"Stop!" Elena screamed. "Stefan! Stop it! You'l kil him!"

Even as she said it, she realized that kil ing Damon might be exactly what Stefan's idea was here. Stefan tore at Damon with his teeth and hands, not pummeling him, but ripping feral y, with fangs and claws. Stefan, his body in a vicious primal crouch, his canines extended, his face distorted by a snarl of animal fury, had never looked more like a bloodthirsty vampire.

And behind Elena as she watched them, that seductive, chil ing voice went on, tel ing Stefan that he would lose everything, just like he always lost everything. That Damon took everything from him and then tossed it carelessly, cruel y aside, because Damon simply wanted to ruin whatever Stefan had.

Elena turned and, too frightened by what Stefan was doing to Damon to have any fear left of the phantom, slammed it with her fists. After a moment, Matt and Bonnie joined her.

As before, mostly their hands just slid through the phantom's mist. The phantom's chest was solid, though, and Elena focused her rage on that, hitting against the hard ice there with as much power as she could.

Beneath the ice of the creature's chest, a rose glowed a rich dark red. It was a beautiful flower, but deadly looking, its color reminding her of poisoned blood. Its thorny stem seemed swol en, thicker than a normal flower's. As Elena stared at it, the glow deepened and the flower's petals opened further, swel ing to ful bloom. Is that her heart?

Elena wondered. Is Stefan's jealousy nourishing it? She smashed her fist against the phantom's chest again, right above the rose, and the phantom glanced at her for a moment.

"Stop it," Elena said fiercely. "Leave Stefan alone."

The phantom was real y looking at her now, and its - no, her - smile widened, her glasslike teeth sharp and shiny underneath her misty lips. In the glacial depths of her eyes, Elena thought she caught a chil y but genuine twinkle, and Elena's own heart froze.

Then the phantom turned her attention back toward Stefan and Damon, and, although Elena would never have believed it possible, things got worse.

"Damon," said the phantom throatily, and Damon, who'd been limp and exhausted, eyes clenched shut, passive under Stefan's assault, shielding his face but not fighting back, opened his eyes.

"Damon," she said again, her eyes glittering. "What right does Stefan have to attack you? Whatever you tried to take from him, you were just fighting against the fact that he got everything - your father's love, the girls you wanted - and you had nothing at al . He's a sanctimonious brat, a selfloathing weakling, but he gets everything."

Damon's eyes widened as if in recognition at hearing his own deepest miseries voiced, and his face twisted with emotion. Stefan was stil clawing and biting at him, but he fel back a little as Damon snapped into action, grabbing him by the arm and wrenching it. Elena winced with horror as she heard the crunch of something - oh, God -

something in Stefan's arm or shoulder breaking. Undaunted, Stefan only grimaced and then threw himself at Damon again, the hurt arm dangling awkwardly. Damon was stronger, Elena numbly noted, but exhausted; surely he wouldn't be able to keep his advantage for long. For now they seemed fairly evenly matched. They were both furious, both fighting with no reservations. A bestial, nasty snarl came from one of them, shaky, vicious laughter from the other, and Elena realized with horror that she had no idea which sound was coming from who.

The phantom hissed with enjoyment. Elena flinched away from her and, out of the corner of her eye, saw Bonnie and Matt step back, too.

"Don't break the lines!" Alaric shouted from the other side of... where were they now, anyway? Oh, Mrs. Flowers's garage - the garage. He sounded desperate, and Elena wondered if he had been shouting for a while. There had been some background noise going on, but there hadn't been a moment to listen to it. "Elena! Bonnie!

Matt! Don't break the lines!" he shouted again. "You can get out, but step over the lines careful y!"

Elena glanced down. An elaborate pattern of lines in different colors was chalked beneath their feet, and she, Bonnie, Matt, and the phantom were al together in a smal circle in the innermost center of this pattern. Bonnie was the first one to clearly realize what Alaric was saying. "Come on," she muttered, yanking at Elena's and Matt's arms. Then she picked her way, daintily but quickly, across the floor, away from the phantom and toward their friends. Matt fol owed her. He had to pause on one foot in a smal section and reach with his other foot, and there was a moment when he wobbled, one sneaker almost blurring a blue line of chalk. But he caught his balance and continued on.

It took Elena, stil mostly focused on the desperately grappling figures of Damon and Stefan, a few seconds longer to realize she needed to move as wel . She was almost too late. As she poised herself to take that first step out of the inner circle, the phantom turned its glassy eyes upon her.

Elena fled, jumping quickly out of the circle and just barely managing to stop herself from skidding across the diagram. The phantom took a swipe at her, but its hand stopped before crossing above a chalk line, and it growled in frustration.

Alaric shakily pushed his tousled hair out of his eyes. "I wasn't sure whether that would hold her," he admitted, "but it seems like it's working. Now, careful y, Elena, watching where you step, make your way over here." Matt and Bonnie had already reached the wal of the garage, at a distance from where Stefan and Damon were locked in battle, and Meredith had wrapped her arms around them, her dark head buried in Matt's shoulder, Bonnie nestled against her side, her eyes as round as a frightened kitten's. Elena looked down at the complicated pattern drawn on the floor and started moving careful y between the lines, heading not for her other friends but for the two struggling vampires.

"Elena! No! This way!" cal ed Alaric, but Elena ignored him. She had to get to Damon and Stefan.

"Please," she said, half sobbing, as she reached them,

"Damon, Stefan, you have to stop. The phantom's doing this to you. You don't real y want to hurt each other. It's not you. Please."

Neither of them paid any attention to her. She wasn't even sure whether they could hear her. They were almost motionless now, their muscles straining in each other's grip as each tried to simultaneously attack and fend off the other. Slowly, as Elena watched, Damon began to overcome Stefan, gradual y pushing his arms aside, leaning in toward his throat, white teeth flashing.

"Damon! No!" Elena screamed. She stretched out to grab his arm, to pul him off Stefan. Without even looking at her, he casual y, viciously shoved her aside, sending her flying.

She landed hard on her back and slid across the floor, and it hurt, the impact jolting her teeth together, banging her head against the cement, white shocks of pain flaring behind her eyes. As she started to get up again, she saw with dismay Damon push through the last of Stefan's defenses and sink his fangs into his younger brother's neck.

"No!" she screamed again. "Damon, no!"

"Elena, be careful," Alaric shouted. "You're in the diagram. Please, whatever you do, don't break any more lines."

Elena looked around. Her landing had sent her skidding through several of the chalk marks, which were now smeared al around her, smudges of color. She stiffened in terror and suppressed a whimper. Was it loose now? Had she set it free?

Steeling herself, she turned toward the innermost circle. The phantom was feeling around itself with its long arms, patting up and down against some invisible wal bordering the circle that kept it contained. As Elena watched, its mouth thinned with effort and it brought its hands together in one spot and pushed.

The air in the room rippled.

But the phantom did not manage to break through the circle, and after a moment it stopped pushing and hissed in disappointment.

Then its eyes fel on Elena, and it smiled again.

"Oh, Elena," it said, its voice soft with false compassion.

"The pretty girl, the one everyone wants, the one the boys al fight over. It's so very hard being you." The voice twisted, its tone changing to bitter mockery. "But they're not real y thinking of you, are they? The two you want, you're not the girl for them. You know why they are attracted to you. Katherine. Always Katherine. They want you because you look like her, but you're not her. The girl they loved so long ago was soft and sweet and gentle. An innocent, a victim, a foil for their fantasies. You're nothing like her. They'l find that out, you know. Once your mortal form changes - and it wil . They'l be the same forever, but you're changing and getting older every day; in a few years you'l look much older than they do - then they'l realize you're not the one they love at al . You're not Katherine, and you never wil be."

Elena's eyes stung. "Katherine was a monster," she spat out through her teeth.

"She became a monster. She started out as a sweet young girl," the phantom corrected her. "Damon and Stefan destroyed her. Like they'l destroy you. You'l never lead a normal life. You're not like Meredith or Bonnie or Celia. They'l have chances at normalcy when they're ready, despite the way you've dragged them into your battles. But you, you'l never be normal. And you know who's to blame for that, don't you?"

Elena, without thinking, looked at Damon and Stefan, just as Stefan managed to shove Damon away from him. Damon staggered backward, toward the group of humans huddling by the wal of the garage. Blood was running from his mouth and streaming down Stefan's neck from a terrible gash.

"They've doomed you, just like they doomed the one they really loved," the phantom said softly.

Elena pushed herself to her feet, her heart pounding hard, heavy with misery and anger.

"Elena, stop!" cal ed a powerful contralto voice, fil ed with such authority that Elena turned away from Damon and Stefan and, blinking as though she'd been woken from a dream, looked out of the diagram toward the others. Mrs. Flowers stood at the edge of the chalk lines, hands on her hips, feet planted firmly. Her lips were a straight angry line, but her eyes were clear and thoughtful. She met Elena's gaze, and Elena felt calmed and strengthened. Then Mrs. Flowers looked around at the others gathered beside her.

"We must perform the banishing spel now," she declared. "Before the phantom manages to destroy us al . Elena! Can you hear me?"

A surge of purpose running through her, Elena nodded and moved back to join the others.

Mrs. Flowers brought her hands sharply together, and the air rippled again. The phantom's voice broke off and it shrieked in fury, shoving at the air around it, its hands meeting resistance sooner, its invisible prison smal er. Meredith felt urgently around on the high shelf near the garage door, her hands touching and rejecting various objects. Where had Mrs. Flowers put the candles?

Paintbrushes, no. Flashlights, no. Ancient can of bug spray, no. Bag of potting soil, no. Some weird metal thing that she couldn't figure out from touching what it might be, no. Bag of candles. Yes.

"I've got it," she said, pul ing it off the shelf and dumping probably a decade's worth of dust from the shelf onto her own head. "Urgh," she sputtered.

It was a mark of the seriousness of the situation, Meredith thought, that Bonnie and Elena both looked at her, head and shoulders coated in thick dust and spiderwebs, and neither giggled nor moved to brush her off. They al had more important things to worry about than a little dirt.

"Okay," she said. "First off, we need to figure out what color candle Damon would be." Mrs. Flowers had pointed out that Damon was clearly a victim of the jealousy phantom as wel , and so would have to take part in the banishment ritual for it to work ful y.

Looking at the two vampire brothers stil attempting to tear each other apart, Meredith seriously doubted whether Damon would be participating. Stefan either, for that matter. They were solely focused on inflicting as much damage as possible on each other. Stil , they would have to get the two vampires back to make the spel work. Somehow.

Meredith found herself cool y wondering whether, if both Damon and Stefan died, they could safely be counted out of the ritual. Would the rest of them be able to defeat the phantom then? And if they didn't murder each other, but simply continued to fight, endangering them al , would she be able to kil them? She shoved the thought away. Stefan was her friend.

And then she determinedly made herself consider kil ing him again. This was her duty. That was more important than friendship; it had to be.

Yes, she could kil them today, even in the next few minutes, if it was necessary, she realized. She would regret it forever if she had to, but she could.

Besides, a part of her mind noted clinical y, if things went on as they were now, Damon and Stefan would kil each other, and save her that burden.

Elena had been thinking hard - or maybe zoning out, focused on what the jealousy phantom had said to her, Meredith wasn't sure - and now she spoke. "Red," she said. "Is there a red candle for Damon?"

There was a dark red candle, and also a black one. Meredith pul ed both out and showed them to Elena.

"Red," said Elena.

"For blood?" asked Meredith, eyeing the fighters, now only about ten feet away. God, they were both just covered with blood now. As she watched, Damon growled like an animal and banged Stefan's head repeatedly against the wal of the garage. Meredith winced at the hol ow sound of Stefan's skul slamming against the wood and plaster of the wal . Damon had one hand around Stefan's neck, the other ripping at Stefan's chest as if Damon wanted to gouge out his heart.

A soft, sinister voice was stil coming from the phantom. Meredith couldn't make out what it was saying, but its eyes were on the brothers, and it was smiling as it spoke. It looked satisfied.

"For passion," said Elena, and snatched the candle out of Meredith's hands and marched over, straight-backed and head high like a soldier's, to the line of candles Alaric was relighting at the edge of the diagram. Meredith stared after her as Elena lit the candle and dripped a puddle of hot wax to stand it upon.

Stefan forced Damon backward, closer to the others and their line of candles. Damon's boots scraped against the floor as he strained against Stefan.

"Okay," Alaric said, looking at the candles

apprehensively, then down at the book. "Each of us wil declare the jealousies inside ourselves - the weaknesses that the phantom is able to play on - and cast them out. If we real y mean it, if we manage, at least for the moment, to truly and sincerely cast out our jealousy, our candles wil go out and the phantom wil be weakened. The trick is to real y be able to banish the jealousies from our hearts and stop feeding the phantom, and if we al can do it at once, the phantom ought to disappear, or maybe even die."

"What if we can't? What if we try to cast out jealousy, but it doesn't go completely away?" Bonnie asked, her forehead crinkling with worry.

"Then it doesn't work and the phantom stays," said Alaric flatly. "Who wants to go first?"

Stefan slammed Damon down viciously onto the cement floor, a howl of anger coming from him. They were only a few feet from the line of candles, and Alaric stepped between them and the row of tiny flames, trying to shield the candles with his body. Celia shuddered as Stefan gave a low, furious growl and lowered his head to bite at Damon's shoulder. Jealousy kept up a steady stream of venomous chatter, her eyes gleaming.

Mrs. Flowers clapped her hands to get everyone else's attention, her face stern and encouraging. "Children, you wil al have to be honest and brave," she said. "You must al truly admit to your worst selves in front of your friends, which wil be hard. And then you wil need to be strong enough to cast these worst selves of yours away, which may be even harder. But you love one another, and I promise we wil get through it."

A thump and a muffled shout of rage and pain came from a few feet away, and Alaric glanced nervously over his shoulder at the battle behind him.

"Time is of the essence," Mrs. Flowers said briskly. "Who wil go first?"

Meredith was about to step forward, clutching her stave for comfort, when Bonnie spoke up.

"I wil ," she said falteringly. "Um. I've been jealous of Meredith and of Elena. I always..." She swal owed, and then spoke more firmly. "I sometimes feel like I'm only a sidekick when I'm around them. They're braver than me, and they're better fighters, and smarter and prettier, and... and taller than I am. I'm jealous because I feel like people don't respect me as much as they do them and don't real y take me seriously like they do Elena and Meredith. I'm jealous because sometimes I'm standing in their shadows, which are pretty big shadows... metaphorical y speaking, I mean. And I'm also jealous because I've never even had a real boyfriend, and Meredith has Alaric, and Elena has Stefan, and because Elena also has Damon, who I think is pretty amazing, but who would never notice me when I'm standing next to Elena, because she's al he can see."

Bonnie paused again, and glanced at Elena, her eyes wide and shining. "But I love Elena and Meredith. I know I need to stop comparing myself to them. I'm not just a sidekick; I'm useful and talented, too. And" - she spoke the words Alaric had given them al  - "I have fed the phantom of jealousy. But now I cast my jealousy away."

In the semicircle of candles, the flame of Bonnie's pink one flickered and went out. Bonnie gave a little gasp and smiled, half-shamefaced, half-proud, at Meredith and Elena. From inside the diagram, the phantom of jealousy snapped its head around and glared at Bonnie. "Bonnie - "

Meredith started to say, wanting to tel her friend that of course she wasn't a sidekick. Didn't Bonnie know how amazing she was?

But then Elena stepped toward the candles and shook back her hair, head high. "I've been jealous of other people in Fel 's Church," she declared. "I saw how easy it was for other couples to be together, and after al Stefan and I -

and Damon, and the rest of my friends - have been through, and even after we saved Fel 's Church and made it normal again, everything just kept on being so hard and so weird and supernatural. I guess I've been realizing that things aren't ever going to be just easy and normal for me, and that's been tough to accept. When I watched other people and was jealous of them, I fed the phantom of jealousy. I cast that jealousy away."

Elena smiled a little. It was a strange, rueful sort of smile, and Meredith, watching her, thought that, while Elena had cast out her jealousy, she was stil haunted by regret for the easy, golden life she'd once had ahead of her and that had probably been taken away forever now.

The candle was stil burning. Elena hesitated. Meredith fol owed her gaze past the line of candles to where Stefan and Damon struggled. As they watched, Damon heaved and rol ed Stefan under him, leaving a long streak of blood across the floor of the garage. Stefan's foot brushed the red candle at the end of the line, and Alaric leaped to steady it.

"And I've been jealous of Katherine," Elena said. "Damon and Stefan loved her first, and she knew them before so much happened to change them, to... warp them out of who they ought to be. And even though I realize that they both know I'm not Katherine and that they love me for who I am, I haven't been able to forget that they noticed me at first because I look like her. I have fed the phantom of jealousy because of Katherine, and I cast that jealousy away."

The candle flame flickered, but did not go out. Jealousy smirked triumphantly, but then Elena went on. "I've also been jealous of Bonnie." Bonnie's head shot up, and she stared at Elena with an expression of disbelief. "I was used to being the only human Damon cared about, the only one who he would want to save." She looked at Bonnie with tear-fil ed eyes. "I am so, so glad that Bonnie is alive. But I was jealous that Damon cared enough to die for her. When I was jealous of Bonnie, I fed the phantom of jealousy. But now I cast my jealousy away."

The golden candle went out. Elena looked almost timidly at Bonnie, and Bonnie smiled at her, an open, loving smile, and held out her arms. Elena hugged her tightly. Other than the grief she felt over Elena's parents' deaths, Meredith had never felt sorry for Elena. Why would she?

Elena was beautiful, smart, a leader, passionately loved... but now Meredith couldn't help but feel a pang of sympathy for her. Sometimes it must be easier to live an everyday life than to be a heroine.

Meredith glanced at the phantom. It seemed to be simmering and was now whol y focused on the humans. Alaric stepped around the candles toward the others, glancing back toward Damon and Stefan. Damon had pinned Stefan painful y against the wal behind Alaric. Stefan's face was twisted in a grimace, and they could hear the scrape of his body against the hard surface. But at least Stefan and Damon weren't endangering the candles for now.

Meredith turned her attention to her boyfriend. What could Alaric be jealous of? If anything, he'd been the focus of jealousy the last week or so.

He reached for Meredith and took one of her hands. "I've been jealous," Alaric said, looking into her eyes. "Of you, Meredith. And of your friends."

Meredith reflexively arched a brow at him. What did he mean?

"God." He half laughed. "Here I am, a graduate student in parapsychology. I've been dying my whole life to prove to myself that there's something more going on in the world than what everybody knows, that some of the things we think of as supernatural are real. And then I come to this smal town in Virginia because there are rumors, rumors I don't real y believe, that there might be vampires here, and when I get here I find this amazing, beautiful, confident girl, and it turns out she comes from a family that hunts vampires. And her friends are vampires and witches and psychics and girls who come back from the dead to fight evil. They only just finished high school, but they've seen things I've never imagined. They've defeated monsters, and saved towns, and traveled to other dimensions. And, you know, I'm just this ordinary guy, and suddenly half the people I know - and the girl I love - are practical y superheroes." He shook his head, looking at Meredith admiringly. "I've fed the phantom of jealousy. But now I cast my jealousy away. I'l just have to deal with being the boyfriend of a superhero." Instantly, the dark green candle went out.

Sealed in the inner circle, the phantom hissed and paced back and forth in the smal space like a trapped tigress. It looked angry, but not noticeably weaker.

Celia spoke next. Her face was tired but calm. "I've fed the phantom of jealousy," she proclaimed. "I've been jealous of Meredith Suarez." She didn't say why. "But now I see that it's pointless. I've fed the phantom of jealousy, but now I cast my jealousy away."

She spoke as if she were dropping something into the trash. But stil the pale purple candle went out. Meredith opened her mouth to speak - she was clear on what she needed to say, and it wouldn't be too hard, because she'd won, hadn't she? If it had ever been a battle anywhere besides her own mind - but Matt cleared his throat and spoke first.

"I have..." He stumbled over his words. "I guess... no, I know I've fed the phantom of jealousy. I have always been crazy about Elena Gilbert, as long as I've known her. And I've been jealous of Stefan. Al along. Even now, when Jealousy's got him trapped in this bloody battle, because he has Elena. She loves him, not me. But, wel , it doesn't matter... I've also known for a long time that Elena and I together don't work, not for her, and that's not Stefan's fault. I've fed the phantom of jealousy, but now I cast my jealousy away." He blushed and careful y did not look at Elena. The white candle went out, sending a long trail of smoke toward the ceiling.

Three candles left, Meredith thought, looking at the last steady flames. Stefan's dark green, Damon's red, and her own brown. Was the phantom any weaker? From its invisible cage, the Phantom growled. If anything, it seemed to have made the space around itself bigger again, and it was once again pushing at it, seemingly feeling for a weak spot.

Meredith knew she had to keep the confessions going.

"I've fed the phantom of jealousy," she said in a strong, clear voice. "I was jealous of Dr. Celia Connor. I love Alaric, but I know I'm much younger than he is, not even in col ege yet, and I've never real y been anywhere or seen anything of the world - the human world, at least - outside of where I grew up. Celia shares so much with him - experiences, education, interests - and I knew he liked her a lot. And she's beautiful and real y smart and poised. I was jealous because I was afraid she would take him from me. But if she had been able to take him, that would mean he wasn't mine to keep. You can't steal a person." She smiled hesitantly at Celia, and after a moment, Celia smiled slightly in return. "I cast - "

"Watch out!" Alaric shouted. "Damon! Stefan! Stop!"

Meredith looked up. Damon and Stefan were staggering across the floor of the garage, past the line of candles, past Alaric, who grabbed at them. They broke out of his hold effortlessly without seeming to even notice his touch, shoving against each other desperately, struggling fiercely. Oblivious to anything but their battle, they were getting closer and closer to the phantom.

"No!" shouted Elena.

Damon shoved Stefan backward, and the heel of Stefan's boot scraped across the chalk outlining the smal circle that contained the phantom - scraped across the chalk line and smudged it, and the circle was no longer complete.

With a howl of triumph, the phantom was free.

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