Elena sat up in bed. Her frantic gaze darted around the bedroom. Morning sun glinted from between the shades. Where was she . . .? What was she doing . . .? Then she remembered. The Salvatore mansion. She lifted a hand to her cheek and pulled it away, staring at her damp fingers. Tears. Her shoulders slumped.
She shook the last vestiges of sleep from her mind. The only time her dead brother entered her thoughts was when she slept. There would be no more sleeping today. She flung off the covers and climbed from the bed. Not bothering to dress, she hurried down the stairs in her pajamas.
Stefan’s voice reached her just as she grabbed hold of the doorknob. She turned. He didn’t look like he’d been in bed. Maybe he had trouble sleeping with her and Damon under the same roof. Even though she had her own room, she had to admit, it was a little odd for the three of them to be living together considering their history. But it didn’t bother her. These days, nothing bothered her.
“Hunting,” she told him.
Stefan’s dark brows rose. “We have plenty of blood bags.”
She lifted a shoulder and smiled. “I feel like hunting.”
“Shouldn’t we talk about planning Jeremy’s memorial service?”
“Not interested.” She wouldn’t stand in the midst of a crowd and pretend to care. Pretend to remember anything about him.
He crossed his arms and shook his head. “People will wonder why you aren’t giving your brother a service.”
“Tell them whatever you want. I don’t care.” She put her hand on the doorknob.
“So I noticed.”
She rolled her eyes and tugged the door open.
“Elena?” Delbert, one of Liz’s deputies, stood on the stoop. “The sheriff sent me to talk to you about the fire at your house. You have a minute?”
“Hmmmm.” She licked her lips, then looked at Stefan over her shoulder and smiled. “I had no idea they delivered.”
“Elena!” Stefan reached out a hand, but before he could move, Elena snatched the deputy into her grip.
That familiar rush filled her. Excitement and hunger, and need and thrill, all rolled into one. She protracted her fangs and gouged the struggling deputy’s neck. Warm sweet blood pulsed into her mouth. She moaned in delight.
Stefan was at her shoulder, tugging, yelling for her to let go, but he couldn’t physically force her. If he did, he’d risk ripping Delbert’s throat out.
So she drank.
• • •
“What’s all the . . .?” Damon halted when he saw Elena in the doorway feasting on the deputy.
Stefan whirled on him. “You did this. You turned off her humanity. Are you happy?”
Damon shrugged. “Rarely.”
“Stop her. Use the sire bond, whatever you have to do. She’s going to kill him.”
Damon glanced back to Elena and her dinner. The man was limp in her arms. Stefan was right. A few more seconds, and the guy would be nothing but a mound of dead flesh.
Shooting to her side, Damon said, “Elena, stop! Let him go!”
She ignored him. Her eyes were closed, and little sounds of ecstasy emitted from her throat. There was a time in the not too distant past when she’d made that noise for him. Since he’d convinced her to shut off her humanity, she felt nothing. For anything. Or anyone. Including him. But if she killed the guy, there would be a lot of questions. And one of these days, if she ever got her humanity back, she’d fall to pieces.
“Elena! As your sire, I command you to stop!”
Her shoulders stiffened. With obvious reluctance, she lifted her head, looking up at him. Her eyes were glazed, her mouth dripping blood. She released the deputy, and he slumped lifelessly to the porch.
Damon looked at Stefan. “You’re up little brother. Revive him, then make him forget.”
Stefan glared at him, but dropped to his knees beside the deputy and used his fangs to open a vein in his own wrist. He held the blood to the deputy’s mouth, waiting while he drank.
Elena didn’t bother wiping the blood from her mouth. She stood, breathing heavily, staring down at her victim like a starving person stares at a feast.
• • •
Caroline held the phone to her ear, her heart lifting at the sound of Tyler’s voice. “Oh my God, Tyler. You finally called me back. I’m sorry I had to tell you about Jeremy in a voice mail.” His calling her was risky, but she was so glad to hear from him. She didn’t know how much longer she could go on not hearing his voice, not knowing if he was okay.
“Yeah.” The words were thick with tears. She gave him time to compose himself. After a few seconds, he said, “I can’t believe he’s really gone.”
“Me either.” They were both silent. Caroline’s heart ached for Jeremy, but at the same time reveled in the knowledge that, though she didn’t know where Tyler was, right now, he was just at the other end of the phone line.
“I miss you,” Tyler said softly.
“Miss you too.” She sucked in a sob. Losing Jeremy was unbearable. Being here at his memorial service was one of the hardest things she’d ever done. But losing Tyler on top of it was excruciating. Before she’d turned, she’d been self-centered and shallow. It was crazy that becoming a vampire had made her a better person.
“I want to come back.”
“No,” she cried. “No, you can’t. He’ll kill you.”
“This is no way to live. I might as well be dead.”
“Don’t say that. As long as you’re alive, there’s hope. Hope for us.” She looked back to where the mourners were gathered. “I wish you could be here for the service.”
“Yeah. Thanks to that asshole, I can’t.”
“Caroline, they’re about to start.” She turned to find Stefan at her elbow.
“Thanks, Stefan. I’ll be right there.” Into the phone, she said, “I’ve got to go. Call me again?”
“Soon. I promise.”
She hung up and said to Stefan, “I can’t believe Jeremy’s really gone.” She sniffed back tears.
“I know. I can’t either.”
Her gaze fell on Klaus. He was staring directly at her, and her heart thumped erratically. How could a man who terrified her, a man she hated, make her pulse give the slightest skip when he looked at her?
Because she was twisted and pathetic, that’s why. The man had shown a hint of compassion for a few fleeting seconds; first when he’d drawn her portrait, and then when he’d saved her by giving her his blood, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t an evil monster. After all, she wouldn’t have needed his blood if he hadn’t bitten her and injected his fatal wolf venom into her system. Asshole.
What the hell was he even doing here? He had a lot of nerve showing his face after the pain he’d caused everyone in this town. But then Klaus was never one to care about others’ feelings.
“Where’s Bonnie?” Stefan’s gaze searched the sea of people.
Caroline shook her head. “She’s not coming. She won’t accept that he’s gone. She’s gone nuts trying to find a way to bring him back.”
“I’m afraid he’s not coming back. We all have to accept that.”
“Yeah. Tell that to Bonnie.”
She and Stefan headed toward the crowd. Elena stood on the fringe, dry-eyed, looking . . . bored.
Caroline frowned. “Elena isn’t crying. She doesn’t seem upset at all.” She drew in a shaky breath. “I guess she’s in shock.”
“No,” Stefan said with a heavy sigh. “Damon told her to turn off her humanity.”
Caroline stopped walking. “What?” she squeaked. She shot a look around the crowd, then lowered her voice. “He might as well have killed her.”
Stefan grimaced. “Maybe he did.”
• • •
Hayley crossed her arms and rested her foot against the tree trunk.
“I don’t understand what we’re doing here.” Howie looked around warily. “After what you did, Tyler will kill you if he finds you.”
“I told you. Shane promised my parents would come back. He lied. Now he has released a centuries old witch, vampire, whatever. Endangered humans, wolves, and vampires. He’s caused the death of dozens to get his wife back. We’re here to find him. And to kill him.”
“If we don’t get killed first,” he muttered.
“Tyler isn’t even in town. He’s hiding from Klaus.”
Howie nodded. “Smart move. We should be hiding too.”
Hayley rolled her eyes and pushed off the tree. “No, Shane should be hiding.”
She glanced up. The sunlight had faded. Smoky darkness filled the sky. The full moon was a glowing platter against the black night. It wouldn’t be long now. Fear pounded through her blood, prickled goose bumps over her flesh. She hated turning, dreaded the pain. But it was her nature. Her destiny. And it made her a deadly force. Professor Shane would wet himself if she found him in wolf form. She rested a hand on the knife in her jacket pocket. Little did he know, if she found him in human form, he would be just as dead.
“You’re in love with Tyler,” Howie accused. His thick brows hooded his eyes. His thin body quaked. “That’s why you’re doing this. You’re hoping he’ll forgive you.”
Hayley swallowed the knot of tears rising to her throat. Wolves didn’t cry. And she wasn’t in love with Tyler. She liked him, hated what she’d done to him, but love? That was for schoolgirls and romance novels.
“You’re way off. I have to finish this with Shane. And I’m not scared. Katherine Pierce owes me. I helped her find the cure. She’ll back us up.”
“You’re working with a psychotic she-vamp?” His voice quivered. Chicken.
“I’m playing it smart. It’s called survival.” After Katherine had saved her ass, she’d had no choice but to go along with her plan to obtain the cure. Besides, it was the last thing Professor Shane wanted. That made it all the sweeter.
Howie tightened his lips and didn’t reply.
Hayley unbuttoned her blouse, slipped it off her shoulders, and then shed the rest of her clothing. Turning was hell on the wardrobe.
“I don’t care if—” Her breath left her lungs in a rush as intense pain shot through her body. She screamed and dropped to the ground. Heat sizzled the backs of her eyeballs. The cracking sound of bones breaking, of limbs twisting, pierced the night. Excruciating pain shot through her hands. She stared at them, watched as they morphed into paws.
Distantly, she was aware of Howie screaming too. But the awareness soon faded, and all that remained was the agony.
• • •
Damon leaned a hand on the mantle and stared into the fire. “Where the hell are you, Katherine?” he muttered under his breath.
“Good question,” Stefan said from behind him. Damon hadn’t known he’d come in the room. Didn’t say much for his vampire hearing. His instincts.
“Yeah, we have plenty of questions.” Damon let out a heavy sigh. “Now we need answers.”
“We’ll turn this entire town upside down until we find her. She can’t be far. She’ll want to be near Klaus so she can offer him a deal.”
“Her freedom for the cure.”
“Then Klaus has control.”
Damon nodded, squinting at his brother. “Is that so bad? Klaus wants Elena to have the cure. Isn’t that what you want?”
Stefan shook his head. “Not anymore. Not since Jeremy died. She won’t survive the grief.”
“Her life has gone to hell since she became a vampire. Eventually, she needs to become human again. Then she can move on. Deal with her grief.” He gave a humorless grin. “Find someone to share a life with. Someone human who can give her babies and white picket fences.” He tensed against the pain the words caused. The thing she wanted most was something he could never give her. That and her brother back.
“Come on, Damon. You don’t want her to become human again. You’re in love with her. You have her just like you want her; a vampire with no humanity left.”
“I made her turn and shut it off so she wouldn’t fall apart over Jeremy’s death. I still want what’s best for her. If she wants to be human, that’s what I want.”
“I don’t want to be human.”
They turned. Elena stood in the doorway, looking from one to another with cold, dead eyes. Damon grimaced and turned away. Seeing her like that was hard. The old spark, the essence that made her Elena, was gone, and he’d killed it.
Stefan frowned. “What do you mean you don’t want to be human? You’ve hated every second of being a vampire.”
“Not anymore. Why would I want to go back to being human?” Her gaze rested on Damon. “How did you say it? Being human sounds like the most miserable thing on Earth? I agree. This way I can do whatever I want whenever I want. No one expects anything from me.”
“You’re losing all your friends.” Stefan reminded her.
“I don’t need friends.” A smile lifted the corners of her mouth. “I have the two of you. Let’s see . . .” She sauntered into the room and ran a finger along the back of the sofa, her gaze taking in the two of them. “My lover and my former lover. Two brothers who would do anything for me. Have done anything for me.” She stopped in front of Damon and slid her fingernails along his cheek. Her chocolate eyes narrowed on him. “What more could I want, right?”
Damon’s jaw clenched, and he lost his breath at her touch. He still wanted her. Still loved her, even though she was no longer the old Elena. She definitely wasn’t the girl he fell in love with. But she wasn’t in agony either. That was good enough.
Moving to Stefan, she placed a hand over his heart. “You say you don’t love me anymore, but you would still do anything for me.”
Stefan gripped her wrist and removed it from his chest. “I care about you, Elena, but I won’t be played.” He stared down at her. “If you pass up this opportunity to take the cure, one day, you’ll regret it.”
She slowly shook her head. “No more regrets. For eternity.” She smiled. “And thanks to the two of you, eternity is what I now have.”
“If you really don’t want to be human,” Damon said. “We need to keep Klaus from getting the cure. If he gets it, he’ll find a way to force you to take it.” He looked at Stefan. “Are you okay with this, little brother? I know you wanted her to be human again.”
“I meant it when I said I’m no longer in love with her.” He kept his gaze on Elena. She held his stare. Jealousy twisted in Damon’s gut. No matter what either of them said, there was still something there. A love like theirs didn’t die completely. He clenched his jaw, waiting for Stefan’s response.
Finally, he looked away from Elena and said, “If she doesn’t want it, I don’t want her to have it.”
“Then we need a plan. We know Hayley has been working with Katherine. If we find the devious little werewolf chick, she’ll likely lead us to Katherine.”
Stefan nodded. “In the meantime, the two of you need to disappear. Go into hiding. Start over somewhere. The new Elena can’t have any kind of life here in Mystic Falls. And as long as she’s in town, Klaus will be after her, trying to feed her the cure.”
The two of them, finally alone. No one to worry about, no one to save. Damon tried not to show how much the idea excited him. He looked at Elena. “So how about it? We take off together?” He held his breath while he waited for her to answer.
She smiled and shook her head. “No. Don’t think so. Why leave Mystic Falls when I can finally be free of all my old hang-ups? Finally have some real fun?”
Damon stalked across the room and took hold of her arms. He needed to get through to her. This was their chance. “Because, we could start over. Be together.”
He looked back at Stefan. His words were going to hurt his brother, but Stefan would have to get used to the idea of Elena and him together. He brushed her hair back from her face with his thumb and searched her eyes for some sign that she still cared about him. “I believed you when you said you don’t love me because of the sire bond. I know you really love me. For me.” He had to believe it. After all they’d been through, all they’d been to each other, their love was stronger than any sire bond.
Elena pursed her lips and looked down at the ground. She was quiet for so long, Damon’s heart started to hurt. When she looked back up at him, he knew why he’d felt such dread. There was no love for him in her eyes. Not even a smidgen. He tightened his jaw.
“I’m sorry Damon. That was the old me. I’m not that girl anymore.” She flung her hair over her shoulder and lifted her chin. “I don’t love you anymore. I don’t feel anything for you now.”
Before he could prevent it, a burst of air left his throat. It felt like he’d been punched in the gut. No torture he’d ever endured could hurt like her words. He closed his eyes. “When I made you turn off your humanity, I killed your love for me.”
She shrugged and nodded. “I guess so.”
“If it means you’re not grieving anymore, not in pain. Then it was worth it.” He gave her a smile that didn’t reach his heart. “But the thought of never having you is tearing me up.”
“Then maybe you should take a page from your own book. Turn off your humanity. You’ve done it before. It’s not like you don’t know how. Just turn it off.”
He gritted his teeth. She was right. He had done it before. But he was alone then. Despised by everyone. Now he had his brother back. He had friends, and he had Elena. At least for a short time. He narrowed his eyes on her for a moment, then turned back to Stefan who’d stood quietly by, listening but not speaking. Damon was sure if he could read his thoughts, there would be at least a little bit of satisfaction in them.
Thankfully, his brother didn’t comment on the fact that Elena had ripped out his heart and stomped on it. “So I guess we make a plan. One that will keep Elena safe from Klaus, and one that will help us find Hayley.”
“Where would you hang out if you were a she-wolf, running in fear for your life, but desperate to help a she-vamp deliver a cure to a psychotic original vampire?”
Stefan grinned. “Good question.”
“The Lockwood dungeon,” Elena said.
They turned to look at her.
“That’s where Tyler always went to turn,” she said. “It’s deep in the woods. A good place for a werewolf to run free, stay out of sight. Tonight’s a full moon, though. I don’t think we want to find Hayley tonight.”
• • •
Katherine paced in front of her band of devoted wolves. The morning sun peeked through the trees. The wolves’ eyes were glassy, their faces pale. They looked like the wrong end of a bad night. She was close to having what she wanted. Close to finally being free of Klaus’s threats. As pitiful as they all looked, they were her ticket to safety. God, power felt good. Best of all they were here to serve her.
“I hope you all enjoyed yourselves last night. Now that we’ve gotten the nasty full moon business behind us for a month, I expect full cooperation with my plan.”
“What plan?” Hayley asked. “You never said what you want us to do.”
Katherine rested her gaze on the girl. She was young, pretty. Tough, with a youthful fervor Katherine had lost centuries ago. She’d been invaluable in helping Katherine get hold of the cure. But she might prove to be more trouble than she was worth. “It’s on a need-to-know basis.”
“We have a right to know what you have in store for us,” Hayley persisted.
Katherine tightened her lips and turned her glare on Hayley. “I saved your asses from the vampires in New Orleans. If you feel the need to question me, maybe I should rip your head off right now.”
Fear flashed in the girl’s eyes, but she lifted her chin and returned Katherine’s glare. Hmm. The girl had balls. More so than most of the guys in the pack.
“I helped you find the cure,” Hayley said. “Now you have a bargaining chip with Klaus. I’d say that’s an even trade.”
Katherine moved closer, until they were nearly nose to nose. “Don’t forget who the superior species here is. You don’t want to screw with me. Trust me on that one.”
Hayley audibly swallowed. After a few more seconds of holding the stare, her gaze dropped away. She nodded and stepped away like a good little puppy.
The wolves, in addition to the cure, would be her peace offerings to Klaus. The thought of negotiating with him made her gut clench. He terrified her. And she’d never been afraid of anything. She had the cure. She had the bonus. Now she needed to get them to Klaus, but make sure she did it in a way to save her hide.
The best way to get to Klaus was through Rebekah. Rebekah might want the cure for herself, but she hated her brother. She wouldn’t want him to get what he wanted. If Katherine could make her think she planned to use the cure to lure Klaus in and kill him . . . would she go for it?
Katherine turned to the wolves, “Don’t leave town. I’ll be back in a few days. And if I find you gone, I’ll find you. And you won’t like what happens when I do.”