David was sitting on a bench in the park. The sun shone down behind him, throwing his face into shadows. I smiled, glad to see him, despite everything that had brought us here. David stood as I approached, and hugged me briefly before stepping back.
He looked away, his eyes darting from here to there, never staying still as he took everything in. I tugged at the lapel of his suit and then gave it a quick pat.
"You're looking good these days."
David smiled and looked proud.
"Business has been pretty successful," he admitted. "And the pack has been flourishing." He paused and looked down at the ground. "You could have told me, Rachel. I know making you part of the pack started out as an agreement in name only, but we would have protected you, if that's what you needed."
I sighed and sank down on to the bench, burying my face in my hand. Fairy farts, I was just so damn tired. I hadn't had much sleep in the past few days, and it was starting to show.
"I appreciate that," I said slowly. "Really, David."
I didn't know what else to say. Weres' were mostly a match for vampires, but not always. In retrospect I hadn't been thinking very clearly, driven by panic. The only clear thought I'd had was to put as much distance between Ivy and I as possible. It had seemed like the only way to stay safe.
It made me wonder what would have happened if I had stayed. Could Ivy and I have found a way to make it work? We had already forged a relationship that nearly everyone had thought was impossible. There was no way to know now, of course. I had thrown away that opportunity.
"What are you going to do about the Focus?" I asked softly, knowing that David would have made sure that there was no one around who could overhear us.
He spread his arms wide, smiling faintly. "There's nothing to do, Rachel. They won't be able to find it."
I knew that, Turn it. David had taken the Focus inside himself, after it had proven to be way too much curse for me to handle, but they didn't know that.
"It doesn't matter if they won't be able to find it," I hissed. "They know your pack has it and they want it. They're not just going to give up. They will keep coming until they find it. If they're willing to make a deal with Trent Kalamack to kill witches in order to lure me back to the Hollows, they aren't just going to ask nicely and then politely go away when you won't give it to them."
"I know that," David said firmly, "But this is a were matter, Rachel. And I can handle it. I won't let anyone destroy my pack."
David had changed a lot from the lone wolf who had never wanted a real pack. He was an alpha in more than just name now, and as stubborn and blind as one could be, too.
"It's not just our pack," I emphasized the word, reminding him that once I had been just as much a part of it as he had. "That I'm concerned about, David. I trust you with the Focus, but if this falls into the wrong hands, it will completely throw off the balance of power between vampires and weres. It will be chaos - bloody chaos."
"I know that," David said quietly. "I've had a long time to think about that and prepare for what might happen. But this isn't your responsibility. It's not your job to decide and try to enforce what Inderlanders can and can't do."
I looked at him blankly. He was starting to piss me off. "I'm not saying it is. But I'm an Inderlander too, and whatever happens will affect my life. I don't want to have to deal with an all-out war between vampires and weres, and that is what will happen if you let this get out of hand."
"And I'm telling you that until the Focus is outside of my control, this is all conjecture." He paused and looked at me speculatively. "Do you have any better suggestions?"
"Let me hide it."
"You tried that already, Rachel, and it didn't work so great. Besides, I don't want to be hidden."
I shook my head quickly. "Not, you. It."
David looked at me sharply, his easy charm fading in the face of his concern.
"You can really do that? Take this thing out of me?"
"I think so," I nodded. "I've learned a lot, David. And there are places I could hide it that no one could find it."
David sighed, and sat down heavily beside me. Silence lingered as he sat, deep in thought. Finally he looked over at me. His answer was written all over his face.
"No," he said simply. "We have a plan. It's probably best if you don't know the particulars, but we have some evidence prepared that they'll just happen to stumble upon. It will point them in a different direction." He held up a hand to forestall my protests. "It will make it appear as if Trent's information was valid at one time, but out of date now. By the time they get done chasing their tails, the only lead they'll have is Kalamack and, since he gave them bad information, they won't be very happy with him at all."
I sat back and folded my arms over my chest. I wasn't happy and it wasn't what I had been hoping to hear, but it was what I would have to settle for. I could probably restrain David and remove the Focus from him without his consent, but I really didn't want to. David was a friend, and something more. Through the pack we had a true connection, and I did not want to betray that. For now I would have to be content with what he was offering.
"Okay," I said slowly. "I don't like it, but do what you have to do. If you ever need any help with it, for any reason, just give me a call."
David nodded, the crow's feet around his eyes relaxing slightly as his tension eased, but then his brow furrowed.
"You can be a pretty hard woman to get a hold of, Morgan. Does this mean you're going to stick around for a while?"
I let out a shaky breath, letting my thoughts slip back to the person they had been circling since I woke up. Ivy. I shook my head. "I don't know. I'm thinking about it."
David smiled. "What's to think about?"
I shrugged, not really comfortable talking about it. Then again, Jenks was gone, and my mom was on the other side of the country. I didn't really have anyone else here to talk to. Well, except for Glenn, and it would just be weird talking to him since he and Ivy had dated at one time.
"Ivy," I said simply.
"Ah," David said knowingly, and then fell silent again.
I waited a moment, expecting him to say something else. "That's it?" I demanded. "No words of wisdom?"
David laughed at my outburst. "What do you want me to say, Rachel? I don't know what to tell you. I'm not in your shoes, and I don't know what I would do if I was. Anyone who says that the decision is obvious, hasn't had to make that decision. But," he continued slowly, "I do know you and I know Ivy. And even when the two of you were nothing more than friends and roommates, you had something special. Just don't forget that."
David stood, rebuttoning his suit jacket with one hand and holding the other out to me. I didn't really need it, but I let him help me, not refusing, either, when he used it to pull me into another hug. His strong arms pulled me to him tightly. I inhaled the rich scent of him for a moment and allowed myself to relax in the familiar, savoring being wrapped in an embrace that felt both comforting and safe.
I smiled faintly when he finally let me go and stepped back.
"Take care of yourself, David."
He nodded. "Give me a call, if you end up staying. We'll do a late breakfast someday."
I watched him walk away. We hadn't really settled anything, but somehow I still felt better. I was grateful for whatever insurance-greedy instinct had led me become a member of David's pack. It was a good one.
"She's coming!" Marion's excited shout echoed through the living room, and left me grinning broadly.
I took one last glance around the room and decided everything looked good enough, not that there was anything I could do about it now. I glanced down at the grinning boy and reached out to ruffle his hair.
"Then I think that means it's time to hide."
His grin turned mischievous as he sank down behind the large couch, and tugged on my hand until I was sitting next to him.
"Do you really think we can surprise Mom?" He asked. "She always knows," he added solemnly.
Her sense of smell did make Ivy one of the hardest people to surprise that I had ever met, but I had also worn the perfume that she had given me years ago. It completely masked the scent of the wearer, so there was no trace of me in the house, and I had carefully parked my car around the back.
"We are absolutely going to surprise her," I said giving his hand a conspiratorial squeeze. Whether it would be a pleasant surprise or not, would be the question.
I hadn't seen Ivy since I had walked out of her hospital room. My first instinct had been to run. It had been so tempting to step into the first ley line I passed and disappear, going across the country, or even across the world, running from my problems yet again. I had thought about it and realized that I didn't want to run again. I had let my fear dominate my actions for too long and that had made me into a shadow of my former self, more than Ivy ever had.
I wasn't cured overnight. There would always be a small part of me that was terrified of Ivy Tamwood. Not Ivy the vampire, or Ivy the person who had bound me to her, but Ivy the woman that I loved. I had run because I was terrified of what it would mean if I committed to her completely, if I fell in love with her without reservation and she realized that I wasn't what she wanted, and discarded me, like a used-up paper cup.
Slowly, over the past week I had discovered that I was more scared of running away now, of wasting the second or third or fourth chance that I had been given and regretting it for the rest of my life. I wanted to run toward something now, instead of away from it. That was why I was here with Marion, helping him to throw a surprise welcome home party for Ivy.
That, and I was quickly discovering that I couldn't refuse the kid anything.
The front door creaked open. Marion tensed beside me, and looked over at me. I grinned and nodded. He sprang up from behind the couch.
I popped up next to him and echoed his declaration in a slightly quieter tone. Marion was already dashing around the couch, and throwing his arms around Ivy. She caught him at the last moment, bracing herself against the onslaught, and wearing one of the biggest smiles I had ever seen on her face.
"Welcome home, Mom," he muttered with heartfelt enthusiasm.
She squeezed him back, and kept her arm around his shoulders even when he let go.
"Thank you, Marion." She wrinkled her nose. "They let me out just in time. I was about to break out."
"Mom," he complained good-naturedly, clearly finding the idea of his straight-laced mother breaking out of the hospital impossibly hard to believe. "You wouldn't have broken out. That's against the rules."
"She helped me break out of a hospital once," I offered with a smile.
Marion turned to me with wide eyes, glancing back and forth between Ivy and I until she nodded.
"Mom! That is so cool."
I couldn't help but laugh at the reverent tone in his voice.
"Don't get any ideas," she warned him, but she was smiling the whole time. She glanced around the room, taking in the banner that Marion had made himself, and the balloons and streamers scattered around the usually formal room. "You did a great job with the decorations, too."
"Rachel helped," Marion added, with a child's sense of fairness.
Ivy looked over at me and I grinned, even though my stomach was quivering.
"I can blow up balloons with the best of them," I said with a laugh.
"Thank you for helping Marion," Ivy said neutrally, still smiling but guarded.
"I wanted to," I said, hoping that she could hear more than what I was saying in my words. I desperately wanted a chance to talk to her alone.
"Are you leaving the Hollows soon?" Ivy asked politely. "I'm sure there are other branches of the FIB that want you to consult for them."
"There are," I admitted, "But I was thinking of staying for a while."
"Yeah, I think I've been gone too long. I miss the Hollows." You. I swallowed roughly, trying to ignore my nerves and the way my heart was racing. Surely Ivy could hear it.
"Are you going to re-open Vampiric Charms?"
"I, I couldn't really," I stuttered. "It wouldn't be 'Vampiric Charms' without you, or Jenks," I added quietly. "I would probably keep consulting for the FIB." I shrugged. "Running is what I'm best at."
Her lips quirked in an ironic smile. "So you're not planning to settle down and open up a little charm shop?"
I let out a surprised laugh at that. I hadn't thought about that old dream in years. "I don't think many witches would be interested in buying their spelling supplies from a witch who used to be shunned. Even one whose name was cleared eventually."
Ivy's lips quirked again, but this time with humor. "You might have a point."
Silence fell awkwardly between us. Marion saved the moment. Oblivious to the tension all around him, he burst out laughing at something Erica had said and then glanced back at us over his shoulder, giving his mom a brilliant grin.
"He's a pretty amazing kid," I said softly, knowing that he could still hear me, but saying it anyway.
Across the room, his cheeks flushed and he looked away quickly.
"He is," Ivy agreed with me, more comfortable now that we were back on neutral ground. Then she turned to face me. "What are you doing here, Rachel? I appreciate you helping him, really, but I don't understand why you're here."
"I have to ask," I said boldly. "Did you name him after me? Or was it just a coincidence?"
Ivy flinched, and inwardly I winced. I wanted to know the answer. More than that, I needed to know the truth, but I hadn't wanted to hurt her any more.
"It wasn't a coincidence," Ivy said in a strangled voice. Pain blazed in her eyes. "I thought we were going to share a life together and I wanted to have children with you, Rachel." She waved her hand. "I know both of us were scared of having children for different reasons, but whether they were biologically our children or not, I wanted children with you. I was going to give him my father's name. I had it all planned out until they put him in my arms. And then when I looked at him, I just felt this pure love. It was so incredible that I can't describe it. It was like nothing I had ever felt, even with you. I just couldn't stand it that you weren't there to share that with me, so I gave him your name, because I was stupid enough to want to have you connected to us in some way. Is that what you wanted to know, Rachel?" she demanded.
"Yes," I croaked. "That's what I wanted to know, Ivy." I swallowed. "Will you tell me one more thing?" I kept going before she could speak. "Is there any way I could be a part of your life again?"
Moisture glinted in her eyes, as she hugged her arms more tightly around herself.
"No, Rachel, I don't think so. I moved on. You broke my heart, but I did it, and I survived. I don't want to go back to just being your friend."
I nodded, feeling more hollow than when I had been shunned.
"What if I didn't want to be your friend?"
"What?" Ivy asked, confusion showing across her features.
I dropped any pretenses that remained. "I don't want to be your friend, Ivy. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. As your lover," I clarified, "Or maybe if I'm really lucky, your wife, your partner and equal. That's what I want. I love you."
Ivy was staring at me blankly, too stunned to even react. I could feel Erica's and Marion's eyes on me from across the room. They weren't even pretending to do anything besides stare at us openly. I ignored them and focused on Ivy. My breath caught with every rise and fall of her chest. She would change my life completely with whatever she said next.
"I can't change the past, Rachel." She sounded scared now. "You're still bound to me. Accident or not, it happened and you can't ignore it, no matter how much we both wish it hadn't happened. It did and it won't go away just because we want it to," she added harshly.
"I know that," I agreed. "I've thought about it and what it will mean, a lot. Look at me, Ivy," I pleaded, resisting the urge to reach out and touch her. When her eyes were focused firmly on mine, I spoke. "I trust you. Completely. You could have done what Trent asked, and made me do what he wanted, to protect me and you didn't," I said softly. "I trust you to let me make my own choices, just like you always have."
I stepped closer, until the distance between us was almost completely gone.
"And I will promise you this. I will never run from you again, no matter what happens."
"Running is what you're best at," Ivy echoed my words hollowly.
"From everyone but you," I whispered, reaching out hesitantly to touch her cheek. "No matter how far I run I can't escape you, and I don't want to try any more. I miss you too much."
Her head curved into my faint touch, and I slowly slid my hand up until I was cupping her face.
"Do you promise?" Ivy asked roughly.
"I promise," I said firmly. "You're my home, Ivy. My true home, and I never want to leave again."
Her arms reached out and wrapped around me tightly, pulling me to her. I buried my face in her shoulder and drank in the scent of her like a dying man in a desert. I held her just as fiercely. For long moments we just clung to one another, not quite believing it could be true, but neither of us willing to let go.
Ivy gently nuzzled my cheek, and I tilted my head back enough that I could look at her. There was still a hint of doubt in her eyes.
"I promise," I whispered again, running my hand along the curve of her neck, and pulled her head down gently.
When my lips met hers, she met me hungrily, tasting my lips again and again, claiming them until I was breathless. Thoughts of Marion watching nearby flickered through my mind, bringing with it embarrassment, but in this moment, I couldn't refuse Ivy anything. I didn't want to.
"I love you," I breathed, between kisses, the words echoing the emotion in my heart, but not nearly powerful enough to express everything that I was feeling.
Ivy rested her forehead against mine, and held me tighter. I didn't mind. I had a feeling that it would be a very long time before my craving for her touch began to ease. Impulsively I kissed the corner of her mouth and then drew her into a lingering kiss that lacked some of the desperate urgency of moments before. This held the slow burn of promise, and the steady rise of passion.
"I love you, too," Ivy said when we finally eased apart. "Welcome home, dear heart."