AN: D'oy. I have roughly a million things to do, but thanks to Netflix I have been watching Darker than Black instead. Easily the most fascinating part of it to me was the Dolls. So here's a story for Yin.


It is as though she stands with her feet firmly attached in her body but her head and mind in a room of shuttered windows. That window is a puddle in a gutter; that one is a storm drain; that one is an ornamental pond in a walled yard; that one a dripping faucet, that one a glass on a dinner table, that one a half-filled pot in a sink—

Yin can hear and feel like any human, but it is so, so difficult to direct more attention to her body and its immediate surroundings than it takes to keep breathing when there are so, so many windows.

It is a slow day in the tobacco shop. That is good. There have been very few distractions, and those few have been easily handled through habit, the automatic passing of indicated cigarette boxes and the accepting of coins or crumpled bills, with barely a cursory glance to check that they add up right. It doesn't matter anyway. It's only a front: a tower from which Yin maintains her watchkeep. The fewer people come by the shop, the less attention she wastes.

She has not been ordered to do it. At least, not constantly like this. Yin is aware enough to know that watching is what they want her to do when they want anything from her.

And at first, she did seek them out only when specifically ordered to—usually Hei, or Mao, along with those they tracked, following and reporting on their movements according to Huang's gravelly directives. Their resonances were only somewhat familiar, like a face you have seen before in a crowd but can't attach a name to. There was no reason to watch them when there was no mission.

Now, though...

Yin couldn't explain why if she were asked, but while she sits silently in the tobacco shop, she sifts through currents and peers through windows, watching the other members of the team she has been assigned to as they carry out the mundane details of their lives. It is a sort of non-urgent compulsion, like checking the time when you are waiting for something. It just seems like the interesting thing to do, the natural thing to do. Their resonances have become familiar, and she is drawn to them.

Mao is always the easiest to find, with all the shivering resonance of a Contractor jammed inside that tiny animal body. He sticks out, as though he were a very tall man in a crowd of children.

Huang, on the other hand, is the hardest. Contractors have a certain brightness or loudness to them, and there are so much fewer of them than there are humans. She has come to recognize Huang, as one might recognize one's own cat in a roomful of same-colored cats, but it still takes a little squinting.

Her finger twitches involuntarily in the bowl of water cradled in her lap. On the far side of the city, Yin ducks her specter down in a street puddle, watches another specter slither by on the power lines overhead. She could call out and talk to him, but that would be unwise. Sometimes other Dolls have useful information to share, but the city specters are unsafe; they're always tattling back to the police. And anyway, they never have much to say.

Once Yin peered through a water bottle into one of the rooms where they are housed in their little glass pods, all upside-down so the humans wouldn't have to look at their faces. Once was enough.

Hei does not stick out as badly as Mao does, but he's usually easy to find all the same—not only because he's a Contractor and familiar, but because when there's no active mission, he can almost always be found in one of two places: in his apartment, cooking, or at the ramen shop down the street, eating. Right now he's in his apartment, just like he was the last six rounds Yin has made. She doesn't stay long, just watches him from the sink for a few minutes while he chops bok choi.

Then back to Mao, sunning himself on a garden wall.

Back to Huang, still on the park bench reading the newspaper.

Back to Hei, who's moved on to carrots.

Mao, Huang, Hei. Mao, Huang, Hei. Mao—pass cigarettes, accept yen—Huang, Hei.

It starts to rain, and the many windows become fewer, bigger windows, melting into each other, the city being laid bare before her. Mao slips into an abandoned warehouse to continue his nap somewhere drier. Huang stumps off to his nearest bar haunt, the open newspaper over his head. Hei sits down to eat.

Meanwhile, Yin keeps watch.