The last night of Katerina Petrova’s life goes like this: the acrid stench of fear, a blind search for salvation, and a rope around her neck.
The last night of Katherine Pierce’s life goes like this: the acrid stench of sin, a blind search for absolution, and Klaus’ teeth in her neck, her fingers in his matted fur; both tearing blindly, both billowing red.
There’s a noise like protest echoing over her mind, in a voice like Stefan’s, who was wide-eyed and violent, only seconds before.
Klaus is snapping and pulling at her throat, and amidst the musty smell of his fur, Katherine can feel the spill of her undead life emptying into his mouth, as he’s digging into the flesh, burrowing into her fear.
When he finally, finally rips himself away, her fingers are buried in hard skin, the wolf melted back into the vampire. He pulls her with him as he stands, cups her face with one hand, and crushes her spine with the other.
Katherine feels her eyes widen, but doesn’t give him the satisfaction of making a sound. If this is the way he wants it to end, fine, then let it. But goddammit, she doesn’t have to play into his hand, not anymore.
She honestly never thought Klaus would change his mind, change his motives. But she guesses he's given up on his eternity-long promise of torture, of “retribution”; guesses he's finally had enough.
But when she casts her eyes over Klaus’ shoulder, searching for Stefan and finding nothing but the air he occupied moments ago, she does make a sound; and then Klaus smiles, releases her, and she falls to the ground.
Lovely but useless, like crushed petals on the sand.
Klaus sends her a withering, pitying look, clucks his tongue once, and vanishes.
Katherine doesn’t know what she expected really - doesn’t think she had expectations at all; it’s not like she was filing away color-coded plans in the case of her death, it’s not like ever planned to have to. But, regardless of lost views and useless ideals like timing, the disappointment still burns bitter and hot in the back of her throat.
She never thought she’d die alone. She never thought she’d die. Really die, forever die.
The earth of the wooded path Klaus and Stefan have left her on (Stefan, who left her again) presses against her skin, and she feels it wet with the blood leaking heavily from her torn neck.
Something about the scent of blood and wood reminds her of where she’s at, and where she isn’t. And it’s Mystic Falls all over again, but it’s never really home.
Her lips lift slightly at the corners as she takes a moment, cocoons herself in her thoughts. There’s a burning sensation, from the remnants of what she can feel, and it washes over her like a fire left on the stove too long unattended.
But honestly, it isn’t so bad - the pain. It’s sick really, but it almost makes her feel human.
Here’s a lie: vampires can switch off memories; like switching off a record player stuck on a rut in an irritating loop.
Here’s the truth: all things real, and some things that aren't, stick with her. Like the scars her body can’t produce, and the empty feeling she gets when she thinks of her daughter.
She can recall every feeling - physical, emotional, a line blurred between - from the few minutes she knew her daughter. She can paint out a canvas of every line in her dimpled skin, every hair on her head.
As a human, Katerina grieved for her child, for the loss of a mother, for her inability to change a thing.
As a vampire, Katerina harbored a hatred for mothers, and avoided the idea that maybe she’d never get over the loss; ruined every thing she could, because she could.
Once, 8 years after giving her up, she saw her; through a heavy paned window, in a sweetshop, in the town Katerina was banished from.
The girl, her girl, was named Galina, and had light brown hair like her father’s, and dark brown eyes like her mother's. Her realmother’s, not the woman smoothing her hair back, and handing her a small parcel of cake. Katerina had watched, through the window and entirely too far away, as Galina lifted up on her toes and pressed a kiss to her mother’s cheek, and then, Katerina had fled.
That night, the second worst of her life, she fed on a child. She was small, and fair-skinned, and through the blood, Katerina couldn’t tell whose tears were whose.
She had snapped the girl’s thin neck, covered her body in daisies, and left her in front of the sweetshop.
Katerina never went back to Bulgaria; erased children from her mind.
Katherine opens her eyes and stares in wonder at the stars barely visible through the canvas of foliage overhead. She sees them shift and dip and can’t decide whether or not it’s the poison in her veins that’s making the scenery flash. For, she knows the drill, she knows how this goes. You lose lucidity as the poison eats at your mind in a blistering, shuddering, brain-dissolving process.
Katherine wonders, since she’s fucking dying, if she should lay all her transgressions bare, Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and all that.
But she doesn’t really think there’s any forgiveness for the types of things she’s done, and it’s not like she thinks there’s exactly anyone to do the forgiving anyway.
She hasn’t believed in God since she was 11, and her brother had died after she prayed and prayed for months for God, for someone, for anyone to cure him, save him, anything.
But no one did anything, and so she had declared God a myth. And after, she sat on the altar of the Church her father had forced her to attend, her nose pressed flat against the smooth wood of the confessional, and blood winding around her knuckles from the gashes on her hands.
Her little sister, Nevena, who had cried the entire time Katerina was being whipped, pressed her small fingers to Katerina’s ripped hands, said, “Father is a liar, you can’t be a devil; devils don’t bleed.”
When she asked Katerina why she didn’t cry, Katerina smiled, pressed her dry cheek to Nevena’s damp one, and said “Only angels cry.”
Katherine remembers coming back to Bulgaria after she was turned, and finding her entire family slaughtered and torn to shreds; payback for running from Klaus.
She remembers - she will always remember - how she had fallen to her knees, breath and bile in her throat. She remembers how her eyes fell to her sister’s form, older now, but still beautiful, even in death; and how ribbons of graceful blood framed her slight body.
Katherine had knelt, pressed her damp cheek to Nevena’s dry one, and felt like anything but an angel.
She never tells anyone that she buried them all herself. That she dug into the hard earth with her hands pointed into grief-formed claws, laid their bodies to rest in a quiet wooded area behind their family home.
She never tells anyone that she slept all night on top of the dirt of her sister’s grave, and tried in vain to stay there as the sun rose.
But of course she forced her legs into movement, fled the area, sought shelter; she always was selfish.
The worst night of her life still leaves her with nightmares of ribbons of red; but of course, she never tells anyone that either.
A snap of twigs peels her eyes open, and for a second there’s a slice of fear in her blackening veins again as she tries to decipher if the sound is real or her deteriorating mind fucking with her. But a set of blue eyes, and a set of brown eyes the same shade as her own placate her mild panic, as Damon and Elena come into view.
She should be surprised, maybe, but she isn’t, not really. Of course they would be here, of course they would come; but not for her, never for her. After all, everyone always runs from her; and isn't that what this whole mess is about, at the start of it all? Elena trying to run from Katherine, and from a curse and a fate that Katherine couldn't accept herself.
And here they both stand, time-beaten and worn down, and she thinks it’s ironic, and a yet a bit predictable all at the same time. Because they aren’t here for her, she reminds herself, they’re here for Stefan.
She knows - has always known - that Damon would come for Stefan, and that Elena would always follow him on this fucking state-crossing mindfuck of a labyrinth Klaus and Stefan are blazing. From the beginning, she’s known.
So, yeah, Katherine gives them clues, but she always gives them a day late and a town behind. And Damon always seethes, and Elena always pouts, and Katherine makes jokes about the delay of the postal service and the pleasure in playing a game.
But really, as much as she knows she (unfortunately) loves Stefan and wants him out from under Klaus' inescapable thumb, she thinks, in some polluted, fucked up way, she might love Damon more. The idea of him playing hero doesn't seem as funny when it ends with him dying. So yeah, she gives them clues, but always with enough space in between for a time-cushioned safety net.
Fuck. It’s like a circus act, her life.
She’s faced with the idea that maybe some pathetic part of her might be ashamed of the mess that she’s in at this moment, at their finding her like this: vulnerable and, fuck it, she’ll say it: dying.
She knows they know, too. Even though her vision swims, she sees Damon eye the all too familiar black webbing of werewolf inflicted death weaving around her torn neck and broken skin. She sees Elena eye it, too, and Katherine wonders - sickly, unfairly - if Elena’s happy.
“Katherine?” Damon says, and it’s dark and exasperated-slash-burdened, but the way his voice hitches at the end of her name? Yeah, it could be a question, but she likes to think of it as something deeper. Something like fear that she’s dying, or maybe dark-humored care.
She sees Elena’s hand curl around Damon’s shoulder, and fuck, if the girl could only see the way she looks at him, she wouldreally have to ask herself why she’s really on this roadtrip bred from the Little Shop of Horrors.
And honestly, it’s funny. The movement of Elena’s eyes as she ghosts the contours of Damon’s face definitely doesn’t make any sort of sound like Stefan, and hey, Elena’s life is a circus act, too; so there’s that at least.
Katherine watches Damon break the hold of their gaze, turn to Elena, and yeah, she resents Elena, and all the looks she gets from all the men who couldn’t love Katherine enough.
And yeah, she hates Elena, but it tastes an awful lot like hating herself.
She watches Elena squeeze Damon’s shoulder in a gesture of comfort, of understanding, and then slip off into the night. And damn it if the respectful, selfless gesture of privacy doesn’t just make Katherine hate Elena more. Because that’s Elena fucking Gilbert: pure and sweet, and all of the things Katherine could never be.
She watches Damon watch Elena, watches the look in his eyes. She knows it’s not this hell-produced death fever that’s putting the love on his face; she knows it's real. But then he turns back to Katherine, lowers to his knees and reaches for her. She inhales sharply, breathes out “Don’t.”
“Katherine, we have to -” he tries, but the pain is cutting deeper into her, draining her energy, and right now she just wants to economize all of her words.
“Spine.” She says, and Damon immediately stops, brings his hands up between them, clenches and unclenches his fists a few times.
He stops, slumps down next to her, and leans on a tree; a heavy, shaky breath coming from somewhere deep in his lungs.
“He found out, didn’t he?” Damon asks, not bothering - or needing - to clarify the he or the what in question.
“Yes.” Katherine says simply, unabashed in her role of the guilty party. Damon exhales again.
“Dammit, Katherine, why the fuck?” He starts, stops, rethinks his train of thought, his choice of words, and starts again. “Why were you so sloppy about it?” he finishes, and they both know that she wasn’t, that she could put Sherlock to shame; and seriously, she can’t help it if Klaus one-ups her in paranoia-induced sleuthing.
But she knows that really, Damon’s words could still mean a thousand different things.
She wants to shrug, but she can’t move, so she can’t deny his accusation, but doesn’t think she needs to either. And it’s some sort of hysteria, or something; she doesn’t know.
Damon slumps lower, and picks at the grass, opening and closing his mouth far too often; she wants to tell him he looks like a fish, but he might have something she wants to hear, so she doesn’t say a word.
They sit in silence for a bit, and Katherine knows she’s passing in and out of consciousness, but can’t bring herself to care until she sees a catch of brown hair, and Nevena comes into view.
Katherine startles, sucks in a breath, and cries out, half in fear, half in elation.
“малък агне!” Katherine calls, and tries desperately to push herself to her elbows; to get nearer to her sister. “Nevena, малък агне!”
Her sister opens her mouth to smile, and thick dark red blood comes spilling out; leaking from her nose, her lips, her eyes.
Katherine screams. And screams, and what the fuck, make it stop.
“Katherine, no. Katherine, look at me.” She hears a voice she thinks might sound familiar, but she ignores it, and presses her lids tighter, refusing to look.
“No, fuck. Katherine, don’t give into it.” She feels hands on her face, and the touch is both frightening and calming, so she opens her eyes. She sees blue, a blue she thinks she knows.
“Damon?” the sound is garbled, the wound of her throat freshly deepened by the rapid tossing of her head.
She can’t believe this is who she is, this is what she’s been reduced to. She used to think death was lovely, some romanticized notion of perfectly captured eternity that she glorified in her head. But death isn’t beautiful, and as she feels the phantom ache of her numbed limbs, she knows it’s not graceful either.
“Damon, listen to me. End it.” She winces momentarily at the desperation in her voice, winces at the look on his face.
“Katherine, I -” He doesn’t finish with “I can’t,” but she hears the words just the same.
“Please.” She says, and this time there is no shame in her plight. She thinks about adding in something about evening out scores, settling debts, but she won't. There is no glory in death, there is no saving face.
She sees him scrub a hand over his face, and in a blur of movement, he has a branch in his hand; ragged and sharp, and yes; yes, this will do.
She sees Damon kneel next to her again, indecision on his face. There’s a myriad of emotions flickering across its plain, and she digests each one. Pain, anger, helplessness, love.
She wants to collect them like old cameos and bits of glass; stash them inside her rusted curio of a heart. Because it feels a bit like longing, a bit like dark-humored care. It makes her feel lonely; she wishes she could touch his face.
“Tell Stefan -” she starts, and he cuts her off with a quiet “I will.”
“No. Damon, tell Stefan, it was always you.” And it’s a lie. And she knows it’s a lie, and he knows it’s a lie, but she’s always been selfish. And the heart-sickened grief that flashes across his face for a too-quick moment at her words, she’ll take with her.
He raises the makeshift stake and hardens his jaw, but he won’t look away from her eyes. She thinks she loves him for that. He won’t leave her alone in this moment; and she thinks maybe she never really was at all.
“I’m sorry,” he says, damp sounding and quiet; and it’s funny because, she is, too. So she tells him. He gives her a flicker of a wavering smile - a real one - no smirk in sight.
It’s ironic, because she’s not sad, not really. Death feels an awful lot like relief; or maybe, she thinks, it feels like absolution.
Damon lifts his arm, drives the stake into her heart.