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The Vampire Diaries #7: Midnight (The Return Trilogy #3) (2011)

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发表于 2016-9-24 14:28 | 显示全部楼层 |阅读模式

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本帖最后由 慕然回首 于 2016-10-27 22:28 编辑

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The Return: Midnight

Author: L.J. Smith

Category: Young Adult , Fantasy

Series: The Vampire Diaries


Midnight (The Vampire Diaries: The Return, #3)

With the help of charming and devious Damon, Elena rescued her vampire love, Stefan, from the depths of the Dark Dimension.

But neither brother returned unscathed. Stefan is weak from his long imprisonment and needs more blood than Elena alone can give him, while a strange magic has turned Damon into a human.

Savage and desperate, Damon will do anything to become a vampire again—even travel back to hell.

But what will happen when he accidentally takes Bonnie with him?

Stefan and Elena hurry to rescue their innocent friend from the Dark Dimension, leaving Matt and Meredith to save their hometown from the dangerous spirits that have taken hold of Fell's Church.

One by one, children are succumbing to demonic designs. But Matt and Meredith soon discover that the source of the evil is darker—and closer—than they ever could have imagined...

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发表于 2016-9-24 14:31 | 显示全部楼层
本帖最后由 慕然回首 于 2016-9-25 15:35 编辑

Chapter 1

"Dear Diary,

I'm so frightened I can hardly hold this pen. I'm printing rather than writing in cursive, because that way I have more control.

What am I terrified of, you ask? And when I say "of Damon"you don't believe the answer, not if you'd seen the two of us a few days ago. But to understand, you have to know a few facts.

Have you ever heard the phrase "Al bets are off"?

It means that anything, anything, can happen. So that even somebody who figures out odds and takes bets from people gives them back their money. Because a wild card has entered the situation. You can't even figure the odds to take a bet.

That's where I am. That's why my heart is pounding in my throat and head and ears and fingertips in fear.

Al bets are off.

You can see how shaky even my printing is. Suppose my hands shake like this when I go in to see him? I might drop the tray. I might annoy Damon. And then anything might happen.

I'm not explaining this right. What I should be saying is that we're back: Damon and Meredith and Bonnie and me. We went to the Dark Dimension and now we're home again, with a star ball - and Stefan.

Stefan was tricked into going there by Shinichi and Misao, the brother and sister kitsune, or evil fox-spirits, who told him that if he went to the Dark Dimension he could get the curse of being a vampire removed and become human again.

They lied.

All they did was leave him in a stinking prison, with no food, no light, no warmth...until he was at the point of death.

But Damon - who was so different back then - agreed to lead us to try to find him. And, oh, I can't even begin to describe the Dark Dimension itself. But the important thing is that we finally found Stefan, and that by then we'd found the Twin Fox key we needed to release him. But - he was a skeleton, poor boy. We carried him out of the prison on his pallet, which later Matt burned; it was so infested with creepy-crawlies. But that night we gave him a bath and put him to bed...and then we fed him. Yes, with our blood. All the humans did it except Mrs. Flowers, who was busy making poultices for where his poor bones were almost sticking out of his skin.

They had starved him to that point! I could kill Them with my own hands - or my Wings Powers - if only I could use them properly. But I can't. I know there is a spell for Wings of Destruction, but I have no idea how to summon it.

At least I got to see how Stefan blossomed when being fed with human blood. (I admit that I gave him a few extra feedings that weren't on his chart, and I'd have to be an idiot not to know that my blood is different from other people's -

it's much richer and it did Stefan amazing amounts of good.)

And so Stefan recovered enough that the next morning he was able to walk downstairs to thank Mrs. Flowers for her potions!

The rest of us, though - all the humans - were totally exhausted. We didn't even think about what had happened to the bouquet, because we didn't know it had anything special in it. We'd gotten it just as we were leaving the Dark Dimension, from a kind white kitsune who'd been in the cell across from Stefan's before we arranged a jailbreak. He was so beautiful! I never knew a kitsune could be kind. But he had given Stefan these flowers.

Anyway, that morning Damon was up. Of course, he couldn't contribute any of his own blood, but I honestly think he would have, if he could. That was the way he was back then.

And that's why I don't understand how I can feel the fear I feel now. How can you be terrified of someone who's kissed you and kissed you...and called you his darling and his sweetheart and his princess? And who has laughed with you with his eyes dancing with mischief? And who's held you when you were frightened, and told you there was nothing to be afraid of, not while he was there? Someone you only had to glance at to know what he was thinking?

Someone who has protected you, no matter what the cost to himself, for days on end?

I know Damon. I know his faults, but I also know what he's like inside. And he's not what he wants people to think he is.

He's not cold, or arrogant, or cruel. Those are fa?ades he puts on to cover himself, like clothes.

The problem is that I'm not sure he knows he isn't any of these things. And right now he's all mixed-up. He might change and become all of them - because he's so confused.

What I'm trying to say is, that morning only Damon was really awake. He was the only one who saw the bouquet.

And one of the things Damon definitely is, is curious.

So he unwrapped all the magical wards from it and it had a single pitch-black rose in the center. Damon has been trying to find a black rose for years, just to admire it, I think.

But when he saw this one he smelled it...and boom! The rose disappeared!

And suddenly he was sick and dizzy and he couldn't smell anything and all his other senses were dulled as well. That was when Sage - oh, I haven't even mentioned Sage, but he's a tall bronze gorgeous hunk of a vampire who's been such a good friend to all of us - told him to suck in air and to hold it, to push it down into his lungs.

Humans have to breathe that way, you see.

I don't know how long it took Damon to realize that he really was a human, no joke, nothing anyone could do about it.

The black rose had been for Stefan; and it would have given him his dream of being human again. But when Damon realized it had worked its magic on him...

That's when I saw him look at me and lump me in with the rest of my species - a species he's come to hate and scorn.

Since then I haven't dared look him in the eye again. I know he loved me just days ago. I didn't know that love could turn to - well, to all the things he feels now about himself.

You'd think it would be easy for Damon to become a vampire again. But he wants to be as powerful a vampire as he used to be - and there isn't anyone like that to exchange blood with him. Even Sage disappeared before Damon could ask him. So Damon is stuck like this until he finds some strong, powerful, and prestigious vampire to go through the whole process of changing him.

And every time I look into Stefan's eyes, those jewel-green eyes that are warm with trust and gratitude - I feel terror, too.

Terror that somehow he'll be snatched away again - right out of my arms. And...terror that he'll find out how I've come to feel about Damon. I hadn't even realized myself how much Damon has come to mean to me. And I can't...

stop...my feeling...for him, even if he hates me now.

And, yes, damn it, I'm crying! In a minute, I have to go take him his dinner. He must be starving, but when Matt tried to take him something earlier today, Damon threw the whole tray at him.

Oh, please, God, please don't let him hate me!

I'm being selfish, I know, in just talking about what's going on with Damon and me. I mean, things in Fell's Church are worse than ever. Every day more children become possessed and terrify their parents. Every day, parents get angrier with their possessed children. I don't even want to think about what's going on. If something doesn't change, the whole place will be destroyed like the last town Shinichi and Misao visited.

Shinichi...he made a lot of predictions about our group, about things we've kept secret from the others. But the truth is, I don't know if I want to hear any of his riddles solved.

We're lucky in one way. We have the Saitou family to help us. You remember Isobel Saitou, who pierced herself so horribly while she was possessed? Since she's gotten better, she's become a good friend, and her mother, Mrs.

Saitou, and her grandmother, Obaasan, too. They give us amulets - spells to keep evil away, written on Post-it Notes or little cards. We're so grateful for that kind of help.

Someday maybe we can repay them all.

Elena Gilbert put down the pen reluctantly. Shutting her diary meant having to face the things she had been writing about.

Somehow, though, she managed to make herself walk downstairs to the kitchen and take the dinner tray from Mrs.

Flowers, who smiled encouragingly at her.

As she set out for the boardinghouse's storage room, she noticed that her hands were trembling so that the entire tray of food she was carrying jingled. Since there was no access to the storage room from inside, anyone who wanted to see Damon had to go out the front door and around to the addition tacked on near the kitchen garden. Damon's lair, people were calling it now.

As she passed the garden Elena glanced sideways at the hole in the middle of the angelica patch that was the powered-down Gateway where they'd come back from the Dark Dimension.

She hesitated at the storage room door. She was still trembling, and she knew that was not the right way to face Damon.

Just relax, she told herself. Think of Stefan.

Stefan had had a grim setback when he'd found that there was nothing left of the rose, but he had soon recovered his usual humility and grace, touching Elena's cheek and saying that he was thankful just to be there with her. That this closeness was al he asked of life. Clean clothes, decent food -  freedom - all these were worth fighting for, but Elena was the most important. And Elena had cried.

On the other hand, she knew that Damon had no intention of remaining as he now was. He might do anything, risk anything...to change himself back.

It had actual y been Matt who had suggested the star ball as a solution for Damon's condition. Matt hadn't understood either the rose or the star ball until it was explained that this star ball , which was probably Misao's, contained within it most or all of her Power, and that it had become more brilliant as it absorbed the lives that she took. The black rose had probably been created with a liquid from a similar star ball - but no one knew how much or whether it was combined with unknown ingredients. Matt had frowned and asked, if the rose could change a vampire to a human, could a star ball change a human to a vampire?

Elena hadn't been the only one to see the slow rising of Damon's bent head, and the glimmer in his eyes as they traveled the length of the room to the star ball filled with Power. Elena could practical y hear his logic. Matt might be total y off track...but there was one place a human could be sure to find powerful vampires. In the Dark Dimension - to which there was a Gateway in the boardinghouse's garden.

The Gateway was closed right now...for lack of Power.

Unlike Stefan, Damon would have absolutely no qualms about what would happen if he had to use al the star ball 's liquid, which would result in the death of Misao. After all , she was one of the two foxes who had abandoned Stefan to be tortured.

So all bets were off.

Okay, you're scared; now deal with it, Elena told herself fiercely. Damon's been in that room for almost fifty hours now  and who knows what he's been plotting to do to get hold of the star ball . Still , somebody's got to get him to eat - and when you say "somebody," face it, it's you.

Elena had been standing at the door so long that her knees were starting to lock. She took a deep breath and knocked.

There was no answer, and no light went on inside. Damon was human. It was quite dark outside now.

"Damon?" It was meant to be a call . It came out a whisper.

No answer. No light.

Elena swallowed. He had to be in there.

Elena knocked harder. Nothing. Final y, she tried the knob.

To her horror it was unlocked, and it swung open to reveal an interior as dark as the night around Elena, like the maw of a pit.

The fine hairs at the back of Elena's neck were standing up.

"Damon, I'm coming in," she managed in a bare whisper, as if to convince herself by her quietness that there was nobody there. "I'll be silhouetted against the very edge of the porch light. I can't see anything, so you have all the advantages. I'm carrying a tray with very hot coffee, cookies, and steak tartar, no seasonings. You should be able to smell the coffee."

It was odd, though. Elena's senses told her that there was no one standing directly in front of her, waiting for her to literal y run into him. Al right, she thought. Start with baby steps. Step one. Step two. Step three - I must be well into the room now, but it's still too dim to see anything. Step four...

A strong arm came out of the darkness and locked in an iron grip around her waist, and a knife pressed against her throat.

Elena saw blackness shot with a sudden gray network, after which the dark closed in overwhelmingly.
发表于 2016-9-24 14:32 | 显示全部楼层
本帖最后由 慕然回首 于 2016-9-25 16:19 编辑


Chapter 2

Elena couldn't have been out for more than a few seconds.

When she came to, everything was the same - although she wondered how she hadn't lethal y cut her own throat on the knife.

She knew that the tray with the dishes and cup had gone flying into the darkness in that first instant when she couldn't help flinging out her arms. But now she recognized the grip, she recognized the scent, and she understood the reason for the knife. And she was glad that she did, because she was about as proud of fainting as Sage would have been of doing it. She wasn't a fainter!

Now she willed herself to sag in Damon's arms, except for where the knife was. To show him that she was no threat.

"Hel o, princess," a voice like black velvet said into her ear.

Elena felt an inner shiver - but not of fear. No, it was more as if her insides were melting. But he didn't change his grasp on her.

"Damon..."she said huskily, "I'm here to help you. Please let me. For your sake."

As abruptly as it had come, the iron grip was withdrawn from her waist. The knife stopped pressing into her flesh, although the sharp, stinging feeling at her throat was quite enough to remind her that Damon would have it ready. Substitute fangs.

There was a click, and suddenly the room was too bright.

Slowly, Elena turned to look at Damon. And even now, even when he was pale and rumpled and haggard from not eating, he was so gorgeous that her heart seemed to plummet into darkness. His black hair, falling every which way over his forehead; his perfect, carven features; his arrogant, sensual mouth - right now compressed into a brooding line...

"Where is it, Elena?" he asked briefly. Not what. Where. He knew she wasn't stupid, and, of course, he knew the humans in the boardinghouse were hiding the star ball from him deliberately.

"Is that all you have to say to me?" Elena whispered.

She saw the helpless softening in his eyes, and he took one step toward her as if he couldn't help himself, but the next instant he looked grim. "Tel me, and then maybe I'll have more."

"I...see. Well , then, we made a system, two days ago," Elena said quietly. "Everyone draws lots for it. Then the person who gets the paper with the X takes it from the center of the kitchen table and everyone goes to their rooms and stays there until the person with the star ball hides it. I didn't get the lot today, so I don't know where it is. But you can try to - test me." Elena could feel her body cringing as she said the last words, feeling soft and helpless and easily hurt.

Damon reached over and slowly slipped a hand beneath her hair. He could slam her head against a wall , or throw her across the room. He could simply squeeze her neck between knife and hand until her head fell off. Elena knew that he was in the mood to take out his emotions on a human, but she did nothing. Said nothing. Just stood and looked into her eyes.

Slowly, Damon bent toward her and brushed his lips - so softly - against hers. Elena's eyes drifted shut. But the next moment Damon winced and slid the hand back out of her hair.

That was when Elena gave another thought as to what must have become of the food she had been bringing to him.

Near-scalding coffee seemed to have splashed her hand and arm and soaked her jeans on one thigh. The cup and saucer were laying in pieces on the floor. The tray and the cookies had bounced off behind a chair. The plate of steak tartar, however, had miraculously landed on the couch, right side up. There was miscellaneous cutlery everywhere.

Elena felt her head and shoulders droop in fear and pain.

That was her immediate universe right now - fear and pain.

Overwhelming her. She wasn't usual y a crier, but she couldn't help the tears that filled her eyes.

Damn! Damon thought.

It was her. Elena. He'd been so certain an adversary was spying on him, that one of his many enemies had tracked him down and was setting a trap...someone who had discovered that he was as weak as a child now.

It hadn't even occurred to him that it might be her, until he was holding her soft body with one arm, and smelling the perfume of her hair as he held an ice-slick blade to her throat with the other.

And then he'd snapped on a light and saw what he had already guessed. Unbelievable! He hadn't recognized her.

He had been outside in the garden when he'd seen the door to the storage room standing open and had known that there was an intruder. But with his senses degraded as they were he hadn't been able to tell who was inside.

No excuses could cover up the facts. He had hurt and terrified Elena. He had hurt her. And instead of apologizing he had tried to force the truth out of her for his own selfish desires.

And now, her throat...

His eyes were drawn to the thin line of red droplets on Elena's throat where the knife had cut her when she'd jerked in fear before collapsing right onto it. Had she fainted? She could have died right then, in his arms, if he hadn't been fast enough in whipping the knife away.

He kept telling himself that he wasn't afraid of her. That he was just holding the knife absentmindedly. He wasn't convinced.

"I was outside. You know how we humans can't see?" he said, knowing he sounded indifferent, unrepentant. "It's like being wrapped in cotton all the time, Elena: We can't see, can't smell , can't hear. My reflexes are like a tortoise's, and I'm starving."

"Then why don't you try my blood?" Elena asked, sounding unexpectedly calm.

"I can't," Damon said, trying not to eye the dainty ruby necklace flowing down Elena's slim white throat.

"I already cut myself," Elena said, and Damon thought, Cut herself? Ye gods, the girl was priceless. As if she'd had a little kitchen accident.

"So we might as well see what human blood tastes like to you now," Elena said.

"No."

"You know that you're going to. I know you know. But we don't have much time. My blood won't flow forever. Oh, Damon -

after everything...just last week - "

He was looking at her too long, he knew. Not just at the blood. At the glorious golden beauty of her, as if the child of a sunbeam and a moonbeam had entered his room and was harmlessly bathing him in light.

With a hiss, narrowing his eyes, Damon took hold of Elena's arms. He expected an automatic recoil like the one when he'd grabbed her from behind. But there was no movement backward. Instead there was something like the leap of an eager flame in those wide malachite eyes. Elena's lips parted involuntarily.

He knew it was involuntarily. He'd had many years to study young women's responses. He knew what it meant when her gaze went first to his lips before lifting to his eyes.

I can't kiss her again. I can't. It's a human weakness, the way she affects me. She doesn't realize what it is to be so young and so impossibly beautiful. She's going to learn someday.

In fact, I might accidental y teach her now.

As if she could hear him, Elena shut her eyes. She let her head fall back and suddenly Damon found himself half-supporting her weight. She was surrendering al thought of herself, showing him that despite everything she still trusted him, still ......still loved him.

Damon himself didn't know what he was going to do as he bent toward her. He was starving. It tore at him like a wolf's claws, the hunger. It made him feel dazed and dizzy and out of control. Half a thousand years had left him believing that the only thing that would relieve the starvation was the crimson fountain of a cut artery. Some dark voice that might have come from the Infernal Court itself whispered that he could do what some vampires did, ripping a throat like a werewolf. Warm flesh might ease the starvation of a human.

What would he do, so close to Elena's lips, so close to her bleeding throat?

Two tears slipped from under the dark lashes and slid a little way down her face before dropping into golden hair. Damon found himself tasting one before he could think.

Still a maiden. Well , that was to be expected; Stefan was too weak to stand yet. But on top of the cynical thought came an image, and just a few words: a spirit as pure as driven snow.

He suddenly knew a different hunger, a different thirst. The only place to ease this need was close by. Desperately, urgently, he sought and found Elena's lips. And then he found himself losing al control. What he needed most was here, and Elena might tremble, but she didn't push him away.

This close, he was bathed in an aura as golden as the hair he was touching gently at the ends. He was pleased himself when she shivered in pleasure, and he realized that he could sense her thoughts. She was a strong projector, and his telepathy was the only Power left to him. He had no idea why he still had it, but he did. And right now he wanted to tune into Elena.

The wench! She wasn't thinking at all ! Elena had been offering her throat, truly surrendering herself, abandoning al thought but that she wanted to aid him, that his wishes were hers. And now she was too deeply enmeshed in the kiss to even make plans - which was extraordinary for her.

She's in love with you, the tiny part of him that could still think said.

She's never said so! She's in love with Stefan! something visceral answered.

She doesn't have to say it. She's showing it. Don't pretend you haven't seen it before!

But Stefan - !

Is she thinking about Stefan in the slightest right now? She opened her arms to the wolf-hunger in you. This is no one-day stand, no quick meal, not even a steady donor. This is Elena herself.

Then I've taken advantage of her. If she's in love, she can't protect herself. She's still a child. I have to do something.

The kisses had now gotten to the point that even the tiny voice of reason was fading. Elena had lost her ability to stand. He was either going to have to put her down somewhere, or give her a chance to back out.

Elena! Elena! Damn it, I know you can hear me. Answer!

Damon?  - faintly. Oh, Damon, now do you understand - ?

Too well, my princess. I Influenced you, so I should know.

You...? No, you're lying!

Why should I lie? For some reason my telepathy is as strong as ever. I still want what I want. But you might want to think a minute, maiden. I don't need to drink your blood. I'm human and right now I'm ravenous. But not for that mess of bloody hamburger you brought me.

Elena broke away from him. Damon let her go.

"I think you're lying," she said, meeting his eyes directly, her mouth kiss-swollen.

Damon locked the sight of her inside the boulder full of secrets he dragged around with him. He gave her his best opaque ebony stare. "Why should I lie?" he repeated. "I just thought you deserved a chance to make your own choice. Or have you already decided to abandon little brother while he's out of commission?"

Elena's hand flashed up, but then she dropped it. "You used Influence on me," she said bitterly. "I'm not myself. I would never abandon Stefan - especial y when he needs me."

There it was, the essential fire at her core, and the fiery golden truth. Now he could sit and let bitterness gnaw at him, while this pure spirit followed her conscience.

He was thinking this, already feeling the loss of her dazzling light receding when he realized he no longer had the knife.

An instant later, horror just catching up with his hand, he was snatching it from her throat. His telepathic blast was entirely reflexive:

What in Hell are you doing? Killing yourself because of what I said? This blade is like a razor!

Elena faltered. "I was just making a nick - "

"You almost made a nick that spurted six feet high!" At least he was able to speak again, despite the constriction of his throat.

Elena was back on stable ground too. "I told you I knew you knew you'd have to try blood before you'll try to eat. It feels as if it's flowing down my neck again. This time, let's not waste it."

She was only telling the truth. At least she hadn't seriously hurt herself. He could see that fresh blood was flowing from the new cut she'd so recklessly made. To waste it would be idiotic.

Utterly dispassionate now, Damon took her again by the shoulders. He tilted up her chin to look at her soft, rounded throat. Several new ruby cuts were flowing freely.

Half a millennium of instinct told Damon that just there was nectar and ambrosia. Just there was sustenance and rest and euphoria. Just here where his lips were as he bent to her a second time...and he had only to taste it - to drink...

Damon reared back, trying to force himself to swallow, determined not to spit. It wasn't...it wasn't utterly revolting.

He could see how humans, with their degraded senses, could make use of the animal varieties. But this coagulating, mineral-tasting stuff wasn't blood... it had none of the perfumed bouquet, the heady richness, the sweet, velvety, provocative, life-giving, ineffable attributes of blood.

It was like some sort of bad joke. He was tempted to bite Elena, just to skim a canine over the common carotid, making a tiny scratch, so he could taste the little burst that would explode onto his palate, to compare, to make sure that the real stuff wasn't in there somehow. In fact he was more than tempted; he was doing it. But no blood was coming.

His mind paused in midthought. He'd made a scratch al right  a scratch like a scuff. It hadn't even broken the outer layer of Elena's skin.

Blunt teeth.

Damon found himself pressing on a canine with his tongue, willing it to extend, willing it with all his cramped and frustrated soul to sharpen.

And...nothing. Nothing. But then, he'd spent all day doing the same thing. Miserably, he let Elena's head turn back.

"That's it?" she said shakily. She was trying so hard to be brave with him! Poor doomed white soul with her demon lover. "Damon, you can try again," she told him. "You can bite harder."

"It's no good," he snapped. "You're useless - "

Elena almost slid to the floor. He kept her upright while snarling in her ear, "You know what I meant by that. Or would you prefer to be my dinner rather than my princess?"

Elena simply shook her head mutely. She rested in the circle of his arms, her head against his shoulder. Little wonder that she needed rest after al he'd put her through. But as for how she found his shoulder a comfort...well , that was beyond him.

Sage! Damon sent the furious thought out on all the frequencies he could access, just as he had been doing all day. If only he could find Sage, al his problems would be solved. Sage, he demanded, where are you?

No answer. For al Damon knew, Sage had managed to operate the Gateway to the Dark Dimension that was even now standing, powerless and useless, in Mrs. Flowers's garden. Stranding Damon here. Sage was always that blindingly fast when he took off.

And why had he taken off?

Imperial Summons? Sometimes Sage got them. From the Fallen One, who lived in the Infernal Court, at the lowest of the Dark Dimensions. And when Sage did get them, he was expected to be in that dimension instantly, in mid-word, in mid-caress, in mid - whatever. So far Sage had always made the deadline, Damon knew that. He knew it because Sage was still alive.

On the afternoon of Damon's catastrophic bouquet investigation Sage had left on the mantel a polite note thanking Mrs. Flowers for her hospitality, and even leaving his gigantic dog, Saber, and his falcon, Talon, for the protection of the household - a note doubtlessly pre-prepared. He had gone the way he always did, as unpredictably as the wind, and without saying good-bye.

Undoubtedly he'd thought that Damon would find his way out of the problem easily. There were a number of vampires in Fell's Church. There always were. The ley lines of sheer Power in the ground drew them even in normal times.

The problem was that just now all those vampires were infested with malach - parasites controlled by the evil fox-spirits. They couldn't be lower in the vampire hierarchy.

And of course Stefan was a complete nonstarter. Even if he hadn't been so weak that trying to change Damon into a vampire would have killed him; even if his anger over Damon's "stealing his humanity" could be assuaged, he would simply never have agreed, out of his feeling that vampirism was a curse.

Humans never knew about things like the vampire hierarchy because the subjects didn't concern them - until suddenly, they did, usual y because they had just been changed into a vampire themselves. The hierarchy of vampires was strict, from the useless and ignoble to the fanged aristocracy. Old Ones fit in that category, but so did others who were particularly illustrious or powerful.

What Damon wanted was to be made a vampire by the kind of women Sage knew, and he was determined to have Sage find him a vampire lady of quality, one who was real y worthy of him.

Other things tormented Damon, who had spent two entire sleepless days pondering them. Was it possible that the white kitsune who had given Stefan the bouquet had engineered a rose that turned the first person to smell it permanently human? That would have been Stefan's greatest dream.

The white fox had listened to days upon days of Stefan's ramblings, hadn't he? He'd seen Elena weeping over Stefan.

He'd seen the two lovebirds together, Elena hand-feeding a dying Stefan her blood through razor wire. Fortune only knew what ideas that fox had gotten into his furry white head when he'd prepared the rose that had "cured" Damon of his "curse." If it turned out to be an irreversible "cure"...

If Sage turned out to be unreachable...

It suddenly broke into Damon's thoughts that Elena was cold.

It was strange, since the night was warm, but she was shivering violently. She needed his jacket or...

She's not cold, the small voice somewhere deep inside him said. And she's not shivering. She's trembling because of all you've put her through.

Elena?

You forgot all about me. You were holding me, but you completely forgot my existence...

If only, he thought bitterly. You're branded on my soul.

Damon was suddenly furious, but it was different from his anger at kitsune and Sage and the world. It was the kind of anger that made his throat close and his chest feel too tight.

It was an anger that made him pick up Elena's scalded hand, which was rapidly turning scarlet in patches, and examine it.

He knew what he would have done as a vampire: stroked over the burns with a silky cool tongue, generating chemicals to accelerate the healing. And now...there was nothing he could do about it.

"It doesn't hurt," Elena said. She was able to stand now.

"You're lying, princess," he said. "The insides of your eyebrows are up. That's pain. And your pulse is jumping - "

"You can sense that without touching me?"

"I can see it, at your temples. Vampires," with vicious emphasis on what he still was, in essence, "notice things like that. I made you hurt yourself. And I can't do anything to help.

Also" - he shrugged - "you're a beautiful liar. About the star ball , I mean."

"You can always sense when I'm lying?"

"Angel," he said wearily, "it's easy. You are either the lucky holder of the star ball today...or you know who is."

Again, Elena's head drooped in consternation.

"Or else," Damon said lightly, "the entire story of the drawing of the lots was a lie."

"Think what you like," Elena said, with at least some of her usual fire. "And you can clean up this mess, too."

Just as she turned to leave, Damon had a revelation. "Mrs. Flowers!" he exclaimed.

"Wrong," Elena snapped.

Elena, I wasn't talking about the star ball. I give you my word on this. You know how hard it is to lie telepathically -

Yes, and I know that therefore, if there's one thing in the world you'd...practice...at...

She couldn't finish. She couldn't make the speech. Elena knew how much Damon's word meant to him.

I'll never tell you where it is, she sent telepathically to Damon. And I swear to you that Mrs. Flowers won't either.

"I believe you, but we're still going to see her."

He picked Elena up easily and stepped over the smashed cup and saucer. Elena automatically grabbed his neck with both hands to balance herself.

"Darling, what are you doing - ?"Elena cried, then stopped, wide-eyed, two scalded fingers flying to her lips.

Standing in the doorway, not two yards away from them, was petite Bonnie McCullough, a bottle of Black Magic wine, nonalcoholic but mystical y exhilarating, held high in her hand.

But as Elena watched, Bonnie's expression changed al in an instant. It had been triumphant joy. But now it was shock. It was disbelief that couldn't hold. Elena knew exactly what she was thinking. The whole house had devoted itself to making Damon comfortable - while Damon stole what rightfully belonged to Stefan: Elena. Plus he'd lied about not being a vampire anymore. And Elena wasn't even fighting him off.

She was calling him "darling"!

Bonnie dropped the bottle and turned, running.
发表于 2016-9-24 14:37 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 3

Damon leaped. Somewhere in the middle of the leap Elena felt herself left to the whims of gravity. She tried to curl into a bal to take the impact on one buttock.

What happened was strange - almost miraculous. She came down, right side up, on the opposite side of the couch from the plate of steak tartar. The plate did a little leap of its own, three or four inches, perhaps, and then settled back where it had been.

Elena was also lucky enough to get a perfect view of the end of the heroic rescue - which involved Damon diving for the floor and grabbing the bottle of precious Black Magic wine just before it hit the ground and smashed. He might not have the kind of lightning-fast reflexes he had when he was a vampire, but he was stil far, far faster than an ordinary human. Leap holding girl, drop girl onto something soft, turn leap into dive, and at last instant grab bottle, just before it would hit. Amazing.

But there was another way that Damon wasn't like a vampire anymore - he wasn't invincible to fal ing onto hard surfaces.

Elena only realized this when she heard him gasp, trying to breathe and not being able to.

She scrambled wildly in her mind for al the accidents she could remember with jocks, and - yes, recal ed one when Matt had had the wind completely knocked out of him. The coach had seized him by the col ar and thumped him on the back.

Elena ran to Damon and grabbed him under the arms, rol ing him onto his back. She put al her strength into hauling him into a sitting position. Then she made a club of her hands.

Pretending she was Meredith, who had been on the basebal team at Robert E. Lee High and had a .225 ERA, she swung as hard as she could at Damon, slamming her fists into his back.

And it worked!

Suddenly Damon was wheezing, and then breathing again. A born straightener of ties, Elena knelt and tried to rearrange his clothes. As soon as he could breathe properly, his limbs stopped being pliant under her fingers. He gently curled her hands into each other. Elena wondered if possibly they'd gone so far beyond words that they would never find them again.

How had it al happened? Damon had picked her up perhaps because her leg was burned, or perhaps because he had decided Mrs. Flowers was the one with the star bal .

She herself had said, "Damon, what are you doing?"Perfectly straightforward. And then halfway through the sentence she had heard for herself the "darling"and - but who would ever believe her? - it hadn't been connected with anything they had been doing earlier at al . It had been an accident, a slip of the tongue.

But she'd said it in front of Bonnie, the one person most likely to take it seriously and personal y. And then Bonnie had been gone before she could even explain.

Darling! When they had just started fighting again.

It real y was a joke. Because he had been serious about just taking the star bal . She had seen it in his eyes.

To cal Damon "darling"seriously, you would have to be - have to be...hopelessly...helplessly...desperately in...

Oh, God...

Tears began to run down Elena's cheeks. But these were tears of revelation. Elena knew she wasn't in her best form today. No real sleep for going on three days - too many conflicting emotions - too much genuine terror right now.

Stil, she was terrified to find that something fundamental had changed inside her.

It wasn't anything she had asked for. Al she had asked was that the two brothers stop feuding. And she had been born to love Stefan; she knew that! Once, he'd been wil ing to marry her. Wel , since then she'd been a vampire, a spirit, and a new incarnation dropped from the sky, and she could hope that one day he would be wil ing to marry the new Elena, too.

But the new Elena was bewildered, what with her strange new blood that to vampires was like rocket fuel compared to the gasoline most girls carried about in their veins. With her Wings Powers, such as Wings of Redemption, most of which she didn't understand and none of which she could control. Although lately she had seen the beginning of a stance, and she knew it was for Wings of Destruction. That, she thought grimly, might be quite useful someday.

Of course a number of them had already been helpful to Damon, who was no longer simply an al y, but an enemy-al y again. Who wanted to steal something that her whole town needed.

Elena hadn't asked to fal in love with Damon - but, oh God, what if she already had? What if she couldn't make the feelings stop? What could she do?

Silently, she sat crying, knowing that she could never say any of these things to Damon. He had a gift of farseeing and a level head in times of emotion, but not, as she knew al too wel , about this particular issue. If she told him what was in her heart, before she knew it, he would kidnap her. He would believe she had forgotten Stefan for good, as she had forgotten him briefly tonight.

"Stefan,"she whispered. "I'm sorry..."

She could never let Stefan know about it either - and Stefan was her heart.

"We've got to get rid of Shinichi and Misao fast,"Matt was saying moodily. "I mean, I real y need to get into condition soon or Kent State's gonna send me back stamped

'Reject.'"He and Meredith were sitting in Mrs. Flowers's warm kitchen nibbling on gingersnap cookies and watching her as she diligently worked at making beef carpaccio - the second of the two raw beef recipes in the antique cookbook she owned. "Stefan's doing so wel that in a couple of days we could even be tossing around the old pigskin,"he added, sarcasm edging his voice, "if everybody in town would just stop being crazy possessed. Oh, yeah, and if the cops would stop coming after me for assaulting Caroline."

At the mention of Stefan's name, Mrs. Flowers peeked into a cauldron that had been bubbling away on the stove for so long, and was now emitting such a fearsome odor that Matt didn't know who to pity more: the guy getting the huge pile of raw meat or the one who'd soon be trying to choke down whatever was in that cooking pot.

"So - assuming you're alive - you're going to be glad to leave Fel 's Church when the time comes?"Meredith asked him quietly.

Matt felt as if she had just slapped him. "You're joking, right?"he said, petting Saber with one tanned, bare foot. The huge beast was making a sort of growly purring sound. "I mean, before that, it's going to be great to throw a couple of passes to Stefan again - he's the best tight end I've ever seen - "

"Or ever wil see,"Meredith reminded him. "I don't think many vampires go in for footbal , Matt, so don't even think of suggesting that he and Elena fol ow you to Kent State.

Besides, I'l be right beside you, trying to get them to come to Harvard with me. And worse, we're both checkmated by Bonnie, because that junior col ege - whatever - is much closer to Fel 's Church and al the things around here they love."

"Al the things around here Elena loves,"Matt couldn't help correcting. "Al Stefan wants is to be with Elena."

"Now, now,"Mrs. Flowers said. "Let's just take things as they come, shal we, my dears? Ma ma says that we need to keep up our strength. She sounds worried to me - you know, she can't foresee everything that happens."

Matt nodded, but he had to swal ow hard before saying to Meredith, "So, you're eager to be off for the Ivied Wal s, I'm sure?"

"If it wasn't Harvard - if I could just put it off for a year and keep my scholarship..."Meredith's voice trailed off, but the yearning in it was unmistakable.

Mrs. Flowers patted Meredith's shoulder, and then said, "I wonder about dear Stefan and Elena. After al , with everyone thinking that she's dead, Elena can't live here and be seen."

"I think they've given up on the idea of going somewhere far, far away,"Matt said. "I'l bet that now they think of themselves as Fel 's Church's guardians. They'l get by somehow. Elena can shave her head."Matt was trying for a light tone, but the words sank like lead bal oons as they left his mouth.

"Mrs. Flowers was talking about college,"Meredith said in a tone just as heavy. "Are they going to be super-heroes at night and just veg out the rest of the time? If they want to go somewhere even next year, they need to be thinking about it now."

"Oh...wel , I guess there's Dalcrest."

"Where?"

"You know, that little campus in Dyer. It's smal but the footbal team there is real y - wel , I guess Stefan wouldn't care how good they are. But it's only half an hour away."

"Oh, that place. Wel , the sports may be fantastic but it's sure not an Ivy, much less Harvard."Meredith - unsentimental, enigmatic Meredith - sounded as if she had a stuffed-up nose.

"Yeah,"Matt said - and just for a second took Meredith's slim, cold hand and squeezed it. He was even more surprised when she linked her chil ed fingers up with his, holding his hand.

"Ma ma says whatever is fated to happen wil happen soon,"Mrs. Flowers said serenely. "The main thing, as I see it, is to save the dear, dear old town. As wel as the people."

"Of course it is,"Matt said. "We're going to do our best.

Thank God we have somebody in town who understands Japanese demons."

"Orime Saitou,"Mrs. Flowers said with a little smile. "Bless her for her amulets."

"Yeah, both of them,"Matt said, thinking of the grandmother and mother who shared the name. "I think we're going to need a lot of those amulets they make,"he added grimly.

Mrs. Flowers opened her mouth, but Meredith spoke, stil focused on thoughts of her own.

"You know, Stefan and Elena may not have given up on their far, far away thing after al ,"she said sadly. "And since at this point none of us may even live to make it to our own col eges..."She shrugged.

Matt was stil squeezing her hand when Bonnie dashed in the front door, keening. She tried to speed through the foyer toward the stairs, avoiding the kitchen, but Matt released Meredith and they both dashed up to block her. Instantly, everyone was in combat mode. Meredith grasped Bonnie's arm tightly. Mrs. Flowers came into the foyer, wiping her hands on a dish towel.

"Bonnie, what happened? Is it Shinichi and Misao? Are we being attacked?"Meredith asked quietly but with the intensity to cut through hysteria.

Something shot like a bolt of ice through Matt's body. No one real y knew where Shinichi and Misao were right now.

Perhaps in the thicket that was al that was left of the Old Woods - perhaps right here at the boardinghouse.

"Elena!"he shouted. "Oh, God, she and Damon are both out there! Are they hurt? Did Shinichi get them?"

Bonnie shut her eyes and shook her head.

"Bonnie, stay with me. Stay calm. Is it Shinichi? Is it the police?"Meredith asked. And to Matt: "You'd better check through the curtains there."But Bonnie was stil shaking her head.

Matt saw no police lights through the curtains. Nor did he see any sign of Shinichi and Misao attacking.

"If we're not being attacked,"Matt could hear Meredith saying to Bonnie, "then what is happening?"

Maddeningly, Bonnie just shook her head.

Matt and Meredith looked at each other over Bonnie's strawberry curls. "The star bal ,"Meredith said softly, just as Matt growled, "That bastard."

"Elena won't tel him anything but the story,"Meredith said.

And Matt nodded, trying to keep from his mind a picture of Damon casual y waving and Elena convulsing in agony.

"Maybe it's the possessed kids - the ones who walk around hurting themselves or acting insane,"Meredith said, with a side glance at Bonnie, and squeezing Matt's hand very hard.

Matt was bewildered and fumbled the cue. He said, "If that S.O.B. is trying to get the star bal , Bonnie wouldn't have run away. She's bravest when she's scared. And unless he's kil ed Elena she shouldn't be like this - "

Which left Meredith the grim job of saying, "Talk to us, Bonnie,"in her most comforting big-sister voice. "Something must have happened to get you in this state. Just breathe slowly and tel me what you saw."

And then, in a torrent, words began to spil from Bonnie's lips. "She - she was cal ing him darling,"Bonnie said, gripping Meredith's other hand with both of hers. "And there was blood smeared al around on her neck. And - oh, I dropped it! The bottle of Black Magic!"

"Oh, wel ,"Mrs. Flowers said gently. "No use crying over spil ed wine. We'l just have to - "

"No, you don't understand,"Bonnie gasped. "I heard them talking as I came up - I had to go slow because it's so hard not to trip. They were talking about the star bal ! At first I thought they were arguing, but - she had her arms around Damon's neck. And al that stuff about him not being a vampire anymore? She had blood al over her throat and he had it on his mouth! As soon as I got there he picked her up and threw her so I couldn't see but he wasn't fast enough.

She must have given the star bal to him! And she still was calling him 'darling'!"

Matt's eyes met Meredith's and they both flushed and looked away quickly. If Damon was a vampire again - if he had somehow gotten the star bal from its hiding place - and if Elena had been "taking food"to him just to give him blood...

Meredith was stil looking for a way out. "Bonnie - aren't you making too much of this? Anyway, what happened to Mrs.

Flowers's tray of food?"

"It was - al over the place. They'd just tossed it away! But he was was holding her with one hand under her knees and one under her neck, and her head was way back so that her hair was fal ing al over his shoulder!"

There was a silence as everyone tried to imagine various positions that might correspond to Bonnie's last words.

"You mean he was holding her up to steady her?"Meredith asked, her voice suddenly almost a whisper. Matt caught her meaning. Stefan was probably asleep upstairs, and Meredith wanted to keep it that way.

"No! They - they were looking at each other,"Bonnie cried.

"Looking. Into each other's eyes."

Mrs. Flowers spoke mildly. "But dear Bonnie - maybe Elena fel down and Damon had to just scoop her up."

Now Bonnie was speaking remorselessly and fluently. "Only if that's what's just happened to al those women on the covers of those romance books - what-d'you-cal -'ems?"

"Bodice-rippers?"Meredith suggested unhappily when no one else spoke.

"That's right! Bodice-rippers. That's how he was holding her!

I mean, we al knew that something was going on with the two of them in the Dark Dimension, but I thought al that would stop when we found Stefan. But it hasn't!"

Matt felt sick in the pit of his stomach. "You mean right now Elena and Damon are in there...kissing and stuff?"

"I don't know what I mean!"Bonnie exclaimed. "They were talking about the star ball! He was holding her like a bride!

And she wasn't fighting it!"

With a chil of horror, Matt could see trouble, and he could see that Meredith could see it too. Even worse, they were looking in two different directions. Matt was looking upstairs, at the staircase, where Stefan had just appeared. Meredith was looking at the kitchen door, one glance at which showed Matt that Damon was entering the foyer.

What was Damon doing in the kitchen? Matt wondered. We were there until a minute ago. And he was, what, eavesdropping from the den side?

Matt gave the situation his best shot, anyway. "Stefan!"he said in a hearty voice that made him wince inwardly. "You ready for a little athlete's-blood nightcap?"

A tiny part of Matt's mind thought: But just look at him. Only three days out of prison and he already looks like himself again. Three nights ago he was a skeleton. Today he just looks - thin. He's even handsome enough to make the girls al go crazy over him again.

Stefan smiled faintly at him, leaning on the banister. In his pale face, his eyes were remarkably alive, a vibrant green that made them actual y shine like jewels. He didn't look upset, and that made Matt's heart twist for him. How could they tel him?

"Elena is hurt,"Stefan said, and suddenly there was a pause  - an utter silence - as every person froze in place. "But Damon couldn't help her, so he brought her to Mrs. Flowers."

"True,"Damon said coldly from behind Matt. "I couldn't help her. If I were stil a vampire...but I'm not. Elena has burns, mainly. Al I could think of was an ice pack or some kind of poultice. Sorry to disprove al your clever theories."

"Oh my heavens!"cried Mrs. Flowers. "You mean dear Elena's waiting right now in the kitchen for a poultice?"She hurried out of the foyer toward the kitchen.

Stefan was stil coming down the stairs, cal ing, "Mrs.

Flowers, she scalded her arm and leg - she says because Damon didn't recognize her in the dark and jostled her. And that he thought it was an intruder in his room, and nicked her throat with a knife. The rest of us wil be in the parlor if you need help."

Bonnie cried, "Stefan, maybe she's innocent - but he isn't!

Even according to you, he burned her - that's torture - and he put a knife to her throat! Maybe he threatened her to make her tel us what we wanted to hear. Maybe she's stil a hostage right now and we don't know it!"

Stefan flushed. "It's so hard to explain,"he said very softly.

"And I keep trying to tune it out. But so far - some of my Powers have been growing...faster than my ability to control them. Most of the time I'm asleep, so it doesn't matter. I was asleep until a few minutes ago. But I woke up and Elena was tel ing Damon that Mrs. Flowers doesn't have the star bal .

She was upset, and injured - and I could feel where she'd been injured. And then suddenly I heard you, Bonnie. You're a very strong telepath. Then I heard the rest of you talking about Elena...."

Oh my God. How insane, Matt was thinking. His mouth was babbling some "Sure, sure, our mistake"gibberish, and his feet fol owed Meredith's to the parlor as if they were attached to her Italian sandals.

But the blood on Damon's mouth...

There had to be some mundane reason for the blood, too.

Stefan had said that Damon had nicked Elena with a knife.

As to how the blood got smeared around; wel , that actual y didn't sound like vampirism to Matt. He'd been a donor for Stefan at least a dozen times in the last days and the process was always very neat.

It was strange, too, he thought, that it had never occurred to any of them that, even from the top of the house, Stefan might be able to hear their thoughts directly.

Could he always do that? Matt thought, wondering at the same time whether Stefan was doing it right now.

"I try not to listen to thoughts, unless I'm invited or I have a good reason,"Stefan said. "But when anybody mentions Elena, especial y if they sound upset - that I can't help. It's like when you're in a noisy place and you can barely hear, but when somebody says your name you hear it instantly."

"It's cal ed the Cocktail Party Phenomenon,"Meredith said.

Her voice was quiet and remorseful as she was trying to calm the mortified Bonnie. Matt felt another tug at his heart.

"Wel , you can cal it whatever you want,"he said, "but what it means is that you can listen in on our minds any time you like."

"Not any time,"Stefan said, wincing. "When I was drinking animal blood I wasn't strong enough unless I real y worked at it. By the way, it may please my friends to know that I'm going back to hunting animals by tomorrow or the next day, depending on what Mrs. Flowers says,"he added with a significant glance around the room. His eyes lingered on Damon, who was lounging against the wal by the window, looking disheveled and very, very dangerous. "But that doesn't mean I'l forget who saved my life when I was dying.

For that I honor and thank them - and, wel , we'l have a party sometime."He blinked hard and turned away. The two girls melted at once - even Meredith sniffled.

Damon heaved an exaggerated sigh. "Animal blood? Oh, bril iant. Make yourself as weak as you can, little brother, even with three or four wil ing donors around you. Then, when it comes to the final showdown with Shinichi and Misao, you'l be about as effective as a piece of damp tissue paper."

Bonnie started. "Is there going to be a showdown...soon?"

"As soon as Shinichi and Misao can manage it,"Stefan said quietly. "I think they'd rather not give me time to get wel . The whole town is supposed to go up in fire and ashes, you know. But I can't keep asking you and Meredith and Matt - and Elena - to donate blood. You've already kept me alive the last few days, and I don't know how to repay you for it."

"Repay us by getting as strong as you can,"Meredith said in her quiet, level voice. "But, Stefan, can I ask a few questions?"

"Of course,"Stefan said, standing by a chair. He didn't sit himself until Meredith, with Bonnie almost in her lap, had sunk down on the love seat.

Then he said, "Fire."
发表于 2016-9-24 14:38 | 显示全部楼层
本帖最后由 慕然回首 于 2016-9-25 16:25 编辑

Chapter 4

"First," Meredith asked, "is Damon right? If you go back to animal blood, will you be seriously weakened?"

Stefan smiled. "I'll be the way I was when I first met you," he said. "Strong enough to do this." He bent toward the fire irons right below Damon's elbow, murmuring absently, "Scusilo per favore" and removed the poker.

Damon rolled his eyes. But when Stefan, in one fluid motion, bent the poker into a shape and then straightened it immediately back and replaced it, Matt could swear that there was ice-cold envy in Damon's usual poker-player expression.

"And that was iron, which is resistant to al eldritch forces," Meredith said evenly, as Stefan stepped away from the fireplace.

"But of course he's been imbibing from you three charming girls for the past few days - not to mention the nuclear powerhouse that dear Elena has become," Damon said, clapping his hands three times slowly. "Oh...Mutt.  Sono spiacente - I mean, I didn't mean to add you in with the girls.

No offense meant."

"None taken," Matt said through his teeth. If he could, just once, wipe that flashing, there-and-gone smile off Damon's face, he would die happy, he thought.

"But, the truth is that you have become a very...willing... donor for Dear Brother, haven't you?" Damon added, his lips twitching slightly, as if only the strictest control kept him from smiling.

Matt took two steps toward Damon. It was all he could do not to get right up in Damon's face, even though something in his brain always screamed suicide when he had thoughts like that.

"You're right," he said as evenly as possible. "I've been donating blood to Stefan just like the girls. He's my friend, and a couple of days ago he looked like he'd just gotten out of a concentration camp."

"Of course," Damon murmured, as if chastened, but then he went on in even softer tones, "My little brother has always been popular with both - well , with ladies present, I will say genders. Even with male kitsune; which of course is why I am in this mess."

Matt literal y saw red as if he were looking through a haze of blood at Damon.

"Speaking of which, what happened to Sage, Damon? He was a vampire. If we could find him, your problem would be over, right?" Meredith asked.

It was a good riposte, just as al Meredith's cool responses were. But Damon spoke with his fathomless black eyes fixed on Meredith's face. "The less you know and say about Sage, the better. I wouldn't speak of him lightly - he has friends in low places. But to answer your question: No, I would not let Sage make me into a vampire. It would just complicate things."

"Shinichi said good luck on finding out who he is," Meredith said, still calm. "Do you know what he meant by that?"

Damon shrugged fluidly. "What I know is my own business.

He spends time in the lowest and darkest of the Dark Dimensions."

Bonnie burst out, "Why did Sage go? Oh, Damon, did he go because of us? Why did he leave Talon and Saber to watch over us, then? And, oh - oh -  oh, Damon, I'm so sorry! So, so sorry! "She slid off the love seat and bent her head so that only strawberry curls were visible. With her small pale hands on the floor to brace her, she looked as if she were about to bow her head to the ground at his feet. "This is all my fault and everyone's angry - but it was just so horrible I had to believe the worst things I could think of!"

It was a tension-breaker. Nearly everyone laughed. It was so Bonnie, and so true of all of them. So human.

Matt wanted to pick her up and put her back on the love seat.

Meredith was always the best medicine for Bonnie. But as Matt found himself reaching for her, he was confounded by two other pairs of hands doing the same thing. One was Meredith's own long, slender olive-skinned hands, and the other pair were male, with even longer tapering fingers.

Matt's hand clenched into a fist. Let Meredith take her, he thought, and his clumsy fist - somehow - got in the way of Damon's reaching fingers. Meredith lifted Bonnie easily and sat back on the love seat. Damon lifted his dark eyes to Matt's and Matt saw perfect comprehension there.

"You real y ought to forgive her, Damon," Meredith, ever the impartial referee, said bluntly. "I don't think she'll be able to sleep tonight otherwise."

Damon shrugged, cold as an iceberg. "Maybe...someday."

Matt could feel his muscles clench. What kind of bastard said that to little Bonnie? Because of course she was listening.

"Damn you," Matt said under his breath.

"Excuse me?" Damon's voice was no longer languid and falsely polite, but suddenly a whiplash.

"You heard me," Matt growled. "And if you didn't, maybe we'd better go outside so I can say it louder," he added, soaring on the wings of bravado.

He left behind a wail of "No!" from Bonnie, and a gentle

"Sh," from Meredith. Stefan said, "Both of you - "in a commanding voice, but then he faltered and coughed, which both Matt and Damon took as a chance to sprint for the door.

It was still very warm outside on the boardinghouse porch. "Is this the killing ground?" Damon asked lazily when they had descended the steps and stood beside the gravel path.

"It's fine by me," Matt said briefly, knowing in his bones that Damon would fight dirty.

"Yes, this is definitely close enough," Damon said, flashing an unnecessarily brilliant smile in Matt's direction. "You can yell for help while little brother is in the parlor, and he'll have plenty of time to rescue you. And now we're going to solve the problems of what you're doing in my business and why you are - "

Matt punched him in the nose.

He had no idea what Damon was trying to do. If you asked a guy to step outside, then you asked him to step outside.

Then you went for the guy. You didn't stand around talking. If you tried that, you'd be stuck with the label of "coward" or worse. Damon didn't seem like the type who needed to be told that.

But then, Damon had always been able to repel any attack on him while he got as many insults as he liked...before.

Before, he'd have just broken every bone in my hand and gone on baiting me, Matt guessed. But now...I'm almost as fast as him, and he simply got taken by surprise.

Matt flexed his hand gingerly. It always hurt, of course, but if Meredith could do it to Caroline, then he could do it to...

Damon?

Damn, did I just take down Damon?

Run, Honeycutt, he seemed to hear the voice of his old coach telling him. Run. Get out of town. Change your name.

Tried that. Didn't work. Never even got a T-shirt, Matt thought sourly.

But Damon wasn't leaping up like a flaming demon from hell , with the eyes of a dragon and the strength of a raging bull to annihilate Matt. It looked and sounded more as if he were shocked and indignant from his disheveled hair to his earth-stained boots.

"You...ignorant...childish..."He lapsed into Italian.

"Look," Matt said. "I'm here to fight, okay? And the smartest guy I ever knew said: 'If you're gonna fight, don't talk. If you're gonna talk, don't fight.'"

Damon tried to snarl as he knelt up and pulled spiny teasel and prickly sida out of his distressed black jeans. But the snarl didn't come out quite right. Maybe it was the new shape of his canines. Maybe it just didn't have enough conviction behind it. Matt had seen enough defeated guys to know that this fight was over. A strange exaltation came over him. He was going to keep all his limbs and organs! It was a precious, precious moment.

Al right, then, should I offer him a hand? Matt wondered, to be answered instantaneously by, Sure, if you'd offer a hand to a temporarily stunned crocodile. What do you really need ten whole fingers for, anyway?

Oh, well , he thought, turning to go back into the front door. As long as he lived - which, conceded, might not be too long - he would remember this moment.

As he went in, he bumped into Bonnie, who was rushing out.

"Oh, Matt, oh, Matt," she cried. She was looking wildly around. "Did you hurt him? Did he hurt you?"

Matt smacked his fist into the palm of his hand, once. "He's still sitting down back there," he added helpful y.

"Oh, no!" Bonnie gasped, and she hurried out the door.

Okay. Less spectacular of a night. But still a pretty good one.

"They did what?" Elena asked Stefan. Cold poultices anchored by tight bandages were wrapped around her arm, hand, and thigh - Mrs. Flowers had cut her jeans off short - and Mrs. Flowers was wiping away the dried blood on her neck with herbs.

Her heart was pounding with more than pain. Even she hadn't realized that Stefan was tuned in to the entire house when he was awake. Al she could do was to shakily thank God that he'd been asleep while she and Damon - no! She had to stop thinking about it, and right now!

"They went outside to fight," Stefan said. "It's idiotic, of course. But it's a matter of honor, too. I can't interfere."

"Well , I can - if you're done, Mrs. Flowers."

"Yes, dear Elena," Mrs. Flowers said, winding a bandage around Elena's throat. "Now you shouldn't get tetanus."

Elena stopped in mid-motion. "I thought you got tetanus from rusty blades," she said. "Da - this one looked brand-new."

"Tetanus comes from dirty blades, my dear," Mrs. Flowers corrected her. "But this" - she held up a bottle - "is Grand mama's own personal recipe that has kept many a wound disease-free down the cen - down the years."

"Wow," Elena said. "I never even heard of Grand mama before. Was she a - healer?"

"Oh, yes," Mrs. Flowers said earnestly. "She was actual y accused of being a witch. But at her trial they could prove nothing. Her accusers seemed not even to be capable of coherent speech."

Elena looked at Stefan only to find that he was looking at her.

Matt was in danger of being dragged off to a kangaroo court - for allegedly assaulting Caroline Forbes while under the influence of some unknown and terrible drug. Anything to do with courts was interesting to both of them. But looking at Stefan's concerned face, Elena decided not to pursue the subject. She squeezed his hand. "We have to go now - but let's talk about Grand mama later. I think she sounds fascinating."

"I just remember her as a crotchety old recluse, who didn't suffer fools gladly and thought just about everyone was a fool," Mrs. Flowers said. "I suppose I was going down the same path until you children came and made me sit up and take notice. Thank you."

"We're the ones who should thank you," Elena began, hugging the old woman, feeling her heart stop pounding.

Stefan was looking at her with open love. It was all going to be all right - for her.

I'm worried about Matt, she thought to Stefan, testing the waters more vigorously. Damon's still so fast - and you know he doesn't like Matt a bit.

I think, Stefan returned with a wry smile, that that is a rather stunning understatement. But I also think you shouldn't worry until we see who comes back injured.

Elena eyed that smile, and thought for a moment about impulsive, athletic Matt. After a moment, she smiled back.

She was feeling both guilty and protective - and safe. Stefan always made her feel safe. And right now, she wanted to spoil him.

In the front yard, Bonnie was abasing herself. She couldn't help thinking, even now, about how handsome Damon looked, how wild and dark and ferocious and gorgeous. She couldn't help thinking about the times he'd smiled at her, laughed at her, come to save her at her urgent call . She had honestly thought that someday...But now she felt as if her heart were breaking in two.

"I just want to bite my tongue out," she said. "I should never have assumed anything from what I saw."

"How could you possibly have known that I wasn't stealing Elena away from Stefan?" Damon said wearily. "It's just the kind of thing I'd do."

"No, it isn't! You did so much to free Stefan from prison - you always faced the most danger yourself - and you kept us all from being hurt. You did all that for other people - "

Suddenly Bonnie's upper arms were being held by hands that were so strong that her mind was flooded with cliches. A grasp of iron. Strong as steel bands. An inescapable grip.

And a voice like an icy torrent was coming at her.

"You don't know anything about me, or what I want, or what I do. For all you know I could be plotting right now. So don't ever let me hear you talk again about such things, or imagine that I won't kill you if you get in my way," Damon said.

He got up and left Bonnie sitting there, staring after him. And she'd been wrong. She wasn't out of tears at all .
发表于 2016-9-24 14:49 | 显示全部楼层
本帖最后由 慕然回首 于 2016-9-26 11:40 编辑

Chapter 5

"I thought you wanted to get out so we could talk to Damon,"Stefan said, still hand in hand with Elena as she made a sharp right turn onto the rickety stairway that led to the second-floor rooms and, above that, to Stefan's attic.

"Well , unless he kills Matt and runs I don't see what's to keep us from talking to him tomorrow."Elena glanced back at Stefan and dimpled. "I took your advice and thought a little about the two of them. Matt's a pretty tough quarterback and they're both only human now, right? Anyway, it's time for your dinner."

"Dinner?"Stefan's canine teeth responded automaticaly - embarrassingly quickly - to the word. He real y needed to have a word with Damon later and make sure Damon understood his place as a guest at the boardinghouse - nothing more - but it was true, he could do that tomorrow. It might even be more effective tomorrow, when Damon's own pent-up rage was spent.

He pressed his tongue against his fangs, trying to force them back down, but the small stimulation caused them to sharpen, nicking his lip. Now they were aching pleasantly. Al in response to a single word: dinner.

Elena threw him a teasing glance over her shoulder and giggled. She was one of those lucky females with a beautiful laugh. But this was a clearly mischievous giggle, straight from her wicked, scheming childhood. It made Stefan want to tickle her to hear more; it made him want to laugh with her; it made him want to grab her and demand to know the joke.

Instead he said, "What's up, love?"

"Someone has sharp teeth,"she responded innocently, and giggled again. He lost himself in admiration for a second and also suddenly lost hold of her hand. Laughing like a musical cascade of white water over rock, she ran up the stairs ahead of him, both to tease and to show him what good shape she was in, he thought. If she had stumbled, or faltered, she knew he would decide that her donation of blood was harming her.

So far it didn't seem to be damaging any of his friends, or he would have insisted on a rest for that person. But even Bonnie, as delicate as a dragonfly, hadn't seemed to be the worse for it.

Elena raced up the stairs knowing that Stefan was smiling behind her, and there was no shadow of mistrust in his mind.

She didn't deserve it, but that only made her more anxious to please him.

"Have you had your dinner?"Stefan asked as they reached his room.

"Long ago; roast beef - cooked."She smiled.

"What did Damon say when he final y realized it was you and looked at the food you'd brought?"

Elena made herself giggle again. It was al right to have tears in her eyes; her burns and cuts hurt and the episode with Damon justified any amount of weeping.

"He called it bloody hamburger. It was steak tartar. But, Stefan, I don't want to talk about him now."

"No, of course you don't, love."Stefan was immediately contrite. And he was trying so hard not to seem eager to feed - but he couldn't even control his canines.

And Elena was in no mood to dal y either. She perched on the bed, careful y unwinding the bandage Mrs. Flowers had just wound on it. Stefan suddenly looked troubled.

Love - He stopped abruptly.

What? Elena finished with the bandage, studying Stefan's face.

Well - shall I take it out of your arm instead? You're already in pain and I don't want to fool with Mrs. Flowers's anti-tetanus treatment.

There's still plenty of room around it, Elena said cheerful y.

But a bite on top of those cuts...He stopped again.

Elena looked at him. She knew her Stefan. There was something he wanted to say. Tell me, she pressed him.

Stefan final y met her eyes directly, and then put his mouth close to her ear. "I can heal the cuts,"he whispered. "But - it would mean opening them again so they can bleed. That will hurt."

"And it might poison you!"Elena said sharply. "Don't you see? Mrs. Flowers put heaven knows what on them - "

She could feel his laughter, which sent warm tingles down her spine. "You can't kill a vampire so easily,"he said. "We only die if you stake us through the heart. But I don't want to hurt you - even to help you. I could Influence you not to feel anything - "

Once again, Elena cut him off. "No! No, I don't mind if it hurts.

As long as you get as much blood as you need."

Stefan respected Elena enough to know that he shouldn't ask the same question twice. And he could hardly restrain himself any longer. He watched her lie down and then stretched out beside her, bending to get to the green-stained cuts. He licked gently, at first rather tentatively, at the wounds, and then ran a satiny tongue over them. He had no idea how the process worked or what chemicals he was stroking over Elena's injuries. It was as automatic as breathing was to humans. But after a minute, he chuckled softly.

What? What? Elena demanded, smiling herself as his breath tickled.

Your blood's laced with lemon balm, Stefan replied.

Grand mama's healing recipe has lemon balm and alcohol in it! Lemon balm wine!

Is that good or bad? Elena asked uncertainly.

It's fine - for a change. But I still like your blood straight the best. Does it hurt too much?

Elena could feel herself flush. Damon had healed her cheek this way, back in the Dark Dimension, when Elena had, with her own body, protected a bleeding slave from a whiplash.

She knew Stefan knew the story, and must know, each time he saw her, that the almost-invisible white line on her cheekbone had been stroked just this gently into healing.

Compared to that, these scratches are nothing, she sent.

But a sudden chill went through her.

Stefan! I never begged your pardon for protecting Ulma at the risk of not being able to save you. Or, worse - for dancing while you were starving - for keeping up the society pretense so we could get the Twin Fox key -

Do you think I care about that? Stefan's voice was mock-angry as he gently sealed one cut at her throat. You did what you had to in order to track me - find me - save me - after I'd left you alone here. Don't you think I understand? I didn't deserve the saving -

Now Elena felt a small sob choke her. Never say that!

Never! And I suppose - I suppose I knew you would forgive me - or I would have felt every jewel I wore burning like a brand. We had to chase you down like a fox with hounds - and we were so scared that a single misstep could mean you'd be hanged...or we would be.

Stefan was holding her tightly now. How can I make you understand? he asked. You gave up everything - even your freedom - for me. You became slaves. You - you - were "Disciplined"...

Elena asked wildly, How do you know that? Who told you?

You told me, beloved. In your sleep - in your dreams.

But, Stefan - Damon took the pain for me. Did you know that?

Stefan was silent a moment, then responded, I...see. I didn't know that before.

Scenes strewn from the Dark Dimension bubbled in Elena's mind. That city of tarnished baubles - of illusive glitter, where a whiplash that spread blood across a wall was as much celebrated as a handful of rubies strewn on the sidewalk....

Love, don't think about it. You followed me, and you rescued me, and now we're here together, Stefan said. The last cut closed, he lay his cheek on hers. That's all I care about. You and I - together.

Elena was almost dizzily glad to be forgiven - but there was something inside her - something that had grown and grown and grown during the weeks she was in the Dark Dimension.

A feeling for Damon that was not just the result of her need for his help. A feeling that Elena had thought Stefan understood. A feeling that might even change the relations between the three of them: her, Stefan, and Damon. But now Stefan seemed to assume that everything would return to the way it was before his kidnapping.

Oh, well , why fret about tomorrow when tonight was enough to make her weep with joy?

This was the best feeling in the world, the knowledge that she and Stefan were together, and she made Stefan promise her over and over that he would not ever leave her on another quest again, no matter how briefly, no matter what the cause.

By now, Elena could not even focus on what she had been worried about before. She and Stefan had always found heaven in each other's arms. They were meant to be together forever. Nothing else mattered now that she was home.

"Home"was where she and Stefan were together.
发表于 2016-9-24 14:59 | 显示全部楼层
本帖最后由 慕然回首 于 2016-9-26 11:37 编辑

Chapter 6

Bonnie couldn't get to sleep after Damon's words to her.

She wanted to talk to Meredith, but there was an unseeing, unhearing lump in Meredith's bed.

The only thing she could think of was to go down to the kitchen and huddle up with a cup of cocoa in the den, alone with her misery. Bonnie wasn't good at being alone with herself.

But as it turned out, when she got to the bottom floor, she didn't head for the kitchen after al . She went straight to the den. Everything was dark and strange-looking in the silent dimness. Turning on one light would just make everything else even darker. But she managed, with shaking fingers, to twist the switch of the standing lamp beside the couch. Now if only she could find a book or something...

She was holding on to her pillow as if it were a teddy bear, when Damon's voice beside her said, "Poor little redbird.

You shouldn't be up so late, you know."

Bonnie started and bit her lip.

"I hope you're not still hurting,"she said coldly, very much on her dignity, which she suspected was not very convincing.

But what was she supposed to do?

The truth was that Bonnie had absolutely no chance of winning a duel of wits with Damon - and she knew it.

Damon wanted to say, "Hurting? To a vampire, a human fleabite like that was..."

But unfortunately he was a human too. And it did hurt.

Not for long, he promised himself, looking at Bonnie.

"I thought you never wanted to see me again,"she said, chin trembling. It almost seemed too cruel to make use of a vulnerable little redbird. But what choice did he have?

I'll make it up to her somehow, someday - I swear it, he thought. And at least I can make it pleasant now.

"That wasn't what I said,"he replied, hoping that Bonnie wouldn't remember exactly what he had said. If he could just Influence the trembling woman-child before him...but he couldn't. He was a human now.

"You told me you would kill me."

"Look, I'd just been knocked down by a human. I don't suppose you know what that means, but it hasn't happened to me since I was twelve years old, and still an original human boy."

Bonnie's chin kept trembling, but the tears had stopped. You are bravest when you're scared, Damon thought.

"I'm more worried about the others,"he said.

"Others?"Bonnie blinked.

"In five hundred years of life, one tends to make a remarkable amount of enemies. I don't know; maybe it's just me. Or maybe it's the simple little fact of being a vampire."

"Oh. Oh, no!"Bonnie cried.

"What does it matter, little redbird? Long or short, life seems al too brief."

"But - Damon - "

"Don't fret, kitten. Have one of Nature's remedies."Damon pulled out of his breast pocket a small flask that smelled unquestionably of Black Magic.

"Oh - you saved it! How clever of you!"

"Try a taste? Ladies - strike that - young women first."

"Oh, I don't know. I used to get awful y silly on that."

"The world is silly. Life is silly. Especial y when you've been doomed six times before breakfast." Damon opened the flask.

"Oh, all right!" Clearly thrilled by the notion of "drinking with Damon," Bonnie took a very dainty sip.

Damon choked to cover a laugh. "You'd better take bigger swigs, redbird. Or it's going to take al night before I get a turn."

Bonnie took a deep breath, and then a deep draft. After about three of those, Damon decided she was ready.

Bonnie's giggles were nonstop now. "I think...Do I think I've had enough now?"

"What colors do you see out here?"

"Pink? Violet? Is that right? Isn't it nighttime?"

"Well , perhaps the Northern Lights are paying us a visit. But you're right, I should get you into bed."

"Oh, no! Oh, yes! Oh, no! Nonono yes!"

"Shh."

"SHHHHHH!"

Terrific, Damon thought; I've overdone it.

"I meant, get you into a bed," he said firmly. "Just you. Here, I'll walk you to the first-floor bedroom."

"Because I might fall on the stairs?"

"You might say that. And this bedroom is much nicer than the one you share with Meredith. Now you just go to sleep and don't tel anyone about our rendezvous."

"Not even Elena?"

"Not even anybody. Or I might get angry at you."

"Oh, no! I won't, Damon: I swear on your life!"

"That's - pretty accurate," Damon said. "Good night."

Moonlight cocooned the house. Fog misted the moonlight. A slender, hooded dark figure took advantage of shadows so skill fully that it would have passed unnoticed even if someone had been watching out for it - and no one was.
发表于 2016-9-24 15:09 | 显示全部楼层
本帖最后由 慕然回首 于 2016-9-25 16:11 编辑

Chapter 7

Bonnie was in her new first-floor bedroom, and was feeling very bewildered. Black Magic always made her feel giggly, and then very sleepy, but somehow tonight her body refused to sleep. Her head hurt.

She was just about to turn the bedside light on, when a familiar voice said, "How about some tea for your headache?"

"Damon?"

"I made some from Mrs. Flowers's herbs and I decided to make you a cup as well . Aren't you the lucky girl?" If Bonnie had been listening closely, she might have heard something almost like self-loathing behind the light words - but she wasn't.

"Yes!" Bonnie said, meaning it. Most of Mrs. Flowers's teas smelled and tasted good. This one was especially nice, but grainy on her tongue.

And not only was the tea good, but Damon stayed to talk to her while she drank it all . That was sweet of him.

Strangely, this tea made her feel not exactly sleepy, but as if she could only concentrate on one thing at a time. Damon swam into her field of view. "Feeling more relaxed?" he asked.

"Yes, thank you." Weirder and weirder. Even her voice sounded slow and dragging.

"I wanted to make sure nobody was too hard on you for the silly mistake about Elena," he explained.

"They weren't, really," she said. "Actual y everybody was more interested in seeing you and Matt fight - "Bonnie put a hand over her mouth.  "Oh, no! I didn't mean to say that! I'm so sorry!"

"It's all right. It should heal by tomorrow."

Bonnie couldn't imagine why anyone would be so afraid of Damon, who was so nice as to pick up her mug of tea and say he'd put it in the sink. That was good because she was feeling as if she couldn't get up to save her life. That cozy.

That comfy.

"Bonnie, can I ask you just one little thing?" Damon paused. "I can't tell you why, but...I have to find out where Misao's star ball is kept," he said earnestly.

"Oh...that," Bonnie said fuzzily. She giggled.

"Yes, that. And I am truly sorry to ask you, because you're so very young and innocent...but I know you'll tell me the truth."

After this praise and comfort, Bonnie felt she could fly. "It's been in the same place all the time," she said with sleepy disgust. "They tried to make me think they'd moved it...but when I saw him chained and going down to the root cellar I knew they hadn't really." In the dark, there was a short shake of curls and then a yawn. "If they were real y going to move it...they should have sent me away or something."

"Well , maybe they were concerned for your life."

"Wha'?..."Bonnie yawned again, not sure what he meant. "I mean, an old, old safe with a combination? I told them...that those old safes...could be...really be...easy to... to..."Bonnie let out a sound like a sigh and her voice stopped.

"I'm glad we had this talk," Damon murmured in the silence.

There was no answer from the bed.

Pulling Bonnie's sheet up as high as it would go, he let it drift down. It covered most of her face. "Requiescat in pace," Damon said softly. Then he left her room, not forgetting to take the mug.

Now... "him chained and going down to the root cellar."

Damon mused as he washed out the mug careful y and put it back in the cupboard. The line sounded strange but he had almost all the links now, and it was actual y simple. Al he needed were twelve more of Mrs. Flowers's sleeping cachets and two plates heaped with raw beef. He had all the ingredients...but he'd never heard of a root cellar.

Shortly thereafter, he opened the door to the basement.

Nope. Didn't match the criteria for "root cellar" he'd looked up on his mobile. Irritated and knowing that any moment someone was likely to wander downstairs for something, Damon turned around in frustration. There was an elaborately carved wooden panel across from the basement, but nothing else.

Curse it, he would not be thwarted at this point. He would have his life as a vampire back, or he didn't want any life at all !

To punctuate the sentiment, he slammed a fist against the wooden panel in front of him.

The knock sounded hollow.

Immediately al frustration vanished. Damon examined the panel very careful y. Yes, there were hinges at the very edge, where no sane person would expect them. It wasn't a panel but a door - undoubtedly to the root cellar where the star ball was.

It didn't take long for his sensitive fingers - even his human fingers were more sensitive than most - to find a place that clicked - and then the whole door swung open. He could see the stairs. He tucked his parcel under one arm and descended.

By the ill umination of the small flashlight he'd taken from the storage room, the root cellar was just as described: a damp, earthy room to store fruit and vegetables before refrigerators had been invented. And the safe was just as Bonnie had said: an ancient, rusty combination safe, which any whiz cracker could have opened in about sixty seconds. It would take Damon about six minutes, with his stethoscope (he'd heard once that you could find anything in the boardinghouse if you looked hard enough and it seemed to be true) and every atom of his being concentrating on hearing the tumblers quietly click.

First, however, there was the Beast to conquer. Saber the black hell hound had unfolded, awake and alert from the moment the secret door had opened. Undoubtedly, they had used Damon's clothes to teach him to howl madly at his scent.

But Damon had his own knowledge of herbs and had ransacked Mrs. Flowers's kitchen to find a handful of witch hazel, a small amount of strawberry wine, aniseed, some peppermint oil, and a few other essential oils she had in stock, sweet and sharp. Mixed, this created a pungent lotion, which he had gingerly applied to himself. The concoction formed for Saber an impossible tangle of strong smells. The only thing the now-sitting dog knew was that it was surely not Damon sitting on the steps and tossing him hearty balls of hamburger and delicate strips of filet mignon - each of which he gulped down whole. Damon watched with interest as the animal devoured the mix of sleeping powder and raw meat, tail whisking on the floor.

Ten minutes later Saber the hell hound was sprawled out happily unconscious.

Six minutes after that, Damon was opening an iron door.

One second later he was pulling a pillowcase out of Mrs.

Flowers's antique safe.

In the glow of the flashlight he found that he did indeed have a star ball , but that it was just a little more than half full .

Now what did that mean? There was a very neat hole drilled and corked at the top so that not one precious droplet more need be wasted.

But who had used the rest of the fluid - and why? Damon himself had seen the star ball brimful of opalescent, shimmering liquid just days ago.

Somehow between that time and now someone had used about a hundred thousand individuals' life energy.

Had the others tried to do some remarkable deed with it and failed, at the cost of burning so much Power? Stefan was too kind to have used so much, Damon was certain of that. But...

Sage.

With an Imperial Summons in his hand, Sage was likely to do anything. So, sometime after the sphere had been brought into the boardinghouse, Sage had poured out almost exactly half the life force from the star ball and then, undoubtedly, left the rest behind for Mutt or someone to cork.

And such a colossal amount of Power could only have been used for...opening the Gate to the Dark Dimensions.

Very slowly, Damon let out his breath and smiled. There were only a few ways to get into the Dark Dimensions, and as a human he obviously could not drive to Arizona and pass through a public Gateway as he had the first time with the girls. But now he had something even better. A star ball to open his own private Gateway. He knew of no other way to cross, unless one was lucky enough to hold one of the almost-mythical Master Keys that al owed one to roam the dimensions at will .

Doubtless, someday in the future, in some nook, Mrs.

Flowers would find another thank-you note: this time along with something that was literal y invaluable - something exquisite and priceless and probably from a dimension quite far from Earth. That was how Sage operated.

All was quiet above. The humans were relying on their animal companions to keep them safe. Damon gave the root cellar a single look around and saw nothing more than a dim room completely empty except for the safe, which he now closed.

Dumping his own paraphernalia into the pillowcase, he patted Saber, who was gently snoring, and turned toward the steps.

That was when he saw that a figure was standing in the doorway. The figure then stepped smoothly behind the door, but Damon had seen enough.

In one hand the figure had been holding a fighting stave almost as tall as it was.

Which meant that it was a hunter-slayer. Of vampires.

Damon had met several hunter-slayers - briefly - in his time.

They were, in his consideration, bigoted, unreasonable, and even more stupid than the average human, because they'd usual y been brought up on legends of vampires with fangs like tusks who ripped out the throats of their victims and killed them. Damon would be the first to admit that there were some vampires like that, but most were more restrained. Vampire hunters usual y worked in groups, but Damon had a hunch that this one would be alone.

He now ascended the steps slowly. He was fairly certain of the identity of this hunter-slayer, but if he was wrong he was going to have to dodge a stave launched straight down at him like a javelin. No problem - if he were still a vampire.

Slightly more difficult, unarmed as he was and at a severe tactical disadvantage.

He reached the top of the stairs unharmed. This was real y the most dangerous part of climbing steps, for a weapon of just the right length could send him crashing all the way back down. Of course a vampire wouldn't be permanently injured by that, but - again - he was no longer a vampire.

But the person in the kitchen al owed him to climb all the way out of the root cellar unhindered.

A killer with honor. How sweet.

He turned slowly to measure up his vampire hunter. He was immediately impressed.

It wasn't the obvious strength that al owed the hunter to be able to whip off a figure eight with the fighting stave that impressed him. It was the weapon itself. Perfectly balanced, it was meant to be held in the middle, and the designs picked out in jewels around the handhold showed that its creator had had excellent taste. The ends showed that he or she had a sense of humor as well . The two ends of the stave were made of ironwood for strength - but they were also decorated. In shape, they were made to resemble one of humankind's oldest weapons, the flint-tipped spear. But there were tiny spikes extruding from each of these "spear flakes," set firmly into the ironwood. These tiny spikes were of different materials: silver for werewolves, wood for vampires, white ash for Old Ones, iron for al eldritch creatures, and a few that Damon couldn't quite work out.

"They're refillable," the hunter-slayer explained. "Hypodermic needles inject on impact. And of course different poisons for different species - quick and simple for humans, wolfsbane for those naughty puppies, and so on. It real y is a jewel of a weapon. I wish I had found it before we met Klaus."

Then she seemed to shake herself back into reality.

"So, Damon, what's it going to be?" asked Meredith.
发表于 2016-9-24 15:11 | 显示全部楼层
本帖最后由 慕然回首 于 2016-9-25 15:59 编辑


Chapter 8

Damon nodded thoughtful y, glancing back and forth between the fighting stave and the pillowcase in his hand.

Hadn't he suspected something like this for a long time?

Subconsciously? After all , there had been that attack on the grandfather, which had failed to either kill him or to erase his memory completely. Damon's imagination could fil in the rest: her parents seeing no reason to blight their tiny daughter's life with this gruesome business - a whole new change of scenery - and then giving up the practice in the provincial, protected little town of Fell's Church.

If they had only known.

Oh, doubtless they had made sure that Meredith had had self-defense and various martial arts training since she was a child, while swearing her to absolute secrecy - even from her best friends.

Well , now, Damon thought. The first of Shinichi's riddles was already solved. "One of you has a lifetime secret kept from everyone." I always knew there was something about this girl...and this is it. I'd bet my life that she's a black belt.

There had been a long silence. Now Damon broke it.

Your ancestors were hunters too? he asked, as if she were telepathic. He waited a moment - still silence. Okay - no telepathy. That was good. He nodded at the magnificent stave. "That was certainly made for a lord or lady."

Meredith wasn't stupid. She spoke without glancing away from his eyes. She was ready, at any instant, to go into killing mode. "We're just ordinary folk, trying to get a job done so innocent humans will be safer."

"By killing the odd vampire or two."

"Well , so far in recorded history saying 'Naughty, naughty, Mama spank' has failed to convert a single vampire to vegetarianism."

Damon had to laugh. "Pity you weren't born early enough to convert Stefan. He could have been your grand triumph."

"You think that's funny. But we do have converts."

"Yes. People will say anything while you're holding a pointed stick at them."

"People who feel that it's wrong to Influence other people into believing they're getting something for nothing."

"That's it! Meredith! Let me Influence you!"

This time it was Meredith who laughed.

"No, I'm serious! When I'm a vampire again, let me Influence you not to be so much afraid of a bite. I swear I won't take more than a teaspoon. But that would give me time to show you - "

"A nice big house of candy that never existed? A relative who died ten years ago and who would have abhorred the thought of you taking my memory of her and using it as a lure? A dream of ending world hunger that doesn't put food into one mouth?"

This girl, thought Damon, is dangerous. It's like a Counter-Influence that they've taught to their members. Wanting her to see that vampires, or ex-vampires, or Once and Future Vampires had some good qualities - like courage - he let go of the pillowcase and grasped the end of the fighting stave with both hands.

Meredith raised an eyebrow. "Did I not just recently tell you that a number of those spikes you've just driven into your flesh are poisonous? Or were you not listening?"

She had automatically grabbed the stave as well , above the dangerous zone.

"You told me," he said inscrutably - he hoped.

"I particularly said 'poisonous to humans as well as to werewolves and other things' - recall it?"

"You told me that, too. But I'd rather die than live as a human, so: Let the games begin." And with that, Damon began to push the two-headed stave toward Meredith's heart.

She immediately clamped down on the stave as well , pushing it back toward him. But he had three advantages, as they both soon realized. He was slightly taller and more strongly muscled even than lithe, athletic Meredith; he had a longer reach than hers; and he had taken up a much more aggressive position. Even though he could feel poisoned little spikes biting into his palms, he thrust forward and up until the killing point was once again near her heart. Meredith pushed back with an amazing amount of strength and then suddenly, somehow, they were even again.

Damon glanced up to see how that had happened, and saw, to his shock, that she also had grasped the stave in the killing zone. Now her hands were dripping blood onto the floor just as his were.

"Meredith!"

"What? I take my job seriously."

Despite her gambit, he was stronger. Inch by inch, he forced his torn palms to hang on, his arms to exert pressure. And inch by inch she was forced backward, refusing to quit - until there was no more room to back up.

And there they stood, the entire length of the stave between them, and the refrigerator flat against Meredith's back.

Al Damon could think of was Elena. If he somehow survived this - and Meredith did not - then what would those malachite eyes say to him? How would he live with what they said?

And then, with infuriating timing, like a chess player knocking over her own king, Meredith let go of the spear, conceding Damon's superior strength.

After which, seeming to have no fear of turning her back on him, she took a jar full of salve from a kitchen cupboard, scooped out a dollop of the contents, and motioned for Damon to hold out his hands. He frowned. He'd never heard of a poison that got into the blood that could be cured by external measures.

"I didn't put real poison in the human needles," she said calmly. "But your palms will be torn and this is an excellent remedy. It's ancient, passed down for generations."

"How kind of you to share," - at his most sharply ironic.

"And now what are we going to do? Start all over again?" he added as Meredith calmly began to rub salve into her own hands.

"No. Hunter-slayers have a code, you know. You won the sphere. I assume you're planning to do what Sage seems to have done. Open the Gate to the Dark Dimension."

"Open the Gate to the Dark Dimensions," he corrected.

"Probably I should have mentioned - there's more than one.

But all I want is to become a vampire again. And we can talk as we go, since I see we're both wearing our cat burglar costumes."

Meredith was dressed much as he was, in black jeans and a lightweight black sweater. With her long shining dark hair she looked unexpectedly beautiful. Damon, who had considered running her through with the stave, just as his obligation to vampire-kind, now found himself wavering. If she gave him no trouble on his way to the Gate, he would let her go, he decided. He was feeling magnanimous - for the first time he had faced down and conquered the fearsome Meredith, and besides, she had a code as he did. He felt a sort of kinship with her.

With ironic gallantry, he waved her on before him, retaining possession of the pillowcase and the fighting stave himself.

As Damon quietly shut the front door he saw that dawn was about to break. Perfect timing. The stave caught the first rays of light. "I have a question for you,"he said to Meredith's long, silky dark hair. "You said that you didn't find this gorgeous stave until after Klaus - that wicked Old One - was dead. But if you're from a hunter-slayer family you might have been more help in getting him dispatched. Like mentioning that only white ash could kil him."

"It was because my parents didn't actively pursue the family business - they didn't know. They were both from hunter families, of course - you have to be, to keep it out of the tabloids and - "

" - police files - "

"Do you want me to talk, or can you do your stand-up routine alone?"

"Point taken" - hefting the extremely pointed stave. "I'll listen."

"But even though they chose not to be active, they knew that a vampire or werewolf might decide to pick on their daughter if they found out her identity. So during school, I took

'harpsichord lessons ' and 'riding lessons'one day a week each - have done since I was three. I'm a Black Belt Shihan, and a Taekwondo Saseung. I might start Dragon Kung Fu - "

"Point taken once more. But then how exactly did you find that gorgeous killing stick?"

"After Klaus was dead, while Stefan was babysitting Elena, suddenly Grandpa started talking - just single words - but it made me go look in our attic. I found this."

"So you really don't know how to use it?"

"I'd just started practicing when Shinichi turned up. But, no, I don't real y have a clue. I'm pretty good with a bo staff, though, so I just use it like that."

"You didn't use it like a bo staff on me."

"I was hoping to persuade you, not kill you. I couldn't think of how to explain to Elena that I'd broken al your bones."

Damon kept himself from laughing - barely.

"So how did a couple of inactive hunter-slayers end up moving to a town on top of a few hundred crossing ley lines?"

"I'm guessing they didn't know what a line of natural Power was. And Fell 's Church looked small and peaceful - back then."

They found the Gateway just as Damon had seen it before, a neat rectangular piece sliced out of the earth, about five feet deep.

"Now sit down there," he adjured Meredith, putting her on the opposite corner from where he lay the stave.

"Have you given a thought - even the briefest - as to what will happen to Misao if you pour out all the liquid in there?"

"Actually, not one. Not one microsecond's worth," Damon said cheerful y. "Why? Do you think she would for me?"

Meredith sighed. "No. That's the problem with both of you."

"She's certainly your problem at the moment, although I may stop by sometime after the town's destroyed to have a little tête-à-tête with her brother about the concept of keeping an oath."

"After you've gotten strong enough to beat him."

"Well, why don't you do something? It's your town they've devastated, after all ,"Damon said. "Children attacking themselves and each other, and now adults attacking children - "

"They're either scared to death or possessed by those malach the foxes are still spreading everywhere - "

"Yes, and so fear and paranoia keep spreading too. Fell's Church may be little by the standards of other genocides they've caused, but it's an important place because it's sitting on top - "

"Of all those ley lines full of magical power - yes, yes, I know.

But don't you care at all ? About us? Their future plans for us?

Doesn't any of it matter to you?" Meredith demanded.

Damon thought of the still , small figure in the first-floor bedroom and felt a sick qualm. "I told you already," he snapped. "I'm coming back for a talk with Shinichi."

After which, careful y, he began to pour liquid from the uncorked star ball at one corner of the rectangle. Now that he was actual y at the Gate, he realized he had no idea what he should do. The proper procedure might be to jump in and pour out the star ball 's entire liquid in the middle. But four corners seemed to dictate four different places to pour, and he was sticking to that.

He expected Meredith to try to foul things up somehow.

Make a run for the house. Make some noise, at least. Attack him from behind now that he had dropped the stave. But apparently her code of honor forbade this.

Strange girl, he thought. But I'll leave her the stave, since it real y belongs to her family, and, anyway, it's going to get me killed the instant I land in the Dark Dimension. A slave carrying a weapon - especial y a weapon like that - won't have a chance.

Judiciously, he poured out almost all of the liquid left into the final corner and stepped back to see what would happen.

SSSS-bah! White! Blazing white light. That was all his eyes or his mind could take in at first.

And then, with a rush of triumph he thought: I've done it! The Gateway is open!

"The center of the upper Dark Dimension, please," he said politely to the blazing hole. "A secluded alley would probably be the best, if you don't mind." And then he jumped into the hole.

Except that he didn't. Just as he was starting to bend his knees, something hit him from the right. "Meredith! I thought - "

But it wasn't Meredith. It was Bonnie.

"You tricked me! You can't go in there!" She was sobbing and screaming.

"Yes, I can! Now let go of me - before it disappears!" He tried to pry her off, while his mind whirled uselessly. He'd left this girl - what? - an hour or so ago, so deeply asleep that she had looked dead. Just how much could that little body take?

"No! They'll kill you! And Elena will kill me! But I' l get killed first because I'll still be here!"

Awake, and actual y capable of putting together puzzles.

"Human, I told you to let go," he snarled. He bared his teeth at her, which only caused her to bury her head in his jacket and cling on koala-bear style, wrapping both her legs around one of his.

A couple of really hard slaps should dislodge her, he thought.

He lifted his hand.
发表于 2016-9-24 15:12 | 显示全部楼层
本帖最后由 慕然回首 于 2016-9-25 15:50 编辑


Chapter 9

Damon dropped his hand. He simply couldn't make himself do it. Bonnie was weak, light-headed, a liability in combat, easy to confuse -

That's it, he thought. I'll use that! She's so naive -

"Let go for a second," he coaxed. "So I can get the stave - "

"No! You'll jump if I do! What's a stave?" Bonnie said, all in one breath.

- and stubborn, and impractical -

Was the brilliant light beginning to flicker?

"Bonnie," he said in a low voice, "I am deadly serious here. If you don't let go, I'll make you - and you won't like that, I promise."

"Do what he says," Meredith pleaded from somewhere quite close. "Bonnie, he's going into the Dark Dimension! But you're going to end up going with him - and you'll both be human slaves this time! Take my hand!"

"Take her hand!" Damon roared, as the light definitely flickered, for an instant becoming less blinding. He could feel Bonnie shifting and trying to see where Meredith was, and then he heard her say, "I can't - "

And then they were falling.

The last time they had traveled through a Gate they had been total y enclosed in an elevator-like box. This time they were simply flying. There was the light, and there were the two of them, and they were so blinded that somehow speaking didn't seem possible. There was only the brilliant, fluctuating, beautiful light -

And then they were standing in an alley, so narrow that it just barely al owed the two of them to face each other, and between buildings so high that there was almost no light down where they were.

No - that wasn't the reason, Damon thought. He remembered that blood-red perpetual light. It wasn't coming directly from either side of the narrow slit of alley, which meant that they were basically in deep burgundy twilight.

"Do you realize where we are?" Damon demanded in a furious whisper.

Bonnie nodded, seeming happy about having figured that out already. "We're basically in deep burgundy - "

"Crap!"

Bonnie looked around. "I don't smell anything," she offered cautiously, and examined the soles of her feet.

"We are," Damon said slowly and quietly, as if he needed to calm himself between every word, "in a world where we can be flogged, flayed, and decapitated just for stepping on the ground."

Bonnie tried a little hop and then a jump in place, as if diminishing her ground-interaction time might help them in some manner. She looked at him for further instructions.

Quite suddenly, Damon picked her up and stared at her hard, as revelation dawned. "You're drunk!" he final y whispered. "You're not even awake! Al this while I've been trying to get you to see sense, and you're a drunken sleepwalker!"

"I am not!" Bonnie said. "And...just in case I am, you ought to be nicer to me. You made me this way."

Some distant part of Damon agreed that this was true. He was the one who'd gotten the girl drunk and then drugged her with truth serum and sleeping medicine. But that was simply a fact, and had nothing to do with how he felt about it. How he felt was that there was no possible way for him to proceed with this al -too-gentle creature along.

Of course, the sensible thing would be to get away from her very quickly, and let the city, this huge metropolis of evil, swallow her in its great, black-fanged maw, as it would most certainly do if she walked a dozen steps on its streets without him. But, as before, something inside him simply wouldn't let him do it. And, he realized, the sooner he admitted that, the sooner he could find a place to put her and begin taking care of his own affairs.

"What's that?" he said, taking one of her hands.

"My opal ring," Bonnie said proudly. "See, it goes with everything, because it's all colors. I always wear it; it's casual or dress-up." She happily let Damon take it off and examine it.

"These are real diamonds on the sides?"

"Flawless, pure white," Bonnie said, still proudly. "Lady Ulma's fiancé Lucen made it so that if we ever needed to take the stones out and sell them - "She came up short.

"You're going to take the stones out and sell them! No! No no no no no!"

"Yes! I have to, if you're going to have any chance of surviving," Damon said. "And if you say one more word or fail to do exactly as I tell you, I am going to leave you alone here.

And then you will die. "He turned narrowed, menacing eyes on her.

Bonnie abruptly turned into a frightened bird. "Al right," she whispered, tears gathering on her eyelashes. "What's it for?"

Thirty minutes later, she was in prison; or as good as.

Damon had installed her in a second-story apartment with one window covered by roller blinds, and strict instructions about keeping them down. He had pawned the opal and a diamond successful y, and paid a sour, humorless-looking landlady to bring Bonnie two meals a day, escort her to the toilet when necessary, and otherwise forget about her existence.

"Listen," he said to Bonnie, who was still crying silently after the landlady had left them, "I'll try to get back to see you within three days. If I don't come within a week it'll mean I'm dead. Then you - don't cry! Listen! -  then you need to use these jewels and this money to try to get all the way from here to here; where Lady Ulma will still be - we hope."

He gave her a map and a little moneybag full of coins and gems left over from the cost of her bread and board. "If that happens - and I can pretty well promise it won't, your best chance is to try walking in the daytime when things are busy; keep your eyes down, your aura small , and don't talk to anyone. Wear this sacking smock, and carry this bag of food. Pray that nobody asks you anything, but try to look as if you're on an errand for your master. Oh, yes." Damon reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out two small iron slave bracelets, bought when he had gotten the map. "Never take them off, not when you're sleeping, not when you're eating -  never."

He looked at her darkly, but Bonnie was already on the threshold of a panic attack. She was trembling and crying, but too frightened to say a word. Ever since entering the Dark Dimension she'd been keeping her aura as small as possible, her psychic defenses high; she didn't need to be told to do that. She was in danger. She knew it.

Damon finished somewhat more leniently. "I know it sounds difficult, but I can tell you that I personal y have no intention whatsoever of dying. I'll try to visit you, but getting across the borders of the various sectors is dangerous, and that's what I may have to do to come here. Just be patient, and you'll be all right. Remember, time passes differently here than back on Earth. We can be here for weeks and we'll get back practical y the instant we set out. And, look" - Damon gestured around the room - "dozens of star balls! You can watch all of them."

These were the more common kind of star ball , the kind that had, not Power in them, but memories, stories, or lessons.

When you held one to your temple, you were immersed in whatever material had been imprinted on the ball .

"Better than TV,"Damon said. "Much."

Bonnie nodded slightly. She was still crushed, and she was so small , so slight, her skin so pale and fine, her hair such a flame of brilliance in the dim crimson light that seeped through the blinds, that as always Damon found himself melting slightly. "Do you have any questions?" he asked her final y.

Bonnie said slowly, "And - you're going to be...?"

"Out getting the vampire versions of Who's Who and the Book of Peers,"Damon said. "I'm looking for a lady of quality."

After Damon had left, Bonnie looked around the room.

It was horrible. Dark brown and just horrible! She had been trying to save Damon from going back into the Dark Dimension because she remembered the terrible way that slaves - who were mostly humans - were treated.

But did he appreciate that? Did he? Not in the slightest! And then when she'd been falling through the light with him, she'd thought that at least they would be going to Lady Ulma's, the Cinderel a-story woman whom Elena had rescued and who had then regained her wealth and status and had designed beautiful dresses so that the girls could go to fancy parties.

There would have been big beds with satin sheets and maids who brought strawberries and clotted cream for breakfast. There would have been sweet Lakshmi to talk to, and gruff Dr. Meggar, and...

Bonnie looked around the brown room and the plain rush-filled pal et with its single blanket. She picked up a star ball listlessly, and then let it drop from her fingers.

Suddenly, a great sleepiness filled her, making her head swim. It was like a fog rolling in. There was absolutely no question of fighting it. Bonnie stumbled toward the bed, fell onto it, and was asleep almost before she had settled under the blanket.

"It's my fault far more than yours," Stefan was saying to Meredith. "Elena and I were - deeply asleep - or he'd never have managed any part of it. I'd have noticed him talking with Bonnie. I'd have realized he was taking you hostage. Please don't blame yourself, Meredith."

"I should have tried to warn you. I just never expected Bonnie to come running out and grab him," Meredith said. Her dark gray eyes shimmered with unshed tears. Elena squeezed her hand, sick in the pit of her stomach herself.

"You certainly couldn't be expected to fight off Damon," Stefan said flatly. "Human or vampire - he's trained; he knows moves that you could never counter. You can't blame yourself."

Elena was thinking the same thing. She was worried about Damon's disappearance - and terrified for Bonnie. Yet at another level of her mind she was wondering at the lacerations on Meredith's palm that she was trying to warm.

The strangest thing was that the wounds appeared to have been treated - rubbed slick with lotion. But she wasn't going to bother Meredith about it at a time like this. Especial y when it was real y Elena's own fault. She was the one who had enticed Stefan the night before. Oh, they had been deep, all right - deep in each other's minds.

"Anyway, it's Bonnie's fault if it's anyone's,"Stefan said regretful y. "But now I'm worried about her. Damon's not going to be inclined to watch out for her if he didn't want her to come."

Meredith bowed her head. "It's my fault if she gets hurt."

Elena chewed her lower lip. There was something wrong.

Something about Meredith, that Meredith wasn't telling her.

Her hands were real y damaged, and Elena couldn't figure out how they could have gotten that way.

Almost as if she knew what Elena was thinking, Meredith slipped her hand out of Elena's and looked at it. Looked at both her palms, side by side. They were equal y scratched and torn.

Meredith bent her dark head farther, almost doubling over where she sat. Then she straightened, throwing back her head like someone who had made a decision. She said,

"There's something I have to tell you - "

"Wait,"Stefan whispered, putting a hand on her shoulder.

"Listen. There's a car coming."

Elena listened. In a moment she heard it too. "They're coming to the boardinghouse," she said, puzzled.

"It's so early,"Meredith said. "Which means - "

"It has to be the police after Matt,"Stefan finished. "I'd better go in and wake him up. I'll put him in the root cellar."

Elena quickly corked the star ball with its meager ounces of fluid. "He can take this with him," she was beginning, when Meredith suddenly ran to the opposite side of the Gate. She picked up a long, slender object that Elena couldn't recognize, even with Power channeled to her eyes. She saw Stefan blink and stare at it.

"This needs to go in the root cellar too," Meredith said. "And there are probably earth tracks coming out of the cellar, and blood in the kitchen. Two places."

"Blood?" Elena began, furious with Damon, but then she shook her head and refocused. In the light of dawn, she could see a police car, cruising like some great white shark toward the house.

"Let's go,"Elena said. "Go, go, go!"

They all dashed back to the boardinghouse, crouching to stay low to the ground as they did it. As they went, Elena hissed, "Stefan, you've got to Influence them if you can.

Meredith, you try to clean up the soil and blood. I'll get Matt; he's less likely to punch me when I tell him he has to hide."

They hastened to their appointed duties. In the middle of it all , Mrs. Flowers appeared, dressed in a flannel nightgown with a fuzzy pink robe over it, and slippers with bunny heads on them. As the first hammering knock on the door sounded, she had her hand on the door handle, and the police officer, who was beginning to shout, "POLICE! OPEN THE - "found himself bawling this directly over the head of a little old lady who could not have looked more frail or harmless. He ended almost in a whisper, " - door?"

"It is open,"Mrs. Flowers said sweetly. She opened it to its widest, so that Elena could see two officers, and the officers could see Elena, Stefan, and Meredith, all of whom had just arrived from the kitchen area.

"We want to speak to Matt Honeycutt," the female officer said.

Elena noted that the squad car was from the Ridgemont Sheriff's Department. "His mother informed us that he was here - after serious questioning."

They were coming inside, shouldering their way past Mrs.

Flowers. Elena glanced at Stefan, who was pale, with tiny beads of sweat visible on his forehead. He was looking intently at the female officer, but she just kept talking.

"His mother says he's been virtual y living at this boardinghouse recently," she said, while the male officer held up some kind of paperwork.

"We have a warrant to search the premises," he said flatly.

Mrs. Flowers seemed uncertain. She glanced back toward Stefan, but then let her gaze move on to the other teenagers.

"Perhaps it would be best if I made everyone a nice cup of tea?"

Stefan was still looking at the woman, his face looking paler and more drawn than ever. Elena felt a sudden panic clutch at her stomach. Oh, God, even with the gift of her blood tonight, Stefan was weak - far too weak to even use Influence.

"May I ask a question?" Meredith said in her low, calm voice.

"Not about the warrant," she added, waving the paper away.

"How is it out there in Fell's Church? Do you know what's going on?"

She was buying time, Elena thought, and yet everyone stopped to hear the answer.

"Mayhem," the female sheriff replied after a moment's pause.

"It's like a war zone out there. Worse than that because it's the kids who are - "She broke off and shook her head.

"That's not our business. Our business is finding a fugitive from justice. But first, as we were driving toward your hotel we saw a very bright column of light. It wasn't from a helicopter. I don't suppose you know anything about what it was?"

Just a door through space and time, Elena was thinking, as Meredith answered, still calmly, "Maybe a power transmitter blowing up? Or a freak shaft of lightning? Or are you talking about...a UFO?" She lowered her already soft voice.

"We don't have time for this," the male sheriff said, looking disgusted. "We're here to find this Honeycutt man."

"You're welcome to look," Mrs. Flowers said. They were already doing so.

Elena felt shocked and nauseated on two fronts. "This Honeycutt man." Man, not boy. Matt was over eighteen. Was he still a juvenile? If not, what would they do to him when they eventual y caught up to him?

And then there was Stefan. Stefan had been so certain, so... convincing...in his announcements about being well again.

Al that talk about going back to hunting animals - but the truth was that he needed much more blood to recover.

Now her mind spun into planning mode, faster and faster.

Stefan obviously wasn't going to be able to Influence both of those officers without a very large donation of human blood.

And if Elena gave it...the sick feeling in her stomach increased and she felt the small hairs on her body stand up...if she gave it, what were the chances that she would become a vampire herself?

High, a cool, rational voice in her mind answered. Very high, considering that less than a week ago, she had been exchanging blood with Damon. Frequently. Uninhibitedly.

Which left her with the only plan she could think of. These sheriffs wouldn't find Matt, but Meredith and Bonnie had told her the whole story of how another Ridgemont sheriff had come, asking about Matt - and about Stefan's girlfriend. The problem was that she, Elena Gilbert, had "died" nine months ago. She shouldn't be here - and she had a feeling that these officers would be inquisitive.

They needed Stefan's Power. Right now. There was no other way, no other choice. Stefan. Power. Human blood.

She moved to Meredith, who had her dark head down and cocked to one side as if listening to the two sheriffs clomping above on the stairs.

"Meredith - "

Meredith turned toward her and Elena almost took a step back in shock. Meredith's normally olive complexion was gray, and her breath was coming fast and shallowly.

Meredith, calm and composed Meredith, already knew what Elena was going to ask of her. Enough blood to leave her out of control as it was being taken. And fast. That terrified her.

More than terrified.

She can't do it, Elena thought. We're lost.

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