Bonnie was half-drowsing in the hospital hallway when she heard a hurried, familiar tread. She roused herself, rubbing her eyes.
"I'm sorry I couldn't come by earlier," Elena said, breathless and hoarse. Her hands shook as she set down her bag, and her hair was unusually disheveled. "Where's Caroline's mom?"
"Emergency call," Bonnie said. The sheriff had glanced once at the silent doorway, mouth compressed, then left with a curt nod. "Matt was here, but I told him to go get some real food, not those crappy overpriced chips from the vending machine."
"Just as well I missed him, then," Elena said ruefully. She brought a small cooler out of the bag. "It's not much--sandwich fixings, mostly. I wasn't sure whether to take the time to actually make the sandwiches--"
"Relax," Bonnie said, although she knew Elena wouldn't. It was Elena's nature to worry. She reached out and patted the other girl's hand. "At this point, we're just hoping Caroline wakes up sooner rather than later." She looked more closely at Elena: that pallor wasn't natural even on her. "Not to be blunt, but you look like hell and a half."
Elena closed her eyes briefly. "Uncle John's dead," she said. "I should feel something, but I don't. Mostly there was a lot of blood."
Her colorless voice and her dry recital of the facts bothered Bonnie. Death should never reduce people to gray words. "You're not a suspect, are you?" She felt bad for even asking.
Elena shook her head. "I had to answer some questions, and they said they might have more for me later. But that was all. They're still looking for Jeremy. I called him on my cell, but he's still not talking to me. And Jenna was home, but she says she doesn't remember seeing or hearing anything out of the ordinary."
"Around here, that's kind of a bad sign," Bonnie said.
"I know," Elena said grimly. "Whoever it was, if they got to Jenna, it could have been any vampire with a grudge against Uncle John. Which is basically every vampire except Stefan."
Bonnie had her share of problems with Stefan's steadfast defense of his brother, but she had to agree with this assessment. Stefan wasn't likely to have gone after a human in such a manner, even one who had tried to rid the town of its vampire infestation.
"I'm sorry," Bonnie said after an awkward pause. "I know you didn't like the man, but a life is a life."
Elena wasn't looking at her, quite. Her eyes held shadows. "Bonnie," she said. Then stopped. "Bonnie, he was my father. My biological father."
Bonnie blinked. Of all the revelations--"He's your what?"
"I only found out for sure this past day." The words came out in a rush. "I confronted him and he admitted it. Bonnie, I never liked him. But now I'll never have a chance to change my mind." Her mouth crimped.
Bonnie gently peeled Elena's hands off the cooler and warmed them in her own. Her reasons for this physical gesture of comfort were not entirely benign. The contact gave her a glimpse of the worries that swirled in her friend's mind. With brittle clarity she saw the blood in the kitchen, the fingers hacked off, the missing--"Elena," she said, "was there anything unusual? Besides the death? Anything missing?"
Elena didn't ask her how she knew, or make a joke about witchy intuition the way Caroline might have. "His ring," she said. "The murderer hacked off his fingers. The ring was gone. He's always had that ring. I never thought anything of it. But if someone grabbed it--"
"--that means it was important," Bonnie said. "Just what we need, one more thing to worry about." She sighed; Elena didn't say anything. "It's been a long night. I wouldn't have blamed you for hiding in bed. For a year."
"I couldn't," Elena said. "I may not have super-strength or super-speed, and I can't make feathers swirl with my mind. But there has to be something I can do." She bit her lip. "Bonnie, is there anything you can do for Caroline?"
"Don't you think I'd have done it already?" But she said it kindly. "I suppose I could take a voodoo doll and put Band-aids on it, but magic doesn't work that way. There's a different kind of magic in the human body, and nowadays we have different rituals to help it along: scalpels, needles, antibiotics. And people. It always comes back to people."
Elena's hands were still shaking. "But that's the thing, Bonnie. We're just people, and look at what we're up against."
"We'll find a way," Bonnie said, thinking not of firestorms and pentacles, but of the simple human act of hand meeting hand.
"There's got to be a way," Elena said. "There's got to be a way for us to stand on common ground. For the death to stop. They used to be people, Bonnie. They do things for greed and vengeance and love. That means they're like us."
But your father just died at a vampire's hands, Bonnie wanted to say. How can you have any faith in them? But she knew the answer: it was Stefan. It started with love.
What Elena didn't yet realize was that love was not forgiveness, not always. Generations of Bonnie's ancestors--witches, black, women--had learned this the hard way and the long way. She would support Elena as long as she could. But when the choice came down to her people against her friendship, she already knew where she would have to stand.
"They used to be people," Bonnie repeated. "And people fight to protect their own. They're not us anymore, Elena. Vampires who continue to dance the unquiet dance--they have to live with the consequences."
Perhaps she should have saved her words for another day. But she suspected, given the pace of events, that Elena would get no space to recover from the things she had seen, the things she had discovered, the things she had done.
Elena didn't argue, didn't make any denials, only looked at her and nodded slowly. "We have to keep looking for a way. Even so."
She had said we. And Bonnie remembered how Elena had accepted her magic quietly and thoughtfully; remembered a night of swirling feathers. She didn't think it would be easy. But she was willing to try.
Bonnie drew Elena into an embrace, and for a long while they sat that way, waiting for Caroline to awaken and join them.