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The Fury (Chapter Twelve)

Stefan looked at Elena, snow crystals dusting his dark hair. "What about Matt?"

"I remember-something. It's not clear. But that first night, when I wasn't myself -did I see Matt then? Did I-?"

Fear and a sick sense of dismay swelled her throat and cut her words off. But she didn't need to finish, and Stefan didn't need to answer. She saw it in his eyes.

"It was the only way, Elena," he said then. "You would have died without human blood. Would you rather have attacked somebody unwilling, hurt them, maybe killed them? The need can drive you to that. Is that what you would have wanted?"

"No," Elena said violently. "But did it have to be Matt? Oh, don't answer that; I can't think of anybody else, either." She took a shaky breath. "But now I'm worried about him, Stefan. I haven't seen him since that night. Is he okay? What has he said to you?"

"Not much," said Stefan, looking away. " 'Leave me alone' was about the gist of

it. He also denied that anything happened that night, and said that you were dead."

"Sounds like one of those individuals who can't cope," Damon commented.

"Oh, shut up!" said Elena. "You keep out of this, and while you're at it, you might think about poor Vickie Bennett. How d'you think she's coping these days?" "It might help if I knew who this Vickie Bennett is. You keep talking about her, but I've never met the girl."

"Yes, you have. Don't play games with me, Damon-the cemetery, remember?

The ruined church? The girl you left wandering around there in her slip?"

"Sorry, no. And I usually do remember girls I leave wandering in their slips."

"I suppose Stefan did it, then," Elena said sarcastically.

Anger flashed to the surface of Damon's eyes, covered quickly with a disturbing smile.

"Maybe he did. Maybe you did. It's all the same to me, except that I'm getting a little tired of accusations. And now-"

"Wait," said Stefan, with surprising mildness. "Don't go yet. We should talk-" "I'm afraid I have a previous engagement." There was a flurry of wings, and Stefan and Elena were alone.

Elena put a knuckle to her lips. "Damn. I didn't mean to make him angry. After he was really almost civilized all evening."

"Never mind," said Stefan. "He likes to be angry. What were you saying about Matt?"

Elena saw the weariness in Stefan's face and put an arm around him. "We won't talk about it now, but I think tomorrow maybe we should go see him. To tell him…"

Elena lifted her other hand helplessly. She didn't know what she wanted to tell Matt; she only knew that she needed to do something.

talk about it now, but I think tomorrow maybe we should go see him. To tell him…" Elena lifted her other hand helplessly. She didn't know what she wanted to tell Matt; she only knew that she needed to do something.

Elena looked at him hard. "Are you sure?"

"Yes."

"But-will you be all right? I should stay with you-"

"I'll be fine, Elena," Stefan said gently, "Go on."

Elena hesitated, then nodded. "I won't be long," she promised him.

Unseen, Elena slipped around the side of the frame house with the peeling paint and the crooked mailbox labeled Honeycutt. Matt's window was unlocked. Careless boy, she thought reprovingly. Don't you know some-thing might come creeping in? She eased it open, but of course that was as far as she could go. An invisible barrier that felt like a soft wall of thickened air blocked her way.

"Matt," she whispered. The room was dark, but she could see a vague shape on the bed. A digital clock with pale green numbers showed that it was 12:15. "Matt," she whispered again.

The figure stirred. "Uh?"

"Matt, I don't want to frighten you." She made her voice soothing, trying to wake him gently rather than startle him out of his wits. "But it's me, Elena, and I wanted to talk. Only you've got to ask me in first. Can you ask me in?"

"Uh. C'mon in."

Elena was amazed at the lack of surprise in his voice. It was only after she'd gotten over the sill that she realized he was still asleep.

"Matt. Matt," she whispered, afraid to go too close. The room was stifling and overheated, the radiator going full blast. She could see a bare foot sticking out of the mound of blankets on the bed and blond hair at the top.

"Matt?" Tentatively, she leaned over and touched him.

That got a response. With an explosive grunt, Matt sat bolt upright, whipping around. When his eyes met hers, they were wide and staring.

Elena found herself trying to look small and harmless, nonthreatening. She backed away against the wall. "I didn't mean to frighten you. I know it's a shock. But will you talk to me?"

He simply went on staring at her. His yellow hair was sweaty and ruffled up like wet chicken feathers. She could see his pulse pounding in his bare neck. She was afraid he was going to get up and dash out of the room.

Then his shoulders relaxed, slumping, and he slowly shut his eyes. He was afraid he was going to get up and dash out of the room.

"Yes," she whispered.

"You're dead."

"No. I'm here."

"Dead people don't come back. My dad didn't come back."

"I didn't really die. I just changed." Matt's eyes were still shut in repudiation, and

Elena felt a cold wave of hopelessness wash over her. "But you wish I had died, don't you? I'll leave now," she whispered.

Matt's face cracked and he started to cry.

"No. Oh, no. Oh, don't, Matt, please." She found herself cradling him, fighting not to cry herself. "Matt, I'm sorry; I shouldn't even have come here."

"Don't leave," he sobbed. "Don't go away."

"I won't." Elena lost the fight, and tears fell onto Matt's damp hair. "I didn't mean to hurt you, ever," she said. "Not ever, Matt. All those times, all those things I did- I never wanted to hurt you. Truly…" Then she stopped talking and just held him.

After a while his breathing quieted and he sat back, swiping his face with a fistful of sheet. His eyes avoided hers. There was a look on his face, not just of embarrassment, but of distrust, as if he were bracing himself for something he dreaded.

"Okay, so you're here. You're alive," he said roughly. "So what do you want?"

Elena was dumbfounded.

"Come on, there must be something. What is it?"

New tears welled up, but Elena gulped them back. "I guess I deserve that. I know I do. But for once, Matt, I want absolutely nothing. I came to apologize, to say that I'm sorry for using you-not just that one night, but always. I care about you, and I care if you hurt. I thought maybe I could make things better." After a heavy silence, she added, "I guess I will leave now."

"No, wait. Wait a second." Matt scrubbed at his face with the sheet again. "Listen. That was stupid, and I'm a jerk-"

"That was the truth and you're a gentleman. Or you'd've told me to go take a hike a long time ago."

"No, I'm a stupid jerk. I should be banging my head against the wall with joy because you're not dead. I will in a minute. Listen." He grabbed her wrist and Elena looked at it in mild surprise. "I don't care if you're the Creature from the Black Lagoon, It, Godzilla and Frankenstein all rolled up into one. I just-"

"Matt." Panicked, Elena put her free hand over his mouth.

"I know. You're engaged to the guy in the black cape. Don't worry; I remember him. I even like him, though God knows why." Matt took a breath and seemed to calm down. "Look, I don't know if Stefan told you. He said a bunch of stuff to me -about being evil, about not being sorry for what he did to Tyler. You know what I'm talking about?"

"I know. You're engaged to the guy in the black cape. Don't worry; I remember him. I even like him, though God knows why." Matt took a breath and seemed to calm down. "Look, I don't know if Stefan told you. He said a bunch of stuff to me -about being evil, about not being sorry for what he did to Tyler. You know what I'm talking about?"

Matt nodded. "So it was your basic crap. I should have known."

"Well, it is and it isn't. The need is strong, stronger than you can imagine." It was dawning on Elena that she hadn't fed today and that she'd been hungry before they'd set out for Alaric's. "In fact-Matt, I'd better go. Just one thing-if there's a dance tomorrow night, don't go. Something's going to happen then, something bad. We're going to try to guard it, but I don't know what we can do."

"Who's 'we'?" Matt said sharply.

"Stefan and Damon-I think Damon-and me. And Meredith and Bonnie… and Alaric Saltzman. Don't ask about Alaric. It's a long story."

"But what are you guarding against!"

"I forgot; you don't know. That's a long story, too, but… well, the short answer is, whatever killed me. Whatever made those dogs attack people at my memorial service. It's something bad, Matt, that's been around Fell's Church for a while now. And we're going to try to stop it from doing anything tomorrow night." She tried not to squirm. "Look, I'm sorry, but I really should leave." Her eyes drifted, despite herself, to the broad blue vein in his neck.

When she managed to tear her gaze away and look at his face, she saw shock giving way to sudden understanding. Then to something incredible: acceptance. "It's okay," Matt said.

She wasn't sure she'd heard correctly. "Matt?"

"I said, it's okay. It didn't hurt me before."

"No. No, Matt, really. I didn't come here for that-"

"I know. That's why I want to. I want to give you something you didn't ask for." After a moment he said, "For old friends' sake."

Stefan, Elena was thinking. But Stefan had told her to come, and come alone. Stefan had known, she realized. And it was all right. It was his gift to Matt-and to her.

But I'm coming back to you, Stefan, she thought.

As she leaned toward him, Matt said, "I'm going to come and help you tomorrow, you know. Even if I'm not invited."

Then her lips touched his throat.

December 13, Friday

Dear Diary,

I know I've written that before, or thought it at least. But tonight is the night, the big one, when everything is going to happen. This is it.

Stefan feels it, too. He came back from school today to tell me that the dance is still on-Mr. Newcastle didn't want to cause a panic by canceling it or something. What they're going to do is have "security" outside, which means the police, I guess. And maybe Mr. Smallwood and some of his friends with rifles. Whatever's going to happen, I don't think they can stop it.

I don't know if we can, either.

It's been snowing all day. The pass is blocked, which means nothing gets in or out of town on wheels. Until the snowplow gets up there, which won't be until morning, which will be too late.

And the air has a funny feeling to it. Not just snow. It's as if something even colder than that is waiting. It's pulled back the way the ocean pulls back before a tidal wave. When it lets go…

I thought about my other diary today, the one under the floorboards of my bedroom closet. If I own anything anymore, I own that diary. I thought about getting it out, but I don't want to go home again. I don't think I could cope, and I know Aunt Judith couldn't if she saw me.

I'm surprised anybody's been able to cope. Meredith, Bonnie-especially Bonnie. Well, Meredith, too, considering what her family has been through. Matt.

They're good and loyal friends. It's funny, I used to think that without a whole galaxy of friends and admirers I wouldn't survive. Now I'm perfectly happy with three, thank you. Because they're real friends.

I didn't know how much I cared about them before. Or about Margaret, or Aunt Judith even. And everybody at school… I know a few weeks ago I was saying that I didn't care if the entire population of Robert E. Lee dropped dead, but that isn't true. Tonight I'm going to do my best to protect them.

I know I'm jumping from subject to subject, but I'm just talking about things that are important to me. Kind of gathering them together in my mind. Just in case.

Well, it's time. Stefan is waiting. I'm going to finish this last line and then go. I think we're going to win. I hope so.

We're going to try.

The history room was warm and brightly lit. On the other side of the school building, the cafeteria was even brighter, shining with Christmas lights and decorations. Upon arriving, Elena had scrutinized it from a cautious distance, watching the couples arrive for the dance and pass by the sheriff's officers at the door. Feeling Damon's silent presence behind her, she had pointed out a girl with long, light brown hair.

"I'll take your word for it," he replied.

Now, she looked around their makeshift headquarters for the night. Alaric's desk had been cleared, and he was bent over a rough map of the school. Meredith leaned in beside him, her dark hair sweeping his sleeve. Matt and Bonnie were out mingling with the dancegoers in the parking lot, and Stefan and Damon were prowling the perimeter of the school grounds. They were going to take turns.

"You'd better stay inside," Alaric had told Elena. "All we need is for somebody to see you and start chasing you with a stake."

"I've been walking around town all week," Elena said, amused. "If I don't want to be seen, you don't see me." But she agreed to stay in the history room and coordinate.

It's like a castle, she thought as she watched Alaric plot out the positions of sheriff's officers and other men on the map. And we're defending it. Me and my loyal knights.

The round, flat-faced clock on the wall ticked the minutes by. Elena watched it as she let people in the door and let them out again. She poured hot coffee out of a Thermos for those who wanted it. She listened to the reports come in.

"Everything's quiet on the north side of the school."

"Caroline just got crowned snow queen. Big surprise."

"Some rowdy kids in the parking lot-the sheriff just rounded them up…"

Midnight came and went.

"Maybe we were wrong," Stefan said an hour or so later. It was the first time they'd all been inside together since the beginning of the evening.

"Maybe it's happening somewhere else," said Bonnie, emptying out a boot and peering into it.

"There's no way to know where it's going to happen," Elena said firmly. "But we weren't wrong about it happening."

"Maybe," said Alaric thoughtfully, "there is a way. To find out where it's going to happen, I mean." As heads raised questioningly, he said, "We need a precognition."

All eyes turned to Bonnie.

"Oh, no," Bonnie said. "I'm through with all that. I hate it."

"It's a great gift-" began Alaric.

"It's a great big pain. Look, you don't understand. The ordinary predictions are bad enough. It seems like most of the time I'm finding out things I don't want to know. But getting taken over-that's awful. And afterward I don't even remember what I've said. It's horrible."

know. But getting taken over-that's awful. And afterward I don't even remember what I've said. It's horrible."

Bonnie sighed. "It's what happened to me in the church," she said patiently. "I can do other kinds of predictions, like divining with water or reading palms"-she glanced at Elena, and then away-"and stuff like that. But then there are times when -someone-takes me over and just uses me to talk for them. It's like having somebody else in my body."

"Like in the graveyard, when you said there was something there waiting for me," said Elena. "Or when you warned me not to go near the bridge. Or when you came to dinner and said that Death, my death, was in the house." She looked automatically around at Damon, who returned her gaze impassively. Still, that had been wrong, she thought. Damon hadn't been her death. So what had the prophecy meant? For just an instant something glimmered in her mind, but before she could get a grasp on it, Meredith interrupted.

"It's like another voice that speaks through Bonnie," Meredith explained to Alaric. "She even looks different. Maybe you weren't close enough in the church to see."

"But why didn't you tell me about this?" Alaric was excited. "This could be important. This-entity-whatever it is-could give us vital information. It could clear up the mystery of the Other Power, or at least give us a clue how to fight it."

Bonnie was shaking her head. "No. It isn't something I can just whistle up, and it doesn't answer questions. It just happens to me. And I hate it."

"You mean you can't think of anything that tends to set it off? Anything that's led to it happening before?"

Elena and Meredith, who knew very well what could set it off, looked at each other. Elena bit the inside of her cheek. It was Bonnie's choice. It had to be Bonnie's choice.

Bonnie, who was holding her head in her hands, shot a sideways glance through red curls at Elena. Then she shut her eyes and moaned.

"Candles," she said.

"What?"

"Candles. A candle flame might do it. I can't be sure, you understand; I'm not promising anything-"

"Somebody go ransack the science lab," said Alaric.

It was a scene reminiscent of the day Alaric had come to school, when he'd asked them all to put their chairs in a circle. Elena looked at the circle of faces lit eerily from below by the candle's flame. There was Matt, with his jaw set. Beside him, Meredith, her dark lashes throwing shadows upward. And Alaric, leaning forward in his eagerness. Then Damon, light and shadow dancing over the planes of his face.

And Stefan, high cheekbones looking too sharply defined to Elena's eyes. And finally, Bonnie, looking fragile and pale even in the golden light of the candle.

"I'm just going to look into the candle," Bonnie said, her voice quivering slightly. "And not think of anything. I'm going to try to-leave myself open to it." She began to breathe deeply, gazing into the candle flame.

And then it happened, just as it had before. Bonnie's face smoothed out, all expression draining away. Her eyes went blank as the stone cherub's in the graveyard.

She didn't say a word.

That was when Elena realized they hadn't agreed on what to ask. She groped through her mind to find a question before Bonnie lost contact. "Where can we find the Other Power?" she said, just as Alaric blurted out, "Who are you?" Their voices mingled, their questions intertwining.

Bonnie's blank face turned, sweeping the circle with sightless eyes. Then the voice that wasn't Bonnie's voice said, "Come and see."

"Wait a minute," Matt said, as Bonnie stood up, still entranced, and made for the door. "Where's she going?"

Meredith grabbed for her coat. "Are we going with her?"

"Don't touch her!" said Alaric, jumping up as Bonnie went out the door.

Elena looked at Stefan, and then at Damon. With one accord, they followed, trailing Bonnie down the empty, echoing hall.

"Where are we going? Which question is she answering?" Matt demanded. Elena could only shake her head. Alaric was jogging to keep up with Bonnie's gliding pace.

She slowed down as they emerged into the snow, and to Elena's surprise, walked up to Alaric's car in the staff parking lot and stood beside it.

"We can't all fit; I'll follow with Matt," Meredith said swiftly. Elena, her skin chilled with apprehension as well as cold air, got in the back of Alaric's car when he opened it for her, with Damon and Stefan on either side. Bonnie sat up front. She was looking straight ahead, and she didn't speak. But as Alaric pulled out of the parking lot, she lifted one white hand and pointed. Right on Lee Street and then left on Arbor Green. Straight out toward Elena's house and then right on Thunderbird. Heading toward Old Creek Road.

It was then that Elena realized where they were going.

They took the other bridge to the cemetery, the one everyone always called "the new bridge" to distinguish it from Wickery Bridge, which was now gone. They were approaching from the gate side, the side Tyler had driven up when he took Elena to the ruined church.

Alaric's car stopped just where Tyler's had stopped. Meredith pulled up behind them.

"Where are you taking us?" she said. "Listen to me. Will you just tell us which question you're answering?"

"Come and see."

Helplessly, Elena looked at the others. Then she stepped over the threshold. Bonnie walked slowly to the white marble tomb, and stopped.

Elena looked at it, and then at Bonnie's ghostly face. Every hair on her arms and the back of her neck was standing up. "Oh, no…" she whispered. "Not that."

"Elena, what are you talking about?" Meredith said.

Dizzy, Elena looked down at the marble countenances of Thomas and Honoria Fell, lying on the stone lid of their tomb. "This thing opens," she whispered.

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