Written for: zopponde
Fandom: Petshop of Horrors
Warnings: none really
A/N: Chris' thoughts/speech is indicated :like this:
Summary: Chris makes a new friend, Leon gets rained on and most people/creatures learn a little something about what it means to be family.
"Good morning Chris," the Count greeted as Chris came into the shop's front room, bright and cheerful even though he didn't drink three cups of coffee in the morning like Chris' bro did. Chris wondered sometimes if maybe Leon should switch to tea instead.
:Good morning,: Chris answered, hoisting himself up onto a high backed chair and digging into the breakfast of toast and fruit the Count had laid out for him. :Thanks for the food.:
The Count smiled. "It's my pleasure, Chris. Do you, T-chan and Pon-chan have interesting plans for today?"
Chris grinned hugely. :Hide and seek! Philipe doesn't play but I promised to go swimming with him again soon.: He paused, thinking of something. :Unless you need us to go buy groceries or something?:
"Hmm? Oh no, that's fine Chris. It seems as though it's going to rain today," the Count explained, eyes twinkling as if he was telling a secret. "Much better to stay instead I think."
:Ok. Did you want to play with us?: Chris wiped his mouth on a napkin. :It's a really fun game!:
The Count's smile changed then, turning soft the way it sometimes did when he was talking to people who weren't customers or Leon. "Thank you Chris, but I'll be fine. I have the shop to run. Besides, I wouldn't be surprised if your brother came by this afternoon - it's been a day or two since he last deigned to visi..." The Count broke off abruptly, hair swishing as his head turned towards the door.
It was another moment before Chris heard it himself - the steady thud of shoes on the stairs outside. There was a man's voice too, loud and angry.
"I don't care!" the voice was saying, almost shouting the words. "If that's what he wants, that's what he's going to damn well get and I don't care who I have to go through to make it happen!"
Chris put down his spoon. :Count?:
"Hmm." The Count's skittered past Chris' shoulder. "T-chan," he said. "Why don't you and Chris go find Pon-chan? I'm sure she's waiting for you both."
:T-chan?: Chris glanced over to find T-chan lurking in the doorway, a smudge of red at the corner of his mouth. :When did you get here?:
"Sure, Count," T-chan said easily. He unfolded himself from his lean and canted his head at Chris. "Come on, Chris. Ten-chan's said he'd play too, the cheater."
:How do you cheat at hide and seek?: Chris wanted to know, climbing down off his chair. Then he paused, turning to look at the Count with a worried frown. :Are you sure it's okay for us to leave you alone, Count? What's if it's a bad person like the ones that kidnapped you?:
"You needn’t worry about that," the Count said, in the absent tone of voice that meant he wasn't really seeing you anymore. It drove Chris' bro crazy. "You have fun."
A hand fisted in his collar and Chris suddenly found himself dangling several feet off the ground as T-chan frowned at him. "Stop bothering the Count," T-chan ordered, not doing a very good job at sounding scary. "He can take care of himself."
:O-okay,: Chris said and T-chan hauled him out the back door as the Count's "Welcome to Count D's Pet Shop" greeted the new customer and the start of another day.
Hide and seek in the Count's shop was always an adventure.
"Geez!" Pon-chan huffed, hopping down neatly from the curved windowsill she'd been perched on. She dusted off her skirt with a flourish. "Took you long enough!"
Chris shrugged. :There was no window here the last time I walked through. T-chan's it this time,: he told her, with a triumphant grin at T-chan. :I found him first.:
"Lucky guess," T-chan grumbled.
"Maybe you're just bad at it," Ten-chan offered, leaning out of the way when T-chan took a swing at him. "Or maybe you're just good at finding him?"
:It's harder to hide when you're tall,: Chris defended, which made Ten-chan laugh.
"I was only teasing kiddo," he grinned, scrubbing a hand through Chris' hair. "No need to get your panties in a bunch. But," Ten-chan stretched, braids swinging. "That's enough fun and recreation for me, I think. See ya'll later!"
A cheeky wink and Ten-chan was gone, leaving the three of them alone in the hallway.
T-chan snorted. "Jerk." He waved an imperious hand at Chris and Pon-chan before Chris could tell him not to be mean to Ten-chan. "Go on then, hide." His teeth flashed in a sharp grin. "Just don't complain if I decide to eat you once I find you."
"You would not!" Pon-chan shot back hotly. She grabbed Chris' hand. "We're going to find the best hiding spots and you're never going to find us, right Chris?"
:Um, yes?: Chris guessed, but they were already running, T-chan muttering numbers under his breath as they went.
They split up at the first hallway they came to; Pon-chan going right after pushing him towards the left fork. Chris jogged down the hall away from her, trying to find a good spot.
Most of the doors he passed looked familiar; the ballroom, grandma's old room, the garden where all the people inside did nothing but sleep in the sun. Chris kept going, sure that T-chan would start looking in those places first.
He stumbled to a stop a few moments later in front of a door that he'd never seen before. Which was nothing new in Count D's shop - the doors never seemed to stay where they were supposed to - but this one was small, barely taller than him, with green paint that chipped and flaked over dark wood. There were scratches in the doorframe too, long jagged lines that looked like they'd been made with someone's fingernails.
:But even the Count's fingernails aren't that long,: Chris thought to himself as he reached for the doorknob. :Maybe a knife instead?:
The room inside was... kind of plain, not empty like some of the others but a lot less flashy than most places inside the shop. It looked kind of like his big bro's apartment except without the mess and the pictures of naked ladies. There was nobody inside.
A quick look around turned up a closet, almost tall enough for his bro to stand in and with more than enough space for Chris amid the hanging clothes. He climbed in and pulled the door shut, pulling his legs in close so he'd fit. The closet smelled like grass and sunshine.
Chris waited. It was quiet. He picked at the fraying edge of a worn sweater, wondering how long it would take T-chan to find him.
The door flew open. "Leander!"
That wasn't T-chan.
"Oh," said the girl, looking disappointed. Her hand fell away from the door and Chris stared at her, openly curious.
She was a few years older than Chris and taller, with long hair that wasn't quite blond and wasn't quite red pulled back in a sloppy ponytail. Her jeans were ripped and faded, and her shirt looked too big. Which was kind of weird, Chris thought - most of the women in the shop wore dresses. Or swimsuits.
"Sorry," she said, short and sharp. "I thought you were... someone else." She turned away.
:Wait!: Chris said, tumbling out of the closet after her. :Please don't go! Why do you look so sad?:
"I'm not sad," she said, turning up her nose at him. It didn't sound any more real than T-chan's threat to eat him and Pon-chan had.
So Chris smiled at her. :I'm Chris. Is this your room? I've never seen it before.:
"So you came in without permission. Nice." Chris squirmed a little. "What are you even doing here anyway?"
:Playing hide and seek - do you want to play too? I'm sure T-chan and Pon-chan won't mind.:
She snorted. "I've got better things to do than play kiddy games, thanks. Go away."
:You called me Leander,: Chris noted, tagging along at her side as she stomped over to the door. :Are you looking for someone? Can I help?:
"Oh for..." The girl stopped and fixed him with a glare. "What part of 'go away' don't you understand? I can find him on my own."
:But,: Chris started, then jumped when the door burst suddenly inwards and T-chan and Pon-chan tumbled in.
T-chan stopped, staring at him. "I don't think you've quite got the hang of this game yet."
Pon-chan was staring at the girl with a not very nice look on her face. "Who's that?" she demanded.
:This is...: Chris trailed off, looking up at the girl.
She rolled her eyes. "Arielle."
:This is Arielle,: Chris told them. :She's looking for someone. I said we'd help:
"And I told you I don't need it! Get out of my way you," Arielle stopped, staring at him. "...you're a human, aren't you?"
Why did the people in the shop always ask him that?
Chris nodded. :Yes. The Count lets me stay here because my big bro is usually busy with work.:
Arielle's face went tight and when she spoke the words were jagged like she was trying to be angry instead of sad. "Huh. Some brother. Doesn't even want to keep you around so he dumped you off on Count D instead."
:My bro does too want me around!: Chris stamped his foot, frowning hard. :He comes by all the time!:
"Shh," Pon-chan hushed him, glaring at Arielle. "Of course he loves you Chris."
"It's the only good thing about him," T-chan muttered, which was pretty much a glowing compliment as far as him talking about Leon was concerned.
Chris sniffed, relaxing his fists. :Yeah.:
Arielle kind of... folded in on herself then, looking suddenly young and unhappy. "Sorry," she muttered, embarrassed.
:It's okay,: Chris told her, ignoring the face T-chan made in response. :Are you sure we can't help you look for your friend?:
He said it in his most hopeful voice, the one that Leon said would be useful when he got a little older, and Arielle sighed heavily.
"You don't give up, do you kid? Oh alright," she surrendered, flicking irritably at her hair as Chris beamed at her. "But you'd better not get in my way."
:We won't!: Chris agreed happily. He twisted round. :Right, guys?:
"Whatever you want, Chris," Pon-chan agreed.
T-chan crossed his arms. "Whatever."
:Great!: Chris turned back to Arielle. :So who's Leander?:
Arielle bit her lip. "My older brother."
The closed sign had been turned for nearly an hour when the door opened, and D looked up with a smile that was more amused that polite. "Why, Detective!" he exclaimed, eyes wide. "You looked like a drowned..."
"Don’t say it," Leon warned irritably, water dripping off his clothes as he stumped across the floor. "I've been on patrol all day and I'm fucking soaked."
"Language, Detective," D chided. "And please wait for a moment while I get a towel. You'll ruin the couch."
"It's not like it'd make it any uglier," Leon groused, though he waited for D to come back just the same. "Quiet here today," he noted, toweling his hair off roughly.
"Mm. You may not have noticed, but the shop's closed for the day. You're actually just in time for tea."
Leon snorted, wringing out the front of his shirt and sending water pattering to the carpet. "That's because the only two things you ever do are drink tea and be a pain in my ass."
"Well." D's smile widened into something amused as Leon took a final swipe at his hair and left the towel draped around his shoulders. "I suppose I'm lucky you deigned to stop by then."
"You do realize you're not funny, right?" Leon arranged himself into a graceless sprawl on the sofa, glancing idly around the room. "Where's Chris?"
Steam curled softly through the air as D filled one teacup, then the other. "Oh, he and the others are playing in the back. He said they were going to play hide and seek."
Leon made a face. "One of these days one of those crazy beasts you pretend you don't have is going to take a bite out of him and I'm going to take your head off."
A sigh from D. "Nothing's going to happen to Chris, Detective. You know as well as I do that he wouldn't be staying here if you thought he was going to get hurt."
Leon humphed. "I still don't think this place is safe."
"Oh it's not," D agreed easily. "But none of Chris' friends are about to let him come to any harm. Biscuit?"
"You're such an ass," Leon told him, taking three cookies off the tray just because he could.
T-chan and Arielle didn't get along very well.
"So where are we going?" T-chan asked. They were walking down a hallway that Chris didn't recognize, Arielle and Pon-chan on either side of Chris while T-chan ambled along behind them. "Because really, I'm not a big fan of aimless wandering."
Arielle shot him a glare. "I already told you - I know where we're going."
"But I don't."
Chris felt kind of like sighing. :Do you guys have to argue?:
"Yeah," Pon-chan said tartly. "Stop being such a pain."
T-chan bared his teeth at her. "I missed lunch today," he reminded her. "Don't push your luck."
Pon-chan rolled her eyes. "Yeah right."
:Are we getting close?: Chris asked Arielle before Pon-chan and T-chan got in a fight as well. :I don't think I've been to this part of the shop before.:
"What's with all the questions?" Arielle demanded. "I said I know where we're going."
:Sorr-: Chris started, but T-chan's disgusted growl cut him off.
"Why are we helping out this ungrateful brat, Chris? Just because this is a pet shop it doesn't mean you need to pick up strays."
"I am not a stray!" Arielle hissed, sounding really mad. "You take that back, you mangy beast!"
"Who are you calling mangy, you..."
:No more fighting!: Chris pushed his way between the two of them. :We have to work together!:
"Che," T-chan huffed, still bristling. "You sure know how to pick'em Chris."
"Um, we've run out of hallway," Pon-chan said then, and Chris turned around to look.
It was true. There was an open door in front of them, scuffed and scratched along the doorframe. On the other side Chris could see dirt and trees and sky. Big, glossy green leaves were curling round the door, swaying slightly in a breeze that Chris couldn't feel.
"Ha!" Arielle quickened her step, darting a victorious look at T-chan. "I told you I knew where I was going. Come on!"
:Your brother's in here?: Chris asked, trotting to catch up with Arielle. He could hear the buzz of insects all around him and the steady creak of the trees.
Arielle didn't answer, her mouth set into a grim line. Chris wondered why she was so determined to find her brother when she wasn't excited about seeing him.
Pon-chan's hand found Chris' as they walked. "I don't like it in here," she said, sounding nervous. "It's too... wild."
Chris put his other hand over hers. :It's okay. I'll protect you,: he promised and Pon-chan smiled at him.
They walked for a while, thrashing through the wide leaves and making an awful lot of noise. Chris snuck a glance at Arielle, wishing he knew how to make her less sad.
"Hey kid," Arielle said suddenly.
"Chris," Pon-chan and T-chan corrected in unison.
Arielle flicked a narrow glance at them. "...Chris. You said you stay here because your brother too busy to take care of you, right?"
:Yes,: Chris answered.
Arielle bit her lip, looking suddenly uncertain. "How... how do you know he still loves you if he never has time for you?"
Chris blinked at her, surprised. :I...:
"Nevermind," she said at once, biting the word off like it offended her. "It was a stupid question. Forget it."
Arielle ignored him, tramping through the trees with rather more breaking branches than necessary. Chris shared a helpless look with T-chan and Pon-chan; Pon-chan squeezed his hand encouragingly while T-chan rolled his eyes and made an unsubtle 'go ahead already' motion with one clawed hand.
Chris nodded and took a careful breath.
:My big bro's not very good at showing that he cares,: Chris said, watching Arielle out of the corner of his eye. :He's kind of gruff and he doesn't like to talk about how he feels, but that doesn't mean he doesn't love me.:
Arielle's shoulders hunched as he talked, her spine ramrod straight, but Chris could tell she was listening. He kept going, struggling to find the words to explain.
:Bro doesn't need to tell me he loves me - I can tell whenever he plays with me, or tells me stories about his job, or takes us all to the park. He's not always very good at taking care of me,: Chris admitted, ignoring T-chan's amused snort. :He's away a lot and he sometimes hurts my feelings when he doesn't listen. But bro didn't give up on me when I... stopped speaking and he brought me here, where I got to meet all of you.: Chris paused to beam at Pon-chan and T-chan.
:I don't know why you don't think your brother wants you around,: he told Arielle. :But I'm sure he still loves you. That's what big brothers do.:
Arielle was silent for a long moment, then drew in a breath that sounded nearly like crying.
:I'm sorry!: Chris said, instantly contrite. :Did I say something wrong?:
"No," Arielle said and the corner of her mouth lifted into an almost-smile. "Sounds like you're pretty lucky. But what do you do about a brother who doesn't even give you a chance to prove that you want him around?"
"Maybe you should hit him," T-chan suggested. Chris squawked as T-chan's hand landed on his hair and ruffled cheekily. "It'd probably do Leon some good as well, Chris - I can't be the only one biting him."
"Leon?" Arielle's head jerked up. "Wait, you're that obnoxious detective's little brother?"
Chris braced himself. :Um, yes?:
Arielle laughed, like she couldn't quite believe it. "No kidding! Maybe we have more in common than I thought." She winked at him. "Alright then, Chris. Let's go find my stupid brother."
"Goodness," D said as Leon sneezed again. "All that time in the rain seems to have given you a cold."
Leon shot him a withering look around his kleenex. "Shut up you. It's probably all this damn incense - can't get a breath of fresh air with all that crap floating around."
"And yet it's never bothered you before." D took a sip of his second cup of tea, humming in pleasure at the taste. "Are you sure you wouldn't rather change into some dry clothes?"
"If you think you're going to get me into one of those sissy dresses you wear, you're missing even more brain cells than I thought."
D pouted prettily. "My dear Detective, don't you think that's being a trifle unfair?"
"Do you have to do that? I have a name you know." Leon sunk lower in his seat, chin thrust out in something that looked dangerously close to a sulk. "I'd use your name if you had one, you know."
"Ah," D murmured, slyly amused. "But that's because you have no manners. More tea?"
:So how do you know your brother is here?: Chris tried, now that Arielle seemed to be in a better mood.
She tapped her nose. "Oh, I can tell. Besides, the last time he came back he told me about his..." her voice grew heavy with disdain. "Friends, who live here."
"They're not good friends?" Pon-chan asked, tripping along at Chris' side.
"They're different," Arielle said, like it was a bad word. "Not the kind Leander ought to be friends with."
:But how do you know if you haven't met them?: There was a fallen branch across the path and Chris tried to help Pon-chan climb over it, but he was too short. T-chan shook his head and hoisted the both of them over.
Arielle frowned. "Why do you guys get on so well? You should hate each other."
Chris shrugged. :We just do. Why shouldn't we be friends if we want to?:
"Speak for yourself," T-chan said, not meaning it even a little. Chris grinned at him.
"But he eats things like you!" Arielle pressed. "How can you trust him to-" She broke off suddenly, her head swiveling towards a patch of jungle that looked exactly the same as all the rest. T-chan growled low in his throat.
"Shh," T-chan muttered distractedly as his eyes roved restlessly around the area.
"Well now," a voice said, the high, jagged edge to it making the hair on Chris' arms stand on end. "What have we got here?"
"Looks like a buffet to me," another voice said, just as unsettling as the first. Metal clinked and a group of really skinny people in black leather with shaved heads and chains on their pants stepped out of the trees.
:Who are you?: Chris asked, trying to sound brave. Pon-chan's nails dug into the palm of his hand and Chris shifted so that she was safely behind him.
Their smiles were sharp, jagged things, standing out against blotchy skin.
"This isn't a place for kiddies," one of them said, slinking closer and angling his body so he was staring at Chris almost at eye level. "Especially human kiddies."
T-chan's growl was much louder this time and Chris' vision was suddenly full of white fabric as T-chan crouched low in front of him and Pon-chan. "Don't start something I'm going to have to finish for you," he warned them, teeth bared.
A girl with a wide stripe of neon bright hair laughed at him. "I think you're getting ahead of yourself, little goat," she taunted, slinking closer. "You're no match for all of us."
"Pack animals," Pon-chan said quietly, which didn't make much sense to Chris. "This could be dangerous."
:But nobody in Count D's shop would hurt us,: Chris protested. :Would they?:
A snarl distracted Pon-chan from answering and Chris glanced with alarm at Arielle's arched spine, the furious curl of her lip as she glared with slitted eyes at the strange group of people. "You," she breathed, low and dangerous. "It's all your fault!"
They blinked. "What's with the baby kitty?" The first one asked, and Arielle tensed, getting ready to leap.
Chris panicked. :Wait don'--:
A massive roar exploded through the jungle, louder even than Kanan in a bad mood, and Chris jumped, clinging instinctively to T-chan and Pon-chan. The scary people froze immediately, stiff and uncertain, while Arielle blinked like she'd just woken up from a dream.
Something big surged through the trees, branches snapping like gunshots, and the neon hair girl turned with an uncertain grin to face the sound. "Leo," she greeted, as a man even taller than Leon with wild red-blond hair stalked forward, mouth open on a snarl. "We were just..."
"These kids just wandered in..." another chimed in and suddenly they were all speaking, a jumbled chorus of yipping voices.
"We weren't doing nothing..."
"Just a bit of fun..."
"Enough!" Leo roared, scary enough that they all fell immediately silent. "Are you idiots blind? That's my little sister you're bothering!"
Chris blinked, surprised, as all the people flinched, six sets of nervous yellow eyes turning to stare at Arielle.
"Um," a guy with a silver bar through his eyebrow stammered, and Leo - Leander Chris realized - waved a disgusted hand.
"Get out of here," he ordered. "And stop harassing random pets!"
They scattered as one, melting back into the trees with hardly a sound. Chris belatedly released his death grip on T-chan's pants. Leander watched them go with a pensive expression, not even looking at Chris and the others.
Arielle drew in a shaky breath. "Um, brother..."
"You!" Leander exploded into motion, whirling around with a terribly forbidding expression. "What are you doing here?! I told you to stay at home!"
"I..." Arielle faltered, bottom lip trembling, and Chris frowned.
:Hey,: he started, but T-chan held him back with one hand.
"It's not your fight," T-chan told him, eyes never leaving the dangerous bulk of Leander's broad shoulders. "Let her sort it out."
:But,: Chris glanced worriedly back and found Leander looking at Arielle with an expression that wasn't quite angry enough to hide the worry underneath. Oh he realized, and T-chan gave his shoulder a pat.
When Arielle didn't say anything, Leander shrugged. "Go home, Arielle," he ordered, in the same gruff voice that Leon had used when he'd told Chris that he was going to send him to that special school.
Arielle's hands fisted.
"You, IDIOT!" Arielle's punch caught Leander right on the jaw and he staggered back in shock, staring at his very angry sister like he'd never seen her before.
"I came here looking for you, you ass, because I'm sick of sitting at home by myself while you go off to see your new friends and all I get to do is wait!" Arielle stalked forward, a bristling tower of righteous anger. "I'm not afraid and I'm not a baby and I miss you when you're not around, even if you are a massive jerk who doesn't understand how much it hurts when you don't want to spend any time with me!" She folded her hands across her chest, planting her feet like a challenge. "So you can order me around all you want - I'm not leaving until you agree to come with me."
T-chan whistled lowly. "Brat has balls," he noted, then cursed when Pon-chan whacked him on the knee. "What was that for?"
Leander stared at her, open-mouthed, for a long, tense moment. Arielle glared at him, practically daring him to object.
"Hell," Leander said finally, lifting one sheepish hand to scrub at his wild mane of hair. It was the sort of thing Chris had seen his bro do a million times before and he realized suddenly what Arielle had been talking about.
Arielle raised an eyebrow. "Well?"
"I'm sorry," Leander said abruptly, embarrassed but sincere. "I didn't think it would bother you. But you really shouldn't be wandering around by yourself," he added, with a touch of big brother bossiness. "What if I hadn't come by, huh?"
Arielle shrugged in what would have looked like nonchalance if a smile hadn't been fighting so hard to break through. "I wasn't by myself. We could have handled it. Besides," she shifted uncomfortably, looking down at the floor. "They're your friends. Even if they're weird, they can't be as bad as they look, right?"
Leander sighed. "Crazy girl," he said affectionately. "What am I going to do with you?"
One of Leander's big hands came down to stroke through Arielle's hair. Arielle purred and nuzzled into the touch.
"Come on," Pon-chan whispered, tugging on Chris' sleeve. "They don't need us here anymore."
"You can visit them later," T-chan told him. "You know which door to look for."
:...yeah,: Chris agreed.
"Good," T-chan said. "Because I'm freaking starving."
They found the Count doing a poor job of trying to calm down an irate Leon when they finally wandered back into the front room.
"I'm telling you, that sounded like a goddamn lion!" Leon declared, on his feet in the middle of the room and looking moments away from waving his badge and charging off to investigate. "I've had enough of you and your illegal animals!"
"I have no idea what you're talking about," the Count said primly.
Leon barked out a laugh. "Ha! The day I believe anything you say is the day I shave my head and join a -- Chris?" Leon blinked, perplexed, at where Chris had just attached himself to his leg. "What's wrong?"
:Nothing,: Chris said, burying his face in the stiff fabric of Leon's jeans and hugging hard. :I love you bro.:
"Uh," Leon managed, sounding very confused. His hands patted awkwardly at Chris' shoulders. "Yeah. Same."
Over by the couch, T-chan snorted. "He's still an ass."
"Hush," the Count said placidly.
Leon relaxed enough to bend down and hug Chris properly and Chris caught a glance of a quietly genuine smile on the Count's pale face when Leon's arms wrapped around him.
"Good work, Chris," the Count mouthed, and Chris grinned.
Just another day in the most wonderful shop in the whole wide world.