The water running over her hands was ice-cold and Bonnie rubbed her palms together as much for the friction-heat as to scrub her hands clean. Grams always told her to use cold water to wash out blood. She reached for the soap again. Though the water swirling in the bottom of the basin was now clear, she could still feel Elena’s blood clinging to her hands, sticky and accusing.
Elena almost died tonight.
So many others were dead because of Bonnie.
She was in the Lockwoods’ home, and Mayor Lockwood was one of the people dead because of something Bonnie had done. She pretended to break the spell on the Gilbert invention, pretended, instead of really breaking it. She hadn’t known, of course, that the device would incapacitate the Lockwood men as well as the vampires, but that seemed a pretty feeble excuse when an innocent man burned to death because of her lie.
Tyler survived the device’s effects, but he’d been driving with Caroline and Matt riding with him when its power blasted through his not-quite-human brain. He crashed the car and Caroline nearly died. Bonnie’s ignorance was responsible for that, too. It was all she could think about when Caroline was in surgery. She didn’t know it would happen – she thought Caroline and Matt were safe with Tyler – but that was no excuse.
When Damon offered his blood to save Caroline, Bonnie grabbed the opportunity to fix her terrible mistakes. It seemed right: Bonnie had helped Stefan to save Damon’s life; Damon could repay the favour by saving Caroline. She’d said aloud that she knew he was doing it for Elena, but she knew it was – at least in part – for her. So Damon fed Caroline his blood. Healing blood. Vampire blood.
Bonnie hadn’t known, then, that Katherine even existed. How could she have foreseen that Elena’s evil doppelgänger would choose Caroline to send them all a message? Again, though, her ignorance didn’t seem like an excuse. Bonnie had known that this was a risk when she asked – no, be honest, ordered – Damon to heal Caroline. She knew that if Caroline died with Damon’s blood in her system...
Bonnie shuddered. She dried her hands on a towel and fixed her mask back in place. She gazed at herself in the mirror for a moment. She saw no sign of the blood on her hands, but Bonnie knew it was there. Mayor Lockwood, the tomb vampires, Caroline and every drop of blood Caroline now shed to live her unnatural life: all of it was on Bonnie’s hands.
Caroline was a killer. It was her basic nature now.
Was Bonnie any better?
Caroline’s elation at being able to lure Katherine into the Salvatore brothers’ trap didn’t last for long. She sat in the darkness with Elena, struggling to do nothing but sit.
The scent of Elena’s blood, saturating her purple top, was torture. Caroline could feel her fangs lengthening, her teeth narrowing to needle-sharp points. She knew that her eyes were probably black, the dry veins beneath her eyes visible, so she kept her face in shadow as much as she could. I will not kill my friend. I will not kill my friend.
It wasn’t the first time she’d had to fight this. For someone who hung out with vampires, Elena seemed to bleed a lot. Caroline remembered the moment at the well when, after Caroline and Bonnie pulled her out, Elena sliced her hand open with a rock – deliberately, for god’s sake! – to give her blood to the vervain-poisoned Stefan. Elena’s wince in anticipation of pain was all the warning Caroline got, and she turned away quickly so she wouldn’t see the blood welling up. But that couldn’t dull her other senses. She could still smell Elena’s blood. She could still hear the small sounds Stefan made as he sucked on Elena’s wound.
Caroline breathed deeply, casting around for something else to think about, anything to distract her. Her eye fell on the ring she wore. Bonnie’s ring, given and enspelled to allow Caroline to walk in daylight. Caroline still felt a little resentful that she hadn’t been allowed to choose the ring for herself. It wasn’t like she didn’t own several lovely, tasteful rings that might have been suitable for the spell. This one was old-fashioned and clunky. Yes, clunky.
But it’s Bonnie’s, a secret voice said inside her.
Yes, it was Bonnie’s choice for her, and that meant something. She turned her hand so the ring caught the light and sparkled for a moment. It wasn’t horrible.
Elena made a small pain-sound, drawing Caroline’s attention back to her. She turned to see Elena rubbing the healing wound on her arm.
“Is it better?” Caroline asked anxiously.
“I think so,” Elena agreed. She looked over her shoulder. “I have to see Stefan.”
“He’s helping Damon get Katherine to the tomb.”
“But he’s coming back. I’m going to wait by the lake.”
Caroline shrugged. With Katherine gone, Elena was no longer in danger. If she felt well enough to ditch her friend, Caroline wouldn’t stop her. She didn’t need to be around a bleeding Elena. God, how did Stefan not rip her throat out?
Caroline passed others on her way back to the house: couples smooching in the cover of the trees, mostly. She studied each couple she passed at first, then realised she was looking for Matt among them and made herself stop. Matt was past tense.
She was about to head back into the party when Bonnie’s voice reached her from somewhere. She sounded distressed. Caroline didn’t think. She ran, preternaturally fast, following the sound. She found herself at the front of the house. Bonnie stood among the parked cars, watching another woman walk away from her. It was Katherine’s witch! Was Bonnie okay? She looked forlorn and dejected, but she wasn’t physically hurt.
Caroline moved up to her side, careful to make her heels click on the floor so Bonnie wouldn’t think she was sneaking up on her.
“Would you like me to drive you home?” Caroline offered.
In spite of Caroline’s effort, Bonnie jumped when she spoke. She stared at Caroline for a moment as if she hadn’t heard – or hadn’t understood – Caroline’s question. Then she smiled gratefully. “I would love a ride home.”
Caroline knew she could be self-absorbed, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t tell when her best friend needed a friend. On the short walk to her car, Bonnie was quiet and Caroline thoughtful. By the time they were easing the car out of the Tylers’ driveway Caroline knew how she could help.
Not about Katherine or the witch or what they did together. Not about Elena or Stefan. Just a steady stream of meaningless chatter as she drove: who was at the ball, did you see the horrible mask Tracy Stafford was wearing and weren’t the flowers lovely. Bonnie answered her in monosyllables but she laughed in all the right places so Caroline knew she was listening.
In what seemed like no time at all, they were outside Bonnie’s house.
It felt so normal, being with Bonnie again, that Caroline didn’t think about it as she locked the car, pocketed the keys and walked side-by-side with her friend up to the door. It was not until the door swung open that Caroline realised she couldn’t go inside. She had not been invited.
Bonnie, already inside, headed for the stairs without first closing the door; she had forgotten, too. She turned around, drew a breath to speak, perhaps intending to tell Caroline to hurry up. She stopped.
Caroline could see the thoughts as they passed through Bonnie’s head.
She can’t come in.
I have to invite her.
She’s a vampire.
I shouldn’t invite her.
Caroline’s upbeat mood was crushed. For a moment she’d managed to forget. In the comfortable familiarity of Bonnie’s friendship, she hadn’t been hungry for blood. She hadn’t been thinking about how twisted her life – undeath – had become. She had just been Caroline.
Determined not to let Bonnie see her disappointment, Caroline shrugged, giving a high, false laugh. “Well, I guess I...” she glanced over her shoulder to the car. “Goodnight, Bonnie,” she finished helplessly. She turned away.
Bonnie came back to the door. “Caroline, wait.”
Caroline looked back over her shoulder. “It’s okay,” she said, though it wasn’t. “I understand.”
“Come in, Caroline,” Bonnie said. “I invite you in.”
Bonnie watched, absurdly fascinated by the sight of Caroline sipping hot coffee. “So you can drink...other stuff?” she asked awkwardly.
They were in Bonnie’s bedroom; Bonnie sat at the head of her bed, her legs drawn up to her chest. She was still wearing her short party dress, so she was probably flashing her panties, but they were just girls together: it didn’t matter to Bonnie.
Caroline sat at the other end of the bed, kicking off her high-heeled pumps with the mug of coffee cupped in both of her hands.
Caroline smiled. “Oh, yeah, of course,” she answered. “Most food isn’t, you know, useful, but coffee is good. The caffeine warms our blood or something.”
Bonnie returned her smile. “You know that sounds super-creepy, right?”
“Does it? I can’t keep track. I mean, my whole life is insane.”
“Mine too,” Bonnie agreed, but instantly regretted the comment. Things had been difficult for her since she learned she was a witch, and even worse since Grams died, but most of the craziness was Bonnie’s own choice. The power she had came with a price, and she feared it, but she could choose to walk away.
No one gave Caroline a choice.
But Caroline showed no sign of offence. “I know, can you believe it?” she gushed. “A year ago we were all worried about Elena and cramming for history tests. Now look at us.”
“A witch, a vampire and...a girl with an evil twin.” Bonnie managed a laugh. “It sounds like really bad teen-lit.”
Caroline set her coffee mug on the carpet beside the bed. It was empty and the caffeine had given her cheeks a healthy, human, flush. Her eyes turned very serious as she turned back to face Bonnie. “Bonnie, why did you invite me in?”
Bonnie hesitated. “Because...I want my friend back. And you...” she broke off. She didn’t really know why she’d issued the invitation. It was almost as if Caroline had compelled her, but Bonnie knew she hadn’t. Bonnie drank vervain. She wore it, too, tucked into her clothing or jewellery. “I trust you,” she concluded. Even though I shouldn’t.
“Maybe you shouldn’t,” Caroline echoed Bonnie’s thought. She looked at Bonnie and suddenly burst out, “You left me alone with Elena! While she was bleeding!”
Bonnie found herself backing away into her pillows. “You didn’t – ” she whispered, terrified of the answer. Why hadn’t she checked on Elena before they left? She remembered the carnival and Caroline’s face covered with fresh blood.
“No! But you have no idea how hard it was, Bonnie. There was no one around. No one to stop me.”
Bonnie tried to answer, but the words wouldn’t come. She had been so stupid to leave Caroline like that. Elena had been hurt. God, what if she died? Bonnie would have been responsible.
She took a deep breath. “Why don’t you tell me what it’s like,” she suggested. She leaned back against the lacy pillows.
Caroline hesitated. “I don’t know if I can. At first it was just hunger, like I was starving. Craving. But that goes away when I have enough blood to drink. What doesn’t go away is...” Caroline’s voice trailed off into silence. Then she gave an odd little laugh, avoiding Bonnie’s eyes. “You know when you have really great sex? The way it feels right before you come? That need for it to happen, like you can’t stand it another moment. That’s how it feels when I smell blood. It’s so hard not to...everything in me just wants, needs that blood. Even if I’m not hungry.” She looked up. “Is that gross?”
If you’re saying killing is orgasmic, hell, yes. But Bonnie didn’t think Caroline was saying that. She shrugged: the best answer she had. “I don’t know. A little. I guess.” She resisted the urge to pull a pillow into her lap, to have some barrier between them. “But...you’re okay”
Caroline shrugged. “Most of the time I am. Having to keep my mom a prisoner wasn’t much fun. Nor is hanging out with Damon.”
“I thought you liked him.”
“I did, once. Before he fed on me and compelled me and...everything,” she finished, and Bonnie knew something much uglier lay in that silence, something Caroline wasn’t ready to say.
Bonnie felt cold. Somehow, amid everything else, she had forgotten how Caroline’s acquaintance with Damon Salvatore began. He seduced her...or had he compelled her even then? He fed on her blood. He forced Caroline to do things for him and stole her memories of what she’d done. And if Bonnie was picking up Caroline’s hint correctly, he was still doing it. He still had power over her, because she needed blood.
Impulsively, Bonnie reached for her friend. She drew Caroline into her arms. She felt warm. She felt human...
“I’m sorry,” Bonnie whispered into Caroline’s hair. “I’m so sorry.”
She felt Caroline’s arms tighten around her. She felt no fear, only the familiarity of friendship. Of love. Caroline had been a lifeline for Bonnie when Grams died. The least Bonnie could do was try to return the favour. There had to be something she could do to help Caroline’s situation.
That was when everything changed.
Bonnie felt the tension in Caroline’s body. Adrenaline flooded her and she began to pull away. The next instant, Bonnie was on her back with Caroline’s weight above her. The thought flashed through her mind oh, god, she’s going to kill me now and she knew she could stop it with her magic but then Caroline’s mouth descended and
And Caroline kissed her.
On her lips.
Bonnie smelled Caroline’s skin: the lightly floral scent of her perfume and beneath that something warmer, cocoa butter, perhaps. She tasted the coffee Caroline had been drinking.
Then she realised she was kissing Caroline back.
Bonnie heard herself moan softly and she welcomed the kiss, straining to meet her. She raised a hand to Caroline’s silky hair, holding her in the kiss. She felt Caroline’s body, warm in her arms, her breasts pressing against Bonnie’s own. Her own body heated in response. Caroline’s hand slid between their bodies, caressing Bonnie’s waist, her breast, fingertips brushing Bonnie’s bare skin above the edge of her dress.
Bonnie gasped, the touch of Caroline’s fingers going through her like an electric shock. It broke the spell and she pushed Caroline away.
Abruptly, Caroline was on the other side of the room. She held one hand over her mouth.
Bonnie felt dazed, but she sat up, swinging her legs over the side of the bed. She stared at Caroline’s eyes, but the tell-tale veins were invisible and Caroline hadn’t tried to bite her. Reassured, Bonnie stood. “Caroline, it’s okay.”
Caroline gave an embarrassed laugh. “I’m sorry!” She let her hand fall, but wouldn’t look at Bonnie. “Impulse control just doesn’t come with the vampire package, you know?”
Bonnie moved toward her. “I said it’s okay. I mean, as impulses go, that was a good one.” She reached for Caroline’s hand, twining their fingers together. “I’m sorry I spoiled it.”
Caroline nodded, but didn’t answer.
“Call your mom,” Bonnie instructed. “Tell her we’re having a sleepover.” She squeezed Caroline’s hand. “I want you to stay, Caroline.” She wasn’t sure if she wanted anything...more...to happen between them, but she knew she wasn’t ready for this night to end.
“I...shouldn’t,” Caroline answered reluctantly.
Caroline squeezed her hand back. “I could hurt you.”
“And I could hurt you,” Bonnie reminded her. “Friends don’t hurt each other.”
Caroline’s tentative smile was all the answer she needed. Bonnie drew her friend back into the circle of her arms.