She didn’t know how long she’d been staring at the screen.
Her eyes followed the black lines her hand had drawn some time before, trying to make sense of the jumble. Every iteration she tried moving from her mind to the computer never seemed to come out right.
How many schematics had she gone through since starting this process? She couldn’t remember. All she knew at this point was it had become far too cumbersome to try and draw them on paper, having nearly filled a notebook with potential sketches. The computer was better, even if she could already feel her eyes twitching as she tried yet again to arrange the circuitry in a way that would work.
To some the illustrated mess might have looked like some sort of twisted puzzle, or even a maze. In some ways it was.
She’d seen a movie once, when she’d been younger, where a girl had to traverse a labyrinth to get to the center and save her baby brother. Right now she felt a certain kinship with that story, though she was designing her own labyrinth and it was her father trapped at the center she was trying to save.
The pathways, circuits, and wires of her father’s tech were familiar. She’d spent years learning them. But having to take the old and meld it safely with the new had been proving far harder than she’d imagined. She was building the maze up around herself and kept getting stuck along the way.
Once again she hit a dead end, cursed, and used the stylus to erase the work on the screen. Her floor might as well have been covered in crumpled up paper for all the progress she was making. She laid the stylus down with a little click, pressing her fingers against her eyes and trying to rub some life back into them. They were dry and tinged with red, aching slightly from nights with little sleep and too long staring at complicated pathways and bridges without blinking.
By this point, even stepping away from the computer didn’t help. She’d been seeing circuits in her sleep for the past several days.
A shaft of light shot across her desk, momentarily obscuring the screen, as the office door opened and Daniel entered. Had anyone else tried to come in right now she would probably have chased them away with a snarl. But not Daniel. She would have been a hermit by now if not for him. She’d been turning down invitations and other social engagements from friends so she could get more work done. Her exercise routine had suffered, and so had the time she’d been able to spend with Henderson. She felt guilty when she heard him whimpering by the door, trying to quietly beg for a walk, but she couldn’t leave the work undone.
She’d seen the downturn of her boyfriend’s lips when she crawled out of bed every morning, grabbed whatever food was at hand, and went right back into her office, sometimes without bothering to shower. So far he hadn’t said anything. He was worried, she could tell, but he knew how important this was to her.
So he’d started doing small things to make her take breaks, like threatening to unplug her computer if she didn’t come to bed or warning her that he’d start singing if she didn’t come out on a short walk with him. She knew him well enough to know he’d follow up on those threats and, despite a few glowers at the beginning, she’d given in. It was a somewhat convenient way to assuage her guilt over taking so long and it had been enough to keep her semi-human.
This time he came bearing something she could already tell smelled wonderful. Her stomach growled a lecture at her. Glancing over at the clock she winced when she realized how late it was. Somehow she’d managed to miss lunch, and it was nearing dinnertime now. She thought she’d eaten something that morning. Coffee for sure, at the very least.
Her desk was a mess, covered with papers and printed schematics with red pen marks all over them. Half dissembled implants were strewn among the mess along with a smattering of her tools.
Daniel made no comment about the state of the place, just gently shifting one of the piles aside to make room. The tray he’d brought bore a bowl of hearty stew, some fresh crusty bread, and a big glass of water in one corner where she could easily reach it. He didn’t seem like he was going to poke her to come eat with him tonight, and she was somewhat grateful for that.
She was hungry, but instead of going for the food she turned and slipped her arms around Daniel’s middle before he could leave, drawing him in and pressing her head against his stomach. He was warm, and smelled faintly of cinnamon, and at the moment she felt like she needed the contact more than she needed to fill her stomach.
“Long day?” He asked without hesitation, slipping an arm around her shoulders while his other hand brushed gently over her dark hair.
“At this rate I’m going to need a case of these damn implants to get something that works,” she said, her voice sounding bitter to her own ears.
“You’re not going to need that many, babe. You’ve got this. There’s probably no one else who could make this work.” He spoke with such an assured certainty. She wished she could match his faith in her.
“I’ve been banging my head against these schematics for days now, though. I feel like I’m so close but each time something is off and it just slips out of my grasp. Like I keep thinking I’ve finally found right the path but each time I hit a dead end and realize I’ve taken a wrong turn.”
“Wrong turn? Like in a maze?”
“Yes, it’s frustrating. Only it feels like I’m the one making the maze and I’m still getting lost in it. I know daddy is willing to be patient but I feel like I have a deadline.”
She let out a heavy sigh, and for a few moments Daniel just held her in silence. His fingers brushing through her hair helped soothe her frazzled nerves a bit, but not quite enough to allow her to relax.
“Sounds a bit like that movie. The one with the girl in the maze, and all the puppets, and the dancing baby.”
“You know that movie?” She asked, shifting a bit so she could look up at him, surprise on her face.
“I mean, I do have two sisters who were very fond of the leading man. Plus it’s a pretty cool movie. Though I admit I was more amused by the farting swamp at that age.”
His words drew a hearty laugh from her, momentarily alleviating the funk that had settled over her in the past few days. It felt good to laugh and she squeezed Daniel’s middle in a silent gesture of thanks.
He smiled down at her, then arched a brow in thought.
“If you’re trying to find your way through a maze, why not leave yourself some breadcrumbs?”
“Breadcrumbs?” She arched a brow.
“Yes, sort of like way-markers. Isn’t that what the girl in the movie did? She used lipstick marks on the floor so she knew were she’d been. You know, if you get a certain part of the way through and realize you’re lost, you wouldn’t have to go all the way back to the start.”
Robin’s brows furrowed. “I mean, I can’t just-”
But why couldn’t she? There had been parts of her schematics that had worked, at least up until a point. Why did she have to scrap everything each time and start all over? Had she worked herself up that much she’d been running headlong into the same wall over and over?
“Y-you might have something there. I kept getting so frustrated each time my designs weren’t working out like I wanted that I just scrapped them. I swear I had the delete key almost on autopilot. There were even aspects I kept returning to over and over in each iteration, so there must be merit in them.” She could even picture them now, shining bright like beacons. She might not be able to see over the walls, but they could at least let her know she was going in the right direction.
“There is always merit in your designs, babe. Sometimes it just takes a little while for you to realize when you’re in the thick of it.” He smiled down at her and she felt a warmth spread through her, drawing a soft smile of her own to her lips.
“Sometimes I do get caught up in things. Honestly, Daniel, what would I do without you?”
“Probably better,” he said, the hint of a grin quirking his lips as he teased.
For all of his desire to prove himself to everyone out there, he always surprised her with how humble he could be with her.
“Oh don’t you even start that with me, Daniel Barrett. Are you questioning my choice in men?” She tried to give him a sharp look, but it was quickly subsumed by laughter and this time she thought the lighter feeling would stick around.
“Thanks, babe,” she said, after her laughter had subsided, wanting him to know just how grateful she was for his help. He had the patience of a saint sometimes.
“Anytime.” Daniel leaned down and kissed the top of her head.
She reached up and took gentle hold of his collar, pulling him down so she could press a kiss to his lips, letting it linger a few moments before she let him go.
Daniel looked far happier than he had when he’d come in and, letting his fingers brush across her cheek, excused himself so she could get back to work.
She finally took up the food he’d left, feeling more energized than she had in days.
Thinking back she remembered the girl in that movie hadn’t made it to the center of that labyrinth on her own. She’d had companions that had helped support her along the way, that had remained steadfast even when everything seemed lost.
She felt grateful each day to have someone who cared for her so much, and who was going to help her save her father. It was only a matter of time until she got to the center and her father would be on his feet again. That would make it all worth it, in the end.