Title: Just Stay With Me
Fandom: The Hollows aka Kim Harrison 'verse
Characters: Rachel Morgan, Ivy Tamwood, Robbie Morgan, Al, Minias
Summary: Robbie Morgan shows up on his sister's doorstep one day without warning. Can what Rachel and Ivy have made for themselves stand against it?
Beta: queenbellatrix was so kind as to beta this for me and point out my myriad errors and goofs. Anything that remains is totally on me.
Author's Note: I read Two Ghosts For Sister Rachel and got a bunny for this story with Robbie. He was...not how I was expecting Rachel's brother to be, but I hope I nailed his character. It was a really awesome short story that I'd definitely recommend reading for an excellent look at what Rachel's earlier years were like for her. It explains a lot.
Spoilers: Spoilers for The Outlaw Demon Wails and Two Ghosts for Sister Rachel, the short story in Holidays Are Hell.
Disclaimer: These characters belong to Kim Harrison. No copyright infringement is intended.
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.