Disclaimer: I own nothing, everything belongs to L.J. Smith and the CW.
"Don't you have to go back soon? They will think you deserted," Stefan said and looked at his brother over his dinner plate. Their parents had gone out for the night and the both of them were sitting alone at the big dining table. The dark mahogany was covered with several silver plates and his parent's best crystal glasses, which Damon had stolen out of the cabinet. The servants had served them the best meat Mystic Falls had to offer. His father had shot the deer himself.
Damon grinned and stuffed some venison into his mouth. Swallowing, he answered: "But I have deserted for all I know. I certainly don't plan on going back."
Stefan scowled. "You can't do that, Damon."
"Sure I can." His expression grew more serious. "You haven't seen the battlefield, Stefan, you don't know what it's like." He paused for a moment, then his old light-hearted smile was back in place. "Besides, I'm not leaving you here alone with Katherine."
Stefan sighed. Ever since the Founder's Ball Damon wouldn't stop taunting him about her and it got tiring after a while. His brother just couldn't bear to have lost her to him.
Stefan didn't reply and continued eating in silence. Damon rolled his eyes. "Oh, come on, Stefan, don't be like that. You got your girl, right, so relax."
"Yeah, I got Katherine, so would you just accept it and stop?" Damon's grin was broader than before and there was some hidden amusement behind it that he didn't like at all. He got the impression Damon was holding out on him about something. And whenever he got that impression, most of the time he was right. "You got something you want to tell me?"
"No, not at all, why'd you think that?"
Stefan didn't even bother to reply. He loved his brother, but sometimes they reached a point where any further talking was useless.
Before Damon even had the chance to say anything more, a servant entered with Emily by his side, Katherine's loyal maid. She was clad in a white dress, which stood in stark contrast to her dark skin. The white cap she was wearing effectively covered all of her dark curls. Her expression was one of urgency and she immediately addressed Damon, who had stood up from his chair.
"It's Lady Katherine. The soldiers have trapped her and the other…" She glanced at the servant. "…and the others in the church. They're going to burn it down."
Stefan's heart clenched in his chest. How had the soldiers managed to lock all the vampires in?
"We have to get her out of there. Emily, you're coming with us," Damon ordered. He shot her a meaningful look. "If Stefan and I can't free them, you know what to do."
Stefan wondered what that was supposed to mean, but didn't have time to contemplate it, since Damon was already on his way outside, giving instructions to the servant to fetch the carriage.
A short time later the carriage jolted through the night. Stefan studied Emily while he was nervously tapping his foot. Her stern face never seemed to move a muscle, not even now when she clearly feared for her mistress. It made it hard to like her, because he could never guess at her thoughts. But what was Damon's business with her?
"Can you cast an illusion for us?"
Stefan's head whipped around and he stared at his brother. "What are you talking about?"
But Damon, and Emily, ignored him. "What do you have in mind?"
"There will be soldiers there, I need you to shield us from their eyes or we won't be able to even get near the church."
Emily considered this for a second. "I can cast a glamour over you both, so they won't see you, but it will only last a few minutes."
"We'll only need a few minutes."
Stefan was tired of being ignored. "What the hell is going on?"
Damon turned to him. "She's a witch, obviously."
"A witch." He looked at Emily again and suddenly saw her with new eyes. Strangely, this made sense to him.
Emily met his gaze and a smug smile played around her lips. "I need something of you, the both of you. Just anything of yours, to cast the spell."
"Here, take this." Damon held the ring his father had given him for his 21st birthday out to her. Before he let it drop into her open palm, he held her eyes with his for a moment. "You better make sure I get it back."
Stefan looked down at the ring on his hand, the ring Katherine had given him on their first night together. He couldn't give that away and instead he gave her his pocket watch. His hand shook as he handed it over and of course Damon didn't fail to notice.
"Don't be so nervous, brother, we will get her out. You'll see."
They drew up at the path that led to the church and Stefan threw the door open. They jumped out and could already see the fire through the trees that lined the way on both sides. They ran down the way until the church came into full view. Flames were licking at the walls and the roof, illuminating the dark night. "God, Katherine's in there," Damon whispered desperately and from one moment to the other, all his bravado had vanished.
Dozens of soldiers had built a tight circle around the burning building, weapons at the ready, in case any of the vampires inside managed to break out. Stefan watched the scene, taking in the smoke that rose up into the night sky. Panic welled up inside him as he thought of Katherine being surrounded by flames, the wooden benches catching fire, the heat closing in on her.
His first instinct was to run, break open the door and protect her at all costs, but then, all of a sudden, an image flashed in his mind. Katherine, with red eyes, veins bulging beneath her skin and fangs that ripped into his neck, his flesh. He remembered the pain that had not only shot through his body, but through his heart. Strangely enough this memory was new to him, he had always remembered it as something wonderful, something that filled him with…love. Where was this new feeling coming from?
He didn't understand it and then something else appeared before his inner eye: Katherine and their new neighbour, John Seymour, feeding on the old butcher who had owned the shop down the main street. Their faces were contorted with animalistic ferocity, but beneath it, there was a gleam of joy in their red eyes. His blood was running down their mouths as the butcher feebly struggled to get away from them.
This memory attacked him with almost physical force and unwillingly he took a step back. When had this taken place? He didn't understand what happened to him, but in that moment, his instinct changed and he somehow knew that he had to keep his brother from freeing the vampires.
He looked to Damon, who had given Emily the signal to start the spell, and grabbed his arm, holding him in place with pure force. "We can't help them."
Damon's expression was one of utter incredulity. "Are you out of your mind? Katherine's in there!" He threw an anxious glance back at Emily who had started chanting. "I have to get her out of there before it's too late. You stay here then, but I'm going!"
Stefan's grip became tighter. "No…please."
Damon's stare was icy as he tore free of him. "Maybe you don't care, but I do."
He started running towards the church, but only managed a few feet before Stefan tackled him to the ground. He had to put all his weight into it to keep his brother there, but in the end, he had him securely beneath him. "You're not going anywhere."
"What the hell is wrong with you?" hissed Damon, his blue eyes piercing into him. "Let go of me, Stefan. Right now." Stefan knew that voice, and it was never good to have it directed at himself, but this time he didn't care.
He shook his head in denial. Before he knew what was happening he had a fist in his face and his head flew back. Blood spurted from his nose and he choked back a moan as another punch landed in his stomach. Damon struggled to get out from under him and had half managed to do so already, but Stefan stopped him with a punch of his own. He told himself that his instinct had never let him down before and that this was for the greater good, but it was hard when Damon was looking at him with such disappointment in his eyes.
"You didn't want it any other way, Stefan," he whispered and a second later his knee had found his brother's most sensitive place.
Stefan groaned and fell back. He watched as Damon carefully squeezed through the soldiers and reached the thick oak door that was the church's entrance. A heavy iron chain had been wrapped around the handles and Damon swore under his breath as he tried to get it off.
This was all taking too long, Stefan realized, and he was up on his feet in a second. He bumped against one or two soldiers in his hurry to get to his brother and they cried out in surprise. "Damon, we have to get out of here," he whispered urgently and looked back at the soldiers.
"Don't touch me." He shrugged away his hand and kept on fumbling with the chain. "Damn it." Frustrated, he screamed: "Katherine, get down into the tomb!"
"Let go off the damn chain and run," Stefan said as the soldiers started shouting, wondering where the scream had come from.
"I almost got it," Damon answered and there was a touch of hope in his voice.
But then someone screamed, followed by another shout. "Someone's at the door!"
A shot rang out, then another one, and Stefan saw Damon fall. "No!" He turned around and something hit his stomach, just as he saw the soldiers aiming at them. The glamour had worn off…
Stefan's knees gave way under him and he sat down, hard. The hot pain that was searing through him was almost unbearable. His fingers were numb as he touched his belly and they came away red with blood. So this was how dying felt, he thought and was surprised at his own calmness. But then again, he wasn't really dying, was he? Katherine's blood was still in his veins…
Another thought overrode that one immediately: Damon. He turned around and crawled over to him. He lay on his back and wasn't moving. His jacket was stained a dark red. Stefan watched as Damon tried to take some rattling breaths, but all that came up was blood. One shot must have gone straight through his lung, but he couldn't make out where the second one had hit, there was too much blood. Stefan's throat constricted and he clutched his brother's hand, squeezing it hard. "Damon…please, Damon, don't die on me."
Damon's eyes travelled to his face. The blue that had always been his most distinctive feature had gone dark and beneath it, Stefan saw a quiet fear that frightened him. Damon was never afraid, of anything. He tried to say something, but only coughed up more blood. "Sshhh, don't try to talk." Stefan closed his eyes and tears prickled behind his eyelids. Of course, Damon was dying. His own strength slowly sipped away from him and he desperately studied his brother's face, trying to memorize every little feature. How could he live for eternity without him by his side?
He swallowed down the tears and watched in silence as Damon finally lost his struggle for air. When his breathing had stopped, Stefan fell back into the grass, his strength and his will to live gone. This wasn't how it was supposed to be, Katherine gone, Damon gone. Maybe he wouldn't wake up after all…
He woke up to the sound of fire crackling somewhere. He noticed a sharp feeling in his stomach and his first thought was that he had been shot, but when he opened his eyes, he found that there was no wound left. Amazed, he touched the flawless skin, when a familiar voice said: "You're awake then."
Stefan's head jerked up and he was shocked to find Damon sitting a few feet away from him, looking at him with a cold intensity he had never seen before. "Damon?!"
Damon laughed humourlessly. "What, you thought you were the only one who drank her blood? Your naivety knows no boundaries." Stefan stared at him and all of a sudden everything fell into place: Damon's little jibes and taunts, the way he had grinned at dinner…Katherine had been together with the both of them. This revelation came as a blow and he was lost for words.
Damon stood up and brushed off his trousers, which was quite unnecessary considering that his clothes were all soaked through with blood. "Get up. We have to eat, soon." He shot him a meaningful look and right then Stefan understood what that painful feeling in his stomach was. Looking around, he tried to gather how long he had been…dead. The soldiers were gone and the fire had died down to little flames.
"I'll never forgive you." Damon was staring at the black, churned mess that was all that was left of the church and of the love of his life. "Why did you do it?" His voice was vibrating with anger and…disappointment? "You purport to love her and then you leave her to burn? What kind of love is that?"
Stefan had never seen Damon look at him like that and even though he wanted to, he couldn't explain the intuitive feeling he had had that kept him from rescuing the vampires. It had appeared without warning and had vanished just as quickly. He didn't even understand why he had felt that way, because the feeling was gone. All that was left was this hunger inside him, hunger that grew stronger by the second… "I did love her, I really did. I don't know what got into me."
"You loved her." Damon laughed, but there was no mirth in it. "You know what, I don't even care about what kind of justified reason you presume to have had, because for me there is nothing that justifies what you did, nothing. I could have gotten her out of there if it weren't for you."
Stefan bristled at that. "They shot us, Damon. There wasn't enough time."
"If you hadn't held me up for so long, I could have had the door open before the glamour wore off and you know it! Don't even dare to say otherwise!" Damon's gaze travelled to the remnants on the ground. "And now she's gone," he whispered. "All I ever cared about was being with her and it's your fault I can't be. You better remember that."
And in that moment, the way he said it, Stefan knew, deep inside, that a part of his brother was lost to him. Damon started heading towards the trees.
"Where are you going?" Stefan called, his throat tight.
Damon turned around and there was a dangerous glint in his eyes. "Getting myself some soldiers to eat."
A.N.: Reviews are much appreciated. Please tell me what you thought about it. :)
In case I didn't write it clear enough: Stefan's flashbacks are caused by holes in Katherine's compulsion.