DISCLAIMER: These characters belong to Kim Harrison. No copyright infringement is intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many thanks to bldy_destini. for the beta. This is a solstice/christmas fic, but well, I'm posting it now instead of waiting till next year.
SPOILERS: Vauge-ish spoilers for the excerpt from The Outlaw Demon Wails.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Million Dollar Moment
Hanging up the phone, I sighed. I knew what I had to do, but I didn't have to like it. I'd really been enjoying the time I was spending with my mom lately, and she seemed - if not like her old self before my dad died - at least not as bad as she had been before I left home. She still liked to embarrass me though, by saying pretty much any thought that came to her mind. She'd been pretty great though, through all of the recent mess with Al.
That was why what I was about to do was going to be even harder. I wouldn't have it any other way though.
I slipped off of the counter and padded down the hall towards Ivy's room. I let out a slow breath and then tried to summon up the courage to knock on her closed door. I usually tried to give Ivy her space, especially when she subtly asked for it like this by leaving the door closed, but I had to ask now before I lost my nerve.
It made it a little easier and a little bit harder, knowing that with her vamp sense of smell and supernatural hearing she would already know I was there. Of course the longer I waited, the more nervous she would get. I summoned the strength that had made me an I.S. runner - or what Jenks liked to call my charming need for near-death thrills - and knocked on her door.
I only had to wait a second before it slowly swung open.
Ivy's features looked slightly blurred from sleep. It was unusual for her to sleep this late, but I'd heard her come in several hours after sunrise this morning so she most likely needed it. Her run hadn't been exactly been a piece of cake.
I hissed in a breath when I saw the nasty claw marks scarring her forearm. They were open to the air and oozing nastily.
"Ivy," I couldn't hold back the worry in my voice as I grabbed her arm, twisting it up so that I could see it better. "This needs to be looked at."
She tugged slightly against the hold that I had on it, trying half-heartedly to free herself. I tightened my grip a little. If Ivy truly wanted to get away, I wouldn't stand a chance. Until then, I'd do what I could and put up with Ivy's grumbling protests.
"C'mon," I said, taking her other hand and tugging her out into the hall. I tried not to think about the fact that this was the most that I'd touched Ivy since she'd cradled me in her lap to inject me with more sedatives in Edden's car on the way back to the church.
Now was not the time to ratchet up the tension between us. I needed to get Ivy cleaned up first. I blushed at the 'first'. Damn Jenks back to the Turn for being right about my thrill seeking nature.
I shook my head, not looking at Ivy and stepped into my bathroom. I had a few medicinal ointments that I kept stocked in there. Being a runner was a dirty, dangerous job and what kind of a witch would I be if I had to stir the spell for an antibacterial ointment every time I got asphalt burn.
"Sit," I said, pointing to the toilet seat. My bathroom didn't have a tub like Ivy's.
Ivy wrinkled her nose at me, but lowered the seat cover and sat down anyway. She was definitely humoring me this morning. That would probably make my request even easier. If she didn't laugh. Hopefully she wouldn't laugh.
Grabbing the ointment off of the shelf, I grabbed her arm again and gently dabbed some of it on the cuts. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ivy's wince.
"Were do this to you?"
Ivy grimaced, and stiffened. Anger was pouring off of her. "Stupid bitch didn't know when to quit. I dragged her ass in though and turned her over to the I.S. She shouldn't have kidnapped the Alpha's kid when he kicked her out of his pack."
I shook my head in agreement. "Not smart." I hesitated for a moment. Time to stop being a fraidy-witch and fess up.
"My Mom's having a big Solstice bonfire this year." I shrugged as if this was no big thing, like it wasn't the first time that my mom had celebrated the Solstice like this since Dad died. "She wanted me to come over. I was thinking we could maybe do our celebrations the day after?"
I glanced up at her face as I finished. I didn't want to hurt Ivy, but secretly I'd been glad when Mom had asked me to come over and celebrate with her. Celebrating with Kisten and Takata, and everyone else last year had been the best Solstice that I'd had in a long time. I wasn't sure that I wanted to face having to make a new memory here this year without Kisten. His death was still so painfully fresh at times.
"Yeah, that's fine." She tilted her chin down towards her arm. "Are you done with that," she asked curtly.
"Oh, yeah." I let go slowly. "Ivy..." I wasn't sure what to say, but the way she was slowly angling away from me and curling into herself made me mad. Hurting her was the last thing that I'd wanted to do.
She stood quickly and slipped awkwardly past me towards the doorway.
"Ivy, wait," I called after her quickly. She didn't stop so I followed her into the kitchen. She was moving jerkily as she filled the coffee maker with water and then added the ground beans.
Without another word I grabbed the orange juice from the fridge and filled a glass. I set it down on the table in front of her chair and stepped back to my own spot. Pressuring Ivy only made both of us uncomfortable.
She glanced over at me questioningly when she saw what I'd done.
Her stare was too much. I felt my cheeks flush red and I looked down. Damn it to the Turn, but I was acting like a nervous idiot.
My toe stubbed at the edge of the circle that had been etched into the linoleum. "I was hoping that you'd go with me...to my Mom's?" I hesitated and then looked up.
Surprise was plain on Ivy's face. Her eyebrows arched upwards and she leaned back against the counter without some of her usual grace.
"Are you sure, Rachel?"
It hurt, that she had to ask, that she thought it might be a pity invite, that she would truly think that I might not want her to be there. Not after everything that we'd been through together.
"I'm sure." I tried to sound casual. "Wouldn't have asked if I wasn't." I paused, a smile slowly starting, "So, you coming?"
"Yes, I'll come." Ivy tried to hide her growing smile, by turning back to the coffeemaker and pouring a cup for each of us, but I knew, and it made me happy. Making Ivy happy always did.
Now I just had to hope that my Mom wouldn't drag out the baby pictures immediately. It was going to be a very long night.
Ivy and I got to Mom's about midnight. The door was unlocked when I tried it so I held it open for Ivy until she stepped in after me. She was already glancing around curiously.
I threw a knowing look in her direction. "Shut up," I warned her underneath my breath. I had known the kind of teasing I'd be in for when Ivy saw the house I'd grown in. That and Mom's tendency to say everything she thought was the reason why I hadn't brought her by before.
Ivy only grinned at me, not the slightest bit deterred by my casual threat. "I think it's cute," she said with a grin. "Jenks never told me."
I groaned at the thought. Mom's invitation had included Jenks, but he hadn't wanted to leave his family when he'd be stuck inside Mom's house all night from the cold anyway. Ignoring, Ivy I hollered for Mom. She was probably in the kitchen, but there was a chance she was already out back.
I'd wiggled an invite for Ceri too, not wanting to leave her alone for the Solstice and there was no telling how many of her own friends Mom had invited to show me off too.
"In here, Dear," I heard her voice drift in from the kitchen as I'd thought.
Ivy followed me as I headed that way, giving her a brief tour of the rooms we passed through to get there. She was barely containing her amused smirk by the time we got to the kitchen. I was so glad I could provide entertainment for her.
Ivy hesitated behind me as I moved around the kitchen table to give Mom a quick hug.
"Mom, this is Ivy Tamwood," I said, gesturing to my tall, lean, leather clad partner. "This is my mom, Alice Morgan."
"It's so nice to meet any friend of Rachel's," Mom said with a big smile. Ivy looked startled as Mom folded her into a big hug. Ivy usually avoided casual contact with people that she didn't know well. Usually people who didn't know her well tried to avoid contact with Ivy. It seemed like Mom trumped that. I smiled my thanks in her direction as she stepped back.
"It's a pleasure to meet you too, Ms. Morgan," Ivy said politely. "Thank you for inviting me."
"Oh, any time, dear," Mom said airily, turning back to the cocoa that she was cooking over the stove. At least she wasn't using her spell pot again. "Rachel, why don't you show your friend out to the fire. It's just starting to get big. Then maybe I can bring out the pictures?"
"Pictures," Ivy asked, the beginnings of a smirk forming on her face. "I'd be delighted to see any pictures you have of Rachel."
I glared at Ivy. That was no fair. Mom loved nothing more than a good excuse to drag out humiliating childhood photos. I folded my arms over my chest, and completed the picture of a thoroughly unamused witch.
Ivy smirked at me un-repentantly. "I bet you were a cute kid," she offered with a slight smirk.
Knowing that Ivy knew exactly what she was doing, and it wasn't innocent in the slightest, I ignored it. For now. This wouldn't go unanswered. "This way," I said, ignoring Mom's laughter from behind us, as we headed towards the back door. Ivy's low, knowing chuckle made my ears burn.
Sparks flitted up from the bonfire, and danced into the sky. For a moment, I lost myself in watching them weave their way into nothingness.
"I'm glad you invited me," Ivy spoke quietly from beside me. Her voice was low, and it didn't disturb the soft reassuring sound of the fire snapping in front of us.
"I'm glad you came," I admitted, unable to look at her while making that admission.
"Even if your Mom shows me baby pictures?"
The taunt surprised a laugh out of me, breaking the intimacy and the growing tension of the moment. It was a familiar move in the constant dance between Ivy and I, but I was getting tired of the constant push and pull.
"I'll ask your Dad to see yours," I shot back as it was expected of me.
My thoughts must have been clear on my face though because a crease of worry wrinkled Ivy's features before she responded.
"Okay." She leaned tantalizingly closer to me. "I was always totally gorgeous and adorable."
"I bet," I murmured before I could think better of it. I could feel my cheeks burn, knowing Ivy's hearing as I did and that she'd heard exactly what I'd said.
She must have taken pity on me though, because she didn't reply. Instead she stepped away from me, and grabbed another limb from the pile that Mom had set out to be burned. She picked it up, showing off her vamp strength, and tossed it into the fire. Flames licked up around it, catching onto the new wood and slowly curling up the bark as fire crawled up it.
The back door slammed, and I glanced over my shoulder to see Mom finally coming outside. I smiled, and turned back to the fire. Staring into it, I thought of last Solstice. It had seemed so perfect with Ceri, and David, Takata, and Kisten and Ivy. Only Jenks had been missing.
This year was different, everything was harder. The ache of Kisten's death was still never far from the back of my mind. But I was different too. I wanted different things than I had then. I had changed.
"Oh!" Mom's breath hovered in the air in front of her. "Dear," Her hand covered her mouth as she tried not to laugh. "You two, you're under the vampire plant."
"Mom?" My voice was questioning, and I shot a quick, worried and slightly confused glance at Ivy. Her face was politely blank, but I could tell that she was just as confused as I was. I started to take a half-step closer to her, reaching out to gently take her arm.
"No, Honey," She waved at me to stay where I was, "It's bad luck to break tradition."
"Mom, I don't understand."
"Oh," she laughed lightly and then pointed upwards.
I followed her gesture, and looked up. The bare branch over our heads was dusted lightly with snow. Directly above us leafy greenery sprouted out from it and trailed down towards us.
"Mistletoe." The word dropped from my lips in surprise. It was honestly the last thing I'd expected to see above me. I'd have been less surprised to see Al leering down at us.
My eyes were drawn inescapably to Ivy. There was a hint of a smile tugging on her lips, but more clearly visible was the worry in her eyes. Pushing me wasn't something that she had ever wanted to do.
"Ivy," I whispered, my voice cracking over her name.
Her eyes flicked away and then locked on mine. There was a rim of black around the deep brown of her eyes, but even though it was well beyond sunset, it didn't grow, but remained steady.
"Trust me." The words were equal part statement and question. Did I trust Ivy? To guard my back, absolutely. For this?
Her hand rose slowly, her thumb glided over my lips and stroked across my cheeks. I felt my skin heat under her touch. Keeping her eyes locked onto mine, Ivy lowered her lips to mine with aching slowness.
This was different, so different from the last time when I'd been so confused from the way she had been playing on my scar, so charged with every sensation, and not distracted by being able to see what she was about to do next.
Ivy's lips brushed mine, barely a feather of sensation against my lips. She tasted faintly of orange juice, and I smiled into the kiss as I remembered her finishing a glass just before we'd left the church.
Her lips tasted mine for a second time, a hint of desperation in the way that they tasted and clung before she oh-so-gently eased away. Her hand slipped from my face, and I frowned at the sudden loss of contact. I could already see Ivy hunching inward and pulling away from me again. It was our pattern.
Ivy seemed tough and confident. She could kick the ass of any living thing, but one word, one look, one gesture from me could crush her. Some days I hated the power that I held over her. It made me responsible, as Kist had often reminded me, and Ivy was a lot to be responsible for.
"Huh?" I was distracted as I looked over at Mom, still deep in thought.
"I thought you two could use some wine, Dear," she smiled gently, but she was looking over at Ivy as she spoke. "You prefer it heated, don't you?"
Ivy straightened, at the question. "Yes, please," she said steadily. I was the only one who noticed her hand trembling slightly before she curled it into a fist and stuffed it into her jean's pocket.
At that point, Ivy drifted away, or maybe I drifted away. We mingled with Mom's guest, pleasant older witches that talked in hushed voices, about the old days, pre-Turn, and eccentric old friends of Dad's. Some smiled indulgently, and a few frowned indignantly when they saw me. None were really sure what to make of my career with the I.S. and my subsequent less than friendly departure, but it kept my evening from being boring.
Eventually, I ended up huddled up against the base of a huge oak tree that I'd spent hours playing in as a child with a large thick quilt that had resided at the foot of Robbie's bed for years wrapped around me. The flames danced slowly in front of me, mesmerizing in the way that they flickered and shifted from one color to another. I settled into a comfortable numbness, lulled by the low rise and fall of voices and the warmness that wrapped around me.
I didn't realize that I'd drifted off until I heard Ivy.
"Rachel." She spoke just loudly enough to wake me. The fire had burned low, reduced to coals by now and I could tell with a glance at the sky that it was nearly sunrise. I could just make out a hint of clouds in the meager light of false dawn.
I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and craned my neck to look up at her. Her leather jacket was zipped up to just under her chin and her hands were tucked tightly into her pockets. She was doing her best not to look at me, her eyes darting from the tree to the quilt, and then the fire.
Was looking at me so hard or was it that she didn't want me to catch a glimpse of her eyes? They told so much about her, but not always the most important information. Like what she was truly thinking and feeling in that head of hers, besides what her ancient vampire instincts were telling her that she should be doing.
"I didn't want you to get stiff and freeze out here. Come inside." Her words were casual, and indifferent, but underneath that I could hear the concern that she wasn't sure how to express without pissing me off.
I stood up awkwardly, trying to keep the quilt from falling off of my shoulders. It was colder now than it was when we had arrived earlier, and my jacket wasn't doing the trick anymore. I shrugged, wrapping the thick quilt more tightly around me.
"Ivy." Her name rolled off of my tongue before I knew what I wanted to follow it.
She waited a moment, and then raised an eyebrow.
I shifted my weight from foot to foot, feeling uncertain and strangely disconnected still in the first few moments of waking. My eyes traced the features of her face. The almond eyes that I was so familiar with. The quirked brow that challenged me, the small lips that I so rarely got to see curved into a smile and then delicate cheekbones that contained more strength than even Ivy believed.
I dropped the quilt, and shifted into motion before I could talk myself out of it. My hands grabbed Ivy's face, holding her still. My lips fell against hers, bruising against her teeth with the sudden impact. It was as clumsy and inelegant of a kiss as I'd ever given.
"Rachel." Ivy staggered back away from me. I had an instant to see her eyes flash black before she forced them closed. "Rachel, what are you doing?" Her voice was rough and tortured. "Don't do this to me."
"I'm sorry," And I was. I always screwed this up, this thing between Ivy and I. Our messed up quasi-relationship was all my fault because I missed the signals she was giving me, because I gave off all the wrong ones.
"I wanted to kiss you." Ivy trembled, didn't look at me. She was frozen in place, holding herself still as she fought with everything within her. "I screwed it up. I didn't want it to be like that."
"What did you want it to be like," her voice was back to that gray silk that alternatively scared me and sent wonderful shivers down my spine.
"I wanted-" I shrugged. "I wanted it to be right, not like this."
Her eyes slipped open. They were hardly visible in the fading light of the fire's embers, just a hint of brown against midnight black.
"So kiss me then." Her words were a low velvet purr, that made the scar on my neck tingle.
It was harder this time, with no rush of courage and adrenaline to spur me forward. Adrenaline had left me and I felt strangely empty. Fear trickled in as I stepped towards her for a second time. This was Ivy and I was going to kiss her, knowingly, willingly, intentionally. What the Turn was I doing?
My hands slipped up to grasp either side of her face. I steadied myself against her as I rose up on my toes to reach. She wasn't helping me out in the slightest, making me do all of the work.
The thought irritated me and goaded me forwards, pushing me past the edge of my fear, and into brushing my lips gently against hers. The contact lasted only an instant, but I pulled away only for an instant, before I was tasting her again, keeping it light until she was responding to me. Her lips caught my bottom lip gently, teeth grazed, and this time when I pulled away, it was far enough to look into her eyes.
"Rachel?" Her voice cracked on the last syllable, a studied cool, broken by a desperate edge of hope.
"That wasn't right."
She swallowed audibly. "I can't-"
I put a finger on her lips, stopping her before she could finish her thought. I wanted Ivy to be honest with me, to tell me everything that was going through her head, just not yet.
"I think we need more practice."
It was the first time that I'd ever seen Ivy's jaw drop. I took advantage of her momentary speechlessness by kissing her again. This time it was slow and languid, with a hint of things to come. Ivy's hands found my hips and pulled me closer, until I could feel the warmth radiating off her body.
At last our lips parted, and Ivy's hands drifted up, until I was standing completely in her arms. The rich scent of incense and Ivy enveloped me and I breathed in deeply. It smelled like home.
"Thank you, Rachel," she breathed against my ear as her arms tightened around me.
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