Caught

A Petshop of Horrors Fanfic

By Jaelle



Disclaimer: Petshop of Horrors is copyright to Matsuri Akino, no infringement intended.
Rating: PG-13.
Setting: Post-manga.

Written as a 2005 Christmas request fic for Miyukis_4.



The incense is thick and heady, making the air in the pet shop feel heavy, like you're drinking it instead of breathing. Most first-time visitors think that that's what gives the shop it's sometimes oppressive, watchful feeling. But they're wrong. The wreaths of smoke twist and spiral, apparently at random but always in the right place to hide something the customers don't need to see yet. The eyes glowing in the dark, the ears pricked up to hear every last word...

The teeth, sharp and gleaming.

Violence and death, cloaked in beauty. Just like its owner Count D, who smiles gently at his latest client. "Are you certain you want to do this?"

The customer is a peasant from northwest China, come to Beijing to try and find paid work so that he may eventually gain enough money to wed. He brought nothing with him but the clothes on his back, a willingness to work, and a pair of songbirds he'd raised from the egg. The birds are healthy and beautiful, clearly devoted to each other, satisfied with their lives and devoted to their owner, but the avian flu epidemic has everyone nervous and the man fears his pets may be destroyed in the panic.

Wu Fengshan nods nervously, although his hands twitch longingly towards his pets. Snatching them to his chest he twines his fingers together tightly in order to resist the urge to change his mind. "I fear I cannot protect them anymore," he says, eyes downcast in shame. "I tell people that my birds are healthy, but they do not listen. I am sure they would listen to you, though."

Count D is sure people will listen to him on this matter also, although there are few here who would have the impertinence to even ask the question. "Well then, if you feel there is no other way around it, I should be glad to take these two into my care," he gently strokes a long-nailed finger over the head of the male, who leans into it. "For a pair such as these, I can offer you an excellent price..."

Wu shakes his head frantically, tears in his eyes. "Please, no... I couldn't, it would be like selling my children." He's already standing to leave, emotionally and physically exhausted from his long journey and facing an even longer path ahead. "Please, just make sure they go to a kind person. Someone... who will care for them. Goodbye."

He rushes out of the shop before Count D can try to press money on him again, and disappears into the crowds outside. The Count sighs and whistles to the songbirds for a bit. He thinks about how often humans have sold their own children in the past, and muses on how often they're likely to do it in the future. Still, from all indications Mr Wu will not be one of those people, as he genuinely seems to be a simple, kind and honest man. Such a man is unlikely to do well in the big city, the Count knows. Not without some help anyway.

"Yuan," he calls, and a few minutes later a beautiful woman exits the pet shop in pursuit of Mr Wu. It's a big city, but the Count's not worried. Yuan will find him.

"Now, what shall we do with you?" the Count asks the birds. "Ah, I know just the place. It has clean air and fresh water, and plenty of room for you to spread your wings in. I am afraid that I will have to apologise for the company though."

**

A week later, Mr Wu is back looking flushed and somewhat confused, but also much wealthier than before. On his arm is a beautiful woman with golden eyes, and on her left hand is an engagement ring. Mr Wu however has eyes only for the Count.

"I cannot begin to tell you what this last week has been like," he babbles. "If I'd only known what fortune was around the corner, I would never have... Count D, is there any chance... are my birds still here?"

The Count smiles. "As it so happens," he purrs, "I do still have the pair of songbirds you left in my care."

Mr Wu's eyes go wide in hope. "Please," he says hoarsely. "I'll pay anything."

Sometimes the birds hop willingly into the cage. "I have been unable to find them a suitable owner," the Count says. "Now, as you gave them to me for no price, I suppose it would be quite true of me to say that they were... priceless. That is, I am willing to return them to you for no cost, other than a small charge for their care and feeding this past week. However, as you specified that they were to go to a kind person, I will have to ask you to sign a contract before I give you the birds."

Mr Wu is already nodding his head. A hasty man, the Count decides, but that does not mean he is foolish. Merely passionate about what he loves, and there's no sin in that.

"This contract stipulates that you must care for the birds, keep them fed and watered and treat them well. You must treat them as well as you will treat your lovely bride-to-be here... Miss Yuan is it? Yes. Treat the birds and your bride well, and I am sure only good things will happen to you. Sign here please."

Mr Wu signs and the Count bows and invites his guests to enjoy some tea while he retrieves the birds from their enclosure. Mr Wu sighs in relief and for the first time, really looks around the pet shop.

"You have so many beautiful animals here, Count D," he says in amazement. "How do you find them here in the city?"

The Count pauses and a mysterious smile crosses his face. "Sometimes I go out to catch them," he says casually. "And sometimes they come to me to be caught."

Mr Wu blinks. "They come of their own free will?"

"Oh yes."

Count D leaves his guests and walks slowly through the myriad back corridors of the pet shop, before arriving at one ornately carved door. The door leads to a grassy hill and a small forested area with a lake and waterfall. He whistles and the songbirds swoop towards him, singing about all the new things they'd discovered. They are overjoyed to find that their owner has returned, and fly off immediately to rejoin him. Count D shakes his head in amusement, it never fails to astound him how some animals are so enthusiastic about returning to their cages.

Speaking of cages, there is a large one near the lake, and the Count makes his way towards it slowly. The tall, slightly sullen, blonde-haired man inside it gets to his feet as he approaches.

"Greetings Detective," the Count stops in front of the bars. "And how are you today?"

Leon Orcot glares at him. "Same as usual. How are you? Sold any murderous animals today?"

"Alas, business is not good lately," Count D fakes disappointment. "Why it's been so slow that I actually had to give away some of the pets. One perfectly good wolf and the two lovely singers who've been keeping you company this past week. How unfortunate I am."

Leon's clearly thinking something snide but at least refrains from saying it out loud.

He's learning.

Because good behaviour should always be encouraged, the Count reaches through the bars and gently trails his fingers down Leon's face. He's pleased to note that the man no longer flinches at his touch, and instead leans into it slightly. He feels a little guilty; Leon's a social animal and, songbirds aside, has been a bit starved of company lately. Perhaps one of the cats would consent to stay with him a while.

Leon turns his face so that his lips brush the Count's fingertips. The Count hums, pleased, and withdraws his hand.

Attempts to, anyway. Leon may have been stuck in a cage for the last six months, but his reflexes are still sharp and his hands grab hold of the closest thing to human contact he has these days.

The Count glares at him affrontedly. "Release me at once."

Leon ignores his order and instead yanks him closer, reaching his other arm through the bars to wrap around the Count's waist. Pressed together against the bars, the Count stares at him impassively, and waits.

"You... I..." Leon starts, stops, and is once again betrayed by his temper. "You fucking, fucking bastard. How much longer are you going to keep me in here?!"

The Count stares at him silently for several minutes, until Leon's gaze wavers and he releases the other man.

"Would you prefer to go back to the chains?" The Count asks dangerously. Leon pales and takes a step backwards.

"No."

"Very well. Then, as I told you when you entered the cage, you will remain inside until such time as I decide you are housebroken enough to join the rest of the shop." The Count's voice is cool and distant. "If you are not satisfied with this arrangement, you are of course free to leave."

Leon's eyes flick to the cage door. It is unlocked and temptingly open, and has been ever since he walked through it. He closes his eyes, and thinks of home. Of TV and beer and his job and messy apartment. Of Chris and Jill. And then he thinks of months and months of desperate searching as the hollow place in his chest grew larger and larger.

Human beings were weak compared to other animals, someone had told him once. Their senses were dulled and disused. Animals could track by scent, or see for miles, or hear in different ranges and across great distances, or feel the vibrations of their prey through the ground, or divine information from the taste of things. Leon couldn't do any of that. All he had was his own native intelligence, which he had some time ago realised was sadly not up to the task, stubbornness, and sheer dumb luck. The combination of the last two were what had led him to the Count this time. Would he ever manage to do it again?

"No," he says hoarsely. "Forget it. I'm not going anywhere. I told you, when I found you in Canton, that I'd caught you for good this time."

The Count smiles mockingly. "Caught me? Exactly which one of us is in the cage, Detective?"

Leon opens his eyes and glowers. "I'm here because I want to be here, Count. So get used to it, because I ain't leaving." He sits down again, defiance in every pore.

Count D looks at him and the mockery fades from his face to be replaced by faint surprise. In all truth, he'd never expected the proud detective to stay this long. Perhaps then... perhaps...

"I have some customers I need to see out," he says, turning to go. Hesitates. "They brought me a lovely red bean paste cake. Would you like some?"

Leon's grin lights up his face. "Sounds great."

The Count leaves, shaking his head.

He'd always thought he'd never understand the willingness to be caught and caged.

Ah well, you live and you learn.

End

A/N: Canton is these days known as Guangzhou. But I doubted Leon's ability to either remember or pronounce that, so I went with the old name for it. *hums Istanbul (not Constantinople).*



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