With a tinkle of little brass chimes, the door shut on the sunshine and cacophony of Chinatown. Inside, the shop was dim and cool; the air scented with the musky trace of animals, threaded through with some sort of light, herbal incense. It wasn’t quiet, but it wasn’t as noisy as he’d expected. The barks and chirps and cries of the inhabitants blended together in an almost harmonious murmur that could even be mistaken for conversation.
Oddly enough - given their popularity in Tokyo - Nagi had never been into a pet shop before, merely seen inside them through windows. He walked slowly down the middle row, stopping and inspecting the shop’s inhabitants and being inspected in return. He wasn’t sure what type of pet he wanted, just something to keep him company - that wasn’t too time consuming to look after. The animal version of a plastic pot plant, Schuldig would have probably said.
It wasn’t until he was fully inside, in the centre of the shop, that the sensation of being surrounded by cages overwhelmed him.
He’d lived all of his life like that - in cages he had fought hard to escape, and which the Summoning should have freed him from. And if it all had finished with a bang rather than a fizzle, well, he didn’t particularly want to die, but if humanity had gone down in flames with him it wouldn’t have been an unwelcome ending.
Afterwards, Crawford had said they were free to live their own lives. But Nagi was conscious of the fact he’d only changed Esset’s cage to the larger one of society’s constraints and rejection. Because when it came down to it, he wasn’t really human. No plain human could do what he could, and no one truly human could accept him as such.
His last futile attempt to connect with humanity had proven that. “Takatori’s Monster” they’d called him behind his back. Along with other, less polite names. And Mamoru himself. Mamoru. . .
The less thought about that, the better. There was still a jagged hole in the place where he hadn’t realised his heart had been.
The thought of actually owning an animal suddenly made him feel sick.
Eerie silence registered. He realised the animals had all fallen still, the only sound the unnatural rattling of the cages and furniture. He closed his eyes, took several deep breaths and fought for control. The rattling stopped.
When he opened his eyes again the shopkeeper stood in front of him - a young Chinese man with oddly coloured eyes, dressed in a traditional cheongsam; celestial green, and golden with embroidered dragons. Nagi was briefly startled by the fact he had come so close without Nagi being aware of him, then realised the man practically radiated some sort of power.
“Gomen nasai,” he muttered and turned away.
He was halfway to the door when the man spoke,
“There is no need to leave, Naoe-kun. The children are merely startled.”
Nagi spun around, feeling his face set in familiar lines of cold suspicion, to be met with tranquil ease.
“How do you know my name?” he demanded. Around the room, papers lifted and fluttered.
“Peace, I mean you no harm,” the shopkeeper replied in a tranquil manner, “Please, let us speak somewhere more private.”
He gestured towards the back door and smiled; sweetly, sincerely.
“May I offer you tea?”
It had been a long time since anyone had smiled at Nagi.
Leon was halfway through his second chocolate eclair when the door slammed open. He barely had time to blink when, as if by magic, there was suddenly a red-haired stranger beside the couch.
“Where is he?” the redhead snarled down at Count D.
Leon started to rise, drawing his gun,
“Hey, buddy, hol-”
Leon found himself falling back into his chair like a de-stringed puppet, incapable of movement or speech.
“Of whom are you speaking?” D seemed unperturbed by the man's anger, continuing to calmly sip his tea.
“Nagi. Nagi Naoe. I know here was the last place he was seen,”
From the accent the man was a foreigner, probably a Kraut. Leon took careful note of his face and dress for filling out a report. Later. When he finally – because resisting his immobility was proving futile - got to move.
“I don’t care what they say about you. If you’ve done anything to him I’m going t. . .”
“I assure you, I have done nothing to Naoe against his will.” D cut in, his voice holding that secretly frightening edge Leon had heard only a handful of times, “Perhaps you should be asking what you didn’t do for him?”
For an instant the redhead’s anger seemed checked, then his eyes narrowed and he opened his mouth to speak again.
Another stranger appeared in the doorway – tall, dark-haired and spectacled, but with the build of a fighter. He walked rapidly over to ‘Schuldig’, and gripped the other man’s shoulder.
“I told you!” he hissed quietly, and then stared at him intently for several seconds. Schuldig frowned. The newcomer turned to the Count, the anger on his face smoothing away, replaced by an arrogant type of deference,
“Dùi bù qi,” the man bowed deeply in the Chinese fashion, “Please forgive my companion. His attachments sometimes overwhelm his manners. He meant no offence.”
D gave an ironical lift of an eyebrow but nodded,
“Consider it forgotten, Mr Crawford,” he replied coolly.
Damn it, thought Leon, another bunch of crazies D knew. The Crawford guy reached inside his coat. Leon struggled desperately to move but his body was still an unresponsive lump. To his relief the man drew out not a gun, but a small black box. He bowed again to the Count and offered him the box with both hands, saying,
“I hope you will accept this small token as a symbol of our sincere goodwill.”
A pale slender hand took the box, placing it with a ‘click’ on the lacquer table next to the teapot.
“And my companion?” D queried mildly.
Schuldig received a Look. The redhead turned to Leon and he found himself in control of his own body again. He immediately went for his gun. D raised a hand,
“Leon. Please. There is no need for that.”
Leon subsided back into his chair, glaring at Schuldig.
“What the hell did you just do to me?” he spat.
The man just smirked at him.
“I will answer your questions later, Leon,” D told him, “Please, gentlemen, have a seat.”
The two sat. D got out more a couple more cups and poured tea, then he and Crawford proceeded to make with the polite chit-chat. Leon and Schuldig glowered silently at each other. He could tell Schuldig was just as unhappy with the situation as he was himself (though for different reasons), but was as restrained by his associate’s steely politeness as he was by D’s.
Leon gritted his teeth. They were talking about the suitability of releasing zoo-reared animals into the wild now, for crying out loud! Schuldig unexpectedly stood up, then stormed out the door. Boy, and Leon had thought he had no patience with the social niceties. Not that his friend appeared all that happy either. Though finally it seemed they were talking about the missing friend,
“In retrospect our handling of Nagi were less than ideal,” Crawford was saying in a very stuffed-shirt fashion, “Please don’t doubt our concern for our colleague however. And had I seen this outcome I assure you I wouldn’t have allowed him to. . . disturb you.”
It seemed to Leon that Crawford was somehow blaming D for something. But rather than indignation, what little emotion showed on D’s face was pity, if anything.
“I realise the matter has been resolved and is now out of our hands,” Crawford continued, “But if you could just assure me that Nagi is happy with his decision?”
“You have my word,” D replied.
Crawford stared at him for a moment, then nodded and stood, giving D a brief bow.
“Then we will trouble you with our presence no more.”
“That would be appreciated,” D said.
Crawford bowed again; cast a brief, dismissive look at Leon and then left.
Leon waited. D just sat there, sipping tea with half-closed eyes.
“Well what, dear detective?”
“Who were those guys? What the hell was all that about? Where do you know them from?”
“Oh, I’ve never met them before,” D studied the delicate teacup in his hand, “In fact, their organisation went to extraordinary lengths to avoid myself and my family.”
“Dammit D, stop evading - I want answers! For starters, how the hell did that Kraut put the whammy on me?”
“Leon. . .” D sighed and put down his cup. He leaned over the table, purple and gold gleaming and rea. . .
Leon blinked, head swimming with a dizzying wave of sparkling dots. Movement led his gaze downward to where D’s newest cat - monster - whatever - was at his feet, batting around a. . .
I dropped my eclair.”