Previous chapters can be found here.
Title: The Morgan Sanction (6/?)
Legal-Type Disclaimer: Yeah, I still don't own The Hollows. (Are you surprised by this?) I do own the OCs, though.
Author's Note: This is going to be even more AU then my other Hollows story, picking up shortly after the events of Dead Witch Walking. Also? The muse is evil. You are warned.
Did I mention it was an AU?
The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it. - Albert Einstein
Author's Note 2: Does anyone even care about this little story after so long...?
The drive back to the church went by in a blur.
That was partly due to Ivy's driving - I think being emotionally agitated was ramping her inner speed freak up even more than usual - but largely I felt exhausted. I couldn't remember the last time I'd been so drained. Not even the aftermath of the demon attack hadn't left me feeling like this.
Even after she turned the bike off, we sat there for a while. My arms were still wrapped around her, my forehead was resting on her shoulder, and I just could not work up the energy to care. Dimly, I was aware that absolutely nothing about what I was doing was in any way good - sitting around when there was work to be done, sitting around in plain sight where anybody could get at me, and sitting around clinging to a vampire - and I eventually managed to release my grip and slide off the motorcycle.
Okay. I could deal with this. I just couldn't do it now, evidently. So I'd just have to set all my family issues aside for the time being - nothing had really changed, I supposed; it was just that I knew about it, now - and focus on the murders.
Well, that and one other thing...
I walked - one might say 'staggered like an escapee from a Romero flick', but I assure you I was walking normally - into the kitchen, pausing to really look at it. It was so perfect for me, really. A witch's dream kitchen: huge fridge, gas stove and oven on one end, electric range and stovetop on the other, stainless steel island (with shelves) in the middle, copper pots perfect for spellcasting... I loved this kitchen. I really did. And add to that the garden with pretty much every kind of plant I might ever need, an attic with every spellbook I'd ever owned (that I remembered, anyway) as well as some I still couldn't identify, plenty of salt on hand, an essentially private ley line, holy ground to keep out the worst of the nasties...
It was the perfect home for a witch.
It was the perfect trap for a witch.
How in God's name had this not instantly screamed "TRAP!!!" to me?
I moved to the fridge mostly on autopilot as my brain whirled in circles. Part of me was convinced I was in danger every minute I kept living with Ivy, but another part kept pointing out that there was no way Ivy could have set this up in the incredibly short amount of time between when I'd announced I was quitting, and when she decided to join me. It would have been insanely expensive to throw all this together in any kind of short amount of time, and Keasley would have noticed activity of that level.
Though... I did remember, faintly, just after I'd been attacked by the demon, Nick saying something about Ivy having her magazines already being mailed to the church, that she hadn't moved in when I had. I'd been very out of it at the time, though, and no one had ever brought the subject up again.
I know, I know, I still haven't really said anything about Nick. Very long story short, we met when I - spelled into a mink - was entered in an illegal rodent death match or some such thing (despite minks not being rodents) by Trent. (One of the many, many reasons I very much do not like Trent.) Nick had been there, too, due to the vampire whose private books he'd been cataloging not appreciating his "borrowing" something interesting and having him changed into a rat. He'd been there for three months before I encountered him, and we were both rescued by Jenks and Ivy. We were kind of... sort of... dating. Maybe.
Look, it's complicated, okay?
(Of course, it hadn't seemed so complicated until that dream, but I wasn't thinking about that.)
"So, how'd the meeting go?" I didn't even turn around when Jenks drifted into the kitchen from... I don't know. Somewhere or other. I didn't really care. I was glad to see him, though, given that he was one of the increasingly few people I was sure had never lied to me.
"About as well as could be expected," Ivy replied when it became apparent I wasn't going to speak up. "Since the deaths were all classified as accidents, the FIB didn't really have any solid information we could use."
"Typical." He paused briefly, looking at me as I robotically withdrew the container that held the mixture left over from the last time I'd made myself some sleepy-time amulets from the fridge and proceeded to the island with it. I set it down, placed my shopping bag next to it, and began withdrawing items from it. I knew he was probably waiting for me to defend the much maligned FIB as I usually would, but it didn't seem to matter just then. "More fun for us, then, right, Rache?"
I made a noise of acknowledgement - it was not a grunt, I don't care what Jenks says - and continued what I was doing. Pellets and sealant went there, pods over there, air compressor near the closest power outlet, syringe next to the sleepy-time mixture. Everything else stayed in the bag. I opened the potion mix and, one by one, began slowly and methodically filling the syringe and injecting it into each pellet. Once that was done, I applied the sealant to close the hole, carefully placed it into one of the pods, and began again.
Jenks and Ivy were, I presume, watching me with concern. As focused as I was, I didn't actually notice at the time. The monotonous, repetitive activity was actually helping me recenter myself, so I kept at it. "What's with her?" Jenks finally asked.
Ivy murmured something softly, and the two withdrew. I had no idea if they'd left the room or not, but even if they had, I knew they wouldn't go far. As I worked, I tried to think of a way to bring up the whole "hunting me" thing to Ivy that wouldn't instantly set her into a confrontational state or make her run away.
I ran out of potion mixture with a number of pellets left, and still hadn't managed to think of anything.
"Uh, Rache?" Jenks asked cautiously. Now that I didn't need to focus, I looked up to find him hovering near the island, looking troubled. Ivy was standing near her computer desk, seemingly at a loss for what to do. It wasn't something I saw from her very often - barely ever, in fact - and I made a mental note to revisit the sight later, when I'd actually be able to enjoy it. "You okay?"
"Fine." I began unboxing my remaining purchases.
My flat tone didn't seem to be reassuring anyone.
"Um... right. So, uh, what happened to your neck?"
I felt the slightest twinge of amusement - the first emotion I'd noticed since leaving Mom's place - when he nearly fell out of the air in surprise, while Ivy's cheeks turned slightly pink. "I'd say the next order of business would be to find out what else the victims had in common," Ivy said hurriedly, clearly anxious to move the conversation elsewhere.
Jenks wasn't ready to move on, yet, though. "Did you mind-whammy Rachel?" he asked suspiciously.
"I doubt she could now even if she wanted to," I added, shrugging my right shoulder and, not incodentally, attracting attention to Tamiel's mark. Or brand. Or whatever it was. "And it isn't."
Ivy frowned. "What isn't?"
"Our next order of business. I already know that."
Her eyebrows shot up. "Since when?"
"Shortly after the first time I ran into Tamiel today." As briefly as possible, I ran them through the meeting, and the discussion about it with the priest afterward. (I didn't mention everything he and I had talked about. Not yet.) "Is that something all priests would know?" I asked after I was done. I'd been too distracted to think much of it at the time, but now that things had begun to settle somewhat...
"I don't know about all, but certainly a lot," Ivy said after a few moments' thought. "For a long time, knowledge of the supernatural and how to combat them was limited to a select few, but when the Turn brought everything out into the open... Things changed. And one who lived so near the Hollows would certainly be among those in the know."
So I'd actually been kind of right about the certification thing. That was nice to know. Still, though... I eyed her. Looking almost sheepish, she added, "Given that the undead are among those that they - not without cause - would consider the enemy, vampires tend to keep a close eye on that sort of thing. And vice versa."
"I suppose you would." I allowed myself a mirthless laugh. "Who knows? Maybe, for all that she implied otherwise, it wasn't a coincidence that I ran into her so close to the one person within easy walking distance who could give me the information without her actually having to tell me anything."
"She is manipulative enough to pull something like that, from what I've heard," Ivy agreed.
And you'd know all about manipulation, wouldn't you? "So, now that we have a better idea of what to look for, hopefully we'll have a better chance of finding the next target the killer strikes again."
"And then what? I think we might have a hard sell convincing the FIB to divert any manpower to protecting any potential nephilim without any concrete proof of anything, even what they were. And bringing I.S. into this would be just about the worst thing we could do."
"Then we'll just have to stop the killer ourselves."
She was starting to look agitated again. "Rachel, we have no idea who or what might be involved in this - or, for that matter, how many of them there might be. It could be anything from undead vampires to demons. By the time you got close enough to tag them, your intestines would be on the ground."
Did she think I was an idiot? "I thought of that, actually," I told her archly as I held up what all the accessories I'd bought went with: a paintball gun. It was bright red, looked more-or-less like a pistol, and was powered by high-pressure air (or nitrogen, if you prefer). It had been finding pellets that didn't already have paint in them that had taken the longest, actually. I aimed the gun - unloaded and unpowered, as I was not stupid enough to point a weapon at anyone I didn't plan on using it on... especially Ivy - and continued, "Load the potion into the pellets and poof." I mimed firing it. "Long-range sleepy-time."
Having proof that I wasn't planning on just rushing headlong into a potentially suicidal confrontation - again - did much to settle her down. "Clever," she murmured, moving closer as I set the gun down and began cleaning up. "I didn't know that was even an option."
"Ley line witches just throw power at their targets. Most earth witches don't get into the kinds of situations I do." I shrugged. "And honestly, sometimes I get the feeling that a lot of other witches are still in the 18th century when it comes to their spellcasting equipment." Charms, potions, amulets... Don't get me wrong, I made use of all those things myself, but I lived in the 21st century, and I liked it there. Trash disposed of, I collected my new weapon - I was tentatively calling it a 'splat gun' in my head - and the pods and took them to my bedroom. The salesman had said to store them at room temperature, especially while the sealant was setting, and that was what I was going to do. After that...
I sighed. Screw it, I was as ready for this as I was ever going to be, and putting it off would only make things worse. "Ivy?" I called, barely raising my voice. Getting specifics about how sensitive her ears were from her was fairly difficult - really, getting almost any kind of personal information from her was a challenge - but I was slowly working out that, unless precautions were taken, if anything was said at even normal conversational level anywhere in the church, Ivy was likely to hear it. The trouble was that Jenks had exceedingly good hearing as well, and I wanted this conversation to stay private. "I need to talk to you about something. Alone."
A few moments later, she appeared in my doorway, looking hesitant. Not hard to figure out why, given our previous track record in this kind of situation. "What about?"
"Somewhere that we won't be overheard." Jenks would instantly jump in with accusations, if he were present. That was one conclusion I'd reached while thinking things over before that I was absolutely certain of. And, yes, I would admit to a history of doing that myself, but really, that was all the more reason to make sure there weren't two of us there doing so.
She frowned, but my neutral expression was giving her nothing to work with, and I was still too emotionally exhausted to be afraid. Finally, she nodded slowly. "We can talk in my room, then. Jenks and I reached a certain... agreement, while you were being held captive by Trent: he and his family stay away from my bedroom, and I don't 'accidentally' flood their stump."
Despite everything, my lips twitched. "Too bad that sort of thing would never work for me," I commented as I followed her across the hall. I'd never been in Ivy's room before - actually, aside from a brief glimpse when I'd first moved in, I'd never even seen it - and I couldn't help but be curious.
"He'd never believe it from you," she agreed. She hesitated at her door for a moment, looking nervous, then opened it and stepped aside.
I would have preferred that she go in first, so I could escape if I needed to, but really, given her speed, there was no way I would have been able to get away if she came at me without a ten minute headstart. Mentally shrugging, I went inside.
The most surprising thing was probably how normal it was.
It wasn't like I'd been expecting pastels everywhere and hand knit crochets, but it wasn't dark and gothic, either. Honestly, I don't know what I'd thought it would look like, which I suppose was just as well.
It was just a bedroom. It was the same size as mine, though she had her bureaus and end tables in slightly different places. There weren't any pictures, which didn't surprise me. The colors were primarily soft blues and greens, which had an oddly soothing effect. (Maybe she needed that, living with me.) Everything was also nice and neat, as if someone had gone through with a ruler and made sure nothing was even an inch out of place, which also didn't surprise me.
Ivy gave me a few seconds to look around before she asked, "So, what's going on?"
I turned to face her. "Good question. What is going on here, Ivy?"
She frowned at me in confusion. "What do you mean?"
It would have been so nice if I hadn't had to explain. I really didn't enjoy remembering how hurt I'd felt. How hurt I still felt, really. "You know that priest I told you about, Father Patrick? Well, he was only near the Hollows because the church he used to preach at couldn't afford to stay open."
"Yes, I do mean this one." I was glaring at her by this point. "Now, I found this odd, given that he was human. And knew nothing about any spellbooks. And insisted there never had been any garden, let alone one so absurdly well stocked."
She flinched. Despite expecting it, the guilty reaction incensed me further. "Tell me, was I really supposed to never notice that this place is ideally put together to keep a witch - especially one who'd incurred the wrath of IS - to stay?"
"That- That isn't..." she stammered.
"See, the really crazy thing? I actually believed you when you told me that you weren't hunting me, that you only wanted to help because we were friends. Even after that visit from Kisten. You quitting didn't make much sense even then, but I didn't really want to think too closely about that. So I guess this is partially my own fault. No surprise there, right? But you lied to me, Ivy. You lied, right to my face. Over and over."
"...I didn't want to," she whispered.
"But you did!" I insisted through gritted teeth. "Why? Why would you do that to me? You know I have trust issues to begin with!"
A tear slipped down her cheek, but I forced myself not to care. It wasn't as easy as it should have been. "It was the only way to keep you safe," she finally replied quietly. I could hear more tears in her voice, but they remained unshed for the moment.
I gaped at her for a moment, then burst out, "No, it wasn't!" I just barely kept from shouting. "Honestly, if you hadn't quit, I may never have had any assassins after me at all. They certainly wouldn't have been so well financed." It had been her bribe money that had let Denon afford to recruit so many, after all, and arm them so well.
She flinched. "I know, but... Rachel, you have no idea how bad it could have been."
"Then explain," I insisted stubbornly.
She inhaled deeply, holding it as she thought. Finally, her shoulders fell and she breathed out slowly. "Okay," she said softly, looking at the floor. "You deserve to know, and... Well, you've certainly got more options when it comes to defense, now, don't you?" She gestured vaguely toward Tamiel's mark.
"I can't believe you're even suggesting that," I said, appalled.
"I'm not," she said, shaking her head, eyes still locked firmly on the floor. "But he doesn't know that you wouldn't."
He? "Who doesn't?" I asked suspiciously.
She sighed. "Piscary. Pretending you were mine was the only way I could prevent him from taking you for his own, or just killing you."
I stared at her, dumbfounded. "What?!"
She nodded. "I can't prove it, but I think he had Denon giving you so much shit just to get you to quit. He's the one who set up this church, so that I would make you my shadow, or kill you. I honestly don't know which he'd like better. I don't know why he wants you dead. If I didn't know better, I'd think he was afraid of you." She offered me a sickly smile. "Hell, maybe he knew about your godmother."
Piscary? Piscary wanted me dead? "I've never even met him!" I protested. "And if he knew about Tamiel, I don't think he'd risk drawing her ire by killing someone that belonged to her."
"Unless he has protection of his own," she suggested.
I... I didn't even want to think about something like that. "This doesn't make any sense!" I insisted. "If he'd been paying that close attention to me, he'd likely have figured out that I've had memory charms used on me, and didn't even know anything I might have once learned. I was just some random witch at IS to him."
"I don't get it, either," she said, chancing a look at me. "Though the possibility of her showing up might be why he wanted me to keep an eye on you."
Just when I thought I couldn't hurt any worse... "You were spying on me for him?"
She drew in on herself, visibly fighting not to retreat from the room. "...sort of."
"What does that mean?"
"I never told him any personal information about you - I don't know that he even would have cared about that, honestly, but I... couldn't do that to you - just... any notable visitors. For some reason, he was very interested in any time when you used ley line energy." She was crying, now, and it was getting harder not to try and comfort her. I couldn't even blame pheromones, this time. "You've only done that once that I was around for, so I haven't exactly had much to tell him."
Well... There was that, at least. "And Tamiel?"
She understood what I was really asking. "I haven't told him about her, yet. With our visit to FIB, I'll probably have to. I... could just call her Tamara Jordan," she said slowly. "She never identified herself as Tamiel when I was around, after all, and if you keep that mark hidden, he might believe I didn't notice it for a while, at least."
I paused. She was basically offering to play double-agent to Piscary for me, and I may not have known too much about him, but I knew enough to know how insanely dangerous that could be for her. "If he catches you lying..."
She flinched. "I know." Then, so quietly I was sure I hadn't been meant to hear it, "Oh, God, do I know..."
Oh, I did not like the sound of that. "You told me once that he never touched you..."
Her expression went from pained to nauseated. "I know. I... I couldn't bare the thought of how you would have looked at me if you knew that..." She gave a full body shudder. "He was... grooming me, from a young age. I don't... I don't want to talk about that. Please."
"Okay." My agreement was instinctive and immediate. If you'd been able to see the misery on her face, the pleading in her voice, you would have done the same. "Well... This conversation is not going the way I expected it to."
A laugh burst its way free from her lips, but that seemed to collapse the rest of her emotional defenses, and that laugh quickly gave way to sobbing. "I'm sorry... I'm so sorry," she choked out amidst her tears.
I don't remember deciding to do it, but I swiftly crossed the room and pulled her into a hug. (Yes, I'd thought last night that we needed to hug more often, but this isn't what I'd meant.) "Hey, come here," I said when she made a feeble token attempt at pulling away. "Come on." There being no chairs in the room big enough for both of us, I had no choice but to tug her toward the bed. Somehow, though, I didn't think I had anything to worry about on that score, just then. I sat down, and she all but collapsed against me, sobs wracking her body. "It's okay. Just let it out."
I honestly have no idea how long we were sitting there, me holding her as she cried. I didn't care, either. Even catching the killer had briefly taken a backseat to comforting Ivy. Whatever had happened with Piscary, whatever that grooming she'd mentioned entailed, I don't think that was the problem. (It wasn't helping, obviously, but it wasn't the main issue, either.) All she kept saying, over and over, was, "I'm sorry." I never would have guessed that lying to me like she had been was hurting her this much, but I clearly would have been wrong.
"Ivy, it's okay," I told her inbetween apologies. "I forgive you." I wasn't sure when it had happened, but once I said it, I realized that I had.
She sniffled against my neck. I was going to have to change my shirt after all this, but I didn't care. "Please don't hate me," she begged. "Please..."
"I could never hate you." Be angry with her, be scared of her, sure. But hate her? I don't think I was capable of that. She was... Ivy.
"Don't go," she whispered.
"I won't. I promise." And she knew me well enough to know I didn't make promises lightly.
She tightened her grip hard enough to make the breath wheeze out of me. "Thank you. Oh, God, thank you, thank you, thank you..."
"Not sure why you're so grateful I'm sticking around, but you're welcome."
She let go - which my ribs appreciated - and pulled back, but only far enough to look me in the eyes, and her hands stayed resting on my arms. "How could I not?"
"Because I'm constantly leaping before I look, often reject the very idea of planning ahead, manage to repeatedly press every button you have, and am a walking trouble magnet?"
"No one's perfect."
I coughed out a laugh. "Come on, now..."
She shook her head. "Rachel, while I would love it if you realized that planning ahead and coming up with alternative paths of action actually require being able to think on your feet to know which option is the best one to take, other than that, I wouldn't want you to ever change."
"Except maybe not setting you off every other day?"
She smiled all the way up to her red, puffy eyes. "Well, there is that. But I love your passion, the way you throw yourself into everything you do. I love that you'll never take the easy way out, no matter how difficult you make things for yourself. I love that you never quit, even when your stubbornness is driving me crazy. I love your determination. I love the way you embrace new experiences. And... you. I love you, Rachel."
I jerked in surprise. Had she actually just said...? "Wai- What? Why?"
"Because of who you are, inside and out. You are the strongest, bravest, most beautiful person I have ever met. You said I was hunting you, and in a way I suppose that's true. But the truth of the matter is that, while we were working together at IS, I grew to like you. You were smart, funny, pretty, and all kinds of feisty. Then... I'm not sure when it happened, exactly, but at some point, I realized I'd fallen in love with you. That's why I quit IS with you, why I'm doing everything I can think of to shield you from whatever Piscary wants with you. I couldn't bear it if anything happened to you."
"I... I don't even know what to say to that," I finally stammered out.
She smiled again, gently stroking my face with the back of her hand. "Don't say anything. I know I've betrayed your trust. All I ask is the chance to earn it back. I don't want you to feel obligated to return my feelings in any way. They didn't get in the way before, they won't now. But hopefully knowing there's someone out there who loves you won't be a bad thing." Her lips ghosted over mine, so quickly I wasn't sure if I'd imagined it or not.
I didn't have the slightest idea how to react to that, if I hadn't, so after a momentary brain stall, I shook myself back into gear. "Are you going to be okay?"
She gave me another brief hug, then let go and stood up. "Just give me ten minutes to get cleaned up, and I'll meet you in the kitchen, so we can figure out our next move."
I stood as well. "Sounds like a plan," I agreed, standing as well. I didn't rush out the door, afraid that would send the wrong message, but I didn't linger, either. Honestly, all I wanted to do was climb in bed, pull the covers up, and make the world go away for a while, but if Ivy could get right back to work after a breakdown like that, how could I do any less?
Besides, I only had ten minutes, and I had something I wanted to do.
After quietly shutting her door, I hurried back to my room and, after a quick search, located the vampire dating guide Ivy had given me (as a way to avoid unintentionally provoking her to kill and/or enslave me). I had to skim quickly, but it didn't say a single thing about what to do if a vampire actually fell in love with you. Maybe that was supposed to be implied to have already happened, given some of the more... er, interesting charts and diagrams. And so what if I did lose a few minutes staring at one of them, lost in thought about what that might be like with Ivy. That didn't mean...
...oh, screw it. If Ivy could admit to her feelings, so could I. Yes, okay? Yes, I was attracted to Ivy. Yes, I might even have feelings for her. Yes, I wanted to peel her out of that tight leather she was always wearing, and-
Face burning, I slammed the book closed and dropped it on my bed like it had caught fire. Okay, I told myself firmly, focus on preventing more murders now.
I could worry about getting my roommate out of her pants later.