Dark Reunion (Chapter Fourteen)

"He's gone round the bend," Matt said, staring at the empty doorway through which Stefan had disappeared.

"No, he hasn't," said Meredith. Her voice was rueful and quiet, but there was a kind of helpless laugh in it too. "Don't you see what he's doing, Matt?" she said when he turned to her. "Yelling at us, making us hate him to try and chase us away. Being as nasty as possible so we'll stay mad and let him do this alone." She glanced at the doorway and raised her eyebrows. " 'Anyone who does follow me, I'll kill' was going a bit overboard, though."

Bonnie giggled suddenly, wildly, in spite of herself. "I think he borrowed it from Damon. 'Get this straight, I don't need any of you!' "

" 'You bunch of stupid humans,' " Matt added.

"But I still don't understand. You just had a premonition, Bonnie, and Stefan doesn't usually discount those. If there's no way to fight and win, what's the point of going?"

"Bonnie didn't say there was no way to fight and win. She said there was no way to fight and survive. Right, Bonnie?" Meredith looked at her.

The fit of giggles dissolved away. Startled herself, Bonnie tried to examine the premonition, but she knew no more than the words that had sprung into her mind. No one can fight him and live.

"You mean Stefan thinks-" Slow, thunderous outrage was smoldering in Matt's eyes. "He thinks he's going to go and stop Klaus even though he gets killed himself? Like some sacrificial lamb?"

"More like Elena," Meredith said soberly. "And maybe-so he can be with her."

"Huh-uh." Bonnie shook her head. She might not know more about the prophecy, but this she knew. "He doesn't think that, I'm sure. Elena's special. She is what she is because she died too young; she left so much unfinished in her own life, and-well, she's a special case. But Stefan's been a vampire for five hundred years, and he certainly wouldn't be dying young. There's no guarantee he'd end up with Elena. He might go to another place or-or just go out. And he knows that. I'm sure he knows that. I think he's just keeping his promise to her, to stop Klaus no matter what it costs."

"To try, at least," Matt said softly, and it sounded as if he were quoting. "Even if you know you're going to lose." He looked up at the girls suddenly. "I'm going after him."

"Of course," said Meredith patiently.

Matt hesitated. "Uh-I don't suppose I could convince you two to stay here?"

"After all that inspiring talk about teamwork? Not a chance."

"I was afraid of that. So…"

They gathered what weapons they could. Matt's pocketknife that Stefan had dropped, the ivory-hilted dagger from Stefan's dresser, a carving knife from the kitchen.

Outside, there was no sign of Mrs. Flowers. The sky was pale purple, shading to apricot in the west. Twilight of the solstice eve, Bonnie thought, and hairs on her arms tried to lift.

"Klaus said the old farmhouse in the woods-that must mean the Francher place," Matt said. "Where Katherine dumped Stefan in the abandoned well."

"That makes sense. He's probably been using Katherine's tunnel to get back and forth under the river," Meredith said. "Unless Old Ones are so powerful they can cross running water without harming themselves."

That's right, Bonnie remembered, evil things couldn't cross running water, and the more evil you were, the harder it was. "But we don't know anything about the Originals," she said aloud.

"No, and that means we've got to be careful," Matt said. "I know these woods pretty well, and I know the path Stefan will probably use. I think we should take a different one."

"So Stefan won't see us and kill us?"

"So Klaus won't see us, or not all of us. So maybe we'll have a chance of getting to Caroline. Somehow or other we've got to get Caroline out of the equation; as long as Klaus can threaten to hurt her he can make Stefan do anything he wants. And it's always best to plan ahead, to get a jump on the enemy. Klaus said meet there after dark; well, we'll be there before dark and maybe we can surprise him."

Bonnie was deeply impressed by this strategy. No wonder he's a quarterback, she was thinking. I would have just rushed in, yelling.

Matt picked out an almost invisible path between the oak trees. The undergrowth was especially lush this time of year, with mosses, grasses, flowering plants, and ferns. Bonnie had to trust that Matt knew where he was going, because she certainly didn't. Above, birds were giving one last burst of song before seeking out a roost for the night.

It got dimmer. Moths and lacewings fluttered past Bonnie's face. After stumbling through a patch of toadstools covered with feeding slugs, she was intensely grateful that this time she'd worn jeans.

At last Matt stopped them. "We're getting close," he said, his voice low. "There's a sort of bluff where we can look down and Klaus might not see us. Be quiet and careful."

Bonnie had never taken so much trouble placing her feet before. Fortunately the leaf litter was wet and not crackly. After a few minutes Matt dropped to his stomach and gestured for them to follow. Bonnie kept telling herself, fiercely, that she didn't mind the centipedes and earthworms her sliding fingers dug up, that she had no feelings one way or another about cobwebs in the face. This was life and death, and she was competent. No dweeb, no baby, but competent.

They were gazing down on the Francher homestead-or what was left of it. It had crumbled into the earth long ago, taken back by the forest. Now it was only a foundation, building stones covered with flowering weeds and prickly brambles, and one tall chimney like a lonely monument.

"There she is. Caroline," Meredith breathed in Bonnie's other ear.

Caroline was a dim figure sitting against the chimney. Her pale green dress showed up in the gathering dark, but her auburn hair just looked black. Something white shone across her face, and after a moment Bonnie realized it was a gag. Tape or a bandage. From her strange posture-arms behind her, legs stretched straight out in front-Bonnie also guessed she was tied.

Poor Caroline, she thought, forgiving the other girl all the nasty, petty, selfish things she'd ever done, which was a pretty considerable amount when you got down to it. But Bonnie couldn't imagine anything worse than being abducted by a psycho vampire who'd already killed two of your classmates, dragged out here to the woods and bound, and then left to wait, with your life depending on another vampire who had fairly good reason to hate you. After all, Caroline had wanted Stefan in the beginning, and had hated and tried to humiliate Elena for getting him. Stefan Salvatore was the last person who should feel kindly toward Caroline Forbes.

"Look!" said Matt. "Is that him? Klaus?"

Bonnie had seen it too, a ripple of movement on the opposite side of the chimney. As she strained her eyes he appeared, his light tan raincoat flapping ghostlike around his legs. He glanced down at Caroline and she shrank from him, trying to lean away. His laughter sounded so clearly in the quiet air that Bonnie flinched.

"That's him," she whispered, dropping down behind the screening ferns. "But where's Stefan? It's almost dark now."

"Maybe he got smart and decided not to come," said Matt.

"No such luck," said Meredith. She was looking through the ferns to the south. Bonnie glanced that way herself and started.

Stefan was standing at the edge of the clearing, having materialized there as if out of thin air. Not even Klaus had seen him coming, Bonnie thought. He stood silently, making no attempt to hide himself or the white ash spear he was carrying. There was something in his stance and the way he looked over the scene before him that made Bonnie remember that in the fifteenth century he'd been an aristocrat, a member of the nobility. He said nothing, waiting for Klaus to notice him, refusing to be rushed.

When Klaus did turn south he went still, and Bonnie got the feeling he was surprised Stefan had sneaked up on him. But then he laughed and spread his arms.

Slowly, Stefan looked Klaus up and down, from the tails of his tattered raincoat to the top of his windblown head. What Stefan said was:

"You asked for me. I'm here. Let the girl go."

"Did I say that?" Looking genuinely surprised, Klaus pressed two hands to his chest. Then he shook his head, chuckling. "I don't think so. Let's talk first."

Stefan nodded, as if Klaus had confirmed something bitter he'd been expecting. He took the spear from his shoulder and held it in front of him, handling the unwieldy length of wood deftly, easily. "I'm listening," he said.

"Not as dumb as he looks," Matt murmured from behind the ferns, a note of respect in his voice. "And he's not as anxious to get killed as I thought," Matt added. "He's being careful."

Klaus gestured toward Caroline, the tips of his fingers brushing her auburn hair. "Why don't you come here so we don't have to shout?" But he didn't threaten to hurt his prisoner, Bonnie noticed.

"I can hear you just fine," Stefan replied.

"Good," Matt whispered. "That's it, Stefan!"

Bonnie, though, was studying Caroline. The captive girl was struggling, tossing her head back and forth as if she were frantic or in pain. But Bonnie got a strange feeling about Caroline's movements, especially those violent jerks of the head, as if the girl was straining to reach the sky. The sky… Bonnie's gaze lifted up to it, where full darkness had fallen and a waning moon shone over the trees. That was why she could see that Caroline's hair was auburn now: the moonlight, she thought. Then, with a shock, her eyes dropped to the tree just above Stefan, whose branches were rustling slightly in the absence of any wind. "Matt?" she whispered, alarmed.

Stefan was focused on Klaus, every sense, every muscle, every atom of his Power honed and turned toward the Old One before him. But in that tree directly above him…

All thoughts of strategy, of asking Matt what to do, fled from Bonnie's mind. She bolted up from her place of concealment and shouted.

"Stefan! Above you! It's a trap!"

Stefan leaped aside, neat as a cat, just as something plunged down on the exact place he'd been standing an instant before. The moon lit the scene perfectly, enough for Bonnie to see the white of Tyler's bared teeth.

And to see the white flash of Klaus's eyes as he whirled on her. For one stunned instant she stared at him, and then lightning crackled.

From an empty sky.

It was only later that Bonnie would realize the strangeness-the fearsomeness-of this. At the time she scarcely noted that the sky was clear and star swept and that the jagged blue bolt that forked down struck the palm of Klaus's upraised hand. The next sight she saw was so terrifying as to black everything else out: Klaus folding his hand over that lightning, gathering it somehow, and throwing it at her.

"Stay here! Right here!" he shouted, and bounded away.

Those dreaded words. They catapulted Bonnie right up, and she was running after him before she knew what she was doing.

And then the world turned into chaos.

Klaus had whirled back on Stefan, who was grappling with Tyler, beating him. Tyler, in his wolf form, was making terrible sounds as Stefan threw him to the ground.

Meredith was running toward Caroline, approaching from behind the chimney so Klaus wouldn't spot her. Bonnie saw her reach Caroline and saw the flash of Stefan's silver dagger as Meredith cut the cords around Caroline's wrists. Then Meredith was half carrying, half dragging Caroline behind the chimney to work on her feet.

A sound like antlers clashing made Bonnie spin around. Klaus had come at Stefan with a tall branch of his own-it must have been lying flat on the ground before. It looked just as sharp as Stefan's, making it a serviceable lance. But Klaus and Stefan weren't just stabbing at each other; they were using the sticks as quarterstaffs. Robin Hood, Bonnie thought dazedly. Little John and Robin. That was what it looked like: Klaus was that much taller and heavier boned than Stefan.

Then Bonnie saw something else and cried out wordlessly. Behind Stefan, Tyler had gotten up again and was crouching, just as he had in the graveyard before lunging for Stefan's throat. Stefan's back was to him. And Bonnie couldn't warn him in time.

But she'd forgotten about Matt. Head down, ignoring claws and fangs, he was charging at Tyler, tackling him like a first-rate linebacker before he could leap. Tyler went flying sideways, with Matt on top of him.

Bonnie was overwhelmed. So much was happening. Meredith was sawing through Caroline's ankle cords; Matt was pummeling Tyler in a way that certainly would have gotten him disqualified on the football field; Stefan was whirling that white ash staff as if he'd been trained for it. Klaus was laughing deliriously, seeming exhilarated by the exercise, as they traded blows with deadly speed and accuracy.

But Matt seemed to be in trouble now. Tyler was gripping him and snarling, trying to get a hold on his throat. Wildly, Bonnie looked around for a weapon, entirely forgetting the carving knife in her pocket. Her eye fell on a dead oak branch. She picked it up and ran to where Tyler and Matt were struggling.

Then Matt was on top of Tyler again, holding Tyler's head down, holding himself clear. Bonnie saw her chance and aimed the stick. But Tyler saw her. With a burst of supernatural strength, he gathered his legs and sent Matt soaring off him backward. Matt's head struck a tree with a sound Bonnie would never forget. The dull sound of a rotten melon bursting. He slid down the front of the tree and was still.

Bonnie was gasping, stunned. She might have started toward Matt, but Tyler was there in front of her, breathing hard, bloody saliva running down his chin. He looked even more like an animal than he had in the graveyard. As if in a dream, Bonnie raised her stick, but she could feel it shaking in her hands. Matt was so still-was he breathing? Bonnie could hear the sob in her own breath as she faced Tyler. This was ridiculous; this was a boy from her own school. A boy she'd danced with last year at the Junior Prom. How could he be keeping her away from Matt, how could he be trying to hurt them all? How could he be doing this?

"Tyler, please-" she began, meaning to reason with him, to beg him…

"All alone in the woods, little girl?" he said, and his voice was a thick and guttural growl, shaped at the last minute into words. In that instant Bonnie knew that this was not the boy she'd gone to school with. This was an animal. Oh, God, he's ugly, she thought. Ropes of red spit hung out of his mouth. And those yellow eyes with the slitted pupils-in them she saw the cruelty of the shark, and the crocodile, and the wasp that lays its eggs in a caterpillar's living body. All the cruelty of animal nature in those two yellow eyes.

"Somebody should have warned you," Tyler said, dropping his jaw to laugh the way a dog does. "Because if you go out in the woods alone, you might meet the Big Bad-"

"Jerk!" a voice finished for him, and with a feeling of gratitude that bordered on the religious, Bonnie saw Meredith beside her. Meredith, holding Stefan's dagger, which shone liquidly in the moonlight.

"Silver, Tyler," Meredith said, brandishing it. "I wonder what silver does to a werewolf's members? Want to see?" All Meredith's elegance, her standoffishness, her cool observer's dispassion were gone. This was the essential Meredith, a warrior Meredith, and although she was smiling, she was mad.

"Yes!" shouted Bonnie gleefully, feeling power rush through her. Suddenly she could move. She and Meredith, together, were strong. Meredith was stalking Tyler from one side, Bonnie held her stick ready on the other. A longing she'd never felt before shot through her, the longing to hit Tyler so hard his head would come flying off. She could feel the strength to do it surging in her arm.

And Tyler, with his animal instinct, could sense it, could sense it from both of them, closing in on either side. He recoiled, caught himself, and turned to try and get away from them. They turned too. In a minute they were all three orbiting like a mini solar system: Tyler turning around and around in the middle; Bonnie and Meredith circling him, looking for a chance to attack.

"I did it! Yes. All right! Yes!" Bonnie shouted, flinging the stick away. Triumph erupted from her in a primal shout. "We did it!" She grabbed the heavy body by the back of the mane and pulled it off Meredith, where it had fallen. "We-"

Then she broke off, her words freezing in her throat. "Meredith!" she cried.

"It's all right," Meredith gasped, her voice tight with pain. And weakness, Bonnie thought, chilled as if doused with ice water. Tyler had clawed her leg to the bone. There were huge, gaping wounds in the thigh of Meredith's jeans and in the white skin that showed clearly through the torn cloth. And to Bonnie's absolute horror, she could see inside the skin too, could see flesh and muscle ripped and red blood pouring out.

"Meredith-" she cried frantically. They had to get Meredith to a doctor. Everyone had to stop now; everyone must understand that. They had an injury here; they needed to get an ambulance, to call 911. "Meredith," she gasped, almost weeping.

"Tie it up with something." Meredith's face was white. Shock. Going into shock. And so much blood; so much blood coming out. Oh, God, thought Bonnie, please help me. She looked for something to tie it up with, but there was nothing.

Something dropped on the ground beside her. A length of nylon cord like the cord they'd used to tie up Tyler, with frayed edges. Bonnie looked up.

"Can you use that?" asked Caroline uncertainly, her teeth chattering.

She was wearing the green dress, her auburn hair straggling and stuck to her face with sweat and blood. Even as she spoke she swayed, and fell to her knees beside Meredith.

"Are you hurt?" Bonnie gasped.

Caroline shook her head, but then she bent forward, racked with nausea, and Bonnie saw the marks in her throat. But there was no time to worry about Caroline now. Meredith was more important.

Bonnie tied the cord above Meredith's wounds, her mind running desperately over things she'd learned from her sister Mary. Mary was a nurse. Mary said-a tourniquet couldn't be too tight or left on too long or gangrene set in. But she had to stop the gushing blood. Oh, Meredith.

"Bonnie-help Stefan," Meredith was gasping, her voice almost a whisper. "He's going to need it…" She sagged backward, her breathing stertorous, her slitted eyes looking up at the sky.

Dazed, she turned to Caroline, who was shivering and retching, sweat beading her face. Useless, Bonnie thought. But she had no other choice.

"Caroline, listen to me," she said. She picked up the largest piece of the stick she'd used on Tyler and put it into Caroline's hands. "You stay with Matt and Meredith. Loosen that tourniquet every twenty minutes or so. And if Tyler starts to wake up, if he even twitches, you hit him as hard as you can with this. Understand? Caroline," she added, "this is your big chance to prove you're good for something. That you're not useless. All right?" She caught the furtive green eyes and repeated, "All right?"

"But what are you going to do?"

Bonnie looked toward the clearing.

"No, Bonnie." Caroline's hand grasped her, and Bonnie noted with some part of her mind the broken nails, the rope burns on the wrists. "Stay here where it's safe. Don't go to them. There's nothing you can do-"

Bonnie shook her off and made for the clearing before she lost her resolve. In her heart, she knew Caroline was right. There was nothing she could do. But something Matt had said before they left was ringing in her mind. To try at least. She had to try.

Still, in those next few horrible minutes all she could do was look.

So far, Stefan and Klaus had been trading blows with such violence and accuracy that it had been like a beautiful, lethal dance. But it had been an equal, or almost equal, match. Stefan had been holding his own.

Now she saw Stefan bearing down with his white ash lance, pressing Klaus to his knees, forcing him backward, farther and farther back, like a limbo dancer seeing how low he could go. And Bonnie could see Klaus's face now, mouth slightly open, staring up at Stefan with what looked like astonishment and fear.

Then everything changed.

At the very bottom of his descent, when Klaus had bent back as far as he could go, when it seemed that he must be about to collapse or break, something happened.

Klaus smiled.

And then he started pushing back.

Bonnie saw Stefan's muscles knot, saw his arms go rigid, trying to resist. But Klaus, still grinning madly, eyes wide open, just kept coming. He unfolded like some terrible jack-in-the-box, only slowly. Slowly. Inexorably. His grin getting wider until it looked as if it would split his face. Like the Cheshire cat.

A cat, thought Bonnie.

Now Stefan was the one grunting and straining, teeth clenched, trying to hold Klaus off. But Klaus and his stick bore down, forcing Stefan backward, forcing him to the ground.

Grinning all the time.

Until Stefan was lying on his back, his own stick pressing into his throat with the weight of Klaus's lance across it. Klaus looked down at him and beamed. "I'm tired of playing, little boy," he said, and he straightened and threw his own stick down. "Now it's dying time."

He took Stefan's staff away from him as easily as if he were taking it from a child. Picked it up with a flick of his wrist and broke it over his knee, showing how strong he was, how strong he had always been. How cruelly he had been playing with Stefan.

One of the halves of the white ash stick he tossed over his shoulder across the clearing. The other he jabbed at Stefan. Using not the pointed end but the splintered one, broken into a dozen tiny points. He jabbed down with a force that seemed almost casual, but Stefan screamed. He did it again and again, eliciting a scream each time.

Bonnie cried out, soundlessly.

She had never heard Stefan scream before. She didn't need to be told what kind of pain must have caused it. She didn't need to be told that white ash might be the only wood deadly to Klaus, but that any wood was deadly to Stefan. That Stefan was, if not dying now, about to die. That Klaus, with his hand now raised, was going to finish it with one more plunging blow. Klaus's face was tilted to the moon in a grin of obscene pleasure, showing that this was what he liked, where he got his thrills. From killing.

And Bonnie couldn't move, couldn't even cry. The world swam around her. It had all been a mistake, she wasn't competent; she was a baby after all. She didn't want to see that final thrust, but she couldn't look away. And all this couldn't be happening, but it was. It was.

Klaus flourished the splintered stake and with a smile of pure ecstasy started to bring it down.

And a spear shot across the clearing and struck him in the middle of the back, landing and quivering like a giant arrow, like half a giant arrow. It made Klaus's arms fling out, dropping the stake; it shocked the ecstatic grin right off his face. He stood, arms extended, for a second, and then turned, the white ash stick in his back wobbling slightly.

Bonnie's eyes were too dazzled by waves of gray dots to see, but she heard the voice clearly as it rang out, cold and arrogant and filled with absolute conviction. Just five words, but they changed everything.

"Get away from my brother."