A Handful of Dust
Part Three: Delay
"What shall I do now? What shall I do?"
I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street
With my hair down, so. What shall we do to-morrow?
"What shall we ever do?"
- T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”
Cold morning light pierced the air of the dim room, prompting it's inhabitant to stir drowsily. Blank grey walls enclosed the area, which was empty except for a bath, a rust-stained sink, a bed, and an old futon that lay upon the floor nearby. This was made neatly, and the only indication of the room's being in use was the slim girl curled under the thin bed-sheets, one pale hand pulling them to cover her eyes from the unwelcome light. Realization set in, and she shot up quickly – too quickly, and the hand moved to her forehead as she tried to get her bearings.
Robin scanned the room, finally coming to rest upon the futon. Amon had left sometime earlier, and she hadn't noticed, which was unusual. Perhaps she was more tired from the traveling than she had thought. She dressed quickly and sat upon the edge of the bed again, reflecting as she went through her morning ritual of putting her hair up. Michael should be arriving soon, with news of the STNJ. No matter what news it was, she would have to deal with it. These were her friends, once… she'd liked to believe they still were, but it had been a long time. People changed along with circumstances.
Nagira looked up as the door opened and the young witch glided in, moving to the coffee machine and pouring herself a cup before turning to him. “Ohayou.”
“Ohayou. Some day today, huh?” He leaned back in his chair and grinned.
She returned his gaze, nonplussed. “Maybe. We don't know yet.”
She sipped her coffee in comfortable silence, watching the people on the street through the window. Nagira observed in puzzlement, before lurching forward and resting his elbows on the desk.
“You didn't ask.”
She turned slowly, a hint of confusion in her unique eyes. “Ask what?”
“Where Amon went.” He sighed, as though it should be obvious.
“I already know.” It was the same as always. Amon would get restless, and go off to look for information, even if there wasn't any to be had, or any they wanted. He was not used to feeling helpless, not even now, and walking the city streets seemed to calm him.
“He told you?” The man's voice expressed disbelief; it wasn't like his brother to let people know what he was up to.
If anything, the confusion in Nagira's expression deepened, and then something seemed to click in his mind. “Wait, are you-”
“Don't ask that, Nagira. Please.”
A hesitant rap at the door cut off any forthcoming comment, and giving her a look, he moved to let Michael in. Robin straightened, looking almost nervous, as the STNJ's hacker entered the room. There was nothing said for a moment, as the two friends stared at each other.
Michael hadn't changed much, his hair was a bit longer, and he still wore baggy cargo pants and dogtags, but they were different clothes than she had seen him in before. One thing that hadn't changed was his eyes – the mischievous eyes that had always held more spirit than any of the others at the STNJ. Michael retained a youthful energy that the others seemed to have lost – except Doujima, and even she was not able to sustain it as long. He had been her first friend there, and they had spent many evenings eating donuts, drinking coffee and talking about whatever came to mind. She was glad he was the first one who came. He walked more easily, with a lighter air – she imagined it was because he was not forced to remain inside as he was when she knew him.
He smiled, breaking her line of thought. “I knew it.”
Robin returned the smile, glad he was the one who spoke first. She wondered if everyone would say that when they saw her again. “Michael. You -”
He moved towards her and placed his hands on her shoulders, smile momentarily gone as he studied her face. “You okay?”
She nodded, jade eyes grateful as she responded. “Yes, I'm fine. Thank you.”
The grin returned. “Hah, never believe what Doujima says! That's always held true. You are alive, and Amon too, right?”
“Right…” she replied, trying to comprehend his statement. Doujima? What did she have to do with it?
“Where have you been? Both of you. I mean, I understand why you couldn't come to the STNJ, but to not even tell us…” he trailed off at the pained look on her face. “But I'm sure you have your reasons. And you wanted to see me…”
Nagira coughed. “Why don't we go into the office? There are couches in there, easier to talk while sitting.”
Michael turned to look at him, blinking as he tried to remember. “Amon's… brother, right?”
“Half-brother, but what's the difference. Let's go inside.”
Once settled inside, Michael began to tell Robin of what had happened in the days since she disappeared. In return, she told him of what they had been doing, of which there wasn't much to tell. Robin went silent when Michael reflected on something Miho had said – that they weren't to hunt witches who had not harmed anyone, except when SOLOMON expressly commanded it. He apparently did not know the extent of what had gone on in that room in Factory, and did not understand her behavior. The young witch averted her eyes, hoping he would change the subject.
The change came not from Michael, but rather from Amon's arrival, and Robin gratefully ran to open the door for him.
“Robin. You're awake early.” He commented as he shut the door behind him.
“Michael is here, Amon. He has news.”
“I can fill him in later,” Michael interjected, having stepped up to the doorway. He nodded at Amon. “Yo. I really shouldn't stay much longer; they'll start to wonder if I'm gone too long. Is there anything you wanted to know before I leave?”
“Who is the head of STNJ?” Amon asked, returning Michael's gesture.
“Kosaka. I would have thought you knew that much.” His voice held a teasing quality.
“Do… do you know what Robin is here to do?” Upon looking over at the girl in question, he saw her lower her head, indicating that she had not yet told him.
“No..” Michael answered quietly. “But I think I've figured it out. You wouldn't have come to join again, and you two aren't the type to drop in for no reason.”
“I know you want it gone, Robin. You were always different, really. Hard to figure out.”
She looked up sharply at this statement. “You never seemed confused about me.”
He grinned. “Good acting. Anyway, I don't really know what's going on, and you don't have to explain it to me now. You should talk with the others, too.”
“Where… are the others?” She was hesitant to ask. With Michael, she knew he wouldn't have many problems with her and what she was there for. But with Miho, and Doujima, Sakaki… and Kosaka… it was different. Still, she knew she had to face them, if she was ever going to move ahead.
“Karasuma and Doujima are finishing up a case in another part of the city. The witch had already killed several, they finally got him. Killed him. We don't use Orbo anymore. We couldn't… Karasuma-san… she told us about that.” He looked faintly disgusted, and Robin allowed herself a faint smile. That was an improvement, anyway.
Amon, however, was still suspicious. “That's all that's there? The same people?”
Michael shook his head vehemently. “Oh, no! We're the only ones that stay. After what happened to Factory, SOLOMON doesn't trust us. So they send us a new hunter every so often, then take it back and send another. To keep them loyal, I suppose. But we can't get close to them. They're always suspicious, only talk to us when they're working. The last one we had was just sent back –he was an older guy, pretty good telekinesis. So we're in the middle of a rotation now, I imagine we'll get a new one soon, and who knows who they'll be.”
Robin looked shocked. “New… hunters? All the time? They have that many?”
Her companion didn't look surprised. “SOLOMON's always had it's secrets, and it will go to far ends to keep it that way.”
Michael watched them pensively, before speaking again. “Karasuma and Doujima will be finishing up the case for the next few days, so you had better stay put until then.”
“Can…” their eyes turned to Robin. “Can.. we meet them? Can I meet them? If they're killing witches, then perhaps…”
“They're killing witches that hurt people, Robin.” Michael told her firmly. “You have not harmed anyone innocent. It will be fine, and.. really, they'll be happy to see you. We have missed you.”
All the young woman could manage was a soft “thank you.”
“I'd like to at least go to Harry's, to see Master..” she said after a moment.
“No.” Amon said quickly. “It's far too out in the open. You'll be seen by someone.”
“Won't she be seen by someone eventually anyway?” Nagira joined them. “If she's trying to bring down the organization, they will know about her. So why hide?”
“Because they could send hunters after her!”
“They will send hunters after her, now or later.”
“I'd prefer later.” Amon's voice was tight.
Robin had gone silent during the exchange, and Michael spoke softly to her. “At least wait until the others have come back. Then you can meet them at Harry's. We'll all go there. He can't say anything then.”
Amon had overhead, and his eyes narrowed, but he said nothing.
She smiled in thanks. “I understand. I'll wait.”
“Don't worry, I'll keep you busy!” Nagira said cheerfully. “You can do what you did last time you were hiding. You were quite useful, as I recall, I'm sure Mika can find something for you to do.”
Michael chuckled, and Robin gave a slight pout.
A few more airy comments were made, and Michael left, promising to stay in contact. Amon started to walk away, stopping by Robin and speaking quietly to her.
“Don't risk yourself without thinking. Don't go putting yourself in danger.”
She watched his back until he disappeared around a wall, her eyes soft and sad.
I'm sorry Amon… but I'm afraid I won't have a choice…please, don't be too angry.