Stefan held Elena close to him, ran his fingers through her silky hair, and felt her heart beating against his chest. When their lips met, he could feel her fear and weariness, as well as her wonder at her new Powers. Elena was sensing his own mixture of love and fear, and his delight at the new protection Elena had. She was sending him a constant stream of love and reassurance, which he returned in kind.
It was a marvel to him always, the way the world stopped, however bad things were, when Elena was in his arms. This human girl was his light and his touchstone, the one thing he could rely on.
"Sleep well, my love," he said, reluctantly releasing her. Elena kissed him one more time before going into her dorm room and shutting the door. Stefan hated to see her go; he couldn't erase the image of Klaus slicing her throat. Still, Bonnie and Meredith would be there. Elena had always been strong and independent and now she had Power of her own. He would be only a couple of floors above if she needed him.
Stefan trudged up the two flights of stairs between Elena's room and his own and unlocked his door. His room was dark and peaceful and he thought that although he would not sleep, he might lie down and let the world turn without him for a few hours.
As he closed the door behind him, he caught sight of a flash of white out on the balcony.
Katherine. His slow-beating heart seemed to stop for a moment. She was leaning gracefully against the balcony's railing, looking deceptively young and delicate in a long, white dress. She must have flown up, and waited for him just outside.
His first thought was to barricade the door to the balcony, to keep her out. His second was to arm himself with a stake and attack her. But she could have easily come in already: he wasn't alive; there was no barrier preventing a vampire from entering his room. There was no point in attacking her when she would see him coming, her eyes steady on his through the glass of the balcony door.
"Katherine," he said, stepping out onto the balcony, keeping his voice neutral. "What do you want?"
"Dear Stefan," she said mockingly. "Is that any way to greet your first love?" She smiled at him. He didn't know how he could ever have thought she and Elena looked alike. Their features were similar, certainly, but Elena's were firmer, her hair more golden, her eyes a deeper blue. Katherine seemed waiflike and frail in the style of her times, Elena more muscular and strong. And the love and warmth he saw in Elena's eyes was nothing like the malice Katherine's held.
"Did Klaus send you?" he asked, ignoring her comment.
"Where's Damon?" Katherine asked, playing the same game. She tilted her head flirtatiously. "You two were getting along so well the last time I saw you. Trouble in paradise already?" Stefan didn't answer, and her smile grew. "Damon should have taken my offer. He would have been happier with me."
Stefan shrugged, refusing to let Katherine see she'd gotten under his skin. "Damon didn't love you anymore, Katherine," he said, adding vindictively, "You weren't the one he wanted."
"Oh, yes, Elena," Katherine said. She came closer to Stefan and traced her fingers along his arm, glancing up at him through her eyelashes.
"Leave her alone," Stefan snapped.
"I'm not mad at Elena anymore," she said softly. "I had a lot of time to think. After she killed me."
"Really," Stefan said dryly, stepping away from Katherine's lingering touches. "So being dead gave you time to get over your jealousy of Elena?"
Seeing that he wasn't responding to her pseudoinnocent flirtations, Katherine straightened up, her face hardening. "You'd be surprised how much you learn, being dead," she said. "I saw everything. And I see what's going on with Elena and Damon. In fact" - she smiled, her long, pointed canines shining in the moonlight - "it seems Elena and I have more in common than I ever knew."
Stefan ignored the pang he felt thinking of Elena and Damon together. He trusted Elena now, and he wasn't going to fall for Katherine's games. "If you hurt her, or any of the innocent people here, I'll find a way to kill you," he said. "And this time, you'll stay dead."
Katherine laughed, a soft, bell-like sound that took him back for a moment to the gardens of his father's palazzo, many lifetimes ago. "Poor Stefan," she said. "So loyal, so loving. I've missed your passion, you know." She reached up and brushed one soft, cool hand across his cheek. "It's good to see you again." Stepping backward, she changed, her delicate form rippling in her white dress until a snowy owl spread its wings on the railing and quickly rose into the night.
Bonnie stared out the window of Zander's dorm room. It had been a long night, but now dawn was breaking, pink and gold, over the quad. She had come over an hour before, as soon as Zander had called her to tell her he needed her. When Bonnie had arrived, Zander had taken her in his arms and held her close, his eyes tightly shut, as if he was blocking everything else out, just for a moment.
Now the rest of the Pack was gone and Shay and Zander were hunched over Zander's desk behind Bonnie, sketching battle plans on scraps of paper.
"Tristan's not as strong as he should be," Shay was saying. "If we flank him with Enrique and Jared, they can compensate for his weak left forefoot."
Zander made a low, thoughtful sound. "Tristan pulled a hamstring back at the beginning of the year, but I thought he was almost healed. I'll work out with him and see if he can get back up to speed."
"Until then, we'll need to make sure he's covered," Shay said. "Marcus is strong, but he has a tendency to hesitate. What should we do about that?"
Before tonight, Bonnie hadn't quite understood what it meant that Zander was the Alpha. The Pack had mourned Chad tonight, first as wolves and then, as the moon set, as people. There had been howling and, later, speeches and tears, remembering their friend. And throughout, Zander had taken charge, guiding his friends and supporting them through their grief.
And now, the night over, he and Shay were strategizing the best ways to keep their Pack safe in the future. They were always focused on the good of their Pack.
Bonnie now understood exactly why the High Wolf Council had chosen an Alpha female for Zander when they were younger, not just as a mate, but as a partner.
Bonnie turned as Zander stood up. "Okay," he said, rubbing his eyes. "Let's call it a night. We'll get the guys together this afternoon, see how they're doing."
"I'll head back and call you in a few hours when I'm up," Shay said, getting to her feet. They hugged and she clung to him for a minute. Separating from Zander, she gave Bonnie a stiff nod. "Later, Bonnie," she said coolly.
As the door closed behind Shay, Zander stretched out his arms to Bonnie. "Hey there," he said, and gave her his long, slow smile. Even paired with the pain in his eyes, that smile was devastating, and Bonnie went to him, twining her arms around him.
But even as she held him close, it didn't feel quite right. Zander must have sensed a stiffness in her because he pulled back, his wide, blue eyes searching hers. "What's up?" he said softly. "Are you okay? I know things are really hard."
Bonnie's eyes stung, and she had to let go of Zander with one hand so that she could wipe at them. It was just like Zander: his friend was dead, he'd spent the night comforting and protecting his Pack, and now he was worried about how Bonnie was doing?
"I'm fine," she said. "Just tired."
Zander caught her hand. "Hey," he said. "Seriously, what is it? Tell me."
Bonnie sighed. "I love you, Zander," she said slowly, and stopped.
Zander's eyes narrowed and he half frowned. "Why does that sound like there's a but at the end?" he asked.
"I love you, but I'm not sure that I'm good for you," Bonnie said miserably. "I see you and Shay together . . . taking care of each other, fighting side by side, looking out for the Pack together, and I can't do that. Maybe the High Wolf Council is right about what you need."
"The High Wolf . . . Bonnie, what do they have to do with this? They don't decide what I want," Zander said, his voice rising.
"I can't be that for you, Zander," Bonnie said. "I don't know. Maybe we both need some time to figure out what the future holds. What's best for us. Even if it's not . . ." Her voice broke, and she swallowed hard before continuing. "Even if it's not being together." She was looking down at her clutched hands, twisting them, unable to look Zander in the eye. "I do love you," she said desperately. "But maybe that's not all that matters."
"Bonnie," Zander said reasonably, stepping between her and the door. "This is ridiculous. We can figure this all out."
"I hope so," Bonnie said. "But for right now, I know I'm not the one you need by your side." She was trying to sound reasonable, but she heard her voice crack as she spoke.
Zander grunted a denial and reached out for Bonnie again, but she ducked away. She had to leave his room before she lost her nerve. She was sure that this was the right thing, the best thing - Zander had responsibilities, he needed someone who could understand them and be a true partner for him - but if she didn't leave right now, she was going to fall flat on the floor and wrap her arms around his legs, begging him not to let her go.
"Bonnie," Zander said as she pushed by him. "Stay." She kept moving toward the door without answering. After a moment of silence, she heard Zander sit heavily on the bed.
Bonnie tried not to look back, but she couldn't help sneaking a glance at Zander as she closed the door behind her. He was hunched over, miserable, as if he was protecting himself from a blow. Maybe she was doing the right thing, or maybe she just ruined the best thing that had ever happened to her. She just didn't know.