Hey, guys! I've been in love with this series for a couple of years now, but this is the first time that the inspiration has struck me to write anything for it. I hope I've kept everyone in character (especially that Rachel's voice is recognizable as her own) and that you all enjoy reading. Let me know what you think!

And, honestly, I can't remember if Al can be in the living room. I think I remember him tapping a few keys on Ivy's piano at some point... whatever. He's allowed in there right now because I say so.

Ivy leaned against the farm table in the kitchen, sipping orange juice and watching Al warily. The demon was leaning against the counter with a cup of coffee, mocking her as he mirrored her position. Bis and three of Jenks's kids were on the fridge waiting eagerly (or, in Bis's case, nervously) to see if the tension between the two would break violently.

I stood right in the middle, stirring a pot of chili on the stove, half expecting Wayde to pop in and spike it with wolfsbane. Jenks buzzed about my head, eyes darting between them. Al grinned at Ivy as they sipped at the same time, making her tense even more. Like we needed that.

"So, why are you even here, Al?" I asked, wiggling my fingers so that Jenks would back up. Some of his dust had come too close to falling in the pot, and I wasn't very keen on sparkly chili. The fact that Al was just hanging out in my kitchen, not even peeking into drawers or rummaging through cabinets, made me nervous.

"Yeah," Jenks said darting away from me to hover a safe distance before Al with his hands on his hips, Peter Pan-style. "You're not even bitching about Rachel not coming to stay in the Ever-After or anything."

Al shrugged, ignoring Jenks as his goat-slitted eyes slid to me. "I was bored. So I came to check up on you," he said, his British accent crisp as usual. "But this is turning out to be boring, too. You're not being at all interesting tonight, dove."

"Then go find something else to do," I answered, annoyed. Giving a little "hmm," Al set his mug down and pushed off from the counter. I turned down the heat on the burner, and turned around to see Al entering the hallway, Ivy hot on his heels. "Hey! I didn't mean here!" I followed, Jenks darting ahead of me.

By the time I reached the sanctuary-turned-living room, Ivy was standing protectively between Al and her piano. "Oh, come now. I won't hurt it," he was complaining. Ivy just crossed her arms and glared at him.

Al turned to face me, an obviously false hurt look on his ruddy face. "Rachel, tell her I won't hurt it. I'm just finding something else to do, like you said."

I looked between them, thinking. It was Ivy's piano, so I really didn't have a say in whether or not Al could touch it. I really didn't think his intentions here were bad, though. "Ivy, if he promises not to do anything bad to it, I think it'd be okay to let him play around with it," I said looking at Al pointedly. He frowned at the word promise.

"Fine," he said petulantly, turning back to Ivy. "I pro-o-omise not to do anything bad to your piano." Ivy looked at me and I shrugged. What harm could it do, really? I ignored the fact that when I thought that, things usually turned out badly.

Ivy looked like she didn't entirely trust Al's unenthusiastic promise, but she stepped aside, standing guard nearby. Al clapped his white gloved hands once in delight and went to the instrument. "Stop glaring," Al said as he slid onto the bench. "I'm not going to blow the damned thing up."

As the demon began to plink out the intro to a Takata song, I sighed and, with one more glance to make sure Al would behave, headed back to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee and give the chili another stir. Behind me, Ivy quietly told Jenks to keep an eye on Al before she followed me.

The scents of hot coffee and chili went surprisingly well together. Ivy came to stand next to me at the stove, vampire incense mixing with the kitchen smells. Pausing to listen to Al as he switched mid-bar to Für Elise, she leaned into me. "This is weird," she breathed. "I don't like him here as a rule, but it's even worse if he's not here for a good reason."

"As opposed to last week when he 'checked up on me' only to steal a bottle of chocolate syrup?" I asked arching my eyebrows. Ivy huffed at me, her orange juice-scented breath washing over me, then peeked into the hallway to make sure Al was being a good boy. Apparently satisfied, she gracefully dropped into her chair to respond to emails from potential clients.

I stepped away from the stove and poured some coffee into a mug printed with a swirly, floral pattern I pulled from the cabinet overhead. I leaned back against the counter with my ankles crossed and my warm mug raised so that I could breathe in the rich, vaguely bitter vapor.

Nursing my coffee, I had to fight back a grin as I watched Ivy lean back and peer down the hallway every two minutes. She caught me looking and I swear I saw a hint of sheepishness on the face. "What?"


Soon, I noticed that it had become quiet and, sharing a glance with Ivy, we both rose and went back to the living room. Jenks was sitting on the piano, but as far from Al as he could get, and I realized that it wasn't silent. Al was playing a new piece, starting off very slowly and gently, his face saying that his mind was somewhere other than here.

I didn't recognize the melody and I sent a questioning look to Ivy. She shook her head. She didn't know it, either. We hung back, leaning against the walls on either side of the hall entrance. The song was pretty.

The music grew louder, but the melody he played was still slow and sweet, nearly floating. Content. Gradually, it rose and fell, deeper notes rolling in from behind to push it along, getting faster and louder. The notes dropped, suddenly and seamlessly turning fast and ugly.

The song was chaotic now, harsh and aggressive. It was downright violent, making me think of fire and hurricanes and war. Al's face remained passive, but was the skin around his eyes just a tiny bit tighter? Jenks's wings were still, changing color with the tone of the song. Then, the melody began to drop, slow and soft again.

It rose and fell in waves, like before, but something was different. I couldn't exactly place the discrepancy, but any trace of that earlier contentedness was gone. It was thoughtful and miserable, bitter and lonely. It was powerful and beautiful. Watching Al's gloveless fingers moving across the keys, I was surprised to feel my eyes begin to warm and I quickly blinked the moisture away. I glanced at Ivy and her face was sad.

Hesitantly, the song lifted, seeming hopeful but expecting disappointment. It hovered there, and I waited with my breath held, wanting to know which way it would go. I nearly smiled in relief when it drifted up, just a little. I don't know if it was happiness, but something confident and maybe even positive crept in.

I took a deep breath and walked into the room as the song ended, clearing my throat. Jenks flew to us, wings clattering excitedly as he buzzed around our heads and asked if we'd heard it. Al blinked once and at me over his blue smoked glasses, breaking from his faraway mood quickly as he arched his eyebrows at me and his gloves were suddenly covering his hands again.

"Yes?" he asked pleasantly, looking for all the world that he'd just played "Mary Had A Little Lamb" instead of… well, whatever that was.

"Um," I said, not knowing what exactly to say in the new, empty silence. "That was nice, Al. Where'd you get it?"

"Nice?" he repeated, frowning. "And what do you mean, where did I get it? It's mine."

"Well, yeah, it's yours. But who'd you buy it from? Or did you steal it?" I asked curiously.

"I didn't buy or steal it, love. I told you. It's mine." Ivy made a little noise of understanding, catching on right before I did. Al wrote that? Wow.

"Oh, I…" I stammered. It wasn't a big deal. So he wrote a song. A really good one. Big whoop. "It was pretty." I got another look for that as Al rose from the bench, stepping toward me. "I mean, it was beautiful. Except for…" I stopped, not wanting to tell him that I didn't like that abrasive piece and hurt his ego. I usually got smacked if I bruised his ego.

"Except for what?" he asked, his voice frighteningly low and his red, goat-slitted eyes challenging me. I wanted to turn and make sure that Ivy and Jenks were still behind me, but I didn't want to take my eyes off of Al, for safety's sake.

I swallowed hard and decided to just go for it. He asked, so he had no right to bitchslap me if he didn't like the answer. "Except for that awful, nasty part. It was ugly," I said. I met his eyes and silently dared him to do something.

Al looked at me intently for a moment before smiling, soft and easy, which scared me more than his anger did. He reached forward and I flinched, hating myself for it. But he just put his hand lightly on my shoulder and leaned close to me so that I smelled nothing but burnt amber and coffee. His breath hit my neck and I shivered, my cheeks heating as he whispered. "Life is ugly, itchy witch."

With that he stepped back from me, sending a cursory glance over my head to tell me that my friends were indeed still at my back. Looking at me, he slipped easily back to his customary pompous self. "I suppose I'll be off, then. Coming here was nowhere near as fun as I thought it would be. I'll catch you later," he said, the phrase sounding strange coming from him and having an obvious double meaning. He faded out of sight quickly and I took a relieved breath, turning to see Ivy and Jenks watching me carefully.

"What?" I asked, wondering what they caught that I didn't.

"Nothing," Ivy said calmly, heading back to the kitchen. Jenks shook his head and followed. I went to sit on the couch and heard the refrigerator door open. "Rachel! He took the ice cream again!"

I couldn't help but smile as I leaned back against the cushions. Of course he did.

Hey... drinking game idea. Go read through again and take a shot for every time I typed soft or glance. I'm joking, but go ahead if you'd like. Don't blame me if you get sick. ;)

Anyway, I hope you guys liked it, and I'd appreciate any ego stroking you feel inclined to bestow upon me.

**The Hollows series and all characters mentioned in the work above are the property of Kim Harrison. This work is meant solely for sh!ts and giggles and the author has not and will not receive any profit from its creation and publication.**