Author's Note: Thank you my lovelies for your encouraging words! Constructive criticism is always welcome and so is any review, really :)
I don't own The Vampire Diaries.
Elena couldn't remember when was the last time she had run so fast without stopping. She was out of breath, she had a sharp pain in the lower side of her stomach and she felt like her legs were encircled by invisible tendrils and roots growing from the ground that slowed her down, pulling her underneath. She had only been running for three minutes, but it felt like thirty, because her body was weak and she wasn't wearing the most appropriate attire for a run in the woods, with her thin dress and flat shoes. Adrenaline was her only source of energy, pumping in her veins and she hoped it wouldn't end any soon. Luckily, the forest wasn't very broad so she could soon find a payphone or ask for someone's phone to call Damon. Unless his brother found her first, which was a much more realistic turn of events. She didn't let naivety blind her. Stefan was going to appear any time and take her back to the cabin. But she wasn't going to make it easy for him. She dodged the trees and kept running, until she stepped on something that made a strange sound and just felt off under her foot, so off she had to stop. She bent her knees and inclined her back forward, supporting her palms on her legs to catch her breath. Still breathing heavy, she inhaled deeply the fresh air one more time before going to see what was the thing she stepped on. She narrowed her eyes concentrating and pushed the leaves and dirt away with the tip of her shoe. Shock snapped her eyes wide open and froze her breath. She gasped in panic, the scream stopping in her throat.
It was the hand of a dead woman.
She staggered back, her whole body shaking, right into a pair of toned arms that wrapped around her, her back pressed against his hard chest. She jolted at his touch but she didn't push him away, propping all off her weight on him. His presence immediately had a calming effect on her, although she was still shivering with emotion. Anger that he caught her, horror at what she had seen. And hate when she heard him utter with a condescending, indifferent tone:
"At least this one still has skin."
She made a sound of disgust and pushed his chest with her elbows as hard as she could, distancing herself from him. The brunette faced him with a hurt look, her eyes sparkling with tears of frustration that clouded her vision. His, on the other side, were two glaciers of liquid emerald, spreading coldness and malicious amusement.
"Stay away from me." She mumbled with detestation, raising her hand in the air as if that would keep him from coming any closer.
Stefan rolled his eyes exasperatedly, taking a deep breath to muster some patience.
"I can't. And I won't." he said with sheer honesty, not even trying to embellish the situation for her. "So either stop whatever drama you're playing and get here or I'll play along and drag you back to the house." His voice was authoritative and left no place for a protestation.
"No." she pronounced clearly and adamant, crossing her arms over her chest. "I'm not going anywhere with a cold-blooded murderer." She emphasized the last word, raising her chin upwards slightly.
He remained completely unfazed by her acidic remark. His eyebrows rose shortly and he approached her with confident steps.
"Do you really have to complicate everything?" he asked rhetorically, his fingers closing in on her arm. She glowered at him angrily as he pushed her towards him, trying to get her to walk. She dug her heels as deeply as she could in the ground, determined not to go anywhere. He sighed, plastering a beautiful (but deadly) smile on his face, in complete opposition to his cutting, menacing tone:
"If you don't walk right now, I'll throw you over my shoulder and lock you in the basement until you apologise for stabbing me."
Fear shorn her flesh like a knife, but she maintained a straight face and licked her dry lips, eyeing him with defiance.
He took it as a provocation. His hands travelled to her waist and raised her up in the air effortless, bringing her closer. Elena placed her palms on his shoulders to stop him, objecting repeatedly.
"Stop it, Stefan!" she requested urgently, clinging to his shoulders desperately. "I'll walk! Just put me down." She told him with annoyance and bitterness, knowing she lost the battle.
The younger Salvatore put her on the ground excruciatingly slow, gazing in her eyes the whole time, as if to gloat over his victory. She couldn't remember when was the last time they had been this close. The tip of their noses almost touched and she could feel his soft breath on her face. She suddenly became extremely aware of their closeness and stepped back.
"Elena, I need to…"
She didn't wait to hear what he needed to do or say. She slapped him with all her force, all of her sorrow and ache over losing her best friend. Her teeth clamped together, her jaw stern.
"Stabbing you was the least I could do to you for killing Bonnie."
She didn't glance at him as she passed by him, intentionally hitting his shoulder. If she had, she probably would have seen the shape of her palm on his cheek and the red marks of her fingertips. And the guilt and self-hatred that flooded his eyes. But she didn't.
Caroline cleared her throat, looking at the male at the table with a distinct tinge of repugnance and caution, like he was some sort of dangerous primate who escaped from the zoo. She turned to Damon and lowered her voice to an angry whisper:
"This is your great idea?!"
The older Salvatore watched the man over the blonde's shoulder appraisingly, frowning when he saw him pouring salt in the glass of water he was drinking.
"Yeah, okay, I didn't say it was great. But Cade refused to bring her back. This messed up psycho didn't."
"I can totally hear you. Not cool, Damon." Kai noted, making a 'tsk tsk' sound with his tongue disapprovingly.
"Shut up!" both Caroline and the Salvatore interjected swiftly.
The Gemini sighed dramatically, adding pepper to his water. It still didn't taste like anything to him.
"Do you have any idea what he's asking for? Dark objects! He's dark enough on his own. God knows what he'll do with that much power." The blonde declared.
"Actually…" Kai chimed in again, "I'm pretty sure God doesn't know yet, 'cause neither do I. But if you're wondering, it'd be really nice to create a magical burger that tastes like actual food and not plastic." He said, suddenly contemplating something. "Ohh. I just realized I've never tasted plastic. Do you have some?"
Damon slapped the nape of the hybrid's neck easily, without an actual intention to hurt him.
"Hey, let grown ups do the talking. Go and chew some paper."
"Sounds tasty to me."
Caroline rolled her eyes in irritation and riveted her attention on her interlocutor again.
"If something goes wrong – " she started worryingly, but was silenced by the other.
"We kill him and he goes back to hell. Easy as that." He assured her. "The Armory has a lot of Dark Objects. They won't even notice their absence."
The blonde nodded reluctantly, sighing. She ran a hand through her wavy hair, looking more tired than ever.
"Okay. For Bonnie. Speaking of which, have you spoken to Enzo?" she asked, looking at him pensively.
"Not since Stefan…" he broke off, not being able to finish the sentence.
"Yeah." She just said knowingly, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. "I can't imagine what he's through right now. Where is he?"
Damon's lips parted, but he didn't answer, looking around the room and cursing mentally.
"I have a better question. Where the hell is Kai?"
"Don't worry. I won't tell Damon you had dinner with me." Stefan quipped with an ironic smile, running his thumb on the rim of the glass.
"I'm not having dinner with you. I'm just having dinner and you happen to be seated at the same table." She contradicted him wearily, watching the food in her plate to avoid his eyes.
"Is the idea of having dinner with me that obnoxious?" he asked with a snicker.
"Yes." She answered promptly. "Because I'm having dinner with the person who killed my best friend and is holding me against my will." She added in a harsh tone, taking a sip of water.
The Salvatore stopped with his fork mid-air. He placed it back on the table and licked his lips, searching for her sight.
"And I'm having dinner with the person who cheated on me with my brother and proved to be just like Katherine. But hey, we're good, right?" he retorted sardonically.
She raised her head to meet his emerald eyes at last and espied a scintilla of pain behind a veil of coldness and stillness. "Why are you bringing this up? I thought we're past that." Her forehead creased into a puzzled frown.
His palm slammed on the table with a loud sound and she jolted slightly in her chair surprised at his terse reaction.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Some of us need a little bit more time to replace their soulmate."
His reply left her speechless. She was feeling like he had slapped her back ten times harder. There was a numb ache in her heart that she tried to ignore, but soon it made it hard to breathe. Tears welled up in her chocolate eyes for the tenth time that day and when she finally gathered strength to speak, her timbre was weak and strangled.
"What are you trying to achieve out of this? Isn't the pain you've caused me enough?"
He laughed maniacally, making the blood in her veins turn to ice.
"The pain I've caused you? Unbelievable." He muttered irately, looking exasperated.
"You killed Bonnie!" she exclaimed with reproach, tears escaping from her eyes and streaming down her cheeks.
"I did it for you!" he shouted without thinking, his stentorian voice echoing in the house. He got up from the chair, scolding himself mentally for losing his temper. He suddenly felt the urge to rip something apart and he knew that if he didn't leave immediately, it could be Elena's throat. But she had other plans and they did not include him leaving.
"What do you mean?" she asked, leaping up to her feet.
He ignored her, storming by her to the exit. The walls seemed to close in on him, suffocating him. Each step of his was full of barely leashed anger that could get out of control any time. She followed him stubbornly and grabbed his hand before he could reach the door, pulling him towards her with a power and determination he thought she didn't own.
"Stefan. Don't you walk away from me now." She demanded aversely, squeezing his hand.
He sighed, darting her a fierce look.
"Cade…the devil offered Damon and I a choice. Damon's was to kill one hundred people or the woman I loved, Caroline. Mine was… slightly different. He told me to kill the woman my brother cared about more than he cared about anyone else." He made a small pause, time in which he gazed at her nonchalantly. "I let him believe I was about to kill you. I let everyone believe that because I – uh – for a moment, I thought I could do it. I wanted to do it." He saw her wince upon hearing his words and the grip on his hand loosened but she didn't let go of him yet. She watched him crying silently, waiting for him to continue. Seeing her like that only made it harder for him to talk, guilt smothering him. "But I knew there are only two women Damon loves more than anything. His girlfriend and…his best friend." He exhaled, lowering his glance to the floor. "But I only love one of them more than anything. And it's not Bonnie." he declared with a modulated tone, his hues glimmering enigmatically.
He showed no emotions whatsoever on his face. He stood there before her, his features carved into stone as her shoulders quavered uncontrollably from crying. She let go of his hand, feeling an immense hollowness replacing the avid pain from her soul. They were standing inches away from each other, but there was a chasm between them greater than ever.
He turned around on his heels and made his way to the exit. This time, she didn't stop him.
He opened the door.
Stefan instinctively stepped back at the sight of a feral grimace, imbued with so much hate and wrath it looked his eyes could burn him alive. Elena gawked at the figure before them.
"Hello, Stefan. And Elena." Enzo greeted coldly. "You better start running, love. Things are going to get too brutal for a lady."