DISCLAIMER: The Hollows and its characters/inhabitants are the property of Kim Harrison. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This isn't my first fic but it is my first Ravy fic, and it resulted mostly from sheer frustration. I wanted to see Ivy and Rachel moving forward, or at least going places, and this was the result. Thanks to Madlaxx for the beta-work and the title! Feedback much appreciated.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To watch.yer.back[at]gmail.com
SPOILERS: Up to White Witch, Black Curse.

In the Leyline of Fire
By w.y.back



I was going to die.

Stupid, stupid witch.

This is what happens when you live a relatively quiet life for a year. You let your guard down. Not that it was uneventful; I did my lessons with Al, consulted with the F.I.B., took on some runs, paid my rent, and mostly stayed out of Trent's way. Maybe the last time I'd nearly gotten killed had finally knocked some sense into me.

Then, three weeks ago I'd helped Ford thwart one of Cleo Walker's schemes to snatch Holly, who was that rarest of beings, a banshee's baby (though she was more of a toddler by now). I thought there'd be some kind of payback but I never expected Walker to send a banshee after me! And right to my door too.

I had let the harmless-looking, gray-haired woman into the church myself, thinking she was a potential client. Within five minutes she'd ascertained that no one else was there, and she pounced. Only chance and a lucky knee in the ribs let me get away.

But I couldn't get far. She had already drained a lot of my aura in the first attack and it left me weak. I was reduced to taking baby steps, then crawling, and even then each move felt like it was tearing more of my aura away. I collapsed, feeling helpless as the banshee recovered. Her predatory eyes gleamed.

"Ivy! Jenks!" I cried out, though I knew it was useless. They were on a run and they weren't supposed to be back for hours. Even Bis was away, some gargoyle social thing. It was unfair. I won't get to say goodbye.

Desperate, I felt for the ley line running through the church. With much of my aura gone, this was going to hurt, but what choice did I have?

"Get away!" I shouted as I reached for the line and threw the force of it at her.

The banshee cried out as she flew across the room. She landed against the thick stone wall with a solid thunk, and slid down in a crumpled heap to the floor. For a moment she lay there, her head propped up against the wall at a sharp angle and her limbs splayed.

I doubled over as the ley line reverberated through my thin aura. Run! I told myself, but I couldn't even get up. All my body wanted to do was curl into itself as nausea and vertigo sent it spinning.

"Is that all you got, dearie?" To my horror, the banshee's eyes slid open. Staring at me, she began to straighten her crooked limbs. She used the wall to support herself, sliding up slowly against it as she began to sit up.

Oh God, did I even have enough of an aura left to use a ley line again? I couldn't tear my eyes away from her slow, inevitable recovery. I knew that I was watching the approach of my death.

Then something in me rebelled. No, dammit! I gritted my teeth. I would try, I would do whatever I could to stay alive. No way in hell would I give up and allow Ivy and Jenks to come home and find my body, and blame themselves when the only thing at fault was my dim-witted lack of caution. Ivy. Ivy, I'm sorry. I thought we had time. I should've worked harder to find a way for you to keep your soul. I'm sorry I can't help you to be the person you want to be.

The banshee cocked her head to one side, soaking in my distress. "You only think she'll miss you, but the truth is your death will probably be a relief. All you do is hold her back, Rachel Morgan." A nasty smile grew wide on her face as she soaked in my distress. "You're a coward. You say you love her, but you've done nothing but hurt her. You won't accept her for what she is."

"That's not true," I denied in a hoarse whisper. I knew the banshee was toying with me, messing with my emotions so she could feed on them before she killed me, but even doubled up in pain I couldn't let a statement like that stand.

"She's a vampire and she scares you. She's a woman who stands head and shoulders above every man you've had in your life, and that frightens you. You claim to live for rush and adventure, but you draw a line in the sand and refuse to cross it." She licked her lips. I was helpless and the damn banshee was practically salivating over the feelings I was throwing off. "You are a coward," she repeated.

"Not. True." I barely managed. It was so tempting to give in to the weakness, and pass out.

"You are stupid." The woman got up on her haunches and went into a crouch, readying herself to leap at me again. A tone of real contempt crept into her voice, the disdain of a banshee, a creature who could not love without killing, for any being who merely refused to. "You find love, and build walls around it because it's nothing like you've known before. This is the single most complicated thing you've come up against, and you have no idea what it might mean or how far it might go, and how it will change you. And now you're going to die, and you're never going to find out. You've lost your chance."

"Lies," I whispered. But I could hear Ivy's voice in my head, "You know how banshees are. They tell you hard truths just to get you angry so they can eat your emotions..." The only reason I was still alive was because I was providing the banshee with a tasty snack.

The banshee's lips parted, her snaggled teeth framed in the rictus smile of a predator. "Maybe I should wait for her, this vampire of yours. I'll stay till she finds your body. Then I'll tell her how you died blaming her for not being here. Her sorrow will nourish me for weeks, and in gratitude I'll offer her a quick death."

"Ivy will tear you apart!" I threw back. But God, she might believe it. She'd hunt this banshee down and make her pay, but I could see her blaming herself for my death, as she nearly did with Kisten's.

"Or maybe I'll lay waste to the stump in your garden, and see how fast your little pixy can dig thirty new graves. Though pixies are not much of a taste."

I couldn't let her. I couldn't let Ivy carry a burden she had nothing to do with. I couldn't let Jenks' family down. With the last of my strength I lifted my hand. "Stay the HELL away from my friends!"

I opened myself up to the line again.

This time I screamed. The energy burned through the thin layer of my aura and right through to me, every spike rasping on my nerves. It seared as it flowed, bringing tears I couldn't stop.

The banshee was thrown against the wall, but I had seen her crumple and get up before, and I wasn't going to take the chance this time because it might be my last. I threw as much force behind it as I could until the woman's eyes were bulging and she was writhing where she fell.

My insides felt like they were being torn apart. Instinctively, I understood that if I pushed this much further the forces I was harnessing could turn against me. The wave of the ley line was doing what I demanded, but it was also burning something inside. Soon the damage might be more than my body could take without permanent harm.

Then suddenly the pain cut off, as cleanly as if it had never existed. And I knew, even before my befuddled mind realized that a hand was gripping my shoulder, even before she spoke, that she was there.

"Rachel, enough!" Ivy said.

I was safe. She was here and I was safe, and all of us were going to live... Half-delirious with pain, I could only smile at her.

"Get her to stop. Crap on my daisies, her aura's as thin as fairy wings!" Jenks shouted as he buzzed near my ear.

"You heard him. Rache, let go," she urged. She looked towards the fallen banshee, and a sliver of white teeth showed. It said more clearly than anything that another predator was in the room, and she was royally pissed. "Let me take care of it."

With a sigh I did, and dropped my hand. The power shut off, but I'd used too much and everything was a wild kaleidoscope of spinning, blurry images.

Ivy caught me as I collapsed. "It's okay. I've got you." A hand touched my forehead, and its coolness was soothing.

Those were the last words I heard before the world turned from gray to black.



The nightmares were horrible. At first, demons were chasing me, and I'd forgotten how to draw a circle. Then another one took over, banshees surrounding me, threatening to tear my soul away.

Only that one wasn't quite a dream, was it? Desperation jerked me into consciousness. I was never so happy to wake up in my life.

The first thing I heard was the flutter of pixy wings, followed closely by a running description of Tink's frilly pink underwear. Mild daylight - the pre-noon kind that was still too early for witches and vampires - was seeping through the windows. That meant I'd been out for at least twenty hours.

"The banshee?" I asked a relieved Jenks hoarsely. My mouth felt as dry as dust.

"The I.S. took her." At my look of surprise, the pixy explained, "They may not care much for you or me, but she attacked a Tamwood residence. Last living heir and all that."

"Yeah? Where were they last year?" I muttered. Ivy had nearly gotten killed by a rampaging banshee back then and the I.S. hadn't been much help.

Jenks shrugged. "They probably caught flack for that, which is why they couldn't ignore this one. Either that, or Ivy threatened to let the F.I.B. get the collar on a banshee."

My eyes fell on the chair pulled up next to my bed. "Did she...is she okay?"

"Yeah, Ivy stomped whatever was left of that banshee into oblivion. She just got up to shower," Jenks continued, confirming my suspicion that Ivy had stayed the night to watch over me. "She's feeling a little guilty, says she should've known that something like this was bound to happen."

I leaned back tiredly. "She should know better."

"So should you!" Jenks swooped in front of my face, hands on his hips as he let me have it in full Peter Pan pose. "For the love of Tink, Rachel, what were you thinking, letting a banshee in?!"

I didn't have the energy to argue. "She looked like a harmless old woman."

"So do half of the undead in the Hollows! You could've -"

"Jenks, shut it," Ivy reproved mildly as she stepped into the room. She was in her house clothes, a comfortable old shirt over a pair of leggings that did nothing to hide her trim figure underneath, and her hair was spiky-wet from a shower. She held a cup of coffee in her hand, freshly brewed by the aroma of it. "She just woke up. We can argue with her later."

I ignored the implied threat in the last part of her statement. "Hey." I reached out, and Ivy put down the coffee on the night table and grasped my fingers. Oh we're getting good at this.

Her hand was warm from the steaming mug. "Feeling better?" she asked, her eyes a clear shade of brown.

"Yeah, though I really want off on the banshee go-see list," I replied. "How did you guys get here so fast? I thought you and Jenks were on a run?"

"Jenks' kids," she explained. "They caught a whiff and knew right away what she was. They flew to Keasley, and he called us."

"And we practically freaking flew back!" Jenks interjected. "I nearly froze to death on that ride, Ivy! That bike of yours should be licensed as a weapon, the way you drive. I thought we were going to die half a dozen times!"

I grinned. I've had my share of rides on Ivy's bike and most of them had scared the daylights out of me. Living vamps with their love of speed, inhumanly fast reflexes, and motorbikes? Bad combination, unless you happened to be a motorcycle dealer.

I felt Ivy pull away at Jenks' interruption, and its reminder that we weren't alone. I nearly let her, and our hands loosened.

Then I decided not to. She was my friend and she'd just saved my life. Besides, it was just Jenks. I could hold her hand if I wanted to; Jenks would understand. I tightened my grip, just in time to recapture her fingertips.

Her brown eyes went wide. She glanced at our hands and then at me, one eyebrow quirking up in an elegant expression of inquiry I couldn't manage if my life depended on it.

Then she did the most unexpected thing. She tugged lightly until her fingers slipped from my grasp, and stepped away.

At first I just stared at her in shock, not quite believing it. Then when I did believe it – because there she was, moving away from me – a feeling so desolate swept over me that I had to shut my eyes. Suddenly it felt like I might cry.

Vampire incense wafted closer. "Your coffee's getting cold, Rachel."

"I don't w-" I began sullenly, when I felt a slim but very strong arm slip under my shoulders and effortlessly lift me until I was sitting up on the bed. I opened my eyes and found Ivy's concerned face inches from mine.

"You need something warm," she said gently, "and the caffeine will help."

She was right. The heat of the coffee was comforting as it went down. The caffeine would probably keep me up for a couple of hours, but at least it wasn't brimstone.

As soon as she helped me back down and put the cup away, I hesitantly reached for her hand again. Though an eyebrow shot up briefly once more, this time she held me easily.

"Thanks for..." I waved my free hand around, not knowing exactly what to say. For saving my life? For carrying me to bed, and watching over me, and making the best coffee day after day? For letting me see you again, when I thought we'd run out of time?

She just smiled, but the glimmer in her eyes told me she understood. "Just be careful who you let in next time."

"Hey, she looked like a real Grannie Annie," I couldn't help pointing out in my defense. "Maybe not when you saw her but how was I supposed to –"

"That's the weirdest thing."

Our attention snapped to Jenks as he spoke. I felt my face turning red as the pixy flew closer, peering with intense concentration at our still-joined hands. Then he showed much the same interest in looking at the rest of me. "Your aura's much better than it should be."

I'd forgotten that pixies could see auras, but now I listened closely as Jenks continued. "It should be packed tight around you. Remember last time?"

I nodded. "All I had left was an inch-thick layer. It's the sign of an unstable aura, right?"

"Yeah well...your aura's not unstable right now." The pixy scratched his head. "How are you doing that?"

Ivy and I traded looks. I had told her about how her aura had protected me before, when the banshee who'd nearly killed both of us had drained mine. Back then, Ivy's pure, beautiful aura had swept over my dark, damaged one and protected me from the power of a ley line when I spelled. She hadn't felt anything but she'd seen for herself the difference it made, the way it shielded me from pain. That's why she had gone to me first yesterday, instead of tackling the banshee directly.

Jenks flew around – his equivalent of pacing – as we told him about the spell I'd used on the remains of Kisten's killer. Well mainly I was doing the telling while Ivy nodded here and there.

"So it only works when Ivy touches you?" he asked at the end.

"I think so," I said uncertainly. "At least that's how it feels."

"Why don't we find out?" Ivy suggested. Her expression was intrigued as she dropped my hand. Again.

I knew she was doing it for me, but another part of me was getting a little ticked off by how easily Ivy Tamwood seemed to let go of me these days. Honestly, what kind of hunter-type strategy was that?

I bit my lip as Jenks hovered closer. She was still hunting me, wasn't she? And that was okay because I was letting her.

"What does her aura look like now?" Ivy asked.

Jenks flitted. "Back to unstable, but..."

I sat up a little straighter. "But what?"

"I'm not sure, but it seems better somehow. Not as thin, or the colors are stronger." The pixy landed on the edge of the bed, still staring at me. "This is just freaking weird."

"Never seen anything like it before?" Ivy guessed.

"I've never even heard of anything like this before," he admitted, obviously torn between annoyance and a powerful curiosity.

"Jenks," I spoke up as something occurred to me, "do you remember what I told you? What happened when Ivy and I –" I glanced at her nervously, but we had to understand what was happening "- when we shared blood?"

Just as I feared, Ivy shut down at that. Her expression became closed and controlled, and I couldn't blame her. After our first year of living together, I had wanted to understand her, and afterwards I'd sought a blood balance with her. But then Kisten had been killed, and for a moment I thought I'd been bound by his killer. That had so terrified me that I decided never to let anyone break my skin again.

But we remembered. And though I'd made my decision, and Ivy had sworn off my blood, not letting herself take it even when she'd almost died, the memory and purity of those moments when our auras had joined hung over us even to this day. I had never felt anything like it before or since, and sometimes... sometimes I admitted to myself that I wanted Ivy to take my blood again. Maybe one day, when it was safe for the both of us.

"You mean the way your auras merged?" Jenks asked.

"Yeah. I think that's similar to what's happening now."

"But that doesn't make sense. Ivy's not taking your blood right now."

"Maybe because we've shared blood and mingled auras before...?" I left the idea hanging. I hadn't really given it that much thought yet. Having united once, did our auras find it easier to bond again? But that didn't make sense, because if that were the case it would've happened to every vampire and every person they'd drunk blood from.

Jenks shrugged and turned to Ivy. "How about you? Have you come across anything like this? Heard or seen anything in some confidential vampire book?"

Ivy shook her head. "You forget, most vampires keep the connection between blood and auras a secret. It's not the sort of thing we discuss. People – most people," she amended after a glance at me, "wouldn't be so eager to get bitten if they knew. Besides, usually it's the other way around. We take auras, not..." She gestured towards me, not sure what to call it.

With a considering look, Ivy moved towards the bed. "Do we need to figure it out right now? As long as we know it's helping, why not use it? If that's all it takes, then I just need to watch over Rachel tonight. Only this time I'll," her hesitation was miniscule, "hold her hand or something."

"Ivy, no. You haven't slept yet," I added quickly, in case she got the impression that it was the hand-holding I was protesting. Maybe other people wouldn't catch it, but she seemed tired to me. "My aura will recover eventually. I just need a few days."

She crossed her arms over her chest. "And what if another Grannie Annie comes around? You need to be able to use your magic again, Rachel. Without pain. The sooner the better."

"And you need to be able to fight if anything like that shows up here," I argued back. "Plus you have to finish your run. You need to sleep eventually."

"Who said anything about not sleeping? I can sleep in a chair."

"Oh sure, that's really comfortable," I scoffed.

"I've slept in worse –"

"Maybe it would help if the two of you slept together," Jenks said with a thoughtful expression.

We whirled around at him. "Jenks," Ivy growled warningly, while I flushed.

"Tink's panties, I didn't mean sex!" he huffed. "Think about it. If it works when you're holding hands, what would happen if you spent the night together? Side by side, more contact..."

Our entire bodies touching. I swallowed. I'd never told anyone but I'd let myself imagine that once, what it would be like to slide into Ivy's bed. It had seared itself into my mind as clear as day, the way she'd turn over with an easy smile, the soft sound she'd make as I drew closer.

"I'm not sure that's a good idea," Ivy murmured.


Jenks made a sound of impatience. "Why not? You said yourself that if it helps Rachel –"

"You'd rather sleep in a way that's sure to put a crick in your neck then lie down comfortably next to me?" I cut in, wavering between hurt and indignation.

Ivy sighed. "Jenks, can you give us a minute?"

The pixy looked like he wanted to protest, but when he noticed how pissed off I was he left gladly enough.

"Why won't you do it?" I asked as soon as Jenks was out of sight.

Ivy turned back to me, her expression carefully neutral. "You still have Rynn's book?"

"The vampire dating guide?" I nodded.

"Then you know what'll happen if we sleep together."

Our scents would mix, and we'd be in bed, probably in nightclothes, and...oh crap. "I'll wear the perfume."

She rolled her eyes. "Rachel, you're going to be right next to me the entire night. Even the whole bottle wouldn't make a difference. It's not meant to last that long, and besides, even if I couldn't smell you I'd see you. Trust me, this is not a good idea."

"We don't have to do it in your room." I felt myself turning red as I realized how that sounded. "I mean we don't have to do anything other than sleep."

"Of course, that's easy for you to say." There wasn't even a flicker of emotion in her eyes, no bitterness, not the slightest accusation, nothing.

But it still hit me. I was being unfair. I knew how Ivy felt about me, and how hard she had to fight her instincts when she was around me. Why was I pushing? Because. I should give in because it was the sensible thing to do. Only... I raised my eyes until I was looking straight at Ivy. "It's not as easy as you think."

She stiffened. "Rachel," she said warningly. The chocolate in her gaze darkened.

I was getting tired, and I knew that given time Ivy would wear me down with her inescapably logical arguments. But this wasn't about logic and doing the smart thing. This was about doing what felt right. And it felt right to trust her.

So I lay back against my pillows and did something I never had before except with my parents and, to a more limited extent, my brother Robbie, and even then rarely as an adult. With a deep breath, I let the layers of my bravado fall away and showed her exactly how weak I felt. "Ivy, please."

One glance was all it took – a glance before which I felt exposed and completely vulnerable – and the powerful vampire was defeated. She sighed. "You're asking for trouble."

"I know. I'm sorry."

Ivy eyed me knowingly. "No, you're not." She picked up my empty cup. "I'm going to finish my run today, but I'll leave Jenks here to watch over things. I'll see you tonight."

For some reason, her mention of tonight made my heart speed up. "Here?"

The vampire's grin at my unease was just a shade sultry. "No, Rachel. You got to say yes. I get to say how."

"How...?" I repeated faintly. Suddenly it seemed like I was reduced to one-syllable words.

She approached and leaned over me a little. Vampire incense enveloped me, soothing whatever trepidation I felt, though her words quickly did the opposite. "My room. My bed. All you have to do is show up, witch. If you haven't come to your senses by then."

"But –"

"I have a bigger bed."

"Oh." I lay back. "Um. Okay."

Dark eyes bored into mine as Ivy straightened. "You have all day to change your mind, Rachel," she pointed out.

"I'm not going to," I answered swiftly.

"We'll see," she said, but she was smiling as she left the room.



Ivy returned near midnight.

The church door slammed. The run must've tired her because Ivy was usually as stealthy as a cat, but tonight I could hear her footsteps coming down the hallway. They stopped, and I knew what she was looking at.

The door to her bedroom was open, but all it showed was an empty room.

"I'm in here!" I called out, feeling silly. Where else would I be?

For a second there was only silence. I feared that she wouldn't come or worse, that the next sounds would be of her door slamming shut. Then the door to my room clicked open, and she stood there, framed in the low light.

My eyes nearly popped open at the sight of her. Low-rise leather pants hugged Ivy's hips and the endless length of her legs. As she took off her motorcycle jacket and tossed it on a chair, the tiny, black halter top underneath showed off her lean arms and tight stomach. A small piercing in her belly button winked teasingly as it caught the light.

She moved with an easy, sated grace that – my eyes narrowed. Or maybe it wasn't the run that had tired her. Ivy only sauntered like that when she'd taken blood.

"That must've been some run," I quipped, fighting to keep the sarcasm out of my voice. Living or not, Ivy was a vampire and taking blood was essential to her well-being. When we first moved in together she had abstained, and between that and me tripping every vampire instinct she had from sheer ignorance, sharing a house with her back then had been nearly hell.

So I understood that taking blood was something she needed to do. I even encouraged it. But did she have to dress so damn provocatively for it? Another deduction came on the heels of the first one; it probably wasn't Rynn that she'd gone to. Ivy was sleek sophistication personified when she visited the master vampire. This – this looked like it had been more about…fun.

Ivy shrugged. "I finished early." Her face was devoid of emotion as she took in the worn university shirt and shorts I'd managed to throw on, and the way I was firmly ensconced on my bed. "Guess this means you came to your senses?"

"No, I…" I ducked my head and mumbled.

"What?" Curious, Ivy came further into the room. When she got a better look at me, she came to life - with exasperation. "You didn't take the brimstone, did you?"

"I didn't need it," I said defensively. Ivy had left some brimstone cookies with Jenks, but I hated the stuff and refused to take them. "I felt fine after lunch."

"Uhuh." She crossed her arms. "What happened?"

"I took a shower." Or at least I'd tried to. I'd just finished rinsing my hair when a wave of dizziness hit me. I barely made it back to the bed before collapsing.

The way Ivy gazed at me, with a look people usually reserved for extremely trying, recalcitrant toddlers, made me think that she'd guessed what had happened. In a tone of restrained patience, she asked, "Have you had dinner?"

I shook my head once. I wasn't even sure if I could stand without reeling. "If you could just help me up – hey!" I yelped as she swept me up with vampire speed and strength into her arms.

"Rachel," Ivy said firmly, "shut up, will you?"

Cradling me as carefully as a child, she carried me to her room. Her bed was huge compared to mine. It was a stately, heavy piece of furniture that had probably been made pre-Turn, with subtly ornate scrollwork on the thick wooden headboard, and sheets newly washed and silken.

Ivy lowered me carefully on one side of the bed. She propped up some pillows and arranged the sheets around me. "Comfy?" she asked. The woman wasn't even out of breath.

I nodded. I knew I should thank her, but I disliked people fussing over me, probably because there was a time in my life when it had been necessary. I'd spent most of my childhood constantly sick and on the verge of succumbing to a deadly blood disease. Perhaps to make up for it, I'd spent the years after making myself fit and self-reliant.

Though I'd been able to drop my guard around Ivy earlier, I still hated and instinctively struggled against anything that smacked of weakness. On one hand that made me a somewhat determined opponent. On the other, I was probably the worst patient on earth. I'd actually broken out of a hospital once.

"Listen," Ivy spoke up. "The only reason I didn't take you to the hospital yesterday was because the last time…didn't work out so well, and Jenks said you had enough aura left to recover on your own."

Despite her delicate tact, I winced. Ivy was referring to the fact that I'd been shunned. The only treatment I could get at the hospital was on the human floor, and even then I'd nearly ended up as some kind of guinea pig. Very few people survived a banshee attack or Rosewood Syndrome. Since I'd somehow done both, doctors itched to study me.

Which was something I couldn't afford anymore, I reflected darkly. There were things about myself that had to be secret now, if I wanted to live.

"Hey," Ivy interrupted as if she knew where my thoughts had gone. "That doesn't change the fact that your condition's serious. So let me help, Rachel," she offered in a voice that turned unexpectedly kind. "Just for tonight, let me take care of you. Like any good friend would."

I looked up at her. The eyes that met mine were warm, brown, and reassuring. I can't explain exactly what happened next; only that Ivy was so obviously protective of me and so full of concern that in that moment something inside me instinctively responded.

She's seen me torn up and beat to pieces, at my worst and at my best. I've been weak and I've been scary-powerful, and she treats me the same, with respect, and caring, and – and love. I can trust her. I do trust her. Like a fist unclenching, suddenly I felt oddly…free. I just wasn't sure from what.

"It's not that," I told her, knowing why Ivy had added the last part. "I hate feeling like this, like I can't look after myself." I was ready to explain, but to my relief she was already nodding in a way that told me she understood. There was little about my past that I hadn't shared with Ivy, and she'd always been good at connect-the-dots. "Sorry, I'm just not used to… th-thanks."

My stammered gratitude seemed to embarrass her. "It's no big deal." She paused before continuing in a solemn tone, "It's the candy striper training."

I laughed in surprise. During our first case, Ivy took down some stupid F.I.B. agents and was sentenced to community service as a candy striper. She woke up early everyday so no one would see her put on the uniform. What she didn't tell anyone, and what we only discovered much later, was that she'd continued to volunteer afterwards. The nurses in the hospital, the children in the cancer ward, even the receptionists and the guards loved her. She was on a first-name basis there with practically everybody.

By the time I'd gotten control of myself – the mental picture of the classy, stoic vampire in the frilly uniform making me heave in helpless chuckles all over again – Ivy had left and returned with a tray. There was a huge slice of still-warm pizza on it, a bowl of creamy vegetable soup, a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, and one brimstone cookie, which I studiously ignored.

"Mmm. Do you spoil all of your patients this way?" I asked as I chewed on the pizza, its gooey mozzarella melting in my mouth. Heavenly. Ivy must've gone for it after her run, and though it might not count as health food, it was just the thing to tease my appetite into making a comeback.

"Only the stubborn ones." To my shock, Ivy winked at me. "Eat the cookie, Rachel."

Before I could protest, she was already grabbing clothes from her closet. The lock to her bathroom clicked.

Humph. I polished off everything on the tray. When only the cookie was left, I nudged it warily with the tip of a finger. I really hated this stuff – well alright, it's not like it tasted bad and I had to admit the brimstone helped. But it was still illegal, even if vampires considered it a kind of traditional medicine on the level of vitamins and herbal tea.

But if I didn't take it, Ivy and Jenks would have their hands full with me that much longer. And if Cleo Walker decided to send another of her kin after me…

Sighing, I broke off a piece and popped it into my mouth.

Hey, since when did these cookies come with almonds and chocolate chip? I frowned in surprise even as I found myself taking a bigger piece. These sneaky vampires…!

I sat back when I finished. I was prepared to go all snarky on Ivy when the bathroom door opened, just so she wouldn't get the wrong idea about me taking the brimstone.

But then Ivy came out and… the first impression that hit me was silk, lush and soft and inviting. Either Ivy had hurried or she hadn't toweled properly, because the silk clung to the damp curves of her body like a second skin.

She slid off her black robe, and stood next to the bed in nothing but a nightie (no way should such a minuscule piece of silk be called a gown of any kind!) so short it barely skimmed mid-thigh.

Why did I think this was a good idea again? I had no clue why my heart was beating fast, but it was. It thudded even more as Ivy came close and leaned over me, the vee of her top slanting dangerously forward.

I froze, like a deer stricken in the headlights.

Then she took the tray and put it aside.

"Um Ivy, is that…?"

Ivy followed my gaze and looked down at herself. She frowned. "This is what I wear to bed, why?"

"Oh, nothing." I tried to calm myself. She's just a woman, we have the same bits, it shouldn't matter… If I repeated that mantra a hundred times maybe it would help.

She was still frowning at me. "You're wearing too many clothes."

My eyes went wide. "S-sorry?" I stammered.

"I thought the whole point of this was to have as much contact as possible," Ivy said in a practicable manner. "Do you want to change into a tank top?"

Oh! "Ah, I think we're fine. It's a little chilly," I replied quickly. That at least was true.

"Okay," she shrugged. Then she went to the door and opened it, leaving it slightly ajar before she returned to the bed. "It helps with our scents," she explained.

It also meant that Jenks and his family could peek in at any time. Of course, that was perfectly reasonable. So why did I feel a tiny surge of disappointment? I held my breath as Ivy slid under the sheets. She moved towards me until our arms and sides were barely touching.

"Good night, Rachel."

When I woke up her arm was around me, holding me lightly to her. My arm was draped around her waist.

The night was cool, and under the blankets Ivy was warm. It didn't take a rocket scientist to surmise that I must've snuggled up to her in my sleep.

I listened to her even breathing. Then, because I was an impulsive witch who didn't know how to stop herself, I called out softly, "Ivy, are you awake?"

The clarity of her voice told me that my hunch was right, that she was awake and had been for some time. "Go back to sleep, Rachel."

"I'm sorry, did I - am I…?" My befuddled brain couldn't get the words out.

"It's okay."

"But this must be…do you want me to move?"

"It's alright, I can deal with it. I fed earlier, and you're hurt," she said reassuringly. A different set of instincts was triggered in vampires when they were around the injured. "Just don't move too much."

I nodded sleepily against her shoulder. She smelled so good, and her skin was soft under my cheek. From nowhere came a thought: If I turned my head by so much as an inch, it would be my lips brushing her skin...

With lightning clarity, I realized I was going to. Ivy and I had been so careful around each other this past year, or at least Ivy had been. The last time I'd been attacked by a banshee, Ivy had told me that she was trying not to touch me anymore, and she'd been true to her word.

Awake or not, her eyes must've been closed, because she jerked in surprise when the tips of my fingers briefly trailed along her cheek. "Rachel, what -?"

"Can you see in the dark, Ivy?" I asked. My voice fluttered between nervousness and a strange kind of determination. "I can only see shadows." It was true; I could only make out her vague shape in the darkness. That's why I'd reached out, to orient myself to where she was.

She tried again, warningly this time. "Rachel…"

"I wish I had your sight," I overrode her softly. "Do you see the way I'm looking at you right now?"

"Yes." Her voice was slipping into grey.

In the dark I couldn't see her expression, only the way her head angled towards mine. But I remembered the way she had looked at me earlier, with deep brown eyes full of warmth and concern. It was funny, but in the dark I wasn't scared of her, and I wasn't scared of what it meant, that I liked Ivy holding me, that I felt safe with her…

That I wanted more.

I turned my head into the crook of her shoulder. That's all it took for my lips to meet her skin. I breathed in the mix of citrusy soap and vampire incense that was Ivy.

God, I'd never been this close to her before, not in all our years together, and it was making my nerves go haywire. The scars at my neck throbbed, the ones a demon pretending to be Ivy had gouged, and the deeper, almost invisible marks Ivy herself had made with infinite care. And she wasn't even touching them. The thought that she might brought with it a line of heat more intense than any leyline.

I nuzzled her shoulder lightly, and she gasped. A hand grasped the back of my neck, stopping me. "Rachel, what are you doing?" Ivy demanded.

"I don't know," I confessed, my lips and breath inadvertently moving along her skin as I spoke. I felt her shiver. "Who were you with tonight, Ivy?" I had no idea I was going to ask that until it slipped out.

"That's what this is about?" she asked in disbelief.

I ignored that. "You didn't go to Rynn."

"Rynn is a master vampire," she reminded me caustically. "You don't ask master vampires to drop everything at the last minute just because you feel like it."

"So who did you go to?" I pursued the matter doggedly. Apparently I had a one-track mind.

She refused to answer me directly. "I told you before. I have friends. We do things for each other."

"And is that all you do?" I felt her stiffen. Ivy's patience with my probing was close to an end. "Or do you end up like this?" I waved my hand over us and at the way we were practically wrapped around each other.

She was quiet for so long I thought she'd refuse to answer. "Sometimes." She shifted a little to her side, and I knew she was looking straight at me with all the clarity of her vampire vision. "Why are you even asking?"

"I don't know." I was saying that a lot tonight. "I think…" My hesitation lasted for less than a second before it gave way to utter, reckless honesty. "I don't like it."

"You think?" Her hand shifted, and a thumb began to trace the line of my jaw. It was enough to make me catch my breath. Ivy rarely touched me these days unless I initiated it or did something stupid.

Then again, maybe this counted as the latter.

"What is this, Rachel, some kind of test?" Ivy continued in a mild tone. "How am I doing?"

Too well for my liking, I grumbled silently. What was it with this woman? A year ago she would've been at my throat long before now. Or she'd be trying to kiss me. Unless…

I frowned. Unless this was about something more than control. Ivy had allowed herself to love me all those years ago. But more recently she'd also begun to recognize that it was hurting her, that it was becoming something – what had she called it? Sick.

Back then I was so full of fear of what a vampire could do with me and my scars that the only thing I could tell her was I couldn't give her more. She'd called me a scaredy-cat and mildly replied that she wasn't asking me to.

Ivy hadn't asked anything of me since. Not blood, not kisses, not to prove the supposed love I professed for her. Only that I should let her take care of me tonight.

And I was repaying that by pushing her. Why? Because at this moment I felt needy and kind of…jealous? Even I could see that that wasn't fair to Ivy.

"I'm sorry. It's not a test," I said in sincere apology. "And you're…" What had Rynn called her? Magnificent. He had no idea. None of them did – not Piscary, not Rynn, not even Skimmer, I thought fiercely. "I don't know what I've done to deserve you."

She laughed. "Because not everyone deserves a roommate who almost kills them a couple of times?"

"Or saves them a couple of dozen more," I retorted. Suddenly I was angry because I knew Ivy deserved more, but she didn't. She thought she was the lucky one. "I don't regret it, Ivy, any of it, do you hear me?" I said hotly. "The luckiest day of my life was when you let me into this church and decided to watch my back. That's the only reason I'm still alive, unbound and halfway sane."

She fell quiet, perhaps in surprise at my outburst. "Alright," she finally said. "It's not a test, and you're not…possessed?" she asked carefully.

I snorted. "Maybe I'd be better at this if I were."

"'This' being what, exactly?" There was an edge of impatience in her tone. Neither of us was good at being patient most times.

I took a deep breath. "I do love you."

"Yes, I know." She said it with a certainty that surprised me. "I'm not pushing you, Rachel. I told you, I only want to take care of you tonight."

"Yeah well, that's the thing." I swallowed nervously. Time to – how did humans put it? – bite the bullet. Humans had such weird expressions. "I kind of…want…but I don't want to mislead you. I mean, I don't know if I'm going to want more than a kiss…"

Ivy had frozen at the word kiss. Then there was a surge of movement, and in a flash she was above me, straddling me. Her hands were like iron bands around my wrists. Not painful, no, she held them too loosely for that, but immovable.

"Rachel." Her voice was dangerous, edgy. I was triggering her instincts. "You remember what I said before? If you asked for this…"

"I remember, but I can't tell you that I want everything," I whispered with the last shred of decent honesty in me. It was unfair to her, but I wanted this to happen too badly. "I'm sorry. You can say no, Ivy. I don't want to hurt you, I've done that enough."

Ivy regarded me silently. I didn't need night vision to know that the eyes gazing down at me were turning black. "It'll hurt only if you don't mean it."

She moved like a sleek predator in the dark, swooping down with inhuman speed and grace.

But when she kissed me it was with a gentleness that made me want to weep. I had never felt lips so soft on mine, never been shown everything that love was in a kiss.

I would never be able to say those words again, now.

Our kiss deepened. Ivy pressed harder against me. Her tongue found and traced the soft swell of my lips with painstaking slowness. She groaned as my mouth opened beneath hers. At the same moment the tip of her tongue found mine, I felt her fingers carefully touch the scars at my neck.

"God, Ivy," I whimpered as my body nearly lifted off the bed in a bow that stopped only when it met hers. When she began to play with the scars, my free hand scrambled to press against her back, crumpling the silk there. I craned my head to recapture her lips.

"The door's open," Ivy murmured when my lips were a scant inch from hers.

"I don't care." The Turn take it, Jenks and his entire family could buzz in and watch if they wanted to!

This time I kissed her. I held her face in my hands, and rolled so that I was partly on top of her. I didn't have her talent for slowness; my kiss was hungry. I felt one of her hands thread through my hair and clasp the back of my neck, while another hand pressed strongly against the small of my back. Both urged me closer.

The kiss began to turn feverish. We were both breathing hard. Ivy gave me the satin warmth of her mouth, and it still wasn't enough. More. I wanted more.

I could feel the frantic rise and fall of her chest, and the way the coolness of the room had been banished by the growing heat of our bodies. My brain nearly shut down when my legs met bare skin, and I realized that our movements had caused Ivy's nightgown to ride up. When my thigh slid the tiniest bit between her legs, Ivy gasped.

In the next moment, I was on my side and the space next to me was empty. I scrambled and sat up in confusion. "Ivy?"

"I can't, Rachel."

"But –"

"Rachel." Ivy's voice was like steel. "My eyes are black, and I'm... I need to calm down."

"But –" I tried again.

"If we continue, I won't be able to stop. Do you want everything?" she overrode me. Her flinty tone told me she already knew the answer.

"I…" I felt her eyes on me, and couldn't meet them.

"Besides, tonight is supposed to be about you recuperating," she continued wryly. "So just… stay there and go to sleep. I'll come back when I can."

I lay back. The big bed already felt empty without her. "Ivy?" I called out as she reached the door. "I… will you come back soon?"

She paused, her back to me and her hand on the door. "Don't I always?"

With those cryptic words, Ivy left the room.



True to her word, Ivy returned some time during the night. The space next to me was faintly warm, and I had a vague memory of being enfolded in a comforting circle of arms. But by the time I woke she was gone again.

I carefully got to my feet. Huh. No dizzy spell so far, even when I started walking.

"You look like crap," Jenks greeted cheerfully as I entered the kitchen.

"Thanks," I returned acidly. Then I looked at Ivy.

She was reading the paper and studiously ignoring me. The noon-time sun was streaming through the window and it hit the new, subtle chestnut highlights in her otherwise midnight-black hair, turning it into a copper-and-ebony halo. Even now, at home and at rest, the contrast of her Asian features – oval face and almond eyes – with her creamy-pale skin and lean six feet made her nothing less than striking.

Ivy could be deadly, her living vampire speed augmented by a strict martial arts regimen, but this morning she looked almost demure as she sat at the table with her long robe belted tightly around her. Only at its vee could I catch a glimpse of the silk and lace underneath.

I wanted to kiss her again.

The intensity of my reaction shocked me. To be honest, I hadn't been sure that what had happened last night would carry over into the harsher light of day. Now I realized that things had changed between us, at least from where I was standing.

The way Ivy had been last night…I knew that she loved me, and I had witnessed firsthand the ferocity of it and her passion. But last night her protectiveness had been tender, and when she started kissing me… The way Ivy kissed was the opposite of her customary stoicity; each kiss was as good as a declaration of feeling stamped in bold.

I murmured a "hi" and quickly fled past the cause of all these confusing feelings, stopping at the counter where the coffeemaker simmered. I am such a chickenshit.

But even as I reached for my Vampiric Charms mug, my mind couldn't help playing out an alternative scene: What if I dropped the pretense, walked up to her and plucked the paper from her grasp? She would protest, but by then my hands would be on the lapels of her robe, parting it, and pulling her to her feet and to me. What would that soft, heart-shaped mouth taste like with the faint tang of coffee?

Ivy's head whipped up as her senses caught the quickening of my heartbeat. She watched in fascination as a slow flush suffused my cheeks. A part of me wanted to hide and duck away. Instead, I turned around slowly. With my back resting against the counter and hands braced on either side of me, I gradually lifted my head and returned her gaze with a heavy-lidded stare.

The pheromones she released in response made my head spin. In a second she was next to me, one hand on my arm, guiding me, while another pulled out a chair.

"For pity's sake, Rachel, sit down before you topple over," she said gruffly.

She didn't stay by my side for long. A cup of coffee and a muffin materialized in front of me. I stirred the coffee slowly as I watched Ivy rummage through the cabinet where I kept my charms. "What're you looking for?"

"Something – ah!" She tossed me a pain amulet, which I caught reflectively. It didn't help with the dizziness, but at least it banished the onset of a migraine.

"Jenks, her aura?" she prompted.

The pixy fluttered around me. "Definitely looks better than it should," he replied approvingly.

"So it worked?"

"I'd say so."

"Good," she pronounced. "I have another run. I don't know if I'll be back any time before tomorrow."

Not back before…? Now wait one second!

"You'll be okay on your own, right, Rachel?"

Oh give the vampire a prize. She knew me so well, knew that my pride would balk at giving anything other than an affirmative answer.

I opened my mouth to deny any suggestion of weakness. "Actually I don't feel a hundred percent yet."

Crap, maybe I was possessed.

Judging from the astounded looks on their faces, Jenks and Ivy were considering that possibility too.

"What? Didn't you guys just see me stumble around a second ago?" I muttered in dark embarrassment.

Jenks stared at me. Then he flew towards Ivy. "Maybe the banshee hit her harder than we thought," he whispered sotto voce.

"I can hear you, you know," I said peevishly. "Oh fine, go do your run," I told Ivy crossly. I cradled my head in my hands; I'd inadvertently let go of the pain amulet and it was starting to hurt again. "Don't worry about me. I'll survive."

For a moment Ivy simply stood there, and it was almost funny, seeing one of Piscary's most efficient lieutenants shifting from foot to foot, a living, breathing picture of indecision. In the end she muttered, "I'll try to finish earlier" before stalking out.

I grinned; I couldn't help it. "Have a good run!" I called after her quickly retreating figure.

There was a sharp buzz as Jenks zipped near my head. My smile faltered as he landed next to my coffee, and assumed a familiar pose, hands on waist and sharp blue eyes peering up at me.

"What in the name of Tinks' pastel pink bloomers do you think you're doing?" the pixy demanded.

"What do you mean - okay, okay!" I gave up the pretense as his glare threatened to turn nuclear. I held out my hands placatingly. "Jenks, it's not what you think."

"Oh really. You're not jerking Ivy's chain? You should know better than most that having a vampire wrapped around your little finger and on edge is not all fun and games. Someone could get hurt. Or bled," he said bluntly.

"That's not what I'm doing," I denied, feeling my face flame.

"No? So you're not playing with Ivy's instincts?" he persisted. "You didn't kiss her last night?"

My shoulders slumped. "She told you?" How could she? What was happening between us was so new. Shouldn't it be private for awhile?

"Ivy came in here two hours ago, looking worse than when she was doing runs for Piscary. I'm betting she didn't sleep a wink last night." Jenks frowned up at me. "When Kisten died…" he paused when I froze.

"I know you loved him," he continued gently, "but Ivy and Kisten knew each other for a long time. They went through everything that blood-bastard Piscary threw at them together. Kisten was one of the few people who knew Ivy inside and out. She's had a hard time without him, but somehow she was able to pick herself up after the two of you found his killer. I like how Ivy's been recently, Rache. Frankly, I think the way she's getting over you is a good thing."

He might as well have hit me. It felt like that, like I'd been sucker-punched in the gut by a six foot linebacker who'd come out of nowhere.

"She's...getting over me?" I repeated numbly. Suddenly it all became clear – Ivy's control, the way she'd been holding back, the non-touching.

"You can't be surprised?" Jenks cocked his head to one side. "You don't feel the same way she does. Isn't this what you wanted?"

'I'm addicted to your little white lies…I don't want pain to feel like love.' Oh God, of course. Ivy thought that her love for me had become an addiction, and she'd overcome addictions before. Why, as Jenks asked, was I surprised?

"I'm not surprised, I'm -" I ducked my head. The tears came so suddenly, so blindingly, it was impossible to blink them back.

"Tink's titties, you're crying?!" The panic in Jenks' voice would've been funny under other circumstances. He flew off, snatched a couple of tissues and brought it back. "What the hell did that banshee do to you?"

I couldn't answer because I knew my voice would break in the attempt. I was mortified enough by the inexplicable tears. She'll do it. As sure as I was of the sun rising in the morning, I knew Ivy had already made the decision to let me go. More, she'd already taken the first steps.

Jenks flew around in consternation. He mumbled something as he watched me wipe the tears away.

"What?" I managed hoarsely, as I gradually got control of myself.

Looking increasingly uncomfortable, Jenks repeated, "She thinks it's because of your aura."

I didn't get it. "What about my aura?"

"Ivy thinks that the reason you're acting this way is because being near her replenishes your aura."

"Replenishes my…? No!" My voice rose in shock and indignation. "No, Jenks, that has nothing to do with it!"

"Doesn't it?" the pixy probed gently, and it took me awhile to figure out why his tone sounded so familiar. My dad had spoken to me in that way too – my real dad who'd raised me and bandaged my skinned knees, not Takata. I guessed that this was a side to Jenks he rarely displayed outside family. "You've said you couldn't love Ivy that way a hundred times. So why this? Why now?"

"I thought I was going to die." The answer flew out of me, swift and ringing with truth.

He looked at me doubtfully. "You've been in plenty of dangerous situations before."

"Not like this." I ran a nervous hand through my hair at the memory. "Usually something kicks in, a plan, a backup. But that banshee had me, Jenks, and she said things. I know she did it to get a rise out of me, but they made sense." Even now I hated to admit it. "All I could think of was how I wouldn't be able to say goodbye to the two of you. And then I thought of Ivy. My last thought was of Ivy."

I cleared my throat as embarrassment crept in. "That means something, doesn't it? When I saw her the next day, and the way she was last night …"

Then it hit me. It wasn't Ivy who had been different last night; it was me. For the first time, I'd let Ivy express her love for me in all the ways she wanted to, instead of just the parts I'd been comfortable with. I had always thought that it would feel wrong or forced somehow, but as things turned out, it had felt incredibly right. Not so much, I think, because Ivy was a woman, but because the woman who'd been kissing me was Ivy. And I loved her.

I sat there, stunned. I loved her at last, in every way it was possible to love someone. But she wanted out.

"Jenks, she isn't over me yet, is she?" I asked urgently. "I need to talk to her. Do you think she'll…?"

To my horror Jenks started shaking his head, but when he saw the rising panic on my face, he quickly clarified, "I can't answer that, Rachel. You have to talk to her. Ivy has plans."

"Oh." That hurt for some reason, and I didn't bother to hide it. "And she told you?" But not me?

"It's recent." He sensed where I was coming from and sounded defensive. "She sort of mentioned it when we were out on our run. She's been meaning to discuss it with you, but the banshee and all of this happened, and now -"

"Now she's too busy running away from me," I cut in bitterly, "because she thinks I'm some kind of aura-junkie. Dammit, Jenks!" I pounded the table in frustration. "This isn't the first time a banshee got to me. I didn't jump her back then and I didn't need to kiss her last night for us to connect! This isn't about that at all."

This time he was the one who held up his hands. "Alright," he said, and from his tone I knew he believed me. Then he grinned at me with a devilish air. "I'm not the one you're going to have to convince, though. Ooooh, when you do manage to corner her, can I watch?"

I tried to swat him, but the damn pixy moved too fast.

Ivy got off her bike and hesitated. The church was a big smudge of dark against the post-midnight sky.

I shouldn't have come home right away, she berated herself. The run had been hard and violent, and it had taken all of her mad vamp skills not to get seriously maimed tonight. No vampire came down from a high like that easily. Even now, almost an hour later, she still felt the faint tendrils of adrenaline and bloodlust.

I should've passed by Piscary's – they called it something else now, but it was hard to think of it as anything other than Piscary's – or a club, or Rynn's. Anything to take the edge off.

Too late now. Between the run and the lack of sleep, Ivy was too weary to do anything other than trudge up the steps of the church. Maybe Rachel's asleep.

The vampire opened the thick, wooden door with ease and slipped inside. There were no lights – she didn't need them and it was a couple of hours to dawn anyway. Her steps slowed as she reached the hallway where the bedrooms were. With a mixed sense of relief and disappointment, she saw that Rachel's door was closed.

The relief lasted for exactly the two seconds it took for her to register that her bedroom door was wide open…and her room wasn't empty.

She's on my bed.

For a moment Ivy could only stand there, heart in mouth, frozen in her own doorway. She had dreamed about this a hundred times and now it was real. Rachel was indeed asleep, her body curved peacefully under silken sheets, her glorious hair stark red against Ivy's pillows.

Rachel's scent was everywhere in the room, mixing heavily with hers, and Ivy knew that it would take days to disperse. Forget tonight, she thought despairingly, I'm not going get a good night's sleep for a week!

Her bloodlust, and the other kind, sprang to life. Ivy wondered if Rachel had any idea how much danger she was in. Ten years ago, any girl or boy who chanced Ivy's bed while she was in this state ran the risk of being halfway drained in the moment it took to blink.

That was how Piscary had shaped her. You will be a magnificent creature, Ivy girl. Vampires themselves will fear you one day. He had wanted an equal, a modern vampire who could play the intricate games of blood and favors, but who was as savage in appetite and instincts as any who was centuries-old.

Ivy knew that Rachel didn't understand why she hated herself. But Rachel hadn't known that Ivy, the one who'd broken her partners before Skimmer had taught her to shackle bloodlust with love. Ivy's parents, including her undead mother, had sighed in relief when Skimmer survived a long-term relationship with their daughter. And if it had continued, they would've been more than satisfied. After all, Skimmer was of an impeccable bloodline.

But Ivy had to leave Skimmer and return to Piscary's camarilla, and in the intervening years the young vampire discovered that she wanted more. She wanted to be in control of her instincts, and to call her own shots. She had even sworn off blood. That Ivy had been non-practicing for three years when they'd left the I.S. had helped convince Rachel to move in with her.

And time, and living with a witch who was so ignorant about vampires she always tripped something, had given Ivy the tools. Living vampires didn't need blood physiologically, but the hunger was there. The secret, Ivy learned, was to delay. She couldn't help the bloodlust, but she could tell herself to wait. To not kill. To not feed. To hold herself still even as everything in her screamed for release, and to warn her prey.

With waiting came the chance that the instinct would weaken, or abate entirely if she could hold off long enough. Ivy put those skills to good use now. Instead of leaping at the supine redhead in her bed and slaking her hunger, the vampire began to shrug out of her working leathers. She threw her coat in the corner. She kicked off her boots and socks.

She was standing there, barefoot in her biker pants and haltertop, when Rachel woke at the noise. "Ivy?" Her voice was supple with sleep.

The lamp came on and filled the room with a soft, diffused illumination just as Ivy propped up the sword she'd carried tonight against the wall. Green eyes flicked to the weapon for the space of a second before they rested on the living vampire again.

Ivy didn't answer. She wondered if Rachel could see the tension that was still in her from the run. Did it frighten her to see how taut Ivy's movements were, how they were only a shade short of vampire-smooth?

Finally their eyes met, and as usual green searched brown, trying to gauge their color in the dim light. Rachel was blushing. Ivy bet that it was because her roommate had just realized what this must look like. Even among witches, waiting for someone in their bed could only be interpreted in so many ways.

Ivy kept her face closed. If Rachel knew how much this latest stunt of hers was affecting her, the witch would run out of here screaming and that would trigger all of her vampire instincts. Ivy reminded herself that it wasn't really her that Rachel was after. If Ivy took advantage of her in this state, it wouldn't be the act of a friend.

To her credit, Ivy was doing a pretty decent job. Until Rachel ruined it by speaking.

"Jenks told me," she said simply, watching for a reaction. "It's not your aura I want, Ivy."

Then she held out her hand to Ivy – to Ivy! To a half-vamped bloodsucker who was looking at her with hungry, half-black eyes! The pain amulet Ivy had given her earlier dangled from her wrist.

Rachel's complete and utter trust was like heady sweet wine, fanning the flames of Ivy's struggle. She has no idea how fucking beautiful she is, or how much her blood sings to me. And she was offering. All requisites were satisfied. How could Ivy resist?

And just like that, because everything she wanted was within easy reach, Ivy lost it.



When Ivy's pose shifted from tense to sinuous and sultry, I knew I was in trouble. She approached the bed with the lithe movements of a jungle cat, sleek and dangerous in all black. Once near, she took my proffered hand and brought it to her face, burying her nose briefly in my palm. The lightest touch of her lips grazed the inside of my wrist. When she looked back at me, only a thin rim of copper showed in her eyes.


Vampire pheromones filled the air between us. I breathed in and gave myself up to their soothing effect. Ivy couldn't bespell me unless I wanted her to, but mood-lifting pheromones were practically a biological reflex in vamps.

With a speed and grace I couldn't have matched on my best day, Ivy pulled herself up to the bed and to me, going on all fours till her body was poised a few inches above mine. Suddenly I had a vivid memory of our first day in the church, when Ivy had crawled on the table between us. It was the first time I'd become aware of her interest, and the first time I'd…wanted her.

See, I was being completely honest now, at least with myself. I swallowed, trying to keep my nervousness at bay. It would be harder for her if I didn't. "Ivy?"

She hadn't spoken a word since I'd woken to find her standing there and I badly wanted to hear her. My instincts were screaming vampire and trapped and I needed to remember that this was Ivy. She's not going to hurt me. She's not going to do anything unless I want her to. Even if I had shown up in her bed in nothing but a camisole and bedtime shorts so skimpy they were practically underwear. After she'd come from what was obviously a hard run. Oh God I was a fucking idiot.

"Always pushing, Rachel," she chided in a low, silky voice. Obviously she was struggling for control. "Don't move," she warned.

I kept still, but I couldn't leave it alone. Ivy had been walking around all day with the thought that she was nothing but a handy recharge to an aura-junkie and I wasn't going to have that.

"Last night wasn't about -" I stifled a gasp when she abruptly lowered her head towards me. I thought she was about to kiss or bite me. Instead I felt her cheek brushing against mine.

"Then what was it about?" At this angle, her breath fell on my scars as she spoke. Ivy hands captured my wrists and brought my arms up above my head as I shivered from the sensation.

But that was nothing compared to the sparks that flared when her lips followed, lightly nuzzling my neck. On anyone who'd never been bitten it would've barely tickled, but Ivy knew where all my scars were, even the deep, ragged unseen ones from a demon who'd tried to kill me by pretending to be a vamp.

"It was – I can't think when you do that!" I protested weakly when she shifted to the other side of my neck. Any other vampire would've probably bitten me by now, but Ivy was a master at play, and it looked like she had every intention of drawing this out and teasing me beyond all sense.

"And were you thinking…when you decided to get into my bed?" Her head lifted enough for me to see her face. Her tone was sensuous and mocking, but in her expression was something more serious.

I met her eyes. My heart was pounding. "Yes."

Her eyes widened and turned into the darkest of chocolates. "Rachel, you…!" It would take so little to tip them over.

One of Ivy's hands left my wrists to stroke my cheek. Her touch was unexpectedly gentle after so vehement an exclamation, and in the beginning the way her lips met mine was too.

But the kiss didn't stay that way, becoming increasingly demanding as my lips parted for her. She caught my bottom lip and licked it teasingly with her tongue, followed closely by the light touch of teeth.

A vampire had tried to bind me this way.

Ivy sensed the pulse of misgiving almost before I did. She drew away as a quiver shot through me, and watched as I struggled to catch my breath and clamp down on the fear.

"If I had wanted you like that, witch," she growled, "I would've had you long ago."

I met her midnight-black eyes and barely recognized the woman reflected in them, with her mass of curls spilling wildly and a face full of wanting. "I know."

The annoyance melted out of her as my words, and the fact that I meant them, sank in. With a sigh, Ivy buried her face in my shoulder. "What you do to me," she murmured.

"Look who's talking," I threw back weakly as her lips returned to graze my cheek and the space beneath one ear. When her lips latched high on my neck, right under my jaw, and sucked hard at the skin there, my pulse jumped.

My free hand clutched at her shirt, tracing the curve of Ivy's back until it found the gap between cloth and leather. Her breath hitched when my fingers slipped under her halter top, reaching bare skin at last.

I could feel the rigid tension in her as she resolutely continued to hold most of her body above and apart from me. It took me a second to understand why. How many times had Ivy done this since we had started living together, held both of us immobile until she could find it in herself to let me go?

But that's not what I wanted anymore. There was no guesswork here. I might not have known how badly showing up in her room would push her instincts tonight, but my earlier decision to sleep in Ivy's bed was deliberate. I had a feeling that Ivy would try to avoid me and this way she wouldn't be able to, and I – I would see more of the Ivy who had been with me last night. I'd spent half the day thinking about her, and the other half kicking myself for hesitating when I had been the one in the middle of a move last night.

I pushed lightly on the small of her back. But she resisted, and the doubt on her face tore at my heart. "Rachel –"

"It's okay." I met her eyes and saw the thin rims of copper disappear. My breath caught, a reflexive reaction to the fact that a predator had me pinned defenseless to the bed. But predator was no longer all of what this vampire was to me. This was Ivy, who was beautiful, strong and vulnerable all at once, and I was six kinds of stupid for having resisted her for so long.

Like releasing a long-held breath, the tension flowed out of Ivy as she finally allowed herself to settle against me. Her hands let go as her weight pressed me down onto the bed. This time my breathing stuttered for different reasons as our bodies instinctively found the best ways to fit.

"Dear heart…" she whispered in her gray silk voice. Her perfect teeth were an inch away from my skin.

I hadn't realized how little I had heard that endearment in the past months, or how much I had missed it, till now. "Yes," I whispered back, and by that I meant yes, take it. I was ready, finally. For everything, with Ivy.

Ivy shivered as my voice and body communicated my acceptance to her heightened senses. Her arms wrapped tightly around me. "…we can't do this."

My hands were already at the hem of her shirt, ready in the next moment to take it off, when her words sank in. I groaned in immediate protest. "What? But Ivy –"

"Trust me, I can't believe I'm saying this either." A self-mocking smirk touched her lips. "But Rache, your aura's still damaged," she reminded me softly.

The way she looked at me in that moment was so tender, so utterly concerned for my well-being that it made something inside me melt. I shut my eyes briefly, overwhelmed. This is what Ivy means when she says that she loves me.

But when I opened them again, her gaze slid away. "The way I'm wound up right now, I'll end up biting you if we…go further. The last thing you need is another drain on your aura." Her voice was torn between shame and self-hatred.

I couldn't stand her guilt. At this moment, Ivy was fighting everything nature, Piscary and even Skimmer had intended for her for my sake. Why couldn't she see that and not just the bloodlust? "Don't."

My hands reached up to cup her face, to make her look at me. "Ivy, you're the only reason I even have an aura right now. And I've always thought that it makes it right somehow, that when you bite me it's about more than blood."

She fell silent for a second, and looked at me strangely. "Do you really?"

I nodded.

"That makes me…very lucky, Rachel. Thank you." She took a deep breath and blinked, and in that second the thin rings of cinnamon were back in her eyes. Her hold on me loosened, which meant that she was regaining control.

"So am I, lucky I mean. Or I would be if we didn't have to st-" I clamped my mouth shut, turning as red as a prized tomato. What the hell? Did my thoughts not pass through my brain anymore?

Too late. Ivy looked stunned for the space of a heartbeat. Then she threw her head back and laughed.

And I, who was looking at her with new eyes, was nearly overwhelmed by how gorgeous she was. I'd seen Ivy in a good mood before but never like this, carefree and filled with the joy of living. No wait, I had. Or at least I'd felt her. The first time we'd shared blood, I'd had a glimpse of what Ivy would be like if she were whole and proud of who she was.

Now that woman was here, in the flesh, and the sight of her took my breath away. This is what Ivy's like when she's happy? God, I'd be silly twice a day if that's all it takes.

"I told you," Ivy chortled. "Back when you met my dad and we were in the car, remember? I said one day you'd kick yourself for waiting for so long."

A sneaky idea came my way. "Getting a little ahead of yourself, aren't you?" I drawled. "Coz I dunno, I'm not exactly sure I've experienced anything kick-worthy yet."

One elegant brow curved up. "Oh?"

I shrugged with every effort at nonchalance, though my heart was starting to speed up at the dangerous glint in her eyes. "Maybe you're not as good as you think you are."

Ivy stared at me. Then she smiled in a way that made me very, very nervous.

She's figured it out. I gasped when a wandering finger found one of my scars.

"One more kiss, witch." Ivy's grey silk voice was soft and sure. "And I swear to you it will be so good, neither of us will be able to sleep tonight."

Her hand wrapped warmly around my neck, releasing a wash of endorphins that sent my pulse thrumming. Her eyes were on my mouth, watching with rapt attention as my lips parted in an embarrassing whimper that sounded suspiciously like her name.

"Rachel," she whispered, so close now that her warm breath fell on my lips, "you really shouldn't provoke me."

Her fingers dug gently into my scars at the same moment she claimed my mouth. I arched into her as she kissed me with a savagery barely restrained by her love. Ivy's lips on mine were firm, possessive. They controlled the kiss from the outset, and when my lips yielded to her, she took more, certain that I would respond.

And I did. I gave as good as I got, not caring anymore whether this would end in love or blood or both. My arms wrapped around her lean curved body to bring her crashing against me. I was staking a claim too.

Then one of Ivy's hands slipped towards my wrist, and found the pain amulet that had come to rest near my hand. With a tug, her fingers twisted the strings that held it. She grasped the amulet, and entwined our hands so that we were holding it between us.

I gasped as our auras began to merge. Her pure aura flowed over mine, sweeping over the black streaks and filling the gaps, like it did when I spelled.

Wordlessly, Ivy showed me everything. Some of it I had already seen before. She still hated herself in ways I couldn't understand, and her need for love and acceptance cried out to me.

God, her love was a beautiful thing. It was fearsome in its protectiveness and almost impossible to measure in the breadth of its devotion…

…and she was fighting it. She had the strongest will of anyone I'd ever met, and that will wanted to be its own master now. She had fought everything she'd been – her nature, her upbringing, Piscary's mastery - to allow herself to fall in love with me. Now she was battling just as hard to disentangle herself from those feelings.

"No!" I cried out, breaking the kiss. I struggled to get free, to get away from Ivy and her revelation.

"Rachel!" Her vampire nature wouldn't allow it. She held me tightly and absorbed my flailing with ease. "What's wrong? Calm down! You'll hurt yourself."

"Damn you to the Turn and back, let go of me!" I railed at her. "If you want to leave so badly then go right ahead! Why are you doing this, acting this way and kissing me, if all you wanted was to get out?"

"I never said I wanted out!" Ivy exclaimed. Her astonishment was too plain to be anything but genuine.

"But I saw…" I couldn't doubt what I'd felt in her aura just seconds ago. "You want to, even if you haven't said anything."

When she said nothing and let me go, and rolled so that she was lying beside me, I had my answer.

"Why?" My voice wavered dangerously and it took all of my determination to steady it. "I thought things were getting better between us. Last night and – and now…" I swallowed. Cripes, Rachel, grow a pair, will you? She can't always be the one making declarations. "I want to take things further, Ivy. I want to see where this goes."

She didn't answer right away. For awhile the vampire just stared at the ceiling. "Rynn asked me to be his scion."

"NO." The word left my mouth instantly, in horror.

"No?" Ivy repeated in a tone that was deceptively mild.

"You're considering it?" I asked in disbelief. "For the love of the Turn, Ivy, how could you? You barely escaped being Piscary's shadow. Now you want to risk the same thing all over again?"

"I told you before, a scion is not a shadow," Ivy snapped, this time letting her annoyance show. "It's an honor that no vampire offers lightly."

"Piscary tried to control you!"

"Piscary was a sick bastard," she half-snarled. She took a deep breath. She was millimeters away from pulling an aura and she needed to calm down. "The irony is he manipulated me far more effectively before he tried to force me. There was a time when I would've done anything for his approval. Once he made me his scion, it became about how he could get inside my head and what he could make me do. And on that count, we both know he failed."

Her expression turned pensive. "Rachel, you have to understand that I'm possibly the only scion that's been able to do that. Being able to refuse Piscary may've been part of his plan to create an equal that would accompany him for eternity, but in our world to resist a vampire as ancient and powerful as he was is unheard of. Rynn is being…daring, maybe even foolhardy, in asking me. An undead vampire must be able to trust his scion completely. It's quite a risk for him."

There was something else that Ivy wasn't saying that I was picking up on. It was the last couple of phrases, I realized. It didn't sound like her at all, it sounded more like… "Your family?" I asked softly.

"They support it, of course," she replied. "The Tamwoods have been scions for centuries, but it was Piscary who created our line of living vampires. With his death that's been called into question."

"So you're doing this for your mother, your line, whatever?" I pounced, appalled. "It's not worth it, Ivy."

"You think I would, just for that?" Her voice rose, and this time she looked really and truly pissed. "You don't really know me at all, do you?"

I winced at her bitter tone. "I'm sorry. It's just, you caught me by surprise." So this is what Jenks was talking about, Ivy's plans. No wonder she'd told him first.

Ivy sighed and turned to her side so she was facing me. "It's not what you think." Head propped up on one arm, she met my eyes. "Things need to change, Rachel. Not just for me but for all of us."

Us? "You're talking about…vampires?"

She nodded. "Rynn may be undead, but he possesses the same foresight that led civilization during the Turn. Most vampires are living, and yet all power has always resided with the undead. The undead change very little in the course of their lives. Rynn sees that vampires will lose their ascendancy if they continue to run things in much the same way they've been doing for the last five centuries."

"So this is about staying kings?" Now I was the one who sounded bitter.

This time Ivy laughed, but unlike the one from a few minutes ago this one sounded hollow. "The world hasn't needed kings for a long time. Admit it, Rachel, we do help. For all our faults, vampires provided Inderlanders and humans with the order and continuity they needed to keep everything from falling apart during the Turn. So no, not kings. The Weres will grow in strength and influence, as will the witches, and the humans will always outnumber everyone. But for any important discussion, we want to be sure of a place at the table."

"You sound like Cormel already," I snapped. Suddenly I realized what else was different. In the short time we'd been talking, Ivy was using words like 'we' and 'us' in referring to her vampire kin. Which meant that where she had always held herself slightly apart, now she was counting herself as one of them.

"We've been discussing things," she admitted. "It hasn't been all about blood. If I can prevent what Piscary did to me from happening to anyone else…" She bit her lip, and her gaze turned inward and distant at the same time. "Erica is still young, but it won't be long before some undead vampire bids for her blood."

There. That was it, the real reason Ivy was considering Cormel's proposal. Or was there something more? "And me?" I prodded softly. "Have you discussed me too?"

She met my eyes unflinchingly. "Rynn knows that I will never force you."

"That's it?" I looked at her searchingly. "Or did he offer more? If you become his scion…"

"You will be protected. Rynn will ask only that we continue to work on saving my soul," she confirmed. "Whether I'm here or not, no vampire in all of Cincy will touch you. Everyone will know that your blood is mine…in a manner of speaking."

My heart clenched. Whether I'm here or not. She sounded as if she was already halfway to accepting it. Oh God, what could I possibly offer against this vision of a renewed and improved vampire society that Rynn Cormel had already spun for her? "And what if I did offer you my blood?" I asked wildly. "Please don't do this, Ivy."

"I remember everything about your blood, Rachel," for a brief moment Ivy shut her eyes, transposed to another time, "the taste of it, thick in my mouth, the scent of it, spicy, like living earth and trees."

"That's…slightly creepy," I grimaced, though another part of me was enthralled by the transcendent expression on her face. I did that to her? Or my blood did.

Ivy smiled, and opened her darkened eyes to meet mine. "I won't touch your blood again," she declared with a gentle finality, "because what it means to you and what it means to me are two different things. I've come a long way from being at the mercy of my instincts, but when it comes to you... You mean too much to me for it to be less than blood and love."

She touched my hand fleetingly. "I will always love you, dear heart, do you get that? But I can't love you this much anymore. It pulls me in too many directions, and I can't keep denying who I am. I'm a vampire, and except for the dying and losing my soul part, I like being one. I don't like who Piscary made me, but I think who I am now and who I'm becoming is…fine. More than fine."

"I'm not stopping you from being who you want to be," I protested.

"You are. No wait, that's not fair," she corrected herself quickly. "Maybe it's more I'm stopping myself all the time when I'm with you. And that was fine, I wouldn't have gotten this far if not for you. But now you're saying that I can't consider Rynn's offer because it scares you. If you'd been in my head when I was Piscary's scion," she scoffed, "now that should've scared you. That's when you should've run. But you stayed." A note of wonder crept into her voice, and I wondered how much it meant to her that I had.

"Ivy…" I seriously had no idea what to say. It had taken me years to get over my fear of Ivy's vampiric nature. But this – this scared the living crap out of me. Anything to do with being bound or being a scion smacked of slavery to me, and this was one thing I had never changed my mind about.

"I understand," she said softly, and before I could utter another word the bed shifted, and Ivy was on her feet. She stood next to the bed for a moment, gazing down at me with eyes full of melancholy. Yet there was something else there too, something that looked very much like purpose.

"I'm going to take a bath. Rachel…" she took a deep breath, "you should go."

I lay there, frozen in shock as Ivy turned and walked away. The door to her bath clicked shut behind her.

She had done it so nicely, a true lady to the end, that it took a moment for what had just happened to sink in.

Ivy had just kicked me out of her bed, out of her room…and probably out of her life.



Ivy emerged from her bath to an empty room. How cold everything seemed in the wake of Rachel's departure.

She collapsed on the bed. Part of her was numb. The run, no sleep, the near-constant effort of controlling herself around Rachel since the attack, and this last push, somehow finding the strength to turn away everything she'd wanted for years - it was nearly too much. Even for someone born with the vampire virus.

"I want to take things further, Ivy. I want to see where this goes."

Ivy threw a pillow over her head as the pitch-perfect echo of Rachel's voice ghosted in her brain. It didn't help, because after two nights her pillows smelled of Rachel. Just minutes ago her fingers were running through that glorious red hair…

With a growl Ivy sat up. She buried her face in her hands in frustration. Her lips were even softer than I remember. Years had passed between the first time Ivy had tasted those lips and last night. Who could blame her if she gave up?

Only each passing day had proved her instincts right – Rachel was dangerous and her true equal. She'd survived Ivy's frenzied attacks twice. Ivy had seen her power incinerate stone.

But there was more to Rachel than fireworks and witchery. She was loyal, and didn't count the risks she took for her family, friends, or for Ivy. She'd stayed to care for a delirious vampire forced to break a three-year fast and take undead blood. No one else would have. And she didn't take shit from anyone, even when they scared her. Rachel faced down undead vampire masters and demons with the same impunity she used on street thugs, in stark contrast to the studied rules and political games Ivy had known all her life. And the way she laughed, and made Ivy laugh...

Ivy couldn't pinpoint the day, but she remembered the moment: They'd been partners for awhile and it was early, not even mid-afternoon. They were meeting up for a run and Ivy was leaning on her bike, waiting for her partner in the shade. She spotted Rachel walking towards her, vivid and alive in the dazzling sunlight, wearing clothes that were ridiculously tight for a run and chattering animatedly on her mobile. She was about to call out when the witch caught sight of her first, and in a second a blinding smile was directed at Ivy, so bright that it lit up Rachel's face.

And just like that, Ivy was having trouble breathing. There was a flutter in her chest that felt like…like flying. Like the first time Ivy had taken off in a plane and watched the ground recede blindingly fast below, and closed her eyes and felt everything familiar - family, camarilla, master - fall away. When she'd opened them again, she was free…and so goddamn nervous because everything from here on was unknown. The old rules no longer applied.

This was just like that, but worse. A dozen times worse because there were no rules. Rachel was nothing like a vampire, obviously knew nothing about vampires, and attracted danger like a moth to a flame. She had issues, she got scared, and her emotions were on constant, wide-screen, high-definition display. To a vampire, she was like a freshly baked cookie with gooey chunks of chocolate chip, and Ivy had been on a strict diet for years. Falling for her would be beyond foolish.

But. But what would it be like if a woman like that fell for you? Came to you of her own free will and bound herself to you – not the vampire binding of blood, but the human/were/vamp/pixy binding of heart and soul. What if a woman like that gave herself to you?

"It would be like fucking a tiger." A reluctant smirk played along Ivy's lips. Kisten had always had a way with words, even if he'd said them in that fake English accent.

Ivy sighed, and gave up on sleep. She swung her legs off the bed, snatched a new robe from her closet, gave it a quick tie, and shoved the door open with a bang.

Only one thing might give her a sense of calm tonight. And if it woke Rachel, tough. Why should I be the only one who's sleepless?

Ivy padded quietly through the church, preternaturally silent in her agitation. When she reached the baby grand, she trailed her fingers affectionately along its gleaming, sturdy body.

It was from the piano that Ivy had first learned discipline. On this instrument, talent counted for barely anything without devotion. The long hours, endless practice, the emotional exhaustion, as her teachers demanded not just note-perfection but a form of truth - you must feel, Ivy! Music without passion is just blots of ink on a page.

Then there was that other life-long lesson: Being a Tamwood didn't mean you got what you wanted. The piano didn't care who she was or what she was born with. In fact it made things harder, as she found out when Piscary began to attend her recitals, his dark eyes following her every move. Ivy remembered her confusion and hurt when her mother - so alive, wise and worried back then – came to her one night, hugged her tightly and said maybe you shouldn't play anymore.

So she had stopped competing. But she couldn't leave off playing, not for long. The love for music was the one solace Ivy had never lost – not during her mother's first death, Piscary's interest, Skimmer, the loss of Kisten and the worst of her own excesses. With music, she had no choice but to open up. Music demanded honesty. Done right, it stripped her down to her soul. That's why she seldom played when anyone was watching. When she played, she was free.

She needed that feeling of freedom badly tonight. Slim, elegant fingers pressed down on black and white keys, and the first slow notes of a melancholy piece flowed, echoing softly throughout the sanctuary.

Ivy stared sightlessly ahead, lost in a melody she knew by heart. The night was completely black to any but a vampire, but at the edge of her senses was a prickling that told her sunrise was approaching. Not quickly, maybe in an hour, no more than two, but it was there.

How much stronger would that sense be after her first death, she wondered. And that death, or undeath, was all the more certain now.

If I had known what it would take to love her, would I have taken the first step?

Ivy laughed sometimes, when she recalled the jaded girl she was in her early 20s. With a shiny new degree, six months in the I.S., already spoiling for a promotion and a quick rise to management, she'd thought she knew it all. What balls that girl had, deciding in the space of a day to change everything in her life. But how foolish too, thinking that abstaining from blood was all it would take, when that was just the beginning.

When the I.S. high-ups gave her a newbie, presumably flaky, witch to babysit, it had pissed her off. She'd almost killed Rachel the day the witch had knocked her out with a potion, and Ivy had woken with "i-d-i-o-t" painted on her nails. But grudgingly, she learned to respect her new partner, and more.

After all this time, Ivy wondered what it would be like not to love Rachel, to not walk in on her at breakfast or not hear her getting ready for bed near dawn. Do you have any idea what I gave up tonight, Rachel? Do you have any idea what you mean to me, beyond blood or sex?

I'm giving up the dream of keeping my soul. How Piscary had laughed when he'd found out what she wanted from Rachel. "It's impossible, Ivy girl," he'd said, patting her shoulder in that sickly pseudo-fatherly manner of his. "There's no such spell; it can't be done."

But loving Rachel had already redefined Ivy in ways she was still discovering. I might lose my soul now, but I've found myself. And that, she vowed, she would never lose again.

I could've made you happy, Rache, flawed as I am. She would've given everything that she was, and everything that was in her power. If only… Ivy shook her head. What she was getting into was dangerous, and anyway she had no right to involve Rachel. That she'd said no at the outset was better in the long run. If I choose to do this, she'll probably leave.

How her heart ached.

Impulsively, she launched into a last piece, one Ivy played purely for her own pleasure. Unlike the others, this composition was unabashedly modern, part of the score for a biting, visceral movie. Loud, brash notes rang through the church, owing more to jazz and rock than anything from a hundred years ago.

Ivy loved it. It was oddly cheerful, almost playful for such a dark film, and she got to pound on the keys. It was brief, less than two minutes long, but by the time she finished, there was a faint, but real, smile on her lips.

Until it began to sink in, how quiet the church was in the wake of the last, fading notes. She went still. Rachel couldn't not have heard her playing, not that last piece. Surely she would've come out by now, if not to watch, at least to complain.

Ivy extended her senses. In a second, she was on her feet, instrument and introspection forgotten. Rachel wasn't in the church.

She hadn't heard the door or the car. So she couldn't have left through the front. With vampire swiftness, Ivy strode towards the kitchen. The back door was closed but it wasn't locked, which was a small relief. At least Rachel hadn't been demon-snatched from the church.

Ivy went outside. The cool night prickled her skin as her keen sight scanned across the garden that she'd once dug up and planted with her own hands. She'd mocked herself for it more than once over the years, when they argued or things got bad. A witch's dream garden created by a vampire, indeed. But Rachel had loved it, so…

It took her two seconds to sight the redhead huddled on a blanket that was placed where the sanctified ground of the church's old cemetery began. She felt green eyes tracking her even as the wind stirred, bringing the familiar scent of redwood to Ivy. But not just that. Her heightened sense of smell picked up redwood, incense and ashes. My scent and Rachel's combined.

One of Ivy's hands scrabbled for the doorknob behind her as her instincts flared. This was one of the things they had tried to be careful about since the start, and now look where they were. Their mingled scents were everywhere – her room, her sheets and pillows, and worst of all, on Rachel herself.

I should go back inside, Ivy thought desperately, even as another breeze swept her robe partly open and teased her senses to life. There's no danger, Rachel will be okay. She'd had the strength to do the right thing and set her heart's desire free. Surely the fates wouldn't be so cruel as to test her a second time tonight?

But she knew Rachel now better than almost any other person on earth. She recognized the manner in which the woman hugged herself and kept her head bent. The way Rachel held herself when she was crying.

Ivy had run away from a sobbing, devastated Rachel once, helpless in the surge of her instincts. Later, when she had learned how alone Rachel had felt at that moment, she had vowed that it would never happen again. She was at the very least Rachel's friend; there would be no more of this not being able to help crap.

Ivy's hands curled into fists at her sides. Carefully, like a woman bespelled, she stepped forward. Never starts now.

I watched Ivy approach with a long-legged stride that dozens of models would probably kill for. The glimmering of light from a street lamp somewhere and the fading night sky was enough for me to see her by.

Her robe furled around her, a silken blue so dark as to be almost black, the color of deep oceans. I'd always put the kind of poetic feeling I had around her down to admiration. Riiight.

I shut my eyes as she came closer and the rich incense of Ivy's scent surrounded me. My heart beat heavily as I breathed deep. She didn't mean it. You can't spend years loving someone and just stop.

No, not Ivy. She'd always been intense, almost frightening in the depth of her feelings. But you could spend a year or two slowly steeling yourself to do it. If you were convinced that it was the right thing to do. If you were a planner.

I sighed. I was in deep shit.

She stopped in front of me, a tall figure beautiful and deadly, the subject of nightmares or dreams, depending on whose side you were on. I didn't say anything, just continued to sit with my arms wrapped around my knees. It wasn't the most comfortable position, but it kept me warm.

"Rachel, what're you doing out here?" Her silky voice made me shiver, but I pretended it was the cold.

"Watching the stars."

"It's almost morning."

"There are still a few." Before she could say anything else, I went on. "I heard you play. It was beautiful, Ivy."

"You heard it from all the way out here?" She seemed faintly embarrassed. "Why didn't you come in?"

"If I'd been there, you would've stopped playing." The words sounded bitter as they slipped out. But dammit, it was true. I'd walked in on Ivy playing once, and that had been it. She never let me watch again.

Something else caught her attention. "You're wearing my robe," she said, the pupils in her eyes dilating.

"Oh. Yeah sorry, I ducked into the laundry and snatched the first warm things I could get my hands on. It just happened to be your robe and this blanket," I explained apologetically, meaning no, this isn't another ploy to trip your senses. Besides, I'd already tried that route and on all counts my attempt had been an epic fail.

"It is cold." Ivy tried to blink back the blackness in her eyes. "Why don't you come inside? I'll make you some coffee, or hot chocolate if you're going back to sleep," she said persuasively.

I stared at her. She couldn't be serious. She couldn't play best friend and comfort me when she was the one breaking my heart. I opened my mouth to say something sensible, like I'll be okay and could she just go and leave me to my fucking misery?

But instead what came out was, "Don't leave, Ivy."

Surprise showed on Ivy's face, a break from her usual emotional sangfroid. "Rachel, I never said -"

My heart was hammering against my ribs. I'd heard her play, and in the first moments I'd heard her longing. But that last piece had practically been a declaration of defiance, and I was scared by what she was going to say next. So I cut her off and started talking first.

"I like it out here. I've slept here before, the night Piscary called and you left." Like a good scion. I hugged my knees tighter. No need to tell her that I'd nearly gone crazy and gone after her, and that Jenks and Keasley had to knock me out with one of my own sleeping potions to make me to see sense.

The quirk on her lips told me that someone else might've relayed the story. But her voice was serious when she said, "I'm not going anywhere."

"Unless Rynn calls," I said bitterly.

"If there's something that needs to be done, of course," she admitted with some annoyance. "But I'd come back. It's no different from being on a run."

That did it. Did she think I was an idiot? "Do me a favor, okay, Ivy?" I said hotly as something inside me snapped. "Don't try to make me feel better. I'm a big girl. I'm not going to fall apart just because you don't love me anymore. I don't need any of this comforting bullshit. I don't need you!"

Her eyes flashed at my show of temper, and suddenly she was angry too. "Why you selfish little –"

"What?!" I couldn't believe she was picking on me. I was hurting, and she knew it. The least she could do was to let me vent!

"- witch. I've loved you for years, and I've watched you fall for just about every jerk there is."

"Why you…"

"Then just because things don't go your way once –"

"…sanctimonious, anal-retentive vamp!"

"– it's all my fault? I'm supposed to feel guilty because I didn't have sex with you when you finally felt like it?"

"I felt it in your aura!" I shouted, not caring anymore whether the entire street or all of the Hollows heard us. "Don't lie to me, Ivy! I can take anything but that." My voice cracked, wavering between grief and near-hysterics. "Don't tell me you're going to be here when you want to leave! Don't pretend you still care when you –"

"Rachel!" It was the wild way she called my name that stopped me. The placid mask Ivy always wore fell from her in the same moment she sank to her knees in front of me and cupped my face in her gentle hands. Eyes the color of molten honey bored into mine, and I could see every bit of feeling that had stayed hidden there at last. "I care, Rachel. I will never stop."

That did it. The dam inside me broke, and I sobbed as she kissed my cheeks and tasted my tears. They were for her at last. No, they were for us, a lost us if this last conversation ended like the others. She took me in her arms and rocked me as she had once before, when I thought I'd been bound and Ivy had kept telling me that I wasn't.

"But you –" It was hard to talk through the tears. "You don't want to."

Her arms tightened around me. "Dear heart, it's better if I don't."

"Why?" I was having trouble catching my breath because if she still cared, then there was a chance.

"Because what I'm getting into is dangerous."

"Then you need help," I managed to say. "You taught me to ask for help when I needed it. Why won't you do the same?"

Ivy sighed as she sat back just enough to wipe my tears away. "I told you what it would take, Rachel, and it scares the living daylights out of you."

Oh yeah, that. But who in her right mind wouldn't be scared by this scion business? It had nearly torn Ivy apart once. I didn't understand why she'd even consider… I took a deep breath. That was it, wasn't it? I didn't understand.

Maybe it was time to try. "Ivy, what's it like, being a scion? You keep saying that it's supposed to be an honor. Why?"

She gave me a long, careful glance, the kind Ivy threw my way when she was trying to gauge what I was getting at.

I returned it steadily. I was serious and I wanted her to know it. "Nick said that it wasn't like being a shadow or a…or a thrall." I wasn't even sure what a thrall was.

She frowned, and muttered "crap for brains" under her breath. But as asinine as he was, Nick was a human who'd grown up among Inderlanders. He knew more about vampires than I did.

"They're both about blood, aren't they?" I prompted. "Blood and some kind of mental bond you can't shake." That's the part that scared me. The blood, well after sharing mine with Ivy I'd pretty much come around that, but the possibility that someone could take over my will terrified me.

Ivy knew my misgivings so well, she didn't need to guess where my thoughts were headed. "You can't seriously think that they're the same thing." She made a sound of impatience at my uncertain expression. "Yes, they both involve blood and mental bonds but, Rachel, comparing a scion to a shadow is like saying that marriage and girls going wild over a boy band are the same. A vampire can have any number of shadows at his beck and call, if he wants. Shadows and thralls are about the blood ecstasy. You've seen them at Piscary's."

I nodded, trying not to shudder at the memory of those pale, blank faces.

"But a scion…" Ivy's voice turned low, respectful, "even the most powerful vampire can only have one. For all the influence that a vampire has over a scion, that vampire must share with him or her something more. A scion will possess some of your strength and abilities; she'll know your mind as you know hers."

"As for forcing a scion, I won't lie, it's possible. But Piscary would've simply made me kill you if it was that easy," she said bluntly. "It's not mind control, because a scion without her own will, whose every action must be directed, is useless. It's more of a voice in your head, a teasing, compelling influence, and the more powerful the vamp the harder it is to resist, but one can resist. A scion isn't a shadow, or just another source of blood. She becomes a part of you. You must be able to trust her because no one will be closer to you, or have the most opportunity to kill you. That's why choosing the wrong one can get you killed. Which is why it surprises everyone that Rynn is asking me," she ended.

I remembered something. "But Rynn already has a scion."

Ivy nodded. "He does, but she wants to…move on. Only someone living can be a scion."

So Rynn's scion wanted to cross over and be an undead. "I don't know about this, Ivy. I don't trust him. Cormel," I clarified. "It's got to be a ruse. Cormel's an undead master, why would he give that kind of power away? And the other master vampires, do you think they'd just willingly –"

Ivy smiled. "I know," she said calmly. "And if we simply asked for power, the undead would never give it. That's not the way it works for us. But if living vampires increased in strength and influence, if they formed allegiances among themselves and not just with their masters, and if it happened gradually, over the years…"

My jaw fell. Ivy was talking about, not exactly overthrowing the camarillas, but forming another system alongside it. No, within it. "You're…planning to use Rynn? You'll agree to be his scion but you have your own agenda?"

She nodded, and I realized by her tranquil coolness that she'd done this kind of thing before.

"I told you the truth, Rachel. I don't want another 15 year old girl to go through what I did. I don't want another boy to die like…Kisten. Piscary treated us like playthings." Her tone was both angry and sad. "He got away with it because no one within the camarilla was strong enough to stop him, and outside Cincy no one cared. Undead vampires only fear the masters, but we who live, we feel, form bonds and friendships, and trade favors. A living vampire can't stand up to an undead, much less to a master. But if he can call on five other living vampires for help, would a master find it so easy to give away his life's blood then, or for an undead to take advantage?" she reasoned.

Ivy's expression turned reflective. "The Weres will grow in number, and there are already too few of us to waste. Rynn is astute enough to see that. There's a small window in which things can be done, things that by some weird, satirical black-humor twist of Fate I might be able to pull off. It's possible that Rynn isn't sincere, but that doesn't matter in the long run if I can put things into motion. Once I do though, if the other masters realize what the real plan is…"

They'll kill her. Tamwood or not, Ivy's life wouldn't be worth two cents if they found out. My mind was whirling. What had Piscary said? That Ivy had argued when he'd told her to leave the I.S. so she could keep an eye on me, only to discover that she'd planned it that way all along?

I stared at her, seeing my roommate in a new light. This is why Kisten and even Nick were certain that Ivy would rule Cincinnati one day. Not simply because she was a Tamwood, but because she was Ivy, and she'd been wise to the ways of the undead since she was fourteen.

"Why does it have to be you?" I asked.

"Because vampires look only to those who are stronger than they are." Her eyes glinted, and she didn't need to say the rest – that few among her kind could match her. Kisten told me that she'd walked in the sun and lived practically as an undead, and she'd survived. For all her love of plans, the bike and the leathers were not an act. Ivy was the best runner the I.S. had ever had, and part of that was because she was a rule-breaker just like me, and she got away with it.

"And you have to be a scion…?"

"Even the strongest of living vampires is no match for the youngest undead, unless she can lean on a master's strength. Rynn would also place more trust in me." She grinned, and her perfect teeth gleamed in the moonlight. "Which in turn would allow me to move more freely."

"Because he'd have a window into your brain, Ivy!" I protested, pointing out the big hole in her plan. "He'd see what you were doing."

"I have no intention of hiding this from him, not the main plan anyway. He offered, remember?" Ivy explained patiently. "I'm simply taking him up on it. Besides," her gaze turned distant, considering, "he wants something too. For all his benign posturing, I think Cincinnati isn't enough for Rynn. He wants more, but to do that he needs someone who can hold Cincy for him, preferably a vampire who's in no hurry to be an undead and who…belongs."

"Someone who has the bloodline," I whispered, the pieces falling into place. Ivy was high-born, from a long line of living vampires. She was held in high regard by her camarilla's masters, past and present. No mere undead would mess with her, not without a compelling reason. It wasn't just Cormel's protection either. Ivy's mother, a powerful undead in her own right who'd nearly succeeded Piscary, would gladly rip out the heart of any who threatened her only living heir.

Ivy bent her head. With a pang, I recognized the gesture though I hadn't seen it in ages. If her hair were longer it would fall like a curtain between us, shielding her face from me. "I never wanted any of this."

There was a tiny quiver in her solemn voice, and it hit me how hard this must be for her. For as long as I'd known her, Ivy had wanted only to be her own person, free from anyone's manipulation. In Piscary's absence, and with her own growing control, she was almost there. But Rynn had made his offer and however she felt about it, her reasoning was impeccable. If things were to change, someone had to start. And right now it looked like the person with the best chance was Ivy.

Everything was already within her – the ability, the influence, the blood, and most of all the motivation. Unlike most of her kind, Ivy understood what she was fighting for, because she'd lived through it.

My fingers curled against her cheek. In surprise, she looked at me. "I'm sorry," I said simply. I'd leapt to conclusions because Ivy's revelation had made me panic. No wonder she'd gotten angry; I'd said no when this was something that ultimately concerned Ivy, and not me. This wasn't my decision to make.

"What you're planning scares me," I admitted, "but this is your world we're talking about, and if this is what you think needs to be done then I'm with you."

I thought she'd be pleased at my apology. Instead Ivy looked horrified. "Rachel, I don't want you involved!"

"Yeah? Well tough." I stuck my chin out. "I'm not going anywhere either, you hear me, Ivy? Make your plans, play your game. But you're right, this is dangerous. You need backup for this, and I'm it."

"But there's nothing you can do," she protested, falling back on reason. As if that ever worked on me. "You said it yourself, this is about vampires."

"We'll see. I'm still not going," I repeated. Then, more softly, "You can kick me out of your bed, out of your room," I managed to say past the lump in my throat. "That's your right. But whatever you decide, I'm staying to watch your back. I'm your friend, I…" I'd like to be more.

"But you hate vampire society," she argued plaintively, sounding almost like a child.

"Yeah but…" I hesitated. "I'm not doing this for the greater good of vampires. I'm doing it for you."

Ivy went still, and there was something about the expectant way she gazed at me that gave me hope. "Why?"

"Because I want…" I swallowed. This was it. I wasn't very good at words, but if I didn't pick the right ones tonight I might never get the chance again. "I want a life with you, Ivy, and I want it to be a long one. I'm going to do everything I can to make sure of that, including finding a way for you to keep your soul. And if we – if I fail in that…" I braced myself. I knew what Ivy wanted. Piscary had told her to keep me under control, but the offer to make me her scion had come from Ivy.

But the words wouldn't come out. I couldn't, not when there was still so much about this I didn't understand. Even if it would surely fix things between us, I couldn't make promises to Ivy that I wouldn't live by. What had Nick said? 'You'll be second, but you'll be second to a vampire slated to rule Cincinnati.' Something like that. But that was exactly it. Neither Ivy nor I were good at being second, and I didn't know what it would do to us if one of us had to be. I'd seen how the undead treated their scions.

Soft hands brushed against my face. "Don't," Ivy whispered.

My heart sank. I'd lost my chance. I scrabbled for words, wanting desperately to get it back. I hadn't said no, dammit, I just needed time to process this! "But Ivy –"

The tips of her fingers rested against my lips, quieting me as she shook her head. "If we fail, I'll be undead." Her face was full of disquiet, of…fear. I realized that in the same way I had dropped my guard around Ivy earlier and shown her how weak I'd felt, she was doing the same now. "I didn't tell you, but I bumped into Peter last month."

My eyes widened. Peter, the first vampire whose death I had witnessed…and mourned. I had stayed with him till the end, and in those few moments we'd shared, we had talked like old friends. "You saw him? Why didn't you mention it? Is he still with –" and suddenly I remembered. Peter, and the woman he loved. God, what was her name? The woman who, knowing what would happen to him, had volunteered to be his scion after his first death. I looked at Ivy.

She met my gaze, and her own was full of grief. As close as I had gotten to Peter, Ivy had known him longer. "If that happens," she continued as if she hadn't mentioned him, "I will be kind and I will love you, but I won't be the same. I won't remember why. In the beginning I may not even remember how. And it will cause you pain. I – I never realized how much my father loved my mother until…" In the dim light her eyes were shining with tears. "So…don't."

Dying scared her. It always had. I remembered how in her delirium Ivy had once begged me to watch over her, when she thought Piscary might've killed her. Now she was letting me see her fear again, and telling me at the same time that she wouldn't ask this of me, because it would hurt me.

My brave, beautiful Ivy. I clasped her hands and my heart almost broke because they were trembling. "I won't let the sun touch you," I swore, fierce with the need to protect her. "If we fail – and we won't – I'll be by your side, whether I'm your scion or not."

As I said the words, I knew it would break me. If Ivy died, and became a shell of the woman I knew and loved, it would hollow me out. But I'd bear it. If that's what it took to spend a life with Ivy, I'd do it. "I'm sorry I can't promise you forever," I murmured apologetically, conscious for the first time of how little I could offer her. "You'll be immortal. But I can promise that I'll watch over you for the rest of my life. I'll keep you safe, Ivy. You'll be able to sleep in peace."

She laughed, one of those Rachel's-being-ridiculous laughs that made me frown in confusion. The tears she'd carefully held back were falling. "Oh Rachel," she breathed, touching my hair, "don't you know that's the worst thing you can say? Don't make me think of a life without you." Her hands were on my face again, framing me. "Dear heart, I only want forever if it's with you."

Then she kissed me, sweetly, like she had two nights ago, and this time I was the one tasting the salt of her tears on my lips.

Vampire incense enveloped me, and my arms rose to draw her close. Surrounded by Ivy, her warmth, her love, I felt at peace, whole, like I'd been searching and wandering all my life and finally I'd found home.

God help me, I think she was finally mine. And I had no plans of ever letting her go. I murmured her name almost reverently as I tipped my face up to hers, and shivered as her kisses burned deeper, wanting more. My Ivy.

Suddenly a hundred thirty-plus years didn't seem anywhere near long enough.



We lay on the blanket, face to face with our arms loosely wrapped around each other. We talked in whispers and traded slow, languorous kisses under the dark blue sky.

Her elegant fingers twined in the curls of my hair. I'd been bothered by my unruly locks for as long as I could remember; in fact some of my first charms had to do with taming them. But Ivy liked my hair for some reason, and the fact that she did suddenly made a lot of bedhead afternoons worth it.

I shivered as Ivy's lips slowly began to trace my jaw. I could stay this way forever. I pushed an awry strand of her hair back as she drew away to look at me. Her eyes gleamed like ebony pools.

There were ways for vampires to prevent the natural dilation of their pupils, but I was thankful that Ivy had never tried to hide hers. She controlled herself so well; at least this way I'd always have a hint about what she was feeling.

"Your eyes are beautiful," I told her.

It was apparently the wrong thing to say because Ivy stiffened. If I hadn't been holding her she would've pulled away.

"You think a predator looking at you is beautiful?" she asked harshly.

"Why shouldn't I?" I challenged her. I trailed my fingers down her side, pleased that such a simple thing could make her draw a sharp breath.

"In case you missed it," I murmured, "you are a predator. You've hunted me for years. Quite successfully, as it turns out. Besides, I'm a stunted demon with smut on my soul."

I tried to say the last part as lightly as I could – I wanted to tease her out of this funk and get back to what we were doing – but some of the bitterness seeped through. Where Ivy could see in the dark, I could see auras with my second sight. Hers was pristine, a perfect brown that somehow swept in to protect me whenever my aura was hurting. Just like Ivy. Mine used to be gold with streaks of red, but it had borne the brunt of the black curses I'd spun over the years.

Ivy heard it, of course. We each had our issues; this was mine. "So," her pose relaxed as she shifted to a slow drawl, "we make a fine pair?"

A fine…pair? They were just words, but for some reason they made my heart pound like drums. "Are we?" I asked, suddenly feeling weirdly nervous, like it was the first time I was going to the prom or something, only I was doing the asking. Ugh how do guys do this all the time?

I had no idea a gaze could burn so brightly from eyes so dark. "I've wanted you forever, Rachel," she rasped as she pulled me to her roughly. Then, God help me, she was kissing me that way again, with the tender ferocity that had turned my world upside-down…was it only two nights ago?

I can't not have this. Not anymore. Now that I'd finally understood that our very first kiss had merely been an echo of this, that Ivy had wanted to kiss me this way all along, the thought of a world in which Ivy could not or would not hold me this way was close to unbearable. Why oh why had it taken me so long to let her?

Suddenly I did feel like kicking myself. "We've wasted so much time," I whined as we separated for breath.

Ivy froze for the space of a second before she burst out laughing. "Oh so now you regret it?" she teased.

I held her close, liking this mood on her and the fact that I had something to do with it. "You should've just thrown me against a wall and kissed me senseless or something. I would've gotten the point eventually."

"Or I could've ended up a big smudge on said wall," she pointed out wryly. The tip of a finger traced the bridge of my nose and the corner of my lips with affection. "Don't regret it too much, Rachel. In hindsight, maybe it was better this way."

"What do you mean?"

"We both needed time to figure things out. You weren't ready to love a vampire – or a woman." Ivy couldn't help the irony that crept into her voice; her gender had frightened me far more than the bloodthirsty instincts of her species. "And I was torn in so many directions, between my instincts and what I wanted, and what I thought I could have."

"I thought I was the one you wanted," I joked.

"Didn't I just say that?" she tossed back with a smile, though her gaze was serious. "I'm no longer as Piscary made me. Between you, Rynn and Skimmer – because none of this would've been possible if she hadn't saved me – I'm more than my instincts. But don't make the mistake of thinking I'm safe," she warned, "because from the first moment the thirst took me I was groomed to be savage. That will always be a part of me. Only now…"

I gave her a quick kiss to encourage her, though I was nervous too. Ivy talked about herself so seldom that when it happened I tended to panic. "Now…?"

"I'm whole, and I can love you better." Ivy said it so simply, in tones both shy and determined, that it made my heart clench. It took her exactly two seconds to realize that I was on the verge of tears. "Hey, what's wrong?"

"I thought –" I swallowed, determined not to cry. Funny how I'd only just realized how much I'd needed to hear that. "I thought I'd lost you, that you didn't –"

Ivy's eyes widened, the rim of brown around her pupils growing. "You were really worried?" She was clearly surprised.

I ducked her perceptive gaze and kept my head down. Suddenly the grass was very interesting. The way I was staring at it, you'd think that it was better than TV.

In one smooth movement, Ivy was on her feet. "Come on," she invited, smiling as she held out her hand to me.

"Do we have to?" The question was almost plaintive but I sat up and reluctantly gave her my hand. I wasn't sure I wanted to leave the blanket and the easy intimacy we'd been sharing. The last hour seemed almost like a dream, or like one of those fantasies where the protagonists find themselves outside of time for awhile. Going back to the church smacked too much of a return to reality, with its uncertainties and complications.

She pulled me up in a single, effortless motion. "Yes. For one thing the sun's coming up. For another, it smells like it's going to rain."

"You can smell the rain?" Now it was my turn to be surprised.

Ivy rolled her eyes at me. "Vamp senses were built for more than pheromones, you know. Wait until it starts and the pixies…" She trailed off.


"Rachel, where are the pixies?" she asked suspiciously

"The pixies?" I repeated disingenuously. I am so busted.

"Jenks and the kids. You heard me playing all the way from out here, and just now we were," Ivy's lips curved in a seductive way that made my pulse trip, "making a lot of noise. How come I haven't seen any?"

"Oh. Um." I swallowed as my cheeks began to burn. Sometimes I really hated my complexion. "I kind of...asked them to stay in tonight."

"Oh you did, did you?" The smirk on her lips grew playful.

Even in the dim light she must've seen my blush. "I thought we were going to talk!" I said defensively.

"Talk? Dressed like that? In my bed?" she drawled. "What kind of talking did you have in mind?" She laughed as I sputtered. "Well, whatever you told Jenks, I don't think thirty-plus pixies are going to stay in a stump all morning." She picked up the blanket from the ground and, in her lovable OC way, folded it neatly under her arm. "Besides, I'd like to get some sleep, preferably on a bed."

I stared up at the sky that was now slate gray. Wait, hadn't Jenks said…? "Oh God, you haven't slept at all! I'm sorry, Ivy, I completely forgot. I should've –"

"Rachel," Ivy cut me off with a grin, "if that's how you plan on keeping me awake, you may wean me off sleep completely."

The way she said it had me blushing to the roots of my hair. Not just because Ivy was teasing me, but because well…we were headed to bed. And I badly wanted to continue where we'd left off.

I followed her inside, but found myself hesitating in the hallway between our bedrooms. Or did she mean that we should go to our separate rooms and get some sleep that way? Crap, was there a guidebook for roommates who were…not lovers yet, but she was my…girlfriend?

"Rachel?" Ivy looked at me strangely as I just stood there. "What's wrong?"

The wary tone in her voice warned me that I wasn't the only one who might have doubts about what was happening. "Ivy, I have no idea what to do," I confessed.

"Do?" she repeated, her forehead scrunching in a frown.

"I mean, what do I call you? Where do we sleep? Do we share blood now that I'm with you?" For some reason, probably because Ivy had mentioned her, the memory of the first time I'd met Skimmer surfaced. "Are other vampires going to come up to me to sniff my neck?" Ewww.

One eyebrow arched up in amusement, and I got the feeling that Ivy was trying very hard not to laugh at me for the third time in a row. "You want to settle all of that now?"

"Well no but…I just…I've never done this before and –" I was babbling. My poor aura-deprived brain was taking a shortcut to la-la land.

"Rachel," Ivy stopped me. She caught my hand and waited until my attention was on her. "How about we start with something simple? Like with how I'm your friend and still the same person that I was this morning, and your aura hasn't recovered yet. So right now all we need to do is to get some rest, okay?"

"But… " I took a deep breath. "Okay." I am not going to freak out about this. The other stuff could wait. Ivy was right, and anyway she needed her rest far more than I needed to feel her hands all over me. Or my hands on her. Guh. My brain nearly stopped at that one.

Ivy guided me into her nearly pitch-black room and towards the bed. She threw the covers over us. We ended up pretty much as we had been outside, lying on our sides and facing each other. I could barely make out her features.

The vampire next to me didn't have that problem, of course. "You are so beautiful, Rachel," Ivy said earnestly, and once more I felt the tips of her fingers trail along my face, like she was memorizing me. She slipped her arms around me. "Now sleep, dear heart."

And I did, just as the rain began to fall.

Torrents of silver water fell on the Hollows like a benediction, pouring over streets, grass, trees and stumps, tapping on the roofs of human and Inderlander.

Two blocks away, a young Were cursed under his breath as the rain caught him a couple of lopes from his house. He was still getting used to the whole change thing, and he hated wet fur. Of course, that discomfort wouldn't compare to the tanning he'd get if his dad caught him sneaking in at this hour.

At the church, the exhausted women slept. That they weren't used to sharing their beds showed in the way they gradually shifted away from their entanglement, except for their hands, which even in their unconsciousness met and clasped.

When the sun broke through the clouds, it made thousands of droplets on wet leaves sparkle. It blazed across the sky for hours as humans and pixies and more Inderlanders stirred from their slumber and went about their day.

A sliver of orange found the small gap between a window frame and leather-and-white curtains. It fell between the women sleeping on the wide bed. Outside, the sun began its journey towards the horizon. The orange flared briefly, then began to dim.

Ivy's eyes shot open.

She struggled for breath as the bloodlust from millennia of evolution bore down upon her. Living vampires did not feel the same hunger as the undead. Blood was about pleasure and well-being, not survival. But the appetite had been honed to a fine point in Ivy, and that was before she'd been made a scion and a powerful undead had fed her his blood.

She wrested her hand away from Rachel, and gripped the sheets under her fists as her senses filled with the woman sleeping next to her and the heady bliss of their combined scent. Ivy stole a glance, and was instantly captivated by the steady pulse in the witch's neck, by the coppery scent of blood flowing in the delicate map of veins.

Her aura, she remonstrated with herself. But even if she couldn't see it, the vampire in her could tell that the hours spent together had done its job. Rachel's aura might not be at its fullest, but it was stable.

Ivy rose to her hands and knees as she lost ground to the demands of her instincts. Oh Tamwood, you stupid piece of crud. Congratulating yourself for resisting her when you knew you've been on edge forever. She crouched over Rachel, her heightened senses picking out every pore of the woman's smooth skin, the delicious curve of her ear, the faint beat at her neck, the way her chest rose and fell on every breath…

With every piece of will she had, Ivy clamped her mouth shut, her eyes riveted on the compelling throb of blood under the luminous skin.

I woke up to the sound of a growl, and barely stopped myself from flying out of the bed when the first thing that met my bleary sight was the full black eyes of a vampire who was inches away from my throat.

She flinched as my fear hit her.

"I-Ivy?" Slowly, I raised myself on my elbows and reached for a lamp, because the little light that was in the room was already wavering. I tried to suppress the urge to flee as it illuminated her. "What's wrong?"

For a few seconds she continued to eye my throat. Then she swung away. "Everything." She practically leapt off the bed. I watched in astonishment as she wrenched her closet open, grabbed clothes, and began to shrug out of her night-wear right in front of me, with only her back turned for modesty.

With near vampire-speed, she was halfway dressed in jeans and a black bra before I could even find my voice. "Where are you going?"

She turned towards me with a shirt still clenched in her hands, and it was all I could do not to gasp at the expression on her face. For about eighty percent of the time we'd been together, Ivy was so cool and collected it was hard to get a read on her. Not now, though. At this moment, everything about Ivy, from her fathomless dark eyes to the way she stood, slowly slipping into seductive mode, screamed need. "Just around. I'll call you later."

I tried to gather my thoughts, difficult when a tall, half-naked, barefoot goddess was standing a few feet away from me. There was something familiar about this – and then it came to me. Kisten.

One day I'd teased Kisten beyond all sense and he'd barely managed not to bite me. He stumbled out, and Ivy had gone after him. It was one of the few times when she'd been truly angry with me. She'd chased after Kisten to make sure that no one would take advantage of him.

I'd been sorry back then, but it was only now, seeing the bloodlust written so starkly on Ivy's features, that I understood. If I let her leave like this, chances were she'd be okay; she'd dealt with this situation dozens of times before. But she was also more vulnerable now, and if the wrong person, the wrong undead crossed her path…

I stood up carefully, making sure I wasn't blocking her way to the door. I'd at least lived long enough with her to learn that. "You don't need to leave." I let the robe – her robe – that was still loosely clinging to my shoulders drop to the floor. "Ivy, I want you."

She went still, and it was only the slight flare of her nose and a flash in her eyes that bared her agitation. "No," she snapped. "Maybe normally I could…but I've been on edge for too long. I can't guarantee that I won't hurt you."

"You won't." I said it with more certainty than I felt, but hey that was one of my many talents, faking bravado.

I began to edge closer towards her. "Nobody gets it, do they, Ivy," I asked, keeping my voice level and conversational, "why you picked me instead of Skimmer? She was so clearly your match. You would've been the consummate pair, unrivaled in bloodline and appetite, scions and one day, powerful undead."

Ivy tilted her head to the side, watching me. Good, I'd gotten her curious, even if right now it most resembled the curiosity of a lioness watching its prey's ineffectual attempts at escape.

Only I wasn't trying to escape. I was trying to bait this lioness for her own good. God, why was my life so weird? "But that's not what you want, is it?" I continued softly. "You want to be the one in control. You don't like being manipulated. You chose me because I'm the same way."

I was close enough to reach out and touch her, but I was afraid she'd bolt. I saw her eye the door, and guessed that I had very little time left.

"But that's not all. You chose me because I can stop you if I need to." I said it in the barest of whispers, so she wouldn't take it as a challenge. I thought back to how pointedly her father had talked about shadows when he'd first met me. Vampires respect strength. "You've seen me melt stone. I'm not some defenseless human, Ivy," I reminded her, "I'm not even just a witch anymore."

Once more Ivy caught the brittle pain underlying my words before I'd even realized that it was there. "Rachel…?" In her concern for me, she dropped the clothes she was still holding, and reached for my hands.

I held onto her gratefully. We'd talk about it one day, but right now all I could think of was how beautiful and dangerous she looked. And I was a sucker for danger.

I bit my lip. "Please don't go to someone else for something that I want to give to you."

It was the closest I'd ever come to begging, and Ivy knew it. I touched her face and brushed my lips against hers, and with a groan she wrapped her arms around me and kissed me.

"Promise me," she demanded harshly, "that you'll stop me if you have to."

"I promise," I told her readily, "but I won't have to. Take it, Ivy." I bared my neck to her, bracing myself for the descent of razor-sharp teeth.

Ivy smiled instead, and it took my breath away because it was the smile of a temptress who was sure that she was going to get her way. I'd seen it on her a few times, but never quite directed at me. It was powerful, that certainty, and sexy beyond words. "So impatient."

"I won't slip into the blood ecstasy," I added hurriedly, afraid that she would change her mind. "I'll keep enough control for both of us."

The smile turned into a silvery laugh as Ivy's hands slid up my arms in a long caress that made me shiver. "Dear heart, you won't be able to help yourself." She leaned close so that her breath fell on my scars with her next words. "Not when it's blood…and this."

Without further warning, Ivy bent her head and kissed my scars, only in a way she never had before. She had played with them, but not like this. This time she sought out every one of them, even the hidden ones, and suckled the skin over each intently with her lips and tongue while the air filled with pheromones.

Dear God. Her lips burned a path along my neck, starting a line of fire that raced through me. I clutched at her as my blood pounded and my knees buckled. "Ivy!"

My scars were unclaimed and many vampires had tried to take advantage of that, but I had never felt like this. Ivy's mouth was hard and demanding on flesh so sensitized she could have warmed them with a simple touch of her eyes. She was marking me. One way or the other, everyone would know that I was hers by tomorrow. The sensations were so great that in seconds, she was literally the only reason why I was still on my feet.

There was an urgency to the way she held me, and I wondered why she didn't simply sink her teeth into me when I had already told her she could. Then her hand slipped under the hem of my camisole. I bit my lip because it stopped there, and we both remembered why.

She went still when my hand covered hers over the thin cloth. I held her gaze as I guided her hand higher on my body until her palm was resting on my breast. "Kiss me?" I whispered.

When Ivy complied, it was with a thoroughness that made me want to sigh. Her mouth on mine was unexpectedly soft, her tongue almost shy in the way it begged for entrance. I kissed her back, welcoming her tongue, sucking it lightly. A faint moan escaped me when her fingers moved carefully on my breast.

Then her hands were moving away and she was lifting me effortlessly. I wrapped my arms around her neck as she laid me down on the bed.

My palms slipped to her back, exploring the curve of her spine and the prominent arcs of her shoulder blades as she moved to cover my body. Her hands met my flesh in light, sweeping caresses that slowly brought my pulse to pounding. I knew her bloodlust was on her but somehow Ivy had found it in herself to love me as if we had all the time in the world.

In a word, she was driving me crazy.

She murmured my name like a faint mantra against my skin as her cool lips left to trace my collarbone. I squirmed as the careful brushes found my scars again. This time she teased them until my body was a bow arching against her, wordlessly begging for her touch in other places where she had made me warm.

My hands buried themselves in her black, silky tresses, and tugged lightly so that she would look at me. "S-say that again," I demanded hoarsely.

Ivy held my gaze, daring me to watch her as she lowered her lips to nuzzle the sensitive flesh above my breasts. "Rachel."

I shivered. I'd heard her say my name a thousand times before, but somehow it sounded different. Ivy's voice slid like gray silk along my skin, but there was something else too. Where before her voice had brimmed with a sexuality almost cool in its detachment, now there was an underlying warmth to it that she was no longer afraid to let me hear.

And it was…possessive. 'Vampire-possessive or Ivy-possessive?' I wondered faintly. How come I was hearing "my Rachel" when she hadn't even said it? I glanced at her, wondering if I had imagined it.

The upturned lilt to her smile told me I hadn't.

My breath caught as her head drew lower. Her palms pushed up until they were poised on the underside of my breasts. Between Ivy and the approaching cool of night, my excitement showed in clear pebbles against the thin camisole.

She made sure I was watching as the tip of her tongue peeked from her lips and languorously circled a thinly-veiled peak. She licked until the fine silk was nearly translucent, showing off the darkened nipple underneath. Then she drew away playfully and blew on the damp spot.

Ivy grinned at the whimper that escaped my lips. Then suddenly her mouth was back, enveloping, sucking hard.

I cried out. Just like that, I was hers. I wanted her mouth, teeth, fingers, everything that was Ivy, all over me so badly it felt like I would break if I didn't. I clutched at her and tried to roll us over. I ached to hold her, taste her, tear the clothes off her body so we could be skin to skin.

But she wouldn't allow it. Her vamp strength held me easily as her hand found one of the thin straps of my camisole and tried to push it down. When it wouldn't budge, there was a snap and a rush of air, and finally her mouth and tongue were on my sensitive flesh, and all I could do was hold her head tighter to my breast, wanting more.

Her warm, sure hands worked to slip my camisole off. I managed to grab her wrist just as she dropped it to the floor. "Ivy?"

She stopped, but she couldn't seem to tear herself away from her scrutiny of my bare torso. "Hmm?" A pink tongue unconsciously peeked from her lips, driving me nuts.

"If you don't take those damn jeans off, I swear I'll –" I'm not sure what dire threat I would've come up with, but my throat seemed to snap shut at the molten look in Ivy's eyes.

Ivy moved so that she was half-reclined next to me, her head propped up on one hand. "But Rachel," she protested in mock-innocence, "this?" She waved at herself, and my eyes obediently followed to take in the sight of her: Asian features in striking contrast to an almost Nordic paleness, lean arms that belied their strength, rounded breasts barely contained by the black cups of her bra, a firm stomach with just a ghost of softness around her belly, and endless legs still encased in those damned threadbare jeans.

Dear God in heaven, she was gorgeous. I'd always thought so. What the hell is she doing with me? I was so enraptured I almost missed the last of her statement. "…This is your job."

My attention snapped up to her, my eyes wide. Unconsciously, I licked nervously at my suddenly dry lips, and almost moaned when Ivy's rapt gaze focused on my mouth. "Show me," I was finally able to speak past the lump in my throat, "how to touch you."

My hands hovered uncertainly in front of her, before Ivy caught them, bestowed a light kiss on each palm, and laid them on her skin. "Just start touching me, Rachel," she said huskily, "before I go insane."

If asked to describe exactly what I did next or which steps I took, I wouldn't be able to say. The only thing I remember for sure is that I followed my instincts, and that those instincts led, eventually, to a moment where my mouth and hand were at Ivy's unbound breasts, while another hand was dipping into the open vee of her unsnapped jeans. What I will never forget, though, are the sounds Ivy made as my mouth and hands moved on her.

Then Ivy was surging towards me, and I was on my back again. Her hand flashed vampire-quick between us, and suddenly there was another snap and rush of air, and I knew I was completely naked beneath her.

Almost gently, she coaxed my legs apart. I almost hissed when her fingers found the wetness between my legs, and when her palm began to grind against me. I cried out her name when she entered me, when she began the measured, deep thrusts that would slowly break me apart. She was so strong, and knowing. There was no way I could last.


I shut my eyes briefly as her voice turned thready with desire, sounding needful and exposed in a way that Ivy would've never allowed me to hear before. I only had breath for one word. "Yes."

Her eyes were pools of starless midnight, cautious, hopeful and so very hungry. "May I have - ?"

"Everything," I answered, locking gazes so she could see how sure I was, so that even Ivy would have no doubts. "Everything you want," I repeated softly, brushing my hand against her cheek, marveling at how much I meant it. There was no fear. I loved her.

More, because I trusted her completely. And unlike anyone else who had come before, with Ivy the trust had come first. We'd already saved each other countless times before our first kiss.

It was…there were no words for how right this felt, how even as I lay beneath her with my heart hammering inside my chest, something deep inside me was at peace, absolutely sure of what we were doing and utterly sure of Ivy. I knew, beyond all doubt, that she would never hurt me. In some ways Ivy loved me more than I loved myself.

As for this game Ivy was going to play, if it went awry, if somebody tried to mess with her? Then I would draw on the strongest lines in Cincinnati, spindle enough ley energy to light up a star, and incinerate every damn vampire who so much as looked at her crosswise.

That's when I understood that my love for Ivy was every bit as fierce as hers was for me. Anything that might come between me and a life spent together with her could kiss itself goodbye. My grief for Kisten had made me twist a curse to mark his death in stone. For Ivy, I would willingly smut my soul blacker than Ceri's if that's what it took to keep her safe. "Ivy, I…"

She heard it. Somehow Ivy heard what I meant and in response she kissed me deeply. How did she do that? Kiss me in a way that touched my soul? "Fall apart for me, dear heart. Let go, I've got you."

Just like that, her words and the rapid pulse of her fingers pushed me over the edge.

Then all thought fled as Ivy's teeth iced into me.

Ivy did not know that drinking blood could be like this.

Blood is blood. Love is love. She had had that argument dozens of times with Kisten, with Skimmer. Piscary had laughed at her. But somehow Ivy knew it could be both. That blood could be love, that sex and blood could mean more. Now, more than three decades into her existence, she finally had proof.

The truth was a part of her had given up on this. Just six months ago, Jenks had asked whether she still thought about sharing love and blood with Rachel (not quite in those words), and she had just shaken her head and laughed, as if at a long-lost dream.

Ivy braced herself when their auras began to merge. Rachel had described it to her once, Ivy's steady brown mixing with Rachel's red-streaked gold. The first time it had happened, she'd been so surprised and caught off-guard by it that she'd nearly killed the witch in her hunger for more. Just like Rachel, this time she was determined to hold back so she wouldn't lose herself.

Easier said than done. She thought she'd known what to expect, but in the end she was still caught unprepared. Because what was between them now was different. Rachel was different.

This. I can give you this, Ivy.

It swirled around her. She heard Rachel moan as she pulled at the wound and her fingers continued to move. In the next moment, she felt Rachel's pain at what she'd become as if it were her own, Rachel's feelings of inadequacy over entering into a relationship with a woman, even her fear that she would feel the same doubts in Ivy from the last time their auras had joined – it was all there, bared and exposed, intimate in a way not even sex could be.

But for Ivy herself, there was only complete acceptance, and love so fierce that Rachel would damn herself in an instant for her sake.

For her own sanity, Ivy broke away and buried her face in the crook of her lover's neck, breathing in their combined scents deeply as she fought the urge to take more. "Dear God, Rachel." She wanted to weep at the beauty and truth of it. There could be no lies, no subterfuge when their auras merged.

Rachel embraced her weakly. "Do you believe me now?" she murmured, still having trouble catching her breath.

Ivy nodded into her shoulder. But that reminder her - "I should," she struggled to get her brain into some kind of working order, "get Jenks to check on your aura."

She heard the witch's laugh. "Ivy, if you call Jenks now, we'll never hear the end of it." Rachel didn't look like she cared much. She drew Ivy up until they were face to face. "Let's just sleep some more, okay?"

"You're not hungry?" Ivy asked in concern, though truthfully she didn't feel much like moving either.

Rachel's arms tightened around her. "Later. Please? I…" she hesitated.

Ivy found that her witch's expression was unreadable. Not in the same way that she often was herself, but in the sense that there were just too many things going on. "Tell me," she urged softly.

Rachel took a deep breath. "Can I hold you this time around?" she asked almost shyly.

Ivy couldn't help herself. She kissed her lover tenderly. "Whatever you want," she agreed.

Ivy stayed in my arms, after. As I drifted off, I wondered if she always slept as peacefully as this.

We stirred awake at midnight. Jenks' continued absence was explained by a message on my phone, something about a problem with Jih's garden. He'd be back tomorrow.

Not to tempt fate, and because Ivy was still concerned about how much of my aura she'd taken along with my blood, we took separate showers. By the time I emerged, she was already in the kitchen, dressed in a comfortable set of cut-offs and an old, oversized t-shirt.

She looked so innocently sexy with her shower-tousled hair and the way she was leaning with her back to the counter that I almost went to her. But a grumble from my stomach had me veering for the newly delivered pizza on the table instead. It was already missing a piece. Mozzarella and pepperoni and plenty of tomatoes, yum.

To her credit, Ivy let me finish before she brought up what was foremost on both our minds. "Now what?"

Depending on what she meant, I was at least partly prepared this. I stood up and handed her a battered notebook that I'd brought in from my room. "I wanted to show this to you, in case. You need to know it's there."

"What is it?" Ivy asked curiously.

"It's my notes on saving your soul," I replied with some embarrassment. It was really disorganized, sketches and ideas scrawled all over the place. "There are spells in there, experiments, anything I could think of or heard about or tried at Al's. But nothing's worked so far."

Ivy's cinnamon eyes were thoughtful as she flipped through the pages. "There's a lot here. How long…?"

"Since Mia," I answered simply. Another banshee, only this one had nearly killed her. I watched as Ivy made the computation in her head. "When that banshee attacked me, all I could think of was how I'd failed you." I couldn't suppress the shudder that ripped through me. "If anything happens to me, make sure you get this, okay? It's in a drawer of my desk. I don't know how useful it'll be but maybe another witch –"

"Don't," Ivy cut me off in a hard voice.

"But…" It could happen. Then again, Ivy knew that as well as I did. We didn't need to talk about it tonight. Now it was my turn. "What about Rynn's offer?"

Ivy bit her lip and avoided my eyes. "I haven't made my decision yet, but you know in which direction I'm leaning." She favored me with a wan smile. "Comments, suggestions, violent objections?"

I took a deep breath and barely stopped myself from screaming 'no.' "It's really your call. But…do you have to decide right away? I don't want to kiss you tomorrow, and see Cormel looking back at me through your eyes." The thought made me shiver, and not in a good way. "Can you give me, us, a little time?"

"How much time?" she asked warily.

"Ivy, if I knew that I wouldn't need time!" I replied in exasperation. "Can we, I dunno, go out a few times, maybe?"

This time a genuine grin broke across her face. "Did you just ask me out on a date?"

I turned beet red. God, this was so much easier with guys! But no guy I'd ever been with had made me feel like this. I mumbled an assent.

"I don't have to give Rynn an answer for a couple of weeks, maybe," she told me quietly. "Is that what you want?"

"Oh Ivy, what I want?" This time I did go to her. I placed my hands loosely around her waist and looked her in the eye. "Do you remember when Piscary made you go to him, and you were gone so long, the next time we saw each other was at Trent's wedding? You wouldn't even look at me."

"I don't remember much of it," Ivy demurred, but she hooked one of her fingers in the waistband of my shorts and pulled me closer.

"I wanted so badly for you to look at me. Then, when I saw you later at the F.I.B., that's when I understood..." I buried my face in her hair, breathing in the scent of citrus and incense. "I want something lasting with you, Ivy. I don't care what we call it."

"Rachel…" There was a warning tone in Ivy's voice.

"I'm serious," I told her. This wasn't about excitement anymore, or the adrenaline rush of danger, although I was betting there'd be plenty of both. It was about making sure I had Ivy's back. "I want to be a cranky old witch some day, and turn around and still see you there. Only I want you to remember who you are, and who I am to you, and why you feel the way you do about me." If Ivy made this her mission, then I'd have mine. I would keep her safe, I vowed, until the day we both knew she could keep her soul.

She watched me carefully. "Why I love you."

I lifted my head, and held my chin high. "You're not the only one who's in love, or falling in love."

Ivy held my face lightly in her hands. "Sounds like a plan." She said it softly, happily.

I was quickly learning that when she was in that mood, Ivy was irresistible. I leaned in and kissed her.

For now, it was enough.



A week later.

I rose slowly from sleep to consciousness, and woke to something I once thought I never would – to a woman's long legs entwined with mine, the sensuous nudity of her embrace, the lazy exploration of her fingers.

"Ivy." I nearly moaned her name. The room was almost completely black, and only the barest hint of light shining on the edges of Ivy's thick curtains told me that night had long since passed.

"Good morning," the warm shadow of her whispered, as she pressed a languorous kiss upon my lips.

The darkness honed all my senses to her. The scent of citrus and ashes washed over me, so much stronger on me now than it had ever been. My body sang as her mouth moved from my lips to join her hands on my body. When the scars on my neck flamed to life, my hands tangled wildly in her hair, frantically seeking more than a kiss on sensate flesh. "Oh God, yes!" My consent rang eagerly even before she could ask. Closer, please!

When she resisted, I wanted to cry in frustration. Ivy had not bitten me since that sunset, when her instincts had nearly been pushed to the brink. We had glorious, mindblowing sex every night, but she had never taken my blood again.

I wanted her to. I'd dealt with my trust issues about this, and I'd seen for myself how the possibility of binding me hadn't even crossed her mind when she'd been wild with hunger. I'd already let Ivy – goaded her, really, into biting me when she'd been in a much more dangerous state. These days, assured of me and slowly adjusting to the fact that she was happy, her bloodlust was at an all-time low. The last obstacle had fallen away.

My lover was a vampire, and I was…I'd told her the truth. I didn't want her to go elsewhere; I was more than willing to provide. What I held back was how crazy that possibility made me, that sharing blood with someone else might give them a glimpse of the real Ivy. Because that was something that was just mine. As she was, Ivy was practically a living wet dream. If people could see how beautifully open and strong she was when our auras joined, she'd be irresistible.

Something she'd once said made me think that this melding of auras was, if not completely unheard of, at least a rarity. Part of me wanted to ask her whether this had happened to her before, with someone else. A bigger part of me wasn't ready to hear the answer. And yes, I was starting to get the feeling that vampires weren't the only ones who could be possessive.

I tugged at her, but for all the pressure I brought to bear, she was as unyielding as granite. She lowered head just enough so her tongue could peek from her lips to lick at my newest scar.

"Damn it, Ivy!" I railed as my body bucked against her, so close to the brink in an instant that it almost hurt. "My aura's completely recovered. I checked, okay? Why the hell do you keep teasing –"

"Tell me you'll take the brimstone." Her quiet demand cut through my vehemence as easily as knife through butter.

I fell silent. This wasn't what I expected. And I didn't like brimstone.

Gentle hands framed my face. "Please, Rachel," Ivy continued softly. "Trust me when I say that holding back is driving me crazy. But if we're going to do this, if you want a blood balance, this is the only way. You can't be weak, dear heart. You already have a lot of enemies. If you're determined to stay with me, it'll only get worse."

A wry, self-mocking smile formed on her lips. "You picked a shitty time to do this, you know. To join your life to mine."

I met her gaze. Her darkening eyes were the color of malt whisky, hot, bitter and smooth all at once. I could think of only one thing to say. "You mean there was a good time? When was that?"

Ivy was flummoxed for all of two seconds. Then she threw her head back and laughed. She hugged me, and I hugged her back, and it was one of those things that felt affectionate and innocent somehow, even though we were both in bed naked. Between the two of us, we'd dealt with crazy undead vamps, banshees, violent white witches, scheming elves, assassin-fairies, and demons, and we'd both lost count of the number of times we'd nearly died – and those were just the highlights. So yeah, when was that good time?

She recovered first, but there was still an amused glint in her eyes even as her words turned somber. "I won't hold it against you, you know. If it gets too much and you change your mind."

I shook my head. "But I would, Ivy," I answered softly. "I'm far from perfect, but this is the one thing that I've always been able to offer you. I don't leave just because things are hard. I didn't when we were starting out to be friends. Now?" My fingers curled to brush against her cheek. "There's no way I'm letting you go."

"Oh Rachel," she sighed. "I've never believed in happy tears. But when you say things like that…" She stiffened slightly as my hand strayed to the back of her neck, and began to pull her towards me. "What are you doing, dear heart?" she asked gruffly, though she already knew.

"I want to prove it to you." My voice was husky with desire. Not for her body, not just yet. This was another kind of wanting, one I'd never in my wildest dreams thought I'd admit to. "I'll take whatever I have to. Within reason."

"You don't have to," she tried for the last time. "Prove anything, I mean. I believe you."

"I'm glad, but that's not it. You don't get it, do you?" I asked.

She frowned. "Get what?"

"When you take my blood it's not just about you, Ivy. I feel it too. I see you." I hesitated before taking the plunge. "I see what you feel for me. I love that…love you. This isn't you taking anything," I said as I lifted my head to bare my neck to her. "This is me giving what I can, to you."

This time it was my name that fell from her in a near-groan. "Rachel –"

"Ivy – oh!" Oh God, she was so very careful…was there a vampire on earth who could be as gentle as this? Then she was drawing the first of my blood into her mouth, and I could feel the edges of her aura sliding against mine.

Then we were there, and there was no more space for thought.

"Did you get ice cream?"

Jenks flitted from my shoulder to peek at the canvas bag I was carrying, because my conscientious girlfriend always frowned when I came from the grocery with plastic bags.

He snickered. "Ivy's favorite flavor huh? Nice attempt at a bribe."

"It's not a bribe," I denied even as I felt my cheeks burn. "We agreed I'd lay low for awhile. I haven't taken any jobs, I ate the cookie she baked this morning, I didn't even join her on this top secret stakeout of hers. Doing the groceries doesn't count."

"Feeling restless already?" He asked it in a light, teasing tone, but there was an undercurrent of concern too. Jenks knew how quickly I got cabin fever.

"No," I replied, and meant it. Maybe normally I would be, but Ivy and I had agreed on two weeks before she announced her decision, and I was all too conscious that we were halfway there. Time flies, especially when we have mornings like the one today…

"Earth to Rachel? Hello?" Jenks snickered as I nearly stumbled. "Oh you've really got it real bad. Who would've thought that you'd turn out to be such a whipped wi–" Suddenly he stopped.

"Jenks?" I went on alert as he flew to hover in front of me. His entire stance screamed tension.

"What is it?" I asked warily, as my free hand inched towards the splat gun tucked into the back of my jeans.

"We may have a problem," the pixy pronounced as he stared straight ahead. "A big problem."

I followed the direction of his gaze, and broke into a relieved smile. "What're you talking about? It's Erica! Hey there!" I waved to get the attention of Ivy's irrepressible, cute goth of a sister, who was leaning against a car parked in front of the church.

'Cute?' some internal voice in the back of my head squealed. Well, look at her. Erica was some six inches shorter than Ivy and a lot louder, but just like her sister there was an air about that was sleek and subtly predatory, not to mention that same startling touch of Asian in all that nearly Nordic paleness. Even the quiet way she stands there waiting, that's so Ivy –

My eyes nearly popped out of my skull as the rest of me caught up with my current stream of thought. Oh no. Oh crap. I'm noticing girls now?! What is Ivy doing to me? I was gay for Ivy, no doubts there, and no problem. But whether I was now bi like Ivy, or if Ivy was simply the exception to my hetero rule of thumb – those things I had yet to touch on. Either way, starting the whole noticing thing with Ivy's sister was so not gonna happen!

Stomping the notion firmly out of existence, I made to move forward, only to be halted in mid-step by Jenks' hissed, "Yeah, Erica! And since when does Ivy's little sister drive a big, shiny, expensive car? Tink's lazy bloomers, where'd I put my phone?!"

I froze. He was right. Erica liked sporty two-seaters and SUVs, not elegant, full-sized automobiles like the one parked at my sidewalk. It was by no means as ostentatious as Rynn's limo, and not a single back-up bodyguard was in sight, but I'd bet a dozen sleepy potions that there was a driver somewhere.

There was no doubt that whoever owned it was wealthy and, judging by the heavily tinted windows, either prized anonymity to an extreme degree or had good reason to hide from the sun. The way it was sitting a little heavily on the ground had me guessing that it was one of those models that came with what manufacturers liked to euphemistically call "ballistic protection."

Erica spotted me just as I was thinking of backtracking and finding another way to the church. The young vamp straightened, waved hesitantly, and began to walk towards me. Even from this distance I could make out the uncharacteristically serious expression on her face. At this moment and under this lighting, she looked so much like Ivy, no wonder the rest of me had noticed.

Crap on toast. It was Jenks' expression, but somehow I doubted that he'd mind me borrowing it this once. My heart started a staccato drumbeat, and I didn't need anyone to tell me that I'd gone pale. Fuck. My. Life. Give me banshees any day.

"Jenks," I barely kept the tremor from my voice, "fly ahead and call Ivy now."

"The hell I am! I'm not leaving you," he replied belligerently.

"If this is who we think it is," and I was really praying it wasn't, "I don't think she'll do anything in front of Erica." I tried to sound confident, but at this point it was more like wishful thinking. I hoped that it was Ivy's dad in there. Randal didn't much care for me, but at least he was alive. He might have some scruples about killing his daughter's girlfriend.

Ivy's undead mom though, who wanted her to have children and continue her living line, she'd surely be ticked off by recent developments.

Erica paused a couple of feet away, and dashed my feeble hopes with her first words. "I'm really sorry, Rachel, but she just wouldn't let it go. She said she wanted to talk to you, and that she was going to do it whether I went with her or not. She promised not to do anything…" The way she trailed off was not reassuring. "I tried to call V but she's not picking up. I left her voice mail and lots of text, but there's no answer."

"She's on a run," I found myself explaining in shaky tones. Calm down. Fear is not a good thing to wave at a vampire who already wants you for breakfast. Even Erica's pupils were beginning to dilate at the way my pulse was shooting up. "Is your dad here too?"

Erica looked even more miserable as she replied, "No, he had a meeting." Unsaid between us was the fact that this wouldn't be happening otherwise.

I stared at the imposing vehicle parked at my sidewalk. No way was I getting into a car with an undead vamp, particularly one who might be pissed off at me. If I was going to deal with this, I wanted all the cards I could possibly have on my side of the table.

"It's okay, Erica," I said as evenly as I could. "Look, I need to put these away." I indicated the shopping bag. "Can we do this inside?" Yeah that's better. Pretend this is just another client on your doorstep. Although considering that the last "client" had almost drained my aura dry, that didn't help much.

I tried to seem reassuring as the girl glanced doubtfully at the church. "There's a place at the back, remember? It's safe, even Cormel's been there." And Al, and a whole slew of other creatures who couldn't go anywhere even remotely sanctified, but there was no need to get into that. "Give me a few minutes to make things presentable, okay?"

She nodded. We walked back together part of the way, with me veering off to enter the church. I studiously kept my back turned as Erica leaned towards the car's now-lowered window. She spoke softly to whoever was inside.

"Any luck?" I asked Jenks as I shut the door behind me and went down the hallway.

He shook his head. "Ivy probably muted her cell. You know how she is on a stakeout." He followed as I entered the kitchen. "Now what?"

"Five, ten minutes at the most." I didn't need to explain more than that.

"I don't suppose we could just not let them in?" he muttered.

I honestly wished that was possible. I started putting the groceries away, my mind in a whirl. Normally I'd take the splat gun out, and pointedly display it and a couple of stakes in plain sight, but considering that I was about to face an undead vampire, that wouldn't be anything more than a show of bravado. If it came to that, the ley line running through the church would be more useful.

I glanced longingly at Ivy's corner, where her gleaming computer stood. I was mainly wishing she was here, when it hit me. I wasn't edgy just because a powerful undead who might have a grudge against me was approaching. As scary as that was, I'd sort of been there, done that.

I was freaking out because in addition to all of that, this was the mother of the woman I planned to spend the next century with. And for all the ambiguous disconnect between Ivy and her mom, I didn't doubt that Ivy still cared a great deal for her mother. Which meant that this could not come down to blood and guts.

"Jenks, I need a favor," I said, as a glance at the clock confirmed that we were nearly out of time.

"What?" he asked testily. The sword strapped to his side glinted as he moved.

I remembered how Ivy had knocked him out before we talked to DeLavine. In some ways, Jenks took offense at things more quickly than I did. It was great that he was protective, but I needed this to not go bad. I told him that.

He looked affronted at first, but when I ended with a sincere, "I'm glad you're here," he realized how nervous I was and relented.

Then time was up, and there was a knock on the door. I nodded at Erica as she entered first, then focused on the woman who swept in behind her. The woman who'd gotten Jenks to strap on a sword and me checking for the nearest ley line was petite, no more than an inch or three over five feet. She was poised and nearly regal in bearing, the undoubted source of her daughters' striking almond-shaped eyes, and raven-black hair.

"Mrs. Tamwood." I was going to try to be polite if it killed me. Well okay, not that far but I'd exert some effort.

"Ms. Morgan." One elegantly thin brow drew up, and suddenly I realized where Ivy had gotten that particular expression. "I'm sorry, have we met?" Her voice was pleasant and cultured, as was the way she was dressed. Not for her Erica's flamboyant gothic black or Ivy's dark hues, leggings, jeans or leather. Judging by her exquisitely tailored cream and ivory blouse and slacks, Mrs. Tamwood preferred rich, light colors that set off her Asian coloring. She looked every inch the respectable lady, one who wouldn't dream of picking up the wrong fork, much less slit someone's throat.

Maybe I would've been taken in by it if I hadn't once seen her at Trent Kalamack's almost-wedding, looking every inch like an icy queen of death. Or if I hadn't once watched Ivy spin around in a lovely yellow sundress, only to realize that they were hunting clothes.

My eyes widened. Her mom's sundress, which Ivy had gotten when she'd died. "And if she ever shows up on our doorstep, don't let on I have it." I could almost hear Ivy going on about how her mom would try to take it back and how tacky it was to wear a sundress after dark.

God, how young were we back then? From the viewpoint of Ivy's life expectancy or mine, it wasn't all that long ago, but placed against everything that had happened since then, it felt like ages had passed. Back then, I'd been a cocky earth witch with a half-assed plan to break into a drug lord-slash-politician's office and steal his secrets, confident that everything would work my way. I've changed. So has Ivy. We're together now.

And not even Ivy's mom is going to change that, not after all we've been through. With that in mind, I felt the butterflies in my stomach settle. I was going to get through this.

"We haven't been formally introduced, but I've seen you at -" uh probably best not to mention Trent's aborted wedding, and remind her of my role in it "- a couple of functions. Ivy has pictures of you, too." Most of them old pictures from when her mother was smiling and full of life.

Mrs. Tamwood looked pleased at that. "I wondered where those had gone. We gave Ivy a camera when she was young, you know. Not like the digital ones now; it used film and was a little complicated for her age, but she loved it, took it everywhere. I do wish she was here. I don't see her as often as I'd like."

I bet. If Ivy were here, her mother probably wouldn't have made it past the front door. Or the back one. "I'm sorry you missed her. What can I do for you, Mrs. Tamwood?"

She looked a little surprised at my abruptness, though not entirely displeased. Still, she'd pay back my directness with a little of her own. "I've heard that you and my daughter are…together."

"You should maybe take that up with Ivy," I replied cautiously.

"Should I? And will you also refuse to confirm that Ivy asked you to be her scion?" she asked in a deceptively laconic tone.

My chin lifted. Now I could see where this was going. "She did, a long time ago."

"You refused?" Her voice steeled, warning me that I was on thin ice.

"I'm not interested in being bound." I heard Erica gasp. If it were Erica alone I might've told her the truth: that just a week ago I was so close to offering what Ivy had once asked, but that Ivy herself had stopped me.

The dark eyes glittered with anger. "What exactly, Ms. Morgan, do you have against the long-held traditions of my kind?"

So much for being polite. "Mrs. Tamwood," I said slowly, "I don't like your rules. I don't like this vampire society of yours that allowed Piscary to torture Ivy for years. For some reason she thinks she doesn't deserve happiness. She said she had to learn how." I paused as her eyes flashed. I tried to control my fear, knowing that the undead vampire less than six feet away was already annoyed enough to kill. No need to encourage her. "But I've loved…love," I amended, a little weirded out that I was telling this to Ivy's mom, of all people, "two vampires, and they've both saved my life."

As they sometimes did, my eyes misted at the thought of Kisten. I blinked back the imminent tears, knowing Kisten himself would be chiding me in his best accent that this was hardly the time. I lifted my head, and met her gaze squarely. "I'm grateful, but I will never give up my will or my freedom, and you don't know Ivy very well if you think that forcing me to do either will make her happy."

Suddenly, the vampire was next to me, so close that the heavy, cloying scent of incense washed over me. "I suggest that you choose your next words with care," she said in a sweet, menacing tone.

"Mom!" Erica called out in alarm, but her mother only brought up a hand to wave her off.

I froze as she eyed my neck. Fuck, I didn't even see her move. I took a deep breath, telling my heart to slow down, but knowing that no matter what, I'd scream if this icy piece of death touched me. "I've been bitten…"

"Yes," the Asian vampire confirmed with a purr. To my horror the scars on my neck throbbed.

"…but only a few of those bites have reached my soul. All of them are Ivy's," I proclaimed firmly, "and they were done with my full consent. I will only give myself to Ivy, Mrs. Tamwood. But to do that, I have to be able to choose."

Suddenly Jenks was between us, his sword drawn and pointing at the vampire's head. "Back off," he ground out, "unless you want to spend the rest of your second life with a hole where your frontal lobe used to be."

For a second, the vampire looked furious. Then she smiled, and if anything that was worse because it bared razor-shiny fangs at us. "Little man," she taunted, "if my daughter can catch you, what makes you think I can't?"

"Mom." Erica again, only this time she moved until she was next to her mother, and her young hand was on the undead's arm. "Please. You promised."

For a second I thought it wouldn't do any good. Then the vampire visibly gathered herself. "I did, didn't I?" When she turned back to me, the wrathful monster was gone, and in its place merely an affronted woman once more. "Rachel Morgan, I won't pretend to understand what my daughter sees in you, or why she's allowed you to…stay this way." Her tone made it clear that she found the arrangement distasteful. "But that's your business. I came only because I wanted to know one thing. Do you intend to stand in her way?"

Was she talking about…? In the end, I gave her the only answer I could. "I will always stand by Ivy."

The expression on her face said she was far from satisfied. Still, she nodded, and excused herself and Erica as civilly as if they'd just dropped by for tea. In another minute they were gone.

"Tink's tangled panties!" Now that the vampires were gone, Jenks let himself heave a sigh of relief. "That was close!"

I wasn't paying attention. I was staring at the door they'd left through.

"Rachel?" he prompted. "Uhoh I know that look. What's wrong?"

"Jenks, how did she know?" I asked slowly.

"Know what?"

"All of that. Who told her?" We exchanged looks.

"Erica?" he suggested, though his tone was doubtful.

"Possible but…I don't think Erica would've told her, not about Ivy and me. She'd let Ivy handle that." Besides, unlike her sister, Erica had never gotten that involved with the intricate workings of a camarilla.

"Then who?"

I met his eyes as my face went cold. I could only think of one vampire who might be keeping track of the camarilla and of Ivy, who knew Ivy's mom, and wouldn't be averse to provoking something. "Skimmer," I said grimly.

Erica launched into her mother as soon as they were in the car.

"It's alright, dear. Nothing really happened." The vampire tried to mollify her daughter, though truth to tell the ease with which she had lost control back there was mortifying. What does Ivy see in her? The woman was infuriating!

"Ivy's going to kill me twice," Erica groaned. "Mom, why did you do that?"

She allowed herself a self-satisfied smile. "Because some people only choose when they have to."

It took two more hours before the telltale rumble of a powerful motorbike cut through the usual noises of the Tamwood/Randal home.

After a brief, heated exchange with her sister downstairs, Ivy swept into her mother's room, and didn't waste words. "You came to the church."

"I had no choice," her mother reasonably. "You've been avoiding me."

But Ivy, unlike Erica, was too practiced in her ways to be fooled. "If you had wanted to see me, you would've been there when I was. What did you want?"

"I was…curious. I'd heard of her, of course, this witch you've been hunting for years." The vampire watched curiously as her daughter flushed. Strangely, it was quite becoming on her. "If this is what you want, Ivy, if she is what you want," she corrected herself, "I will not stand in your way. Do you wish to marry her?" she asked.

Ivy flushed. "Mom!" she squawked.

The older woman tilted her head to one side. "You don't then?"

"I – we –" Ivy put a hand to her head, not sure how her undead mother had managed to make her feel like a 16 year old who'd snuck out past dawn. She took a steadying breath. "We just got together. There hasn't been time to talk about things like that yet."

"Ah." Her mother nodded sagely, having heard the operative word - yet. "Well if it comes to that, know that it will not be an issue with me."

"Not an…?" Ivy's head came up as her eyes narrowed in suspicion. "What do you want?" she repeated flatly.

"Only what any other mother would want, in my position."

If it were possible, Ivy's skin turned even paler. "An heir."

The dark almond eyes glinted. "A grandchild."

"To continue your living line."

"Our line," the vampire corrected her firmly.

"You think I'd subject a child of mine to what I went through?" Ivy asked bitterly.

Blacker eyes flashed her way. "You think Piscary would have dared take liberties with you if I had already been in full possession of myself back then? I heard what he did to Kisten. Even as I was, he never dared to do the same to you."

She watched as the mention of Kisten seemed to take that air of spoiling for a fight from Ivy. Just like with the witch, there was a real and abject sorrow there for a youth who'd been taken from life too young, and so carelessly. She had known Kisten too, had once had high hopes for him and her daughter. Even as she was, she could not understand why Piscary had traded his life for so little. A cold, powerful hand cupped her daughter's cheek. "I'm sorry, Ivy. If I had known, I would've died sooner."

Ivy's throat closed. "Don't say that," she said hoarsely, gripping the hand strongly in hers. "Don't you ever say that. You were my mom. I loved you. I never wanted…"

Dark gazes held, on one side almost dispassionately. "Loved," the undead repeated. "You see, that is the difference between us. You loved the woman who died. But vampire virus or not, I am still your mother. I love you, such as I am. And I tell you that I will not let anyone harm your child. After all, he or she will be my grandchild." She smiled, a terrible, wrathful grin full of razor-sharp teeth.

Ivy knew that her mother could very well wear that same smile while she tore apart anyone who dared touch the sole heir of her living bloodline. And I will probably be the same one day. Did Rachel know that? Ivy no longer doubted that Rachel loved her, but did she truly realize that she had pledged herself to a monster? How could Ivy subject a child of hers to this one day? "Mother, I'm sorry but I can't -"

"Think about it first," the older woman urged softly. "What you went through - it won't be the same for your child, Ivy, not if your plans push through."

The blood drained from Ivy's face. "My…plans," she repeated carefully.

"I know about Rynn's offer." Her mother's voice was very gentle. "And I have a good idea what you will do with it."

"How can you know that, when even I'm not sure of what my answer will be?" Ivy asked sharply.

Again a smile, but this one held more affection. "Because I know you." Then her expression turned serious and cunning. She too, had once been an ancient master's scion, privy to the ins and outs of their world. "You will need allies among the undead. Rynn's support isn't enough. Eventually, you will need undead on your side. It will never work otherwise."

Ivy looked at her mother in astonishment. "Why are you telling me this?"

"Because I want you to live," was the brutally frank reply. "And I want my grandchild to have Erica's chances. Or perhaps even better."

"Erica's chances," Ivy repeated, in a way that said something had just occurred to her.

"I told you, if I had died earlier…" The woman sighed. "You and your father are not the only ones who've been watching out for her."

Ivy's hand dropped away from her mother's. The undead let her step away, knowing that her daughter wasn't quite convinced. This part needed patience, and she could wait. She had eternity now.

"If I...consider having a child, and I'm not saying I will, but if I do, it won't be my decision alone." Once more Ivy's tones were guarded.

"I understand. I do remember what it's like." Inwardly, the vampire was amused at the prospect of that conversation. The witch hadn't struck her as being particularly receptive to certain ideas. Still, she had displayed a surprising protectiveness towards Ivy that the mother in her liked. "I'll support you, Ivy, if you see fit to include me in your plans. But know that my support would be much stronger if I had some assurance that my bloodline would continue."

Now that was an outright lie, but a necessary one. Although her words intimated that her backing was somehow conditioned on Ivy providing her with an heir, the truth was she would support her regardless.

She watched impassively as Ivy turned to leave. She wondered how her usually perceptive daughter could swallow the falsehood so easily. Maybe it was because it was what Ivy expected to hear.

Not that an heir to her living line wasn't important. It would better secure their chances. After all, the Tamwoods had been scions for centuries.

Only, it was time to change that, and to start preparing for the day her daughter would rule Cincinnati.

For the second time that night, Ivy drove like a bat out of hell. She bent over the powerful machine until she and the bike were one, weaving in and out of traffic at speeds that would've killed anyone not born with the vampire virus.

She didn't trust her mother. She felt a pang in her heart for the parent who had watched over her when Ivy was a rebellious teenager torn between pride at having caught their master's eye, and disquiet at the things he was leading her to do. Ivy had never doubted that warm, loving, protective woman who, with her father, had found the means to send her away for her own good. But ever since the vampire virus had taken over, it had made her mother more than nearly indestructible. It had taken her soul, her compassion.

Ivy could see that her mother didn't like this situation with Rachel. No, if Rachel were bound or Ivy's scion, she would be under control, safer, her loyalty to Ivy unquestioned. It was how the undead thought, even Rynn, though he had shrugged and allowed for Rachel's adamant refusal and Ivy's equally steadfast insistence on Rachel's full consent.

After all, consent could be a nebulous concept among a species as seductive as their kind. Technically, Ivy had given her consent the night Piscary had forced her to break her blood fast and agree to be his scion. A dozen vampires would attest to the fact that their combined pheromones had set the club alight that night.

Only Rachel had called it what it was – a blood-rape. Only Rachel had stayed to see how it had nearly broken Ivy, and how she had hated herself for a long time after. Only Rachel had gone to confront Piscary, to avenge her.

After that night, there was no way in hell Ivy would finesse Rachel's consent, especially not on a matter as important to the witch as her will. That night had shattered all of Ivy's illusions, including the niggling half-belief that Piscary had somehow truly cared for her. Piscary had been so many things to her since she was young, a master, a mentor, a father figure, one of her earliest lovers – all twisted into one. But then, she had been trained all her life to seek his approval, as Kisten was. Which is why as close as she and Kisten were, he still envied the regard Piscary clearly bestowed on Ivy. In their world, it was a privilege to be favored so by the master, never mind that it had nearly destroyed Ivy in the process and turned her into something she hated. If Rachel had seen her then…

Ivy shivered, feeling as if the rushing wind had somehow found a way through her leather jacket to her skin. By the time she arrived home, she felt frozen.

But that lasted only until Rachel met her as she was shutting the church's heavy door behind them. Without a word, she took Ivy into her arms.

"You're cold!" Rachel exclaimed. Ivy heard the zipper of her jacket being pulled down. Rachel opened her jacket and stepped into its folds, until there was nothing between them but skin and thin shirts.

"Whatever it is," Rachel whispered in that way she had of being both scared and defiant, "we're okay."

Ivy closed her eyes as Rachel's warmth chased the last of the cold from her. She melted into her lover, and wrapped her arms tightly around her. She buried her face in Rachel's shoulder and that glorious red hair, and let the tension go. The past was the past. This was their now, and Rachel was her lodestone.

"Yes," Ivy answered, "we are."

The End

Author's Note #2: I've always liked the idea that Ivy plays the piano, so I put some of that in here. Everyone has their own taste, so just pick out what you think fits. In case you're curious though, here's my take on Ivy's pre-dawn playlist (this was also my writing-chapter-6 playlist):

1) The first melancholic piece/s can be any one or a combination of:

'Course when Ivy rides her bike that's a whole different set of tunes, nothing to do with the piano. ;)

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