Epilogue summary:

Isobel is on the Other Side.

Warnings: Spoilers for season 3.

Isobel couldn't say, really, how long it took before she became aware once more that time was passing.

First, she became suddenly aware that Elena had, indeed, died in the ritual. And that John had traded his life for hers.

Her grief at this was surprisingly real, and surprisingly human.

For a while – minutes, hours, days – she knew that Alaric was drunk, grieving the loss of his Jenna, and yearning for Damon through the bars of a cellar she knew with certainty to be in the basement of the Salvatore boarding house. Damon was dying. Bitten by a werewolf. She could smell the sick sweat on his skin, feel the heat radiate from his body.

At some point a while later she became aware that Stefan, who was supposed to be looking after Elena, was high on blood and with Klaus, somewhere far from Mystic Falls.

Isobel knew she occasionally found herself a step behind Elena or a step behind Alaric, screaming, able to taste their grief in the back of her throat.

She watched Damon snap Alaric's neck in a bad mood and it was then that she discovered how emotion could be distilled into its purest essence, when there was nothing to pour it into; she attacked Damon with arms and legs and hands curled into claws, ineffectual as a gentle breeze, and then seemed to evaporate, spending days trying to reintegrate herself into a whole being.

Her own silence was the worst; the screaming, feeling herself screaming, and hearing nothing.

An indeterminable length of time had passed when Isobel became aware of another presence. A woman. Her hair long and thick and unkempt; her dress a thousand years old in style. She met Isobel's eyes one day while Isobel stood at the Mystic Grill, watching Alaric fail to drink his pain away.

"You can see me?"

The woman's nod was less of a shock than the fact that Isobel could hear herself speak.

"Yes," the woman answered. Her voice was soft. A gentle British accent played across her lips.

Her eyes left Isobel's, and settled on Alaric.

"He's my husband," Isobel blurted. Just grateful for the interaction. "He's… my husband."

The woman shook her head. "He was your husband," she argued. "Now he is a man who has lost his way."

Isobel could only nod and wish the pain in her stomach would melt the flesh from her bones.

"I… did terrible things to him."

"Which is one of many reasons why you are here."

"Is it… hell?"

The woman's eyes were so, so cold. "It's a thousand times worse," she admitted. You'll watch them. Forever. You'll watch until everyone you have ever cared about is dead. And then you will replay and remember the worst moments for eternity."

Isobel wished desperately that she could slump against the bar. Crawl into Alaric's arms. "I… need to fix this," Isobel said.

The woman just watched Alaric.

"I'm Isobel," Isobel said. "Will you… talk to me? A while?"

The woman turned her head, slowly, and the look of contempt on her face gave Isobel the sense that she was shrinking, contracting somehow. And then she turned away again, crossed her arms. Watched Alaric for another long moment.

"My name is Esther," she said, "and I have very big plans for the man you call your husband. Very big plans indeed."