The Fury (Chapter Fourteen)
Death is in the house.
And the kitten, the kitten had run from Damon. Not out of fear, but out of the fear of being discovered. Like when it had stood on Margaret's chest and wailed at the sight of Elena outside the window.
Elena moaned and almost surfaced from unconsciousness, but the gray fog dragged her back under before she could open her eyes. Her thoughts seethed around her again.
Poisoned love… Stefan, it hated you before it hated Elena… White and gold… something white… something white under the tree…
This time, when she struggled to open her eyes, she succeeded. And even before she could focus in the dim and shifting light, she knew. She finally knew.
The figure in the trailing white dress turned from the candle she was lighting, and Elena saw what might have been her own face on its shoulders. But it was a subtly distorted face, pale and beautiful as an ice sculpture, but wrong. It was like the endless reflections of herself Elena had seen in her dream of the hall of mirrors. Twisted and hungry, and mocking.
"Hello, Katherine," she whispered.
Katherine smiled, a sly and predatory smile. "You're not as stupid as I thought," she said.
Her voice was light and sweet-silvery, Elena thought. Like her eyelashes. There were silvery lights in her dress when she moved, too. But her hair was gold, almost as pale a gold as Elena's own. Her eyes were like the kitten's eyes: round and jewel blue. At her throat she wore a necklace with a stone of the same vivid color.
Elena's own throat was sore, as if she had been screaming. It felt dry as well. When she turned her head slowly to the side, even that little motion hurt.
Stefan was beside her, slumped forward, bound by his arms to the wrought-iron pickets of the gate. His head sagged against his chest, but what she could see of his face was deathly white. His throat was torn, and blood had dripped onto his collar and dried.
Elena turned back to Katherine so quickly that her head spun. "Why? Why did you do that?"
Katherine smiled, showing pointed white teeth. "Because I love him," she said in a childish singsong. "Don't you love him, too?"
It was only then that Elena fully realized why she couldn't move, and why her arms hurt. She was tied up like Stefan, lashed securely to the closed gate. A painful turning of her head to the other side revealed Damon.
"Which one do you like better?" Katherine asked, in an intimate, confiding tone. "You can tell me. Which one do you think is best?"
Elena looked at her, sickened. "Katherine," she whispered. "Please. Please listen to me…
"Tell me. Go on." Those jewel blue eyes filled Elena's vision as Katherine leaned in close, her lips almost touching Elena's. "I think they're both fun. Do you like fun, Elena?"
Revolted, Elena shut her eyes and turned her face away. If only her head would stop spinning.
Katherine stepped back with a clear laugh. "I know, it's so hard to choose." She did a little pirouette, and Elena saw that what she had vaguely taken for the train to Katherine's dress was Katherine's hair. It flowed like molten gold down her back to spill over the floor, trailing behind her.
"It all depends on your taste," Katherine continued, doing a few graceful dance steps and ending up in front of Damon. She looked over at Elena impishly. "But then I have such a sweet tooth." She grasped Damon by the hair, and, yanking his head up, sank her teeth into his neck.
"No! Don't do that; don't hurt him any more…" Elena tried to surge forward, but she was tied too tightly. The gate was solid iron, set in stone, and the ropes were sturdy. Katherine was making animal sounds, gnawing and chewing at the flesh, and Damon moaned even in unconsciousness. Elena saw his body jerk reflexively with pain.
"Please stop; oh, please stop-"
Katherine lifted her head. Blood was running down her chin. "But I'm hungry and he's so good," she said. She reared back and struck again, and Damon's body spasmed. Elena cried out.
I was like that, she thought. In the beginning, that first night in the woods, I was like that. I hurt Stefan like that, I wanted to kill him…
Darkness swept up around her, and she gave in to it gratefully.
Alaric's car skewed on a patch of ice as it reached the school, and Meredith almost ran into it. She and Matt jumped out of her car, leaving the doors open. Ahead, Alaric and Bonnie did the same.
"What about the rest of the town?" Meredith shouted, running toward them. The wind was rising, and her face burned with frost.
"Just Elena's family-Aunt Judith and Margaret," Bonnie cried. Her voice was shrill and frightened, but there was a look of concentration in her eyes. She leaned her head back as if trying to remember something, and said, "Yes, that's it. They're the other ones the dogs will be after. Make them go somewhere-like the cellar. Keep them there!" "I'll do it. You three take the dance!" Bonnie turned to run after Alaric. Meredith raced back to her car.
"Go back in! Get everybody inside and shut the doors!" he yelled at the sheriff's officers.
But there wasn't time. He reached the cafeteria just as the first lurking shape in the darkness did. One officer went down without a sound or a chance to fire his gun.
Another was quicker, and a gunshot rang out, amplified by the concrete courtyard. Students screamed and began to run away from it, into the parking lot. Alaric went after them, yelling, trying to herd them back.
Other shapes came out of the darkness, from between parked cars, from all sides.
Panic ensued. Alaric kept shouting, kept trying to gather the terrified students toward the building. Out here they were easy prey.
In the courtyard, Bonnie turned to Matt. "We need fire!" she said. Matt darted into the cafeteria and came out with a box half-full of dance programs. He threw it to the ground, groping in his pockets for one of the matches they'd used to light the candle before.
The paper caught and burned brightly. It formed an island of safety. Matt continued to wave people into the cafeteria doors behind it. Bonnie plunged inside, to find a scene just as riotous as outside.
She looked around for someone in authority but couldn't see any adults, only panicked kids. Then the red and green crepe paper decorations caught her eye.
The noise was thunderous; even a shout couldn't be heard in here. Struggling past the people trying to get out, she made it to the far side of the room. Caroline was there, looking pale without her summer tan, and wearing the snow queen tiara. Bonnie towed her to the microphone.
"You're good at talking. Tell them to get inside and stay in! Tell them to start taking down the decorations. We need anything that'll burn-wood chairs, stuff in garbage cans, anything. Tell them it's our only chance!" She added, as Caroline stared at her, frightened and uncomprehending: "You've got the crown on now-so do something with it!"
She didn't wait to see Caroline obey. She plunged again into the furor of the room. A moment later she heard Caroline's voice, first hesitant and then urgent, on the loudspeakers.
It was dead quiet when Elena opened her eyes again.
At the hoarse whisper, she tried to focus and found herself looking into pain-filled green eyes.
"Stefan," she said. She leaned toward him yearningly, wishing she could move. It didn't make sense, but she felt that if they could only hold each other it wouldn't be so bad.
There was a childish laugh. Elena didn't turn toward it, but Stefan did. Elena saw his reaction, saw the sequence of expressions passing across his face almost too quickly to identify. Blank shock, disbelief, dawning joy-and then horror. A horror that finally turned his eyes blind and opaque.
"Katherine," he said. "But that's impossible. It can't be. You're dead…"
"Stefan…" Elena said, but he didn't respond.
Katherine put a hand in front of her mouth and giggled behind it.
"You wake up, too," she said, looking on the other side of Elena. Elena felt a surge of Power. After a moment Damon's head lifted slowly, and he blinked.
There was no astonishment in his face. He leaned his head back, eyes wearily narrowed, and looked for a minute or so at his captor. Then he smiled, a faint and painful smile, but recognizable.
"Our sweet little white kitten," he whispered. "I should have known."
"You didn't know, though, did you?" Katherine said, as eager as a child playing a game. "Even you didn't guess. I fooled everyone." She laughed again. "It was so much fun, watching you while you were watching Stefan, and neither of you knew I was there. I even scratched you once!" Hooking her fingers into claws, she mimicked a kitten's slash.
"At Elena's house. Yes, I remember," Damon said slowly. He didn't seem so much angry as vaguely, whimsically amused. "Well, you're certainly a hunter. The lady and the tiger, as it were."
"And I put Stefan in that well," Katherine bragged. "I saw you two fighting; I liked that. I followed Stefan to the edge of the woods, and then-" She clapped her cupped hands together, like someone catching a moth. Opening them slowly, she peered down into them as if she really had something there, and giggled secretly. "I was going to keep him to play with," she confided. Then her lower lip thrust out and she looked at Elena balefully. "But you took him. That was mean, Elena. You shouldn't have done that."
The dreadful childish slyness was gone from her face, and for a moment Elena glimpsed the searing hatred of a woman.
"Greedy girls get punished," Katherine said, moving toward her, "and you're a greedy girl."
Distracted, Katherine stepped back. She looked surprised, then flattered.
"Well-if you really want me to," she said. She hugged her elbows with her hands and pirouetted again, her golden hair twisting on the floor. "No," she said gleefully, turning back and pointing at them. "You guess. You guess and I'll tell you 'right' or 'wrong.' Go on!
Elena swallowed, casting a covert glance at Stefan. She didn't see the point of stalling Katherine; it was all going to come out the same in the end. But some instinct told her to hang on to life as long as she could.
"You attacked Vickie," she said, carefully. Her own voice sounded winded to her ears, but she was positive now. "The girl in the ruined church that night."
"Good! Yes," Katherine cried. She made another kitten swipe with clawed fingers. "Well, after all, she was in my church," she added reasonably. "And what she and that boy were doing-well! You don't do that in church. So, I scratched her!" Katherine drew out the word, demonstrating, like somebody telling a story to a young child. "And… I licked the blood up!" She licked pale pink lips with her tongue. Then she pointed at Stefan. "Next guess!"
"You've been hounding her ever since," Stefan said. He wasn't playing the game; he was making a sickened observation.
"Yes, we're done with that! Go on to something else," Katherine said sharply. But then she fiddled with the buttons at the neck of her dress, her fingers twinkling. And Elena thought of Vickie, with her startled-fawn eyes, undressing in the cafeteria in front of everyone. "I made her do silly things." Katherine laughed. "She was fun to play with."
Elena's arms were numb and cramped. She realized that she was reflexively straining against the ropes, so offended by Katherine's words that she couldn't hold still. She made herself stop, trying instead to lean back and get a little feeling into her deadened hands. What she was going to do if she got free she didn't know, but she had to try.
"Next guess," Katherine was saying dangerously.
"Why do you say it's your church?" Damon asked. His voice was still distantly amused, as if none of this affected him at all. "What about Honoria Fell?"
"Oh, that old spook!" Katherine said maliciously. She peered around behind Elena, her mouth pursed, her eyes glaring. Elena realized for the first time that they were facing the entrance to the crypt, with the ransacked tomb behind them. Maybe Honoria would help them…
But then she remembered that quiet, fading voice. This is the only help I can give you. And she knew that no further aid would come.
As if she'd read Elena's thoughts, Katherine was saying, "She can't do anything. She's just a pack of old bones." The graceful hands made gestures as if Katherine were breaking those bones. "All she can do is talk, and lots of times I stopped you from hearing her." Katherine's expression was dark again, and Elena felt an acid twinge of fear.
"Yes! That was funny. You all came running out of the house and started moaning and crying…" Katherine evoked the scene in pantomime: the little dog lying in front of Bonnie's house, the girls rushing out to find his body. "He tasted bad, but it was worth it. I followed Damon there when he was a crow. I used to follow him a lot. If I wanted I could have grabbed that crow, and…" She made a sharp wringing motion.
Bonnie's dream, thought Elena, icy revelation sweeping over her. She didn't even realize she'd spoken aloud until she saw Stefan and Katherine looking at her. "Bonnie dreamed about you," she whispered. "But she thought it was me. She told me that she saw me standing under a tree with the wind blowing. And she was afraid of me. She said I looked different, pale but almost glowing. And a crow flew by and I grabbed it and wrung its neck." Bile was rising in Elena's throat, and she gulped it down. "But it was you," she said.
Katherine looked delighted, as if Elena had somehow proved her point. "People dream about me a lot," she said smugly. "Your aunt-she's dreamed about me. I tell her it was her fault you died. She thinks it's you telling her."
"I wish you had died," Katherine went on, her face turning spiteful. "You should have died. I kept you in the river long enough. But you were such a tramp, getting blood from both of them, that you came back. Oh, well." She gave a furtive smile. "Now I can play with you longer. I lost my temper that day, because I saw Stefan had given you my ring. My ring!" Her voice rose. "Mine, that I left for them to remember me by. And he gave it to you. That was when I knew I wasn't just going to play with him. I had to kill him."
Stefan's eyes were stricken, confounded. "But I thought you were dead," he said. "You were dead, five hundred years ago. Katherine…"
"Oh, that was the first time I fooled you," Katherine said, but there was no glee in her tone now. It was sullen. "I arranged it all with Gudren, my maid. The two of you wouldn't accept my choice," she burst out, looking from Stefan to Damon angrily. "I wanted us all to be happy; I loved you. I loved you both. But that wasn't good enough for you."
Katherine's face had changed again, and Elena saw in it the hurt child of five centuries ago. That must have been what Katherine looked like, then, she thought wonderingly. The wide blue eyes were actually filling with tears.
"I wanted you to love each other."
Katherine went on, sounding bewildered, "but you wouldn't. And I felt awful. I thought if you thought I'd died, that you would love each other. And I knew I had to go away, anyway, before Papa started to suspect what I was.
"But then"-Katherine's face twisted in grief-"you did everything all wrong. You were supposed to be sorry, and cry, and comfort each other. I did it for you. But instead you ran and got swords. Why did you do that?" It was a cry from the heart. "Why didn't you take my gift? You treated it like garbage. I told you in the note that I wanted you to be reconciled with each other. But you didn't listen and you got swords. You killed each other. Why did you do it?"
Tears were slipping down Katherine's cheeks, and Stefan's face was wet, too. "We were stupid," he said, as caught up in the memory of the past as she was. "We blamed each other for your death, and we were so stupid… Katherine, listen to me. It was my fault; I was the one who attacked first. And I've been sorry-you don't know how sorry I've been ever since. You don't know how many times I've thought about it and wished there was something I could do to change it. I'd have given anything to take it back-anything. I killed my brother…" His voice cracked, and tears spilled from his eyes. Elena, her heart breaking with grief, turned helplessly to Damon and saw that he wasn't even aware of her. The look of amusement was gone, and his eyes were fixed on Stefan in utter concentration, riveted.
"Katherine, please listen to me," Stefan said shakily, regaining his voice. "We've all hurt one another enough. Please let us go now. Or keep me, if you want, but let them leave. I'm the one that's to blame. Keep me, and I'll do whatever you want…"
Katherine's jewel-like eyes were liquid and impossibly blue, filled with an endless sorrow. Elena didn't dare to breathe, afraid to break the spell as the slender girl moved toward Stefan, her face softened and yearning.
But then the ice inside Katherine crept out again, freezing the tears on her cheeks. "You should have thought of that a long time ago," she said. "I might have listened to you then. I was sorry you'd killed each other at first. I ran away, without even Gudren, back to my home. But then I didn't have anything, not even a new dress, and I was hungry and cold. I might have starved if Klaus hadn't found me."
Klaus. Through her dismay, Elena remembered something Stefan had told her. Klaus was the man who'd made Katherine a vampire, the man the villagers said was evil.
"Klaus taught me the truth," Katherine said. "He showed me how the world really is. You have to be strong, and take the things you want. You have to think only of yourself. And I'm the strongest of all now. I am. You know how I got that way?" She answered the question without even waiting for them to respond. "Lives. So many lives. Humans and vampires, and they're all inside me now. I killed Klaus after a century or two. He was surprised. He didn't know how much I'd learned.
"I brought you here, both of you. I put the thought in your mind, Stefan, the way you put thoughts into a human's. I guided you to this place. And then I made sure Damon followed you. Elena was here. I think she must be related to me somehow; she looks like me. I knew you'd see her and feel guilty. But you weren't supposed to fall in love with her!" The resentfulness in Katherine's voice gave way to fury again. "You weren't supposed to forget me! You weren't supposed to give her my ring!"
Katherine swept on. "Oh, you made me so angry. And now I'm going to make you sorry, really sorry. I know who I hate most now, and it's you, Stefan. Because I loved you best." She seemed to regain control of herself, wiping the last traces of tears from her face and drawing herself up with exaggerated dignity.
"I don't hate Damon as much," she said. "I might even let him live." Her eyes narrowed, and then widened with an idea. "Listen, Damon," she said secretly. "You're not as stupid as Stefan is. You know the way things really are. I've heard you say it. I've seen things you've done." She leaned forward. "I've been lonely since Klaus died. You could keep me company. All you have to do is say you love me best. Then after I kill them we'll go away. You can even kill the girl if you want. I'd let you. What do you think?"
Oh, God, thought Elena, sickened again. Damon's eyes were on Katherine's wide blue ones; he seemed to be searching her face. And the whimsical amusement was back in his expression. Oh, God, no, Elena thought. Please, no…
Slowly, Damon smiled.