DISCLAIMER: These characters belong to Kim Harrison. No copyright infringement is intended.
SPOILERS: Spoilers for The Outlaw Demon Wails and Two Ghosts for Sister Rachel, the short story in Holidays Are Hell.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Just Stay With Me
The flat of Ivy's hand slapped into my cheek. It immediately exploded into a burst of stinging pain that made my face feel twice its usual size. I didn't hesitate to respond, dropping to the floor without a second thought and scissoring my legs with hers. Our legs tangled and Ivy fell. I was already pushing myself back up to a standing position even as she fell. I was a half-second ahead of her and if I didn't maintain that advantage I was in for a world of hurt.
I pushed myself harder and faster, diving back into the fight.
Ivy came up swinging, but I was prepared. I blocked her first two shots and ducked under the third. Slipping past her, I snapped my leg out to connect with her hip. She staggered off balance and moved with a speed I couldn't follow to push herself off of the wall. Ivy caught my foot and snapped it in the opposite direction of my momentum.
For a second time, I fell hard. Ivy was on top of me before I could breathe. We wrestled for an instant. Her bare foot slipped against the well polished wooden floor and I took advantage of her rare moment of distraction to break her hold. I stumbled a few feet away and then stopped.
Ivy lunged towards me again.
"Ivy, wait," I managed to get the words out around several panted breaths. Fortunately, Ivy halted almost immediately. She slumped slightly over herself, but unlike me there was no sweat trickling down her face, and she certainly wasn't breathing hard. I shook my head. That was Ivy, all right.
I glanced up again, trying to catch a good look at her eyes in the bright light of the living room. The ring of brown around her pupils had shrunk, but her eyes still showed enough of her normal rich brown that I wasn't worried. Ivy was still firmly in control.
It seemed that with the issue of our blood balance settled for good, some of the uncertainty between us had diminished. Ivy had been the one to suggest that we start sparring again for both of our sakes. It had taken some careful thought and a quick attempt with Jenks present to convince me that we could really do this.
The memory of our last sparring session was burned indelibly into my mind and I never wanted to drive Ivy away again. Sparring wasn't worth it. But it looked as if we could handle this now, and I was happy about that.
I hadn't realized how much I'd missed the time that we shared sparring like this, until we'd started it up on a regular basis again.
I took one last deep breath and slowly exhaled it. With a smile, I gestured for us to start again. The corner of Ivy's lips turned up in a feral smile. My heart lurched. Slowly we circled, watching each other carefully as we paced around each other in the relatively tight confines of the hallway.
A sudden knock at the door broke my concentration. I glanced away and Ivy struck. I barely yanked my head back fast enough to avoid her punch. I hit the wall awkwardly and shoved away from it, instinctively attacking back.
I only had an instant of warning when I felt someone tap a line behind me. I whirled to face the new attacker, forgetting Ivy at my back. Whoever this new person was, they weren't here to spar; not tapping a line uninvited on our front steps.
I was too startled to counter the surge of pure line energy that lashed through the hallway. It swept past me, whipping at my hair and slammed Ivy into the wall with enough force to buckle it. Even after several sessions with Al, I couldn't control ley line energy with this much precision and force.
"Ivy!" My voice broke with worry for Ivy as I ducked down in front of her, shielding her from our attacker even as I tapped a line myself. What I lacked in skill, I certainly made up for it with sheer power. Between the energy I had spindled in my chi and a few tricks that Al had been teaching me, whoever had slammed Ivy into the wall was about to be very, very sorry.
I struck out blindly with the line energy, only catching sight of our attacker an instant later. I choked as desperation and disbelief welled up within me, along with a healthy dose of panic. In an effort that I wasn't even certain would be successful, I tried to suck back all of the energy that I'd hurled out so violently only an instant before.
I screamed as the energy flooded back into me, overloading even the amount of ley line energy that I could safely handle. My head felt as if it were on fire. I sank to the floor, clutching at my head in agony, my eyes squeezed shut. Desperately, I waited for the pain to stop. My head throbbed, pulsing with the remnants of the energy that had surged through me. I couldn't hold in a whimper.
Distantly, I felt Ivy brush past me. Her presence was nothing more than a faint brush of air, as she moved to stand in front of me with vamp speed. I heard another sound, which my pain fogged brain recognized as someone slamming against a wall with bone cracking force.
"Rachel?" Her voice was hard and cold, but underneath it I could hear her concern for me. "Tell me why I shouldn't kill this very foolish witch."
I tried to focus enough to stop panting from the pain. As my breathing slowed, the throbbing pain in my head seemed to be easing up. I took two more slow breaths before I thought I could speak and raised my head. Ivy had her hands clenched around his neck, holding him a foot off the ground.
"Ivy, no," I gasped out breathily, not worried that she wouldn't hear me; her vamp hearing would take care of that. "He's my brother, Robbie." I forced myself to sit up shakily. "My very stupid brother, Robbie," I added under my breath. "Let him go. Please, Ivy." It was both a command and a request.
Ivy let him go abruptly. He slid down the wall and landed awkwardly on his feet.
There was an awkward moment of silence as I struggled to stand, glancing back and forth between Ivy and Robbie. Ivy's eyes were still almost devoid of their usual rich brown color, although the longer she stood, the more color returned. She was still glaring at Robbie, however. I couldn't blame her though. What the Turn had he been thinking, storming into our home like that?
I touched Ivy's elbow for an instant, just long enough to drag her attention away from him.
"Are you okay?"
She nodded. Her lips were pressed into a thin line. The tension in her stance told me more than she would be willing to admit about what damage had been inflicted when Robbie threw her into the wall.
"What's he doing here?"
I shook my head. "I don't know." Ivy had an excellent point. I had no idea what Robbie was doing here. The last that I'd heard he was in Portland. Mom and Takata had visited him a few months ago to meet that woman that he was getting serious with. Or at least that was what I'd heard. We hadn't spoken much since I'd joined the I.S.
"What are you doing here, Robbie?" I asked, finally turning to face my brother.
He frowned. "Mom said I should come see you."
I shrugged in response to his obvious lack of enthusiasm. We had been close as kids - out of necessity if nothing else. Robbie had been my defacto babysitter as a child. Not many other people could be expected to put up with the special needs that I'd had. We'd presented a mostly united front against our parents and the world, getting into trouble and trying to get away with as much as we could under the nose of careful parental surveillance. He'd been my hero, especially after Dad died.
That hadn't lasted long after I'd decided to join the I.S. and we hadn't spoken since. He couldn't seem to remember me as anything but the fragile, sick child that I'd been. That was the reason that we'd barely spoken in years. The last time I'd seen him, his lack of support had cut too deeply. I'd changed a lot since then, however.
Not only had I joined the I.S., but I'd met Ivy and then left the I.S. as well. Everything that happened before it seemed to pale in comparison to what happened after that. Demons and Nick, finding and losing Kisten, and finding out that Trent's father had fixed me a little bit too much. It didn't make Robbie's lack of support hurt any less, but it did give me a little bit of perspective on things.
"Rache? What in the name of Tink's Disney mansion is going on in here?"
Jenks flashed into the room in a shower of sparkling red dust, with his sword drawn. There was no question that my pixie backup and landlord was pissed. I couldn't blame him. It looked as if Robbie had done some damage to more than just Ivy with that ley line blow.
I shook my head. This just kept getting better.
"Jenks. This is my brother, Robbie." I realized, distantly, that Robbie still hadn't answered my question. "Robbie, this is my partner, Jenks." The last part was said more for Jenks benefit than Robbie's. Even nearly a year later, I was still sensitive about the time Jenks had spent away from us, feeling as if he were unworthy and not a valued part of our operation. Ivy and I wouldn't let it happen again.
"You should apologize, Robbie. You came in here and blasted Ivy. You're lucky she hasn't called the I.S."
Okay, so that last part was completely untrue. Calling the I.S. was the last thing that Ivy or I would ever do, but Robbie didn't know that. It was what any sane witch would do. Or alternately any witch who hadn't been under the threat of I.S. sanctioned vamp assassins less than a year before.
"Apologize?" His voice was rough with anger and outrage. "What should I apologize for? That vamp was throwing you around the room."
I winced. Maybe I hadn't been holding my own as well as usual. I'd been spending more time with Al lately, and less keeping in shape. I didn't think it had gone that badly, though. I made a mental note that I needed to spar with Ivy more and start running again. Every since they'd kicked me out of the Make-A-Wish camp for not dying quickly enough, I'd tried to stay in as good of shape as possible.
"She wasn't throwing me around the room," I said sharply. "We were sparring, Robbie. It helps us both keep in shape for when a run goes sour."
Ivy laughed softly, and I shivered as I felt the sound of her voice go down my spine like a caress. "If you planned your runs better, you wouldn't have to use those skills so much."
"I do plan," I protested sharply. "It's not my fault that my targets don't always follow the plan."
Robbie was looking between us with a mixture of confusion and disbelief. I tried not to imagine what he would think of Al. It was probably best if he didn't find out about my demon teacher just yet. Ivy slipped past me into the kitchen, her exit marked only by the whisper of bare feet on the wooden floor.
"I'll make some coffee," she called over her shoulder. I glanced behind me, catching her eye and smiling to let her know that I appreciated the gesture.
"I thought you'd left the I.S.?" Robbie's question brought me sharply back to the conversation at hand.
"Then why are you still taking runs?"
I pointed vaguely towards the door behind us. "Vampiric Charms - an independent runner service. We take the jobs the I.S. don't want or can't solve."
Robbie looked frustrated now, a faint tinge of red rising in his cheeks. We shared the same pale coloring that made our emotions clearly visible on our faces.
"I thought you left the I.S. to get out of that life."
I tried not to roll my eyes.
"She left the faerie-loving I.S. because they were only giving her crap runs that were way below her skills. They were trying to force her out. She's just lucky she got out when she did."
Jenks impassioned defense both surprised and warmed me. I shot the fluttering pixie a grateful look. He smiled in response, his wings beating quickly as he came over to land on my shoulder.
I cocked my head so I could see him and caught the accusing glare that he directed towards Robbie. "Rachel and Ivy are the only partners that I'll work with."
I blinked, suddenly have to push back the tears that Jenks unexpected words had brought to my eyes. Pixies demanded loyalty in their partners and gave it like no one else. It made Jenks words doubly important; I hadn't realized how much loosing his trust last year had hurt.
I turned sharply, sending Jenks fluttering into the air to catch his balance, and headed towards my room at the back of the church. I needed to get away for a minute. There was no way that I could let Jenks or Robbie see me cry. Robbie would just have to deal with it for a minute. He was the one who'd come barging in here after all. He could just take his chances with Ivy. For a change, I was actually hoping that she might drive a man away.
Leaving the door to my room open just a crack so that I could catch the dim murmur of voices drifting back from the kitchen, I slowly pulled off my clothes and glanced through the closet for something to change into. A quick glance at the clock reminded me that I only had a few more hours before the sun sank and my time with Al began. I didn't think he'd be inclined to give me a break just because my brother was in town, and as much as I liked any excuse not to spend time with Al, I wasn't sure how much time I actually wanted to spend with Robbie.
After a quick glance between my options, I decided on my working leathers. The ever-after wasn't a witch friendly destination, even if I was nominally under Al's and somewhat more generally Newt's protection. The leathers would also give that extra edge of protection against certain environmental hazards. I also had a suspicion that seeing me dressed like this would piss Robbie off, but that was just a bonus.
Checking my bag, I made sure that my spelling supplies and my splat gun were all ready to go. Al was horrible when I made him wait when he came to pick me up from the line. Last week Al had said that I was just about ready to try jumping the lines on my own; it was the first good news I'd had since he'd taken me on as a student.
There was a soft knock on my door and I whirled sharply to face the intruder. The sharp retort on the tip of my tongue died as I realized that it was Ivy, not Robbie as I'd been expecting.
"Hey." I acknowledged her presence quietly, tilting my head and gesturing for her to come on in as I went back to throwing things haphazardly into my bag. It's not like it would stay organized anyway.
She slipped silently in behind me. I felt her brush past me and settle on the bed, tucking one leg gracefully underneath her as she did.
"I'm sorry," I didn't look up as I apologized. I hated having to apologize for Robbie. I hated that he'd attacked her in our own church.
"For having a stupid brother? Not your fault," she said with a wry twist of a smile.
I flashed her a grateful look and went back to going through my things.
"He's not so bad." I wondered where that had come from the moment the words left my mouth. I had been fighting back the urge to pound Robbie since he got here, not defend him. I sighed. "We were closer when I was younger." I flopped down on the bed at the corner opposite Ivy. "He was upset when I joined the I.S. He didn't think I could do the job."
A frown creased Ivy's forehead, but she didn't comment.
I shrugged, not wanting to talk about it. Ivy and Jenks knew I'd had Rosewood Syndrome; they didn't know how bad it had been or how much it had affected me. By the time I'd met Ivy, and then Jenks, most of the obvious signs of the illness I'd had as a child had disappeared. I didn't like to think about that time much, or how much I'd had to fight and struggle to get where I was today. I preferred to leave that in the past.
"He made you cry."
The tender concern in Ivy's voice almost brought tears to my eyes again. I shook my head ruthlessly against the tears and stood.
"It was nothing. Just a stupid comment Jenks made."
I reached down to grab my bag and suddenly found myself looking down at Ivy. It was odd staring down at her, instead of looking up into her eyes like I usually did. It made the delicate features of her face suddenly stand out. My breath hitched. I couldn't think, couldn't breathe. I felt like a deer in headlights. She didn't move, except to curl her lips up in a hint of a wry smile.
"Come eat something before Al comes for you." Ivy's deft change of the subject broke the tension of the moment.
I exhaled and slung my bag over my shoulder. "That sounds good. I think there's some spaghetti from last night that I can heat up for us." I hesitated. "Did Robbie leave?"
Ivy stood in a flash of motion that was so abrupt I never saw the transition between sitting and standing. "No. He said he wanted a chance to talk to you."
I made a face in annoyance. Having a serious talk with him while waiting for Al was really the last thing I wanted to do.
Ivy cocked her head towards me, her actions suddenly taking on a predatory smoothness that put fear into the heart of anyone smart enough to notice it. Her pupils dilated and she smiled sharply enough to send an average human screaming back to their regular life in their regular neighborhood.
"Do you want me to make him leave?"
I smiled. It was a tempting thought, but I hadn't gotten this far by letting Ivy take care of my problems for me. It would be too easy, and I knew it would come back to bite me in the ass in the end. Besides, I just couldn't do that.
"No, I appreciate the offer, but no. I'd better see what he wants."
She nodded and waited for me to slip past her and into the hall. She mirrored my movements down the hallway to the kitchen, and for a change, I didn't feel like I was being stalked by my own personal shadow, but rather safely watched over. Her support meant a lot.
Robbie was sitting at the table eying Jenks over the salt shakers. Jenks was flitting back and forth with maddening quickness between the window and the door to the hallway. It was his way of doing sentry duty, keeping himself both between Robbie and his family, and Robbie and myself.
When Jenks saw me enter the kitchen, Ivy at my back, he gave me a quick nod and then disappeared out the window in a flash of red sparkles.
"Be glad I didn't pix you," he snapped menacingly under his breath as he flashed past Robbie.
Ivy managed to hit his chair as she stepped past to take a seat in front of her computer. She'd been forced to get a new one after Rynn Cormel and Al had trashed the kitchen during their fight. However, if the worst thing that came of a visiting demon was a trashed computer, I was one lucky witch indeed.
Robbie cleared his throat, clearly swallowing the comment that he'd been about to direct towards Ivy when he saw the look on my face.
I opened the refrigerator door to pull out the remnants of last night's spaghetti before I spoke.
"What are you doing here, Robbie? Why did you come see me now?"
He sighed. "Rachel...I know you never stopped being mad at me that I didn't support you joining the I.S., but I thought it was ridiculous. I was worried about you, and I was right."
It was the last thing he should have said. I slammed the container of sauce down on the counter loudly and turned to glare at him. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of Ivy's pointedly raised eyebrow.
"All you're doing here is pissing me off, Robbie," I said bluntly. I didn't know what else to say and it was true. He'd been stepping on every nerve I had since the moment he walked into the church.
"That's not what I meant, Rachel," Robbie interjected, standing quickly. "I just meant that the I.S. turned out to not be a very good fit for you and you were very lucky to get out alive. Not many people do."
I glanced to Ivy involuntarily. "I know that."
"So what I'm saying is maybe you should reconsider now that you're not trapped in the I.S. You could be doing so much more, Rachel! You never finished up your education. I could still get you into a college out in Portland. You could move out there. Now that Mom and...Donald," he forced himself to say Takata's name, "Are spending time together, Mom's out there a lot lately. It could be good. I think you'd like it and Mom would worry less."
I snorted at that. "Mom doesn't worry," I stated bluntly. "She encourages me, instead of holding me back." I looked at him pointedly. "She always has."
"Rachel, I know I deserve that, but consider my offer, please?"
"Just consider it." He was pleading. As angry as I was with him, as frustrated as I was by the way that he'd barged into my home, and by his refusal to take me seriously, he was still my brother and I didn't want to hurt him. I didn't actually have to go through with it.
"Fine." I punctuated my statement with a half-shrug. I couldn't deal with this now.
A hiss of breath caught my attention, and I jerked my attention away from Robbie to land on Ivy. She sat frozen for a second before she lurched into motion. She flashed through the kitchen like still frames of motion that were missing the frames in between them and then she was gone.
The conversation replayed through my mind hastily and, in an instant, I knew what was bothering her. She thought I might actually be considering leaving. Driving me away was one of the things that she was frightened of and now I'd made her think that I was actually considering it.
"Damn it back to the Turn," I hissed. This day just kept getting worse. And then I doubled over with a sneeze. I straightened only to be caught by another and then another until my still tender head started pounding again.
"I'm coming," I snarled, knowing that an attack of sneezing like this could only be brought on by one thing. Today it was almost a relief to have Al interrupt. I had to get out of here.
Without a backward glance, I flung myself out the back door and slammed it shut behind me. It would be up to Jenks to deal with Robbie. I hated to dump my problems on him, but Jenks would take care of it either by keeping an eye on Robbie or kicking him out of the church. At the moment I didn't care which option Jenks chose.
I stepped into the ley line and pivoted on my heel until I was facing the same direction as Al. His hand touched my shoulder to form the connection that he would need to take us both into the ever-after. I closed my eyes tightly so that I wouldn't have to look at Al or speak to him. I took a deep breath and forced it back out sharply just in time to open my eyes.
Al chose that moment to pull us through the lines and into the ever-after. It was getting easier every time to hold not only that essential portion of myself, but my body together as we fell through the lines. Al's approving half-nod as we lurched into his new set of rooms made me grin, despite my bad mood. There was nothing like the feeling of making a little bit more progress in my goal to be able to jump lines myself.
Al hadn't threatened my life or any of my family or friends since I'd become his student, but that didn't mean that I would forget what he was capable of overnight. He was a demon who could wreak untold havoc in the ever-after and in my world. He had enslaved Ceri for a thousand years and covered her soul in demon smut. I would be a very happy witch when I could finally get myself home under my own power.
Besides it would be pretty damn cool to be able to pop from one place to another around the world. Think of all the money I could save on airplane tickets.
"Rachel Mariana Morgan." Al snapped my name out sharply. His eyes were hooded. The crushed green velvet suit that he usually wore seemed flat and rumpled. Apart from that, he looked exactly the same as he always did; there was just something in his eyes, something that I couldn't place.
I dropped my bag on the counter between us.
"What's up, Al?"
Al glared through his glowing goat-slitted eyes. "I think it's time for a little review of what you've learned, witch. First lesson?"
I mimed pulling a notebook out of my pocket and flipping through it. "Let's see. Lesson one: If I remember correctly lesson one was always remember that a demon owns everything of their familiar from their marks to their lives."
Al's eyes flashed with rage and menace. Training and instinct met and kicked in. I stepped back from him quickly.
Okay, so I was usually a smart ass. Al was well aware of that tendency and he'd always seemed to like that aspect of my personality even when he was trying to kill me. And he actually had told me to write that down as his first lesson.
"Lesson number two." His voice was sharp, clipped and devoid of his usual English accent.
I nodded. "Right. Lesson number two." My heart thudded in my chest. This was bad, very bad. "Lesson number two was, ah," I fumbled inside my bag until my fingers clenched around a small, stoppered bottle. I gently slipped the stopper off and covered the opening with my thumb.
Snatching my hand out of my bag, I threw the bottle at Al as hard as I could. The small glass bottle shattered when in it him, soaking him with the salt water that it had contained. Even the small amount that I'd had stored in the bottle was enough to break the charm. It dropped in the blink of an eye.
My heart left my throat and plummeted into my stomach. I was one dead witch.
The disgraced demon didn't speak; his expression never shifted as he raised his hand and threw a flaming ball of ley line energy directly towards me.
My hand caught the handle of my bag and I dropped to the floor. As I scrambled along the floor behind the counter, balls of pure ley line energy slammed through the counter, tearing jaggedly into the flooring inches away from me. I took a deep breath and ran for the door.
I almost had it open enough to slip through before Minias slammed it shut with a roar of rage.
"Newt is trying to kill me, witch. All because of you."
My lungs heaved, panting for air more out of fear than from exertion.
"Al, not me. I was only doing what I had to, to stay alive. Seems like you might know something about that, Minias." Anger was starting to flood in and cover the fear. It was stupid. There was more of a chance, not less, that Minias would kill me now. But anger at least made me feel safe, and it let my mind begin to work again. I had too much to live for to die now. So I poked the pissed off demon in the chest. "And you should know about that, Minias. You're the reason I had to go to Al for help. If you had kept him behind bars, like you should have..."
Minias laughed. It wasn't a sane sound.
"You misunderstand, witch. I don't care. I'm here to kill you."
I sucked in a breath and tried to ease away from Minias.
"Somehow I don't think Newt will be too happy about that. She seems to want me alive."
He waved his hand in abrupt dismissal. "Newt can hardly remember her own name from one moment to another. Do you truly think she will remember to care about one little witch?"
"With Al to remind her about what you made her forget every day? Absolutely." I snarled the last word, taunting him now.
He laughed again. "Do you see Algaliarept here?" He smiled grimly. "I'm not nearly so stupid as my fellow demon. I don't leave my enemies alive. Now let me finish this quickly, or this will become very painful for you."
Crap. Crap. Crap.
Just because it looked as if I would never see another sunrise, it didn't mean I was going to give up.
"Wait! Wait just one stinking minute, Minias. We can make a deal. There has to be something you want. I'm a runner and I'm a witch. I can go places you can't go." The words were pouring out of my mouth as my survival instinct kicked in. There was no way that I could take Minias in a fair fight, but there was still a chance that I could trick him into a circle. I started backing away again. It would be a weak circle, a chalk circle, but if I circled him once, I could circle him again with blood.
The hint of hope rushed through me, bringing with it a very welcome surge of adrenaline.
"What could you possibly hope to give me?" Minias's skepticism was obvious, but he wasn't frying my brains yet. That was good. Very good.
I stuck my hand in my back pocket as casually as I could and wrapped my hand around the stick of magnetic chalk that I had shoved in there on my way out of the church. A witch never knew when she might need it. I crumbled a bit of the chalk off and let it drift to the ground behind me, as I carefully began moving around the room. Hopefully Minias wouldn't notice I was actually circling him.
"Holy ground." I spoke quickly. "You can't go on holy ground. I'm sure there are plenty of things that people have hidden from demons on holy ground over the years that you would probably love to get your hands on. I could retrieve them for you."
"That's what we have familiars for, witch," Minias scoffed. "Anything that could have easily been retrieved we would have recovered long ago."
"Ah, but you forget, I have special skills," I countered. Just a few more inches. It would be a damn big circle to hold against a very pissed off demon, but I would do it. Damn it back to the Turn, I'd raised Fountain circle by myself. This should almost be easy.
"Morgan!" Minias's voice was sharp. I caught a flash of motion out of the corner of my eye. I ducked even as I used the edge of my shoe to smear the two edges of the chalk together and complete the circle. Minias went misty.
"Rhombus!" I almost shouted the word. Minias slammed painfully into the edges of my circle. I fell back in relief, away from the edges of my circle. I tucked my feet up under me quickly and then froze until I could catch my breath and concentrate on moving to ensure that I didn't so much as touch the edge of my circle.
I fumbled in my bag for the small knife that I always carried as part of my spelling supplies. I took a deep breath and held it as I pressed the knife deeply into the soft part of my thumb. Blood started welling immediately. Fairy farts, but this was going to take a lot of blood. I started smearing it hurriedly on the floor. I wasn't taking any chance with Minias who was alternating between cursing at me and telling me in graphic detail what he would do to me when he got free of my circle. I did my best to ignore him until I completed my second circle.
Cursing my own stupidity at cutting my right thumb and not my left, I clumsily tried to wrap a somewhat clean handkerchief around it to slow the bleeding. The last thing I needed now was to pass out from blood loss. Fumbling in my bag, I brought out the compact mirror that I'd etched the calling spell into.
I took a deep breath and prayed that this would work. Demons weren't known for their honesty. I called for Al.
"I'm a little bit busy right now, my itchy-witch." Al's thoughts were sarcastic and a bit annoyed. Only Minias' presence kept me from yelling back out loud. I never thought I'd be so glad to hear Al's voice.
"Well you'd better get un-busy fast, Al," I snapped. "Our favorite demon, Minias, just tried to kill me. I've got him circled, but if he gets out I'm not gonna be anything but fried mush."
"He what?" For the first time Al sounded truly shocked. "He must be insane. Newt will kill him for that."
The imbalance of the line shifted with no warning, leaving me with the strangely empty and sized down feeling that ending a ley line call always did. A sudden chill pervaded the air. I whirled to find that Al had materialized a half-step behind me. I almost threw my arms around him I was so happy to see him. Instead I ducked behind him, putting him between Minias and me.
"Newt will be here soon."
My blood ran cold. It was a death sentence for Minias, and we all knew it. I didn't pity him exactly, and I wouldn't try to stop Newt. Minias had been trying to kill me after all, but the shades of gray just kept getting more complicated all the time.
"How did he lure you to this side of the lines?" Al sounded both curious and disappointed that I'd been tricked into Minias' trap. When I told him, he frowned. "Your next lesson will be on how to tell one demon from another." He shivered. "Newt will be most displeased if you get yourself killed on my watch."
I clenched my fists at my sides. I wouldn't be too happy about it either. "No pat on the back for circling the homicidal demon on my own?" I asked him sarcastically.
"Hmm, no." He answered me just as mockingly as I'd asked. We might have reached a truce of sorts, enough for me to learn from him, but I still wouldn't go looking for pity from Al. And he wouldn't insult me by giving it to me. "I think it's time for all little witches to be gone from this corner of the ever-after however. Newt will be here any moment, and I think we would both feel better with you...elsewhere."
I couldn't agree quickly enough. "Absolutely."
Al nodded and gestured for me to close my eyes. He had begun to slowly take me through the steps to jump lines. I couldn't do it by myself yet, but keeping my consciousness intact was almost effortless now.
"Oh, and, Rachel..." My eyes snapped open. "We'll discuss the damage that you inflicted here next week."
I grimaced. I should have known a demon wouldn't let it go, but I was more concerned about getting home at the moment. "Whatever, Al," I muttered, doing my best to summon a hint of my usual attitude.
With a flash that took my breath away, I was being squeezed, compacted and stretched through the lines all in one instant. I staggered out of the line as my feet hit the ground and stumbled out of it, falling onto the damp grass.
Thank the Turn. I was home.
A glimmer of light glinted off of pixie wings. Whichever of his children Jenks had on sentry duty was obviously doing his or her job. My presence was noted certainly, as was any other disturbance or activity around the church, but there was no need for them to raise a warning at my return. My trips with Al were almost routine now. Well, except for this one. There had been nothing routine about this trip.
I pulled my bag higher up on my shoulder and leaned into it as I wearily trudged through the graveyard and up to the back door. I would be so much happier when I was solidly back on sanctified ground. I let the door shut quietly behind me as I wearily made my way towards my room.
The sounds of distant conversation drifted back to me from the kitchen. Without straining to hear, I easily identified Jenks higher voice and the Robbie's low tones. I wondered what they could still be talking about and why Jenks hadn't kicked him out already. After Ivy had run out, I was ready to just plain kick him.
"Jenks?" I called out for my pixie back up, announcing my presence. I didn't have any desire to walk in on another conversation that I wasn't meant to hear.
"In here, Rache," he called back immediately. He darted around the corner in a shimmer of light and falling pixie dust. "What are you doing back so soon? Did Al let you go early?" In the shadows, Jenks couldn't quite see me yet. I was grateful. I looked like I'd been fighting a demon.
"He thought it would be better if I came on back." I didn't want to have this conversation now that Robbie had silently followed Jenks down the hall. He was watching me with a careful expression that I didn't like at all. I'd seen it too many times as a kid.
"Tink's knickers, Rache," Jenks swore as he got a better look at me. "What happened to you? Did you mess up a curse? Is that why Al sent you home?"
I glanced at Robbie again and shifted awkwardly on my feet. "Did Ivy come back?" I looked back to Jenks for an answer, hoping that she had, hoping that she just hadn't been willing to come see me.
He shook his head, throwing a glint of light against the walls that was almost making me dizzy. "I haven't seen her. Rache..."
"No." I said it flatly. "This is not happening again."
"It's different this time, Rache. Piscary's not here to mess with her head. She'll be back in the morning."
I grabbed my bag and my keys for a second time. "That's not good enough." I brushed past Jenks and then Robbie.
"Rachel, wait," he called out from behind me.
I sighed, but stopped. "I don't have time for this, Robbie. Not right now." I turned back around to face him. This trying to make good decisions thing really sucked sometimes. I took a deep breath and looked back up at him, taking a half-step closer. "You have to let me live my life, Robbie. I'm not that same little girl you used to have to take care of. I grew up. I had to take care of myself and my friends. And I have. If you want to be a part of my life, you have to accept that."
He nodded. "I get that. Or maybe I don't, but I'm trying, Rachel. I'm trying to understand your life. I want to be a part of it. Jenks has been telling me about some of the things that you've done, but that's not what I wanted to say." He gestured to my arm. "You're bleeding."
"Rachel?" I only heard Jenks' question distantly. Blackness was steadily eating into the edges of my vision. Knowing what was about to happen I tried to lock my knees and steady myself. Instead, I felt my body sag and darkness completely enveloped me.
My head pounded. Too many places on my body throbbed and ached that I couldn't identify them all. The touch of a cool hand was soothing against my cheek. It felt wonderful and eased the throbbing in my head a little.
"Pain amulet," I mewled pathetically.
The hand stroking my forehead stilled and then vanished. The sounds of movement in the room were unnaturally loud. There was the familiar click of a finger stick drawing blood, a slight hiss at the momentary twinge of pain and then the slight weight on my chest where the pain amulet was laid.
"There you go, Rache." Robbie's voice was low and familiar. The pain ebbed as soon as the amulet touched my skin. Hearing Robbie use that tone with me brought tears to my eyes, tears of remembered pain and current frustration. I never wanted to feel so weak and helpless as I had then and I hated being reminded of it.
The light currents of air brushed across my skin driven by the fan lazily working up on the ceiling. A hint of incense in the air caught my attention immediately. My eyes snapped open, despite the promise of renewed pain and the embarrassment of the tears that would certainly spill down my cheeks.
"Ivy?" I blurted her name out questioningly in the seconds that it took me to find her. She was standing at the end of my bed, her arms crossed over her chest. Her face was expressionless, and she was staring out at the giant oak trees in the backyard, but I could see the worry in her eyes, and tension in the muscles of her jaw. "You came back," I whispered, my words rasping against the dryness in my throat.
"I'm not leaving," she replied without hesitation, but I couldn't help but hear the accusation in her voice.
"I'm not leaving either."
"No, Robbie," I cut him off firmly. "This is my life." I flopped my hand out, gesturing at the room around me and beyond it the rest of the church. I looked back to Ivy. "This is where I want to be. These are the people that I love."
Ivy looked at me sharply, abandoning her pretense of staring out the window. I smiled at her weakly. Her lips curved upwards, but even that couldn't erase the worry from her face. She glanced at Robbie by my side and then away again.
"What about this?" Robbie's question broke the spell between us. "You look like you just went several rounds with a demon, Rachel. You'll get killed doing this."
I rolled my eyes. "I did just go several rounds with a demon." Turn take it, I hated having to explain myself and my life like this. "And I made it out alive."
A small noise from the foot of the bed made me glance back to Ivy. Her face was pale, but she said nothing. I tried to give her the most reassuring look that I could. There was a lot that I didn't want to say in front of Robbie.
"Listen, Robbie, you just have to trust me with this. This is my life, not yours. I'm trying to be as safe as I can. I don't take unnecessary risks, but my life is dangerous. I've accepted that, and I don't want to change it."
His shoulders folded inwards and he sank down onto my bed.
"How can you not?" he asked wearily. "After Dad...after everything. How can you not want to change it? You almost died so many times as a kid. Don't you want to just live a little?"
"But I am living. I'm living the way I want, not watching over my shoulder like I would be if I kept taking the easy way out."
"You want to live here with her hunting you slowly," Robbie demanded, as he caught his second wind, and jabbed a finger behind him towards Ivy.
Ivy's eyes flashed, her pupils expanding to infinite darkness in an instant. She stiffened and spun on her heel.
I let out a breath that I hadn't realized I was holding as she stopped.
"Robbie," I said, carefully holding my voice steady. My hands clenched under the covers. "You need to leave now."
I struggled into a sitting position and rolled my legs over the edge of the bed. "Robbie, go to Mom's. We don't agree on this, and I have nothing else to say. So go before you piss me off and I say something that I really regret."
I let a hint of the anger that had been building in me become evident in my voice. I stood and immediately regretted it. My knees gave out almost as soon as I put pressure on them, and I flopped, humiliatingly, back down onto the bed. Robbie moved towards me quickly, but jerked up short as I pinned him with a furious glare.
He pulled his hand back stiffly and stalked out of the room with angry dignity and not another word. Sighing, I realized that there was no way that this was over. It seemed as if Robbie and I would never agree on what I did with my life, but maybe one day he could at least come to respect my choices. It would have meant a lot.
"You're not leaving?" Ivy's voice, soft and vulnerable, reminded me that this wasn't over yet. I wondered if she knew how much it broke my heart every time I heard her speak like that.
"No, I'm not. I only said that to get him to leave me alone. I meant it when I said I love my life."
"And the people in it," she echoed shyly.
I nodded. "And the people in it," I agreed slowly. I hesitated, remembering Minias flinging balls of pure energy at me, and knowing how close I'd come to losing everything that I loved...again.
It was getting old. I held a hand out to Ivy. Her eyes narrowed, furrowing the skin around her eyes into thin lines. Slowly, she moved around to my side of the bed and sat down, carefully keeping a distance between us.
"Rachel..." She repeated my name warily.
I ignored her wariness and reached out to take her hand, threading my warm fingers through her cooler ones. My thumb played back and forth over the silky skin on the back of her hand. These were the hands that had stroked my face and soothed my pain. This was Ivy.
I shifted forward again, making an effort to get up. Without making me ask, Ivy pulled gently on our joined hands and helped me sit up. Our position left her other hand no where to go but around my waist or lying awkwardly behind us. My skin tingled where her arm hesitantly wrapped around me.
"You're beautiful," I said softly, and I meant it completely. There was something about Ivy in her most vulnerable, fragile moments that I couldn't resist. I'd never been able to turn her away or tell her no when she was like this, not even when I should have.
"Rachel," she repeated my name, her voice choked with emotion. "Don't say it if you don't mean it," she warned me.
"I do mean it, Ivy."
Still she hesitated, not trusting what her senses were telling her. Not the way she could hear my heart pounding, the way my blood sped ever faster through my veins or even the way my scent changed as I accepted what I was feeling for her, what I had felt for her for some time and hadn't wanted to acknowledge.
I blinked back tears as the fight earlier in the evening flashed in front of me again. I'd been so scared. A sob that I couldn't push down welled up within me. Without a word, Ivy wrapped her other arm around me, pulling me tightly into her embrace. Remembering all of the other times that she'd held me so close like this, I breathed out, finally letting it all go in the safety Ivy's arms represented.
She held me tightly until finally I'd relaxed in her arms and then let me go, shifting away as if she expected me to push her away in a moment. Ivy still didn't understand. I let go of her hand and gently cupped her face. Her breathing hitched, and I couldn't help but smile, seeing that I had as much effect on her as she on me.
Slowly, I leaned forward until I could press my lips against hers. Ivy was still underneath my touch; she almost seemed afraid to break the spell of the moment. It was fortunate that I was a stubborn witch. I let the kiss linger, and drew her out. Teasing her, letting my lips linger against hers until she was kissing me back with all of the passion that she had held back for so long, her hand twined into my hair.
When I drew back several wonderfully long moments later, my chest was heaving and I felt lightheaded again, but in the best possible way. Ivy was smiling, truly smiling and it was the best thing I'd ever seen. I touched my forehead to hers as I caught my breath and whispered, "I'm not leaving."
It was the truth. I had found where I belonged, the place I wanted to be most of all and that was with Ivy.
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