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My footsteps fell with a quiet whisper, the soles of my running shoes scraping lightly across the cracked, rough pavement as I ran, the cool October air smelling of damp and falling leaves wrapping around me like a blanket as I fought mightily to exhaust myself. I had been running for hours, easily covering the course of a marathon and a half at his point, and still I ran. My legs ached with exertion and my lungs burned, yet I ran harder, faster, pushing myself further and further as I tried to find that state of blissful all-encompassing mind-numbing exhaustion that would allow me to fall instantly asleep the moment I tumbled into bed.
That was a much more appealing idea than lying awake and trying not to think about how badly I wished I were in her bed across the hall.
Life with Rachel had settled into a sort of purgatory-like existence since I'd asked her to let me move on and she'd, somewhat reluctantly, though she wouldn't admit it, agreed. And I'd tried, oh how I tried, but even as I pretended to be happy, I knew I would never get over her. There was no 'moving on' from Rachel Morgan.
Not for me, anyways.
The old stone church that was the perpetual albatross around my neck, weighing me down like an anchor, came into view as I rounded the corner and I pushed myself forward, finishing my run at a sprint that left me standing on the walkway mere seconds later, gasping for air. I folded my hands on top of my head and forced myself to take slow, deep, even breaths as I recovered, walking around in small circles and shaking my legs out as my breathing became more regular. I stretched on the front walkway under Bis' watchful eye and once I was done, I offered the gargoyle a small wave before I made my way up the three small steps to the front stoop and let myself inside.
Silence, warm and thick and smelling like citrus, ash, redwood, and amber surrounded me as I toed my running shoes off onto the mat in the foyer and I closed my eyes as the scent of her and I combined embraced my tired, battered soul. I wanted to hate her for not loving me but I couldn't, because I knew that she did love me just not in the way that I loved her.
And I kind of hated her for that, even if I really didn't.
I padded silently down the hall toward the kitchen, making no effort to suppress my preternatural stealth like I normally did so that I wouldn't be threatened with having to wear a bell because we both knew that if she asked it of me, I would and pulled a bottle of water from the bottom shelf of the fridge. Normally, I would take the water into my room and drink it as I changed into my pajamas; but tonight, for some reason that escaped even my understanding, I instead lifted myself up onto the counter beside the sink and drank it slowly, savoring the way it burned ice-cold down my throat.
The kitchen was lit by a single bulb in the hood above the range on the far wall and the full moon shining through the small square window above the sink beside me, and I forced myself not to look at that spot at the island where I had held her to me, her body so warm and pliant against my own as we shared a stolen moment of ecstasy. Even now, all this time later, I could easily remember the way she tasted on my tongue. Her blood had tasted of power and freedom, love, acceptance, and something I couldn't quite name, and when our auras had chimed I had felt all of it, all of her, all the way to my soul. But taking that particular trip down memory lane never bode well for my sanity and I've become frighteningly adept at ignoring the fact that those memories even existed.
I sighed and hopped off the counter as I finished the last of my water, and I tossed the empty bottle into the recycle bin as I walked out of the kitchen. The hall was ensconced in shadows as I made my way to my bedroom door, and I sucked in a quiet breath in surprise when I saw that Rachel was standing in her doorway watching me. Anyone else would have missed that small show of surprise, but she didn't, and I rolled my eyes as I stopped in front of her.
She smelled like sleep, warm and soft and pliant, and her hair was a ridiculously sexy tangle of curls that fell haphazardly around her face as she stared intently at me. "Are you okay?" she asked in a husky voice that sent a slow-rolling tremor of desire down my spine.
"Fine, Rache. Just went for a run," I said, forcing myself to smile reassuringly even as I clenched my fists at my sides so I didn't reach out to brush the errant curl that was hanging just beside her mouth away.
She frowned and brushed her hair out of her face. Apparently that strand by her mouth was as distracting to her as it was to me. "You do that a lot lately."
I nodded and hummed nonchalantly under my breath, silently urging her to just let it drop. To let me go. Though, where I wanted to go at that point was up for debate, because the exhausted state I had managed to work myself into was quickly disappearing under her sleepy gaze. The sound of her heartbeat increasing was like a metronome to my own consciousness, the faster it sped, the more aware and awake I became. The scent of her standing so close curious, worried, and concerned made my own pulse speed with reckless abandon. She was a high for me. A beautiful, intoxicating, addictive high, and she was making my head spin.
"Why do you do it?" she asked.
She nodded. "Yeah."
I shrugged. "I dunno, Rache. It just I like it. It's addictive." Kind of like you, I added silently.
She nodded again and wrapped her arms around her stomach as she tilted her head to the side and stared hard into my eyes, the veil of sleep that had clouded her gaze slipping away to show a startlingly sharp and focused gaze that tried to bore into my very soul. "Are you okay, Ivy?"
No. "Of course, Rachel," I murmured. "Go back to bed, dear heart. It's late. I'll see you later, okay?"
Something close to longing and disappointment flashed across her eyes and I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from reacting to it. She doesn't want to accept it, I told myself. Just let it go. Don't do anything stupid.
"Okay," she mumbled.
"Goodnight, Rachel," I said softly, smiling at her as I opened my door and stepped into my room. I closed the door silently behind myself and leaned heavily back against it, my chest tight with the painful feeling of utter inadequacy and my eyes stinging with tears that I refused to let fall. I was done crying over her in silence. I was done crying over her at all.
It was because I was still pressed up against my door that I heard her, and the tears I had sworn I would never shed again spilled down my cheeks at her broken, whispered confession that, had I been just a few feet further into the room, I wouldn't have heard.
"I miss you."
I swallowed thickly and closed my eyes as I leaned my head back against my door, each and every one of my senses attuned to the fact that she hadn't yet moved from her doorway. "I miss you too, dear heart," I whispered under my breath, confident that she wouldn't be able to hear me.
"I do love you," she breathed. Her words were so soft, that I could barely hear them, but they hit me with enough force to shatter what was left of my heart into a million pieces.
"Just not enough," I finished for her softly as I forced myself to move away from the door. I stripped out of my sweaty clothes and climbed naked into bed, too beaten-down from the run and Rachel to care that I really needed to shower. I buried my face into my pillow and breathed deep my own scent to try and force hers from my palate, but it didn't work.
It never did.
Like me in so many areas of my life, it was never enough.
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