A/N: I hold no claim to anything VD related, and there is no profit made from this story.
Your life flashes before your eyes when you die. Everyone knows that, but no one has quite figured out why.
Some people say it's your brain dumping a lifetime's worth of information before it crashes, but I don't know if I really believe that or not. I've had my life flash before my eyes more than once—five times, to be exact: Two car accidents that ended up at the bottom of the river, one as a sacrificial victim for an Original, one case of severe head trauma from the same Original, and one bout of pneumonia when I was seven. There were a lot of other close calls, but those were the only ones I remember seeing the highlights of my short life.
I know now I was always destined to drown. I mean, in all of my brushes with death outside of the ones orchestrated by Klaus, I found myself at the bottom of rivers, or dying of water in my lungs. I struggled against it, but one day, destiny finally caught me.
You can't fight fate, as they say.
Now that I'm on the other side of that fate (for the moment, I think), I realize that not all drownings happen in water. Sometimes, you drown in emotions and other people, or in blue eyes like the ocean that haunt your dreams and you don't know why. I should have realized this sooner, as much as fate had it out for me, but I was too determined to keep up appearances to notice the details.
There is always a moment of absurd struggle right before your brain realizes the end is near, a split second between the crash and the awareness you're going to die. Your brain always fights the inevitable, and that's when the most random of thoughts find their way into your head, as if your mind is still trying to go on functioning as normal.
When I looked over and saw Matt slumped over the steering wheel, all I could think about was that I couldn't call Damon because my cell phone was wet and useless, and that the water was much colder this time around. The river remembered me. I know it.
I had a moment of panic wondering if I had hidden my diary away, and who would be the one to find it after all was said and done. But there was no one besides Jeremy left at the house to read it, or do anything about it even if they did find it.
Once you realize you're probably, most likely, going to die, the memories begin. And after you've seen the highlight reel of your life five times over, it gets repetitive. Don't get me wrong—the first couple of times you experience this you go through all of the best moments—the happy memories with your parents, your first kiss, the day your Dad let you drive the car alone into town or your best Christmas ever when your parents got you the Barbie Dream house.
But on your fifth time, you veer off track and think about your cell phone and that diary—that petty, stupid diary filled with nothing of importance which was currently sitting on your bed—and you know that you failed to put any of the moments that actually matter on the pages. You had only made a record of all of the steps you were taking to convince yourself you were doing the right thing, you know, in case anyone ever read it.
All of the moments you never had the courage to write come flooding in-all of the ones you should have recorded because those were the little moments that changed you forever, but you're dying and watching the greatest hits of your life, and it's too late.
As some would not hesitate to point out, I was on a delusional bandwagon back then, and incapable of seeing the truth in my actions so I could never have written them in the first place.
I really hate it when he's right.
Your life flashes before your eyes when you die. Everyone knows that.
When you've lived as long as I have, the flashes get longer, and so does the list of sins. It's like a god damned epic-length movie of times you'd rather forget.
But, if you're going to earn an eternity in Hell, there needs to be a trial of some sort. A weighing of your good deeds versus your sins. There's No need for lawyers, judges or arguments—no, nothing but the cold hard facts that your brain so helpfully provides as you are in the process of checking out of this world and into the flames.
"Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day. To the last syllable of recorded time and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
Yes, I know some Shakespeare. Get over it. The guy knew what he was talking about, honestly. And you know, it wouldn't hurt you to read a real book now and again, rather than the ones about sparkly vampires, unless you just need a good belly laugh.
I may have viewed my own highlight reel a time or two, enough to know there weren't that many highlights. I remember mostly the small moments here and there, like kissing Elena in Denver, or watching her sleep. Or when I believed Katherine actually loved me, once upon a very long time ago. Maybe even some times from when my mother was still alive.
Other than that, it was full of crap and not worth the price of admission. Trust me.
Of course, it's easy to see the broken path of your life when you just look at the big moments and apparently, I was always destined to be a fool for love.
Haha, yes, the joke's on me. Laugh it up, go ahead, get it out of your system. I don't care what anyone thinks anymore, not that I ever did. But don't think I won't rip your head off if you go spreading that around.
You know, my brother and Elena were always writing down crap in their diaries, like their lives were so precious they needed to record every waking second. Pfffttt. Screw that.
Who the hell needs a reminder of how bad it was when you can crack open a bottle of liquor instead? You can find an endless array of alcohols to suit your moods, if you care too.
I like good old American bourbon or whiskey for when I'm thinking about Elena and Stefan and their whole perfect love thing—the sharp taste is perfect for a quick dulling of memories I don't care to linger on. Ric has good taste in bourbon, so sometimes I drink it to forget and sometimes I drink it to remember, but it depends on who I'm remembering or who I'm forgetting.
I prefer a nice, aged scotch (at least twelve years) when I'm trying to work up a strategy for whatever big, bad monster is on the loose. Scotch is for strategy, as Captain Martin at the esteemed Virginia Military Academy always used to say around the cigar in his mouth. Sometimes when I drink too much scotch I have nightmares of those long lost battlefields, and so…you know. Scotch in moderation. And only for strategizing.
Tequila is only to be consumed in shot form off the body of an oh so lovely lady. Preferably, she should be taking her shots off of you in return—unless you are in South America, and then you should be drinking it out of a snifter like a proper gentleman.
Sometimes, I get a little sentimental and break out the brandy that reminds me of Paris where the fine, pretty girls always tasted so sweet and just a little bitter, especially in autumn. Vodka is for the coldest of winter nights and the worst of the blood cravings—Grey Goose has not let me down yet. Wine, especially that of the red variety, is for the melancholy days when not even bourbon can numb the pain away…the days that remind you of all you've lost, of everyone who has come and gone in your life, and those who will never return.
Katherine drank merlot. So did my mother, before she died.
Gin…is for emergencies only. Gin is like gasoline, strong enough to take the paint off of a car and if I drink enough of it, entire weeks can disappear. Like I said, emergencies only.
Oh, but I really wish I could get my hands on some real absinthe that was so popular at the Moulin Rouge—not that knock-off green bile they make now (safe for human consumption and all), but the real deal made with wormwood. That stuff would make even a vampire's head spin.
Where was I again? Oh yes…alcohol for the memories, the ones that should be written on pages but aren't. I don't need a damned diary. Every single moment that ever meant anything at all is there, in my veins, under my skin…it just takes a whiff of the right spirit to bring them to life.
My parents have been dead for a week. I killed them.
They're fresh in their graves and I am not, all because I had a fight with Matt and went to a party I shouldn't have.
It's 2:48 am, and I'm here in the kitchen, alone. I can't get the smell of river water out of my hair, no matter how many showers I take. I shampoo twice. I tried using Jenna's brand and even let it sit on my hair for at least ten minutes, but the smell is still there.
Yes, I know I used to be a girl who loved to take baths, but now...well, now I can't stand the weight of the water around me, and honestly, I feel like I'm drowning again. My lungs burn as if they have no oxygen, my vision breaks out with fireworks, and my heart races. I know it's silly, but I'm terrified of drowning in my own bathtub. I don't even want to think about swimming pools or lakes. Summers will never be the same. Just don't tell Jenna and Jeremy; they have enough to worry about, and this isn't that big of a deal, right? I can handle taking showers from now on.
My parents can't take baths. They're six feet under, because I killed them by asking them to come and get me from a place I should never have been. Dad used to complain when I got in trouble. He'd always say, "Elena, you're going to be the death of me one day."
I've cleaned the entire house, even the corners where no one looks. I've organized the pantry. I've washed down all of the shelves with bleach, because they all smell like the bottom of the Mystic Falls River. My hands are raw, but I can still smell the dank, muddy depths all around me.
All of the casseroles brought over from well-meaning townsfolk are in the trash, right on top of the wilted sympathy flowers. All of the cards are in a box waiting to be stored in the attic, and there is a list of things to do beside me, like paying the funeral home, switching all the bills into Jenna's name, paying the tow company to pull the car out of the river, and boxing up Mom and Dad's clothes to take to Goodwill.
They won't need them anymore.
The house is silent. Jeremy and Jenna are asleep, and it's just me, here at the counter with a container of super glue and the pieces of my mother's favorite ballerina figurine, trying to glue it back together. I knocked it off of the shelf when I was cleaning, not on purpose, never on purpose, but sometimes it's hard to clean with tears in your eyes.
I can't get the glue out of the container. It's been used before and now it's all hard and gunked up and nothing will come out. I've tried it all—pins to clear the clog, scissors to cut off the tip, but it's stuck, and now I can't see anything again because the tears won't stop and I can't glue this stupid thing back together.
I will drown in my own tears before this is all over.
I don't know how to live. Maybe it would have been best if I had died. There is part of me is still down at the bottom of that river with the ghosts of my parents in that car, and I don't know how to get out.
I need to sleep. I want to sleep, but I can't. Oh, I have plenty of prescriptions to make me sleep, but when I do I keep dreaming of blue eyes as deep as the ocean, and I'm suddenly drowning again. I...I just can't. I'm sorry. I'm scared. I don't know what to do. Sometimes, and I know this sounds crazy, but I think the river is outside of my window, waiting for me. Coming to claim me. I need to sleep, but I can't.
The clock says it's 2:58 am. Only three hours until I have to be up for our appointment with the lawyer. Might as well make coffee. Mom would be mad, but I need this. I can't face any more dreams. Not tonight.
I have to clean my bathroom. I have to straighten my hair. I have to look like I am old enough to take care of my brother. The lawyers know why my parents were on Wickery Bridge that night. Will they arrest me? Take me away from Jeremy for being a menace to the family? Maybe they should. I see the judgmental looks from both of them when they think I'm not looking. They know the truth, and so do I. If I hadn't been so stupid…
Caroline has called me at least ten times. I really wish she'd stop. If it hadn't been for her suggesting we crash the party in the woods, I might not have killed my parents.
But I did.
Matt won't quit calling either. I really wish he'd stop. In fact, I wish everyone would quit calling me. It's safer for them if they just stay away.
I need to wash my hair again. I can still smell river water.
Oh, the tumbler of Scapa 25 Single Malt, vintage 1980, was the easy decision. But now, do I want to break into the AB negative or the B positive?
The AB negative has been in the freezer long enough to have a bit of a tang. It might pair nicely with the scotch.
The AC is running in the background, and the freezer hums as the cold drifts over the backs of my fingers. I can even hear the water percolating in the water heater. Throughout it all is the sound of her heartbeat, which has somehow become the rhythm of my life. It's the fucking metronome both my heart and dick have decided to follow. Thump, thump, thump. Damn it, this house is so noisy sometimes I just want to tear it down to the foundations and never look back.
What the hell. I'm going for the AB negative. With my luck, the damned plane will crash into the Rockies, and I'll end up skewered by a pine tree. I'm a hedonist. Gotta live life while you've got it, because tomorrow may bring a homicidal Original to your door carrying a stake with your name on it, or a crazy ex-girlfriend looking for revenge. Christ, there's too many of those to count.
I can hear Elena shuffling around upstairs as she finishes packing supplies for Ric while we're on our little vacation. Which reminds me…I need to take the bloated pile of trash called Moby Dick out of the bag. That book is such a fucking snooze fest. I'll just spoil it for you right now and save you three months of reading—a crazy man is obsessed with a white whale and they both die in the end. If you're going to have an obsession, at least make it a pretty one, not some stupid whale.
Ric's more of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde kind of guy at the moment. Maybe can learn something from it while I'm being tormented ny sharing a plane ride with Jeremy Gilbert and his teenage-boy odor issue.
I loved Jekyll and Hyde. I think I have still have the first edition I picked up in Boston upstairs somewhere. I mean, what's not to love? A man goes out in search of his darkest side and finds it, but unfortunately the monster in him takes over.
Kind of like me.
I knew what I was signing up for when I drank from Katherine. I knew the deal was for an eternity of being one of the undead, and frankly, if she was with me, I really didn't care what I was. You could have exchanged the word vampire for something like zombie, or unicorn, or hell, even leprechaun, and I still would have signed any contract willingly, in blood, and followed her to hell, or to the end of the rainbow.
I'm glad she wasn't a leprechaun, by the way.
But none of that matters now. No, not a bit. I made my choice, but my father always said I was a fool, and I agree. Some things are so predetermined you can't fight them.
Ric knows a thing or two about the masks we all wear and the monsters underneath. Sure, we want everyone to think we're Dr. Jekyll so we put on a respectable face for the crowd. We mow the lawn and go to church and don't murder our neighbors, even though we really want to after they start blaring techno music at full volume around 2 am.
Sometimes those fake masks of normalcy take over our lives, trap us in place, and freeze us into making choices we don't really want but feel like we have to do.
Kind of like Stefan. And Elena, for that matter.
I can't blame them. I put on a mask like that once. I was the dutiful son who went to military school and then on to the war, and I only got grief, disappointment, and a decade's worth of nightmares for my troubles. I spent decades preparing and waiting for Katherine, buying houses and making plans—becoming a man of worth for her. And I was miserable. I won't ever do that again, not for Katherine, not for Elena, and certainly not for Stefan. My bastard of a father even shot me—fucking shot me in the heart!—when I refused to play by his rules anymore.
Too bad Stefan couldn't kill Father's voice in my head when he skewered the ass. But I don't think about Father much anymore, not until Stefan starts giving me the judgmental looks and then it's bam, back in 1862 all over again where I'm being called every name in the book and listening to endless speeches about how a model son should act, and why can't I be more like Stefan, and how terrible it is there's too much of my grandfather in me to make a decent human being. The Salvatore men have always hated their fathers. It's a long-standing family tradition.
But I digress. Sometimes the scotch brings out that in me.
Have you ever noticed how exactly alike Stefan and Elena are? How intent on keeping up the good girl/guy image that they make themselves absolutely miserable? Yes? Good. I've noticed it too. They're on delusional bandwagons—both of them.
One of these days I'm going to open up a rehab center and call it 'Damon Salvatore's Home for Poor, Delusional Schmucks.' It'll make a fortune, if I don't kill everyone who walks through the door first.
Why do I love them again? I can't remember anymore.
Maybe I fell in love with the masks they wear, too.
All right, time to finish the blood and the scotch. Let's get this awkward trip out of the way as soon as possible.
I just want a god damned drink. That's all I ask for. "Four fingers of bourbon please, and make sure it's the good kind so it scrubs these memories clean. I want that shit sparkling like the Taj Mahal.
You know what, forget the glass and give me the bottle."
That's what I'm going to say the second we hit the airport and I can find a bar and forget about this night for a while, as in decades.
I don't want to think about that kiss, or the realization she was simply dipping her toes in my waters. God, you're such a damned fool, Damon. She's more like Katherine than you ever knew—you just refuse to see it.
She's playing you, mister. Get your bags packed and hit the road, ASAP. Leave these irritating Gilberts here in the airport and hop a plane to Moscow, or Hong Kong, or hell, even bloody Vancouver if it puts distance between you and her.
Could Katherine have snuck back in and taken Elena's place when I wasn't looking? Is the real Elena somewhere tied up, screaming for help? No, it's her all right. My dick is still beating to her metronome of a heart. God, I hate my life.
She acts like Katherine so much at times it scares me. It's the little punishments that are so terrifyingly Katherine-like. The judgy looks and snide comments as she takes me down a peg or two for her own cruel enjoyment.
She must have learned it from Stefan, since he's been practicing on me for years. Remind me to kick his ass later. He needs it.
Ah good, there's an ugly girl working at the airport counter. Perfect. Give her a wink and make her feel beautiful, even though she may look like Quasimodo, and she'll offer everything she has. Women rarely need to be compelled if you know how to turn on the charm and make them feel special. Sometimes that works for men too, if the need arises.
"Ma'am, how many frequent flyer miles do I have left? Never mind, it's going on the gold card. One way ticket to Barcelona, please, the next available. I think I'll head up to Pamplona and run with the bulls. It seems much safer than staying here. Say, do you have any seats left in first class for someone like me? Why, thank you, you're such a dear. What time does your shift end?
Oh, there's a four hour wait, you say? That's fine. Say, if you get off work before I leave. I'll buy you a drink, and then you can buy me one. How does that sound? Oh baby, I take my drinks neat. No rocks, please.
Lovely. I'll see you there. Can you point me towards the closest bar?"
Damn it. Why does Elena have to be sitting on the airport floor shivering like that? Why did you look at her, you damned fool? The airport bar was right there, and you had to go and search her out. Always listening for that heartbeat.
Fuck. She's cold. She needs coffee. Why isn't her brother taking care of her? Remind me to punch Jeremy later. There are days I'm really sorry he was wearing Ric's magic ring that night…
Her shivering and sniffling is so loud I can hear it from 200 yards away. Nope, don't care. Got a ticket to Barcelona in my pocket and as Rhett would say, 'I don't give a damn….'
Ugh. Now's she's crying. I hate myself.
"Barkeep, get me two coffees. Make one half-bourbon, please."
Who am I kidding? I still love Katherine. I love Elena, with her kindness and judgy eyes and snide comments. My father was right. I'm a fool.
I sit down beside her and hand her the coffee without a word, because I'm a miserable excuse for a vampire. Hope is a miserable bitch—the only bitch that can't get enough of me.
Elena's trying her hardest to ignore me, but she can't hide her heartbeat from picking up speed whenever I come near. Thump, thump, thump. It's like a fucking time bomb that is going to go off and kill me one day. Thump thump, tick tock, Damon. Tick tock, we're all going to die. Crash boom bang, that's all she wrote. Hang a flag and light up some fireworks. I'm going to die for this woman, and she is the bomb that will kill me. Crunching metal and glass, we're going to go down to the depths. Thump thump, tick tock.
I can't blame Stefan and Elena for holding on to their saintly masks for so long. The monster hiding behind mine was much stronger than I would ever be, no matter how much I try to tamp it down, or drown it in liquor. Too bad my monster is the good guy.
Elena is a master of tearing away the mask of a vampire and exposing the human side still cowering in the shadows, like a shivering puppy. God, I hate her so much sometimes. Yes, it's a problem that you love me.
God, I deserve her. I deserve her being in love with Stefan.
Tick tock. We're all going to die.
The boarding house is quiet, except for the sounds of the fire in the hearth and Damon's ring clinking against his wine glass. He's deep into a bottle of red wine, which usually isn't his first choice for alcohol. Strange. I don't think I've ever seen him drink that before. He's more of a bourbon kind of guy. He's kicked his boots off and promptly lined them up near the door like a soldier. Sometimes I wonder who he was before he became a vampire—was he a man who always put his shoes and clothes in order, or was he trained? He's so loathe to talk about anything in the past, and I have to say I get it now. I know why he keeps the shadows where they belong.
Maybe I should take up drinking. It would at least give me something to do other than sit here on the couch like a target, waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for someone to come bursting in the door to kill me, waiting to take off running for my life, waiting to not be scared of the shadows on the wall. Damon won't mind if I sleep on the couch…just for tonight.
I'm tired of being helpless.
I can't go home. Not tonight. Not to my equally silent house with memories of Jenna and the accusing looks from Jeremy, and the smell of the river that never goes away. Not tonight. I can't face it.
Stefan is gone. I mean, gone for good and not just because Klaus won't let him come home. He's over the edge and it's entirely my fault.
Why would Stefan protect Klaus after all Damon and I went through to get him back? Is it because he finally realized I wasn't Katherine? Could he see the monsters under my skin, the ones I've been trying so hard to keep away? Was he having a better time with Klaus?
The wind is picking up outside with the coming storm. Rain starts to patter against the windows, and I grab a blanket and curl up tighter. Damon sits down on the couch beside me and somehow, the water doesn't bother me so much. If I keep my eyes closed, I can't drown in his eyes. Not tonight.
I can't believe we spent months searching for the smallest of clues as to where Stefan was. And don't forget the road trip to Chicago (which, oddly, wasn't the worst trip in the world, despite Stefan breaking up with me and Damon almost dying. Again.) I might have given up long ago were it not for that one late night phone call I knew was him. No matter what anyone else believes (Damon), I know it was Stefan.
When it's real you can't walk away, right? Right? I really don't know why I told Damon we have to let him go. Maybe…maybe it's because Stefan is better off away from Mystic Falls and away from me—the girl who killed her parents. The girl who killed Jenna. The girl who was so afraid of immortality that she let those she loved die just so she wouldn't have to face the prospect of an unending life.
I mean, that's really what is most terrifying about becoming a vampire. It's not the fact you have to drink blood to survive. It's not the fact you can never have a family. It's not the fact sunlight is no longer your friend. It's the thought of going on, day after never ending day, with nothing but you and your sins and choices haunting your every step. An eternity of guilt, of being numb, and the constant fear of drowning, be it in water, grief, or blood. No, let me die and go to hell for what I've done. Let me burn for all the deaths I've caused—just don't make me live with it for eternity.
If I would have turned into a vampire, Jenna would still be alive. I'm sorry, Aunt Jenna. I'm sorry I let you die on that rock, I'm sorry I killed your brother, I'm sorry I ruined your life. I'm sorry I couldn't become a vampire to save your life.
God, I feel like I'm going to break and I don't know what to do. One more body for the pyre, one more soul gone because of me. I don't know what to do.
Stefan broke apart like a window, like the crunch of metal and glass as it hits the water. He broke and there's this monster living in my skin that's going to take over and I just wish I knew what to do. It's snarling and clawing and it screams so loud every time Damon looks at me and I can't decide if I want to tear out my hair or do something stupid, like kiss him until I can't remember my own name.
I can't hurt anyone else. Why can't Damon see that? Why can't he quit looking at me like that, with genuine sympathy he spares for no one except me? I really wish he'd stop. It would be best for him. I wish he would take a hint and go find someone better for him, someone who wasn't such a spoiled coward hiding behind everyone else. Why can't he see I want him to have a good life, not one stuck with me?
I dreamt of a monster last night. It was banging against the doors, chasing me through the woods, and when I looked back, it was wearing my skin and looked just like me as it destroyed everything around it. Flowers melted, paint peeled at her touch, and Damon died with one touch of the monster and God, I really wish Damon would just go. Go where he can find happiness. Go where he can find someone who can bring out the good in him.
Stefan fought against his darkness and won, once. He can do it again. And if he can do it, so can I. I can still make up for the damage, I can still go to school and make good grades and go to college and have a family and pretend to be normal. Pretend that I didn't kill my parents and my aunt. Pretend that I didn't bring this all on myself.
I can make up for the sins. Just…no more mistakes. No more thoughts of Damon that shouldn't be there. No more letting people die because of me. No more bodies for the pyre. Mine is full, thanks. No tears. If I start crying now for all the people I've damaged, I'll never stop.
Sometimes I forget to think about Stefan, which makes me even more of a horrible person, I know. Sometimes I just go through my day and as I'm brushing my teeth suddenly realize I haven't wondered where he is, or how he's doing, or what state me might be in. Or how many people he's killed today.
Sometimes I forget to think about Stefan battling his demons because I'm too busy battling my own, and I don't know what to do.
Damon, please don't look at me like that. You only make it worse. You make me want to do bad things. You make me want to forget how much damage I have to make up for; you bring up the monster inside of me.
Yes, yes it's a problem that you love me. You love the mask of the good girl, and not this blackness underneath. I'm not going to break because Stefan left, I'm going to break because you stayed. Don't love me.
Don't leave me.
I left Elena sleeping on the couch and made my way down the stairs in silence. I know where all the creaks are in the floorboards. I've lived here too long.
There's more wine in the basement. Of course that's what I'm going down here for.
No, I didn't come down here to open this dusty old trunk full of detritus of my shitty life. Nope. I came down here for the wine, that's it. The trunk just happens to be near the wine, that's all. Far enough out of sight that no one would bother with it, which is fine with me.
Oh, there's a dirty old Confederate uniform in there (which probably still has lice on it from 1863. God, I fucking hate lice), Mother's emerald ring, my first knife, a few wooden toys, and below a litany of trinkets and clothes from the decades, is the stake.
It's nothing special. No magical powers, no witchcraft worked on it, no carvings. Just a thick piece of cedar from somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. I was never a good whittler, but this is straight and has a sharp point. I took my time making this one. You can't very well kill your baby brother with a dull stake, now could I?
Stefan is off the rails again, in full Ripper mode. And I don't know if he's coming back.
Hell, who am I kidding? He won't come back. Not in this lifetime.
I've watched this before, seen it happen with my own eyes. For decades I stood in the shadows while Stefan slaughtered entire villages, and I did nothing except stand there with this stupid cedar stake and know that I had to kill him.
But I couldn't do it. I didn't have the heart. Who else would remember the boy I used to be, once? Or remind me of those long-dead hopes and dreams we each carried?
No matter how bad Stefan got, how deep into depravity he sank, I just couldn't put him out of his misery with a mercy killing. I'm a terrible older brother. He would have done it for me, in a second. No questions asked. I even tried to convince myself that this was just a monster wearing Stefan's skin, but that didn't help much until Lexi came along.
God, I hated that bitch. I was supposed to be the one to fix Stefan, not her. I…just couldn't bring myself to kill him, and I didn't know how to fix him (not for lack of trying, though). I've always known he would go off the rails again. It was just a matter of time.
Somehow, in all of the twisted drama of our lives, I knew that if I was the worse one of us, if I was the one everyone feared, maybe Stefan wouldn't look so bad. I could drill some sense into him and bring him back to sanity.
Stefan should have gone to military school like I did. It might have taught him some restraint, but instead he spent too much time messing with his hair, even before Katherine came around. Hell, I didn't want to go to VMI and be a soldier either, but I did. And I've been a solider ever since. Some things never leave you, which speaks to the quality of training there. Or, the level of hell I learned to live through.
There were approximately 14,600 (give or take several dozen. I've lost count) of Stefan's victims that I burned, buried, threw in lakes, left for the animals in the forest. Twenty years of my brother being a Ripper, and he never settled for less than two a night. I cleaned up most of the messes he left behind.
I should have stopped him. I wish I had. Stefan isn't the only one bearing the weight of those lives on his shoulders. Even I have my limits on massacres.
I've never told anyone this, but the Falls were my secret hiding place as a kid. When things got bad at home (which was every day with a drunk for a father and a clinically depressed mother), I'd go up to the banks and hang out near the old mill and just sit there for hours, staring out at the water, wondering when life would change for me.
The night my father shot me, that's where I went, taking Stefan too. I had no intention of living this life without Katherine, and if I was going to die, I was going to do so by those banks. I wanted to be buried next to the shore where no sounds drifted in, and only the wind blew through the trees.
It is a sacred spot, almost outside of this world, like some dream that was reserved just for me. No fights, no blood, no arguments. Just quiet. The water would lap against the edge, crickets and frogs would sing for hours, and it was home.
I think if I have to stake Stefan for good this time, maybe that's where I should bury what's left of him. He might enjoy that spot.
I really don't want to have to do this. Elena will despise me for it, but not more than I hate myself. Oh, she'll speak of the bunny diet and vampire rehab and getting Stefan clean again, but Christ does my bullshit detector go off when she talks like that. She has no idea what it's like to live with this monster clawing for blood every hour of every day. She has no fucking clue of the power it holds over us, how it changes us.
This isn't something a stint in bunny rehab will fix. Nope, only a stake in the heart will cure us.
I'll have to do it this time. There isn't anyone else. There shouldn't be anyone else to do this.
Is that what it's come down to? Damon, the one bad enough to kill his own brother out of mercy? Stefan has always been the one to pull me to my fate, it seems. He pulled me towards Katherine. He pulled me to be a vampire. He pulled me towards Elena, and now he's pulling me to seal the deal and cap off a stellar existence with fratricide. Brothers in arms, forever. Literally.
How fucking poetic. Remind me to punch him in the face before I stake him.
I need more wine. Lots of it.
Tick tock. We're all going to crash and burn. It's just a matter of when.
Why…why must they make me choose between them? They don't care about me, they only want the choice that will finally crack me open and send me adrift in a sea of tears. I'm fighting for my life, and no one cares that I am drowning. All of my friends are picking and choosing sides and discussing who I should be with, and no one can hear I'm screaming. They only want me to say one name or the other, as if I could live without either of them.
One Salvatore is my hope that I can be stronger than the darkness clawing underneath my skin. The other is my fate, behind eyes like the ocean, and it scares me so much how badly I want it. I can't choose. I'm going to break and I deserve it.
Damon sees too much of the monster that wears my skin. He calls it up like a magician, like a dragon rising to the hand of the master, and I can't control anything anymore.
He will hate me for what he finds inside. If I give in, he will take everything and there will be nothing left. He will despise me for what he finds. I am a spoiled, mean, selfish coward and even Damon Salvatore will get tired of me. Stefan is safer. Stefan won't push too hard against the cracks, he understands how fragile they are, and how hard one must work to keep them up.
Damon will rip everything open and leave me adrift in the ocean with no way to return. I will drown.
If only Damon would listen. If only he would just stay away. I really wish he'd stay away. I'm drowning and I don't know what to do. Don't end up dead because of me, Damon. I can't bear another soul, another bloodstain on my hands.
"Maybe if we had met first…"
I really hate irony. It's right up there on the list of things that Piss Me Off, third behind hope and delusion.
I should have let Ric kill me. It would have been a fitting end to die in some backwoods storage shed like a piece of rusty old junk no one wanted anymore. She made her choice and it wasn't me. It would never be me. Always runner-up, Miss Congeniality. Skip the flowers and tiara, just give me a bottle of gin instead.
I knew she was dead because Ric was dead, and now there is no one left to care whether I live or die. No one to miss me. There would be no mourners at my funeral, although there would definitely be a few throwing a party over my ashes. Actually, more than a few, probably.
But my gut told me not to quit fighting. "Your fate isn't to go out with a whimper," it said. "Yours is a fiery explosion, and this isn't it. Keep fighting."
I should have let Ric kill me. Hell, I wish he'd shown up five minutes earlier so I could have gone out thinking there was a shred of hope in the world for me.
My eyes were so blurry I could barely see the road on the drive home, with Ric's body in the seat beside me. I won't deny there were tears shed. I never realized a drive could take so long. I spent an eternity with the blacktop spinning out before me, the headlights catching the edges of the trees as I sped by. If there were ever such a thing as a whirlpool of endlessly looping time, I managed to hit it on the drive back to the hospital. I think I aged ten years on that trip, although no one would be able to tell.
And there was no way in hell Stefan was going to carry Elena out of the morgue. That was MY job. I've done it before and I'll damn sure do it again. I put her in her bed, took her shoes off, and left before I strangled Stefan with my bare hands. I couldn't face him. Not now. Not with Ric…and Elena…
I must have walked to the old Salvatore gravesite. I don't remember. I do, however, remember stopping at the liquor store and picking up the biggest bottle of gin I could find. This qualifies as an emergency.
Mother's grave was a little overgrown with weeds. Had it been that long since I'd been here last? I guess it had, with all the Originals and werewolves and assorted drama keeping me occupied as of late. "Sorry, Mom. I'll do better next time.
I didn't want this for Elena. Oh, I did at first. I mean, when you've been alone for over 200 years, you'll do just about anything to make sure you aren't. Especially if it means Elena would become like me.
She didn't want this, and I get that. But I couldn't save her from it.
I know she's got her faults, Mom. I see them. She's spoiled and stubborn and her ideas are always destined to end in failure.
She's got a damned martyr complex just like Stefan, and you of all people know how bad his is. The utter irony of this situation is that I've spent decades with a Ripper for a brother, and she thinks I can't see who she really is on the inside. Yes, yes, I know I hide things too, but she's clung to him because she thinks she can control it like he can. Well, here's a newsflash, Elena—Stefan doesn't control shit. It controls him. He's a goddamned Ripper! So what if you've got some sins and stains on your hands. Join the club. No one lives this life scot free, and only irritating saints think otherwise.
Elena needs to get dirty and lose the fear, lose the guilt, and most of all, just live."
I don't know what to do. Crash, boom, bang. The rockets are blaring and the mortar shells are exploding and I'm dying all over again. I'm going to kill so many people for this.
I would have given her anything. I would have been the first in line with my head and heart on a silver platter if she'd asked for it. Maybe this is that karma thing they're always going on about. With all of the hearts I've ripped out, it would only be fitting for me to offer up my own for her to crush.
She is going to choose not to turn. It's a typically stupid Elena-type decision. She wants to be the martyr, as if that would change one iota of what's already happened.
I would give anything in the world to change places for her. I would go to hell for her.
But even no one in hell wants me, either.
There are nights I still dream of the crash—twisting metal, crashing and breaking, water rushing in, cold and shocking. My cell phone is wet and I can't call Damon back to say I'm sorry, I was wrong. Where are you? Why did you leave? Why are you making me choose?
Sometimes the oddest things bring on the nightmares. Yesterday I saw a beat up old Ford truck cruising around town and I could have sworn Matt was driving, only, I know it wasn't Matt. He's been dead and buried for years, and if there is one monster we have had the fortune to not deal with, it's zombies. Well, kind of. Knock on wood.
But I know it was him. I don't know how, or why, but Matt was driving down Main Street in Mystic Falls with his windows down and a smile on his face. Or maybe it was the new quarterback, another too-young boy with all of his dreams and hopes pinned on his sleeve, fresh and uncrushed by life.
Damon said it was to be expected because when you live long enough, you can't deny that reincarnation is real. "Think of it like a giant, mystical merry-go-round."
I think he's wrong, though. It's not really reincarnation, but we forget what their faces actually looked like. Everyone begins to look like your parents or your friends you lost too young, or even your old exes. The features might be a little off, but that's enough for your mind to alter the memories in your mind, the ones so well-worn and faded, and you begin to believe we all die just to come back, over and over.
You want to believe they all come back. You want to believe there is something, some notion of a higher power out there that knows the loneliness of this life and deigns to throw out a few life preservers now and then.
The timer is going off in the kitchen. I made gingerbread cookies, even though I don't care for them because they never taste as good as they smell, but they're Damon's favorite. At least I didn't burn them too much this year. I think he is getting used to the taste of burnt gingerbread, so this will be a nice surprise. I even made some mulled wine. He should be home soon, and he'll be ready for it.
Christmas is tomorrow, and there is a bad blizzard moving in. All of our friends have families and lives of their own now, and we rarely get to spend as much time together as we used to, but Damon and I make a point of coming back to Mystic Falls for the holiday.
There are presents to buy, and an excess of graves to put wreaths on.
We've come to a silent agreement regarding cemetery visitations. I won't follow him on his rounds, and he won't follow me to mine. We grieve alone and take our time with the ones we've lost (sometimes that can take a while since we've lost so many), and then we come home and hide away from the world, finding comfort in each other.
I know that there are hurts that time can never heal, no matter how many years pass. There are holes in your life you have to bear alone, and that words can never fix. The most we can do is be there for each other to offer up a shoulder when times get tough, to make mulled wine because that's all he drinks at Christmas, when he always gets quieter and kinder, and to make gingerbread cookies even though you burn them most of the time. I can't fix his sorrow, and he can't fix mine, so we deal in the best way we can. It's not perfect, but neither is life.
Damon always hid the good parts of himself, not because he hated them, but because it made life too painful to bear alone.
I stir the wine and pull the cookies out of the oven, and as I'm scraping off the really burnt bits, I think about the path my life could have taken. I could be one of the coffins in Mystic Falls cemetery now, were it not for a couple of twists of fate. I could be moldering in a bed of satin, food for worms, as much of a martyr as an 18 year old girl can be, fretting over other people's fates and sacrificing myself to change their destinies.
And then I think of Damon, alone at Christmas, standing over my grave. There would be no one for him to talk to, no one to brush the hair from his eyes and wrap their arms around him and protect the lingering humanity behind the façade. It breaks my heart to imagine him like that, and it makes me hug him a little tighter at night.
I know now you can't fight fate for a reason. You shouldn't fight it. Fate will direct your life, and the more you struggle, the harder it will push, turning you around in circles until you end up where you always needed to be, where you were born to be, and become who you were meant to be. I was Ophelia, drowned at the bottom of fathomless blue eyes and looking up at the world on the surface. I was not meant to be the martyr I was trying so desperately to become. No, I was selfish then, thinking if I died I might be worshipped as a vessel of kindness and forgiveness. But becoming a saint doesn't erase the sin. I could have sacrificed myself a thousand times over and never gotten rid of those stains.
I didn't know it back then, but I began to drown the moment I met Damon Salvatore. My brain fought and rebelled and tried to keep up with the façade of a good girl who never partied too late or killed her parents and Aunt Jenna, but Damon just kept ripping the illusions apart and letting the monster wearing my skin come out.
There are moments you look back on the broken road of your life and know you were always steam barreling towards the crash where you break apart and shatter, exploding in a twist of metal and glass sinking towards the bottom.
The river was always waiting to claim me. I don't know why I feared it so much.
I hear the car in the driveway. He's home. I pull the mugs out of the cupboard and dip out some wine, and the warm spiciness wafts through the house and makes it feel like we never left.
He's standing in the entry, kicking off his boots that are full of mud and snow, his cheeks a little redder than normal from the cold. The blizzard is getting worse, but we have nowhere to worry about being, and the fire is going and there is a comfy couch with our names on it.
"How was your mom?"
"Still dead," he says. "The wreath looked nice, though. I think I should get her a new headstone in a couple of years. The engraving is wearing down and some cracks are showing."
I just nod and wrap my arms around him and just hold him for a long while. He smells of pine and moonlight, and of the Falls.
The water claimed me, and it always carries me home. Damon is home, no matter where we go.
After a while we curl up on the couch with our books. Damon is reading Gone With The Wind, again, and I've decided to tackle Moby Dick. I've got an eternity, so why not hit the classics?
He gives me the raised eyebrow at my selection. "Captain Ahab dies in the end," he says. "There. I saved you from wasting weeks of your life on that trash."
I roll my eyes at him and then toss the book on the floor with a resounding thump. "Whatever will I do for entertainment now that you've ruined yet another book for me?" I ask.
I'm rewarded with the smirk I love and hate so much. He's suddenly close, too close and his breath is ghosting along my neck and his lips are barely grazing against the outside of my ear. "I guess we'll have to improvise," he replies, his blue eyes catching the light from the fireplace. The smirk doesn't reach all the way to his eyes, but I don't expect it to at this time of the year, and he doesn't say anything when I fake a smile, too.
Outside the blizzard is howling, but inside we are warm, happy, content, and most importantly, home.
It was always my fate to sink to the bottomless depths, and I'm so glad I chose to turn back and meet my destiny on that bridge. I know that sometimes, life has to turn us completely around backwards in order to get us moving in the right direction—towards home.
Elena is asleep on the couch, and the fire has died down to a few red coals. Midnight has come and gone, and it's Christmas once again.
I put a blanket over her and take my mug outside to the porch. There is at least three feet of snow on the ground, and it's still coming down. The cold doesn't bother me much, not like it used to.
The first Christmas I spent away from my family was when Father shipped me off to the Virginia Military Institute. I think I was fourteen. Maybe fifteen. Young enough to still miss home, but old enough not to dare show it to anyone. Every Christmas for the next eight years were spent away, watching the world I knew sink into a war for the sake of pride. The South was always destined to be on the losing end of the war, but few would acknowledge it.
I could never understand why men were so willing to die for that notion, to be shot and bleeding out, yet still run with reckless abandon into the thick of the fighting. Why they would suffer through lice and dysentery and maggot-filled food just to die for a lost cause? Back then, I thought they were idiots—dying for something that really never existed except in stories, clutching ghosts and shadows of their long dead dreams.
I envied them, though. I envied their belief, so unwavering in the face of certain doom.
I caught a glimpse of that kind of faith when I first laid eyes on Katherine Pierce. Dark and mysterious, so graceful and sure of herself. I wanted to be the kind of man she could rely on, one that would be by her side forever, no matter what the world may bring. She could understand me. She could be the one I was destined for.
Only, Katherine was just the first shot in a very long war, one that would last for centuries. I always thought hope was a fickle bitch that had it out for me. Turns out, I was just impatient. Waiting was never my strong suit.
But, I get it now. It took over two hundred years, but I understand completely why the drummer boy crawled to his shattered drums, holding in his intestines while he tapped out his call for the troops. I know why my artillery commander waded through a sea of bloated dead to find his best friend and take the letters and pictures home to that man's family. Why there are those who are heroic, and those who could walk away without a second thought.
I understand what it means to be willing to die for a lost cause because of Elena. She is the one who can see the long-lost human man underneath it all—the one who cared too much, the one who couldn't save everyone he loved. The one who was always searching, clawing, fighting for the things he wanted so desperately to believe in. Things like comfort, love, and most of all, understanding.
In all of the years of searching, I just wanted someone to make me remember what it felt like to have dreams and wishes, and to think that just maybe, this life was worth living even with all the weight of blood it brings.
She is more than just a woman. She is a promise. She is a dream of what was past, and what will be.
And yes, she still burns the damned gingerbread cookies even after sixty years of trying, but I don't care. I'll eat them all and not give her too much grief. I'll let her have most of my closet space and carry her bags even when she packs too much. I'll pick up the clothes she tosses on the floor, even though she knows it drives me nuts. I'll do the dishes. I'll even sit through the occasional chick flick with a modicum of complaint (I can't be expected to not offer commentary, however). I'll let her mourn over those she's lost, and I'll let her worry over Stefan. She is the place of dreams, and I will do anything for her.
I would wait for an eternity for her. I would face a firing squad with an arsenal of wooden, vervain-soaked bullets. Hell, I would burn down the entire world if she asked, and maybe even if she didn't. I'd watch the world crumble into ash and cinder to protect everything she is.
There isn't enough dirt in the world to cover all of the dead I would kill for her.