Author's Note: This will be just a few chapters long and posted quickly because even though I have another story going, I couldn't resist the challenge of all the ironies involved in Elena's lost humanity when compared with the histories of her friends. Though it deals with dark subject matter, you shouldn't worry too much, since I don't really believe in writing anything without a happy ending.
Huge thanks to Goldnox and Latbfan, the fastest and most insightful beta team of all time.
They laid me out with my dress and hair smoothed around me like Sleeping Beauty, leaving me looking like a girl they never would have had to lock in a basement cell. Optimistic of them. Or insane.
There are four drops of Bonnie's blood marring my stolen gown.
Her blood tasted like liquid poison ivy, cinching my throat closed until I couldn't even cough it up anymore. I wonder if all witch blood tastes like that, or if it is the taste of the triple massacre that feeds her power now.
When I woke up, I was so relieved to be alive, to be able to swallow and breathe and move. But in the next moment, I saw the heavy wood beams and the bars in the door and I knew I'd failed. Despite the near-perfect execution of my prom night plan, my friends didn't let me go. They took me home with them and locked me in.
It's funny, because most of the people we've put in the basement have loved killing too much, and I couldn't care less.
When I killed Connor I liked the sound, just for a second. That clean, crisp snap that said he'd never threaten Jeremy ever again. With the waitress, I didn't even get that much. I just felt tired, because even before she hit the ground I knew the gesture wouldn't be enough.
I knew that by the end of the night I'd be headed back to the same old town with the same old people and I'd never be free of their nagging, or their expectations, or the threat of all of them, pressing in around me all the time and waiting waiting waiting for me to break.
Even alone in this room, I can feel the weight of them squeezing down on my chest as the witchy fingers gouge outward, pressing me thinner and thinner in between.
I should have seen this coming when I let the Salvatores drive me back to Mystic Falls. Stefan's been dying to lock me in the basement since the moment I completed my transition and after I gave him a taste of his own medicine in New York, I doubt Damon was arguing too loudly.
They must have planned this even while they were buying corsages and shining their good shoes because in my cell, there's a bed. A virtuously twin-sized bed with a good pillow and sheets too white to risk on a dungeon built of bricks that are too rough to ever be clean. Nothing like the cot we gave Stefan, or the bare floor Damon slept on.
I'm probably lucky I didn't wake up with Converse sneakers on my feet and a brand-new diary full of accusingly blank pages tucked into the crook of my arm.
I blow out a long breath and vow to appreciate the quiet, the peace of getting to be exactly who I am when no one is here to hate me for it. Because it's obvious that these moments are going to be few and far between until I talk or cry my way out of this cellar.
I'm okay, no matter what the Salvatores think. The dangerous part of me that loves is buried and I'll never have to attend another funeral or touch another red rose. All I have to do is wait until they let me out, and then I'll be safely alone all of the time.
I'm not sure where I'll go. Beaches don't pique my interest any more than cities, and I don't really care if I go to school now, or get a job.
I'm distracted by a clank and a gurgle as water rushes through the old pipes in the walls. I could never hear that from Damon's room. He must have replaced all the plumbing in his wing of the house so it would run smooth and quiet. But from down here, it sounds like the house is digesting me.
The pipes rattle into an uneasy quiet. I try to think about what I will do when I'm free.
Instead the silence inside of me matches the silence of the heavy old house.
When I hear the basement door open, I arrange myself on my Disney Princess bed, pretending to be asleep so I'm not subjected to another round of earnest pleading to act like my old whiny self again. The footsteps are heavy and hesitating, and I close my eyes and sink back into the pillow as I recognize them.
There's a small scraping sound at the door, and then nothing. He must just be standing there, watching me sleep. Probably fantasizing about the good old days when I followed him around like a puppy and swallowed every lie he fed me like I was starving for them.
I open my eyes because I won't let him make me something I'm not, not even in his fantasies.
"Come back to cop another cheap feel in the name of altruism?" I ask him, my voice too flat to be sarcastic.
"Elena," he says, his green eyes wide. They flick to the right as if he's looking for help that isn't coming. "I didn't expect you to be awake yet."
I laugh, even though it isn't funny. "Aww, you don't have a plan yet, do you? Haven't decided how to deal with poor crazy Elena."
He blinks and lines appear at the edges of his eyes. Anger flashes through me as I realize what that means.
"No, you're just waiting for my boyfriend to come down and do the dirty work for you." I hurl the word at him, like the weapon Damon thought it was when he used it on me at the dance.
Stefan swallows. "You're not crazy," he says in an even voice. "But you tried to kill your best friend. If we let you out of here, you'll do more things you'll eventually regret and I don't want that for you, Elena. It's no more than you would do for any of us."
"You want me to be grateful that you locked me in your dungeon? Really, Stefan?" I cock my head, anger flashing hot at the roots of my hair even though I expected this from him.
I knew they'd never let me live the Bonnie thing down, even though killing her makes perfect sense and stealing Caroline's dress was far more calculatedly cruel. Caroline cares a lot more about this dress than anybody cares about Bonnie these days.
I shake my head and roll onto my back, glaring up at the ceiling.
They're all focused on the cure, but it's Bonnie who's the problem. For as much as she's always going on about doing the right thing, she never does it. Left to her own devices, she'll drop the veil to the Other Side for sure. She couldn't even be bothered to ask Jeremy on a date, but now she's willing to bring about the end of the world just to have him back?
"Locking me up was the kindest thing you ever did for me," Stefan says softly. "The first time, I didn't want to live with what I'd done, and the second time, I just wanted to keep doing it and forget everything else. But you wouldn't let me. You never gave up on me. You never gave up on Damon either, even after I did."
I could argue, but I'm just too tired to care. He'll only hear what he wants to hear, no matter what I have to say. I should have left when I had the chance, but I thought it would be easier once I convinced everyone from my old life that they didn't want to come chasing after me.
Apparently I didn't try hard enough.
"I brought you some blood." He nudges the cup he set in the window. "If you want some food, I can get you something."
"And why is it you instead of my boyfriend bringing it down here?" I roll onto my side again, facing the door as I prop my head up on my hand, shaking my hair so it cascades down my arm.
Stefan's lips push together and he tips his head to the side like he's absorbing the impact of that word and shaking it off.
"Damon needs a break," Stefan says shortly.
I can still see the flash of desperation in his ice blue eyes as he cradled me against his chest, his hands gentle because I was already in so much pain. He didn't need a break when he thought I was dying.
"So much for killing me with kindness, huh?" I ask drolly. "It's not really his M.O., is it?"
Stefan looks away and for a moment, I think I've won.
"Having your emotions off doesn't make you cruel, Elena," he says evenly. "You didn't have to say the things you said to him."
"Is that really what you're upset about, Stefan? Or were you hoping that without the sire bond in the way, I'd be begging to be your little pet again?"
I slide off the bed, gliding toward the door until the only thing separating our lips is a few bare inches of musty air.
"Were you sad?" I purr. "When it turned out that I didn't want either of you?"
He shifts back from the bars, but he still doesn't retreat.
"Do you remember, Elena, why you wanted to save me when I was reveling in the blood high, the freedom of being Klaus's slave, forced to indulge all my darkest desires?"
He wants me to say that he wasn't himself, wasn't the person he was supposed to be. Stefan's big on who we're all supposed to be. It's who we are that he has trouble with.
I shrug. "Sure. I didn't want you killing all those people. But I don't know why, because it doesn't actually matter as much as I used to think. I mean, when I killed that waitress, what really changed? Nothing."
"Everything," he says, his fingers tightening on the bars. "For the people in her life. For everyone who knew her. God, how can you say that, Elena? When you're only like this because you can't face the pain of losing Jeremy. You know exactly how much death matters."
The tightness in my chest won't relent, scraping points of pressure all along the insides of my ribs like bony, phantom fingers. I wonder if I make myself throw up if it will rid me of the rest of Bonnie's poisoned blood.
He shakes his head, his eyes knowing and sad in a way that makes me want to slap him in his condescending face.
"I know what it's like, Elena. I know how good everything can feel, and how little that matters after the first few months. Having your emotions off is like being a toddler. Only the most basic forms of gratification and nothing to fill the space between but boredom."
I roll my eyes. "If I play dead like a possum, will you stop talking?"
Stefan keeps going as if I never interrupted. "You can't feel glad for another person or be moved by beauty, no matter how well-equipped your eyes may be to experience it. You can't be proud or impressed or awed or at peace. Without your emotions, you're incapable of understanding what it means to be alive."
"And you do?" I scoff.
I've seen the hope drain out of his eyes too many times to buy this speech coming from him.
"Sometimes, Elena. Sometimes I do," he says quietly.
I fight the urge to reach through the bars and claw at Stefan's face until he stops looking at me with those eyes brimming with all the most pitiful of the human emotions.
As if watching him suffer would make me want to do it alongside him.
"Look," I tell him coldly. "Enlightening me, or whatever it is you think you're doing here, isn't going to put all your little Humpty Dumpties back together again. So don't pretend any of this is about me, when we both know the person you're trying to save is yourself."
He sighs. "Hey, it's been a long day. Why don't you get some sleep? Tomorrow is soon enough to deal with all this."
"You mean to deal with me."
He looks at me and his face so clearly says yes that I forget everything he just said. I'm so glad I don't have to feel it when he looks at me like that anymore.
Because it doesn't matter who I really am. The only thing that's going to erase the worry lines from between his eyebrows isn't for me to apologize, or be in love with him, or even to tear through a couple boxes of Kleenex sobbing for my poor, rotting brother. Those lines will smooth when I start doing exactly what he wants me to do.
And for all his talk of love, that isn't it.
Author's Note: If you'd like to read another story with a fantastic switched-off Elena and a Damon more amenable to that state of affairs, check out that-treason's new story "The Low Road."