King of the City
He hunched over the newspaper in vain, swiping through the article once again. Perhaps he read it wrong. “Did they just call me dangerous? I don’t even carry anything! Anything lethal at least…”
A sigh left his lips, and he tossed the screen behind him with a roll of his eyes. It flickered and sputtered before completely shutting off, leaving behind the little cube it came in.
“And what’s with the whole ‘cat burglar’ thing?” he continued to grumble, kicking a can causing the sound to echo around the empty, hollow alleyway. “Why can’t they just call me Robin Hood?”
Another sigh and he looked down at his watch. 18:46. “Best be getting to my next job.”
He continued to climb downward, each step creating a metallic echo amongst the near-empty streets. The farther he went, the colder it got. It was nothing like the city above him.
Nottinghamshire. The capital of cities; the utopia of utopia. Where technology was key everyone free. Always the perfect temperature; always the perfect day. When you gazed up into the glass-covered sky, you saw the sun beaming down pleasantly or a clear, starry night. No one was ever sick, and everyone was perfect. All thanks to genetic modifications, body modifications, and advanced medicine.
But that was all it was.
Artificial. False. Fake.
Robin would love to see one of those high-toppers come down to the real world — literally — and he chuckled at the thought. If they ever came to the dirty streets of the Sherwood district, he was sure one of them would sneeze and get worked up into a frenzy, claiming to have got something when that wasn’t possible in the first place. They might have better education up there, but that didn’t mean they were very bright. Naive, he’d say, or arrogantly oblivious.
A hearty laugh is his only warning before a beefy arm is slung over his shoulder, efficiently jerking him out of his musings.
“And the king has returned to his loyal subjects!” “Little” John exclaimed, shaking a minorly disgruntled Robin. Two others stood behind them. A decent looking man with his hands shoved into his pockets and a teen bouncing on the balls of his feet. “Whatcha got with you this time?”
“Give me some space and I’ll show you,” Robin said simply. Little John complied.
After shaking out his jostled shoulders, Robin reached into a bag strapped around his thigh and pulled out a small sack. It jingled a bit, indicating what it was filled with. “Here you go, a fresh delivery of jewelry and even a few ‘misplaced’ bank cards. Already disabled the trackers on them.”
“Wow!” The teen burst forward, grabbing the bad and peering inside it. “This should last us for weeks!”
“Now, now, Much. Don’t get too excited.” The other man took the bag, tossing it a bit before looking inside as well. “I give it three days.”
“Don’t be such a pessimist, Will. We’ll make it last,” Little John said before looking back to Robin. “I’ll put this with the rest to be distributed later.”
Robin nodded his thanks. “Where’s dear Alan?”
“Dunno,” Much shrugged. “Maybe still gathering his portion.”
“Or serenading another pretty mistress who’s way out of his league,” quipped Will. “Either way, I wouldn’t expect him back anytime soon.”
“I see.” Robin sighed before looking at his watch once again. 19:07. “Hate to deprive my subject of my presence, but I got another job coming up. One to pay the bills.”
A sympathetic expression washed over the three faces before him, and Little John stepped forward to give Robin a gentle pat on the shoulder.
“Then we won’t keep you here any longer. You sure you don’t want any help with this?” John asked. Robin shook his head.
“This one’s my responsibility,” he replied, a smirk donning his handsome features. “Besides, I’m the King of the City. What could happen to me?”
His group of merry men laughed at the ongoing joke, Little John slapping his back.
“Well then! What are you standing around here for, Your Majesty?” John hooted. “Get going!”
With a quick wave, Robin departed from his band, only letting out a sigh of relief when he rounded the corner. Of course, he knew people were empathetic, but sometimes he wished he could never see it. The guilt that would consume him made him feel like he was suffocating. It was his burden to bear, his responsibility, and he would bear it alone.
Reaching the door to his living space, he slipped in silently, leaning back against it once it was shut. He just needed to feel the coldness of the steel seep through his shirt and into his skin to ground him. He needed to be focused from this point on. Sighing for the nth time that day, he pushed himself off the door and headed to the bedroom.
He kept his eyes trained on the sliding doors of his closet, and even then he didn’t pay any mind to half of its contents. Only on what he needed, grabbing them quickly and exiting equally so. Yet his gaze wasn’t disciplined enough to catch sight of his—their—perfectly made bed. Unused.
Wandering back into the living room, he carefully laid out the clothing he grabbed, right next to a neatly folded blanket, and dropped his shoes to the floor. The remote sat nearby, tempting him to turn on the holo. Not tonight. This is more important.
A white button-up, a gray vest, a green bowtie, dress shoes, and black pants a size too large that’s absolutely riddled with hidden pockets. Perfect for an evening heist.
Once he had dressed and slicked back his hair, throwing on a pair of shades on the way out, he set off to the nearest elevatram to Lionheart Casino.
By the time he had stepped off the elevatram, his disguise was already in place. His sunglasses held a state of the art feature shield. A significantly cheaper solution than resculpturing or installing a porcelain face. Yet the price to pay for being cheap was the fact he couldn’t take the sunglasses off lest his hair returned to its original shade and his false stubble disappear. He took a deep breath, taking the opportunity to enjoy the cleanliness of the air as he was higher up in the vertical city, before slipping into the employee entrance. After flashing his forged ID to the guard, he stepped onto the playing floor. His senses were immediately assaulted by the sound of chatter, the scent of booze, and flashing lights.
Scanning the room, he swiftly spotted his assigned table and trotted over with a grin.
“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the Lionheart Casino!” he greeted cheerfully and shuffled his cards. “Ready for a lucky night?”
His breath hitched suddenly, but he was quick to disguise it with a laugh. Sitting right across from him was the owner of the casino himself, John Lionheart, and his trusty, nosy guard dog.
The Sheriff of Nottingham.
Robin never bothered actually remembering his real name—he doubted anyone did since he’s constantly referred to as Sheriff—but that didn’t mean Sheriff didn’t remember him. There were many close calls between the two of them. If anyone could see through his disguise, it was him.
A chill ran down his spine as Sheriff’s voice registered. Robin looked up innocently, cards mid shuffle, and replied without hesitation, “Yes?”
The sheriff’s eyes narrowed and sweat began gathering at the base of Robin’s neck. He refused to gulp, having been a con-artist for too long to give in to such a telling impulse.
“You know you can’t wear sunglasses while playing poker,” Sheriff said tersely. “Take them off, dealer.”
Robin laughed lightly while internally sighing in pure relief. Fiddling with a dial, he matted down the lenses enough so one could distinguish what was seen in the reflection. “No worries, but thank you for reminding me.”
The game went on without an incident.
“Old Friar Tuck! You here?”
A non-comical huff sounded to his right, and a balding man looked up from behind the counter. “Robin. I was wondering when you’d show your face around here.”
“I can’t tell if you’re overjoyed to see me or want me six-feet-under with that tone.”
“Take a guess.”
“Overjoyed.” Robin grinned before beginning to empty his pockets of everything he swiped that night. Rings, bracelets, watches, even necklaces along with a few stray bank cards. He’d need to take a shower before heading to his final location of the day. To collect these items meant he had to get close and personal with many people, and he hated the collective smells of lingering perfume and cologne.
Friar Tuck eyes each piece carefully, mumbling values and facts under his breath. He frowned when he got to a particularly expensive looking necklace.
“Ladies don’t just set necklaces like these on the table. I don’t think they’d even take them off in the first place.” He frowned at Robin, half in exasperation and half in concern. “You are growing too bold, Robin.”
Robin shrugged, and said offhandedly, “You gotta do what you gotta do. Sometimes that means swiping a couple necklaces right under their noses. Besides, all of them were at least half-drunk, and I’m not some rooky trying their hands at pickpocketing.”
The pawnshop owner hummed. “No, I don’t doubt your skill, but sooner or later you will slip up. And risking yourself like this…” He trailed off and shook his head. “I appreciate what you’re doing for the people down in Sherwood, but does it have to be this way?”
“If I don’t do this, who will?” Robin asked. “People are starving, gathering whatever trash falls from the top of Nottinghamshire. It’s not like the high-toppers really keep track of where their money is going, so might as well spend it on something as important as human lives.”
Friar Tuck gave a long sigh, knowing Robin wasn’t a man to be easily swayed. “Just be more careful. I wouldn’t like to see a good man like you rot away in a cell for the rest of your life.”
The rest of the transaction was purely professional, Friar Tuck calculating the approximate sum of the items Robin brought in and paid him accordingly. Robin glanced at his watch. 22:52.
Well, there went his plan of washing up a bit before his next appointment. Instead, he tucked his bank card safely in a hidden pocket, and luckily, the next location was on the same level as Friar Tuck’s pawnshop.
Visiting hours had passed long ago, yet no one stopped him as he strolled down the wings. Every staff member knew him by now, even by name, and they knew who he would visit nearly every night.
He knocked lightly against the frame before entering her room. The lights were dimmed. It must have been midnight by then after all. Silently, he crossed the room to her side and settled in a chair next to the bed. She needed all the rest she could get, so he didn’t dare wake her.
Instead, he leaned back and gazed at the ceiling, finally allowing himself to relax for the first time that day. Right by the side of the one he loved most. Reached over the side of the bed, he took her cool hand in his warm one, stroking her knuckles gently with his thumb.
Locksley Hospital certainly wasn’t the best hospital in the city, that right being reserved for the elite of the elite, but they were caring and took her in without hesitation. Even when he had nothing to offer back then. Every day since then, the staff would manage to do the impossible, rallying up the right medications and treatments to cure his beloved. Although she wasn’t well, she was stable and comfortable. For that, he was grateful and would do anything to help.
Anything for his Marian.
He felt a soft squeeze on his hand and found himself basking in the warm smile of his beloved.
“Sorry,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper, “did I wake you?”
“Maybe just a bit,” she admitted, “but as long as it’s to you sitting by my side, it’s worth it.”
His heart melted at that, and he didn’t think he could possibly love this woman more than he already did. He raised her hand and pressed a kiss lightly against her knuckles. “Go back to sleep, love. I’ll be here till you do.”
Marian’s cheeks flushed lightly, bringing some color back to her pale skin, but took her hand from his to muse his once-slicked hair. “You’re all dressed up. Was it for one of your heists again? Will you tell me about it?”
Unable to say no, Robin recounted his day to her, embellishing it a bit to see her laugh. Of course, he left out some of the more dangerous parts, not wanting to worry her, but she was perceptive enough to notice the gaps. Yet she didn’t call upon them. Instead, she took his hand in hers and once again gave it a light squeeze.
“If I get better—”
She smiled tenderly. “When I get better, I want you there beside me. So don’t be too reckless out there. Promise you’ll be careful, at least?”
“What could happen to me? I’m the King of the City,” he joked, but he then leaned down, kissing her gently and looking at her with as much love as he did when he first laid eyes on her. “I promise. I won’t leave you here alone.”
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