The Fury (Chapter Ten)

December 12, Thursday morning

Dear Diary,

So after a week of work, what have we accomplished?

Well, between us we've managed to follow our three suspects just about continuously for the last six or seven days. Results: reports on Robert's movements for the last week, which he spent acting like any normal businessman. Reports on Alaric, who hasn't been doing anything unusual for a history teacher. Reports on Mrs. Flowers, who apparently spends most of her time in the basement. But we haven't really learned anything.

Stefan says that Alaric met with the principal a couple times, but he couldn't get close enough to hear what they were talking about.

Meredith and Bonnie spread the news about other pets besides dogs being dangerous. They didn't need to work very hard at it; it seems as if everybody in town is on the verge of hysteria already. Since then there've been several other animal attacks reported, but it's hard to know which ones to take seriously. Some kids were teasing a squirrel and it bit them. The Massases' pet rabbit scratched their littlest boy. Old Mrs. Coomber saw copperhead snakes in her yard, when all the snakes should be hibernating.

The only one I'm sure about is the attack on the vet who was keeping the dogs in quarantine. A bunch of them bit him and most of them escaped from the holding pens. After that they just disappeared. People are saying good riddance and hoping they'll starve in the woods, but I wonder.

And it's been snowing all the time. Not storming but not stopping, either. I've never seen so much snow.

Stefan's worried about the dance tomorrow night.

Which brings us back to: what have we learned so far? What do we know? None of our suspects were anywhere near the Massases' or Mrs. Coomber's or the vet's when the attacks happened. We're no closer to finding the Other Power than we were when we started.

Marie's little get-together is tonight. Meredith thinks we should go to it. I don't know what else there is to do.

Damon stretched out his long legs and spoke lazily, looking around the barn. "No, I don't think it's dangerous, particularly. But I don't see what you expect to accomplish."

"Neither do I, exactly," Elena admitted. "But I don't have any better ideas. Do you?"

"What, you mean about other ways to spend the time? Yes, I do. Do you want me to tell you about them?" Elena waved him to silence and he subsided.

"In the basement," chorused several voices.

"And we're all just sitting here. Does anybody have a better idea?"

Meredith broke the silence. "If you're worried about its being dangerous for me and Bonnie, why don't you all come? I don't mean you have to show yourselves. You could come and hide in the attic. Then if anything happened, we could scream for help and you would hear us."

"I don't see why anybody's going to be screaming," said Bonnie. "Nothing's going to happen there."

"Well, maybe not, but it doesn't hurt to be safe," Meredith said. "What do you think?"

Elena nodded slowly. "It makes sense." She looked around for objections, but Stefan just shrugged, and Damon murmured something that made Bonnie laugh.

"All right, then, it's decided. Let's go."

The inevitable snow greeted them as they stepped outside the barn.

"Bonnie and I can go in my car," Meredith said. "And you three-"

"Oh, we'll find our own way," Damon said with his wolfish smile. Meredith nodded, not impressed. Funny, Elena thought as the other girls walked away; Meredith never was impressed with Damon. His charm seemed to have no effect on her.

She was about to mention that she was hungry when Stefan turned to Damon. "Are you willing to stay with Elena the entire time you're over there? Every minute?" he said.

"Try and stop me," Damon said cheerfully. He dropped the smile. "Why?"

"Because if you are, the two of you can go over alone, and I'll meet you later. I've got something to do, but it won't take long."

Elena felt a wave of warmth. He was trying to trust his brother. She smiled at Stefan in approval as he drew her aside.

"What is it?"

"I got a note from Caroline today. She asked if I would meet her at the school before Alaric's party. She said she wanted to apologize.

Elena opened her mouth to make a sharp remark, and then shut it again. From what she'd heard, Caroline was a sorry sight these days. And maybe it would make Stefan feel better to talk to her.

"Well, you don't have anything to apologize for," she told him. "Everything that

happened to her was her own fault. You don't think she's dangerous at all?"

"Be careful," Elena said as he started off into the snow.

The attic was as she remembered it, dark and dusty and full of mysterious oilcloth-covered shapes. Damon, who had come in more conventionally through the front door, had had to take the shutters off to let her in through the window. After that they sat side by side on the old mattress and listened to the voices that came up through the ducts.

"I could think of more romantic settings," Damon murmured, fastidiously pulling a cobweb off his sleeve. "Are you sure you wouldn't rather-"

"Yes," said Elena. "Now hush."

It was like a game, listening to the bits and pieces of conversations and trying to put them together, trying to match each voice to a face.

"And then I said, I don't care how long you've had the parakeet; get rid of it or I'm going to the Snow Dance with Mike Feldman. And he said-"

"-rumor going around that Mr. Tanner's grave was dug up last night-"

"-you hear that everybody but Caroline has dropped out of the snow queen competition? Don't you think-"

"-dead, but I'm telling you I saw her. And no, I wasn't dreaming; she was wearing a sort of silvery dress and her hair was all golden and blowing-"

Elena raised her eyebrows at Damon, then looked meaningfully down at her sensible black attire. He grinned.

"Romanticism," he said. "Myself, I like you in black."

"Well, you would, wouldn't you?" she murmured. It was strange how much more comfortable she felt with Damon these days. She sat quietly, letting the conversations drift around her, almost losing track of time. Then she caught a familiar voice, cross, and closer than the rest.

"Okay, okay, I'm going. Okay."

Elena and Damon exchanged a glance and rose to their feet as the handle on the attic door turned. Bonnie peered around the edge.

"Meredith told me to come up here. I don't know why. She's hogging Alaric and it's a rotten party. Achoo!"

She sat down on the mattress, and after a few minutes Elena sat back down beside her. She was beginning to wish that Stefan would get here. By the time the door opened again and Meredith came in, she was sure of it.

"Meredith, what's going on?"

"Nothing, or at least nothing to worry about. Where's Stefan?" Meredith's cheeks were unusually flushed, and there was an odd look about her eyes, as if she were holding something tightly under control.

"Nothing, or at least nothing to worry about. Where's Stefan?" Meredith's cheeks were unusually flushed, and there was an odd look about her eyes, as if she were holding something tightly under control.

"Never mind where he is. Who's coming up the stairs?"

"What do you mean, 'who's coming up the stairs?' " said Bonnie, rising.

"Everybody just stay calm," Meredith said, taking up a position in front of the window as if guarding it. She didn't look overly calm herself, Elena thought. "All right," she called, and the door opened and Alaric Saltzman came in.

Damon's motion was so smooth that even Elena's eyes couldn't follow it; in one movement he caught Elena's wrist and pulled her behind him, at the same time moving to face Alaric directly. He ended in a predator's crouch, every muscle drawn taut and ready for the attack.

"Oh, don't," cried Bonnie wildly. She flung herself at Alaric, who had already begun to recoil a step from Damon. Alaric nearly lost his balance and groped behind himself for the door. His other hand was groping at his belt.

"Stop it! Stop it!" Meredith said. Elena saw the shape beneath Alaric's jacket and realized it was a gun.

Again, she couldn't quite follow what happened next. Damon let go of her wrist and took hold of Alaric's. And then Alaric was sitting on the floor, wearing a dazed expression, and Damon was emptying the gun of cartridges, one by one.

"I told you that was stupid and you wouldn't need it," Meredith said. Elena realized she was holding the dark-haired girl by the arms. She must have done it to keep Meredith from interfering with Damon, but she didn't remember.

"These wood-tipped things are nasty; they might hurt somebody," Damon said, mildly chiding. He replaced one of the cartridges and snapped the clip back in, aiming thoughtfully at Alaric.

"Stop it," said Meredith intensely. She turned to Elena. "Make him stop, Elena; he's only doing more harm. Alaric won't hurt you; I promise. I've spent all week convincing him that you won't hurt him."

"And now I think my wrist is broken," Alaric said, rather calmly. His sandy hair was falling into his eyes in front.

"You've got no one but yourself to blame." Meredith returned bitterly. Bonnie, who had been clutching solicitously at Alaric's shoulders, looked up at the familiarity of Meredith's tone, and then backed away a few paces and sat down.

"I can't wait to hear the explanation for this," she said.

"Please trust me," Meredith said to Elena.

Elena looked into the dark eyes. She did trust Meredith; she'd said so. And the words stirred another memory, her own voice asking for Stefan's trust. She nodded.

"Damon?" she said. He flipped the gun away casually and then smiled around at all of them, making it abundantly clear that he didn't need any such artificial weapons.

"Damon?" she said. He flipped the gun away casually and then smiled around at all of them, making it abundantly clear that he didn't need any such artificial weapons.

"Oh, I'm sure," Bonnie said.

Elena walked toward Alaric Saltzman. She wasn't afraid of him, but by the way he looked only at her, slowly, starting from the feet and then continuing up, he was afraid of her.

She stopped when she was a yard from where he sat on the ground and knelt there, looking into his face.

"Hello," she said.

He was still holding his wrist. "Hello," he said, and gulped.

Elena glanced back at Meredith and then looked at Alaric again. Yes, he was scared. And with his hair in his eyes that way, he looked young. Maybe four years older than Elena, maybe five. No more than that.

"We're not going to hurt you," she said.

"That's what I've been telling him," Meredith said quietly. "I explained that whatever he's seen before, whatever stories he's heard, you're different. I told him what you told me about Stefan, how he's been fighting his nature all those years. I told him about what you've been going through, Elena, and how you never asked for this."

But why did you tell him so much? Elena thought. She said to Alaric, "All right, you know about us. But all we know about you is that you're not a history teacher."

"He's a hunter," Damon said softly, menacingly. "A vampire hunter."

"No," said Alaric. "Or at least, not in the sense that you mean it." He seemed to come to some decision. "All right. From what I know of you three-" He broke off, looking around the dark room as if suddenly realizing something. "Where's Stefan?"

"He's coming. In fact, he should be here by now. He was going to stop by the school and bring Caroline," Elena said. She was unprepared for Alaric's reaction.

"Caroline Forbes?" he said sharply, sitting up. His voice sounded the way it had when she'd overheard him talking with Dr. Fein' berg and the principal, hard-edged and decisive.

"Yes. She sent him a note today, said she wanted to apologize or something. She wanted to meet him at school before the party."

"He can't go. You've got to stop him." Alaric scrambled to his feet and repeated urgently, "You've got to stop him."

"He's gone already. Why? Why shouldn't he?" Elena demanded.

"Because I hypnotized Caroline two days ago. I'd tried it earlier with Tyler, with no luck. But Caroline's a good subject, and she remembered a little of what happened in the Quonset hut. And she identified Stefan Salvatore as the attacker."

"Don't you understand? You're not just dealing with high school students anymore," Alaric said. "It's gone too far. Caroline's father knows about it, and Tyler's father. They're concerned for the safety of the town-"

"Hush! Be quiet!" Elena was casting about with her mind, trying to pick up some hint of Stefan's presence. He's let himself get weak, she thought, with the part of her that was icy calm amid the whirling fear and panic. At last she sensed something, just a trace, but she thought it was Stefan. And it was in distress.

"Something's wrong," Damon confirmed, and she realized he must have been searching, too, with a mind much more powerful than hers. "Let's go."

"Wait, let's talk first. Don't just go jumping into this." But Alaric might as well have been talking to the wind, trying to rein in its destructive power with words. Damon was already at the window, and the next moment Elena let herself drop out, landing neatly by Damon in the snow. Alaric's voice followed them from above.

"We're coming, too. Wait for us there. Let me talk to them first. I can take care of it…"

Elena scarcely heard him. Her mind was burning with one purpose, one thought. To hurt the people who wanted to hurt Stefan. It's gone too far, all right, she thought. And now I'm going to go as far as it takes. If they dare to touch him… images flashed through her mind, too quickly to count, of what she would do to them. At another time, she might have been shocked at the rush of adrenaline, of excitement, that coursed up at the thoughts.

She could sense Damon's mind beside her as they raced over the snow; it was like a blaze of red light and fury. The fierceness inside Elena welcomed it, glad to feel it so near. But then something else occurred to her.

"I'm slowing you down," she said. She was scarcely out of breath, even from running through unbroken snow, and they were making extraordinary time. But nothing on two legs, or even four, could match the speed of a bird's wings. "Go on," she said. "Get there as fast as you can. I'll meet you."

She didn't stay to watch the blur and shudder of the air, or the swirling darkness that ended in the rush of beating wings. But she glanced up at the crow that soared up and she heard Damon's mental voice.

Good hunting, it said, and the winged black shape arrowed toward the school.

Good hunting, Elena thought after him, meaning it. She redoubled her speed, her mind fixed all the while on that glimmer of Stefan's presence.

Stefan lay on his back, wishing his vision wasn't so blurred or that he had more than a tentative hold on consciousness. The blur was partly pain and partly snow, but there was also a trickle of blood from the three-inch wound in his scalp.

If only he could collect his thoughts enough to call for help… but the weakness that had allowed these men to overcome him so easily prevented that, too. He'd scarcely fed since the night he'd attacked Tyler. That was ironic, somehow. His own guilt was responsible for the mess he was in.

I should never have tried to change my nature, he thought. Damon had it right after all.

Everyone's the same-Alaric, Caroline, everyone. Everyone will betray you. I should have hunted them all and enjoyed it.

He hoped Damon would take care of Elena. She'd be safe with him; Damon was strong and ruthless. Damon would teach her to survive. He was glad of that.

But something inside him was crying.

The crow's sharp eyes spotted the crossing shafts of headlight below and dropped. But Damon didn't need the confirmation of sight; he was homing in on the faint pulsation that was Stefan's life-force. Faint because Stefan was weak and because he'd all but given up.

You never learn, do you, brother? Damon thought to him. I ought to just leave you where you are. But even as he skimmed the ground, he was changing, taking a shape that would do more damage than a crow.

The black wolf leaped into the knot of men surrounding Stefan, aiming precisely for the one holding the sharpened cylinder of wood above Stefan's chest. The force of the blow knocked the man ten feet backward, and the stake went skittering across the grass. Damon restrained his impulse-all the stronger because it fit the instincts of the shape he was wearing-to lock his teeth in the man's throat. He twisted around and went back for the other men who were still standing.

His second rush scattered them, but one of them reached the edge of the light and turned, lifting something to his shoulder. Rifle, thought Damon. And probably loaded with the same specially treated bullets as Alaric's handgun had been. There was no way to reach the man before he could get a shot off. The wolf growled and crouched for a leap anyway. The man's fleshy face creased in a smile.

Quick as a striking snake, a white hand reached out of the darkness and knocked the rifle away. The man looked around frantically, bewildered, and the wolf let its jaws fall open in a grin. Elena had arrived.