Chapter Two: Safe?
Zia floundered in the bowl of now dirty water. She hoped the Sentinel would be back soon. While the water wasn't overly deep, she still didn't like feeling trapped. She tried to climb out again and only succeeded in falling back into the bowl for the umpteenth time.
Elijah leaned against the door, attempting to calm himself. He was still shocked that there was so little information on her. Didn't that orphanage keep better records? Didn't they try to get kids like Zia adopted? Elijah upper lip curled as he fumbled with his buttons. He shrugged the top of his uniform off and stalked back to the computer.
"Hornbeam Orphanage," he snarled. The computer hummed again. This time more information was displayed. He scanned the page, searching for the proprietor. Bingo. Ms. Ophelia Mauze. He glared at her image, fat cheeks turning into a triple chin beneath a hideously colored scowl. Her unnaturally red hair done up in a way that seemed to exaggerate her fat. Her eyes, beady little things, peered out at him as though he was dirt. Elijah's scowl deepened. Obviously this woman had access to food, so why was one of her charges on the street begging? He tensed, muscles bulging beneath the white tank he wore underneath his uniform.
Stuck. Zia was nervous about calling the Sentinel over, but it seemed to be her only choice. She looked down at her hands, already pruny from beeing in the water so long. Mustering what little courage she had left, she called to him.
Elijah was just about to look up more information this Ophelia Mauze character when a small noise caught his attention. He turned his head back to the kitchen where Zia was bathing. His face paled when he realized he had taken away her clothes. He raised his fist to his face and uncurled his fingers. The dirty little clothes were now crumpled too. Elijah sighed and ran his other hand through his hair. She could really use a new set of clothes.
Zia was beginning to get tired of being in the water and her stomach was starting to cramp from lack of food. She instinctively tried curling up only to get a mouthful of water. Maybe it would have been better to just go back to the orphanage after leaving Madam Margie's. At least then she would be dry. And Eve usually snuck her food when she was in Punishment. Zia shuddered. Punishment. Maybe the Sentinel was lying about feeding her. Maybe he meant she was food! Tears renewed their march down her now clean face. Why was she such a dummy?
Elijah took a few deep, calming breaths. The girl was already terrified of him and he really didn't want to scare her with his anger. He paced back to the kitchen slowly, glancing at the counter. The bowl and matchbox were still there, but there was no sign of the girl from this angle. He noticed a crumpled dishrag a little ways from the bowl and figured she was hiding there to dry herself off. He set her clothes next to it and reached for the bowl without looking in it.
She cringed when the Sentinel stood over her, not looking down. She felt him grab the bowl, water sloshing around her. What was he doing? She was still in here! Zia wanted to call out, but the waves were making it hard to just breath. I don't wanna die, Zia cried in her mind. Please look down, Mr. Sent'nel! She heard him sigh as her porcelain prison was tilted over an enormous metal sink. Zia backed up as far as she could in the confines of the bowl. How could he not see her? She was crying out loud now. A fall like this could be very painful, if not deadly. The bowl tilted even more. Zia squeezed her eyes shut and screamed.
A small, terrifying noise erupted from the bowl he was draining. He quickly leveled it out and looked in. The girl was curled up in the center, her small body shuddering violently. Oh, God, had he really just almost ... killed her? The young man set the bowl down on the counter as though burned. He rushed to one of the cupboards and grabbed a clean wash rag and set it over the bowl, giving her both shelter and something to dry off with. How could he have been so stupid? Why had he assumed she could get out? Elijah noticed the dishrag being pulled into the bowl by impossibly small hands. All she had wanted was food and he had almost killed her. He slumped into one of the chairs by the table, not looking at her bowl. Why did I do this? he thought, eyes pricking with tears. What the hell type of Sentinel am I if I can't even protect this kid from myself? His shoulders slumped. Maybe he should just take her back to Hornbeam. He glanced over at the bowl. Only a corner and a few tufts of the dishrag were now visible. Elijah couldn't help smiling.
She had been surprised when the bowl suddenly leveled and was set on the counter abruptly. She had heard him rummaging through a drawer and a fuzzy green dishcloth had been draped over the bowl. Zia had waited for him to use it to scoop her up, but instead she heard him fall heavily into a chair. She cautiously reached up and tugged the dishcloth. It was so soft. Softer than anything at the orphanage or Madam Margie's. Slowly she wrapped it around herself. Eventually she could no longer feel the cold, hard porcelain even if she laid down. She snuggled into the fabric, letting it dry and warm her. She was comfortable for the first time in her life. The dishcloth was even softer than her cot back at the orphanage. She heard a muffled creaking and thumping.
His boots finally got to him. Elijah tugged at his bootstraps and kicked his boots off. He wriggled his sock-covered toes and smiled. One eyebrow raised as the corner of the dishrag disappeared in the bowl. He stood and walked over. Looking in the bowl he couldn't help chuckling. The dishrag looked like a cocoon in the middle of the bowl. Elijah gently tucked his fingers under the cocoon and lifted it and its contents from the bowl. Putting the bowl in the sink, he gently grasped the dishrag in a loose fist. He knew Zia was tucked in there, but didn't want to hurt her all the same. Zia snuggled deeper in the dishcloth as she felt it being lifted. At first she thought the Sentinel had lifted the bowl again, but then she heard the clink of porcelain on metal through her shelter. Maybe he really wasn't going to hurt her. Or maybe he's just playing nice, like every other adult, Zia thought miserably. No one really wanted her, not even her own mother. It was her eyes. Everything else about her was normal, but not her eyes.
"So," Elijah said, feeling slightly stupid, "What would you like to eat?"
Zia jumped at his loud, though slightly muffled voice. She was surprised he was asking. Normally when she had to beg, people would just give her scraps off their plates or crusts of bread, if they gave her anything. She squirmed in the soft green fabric, trying to find an opening. Feeling the Sentinel start walking, Zia wriggled even harder.
Elijah felt the cocoon wriggle in his hand and wondered absently what type of butterfly would emerge. He chuckled lightly and pinched a bit of cloth away from the main cocoon. Zia's head popped out. She wriggled around a little to be able to look at him. He smiled down at her, hoping he looked reassuring. Zia pulled her arms out of the cloth and rested them in front of her.
"Can I have my clothes first, Mr. Sent'nel?" she asked. Elijah stopped short. He had completely forgotten about her clothes. He slapped his forehead with his free hand. Zia couldn't help jumping as the large man slapped his forehead and changed direction. She looked over her shoulder to see where he was taking her this time. Elijah slowly lowered his hand beside her clothes. Zia looked from the Sentinel to her clothes and back. She was a bit shy getting dressed in front of him. He noticed her hesitation and hastily set her down. He faced the other direction, face flushing deeply. He must seem like a perv. First when she had undressed and now when she was dressing. Stupid, stupid, stupid, he scolded himself. Zia dressed quickly and turned back to him. She noticed he had taken off the top of his drab grey uniform, his top half only covered in a white tank top. He had broad shoulders that were lighter than the rest of his muscular arms. He was leaning on the counter and she could see the tops of his back pockets. His hands were resting on the counter, but his arms were tense. Was he actually worried about a nothing like her? Was she safe here with him?