Matt watched in horror as the phantom shook Damon like a rag dol .
Elena spun around to lock eyes with Matt and Bonnie.
"We have to save him," she whispered, a fierce determination on her face, and immediately took off running, shoving her way through the piles of ash. Matt figured that if Damon, with al his vampire strength and fighting skil s honed over the centuries, was so completely helpless in the hands of this phantom - and jeez, with the way it was yanking him back and forth now, his head real y was going to pop off - then Matt, Bonnie, and Elena had less than a snowbal 's chance in hel of making any difference to this fight. The only real question would be whether the phantom would kil them, too. And the truth was that Matt didn't even like Damon, not one tiny little bit. Sure, Damon had helped save Fel 's Church from Katherine and Klaus, and from the kitsune demons, but he was stil a murderous, sarcastic, unrepentant, cocky, arrogant, nasty, usual y unpleasant vampire. Damon had undoubtedly hurt more people than he had helped over his long life, even if you generously credited him with saving every single resident of Fel 's Church. And he always cal ed Matt "Mutt," pretending that he couldn't remember his actual name, which was completely infuriating. As Damon meant it to be. Stil , Elena loved Damon. For whatever reason. Probably the same inexplicable reason that regular girls loved regular old bad boys, Matt suspected. A dyed-in-the-wool good guy, he'd never seen the appeal himself. But Elena did.
And Damon was part of the team, sort of, and you didn't leave your teammates to get decapitated by demon icewomen on ash-blanketed moons in other dimensions without at least doing your best to put up a fight. Not even if you didn't like them at al .
Matt ran after Elena, and Bonnie fol owed. When they reached the phantom, Elena was already scrabbling at the icy blue hand clutched around Damon's throat, trying to pry its fingers up enough to slip her own underneath. The phantom barely glanced at her. Matt gave an inward sigh at the hopelessness of it al and swung a powerful roundhouse blow toward the phantom's stomach.
Before his fist could connect, his target turned from ice to swirling, intangible mist, and his punch passed right through the phantom. Thrown off balance, Matt staggered and fel into the phantom's now-vaporous torso.
It was like fal ing into a freezing-cold river of sewage. A numbing chil and a horrible, sickening smel washed over Matt. He pul ed back out of the mist, nauseous and shivering but upright. He blinked dazedly around. Elena was grappling with the phantom's fingers, scratching and yanking, and the phantom watched her with a kind of distant amusement, not the least bit alarmed or discomforted by the girl's efforts. Then it moved, so quickly Matt saw only a blur of bluish green, sending Elena flying, her arms and legs flailing, into a heap of ash. She scrambled to her feet immediately, blood trickling from her hairline, leaving red tracks through the ash that now coated her skin.
Bonnie was trying, too: She'd worked her way around behind the phantom and was hitting and kicking at it. Mostly, her feet and fists swung harmlessly right through the phantom's mist, but occasional y a blow would connect with the more solid ice. These blows seemed like they were total y ineffective, though: Matt couldn't tel whether the phantom had even noticed Bonnie was attacking it. Veins were bulging out of Damon's face and neck, and he hung from the phantom's hand. The flesh of his neck was white around the stretched tendons. Superpowered strong old vampire or not, Damon was hurting. Matt tossed up a prayer in the direction of whatever saint looked after people pursuing hopeless causes, and threw himself back into the fight.
There was blackness. And then there was pain, and the darkness reddened, then cleared, and Damon could see once more.
The phantom - that bitch of a phantom - was holding him by the neck, and her skin was so cold, so cold it burned everywhere it touched him. He couldn't move. But he could see Elena standing below him. Beautiful Elena, covered in ash, streaked with blood, her teeth bared and her eyes flashing like a warrior goddess. His heart swel ed with love and fear. The brave little redbird and the boy Mutt fought beside her.
Please, he wanted to say. Don't try to save me. Run. Elena, you have to run.
But he couldn't move, couldn't speak.
Then the phantom shifted her stance and, as Damon watched, Elena stopped her attack and clutched at her stomach, grimacing in pain. Matt and Bonnie were holding themselves as wel , their faces pale and strained, their mouths open in screams. With a wail, Bonnie col apsed. Oh no, Damon thought with a bolt of horror. Not Elena. Not the redbird. Not for me.
Then suddenly, a gusting wind swirled around him, and he was flung from the phantom's grip. There was a roaring in his ears and a stinging in his eyes. Looking around, he saw Bonnie and Elena, their long hair flying around them wildly; Matt, his arms pinwheeling; and the phantom, its glass-green face for once startled instead of knowing. Tornado, Damon thought vaguely, and then, Gateway, and he realized he was being thrown upward, back into the darkness once more.
The wind was howling at a deafening pitch now, and Stefan had to raise his voice to a shout to even hear himself over it. He had to keep both hands clamped down on the book -
it was being pul ed out of his hands as if something alive and very strong were consciously trying to yank it away.
"Mihi adi. Te voco. Necesse est tibi parere," Stefan said. "Come to me. I summon you. You must obey."
That was the end of the summoning spel in Latin. The next part was the banishing spel , which would be in English. Of course, the phantom would have to actual y be there for that part of the spel to be effective. The wind whipping through the garage grew even stronger. Outside, thunder rumbled.
Stefan watched the innermost circle, deep in the shadows of the garage, but there was nothing there. The unnatural wind was beginning to let up. Panic rose in his chest. Had they failed? He glanced anxiously at Alaric and Meredith, then at Mrs. Flowers, but none of them were looking at him, staring transfixed at the circle. Stefan looked back into it, hoping against hope. But there was nothing there.
There was the faintest movement of something, right in the center of the circle, the tiniest flash of blue-green light, and along with it came a chil . Not like the cold wind that had spun through the garage, but more like an icy breath -
inhale and exhale, inhale and exhale - slow and steady and freezing cold, right from that one spot.
The glimmer widened, deepened, darkened, and suddenly what Stefan was looking at shifted and changed from an amorphous glimmer to a woman. An icy, misty, giant woman tinted in shades of blue and green. Inside her chest was a deep red rose, its stem a solid mass of thorns. Meredith and Celia let out audible gasps. Mrs. Flowers stared calmly, while Alaric's jaw had dropped. This must be the jealousy phantom. Stefan had always thought of jealousy as burning hot. Fiery kisses, fiery anger. But anger, lust, envy, al the things that made up jealousy, could be cold, too, and he had no doubt that they had the right phantom.
Stefan noticed al these things about the phantom and forgot them again in a split second, because it wasn't just the ice-woman who materialized at the center of the circle. Confused, weeping, staggering, streaked with ash and mud, three humans had appeared there as wel . His beautiful, elegant Elena, caked in grime, her golden hair tangled and matted, lines of blood running down her face. Delicate little Bonnie, tearstained and pale as milk, but with an expression of fury as she kicked and clawed at the phantom. And al -American, always reliable Matt, dusty and disheveled, turning to peer out at them with a peculiarly blank expression, as if simply wondering what fresh hel he'd landed in now.
And then one more person, a fourth figure wobbling and gasping, the last to shimmer into view. For a moment, Stefan didn't recognize him - couldn't recognize him, because this man wasn't supposed to exist anymore. Instead he just felt like a hauntingly familiar stranger. The stranger put his hands to his throat protectively and looked out of the circle, straight at Stefan. Through a bloody, swol en lip and bruised slits of eyes, the ghost of a bril iant smile appeared, and the gears of Stefan's mind slotted into place and began to turn again at last.
Stefan was so flabbergasted he didn't know what to feel at first. Then, deep within him, a slow warmth spread with the realization that his brother was back. The last piece left of al his strange history was here once again. Stefan wasn't alone. Stefan took a step forward toward the edge of the diagram, holding his breath.
"Damon?" he said softly, wonderingly.
Jealousy snapped its head toward him, and Stefan was pinned to his spot by its glassy cold gaze.
"He came back before, you know," it said
conversational y, and its voice chil ed Stefan as if ice water had been thrown in his face. "He just didn't want you to know so he could have Elena al to himself. He's been lurking around, lying low, playing tricks like he always does."
Jealousy was undoubtedly feminine, and its cool observational tone reminded Stefan of the little voice that sometimes spoke from the back of his mind, cal ing out his darkest and most shameful thoughts. Could the others even hear it? Or was it speaking straight into his mind?
He risked a glance around. They al - Meredith, Celia, Alaric, Mrs. Flowers - stood stil as statues, staring at Jealousy. Behind them, the makeshift beds lay empty. When the three sleepers' astral forms had entered the circle with the phantom, their bodies must have somehow joined them, making them solid within the inner circle.
"He came to Elena," the phantom taunted. "He kept his resurrection a secret from you so that he could pursue her. Damon didn't worry for a moment about how you felt about his death. And while you were busy mourning him, he was busy visiting Elena's bedroom."
Stefan reeled backward.
"He always wants what you have, and you know it," the phantom continued, its translucent lips curving in a smile.
"It's been true since you were mortals. Remember how he came home from university and stole Katherine away from you? He used al his charms on her, just because he knew you loved her. Even with the smal things: If you had a toy, he'd take it. If you wanted a horse, he'd ride it. If there was a piece of meat on the platter between you, he'd take it even if he wasn't hungry, just so you wouldn't get it."
Stefan shook his head slowly from side to side, again feeling too slow, like he had once again missed the important moment. Damon had been visiting Elena? When he had cried on her shoulder about his fal en brother, had Elena known Damon was alive?
"But you thought you could trust Elena, didn't you, Stefan?" Elena turned to stare at him, her cheeks pale beneath their coating of ash. She looked sick and apprehensive.
"No, Stefan - " Elena started to say, but the phantom went swiftly on, its words soothingly spoken poison. Stefan knew what it was doing. He wasn't a fool. Yet he felt himself nodding, agreeing, a slow red anger rising inside him despite his more rational self's struggle against it.
"Elena kept his secret from you, Stefan. She knew you were in pain and that knowing Damon was alive would have eased that suffering, but stil she kept silent, because Damon asked her to, and what Damon wanted was more important than helping you. Elena's always wanted both of the Salvatore brothers. It's funny, real y, Stefan, how you're never quite enough for the women you love. This isn't the first time Elena's chosen Damon over you, is it?"
Elena shook her head, but Stefan could barely see her through the tide of fury and misery rising up inside him.
"Secrets and lies," the phantom went on merrily, with an icy tinkling laugh, "and foolish Stefan Salvatore always a few steps behind. You've known al along there was something between Elena and Damon that you weren't part of, Stefan, and yet you would never have suspected she'd betray you for him."
Damon seemed to snap out of his daze, as if suddenly hearing the phantom for the first time. His brows drew into a heavy frown and he slowly turned his head to stare at it. He opened his mouth to speak, but at that moment, something in Stefan broke, and before Damon could issue whatever denial or taunt was on the tip of his tongue, Stefan lunged forward with a shout of rage, plunging straight through the chalked diagram. Faster than the human eye could fol ow, Stefan knocked Damon backward out of the circle and threw him against the far wal of the garage.
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