I didn't exactly get the slashing into the first half of the request, but they're still plenty busy! ^_^;; Plus new cast members -- who're probably really obvious, but hey, I couldn't resist making the nod to superficial resemblances between various settings, especially given the game-character-overlaps that happen in Laylah's SDR&Rverse...
Normally, washing the glasses didn't put Mei in such a good mood. But this, she thought, humming under her breath happily, was a special occasion. She gave the glass in her hand an extra bit of polishing as she wiped it dry, beaming from ear to ear.
The Tiger's Eye's last two lingering patrons edged a little further away. They knew her, after all, and it wasn't every day the smile of I'm being shamelessly evil, because evil is so terribly fun, and by the way would you like a silly pastel umbrella with that drink? made an appearance.
Mei grinned even brighter, and set the last pint glass down with a clink, and looked around for something else to do.
With a muffled curse, the big grizzled tom chugged the last of his ale and set the glass down; his lanky, silent sidekick didn't bother finishing his drink, simply setting the half-empty glass on the bar and standing.
It was the big one who had his tail down nervously and almost-but-not-quite ran for the door, though. The thin dark one looked like Mei could break him in two with a good sneeze, but he had dignity in spades. He wasn't about to run for the door just because Mei had That Grin on.
...Which might have meant the big one was the brighter of the pair, at that.
Mei called after them happily, "Have a nice evening!"
The dark one nodded politely as he closed the door after himself; the big one was eager just to be out of the way before the impending mischief-bomb exploded. Some people had no sense of adventure.
For a couple of minutes, Mei wondered whether she ought to feel guilty. The answer was probably yes, but feeling guilty wasn't nearly as much fun as feeling the anticipatory glee of the last few minutes before the pounce on the unsuspecting victims.
"OWow ow ow ow OW SHIIIIIT--!"
"Keep it down," Ace hissed through his teeth, throwing his coat over his partner and beating out the smoldering fur with more vigor than the poor ginger tom appreciated.
"You fuckin' keep it down when you've got a maniac with a fuckin' barbecue gun on your tail!"
Ace shoved the Joker's head down behind a crate and dove after him a split second before a jet of blue-white flame passed through where their faces had been a moment earlier. He caught his partner by the scruff of the neck and ran, dignity and char marks be damned. The Joker didn't even try to get his feet coordinated enough to run with him; he'd wrapped himself around Ace's ribcage somehow, and all his energy had gone to sheer outrage.
"I'm gonna fuckin' murder that whore from the Claw!" the Joker howled at the top of his lungs. "Short golden tom with blue eyes, she said. Really unique blade, she said. Can't miss him, she said. Not a goddamn word about the freak sidekick with a fuckin' flamethrower set on fricasee--"
"Shut up," Ace snarled, dashing through the door of a steel-sided warehouse and slamming it behind them. It probably wouldn't hold the freak for long, but it was better than standing in the middle of a bunch of wooden crates filled with gods alone knew what kinds of possible hazardous or explosive substances. He wedged a knifeblade into the door to keep it shut, and then set the Joker down and took a look at his burns. "...You think you can run if you have to?"
"A single goddamn spark shows up in here, and you'll be watching me fly."
"Good," Ace said, and started hunting around for anything they could make explode under some semblance of control.
Mei wouldn't have heard the back entrance latch if she hadn't been listening for it; Haruki looked all but panicked, poor thing.
"Mei?" he asked, and he even had that overlarge knife of his out, ready to take on the bad guys; it was too cute. "Mei, a girl at the Claw said that you're in trouble, that you needed me to-- to take care of something for you--"
"Oh, that's got to have been Satori," Mei said brightly, drying her hands on her apron and reaching for a pair of pint glasses. "She makes everything sound so dramatic, doesn't she? Here, sit down; I need you to taste test something for me."
Haruki wasn't quite buying it; his ears were laying back a little, and he said, "Mei, it wasn't easy to get here on this kind of notice."
"I know," she said, a little apologetic. "Nao's actually the one who needs you this evening. And it is very important to her. --But it's not a gang war in the making, so you can put your silly pointy thing away and taste test this for me while Nao's getting ready for your big date."
"...For our what? Mei--"
He stopped short, though, at the smell of the steaming-hot cream she was pouring into the pint glasses. After the cream there was caramel and cinnamon and nutmeg in one, and the other got chocolate and espresso, and they both got little cat-shaped cookies perched on the edge of the glasses.
His eyes were half glazed over already, Mei noted with approval. Haruki always had been a pushover for warm sweet cream.
...And he didn't have to know about the vodka, really. Or that these had been designed to be served in martini glasses, not pints. He really liked sweet cream, after all; this was just a harmless indulgence. ...Indulgences all around, really, for all three of them.
"You had me come here on half a day's notice to taste test egg nog?" he asked, trying to sound irritated, but his ears had already pricked forward and his whiskers were tracking the cream-filled glasses like an extra set of radar.
"I had you come here on half a day's notice for Nao," Mei said. "The drinks are just a bonus. And I can't decide which of them to put on the menu! I call it a Siamese because of the banding when it hasn't been stirred yet, but I don't know if I should serve the seal-point coloring or the fawn-point coloring... so which do you like better? The spiced version or the chocolate version?" And she set both glasses in front of him, then leaned her elbows on the table and smiled.
He knew her smiles even better than the patrons who'd high-tailed it out of the bar earlier; but she could practically see his sense of self-preservation crumbling as he sniffed at the spiced cream and its pouncing-Siamese-kitten sugar cookie.
Haruki picked up the pint and took a sip. His eyes widened, and he stared at the glass in astonishment, then took another more enthusiastic swallow. "Mmmmm," he managed, and distracted himself just long enough to take a bite of the sugar cookie before burying his nose in the glass.
Hook, line and sinker, Mei thought proudly.
The pyro-freak's damn flamethrower had finally run out of juice, but the Joker was limping too badly to take any advantage of his speed and agility, and Ace wasn't doing too hot himself. They'd finally worn each other down to scuttles from shadow to shadow, and Ace's heart was pounding so hard in his ears he was amazed the Joker hadn't heard it and made a wisecrack already.
On the other hand, getting a look at the pain and frustration on the Joker's face, Ace suspected the evening's entertainment had driven all the wisecracks out of him.
...Damn. If the Joker wasn't making wisecracks, he needed a hospital. And probably soon, at that.
"Okay, asshole," Ace shouted into the dark, ignoring the Joker's flinch and incredulous, frantic glare. "Your toy's out of juice, and there's two of us. Now that we've got each other's attention, mind explaining yourself?"
There was a flare from a corner, and the Joker's little muffled whimper would have been ammunition for months of teasing if Ace hadn't completely understood the impulse. The glitter of green eyes resolved itself into a face, and the bloody streak of flame pouring over its shoulders into a mane of crimson hair that was even more garish than the Joker's. Then it unfolded itself as it lit its cigarette.
The lanky figure mostly-hidden in that dark trenchcoat might well have had a couple of inches in height on Ace, though nowhere near his breadth of shoulders. He shook out the match, so that the only points of light were those unearthly green eyes and the hell-gold of the cigarette-ember; he took a long slow drag and blew a drift of smoke toward the ceiling, and flashed a grin that was colder than the moon and much sharper of tooth.
"So," the pyro drawled, "what the hell do you bastards want from the kid anyway?"
The Joker was still giving Ace the are you fucking out of your gourd?! eyeballing, but it didn't show in his voice. "Don't see how it's any of your business, yo."
"Well, that's a shame," the pyro said. "Seeing as how I tend to make him my business and all." He quirked a brow skyward, looking at Ace: "We done explaining?"
"Looks like it," Ace agreed, straightening out his gloves.
"Right, then." And the pyro swallowed the cigarette whole, still lit, and then--
"Holy fuck, he's a TORCH--!"
--but Ace already had the Joker by the collar and jerked them both behind the stack of crates before the wash of flame could incinerate them both.
One of these days, Ace thought wildly, I've GOT to teach him to dodge first and comment later--
The room was really, really warm. Haruki had peeled off his coat a while earlier, and he was halfway through ridding himself of the shirt before he remembered Mei and pulled it back on hastily.
"Oh, don't mind me," she said, smiling.
"'S warm," Haruki mumbled, and leaned on the table because the table was there and steady and that was good. Good table. Nice tablecloth too. Just the right texture to get his claws into and knead and knead and knead and...
...and Mei was giggling at him. Ears back, Haruki retracted his claws, and looked around for something else he could knead.
Still too warm. He took his shirt off, and started kneading it. It was warm too, and good for clawing, except for when things ripped like that, but it was still warm and soft and -- oh yeah, Mei. Ooops.
Except Mei had slipped out some time when he wasn't looking.
Too bad. Those Siamese-colored cream drinks were really tasty. He wondered if there was any cream left.
Except that when he opened the door to go look, the doorway was full of Nao. Her pupils were dilated, and she was panting for breath.
And she didn't have any clothes on, either.
Haruki blinked at her, trying to figure out how to ask whether the cream and her clothes had gone together, except the blink took too long.
"Oh gods, thank you," Nao said, and then she was wrapped around him.
She was really warm too. And soft. Very soft, except for the places where she wasn't soft, the places where she was strong and fierce and... well, still soft too, just mostly because of her fur instead of the muscles beneath, and Haruki was almost sure this bore some commenting on, except that her tongue was in his mouth, which made talking complicated.
And then she reached down between them and grabbed, and her fingers were rubbing -- were -- uh -- rubbing right behind his -- his -- uhhhhh --
--her fingers were good, Haruki decided, and also thought it was about time to stop thinking.
Knowing they were facing a torch made their lives both easier and harder. Easier, in that sooner or later he was going to wear himself out of the strength to support that witchery; harder in that they had no idea how strong he was, or how long they were going to have to survive before he fell over.
He was staggering as he whipped around, struggling to track them both when they came at him from opposite sides, and it was the only thing that kept their chances anywhere near even; even when he was clearly burning out the last dregs of his unnatural power, sheer tooth-gritted determination was keeping him on his feet, unpredictable blasts of fire stopping them from getting in close enough that their fists could hold the rest of the conversation.
Ace wondered why the hell some half-fed witchborn punk cared so much about the Lion, in the two seconds before he flattened himself behind the steel girder holding up the roof as flames blazed past either side of it -- and then it faded. Ace dashed back toward the charred hull of the long-abandoned machine that had sheltered him a few minutes earlier, squinting through the dark in the direction the firebolt had last come from--
A dark body was slumped on hands and knees on the floor, gasping for breath, and Ace changed trajectories without even realizing it. Because he hadn't even seen the Joker for at least two minutes, and this needed to stop soon, he needed a hospital for those burns before he went into shock or--
"DON'T YOU TOUCH HIM!"
The voice was high and shrill enough Ace almost thought it was a female kitten who'd dashed between them, all its fur puffed out to at least three times its normal size, bottlebrush tail standing out stiff, and-- hofuckthatwasaBIGsharp--
Scrambling backwards almost head over tail, Ace bounded back to the top of the burned-out machine; but the kid wasn't following with its messed-up meat cleaver; it was backing toward that dark huddle on the floor, still watching Ace like a hawk.
"Scorch?" the kitten asked, and only then did Ace realize it was a little half-grown tom. "Scorch? You idiot, I told you I can fight my own battles--"
"Nothing personal, kid," the Joker rasped from the other side of the room, and Ace had never been so glad to hear his partner's smartass-comments-incoming voice in his life. "But I hate getting my fur burned off. You never get rid of the smell and it doesn't grow back in right. So if you'll just run along to mommy, the grown-ups aren't done with their conversation--"
"Wait," the torch wheezed, and pushed himself halfway upright. "Wait just one fucking minute. You're not after Blue?"
"Who the fuck is Blue?" the Joker asked, annoyed. "We got a tip we'd find the Lion down here--"
"Who the fuck," the torch mimicked, his face almost split in two with a desperate, mad-edged grin, "is the Lion?"
"...I'm going to MURDER THAT BITCH!" the Joker howled, and all right, there wasn't a thing wrong with his lungs. "I'm gonna rip her tongue out through her ass and hang it on a flagpole and--"
Ace had to cough really loudly to get the Joker's attention, rolling his eyes toward the kitten; the Joker subsided into a filthily profane mutter, but didn't stop swearing. The kitten looked halfway between disgusted and unwillingly impressed at his vocabulary.
"I'm Blue," the kitten said, and he still hadn't let the point of that overgrown meat cleaver dip from ready to cause bloody mayhem at an instant's notice-position. "Who's the Lion?"
"A little tawny-gold tom," Ace said, feeling more drained than he could ever remember, even after the time the Joker had thought it would be a good idea to set off a sackful of fireworks in the Claw and set all the mercenaries' gunfire-reflexes to overreacting. "A short golden tom with bright blue eyes and a really distinctive blade."
"'Can't fucking miss him' my ass," the Joker growled. "Damn purblind whore..."
Scorch made a desperate, wheezing sound, clutching at his stomach. Blue actually dropped his blade at that, and he clutched at Scorch's shoulders, tail lashing in angry distress.
It took them all a minute to realize that he wasn't having convulsions; he was just too exhausted from the fight to laugh as hard as he was laughing, and his whole body was shaking with the strain of struggling to breathe around the need to laugh himself sick.
"It's not funny," Blue said, ears laid back flat. "You could've gotten hurt!"
"He could've gotten hurt?" the Joker yowled. "What am I, walking dinner scraps from the last great barbecue of the season?"
Blue ignored him utterly. "You went and picked a fight with a couple of pros without even knowing who they were looking for? You idiot--"
"They told Sei they were looking for the little blonde tom around the old warehouse!"
Blue cuffed him across the head. "And there couldn't be more than one of us?"
"Not with pros doing the tailing!" Scorch managed, and started to wheeze with laughter again. "Fuck, what a relief; I knew if either of 'em actually got his hands on me I'd be toast--"
"You'd be toast?" the Joker grumbled, blowing on the charred patch on his tail in illustration. "So who's this kid anyway, and why's he got professionals after him?"
Both of them stopped, and blinked, and Blue's face went very, very still.
"Don't see how it's any of your business," Scorch quoted back at the Joker. "Yo."
The Joker's eyes narrowed, and Ace lunged to clamp a hand over his mouth before anything provocative could come out of it. "Fair enough," Ace said. "Come on, partner. Let's go."
"We don't go picking on kittens," Ace said firmly. It simultaneously mollified the Joker's pride and ruffled Blue's, but Blue wasn't the one he had to live with.
"I am not a kitten!"
"Yeah, yeah," the Joker said, good humor mostly restored, even if he did flinch every time he took a step. "Tell me that again when you can look me in the eyes without a crick in the neck, kiddo."
"Let 'em go, Blue," Scorch said. "We scuffed each other up pretty damn good. ...Wouldn't be a fair fight if you take 'em when they're already wounded."
Blue made grumbling noises that sounded awfully familiar, and it was all Ace could do to keep from glancing over at the Joker to see if he recognized the resemblance.
Better not, though. Neither of them was in any shape to handle it if the Joker took him on then and there.
When Haruki sobered up enough to realize that he was sobering up, he had enough wit to realize that Nao was still ...being affected by something. Not alcohol, though; she was too desperate, and too needy. She cried out when he stroked his fingertips between her legs, and pushed against him hard; he hadn't the heart to tease her, and let her roll him over and take what she needed from him.
She was still so warm, and so soft. And what she needed was achingly clear -- in the desperate little croons she made when he brushed his fingertips over her breasts, and the keening deep in her throat when he responded to her urgings and met her shift for shift, thrust for thrust.
"Yes," she breathed, panting hard. "Oh, yes, please -- more--"
He caught her hips in his hands and pushed, and she yowled in delight so fierce he might almost have mistaken it for pain, if he hadn't been able to see her eyes. It drove her over the edge; and the way she tightened around him, hot slick silk velvet and full of welcome... it would have taken someone much, much stronger than he was to resist her in that moment.
Or, he realized a moment later, to resist her afterwards, either. Because even drowsy in the grip of an after-climax, she nuzzled against his breast and lapped softly at the hollow of his throat, and made a little needy sound.
"More?" he asked, fuzzily surprised.
"Mmmmm," she agreed, and shoved her head under his chin hard. "Please..."
Somehow, he managed to keep her distracted with kisses and petting and fingers until he could catch his breath; stroking inside her with careful fingers, he brushed his cheek against the crown of her head and asked softly, a bit embarrassed, "You're... um... in heat...?"
"Mmmm." She nodded against his chest, but avoided his eyes a little too studiously. "Do you ...mind?"
"Mind?" he asked, and his voice squeaked high like it hadn't for years. "I'm... stunned. ...Honored. You're so -- strong, beautiful, warm -- so giving -- how could I ever mind?"
"Thank you," she said, and her voice hitched in a little almost-sob. "I -- I didn't want it to be anyone else. Not for this. I love Mei, of course I do, but she can't help me with this -- for this, I'd always wanted it to be you..."
"Oh," Haruki said, because she'd just caught all his breath away. She looked at him anxiously, and to smooth that worry out of her face, he nuzzled at her brow, at her cheek, and murmured, "Thank you for trusting me."
"Mmmmmmmm." Nao licked her way along the strong curve of his collarbone, and said, "Less talking. More doing."
"Yes, ma'am," Haruki agreed with a smile, and tilted her face up to kiss.
The glasses were cleaner than they'd ever been; still, Mei kept happily humming to herself. If she didn't keep humming, she was in danger of hearing entirely too much from the other room.
This, she decided, was definitely a good day's work.
Author's grinning notes: Bonus points to anybody who can pick out not only Scorch and Blue's origins, but also the two bar patrons from the beginning. ^__~ Also, theme music for the fight scene? "Maybe I'm a Lion" from the Final Fantasy 8 soundtrack by Uematsu Nobuo. No seriously, give it a listen. (And don't kill me for the joke...)
ETA: Maybe I'm a Lion. FFVIII soundtrack. Both name and tune worked WAY too well for the warehouse bits... ^_~