Dark Reunion (Chapter Twelve)
A voice that he'd never thought to hear again, that he would never forget. Ripples of chills poured over his skin, and he could feel a shaking start inside him. He turned toward the voice, his attention fixing instantly, his mind almost shutting down because it couldn't cope with so many sudden driving emotions at once.
His eyes were blurred and could only discern a wash of radiance like a thousand candles. But it didn't matter. He could feel her there. The same presence he had sensed the very first day he'd come to Fell's Church, a golden white light that shone into his consciousness. Full of cool beauty and searing passion and vibrant life. Demanding that he move toward it, that he forget everything else.
Elena. It was really Elena.
Her presence pervaded him, filling him to his fingertips. All his hungry senses were fixed on that wash of luminance, searching for her. Needing her.
Then she stepped out.
She moved slowly, hesitantly. As if she could barely make herself do it. Stefan was caught in the same paralysis.
He saw her every feature as if for the first time. The pale gold hair floating about her face and shoulders like a halo. The fair, flawless skin. The slender, supple body just now canted away from him, one hand raised in protest.
"Stefan," the whisper came, and it was her voice. Her voice saying his name. But there was such pain in it that he wanted to run to her, hold her, promise her that everything would be all right. "Stefan, please… I can't…"
He could see her eyes now. The dark blue of lapis lazuli, flecked in this light with gold. Wide with pain and wet with unshed tears. It shredded his guts.
"You don't want to see me?" His voice was dry as dust.
"I don't want you to see me. Oh, Stefan, he can make anything happen. And he'll find us. He'll come here…"
Relief and aching joy flooded through Stefan. He could scarcely concentrate on her words, and it didn't matter. The way she said his name was enough. That "Oh, Stefan" told him everything he cared about.
He moved toward her quietly, his own hand coming up to reach for hers. He saw the protesting shake of her head, saw that her lips were parted with her quickening breath. Up close, her skin had an inner glow, like a flame shining through translucent candle wax. Droplets of wetness were caught on her eyelashes like diamonds.
Although she kept shaking her head, kept protesting, she did not move her hand away. Not even when his outspread fingers touched it, pressing against her cool fingertips as if they were on opposite sides of a pane of glass.
He couldn't think. His heart was threatening to come through his chest. Nothing mattered except that she was here, that they were here together. He didn't notice the strange surroundings, didn't care who might be watching.
Slowly, so slowly, he closed his hand around hers, intertwining their fingers, the way they were meant to be. His other hand lifted to her face.
Her eyes closed at the touch, her cheek leaning into it. He felt the moisture on his fingers and a laugh caught in his throat. Dream tears. But they were real, she was real. Elena.
Sweetness pierced him. A pleasure so sharp it was a pain, just to stroke the tears away from her face with his thumb.
All the frustrated tenderness of the last six months, all the emotion he'd kept locked in his heart that long, came cascading out, submerging him. Drowning both of them. It took such a little movement and then he was holding her.
An angel in his arms, cool and thrilling with life and beauty. A being of flame and air. She shivered in his embrace; then, eyes still shut, put up her lips.
There was nothing cool about the kiss. It struck sparks from Stefan's nerves, melting and dissolving everything around it. He felt his control unraveling, the control he'd worked so hard to preserve since he'd lost her. Everything inside him was being jarred loose, all knots untied, all floodgates opened. He could feel his own tears as he held her to him, trying to fuse them into one flesh, one body. So that nothing could ever separate them again.
They were both crying without breaking the kiss. Elena's slender arms were around his neck now, every inch of her fitting to him as if she had never belonged anywhere else. He could taste the salt of her tears on his lips and it drenched him with sweetness.
He knew, vaguely, that there was something else he should be thinking about. But the first electric touch of her cool skin had driven reason from his mind. They were in the center of a whirlwind of fire; the universe could explode or crumble or burn to ashes for all he cared, as long as he could keep her safe.
But Elena was trembling.
Not just from emotion, from the intensity that was making him dizzy and drunk with pleasure. From fear. He could feel it in her mind and he wanted to protect her, to shield her and to cherish her and to kill anything that dared frighten her. With something like a snarl he raised his face to look around.
"What is it?" he said, hearing the predator's rasp in his own voice. "Anything that tries to hurt you-"
"Ask me anything else and I'll do it," Stefan said. The killer would have to shred him nerve from nerve, muscle from muscle, cell from cell to make him leave her.
"Stefan, it's only a dream," Elena said desperately, new tears falling. "We can't really touch, we can't be together. It's not allowed."
Stefan didn't care. It didn't seem like a dream. It felt real. And even in a dream he was not going to give up Elena, not for anyone. No force in heaven or hell could make him…
"Wrong, sport. Surprise!" said a new voice, a voice Stefan had never heard. He recognized it instinctively, though, as the voice of a killer. A hunter among hunters. And when he turned, he remembered what Vickie, poor Vickie, had said.
He looks like the devil.
If the devil was handsome and blond.
He wore a threadbare raincoat, as Vickie had described. Dirty and tattered. He looked like any street person from any big city, except that he was so tall and his eyes were so clear and penetrating. Electric blue, like razor-frosted sky. His hair was almost white, standing straight up as if blown by a blast of chilly wind. His wide smile made Stefan feel sick.
"Salvatore, I presume," he said, scraping a bow. "And of course the beautiful Elena. The beautiful dead Elena. Come to join her, Stefan? You two were just meant to be together."
He looked young, older than Stefan, but still young. He wasn't.
"Stefan, leave now," Elena whispered. "He can't hurt me, but you're different. He can make something happen that will follow you out of the dream."
Stefan's arm stayed locked around her.
"Bravo!" the man in the raincoat applauded, looking around as if to encourage an invisible audience. He staggered slightly, and if he'd been human, Stefan would have thought he was drunk.
"Stefan, please," Elena whispered.
"It would be rude to leave before we've even been properly introduced," the blond man said. Hands in coat pockets, he strode a step or two closer. "Don't you want to know who I am?"
Elena shook her head, not in negation but in defeat, and dropped it to Stefan's shoulder. He cupped a hand around her hair, wanting to shield every part of her from this madman.
"I want to know," he said, looking at the blond man over her head.
"How long?" said Stefan, unimpressed.
"A long time…" The blond man's gaze turned dreamy, as if looking back over the years. "I was tearing pretty white throats when your ancestors were building the Colosseum. I killed with Alexander's army. I fought in the Trojan War. I'm old, Salvatore. I'm one of the Originals. In my earliest memories I carried a bronze ax."
Slowly, Stefan nodded.
He'd heard of the Old Ones. They were whispered about among vampires, but no one Stefan had ever known had actually met one. Every vampire was made by another vampire, changed by the exchange of blood. But somewhere, back in time, had been the Originals, the ones who hadn't been made. They were where the line of continuity stopped. No one knew how they'd gotten to be vampires themselves. But their Powers were legendary.
"I helped bring the Roman Empire down," the blond man continued dreamily. "They called us barbarians-they just didn't understand! War, Salvatore! There's nothing like it. Europe was exciting then. I decided to stick around the countryside and enjoy myself. Strange, you know, people never really seemed comfortable around me. They used to run or hold up crosses." He shook his head. "But one woman came and asked my help. She was a maid in a baron's household, and her little mistress was sick. Dying, she said. She wanted me to do something about it. And so…" The smile returned and broadened, getting wider and impossibly wider, "I did. She was a pretty little thing."
Stefan had turned his body to hold Elena away from the blond man, and now, for a moment, he turned his head away too. He should have known, should have guessed. And so it all came back to him. Vickie's death, and Sue's, were ultimately to be laid at his door. He had started the chain of events that ended here.
"Katherine," he said, lifting his head to look at the man. "You're the vampire who changed Katherine."
"To save her life," the blond man said, as if Stefan were stupid at learning a lesson. "Which your little sweetheart here took."
A name. Stefan was searching for a name in his mind, knowing that Katherine had told it to him, just as she must have described this man to him once. He could hear Katherine's words in his mind: I woke in the middle of the night and I saw the man
that Gudren, my maid, had brought. I was frightened. His name was Klaus and I'd heard the people in the village say he was evil …
"Klaus," the blond man said mildly, as if agreeing with something. "That was what she called me, anyway. She came back to me after two little Italian boys jilted her. She'd done everything for them, changed them into vampires, given them eternal life, but they were ungrateful and threw her out. Very strange."
"What was even stranger was that she never got over you, Salvatore. You especially. She was always drawing unflattering comparisons between us. I tried to beat some sense into her, but it never really worked. Maybe I should have just killed her myself, I don't know. But by then I'd gotten used to having her around. She never was the brightest. But she was good to look at, and she knew how to have fun. I showed her that, how to enjoy the killing. Eventually her brain turned a little, but so what? It wasn't her brains I was keeping her for."
There was no longer any vestige of love for Katherine in Stefan's heart, but he found he could still hate the man who had made her what she was in the end.
"Me? Me, sport?" Klaus pointed to his own chest in unbelief. "You made Katherine into what she is right now, or rather your little girlfriend did. Right now, she's dust. Worm's meat. But your sweetie is just slightly beyond my reach at present. Vibrating on a higher plane, isn't that what the mystics say, Elena? Why don't you vibrate down here with the rest of us?"
"If only I could," whispered Elena, lifting her head and looking at him with hatred.
"Oh, well. Meanwhile I've got your friends. Sue was such a sweet girl, I hear." He licked his lips. "And Vickie was delectable. Delicate but full bodied, with a nice bouquet. More like a nineteen-year-old than seventeen."
Stefan lunged one step forward, but Elena caught him. "Stefan, don't! This is his territory, and his mental powers are stronger than ours. He controls it."
"Precisely. This is my territory. Unreality." Klaus grinned his staring psychotic grin again. "Where your wildest nightmares come true, free of charge. For instance," he said, looking at Stefan, "how'd you like to see what your sweetheart really looks like right now? Without her makeup?"
Elena made a soft sound, almost a moan. Stefan held her tighter.
"It's been how long since she died? About six months? Do you know what happens to a body once it's been in the ground six months?" Klaus licked his lips again, like a dog.
Now Stefan understood. Elena shivered, head bent, and tried to move away from him, but he locked his arms around her.
"It's all right," he said to her softly. And to Klaus: "You're forgetting yourself. I'm not a human who jumps at shadows and the sight of blood. I know about death, Klaus. It doesn't frighten me."
"No, but does it thrill you?" Klaus's voice dropped, low, intoxicating. "Isn't it exciting, the stench, the rot, the fluids of decomposing flesh? Isn't it a kick?"
"Stefan, let me go. Please." Elena was shaking, pushing at him with her hands, all the time keeping her head twisted away so he couldn't see her face. Her voice sounded close to tears. "Please."
"The only Power you have here is the power of illusion," Stefan said to Klaus. He held Elena to him, cheek pressed to her hair. He could feel the changes in the body he embraced. The hair under his cheek seemed to coarsen and Elena's form to shrink on itself.
"Stefan, I don't want you to look at me-"
Eyes on Klaus, Stefan gently pushed the coarsened white hair away and stroked the side of Elena's face, ignoring the roughness against his fingertips.
"But of course most of the time it just decomposes. What a way to go. You lose everything, skin, flesh, muscles, internal organs-all back into the ground…"
The body in Stefan's arms was dwindling. He shut his eyes and held tighter, hatred for Klaus burning inside him. An illusion, it was all an illusion…
"Stefan…" It was a dry whisper, faint as the scratch of paper blown down a sidewalk. It hung on the air a minute and then vanished, and Stefan found himself holding a pile of bones.
"And finally it ends up like that, in over two hundred separate, easy-to-assemble pieces. Comes with its own handy-dandy carrying case…" On the far side of the circle of light there was a creaking sound. The white coffin there was opening by itself, the lid lifting. "Why don't you do the honors, Salvatore? Go put Elena where she belongs."
Stefan had dropped to his knees, shaking, looking at the slender white bones in his hands. It was all an illusion-Klaus was merely controlling Bonnie's trance and showing Stefan what he wanted Stefan to see. He hadn't really hurt Elena, but the hot, protective fury inside Stefan wouldn't recognize that. Carefully, Stefan laid the fragile bones on the ground and touched them once, gently. Then he looked up at Klaus, lips curled with contempt.
"That is not Elena," he said.
"Of course it is. I'd recognize her anywhere." Klaus spread his hands and declaimed, " 'I knew a woman, lovely in her bones…' "
"No." Sweat was beading on Stefan's forehead. He shut out Klaus's voice and concentrated, fists clenched, muscles cracking with effort. It was like pushing a boulder uphill, fighting Klaus's influence. But where they lay, the delicate bones began trembling, and a faint golden light shone around them.
"'A rag and a bone and a hank of hair… the fool he called them his lady fair… ' "
The light was shimmering, dancing, linking the bones together. Warm and golden it folded about them, clothing them as they rose in the air. What stood there now was a featureless form of soft radiance. Sweat ran into Stefan's eyes and he felt as if his lungs would burst.
" 'Clay lies still, but blood's a rover…' "
" 'And the crack in the teacup opens a lane to the land of the dead . . .' "
"No." Dizziness swept over Stefan as he felt the last surge of Power sigh out of him. A breath lifted the figure's breast, and eyes blue as lapis lazuli opened.
Elena smiled, and he felt the blaze of her love arc to meet him. "Stefan." Her head was high, proud as any queen's.
Stefan turned to Klaus, who had stopped speaking and was glaring mutely.
"This," Stefan said distinctly, "is Elena. Not whatever empty shell she's left behind in the ground. This is Elena, and nothing you do can ever touch her."
He held out his hand, and Elena took it and stepped to him. When they touched, he felt a jolt, and then felt her Powers flowing into him, sustaining him. They stood together, side by side, facing the blond man. Stefan had never felt as fiercely victorious in his life, or as strong.
Klaus stared at them for perhaps twenty seconds and then went berserk.
His face twisted in loathing. Stefan could feel waves of malignant Power battering against him and Elena, and he used all his strength to resist it. The maelstrom of dark fury was trying to tear them apart, howling through the room, destroying everything in its path. Candles snuffed out and flew into the air as if caught in a tornado. The dream was breaking up around them, shattering.
Stefan clung to Elena's other hand. The wind blew her hair, whipping it around her face.
"Stefan!" She was shouting, trying to make herself heard. Then he heard her voice in his mind. "Stefan, listen to me! There is one thing you can do to stop him. You need a victim, Stefan-find one of his victims. Only a victim will know-"
The noise level was unbearable, as if the very fabric of space and time was tearing. Stefan felt Elena's hands ripped from his. With a cry of desperation, he reached out for her again, but he could feel nothing. He was already drained by the effort of fighting Klaus, and he couldn't hold on to consciousness. The darkness took him spinning down with it.
Bonnie had seen everything.
It was strange, but once she stepped aside to let Stefan go to Elena, she seemed to lose physical presence in the dream. It was as if she were no longer a player but the stage the action was being played upon. She could watch, but she couldn't do anything else.
In the end, she'd been afraid. She wasn't strong enough to hold the dream together, and the whole thing finally exploded, throwing her out of the trance, back into Stefan's room.
"Stefan? Are you okay?"
He looked wildly around the room as if trying to find something. "Elena!" he said, and then he stopped, memory clearly returning.
His face twisted. For one dreadful instant Bonnie thought he was going to cry, but
he only shut his eyes and dropped his head into his hands.
"I lost her. I couldn't hold on."
"I know." Bonnie watched him a moment, then, gathering her courage, knelt in
front of him, touching his shoulders. "I'm sorry." His head lifted abruptly, his green eyes dry but so dilated they looked black. His
nostrils were flared, his lips drawn back from his teeth.
"Klaus!" He spat the name as if it were a curse. "Did you see him?"
"Yes," Bonnie said, pulling back. She gulped, her stomach churning. "He's crazy, isn't he, Stefan?"
"Yes." Stefan got up. "And he must be stopped."
"But how?" Since seeing Klaus, Bonnie was more frightened than ever, more frightened and less confident. "What could stop him, Stefan? I've never felt anything like that Power."
"But didn't you-?" Stefan turned to her quickly. "Bonnie, didn't you hear what Elena said at the end?"
"No. What do you mean? I couldn't hear anything; there was a slight hurricane going on at the time."
"Bonnie…" Stefan's eyes went distant with speculation and he spoke as if to himself. "That means that he probably didn't hear it either. So he doesn't know, and he won't try to stop us."
"From what? Stefan, what are you talking about?"
"From finding a victim. Listen, Bonnie, Elena told me that if we can find a surviving victim of Klaus's, we can find a way to stop him."
Bonnie was in completely over her head. "But… why?"
"Because vampires and their donors-their prey-share minds briefly while the blood is being exchanged. Sometimes the donor can learn things about the vampire that way. Not always, but occasionally. That's what must have happened, and Elena knows it."
She expected Stefan to be deflated, but he wasn't. "A vampire," he said simply.
"A human Klaus made into a vampire would qualify as a victim. As long as they've exchanged blood, they've touched minds."
"Oh. Oh. So… if we can find a vampire he's made… but where?" "Maybe in Europe." Stefan began to pace around the room, his eyes narrowed.
"Klaus has a long history, and some of his vampires are bound to be there. I may have to go and look for one."
Bonnie was utterly dismayed. "But Stefan, you can't leave us. You can't!" Stefan stopped where he was, across the room, and stood very still. Then at last, he turned to face her. "I don't want to," he said quietly. "And we'll try to think of another solution first-maybe we can get hold of Tyler again. I'll wait a week, until next Saturday. But I may have to leave, Bonnie. You know that as well as I do."
There was a long, long silence between them.
Bonnie fought the heat in her eyes, determined to be grown up and mature. She wasn't a baby and she would prove that now, once and for all. She caught Stefan's gaze and slowly nodded.