Katherine was facing away from the doorway when they arrived, but she saw them in the mirror: Stefan with his earnest face, Damon in his gray uniform. Sometimes she fancied that the mirror's frame would hold them forever, like a photograph, preserving them in lines of shadow and silver. She turned her ring around so the lapis lazuli faced away from her palm, and closed her fingers around it.
Come in, she said without words. Damon was already stepping forward, but then, he always knew her moods. He wasn't the one who concerned her today. Stefan hesitated at the threshold, looking straight ahead--not at her, but at the wall. As if he could escape her so easily, as if she were as unbearable as the sun. She liked that.
"Stefan," Katherine said, turning to smile at him. She picked up a tortoiseshell comb carved with magnolia buds and butterflies. Held it out. It had pointed teeth. "The state of my hair is lamentable after last night." She smiled slowly.
He was surfacing from the compulsion she had laid on him. She could have woven it more tightly, of course, chained his dreams and fettered his thoughts, but it entertained her more this way.
"Shall I send for--" Stefan said. He finally met her eyes. His own were dark, troubled.
"But you have such a gentle touch," she said. She disdained to respond to Damon's slight smirk.
"Damon," Stefan said in a low voice, "we shouldn't trouble Miss Pierce."
Damon held his brother's gaze as he crossed the room to sit on the edge of her bed. He removed his boots one by one, then his socks, leaving them tidily at the bedpost. "I doubt she's much troubled." He leaned back, resting his weight on his elbows.
"Come," Katherine said, "is it such a difficult thing that I ask?" Her smile widened as she contemplated the strong arch of Damon's foot.
"I know your real face," Stefan said, even as he took an unwilling step into the room. A tremor passed through his shoulders. It warmed her. "I know mine. It's starting to return to me."
Damon sighed. "He'll go on about it all day if you let him, you know. Maybe you should let me--"
"My dear soldier," Katherine said without looking at him, "did I ask your opinion?"
Damon only grinned.
Katherine walked to Stefan and pressed the comb into his hand so the teeth bit his flesh. "Now."
Dead as he was, Stefan inhaled sharply. She had scented her hair with attar of roses. Slowly, Stefan worked the comb through her hair, separating the worst snarls with his fingers.
"I don't mind a little pain in the service of beauty," Katherine suggested. She felt his hands tense, then resume their work more carefully than ever.
"It's done," Stefan said after a while. Even so, his hand lingered in her dark, rippling hair. She leaned into his touch, humming.
"Take off your rings," Katherine said. Would he comply quickly? Too quickly?
"It's daylight out there," Damon observed.
She smiled a coquette's smile at him. "Do you have anywhere better to be?"
His expression was utterly serious. "You know there isn't." He tugged off the ring and tossed it to her.
Katherine snatched it out of the air, then dropped it down her corset. The ring's metal was precisely the temperature of her skin. "Maybe I'll let you retrieve it later." She returned her attention to Stefan. "Do you fear being dragged outside by a mob?" she asked. "You think me less clever than the fools who run this town?" His eyes flickered. "Remember who gave you the ring, Stefan."
"I remember," he said after a bitter pause.
"If it troubles you so," Katherine said, "give it back to me and leave the house."
Damon stirred, but knew better than to interrupt.
Stefan swallowed. "No," he said. "No." He pulled his ring off, hesitated, then handed it to her. He flinched when her fingers closed around his.
"Does my touch bring you so little pleasure?" Katherine said, as if she didn't know the answer. "That's not what you told me last night."
He bent his knee to her as though she were his queen, which, of course, was the case. "You know that isn't so," he said, touching her wrist with his lips.
His acquiescence was charming, but best to punish him a little for his reluctance. Especially since her punishments were always knotted up with rewards: the best way to bind people to her. She pulled away from him. The mixed anguish and relief on Stefan's face were painfully obvious.
"Well," Katherine said, "of course I wouldn't want to torment you. Perhaps we'll try something different today." She dropped Stefan's ring down her corset as well. It clinked as it met the other ring.
Stefan. He was transfixed by her gaze. Stefan, your brother looks uncomfortable. Help him take his uniform off.
"Damon," Stefan said, "you look uncomfortable." He sat next to his brother, thigh brushing thigh.
"That's an interesting statement coming from you," Damon said. He didn't know what she had planned.
Stefan leaned over and unbuttoned the first button of his brother's coat. He was reaching for the second one when Damon, eyes narrowed, slammed him down. The bed creaked.
"Amusement is one thing," Damon said, "but you go too far." His pale eyes were more curious than offended, however.
"Tell me you haven't thought about it," Stefan said. His voice was nearly a whisper.
Katherine stroked Stefan's hair. "Come, now," she said to Damon's silence. "Have you no pity for your brother? Let him finish what he started." She trailed her touch down to Stefan's shoulders, then his side, then his hip. At each point of inflection, he shivered.
Damon eased up a little. She knew what he was trying to avoid. "He won't thank you for this," Damon said.
"Do you care to lodge a protest?" she said, not entirely teasing. "Don't tell me you're not tempted yourself. I've seen the way the two of you tease each other, tackle each other, touch each other..."
"I'm not doing this for him," Damon said at last.
Stefan's chuckle was surprisingly throaty.
"Of course not," Katherine said to Damon. She slipped her fingers a scant inch into the waist of Stefan's pants, stroking his skin in ever-tightening circles. His hips bucked; his breath came in shallow, desperate gasps. "Imagine if that were your brother's hand." For her part, she imagined his hands cupping her breasts, unlacing her corset with hands grown fumble-fingered with impatience. She knew all about impatience.
Damon regarded her for a long moment, then laughed. "I can do better than that." He finished unbuttoning the coat, then flung it aside. He kissed Stefan hard, full on the mouth. Stefan groaned and pulled him closer.
Damon shook him off and left a meandering trail of kisses from the side of his neck to his erection pressing against his trousers. Katherine clasped her hands demurely in her lap as she watched, mouth curving. When Damon pulled out his brother's manhood and closed his mouth around the head, she bent over him for a lingering kiss, tongue meeting tongue.
"Brothers and best of friends," she said in Stefan's ear. He had closed his eyes. She slapped him. "None of that. Look at him. Look at him."
Stefan opened his eyes. His breath hitched, but he couldn't stop thrusting into his brother's mouth.
"It's better than you thought it would be, isn't it?" Katherine purred. "The next time you feel my mouth on you, you'll think of him."
He had no answer for her, but then, she hadn't expected one. All his attention was exactly where she wanted it to be. Instead, she waited for the signs that he was about to climax--the moans, the exalted stare, the clenched hands.
Just as Stefan spent himself inside his brother's mouth, just as he cried his brother's name, Katherine lifted the compulsion. His face twisted. As soon as he was done, he scrambled backwards on the bed in a futile attempt to get away.
Damon wiped his mouth and said, "It's my turn next, you know."
"No," Katherine said with cruel affection. "It's mine."