The Return: Nightfall (Chapter 39)

"We won the battle, but not the war," Elena said sadly. She thought it was the day after their fight with the kitsune twins. She couldn't be sure of anything except that she was alive, that Stefan was gone, and that Damon was back to his old self again.

"Maybe because we didn't have my precious brother," he said, as if to prove it. They were driving in the Ferrari, trying to find Elena's Jaguar – in the real world.

Elena ignored him. She also ignored the soft but vaguely annoying hiss that came from some device he'd installed that was not a radio, that just seemed to play voices and static.

A new kind of Ouija board? Audio instead of all that tedious spelling?

Elena felt herself shiver inside.

"You did give your word to go with me and find him. I swear it by – by the Other World."

"You tell me that I did, and you're not a liar – no, not to me. I can read your facial expressions now that you're a human. If I gave my word, I gave my word."

Human? Elena thought. Am I?What am I? – with the kind of Powers I have? Even Damon can see that the Old Wood has changed in the real world. It's not an ancient, half-dead forest anymore. There are spring flowers in midsummer. There's life everywhere.

"And in any case, it will give me plenty of time to be alone with you – my princess of darkness."

And we're back to that again, Elena thought wearily. But he'd leave me here stranded if I once suggested that we had laughed and walked in a clearing together – with him on his knees to adjust my footstool. Even I'm beginning to wonder if it was real.

There was a slight bump – as nearly as one could tell from Damon's style of driving.

"Got it!" he cheered himself – and then, when Elena turned, ready to wrench the wheel to make him stop – he added coolly, "It was a piece oftire , for your information. Not many animals are black, arched, and a few tenths of an inch thick."

Elena said nothing. What was there to say to Damon's quips? But deep down she felt relieved that Damon wasn't given to running over furry little animals as an amusement.

We're going to be alone together for quite some time, she thought – and then realized that there was another reason she couldn't just tell Damon to dry up and die. Shinichi had put the location of Stefan's cell into Damon's mind, not hers. She needed him desperately, to take her to the location, and to fight whoever was keeping Stefan captive.

But it was fine if he had forgotten that she had any Powers. Something to save for a rainy day.

At just that moment, Damon exclaimed "What the – " and leaned forward to adjust dials on the not-radio.

" – peating; all units be on the lookout for one Matthew Honeycutt, male Caucasian, five foot eleven inches, blond hair, blue eyes – "

"What is that?"Elena demanded.

"A police scanner. If you want to be able to really live in this great land of freedom, it's best to know when to run – "

"Damon, don't get me started on your lifestyle. I meant what was that about Matt?"

"It looks as if they've decided to bring him in at last. Caroline didn't get much revenge yesterday night. I guess she's taking a shot at it now."

"Then we've got to get to him first – anythingcould happen if he stays in Fell's Church. But he can't take his car, and he won't fit in this one. What are we going to do?"

"Leave him to the police?"

"Don't, please. We have to – " Elena was beginning, when in a clearing to the left, like some vision sent to approve her scheme, the Jaguar appeared.

"That'sthe car we're taking," she told Damon flatly. "At least it's roomy. If you want your police scanner doo-hickey in it, then you'd better start uninstalling it from this one."

"But – "

"I'll go get Matt. I'm the only one he'll listen to. Then we'll leave the Ferrari in the Wood – or dump it in the creek if you want."

"Oh, the creek, byall means."

"Actually, we may not have time for that. We'll just leave it in the Wood."

Matt stared at Elena. "No. I won't run."

Elena turned the full intensity of her blue eyes on him. "Matt, get in the car.Now . You have to. Caroline's dad is related to the judge who signed the order to get you. It's a lynching, Meredith says. Even Meredith is telling you to run. No, you don't need clothes; we'll get clothes."

"But – but – it's not true – "

"They'll make it true. Caroline will weep and sob. I never thought a girl would do this to get revenge, but Caroline is in a class of her own. She's gone nuts."

"But – "

"I said, get in!They'll be here any minute. They've already been to your house and Meredith's house. What are you doing at Bonnie's, anyway?"

Bonnie and Matt glanced at each other. "Uh, just having a look at Bonnie's mom's car," Matt said. "It's on the fritz again, and – "

"Never mind! Come with me! Bonnie, what are you doing? Calling Meredith back?"

Bonnie jumped slightly. "Yes."

"Tell her good-bye and we love her and good-bye. Take care of the town – we'll be in touch – "

As the red Jaguar pulled away, Bonnie said into the phone, "You were right. She's pulling a Straight A away. I don't know whether Damon's going – he wasn't in the car."

She listened for a moment and then said, "Okay, I will. I'll see you."

She hung up and got into action.

Dear Diary,

Today I ran away from home.

I guess you can't really call it running away when you're almost 18 and you take your own car – and when nobody knew you were home in the first place. So I'll just say, tonight I'm on the run.

The other slightly shocking thing is that I ran away with two different guys. And neither of them ismy guy.

I say that, but…I can't help remembering things. The look in Matt's eyes in the clearing – I honestly think he was prepared to die to protect me. I can't help but think about what we once were to each other. Those blue eyes…oh, I don't know what's wrong with me!

And Damon. I know now that there's living flesh under the layers and layers of stone he's wrapped around his soul. It's deeply hidden, but it's there. If I'm being honest with myself, I have to admit that he touches something deep inside me that makes me shiver – a part of myself even I don't understand.

Oh, Elena! Stop right now! You can't go near that dark part of yourself, especially now that you have Power. You don't dare go near it. Everything is different now. You have to be more responsible (something you're not at all good at!).

And Meredith won't be here to help me be responsible, either. How is this ever going to work out? Damon and Matt in the same car? On a road trip together? Can you imagine? Tonight, it was so late and Matt was so stunned by the situation that he couldn't really take anything in. And Damon only smirked. But he'll be in demonic form tomorrow, I know he will.

I still think it was a great pity that Shinichi had to takeWings of Redemption from Damon along with his memories. But I firmly believe that, deep down, there's a tiny part of Damon that remembers how he was when we were together. And now he has to be worse than ever to prove that what he remembers was all a lie.

So while you're reading this,Damon – I know you'll get hold of it somehow and snoop – let me tell you that you were nice for a while, actuallyNICE,and it was fun. We talked together. We even laughed – at the same jokes. And you…you were gentle.

And now you're going, "Nah, it's just another Elena-plot to get me to think I can turn around – butI know where I'm going, and I don't care." Does that ring a bell, Damon? Have yousaid those words to someone recently? And if not, how do I know them? Could it be that for once I'm telling the truth?

Now I'm going to forget that you're totally besmirching your honor by reading secret things that don't belong to you.

What else?

First: I miss Stefan.

Second: I didn't really pack for this. Matt and I swung by the boardinghouse, and he grabbed the money Stefan left for me while I grabbed an armful of clothes out of the closet – heaven knows what I've got: Bonnie's tops and Meredith's pants, and not a decent nightgown to my name.

But at least I also got you, precious friend, a present Stefan was saving for me. I never really liked typing in a file marked "Diary" anyway. Blank books like you are my style.

Third: I miss Stefan. I miss him so badly that I'm crying while I'm writing about clothes. It looks as if that's what I'm crying about, which makes me seem insanely shallow. Oh, sometimes I just want to scream.

Fourth: I want to screamnow.It was only when we got back to Fell's Church that we found what horrors the malach had left for us. There is a fourth little girl I think may be possessed like Tami, Kristin, and Ava – I couldn't really tell, so I couldn't do anything. I have the feeling that we definitely haven't heard the last of this possession thing.

Fifth: But worst is what happened in the Saitou house. Isobel is in the hospital with raging infections in all her piercings. Obaasan, as everyone calls Isobel's grandmother, was not dead as the first paramedics who got there thought. She was in a deep trance – reaching out tous . Whether some of the courage I got, some of the belief in myself, was really due to her, is something I'll never know.

But in the den was Jim Bryce. He had…oh, I can't write it. He was the captain of theb asketball team! But he hadeaten away at himself: his whole left hand, most of his right-hand fingers, his lips. And he had put a pencil through his ear into his brain. They say (I heard this through Tyrone Alpert, the doctor's grandson) that it's called Lesch-Nyhan Syndrome (sp? I only heard it said) and that it's rare, but there are others just like him. That's what the doctors say. I say it was a malach making him do it. But they wouldn't let me in to try to take it out of him.

I can't even say he's alive. I can't say if he's dead. He's going to a sort of institution where they keep long-term cases.

We failed there. I failed. It wasn't really Jim Bryce's fault. So he was with Caroline just one night, and from there he passed the malach to his girlfriend Isobel and to his little sister Tami. Then both Caroline and little Tami passed it along to others. They tried to give it to Matt, but he wasn't about to let them.

Sixth, the three little girls that most definitely did get it were all under the orders of Misao, from what Shinichi said.They say that they don't remember anything about decorating themselves or propositioning strangers. They don't seem to remember anything about the time of their possession, and they act like very different little girls now. Nice. Calm. If I thought Misao gave up easily then I would be sure they'll be all right.

Worse is the thought of Caroline. She was a friend once and now – well, now I think she needs help more than ever. Damon got toher diaries – she kept her own diary by recording herself on video, and we watched her talk to the mirror…and watched the mirror talk back. Mostly it was her own image that showed, but sometimes, at the beginning or end of a session, it was Shinichi's face. He's good-looking, if a little wild. I can see how Caroline might fall for him and agree to be his carrier of malach in the town.

That's all over. I used the last of whatever Power I know I have taking the malach out of those girls.

Caroline, of course, wouldn't let me near her.

And then there were those fateful words of Caroline's: "I need a husband!" Any girl knows what that means. Any girl feels sorry for another who says it, even if they're unfriends.

Caroline and Tyler Smallwood were going together until about two weeks ago. Meredith says Caroline dropped him, and that kidnapping her for Klaus was Tyler's revenge. Butif before that they'd been sleeping together with no protection (and Caroline is dumb enough to do it), she could certainly have known she was pregnant and been looking for another guy by the time Shinichi turned up. (Which was just before I – returned to life.) Now she's trying to pin it on Matt. It was pure bad luck that she said it happened on the same night the malach attacked Matt and that that old man from the Neighborhood Watch saw Matt drive home and pass out at the steering wheel as if he were drunk or on drugs.

Or maybe it wasn't just luck. Maybe that was all part of Misao's game, too.

I'm going to sleep now. Too much thinking. Too much worry. And, oh, I miss Stefan! He would help me deal with the worry in his own gentle but keen-sighted way.

I'm sleeping inside the car with the doors locked. The guys are sleeping outside it. At least, that's how we're starting – at their insistence. At least they agreed on that.

I don't think Shinichi and Misao will stay away from Fell's Church for long. I don't know if they'll leave it alone for a few days, or weeks, or a few months, but Misao will heal and they'll come back for us eventually.

That means that Damon, Matt, and I – we're fugitives in two worlds.

And I have no idea what's going to happen tomorrow.