It seemed as though she was dressed head to toe in some strange diaphanous substance, the way it clung to her slender curves and unfolded in pristine ruffles. The sequins, of course, were another matter entirely -- she had added a few touches of them here and there, which only accentuated the overall sparkliness of her disposition. People stared at her as she walked.
The maitre'd, however, did not stare. Instead, he merely raised a critical eyebrow at her choice of outfit, then motioned for her to follow him. He led the way through tables and diners and dishes, motioned to a couple of waiters who had been chosen for this very occasion, and opened the door to reveal one of the private rooms in the back.
The room wasn't very well-lighted. Even though all the lights were burning at full intensity, fully half the place remained shrouded in black. She sighed, wondering why her dinner companions had not arrived yet, and then took a seat in the brighter part of the room. Her curious fingers immediately found their way to the utensils at hand -- chopsticks were much like wands, now that she thought about it -- and she resolved to be the one making the reservations the next time.
"Been here before?" a voice asked.
She looked up, surprised at the sound. At first she saw nothing, that she was completely alone in her private dining area. Then, as her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she found that she could see a vaguely human-sized outline sitting across the table from her. It was tall and spindle-thin, looking quite awkward in its seat at the table, although she could not quite make out its face.
"Priscilla," the voice said.
Her eyes narrowed. "Leon."
"It's good to see you again, Priscilla," Leon said. "I hope you'll forgive me if I don't get up from my spot."
Of course, she thought. One could never trust the bogeymen to dance.
"I've ordered some tea," Leon said. "They make excellent barley tea here. You can never get any good barley tea nowadays."
"Personally," Priscilla said, "I would prefer a Diet Coke. With a shot of rum in it, if that's available. But that would be inappropriate for the circumstances."
"Yes, my dear. That would be quite inappropriate."
Even listening to him grated on her nerves. She wanted nothing more than to cross the table and knock him upside the head with her wand, but she couldn't do that. Not here, at least, and not now. Not even for what he did with the children.
"And how is my favorite member of the fae?" he asked.
"Better," she said, leaning back and straightening her skirt. "Our internal investment funds have finally stabilized."
"Yes. They should now be perfectly balanced against our population projections. You do know how it is, Leon, what when one has to deal with more and more children every year."
"Of course," Leon said, coldly. "Really, Priscilla. You say that as though I'm not an expert in my chosen profession."
"And what do you know about children, dear?" Priscilla asked. She really felt like hitting him now.
"More than your kind does," Leon said. "Our archivists keep a running file on each and every one of our subjects, after all. We know their names, parents, and friends. We know their likes and their dislikes. We know their dreams and their nightmares... especially their nightmares."
"You breed their fears," Priscilla said, dismissing everything away with a wave of her hand.
"We assuage them," Leon pointed out. "You know as well as I that fears are part of the process of growing up. Our work is merely... a lesson, of sorts. School after school, if you would like to see it that way." Leon trailed off in a laugh.
"I hardly find it funny."
"No," Leon said, "you wouldn't. Some of my kids have grown up to become some of the most well-adjusted adults I know. Doctors. Psychologists. Counselors. These are results that you certainly don't get with... money."
Priscilla slapped both hands across the table. "Now you're going too far, Leon," she hissed.
"Much as the pot said to the kettle, fae."
"You think that it's easy, given what we do?" Priscilla asked. "We teach children a modicum of trust, the value of patience, the satisfaction that comes of rewards! And we don't do it by scaring them half to death in the middle of the night!"
"Pffft," Leon said. "That's a fine way to describe an arrangement where you pay money for their teeth."
"We do not pay money for their teeth!"
"Oh, yes you do," Leon said, his shadow growing more menacing by the second. "Or at the very least, I don't see you tap-dancing on their heads at night. I've seen you reach down under their pillows for the teeth! I've seen you hide the coins in the folds!"
"And I've seen you skulking away in the closets," Priscilla said. "The last time I did, I heard you sniggering. You scare them, you know! You scare those very same children who I try to calm down!"
"Well, at the very least, I don't run them right into the biggest scam on earth!"
Priscilla drew herself up. "Oh, you don't want to go there, Leon," she said.
"You have no idea what those 'children' of yours do with the coins, now do you? They buy things. Mostly sticky, and mostly sweet. Ever wonder where those teeth in your collection come from? Only the most naive of us would possibly expect them to go into investments at such an age!"
"Those children have gone through a great deal of pain!"
"They only lost a tooth!"
"You keep them trapped in their beds at night, too scared even to go to the bathroom!"
"You know perfectly well that all they have to do is go to sleep!"
"They don't know that they're supposed to go to sleep! All they see is some big black boogeyman jumping out of the closet trying to frighten them into submission!"
"Well, what were they expecting? That some sparkly blue tooth fairy was going to come around and wish their fears away?"
They both suddenly came to a stop, breathing heavily. Priscilla's dress looked slightly wilted from all the sweat. Leon's form wavered to and fro, mixing with the shadows on the floor.
As one, they both cleared their throats and sat down.
"We're from two different worlds, you and I," Leon said.
"Now don't you start that again," Priscilla warned.
Leon raised one spindly hand, as though to call his companion on her bluff. He lowered it again, however, once she turned the full force of her glare upon his corner of the room.
Both of them sat in silence for a while.
After a long time, Priscilla spoke. "You said you ordered some tea?"
"Yes," Leon said, folding his hands. "It's late. Perhaps I should call a waiter."
"Don't bother," Priscilla said, waving it off. "Frankly, I'd just like to have dinner started so that we can get out of here. Weren't there supposed to be three of us?"
"You must forgive him," Leon said. "He is traveling quite a ways."
"I don't care if he lived next door," Priscilla said. "He's late. He's always fashionably late."
"You never know," Leon said, with all the patience of shadow.
There were sounds of a commotion at the front of the restaurant. Both occupants turned their attention to the sliding doors, watched as the human outlines there played tricks on their imaginations.
"You think that's him?" Priscilla asked.
"He's a popular sort," Leon said. "That's definitely him."
The doors finally opened, and their companion for the evening strolled in. "You can start with the main course," he told the maitre'd, "and do make certain that we are not disturbed." Then, closing the door, he turned to Leon and Priscilla with a wide smile.
"You're late," Priscilla accused. "Weren't you supposed to be the most efficient of the three of us?"
The third man laughed. "A man in my position," he said, "can afford to be fashionably late. Ho ho ho."