© Beloved Doll
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After some time in the vents, Maria and Shadow decide it is time to go back to Maria`s room. Perhaps they will grab some food from the cafeteria on the way. Maria leads the way back since she knows the area better than Shadow. The two of them crawl through the vents to find a quiet place to exit, not wanting to be discovered by anyone that they were up here.
The vent tunnel has a very slim section coming up. It`s a very small section, about the width of 1 foot (or 30.5 cm). After this section, the vent will open up to a more normal size. This small section isn`t too difficult for Maria to squeeze through; her tiny frame allows her to fit in small places. However, this section will prove very difficult for Shadow.
He`s willing to follow Maria through the vents, so he has no second thoughts following her through this condensed section. He gets his head through but his broad shoulders are what get him stuck. Maria`s feminine body is slimmer than Shadow`s masculine body so she didn`t get stuck. At first Shadow is bewildered at his situation. He tries to push forward but the walls only feel tighter on him. He tries to pull back but he can`t move. Is he to be stuck here? Panic sets in and Shadow flies up in flailing his body erratically,"Maria!!"
Lots of noise can be heard from Shadow`s flailing, his kicks make the loudest noises. Since this area after the condensed section is of normal size, Maria is able to turn around. She quickly returns to Shadow and tries to calm him by reassuring him,"Shadow, it`s ok. Stop."
Shadow quickly settles himself and the vents become quiet and still again. Maria looks things over to evaluate how Shadow is stuck. Shadow circles his eyesight around the place he is stuck in as he suddenly remembers the responsibilities that was just recently bestowed upon him. He`ll have to be able to get himself out of this mess. He gets his mind working to figure out how to free himself.
Then Shadow moves his legs to get them in position. He will use his legs to pull himself out of the condensed area. If he can get himself back out, he will try another way to get through so he can continue following Maria. Now with his legs positioned properly, Shadow starts using them to pull him backwards. But he`s stuck in there pretty good, he isn`t budging very much. Maria tries to help him. She places her hands on his shoulders and tries to give him a push. Of course, her weak body doesn`t allow her pushes to be very strong at all but she is still willing to try to help him get free.
After a minute or so of this, Shadow`s body finally budges. Maria smiles,"Just a little more, Shado-"
Suddenly Shadow`s body flies back out from being stuck. Unfortunately for Maria, she was still pushing Shadow when he shot back. So she, too, goes flying in that direction, falling into the condensed spot. She makes a small noise as she lands. Knocked back on his rear, Shadow looks up when he hears Maria fall. His mouth opens and his eyes widen seeing that Maria had fell. Shadow quickly gets up and comes back to the condensed vent spot. He reaches his arm through and helps Maria up. Maria sits back up with Shadow`s assistance. Once she is up and sitting down again, Shadow`s hand continues to hold Maria`s,"Are you all right, Maria?"
"I`m fine, Shadow."
Shadow looks down at their hands, hers laying gently in his palm. An idea comes on how he could squeeze through. Shadow begins to move forward, allowing his outstretched arm to pass through first. His hand continues to support Maria`s hand as he executes this move. Once this shoulder and his head passes through the condensed section, his other shoulder has room to squeeze through. Not becoming stuck again, the rest of Shadow can pass through and he can continue following Maria.
As Shadow finally comes through, a smile returns to Maria`s face. Feeling happiness about his success, Maria leans forward and wraps her arms around Shadow`s neck,"You made it, Shadow."
Shadow can`t quell the happiness he feels from receiving this affection from this angel. Feeling elated, Shadow returns the hug to Maria. He leans his head down and the two of them begin to softly nuzzle one another. As they do so, Maria`s delicate hands grasp the sleeves of Shadow`s jacket. She bears a smile as she does so and closes her eyes as she nuzzles Shadow.
Suddenly the vent door beside them opens up, revealing a couple of the scientists that work on the Arc for Gerald. They must have heard the commotion when Shadow panicked and have come to investigate. Maria`s eyes shoot open and both her and Shadow freeze. Their discoverers are also in shock of what they have stumbled upon. Gerald`s granddaughter in the arms of one of his creations?
Several minutes later, Shadow and Maria are standing in front of Gerald`s bureau in his office. Currently he has their back to them as he was on the phone when they were brought here by the scientists. They stand beside one another. Maria has her hands clasped together in front of her but she looks worried. She turns her head to the side and looks up to Shadow. To anyone else he would be appearing to be emotionless, but Maria can see that there is worry in his eyes. As his other emotions, it`s hard to see due to his natural expression, but it`s there. One just has to look hard enough to see it. He can feel her looking up at him so he turns to look back to her. Maria`s expression becomes a little more saddened and she lowers her head,"(I`m sorry, Shadow...)"
Shadow widens his eyes a little. Sorry? What does she have to be sorry for? She has done nothing wrong. He begins to try to reassure her that she is innocent,"Maria-"
But Gerald turns around in his chair, now finished with his phone call,"So!"
Maria and Shadow turn back to looking to Gerald`s direction. Gerald exchanges his look between Shadow and Maria as he folds his hands together and sets them on top of his bureau,"I was informed that you two were were in the vent system. ...Who`s idea was it?"
Maria is about to answer but Shadow is quicker,"It was mine."
Maria drops her mouth open in surprise of Shadow taking the blame and so willing to do so without a second thought. But his reason is that he feels he needs to protect Maria even from getting into trouble. He continues,"I was feeling adventurous."
Gerald quirks an eye brow,"Oh?"
Maria shakes her head and turns to her grandfather quickly,"No, grandfather, it was my idea. I was the one who suggested that we explore the vents."
Shadow again tries to divert the blame on him,"Maria."
Gerald leans back in his chair, finding that both his granddaughter and creation are both trying to take the blame for the activity. He rubs his chin for a moment and then says,"Shadow, have a seat. Maria, wait outside. I will talk with Shadow first and then you afterwards."
Maria and Shadow look to each other for a moment. Gerald sounds serious especially with an order like that. Shadow closes his eyes for a moment, then opens them looking to Maria. She looks back to him feeling quite worried. Silently, Shadow tries to reassure Maria. He puts the palm of his hand to Maria`s, much like how they did when Shadow wasn`t yet released from his tube. This does bring her some confidence and a little comfort, though it still doesn`t wash away her worry. Finally, Maria leaves the room to wait outside. The door closes automatically behind her. Shadow turns back to Gerald but does not sit down in the chair. What will he have to say to them?
Gerald looks at Shadow and seems a little disappointed,"I had entrusted you to be Maria`s guardian since you are doing so well with your training and since you two are good friends. Why did you let her up in the air vents? She could have gotten sick or hurt."
Shadow doesn`t move his eyes away from the aged man, his respected creator. It`s not the same daring stare he gave Abraham. He is just aware that he has to come clean and reveal the truth to Gerald. But how could he do this without getting Maria into trouble? Shadow takes a draw of breath and tries his luck,"We had grown bored with the lessons and games we had been doing and looked for something new. Hide n seek in a new place was very tempting..."
He watches the expression on Gerald`s face carefully,"And...I...wanted Maria happy more than anything else..."
Gerald lifts his head a little at this.
It seems to have been a very long wait for Maria outside of Gerald`s office. She quickly grows tired and needs to sit down. But no chairs are outside in the hallway so Maria is sitting on the floor. She looks up at the door, wishing she could know what it is her grandfather is saying to Shadow. Then Maria looks down at the floor and can see her reflection in the metal floor. She closes her eyes and makes a mental apology to Shadow, feeling full regret for getting him into trouble. She knows they will be in trouble for being in the air vents. Who knows what the man would think of her being in the arms of a boy...She is sure the scientists had told her grandfather of that.
If only she had a clock to determine exactly how long she has been waiting. Maria looks at the door again. What will her grandfather`s punishment be to them? What if he decides to take Shadow away? Maria draws a hand to cheek with worry about that one. Would her grandfather do that? Take Shadow away where she would never see him again?
The sliding opens and Shadow steps out into the hallway. He immediately turns to Maria. Maria is looking up to Shadow,"Shadow?"
Shadow silently helps Maria up to her feet. She wobbles a little as she is set on her feet so she holds onto Shadow, who in turn holds on to her as well, until she stabilizes where she can stand on her own safely.
"Thank you, Shadow."
"You`re welcome, Maria."
Gerald calls from his office,"Maria! Your turn!"
Maria looks to her grandfather in his office and then looks to Shadow with a saddened face. Shadow looks down to her and says,"I will wait here for you."
Maria reluctantly leaves Shadow and goes to her grandfather for her turn at a lecture. The sliding door closes automatically behind her, leaving Shadow to himself out in the hallway.
Inside Gerald`s office, Maria approaches his bureau and takes a seat in the chair in front of it. She knows this be a while since Shadow`s took so long. No way she`ll be able to stand through the whole lecture in her state of health. She folds her hands together and rests them in her lap, looking to her grandfather.
For a good bit there is silence in the room as Gerald cleans his glasses off. He sets them back into place once they are clean. He smiles, sighs and shakes his head slowly,"You have that boy wrapped tight around your little finger, don`t you, Maria?"
Maria is a little startled by her grandfather`s question,"Uhn?"
"You might want to be mindful of what you request of him. It looks as though he takes your requests seriously and would be willing to carry them out regardless of any consequences he may suffer."
Maria draws her hands to her chest and lowers her head a little. So Shadow went into the air vents to explore only because she wanted to. He did it for her. Gerald leans back in his chair as he continues to look to Maria,"He is doing his guardianship job over you, I`ll give him that."
Before the man could go further, Maria quickly lifts her head and asks,"Guardian? Shadow is my guardian?"
"I assigned him guardianship over you just recently, yes. To protect you, take care of you...He took that seriously, putting you first. He must also be caring for your happiness if he allowed you into the vents."
Maria lowers her head again and her hands return to sitting in her lap. A few moments of silence pass as Maria soaks this in. But then her thoughts are interrupted as Gerald speaks up again. His tone is more serious now,"Maria...You must not take such risks. You have a condition. Suppose something were to happen to you? What if you pick up an illness that you can`t recover from? Those vents are not as well cleaned as the rest of the Arc, who knows what is crawling around in them. Not to mention you could`ve gotten hurt, or even stuck up there."
Maria closes her eyes tightly, being reminded of how Shadow had gotten stuck in the vents. Gerald leans forward, setting his elbows on top of his bureau. His folds his hands together,"Even if Shadow is with you to protect you from harm, he can`t protect you from everything. Don`t take him for granted. You need to be careful and not purposely put yourself in danger. I worry about you, Maria."
"I`m sorry, grandfather..."
Gerald sets his arms down to lay flat on top of his bureau,"I want you two to stay out trouble. Go on back to your room and play safe games."
"All right then. Carry on."
Maria nods her head once and stands up from her seat. But before she leaves, she comes around the side of the bureau and gives her grandfather a hug, to which he returns the hug to her. Then Maria releases him and leaves his office. The sliding door opens for her and she steps out.
As promised, Shadow is still there waiting for Maria. Her lecture time was of a great deal less time than what Shadow`s was so he`s a little surprised to see her so soon. But he is happy to seer her, nonetheless. The both of them decide to go back to Maria`s room and stay there for the rest of the day.