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"I forgot to tell you..." Amon whispered. His breath was rattling in his chest, and he was settled rather uneasily in Robin's lap. He looked up and saw her face upside down, her strawberry blonde hair cascading down around them. "Robin. I have to tell you..." He coughed, cutting himself off.

"Sh…" Robin murmured, stroking the sides of his face. "It's all right. Just rest for now. There will be time later."

"No, there won't. I've done my best, but I just couldn't... I wasn't good enough… I couldn't stop it from happening all over again." Amon began coughing again, then turned his head to spit out a mouthful of bloody phlegm.

Robin shut her eyes, visualizing the illness that had crept up on him while they had been hiding in the dank rooms of the condemned apartment building. She knew without being warned that using the Craft here was dangerous, and that she had to use her abilities sparingly.

"It's so cold," Amon muttered, his eyes fluttering shut. "It won't ever be warm."

"I can make you better," Robin whispered, curling herself over his prostrate form. "If you let me," she added.

Amon laughed almost bitterly. "They'll kill me anyway, you know. I'm of no use to them anymore. Why need me when they have you?"

"Because, Amon," Robin whispered, stroking his face tenderly. "They'll burn to keep you warm if they even try to touch you."


The STN and the STNJ believed Robin and Amon to be dead after the Factory building had collapsed. All of the witches inside had been found mangled and torn in the rubble, and it was too much to hope that the Craft would have protected them. So the STNJ moved on with their lives, refining the security at their headquarters and continuing to hunt the dangerous witches that cropped up.

But they had survived after all, Robin's growing skill having saved them. She made a passage in the wall of flame and closed it behind them. It masked their exit and eliminated any trace of their passing. Amon had called in the last favor he had in Japan, keeping silent about his plans all the while. Robin's only clue regarding where they were headed was Amon asking how well she could speak English. Her Italian and Japanese were flawless, her English and French slightly less so. Amon knew only English and Japanese, so it limited the countries they could flee to.

"Amon? Where are we going?"

"I said I would look after you. Just let me do that. Stop asking questions."

When he asked her to stop binding her hair, Robin pulled the ribbons out and didn't ask why. She merely put them into her pocket and kept her lips sealed shut. When he told her to get new clothes, she took her needle and thread and altered the dresses she had. They no longer covered her from chin to ankle. She stopped wearing the overcoat, and told herself it was almost like being a bike messenger again. She told herself she was in hiding and she had to look different. Binding her hair on either side of her head made her stand out. The clothing she had worn was too confining, and nothing like the ordinary clothes everyone else wore. She refused to stop wearing her locket, but tucked it beneath the bodice of her modified dresses. Having grown up in a monastery, Robin had never worn anything that really revealed her skin. She wasn't used to it now, since her messenger outfit had still covered everything. She felt almost indecent.

They had arrived in New York City just after midnight nearly two weeks after the disastrous STN encounter. With only carryon luggage, Amon whisked Robin away from the airport via subway. She kept her eyes closed as the subway train hurtled to its destination beneath the ground. I'm in the tunnels beneath the monastery. Or it's just a dream. This isn't really happening. I haven't really lost everything.

But of course she had. Of course.

Silently, Amon deposited Robin in a tiny apartment inside a building that appeared as though it was about to fall apart. "Don't leave, Robin," Amon said, dropping his bag beside hers. "This is Harlem, and it's dangerous outside. Just stay here while I make arrangements for us."

She had stared at him with huge eyes. "Will you be all right, Amon?" Robin had only just managed to resist the urge to touch him for comfort.

"Yes. I know what I'm dealing with, you don't. Stay here and get some sleep. I'll be back in a few hours."

So she had checked the apartment from top to bottom. With every sense she had, it seemed safe. Robin undressed and slipped between the sheets of the bed. The apartment was clean, as though it had been prepared just that day.

What kind of people did Amon actually know?

Robin was shaken awake a few hours later. Her dreams were tangled images of fire and air, crumbling bricks and orbo flowing in a wave down a hallway. She was going to drown in the orbo, her fire unable to burn it away. She was going to drown…

Amon was shaking her awake. "Robin! Robin! Has anyone been here?"

Groggy, Robin clutched the sheet to her bare chest and sat up. "What? Amon? What time is it? What's happened?"

Perched hawklike on the edge of the bed, Amon glowered at her. "Has anyone been here? Have you let anyone in?"

"No. You told me not to. You said to go to sleep, and I did."

He ran a hand through his hair and looked away as he sighed with relief. "Good. Good. I got here before them, then. I've put up the protections, so we should still be safe here at least until sunrise. I don't want to stay here tomorrow night."

"What's happened, Amon?"

His gaze snapped back to her. "Things aren't as stable here as I thought. Though there's no branch of the STN, at least."

Robin sincerely doubted that, but kept silent. Solomon Headquarters had always seemed to have its ways of reaching every major city, and always seemed to know where witches would awaken to power. They probably just operated much more covertly in New York City. It was a sprawling mass of anonymous humanity and concrete, and there were ample hiding places. Robin thought of what she had said to Father Juliano, before he had revealed her origins as a genetic experiment to create a "perfect" witch. It is far better for the truth to tear my flesh to pieces, then for my soul to wander through darkness in eternal damnation.

But was it really? Where had the truth gotten her, after all? She had the pains of silence, loneliness and apparent ostracism. For a moment, she hoped that perhaps Amon had cared about her after all, that maybe he didn't really think of her as a science project to guard. Lately, however, she was getting the feeling that she was a burden to him.

Amon eyed Robin's stoic face. She was much too solemn for her age. She was a teenager, but had certainly never acted like one. He shook his head slightly, causing Robin to frown.

"You said we're at least safe here for the night."

"I'll need to find a new place for us to hide tomorrow. I didn't expect things to go sour here so soon." Amon half turned, intending to try and sleep on the couch. He noticed her dress draped carefully over the back of it, and turned back to look at Robin. He finally noticed the sheet clutched so tightly to her chest. "You sleep in the nude?" he asked with some surprise. It was an awfully odd thing for a monastery-raised girl to do.

Robin blinked. "What does that have to do with anything?"

"If I hadn't gotten here in time..." Amon shook her shoulders roughly. "They could have killed you. They could have bled you dry, raped you... they would have hurt you."

Robin reached up and touched his face, as she had wanted to do earlier in the evening. "Amon, tell me what's going on. I've been through worse in the past month. I can handle it."

With a sigh, Amon let go of Robin's shoulders. The sheet fluttered to her lap, but he didn't notice it. Looking her in the eye, Amon began to speak. "My last favor in Japan helped me to get us identification and a contact here. But it would be too risky to stay on our own. If anyone from Solomon thinks we might be alive, they would stop at nothing to get you. So I went to the contact tonight. I needed to know who we could turn to for protection. The underground in this city is controlled by vampires."

"But they're dark creatures," Robin gasped.

"And witches aren't?"

Robin flinched at Amon's dry tone. His lips flattened, and then he touched her shoulder gently. "I shouldn't have said that. I'm sorry."

"It doesn't matter," Robin whispered in a small voice. "It's all anyone thinks anyway. If I'm not a Hunter, I'm a witch."

"You're not evil, Robin. You're not really the Devil's Child."

Amon watched as Robin's lips trembled slightly. After a moment, she looked into his eyes. "Can the vampires help us?"

"For a price," he replied heavily. "Everything comes with a price. We'll need to work for them in order to be under their protection. We can't be free."

"I don't think I even know what that means, anyway," Robin mused. She absently tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, lost in thought. She had been raised by Father Juliano and STN members, so she had always been able to control her abilities. Growing up with the doctrines of the Church, Robin had been carefully taught the knowledge of the Craft and her place to unlock its deepest secrets as she hunted down the rogue witches preying on humans. They had never seen fit to let her know anything about her true origins, that her mother Maria had been Juliano's daughter, that she was merely a genetic experiment. Maria called her the hope for humanity, but everyone else had considered her the Devil's Child.

Amon lifted her chin and gazed into her eyes. "You're not evil. You wanted to do right by humanity, you still do. That's not evil."

Robin blinked, willing herself not to cry. The monks had never liked her tears when she was small, had never liked loud noises or laughter. She had learned early on that emotions were unwanted and unnecessary, that she could not trust with her heart, only with her mind. "There's nothing left for me, Amon. I have the truth now; it hasn't destroyed my soul as I thought it would. But I have no purpose anymore. I merely exist."

Amon's face was perilously close to hers, and Robin was startled. This tie between them, thick and heavy, seemed to wrap itself around her heart. "No, Robin. You're just too young to know about life. You've never seen the world; you've never really lived. It's only now that you even have a chance to live your own life."

"But what will it be, Amon? I don't know anything else. I only know how to be a Hunter."

"A bike messenger," he offered, his lips quirking slightly into a smile. "You did that well."

Robin smiled at him, her heart thudding in her chest. "That's right. I did manage deliveries well."

He stroked her cheek gently. "You don't understand, do you? It's in deeds that we know ourselves, it's not the words you say or the things you think you know. It's in what you feel. Life is feeling, it's doing, it's being."


He kissed her on the lips, soft and gentle. Robin gasped, her mouth opening under his. Amon's tongue slid into her mouth and caressed her tongue. Robin's eyes snapped open, but Amon's remained closed. Her breath caught in her throat, and she couldn't help but feel him. It was more than pressure, nothing she could possibly identify. The tightness in her chest broke apart, flooding her with the feelings she had so carefully bottled up. Robin opened her mouth beneath Amon's, and tentatively touched his tongue with her own.

He wrenched himself away, and buried his head in the crook of her neck. "I vowed to protect you, to keep you safe. I would do it by any means necessary, Robin. You need to be safe, I need to know that nothing will ever happen to you."

Robin could hear the undercurrent beneath his spoken words, and tangled her hands in his long, dark hair. "Amon. I will always be here for you. Always." Amon shifted position and pulled her close to him. He closed his mouth over one pert breast, and Robin gasped in shock. "Amon... oh... Amon..."

One of his hands pulled aside the sheets covering Robin's nakedness. He slipped his left hand between her legs, using his right to keep her body close to his. He continued to suckle gently, laving her nipple with his tongue. Her gasps of pleasure goaded him on. Amon knew he was going to be her first. She was young and naive, fragile in ways she didn't understand yet. Though he was nearly ten years older, he felt positively ancient. It had to be wrong, he had to be some kind of dirty old man corrupting an innocent. Yet her hands stayed him at her breast, and her breaths fractured with mounting pleasure. His left hand felt her growing desire easily enough. Sliding a finger deep into her wetness, Amon heard her frightened squeak as if from far away.

"I won't hurt you," Amon murmured against her skin, moving across her chest. "I'll make it good for you. I'll make it worthy of you."

She was frightened, not of Amon himself but of the stories she had heard when on the streets of Japan. The girls in the alleys would always talk about how big their men were, how wide and thick. The way they had talked had stuck with her afterward. It was one thing for a Bible to say that men and women lay together; there were never details to scare girls.

"I've never.... Amon, I've never..."

"I know, Robin," he murmured against her breast. He licked at the erect nipple. "I'll be careful with you."


He lifted his head and met her eyes. "I've always kept you safe as best as I could. I helped you get away from the attacks on you. Haven't you ever wondered why?"

"I hoped..." Robin swallowed nervously. "I hoped you at least liked me."

Amon curled his left index finger inside of Robin and watched her gasp. Her cheeks were flushed, her lips full from their kiss. She was beautiful, more beautiful than he had ever had a right to look on, but she foolishly had already fallen for him. "I more than like you."

"Oh." She blinked owlishly. "I wondered about that."

"Don't," Amon said. "Just know it as truth, the only truth you need to know."

Robin's hands were still around Amon's head, and she pulled him up to kiss her. He kissed her deeply, and she moaned into his mouth, arching her back to press her breasts against his chest. The buttons of his shirt pushed into her skin, and the fabric abraded her nipples slightly. Robin gasped, opening her mouth even further under his. His fingers, moistened with her own desire, circled her clit slowly, gently, beginning to set a rhythm. Amon broke the kiss for a breath of air, then dipped down to the breast he hadn't yet paid attention to. His tongue laved her nipple, back and forth, then in slow circles. He sucked gently, his tongue firmly over her skin. He slowly kissed his way up to her jaw, then up to her ear.

"Amon," she moaned, arching up against his body. She clutched at his back desperately, not sure what she had to do but knowing she needed him to finish what he had started. "Amon, please... I can't.... oh... This feels so good..."

He shifted position slightly so that he had better access to her bared breasts. He played with them, suckling and nibbling at her flesh, making her moan. Trailing his lips along her pale skin, he felt her twitch restlessly beneath his mouth. "Tell me, Robin," he murmured. With his right hand, he guided her onto her back. "Tell me what you want."

"I don't know," Robin moaned. She moved restlessly on the bed beneath him. "I don't know, but don't stop, Amon.... Whatever you're doing, please don't stop..."

Amon slid his fingers inside of her and rubbed at her clit with his thumb. "Like this?" he whispered against her breasts. "More of this?"

"Yes.... Yes, Amon, yes...."

"I will make you come for me," he said softly, gently. The circles around Robin's clit increased the pleasure exponentially, and she made soft keening noises. "And then I'll take your virginity, and you'll truly be mine."

"Yes," she whimpered. "Yes."

Amon kissed his way up to her lips. "Come for me, Robin," he murmured against her lips. "Call out my name."

He kissed her again, possessively. His hand moved faster, and Robin moaned from the contact. She had never felt this before, and didn't know that sin could be this delicious. She moved restlessly against Amon, her body instinctively reacting to his touch. Her mind was shutting down, and she could do no more than feel. "Amon!" she cried, eyes shut tight. She twisted beneath him, nearly sobbing at the intensity of her first orgasm.

Amon gently disengaged his hand from between her thighs, then stripped the bedcovers from her body. "Look at me, Robin," he commanded. She opened her eyes and propped herself up on an elbow. She watched, mouth dry, as Amon quickly stripped until he was as naked as she was. Her eyes skipped upward, away from his erection. He tugged at her other hand, wrapping it around his shaft. "This isn't something to be frightened of," he said, squeezing her hand slightly. She gasped, and stared at him.

"I'm not scared," she lied, looking up at him. She gave his cock an experimental squeeze. "I can do anything you can do."

Laughing gently, Amon settled himself comfortably on top of her. Robin let go of his cock, and tentatively touched his chest. She leaned up, eyes locked to his, and kissed him. She leaned forward slightly, pressing her lips to his. She was gentle, almost hesitant, her lips soft as she licked his lower lip. Her fingers lightly grazed his skin, exploring the curves and angles that made up his body. It was so different from hers, something unfamiliar.

Amon gently pushed Robin onto her back again. He knelt between her legs and lifted them around his waist as he pushed into her wet depths. His jaw tightened as Robin cried out in pain. "I can't help that, Robin. But it's only the first time, never again."

Robin pressed her fists against her mouth and let the tears flow. "It hurts," she whimpered.

"I know, Robin. I know. It will pass."

"I trust you," Robin whispered. Her eyes glittered in the darkness from her tears.

"You're mine, Robin. Now and always," Amon muttered. He began to thrust into her, feeling her clench around him in her discomfort. He thrust harder, faster, deeper. He was gasping, unable to breathe. She was tight around him, warm and wet. He could feel her clench tight around him on his deeper thrusts, and heard her breath hitch. Amon kept one hand on her hip to balance her, and began to stroke her clit with the other hand. Robin's breath caught, and their eyes locked again. "You belong to me, and I will always keep you safe."

Her breath seemed harsh to her ears, and she shut her eyes. Amon's fingers moved on her clit, stroking gently. He could hear her breath come in gasps, could feel her hips begin to buck against his hand. He knew he was grunting with each thrust, more possessive than he had ever been before in bed. This was different, though he would be hard-pressed to say how. Words had never been his strong point. He proved his affections by doing, he lived by being.

With a grunt, Amon came, spilling his seed into Robin's moist depths. He continued stroking her clit, and felt Robin begin to tighten around his softening cock. "Amon," she sobbed, her voice muted by her hands fisted in front of her mouth. "Amon...."

"Let go," Amon crooned. "Robin...."

Robin came with a strangled cry, her entire body shaking. Only then did Amon settle himself on top of her, her legs still wrapped around his waist. She sniffled, moving her arms to circle his back. She tucked her head into the crook of his neck and pressed a damp kiss against his pulse. She felt all stretched out in strange places, and it was almost painful to keep her legs where they were. She gently disengaged herself, and settled more comfortably beneath Amon.

"Now do you understand?" Amon whispered into her ear. His fingers gently circled her nipple.

"Yes," Robin whispered, pressing her forehead to Amon's neck. "I finally understand."


Robin had insisted on accompanying Amon to the next meeting with the vampire coven leader. She steadfastly refused to be swayed, even when he had pushed her down to the bed, holding her arms down. "If I can do this, what do you think the vampires will do to you?"

"I will burn them," Robin replied steadily. "Nothing they do can stop my flames, and they will regret ever turning on us."

Amon closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "I can't lose you."

"You won't," Robin said, sure of herself. "I'm going to help you."


"I'm going to agree. We'll use my abilities to trade for protection."

"Robin, no... You don't know what they'll make you do. You can't ask for their protection without compromising yourself."

"I will set the limits on what I'll do. Once they see the power I have, they'll have to agree."

"And if they don't?"

"Then we'll see. But you're right. I'm not evil, I'm not made to hurt people. I can't do that. And if that's all they want, I won't do it."

"It may not be up to you."

"It will be," Robin said simply, looking up at him. "I trust you."

And so, against Amon's better judgment, the two of them entered the basement lair. It felt almost like the early days of their partnership. They seemed to walk in sync, though Amon found himself distracted. Robin had altered her dress to have a wide scoop neckline, and had brought up the hem. He could see the soft pale skin above her breasts, and had to look away before he grew hard. Now that he knew what she tasted like and sounded like, Amon had that much more to lose if things went wrong.

They walked into the main chamber, heads held high. Habit kicked in, and Amon kept track of everyone in the room. Other than the coven leader, he could see seven others arranged at various points in the room. He knew Robin was taking note of the meeting arrangements, but felt his heart sink when her head lifted fractionally higher. She had walked in wearing her half moon glasses perched low on her nose, just in case. Please let this go smoothly.... I lied.... There is STN presence here, and the only thing keeping them in check are the other creatures living here. But if Robin uses her powers....

"Who's the lovely young lady, Amon?" the coven leader asked, his voice a lazy drawl. He looked more like a teenage boy than a master vampire, but Amon had warned Robin ahead of time. The boy vampire hadn't given his name the night before, and was sprawled across an armchair in a deceptively languid manner.

"This is Robin Sena. This is the companion I spoke of."

The boy's eyes raked over Robin's body possessively, but Robin didn't flinch under his gaze. She met his eyes and stared him down.

The boy looked away first. "Well? What can you do for me? Why should I keep you?"

"Defense," Robin said, voice sharp. She had cut off what Amon had meant to say, and didn't look at him as she did so.

The boy lifted and eyebrow and lips quirked in amusement. He looked at Amon. "So she speaks after all. I'm pleased."

"We have ways of defending you and your coven," Amon said, continuing as if no one had interrupted his intended speech.

The boy leapt to his feet in a single smooth motion. "Well. Considering I have my own security, I'll have to see you two in action."

Six of the seven vampires detached themselves from their positions on the wall. They circled Robin and Amon, hands loose and ready. Robin gave Amon a sideways glance, and he gave her a slight incline of his head. He reached into his trenchcoat for his gun, now loaded with regular bullets instead of orbo bullets.

The vampires pounced, and Robin threw up a ring of fire in front of the vampires. They skidded backward, away from the flames. When one reached out for it, she made the flames shoot higher, above all of their heads and nearly reaching the cavernous ceiling.

The boy coven leader laughed merrily. "I see.... Now I understand why you needed protection so badly. Ol' Solomon would love to get their hands on you...."

Robin whirled around to stare at Amon, and the flames danced erratically around them. Amon's lips compressed into a fine line, and he gave her a curt nod. She whirled back around, jaw set, and the flames danced again. They flared out, catching one of the vampires. He howled, his otherworldly voice reverberating among the pipes. One of his companions leapt at him, pushing him to the floor and rolling him about to smother the flames. They dipped down low, and the first vampire gave a sigh of relief.

And then he erupted into a bonfire.

The second vampire was consumed in the flames, and the two voices howled their pain.
"Stop this!" the boy shouted across the room. His voice seemed to break.

"Agree to protect us, and everything will stop!" Amon roared above the din.

"Jeremy!" the boy screamed instead.

The seventh vampire, the one that had not reacted to Amon, finally left the wall. She was almost skeletal thin, with a trench coat that hung off of her frame. She lifted a semiautomatic from beneath the coat and began to shoot at Robin and Amon. Most of the bullets were instantly incinerated in the magical fire.

One filtered through a gap, and hit Amon in the gut.

With a startled cry, Amon fired in the direction of the bullet. It narrowly missed Robin, who had ducked out of the way. The fire around them raged even hotter than before, and Robin caught Amon around the waist. She dragged him out the way they came, and he stumbled heavily as he tried to keep himself upright. Robin chanced a look at the wound, and it was oozing blood. She blinked, and the bullet inside the wound flared as it melted into nothingness. Amon grunted and winced, but otherwise didn't seem to respond.

The boy watched the flames dance erratically, and watched as his final security guard approached Jeremy and Aleksander, the two fallen vampires caught within the bonfire. She approached cautiously, then reached out for them.

All of the fires died abruptly in the cavernous basement room, including the ones on the two fallen vampires. The boy watched as his seventh guard tentatively touched the blackened forms on the floor. Her fingernails were long and ragged, normally used as claws. One nail tapped the top of the ash heap that was vaguely human-shaped. A thick layer of ash flaked into nothingness, leaving behind two very scared and very naked vampires.

With a gasp, the boy leapt toward the edge of the battle arena. He had never seen such control in a witch before. If Solomon got their hands on her, she would never survive their testing. The fire ring left behind the same kind of black ash on the floor. As the other vampires stood up from their crouched positions, the ash began to flake into nothingness as well.

"Find them," the boy said quietly. "I want to offer for their services."

But it looked as though Robin and Amon had disappeared into thin air.


The warehouse was dilapidated, with signs posted claiming it was condemned. The business district around it was failing, with more closed shops and depots than operational ones. It had served well for the first two nights after the disastrous meeting, since it was at least dry and kept out the worst of the wind. They had heard too many shuffling steps around the building during the second night, however. It wasn't safe, so they found an abandoned apartment building a few blocks away the following day. Robin left Amon on a stained mattress she found in one of the apartments, and quickly ran out for some supplies. Amon hadn't ever complained once, but she knew he was in pain. It would take more than aspirin or ibuprofen to dull the pain, and it would take more than antibiotic cream to calm the infection that was beginning to brew. The apartment building was a far poorer choice than the warehouse, since it was damp with rot. As the sun began to set, they ran out of options. There was really no other place to hide.

Amon began to cough about an hour after sunset. It sounded as though fluid was beginning to build up within his lungs, and Robin could do nothing but cradle him in her lap and try to ladle the soup broth into his mouth. He sputtered and coughed a few times, but didn't complain about the soup being cold or salty. He met her eyes as the evening wore on. He reached up and touched her lips gently. "Robin. I love you."

Breath caught in her chest, Robin could only stare at him openmouthed. "Amon..."

"You need to hear it, don't you?" He half smiled at her. "I don't... Words don't suit me. But... I do love you. I do."

"I love you, Amon," Robin whispered. She bent down and kissed the top of his head. He shivered under her lips. "Are you cold?"

"Yes... for a few hours now."

"Why didn't you say something? I could have gotten a blanket from somewhere. Or conjured a fire to keep us warm." Robin pulled his trench coat up and tucked it under his chin.

"Fire got us into this mess," he murmured, smiling at her.

"I did my best to heal you with it," Robin replied softly. "It isn't all bad." She took the half moon glasses out from her pocket and slipped them onto her face. "Let me help you, Amon. I said I would, remember?"

The silence stretched out for a long moment. "I forgot to tell you…" Amon whispered. His breath was rattling in his chest, and he was settled rather uneasily in Robin's lap. He looked up and saw her face upside down, her strawberry blonde hair cascading down around them. "Robin. I have to tell you…" He coughed, cutting himself off.

"Sh…" Robin murmured, stroking the sides of his face. "It's all right. Just rest for now. There will be time later."

"No, there won't. I've done my best, but I just couldn't…. I wasn't good enough… I couldn't stop it from happening all over again." Amon began coughing again, turning his head to spit out a mouthful of bloody phlegm.

Robin shut her eyes, visualizing the illness that had crept up on him while they had been hiding in the dank rooms of the condemned apartment building.

"It's so cold," Amon muttered, his eyes fluttering shut. "It won't ever be warm."

"I can make you better," Robin whispered, curling herself over his prostrate form. "If you let me," she added.

Amon laughed almost bitterly. "They'll kill me anyway, you know. I'm of no use to them anymore. Why need me when they have you?"

"Because, Amon," Robin whispered, stroking his face tenderly. "They'll burn to keep you warm if they even try to touch you."

"I do hope it doesn't come to that," the boy vampire said quietly from the doorway. He watched passively as Robin skittered backward. Her jaw was set, and her hands were loose. She was positioned between the vampire and Amon, hovering protectively.

"What do you want?" Robin said. Her voice was like a whip crack, striking out across the darkness of the room. She could tell that there was someone standing just behind the boy, and recognized it as the skinny vampire that had shot Amon.

"I have a contract for you to sign."

Robin's eyes narrowed. Something rang false in his voice, and she gritted her teeth. "What are your terms, then?"

The boy didn't miss the weak touch to Robin's back or the feverish look to Amon. "I have a healer for him. A witch healer, so no one can track you."

"How kind of you," Robin spat. Amon had never heard her voice so bitter, not even when Father Juliano declared that he had almost killed her just after birth. She seemed unaffected by everything, stoically accepting the truth.

"It was just a misunderstanding," the boy vampire said smoothly. He smiled and took a step forward. A flare of fire sparked across his sneakers. "I see."

"How did you find us?" Robin asked, voice cold.

"I've had my people looking for the two of you... They saw you at the deli two blocks away. At that point, it was just looking for someone alive in a dead neighborhood." He smiled, his pointed teeth showing. "You were actually very difficult to track. Congratulations."

"Thanks," Amon wheezed, pulling himself to a sitting position. He winced, but otherwise didn't show any sign of pain.

"I could use talent like yours," the vampire said with a smile. "It's very effective."

"We have terms," Amon rasped.

The boy nodded at his companion. "Why don't we discuss terms as she heals you? It would be best to have you both at top form."

Robin's eyes narrowed. "You said you had a witch healer."

"So I do. I just made sure her talent would remain for all eternity."

The vampire witch glided into the room. Her watery blue eyes looked almost milky, and her brown hair hung limply down her back and beneath the collar of the trench coat. She walked past Robin without sparing her a glance, and then knelt down next to Amon. She placed one hand over his chest, then another over the infected bullet wound. "You did well so far, witch," the vampire rasped. "But you did not catch all of it, and it has spread to his blood and lungs."

Robin swallowed nervously and nodded. "Some of it was too small to sense."

"For fire, yes. But not for a healer's touch."

Robin watched as the vampire's hands began to glow. She looked up at the boy vampire, her eyes shimmering with unshed tears. "I have conditions. I can't work without him. I can't hurt the innocent. I just can't."

"I thought as much," the vampire murmured. He watched the bullet wound knit itself back together. Amon's pallor faded, and his breath soon grew less labored. The boy turned back to face Robin. "I can work with that."

"I'll look over the contract before we sign on the dotted line," Amon said quietly.

The boy pulled out a folded typewritten sheet of paper from the pocket of his jacket. He handed it over and Amon began to skim over the document. "How formal," he said dryly.

"It works best with outsiders," the boy replied. "It's best to have expectations laid out."

Amon looked up at the boy. "Michael, huh?"

"The cherub that stood at the gates to paradise, the one that blocked the way to the Tree of Knowledge," Robin murmured.

"I was thinking of our Michael," Amon muttered.

She smiled at him. "Of course."

"Well?" the boy asked impatiently. "Will you sign? Do you accept?"

Was there really a choice? Was there really any other option to keep them out of the hands of the STN-NY? Amon looked from the papers to Robin. She was looking at him intently, trusting him to do right by her.

"Where's the pen?"


Michael Ashbrooke had once been a wealthy Italian baron named Michel Patrizio. Having seen what complacency can do to a man, he had vowed to never let it get the best of him. He had no intention of letting very useful people out of his hands. Michael deliberately tested them in such a way that he could tell what kinds of people they were. An old soul, he trusted his instincts. These two were honest and faithful, and he could trust and predict behavior like that.

And fire was damned useful to have against enemies. There was no way Michael could let a Fire Craft user be hunted by the STN.

He owned an apartment building on the Upper West Side. It wasn't that posh an address, but it was comfortable, safe and perfectly anonymous. Robin and Amon would be just another Japanese couple that moved to New York because of business. There were plenty of things to do during the day, and Michael didn't think he would need their services all the time. He didn't like running his coven with an iron fist, but he had certain rules that must be respected. All of them were outlined in the contract, and none had made his new employees flinch. Their services would be handsomely rewarded by a furnished apartment in his building and a comfortable salary. It was made clear in the contract that they could get perfectly ordinary jobs in addition to his security detail, but they had to be available at any time he needed them.

Michael brought Robin and Amon to his building and handed over two sets of keys. "This is your place now. You can change whatever you like inside."

"Why are you doing this? You don't have to," Robin asked.

Michael smiled. "Happy employees work harder for you. And the employees that count you as family are absolutely irreplaceable. Like Magda," he added, nodding toward his healer. "She started off as simply my healer. And over time, we became her family. And when the STN decided she had become a liability, I very neatly erased that liability."

Amon had narrowed his eyes. "And if we don't want to become vampires?"

Michael shrugged. "I don't believe in forcing the issue. But I believe in presenting it as an option, and it's not as bad as you seem to think it is." He turned to Robin. "I was there for the first Inquisition, Robin. That was bad." He nodded at the couple, then escorted Magda out of the apartment. "Our true meeting place is in the penthouse."

"Are we to go now?" Amon asked, voice dour as usual.

Michael nodded. "Otherwise, our security staff won't let you through in the morning."

"Your vampires are awake during the day?" Robin asked, curious.

He smiled. "There's time to explain everything. But we should have our formal introduction now, while the night is still fairly young." Michael watched impassively as Amon carefully locked every lock and pocketed the new keys. "The formal ruling body of our coven should be upstairs now. They left the decision up to me about your hire. My instincts about things like this have proven to be fairly accurate."

"Do you take on new people often?" Robin asked as they moved down the hall to the elevator.

"No," Michael replied. The doors to the elevator slid open when he hit the up button. "We're very selective on who we even interview."

"Nice to know we made the cut," Amon said. He followed Michael and Magda into the elevator and Robin followed him.

"Of course." Michael's expression was carefully blank. "We've been beneath every agency's radar for a long time now. There are different organizations set up like Solomon's for vampire hunting, and they don't know about us here. We mean to keep it that way, and you are now expected to help us do so." He grinned at the two of them, exposing his pointed incisors for the first time. "You will, of course also be helping yourselves."

Robin and Amon remained silent, and followed the two vampires out of the elevator. At the end of the hallway was a set of double doors fitted with a secure lock. Michael took the key from around his neck and unlocked it. Magda went through the doors first, and Michael gestured for Robin and Amon to follow her. Michael then went through the door, making sure it was locked behind him. Robin found it unnerving that they were locked inside. They could do whatever they wanted to us, and no one would ever know…

An inner room contained two vampires lounging on a couch talking quietly while classical music played in the background. "Handel," Robin murmured.

The two vampires stopped speaking abruptly and turned to look at the newcomers. "Michael," the female said with a smile. "You found us very cultured recruits this time."

Michael grinned at them. "Juliet, this is Amon and Robin Sena."

She stood up from the couch and moved over to them. "How very lovely. I am Juliet de Morais, one of the original settlers here." She smiled sweetly at Michael and then indicated the other vampire behind her with a nod of her head. "My brothers here are not quite as appreciative of the finer arts, for all that they once held titles." She reached out and pulled Robin away from Amon. "Please. We must talk before you go to bed tonight. Tell me about yourself. Begin with your favorite composer."

Amon watched nonplused as Robin was drawn into conversation with the two vampires seated at the couch. Michael and Magda observed his unease but didn't comment on it. "This doesn't happen every night here," Michael said after a moment. "Juliet doesn't keep much company. She lets me handle the day to day affairs, and Nicolas over there is here simply because he also came here a long time ago. Nicolas has no desire to lead."

"So it all falls to you," Amon commented.

"That it does," Michael replied, nodding. "So it's always good to know you have people working for you that are trustworthy." He stared at Amon intently. "There has to be trust here. For all of our sakes."

Amon remained silent, brooding as he watched Robin speak to Juliet and Nicolas.


Robin watched Amon pace throughout the apartment in an agitated manner. There were too many odd variables he didn't like, too much he didn't know. He didn't like not having the upper hand, and it grated on him. Suddenly, he felt very small and insignificant, almost useless. He had never advertised his abilities, preferring to keep them hidden. He had wanted to succeed in the STN based on his own skills, not on Craft use. All of his skills were next to useless here; he was common and easily ignored. This didn't sit well with him at all.

"They'll treat us well, Amon," Robin whispered. "We'll be safe."

"I should have tried to research these people. Maybe we could have trusted our Michael with this, have him hack into records about this one..."

Robin caught Amon's arm as he paced past her. "No, Amon. They're being watched. They're the only contacts we've been known to have, anyone at Solomon would think to watch them. They all have to think we're dead, you know that."

"Of course I know that. I've told you a hundred times, at least."

Amon regretted the harsh words the moment Robin paled. There was no taking them back, and so he pulled himself from her grip. "You should wash up," he muttered. "You take the bed and go to sleep. I'll keep watch until daybreak, just in case."

With more force than he had expected from her, Robin pulled Amon back toward her. "Did you mean it then? Those words when you thought you were dying? Or did you just say them to make me feel better? Did you tell me you loved me because you thought that's what I wanted?" Her eyes were shining with unshed tears. "Amon, I love you. That matters. That counts for something, it has to. I don't know what I'd do without you." She buried her face against his chest, breathing in the scent of him. She needed to feel him, to hear his heart beating under her ear. Maybe he didn't mean to be so cutting, maybe he foolishly thought he was protecting her from him.

Amon rested a hand at the back of her head and held her tightly with his other arm. "I told you, Robin. Words don't suit me. It's doing that matters, not talking."

Robin looked up at his wavering, shimmering image. She blinked and her vision cleared. "I need you, Amon. I can't do this without you."

He seemed to sigh at her. "You won't have to. I said I'd protect you."

"Then protect me. Keep the darkness from me. Make sure my soul doesn't fall into despair. Keep me from dying alone."

Amon caressed her face. "You won't be alone, Robin. I'll be with you." He ran his thumb along her lips. "I'll always be with you."

Robin stood up on her toes and pulled his head down toward hers. She kissed him gently, the lightest of touches. The weight of loneliness that had been wrapped around her in Japan was long gone, and loving Amon had everything to do with it. There had only been training and books and study, prayer and confession for imaginary sins. She had been raised in a monastery, and had never known what it was to truly live. Robin now believed that true damnation lay not in mere transgression, but in transgression without love.

It was impossible to return to the person she had been in Italy. That Robin had never known anything about life or love that wasn't in a book. There was so much worth to living that she had never realized. Being was just as important as knowing.

Amon's lips were dry but soft as he kissed her back with a desperation that belied his harshness with her. One hand caressed her through the dress as the other held her close. Robin wrapped her arms around him underneath his coat. She could feel the warmth of his skin through his shirt, and suddenly needed to feel his skin against hers. His clothes were like armor, and he had been more unguarded when lying beside her. She pushed off his coat, and he shrugged out of it the rest of the way. Robin tackled the buttons of his shirt, fumbling with them a little. Amon slowly backed her up against the bed. She fell against it and watched Amon pull of his shirt, kick off his shoes and take off the trousers. Every move was deliberate; if she was even the slightest bit hesitant, he would have stopped.

Robin licked her lips and held out a hand to him. "Amon."

He moved swiftly, covering her body with his and kissing her with a fierceness that took her breath away. He pulled up the skirt of the dress and slipped his hand beneath the waistband of her panties. She was already moist to the touch, and he dipped his fingers inside of her. Amon kissed his way down her neck, then began to suckle a breast through the dress. Robin was making little mewling noises, sounding almost frantic. She was moaning, leaning into his touch. Her arms moved down, circling his back, keeping him pressed tightly against her. One hand circled to his front, her touch light and gentle, hesitant. She traced the lines of his stomach, the junction of his thighs. Then in a moment of bravery, her hand closed around his burgeoning cock. His eyes rolled back in his head at the sensations and could hear a growl deep in his throat. Amon's teeth grazed her nipple through the layers of cloth, and Robin cried out in pleasure.

Amon lifted her breasts out of the dress and bra. He brought his lips down to her other breast, tasting her skin against his tongue. "Amon," Robin gasped, a hand tangling up in his hair. "Oh, that feels so good..." She moved her other hand over his cock. She wasn't sure if it would feel good to him, but Amon wasn't complaining. His fingers moved around her clit, stroking gently. Amon's teeth grazed the peaked nipple, and her breath caught. He could hear her breath come in gasps, could feel her hips begin to buck against his hand.

"Come for me," Amon whispered against her skin. He licked the valley between her breasts, and then plunged his fingers deep within her wet heat. "Lose control, Robin... I've got you. I'm here, I'll always be here." Robin let out a keening cry, and Amon could feel her inner muscles clench at his fingers.

As Robin lay limp beneath him, Amon quickly stripped her of her clothing. She shifted at the appropriate moments, but she was too languorous to have done it all herself. Amon suckled a breast again, and his fingers found her sensitive clit easily. Robin gasped, then reached down to take hold of his cock. She was unsure where exactly was best to touch, so she just traced everything with her fingertips. She circled back when Amon moaned, her thumb stroking his slit gently. "I love you, Amon," she whispered between cries. "I always will."

Amon abruptly pulled away from her hand, her breast falling from his lips. He gently pushed her legs apart, and positioned himself just at her entrance. Robin's breath caught at the look on Amon's face. He seemed fierce, protective and lustful all at once. "Amon," she whimpered, reaching for him. He caught her hands in his, their fingers tangling together.

"We will always be together," he said softly, squeezing her fingers. "Always."

When he thrust into her, it felt beautiful and wonderful. Her orgasm was earthshaking in its intensity, and she held him close afterward. It felt perfect, as though she had always been meant to make love to Amon, as if that had been her true purpose in life. Whatever else happened, they would be together. They had lived and died and rose again in flames, and nothing could ever break them apart.