Home > The Struggle (The Vampire Diaries #2)(14)

The Struggle (The Vampire Diaries #2)(14)
Author: L.J. Smith

"I don't need you for anything," she told him.

She thought he was going to kiss her then, but he didn't. Above them there was the sound of french windows opening and an angry voice on the balcony. "Hey! What's going on? Is somebody out there?"

"This time I did you a favor," Damon said, very softly, still holding her. "Next time I'm going to collect."

She couldn't have turned her head away. If he'd kissed her then, she would have let him. But suddenly the hardness of his arms melted around her and his face seemed to blur. It was as if the darkness was taking him back into itself. Then black wings caught and beat the air and a huge crow was soaring away.

Something, a book or shoe, was hurled after it from the balcony. It missed by a yard.

"Damn birds!" said Mr. Forbes's voice from above. "They must be nesting on the roof."

Shivering, with her arms locked around her, Elena huddled in the darkness below until he went back inside.

She found Meredith and Bonnie crouching by the gate. "What took you so long?" Bonnie whispered. "We thought you were caught!"

"I almost was. I had to stay until it was safe." Elena was so used to lying about Damon that she did it now without conscious effort. "Let's go home," she whispered. "There's nothing more we can do."

"I know." For a moment Damon's proposition swam in Elena's mind. But she shook her head to clear it. "I'll think of something," she said.

She hadn't thought of anything by the next day of school. The one encouraging fact was that Caroline didn't seem to have noticed anything amiss in her room - but that wasall Elena could find to be encouraged about. There was an assembly that morning, at which it was announced that the school board had chosen Elena as the student to represent "The Spirit of Fell's Church." All through the principal's speech about it, Caroline's smile had blazed forth, triumphant and malicious.

Elena tried to ignore it. She did her best to ignore the slights and snubs that came even in the wake of the assembly, but it wasn't easy. It was never easy, and there were days when she thought she would hit someone or just start screaming, but so far she'd managed.

That afternoon, waiting for the sixth-period history class to be let out, Elena studied Tyler Smallwood. Since coming back to school, he had not addressed one word to her directly. He'd smiled as nastily as Caroline during the principal's announcement. Now, as he caught sight of Elena standing alone, he jostled Dick Carter with his elbow.

"What's that there?" he said. "A wallflower?"

Stefan, where are you? thought Elena. But she knew the answer to that. Halfway across school, in astronomy class.

Dick opened his mouth to say something, but then his expression changed. He was looking beyond Elena, down the hall. Elena turned and saw Vickie.

Vickie and Dick had been together before the Homecoming Dance. Elena supposed they still were. But Dick looked uncertain, as if he wasn't sure what to expect from the girl who was moving toward him.

There was something odd about Vickie's face, about her walk. She was moving as if her feet didn't touch the floor. Her eyes were dilated and dreamy.

"Hi there," Dick said tentatively, and he stepped in front of her. Vickie passed him without a glance and went on to Tyler. Elena watched what happened next with growing uneasiness. It should have been funny, but it wasn't.

It started with Tyler looking somewhat taken aback. Then Vickie put a hand on his chest. Tyler smiled, but there was a forced look about it. Vickie slid her hand under his jacket. Tyler's smile wavered. Vickie put her other hand on his chest. Tyler looked at Dick.

"Hey, Vickie, lighten up," said Dick hastily, but he didn't move any closer.

Vickie slid her two hands upwards, pushing Tyler's jacket off his shoulders. He tried to shrug it back on without letting go of his books or seeming too concerned. He couldn't. Vickie's fingers crept under his shirt.

"Hey, Vickie, leggo. Don't do that." But Dick remained at a safe distance. Tyler shot him an enraged glare and tried to shove Vickie away.

A noise had begun. At first it seemed to be at a frequency almost too low for human hearing, but it grew louder and louder. A growl, eerily menacing, that sent ice down Elena's spine. Tyler was looking pop-eyed with disbelief, and she soon realized why. The sound was coming from Vickie.

Then everything happened at once. Tyler was on the ground with Vickie's teeth snapping inches from his throat. Elena, all quarrels forgotten, was trying to help Dick pull her off. Tyler was howling. The history room door was open and Alaric was shouting.

"Don't hurt her! Be careful! It's epilepsy, we just need to get her lying down!"

Vickie's teeth snapped again as he reached a helpful hand into the melee. The slender girl was stronger than all of them together, and they were losing control of her. They weren't going to be able to hold her much longer. It was with intense relief that Elena heard a familiar voice at her shoulder.

"Vickie, calm down. It's all right. Just relax now.

With Stefan grasping Vickie's arm and talking to her soothingly, Elena dared to slacken her own grip. And it seemed, at first, that Stefan's strategy was working. Vickie's clawing fingers loosened, and they were able to lift her off Tyler. As Stefan kept speaking to her, she went limp and her eyes shut.

"That's good. You're feeling tired now. It's all right to go to sleep."

But then, abruptly, it stopped working, and whatever Power Stefan had been exercising over her was broken. Vickie's eyes flew open, and they bore no resemblance to the startled fawn's eyes Elena had seen in the cafeteria. They were blazing with red fury. She snarled at Stefan and burst out fighting with fresh strength.

It took five or six of them to hold her down while somebody called the police. Elena stayed where she was, talking to Vickie, sometimes yelling at her, until the police got there. None of it did any good.

Then she stepped back and saw the crowd of onlookers for the first time. Bonnie was in the front row, staring open-mouthed. So was Caroline.

"Whathappened !" said Bonnie as the officials carried Vickie away.

Elena, panting gently, pushed a strand of hair out of her eyes. "She went crazy and tried to undress Tyler."

Bonnie pursed her lips. "Well, she'd have to be crazy towant to, wouldn't she?" And she threw a smirk over her shoulder directly at Caroline.

Elena's knees were rubbery and her hands were shaking. She felt an arm go around her, and she leaned against Stefan gratefully. Then she looked up at him.

"Epilepsy?" she said with disbelieving scorn.

"I think class was just dismissed," Stefan said. "Let's go."

They walked toward the boarding house in silence, each lost in thought. Elena frowned, and several times glanced over at Stefan, but it wasn't until they were alone in his room that she spoke.

"Stefan, what is all this? What's happening to Vickie?" "That's what I've been wondering. There's only one explanation I can think of, and it's that she's still under attack."

"You mean Damon's still - oh, my God! Oh, Stefan, I should have given her some of the vervain. I should have realized..."

"It wouldn't have made any difference. Believe me." She had turned toward the door as if to go after Vickie that minute, but he pulled her gently back. "Some people are more easily influenced than others, Elena. Vickie's will was never very strong. It belongs to him, now."

Slowly, Elena sat down. "Then there's nothing anyone can do? But, Stefan, will she become - like you and Damon?"

"It depends." His tone was bleak. "It's not just a matter of how much blood she loses. She needshis blood in her veins to make the change complete. Otherwise, she'll just end up like Mr. Tanner. Drained, used up. Dead."

Elena took a long breath. There was something else she wanted to ask him about, something she'd wanted to ask him for a long time. "Stefan, when you spoke to Vickie back there, I thought it was working. You were using your Powers on her, weren't you?"

"Yes."

"But then she just went crazy again. What I mean is... Stefan, youare okay, aren't you? Your Powers have come back?"

He didn't answer. But that was answer enough for her. "Stefan, why didn't you tell me? What's wrong?"

She went around and knelt by him so that he had to look at her.

"It's taking me a while to recover, that's all. Don't worry about it."

"Iam worried. Isn't there anything we can do?"

"No," he said. But his eyes dropped.

Comprehension swept through Elena. "Oh," she whispered, sitting back. Then she reached for him again, trying to get hold of his hands. "Stefan, listen to me - "

"Elena,no. Don't you see? It's dangerous, dangerous for both of us, but especially for you. It could kill

"Only if you lose control," she said. "And you won't. Kiss me."

"No," said Stefan again. He added, less harshly, "I'll go out hunting tonight as soon as it's dark."

"Is that the same?" she said. She knew it wasn't. It was human blood that gave Power. "Oh, Stefan, please; don't you see I want to? Don'tyou want to?"

"That isn't fair," he said, his eyes tortured. "You know it isn't, Elena. You know how much - " He turned away from her again, his hands clenched into fists.

"Then why not? Stefan, I need..." She couldn't finish. She couldn't explain to him what she needed; it was a need for connection to him, for closeness. She needed to remember what it was like with him, to wipe out the memory of dancing in her dream and of Damon's arms locked around her. "I need us to be together again," she whispered.

Stefan was still turned away, and he shook his head.

"All right," Elena whispered, but she felt a wash of grief and fear as defeat seeped into her bones. Most of the fear was for Stefan, who was vulnerable without his Powers, vulnerable enough that he might be hurt by the ordinary citizens of Fell's Church. But some of it was for herself.

Chapter Twelve

A voice spoke as Elena reached for a can on the store shelf.

"Cranberry sauce already?"

Elena looked up. "Hi, Matt. Yes, Aunt Judith likes to do a preview the Sunday before Thanksgiving, remember? If she practices, there's less chance she'll do something terrible."

"Like forgetting to buy the cranberry sauce until fifteen minutes before dinner?"

"Until five minutes before dinner," said Elena, consulting her watch, and Matt laughed. It was a good sound, and one Elena hadn't heard for too long. She moved on toward the check-out stand, but after she'd paid for her purchase she hesitated, looking back.

Matt was standing by the magazine rack, apparently absorbed, but there was something about the slope of his shoulders that made her want to go to him.

She poked a finger at his magazine. "What areyou doing for dinner?" she said. When he glanced uncertainly toward the front of the store, she added, "Bonnie's waiting out in the car; she'll be there. Other than that it's just the family. And Robert, of course; he should be there by now." She meant that Stefan wasn't coming. She still wasn't sure how things were between Matt and Stefan these days. At least they spoke to each other.

"I'm fending for myself tonight; Mom's not feeling so hot," he said. But then, as if to change the subject, he went on, "Where's Meredith?"

"With her family, visiting some relatives or something." Elena was vague because Meredith had been Aunt Judith's cooking?"

"For old times' sake?"

"For oldfriends' sake," said Elena after a moment's hesitation, and smiled at him.

He blinked and looked away. "How can I refuse an invitation like that?" he said in an oddly muted voice. But when he put the magazine back and followed her out he was smiling, too.

Bonnie greeted him cheerfully, and when they got home Aunt Judith looked pleased to see him come into the kitchen.

"Dinner's almost ready," she said, taking the grocery bag from Elena. "Robert got here a few minutes ago. Why don't you go straight on back to the dining room? Oh, and get another chair, Elena. Matt makes seven."

"Six, Aunt Judith," said Elena, amused. "You and Robert, me and Margaret, Matt and Bonnie."

"Yes, dear, but Robert's brought a guest, too. They're already sitting down."

Elena registered the words just as she stepped through the dining room door, but there was an instant's delay before her mind reacted to them. Even so, sheknew; stepping through that door, she somehow knew what was waiting for her.

Robert was standing there, fiddling with a bottle of white wine and looking jovial. And sitting at the table, on the far side of the autumn centerpiece and the tall lighted candles, was Damon.

Elena realized she'd stopped moving when Bonnie ran into her from behind. Then she forced her legs into action. Her mind wasn't as obedient; it remained frozen.

"Ah, Elena," Robert said, holding out a hand. "This is Elena, the girl I was telling you about," he said to Damon. "Elena, this is Damon... ah..."

"Smith," said Damon.

"Oh, yes. He's from my alma mater, William and Mary, and I just ran into him outside the drugstore.

Since he was looking for some place to eat, I invited him along here for a home-cooked meal. Damon, these are some friends of Elena's, Matt and Bonnie."

"Hi," said Matt. Bonnie just stared; then, she swung enormous eyes on Elena.

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