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pictures from the flood

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individual tracks
yellow light | of monsters & men
youth | daughter
apologies | grace potter & the nocturnals
human | ellie goulding
life on a chain | pete yorn
untouchable face | ani difranco
round & round | imagine dragons
mending walls | joe crookston
mend your heart | william fitzsimmons
beginner’s luck | eels

 

++++

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matt is eighty miles outside Louisville when he starts absently daydreaming about what lies ahead.

Dorm room, roommate, football practice. Textbooks, lectures, a job of some sort, more football practice. He’d printed out four syllabi before leaving Mystic Falls in Elena’s old SUV, and was proud that he hadn’t even started college yet and he’d figured out what a syllabus is, and that its plural counterpart is syllabi. He’s practically an intellectual already.

He’s going to make it work. It’s going to be great. He’ll actually be allowed to play his freshman year, he’ll get passing grades in all his courses, and everyone will come and cheer him on during championships and –

Fuck.

Something else. Think of something else. Anything else. Damn it, don’t go there.

Dead.

No.

They’re all dead.

Shit.

Not again. Don’t think about it.

But they’re here now and he can’t chase them away. He sighs long and deep, and lets them in again because it’s not like he can stop them. He wonders if it will ever stop happening. Wishes it would and hopes it won’t with equal fervor.

He sees each of their faces. Stands there again in his mind, holding a celebratory graduation beer, watching them all snuffed out. And with them, his world. It’s like a horrifying one act play, how he sees each of them, one after the other, like they lined up in neat formation behind his heart to torture him.

Jeremy, sweet little brother who’d grown into a hunter worthy of the fiercest of the Gilberts before he could even grow a beard. Laughing at some joke Tyler made. His face changing to innocent surprise as he watched his heart torn from his chest, bloody and still beating for an impossible moment. Klaus was suddenly just there, and wasted no time claiming Jer’s heart in payment for Elijah and Kol. Elena’s screams had lit up the night as Jeremy fell.

Bonnie, who’d been better at CPR than Matt, who’d listened to all his silly ramblings while they blew their whistles at rambunctious children by the pool for six summers straight. Who had rushed forward, conjured the white oak stake out of thin air, and plunged it into Klaus’ chest before he could even drop Jeremy’s heart. She held it there and twisted. Klaus had gasped wetly, then burst into flames, but still she’d held on. The flames travelled up her arm and across her chest, lighting up her eyes as her mouth opened a fraction, yet she didn’t make a sound. She’d turned then, looked at all of them as the fire consumed her. She might have mouthed something like I’m sorry before she and Klaus both fell, and the world Matt had known began to spin.

 

Matt pulls over to the shoulder, wracked with nausea and not trusting himself to keep driving. Their faces keep coming.

 

Elena, bright smile and chocolate hair, steady as a rock from cradle to grave. She’d been facing away from him when she died, first of Klaus’ extended family to go, but Matt remembers how her body fell so gracefully from Damon’s arms, a sinuous line, and came to rest quietly on the ground. The pool of blood that formed around her was perfectly circular. Like a stone dropping into water, a single ripple spreading outward towards the rest of them.

Tyler, with his swagger and smirk, with his laughing eyes and huge heart. His face had collapsed in grief when he understood what was happening. He’d reached for Caroline then. “I’m not ready to go,” he’d said. And then he was gone.

Caroline, who took care of everyone, all the time, who’d been the closest thing to a hero Matt had ever known, had thrown herself over Tyler’s lifeless body like a dying swan. “I’m right here,” she’d said. “And I’m not going anywhere.” She held onto him and rocked his body while she waited. When she finally bled, it was as though she was melting into Tyler, and they sunk together into the blood-soaked earth.

The Salvatores, whom he would’ve as soon killed as given a second look, had stared at each other after Caroline died; looking at each other like no one else had ever existed. They’d stumbled away from the rest of the bodies and fallen to their knees, never turning from the other’s face. Matt would have looked away then, but something compelled him not to. He had to see. Someone had to see and remember it. “Don’t look, Stef,” said Damon. “Shut up, Damon,” said Stefan. “I mean it,” said Damon. “Don’t watch it happen, little brother. Not again.” Stefan nodded once, chin trembling. “I’m sorry,” said Damon. “I love you,” said Stefan. They’d held each other’s faces in the cradle of their hands for a long time, just staring at each other. When Damon started coughing, they curled their bodies together and clung. Stefan howled, long and keening, and then there was silence.

 

And Matt had just stood there. The world ended, and all he’d done was watch it go.

 

When he finally looked away, across the expanse of the campfire, there was Rebekah, arrived too many moments too late. She stood amongst the bodies, looking shocked, pale, shaken. Their eyes met and held. Had he been crying? He knows she wasn’t. They’d stared, blue eyes on paler blue, and Matt could physically feel the earth shrinking. He blinked hard, and when he opened his eyes, she was gone.

 

 

After that there was nothing left to do but bury the dead, and then get on with it. He might have quit. He might have said to hell with everything and gone to meet Vicki again for good, except their voices in his head would not quit. They whispered to him, urging him forward. And then the recruiter called with an offer that wasn’t half bad, and so he picked himself up and got on with it. Nothing else for it, he’d supposed.

He’d tried to call Kelly after losing everyone, but the cell number he had was out of service. So, she’s gone too. And now here he is, thousands of miles from what will never be home again, heading to college because that’s what you do when you’re eighteen and life is calling and there’s nothing left to do but live it. All his friends are dead. Most of his family, too. Every vampire in existence is dead, he realizes, except for Rebekah’s line, however many there are remaining. He can’t really deal with the scope of that much death, so he puts it out of his head as best he can.

He has no idea who he’s supposed to be without all of them, but he supposes he’ll figure it out as he goes along. He’s always been pragmatic that way.

 

He presses his foot to the gas again once the visions pass, and takes it on faith he won’t get caught speeding. If anyone were going to catch him, surely it would have happened before now.

 

 

 

++++

 

 

Something is following him. He’s sure of it. The hair has been standing up on his neck for a couple of days. Three towns ago he was gassing up the SUV when something darted behind him. When he turned, nothing was there. This morning he’s sure he saw something hovering just at the edges of his vision while stopped for a break and a bottle of water, staring out over the endless vista of the Badlands. But when he’d turned, there was nothing but more sandstone and scrub brush. And the horizon, swiftly becoming endless.

He looks up from his burger at a diner near the edge of Bozeman, and she’s just… sitting there, staring at him with a frown on her face. He jerks in his seat and hits his head painfully against the back of the wooden booth.

“Aah, ow, goddammit! … Rebekah? How did you – what are you doing here?”

She ignores his question.

“That smells absolutely rank,” she says, wrinkling her nose in disgust at his dinner. She grabs his glass of soda and takes a noisy drink, draining it and slurping at the dregs through the melting ice.

Matt crosses his arms and purses his lips in way that he hopes makes him appear fearless and unimpressed. Inside he’s a mass of jangling metallic worms. Terror and irritation war for dominance as his thoughts race.

“Why are you following me? I haven’t even seen you since – ” He stops himself too late, and gulps as she shoots him a withering look.

“I’m not following you. Why would I follow you? You’re stopping in the most boring places ever.”

Matt looks at her, his disbelief clear in every line of his face. He’s still afraid, but annoyance is winning out over fear.

“Oh yeah? So you’re just… what? Coincidentally travelling the same boring road as me? Going boring places just for the heck of it?”

Rebekah looks irritated as she picks at her cuticles.

“I never said that.”

Now he’s confused.

“What then?”

“I’m not following you,” she says, nonchalant. “We’re headed the same place, so I’m going with you. Someone has to make this trip interesting. It’s clear that left to your own devices, even paint will start watching itself dry in protest of your - ” She waives her hand at him, searching for the right words. “Milquetoast existence,” she concludes.

“Wow, thanks.”

She shrugs.

“What are you talking about, anyway? I don’t know where you think you’re going, but I’m on my way to college.”

“Me too.”

He looks at her in frank disbelief.

“In Missoula.”

“Same.”

You’re going to college. At the University of Montana.”

“Is it so hard to believe? I’ve always wanted to further my education, but I spent one hundred years in a box so I never had the chance until now. Besides, I’ve always wanted to live near mountains.”

“Rebekah, there are dozens of other colleges all over the world. Do you really expect me to believe it’s a coincidence you picked the one I’m going to? The one I’m going to solely because I got a scholarship to play ball for them? The one in freaking Montana, as far away from Mystic Falls and vampires as I could possibly get?”

“Believe what you like,” she says. “Football’s not the only program handing out scholarships, you know.”

He’s baffled by this entire conversation.

You need a scholarship?”

“Well, not technically, but. That’s what coeds do, right? Get scholarships and live in dormitories and eat in the commons. And I’m a coed now. With my very own scholarship.”

“Okay…” He supposes that makes a sort of sense. “Well what program did you get into, then?”

“Cheerleading, if you must know. It’s not exactly academic, but I tried out and I got in. You’re looking at a fellow member of the class of 2017.” She smiles in that smug way of hers that gets under his skin like – like chiggers, and raises an arm in the air. “Let’s go, Griz!”

He has no idea how to respond to that, so he just stares.

“Come on,” she says, sliding out of the booth. “Orientation starts tomorrow morning and I want to make sure I get there first to pick out the best bed before my roommate arrives, and – ”

“No.”

She stops.

“No, what?”

“No, you’re not coming with me and this isn’t happening and, and – go away, okay?”

She smiles, and he pictures jackals tearing at a bloody carcass.

“I’m afraid you’re stuck with me, Matt,” she says. “Hurry up, okay? I’ll wait in the car.”

He blinks, dumbfounded.

 

 

 

++++

 

 

It’s been a couple of months since the start of classes, and Matt cannot seem to shake Rebekah. She’s just everywhere, and it’s starting to drive him up a wall. He’s busy, damn it. He doesn’t have time for Rebekah’s insistent bullshit. He’s got studying to do, and football practice, which is so much harder than it was in high school, and he’s working twenty hours a week washing dishes at Food for Thought on top of everything else. And he’s tired, but she won’t leave him be.

She’s at ball practice, because the cheerleaders practice on the same field with them most days. She’s in two study groups with him, though god knows why she needs study groups when she knows every answer to every freaking question. They even live on the same floor of the same dorm, and why on earth does the university even allow that, anyway? She’s always smiling and has this hopeful look in her eyes whenever she sees him, and it makes him want to scream.

One cloudy afternoon in October, he does just that. He’s walking across campus after a particularly grueling practice, and Rebekah is keeping pace with him despite his best efforts to walk fast enough to evade her.

“God!” he yells, interrupting a tirade about her roommate, who Rebekah is convinced only came to school to leave her dirty underwear strewn over the dorm room floor and run up the phone bill. “Would you please stop following me?”

Rebekah freezes in place.

“What, I wasn’t – “

He stops walking and turns to address her. “Yes, you were. I told you I need to get to work, but instead you just keep talking and walking with me and damn it, Rebekah, I can’t take it, okay?”

“What’s got you in a snit?” Her mouth is screwed up in annoyance and damn if it isn’t cute. He shakes his head at himself, exasperated. No, it isn’t cute. Not one bit. This has got to stop.

“Rebekah, listen to me. We can’t hang out. I don’t have time to hang out, okay? I’ve accepted you’re here to stay, but I don’t want to hang out with you and hear all about your roommate, who I’m sure you’ve compelled to within an inch of her life.”

She has the nerve to look affronted at that, and Matt rolls his eyes because really? He keeps going.

“I don’t care about the captain of the cheer squad putting you at the end of the line. I don’t want to hear one more goddamn story about your French instructor, okay? I. Don’t. Want. It. Got it?”

Her cheeks are flushed with anger now.

“Oh yeah, well. You think it’s a picnic for me? You think I like hearing about your stupid shifts at that wretched hole in the wall that makes you smell like dish soap and grease? You think it’s fun for me, watching you disappear into your room every night and never once asking me if I’d like to come in? In case you hadn’t noticed, Matt, we’re living in a sea of strangers. I thought we would stick together or something. But you’re always running off. It’s really annoying.”

“Well if I’m so annoying, you could go find someone else to bug.”

She gapes like a fish.

“I – ” she makes a growling, frustrated noise. “Don’t you ever get tired of being this useless?”

Useless? How dare she? He glares and snaps at her.

“Don’t you ever get tired of being everybody’s castoff?”

She flushes, and her next words are nearly a shout.

“Why are you being so mean to me?”

“Because I don’t like you!”

It bursts out of him before he can stop it.

Her face goes white and her lower lip quivers.

“You – “ she looks crushed and damn it shouldn’t make him feel like dirt, should it? “You don’t?” Her voice is small now, hurt. Fuck, he’s such a dick.

“I – it’s just you push and you push and I don’t know how to handle it. You’re too much for me sometimes, Rebekah.”

“I see,” she says, and swallows. She’s not looking at him anymore. He really wishes she would look at him. Why does he wish pointless stuff like this whenever she’s around? He just told her to back off and that’s what he wants, right?

“I didn’t – I mean – fuck, I don’t know what I mean. I didn’t mean that."

She’s still not looking at him, and it twists something inside him he didn’t know was there. He can’t name it, but whatever it is isn’t good. His fingers twitch and he swallows.

“It’s not that, it’s – I don’t even know what it is. This whole situation just feels so fucked up to me, and In case you hadn’t noticed I’m not that great at the fucked up stuff and – “

“You’re my only friend.”

She’s still staring at something nameless off to the side when she says it, low and broken, and he’s stunned. Her profile is like torn paper as she presses her lips together and closes her eyes for a long moment before turning and looking him square in the eye. Blue on paler blue.

Is his throat getting tighter? He could use some water. He opens his mouth but nothing comes out.

“They’re all gone, Matt. Don’t you get it? All of them. Yours and mine.”

He feels himself go pale, all the blood rushing to his feet. He sways a little, feeling dizzy and sick. No.

“You’re all I’ve got left, and if you think I don’t know what an enormous cosmic joke that is, you’re wrong. I get it.”

Her eyes are wet and her face is pinched. She looks thin and worn, and Matt sees for the first time just how old she really is. The shock of it makes him go very still. Should he say something, or –? She speaks again before he can finish the thought.

“I’ve lived more than a thousand years. Does your tiny little mind even comprehend that number? It’s mountains of time. And the only thing I have to show for it is a house I don’t want in a town I’d rather forget, filled with coffins that the only man I’ve ever – “ she closes her eyes a moment and shakes her head as though to clear it. “That my brother kept me and the rest of my family in.”

She pulls in a ragged breath and continues.

“Nothing. I’ve got nothing Matt. And the sickest part of all of it is I miss those coffins. Because they were a part of us, and at least I know that while I was inside one of them it meant I was needed. It meant I was loved. Here, in this place surrounded by strangers studying pointless things – I don’t have anything anymore.”

Matt looks at her and he’s sure his face must show the horror and pity he feels, because she squares her shoulders and glares at him.

“Don’t you look at me like that, Matt Donovan. Don’t you dare.” Tears are slowly tracking down her cheeks now, but she doesn’t seem to notice them.

“I have nothing left of them. I’m all that’s left, except for you. There’s no one to keep me anymore. And the only person who understands that, who knew them even a little and knows how it feels, is a teenage quarterback who would rather gouge out an eye than give me the time of day. How pathetic is that? That you are the only thing left in my life that feels real?”

“Rebekah, I – “

She holds her hand up to stop him.

“Don’t bother. I don’t want your pity and you can keep your judgment to yourself. I get it, okay? You don’t want me around. It’s fine. I won’t bother you anymore.”

She hikes her backpack more firmly onto her shoulder and brushes past him to head back towards the dorm. He turns and watches her go. He feels like he should do something – call after her, follow her. Instead he just stands there until she’s rounded the corner of Anderson Hall and disappears.

The clouds finally decide to open, and the rain pulls him back to himself. A glance at his watch tells him if he doesn’t hurry he’ll be late for his shift. He swears under his breath and jogs the rest of the way across campus. By the time he reaches the back door to the kitchen, he’s soaked to the bone and more tired than he’s ever been in his life.

 

 

 

 

++++

 

 

He really shouldn’t be staring at Rebekah. They’ve done nothing but avoid each other for months, and take cheap verbal shots when they happen to find themselves in the same space for longer than a few minutes. It’s safe to say that things between them are, well, strained is probably a good word. Fucking awful, there’s a couple more words. He should focus on finishing his beer, walking home, and sleeping off his drunken stupor.

But here he is at the Rhino on a freezing February night, sitting at the back of the bar drinking his underage beer, staring at her annoyed face as she stands against the wall a few feet away from him. His teammate Tim Peterson towers over her, and though Matt can’t hear what he’s saying, it’s clearly nothing Rebekah is interested in hearing.

She says something, irritation all over her face, and Peterson gets more firmly in her face and raises his voice.

“You really are as stupid as you look, aren’t you sweetheart?”

He can see the hurt in Rebekah’s eyes, chased quickly by smoldering anger. Matt knows this could turn very bad, very quickly. But it’s not her anger and the kid’s shortening future that spurs him out of his seat. It’s that flash of hurt, and the way she blinks a little too fast. It sets something off behind his breastbone he doesn’t know how to name. It’s pulsing and indignant and, and… possessive. No one talks to his friends like that.

But she’s not your friend, idiot, he thinks. Well, even so. He takes a breath to try and clear his head of the alcohol haze, clenches his fists, and walks swiftly up to them.

“Hey,” he says, and the volume of his voice startles him. It startles Rebekah too, if the jerk of her shoulders is any indication.

“Matt?” Her face is questioning.

“Leave her alone, Peterson.”

“No one was talking to you, Donovan,” the kid sneers. “I was just talking to the cheerleader, here. Why don’t you fuck off and -”

“Listen, asshole. This girl is smarter than you will ever be,” Matt interrupts, his voice rising. Peterson’s eyes widen in surprise, as do Rebekah’s. It would be comical if Matt weren’t so angry. Other patrons turn to stare. He squares his shoulders and continues.

“She’s an expert in world history and has traveled every continent. She speaks French and can kick your ass at economics.” He can’t seem to stop himself. The words just keep coming. “And yeah, she’s a fucking cheerleader, the best we have on the squad. Not even the mascot can do a back flip like she can. I once saw her drink an entire bar full of guys under the table and not even bat an eye.” Which she wouldn’t, he supposes, since alcohol has little affect on her. But this meathead doesn’t know that.

Rebekah stares at him with a stunned expression on her face. He keeps his focus on the hulking idiot in front of him, who looks as though he’s about half a second from pummeling Matt.

“So - so don’t think you can look at her like that, and talk to her like she’s less than you or something. Her name is Rebekah Mikaelson, she’s one of the best students in our class, she’s better than you in every way, and, and - she’s not your sweetheart, sweetheart.

A few people start clapping as he finishes his tirade, and Peterson’s face is a deep red. He raises his fist and Matt wonders what it will feel like to be drunk and beaten bloody. But then Peterson disappears and he hears a pained groan.

He blinks, and looks around as he hears gasps all around him.

Peterson is lying face down on the floor, Rebekah hovering above him and twisting his arm behind him at an angle that looks really painful.

“Don’t you ever threaten him,” she hisses, and gives his arm a little jerk. Peterson moans.

Matt points a decisive finger at the top of the kid’s head.

And she knows krav maga,” he says, then stumbles back a bit before catching himself on a bar stool.

Rebekah lets Peterson’s arm go and stands straight, bringing her eyes to Matt’s. There are a hundred questions there, but Matt doesn’t know how to answer any of them so he just looks at her and shrugs.

Her face shutters off then, and she nods in a knowing way.

“Fine then,” she says to no one in particular. “I’m going home.”

She brushes past Matt none too gently and marches out of the bar.

After a moment, someone shouts from behind and Matt jumps.

“Well, aren’t ya gonna go after her, Donovan? After all that?”

Several people cheer, and he shakes himself.

“Yeah, I – “ but he doesn’t finish his thought, just lurches out the door and onto Ryman.

Rebekah isn’t anywhere nearby that he can see, so he starts walking aimlessly to try and clear his head.

He spies her standing in the middle of the Higgins Street Bridge, leaning on the railing and staring down at the water. Her breaths are coming out in white puffs in the cold of the night. Matt stuffs his hands deeper in his coat pockets and walks up next to her.

“What do you want?” she asks. Her voice sounds tired and flat.

“I just – “ He doesn’t really know what to say. “Are you okay?”

“Fine thanks,” she says. She glances at him and then looks back towards the water. “You can run along, Matt. You saved the day and everything’s fantastic now.”

Fuck, nothing is ever easy, he thinks. He stands next to her and looks at the water. There are thin sheets of ice floating along the surface. He shivers a little and wishes he’d worn a heavier coat. But he’d only planned to walk to the bar and back home again – not trek across snow-covered bridges chasing after Rebekah.

“You know,” she says, “Sometimes you can be a complete jackass and a really good guy all at the same time. How do you do it?” He doesn’t miss the edge of sarcasm in her voice.

“Yeah well, I guess you bring it out in me,” he retorts, knowing he’s being an asshole but unable to stop himself.

“Really,” she says, and it’s not a question. “Tell me something, Matt. How long are we going to keep going around and around like this? Is it going to be forever? Because I’m getting really fucking tired of it.”

He doesn’t know what to say, so he just says the first thing that comes into his head.

“No, of course not. Nothing lasts forever.”

I do.” She turns to look at him, blunt and straight faced as she says it.

“I – yeah…” He doesn’t know how to respond to that. “But, come on Rebekah, you know what I mean.”

She cocks her head and tongues at an invisible speck on one of her canine teeth.

Subtle.

“I know what you mean, Matt. But you’re still missing the point, and I’m starting to wonder if you’ll ever catch it.”

It’s got to be the beer, or possibly the adrenaline from confronting Peterson, but Matt’s judgment is completely shot. Otherwise he would never step forward and wrap his hands around Rebekah’s biceps. He wouldn’t. He opens his mouth to speak, but then slams it shut again. He searches Rebekah’s face with wild eyes. She looks expectant.

“I – “ he begins.

“What?” she asks, and there’s a bite to the question that makes something in his amygdala shrink in instinctive trepidation, but he ignores it. He keeps staring at her, and takes a step closer.

“I don’t – “ but he can’t finish that sentence, either.

Rebekah rolls her eyes.

“You are such an ass,” she says. Then her face hardens. “Let go of me, Matt.”

He takes a sharp breath and leans in closer.

When he tries to kiss her, she breaks his grip.

“Oh, no way,” she says, indignant. “You don’t get to be drunken-kissing-me-guy. We’re not friends, remember?”

He looks at her helplessly, mind blank.

She huffs in irritation.

“You know what? I really am fucking tired of this.”

She hoists Matt up by his belt and his collar and throws him over the side of the bridge. He yelps as he sails through the air before the pain of the icy water hits him, and the world goes black.

 

He wakes up on his front porch with her blood smeared on his mouth, soaked and shivering. Takes a moment to contemplate the fact that he once again ended up going over a bridge because of this girl. And another to marvel that this time, she saved him.

And another to wonder how she knows where he lives. Fuck, he really doesn’t want to move; he likes this house.

He stands and goes inside, shucking his wet clothes off to leave in a heap by the front door. He fumbles through the darkened living room and collapses onto his narrow bed. He’s too tired to notice whether or not his roommate is home, and he immediately passes out.

 

His dreams are troubled, and he wakes in the morning feeling as though he’s been suffocated.

 

 

 

 

++++

 

 

Time passes.

Rebekah is at practice every day but she doesn’t look at him. They attend the same parties and have the same friends, but they never speak. They live in the same world but circle around each other in parallel orbits.

At the end of his sophomore year, Matt learns he’s received a coveted scholarship in the Forestry and Wildland Restoration program. Everything is paid for, including graduate studies, as long as he gives the department four years of his time after. It’s a dream he never knew he had but shores him up in a way that he can’t believe is real. He feels like life has called for him, taken hold and set him loose here in the West. He has someplace to go now; he has something to do.

He hears through the grapevine that Rebekah won some national award for undergraduate historical research, and smiles at the thought that whatever her topic, she was probably present for the events at hand. Cheater. He wonders how she’s doing, but pushes his thoughts away when they threaten to give themselves names like Guilt and Regret. He doesn’t have time for things like that; he needs to study.

He quits football and retreats into the trees. There’s no one in the forest to bother him, or remind him of everything that’s gone and never coming back.

If there’s an emptiness inside him that nags, he’s able to ignore it easily enough. It’s not like he really needs anything or anyone to fill it. He’s doing just fine on his own. He is. If he keeps his head down, eventually he’ll forget enough to move on.

Or something close enough to it.

 

 

 

 

++++

 

 

 

He and his roommate Dan are out doing a bar crawl to celebrate the end of junior year finals when Matt accidentally, literally, runs into Rebekah. He spills his drink down the front of her pants in his scramble to stay upright. He’s a bit shocked; he hasn’t seen her in months.

Her hair is a bit shorter these days, he notes, just barely brushing her shoulders. She’s wearing a soft blue sweater, and her eyes sparkle brighter blue when she looks at him. She looks stunning, actually.

He takes a moment to take stock of his own appearance: ratty t-shirt and hoodie smudged with dirt. Hair long and unkempt, a mess of waves that creep over his ears and the collar of his shirt. Hands grubby and nails stained from days spent in the backcountry doing initial trail maintenance in the melting snow. He hasn’t shaved in at least two weeks. He’s repulsive, really. He hadn’t cared until Rebekah wrinkled her nose at him in disgust.

“Good lord,” she says. “What the hell happened to you?”

“Good to see you too, Rebekah,” he says dryly.

She raises her eyebrows.

“Yeah well, I better go to the restroom and try to dry my pants. I’ll see you.”

She brushes past him and disappears in the crowd.

“Who was that?” asks Dan.

“Just someone I – no one, really. Forget it. Let’s head to the Iron Horse?”

Dan shrugs.

“Sure.”

 

She catches him later as he steps out of the bar to get a minute of fresh air. Grabs him by his collar, and god he hates when she does that, and drags him around the corner into the alley.

“So which is it, Matt?” she says, voice sharp enough to cut glass.

“Which is what?”

She gives him a shake, and his head cracks painfully against the bricks behind him.

“Ow, fuck, Rebekah. What?”

“Am I someone?” She steps in close and sneers at him. “Or am I no one, really?”

Oh, hell.

“Are you serious right now? Why do you even care? We haven’t spoken in forever. Why does it matter? I’m sorry I spilled my drink on you, but jeez.”

She presses her lips together, irritation plain on her face.

“It matters because…” She seems at a loss for a moment, but then steels her gaze at him. “It just does, alright?”

If he weren’t so drunk, he would never say anything like what comes out of his mouth next.

“Don’t push me, Rebekah. I’ll defend myself. Don’t think I won’t.”

She laughs.

“Really. And what exactly are you going to do, Matt Donovan? Push me away?” She steps in closer to him, invading his space. “Stake me? Rip my head off? Bleat at me to go away?”

Well, she’s got him there. He can smell alcohol in a cloud around her. Hard as it is to believe, he thinks she might be a bit drunk too. Not as drunk as he is, probably.

“I don’t know,” he says. “But, something.”

She narrows her eyes, a snake preparing to strike.

“That’s right. How could I forget? You kill vampires. You killed Finn. You’re a fearsome vampire murderer.”

Despite the dangerous bent of her stare, Matt leaps to offense.

“I am not a murderer.”

Rebekah presses him closer to the wall. Her hands on his shoulders tighten a fraction. He can feel his rotator cuffs straining. One small movement and she’ll dislocate both his arms.

She grins, but there is no warmth there.

“He was an innocent,” she says, voice like acid.

Matt’s face is shining with sweat from the pain of her pressed too close against his rib cage, her hands too tight around his shoulders.

“Liar,” he gasps. “He was a monster, Rebekah.”

“He was my family. The only one of us with anything like a conscience. And you killed him. He was my brother, Matt.”

Matt winces as she shifts her hips and settles her thigh painfully between his legs. She’s made of iron, he thinks. There’s not one bit of her that’s yielding. He stares at her soft lips, set in a perfect sneer. She presses closer still. His breaths become shallow as her body restricts his lungs from expanding.

He has no idea why they’re here, saying these things. He doesn’t even mean it, not really, and yet. He doesn’t stop.

“Yeah. And I’d do it again, Rebekah. I won’t pretend I – Aaahh – wouldn’t.”

Rebekah’s eyes narrow to slits.

“You’d kill me, I think. I am a monster too after all." She shakes him again, quick and hard. "Killer,” she accuses.

He clutches feebly at her waist, fingers scrabbling for he doesn’t know what. Leverage? Fat lot of good that would do him. He settles for gathering the hem of her shirt in his fists and twisting.

“You’re a killer,” she says, seemingly unconcerned with his assault on her clothing.

He cannot think for the pain. She’s slowly suffocating him. Her breath smells of copper and tequila as she presses even closer. He’s going to die and the last thing he’ll see before he goes is Rebekah’s bubblegum pink mouth and accusing eyes.

“Yes.” His voice is a whisper, surrendering.

“Killer,” she repeats, voice dead as stone, and pushes her thigh against him again, sharper this time.

“Yes.” The word escapes his throat on the last wisp of air from his lungs.

The edges of his vision blur as he opens and closes his mouth, trying in vain to pull in air.

“Just.” She digs her fingers into his arms, her fingernails popping through his skin one by one. He would scream if he had breath. Instead his eyes spill over and he hears her shirt tear in his grip.

“Like.” He feels a ripping sensation deep inside his shoulders. He grits his teeth.

Rebekah pushes in so close all he can see is her eyes, and all he can feel is her body.

Me.” She kisses him. His lip splits, and the world slams shut.

 

He wakes in a heap on campus in the middle of the Oval, Rebekah sitting cross-legged nearby on the brick pathway. It’s still dark out, but colder now.

“What happened?” he asks weakly.

“I dislocated your arms.”

He tentatively tries to move and doesn’t feel anything amiss.

“I gave you blood,” she says by way of explanation.

“Great,” he says, and pulls himself to a sitting position. He feels remarkably sober, and details of the night start trickling back into his muddled mind. “Just what I need. Vampire blood in my system.”

“Hey, I saved your life with that blood. And now I’m guarding you so you don’t die until it’s out of your system. You could show a little gratitude,” she says, clearly piqued.

He glares until she looks away.

“Right,” she says. “Sorry, I guess.”

“Whatever,” he retorts. But then he remembers the content of their conversation before she crushed the life out of him. “Um, listen, Rebekah, I – “

“It’s okay, you don’t have to say anything,” she says.

He shakes his head.

“No, I do. I just – I’m sorry you got hurt because of me. Because of Finn. You’re not no one, and neither was he.”

She opens her mouth to say something, but he continues before she has the chance.

“I wouldn’t change what I did. And you’re right, that makes me a killer too. So, yeah. I’m sorry.”

She’s silent for several minutes. Matt rotates both arms, making sure there’s no damage to his shoulder sockets. But everything feels fine. He feels strong, actually.

“I – thank you,” she says finally, and he nods.

She smoothes her hands over her pant legs.

“I’m sorry I kissed you. And almost killed you.”

He half chokes, half laughs.

“Yeah well, I probably deserved it.”

She looks sharply at him, one eyebrow raised.

“The injuries, I mean,” he rushes to correct. “The other thing I definitely didn’t deserve.”

She glares at him, and he can’t help a small grin.

“Show me where you live these days, so I can make sure you get home safely,” she orders. “I wouldn’t want you dying and blaming me for becoming a vampire. You’d probably have to stake yourself for your moral code or whatever, and frankly I’m not prepared for that level of annoyance.”

“Forget it, Rebekah. I’ll be fine,” he says, standing and stretching his limbs. “I don’t need an escort.”

She looks like she’s going to argue, so he crosses his arms and looks down where she’s still sitting, his face set with resolve.

“I’m not showing you where I live, so you may as well let it go.”

She stands and moves towards him. He doesn’t like the look on her face, and takes a step back. He’s afraid of what she might do. But she just walks past him towards Arthur Avenue.

“Fine then,” she throws over her shoulder. “But if you trip and break your neck on your way home, don’t blame me.”

“You bet,” he says.

“Oh, and Matt?”

He turns and looks at her.

“Yeah?”

“It was good to see you.” She gives him a small smile.

He doesn’t know what to say to that. Luckily he doesn’t have to come up with anything, because Rebekah disappears in a blur.

With a sigh, he uncrosses his arms and starts walking north towards the footbridge. Dan will no doubt be wondering what happened to him, since they were supposed to walk home together after the bar crawl.

 

Hell of a night, he thinks.

 

Hell of a life, more like.

 

 

 

++++





It’s his birthday and Matt is twenty-one years old. He supposes he should be in town getting hammered like a normal person, but being alone on a mountain deep in the Rattlesnake seems like a much more appropriate way to celebrate. It’s late July, the sun is hot, the soil is dry, and everything smells like sap and thick grass and sage. His lungs expand and contract in the thinning air as he hikes higher and higher up the trail. He feels like the last man on earth at times like these, and the only troubling thing about that thought is that it isn’t troubling at all.

He has wandered off the trail towards a clump of aspens when the hair prickles on the back of his neck. 

Shit, mountain lion? Bear? It’s something, he’s sure of it. He says a thank you to his mammalian brain for the gift of fear, and slowly turns to survey his surroundings and try to locate the predator.

He lets out a frustrated, relieved exhalation when he spots Rebekah, casually leaning against a tree behind him and examining her cuticles.

“Hey,” she says, looking up towards him with a grin. He grinds his teeth before responding.

“Hey…?” His brow is furrowed in question.

“Nice day, isn’t it. Sunny.”

He narrows his eyes at her.

“What?” she looks at him in mock innocence, grin still firmly in place. “Don’t you think it’s a nice day, Matt?”

“It’s swell, Rebekah.” His tone is dry and his face deadpan. “Was there something you wanted, or are you just here to talk about the weather?”

“Just enjoying the scenery. Or, well, the trees I guess. Is there anything here to look at besides trees?”

“I like the trees,” he says, and as the words leave his mouth he feels completely ridiculous. I like the trees? Really?

“So I’d noticed. Explains why you’re out here by yourself instead of hanging out with friends or something today.”

He gives her a calculating look. 

“How did you find me?”

She taps her nose and he stiffens. Right.

“If you go to the top of the mountain the view gets better,” he says, trying to fill the space between them with something like intelligent speech. He never has an easy time of that when Rebekah is around. Thank goodness she’s not around that much these days. 

“Hmm,” she says, looking around. “Seems like an awful lot of effort though.”

“I guess.”

“Is there a short cut?”

“Uh, no? Unless you want to go through the woods but that’s a great way to get lost or break a leg.” He gives his chin a scratch. He could use a shave, he thinks absently. “Look, Rebekah, I came out here to be alone, so…”

She looks at him a long moment and then steps forward into his personal space. He moves to take a step back but she grabs his wrist.

“What are you - ?”

“Just shush a minute, would you? Hold still.”

He’s instantly on guard. 

“Wha – ?”

But he doesn’t get a chance to finish before he feels arms wrap around him like iron bars and he’s lifted off his feet. He opens his mouth to yell but as the sound unfurls in his chest they come to a jolting stop. He looks around and nearly throws up at the vertigo.

They’re at the very top of an impressively old larch tree farther up the mountain, and Rebekah has him braced on a small branch jutting out in front of them. She’s managing to cling to the narrow trunk with just one of her slim legs hooked around it, her other foot planted firmly on the branch just behind his as she bands her arms around his stomach and holds him tightly to her. The tree is swaying under their weight, and Matt feels as though he might hurl. Or have a stroke while hurling.

“What the ever-loving fuck?!”

“You’re right,” Rebekah says, calm as still water. “The view up here is pretty amazing.”

“Down,” he says. “Down down down! Now!” He’s heaving in jagged breaths, eyes darting, not really seeing anything but open air all around and feeling with absolute certainty that his life is about to end.

“Matt,” Rebekah says, her voice steady and firm, “Calm down. You’re fine. I’ve got you. Look around, and calm. Down.”

He takes a big breath in through his nose and pushes it raggedly out of his mouth. He closes his eyes and tries to fight the panic. 

“That’s right. Just breathe.” Her voice is low and even, and he focuses on it as he tries to regulate his breathing.

“Hmmmm,” she hums against his shoulder, and the vibration quiets his nerves. After a minute of keeping his eyes shut and feeling them sway gently, he risks cracking his eyes open.

He gulps, and tries to focus. He sees double for a moment but then the landscape comes together and he’s breathless again because - oh. Wow. 

“Wow,” he says it aloud, and his voice is an unsteady whisper.

“Yeah,” says Rebekah, sounding equally breathless.

The sky extends so far it’s impossible to tell where the horizon ends. The valley looks like a plush green wonderland, the evergreens creating an unbroken landscape of color. Mountains stretch in all directions, and he takes note of the snowcaps that stubbornly cling to the tallest even in the heat of summer. He doesn’t have a word for how beautiful it is. 

Home, he thinks without intention. He swallows hard again, because he hasn’t thought about the concept of home, or belonging, or anything like groundedness or anything in so long that – not since – and the thought both steadies and unsettles him at the same time. As he looks around, the fear doesn’t disappear entirely, but underneath is a sense of safety. He’s fine, he tells himself. Rebekah’s got him. Now that thought is really unsettling. What is this?

“What is this, Rebekah? Why are you here?”

He can swear he feels her eyes roll.

“Don’t you know? I’m trying to seduce you, stupid.”

He presses his lips together and turns to glare at her, but the movement makes them sway and his stomach lurches, so he stares determinedly ahead again.

“Be serious.”

She shrugs as though none of this is a big deal. And it isn’t, right? It isn’t.

“Well, it worked for Edward Cullen,” she says, and hitches her arms more firmly around his waist and crooks her chin on his shoulder. “He dragged his lady up a tree and she loved him forever for it.” 

Matt makes an incredulous noise.

“Don’t tell me you actually like that crap,” Matt says, laughter in his voice. “Sparkling idiots and shirtless idiots and a girl who doesn’t have a lick of sense – wait a minute, am I Bella in this situation?”

Rebekah snorts into his shoulder.

“Well you’re no Edward, that’s for sure. And you’re almost as morose and expressionless as Bella, so I’d say the shoe fits.”

“Yeah, well, you’re not much of an Edward,” Matt shoots back. “You’re way more annoying.”

“Shut up, idiot,” Rebekah says, and her voice is hard but he thinks he hears something fond underneath the steeliness. “Just enjoy the view for a minute and keep it to yourself.”

He holds her wrists tightly where her hands are linked together over his stomach, holding him tightly to her. He swallows hard and looks at the majesty of their surroundings. It really is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. The sky is so clear they can see for miles and miles. The breeze is warm against them, and everything smells impossibly cleaner up here. He takes as big a breath as he can and lets it out slowly. 

“Happy Birthday, Matt,” Rebekah murmurs. She gives his waist a squeeze, and he nods. He doesn’t have any words to say how he feels right now, so he keeps silent.

He sees a hawk circling in the distance, and remembers his mom telling him once that whenever you’re traveling and see a hawk, you can rest easy because your journey will end safely. The hawk floats almost lazily through the air, before suddenly taking a dive, hurtling down through the sky for its prey. It disappears from his sight. He waits for it to reappear, but it does not rise again.

He’s busy wondering if that means good luck or bad, when the world rushes by him and he staggers. When he gains his footing again he’s at the base of the tree. He spins around, but Rebekah is nowhere to be seen.

He stands there a long moment, wondering if she’ll reappear. When she doesn’t, he sets out to find the trail again.

“Thanks, Rebekah,” he says as he walks.

In the distance a hawk screeches.




++++






He’s pulled from a Technicolor dream filled with blood and the anguished faces of dying friends by something crashing down on his feet. When he opens his eyes he sees a shadow at the end of his bed. His heart rate jumps before the streetlight outside illuminates a profile and he realizes who it is.

“Rebekah? What are you doing here? And… how did you get in?”

“Your roommate thinks I’m pretty,” is all she says, and Matt groans in aggravation. Of course Dan wouldn’t question a pretty girl standing at his front door in the middle of the night for no reason. Of course.

“You were having a nightmare,” she says.

“I – yeah,” he says, because it’s true. 

“Was it about them?”

He doesn’t need to ask who she means.

“It was. They always are.” He’s not quite sure why he’s just accepting Rebekah’s presence in his house, on his bed at three in the morning, talking about his dreams of friends long dead.

She nods.

“The nightmares are the hardest,” she says, like she knows. The lamp outside shines through the curtains, just enough to illuminate her face in a dim gray light. Her hair is in braids, and the tank top and shorts she’s wearing leave her arms and legs to catch the light. She’s got her legs pulled up to her chest as she sits leaning against the wall. She rests her cheek on one knee and looks at him.

“Yeah,” he says. His voice sounds far away to his ears, full of sand and gravel. “I try not to think about it.”

“But you can’t help it,” she says.

“I guess not. It’s… it’s not as bad as it used to be though.”

“I know,” she says.

“You do?”

“Well when we first got here you used to wake up screaming. You don’t do that anymore.”

How does she - ?

“How do you – never mind, I don’t want to know.”

She stretches her legs out and dangles her bare feet off the end of the bed. Her thighs are resting on his feet, and he can feel the warmth they give off through the thin blanket.

“I compelled them all to forget,” she says. “Everyone in our dorm. And I tried to – I tried to compel you to stop dreaming, but it didn’t take. You just kept screaming and crying and shouting their names. Every night. Eventually I gave up.”

An old familiar feeling of righteous indignation rushes through him. “Oh my God, Rebekah, you can’t just do that shit. Not to me. Not after – “

“I know,” she says, and her voice sounds annoyed and resigned. “I know. Just – let it go, okay? That was like three years ago. Back when we were – when we were friends. I wouldn’t do it to you now.” Her eyes are two glittering sparks in the dark. “I really wouldn’t.” She picks at the coverlet next to his calf. “If it makes you feel any better, I couldn’t make myself stop any more than I could make you.”

He’s not quite sure what to make of any of that, but the part that really confuses him is that she apparently wouldn’t compel him after their friendship ended. He doesn’t like the feeling he gets in the pit of his gut at that thought.

“So you’re here now because?”

She keeps picking at the blanket.

“Because I saw you today on campus, sitting in the UC with your water bottle and your book, looking all scruffy tree-hugger and I just – “ She lets out a long sigh. “I just wanted to say hello, I guess.”

He can’t help grinning.

“You wanted to say hello.”

“Yes.”

“So you came to my house in the dead of night, tricked Dan into letting you in, and helped yourself to a seat on my bed… to say hello?”

She turns and presses her face into her knees so her next words are a bit muffled.

“I – yes. Is that so strange?”

He snorts. She looks up at him in surprise, and then he’s laughing. Because this is funny. It’s ridiculously funny. Nothing has ever been this funny and Rebekah is looking at him like he’s lost it and he thinks maybe he really has because what he does next can’t be attributed to anyone sane.

He grabs her wrist where she’s pulling on the blanket and gives it a firm tug. She sprawls awkwardly across him, a shocked eep! escaping her mouth.

“Matt, what are you – “

“Shh,” he says. “Just. Lie down already, Rebekah.”

She stares at him, eyes suspicious and contemplative, and Matt thinks she’s probably about to jump up and run away. But then she chews on her bottom lip a moment before nodding once and easing her skewed limbs off of him and lying down at his side. She’s stiff as a board next to him, and doesn’t say a word.

He works his arm free of the covers and lifts it out and above his head. He looks at her, and she looks back uncertainly before slowly turning, melting into a more relaxed position and resting her head on his shoulder. He lets his arm fall around her waist, and she breathes out a small sigh.

He swallows hard.

“Hello, Rebekah,” he says.

She squirms and turns her face towards his. He studiously stares at the ceiling.

“Hello, Matt.”

“Are you – are you comfortable?”

“Yes, thank you,” she says, and he hears her take a breath and hold it a moment before she speaks again.

“Are we friends again now, Matt?”

He wants to make a smart remark about how they’ve never been friends, but something about the way she presses her face to the side of his neck, how she curls her toes into the blanket next to his feet stops him. He can feel her eyelashes brush against his skin as she blinks.

“Yeah,” he says, and clears his throat when the missive comes out hoarse and an octave too high. “Yeah, we’re friends, Rebekah.”

She presses herself more firmly into his side and snakes an arm across his torso. Tucks her hand into the groove between his chest and arm, and sighs. 

“And do you like me?” She whispers it against his clavicle.

He shivers, then brings his other hand up to rest on her forearm where it’s draped across him. 

“I guess I like you a little,” he says, and he’s whispering now too.

He feels her smile against his skin before she scoots her head down and settles it on his chest. She’s so warm, and it’s making him wish he wasn’t covered in a blanket. But if he moves, she’ll have to move too, and that seems like a terrible idea just now. And the weirdness of wanting Rebekah to stay right where she is, this close to him, is almost too much, so he holds his breath until he’s sure he can let it out properly. She gives his chest a squeeze just as he thinks he’s got himself handled, and he empties his lungs in a ragged wheeze. 

Idiot, he thinks.

But then Rebekah sighs again and slips one of her feet between his ankles, her calf resting on his knee, and it’s so comfortable he starts to relax. The last thought he has before drifting off to sleep again is that this is a horrible idea, but he can probably plausibly deny any responsibility for it when everything goes wrong. 

Probably.


It isn’t until late the next morning, after Rebekah slips away from his arms and out of his room, while he’s drinking his coffee in the kitchen, that he realizes his sleep had been dreamless for the first time in years.




++++






It’s not as though Matt plans on spending every waking moment he’s not working or studying with Rebekah. Plus nearly every moment he’s working and studying as well. It just sort of… happens.

Like, his Monday afternoon Forestry seminar lets out at the same time she’s done with her TA job teaching American History. So it makes sense that they would walk together to the library to do research for a couple of hours before riding their bikes downtown for coffee and pie at the Break.

And it’s not Rebekah’s fault when a pipe bursts and her basement apartment floods and she has to stay with him while she searches for a new place and procures replacement furniture.

And now that he’s a senior, he has greater responsibilities out on the trails and has a lot more gear to haul into the backcountry on weekends. So when Rebekah mentions heavy packs don’t bother her, he reasons he’s saving himself from a bulging disk by asking her to tag along with him while he works. If she’s able to singlehandedly move fallen trees off of trails, well that just saves him from constantly sharpening his chainsaw.

“I don’t really get why this is your passion in life,” she says as she hoists a thick branch over her shoulder and throws it like a harpoon down the rocky face of the mountain. “If I wasn’t here you’d be screwed.”

“Well,” he says, making a mark in his log book and moving up the trail, “It’s a good thing you’re here then, right?”

She smiles.

“It is.”

“But, you’re not having any fun?” he asks, brow furrowed.

“Actually, it’s not bad I guess,” she says, looking down the valley. “It’s so vast up here. And good exercise too.”

“Yeah,” he says, “And I suppose the company isn’t the worst.”

“I suppose not,” she agrees, and they trade smiles.

At night when they make camp and the temperature drops precipitously below freezing, Matt reasons it’s only smart to have someone else there to help keep the tent warm. Even better that the someone presses herself so close to him it’s like he has a personal furnace.

He starts going to all the Grizzly home games at Rebekah’s urging, and loves seeing her in her element. She has several friends on the cheer squad who are perky to the point of exasperation, but she seems to enjoy herself with them when they all go to parties together. Watching her with her friends, and observing how focused she is on her studies settles something in Matt’s belly that he didn’t know was bothering him until it wasn’t anymore. Rebekah has carved out a life for herself here, he realizes, independent of him or their friendship. And she’s living with gusto.

It’s her teaching assistant partner Melissa who tells him Rebekah had won, and subsequently turned down a Fulbright Scholarship in favor of remaining at U of M to continue her graduate History studies. When he asks her about it she just shrugs and keeps tapping away on her laptop, shuffling occasionally through her notes and chewing on her bottom lip.

“I don’t get it. It’s an incredible opportunity, Rebekah. You could go anywhere, do anything. Write your own ticket.”

“I guess.” She makes a notation on one of the numerous index cards stacked in little piles around her at their table in the library study room before looking up at him. “But, I’ve been everywhere else already. I like it here. I can do my masters and my doctorate within the department. I know all the faculty already and if I apply myself I think I have a good shot at a tenured professorship once I - what?”

She stops talking when she notices him smiling at her.

He can’t help it.

“Sorry, it’s just. Your face.”

She looks mildly alarmed.

“What about my face?”

“It’s all… lit up. You really love it, don’t you? All of this – school, studying history – all of it.”

She smiles, suddenly sheepish.

“I do. Back when we were freshmen, it all seemed kind of pointless. But I found out I’m really good at this, and it’s challenging. It’s been a long time since I liked something that requires this much effort.”

“It shows. You should be proud.”

Her smile widens, and she blushes. It’s so sweet Matt feels something catch in his throat. He clears it roughly and grabs one of her stacks of notes, straightening it haphazardly. 

“And,” he says, a bit flustered, “You really want to stick around Missoula?”

Her smile relaxes and she waits to catch his eye. She looks at him steadily.

“I really do,” she says. “There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”

He swallows, and wills his heart not to stutter.

“I – me, too,” he says. “I don’t want to go anywhere but here just yet.”

Her smile widens again, before she shifts in her seat and moves her focus back to her unfinished paper.

“Well that works out nicely, then.”

“Um, yeah. It does.”

He flips through a few pages in his notebook and tries to refocus on his ecology text. Occasional glances up at Rebekah reveal her biting her lip again as she concentrates, and he smiles to himself.

When Rebekah asks him if he’d like to go running with her along the ‘Fork Riverfront trail, it seems like a great idea. His professors have repeatedly advised him to get more aerobic activity in to make sure his lungs stay strong for particularly rigorous high altitude hikes. Just a few weeks of running alongside Rebekah every morning and he starts to notice a definite difference in his endurance.

They study together in the UC, grab lunches at the Catalyst and wander around downtown on Thursdays when they’re both free of classes, and hike together every weekend.

Rebekah comes over on Friday nights and joins Matt and Dan at the bars. They buy late night donuts from the little bus on Spruce Street, eat burritos and drink pints of Moose Drool at the Old Post, and cruise the Hip Strip after 2 am when nothing is open.

Soon it seems like every minute is filled with activity and with Rebekah. Senior year passes in a haze of casual conversations, studying, drinking, and burning the candle at both ends. Matt forgets to be tired, though, because there’s too much to do. And too much fun to have while doing it.

Having a friend is a good, good thing. He hadn’t known how much he’d missed it until he has it back.




++++






The Top Hat is alive with activity and dancing, every senior in Missoula having turned out for the pre-graduation celebrations. 

Matt spies Rebekah by the bar and makes his way over when she waves at him. She grabs him up in a hug and he grunts when she squeezes just a little too hard. It’s really, really good to see her tonight. He stands back and takes her in. She’s a glowing vision in a poppy colored dress that just barely skims her knees, and he thinks she’s never looked prettier. She’s all smiles and excitement.

“We’re graduating, Matt. Tomorrow. We made it. Can you believe that? I’ve never – “ she notices him staring at her with his little half grin. “What?”

“Nothing, go on.”

She’s bashful now, but she continues.

“I’ve never finished anything on my own before. I mean, follow through’s not really an option when you’re running from your father for a thousand years. My brothers and I – “ she pauses a moment and looks away, face falling. “Sorry, it’s still so hard to think of them as gone. A few years is nothing really, I guess.”

Matt places a hand on her shoulder and gives it a squeeze. She doesn’t shrug away, so he leaves it there.

“I know.” He does. “And for what its worth, I’m sorry.”

She looks at him then, and her eyes are shining.

“Thank you,” she says, and then her face brightens again. 

“But we made it, didn’t we? We did. We’re living it.”

“Yeah, I guess we’ve done okay,” he says.

She smiles and brushes her hand under each eye, whisking away any moisture that was threatening at the corners of her eyes. Tonight isn’t for sadness.

“Want a drink?” she asks.

Matt smiles.

“I really do.”

It’s hours later, and they’re laughing and dancing and he thinks he might be a little drunk when Rebekah leans in and whispers in his ear.

“Take me home, Matt?”

His smile is huge as he nods and slings his arm around her. They step out into the cool night, and they’re halfway to his house before he realizes, and curses himself because her apartment is in the opposite direction.

“Sorry, Rebekah,” he says, stopping in the middle of an intersection. “This isn’t the way home.”

She looks up at him in confusion.

“What are you talking about, your house is two blocks away.”

“But you asked me to take you home and – ”

“And we’re almost there.” She’s smiling at him in that way of hers that tells him he’s a doofus, but she enjoys it.

She reaches for his hand and laces their fingers together. Stands on her toes and presses a kiss to his cheekbone. He takes a deep breath.

“Take me home, Matt,” she says, her voice quiet but sultry in his ear.

He pulls back and looks at her face, all amusement gone and intensity in her eyes. He looks down at their joined hands and swallows.

“I – okay.”


Matt fumbles with his keys when they reach his front door, and Rebekah calmly takes them from him and lets them in. The house is dark, Dan no doubt still out partying.

Rebekah leads the way to his room, and it’s not like any of the other times she’s been here, slipping in during the night and snuggling up to him to sleep.

For one thing, she’s never undressed before, but tonight her dress hits the floor as soon as she crosses the threshold, her bra and underwear quickly following before she turns to him, and his stomach lurches to his throat. She’s – she’s oh god, she’s perfect.

For another thing, she’s never tugged at his clothes before either, and it takes his brain a moment, to unfreeze from the sight of all that pale flawless skin reflected in the light from the street lamp, before he snaps back to reality and quickly divests himself of his t-shirt and jeans.

Then she’s pulling him to her and there are lips and tongues and heat and somehow they manage to make it to his bed. He thinks that he has no idea how they got here. And then he thinks that they’ve been on their way here all along. That she brought him here. That she took him home.

Then Rebekah has her hand around him, guiding him into her, and there are no more thoughts. Just heat and warm and wet and perfect and a mantra in his head like a prayer.

Rebekah. Rebekah. Rebekah.

“Yes,” she breathes in his ear, and he realizes he’s been saying it aloud, repeating her name like a question. And that she’s answered him, and her answer is yes.

After they’ve shuddered and clung and collapsed into each other, Matt raises himself up, hands braced on either side of her shoulders. Her knees brush against the sides of his ribcage and she presses her toes into his hips. They remain connected, and Matt thinks he’d like to keep it that way for as long as possible. He holds very still as he asks the question pressing against the back of his heart.

“What does this mean?” he asks.

“What do you think it means?” she says.

“Well,” he starts, “We’re friends, but. Is that what this is?”

She squirms a bit under his gaze, and he shuts his eyes when she squeezes him inside her. It’s distracting and so, so nice and he thinks maybe he ought to forget the question but he can’t. He has to know. He has to know now, even though he never needed to before, and never wanted to either. He needs it. A part of him knows that after everything it’s not entirely fair of him to ask. But nothing is ever fair, and he has to know.

“Rebekah.”

She looks up at him. She works her jaw for a long moment before she speaks.

“We’re friends,” she says. “Best friends, even?” She looks at him in question and he nods, because it’s true.

“Best friends,” he says, and the words sound strange but right as he says them.

“And I suppose,” she continues, and it’s dim in the room but he can see her nervousness. He thinks he can feel it even, the way she’s trembling around him. “I suppose it means I – love you – too?”

He’s shocked. His face goes entirely blank. He looks at her for a long moment. Sees something flicker behind her eyes that makes him swallow the tart reply that automatically leaps to his mouth. Long habits are hard to break. But he’s working on it.

“Yeah,” he says instead, and swallows. Her words settle in his gut. “I suppose you do.”

Rebekah wets her lips, and when she speaks her voice is tremulous.

“There’s very little chance that’s true, right?”

Matt’s heart starts pounding in his ribcage like a hammer. Like a bird trying to fight its way out of him. He takes a deep breath, and when he breathes out, the words follow as though on wings.

“About as much chance as me – as it being true that I – I love you. Too.”

Rebekah’s face softens, and Matt watches as her nostrils flare just a fraction. She takes several hard breaths. Then she looks him in the eye and smiles coyly.

“Aww. But Matt, you don’t even like me.”

He’s struck dumb for a moment, but then he grins. He eases down onto his forearms and runs his nose along her jaw line. She gasps when he presses his lips to the shell of her ear before whispering.

“I do, though. Rebekah. I like you a little.” He mouths at her earlobe. “I like you so much.”

She shudders, and he pulls back again to look at her face. Her expression floors him. She’s blinking quickly and biting her lip and then her hand is on the side of his face.

He can’t help but lean into her as she cups his cheek.

“Rebekah,” he says again.

She smiles.

“Matt,” she says in a soft voice. So unlike her. So like her. 

“Yeah?” he asks.

“Yeah,” she says, nodding.

He starts to smile, but a sobering thought occurs to him suddenly and he freezes.

“I’ll never turn for you,” he blurts out.

Rebekah raises an eyebrow, and a smirk twists her mouth.

“Of course not,” she says, and her tone is as smug as he’s ever heard it. “You would never do that.”

He clenches his jaw. He does not like the glint in her eyes. Not one bit.

“That’s right. Never, Rebekah.”

“Of course,” she says again as she swivels her hips a bit and elicits a moan from deep in his chest. She licks her lips, eyes darkening, and he thinks of a lioness, jaws wet with blood. “And I’llnever turn you.”

“Hngh,” Matt gasps as she starts moving her hips in earnest. She’s grinding against him now and he fights to keep control of his thoughts.

“Good,” he manages, but he’s not really sure what he means by that. What were they talking about, again?

“Good,” Rebekah repeats. She threads her fingers through his messy hair and brings his head down closer to her face. Matt works his hands around her back and holds her tightly to him, sinking into her embrace. Her body is soft and yielding, yet hard as iron against him.


She looks in his eyes for a long moment, and then raises her chin and captures his mouth with hers. 




His lip splits, and the world breaks open.








end




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