sermocinare: (Default)
[personal profile] sermocinare
Fandom: Watchmen
Title: Finders keepers
Rating: G
Warnings: none
Characters: kid!Adrian
Disclaimer: Watchmen belongs to Mr. Moore and Mr. Gibbons.
Summary: Little Adrian finds an injured cat and decides to keep her.
Author's note: Written for [personal profile] inabathrobe, for the Watchmen secret santa exchange.

The cat's fur was dark brown, with a golden shimmer that only showed where the sunlight touched it. It reminded Adrian of the gemstone necklace his mother sometimes wore. Its eyes were a deep amber, the lids almost closed over them, as if it were falling asleep. But its chest was rising and falling rapidly, and it was holding one of its front legs in a way that looked strange to Adrian. The cat mewled again, the soft, almost human sound it made being what had prompted him to go take a closer look at the bushes in the first place. Now, he was crouching down, the bag with his books set down besides him.

"Are you hurt?" He whispered, reaching out his hand to touch the cat's head. It flinched back, the tip of its tail twitching, and Adrian immediately drew his hand back.

"Don't worry," he continued in the same soft tone, "I won't hurt you. Your leg looks strange."

The cat was still watching him intently, but it made no effort to get up. Maybe it had understood what he had said? Or maybe it was just too hurt and tired. Adrian bit his lip, and stole a quick glance down the street. There was no one to be seen. Looking back at the cat, he noticed that its fur was scruffed up in places. Maybe it had been hit by a car?

Adrian frowned, pressing his lips together. He couldn't leave it here, all alone and hurt like that. Something might happen to it. People walked their dogs down this street, people like Mr. Oswald, who had a huge black dog that scared Adrian so much that he crossed the street rather than walk by the fence to Mr. Oswald's property and risk that the dog came rushing out to bark at him.

But he couldn't take the cat to school with him, either. He was sure he wasn't allowed to do that. Also, they would take it away, and he had found it. It was his responsibility now. The problem being, he had no idea what to do. Where did you take a cat you thought might have a broken leg? When he had sprained his ankle trying to do a flip a few months ago, his father had taken him to the hospital. Were there hospitals for animals? And could you just bring an animal there even if it wasn't yours?

Adrian nibbled the pad of his thumb, trying to think of what to do next. He briefly thought about hiding the cat in his bag, but that was already full of books, and besides, the cat looked as if it were too big to fit in there, anyway. And it would surely move and make noises, and people would notice. No. That wouldn't work. He had to find somewhere to hide it.

Adrian grinned. The bike shed behind school. He would just hide the cat in the undergrowth of the small patch of woodland that started right behind that. Everyone always just shoved their bikes in the shed and raced over to the schoolyard. No one ever went into the woods, besides him.

Adrian put his bag down and quickly took off his jacket, wrapping it around the cat, all the while making soft, cooing noises to soothe the animal. It struggled a bit as Adrian picked it up, and he hugged it against his chest: "Shhh. It's all right. I'm going to help you, okay?"

He took a roundabout route to school, making sure that no one saw him with the bundle in his arms. As soon as he had found a hidden, dry spot in the woods near the shed, he put the cat down, which by now had snuggled down tightly into his jacket, and he didn't have the heart to take the jacket away again. Besides, it would keep the cat warm.

"Stay here," he whispered to the animal, smiling and stroking its head. "I'm going to be back as soon as school is over."


All through the morning, Adrian found himself unable to really listen to the teachers. After a few minutes, his mind would be wandering to the cat that was lying outside, waiting for him to come and get it again. Waiting for him to help it get well.

He wondered if the cat belonged to anybody. Was there maybe someone out there looking for it right now? Adrian bit the inside of his cheek. He didn't like that thought very much, that someone was out there looking for his cat. Besides, if there were, they would have found it before he had, wouldn't they? And he had never seen that cat before. He had seen a fat old tabby, and a sleek, black cat that moved like a shadow from one fence to the next, but never a brown one.

No. It didn't belong to anyone, he was sure of that.

Adrian fidgeted in his chair, waiting impatiently for the lesson to be over. Mrs. Thomas was his favourite teacher, and he had decided that he would ask her about where to take an animal that was hurt. She always listened to him, and didn't treat him like a kid. No matter what he asked, she always gave him an answer, even if that answer was that she didn't know. And every time that had been the case, she had called him over the next day and told him the answer, and where she had found it. The other teachers sometimes gave him strange looks, as if he had just said something that he wasn't supposed to have said, or known something he wasn't supposed to know. Mrs. Thomas, on the other hand, always smiled at him.

As soon as the bell rang, his classmates were jumping out of their seats, heading towards the doors and home, but Adrian dawdled around, pretending he had dropped his pen case to make sure that everyone else was out of the classroom before he was ready to leave.

Approaching the teacher's desk, Adrian clasped his hands behind his back so that she wouldn't see him fidget with his fingers.

"Mrs. Thomas?"

"Yes, Adrian?"

Mrs. Thomas smiled at him, as if she wasn't surprised at all that he had a question for her.

"I was wondering... if an animal gets hurt, what happens with it?"

"Do you mean out in the wild, or do you mean an animal that is in the care of people, like a pet or in a zoo?"

Adrian stalled for a moment, twisting his fingers behind his back.

"Ummm... both?"

Mrs. Thomas inclined her head a bit, giving him that look that always made him think she was maybe reading his mind, so he tried not to think of the cat.

"Well," she said, the look on her face softening with a smile, "if it's out in the wild, it depends on how bad the animal is hurt. If it's hurt too badly, I'm afraid it would probably die. Because there's no one there to take care of it. Most animals aren't like us, they don't take care of the sick. But if it's not too bad, the animal will get better on its own. Although that might take a while, and it might not be as quick or strong as before."

Adrian thought about this for a moment. The cat might get better on its own. But what if it wasn't able to hunt mice any longer?

"And if a pet gets hurt?"

"Then you go and take it to a vet. That's short for veterinarian. They're doctors who treat animals instead of people."

"And they make it better?"

Mrs. Thomas' smile widened, and she looked at him with fond affection.

"Yes, they make it well again. They see what's wrong with it, and then do the same things a normal doctor would do, like give the animal medicine."

So there were doctors for animals. But how would he find one?

" you have a pet, Mrs. Thomas?"

"I used to have a cat," she said, her eyes turning a bit sad, "but he passed away last year."

Adrian looked down at his feet, fidgeting a bit, then back at his teacher.

"Did you take him to a vet?"

"Yes. There's one right near where I live."

"...but he couldn't help?"

"No," Mrs. Thomas said, shaking her head slowly, and giving him a sad little smile, "my cat died of old age. And sometimes, there's just nothing do be done any more."

Adrian nodded, nibbling his lip. Poor Mrs. Thomas. She must have been very sad. After all, the thought that his cat might die or simply be gone made Adrian sad, and he had only found it this morning. But now he knew where he could possibly find someone to help him.

"Thank you, Mrs. Thomas," Adrian said, giving his teacher as bright a smile as he could muster.

"You're welcome, Adrian."


The cat was heavy, and after a while, his arms started aching, but Adrian walked through the neighbourhood carrying it bundled up in his jacket until he had found the right house. It looked like any other house, its front lawn green and well kept, small beds of flowers hugging its sides, the windows hung with white curtains. He had expected it to look different, more like a hospital, but there was a sign outside that said "James Malloy, Veterinarian", so this had to be it.

The front door stood a little bit ajar, so he pushed it open with his shoulder and slipped through into the small room that opened up behind it. There was a counter with an elderly lady sitting behind it, and Adrian approached it, trying to not look too nervous even though he could feel his heart beating way up high in his throat.

The lady behind the counter looked at him with a grandmotherly smile: "What can I do for you, honey? Did your cat get sick?"

Adrian swallowed and tried to calm himself, but still, his voice came out high and nervous: "It's not my cat, Ma'am. I found her by the side of the road. I think there's something wrong with her leg. It looks strange."

He held the cat up a bit, but his arms were too tired to lift it high enough. After all, the counter was almost as tall as he was.

The woman gave a slight frown and, noticing his predicament, got up from her chair behind the counter, opened a small door in its side, and stepped around to the side Adrian was standing on. Looking down on the cat, she shook her head, clicking her tongue: "You're right, that doesn't look good. I'll go tell Doctor Malloy. Why don't you and your little friend take a seat for a moment? Are your parents still outside?"

Adrian shook his head: "I'm alone, Ma'am. I found her on the way back home from school."

"All right. Take a seat, dear."

With that, the woman bustled out of the room, leaving Adrian to sit down in one of the chairs that stood against one wall of the room. There were no other people there besides him, which made him feel somewhat relieved. Somehow, adults always took him being on his own as an invitation to pry. To ask him about his parents, or school, or if he was lost. As if any of that were their business.

Adrian looked down at the cat, which by now looked as if it were on the verge of falling asleep. At first when he had carried it, it had squirmed around a lot, as if it didn't want him to do that. But he had talked to it and hugged it close to his chest, and slowly, it had calmed down until its eyes were almost closed again. It was a very beautiful cat, with its golden brown fur and amber eyes, and it smelled of sunshine and earth.

"See," Adrian whispered, his fingers stroking the cat's flank, which was rising and falling with a slow, steady rhythm, "you'll be well again soon. The doctor is going to make you better."

And then what? Adrian wasn't sure. He wanted to take the cat home with him, but he wasn't sure his parents would like that. One thing he was sure of, though, was that he wouldn't just leave it here, or hand it over to some stranger. The cat was still his responsibility, even when it was better.

His thoughts were interrupted when the veterinarian entered the room. His hair was almost as white as his coat, but when he shook Adrian's hand, his grip was strong and sure, not frail like Adrian had expected it to be.

"Let's have a look at your cat, then, shall we?"

Adrian was allowed to stay in the room, and the vet explained everything he did. The cat, whom Adrian now knew was a she, had been lucky in that her leg wasn't broken, but only badly sprained.

"Still, she was probably in a lot of pain, and she's going to hobble around on three legs for a bit." the doctor told Adrian after he had splinted her leg.

"She shouldn't be running around too much, so it's best if you don't let her outside for a few days. Not that you can move all that much anyway, with the splint being in your way, hm, girl?" He rubbed the cat's head slightly, and gave Adrian a smile. "Do you want to leave her here, or do you want to take her home with you? After all, you found her, and if any of your neighbors is missing their cat, you'd hear about it before I do."

"I want to take her home with me," Adrian said, and quickly added: "My parents are all right with it. The secretary at school phoned them, so they wouldn't worry about me." Which was a blatant lie, at least the part about the secretary phoning anyone. Adrian was quite sure his parents weren't worrying, though, seeing how they usually didn't. They would just assume he was at a friend's house. If they were even home yet, which Adrian doubted.

The man's smile widened: "All right, then. I'll give you a few things to help her get settled in. Leave the splint on for five days, and if she pulls the bandages off before that, come back here so I can re-do them. After that, she should be fine without them." He gave Adrian a short wink: "After all, she has you to take care of her, and so far, you've done very well, young man."

Adrian blinked, fidgeting slightly, and he could tell he was probably blushing by the way his cheeks went all hot. "Thank you very much, Mr. Malloy," he mumbled, smiling shyly at the old vet.

Then, a thought struck him, and his face went even hotter: "Ummm... how much do I owe you? For making her well again, I mean." Not that he had anything more than maybe half a dollar on him.

Malloy regarded him thoughtfully, a slight crease forming between his brows. The silence couldn't have lasted for more than a few seconds, but to Adrian, it felt like an eternity. He should have asked about that beforehand. He should have told the man that he didn't have any money, but he had been too worried about the cat.

"Tell you what," the veterinarian finally said, "I don't like taking money off kids, especially not if they just want to help some poor creature that got a stroke of bad luck. So how about we make a deal? You seem to like animals, and you're good with handling them, too. I've always got a few patients out back, cats and dogs and birds that need to stay here for a while because they've had really bad things happen to them, and need constant care for a while. So as soon as your cat is better, you come here after school and help me with them. Feed them, clean their cages, give them a bit of attention. And we'll forget about the money. Deal?"

Adrian felt as if someone had pushed a huge stone off his heart, his head rushing with relief. Grinning widely, he grasped the old man's outstretched hand: "Deal."

"Good. Now, you go with my wife, she'll get you some food and things for the cat. And I'll be seeing you soon."


Adrian had hidden the crate with the by now dozing cat underneath the stairs that led up to the back door, along with the tins of cat food that the vet had given him. Then, he had snuck back to the front door, unlocked it and gone inside, schooling his face to what he thought of as a completely normal, innocent expression.

Standing in the dark, wood-panelled hallway, he called out: "Mama?"

There was no answer. He hadn't expected one, but he still felt nervous, his heart thumping in his chest. Calming down a bit, he called out again, then opened the door to the parlour and stuck his head inside to check if there wasn't maybe a gaggle of his mother's lady friends inside, talking too loudly for them to hear him. Nothing. The house was empty and quiet as a tomb.

Adrian quickly made his way through the kitchen and to the back door, getting the crate inside and setting it down on a counter. Now what?

Nibbling his lower lip, Adrian let his eyes wander around the room, mentally going through the house. Where could he keep the cat so that his parents wouldn't find her? At least for a few days. He would ask them for permission to keep her later. Possibly.

Pretty much every one of the actual rooms in the house was out of the question. That left either the basement or the attic. Adrian didn't like the basement. It was dark and cold and full of shadows that moved. The attic was dusty, stuffed with old trunks and clothes and even a few chairs, but at least it wasn't spooky. His parents only went there when they needed something from the accumulated junk and memories, but that didn't happen a lot. The last time his mother had been up there had been months ago, when Adrian had asked about pictures of his grandmother for a school project.

The only way to get to the attic was by a small trapdoor laid into the ceiling of the upper floor. Adrian had to stand on tiptoes to get the hook into the metal eye that protruded from the ceiling, then pull at it with all his strength to open it. Finally, the collapsible stairs descended like a slow-moving metal avalanche, clanking and groaning. He would have to come up with some excuse as to why he had to go up there over the next few days, at least when his mother or father were home.

Careful as to not lose his balance or footing, Adrian made his way up the narrow, wobbly stairs, the crate balanced on his forearms.

"There we are," he announced, setting it down behind one of the chests on the side of the room. The cat lifted its head, blinking slowly, its pupils narrowing to vertical slits in the rectangular shaft of sunlight that fell in through one of the dusty windows.

The attic had a curios shape, its walls being made up by by the sloping roof overhead. Still, it was quite spacious, stretching the entire length and width of the house. The room seemed to be bathed in an eternal twilight, the sunlight being softened and filtered by the years and years worth of dust that had accumulated on the windows. Adrian stepped up to the large round window that was set into the wall at the end of the room, and rubbed at it with his shirt sleeve. Peeking out, he could overlook the whole garden, and the small grove of trees that bordered it, right down to where the river glittered in the late afternoon sun.

Crouching down, he cleaned up another spot on the window, then turned and smiled at the cat: "Now you can look out, too! So you won't get bored when I'm not here."

The cat pricked its ears in his direction, then yawned, making Adrian giggle. Apparently, it wasn't very impressed with the view.

Adrian scooted over to sit next to it, gently stroking its curled back.

"You need a name. After all, I can't just call you cat." Adrian pondered this for a while, then grinned: "I know. I'm going to call you Bastet. We learned about the Egyptians in school, and did you know they had a cat goddess? Her name was Bastet. So I'm going to call you that. Do you like it?"

The cat pushed its head against Adrian's hand, rubbing its crown against his palm, eyes closed in pleasure.

"Bastet it is, then!"


"...and he is the up and coming man at Simon and Kepler, so I thought we should invite his wife and him to dinner at some point. Maybe next Saturday?" His father gave mother a smile, and Adrian already knew that she was going to say yes, because she always said yes to that smile, and because she seemed to live from one social event to the next.

"Of course, dear. Do invite them over."

There was a short pause in his parents' conversation, and Adrian grasped at his chance.

"Mother, father, can I have a pet?" He looked at both and neither of them, trying to school his face into something that was hopeful, but not too eager, lest they suspected something. "One of my classmates has to give away their cat," he added by way of explanation, not wanting the question to seem too out of the blue.

His parents looked at him with mild surprise. They often did that, when he spoke up at dinner. Sometimes, he suspected that they got so lost in their important conversations and plans that they for a moment entirely forgot that they had a child.

"No, darling," his mother said, and shook her head with a fond smile, as if he had just asked something very stupid. "Cats make such a mess." With that, she turned back to her dinner.

Adrian's face fell, and he looked down at his plate, suddenly not really hungry and more.

"Maybe we will get you a bird. Later." His father's tone was placating, but Adrian knew that he was just trying to soothe him so he wouldn't make a fuss. His mother was against him having a pet, and when she was set against something, that was the end of it.

It seemed like he would have to keep Bastet secret after all. He didn't like the idea, since he didn't like lying to his parents, but sometimes there was just no other way. After all, he couldn't just put poor Bastet outside again, and he was sure that not taking care of an animal that was hurt was a lot worse than lying.


Sitting through a torturously long number of lessons at school the next day, Adrian decided he needed to know more about cats. After all, he wanted Bastet to be happy with him, so he needed to know what would make her happy. They did have books at home, big leather-bound tomes that no one ever read, standing in line on the shelves of his father's study like soldiers, but Adrian doubted that there was anything about caring for cats in them.

So, right after getting home from school, he asked his mother to take him to the library, and she agreed, since she had an appointment at the hairdresser's anyway. The librarians were used to the sight of him wandering alone among the shelves, even those of the adult section. Mother dropped him off here a lot, when she wanted to meet up with her friends to chat or go shopping. He would only be in the way for those things, and he preferred the silence and solitude of the library to the chattering voices of his mother's friends.

Adrian had never looked at the section where the books about pets and other animals stood before. He liked animals, but he liked stories about adventure and heroes better, so he usually spent most of his time in the fiction and mythology sections, his nose and imagination buried deep in some book about amazing battles with monsters and gods. Sometimes, he would even just sit there and pretend to be reading, all the while imagining how it would be if he were one of those heroes, like Achill or Alexander. He had quickly found out that when you had a book in front of you, no one would interrupt your daydreaming, unlike they always did when you didn't have one.

There were at least a dozen books on cats, Adrian discovered, far too many for him to read. Pulling them out one by one, he glanced through them, then decided to take a large, heavy one that seemed to really have everything there was to know about cats. Carrying it over to one of the reading tables, Adrian put it down and flipped to the section on domestic cats.

Some time later, Adrian didn't know exactly how long, having been immersed in his reading, his mother stood by the side of his reading table: "Time to go home, Adrian."

Adrian looked up at her, a slight frown on his face: "Do we really have to?"

"Yes, dear." She held out her gloved hand towards him, and he slid off the chair and grasped it with his, her long, elegant fingers closing around his small hand.

"Can I take the book home with me? I'd really like to read all of it."

"What is it about?"


She raised a plucked eyebrow at him, and for a moment, Adrian was worried she would remember last night's conversation and admonish him about it. But apparently she didn't.

"What's gotten you interested in cats all of a sudden?"

"School," Adrian lied seamlessly, "the teacher told us about lions, and how they live in groups. Did you know they can't purr? I read that in the book."

"No, I didn't." She gave his hand a slight tug. "Grab your book, and let's go home. I'm having visitors later."

Adrian let go of her hand and retrieved the book from the table, holding it with both hands as they headed for the librarian's desk. Visitors were good, she wouldn't notice him sneaking off to the attic then.

"You look really pretty, mama," he said, hurrying up to fall in stride next to her and giving her a winning smile. And she did look pretty, her hair all made up and shining like gold, lips painted red as rubies.

"Thank you, dear," his mother said, running a hand over Adrian's head and smiling in return. "And I think we'll have to get you to the barber shop soon, too. Your bangs are getting a bit long."

Adrian made a face. He hated getting his hair cut, having to sit around with nothing to do but hold still for half an hour. "They're not in the way yet. Honestly."

"Yes, but you don't want to look scruffy, do you? After all, you're my handsome young knight with the golden hair."


Whenever he was not at school, Adrian spent as much time as possible in the attic with Bastet, even turning down an afternoon playing ball in the park with his friends.

"Sorry, but I really can't. I’ve got to go home."

"Why? It's Friday! Come on, Adrian!" Elias was almost bouncing up and down with impatience, eyeing the direction in which the other boys had vanished, then looking back at Adrian with a small frown.

For a moment, Adrian considered telling him about the cat. After all, Elias was his best friend, and keeping a secret like Bastet to himself was really getting hard. But then, he wasn't sure if Elias could keep that secret to himself, either. So he just shrugged and turned around, waving at his friend: "Maybe tomorrow. See you!"

Bastet's injury was healing well, at least so far as Adrian could tell. She had hobbled around the attic a bit, sniffing in every corner and vanishing behind one of the big, chest-like trunks that stood in one corner of the room. For a moment, Adrian had been afraid that she wouldn't come out again, but eventually, she had tired of exploring the dark corners and had lain down in a sunny spot for a nap, the light casting a golden hue over her brown fur, specks of dust dancing above her like tiny little butterflies.

She seemed to like lying in the sun, and today, when Adrian climbed up the narrow stairs, he found her in front of the big round window at the far end of the attic, gnawing at the bandages that held the splint to her leg.

"Don't do that," Adrian said, hurrying over to try and distract her from her gnawing. Bastet turned her head to look at him, and gave a short meow.

"Did you miss me? I missed you, too!" Adrian reached out and rubbed Bastet's head, his fingers tickling the soft fur behind her ears. The cat closed here eyes, relaxing under his touch.

"But you really shouldn't gnaw at your bandages, girl," Adrian said in a soft voice, checking the bandages to see if they hadn't been moved too much. "I know they probably itch. I got bandages around my ankle when I hurt myself, and they itched really bad. But if you pull them off, I won't be able to put them on again, and I don't know if your leg is good enough that they can come off yet. Let's leave them on another day, okay?"

He smiled at the cat, sure that she understood every word he'd just said.


Usually, Adrian didn't mind his parents having guests over for dinner. He got to put on really nice clothes and shiny shoes, and sometimes, the guests even talked about interesting things with him. One of his father's friends collected fossils in his spare time, and had explained to Adrian how he could tell if something was just a sharp piece of rock or an arrowhead. He'd also told him that the strange spiral patterns you sometimes found in marble were actually the shells of animals that had died millions of years ago. The next day, Adrian had wandered around the house looking for them, and had found so many that he had lost count.

Today, though, he wished feverently that the guests would leave. But it didn't look like it. Dinner had dragged on forever, and when that had finally finished, his mother had turned to him and said: "Adrian, dear, why don't you and Isabel go upstairs and play?"

Adrian looked across the table at Isabel and suppressed a frown. She was about his age, dressed in a frilly dress that Adrian thought must be very uncomfortable indeed, and she seemed about as happy about that idea as he was. But there was no use arguing with his mother, so he slid off his chair and held a hand out to the girl, wriggling his fingers at her: "Come on. I'll show you my room."

He led the way upstairs, the girl following silently. Once they had reached Adrian's room, they both just stood there for a while, trying very hard to look anywhere but at one another. Adrian didn't particularly like having strangers in his room. His friends, yes, but after all, this was his room. He should be the one deciding who got to see it.

"So..." Adrian finally broke the silence, his fingers twisting around each other behind his back, "do you like puzzles?"

Isabel shrugged, then said: "Mhm."

"I have one with dinosaurs on it. I got it at the museum. We could put it together."

She nodded, smiling shyly: "I like dinosaurs."

Adrian got out the puzzle, and they sat down on the carpeted floor, sorting through the colored bits of cardboard, their conversation confined to asking the other one if they could hand over a piece that looked like it could go on the one in front of them.

After a while, Isabel looked up at him and asked: "Do you have rats in the walls?"

Adrian just stared at her, dumbfounded. Rats in the walls? What kind of question was that, anyway?

"Of course not!" he finally said, shaking his head vigorously. "And that's a silly idea!"

Isabel shrugged, and went back to her part of the puzzle, the Triceratops slowly taking shape on the carpet in front of her: "It's just that I heard some kind of scrabbling noise. We had rats in the walls when we moved into the house. Our house is very old. And huge."

Adrian thought for a moment that his heart would stop. Holding his breath, he listened for noises, but the only thing he heard was the rush of blood in his ears. And then, there it was, a faint scrabbling, as if small claws were scratching over wood. Bastet.

"You must've imagined that," Adrian said, giving Isabel an angry look. "I can't hear anything."

Again, she shrugged: "If you say so." Then, her lips twitched into an impish smile: "But I'd be careful if I were you. Rats come and eat your fingers when you're asleep."


"Really. I heard my mom talk about it with a neighbour. She sometimes works with the poor people who live in really run-down dirty houses, and one of their kids got three of their fingers gnawed off by a rat!" Isabel said, grinning gleefully at Adrian's expression of shock and disgust.

"That's horrible!"

"Mhm. We got a cat, so that the rats won't come back. Maybe you should get one, too."

Now it was Adrian's turn to smirk. "Maybe I should."


Adrian had never thought it strange that he had his own house key. Or that on most days, when he came home from school, his mother was gone somewhere, doing important things like raising money for orphaned and starving children. After all, someone needed to do those things, right? That didn't mean that he never felt lonely, though, sitting alone at the dining table eating his sandwich, the house empty and devoid of life, the only sound the steady tick of the huge clock in the hallway. Sometimes, Adrian would talk to himself, or pretend there was someone else there whom he was talking to, since talking to oneself wasn't normal.

But all of that had changed when he had brought Bastet home. Now, there was someone there waiting for him. Grinning in anticipation, Adrian grabbed the plate with his lunch from the table and ran up the stairs. He caught the hook of the trapdoor at the first try, and gave it a short pull, stepping aside so that the stairs could rumble past him. What he hadn't expected, though, was that before he even had a foot on the stairs Bastet was already coming down, ears pricked forward, her eyes fixed on the carpeted hallway that stretched out in front of her. The first thought that shot through Adrian's mind was that by now, she was barely even favouring her injured leg. Then, though, he put his plate down and reached for the cat.

"No, Bastet, you're not allowed down here. What if my parents were here?"

To Adrian's surprise, Bastet resisted being picked up, and wriggled out of his grasp, speeding down the hallway and towards the stairs.

"Bastet, no!"

Heart thumping in his chest, Adrian chased after her, watching in horror as her small frame vanished through the half-open door to the living room.

"Please," he murmured under his breath, "please don't break anything..."

Bastet was standing on top of the coffee table, one paw raised and her tail held high, looking right at him as he jogged through the door in pursuit.

Adrian stopped in his tracks, trying to make himself sound calm and non-threatening: "Here, Bastet. Come here. Come on, girl. We'll go back upstairs and play with the rubber ball, okay?"

Slowly, he advanced on the cat, but just as he reached out for her, Bastet jumped off the table and whisked off through the doors and back into the hallway. Adrian gave a frustrated whine, almost stomping his foot, but then he clenched his fists and followed her.

He found her in the kitchen, her nose pressed against the small gap between the floor and the back door through which he had carried her inside almost three weeks ago. When she heard Adrian come in, she raised her head to look at him, then mewled, the noise sounding almost sad to Adrian's ears.

Adrian looked at the cat, then out of the window. Outside, it was a beautiful early autumn day, the first leaves just turning yellow and the sun shining in a clear, deep blue sky.

"You want to go out, hm?"

Bastet mewled again, more insistent this time.

"But I can't let you go out. What if my mother comes back and you're still outside?"

And what if he let her out, and she decided she didn't want to come back inside? The thought stabbed at Adrian's heart, and he went over to the door, resolutely picking the cat up, his arms wrapped around her so she couldn't squirm away again.

"I'm sorry, girl, but I can't let you outside."

With that, he carried her up the two flights of stairs, pulling the lever that brought up the stairs to the attic behind him before putting her down again. As soon as her feet touched the floor, Bastet slipped from his grasp, and trotted over to the large window, looking out across the garden and beyond. Adrian bit his lip, then slowly followed, sitting down next to her.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, even though he wasn't quite sure what it was he was sorry about.


After her first escape attempt, it had become harder and harder for Adrian to take care of Bastet without his parents suspecting anything. It seemed like she was always there, waiting for him to lower the stairs so that she could run down again, and it took all of Adrian's agility and reflexes to catch her before she ran off into the house. And even without that, there were close calls, mostly when his parents were home. Bastet was growing ever more restless, and his father had remarked on hearing strange noises coming from the attic at night. Luckily for Adrian, his mother had brushed it off with a joke about Adrian's grandmother haunting them, which had made both his father and him laugh.

Still, Adrian knew that he had to do something. Things couldn't stay the way they were now, and one day, he was bound to run out of luck.

"I wish I could keep you," Adrian whispered, his hand running over the smooth, sleek fur on Bastet's back, his throat constricting as he pushed back the tears he felt coming. But he didn't want anyone to see him cry, ever, not even a cat.

If only he could keep her. It had been so nice, having her around. Having someone to take care of. Someone whom he could love and, more importantly, someone who loved him back unconditionally. Someone who listened to him. Bastet always listened, even now, looking at him with her deep amber eyes.

But what kind of life would that be for her, confined to the attic where it was dusty and cramped? Icy cold in winter, boiling hot in the summer. Never being able to go outside to prowl through the bushes, smell the fresh grass of spring, the only smells up here being dust and decay. The attic wasn't a room, it was a tomb, a place where you put things that you didn't need any more.

He needed Bastet, and he was sure that she needed him, too. After all, he had found her, nursed her back to health. He had kept her safe, and away from his parents' eyes. If only there were a way to keep her.

Adrian scratched the cat's head, the spot right between her ears that she loved having scratched so much, and Bastet' eyes slipped half closed in contentedness.

"Remember what I told you about the Egyptians?" Adrian said, his voice hoarse from trying to hold back the tears. "About how they worshiped a cat goddess? Well, they made cat mummies, too. Just like with people. And the cats went on to live forever, in the afterlife. Stalking through the papyrus and chasing after mice and being loved and cared for..."

Adrian reached up to rub the corner of his eye with the heel of his palm, his other hand still busy scratching Bastet's head. He knew what he had to do. He didn't want to, though. Why was doing the right thing always so hard?

Bastet gave a short mewl of protest as Adrian picked her up and put her into the small, padded box.

"It's all right, girl," Adrian cooed, trying to sound as comforting as possible, "you'll be in a better place soon."


"Who is it, honey?"

"There's no one... oh, wait." The woman bent down and cautiously opened the lid of the box, peering inside. "Dear," she called out over her shoulder, "you better come and take a look at this."

"What is it?" The man's shadowy form appeared, blotting out some of the light that spilled out of the doorway and onto the porch of the house.

"A cat. Someone's put a cat on our doorstep."

From his hiding place in the bushes, Adrian could see his teacher reach down into the box and carefully lift Bastet out, holding her up at eye level before she cradled the cat against her chest.

"Someone left a cat at our door?" The man's voice sounded incredulous, but she just shrugged, then indicated the box with a nod of her head: "There's a note in there. Have a look at it?"

The man bent down and plucked the note that Adrian had carefully typed out at his father's typewriter. Pulling out a pair of glasses from his breast pocket, he put them on and read: "Her name is Bastet. She's a good cat. She needs a good home, and I can't give her that. Please take care of her." He shook his head: "Strange. Who do you think put her here?"

Mrs. Thomas shrugged, one hand stroking Bastet, who was curled up in her arms: "I have an inkling, but really, does it matter?"

"I guess not. So we're going to keep her, huh?"

"Of course we are going to keep her," she replied, her voice tinged with laughter, "at least if no one else shows up and demands her back." Turning around, she vanished into the brightness of the house. Her husband remained in the doorway for a while longer, staring into the darkness, but then shrugged and closed the door. Adrian waited another five minutes before he got up and made his way back home, trying to push away the ache in his heart.
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May 2013

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