Chapter 1: Growth
Lela loved their life together. Moving into Malachi’s house had been terrifying at first. It was a little like falling in love with him in the Dark City: She wanted it so badly but was afraid of how it would change things. Lela had even been the first to broach the subject, and Malachi had initially been against moving in together before they were married, which made her heart do an awkward somersault in her chest. Lela respected his stance, not wanting to push him into anything he wasn’t ready for. He came from a different time, when courting a woman was a serious and lengthy endeavor. But, after thinking about what they’d been through together, what they felt for each other, and the fact that he didn’t need to protect her reputation or ask anyone for permission (of course he was still definitely going to ask Diane or else face her wrath), Malachi realized that the nights Lela slept over were the best nights of his week. He slept easier, as if she kept the nightmares away, still protecting him after all this time. With his new realization and a plan already hatched in his mind, Malachi called Lela’s foster mother and set up a meeting at her favorite breakfast spot to ask for her blessing. Once Diane had given him one of her famous calculating looks, sizing him up, making him sweat, and then breaking into a smile before saying “You’d better take care of my baby,” he took Lela on a day-long date. They went to the beach and lounged in the sun between dips into the sea, to an antique flea market that Lela had always wanted to browse, and then finally to dinner where, on their quiet patio surrounded by gardens, Malachi took her hand and placed in it a small key, attached to which was a house-shaped keychain that bore the word ‘Home.’ He would love nothing more than for Lela to share his home, and make it their own, he told her. Lela couldn’t stop from smiling and letting out a giggle before grabbing Malachi’s face and pulling him into a kiss. Her happiness was the most beautiful thing to him, and the fact that he was the source of her happiness made him feel like he was lighter than air, filled with bubbles and light until he might spill over like a glass of champagne on New Year’s Eve.
On moving day, Lela and Malachi had fit all of her belongings into her little Corolla and his Jeep. She didn’t have much, most of her things having been collected in the past couple of years in the land of the living. Her boxes were heavy though: the photo albums full of memories she had captured of her friends and family were like her own personal library. Lela had kept photography as a hobby, and printed out all her favorite pictures. She stood looking at her empty room, and her eyes became misty, memorizing the first place that she had ever felt at home. Her foster mother had taken a chance on her, proving over and over again that there was nothing Lela could ever do to make Diane stop loving her. Diane came up behind Lela and put her hands on her arms. Lela had long since felt comfortable with signs of affection from her. She turned and hugged her foster mother,
“Thank you for everything Diane. You made me feel like I had a home. I’ll miss being here.”
“Oh, baby, this will always be your home. Don’t ever feel like you can’t come back whenever you want.” They both stood there for a few minutes, sniffling. Breaking away to dry their eyes, they both huffed a laugh. Feeling like a large weight had been lifted from their shoulders, they took the last boxes out to the car and pulled away from Diane’s house.
Malachi was practically buzzing with barely concealed excitement from the moment she said yes. Always prepared for any situation, he had already cleared out space for all of Lela’s things (not that he had much, he was still the no-nonsense tidy person he always was) and surprised her with a new picture frame to put with the rest he gave her on her 18th birthday; but this one was empty. “This is for our first picture in our home.” He looked so hopeful and happy and sweet, and she knew that the future he always wanted for himself was in some ways coming true. She remembered his dream: a quiet life, a happy home, kids running around the backyard. She wanted to be that future, and when he kissed her, tugging on a lock of her hair, she briefly saw herself in a white dress, people all around her, flowers everywhere, and heard a camera shutter…. She looked over to Diane who had just taken a picture of them, tears in her eyes. Malachi beckoned her into a group hug, and she indulged them only for a moment before clearing her throat and grabbing the first box from her car.
Moving in was nothing if not typical for Lela’s whole life: somewhere along the way one of her already few boxes mysteriously disappeared, and the soft case for her camera with the spare battery. Diane had gotten separated from their little caravan and took a wrong turn, and Lela got a papercut from one of the cardboard boxes. After convincing Malachi she was alright, and letting him disinfect and bandage her finger anyway, the rest of the day went smoothly. Her little family had a surprisingly good time putting everything away and giving the whole house a good cleaning before breaking for pizza. After dinner it was time for Diane to leave, taking Hannah with her. They both cried again and hugged each other tight, and her foster sister had actually given Lela a hug.
As they stood on the front porch watching Diane’s car reach the end of the street before turning onto the main road and out of sight, Lela couldn’t stop the tears from running down her face. Never before had a move made her emotional, but Diane had really come to feel like her mother. They were family, and it felt like a chapter of her life was ending. Malachi wrapped his arms around her and kissed her head.
“Are you happy?” He whispered next to her ear.
“Of course I am! I’m fine, it just- I just-“
“You’ve never done this before. Moved out of your parent’s house, of your own volition. It’s uncharted territory.”
“Exactly.” Once again seeing right through her, reading all of her emotions on her face, he’d described what she was feeling. It was a comfort that he knew her so well. She turned in his arms and placed her hands on his chest. Malachi tightened his hold and Lela breathed in his scent- leather and sunlight. She looked up into his eyes, dark, unreadable, and tentative, like he was waiting for her to go running back to Diane’s.
“I love you,” Lela moved her hands to either side of his face. “I want to do this with you. I want this to be our home, and I’m not going anywhere.”
Malachi closed his eyes and the breath he was holding whooshed out of his lungs as she said the words he needed to hear. He kissed her and it lifted her off her feet, sending tingles to her toes.
“Should we, uh, take this inside?” Lela asked breathlessly.
Malachi chuckled, hitching her knees around his hips and carrying her across the threshold into her new home. Once inside, he shut the door and pinned Lela against it, her legs still around his hips. She gasped and ran her fingers through his hair, raking her fingernails along his scalp gently. He groaned and pressed his hips into hers, pressing his fingers into her sides, slipping them under her shirt and pulling it up over her head. When their lips parted and Malachi exposed his neck, she went in for the kill, playfully nipping at his jaw and then mouthing her way down to his collarbone. It drew a gasp from his chest and Lela couldn’t wait to see the muscles underneath it twitch at her touch. As soon as she tugged at his collar, Malachi lifted and flung it to the floor. Impatient with their progress, he carried Lela over to his- their- couch, holding his body over hers, not taking his lips off of her while he unbuttoned her jeans. He sat back on his heels to pull them off her legs, then slowly ran his hands up her legs, marveling at her curves, the toned muscles, the few white scars she had left. The first time he saw her, she was the most wild, most alive thing he’d ever seen. Even in the land of the living, where everything was color and vibrance, she was a force like the wind or the ocean. He felt like a daredevil every time he held her. Like he was jumping out of an airplane just to feel her catch him before he hit the ground.
Lela loved the way Malachi touched her. Not like she was fragile, but still precious. He held her with such reverence that she felt indestructible. He leaned down over her stomach and lavished kisses along her abs up to her breasts and growled low at her bra obstructing his hands from her skin. He tugged the material down and closed his mouth around one of her nipples. Lela gasped. His hands and mouth were all over her, feeling every inch and trailing his tongue around her nipples until she thought she’d go crazy. Malachi had snaked one of his hands under her back and unclasped it, adding another garment to the floor. He groaned at the sight of her bare skin, taking one nipple in each hand, grinding his hips into hers and sucking faint marks into her neck. He pressed his tongue to Lela’s artery and felt her heart rate pounding. Her gasps and squeaks drove him wild. Lela could do little more than tug at his hair and rake her fingers along his back. Frustrated about that, and the fact that he still had his pants on, Lela bucked her hips and flipped them both onto the floor, Malachi letting out a gasping moan when she sat up to grind her hips into his before returning his favor, and removing his jeans. She was still blown away by his body, his smooth caramel skin and taut muscles made it hard to concentrate when he was fully clothed, and impossible to resist now. She let her hands run over his torso and he closed his eyes, her touch stirring up flames inside him until he thought he’d catch fire. Lela ground her hips on Malachi’s and kissed him deeply, hands roaming , tongues battling, gasping until Malachi had had enough. He sat up, swung Lela’s legs around and stood up with her in his arms like she weighed nothing, and took her to his- their- bed. He remembered that she never had to leave him now, she would be here every night. When he wanted to love her and feel her skin, she would always be here. He set her on her feet and held her face in his hands.
“You have no idea what you do to me, Lela.”
“I think I have some idea.” She laughed. “But why don’t you show me anyway?”
Malachi growled in her ear and dropped to his knees. His fingers tugged down her underwear until they dropped on the floor. One hand on each thigh, he breathed softly onto her wet folds before flicking his tongue between them. Lela gasped and put her hands on his shoulders to steady herself. He slowly buried his tongue deeper, gliding it back and forth while he moved her hips to his rhythm. He groaned and the vibrations earned him a sharp moan. Malachi thrust his tongue deep and flicked it along her clit before covering her with his mouth to lick up all her juices. Lela’s knees were shaking, and between his tongue and his moans she was about to go over the edge. At that moment he withdrew his tongue and moved his hands around to her ass, picking her up just for a second but sliding her against his body until she was sat on the bed. Feeling his erection grind on her she groaned and laid on her back. Malachi’s look was so hot she felt goosebumps spread over her. Malachi slipped off his underwear and leaned over her, both of them crawling to the center of the bed before he let his weight rest between her legs. They both moaned at the sensation, driven crazy he pumped his hips to feel his erection against Lela’s wet folds. He kissed and sucked at her neck until he left marks while he grabbed for a condom. Lela took it from his hand. At his confused look she just said, “Let me help.”
She opened the wrapper and placed the condom onto his member. He gasped as she started unrolling it, pumping her hands along his shaft until he moaned/growled and crushed his lips on hers. He settled himself between her legs and slowly entered her, going deeper as she relaxed and shuddering as he bottomed out. Lela put her hands on his hips and pulled him even deeper, they started a rhythm, hips slowly meeting faster and faster. Malachi had a hand in her hair, and she loved the slight tug she felt with every hip thrust. She moved her hands lower and squeezed his ass cheeks, both of them uttering moans and curses and ‘I love you’s. He drew back to look at Lela, moving a hand to gently pinch one of her nipples, and groaning at the sounds she let out.
“I love watching you come undone, Lela. I could watch you for hours. You’re so gorgeous. So perfect.” He panted praise to her as she was wound tighter and tighter, sending her brain into overdrive, her nerves all firing at once, until the last few pumps, his hips hitting her clit just right until, “Oh my god! Oh, fuck, Malachi.” She gripped him so hard as she came her nails dug into his skin, and along with the sound of his name from her lips it took Malachi over the edge. Thrusting into her again and shuddering, he showered her in kisses and stroked her hair out of her face.
Malachi rolled off to the side and they laid there panting. He reached for her hand and held it to his chest before standing up to get cleaned up. Lela closed her eyes as she came down, her breath evening out, happy and calm. When she opened her eyes, Malachi was sitting next to her, watching her with a smile on his face.
“What’re you lookin’ at?” Lela giggled.
“You’re the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen, and you are in my bed, and you live here with me. I do not know how I became so lucky.”
Blushing she sat up to pull a tshirt on but Malachi stopped her. He pulled her against him and they laid down together, him running his hands along her skin, kissing her hair until she dozed off. He stayed awake for a long time after that, just looking at her in the low light, her wild hair all over the pillow. Until he also fell asleep.
Chapter 2: The Gift of the Magi
The two most perfect people want to give each other the world.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The thing about living together while going to school and working is that all of their free time was spent… sleeping. After homework and house cleaning, there were too few hours in a day to themselves. Lela had mentioned how little they saw each other, and how nice it would be to take a vacation. She hadn’t taken a vacation that she could remember: there wasn’t much opportunity when she was being tossed from foster home to foster home. Malachi recalled his family going on holiday a few times when he was young. Thinking of his family picnics by the sea, his parents laughing in the sunlight, throwing a baseball with his brother, Malachi’s heart ached. It sparked an idea.
He worked a few nights every week teaching krav maga at a local studio. It paid his bills and barely paid for his university. He had to save enough money to take Lela on holiday. Malachi wanted everything for her, and he would make this the best holiday. Lela had told him about borrowing money to pay for school, but he felt that would be counterintuitive. He still didn’t want to loan money, so he asked his boss at work about taking on more classes. He actually told Malachi that he could take on clients on his own, and maybe enter a competition to win some money. The school term would be ending shortly which would leave him much more time to work. Between teaching and competing, he would have to find out where Lela would most like to visit.
After training his first solo client, Malachi was eating his dinner at the table with Lela and her homework. He looked at the top of her head- as she was resting it in her hand, clearly frustrated with what she was working on- and tried to subtly bring up dream vacations.
“What homework are you working on tonight?” He asked innocently.
He couldn’t believe his luck. “Oh?”
“Yeah. I wish it were something easy like ‘which countries surround Switzerland?’ and not this garbage traffic light statistics project.”
“Oh that sounds interesting.” Malachi pushed his plate to the side and pulled her book closer. All his years collecting data from the Dark City had made him realize he had a knack for most social sciences, not just cartography.
“Amazing. I’m stumped and you figure it out in two seconds.” Lela rubbed her palms over her eyes.
“It’s simple- create a theory based on this data structure, collect the data and report your findings. For example,” he scratched his skin thoughtfully, “You could hypothesize on how many people travel into and out of Switzerland.”
“I guess I could do that. You wanna help me?” She asked with an expectant smile that said ‘please help me.’
Malachi chuckled, “Of course I will help you, but only if you’ll help me with this History of Music assignment. Who is Bob Marley?”
As they were working on Lela’s assignment, Malachi very subtly threw in comments like ‘Ok so Geneva saw over seventeen thousand visitors last year, particularly in june and july. Wouldn’t that be lovely?’ and ‘Oh my family went there when I was an infant’ to see what her response would be. After they’d finished her project, she looked at the computer, thinking, and said, “Where did Takeshi say he was from?” Malachi was caught off guard, he was trying so hard to find out where Lela would most want to visit, and she was thinking of others. She was the most selfless and considerate person he’d ever known, and he wanted more than ever to take her around the world, show her his hometown, and see places neither of them had been before.
“He, ah, is from Japan. He was a samurai over a hundred years ago.” Malachi wasn’t prepared for the memory of Takeshi’s death. He was a man of honor who had been betrayed by his own commander. They had to do some detective work, piecing His story together with information they could find since he never mentioned specifics. They’d both gotten engrossed with finding their departed friends’ homelands and searched until they’d found Takeshi’s province and Ana’s village in El Salvador. Malachi’s first Captain, Philip, was a civil war soldier from Virginia, but they had no other information to go on.
“I’d better get some extra credit for this.” Lela chuckled dryly. Their little side project got her thinking, though: Lela had never been on a vacation. Malachi hadn’t had a vacation in 80 years. She had to do something about it. He was the most honorable and selfless person she knew, and he deserved the world. There weren’t many more hours she could work at the family services office, and she didn’t have a skill she could teach like Malachi did. Maybe Diane could find her some work at corrections….
The semester finally ended, Malachi, of course, with a perfect GPA and Layla doing modestly well.
“You’re being too hard on yourself again. You should be proud, you did a great job.” He kissed the top of her head and looked at her transcript on the computer screen. “See? Our geography project put you up to an A!” He ran away before she could swat him for being smug. He was right though, without his help she wouldn’t have gotten through that class.
“Ok mister ‘who’s Bob Marley,’ let’s see you pass Modern History without me.” She raised her eyebrows and turned back to the monitor.
Malachi walked back over, spun her chair around and knelt in front of her, “You are right. We make a great team, as always.” He took her hands and kissed them, “I think that makes us, co-captains?”
“I think you’re right.” Lela smiled as she remembered when they were each other’s captains in the Guard. He taught her how to trust again, and then he believed in her when she doubted herself as a captain. He always gave so much of himself to everyone. This summer she would work harder than ever to give him the holiday he deserved, and to maybe see his home again.
“How is it August already?”
“Well that does come after July.”
“Ok mister smartass.” Lela gave Malachi a withering look over her laptop, earning her a devilish grin in return, and then continued scheduling her classes. Summer had flown by so quickly for both of them, Malachi teaching martial arts and Lela splitting her time between social services and a diner down the street. She was glad he had something to keep him occupied since she worked double shifts most days. Her savings account went through the roof, though, and that was one less thing to worry about during the semester. It was junior year and classes were only getting tougher. Lela was ahead of the game with the time she spent working in the social services office, and she’d already built up case files with kids who needed second chances.
After a summer of working, Malachi was ready for the term to begin. He still loved going to university, and appreciated every day that was given to him. He had taken a year of classes before he committed to a major in Business Economics. He loved the challenge, and now that he had experience in teaching self defense, decided to open his own martial arts studio someday. His summer had been full of teaching- and learning. It was a wonderful feeling to train his students when he knew there were no monsters out there. They weren’t training to kill, or for survival. He could appreciate the discipline and instill it in others to quiet their inner demons, like he did, or to become stronger and more confident. He was always proud of his students, eager to see their progress every week.
Malachi glanced over his book at Lela, pondering. She happened to meet his eyes, “What?”
“When was the last time we went out together?”
“Oh I have no idea.”
He tossed his book onto the couch and stood up, came over to Lela and pulled her to her feet.
“Let’s go to the beach one last time before homework steals us away from each other again.”
“You don’t have to ask me twice!” She lit up at the chance to relax and bury her feet in the sand, wade into the ocean and smell the salty air.
They packed up a lunch and their towels, and in twenty minutes were on the road, windows down in the warm August sun. Malachi had an ulterior motive for their end-of-summer beach day. He figured it would be the perfect time to tell her about his plans to take her on holiday. He’d been planning it all summer, choosing their destinations but leaving the mode of transportation to Lela. He had no idea which she would rather take. An airplane was essential between continents, but would she like backpacking? Was it too similar to their old patrols as Guards? Were trains too crowded for her? It was best to leave it to her.
Lela let her hand hang out the car window, feeling the air currents change. She tried to think of the best way to bring up her surprise gift. She had made a list of everywhere she thought Malachi would want to go, but would leave the itinerary up to him. He’d been in the living world for a few years now, but international travel was bound to be far more intense than it was 80 years ago. She would leave it up to him, and whatever he was comfortable with. Their relationship has been so full of trust and working things out together, they were a strong team and had each other’s backs.
“I never want to leave. Can we be hermits and live on the beach?” Lela stretched out on her towel, eyes closed, soaking in the sunshine.
“If that is what you really want.” Malachi couldn’t take his eyes off of her. She had always smelled like the ocean to him, and this is where he was reminded of the day they met. Lela was fierce, and full of life in a place that had only known death. She was strong like the tide, and even now she lifted him up and carried him along, and he was at her mercy.
“Lela, I have a surprise for you.”
“Really? I have one for you too!” Of course he also had a surprise. Never to be outdone, she thought. The most considerate man on earth.
“Would you like to go first?”
“How about we say them at the same time so we’re both surprised.”
“Challenge accepted.” They sat up and faced each other, breathed in, and-
“We’re going on a vacation!”
“What did you say-“
“You mean, you-“
“How did this happen.”
They started laughing, and couldn’t stop, eventually tackling each other into the sand. Malachi showered Lela in kisses. This beautiful woman would never cease to amaze him. She had the biggest heart, and he would forever be grateful to have shelter there.
“I can’t believe it. This is like the gift of the magi, only we both get to keep the gift!”
I didn't realize it had been so long since I posted. Thank you for reading!