|Модератор форума: Вампир
|Вампир||Дата: Суббота, 31-Октября-2009, 18:53:08 | Сообщение # 6|
"To cooperate at what?" Meredith asked.
"I'll explain about that later. But first I want to know what's been going on in town since I—left."
"Well, hysteria mostly," Meredith said, raising an eyebrow. "Your Aunt Judith's been pretty badly off. She hallucinated that she saw you—only it wasn't a hallucination, was it? And she and Robert have sort of broken up."
"I know," Elena said grimly. "Go on."
"Everybody at school is upset. I wanted to talk to Stefan, especially when I began to suspect you weren't really dead, but he hasn't been at school. Matt has been, but there's something wrong with him. He looks like a zombie, and he won't talk to anyone. I wanted to explain to him that there was a chance you might not be gone forever; I thought that would cheer him up. But he wouldn't listen. He was acting totally out of character, and at one point I thought he was going to hit me. He wouldn't listen to a word."
"Oh, God—Matt." Something terrible was stirring at the bottom of Elena's mind, some memory too disturbing to be let loose. She couldn't cope with anything more just now, she couldn't, she thought, and slam dunked the memory back down.
Meredith was going on. "It's clear, though, that some other people are suspicious about your 'death.' That's why I said what I did in the memorial service; I was afraid if I said the real day and place that Alaric Saltzman would end up ambushing you outside the house. He's been asking all sorts of questions, and it's a good thing Bonnie didn't know anything she could blab."
"That isn't fair," Bonnie protested. "Alaric's just interested, that's all, and he wants to help us through the trauma, like before. He's an Aquarius—"
"He's a spy," said Elena, "and maybe more than that. But we'll talk about that later. What about Tyler Smallwood? I didn't see him at the service."
Meredith looked nonplussed. "You mean you don't know?"
"I don't know anything; I've been asleep for four days in an attic."
"Well…" Meredith paused uneasily. "Tyler just got back from the hospital. Same with Dick Carter and those four tough guys they had along with them on Founders' Day. They were attacked in the Quonset hut that evening and they lost a lot of blood."
"Oh." The mystery of why Stefan's Powers had been so much stronger that night was explained. And why they'd been getting weaker ever since. He probably hadn't eaten since then. "Meredith, is Stefan a suspect?"
"Well, Tyler's father tried to make him one, but the police couldn't make the times work out. They know approximately when Tyler was attacked because he was supposed to meet Mr. Smallwood, and he didn't show up. And Bonnie and I can alibi Stefan for that time because we'd just left him by the river with your body. So he couldn't have gotten back to the Quonset hut to attack Tyler—at least no normal human could. And so far the police aren't thinking about anything supernatural."
"I see." Elena felt relieved on that score at least.
"Tyler and those guys can't identify the attacker because they can't remember a thing about that afternoon," Meredith added. "Neither can Caroline."
"Caroline was in there?"
"Yes, but she wasn't bitten. Just in shock. In spite of everything she's done, I almost feel sorry for her." Meredith shrugged and added, "She looks pretty pathetic these days."
"And I don't think anyone will ever suspect Stefan after what happened with those dogs at church today," Bonnie put in. "My dad says that a big dog could have broken the window in the Quonset hut, and the wounds in Tyler's throat looked sort of like animal wounds. I think a lot of people believe it was a dog or a pack of dogs that did it."
"It's a convenient explanation," Meredith said dryly. "It means they don't have to think any more about it."
"But that's ridiculous," said Elena. "Normal dogs don't behave that way. Aren't people wondering about why their dogs would suddenly go mad and turn on them?"
"Lots of people are just getting rid of them. Oh, and I heard someone talk about mandatory rabies testing," Meredith said. "But it's not just rabies, is it, Elena?"
"No, I don't think so. And neither do Stefan or Damon. And that's what I came over to talk to you about." Elena explained, as clearly as she could, what she had been thinking about the Other Power in Fell's Church. She told about the force that had chased her off the bridge and about the feeling she'd had with the dogs and about everything she and Stefan and Damon had discussed. She finished with, "And Bonnie said it herself in church today: 'Something evil.' I think that's what's here in Fell's Church, something nobody knows about, something completely evil. I don't suppose you know what you meant by that, Bonnie."
But Bonnie's mind was running on another track. "So Damon didn't necessarily do all those awful things you said he did," she said shrewdly. "Like killing Yangtze and hurting Vickie and murdering Mr. Tanner, and all. I told you nobody that gorgeous could be a psycho killer."
"I think," said Meredith with a glance at Elena, "that you had better forget about Damon as a love interest."
"Yes," said Elena emphatically. "He did kill Mr. Tanner, Bonnie. And it stands to reason he did the other attacks, too; I'll ask him about that. And I'm having enough trouble dealing with him myself. You don't want to mess with him, Bonnie, believe me."
"I'm supposed to leave Damon alone; I'm supposed to leave Alaric alone… Are there any guys I'm not supposed to leave alone? And meanwhile Elena gets them all. It's not fair."
"Life isn't fair," Meredith told her callously. "But listen, Elena, even if this Other Power exists, what sort of power do you think it is? What does it look like?"
"I don't know. Something tremendously strong—but it could be shielding itself so that we can't sense it. It could look like an ordinary person. And that's why I came for your help, because it could be anybody in Fell's Church. It's like what Bonnie said during the service today: 'Nobody is what they seem.' "
Bonnie looked forlorn. "I don't remember saying that."
"You said it, all right. 'Nobody is what they seem,' " Elena quoted again weightily. "Nobody." She glanced at Meredith, but the dark eyes under the elegantly arched eyebrows were calm and distant.
"Well, that would seem to make everybody a suspect," Meredith said in her most unruffled voice. "Right?"
"Right," said Elena. "But we'd better get a note pad and pencil and make a list of the most important ones. Damon and Stefan have already agreed to help investigate, and if you'll help, too, we'll stand an even better chance of finding it." She was hitting her stride with this; she'd always been good at organizing things, from schemes to get boys to fundraising events. This was just a more serious version of the old plan A and plan B.
Meredith gave the pencil and paper to Bonnie, who looked at it. and then at Meredith, and then at Elena. "Fine," she said, "but who goes on the list?"
"Well, anyone we have reason to suspect of being the Other Power. Anyone who might have done the things we know it did: seal Stefan in the well, chase me, set those dogs on people. Anyone we've noticed behaving oddly."
"Matt," said Bonnie, writing busily. "And Vickie. And Robert."
"Bonnie!" exclaimed Elena and Meredith simultaneously.
Bonnie looked up. "Well, Matt has been acting oddly, and so has Vickie, for months now. And Robert was hanging around outside the church before the service, but he never came in—"
"Oh, Bonnie, honestly," Meredith said. "Vickie's a victim, not a suspect. And if Matt's an evil Power, I'm the hunchback of Notre Dame. And as for Robert—"
"Fine, I've crossed it all out," said Bonnie coldly. "Now let's hear your ideas."
"No, wait," Elena said. "Bonnie, wait a moment." She was thinking about something, something that had been nagging at her for quite a while, ever since—"Ever since the church," she said aloud, remembering it. "Do you know, I saw Robert outside the church, too, when I was hidden in the choir loft. It was just before the dogs attacked, and he was sort of backing away like he knew what was going to happen."
"Oh, but Elena—"
"No, listen, Meredith. And I saw him before, on Saturday night, with Aunt Judith. When she told him she wouldn't marry him there was something in his face… I don't know. But I think you'd better put him back on the list, Bonnie."
Soberly, after a moment's hesitation, Bonnie did. "Who else?" she said.
"Well, Alaric, I'm afraid," Elena said. "I'm sorry, Bonnie, but he's practically number one." She told what she had overheard that morning between Alaric and the principal. "He isn't a normal history teacher; they called him here for some reason. He knows I'm a vampire, and he's looking for me. And today, while the dogs were attacking, he was standing there on the sidelines making some kind of weird gestures. He's definitely not what he seems, and the only question is: what is he? Are you listening, Meredith?"
"Yes. You know, I think you should put Mrs. Flowers on that list. Remember the way she stood at the window of the boarding-house when we were bringing Stefan back from the well? But she wouldn't come downstairs to open the door for us? That's odd behavior."
Elena nodded. "Yes, and how she kept hanging up on me when I called him. And she certainly keeps to herself in that old house. She may just be a dotty old lady, but put her down anyway, Bonnie." She ran a hand through her hair, lifting it off the back of her neck. She was hot. Or—not hot exactly, but uncomfortable in some way that was similar to being overheated. She felt parched.
"All right, we'll go by the boardinghouse tomorrow before school," Meredith said. "Meanwhile, what else can we be doing? Let's have a look at that list, Bonnie."
Bonnie held the list out so they could see it, and Elena and Meredith leaned forward and read:
Robert Maxwell—What was he doing at the church when the dogs attacked? And what was going on that night with Elena's aunt?
Alaric Saltzman—Why does he ask so many questions? What was he called to Fell's Church to do?
Mrs. Flowers—Why does she act so strange?
Why didn't she let us in the night Stefan was wounded?
"Good," Elena said. "I guess we could also find out whose dogs were at the church today. And you can watch Alaric at school tomorrow."
"I'll watch Alaric," Bonnie said firmly. "And I'll get him cleared of suspicion; you see if I don't."
"Fine, you do that. You can be assigned to him. And Meredith can investigate Mrs. Flowers, and I can take Robert. And as for Stefan and Damon—well, they can be assigned to everyone, because they can use their Powers to probe people's minds. Besides, that list is by no means complete. I'm going to ask them to scout around town searching for any signs of Power, or anything else weird going on. They're more likely than I am to recognize it."
Sitting back, Elena wet her lips absently. She was parched. She noticed something she'd never noticed before: the fine tracery of veins on Bonnie's inner wrist. Bonnie was still holding the note pad out, and the skin of her wrist was so translucent that the teal blue veins showed clearly through. Elena wished she'd listened when they'd studied human anatomy at school; now what was the name for this vein, the big one that branched like a fork in a tree… ?
Startled, Elena looked up, to see Meredith's wary dark eyes and Bonnie's alarmed expression. It was only then that she realized she was crouched close to Bonnie's wrist, rubbing the biggest vein with her finger.
"Sorry," she murmured, sitting back. But she could feel the extra length and sharpness of her canine teeth. It was something like wearing braces; she could clearly feel the difference in weight. She realized her reassuring smile at Bonnie was not having the desired effect. Bonnie was looking scared, which was silly. Bonnie ought to know that Elena would never hurt her. And Elena wasn't very hungry tonight; Elena had always been a light eater. She could get all she needed from this tiny vein here in the wrist…
Elena jumped to her feet and spun toward the window, leaning against the casing, feeling the cool night air blowing on her skin. She felt dizzy, and she couldn't seem to get her breath.
What had she been doing? She turned around to see Bonnie huddled close to Meredith, both of them looking sick with fear. She hated having them look at her that way.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean to, Bonnie. Look, I'm not coming any closer. I should have eaten before I came here. Damon said I'd get hungry later."
Bonnie swallowed, looking even sicker. "Eaten?"
"Yes, of course," Elena said tartly. Her veins were burning; that was what this feeling was. Stefan had described it before, but she'd never really understood; she'd never realized what he was going through when the need for blood was on him. It was terrible, irresistible. "What do you think I eat these days, air?" she added defiantly. "I'm a hunter now, and I'd better go out hunting."
Bonnie and Meredith were trying to cope; she could tell they were, but she could also see the revulsion in their eyes. She concentrated on using her new senses, in opening herself to the night and searching for Stefan's or Damon's presence. It was difficult, because neither of them was projecting with his mind as he had been the night they'd been fighting in the woods, but she thought she could sense a glimmer of Power out there in the town.
But she had no way to communicate with it, and frustration made the scorching in her veins even worse. She'd just decided that she might have to go without them when the curtains whipped back into her face, flapping in a burst of wind. Bonnie lurched up with a gasp, knocking the reading lamp off the night-stand and plunging the room into darkness. Cursing, Meredith worked to get it righted again. The curtains fluttered madly in the flickering light that emerged, and Bonnie seemed to be trying to scream.
When the bulb was finally screwed back in, it revealed Damon sitting casually but precariously on the sill of the open window, one knee up. He was smiling one of his wildest smiles.
"Do you mind?" he said. "This is uncomfortable."
Elena glanced back at Bonnie and Meredith, who were braced against the closet, looking horrified and hypnotized at once. She herself shook her head, exasperated.
"And I thought I liked to make a dramatic entrance," she said. "Very funny, Damon. Now let's go."
"With two such beautiful friends of yours right here?" Damon smiled again at Bonnie and Meredith. "Besides, I only just got here. Won't somebody be polite and ask me in?"
Bonnie's brown eyes, fixed helplessly on his face, softened a bit. Her lips, which had been parted in horror, parted further. Elena recognized the signs of imminent meltdown.
"No, they won't," she said. She put herself directly between Damon and the other girls. "Nobody here is for you, Damon—not now, not ever." Seeing the flare of challenge in his eyes, she added archly, "And anyway, I'm leaving. I don't know about you, but I'm going hunting." She was reassured to sense Stefan's presence nearby, on the roof probably, and to hear his instant amendment: We're going hunting, Damon. You can sit there all night if you want.
Damon gave in with good grace, shooting one last amused glance toward Bonnie before disappearing from the window. Bonnie and Meredith both started forward in alarm as he did, obviously concerned that he had just fallen to his death.
"He's fine," said Elena, shaking her head again. "And don't worry, I won't let him come back. I'll meet you at the same time tomorrow. Good-bye."
"But—Elena—" Meredith stopped. "I mean, I was going to ask you if you wanted to change your clothes."
Elena regarded herself. The nineteenth-century heirloom dress was tattered and bedraggled, the thin white muslin shredded in some places. But there was no time to change it; she had to feed now.
"It'll have to wait," she said. "See you tomorrow." And she boosted herself out of the window the way Damon had. The last she saw of them, Meredith and Bonnie were staring after her dazedly.
She was getting better at landings; this time she didn't bruise her knees. Stefan was there, and he wrapped something dark and warm around her.
"Your cloak," she said, pleased. For a moment they smiled at each other, remembering the first time he had given her the cloak, after he'd saved her from Tyler in the graveyard and taken her back to his room to clean up. He'd been afraid to touch her then. But, Elena thought, smiling up into his eyes, she had taken care of that fear rather quickly.
"I thought we were hunting," Damon said.
Elena turned the smile on him, without unlinking her hand from Stefan's. "We are," she said. "Where should we go?"
"Any house on this street," Damon suggested.
"The woods," Stefan said.
"The woods," Elena decided. "We don't touch humans, and we don't kill. Isn't that how it goes, Stefan?"
He returned the pressure of her fingers. "That's how it goes," he said quietly.
Damon's lip curled fastidiously. "And just what are we looking for in the woods, or don't I want to know? Muskrat? Skunk? Termites?" His eyes moved to Elena and his voice dropped. "Come with me, and I'll show you some real hunting."
"We can go through the graveyard," Elena said, ignoring him.
"White-tailed deer feed all night in the open areas," Stefan told her, "but we'll have to be careful stalking them; they can hear almost as well as we can."
Another time, then, Damon's voice said in Elena's mind.
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|Вампир||Дата: Суббота, 31-Октября-2009, 18:56:10 | Сообщение # 7|
"Who—? Oh, it's you!" Bonnie said, starting at the touch on her elbow. "You scared me. I didn't hear you come up."
He'd have to be more careful, Stefan realized. In the few days he'd been away from school, he'd gotten out of the habit of walking and moving like a human and fallen back into the noiseless, perfectly controlled stride of the hunter. "Sorry," he said, as they walked side by side down the corridor.
"S'okay," said Bonnie with a brave attempt at nonchalance. But her brown eyes were wide and rather fixed. "So what are you doing here today? Meredith and I came by the boardinghouse this morning to check on Mrs. Flowers, but nobody answered the door. And I didn't see you in biology."
"I came this afternoon. I'm back at school. For as long as it takes to find what we're looking for anyway."
"To spy on Alaric, you mean," Bonnie muttered. "I told Elena yesterday just to leave him to me. Oops," she added, as a couple of passing juniors stared at her. She rolled her eyes at Stefan. By mutual consent, they turned off into a side corridor and made for an empty stairwell. Bonnie leaned against the wall with a groan of relief.
"I've got to remember not to say her name," she said pathetically, "but it's so hard. My mother asked me how I felt this morning and I almost told her, 'fine,' since I saw Elena last night. I don't know how you two kept—you know what—a secret so long."
Stefan felt a grin tugging at his lips in spite of himself. Bonnie was like a six-week-old kitten, all charm and no inhibitions. She always said exactly what she was thinking at the moment, even if it completely contradicted what she'd just said the moment before, but everything she did came from the heart. "You're standing in a deserted hallway with a you know what right now," he reminded her devilishly.
"Ohhh." Her eyes widened again. "But you wouldn't, would you?" she added, relieved. "Because Elena would kill you… Oh, dear." Searching for another topic, she gulped and said, "So—so how did things go last night?"
Stefan's mood darkened immediately. "Not so good. Oh, Elena's all right; she's sleeping safely." Before he could go on, his ears picked up footfalls at the end of the corridor. Three senior girls were passing by, and one broke away from the group at the sight of Stefan and Bonnie. Sue Carson's face was pale and her eyes were red-rimmed, but she smiled at them.
Bonnie was full of concern. "Sue, how are you? How's Doug?"
"I'm okay. He's okay, too, or at least he's going to be. Stefan, I wanted to talk to you," she added in a rush. "I know my dad thanked you yesterday for helping Doug the way you did, but I wanted to thank you, too. I mean, I know that people in town have been pretty horrible to you and—well, I'm just surprised you cared enough to help at all. But I'm glad. My mom says you saved Doug's life. And so, I just wanted to thank you, and to say I'm sorry—about everything."
Her voice was shaking by the end of the speech. Bonnie sniffed and groped in her backpack for a tissue, and for a moment it looked as if Stefan was going to be caught on the stairwell with two sobbing females. Dismayed, he racked his brains for a distraction.
"That's all right," he said. "How's Chelsea today?"
"She's at the pound. They're holding the dogs in quarantine there, all the ones they could round up." Sue blotted her eyes and straightened, and Stefan relaxed, seeing that the danger was over. An awkward silence descended.
"Well," said Bonnie to Sue at last, "have you heard what the school board decided about the Snow Dance?"
"I heard they met this morning and they've pretty much decided to let us have it. Somebody said they were talking about a police guard, though. Oh, there's the late bell. We'd better get to history before Alaric hands us all demerits."
"We're coming in a minute," Stefan said. He added casually, "When is this Snow Dance?"
"It's the thirteenth; Friday night, you know," Sue said, and then winced. "Oh my God, Friday the thirteenth. I didn't even think about that. But it reminds me that there was one other thing I wanted to tell you. This morning I took my name out of the running for snow queen. It—it just seemed right, somehow. That's all." Sue hurried away, almost running.
Stefan's mind was racing. "Bonnie, what is this Snow Dance?"
"Well, it's the Christmas dance really, only we have a snow queen instead of a Christmas queen. After what happened at Founders' Day, they were thinking of canceling it, and then with the dogs yesterday—but it sounds like they're going to have it after all."
"On Friday the thirteenth," Stefan said grimly.
"Yes." Bonnie was looking scared again, making herself small and inconspicuous. "Stefan, don't look that way; you're frightening me. What's wrong? What do you think will happen at the dance?"
"I don't know." But something would, Stefan was thinking. Fell's Church hadn't had one public celebration that had escaped being visited by the Other Power, and this would probably be the last festivity of the year. But there was no point in talking about it now. "Come on," he said. "We're really late."
He was right. Alaric Saltzman was at the chalkboard when they walked in, as he had been the first day he'd appeared in the history classroom. If he was surprised at seeing them late, or at all, he covered it faultlessly, giving one of his friendliest smiles.
So you're the one who's hunting the hunter, Stefan thought, taking his seat and studying the man before him. But are you anything more than that? Elena's Other Power maybe?
On the face of it, nothing seemed more unlikely. Alaric's sandy hair, worn just a little too long for a teacher, his boyish smile, his stubborn cheerfulness, all contributed to an impression of harmlessness. But Stefan had been wary from the beginning of what was under that inoffensive exterior. Still, it didn't seem very likely that Alaric Saltzman was behind the attack on Elena or the incident with the dogs. No disguise could be that perfect.
Elena. Stefan's hand clenched under his desk, and a slow ache woke in his chest. He hadn't meant to think about her. The only way he had gotten through the last five days was by keeping her at the edge of his mind, not letting her image any closer. But then of course the effort of holding her away at a safe distance took up most of his time and energy. And this was the worst place of all to be, in a classroom where he couldn't care less about what was being taught. There was nothing to do but think here.
He made himself breathe slowly, calmly. She was well; that was the important thing. Nothing else really mattered. But even as he told himself this, jealousy bit into him like the thongs of a whip. Because whenever he thought about Elena now, he had to think about him.
About Damon, who was free to come and go as he liked. Who might even be with Elena this minute.
Anger burned in Stefan's mind, bright and cold, mingling with the hot ache in his chest. He still wasn't convinced that Damon wasn't the one who had casually thrown him, bleeding and unconscious, into an abandoned well shaft to die. And he would take Elena's idea about the Other Power much more seriously if he was completely sure that Damon hadn't chased Elena to her death. Damon was evil; he had no mercy and no scruples…
And what's he done that I haven't done? Stefan asked himself heavily, for the hundredth time. Nothing.
Stefan had tried to kill. He'd meant to kill Tyler. At the memory, the cold fire of his anger toward Damon was doused, and he glanced instead toward a desk at the back of the room.
It was empty. Though Tyler had gotten out of the hospital the day before, he hadn't returned to school. Still, there should be no danger of his remembering anything from that grisly afternoon. The subliminal suggestion to forget should hold for quite a while, as long as no one messed with Tyler's mind.
He suddenly became aware that he was staring at Tyler's empty desk with narrow, brooding eyes. As he looked away, he caught the glance of someone who'd been watching him do it.
Matt turned quickly and bent over his history book, but not before Stefan saw his expression.
Don't think about it. Don't think about anything, Stefan told himself, and he tried to concentrate on Alaric Saltzman's lecture about the Wars of the Roses.
December 5—I don't know what time, probably early afternoon.
Damon got you back for me this morning. Stefan said he didn't want me going into Alaric's attic again. This is Stefan's pen I'm using. I don't own anything anymore, or at least I can't get at any of my own things, and most of them Aunt Judith would miss if I took them. I'm sitting right now in a barn behind the boardinghouse. I can't go where people sleep, you know, unless I've been invited in. I guess animals don't count, because there are some rats sleeping here under the hay and an owl in the rafters. At the moment, we're ignoring each other.
I'm trying very hard not to have hysterics.
I thought writing might help. Something normal, something familiar. Except that nothing in my life is normal anymore.
Damon says I'll get used to it faster if I throw my old life away and embrace the new one. He seems to think it's inevitable that I turn out like him. He says I was born to be a hunter and there's no point in doing things halfway.
I hunted a deer last night. A stag, because it was making the most noise, clashing its antlers against tree branches, challenging other males. I drank its blood.
When I look over this diary, all I can see is that I was searching for something, for someplace to belong. But this isn't it. This new life isn't it. I'm afraid of what I'll become if I do start to belong here.
Oh, God, I'm frightened.
The barn owl is almost pure white, especially when it spreads its wings so you can see the underside. From the back it looks more gold. It has just a little gold around the face. It's staring at me right now because I'm making noises, trying not to cry.
It's funny that I can still cry. I guess it's witches that can't.
It's started snowing outside. I'm pulling my cloak up around me.
Elena tucked the little book close to her body and drew the soft dark velvet of the cloak up to her chin. The barn was utterly silent, except for the minute breathing of the animals that slept there. Outside the snow drifted down just as soundlessly, blanketing the world in muffling stillness. Elena stared at it with unseeing eyes, scarcely noticing the tears that ran down her cheeks.
"And could Bonnie McCullough and Caroline Forbes please stay after class a moment," Alaric said as the last bell rang.
Stefan frowned, a frown that deepened as he saw Vickie Bennett hovering outside the open door of the history room, her eyes shy and frightened. "I'll be right outside," he said meaningfully to Bonnie, who nodded. He added a warning lift of his eyebrows, and she responded with a virtuous look. Catch me saying anything I'm not supposed to, the look said.
Going out, Stefan only hoped she could stick to it.
Vickie Bennett was entering as he exited, and he had to step out of her way. But that took him right into the path of Matt, who'd come out the other door and was trying to get down the corridor as fast as possible.
Stefan grabbed his arm without thinking. "Matt, wait."
"Let go of me." Matt's fist came up. He looked at it in apparent surprise, as if not sure what he should be so mad about. But every muscle in his body was fighting Stefan's grip.
"I just want to talk to you. Just for a minute, all right?"
"I don't have a minute," Matt said, and at last his eyes, a lighter, less complicated blue than Elena's, met Stefan's. But there was a blankness in the depths of them that reminded Stefan of the look of someone who'd been hypnotized, or who was under the influence of some Power.
Only it was no Power except Matt's own mind, he realized abruptly. This was what the human brain did to itself when faced with something it simply couldn't deal with. Matt had shut down, turned off.
Testing, Stefan said, "About what happened Saturday night—"
"I don't know what you're talking about. Look, I said I had to go, damn it." Denial was like a fortress behind Matt's eyes. But Stefan had to try again.
"I don't blame you for being mad. If I were you, I'd be furious. And I know what it's like not to want to think, especially when thinking can drive you crazy." Matt was shaking his head, and Stefan looked around the hallway. It was almost empty, and desperation made him willing to take a risk. He lowered his voice. "But maybe you'd at least like to know that Elena's awake, and she's much—"
"Elena's dead!" Matt shouted, drawing the attention of everyone in the corridor. "And I told you to let go of me!" he added, oblivious of their audience, and shoved Stefan hard. It was so unexpected that Stefan stumbled back against the lockers, almost ending up sprawled on the ground. He stared at Matt, but Matt never even glanced back as he took off down the hallway.
Stefan spent the rest of the time until Bonnie emerged just staring at the wall. There was a poster there for the Snow Dance, and he knew every inch of it by the time the girls came out.
Despite everything Caroline had tried to do to him and Elena, Stefan found he couldn't summon up any hatred of her. Her auburn hair looked faded, her face pinched. Instead of being willowy, her posture just looked wilted, he thought, watching her go.
"Everything okay?" he said to Bonnie, as they fell into step with each other.
"Yes, of course. Alaric just knows we three—Vickie, Caroline, and I—have been through a lot, and he wants us to know that he supports us," Bonnie said, but even her dogged optimism about the history teacher sounded a little forced. "None of us told him about anything, though. He's having another get-together at his house next week," she added brightly.
Wonderful, thought Stefan. Normally he might have said something about it, but at that moment he was distracted. "There's Meredith," he said.
"She must be waiting for us—no, she's going down the history wing," Bonnie said. "That's funny, I told her I'd meet her out here."
It was more than funny, thought Stefan. He'd caught only a glimpse of her as she turned the corner, but that glimpse stuck in his mind. The expression on Meredith's face had been calculating, watchful, and her step had been stealthy. As if she were trying to do something without being seen.
"She'll come back in a minute when she sees we're not down there," Bonnie said, but Meredith didn't come back in a minute, or two, or three. In fact, it was almost ten minutes before she appeared, and then she looked startled to see Stefan and Bonnie waiting for her.
"Sorry, I got held up," she said coolly, and Stefan had to admire her self-possession. But he wondered what was behind it, and only Bonnie was in a mood to chat as the three of them left school.
"But last time you used fire," Elena said.
"That was because we were looking for Stefan, for a specific person," Bonnie replied. "This time we're trying to predict the future. If it was just your personal future I was trying to predict, I'd look in your palm, but we're trying to find out something general."
Meredith entered the room, carefully balancing a china bowl full to the brim with water. In her other hand, she held a candle. "I've got the stuff," she said.
"Water was sacred to the Druids," Bonnie explained, as Meredith placed the dish on the floor and the three girls sat around it.
"Apparently, everything was sacred to the Druids," said Meredith.
"Shh. Now, put the candle in the candlestick and light it. Then I'm going to pour melted wax into the water, and the shapes it makes will tell me the answers to your questions. My grandmother used melted lead, and she said her grandmother used melted silver, but she told me wax would do." When Meredith had lit the candle, Bonnie glanced at it sideways and took a deep breath. "I'm getting scareder and scareder to do this," she said.
"You don't have to," Elena said softly.
"I know. But I want to—this once. Besides, it's not these kind of rituals that scare me; it's getting taken over that's so awful. I hate it. It's like somebody else getting into my body."
Elena frowned and opened her mouth, but Bonnie was continuing.
"Anyway, here goes. Turn down the lights, Meredith. Give me a minute to get attuned and then ask your questions."
In the silence of the dim room Elena watched the candlelight flickering over Bonnie's lowered eyelashes and Meredith's sober face. She looked down at her own hands in her lap, pale against the blackness of the sweater and leggings Meredith had lent her. Then she looked at the dancing flame.
"All right," Bonnie said softly and took the candle.
Elena's fingers twined together, clenching hard, but she spoke in a low voice so as not to break the atmosphere. "Who is the Other Power in Fell's Church?"
Bonnie tilted the candle so that the flame licked up its sides. Hot wax streamed down like water into the bowl and formed round globules there.
"I was afraid of that," Bonnie murmured. "That's no answer, nothing. Try a different question."
Disappointed, Elena sat back, fingernails biting into her palms. It was Meredith who spoke.
"Can we find this Other Power if we look? And can we defeat it?"
"That's two questions," Bonnie said under her breath as she tilted the candle again. This time the wax formed a circle, a lumpy white ring.
"That's unity! The symbol for people joining hands. It means we can do it if we stick together."
Elena's head jerked up. Those were almost the same words she'd said to Stefan and Damon. Bonnie's eyes were shining with excitement, and they smiled at each other.
"Watch out! You're still pouring," Meredith said.
Bonnie quickly righted the candle, looking into the bowl again. The last spill of wax had formed a thin, straight line.
"That's a sword," she said slowly. "It means sacrifice. We can do it if we stick together, but not without sacrifice."
"What kind of sacrifice?" asked Elena.
"I don't know," Bonnie said, her face troubled. "That's all I can tell you this time." She stuck the candle back in the candleholder.
"Whew," said Meredith, as she got up to turn on the lights. Elena stood, too.
"Well, at least we know we can beat it," she said, tugging up the leggings, which were too long for her. She caught a glimpse of herself in Meredith's mirror. She certainly didn't look like Elena Gilbert the high school fashion plate anymore. Dressed all in black like this, she looked pale and dangerous, like a sheathed sword. Her hair fell haphazardly around her shoulders.
"They wouldn't know me at school," she murmured, with a pang. It was strange that she should care about going to school, but she did. It was because she couldn't go, she guessed. And because she'd been queen there so long, she'd run things for so long, that it was almost unbelievable that she could never set foot there again,
"You could go somewhere else," Bonnie suggested. "I mean, after this is all over, you could finish the school year someplace where nobody knows you. Like Stefan did."
"No, I don't think so." Elena was in a strange mood tonight, after spending the day alone in the barn watching the snow. "Bonnie," she said abruptly, "would you look at my palm again? I want you to tell my future, my personal future."
"I don't even know if I remember all the stuff my grandmother taught me… but, all right, I'll try," Bonnie relented. "There'd just better be no more dark strangers on the way, that's all. You've already got all you can handle." She giggled as she took Elena's outstretched hand. "Remember when Caroline asked what you could do with two? I guess you're finding out now, huh?"
"Just read my palm, will you?"
"All right, this is your life line—" Bonnie's stream of patter broke off almost before it was started. She stared at Elena's hand, fear and apprehension in her face. "It should go all the way down to here," she said. "But it's cut off so short…"
She and Elena looked at each other without speaking for a moment, while Elena felt that same apprehension solidify inside herself. Then Meredith broke in.
"Well, naturally it's short," she said. "It just means what happened already, when Elena drowned."
"Yes, of course, that must be it," Bonnie murmured. She let go of Elena's hand and Elena slowly drew back. "That's it, all right," Bonnie said in a stronger voice.
Elena was gazing into the mirror again. The girl who gazed back was beautiful, but there was a sad wisdom about her eyes that the old Elena Gilbert had never had. She realized that Bonnie and Meredith were looking at her.
"That must be it," she said lightly, but her smile didn't touch her eyes.
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