Dark Reunion (Chapter Eight)

From where Bonnie and Meredith sat in the car, they could just see Vickie's window. It would have been better to be closer, but then someone might have discovered them.

Meredith poured the last of the coffee out of the thermos and drank it. Then she yawned. She caught herself guiltily and looked at Bonnie.

"You having trouble sleeping at night too?"

"Yes. I can't imagine why," Meredith said.

"Do you think the guys are having a little talk?"

Meredith glanced at her quickly, obviously surprised, then smiled. Bonnie realized Meredith hadn't expected her to catch on. "I hope so," Meredith said. "It might do Matt some good."

Bonnie nodded and relaxed back into the seat. Meredith's car had never seemed so comfortable before.

When she looked at Meredith again, the dark-haired girl was asleep.

Oh, great. Terrific. Bonnie stared into the dregs of her coffee mug, making a face. She didn't dare relax again; if they both fell asleep, it could be disastrous. She dug her nails into her palms and stared at Vickie's lighted window.

When she found the image blurring and doubling on her, she knew something had to be done.

Fresh air. That would help. Without bothering to be too quiet about it, she unlocked the door and pulled the handle up. The door clicked open, but Meredith went on breathing deeply.

She must really be tired, Bonnie thought, getting out. She shut the door more gently, locking Meredith inside. It was only then that she realized she herself didn't have a key.

Oh, well, she'd wake Meredith to let her back in. Meanwhile she'd go check on Vickie. Vickie was probably still awake.

The sky was brooding and overcast, but the night was warm. Behind Vickie's house the black walnut trees stirred very faintly. Crickets sang, but their monotonous chirping only seemed like part of a larger silence.

The scent of honeysuckle filled Bonnie's nostrils. She tapped on Vickie's window lightly with her fingernails, peering through the crack in the curtains.

No answer. On the bed she could make out a lump of blankets with unkempt brown hair sticking out the top. Vickie was asleep too.

As Bonnie stood there, the silence seemed to thicken around her. The crickets weren't singing anymore, and the trees were still. And yet it was as if she was straining to hear something she knew was there.

None of her ordinary senses told her this. But her sixth sense, the one that sent chills up her arms and ice down her spine, the one that was newly awakened to the presence of Power, was certain. There was… something… near. Something… watching her.

She turned slowly, afraid to make a sound. If she didn't make any noise, maybe whatever it was wouldn't get her. Maybe it wouldn't notice her.

The silence had become deadly, menacing. It hummed in her ears with the beat of her own blood. And she couldn't help imagining what might come screaming out of it at any minute.

Something with hot, moist hands, she thought, staring into the darkness of the backyard. Black on gray, black on black was all she could see. Every shape might be anything, and all the shadows seemed to be moving. Something with hot, sweaty hands and arms strong enough to crush her-

The snap of a twig exploded through her like gunfire.

She spun toward it, eyes and ears straining. But there was only darkness and silence.

Fingers touched the back of her neck.

Bonnie whirled again, almost falling, almost fainting. She was too frightened to scream. When she saw who it was, shock robbed all her senses and her muscles collapsed. She would have ended up in a heap on the ground if he hadn't caught her and held her straight.

"You look frightened," Damon said softly.

Bonnie shook her head. She didn't have any voice yet. She thought she still might faint. But she tried to pull away just the same.

He didn't tighten his grip, but he didn't let go. And struggling did about as much good as trying to break a brick wall with bare hands. She gave up and tried to calm her breathing.

"Are you frightened of me?" Damon said. He smiled reprovingly, as if they shared a secret. "You don't need to be."

How had Elena managed to deal with this? But Elena hadn't, of course, Bonnie realized.

Elena had succumbed to Damon in the end. Damon had won and had his way.

He released one of her arms to trace, very lightly, the curve of her upper lip. "I suppose I should go away," he said, "and not scare you anymore. Is that what you want?"

Like a rabbit with a snake, Bonnie thought. This is how the rabbit feels. Only I don't suppose he'll kill me. I might just die on my own, though. She felt as if her legs might melt away at any minute, as if she might collapse. There was a warmth and a trembling inside her.

Elena wouldn't like it, she thought, just as his lips touched hers. Yes, that was it. But the problem was, she didn't have the strength to say it. The warmth was growing, rushing out to all parts of her, from her fingertips to the soles of her feet. His lips were cool, like silk, but everything else was so warm. She didn't need to be afraid; she could just let go and float on this. Sweetness rushed through her…

"What the hell is going on?"

The voice broke the silence, broke the spell. Bonnie started and found herself able to turn her head. Matt was standing at the edge of the yard, his fists clenched, his eyes like chips of blue ice. Ice so cold it burned.

"Get away from her," Matt said.

To Bonnie's surprise, the grip on her arms eased. She stepped back, straightening her blouse, a little breathless. Her mind was working again.

"It's okay," she said to Matt, her voice almost normal. "I was just-"

"Go back to the car and stay there."

Now wait a minute, thought Bonnie. She was glad Matt had come; the interruption had been very conveniently timed. But he was coming on a little heavy with the protective older brother bit.

"Look, Matt-"

"Go on," he said, still staring at Damon.

Meredith wouldn't have let herself be ordered around this way. And Elena certainly wouldn't. Bonnie opened her mouth to tell Matt to go sit in the car himself when she suddenly realized something.

This was the first time in months she'd seen Matt really care about anything. The light was back in those blue eyes-that cold flash of righteous anger that used to make even Tyler Smallwood back down. Matt was alive right now, and full of energy. He was himself again.

Bonnie bit her lip. For a moment she struggled with her pride. Then she conquered it and lowered her eyes.

"Thanks for rescuing me," she murmured, and left the yard.

Matt was so angry he didn't dare move closer to Damon for fear he might take a swing at him. And the chilling darkness in Damon's eyes told him that wouldn't be a very good idea.

But Damon's voice was smooth, almost dispassionate. "My taste for blood isn't just a whim, you know. It's a necessity you're interfering with here. I'm only doing

what I have to."

Contemptuously he said, "Why don't you pick on somebody your own size, then?"

Damon smiled and the air went colder. "Like you?"

Matt just stared at him. He could feel muscles clench in his jaw. After a moment he said tightly, "You can try."

"I can do more than try, Matt." Damon took a single step toward him like a stalking panther. Involuntarily, Matt thought of jungle cats, of their powerful spring and their sharp, tearing teeth. He thought of what Tyler had looked like in the Quonset hut last year when Stefan was through with him. Red meat. Just red meat and blood.

"What was that history teacher's name?" Damon was saying silkily. He seemed amused now, enjoying this. "Mr. Tanner, wasn't it? I did more than try with him."

"You're a murderer."

Damon nodded, unoffended, as if he'd just been introduced. "Of course, he stuck a knife in me. I wasn't planning to drain him quite dry, but he annoyed me and I changed my mind. You're annoying me now, Matt."

Matt had his knees locked to keep from running. It was more than the catlike stalking grace, it was more than those unearthly black eyes fastened on his. There was something inside Damon that whispered terror to the human brain. Some menace that spoke directly to Matt's blood, telling him to do anything to get away.

But he wouldn't run. His conversation with Stefan was blurred in his mind right now, but he knew one thing from it. Even if he died here, he wouldn't run.

"Don't be stupid," Damon said, as if he'd heard every word of Matt's thoughts. "You've never had blood taken from you by force, have you? It hurts, Matt. It hurts a lot."

Elena, Matt remembered. That first time when she'd taken his blood he'd been scared, and the fear had been bad enough. But he'd been doing it of his own volition then. What would it be like when he was unwilling?

I will not run. I will not look away.

Aloud he said, still looking straight at Damon, "If you're going to kill me, you'd better stop talking and do it. Because maybe you can make me die, but that's all you can make me do."

"You're even stupider than my brother," Damon said. With two steps he crossed the distance to Matt. He grabbed Matt by his T-shirt, one hand on either side of the throat. "I guess I'll have to teach you the same way."

Everything was frozen. Matt could smell his own fear, but he wouldn't move. He couldn't move now.

Damon's teeth were a white glitter in the dark. Sharp as carving knives. Matt could almost feel the razor bite of them before they touched him.

I will not surrender anything, he thought, and closed his eyes.

The shove took him completely off balance. He stumbled and fell backward, his eyes flying open. Damon had let go and pushed him away.

Expressionless, those black eyes looked down at him where he sat in the dirt. "I'll try to put this in a way you can understand," Damon said. "You don't want to

mess with me, Matt. I am more dangerous than you can possibly imagine. Now get out of here. It's my watch."

Silently, Matt got up. He rubbed at his shirt where Damon's hands had crumpled it. And then he left, but he didn't run and he didn't flinch from Damon's eyes.

I won, he thought. I'm still alive, so I won.

And there had been a kind of grim respect in those black eyes in the end. It made Matt wonder about some things. It really did.

Bonnie and Meredith were sitting in the car when he got back. They both looked concerned.

"You were gone a long time," Bonnie said. "Are you okay?"

Matt wished people would stop asking him that. "I'm fine," he said, and then added, "Really." After a moment's thought he decided there was something else he should say. "Sorry if I yelled at you back there, Bonnie."

"That's all right," Bonnie said coolly. Then, thawing, she said, "You really do look better, you know. More like your old self."

"Yeah?" He rubbed at his crumpled T-shirt again, looking around. "Well, tangling with vampires is obviously a great warm-up exercise."

"What'd you guys do? Lower your heads and run at each other from opposite sides of the yard?" asked Meredith.

"Something like that. He says he's going to watch Vickie now."

"Do you think we can trust him?" Meredith said soberly.

Matt considered. "As a matter of fact, I do. It's weird, but I don't think he's going to hurt her. And if the killer comes along, I think he's in for a surprise. Damon's spoiling for a fight. We might as well go back to the library for Stefan."

Stefan wasn't visible outside the library, but when the car had cruised up and down the street once or twice he materialized out of the darkness. He had a thick book with him.

"Breaking and entering and grand theft, library book," Meredith remarked. "I wonder what you get for that these days?"

"You mean you found it? You figured it out? Then you can tell us everything, like you promised," Bonnie said. "Let's go to the boarding house."

Stefan looked slightly surprised when he heard that Damon had turned up and stationed himself at Vickie's, but he made no comment. Matt didn't tell him exactly how Damon had turned up, and he noticed Bonnie didn't either.

"I'm almost positive about what's going on in Fell's Church. And I've got half the puzzle solved, anyway," Stefan said once they were all settled in his room in the boarding house attic. "But there's only one way to prove it, and only one way to solve the other half. I need help, but it isn't something I'm going to ask lightly." He was looking at Bonnie and Meredith as he said it.

They looked at each other, then back at him. "This guy killed one of our friends," said Meredith. "And he's driving another one crazy. If you need our help, you've got it."

"Whatever it takes," Bonnie added.

"It's something dangerous, isn't it?" Matt demanded. He couldn't restrain himself. As if Bonnie hadn't been through enough…

"It's dangerous, yes. But it's their fight too, you know."

"Darn right it is," said Bonnie. Meredith was obviously trying to repress a smile. Finally she had to turn away and grin.

"Matt's back," she said when Stefan asked her what the joke was.

"We missed you," added Bonnie. Matt couldn't understand why they were all smiling at him, and it made him feel hot and uncomfortable. He went over to stand by the window.

"It is dangerous; I won't try to kid you about that," Stefan said to the girls. "But it's the only chance. The whole thing's a little complicated, and I'd better start at the beginning. We have to go back to the founding of Fell's Church…"

He talked on late into the night.

Thursday, June 11, 7:00 a.m.

Dear Diary,

I couldn't write last night, because I got in too late. Mom was upset again. She'd have been hysterical if she'd known what I was actually doing. Hanging out with vampires and planning something that may get me killed. That may get us all killed.

Stefan has a plan to trap the guy who murdered Sue. It reminds me of some of Elena's plans-and that's what worries me. They always sounded wonderful, but

lots of the time they went wrong.

Anyway, we're going to do it after graduation. We're all in on it except Damon, who'll be watching Vickie. It's strange, but we all trust him now. Even me. Despite what he did to me last night, I don't think he'll let Vickie get hurt.

I haven't had any more dreams about Elena. I think if I do, I will go absolutely screaming berserk. Or never go to sleep again. I just can't take any more of that.

All right. I'd better go. Hopefully, by Sunday we'll have the mystery solved and die killer caught. I trust Stefan.

I just hope I can remember my part.