leon complained about the shop’s specimens staring at him fixedly. It wasn’t so bad when they were actually animals, even if it felt like they were sizing him up for a bite, but let his focus slip? Bam. People in fetish gear. Attractive people in fetish gear looking as if they could eat him whole, and not in the fun sort of way. Not always, at least.
Leon had always figured it was best not to ask.
He’s about to open his mouth and say something stupid and probably offensive that likely would get him eaten, or at least nagged to hell and back if D ever heard about it, when there’s a sudden surge of chirps and meows and happy barks, coming from the animals near the door. The pets installed on his lap all turn their heads towards it, too, a clue as good as any that D is coming back. But Leon doesn’t get to rejoice: D returns looking hurried, eyes a little too wide when he sees both Leon and the snake-man sitting at his tea table, and doesn’t even give him the chance to snipe out a greeting insult before he swiftly kicks him out.
He doesn’t even look at Leon’s box of macaroons. Not even once.
He gives the macaroons to Jill. She does not deserve them, because she’s been teasing him a bit too much about D giving him the boot - had a fight with your boyfriend, Leon?, definitely haven’t heard that one before, Jill - but it’s better than throwing all the money he spent on them on the trash, so.
To Jill they go.
And yeah, he’s sulking. Sulking and hurt and a bit distracted, to the point the paperwork he’s trying to finish keeps sliding off from under his pen.
A mischievous face greets him when he looks up. It’s somewhat fox-like in its features, under all the layers of baby fat; Leon’s pen dangles from childishly short fingers, tipped with nails so small they could have been claws. “Looking for this?”
Leon sets down the stick he’d been trying to sign his paperwork with. “Who’re you?”
“Never met you.”
“Never said I was your friend.”
This is more of D’s bullshit, he just knows it. “You know this isn’t the reception of the station, right? Homicide? Narcotics? That sort of thing that shouldn’t have random kids wandering around?”
The kid ignores him. Really, between Jill and D, he really should be used to it by now. “You gave that lady those sweets. Got any for me?”
What am I, your father? Leon bites back the words with some effort, though at least this kid doesn’t look as if he’ll start crying if Leon as much as glares at him. He sneaks a quick look around the station, wondering if there’s a stray distressed parent in some other part of the station. “Do I look like I go around handing sweets to everyone who asks?”
“Maybe.” The kid grins widely, a stray snaggletooth adding the extra bit of mischievousness needed to go from a nice grin to a shit-eating one. “Why can’t I have one? Is she your giiiiirlfriend ?”
Leon chokes. “Like hell she is!”
Of fucking course, this is exactly when Jill choses to appear, as if she’s summoned by the sheer instinct of a Leon in need of scolding. Leon doesn’t even have the time to be grateful for it - he’s really not too good with children, would really rather not deal with them on his own unless it’s Chris - before she swiftly smacks the back of his head with more paperwork. “Leon, don’t swear in front of kids!”
“How is ‘hell’ swearing?” he protests, reflexively defending himself from another smack. “Hey, hey, violence isn’t any better than swearing! Jill!”
She raises an eyebrow at him. “Says you? Mister Makes-Half-His-Friends-In-Fistfights?”
“That was once ,” he defends himself, and then remembers Alex and how they’d gotten along famously after pummelling each other’s faces in. Then he remembers he was probably a vampire, too. Fucking vampires. “Twice. Maybe thrice. Hardly counts.”
Jill looks far too amused, but for once lets it drop. “So what’s with the kid, anyway?”
The kid is weirdly silent, actually. The realization hits them both at once, and they turn to look with wide eyes.
But he’s already gone.
Not for long, though.
Leon trips over his tied shoelaces when leaving his desk, which he figures was the kid’s own way of saying goodbye. Only, it’s not: when he pulls his jacket on as he leaves the station, the kid steps beside him as if he had been there all along.
“ So , are you gonna buy me candy or what?”
He looks heavenward, wondering if it’s his fate to be surrounded by candy-loving loons. “Where are your parents, kid?”
The kid shrugs. “Around. Can I have the candy now?”
“You’re gonna ruin your dinner.” Or something. D says it often enough to Chris so it must be true in some way, even if D’s enough of a fucking hypocrite to gobble down sweets at all hours himself.
Except, apparently, Leon’s macaroons. Damn , that still stings.
He finds himself on the receiving end of a very judging look, which is doubly as humiliating when the person sending it his way is half his size. “It’s two in the morning.”
That... probably explains why his stomach has been growling for a while. He’d been planning to drag D out for an early dinner before his shift, maybe cajole him somewhere with a large selection of actual dishes instead of a large selection of desserts, and the sudden rejection had thrown him off. No dinner for thrown-out detectives and their crumpled box of macaroons.
But, wait. A sudden thought strikes him, his tired brain finally processing the kid’s last words and what they ought to mean, at least for normal humans with normal sleep schedules. “Are you lost?”
“Nah.” The kid shrugs, though his clothes are loose enough that the movement barely registers. “Just hungry. Candy?”
Leon sighs. He opens his mouth, ready to give the kid the sort of good, long-winded scolding that D would probably give to him , and then closes it again.
And gives up.
He’s the kind of sucker that can’t really say no to a hungry kid, though. Before he’s even aware of it, he’s already led them both to a twenty-four-hour burger joint, the kind that he’d pretty much lived on before D started nagging his ears off about it. Next thing he knows, there are two combo meals on the table, and the kid is already devouring one.
Leon pushes the second one towards him when he shows no signs of stopping.
“When we’re done here,” he lectures, because he can be a responsible adult sometimes , okay, “you’re going back to the station so they can help you find your parents, or your house, or whatever. Don’t stay out in the cold.”
D would kill him if he brought another stray kid at three in the morning. You’re not responsible for this one , he has to remind himself, even as he watches the second extra-large packet of fries being rapidly demolished, swallowed down with large gulps of orange soda.
“I’m not lost, though,” the kid says around the rest of the fries, once there are only a couple bites left and he’s finally slowed down. “I know exactly where I am. Hey, where’s the candy?”
“What, two combo meals aren’t enough for you?” Leon shoots back, but he’s already rising to buy two of of those dry-looking cake slices by the register, the sort that no one is ever sure of how fresh they are. His stomach churns when he looks at them: he can picture their exact texture on his mouth, crumbly and dry and overly sweet, and yet, without the faint scent of incense and tea in the background, it doesn’t feel right to eat any of it.
He pushes his slice towards the kid, too.
“My thanks and acknowledgement to you, Leon Orcot,” the kid says, suddenly, too solemn. The snaggletooth catches in the light, looking a little too much like a stray fang for him to ignore. “D’s got my approval on this one.”
And then Leon is in his bed. Wallet in hand, fully clothed, staring up at the mould-stained ceiling; there’s a faint ringing in his ears at the sudden silence.
“What the fuck ,” he says, with feeling, “was that?”
There’s a faintly thin, almost ephemeral old lady he helps across the street, right before she turns into a swarm of butterflies. A dog he frees from the leash it was choking on snarls and bites at him until it’s freed, and then looks at him with eyes too clever, too discerning, before licking his hands and leaping away. An attractive man that reminds him of D asks him for a light, leaning against a street corner; he’d pursed his lips to blow shapes in the smoke, enchanting it to writhe and twist into omens for men and animals alike, and had only had a sad sort of smile to give when Leon’d asked him for his name.
Someone offers him an apple, once. He’s not stupid enough to take it.
His lighter nearly falls with all the fiddling he’s been doing with it, but Leon catches it in time. Click . A pair of yellow-eyed twins with mirrored movement, watching him across a glass. Click-click . A woman with flaming lips and a dress like wildfire twinning around both her legs and his on the subway, her perfume tasting of smoke and choking him, choking him, making him dizzier and dizzier before he’d found the strength to back away. Click . A band of birds at his window, singing in harmony to his radio, keeping watch over his breakfast until he’d relented and offered them its leftovers. Click. Click .
Fuck. Damn it. He’s putting this off and he knows it.
He smokes cigarette after cigarette, clouding the doorway of the petshop. Not close enough for the animals to feel him coming, not far enough that the people will talk. They’re used to his presence, after all, to the odd D-and-Leon pairing that no one, himself included, had ever expected to-- get along? Become something resembling, but never quite, friends?
What are they, anyway? Leon keeps getting dragged back to the dark mysteries of the petshop, to its smirking bastard of an owner. Spends his days there, all his cash on sweets to be devoured by D’s dark lips and his black hole of a stomach. They’re not even friends!
So what if his stomach flutters when D lowers his lashes at him? So what if he goes open-mouthed at the curve of his smirk when he snipes yet another clever insult at him, enough that he forgets to shout back his own half the time? So what if catching a glimpse of a pale wrist from under those Chinese dresses is enough to keep him awake at night for a week, like those guys from those stupid regency novels his mom loved to read?
So what if this time he brought éclairs from that little French place, hoping that at least these will be a bit better received?
His lighter fails to produce a spark. Leon guesses that’s enough of an answer.
He pushes away from the wall. Slips his lighter back inside his jacket, cheap and green and cold; takes a step to leave, plastic sneakers scuffing harshly against the ground. The last of his cigarette butts is crushed under his feet.
On his side, the shop’s door opens.
Figures the damn thing would love crushing his plans, too.
Leon thinks he’s never seen the Count this tense.
In theory? It’s fucking hilarious . Wide bi-coloured eyes, fingers clenched tight in polite can’t-show-I’m-mad panic, posture so straight and stiff Leon thinks he’d snap in two rather than bend. Caught off-guard, the way D so rarely is.
In practice? It’s also hilarious.
Only, Leon wishes he were the only one to witness it.
There’s a far too glamorous-- woman? man? being?-- draped across Leon’s usual seat, wearing the sort of coat Leon would only think to see in, like, Antarctica, rather than in sunny warm California. Gives a whole new meaning to ‘animal coat’, too, considering Leon is fairly sure it’s alive.
Several alives, in fact. At least three sleek furry creatures are staring at him from the coat’s shoulder bits, dark-eyed and curious.
“Now, now, Count,” the person purrs, “do not look so put-out. I’ve heard the most marvellous things about your companion.”
D jolts slightly, his tea as close to sloshing out of the cup as Leon’s ever seen it in his hands. “Ah, yes. Things? I’m sure--”
“All that gossip!” they continue, unheeding. “I was so curious, you see, I had to see it for myself. And what better place to start than your darling shop?”
Leon pauses mid-bite, éclair dangling in the air. “Gossip?”
He fucking swears that if the restaurant owner next door has been making bets about the two of them again--
“Indeed!” The being claps their hands excitedly, leaning towards him. “We hardly ever hear anything new about the Count’s family, but you , my dear, are the man of the hour!”
“ Me? ”
D sits up even straighter, wild-eyed. “He isn’t--”
“Of course, most of what I heard is only rumour, mind--”
Leon swings his head to look at D again. “I swear if you’re up to something again--”
“-- but all the others in my acquaintance have said--”
The Count has the gall to look offended. “Detective, as if I am ever involved--”
“--kindness is a very important trait, of course, I told my nephew as much the other day, but one can’t be too naïve--”
“--that’s bullshit and you know it--”
“--why, I haven’t seen a D take a consort for centuries!”
D chokes on his tea.
It takes a moment for the words to register. His mental dictionary flips back and forth, running through the word and disassembling it until it barely resembles a word at all anymore: consort, consort, con-sort . Noun, definition: to associate with; spouse or companion.
His mind hits the brakes at the implications.
“Well, perhaps consort is a word too strong for this modern world,” the being smiles sheepishly, which only gives the opposite effect: two perfectly aligned rows of sharp teeth shine brightly in the shop’s low light, dispelling any resemblance of innocence. “But a chosen mate for the D line is a rare occasion, all the same. It’s a time ripe for celebration.”
“Celebration,” D chokes out. He is not looking at Leon at all .
“Oh, yes.” Several of the furry things wind their way around the being’s neck, changing the outline of the coat. “That’s what I was saying before he arrived, my dear: we’re all in approval of your choice. Chama-san aside, but she’s still all pouty about not getting to kill you, so she doesn’t really count.”
“Wait, wait,” Leon interrupts, because he feels that if he doesn’t speak his brain will overheat and melt out through his ears, “that was you? Collective you? All those people I kept tripping on in the streets and at work and--”
The being turns their shark smile towards him. “It’s not any human who captures the heart of a D. We needed to see for ourselves what you were really made of.”
And that’s a whole story there. A whole story there that he will later ask, hound for answers, but right now D won’t look at him. D will not look at him and there is a faint trace of pink high in his cheeks and a stubborn, embarrassed set to his delicate jaw and he will not look at him--
Leon does not notice when the being takes his leave.
Neither, he thinks, does D.
His hands are shaking, fumbling for a lighter that is not there. Consort . A piece of the éclair tumbles from his grip, staining his jeans. Chosen mate. Consort.
If this is what D’s been dealing with all week, he can’t really blame him for kicking him out, not if all his guests have been the equivalent to nosy neighbours and well-meaning matchmaking aunts.
Well, he can.
Those macaroons were expensive , damn it.
“So.” He clears his throat, voice cracking. His cheeks might be burning, too, but Leon does his valiant best to ignore both those things. “Consort?”
The glare D sends him would make a lesser man whimper. “Detective,” he says, frosty and biting. “Not. A. Word .”
And Leon could stay quiet. Only, he has no fucking filter around D, for unimportant shit or otherwise, and maybe he should because D has his rage-face ready to boil over from under the stiff polite smile, and those china cups look like they splinter really easily, but Leon is Leon and that means that his stupid mouth is already opening before he can think twice about it.
“Shame,” he blurts, and it’s like a car wreck: the words slip out one after the other, and he can’t look away, and there’s probably going to be blood at some point because Leon really isn’t sure as to what is going to come out of his mouth next and D looks just about ready to feed him to his whip-wielding pet chinchillas or something, “I know a place with excellent macaroons. Don’t suppose you’d want to go out?”
And what do you know.
D does end up eating his offered macaroons, after all.