The Return: Nightfall (Chapter 6)

"Isaid,get out ," Meredith repeated to Caroline, still quietly. "You've said things that never should have been said in any civilized place. This happens to be Stefan's place – and, yes, it's hisplace to order you out, too. I'm doing it for him, though, because he never would ask a girl – and a former girlfriend, I might add – to get the hell out of his room."

Matt cleared his throat. He'd stepped back into a corner and everyone had forgotten about him. Now he said, "Caroline, I've known you way too long to be formal, and Meredith's right. You want to say the kind of things you've been saying about Elena, you do it somewhere faraway from Elena. But, look, there's one thing I know. No matter what Elena did when she was – was downhere before" – his voice dropped a little in wonder, and Bonnie knew that he meant, when Elena was here on Earth before – "she's as close to an angelnow as you can get. Right now she's…she's…completely…" He hesitated, stumbling for the right words.

"Pure," Meredith said easily, filling in the blank for him.

"Yeah," Matt agreed. "Yeah, pure. Everything she does is pure. And it's not like any of your nasty words could stain her, anyway, but the rest of us just don't like hearing you try."

There was a low "Thank you" from Stefan.

"I was already going," Caroline said, now through her teeth. "And don't youdare preach atme about purity ! Here, with all this going on! You probably just want to watch it going on yourself, two girls kissing. You probably – "

"Enough." Stefan said it almost expressionlessly, but Caroline was swept off her feet, up and out of the door, and deposited there by invisible hands. Her purse trailed after her.

Then the door quietly shut.

Fine hairs rose on the back of Bonnie's neck. This was Power, in such amounts that her psychic senses were stunned and temporarily paralyzed. Moving Caroline – and she wasn't a small girl – now that took Power .

Maybe Stefan had changed just as much as Elena had. Bonnie glanced at Elena, whose pool of serenity was rippling because of Caroline.

Might as well take her mind off it, and maybe make herself worthy of athank you from Stefan, Bonnie thought.

She tapped Elena's knee, and when Elena turned, Bonnie kissed her.

Elena broke the kiss very quickly, as if afraid to set off some holocaust again. But Bonnie saw at once what Meredith had said about it not being sexual. It was…more like being examined by someone who used all her senses to the fullest. When Elena moved away from Bonnie she beamed at her just as she had at Meredith, all the distress washed away by – yes, thepurity of the kiss. And Bonnie felt as if some of Elena's tranquility had soaked into her.

"…should have known better than to bring Caroline," Matt was saying to Stefan. "Sorry about butting in. But Iknow Caroline, and she could have gone on ranting for another half hour, never actually leaving."

"Stefan took care of that," Meredith said, "or was that Elena, too?"

"It was me," Stefan said. "Matt had it right: she could keep on talking forever without actually leaving. And I'd just as lief nobody run Elena down like that in my hearing."

Why are they talking about those things? Bonnie wondered. Of all people, Meredith and Stefan were least inclined to chatter, but here they were, saying things that didn't really need to be said. Then she realized it was for Matt, who was moving slowly but with determination toward Elena.

Bonnie got up as quickly and as lithely as if she could fly, and managed to pass Matt without looking at him. And then she was joining Meredith and Stefan in small talk – well, medium-small talk – about what had just happened. Caroline made a bad enemy, everyone agreed, and nothing seemed to teach her that her schemes against Elena always backfired. Bonnie would bet that she was hatching a new scheme right now against all of them.

"She feels lonely all the time," Stefan said, as if trying to make excuses for her. "She wants to be accepted, by anyone, on any terms – but she feels – apart. As if nobody who really got to know her would trust her."

"She's defensive," Meredith agreed. "But you'd think she'd showsome gratitude. After all, we did rescue her and save her life just over a week ago."

There was more to it than that, Bonnie thought. Her intuition was trying to tell her something – something about what might have happenedbefore they had been able to rescue Caroline – but she was so angry on Elena's behalf that she ignored it.

"Why should anybody trust her?" she said to Stefan. She sneaked a peek behind her. Elena was definitely going to know Matt anywhere, and Matt looked as if he were fainting. "Caroline's beautiful, sure, but that's it. She never has a good word to say about anybody. She plays games all the time – and – and Iknow we used to do some of that, too…but hers are always meant to make other people look bad. Sure, she can take mostguys in" – a sudden anxiety swept over her, and she spoke more loudly to try to push it away – "but if you're a girl she's just a pair of long legs and big – "

Bonnie stopped because Meredith and Stefan had frozen, with identicalOh-God-not-again expressions on their faces.

"And she also has very decent hearing," said a shaking, threatening voice from somewhere behind Bonnie. Bonnie's heart leaped into her throat.

That was what you got for ignoring premonitions.

"Caroline – " Meredith and Stefan were both trying for damage control, but it was too late. Caroline stalked in on her long legs as if she didn't want her feet to touch Stefan's floorboards. Oddly, though, she was carrying her high heels.

"I came back in to get my sunglasses," she said, still in that trembling voice. "And I heard enough to know now what my so-called ¡®friends' think of me."

"No, you didn't," Meredith said, as rapidly eloquent as Bonnie was stunned mute. "You heard some very angry people letting off steam after you'd just insulted them."

"Besides," Bonnie said, suddenly able to speak again, "admit it, Caroline – youhoped you'd hear something. That's why you took off your shoes. You were right behind the door, listening, weren't you?"

Stefan shut his eyes. "This is my fault. I should have – "

"No, you shouldn't," Meredith said to him, and to Caroline she added, "And if you can tell me one word we said that isn't true, or was exaggerated – except maybe for what Bonnie said, and Bonnie is…just being Bonnie. Anyway, if you can point to one word of what the rest of us said that isn't true,I'll beg your pardon."

Caroline wasn't listening. Caroline was twitching. She had a facial tic, and her lovely face was convulsed, dark red, with fury.

"Oh, you'regoing to beg my pardon all right," she said, wheeling to point her long-nailed forefinger at each of them. "You'reall going to be sorry. And if you try that – that witchcraft-vampire type thing on me again," she said to Stefan, "I have friends – real friends – who'd like to know about it."

"Caroline, just this afternoon you signed a contract – "

"Oh, who gives a damn?"

Stefan stood up. It was dark now inside the small room with its dusty window, and Stefan's shadow was thrown before him by the bedside lamp. Bonnie looked at it and then poked Meredith, as the hairs tingled on her arms and neck. The shadow was surprisingly dark and surprisingly tall. Caroline's shadow was weak, transparent, and short – an imitation shadow beside Stefan's very real one.

The thunderstorm feeling was back. Bonnie was shaking now; trying not to, but unable to stop the shivering that had come on as if she had been thrown into icy water. It was a cold that had gotten directly into her bones and was ripping layer after layer of heat off them like some greedy giant, and now she was beginning to shakehard….

Something was happening to Caroline in the darkness – something was coming from her – or comingfor her – or maybe both. In any case, it was all around her now, and all around Bonnie, too, and the tension was so thick that Bonnie felt choked, her heart pounding. Beside her, Meredith – practical, level-headed Meredith – stirred uneasily.

"What – ?" Meredith began in a whisper.

Suddenly, as if it had all been exquisitely choreographed by the things in the dark – the door to Stefan's room slammed shut…the lamp, an ordinary electric one, went off…the ancient rolled-up shutter over the window came rattling down, dropping the room into sudden and complete darkness.

And Caroline screamed. It was an awful sound – raw, as if it had been stripped like meat from Caroline's backbone and yanked out of her throat.

Bonnie screamed, too. She couldn't help it, although her scream sounded too faint and too breathless, like an echo, not the coloratura job that Caroline had done. Thank God that at least Caroline wasn't screaming any longer. Bonnie was able to stop the new scream building in her own throat, even though her shaking was worse than ever. Meredith had an arm around her tightly, but then, as the darkness and the silence went on and Bonnie's shaking only continued, Meredith got up and heartlessly passed her to Matt, who seemed astonished and embarrassed, but tried awkwardly to hold her.

"It's not as dark once your eyes get used to it," he said. His voice was creaky, as if he needed a drink of water. But it was the best thing that he could have said, because of all things in the world to fear, Bonnie was most afraid of the dark. There werethings in it, things that only she saw. She managed, despite the terrible shaking, to stand with his support – and then she gasped, and heard Matt gasp, too.

Elena was glowing. Not only that, but the glow extended out behind her and far to either side of her in a pair of what were beautifully defined, and undeniablythere…wings.

"She h-has wings," Bonnie whispered, the stutter caused by her shaking rather than by awe or fear. Matt was clinging toher now, like a child; he obviously couldn't answer.

The wings moved with Elena's breathing. She was sitting on thin air, steady now, one hand held out with her fingers all spread in a gesture of denial.

Elena spoke. It wasn't any language that Bonnie had heard before; she doubted it was any language people on Earth used. The words were sharp, thin-edged, like the splintering of myriad shards of crystal that had fallen from somewhere very high and very far away.

The shape of the wordsalmost made sense in Bonnie's head as her own psychic abilities were sparked by Elena's tremendous Power. It was a Power that stood tall against the darkness and now was sweeping it aside…making the things in the dark scamper away before it, their claws scritching in all directions. Ice-sharp words followed them all the way, dismissive now….

And Elena…Elena was as heartbreakingly beautiful as when she'd been a vampire, and seemed almost as pale as one.

But Caroline was shouting, too. She was using powerful words of Black Magic, and to Bonnie it was as if the shadows of all sorts of dark and horrible things were coming from her mouth: lizards and snakes and many-legged spiders.

It was a duel, a face-off of magic. Only how had Caroline learned so much dark magic? She wasn't even a witch by lineage, like Bonnie.

Outside Stefan's room, surrounding it, was a strange sound, almost like a helicopter. Whipwhipwhipwhipwhip… It terrified Bonnie.

But she had to do something. She was Celtic by heritage and psychic because she couldn't avoid it, and she had to help Elena. Slowly, as if making her way against gale-force winds, Bonnie stumbled to put her hand on Elena's hand, to offer Elena her power.

When Elena clasped hands with her, Bonnie realized that Meredith was on her other side. The light grew. The scrabbling lizard things ran from it, screaming and tearing at each other to get away.

The next thing Bonnie knew, Elena had slumped over. The wings were gone. The dark scrabbling things were gone, too. Elena had sent them away, using tremendous amounts of energy to overwhelm them with White Power.

"She'll fall," Bonnie whispered, looking at Stefan. "She's been using magic so strong – "

Just then, as Stefan started to turn to Elena, several things happened very fast, as if the room was caught in the flashes of a strobe light.

Flash. The window shade rolled back up, rattling furiously.

Flash. The lamp went back on, revealing it was in Stefan's hands. He must have been trying to fix it.

Flash. The door to Stefan's room opened slowly, creaking, as if to make up for slamming shut before.

Flash. Caroline was now on the floor, on all fours, groveling, breathing hard. Elena had won….

Elena fell.

Only inhumanly fast reflexes could have caught her, especially from across the room. But Stefan had tossed the lamp to Meredith and was across the distance faster than Bonnie's eyes could follow. Then he was holding Elena, encircling her protectively.

"Oh,hell ," said Caroline. Black trails of mascara ran down her face, making her look like something not quite human. She looked at Stefan with unconcealed hatred. He looked back soberly – no,sternly .

"Don't call on Hell," he said in a very low voice. "Not here. Not now. Because Hell might hear and call back."

"As if it already hadn't," Caroline said, and in that moment, she was pitiful – broken and pathetic. As if she had started something she didn't know how to stop.

"Caroline, what are you saying?" Stefan knelt. "Are you saying that you've already – made some bargain – ?"

"Ouch," Bonnie said, suddenly and involuntarily, shattering the ominous mood in Stefan's room. One of Caroline's broken nails had left a trail of blood on the floor. Caroline had knelt in it, too, making things pretty messy. Bonnie felt a sympathetic throb of pain in her own fingers until Caroline waved her bloody hand at Stefan. Then Bonnie's sympathy turned to nausea.

"Want a lick?" she said. Her voice and face had changed entirely, and she wasn't even trying to hide it. "Oh, come on, Stefan," she went on mockingly, "youdo drink human blood these days, don't you? Human or – whatever she is, whatever she's become. You two fly like bats together now, do you?"

"Caroline," Bonnie whispered, "didn't yousee them? Her wings – "

"Just like a bat – or another vampire already. Stefan's made her – "

"I saw them too," Matt said flatly, behind Bonnie. "They weren't bat wings."

"Doesn't anybody have eyes?" Meredith said from where she stood by the lamp. "Look here." She bent. When she stood again she was holding a long white feather. It shone in the light.

"Maybe she's a white crow, then," Caroline said. "That would be appropriate. And I can't believe how you're all – all – fawning on her as if she were some sort of princess. Always everybody's little darling, aren't you, Elena?"

"Stop it," Stefan said.

"Everybody's, that's the key word," Caroline spat.

"Stop it."

"The way you were kissing people one after another." She gave a theatrical shudder. "Everyone seems to have forgotten, but that was more like – "

"Stop, Caroline."

"Thereal Elena." Caroline's voice had become pretend-prissy, but she couldn't keep the venom out, Bonnie thought. "Because anyone who knows you knows what youreally were before Stefanblessed us with hisirresistible presence. You were – "

"Caroline, stop right there – "

"A slut! That's all! Just a cheap, anybody'sslut !"