"I've had many companions."

—Damon, VD1


Chapter Seven

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The meeting place was only a short walk from the hotel, so they didn't need to take the car. Bonnie struggled to keep up with Damon and Matt as they slipped through the crowds, trying to ignore the knot forming in her stomach. Any other time, she would've wanted to stop to take in the sights. The streets were lined with old buildings packed closely together, and there were so many boutiques and small cafés. But this wasn't the time for sightseeing, and Bonnie had barely slept after hearing the news. When they reached the famous Spanish Steps she just squeezed past everyone and hurried down it as fast as she could, grateful when at last Matt looked behind him and stopped.

"Thanks," she gasped as she came up beside him. At the bottom of the steps was a large open square, with a stone bench curving around a fountain. She went over and sat down on it, trying to catch her breath.

When she glanced up a few minutes later, Matt was looking at where Damon had disappeared into the crowd. He shook his head at her, resigned. "Well," he said, "At least I've been to the area before, so I should know how to get us there."

Bonnie nodded. She felt better with Matt here, now that he wasn't ignoring her. Since giving her the news some of the tension had eased out of him, and he seemed more like his old self. Or at least, like how he was before the Solstice. More focused.

And, well, Bonnie admitted sheepishly, she couldn't stop sneaking glances at him. Even after a week she hadn't gotten over the change. Matt had always had these healthy all-American good looks, but now—now he looked amazing. In the sunlight Bonnie could appreciate the full effect.

Darn it, Bonnie, concentrate, she reminded herself. This wasn't the time to be thinking about that sort of thing. "So where are we going?" she asked, getting to her feet.

"The street's called Via Margutta," Matt said, stumbling a little over the pronunciation. "I think Damon's contact owns some kind of art gallery there."

"Oh." Bonnie tried to imagine a vampire selling artwork to tourists. "That's weird."

"Yeah, I know." Matt gave her a slight grin. "You ready?"

At Bonnie's nod he led her through the crowd, moving at a slower pace than before. They made their way out of the square and up another broad avenue. Bonnie marveled at the scene around her. The streets were teeming with people, like the whole city was out enjoying the sun. Bonnie had been to Edinburgh a few times, but she'd never seen anything like this before.

Finally Matt ducked into a small alleyway. When they came out the other side, Bonnie found herself on a narrow cobblestone street. The place was beautiful, with ancient ivy-covered buildings and little art galleries everywhere. It was quieter too, less people, the noise from the main road fading away.

"Um, I think it's. . ." Matt trailed off, looking down one end of the street and then the other. "Damn. Hold on a second." He shut his eyes and took in a deep breath. Bonnie could suddenly feel the power gathering, a thin strand creeping into the air. It made the hair on her arms stand up. This was the first time she'd seen him use his Powers, and it was—well, this was Matt Honeycutt. A boy she'd known since grade school.

A few moments passed and Matt opened his eyes. "Okay, he's this way," he said, sounding more certain. Bonnie followed, the knot in her stomach starting to tighten again. She wasn't sure what to expect, and after a week of hoping and waiting, she was afraid this would be a dead end. There was so much that depended on this meeting.

They found the art gallery near the end of the street, in a small sandstone-colored building. Unlike the other shops that had their artwork displayed outside, a sign was the only thing that marked it for what it was. La Rinascita. And below that, in smaller letters: Galleria d'Arte.

Bonnie shared a look with Matt. She could feel Damon's presence, located just beyond the wall. This was it. Matt touched her arm reassuringly as he pushed open the door.

It was cool inside, a blast of air conditioning hitting Bonnie as she walked in, along with the faint smell of smoke. The door opened into a large room, Renaissance-style paintings covering three of the walls. In the far corner Bonnie saw two figures sitting at a table. Damon. And a woman with short black hair.

Damon didn't turn around, but the woman, Mona, looked up. She was beautiful, which Bonnie expected, and young—maybe her age—with dark eyes and a slim build. She was smoking a cigarette. As they came over she flicked ash into the tray.

"And you must be Damon's companions," she said. Bonnie was surprised to hear her speaking English with only a slight accent.

"Yes," she said, a little shyly. "I'm Bonnie, and this is Matt." Mona nodded at both of them and motioned to some empty chairs.

"Please, have a seat. Damon and I were just. . . catching up on old times." As Bonnie and Matt sat down, she turned and said something in Italian to him. Bonnie noticed she didn't sound too happy.

Damon just flashed her a smile in return. "Of course," he said, amused. And then he quoted, softer, "And so the weary way-worn wanderer bore, to his own native shore." Bonnie vaguely recognized the line from some poem she'd read for English.

Mona snorted and took another drag of her cigarette. "You hardly seem the worse for wear," she observed. "But you still haven't explained why you're here." Her hand tightened suddenly, and her eyes narrowed. "I wonder how you dared to show your face after the last time."

Alarm bells began to go off in Bonnie's head. "We really need your help," she interrupted before Damon could speak. "Our friend was kidnapped two weeks ago and we're trying to get him back."

"But we need to find an Old One first," Matt added. He was looking back and forth between Damon and Mona as well. "Someone who can tell us how to stop another Original."

"The Originari?" Mona lifted an eyebrow. "They are nothing but a myth."

Bonnie shook her head. "One of them attacked us two weeks ago. His name was Klaus."

Mona seemed skeptical, but when no one's expression changed, the look faded and she leaned back in her chair. "I see. And you were hoping I could tell you how to find one." She frowned. "I'm sorry, but Damon should have known better than to come to me."

"Why's that?" Matt asked. Bonnie glanced at Damon. He didn't seem surprised, or even affected by Mona's words.

"Because I told Damon the last time that I was not going to help him anymore. And I meant it." Her face hardened. "I don't know why I even started helping you to begin with, after what you did."

"Ah," Damon said. "Still bitter then, are we?" There was a faint mocking curve to his lips.

Mona glared. Her hand was poised near his arm, which rested easily on the table. Bonnie could almost see the debate going through her head, like she was itching to burn him with her cigarette.

"Wait, wait," she said desperately. "Just hear us out."

"We don't have any other options," Matt put in, lifting his hands, placating. "I know Damon can be a real jerk—" Bonnie caught the raised eyebrow— "But we're trying to save my best friend. If. . . if he left, would you talk to us instead?"

Mona observed Matt coolly, her gaze assessing. She wasn't really all that young, Bonnie thought, not when you looked at her closely. It was the way she sat in her chair, bare legs crossed, elegant in a black dress. Her eyes—almost as dark as Damon's—were sharp, the weight of too many years in them.

"Alright," Mona said finally. "There have been rumors. I can tell you what I've heard. But only because," she added, with another glare in Damon's direction, "it'll probably get you killed."

Damon, if possible, looked even more amused. He stood up, pushing his chair back. "Five hundred years, and you're still as dramatic as ever," he said to Mona. Almost provokingly slow, he turned and strolled out of the room. The door closed shut behind him.

Silence descended as soon as he was gone. Mona looked at where he had left and then said, without expression, "Bastard. And it was four hundred and sixty-one."

"Um, I'm really sorry," Bonnie apologized. "We didn't know. . ." But how could they have known, with Damon being the way he was? And what exactly had happened between them? Now that some of the tension was gone, her curiosity was getting the best of her. There had to be a story somewhere behind all this.

"We just need you to tell us everything you've heard," Matt said, "And then we'll leave."

Mona sighed and took her eyes off the door. She put out the rest of her cigarette, pressing it into the tray. "It isn't much," she admitted, settling back into her chair. "I travel extensively due to the nature of my work," A brief glance at the wall, "I hear a few things here and there every once in awhile. But I've always dismissed the stories, having never seen such an old being myself."

"Oh they're real alright," Bonnie said, thinking about Klaus. I killed in Alexander's army he'd told them.

"So you say." Mona shrugged. "There was a rumor sixty years ago, around the time of the war. Whispers that one had been up north."

"What else?" Matt asked.

"Nothing so recent, besides a few wild claims." Mona tapped her nails on the table before shaking her head. "I'm sorry, I'm too young to know much."

"However," she said, as Bonnie's face fell, "there is someone who may be able to help you. A business client of mine. He's quite old."

Bonnie leaned forward. "Where can we find him?" she said eagerly.

"Venice. His name is Gasparo." Mona pursed her lips. "It may be hard to get his attention, though. He won't speak to just anyone. But I wonder if. . ." she trailed off thoughtfully.

Bonnie waited until Mona nodded to herself. "Yes, this could work." Looking at them, she explained, "My ex-husband is employed by him still. I could call, and tell him to introduce you."

"Ex?" Bonnie asked, a little wary. She suspected just how Damon knew Mona, and she didn't want to have to go through this again.

Mona waved a hand. "Oh, don't worry. It was a mutual decision." For a second a wry smile touched her lips. "Till death do us part isn't so appealing when you're immortal."

"Besides," she went on. "We still keep in touch. I know how to handle him."

It sounded good. Or at least, it sounded like a plan. Matt seemed to share her feelings, too. "Thank you," he told Mona seriously. "You didn't have to help us. We appreciate it."

Mona smiled again, a different smile this time. "You're welcome," she said. "After all, our kind should stick together. These centuries can be lonely without friends." The sly, sideways glance she gave him was anything but subtle.

Matt just looked away, uncomfortable. If he were human he would've been blushing. It was so Matt-like—the old Matt—that Bonnie almost laughed.

Everything's actually working out, she thought.

"Well, we should go check on Damon," Matt told Bonnie. She nodded, and made to follow as he stood up.

"Wait," Mona said suddenly. "Before you go, there's something else." Bonnie blinked. The flirtatious tone was gone, replaced with a serious expression. Slowly, she sat back down.

Mona gazed at them steadily. "I wasn't lying when I told Damon that this search would get him killed. There was a story I heard once, in a tavern in Spain. . ." she paused, troubled. "Ten vampires—members of our kind who had been alive since the Dark Ages—disappeared a hundred years ago. Their bodies were found nailed to the door of a church. Without their teeth. Some whispered it was the work of—"

"An Old One," Bonnie finished, her eyes widening.

"Yes. I never believed it, of course. And most assumed a vampire hunter—or hunters—had merely gotten lucky. But if what you're saying is true. . ."

"We'll keep that in mind," Matt said firmly. "Thank you. Was there anything else?"

Mona shrugged. "Fine. Don't say I didn't warn you. But yes, there's one last thing. Tell me—how many years have you known Damon?"

Bonnie saw Matt pause. "Only one," she answered. "He came to our town a year ago. It's a long story."

"I'm sure," Mona said dryly. "Well, here's another warning, then. Be careful. Whatever he's said or done to make you trust him, he'll betray you as soon as it's convenient to do so, and leave you behind without a second glance."

"How do you know that?" Bonnie asked before she could stop herself.

"How do you think?" For just a moment, something in Mona's voice wavered. "We were lovers once. He was a leader of men—a condottiero. He had everything. And then he left one day without warning. Because he was bored." Her hands curled on the table.

"He's helping us save his brother," said Matt. "And we don't trust him."

Dark eyebrows rose in surprise. "His brother?"

"Yes. Stefan. They've—reconciled. . . sort of," Bonnie replied. She didn't want to believe Mona. While what she said may have been true once, Damon had changed for the better. She hoped.

Mona looked at Matt more closely. "Well, I can see your mind is made up. You're young, you'll learn what he's like soon enough."

She rose to her feet gracefully, smoothing out her dress. "I'll contact my ex-husband tonight," she said. "Expect a message from me within the next few days."

"Thank you so much," said Bonnie sincerely. Despite Mona's warnings, she felt hopeful they could do this together with Damon, and find an Old One who wouldn't kill them on sight. Everything was falling into place.

"C'mon," Matt said. With a final nod at Mona, he walked towards the door, Bonnie trailing behind. As she left, she cast one last look back. Mona was standing by the wall, a slim hand on the edge of a painting. She smiled—one of the smiles Bonnie had come to associate with not-human. A voice whispered in her mind: Good luck, girl.

Bonnie closed the door behind her, firmly, glad to be out in the sun.