October 19, 1864
I’m out of danger, but I don’t feel safe.I wonder if I’ll ever feel safe again, or will I forever long for a desire that I’ll never fulfill? Will I get used to the ache? Twenty, two hundred, two thousand years from now, will I even remember these weeks? And will I remember Callie and her red hair, her laugh?
I will.I have to.
Callie has saved me and given me another chance at life. In a way, it’s like she was the daylight that followed the darkness Katherine had cast upon my existence. Katherine turned me into a monster, but Callie has changed me back into the Stefan Salvatore I’m proud to be.
I wish her love. I want nothing but the best for her. I want for her to live in the light and find a man–a human–who will appreciate and adore her, who will take her away from Gallagher’s house forever to a quiet home on a lake, where she can teach her children to skip stones.
I woke in the middle of the night to what I thought were hailstones bouncing against the windowpane. Despite Lexis rules, I peeked through a tiny slit in the curtains and squinted into the darkness. The trees were bare, their branches like ghostly limbs stretching toward the sky. Though it was a moonless night, I could see a raccoon scamper through the yard. And then, a figure standing timidly behind one of the columns on the portico.
I hastily pulled on a shirt and slipped down the stairs, taking care to not make any noise. The last thing I wanted was for Buxton or Lexi to know that a human had followed me home.
The door shut with a thud behind me, and I saw Callie jump.
“Im here,” I whispered, feeling thrilled, confused, and excited, all at once.
“Hi,” she said shyly.
“Are you going somewhere?” I asked, nodding at her bag.
“I hope so.” She clasped my hands with her own. “Stefan, I dont care what you are. Ive never cared. And I want to be with you.” She looked into my eyes. “I I love you.”
I gazed at the ground, a lump in my throat. Back when I was a human, I thought Id loved Katherine until I saw her, chained up, muzzled, and foaming at the mouth. Id felt nothing but disgust at that vision. And yet Callie had seen me unconscious, bleeding from vervain, staked by captors, and pummeling my brother in the ring, and she still loved me. How was that possible?
“You dont have to respond,” Callie rushed on. “I just had to tell you. And Im leaving no matter what. I cant stay here with Father, not after everything thats happened. Im getting on the train, and you can come with me. But you dont have to. But I want you to,” she babbled.
“Callie!” I interrupted, placing a finger to her lips. Her eyes widened, shifting between fear and hope.
“I would go with you anywhere,” I said. “I love you, too, and I will for the rest of my life.”
“You mean your un-life,” she said, her eyes dancing. “How did you know where I lived?” I asked, suddenly shy.
Callie blushed. “I followed you home once. When you ran away after the first vampire fight. I wanted to know everything about you.”
“Well, now you do.”
Unable to restrain myself, I pulled her into my arms and lowered my lips to hers, no longer afraid to hear the blood coursing in her veins or to hear her heart beat faster in anticipation. She tightened her grip around me, and our lips touched. I hungrily kissed her, feeling the softness of her lips against mine. My fangs didnt grow, my desire was all for her, in her human form, as she was.
She was soft and warm and tasted like tangerines. In those moments, I imagined our future. Wed take the train as far away from New Orleans as possible, maybe to California, or perhaps even sail to Europe. Wed nest in a little cottage and keep livestock for me to feed from, and Callie and I would live out our days together, away from the prying eyes of society.
A nagging thought tugged at the corner of my mind: Would I turn her? I hated the thought of doing it, of sinking my teeth into her white neck, of making her live a life in which she craved blood and feared the daylight, but I also couldnt bear the thought of seeing her grow old and die in front of me. I shook my head, trying to release those thoughts. I could deal with them later. We both could.
“Stefan,” Callie murmured, but then the murmur turned into a gasp, and she slipped out of my clutches and onto the ground. A butchers knife stuck into her back, blood pooling out of it.
“Callie!” I cried, sinking to my knees. “Callie!”
Frantic, I tore a vein in my wrist, trying to feed Callie my blood to heal her. But before I could press my arm to her gasping mouth, an unseen hand yanked me up by the shirt collar.
A low, familiar chuckle cut through the night air. “Not so fast, brother.”
I whirled around, my hand ready to strike, my fangs bared. Before I could move, Damon grabbed my shoulders and flung me across the street. My body hit the road, hard, my arm snapping at an unnatural angle. I scrambled to my feet. Callie was lying in the grass, her red hair fanning over her shoulder, a pool of blood darkening around her. She let out a quiet moan, and I knew she must be in agony.
I started to race back to her, pumping my blood to my open wound so she could feed easily. But Damon intercepted me, lowering his shoulder into my chest and knocking me backward.
I scrambled to my feet. “This stops now!” I yelled, ready to pounce. I flew toward him, ready to rip him apart, to give him what hed wanted for so long.
“Does it stop now? Before dinner?” Damon asked, a slow smile forming on his face. I watched in horror as Damon knelt down, bared his teeth, and sunk them into Callies neck, drinking long and hard. I tried to push him away, but he was far too strong. How many people had he fed from since our escape?
I kept tugging, trying to free Callie, but Damon stayed in the same position as if he were a marble sculpture.
“Help! Lexi!” I roared, as Damon sent me flying backward with a swift jab of his elbow.
I hit the grass with a thud. Damon kept drinking. I realized with horror that Callies moaning had stopped. So had the steady, thrumming sound of blood Id gotten so used to hearing in Callies presence. I fell to my knees.
Damon turned toward me, his face smeared with blood. Callies blood. I blanched at the sight. Damon chuckled. “You were right, brother. Killingiswhat vampires do. Thanks for the lesson.”
“Ill kill you,” I said, rushing toward him once more. I knocked him to the ground, but Damon took advantage of my injured arm and flipped me over, pinning me to the ground next to Callie.
Damon shook his head. “I dont think I will die tonight, thank you. Youre done being the one to make the life-and-death decisions,” he hissed.
He stood up, as if he were going to walk away. I crawled over to Callie. Her eyes were wide open and glassy, her face pale. Her chest was still rising and falling, but barely.
Please live, I thought, gazing into her unblinking eyes in a desperate attempt to compel her. I saw her eyelids flutter. Could it be possible that it was working?
I want you to live. I want to love you while you’re alive, I thought, squeezing blood from my wounds into her open mouth.
Then, as drops fell on her face, I felt an agonizing pain in my abdomen. I sprawled on the grass as Damon kicked me over and over and over in the stomach, a demonic look in his eye.
Summoning all my strength, I scuttled on the dew-damp earth away from Damon.
“Help me,” I called again toward the house.
“Help me!” Damon mocked in a sing-song voice. “Not quite the big man, anymore, are we, little brother? What happened to taking over the world? Got too busy having tea parties with your little friends and falling in love with humans?” He shook his head in disgust.
Something inside me snapped. Somehow, I pushed myself to my feet and raced toward Damon, fangs bared. I pushed him to the ground, my fangs carving a long, jagged cut along his jugular vein. He fell to the ground, blood draining from his neck, his eyes closing.
For a moment, he looked like my brother again. No bloodshot eyes, no voice laced with hatred. Just the broad shoulders and dark hair that always symbolized Damon. And yet he wasnt Damon anymore. He was a monster on a spree of destruction, stopping at nothing to make his threat of making my life miserable come true.
I surveyed the ground around us, finally glimpsing a small tree limb, a few feet away, fallen after a storm. I crawled over to the branch and raised it high above his chest.
“Go to hell,” I whispered, fervently meaning each word.
But as the words left my mouth, Damon lunged up from the ground, his eyes red and his fangs bared. “Thats no way to talk to family.” He scoffed, throwing me to the ground. “And thats no way to hold a stake.”
He raised the branch high over my chest, a gleam in his eye. “Heres the death you didnt let me have. Slow, and painful, and Im going to enjoy every second of it,” Damon said, cackling as he brought the stake down with all his might against my chest.
And then everything went black.