Home > The Asylum (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #5)(8)

The Asylum (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #5)(8)
Author: L.J. Smith

“What if you went to live in the Asylum?” I asked Cora, the beginnings of a plan forming in my mind. It was risky, but it was the only thing I could come up with.

Fear flickered in Cora’s eyes. “What do you mean, live?”

“Not forever,” I said hastily. “Just for a few days, to see what really goes on there. We’d make sure you were protected. I saw the way you performed in the park. If you could do that, they’d never suspect you. And then we could figure out how Samuel is connected.”

“It’s not a terrible idea,” Damon said grudgingly. “But what if Samuel recognizes her?”

I paused briefly. I hadn’t considered that. “What if he does recognize her?” I asked, thinking out loud. “He’ll think she left the warehouse when he fled London looking for us and ended up on the streets. In his mind, she’d be just another wayward girl. He doesn’t know she’s with us,” I said, hoping it were true.

“A wayward girl?” Cora wrinkled her nose. “My whole life in London, I’ve been trying to prove that’s not who I am.”

“You don’t have to do it. I was just talking off the top of my head,” I offered. Maybe it was asking far too much from her. “I want you to be safe.”

Cora shook her head. “Damon’s right. It’s not a terrible idea. And if it helps save other girls from being compelled…” She shivered. “We’ll all go tomorrow. You can say you found me in the street by the Ten Bells. I’ll put dirt on my face and…”

Just then, steam began erupting from the teakettle in the center of the fire.

“I made you tea,” Cora said shyly, interrupting herself. “Do you drink tea, or only blood?”

“I’d love some,” I said. I wasn’t thirsty for tea, at least not the human kind. But despite myself, my heart went out to Cora for trying. She reminded me of Violet, always trying to see the bright side of things and never seeming depressed for long.

Not to be outdone, Damon nodded in agreement. “Is there anything you can’t do, Miss Cora? You’re our secret weapon,” Damon said in an exaggerated Southern drawl.

I smiled. After a moment, Damon sat down next to me. It was a tiny détente, but it was something. I took a sip of tea, and as the hot liquid warmed my blood, I didn’t think about feeding.

“You know, Katherine always thought I was a gentleman,” Damon mused, glancing at me. “Except during a few choice activities.” I stiffened. It was the verbal equivalent of a crack of thunder, a sign that Damon wasn’t interested in keeping the peace between us.

“Katherine?” Cora asked, her face registering confusion. “She was the beautiful vampire?”

“It doesn’t matter,” I said.

“Apparently, she’s the reason we’re all on the run from Samuel,” Damon said at the same time. “She fell in love with me, and Samuel couldn’t deal with it.”

“Damon, let it go.” My impatience was getting the best of me. “It doesn’t matter what happened twenty years ago or who loved whom more. Katherine’s gone. She can’t love anyone.” I knew he was looking for a fight, but I wouldn’t give him that satisfaction.

“She was mine,” he said, seething.

“Really?” Cora’s voice cut through the tension. She stepped between us. “That’s what you plan to do? Fight each other over some long-dead vampire while a live one is terrorizing the streets, not to mention framing Damon for murder and holding my sister captive?”

“No,” Damon said contritely. “I just don’t like it when my brother disrespects me. If Stefan minds himself, then we’ll be fine.”

“Right,” I shot back. “And if no one bruises Damon’s fragile ego, we’ll be best friends.”

Cora opened her mouth as if to say something, then closed it. She glanced between the two of us. “Fine. But if you keep fighting, then I’m leaving. And I’m not sure any of us would survive on our own.”

Without another word, she swept off into the darkness of the tunnel, leaving Damon and me alone.

The firelight flickered on the dirt wall, making our shadows loom large and ghostly over us.

“Katherine was the one for me,” Damon said petulantly, lost in his own world. “Why can’t you accept that?”

“She didn’t love either of us,” I said flatly.

“Maybe she compelled you,” Damon said. “But with me…”

“Stop it!” I exploded, springing up and shaking his shoulders. I stared into my brother’s eyes. The whites were bloodshot, but the irises were dark and huge in the light from the fire, the pupils dilated. I held on to his shoulders even as I sensed Damon’s muscles twitching beneath my grasp. But he didn’t try to break free.

He raised a dark eyebrow. “Stop what? Stop telling the truth?”

I roughly pushed him away. “Stop bringing up the past,” I said, balling up my fists. “It’s pointless. Katherine is dead. And you will be, too, if you don’t give up this ridiculous vendetta. Cora’s right—we need to worry about the vampires that are still alive. We need to save Violet, and then leave London. Can we at least agree on that?”

“Whatever you say, brother,” Damon bit back, standing up and stretching his arms over his head. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to feed.”

Once his footsteps had faded, I lay down quietly to sleep.

7

All in, brother,” Damon advised, clapping his hand on my shoulder.

I was back in Mystic Falls, deep in the woods, where we always went in our youth when we were up to no good. We’d tie our horses to a tree and stay up all night, drinking slugs of whiskey, playing cards, and talking about girls. There was a heavy mist over the pine needle-covered ground and a sharp chill in the air. It was fall, and I was fifteen, eager to be a man in any situation.

Surrounding me were the Giffin brothers, Matthew Hartnett, Nathan Layman, and Damon. A few years older, Damon had been skipping out on our gatherings in the woods lately in favor of nights at the Tavern.

“He ain’t allowed to have a coach! Stefan’s gotta play for himself, or else I ain’t interested,” Ethan Giffin called, swigging from his flask. With his curly red hair and round face, Ethan reminded me of an overfed toddler.

“I’m not coaching, I’m just giving some brotherly advice. Do you have a problem with that?” Damon challenged.

“Fine,” Ethan said, sitting back on the log. His brother, Calvin, glared at us angrily.

“Besides, Stefan doesn’t need my advice. He’s smarter than me,” Damon said, glancing at his own cards. A few crumpled bills were thrown in a pile, along with a belt buckle, a cigarette lighter, and Clementine Haverford’s handkerchief. (“Straight from her bosom!” Ethan Giffin had assured us with a cackle.) The winner would take it all—or lose everything.

“All in,” I said, throwing a five-dollar bill on the pile. It was my own small fortune.

One by one, everyone displayed their cards. My heart pounded more and more with each reveal. My hand was better than the two jacks that Calvin presented, and better than Nathan’s three queens. Finally, I showed my own hand—a straight flush of hearts.

I scooped up my prizes, beaming at Damon in victory.

“Rise and shine!” I was startled awake by the voice. Disoriented, I blinked up at Damon, his outburst from the night before apparently forgotten. Seeing him now, just after he’d appeared in my dream, was surprising. He was so similar in appearance to the brother of my youth and yet such a profoundly different person. Back then, it had been easy. We knew our strengths complemented each other’s, and we were generous with our mutual admiration. He was confident and daring, while I was smart and cautious. Now, we viewed each other with suspicion.

The shadow of a beard covered the lower half of his face. I’d never seen Damon with a beard before, but it suited the air of menace he projected.

I had to look twice when Cora appeared. True to her word, she’d taken the preparations for today seriously. She was wearing the tattered, stained dress she’d worn two days prior. Her hair was mussed so it stuck up in odd angles around her face, and she’d rubbed dirt on her cheeks and forehead. She looked the part of a fallen woman. Which was exactly the point.

“All in,” I murmured.

“All in?” Damon glanced at me curiously, but I didn’t explain and he didn’t press. I didn’t want him to ruin what was still an untarnished memory.

Once we got aboveground, we turned in the opposite direction of Lansdowne House. According to Cora, the Magdalene Asylum was just on the edge of Whitechapel, the site of Samuel’s Ripper murders. Would anyone recognize Damon? He was wearing his cloak with the hood pulled far over his forehead. Combined with the beard, he looked nothing like the dashing, debonair suspect the newspapers had described. I allowed my shoulders to relax.

Finally, we reached a decrepit brick building at the far end of an alleyway. It was enclosed by an iron fence, and the solid black doors of the entrance looked ominous. It didn’t seem the type of place to save women. Rather, it looked like a sort of prison: a place where wayward women could be locked away and forgotten. I glanced at Cora, worried, but she stared resolutely ahead.

“At least you’ll have a roof over your head. More than we have, at any rate,” Damon said, breaking the silence.

I shot an annoyed glance at Damon, but Cora broke out into nervous giggles. “It is awful, isn’t it?” she said. “And yet, if I had to choose between here, Whitechapel, or the tunnel, I suppose I’d choose here. At least I know they’ll offer meals that aren’t rat’s blood or Alfred’s horrible Ten Bells fish special. Don’t be too jealous, lads.” She flashed a smile, but I could tell she was uneasy.

I was, too. “I’ll come visit every day. We both will,” I said as I steeled my courage and rapped sharply on the door. The three of us stood in anticipation as it slowly creaked open.

An enormously tall man wearing a priest’s robe opened the door and stared down at us. A crucifix hung from his neck, swinging back and forth like a pendulum. I averted my eyes. While it was a myth that crucifixes could be used to torment our kind, they never failed to remind me how unholy and evil my past had been.

“Yes, my children?” he asked stiffly. “What brings you to the Magdalene Asylum?”

Damon stepped forward. “I’m Damon de… Croix,” he said, catching himself just before he introduced himself as Damon DeSangue. “And this is my brother, Stefan. Like everyone in London, we’re shocked by the rash of murders in our city and wish to help keep potential victims off the streets. We found this young girl at the Ten Bells Tavern and offered her our help by guiding her here.”

“Quite good,” the man said, his gaze flicking to Cora, standing on the step below us. She’d crossed her arms over her chest and was rocking back and forth on her heels. I couldn’t tell if she was acting or if the stress had simply become too much for her to handle. Whatever the reason, it was effective.

“Come in.” The priest ushered us through the heavy black doors, shutting them behind us with a thud. Inside, the entrance had a vaulted ceiling. Directly in front of us, a saint stared out sorrowfully from a stained-glass window. The air smelled like dust and incense and antiseptic. It reminded me of a church, with its many statues and candles.

I could hear pipes clanking, and the shuffle of footsteps. A girl hurried by, her head bowed. She was wearing a gray dress and bonnet and muttering to herself. I watched Cora’s eyes follow her. I reached out to squeeze her hand to let her know everything would be all right, but stopped when I noticed the priest’s disapproving gaze.

“I’ll fetch Sister Benedict to assist you. She’ll assess the girl’s … suitability,” the priest said, as he headed up a set of stairs.

“Home sweet home,” Cora murmured shakily.

Just then, a small woman in a nun’s habit glided down the staircase. Her face was red and wrinkled, and she wore small spectacles over her watery green eyes. She stared at Cora with an inscrutable expression on her pinched face.

“Hello, Sister,” Damon said, bowing to her.

The nun swiveled toward Damon. “Good day,” she said, a small smile lighting up her wizened face. Typical Damon. He could charm anyone. “I’m Sister Benedict. Please, come with me,” she said, nodding to a small annex underneath another stained glass saint. The room was furnished with a desk, a bookshelf, and several chairs.

She sat at the desk and blinked up at us expectantly. “Gentlemen, please sit.” As we got settled, Sister Benedict pulled a well-worn leather Bible from a bookshelf and wordlessly handed it to Cora. Cora took it, curtseyed, and perched on a rickety chair in the far corner of the alcove.

“My brother and I have taken an interest in your fine institution,” Damon began. “We’ve been reading the news of the Ripper with horror, and want to protect any vulnerable young ladies we come across. This seems the place to carry out our mission. We believe that there is providence in the fall of a sparrow.”

“Yes, thank the Lord,” the nun said piously, crossing herself. I glanced sharply at Damon. Providence in the fall of a sparrow. That was from Hamlet. Since when did Damon quote Shakespeare? But he only half-shrugged at me, as if to say, You don’t know everything about me, brother.

“We intend to be generous benefactors of the Asylum,” Damon said in a low, charismatic voice, holding the nun’s gaze with his own. “Would one thousand pounds per annum be suitable?”

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