"...Valentine's... Day?" Leon echoed confusedly, blinking stupidly. He set down the bucket of water he had been carrying to Colt's house to set up the classic bucket-on-the-door trick, tilting his head to the side. "What's that?"
"Whaaat? You don't know?" Bea demanded, hopping down from the low wall she'd been sitting on, kicking her legs idly back and forth, back and forth. She circled him, inspecting him from all angles, as if it might help her conclude whether he was telling the truth or not. To be fair, he pulled off a majority of his pranks by promising someone something with his fingers crossed, so that he was allowed to do whatever he promised not to and the person wouldn't suspect it. Colt had spoiled a number of his pranks after finding out about this particular trick, by making him promise something again with his hands held out and his fingers uncrossed. So today was revenge day. Bucket on the door day. Soak Colt in water day. And he was going to get Colt, if not today, then the next, or the next. It would happen. Prankster's honour.
"Huhh, you really don't, hmm?" Bea grinned, reminding Leon that she had interrupted his revenge plans(for today) with the mention of this new and interesting "Valentine's Day". He couldn't not know what it was, now. Leon just shrugged, waiting for her to elaborate. For such a grown up, Bea was pretty childish. She couldn't resist giving away secrets or gossip- a useful way to gather intel to enact his plans, but a terrible person to share his plans with, unless he was trying to double bluff someone or spread false information.
"Well, it's a day when you show someone you like that you like them," Bea sighed happily, "it's soooo romantic and dreamy..." She put her hands on her reddening face, letting out another happy sigh, apparently lost in her own daydreams.
"Someone I like?" Leon repeated. There were a lot of people he liked. In fact, there was no one who he disliked on an overall basis. Right now, he didn't like Colt for exposing his trick, but would be smug at Colt after the current prank succeeded. But on an overall, summed up scale, he liked everyone. Was he supposed to go around showing his love to everyone on that day...? Perhaps he could organise a mass prank that would get everyone. Already, ideas were running through his head.
"Yeah!" Bea interrupted his train of thoughts, but she did it so enthusiastically that Leon couldn't begrudge her that. She put her arm around his shoulders, leaning in conspiratorially. "You got a sweetheart, Leon? Someone you like more than anyone else, someone you always want to be around, someone who makes you happy?"
Leon involuntarily thought about Nita- strong, fierce Nita- who made him feel safe and happy and warm, and took care of him no matter what, and would run and shout and play with him. He thought about seeing Nita laugh happily, and feeling her warm hug when he needed it, and all of a sudden he couldn't imagine anyone else he liked more than Nita.
"Yeah, I guess I do...?" Leon slowly said, and Bea squealed in excitement. She turned around quickly, grabbing his shoulders and looking him in the eye. She cleared her throat, assuming a serious face.
"Well, then, Valentine's is the day to make sure your sweetheart knows you like her." Bea said seriously. "Go spend time with her, and give her something she likes, and make her happy. Hmm, Leon?"
"Not... play a prank?" Leon froze, caught off guard. Pranks were good and fun and made people happy, didn't they?
"Oh, honey," Bea said sympathetically, "do you remember the last time you played a prank on her?" Leon tried to sort through the list of pranks he'd played to find one he'd played on Nita. Images flashed through his head. Nita yelling, Nita angry, Nita crying...
"... yeah," he said quietly, the joy draining out of him. Maybe Bea was right. Maybe a prank wasn't the best idea. He glanced down at the bucket, thinking about how he had been about to prank Colt. Maybe he shouldn't, after all...? Did it only make him happy, at the expense of everyone else?
"If you'll excuse me," he said politely, picking up the bucket again, "I've got a sheriff to prank." Because 1) revenge and 2) today wasn't Valentine's Day and 3) Colt wasn't his "sweetheart", as Bea put it. He grinned, spirits lifting, sidling away. Oh, he'd have to try to think of something that would make Nita happy, but for now?
He had his revenge to enact.
Leon knew he'd messed up when he woke up with the smell of pancakes in his nose. He shot to the kitchen, blanket still half-slung over one shoulder, met with the sight of pancakes, cooked to heavenly perfection. Nita was just putting the last pancake onto a plate, the other hand calmly tilting a pot of honey onto her pancakes to drown them completely. She was halfway there.
"Blanket to bed," she ordered, setting the plates on the table, "I'll try not to eat yours yet." On any other day, he would bolt to the bed and dump the blanket back before dashing back to prevent Nita from taking a dig at his share- a very likely thing to happen, considering how fast she was at eating- but he just stood and stared today. Nita looked up from chomping her way through the first pancake, honey smeared on her cheeks, frowning slightly.
"Leon?" She stood up, coming over to him, idly licking the honey off her face. He looked at her miserably, struggling not to cry. Today was supposed to be Nita's special day, and he'd meant for it to be special. He'd done all the necessary preparations, including learning how to cook pancakes, picking a basket of berries, sleeping early so he'd wake up early...
But he hadn't done any of that because he'd slept in. And now Nita was the one who had cooked breakfast, and it wasn't special for her anymore, and now he was making her worry and-
"Leon," Nita cooed, cupping his face with her hands, "don't worry about eet. Eet's just ah nightmare. I'm ok, see?" She tugged him towards the table, settling him on the chair and tucking the blanket around him. She pulled her chair up to beside his, restarting breakfast. He slowly took a bite. Maybe it didn't matter that he'd messed up the start. He could still make the rest of the day great for Nita, right? That prompted him to eat with a little more gusto. It made Nita pleased- he could tell from the way she resumed chowing down food.
"Can we go explore some more today?" He asked around his relatively small mouthful of pancakes. It was something they both liked, exploring beyond the town areas and charting new land. Nita swiped a piece of his pancake, ignoring his indignant squawk, shrugging non-committally.
"We're kinda busy today," she said mildly. He pouted slightly.
"Eet's Valentine's," Nita replied distractedly, "give each other flowers and sweets day." Then she paused. Turned and stared at him.
"Stars." She said in a small, small voice. "You don't know, do you? You missed last year's celebrations." Leon shook his head, because whatever Nita was saying was vastly different from what Bea had said. Nita said something she most definitely shouldn't be saying, but then clapped a hand over her mouth, eyes darting to him.
"I mean oops," she said quickly, "anyway, Valentine's ish where we dress up in white and pink and go around giving each other flowers or sweets or some gift to show we like each other. Eet's a tradition," Nita continued, covering up her sloppy attempt at censoring her swear. Leon humoured her. He'd heard his fair share of swears in response to pranks he had pulled anyway. Penny, unsurprisingly, was one of the most creative swearers around. She knew literally every swear word and got rather creative using them. Very, very, creative. He grimaced just thinking about about some of them. Her swearing ranged from bad to worst to outright obscene, and the thing was she didn't even bat an eye saying any of that.
"We're going to Piper's, pick up clothes she somehow has, and then going round givin' out flowers or something. You can share my apples," Nita continued from where she had left off, pointing to a basket of apples. It had a cute bow tied around it. He wondered why he'd never seen it before, but only stuffed his last mouth of pancakes into his mouth and nodded agreeably.
"Sufh," he smiled, mouth completely filled this time, and Nita rolled her eyes, slapping her hand over his mouth.
"Shut up and chew," she replied half heartedly- Leon would be the first to attest to the fact that Nita had table manners just as bad and messy as his- before she let him go to wash the dishes in a true Nita style- lick, dunk in water, and leave in water. The plates came out clean, and as long as no one came over neither of them were going to complain about how the dishes were washed. He obligingly licked his own plate, dunking it in water as well, easily keeping up with Nita as they started towards Piper's. It was by no means a short trek, and his mind wandered as they walked. Nita swung the basket mildly, humming under her breath. If they couldn't explore, then what else could he do for Nita...? There were the berries he picked yesterday, but Nita wouldn't let him cook dinner, and if they couldn't go exploring...
"Oh, Leon, Nita!" A cheerful voice called, snapping him out of his thoughts. He blinked, gawking slightly at the figure he saw, shaking his head and rubbing his eyes to make sure he'd seen right. It was Bea, but not Bea in her usual outfit. She looked completely different. Her helmet was gone, replaced with a flower crown and two braids hanging down from either side of her head. She wore a pretty, white dress, a basket decorated with flowers in one hand. She almost looked like an angel.
"How do I look?" She smirked, swaying slightly and allowing the dress to swish around her knees.
"Fragile," Nita snorted, unimpressed, "but not bad, I guess."
"I think the word you're looking for is bea-utiful," Bea giggled, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, breezing by the nonchalance. She tugged on their hands, impatiently pulling them towards Piper's house. She flashed them an excited grin: "c'mon, c'mon, I gotta see you two in your pinks and whites", and he caught a flash of a smile across Nita's face. It made him feel warm and fuzzy. If Nita was happy, he was happy too. She was always so serious these days, between taking care of him and her job. Sometimes he wondered what it'd be like if he was more mature, and didn't play pranks, and didn't get into trouble with people for it. But then he'd think about actually not playing pranks, and the idea seemed that much gloomier for that. So he never acted on it, but he was allowed to at least wonder.
"Here you go, Leon," Piper smiled, handing him a pile of clothes, which he cautiously accepted. He slowly pulled on the outfit, slightly dubious. It was really fluffy- too fluffy for his taste. He snuck a glance at Nita, then down at his own outfit. He was seeing an uncanny resemblance.
"Aren't ya a cutie?" Nita cooed mockingly, a teasing smirk on her face. His face felt hot, and he managed to grumble something completely intelligible.
"It is certainly fitting that you both have the same base for your outfit," Piper laughed. Leon blushed harder. He looked ridiculous. Nita pulled off the teddy bear look pretty well, but he just looked awkward and clumsy in his teddy bear skin. It wasn't fair. He said as much.
"Sounds fair," Bea snickered, pulling on their hands, "wanna go round together?"
"No," Leon grumbled.
"Sure," Nita overrode, because she was the one with the apples and therefore she dictated where they would go. It still wasn't fair. It was even more not fair. Unfairness in all it's glory.
Besides how he was dressed, Valentine's Day was greatly enjoyable. People chatted and laughed with each other, posing in their outfits and commenting on each other's costumes. They exchanged gifts of various types- the two of them had their apples, Bea had honey, Poco and Jessie had music boxes they made, Barley had drinks... and that was just to name a few. Nita obligingly struck a couple of poses in her teddy bear costume, and he grudgingly joined in after a couple of times. If he didn't think about it too hard, he could almost pretend he wasn't in a fluffy, girlish kind of costume. At least it leaned on the boyish side, omitting frills and skirts and the like.
And he got sweets! So much sweets, so many sweets, so many types of sweets! He was going to enjoy them carefully- the one and only way to actually, really, use sweets in large quantities productively, besides mass eating them, getting a sugar rush and not sleeping for five nights straight(Nita). No, he had a much better use for sweets.
Melt, put in bucket, dump on someone's head. It always took ages to come out, and the unwitting victim always had the best hairstyles. It was great. Best prank. Just not on Shelly because she would absolutely actually kill him with no regrets for at least 50 games straight. Multiple kills within a game didn't count. And she always blasted him to near death so she could gloat in his face for a spilt second before she actually killed him. Every time. At least 50 games.
Actual unpleasant life experience.
Moving on, because he was a big boy who totally didn't hold grudges, there was a surprising variety of costumes around. There was everything from Valentine's and love related costumes- cupid Piper, flower girl Bea, dove Bo- to things that didn't seem related but somehow worked out- swan Shelly, letter deliverer Jessie, chocolate seller Colt(to be honest he was eating more chocolates than he was actually exchanging. He suspected Colt wanted to be a chocolate vendor just to eat chocolate and not give him any). Some were pink and white, others weren't. But Leon was beginning to realise it wasn't about the colour of your costume or what you were dressed up as. No one seemed to really mind what they were wearing, no matter how ridiculous or unfitting. It was more of the spirit of celebrating love than actually having someone to love, he decided.
...he still wanted to give Nita those berries.
He felt drawn to Nita- strong, fierce, Nita- who made him feel safe and warm and protected and loved. Sure, he could celebrate the spirit of love with everyone else(and hoard sweets. Chocolate might work too), but he wanted to actually spend some time loving just Nita too. It felt wrong, to not make Nita happy after all the times she made him happy. Even this morning, where she comforted him because she thought he had a nightmare. She was just so...
"Psst, Leon!" He was nudged in the arm. Bea pulled him aside discreetly, leaving Nita squabbling with Jessie on how many apples each person could have. Jessie wanted three. Nita wanted to give two. And somehow they had reached a stage of apples representing their love for each other and were now discussing how either three or two apples were the better representative. Leon was happy to escape.
"Listen, you wanna spend some time with your sweetheart today, don't you?" Bea asked. Leon nodded, although he had yet to find a way to be alone with Nita. Bea dug around in her basket, producing a box from the very bottom.
"I got you," she winked, "so let's go over to your house, and cook you a meal, then you can bring your sweetheart over and I'll disappear. Hmm, Leon?" It was surprisingly well planned.
"Okay," he agreed cautiously, "for what?"
"No price," Bea said generously, "I just want to know how it went." Potentially dangerous, but what Bea was proposing was better than what he could do alone. He wasn't a terrible cook, but he wasn't a great cook either. The only choice was to agree. If gossip spread, well... it would have happened sooner or later anyway.
"Okay," Leon agreed. The only thing Bea would get were bragging rights and being the gossip spreader. If that made her happy, well, he couldn't argue with that. He was getting something out of this too. To be fair, Bea only let out a quiet squeal of excitement, bouncing up and down on the spot happily, before she recollected herself, all without giving away that something might be happening.
"Nita, I'm going home first," Leon said casually, sliding past.
"Huh? Uh, ok," Nita managed, before delving straight back into rebutting why flowers were not the bane of everyone's existence. He didn't even want to know how they got there from wherever they had begun. But she was clearly, sufficiently distracted. Bea grabbed his hand, swinging it as she skipped along the path, laughing happily. No one questioned it, laughing along in the spirit of Valentine's Day. Leon decided it was a great day to put any preparation plans he had into motion- no one suspected anything. Yeah, next year he'd cook up some elaborate plan and set it up during this time of the year, and pull it off at the end of the day. Perfect.
But for now, Nita.
Bea was a good cook, and she demonstrated it now, as they cooked their way through dinner. Bea had insisted on cooking pizza in the shape of a heart, laden with meat chunks and cheese- former luxuries that were quickly becoming more accessible. It was as if the more brawlers appeared, the more solid and tangible everything became. Clothes that just appeared on Piper's doorstep, food that appeared in their kitchens, random odds and ends that helped Jessie invent new devices that benefitted them all the time...
Yeah. Yeah, life was good.
And it was about to get better.
"Wanna go get your sweetheart now? I'll be done soon," Bea offered. He shrugged, fetching the basket of berries he'd hidden behind their house, and placing it neatly in the centre of the table.
"I guess," he said, suddenly nervous. What if this wasn't enough? What if Nita wasn't impressed, or didn't find it good, or it didn't make Nita happy? What if Nita had her own sweetheart, and didn't want to spend time with him? He wasn't used to the sudden wave of emotions that came crashing over him. It was unfamiliar. Was this what Nita felt daily, worrying about him?
"Leon," Bea put her hand on his shoulder, "you got this. Bee-lieve in yourself, it's gonna go great! Okay?" Leon sighed at the pun, but smiled anyway. It felt nice, to be reassured. Different from how Nita would do it, but not unpleasant. Still good and warm and fuzzy.
"Okay. Thanks," he gently slid Bea's hand off his shoulder. "I'll get going now." Bea waved him off.
"Remember: you owe me details! Juicy, detailed, recounts!" She said slyly. Leon laughed, waving back.
"I won't forget," he promised, and this time, his fingers weren't crossed.
"Bruce," Nita said calmly, "is a person, and should be treated as such, Jessie Junker."
"Bruce," Jessie replied calmly, "is made up of magic and nothing more, Nita Littlefoot."
"Leon," Leon interjected irritably, "is going to die of boredom. Can we please go now?"
Both of them jumped like they hadn't noticed his presence until he spoke up. Which, honestly, wasn't much of a stretch. He was a stealthy assassin- no one heard or saw him unless he wanted them to. And they had been extremely focused on their little argument, trying to churn out arguments while remaining calm. He didn't see the point, but whatever floated their boat worked. Nita looked around, blinking at how dark it was.
"Oh. Sorri," she offered meekly, quickly bidding Jessie goodbye and leading them home. They walked in a tense silence, Leon puzzling over why exactly the silence was tense instead of comfortable as usual.
"I'm sorri," Nita suddenly blurted, "I didn't mean- I jus lost track of time- I don't- just... I'm sorri." The sudden onslaught caught him off guard.
"It's ok," he asked more than said, unsure of what to say, "I wasn't bored until the end."
Nita worried at her lip with her teeth, although her sharp canines didn't draw blood. "Ya sure?"
"Yeah." He shrugged it off. Today was meant to be Nita's happy day. A sudden idea struck him. He'd have to play this carefully. "Although, if you're really sorry..." he began, trailing off. Nita blinked, prompting him to continue, desperate to make up for her short comings.
"You could gimme all your candy!!" Leon shrieked in glee, diving for her basket. Nita gasped, then her eyes narrowed playfully. She swung the basket out of his reach, and the two of them tumbled and rolled across the road, laughing and shouting, trying to snatch up candy. In the short run, nothing was accomplished except for Brock chiding them for playing so rough, and the candy basket being temporarily confiscated. In the long run, though, the awkward tension was completely gone, and Nita had a smile on her face as they walked home in comfortable silence.
Leon counted it as a win.
As they neared their destination, though, he started getting nervous all over again. What if Nita didn't like it, or it wasn't enough? What if Nita was just unimpressed by anything Leon could throw at her, because she could do better?
...what if Nita didn't like him?
He screamed bloody murder when a face suddenly filled up the entirety of his vision, interrupting his thought process very rudely. Bea pinched his cheeks, cooing at him sweetly as he struggled to get away, before releasing him. She raised an eyebrow at the both of them.
"Heading back already, honey?" She asked. Nita grunted.
"Not everyone's ah hopeless romantic like ya," Nita grumbled, pulling on his hand to get him to move. Bea laughed, flashing him a wink and a thumbs up behind Nita's back, before skipping onwards back to her home, or wherever she was headed. It was enough. If Bea so deeply believed in his ability to do this, maybe he really did have this. It'd be okay. He just had to do his best. That was enough, right?
"C'mon, I'm hungry," Nita groaned, impatiently pulling on his hand. Leon pulled back, lightly digging in his heels.
"Ohhh nooo, my legs won't move...!" he teased, laughing at Nita's exasperated expression. Then her eyes narrowed. Leon didn't like it when Nita narrowed her eyes. It could mean a lot of things. It could mean she was angry, or it could mean she was being playful, or it could mean she was planning something, or it could mean-
"Then I guess there's no choice," Nita purred, throwing back her head with a roar immediately after. Before he could even blink Bruce was scooping him up, carrying him as they lumbered along. His protests fell on deaf ears- Bruce only listened to Nita. And right now Nita wanted the bear to carry him to their home. She growled and snarled, playfully batting at Bruce, somehow getting him to start moving in a higher gear, speeding ahead instead of his usual slow lumber. Leon was unceremoniously dumped in front of their home, hitting the ground in a tangle of limbs. He wouldn't ever admit it, but he liked the rides Bruce offered. It was great- the soothing pace set, the way he could hear Nita's familiar's heartbeat and breaths- although he wouldn't ever say so. But that was about it.
...ok, he was also kind of short, and if he could get a boost up he was going to enjoy it.
He didn't exactly like the rough entry and exits, though. Even if Nita pulled him up and helped him to dust himself off and laughed sheepishly despite how amused she actually was. That was a very Nita thing to do. And if she was happy, then maybe he was okay with it too.
"Come on," she sighed, pulling him through the doorway, "I want to eat alrea-" Nita went stock still, cutting off her own sentence, nose twitching. She pushed him back, melting into a battle ready stance, suspiciously looking around.
Leon didn't blame her. The entire house was rose scented, with a faint, barely distinguishable scent of melted cheese and cooked food. Candles were strategically placed throughout the house, letting off a soft glow. As Nita slowly crept forward(and he followed), he found their table to be set for two, with a white lace covering the table, and everything set out neatly. His berry basket was gone, a tall, elegant vase containing the berries in its place. The entire house smelt like good food, love, and romance.
...he knew it was a bad idea to trust Bea.
"Nita," he sighed, "there isn't anyone else here." Nita snapped her suspicious look to her, gaze flitting around the room. She didn't look remotely convinced.
"Look, I... Nita," he started, suddenly unsure of how to phrase this. She only blinked, nose twitching a little more.
"Ya did this?" Nita asked, relaxing minutely. Leon gulped, nodding hesitantly. Technically Bea did this, but he engaged her to do it, so it counted as him doing it, right...?
"I-love-you," he blurted suddenly, cheeks heating up. Had he really just said that? There was probably a more appropriate time to say it. "I love you and I wanted to show you I love you so I wanted to do something for you," Leon added on as an afterthought, all in a rush, cheeks burning hotter. Nita blinked slowly, looking around, and all of a sudden it must have hit her because her eyes widened, face reddening rapidly. She cleared her throat uncomfortably, unwilling to meet his gaze.
"Leon, I think ya got confused," Nita began carefully. He went cold.
"This isn't... the same kinda love," Nita finally said, shifting uncomfortably. "Ya love me as ah sister. This is more... ah... it'sh different."
"Different how?" Leon managed. Nita shrugged.
"Jus is," she mumbled. "Where did ya hear this from?" She quickly redirected.
"Bea." The reaction was immediate. Nita groaned, slapping her face into her hands, dragging them down slowly.
"Ooookay, what did she say?" Nita sighed, sounding resigned.
"That my sweetheart was someone I liked more than anyone, and made me happy, and wanted to spend loads of time with," Leon dutifully recited. Nita let out a bark of laughter.
"I guess," she said. "But a sweetheart is more than that, Leon. It'sh someone you love wit every piece of ya, no matter what, someone ya'd die for. Someone who makes ya the happiest, but also the saddest and maddest. Someone you like more than me," Nita smiled fondly at him. Leon frowned.
"But Bea said-"
"Bea's a hopeless romantic lost to daydreams of love," Nita snorted, "she doesn't know what she's sayin'." Leon's mood sank. Then this was all just a... misunderstanding? He didn't love Nita, and Nita didn't love him?
"Leon," Nita said quietly. He looked up. "That's the romantic kinda love. But there's love between friends and family too. Jus cos I don't love ya that way doesn't mean I don't love ya at all." She smiled, opening her arms. Leon hesitantly stepped forward. One step. Two. Then he dived forward, and Nita folded him into her embrace. He hugged back tightly.
"But all this...?" Leon protested in a tiny voice. "You aren't mad?" Nita laughed, squeezing lightly.
"Food is food," she grinned, "and guess who's cleanin' up?" Leon let out an indignant squawk of protest, shoving her away, but she was already letting go, making a run for the table.
"Early bear gets the fish!" Nita crowed gleefully, easily finding the pizza in the oven. Her eyes sparkled. "It's allllll mine now."
"What? No!" Leon protested, tackling her to fight for control of the food. They ended up in a heap on the floor. Nita smacked him on the head lightly, and Leon suddenly realised he was happy and warm and safe. Maybe Nita wasn't his sweetheart, but he was completely okay with that. This was better. Way better. It was "family love", as Nita said. And that was all he needed.
Although a certain someone wasn't going to be happy with her lack of gossip.