(SPOILERS for the end.)
The ravens were flocking on the street again. Their feathers were fluffed and quivering, almost like dogs, a meager protection against the cold. This was snow country; the harsh Siberian winds swept over the sea and crashed into these slopes. Some days the weekly airlift was the only way out. Even the trains didn't run this far.
Amon supposed it had been the logical spot to build a house. The ravens didn't blink when he swung open the rickety gate. Ah. Not so rickety any more. And the garden was tidier. Signs of order which ought to be reassuring.
The window shade shivered and he waited the brief seconds it took to key open the door. The long golden hair was in a braid now. A green eye peeped out. "Please come in," said the solemn voice.
He wiped his feet, allowed his coat to be taken, waited politely for the chair. It had been three years since he'd visited, and the routine remained the same.
"How are you, Uncle?" she said meekly.
"Don't call me that. You were the one who sent the message," said Amon. "You were expecting me."
Delicate hands twisted over the tulle and silk. Expensive, impractical: signs of the father's influence. Warm when the house was chilly... that was Robin's doing. "They're in the coffee shop. They brought Amando with them."
The one they named after him. That was from both of them. "And Leone?"
Her hands were shaking now.
"Pia." He looked around at the paintings under glass, the computer terminals set on inlaid wood. There were no signs of the Craft other than the fireproof walls. "You were the one who called me."
A bracelet slipped down her wrist. It was white gold twisting into a name: Pia Lee. He'd sent it on the day she was born, fifteen years ago. She was starting to cry.
The door opened. "Hey we're home! What the--"
And there she was, pushing Michael out of the way, glasses glinting. Amon stood; Robin's daughter took the cue and wiped her eyes while he blocked their view. Robin herself stopped short. Slowly she took off her glasses. A dozen expressions passed over her face. "...Amon! You scared us."
"Geez, can't you ever call ahead?" Michael shook hands. Amon didn't miss the flash of discomfort as he turned away. "C'mon Mo, come see your uncle."
Michael had never been an active field agent; he could never conceal his emotions as well. The only difference with Robin was that she could conceal her emotions from everyone except Amon. He gravely inspected the five-year-old; this one had Michael's eyes. Amando also sized him up, and offered his hand to shake. Robin and Michael laughed. Or rather, Michael laughed, and Robin's eyes softened.
In a perfect world, that burst of simple joy should have brightened the visit. In Amon's complex calculations, they deserved happiness. This time it was just the opposite.
Amon shook the kid's hand. "You call him Mo?"
"It's easier. Hey, what can I do? It's always Robin's choice, and she has these fancy Italian names for them."
"That's 'cause you'd name us Buzzer or Moon Unit, huh, dad?" Leone Lee grinned. He was thirteen, built lean and green-eyed. An earpiece dangled from his neck.
Robin was standing next to Pia. His old partner - the only witch who mattered - had grown since her fifteenth year, nearly level with Michael . Pia would probably have a late growth-spurt as well. Other than the height they looked like sisters.
"I don't see what's wrong with Italian names. I have good memories of Italy," Robin said.
"So, do you have any bags or anything?" Michael asked. He was already edging toward the terminal.
"I won't take long." Amon glanced at Pia, but it was Leone he noticed. The boy was smirking.
Amon waited until Michael hurried to his terminal chair for a mail check, fresh doughnuts in hand. The first role of a guardian was to watch. He knew Michael didn't like it when he spent too much time watching Robin.
He saw now that her hands were shaking.
* * *
Michael had filled out over the years; his eyes were still young, if streaked with the tell-tales of fatigue. He was standing in the doorway of the guestroom. The windows were locked down, turning the room into a solid steel cage. Supposedly they would open in case of fire, but Amon suspected Michael had overridden his own system via his central computer.
"Everything's all right with Robin, right?"
Amon looked him in the eye. "Of course."
"...yeah." A nervous laugh. "I had to check. You know?"
"So, how's retirement?"
Amon looked away. "Quiet."
* * *
"I want to see the files." Robin was not the young girl Amon remembered. He admitted to himself that he liked to think of her that way. She was a mother now; mothers were dangerous when it came to their young.
Amon paused only half a second before pouring a cup of tepid coffee. Michael worked behind a solid glass divider on the other side of the house, and the staccato tap of his keyboard floated from behind it.
The coffee was very dark. Amon noted that it was Harry's special blend, his secret recipe. "The Spider struck twenty times in the last three years. He started small. Databases, minor systems, automatic response... things like escalators, garage doors, company shipping lists. Low priority."
"The files, please." Robin shook her head. Her golden hair had faded, woven into an elaborate high style, out of the reach of five-year-old hands. "I don't want a verbal report."
"That report is classified. It's not even connected to the Net." Amon glanced at the glass wall across the room. Karasuma wasn't that gullible. "A year ago, the Spider became more daring. Routing nodes. Satellite guidance systems. Public billboards."
There was fear in her eyes, a low burning blaze. "Amon..."
"The Munich incident, Robin. Twenty-five people dead. Hundreds wounded. They couldn't land rescue planes because the air traffic system had been hacked."
"It wasn't Dad, was it?" They looked up. Leone was standing in the stairwell, holding a carton of milk. Amon hadn't heard him come down.
"No. It wasn't your father. Every hacker leaves a mark--"
Leone interrupted. "Yeah, like a graffiti tag? Kind of like 'I was here'?" He raised the carton to drink from it, but after a look from his mother he poured it into a glass.
Amon put a hand on his gun. They were smaller and easier to conceal than before, but both Robin and her son knew what he was doing. He said, calmly, "Yes, Leone. Like that. It doesn't look like his work."
Leone shrugged. "So what's the problem? Mama, you worry too much." He planted a kiss on her cheek, and walked off to the glass wall and his father's office.
The milk carton and the cup were still on the counter. Amon frowned as Robin cleared up the mess. From behind the glass wall, they heard Leone exclaim, "Wow, dad! What a great game! All the way from America? Thanks, you're the best." Michael's voice followed in slightly softer tones.
Robin was staring out the window over the sink, into the deepening night. "He's just being a teenager. A normal teenager."
"That kind of audacity," said Amon, "does not become a witch."
"I taught them restraint. I taught them the Craft as it should be taught." Robin met his eyes in the reflection. "Pia has been perfect. She understands what the dead have to teach her."
Amon shook his head. "They need more than knowledge..."
She whirled on him, quick on her feet as she not been in her youth. "And you need proof!" A spiral of fire shot from her, directly to his chest.
Her aim's perfect now, Amon thought in that split second, even without glasses.
The flames shattered into ice shards inches from his heart. He had expected as much, and was prepared.
"But you don't... no Orbo." Her eyes widened. "You're Awake!"
Amon had hoped that it wouldn't come to this. "Unfortunately, yes. For years. Your sadness," he spat the word out, as though he still doubted it, "has kept you safe. As has my hatred. That is what the boy lacks, Robin..."
"Everything okay in there?" Michael's voice boomed over the intercom. "I just got a temperature spike from the kitchen. You're not burning the house down, are you?"
"Yes, dear, we're fine."
They waited until the tapping resumed. The ice was melting on the hardwood floor. Robin mopped it up with a towel. Amon watched the top of her head, still on guard. At last she said, "You cannot try anything without evidence, Amon. You or Solomon."
"I know. The alternative was an assault team."
"And," her voice fell to a whisper, "leave Pia out of it. She's only fifteen."
Amon picked up his coffee cup, which was warm again. "So were you."
* * *
Amon had never been a heavy sleeper, but he almost missed the hesitant taps on the door. Pia was already halfway inside. Amon had a sudden vision of Michael coming up for a pre-dawn snack and finding her poking in the guest bedroom. He beckoned to her, knowing she could see in the dark.
"Sorry to wake you, Uncle."
"Stop calling me that."
"But you shouldn't be Amon!" Pia was pressed flat against the door, trembling. Amon sat up. "Amon was my friend. He always answered my letters even if it was just a few sentences." She shook her head. "I don't want you to be him."
"Control yourself." Amon put on his full length jacket, and a pair of socks. In that time Pia didn't move.
The girl gulped air. "You have to see something. Uncle."
They tiptoed out into the hall, down the twisting spiral stairs and the line of family pictures. The one in the plain ebony frame was in the same spot. It was of the old team in plainclothes, even the chief. Only Amon's half-brother was missing - he had donated the frame. Under the LCD lights it looked disturbingly like a family portrait. What had Robin and Michael choosen to remember?
What had their children remembered?
Pia led Amon down to the main floor and past the glass wall into Michael's study. Amon made to step inside when without warning a brush of warm air - Craft - stopped him in his tracks. Pia shook her head. She produced a vial of dust and released a pinch into the air. Laser sensors bloomed into view, lined with the eerie fire of Pia's gift.
"Your control has improved," Amon allowed.
"We don't have to go in." Absently she scrubbed her cheeks as though trying to rub out her blush. "You know of Leone's powers, Uncle?"
Amon flipped out a small recorder, setting it to the size of the room. "Manipulation, I gathered. I thought you parents knew better."
"Dad and Mama are trying hard to build a home." She released another pinch into the air. Amon watched it coalesce into a small cloud, and float toward Michael's main workstation. "Despite you."
"Your mother is a dangerous witch. Your father was originally from outside our ranks. They don't trust him, so they let her watch him. And I don't trust her, so I let him watch her." No one watched you and your brothers, he thought.
Pia raised her hands, guiding the cloud over the keys. "Leone doesn't care what you see. I try to talk to him, and some of it gets through. Same with Mother." Her voice was shaking but her hands were steady. "He doesn't bug me because he knows I can See his Craft. But Dad can't see. He doesn't even know he's being pushed." She took out a curl of dark golden hair. "Leone the Spider," came the invocation.
The keyboard, the mousepad, the virtual reality glasses - all flared with a blue foxfire. Amon zoomed into the keyboard. The recorder beeped; the fingerprint match was Michael's. "Pia," he said.
"Show me the key sequence."
Her face squeezed in concentration, and for a second she looked like her father, bent over a difficult problem. The foxfire danced over the keyboard and snagged on other shadows: a headset floating over the station chair, a swirling skirt entering, the rims of coffee cups and dessert plates drifting toward the table. Amon turned his attention to the viewer.
"...there was a trail over the box of doughnuts," he said.
"Yes," she said quietly. "He mixes potions to enhance the effect. Mother and I would know if it was us... but Dad, I'm afraid he'll poison Dad someday..."
Amon squeezed her shoulder and turned her around. He'd thought Robin was weak twenty years ago, but her daughter was matchstick-fragile. "What about all the people he killed?"
"We hoped it wasn't him. We thought it would stop."
"What did you feel?" Amon said urgently.
"I felt sad," she said. "Scared, for all those people. Then I called my Uncle in the city." Her eyes flashed up at him, momentarily full of hatred.
Amon let go of her. "When you have children, when we're all gone from this world and your grandchildren are old enough to understand you, tell them what it feels like. Tell them what happens to a witch who doesn't feel anything except his own Craft."
The lights came on all over the house.
Blinded, Amon drew his gun and spun around. Suddenly the metal turned scorching. He dropped it, intending to quick-cool it in mid-air, but another blast of hot air propelled it away.
"Get out of my home!"
Amon blinked against the glare. It was Michael. He was pointing a gun at his head. Behind him, Robin used a lace handkerchief to pick up Amon's gun. "Pia," she bit out, glaring at Amon. "Go to your room." The girl hurried away without looking back.
Michael's gun was steady. "You monster. I should have known you'd only come out of retirement for one thing. You come into our house..."
"Don't try to sound so high-minded, Michael." Amon paused, glanced at Robin, then raised his hands. Michael had designed the new guns. The one he was holding didn't look regulation. It looked like a discarded prototype - like the ones the STNJ had rejected for being too powerful. Amon shifted his gaze to Michael's eyes. They were hard as diamonds. There was a very good chance that he'd shoot.
So he wasn't as casual about real power. "It's good that Robin taught you some respect for your prey. But not enough."
"What the hell are you talking about? He's my son!"
"He's your responsibility." Robin looked up at that. Amon took a step sideways to the door. Either one of them could kill him: Robin with a thought, Michael with a nudge of his trigger finger. He was none too concerned about his own life, but he doubted Michael would let Karasuma see the recorder in his pocket. "I wasn't the one who killed your hope."
"That has nothing to do with it!"
Robin's lips barely moved. "Let him go, Michael."
Michael's teeth were gritting. Like a wild dog. Not for the first time, Amon wondered about humans who hunted other humans, and if it was really any different from the STNJ. Then without lowering his gun, Michael's head jerked and activated a ceiling sensor. He blinked twice and the door unlocked.
Ah. There was the answer. Robin had taught her children how to control their powers; Michael had taught Leone how to side-step power. It had been a human flaw all along. Amon opened the door and backed out into the cold, where he was stronger.
"You married into witches. You should have understood what that meant." He met Robin's eyes. Even brimming with water they were still so green, wrong, and above all they perceived what he was thinking. She could never hide from him at all.
"You're still a human being, Amon!" came Michael's cry.
"That's where you're wrong. I only exist to be her guardian." Amon turned his back on the house and on the gun. "This was why I never went after Robin."
The ravens flew out of his way, past the snow-capped trees, past the open upstairs window.
* * *
The beat of the music was like a throbbing heart. Boring.
"Hey, what's your name?"
A laugh. "Kid, do you even know how old I am?"
"That's okay. I saw you... but lemme guess. Twenty?"
She raised a brow. "Now you're just asking for it. I should refer you to my friend, she'd think you were funny."
"What can I say, I hang around a lot of adults." Leone pulled up a chair. "People say I'm mature for my age."
"I bet. Say, what kind of earpiece is that? Let me see it."
"...you okay? You don't look so good."
"I'm fine. That's a nice piece of equipment."
"My dad designed it."
"So he lets you have his toys? What about his coffee? You've been eyeing my cup for a while."
"Uh, yeah. He doesn't let me drink coffee. It's mom who drinks more..."
The woman shifted in her seat. "Why don't you try some of mine? Just a sip."
"Well... okay." The club was dim, but he was starting to think she looked familiar. "Hey, I think my mom has this at home."
"Really? I thought you weren't supposed to have coffee?"
"Rules are meant to be... broken..." The world was swaying. Leone was swaying. With his last moments of consciousness, he gripped the table. Karasuma caught him before he fell.
Amon touched her shoulder, reassuring without words. "Is that enough?"
"More than enough evidence. That narrows it down to him, not just the household. I can't thank you enough for..."
"Don't thank me." Several other 'patrons' circled the table. One of them cleaned up the coffee cup.
Karasuma lifted the boy herself. Shielded by the crowd of agents, she walked to the back exit. "Amon? Do you think Robin will ever...?"
They emerged into the biting wind, where a van was rumbling. Karasuma shielded the boy, waiting for Amon's answer. He looked up at the floodlight over the exit. She followed his gaze to the raven perched on the awning, unnaturally still despite the noise and the wind. When she looked around again, Amon was already gone.