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Dark Reunion (Chapter Thirteen)

June 19, Friday, 11:45 p.m. Dear Diary,

Oh, God, what are we going to do?

This has been the longest week of my life. Today was the last day of school and tomorrow Stefan is leaving. He's going to Europe to search for a vampire who got changed by Klaus. He says he doesn't want to leave us unprotected. But he's going to go.

We can't find Tyler. His car disappeared from the cemetery, but he hasn't turned up at school. He's missed every final this week. Not that the rest of us are doing much better. I wish Robert E. Lee was like the schools that have all their finals before graduation. I don't know whether I'm writing English or Swahili these days.

I hate Klaus. From what I saw he's as crazy as Katherine-and even crueler. What he did to Vickie-but I can't even talk about that or I'll start crying again. He was just playing with us at Caroline's party, like a cat with a mouse. And to do it on Meredith's birthday, too-although I suppose he couldn't have known that. He seems to know a lot, though. He doesn't talk like a foreigner, not like Stefan did when he first came to America, and he knows all about American things, even songs from the fifties. Maybe he's been over here for a while…

Bonnie stopped writing. She thought desperately. All this time, they had been thinking of victims in Europe, of vampires. But from the way Klaus talked, he had obviously been in America a long time. He didn't sound foreign at all. And he'd chosen to attack the girls on Meredith's birthday…

Bonnie got up, reached for the telephone, and called Meredith's number. A sleepy male voice answered.

"Mr. Sulez, this is Bonnie. Can I speak to Meredith?"

"Bonnie! Don't you know what time it is?"

"Yes." Bonnie thought quickly. "But it's about-about a final we had today. Please, I have to talk with her."

There was a long pause, then a heavy sigh. "Just a minute."

Bonnie tapped her fingers impatiently as she waited. At last there was the click of another phone being picked up.

"Bonnie?" came Meredith's voice. "What's wrong?" "Nothing. I mean-" Bonnie was excruciatingly conscious of the open line, of the fact that Meredith's father hadn't hung up. He might be listening. "It's about-that German problem we've been working on. You remember. The one we couldn't figure out for the final. You know how we've been looking for the one person who can help us solve it? Well, I think I know who it is."

"No," Bonnie said, "it doesn't. It hits a lot closer to home, Meredith. A lot. In fact, you could say it's right in your own backyard, hanging on your family tree."

The line was silent so long Bonnie wondered if Meredith was still there.

"Meredith?"

"I'm thinking. Does this solution have anything to do with coincidence?"

"Nope." Bonnie relaxed and smiled slightly, grimly. Meredith had it now. "Not a thing to do with coincidence. It's more a case of history repeating itself. Deliberately repeating itself, if you see what I mean."

"Yes," Meredith said. She sounded as if she were recovering from a shock, and no wonder. "You know, I think you just may be right. But there's still the matter of persuading-this person-to actually help us."

"You think that may be a problem?"

"I think it could. Sometimes people get very rattled-about a test. Sometimes they even kind of lose their minds."

Bonnie's heart sank. This was something that hadn't occurred to her. What if he couldn't tell them? What if he were that far gone?

"All we can do is try," she said, making her voice as optimistic as possible. "Tomorrow we'll have to try."

"All right. I'll pick you up at noon. Good night, Bonnie."

"Night, Meredith." Bonnie added, "I'm sorry."

"No, I think it may be for the best. So that history doesn't continue to repeat itself forever. Good-bye."

Bonnie pressed the disconnect button on the handset, clicking it off. Then she just sat for a few minutes, her finger on the button, staring at the wall. Finally she replaced the handset in its cradle and picked up her diary again. She put a period on the last sentence and added a new one.

We are going to see Meredith's grandfather tomorrow.

"I'm an idiot," Stefan said in Meredith's car the next day. They were going to West Virginia, to the institution where Meredith's grandfather was a patient. It was going to be a fairly long drive.

"We're all idiots. Except Bonnie," Matt said. Even in the midst of her anxiety Bonnie felt a warm glow at that.

But Meredith was shaking her head, eyes on the road. "Stefan, you couldn't have realized, so stop beating up on yourself. You didn't know that Klaus attacked Caroline's party on the anniversary of the attack on my grandfather. And it didn't occur to Matt or me that Klaus could have been in America for so long because we never saw Klaus or heard him speak. We were thinking of people he could have attacked in Europe. Really, Bonnie was the only one who could have put it all together, because she had all the information."

"I won't; modesty is one of my most charming qualities," Bonnie replied.

Matt snorted, but then he said, "I still think it was pretty smart," which started the glow all over again.

The institution was a terrible place. Bonnie tried as hard as she could to conceal her horror and disgust, but she knew Meredith could sense it. Meredith's shoulders were stiff with defensive pride as she walked down the halls in front of them. Bonnie, who had known her for so many years, could see the humiliation underneath that pride. Meredith's parents considered her grandfather's condition such a blot that they never allowed him to be mentioned to outsiders. It had been a shadow over the entire family.

And now Meredith was showing that secret to strangers for the first time. Bonnie felt a rush of love and admiration for her friend. It was so like Meredith to do it without fuss, with dignity, letting nobody see what it cost her. But the institution was still terrible.

It wasn't filthy or filled with raving maniacs or anything like that. The patients looked clean and well cared for. But there was something about the sterile hospital smells and the halls crowded with motionless wheelchairs and blank eyes that made Bonnie want to run.

It was like a building full of zombies. Bonnie saw one old woman, her pink scalp showing through thin white hair, slumped with her head on the table next to a naked plastic doll. When Bonnie reached out desperately, she found Matt's hand already reaching for hers. They followed Meredith that way, holding on so hard it hurt.

"This is his room."

Inside was another zombie, this one with white hair that still showed an occasional fleck of black like Meredith's. His face was a mass of wrinkles and lines, the eyes rheumy and rimmed with scarlet. They stared vacantly.

"Granddad," Meredith said, kneeling in front of his wheelchair, "Granddad, it's me, Meredith. I've come to visit you. I've got something important to ask you."

The old eyes never flickered.

"Sometimes he knows us," Meredith said quietly, without emotion. "But mostly these days he doesn't."

The old man just went on staring.

Stefan dropped to his heels. "Let me try," he said. Looking into the wrinkled face he began to speak, softly, soothingly, as he had to Vickie.

And no matter what Meredith or Stefan did, that was all the response they could elicit.

Eventually Bonnie tried, using her psychic powers. She could sense something in the old man, some spark of life trapped in the imprisoning flesh. But she couldn't reach it.

"I'm sorry," she said, sitting back and pushing hair out of her eyes. "It's no use. I can't do anything."

"Maybe we can come another time," Matt said, but Bonnie knew it wasn't true. Stefan was leaving tomorrow; there would never be another time. And it had seemed like such a good idea… The glow that had warmed her earlier was ashes now, and her heart felt like a lump of lead. She turned away to see Stefan already starting out of the room.

Matt put a hand under her elbow to help her up and guide her out. And after standing for a minute with her head bent in discouragement, Bonnie let him. It was hard to summon up enough energy to put one foot in front of the other. She glanced back dully to see whether Meredith was following-

And screamed. Meredith was standing in the center of the room, facing the door, discouragement written on her face. But behind her, the figure in the wheelchair had stirred at last. In a silent explosion of movement, it had reared above her, the rheumy old eyes open wide and the mouth open wider. Meredith's grandfather looked as if he had been caught in the act of leaping-arms flung out, mouth forming a silent howl. Bonnie's screams rang from the rafters.

Everything happened at once then. Stefan came charging back in, Meredith spun around, Matt grabbed for her. But the old figure didn't leap. He stood towering above all of them, staring over their heads, seeming to see something none of them could. Sounds were coming from his mouth at last, sounds that formed one ululating word.

"Vampire! Vampiire!"

Attendants were in the room, crowding Bonnie and the others away, restraining the old man. Their shouts added to the pandemonium.

"Vampire! Vampire!" Meredith's grandfather caterwauled, as if warning the town. Bonnie felt panicked-was he looking at Stefan? Was it an accusation?

"Please, you'll have to leave now. I'm sorry, but you'll have to go," a nurse was saying. They were being whisked out. Meredith fought as she was forced out into the hall.

"Granddaddy-!"

And then: "White ash wood! Vampire! White ash wood-"

The door slammed shut.

Meredith gasped, fighting tears. Bonnie had her nails dug into Matt's arm. Stefan turned to them, green eyes wide with shock.

"I said, you'll have to leave now," the harassed nurse was repeating impatiently. The four of them ignored her. They were all looking at each other, stunned confusion giving way to realization in their faces.

"Tyler said there was only one kind of wood that could hurt him-" Matt began.

"White ash wood," said Stefan.

"We'll have to find out where he's hiding," Stefan said on the way home. He was driving, since Meredith had dropped the keys at the car door. "That's the first thing. If we rush this, we could warn him off."

His green eyes were shining with a queer mixture of triumph and grim determination, and he spoke in a clipped and rapid voice. They were all on the ragged edge, Bonnie thought, as if they'd been gulping uppers all night. Their nerves were frayed so thin that anything could happen.

She had a sense, too, of impending cataclysm. As if everything were coming to a head, all the events since Meredith's birthday party gathering to a conclusion.

Tonight, she thought. Tonight it all happens. It seemed strangely appropriate that it should be the eve of the solstice.

"The eve of what?" Matt said.

She hadn't even realized she'd spoken aloud. "The eve of the solstice," she said. "That's what today is. The day before the summer solstice."

"Don't tell me. Druids, right?"

"They celebrated it," Bonnie confirmed. "It's a day for magic, for marking the change of the seasons. And…" she hesitated. "Well, it's like all other feast days, like Halloween or the winter solstice. A day when the line between the visible world and the invisible world is thin. When you can see ghosts, they used to say. When things happen."

"Things," Stefan said, turning onto the main highway that headed back toward Fell's Church, "are going to happen."

None of them realized how soon.

Mrs. Flowers was in the back garden. They had driven straight to the boarding house to look for her. She was pruning rosebushes, and the smell of summer surrounded her.

"Slow down, slow down now," she said, peering at them from under the brim of her straw hat. "What is it you want? White ash? There's one just down beyond those oak trees in back. Now, wait a minute-" she added as they all scrambled off again.

Stefan ringed a branch of the tree with a jack-knife Matt produced from his pocket. I wonder when he started carrying that? Bonnie thought. She also wondered what Mrs. Flowers thought of them as they came back, the two boys carrying the leafy six-foot bough between them on their shoulders.

But Mrs. Flowers just looked without saying anything. As they neared the house, though, she called after them, "A package came for you, boy."

Stefan turned his head, the branch still on his shoulder. "For me?"

"It had your name on it. A package and a letter. I found them on the front porch this afternoon. I put them upstairs in your room."

Bonnie looked at Meredith, then at Matt and Stefan, meeting their bewildered, suspicious gazes in turn. The anticipation in the air heightened suddenly, almost unbearably.

"But who could it be from? Who could even know you're here-" she began as they climbed the stairs to the attic. And then she stopped, dread fluttering between her ribs. Premonition was buzzing around inside her like a nagging fly, but she pushed it away. Not now, she thought, not now.

But there was no way to keep from seeing the package on Stefan's desk. The boys propped the white ash branch against the wall and went to look at it, a longish, flattish parcel wrapped in brown paper, with a creamy envelope on top.

On the front, in familiar crazy handwriting, was scrawled Stefan.

The handwriting from the mirror.

They all stood staring down at the package as if it were a scorpion.

"Watch out," Meredith said as Stefan slowly reached for it. Bonnie knew what she meant. She felt as if the whole thing might explode or belch poisonous gas or turn into something with teeth and claws.

The envelope Stefan picked up was square and sturdy, made of good paper with a fine finish. Like a prince's invitation to the ball, Bonnie thought. But incongruously, there were several dirty fingerprints on the surface and the edges were grimy. Well- Klaus hadn't looked any too clean in the dream.

Stefan glanced at front and back and then tore the envelope open. He pulled out a single piece of heavy stationery. The other three crowded around, looking over his shoulder as he unfolded it. Then Matt gave an exclamation.

"What the… it's blank!"

It was. On both sides. Stefan turned it over and examined each. His face was tense, shuttered. Everyone else relaxed, though, making noises of disgust. A stupid practical joke. Meredith had reached for the package, which looked flat enough to be empty as well, when Stefan suddenly stiffened, his breath hissing in. Bonnie glanced quickly over and jumped. Meredith's hand froze on the package, and Matt swore.

Stefan-

Shall we try to solve this like gentlemen? I have the girl. Come to the old farmhouse in the woods after dark and we'll talk, just the two of us. Come alone and I'll let her go. Bring anyone else and she dies.

There was no signature, but at the bottom the words appeared This is between you and me.

"What girl?" Matt was demanding, looking from Bonnie to Meredith as if to make sure they were still there. "What girl?"

With a sharp motion, Meredith's elegant fingers tore the package open and pulled out what was inside. A pale green scarf with a pattern of vines and leaves. Bonnie remembered it perfectly, and a vision came to her in a rush. Confetti and birthday presents, orchids and chocolate.

"Caroline," she whispered, and shut her eyes.

These last two weeks had been so strange, so different from ordinary high school life, that she had almost forgotten Caroline existed. Caroline had gone off to an apartment in another town to escape, to be safe-but Meredith had said it to her in the beginning. He can follow you to Heron, I'm sure.

"He was just playing with us again," Bonnie murmured. "He let us get this far, even going to see your grandfather, Meredith, and then…"

"He must have known," Meredith agreed. "He must have known all along we were looking for a victim. And now he's checkmated us. Unless-" Her dark eyes lit with sudden hope. "Bonnie, you don't think Caroline could have dropped this scarf the night of the party? And that he just picked it up?"

"No." The premonition was buzzing closer and Bonnie swatted at it, trying to keep it away. She didn't want it, didn't want to know. But she felt certain of one thing: this wasn't a bluff. Klaus had Caroline.

"What are we going to do?" she said softly.

"I know what we're not going to do, and that's listen to him," Matt said. " 'Try to solve it like gentlemen'-he's scum, not a gentleman. It's a trap."

"Of course it's a trap," Meredith said impatiently. "He waited until we found out how to hurt him and now he's trying to separate us. But it won't work!"

Bonnie had been watching Stefan's face with growing dismay. Because while Matt and Meredith were indignantly talking, he had been quietly folding up the letter and putting it back in its envelope. Now he stood gazing down at it, his face still, untouched by anything that was going on around him. And the look in his green eyes scared Bonnie.

"I think," said Stefan carefully, concentrating on each word, "that I am going out to the woods after dark."

Matt nodded, and like the quarterback he was, began to chart out a plan. "Okay, you go distract him. And meanwhile, the three of us-"

"The three of you," Stefan continued just as deliberately, looking right at him, "are going home. To bed."

There was a pause that seemed endless to Bonnie's taut nerves. The others just stared at Stefan.

At last Meredith said lightly, "Well, it's going to be hard to catch him while we're in bed unless he's kind enough to come visiting."

That broke the tension and Matt said, drawing a long-suffering breath, "All right, Stefan, I understand how you feel about this-" But Stefan interrupted.

"I'm dead serious, Matt. Klaus is right; this is between him and me. And he says to come alone or he'll hurt Caroline. So I'm going alone. It's my decision."

"It's your funeral," Bonnie blurted out, almost hysterically. "Stefan, you're crazy. You can't."

"Watch me."

"We won't let you-"

"Do you think," Stefan said, looking at her, "that you could stop me if you tried?" This silence was acutely uncomfortable. Staring at him, Bonnie felt as if Stefan had changed somehow before her eyes. His face seemed sharper, his posture different, as if to remind her of the lithe, hard predator's muscles under his clothes.

All at once he seemed distant, alien. Frightening.

Bonnie looked away.

"Let's be reasonable about this," Matt was saying, changing tactics. "Let's just stay calm and talk this over-"

"There's nothing to talk over. I'm going. You're not."

"You owe us more than that, Stefan," Meredith said, and Bonnie felt grateful for her cool voice. "Okay, so you can tear us all limb from limb; fine, no argument. We get the point. But after all we've been through together, we deserve more of a thorough discussion before you go running off."

"You said it was the girls' fight too," Matt added. "When did you decide it wasn't?"

"No, it isn't!" Bonnie cried. "Did you make Elena kill Katherine?"

"I made Katherine go back to Klaus! That's how this got started. And I got Caroline involved; if it wasn't for me, she would never have hated Elena, never have gotten in with Tyler. I have a responsibility toward her."

"You just want to believe that," Bonnie almost yelled. "Klaus hates all of us! Do you really think he's going to let you walk out of there? Do you think he plans to leave the rest of us alone?"

"No," Stefan said, and picked up the branch leaning against the wall. He took Matt's knife out of his own pocket and began to strip the twigs off, making it into a straight white spear.

"Oh, great, you're going off for single combat!" Matt said, furious. "Don't you see how stupid that is? You're walking right into his trap!" He advanced a step on Stefan. "You may not think that the three of us can stop you-"

"No, Matt." Meredith's low, level voice cut across the room. "It won't do any good." Stefan looked at her, the muscles around his eyes hardening, but she just looked back, her face set and calm. "So you're determined to meet Klaus face to face, Stefan. All right. But before you go, at least be sure you have a fighting chance." Coolly, she began to unbutton the neck of her tailored blouse.

Bonnie felt a jolt, even though she'd offered the same thing only a week earlier. But that had been in private, for God's sake, she thought. Then she shrugged. Public or private, what difference did it make?

She looked at Matt, whose face reflected his consternation. Then she saw Matt's brow crease and the beginning of that stubborn, bullheaded expression that used to terrify the coaches of op-posing football teams. His blue eyes turned to hers and she nodded, thrusting out her chin. Without a word, she unzipped the light wind-breaker she was wearing and Matt pulled off his T-shirt.

Stefan stared from one to another of the three people grimly disrobing in his room, trying to conceal his own shock. But he shook his head, the white spear in front of him like a weapon. "No."

"Don't be a jerk, Stefan," Matt snapped. Even in the confusion of this terrible moment something inside Bonnie paused to admire his bare chest. "There's three of us. You should be able to take plenty without hurting any one of us."

"I said, no! Not for revenge, and not to fight evil with evil! Not for any reason. I thought you would understand that." Stefan's look at Matt was bitter.

"I understand that you're going to die out there!" Matt shouted.

"He's right!" Bonnie pressed her knuckles against her lips. The premonition was getting through her defenses. She didn't want to let it in, but she didn't have the strength to resist anymore. With a shudder, she felt it stab through and heard the words in her mind.

For a moment, just a moment, she thought he might listen to her. Then his face went hard again and he spoke coldly.

"It isn't your problem. Let me worry about it."

"But if there's no way to win-" Matt began.

"That isn't what Bonnie said!" Stefan replied tersely.

"Yes, it is! What the hell are you talking about?" Matt shouted. It was hard to make Matt lose his temper, but once lost it wasn't easily gotten back. "Stefan, I've had enough-"

"And so have I!" Stefan shot back in a roar. In a tone Bonnie had never heard him use before. "I'm sick of you all, sick of your bickering and your spinelessness-and your premonitions, too! This is my problem."

"I thought we were a team-" Matt cried.

"We are not a team. You are a bunch of stupid humans! Even with everything that's happened to you, deep down you just want to live your safe little lives in your safe little houses until you go to your safe little graves! I'm nothing like you and I don't want to be! I've put up with you this long because I had to, but this is the end." He looked at each of them and spoke deliberately, emphasizing each word. "I don't need any of you. I don't want you with me, and I don't want you following me. You'll only spoil my strategy. Anyone who does follow me, I'll kill."

And with one last smoldering glance, he turned on his heel and walked out.

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