The Variable of Choice – CH 3

-STEFAN-

"Oh. Come. On!" Damon stretches out each word in a dramatic sort of way, making it back to his feet and wiping blood from his grinning mouth with the back of his hand.

Keeping one eye on him and my body squarely between my brother and the brunette he's just attacked, I look over Bonnie for any sign of blood or injury – other than the void stare from compulsion, she seems unharmed.

When I inhale to respond, I catch the scent of the girls blood and my thirst can be seen on my face as the veins beneath my eyes begin to surface and my aching throat makes my voice sound raw, "You can't keep doing this, Damon. You're going to get us killed!"

Clenching my jaw, I do my best to will away my want, my hunger.

"They already know!" I frown at him – of course they know, he just drank her blood. "I was trying to get her to talk before you rudely interrupted us." Damon's voice is insistent, but light – he can never be serious, my brother, always making a joke of the most grave situations. My expression must tell him I need more information as he continues without me speaking. "Until a few weeks ago when I replaced it with rosemary, this whole town was on vervain! And here's the kicker – they were all supplied by our dear nephew."

Zach.

When I was home a few weeks back, he hadn't mentioned going out of town, but I believed Damon's story of Zach going to see some friends from college once he came into town – Zach doesn't care for either of us, but at least with me he has a small sense of security that I won't kill him… Damon on the other hand...

"What did you do?" My words are quiet, yet accusatory.

He doesn't have to respond – the gleam in his eyes gives him away as his mind retrieves the memory of killing our last remaining family member.

The anger inside of me grows a bit stronger, tempting me to charge my stigmatic sibling – but my body won't allow it - flexing every muscle to a steel-like tension in order to keep me in place. I won't leave this girls side. She's still alive, inhaling shaking breaths through chattering teeth.

After a long moment of fisting my hands at my sides, I've pushed my anger back down to a manageable level. "Then we need to leave. You and I need to get outta dodge. Compel them to forget this happened and let's go."

Straightening his jacket, Damon waits to respond as we both listen to a couple of humans – with their soft lungs and delectable heart beats – passing by on the street above us. When they've finally gone by, he looks back to my face and wiggles his eyebrows like he does. "Won't work. The vervain is still in her system. I could taste it. It's barely there but compulsion won't take."

A little confused, a little concerned that someone is going to start wondering where these two teenage girls have gone, I ask "What about the rosemary?"

Shrugging, Damon sighs, "Makes you wonder how long she's been on it." I know what he's going to say before he actually releases the words and I turn to the side a bit, just enough to be able to efficiently block him should he try and move past me, "The only option is to kill her."

"No." Shaking my head, I look to Bonnie, still holding that void expression, then back to Damon who is eyeing the girl behind me like she's a delicacy. The curiosity gets the best of me and I follow his gaze with the turn of my head.

She's smaller than I thought – maybe it's because she's hugging her knees to her chest and that long, dark hair is falling at her sides like a cloak. It hurts me to see her shivering with fear, to hear her trying to suppress her cries. I don't realize until much later how odd that is – my concern for this stranger. "No. We'll take her home and keep her there until she dries out."

"You are no fun anymore, brother." The girl can't have but a minuscule amount of vervain in still in her as Damon was able to drink from her; though the mess of blood on his face makes more sense now that I know her blood was probably a struggle to swallow – something like the burn of alcohol, I'd imagine. Damon snarks at me, but doesn't argue – I just roll my eyes at him and do my best not to throw more demands at him as he grabs Bonnie much too-roughly by her upper arms and gives me a wide, strange smile. Turning my attention to the brunette, I squat in front of her, releasing an annoyed sigh when Damon says, "Just like old times, huh? The Salvatore brothers, bringing a couple of girls home." then speeds away with Bonnie.

Now that we're alone I feel an odd need to touch her – my hand even goes to her, my fingers nearly touch her forearm, but I pull away just short. She's terrified. She's bloody. I'm a vampire.

"I won't hurt you." It's all I've got.

She's heard the conversation with my vampire brother who has just attacked her, she knows the plan – taking her, kidnapping her. I hope she doesn't put up a fight when I say, "You'll need to come with me. Just until the vervain is out of your system."

Sniffling, she asks, "And then what?" With her head still resting on her forearms, her voice is muffled.

My fingers are still tingling in hopes of being able to touch her, but at this point I can't tell if it's an eager desire to satisfy my thirst or just to slip through the length of her hair. The smell of her blood and her racing heart rate are inviting, but I can't get past her trembling body – I hate myself for terrifying her so and the guilt is drowning out my hunger. In hopes of calming her, I take a step away, turn my attention elsewhere as I'm confident having me observing her is slowing the process. "Then you go home." I've barely released the words before I spot the stake at the bottom of the concrete stairs. I'm staring at it, confused and trying to figure out how this girl knew about vampires in order to be prepared with a weapon when I feel her eyes on me.

I give her a moment - let her believe she's inspecting me without my knowledge.

"Home?" She asks, a reluctant chime of hope in her tone gives me a strange sense of pride as I bend at the waist and retrieve her stake.

I hold it in my fist for a bit; taking note of its well-defined point and comfortable grip – whomever carved this weapon was no amateur – all the while I can feel her looking at me, hear her heart rate slowing and her breathing becoming more rhythmic. Once I'm confident that she's calmed, I turn in place to face her.

Now it is me who is breaths in a shaking breath.

It's not just her blood and her beautiful heartbeat, there's something else… something I cannot explain… but I know without a shadow of a doubt that the woman now moving to her feet and clutching to her bleeding neck is not Katherine Pierce.

Still, I'm caught off guard, taken aback, stunned – she's an exact and complete replica of the vampire that destroyed me so many years ago. From her round, nearly colorless eyes to the pout of her perfect lips, even the daintiness of her wrists…

"I'm not Katherine." She says to me in a firm voice, furrowing her brow at me as if she's as disgusted by the thought as I am.

Swallowing hard, I blink – leaving my eyes closed for a bit longer than normal in an attempt to get ahold of myself and clear my mind of the images of Katherine. Opening them, finding this girls perfect face and captivating eyes looking at me seems to do a better job of riding me of those memories. Still, I have to look away; remind myself of what I am and what this girl is and how the fluttering in my chest means nothing and can lead to nothing… nothing, Stefan… let it go.

Extending my arm to her with the stake in my hand, I keep my eyes on the ground, "I know."

-ELENA-

I don't know what I was expecting.

He's a vampire. He's a monster, an abomination… demonic. I guess I thought his 'home' would be in a cave or under a bridge somewhere. Or maybe in the graveyard. It's ridiculous I know, but when our wordless drive from The Grille led us to this very beautiful, grand mansion on the outskirts of town, I was very surprised.

He opened my door for me!

It didn't seem like it was threatening, or like he was doing it in a way to control me, but I just can't buy that the vampire that kidnapped me and took my cell phone is chivalrous.

Though I could feel Stefan look at me a couple of times during the drive, we've been silent since he told me that he knew I wasn't Katherine. I keep looking into the rooms that we pass, the kitchen, the den, the dining area – everything seems so normal. It's a beautiful, turn of the century home filled with antiques and leather couches and earthy tones – reaching the stairs, he gestures for me to lead and I hold my breath as I pass him.

In the car, I could smell him – this warm, inviting, clean scent. I keep thinking it's some kind of trick to get humans to like them, let them get close to us. Probably the same thing that's going on with his eyes. Every time I mistakenly look at his eyes I feel less threatened, less scared. They're this amazing green – somewhere between a fresh blade of grass and evergreen… a perfect, warm shade of green.

I get a few steps in front of Stefan before he begins to climb the stairs as well, it may be my imagination but I think I feel him looking me over – it bothers me a bit. Not him looking at me, but my reaction – standing straighter, pulling my shoulders back, accentuating the movement of my hips. I read somewhere that humans find vampires attractive in the same way that the most beautiful and brightly colored flowers are the most deadly… I just can't remember if I read that in my mother's research or if it was something out of Twilight. Either way, I'm repeating that in my head and I don't feel as terrible for being as attracted to him as I am.

I can't help it, it's out of my hands. It's a predator's trick.

Cresting the stairs, I inhale that unique scent again as he comes to stand beside me. "There are quite a few rooms, but most of them haven't been lived-in in awhile. You can stay in my room, if you like." He gestures to the door just down the hall, on the right.

What I'd like is to get my phone back, find Bonnie, and go home. "Okay."

I have no choice in this. I'm being held against my will.

I follow him, hold my breath as he stands close to me and opens the door. I half-expect to find a coffin in place of the bed. I'd like to be able to blame the instant sense of ease that I feel on some kind of vampire decorating trick, but I know that's not possible – Stefan's room is cozy. The walls are a grey-blue, he has as many books on bookshelves as I do… maybe more. Trying my best to look calm and confident, I brush my hand over the light brown blanket, nearly wrinkle-less on his perfectly made bed.

"Are you hungry? Thirsty?" He asks, watching my hand, then my steps as I move to his unruly desktop. "I should show you the kitchen so you can get yourself something if you like."

I pick up a hardback book that was left open and flip it over to read the title on the spine: Jane Eyre. I roll my eyes but I'm not sure if it's because he's reading this Bronte novel or because he used those words again. "You keep saying that… if I like. I'm a prisoner."

Those green eyes of his narrow at the attitude in my tone, but he quickly returns to his neutral expression as he slips his hands into his pockets. "It's for your own safety. The less you know about all of this, about vampires, the better."

"For me? Or for you?" Again, I'm being crass, I just hate how attractive he is. I don't want to feel this strange comfort with Stefan. I don't want to not be scared of him. He's a vampire! I should be terrified! That chest pressure I felt when he passed me at The Grille – that I still feel at this very moment, I'm mistaking it for magnetism.

As he considers his response, I remember my fear of Damon and I wonder why the vampire-trick didn't work for him.

"Both."

Fine. That's a straight enough answer I guess.

Sitting the book down, my eyes are on his desk though I'm not really looking at anything in particular, just trying to get my witts about me when he adds, "You can clean up your wound in the bathroom – everything you need can be found in the linen closet. I'm going to call Damon and make sure he took your friend home."

Bonnie. My throat tightens with fear. "Do you think he hurt her?"

Again, my expectations of him are wrong. He could have lied, he could have said something just to pacify me and keep me quiet. "I don't know." I can hear his reluctance to speak so honestly, but I'm thankful for it. It gives more weight to his promise of not hurting me. The surprise of hearing the truth brings my eyes to his, increasing the vibing through my chest and tingling in my fingertips. We're ten feet away from each other, but I swear to you his predator-tricks are incredibly strong as I feel a deep need to close the distance between us.

Thankfully, he turns away; pulling the door nearly shut before my voice stops him.

"I prefer Emily." I'm an idiot, I know – but I don't want him to leave me in here alone or maybe I just don't want this interaction to end with me being so bratty. It's not my fault; this desire for him to leave with a positive impression of me – it's all related to his vampire tricks, I'm sure of it. Giving a half smile at his now confused and furrowed brow, I say, "Bronte. Wuthering Heights is probably my favorite book of all time."

When he returns my smile and those green eyes of his squint in the slightest way, I can feel the muscles in my legs beginning to flex on their own and move me to him – he's beautiful in a way that I've never known beauty to be. Thankfully, my phone rings from the back pocket of his jeans and breaks our heavy gaze and the pulling-intensity.

"Ric?" He says, reading the caller-id on my phone.

"That's my dad, er step-dad." I explain – for some reason I don't want Stefan to think I have guys calling my phone at this late hour. I cross my arms over my chest tightly, aggravated with myself for caring.

I squeeze them tighter against me when Stefan brings my phone to me and I inhale his clean scent and can see the shades of green in his eyes and the heavy lashes surrounding them. "Tell him your spending the night with a friend."

He says it so softly, in such a kind, warm tone that I can't tell if he's asking or commanding. Either way, I take the phone and do as he said.

Ric doesn't push back or ask questions, happy that I'm making friends in our new town. I think he mentions something about the two of us going out for lunch with Jena and Jeremy, but I can't be sure and just give him a standard, "ok, see you tomorrow" as we hang up and I find myself still staring into Stefan's evergreen gaze as he looks down into my brown.

We stay like that for a bit and I can tell he's inspecting my face just as I am his; all the while my entire body is beginning to buzz with that frequency.

I feel like an idiot when I push my phone against his chest in an effort to break the pull he has on me. Frowning, he looks down at the end of the phone against him, then shakes his head as he steps back. "Keep it."

I got what I wanted – he's leaving, moving away from me, nearly to the door and my body is relaxing, but I hate the thought of him going, of losing that unique feeling. "Aren't you afraid I'll call Sheriff Forbes?" I try in a light tone in hopes that he stays way over there, but stays nonetheless.

Giving a shrug, he smiles and says, "I trust you." as he turns and leaves me frustrated.

XXXXXXX

He wasn't kidding – everything I needed to clean up the bite on my neck was in his bathroom. I don't know why I found that so weird. I'm sure all the girls he brings home end up needing to be bandaged.

After Stefan left and I spent a long while berating myself for falling prey to his vampire-tricks, I cleaned up the dry blood on my neck and chest and I'm sitting at his desk and flipping through my phone.

He trusts me.

How stupid. I should call Ric and have him come over here with his bag of vampire weapons and get me out of here! Stefan didn't even blindfold me when he brought me to his home! I could tell Ric or Sherriff Forbes exact directions…

Stefan trusts me.

Rolling my eyes, I shove my phone into the back pocket of my jean skirt, knowing full well that by not calling for my rescue I'm trusting him too.

The house is dead silent. Literally, soundless. It doesn't take but a moment for me to spot an old record player on one of the many bookshelves lining the walls of Stefan's bedroom. The shelves above and below the 49 are full to the brim with records. I spot The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Etta James, U2, BB King, and The Clash before deciding that these vinyl records are much older than me – then flipping the record player to 'on' and setting the needle down on the record already on the spindle. It doesn't take me long to place the song – Living on a Prayer.

"So, vampires like Bon Jovi. Who knew?" I say aloud as I take a seat on his bed only because there's no one around and I'm feeling really lonely.

I consider flipping through my Twitter app or pulling up a book to read on my phone, but I'm surrounded by books and decide to read one of them. I don't even have to get up as there are two books stacked on the bedside table.

Grabbing the one on top, I open it to the ribbon-marked place, no more than a third of the way through it's thickness and freeze when I find the jagged handwriting across the page.

It's his journal.

Stefan, the chivalrous vampire with his tricky ways keeps a journal. I close it almost immediately, but the angry woman being held prisoner by a vampire is feeling crude and I open it again in a matter of less than ten seconds – telling myself that there is no protocol here. Nothing to feel guilty about! He's kidnapped me!

I've almost convinced myself that I can read it, that I SHOULD read it – maybe it will help me learn more about my warden – when I hear Bonnie's laugh just outside the door and I'm moments away from being caught red-handed.

**MORE TO COME**

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