Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Hunters: Moonsong Chapter Nine

Where r u? Elena texted impatiently. Stefan was supposed to meet her at her dorm room more than twenty minutes ago. Surely his study group was over by now? She was starving. She paced around the room, occasional y glancing at the dark tree branches beyond the windows. It wasn't like Stefan to be late. She checked her phone. It was too soon to try to reach him again. Outside, something dark moved, and she gasped. Then she shook her head. It was just the branches of the trees out there, waving in the breeze. She moved closer, trying to see past the reflections on the glass. Their room was on the third floor; there wouldn't be anyone sitting that high up. At least not anyone human. Elena shuddered. â€Å"Elena,† said a cool, clear voice from outside. With a squeak that sounded like a frightened rabbit, Elena jerked backward, pressing one hand to her pounding heart. After a moment, she stepped up to the window and threw it open. â€Å"Damon,† she said. â€Å"You scared me to death. What are you doing out there?† There was a flash of white teeth in the shadows. A mocking tone rang through his answer. â€Å"Waiting for you to invite me into your room, of course.† â€Å"You don't need an invitation,† Elena said. â€Å"You helped me move in.† â€Å"I know,† Damon said, smiling. â€Å"I'm being a gentleman.† Elena hesitated. She trusted Damon, of course she did, but this seemed so intimate. Damon outside in the dark, Elena alone in her bedroom, neither of her roommates around. He'd been in her room at home, but Aunt Judith and Robert had been just down the hal . She wondered if Stefan would mind her being alone here with Damon, but she shook off the thought. He trusted Elena, that was what mattered. â€Å"Elena,† Damon's voice was soft but insistent. â€Å"Let me in before I fal .† Rol ing her eyes, she said, â€Å"You'd never fal . And if you did, you'd fly. But you can come in anyway.† With a soft whoosh, faster than her eye could fol ow, Damon was suddenly beside her. She had to step back a pace. Eyes and hair as dark as night, pale luminous skin, perfectly cut features. He even smel ed good. His lips looked so soft†¦. Elena caught herself leaning toward him, her own lips parting, and pul ed away. â€Å"Stop it,† she said. â€Å"I'm not doing anything,† Damon said innocently. When Elena arched a skeptical eyebrow at him, he shrugged and shot her a brief, bril iant smile. There, Elena thought. That's why Stefan might mind Damon being here. â€Å"Oh, al right. I'm only teasing you.† He looked around the room and quirked an eyebrow of his own. â€Å"Why, Elena,† he said, â€Å"I'm almost disappointed. You and your friends are running so true to type here.† Elena fol owed his eyes. Bonnie's side of the room was a mess, a tumble of stuffed animals, rejected outfits, and Dalcrest paraphernalia. In contrast, Meredith's area was rigidly tidy, books lined up alphabetical y, a single silver pen on the desk next to her slim silver laptop, her bed neatly draped in a silk duvet in subtly patterned gray and white. Her dresser and closet were closed, but inside, Elena knew, Meredith's clothes would be organized by type, color, and season. Damon was right: just by looking at their parts of the room, you could tel that Meredith was rational, sophisticated, careful y control ed, and private, while Bonnie was fluffy, fun-loving, and disorganized. What about Elena's own things? What did they say about her? She looked over her part of the room with a critical eye. Framed art prints from her favorite exhibits, her silver brush and comb lined up on her dresser, deep-blue sheets that she knew set off her eyes and hair. Someone who held on to what she liked and didn't change easily? Someone who was very aware of what suited her? She wasn't sure. Damon smiled at her again, without the mocking edge this time. â€Å"Don't give it a second's thought, princess,† he said affectionately. â€Å"You're more than your possessions.† â€Å"Thanks,† Elena said shortly. â€Å"So, did you just drop in my window to say hel o?† He reached out and tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. They were standing very close together, and Elena backed away a little. â€Å"I thought maybe, now that you're a col ege girl, we could go out tonight and have some fun.† â€Å"Fun?† Elena said, stil distracted by his mouth. â€Å"What kind of fun?† â€Å"Oh, you know,† he said, â€Å"just a little dinner, a few drinks. Friend stuff. Nothing too daring.† â€Å"Right,† Elena said firmly. â€Å"It sounds nice. But I can't tonight. Stefan and I are going out to dinner.† â€Å"Of course,† Damon said. He gave her a firm little nod and what was so obviously supposed to be a supportive smile that she had to stifle a giggle. Supportive, friendly, and unassuming were not natural looks on Damon's face. He was trying so very hard to be her friend even though they al knew there was more than that between them. Since he had died and come back, he had been trying to change his relationships with Stefan and with her, she knew, to be with them in a way he never had before. It couldn't be easy on poor Damon, trying to be good. He was out of practice. Elena's phone chimed. She read the text from Stefan: I'm sorry. The study group's running late. I think it'll be at least another hour. Meet later? â€Å"Problem?† Damon was watching her, the same innocent, friendly smile on his face, and affection for him washed over Elena. Damon was her friend. Why shouldn't she go out with him? â€Å"Change of plans,† she said briskly. â€Å"We'l go out, but just for a little while. I need to be back here to meet Stefan in an hour.† She texted Stefan quickly to let him know she was going to grab some food and looked up to see a triumphant smile on Damon's face as he reached to take her arm. Bonnie walked across campus, practical y skipping in time to the happy tune in her head. A date with Zander, la la la la la. It was about time, too. She'd been eagerly anticipating seeing Zander again al week, and although they'd talked on the phone, she hadn't laid eyes on him around campus at al , even though of course she'd been looking. At last she was about to see him. La la la la la. Lovely, gorgeous Zander. She had on jeans and a sort of silvery, draping top that at least made it look like she might have some cleavage. It was a good outfit, she thought, understated enough for just hanging out but also a little bit special. Just in case they decided to go out clubbing or something at the last minute. Zander hadn't told her what he'd planned, just asked her to meet him outside the science building. La la la la la, she hummed. Bonnie's footsteps slowed, and the tune in her head died off as she saw flickering lights il uminating a group of people up ahead. They were gathered in the courtyard in front of one of the dorms. Approaching, she realized it was a group of girls holding candles. The wavering light from the candles sent shadows across their serious faces. Propped against the wal of the dorm were three blown-up photos, two girls and a guy. Al across the grass in front of them were heaped flowers, letters, and teddy bears. Hesitant to break the silence, Bonnie touched the arm of one of the girls. â€Å"What's going on?† she whispered. â€Å"It's a candlelight vigil for the missing people,† the girl whispered back. Missing people? Bonnie scanned the faces in the photographs. Young, smiling, about her age. â€Å"Are they al students here?† she asked, horrified. â€Å"What happened to them?† â€Å"Nobody knows,† the girl said, her gaze serious. â€Å"They just vanished. You didn't hear about this?† Bonnie's stomach dropped. She knew that a girl was attacked – or something – on the quad the first night, but she hadn't known about any disappearances. No wonder her gut instinct had warned her to be scared walking across campus the other day. She could have been in danger. â€Å"No,† she said slowly. â€Å"I didn't hear anything.† She dropped her eyes and bowed her head, silent as she sent out a fervent hope that these three happy-looking people would be found, safe and sound. In the distance, a siren began to wail. â€Å"Something's happened.† â€Å"Do you think someone was attacked?† A babble of frightened voices rose as the sirens got closer. A girl near Bonnie began to sob, a hurt, scared sound. â€Å"Al right, what's the trouble here?† said a new, authoritative voice, and Bonnie looked up to see two campus police officers shouldering their way through the crowd. â€Å"We †¦ uh†¦Ã¢â‚¬  The girl who had spoken to Bonnie gestured at the photos and flowers against the wal . â€Å"We were having a vigil. For the missing people.† â€Å"What are those sirens for?† another girl asked, her voice rising. â€Å"Nothing to worry about,† said the officer, but his face softened as he looked at the sobbing girl. Bonnie realized with a slight shock that he wasn't much older than she was. â€Å"Miss?† he said to the crying girl. â€Å"We'l help you get home.† His partner looked around at the crowd. â€Å"It's time to break things up and head inside,† he said sternly. â€Å"Stick together and be careful.† â€Å"I thought you said there was nothing to worry about,† said another girl angrily. â€Å"What aren't you tel ing us?† â€Å"There's nothing you don't know already,† the man said patiently. â€Å"People are missing. You can never be too careful.† If there's nothing to worry about, why do we have to be careful? Bonnie wondered, but she bit back the words and hurried away down the path, toward the science building where Zander had suggested they meet. The idea of trying to have a vision, to see if she could learn anything about the missing people, nudged at Bonnie's mind, but she pushed it away. She hated that. She hated the loss of control when she slid into one of her visions. It was unlikely to work, anyway. Her visions had always been about people she knew, about immediate problems facing them. She didn't know any of the missing people. She bit her lip and walked faster. The excitement about her date had fizzled out, and she didn't feel safe now. But at least if she got to Zander, she wouldn't be alone. When she arrived at the science building, though, Zander wasn't there. Bonnie hesitated and looked around nervously. This corner of campus seemed to be deserted. She tried the door of the science building, but it was locked. Wellof course it was – there weren't any classes this late. Bonnie shook the handle of the front door in frustration. She reached into her bag, then groaned as she realized she'd left her phone back in her room. Suddenly, she felt very exposed. The campus police had said to stick together, not to wander around alone at night, but here she was, al by herself. A cool breeze ruffled her hair and she shivered. It was getting awful y dark. â€Å"Bonnie. Psst, Bonnie!† Zander's voice. But where was he? Bonnie saw nothing but the dark quad, streetlights throwing little circles of light on the paths. Above her, leaves rustled in the wind. â€Å"Bonnie! Up here.† Looking up, she final y spotted Zander on the roof, peering down over the side at her, his pale hair almost glowing in the moonlight. â€Å"What're you doing up there?† she cal ed to him, confused. â€Å"Come on up,† he invited, pointing to the fire-escape ladder on the side of the building. It was lowered to just a couple of feet above the ground. â€Å"Real y?† said Bonnie dubiously. She walked over to the fire escape. She could make it onto the ladder, she was pretty sure, but she was going to look clumsy and awkward scrambling up on it. And what if she got caught? She hadn't actual y read the campus regulations thoroughly, but wouldn't climbing the fire escape up to the roof of a closed building be against the rules? â€Å"Come on, Bonnie,† Zander cal ed. His feet clanging loudly against the iron steps, he ran down the fire escape, shimmied down the ladder, and leaped to the ground, landing catlike on his feet beside her. He went down on one knee and held his hands out together. â€Å"I'l boost you up so you'l be able to reach.† Bonnie swal owed, then stepped up onto Zander's hands and stretched for the ladder. Once she swung her leg up onto the bottom rung, it was a piece of cake, although the slightly rusty metal was rough against her hands. She spared a moment to thank al the powers of the universe that she had decided to wear jeans rather than a skirt tonight. Zander trailed behind her up the fire escape from one landing to another until final y they arrived on the roof. â€Å"Are we al owed to be up here?† Bonnie asked nervously. â€Å"Well,† Zander said slowly, â€Å"probably not. But I come up here al the time, and no one's ever told me not to.† He smiled that warm, wonderful smile at her and added, â€Å"This is one of my favorite places.† It was a nice view, Bonnie had to admit that. Below them, the campus stretched, leafy and green and mysterious. If anyone else had brought her up here, though, she would have complained about the rusty fire escape and the concrete roof, suggested that maybe a date should involve going somewhere. This was a date, wasn't it? She froze momentarily in a panic, trying to recal exactly what Zander had said when he suggested meeting here. She didn't remember the words themselves, but they definitely had a date-y feel to them: she wasn't a kid anymore, she knew when she was being asked out. And Zander was so cute, it was worth making an effort. â€Å"It's pretty up here,† she said lamely and then, looking around at the flat dirty concrete, â€Å"I mean being so high up.† â€Å"We're closer to the stars,† Zander said, and took her hand. â€Å"Come on over here.† His hand was warm and strong, and Bonnie held on to it tightly. He was right, the stars were beautiful. It was cool to be able to see them more clearly, here above the trees. He led her over to the corner of the roof, where a ratty old army blanket was spread out with a pizza box and some cans of soda. â€Å"Al the comforts of home,† he said. Then, quietly, â€Å"I know this isn't a very fancy date, Bonnie, but I wanted to share this with you. I thought you would appreciate what's special about being up here.† â€Å"I absolutely do,† Bonnie said, flattered. A secret little cheer went up inside her: Hurray! Zander definitely knows we're on a date! Pretty soon Bonnie found herself tucked up against Zander's side, his arm around her shoulders, eating hot, greasily delicious pizza and looking at the stars. â€Å"I come up here alone a lot,† Zander told her. â€Å"One time last year I just lay here and watched a big fat ful moon get swal owed up by the earth's shadow in an eclipse. It was nearly pitch black without the light of the ful moon, but I could stil see its dark red shape in the sky.† â€Å"The Vikings thought eclipses were caused by two wolves, one who wanted to eat the sun, and one who wanted to eat the moon,† Bonnie said idly. â€Å"I forget which one wanted to eat the moon, but whenever either a solar or a lunar eclipse happened, people were supposed to make a lot of noise to scare the wolf away.† Zander looked down at her. â€Å"That's a random piece of information to know.† But he smiled as he said it. Bonnie wriggled with delight under the sheer force of his smile. â€Å"I'm interested in mythology,† she said. â€Å"Druid and Celtic, mostly, but myths and stories in general. The Druids were into the moon, too: they had a whole astrology based on the lunar calendar.† She sat up straighter, enjoying the admiring look on Zander's face. â€Å"Like, right now, from late August to late September, we're in the month of the Artist Moon. But in a couple of weeks, we'l be in the month of the Dying Moon.† â€Å"What does that mean?† Zander asked. He was very close to her, gazing straight into her eyes. â€Å"Well, it means it's a time of endings,† Bonnie said. â€Å"It's al about dying and sleep. The Druid year begins again after Hal oween.† â€Å"Hmm.† Zander was stil watching her intently. â€Å"How do you know so much, Bonnie McCul ough?† A little smile played around his mouth. â€Å"Um, my ancestors were Druids and Celtics,† Bonnie said, feeling stupid. â€Å"My grandmother told me we were descended from Druid priestesses, and that's why I see things sometimes. My grandmother does, too.† â€Å"Interesting,† Zander said softly. His tone grew lighter. â€Å"So you see things, do you?† â€Å"I real y do,† Bonnie said, seriously, staring back at him. She hadn't meant to tel him that. She didn't want to weird him out, not on their first date, but she also didn't want to lie to him. So blue. Zander's eyes were as deep as the sea, and she was fal ing farther and farther into them. There was nothing above her, nothing below, she was ceaselessly, gently fal ing. With a wrench, Bonnie pul ed her eyes away from Zander's. â€Å"Sorry,† she said, shaking her head. â€Å"That was weird. I think I almost fel asleep for a minute.† â€Å"Don't worry about it,† Zander said, but his face looked stiff and strange. Then he flashed that warm, enchanting smile again and got to his feet. â€Å"Come on, I want to show you something.† Bonnie stood slowly. She felt a little strange stil , and she pressed her hand briefly against her forehead. â€Å"Over here,† Zander said, tugging her by the other hand. He led her to the corner of the roof and stepped up onto the narrow ledge running around it. â€Å"Zander,† Bonnie said, horrified. â€Å"Come down! You might fal !† â€Å"We won't fal ,† Zander said, smiling down at her. â€Å"Climb on up.† â€Å"Are you crazy?† Bonnie said. She'd never liked heights much. She remembered crossing a high, high bridge once with Damon and Elena. They'd had to if they were going to save Stefan, but she never would have been able to do it, except Damon had used his Power and convinced her she was an acrobat, a tightrope walker to whom heights were nothing. When he'd released her from his Power, after they crossed the bridge, her retroactive fear had been nauseating. Stil , she'd made it across that bridge, hadn't she? And she had promised herself she would be more confident, stronger, now that she was in col ege. She looked up at Zander, who was smiling at her, sweetly, eagerly, his hand extended. She took it and let him help her climb onto the ledge. â€Å"Oh,† she said, once she was up there. The ground swam dizzyingly far below her, and she yanked her eyes away from it. â€Å"Oh. No, this is not a good idea.† â€Å"Trust me,† Zander said, and took her other hand so that he was holding on to her securely. â€Å"I won't let you fal .† Bonnie looked into his blue, blue eyes again and felt comforted. There was something so candid and straightforward in his gaze. â€Å"What should I do?† she asked, and was proud when her voice was steady. â€Å"Close your eyes,† Zander said, and when she'd done that, â€Å"and pick your right foot up off the ledge.† â€Å"What?† Bonnie asked, and almost opened her eyes again. â€Å"Trust me,† Zander said again, and this time there was a rich undercurrent of laughter in his voice. Hesitantly, Bonnie lifted her foot. Just then, the wind picked up, and Bonnie felt like it was about to scoop her off the ledge and throw her into the sky like a kite whose string had snapped. She tightened her grip on Zander's hands. â€Å"It's al right,† he said soothingly. â€Å"It's amazing, Bonnie, I promise. Just let yourself be. Life isn't worth living if you don't take risks.† Inhaling deeply and then letting the breath out, Bonnie forced herself to relax. The wind was blowing her curls everywhere, whistling in her ears, tugging at her clothes and her raised leg. As she relaxed into it, she felt almost as if she was being lifted, gently, into the sky, the air al around supporting her. It was like flying. Bonnie realized she was laughing with sheer delight and opened her eyes, gazing straight into Zander's. He was laughing, too, and holding on to her tightly, anchoring her to the earth as she almost flew. She had never been so conscious of the blood thrumming through her veins, of each nerve catching the sensations of the air around her. She had never felt so alive.

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