The Vampire Diaries #5: Nightfall (The Return Trilogy #1) (2009)

发表于 2016-9-14 13:46 | 显示全部楼层 |阅读模式


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Author: L.J. Smith

Category: Young Adult , Fantasy

Series: The Vampire Diaries

One week after Elena Gilbert has come back from the dead, she is in a childlike state, unable to read and almost completely unable to speak.

Her understanding is impaired but not completely absent.

Damon Salvatore watches outside Caroline's window as Caroline talks to an independent image of herself.

Damon believes the mirror-Caroline to be a supernatural evil force that is playing some sort of trick on Caroline.

He feels a sharp puncture on his neck while he watches.

After the mirror-Caroline goes away, Damon persuades Caroline to let him into her bedroom.

Stefan allows Elena's friends to visit her, including Caroline.

When the four humans show up at Stefan's room in the boarding house Elena does not recognize any of them.

She kisses Caroline, Bonnie, Matt and Meredith so she can recognize them...



Elena was frustrated. She couldn't make the mind-word come out the way she wanted. "Stefan," he coaxed, leaning on an elbow and looking at her with those eyes that always made her almost forget what she was trying to say. They shone like green spring leaves in the sunlight. "Stefan," he repeated. "Can you say it, lovely love?"

Elena looked back at him solemnly. He was so handsome that he broke her heart, with his pale, chiseled features and his dark hair falling carelessly across his forehead. She wanted to put into words all the feelings that were piled behind her clumsy tongue and stubborn mind. There was so much she needed to ask him...and to tell him. But the sounds wouldn't come yet. They tangled on her tongue. She couldn't even send it telepathically to him - it all came as fragmented images.

After all, it was only the seventh day of her new life.

Stefan told her that when she'd first woken up, first come back from the Other Side after her death as a vampire, she'd been able to walk and talk and do all sorts of things that she seemed to have forgotten

now. He didn't know why she'd forgotten - he'd never known anyone who'd come back from death except vampires - which Elena had been, but certainly was no longer.

Stefan had also told her excitedly that she was learning like wildfire every day. New pictures, new thought-words. Even though sometimes it was easier to communicate than others, Stefan was sure she would be herself again someday soon. Then she would act like the teenager she really was. She would no longer be a young adult with a childlike mind, the way the spirits had clearly wanted her to be: growing, seeing the world with new eyes, the eyes of a child.

Elena thought that the spirits had been a little unfair. What if Stefan found someone in the meantime who could walk and talk - and write, even? Elena worried over this.

That was why, some nights ago, Stefan had woken up to find her gone from her bed. He had found her in the bathroom, poring anxiously over a newspaper, trying to make sense of the little squiggles that she knew were words she once recognized. The paper was dotted with the marks of her tears. The squiggles meant nothing to her.

"But why, love? You'll learn to read again. Why rush?"

That was before he saw the bits of pencil, broken from too hard a grip, and the carefully hoarded paper napkins. She had been using them to try to imitate the words. Maybe if she could write like other people, Stefan would stop sleeping in his chair and would hold her on the big bed. He wouldn't go looking for someone older or smarter. He would know she was a grown-up.

She saw Stefan put this together slowly in his mind, and she saw the tears come to his eyes. He had been brought up to think he was never allowed to cry no matter what happened. But he had turned his back on her and breathed slowly and deeply for what seemed like a very long time.

And then he had picked her up, taken her to the bed in his room, and looked into her eyes and said, "Elena, tell me what you want me to do. Even if it's impossible, I'll do it. I swear it. Tell me."

All the words she wanted to think to him were still jammed up inside her. Her own eyes spilled tears, which Stefan dabbed off with his fingers, as if he could ruin a priceless painting by touching it too roughly.

Then Elena turned her face up, and shut her eyes, and pursed her lips slightly. She wanted a kiss. But...

"You're just a child in your mind now," Stefan agonized. "How can I take advantage of you?"

There was a sign language they had had, back in her old life, which Elena still remembered. She would tap under her chin, just where it was softest: once, twice, three times.

It meant she felt uncomfortable, inside. As if she were too full in her throat. It meant she wanted...

Stefan groaned.

"I can't...."

Tap, tap, tap...

"You're not back to your old self yet...."

Tap, tap, tap...

"Listen to me, love...."

TAP! TAP! TAP! She gazed at him with pleading eyes. If she could have spoken, she would have said, Please, give me some credit - I'm not totally stupid. Please, listen to what I can't say to you.

"You hurt. You're really hurting," Stefan had interpreted, with something like dazed resignation. "I - if I - if I only take a little..."

And then suddenly Stefan's fingers had been cool and sure, moving her head, lifting it, turning it at just this angle, and then she had felt the twin bites, which convinced her more than anything she was alive and not a spirit anymore.

And then she had been very sure that Stefan loved her and no one else, and she could tell Stefan some of the things she wanted to. But she had to tell them in little exclamations - not of pain - with stars and comets and streaks of light falling around her. And Stefan had been the one who had not been able to think a single word to her. Stefan was the one struck mute.

Elena felt that was only fair. After that, he held her at night and she was always happy.

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发表于 2016-9-14 13:48 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 1

Damon Salvatore was lounging in midair, nominally supported by one branch of a...who knew the names of trees anyway? Who gave a damn? It was tall, it allowed him to peep into Caroline Forbes's third-story bedroom, and it made a comfy backrest. He lay back in the convenient tree fork, hands clasped together behind his head, one neatly booted leg dangling over thirty feet of empty space. He was comfortable as a cat, eyes half-closed as he watched.

He was waiting for the magic moment of 4:44A.M . to arrive, when Caroline would perform her bizarre ritual. He'd already seen it twice and he was enthralled.

Then he got a mosquito bite.

Which was ridiculous because mosquitoes didn't prey on vampires. Their blood wasn't nutritious like human blood. But it certainly felt like a tiny mosquito bite on the back of his neck.

He swiveled to see behind him, feeling the balmy summer night all around him - and saw nothing.

The needles of some conifer. Nothing flying about. Nothing crawling on them.

All right then. It must have been a conifer needle. But it certainly did hurt. And the pain got worse with time, not better.

A suicidal bee? Damon felt the back of his neck carefully. No venom sack, no stinger. Just a tiny squishy lump that hurt.

A moment later his attention was called back to the window.

He wasn't sure exactly what was going on but he could feel the sudden buzzing of Power around the sleeping Caroline, like a high-tension wire. Several days ago, it had drawn him to this place, but once

he'd arrived he couldn't seem to find the source.

The clock ticked 4:40 and beeped an alarm. Caroline woke and swatted it across the room.

Lucky girl, Damon thought, with wicked appreciation. If I were a rogue human instead of a vampire, then your virtue - presuming you've any left - might be in danger. Fortunately for you, I had to give up all that sort of thing nearly half a millennium ago.

Damon flashed a smile at nothing in particular, held it for a twentieth of a second, and then turned it off, his black eyes going cold. He looked back into the open window.

Yes...he'd always felt that his idiot younger brother Stefan didn't appreciate Caroline Forbes enough. There was no doubt that the girl was worth looking at: long, golden-brown limbs, a shapely body, and bronze-colored hair that fell around her face in waves. And then there was her mind. Naturally skewed, vengeful, spiteful. Delicious. For instance, if he wasn't mistaken, she was working with little voodoo dolls on her desk in there.


Damon liked to see the creative arts at work.

The alien Power still buzzed, and still he couldn't get a fix on it. Was it inside - in thegirl ? Surely not.

Caroline was hastily grabbing for what looked like a handful of silken green cobwebs. She stripped her T-shirt off and - almost too fast for the vampire eye to see - had herself dressed in lingerie that made her look like a jungle princess. She stared intently at her own reflection in a stand-alone full-length mirror.

Now, whatcan you be waiting for, little girl? Damon wondered.

Well - he might as well keep a low profile. There was a dark flutter, one ebony feather fell to the ground, and then there was nothing but an exceptionally large crow sitting in the tree.

Damon watched intently from one bright bird-eye as Caroline moved forward suddenly as if she'd gotten an electric jolt, lips parted, her gaze on what seemed to be her own reflection.

Then she smiled at it in greeting.

Damon could pinpoint the source of Power now. It was inside the mirror. Not in the samedimension as the mirror, certainly, but contained inside it.

Caroline was behaving - oddly. She tossed back her long bronze hair so that it fell in magnificent disarray down her back; she wet her lips and smiled as if at a lover. When she spoke, Damon could hear her quite clearly.

"Thank you. But you're late today."

There was still no one but her in the bedroom, and Damon could hear no answer. But the lips of the Caroline in the mirror were not moving in synch with the real girl's lips.

Bravo! he thought, always willing to appreciate a new trick on humans. Well done, whoever you are!

Lip-reading the mirror girl's words, he caught something aboutsorry . Andlovely .

Damon cocked his head.

Caroline's reflection was saying, "...you don'thave to...after today."

The real Caroline answered huskily. "But what if I can't fool them?"

And the reflection: "...have help. Don't worry, rest easy..."

"Okay. And nobody will get, like,fatally hurt, right? I mean, we're not talking about death - forhumans ."

The reflection: "Why should we...?"

Damon smiled inwardly. How many times had he heard exchanges likethat before? As a spider himself, he knew: First you got your fly into the parlor; then you reassured her; and before she knew it, you could have anything from her, until you didn'tneed her any longer.

And then - his black eyes glittered - it was time for a new fly.

Now Caroline's hands were writhing in her lap. "Just as long as you really - you know. What you promised. You really mean it about loving me?"

"...trust me. I'll take care of you - and your enemies, too. I've already begun..."

Suddenly Caroline stretched, and it was a stretch that boys at Robert E. Lee High School would have paid to watch. "That's what I want to see," she said. "I'm justso sick of hearing about Elena this, Stefan that...and now it's going to start all over."

Caroline broke off abruptly, as if someone had hung up on her on the phone and she'd only just realized it. For a moment her eyes narrowed and her lips thinned. Then, slowly, she relaxed. Her eyes remained on the mirror, and one hand lifted until it was resting lightly on her stomach. She stared at it and slowly her features seemed to soften, to melt into an expression of apprehension and anxiety.

But Damon hadn't taken his eyes off the mirror for an instant. Normal mirror, normal mirror, normal mirror - l���� era! Just at the last moment, as Caroline turned away, a flash of red.


Now, whatcould be going on? he thought lazily, fluttering as he transformed from a sleek crow back into a drop-dead gorgeous young man lounging in a high branch of the tree. Certainly the mirror-creature wasn't from around Fell's Church. But it sounded as if it meant to make trouble for his brother, and a fragile, beautiful smile touched Damon's lips for a second.

There was nothing he loved more than to watch self-righteous, sanctimonious, I'm-better-than-you-cos-I-don't-drink-human-blood Stefan get in trouble.

The teenagers of Fell's Church - and some of the adults - regarded the tale of Stefan Salvatore and their local beauty Elena Gilbert as a modern Romeo-and-Juliet story. She had given her life to save his when they'd both been captured by a maniac, and afterward he had died of a broken heart. There were even whispers that Stefan had been notquite human...but something else. A demon lover that Elena had died to redeem.

Damon knew the truth. Stefan was dead all right - but he had been dead for hundreds of years. And it was true that he was a vampire, but calling him a demon was like calling Tinkerbell armed and dangerous.

Meanwhile Caroline couldn't seem to stop talking to an empty room.

"Just you wait," she whispered, walking over to the piles of untidy papers and books that littered her desk.

She rummaged through the papers until she found a miniature video camera that had a green light shining at her like a single unblinking eye. Delicately, she connected the camera to her computer and began typing a password.

Damon's eyesight was much better than a human's, and he could clearly see the tanned fingers with the long shining bronze nails:CFRULES . Caroline Forbes rules, he thought. Pitiful.

Then she turned around, and Damon saw tears well up in her eyes. The next moment, unexpectedly, she was sobbing.

She sat heavily on the bed, weeping and rocking herself back and forth, occasionally striking the mattress with a clenched fist. But mainly she just sobbed and sobbed.

Damon was startled. But then custom took over and he murmured, "Caroline? Caroline, may I come in?"

"What? Who?" She looked around frantically.

"It's Damon. May I come in?" he asked, his voice dripping with mock sympathy, simultaneously using mind control on her.

All vampires had such powers of control over mortals. How great the Power was depended on many things: the vampire's diet (human blood was by far the most potent), the strength of the victim's will, the relationship between the vampire and the victim, the fluctuation of day and night - and so many other things that even Damon didn't begin to understand. He only knew when he felt his own Power quicken, as it was quickening now.

And Caroline was waiting.

"I can come in?" he said in his most musical, most beguiling voice, at the same time crushing Caroline's strong will under one much stronger.

"Yes," she answered, wiping her eyes quickly, apparently seeing nothing unusual in his entrance by a third-story window. Their eyes locked. "Come in, Damon."

She had issued the necessary invitation for a vampire. With one graceful motion he swung himself over the sill. The interior of her room smelled like perfumes - and not subtle ones. He felt really quite savage now - it was surprising the way the bloodfever had come on so suddenly, so irresistibly. His upper canines had extended to about half again their size, and their edges were razor-sharp.

This was no time for conversation, for loitering around as he usually did. For a gourmet, half the pleasure was in the anticipation, sure, but right now he was inneed . He drew strongly on his Power to control the human brain and gave Caroline a dazzling smile.

That was all it took.

Caroline had been moving toward him; now she stopped. Her lips, partly open to ask a question, remained parted; and her pupils suddenly widened as if she were in a dark room, and then contracted and remained contracted.

"I...I..." she managed. "Ohhh..."

There. She was his. And so easily, too.

His fangs were throbbing with a kind of pleasurable pain, a tender soreness beckoning him to strike as quickly as the lunge of a cobra, to sink his teeth to the hilt in an artery. He was hungry - no,starving - and his whole body was burning with the urge to drink as deeply as he liked. After all, there were others to choose from if he drained this vessel dry.

Carefully, never taking his eyes from hers, he lifted Caroline's head to expose her throat, with the sweet pulse throbbing in its hollow. It filled all his senses: the beating of her heart, the smell of the exotic blood just under the surface, dense and ripe and sweet. His head was spinning. He'd never been so excited, so eager -

So eager that it gave him pause. After all, one girl was as good as another, right? What was different about this time? What waswrong with him?

And then he knew.

I'll have my own mind back, thank you.

Suddenly Damon's intellect was icy cold; the sensual aura in which he'd been trapped frozen over instantly. He dropped Caroline's chin and stood very still.

Hehad almost fallen under the influence of the thing that was using Caroline. It had been trying to snare him into breaking his word to Elena.

And again, he could just barely sense a whisk of red in the mirror.

It was one of those creatures drawn to the nova of Power that Fell's Church had become - he knew that. It had been using him, spurring him on, trying to get him to drain Caroline dry. To take all her blood, to kill a human, something he hadn't done since meeting Elena.


Coldly furious, he centered himself, and then probed in all directions with his mind to find the parasite. It should still be here; the mirror was only a portal for it to travel small distances. And it had been controlling him - him, Damon Salvatore - so it had to be very close indeed.

Still, he could find nothing. That made him even angrier than before. Absently fingering the back of his neck, he sent a dark message:

I will warn you once, and once only. Stay away from ME!

He sent the thought out with a blast of Power that flashed like sheet lightning in his own senses. It ought to have knocked something dead nearby - from the roof, from the air, from a branch...maybe even from next door. Fromsomewhere , a creature should have plummeted to the ground, and he should have been able to sense it.

But although Damon could feel clouds darkening above him in response to his mood, and the wind rubbing branches together outside, there was no falling body, no attempt at dying retaliation.

He could find nothing close enough to have entered his thoughts, and nothing at a distance could be that strong. Damon might amuse himself sometimes by pretending to be vain, but underneath he had a cool and logical ability to analyze himself. He was strong. He knew that. As long as he kept himself well nourished and free of weakening sentiment, there were few creatures that could stand against him - at least in this plane.

Two were right here in Fell's Church,a little mocking counterpoint in his mind said, but Damon shrugged that off disdainfully. Surely there could be no other vampire Elders nearby, or he would sense them. Ordinary vampires, yes, they were already flocking. But they were all too weak to enterhis mind.

He was equally certain there was no creature within range that could challenge him. He would have sensed it as he sensed the blazing ley lines of uncanny magical power that formed a nexus under Fell's Church.

He looked at Caroline again, still held motionless by the trance he'd put on her. She would come out of it gradually, none the worse for the experience - for whathe'd done to her, at least.

He turned and, as gracefully as a panther, swung out of the window, onto the tree - and then dropped easily thirty feet to the ground.
发表于 2016-9-14 13:52 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 2

Damon had to wait some hours for another opportunity to feed - there were too many girls in deep sleep - and he was furious. The hunger that the manipulative creature had roused in him was real, even if it hadn't succeeded in making him its puppet. He needed blood; and he needed itsoon .

Only then would he think over the implications of Caroline's strange mirror-guest: that trulydemonic demon lover who had handed her over to Damon to be killed, even while pretending to make a deal with her.

Nine A.M . saw him driving down the main street of the town, past an antique store, eateries, a shop for greeting cards.

Wait. There it was. A new store that sold sunglasses. He parked and got out of the car with an elegance of motion born of centuries of careless movement that wasted not an erg of energy. Once again, Damon flashed the instantaneous smile, and then he turned it off, admiring himself in the dark glass of the window. Yes, no matter how you look at it, I am gorgeous, he thought absently.

The door had a bell that made a tinkling sound as he entered. Inside was a plump and very pretty girl with brown hair tied back and large blue eyes.

She had seen Damon and she was smiling shyly.

"Hi." And though he hadn't asked, she added, in a voice that quavered, "I'm Page."

Damon gave her a long, unhurried look that ended in a smile, slow and brilliant and complicit. "Hello, Page," he said, drawing it out.

Page swallowed. "Can I help you?"

"Oh, yes," Damon said, holding her with his eyes, "I think so."

He turned serious. "Did you know," he said, "that you really belong as a chatelaine in a castle in the Middle Ages?"

Page went white, then blushed furiously - and looked all the better for it. "I - I always wished that I'd been born back then. But how could you know that?"

Damon just smiled.

Elena looked at Stefan with wide eyes that were the dark blue of lapis lazuli with a scattering of gold. He'd just told her that she was going to have Visitors! In all the seven days of her life, since she had returned from the afterlife, she had never - ever - had a Visitor.

First thing, right away, was to find out what a Visitor was.

Fifteen minutes after entering the sunglasses shop, Damon was walking down the sidewalk, wearing a brand-new pair of Ray-Bans and whistling.

Page was taking a little nap on the floor. Later, her boss would threaten to make her pay for the Ray-Bans herself. But right now she felt warm and deliriously happy - and she had a memory of ecstasy that she would never entirely forget.

Damon window-shopped, although not exactly the way a human would. A sweet old woman behind the counter of the greeting cards shop...no. A guy at the electronics shop...no.

But...something drew him back to the electronics shop. Such clever devices they were inventing these days. He had a strong urge to acquire a palm-sized video camera. Damon was used to following his urges and was not picky about donors in an emergency. Blood was blood, whatever vessel it came in. A few minutes after he'd been shown how to work the little toy, he was walking down the sidewalk with it in his pocket.

He was enjoying just walking, although his fangs were aching again. Strange, he should be sated - but then, he'd had almost nothing yesterday. That must be why he still felt hungry; that and the Power he'd used on the damnable parasite in Caroline's room. But meanwhile he took pleasure in the way his muscles were working together smoothly and without effort, like a well-oiled machine, making every movement a delight.

He stretched once, for the pure animal enjoyment of it, and then stopped again to examine himself in the window of the antiques store. Slightly more disheveled, but otherwise as beautiful as ever. And he'd been right; the Ray-Bans looked wicked on him. The antiques store was owned, he knew, by a widow with a very pretty, very young niece.

It was dim and air-conditioned inside.

"Do you know," he asked the niece when she came to wait on him, "that you strike me as someone who would like to see a lot of foreign countries?"

Some time after Stefan explained to Elena that Visitors were her friends, hergood friends, he wanted her to get dressed. Elena didn't understand why. It was hot. She had given in to wearing a Night Gown (for at least most of the night), but the daytime was even warmer, and she didn't have a Day Gown.

Besides, the clothes he was offering her - a pair of his jeans rolled up at the hems and a polo shirt that would be much too big - were...wrong somehow. When she touched the shirt she got pictures of hundreds of women in small rooms, all using sewing machines in bad light, all working frantically.

"From a sweat shop?" Stefan said, startled, when she showed him the picture in her mind."These?" He dropped the clothes on the floor of the closet hastily.

"What about this one?" Stefan handed her a different shirt.

Elena studied it soberly, held it to her cheek. No sweating, frantically sewing women.

"Okay?" Stefan said. But Elena had frozen. She went to the window and peered out.

"What's wrong?"

This time, she sent him only one picture. He recognized it immediately.


Stefan felt a tightening in his chest. His older brother had been making Stefan's existence as miserable as possible for nearly half a millennium. Every time that Stefan had managed to get away from him, Damon had tracked him down, looking for...what? Revenge? Some final satisfaction? They had killed each other at the same instant, back in Renaissance Italy. Their fencing swords had pierced each other's hearts almost simultaneously, in a duel over a vampire girl. Things had only gone downhill from there.

But he's saved your life a few times, too, Stefan thought, suddenly discomfited. And you promised you'd watch out for each other, take care of each other....

Stefan looked sharply at Elena.She was the one who'd made both of them take the same oath - when she was dying. Elena looked back with eyes that were limpid, deep blue pools of innocence.

In any case, he had to deal with Damon, who was now parking his Ferrari beside Stefan's Porsche in front of the boardinghouse.

"Stay in here and - and keep away from the window.Please ," Stefan hastily told Elena. He dashed out

of the room, shut the door, and almost ran down the steps.

He found Damon standing by the Ferrari, examining the dilapidated boardinghouse's exterior - first with sunglasses on, then with them off. Damon's expression said that it didn't make a great deal of difference whichever way you looked at it.

But that wasn't Stefan's first concern. It was Damon's aura and the variety of different scents lingering on him - which no human nose would ever be able to detect, much less untangle.

"What have you beendoing ?" Stefan said, too shocked for even a perfunctory greeting.

Damon gave him a 250-watt smile. "Antiquing," he said, and sighed. "Oh, and I did some shopping." He fingered a new leather belt, touched the pocket with the video camera, and pushed back his Ray-Bans. "Would you believe it, this little dust speck of a town has some pretty decent shopping. I like shopping."

"You like stealing, you mean. And that doesn't account for half of what I can smell on you. Are you dying or have you just gone crazy?" Sometimes, when a vampire had been poisoned or had succumbed to one of the few mysterious curses or illnesses that afflict their kind, they would feed feverishly, uncontrollably, on whatever - whomever - was at hand.

"Just hungry," Damon replied urbanely, still surveying the boardinghouse. "And what happened to basic civility, by the way? I drive all the way out here and do I get a ¡®Hello, Damon,' or ¡®Nice to see you, Damon'? No. Instead I hear ¡®What have you been doing, Damon?'" He gave the imitation a whining, mocking twist. "I wonder what Signore Marino would think of that, little brother?"

"Signore Marino," Stefan said through his teeth, wondering how Damon was able to get under his skin every time - today with a reference to their old tutor of etiquette and dancing - "has been dust for hundreds of years by now - as we should be, too. Which has nothing to do with this conversation, brother . I asked you what you were doing, and you know what I meant by it - you must have bled half the girls in town."

"Girls and women," Damon reproved, holding up a finger facetiously. "We must be politically correct, after all. And maybe you should be taking a closer look at your own diet. If you drank more, you might begin to fill out. Who knows?"

"If I drank more - ?" There were a number of ways to finish this sentence, but no good ones. "What a pity," he said instead to the short, slim, and compact Damon, "thatyou'll never grow another millimeter taller however long you live. And now, why don't you tell me what you're doing here, after leaving so many messes in town for me to clean up - if I know you."

"I'm here because I want my leather jacket back," Damon said flatly.

"Why not just steal anoth - ?" Stefan broke off as he suddenly found himself flying briefly backward and then pinned against the groaning boards of the boardinghouse wall, with Damon right in his face.

"I didn't steal these things,boy . I paid for them - in my own coin. Dreams, fantasies, and pleasure from beyond this world." Damon said the last words with emphasis, since he knew they would infuriate Stefan the most.

Stefanwas infuriated - and in a dilemma. He knew Damon was curious about Elena. That was bad enough. But right now he could also see a strange gleam in Damon's eyes. As if the pupils had, for a moment, reflected a flame. And whatever Damon had been doing today was abnormal. Stefan didn't know what was going on, but he knew just how Damon was going to finish this off.

"But a real vampire shouldn't pay," Damon was saying in his most taunting tones. "After all, we're so wicked that we ought to be dust. Isn't that right, little brother?" He held up the hand with the finger on which he wore the lapis lazuli ring that kept him from crumbling to dust in the golden afternoon sunlight. And then, as Stefan made a movement, Damon used that hand to pin Stefan's wrist to the wall.

Stefan feinted to the left and then lunged right to break Damon's hold on him. But Damon was fast as a snake - no, faster. Much faster than usual. Fast and strong with all the energy of the life force he'd absorbed.

"Damon, you..." Stefan was so angry that he briefly lost his hold on rational thought and tried to swipe Damon's legs out from under him.

"Yes, it's me, Damon," Damon said with jubilant venom. "And I don't pay if I don't feel like it; I just take. Itake what I want, and I give nothing in return."

Stefan stared into those heated black-on-black eyes and again saw the tiny flicker of flame. He tried to think. Damon was always quick to attack, to take offense. Butnot like this . Stefan had known him long enough to know something was off; something was wrong. Damon seemed almost feverish. Stefan sent a small surge of Power toward his brother, like a radar sweep, trying to put his finger on what was different.

"Yes, I see you've got the idea, but you'll never get anywhere that way," Damon said wryly, and then suddenly Stefan's insides, his entire body was on fire, was in agony, as Damon lashed out with a violent whip of his own Power.

And now, however bad the pain was, Stefan had to be coldly rational; he had to keepthinking , not just reacting. He made a small movement, twisting his neck to the side, looking toward the door of the boardinghouse. If only Elena would stay inside...

But it was hard to think with Damon still whiplashing him. He was breathing fast and hard.

"That's right," Damon said. "We vampirestake - a lesson you need to learn."

"Damon, we're supposed to take care of each other - we promised - "

"Yes, and I'm going to take care ofyou right now."

And Damon bled him.

It was even more painful than the lashings of Power, and Stefan held himself carefully still for it, refusing to put up a struggle. The razor-sharp teeth shouldn't have hurt as they plunged into his carotid, but Damon was holding him at an angle - now by his hair - deliberately so that they did.

Then came the real pain. The agony of having blood drawn out against your will, against your resistance. That was a torture that humans compared with having their souls ripped out from their living bodies. They would do anything to avoid it. All Stefan knew was that it was one of the greatestphysical anguishes that

he had ever had to endure, and that at last tears formed in his eyes and rolled down his temples and down into his wavy dark hair.

Worse, for a vampire, was the humiliation of having another vampire treat you like a human, treat you likemeat . Stefan's heart was pounding in his ears as he writhed under the double carving knives of Damon's canines, trying to bear the mortification of being used this way. At least - thank God - Elena had listened to him and stayed in his room.

He was beginning to wonder if Damon had truly gone insane and meant to kill him when - at last - with a shove that sent him off balance, Damon released him. Stefan tripped and fell, rolled, and looked up, only to find Damon standing over him again. He pressed his fingers to the torn flesh on his neck.

"And now," Damon said coldly, "you will go up and get me my jacket."

Stefan got up slowly. He knew Damon must be savoring this: Stefan's humiliation, Stefan's neat clothes wrinkled and covered with torn blades of grass and mud from Mrs. Flowers' scraggly flower bed. He did his best to brush them off with one hand, the other still pressed to his neck.

"You're quiet," Damon remarked, standing by his Ferrari, running his tongue over his lips and gums, his eyes narrow with pleasure. "No snappy back talk? Not even a word? I think this is a lesson I should teach you more often."

Stefan was having trouble making his legs move. Well, that went about as well as could be expected, he thought as he turned back toward the boardinghouse. Then he stopped.

Elena was leaning out of the unshuttered window in his room, holding Damon's jacket. Her expression was very sober, suggesting she'd seen everything.

It was a shock for Stefan, but he suspected it was an even greater shock for Damon.

And then Elena whirled the jacket around once and threw it so that it made a direct landing at Damon's feet, wrapping around them.

To Stefan's astonishment, Damon went pale. He picked up the jacket as if he didn't really want to touch it. His eyes were on Elena the whole time. He got in his car.

"Good-bye, Damon. I can't say it's been a pleasure - "

Without a word, looking for all the world like a naughty child who'd been whipped, Damon turned on the ignition.

"Just leave me alone," he said expressionlessly in a low voice.

He drove off in a cloud of dust and gravel.

Elena's eyes were not serene when Stefan shut the door to his room behind him. They were shining with a light that nearly stopped him in the doorway.


"He hurts everyone. He doesn't seem to be able to help it. But there was something weird about him today. I don't know what. Right now, I don't care. But look at you, making sentences!"

He's...Elena paused, and for the first time since she'd first opened her eyes back in the glade where she had been resurrected, there was a frown-wrinkle on her forehead. She couldn't make a picture. She didn't know the right words.Something inside him. Growing inside him. Like...cold fire, dark light, she said finally.But hidden. Fire that burns from the inside out.

Stefan tried to match this up with anything he'd heard of and came up blank. He was still humiliated that Elena had seen what had happened. "AllI know that's inside him is my blood. Along with that of half the girls in town."

Elena shut her eyes and shook her head slowly. Then, as if deciding not to go any further down that path, she patted the bed beside her.

Come,she ordered confidently, looking up. The gold in her eyes seemed especially lustrous.Let me...unhurt...the pain.

When Stefan didn't come immediately, she held out her arms. Stefan knew he shouldn't go to them, but hewas hurt - especially in his pride.

He went to her and bent down to kiss her hair.
发表于 2016-9-14 14:18 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 3

Later that day Caroline was sitting with Matt Honeycutt, Meredith Sulez, and Bonnie McCullough, all listening to Stefan on Bonnie's mobile phone.

"Late afternoon would be better," Stefan told Bonnie. "She takes a little nap after lunch - and anyway, it'll be cooler in a couple hours. I told Elena you'd be coming by, and she's excited to see you. But remember two things. First, it's only been seven days since she came back, and she's not quite...herself yet. I think she'll get over her - symptoms - in just a few days, but meanwhile don't be surprised by anything. And second, don'tsay anything about what you see here. Not to anyone."

"Stefan Salvatore!" Bonnie was scandalized and offended. "After all we've been through together, you think we'd blab?"

"Not blab," Stefan's voice came back over the mobile, gently. But Bonnie was going on.

"We've stuck together through rogue vampires and the town's ghost, and werewolves, and Old Ones, and secret crypts, and serial killings and - and - Damon - and have we ever told people about them?" Bonnie said.

"I'm sorry," Stefan said. "I just meant that Elena won't be safe if any of you tells even one person. It would be all over the newspapers right away:GIRL RETURNS TO LIFE . Andthen what do we do?"

"I understand about that," Meredith said briefly, leaning in so that Stefan could see her. "You don't need to worry. Every one of us will vow not to tellanyone ." Her dark eyes flicked momentarily toward Caroline and then away again.

"Ihave to ask you" - Stefan was making use of all his Renaissance training in politeness and chivalry, particularly considering that three of the four people watching him on the phone were female - "do you really have any way to enforce a vow?"

"Oh, I think so," Meredith said pleasantly, this time looking Caroline directly in the eyes. Caroline flushed, her bronzed cheeks and throat turning scarlet. "Let us work it out, and in the afternoon, we'll come over."

Bonnie, who was holding the phone, said, "Anybody have anything else to say?"

Matt had remained silent during most of the conversation. Now he shook his head, making his shock of fair hair fly. Then, as if he couldn't hold it back, he blurted, "Can we talk to Elena? Just to say hi? I mean - it's been a wholeweek ." His tanned skin burned with a sunset glow almost as brightly as Caroline's had.

"I think you'd better just come over. You'll see why when you get here." Stefan hung up.

They were at Meredith's house, sitting around an old patio table in the backyard. "Well, we can at least take them some food," Bonnie suggested, rocketing up from her seat. "God knows what Mrs. Flowers makes for them to eat - orif she does." She made waving motions to the others as if to raise them from their chairs by levitation.

Matt started to obey, but Meredith remained seated. She said quietly, "We just made a promise to Stefan. There's the matter of the vow first. And the consequences."

"I know you're thinking about me," Caroline said. "Why don't you just say so?"

"All right," Meredith said, "I'm thinking about you. Why are you suddenly interested in Elena again? How can we be sure that you won't go spreading the news of this all around Fell's Church?"

"Why would I want to?"

"Attention. You'd love to be at the center of a crowd, giving them every juicy detail."

"Or revenge," Bonnie added, suddenly sitting down again. "Or jealousy. Or boredom. Or - "

"Okay," Matt interrupted. "I think that's enough with the reasons."

"Just one more thing," Meredith said quietly. "Why do youcare so much about seeing her, Caroline? The two of you haven't gotten along in almost a year, ever since Stefan came to Fell's Church. We let you in on the call to Stefan, but after what he said - "

"If you really need a reason why I should care, after everything that happened a week ago, well...well, I would think you'd understand without being told!" Caroline fixed shining cat-green eyes on Meredith.

Meredith looked back with her best no-expression expression.

"All right!" Caroline said. "She killed him for me. Or had him called to Judgment, or whatever. That vampire, Klaus. And after being kidnapped and - and - and - used - like a toy - whenever Klaus wanted blood - or - " Her face twisted and her breathing hitched.

Bonnie felt sympathy, but she also was wary. Her intuition was aching, warning her. And she noticed that although Caroline spoke about Klaus, the vampire, she was strangely silent about her other kidnapper, Tyler Smallwood, the werewolf. Maybe because Tyler had been her boyfriend until he and Klaus had held her hostage.

"I'm sorry," Meredith said in a quiet voice thatdid sound sorry. "So you want to thank Elena."

"Yes. I want to thank her." Caroline was breathing hard. "And I want to make sure that she's okay."

"Okay. But this oath covers quite a bit of time," Meredith continued calmly. "You may change your mind tomorrow, next week, a month from now...we haven't even thought about consequences."

"Look, we can'tthreaten Caroline," Matt said. "Not physically."

"Or get other people to threaten her," Bonnie said wistfully.

"No, we can't," Meredith said. "But for the short term - you're a sorority pledge this coming fall, aren't you, Caroline? I can always tell your prospective sorority sisters that you broke your solemn vow about somebody who is helpless to hurt you - who I'm sure doesn'twant to hurt you. Somehow I don't think they'd care for you much after that."

Caroline's face flushed deeply again. "You wouldn't. You wouldn't go interfering with my college - "

Meredith cut her off with two words. "Try me."

Caroline seemed to wilt. "I never said I wouldn't take the vow, and I never said I wouldn't keep it. Just try me, why don't you? I - I've learned a few things this summer."

I should hope so.The words, although nobody said them aloud, seemed to hover over all of them. Caroline's hobby for the entire last year had been trying to find ways to hurt Stefan and Elena.

Bonnie shifted position. There was something - shadowed - behind what Caroline was saying. She didn't know how she knew; it was the sixth sense that she'd been born with. But maybe it just had to do with how much Caroline had changed, with what she had learned, Bonnie told herself.

Look how many times she'd asked Bonnie in the last week about Elena. Was she really all right? Could Caroline send flowers? Could Elena have visitors yet? Whenwould she be all right? Caroline really had been a nuisance, although Bonnie didn't have the heart to tell her that. Everyone else was waiting just as anxiously to see how Elena was...after returning from the afterlife.

Meredith, who always had a pen and paper, was scribbling some words. Now she said, "How about this?" and they all leaned forward to look at the pad.

I swear not to tellanyone about any supernatural events relating to Stefan or Elena, unless given specific permission to do so by Stefan or Elena. I will also help in the punishment of anyone who breaks this vow, in a way to be determined by the rest of the group. This vow is made in perpetuity, with my blood as my witness.

Matt was nodding his head. "¡®In perpetuity' - perfect," he said. "It sounds just like what an attorney would write."

What followed was not particularly attorney-like. Each of the individuals around the table took the piece of paper, read it aloud, and then solemnly signed it. Then they each pricked a finger with a safety pin that Meredith had in her purse and added a drop of blood beside their signatures, with Bonnie shutting her eyes as she pricked herself.

"Now it's really binding," she said grimly, as one who knows. "I wouldn't try to break this."

"I've had enough of blood for a long time," Matt said, squeezing his finger and looking at it gloomily.

That was when it happened. Meredith's contract was sitting in the center of the table so all could admire it when, from a tall oak where the backyard met the forest, a crow came swooping down. It landed on the table with a raw-throated scream, causing Bonnie to scream, too. The crow cocked an eye at the four humans, who were hastily pulling back their chairs to get out of its way. Then it cocked its head the other way. It was the biggest crow any of them had ever seen, and the sun stroked iridescent rainbows from its plumage.

The crow seemed, for all the world, to be examining the contract. And then it did something so quickly that it made Bonnie dart behind Meredith, stumbling over her chair. It opened its wings, leaned forward, and pecked violently at the paper, seeming to aim at two specific spots.

And then it was gone, first fluttering, and then soaring off until it was a tiny black speck in the sun.

"It's ruined all our work," Bonnie cried, still safely behind Meredith.

"I don't think so," said Matt, who was closer to the table.

When they dared to move forward and look at the paper, Bonnie felt as if someone had thrown a blanket of ice around her back. Her heart began to pound.

Impossible as it seemed, the violent pecking was all red, as if the crow had retched up blood to color it. And the red marks, surprisingly delicate, looked exactly like an ornate letter:


And under that:

Elena is mine.
发表于 2016-9-14 14:31 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 4

With the signed contract safely tucked in Bonnie's purse, they pulled up to the boardinghouse in which Stefan had taken up residence again. They looked for Mrs. Flowers but couldn't find her, as usual. So they walked up the narrowing steps with the worn carpet and splintering balustrade, hallooing as they came.

"Stefan! Elena! It's us!"

The door at the very top opened and Stefan's head came out. He looked - different somehow.

"Happier," Bonnie whispered wisely to Meredith.

"Is he?"

"Of course."Bonnie was shocked. "He's got Elena back."

"Yes, he does. Just the way she was when they met, I bet. You saw her in the woods." Meredith's voice was heavy with significance.

"But...that's...oh, no! She'shuman again!"

Matt looked down the stairs and hissed, "Will you two quit it? They're gonna hear us."

Bonnie was confused. Of course Stefan could hear them, but if you were going to worry about what Stefan heard you'd have to worry about what youthought , too - Stefan could always catch the shape of what you were thinking, if not the actual words.

"Boys!" hissed Bonnie. "I mean I know they're totally necessary and all, but sometimes they Just Don't Get It."

"Just wait till you try men," whispered Meredith, and Bonnie thought of Alaric Saltzman, the college student that Meredith was more or less engaged to.

"I could tell you a thing or two," Caroline added, examining her long, manicured nails with a world-weary look.

"But Bonnie doesn't need to know even one yet. She has plenty of time to learn," Meredith said, firmly in mothering mode. "Let's go inside."

"Sit down, sit down," Stefan was encouraging them as they entered, the perfect host. But nobody could sit down. All eyes were fixed on Elena.

She was sitting in lotus position in front of the room's only open window, with the fresh wind making her white nightgown billow. Her hair was true gold again, not the perilous white-gold it had become when Stefan had unintentionally turned into a vampire. She looked exactly the way Bonnie remembered her.

Except that she was floating three feet off the floor.

Stefan saw them all gawking.

"It's just something she does," he said almost apologetically. "She woke up the day after our fight with Klaus and started floating. I think gravity hasn't quite got a hold on her yet."

He turned back to Elena. "Look who's come to see you," he said enticingly.

Elena was looking. Her gold-flecked blue eyes were curious, and she was smiling, but there was no recognition as she looked from one visitor to another.

Bonnie had been holding her arms out.

"Elena?" she said. "It'sme , Bonnie, remember? I was there when you came back.I'm sure glad to see you ."

Stefan tried again. "Elena, remember? These are your friends, your good friends. This tall, dark-haired beauty is Meredith, and this fiery little pixie is Bonnie, and this guy with the all-American looks is Matt."

Something flickered in Elena's face, and Stefan repeated, "Matt."

"And what about me? Or am I invisible?" Caroline said from the doorway. She sounded good-humored enough, but Bonnie knew that it made Caroline grind her teeth just to see Stefan and Elena together and out of danger.

"You're right. I'm sorry," Stefan said, and he did something that no ordinary eighteen-year-old could have pulled off without looking like an idiot. He took Caroline's hand and kissed it as gracefully and unthinkingly as if he were some count from nearly half a millennium ago. Which, of course, was pretty much what he was, Bonnie thought.

Caroline looked slightly smug - Stefan had taken his time with the hand kiss. Now he said, "And last but not least, this tanned beauty here is Caroline." Then, very gently, in a voice that Bonnie had heard him use only a few times since she'd known him, he said, "Don't you remember them, love? They nearly died for you - and for me." Elena was floating easily, in a standing position now, bobbing like a swimmer trying to keep still.

"We did it because we care," Bonnie said, and she put her arms out again for a hug. "But we never expected to get you back, Elena." Her eyes filled. "You came back to us. Don't youknow us?"

Elena floated down until she was directly in front of Bonnie.

There was still no sign of recognition on her face, but there was something else. There was a kind of limitless benediction and tranquility. Elena radiated a calming peace and an unconditional love that made Bonnie breathe in deeply and shut her eyes. She could feel it like sunshine on her face, like the ocean in her ears. After a moment Bonnie realized she was in danger of crying at the sheer feeling of goodness - a word that was almost never used these days. Some things still could be simply, untouchablygood .

Elenawas good.

And then, with a gentle touch on Bonnie's shoulder, Elena floated toward Caroline. She held out her arms.

Caroline looked flustered. A wave of scarlet swept up her neck. Bonnie saw it, but didn't understand it. They'd all had a chance to pick up on Elena's vibes. And Caroline and Elena had been close friends - until Stefan, their rivalry had been friendly. It was good of Elena to pick Caroline to hug first.

And then Elena went into the circle of Caroline's hastily raised arms and just as Caroline began to say "I've - " she kissed her full on the mouth. It wasn't just a peck, either. Elena wrapped her arms around Caroline's neck and hung on. For long moments Caroline stood deathly still as if in shock. Then she reared back and struggled, at first feebly, and then so violently that Elena was catapulted backward in the air, her eyes wide.

Stefan caught her like an infielder going for a pop fly.

"What thehell - ?" Caroline was scrubbing at her mouth.

"Caroline!" Stefan's voice was filled with fierce protectiveness. "It doesn't mean anything like what you're thinking. It's got nothing to do with sex at all. She's just identifying you, learning who you are. She can do that now that she's come back to us."

"Prairie dogs," Meredith said in the cool, slightly distant voice she often used to bring down the temperature of a room. "Prairie dogs kiss when they meet. It does exactly what you said, Stefan, helps them identify specific individuals...."

Caroline was far beyond Meredith's abilities to cool down, however. Scrubbing her mouth had been a bad idea; she had smeared scarlet lipstick all around it, so that she looked like something out of aBride of Dracula movie. "Are you crazy? What do you think I am? Because some hamsters do it, that makes it okay?" She had flushed a mottled red, from her throat to the roots of her hair.

"Prairie dogs. Not hamsters."

"Oh, who gives a - " Caroline broke off, frantically fumbling in her purse until Stefan offered her a box of tissues. He had already dabbed the scarlet smears off Elena's mouth. Caroline rushed into the small bathroom attached to Stefan's attic bedroom and slammed the door hard.

Bonnie and Meredith caught each other's eye and let out their breaths simultaneously, convulsing with laughter. Bonnie did a lightning-quick imitation of Caroline's expression and frantic scrubbing, miming someone using handful after handful of tissues. Meredith gave a reproving shake of her head, but she and Stefan and Matt all had a case of themustn't-laugh snickers. A lot of it was simply the release of tension - they had seen Elena alive again, after six long months without her - but they couldn't stop laughing.

Or at least they couldn't until a tissue box sailed out of the bathroom, nearly hitting Bonnie in the head - and they all realized that the slammed door had rebounded - and that there was a mirror in the bathroom. Bonnie caught Caroline's expression in the mirror and then met her full-on glare.

Yep, she'd seen them laughing at her.

The door closed again - this time, as if it had been kicked. Bonnie ducked her head and clutched at her short strawberry curls, wishing the floor would open up and swallow her.

"I'll apologize," she said after a gulp, trying to be adult about the situation. Then she looked up and realized that everyone else was more concerned about Elena, who was clearly upset by this rejection.

It's a good thing we made Caroline sign that oath in blood, Bonnie thought. And it's a good thing that you-know-who signed it, too. If there was one thing Damon would know about, it was consequences.

Even as she was thinking this, she joined the huddle around Elena. Stefan was trying to hold Elena; Elena was trying to go after Caroline; and Matt and Meredith were helping Stefan and telling Elena that it was okay.

When Bonnie joined them, Elena gave up trying to get to the bathroom. Her face was distressed, her blue eyes swimming with tears. Elena's serenity had been broken by hurt and regret - and underneath that, a surprisingly deep apprehension. Bonnie's intuition gave a twinge.

But she patted Elena's elbow, the only part of her that she could reach, and added her voice to the chorus: "You didn't know she'd get so upset. You didn't hurt her."

Crystal tears spilled down Elena's cheeks, and Stefan caught them with a tissue as if each one was priceless.

"She thinks that Carolineis hurt," Stefan said, "and she's worried about her - for some reason I don't get."

Bonnie realized that Elena could communicate after all - by mind-link. "I felt that, too," she said. "The hurt. But tell her - I mean - Elena, Ipromise I'll apologize. I'll grovel."

"It may take some groveling from all of us," Meredith said. "But meanwhile I want to make sure that this ¡®angel unaware' recognizesme ."

With an expression of tranquil sophistication, she took Elena out of Stefan's arms and into her own, and then she kissed her.

Unfortunately, this coincided with Caroline stalking out of the bathroom. The bottom of her face was paler than the top, having been denuded of all makeup: lipstick, bronzer, blush, the works. She stopped dead and stared.

"I don't believe it," she said in scathing tones. "You'restill doing it! It's dis - "

"Caroline." Stefan's voice was a warning.

"I came here to see Elena." Caroline - beautiful, lithe, bronze-limbed Caroline - was twisting her hands together as if in terrible conflict. "Theold Elena. And what do I see? She's like a baby - she can't talk. She's like some smirking guru floating in the air. And now she's like some kind of perverted - "

"Don't finish that," Stefan said quietly but firmly. "I told you, she ought to be over the first symptoms in just a few days, to judge by her progress so far," he added.

And hewas different, somehow, Bonnie thought. Not just happier to have gotten Elena back. He was...stronger somehow at the core of himself. Stefan had always been quiet inside; her powers sensed him as a pool of clear water. Now she saw that same clear water built up like a tsunami.

What could have changed Stefan so much?

The answer came to her immediately, although in the form of a wondering question. Elena was still part spirit - Bonnie's intuition told her that. What did it do if you drank the blood of someone who was in that state?

"Caroline, let's just drop it," she said. "I'm sorry, I'm really, really sorry for - you know. I was wrong, and I'm sorry."

"Oh, you'resorry . Oh, that makes everything all right then, doesn't it?" Caroline's voice was pure acid, and she turned her back on Bonnie with finality. Bonnie was surprised to feel the sting of tears behind her eyes.

Elena and Meredith still had their arms around each other, their cheeks wet with the other's tears. They were looking at each other and Elena was beaming.

"Now she'll know you anywhere," Stefan told Meredith. "Not just your face, but - well, the inside of you, too, or the shape of it, at least. I should have mentioned that before this started, but I'm the only one she's ¡®met,' and I didn't realize - "

"You should have realized!" Caroline was pacing like a tiger.

"So you kissed a girl, sowhat ?" Bonnie exploded. "What do you think, you're going to grow a beard now?"

As if powered by the conflict around her, Elena suddenly took off. All at once she was zipping around the room as if she'd been shot from a cannon; her hair crackled with electricity when she made sudden stops or turns. She soared around the room twice, and as she was silhouetted against the dusty old window, Bonnie thought, Oh, my God! We've got to get her some clothes! She looked at Meredith and saw that Meredith had shared her realization. Yes, they had to get Elena clothes - and most especially underclothes.

As Bonnie moved toward Elena, as shyly as if she'd never been kissed before, Caroline exploded.

"You just keep doing it and doing it and doing it!" She was practically screeching by now, Bonnie thought. "What's wrong with you? Don't you have any morals at all?"

This, unfortunately, caused another case of thedon't-laugh-don't-laugh choked giggles in Bonnie and Meredith. Even Stefan turned away sharply, his gallantry toward a guest clearly fighting a losing battle.

Not just a guest, Bonnie thought, but a girl he'd gonepret-ty darn far with, as Caroline hadn't been shy about letting people know when she'd gotten her hands on him. About as far as vampires could go, Bonnie remembered, which was not the whole way. Something about the blood-sharing substituting for - well, for Doing It. But he wasn't the only one Caroline had bragged about. Caroline was infamous.

Bonnie glanced at Elena, saw that Elena was watching Caroline with a strange expression. Not as if Elena were afraid of her, but rather as if Elena were deeply worried about her.

"Are you all right?" Bonnie whispered. To her surprise, Elena nodded, then looked at Caroline and shook her head. She carefully looked Caroline up and down and her expression was that of a puzzled doctor examining a very sick patient.

Then she floated toward Caroline, one hand extended.

Caroline shied away, as if she were disgusted to have Elena touch her. No, not disgusted, Bonnie thought, but frightened.

"How do I know what she'll do next?" Caroline snapped, but Bonnie knew that wasn't the real reason for her fear. What do we have going on here? she wondered. Elena afraidfor Caroline, and Caroline afraidof Elena. What does that equal?

Bonnie's psychic senses were giving her gooseflesh. There was something wrong with Caroline, she felt, something she'd never encountered before. And the air...it was thickening somehow, as if it were building up to a thunderstorm.

Caroline made a sharp turn to keep her face averted from Elena's. She moved behind a chair.

"Just keep her freakin'away from me, all right? I won't let her touch me again - " she began, when Meredith changed the whole situation with two quiet words.

"What did you say to me?" Caroline said, staring.
发表于 2016-9-14 15:29 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 5

Damon was driving aimlessly when he saw the girl.

She was alone, walking down the side of the street, her titian hair blowing in the wind, her arms weighted down by packages.

Damon immediately did the chivalrous thing. He let the car glide to a stop, waited for the girl to take a few striding paces to catch up with him – che gambe! - and then jumped out and hastened to open the passenger side door for her.

Her name, as it turned out, was Damaris.

In moments the Ferrari was back on the road, going so fast that Damaris's titian hair was flowing behind her like a banner. She was a young woman who fully merited the kind of trance-inducing compliments he'd been handing out freely all day - which was a good thing, he thought laconically, because his imagination was very nearly drained dry.

But flattering this lovely creature, with her nimbus of red-gold hair and her pure, milky skin, wouldn't take any imagination at all. He didn't expect any trouble from her, and he planned to keep her overnight.

Veni, vidi, vici, Damon thought, and flashed a wicked smile into the middle distance. And then he amended - Well, perhaps I haven't conquered yet , but I'd bet my Ferrari on it.

They stopped by a "scenic view roundabout" and when Damaris had dropped her purse and bent to pick it up, he'd seen the nape of her neck, where those fine titian hairs were startlingly delicate against the whiteness of her skin.

He'd kissed it immediately, impulsively, finding it as soft as a baby's skin - and warm against his lips. He'd allowed her complete freedom of action, interested to see whether she would slap him, but instead she had just straightened up and taken a few shaky breaths before allowing him to take her in his arms to be kissed into a trembling, heated, uncertain creature, her dark blue eyes entreating and trying to resist at the same time.

"I - shouldn't have let you do that. I won't let you again. I want to go home now."

Damon smiled. His Ferrari was safe.

Her ultimate yielding would be particularly pleasant, he thought as they continued their drive. If she shaped up as well as she seemed to be doing, he might even keep her a few days, might even Change her.

Now, though, he was bothered by an inexplicable disquiet inside. It was Elena, of course. Being so close to her at the boardinghouse and not daring to demand to go to her, because of what he might do. Oh, hell, what I should have done already, he thought with a sudden vehemence. Stefan was right - there was something wrong with him today.

He was frustrated to a degree that he wouldn't have imagined possible. What he should have done was to have ground his little brother's face in the dirt, wrung his neck like a fowl, and then gone up those narrow tacky stairs to take Elena, willing or no. He hadn't done it before because of some syrupy nonsense, caring about her screaming and carrying on as he lifted that incomparable chin and buried his swollen, aching fangs in her lily-white throat.

There was a noise going on in the car. " - don't you think?" Damaris was saying.

Annoyed and too busy with his fantasy to go over what his mind might have heard of her speech, he shut her off, and she was instantly quiet. Damaris was lovely butuna stomata - a ditz. Now she sat with her titian hair whipping in the wind, but with blank eyes, the pupils contracted, absolutely still.

And all for nothing. Damon made a hissing sound of exasperation. He couldn't get back into his daydream; even in silence, the imagined sounds of Elena's sobbing prevented him.

But there would be no more sobbing once he'd made her into a vampire, a little voice in his mind suggested. Damon cocked his head and leaned back, three fingers on the steering wheel. He'd once sought to make her his princess of darkness - why not again? She would belong to him utterly, and if he had to give up her mortal blood...well, he wasn't exactly getting any of that right now, was he? the insinuating voice said. Elena, pale and glowing with a vampire's aura of Power, her hair almost white-blond, a black gown against her satiny skin. Now there was a picture to make any vampire's heart beat faster.

He wanted her more than ever now that she had been a spirit. Even as a vampire she would retain most of her own nature, and he could just picture it: her light for his darkness, her soft whiteness in his hard, black-jacketed arms. He would stop that exquisite mouth with kisses, smother her with them -

What was he thinking about? Vampires didn't kiss like that for enjoyment - especially not other vampires. The blood, the hunt was all. Kissing beyond whatever was necessary to conquer their victim was pointless; it could lead nowhere. Only sentimental idiots like his brother bothered with such foolishness. A mated vampire pair might share the blood of a mortal victim, both striking at once, both controlling the victim's mind - and joined together in mind-link, too. That was how they found their pleasure.

Still, Damon found himself excited by the idea of kissing Elena, of forcing kisses on her, of feeling her desperation to get away from him suddenly pause - with the little hesitation that came just before response, before yielding herself completely to him.

Maybe I'm going crazy, Damon thought, intrigued. He had never gone crazy before that he could recall, and there was some appeal in the idea. It had been centuries since he'd felt this kind of excitement.

All the better for you, Damaris, he thought. He had reached the point where Sycamore Street cut briefly into the Old Wood, and the road there was winding and dangerous. Regardless, he found himself turning to Damaris to wake her again, noting with approval that her lips were naturally that soft cherry color, without lipstick. He kissed her lightly, then waited to gauge her response.

Pleasure. He could see her mind go soft and rosy with it.

He glanced at the road ahead and then tried it again, this time holding the kiss. He was elated with her response, with both of their responses. This was amazing. It must have to do with the amount of blood he'd had, more than ever before in one day, or the combination -

He suddenly had to wrench his attention from Damaris to driving. Some small russet animal had appeared as if by magic on the road in front of him. Damon normally didn't go out of his way to run over rabbits, porcupines, and the like, but this one had annoyed him at a crucial moment. He grasped the steering wheel with both hands, his eyes black and cold as glacial ice in the depths of a cave, and headed straight for the russet thing.

Not all that small - there would be a bit of a bump.

"Hang on," he murmured to Damaris.

At the last instant, the reddish thing dodged. Damon wrenched the wheel round to follow it, and then found himself faced with a ditch. Only the superhuman reflexes of a vampire - and the finely tuned response of a very expensive vehicle - could have kept them out of the ditch. Fortunately Damon had both, swinging them in a tight circle, tires squealing and smoking in protest.

And no bump.

Damon leaped over the car door in one fluid motion and looked around. But whatever it was, had vanished completely, as mysteriously as it had appeared.

Sconosciuto. Weird.

He wished he wasn't heading into the sun; the bright afternoon light cut down his visual acuity severely. But he'd had a glimpse of the thing as it got close, and it had looked deformed. Pointed at one end and fan-like at the other.

Oh, well.

He turned back to the car, where Damaris was having hysterics. He wasn't in the mood to coddle anyone, so he simply put her back to sleep. She slumped back into the seat, tears left to dry on her cheeks unheeded.

Damon got back into the car feeling frustrated. But he knew now what he wanted to do today. He wanted to find a bar - either seedy and sleazy or immaculate and expensive - and he wanted to find another vampire. With Fell's Church being such a hot spot on the ley-line map, that shouldn't be difficult in the surrounding areas. Vampires and other creatures of darkness were drawn to hot spots like bumblebees to honeysuckle.

And then he wanted a fight. It would be completely unfair - Damon was the strongest vampire left that he knew of, plus he was tick-full of a cocktail of the blood of Fell's Church's finest maidens. He didn't care. He felt like taking his frustrations out on something, and - he flashed that inimitable, incandescent smile at nothing - some werewolf or vampire or ghoul was about to meet its quietus . Maybe more than one, if he were only lucky enough to find them. After which - delicious Damaris for dessert.

Life was good, after all. And unlife, thought Damon, his eyes glinting dangerously behind the sunglasses, was even better. He wasn't just going to sit and sulk because he couldn't have Elena immediately. He was going to go out and enjoy himself and get stronger - and then sometime soon, he was going to go over to his pathetic milksop of a younger brother's place and take her.

He happened to glance in the car's rearview mirror for a moment. By some freak of light or inversion of the atmosphere, it seemed that he could see his eyes behind his sunglasses - burning red.
发表于 2016-9-14 15:34 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 6

"I said, get out ," Meredith repeated to Caroline, still quietly. "You've said things that never should have been said in any civilized place. This happens to be Stefan's place - and, yes, it's his place to order you out, too. I'm doing it for him, though, because he never would ask a girl - and a former girlfriend, I might add - to get the hell out of his room."

Matt cleared his throat. He'd stepped back into a corner and everyone had forgotten about him. Now he said, "Caroline, I've known you way too long to be formal, and Meredith's right. You want to say the kind of things you've been saying about Elena, you do it somewhere faraway from Elena. But, look, there's one thing I know. No matter what Elena did when she was - was down here before" - his voice dropped a little in wonder, and Bonnie knew that he meant, when Elena was here on Earth before - "she's as close to an angel now as you can get. Right now she's...she's...completely..." He hesitated, stumbling for the right words.

"Pure," Meredith said easily, filling in the blank for him.

"Yeah," Matt agreed. "Yeah, pure. Everything she does is pure. And it's not like any of your nasty words could stain her, anyway, but the rest of us just don't like hearing you try."

There was a low "Thank you" from Stefan.

"I was already going," Caroline said, now through her teeth. "And don't you dare preach at me about purity ! Here, with all this going on! You probably just want to watch it going on yourself, two girls kissing. You probably - "

"Enough." Stefan said it almost expressionlessly, but Caroline was swept off her feet, up and out of the door, and deposited there by invisible hands. Her purse trailed after her.

Then the door quietly shut.

Fine hairs rose on the back of Bonnie's neck. This was Power, in such amounts that her psychic senses were stunned and temporarily paralyzed. Moving Caroline - and she wasn't a small girl - now that took Power .

Maybe Stefan had changed just as much as Elena had. Bonnie glanced at Elena, whose pool of serenity was rippling because of Caroline.

Might as well take her mind off it, and maybe make herself worthy of a thank you from Stefan, Bonnie thought.

She tapped Elena's knee, and when Elena turned, Bonnie kissed her.

Elena broke the kiss very quickly, as if afraid to set off some holocaust again. But Bonnie saw at once what Meredith had said about it not being sexual. It was...more like being examined by someone who used all her senses to the fullest. When Elena moved away from Bonnie she beamed at her just as she had at Meredith, all the distress washed away by - yes, the purity of the kiss. And Bonnie felt as if some of Elena's tranquility had soaked into her.

"...should have known better than to bring Caroline," Matt was saying to Stefan. "Sorry about butting in. But I know Caroline, and she could have gone on ranting for another half hour, never actually leaving."

"Stefan took care of that," Meredith said, "or was that Elena, too?"

"It was me," Stefan said. "Matt had it right: she could keep on talking forever without actually leaving. And I'd just as lief nobody run Elena down like that in my hearing."

Why are they talking about those things? Bonnie wondered. Of all people, Meredith and Stefan were least inclined to chatter, but here they were, saying things that didn't really need to be said. Then she realized it was for Matt, who was moving slowly but with determination toward Elena.

Bonnie got up as quickly and as lithely as if she could fly, and managed to pass Matt without looking at him. And then she was joining Meredith and Stefan in small talk - well, medium-small talk - about what had just happened. Caroline made a bad enemy, everyone agreed, and nothing seemed to teach her that her schemes against Elena always backfired. Bonnie would bet that she was hatching a new scheme right now against all of them.

"She feels lonely all the time," Stefan said, as if trying to make excuses for her. "She wants to be accepted, by anyone, on any terms - but she feels - apart. As if nobody who really got to know her would trust her."

"She's defensive," Meredith agreed. "But you'd think she'd show some gratitude. After all, we did rescue her and save her life just over a week ago."

There was more to it than that, Bonnie thought. Her intuition was trying to tell her something - something about what might have happened before they had been able to rescue Caroline - but she was so angry on Elena's behalf that she ignored it.

"Why should anybody trust her?" she said to Stefan. She sneaked a peek behind her. Elena was definitely going to know Matt anywhere, and Matt looked as if he were fainting. "Caroline's beautiful, sure, but that's it. She never has a good word to say about anybody. She plays games all the time - and - and I know we used to do some of that, too...but hers are always meant to make other people look bad. Sure, she can take most guys in" - a sudden anxiety swept over her, and she spoke more loudly to try to push it away - "but if you're a girl she's just a pair of long legs and big - "

Bonnie stopped because Meredith and Stefan had frozen, with identical Oh-God-not-again expressions on their faces.

"And she also has very decent hearing," said a shaking, threatening voice from somewhere behind Bonnie. Bonnie's heart leaped into her throat.

That was what you got for ignoring premonitions.

"Caroline - " Meredith and Stefan were both trying for damage control, but it was too late. Caroline stalked in on her long legs as if she didn't want her feet to touch Stefan's floorboards. Oddly, though, she was carrying her high heels.

"I came back in to get my sunglasses," she said, still in that trembling voice. "And I heard enough to know now what my so-called ‘friends' think of me."

"No, you didn't," Meredith said, as rapidly eloquent as Bonnie was stunned mute. "You heard some very angry people letting off steam after you'd just insulted them."

"Besides," Bonnie said, suddenly able to speak again, "admit it, Caroline – you hoped you'd hear something. That's why you took off your shoes. You were right behind the door, listening, weren't you?"

Stefan shut his eyes. "This is my fault. I should have - "

"No, you shouldn't," Meredith said to him, and to Caroline she added, "And if you can tell me one word we said that isn't true, or was exaggerated - except maybe for what Bonnie said, and Bonnie is...just being Bonnie. Anyway, if you can point to one word of what the rest of us said that isn't true, I'll beg your pardon."

Caroline wasn't listening. Caroline was twitching. She had a facial tic, and her lovely face was convulsed, dark red, with fury.

"Oh, you're going to beg my pardon all right," she said, wheeling to point her long-nailed forefinger at each of them. "You're all going to be sorry. And if you try that - that witchcraft-vampire type thing on me again," she said to Stefan, "I have friends - real friends - who'd like to know about it."

"Caroline, just this afternoon you signed a contract - "

"Oh, who gives a damn?"

Stefan stood up. It was dark now inside the small room with its dusty window, and Stefan's shadow was thrown before him by the bedside lamp. Bonnie looked at it and then poked Meredith, as the hairs tingled on her arms and neck. The shadow was surprisingly dark and surprisingly tall. Caroline's shadow was weak, transparent, and short - an imitation shadow beside Stefan's very real one.

The thunderstorm feeling was back. Bonnie was shaking now; trying not to, but unable to stop the shivering that had come on as if she had been thrown into icy water. It was a cold that had gotten directly into her bones and was ripping layer after layer of heat off them like some greedy giant, and now she was beginning to shake hard....

Something was happening to Caroline in the darkness - something was coming from her - or coming for her - or maybe both. In any case, it was all around her now, and all around Bonnie, too, and the tension was so thick that Bonnie felt choked, her heart pounding. Beside her, Meredith - practical, level-headed Meredith - stirred uneasily.

"What - ?" Meredith began in a whisper.

Suddenly, as if it had all been exquisitely choreographed by the things in the dark - the door to Stefan's room slammed shut...the lamp, an ordinary electric one, went off...the ancient rolled-up shutter over the window came rattling down, dropping the room into sudden and complete darkness.

And Caroline screamed. It was an awful sound - raw, as if it had been stripped like meat from Caroline's backbone and yanked out of her throat.

Bonnie screamed, too. She couldn't help it, although her scream sounded too faint and too breathless, like an echo, not the coloratura job that Caroline had done. Thank God that at least Caroline wasn't screaming any longer. Bonnie was able to stop the new scream building in her own throat, even though her shaking was worse than ever. Meredith had an arm around her tightly, but then, as the darkness and the silence went on and Bonnie's shaking only continued, Meredith got up and heartlessly passed her to Matt, who seemed astonished and embarrassed, but tried awkwardly to hold her.

"It's not as dark once your eyes get used to it," he said. His voice was creaky, as if he needed a drink of water. But it was the best thing that he could have said, because of all things in the world to fear, Bonnie was most afraid of the dark. There were things in it, things that only she saw. She managed, despite the terrible shaking, to stand with his support - and then she gasped, and heard Matt gasp, too.

Elena was glowing. Not only that, but the glow extended out behind her and far to either side of her in a pair of what were beautifully defined, and undeniably there...wings.

"She h-has wings," Bonnie whispered, the stutter caused by her shaking rather than by awe or fear. Matt was clinging to her now, like a child; he obviously couldn't answer.

The wings moved with Elena's breathing. She was sitting on thin air, steady now, one hand held out with her fingers all spread in a gesture of denial.

Elena spoke. It wasn't any language that Bonnie had heard before; she doubted it was any language people on Earth used. The words were sharp, thin-edged, like the splintering of myriad shards of crystal that had fallen from somewhere very high and very far away.

The shape of the words almost made sense in Bonnie's head as her own psychic abilities were sparked by Elena's tremendous Power. It was a Power that stood tall against the darkness and now was sweeping it aside...making the things in the dark scamper away before it, their claws scritching in all directions. Ice-sharp words followed them all the way, dismissive now....

And Elena...Elena was as heartbreakingly beautiful as when she'd been a vampire, and seemed almost as pale as one.

But Caroline was shouting, too. She was using powerful words of Black Magic, and to Bonnie it was as if the shadows of all sorts of dark and horrible things were coming from her mouth: lizards and snakes and many-legged spiders.

It was a duel, a face-off of magic. Only how had Caroline learned so much dark magic? She wasn't even a witch by lineage, like Bonnie.

Outside Stefan's room, surrounding it, was a strange sound, almost like a helicopter. Whipwhipwhipwhipwhip... It terrified Bonnie.

But she had to do something. She was Celtic by heritage and psychic because she couldn't avoid it, and she had to help Elena. Slowly, as if making her way against gale-force winds, Bonnie stumbled to put her hand on Elena's hand, to offer Elena her power.

When Elena clasped hands with her, Bonnie realized that Meredith was on her other side. The light grew. The scrabbling lizard things ran from it, screaming and tearing at each other to get away.

The next thing Bonnie knew, Elena had slumped over. The wings were gone. The dark scrabbling things were gone, too. Elena had sent them away, using tremendous amounts of energy to overwhelm them with White Power.

"She'll fall," Bonnie whispered, looking at Stefan. "She's been using magic so strong - "

Just then, as Stefan started to turn to Elena, several things happened very fast, as if the room was caught in the flashes of a strobe light.

Flash. The window shade rolled back up, rattling furiously.

Flash. The lamp went back on, revealing it was in Stefan's hands. He must have been trying to fix it.

Flash. The door to Stefan's room opened slowly, creaking, as if to make up for slamming shut before.

Flash. Caroline was now on the floor, on all fours, groveling, breathing hard. Elena had won....

Elena fell.

Only inhumanly fast reflexes could have caught her, especially from across the room. But Stefan had tossed the lamp to Meredith and was across the distance faster than Bonnie's eyes could follow. Then he was holding Elena, encircling her protectively.

"Oh, hell ," said Caroline. Black trails of mascara ran down her face, making her look like something not quite human. She looked at Stefan with unconcealed hatred. He looked back soberly - no, sternly .

"Don't call on Hell," he said in a very low voice. "Not here. Not now. Because Hell might hear and call back."

"As if it already hadn't," Caroline said, and in that moment, she was pitiful - broken and pathetic. As if she had started something she didn't know how to stop.

"Caroline, what are you saying?" Stefan knelt. "Are you saying that you've already - made some bargain - ?"

"Ouch," Bonnie said, suddenly and involuntarily, shattering the ominous mood in Stefan's room. One of Caroline's broken nails had left a trail of blood on the floor. Caroline had knelt in it, too, making things pretty messy. Bonnie felt a sympathetic throb of pain in her own fingers until Caroline waved her bloody hand at Stefan. Then Bonnie's sympathy turned to nausea.

"Want a lick?" she said. Her voice and face had changed entirely, and she wasn't even trying to hide it. "Oh, come on, Stefan," she went on mockingly, "youdo drink human blood these days, don't you? Human or - whatever she is, whatever she's become. You two fly like bats together now, do you?"

"Caroline," Bonnie whispered, "didn't yousee them? Her wings - "

"Just like a bat - or another vampire already. Stefan's made her - "

"I saw them too," Matt said flatly, behind Bonnie. "They weren't bat wings."

"Doesn't anybody have eyes?" Meredith said from where she stood by the lamp. "Look here." She bent. When she stood again she was holding a long white feather. It shone in the light.

"Maybe she's a white crow, then," Caroline said. "That would be appropriate. And I can't believe how you're all - all - fawning on her as if she were some sort of princess. Always everybody's little darling, aren't you, Elena?"

"Stop it," Stefan said.

"Everybody's, that's the key word," Caroline spat.

"Stop it."

"The way you were kissing people one after another." She gave a theatrical shudder. "Everyone seems to have forgotten, but that was more like - "

"Stop, Caroline."

"Thereal Elena." Caroline's voice had become pretend-prissy, but she couldn't keep the venom out, Bonnie thought. "Because anyone who knows you knows what youreally were before Stefanblessed us with hisirresistible presence. You were - "

"Caroline, stop right there - "

"A slut! That's all! Just a cheap, anybody's slut !"
发表于 2016-9-14 15:38 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 7

There was a sort of universal gasp. Stefan went white, his compressed lips showing in a tight line. Bonnie felt as if she were choking on words, on explanations, on recriminations about Caroline's own behavior. Elena may have had as many boyfriends as the stars in the sky, but in the end she had given all that up - because she fell in love - not that Caroline would know anything about that .

"Don't have anything to say now?" Caroline was taunting. "Can't find any cute answer? Bat got your tongue?" She began to laugh, but it was forced, glassy laughter, and then words were spilling out of her almost as if uncontrollably, all words that weren't supposed to be spoken in public. Bonnie had said most of them at one time or another, but here , and now , they formed a stream of venomous power. Caroline's words were building up to some kind of crescendo - something was going to happen - this kind of force couldn't be contained -

Reverberations, Bonnie thought as the sound waves began building up....

Glass, her intuition told her. Get away from glass.

Stefan just had time to whirl to Meredith and shout," Get rid of the lamp."

And Meredith, who was not only quick on the uptake but also a baseball pitcher with a 1.75 ERA, snatched it up and threw it at - no, through -

- an explosion as the porcelain lamp shattered -

- the open window.

There was a similar shattering in the bathroom. The mirror had exploded behind the closed door.

Then Caroline slapped Elena across the face.

It left a bloody smear, which Elena patted tentatively. It also left a white handprint, turning to red. Elena's expression was one to wring tears from a stone.

And then Stefan did what Bonnie considered the most astonishing thing of all. He very gently put Elena down on the floor, kissed her upturned face, and turned to Caroline.

He put his hands on her shoulders, not shaking, only holding her still, forcing her to look at him.

"Caroline," he said, "stop it. Come back. For the sake of your old friends who care for you, come back. For the sake of the family that loves you, come back. For the sake of your own immortal soul, come back. Come back to us!"

Caroline just eyed him belligerently.

Stefan half turned aside, toward Meredith, grimacing. "I'm not really cut out to do this," he said wryly. "It's not any vampire's forte."

Then he turned toward Elena, his voice tender. "Love, can you help? Can you help your old friend again?"

Already Elena was trying to help, trying to get to Stefan. She had pulled herself up very shakily, first by the rocking chair and then by Bonnie, who tried to help her under the burden of gravity. Elena was as wobbly as a newborn giraffe in roller skates, and Bonnie - almost half a head shorter - was finding her hard to handle.

Stefan made a motion as if to help, but Matt was already there, steadying Elena on the other side.

Then Stefan had Caroline turned around, and he was holding her, not letting her dart away, forcing her to face Elena fully.

Elena, while being held at the waist so that her hands were free, made some curious motions, seeming to draw designs more and more quickly in the air in front of Caroline's face, at the same time clasping and unclasping her hands with the fingers in different positions. She seemed to know exactly what she was doing. Caroline's eyes followed the movements of Elena's hands as if compelled, but it was clear from her snarling that she hated it.

Magic, Bonnie thought, fascinated. White Magic. She's calling on angels, just as surely as Caroline was calling demons. But is she strong enough to pull Caroline out of the darkness?

And at last, as if to complete the ceremony, Elena leaned forward and kissed Caroline chastely on the lips.

All hell broke loose. Caroline somehow squirmed out of Stefan's grip and tried to claw Elena's face with her nails. Objects in the room went sailing through the air, propelled by no human force. Matt tried to grab Caroline's arm and got a punch in the stomach that doubled him over, followed by a chop to the back of the neck.

Stefan let go of Caroline to scoop up Elena and get her and Bonnie out of harm's way. He seemed to assume that Meredith could take care of herself - and he was right. Caroline swung at Meredith, but Meredith was ready. She grabbed Caroline's fist and helped her in the direction of the swing. Caroline landed on the bed, twisted, and then rushed Meredith again, this time getting a grip on her hair. Meredith pulled free, leaving a tuft of hair in Caroline's fingers. Then Meredith got under Caroline's guard and hit her squarely on the jaw. Caroline collapsed.

Bonnie cheered and refused to feel guilty about it. Then, for the first time, as Caroline lay still, Bonnie noticed that Caroline's fingernails were all there again - long, strong, curved, and perfect, not one of them chipped or broken.

Elena's Power? It must be. What else could have done it? With just a few motions and a kiss, Elena had healed Caroline's hand.

Meredith was massaging her own hand. "I never realized it hurt so much to knock people out," she said. "They never show it in movies. Is it the same for guys?"

Matt flushed. "I...uh, I've never actually..."

"It's the same for everyone, even vampires," Stefan said briefly. "Are you all right, Meredith? I mean, Elena could..."

"No, I'm fine. And Bonnie and I have a job to do." She nodded at Bonnie, who nodded weakly back. "Caroline's our responsibility, and we should have realized why she really had to come back this last time. She doesn't have a car. I'll bet she used that downstairs telephone and tried to get somebody to pick her up, but couldn't, and then she came upstairs again. So now we have to take her home. Stefan, I'm sorry. It hasn't been much of a visit."

Stefan looked grim. "It's probably as much as Elena could take, anyway," he said. "More than I thought she could take, honestly."

Matt said, "Well, I'm the one with the car, and Caroline is my responsibility, too," he said. "I may not be a girl, but I'm a human."

"Maybe we could come back tomorrow?" Bonnie said.

"Yes, I suppose that would be best," Stefan said. "I almost hate to let her go at all," he added, staring at the unconscious Caroline, his face shadowed. "I'm afraid for her. Very much afraid."

Bonnie pounced on this. "Why?"

"I think - well, it may be too early to say, but she seems to be almost possessed by something - but I have no idea what. I think I have to do some serious research."

And there it was again, the ice water dripping down Bonnie's back. The feeling of how close the frigid ocean of fear was, ready to topple down on her and take her on a swift trip to the bottom.

Stefan added, "But what's certain is that she was behaving strangely - even for Caroline. And I don't know what you heard when she was cursing, but I heard another voice behind it, prompting her." He turned to Bonnie. "Did you?"

Bonnie was thinking back. Had there been something - just a whisper - and just a beat before Caroline's voice came? Less than a beat, and just the faintest of sibilant whispers?

"And what happened here may have made it worse. She called on Hell at a moment when this room was saturated with Power. And Fell's Church itself is at the crossing of so many ley lines, it isn't funny. With all that going on - well, I just wish we had a good parapsychologist around."

Bonnie knew they were all thinking of Alaric.

"I'll try to get him to come," Meredith said. "But usually he's off in Tibet or Timbuktu doing research these days. It'll take a while even to get a message to him."

"Thank you." Stefan looked relieved.

"Like I said, she's our responsibility," Meredith said quietly.

"We're sorry to have brought her," Bonnie said loudly, rather hoping that something inside Caroline could hear her.

They said their good-byes separately to Elena, not sure of what might happen. But she simply smiled at each of them and touched their hands.

By good luck or by the grace of something far beyond their understanding, Caroline woke up. She even seemed mostly rational, if a little fuzzy, when the car reached her driveway. Matt helped her out of the car and walked her to the door on his arm, where Caroline's mother answered the doorbell. She was a mousy, timid, tired-looking woman who did not seem surprised to be receiving her daughter in this state on a late summer afternoon.

Matt dropped the girls off at Bonnie's house, where they spent a night in worried speculation. Bonnie fell asleep with the sound of Caroline's curses echoing in her head.

Dear Diary,

Something is going to happen tonight.

I can't talk or write, and I don't remember how to type on a keyboard very well, but I can send thoughts to Stefan and he can write them down. We don't have any secrets from each other.

So this is my diary now. And...

This morning I woke up again. I woke up again! It was still summer outside, and everything was green. The daffodils in the garden are all in bloom. And I had visitors. I didn't know exactly who they were, but three of them are strong, clear colors. I kissed them so I won't forget them again.

The fourth one was different. I could only see a shattered color, laced with black. I had to use strong words of White Power to keep that one from bringing dark things into Stefan's room.

I'm getting sleepy. I want to be with Stefan and feel him holding me. I love Stefan. I would give up anything to stay with him. He asks me, Even flying? Even flying, to be with him and keep him safe. Even anything, to keep him safe. Even my life.

Now I want to go to him.


(And Stefan is sorry about writing in Elena's new diary, but he has to say some things, because someday maybe she will want to read them, to remember. I've written down her thoughts in sentences, but they don't come that way. They come as thought-fragments, I guess. Vampires are used to translating people's everyday thoughts into coherent sentences, but Elena's thoughts need more translation than most. Usually she thinks in bright pictures, with a scattered word or two.

The "fourth one" that she talks about is Caroline Forbes. Elena has known Caroline almost since babyhood, I think. What bewilders me is that today Caroline attacked her in almost every way imaginable, and yet when I search Elena's mind I can't find any feelings of anger or even any pain. It's almost frightening to scan a mind like that.

The question I'd really like to answer is: What happened to Caroline during the short time she was kidnapped by Klaus and Tyler? And did she do what she did today of her own free will? Does some remnant of Klaus's hatred still linger like miasma, tainting the air? Or do we have another enemy in Fell's Church?

And most importantly, what do we do about it?

Stefan, who is being pulled from the compu.
发表于 2016-9-14 15:43 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 8
The clock's old-fashioned hands showed three A.M . when Meredith was suddenly roused from a fitful sleep.

And then she bit her lip, stifling a scream. A face was bending over hers, upside down. The last thing she remembered was lying on her back in a sleeping bag, talking about Alaric with Bonnie.

Now Bonnie was bending over her, but with her face inverted and her eyes shut. She was kneeling at the head of Meredith's pillow and her upside-down nose almost touched Meredith's. Add to that an odd pallor in Bonnie's cheeks and rapid warm breath that tickled Meredith's forehead, and anyone - anyone, Meredith insisted to herself - would be entitled to a half-scream.

She waited for Bonnie to speak, staring in the gloom at those eerily closed eyes.

But instead, Bonnie sat up, stood, walked backward flawlessly to Meredith's desk, where Meredith's mobile lay charging, and picked it up. She must have turned it on for a video recording for she opened her mouth and began to gesture and speak.

It was terrifying. The sounds that came out of Bonnie's mouth were all too identifiable: backward speech. The tangled, guttural or high-pitched noises all carried the cadence that horror movies had made so popular. But to be able to speak that way on purpose...it wasn't possible for a normal human or a normal human mind. Meredith had an eerie sense of something trying to stretch its mind toward them, trying to reach them through unimaginable dimensions.

Maybe it lives backward, Meredith thought, trying to distract herself as the frightening sounds went on. Maybe it thinks we do. Maybe we just don't - intersect....

Meredith didn't think she could stand much more. She was beginning to imagine that she heard words, even phrases in the backward sounds, and none of them were pleasant. Please let it stop - now.

A wailing and mumbling...

Bonnie's mouth shut with a clash of teeth. The sounds stopped instantly. And then, like a video being rolled back in slow motion, she walked backward to her sleeping bag, knelt, and back-crawled into it, lying down with her head on the pillow - all without opening her eyes to look where she was going.

It was one of the scariest things Meredith had ever seen or heard, and Meredith had seen and heard a fair amount of scary things.

And Meredith could no more have left that recording until morning than she could have flown - without assistance.

She got up, tiptoed to the desk, and took the mobile phone to the other room. There she attached it to her computer, where she could run the backward message forward.

When she'd listened to the message in reverse once or twice she decided that Bonnie must never hear it. It would frighten her out of her senses, and there would be no more contact with the paranormal for Elena's friends.

There were animal sounds in there, mixed up with the twisted, backward voice...that wasn't Bonnie's voice in any way. It wasn't any normal person's voice. It almost sounded worse going forward than backward - which maybe meant that whatever being had spoken the words normally spoke the other way.

Meredith could make out human voices over the groaning and distorted laughter and the animal noises straight from the veldt. Though they made the hairs on her body stand up and tingle, she tried to put together the words in between the nonsense. Putting them together she got:

"Aaahhh...waggge...n...ing wuh illllilll...be...sud-ud-ud...den...ANDshhhh...ohhh...ging.YOOOOU ...hand-and-nd...Iiii...mmmust...BEtherefore...herrr...aaahhh waggge...ning...We wone...BE therefor-or-or-or-r" - (was there a "herrr" next, or was it just part of the growling?) - "LADE... errrrrrrrrrrr...ahhn.Thaaass...FORRRRR...oththth...ERRR...handandnd...ssssssssss...t-t-todo...."

Meredith, working with pad and pen, eventually got these words on paper:

Awakening will be sudden and shocking.

You and I must be there for her Awakening. We won't be there for (her?) later on. That's for other hands to do.

Meredith put the pen very precisely beside the deciphered message on the pad.

And after that Meredith went and lay hunched in her sleeping bag watching the unmoving Bonnie like a cat at a mouse hole, until, finally, blessed tiredness took her into the dark.

"I said what ?" Bonnie was honestly bewildered the next morning, squeezing grapefruit juice and pouring cereal, like a model host, even if it was Meredith who was scrambling eggs at the stove.

"I've told you three times now. The words are not going to change, I promise."

"Well," Bonnie said, suddenly switching sides, "it's clear that the Awakening is going to happen to Elena. Because, for one thing, you and I have to be there for it, and for another thing, she's the one who needs to wake up ."

"Exactly," said Meredith.

"She needs to remember who she really was."

"Precisely," said Meredith.

"And we've got to help her remember!"

"No!" said Meredith, taking out her anger on the eggs with a plastic spatula. "No, Bonnie, that's not what you said, and I don't think we could do it anyway. We can teach her little things, maybe, the way Stefan has. How to tie her shoes. How to brush her hair. But from what you said, the Awakening is going to be shocking and sudden - and you didn't say anything about us doing it. You only said that we have to be there for her, because after that, somehow we won't be there."

Bonnie contemplated that in gloomy silence. "Won't be there?" she said finally. "Like, won't be with Elena? Or won't be there, like...won't be anywhere?"

Meredith eyed a breakfast that she suddenly didn't want to eat. "I don't know."

"Stefan said we could come over again today," Bonnie urged.

"Stefan would be polite while he was being staked to death."

"I know," Bonnie said suddenly. "Let's call Matt. We can go see Caroline...if she will see us, I mean. We can see if she's any different today. Then we can wait until it's afternoon, and then we can call Stefan and ask if we can come over again to see Elena."

At Caroline's house, her mother said she was sick today and was going to stay in bed. The three of them - Matt, Meredith, and Bonnie - went back to Meredith's house without her, but Bonnie kept chewing her lip, looking back occasionally toward Caroline's street. Caroline's mother had looked sick herself, with shadows under her eyes. And the thunderstorm feeling, the feeling of pressure, had been squashing Caroline's house almost flat.

At Meredith's, Matt tinkered with his car, which perpetually needed work, while Bonnie and Meredith went through Meredith's wardrobe for clothes that Elena could wear. They would be big, but that was better than Bonnie's, which would be much too small.

At four P.M . they called Stefan. Yes, they were welcome. They went downstairs and picked up Matt.

At the boardinghouse, Elena didn't repeat the kissing ritual of the previous day - to Matt's obvious disappointment. But she was delighted with the new clothes, although not for any reason that the old Elena would have been. Floating three feet off the floor, she kept holding them to her face and taking deep, happy sniffs, and then beaming at Meredith, although when Bonnie picked up a T-shirt, she couldn't smell anything but the fabric softener they'd used. Not even Meredith's Beach cologne.

"I'm sorry," Stefan said helplessly as Elena went into a sudden sneezing fit, cuddling a sky-blue top in her arms as if it were a kitten. But his face was tender, and Meredith, while looking slightly embarrassed, reassured him that it was nice to be so appreciated.

"She can tell where they come from," Stefan explained. "She won't wear anything that's come from a sweatshop."

"I only buy from places listed on the Sweatshop-Free Clothing website," Meredith said simply. "Bonnie and I have something to tell you," she added. While she recounted Bonnie's late-night prophecy, Bonnie took Elena into the bathroom and helped her change into the shorts, which fit, and the sky-blue top, which almost fit, being just a little long.

The color set off Elena's tangled but still glorious hair perfectly, but when Bonnie tried to get her to look in the hand mirror that she had brought - the old mirror's shards had all been cleared away - Elena seemed as confused as a puppy held up to see its own reflection. Bonnie kept holding the mirror in front of her face, and Elena kept popping out on one side or another from behind it, like a baby playing peek-a-boo. Bonnie had to be satisfied with a good brushing out of the tangles in that golden mass, which Stefan clearly didn't know how to handle. When Elena's hair was finally silky and smooth, Bonnie proudly took her out to be shown off.

And was promptly sorry. The other three were in deep, and it looked like grim, conversation. Reluctantly, Bonnie let go of Elena who immediately flew - literally - into Stefan's lap, and joined them herself.

"Of course we understand," Meredith was saying. "Even before Caroline went off her rocker, what other choice was there, ultimately? But - "

"What? what other choice is there'?" Bonnie said, as she sat down on Stefan's bed beside him. "What are you guys talking about?"

There was a long pause, and then Meredith got up to put an arm around Bonnie. "We were talking about why Stefan and Elena need to leave Fell's Church - need to go far away."

At first Bonnie didn't react - she knew she should be feeling something, but she was too deep in shock to access what it was. When words came to her, the only thing she could hear herself saying stupidly was, "Goaway ?Why?"

"You saw why - here, yesterday," Meredith said, her dark eyes filled with pain, her face for once showing the uncontrollable anguish she must be feeling. But for the moment, no anguish meant anything to Bonnie but her own.

And it was coming now, like an avalanche burying her in red-hot snow. In ice that burned. Somehow she struggled out of it long enough to say, "Caroline won't do anything. She signed a vow. She knows that to break it - especially when - when you-know-who signed it, too..."

Meredith must have told Stefan about the crow, because he sighed and shook his head, gently fending off Elena, who was trying to look up into his face. Clearly she sensed the unhappiness in the group, but just as clearly she couldn't really understand what was causing it.

"The last person I want around Caroline is my brother." Stefan pushed his dark hair out of his eyes irritably, as if he had been reminded of how much they looked alike. "And I don't think Meredith's threat about the sorority sisters is going to work, either. She's too far gone into the darkness."

Bonnie shivered inside. She didn't like the thoughts that those words summoned up:into the darkness .

"But..." Matt began, and Bonnie realized that he felt the same way she did - stunned and sick, as if they were getting off some cheap carnival ride.

"Listen," Stefan said, "there's another reason why we can't stay here."

"What other reason?" Matt said slowly. Bonnie was too upset to speak. She had thought about this, somewhere deep in her unconscious. But she'd pushed the thoughts away every time they came.

"Bonnie understands it already, I think." Stefan looked at her. She looked back with eyes that were misting over with tears.

"Fell's Church," Stefan explained gently and sadly, "was built at a meeting of the ley lines. The lines of raw Power in the ground, remember? I don't know if it was deliberate. Does anybody know if the Smallwoods had anything to do with the location?"

No one did. There was nothing in Honoria Fell's old diary about the werewolf family having a choice in the founding of the town.

"Well, if it was an accident, it was a pretty unlucky one. The town - I should say, the town cemetery - was built directly over a place where a lot of ley lines cross. That's what made it a beacon for supernatural creatures, bad or - or not quite so bad." He looked embarrassed, and Bonnie realized that he was talking about himself. "I was drawn here. So were other vampires, as you know. And with every person who had the Power who came here, the beacon became stronger. Brighter. More attractive to other people with the Power. It's a vicious cycle."

"Eventually, some of them are going to see Elena," Meredith said. "Remember, these are people like Stefan, Bonnie, but not people with his moral sense. When they see her..."

Bonnie almost burst into tears at the thought. She seemed to see a flurry of white feathers, each tumbling in slow motion to the ground.

"But - she wasn't this way when she first woke up," Matt said slowly and stubbornly. "She talked. She was rational. She didn'tfloat ."

"Talking or not talking, walking or floating, she has thePower ," Stefan said. "Enough to drive ordinary vampires crazy. Crazy enough to hurt her to get it. And she doesn't kill - or wound. At least, I can't imagine her doing that. What I'm hoping," he said, and his face darkened, "is that I can take her somewhere where she'll be...protected."

"But you can't take her," Bonnie said, and she could hear the wail in her own voice without being able to control it. "Didn't Meredith tell you what I said? She's going to wake up. And Meredith and I need to be with her for that."

Because we won't be with her later.Suddenly it made sense. And while it wasn't quite as bad as thinking that they would be not-anywhere-at-all, it was more than bad enough.

"I wasn't thinking of taking her until she can at least walk properly," Stefan said, and he surprised Bonnie with a quick arm around her shoulders. It felt like Meredith's hug, sibling-ish, but stronger and briefer. "And you don't know how glad I am that she's going to wake up. Or that you'll be there to support her."

"But..." But the ghoulies are still going to come to Fell's Church? Bonnie thought. And we won't have you to protect us?

She glanced up and saw that Meredith knew exactly what she'd been thinking. "I would say," Meredith said, in her most careful, measured tones, "that Stefan and Elena have been through enough for the town's sake."

Well. There was no arguing withthat . And there was no arguing with Stefan, either, it seemed. His mind was made up.

They talked until after dark anyway, discussing different options and scenarios, pondering over Bonnie's prediction. They didn't get anything decided, but at least they had thrashed out some possible plans. Bonnie insisted that there be some means of communication with Stefan, and she was just about to demand some of his blood and hair for the summoning spell when he gently pointed out that he did have a mobile phone now.

At last it was time to leave. The humans were starving, and Bonnie guessed that Stefan probably was, too. He looked unusually white as he sat with Elena on his lap.

When they said good-bye at the top of the stairs, Bonnie had to keep reminding herself that Stefan had promised that Elena would be there for her and Meredith to support. He would never take her away without telling them.

It wasn't areal good-bye.

So why did it feel so much like one?
发表于 2016-9-14 15:47 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 9

When Matt, Meredith, and Bonnie were all on their way, Stefan was left with Elena, now decently attired by Bonnie in her "Night Gown." The darkness outside was comforting to his sore eyes - not sore from daylight, but from telling good friends the sad news. Worse than the sore eyes was the slightly breathless feeling of a vampire who hasn't fed. But he'd remedy that soon, he told himself. Once Elena was asleep, he'd slip out into the woods and find a white-tailed deer. No one could stalk like a vampire; no one could compete with Stefan at hunting. And even if it took several deer to assuage the hunger inside him, not one of them would be permanently injured.

But Elena had other plans. She wasn't sleepy, and she was never bored being alone with him. As soon as the sounds of their visitors' car were decently out of hearing, she did what she always did in this mood. She floated to him and tipped her face up, eyes closed, lips just slightly pursed. Then she waited.

Stefan hurried to the one unshuttered window, pulled the shade down against unwanted peeping crows, and returned. Elena was in exactly the same position, blushing slightly, eyes still shut. Stefan sometimes thought that she would wait forever that way, if she wanted a kiss.

"I'm really taking advantage of you, love," he said, and sighed. He leaned over and kissed her gently, chastely.

Elena made a noise of disappointment that sounded exactly like a purruping kitten, ending on a note of inquiry. She bumped his chin with her nose.

"Lovely love," Stefan said, stroking her hair. "Bonnie got all the knots out without pulling?" But he was leaning into her warmth now, helpless. A distant ache in his upper jaw was already beginning.

Elena bumped again, demanding. He kissed her for slightly longer. Logically, he knew she was a grown-up. She was older and vastly more experienced than she had been nine months ago, when they'd lost themselves in adoration kissing. But guilt was never far from his thoughts, and he couldn't help but worry about having her competent consent.

This time the purr up was one of exasperation. Elena had had enough. All at once, she gave her weight to him, forcing him to suddenly support a warm, substantial bundle of femininity in his arms, and at the same time, her Please? chiming clear as a finger swirling on a crystal glass.

It was one of the first words she had learned to think to him when she'd woken up mute and weightless. And, angel or no, she knew exactly what it did to him - inside.


"Oh, little love," he groaned. "Little lovely love..."


He kissed her.

There was a long time of silence, while he felt his heart beat faster and faster. Elena, his Elena, who had once given her very life for him, was warm and drowsily heavy in his arms. She was his alone, and they belonged just like this, and he never wanted anything to change from this moment. Even the quickly growing ache in his upper jaw was something to be enjoyed. The pain of it changed to pleasure with Elena's warm mouth under his, her lips forming little butterfly kisses, teasing him.

He sometimes thought she was most awake when she seemed half-asleep like this. She was always the instigator, but he followed helplessly wherever she wanted him to go. The one time he had refused, had stopped in mid-kiss, she had broken off speaking to him with her mind and floated to a corner, where she then sat among the dust and spider webs...and wept . Nothing he could do would console her, although he knelt on the hard wooden floorboards and begged and coaxed and almost wept himself - until he took her back into his arms.

He had promised himself never to make that mistake again. But still, his guilt nagged at him, although it was growing more and more distant - and more confused as Elena changed the pressure of her lips suddenly and the world rocked and he had to back up until they were sitting on his bed. His thoughts fragmented. He could only think that Elena was back with him, sitting on his lap, so excited, so vibrant, until there was a sort of silken explosion inside him and he didn't need to be forced anymore.

He knew that she was enjoying the pleasure-pain of his aching jaw as much as he was.

There was no more time or reason to think. Elena was melting into his arms, her hair under his stroking fingers a liquid softness. Mentally, they had already melted together. The aching in his canines had finally produced the inevitable result, his teeth lengthening, sharpening; the touch of them against Elena's lower lip causing a bright flicker of pleasure-pain that almost made him gasp.

And then Elena did something she never had done before. Delicately, carefully, she took one of Stefan's fangs and captured it between her upper and lower lips. And then, delicately, deliberately, she just held on.

The whole world reeled around Stefan.

It was only by the grace of his love for her, and their connected minds, that he didn't bite down and pierce her lip. Ancient vampire urges that could never be tamed out of his blood were screaming at him to do just that.

But he loved her, and they were one - and besides, he couldn't move an inch. He was frozen in pleasure. His fangs had never extended so far or become quite as sharp, and without him doing a thing the razor edge of his tooth had cut into Elena's full lower lip. Blood was trickling very slowly down his throat. Elena's blood, which had changed since she had come back from the spirit world. It had once been wonderful, full of youthful vitality and the essence of Elena's living self.

Now...it was simply in a class of its own. Indescribable. He'd never experienced anything like the blood of a returned spirit. It was charged with a Power that was as different from human blood as human was from animal blood.

To a vampire, blood flowing down the throat was a pleasure as sharp as anything imaginable to a human.

Stefan's heart was pounding out of his chest.

Elena daintily worried the fang she had captured.

He could feel her satisfaction as the tiny sacrificial pain turned to pleasure, because she was linked to him, and because she was one of the rarest of all breeds of humans: one who actually enjoyed nurturing a vampire, loved the feeling of feeding him, of him needing her. She was one of the elite.

Hot shivers traveled down his spine, Elena's blood still making the world spin.

Elena let go of his fang, sucking on her lower lip. She let her head drop back, exposing her neck.

The head-drop was really too much to resist, even for him. He knew the traceries of Elena's veins as well as he knew her face. And yet...

All's right. All's well...Elena chimed telepathically.

He sank twin aching fangs into a small vein. His canines were so razor-sharp by then that there was nearly no pain for Elena, who was used to the snakebite sensation. And for him, for both of them, there was the feeding at last, as the indescribable sweetness of Elena's new blood filled Stefan's mouth, and an outpouring of giving swept Elena into incoherency.

There was always a danger of taking too much, or of not giving her enough of his own blood to keep her - well, frankly, to keep her from dying. Not that he needed more than a small amount, but there would always be that danger in trafficking with vampires. In the end, though, dark thoughts swam away in the sheer bliss that had overcome them both.

Matt fished for keys as he and Bonnie and Meredith all crowded into the wide front seat of his rattletrap car. Embarrassing to have to park that next to Stefan's Porsche. The upholstery in back was in shreds that tended to stick to the derriere of whoever sat on it, and Bonnie easily fit on the jump seat, which had a jerry-rigged seat belt, between Matt and Meredith. Matt kept an eye on her, since when she was excited she tended not to use the belt. The road back through the Old Wood had too many difficult turns to be taken lightly, even if they were going to be the only travelers on it.

No more deaths, Matt thought as he pulled away from the boardinghouse. No more miraculous resurrections, even. Matt had seen enough of the supernatural to last him the rest of his life. He was just like Bonnie; he wanted things to settle down to normal so he could get on with living the plain old ordinary way.

Without Elena, something inside him whispered mockingly. Giving up without even a fight?

Hey, I couldn't beat Stefan in any kind of fight if he had both arms tied behind his back and a bag over his head. Forget it. That's finished, however she kissed me. She's a friend, now.

But he could still feel Elena's warm lips on his mouth from yesterday, the light touches that she didn't know yet weren't socially acceptable between just-friends. And he could feel the warmth and the swaying, dancing slenderness of her body.

Damn, she came back perfect - physically, at least, he thought.

Bonnie's plaintive voice cut into his pleasant reminiscences.

"Just when I thought everything was going to be all right," she was wailing, almost weeping. "Just when I thought it's all going to work out after all. It's going to be the way it was supposed to be."

Meredith said, very gently, "It's difficult, I know. We seem to keep on losing her. But we can't be selfish."

"I can," Bonnie said flatly.

I can, too, Matt's inner voice whispered. At least inside, where nobody can see my selfishness. Good old Matt; Matt won't mind - what a good sport Matt is. Well, this is one time when good old Matt does mind. But she chose the other guy, and what can I do? Kidnap her? Keep her locked up? Try to take her by force?

The thought was like a dash of cold water, and Matt woke up and paid more attention to his driving. Somehow he'd already automatically navigated several curves of the pitted, one-lane road that ran through the Old Wood.

"We were supposed to go to college together," Bonnie persisted. "And then we were supposed to come back here to Fell's Church. Back home . We had it all planned out - since kindergarten, practically - and now Elena's human again, and I thought that meant that everything was going to go back to the way it was supposed to be. And it's never going to be the same again, ever , is it?" She finished more quietly and with a little gulping sigh, "Is it?" It wasn't even really a question.

Matt and Meredith found themselves glancing at each other, surprised by the sharpness of their pity, and helpless to comfort Bonnie, who now had her arms folded around herself, shrugging off Meredith's touch.

It's Bonnie - just Bonnie being theatrical, Matt thought, but his own native honesty rose to mock him.

"I guess," he said slowly, "that's what we were all sort of thinking, really, when she first came back." When we were dancing around in the woods like crazy people, he thought. "I guess we sort of thought that they could live quietly somewhere near Fell's Church, and that things would go back to the way they were before. Before Stefan - "

Meredith shook her head, looking off into the distance beyond the windshield. "Not Stefan."

Matt realized what she meant. Stefan had come to Fell's Church to rejoin humanity, not to take a human girl away from it into the unknown.

"You're right," Matt said. "I was just thinking about something like that. She and Stefan could have probably worked out some way to live here quietly. Or at least to stay close to us, you know. It was Damon. He came to take Elena against her will, and that changed everything."

"And now Elena and Stefan are leaving. And once they leave, they'll never come back," Bonnie wailed. "Why? Why did Damon start all this?"

"He likes to change things out of sheer boredom, Stefan once told me. This time it probably started out of hatred for Stefan," Meredith said. "But I wish that for once he could have just left us alone."

"What difference does it make?" Bonnie was crying now. "So it was Damon's fault. I don't even care anymore. What I don't understand is why things have to change!"

"’You can never cross the same river twice.' Or even once if you're a strong enough vampire," Meredith said wryly. Nobody laughed. And then, very gently: "Maybe you're asking the wrong person. Maybe Elena's the one who could tell you why things have to change, if she remembers what happened to her - in the Other Place."

"I didn't mean that they do have to change - "

"But they do," Meredith said, even more gently and wistfully. "Don't you see? It's not supernatural; it's - life. Everybody has to grow up - "

"I know! Matt has a football scholarship and you're going away to college and then you're going to get married ! And probably have babies!" Bonnie managed to make this sound like some indecent activity. "I'm going to be stuck in junior college forever . And you'll both be all grown up and you'll forget about Elena and Stefan...and me," Bonnie finished in a very small voice.

"Hey." Matt had always been very protective of the injured and ignored. Right now, even with Elena so recently on his mind - he wondered if he would ever get rid of the feeling of that kiss - he was drawn to Bonnie, who seemed so small and fragile. "What are you talking about? I'm coming back after college to live. I'll probably die right here in Fell's Church. I'll be thinking about you. I mean, if you want me to."

He patted Bonnie's arm, and she didn't shy away from his touch as she had from Meredith's. She leaned into him, her forehead against his shoulder. When she shivered once, slightly, he put his arm around her without even thinking.

"I'm not cold," Bonnie said, although she didn't try to shrug off his arm. "It's warm tonight. I just - I don't like it when you say things like ‘I'll probably die right' - watch out!"

"Matt, look out!"

"Whoa - !" Matt pumped the brakes, cursing, both hands wrestling with the steering wheel as Bonnie ducked and Meredith braced herself. Matt's replacement for the first beat-up old car he'd lost was just about as old and didn't have airbags. It was a miscellany of junkyard cars pieced together.

"Hang on!"Matt yelled as the car skidded, tires screaming, and then they were all flung around as the back end swerved into a ditch and the front bumper hit a tree.

When everything stopped moving, Matt let out his breath, easing his death-grip on the steering wheel. He started to turn toward the girls and then froze. He scrabbled to switch on the map light, and what he saw held him frozen again.

Bonnie had turned, as always in moments of deepest distress, to Meredith. She was lying with her head on Meredith's lap, hands locked onto her friend's arm and shirt. Meredith herself was sitting, braced, leaning as far as possible backward, her feet stretched to push against the floor beneath the dashboard; her body bowed back in the seat, head flung backward, arms holding Bonnie down tightly.

Thrusting straight through the open window - like a knobby, shaggy green spear or the grasping arm of some savage earthen giant - was the branch of a tree. It just cleared the base of Meredith's arched neck, and its lower branches passed over Bonnie's small body. If Bonnie's seat belt hadn't let her turn; if Bonnie hadn't flung herself down like that; if Meredith hadn't held onto her...

Matt found himself staring directly into the splintered but very sharp end of the lance. If his own seat belt hadn't kept him from leaning that way...

Matt could hear his own hard breathing. The smell of evergreen was overpowering within the car. He could even smell the places where smaller branches had broken off and were oozing sap.

Very slowly, Meredith reached out to break off one of the twigs that was pointed at her throat like an arrow. It wouldn't break. Numb, Matt reached over to try it himself. But although the wood wasn't much thicker than his finger, it was tough and wouldn't even bend.

As if it's been fire-hardened, he thought dazedly. But that's ridiculous. It's a living tree; I can feel the splinters.


"Can I please get up now?" Bonnie said quietly, her voice muffled against Meredith's leg. "Please. Before it grabs me. It wants to."

Matt glanced at her, startled, and scratched his cheek against the splintered end of the big branch.

"It's not going to grab you." But his stomach was churning as he fumbled blindly for his seat belt fastening. Why should Bonnie have the same thought as he had: that the thing was like a huge, crooked, shaggy arm? She couldn't even see it.

"You know it wants to," Bonnie whispered, and now the slight shivering seemed to be taking over her whole body. She reached backward to undo her seat belt.

"Matt, we need to slide," Meredith said. She had carefully maintained her painful-looking bowed-backward position, but Matt could hear her breathing harder. "We need to slide toward you. It's trying to get around my throat."

"That's impossible...." But he could see it, too. The freshly splintered ends of the smaller branch had moved only infinitesimally, but there was a curve to them now, and the splinters were pressing into Meredith's throat.

"It's probably just that nobody can stay bent backward like that forever," he said, knowing that this was nonsense. "There's a flashlight in the glove compartment...."

"The glove compartment is completely blocked by branches. Bonnie, can you reach to unfasten my seat belt?"

"I'll try." Bonnie slid forward without raising her head, fumbling to find the release button.

To Matt it looked as if the shaggy, aromatic evergreen branches were engulfing her. Pulling her into their needles.

"We've got a whole freakin' Christmas tree in here." He looked away, out through the glass of the window on his side. Cupping his hands to see better into the darkness, he leaned his forehead against the surprisingly cool glass.

There was a touch on the back of his neck. He jumped, then froze. It was neither cool nor warm, like a girl's fingernail.

"Damn it, Meredith - "

"Matt - "

Matt was furious with himself for jumping. But the touch was...scratchy.

"Meredith?" He slowly moved his hands away until he could see in the dark window's reflection. Meredith wasn't touching him.

"Don't...move...left, Matt. There's a long sharp bit there." Meredith's voice, normally cool and a bit remote, usually made Matt think of those calendar pictures of blue lakes surrounded by snow. Now it just sounded choked and strained.

"Meredith!" Bonnie said before Matt could speak. Bonnie's voice sounded as if it were coming from underneath a featherbed.

"It's all right. I just have to...hold it away," Meredith said. "Don't worry. I won't let go of you, either."

Matt felt a sharper prickle of splinters. Something touched his neck on the right side, delicately. "Bonnie, stop it! You're pulling the treein ! You're pulling it on Meredith and me!"

"Matt,shut up !"

Matt shut up. His heart was pounding. The last thing he felt like doing was reaching behind him. But that's stupid, he thought, because if Bonnie really is moving the tree, I can at least hold it still for her.

He reached behind him, flinching, trying to watch what he was doing in the window's reflection. His hand closed over a thick knot of bark and splinters.

He thought, I don't remember seeing a knot when it was pointed at my throat....

"Got it!" a muffled voice said, and there was the click of a seat belt coming undone. Then, much more shakily, the voice said, "Meredith? There are needles shoved all into my back."

"Okay, Bonnie. Matt," Meredith was speaking with effort, but great patience, the way they'd all been talking to Elena. "Matt, you have to open your door now."

Bonnie said in a voice of terror, "It isn't just needles. It's little branches. Sort of like barbed wire. I'm...stuck...."

"Matt! You need to open your doornow - "

"I can't."



Matt was bracing himself, pushing with his feet, both hands locked around the scaly bark now. He thrust backward with all his strength.

"Matt!" Meredith almost screamed. "It's cutting into my throat!"

"I can't get my door open! There's a tree on that side, too!"

"How can there be a tree there?That's the road!"

"How can there be a treegrowing in here?"

Another silence. Matt could feel the splinters - the slivers of broken branch - biting deeper into the back of his neck. If he didn't move soon, he would never be able to.

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