After the transition, which goes by in a haze of desperate hunger, pleading, and Matt’s wrist pressed to her mouth in trembling determination, Elena feels like she cannot see the world correctly anymore. Colors are too bright. Everything is impossibly loud, even when she cowers and smashes her hands over her ears (which she does over and over and over can’t stop). Her clothes don’t feel right, as though the fabric has fundamentally changed and grown gritty.
And, the hunger.
The hunger never stops. It is an entity unto itself. It claws at her, consumes her, fills her with desire and guilt in equal measure. Weeks go by and she becomes convinced she is Hunger Incarnate, and that nothing will ever satisfy the gaping maw in her gut. Bonnie slips a lapis lazuli ring onto her left ring finger once she’s reasonably sure Elena won’t slaughter the town, and Elena giggles madly at the thought that with this ring, Bonnie has wed her to The Hunger (oh, yes i do i do i do).
She drinks liquor by the case and as many blood bags as Stefan and Damon will allow her (never enough) and clears out the large freezer in her garage in a frenzied dervish of cooking and consuming. Jeremy remarks that they’ve never eaten so well. Caroline shows her how to hunt game, but animal blood does nothing to quell her need. She keeps at it though, because the chase and the kill do satisfy some part of her. The pleasure of it fills her with shame (at least, at first).
Damon offers to show her another way of hunting, but she steadfastly refuses (at least, at first), much to Stefan’s approval and Damon’s annoyance. In return for the rejection, Damon insists on calling Elena ‘Baby Vamp’ and asks her repeatedly when she’ll finally be ready to be a big girl. She forgives him his surliness because she knows that his heart is broken over what’s happened.
Stefan offers her nothing but the warmth of his embrace, and truth be told it’s the worst part of all. She’s edgy and anxious all the time now, and never more so than when Stefan is holding her. She wants it to be right but it’s just not (not ever). She wraps herself in his arms all the same (hold me please Stefan never leave me), and looks for brief moments of escape.
She cannot sleep. She cannot ever sleep, and this worries her (though not as much as it worries everyone else). While her friends are all slumbering, she roams the town and the surrounding hills. She insists on going alone. She figures if she just keeps moving she’ll eventually wear herself out and find reprieve. She can’t just keep going forever without rest, can she?
She finds herself wandering towards Wickery Bridge more often than she’d like to admit. She never purposely goes there, but somehow she ends up meandering over its gravely surface more nights than not, leaning against the rail and staring into the dark water.
She remembers staring over the dash of Matt’s truck and seeing someone in the road, and in slow motion she sees their trajectory shift, and then the cold water rushing (coming for her). She shivers, partly in memory of the fear, but more at the image of the perfect arc they made through the air. How the surface of the lake was placid before them and broke smoothly (welcoming them). She remembers it again and again, expanding the details outward in her mind until she can see inch by inch in technicolor glory, the last moments of her human life.
The first time she jumps, she feels a stab of terror and dread when she hits the water. She doesn’t know why she feels compelled to do it. Something about the warmth of the night and the ripples in the surface… suddenly she finds herself hitching her legs over the railing and just doing it.
She slowly sinks to the bottom. Looks around. Gasps out a flurry of shocked bubbles when she sees Matty’s truck. She’s dumbstruck for a moment. Surely they would have towed it out? They can’t just leave a giant truck in a lake, can they? She swims over to it and, after a pause, cautiously climbs inside.
She only stays a moment before the urge to breathe pushes her back out and to the surface, shaking and panting as she pulls herself onto the grassy shore. She lies there for a long time, breathing hard and staring at the stars. Deep inside, she feels a thrill like she hasn’t felt since she transitioned. It’s irrational and wrong but it’s there. She closes her heart around it and makes herself think of other things (the thrill beats in her heart). When she walks home, wringing her sopping hair out between her fists, she tells herself it was reckless and morbid, that she should never go back there. That there is nothing there but death.
(she starts going back every night)
After awhile, the fear of hitting the water leaves her, replaced with a benign sense of rightness, an inevitability in the tenseness of her joints as she climbs the short barrier, steps forward, and drops like a stone. It becomes a routine, a small ritual she completes each night before going home to check that Jeremy still sleeps soundly. After the first few times, she mentally chastises herself for not figuring out that if she strips she doesn’t have to walk home in cold wet clothes. She starts shedding garments as soon as the bridge is in sight. She walks, runs, jumps, swims, and climbs into the cab of the sunken truck (naked and wet as the day she was born).
Sometimes after sitting inside the cab for a while, she lets her body rise, loose-limbed and wilted, slowly towards the surface. Sometimes she unfastens her seatbelt quickly and zips up through the water like a bottle rocket, breaking the surface with a splashing leap that leaves her flopping and gasping when she lands back on the rough concrete of the bridge. Sometimes she swims just to the boundary where water meets air and hovers, submersed, watching how the moon shimmers and dances through the lens of the lake’s surface. She bobs up for small breaths and then sinks slowly, enfolded in the hushed quiet of the calm water.
She could stay under here forever, she thinks one night. Forget about the cacophony of voices up above urging her to adjust and move forward.
(do this eat that hunt this be that do good have fun don’t have too much fun go there do this love me love him love us do better be better be Elena be Elena be Elena Elena Elena)
She could just stay. Stop worrying and caring about everyone else. Dine on trout blood and wile away the hours braiding her hair amongst the waterweeds. Listen to the muted rumble of passing cars. Make friends with the rumored monster that lives in the other end of the lake.
I could become the Mystic Lake Monster, she thinks with a sardonic smile. An object of intrigue to locals and passers-by. A local legend come to life in mythical glory.
She could stop trying so hard to be real, she thinks (cease to exist entirely).
She feels the weight of the water against her chest while she ponders. It’s painful but she’s pretty sure she can hold her breath indefinitely. But why would you? The thought is a sharp blow. What’s the point?
Slow and steady, she breathes out liters of stale air from her useless lungs. The bubbles tickle her nose as they rush up her face and over the roof of the truck’s interior, out the driver’s door and towards the dim circle of sky up above. When the bubbles cease, she holds still. The urge to flee, to rush up for air is almost overpowering, but she resists. It’s only sense-memory. She wills herself to remain calm. Finally, she allows herself a small inhalation. She grips the truck’s dash so hard it cracks beneath her fingers. The sensation is altogether suffocating and horrifying and… over.
Once she’s breathed it in, the water sits inside her quietly, inert (full so full finally full). She smiles to herself. It should feel macabre and disturbing, but sitting at the bottom of the lake, filled to the brim with its waters, is a relief. For a blissful moment she stops worrying about herself and Jeremy and Bonnie and Caroline and Stefan and Damon and everyone and just stares through the blueness. It’s utterly peaceful.
Of course, this is the moment Damon chooses to ruin her quiet by appearing at the open driver’s door. His face is by turns full of shock and fear; he yells unintelligibly at her, bubbles exploding around his head. Stefan is not far behind, his brow furrowed darkly in concern. Elena resists Damon’s tug on her arm, but he is stronger and manages to pull her out of the truck and start dragging her up. Without air in her lungs she cannot scream at him, but she claws at his fingers and kicks at his legs.
Eventually she stops struggling (Stefan brushes her shoulder and touches her cheekbone lightly) and lets them pull her out of the water and to the shore. She coughs lake water over the sodden grass and thinks that she’s never been this tired in her life. The urge to turn and slide back into the depths nearly overwhelms her.
They do not understand (they never did). Damon is enraged and accusatory and cajoling all at once. Stefan is panicked and worried and smothering. Caroline is shrill and well meaning and won’t stop hugging her. They fuss and hover. It should be comforting to be this loved (it’s not). It’s exhausting.
(What the fuck, Elena? You can’t keep doing shit like this. You just need to get out there, live a little. Are you okay? What can I do? What can we do? You’re going to be okay, Elena. It won’t be like this forever. Here, I got you some blood and rum. You like rum, remember? I will make it okay, Elena. You’re okay now, right, Elena?)
She supposes she’s going to have to be okay eventually, so she resolves that now is as good a time as any. What good is peace anyway, when she’s a creature full of fury and fangs? She stops going to the bridge and gets on with the business of living (forever). There’s much to do. Years pass like snapshots of moments as everyone around her speeds towards the future. She starts to smile again. She remains in a perpetual state of wakefulness.
There is no rest for the wicked, and the longer she goes without sleep, the wickeder she becomes. It is a fair tradeoff, she decides. It’s the only thing she ultimately gets to decide for herself. If her chosen wickedness means that eventually she is alone, well then Katherine would be proud of her, she muses, and tries not to think on it any deeper than that. She especially doesn’t think of it as she watches Stefan leave for the final time. Pointedly doesn’t think of it once.
She keeps moving, keeps going, keeps trying to fill the hunger, but it never slakes. She becomes adept at taming it, but never banishing it. Eventually she forgets why she refused Damon’s lessons all those years ago, and he is ever glad to be of service. She tries not to be hurt at the certainty in her breast that once she’s passed all her tests, he is equally glad to be rid of her. He says something nonsensical (profound) about needing her to have hope (what is that word? she’s long since forgotten), and firmly tells her goodbye.
It’s not her last goodbye, but it’s the one she remembers best.
(when she lets them, all her goodbyes hurt her still)
Years (upon years upon years) later, after all those she loved that breathed have gone and those she loved that didn’t breathe have all but gone as well, she goes back to Wickery Bridge. Like a wraith, she moves down the road, and anyone who might meet her would think she is a lost young girl. Until they get a good look at her eyes and realize she is neither young nor a girl (definitely lost). But she encounters no one as she makes her way towards the bridge. It’s just as well, as these days she feeds first and makes introductions later (never). It stopped meaning what it used to mean long enough ago that she has a hard time recalling if it ever meant anything at all (it meant everything).
She takes a short detour through a copse of trees near her destination and removes her clothing. Strips herself of everything worldly save a dainty lapis ring set in bridal gold, and a necklace an old friend returned to her years ago as a token of forgiveness (Rebekah was always sentimental that way). She tucks her things into a bundle behind some shrubbery before picking her way back to the pavement on bare feet.
Though the road on either end is pitted, worn, and long-neglected, Elena notes with curiosity that the bridge itself looks unchanged since her eighteenth year.
You waited for me, she thinks as she makes her way across to the middle, pausing to run a hand across the railing. How did you know I’d be back?
The water underneath moves almost silently, and Elena remembers an old saying. You never step into the same river twice. Except this is not a river, and she knows it’s exactly the same as it’s always been.
She stands above the water for long minutes, watching small ripples swirl and listening to the sound of crickets. It’s a beautiful evening; the sun is lowering over the horizon in a brilliant blaze of pink, red, and orange. There’s a clean, warm smell in the air. She looks down at her hands. There’s an errant smear of blood marring her right wrist. She licks at it absently, before turning her attention back to the lake. She feels the old familiar sense of rightness, the steady tug in her belly.
She climbs to perch on the edge of the rail. Takes a deep breath, and then makes a perfect swan dive into the water. She hardly splashes the surface, diving deep and kicking her legs hard until her fingers make contact with the muddy lake floor. She sends up a swirl of dust as she buries her hands in the mud, then rights herself and looks around.
She empties her lungs (finally), and fills them up again (at last). As the air bubbles burst through the surface far above, she sets about searching.
It takes her a while and a bit of digging, but she finds the rusted out remnants of Matt's truck. The grit of the lake bottom stings her eyes. All that remains of the truck is the carbon block of the engine, and, several yards away, the mostly intact bed.
She drags the bed through the water to rest once more behind the engine, and lays herself down in it. Without air in her lungs, she finds she has no trouble staying mostly put. The dust starts slowly settling around her.
Once upon a time, she thinks as she looks up at the dimming light above the surface of the cool water, there was a girl who lived forever. But it turned out to be far too long, so she forever died instead.
Her eyelids feel heavy. She curls onto her side, her long hair floating around her in a dim blue haze, and runs her fingertips lightly in little circles over the rusted bottom of the truck bed before bringing her hand to lie next to her cheek. She closes her eyes.