Elena had once fallen off that balcony and Stefan had jumped and caught her before she could hit the ground. A human falling from that height would be dead on impact. A vampire in full possession of his or her reflexes would simply twist in the air like a cat and land lightly on their feet. But one in Damon's particular circumstances tonight...
From the sound of it, he had tried to twist, but had only ended up landing on his side and breaking bones. Elena deduced the latter from his cursing. She didn't wait to listen for more specifics. She was off like a rabbit, down to the level of Stefan's room - where instantaneously and almost unconsciously, she sent out a wordless plea - and then down the stairs. The cabin had turned completely into a perfect duplicate of the boardinghouse. Elena didn't know why, but instinctively she ran to the side of the house that Damon would know the least: the old servant's quarters. She got that far before she dared whispering things to the house, asking for them rather than demanding them, and praying that the house would obey her as it had obeyed Damon.
"Aunt Judith's house," she whispered, thrusting the key into a door - it went in like a hot knife into butter and turned almost of its own volition, and then suddenly she was there again, in what had been her home for sixteen years, up until her first death.
She was in the hallway, with her little sister Margaret's open door showing her lying on the floor of her bedroom, staring with wide-open eyes over a coloring book.
"It's tag, sweetie!" she announced as if ghosts appeared every day in the Gilbert household and Margaret was supposed to know how to deal with it. "You go running to your friend Barbara's and then she has to be It. Don't stop running until you get there, and then go see Barbara's mom. But first you give me three kisses." And she lifted Margaret and hugged her tightly and then almost threw her at the door.
"But Elena - you're back - "
"I know, darling, and I promise to see you again another day. But now - run, baby - "
"I told them you would come back. You did before."
Choking on tears, but maybe recognizing in her childlike way the seriousness of the situation, Margaret ran. And Elena followed, but zagging toward a different staircase when Margaret zigged.
And then she found herself confronted by a smirking Damon.
"You take too long to talk to people," he said as Elena frantically counted her options. Go over the balcony into the entry way? No. Damon's bones might still hurt a little but if Elena jumped even one story, she would probably break her neck. What else? Think!
And then she was opening the door into the china closet, at the same time shouting out, "Great-aunt Tilda's house," unsure if the magic would still work. And then she was slamming the door in Damon's face.
And she was in her Aunt Tilda's house, but the Aunt Tilda's house of the past. No wonder they accused poor Auntie Tilda of seeing strange things, Elena thought, as she saw the woman turning while holding a large glass casserole dish full of something that smelled mushroomy, and screaming, and dropping the dish.
"Elena!" she cried. "What - it can't be you - you're all grown up!"
"What's the trouble?" demanded Aunt Maggie, who was Aunt Tilda's friend, coming in from the other room. She was taller and fiercer than Aunt Tilda.
"I'm being chased," cried Elena. "I need to find a door, and if you see a boy after me - "
And just then Damon stepped out of the coat closet, and at the same time Aunt Maggie tripped him neatly and said, "Bathroom door beside you," and picked up a vase and hit the rising Damon over the head with it. Hard.
And Elena dashed through the bathroom door, crying, "Robert E. Lee High School last fall - just as the bell's rung!"
And then she was swimming against the flow, with dozens of students trying to get to their classes on time - but then one of them recognized her, and then another, and while apparently she'd successfully traveled to a time when she wasn't dead - no one was screaming "ghost" - neither had anyone at Robert E. Lee ever seen Elena Gilbert wearing a boy's shirt over a camisole, with her hair falling wildly over her shoulders.
"It's a costume for a play!" she shouted, and created one of the immortal legends about herself before she had even died by adding, "Caroline's house!" and stepping into a janitor's closet. An instant later, the most gorgeous boy that anyone had ever seen appeared behind her, and rocketed through the same doors saying words in a foreign language. And when the janitor's closet opened, neither boy nor girl was there.
Elena landed running down a hallway and almost crashed into Mr. Forbes, who looked rather wobbly. He was drinking what seemed to be a large glass of tomato juice that smelled like alcohol.
"We don't know where she's gone, all right?" he shouted before Elena could say a word. "She's gone right out of her mind, as far as I can tell. She was talking about the ceremony at the widow's walk - and the way she was dressed! Parents don't have any control over children anymore!" He slumped against the wall.
"I'm so sorry," murmured Elena.The ceremony. Well, Black Magic ceremonies were usually held at moonrise or midnight. And it was just a few minutes before midnight. But in those minutes, Elena had just come up with scheme B.
"Excuse me," she said, taking the drink out of Mr. Forbes's hand and dashing it directly into the face of Damon, who had appeared out of a closet. Then she shouted, "Some placetheir kind can't see!" and stepped into...
Some place their kind couldn't see.At first Elena wondered about herself, because she couldn't see much of anything at all.
But then she realized where she was, deep in the earth, beneath Honoria Fell's empty tomb. Once, she had fought down here to save the lives of Stefan and Damon.
And now, where there should have been nothing but darkness and rats and mildew, was a tiny, shining, light. Like a miniature Tinkerbell - just a speck, it hovered in the air, not leading her, not communicating, but...protecting, Elena realized. She took the light, which felt bright and cool in her fingers, and around her she traced a circle, big enough for a full-grown person to lie down in.
When she turned back, Damon was sitting in the middle.
He looked strangely pale for someone who had just fed. But he said nothing, not a word, just gazed at her. Elena went to him and touched him on the neck.
And a moment later, Damon was again drinking deep, deep, of the most extraordinary blood in the world.
Usually, he would be analyzing by now: taste of berry, taste of tropical fruit, smooth, smoky, woody, rounded with a silken aftertaste...But not now. Notthis blood, which far surpassed anything for which he had words. This blood that was filling him with power such as he had never known before....
Why was he not listening? How had he come to be drinking this extraordinary blood that tasted
somehow of the afterlife, and why was he not listening to the donor?
Please, Damon. Please fight it...
He ought to recognize that voice. He'd heard it enough times.
I know they're controlling you. But they can't controlallof you. You're stronger than they are. You're the strongest....
Well, that was certainly true. But he was getting more and more confused. The donor seemed to be unhappy and he was a past-master at making donors happy. And he didn't quite remember...he really should remember how this had started.
Damon, it's me. It's Elena. And you're hurting me.
So much pain and bewilderment. From the beginning, Elena had known better than to outright fight the tapping of her veins. That would only cause agony, and it wouldn't do her the slightest bit of good except to stop her brain from working.
So she was trying to make him fight off the horrible beast inside him. Well, yes, but the change had to come from inside. If she forced him, Shinichi would notice and just possess him again. Besides, the simpleDamon, be strong gig wasn't working.
Was there nothing to do but die, then? She could at least fight that, although she knew that Damon's strength would make it pointless. With every swallow he took of her new blood, he got stronger; he changed more and more into...
Into what? It washer blood. Maybe he would answer its call, which was also her call. Maybe, somehow inside, he could beat the monster without Shinichi noticing.
But she needed some new power, some new trick...
And even as she thought it, Elenafelt the new Power moving in her, and she knew that it had always been there, just waiting for the right occasion to use it. It was a very specific power, not to be used for fighting or even for saving herself. Still, it was hers to tap. Vampires who preyed on her got only a few mouthfuls, but she had an entire blood supply filled with its enormous vigor. And calling upon it was as easy as reaching toward it with an open mind and open hands.
As soon as she did, she found new words coming to her lips, and most strangely of all, new wings springing from her body, which Damon was holding bent sharply back from the hips. These ethereal wings were not for flying, but for something else, and when they fully unfurled they made a huge, rainbow-colored arch whose very tip circled back again, surrounding and enfolding Damon and Elena both.
And then she said it telepathically.Wings of Redemption.
And inside, soundlessly, Damon screamed.
Then the wings opened slightly. Only one who had learned a great deal about magic would have seen what was happening inside them. Damon's anguish was becoming Elena's anguish as she took from him every painful incident, every tragedy, every cruelty that had ever gone into making up the stony layers of
indifference and unkindness that encased his heart.
Layers - as hard as the stone at the heart of a black dwarf star - were breaking up and flying away. There was no stopping it. Great chunks and boulders fractured, fine pieces shattered. Some dissolved into nothing more than a puff of acrid smelling smoke.
There was something at the center, though - some nucleus that was blacker than hell and harder than the horns of the devil. She couldn't quite see what happened to it. She thought - she hoped - that at the very end even it blasted open.
Now, and only now, could she call for the next set of wings. She hadn't been sure that she would live through the first attack; she certainly didn't feel as if she could live through this one. But Damon had to know.
Damon was kneeling on one knee on the floor, with his arms clasped tightly around him. That should be all right. He was still Damon, and he'd be a lot happier without the weight of all that hatred and prejudice and cruelty. He wouldn't keep remembering his youth and the other young blades who'd mocked his father for being an old fool, with his disastrous investments and his mistresses younger than his own sons. Neither would he endlessly dwell on his own childhood, when that same father had beaten him in drunken rages when he neglected his studies or took up with objectionable companions.
And, finally, he would not go on savoring and contemplating the many terrible things he'd done himself. He had been redeemed, in heaven's name and in heaven's time, by words put into Elena's mouth.
But now...there was something that he needed to remember. If Elena was right.
If only she were right.
"Where is this place? Are you hurt, girl?"
In his confusion, he couldn't recognize her. He had knelt; now she knelt beside him.
He gave her a keen glance. "Are we at prayer or were we making love? Was it the Watch or the Gonzalgos?"
"Damon," she said, "it's me, Elena. It's the twenty-first century, now, and you are a vampire." Then, gently embracing him, with her cheek against his, she whispered,"Wings of Remembrance."
And a pair of translucent butterfly wings, violet, cerulean, and midnight blue in color, sprouted from her backbone, just above her hips. The wings were decorated with tiny sapphires and translucent amethysts in intricate patterns. Using muscles she had never used before, she easily drew them up and forward until they curled inside out, and Damon was shielded within them. It was like being enclosed in a dim, jewel-studded cave.
She could see in Damon's fine-bred features that he didn't want to remember anything more than he did right now. But new memories, memories connected with her, were already welling up inside him. He looked at his lapis lazuli ring and Elena could see tears come to his eyes. Then, slowly, his gaze turned on her.
"Someone possessed me, and took the memories of the times I was possessed," he whispered.
"Yes - at least, I think so."
"And someone hurt you."
"I swore to kill him or make him your slave a hundred times over. Hestruck you. He took your blood by force. He made up ludicrous stories about hurting you in other ways."
"Damon. Yes, that's true. But, please - "
"I was on his track. If I'd met him I might have run him through; might have ripped his beating heart out of his chest. Or I might have taught him the most painful lessons I've heard tales of - and I've heard a lot of tales - and at the end, through the blood in his mouth, he would have kissed your heel, your slave until he died."
This wasn't good for him. She could see it. His eyes were white all around, like a terrified colt's.
"Damon, Ibeg you..."
"And the one who hurt you...was me."
"Not you by yourself. You said it yourself. You werepossessed ."