For some time, Zia had been keeping an eye on the Kid. He was always out collecting shards now, and before that, core pieces. He was starting to look less like the warrior she'd first laid eyes on, and more like the walking dead, covered with too much blood and too much grime, rarely sleeping and always looking for the next lead Rucks had on a shard piece.
The Kid was finally back from collecting yet another shard, and this time he looked a little worse for wear. Zia watched the Kid deposit the shard, and walk up to Rucks. They two of them spoke for a few minutes until the Kid turned and went into the forge, no doubt to tinker with his Breaker Bow, fine tuning the thing until it sang beneath his hands. Zia wondered at him, as she usually did. Though he was clearly not one for words, sometimes the Kid would ask her a few questions, usually about the trinkets he found scattered here and there throughout Caeledonia. He'd listen to her responses thoughtfully, and usually turn away without a word. She wondered what drove him. According to Rucks, the Kid didn't have much before the Calamity, so then why fight so hard to repair it? Two turns on the wall, Rucks had said. No one did two turns, not that she'd ever heard of, anyway. Perhaps all the Kid knew how to do was fight.
She fussed over the cooking pot for a while before settling down to pluck away at her guitar. Time passed and the Kid re-emerged from the Forge. He headed back to the Skyway without hesitation. She waited.
The next time the Kid returned he was covered in dirt and stinkweed. She watched him struggle to get up and make his way to the Monument. Once the shard was in, he stood there, leaning against the ancient structure. Unusual. The Kid rarely stopped for long before he was off on another one of Rusks's leads. Zia glanced over, it looked like Rucks had noticed too. She caught his eye and shook her head. She was no guide like Rucks, nor was she a fighter like the Kid, but she'd be damned if she couldn't take care of him, couldn't at least make things a bit easier for him.
Rucks backed off, and Zia approached the Kid softly. She saw he was breathing pretty heavily once she was near him. He looked tightly wound, like a rope that had been coiled too far tight. He was filthy, and blood had dried around a cut on his cheekbone. His clothes were tattered, and covered with old bloodstains and collected grime from the Wilds. She reached out slowly and placed her hand on his arm, careful not to startle him. His eyes snapped open and he looked at her warily, but didn't pull away. She felt him tremble beneath her, but whether it was exhaustion or something else, she couldn't rightly say.
"Come," she said and gently pulled him in the direction of her tent. The Kid usually slept outside, she knew, either in some camp he made while outside of the Bastion, or the clearing behind the Arsenal where he kept his most of his things. He followed her without question; she wondered idly if he noticed that she'd kept her hand on his arm.
They stepped into the tent, the familiar sent of books and spice and the oil she polished her guitar with washed over her. She snuck a look at the Kid, who was clearly out of his element. She watched him look around a bit frantically, obviously trying to size up the place. She couldn't blame him; he was acting on instinct. An instinct that had kept him alive this long.
"It's okay, you're safe here," she said soothingly to him, and led him to a chair near the small fire. He sat down and bowed his head. He looked vulnerable to her, somehow. He really was just a kid, trying to do the right thing, and not knowing how or when to stop. She ladled out a bowl of stew from the pot bubbling on the fire and placed it in his hands.
"Here," she said, "Eat this. You'll feel better." She filled a few pots full of water and set them near the fire to warm while the Kid ate. He sat stiffly for a few moments, as if unsure of how to proceed. She kept herself busy around the tent, and looked away from him, attempting to set him at ease. It seemed to work; after a few moments she heard him start eating. She snuck another glance over at the Kid. He held his bowl and spoon entirely self consciously but with perfect form. Clearly, somewhere along the way someone had taught the Kid manners. As he ate, Zia slowly carted one bucket of hot water after the other to the makeshift tub she had behind a cloth screen. The Kid seemed to take his time eating, as though he was hesitant for this moment of respite to end. Just as she poured the last of the water, she heard him put down his bowl. She looked over at him, and he seemed more tired than before. She wasn't surprised; a good hot meal sometimes had that effect on people. He looked up at her, a bit apprehensively and unsure of how to proceed. It occurred to her that it should be funny that someone so confident fighting windbags and squirts should be so out of sorts in a tent with a woman. But it wasn't funny, not at all. It wasn't funny that he knew more about facing a scumbag, than a girl. It wasn't funny that almost everyone was dead and that it was up to the Kid to try and save them all. But that's the way things had turned out. So, she'd do what needed to be done.
"The tub's full now. You can have a bath in here," she said. The Kid's eyes darted from the floor in front of him, to her, to the tub, back to her, and back to the floor in quick succession. In the dim light of the tent, she wasn't sure if she could see him blush or not. "I'll be outside with Rucks. So, just holler if you need anything." The Kid still didn't move or say anything. She felt awkward all of a sudden. "A hot bath will probably make you feel much better," she finished up lamely. With that, she grabbed her guitar and walked out of the tent.
She sat near the near her tent, singing a few songs that she knew from before the Calamity. She wondered if the Kid felt weird with her sitting outside, but then, it's not like she had anywhere else to go. She plucked away at a few more notes until she thought she heard the Kid getting out of the tub. He hadn't been in there for too long, certainly far less time that she would spend in a good soak, but certainly more than enough time to get himself clean. She hoped he would find the clothes she'd placed on the bed for him. She'd forgotten to mention it on the way out the door in her awkward rush. But she needn't have worried. Eventually the Kid found his way back out of the tent, with clean clothes on his back.
"Thanks," he said, blushing again.
"Anytime," she replied. "When are you going back out to the Wilds?" she couldn't help herself asking.
"Soon," he said, looking at her finally.
"Well, you'll at least get some sleep first, then," she said, a bit too forcefully and a bit too cheerfully. It wouldn't do to have him rush off back to the Wilds if he was exhausted; he'd get himself killed or something. He nodded and smiled shyly at her before he took a few steps that would lead him away from her again. Before he could brush past her, she placed her arm on his, stopping him in his tracks.
"Get some sleep," she whispered. "And try to stay safe out there." Softly, and before she lost her nerve, she reached up and placed a chaste kiss on his cheek.
The Kid froze, unsure of how to proceed. Zia felt a few tears rise unbidden to her eyes and she didn't know why. It just seemed so unfair that this was what things had come to. She patted his arm awkwardly and hurried back into her tent. She sat down quietly in front of her small fire and heard the Kid head back to his usual place behind the Arsenal. She listened as he tinkered with his Breaker Bow for a bit, as though nothing was out of the ordinary. Eventually he quieted down, and she hoped he had fallen asleep. At some point during the night she herself drifted off, and when she awoke the next morning the Kid was already off on another one of Rucks's tips, out looking for shards and trying his hardest to save them all. But Zia was not discouraged. She'd wait for him to come back. And when she saw him wear himself down again, she'd be there once more. She'd do what she could to sort him out and make the fight a little bit easier.