"Damon don't," Stefan warns, taking a step forward.
He doesn't get a chance to play hero, as Katherine smacks Damon right across the face without a second's hesitation, the sound echoing throughout the hall.
"You don't touch her," she warns moving next to you.
For a second no one moves, everyone stunned at what she just did, especially Damon, whose face reverts back to normal but he still looks like he wants to rip her throat out.
"We're leaving," Katherine announces, grabbing for your wrist again. "Whatever sick joke is going on here, you can have it."
Neither boy tries to stop you.
Stefan's eyes catch yours, the apology in them radiating clear, but you look away as Katherine leads you out.
The car tears out of the drive, Katherine behind the wheel with you in the passenger seat, and once there's enough distance from the house, a low shuddering breath escapes your lips.
"Intense," she finishes, plucking the word straight from your brain.
"I can't believe you hit him."
"I hope he feels my hand on his face for days," she replies grimly. "We're no one's victim Elena, no matter what they are."
"He could have killed you."
"Doubt that," she says, tossing a look your way and rummaging for her purse with a free hand. She pulls out the photo and drops it on the center console. "This girl means something to them, so we must mean something to them. And that little sis, is leverage."
You're glad she's so confident, because this whole situation is spiraling out of control, and all you want to do is take a step back and be able to process. It's quiet for awhile, staring out the window watching the trees pass, wondering what happens next.
"So that's what they look like?" Katherine asks suddenly, keeping her eyes on the road.
Stefan, Damon, and your mother. Black eyes, fangs, and spider veins.
From the corner of your eye, you see it.
The smallest hint of a smile.
Stefan takes the hint and leaves you alone for a few days.
It's nice to be able to think, to breathe, but you still have questions, and still want answers. Back in the cemetery after avoiding it for nearly a week, diary in hand with yet another blank page staring up at you, Stefan appears with a shy wave from the path that leads into the woods. Taking a seat across from yours, he looks like he has a thousand things to say but doesn't know where to start. He looks around quickly, like your sister is hiding behind a crypt just in case one of them showed up, but no. She's off helping Caroline plan for the Founder's Ball.
"She doesn't like it here."
He nods, idly playing with that garish ring he always wears.
"I don't want an apology. I want you to tell me who the girl in the picture is, and why we look like her."
He's taken aback at your bluntness, but recovers quickly.
"I honestly don't know why you or Katherine resemble her like you do," he starts. "But her name was Katerina Petrova, and she was the love of my life."
Your turn to be taken aback, though it's not really all that shocking, but the honest and sincere way in which he says it hits somewhere inside.
"Damon's too, if you were to ask him."
Mouth drops open, that really not what you expected to hear.
"She was selfish," he goes on. "And manipulative. She never cared who she had to step on to get what she wanted."
"And you loved her."
You think he would blush if he could, ducking his head shyly.
"Madly," he replies. "In my own naïve way. I never saw those sides to her until after, all her compulsion worn off, but she was gone by the time I got angry about it. She'd been exposed, had to run, and I guess Damon and I were just too much baggage because she left us behind. We, uh, haven't seen her since. Not for lack of trying."
Goosebumps raise at the revelation that's she's still out there somewhere, that the possibility of crossing paths some day is something to consider.
"When we met, did you think I was her?"
"Yes," he admits. "I thought it was just one of the games she liked to play, pretending not to know me, but talking to you for five seconds made me realize you weren't."
That makes you smile, but...
"Tell me you didn't come back here because of me, of us."
"This is home, Elena. Our father is buried in the old section of this cemetery, that's the only reason we happened upon each other that day. We were born here, Damon and I, we died here and no matter how far we travel or how long we're gone, we always come back."
You want so badly to believe him.
"You and Katherine? Let's just call that a pleasant surprise."
You're about to tell her everything Stefan said, when Jeremy walks into your room looking annoyed.
"Can I have my laptop back now?" he asks impatiently.
"I'm still using it," Katherine replies.
"You said an hour," Jeremy shoots back. "It's been two. I need it for research."
"So do I."
He glares and crossed his arms.
"Fine," Katherine sighs, making a big show of handing it over. "There you go egghead, finish your homework."
The idea of her researching anything is amusing to say the least, as you tilt your head expectantly in her direction, waiting for an explanation.
"I'm curious," she says with a shrug.
You know what about.
Standing next to Katherine in matching black dresses, completely her idea, you watch as most of the town wanders into the Lockwood Mansion. You wouldn't have even come if it didn't mean so much to your Aunt and Uncle, or that Katherine helped put some of this together.
It's no more different or exciting than last year. Or the year before that. And the year before that.
But then Stefan walks through the door in a smart looking suit, and suddenly the day doesn't seem like a total loss.
"Hey," he says to the both of you, eyes bouncing back and forth as he gives the once over. "Whose idea was this?"
"Mine," Katherine says in greeting, "I take it you approve?" She steps forward to kiss him on the cheek, a move he doesn't shy away from, but looks awkwardly at you while she does it.
"Yeah," he says slightly shy.
"I'm glad you could come."
Of course she's the one who invited him.
Idly shuffling through the party with a cup of punch in hand, you end up in front of the framed guest registry from the inaugural ball, eyes scanning all the familiar names and coming to a halt on a specific two.
"First one was a bit uptight," Damon says, appearing on your right. "White gloves and tuxedos. So prim and proper."
You haven't spoken a word to him since he growled in your face with all that vampire fury, and would like to keep it that way, but he just goes on like he doesn't realize you're mad at him or doesn't care.
"If I choose to ignore you, you'll just keep talking won't you?"
"Exactly," he replies with a wink.
"Then what do you want?"
"A dance. What do you say?"
"I say no."
"Come on," he says, offering a hand. "One dance won't kill you. I promise I won't either."
He does that eyebrow arch, amused glare thing of his, and it's like no isn't even an option. He's so much like Katherine it's not even funny. You concede to the request, he leads to the dance floor and puts his hands only in the proper places. At least he's trying to act like a gentleman tonight.
"I think I owe you an apology."
"I do. Rage issues, so yes, I'm sorry. Your sister though, ouch. I felt that for days. Also, eavesdropping? Very rude."
He spins you gently and pulls back.
"Stefan told me about Katerina."
"Did he?" Damon replies. "I bet he gave you the romanticized short version too. Instead of the one where's she's just a cold hearted bitch who played us against each other for no reason other than she could."
A hundred and forty-five years, and both of them aren't over her.
"He said she was the love of his life. Yours too."
Damon laughs. "That she was, but it doesn't make what I said any less true."
Catching sight of a familiar pair on the other side of the floor, your hand squeezes involuntarily against his. He cranes his neck to follow your eyes and spots Stefan and Katherine dancing in slow circles.
Watching them, how he smiles in a way you haven't seen, how she laughs at something he says and moves to put her head on his shoulder.
"She always gets what she wants," he says into your ear. "Doesn't she?"
Damon dips you, so that your focus moves back to him, and for a moment loose yourself in too blue eyes.
The way he looks at you.
As if your life isn't complicated enough.
Katherine doesn't come home after the party.
You stare at her empty bed and imagine the worst. She and Stefan dancing all night. A moonlit walk along the Lockwood grounds. A kiss under one of the giant oak trees. Stefan taking her home, to his room, his bed.
Growling, you can't do anything but toss a pillow across the room.
Late afternoon and Katherine still hasn't come home. Uncle Gray and Aunt Miranda are really starting to worry. You call Stefan, but he swears he hasn't seen her since they parted ways at the party, and is there anything he can do?
Night falls and there's still no sign. Caroline's mom comes to the house and asks uncomfortable questions you don't have answers for. It's frustrating how they look at you like all you have to do is close your eyes and feel her presence.
Only when the Sheriff leaves, and the family finally leaves you alone, do you actually try.
All you feel is numb.
Three days pass, and still no one can find her.
You storm over to the Salvatore's house, knowing Stefan isn't there, off being noble and trying to find her himself. A promise he made as soon as he learned she was missing. Damon said nothing, did nothing, but an irking feeling tells you he knows something.
Damon is in the living room sitting on the big chair he favors, with a glass of scotch in hand, like he doesn't have a care in the world. The sight makes you so angry, you pick up the closest thing in reach, and toss it at his head.
"Where is she?"
The demand is met with him making a big show of looking over to the bookshelf where the lamp crashed into it.
"I know you have something to do with it."
Don't give him room to speak, don't let him make you feel ridiculous for suddenly blaming him.
"So tell me, and do it now."
"Elena," he starts, clenching his fists and stops. That wild eyed look of his just making you crazier.
"Please, just tell me where she is."
You punch at his arms that try to wrap around you, his chest and sides when they enclose you. Shaking and twisting, trying to pull away but he doesn't let you.
It comes out weakly, tears welling to spill down your cheeks and onto his shoulder.
"She'll come back," he says quietly.
It doesn't feel like an answer.
Sixteen years and the longest you've even been apart, is when you were thirteen and had your tonsils taken out, and only because the doctor's didn't take well to Katherine's threats when they made her leave.
Sitting on her bed, palm smoothing across the blanket, you keep hoping she'll just show up like Damon said. That she'll laugh and tease everyone about making such a big fuss. It seems less and less likely with every day that passes, but you hope.
There's something poking out from under her pillow that catches your eye, and reaching for it, you see it's the picture of Katerina she took from Stefan. Brows furrow as you hold it between your fingers, wondering why she kept it.
It's late, but you don't want to sleep, don't want to dream.
The tap, tap, tap of fingernails against glass pull you from the nightmare. Little girls in matching dresses running in the woods, Kathy and Laney always together, trying to escape the monster that wears your face. Eyes open to the room bathed in moonlight, a silhouette moving in the shadow spread across your bed just a few feet away.
Katherine's pillow is flush against your cheek, though you don't remember falling asleep on her bed. Tapping again, the silhouette moving once more, you roll over to see your sister on the other side of the window.
For a moment you think it's just a dream, pulling open the window regardless, and feeling the chill against your skin.
"Come outside," she says in a whisper.
You don't even blink at the request rushing out of the room, down the stairs, and through the front door. She's on the porch waiting, you reach out to touch her and almost laugh with the relief that's she's real. The anger gone, fear subsided, you pull her into a hug.
"Where were you?"
It comes out a sob, pressed against her shoulder, still holding on tightly because you're afraid she'll disappear if you let go.
"I had to take care of something," she says vaguely. "I'm sorry I couldn't tell you."
No secrets, you want to yell. That's how it's always been. She doesn't keep anything from you and you don't from her.
"Take care of what?"
She moves to sit on the steps, pulling you down with her, one hand moves to cup your cheek and it's so cold. It hits you swiftly, the cold hands, the fact that she asked you outside instead of just climbing through the window.
You want to scream, to run, to cry. Days of feeling like you lost her, but here she is, yet the feeling is still there.
"I needed it to make sense," she says, taking her hand back and looking away. "I've been having, I don't know, flashes. People I've never met, places I've never been. Memories that aren't mine."
"You could have told me. You should have told me."
She shrugs and you want to slap her.
"How long has this been going on?"
"Since I found that picture."
You wait, watching as she collects her thoughts.
"It's like I knew her. Right away, I knew all about her."
She looks back to you.
"It's like I am her."
The words are a knife pointed straight at your heart. It can't be. It's impossible. A month ago the only monsters were in your dreams. The world made sense.
"You're scaring me."
"Don't be afraid," she says quickly. "Whatever happens, whatever I am, don't ever be afraid of me."
She moves to hug you again, and you let her, because she's your sister. Because you love her. Everything together, always together.
"You were right about mom," she offers suddenly. "But it's what she wanted. It was her reward."
Cold kitchen tile, and a thirst for water. Your father backing away slowly, your mother's black eyes.
Your whole body stills.
"How could you possibly know that?"
"I know a lot of things. Things I wish I didn't."
Idly playing with your hair.
"Katerina was a bad girl, in a bad way, with a lot of bad people."
Pulling away so that you're eye to eye.
"Lucky for her, she knew many witches."
One hand, stroking your cheek.
"A lot of them owed her their lives. So she hatched a plan. She was so good at hatching plans."
The other hand moves to mirror it.
"I don't think any of them included you. But aren't surprises what make life worth living?"
Hands on her wrists, you want to pull away but can't.
"I'm sorry about Stefan, I am. But it was always him. He loved me once, he can love me again."
Trying to pull away. Have to get away.
"This time will be different. This time will be perfect."
Her eyes go black as her mouth curls into a hiss, pulling one wrist way and biting into the flesh, she pushes it against your lips.
"Don't worry little sister," she says sweetly. "It only hurts for a minute."