D and Sympathy

Part II: Daughter

Bunnies. Bunnies. Leon always thought they were supposed to be cute, fluffy, not the makings of a deranged nightmare. He guesses fur is just a fooler for those little beady eyes, those pulsating masses of destructive life. All he'll be seeing for a long time is bunny incisors chewing their way through bunny bellies. Leon is never going to be able to look at another rabbit again in his life without thinking, evil. Red-eyed, squirming, biting evil. It's an easy distinction to make, when you've watched Mrs. Hayward being torn to pieces and an entire town overrun with the things.  Devouring dogs, chomping on children, multiplying too fast to kill. It's been another day right out of a horror movie. Leon is bone tired, the world again feels like it's just barely scraped out of potential chaos, and all signs point to D.

Granted, the inside of Leon's head sounds like a Raymond Chandler novel. His brain has begun to work in short, choppy sentences, packed with just enough accusatory oomph to look damn fine in black and white but damn pathetic even in Technicolor. Leon half expects himself to bring a typewriter into his apartment and acquire a fedora. He already smokes like Humphrey Bogart. His day-to-day conversation lacks a certain hard-jawed conviction, but he's working on it. Chinatown, he thinks. Dark alleyways, dirty dealings. It would sound all right if he weren't having tea with the owner of a suspicious pet shop, if he weren't here because of a bunny incident, if there were any clues other than the wriggle in his own belly and the mistrust in his own eyes. Again with the tea; again with the distraction tactics. But Leon isn't stupid enough to fall for the same decoy twice. Even if the tea set is different this time. The teapot is dark black with a glossy sheen; an insouciant gold dragon winds over the back and around the handle. The count must have an endless supply of teapots, not to mention an endless supply of cheongsams -- which Leon can't even think of as dresses anymore. He gets the feeling the count is listening, and hates the sly redirection of the count's eyes as they focus on Leon's erroneous thoughts.

The cheongsam makes that recognizable paper-rustle sound of cloth on layer of cloth. It, too, is black, with gold winding along one arm and in scales across his belly. There are moments of silver, hidden flashes of light. Leon isn't any expert on fashion; all he knows are t-shirts, jeans and converse sneakers, the occasional bomber jacket, fresh socks. The count is made out of silk and expensive silk at that. Such intricate detail, such painstaking embroidery. Leon wonders how many little kids in China sat in a sweatshop for days on end eating Lord-knows-what to get that dress to the count on time, then tells himself it's just not the count's style. The count is more classy than that, more refined.

Too refined. It's fooling everyone but Leon, who knows down to his marrow he's the only sorry bastard who can see right through him. Even if there are no hard facts yet, something's bound to turn up sooner or later.

Whatever the count comes up with this time is going to have to be good. You can't just explain away rabid mutant bunnies with a cup of tea and a charming smile. Besides, men with lipstick on just don't do it for Leon where charm is concerned. In fact, men don't do it for Leon, but men with lipstick give him the creeps. The count has these thin, red lips that tug back into an unsettling smile -- patronizing, a little chiding, complacent, all-knowing and ultimately secretive. If he were any other guy Leon would knock him one right upside the head, but every time Leon gets worked up enough to do just that something in him falters. The animals get silent, or the hairs on the back of his neck prickle, or the count stops smiling and really looks at him, and the scent in the air shifts to bitterness. Everything warns him not to be rash, that it's just stupidity. Besides, you don't go around punching porcelain. It's beautiful, breakable, but it shatters. It bites back.

Leon rubs the left side of his jaw. He doesn't like feeling moody, and he doesn't like brooding. There's too much to think about where the count is concerned, too much contradicting evidence. Half of Leon refuses to believe the shit he's seen, a lizard named Medusa turning some poor actor to stone, and now evil attack bunnies that not more than a half hour ago were threatening to overrun the continent. He's not crazy. He's not going crazy. He's grounded in reality, that's what he is, something the count doesn't quite seem to get. These things don't happen in the real world. They happen in bad sci-fi flicks, but you don't see them while on duty. Except Leon did see them, and while no logical explanation has presented itself, all he has to go by is the count's word. Instinct tells him not to trust the count, but he's already accepted a third cup of tea. And the count isn't putting too much sugar in it anymore. Leon knows what that means: it's some sign of familiarity and respect now physically present between them, though Leon doesn't know how to label it.

Such an overture can't be ignored. The count's well-manicured hand looks to Leon in this moment like ones made to offer. He hands Leon a cup of tea with genteel civility. Leon wonders if he handed Mr. And Mrs. Hayward their bunny in the same way: polite, well-mannered, entirely unreadable and completely foreboding. Little did Mr. Hayward know the bunny was going to eat him alive. Little did Mrs. Hayward know she was going to watch her husband die that way, and follow him soon after. Little does Leon know what exactly is in this tea, other than this mysterious 'jasmine' crap. Still, he's not chicken. He'll call every one of the count's bluffs if it kills him. "Down the rabbit hole," Leon says, and knocks the hot liquid back. If the count is watching him, deviously wry, Leon couldn't care less. If the tea scalds a little on its way down -- throat and tongue already burnt from the prior two cups of carelessness -- Leon also couldn't care less.

"You are still harboring some misgivings, Mr. Detective," the count says. He doesn't ask. He doesn't strike Leon as the sort of guy who ever has to ask. He slips conversation into the silence subtly enough that Leon's thoughts are never interrupted, only displaced, drawn just behind the sound of D's voice. A sly talent. Leon leans forward, circles his index finger around his teacup, smells the gradual warmth of the jasmine tea. You could get lost in a place like this. You could forget there's something weird in the incense. You could stop wondering why the light is overrun with shadow deep below the street. You could almost lose track of time.

Drugs. The guy's gotta be dealing in experimental drugs.

Damn straight Leon's harboring some misgivings.

"Damn straight I'm 'harboring some misgivings'," he replies. "And don't worry, I'll get to them in my own time." Whatever look he's giving the count right now, he hopes it makes the guy nervous, and knows it won't. There's a certain futility with his struggles here, like banging his head against the bars of a cage. His head isn't any stronger than the bars are; his head will give before the metal does, but damned if he isn't going to get the satisfaction of at least trying. He drums his fingers against the low tea table, looking for the right words. "Bunnies?" he asks at last.

The count sips his tea. His knuckles are white, his fingers thin, his palm curved against the black side of the teacup. Leon misses having a handle to hold onto, something to remind him of the America going on just outside of the count's shop. "They were indeed rabbits, Mr. Detective," the count answers. "You were not hallucinating; neither was the Los Angeles Police Department."

"If this was your idea of a fucking joke," Leon warns. Half of him refuses to believe, also, that the delicacy of the count can harbor such callous indifference. The man just doesn't give a flying crap. It makes Leon angry not for himself, not for his own integrity, but for what the human race is coming to that some people just don't care anymore. "People were hurt. People were killed. Animal, too." At the last on Leon's list, the count sighs deeply. Pained about puppies, Leon assumes. Pained about pigeons. Not bothered in the least about the deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Hayward, his own customers, the other nameless casualties suffered, the terrified children, or Leon's unnerved state. "I mean, they were bunnies, but -- but this was some serious business, count. If the things hadn't been poisoned by whatever it was--"

"But they were," the count answers.

"But that's not--" Leon explodes.

"But they were." The count levels another arch look in Leon's direction. 'Are you serious, Mr. Detective?' Leon imagines the count is thinking. 'Can you really be so childish.' 'How is it that you allow such petty concerns to trouble you?' He feels a sudden surge of impotent anger in his gut. He's punched better men for this, stronger men, and in public. His fists ball on his thighs. He grinds his molars, with no other outlet for his rage. A few birds squawk and beat their wings; a monkey chitters its protest; dogs begin to bark in warning. The count's goddamn bat-thing scolds him, chirp chirp chirp chyuu, right in the ear. Leon wonders if this is what a migraine feels like. Leon wants a beer. Hell, Leon deserves a beer, after the unbelievable day he's had.

"I thought you gave a shit about animals, anyway," he mutters, without conviction, with only sullen insolence left to his cause. "All those rabbits, killing one another, dying themselves. They ate a couple of dogs and God knows how many pigeons and cats, too, I've heard."

"A pity," the count says, and means it.

"Guess you just don't make safety first." Leon takes another swallow of his tea. He watches the count warily throughout, not willing to bear his neck to him, not willing to be vulnerable under any circumstances. He's glad to find his tea has at last cooled.

"I am not unrealistic," the count replies. He explains things carefully, slowly, so that Leon -- with all his misapprehensions, with all his misconceptions -- will be able to follow such complicated logic. "I understand the various necessities involved in both life and death." In this moment the count looks altogether cold and untouchable, so that Leon longs to grab him by the shoulders shake him up. Who died and made this asshole king? Who told him he could sit there on his high horse looking down on everyone and doing everything short of calling it all foolishness outright? The guy must think he's some kind of god, capable of administering justice to those struggling to get by beneath him. One of these days Leon is going to wipe that smug expression right off his pale face. One of these days those lips won't be so condescending.

"Life isn't about necessities," Leon counters. He's never been good at debating -- he's more of a fist-meet-face kind of belligerent jerk -- but some things need to be said. Some sides need arguing. "Life is about people and people," he continues, "people aren't bunny food. You can't pull this sort of shit and expect to get away with it."

"I haven't pulled anything," the count says. His smile is amiable. "Good day, Mr. Detective."