The Return: Nightfall (Chapter 24)

No peck on the lips was going to satisfy Damon, Elena thought. On the other hand, Matt was going to need outright seduction before he would give in. Fortunately Elena had broken the Matt Honeycutt code long ago. And she planned to be remorseless in using what she had learned on his weakened, susceptible body.

But Matt could be far too stubborn for his own good. He allowed Elena to put her soft lips against his, he allowed her to put her arms around him. But when Elena tried to do some of the things he liked most – like running her nails down his spine, or touching her tongue tip lightly to his closed lips – he clamped his teeth shut. He wouldn't put an arm around her.

Elena let go of him and sighed. Then she felt a crawling sensation between her shoulder blades, as if she were being watched but a hundred times stronger. She glanced back to see Damon standing at a distance with his Virginia pine rod, but she couldn't find anything unusual. She glanced back once more – and had to cram a fist into her mouth.

Damon wasthere ; right behind her; so close that you couldn't have gotten two fingers between the front of her body and the front of his. She didn't know why her arm hadn't hit him. Her whirl actually trapped her in between two male bodies.

But how had he done it? There had been no time to travel the distance of the clearing from where Damon had been standing to one inch behind her in the second that she had glanced away. Nor had there been any sound as he'd walked across the pine needles toward them; like the Ferrari, he was just – there.

Elena swallowed the scream that was desperately trying to get out of her lungs, and tried to breathe. Her own body was rigid with fear. Matt was trembling slightly behind her. Damon was leaning in, and all she could smell was the sweetness of pine resin.

Something's wrong with him. Something's wrong.

"You know what," Damon said, leaning forward even farther so that she had to lean backward against Matt, so that, even spooned against Matt's shaking body, she was looking straight into the Ray-Bans from a distance of three inches. "That gets you a grade of a D minus."

Now Elena was shaking as well as Matt. But she had to get a grip on herself, had to meet this aggression head-on. The more passive she and Matt were, the more time Damon had to think.

Elena's mind was in feverish scheming mode. He may not be reading our minds, she thought, but he can certainly tell if we're telling the truth or lying. That's normal for a vampire who drinks human blood. What can we make of that? What can we do with it?

"That was a greeting kiss," she said boldly. "It's to identify the person that you're meeting, so you'll always know them afterwards. Even – even prairie hamsters do it. Now – please – could we move just a little, Damon? I'm getting crushed."

And this is just much too provocative a position, she thought. For everybody involved.

"One more chance," Damon said, and this time he didn't smile. "I want to see a kiss – a real kiss – between you. Or else."

Elena twisted in the tight space. Her eyes searched Matt's. They had, after all, been boyfriend and girlfriend for quite a while last year. Elena saw the look in Matt's blue eyes: hewanted to kiss her, as much as he could want anything after that pain. And he realized that she'd had to go through all that fancy footwork to save him from Damon.

Somehow, we'll get out, Elena thought to him. Now, will you cooperate? Some boys didn't have buttons in the selfish sensations area of their brain. Some, like Matt, had buttons labeledHONOR or GUILT .

Now Matt held still as she took his face between her hands, tilting it down and going up on her toes to kiss him, because he'd grown so much. She thought of their first real kiss, in his car on the way home from a minor school dance. He'd been terrified, his hands damp, his whole interior quaking. She'd been cool, experienced, gentle.

And so she was now, drawing a warm tongue tip to melt his frozen lips apart. And just in case Damon was eavesdropping on her thoughts, she kept them strictly on Matt, on his sunshiny looks and his warm friendship and on the gallantry and courtesy that he had always shown to her, even when she broke up with him. She wasn't aware when his arms went around her shoulders or when he took control of the kiss, like a person dying of thirst who's finally found water. She could see it clearly in his mind: he'd never thought he'd kiss Elena Gilbert like this again.

Elena didn't know how long it lasted. Finally she unwound her arms from around Matt's neck and stepped back.

And then she realized something. It was no accident that Damon had sounded like a film director. He was holding up a palm-sized video camera, staring into the viewfinder. He'd captured the whole thing.

With Elena clearly visible. She had no idea what had happened to the disguising baseball cap and dark glasses. Her hair was disordered and her breathing came quickly, involuntarily. The blood had risen to the surface of her skin. Matt didn't look much more together than she felt.

Damon looked up from the viewfinder.

"What do you want that for?" Matt growled in tones completely unlike his normal voice. The kiss had affected him, too, Elena thought. More so than her.

Damon picked up his branch again and again waved the end of it like a Japanese fan. Pine aroma wafted by Elena. He looked considering, as though he might ask for a retake, then changed his mind, smiled brilliantly at them, and tucked the video camera into a pocket.

"All you need to know is that it was a perfect take."

"Then we're leaving." The kiss seemed to have given Matt new strength, even if it was for saying the wrong type of things. "Right now."

"Oh, no, but keep that dominant, aggressive attitude. As you remove her shirt."


Damon repeated the words in the tones of a director giving an actor complicated instructions.

"Undo the buttons of her shirt, please, and take it off."

"You'recrazy ." Matt turned and looked at Elena, stopped aghast to see the expression on her face, the single tear running down the eye not hidden.


He moved around, but she moved too. He couldn't get her to look him in the face. At last, she stopped, stood with her eyes down and leaking tears. He couldfeel the heat radiating from her cheeks.

"Elena, let's fight him. Don't you remember how you fought the bad things in Stefan's room?"

"But this is worse, Matt. I've never felt anything this bad before. This strong. It's – pressing on me."

"You don't mean we should give in to him…?"That was what Mattsaid and he sounded as if he were on the verge of being ill. What his clear blue eyes said was simpler. They said:No. Not if he kills me for refusing.

"I mean…" Elena turned suddenly back to Damon. "Let him go," she said. "This is between you and me. Let's settle it ourselves." She was damned well going to save Matt, even if he didn't want to be saved.

I'll do what you want,she thought as hard as she could to Damon, hoping he would pick some of it up. After all, he'd bled her against her will – at least initially – before. She could live through him doing it again.

"Yes, you'll doeverything I want," Damon said, proving that he could read her thoughts even more clearly than she'd imagined. "But the question is, after how much?" He didn't say how much what. He didn't have to. "Now, I know I just gave you an order," he added, half turning toward Matt but with his eyes still on Elena, "because I can still see you picturing it in your mind. But – "

Elena saw the look in Matt's eyes then, and the flaming of his cheeks, and she knew – and immediately tried to hide the knowledge from Damon – what he was going to do.

He was going to commit suicide.

"If we can't talk you out of it, we can't talk you out of it," Meredith said to Mrs. Flowers. "But – there are things out there – "

"Yes, dear, I know. And the sun is going down. It's a bad time to be outside. But as my mother always said, two witches are better than one." She gave Bonnie an absent smile. "And as you very kindly did not say before, I am very old. Why, I can remember the days before the first motorcars and airplanes. I might have knowledge that would help you in your quest for your friends – and on the other hand, I am dispensable."

"You certainly are not," Bonnie said fervently. They were using up Elena's wardrobe now, piling on the clothes. Meredith had picked up the duffel bag with Stefan's clothes in it and dumped it on his bed, but the first time she picked up a shirt, she dropped it again.

"Bonnie, you might take something of Stefan's with you as we go," she said. "See if you get any impressions from it. Um, maybe you too, Mrs. Flowers?" she added. Bonnie understood. It was one thing to let somebody call themselves a witch; it was another thing to call someone very much your senior one.

The last layer of Bonnie's wardrobe was one of Stefan's shirts, and Mrs. Flowers tucked one of his socks in her pocket.

"But I won't go out the front door," Bonnie said adamantly. She couldn't even bear to imagine the mess.

"All right, so we go out the back," Meredith said, flipping Stefan's lamp off. "Come on."

They were actually walking out the back door when the front doorbell rang.

They all three exchanged glances. Then Meredith wheeled, "It could be them!" And she hastened back to the dim front of the house. Bonnie and Mrs. Flowers followed more slowly.

Bonnie shut her eyes as she heard the door open. When there were no immediate exclamations about the mess, she opened them a slit.

There was no sign that anything unusual had happened outside the door. No smashed insect bodies – no dead or dying bugs on the front porch.

Hairs on the back of Bonnie's neck rose. Not that she wanted to see the malach. But she did want to know what had happened to them. Automatically, one hand went to her hair, to feel if a tendril had been left behind. Nothing.

"I'm looking for Matthew Honeycutt." The voice cut into Bonnie's reverie like a hot knife through butter, and Bonnie's eyes snapped all the way open.

Yes, it was Sheriff Rich Mooseburger and he was all there, from shiny boots to crisp collar. Bonnie opened her mouth, but Meredith spoke first.

"This is not Matt's house," she said, her tone quiet, her voice even.

"In fact I have already been to the Honeycutt house. And to the Sulez house and the McCulloughs'. Every one of them, in fact, suggested that if Matt weren't at one of those places, he might be out here with you."

Bonnie wanted to kick him in the shins. "Matt hasn't been stealing stop signs! He would never, ever,ever do something like that. And I wish to God I knew where he was, but I don't. None of us do!" She stopped, with the feeling that she might have said too much.

"And your names are?"

Mrs. Flowers took over. "This is Bonnie McCullough, and Meredith Sulez. I am Mrs. Flowers, the owner of this boardinghouse, and I believe I can second Bonnie's remarks about the stop signs – "

"In fact this is more serious than missing road signs, ma'am. Matthew Honeycutt is under suspicion of assaulting a young woman. There is considerable physical evidence to support her story. And she claims that they have known each other since childhood, so there can be no mistake as to identity."

There was a moment of stunned silence, and then Bonnie almost shouted, "She? Shewho ?"

"Miss Caroline Forbes is the complainant. And I would in fact suggest, if any of the three of you should happen to see Mr. Honeycutt, that you advise him to turn himself in. Before he is taken by force into custody." He took a step toward them as if threatening to come through the door, but Mrs. Flowers silently barred the way.

"In fact," Meredith said, regaining her composure, "I'm sure you realize that you need a warrant to enter these premises. Do you have one?"

Sheriff Mossberg didn't answer. He made a sharp little right turn, walked down the pathway to his sheriff's car, and disappeared.