Part One: You're Always On My Mind
Robin lay completely still in the warmth of her bed. The apartment she shared with Touko was utterly silent; her roommate was most likely dreaming the night of the way. However, Robin could not sleep. The blood was pulsing through her veins, her heart, and signs of the adrenaline from the hunt lingered on. Tonight, they had chased down a small witch, a woman who killed her lovers when they did not please her. Robin closed her eyes and thought of this particular hunt. Things had gone so smoothly that it seemed unnatural, and something made her nerves stand on ends. She felt as if it was too easy, like there was something more to this witch and to the hunt. When she mentioned it to Amon he waved her off and told her she was imagining things. Robin, however, did not believe his confidence, for he seemed uneasy too.
She shivered. Outside, the clouds began to cover the evening stars and the moons as the rain began to fall. Turning her back on the window, she closed her eyes and tried to sleep. No relief came, though; she could not force herself to rest. She kept seeing the face of the old woman she saw not long ago, the woman who seemed to linger around every corner, the face of the witch they had hunted that night with incredible powers stumbling toward her and Sakaki flashed in her mind, the sudden diminish of his power made her uneasy to this day. Could there really be a witch that controlled other witches? Did that man they could control her craft as well? The thought of someone else controlling her like some child's play thing made Robin even more afraid.
She sighed heavily and rolled onto her back, staring at the ceiling. She could not sleep. Too many things were running through her head at once. The eerie silence of the house made her uneasy and worsened her already tense nerves. She needed the company of another person, this was too much for her to handle. It was so late, who could be awake at this hour?
Michael would be, she thought, maybe I should go see him? Get some come coffee and donuts for him to eat. Sitting up, Robin began to dress, putting her hair up while watching the rainfall.
"Yes, I'll go keep Michael company."
Michael's head was killing him; he silently cursed himself for still being unable to sit at his computer for a long period of time without getting some sort of headache even if his definition of "a long time" was twelve hours or more. He knew sitting in the dark probably was not helping, but turning on a light at this hour would not only look suspicious, but the sudden change in light would probably cause his head to split in two. He ran out of coffee a long time ago and since he was unable to go out into the real world the supply remained in demand. The lack of caffeine and processed sugar was not helping his headache or keeping him awake.
The night was tiring and there was so much work to do. Codes to break, files to sort, so much to do there was hardly enough time to do it all. The cases were piling up and with the lack of time the killer remained at large and the morgue remained full. The police kept calling, emailing, even stopping by without notice, and nagging the STNJ to catch all of these bloodthirsty witches. There was so much going on and only so many hunters that could handle so many cases at once. The victim's families and friends were begging to the media calling the police lazy and screaming for justice. All of this was placed on Michael's shoulders when everyone else fell asleep for the night.
Without intending to do so, Michael realized that he had let his head rest on the keyboard. There was hardly any reaction from his body and it took a minute or two before he managed to lift his head up. A long line of random letters and numbers had made its way into a case file. If someone did not know better it could have probably been mistaken for some sort of special code. The temptation to keep it there was overwhelming; the thought of someone trying to break a random line of numbers made him smile.
Taking his glasses off, Michael rubbed his eyes as he struggled to focus. With the storm brewing outside the sound of the rain was so soothing. It made him want to sleep. Sleep, however, was not something he got a lot of. The building was his only home and even then he was restricted to what he could do. The cameras were always watching him, making sure he would make no attempt to go into the outside world. There was someone from the factory watching him at all times and yet the building felt so empty. There were only eyes watching him, but he was missing the presence of another human being.
He sighed, wishing the morning would come so he wouldn't be alone.
Robin paid the clerk of the twenty-four hour convenience store and chose to ignore the strange look he gave her. She was young and it was strange for someone of her age to be out, alone, at this time of night. Perhaps the fact that she was by herself that baffled him to such a degree. Only a very brave or very stupid girl would walk around this late at night. She came to the conclusion that based on the looks the clerk was giving her he pinned her for the latter. Robin could only smile and laugh slightly to herself as she hooked the small plastic bag with dounuts in it around the handle of her moped. Putting her helmet she took off into the rain, the droplets stinging her eyes as she raced along the deserted city streets.
Her mind began to wander as she followed the familiar root to the STN-J building. Robin found her thoughts slowly drifting to her work and everything that had happened in these last few months. Her mission was in jeopardy and she could not understand why Soloman would send hunters after her. She had the artifact that they sought so desperately, but why not wait for her to hand it over? These little endeavors with Soloman made her trust them even less. Now she carried the artifact close to her at all times. Perhaps it was never their intention to let her live after this. She shivered and it was not because of the rain seeping through her clothes. The thought of anything happening to her comrades at the STN-J was not something she wanted to even think about. Despite her futile attempts at maintaining her distance, she had grown close to these people. Now she wanted to make sure nothing happened to them, that despite the constant danger they faced every night while hunting ruthless murderers they would remain safe.
A raindrop hit Robin squarely in the eye, jerking her away from her thoughts and back to the reality that she was driving in the rain during the darkest part of the night. The rain was getting worse, the tiny droplets that had barely touched Robin's skin now pelted her with fierce determination. She eased her foot a little harder onto the gas peddle. The rain was getting worse and she needed to get out of the storm before she caught a cold. Taking the final turn, she looked up and saw the familiar STN-J building standing before her. Her eyes gazed to the top floor and she could only see a slight, blue light emitting from one of the windows. As Robin pulled into the parking, taking her helmet off and shaking her wet hair, she couldn't help but smile. As she suspected, Michael was indeed awake and no doubt miserable in that dark building by himself. Grabbing the bag of donuts, the young girl started toward the elevator, carefully trying not to trip over her own long, black, and quite wet, dress.
Michael snapped awake when he heard the elevator start to move. Frantically, he started to clean up the mess around him and set some order to the chaos to at least put up the deception that he was working hard and had accomplished so much in the late hours of the night. It was not until the clock caught his eye that he realized it was far too early, or late depending on how technical he was being, for anyone to come in. Michael felt a lump grow in his throat. No one would ever come in this early... Michael chewed on his lower lip and readjusted his glasses. His fingers hovered over the keyboard, twitching slightly as he prepared to lock the entire system down. The elevator reached the top of the building and Michael braced himself.
Robin pushed the office door open gently and Michael felt a sigh of relief flow throughout his entire body. Never was he so glad to see a co-worker come in early. His relief was short lived when she stepped into the dim light of the room. Her long, blond hair lay flat and wet on her shoulders, tiny droplets of water fell from her hairline and her jawline before falling to the floor. Her long dress and coat clung to her wet, pale skin dripping water onto the floor. In her hand was a very wet shopping bag, the top closed securely to keep out the rain. Her pearl white skin seemed to shimmer in the dim light of the room, but despite her tattered and clammy appearance, Michael felt his eyes linger on her for a moment. The sound of the shopping bag moving snapped him back into reality.
"Robin! What are you doing here?" Michael asked, but did not wait for her answer. He was already on his feet and rushing to get together some blankets.
"The storm outside is really bad," he commented while putting together some blankets. Robin followed him with her eyes silently.
"What in the world is so important that you needed to come all the way over here at this time of night?" Michael found another blanket hidden underneath the couch and pulled it out. He was about to ask if she had a break in a case or something to the extent, but her quiet voice stopped him.
"I couldn't sleep." she replied simply, as if that explained everything. Michael turned and draped a heavy wool blanket over her shoulders, his fingertips brushing the back of her neck. He lead her back to the couch and helped her sit down.
"Then you drink warm milk or read a book, not go out for a joy ride in the middle of a thunderstorm," he sighed. "Is this how all Europeans deal with insomnia?" Much to the young man's surprise he heard a small chuckle from the young woman next to him. She tightened the blanket around her shoulders.
"No, but I started thinking about you all alone here and thought maybe you wanted some company." She held out the bag to him. "I brought donuts." Michael gave her a strange look before he took the bag from her, laughing.
"We need to get you out of those clothes," he said, laughing and pushing himself to his feet. "I'll make a hot pot of coffee and find some of my smaller clothes that might fit you."
Robin took a deep breath and felt a shiver run down her spine as the smell of coffee danced on her tongue. It was not until she found herself wrapped up in the blanket that she realized just how cold she was. Her eyes glanced around the darkened office. It seemed so difference without the chief, or Sakaki, or Amon walking around and at least thinking about a case out loud. She was right to assume that the office was lonely at night. The walls seemed to be closing in on her as she waiting for her coffee and warm clothes. Her mind began to wander as she looked around the room. She could still feel Michael's hands resting on her shoulders, his arm around her, leading her to a place to sit down. Robin smiled to herself at his immediate kindness as he tended to her needs.
"Your coffee." His voice drew her away from her thoughts. Michael stood before her, his arm extended to hand her a cup of coffee, another mug in his other hand and a bundle of clothes under his arm.
"Thank you," she said pleasantly, taking the cup from his hand, blowing on it gently before taking a sip.
"I found some old clothes, but I think they're still too big." He placed the clothes in her lap before sitting down next to her. "Go change before you get any colder." Robin nodded and placed the mug on the floor and took the clothes into her arms.
"Where should I...?" she asked, trailing off. Michael gestured toward the conference room with his head. "All right, I'll be right back." She turned and started into the room, but felt her cheeks start to turn a little pink. She could feel his eyes on her as she moved. When Michael was out of sight she dropped the blanket to the floor and looked at the clothes he gave her. It was a long sleeved shirt with a wide neck that looked like it could fit around her tiny frame. The pants looked like they might just fit around the waist, but as she pulled them on she found that they were far too long. Tightening the belt around her waist she pulled the shirt over her head and found she was almost right about the neck being too wide. It slipped down and left one of her pale shoulders exposed.
Sighing heavily she looked down at herself in the reflection of the panel and couldn't help but feel embarrassed by how ridiculous she looked. One shoulder exposed from the far too big shirt, her hair so stuck to her head that it looked like she hardly had any at all. Reaching into her pocket she pulled out two extra ribbons and began to tie up her hair.
"Robin?" Michael called out from the room. "Are you all right, it got really quiet all of a sudden."
"I'm fine, just trying to make myself look presentable." Robin heard him laugh slightly at that comment.
"Robin, I don't care how presentable you look. Get out here before your coffee gets cold."
"I completely forgot about my coffee." She tied the last of her hair up and raced into the office. She could hear Michael chuckling at her as she sat down next to him, sipping her now lukewarm coffee. She sipped the warm coffee and started to feel more and more awake. Her mind raced and she could smell Michael's scent lingering on his clothes. A strange mixture of coffee, junk food, plastic and mildew that it couldn't possibly be anyone else. "Where do you sleep?" she suddenly blurted out, but instantly felt her cheeks flare up.
Michael was caught slightly off guard by her sudden comment and from the look on her face he guessed Robin was fairly surprised by her own comment. As he watched her stutter through an excuse to explain her sudden rude question his mind drifted back to the moment when he was alone and she was in the other room changing. Her shadow fell across the room and seemed to tease him. Her body was a graceful silhouette and Michael could almost feel her thin fingers caressing his cheeks. Robin was still trying to explain her question when Michael placed a finger on her lips. She fell silent.
"Do you want to know where I sleep? I'll show you." he replied, placing the coffee mug on the floor and standing. He offered her a hand to help her hand. Robin hesitated slightly, but placed her own half finished mug on the floor and took his hand. Pulling her tiny frame to her feet, Michael led her down the long staircase to the lower area of the building. When he had to start entering codes to enter the doors he released her hand and the two of them continued their descent silently.
Michael pushed the final door open and let her walk into the dark, poor maintained lower area of the STN-J building. The walls glowed blue with the moonlight from the few windows in the room. Bits of moss grew on the walls and in the cracks of the floor. The fountain in the middle of the room seemed to be emerging from the floor instead of something that was placed there later in life. Above their heads, a little red light watched them; the ever watchful, boss never letting Michael out of his sight.
"This is where I spend my time if I need to get out of the office. It's not exactly glamorous, but it's better than nothing. And that" he said pointing to a small cot in the far corner, "is where I sleep."
"This place is..."
"Yeah, I know, nothing pleasant to look at, but it works."
"No, I wasn't going to stay that. I like it, reminds of the ruins you would see around Italy."
"Yes, but..." Robin's eyes traveled up to the cameras moving in a circular motion, always watching them. "How can you bear the thought of always being watched?"
Michael fell silent for a moment, not because he didn't know the answer to the question, but because did not know how to answer it. Robin also fell silent as she patiently waited, wondering if Michael could answer something like that,
"The STN-J isn't...always watching me," he said in a hushed voice.
Robin stared blankly at him, unable to speak. Has Michael found a way to leave without being noticed? She wondered to herself. She moved closer to him and he lowered his voice even more, "I have not figured out a way for me to leave without their knowledge, but I do know how to leave their sight for a time."
"How?" she asked quietly.
"A blind corner," was his response. Robin knew what a blind corner was when it referred to driving, it was a corner where you could not see further down the road and you could not see who was coming toward you. So if someone was on the wrong side of the road, you would not be able to see them coming and there could be a terrible accident. A smart driver knew that they need to take blind corners carefully. However, they were not driving, they were in a room with cameras.
"What do you mean 'a blind corner?'" she asked. Michael smiled slightly and looked up at the cameras with only his eyes.
"I've watched those cameras carefully and I've found one flaw in the system: there is a blind corner, a place in the room that none of the cameras can see. They don't watch every single step I make so if I vanish from those cameras I must be moving into the view of another. No one knows about it and I don't plan to tell them about it."
"Where is it?" she asked.
"I'll show you." He took her hand and lead her across the room. Robin could feel the cameras watching her and it made her uneasy. Michael stopped near a post on the far side of the room. He released her hand and sat down. She watched him and as he sat down, it looked like he physically lost some sort of burden. He smiled and gestured for her to sit down next to him. "This is the blind corner. The cameras can't see us. It's a little wider than the two of us side by side and about as long as me." he closed his eyes and let his head rest against the dirty pole. Robin watched him silently and could not help but feel a little petty. Just the thought of being watched all the time made her uneasy, but here was a person that was watched all the time and took great pleasure in the idea of really being alone.
"It must be hard...to be locked up in a place like this." she whispered. Michael opened his eyes and looked down at her. Robin had drawn her legs up to her chest, her chin resting on her knees. She looked sad.
"Don't be sad for me, it's not that bad. It just gets lonely being here all alone all the time. And at the same time, I know I'm not alone and that makes it feel congested. It just takes some getting used to." He paused. "But it is nice to have someone to sit with here, just the two of us, no STN watching our every move." Michael paused again and sighed heavily, smiling down at her, "Thank you for coming and keeping me company." Robin looked up at him and smiled softly.
"It was nothing." And the two of them sat in silence, simply enjoying each other's presence. The night grew later and Robin felt her eyelids start to grow heavy. Before she realized what she was doing, the young witch let her cheek fall on Michael's shoulder. Before he could respond or she could apologize, sleep overcame her and soon she sank into a deep and peaceful sleep, to the smell of coffee, junk food, computers and mildew.
He was a little surprised she simply fell asleep right there on his shoulder, but at the same time he could understand. What she did each night required a lot of energy and if they were to work hard that morning he needed to make sure she slept the rest of the night. Michael moved carefully, trying to make sure that he did not wake her up. She was so small and thin that it was easy to move her, but as he did, her eyes fluttered open.
"I'm sorry, I tried not to wake you up..." he said softly. She gave him a tired smile and kissed him gently on the cheek.
"It's no big deal," she responded in a sleepy voice. He looked down at her, a little taken back by the affectionate gesture. They both remained still. Carefully, Robin moved her arms around his neck so he would not have to carry her full weight, but was unable to look away from his eyes. Michael thought about what he said, that it was just the two of them, no STN, no co-workers, no one was watching, just them. He shivered slightly when her fingertips caressed the back of his neck. He leaned forward, still holding her close, so their noses were almost touching. He stopped and waited, to see if she would move away from him, but she remained still, as if frozen. He swallowed and kissed her gently on the mouth.
Her lips were at soft he imagined, soft, sweet and innocent yet there was a lingering fire from her craft that made it addictive. He tightened his grip around her small body, feeling the warmth of her craft pulse over his skin, raising goose bumps and forming a small line of sweat on his forehead. The palm of one of her hands cupped his cheek and she broke the kiss, breathing heavily. Her eyes were slightly wide, as if surprised by her own actions. She opened her mouth to say something, but nothing came out. The two of them sat in silence, unable to say anything to each other.
"The rain stopped," Robin managed to say after a while.
"Yeah..." he said, trailing off. She moved out of his arms carefully.
"I should...probably get back to Touko's..." He said nothing back to her, simply pushed himself to his feet and moved toward the door so he was out of the blind corner and he could feel their eyes on him again.
"I'll help you get your things." And with that, they walked upstairs and gathered her things, an uneasy silence between the two of them. As Robin started toward the door, Michael thought he heard her mutter a "thank you" and "goodnight" before the office door closed behind her. He was alone again, alone with nothing but the eyes of the STN-J watching his every move yet again.
Robin road back to her the apartment in silence, unable to comprehend what happened to her. She silently thanked God that she knew her way around so well so she could focus on her feelings. Her mind was racing, she had no idea that Michael felt that way about her. She did not even realize that she felt that way about him.
Still in a daze, she crawled back into her own bed. Her mind was exhausted and overwhelmed. She wanted to sleep as she turned on her side and glanced at her window glowing slightly with the rising sun. She wanted to sleep, but was unable to stop the pounding of her own heart.