I apologize in advance for the OC and any possible OOC-ness from Mordecai. I just had to get this idea out of the way.
Mordecai Heller does not hold sentiments.
That fact, first and foremost, makes itself obvious to anyone meeting him for the first time—and also why many of them (the smart ones—or at least those with any shred of self-preservation— anyway) know well enough to keep distance from him.
Not that it ever does them significant good in the event of being next on his list.
Regardless, even before his fateful descent via the staircase Atlas May offered into this gilded world of hedonism and ruin, emotions never equated to the young Jew like the numbers birthed by the tap-tap-tap of his typewriter ever did.
They were messy, intangible, irrational, and most of all idiotic.
Not to say caring for others was beneath him or beyond his scope of ability. He still called his mother from time to time (under the guise of shadow or fog, one emerald eye and one perfectly groomed ear open for telltale signs screaming for his gun to sing its deadly melody), tersely inquiring as to the whereabouts and well-being of his sisters. Their own safety was half the reason he agreed to Atlas's offer in the first place.
Yet operating under the insipid and quite frankly childish notion that compassion to everyone will better the world? If one's intention is to rid society of their pointless babbling, then yes what a useful notion indeed.
Mordecai had known, ever since his father's passing, far before he even knew Atlas's existence, that the world had no room for kindness, no matter how farfetched or illusory one's desires for peace and goodwill.
Kindness, like all other sentiments, led to only a quick death.
Survival dictated the true difference between living in splendor until the end of your days and laying rigor mortis in a nameless cornfield with naught but the crows to know your departure.
Opportunity more so. After all, Atlas May (and by extension his wife) and Asa Sweets, being the business tycoons they were/are, did not amass their fortunes through mere indolence or pure luck. No one directly ordered them to go down the paths they did; that choice, they made autonomously.
Just like Mordecai himself. Arguably.
Atlas more or less dangled the golden hook, but no one ordered Mordecai to bite it, because he damn well bit it—long, hard, and for his very life. A life he knew he no longer had any control over, because if he had, he would have done everything in his power to avoid landing in this sort of situation.
Picture for a moment.
An infamous hitman noted in two cities, and perhaps even beyond, for his astronomical success rate and deadly efficiency, someone 'renowned' in the criminal underworld as the Grim Reaper thanks in no small part to his consistently dark attire and cold mechanical demeanor.
A tiny and possibly blind—in both senses of the term—Chinese orphan dressed in an oversized overcoat, a woolen flat cap that covered the upper half of their face, and worn black leather shoes. Not a stark optimist per say, but someone who still enjoyed fantasizing (as children were wont to do) and playing make-believe with what little toys—he, she?—possessed.
To think such diametrically different figures came together through a mere error in symmetry.
Well, in hindsight, Mordecai should not have found that tidbit surprising at all, especially since Mei Lee evidently derived some strange enjoyment in undoing every effort he made to ensure fashionable integrity for...their sake.
Mordecai still struggled to wrap his mind around the kitten's gender status as a...yin-yang ren?
Whatever the term signified, it's meaning resided within a culture far removed from this moral-torn city, in a land whose inhabitants no doubt possessed more intimate knowledge of the ramifications—and would have surpassed Mr. Heller as suitable company for Mei Lee.
Too bad the tiny whelp already made the conscious (and nonsensical) decision to imprint themself upon the older feline and cling to him as if in belief that he could fulfill the void of familial absence.
Or perhaps they had been operating under the notion of guaranteed safety. Not an entirely invalid line of reasoning.
That still did not explain why Mordecai himself kept coming back.
Because even after an accident encounter with this child and their elderly caretaker, followed by seven weeks of bi-weekly meetings within this dilapidated apartment's basement, he still recalled with full lucidity the deal he made with the caretaker, Miss Elias, in exchange for information concerning Lackadaisy's predicament.
The little one has developed a strong interest in you. If I know this child as well as Miss Ming does, they'll throw everything they've got into learning more about you.
Are you recommending I reduce myself to serving as this child's playmate?
Honestly, I cannot say for the life of me what exactly Mei Lee views you as. A yiddisher kop like you, however, should have no trouble uncovering the answer.
And now surrounded by copious scented candles and crudely done drawings of creatures that lay beyond Mordecai's understanding (and interest, for that matter), he could only peer down upon the tiny bundled figure sitting in his lap, preoccupied with Cat's Cradle, and wonder:
Mei Lee's hands ceased manipulating the strings, the Eiffel Tower vague and incomplete in between the nimble fingers. The child's head turned in the older feline's direction and regarded him with what the hitman deduced to be a curious stare.
Mordecai impatiently awaited a response.
Instead the kitten collapsed against his torso, tiny head nuzzling the soft white chest fur peeking over the male's shirt collar, limbs curling inward until the child resembled a leather-bound ball.
Of course, Mordecai griped, rubbing his eyes in exasperation. What else should I have anticipated?
"Gun," a squeaky yet still faint voice suddenly stated.
Mei Lee gestured an oversized sleeve to the pistol attached to their senior's belt.
Did this child wish to learn how to wield the weapon?
Only when they bowed their head and pointed to their own heart did Mordecai now understand and feel a pang of sympathy. Because even to a stone-hearted hitman, the realization that a child is begging, much less requesting, you to end their life is the saddest thought to cross your mind.
Especially when your silence to such a request sends that child into soft weeping.
For a cold second, Mordecai half-considers it, simply taking his revolver and ending the poor child's suffering right then and there. He knew from experience the depths of society's cruelty upon those who are 'different', those who the so-called righteous ones believed to be the source of today's travesties.
After all, what disparity lay between difference itself and the unknown?
And the child here that clung to his shirt, saltwater deposits soiling the pristine fabric, embodied so much of that unknown—in their near-silence, their hidden eyes, their knowledge.
If even that existed for people like Mei Lee at all.
Mordecai's face did not change; did not soften; did not harden. Neutral as ever.
It belied his mind perfectly.
Can guns feel sympathy? No of course not. Metal—lead, steel, or tin—lacked the capacity for pity.
Yet no one said metal cannot channel pity.
And though Mr. Heller embodied many of the element's attributes, he hovered just high enough above the years-long mire to realize the solution. His hand ghosted over the child's head, adjusting the cap's symmetry with practiced gentleness.
"Are you that confident your death will be in solitude?"
No, Mordecai could not understand love, at least not in the same manner as most people could...but he understood death.
Taking his handkerchief out with one hand and carefully tilting the cap upward without fully revealing the child's face with the other, he wiped the tears away.
"I am not a man of emotion. I am by no means a proper guardian. However, let it not be said I do not give credit where credit is due. Your stories of thieves and scoundrels dying for honor," he allowed himself a faint smile as his white thumb stroked the child's cheek, "has left a significant impression on me."
"You will die by no one's hand but my own. When someone raises their pistol against your heart, rest assured my bullet will make the first mark...for I and only I reserve the right to spill your blood. And when I am certain no more life inhabits you, I will claim myself afterward."
Not like the man had anything left for himself on this mortal plane anyway.
He derives an almost perverse comfort from the way the kitten eases in his hold. Their head rubs against his breast pocket again, the sensation of heartbeats a sharp contrast to the cool demeanor of their owner. Upon hearing the orphan's light snoring, Mordecai readjusted Mei so they could rest more comfortably against him.
Against his better judgment, the hit-man planted a minute peck against Mei's forehead before straightening their cap one final time, confident the kitten would ruin the symmetry anyway.
The thought shouldn't have, but it made him smile. Minutely yet genuinely.
"I hope you're proud of yourself, little one. Your sentimentality has rubbed off on me."