The Return: Shadow Souls (Chapter 13)

The Demon Gate.

Elena glanced over her shoulder at the backseat of the Prius. Bonnie was blinking sleepily. Meredith, who'd gotten much less sleep but heard much more alarming news, was looking like a razor blade: keen, sharp as ice, and ready.

There was nothing else to see except Damon with his paper bags on the seat beside him, driving the Prius. Out the windows, where an arid Arizona dawn should be blinding its way across the horizon, was nothing but fog.

It was frightening and disorienting. They had taken a small road off Highway 179 and, gradually, the fog had crept in, sending tendrils of mist around the car, and finally engulfing it whole. It seemed to Elena that they were being deliberately cut off from the old ordinary world of McDonald's and Target, and were crossing a border into a place they weren't meant to know about, much less go.

There was no traffic in the other direction. None at all. And as hard as Elena peered out of her window, it was like trying to look through fast-moving clouds.

"Aren't we going too fast?" Bonnie asked, rubbing her eyes.

"No," Damon said. "It would be – a remarkable coincidence – if anyone else were on the same route at the same time we are."

"It looks a lot like Arizona," she said, disappointed.

"It may be Arizona, for all I know," Damon replied. "But we haven't crossed the Gate yet. And this isn't anywhere in Arizona you could just accidentally walk into. The path always has its little tricks and traps. The problem is that you never know what you'll be facing.

"Now listen," he added, looking at Elena with an expression she had gotten to know. It meant: I'm not joking around; I'm talking to you as an equal; I'm serious.

"You've gotten very good at showing only a human-sized aura," Damon said. "But that means that if you can learn one more thing before we go in, you can actually use your aura, make it do you some good when you want it to, instead of just hiding it until it pops up out of control and lifts three-thousand-pound cars."

"Like what kind of good?"

"Like what I'm going to show you. First of all just relax and let me control it. Then, little by little, I'll slacken the controls and you'll take them up. By the end, you should be able to send your Powers to your eyes – and see much better; to your ears – and hear much better; to your limbs – and move much more quickly and precisely. All right?"

"You couldn't have taught me this before we started on this little excursion?"

He smiled at her, a wild, reckless smile that made her smile, too, even if she didn't know what it was about. "Until you showed how well you could control your aura throughout the path – the way here – I didn't think you were ready," he said bluntly. "Now I do. There are things in your mind just waiting to be unlocked. You'll understand when we unlock them."

And we unlock them – with what? A kiss? Elena thought suspiciously.

"No. No. And that's the other reason you've got to learn this. Your telepathy is getting out of hand. If you don't learn how to keep from projecting your thoughts, you'll never make it past the checkpoint at the Gate as a human."

Checkpoint. That sounded ominous. Elena nodded and said, "All right; what do we do?"

"What we did before. Like I said, relax. Try to trust me."

He put his right hand just to the left of her breastbone, not touching the cloth of her deep gold top. Elena could feel herself flushing, and she wondered what Bonnie and Meredith must think of this if they were watching.

And then Elena felt something else.

It wasn't cold; it wasn't heat, but it was something like the furthest extremities of both of them. It was pure Power. It would have knocked her over if Damon hadn't been holding her by the arm with his other hand. She thought, he's using his own Power to prime mine, to do something –

– something that hurt –

No! Elena tried, vocally and telepathically, to tell Damon that the Power was too much, that it hurt. But Damon ignored her pleas even as he ignored the tears that spilled onto her cheeks. His Power was leading hers now, painfully, throughout her body. It was in her bloodstream, dragging her own Power behind it like a comet's tail. It was forcing her to take the Power to different parts of her body and let it build and build there, not letting her exhale it, not letting her move it on.

I'm going to burst –

All this time her eyes had been fixed on Damon's, broadcasting her feelings to him: from indignant anger to shock to agonized pain – and now…to…

Her mind exploded.

The rest of her Power went on circling, without causing any pain. Each new breath she drew added more Power to it, but it simply circulated through her bloodstream, not increasing her aura, but increasing the Power that was inside her. After two or three more quick breaths she realized that she was doing it effortlessly.

Now Elena's Power wasn't simply sliding around smoothly inside her, looking from the outside like any other human's. It was also filling several burst swollen nodes inside her and where it did that, it changed things.

She realized that she was looking at Damon with round eyes. He might have told her about how this would feel, rather than letting her go into it blind.

You really are a total bastard, aren't you? Elena thought, and, amazingly, she could feel Damon receive the thought, and could feel his automatic response, which was pleased agreement, rather than otherwise.

Then Elena forgot about him in the dawning of a new understanding. She was realizing that she could keep circulating her Power inside her, and even build it higher and higher, getting ready for a truly explosive burst, and show nothing of what it was doing on the surface.

And as for the nodes…

Elena looked around her at what a few minutes ago had been barren wilderness. It was like taking bullets of light through both her eyes. She was dazzled; she was enthralled. Colors seemed to come to life in a painful glory. She felt that she could see much farther than she ever had, on and on into the desert, and at the same time, she could distinguish Damon's pupils from his irises.

Why, they're both black, but different shades of black, she thought. Of course, they go together – Damon would never have irises that didn't complement his pupils. But the irises are more velvety, where his pupils are more silky and shiny. And yet it's a velvet that can hold light inside it – almost like the night sky with stars – like those kitsune star balls that Meredith told me about.

Right now those pupils were wide and set unyieldingly on her face, as if Damon didn't want to miss a moment of her reaction. Suddenly, the corner of his lip quirked in a faint smile.

"You did it. You learned to channel your Power to your eyes." He spoke in a bare whisper that she could never have detected before.

"And to my ears," she whispered back, listening to the amazing symphony of tiny sounds around her. High in the air, a bat squeaked on a frequency too high for any ordinary human ear to notice. As for the fall of grains of sand around her, they formed something like a tiny concerto as they struck rock and bounced with a tiny ping before falling to the ground below.

This is amazing, she told Damon, hearing the smugness in her own telepathic voice. And I can talk to you this way any time now? She would have to watch out for that – telepathy threatened to reveal more than she might want to send to a recipient.

It's best to be careful, Damon agreed, confirming her suspicions. She'd sent more than she'd meant to.

But Damon – can Bonnie do this, too? Should I try to show her?

"Who knows?" Damon replied aloud, making Elena wince. "Teaching humans how to use Power isn't exactly my forte."

And what about my different Wings Powers? Will I be able to control them, now?

"About those I have absolutely no idea. I've never seen anything like them." Damon looked thoughtful for a moment and then shook his head. "I think you'd need someone with more experience than I have to learn to control those." Before Elena could say anything else, he added, "We'd better get back to the others. We're almost at the Gate."

"And I suppose I shouldn't be using telepathy then."

"Well, it is a rather obvious giveaway – "

"But you'll teach me later, won't you? As much as you know about controlling Power?"

"Maybe your boyfriend should be doing that," Damon said almost roughly.

He's afraid, Elena thought, trying to keep her thoughts hidden under a wall of white noise so that Damon wouldn't pick them up. He's just as afraid that he'll reveal too much to me as I am afraid of him.