Origins (Chapter 16)

It was the lone hoot of an owl–a long, plaintive sound–that caused my eyes to snap open. As my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I felt a pulsing pain on the side of my neck that seemed to keep time with the owl's cries. And suddenly I remembered everything–Katherine, her lips drawn back, her teeth sparkling. My heart pounding as though I were dying and being born all at the same time. The awful pain, the red eyes, the dark black of a dead sleep. I glanced around wildly.

Katherine, clad only in a necklace and a simple muslin slip, sat just steps away from me at the basin, washing her upper arms with a hand towel. "Hello, sleepy Stefan," she said coquettishly.

I swung my legs out of bed and tried to step out, only to find myself tangled in the sheets. "Your face," I babbled, knowing I sounded insane and possessed, like a town drunk stumbling out of the tavern.

Katherine continued to run the cotton cloth along her arms. The face I'd seen last night was not human. It had been a face filled with thirst and desire and emotions I couldn't even think to name. But in this light Katherine looked lovelier than ever, blinking her eyes sleepily like a kitten after a long nap.

"Katherine?" I asked, forcing myself to look into her eyes. "What are you?"

Katherine slowly picked up the hairbrush on her nightstand, as if she had all the time in the world. She turned to me and began to run it through her luxurious locks.

"You're not afraid, are you?" she asked.

So she was a vampire. My blood turned to ice.

I took the sheet and wrapped it against my body, then grabbed my breeches from the side of the bed and pulled them on. I quickly shoved my feet into my boots and yanked on my shirt, not caring about my undershirt, still on the floor. Fast as lightning, Katherine was at my side, her hand gripping my shoulder.

She was surprisingly strong, and I had to jerk sharply to wrench myself away from her grasp. Once free, Katherine stepped back.

"Shhh. Shhh," she murmured, as if she were a mother soothing a child.

"No!" I yelled, holding my hand up. I would not have her try to charm me. "Y ou're a vampire. You killed Rosalyn. Y ou're killing the town. Y are evil,

ou and you need to be stopped."

But then I caught sight of her eyes, her large, luminous, seemingly depthless eyes, and I stopped short.

"You're not afraid," Katherine repeated. The words echoed in my mind, bouncing around and finally taking residence there. I did not know how or why it was so, but in my heart of hearts, I suddenly wasn't afraid. But still …

"Y are a vampire, though. How can I abide

ou that?"

"Stefan. Sweet, scared Stefan. It will all work out. Y ou'll see." She cupped her chin in my hands, then raised up on her tiptoes for a kiss. In the near sunlight, Katherine's teeth looked pearly white and tiny, and nothing like the miniature daggers I'd seen the night before. "It's me. I'm still Katherine," she said, smiling.

I forced myself to pull away. I wanted to believe that everything was the same, but …

"Y ou're thinking of Rosalyn, aren't you?" Katherine asked. She noticed my startled expression and shook her head. "It's natural that you'd think I could do that, based on what I am, but I promise you, I did not kill her. And I never would have."

"But … but …, " I began.

Katherine brought her finger to my lips. "Shhh. I was with you that night. Remember? I care about you, and I care about those you care about. And I don't know how Rosalyn died, but whoever did that"–a flash of anger flickered in her eyes, which, I realized for the first time, were flecked with gold–"they give us a bad name. They are the ones who scare me. Y may be scared to walk

ou during the night, but I am afraid to walk during the day, lest I be mistaken for one of those monsters. I may be a vampire, but I do have a heart. Please believe me, sweet Stefan."

I took a step back and cradled my head in my hands. My mind whirled. The sun was just beginning to rise, and it was impossible to tell whether the mist hid a brilliant sun or a day of clouds. It was the same with Katherine. Her beautiful exterior cloaked her true spirit, making it impossible to ascertain whether she was good or evil. I sunk heavily to the bed, not wanting to leave and not wanting to stay.

"Y need to trust me," Katherine said, sitting

ou down beside me and placing her hand on my chest so she could feel my heart beat. "I am Katherine Pierce. Nothing more, nothing less. I'm the girl you watched for hours on end after I arrived two weeks ago. What I confessed to you is nothing. It doesn't change how you feel, how I feel, what we can be," she said, moving her hand from my chest to my chin. "Right?" she asked, her voice filled with urgency.

I glanced at Katherine's wide brown eyes and knew she was right. She had to be.

My heart still desired her so much, and I wanted to do anything to protect her. Because she wasn't a vampire; she was Katherine. I grabbed both of her hands, cupping them in my own. They looked so small and vulnerable. I brought her cold, delicate fingers to my mouth and kissed them, one by one. Katherine looked so scared and unsure.

"Y didn't kill Rosalyn?" I said slowly. Even as

ou the sentence left my lips, I knew it to be true, because my heart would break if it weren't.

Katherine shook her head and gazed at the window. "I would never kill anyone unless I had to. Unless I needed to protect myself or someone I loved. And anyone would kill in that situation, wouldn't they?" she asked indignantly, jutting out her chin and looking so proud and vulnerable that it was all I could do not to take her in my arms right then. "Promise you'll keep my secret, Stefan? Promise me?" she asked, her dark eyes searching mine.

"Of course I will," I said, making the promise as much to myself as to her. I loved Katherine. And yes, she was a vampire. And yet … the way the word came out of her mouth was so different from the way it sounded when Father said it. There was no dread. If anything, it sounded romantic and mysterious. Maybe Father was wrong. Maybe Katherine was simply misunderstood.

"Y have my secret, Stefan. And you know

ou what that means?" Katherine said, throwing her arms around my shoulders and nuzzling her cheek against mine. "Vous avez mon coeur. Y have ou my heart." "And you have mine," I murmured back, meaning every word.