The Return: Nightfall (Chapter 7)

There was a sort of universal gasp. Stefan went white, his compressed lips showing in a tight line. Bonnie felt as if she were choking on words, on explanations, on recriminations about Caroline's own behavior. Elena may have had as many boyfriends as the stars in the sky, but in the end she had given all that up – because she fell in love – not that Caroline would know anything aboutthat .

"Don't have anything to say now?" Caroline was taunting. "Can't find any cute answer? Bat got your tongue?" She began to laugh, but it was forced, glassy laughter, and then words were spilling out of her almost as if uncontrollably, all words that weren't supposed to be spoken in public. Bonnie had said most of them at one time or another, buthere , andnow , they formed a stream of venomous power. Caroline's words were building up to some kind of crescendo – something was going to happen – this kind of force couldn't be contained –

Reverberations, Bonnie thought as the sound waves began building up….

Glass,her intuition told her.Get away from glass.

Stefan just had time to whirl to Meredith and shout,"Get rid of the lamp."

And Meredith, who was not only quick on the uptake but also a baseball pitcher with a 1.75 ERA, snatched it up and threw it at – no, through –

– an explosion as the porcelain lamp shattered –

– the open window.

There was a similar shattering in the bathroom. The mirror had exploded behind the closed door.

Then Caroline slapped Elena across the face.

It left a bloody smear, which Elena patted tentatively. It also left a white handprint, turning to red. Elena's expression was one to wring tears from a stone.

And then Stefan did what Bonnie considered the most astonishing thing of all. He very gently put Elena down on the floor, kissed her upturned face, and turned to Caroline.

He put his hands on her shoulders, not shaking, only holding her still, forcing her to look at him.

"Caroline," he said, "stop it.Come back. For the sake of your old friends who care for you, come back. For the sake of the family that loves you, come back. For the sake of your own immortal soul,come back. Come back to us!"

Caroline just eyed him belligerently.

Stefan half turned aside, toward Meredith, grimacing. "I'm not really cut out to do this," he said wryly. "It's not any vampire's forte."

Then he turned toward Elena, his voice tender. "Love, can you help? Can you help your old friend again?"

Already Elena was trying to help, trying to get to Stefan. She had pulled herself up very shakily, first by the rocking chair and then by Bonnie, who tried to help her under the burden of gravity. Elena was as wobbly as a newborn giraffe in roller skates, and Bonnie – almost half a head shorter – was finding her hard to handle.

Stefan made a motion as if to help, but Matt was already there, steadying Elena on the other side.

Then Stefan had Caroline turned around, and he was holding her, not letting her dart away, forcing her to face Elena fully.

Elena, while being held at the waist so that her hands were free, made some curious motions, seeming to draw designs more and more quickly in the air in front of Caroline's face, at the same time clasping and unclasping her hands with the fingers in different positions. She seemed to know exactly what she was doing. Caroline's eyes followed the movements of Elena's hands as if compelled, but it was clear from her snarling that she hated it.

Magic, Bonnie thought, fascinated. White Magic. She's calling on angels, just as surely as Caroline was calling demons. But is she strong enough to pull Caroline out of the darkness?

And at last, as if to complete the ceremony, Elena leaned forward and kissed Caroline chastely on the lips.

All hell broke loose. Caroline somehow squirmed out of Stefan's grip and tried to claw Elena's face with her nails. Objects in the room went sailing through the air, propelled by no human force. Matt tried to grab Caroline's arm and got a punch in the stomach that doubled him over, followed by a chop to the back of the neck.

Stefan let go of Caroline to scoop up Elena and get her and Bonnie out of harm's way. He seemed to assume that Meredith could take care of herself – and he was right. Caroline swung at Meredith, but Meredith was ready. She grabbed Caroline's fist and helped her in the direction of the swing. Caroline landed on the bed, twisted, and then rushed Meredith again, this time getting a grip on her hair. Meredith pulled free, leaving a tuft of hair in Caroline's fingers. Then Meredith got under Caroline's guard and hit her squarely on the jaw. Caroline collapsed.

Bonnie cheered and refused to feel guilty about it. Then, for the first time, as Caroline lay still, Bonnie noticed that Caroline's fingernails were all there again – long, strong, curved, and perfect, not one of them chipped or broken.

Elena's Power? It must be. What else could have done it? With just a few motions and a kiss, Elena had healed Caroline's hand.

Meredith was massaging her own hand. "I never realized ithurt so much to knock people out," she said. "They never show it in movies. Is it the same for guys?"

Matt flushed. "I…uh, I've never actually…"

"It's the same for everyone, even vampires," Stefan said briefly. "Are you all right, Meredith? I mean, Elena could…"

"No, I'm fine. And Bonnie and I have a job to do." She nodded at Bonnie, who nodded weakly back. "Caroline's our responsibility, and we should have realized why shereally had to come back this last time. She doesn't have a car. I'll bet she used that downstairs telephone and tried to get somebody to pick her up, but couldn't, and then she came upstairs again. So now we have to take her home. Stefan, I'm sorry. It hasn't been much of a visit."

Stefan looked grim. "It's probably as much as Elena could take, anyway," he said. "More than I thought she could take, honestly."

Matt said, "Well, I'm the one with the car, and Caroline is my responsibility, too," he said. "I may not be a girl, but I'm a human."

"Maybe we could come back tomorrow?" Bonnie said.

"Yes, I suppose that would be best," Stefan said. "I almost hate to let her go at all," he added, staring at the unconscious Caroline, his face shadowed. "I'm afraid for her. Very much afraid."

Bonnie pounced on this. "Why?"

"I think – well, it may be too early to say, but she seems to be almost possessed by something – but I have no idea what. I think I have to do some serious research."

And there it was again, the ice water dripping down Bonnie's back. The feeling of how close the frigid ocean of fear was, ready to topple down on her and take her on a swift trip to the bottom.

Stefan added, "But what's certain is that she was behaving strangely – even for Caroline. And I don't know whatyou heard when she was cursing, but I heard another voice behind it, prompting her." He turned to Bonnie. "Did you?"

Bonnie was thinking back. Had there been something – just a whisper – and just a beat before Caroline's voice came? Less than a beat, and just the faintest of sibilant whispers?

"And what happened here may have made it worse. She called on Hell at a moment when this room was saturated with Power. And Fell's Church itself is at the crossing of so many ley lines, it isn't funny. With all that going on – well, I just wish we had a good parapsychologist around."

Bonnie knew they were all thinking of Alaric.

"I'll try to get him to come," Meredith said. "But usually he's off in Tibet or Timbuktu doing research these days. It'll take a while even to get a message to him."

"Thank you." Stefan looked relieved.

"Like I said, she's our responsibility," Meredith said quietly.

"We're sorry to have brought her," Bonnie said loudly, rather hoping that something inside Caroline could hear her.

They said their good-byes separately to Elena, not sure of what might happen. But she simply smiled at each of them and touched their hands.

By good luck or by the grace of something far beyond their understanding, Caroline woke up. She even seemed mostly rational, if a little fuzzy, when the car reached her driveway. Matt helped her out of the car and walked her to the door on his arm, where Caroline's mother answered the doorbell. She was a mousy, timid, tired-looking woman who did not seem surprised to be receiving her daughter in this state on a late summer afternoon.

Matt dropped the girls off at Bonnie's house, where they spent a night in worried speculation. Bonnie fell asleep with the sound of Caroline's curses echoing in her head.

Dear Diary,

Something is going to happen tonight.

I can't talk or write, and I don't remember how to type on a keyboard very well, but I can send thoughts to Stefan and he can write them down. We don't have any secrets from each other.

So this is my diary now. And…

This morning I woke up again. I woke up again! It was still summer outside, and everything was green. The daffodils in the garden are all in bloom. And I had visitors. I didn't know exactly who they were, but three of them are strong, clear colors. I kissed them so I won't forget them again.

The fourth one was different. I could only see a shattered color, laced with black. I had to use strong words of White Power to keep that one from bringing dark things into Stefan's room.

I'm getting sleepy. I want to be with Stefan and feel him holding me. I love Stefan. I would give up anything to stay with him. He asks me, Even flying? Even flying, to be with him and keep him safe. Even anything, to keep him safe. Even my life.

Now I want to go to him.


(And Stefan is sorry about writing in Elena's new diary, but he has to say some things, because someday maybe she will want to read them, to remember. I've written down her thoughts in sentences, but they don't come that way. They come as thought-fragments, I guess. Vampires are used to translating people's everyday thoughts into coherent sentences, but Elena's thoughts need more translation than most. Usually she thinks in bright pictures, with a scattered word or two.

The "fourth one" that she talks about is Caroline Forbes. Elena has known Caroline almost since babyhood, I think. What bewilders me is that today Caroline attacked her in almost every way imaginable, and yet when I search Elena's mind I can't find any feelings of anger or even any pain. It's almost frightening to scan a mind like that.

The question I'd really like to answer is: What happened to Caroline during the short time she was kidnapped by Klaus and Tyler? And did she do what she did today of her own free will? Does some remnant of Klaus's hatred still linger like miasma, tainting the air? Or do we have another enemy in Fell's Church?

And most importantly, what do we do about it?

Stefan, who is being pulled from the compu.