A low hum and subtle vibration gradually intensified as I was surfacing from unconsciousness. Pain streamed through my shoulders and neck to my skull, throbbing in my temples. At first, I thought that low rumbling was in my head. Then, as I stirred more awake, I realized I was in a car. It was the seat vibrating beneath me while I was being driven somewhere.
“What th—“ Rough coughing fit shook my body, eliciting more pains, some of which I didn’t know of a moment before. My throat felt dry and flayed.
“Didn’t take you as long as I hoped,” a familiar voice noted. My heart picked up its pace as her scent hit my nostrils. “Good thing I took some precautions.” I heard a complacent smile in her voice. I wanted to sit up and look the bitch in the eye, but couldn’t. Weak as a dying man, and feeling no better, I knew what precaution she meant.
“You… bitch,” I uttered in a husky voice of a stranger. Vervain burned my veins from the inside, and I wondered if there was any of my own blood left to dilute it.
She laughed. “Old news, Damon. But I’ll write it off to your haze for now. I know you can do better.”
With anger heating my blood along with vervain, I found it hard to concentrate and remember what was going on. A long moment of utter, blank disorientation scared me before it all returned to its places in my foggy mind.
“Invite only, vampire,” a sturdy fellow said, placing himself in front of me as I headed for the stairs of the Lockwood mansion.
“Here it is,” I said, swiftly ripping his heart out, “hybrid.” He went down, I went in.
I remembered clearly as I held the stake over Tyler right before Bonnie interfered. I recalled our talk, and how we parted ways, each seeing to our tasks.
And when I walked the corridor, hurrying to catch Klaus off-guard while Mikael loaded his ears with a bunch of crap, Stefan stepped before me, cutting me off.
A jolt of shock went through me. He was supposed to be still out cold, on the floor in our parlor. “What are you doing here?! Get out of my w—“ The world whirled as a twinge pierced my neck with a loud crack, turning off the light.
The terrifying realization detonated into a fit of rage I couldn’t contain. It hoisted me up, and I met Katherine’s eyes in the rearview mirror. “What the hell did you do?” I roared, paying no mind to another coughing fit upcoming. “Do you realize what you’ve done? You doomed my brother!”
Katherine was smiling, unfazed. “Oh, don’t hurt yourself in vain, Damon. Your brother’s free. The plan worked, but not the way you planned it. Your version had a major flaw we had to fix. Well, kind of.”
Her statement cooled me a tad, but my glare was still searing. “What does it mean? Stop the fucking car NOW.” She only smiled wider and pressed her foot lightly on the gas pedal. The car purred, accelerating. “I said NOW! Where do you think you’re going?”
She shrugged. “Away. Lie back and enjoy the ride. You could use some sleep, I’m guessing. Knock yourself out, it’s a long drive.”
“Where? Dammit, you freaking wench.” I jerked the door handle, but she had them all locked. “Stop or I’ll knock the door out,” I threatened through gritted teeth.
She was right, I couldn’t. Rage beat in my heart, but my body could not respond with equal momentum. She got too much vervain in me. Despair filled me with weariness, weighing me down like liquid lead. I slumped back against the seat, my breath labored. She glanced in the mirror with a hint of sympathy that I could bet I misread disdain for.
“What the hell did you do?” I asked again, weakly.
She threw an uncertain glance in the mirror. “Don’t worry about Stefan. I didn’t lie, he is free from Klaus’s compulsion. Klaus freed him as a favor – for helping kill Mikael and stop you.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. After all the planning and reciting, it was like having woken up in another version of the world.
“Klaus knew all about your perfect plan,” she continued, seeing I had nothing to say. “He had his hybrids at ready to grant you the ugliest death whenever you showed up. You snuck in – I give you that – and you might have succeeded, but then you’d be dead.”
I raised my eyes to her, full of bitter fury. “So what? I knew what I was in for. I’d trade my life for it in a heartbeat.”
“We knew that. But your brother wasn’t as ready to lose you as you were to bid him goodbye.”
“I can’t. That road is closed to both of us. Forget it. It’s time to move on.”
I pulled a grimace of angered disbelief. “The hell you’re talking about? Turn the damn car around! I need to see my brother!”
“I CAN’T, Damon,” she repeated slowly, her voice raising. All humor gone from her face, now deadly serious. It sobered me up. “When he freed your brother, he told us he knew what you had planned to do, and he wouldn’t forgive it. Nor me who plotted with you. In return for Stefan’s freedom and our lives he demanded that you and I ran, as fast and far as we could before he sicked his bloodhounds on our trail. All because of how close you came. The bastard happens to be afraid to die. If we refused, he’d kill everyone Elena ever called friend in the town, including herself in the end, and make Stefan – and you – watch as retribution.” Suddenly she twisted the wheel and pulled over on the shoulder. She half turned, facing me, her eyes glistening as a small, callous smile dawned on her lips. “He’d take your precious doppelganger’s life to pay for your bold plot, Damon. Would you want that? Say the word, and I’ll gladly give you a lift. Too bad I can’t watch him do it, because there’s no one he wants to kill in my stead. It’s still my life that I pay with for my wish to live.”
I sat staring at one spot on the dashboard, not seeing anything, while the meaning of her words seeped in, adding more chill of horror to every sound she had uttered. This was insane. What it meant was insane for me.
A sardonic smile twitched her glittering lips. “Whether you like it or not, you’re just like me from now on, Damon. On Klaus’s black list and on eternal run from his shadow. Just like me. You got it better than I did, though. You don’t have to be alone against the whole damn world.”
Drunk on terror and wrath, I slowly raised my eyes to her. “Damn you. You’re the curse of my life. I’ll better die than spend another minute on your ever running train.” Her face turned into a mask of steel. I yanked the door handle. “Open it.”
She didn’t move. Only her heart spiked up, then slowed back down as she got a grip of herself. “Damn me for saving your life,” she said, her voice low but cutting like a razor. “Damn me for wishing better for Stefan than having to watch those he loves most being gutted in front of him. Damn me for refusing to die for an original prick’s amusement five hundred years ago when my nightmare started. Damn me for losing everything I ever loved to survive. Damn me for making a huge mistake and believing you’d want Elena and her pesky friends to live instead of being the very reason for Klaus to pull her guts out from her navel to teach you a lesson. Damn me for thinking you’d choose leaving town with me over having all that haunt you and Stefan for your whole eternity.”
Something spasmed painfully inside my chest. Once again, I had nothing to say.
“What did you think it would be like if you succeeded?” she asked in the same low voice that penetrated my armor as easy as a nail would a chunk of butter. “You’d keep watching Stefan and Elena play out their American dream around you? Or you’d find your balls to leave them to it then? Well, now’s your time to decide. Leave them behind now that they can have each other as they wanted so badly. There’s no place for you, whatever you might’ve thought. Now, you either go back and screw it all up into a bloody mess, or you finally admit it’s over, let your brother be happy, and move on. What’s it gonna be?”
I was sick to my stomach and crushed by her ugly truth. It made it worse that she was absolutely right, to the letter of it. It was over, and there was not a damn thing I could do about it without making things worse. A thought that she might be lying never lingered in my mind. The way she delivered it left me with no doubt it was how it went. It did nothing to ease the torment, however.
I swallowed hard, wincing at the flayed stinging in my throat, sucked in a ragged breath, and looked at her as she studied me. Not having it in me to respond, instead I just lowered back down on the backseat with a grunt. She started the engine and pulled out.
A few minutes later, something plopped on my stomach. “Wet your throat. It’ll help you rest.”
I drank from the blood pack in silence. Later the droning of the drive lulled me to uneasy sleep.