A/N: Oh my god…I finally updated! You all thought I'd forgotten about this story, hadn't you?
It's not as long of a writing piece as what I normally produce, but we're still in the first few chapters of the story; and like TBT, this will pick up and become lengthy very soon. And I *do* plan on continuing to work on it. And preferably not waiting two years between chapters. *cringe*
Anyway, enjoy! (And ps - check out hieros_gamos on LJ! New layout!)
sleepwalking, on the highwire
into the open palm of the empty sky
—Siouxie and the Banshees
June 6, 6:35pm
"Scusi. Flight 242, from Florence to Marseille, France, is now boarding its first-class passengers at gate 7B. Please have your boarding pass and identification ready. We will begin boarding our economy-class passengers in approximately twenty minutes. Grazie."
At the sound of the airport intercom's pleasant drone, the blond man folded his newspaper and set it on the empty seat beside him. A fashionably attired brunette woman, seated across from him in the small waiting area, watched admiringly as he busied himself with gathering his belongings and managed to hold a cellular phone conversation while doing so. He was well dressed, attractive, with noble features and captivating ice-blue eyes. His smile would be devastatingly sexy, she surmised, even though at the present moment his countenance was solemn and serious. All business, she mused. Maybe an investment banker, or perhaps a lawyer? With curiosity, she noted the scar along his right cheek—the only blemish marring his perfect complexion.
Oblivious to his female admirer he stood, holding his briefcase, and headed toward the gate while still in the midst of his phone dialogue.
The Cardinal on the other end of the line was very concerned. "We need to have this situation taken care of with the utmost haste, Seth. The longer we wait to dispose of them, the more perilous the disruption of the balance becomes."
"My operatives have already located them in the south of France," Seth responded as he walked. "I am heading there this moment, to take care of this problem where it lies."
"You have a rather surprising amount of confidence in your newly-assembled team's ability to deal with the Eve and her mate," Cardinal De Luca noted with disdain. "She made short order of your last one. Be sure your bravado is not misplaced."
"I assure you, Your Eminence, it will not take much longer to apprehend the girl and her warden."
"And I want to ensure that we have your word that they will be turned over to us immediately if they are captured," the Cardinal seethed dangerously, not so easily convinced. "Vasile made certain he'd recorded your duplicity. I will not be as forgiving as he was, God rest his soul."
Seth had just reached the ticket agent at the gate, boarding pass and passport in hand, and had opened his mouth to form some sort of retaliation to the Cardinal, when he abruptly glanced behind him and froze in his tracks. Across the busy airport hallway, hadn't he just seen a glimpse of a girl—long loose chestnut-blonde hair, pale skin, a dark dress so long that the hem trailed on the floor with her footsteps—disappearing around a corner?
"Signore," the ticket agent demanded, her hand held out expectantly. In his ear, Seth heard the Cardinal repeating his name with ever-increasing impatience. His gaze was still fixated on the last spot he'd just seen the young red-haired woman. After another moment, he sprang into action.
"I'll call you back." He closed his cellular—to the squawking protests of the Cardinal still on the other line—and quickly headed backwards through the line formed behind him, away from the airline gate. "I'll be back, hold the plane for me," he instructed the indignant ticket agent in sharp Italian. Seth charged ahead, increasing the pace of his stride, never taking his eyes off the last spot he'd seen her.
He rounded the corner, breathless and anticipating, and witnessed her disappearing around another corner on her left. He caught just a glimpse again of her hair and the distinctive black and gray pilgrim's dress that she'd worn so often. He'd know it anywhere.
He sprinted down the corridor, pushing his way past airport travelers and their luggage, and made a sharp left in the direction he'd seen her go—thinking she would turn around any minute at hearing his running footsteps behind her—but to his shock, it wasn't Robin who had turned to confront him. A quick startled glance around the near vicinity told him the Eve was nowhere to be seen. A completely different girl stood facing him; shorter in stature than the fire witch, curvier, clad in street clothes. Her hair was lighter than Robin's and hung down her back in pale blonde waves. Her eyes were a coffee-colored brown.
Seth stared at her mutely. He was frozen to the spot in confusion, the only sound being his labored breathing from his short run.
"Mi chiamo Arella," she said matter-of-factly, as if he'd asked for an introduction. Her voice was sharp and perfunctory. "I don't need to tell you how I know your name is Seth, and that you are with SOLOMON. But you need to listen very carefully to the remainder of what I am about to say."
"How do you know me?" he asked with a frown, disobediently. She ignored it.
"You are being closely watched," she said as she took a single step toward him. "You need to tread very carefully from now onwards. And if you make any moves to harm the Queen, rest assured there will be hell to pay."
His mouth gaped. "The Queen?" he repeated dumbly.
"The time has come for her to come into her power. We have no qualms about what we will need to do to defend her and her reign. Just know that whatever attempt is made against her, we will not hesitate to unleash the same upon you in retribution, threefold." She held his gaze firmly with her own.
"Remember that, Seth." And with a last hard look from her deceptively soft-looking brown eyes, she turned away and began to walk.
The intercom suddenly blared in his ears—the impatient airline attendant shouting that his plane was about to leave the gate, and would the blond gentleman in First Class please come and claim his seat?—and his attention was diverted for the fraction of a second he'd turned his head to listen to it. When he turned back in Arella's departing direction, she had disappeared into the crowd.
She couldn't have run fast enough for him not to see her, and she couldn't have just vanished. Panicked, he spun round in a circle, eyeing every woman busily pushing past him or walking away from him in the airport corridor. None of them were her—at least, none of them he could recognize. He raked a hand roughly through his hair in frustration.
After a few irrationally paranoid moments, Seth finally composed himself, taking a deep breath and schooling his features. He adjusted the necktie of his dark business suit and stiffly and reluctantly returned to his waiting plane.
June 7, 2:24 am
Michael fidgeted with his airline-issued headphones, grumbling to himself as he tried to get a decent sample of music from the in-flight radio stations. He impatiently pushed and punched the metal buttons in his armrest, to no avail. Next to him, arms folded about his chest as he tried to feign some semblance of sleep, Haruto Sakaki opened one eye and leveled it at him, growing more annoyed by the millisecond.
"Goddamnit," Michael muttered darkly as he gave the armrest a final infuriated shove, and reached down by his feet to fish his iPod out of his travel bag. "Their music is such shit."
"Yeah, well I don't know why you didn't just get your own music out to begin with in the first place," Haruto retorted angrily, both eyes open. "You could have saved us both the irritation."
"Oh, gomen nasai, Sakaki-san," Michael bit out with malicious sarcasm. "I didn't realize I was such a burden to you."
"You're a burden to everyone, with the way you're always complaining all the damn time!"
"Sou ka. Why don't you go sit over there next to Miss Karasuma, then, Haruto?" Michael asked deviously, motioning his head in Miho's direction before he appeared to have a sudden revelation. "Oh wait, that's right—because she'd rather sit next to the Chief than she would next to you!"
Haruto looked as though he were about to come to blows as he turned in his seat and faced the boy next to him. "You better shut your fucking mouth, if you know what's good for you!"
Across the airplane aisle from them, next to a sleeping (and snoring) Kosaka, Miho sat staring out the small oval window at the darkened sky outside, chin in her hand. She could hear their bickering, clear as day, but she dared not reprimand or scold either of them. Both Haruto and Michael's emotions were wound up so tightly she thought they might explode.
It was the same for her, but Miho had years of practice at controlling and hiding her feelings under her belt. When you were psychometric, it didn't do much good to let on that you had the ability to tap into another's deepest and most hidden sentiments.
Part of it, she knew, was nerves. They were to land in Rome in approximately half an hour…then what? It was blatantly obvious that the two newly designated SOLOMON 'high-priority targets' were in fact Amon and Robin—the video recording they'd watched was real, after all—and that Headquarters had recalled the STN-J to Italy to be assigned to their hunt. After all, no one would quite know the two reticent ex-hunters as well as their old colleagues. She knew Michael and Sakaki recoiled at the prospect; Kosaka was strangely silent and evasive about the entire thing.
But none of them had any choice in the matter. What Miho had grown to fear since the two of them had disappeared from the Factory's collapse site months ago seemed as though it were quickly becoming a reality. They were to hunt Amon and Robin.
How could they even think of hunting their former teammates?
The notion was repellent, and yet…she herself had stood within her own moment of weakness in Zaizen's office not so long ago, when he'd revealed Toudou's taped message, telling her Robin was a mistake, the "perfect witch", an aberration to be erased. Now she had seen for herself, with her own eyes, the physical evidence of just how destructive the girl-Witch could be…not to mention blatant evidence that Amon had aided her. It was something that was hard to turn a blind eye to. She had no doubt that SOLOMON would have a slight problem with it as well.
Miho covered her eyes tiredly with her hand. She had hoped they would never be found—that they would have run off together somewhere, anywhere, away from SOLOMON's influence if it were even remotely possible—that they would have kept themselves safe and below the radar. She'd heard and remembered every word spoken on Hiroshi Toudou's tape that fateful night in the Factory; how Robin was the Eve of Witches and would revitalize the emergence of their kind. Surely Amon had realized how much of a threat she was to SOLOMON's entire existence.
Why did they go to Italy? What were they thinking, leaving Japan to end up in the home country of the organization's headquarters? As an ex-hunter himself, Amon should have known better.
But perhaps, Miho mused, momentarily recalling a stubborn, chestnut-blonde teenaged will, the decision hadn't been entirely up to him…
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of her name. Amazingly, Haruto and Michael had stopped fighting for the moment, and were both calling to her from across the aisle to get her attention. Kosaka, separating them, slept blissfully on even through the noise around him.
"Miss Karasuma," Michael was asking, "are we finally going to see her in Rome?"
She blinked in confusion. "Who?"
"Madame Doujima," he answered, a deliberately theatrical tone to his voice. "We haven't heard from her in a month since she went back. Will we be seeing her there?"
Miho lowered her eyes and felt his gaze on her, as well as Haruto's interested stare. "I don't know, Michael," she replied honestly. "None of us—including the Chief—have been in contact with Yurika for some time now. It's safe to say that she might have taken another assignment elsewhere."
Both Michael and Haruto's faces fell, and Miho felt a pang of regret for them. Although she had been nowhere to be found during the terrifying Orbo raid on STN-J months earlier, Yurika Doujima had been very active with the group following the incident—almost as if she were repentant for her absence. She had bonded strongly with the two young men, particularly with Haruto, and now they keenly missed her presence.
Miho sat back dejectedly in her seat. It was just one more disappointment to them, she supposed, to prepare them for the disaster of what lay ahead.
Half an hour later, they were landing at Leonardo Da Vinci airport in Fiumicino. It was only Miho's second visit to Headquarters, since her training two years earlier; it was Haruto's and Michael's first, she reminded herself. The group watched curiously from the windows as they taxied from the runway to the gate. Beside them, Kosaka snorted and spontaneously woke himself, clearing his throat noisily.
The glittering glass and steel of the terminal's design flashed intermittently with the airport's lights, even through the pitch darkness. Roving searchlights revealed armed guards at the lower entrances of each gate, with bullet-proof vests and Beretta AR-70 assault rifles.
By the time the group had shuffled out of the docked plane and made their way mechanically up to the gate, the apprehensive feeling in Miho's gut had become a solid mass of dread. There was no one to meet them at the gate's entrance. Amidst the harsh and glaring indoor light of the terminal she wormed her way tiredly through throngs of people, Kosaka, Haruto and Michael close behind her.
The four of them made their way solemnly down two floors on the escalator to collect their luggage. At the last bend the baggage claim area came into view and they could now see a figure perched casually on the edge of the roundabout, one elegant crossed leg dangling and chin cupped in her hand.
As they stepped off the escalator, Haruto and Michael nearly dropped their shoulder bags in surprise. Miho simply stared, her mouth gaping open in amazement.
Kosaka was the only one who spoke. "D-doujima-kun!"
"Well," Yurika Doujima drawled sarcastically, tossing her blonde hair behind her and sitting upright to face them. "It's about time you guys showed up." She yawned and stretched dramatically, grinning like the Cheshire cat, and all of her former comrades broke into relieved and surprised smiles. "You know I'm losing out on my beauty sleep!"
Le Mourillon, France
June 7, 4:18 am
Shirtless, clad only in the soft, rumpled pants he had been sleeping in, he stood at the glass-paned patio doors that led to the small balcony and stared out at the dark sky outside. Amon had a flash of deja-vu as he stood at the partially-open doors and looked out into the night, and felt as though he'd done the same not too long before—had it only been a week ago?
He could still hear the whispering waves of the ocean three stories below behind him. Even closer, he could hear the quiet sound of Robin's breathing, as she lay still deeply asleep on the bed, swathed in covers. He turned his head slightly to listen to the tranquil rise and fall of her breaths. His hearing seemed eerily and rather suddenly fine-tuned; almost as though currents of air around him were concentrating the sounds, carrying them to his ear.
Her long black skirt and tank top—as well as her underwear—were on the floor; she'd shed them in her sleep, again. She never had been able to tolerate the constriction of clothes between the sheets. When he'd first woken to find her nude beside him, it had taken all of his willpower to extract himself and slip out of bed. It hadn't been his preferred course of action.
Smirking faintly, he turned back to the balcony before him again and looked down upon the dimly lit streets of the city. Le Mourillon was a small oceanside town, but it still had many villas such as the one they were staying in, as well as residential hotels and homes. There weren't many cars on the road at this hour, before sunrise; it was a long time before the morning commute. It was silent, all but the faintest of background noises muted—so much so that his extraordinarily-heightened hearing could pick up the leaves on the trees below trembling and rustling.
Amon opened the doors further and stepped outside onto the stone balcony. The cool nighttime air washed over him in a rush, the wind whipping his dark hair and startling his senses. It seemed to beckon him, as it had that fateful day he'd awoken in Siena; he heard it whispering to him, calling to him through the trees above the dark streets. The pull was strong, and he went to the edge to lean against the metal rail, looking out into the pitch of the night.
Surprised, he leaned even further, straining to hear. It had definitely been a voice saying his name, on the breeze…
Amon cast one last glance behind him at the partially-hidden girl in the bedroom, before turning back to the darkness. He climbed carefully over the guard rail, swinging his other leg over as he held onto it from the other side. The wind picked up again and tousled his hair. He took a long, protracted breath.
And then he let go.
She awoke sometime before dawn to the feel of his hands traveling over her—gentle, roaming, moving slowly along her ankle and up the length of her leg, seeking shelter in the curves where her covers were tucked over her bare skin. Robin stirred, and opened her eyes to see him hovering over her on the bed.
"Amon?" she asked quietly, still groggy with sleep. She turned over so that she could see him better, noting he was shirtless and his hair mussed and wild, windblown. Her eyes widened and came into focus. "What is it?"
He nodded wordlessly and continued his exploration of her skin, fingers stroking her bare arm as though it were the most fascinating thing he'd ever seen. Robin felt a pang of nervousness wash over her—this wasn't like him. She looked carefully into his eyes and saw they were glassy, pupils dilated. Had he been drugged? "…Amon?"
"It's loud," he whispered absently, trailing his fingers from her elbow up to her bare white shoulder; she shivered slightly. "So loud…can you hear it?" He cocked his head, listening. "I didn't notice it before, but now it seems deafening to me." One finger traced the shape of her collarbone above the sheet's edge and followed it to the slope of her neck.
"Hear what?" As confused as she was, his touch paralyzed her, made her breathless. She didn't want him to stop, regardless of what motivated him. "…I don't hear anything, Amon…"
He regarded her dreamily, his expression soft but at the same time intensely serious. "It's on the wind," he explained. He tucked a long expanse of her chestnut hair behind her ear, cradling her cheek and brushing his thumb against the downy softness of it over and over again. "It's in the dark, out there…"
"Is that where you've been?" Robin asked patiently, trying not to shudder with pleasure. "You've been…out in the dark?" His skin was cool to the touch—he must have been outside, at least for the last hour or so.
She raised a tentative hand to his at her cheek, feeling him. "You do feel a bit cold…would you like me to warm you up?"
It was an innocent enough question, but Amon apparently had other ideas about gaining warmth. He moved to cover her entirely, sliding his legs over either side of her, bracing himself with his arms and pressing the lower half of him into her; Robin, in her surprise, went limp in response and slid back against the pillows underneath him. She was suddenly very aware of his body against hers, of his weight and height and muscle, of the heat of his breath and the sleekness of his chest as it brushed against hers through the sheet.
"Do you hear it, yet?" he was asking her, his voice a low purr in her ear, and she couldn't imagine how he was not aware of what he was doing. He brushed his lips gently against the side of her head as he settled himself against her, hip to hip. "Do you see? It's permeating, surrounding—it's everywhere."
Before she could reply he ducked his head and sealed his mouth with hers. She gasped against it, briefly scrabbling for purchase amidst the sheets before her body relaxed into him and her hands sought his back, clinging. He kissed her deeply, his tongue probing and gentle, and Robin lost whatever uncertainty she'd immediately felt and responded with eagerness. She parted her lips further, undulating underneath him so that their hips aligned, her legs on either side of him; he was hard enough through the soft cloth of his pajama pants that she could feel every inch of him against her.
"O-oh," she whispered against his mouth, feeling her temperature spike suddenly. Her face felt feverishly hot.
The feel of them pressed together so intimately must have jolted Amon out of his strange reverie, because he suddenly broke the kiss and looked down at her beneath him, gray eyes slitted with concern. "…Robin," he panted, "…what are you doing?"
Now he was asking her this? "Nani?" she whispered, her confidence abating only for a moment before her body's need reasserted itself. She moved against him once more, ingenuous and insistent. "You came in…" she started to explain.
He attempted to retreat, looking a little bewildered. "This isn't—" His voice cut off with a soft grunt as she held onto him fiercely. "Robin, let go. I didn't mean to—I shouldn't have done—"
She released him reluctantly as he rolled over onto his back, away from her on the bed. Her brows were knit together in consternation; a frustrated, teenaged pout, a single word on her lips as her slight chest heaved. "…Why?"
Amon didn't answer. He sat back against the headboard and breathed, allowed his own breaths to return to normal as he looked around the room and anywhere but at her. She raised herself on her forearms next to him.
"We can't do this, not yet," he told her firmly, his voice low and taut as he turned to her again and held her gaze. "Do you understand?"
Her gaze traveled over him; his stern lower lip, his pale and heaving chest, the evidence of his excitement prominently visible through his pants. She didn't understand this at all, with him—this forward and backwards, this vacillation. "No," she said softly, finally, "I don't."
He cupped her cheek and chin in one hand, still breathing soft gusts of exhale through his nose. "Because if we're not careful—and I don't know that I can be, right now—there will be a child."
She shook her head. "I still don't understa—"
"I'm not ready to be a father, Robin."
…Oh. Without knowing distinctly why, she felt her heart sinking, as though leaden weights dragged it down through her body into the bed beneath her.
Robin admitted to herself that such a prospect had crossed her mind since the events in Siena a week earlier—no, even before that, she confessed. Of course she wasn't as naïve to think such activities didn't have consequences, and what those consequences were. But…she had thought that Amon had thought them through as well. He was nothing if not thorough. And if he'd said he would never leave her side…
"Why?" she asked again, quietly. Then: "Is it because of your past?" He pulled his hand away, shifted uncomfortably on the bed, and she knew she'd gotten to the root of the matter.
Amon looked as though he were trying on words in his head. "…I can't even imagine it," he answered, his voice low and honest as he stared at a corner of the bedroom wall. "What kind of parent I could possibly be…I've lived so long without a functioning family, without relational ties."
"Nagira," she pointed out, referencing his half-brother, but Amon dismissed the name with a short shake of his head.
"Nagira and I have never been close," he replied. "I trust him, yes, especially now, but…it was very different between us, him and I, for a long time." His voice grew thoughtful and far-away.
Robin sat up to view him better, drew her knees up underneath the sheet as she reclined against the headboard. "I've never had one either." When he looked at her questioningly, she went on. "A family. But I think—" she recalled Jana's story of Aradia, of the young girl wishing for children like the happy nest of baby birds, and she looked back up at him hopefully, "—I think, that I would like to have one."
He frowned, but she could detect a faint incredulity underneath it. "You've just barely turned sixteen."
"I've been sixteen for three months."
"Robin, it doesn't make any sense. It's dangerous. On the run from a multinational organization is not an ideal situation for children."
She set her lips sternly. "That is not a reason to not have them."
His sigh sounded mildly irritated. "I don't want them; that is the reason not to have them. This discussion ends now." She tried to conceal what was surely a look of plaintive hurt on her face. Unsuccessfully, most like it, given the tightening of his features. "I'm going to call in some favors later today or tomorrow before we leave, and procure something that will take care of this issue."
"…Take care of it?" Robin queried softly, her curiosity piqued despite her resentment.
His voice was gentle again, his eyes as he regarded her still stern, but with an underlying melancholy. "Surely you don't want me to keep you at arm's length, anymore."
She shook her head, a thrill passing like a tremor through her body. Although they had just argued and he hadn't conceded to her, there was no part of her that didn't want to be closer to him, to feel him, to be joined with him in all ways possible. The thought of it alone made her flush.
"I've never wanted that, Amon," she whispered, all raw honesty. His eyes changed, and he reached out a hand again to trace the down of her cheek with the backs of his fingers.
She decided to tentatively change tactics. "Why did you sound so strange, when you first woke me up?"
Amon blinked, features falling neutral. "I'm not sure," he responded carefully. "What was I saying?"
"You were talking about something you heard, in the dark…on the wind, outside."
He paused, digesting her words and seemed to visually play back the scene in his head. "I think that I heard something calling me, on the wind," he answered slowly, "and I went to answer it."
Robin cocked her head. "Perhaps it was something relating to your Craft," she reasoned, leaning further into his stroking hand. "A memory, perhaps."
He sighed, the sound sleepier than before. "I'm sure that whatever's happening, it's your doing, somehow." She bristled a bit in surprise, but the look in his eyes told her he was toying with her—teasing her, a bit.
"Mm." The sound she made was noncommittal, as though she had simply brushed his comment off.
"It will probably take a week or so before it's safe to do anything," he said, cryptically as his fingers traced her jawline and then her neck, and again Robin wondered at what was to be procured. "But in the meantime, there are…other things we can do." It took her a moment to realize his enigmatic smirk held a hint of the lascivious behind it.
The Eve of Witches gave her own quirked half-smile in return.
"Perhaps we can play a game of chess tomorrow, then." She clasped his stroking hand in hers and kissed his palm, before turning over away from him in bed and snuggling down into the comforter. "Buona notte."
She heard him snort, partly in indignation, partly in amusement, and she could see his barely-there grin behind her closed eyes as she drifted off again to sleep.
scusi: excuse me
grazie: thank you
mi chiamo: my name is
gomen nasai: please excuse me
sou ka: is that so
buona notte: good night