"It's good to see you again."
Katherine puts her hands on your arms, gauging the reaction, but all you can do is stand there. You've thought about this woman, spent endless nights waking up screaming from dreams about what she'd become, since the day she left. The family she created not good enough to have kept her attention, her own wants and needs coming before anyone else.
Watching as she skirts around you and Katherine standing in the middle of the room, to drop the bag slung over her shoulder onto one of the desks, her body language is too casual. The sight of her long lost daughters is not even worth a faked amount of surprise.
"I'd forgotten," she says with a smile far too warm for the situation. "How much you look alike."
That tiny gesture is what sends you over the edge, on her in an instant slamming her back onto the desk, mouth snarled and angry.
"You don't get to talk to us like that. You don't get to look at us with a fondness of a mother who might actually have cared."
She's stronger than you, something learned the hard way when the ceiling is suddenly the only thing you see. Her hand is on your chest, pinning you to the floor, and though it's the last thing you want to admit there is a tinge of remorse reflected in her eyes.
"Oh Elena," she says softly, using her other hand to caress your cheek. "Don't be upset."
Katherine grabs her arm before you can push, pulling her off and helping you up at the same time, she takes a second to ensure that Mom didn't actually hurt anything and sighs quietly.
"You haven't told her," Mom says.
"What is she talking about?"
Katherine chews the inside of her cheek, something she's always done when getting caught with her hand in the cookie jar, but a sense of dread starts to form that it's so much bigger than that. There's a notable shift in her eyes, one you'd seen on the night she came back, talking about that girl in the picture.
There's the strangest tone in your mother's voice. Something anxious mixed with a hint of longing.
"Katherine," your sister says, looking to you for some kind of reassurance. "I'm Katherine."
"What is going on?"
It's aimed at your mother, but you don't look away.
"This wasn't the plan," comes the reply.
It's incredibly awkward, sitting on a chaise lounge tucked away in the corner of the office with Katherine's arm looped through yours, listening to your mother tell a romanticized tale of meeting Katerina Petrova at the tender age of sixteen.
The way she talks, it's as if she thought herself a kind of Cinderella wasting away her life, until a vampire fairy godmother swooped in to take her away.
"Katerina was a bad girl, in a bad way, with some bad people. So she hatched a plan."
Katherine's hands are bunched in fists resting on her lap. Listening to Mom's words, a story almost repeated of the one she told you, it doesn't take speaking for you to know what she feels. To know that she does not want any of them to be true.
"What kind of plan?"
Mom frowns at the interruption, but this part you heard, it's the details that Katherine danced around in her own little speech that you want.
"I got pregnant shortly after we met," she continues, folding her hands in front of her. "The man she was running from, had this neat little trick, and all she needed to pull it off was to know the right kind of witch. Lucky for her, she knew a lot of them. "
A picture is starting to form. What Katerina wanted, what your mother agreed to. It's ridiculous, you think. Magic or no, it's not the kind of thing that actually happens. A side glance at your sister, still chewing on the inside of her cheek and looking into her lap, it only takes a millisecond to realize that it doesn't matter.
"I didn't know there were two of you at the time. That might not have changed anything, but-"
Whatever the circumstance of your birth, whatever deal with the devil you were the product of, you came into this world together. Spent nearly every minute of your lives together, and loved one another in a bond few could begin to understand.
"She promised me that if I did this, she would make me like her. "
There are other things you're curious about. Like why it took so long for her to get turned. Why she ever bothered marrying your father. Why she lived out the domestic life if the plan was to leave as soon as she got what she wanted. Though you're pretty sure none of the answers she might give would ever begin to satisfy.
The last memory of her, that night you remember so vividly, she came back. These new details have you wondering why though the answer seems so painfully obvious.
"You were going to take her away."
Both of their eyes turn to you at once.
"She wasn't Katerina born again, you knew that, but were going to try and raise her that way weren't you? So when she was old enough, when this memory trigger went off, she wouldn't be as torn as she is now."
Wait for a denial, an acknowledgment, something.
"The last time I saw you, in the kitchen with Daddy, you came back for Katherine but it was me that walked down the stairs."
Katherine grabs your hand and squeezes.
"Why now? After all this time?"
"Plan B," she replies with the hint of a smile. "Memory trigger, well put."
"Why didn't you just try again?"
"Your father kept me away," she replies. "First with vervain and never letting you out of his sight. Then by taking you to his brother's house. He knew I could never get close to you there."
"The Gilbert's, along with all the other founding families, have been involved with vampires since that little town became a blip on the map."
It's a sobering thought. Uncle Gray and Aunt Miranda knowing exactly what happened to your mother, why Daddy left you with them, and what your disappearance undoubtedly means.
"It was you, wasn't it? You turned her."
That tinge in her eye appears again, there and gone in a flash.
"Of course it was."
It takes a second to absorb that, to imagine the woman smiling in all those pictures when you were babies, taking a life she helped create.
"So what happens now? Plan C? D?"
The pause in conversation almost makes you laugh, the whole phoenix rising scenario so overwrought with details gone wrong, it's a wonder any of it happened at all.
"If it comes to that."
No. The thought is all consuming. No. You can't, won't, let her erase your sister from existence simply because there's a ghost locked away inside of her. No. She can't tear her way back into your lives after abandoning your for redder pastures. No. This will not happen.
"Her plan failed. Her back up plan failed. Some people don't always get what they want. Some shouldn't. If she was as bad as you say then maybe it's a good thing that she's gone."
Mom just looks at you.
"She's not your precious Katerina. She doesn't want to be."
"If there's a part of you that ever was our mother, you won't take her from me."
The road barely traveled is not much different in the daylight. Hardly any cars pass, the never ending mass of trees running alongside the highway blur just as the cover of night did. Your perspective, however, is preferable. In the driver's seat while Katherine, much more herself the further away you get from North Carolina, gives direction. You can't stay once you get back, you know that, but drive on anyway.
For a moment, you honestly thought Mom wasn't going to let you leave. Only a united front from you and Katherine got some kind of understanding out of her. That Katerina is gone and you'll do anything you have to, to keep it that way. Wasn't much point in staying after that.
"Why did you take me there?"
Not sure how much time passes before you actually get the gall to ask the question. Katherine contemplates it, long enough to have you think she's not going to answer, but eventually her eyes glance sidelong at your face.
"You needed to hear it."
"But you told me the night you came back."
"Yes, and you didn't want to believe a word I said. You needed to see that I wasn't crazy, that I wasn't making it up, you needed to to know it was all true."
Looking you up and down. "You did good with her. I'm proud of you."
Katherine chews in the inside of her cheek when shamed or embarrassed, you bite your lip, something you can't help but do in the moment.
"I swear, you're flair for the dramatic is going to be the death of me one day."
She stares at you incredulously, the crude attempt at humor hardly your style, before bursting into laughter.
"Please," she says with a devilish grin. "You'd be dull as dishwater without me."
That you don't have a comeback for.
"So are you like a schizo now? Ghost of a past life version of yourself floating around in your head and everything."
She jabs you in the ribs, causing the car to swerve into the other lane, and thankfully the highway is empty despite the time of day. For awhile the two of you keep it up, jokes and teasing, conversations like the one's you used to have from your beds in the middle of the night.
"Hey, about you and Stefan."
You've figured it out, she and him. Something Mom said that sticks with you. How you won't be able to look at him the same.
"I can deal with it."
She's not facing you, but when you look over, you can see her smile in the reflection of the window.
Hours tick by when the goodwill tapers off and somber reality begins to set in. You know the truth now, for all the good it does. Getting the story from your Mother didn't exactly fix Katherine's problem. If anything if only makes the idea that one day she's just going to snap, more prevalent in your mind.
Passing the same gas station, nothing looks out of place. You wonder if the attendant is still where you left him, sprawled out on the floor amongst a few losing lottery tickets that didn't quite make the trash can. You wonder how long it will take for someone to notice he's gone.
Going home is was never an option, though a small part of you kind of hoped there was some way to make it work, it isn't worth the risk. You can never see your Aunt and Uncle again. Or Jeremy. Bonnie, who's been your best friend since you moved to Mystic Falls. Matt and Caroline always a close second. You'll never graduate high school with them, never go to college in the way you're supposed to. Because you're dead. Because you're a monster. God, the thought of being seventeen forever is nothing short of terrifying.
Katherine looks to you then, like she knows what you're thinking, like she is the only one who will ever truly understand.
Stefan and Damon are waiting on the porch when you pull up, both clearly happy to see you. Stefan's eyes catch yours before moving to Katherine, a warm smile on his lips. The first thing you do is smack it clean off his face. Damon snorts into his fist as Katherine shouts your name, but you ignore them.
Leaning in close, lips just below his ear.
"I have to congratulate you, Mr. Salvatore."
His brows furrow together, trying to figure what you mean.
"For lying to me, to us. So long and so well, it's definitely a skill I didn't think you capable of."
"Elena I don't know what you-"
You can feel him tense, the words dying on his tongue. From the day he came across you in the cemetery, to meeting Katherine, to her finding the picture. None of it was coincidence.
"Yeah, Katerina Petrova was the cat's meow, and you spent over a century adoring her. I don't get it, and probably never will. What I do know? Katherine is here now, she loves you, and if you ever break her heart I will drive a stake through yours."
You brush past him into the house, Damon quick to follow.
"Oh, you have to tell me what that was about," he says, thumb pointing over his shoulder.
Katherine and Stefan are a silhouette through the half closed door, you watch as she kisses the spot where your hand made contact.
"Just me getting over something."
The moon is directly overhead, light scattering down the through the trees. Standing across the street from the house you've lived half a life, the family that took you in and cared for you like their own. A silent goodbye as close as you'll ever get again. Another part of you dies away. Your hand reaches out for hers, fingers loosely entwined.
"If I asked now, would you tell me?"
A beat passes.
"Forever is a long time, Laney." She says softly. "Do you really think I would want one minute of it without you?"
You don't think that, not even for a second.