Title: Running Isn't Always The Answer
Fandom: The Hollows aka Rachel Morgan aka that series by Kim Harrison
Characters: Rachel Morgan, Ivy Tamwood,
Genre: Drama, angst, romance
Word Count: 3,915
Summary: Life is about growing up and making the right decisions - even if it is the more difficult path. Rachel finally figures that out.
Disclaimer: All characters, and the universe that they go with belong to Kim Harrison. I'm just playing in the sandbox. No infringement is intended.
Spoilers: Vague ones for a plot detail of Black Magic Sanction that can be found in the excerpt in the paperback version of White Witch, Black Curse.
Notes: Originally written for P&P's December Challenge, Day 14. Also many thanks to queen_bellatrix for beta'ing this for me. Her time, comments and reassurances about a few particular plot points were all greatly appreciated! :D
Note, the second: I couldn't resist the pun in the title, guys. Sorry. It was just too painfully awful to resist. Besides, we all know how much I love coming up with titles. [/sarcasm]
For the first time, I looked at Pierce and he didn't make my heart race. Instead, he made me feel sick, a little betrayed and faintly heartbroken.
"You don't get it, do you? It's all just one big joke to you." The irony of me being the one to say that didn't escape me, but it was the truth. He had laughed like it was the best joke in the world when I had told him I'd been possessed by a demon. He had thought it was funny, not terrifying that I'd had no idea if I'd ever be myself again, or if I would stay trapped forever inside my own body, incapable of protecting my family or seeing my friends again.
I would have lost so many things - not just my freedom - but there would never be another night in the Church with Ivy, laughing together as I fixed dinner for both of us, ignoring she and Jenks when they ganged up on me about the stupidity of my most recent actions, and sharing the easy comfort of knowing the other one was there as I worked on spells in the kitchen and Ivy went about checking her email.
And Pierce had dismissed all that with a laugh.
"Mistress Witch, I did not mean to offend you. Pray, forgive me, but it seems to me a grand adventure, for it is surely no more difficult to escape a demon from within than from without."
My hands were trembling with suppressed anger, and I clenched them in to fists to make it stop. "I didn't know how, Pierce," I ground the words out through clenched teeth. "I thought I was trapped forever. I couldn't even call for help." The remembered terror of that helplessness flooded through me again. It wasn't helping with the anger I was feeling; it reminded me too much of being weak and helpless when I had been sick as a kid and I hated it.
Pierce looked genuinely surprised at that. "I'm sorry, Rachel," he said, sounding truly sorry and, for the first time, no longer amused. "I did not realize that, or that you had been so badly frightened. You handled it well." He reached out to me then and pulled me closer, wrapping me into an embrace that should have been comforting.
Any other time, it probably would have been. I had been trying for months to get Pierce to hold me like this, to take me into his arms and slip past the formality and distance he had imposed on us in his insistence on sticking to the proper ways to court a woman. It had been charming at first, but then it had merely grown frustrating. At the moment, I was still too angry with Pierce for this to be comforting or to take advantage of his closeness.
Stiffly, I held my arms out, my hands on his chest keeping space between us. "I can't, Pierce."
He let me go, his hands slipping down from my shoulder and then falling away from me completely before he took a step back.
"I am truly sorry to have offended you, Mistress witch."
"I know," I said with a quick bob of my head, as I wrapped my arms around my waist. I cleared my throat and tried again. This was harder than I'd thought, especially with most of my anger draining away at the genuine remorse in his voice. "I know you're sorry, Pierce, but it's not enough. I'm trying to be smarter, to stop making stupid decisions with my life. I want to live, really live, without having to constantly do insane things just to get that rush and prove that I'm not dead yet."
Pierce frowned. It had been a long time since I had seen him look so sad and deflated. I had still been a teenager and he had just realized that the world he had known - and everyone in it - was gone.
"I don't think I can do that around you. I like you, Pierce, I really do, and when I was a teenager, you showed me that I could do anything I wanted. I could do be a runner. I needed that and I'll always be grateful, but I don't think we can keep doing this." I gestured between us. "I make bad-" I grimaced and then corrected myself, "Worse decisions when I'm around you, not better."
"I believed you to delight in the excitement of a near miss, a grand adventure, as much as I."
"I do," I blurted out, "But there's a difference between living life to it's fullest and making stupid decisions for the thrill of it."
"So you shall punish me for a bit of laughter by removing me from your presence entirely. It is a stiff and unfair penalty."
I sighed. This wasn't going well. "I'm not trying to punish you, Pierce, just make better choices." I shrugged awkwardly and remembered why I usually avoided making good choices. This sucked dirty dishwater.
Pierce drew himself up stiffly, looking every bit the dapper, daring witch of centuries past. "Very well, Mistress witch, if that is your wish, I shall take you at your word and absent myself from your company." He hesitated and stepped closer to me again. "But, Rachel, should you ever change your mind, you have but to call for me and I will be at your disposal."
I nodded, biting my lip. "Right. I'll keep that in mind."
In the next moment, he disappeared with all the suddenness I had come to expect from jumping a ley line into the Ever After or some other far off destination.
"Rachel?" Ivy's voice echoed loudly in the silence of the Church.
Great, just what I needed. My nosy roommate coming home to smell out what I was feeling, when all really wanted to do was curl up on the couch and feel sorry for myself. I might have made the right decision, but I didn't have to like it, the Turn take it. I had loved the way he made me feel and even though we had only spent a short time together, I really would miss him.
He was the first person - even more than Marshall - to truly make me laugh and smile after Kisten's death. He had made me forget about Kisten and my nearly constant grief for him when I was with him. He had made me forget about everything else, too, and I had loved that wonderful sense of freedom right until it had all come crashing down.
"In here," I called out softly, knowing that there was no need to raise my voice. Ivy would hear me anyway.
This was perfect. I was sure Ivy wouldn't be able to resist slipping in an "I told you so" when she heard about Pierce.
Ivy took in the living room with one glance, curtains pulled tightly over the windows keeping the bright, cheerful sunshine out, and not a lamp lit. I probably looked like a disaster too. My eyes felt puffy and sore. I'd tried not to cry about the whole thing. It seemed so pathetic and girly, but Pierce had been more than just a man - he'd been an ideal that I had held onto since I was a teenager and letting go was hard.
"What's wrong?" Ivy asked, her brow furrowing as she stepped further into the room. Her concern was immediately obvious.
I shrugged. "I told Pierce I didn't want to see him anymore."
I didn't miss the flash of relief that flood through Ivy's rich brown eyes, and I could practically hear her thought: good! But to her credit, she didn't say it and she kept her relief mostly off her face. Years of dealing with Piscary had taught her to keep her emotions well in check, unless she wanted them used against her.
"I'm sorry, Rachel. I know you cared about him." She sank into a seat on the edge of her chair, not too far away, close enough to comfort, but still maintaining distance between us.
I nodded, tears welling up in my eyes and the lump in my throat making it hard to breathe much less speak. Shrugging, I tried to dismiss it as nothing, knowing even as I did that Ivy could read me far too well for that. "You and Jenks are always telling me I need to make better decisions, right?"
"It doesn't make it hurt any less, Rachel," she said softly.
Ivy would know; she'd had to make more than her fair share of hard decisions in her life and often, for her, the stakes had been far higher than losing someone she'd been interested in. This being an adult thing really did suck.
I looked down, fingering the hem of the blanket, not able to meet her eyes when I said it. "He laughed when I told him I'd been possessed by that demon. He thought it was just another adventure."
Ivy's pupils expanded into inky blackness, leaving only the faintest rim of brown around the edges. I stilled, but didn't jerk back from her. That was the wrong reaction and it wasn't me her anger was aimed at anyway, but Pierce. For the first time her response didn't frighten me, but warmed me that she would be just as upset on my behalf as I had been.
Just as quickly as her pupils had gone wide, however, Ivy got herself back under control, mastering her reactions and herself. "I know it's not what you want to hear, Rachel, but I think you did the right thing."
I grimaced. I knew it and I'd told myself the same thing, but hearing it from Ivy was something else. I still hated that she was right - that we both were right - about Pierce. "Yeah? Then why does it still feel so bad?"
Ivy's bottom lip trembled for the briefest moment, and I knew she was thinking of other things in that moment. "I don't know, Rachel. I wish it didn't."
"Ivy..." I wasn't so self-absorbed that I didn't notice her own pain. I swung my legs off the couch, my bare feet hitting the cold wood floor and reached out to her, lightly touching her hand with the tips of my fingers. Even that small contact between us felt electric. The fingers of her other hand curled around mine for an instant before she let go and then stood in one sinuous motion.
"I should go."
I rose with her, carelessly letting the blanket that had been tucked around me fall to the floor. "Stay." I tried not to sound too hopeful as I made my request. I didn't want to pressure Ivy into staying if she couldn't but I had missed my best friend and as much I hated to admit that I needed it, being around Ivy made me feel safe. Ivy couldn't hold back the scariest things in my life, I knew that. But the illusion of safety was almost as comforting as the reality, and I had no doubt that Ivy would do whatever it took to protect me, even if she knew it would be futile in the end. Pierce and Al hadn't even realized I had been possessed, while Ivy would have gotten it almost immediately. That was the real safety she provided me - she saw me for who I was. Funny, she did have that in common with Pierce.
"Rachel..." She trailed off wearily, rubbing at her eyes. "I can't do this with you. I want to be your friend, but this push and pull between us.... It's too hard." Ivy spoke in a barely audible whisper. "If I stay, you know what will happen, and you don't want that."
My stomach ached, turning into one churning knot of tension. Putting a stop to what was happening between Pierce and I had been hard today. I had given up on the dreams of teenager and forced myself to face the reality of the situation. It had hurt, and all I had wanted when I came home was the comfort and safety of Ivy's presence. That was why I'd waited in the living room instead of curling up in my own bed, knowing that she would be back eventually. It wasn't fair to her though, seeking her out for comfort like this when I couldn't offer anything in return.
If I couldn't offer anything in return.
"Do you know what I wanted the most when I left Pierce?"
Ivy swallowed and shook her head, remaining silent.
"I wanted to come back here and see you."
"Don't say things like that." Ivy hissed, "You don't mean it, Rachel."
"Pierce was everything I always thought I wanted. He was a perfect match for me and I walked away from him because I didn't want to become like him. He's smart and daring and brave and he loves the thrill of danger." I could have been describing myself. "But he has no friends or family. He's still alive, sure, but the world that he grew up in and everyone he loved doesn't exist anymore. What kind of way to live is that?" I answered my own question. "It's not. I don't want to end up like that, Ivy."
"You won't, Rachel."
"I could. I've already lost so many people and screwed up my life so badly." I blinked rapidly to hold back the tears that had sprung to my eyes at the thought of Kisten. "But I don't want to anymore. The only way to do that is to stop running and face the things that I'm afraid of."
Closing the distance between us, I explored her face with the tips of my fingers, following the line of her brow and then slipping down her cheek. This time - for the first time - I didn't ignore the way that Ivy's eyes fell closed at my touch and the way she nuzzled into my hand, inhaling my scent. I could barely stifle a soft gasp at the warmth of Ivy's breath against the sensitive skin of my palm.
"I don't want to be something you have to face, Rachel. A fear you have to conquer." The pain in Ivy's voice broke my heart. That wasn't what I had meant at all.
"You're not," I reassured her quickly. "I'm not afraid of you."
She snorted, the puff of air tickling my palm. Despite her words, she still hadn't pulled away. I couldn't see her eyes, but I still thought it was a good sign.
"I'm afraid of myself. That's what I have to stop running away from. Not you." I stroked her cheek with the back of my fingers. "Ivy, you're what I always come back to."
Her eyes flew open and her gaze bored into me, not trying to pull an aura but searching for something in my gaze, in my expression. "Then what are you running from?"
I swallowed. This was even harder than telling Pierce. "What I've always been running from: me."
Ivy's brow furrowed and confusion clouded her expression, so I continued.
"If I admitted I wanted you - like that -" I swallowed hard, hoping that she would understand and not ask for clarification yet. I wasn't sure I could say it and still finish telling her what I needed to say. "Then it would mean that I was different than the person I always thought I had been, and if I was different then I would have to stop running and look at my life. I just wanted to be me. I didn't want it to be complicated. It was me that I was afraid of, not you."
For the first since I had touched her, Ivy stiffened and pulled away. "You hurt me, Rachel, every time you ran away because you couldn't handle it. You made me feel like I was a monster."
I looked down, unable to hold her gaze. "I'm sorry," I whispered, knowing even as I said it that it was far from adequate. Forcing myself to be brave, to face what I had always run from before, I raised my head and met her gaze. "I hurt you and I don't want to be the one to cause you pain anymore. You've been the best thing in my life for a long time." My voice wavered. "Can you forgive me?"
"What do you want from me, Rachel?" This time Ivy just sounded tired.
"A chance," I said simply, "To prove I mean it. I realized today when I was breaking up with Pierce that the ideal I had held onto for so many years wasn't what I wanted anymore. You are what I want, Ivy."
"Don't say that if you don't mean it."
"I do," I said quickly, but it was obvious that she didn't believe me. There was only one thing I could do to prove it and that required action, not thought. Fortunately action was what I had always been best at.
I pressed myself against Ivy, not giving her space to breathe much less think, and brushed a lock of her gold-tipped hair out of her eyes, tucking it behind her ear. My thumb stroked back and forth over her cheek and for the second time that day, her eyes fell closed. My eyes drifted down to her lips, beautiful, perfectly shaped lips that were begging for me to taste them and feel their softness.
How many times had I stared at Ivy's lips or been entranced by her natural beauty and denied that it was anything more than the admiration of a friend?
There was no denying it this time. I wanted Ivy and not as a friend. I wanted more. Inching up on my tip toes, one hand on Ivy's shoulder to balance me, I caught her bottom lip between mine. Its softness was irresistible and I tasted it again and again, until Ivy was no longer passive beneath my kiss but responding to it desperately, hungrily. Her hands were everywhere, moving over my body, pulling me closer and sinking into my hair. The familiar, heady, intoxicating scent of her pheromones filled me and this time, I didn't even try to resist.
My knees gave out and I sank back down from my toes. Ivy followed me as if she had known it would happen, never letting go of me until we were both panting and out of breath, forcing us to break the kiss. Our foreheads met as we struggled to catch our breaths. Ivy's nose brushed against mine, before her head dipped down again, pressing a kiss against the corner of my lips, across my jaw. As her kisses traced a line down my neck, my breath came in sharper, quicker pants as she came closer and closer to the scar on my neck.
When her lips touched the raised tissue on my neck, I jerked beneath her touch, electrified by the sensations she was provoking inside me. Ivy hesitated, her arms tightening around me. Lost in a haze of desire, it took a moment for her actions to seep into my brain and recognize them as fear. We had been here before, more than once, and there had always come a moment when I had stopped Ivy and pushed her away. She was afraid that moment was now.
In answer, I wrapped my arms around her waist and pulled her closer. "I trust you," I whispered in her ear. "I want this. Don't stop."
I felt the shiver that rocked through her body at my words.
"I can have this?" Her lips brushed against my neck with each word she spoke, making it a struggle to form a coherent thought, much less speak.
And then I was lost too Ivy, caught in a whirl of feelings and sensations like nothing I had ever experienced before. There was nothing else but me and Ivy and nothing could keep us apart, not even ourselves.
I woke to soft fingers trailing through my hair, barely brushing over my scalp and down through long curls. Sleepily, I rolled over onto my back and found Ivy staring at me, looking down at me nervously.
A smile slipped over my lips as my mind conjured images of her above me and beneath me, enveloping me with her touch and her scent, and reducing me to a quivering mess just before I had returned the favor. Wrapping my arms around her I snuggled closer, tucking my head against her chest and placed a kiss on the tantalizing skin so close to me, simply unable to resist.
"Good morning," I mumbled against her skin. "Or is it afternoon?"
"Afternoon," Ivy said quietly.
She had stopped running her fingers through my hair as soon as she noticed the change in my breathing that signaled wakefulness, and now she gently placed a finger under my chin and tilted my head up to meet her eyes. I shivered as I saw her slightly expanded pupils and the look of desire in her eyes. The thin press of her lips and the stiffness in her body said something else, however.
"Are you okay?" She asked hesitantly, as if she were afraid of the answer. I couldn't blame her. So many times it had been no.
I shook my head, but couldn't manage to dim the smile that still tugged at my lips. "Where's my good morning kiss?"
Ivy shook her head in disbelief. "So demanding," she murmured just before she acceded to my request.
Once again we got lost in the tide of lust that swept us up, leaving us unwilling and unable to stop it, until we simply gave ourselves over to it.
Finally, laying on top of Ivy, rising and falling with the steady motion of her breathing, I sighed. Jenks and Ivy had told me for years, but sometimes I really was such an idiot. "I'm so sorry we never did this before," I breathed. "I'm an idiot," I added, just to be clear.
A soft puff of laughter escaped Ivy and her arms wrapped around me, holding me a little more tightly. "Just promise me we can do this again."
Making the effort to push myself up on my elbow, I looked her in the eye, wanting to make certain that she knew I meant what I was about to say. "Promise," I swore softly. "As often as you want." The fingers of my free hand trailed down Ivy's body, touching and caressing as they sought out a destination that had only recently become familiar.
Ivy laughed again, this time more carefree than startled. "I always said you were going to be the death of me, dear heart. I just didn't think it would be this way."
I flinched. "You're not dying on me, Ivy Tamwood. Not for a long, long time." The sudden fear that had wrapped around my heart, constricting it until I could hardly breathe, made the terror I'd felt in the past thinking that Ivy would bind me against my will, seem like nothing. I couldn't live without her and I knew it now. More than that, I didn't want to. "Promise me?"
"Promise," she responded, and somehow a lifetime - or more - bound together didn't seem nearly so frightening anymore. In fact, it sounded wonderful.