A/N: Expanded Stefan POV from Graduation (4.23)
Murder was my first act in this life. No one ever made accusations or even talked about it, but I'm not blind. I always knew the date on my mother's gravestone was the same as my birthday. And when Father called Damon a coward when he came home from the war and refused to return, I overheard the slaves talking about the night I was born. The night my mother died. They said Father left the house. He couldn't stand the sound of her screams, and he rode off into the dark. Damon stayed. He was the last one who saw her alive.
I've always wondered if she knew my birth would take her life, and if she did, if she thought that seemed like a fair sacrifice. Her life for mine. Balance. Because apparently nature always demands a balance. Does everyone have a shadow self? Is there another Mystic Falls somewhere, another sleepy little town full of monsters and magic?
I hate magic, and I hate monsters. So I guess it makes sense that I hate myself.
I keep telling myself not to panic, but I don't seem to be listening. I think maybe a couple of days have passed. It's impossible to tell for sure, but I can feel the hunger. It hasn't taken over my mind yet, but it's always there now. The ache in my gums, the dryness in my veins that leaves a terrible stiff pain that never goes away. When I'm able to doze, I dream of blood.
Yeah, I'm hungry. And I'm definitely panicking.
I tried to brace myself against the metal sides of the safe as it banged its way down into the quarry, but the smooth surface was slippery and there was nothing to grip. So I crashed and tumbled inside the small space. The descent took forever, my life flashing before my eyes the way they say it will when I die. The way it did when I did die all those years ago. When I lay bleeding on the road after my father shot me, only seconds could have passed as I looked at Damon and tried to reach him, but my hand was too heavy and he was already dead beside me. It must've been just a few seconds, but it felt like longer than my entire life up until that point.
The splash, when the safe landed in the quarry, was deafening and immediately water began flooding into my tiny cell.
I pried my phone from my pocket and frantically texted Damon: Silas looks like me. I'm in the quarry. I sent it, but water made the screen go black. I don't know if he got it or not. Since I'm still here, I'm afraid it didn't go through. But in the pitch blackness, without the brightness of screen, I desperately gulped at the remaining air, my head pressed painfully against the corner of the safe.
I can't drown. I don't need to breathe. But I can't die, either. Not like this.
Water took over the last of the air as I felt the safe settle at the bottom of the quarry. I held that final breath in my lungs for a long time, reminding them they breathe only because they like to, not because they need to. I need air to speak and to smell, and I won't be doing either. Not anytime soon.
When I finally let that last stolen breath escape, I wished like hell I could see the bubbles.
The safe is too small to stretch out in, and Damon tested it to make sure no one could escape. He's stronger than I am. I take just a tiny sip of human blood every day. Just a sip. And I thought he was insane when he asked me to lock the door behind him.
"Give me at least an hour," he said.
"That's too long," I replied, shaking my head. "Five, ten minutes."
Damon shook his head. "I need enough time to get creative. Don't be a pussy."
I had to go upstairs and take a long shower so I couldn't hear the pounding and creaking of metal as he struggled to get free. I was as cowardly as our father.
I shift my legs into as comfortable position as I can and try not to bump into the metal sides. I don't want to be reminded how small this space is. I wonder if this is what it felt like to be inside my mother, curled up in the watery dark quiet.
Damon will find me. He'll know in a second Silas isn't me, no matter how much he looks like me. Elena will know. Unless he leaves town, like I said I was going to do, in which case it could be a while before they notice. And if it does take them a decade or two to figure it out, at least Elena won't be with Silas thinking he's me. Thank God she chose Damon.
I didn't think I'd say that, not anytime soon. Not when I eavesdropped and heard those words. Damon was so angry when he spit out how not sorry he was, how he would rather die than let her watch him grow old and frail. When he reminded her how wrong he was for her. But I know my brother, and he wasn't mad at her. His best cruelties, his finest horrors and most exquisite pains, are always against himself. He was punishing himself with that terrible, selfish truth. Only she didn't run away from him like she has in the past. Elena got mad at him right back. The fiery Elena I love wouldn't let him take all the blame, just as she never let me. And then she said it: she's in love with him.
If I'm being honest with myself, and why the hell wouldn't I be at this point, she's probably been in love with him for a long time. Far longer than she consciously knows.
Her declaration of love was cut off by the sound of kissing. I imagine Damon raced across the room to get his hands on her. I heard the whisper of fingers against fabric, and they both made quiet noises that seemed to come from someplace deep inside them. I suspect, if the house hadn't been full of me and Lexi and Ric, he would've scooped her up and carried her off to his bed.
It's what I would've done.
The Damon who arrived in Mystic Falls two years ago would've carried her upstairs regardless of his audience. Maybe especially because of his audience. I know he stopped that kiss and didn't take it further because I could hear. As mad as we get at each other, for all the times we've threatened and stabbed and worse, I know Damon loves me because he knew I was listening, and he didn't want to make noise when I would hear.
All the times I made plenty of sounds, knowing he loved her and wanting him to hear her with me, and when she finally admitted what we all knew was true, he was content just to kiss her to spare me. Then again, I know what it's like to kiss Elena. She kisses like she needs to show you how much she loves you more than she needs to breathe.
If Lexi's hand hadn't been resting on my shoulder, I would've left because hearing those words and that kiss was like having a hand squeezing my heart. I tried to remind myself that I love in my head, not that place in my chest, but that's where I felt the crushing pain as I listened to them. Did his hands creep under the hem of her little dress, I wondered? Did she wrap her arms around his neck and run her fingers through the hair at the back of neck, like she used to do to me?
But with Lexi there, I was able to take a breath. And then a second. And I as I breathed in her scent and felt the comforting weight of her hand on my shoulder, I realized I wasn't mad. I thought I would be furious at him. I knew, from that first day I found Elena in the parlor with Damon, I could lose her to him, which is why I did everything in my power to make her see how wrong he was for her.
Only he knows he's wrong for her, and she knows it, and even though it's all wrong, it's always been right too.
As I listened to them kiss, a quiet sound no human would've been able to hear, I realized that as much as it hurt, mostly, I was happy for him. Because Damon has never felt good enough. Not when we were alive, and certainly not since.
In the end, if I can't have her, I'd rather she be with my brother than anyone else.
Obviously, it was a terrible mistake to not let him come with me. I knew it when I told him no even though Silas was supposed to be a harmless hunk of stone. I told myself I was being generous, letting him have time with Elena without worrying about me nearby and listening. But I knew that wasn't the truth. I didn't want to talk about it. I didn't want him to feel guilty or worry about me. I didn't want to sit in uncomfortable silence and purposefully not look at each other while we both pretended he wasn't terrified I was going to go off the rails again.
I didn't want to pretend that wasn't a distinct possibility without Elena to remind me who I wanted to be.
So I told him to stay. I told him I had Lexi even though I knew that would hurt him because Damon has never gotten along with Lexi. But I did it because I needed to be with her, the one person I can truly be myself with. She's witnessed me at my very worst, always, and I've never tried to pretend to be anything other than weak and selfish and terrible, and she loves me anyway.
I thought, once, she was my one. She'd saved me, again, before drifting back to her life and leaving me to mine. But every year, no matter where I was, she found me for my birthday. I don't know how she did it, but a year didn't go by without her turning up. It was my one-hundred and fortieth birthday, and I'd graduated from college that spring. Again. There wasn't a single person in the audience clapping for me. No one who wanted me in their photo to commemorate the milestone. I was drifting, lost and alone and wondering what I was supposed to do with my life. Again. We went to see Bon Jovi and danced in the front row and sang along, and during the encore, I kissed her.
"Oh Stefan," she said after she pulled away from me. The crowd around us screamed and jostled and didn't care that I was declaring my love. But she rested her hand on my cheek.
"Lexi, I love you."
"I know that," she said. "And I love you. But Stefan. No. Not like that."
And then she was gone. We never spoke of it. Not when she showed up the following year. Not ever again. But last night – or has it already been two nights? When we were in the car, I thought maybe, just for a moment, she admitted that maybe she did love me like that. Or she could have.
Not that it matters. She's gone again and I'm here. Maybe Lexi can find someone like Jeremy, someone who can hear people on the Other Side. Maybe she'll find a way to get a message to Damon.
God, I'm pathetic. That's even more desperate than the text.
But I spent the first hours trying in vain to escape, and I haven't given up. Not yet. I kick against the metal door again. I kick even though I know it's futile and I won't be able to get free. That's why we wanted to bury Silas in this safe; it's impenetrable. But I try anyway, while I still can. I kick before my body starts to desiccate and I'm left trapped inside my mind. I kick because I killed my mother. I kick because I let my father toast Damon the night before he left for war.
He raised his glass at dinner. "To the glorious cause and the Commonwealth of Virginia." I waited for him to toast Damon, who was leaving. Damon, who might be killed. Damon, who wouldn't let me come with him even though boys my age were signing up to be drummer boys. Damon solemnly nodded and raised his glass and when he looked at me, I quietly added, "Please hurry home."
I stole the decanter from Father's study that night and slipped into Damon's room. He was awake when I opened the door, and he held open the blankets so I could crawl into bed with him even though I knew I was too old for such things. I offered him the heavy crystal, amber liquid sloshing around inside.
"Have you ever had anything stronger than watered-down wine?" he asked. I could hear the smile in his voice as he took a sip. I shook my head, and he quietly laughed as he put his arm around me. "I appreciate your gesture, brother, but I have to warn you, it's an acquired taste. I thought I was going to throw up the first time Father offered me a drink."
He handed me the decanter. It was too big for my hands and awkward to drink from. Even though the smell made me want to gag, I swallowed. I coughed and spluttered as the liquor burned my mouth and my throat. It felt hot and awful and made my stomach churn, and I worried I would be sick in his bed.
"That's right," he said, thumping my back. "Breathe through it."
"I want to come with you," I finally said. "You'll keep me safe."
"Oh Stefan," he said with a sigh. He put the decanter on the bedside table and pulled me close to him. "I can't promise you that. I can't promise I'll be able to keep myself safe. I need you here. I need to know you'll be waiting for me if I come home."
I kick again because I killed our father and Damon has never blamed me for it, just as he never blamed me for killing our mother. I kick for Lexi dying and Ric dying and Jeremy dying and Elena's lost humanity because everyone she loves always dies. I kick for all the times I should've killed Katherine but couldn't because somewhere, deep down inside me, part of me still loves her. I kick for the love Lexi promised me, the woman I haven't met yet and now, maybe I never will. I kick because there are so many bodies sharing this watery grave with me, and everyone knows it, which is why no one ever drags the quarry when someone goes missing. Zach is down here somewhere. And that girl Katherine killed at that party whose name I can't even remember. There's a good chance this safe is resting on top of someone's bones. Maybe even a whole pile of decomposing corpses. I kick because that makes me want to gag and I can't. I kick because part of me will always love Elena, and she will always love me, but like Lexi, it'll never be enough or in the right way.
I feel the dent in the heavy metal, but that's all my efforts have produced. A dent. The door is still firmly locked. I want to sigh or scream, but I don't have air for either.
Elena. She so desperately wanted the cure. She lost her brother trying to find it. And yet she handed it over to me. That's when I knew for sure what she would say to Damon. She was choosing him over herself, and she loves me enough, even though she's in love with him, to give me my out. She was giving me my second chance to undo what Katherine did against my will all those years ago. It was left unspoken, but as I held that little vial in my hand, I knew she and Damon would stay with me while I aged. They would take care of me when I got old and look after my human descendants after I died. They would mourn me and miss me for as long as they were on the earth themselves.
I held the cure in my hand, proof that Elena loves me, just not enough. And I said no even though she's right: I'm a terrible vampire. Maybe the worst vampire ever, and maybe it isn't my fault. Maybe it's because I'm Silas' magical human version and I was supposed to die, only I didn't, and that's why I'm a terrible vampire who ends up ripping people into pieces. I was never supposed to be immortal.
But just as I wanted Damon to turn all those years ago so I wouldn't be alone, I didn't want to take it back and leave him. But he isn't alone anymore. Neither one of us are.
I told Caroline I don't hug as we stood in the parking lot before graduation. My seventeenth graduation. And she laughed and told me to get over myself and squeezed me just a little too hard. It's not that I don't hug. It's that I usually can't. Because I don't let people know me well enough to want to hug me. Because I don't trust myself not to hurt people. But Matt's the only human left, and no one will let me hurt him. I'm surrounded by people who'll make sure I stay me. People who love me and remind me I can be that version of myself.
The truth, which I suspect Caroline knows, is that for all my graduations, this is the only one I care about. Forget the shingles from Harvard and Stanford and Brown. This is the only one that matters. Not because I earned it. Hell, I missed more classes than I attended. But I was included in a cheesy group hug. My friends wanted me there with them. I belong somewhere. I'm not drifting through the world alone.
No, I don't have the girl. Not like I want to. But I do have her as a friend, and I have Caroline. And I have my brother again. For the first time, I have a life I actually want to live. I'm surrounded by people who love me.
Or I was.
A/N: This project started approximately seven months and 120k words ago with Damon day-drinking at the Grille in Justified (the one-shot that morphed into this monstrosity). I never intended to write this much or this long, so it feels fitting that the ending I'd intended to write to conclude this collection of stories can't happen because of the events of the finale. I was ambushed by unexpected twists and turns, and I honestly wouldn't want it any other way.
I can't thank you enough, gentle readers, for accompanying me on this journey. I am overwhelmed by your generous praise and kind response. And there aren't words, I mean that quite literally, to express my appreciation for CreepingMuse. "Meeting" her was the universe smiling down upon me, and I am truly grateful. Thank you, my friend, for being so incredibly fan-fucking-tastic and seeing this through to the end.
I am now available on Amazon Kindle Worlds: Catherine Holloway's Time Stretching Out Towards Forever.