The trouble, understand, is she’s got reasons he don't.
Funny how he couldn't see at all,
Until she grabbed up her coat.
And she goes.
She's been here too few years to take it all in stride.
But still it's much too long, to let the hurt go.
And we always say, it’d be good to go away, someday.
But if there's nothing there to make things change,
If it's the same for you I'll just hang.
The same for you.
I'll always hang.
"Hang," Matchbox 20
The world is burning.
Robin’s senses are swimming. Her ears are ringing, eyes are watering and her head throbs in pain. She flexes her fingers and the experiment results in a handful of ash and rubble.
She’s trapped, caught under something dark and heavy and the weight of the situation makes it hard to breathe. She chokes; the acrid smoke of liquefied metal and electrical wiring burns her nose and throat.
Embers smolder in the darkness, just like her nightmares. Is this Hell?
Her eyes clamp shut and she whispers the prayer of a frightened girl. Soul soothed, her panic subsides, allowing her mind to clear.
She was in a fight at a building. She confronted Zaizen. She was in the Factory. The Factory self-destructed. She and Amon…
“Amon!” She cries into the debris. He has to be within reach; he’s too stubborn to trust her to her intuitions.
The dark object trapping her takes shape. It’s cloth and flesh and rasping for air. Amon.
“Amon!” She cries again, no less desperately. She claws at the debris beneath her for leverage. Pulling herself out from under his still form, she pivots and rolls him over on his back. She grabs hold of his jacket and shakes him. He doesn’t stir.
She persists. “Amon?”
She presses her ear against his dusty chest and listens for a heartbeat: faint but persistent. Her fingers move to brush the hair and soot away from his mouth and nostrils. His cheeks are warm and sticky and she tells herself it’s only sweat.
“Amon, please wake up,” she pleads with the still figure. Her hunter. Her watchdog. Her Amon. She pulls him in closer, cradling his head in her lap, and gently kisses him, tears rolling down her face.
The rubble shifts and she can see a thin stream of moonlight piercing the darkness: her path to salvation.
“Amon, I won’t leave you. I won’t leave until you wake up.”
Karasuma stands in the cramped office of Shunji Nagira, torn between responsibility and morbid curiosity. The suspicious circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Takuma Zaizen and the destruction of STN-J property demand official investigation. Tokyo’s finest are more than capable of sorting out the demise of The Factory, but the charred corpse in the sealed elevator car requires more specialized attention.
Karasuma is bright enough to piece together the events of the evening. She has more than enough evidence to prove that the murder was an isolated incident involving a Craft user. She has not, however, found sufficient remains to conclude the individuals involved died in the wreckage.
Mostly, her visit is for her own personal sense of closure.
Nagira pokes through the nearly full ashtray and fishes out a half-smoked cigarette. A smug grin spreads across his face as he lights it. “I’m sorry, Ms. Karasuma. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
From behind them, his blonde assistant snorts unhelpfully. “He can’t even remember the names of half the girls he parades through here.”
Karasuma steps backward and presses a photograph of Robin onto the assistant’s desk. “Is this one of them?”
The assistant’s nose crinkles when she squints at the picture. “Yes. I remember her. She was so lazy,” she complains, shooting accusing glares at Nagira. “Impolite, too. She didn’t even say goodbye when she left weeks ago.”
Karasuma almost sags. “And you haven’t seen her since?”
“No.” She waves the photo off with a derisive gesture. “Good riddance.”
Frustrated, Karasuma turns to Nagira one last time. He’s sprawled out in his chair, feet crossed on his desk, nursing his cigarette. He studies her from behind his lazy disguise. They both know more than they’re letting on but neither of them is sure what the other is hiding.
She turns to leave and he takes a gamble. “Relax, Ms. Karasuma. I’m sure they’ll turn up eventually.”
Her hesitation is barely noticeable, but it’s enough to confirm his assumption.
She’s just as worried as he is.
As he drifts into consciousness, Amon’s features crinkle in pain and confusion. His surroundings are distinctly brighter and warmer than he last remembers them. Charging into The Factory was a suicide mission he was prepared for. He was willing to accept whatever demise fate decided for him, but soft bedding and the smell of stale coffee are entirely unexpected.
His eyes flutter open and he absorbs his surroundings; the peeling wallpaper and water stains in the ceiling tiles suggest his position was hurried and temporary. The small blonde woman curled up at his side, one slender arm delicately draped across him, implies it’s a safe-house.
They’re supposed to be dead.
A new concern flashes through his hazy mind: although fully clothed, he feels naked without his gun and Orbo pendant. He’s vulnerable and defenseless, wrapped in the arms of a genetically-engineered super witch. Yet, somehow, it feels strangely natural.
“Robin.” His voice is hoarse.
“Amon!” She jumps, recoiling her arm as her eyes dart open. She almost falls off the bed as he hesitantly sits up. She stares at him for a breathless moment, misty-eyed, before her arms spring back around him, pulling herself in for a fierce kiss.
His eyes widen with surprise, and he submits to the instinct to push her away when he realizes he’s enjoying it. She blushes with embarrassment at her own unchecked emotions and buries her face in his shoulder. He tries to ignore the hot tears that sting his neck as she sobs, bracing her back with a hand to comfort her.
“Robin, where are we?”
“Tokyo,” she whispers.
Amon allows himself to collapse back against the bed, suddenly aware of his exhaustion. His older brother has always been the bleeding heart: sympathizing with Craft users and incessantly preaching tolerance to Amon. He wonders if there isn’t something to it, as he catches himself subconsciously running his fingers through Robin’s undone locks.
“Does anyone else know?”
She shakes her head and the light dances in her green eyes. He’s going to have a talk with his half-brother regarding boundaries and persistence.
“Let’s keep it that way.”
Nagira lights his third cigarette since he’s started waiting in the dark alley. He listens to the hum of a vehicle as it reverberates through the stone buildings surrounding him, occupying his mind with something other than the stench of the garbage dumpster across from him.
Worry nudges the back of his mind: the meeting is running late. He may be waiting around for nothing if Solomon has already caught up with Robin and Amon. Maybe his time would be better spent waiting for his informant to deliver the news at the Pachinko bar.
The tension eases out of his shoulders when a booted footstep splashes into a puddle off to his right.
He takes a drag from his cigarette; the embers cast a warm glow over his angular face. “You’re late.”
“I shouldn’t be here.” Amon unconsciously stops an arm’s length away from the other man.
Nagira rolls his eyes at Amon’s ingrained suspicion. “I missed you, too.”
Impervious to humor, Amon frowns. “Do you have them?”
“Yeah, yeah.” Nagira reaches into his long white coat and pulls out two unmarked manila envelopes. He holds them out for Amon to inspect and briefly contemplates ripping them away at the last minute. Old habit.
Amon pries one open and thumbs through the contents: birth certificate, identification, employment history: a new life.
“They’re not foolproof,” Nagira explains, “But they should get you wherever you plan to go.”
Without a word, Amon seals the envelope and tucks it into his own jacket.
“Must be nice to be out from under Solomon.” Nagira flicks his cigarette into the alley and stamps it out with his polished dress shoe. “Guess you’re not staying in Japan, huh?”
The silence grates on Nagira’s nerves. He’s never understood how anyone could take himself as seriously as Amon. He contorts his face into a mocking impersonation of Amon’s own sour expression. “Gee, thanks for saving my life, bro. And my tasty little schoolgirl—“
Nagira expects a reaction but nothing prepares him for the explosion in his eyes as the younger man’s fist connects squarely with his jaw. He spins, just barely catching himself before launching headfirst into a dumpster, and falls to the ground.
He erupts with laughter, spitting up blood and staring up sideways at his assailant. “God damn. You do love her.”
Amon pivots on a heel and calmly disappears back into the night.
Robin sets down her cup of coffee and stands when Amon returns to the apartment. She laces her fingers together and beams hope and determination. He can’t bring himself to believe that she could ever be anything so horrible as the creatures he stalks and destroys.
He steals her hand and pulls her in closer than he’s ever let anyone in. Cupping her face with his other hand, he closes his eyes and kisses her passionately. She squeaks and grabs the collar of his jacket for balance as he literally sweeps her off her feet. She’s sweet and warm and he wonders how he’s managed to ignore it for so long.
She pries herself away. “Amon?”
She bites her lip anxiously. “Your jacket is poking me.”
It takes a moment for the words to get break through the sound of his heartbeat echoing through his head. Deflated, he sets her down and fumbles through his coat, dropping the envelopes onto the table.
“What are those?” She looks as embarrassed and ruffled as he feels.
“Identities.” He empties the contents of one of the folders onto the table and sorts through it, trying to feel anything other than foolish. He shrugs off his jacket and folds it over a chair. “We should split up.”
“We’ll need to leave the country before Solomon decides to come looking for us. Our chances are better if we aren’t seen together.”
She takes his hand in hers and patiently waits until he can return her sturdy gaze. “Amon, I’m not leaving.”
His brow furrows with protest, and she presses a finger across his lips before he can verbalize it.
“I can’t leave. I’ve thought about what happened at The Factory. Father Juliano trusted me to do the right thing and running away is not the answer.” A tear escapes her steely composure and races down her cheek. “I was created for a reason. I need to help the Awakened understand their gift before it destroys them. I have to give them hope.”
She drops her hands away from his and turns away to avoid his watchful eyes, hurt by what she’s about to admit.
“I have to go back to the STN-J. I…” She chokes back a sob. “I won’t expect you to follow me.”
He pulls her back in and holds her close, stunned that it may be the last time he sees her.
Things would have been simple if they could have run away together; there would have been no distractions, no constant reminder of what the Craft would do to her innocent mind.
No oath sworn to end her when she snaps.
He’s too invested to abandon her now.
“I’ll be right behind you.”