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 some of Black Magic Sanction.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

In the Line of Fire
By Jaina


"No way," I snapped, before I had a chance to think about just how unwise my words were. Rynn Cormel wasn't a vampire easily refused. After all, he had once been the President of the United States and he was the current Master Vampire of Cincinnati. Stupid Rachel! But I refused to let him have Ivy, not while she was in this condition.

I pulled Ivy a little bit further back from the threshold, even though there was no way that Rynn could reach us as long as the Church remained consecrated, and tightened my arm around Ivy's waist. Her head lolled limply on my shoulder and keeping her standing was an effort. Her weight was heavy against my side.

Rynn stilled, losing the air of human that he projected so well. Unlike most other powerful vampires, he was still young enough to have not lost that certain something that gave him his charm. It also made gullible humans forget exactly what he was - a predator at the top of his local food chain.

But I wasn't prey and I wasn't human. I was a witch, a runner, and Ivy's friend, and I was not letting him have her in this condition.

"You dare deny me?" Rynn asked quietly. "This is for Ivy's good, Ms. Morgan. She should be with her own kind. We can take of her."

"Not tonight, you can't," I retorted. "Tonight she's just a human and you're not her kind. If you take her back to your camarilla, she'll be a victim, at the mercy of the whim of any vamp who happens to be passing by. And you know she's made enemies." I shook my head. "I'm not letting her out of my sight tonight." And you can't make me. Probably best not to remind Rynn of that. He might not be able to touch me inside the Church, but I had to come out eventually and not even Ivy would be able to protect me if I pissed him off too badly. "I can protect her and I won't be a danger to her."

Rynn smiled. It was a pleasant expression but it sent chills down my spine. It was unnerving. I shifted my glance from his eyes to his cheekbone. Crap on Toast! If he started pulling an aura, I was a goner. I wouldn't stand a chance. He could just have me bring Ivy out to him and take him with her when I had done what he wanted. He didn't even need to be able to come inside the church.

"I'm not so sure about that," Rynn said slowly. "But if you insist, we will leave our Ivy in your care."

I bristled at his possessiveness. Ivy belonged to no one but herself.

Stop while you're ahead, Rachel.

"Thank you. I'll call around noon to let you know how she is."

He nodded, backing down the stairs before he turned on his heels and walked back to the waiting limo.

I shifted Ivy's weight, managing to get the door shut, but I didn't stop watching him until his limo had disappeared down the street. I wasn't taking any chances with pissed-off master vampires tonight. Ivy and I already had enough problems.

Dipping my shoulder, I tried to tuck myself a little bit more solidly underneath her arm.

"Rachel?" Ivy slurred, trying to shift away from me in confusion.

"Come on," I said, "Let's see if we can get you into your room."

"Where are we?"

"Home. The church," I clarified. I didn't want her to freak out if she thought I had taken her to her mom's.

"Wha's wrong with me?" Ivy asked blearily, rubbing at her eyes and looking like nothing more than the innocent, sleepy child she hadn't been for a long time.

"You got hit with a very powerful spell," I said, pursing my lips. "Remember that vamp you were supposed to be bringing in tonight for skipping bail?"

Ivy nodded.

"Well," I said, struggling to steady us both as we took another step forward. "He had a friend - a black witch - and that son of a warlock tried to kill you."

"Didn't work," Ivy said and I caught a glimpse of her grim, yet still slightly cocky smile out of the corner of my eye.

"Yeah, yeah," I muttered under my breath, although I had no idea how Ivy had made it out of there alive, and battered by nothing more life-threatening than a temporary spell.

"I feel all..." She shook her head, even that slight motion sending us lurching a little closer to the wall. Ivy's eyes widened and she looked panicked. "What did he do to me, Rachel? It's like I can't smell or see. Everything is so muffled and I feel so weak."

Her hand tightened around my wrist and I grimaced. Didn't feel weak to me, but compared to her usual bone-crushing grip, it was.

"It's just temporary," I blurted out quickly before she could freak out any more. "He turned you into a human."

Ivy blinked and stopped, forcing me to stop with her or let her go. In her weakened state, I wasn't sure I could get her back up by myself and I sure wasn't inviting Rynn Freaking Cormel in to help.

"He did what?"

"You're human. For one day. The spell doesn't have enough power to last longer than that and when it wears off, you'll go back to the way you were."

Ivy's grip on my wrist didn't loosen. "You're sure?"

I nodded, trying not to wince. "I'm sure."

"Can't you just dip me in salt water?" Ivy asked, her eyes narrowing, but I was already shaking my head.

"Rynn Cormel asked."

I had been the one Ivy called when she realized she was in trouble, but he had been the one who had gone in after the renegade vampire when I had told him that Ivy was in danger.

Asking had been the last thing Cormel had done. The renegade vamp was nothing more than a big pile of ash now.

"The witch said that if the spell was broken before its energy ran out, the transformation wouldn't work right." Ivy would die, that was what he had said, but I wouldn't tell her that unless it was absolutely necessary. Ivy had enough issues with magic without knowing that simply removing this spell from her could kill her.

"And you trusted the witch?" Ivy's voice sounded a little bit higher in pitch, her usual calm gone in the face of magic she couldn't understand or influence.

"No, but Cormel swore that he was telling the truth."

I could feel Ivy relax a little bit at that. I took advantage of it to get her the rest of the way down the hall, past my own room and into hers. In my room, we would have been tripping over shoes and dirty clothes left on the floor, but as usual, Ivy's room was pristine and almost pitch black, the leather curtains on the windows not even letting in any moonlight.

Ivy fell most of the way to the bed, landing heavily enough to make the mattress bounce. I winced.

"Sorry." My hold on Ivy had been awkward, and my hand had slipped when I tried to ease her down. Ivy always made taking care of me when I was hurt look so easy, but I seemed to be falling down on the job already.

"'S okay," Ivy said, sinking back into the pillows. It was an indication of how bad she felt that Ivy didn't even try to take her boots off before she swung her feet up on the bedspread. That was something I could fix, though, and going to the end of the bed, I unlaced the high boots as gently and quietly as I could, glancing up from time to time to see that Ivy's eyes had fallen closed.

She had been in and out all the way back to the church. It could just be the shock of the transformation and the weakness of her new body. We would know more about the lingering effects of the spell after she had transformed back. Or if she didn't. But I didn't want to think about that yet. Being a vampire was so much a part of who Ivy was; I had no idea what she would do without it. Of course, she could always go out and get infected again, but it wouldn't be the same as being born with it.

I let out a small sigh. It wasn't time to start worrying about that yet, though. Ivy still had plenty of time to revert back to her original state on her own. Maybe I could ask Al... I thought idly, as I caught hold of the heel of Ivy's boot and tugged.

Ivy's eyes snapped open and she shot up in bed. "What are you-"

My hands flew up in the air in the universal gesture of 'don't shoot'. "I was just taking your boots off so you would be more comfortable."

The corner of Ivy's mouth quirked up in a small grin. "Are you trying to get me undressed, Rachel?"

I felt my cheeks flush and inwardly I cursed my fair complexion. "You wish," I shot back reflexively.

Ivy snorted, but wisely said nothing as she eased herself back down to the pillows. Her skin felt cold and clammy to the touch where my fingers brushed against her legs. It was worrying, but it wasn't until I had finished and come to stand by the side of the bed that I noticed Ivy was shivering, even fully clothed, wearing her leather jacket.

"Are you cold? Let me get you a blanket." It only took me a minute to get a blanket from the hall closet and drape it over Ivy, but a few moments later she was still shivering.

"I can get another one," I finally said, intending to duck down the hall and call Glenn, or maybe Ceri. The former would know more about first aid, while the latter would know more about magic. It was a toss up.

"Stay," Ivy said, her hand shooting out to grab my arm. It wasn't with its usual inhuman quickness, but she still had speed and strength that was impressive for a human. Awkwardly, Ivy scooted over on the bed and patted the space beside her.

She must have seen my doubtful look, because that same small smile flashed over Ivy's lips again.

"Don't worry. I can't bite."

It wasn't funny.


I sank down on to the bed without really thinking about it and wrapped my arms around her. She was still shivering and her whole body was rigid with tension.

"If I'm stuck like this..." Ivy whispered.

"You won't be," I insisted firmly.

"It's so strange being human. I wasn't born like this, Rachel. I wasn't meant to be this."

The strange thing was, even knowing all the pain that being a living vampire had brought into her life, all the violence and suffering, I agreed with Ivy. Ivy as a living vampire, moving with sensual grace that couldn't be ignored, ghosting along as quietly as cat, full of strength and confidence, was a thing of magnificence.

"I know."

"But there is one thing..." Ivy hesitated. Her hand came up to cover mine. "There's something that I could do as human, that I can't do as a vampire."

"What are you talking about?" My voice came out high and breathy and I wasn't sure why. It didn't sound like me at all.

Ivy's hand was on my thigh. With her other arm, Ivy awkwardly pushed herself to a sitting position. That in itself was strange enough. Nothing Ivy did was ever awkward or clumsy. My arms were still wrapped around her, but now she was sitting eye to eye with me. My heart was racing; I licked my lips.

Being this close to Ivy usually meant a heady mixture of fear, desire and heart-pounding adrenaline. Not to mention the sensations that one look, one brief caress could begin to pull from the scar that was no longer a scar, hidden by the curse that had made me small again to comfort Jenks after he had lost Matalina. But why was I still feeling that way? Why was Ivy's proximity making my heart race? Why did I want...something? There was no way Ivy could be pulling an aura right now.

"I'm talking about this," Ivy said firmly. "I know you can feel it, Rachel."

"Feel what?" Vampires existed because of a virus. Maybe some of the virus hadn't been changed when Ivy had been. Maybe that was what was creating this pull between us. Maybe Ivy was already starting to turn back into a living vampire.

"This," Ivy whispered and kissed me.

I fell backwards out of the bed, hitting the floor in a heap of tangled limbs.

"Rachel, wait. Please."

But I wasn't listening anymore, I was leaving. We'd had this discussion, me and Ivy, so many times. She wanted a blood balance; something more than what we were, and I couldn't give it to her. I couldn't.

"I'm not asking for blood, Rachel." Ivy laughed. "For the first time since I can remember, I don't want it. I'm not craving the taste of it. You have no idea what that's like."

"Then what do you want?" She was confusing me. What Ivy had always wanted was a blood balance, that bond between us. She had never hidden the fact that she was hunting me slowly and had been for a long time, but blood wouldn't do her any good tonight. And she had just admitted that she didn't want it.

"The same thing I've always wanted - you."

I hesitated, at the edge of the room. One more step and I would be gone.

"You want my blood."

Ivy shook her head. "I mean, yes, I do, but not tonight. Rachel, don't you understand? I've always wanted to show you what it would be like without the blood, but I couldn't promise you that - and only that - until now. I didn't trust myself to give you that. I can't be Kisten; I can only be me. But tonight..." Her voice gentled from tense and desperate, to soft and pleading. "Let me show you how it can be."

"But I don't want to be with you that way." Except I didn't exactly sound convincing when I said, more like a question.

"Don't you?" Ivy asked rhetorically. "You've known all along that I've wanted more from you than blood, and you still keep coming back."

"You know I like things that are bad for me," I muttered weakly. "I just wanted to make the blood balance work."

"But it didn't. It never has," Ivy admitted. "So why are you still here, Rachel?"

"Because..." I love you. But if I said that she would think I meant in a different way, and maybe I did.

Ignoring her question, I took a step closer to Ivy. Ivy held no sway over me tonight. I knew the feel of vampire magic, the seductive pull of it that blotted out everything else: this wasn't that. The only thing I was feeling was Ivy and Ivy's voice, pulling me closer to her, despite the many things telling me I shouldn't go to her.

Ivy held out her hand and I took another step. There were so many reasons I should be saying no and walking out of the room right now, the first and foremost being that I didn't swing this way. But there was a part of me that wanted to find out, to know what it would be like without the blood, to know if Ivy was right and I wanted more than just a blood balance. If I knew what I wanted from her, the maybe the next time she offered a blood balance or something more, it would make it easier to turn her down, to uncomplicate my life and stop playing with fire.

I stopped short, my hand close, but not quite touching hers. Ivy's eyes were intent, never leaving me.

"Just a kiss," I stipulated. "I'm not saying yes to anything else, I just want..."

Ivy nodded slowly. "Just a kiss," she agreed, but I could see the hesitance in her eyes, mixed with desire, regret and just a hint of hope.

Our hands met, our fingers lacing together. Ivy's thumb stroked across the back of my hand. I shivered. Her other hand tentatively touched my hip, her fingers barely brushing against my t-shirt.

I closed the final distance between us and looked up into Ivy's eyes, only to find myself momentarily transfixed by them. Ivy was so beautiful. I couldn't resist touching. I was like a little kid who had to explore the shape and texture of something with their fingers instead of just taking it in with their eyes. My fingers brushed Ivy's cheek, stroking smooth skin, following the line of her cheekbones, crawling up past her temples, smoothing over her brow and eventually sinking back into her hair. Ivy's eyes drifted closed and her lips fell slightly open.

Once my attention had shifted from her eyes to her lips, I couldn't look away again. Rising up on my toes, my hand against her shoulder for balance, I tilted my lips to hers, brushing them gently over her parted lips. There was a gentle brush of air as Ivy sighed into me. It tickled slightly, but did nothing to take away from the intensity of the moment.

It felt like I had stopped breathing, suspended in this moment with Ivy. It wasn't really a kiss, not like the first time Ivy had really kissed me. She had been playing on my scar at the time and maybe that was all it had been, vampire pheromones twisting my feelings and desires into something they weren't at all.

I kissed her again, more confident and more demanding this time. My hand cupped the back of Ivy's neck and pulled her down toward me, sucking on her bottom lip, until she opened her mouth to me, her tongue brushing against mine. And then finally Ivy was kissing me back, her lips gliding over mine, sucking and tasting and asking for more, but not pushing.

Ivy was a good kisser, but it was more than that. Her lips on mine made me feel something and I wanted more. Instead of confirming that I didn't want what she was offering, it raised more questions than it answered. It made my pulse race and I felt dizzy, my head swimming with the heady sensations churning through my body, but most of all I wanted.

I had one moment to think about the consequences, but in the heat of the moment they seemed foggy and distant. In the afternoon, Ivy would be a living vampire again and all the usual rules would apply. I would have to keep my distance from her because closeness meant giving myself over to her completely, and doing that meant losing a part of myself, meant putting myself in danger of having my throat ripped out again - and loving every second of it.

But tonight those rules didn't apply. Tonight, I could take what Ivy was offering, be as close to her as I wanted - as we both wanted - and there would be no consequences. No chance that Ivy would lose control and take too much blood or that I would have to hurt her to defend myself. It was almost perfect.


I forced myself away from Ivy, holding her head between my hands, so that I could look at her. It was strange, seeing her pupils wide and dark with desire, but not almost obscuring the brown that surrounded them. They were just normal human eyes. Sinfully gorgeous, normal human eyes.

I wanted to tell Ivy this was the worst decision we had ever made. I wanted to ask her what she was thinking and how she would survive this. It was her heart on the line. How could I do this to her and call her my friend?

Ivy's hands closed around my wrists, not trying to control anything, just holding on, watching me.

I shook my head mutely. The words wouldn't come out.

"It's all right," Ivy whispered. "It's all right, Rachel. Whatever you need to say, just say it. It will be okay. We've been through worse than this."

She was right. We had been through worse things together. "I don't want to hurt you."

Ivy laughed. Even without the otherwordly aura of a vampire, Ivy still had a great laugh. It was deep and rich and almost like a physical caress.

"Even as a human, I'm not that weak, Rachel. I could still kick your ass," she whispered, leaning forward to breathe the last words by my ear, an intimate challenge, a little piece of seduction.

"Not like that," I countered, ignoring a challenge for the first time in my life. "I don't want to lose you as a friend."

Ivy sucked in a breath, sensing my answer in my concern. "I haven't left yet."

I shook my head. "That's not good enough. I won't do this if it means that I lose you in the afternoon."

Ivy let go of my wrists and tenderly cupped my face. "Rachel. You won't. I promise."

If I had said, she couldn't promise me that, it would have been true. I didn't. I wanted to believe. I needed to believe what she was telling me, because I was too far gone to turn back now. Ivy knew it too.

Her hands slid back further, until her fingers where threaded together, tangled into my hair. Slowly, she lowered her lips to mine and kissed me tentatively, as if it were the first time. Even now, she was still waiting for my rejection, waiting for me to freak out. I wasn't sure why I wasn't freaking out for that matter, but I wasn't going to think too hard about it either. Ivy was making any kind of thinking very hard anyway. It was easier to just go with the flow and the flow's tongue was brushing against my lips, slipping into my mouth and doing delicious things. So delicious that I hardly noticed the way Ivy had turned us around and was using her body to press against mine this way and that, pushing me until my back hit the wall.

I didn't let her get far, tugging Ivy with me as I stumbled back the last step, not bothering to try to catch myself, trusting that Ivy wouldn't let me fall. Her body fell into mine, pressing against me everywhere. The softness of Ivy was already so different from the hard angles of Kisten or Pierce.

Ivy caught herself with a hand to either side of my head. A thrill of adrenaline shot through me. This was the Ivy that I knew - controlling, demanding and domineering. She pushed away from the wall and her hips pressed into mine. Involuntarily I groaned and thrust back against her. The seam of my jeans pressed into just the right place and I grabbed Ivy without thinking, holding her to me. The leather of her pants felt cool against my over-heated skin and they were tight enough that I could feel everything underneath them. I could feel that Ivy wasn't wearing anythingunderneath them.

"God, Rachel," Ivy breathed.

"What?" I tried for indignant and failed.

She ignored me and fumbled for the button on my jeans, unzipping them just enough that she could get her hands down into them. My stomach clenched and I sucked in a breath, throwing my head back and not caring that it hurt when it hit the wall as Ivy made contact. Long fingers stroked through damp heat and my hands clenched, digging into the firm muscles of her ass.

I sagged forward, my head on her shoulder as my world narrowed until the only things that existed were Ivy and the sensations that she was drawing from me. I panted with need as she stroked and caressed and made my body shudder with desperate want.

"Ivy." Demand. Plea. It was all the same.

She chuckled and the puffs of air from her laughter made me shiver, dancing over my skin. "Not yet, dear heart." So confident and so damn annoying.

I tugged clumsily at her jacket, wishing I hadn't left it on her earlier, even though she had been so cold. Without bothering to undo the buttons on her shirt, I stuck my hand underneath it to grab a handful of her breast, pushing her bra down clumsily. Her nipple was hard against my palm and I squeezed. Ivy gasped. Her fingers which had been almost teasing before stilled for one extremely frustrating instant, and then Ivy slid up inside me.

She didn't give me time to get used to it. There was no need; I was already slick and ready for her. Her fingers moved faster and faster, pushing me further and further toward what I craved. My whole body quivered and I struggled to raise my head, kissing her desperately, searching for just that something more that would push me over the edge, my body burning with want.

I jerked once and then again as I came, my cry muffled by her lips covering mine. Just for an instant before my eyes clenched tightly shut, there was a riot of familiar colors, then a perfect blending harmony before I was lost to everything else but Ivy.

It was several moments before I caught my breath and a little longer still before I realized that we had sunk to the floor. Ivy cradled me in her long arms, her hand stroking my hair in a calming manner.

I shifted, stretching and enjoying the languid feeling that had stolen over me. Ivy's eyes followed me as the arch of my back pushed my small breasts out. I couldn't help but smile at her appreciation and thrust my chest out a little farther. Ivy's eyes snapped to mine and I couldn't help but grin. So busted.

Straightening, I did waste any time tugging my t-shirt over my head and throwing it to the side.

Ivy hesitated, withdrawing from me a little, folding her arms over her chest. "Rachel, you don't have to do anything. I didn't expect..."

It hurt that Ivy didn't have any expectations of me, that she thought I would take and give nothing in return. But so often it had felt like that was what happened between us. She gave everything and there was nothing I could do for her in return. This time...

"I've never done this before."

"I know." Ivy said, not meeting my eyes, looking down and away so that her hair fell in her eyes, hiding her face from me.

"And you're, you," I said, so articulately. "You have so much experience and you're like this sex goddess. It can be a little intimidating."

"Rachel..." Ivy almost sounded hurt and I hurried on. That hadn't been my intention. Hadn't she heard the goddess part?

"But lucky for you," I whispered, shifting up onto my knees and scooting forward until I was wrapped around her, my legs on either side of her knees as they pressed up against her chest. "I'm not easily intimidated and I never back down from a challenge. Even when it would be the smartest thing to do."

I thought I could see the faintest hint of a smile on her face.

"Look at me, Ivy." She didn't move, and I reached out to tip her chin upwards. Tenderly I kissed her, willing her to feel what I felt. "Trust me," I whispered against her lips. "I won't hurt you, Ivy."

Ivy whimpered and I pressed my forehead into hers, resting there until our breathing had fallen into the same pattern. Then I slipped my hand onto Ivy's knee, and urged her leg down. Ivy didn't try to resist.

I wasn't Piscary with hundreds of years of experience in the art of sex and seduction. I wasn't even Skimmer with her unstinting acceptance and desire for all of Ivy, even her darker side, the one I couldn't handle. But what I could offer Ivy was love. If nothing else, I knew I loved Ivy as a friend. I wanted to show her what it could be like without hurt, without pain. I wanted to give her something beautiful. I wanted to show her what I couldn't help but see every day, that she was beautiful.

My lips marked a path around Ivy's face, the uneven terrain of the side of her nose, the silky skin of her cheek, the downy soft hair at her temples, the slight furrow of her forehead. I made her laugh when I kissed her eyebrow and peppered kisses down the other side of her face, back along her cheek, until I flicked my tongue out and caught her ear. Ivy shivered and I trailed my kisses behind her ear, down her neck until I found her pulse point. I didn't have the vampire virus, no pheromones to reek havoc with her senses and without the virus in her veins a bite would be nothing more than a bite. I did it anyway, biting down hard enough to make an impression but not break the skin.

Ivy gasped and she clutched at my arms, her fingers digging in before she made a conscious effort to relax. I soothed the bite mark that I had left with my tongue, sucking on it and making Ivy shiver again. The marks would be gone as soon as Ivy returned to her living vampire form, but claiming her had given me the same wild heady feeling that was the exact opposite of what I had felt when Rynn Cormel had done the same. Probably because what I wanted was to set her free, whereas what Cormel wanted was to use her to further his own ends.

"Rachel," her voice was choked and hoarse. "I don't think you should keep doing that."

"Why not?" I was no good at sounding innocent.

"Because I don't think you'll like what happens."

I shook my head. "You can't scare me with that big, bad vamp crap tonight, Ivy Tamwood."

"Rachel..." There was a familiar warning in the tone of her voice. I ignored it completely.

My hands, which until now had mostly been motionless, began to roam over her body. This time I spared a bit of time and concentration to undo the buttons on her shirt, before pushing it off her shoulders. Ivy shrugged out of it and sat before me, completely at ease in a bra and leather pants. I thought it was a pretty amazing combination too, one that probably only Ivy could pull off. On me it would just look silly. On her it looked...well, there weren't really words.

I swallowed, hoping I didn't look as stunned as I felt. There was no way to live with Ivy without appreciating the way she moved and the way that she looked, but it was like I was seeing her for the first time all over again. But at the same time it was completely different, because the first time I had seen Ivy I wasn't looking at her the way I was now.

Ivy was watching me when I glanced up, a question in her eyes that she didn't voice. I tried to smile, not wanting my sudden revelation to derail this. What I had learned could wait until later.

"You know," I said as off-handedly as I could manage, "As good as you look in these leather pants, I think you'd look even better out of them."

Ivy studied me for a moment and I wondered what was going through her head. I didn't think she would refuse, but Ivy and I had been so close to getting things right before, only to have one of us back out. But a second later, it seemed as if Ivy had found what she was looking for and lifted her hips in a silent invitation. I didn't need a second one, but quickly began undoing them.

It was a process to pull them off her, skin-tight as they were and I let it seem more difficult than it actually was, making sure she could feel the tips of my fingers brushing against her thighs and down her calves as I slipped them off her.

The look in her eyes when I was done was almost challenging, and I realized abruptly that even now, Ivy was still expecting me to turn and run. Instead, I scooted forward, until I was between her legs.

"You're beautiful, Ivy. So gorgeous." I pressed my forehead against hers, willing her to believe me and then tilted my head down to kiss her, struggling to put everything there wasn't time to say into that kiss.

Gently, I pushed her backward, my free hand fumbling for the clasp of her bra, pushing it awkwardly out of the way. Her breast was soft and warm under my hand. I squeezed experimentally, her nipple already pebbled and hard and poking up into my palm. Keeping an eye on her, I brushed over it experimentally. Her eyes narrowed, and she bit her lip as I lowered my head over it, licking and sucking, teasing and tormenting her in any way I could think of. Her hand sank into the back of my hair and her legs came up to wrap around my waist. Her hips began to rock up into me and I could feel the damp heat of her against my abdomen.

I shifted to her other breast, my thumb playing over the one that had been in my mouth only moments before, and Ivy's breathing came in quick, sharp pants now. Even my witch-y nose could smell her arousal.

"Rachel." This time Ivy breathed my name, not with warning but with pleading.

My mouth moved away from her nipple and trailed along the outside of her breast. I began to make my way down her body, leaving kisses as I went, taking a moment here and there to nip at tender skin and watch her jerk.

Ivy squeezed once, her fingers tangling in my hair and pulling for an instant before she let go. "Wait, Rachel." She sounded almost desperate. "Don't."

I tried not to feel hurt. What did she think, that I wouldn't be any good? There was no way to know that until I actually tried it, but it couldn't be that hard, could it? Was her body really that different from mine?

"Ivy," I tried not to sound as hurt as I felt. "I want to do this."

"I know," she blurted quickly. "And I want you to, too." She bit her lip, her head rolling to the side and hiding her eyes. "You have no idea..." Ivy shook her head. "But if we only get to do this once, if this is our only chance, then I want to be able to see you when we do this. Please, Rachel."

"Ivy..." What could I say to that? What could I do but give her everything she needed. Without another word, I did as she asked. Our bodies fit together as if they had been made for one another. I kissed her again, hoping to ease the sadness that was present even through the glaze of arousal in her eyes. "Is there anything else you need?"

She shook her head minutely. "Just touch me."

So I did, running my hand down her stomach and through the small shaved patch of hair at the crux of her thighs until I was cupping her in my hand. I spread her with two fingers, until I could explore the depths of her. I could feel her legs quivering already and ran my thumb over her clit experimentally. Her legs tightened abruptly and she thrust up into my hand.

"More," Ivy said, her voice somewhere between demanding and instructional.

Without stopping to think about it, I slid two fingers up into her. Ivy groaned and clutched at me, as I built a steady rhythm, not letting the occasional jerk of her hips sway me from it. I could feel the tension building in her body with the speed of my hand, putting the whole of my body behind each motion, sliding deeper with each thrust. There was a slight hitch of motion as I played my thumb over her clit again, circling and stroking until the ceaseless motion that Ivy was making hitched, froze and stilled, as she clenched around my fingers.

Her eyes were locked onto mine and in that moment it felt as if I could see into the depths of her soul. It took us both by surprise and I think if she hadn't been coming apart in my arms she would have tried to pull away. Instead she cried out as she came, her nails digging into my back.

I held her as she gradually began to come back to herself. She smiled easily and for a moment, I could see Ivy as she had once been - long before Piscary had gotten his claws into her, happy and carefree. Smiling back, I propped my chin up on my hand and watched her. She shifted and rolled toward me, my fingers slipping out of her as she did, and curled into my side. I went with her easily and wrapped my arms around her waist, ensuring that she didn't move away from me.

"You should go," Ivy said quietly, but her actions said otherwise as she laid her head on my shoulder.

I froze. Had it been that bad that Ivy was kicking me out of her bed already? My heart began to beat wildly in my chest and I was gripped by fear that I hadn't expected.

"I don't want you here, if you fall asleep. If I wake up..." Ivy bit her lip again and this time it wasn't charming or sexy, but worried. "I don't want to hurt you." Please, Rachel, just go." This time she suited actions to words, sitting up and starting to roll away from me.

I moved just as quickly, wrapping my arms around her from behind.

"Who said anything about sleeping?" I asked with cockiness that I didn't feel.

"Rachel, don't make this any harder." An edge was creeping back into her voice.

I ignored it and let my hand slide lower, to cover her breast. "I promise, I won't fall asleep, Ivy, but what you went through tonight was a major shock to your system. It's why you were so weak when I brought you home. I promised Rynn Cormel that I would take care of you tonight and I'm not going to break that promise. You can try to kick me out of your room if you want, but it won't work. Not tonight. Just let me be here for you."

Ivy's lip trembled. I could see the exhaustion in her eyes, warring with her need to protect me, even from herself. "Promise you won't fall asleep," she demanded.

"I promise," I said solemnly, meaning every word of it. I had no intention of falling asleep and missing a moment of tonight.

I felt Ivy let herself relax and let out a sigh of relief of my own, sinking back into her soft mattress as the familiar scent of Ivy rose up around me.

Strong arms clenching tightly around my midsection jerked me out of sleep. For one wild, disoriented moment, I struggled, trying to pull away from an implacable grip.

"Rachel." That one word told me enough, and although every instinct I had screamed to get away, I forced myself to relax into Ivy's arms. Fighting and struggling against her would only play on every instinct that she had and make it harder for her to resist what they were telling her to do - sink her teeth into the nearest vein and drink her fill. And there was no doubt in my mind that when Ivy had woken up again, it was as a living vampire. The strength with which she held me was indication enough.

"What are you still doing here?" Ivy asked, in a low voice. I could already feel the tingle beginning in my neck as she began to pump pheromones into the room involuntarily.

"Staying with you, to make sure you're okay."

Ivy let go of me with one arm and her fingers trailed up my naked side. "Oh, I'm just fine. You're the one who should be worried, dear heart. I told you to be gone by now, but you didn't listen." Her voice changed, but didn't lose its seductive, hypnotic rhythm. "Why didn't you listen, Rachel?"

"Because I decided that one night wasn't enough."

Ivy stilled. I couldn't even feel her chest rising and falling behind me as she breathed. "That was a stupid decision."

"That's for me to decide," I said as calmly as I could manage, given that my heart was racing and each brush of Ivy's hand sent tremors racing through my body.

"You suck at making decisions," Ivy reminded me, drawing a jerk from my body just by hitting that single syllable harder than the rest. "I don't think I can let you go," she whispered against my shoulder blade.

"I'm not asking you to."

"It's not that easy, Rachel. I can't give you what you want," she snapped. "I can't play at being your tame little vampire. I am not Kisten."

"And I don't want you to be," I snapped, my voice rising to match hers, even though I knew I needed to keep calm if we were going to have a chance of making this work. "That's not what I'm asking."

"Then what are you asking?" Ivy said hesitantly. "What do you want, Rachel, that won't destroy us both?"

I took a deep breath. "You told me once that we could share everything if we shared both blood and love. That's what I want."

There was a long moment of silence. I wished I could see Ivy's face. Then at least I would have a chance at knowing what she was thinking and feeling.

"Do you crave my bite that badly?"

I squirmed. I couldn't help it. I needed to see her. Her grip on me tightened painfully. I wondered if it would leave bruises. I hoped not. It was hotter than the ever-after in Cincy right now and I didn't want to be stuck, unable to show my arms in public.

"It's not about that. I mean, yes, it feels wonderful, but that's not why I stayed."

"So tell me," Ivy breathed the words so that air brushed over the scar - her scar - now hidden beneath my skin by my most recent transformation.

"I stayed," I gritted out the words, even as I forced myself to concentrate and not lose myself to Ivy and what she was doing to me as she played on my scar. "Because I," my voice wavered and I forced myself to steady it. "I love you and I want to be with you. Not just for one night, but every night."

"You stupid witch," Ivy hissed. "You don't know what you're saying."

"I do," I said, not letting her dismiss what I said. "I know. I don't mean it as a friend." I hesitated and tried something. "Let me turn around. Please, Ivy. I want to see you."

For a moment, I thought nothing would happen and then Ivy loosened her grip enough that I could turn in her arms, if not enough that I could slip away completely. Not that I wanted to. I wasn't sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing that she had trusted me enough to let me do that. It was definitely a good sign that she was in control enough to loosen her hold on me. Ivy in control was what I had needed, what I was counting on.

I slid forward, moving slowly so that I didn't startle her and wrapped my arms loosely around her neck. Her eyes were lost in darkness, pupils so wide, I could hardly see the thing ring of brown around them.

"Good morning," I said softly, leaning into brush my lips against hers. Ivy blinked, looking startled by what I'd done. The kiss was over almost before it had begun, but it seemed to have put Ivy at ease somewhat, as much as she could be as hard as she fought against her instincts.

"Rachel, you need to go," she whispered brokenly.

I didn't mention that she was the one holding me. It wasn't important because I didn't want to leave. "I'm not going anywhere," I said aloud. "I meant what I said. And it's not about the blood balance," I added quickly before she could bring it up. "It's about us."

"There is no us." Ivy snapped. "Don't play with me, Rachel. I know what last night was. Don't ruin it for me, please. You weren't supposed to be here this morning. You were supposed to make something easy for me, for once. Why couldn't you just do that?"

"I don't take the easy way out," I said softly. "You should know that by now. But more than that, I stayed because I love you and I want to be with you. I realized something last night, Ivy, something that I've ignored and denied for a long time. This isn't new, the way I feel about you. It's always been there, I just haven't wanted to see it. I wasted so much time."

"This won't work, Rachel. You can't do this."

"Yes, I can. Let me show you." I stroked a hand down the side of Ivy's face gently. Her eyes fell closed, but her body remained tense. "I know we can do this. I trust you and I love you."

"What happened to nothing being worth being bound to a vampire?"

It was my turn to take a shaky breath. "The way you can make me feel when you bite me isn't worth it. But you, having you and being with you, that's worth it to me, Ivy." I stopped a moment, trying to figure out what I wanted to say. "Kisten told me once that having a blood balance, being bound didn't have to mean what I thought it meant. I want to prove him right and we can do that."

Ivy shook her head. "I want to believe you, but I don't think I can, Rachel. What if I... I want to so badly, but if I hurt you..."

"What if I hurt you?"

"I'm a living vampire. I can take it."

"Al thinks I'm the closest thing to a demon that he's seen in millennium. I can take care of myself."

Ivy ran a finger down my throat. "Not when you're willing to let me take everything. You won't stop me then."

I caught her hand gently and brought it up to my lips. "That's when you'll protect me."

"Rachel," Ivy protested.

"You said we could do this, if we did all of this and that's what I want. I trust you completely; I trust you to have my back. There's no difference."

"Yes, there is! Especially when what I'm protecting you from is me."

"So, what?" I demanded in exasperation. "You don't even want to try?"

There was a long moment of silence. The sound of my heartbeat thundered loudly in my ears as I waited for what Ivy would say next. It would determine our future, whether one of us would be moving out of the church that we both loved in the next few hours. There was only so much that our friendship could weather and this would be too much. How had I ever thought we could do this and just walk away? It seemed crazy now.

"I should say no," Ivy whispered. "But I can't. I want this too much."

"Okay," I said, almost at a loss for words now that Ivy had agreed. "Okay." I cocked my head to the side. Lying awake last night, I hadn't thought about much beyond how this could work and getting Ivy to agree to it. I hadn't spent much time thinking about what came next. "So...what happens now?"

Ivy shook her head, looking up at me from under long, dark lashes. "I'm not sure. I don't know how to do this, but I think together we can figure it out."

I laughed. "Are you going to make a plan?"

Ivy wrinkled her nose with mock irritation. "Are you going to improvise and make crazy decisions?"

"Probably," I admitted. "Can you live with that?"

"Haven't I been living with that already?" Ivy asked with an arched eyebrow.

"Yeah, but this is different," I said, suddenly finding myself serious. This was the part of my life that Marshall hadn't been able to accept, that Pierce had loved too much, that had gotten Kisten killed. I needed Ivy to still be able to deal with it and accept it.

"Dear heart, I already know about your talent for getting yourself into impossible situations. Sometimes you make bad decisions, and occasionally you make good ones. But I know one thing about you: you try to be a good person. It's why you get into so much trouble. I can live with that, if you can understand that I don't want to have to live without you."

I smiled, feeling relief wash over me. Of course, Ivy would get it. "Thank you."

Ivy nodded. "Will you teach me how to summon you? In case something ever happens and..."

I put my fingers over her lips before she could get any further. I didn't need her to explain. I already knew the reasons why Ivy would want to be able to bring me back to her, no matter what. "You would be willing to do magic for me?" Ivy hated magic and after what had been done to her last night, I couldn't blame her.

"I would do anything for you," Ivy whispered and I knew she meant. That had terrified me once, but now it felt safe and comforting. It felt like home, and with Ivy, no matter what, that's where I was.

The End

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