Disclaimer: All characters belong to Matsuri Akino, with whom I am not affiliated. I intend neither harm nor profit.
Notes: AU, from early in the first series. Contains hermaphrodite!D. This is a sequel to my story "A Second Piece," and was written for Ksha2222. Many thanks to Schemingreader for beta help.
by Rex Luscus
At six o'clock, Leon jogs down the stairs to the pet shop's front door. His stomach is fluttering, has been for hours—it's the sort of feeling that's nice at first, but not when it lasts all day. He finished up at work over an hour ago, but ever since D agreed to try this…relationship thing, or whatever, Leon has been afraid of wearing out his welcome. Create demand through scarcity, that sort of thing. Even if he never gets D to care about him, D will still want sex, and the less he has of it, the more he'll want it.
Inside, it looks like he was expected—there's a cake out, and two cups next to the teapot, which is still issuing steam—but the room is empty. He sits down in the chair opposite the one that usually has D in it, and taps his foot and drums his fingers on his knees for a minute. The kid with the horns who looks a little like the sheep-tiger wanders in, and Leon says, "Where's D?"
"Hello to you too, asshole." The kid flops down on the couch and plucks a strawberry off the cake, sniffs it, then puts it back. "He's back there somewhere. Doing something."
"Thanks." Leon reaches for one of the strawberries that the kid didn't touch and pops it in his mouth, automatically. He doesn't actually like fruit, but he's bored and nervous and doesn't want to talk to this kid who—that's so weird, it's like he is the sheep-tiger. What the hell.
After a while, he hears voices in the recesses of the shop, murmuring faintly, then getting louder until D emerges from the curtain-draped door followed by a woman carrying a bird cage. The bird inside is some kind of giant cockatiel—he thinks that's what they're called—bright white with a great big crest and blank little beady bird eyes. That's what he doesn't like about most animals—they've got no expressions. Nothing he can relate to, nothing that says we are like you. Except dogs, dogs are okay.
"Remember," D is saying, "to stick to the prescribed diet, and never let the incense stop burning, no matter what happens."
The woman is cradling the cage close with the look of tremulous hope that all of D's customers have. "Thank you," she says, her eyes wet, "thank you thank you."
D smiles his slow, reptilian smile. "Don't mention it. Good luck to you both." His smile grows warmer as he holds out a finger for the cockatiel to nip.
Once the woman has hurried upstairs, D sits and pours the tea. "I expected you earlier, Mr. Detective," he says. He still calls Leon that, even after repeated requests to use Leon's actual name. "Were you detained by work?"
"Uh, yeah." Leon takes the cup from D's hand. "Busy day." He glances toward the door. "So what was her story?"
"Hm?" D looks up. "Oh, you mean my customer. Her children have recently left home and she finds the silence of her house unbearable. She needs a companion, one that can answer back to her, or at least appear to. Hearing one's own words returned to one is at least preferable to silence, don't you think?"
"I don't know about that." Leon frowns at the greenish liquid in his cup, suspicious as usual, thinking about that mysterious incense. "She seemed awfully sure it would help."
"They usually are," says D, then sets his tea down. "Now."
Leon looks around. The kid with the horns has disappeared, along with all the other animals. It's weirdly quiet—a bit like the savannah must get when a lion shows up.
"Don't worry about her, Detective," says D, taking off his slippers with an unreassuring smile that clearly says, Worry about yourself.
Leon swallows. His eyes fix on D's fingers as they slide from one fastener on his robe to the next, tenderly and precisely, the way he puts out tea. Once he's undone them all, the front falls open and then the whole thing slides off his shoulders. Leon stares, knowing how moronic he looks. D's neck and shoulders gleam like polished ivory, and when he rises from his seat to let his clothes fall down around his ankles, Leon is reminded of a cobra rising from its basket to the tune of a flute. He forgets everything he ever thought he wanted when he sees D like this. Man, woman—D's body makes the distinction trivial. He's both, he's neither—he's beautiful, and that's the only thought that ever sticks. D is unique, and that makes Leon unique because D has chosen him. He sinks back into his chair, spreading his legs and adjusting himself. He has no will in these moments—he's just one of D's creatures.
D's fingers slip into Leon's hair as he straddles his lap, scratching his scalp with sharp nails while he undoes Leon's fly with his other hand. He feels hot and alive through the layers of Leon's clothes, and Leon shuts his eyes. He can never quite believe this is happening—like he's living somebody else's life. D's breath puffs against his temple, and then D shifts and Leon is inside him. It's an impossible thing.
He grunts and squeezes D's hips, and thrusts up, so that D gives a little shriek of surprised pleasure. With his eyes shut, the scent of D's skin and D's sex fills his senses, that and the hot grip of D's body around his cock, and the feel of warm skin growing tacky with sweat under his hands. He thrusts again, and then again, listening to D's noises growing higher and more frantic until he sounds like he's dying, and at that point Leon can let go, thrust hard, and come with a groan, his open mouth pressed into D's shoulder.
Afterward, Leon leans against D, his head still scrambled, drifting. Then D gets up, shimmies back into his robe and returns to his chair. "Drink your tea," he says as he does up the fasteners one by one.
"Muh." Leon shakes himself alert. "Jesus." He rubs his face, then tucks himself back into his pants, dazed and tingling.
Picking up his tea, he watches D puts his hair back into place, cheeks still flushed. In another minute or two, the animal noises start back up, and D's flush has subsided. Anyone would think they'd just been drinking tea.
Leon sighs. It's been a month since their big talk, and he hadn't expected things to change right away—but they really haven't changed at all. Should he have the conversation all over again, just to remind D that it happened? How would that go? Hey, D, remember you said we could try an actual relationship? What happened with that?
Maybe D is waiting for him to make a move. Maybe D doesn't know what to do, and so he's waiting for Leon to show him the way. It's such a bizarre idea that Leon doesn't seriously consider it. He is always the emotional retard in the relationship, and so the idea that someone could be looking to him to model proper relationship behavior—especially a wise ancient mystical nature-spirit-whateverthefuck—makes no sense.
Leon wonders what the animals all think when D dismisses them to fuck Leon. Do they laugh and roll their eyes? It's not like they have any reason to be jealous. Several of his relationships have included a version of the "you love your friends more than me" conversation, but in this case, it's more like "you love every other non-human organism on the planet more than me." He comforts himself that at least he's the favorite human, but that isn't actually comforting at all. It's like when he used to think he could stand his girlfriend cheating on him as long as it was with another girl, until it happened and suddenly he couldn't. Rejection is rejection.
What does D want? What, besides sex and baked goods, can Leon possibly offer him?
He thinks about getting up and sitting next to D, putting his arm around him, kissing him in front of the animals. Saying something crazy, like "I love you"—not that he does, that's just an example—and seeing what happens. D might put up with it, or he might kick Leon out.
Leon sets down his half-drunk tea and stands.
"You don't wish to stay?" D asks serenely, looking up at him through his lashes.
Leon folds his arms. "Do you want me to?"
"You are free to do whatever you wish," says D.
"Right." Leon shoves his hands in his pockets. He bounces on the balls of his feet. D looks back up at him, as if surprised he's still there. "Okay then," says Leon, and heads slowly for the door, hoping D will stop him. He gets all the way to the top of the stairs before breaking into a run, his feet pounding his frustration into the sidewalk.
The phone wakes him out of a deep sleep. He almost knocks over his lamp as he reaches for it.
"Yeah?" he mumbles.
Leon sits up. D never calls him on the phone. There's no need—they're rarely apart for more than twenty-four hours. "What's going on?"
"I must ask you not to come to the shop tomorrow."
"What?" He rubs his eyes. "Why?"
"I am entertaining a guest from out of town, whom I do not think it would be wise for you to meet. Please, control your foolish curiosity for this short time and honor my request."
"I do not know. I…I will notify you when you may return."
Leon frowns. "You're not up to something, are you, D?"
"When have I ever been up to something, Detective?"
"Like, all the damn time, pretty much."
"I assure you," says D curtly, "I am not 'up' to anything. If you do not heed my warning, I cannot be responsible for the consequences. Good night, Detective."
Leon hangs up and sits in the dark, arms folded on his knees, wondering if he's going to do as D told him. Who is this guest that D needs to be alone with? He thinks back to the cannibal chef, and what D had been about to let happen. Does D want privacy because he's doing something creepy and dangerous? Or what if this time he really is committing a crime—does he think Leon will leave him in peace to do it just because D told him to? Leon can be a little dense, but he's not a complete idiot.
The next morning, the door of the shop isn't even locked, so Leon goes right in. D is nowhere in sight, but there is a little old Chinese man on the couch.
He doesn't look like a cannibal chef, but you never know. Leon narrows his eyes and strides over. "Who are you?"
The old man smiles up at him vaguely and doesn't answer, and so Leon asks again. When he still doesn't answer, Leon snaps, "Don't you speak English?"
"He understands you perfectly well," says a cold voice behind him. "It is probably your shocking rudeness that has stunned him into silence."
Leon winces. It's going to take a lot of eclairs to get him out of the doghouse this time, he can tell.
"I made a specific request of you not to come here today," D says with quiet menace as he steps between Leon and his guest. "And yet here you are. If you leave right this second, I might be persuaded to forget that the last few minutes ever happened."
Leon considers his options. He wants to know who this guy is, what he's doing sniffing around D, and more still, he wants to get back at D for treating him like an embarrassment. It's like the time he dated that girl from Brentwood who refused let him meet her friends. That relationship didn't survive him crashing her birthday party, granted, but that was because it didn't deserve to. If D finds him so embarrassing, maybe this one doesn't deserve to survive either.
Then the old man solves the problem for him. "I am curious to meet any friend of the Count," he says. "Please, sit down and…tell me about yourself."
Leon grins at D, and D glares back as he sinks into his chair, hands twisting in his lap. He looks antsy—like he's afraid of what's going to come out of Leon's mouth. So Leon decides to make it good.
"I'm a cop," he says. "I spend my days with hookers and drug dealers, and my nights with…hookers and drug dealers." He laughs. "Just kidding. I spend my nights here, actually."
D's face goes white. He shakes his head, his black hair twitching across his eyes. Leon's smile widens. "Yeah, me and the Count, we're tight. Practically inseparable most of the time."
"Yes," says D, who is concealing his anger with an unnatural monotone, "but only because my manners prevent me from throwing you out with the trash. This time, however—"
"What sorts of things do you eat?" asks the old man suddenly, smiling and leaning forward.
Leon frowns. Why are all of D's friends obsessed with eating?
"The Detective pollutes his body with the same toxic diet of all Americans," D replies for him. "And with cigarettes as well. And he is going to leave now."
"This is D's favorite subject, you know," Leon tells the little old man. "He goes on and on about how stupid Americans are. But he sticks around, doesn't he?" Leon shoots D a sidelong glare. "If he really hated us that much, he should go back to his own damn country, don't you think?"
"I understand the desire to seek out new hunting grounds," says the old man. "And indeed, this is such a delightfully large country." He gives Leon a considering look. "And Americans are such large people. How tall are you, Detective?"
"Um." Leon shrugs. "Six-three, maybe? And we're not that large. I mean, okay, we can be kinda fat, but—"
The old man is suddenly standing beside his chair. "I think you are the tallest, largest American I have yet seen. Could you stand up for me, please?"
Leon shrugs again and gets up—and freezes, because instead of looking down at the old man, who can't be more than five feet tall, he's looking him right in the face. There's a sudden pressure around his middle, and the old man opens his mouth. And keeps opening it, wider, and wider…
"STOP!" D's voice seems to come from all directions, filling the shop, rattling the porcelain dishes on the table. "I am truly sorry this irritating man has interrupted your visit, Lăoshī, but I cannot allow you to eat him."
Leon looks down, and sees that he's wrapped from knees to shoulders in the coils of an enormous snake.
He doesn't even have time to panic before the coils loosen, and then he is looking down at the old man again, who sighs. "Very well," he says. "But you should not tempt me with prey if you do not mean for me to eat it, Count."
Leon takes one look at D, who appears both relieved and furious, and makes for the door. He doesn't look back and he doesn't stop moving, not until he's back at his desk at the precinct, staring at his screensaver.
He has no idea what just happened, and for once, he has no desire to find out.
That night, he gets another midnight call. "You may…return, tomorrow," D says. "I suppose." The and you'd better not come empty-handed is clearly implied. Still, Leon isn't quite prepared for what happens when he walks through the door of the shop with a box of eclairs in hand. D flies at him from across the room, and for a second Leon thinks he's about to get a face full of sharp nails. At the last second, they snatch away the bakery box instead.
"You stupid, stupid man!" D cries. "I made one simple request of you—how hard was it to do as you're told for once in your life?"
"You're squishing the eclairs," Leon points out.
D storms over to the table and drops the box onto it. "This is why there can never be anything further between us, Detective," he says. "This is why 'love' between us would be a mockery—because you are incapable of being anything but an ignorant, selfish, imbecilic—"
Leon grabs him by the wrists, and says, "Shh." D resists for a moment and then lets Leon tug him close, although he remains stiff. But that's the nice thing about D—Leon knows that whatever D does, he does willingly, because D could crush his skull with one hand. Leon lets go of his wrists and cups D's face in his hands. "Were you worried about me?" he asks, trying to stifle a smile.
"I am always worried about you," D snaps, making no attempt to free his face. "Your life is in danger every time you step out the door, in danger from your own stupidity—"
Leon pulls him close and kisses him.
"And you spoiled what I'd hoped would be a pleasant visit from an old friend," says D when he pulls back.
"Sorry about that," Leon smiles. When D doesn't smile back, Leon sobers and says, "I mean it—I'm really sorry you didn't get to hang out more with your creepy friend."
"You don't seem very sorry," says D.
"By the way"—Leon sits and swipes a dollop of icing off one of the eclairs—"who was that guy?"
"He is a bāshé," says D sullenly, sitting down opposite him. "A snake, native to China, like a python but much larger and more powerful. They have been known to eat elephants. He is very ancient and wise, but very single-minded in satisfying his appetite."
"A snake?" asks Leon, blinking.
"Look around you," D says wearily. "Do you see any animals?"
As usual, there's just the kid with horns and the little girl, and a few other people draped over the furniture. "No, just people," he says, with wonder. "I never noticed. What are they doing here?"
"They are people, yes." D sounds like he's explaining something time to a child. "They are also animals. They have been here the whole time, you have just been unable to see them. And you are still unable to recognize them for what they are." D sighs again. "I was a fool to even attempt this. If you won't be satisfied with a merely physical relationship, Mr. Detective, you had best leave now."
"Oh come on," says Leon angrily. "You're so full of shit. And anyway, I can see them now. Look—I'm not any dumber than I was last week, so if you were willing to give me a chance then…"
This makes D smile.
Later, after they've had sex—it's been a couple of days and they're both hard up, at least judging by the claw marks all over Leon's shoulders—Leon flops onto his stomach and faces D. "Admit it," he says. "You were angry because you were worried about me."
D replies with a patronizing look, but he doesn't deny it.
"Here's what I don't get," Leon says. "You know everything about everyone—you can tell what they're thinking, and you always know what they're going to do, and why. You know all about love. And yet—when it's you involved, it's like you forget everything you know."
"And you forget," says D, gazing at the ceiling, "that I am not human. I do not have the same passions, the same weaknesses, the same predictable irrationalities."
"Maybe not the same ones," Leon agrees, "but you have them."
"I have never claimed to be perfect."
"Fuck perfect," says Leon. "Anyway, you act like it's some big failure to actually give a shit about somebody."
"Love is responsible for most of the misery and cruelty in this world, Detective."
"Don't I know it," Leon shrugs. "I'm a goddamn homicide detective. Still, love is better than no love."
"I notice you are much freer with that word lately," says D with a scowl.
Leon stiffens. "Well—I just meant generally."
D turns toward him. "It is inevitable that we will be blind with respect to ourselves. In this, I am not very different from you." He pauses. "Of course, you are far blinder than I am. But it is a difference of degree, not kind."
"Gosh, thanks," says Leon, rolling his eyes.
"If this is to continue," says D, "I am afraid you must do something that does not come naturally to you—you must trust me."
"I…trust you," Leon says, unconvinced.
"You must not only trust that I have your interests at heart, but you must trust your place with me—you must not become jealous. If there is one trait among humans that I loathe, it is jealousy, Mr. Detective."
"Okay, okay. Fair enough." Leon rolls onto his back. "It's just—hard. You tell me how stupid I am all the time, what am I supposed to think?"
"I will…try not to do so quite as much."
"Huh." In spite of himself, Leon feels warm in the pit of his stomach. D agreeing not to call him stupid quite so often—it doesn't sound like it should be romantic, but somehow, coming from D, it almost is. He decides he'll take it, for now.
"And I'll try not to assume you've returned to a life of crime every time you do something weird that I don't understand," he says, feeling very magnanimous.
"I never was a criminal, Mr. Detective."
Scratching his stomach and leaning his shoulder against D's cool skin, he wonders when his standards dropped so low. D's concession is, what—to stop treating him like shit? Is he really so desperate for companionship that he'll accept crumbs and be happy with them? But he gets it—he gets that D's crumbs are a big deal, that they cost D something, and that nothing ever happens all at once. He can be a patient guy, when something matters enough. He's willing to wait and see.