After they were done, Amon got up as he always did and began methodically dressing while Touko watched from where she lay under the rumpled covers.
"You could stay the night," she suggested and he just looked at her, no words necessary. "Right," she replied to the expression on his face, "What was I thinking?"
"It's nothing personal," he said briefly, fastening the clasps of his old-style black jacket. Shrugging his overcoat on, he stepped towards her and quickly kissed her forehead. "Do you think Robin is still asleep?"
Touko looked momentarily irritated, "Yes, she sleeps through everything. I can't believe you came up."
"My sheets are dirty."
"Nice to see where I fall in your order of priorities." Her voice was sardonic, but not really surprised. They had been together long enough that very little he did surprised or disappointed her.
Amon had begun the affair with Touko several months ago, when he had been impressed with her cool, business-like demeanor. It was rare to meet a woman he didn't have to explain himself to. He had thought that they would work well together, as she hadn't seemed like the type of woman who would get too deeply involved. After the situation with Kate, he had relished the simplicity of his time with Touko. Their affair to date had been mostly silent, an unspoken understanding of each other's needs. Lately, that had begun to change, and though he didn't know what to make of it, he knew he didn't like it. He had started to suspect that Touko was beginning to develop feelings for him. He hoped it wasn't true. Emotion was a calculated risk in a profession like his; frequently, it was a risk he chose not to make. Relationships, of any sort really, were not a strong point of his and he had never met a woman who made him want to get any at better at the games people played.
He felt no need to respond to Touko's comment on his priorities and so left the room, pausing only a second to look at Robin's door. He spared a moment to hope she had indeed slept through his activities with her roommate. He was sure she had; he had always taken care not to draw attention to his affairs. It was a sign of how long it had been that he had been willing to come up to the apartment when Touko suggested it. Even before Robin had moved in, with her old-fashioned black dresses and solemn eyes that saw too much, he had been reluctant to use Touko's apartment for their meetings; the suggestion of intimacy it gave was one with which he was not comfortable.
He stepped out the door of the apartment, turned the knob to make sure it was locked, and shut it gently behind him. He didn't want to leave the women in danger. Either of them. He took this extra care as just another sign that he was thinking too much of young Robin of late, and in all the wrong ways. Woman. She was fifteen, only a child. Even the smallest thought of her was too large.
It was a habit they had, for Touko and him to sometimes meet at Harry's; they would each sit in their own silence at the bar, their shoulders touching, their eyes occasionally meeting each other's. After a while, they would leave together, travel in silence back to his spartan apartment, where Touko was no louder as she lay underneath him. He had caught himself speaking to her more and more these days. He would briefly drop details of his day to her. Mostly details of the hunt; what else was there to share? Even had he been so inclined to discuss such things, there was nothing in his private life worth sharing. His job was his life, always had been. He was careful not to speak at all of Robin and though Touko had never asked about his omission, he would not have been able to put into words why he was so assiduously avoiding the subject of her teenage roommate. In the dark of his room, after Touko left, he would stay in his bed and try to sort out what was going on his life, what these emotions he was feeling meant. In all the hours he spent pondering the subject, he had not been able to formulate an answer. The only thing that he was clear on was that he did not like change. He could not tell where these... emotions... for Touko ended and where they began for Robin or what those emotions for either of the women were. He refused to admit that it was his own thoughts causing him such sleepless nights. He gave himself every excuse he could name: the stress of the job; the danger of it all; the challenge of keeping up his partnership with Robin. In the end, he knew they were all lies, but it wasn't enough to make him stop telling them to himself.
It was a surprise, even to himself, when he called Touko that dark night to admit he was actually thinking about her. He wanted to say that he cared for her, but he wasn't sure that he did, wasn't sure what exactly what that would feel like. He felt something for her, it was true, but he had never been adept at naming such things. When he followed up this admission with the comment that he thought that they should stop seeing each other, Touko had clearly been expecting it. He wondered what had tipped him off to her, if it was the conversations they had been having or merely the fact that he had called. In the end, he supposed it didn't matter.
"Can you answer me something?" was all she asked and he agreed, thinking it was the least that he could do, given the abruptness of his decision. He thought it would be something about what he felt for her, or asking him not to call, or some such thing. He was prepared to give her what she needed; to some extent, he regretted the suddenness of his actions. The question he heard, however, was not one he had even thought about needing to answer.
"When you start screwing Robin, which I'm sure won't be long, given how you're looking at her, will you actually admit to yourself that you care about her, or will you walk out on her, too, the first second it looks serious?" The phrasing and tone of her words were deliberately crude. He had not thought that she had such things in her.
Robin was outside the car window when Touko asked that, which made the question even more awkward than it already was. She was dressed unlike herself for this assignment and it had been hard to stop looking at her when he first saw the outfit. The long pants and the halter top looked good on her, though so different he could barely fathom it. "We won't be discussing that," he said to Touko as he tried hard not to stare at Robin as she waited outside the window, patient as always.
Fifteen, she was only fifteen, and her assignment to him as his partner was not without its ulterior motives. The thoughts he entertained about her, had sometimes entertained about her while lying above Touko and looking down imagining it was Robin's face, were not the thoughts any adult man should be having for a girl her age. Touko was still talking, but he clicked the phone off, past done with the conversation.
Through the glass, Robin looked somewhat anxious. Knowing his face would not show any of his thoughts, he rolled down the window. She had brought dinner from Harry's. "On the house," she said, but he knew Harry and while he genuinely liked the man, Amon knew this had been Robin's idea. She was kind like that; she had a gift of thinking for others. He knew she was trying to fit into the group, trying to find a way to belong to the STN-J. It made his job harder, sometimes. He had never wanted there to be anything in her that he could admire. Admiration. A simple enough term, a term he could be comfortable with. Whatever deeper feeling he had for her, he was not willing to name it. Lust was the simple effect of being alive and functioning- its stronger and more elusive cousin was something he had a hard time admitting the truth of. Wordlessly, he took the food from Robin and rolled the window back up. She watched him for a second more and then turned to walk back into Harry's. He refused to admit that he was watching the sway of her hips in those pants, refused to admit that he was indeed touched by her kindness.
That night, he dreamed about her for the first time. She was under him, and his hands were pinning her wrists to the bed, like he thought she might escape him. Her hair was down, spread across the black sheets like a curtain of light. She was still clothed, but her dress was unbuttoned to her waist to reveal a modest black silk bra and her skirts were pushed up so he could see her legs, long and pale and beautiful against all that black. He had a knee between her legs and she was writhing against it, gasping out his name as she did so and he loved it, loved every second of it, yet he found himself wanting and needing more. For the first time ever, he wanted to hear a woman call out his name as he brought her to pleasure. Not a woman. Robin. He wanted to hear her scream. Releasing her wrists, he began fumbling at the ties of his slacks to free himself, his need making him clumsy, when some spark of reality must of woken him and he found himself alone in bed, hard and aching and staring at the ceiling, wondering just what was going on in his head and his body. While he knew his dreams exceeded his control, he had never considered himself the type of man to harbor such thoughts. And Robin, raised as she was in a monastery, would surely not welcome his advances; she seemed a decent girl, and a modest one. Advances... what was he doing, even thinking the word in conjunction with Robin? She was so far beyond his reach that it was criminal to think of it.
At work, he tried to distant himself from her yet more. He was starting to lose faith in himself around her; he found his palms itching around her, twitching with the need to touch her, to reach out to her in some way. That first dream turned out to be the most chaste of them all- every night, he dreamed again, each more explicate in detail than the one proceeding it. Each night, it became harder and harder to force himself to wake up from the dreams, allowing them to go further and further each time. The first time- the only time- he allowed the dream to finish, he was so disgusted with himself afterward that he showered till the water ran cold, scrubbing himself clean, sure that if he did not, everyone would be able to look at him and know instantly of what he had been dreaming and despise him for it. He became sure that if he ever got Robin into any kind of a compromising position, he would know exactly how she would respond. He would know how her eyes turned near black when she was overcome with desire, how she bit her lip when the pleasure became too much, how her voice broke over the syllables of his name as she came. At first he had fought the dreams, drinking strong black tea late into the night to try to chase sleep away, but that just led to waking dreams, from which he could not escape. He began simply assuming he was doomed and that she was indeed a witch and not simply a craft-user; what other excuse could he use to blame this obsession of his on but her magic.
In the few quiet moments at work, Amon found himself regretting that he was not the type of man who cultivated friendships. It would have been such a relief if he could unburden himself on someone, ask the advice of another. He would catch himself studying Sakaki, wondering what the younger man would say if he abruptly announced he had developed an attraction to Robin and what did Sakaki think he should do to rid himself of it. It was ludicrous to even think of it. Worse yet was Michael, who already seemed to Amon to be paying too much attention to Robin. Was this was jealousy felt like? He had no prior experience with the emotion to compare it to, had never felt any degree of possessiveness for a woman, his or otherwise. On the days after the nights when the dreams had chased away any hope of sleep, he would wonder if he was losing his mind. He almost hoped for; it was a better explanation than that he truly become romantically attached to a girl ten years his junior.
When the attacks on Robin finally began, he was almost surprised to find that somehow, without his knowing it, his loyalties had twisted, turned to Robin's camp without him being aware of it. Strange, he thought, that he would feel this desire to protect her when it was Robin that was turning his nights into such a living hell, when it was her he blamed for upturning his previously logical existance. Though he had been told to allow her to be hunted, to not interfere in any way, he found he could not do it. From the night of the first attack, the attack he had told Robin had never happened, he had been watching her, following her. He saw her that night when she could not sleep, whether from the attack itself or his apparent disbelief, he did not know. He had seen her come out to the balcony, to let the wind try to wash her clean of the night.
Cursing to himself fluently, in as many languages as he knew, he saw that his dreams had shown him truly; she was beautiful. Her hair was just as he had dreamed it, a banner of light against the dark shadows of the evening. He could feel his body stir to life at the sight of her as some feeling he refused to name rose up inside of him. He wished that whatever he felt for her could be so easily categorized and severed as his relationship with Touko. But as she watched the night sky, staring at him without realizing he was there, he knew that, with her, it would never be that easy. In the development of whatever emotion he had gained for her, he had betrayed everything he had known, but he could not bring himself to step back. He almost wished he had not cut things off with Touko; he could use a willing body to lose himself in, put an end to his frustrations. He even thought briefly about Dojima. She too was beautiful and more worldly-wise than Robin; perhaps she would be able to accept his desire on face value and not want anything from him that he was not able to give. In the end, he shoved the thought away and continued to watch Robin, ignoring the ache in his body and his heart.
The next night, it was his own refusal to do as he was told that had resulted in Touko's injuries. Touko, the closest thing to an innocent that the STN-J boasted, the closest thing to a friend that he had. If he had done what he was told, she would have come through the incident without harm. Some part of him had felt pain when he heard the shots, when he heard Robin's voice call out Touko's name, but he did not come forward. When Robin ran, trying to find Touko's attackers, he stopped her, stupidly thinking only of her not being captured and held by the Headquarters, even as he knew that Touko lay upstairs, bleeding because he had failed her. Later, he took Zaizen's beating without a word or any thought of retaliation, knowing that he richly deserved the abuse. In a way, it was a relief to give himself over to the physical pain; it was a distraction from his own thoughts, his own self-condenmation.
When he was able to move again, he had pulled himself off the floor and taken himself to her hospital room. Touko had looked so small and fragile through the glass, her body weighted down with tubes and wires, the gentle beeps and hums of the machines reassuring him she was still alive. This was his fault, he knew that to be the honest truth. If her accusation had been correct, and he had developed feelings for her, than this was the worse thing he could have done to her. Certainly, he felt something now, and though he wasn't familiar with the emotion, he guessed it was regret. There was so much he had to say to her and so little that he was actually able to put into words. It was all useless, anyway. Even if she wasn't barricaded behind the glass walls of the intensive care unit, the doctor had told Amon she was in a coma; anything he had to say would have to wait, if it was to have any meaning. Finally, he said only, "I'm sorry," though he knew the words were worthless against the weight of her pain. The saving of her life was no longer up to him; he had given up on that opportunity and now he had to trust to others to do it for him. The only thing that he could do now was continue to save Robin; if he was going to do this thing, against all odds and common sense, he was going to do it right. He left the hospital before Zaizen could find him there, left before Robin could be found at the STN-J offices, left before anybody could ask him what he was doing, since he was sure that he would never be able to answer such a question.
If he could save one life here... No. He forced himself away from the thought. No one would die from this. Not Robin. Not Touko. No one.
Knowing that, above all else, he needed to know the truth, he followed up his trip to Harry's with a visit to Robin and Touko's apartment. A search there brought him the all information that he needed; the thin airmail letter, tucked in with the other mail. He knew the address of the monastery that raised Robin, recognized it as the return address. A quick read through the letter told him everything he needed to know and more. His time must be limited now; if he knew Headquarters, they would be coming after Robin at the loft next. They would see themselves as having no choice. They looked at her and only saw what they wanted to see; their opinions had been formed before she had done anything to warrant them. Witch. The accusation was like a brand against his thoughts of her. They had offered the hunt to him, but she was no witch to Amon. Not the way Kate had been, so afraid, so desperate, so wrapped in her own fear of being destroyed from within by powers she could not control. Robin was not like that. She had never been weak, never fearful of the power buried beneath her skin. He had never hated what he knew he had been born to do, but he had never lied to himself about what made a person a witch and Robin was not one. Her powers needed honing, her skills needed practice, but she was no witch. He could not feel for her like he did if she were. He could not; it was against everything he had ever believed.
By the time he got to the loft, it was already almost too late. STN-J's security had been breached and he could hear explosions followed by gunfire upstairs. When he got to the offices, he saw all the damage, saw his teammates on the floor bleeding, but he only had eyes for Robin, curled frozen against the wall, those amazing eyes widening with shock even in the glare of his light. He said only, "Follow me," and she, with no reason to trust him, had, letting him take her wrist and pull her to safety. Her hand in his was so small, he could barely credit it. He wanted to crush it in his, wanted to hold it so tightly he left fingerprints on her skin; he didn't trust himself so close to her and let go as quickly as he could force himself to. He led her level by level down the hidden stairs, his fingers flying over the codes as he talked, talked like he had never dreamed of speaking to anyone. In his memory, he could not recall saying so many words at one time as he spoke to her. She had asked the one question and the truth spilled from him like a fountain. He told her about Kate, about why he had hunted her. He managed to stop short of telling her what else he and Kate had been together, but it had been by only a word. He knew that she had caught the omission, but her look of interest was not enough to make him continue. Instead he broke off, commented instead on the nearness of the team following them. When they reached the lowest level, he had her blast a hole in the wall, creating a false lead, another trick to treat the men from headquarters with. She was quiet in the silence after the blast, and then, as if she could no longer hold back, the question spilled from her lips, falling between them like stones into the water.
"Amon, does all of this mean that you actually trusted in me as your friend?"
Friend. Such an innocent question, and him with no innocent answer ready to hand. What could he tell this child of his sleepless nights, his restless desire when he came too close to her? What could he say about the way she haunted him throughout all the hours of the day, a ghost in his mind's eye? She was a child despite all of this, the violence and the betrayals, and he remained anything but a child, old in too many ways to think on. Finally he managed only to explain that he couldn't obey his orders, without giving any reason for his refusal. Better this way. Simplier. Cleaner.
She made for the hole once she created it, pulling hard at his jacket to make him follow, pulling him against her. He rejoiced in the nearness even as he read the desperation in her actions, and they almost warmed him out of his fear for her; she felt something for him, she must. She would not be so afraid for him if she did not.
In response, he pulled her to the open well, keeping her as close to him as he could. Hand on her shoulder, closer than he had ever allowed himself to get to her, Amon finally admitted the barest part of the truth to her.
"I don't think of you as a witch."
He could feel a thousand other words pressing against his lips, tasting of an eloquence he had never dreamed himself to possess, but he said none of it. What good would it do? It was both too soon and too late to say anything else. Instead, he put her down the well, into the secret entrance he had opened just for her. He would see her to safety if nothing else.
He pulled her briefly towards him, slide a hand down her face to tuck Nagira's card in her hair. He hesitated then, just briefly, caught by how close she was to him. So close... and damn the dreams, they were right again, because her eyes did go dark with desire and right then he thought he would know exactly how she would taste if he were to lean in and kiss her. There were a thousand things he wanted to say to her; he had never in his life wanted to speak as much as he wanted to speak right then. She was not Kate, was not Touko; whatever connection he had with her, he could not walk away from it. He made her promise to go to Nagira if anything happened to him, and when she reached out to him, refusing to go, refusing to leave him in danger, he ruthlessly pushed her back down into the well and let the door close, blocking his view of her panicky face. If he lived to old age, he knew he would never forget the look on her face, scared and determined all at once as she fell back.
Some dark, trickster dream grabbed hold of him then and he thought of giving it all up and following after her, disappearing with her forever. But no, if they vanished together, Solomon would never stop searching for them. The hunted and the hunter? In Solomon's view, he would become even more guilty than Robin, having made such an... educated... choice. Sudden fear gripped him as she fell from his push and he began to speak again, not even knowing what he would say. "Robin, the next time I see you—" but the doors closed before he could finish the thought and maybe it was all to the good. What had he been planning to say, anyway? "It will be different? I'll love you? I'll kill you?" It was almost a relief when the bullets went ripping through his body. No more thought, only the pain. Not even Zaizen's beating had brought him such a respite from his own mind.
He let his body lie where it fell, thoughts of Touko and Robin all mixed up together in his mind. For the first time in his recollection, he prayed, silently begging some higher power for Robin's safety, for Touko's salvation. His feelings for Robin had kept him from protecting Touko, a sin that would rest on his shoulders for the rest of his life, and even then, he thought that Robin might be worth it. He did not know what she was, but he sensed in her a difference from the others. Touko- no, he wouldn't think of that. If he could save just one of them, it would have to be Robin. It would have to be; he had risked too much now for it to be anyone but Robin.
He heard the agents talking, speaking of the hit on the offices as they would speak of any other day at work. At first, their words made no sense to him, a meaningless blur of sound. He wanted to close his eyes from the pain and see Robin behind them. He fought past it to listen, and their words made even less sense than before. This was no hunt... he had been tricked.
The pain seemed to be growing inside of him, radiating in waves from the bullet wounds. Had this been what Touko felt when he had left her open and exposed? They weren't hunting Robin. Oh god, what had he done? The pain took him then and he closed his eyes, to see Robin but not Robin before him, her hair down like Touko's, longer than Robin's ought to be, dressed in white, belly swollen in pregnancy, smiling at him; the light behind her hair made it glow like an image from an illuminated manuscript. Even surrounded by the pain as he was, Amon could feel the woman's blessing reaching out to him. Robin would make it to safety, the girl-woman's smile seemed to promise. Whatever game Headquarters had been playing, maybe he had stopped them in time. Maybe... maybe... maybe...