The Return: Nightfall (Chapter 13)

Much later that night, Elena couldn't sleep. She didn't want to be hemmed in inside the Tall Room, she said. Secretly, Stefan worried that she wanted to go outside and track the malach that had attacked the car. But he didn't think she was able to lie, now, and she kept bumping against the shut window, chiming to him that she just wanted air. Outside air.

"We should put some clothes on you."

But Elena was bewildered – and stubborn.It's Night…. This is my Night Gown, she said.You didn't like my Day Gown. Then she bumped the window again. Her "Day Gown" had been his blue shirt, which, belted, made a sort of very short chemise on her, coming to the middle of her thighs.

Right now what she wanted fit in with his own desires so completely that he felt…a bit guilty over the prospect. But he allowed himself to be persuaded.

They drifted, hand in hand, Elena like a ghost or angel in her white nightgown, Stefan all in black, feeling himself almost disappear where the trees obscured the moonlight. Somehow they ended up in the Old Wood, where skeletons of trees mixed with the living branches. Stefan stretched his newly improved senses to the widest but could only find the normal inhabitants of the forest, slowly and hesitantly returning after being frightened off by Damon's lash of Power. Hedgehogs. Deer. Dog-foxes, and one poor vixen with twin kits, who hadn't been able to run because of her children. Birds. All the animals that helped to make the forest the wondrous place it was.

Nothing that felt like malach or seemed as if it could do any harm.

He began to wonder if Damon had simply invented the creature that influenced him. Damon was a tremendously convincing liar.

He was telling the truth, Elena chimed.But either it's invisible or it's gone now. Because of you. Your Power.

He looked at her and found her looking at him with a mixture of pride and another emotion that was easily identified – but startling to see out of doors.

She tilted her face up, its classic lines pure and pale in the moonlight.

Her cheeks were rose pink with blushing, and her lips were slightly pursed.

Oh…hell, Stefan thought wildly.

"After all you've been through," he began, and made his first mistake. He took hold of her arms. There, some sort of synergy between his Power and hers started to bring them, in a very slow spiral, upward.

And he could feel the warmth of her. The sweet softness of her body. She still was waiting, eyes closed, for her kiss.

We can start all over again,she suggested hopefully.

And that was true enough. He wanted to give back to her the feelings she had given to him in his room. He wanted to hold her hard; he wanted to kiss her until she trembled. He wanted to make her melt and swoon with it.

He could do it, too. Not just because you learned a thing or two about women when you were a vampire, but because he knew Elena. They were really one at heart, one soul.

Please?Elena chimed.

But she was so young now, so vulnerable in her pure white nightgown, with her creamy skin flushing pink in anticipation. It couldn't be right to take advantage of someone like that.

Elena opened her violet-blue eyes, silvered by the moonlight, and looked right at him.

Do you want…She said it with sobriety in the mouth but mischief in her eyes….to see how many times you can make me say please?

God, no. But that sounded so grown-up that Stefan helplessly took her into his arms. He kissed the top of her silky head. He kissed downward from there, only avoiding the little rosebud mouth that was still puckered in lonely supplication.I love you. I love you. He found that he was almost crushing her ribs and tried to let go, but Elena held on as tightly as she could, holding his arms to her.

Do you want – the chime was the same, innocent and ingenuous – to see how many times I can make yousay please?

Stefan stared at her for a moment. Then, with a sort of wildness in his heart, he fell on the little rosebud mouth and kissed it breathless, kissed it until he himself was so dizzy that he had to let her go, just an inch or two.

Then he looked into her eyes again. A person could lose themselves in eyes like that, could fall forever into their starry violet depths. He wanted to. But more than that, he wanted something else.

"I want to kiss you," he whispered, right at the portal of her right ear, nipping it.

Yes.She was definite about that.

"Until you faint in my arms."

He felt the shiver go through her body. He saw the violet eyes go misty, half closing. But to his surprise he got back an immediate, if slightly breathless, "Yes," from Elena out loud.

And so he did.

Just short of swooning, with little shivers going through her, and little cries that he tried to stop with his own mouth, he kissed her. And then, because it was Time, and because the shivers were starting to have a painful edge to them, and Elena's breath was coming so quick and hard when he let her breathe that he really was afraid that she might pass out, he solemnly used his own fingernail to open a vein in his neck for her.

And Elena, who once had been only human, and would have been horrified by the idea of drinking another person's blood, clasped herself to him with a small choked sound of joy. And then he could feel her mouth warm, warm against the flesh of his neck, and he felt her shudder hard, and he felt the heady sensation of having his blood drawn out by the one he loved. He wanted to pour his entire being out in front of Elena, to give her everything that he was, or ever would be. And he knew that this was the way she had felt, letting him drink her blood. That was the sacred bond they shared.

It made him feel that they had been lovers since the beginning of the universe, since the very first dawning of the very first star out of the darkness. It was something very primitive, and very deeply ingrained in him. When he first felt the flow of blood into her mouth, he had to stifle a cry against her hair. And then he was whispering to her, fierce, involuntary things about how he loved her and how they could never be parted, and endearments and absurdities wrenched from him in a dozen different languages. And then there were no more words, only feelings.

And so they slowly spiraled up in the moonlight, the white nightgown sometimes wrapping itself around his black-clad legs, until they reached the top of the trees, living and standing but dead.

It was a very solemn, very private ceremony of their own, and they were far too lost in joy to look out for any danger. But Stefan had already checked for that, and he knew that Elena had, too. There was no danger; there was only the two of them, drifting and bobbing with the moon shining down like a benediction.

One of the most useful things Damon had learned lately – more useful than flying, although that had been something of a kick – was to shield his presence absolutely.

He had to drop all his barriers, of course. They would show up even in a casual scan. But that didn't matter, because if no one could see him, no one could find him. And therefore he was safe. Q.E.D.

But tonight, after walking out of the boardinghouse, he had gone out to the Old Wood to find himself a tree to sulk in.

It wasn't that he minded what human trash thought of him, he thought venomously. It would be like worrying what a chicken thought of him just before he wrung its neck. And, of all things he caredleast about, his brother's opinion was number one.

But Elena had been there. And even if she had understood – had made efforts to get the others to understand – it was just too humiliating, being thrown out in front of her.

And so he had retired, he thought bitterly, into the only retreat he could call home. Although that was a little ridiculous, since he could have spent the night in Fell's Church's best hotel (its only hotel) or with any number of sweet young girls who might invite a weary traveler in for a drink…of water. A wave of Power to put the parents to sleep, and he could have had shelter, as well as a warm and willing snack, until morning.

But he was in a vicious mood, and he just wanted to be alone. He was a little afraid to hunt. He wouldn't be able to control himself with a panicked animal in his present state of mind. All he could think of was ripping and tearing and making somebody very, very unhappy.

The animals were coming back, though, he noticed, careful to use only ordinary senses and nothing that would betray his presence. The night of horror was over for them, and they tended to have very short memories.

Then, just as he had been reclining on a branch, wishing that Mutt, at least, had sustained some sort of painful and lasting injury,they had appeared. Out of nowhere, seemingly. Stefan and Elena, hand in hand, floating like a pair of happy wing����d Shakespearean lovers, as if the forest wastheir home.

He hadn't been able to believe it at first.

And then, just as he was about to call down thunder and sarcasm on them, they had started their love scene.

Right in front of his eyes.

Even floating up to his level, as if to rub it in. They'd begun kissing and caressing and…more.

They'd made an unwilling voyeur out of him, although he'd become more angry and less unwilling as time passed and their caresses had become more passionate. He'd had to grind his teeth, when Stefan had offered Elena his blood. Had wanted to scream that there had been a time when this girl had been his for the taking, when he could have drained her dry and she would have died happily in his arms, when she had obeyed the sound of his voice instinctively and the taste of his blood would make her reach heaven in his arms.

As she obviously was in Stefan's.

That had been the worst. He'd had to dig his nails into his palms when Elena had wrapped herself around Stefan like a long, graceful snake and had fastened her mouth against his neck, as Stefan's face had tipped toward the sky, with his eyes shut.

For the love of all the demons in hell, why couldn't they just get done with it?

Thatwas when he noticed that he wasn't alone in his well-chosen, commodious tree.

There was someone else there, sitting calmly right beside him on the big branch. They must have appeared while he was engrossed in the love scene and his own fury, but still, that made them very, very good. No one had snuck up on him like that in over two centuries. Three, perhaps.

The shock of it had sent him tumbling off the branch – without turning on his vampire ability to float.

A long lean arm reached out to catch him, to haul him to safety, and Damon found himself gazing into a pair of laughing golden eyes.

Who thehellare you? he sent. He didn't worry about it being picked up by the lovers in the moonlight. Nothing short of a dragon or an atomic bomb would catch their attention now.

I'm the hell Shinichi,the other boy replied. His hair was the strangest Damon had seen in a while. It was smooth and shiny and black everywhere except for a fringe of uneven dark red at the tips. The bangs he tossed carelessly out of his eyes ended in crimson and so did the little wisps all round his collar – for he wore it slightly long. It looked as if tongues of dancing, flaring flame were licking at the ends of it, and gave singular emphasis to his answer:I'm the hell Shinichi. If anyone could pass as a devil come up straight from Hell, this boy could.

On the other hand, his eyes were the pure golden eyes of an angel.Most people just call me Shinichi alone , he added soberly to Damon, letting those eyes crinkle a little to show that it was a joke.Now you know my name. Who are you?

Damon simply looked at him in silence.