His eyes are the color of a pure, sunny sky she'll never see, not in the depths of this smog-choked city, and the flicker of his smile is bright as the lightning that seems to gild his pelt.
When she first meets her Master, she is ten moons old, he sixteen, and she loves him from the very moment she lays eyes on him.
The she-cat's first, ludicrous thought when she sees the golden tom is of how small she must appear, standing meekly in her place by Deacon with her head bowed respectfully. Neither Deacon nor this younger tom are particularly large, nothing like the hulking toms who had been her brothers, but even they tower over her. She's small, unusually small for one of her kind, short and slim with feathery fur that hides her scars.
In another life, had she been born as another, someone would have mistaken her for the pretty daughter of a boss, perhaps, or maybe one of the grinning vixens that slink around the street corners and call out to prospective customers. But not here, where she wears the worst of her injuries like medals of honor, snaking up her legs, arching down her spine, nestled into the hollow of her throat. Here, she is resplendent not in her beauty, but in her battlescars, calling out to all who see her that she is an Instrument, a server of those more worthy than herself.
She sits perfectly still once Deacon gives her the go-ahead to do so, shooting furtive, almost wary glances at the golden stranger. He'll be everything once Deacon hands her over, her sun, her air, her alpha, her omega. You are nothing without him. You are a tool, an Instrument of his will and might. Only he matters. His whims, his commands, his decisions, his well-being. He is the god, you, the acolyte. She has learned her lessons by heart, these truths given to her as sermons and bedtime stories and screeching rages from her very first breath.
He is the reason you live, and the only reason.
And the tom with eyes blue as the bottle-glass littering the street, this cat who will be her beginning and end, smiles. "Hello, sweetheart," he murmurs, soft voice as golden as his pelt. "How are you?"
She gapes at him for a moment, seeming to curl into Deacon's shadow as her eyes flicker between the two toms, almost frantic. It isn't a question she has expected; she hasn't expected any questions at all, not directed to her, let alone something so personal, so far beyond her grasp. She shrinks into the gloom of the alleyway as she scrabbles for an acceptable answer, her pelt the exact shade of the lurking dark, and the small she-cat resists the urge to flinch as the golden tom's expression turns to something like bewilderment.
I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.
Deacon, luckily, steps in then, a guardian angel as he's always been for her, and she's rarely felt as grateful to the dark-pelted tabby as she does now. "As agreed upon, she's yours."
"Do you have a name?"
If he's paying Deacon any mind, the golden tom doesn't show it. Once again, those clear blue eyes are fixed on her, and the black she-cat almost quails at the thought of it. You have to listen to Deacon. Unable to muster more than a jerky shake of her head, she can't bring herself to meet his eyes.
"She'll take on whatever name you choose for her," Deacon replies smoothly, as if he doesn't even notice the younger cat's impertinence.
A moment of tense silence hangs in the air, and the golden cat nods. "Well, we'll just have to sort out all of that later, won't we?" He offers her another warm smile, just a twitch along the corners of his mouth, one she doesn't return.
She feels Deacon's tail flick over her back in a silent command, and the dark she-cat rises to her paws and, taking a moment to steel her legs, pads over to stand beside the stranger with brilliant eyes. That smile widens for a moment, a tiny flicker of pearly fangs, but it disappears just as quickly as he looks back up at Deacon. "My thanks," he murmurs, and the formal words sound forced and unnatural as they fall from his jaws.
Deacon simply dips his head, those familiar amber eyes lingering on her own yellow ones for a moment more, and he disappears back into the gloom of the alleyway.
It is the first time she's been without him since the moment he came into her life, a savior with glowing eyes and honeyed words, and even if she's been raised to feel no fear, the chill shoots up her spine all the same.
"Well, then, let's head on home."
His voice catches her surprise as it shatters the almost-ominous silence, and she looks up at him with ears pinned flat against her skull. That tiny almost-smile flashes again, warm and wary all at once, and her Master beckons for her to follow him out of the alleyway and onto the deserted streets.
They walk in silence for what seems like hours, her trailing just behind him as golden eyes scan the encroaching shadows for the tiniest hint of movement. It's her job to protect him now, to lay down her life for him and his cause; the idea is cemented into her very being, and the tiny servant considers that oath of protection to be as much a part of her as her bones and blood and whatever soul is had by Instruments such as herself.
"You do know how to talk, don't you, sweetheart?"
She jerks in surprise, snapping out of her watchful reverie, and looks up to find his eyes on her once more. A smile twists his muzzle, and the light in his eyes is curious, almost playful; he does not want her to see the trouble that lurks behind the wily gleam or the tense set of his shoulders, so she doesn't, passing over it without a second thought.
"Yes, sir," she replies immediately, glad that he's finally asking a question that she can answer, although her voice rings painfully small in her own ears. Stupid. No wonder most of them want a tom instead.
His laughter rumbles like thunder in the distance, the sound of it curling over her as he flashes that smile once again, hopeful and anxious all at once. "Good, good," he meows. He visibly perks up, quickening his pace with a spring in his step. "Here we are! This is home."
The tiny servant had heard of Masters living in all sorts of dens, mansions to cardboard boxes, palaces to makeshift hovels that would wash away in a warm-moon's rain. Knowing all of this, the golden tom's home is still not at all what she expects.
Balanced precariously on stilts, the small, dilapidated red building only has one entrance, a door swung open wide to invite in any passersby. The steps leading to it groan in protest when she follows him up and pauses just outside the doorway, listening to his voice begin to echo as he moves inside.
"It's not much, I know, but at least it's off the streets, and the roof is still mostly good. I mean, it leaks a little whenever it rains, but not much. Uh, watch your step around the window; the floor's beginning to rot out over there, and I don't think you could fall through, but if someone did...it could get pretty nasty." He glances back in her direction when she makes no reply, and the look of surprise that flickeres over his face is obvious even to her. "Come in, please."
Dipping her head as she's invited in, the black she-cat carefully picks her way towards him, wincing each time that the floor creaks particularly loudly. She isn't very keen on the idea of plummeting through to the ground below, even if the odds of it happening are in her favor.
The golden tom leads her towards the back of the building, still rambling on at a rapid-fire pace, too quickly for the black she-cat to even keept up with at times. "This'll probably just be temporary, just until something nicer opens up. Some of the older cats say that Twolegs used to scurry about all over the place, something to do with the trains. You've seen the trains, right? Of course you have, everyone has. Yeah, and, uh...here we are." He comes to an abrupt halt, spinning around to face her with those bright eyes glowing just a little too eagerly to be really sincere. "These are the beds. You can have whichever one you like." He flicks his tail towards the two nests, twin piles of shredded rags and pillows.
She stands stock-still, glancing between her Master and the two beds with wide eyes. I have to choose?
Is he testing me? Making sure that I'm not defective, rebellious, flawed? Is he going to get mad if I choose one? That's his job, not mine. I don't make the decisions; my decisions don't matter. His do, only his. Her mind races with all the possibilities of what can come within the next few moments, any words falling flat on a leaden tongue as she thinks about explaining or saying that she can't choose, and the small, dark servant merely looks at him with the wide, frantic eyes of a deer caught in the headlights, a mouse caught in a trap.
The golden tom's brow wrinkles, and he settles down into the nest farthest from her, slow, gentle, cautious movements like someone easing their way around a snake. "You can lay down, too," he murmurs.
The relief crashes over her heavy as a tidal wave, and she blinks at her Master with gratitude before curling up in her own heap of rags, making herself as small as possible. "Thank you, Master." It strikes her then that she doesn't know his name—or anything else about him, for that matter—but she pushes it away; if he wants her to know, he'll tell her. Otherwise, nothing besides his safety is her business.
Those bright eyes widen for a moment, and he nods slowly. "Yeah, yeah. No problem, sweetheart. Um." He rests his head on neat white paws, studying her in a way that makes her pelt prickle. "I've been trying to come up with a name. For you, I mean. It's, uh, it's a little tougher than I thought it would be. Don't worry, though! I'll figure something out tonight, I promise."
She nods dutifully. He's told her not to worry, so she won't. "Yes, sir," she meows, idly rasping her tongue over a patch of ruffled fur, trying to calm her nerves. Everything's fine, the little she-cat tells herself. You haven't done anything wrong. You've done everything he's asked. He's nice. He's not like Sidian's Master, the one who always sends him back to Deacon with scars. The older servant comes to the forefront of her mind, his almost frail expression so wildly out of place on his ravaged, musclebound body, and she resists the urge to shudder. If her Master wants to beat her for being bad, then it's her duty to allow him to, of course, but the thought of being shattered like other fallen Instruments is something she prefers to not dwell on.
She looks up from her paws to find the golden tom's eyes on her again, a question in those blue depths. "Valkyrie?" he repeats, as if it will make any more sense the second time around. "Do you like that? We could call you Val, maybe... What about Amazon? Zon is...well, it's a stupid nickname, no. Something else, then."
The black she-cat remains silent as he continues to rattle on, listening with pricked ears. A name shows ownership. A name is permanent. A name binds as well as blood or honor or duty. Once he names her, she is his, totally and completely, the final rite performed, and there will be no going back on something as sacred as that.
It's only a murmur, a whisper that could have very well been lost in the distant roar of the city, but she pricks her ears all the same, listens to the lilt it brings to the golden tom's golden voice, an almost musical slant to his words that she hasn't noticed before.
Her Master's delighted expression makes it clear that he's seen something. "Caim, then? Is that the one? I quite like it myself. Huh. Caim, then. Now you've got a name, sweetheart."
Caim. The name resonates through her, sinking down deep into her bones, branding itself into her, now as much a part of her as her prayers from Deacon's lessons and her scars from Samuel's teachings.
He yawns then, her golden Master, and snuggles deeper into his nest. "Caim and Desmond," he murmurs, blue eyes fluttering shut. "Yes, I quite like that. Sounds good. Nice. G'night, Caim."
Sleep does not steal the small she-cat away as quickly as it does the tom, though, nor will she sleep as deeply. She watches him for a time she can't begin to measure, until his gilded fur is half-eclipsed by the dusk. Finally, she closes pale eyes, content to rest lightly at last.
"Good night, Desmond," she murmurs, and the night steals her away. She does not dream, and she counts it a blessing.