The Fury (Chapter Six)

"She's already made her choice. You saw it yourself when you 'interrupted' us. You've already chosen, haven't you, Elena?" Stefan said it not smugly, or as a demand, but with a kind of desperate bravado.

"I…" Elena looked up. "Stefan, I love you. But don't you understand, if I have a choice right now I have to choose for all of us to stay together. Just for now. Do you understand?" Seeing only stoniness in Stefan's face, she turned to Damon. "Do you?"

"I think so." He gave her a secret, possessive smile. "I told Stefan from the beginning that he was selfish not to share you. Brothers should share things, you know."

"That's not what I meant."

"Isn't it?" Damon smiled again.

"No," Stefan said. "I don't understand, and I don't see how you can ask me to work with him. He's evil, Elena. He kills for pleasure; he has no conscience at all. He doesn't care about Fell's Church; he said that himself. He's a monster-"

"Right now he's being more cooperative than you are," Elena said. She reached for Stefan's hand, searching for some way to get through to him. "Stefan, I need you. And we both need him. Can't you try to accept that?" When he didn't answer she added, "Stefan, do you really want to be mortal enemies with your brother forever?"

"Do you really think he wants anything else?"

Elena stared down at their joined hands, looking at the planes and curves and shadows. She didn't answer for a minute, and when she did it was very quietly.

"He stopped me from killing you," she said.

She felt the flare of Stefan's defensive anger, then felt it slowly fade. Something like defeat crept through him, and he bowed his head.

"That's true," he said. "And, anyway, who am I to call him evil? What's he done that I haven't done myself?"

We need to talk, Elena thought, hating this self-hatred of his. But this wasn't the time or place.

"Then you do agree?" she said hesitantly. "Stefan, tell me what you're thinking."

"Right now I'm thinking that you always get your way. Because you always do, don't you, Elena?"

Elena looked into his eyes, noticing how the pupils were dilated, so that only a ring of green iris showed around the edge. There was no longer anger there, but the tiredness and the bitterness remained.

But I'm not just doing it for myself, she thought, thrusting out of her mind the sudden surge of self-doubt. I'll prove that to you, Stefan; you'll see. For once I'm not doing something for my own convenience.

But I'm not just doing it for myself, she thought, thrusting out of her mind the sudden surge of self-doubt. I'll prove that to you, Stefan; you'll see. For once I'm not doing something for my own convenience.

"Yes. I… agree."

"And I agree," said Damon, extending his own hand with exaggerated courtesy. He captured Elena's before she could say anything. "In fact, we all seem to be in a frenzy of pure agreement."

Don't, Elena thought, but at that moment, standing in the cool twilight of the choir loft, she felt that it was true, that they were all three connected, and in accord, and strong.

Then Stefan pulled his hand away. In the silence that followed, Elena could hear the sounds outside and in the church below. There was still crying and the occasional shout, but the overall urgency was gone. Looking out the window, she saw people picking their way across the wet parking lot between the little groups that huddled over wounded victims. Dr. Feinberg was moving from island to island, apparently dispensing medical advice. The victims looked like survivors of a hurricane or earthquake.

"No one is what they seem," Elena said.


"That's what Bonnie said during the memorial service. She had another one of her fits. I think it might be important." She tried to put her thoughts in order. "I think there are people in town that we ought to look out for. Like Alaric Saltzman." She told them, briefly, what she had overheard earlier that day in Alaric's house. "He's not what he seems, but I don't know exactly what he is. I think we should watch him. And since I obviously can't appear in public, you two are going to have to do it. But you can't let him suspect you know-" Elena broke off as Damon held up a hand swiftly.

Down at the base of the stairs, a voice was calling. "Stefan? Are you up there?" And then, to someone else, "I thought I saw him go up here."

It sounded like Mr. Carson. "Go," Elena hissed almost inaudibly to Stefan, "You have to be as normal as possible so you can stay here in Fell's Church. I'll be all right."

"But where will you go?"

"To Meredith's. I'll explain later. Go on."

Stefan hesitated, and then started down the stairs, calling, "I'm coming." Then he pulled back. "I'm not leaving you with him," he said flatly.

Elena threw her hands up in exasperation. "Then both of you go. You just agreed to work together; are you going to go back on your word now?" she added to Damon, who was looking unyielding himself.

He gave another of his little shrugs. "All right. Just one thing-are you hungry?"

"That's good. But later on, you will be. Remember that." He crowded Stefan down the stairs, earning himself a searing look. But Elena heard Stefan's voice in her mind as they both disappeared.

I'll come for you later. Wait for me.

She wished she could answer with her own thoughts. She also noticed something. Stefan's mental voice was much weaker than it had been four days ago when he had been fighting his brother. Come to think of it, he hadn't been able to speak with his mind at all before the Founders' Day celebration. She'd been so confused when she woke up by the river that it hadn't occurred to her, but now she wondered. What had happened to make him so strong? And why was his strength fading now?

Elena had time to think about it as she sat there in the deserted choir loft, while below the people left the church and outside the overcast skies slowly grew darker. She thought about Stefan, and about Damon, and she wondered if she had made the right choice. She'd vowed never to let them fight over her, but that vow was broken already. Was she crazy to try and make them live under a truce, even a temporary one?

When the sky outside was uniformly black, she ventured down the stairs. The church was empty and echoing. She hadn't thought about how she would get out, but fortunately the side door was bolted only from the inside. She slipped out into the night gratefully.

She hadn't realized how good it was to be outside and in the dark. Being inside buildings made her feel trapped, and daylight hurt her eyes. This was best, free and unfettered-and unseen. Her own senses rejoiced at the lush world around her. With the air so still, scents hung in the air for a long time, and she could smell a whole plethora of nocturnal creatures. A fox was scavenging in somebody's trash. Brown rats were chewing something in the bushes. Night moths were calling to one another with scent.

She found it wasn't hard to get to Meredith's house undetected; people seemed to be staying inside. But once she got there, she stood looking up at the graceful farmhouse with the screened porch in dismay. She couldn't just walk up to the front door and knock. Was Meredith really expecting her? Wouldn't she be waiting outside if she were?

Meredith was about to get a terrible shock if she weren't, Elena reflected, eyeing the distance to the roof of the porch. Meredith's bedroom window was above it and just around the corner. It would be a bit of a reach, but Elena thought she could make it.

Getting onto the roof was easy; her fingers and bare toes found holds between the bricks and sent her sailing up. But leaning around the corner to look into Meredith's window was a strain. She blinked against the light that flooded out.

Meredith was sitting on the edge of her bed, elbows on knees, staring at nothing. Every so often she ran a hand through her dark hair. A clock on the nightstand said

Meredith was sitting on the edge of her bed, elbows on knees, staring at nothing. Every so often she ran a hand through her dark hair. A clock on the nightstand said Elena tapped on the window glass with her fingernails.

Meredith jumped and looked the wrong way, toward the door. She stood up in a defensive crouch, clutching a throw pillow in one hand. When the door didn't open, she sidled a pace or two toward it, still in a defensive posture. "Who is it?" she said.

Elena tapped on the glass again.

Meredith spun to face the window, her breath coming fast.

"Let me in," said Elena. She didn't know if Meredith could hear her, so she mouthed it clearly. "Open the window."

Meredith, panting, looked around the room as if she expected someone to appear and help her. When no one did, she approached the window as if it were a dangerous animal. But she didn't open it.

"Let me in," Elena said again. Then she added impatiently, "If you didn't want me to come, why did you make an appointment with me?"

She saw the change as Meredith's shoulders relaxed slightly. Slowly, with fingers that were unusually clumsy, Meredith opened the window and stood back.

"Now ask me to come inside. Otherwise I can't.

"Come…" Meredith's voice failed and she had to try again. "Come in," she said. When Elena, wincing, had boosted herself over the sill and was flexing her cramped fingers, Meredith added almost dazedly, "It's got to be you. Nobody else gives orders like that."

"It's me," Elena said. She stopped wringing out the cramps and looked into the eyes of her friend. "It really is me, Meredith," she said.

Meredith nodded and swallowed visibly. Right then what Elena would have liked most in the world would have been for the other girl to give her a hug. But Meredith wasn't much of the hugging type, and right now she was backing slowly away to sit on the bed again.

"Sit down," she said in an artificially calm voice. Elena pulled out the desk chair and unthinkingly took up the same position Meredith had been in before, elbows on knees, head down. Then she looked up. "How did you know?"

"I…" Meredith just stared at her for a moment, then shook herself. "Well. You- your body was never found, of course. That was strange. And then those attacks on the old man and Vickie and Tanner-and Stefan and little things I'd put together about him-but I didn't know. Not for sure. Not until now." She ended almost in a whisper.

"Well, it was a good guess," Elena said. She was trying to behave normally, but what was normal in this situation? Meredith was acting as if she could scarcely bear to look at her. It made Elena feel more lonely, more alone, than she could ever remember being in her life.

"I asked Bonnie to come over at seven o'clock, if her mother would let her. It's probably her. I'll go see." Meredith seemed almost indecently eager to get away.

"Wait. Does she know?"

"No… Oh, you mean I should break it to her gently." Meredith looked around the room again uncertainly, and Elena snapped on the little reading light by the bed.

"Turn the room light off. It hurts my eyes anyway," she said quietly. When Meredith did, the bedroom was dim enough that she could conceal herself in the shadows.

Waiting for Meredith to return with Bonnie, she stood in a corner, hugging her elbows with her hands. Maybe it was a bad idea trying to get Meredith and Bonnie involved. If imperturbable Meredith couldn't handle the situation, what would Bonnie do?

Meredith heralded their arrival by muttering over and over, "Don't scream now; don't scream," as she bundled Bonnie across the threshold.

"What's wrong with you? What are you doing?" Bonnie was gasping in return. "Let go of me. Do you know what I had to do to get my mother to let me out of the house tonight? She wants to take me to the hospital at Roanoke."

Meredith kicked the door shut. "Okay," she said to Bonnie. "Now, you're going to see something that will… well, it's going to be a shock. But you can't scream, do you understand me? I'll let go of you if you promise."

"It's too dark to see anything, and you're scaring me. What's wrong with you, Meredith? Oh, all right, I promise, but what are you talking-"

"Elena," said Meredith. Elena took it as an invitation and stepped forward.

Bonnie's reaction wasn't what she expected. She frowned and leaned forward, peering in the dim light. When she saw Elena's form, she gasped. But then, as she stared at Elena's face, she clapped her hands together with a shriek of joy.

"I knew it! I knew they were wrong! So there, Meredith-and you and Stefan thought you knew so much about drowning and all that. But I knew you were wrong! Oh, Elena, I missed you! Everyone's going to be so-"

"Be quiet, Bonnie! Be quiet!" Meredith said urgently. "I told you not to scream. Listen, you idiot, do you think if Elena were really all right she'd be here in the middle of the night without anybody knowing about it?"

"But she is all right; look at her. She's standing there. It is you, isn't it, Elena?" Bonnie started toward her, but Meredith grabbed her again.

"Yes, it's me." Elena had the strange feeling she'd wandered into a surreal comedy, maybe one written by Kafka, only she didn't know her lines. She didn't know what to say to Bonnie, who was looking rapturous.

"What are you two being so mysterious for? She's here, but she's not all right. What's that supposed to mean?"

Elena didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "Look, Bonnie… oh, I don't know how to say this. Bonnie, did your psychic grandmother ever talk to you about vampires?"

Silence fell, heavy as an ax. The minutes ticked by. Impossibly, Bonnie's eyes widened still further; then, they slid toward Meredith. There were several more minutes of silence, and then Bonnie shifted her weight toward the door. "Uh, look, you guys," she said softly, "this is getting really weird. I mean, really, really, really…"

Elena cast about in her mind. "You can look at my teeth," she said. She pulled her upper lip back, poking at a canine with her finger. She felt the reflexive lengthening and sharpening, like a cat's claw lazily extending.

Meredith came forward and looked and then looked away quickly. "I get the point," she said, but in her voice there was none of the old wry pleasure in her own wit. "Bonnie, look," she said.

All the elation, all the excitement had drained out of Bonnie. She looked as if she were going to be sick. "No. I don't want to."

"You have to. You have to believe it, or we'll never get anywhere." Meredith grappled a stiff and resisting Bonnie forward. "Open your eyes, you little twit. You're the one who loves all this supernatural stuff."

"I've changed my mind," Bonnie said, almost sobbing. There was genuine hysteria in her tone. "Leave me alone, Meredith; I don't want to look." She wrenched herself away.

"You don't have to," Elena whispered, stunned. Dismay pooled inside her, and tears flooded her eyes. "This was a bad idea, Meredith. I'll go away."

"No. Oh, don't." Bonnie turned back as quickly as she'd whirled away and precipitated herself into Elena's arms. "I'm sorry, Elena; I'm sorry. I don't care what you are; I'm just glad you're back. It's been terrible without you." She was sobbing now in earnest.

The tears that wouldn't come when Elena had been with Stefan came now. She cried, holding on to Bonnie, feeling Meredith's arms go around both of them. They were all crying-Meredith silently, Bonnie noisily, and Elena herself with passionate intensity. She felt as if she were crying for everything that had happened to her, for everything she had lost, for all the loneliness and the fear and the pain.

Eventually, they all ended up sitting on the floor, knee to knee, the way they had when they were kids at a sleepover making secret plans.

"You're so brave," Bonnie said to Elena, sniffling. "I don't see how you can be so brave about it."

"Your hands aren't cold." Meredith squeezed Elena's fingers. "Just sort of cool. I thought they'd be colder."

"Stefan's hands aren't cold either," Elena said, and she was about to go on, but Bonnie squeaked: "Stefan?"

Meredith and Elena looked at her.

"Be sensible, Bonnie. You don't get to be a vampire by yourself. Somebody has to make you one."

"But you mean Stefan . . . ? You mean he's a… ?" Bonnie's voice choked off.

"I think," said Meredith, "that maybe this is the time to tell us the whole story, Elena. Like all those minor details you left out the last time we asked you for the whole story."

Elena nodded. "You're right. It's hard to explain, but I'll try." She took a deep breath. "Bonnie, do you remember the first day of school? It was the first time I ever heard you make a prophecy. You looked into my palm and said I'd meet a boy, a dark boy, a stranger. And that he wasn't tall but that he had been once. Well"-she looked at Bonnie and then at Meredith-"Stefan's not really tall now. But he was once… compared to other people in the fifteenth century."

Meredith nodded, but Bonnie made a faint sound and swayed backward, looking shell-shocked. "You mean-"

"I mean he lived in Renaissance Italy, and the average person was shorter then. So Stefan looked taller by comparison. And, wait, before you pass out, here's something else you should know. Damon's his brother."

Meredith nodded again. "I figured something like that. But then why has Damon been saying he's a college student?"

"They don't get along very well. For a long time, Stefan didn't even know Damon was in Fell's Church." Elena faltered. She was verging on Stefan's private history, which she'd always felt was his secret to tell. But Meredith had been right; it was time to come out with the whole story. "Listen, it was like this," she said. "Stefan and Damon were both in love with the same girl back in Renaissance Italy. She was from Germany, and her name was Katherine. The reason Stefan was avoiding me at the beginning of school was that I reminded him of her; she had blond hair and blue eyes, too. Oh, and this was her ring." Elena let go of Meredith's hand and showed them the intricately carved golden circlet set with a single stone of lapis lazuli.

"And the thing was that Katherine was a vampire. A guy named Klaus had made her one back in her village in Germany to save her from dying of her last illness. Stefan and Damon both knew this, but they didn't care. They asked her to choose between them the one she wanted to marry." Elena stopped and gave a lopsided smile, thinking that Mr. Tanner had been right; history did repeat itself. She only hoped her story didn't end like Katherine's. "But she chose both of them. She exchanged blood with both of them, and she said they could all three be companions through eternity."

between them the one she wanted to marry." Elena stopped and gave a lopsided smile, thinking that Mr. Tanner had been right; history did repeat itself. She only hoped her story didn't end like Katherine's. "But she chose both of them. She exchanged blood with both of them, and she said they could all three be companions through eternity."

"Sounds dumb," said Meredith.

"You got it," Elena told her. "Katherine was sweet but not very bright. Stefan and Damon already didn't like each other. They told her she had to choose, that they wouldn't even think of sharing her. And she ran off crying. The next day-well, they found her body, or what was left of it. See, a vampire needs a talisman like this ring to go out in the sun without being killed. And Katherine went out in the sun and took hers off. She thought if she were out of the way, Damon and Stefan would be reconciled."

"Oh, my God, how ro-"

"No, it isn't," Elena cut Bonnie off savagely. "It's not romantic at all. Stefan's been living with the guilt ever since, and I think Damon has, too, although you'd never get him to admit it. And the immediate result was that they got a couple of swords and killed each other. Yes, killed. That's why they're vampires now, and

that's why they hate each other so much. And that's why I'm probably crazy trying to get them to cooperate now."