Chloe stalked silently through the forest, every move precise. She tilted her head alertly, her eyes tracking some near-invisible movement in the undergrowth.
Matt followed her, messenger bag slung over his shoulder. He was trying to walk quietly, too, but sticks and leaves crackled under his feet, and he winced.
Stopping, Chloe blinked for a moment, sniffed the air, and then stretched her hands out toward the bushes to their left. "Come on," she murmured, almost too low for Matt to hear.
There was a rustling, and slowly a rabbit nosed its way out from between the leaves, staring up at Chloe with wide, dark eyes, its ears quivering. With a quick swoop, Chloe snatched it up. There was a shrill squeak, and then the little animal was still and docile in her arms.
Chloe's face was buried in the rabbit's light brown fur, and Matt watched with a sort of detached approval as she swallowed. A drop of blood made a long, sticky track down the animal's side before dripping to the forest floor.
Waking from its doze, the rabbit spasmed once, kicking out with its hind legs, and then lay still. Chloe wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and laid the rabbit onto the ground, looking down at it mournfully.
"I didn't mean to kill it," she said, her voice low and sad. She pushed back her short ringlets of hair and looked up at Matt beseechingly. "I'm sorry. I know how gross and weird this is."
Matt opened his messenger bag and pulled out a bottle of water to hand to her. "You don't have to apologize," he said. Yeah, watching her feed on animals was sort of weird and gross, but less so now than the first time he'd seen it. And it was a hundred percent worth it: Chloe hadn't relapsed at all, seemed content with drinking animal blood instead of hunting humans. That was all that mattered.
Chloe rinsed out her mouth, spitting pink-tinged water into the bushes, then took a drink. "Thanks," she said shakily. "It's been hard, I guess. Sometimes I dream about blood. Real human blood. But the things I did, in those days with Ethan, I can't really forgive myself for. I don't think I'll ever be able to. And Ethan - why did I ever trust him?" Her Cupid's-bow mouth trembled.
"Hey." Matt caught her arm and shook it lightly. "Ethan had us all fooled. If Stefan hadn't saved me, I'd be in the same situation you are."
"Yeah." Chloe leaned against him. "I guess you're saving me, too."
Matt tangled his fingers with hers. "I wasn't ready to lose you."
Chloe tipped her face up to his, her eyes widening. Matt brushed his mouth against her cheek and then her mouth, just a light brush of lips at first, and then more deeply. Matt closed his eyes, feeling the softness of her lips against his. He felt like he was falling. Each day he spent with Chloe, helping her turn toward the light, seeing her strength, he loved her just a little more.
Meredith stretched and groaned quietly to herself. The room was dark, except for the light of her laptop screen. Elena and Bonnie were fast asleep in their beds, and Meredith glanced longingly at her own bed. Nights of patrolling and days spent at the gym meant that she had been collapsing gratefully into deep dreamless sleep as soon as she lay down lately.
But unlike many of the classes on campus, her English section was still meeting, and Meredith had a paper due. She'd been a straight-A student in high school, and her pride wouldn't let her miss the deadline on a paper or do a shoddy job, no matter how tired she was. Forcing herself back into student mode, Meredith yawned and typed: From their first encounter Anna and Vronsky's relationship is clearly doomed to end in mutual destruction.
Student mode or not, she was still a hunter, still an exquisitely balanced weapon, still a Sulez, and she snapped to attention as soon as Bonnie's voice rose from her bed on the other side of the room.
"He doesn't like to be alone," Bonnie said abruptly. Her usually expressive voice had that flat, almost metallic quality that signaled one of her visions.
"Bonnie?" Meredith said tentatively. Bonnie didn't answer, and Meredith turned on her desk light to illuminate the rest of the room, careful not to shine it directly in Bonnie's face.
Bonnie's eyes were shut, although Meredith could see them moving beneath their lids as if she were trying to wake, or trying to see something in her dreams. Her face was strained, and Meredith made a soothing sound in her throat as she crept across the room and shook Elena gently by the shoulder.
Elena gave a half-asleep mmph rolling over, and muttered, "What? What?" in irritation before she blinked all the way awake.
"Shh," Meredith told her, and said gently to Bonnie, "Who doesn't like to be alone, Bon?"
"Klaus," Bonnie answered in that same deadened voice, and Elena's eyes widened in comprehension. Elena sat up, her golden hair tousled with sleep, and reached for a notebook and pen on her desk. Meredith sat down on Bonnie's bed and waited, staring at the smaller girl's sleeping face beside her.
"Klaus wants his old friends," Bonnie told them. "He's calling for one now." Still sleeping, she raised one thin, white arm out above her and crooked her finger, beckoning into the darkness. "There's so much blood," she added in that flat voice, as her hand flopped back down by her side. The skin on Meredith's arms pebbled into goose bumps.
Elena scribbled something in her notebook and held it up: in big letters she'd written ASK HER WHO. They'd found in the past that it was better for just one person to question Bonnie when she was seeing visions, to keep her from getting confused and snapping out of her trance.
"Who is Klaus calling for?" Meredith asked, keeping her voice calm. Her heart was pounding hard at the idea, and she pressed one hand against her chest as if to calm it. Anyone Klaus considered a friend was definitely dangerous.
Bonnie's mouth opened to answer, but she hesitated. "He calls them to join his fight," she said after a moment, her voice hollow. "The fire's so bright, there's no way to tell who's coming. It's just Klaus. Klaus and blood and flames in the darkness."
"What is Klaus planning?" Meredith asked. Bonnie didn't answer, but her eyelids fluttered, her lashes looking thick and dark against the paleness of her cheeks. She was breathing more heavily now.
"Should we try to wake her up?" Meredith wondered. Elena shook her head and wrote on the pad again. ASK HER WHERE KLAUS IS.
"Can you tell where Klaus is right now?" Meredith asked.
Restlessly, Bonnie moved her head back and forth against the pillow. "Fire," she said. "Darkness and flames. Blood and fire. He wants them all to join his fight." A thick chuckle forced its way out of her mouth, although her expression did not change. "If Klaus has his way, everything will end in blood and fire."
"Can we stop him?" Meredith asked. Bonnie said nothing, but grew more restless. Her hands and feet started to drum against the mattress, lightly and then more heavily, a rapid patter. "Bonnie!" Meredith said, and leaped to her feet.
With a great gasp, Bonnie's body stilled. Her eyes flew open.
Meredith grabbed the smaller girl's shoulders. A second later, Elena was beside them on the bed, reaching out and taking hold of Bonnie's arm.
Bonnie's brown eyes were wide and blank for a moment, and then she frowned and Meredith could see the real Bonnie flooding back in.
"Ow!" Bonnie complained. "What are you doing? It's the middle of the night!" She pulled away from them. "Cut it out," she said indignantly, rubbing at her arm where Elena had grabbed her.
"You had a vision," Elena said, shifting back to give her some room. "Can you remember anything?"
"Ugh." Bonnie made a face. "I should have known. My mouth always tastes funny when I come out of one of those. I hate that." She looked at Elena and Meredith. "I don't remember anything. What'd I say?" she asked tentatively. "Was it bad?"
"Oh, blood and fire and darkness," Meredith said dryly. "The usual sort of thing."
"I wrote it down," Elena said, and handed Bonnie her notebook.
Bonnie read Elena's notes and paled. "Klaus is calling someone to come to him?" she asked. "Oh, no. More monsters. We can't - there's no way this is good for us."
"Any guesses about who he might be calling?" Elena wondered.
Meredith sighed and stood, beginning to pace between the beds. "We don't really know that much about him," she said.
"Thousands of years of being a monster," Elena added. "I imagine Klaus has a lot of evil in his past."
Despite her quick strides across the room, a cold shiver ran down Meredith's back. One thing was certain: anyone Klaus wanted to join him would be the last person they would want here. Decisively, she clicked her laptop closed and went to her closet to pull out the weapons trunk. There was no time to be a student now. She had to prepare for war.