L. J. Smith - Vampire Diaries 02 - The Struggle.epub

By Thomas Hernandez,2014-10-31 11:00
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L. J. Smith - Vampire Diaries 02 - The Struggle.epub




The Struggle

Volume II

To my dear friend and sister, Judy

    A special thanks to Anne Smith, Peggy Bokulic, Anne Marie Smith, and Laura Penny for

    .information about Virginia, and to Jack and Sue Check for all their local lore

    Table of Contents

















    Don’t miss the exciting continuation of



About the Author



    About the Publisher

    “Do you like dancing?” Damon said.

    Elena’s fear drained away, and she laughed. But instead of taking his hand, she turned away.

    She moved lightly, not glancing back to see if he was following her. She knew he would. She

    felt wonderful right now, so alive, so beautiful. Dangerous? Of course, this game was

    dangerous. But she had always enjoyed danger.

    He reached out, but caught only the jeweled chain at her waist. He let go quickly, and, looking

    back, she saw that the pronged setting on one of the gems had cut him.

    His eyes flashed at her sideways, and his lips curved in a taunting smile as he held thewounded finger up. You wouldn’t dare, those eyes said.

    Boldly, Elena took his hand and held it a moment, teasing him. Then she brought the finger toher lips.



    Icy wind whipped Elena’s hair around her face, tearing at her light sweater. Oak leavesswirled among the rows of granite headstones, and the trees lashed their branches together infrenzy. Elena’s hands were cold, her lips and cheeks were numb, but she stood facing thescreaming wind directly, shouting into it.


    This weather was a show of his Power, meant to frighten her away. It wouldn’t work. Thethought of that same Power being turned against Stefan woke a hot fury inside her that burnedagainst the wind. If Damon had done anything to Stefan, if Damon had hurt him …

    “Damn you, answer me!” she shouted at the oak trees that bordered the graveyard.

    A dead oak leaf like a withered brown hand skittered up to her foot, but there was no answer.Above, the sky was gray as glass, gray as the tombstones that surrounded her. Elena felt rageand frustration sting her throat and she sagged. She’d been wrong. Damon wasn’t here afterall; she was alone with the screaming wind.

    She turned—and gasped.

    He was just behind her, so close that her clothes brushed his as she turned. At that distance,she should have sensed another human being standing there, should have felt his body warmth orheard him. But Damon, of course, wasn’t human.

    She reeled back a couple of steps before she could stop herself. Every instinct that had lainquiet while she shouted into the violence of the wind was now begging her to run.

    She clenched her fists. “Where’s Stefan?”

    A line appeared between Damon’s dark eyebrows. “Stefan who?”

    Elena stepped forward and slapped him.

    She had no thought of doing it before she did it, and afterward she could scarcely believe whatshe had done. But it was a good hard slap, with the full force of her body behind it, and itsnapped Damon’s head to one side. Her hand stung. She stood, trying to calm her breath, andwatched him.

    He was dressed as she had first seen him, in black. Soft black boots, black jeans, blacksweater, and leather jacket. And he looked like Stefan. She didn’t know how she could havemissed that before. He had the same dark hair, the same pale skin, the same disturbing goodlooks. But his hair was straight, not wavy, and his eyes were black as midnight, and his mouthwas cruel.

    He turned his head slowly back to look at her, and she saw blood rising in the cheek she’dslapped.

    “Don’t lie to me,” she said, her voice shaking. “I know who you are. I know what you are.

    You killed Mr. Tanner last night. And now Stefan’s disappeared.”

    “Has he?”

    “You know he has!”

    Damon smiled and then turned it off instantly.

    “I’m warning you; if you’ve hurt him—”

    “Then, what?” he said. “What will you do, Elena? What can you do, against me?”

    Elena fell silent. For the first time, she realized that the wind had died away. The day hadgone deadly quiet around them, as if they stood motionless at the center of some great circleof power. It seemed as if everything, the leaden sky, the oaks and purple beeches, the grounditself, was connected to him, as if he drew Power from all of it. He stood with his head tiltedback slightly, his eyes fathomless and full of strange lights.

    “I don’t know,” she whispered, “but I’ll find something. Believe me.”

    He laughed suddenly, and Elena’s heart jerked and began pounding hard. God, he was beautiful.Handsome was too weak and colorless a word. As usual, the laughter lasted only a moment, buteven when his lips had sobered it left traces in his eyes.

    “I do believe you,” he said, relaxing, looking around the graveyard. Then he turned back andheld out a hand to her. “You’re too good for my brother,” he said casually.

    Elena thought of slapping the hand away, but she didn’t want to touch him again. “Tell mewhere he is.”

    “Later, possibly—for a price.” He withdrew his hand, just as Elena realized that on it hewore a ring like Stefan’s: silver and lapis lazuli. Remember that, she thought fiercely. It’simportant.

    “My brother,” he went on, “is a fool. He thinks that because you look like Katherine you’reweak and easily led like her. But he’s wrong. I could feel your anger from the other side oftown. I can feel it now, a white light like the desert sun. You have strength, Elena, even asyou are. But you could be so much stronger….”

    She stared at him, not understanding, not liking the change of subject. “I don’t know whatyou’re talking about. And what has it got to do with Stefan?”

    “I’m talking about Power, Elena.” Suddenly, he stepped close to her, his eyes fixed on hers,his voice soft and urgent. “You’ve tried everything else, and nothing has satisfied you.You’re the girl who has everything, but there’s always been something just out of your reach,something you need desperately and can’t have. That’s what I’m offering you. Power. Eternallife. And feelings you’ve never felt before.”

    She did understand then, and bile rose in her throat. She choked on horror and repudiation.“No.”

    “Why not?” he whispered. “Why not try it, Elena? Be honest. Isn’t there a part of you thatwants to?” His dark eyes were full of a heat and intensity that held her transfixed, unable tolook away. “I can waken things inside you that have been sleeping all your life. You’restrong enough to live in the dark, to glory in it. You can become a queen of the shadows. Whynot take that Power, Elena? Let me help you take it.”

    “No,” she said, wrenching her eyes away from his. She wouldn’t look at him, wouldn’t lethim do this to her. She wouldn’t let him make her forget … make her forget….

    “It’s the ultimate secret, Elena,” he said. His voice was as caressing as the fingertipsthat touched her throat. “You’ll be happy as never before.”

    There was something terribly important she must remember. He was using Power to make her forgetit, but she wouldn’t let him make her forget….

    “And we’ll be together, you and I.” The cool fingertips stroked the side of her neck,slipping under the collar of her sweater. “Just the two of us, forever.”

    There was a sudden twinge of pain as his fingers brushed two tiny wounds in the flesh of herneck, and her mind cleared.

    Make her forget … Stefan.

    That was what he wanted to drive out of her mind. The memory of Stefan, of his green eyes andhis smile that always had sadness lurking behind it. But nothing could force Stefan out of herthoughts now, not after what they had shared. She pulled away from Damon, knocking those coolfingertips aside. She looked straight at him.

“I’ve already found what I want,” she said brutally. “And who I want to be with forever.”

    Blackness welled up in his eyes, a cold rage that swept through the air between them. Lookinginto those eyes, Elena thought of a cobra about to strike.

    “Don’t you be as stupid as my brother is,” he said. “Or I might have to treat you the sameway.”

    She was frightened now. She couldn’t help it, not with cold pouring into her, chilling herbones. The wind was picking up again, the branches tossing. “Tell me where he is, Damon.”

    “At this moment? I don’t know. Can’t you stop thinking about him for an instant?”

    “No!” She shuddered, hair lashing about her face again.

    “And that’s your final answer, today? Be very sure you want to play this game with me, Elena.The consequences are nothing to laugh about.”

    “I am sure.” She had to stop him before he got to her again. “And you can’t intimidate me,Damon, or haven’t you noticed? The moment Stefan told me what you were, what you’d done, youlost any power you might have had over me. I hate you. You disgust me. And there’s nothing you

    can do to me, not anymore.”

    His face altered, the sensuousness twisting and freezing, becoming cruel and bitterly hard. Helaughed, but this laugh went on and on. “Nothing?” he said. “I can do anything to you, and

    to the ones you love. You have no idea, Elena, of what I can do. But you’ll learn.”

    He stepped back, and the wind cut through Elena like a knife. Her vision seemed to be blurring;it was as if flecks of brightness filled the air in front of her eyes.

    “Winter is coming, Elena,” he said, and his voice was clear and chilling even over the howlof the wind. “An unforgiving season. Before it comes, you’ll have learned what I can andcan’t do. Before winter is here, you’ll have joined me. You’ll be mine.”

    The swirling whiteness was blinding her, and she could no longer see the dark bulk of hisfigure. Now even his voice was fading. She hugged herself with her arms, head bent down, herwhole body shaking. She whispered, “Stefan—”

    “Oh, and one more thing,” Damon’s voice came back. “You asked earlier about my brother.Don’t bother looking for him, Elena. I killed him last night.”

    Her head jerked up, but there was nothing to see, only the dizzying whiteness, which burned hernose and cheeks and clogged her eyelashes. It was only then, as the fine grains settled on herskin, that she realized what they were: snowflakes.

    It was snowing on the first of November. Overhead, the sun was gone.


    An unnatural twilight hung over the abandoned graveyard. Snow blurred Elena’s eyes, and thewind numbed her body as if she’d stepped into a current of ice water. Nevertheless,stubbornly, she did not turn around toward the modern cemetery and the road beyond it. As bestshe could judge, Wickery Bridge was straight in front of her. She headed for that.

    The police had found Stefan’s abandoned car by Old Creek Road. That meant he’d left itsomewhere between Drowning Creek and the woods. Elena stumbled on the overgrown path throughthe graveyard, but she kept moving, head down, arms hugging her light sweater to her. She hadknown this graveyard all her life, and she could find her way through it blind.

    By the time she crossed the bridge, her shivering had become painful. It wasn’t snowing ashard now, but the wind was even worse. It cut through her clothes as if they were made oftissue paper, and took her breath away.

    Stefan, she thought, and turned onto Old Creek Road, trudging northward. She didn’t believewhat Damon had said. If Stefan were dead she would know. He was alive, somewhere, and she had

    to find him. He could be anywhere out in this swirling whiteness; he could be hurt, freezing.Dimly, Elena sensed that she was no longer rational. All her thoughts had narrowed down to one

single idea. Stefan. Find Stefan.

    It was getting harder to keep to the road. On her right were oak trees, on her left, the swiftwaters of Drowning Creek. She staggered and slowed. The wind didn’t seem quite so bad anymore,but she did feel very tired. She needed to sit down and rest, just for a minute.

    As she sank down beside the road, she suddenly realized how silly she had been to go outsearching for Stefan. Stefan would come to her. All she needed to do was sit here and wait. Hewas probably coming right now.

    Elena shut her eyes and leaned her head against her drawn-up knees. She felt much warmer now.Her mind drifted and she saw Stefan, saw him smile at her. His arms around her were strong andsecure, and she relaxed against him, glad to let go of fear and tension. She was home. She waswhere she belonged. Stefan would never let anything hurt her.

    But then, instead of holding her, Stefan was shaking her. He was ruining the beautifultranquility of her rest. She saw his face, pale and urgent, his green eyes dark with pain. Shetried to tell him to be still, but he wouldn’t listen. Elena, get up, he said, and she felt

    the compelling force of those green eyes willing her to do it. Elena, get up now—

    “Elena, get up!” The voice was high and thin and frightened. “Come on, Elena! Get up! Wecan’t carry you!”

    Blinking, Elena brought a face into focus. It was small and heart-shaped, with fair, almosttranslucent skin, framed by masses of soft red curls. Wide brown eyes, with snowflakes caughtin the lashes, stared worriedly into hers.

    “Bonnie,” she said slowly. “What are you doing here?”

    “Helping me look for you,” said a second, lower voice on Elena’s other side. She turnedslightly to see elegantly arched eyebrows and an olive complexion. Meredith’s dark eyes,usually so ironic, were worried now, too. “Stand up, Elena, unless you want to become an iceprincess for real.”

    There was snow all over her, like a white fur coat. Stiffly, Elena stood, leaning heavily onthe two other girls. They walked her back to Meredith’s car.

    It should have been warmer inside the car, but Elena’s nerve endings were coming back to life,making her shake, telling her how cold she really was. Winter is an unforgiving season, shethought as Meredith drove.

    “What’s going on, Elena?” said Bonnie from the backseat. “What did you think you weredoing, running away from school like that? And how could you come out here?”

    Elena hesitated, then shook her head. She wanted nothing more than to tell Bonnie and Mereditheverything. To tell them the whole terrifying story about Stefan and Damon and what had reallyhappened last night to Mr. Tanner—and about after. But she couldn’t. Even if they wouldbelieve her, it wasn’t her secret to tell.

    “Everyone’s out looking for you,” Meredith said. “The whole school’s upset, and your auntwas nearly frantic.”

    “Sorry,” said Elena dully, trying to stop her violent shivering. They turned onto MapleStreet and pulled up to her house.

    Aunt Judith was waiting inside with heated blankets. “I knew if they found you, you’d behalf-frozen,” she said in a determinedly cheerful voice as she reached for Elena. “Snow onthe day after Halloween! I can hardly believe it. Where did you girls find her?”

    “On Old Creek Road, past the bridge,” said Meredith.

    Aunt Judith’s thin face lost color. “Near the graveyard? Where the attacks were? Elena, howcould you? …” Her voice trailed off as she looked at Elena. “We won’t say anything moreabout it right now,” she said, trying to regain her cheerful manner. “Let’s get you out ofthose wet clothes.”

    “I have to go back once I’m dry,” said Elena. Her brain was working again, and one thing wasclear: she hadn’t really seen Stefan out there; it had been a dream. Stefan was still missing.

    “You have to do nothing of the kind,” said Robert, Aunt Judith’s fiancé. Elena had scarcelynoticed him standing off to one side until then. But his tone brooked no argument. “The policeare looking for Stefan; you leave them to their job,” he said.

    “The police think he killed Mr. Tanner. But he didn’t. You know that, don’t you?” As AuntJudith pulled her sodden outer sweater off, Elena looked from one face to another for help, butthey were all the same. “You know he didn’t do it,” she repeated, almost desperately.

    There was a silence. “Elena,” Meredith said at last, “no one wants to think he did.But—well, it looks bad, his running away like this.”

    “He didn’t run away. He didn’t! He didn’t—”

    “Elena, hush,” said Aunt Judith. “Don’t get yourself worked up. I think you must be gettingsick. It was so cold out there, and you got only a few hours of sleep last night….” She laida hand on Elena’s cheek.

    Suddenly it was all too much for Elena. Nobody believed her, not even her friends and family.At that moment, she felt surrounded by enemies.

    “I’m not sick,” she cried, pulling away. “And I’m not crazy, either—whatever you think.Stefan didn’t run away and he didn’t kill Mr. Tanner, and I don’t care if none of youbelieves me….” She stopped, choking. Aunt Judith was fussing around her, hurrying herupstairs, and she let herself be hurried. But she wouldn’t go to bed when Aunt Judithsuggested she must be tired. Instead, once she had warmed up, she sat on the living room couchby the fireplace, with blankets heaped around her. The phone rang all afternoon, and she heardAunt Judith talking to friends, neighbors, the school. She assured all of them that Elena wasfine. The … the tragedy last night had unsettled her a bit, that was all, and she seemed alittle feverish. But she’d be good as new after a rest.

    Meredith and Bonnie sat beside her. “Do you want to talk?” Meredith said in a low voice.Elena shook her head, staring into the fire. They were all against her. And Aunt Judith waswrong; she wasn’t fine. She wouldn’t be fine until Stefan was found.

    Matt stopped by, snow dusting his blond hair and his dark blue parka. As he entered the room,Elena looked up at him hopefully. Yesterday Matt had helped save Stefan, when the rest of theschool had wanted to lynch him. But today he returned her hopeful look with one of soberregret, and the concern in his blue eyes was only for her.

    The disappointment was unbearable. “What are you doing here?” Elena demanded. “Keeping yourpromise to ‘take care of me’?”

    There was a flicker of hurt in his eyes. But Matt’s voice was level. “That’s part of it,maybe. But I’d try to take care of you anyway, no matter what I promised. I’ve been worriedabout you. Listen, Elena—”

    She was in no mood to listen to anyone. “Well, I’m just fine, thank you. Ask anybody here. Soyou can stop worrying. Besides, I don’t see why you should keep a promise to a murderer.”

    Startled, Matt looked at Meredith and Bonnie. Then he shook his head helplessly. “You’re notbeing fair.”

    Elena was in no mood to be fair either. “I told you, you can stop worrying about me, and aboutmy business. I’m fine, thanks.”

    The implication was obvious. Matt turned to the door just as Aunt Judith appeared withsandwiches.

    “Sorry, I’ve got to go,” he muttered, hurrying to the door. He left without looking back.

    Meredith and Bonnie and Aunt Judith and Robert tried to make conversation while they ate anearly supper by the fire. Elena couldn’t eat and wouldn’t talk. The only one who wasn’tmiserable was Elena’s little sister, Margaret. With four-year-old optimism, she cuddled up toElena and offered her some of her Halloween candy.

    Elena hugged her sister hard, her face pressed into Margaret’s white-blond hair for a moment.If Stefan could have called her or gotten a message to her, he would have done it by now.Nothing in the world would have stopped him, unless he were badly hurt, or trapped somewhere,or …

    She wouldn’t let herself think about that last “or.” Stefan was alive; he had to be alive.Damon was a liar.

    But Stefan was in trouble, and she had to find him somehow. She worried about it all throughthe evening, desperately trying to come up with a plan. One thing was clear; she was on herown. She couldn’t trust anyone.

    It grew dark. Elena shifted on the couch and forced a yawn.

    “I’m tired,” she said quietly. “Maybe I am sick after all. I think I’ll go to bed.”

    Meredith was looking at her keenly. “I was just thinking, Miss Gilbert,” she said, turning toAunt Judith, “that maybe Bonnie and I should stay the night. To keep Elena company.”

    “What a good idea,” said Aunt Judith, pleased. “As long as your parents don’t mind, I’d beglad to have you.”

    “It’s a long drive back to Herron. I think I’ll stay, too,” Robert said. “I can juststretch out on the couch here.” Aunt Judith protested that there were plenty of guest bedroomsupstairs, but Robert was adamant. The couch would do just fine for him, he said.

    After looking once from the couch to the hall where the front door stood plainly in view, Elenasat stonily. They’d planned this between them, or at least they were all in on it now. Theywere making sure she didn’t leave the house.

    When she emerged from the bathroom a little while later, wrapped in her red silk kimono, shefound Meredith and Bonnie sitting on her bed.

    “Well, hello, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern,” she said bitterly.

    Bonnie, who had been looking depressed, now looked alarmed. She glanced at Meredith doubtfully.

    “She knows who we are. She means she thinks we’re spies for her aunt,” Meredith interpreted.“Elena, you should realize that isn’t so. Can’t you trust us at all?”

    “I don’t know. Can I?”

    “Yes, because we’re your friends.” Before Elena could move, Meredith jumped off the bed andshut the door. Then she turned to face Elena. “Now, for once in your life, listen to me, youlittle idiot. It’s true we don’t know what to think about Stefan. But, don’t you see,that’s your own fault. Ever since you and he got together, you’ve been shutting us out.Things have been happening that you haven’t told us about. At least you haven’t told us thewhole story. But in spite of that, in spite of everything, we still trust you. We still careabout you. We’re still behind you, Elena, and we want to help. And if you can’t see that,then you are an idiot.”

    Slowly, Elena looked from Meredith’s dark, intense face to Bonnie’s pale one. Bonnie nodded.

    “It’s true,” she said, blinking hard as if to keep back tears. “Even if you don’t like us,we still like you.”

    Elena felt her own eyes fill and her stern expression crumple. Then Bonnie was off the bed, andthey were all hugging, and Elena found she couldn’t help the tears that slid down her face.

    “I’m sorry if I haven’t been talking to you,” she said. “I know you don’t understand, andI can’t even explain why I can’t tell you everything. I just can’t. But there’s one thing I

    can tell you.” She stepped back, wiping her cheeks, and looked at them earnestly. “No matterhow bad the evidence against Stefan looks, he didn’t kill Mr. Tanner. I know he didn’t,

    because I know who did. And it’s the same person who attacked Vickie, and the old man underthe bridge. And”— she stopped and thought a moment—“and, oh, Bonnie, I think he killedYangtze, too.”

“Yangtze?” Bonnie’s eyes widened. “But why would he want to kill a dog?”

    “I don’t know, but he was there that night, in your house. And he was … angry. I’m sorry,Bonnie.”

    Bonnie shook her head dazedly. Meredith said, “Why don’t you tell the police?”

    Elena’s laugh was slightly hysterical. “I can’t. It’s not something they can deal with. Andthat’s another thing I can’t explain. You said you still trusted me; well, you’ll just haveto trust me about that.”

    Bonnie and Meredith looked at each other, then at the bedspread, where Elena’s nervous fingerswere picking a thread out of the embroidery. Finally Meredith said, “All right. What can we doto help?”

    “I don’t know. Nothing, unless …” Elena stopped and looked at Bonnie. “Unless,” she said,in a changed voice, “you can help me find Stefan.”

    Bonnie’s brown eyes were genuinely bewildered. “Me? But what can I do?” Then, at Meredith’s

    indrawn breath, she said, “Oh. Oh.

    “You knew where I was that day I went to the cemetery,” said Elena. “And you even predictedStefan’s coming to school.”

    “I thought you didn’t believe in all that psychic stuff,” said Bonnie weakly.

    “I’ve learned a thing or two since then. Anyway, I’m willing to believe anything if it’ll

    help find Stefan. If there’s any chance at all it will help.”

    Bonnie was hunching up, as if trying to make her already tiny form as small as possible.“Elena, you don’t understand,” she said wretchedly. “I’m not trained; it’s not somethingI can control. And—and it’s not a game, not anymore. The more you use those powers, the morethey use you. Eventually they can end up using you all the time, whether you want it or not.It’s dangerous.”

    Elena got up and walked to the cherry wood dresser, looking down at it without seeing it. Atlast she turned.

    “You’re right; it’s not a game. And I believe you about how dangerous it can be. But it’snot a game for Stefan, either. Bonnie, I think he’s out there, somewhere, terribly hurt. Andthere’s nobody to help him; nobody’s even looking for him, except his enemies. He may bedying right now. He—he may even be …” Her throat closed. She bowed her head over the dresserand made herself take a deep breath, trying to steady herself. When she looked up, she sawMeredith was looking at Bonnie.

    Bonnie straightened her shoulders, sitting up as tall as she could. Her chin lifted and hermouth set. And in her normally soft brown eyes, a grim light shone as they met Elena’s.

    “We need a candle,” was all she said.

    The match rasped and threw sparks in the darkness, and then the candle flame burned strong andbright. It lent a golden glow to Bonnie’s pale face as she bent over it.

    “I’m going to need both of you to help me focus,” she said. “Look into the flame, and thinkabout Stefan. Picture him in your mind. No matter what happens, keep on looking at the flame.And whatever you do, don’t say anything.”

    Elena nodded, and then the only sound in the room was soft breathing. The flame flickered anddanced, throwing patterns of light over the three girls sitting cross-legged around it. Bonnie,eyes closed, was breathing deeply and slowly, like someone drifting into sleep.

    Stefan, thought Elena, gazing into the flame, trying to pour all her will into the thought. Shecreated him in her mind, using all her senses, conjuring him to her. The roughness of hiswoolen sweater under her cheek, the smell of his leather jacket, the strength of his armsaround her. Oh, Stefan …

    Bonnie’s lashes fluttered and her breathing quickened, like a sleeper having a bad dream.Elena resolutely kept her eyes on the flame, but when Bonnie broke the silence a chill went up

her spine.

    At first it was just a moan, the sound of someone in pain. Then, as Bonnie tossed her head,breath coming in short bursts, it became words.

    “Alone …” she said, and stopped. Elena’s nails bit into her hand. “Alone … in the dark,”said Bonnie. Her voice was distant and tortured.

    There was another silence, and then Bonnie began to speak quickly.

    “It’s dark and cold. And I’m alone. There’s something behind me … jagged and hard. Rocks.They used to hurt—but not now. I’m numb now, from the cold. So cold …” Bonnie twisted, asif trying to get away from something, and then she laughed, a dreadful laugh almost like a sob.“That’s … funny. I never thought I’d want to see the sun so much. But it’s always darkhere. And cold. Water up to my neck, like ice. That’s funny, too. Water everywhere—and medying of thirst. So thirsty … hurts …”

    Elena felt something tighten around her heart. Bonnie was inside Stefan’s thoughts, and whoknew what she might discover there? Stefan, tell us where you are, she thought desperately.Look around; tell me what you see.

    “Thirsty. I need … life?” Bonnie’s voice was doubtful, as if not sure how to translate someconcept. “I’m weak. He said I’ll always be the weak one. He’s strong … a killer. Butthat’s what I am, too. I killed Katherine; maybe I deserve to die. Why not just let go? …”

    “No!” said Elena before she could stop herself. In that instant, she forgot everything butStefan’s pain. “Stefan—”

    “Elena!” Meredith cried sharply at the same time. But Bonnie’s head fell forward, the flowof words cut off. Horrified, Elena realized what she had done.

    “Bonnie, are you all right? Can you find him again? I didn’t mean to …”

    Bonnie’s head lifted. Her eyes were open now, but they looked at neither the candle nor Elena.They stared straight ahead, expressionless. When she spoke, her voice was distorted, andElena’s heart stopped. It wasn’t Bonnie’s voice, but it was a voice Elena recognized. She’dheard it coming from Bonnie’s lips once before, in the graveyard.

    “Elena,” the voice said, “don’t go to the bridge. It’s Death, Elena. Your death is waitingthere.” Then Bonnie slumped forward.

    Elena grabbed her shoulders and shook. “Bonnie!” she almost screamed. “Bonnie!”

    “What … oh, don’t. Let go.” Bonnie’s voice was weak and shaken, but it was her own. Stillbent over, she put a hand to her forehead.

    “Bonnie, are you all right?”

    “I think so … yes. But it was so strange.” Her tone sharpened and she looked up, blinking.“What was that, Elena, about being a killer?”

    “You remember that?”

    “I remember everything. I can’t describe it; it was awful. But what did that mean?”

    “Nothing,” said Elena. “He’s hallucinating, that’s all.”

    Meredith broke in. “He? Then you really think she tuned in to Stefan?”

    Elena nodded, her eyes sore and burning as she looked away. “Yes. I think that was Stefan. Ithad to be. And I think she even told us where he is. Under Wickery Bridge, in the water.”


    Bonnie stared. “I don’t remember anything about the bridge. It didn’t feel like a bridge.”

    “But you said it yourself, at the end. I thought you remembered….” Elena’s voice died away.“You don’t remember that part,” she said flatly. It was not a question.

    “I remember being alone, somewhere cold and dark, and feeling weak … and thirsty. Or was ithungry? I don’t know, but I needed … something. And I almost wanted to die. And then you woke

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