I yawned, blinking the sleep out of my eyes. A quick glance at the clock told me I'd slept in–usually I was up by noon, but it was 1 PM already. Not that I had anything important to do–even though I was no longer shunned, most people were still unwilling to hire a certified demon. And I'd stopped working with Trent. I didn't even have lessons with Al–Gally–anymore.
I strode into the kitchen with only one thought on my mind–coffee. Ivy was up already, of course, tapping away on her laptop across the room with Jenks looking over her shoulder. She was planning to move in with Nina, and I didn't begrudge her that, not really. They were good for each other.
I filled the coffee maker and turned to lean against the counter while it brewed. Ivy had surely heard me come in, but only then did she turn to look at me. The early afternoon light caught in her black hair, bringing out a red undertone that matched her earrings and the rose detail on her shirt. My breath caught in my throat, and all I could think was "she's gorgeous."
"Rache, your aura is glowing. Are you sure the mystics are gone?" Jenks buzzed over in a cloud of grey dust.
"Fuck! Newt changed my aura! They shouldn't be able to find me!" A wave of panic rose in me. If the mystics had found me again, so would the Goddess–sooner rather than later. And she didn't like me much.
But I couldn't feel any mystics, couldn't hear them in my mind. I was alone, a singularity, just as I should be, and I calmed down for a moment before I remembered what else a glowing aura could mean. Turn take it, I really do love her.
"I'm fine, Jenks, honest." Well, not really. Ivy had smelled my fear and I felt a twinge in my scar from the pheromones she had started to release. "I can't hear them."
The coffee was almost done, so I grabbed a mug.
"I think I'll go out in the garden. Ivy, you want any coffee?" I risked a glance at her. She was shaking her head.
"Tink's titties, Rachel, are you in love with that cookie maker?"
"I... I don't know. Maybe." I filled my cup and strode out into the garden. Jenks followed me, of course–he never missed an opportunity to give me a hard time. I closed the door behind me and sat down under the tree.
"Well?" asked Jenks, "if it's not the mystics, what is it?"
"Don't tell Ivy," I said in a low voice. We were probably out of earshot, but her hearing was phenomenal.
"Don't tell her what?" He circled around to sit on my shoulder.
"I wasn't thinking about Trent. I was thinking about her." I gestured towards the church, feeling my face go red.
"Wait, so you're telling me you're in love with Ivy?"
I cradled my coffee cup, took a sip. "I think so. Maybe."
"Rachel, you can't start this all up again. I know you're sad she's moving out–hell, I am too–but it's too risky. For both of you."
"I know. I know." Ivy was my partner, my best friend–along with Jenks–my rock... but she'd also almost killed me more than once. I'd sworn not to let her bite me again, I'd given up on finding a blood balance, and I didn't know if I could date her without breaking that promise to myself. "That's why you can't tell her."
"Can't tell her what?"
I spun around, feeling the blood drain from my face. Ivy was standing in the doorway looking out at us.
"Oh, just about the party we're throwing tomorrow night."
"Jenks!" I said, gratefully following his lead. "That was supposed to be a surprise!"
I could tell she didn't buy it. "Yeah, we thought we should do something, since you're moving in with Nina soon. Enjoy our time together."
"That's kind of sweet. Can I invite her?"
To our nonexistent party? "Sure, no problem. I'll invite Trent." Maybe he'll take my mind off of Ivy. "I thought I'd head out, actually. Need to buy a few things. For the party." I gulped down the rest of my coffee and stood.
When I headed out the door, though, I soon realized Ivy was right behind me.
"What was that all about?"
"What do you mean?"
"I just want to know, are you okay?"
I turned and faced her. "I'm fine, so stop following me!"
She stopped in her tracks, a hurt expression on her face.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that. It's just..."
"I don't want you to move out." It came out in a rush. That was true, of course– the church wouldn't feel like home without her.
"And that's what you didn't want Jenks to tell me? What does that have to do with your aura?"
Crap, crap, double crap. "Nothing."
"I, uh, my aura... apparently my aura glows when I fall in love."
"So you didn't want me to know you're in love with Trent? Why? I can take it."
"No." As soon as I said it, I regretted it. But then I felt like I had to keep talking. Maybe I was tired of lying. "with you."
"What?" Her eyes were wide, hope and fear and disbelief flickering across her face, as though she'd made the connection but refused to believe it.
"I'm saying... I realized I'd fallen in love with you."
Ivy stared at me, her mouth open.
"I never thought... I mean I never thought you'd..." She closed her mouth, took a deep breath, let it out again. The silence stretched between us, ages seeming to pass in the moments it took her to compose her thoughts. "Rachel, I... I should be ecstatic. If you'd told me this earlier, I would have been. But now... I can't leave Nina, and I won't ask you to leave Trent. I know you don't do open relationships."
My head spun. Was she saying, in spite of all that she'd said over the last few months, that she would still consider it? If I let her date Nina at the same time? But I didn't know if I could do that. Even just dating Ivy was scary enough. No. "That wasn't... I wasn't asking you out, Ivy. I wasn't even going to tell you."
"I know." Her voice was soft, resigned, all the pain of all the little rejections flowing to the surface again.
My heart gave a twist, but I pressed on. "Maybe it's for the best. I mean... even if we didn't mean to share blood, we would. Eventually. And I would let you bind me... Ivy, I would want you to bind me. I can't risk that." I couldn't look at her as I said that, couldn't meet her eyes as I admitted it.
"I wouldn't ask."
"You have before."
"That was to protect you! You know that!"
Turn it, this was coming out all wrong. "I believe you. I'm not afraid of you."
"You sound afraid." The blacks of her eyes grew, just a little, even though it was the middle of the afternoon and we were standing outside in the sun. "You smell afraid."
"I'm terrified!" My heart was racing. My palms were sweating. I laughed, a sharp, dry sound. "But not of you. I'm afraid of myself. I'm afraid of allowing myself to change."
"Really?" Ivy raised one eyebrow, amused disbelief tugging at her mouth corners.
"Yes, really. Don't laugh!"
"I wasn't going to." Her expression said otherwise, but at least her eyes had returned to their normal brown. Almost.
"I've changed a lot already, but mostly not by my own choice. I was a white earth witch, and I was going to get married, have kids, open a charm shop... and look at me now! I'm a demon, I can't have kids unless I want to risk them getting abducted or killed, and most witches won't give me the time of day. No hope of a charm shop now." I took a deep breath, and lowered my voice. "You know I've never thought worse of you for being bi. But the idea that I might be-"
I looked in her eyes. This was the Ivy that had hugged me in San Francisco–all understanding and compassion and love. This was the Ivy, I realized, I had fallen in love with–just as much, if I was to be perfectly honest, as the unpredictable and dangerous vampire who had saved me more times than I could count.
She nodded. "You're taking us into a future I can't plan for, whether you mean to or not. That scares the crap out of me. And it's not like I've always known I liked women, either."
I knew that. Skimmer had been her first girlfriend, the one to make her realize she was bi.
"I just wouldn't have expected it from you. You're so spontaneous. So off-the-cuff. It used to drive me crazy."
"It doesn't anymore?"
"Well, not as much. Besides, you've started planning. A bit. Sometimes."
"True." Looking at her standing in the sun, looking harmless and ordinary and beautiful, I felt wobbly and unsure and maybe–just a little–hopeful. I didn't want the moment to pass. "Do you, um, would you mind if I hug you? I wouldn't want to set you off."
Practically before I had finished speaking, she wrapped her arms around me. I did the same, my cheek pressed into the cool leather of her jacket, marvelling at her firm but gentle strength. Molten metal and leather, with hints of incense. I would know that smell anywhere. "Thank you," I whispered.
We stood like that for what seemed like a very long time, and when we pulled apart, I felt that nothing would be the same again. I was going back to Trent and she was going to move out and live with Nina. We'd see each other, but it felt like goodbye.
"You know what? Maybe we should have that goodbye party after all."
When we got back to the church, groceries in hand, Ivy dropped her bag off on the counter and headed to her room without a word.
"What's gotten into her?" asked Jenks as I put things away. "Wait a second... you smell like her! What happened?"
I sighed. "I told her. I know I shouldn't have, but I told her."
"And we hugged. Nothing more, I swear."
"So you're not dating?"
"No. We're not."
"You don't sound happy."
"I'm not, but it's for the best." Probably.
"Turn it, Rache. This stinks. There's got to be a better option. Now you're both miserable!"
Ivy was miserable? I guess she'd have to be. "She said... she implied she'd still be open to it."
"If she could date Nina at the same time."
Jenks settled down on my shoulder. "I don't know if that's a good idea."
"Me either, Jenks." I put the ice cream in the freezer, then fished a few more things out of a bag to put them in the fridge. "By the way, we really are having a moving-out party tomorrow, so invite whoever you like."
I didn't see Ivy for the rest of the day, but she showed up while I was assembling the pizzas.
"By the way, I talked to Nina about... us. She's fine with it, if you ever want to try to make this work."
I froze, my hand halfway to the pepperoni.
"No pressure. You don't even have to tell Trent... unless you plan to take me up on it. Just thought I'd put that out there."
"Thanks." Just the thought made me panic a little.
Ivy must have smelled it, because she backed off a little, her pupils widening. "Need anything for the party?"
I shook my head. "No, I'm all good."
The doorbell rang. "That'll be Nina. I asked her to come over early."
Ivy reappeared with her girlfriend a moment later. They looked good together, matching long black hair, Nina's light brown skin contrasting against Ivy's pallour, and very much in love. I was almost jealous. Well, maybe I was a little jealous.
Ivy headed straight for her room, but Nina didn't follow.
"Hey," she said. "Ivy told me about your conversation. I'm glad."
"You're... glad?" I wasn't expecting that, not after all the trouble Skimmer had given me.
"Yes. You're good for her, and I think she's good for you. I'm glad you've finally realized how much you care for her."
I shook my head. "You don't know how much I've screwed her up over the years, then." Because I refused to see what was right in front of my face, I added to myself.
Nina looked me straight in the eye. "That might be, but in the end, you balance each other out. So I hope you'll take her up on her offer." With that, she followed Ivy into her room, where I could hear them discussing Ivy's move.
Just as I was putting the last toppings on the pizza, another ring came at the door.
"I'll get it!"
It was Trent, looking absolutely delectable in a close-fitting jacket and t-shirt, beat-up jeans, and sneakers, his white-blond hair pushed back to show his newly pointed ears. I could see Quen waving from the car. I liked and respected Trent's bodyguard–for a long time I'd liked him much more than Trent himself–but I knew Trent relished his time away from Quen's protection, and I respected that. Though with most elves shunning Trent the way witches had once shunned me, perhaps he'd start to miss his former empire.
"Rachel?" Trent's voice brought me back to the present.
"Oh, hi. Sorry I zoned out there."
"Are you all right?"
"Yeah. You look great."
His mouth quirked into a smile. "So can I come in?"
"Sure. You can also kiss me." I put one arm around his waist and pulled him to me. He smelled of cinnamon and green growing things and had just the right amount of stubble. His lips were soft against mine, then urgent. He broke the kiss to take a deep, ragged breath, and over his shoulder I could see Quen drive off.
"If you're going to greet me like that, I should come over more often."
"Mmm." I told the little voice that said I was trying to distract myself from Ivy to shove it and pulled Trent into another kiss, twining my fingers in his hair, the other hand inching down his back to his butt.
I heard tiny, high-pitched voices from the rafters. Crap, Jenks' kids. I pulled away from Trent and waved in the general direction of the sounds..
"You can come out now. I know you want to see Trent."
Trent watched with wide eyes as about a dozen pixies poured down to hover all around us.
"I don't think I'll ever get used to this," he said, eyeing the nearest pixy—Jrixibell—as she spun in the air.
"What is it with elves and pixies, anyway?"
"I don't really know."
"What? And here I thought you were the expert on elven history."
"Well, much has been lost, in the war and centuries of hiding. We're still trying to put it all back together."
"Which would be a lot easier if Ellsabeth didn't have it out for you."
He grimaced. "Yeah. I wanted to bring something tonight, but my assets are still frozen. Sorry."
"It's fine." It's not like I didn't have any experience with being broke, after all. Ivy had bailed me out more times than I cared to think.
"At least I still have my equipment. And I get to see Red every so often."
"How's that going, by the way?" He'd been giving riding lessons to Newt ever since she'd tuned my aura so the mystics couldn't find me.
He shrugged. "She has her good days and her bad days. Usually she doesn't come on her bad days, for which I am thankful. Red is beginning to see eye to eye with her, though she's still stubborn."
I glanced around the church, remembering how Newt had blasphemed it and possessed me one morning, looking for something. I shuddered. "Come on in. I need to put the pizza in the oven. Nina is already here and David should get here soon."
"Nice and intimate, huh?"
"Well, if you count over fifty pixies as intimate, then yes."
"Rachel, you've seen the size of the gatherings I used to go to. Fifty or sixty people is intimate."
I laughed. I'd moved in those circles by necessity, working as a bodyguard or runner, but they'd never been mine the way they'd been Trent's – not even when half of Cincy thought we were dating, years before we actually did. "Good riddance, huh?"
"Yeah. I like myself more these days."
I put the pizza in the oven and set the timer. "I like you more too."
"Oooo, look at the lovebirds!" Jenks flew in through the window and settled down on the back of the couch, near Trent.
"Can it, Jenks." I took a swipe at him, which he dodged easily.
"Make me." He flew off into the garden, laughing.
"What is he, five?"
"About nineteen, actually."
Trent made a face. "He doesn't act like it."
"Yeah, well, that's Jenks for you." It was nice standing here in my kitchen, laughing with Trent like we were normal people without a care in the world. Looking at him, I didn't want to tell him about me and Ivy, but I knew I couldn't stand to lose her, either.
"Hey. Is everything all right?"
"I'm just sad Ivy's moving out."
"You really care for her, don't you."
"Well, look at it this way. Maybe you're better off this way."
I looked up and met his eyes, challenging. "What do you mean?"
"I mean..." he cleared his throat. "Look, I remember how it was on that trip to San Francisco. Maybe you're safer not living with a vampire."
I opened my mouth to give him some kind of biting response but the doorbell rang.
"Coming!" I yelled, shooting a glare at Trent.
David was looking well–solid and masculine in a brown leather jacket and jeans.
"David! Glad you could make it!"
"No problem. So Ivy's moving out, is she?" David stepped inside and the clean scent of Were filled my nostrils.
"You must be sad to see her go."
I nodded. "I know it's silly."
"It's not. You've been living together for years now."
"Hey, no problem. Look, you need anything, just call, okay?"
I nodded, pleased but a bit embarrassed that he'd make such an offer. "So, how's the pack?"
"Good. Is that pizza I smell?"
"Yeah. Just put it in the oven."
I lead him into the kitchen.
"Hi, Trent." David shook Trent's hand, a little stiffly. "How's it going?"
"Not so well, but I imagine you've heard all about it. Are elves still public enemy number one?"
"Not quite, but you don't have many supporters among Weres."
Nina and Ivy joined us, followed by Jenks, and the conversation turned to food, but I kept a bit of a distance from Trent. I caught a questioning look from Ivy, and a hurt one from Trent, and shrugged them both off. Later, though, I excused myself and went out into the garden.
Trent followed me, a glass of white in his hand. "Rachel, what's the matter? You've been ignoring me all evening!"
"You can't figure it out?"
"What I said about Ivy? Look, I'm sorry. That was insensitive."
"Yes, it was. I thought you trusted her!"
"I respect her, and I know she means well... but I don't trust her the way you do."
My heart sank. He wasn't going to take it well when I told him, was he?
"So what are you saying? You think I should just cut her out of my life?"
He raised his hands as if to say 'stop'. "No, that's not what I mean. She's a great runner and a good friend to you. I'm just saying that maybe you should put a little more distance between you."
"I... you know what, fuck it all. I know you mean well, but you don't know what you're talking about. I love her, you know."
"Don't even. I'm in love with her. I realized that recently."
"Damn it, what about us?"
"Trent, I... I care for you, but if you make me choose between you and Ivy, I will pick her. Every time."
"You'd leave me for her?"
"If I have to. I was hoping... Ivy said it would be fine if I still date you, as long as you're okay with it. I wasn't even sure I wanted to take her up on it, but.."
"Rachel, this is a bad idea. She'll bite you-"
"She already has. Not recently."
"She'll bite you again. Rachel, she'll bind you! She's been hunting you for years!"
I'd said something like that myself, but coming from Trent it sounded ugly.
"She won't." My voice came out in a whisper. "She won't. I trust her."
"Do you? You trust her with your life – but do you trust her with your soul?"
"I do!" It sounded empty, so I said it again. "I do."
It was true, I realized. All of my fears were about what dating Ivy might mean for me, about me, whether I'd let my bad judgement ruin something good–again–as always–not about her. Not anymore.
"Well then. Looks like you've made up your mind. No point in me sticking around, then." He strode into the kitchen, set his glass down on my spelling counter.
I followed. "Trent! Wait!"
He turned around. "What for? You've already said it – you'd pick her over me, any day. So pick her then." He scooped his jacket off the sofa and strode out through the sanctuary, slamming the door behind him.
Nina and Ivy were sitting on the couch, wide-eyed, and Jenks was on the table across from them. I winced.
"How much of that did you hear?"
"Most of it," admitted Ivy. "I'm sorry."
"He left you because of me."
"Don't be. It's not your fault." I collapsed on the couch next to Nina. "Do you know, I really cared for that jerk?"
"You want me to pix that cookie maker?" asked Jenks.
"No, but thanks."
Nina passed me the tissues.
"Thanks." I took one reflexively, even though somehow, I hadn't quite started crying yet.
David walked in just then. "Um, I heard the door slam–what'd I miss?"
"Trent just broke up with Rachel." Ivy said it in a matter-of-fact tone, but I was glad I didn't have to.
"Oh... I'm sorry. Would it be better if I just called it a night?"
I nodded, miserable. "Sorry about this." My voice cracked with the beginning of a sob.
"Not your fault. It was good seeing you, Rachel, Ivy, Nina. Jenks." With a wave, he headed for the door.
Nina stood. "Would you like me to leave as well?"
"No, no, it's okay, you're Ivy's guest. I'll just go to my room."
I had almost gotten there when I heard steps behind me. It was Nina.
"Ivy probably won't say anything, so I will. It means a lot to her that you stood up for her." Nina smiled, a crooked half-smile that made her even more lovely. "Though it probably scares her too."
"Even after all this time, I don't think she's sure she's worthy of your trust." Nina reached out, her movements deliberately slow, and laid a hand on my shoulder. "She loves you, but go easy on her, all right?"
I sniffed. "I'm not even sure I'm going to go out with her."
Nina pulled away. "Of course. Take care of yourself. We'll be right here if you need us."
I nodded and walked into my room, closing the door before she could say anything else. Then, and only then, did I allow myself to cry.
Heartsick over Trent and missing Ivy, Rachel works herself to the point of collapse. Ivy comes over to take care of her, and somehow Rachel finds the courage to ask her out. But of course nothing is ever simple for these two...
A week later, I stood in Ivy's newly empty room. Her furniture had left traces in the thick carpet, all that remained of her presence in the church, now. Well, there was still the Vampiric Charms sign. And – I sniffed – her scent. But even that was fading. I told myself I was being silly, that she'd be back probably at least once a week, planning joint runs. But that didn't stop me from feeling profoundly alone and perhaps a little homesick. Which was silly too, since I was at home, and hardly alone, living with a gargoyle, a fairy, a cat, and a few dozen pixies. If I hadn't argued with Trent, I'd have turned to him, but now I couldn't either. And I missed him, too, even if he was a jerk.
"You know you're still going to see her, right?" asked Jenks, from somewhere near my right ear.
I turned to look at him. "Am I that obvious?"
"I didn't want her to move out either, you know? But we'll get used to it. It's for the best. Nina needs her."
"Who are you trying to convince, me or you?"
"I don't know. Turn it, this sucks!" With that, he flew out into the garden.
I closed the window after him, perhaps foolishly wanting Ivy's scent to linger.
Over the next few weeks, I threw myself into my work. When I wasn't doing or planning runs, which wasn't as often as I would have liked, I poured over demonic texts, trying to find a way to give vampires back their souls. I didn't see much of Ivy – I mostly did solo runs – and didn't sleep very much. So I guess it wasn't too surprising when at the end of a few weeks of this, my normally tough immune system finally gave out and I caught a bad cold.
I dragged myself out of bed and dug a pain amulet out of the cupboard. I fumbled with my thumb stick to activate it and almost dropped the damn thing. But I got it on at last and my headache subsided. I didn't have anything for congestion or fevers, though, so I'd have to brew something if I wanted it. I headed out to the garden to pick some herbs for a potion, then wobbled and fell against the tree. Pretty soon there was a cloud of pixies hovering around me.
"Rachel? Are you feeling all right?" Jenks was hovering near my face.
I stood up, then wobbled and leaned against the tree. I had wanted to play it tough, but... "I wanted to brew up a fever reducer. Guess I was feeling worse than I thought." My voice trailed off in a croak.
"You're in no shape to brew anything! Can you get yourself into bed?"
I nodded, miserable.
"Good. I'm calling Ivy."
"I knew it, you're avoiding her! But who else can I call? David? He'll be at work. Trent?"
I shook my head. Definitely not Trent.
If he was around, he'd come. And he could brew the potion himself. "Call Keasley."
"I will, but I'm calling Ivy too. You know she'd be mad if I didn't."
"Fine." Somehow I managed to wobble my way back inside while Jenks rushed off to get Keasley. Soon after I finally climbed into bed, I heard footsteps and Keasley's raspy voice talking in low tones with Jenks' higher one. Keasley knocked on my half-open door before stepping into my bedroom. He looked concerned, but not alarmed.
"How are you doing?"
I coughed. "Not good. I'll be better soon, though."
"Jenks says you collapsed in the garden. You sure you don't want to go see a doctor?"
"Not sure they'd see me in the Inderland wing anyway. Demons aren't exactly popular, you know."
"And you don't like hospitals. I know." He looked me up and down, then put his hand on my forehead. His skin felt cool and rough. "Well, you've definitely got a fever, but you probably guessed that. And a cough. Anything else?"
"I have a headache, but I've got an amulet for that. Just give me something for the fever and I'll be fine."
He shook his head. "I'm not a doctor, but you need your rest. It's probably just a cold, but if it's bad enough to make you collapse it's a bad one. I'll make you something that'll make you more comfortable, but you need to take it easy for a day or two."
"No. You're staying in bed."
The front door slammed, and I could hear the sound of booted feet coming down the hall.
"Just in time."
Ivy burst into the room, followed by Jenks. "Are you all right? Jenks told me what happened."
"She's definitely not okay, don't let her tell you otherwise. I'm going to brew something up to lower her fever. Can you make sure she takes it easy?"
Ivy nodded, and I knew she wouldn't let me get away with anything.
"Jenks, can I pick some things in the garden?" Keasley's voice faded as he left the room.
I turned to look at Ivy. She was standing just inside the door, looking a little frazzled, motorcycle jacket over workout clothes, hair a bit mussed. She looked... well, she looked cute. Which was not, generally speaking, a word I would apply to my tough-as-nails and occasionally terrifying business partner, but it seemed to fit. Unfortunately, she was also staring at me with an expression of deep disapproval.
"Jenks tells me you've been running yourself ragged."
"You've got to take better care of yourself. I know you're broken up over Trent, but you can't keep going on like this."
I didn't know what to say to that, so I said. "Sit down." When she didn't move, I patted the bed.
"Rachel..." Worry was written across her face as she crossed the room, but she didn't sit down. Didn't touch me.
"I've been a dumbass, okay? I know it. But I've been missing Trent. And you." This last came out as a whisper, but I knew she heard it.
Ivy sat down on the bed. "You know you don't have to make yourself sick to see me, right? And we don't have to have a run together."
"Nina needs you. And you deserve to be happy with her."
"That doesn't have to exclude being with you. Or just hanging out, if you'd rather."
It was nice having her so close, even though I couldn't smell her at all. And that gave me an idea.
"Ivy." I whispered her name like a prayer, and her gaze met mine with all that intensity, that single-minded focus. "I'm still not sure, but there's something I have to know."
"Why? We've kissed before."
"I've always told myself I wasn't into you, it was just the pheromones. I'm starting to think that was wrong, but I need to be sure. Right now I can't smell anything."
"You're funny." she said, but she gave me a little half smile and brushed my red curls back from my face with gentle fingertips. She cupped one hand under my chin, not so much as touching my scar, and leaned in to kiss me, ever so softy.
There was nothing supernatural about it, no pheromones, no tingling scar, no melding of auras, but still, I felt her love for me just as surely as if there had been–it was in the tenderness of her kiss, the way she traced my eyebrow with one finger as we pulled apart, even the strand of hair, escaped from her loose bun that brushed my face. As soon as her lips left mine I wanted more.
"Wow," I breathed. "I think that answers my question."
She found my hand and squeezed it. "Don't decide until you're well."
"Tamwood!" It was Jenks' voice, followed by Keasley's footsteps. "I called you here to take care of Rachel, not seduce her!"
"Jenks! I asked her to kiss me!"
"Relax, I'm kidding." He buzzed into the room and sat on my pillow. "But you should take it easy. No shenanigans!"
"Sorry, Jenks." Ivy didn't look all that sorry, but she did blush. It was cute.
"I made something for your fever. You should drink some now, and again before you go to sleep tonight." Keasley was holding a steaming cup of something clear and greenish. "I left it on the stove, so you can reheat it when you're ready. It's not a potion, just a medicinal brew. Might make you a bit sleepy."
I eyed the concoction and pushed myself up to a sitting position before taking the cup. The mixture was bitter, but I sipped it down and handed the cup back to Keasley. "Thanks."
"No problem. Ivy, are you staying?"
"Good, then I'll be off. I'm just across the street if you need me. But remember, I'm not a doctor."
My eyes were starting to feel heavy–that stuff was stronger than I thought.
She flashed me a look of concern before turning to Keasley, who was still standing in the doorway.
"Don't worry, that's normal," he said, and then the world faded out.
When I woke up, Ivy was still there, but Keasley was gone. She'd pulled up my office chair and was reading something on her smartphone. She'd taken the time to fix her hair and take off her jacket, and was looking much more relaxed.
"Hey," I said. My voice was still rough, and my mouth was dry.
"Hey. How're you doing?" She leaned in to look at me, almost but not quite touching. It was a habit we'd developed over the years, a careful separation to avoid setting off her vampire instincts. I was sick of it.
"Better." I grimaced at the sound of my own voice. "I know I sound like crap, but I really do feel better. How long was I out?"
"About four hours. Do you need anything?"
She nodded and disappeared into the kitchen, reappearing sooner than I would have though possible with a glass of water. She helped me sit up and put it in my hands. At another time I might have objected to her help, but for the moment I was just relishing the contact. She could only touch me without fear when I was sick or badly injured – isn't that awful?
When I had finished, she stood and disappeared into the kitchen again.
"You're not hiding your speed anymore."
She froze, halfway into my chair. "Should I?"
"No." I reached out a hand to her; she took it. "I wish we could do this more."
"What, get sick and me take care of you?"
"Rachel... you know that'll be hard, unless we're sharing blood."
"I know... I just miss it. I didn't want Jenks to call you but I'm glad you came."
"You're still the worst patient, and I've worked with little kids."
"It's probably because I was sick so much when I was a kid."
"True." She laid her hand across my forehead, and then her own. "Your fever has gone down a lot. But then, I don't know what your normal temperature should be."
"Upper 90s, same as for a human. The demons did a good job when they cursed themselves into human shape."
Ivy gave a start. "I forget sometimes," she said.
"That I'm a demon?"
"Yes, but also... that demons and witches don't come from humans. They had wings, you said? I can't imagine you with wings." Her eyes were wide, wondering.
"Yeah, well, I can't imagine you with fur, but your ancestors had it, if you go back far enough."
Ivy grimaced. "Sure, but they didn't curse themselves to get rid of it." She smiled. "You must really be feeling better if you're joking like that."
"I told you so. I'll be back in business in no time."
"Just take it a bit easier this time, all right?"
I nodded obediently, but Ivy wasn't fooled.
"Why do I even try?" she groaned.
"Because you love me?"
"You've really made up your mind, haven't you?"
"Yes. Which is why you should kiss me again."
"Don't think I don't want to, but you need to get better first. I don't want to risk you changing your mind."
I sighed. "I suppose that's fair." I usually jumped into relationships head-first, but with Ivy I'd said 'no' for so long that I had only myself to blame if she needed me to be really sure of my 'yes'.
Ivy smiled a sad little smile at me. "Just ask me again in a few days, okay?"
And so there I was, a few days later, completely recovered but absolutely terrified. I couldn't quite place why. It's not like I'd always let the guys lead in my previous relationships, and I hadn't been too worried about jumping into things, even—sometimes—when it had been a very bad idea... but then, I'd never been with a woman before, and I'd rarely been so serious about a relationship. Or so deliberate. This was new territory, even though I knew she would say yes.
I'd asked her to meet me at the church, and had dressed as though going on a date, not a run, although whatever I wore, Ivy would probably top it without even trying.
Sure enough, she showed up in skintight black leather pants and solid boots, with a soft, flowing cream-colored blouse and a leather vest. Her hair had been done up in a French braid, a more ornate style than what she usually favored—especially for work. I wondered if Nina had helped her with it, and suppressed a brief flash of jealousy.
"Hey," Ivy's grey-silk voice slipped through me. She wasn't pulling an aura, so I was surprised to find myself a little turned on. "You said you needed to see me. Any particular reason?"
"Can't you guess?"
Ivy's smile widened. "I think so, but I want to hear it from you."
Fine. "I want to take you up on your offer, if it's still open."
"Which offer is that?"
Damn her for an intentionally obtuse... "Ivy, will you go out with me?"
She grinned and wrapped her arms around me, pulling me to her. "I will." She planted a quick kiss on my lips, and the incense smell of her pheromones poured into me.
I wrapped one hand around her head, tangling my fingers in the base of her braid and pulled her into another kiss, urgent this time, sliding my other hand down the smooth leather of her vest to find her butt. Her mouth opened in a little gasp and I slid in my tongue, running it ever so gently down one of her fangs and over its tip. Ivy broke off the kiss.
"Damn it, Rache, maybe I should put on my caps," she panted, pushing me back a little.
"Uh... you don't have to." I was having trouble focusing, and she hadn't even been playing on my scar.
"I should. Unless you want me to bite you right now."
That stopped me short. "Ummm..."
"I didn't think so. Hold on a moment." She dug through her purse and brought out a little plastic case. She quickly fitted the caps and bared her teeth to show she was wearing them. "It's been years since I've worn these," she said with a grimace.
"Thank you," I whispered, knowing it was a blow to her pride to have to wear them.
"It's fine. Just don't tell Erica, whatever you do. I'll never hear the end of it."
I nodded. As if I would ever discuss my sex life with my girlfriend's kid sister. Girlfriend... the word hit me like a splash of cold water. I'd never seriously thought I would date a woman. I guess it hadn't sunk in yet.
"So... what next? I want to go at your pace. Don't feel like you have to rush."
"I suppose I didn't think that far ahead. I got some pasta fixings, if you want lunch. Or we could kiss some more." Maybe it would be okay if I pretended to myself that it wasn't serious. But even as I thought that, I knew it wouldn't work. So I just pushed the thought aside and tried to live in the moment.
"I like the second plan."
She drew me into another kiss, her lips hard on mine. She tasted of molten gold and incense and... citrus lip gloss? I found one of my hands reaching up the back of her shirt, tracing the muscles under her warm skin. She broke off the kiss and took my right earlobe between her teeth, biting down gently. If not for her caps, she might have drawn blood. A wave of heat cascaded through me, from her teeth to my scar to my groin. When she let go of my ear and licked her way around its edge, my knees buckled.
She caught me. "Whoa. Want to sit down?"
Her eyes were halfway to black, but she was still in control. I nodded, and we walked over to the couch, my legs steadying as we went. When I sat on the couch, she did too, but all the way at the other end, not touching me, just gazing at me. Then she blinked, and I felt the tension break.
"Maybe I should get some air," she said.
Even in love, Ivy was ever the planner. But I appreciated how careful she was being with me, even though I yearned for spontaneity. But we'd get there.
"If you think you should." I said, but she just strode over to the window and opened it, letting a warm breeze in.
"I think I'll be okay. Just don't touch me for a while."
I ached to touch her, but I said nothing.
"I'm sorry. I should have fed before coming over."
"It's okay," I found myself saying, even though it wasn't, really. "Let's just make lunch."
She nodded, and walked into the kitchen, where she started pulling out utensils and pans.
"It's funny," I said, striding over to the fridge. "It's not as different as I thought it would be."
"Kissing a woman."
"Mmm. Are you going to tell your family? You don't have to," she said, "it's not necessarily easy."
"Eventually. My mom will be happy for me. I think. I don't think Takata- I don't think Donald will care, really, but he'll be supportive on general principles. Robbie? I don't even know how he'll react. I don't know him well enough anymore." I got some tomatoes out of the fridge. "Fuck, Ivy, what do I call myself? What do I say?"
"Whatever you want. Whatever you're comfortable with. I'm bi. You can be bi, pan, queer, questioning... even straight with an exception. You don't have to decide right away." She filled the stockpot with water, added a little salt. "You know, Cincy Pride is next weekend. I don't always go to the parade, but there's a nighttime party as well, where there are always more Inderlanders. Sometimes it helps to see that you're not alone."
I nodded, but then a horrible thought struck me. "I don't want to get outed by the press. They've already caught wind of my breakup with Trent. Somehow. And if I go to Pride they might jump to conclusions and..."
"Yeah." Ivy's solemn expression was replaced by a wicked grin. "You could always go in disguise."
"Don't they check?"
Ivy shook her head. "Not if you just go to the free show. Sure, if you want to buy alcohol they ask for ID, but you wouldn't be the only one in a costume. You're not the only one who doesn't want to be out."
"It's not that I don't want to be, I just want to figure myself out first. And do it on my own terms."
"I can respect that," said Ivy. "But I can't guarantee my family won't figure it out on their own."
Ivy's family? Yikes. Erica and Ivy's father were okay, but Ivy's mom was an undead vamp. I was not looking forward to family dinners with them.
"Don't worry," Ivy patted me on the shoulder, "they'll be okay with it. They don't understand why we haven't been dating this whole time."
Or why I hadn't been her shadow all along. "Ugh, I know." I had finished chopping the sauce ingredients, so I heated up the sauce pan while Ivy got down the noodles.
"So do you want to go this weekend? It's Sunday night at Sawyer Point."
I gazed into her eyes. Her irises had returned to normal and she was smiling at me over the stove. "Okay."
The night of Pride, I had on just one disguise charm. It gave me dark brown hair streaked with grey, teased out to be bigger than usual, and Ivy had completed the look with a skillful makeup job that made me look a few years older and gave me a great many freckles, as well as more modest clothing than what I would normally have worn to a party. With my long, flowing skirt, loose hair, and rainbow bracelet, I looked more West Coast Wiccan than Cincy witch, though the charms on my purse were real enough and anyone who knew me well would recognize me.
Ivy herself was much more recognizable, but then, she didn't have to hide from the tabloids. She would have looked gorgeous in anything, but today she had on a tank top that showed off her arms, vampire-pale and lightly muscled, which, with her black jeans and combat boots, made her look butcher than usual. Or, well, as butch as you can look with hair as long as hers, braided and coiled up into a bun. She threw on her motorcycle jacket as we headed for the door.
"We're taking your bike?"
"Of course we are. Unless you want to bus in. Your car is like a big red 'Rachel is here' sign, you know."
I sighed. "All right. But be careful."
"I'm always careful."
"Yeah, right." But I took the proffered helmet and got on behind her, wrapping my arms around her waist. We took off, weaving in and out of traffic so quickly I could barely keep track. Sawyer Point was on the waterfront, but she found a spot for her bike a ways from there, explaining that Pride parking was a nightmare. As we walked closer, we saw more and more rainbow flags and others I didn't recognize. Ivy explained.
"That's a bi pride flag," she said, pointing at a pink, purple, and blue one. There was a trans flag, pansexual flag, asexual flag, even Inderlander variants.
"Gay weres?" I guessed when we passed a rainbow flag with a stylized moon.
Ivy nodded. "Vamps and witches have their own symbols as well, though not everyone wants to shout their species from the rooftops. Unfortunately, anti-Inderlander prejudice is as common at Pride as anywhere else. That's another reason to go at night."
"Is there... I dunno, a gay Inderlander bar?"
"Not really, though some human gay bars are more welcoming than others, and there's a Were-run place that's more gay-friendly than most bars. Vamps are usually pretty relaxed about this kind of thing, too, so Piscary's had a bit of an LGBT clientele before it lost its MPL."
"Ah." I watched wide-eyed as a burly Were in leather chaps and little else, his chest covered with tattoos, strode past, his arm around another Were, more modestly dressed but almost as well-muscled. "Are you sure I'll fit in here?"
Ivy shrugged. "As well as anyone. There's not really a dress code. Though you will see a lot of that. I'd forgotten how surprising it can be when you're not used to it."
As we approached the festival site, a breeze picked up, a welcome cooling influence in the warm, humid early summer air. It carried with it the scent of river water, beer, and pot. Not that that last bothered me–mostly a human drug, its use was outside the jurisdiction of the IS, and I'd never had to police it myself, unlike Brimstone, which I had on a few occasions grudgingly taken. And would probably have to take again, if I started sharing blood with Ivy.
The entrance to the festival grounds, between two movable barriers, was staffed by a half-dozen young people in black t-shirts with "STAFF" emblazoned in large numbers across the chest. Waiting in line to get in, I glanced down at the two charms attached to my purse. The lethal magic detector was dark, but the heavy magic charm was glowing. One of the staffers, a pale strawberry blonde, had an array of charms slung around her neck, and by the faint scent of redwood, I guessed that she was a witch or warlock tasked with keeping a lookout for dangerous magic. Next to her was a slim, brown-skinned woman with an ornate tattoo on her forearm, possibly a Were or maybe human, certainly not a vampire. I guessed they were using a mixed team–better for both PR and security at a mixed event like this. If only the FIB and IS could work so well together.
After a bored-looking chubby black man had glanced through my bag, we walked onto the grass of the park. Jenks had elected not to come, and I found myself wondering if there were pixies, or perhaps fairies around. Probably there were, but they'd be making themselves inconspicuous with this many people around.
We walked past a good many vendors selling everything from flags to jewelry to posters. I could hear strains of upbeat pop music over the ambient chatter. Not really my kind of music, but good for what it was. I started to feel more relaxed when I saw that Ivy was right: what I was wearing fit in just fine, though my usual date clothes would have been okay as well, except for making me more recognizable. It was nearly midnight, so the party was just starting for most Inderlanders, as well, but the less adventurous humans would be heading home. Or already had.
Emboldened by the sight of several gay couples, I took Ivy's hand. She gave a little start, then squeezed my hand in hers. We walked hand in hand until we could see the main stage. The crowd was dancing to a DJ–those who weren't picnicking in the grass or making out.
"Huh," I said, shaking my head at myself.
I turned to look at Ivy. There was a vamp sleekness to her movements at this hour of the night, and her eyes were a bit dilated, but her expression was just confused. "I don't know what I was expecting. This is so... ordinary."
Ivy raised an eyebrow. "Is that a good thing?"
"I think so. I need something ordinary in my life. Or at least something dependable." Looking into Ivy's eyes and holding her hand in the half-light of the festival, I felt like possibilities were stretching before me into a distant, hopeful future. "This might sound weird, but you've been... my anchor, I guess. These last few years, you've been there with me. Through everything. I guess what I'm trying to say is 'thank you'."
Ivy pressed her lips together, turning her face away from me, and I could feel her grip on my hand grow tighter. She blinked a few times, and said at last, "You're welcome. And thank you for everything."
I stood on tiptoes and kissed her cheek. Her skin was soft and slightly warm, and I caught a whiff of pheromones, plus notes of the same citrus as before.
"Mmm," said Ivy, and pulled me into another kiss, this one full on the lips, gentle and seductive, letting go of my hand to wrap her arms around me, pulling me a little off-balance.
I kissed her back, not caring who saw us, blood singing at her touch, not just a vamp's touch, but hers, I knew that now. With a gasp, I broke off the kiss and we nuzzled, her skin like velvet on mine. With one hand, she was playing with a curl over my left ear, with the other holding me to her. I breathed in her scent, feeling her heart beat through her shirt. I kissed her again, harder, sharing breath, and suddenly I knew.
"Fuck, Ivy, I want you." It came out in a ragged whisper. I wasn't even sure I meant to say it. But there it was.
Panting, she loosened her hold so that I was standing on my own feet again, dizzily, with only the softest touch of her hand in the small of my back to steady me, and leaned back to look me in the eyes. "Blood? Or sex?"
Crap. "Sex. Maybe blood."
I couldn't read her expression–her face was in shadows. "Well. That's a switch."
"True. But... I want you, Ivy. Not just your pheromones."
"Glad to hear it. But sex without blood, that might be hard." She mulled over this for a moment. "Not as much as the other way around, though."
"Good." I knew Ivy really wanted both, but I was still afraid of being bound. And blood without sex had nearly killed me, more than once.
I kissed her again, open-mouthed, and she bit my lower lip, just hard enough to hurt. Suddenly I was back on Kisten's boat, the smell of dust in my nostrils, strong hands holding me against the wall- I pushed Ivy away, hard, and collapsed onto the grass, slowly curling into a ball, shaking. I knew he wasn't there, but I could feel his hands on me, his teeth on my lip, trying to bind me.
"Rachel? Rachel, are you all right?"
I opened my eyes. Ivy was standing over me, frozen. Her eyes were mostly black, probably from my fear. It's not him, I told myself. She wouldn't do that to you. You're safe. I almost believed it.
"I'm sorry," I sobbed. "It's not you, it's him."
"I had a flashback. The vamp that killed Kisten."
"Art? That bastard!" Ivy crouched down next to me, still not touching me. "That's right, he bit your lip, didn't he? I'm sorry, I wasn't thinking!"
I nodded, the fear gradually subsiding. "It's not your fault."
"Is there anything I can do? Do you want to go home?"
I shook my head, forcing myself to uncurl a little, to sit up. "Not yet. Just... don't go."
Ivy nodded, the blacks of her eyes beginning to shrink. She sat in the grass next to me, just barely not touching me.
"Sorry I'm so messed up." I said.
"It's fine. Anyone would feel awful after what he tried to do to you."
I hazarded a look at her face. Her eyes were sad, and she wore a sort of flat, weary expression. I remembered that she'd been through similar things, that she knew how it was. And though I would never have wished that on her, somehow her understanding made me feel a little bit better, like I wasn't weak, or at least not in a shameful way.
"Maybe we should head back," I said.
She smiled at me sort of sadly and we left, driving a bit more slowly this time. When we got back to the church, Ivy hesitated on the doorstep, as if unsure.
"Do you want me here, or would it be better if I left?" she asked.
My hand on the doorknob was shaky; I forced it to be still. "Stay?" My voice came out in a squeak. I stepped inside.
"Okay." She followed me in, closing the door behind her much more quietly than usual.
I walked into the kitchen, flipped on all the lights, and sunk down on the couch. I was feeling a bit better, but still shaken and vulnerable.
"Do you need anything? Water, tea, something to eat?"
"Water, I guess."
The sight of her bustling around in the kitchen, at carefully human speed, was kind of comforting in its ordinariness.
"Are you doing that vamp nurturing thing?"
"Maybe. It's the only part of vamp instincts I actually like." Her fingertips brushed mine as she handed me the glass of water.
"I don't blame you." I took a sip of water. "I wish my life wasn't so damn complicated."
She sat down next to me. "Welcome to the club."
"Sorry it took me so long to see that this wasn't a bad kind of complicated." I gestured to the space between us, as though we were linked.
She nodded, smiled a little. "Wait until you try coming out, though. If you do. That's a bad kind of complicated."
"Yeah? I thought vampires didn't care about that kind of stuff?"
"Well, my mom reminded me that I have to give her an heir." Ivy grimaced. "That was the worst I heard from vamps. But witches, Weres, and humans tend to be a bit more traditional... I lost a friend after I started dating Skimmer. Most people eventually come around, but there's a few nasty comments from time to time. So I wasn't out at the IS, though probably most of the vamps knew."
"Just between you and me, vamps gossip more than pixies."
I snorted at the mental image that evoked.
"I'm serious! Reputation is everything with vamps, and information... or rumors... can make or break you. That's part of how I ended up working with you, actually."
"How's that?" Now I was really intrigued. It was rare for Ivy to open up about... well, much of anything, and I still didn't know much about her life before she met me.
"Ah, sorry, I really shouldn't have mentioned anything. It involves Art."
My heartbeat sped up at the mention of his name, but I said, "I'm not afraid of him. He's dead."
Ivy looked me in the eye. "You are afraid of him. Or what he tried to do to you. It's nothing to be ashamed of. You can't fool me, Rachel. I always know." She looked away, far into somewhere I couldn't see. "Maybe it would be better if I didn't."
"But then you'd be a different person. Not the person I... I love." It was harder saying that than I would have expected. It didn't used to be, but then, I hadn't always loved her in the same way, had I? Hadn't always wanted to... date her? Marry her, maybe? I didn't know what I wanted, but I realized that at some point, I don't know when, Ivy had worked her way into my ideal future. Whether I imagined myself opening a shop or staying a runner, marrying or staying single, having kids or not... she was there. Somewhere. In every future I could imagine wanting. I reached out and touched her hand, hesitating a moment before taking it.
"Can I give you a hug?
Surprised that she would ask, I just nodded. She wrapped her arms around me, gently, a lover's hug. I clung on as though I might blow away. We stayed like that for quite a while, and by the time we let go I felt a little bit better. Ivy stayed that night, sleeping on the couch, though I told her she didn't have to.
The next morning, I woke up early, very sleepy but in a good mood. I walked into the kitchen, still half asleep, my hair falling into my eyes.
I gave a start, heart pounding, and spun around to see Ivy sitting on the couch, a glass of orange juice in one hand. I stared at her a moment, not remembering why she was there, until the previous night all came flooding back. I flushed.
Ivy quirked an eyebrow. "You all right?"
"Yeah, I... thanks for last night."
"It was the least I could do."
I got out the coffee grounds, started the coffee maker. "You want some?"
"No. Actually, I should probably go back to my place and shower," she said.
"You could shower here."
Ivy got up and stretched. "No, I'd have to wear my dirty clothes. Or your clothes, which would be an even worse idea."
"Even if we're sharing blood?"
Ivy froze. "Are you asking me to bite you?"
I considered this. Had I really just made up my mind? It felt right, and I wanted it, but what if I regretted it later?
"Yes, I am."
Ivy took one last sip of her juice and set down the glass, the blacks of her eyes growing. "And you remember my conditions?"
I nodded. "Ivy, I want all of you."
She strutted over to me with something of the air of a big cat closing in for the kill and ran her fingertips over the scar on my neck ever so lightly. It was the first time she'd touched it in ages, and I gasped with the shock of it. Then she pulled me into a kiss, hard, urgent, pressing her body to mine, the smell of incense filling my nostrils and setting my scar ablaze.
She pulled away, drawing a ragged breath. "Are you sure about this?"
All I could do was nod and cling to her, my head spinning and my knees weak. After a moment, I managed to say, "but maybe... my room?"
In lieu of a response, Ivy swept me up into a fireman's carry. At another time, I might have protested, but instead I just clung to her, feeling her strength as she easily carried me to my room and sat me down on my bed. With the touch of one finger under my chin she tilted my head up. Her long hair was loose, and it whispered past my face, mingling with mine as she kissed me softly on the lips, as though I might break at too rough a touch. Then she pulled back and unbuttoned her vest, ever so slowly, running her tongue over her teeth, lingering on each fang. Once the vest was off, she unzipped and lowered her pants, kicking them off to move back into me.
I was fiddling with the buttons on my nightshirt, but my fingers weren't cooperating and I'd only gotten the top button undone. She put her hands over mine. They were warm and just a little callused, and with a gentle pressure she guided my hands until we had undone the last button. Then she pushed the fabric aside and kissed a line from my neck to the waistband of my pyjamas. On the last kiss, she sucked on the skin, sending a wave of heat down to my groin, and I groaned.
"Ivy..." I pulled off my top and reached for her, but I wasn't sure what to do with my hands. I'd never slept with a woman before.
Ivy put her hands on my shoulders and pushed me back onto the bed, straddling my right leg. I took that as encouragement and pressed it into her, drawing a gasp. I pushed her over, rolling on top of her, and ground my thigh into her groin again. Then I leaned in and ever so gently took her earlobe in my teeth, licking it with the tip of my tongue. She jerked and wrapped her arms around me, pressing her body into mine, and a part of me would have been happy with just that closeness.
But the rest of me was really enjoying the effect I was having on Ivy, not to mention the vamp pheromones filling the air, making my scar throb in time with my heartbeat, and having lost my grip on one of her ears I nibbled on the other, using one hand to hold myself up and the other to trace lines across her belly, just above her waistband, her muscles quivering at my touch.
"Rachel," she groaned.
I leaned back to look her in the eyes. "What?"
"Bite me." She was almost begging, and it was all the invitation I needed. I kissed her neck, then ran my teeth along her skin towards her collarbone. She was squirming under me and one hand found my butt, squeezing it so that I twitched and bit her harder than I meant to. She arced into me, gripping tighter. I ached to feel her teeth in me, wanted it more, perhaps, than I ever had. I reached under her waistband, exploring, and felt as much as heard a rush of indrawn air as a finger slipped between her lips.
"Harder," she said, and I wasn't sure if she meant my teeth or my hands, so I assumed both. She squirmed at my touch, but I held on.
"Rachel," she gasped, "if you keep doing that I'll have to bite you."
I released her neck and gave her a kiss, sloppily. "Good. I want you to." My scar was singing with anticipation and I was as wet as she was, though she hadn't touched me below the waist.
And suddenly she was on top of me. Her eyes were completely black, and there was a wildness to her expression, a hungry predator barely chained. She pushed my pajama pants and underwear out of the way and explored me with her hands, tenderly at first, but growing in urgency as I did the same to her. Waves of pleasure coursed through me and I distractedly thought it was a good thing I was lying down.
And then she bit me.
There was a twinge of pain, at first–even vamp saliva doesn't completely override it–but then it became pleasure. All the pleasure of years of anticipation compressed into one moment. It coursed through my body before expanding out into my aura as it mingled with hers, pleasure that flowed into pure joy, then layered itself with the softness, the strength, the richness of her love. I was afire with it.
For one long, incandescent moment, our auras were one. Ivy's love washed over me, with all her joy, her pain, her trust, her gratitude. There was no I, no her, just us. And instead of the pain of separation, as we had felt before, what came next was the languor of waking slowly from a beautiful dream into the arms of a lover.
I turned over on my unbitten side and curled up, spent. Ivy gave my bite one last lick and kissed my cheek before curling around me and wrapping her arm around my belly, sending a feeling of contentment washing over me. We lay like that for a few minutes before either of us spoke.
"Mmm?" She propped herself up on her elbow to look at me.
"That was..." My brow furrowed. I was having trouble finding words. "That was beautiful." I grinned at her, proud of myself.
She kissed me on the lips and pulled away quickly. "You're beautiful."
She grinned, a goofy, carefree grin that was probably the mirror of mine. It made her all the more gorgeous, and my breath caught in my throat. I kissed her back.
"You should do that more often," I said.
"Do what? Bite you? Kiss you?" Her grin took a playful edge but her eyes were still a calm brown.
"No. Well, yes. But I mean, you should smile more." I sat up, looking down at her.
She sat up too. "If I could see myself the way you see me all the time, maybe I would."
I took her hands in mine. "It must have been hard for you, seeing my feelings the last time you bit me."
"It was. Or rather, it was hard afterward, knowing that you loved me but that you couldn't–or wouldn't–act on it. But you're here now."
The last bit was said in a voice of wonderment, of disbelief that nearly broke my heart. So I held her hand to my lips and kissed it and said, "I'm not going anywhere. Sorry it took me so long."
"Me either. I'm glad I didn't scare you off."
"After all this time, do you really think you can scare me away?"
Ivy gave a dry chuckle and patted my hand. "Maybe not." She stood up and started to get dressed.
"Are you leaving?" That came out a bit more mournful than intended.
"I do have to go, but not right away. I'm getting you something to eat."
I frowned at that. "No brimstone."
"You don't need it anyway. I didn't take much. But you should still eat something. And wait a little before standing up."
"I feel fine."
"All the same. Humor me? It's like donating blood, if you've ever done that."
I shook my head. "Rare blood disease, remember? I'm not eligible."
"Ah. True. Well, they make you eat a cookie or a granola bar, drink something, and wait awhile before leaving."
"Vamps give blood? I mean, in blood drives?" This was news to me.
"Living vamps, yes. We can take infusions from humans, too, but only donate for other vamps."
"Couldn't you just… drink it?"
"Common misconception. It doesn't work that way. For living vamps, anyway. Though drinking it does help with the healing factor."
While I digested this information, she vanished into the kitchen, reappearing moments later with a glass of orange juice and a muffin, as well as a little first aid kit. She wiped off my bite with some kind of antiseptic that didn't even hurt before putting on a bandage. With that done, she handed me the muffin. I poked it dubiously with one fingertip. It looked like the ones in the fridge and was cold to the touch. I didn't think it contained brimstone.
"Relax. I'm not slipping you anything. I took less blood than what you'd give as a donation. Even without brimstone you'll feel back to normal in a few hours at the most, as long as you don't run around too much."
I bit the muffin. It tasted exactly as expected–a somewhat overly sweet blueberry muffin from the human-run grocery store. I gulped it down, along with the juice, under Ivy's watchful gaze. As soon as I was done, she picked up the tray and headed towards the door.
Seeing her standing like that, happy and self-possessed, profiled against the partial daylight coming through the curtains, took my breath away. I wanted to tell her, but what came out was, "You have a nice butt."
"Mmm. Play your cards right and I might let you touch it again." She leaned over and kissed me. "I really want to take you out again sometime," she said, breathing it into my ear and making me shiver. "Now stay put."
Damn, she knew how to press my buttons. But she took her load into the kitchen, and when she came back, she had her bag. "I'm sorry to leave like this," she said, "But I need to swing by my place."
I stood up slowly and gave her a hug. Her arms around me were gentle, loving. Turn take it, I'd missed touching her. And now, I realized, I could touch her all I wanted. Well, as long as she let me.
She extricated herself from the hug. "I really do have to go, Rachel."
"Okay. Call me later?"
"No problem." With that, she left the room. I could hear her footsteps, then a shuffling as she put on her boots, then the sound of the door. I was alone again, and to be honest, I needed a shower as well.
I dawdled in the shower, enjoying the languorous feeling she'd left me with. After I stepped out, I took a moment to inspect the bite Ivy had given me. It was red, but already starting to close. Vamp saliva would do that to you. I chucked the waterlogged bandage in the trash.
I got dressed, carefully not touching my bite, and headed to the kitchen, filling a mug with coffee long since gone cold, which I reheated with a quick charm before raiding the fridge. I got out some eggs, as well as a jar of my homemade salsa. I got the eggs started before taking a swig of the coffee. Then the phone rang. Maybe that's Ivy, I thought, turning the heat down under the eggs and heading to my office to check on it.
Jenks was already there. "Trent! What's that son of a cookie maker want anyway?"
"Let it ring. I don't want to deal with him before breakfast."
Jenks flitted over to me. He was wearing a green shirt I didn't recognize, perhaps made by Belle. It looked good on him. "Hey Rache. Sounded like you two were having a good time earl- IS THAT A NEW BITE?"
My hand flew up to cover it, and I forced it back down again. I was not ashamed of it, I told myself. "Yes. I asked Ivy to bite me."
"Are you all right? Is she?"
I nodded. "We're fine, Jenks. You heard what we were doing." I felt myself turning red, but Jenks knew about it without me telling him, the nosy pixy.
Jenks nodded his understanding."Ah, you did it her way. And you're fine? Do you need some brimstone?"
"Relax. She didn't take very much. I feel great." And I did–content and not even a little wobbly anymore.
Jenks landed on my shoulder. "I'm still not sure this is a good idea."
"Neither am I, but it felt right, at least. And everything is fine, I promise. She went to Nina's place to change and she's going to call me later. Now can I go eat my breakfast before it gets cold?"
"Sure," he said, taking off. "I'll be in the garden."
By the time I'd finished my breakfast and done the dishes, I'd forgotten all about Trent's call. I settled down on the couch with one of my demon texts–I was still looking for a way to give undead vamps their souls back, but it was slower going without Al's help. I'd looked through these texts many times before, but I was hoping that I'd see something I'd missed.
A few pages in, I was already struggling with the Latin, in spite of all my recent progress. I was so deep in concentration that at first I didn't register that the doorbell ringing was ours. Sighing, I went to get it, and who should it be but Trent.
I shut the door in his face. He banged on it.
"Rachel, I'm here to apologize!"
I opened the door a crack. He was wearing one of his tailored suits, even though he probably didn't have to anymore. Maybe he thought it would impress me. If so, he was wrong. "Well?"
"I, uh... look, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said what I did about Ivy."
"She's a good person and a good runner. From what I can tell, she's been a good friend to you." He looked down, shuffled his feet in his expensive shoes. "I guess I can see why your loyalty to her would come first. It is one of the things I like about you, after all."
I opened the door a bit wider, leaned up against the doorframe with my arms crossed. "Is it really?"
He looked me in the eye. Damn, I'd almost forgotten how green his eyes were, like falling into a forest. "It is. You're loyal, honest, and you don't take anyone's crap. Before I met you, the only person who stood up to me was Quen. I thought anyone could be bought. I was wrong. You, though... you don't switch sides unless you have a very good reason, and you don't abandon your friends. You stand by them, even when it's hard. Even when you have to give up everything for it." He sighed, and I caught a whiff of cinnamon.
"Trent..." Something in my heart gave a twist and part of me wanted to wrap my arms around him. He just looked so lonely.
"Let me finish." He took a deep breath. "Rachel, we were good together. When I was with you, I was as close as I've ever been to being who I want to be. I miss that. I miss you. Will you give me another chance?"
He seemed earnest, and it was a good apology. Part of me wanted to take him back right that instant, to let bygones be bygones. Another part of me hesitated.
"Look, I... I'm dating Ivy now. She'd be fine with me dating you at the same time, but I'm not sure that I should."
He seemed to deflate as I said that, and his eyes slid to my neck, widening at the bite.
"I'm not saying never, I just need time to think. But for what it's worth, I'm not angry anymore. It might not be the same, but if you need my help, you can call me. Okay?"
"Okay. If you don't mind my asking, is she... are you-?" His eyes kept flicking between my face and my bite, and I fought the urge to cover it with my hand.
"Yes, we're sharing blood, not that it's any of your business." I said this in a tone that made it non-negotiable, even though it still scared me a little.
"Okay. Well, um, take care of yourself. I'll see you later, I guess." He returned to his car and got in. I caught a glimpse of Quen waving at me. I waved back at him before shutting the door.
Ivy takes Rachel out again, and Rachel has to make some big decisions.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
True to her word, Ivy took me out on another date less than a week later. I took a long time picking clothes, knowing that whatever I wore, Ivy would outclass me. She'd have said if we were going someplace really fancy, but I still wanted to look nice. And I had another decision to make–would I use the illusion charm that sat uninvoked on my nightstand to hide like the last time we'd gone out? I didn't want to. But I didn't want my photo plastered across the tabloids again, and every reporter and paparazzi in the Tri-State Area probably knew what I looked like. I could picture the headlines: "Rachel Morgan Gay? Demon Dumps Kalamack for Vamp."
I sighed. I could handle the press, after all my years of experience, but I didn't enjoy it. I pulled on my favorite pair of jeans, the ones that made my ass look amazing, and a black scoop-neck top... then yanked it off and glowered at the growing pile of clothing on my bed. Normally, I would have asked Ivy for clothing advice, but, well...
The doorbell rang. "Ah, turn it all!" I pulled the shirt on again and went to deal with whoever it was, cross that my preparations had been interrupted.
It was Ivy, and she looked me up and down – messy hair, rumpled top, and all – with some amusement. She, on the other hand, was sleek and well-groomed as ever.
I flushed. "You're early."
"I guess I am. Mind if I come inside?"
"Do you even have to ask? But sure. Come in. I've still got to finish getting ready-"
"I can see that," she said, stepping inside.
"And where are we going, anyway?" Maybe that would help me prepare.
"Oh, up the river. I know a spot. It's pretty private – no need for a disguise, once we're there. You might want to bring a jacket."
"And how are we getting there? My car, or your bike?" I popped into the bathroom, looked at my hair in the mirror, and sighed before picking up my comb and trying to make the best of a humid day.
"Well, if we go on my bike, you can wear a helmet instead of a charm. I doubt anyone will interrupt us once we get there."
"True..." but Ivy's riding always scared the heck out of me. "I'll bring the charm anyway." I put down my comb, knowing that I wasn't going to get my hair to look any better, and went to my bedroom to grab my red leather jacket.
"Suit yourself. But you know... I think if you wear that no one will need to see your face to recognize you."
I put it down and rifled through my closet again. I could wear a sweater, but it seemed a little dorky, or a jeans jacket, but that might be too matchy-matchy... I ended up picking a sweater anyway—not the Christmas one with the sparkly, slightly possessed-looking reindeer, but a cardigan with red and white stripes. What can I say, I like red. I tucked the charm, still inactive, into my purse, along with my splat gun. Not that I expected trouble, but better safe than sorry.
"All ready?" asked Ivy, looking me up and down, her eyes lingering suggestively on certain spots.
I flushed. Should have been used to it by then, after all this time living with her, when she'd never hidden her interest in me, but I wasn't. "Any time."
It was always a rush riding with Ivy. Not always the good kind of rush, but invigorating all the same. It was warm out, but the wind cut through my sweater as we rode along. We crossed over the river into Kentucky, and must have turned west at some point, though after a while I stopped paying attention to the turns. Eventually we parked near a little stream, and Ivy lead me off the path into the woods. I was glad I'd worn walking shoes.
We walked for a while in silence, listening to the sounds of the birds. I heard something skittering in the undergrowth, but turned to slowly to see it. Ivy, as always, was quicker.
"It was just a lizard," she said. "It's not much farther now."
We left the woods and stepped into a clearing. I could hear running water, and sure enough, a little stream cut through.
"What do you think?" asked Ivy.
"It's nice." I found a flat rock and sat down on it.
Ivy settled down next to me and put an arm around my waist. I leaned against her. She felt solid, dependable.
"You know, Trent called me the other day," said Ivy.
"What for?" I turned to look her in the eye. The tree above us cast shadows over her face as its branches moved in the breeze.
"To apologize. He said he'd spoken out of jealousy. I was surprised."
I was too. I hadn't known Trent to apologize often, and the fact that he'd reached out to Ivy to make things right went much farther towards redeeming him in my eyes than the fact that he'd apologized to me. The old Trent would have tried to ply me with gifts, not that that had ever been a good tactic, even when I was dead broke. Of course, at the moment he didn't have the money for that kind of gesture, but I liked to think he'd changed.
"Huh. He's really changed. Maybe I should take him back, after all."
A flash of some emotion crossed Ivy's face. "Hmm."
She shook her head. "Nothing. I was just getting used to having you all to myself, I guess."
"I'm not going anywhere, you know."
"I know, but..."
"You're afraid I'll use this as an excuse to run away again." A bitter laugh escaped me. "I won't say I didn't want to, at first." I'm still scared. "But this... as lost as I am, this feels right. I-"
Ivy cupped her hand under my chin. I found myself gazing into her earth-brown eyes, lost in the softness of her touch. Then she kissed me, softly leaving me with the lingering feeling of her lips on mine as she pulled away. I shook it off–I wanted to finish.
"Al told me I was afraid of desire, once. He was almost right."
Ivy leaned in, her eyes intent.
"I'm afraid of... of commitment. Of losing control. Of leaving my comfort zone. I knew–I know– exactly how much I have to lose." People I loved had a nasty habit of dying on me. "I didn't know how much I had to gain." I gave Ivy a lopsided smile. "I want Trent back, but it scares me and I feel like I'm being greedy, trying to make up for lost time."
"You've got every right. After all, you only live once."
I gaped. Was Ivy really joking about it? She must be in a good mood.
"You do realize I could live practically forever, right? Every time I transform, it resets my biological clock. I'm the youngest demon by about five thousand years."
"It had occurred to me. But five thousand years is a long time. Most vamps don't make it anywhere near that long."
"That's because their loved ones are dead. Or undead. And because they don't have souls."
"Always the tactful one."
I flushed. "What I'm saying is, if you still want me to be your scion I'll do it."
She was shocked, I could tell. "Are.. are you sure? This is a big decision. You can take as long as you want thinking it over."
"Sounds more like you're the one who wants to think it over," I said. Not that the thought didn't still scare me.
"I... you know what, yes. Let's wait." She cleared her throat. "If you want dinner later, I know a place. Unless you want to go back into town."
I was both disappointed and relieved that she hadn't taken me up on my offer right away. Relieved because she was right, it was a big step, but disappointed because I knew it was the right decision. It wasn't just, like I'd feared, the pleasure of being bitten, or the bliss when our auras had become one (though that was certainly an incentive) but the way I missed her when she wasn't there. The way I trusted her the way I trusted hardly anyone, right down to my bones. The way I felt when she looked at me. And a million other little things that all added up to her place in my life. I found myself staring at her, and looked away. She must have noticed.
"Let's stay here a while, and worry about that later," I said. I repositioned myself on the rock.
She nodded. A light breeze ruffled her hair, and her eyes on me were warm.
Then she kissed me, softly, as though we had all the time in the world to savor it. With the sunlight weakening her vampiric abilities, it was romantic rather than seductive.
Maybe that's why she'd wanted to go out so early.
I pulled her against me, wrapped my arms around her waist. A strand of her hair escaped her bun and brushed against my cheek. An energy seemed to flow between us, not urgent, but soft, like the stream.
Then I heard the unmistakable put-put-put of a motorboat, and hurriedly pulled away.
"Crap!" I fumbled in my bag for the charm. I had to activate it before they came into view.
"Relax," said Ivy, almost laughing. "They won't see us from the river."
"Oh." Ruefully, I put back the charm and looked at the creek. It was too shallow for a boat, and too narrow in places, I could see that now. "Sorry."
"Hey, don't worry about it." She stroked my hair. "I don't want you to have to get outed by some jerk, either."
"I feel bad about making you hide," I said.
"Don't worry about it. Really. I mean it." She hugged me, and I relaxed into her grip. "I'm just glad I can be with you. I said you should take your time deciding who to tell and when, and I meant it."
With her arms wrapped around me, the breeze playing in my hair, and the sound of the stream and of birds in the air, somehow those questions didn't seem quite so important anymore.
It's been so long since I've worked on this one that I don't quite understand my original notes anymore. Of course, the reason I took a break from this story is that I couldn't figure out how to wrap it up the way I wanted, so perhaps that's just as well. Expect the fifth and final chapter in the near future.
Chapter 5: Epilogue
When I did come out, it was, miraculously, on my own terms. I'd told Mom and Donald, who were supportive, and Robbie, who didn't reply to my message. I'd even been (re-) introduced to Ivy's family, which was slightly less harrowing than expected... but only slightly.
I'd patched things up with Trent too, more or less, though there was a degree of mutual wariness there that felt a little too much like the bad old days. I hoped that would melt away, in time.
And I knew we couldn't keep it a secret for long, so, with Ivy's help, I found a reporter—one I'd never tangled with before, a living vamp from New York who worked for a national gay and lesbian magazine, and offered her an interview.
By email. Accompanied by a photo of me, taken by a professional photographer, that I was even reasonably happy with (Ivy insisted on keeping a copy).
It seemed like the least of the possible evils.
That didn't stop my heart from pounding as I unwrapped my print copy of the issue. I'd rated a mention on the front cover, but not a photo—that honor was taken by a human movie star who was running a fundraiser for at-risk LGBT youth. I spent a moment admiring his high cheekbones, dazzling smile, and flawless dark skin, and trying to remember what movie I'd seen him in last—was it the one with the aliens or the romance movie—before realizing that I was stalling.
The title was fairly innocuous: "Rachel Morgan Comes Out: Inderland's Newest Bi Icon?" but I knew the content would shock some—both humans and witches still tended to more conservative about open relationships and bisexuality than vampires were—but the people that mattered already knew, and most of the conservatives probably already hated me, as an actual demon.
And it was better than fighting rumors for months or years, which is what would have happened otherwise.
Not that it had been easy to convince myself of the necessity of it—running seemed more natural. I'd certainly done enough of it in my time.
I skimmed the article, though I'd read a copy earlier. Maybe I'd jumped the gun. Maybe I should have waited. Maybe I didn't need to tell anyone. This wasn't something I'd had to think about before.
I set the magazine down, not wanting to think about it.
Was it my imagination, or did the gray-haired man I passed on the way to the store (a witch, by the scent of redwood) give me a look? No, it would probably take a while before most people heard about it. There was a reason we hadn't picked a more mainstream publication... besides the fact that I knew, and disliked, many of the reporters for the local news.
But when I got to the checkout counter, the cashier, a young blonde with stretched ears, did give me a funny look, then leaned in closer and whispered to me.
"I read the article. Congratulations!"
I smiled back at her as she scanned my purchases, but internally I groaned.
And sure enough, over the next few days there was a knowing look here and there, a few whispers, more dirty looks than usual... but I still had enough of a reputation that no one said anything nasty to my face. I ran into an acquaintance from college, Sarah something or the other, who looked me up and down and said she'd always known I "swung that way".
That stung, somehow, more than the dirty looks.
And then, a lmost a week after the article came out, the letters started to come. Some were abrasive, even abusive. That didn't surprise me. But not all of them were from conservatives. There were a couple that claimed I was setting the gay cause back a decade or more. They weren't very coherent, but I gathered that they objected to being associated with a demon.
At that point I stopped reading the letters, stopped looking at them, even.
But there were a few that were different. Apparently I had fans.
One of them, from a teenage girl in Wyoming, probably an Inderlander, but she didn't say. The pages were rippled, water damaged in spots. She said she was inspired by me.
That one, I answered, once I found the words.