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The Return: Shadow Souls (Chapter 44)

Elena was wakened by shouting. She'd already once awakened to unbelievable bliss. Now she was awake again – but surely that was Damon's voice. Shouting? Damon didn't shout!

Throwing on a robe, she went dashing out the door and downstairs.

Raised voices – confusion. Damon was kneeling on the floor. His face was blue-white. There wasn't a plant in the room that could be strangling him.

Poisoned, was the next thing Elena thought and immediately her eyes darted around the room to see a spilled drink, a dropped plate, any sign that poison had done this. There was nothing.

Sage was clapping Damon on the back. Oh, God, could he have choked? But that was idiocy. Vampires didn't breathe, except for talking and building Power.

But then what was happening?

"You have to breathe," Sage was shouting in Damon's ear. "Take a breath, as if you were going to speak, but then hold on to it, as if for raising your Power. Think about your insides. Get those lungs working!"

The words only confused Elena.

"There!" cried Sage. "You see?"

"But it only lasts an instant. Then I need to do it again."

"But, yes, that is the point!"

"I tell you I'm dying and you laugh at me?" a disheveled Damon shouted. "I'm blind, deaf, my senses are haywire – and you laugh!"

Disheveled, thought Elena, bothered by something.

"Well." Sage seemed to be at least trying not to laugh. "Perhaps, mon petit chou, you should not have opened something that was not addressed to you?"

"I put wards all around me before I did it. The house was safe."

"But you were not – breathe! Breathe, Damon!"

"It looked completely harmless – and admit it – we were all going – to open it last night – when we got too tired – !"

"But to do it alone, to open a present from a kitsune…that was foolish, yes?"

A choking Damon snapped, "Don't lecture me. Help me. Why am I muffled in cotton wool? Why can't I see? Or hear? Or smell – anything? I'm telling you I can't smell a thing!"

"You are fit and sharp as any human could be. You could probably defeat most vampires if you fought with one right now. But human senses are very few and very dull."

Words were swimming in Elena's head…opening things not addressed to you…bouquet from a kitsune…human…

Oh, my God!

Apparently, the same words were going through the mind of someone else, because suddenly a figure dashed in from the kitchen area. Stefan.

"You stole my bouquet? From the kitsune?"

"I was very careful – "

"Do you realize what you've done?" Stefan shook Damon.

"Ow. That hurts! Do you want to break my neck?"

"That hurts? Damon, you're in for a world of hurt! Do you understand? I talked to that kitsune. Told him the whole story of my life. Elena came to visit and he saw her practically…well, never mind – he saw her crying over me! Do…you…realize…what…you…have… done?"

It was as if Stefan had started climbing a series of steps, and that each one lifted him to a higher level of fury than the last. And here, at the top…

"I'll KILL YOU!" Stefan shouted. "You took it – my humanity! He gave it to me –  and you took it!"

"You'll kill me? I'll kill you, you – you bastard! There was one flower in the middle. A black rose, bigger than I have ever seen. And it smelled…heavenly…"

"It's gone!" Matt reported, producing the bouquet. He displayed it. There was a gaping hole in the center of the mixed flower arrangement.

Despite the hole, Stefan ran to it, and stuck his face into the bouquet, sucking in great heaving breaths of air. He kept coming up and

snapping his fingers and each time lightning flared between his fingertips.

"Sorry, bud," Matt said. "I think it's gone."

Elena could see it all now. That kitsune…he was one of the good ones, like the stories Meredith had told them about. Or at least good enough to sympathize with Stefan's plight. And so, when he had gotten free, he had made up a bouquet – kitsune could do anything with plants, although surely this was a great feat, something like finding the secret of eternal youth…to turn vampires into humans. And after Stefan had endured and endured and endured and should have finally gotten his reward…right now…

"I'm going back," Stefan shouted. "I'm going to find him!"

Meredith said quietly, "With or without Elena?"

Stefan stopped. He looked up at the stairway, and his eyes met Elena's.

Elena…

We'll go together.

"No," Stefan shouted. "I would never put you through that. I'm not going after all. I'm just going to murder you!" He swung back on his brother.

"Been there, done that. Besides, I'm the one that's going to kill you, you bastard! You took my world away from me! I am a vampire! I'm not a" – some creative cursing – "human!"

"Well you are now," Matt said. He was just barely not laughing out loud. "So I'd say you'd better get used to it."

Damon leaped at Stefan. Stefan didn't step aside. In an instant there was a ball of thrashing, kicking, and punching, and cursing in Italian that made it sound as if there were at least four vampires fighting five or six humans.

Elena sat down helplessly.

Damon…a human?

How were they going to deal with this?

Elena looked up to see that Bonnie had carefully made up a tray of all sorts of things that tasted good to humans, and that she'd undoubtedly done it for Damon before he had worked his way into hysteria.

"Bonnie," Elena said quietly, "don't give it to him yet. He'll just throw it at you. But perhaps later…"

"Later he won't throw it?"

Elena winced.

"How is Damon going to deal with being human?" she asked herself aloud.

Bonnie looked at the cursing, spitting ball of vampire/human fury.

"I'd say…kicking and screaming the whole way."

Just then Mrs. Flowers came out of the kitchen. She had a huge mound of fluffy waffles stacked on several plates on a tray. She saw the rolling, swearing, snarling ball that was Stefan and Damon.

"Oh, my," she said. "Did something go wrong?"

Elena looked at Bonnie. Bonnie looked at Meredith. Meredith looked at Elena.

"You…could say so," gasped Elena.

And then the three of them gave way to it. Gales and gales of helpless laughter.

You've lost a powerful ally, said a voice in Elena's mind. Do you know that? Can you foresee the consequences? Today, when you have just come back from a world of Shinichis?

We'll win, Elena thought. We have to.

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