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The Return: Shadow Souls (Chapter 10)

The next morning Elena got up and dressed quietly in the motel room, grateful for the extra space. Damon was gone, but she had expected that. He usually got his breakfast early while they were on the road, preying on waitresses at all-night truck stops or early-morning diners.

She was going to discuss that with him someday, she thought as she put the packet of ground coffee in the little two-cup percolator the motel provided. It smelled good.

But more urgently, she needed to talk to someone about what had happened last night. Stefan was her first choice, of course, but she'd found that out of body experiences weren't just to be had for the asking. What she needed to do was call Bonnie and Meredith. She had to talk to them – it was her right – but now, of all times, she couldn't. Intuitively, she felt that any contact between her and Fell's Church might be bad.

And Matt had never checked in. Not once. She had no idea where he was on the road, but he had better be in Sedona on time, that was all. He had deliberately cut off all communication between them. Fine. As long as he showed up when he had promised.

But…Elena still needed to talk. To express herself.

Of course! She was an idiot! She still had her faithful companion that never said a word, and never kept her waiting. Pouring herself a cup of scalding black coffee on the way, Elena dug her diary out of the bottom of her duffel bag and opened it to a fresh, clean page. There was nothing like a fresh page and an ink pen that ran smoothly to start her writing.

Fifteen minutes later there was a rattle at one window and a minute later Damon was stepping through. He had several paper bags with him and Elena felt unaccountably pleased and homey. She had provided coffee, which was rather good even if it came with dried cream substitute, and Damon had supplied…

"Gasoline," he said triumphantly, raising his eyebrows significantly at her as he set the bags on the table. "Just in case they try to use plants against us. No, thanks," he added, seeing she was standing with a full cup of coffee held in his direction. "I had a garage mechanic while I was buying this. I'll just go wash my hands."

And he disappeared, walking right past Elena.

Walking right past her, without a glance, even though she was wearing her only clean pair of clothes left: jeans and a subtly colored top that looked white at first glance and only in the brightest light revealed that it was ethereally rainbow-shaded.

Without a single look, Elena thought, feeling a strange sensation that somehow her life had just lapped itself.

She started to throw the coffee away but then decided she needed it herself and drank it in a few scalding gulps.

Then she went and stood by her diary, reading over the last two or three pages.

"Are you ready to go?" Damon was shouting over the sound of running water in the bathroom.

"Yes – in just a minute." Elena read the diary pages from the previous entry, and began skimming the one before that.

"We might as well go straight west from here," Damon shouted. "We can make it in one day. They'll think it's a feint for one particular gate and search all the small ones. Meanwhile we'll go on heading for the Kimon Gate and be days ahead of anyone tracking us. It's perfect."

"Uh-huh," Elena said, reading.

"We ought to be able to meet Mutt tomorrow – maybe even this evening, depending on what kind of trouble they cause."

"Uh-huh."

"But first I wanted to ask you: do you think it's a coincidence that our window is broken? Because I always put wards on them at night and I'm sure – " He passed a hand over his forehead. "I'm sure that I must have done that last night, as well. But something got through and broke the window and got away without a trace. That was why I bought all the the gasoline. If they try something with trees, I'll blast them all back to Stonehenge."

And half the innocent residents of the state, Elena thought grimly. But she was in a state of such shock that not much could make an impression on top of it.

"What are you doing now?" Damon was clearly ready to get up and going.

"Getting rid of something I don't need," Elena said, and flushed the toilet, watching the torn-up bits of her diary swirl round and round before disappearing.

"I wouldn't worry about the window, though," she said, coming back into the bedroom and slipping her shoes on. "And don't get up for a minute, Damon. I've got to talk to you about something."

"Oh, come on. It can wait until we're on the road, can't it?"

"No, it can't, because we've got to pay for that window. You broke it last night, Damon. But you don't remember doing it, do you?"

Damon stared at her. She could tell that his first temptation was to laugh. His second temptation, to which he gave in, was to think that she was nuts.

"I'm serious," she said, once he had gotten up and started to pace toward the window with a distinct look of wanting to be a crow flying out of it. "Don't you dare go anywhere, Damon, because there's more."

"More stuff I did that I don't remember?" Damon lounged against the wall in one of his old, arrogant poses. "Maybe I smashed a few guitars, kept the radio on until four A.M.?"

"No. Not necessarily things from – last night," Elena said, looking away. She couldn't look at him. "Other things, from other days – "

"Like maybe I've been trying to sabotage this trip all along," he said, his voice laconic. He eyed the ceiling and sighed heavily. "Maybe I've done it just to be alone with you – "

"Shut up, Damon!"

Where had that come from? Well, she knew that, of course. From her feelings about last night. The problem was that she also had to get some other things settled – seriously, if he would take them. Come to think of it, that might be a better way to go about this.

"Do you think that your feelings about Stefan – well, have changed at all recently?" Elena asked.

"What?"

"Do you think" – oh, this was so difficult looking into black eyes the color of endless space. Especially when last night they had been full of myriads of stars – "do you think that you've come to think of him differently? To honor his wishes more than you used to do?"

Now Damon was openly examining her, just as she was examining him.

"Are you serious?" he said.

"Completely," she said, and, with a supreme effort, she sent her tears back where they were supposed to go.

"Something did happen last night," he said. He was looking intently at her face. "Didn't it?"

"Something happened, yes," Elena said. "It was – it was more of a – " She had to let out her breath, and with that almost everything went.

"Shinichi! Shinichi, che bastardo! Imbroglione! That thief! I'm going to kill him slowly!" Suddenly Damon was everywhere. He was beside her, his hands on her shoulders; the next minute he was shouting imprecations out the window, then he was back, holding both her hands.

But only one word mattered to Elena. Shinichi. The kitsune with his black, scarlet-tipped hair, who had made them give up so much just for the location of Stefan's cell.

"Mascalzone! Maleducato – " Elena lost track of Damon's cursing again. So it was true. Last night had been completely stolen from Damon, taken from his mind as simply and completely as the interval when she had used Wings of Redemption and Wings of Purification on him. The latter he had agreed to. But last night – and what other things had the fox been taking?

To cut out an entire evening and night – and this evening and night in particular, implied that…

"He never shut down the connection between my mind and his. He still can reach inside me any time he chooses." Damon had finally stopped swearing, and stopped moving. He was sitting on the couch opposite the bed with his hands drooping between his knees. He looked singularly forlorn.

"Elena, you have to tell me. What did he take from me last night? Please!" Damon looked as if he might fall on his knees in front of her, without melodrama. "If – if – it was what I think – "

Elena smiled, although tears were still running down her face. "It wasn't – what anyone would think, exactly, I suppose," she said.

"But – !"

"Let's just say that this time – was mine," Elena said. "If he's stolen anything else from you, or if he tries to do it in the future, then he's fair game. But this…will be my secret." Until maybe someday you break into your huge boulder of secrets, she thought.

"Until I tear it out of him, along with his tongue and his tail!" snarled Damon, and it was truly the snarl of an animal. Elena was glad it wasn't directed at her. "Don't worry," Damon added in a voice so chilling that it was almost more frightening than the animal fury. "I will find him, no matter where he tries to hide. And I will take it from him. I might just take his entire little furry hide off with it. I'll make you a pair of mittens out of it, how's that?"

Elena tried to smile and did a pretty good job. She was just coming to terms with what had happened herself, although she didn't believe for a minute that Damon would really leave her alone on the subject until he forced the memory back out of Shinichi. She realized that on some level she was punishing Damon for what Shinichi had done, and that was wrong. I promise no one will know about last night, she told herself. Not until Damon does. I won't even tell Bonnie and Meredith.

This made things a lot harder on her, and therefore probably more equitable.

As they were cleaning up the debris from Damon's most recent fit of fury, he suddenly reached up to brush a stray tear from Elena's cheek.

"Thank you – " Elena began. Then she stopped. Damon was touching his fingers to his lips.

He looked at her, startled and a little disappointed. Then he shrugged. "Still unicorn bait," he said. "Did I say that last night?"

Elena hesitated, then decided that his words didn't fall within the crucial time limits of secrecy.

"Yes, you did. But – you won't give me away, will you?" she added, suddenly anxious. "I've promised my friends not to say anything."

Damon was staring at her. "Why should I say anything about anybody? Unless you're talking about the little redheaded one?"

"I told you; I'm not saying anything. Except that obviously Caroline isn't a virgin. Well, with all the ruckus about her being pregnant – "

"But you remember," Damon interjected, "I came to Fell's Church before Stefan did; I just lurked in the shadows longer. The way you talked – "

"Oh, I know. We liked boys and boys liked us, and we already had reputations. So we just talked any way we felt like talking. Some of it may have been true, but a lot of it you could take two ways – and then of course you know how boys talk – "

Damon knew. He nodded.

"Well and so pretty soon everyone was talking about us as if we'd done everything with everyone. They even wrote stuff about it in the paper and the yearbook and on the bathroom walls. But we had a little poem, too, and sometimes we even wrote it with our signatures on it. How did it go?" Elena cast her mind back a year, two years, more. Then she recited:

"Just because you heard it, doesn't make it true. Just because you read it, doesn't make it so. The next time that you hear it, it may be about you. Don't think that you can change their minds, just 'cause you know – you know!"

As Elena finished, she looked at Damon, suddenly feeling the urgent need to get to Stefan. "We're almost there," she said. "Let's hurry."

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