17. Made for Each Other
The Uniters are not scarce for volunteers, which means that the modification processes went on well into the evening. Ema was only scheduled for stage one mods, but somehow she ended up near the bottom of the list, and by the time she was finished, it was late enough for Felix to be able to take her home. When she went to bed, the combined darkness of the division and the general bleariness of being up so late prevented her from seeing Cade’s face.
By the time the morning sun reaches through the electronic blinds and leaves a striped shadow against her face, she feels refreshed, if a trifle nervous about the day’s upcoming events. She’s only slept for about four hours, but that’s enough to keep an imp running at one hundred percent.
Ema extricates herself from the bedcovers, noting the absence of Cade’s familiar sleeping form besides her. She usually wakes up a few minutes before he does; of course, this is no ordinary work day, so it’s not surprising to find him up already. The door to their en suite bathroom is ajar and spilling out yellow light, though she doesn’t hear the splatter of the shower running. “Cade?” she calls out, reaching for the door handle.
A muffled clunk echoes from beyond the door, and she hears a muttered swear of, “Damn!” in a voice that she doesn’t recognize.
Ema freezes in place with one arm still extended, suddenly gripped by fearful uncertainty. Has someone broken in? Is there a burglar in the bathroom? It seems unlikely, as no one but a master criminal would be able to make it past the security in the four-division neighborhood, and she isn’t aware of any master criminals who are currently on the loose. And besides…why would a thief begin their search for valuables inthe bathroom?
But someone is in there, someone who she doesn’t know. Her chest tightens as the door slides open…
A male imp stands there, dressed in creased pajamas that look freshly ordered from building requisition. His big eyes are squinting ahead, and he is gingerly rubbing a spot on his forehead. “I’m not used to this height boost,” he complains. “I smacked my head on the shower curtain rod.” Shaking his head rapidly as if to disregard the injury, he smiles at her. “Good morning, Ema.”
Ema’s hand is up over her mouth now. “Cade?” she forces out.
He spreads his hands, grinning modestly. “Well? What do you think?”
She stands paralyzed for a moment longer…then, without warning, she rushes toward him and flings her arms around his neck.
“Cade!” she laughs. “You scared me to death! Oh my god, look at you! When you said you were getting stage two mods, this isn’t what I expected!”
“I wanted it to be a surprise.” Cade places his hands around her waist with more confidence than she can ever remember seeing him exhibit. She can’t keep herself from gazing into his face with wonder. He looks so much like his old self, and yet so different. Where she was once almost as tall as he was, the top of her head now only reaches his chin. His big brown eyes provide a comforting sense of familiarity, and she can feel the firmness of his improved muscles beneath the fabric of his new pajamas, which engulfs her in a tumult of new and exciting emotions. But after a moment, the way that she is feeling begins to worry her, and she pulls away slightly.
“Cade,” she asks, “you didn’t change like this because ofme, did you?”
His eyes widen a bit. “Of course not,” he answers quickly.
“Because you know that I would never want you to change yourself because you thought you weren’t good enough. Not ever.”
“Felix and Lady T designed the mods, Ema, not me. They said it’s to convert me into an ideal leader for the Uniters. They even gave me a new name: Les, for Leader in Emergency Situations. Because I’m not a Cleanup Assistant and Dirt Exterminator anymore.” He grips her hands, squeezing them reassuringly. “But I’m still me on the inside.”
She exhales, forcing herself to relax. She’s being silly.Of courseCade’s modifications were made for the greater good of the Uniters, and not for impressing her. It’s self-centered to think otherwise. She’s seeing connections where none exist, since he’d never feel inadequate enough to turn himself into another person on her behalf. Of course he wouldn’t…
“You’re right,” she agrees, dredging up a smile. “I’m sorry, it was just a surprise to see you like this. Guess I can’t help but think that the world revolves around me, huh?”
“Don’t be silly.” He chuckles, and his newly deepened voice creates a rich, full-throated laugh that sends a shiver of pleasure zipping through her. Beaming, he pulls her into an embrace. “I love you so much…”
“I love you too, Ca – Les,” she corrects herself. The name change will be hard to adjust to, although it’s not that uncommon for imps to be renamed. Since their names are just specialized acronyms of their jobs, a new occupation usually brings about a new acronym. Ema herself went through a name change, when she went from Emotional and Mental Assistant to Emotional and Mental Associate (although in that case it was a simple matter just to swap out A-words.
“You can still call me Cade if you want.” He kisses the top of her head, too enraptured with the promise of the day ahead to notice her uncertainty. “Now, we’d better get ready, or we’ll be late.”
Ema nods, composing herself. After all, today is the whole reason why she and Cade – or Les, now – got modified at all. Today is the day for being strong, for being brave, for putting all nervousness to rest. Once they get where they’re going, there can be no turning back.
Because today is the day of the first training session for the Uniters.