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Hope

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Lela and Malachi a Few Years After Chaos.

 

Lela and Malachi had often talked about getting a pet. They had both lost their taste for dogs, which, all things considered, wasn’t surprising. But every time they saw a cat video, those adorable furry bodies hiding the fact that they had razors at the end of their fingertips, they both melted a little. They were “a perfect blend of cute and dangerous,” Malachi had told her, “Like you.”

One day, after another day trip to Barrington, they’d gotten ice cream cones at a tiny parlor and decided to window shop along the small downtown street lined with quaint boutiques. Lela was enjoying her cone, the sun on her face, her free hand holding Malachi’s. She could never take these days for granted even if she tried. After all they’d been through, being able to stroll down the street with her boyfriend, shopping, smiling, stealing a kiss every time they stopped to admire a window display, they were all a gift. And she would soak in every minute she got to spend with the man she loved.

Who had just made a very uncharacteristic noise. She turned around to see Malachi looking with wide eyes, his lips parted, at a small, fluffy, white kitten with blue eyes.
Lela started to giggle as Malachi poked his finger against the glass in front of the kitten, wiggling it so that the kitten started chasing it around, unsuccessfully trying to pounce on it. Malachi practically squeaked and laughed before he looked up at her, and she melted at the pure innocent joy on his face. She made the decision right there: they were adopting a cat.

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“Lela I’m not sure about this” Malachi said carefully. His normally calm demeanor had changed to trepidation, furrowing his brow as he looked at their purchases.
They were in the checkout line at the store after having raided the pet care aisle. Their basket was full of toys, scratching boards, cute food bowls with fish on them, a plushy bed, and a litter box. After Malachi had obviously fallen in love with the white kitten at the small animal shelter in Barrington, Lela had just said “Ok. Let’s go.” Worrying that he’d done something wrong, Malachi had started to apologize, saying that they weren’t ready to take on such a huge responsibility so soon after moving in together.

“Malachi, I’m ready. We’re ready to do this.” His face had lit up with a shy smile, trying to conceal his excitement. He had such control over himself. It was something he’d never let go of, he was still always vigilant, always prepared to defend himself or Lela. They went directly to the store, and before they even got there he was researching everything from brands of food to types of litter. As they were picking out which items for their new friend, he carefully looked at each option, mulling it over in his mind before settling on one, nodding slightly and smiling as he put it into their cart. His excitement and happiness were infectious. Lela had never wanted a pet when she was younger. Her life had been way too unstable for one. But now, they lived together, went to school together, and had become as normal as people who had literally been through hell could be.

“What, you think he won’t like the blue bed? You’re right we should have gotten the green one.” Lela teased.

Malachi lost a little of the tension in his shoulders. “I just want to make sure we give him the best life we possibly can.” He looked at his hands on the shopping cart. Lela knew this was more uncharted territory.

Malachi had spent most of his life fighting, killing, and dying. He had never had a chance to nurture and love a pet. He had watched everyone he ever loved die over and over again, including Lela.

“Malachi.” He looked up at her. “Nothing is going to happen to our cat. We know better than anyone how to keep it safe.”

Malachi put his hand on her face, and touched their foreheads together. “You are right about that. I will defend this kitten with my life.” He said it with such a serious look Lela couldn’t help but start laughing, which got Malachi laughing, and his stress washed away as he swiped his credit card and told the cashier, “Have a wonderful day.”

With the backseat of Lela’s corolla full of cat supplies, they drove right back to the shelter where the white fluffy kitten was now sleeping in his window. As soon as they opened to door they were hit with the sounds of dogs, cats, puppies yipping, and the smell of the animal shelter. Malachi went still for a second, taking in the sounds and, Lela thought she noticed, looking around for an oncoming attack. He relaxed as soon as a volunteer greeted them with an easy smile, “Hello! How can we help you today?”

“We are looking to adopt that white kitten in the window, please…. This is our first pet.” Lela laughed nervously. “I’m not sure how this works.”

The volunteer, whose name tag she now saw said ‘Morgan,’ smiled again. “No problem, I just need some basic information from both of you and then we can go see your little friend over there!”

As they were filling out the adoption form, Lela couldn’t help but feel a familiar sense of responsibility well up inside her. She knew how important adoption was. They both had experience with protecting the innocent, protecting people in their charge. Looking at Malachi’s face, full of serious concentration as he wrote down his address and place of employment, she filled up with love and pride that they were taking such big steps together, and she couldn’t wait to take this kitten home. To *their* home. As that thought ran through her head she got a little misty eyed and turned away. Malachi, always aware of her movements, caught her arm before she could turn around. “What’s wrong?” He searched her face, ready to drop everything if she was getting overwhelmed.

“Nothing is wrong, at all. I promise. I was just thinking…” Lela looked at her hands, fingers grasping each other tightly, willing herself not to start crying from happiness. “We’re like a little family now.” Malachi let out a huff of laughter, the look on his face mirroring what she felt inside. He grabbed her face and kissed her, somehow soft and fierce at the same.

“We are a family. You are my family.” He twirled a lock of her hair around his finger. “I love you so much, Lela.”

“Are you guys all ready to go?” Morgan the Volunteer asked cheerfully. She checked to make sure they’d filled in all the correct information and then asked if they’d brought a carrier or needed a cardboard one. Lela and Malachi looked at each other with wide eyes, suddenly feeling like they were entirely unprepared because they’d forgotten how the kitten was going to ride home with them. “No worries! He’ll be safe and sound in one of our cardboard carriers!”

 

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“I can’t believe this.”

“I know.”

“What are we going to do.”

“I don’t know.”

Lela and Malachi were sitting on the couch staring at the most adorable thing they’d both ever seen. Their new kitten lay sleeping in his plushy bed between them, his little front paws covering his face, one back foot sticking up in the air.

“His little toe beans.” Malachi said with a giant smile, gently touching the kitten’s tiny toes. Something about hearing such a modern phrase from Malachi in his clipped accent, knowing how old he was, made Lela laugh out loud, disturbing the kitten so that he looked around quickly and chirped before deciding to go back to sleep.

“What are we going to call him?” Malachi looked pensive as he tried to think of the perfect name. Lela looked at his face, recalling the combination of happiness, worry, and surprise when the shelter volunteer handed the kitten to him. It was definitely a sight to see- a tiny, white, long-haired kitten in the hands of the most dangerous Guard the Dark City had ever seen. He had cooed at it every time the kitten squeaked, and Lela melted with every noise. They were too darn cute. He had held the cardboard carrier tight in his lap the whole ride home, reassuring it in hushed tones to keep it calm.

“Anything but ‘Snowball’, please. That’s way too cliché. What’s the cat’s name from James Bond? The villain’s cat.” Malachi just looked at her. “Right, it’s on the movie list.” Which, since they now lived together had gotten a lot smaller. Sometimes she wondered if they’d become boring old people, watching a movie every night before bed.

“What about Nadej?”

Lela looked at him for a moment. “What did you say?”

“Nadej. It means ‘hope’ in Slovak. And it kind of sounds like Nadia….” He looked at Lela to gauge her reaction. It had been a few years since Nadia’s death, and everything else that happened after that, but sometimes if a strong memory hit Lela unexpectedly, she would get very quiet.

She grasped Malachi’s hand resting on the back of the couch. “I think it’s perfect. His name is Nadej.” She smiled and stroked Nadej’s furry head with her finger, and he started purring. Lela couldn’t stop a yawn from coming out. It was getting late. They’d gotten home with Nadej and set up his food and water, showed him where his litter box was, and played with him for hours. She stretched her arms above her head and looked at Malachi, who looked away from her body not quickly enough. Her cheeks flushed, the heat rising from her belly.

“Where’s Nadej going to sleep?”

Malachi looked like he was about to say something, but then looked at the kitten’s sleeping form, looked to his bedroom door, then up to Lela. “I don’t want to wake him, but he should sleep in our room. Right?”

Lela couldn’t help but feel warm and fuzzy inside at the words ‘our room.’ It would never get old.

“Agreed. Hold on.” She slowly slid her hands under Nadej’s cat bed, then gently picked it up and walked to the bedroom like he was on a flying saucer. When she got to the bedroom she looked around for a suitable spot. Nadej was still small, and she was unsure whether he could jump up to or down from the bed. Lela looked at Malachi for help.
“I have an idea.” He kept a wooden chest at the end of his bed, similar to the one he had in his quarters in the Dark City. He cleared off some notebooks and pens and said “You can put his bed here. It’s lower than our bed, but he can still get down to go to his litter box.” Echoing Lela’s thoughts exactly. Lela gently set Nadej in his bed down and stood up to wrap her arms around Malachi’s waist. They stood for a moment holding each other, staring at this tiny new life they’d adopted.

“Does this make me a cat mom now?”

“What on earth does that mean.”