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Souls by Joanna Russ Joanna Russ has been in the forefront of modern American science fiction since the late s, when. The Vampire Diaries: The Return: Shadow Souls The Watchers at the Well: Echoes of the Well of Souls; Shadow of the Well of Souls; Gods of the Well of Souls. DOWNLOAD PDF. L. J. Smith The Vampire Diaries The Return: Shadow Souls Vol. 2. For my wonderful agent, Elizabeth Harding Contents 1“Dear Diary,” Elena .

I would like to add some comments on how scientific training, method and language can be valuable to a poet. The compacted prose of scientific writing is training for writing concise poetry — especially in formats such as haiku. The necessary sitting, thinking and composition required to write poems can be made easier by the strict disciplines of scientific training. Riordan writes from a poetic standpoint rather than, as I do, from a poet-scientist perspective. The perception that poets — and the general public — have of scientists is different from creative scientists' own perception of themselves.

Poets are often similarly ineffectual. Both groups have a literature which manifests their collective effectiveness. Scientific poets may be more common than Riordan suggests: Alex Comfort, for example, published reputable poetry. And there's no bimodal separation into poets and non-poets: Siegfried Sassoon wrote that the night before his platoon went into action, during the First World War, a third of the men became poets.

In science we are familiar with the transformation of indifferent starters to excellent PhD graduates. I know of no evidence that the ratio of scientist-poets to scientists is any different from that of non-scientific poets to the non-scientific population.

However, creative scientists rarely have formal literary training. Accordingly, they are less likely than their pure poetic counterparts to be knowledgeable about what other poets have written. The standard of English language in many scientific publications is not high, offering little encouragement or example.

Society's image of poets, or indeed of scientists, could make a scientist wary of being known as a poet for fear of reducing his or her scientific credibility. I believe that scientist-poets emerge from the woodwork with maturity or when they know their reputation is established.

Start from the beginning. What was the beginning? Slowly, almost dreamily, she spoke into her mobile. I have blond hair that falls in sort of waves past my shoulders and blue eyes that some people have said are like lapis lazuli: And I played around with them. I just used them—for popularity, for amusement, for whatever. I considered them to be toys or trophies.

I felt as if I were searching for something that I could never find with boys. None of my scheming or playing around with them ever touched my…deepest heart…until one very special boy came along. But it changed things—and it changed me. The problem was…that I was sharing blood with Damon, too.

Not really by choice, but because he was after me constantly, day and night. What that translates into is: So maybe I deserved what I got. I went into the Light. I was a vampire. I had time to remember Stefan and love him more than ever—since I knew, then, how difficult everything was for him.

I got to listen to my own memorial service. Everybody should get a chance to do that. I got to say good-bye to my little four-year-old sister, Margaret, and visit Bonnie and Meredith….

But she spoke quietly. But the sun poisoned me anyway. Going was almost…peaceful. That was when I made Stefan promise to take care of Damon, always. And I think Damon swore to take care of Stefan, in his mind. And that was how I died, with Stefan holding me and Damon beside me as I simply drifted away, like going to sleep. There was a danger to the town. They had to fight it and somehow, when they were sure that they had lost, I got dumped back to the world of the living to help.

But there was Stefan, too!

We were together again! She shut her eyes until her breathing slowed. And then there are my Wings. I say the words until I feel like an idiot—but nothing happens at all. And, oh, God, if I could only see her and Meredith right now!

Well, you see, when I came back from the afterlife there was a very big explosion of Power that everyone in the world who can see Power saw. Lee High School. Or they use Power to blast other vampires or creatures of darkness—or humans. It was so big that it attracted two horrible creatures from the other side of the world.

And then they decided to come see what had made the burst, and if there was any way they could use it for themselves. They were kitsune, evil fox spirits from Japan. So powerful that they used malach, which are really plants but look like insects that can be no bigger than a pinhead or big enough to swallow your arm. And the malach attach themselves to your nerves and feather out along your entire nervous system and finally they take you over from inside. I forgot to say, the kitsune are called Shinichi and Misao.

Misao is the girl. He made him torture Matt and me, and even now I know that sometimes Matt still wants to kill Damon for it. He was crushed. He cried. We were too moral or too gentle or something. There were girls, young girls, fourteen and fifteen and younger. And some boys. Hurting themselves and their families. But they had kidnapped Stefan—and Damon, who was already possessed by then, had helped them. Damon Influenced him to go away. But just a few hours later Damon had forgotten the policeman completely.

And anything that frightens Damon—not that he would ever admit it—scares me to death. But then, cuddling herself, she went on. Well, because of Caroline Forbes, my friend since kindergarten. And after that she turned into my worst enemy. But more to the point: I wonder how long they were together and where Tyler is now.

So I assume—well, what Damon assumes. A werewolf litter, you know? Since Tyler is a werewolf. So basically I just made him come with us. And I feel the anger like a fire inside me—not just anger and hurt for Matt, but anger and the feeling that Caroline has let all girls everywhere down. First of all, it makes anyone who drinks my blood incredibly strong. They could only deal with him when he was weakened and surrounded by iron. Damon showed me how to keep my aura mostly inside, like a normal human girl.

It can…oh, well, I can say anything I want to here, right? Nowadays, my aura can make vampires want me…the way human guys do. Not just to bite, get it? But to kiss and all the rest. And so, naturally, they come after me if they sense it. Being bitten by a vampire only hurts if you fight it, or if the vampire wants it to hurt. Grimly, she gripped her mobile again, letting tears fall on it. I become this useless shaking insane person who just wants to scream and scream and never stop.

I have to fight every second not to think about it. When I have him safe in my arms, I can let myself shake and cry—and scream, too. But I have a Plan A, at least.

The key, the fox key, that we need to get Stefan out of his cell, is broken into two pieces that are hidden in two different places. And when Misao was taunting me about how little I knew about those places, she gave me flat-out clues about where they were. But I still remember the clues, and they went like this: I looked up just now and I can see the palest streaks of dawn in the sky: Really, really loud. She was scared, but a noise like that—and now scrabbling sounds on the roof… She had to get out of the car as fast as possible.

What had fallen was Matt. He was in the process of struggling to get up off his back. Are you all right? Are you hurt? Is the Jag all right? Is it hurt? Did you hit your head? Does the moonroof still work? The moonroof is fine. He was trying to get down without getting any mud on the Jag, but he was handicapped since his legs and feet were covered with mud.

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Getting off of the car without using his feet was proving difficult. Meanwhile, Elena was looking around. She herself had once fallen from the sky, yes, but she had been dead for six months first and had arrived naked, and Matt fulfilled neither requirement. She had a more prosaic explanation in mind. And there it was, lounging against a yellowwood tree and eyeing the scene with a very slight, wicked smile.

He was compact; not as tall as Stefan, but with an indefinable aura of menace that more than made up for it. He was as immaculately dressed as always: Right now, he made Elena acutely aware that she was wearing a long white nightgown that she had brought with the idea that she could change her clothes underneath it if necessary while they were camping. The problem was that she usually did this just at dawn, and today writing in her diary had distracted her.

Lace around a pretty neck to a vampire—as Damon had told her—was like a waving red cloak in front of a raging bull.

Elena crossed her arms over her chest. She also tried to make sure that her aura was pulled in decorously. He cocked his head to the side coaxingly. Elena refused to be coaxed. Elena had always been good at repartee of this kind. The problem was that Damon was better. Elena felt an inward shiver. Damon had promised not to Influence her—to use his telepathic powers to cloud or manipulate her mind. But sometimes it felt as if he got awfully close to the line. But Damon never gave up, no matter how many times she rejected him.

Behind Elena was a thump and squelch that undoubtedly meant Matt had finally gotten off the roof of the Jag. He jumped into the fray immediately. And—and —and do you know what he did? How he woke me up this morning? She talked over her shoulder to Matt because there was a faint morning breeze that tended to mold her nightgown to her body. I mean, yes! No and yes! It could have broken the moonroof—or me!

Damon spoke up. What were you actually doing at the time when I put some distance between us? His normally tranquil blue eyes were blazing. A stick like the kind you find along the roadside? That kind of stick? It had definitely been carved from hardwood: This was definitely a low point in the cold war between the two boys. Elena, truly at a loss, took it from him, turning it over. It seemed to be a pencil stub, but it was discolored dark reddish-brown.

And they were on our trail. She did have feelings for the car.

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It was big and brilliantly red and flashy and buoyant —and it expressed how she and Stefan had been feeling on the day that he bought it for her, celebrating the start of their new life together.

Right now! When Damon took it, Elena wiped her hands on her nightgown, feeling vaguely light-headed. She shivered, thinking of the vampires on their trail. And the cool morning air was clearing her head a bit, although it also made her shake. Damon glanced down at her and to her surprise, looking completely serious, began to make motions as if to take his jacket off.

Elena had to turn her face away because she was in danger of laughing. It was like flying: And you know I like challenges. Elena felt as light as if she were dandelion fluff, but also a little light-headed, almost tipsy. She was much warmer now, because—she realized—Damon had enfolded her in his aura, which was warm.

Not just in temperature, either, but warm with a heady, almost drunken appreciation, as he took her in, her eyes and her face and her hair floating weightlessly in a cloud of gold around her shoulders.

And just as blushing was an involuntary physical response to his warmth and appreciation, Elena felt an involuntary emotional response—of thankfulness for what he had done, of gratitude for his appreciation, and of unintentional appreciation of Damon himself.

She could only be glad that Damon had been clever enough and, yes, ruthless enough to take care of them before they got to her. And she would have to be blind and just plain stupid not to appreciate the fact that Damon was gorgeous. After having died twice, this fact did not affect her as it would most other girls, but it was still a fact, whether Damon was pensive or giving one of those rare genuine smiles that he seemed to have only for Elena.

The problem with this was that Damon was a vampire and could therefore read her mind, especially with Elena being so close, their auras intermingling. Elena did, but they were blurring, dissolving. Elena had lost the power to analyze. She was simply basking in the warm glow of being cherished, being held and loved and cared for with an intensity that shook her to the bone.

And when Elena gave of herself, she gave completely. Almost without conscious effort, she arched her head back to expose her throat and closed her eyes. Damon gently positioned her head differently, supported it with one hand, and kissed her. Elena found that she was instinctively groping for the mind of the one who was kissing her so sweetly.

It was as if she had gained a beautiful new sense. When two auras mingled as deeply as this, two souls were laid bare to each other. Semi-consciously, Elena let her aura expand, and met a mind almost at once. To her surprise, it recoiled from her. She managed to snag it before it could retreat behind a great hard stone, like a boulder. The only things left outside the boulder—which reminded her of a picture of a meteorite she had seen, with a pocked, charred surface—were rudimentary brain functions, and a little boy, chained to the rock by both wrists and both ankles.

Elena was shocked. Whatever she was seeing, she knew it was a metaphor only, and that she should not judge too quickly what the metaphor meant. Instinctively, though, she knew that she was seeing something important.

And now, her inherent love and concern drove her to try to communicate. He was clothed in ragged black. He nodded silently. His huge dark eyes seemed to swallow up his face. The child nodded again.

The Vampire Diaries: The Return: Shadow Souls

This is all just symbols, Elena reminded herself. But are you? She knew that her own mind would use such symbols to present itself to another person. No, she realized abruptly and definitively: He lived cramped inside that hideous thing, and he wanted it that way. All that was left outside was some ancient memory from his childhood, a boy who had been banished from the rest of his soul. Maybe even revealing that much was painful, Elena thought. She wanted him to feel the sweetness and comfort that she was feeling.

If it had been a landscape she would have put a halo around the full white moon, or rainbows amongst the clouds. But instead it presented itself as a starving child chained to a ball that no one could breach, and she wanted to comfort and soothe the child. She cradled the little boy, rubbing his arms and legs hard and nestling him against her spirit body.

At first he felt tense and wary in her arms. But after a little time, when nothing terrible happened as a result of their contact, he relaxed and she felt his small body go warm and drowsy and heavy in her arms. She herself felt a crushingly sweet protectiveness about the little creature. In just a few minutes, the child in her arms was asleep, and Elena thought that there was the faintest ghost of a smile on his lips. She cuddled his little body, rocking him gently, smiling herself.

Someone who was—was not forgotten, never forgotten—but who made her throat ache with sadness. Oh, God, she had forgotten him—she had actually, for a few minutes allowed herself to be drawn into something that meant forgetting him. The anguish of all those lonely late-night hours, sitting and pouring out her grief and fear to her diary—and then the peace and comfort that Damon had offered had actually made her forget Stefan—to forget what he might be suffering at this very moment. She looked at Damon accusingly.

Why not? But I did not Influence you, and I did not bite you. I merely kissed you. He gives out dreams, fancies, pleasure that stays in the minds of his…donors. Elena and Damon came to a twirling, elegant stop, right beside the Jaguar.

Matt immediately ran to Elena and snatched her away, examining her as if she had been in an accident, with particular attention to her neck. Once again Elena was uncomfortably aware of being dressed in a lacy white nightgown in the presence of two boys. He might not still be in love with her as he once had been, but Elena knew he cared deeply about her and always would.

She knew he would never forget the time they had been together. More, he believed in her.

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So right now, when she promised that she was all right, he believed that. You said it yourself—there are vampires trailing us! Neither of them even noticed her. Elena cleared her throat more loudly, and Matt finally remembered her existence. Damon shook his dark head. But by what gate? And when? If we can lose them the only thing we need to worry about is Stefan and the prison guards. But Elena was tingling all over with excitement, with anxiety.

Us or you? Damon gave him a long, blank look. With me, it should be uncomfortable but a matter of routine. Damon looked serious. He liked fighting. But first I am going to get in it and get changed into real clothes and maybe even catch a few minutes of sleep. Matt will want to find a brook or something where he can clean up.

I am trying to hold my aura down, really. Somehow, although it was his deepest grievance against Damon, he often managed to forget that Damon was a vampire. You did it to me. It was Shinichi. You know that. Time stretched and Elena began to fear that he was beyond her reach.

But then at last he lifted his head so that she could look into his eyes. Matt exploded again. At first Damon just raised an eyebrow at her, but then he shrugged elegantly and obeyed, his form blurring as he took the shape of a crow and rapidly became a dot in the rising sun. You look like you need it. Bonnie started to lean into the pressure, but made herself stop.

It was humiliating to be shaking so obviously on a Virginia morning in late July. It was humiliating to be treated like a child, too. But Meredith, who was only six months older, looked more adult than usual today. Her dark hair was pulled back, so that her eyes looked very large and her olive-skinned face with its high cheekbones was shown to its best advantage.

She could practically be my babysitter, Bonnie thought dejectedly. Meredith had high heels on, too, instead of her usual flats.

Bonnie felt smaller and younger than ever in comparison. She ran a hand through her strawberry-blond curls, trying to fluff them up a precious half inch higher. Bonnie looked sideways at it and then back at Meredith. If anything tries to grab my ankle this time, it gets this. Bonnie almost smiled. But quit changing the subject. I can do this alone. She squeezed. It was me she invited over.

First we try to help her, for her sake and ours. Then we try to make her get help. It looked…skewed…in some way, as if she were seeing it through a distorting mirror. Besides that, it had a bad aura: Bonnie had never seen a house with so much energy before. And it was cold, this energy, like the breath out of a meat locker.

Bonnie felt as if it would suck out her own life-force and turn it into ice, if it got the chance. She let Meredith ring the doorbell. It had a slight echo to it, and when Mrs.

Forbes answered, her voice seemed to echo slightly, as well. The inside of the house still had that funhouse mirror look to it, Bonnie thought, but even stranger was the feel.

If she shut her eyes she would imagine herself in a much larger place, where the floor slanted sharply down. Forbes said. Her appearance shocked Bonnie. The faded, shrunken woman was leading the way. She had almost no aura at all, Bonnie realized, and was stricken to the heart. No matter what. But it was difficult to think at all in this house, much less to think of anything good.

Bonnie knew the staircase was going up; she could see each step above her.

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But all her other senses told her she was going down. It was a horrifying feeling that made her dizzy: There was also a smell, strange and pungent, of rotten eggs. It was a reeking, rotten odor that you tasted in the air. But just before it disappeared, Bonnie thought she saw movement in the heap of food on the fine bone china.

The smell of rotten eggs—no, of sulfur, Bonnie realized, was very strong. But how did such a horrible smell get into Mrs. Bonnie turned to Meredith to ask, but Meredith was already shaking her head. Bonnie knew that expression. The room was dark. No one was in or on the bed. And shut that door fast!

A flood of relief swept over Bonnie. She stepped into the dimness before her. What do I want? Really want right now? And the answer came to her immediately. I want to see Stefan. I want to feel his arms around me. I want to just look at his face—at his green eyes with that special look that he only ever shows to me. And I want…Elena felt herself flush as a warmth went through her body, I want Stefan to kiss me. Elena was thinking this as for the second or third time she shut her eyes and shifted position, tears once again welling up.

If only she could cry, really cry, for Stefan. But something stopped her. She found it hard to squeeze out a tear. God, she was exhausted….

Elena tried. She kept her eyes shut and turned back and forth, trying not to think about Stefan for just a few minutes. She had to sleep. Desperate, she gave a mighty heave to try to find a better position—when everything suddenly changed.

Elena was comfortable. Too comfortable. She bolted upright and froze, sitting on air. But, no—this was different than what had happened when she had first returned from the afterlife, and had floated around like a balloon. She was afraid to move in any direction. And then she saw it. She saw herself, with her head back and her eyes closed in the backseat of the car.

She looked as if she were serenely sleeping. So this was how it all ended. No cause of death was ever found…. B ecause they could never see heartbreak as a cause of death, Elena thought, and in a gesture even more melodramatic than her usual melodramatic gestures, she tried to fling herself down on her own body with one arm covering her face.

As soon as she reached out to begin to fling herself, she found herself outside the Jaguar. But this is nothing like the last time. Then I saw the tunnel, I went into the Light. Suddenly Elena felt a rush of exhilaration. I know what this is, she thought triumphantly. This is an out of body experience! She looked down at her sleeping self again, searching carefully.

There was a cord attaching her sleeping body—her real body—to her spiritual self. She was tethered! Wherever she went, she could find her way home. There were only two possible destinations. She knew the general direction from the sun, and she was sure that someone having an O. The other destination, of course, was to Stefan. To her delight, she found it almost immediately. When she touched the cord, it resonated so clearly to her of Stefan that she knew it would take her to him. There was never a doubt in her mind as to which direction she would take.

Theophilia Flowers. They were there, along with Meredith and her brilliant intellect, to protect the town. And they would all understand, she told herself somewhat desperately. She might not ever have this chance again. Immediately she found herself rushing through the air, far too quickly to take note of her surroundings. Everything she passed was a blur, differing only in color and texture as Elena realized with a catch in her throat that she was going through objects.

And so, in just a few instants, she found herself looking at a heartwrenching scene: Stefan on a worn and broken pallet, looking gray-faced and thin. Stefan in a hideous, rush-strewn, lice-infested cell with its damned bars of iron from which no vampire could escape. He was awake already. But you always get something wrong.

Last time it was the little pointed ears. Go away. Elena stared. She was in too many kinds of distress to choose her words: I was just trying to fall asleep in my clothes in case a police officer stopped by while I was in the backseat of the Jag.

The Jag you bought me. But— marvel of marvels—there was now a tinge of blood in his cheeks. Moreover, he was no longer looking disdainful. He was looking deadly, his green eyes flashing with menace. I was thinking about you and falling asleep—and here I am! Somehow—somehow that brought you here. Because of love. Because we love each other! Elena shut her eyes. If only she could be here in her body, she would show Stefan how much she loved him.

Oh, God, so much has happened! But when he spoke his face was deadpan. Bonnie and Meredith told me things about Caroline— like how she was scuttling on the floor like a lizard—that just terrified me. But I had to leave them to deal with that so that I could—could get to that safe place. I never knew I could do this. My blood. She knew it! It was the only liquid that would—in a pinch—help keep a vampire alive when no blood was available.

Damon had told Elena that it was magically made from special grapes that were grown in the soil at the edges of glaciers, loess, and that they were always kept in complete darkness.

She knew it was breaking, because she could feel it inside shattering like glass, with each needle-like shard skewering flesh inside her chest. Then he looked at her with a sheen in his own eyes.

As you guessed. So they—well they run out before they get to me, sometimes, you see— Elena lifted her head, and this time tears of pure rage fell right onto his face. Where are they? Because your tears, the phantom tears of a pure maiden — She shook her head back at him.

And I was ill tonight, Elena, even though I tried to hide it. As good as new! Are you sure? Look at me! Elena looked at him. He was usually pale, but now his fine features looked flushed—as if he had been standing in front of a bonfire and the light was still reflecting off the pure lines and elegant planes of his beloved face. I…did that? She remembered the first tear droplets falling, and how they had looked like blood on his face.

Not like blood, she realized, but like natural color, sinking into him, refreshing him. But I wish we could touch each other. I want to feel your arms around me. By now Elena was cool-headed enough to tell him about the incident with Matt without making Damon sound too much like a villain. I made him get rid of the stake. Elena was bathed in the deep glow of his trust for her.

And then abruptly the world—the entire universe—shuddered at the sound of a gigantic slamming sound. It jerked at Elena. It began again—a monstrous booming that terrified Elena. She clutched uselessly at Stefan, who was looking at her with concern. And then something even worse happened. She landed on it and melded into it and then she was sitting up and the sounds were the sounds of Matt rapping at the window.

For a moment it seemed impossible that she was going to be able to keep from crying. Elena blinked, forcing herself to deal with her new situation.

But her memories of their short, sweet time together were wrapped in jonquils and lavender and nothing could ever take them away from her. Damon was irritated. Damon ignored it. What he was looking for was una donna splendida. But his mind kept drifting. He circled down toward the town below, keeping to the residential district, searching for auras.

He wanted a strong aura as much as a beautiful one. Students were the first, but this was summer, so there were fewer to pick from. Joggers were the second. And the third, thinking beautiful thoughts, just like…that one down there…were home gardeners. The young woman with the pruning shears looked up as Damon turned the corner and approached her house, deliberately hurrying and then slowing his stride. His very footsteps made it clear that he was delighted to take in the floral extravaganza in front of the charming Victorian house.

For a moment the girl looked startled, almost afraid. That was normal. Damon was wearing black boots, black jeans, a black T-shirt, and black leather jacket, in addition to his Ray-Bans. One thing was clear even before that.

She liked roses. Ah, but your Moonstones! Damon felt the information flow effortlessly from her mind to his.

The Return: Shadow Souls

She was just twentytwo, not married, still living at home. She had precisely the kind of aura he was looking for, and only a sleeping father in the house. Would you like to know what my ultimate dream is? Damon felt every delicate nuance with her, enjoyed seeing her flush, enjoyed the slight tremor that shook her body.

If—if you have time to come with me. After all, he would soon need a place to put Krysta…while she slept it off. But at the rear of the bower was something that caused his pace to quicken involuntarily.

The closest anyone has ever gotten to a black rose. The closest to black ever bred. Damon reached out to take it and their fingers touched. Damon smiled at her. It was only natural to look to see where the voice was coming from. The chair that used to sit in front of it was gone. Caroline was underneath.

It might have been a good hiding space for a ten-year-old, but as an eighteen-year-old Caroline had curled into an impossible position in order to fit there. She was sitting on a pile of what looked like shreds of clothing. Then it was just the three of them together in the darkness.

No illumination came from above or below the door to the hall. Her voice was steady, comforting.

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That should have been comforting, too. Except—except that now that Bonnie could hear her voice sort of reverberating under the desk, she could tell it had a new quality. Not so much husky as snarly, Bonnie thought helplessly. You could almost say Caroline growled her answers. Little sounds told Bonnie that the girl under the desk was moving. Can I just turn on your bedside lamp?

But the pitch-blackness was making her tremble. She could feel that this room was wrong in its angles—or maybe it was only her imagination. She could also hear things that made her jump —like that loud double clicking noise directly behind her.

What had made that? Turrn on the one by the bed. And she was moving toward them; Bonnie could hear rustling and breathing getting closer. Not Meredith. Never since Bonnie had known her had Meredith smelled like rancid sweat and rotten eggs. But even it was not as depressed-looking as the owner of the lot. Elena and Matt found him asleep inside a small office building with dirty windows. Matt tapped gently on the smudged window and eventually the man started, jerked up in his chair, and angrily waved them away.

But Matt tapped again on the window when the man began to put his head down once more, and this time the man sat up very slowly, gave them a look of bitter despair, and came to the door. Zero to sixty in 3.

Adaptive Dynamics and Active Differential for exceptional traction and handling! There is no car like the XZR! His eyes stopped flickering and became the eyes of a poker player. You were drooling over it a minute ago! I should have done the talking, Elena thought. She tried to shut out the male voices and looked at the dilapidated cars on the lot, each with its own dusty little sign tucked into the windshield: She was afraid she was going to burst into tears at any second.

This car will bring customers flocking in. Better than that purple hippo over there. On my lot, here and now, that car is barely worth one car in exchange! He had his RayBans hooked over his T-shirt and was standing with his hands behind his back.

He was looking hard at the car dealer. Elena turned to Damon. You asked him which was the best car on his lot. He flashed a brilliant smile at her for a tenth of a second, and then turned it off. She sighed. Damon smiled again, but this time it was an odd smile, just a quirk of one side of his mouth. His eyes said it was nothing much. But his right hand came out and it was holding the most beautiful rose Elena had ever seen in her life. It looked as if it would be plush to the touch, and its vivid green stem, with just a few delicate leaves here and there, was at least eighteen inches long and straight as a ruler.

Elena resolutely put her own hands behind her back. The rose probably had something to do with their journey. Elena might be imagining it, but it almost sounded as if he were disappointed. Elena knew exactly how he would have gotten the rose…but it was so pretty….

As she still made no move to take the rose, Damon lifted it and allowed the cool, silky-feeling petals to caress her cheek. It made her shiver. He used the cool, softly rustling petals to outline the other side of her face. Elena took a deep breath automatically, but what she smelled was not flowerlike at all. It was the smell of some dark, dark wine, something ancient and fragrant that had once made her drunk immediately.

Drunk on Black Magic and on her own heady excitement…just to be with Damon. I love Stefan. It was the only name that fit. Now Damon was giving her a rose kiss by swirling the blossom in a circle on her cheek and then applying pressure. The firmer petals in the middle pressed into her skin, while the outer petals just brushed it.

Elena was feeling distinctly light-headed. The day was warm and humid already; how could the rose feel so cool? It was as if she had been transported back in time, back to the days when Damon had first appeared to her, had first claimed her for his own. When she had almost let him kiss her before she knew his name…. Vaguely, Elena remembered thinking something like that before. Damon changed other people while remaining unchanged himself.

Not just the wild and angry dark parts, but the gentle parts. The honor and decency that were trapped like veins of gold inside that stone boulder in his mind.

I have to help him, Elena thought. Somehow, I have to help him—and the little boy chained outside the boulder. These thoughts had trickled slowly through her mind while it seemed separated from her body. She was so involved with them, in fact, that she somehow lost track of her body, and only now did she realize how much closer Damon had gotten.

Her back was against one of the sad, sagging cars. And Damon was speaking lightly, but with an undertone of seriousness.

Elena sensed trouble. Especially within minutes of when he must have fed from that girl. Shinichi again? Elena wondered. The thrills, good or bad? Elena knew that Damon himself was thinking the same thing. His black eyes were smoldering. Damon was furious—but there was a certain vulnerability about his fury. She ignored the rose, even as he traced the curve of her cheekbone with it. She tried to speak steadily. Ran in on, actually. Elena knew what he was seeing: