Author: raison d'etat (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Summary: A PSoH/Sandman crossover: the petshop sells desire -- what happens when Desire comes to the petshop? Nothing good.
Categories: Angst, AU
Author's Note: If you don't have at least a passing familiarity with both Sandman and PetShop of Horrors, this fic will make but little sense.
Disclaimer: PetShop of Horrors is the property of Matsuri Akino. Sandman is the property of Neil Gaiman. I am making no money from writing this work of fanfiction.
Thanks to T. for all her help and suggestions.
The air of Count D's petshop was thick, heavy with incense and dreams. It was five minutes until closing time, and darkness had fallen beyond the heavy iron doors. From within his chamber, as he stroked Pon-chan with his customary gentleness, D could hear the faint patter of rain outside. Raindrops streaked down the window, creating drop-shaped shadows on the filmy curtains of his bed. D's eyes were half-closed as he breathed deeply of the perfumed air, the soft fur of Pon-chan soothing and predictable under his fingertips. There was no light in his room save for one red candle burning in the corner; the room felt warm and the sounds of the shop, inaudible to human ears, seemed to swirl around D in whispering eddies, letting him know that all was well.
He made a soft, cooing noise and Pon-chan snuffled contentedly. The rest of the shop hummed in response as well, feeling the master's good humor. The shadows lengthened. Three minutes left.
Then, for no apparent cause, the noises of the shop seemed to slow, then to quiet, then to stop altogether. Sleepy, feeling weighted down by something, D blinked, wondering what the odd silence could mean. Nothing could have happened to put the pets into an ill temper so quickly. Perhaps someone approached -- not a customer, but an intruder? He reached out with his senses, but could feel no alien presence, nothing amiss. Perhaps he was imagining things. Perhaps he was simply tired. The animals might be tired too.
He wondered idly if he were falling asleep. It was early yetthere was much to doand the Detective would no doubt be stopping bymaybe bringing something nice
Just then, he heard the shop door open and close behind one last, late customer. Shaking himself awake, D rose from his chair and evicted the raccoon from his lap, brushing imaginary hairs from the immaculate front of his cheongsam. He had nearly been caught up in dreams. That would not do. He had a function to perform, after all. He sold dreams to his customers -- to indulge in them himself was foolhardy and dangerous. Especially given what had happened the last time in the Natural History Museum. No, nobetter to forget dreams, to keep himself firmly planted in the moment, doing his job, putting other considerations aside.
He never said anything before entering the front room -- no vulgar calls of "Just a moment!" or "I'm on my way!" It would ruin the presentation. Customers were never expecting him, and his presence, emerging from the shadows, gliding in on feet as silent as fog, always came as a surprise. D preferred it that way. He liked surprises. Existence was so very long, after all, that a little spice -- a little sweetness -- could only be welcome.
He glided down the dark corridor that led to the front room. The shop seemed unnaturally warm for early autumn. In fact, beneath the incense, D thought he caught the smell of summer -- not one of the horrible Los Angeles summers, where every pleasant, natural beauty was lost beneath the smog and filth, but the summers of his childhood, in the forests and hills of China. The air pure and perfumed, not with incense, but the sweet natural smells of trees and herbs and all of life. He must be tired indeed. Well -- one last customer, and then he could rest. Perhaps these fanciful notions would fade with the dawn -- along with the sudden, heart-wrenching desire to return to those hills and forests, and drink deep of the sunlight there.
Shaking his head, putting the useless thoughts aside, D idly wondered who awaited him. A lonely, neglected child? A sexually and socially frustrated businessman? A busy housewife or mother? Either innocent or guilty -- but all of them wanting something, all of them with a need to fill, and they had come to him to fill it. He could do no less, certainly. Each received according to his deserts.
Perhaps, D thought with a small smile as he reached the beaded curtain, he should tell dear Detective Orcot that the 'D' in his name stood for 'Dispenser of justice.' That should go over marvelously well. "Who do you think you're kidding? The only thing that D stands for is Drug Lord -- one of these days I'm going to have a warrant -- "
D had to smother his chuckle as he passed through the curtain, the beads swishing and clicking behind him while he opened his hands in a gesture of greeting. "Welcome to our petshop," he said demurely, "where you may find your heart's -- "
And then he stopped dead.
"Go on and say it," murmured the figure lounging on his brocade sofa, wearing an amused smile. "I dare you."
D had paused, his hands still spread in welcome, his mouth still partly open around words that he'd never spoken. Then he shook himself out of it, aware of what a ridiculous figure he presented, and looked at his visitor carefully.
At first he had mistaken the person for his grandfather.
Skin that was at once as pale as milk, and yet, was no real color at all. Dark hair. Honey-gold eyes. And that same androgynous beauty that all his family shared -- long, smooth limbs, curved, inviting lips, a trace of mockery underneath it all, always asking the question: am I male, or am I female? And does it matter? Don't you want me anyway?
But the skin, the hair, the eyes, and the impossible beauty were not those of his grandfather. Not precisely. They were somehow more.
And then D knew. His heart stuttered in his chest, and he sank to one knee before the figure, bowing his head down. "Great One," he managed, trying not to frown or otherwise betray his sudden wariness, "welcome to my humble house."
"Took you long enough," his visitor murmured. D looked up. The Great One was examining its fingernails with a look of bored disinterest. And then it looked over at D, its golden eyes deceptively warm, deceptively sweet, unnervingly sharp. It was dressed in a simple black cheongsam, much plainer than any of D's -- but when it moved, fire seemed to ripple beneath the dark silk. Around its neck hung a small gold pendant in the shape of a heart.
It regarded D for a long moment. D remained on his knees. Then the Great One asked in perfect Mandarin, its voice a drawl, "Do you really know who I am?"
"Of course," D said respectfully. "You are the Monarch of Man's Desires."
"Not exactly," his visitor said, eyes gleaming. "I'm the monarch of nothing. I am Desire. Funny how your kind can't make the distinction any better than the humans you claim to despise." The slight emphasis on 'claim' was not lost on D. His feeling of unease increased.
"Please forgive my mistake," he murmured. "In what way may I serve you?" He did not know why a Great One, one of the Eternal Seven, should have chosen to come to him tonight -- or ever, for that matter. He was not certain that he wanted to find out. But his visitor was here for a purpose and there was no way D was getting rid ofuntil it wanted to go.
And that, he thought grimly, is MY desire.
"Well, in a way," the Great One said, producing a cigarette out of nowhere, "you already are serving me, aren't you? With your adorable little shop. Selling people what they want. What they most desire. Isn't that right?" It lit the cigarette from a silver, heart-shaped lighter and took a slow drag. Unlike the Detective's cigarettes, which nauseated D with their smell of dead plants and carcinogens, these cigarettes smelled pleasant, intoxicating -- much like the incense of the shop. The scent seemed to take hold of D's mind and wrap it in warm, soft silk, slowing him down, making it difficult to think. With some effort, D cast his mind back to the question at hand.
"Not exactly, Great One," D said. "We -- I -- sell them what their hearts long for, this is true. But in many cases that longing only brings them destruction"
"Let's not bring him into it, above all else," the Great One said, sneering. It exhaled a perfect ring of smoke. "So. So, so, so." It tapped the cigarette over the antique tea table, and watched the ashes fall and scatter over the surface, inlaid with jade and priceless wood. Then it smiled. "So you take their desire -- and in return you give them justice. Ethan Grey, for example. Handsome fellow. I knew him well. A man who dared to want too much, who indulged himself with so much love that he ruined his life, his wife's life and his lover's life -- and in return for that, you sold him -- what was it -- a great big fish. One that devoured him for that same need of love."
"A mermaid, yes, Great One," D replied carefully. "In a manner of speaking, you are quite correct."
"You expose your customers' excesses. Their petty cruelties. Their humanity."
"You punish them for wanting things."
"Ye -- " D's eyes widened. "No. Forgive me, Great One, but that is not exactly what -- "
"Oh dear, oh dear," the Great One yawned, and rose to its feet, stretching like a cat. The black cheongsam rippled fire with the movement, and the arch of his visitor's spine was the most beautiful thing D had ever seen.
"Ethan Grey was one of mine," it said. "So are all of them, in a way, the customers of your shop -- the ones you destroy, the ones you punish for daring to desire. What's your mantra, anyway?" Amusement flashed over its face like the gleam of light on a knife's blade. "Desire is the root of all suffering? Are you one of those dreary Buddhists?"
D swallowed hard. "Great One," he managed, "I belong to no faith. I -- I am not a human -- "
"I know what you are," his visitor said scornfully, moving to inspect a white baby cockatiel in a hanging gilded cage, the swish of the cheongsam revealing perfect pale ankles. "The question is -- do you?"
The Great One's laugh was rich and vibrant. It made D think of long strolls on summer days, and suddenly he knew why his shop was so warm, the air so pleasant. He shuddered -- it no longer seemed pleasant at all. The cockatiel cooed happily at the sound of the laughter, and without so much as a by-your-leave the Great One opened the cage and removed the bird, allowing it to settle into one cupped palm.
"You have an exceedingly tiresome family," the Great One said. D blinked at the non sequitur. "An insufferably pompous and judgmental grandfather -- even worse than you." It occurred to D, then, to wonder where Q-chan was, but then the matter was swept away once more by the sound of his visitor's voice. "A father who brings madness to an unprecedented level of dull cliché. To say nothing of that sister of yours." The Great One pursed its perfect lips. "Although -- if you could see my sistersah, but that's neither here nor there, is it? At any rate, I admit to being disappointed. I hadn't hoped for much when I met your great-grandmother, but I confess I'd hoped for more than this." A pale hand waved negligently at the shop's gloomy surroundings, before it returned to stroking its fingertips over the cockatiel's head. The bird cooed again. "Sometimes great things come in unlikely packages, I know. But I don't think this is one of those times, do you? Divine justice dispensed from an opium-den-cum-petshop? Excuse me while I laugh."
D gritted his teeth at the insult; of all the Seven, he knew, this one was the most impossible to deal with. It had to be -- surely even the Queen of the Lunatics couldn't give this much trouble. "Please pardon me if I have offended you in some way, Great One," he said. "Or any other members of my family, of course." But the Great One's comment about his great-grandmother had roused his curiosity. Sofu D never spoke of his own parents. D realized he'd never even thought to ask, had never even wondered if Sofu had parents, if there were yet more branches on their family tree. Sofu had simply always been there, the father of them all, as if he had risen from the earth itself with no other parentage. Was it so unlikely?
The Great One laughed again. Its mockery rang through the room. "Don't be more stupid than you have to, my little Count," the Great One said. "Didn't you mistake me for your grandfather at first? Well, you were nearly right -- I'm just one step removed."
"Your great-grandmother, as I said," the Great One continued, tickling the trilling cockatiel under its chin, "wasn't very promising. She certainly wasn't much of a lay. But I had some hopes. A breeding of so-called selfless earth spirits -- oh, don't get me started -- the kami, with one of the Endless? What might that produce? The possibilities seemed, if not infinite, at least full of potential." The golden eyes narrowed. "I repeat: I have been disappointed. Desire gave you life, little D, and you repay Desire by trying to snuff it out. You judge it. You judge me. As if you had the shadow of a right." The pale fingers flexed. The bird chirped inquisitively. "And if it weren't for the Kindly Ones," the Great added, "if you weren't of my blood, great-grandson, you may be sure I would rectify your insolence in the swiftest way I know. Exactly." The hand squeezed. The bird squawked. D's heart faltered in his chest. "Like." One pale fingertip stroked the cockatiel's head. "This."
The Great One snapped the bird's neck, and let the body fall from its hands as if it had touched something foul.
A long, cold shudder ran through D's body and it took all of his strength to choke back his gasp. It would not do to betray such weakness -- but --
"It would be as if you had never existed, if I wished it. If only you weren'twell, it's a pity."
D barely heard the words, still staring at the little corpse, revolted by the senseless slaughter. The Great One's cruelty was both disgusting and pointless. The bird had been innocent -- it had done no harm, had no part in this --
The Great One hissed. "Are you still going on about that? 'Innocent.' It's a bird. And you're still thinking in terms of the innocent and the guilty. Still trying to judge. When it's not about that. It's never been about that." It lit another cigarette, its expression exasperated. "You're never going to learn, are you? Not through stern lecturing, certainly. Well. Perhaps you're just one of those crossdressing kami who learn best by example." The Great One blew another smoke ring, and its eyes gleamed with anticipation. D felt dizzy; the room seemed to swim around him, the cigarette smoke clogging his throat with its sweetness. His visitor was still alluring, still beautiful, still irresistible -- and terrible in power and anger. The air was thick and D felt hair standing up on the back of his neck, as if lightning were about to strike.
"So let's teach you a lesson, Count," the Great One whispered. "What's your favorite modus operandi? Of course -- you teach and judge people through your little animals. What a quaint conceit. You open that door in the back, you let your customer stand there, and the proper animal comes when you call. It's like a justice vending-machine. I adore it. I simply must give it a try for myself." The Great One stubbed out its cigarette on the brocade sofa, leaving a small, perfectly round burn on the rich red fabric. Then it turned on its heel and squarely faced the front door of the shop, hands resting on slender hips. "So," it breathed. "Let's see what kind of pet comes when I call."
D knew what was about to happen. It didn't stop him from being horrified when, at that exact moment, the door swung open to admit Detective Leon Orcot.
"Hey, Count," the Detective said around a yawn, slouching into the room and scrubbing at his face with one hand. The door closed behind him, but he appeared not to notice. "How they hanging?" Then he seemed to realize that D was on his knees, and he blinked. "Why the hell are you on the floor? You lose a contact or something?"
D looked at the Great One in astonishment. The Great One looked back with a small, terrible smile. Confused, Orcot followed D's gaze and looked over his shoulder. "What is it?" he asked, his stance going from exhausted to ready, eyes scouting every corner of the shop for a threat, hand moving to hover over his holster. But his eyes never once alighted on the Great One. "D, what the hell is wrong? You look totally spooked. What are you looking at?"
"He can't see me," the Great One said, unnecessarily. "Perhaps you should attempt to behave normally or something, insofar as that's possible." It laughed. "What a noble creature, little D. What a pretty pet. Yes, I think this one will do splendidly for what I have in mind."
"Leave," D croaked, not sure if he was addressing the Great One or the Detective. "Leave this place at once."
The Great One only laughed again. Orcot stared at D as if he'd lost his mind. "What? Why?" His eyes narrowed. "You expecting company? Some Chinese mafia thugs about to pay you a visit and I'm interrupting?"
At that, D recovered some part of his senses and scrambled to his feet, nearly falling over when his knees refused to unlock. Orcot, though scowling, moved to help him reclaim his balance. D waved him away. "No, Detective," he managed, striving for some semblance of calm. "Forgive my rudeness. I am not myself. I am not well. I think I would prefer -- "
"Do you want me to call a doctor?" Orcot asked, still frowning. "Is it your teeth again?"
"Only the sharp ones," the Great One said. D flinched.
"D! C'mon, man, I've never seen you look so rattled -- "
"No, not my teeth," D muttered. "Forgive me, Detective. I do not need a doctor. But I do need rest. I think I will retire for the night -- thank you ever so much for stopping by. I hope you were not here intending to pursue an investigation?"
"He's here pursuing something," the Great One murmured, "but even he doesn't know what it is, the poor brute."
"No," Orcot said, still frowning at D. "Just thought I'd stop by. I, uh," he fished in his jacket pocket, "I brought you this," and produced a small box of very fine chocolates. They were from a very exclusive patisserie from all the way on the other side of the city. When D managed only a weak smile of thanks, instead of his usual rapturous enthusiasm, Orcot's scowl grew deeper. "Now I know something's wrong. These have your favorite caramel centers. D! Look at me! I know there's nothing over my shoulder! Damn you, you better tell me -- "
"Oh, it's too precious!" the Great One crowed. "I simply can't stand it. I think I'll preserve this moment for posterity."
And then Orcot froze in place, his mouth still open as he scolded D, his hand still proffering the candy box.
The Great One smiled, and moved to circle Orcot as if inspecting a prize piece of merchandise. It raised a finger and trailed it over one stubbled jawbone. "He's quite handsome, isn't he?"
"Yes," D whispered. "Please, Great One, leave him alo -- "
"But he's not one of mine. And that's why you've never been able to get your claws into him, isn't it? Not enough of those filthy, loathsome desires for you to touch. He's an idealist, this one. He dreams of a world of justice, of law and harmony -- when he isn't busy being either embittered or boring or masturbating in front of pornographic posters." D flinched again, and the Great One turned to smirk at him. Was that what D's own smirk looked like to other people? "Once he touched himself and thought of you," the Great One said softly. "Just last week. And he came so very hard. Does that make you happy?" The smirk grew. D's gut roiled, though whether in revulsion or excitement or fear even he could not be sure. How often had he forbidden himself to think of such things, knowing no good could come of it? (And had Leon really -- )
"Not that it matters," his visitor continued. "He was disgusted with himself. He's spent a fair portion of his waking hours denying that it ever happened and swearing that it never will again. But back to my point -- your pet's a dreamer. And I have no use for dreamers." The smirk twisted itself down into a bitter sneer. "Less than no use. They're my brother's property, the fool."
D found himself wishing fervently that he, too, was the property of the King of All Night's Dreaming. The Monarch of Man's Desire was not proving a loving sovereign. "What do you want of me?" he asked shakily. "What can Detective Orcot possibly have to do with anything? Great One, I beg of you, if I or my family have caused you offense, then let me be the one to rectify it. Not he."
"But you will be," the Great One murmured. Its hand dropped from Orcot's jaw, and it moved to circle around behind D. D felt cool hands come to rest upon his shoulders. He felt lips moving against his ear. "After all, D -- isn't this what you wanted? Golden, sleek, warm, alive, so fierce, with such integrity -- so passionate?"
Leon Orcot, frozen in time, arrested D's eyes. His golden hair glowed softly by the light of the lanterns, his powerful body curved in an act of offering, his blue eyes wide and concerned. He smoked. He was rough and garrulous and unrefined and had no notion of subtlety. He was blind to things that went on under his very nose. He lacked any understanding of the most basic underpinnings of D's life, of life itself.
In all his centuries of life, D had never wanted anything so much as he wanted Leon Orcot.
"Yes," the Great One breathed in his ear. "Feel that? What is it like, D? Here before you stands the perfect pet, the embodiment of what you want -- and what you are most ashamed of wanting. Now I am the judge, little Count D. This is your sentence. Your sin is the punishment of desire; your punishment shall be -- desire itself. I think that's fitting, don't you? No matter what happens, for the rest of your long, miserable existence, as you dole out your petty punishments, as you sleep, and wake, and eat, and breathe, you will want this man like a madness. He will infuriate you. He will intoxicate you. He will possess you."
The voice dropped, lower and lower in register, until it seemed to be vibrating through the walls, through the floor, through the Earth. D continued to stare helplessly at Leon, unable to look away.
"He will be with you always, long after his death, long before your own. He will be the shadow of your soul."
Breath wisped against the back of D's neck.
"And you'll never have him."
D closed his eyes as the words sent a lance of agony through him. "Stop it," he whispered. "I do not want to want him. This shop -- what I do -- the people -- this is what I am. This is my purpose. You cannot punish me for that!"
"You already wanted him," the Great One said, its voice now hard and cold. "Or else he wouldn't have come when I called. You know how it works. And now that is your purpose. Just as it is the purpose of all the miserable souls who come here and whom you dare to punish. You can keep punishing them, for all I care; they'll still be mine, no matter what you do. But now you will always live with this in mind. I do hope the lesson sticks."
"I don't punish all desire!" D cried desperately, restraining the impulse to thrash, to claw at the Great One and push it as far away from himself as possible. That would mean death -- or worse than death. The Queen of the Dead was kindness itself compared to this one. "You do not understand -- it is only when that desire grows hurtful, or excessive -- and then the people come to me, I do not seek them out -- "
"And who the hell are you to judge?" the Great One asked, its voice a cross between anger and boredom. "Desire is desire. It's all me. I am not a matter of degrees. It is not given to you to decide when I am excessive. You'll pay for your insolence, little kami, and no mistake."
The hand left his shoulder, and the Great One moved to stand between D and Leon, regarding both thoughtfully by turns. "Your devotion to duty is commendable, of course," it said eventually. "Which only makes the whole business more delicious. Don't think I'll be making it easy on you, little D. Your desire will never overwhelm you. Oh, no. You'll always remember your duty. You'll always put it first. Human and kami can't mix; you won't be forgetting that. You'll only be wanting him. And then -- when the time comes -- duty will take hold of your hands, and you will push him away, and you will watch as he falls from you. From that night on, every time you close your eyes, you will watch him fall over and over and over. And you'll never see him again. That's the way of it, I'm afraid."
The Great One's teeth flashed in a blinding smile. Even now, wracked with hatred and despair, D was awed by its perfection. "Now he belongs to my brother. Soon he'll belong to my sister -- they all do, in the end. But youyou'll always belong to me. I find the irony rather piquant, myself."
It leaned forward and kissed D on the cheek. Its lips burned like fire.
"I'll leave you to it, shall I, sweet D?" it asked. "He'll wake up in five minutes. You have until then to do whatever you'd like with him -- he won't remember a thing. This might be the only chance you get -- whatever will you do with it?" Soft laughter. "I wonder. Goodbye, great-grandson. Until we meet again. You've been a polite host, if a dull one."
And then it was gone.
The room suddenly exploded in noise, as if all the sound had been pent up for hours and was only now being released. The animals, which had been silent, now squawked and shrieked and screamed in outrage for their dead comrade on the floor, for the insult given to D, for the shock of the visitor's presence. Q-chan came flapping into the room from a corridor, chirping in wild distress. D felt himself unfreeze slightly.
"Be silent, please," he said wearily, and the menagerie quieted. Q-chan darted around his head. D felt the shift of magic in the air; Q-chan was preparing to transform.
"No, Sofu," he said quietly, holding up one hand. "I do not think I could bear to speak to you just now."
There was a moment of silence, and then Q-chan squeaked sadly and flew away. "The rest of you," D added, "please leave me in peace. I will take care of Minh Pao's body."
Silence fell again; D knew that he was alone with the cockatiel's body and one immobile Leon Orcot. Four minutes remained until the Great One's spell wore off. D whispered a soft, sorrowful incantation over the cockatiel, and the corpse disappeared with one last flutter of feathers. It was all he could do for her. Only Leon remained. Three and a half minutes. It would be more than enough time to steal a kiss, to touch the Detective in ways he never could while the man was conscious, to brand his own hands with the memory of flesh.
He was disgusted with himself, a ghostly voice whispered into the air.
D stood in front of Leon, his hands folded, his eyes never leaving the Detective's face. When less than half a minute remained, he assumed, as best he was able, the physical position he'd been in before the Great One had frozen Leon; alarmed, slightly stooped, turned a little to the left.
" -- what's going on with you!" Leon roared, his hands flashing out to grab D by the front of his cheongsam and shake him back and forth, the frenzy of movement breaking the stillness of the room and banishing the oppressive silence that had seemed to linger ever since the Great One's appearance. The box of chocolates dropped to the floor and the top fell off, sending gourmet candies tumbling. Neither man noticed. D was far too absorbed in the nearness of the Detective's face to his own, the warmth of his body, to think about something so trifling as sweets.
Leon Orcot smelled like summer. D closed his eyes in grief.
They stood like that in silence for a moment, Leon's chest heaving with agitation, D like a limp rag doll in his arms.
"What's wrong?" Leon whispered after a moment. "You -- you look -- will you open your damn eyes? You're look like you're -- Jesus wept, D, what -- "
D opened his eyes and gently disengaged his delicate clothing from Leon's grasp, pushing the Detective's hands away. Then he looked into Leon's eyes and did what he had never done before, and hoped he would never have to do again.
"Forget, Detective," he said clearly. "Leave this place and forget you ever came here tonight. You went home after work. You watched a movie on television -- what movie, I care not -- and had pizza for dinner. You did not answer the telephone if it rang. You wished to be alone. That is what happened. Go, now. Forget. Forget."
Leon's face went blank. He nodded, turned on his heel, and left without a word, eyes staring off sightlessly into the distance.
The door closed behind him. All was silent in his wake.
D sank down on the brocade sofa, right next to the cigarette burn. That and the ruined candy were the only physical reminders of his visitors tonight.
He shivered, and hid his face in his hands, and thought he might choke on the thickness of the air.