The first thing Vivienne felt was the cold. She was submerged in water and everything around her seemed to be spinning when she cracked open her eyes, blurring in the dark and turning the interior of the car into nothing but vague shapes. She felt something moving her back and forth when a sharp, throbbing pain then made itself known on her right temple. When she dazedly ran her fingers over the source of the pain it intensified tenfold. As her vision sharpened, she was able to focus her muddled thoughts.
She'd just come home to her aunt and uncle's house after finishing her college exams and had joined her uncle and aunt in picking up her cousin so that she could surprise Elena with her homecoming. They had hugged tightly and began catching up, Elena had been laughing at her for her habit of crossing her fingers whenever driving over a bridge. She thought she'd heard a screeching, then a loud crashing noise, but everything she struggled to recall after that was fuzzy.
She turned to her left and saw that Elena was the force that had been moving her, gripping her sweater sleeve and shaking her with eyes wide and an expression of utter panic on her face. Vivienne laced her fingers through her cousin's hand and turned her eyes to the front seats of the car, letting out a small cry and releasing some of her precious air, sending bubbles to the car's roof. Her Aunt Miranda was motionless, floating against her seatbelt with her eyes closed and her mouth parted.
When she met eyes with her Uncle Grayson, the man who had given her everything, she couldn't hold back her pained whimper. He gaze was resigned, loving, and Vivienne could clearly see that he was masking any fear or panic he was feeling when he slowly shook his head back and forth, confirming that they were trapped. Grayson reached back to the two girls in the back seat, holding their free hands with his own before looking at both girls and mouthing, "I love you." Elena and then Vivienne did the same, and each tightened their grips.
Black spots began to cloud her vision, and for a moment Vivienne thought she was hallucinating when the man knocked against the car window. Grayson seemed to point to the back seat, motioning for the young man to reach for the girls first. The side door opened, and Vivienne unbuckled Elena's seatbelt before shoving her now-unconscious cousin as best she could toward the stranger's arms. Her gaze flickered to Elena's savior, and their eyes met. He looked anguished, sad, and Vivienne knew immediately that there wouldn't be time for him to return.
Offering him a gentle smile, she nodded, encouraging him to hurry to the surface. As the shapes of Elena and the young man disappeared into the river's dark water, she inhaled gulps of water and coughed as she felt her consciousness slipping away. The last thing she saw before closing her eyes was the image of a large ring being slid onto her finger by her uncle.
Stefan had dove into the water the moment he reached the river after he'd seen the car careen off of the bridge. When he'd reached the submerged vehicle, the man driving had indicated that he save the figures in the back first.
When he'd turned to the back seat, it felt as though the world had stopped spinning. The girl closer to him looked like Katherine. Exactly. Like. Katherine. If not for the faint heartbeat, he would have sworn it was her.
Snapping himself out of his reverie, he tore the back door off of its hinges. The girl beside the Katherine look alike was unbuckling her companion, and shoved the unconscious girl into his arms, seemingly unconcerned with her own seat belt or chance at rescue. Adjusting his hold on the girl in his arms, he turned back and locked eyes with the remaining girl.
There wouldn't be time to dive back down and pull her from the sunken car after resuscitating the brunette who wore the face of his past love. Instead of fear, hate, or even bitterness, the girl curved her lips into a sad smile and nodded at him, acknowledging her fate. Feeling the guilt and helplessness stab at him as painfully as any stake, he pushed off of the car and swam to the surface with the brunette secured in his arms. After dragging himself and the girl to the riverbed, he performed CPR on her for what seemed like eternity but in truth was minutes at most. When he heard a faint choked cough from her chest, Stefan sat back and watched in relief as the girl turned her head and vomited up water. She slipped into unconsciousness, but he could hear her steadied breathing and heartbeat and knew she would recover.
Without hesitation Stefan entered the river once again and pushed himself to swim faster when he caught sight of the sedan on the bottom of the riverbed. As quickly as he could, he swam to the opposite side of the car and tore off the other door before raising his eyes to look at the only figure that remained in the back seat. Blonde hair darkened by the water floated around her and her eyes were closed. Her lips were parted slightly and she looked peaceful, as if she was sleeping.
She didn't have a heartbeat.
With regret stabbing at him but knowing he had to avoid detection at all costs, Stefan swam away from the wreck. With a final glance back at the three figures still strapped in the car, he swam down the river and pulled himself out of the water nearly half a mile from the bridge. With his enhanced senses he could easily make out the sirens of the ambulances and police cars that had just arrived at the scene. Looking out to the surface of the water, he whispered a quiet apology to the girl he couldn't save before he took off running.
Vivienne's eyes shot open and she lurched forward against the restraint of her seat belt, gasping deeply and immediately flooding her lungs with water. Frantic, she looked around her and saw the bodies of her aunt and uncle in the front seats of the car. Involuntarily coughing against the fluid that she'd hastily breathed in, Vivienne soon felt a weight to her limbs and saw the familiar black before slipping away into the darkness.
She'd read somewhere that there were five stages of drowning: surprise, involuntary breath holding, unconsciousness, hypoxic convulsions, and death. Vivienne didn't know what was the worst part. The first few times she'd thought perhaps the initial moment of waking up submerged in the water, but now she thought it was maybe the second that she faded into the dark, feeling everything that made her herself disappear.
Was this hell? Vivienne had done some bad things in her life, things that would be classified as 'sins' by Christians. Maybe it didn't take something as extreme as rape or murder to suffer eternal damnation.
All she knew was that waking inside of her aunt and uncle's submerged metal grave only to die and wake yet again what felt like a moment later was the most brilliantly constructed torment any god could compose.
Following Vivienne Sommers' sixty eighth death, a pair of hands reached for her, gently releasing her from her seat. When she was fully extracted from her prison, the two figures vanished from the world.