Last night, I had a terrifying dream.
Everything was as it had been just a few short hours before. I was back in the Vitale Society's underground chamber, and Ethan was holding me captive, his knife cold and steady at my throat. Stefan and Damon watched us, their faces wary, bodies tensed, waiting for the moment when one of them would be able to dash in and save me. But I knew they would be too late. I knew that, despite their supernatural speed, Ethan would cut my throat and I would die.
There was so much pain in Stefan's eyes. It broke my heart to know how much my death would hurt him. I hated the idea of dying without Stefan knowing that I had chosen him, only him - that all my indecision was behind us.
Ethan pulled me even closer, his arm as tight and unyielding as a band of steel across my chest. I felt the cold edge of the knife bite into my flesh.
Then without warning Ethan fell, and Meredith was standing there, her hair streaming behind her, her face as wild and determined as a vengeful goddess's, her stave still raised from the killing blow she'd put through his heart.
It should have been a moment of joy and relief. In real life, it was: the moment when I knew I was going to live, when I was about to find myself safe in Stefan's arms.
But in the dream, Meredith's face was blotted out by a flash of pure white light. I felt myself growing colder and colder, my body freezing, my emotions muffled into a chilly calm. My humanity was slipping away, and something hard and inflexible and . . . other . . . was taking its place.
In the heat of the battle, I had let myself forget what James had told me: that my parents had promised me to the Guardians, that I was fated to become one of them. And now they had come to claim me.
I woke up terrified.
Elena Gilbert paused and lifted the pen from the page of her journal, reluctant to write any more. Putting what she was most afraid of into words would make it feel more real.
She glanced around her dorm room, her new home. Bonnie and Meredith had come and gone while Elena slept. Bonnie's covers were flung back, and her laptop was gone from her desk. Meredith's side of the room, usually painstakingly organized, showed evidence of how exhausted Meredith must have been: the bloodstained clothes she had worn to fight Ethan and his vampire followers had been left on the floor. Her weapons were strewn across the bed, mostly shoved to one side, as if the young vampire hunter had curled up among them to sleep.
Elena sighed. Maybe Meredith would understand how Elena felt. She knew what it was like to have a destiny decided for you, to discover that your own hopes and dreams meant nothing in the end.
But Meredith had embraced her fate. There was nothing more important to her now, or that she loved more, than being a hunter of monsters and keeping the innocent safe.
Elena didn't think she could find the same kind of joy in her new destiny.
I don't want to be a Guardian, she wrote miserably. The Guardians killed my parents. I don't think I can ever get past that. If it wasn't for them, my selfless parents would still be alive and I wouldn't be constantly worrying about the lives of the people I love. The Guardians only believe in one thing: Order. Not Justice. Not Love.
I never want to be like that. I never want to be one of them.
But do I have a choice? James made it sound like becoming a Guardian was just something that would happen to me - something I wouldn't be able to avoid. Powers would suddenly manifest themselves, and I would change, ready for whatever horrible thing comes next.
Elena scrubbed at her face with the back of her hand. Even after her long sleep, her eyes felt gritty and strained.
I haven't told anyone yet, she wrote. Meredith and Damon knew I was upset after I saw James, but they don't know what he told me. So much happened last night that I never got a chance to tell them.
I need to talk to Stefan about this. I know that when I do, everything will start to feel . . . better.
But I'm scared to tell him.
After Stefan and I broke up, Damon made me see the choice I needed to make. One path led to the daylight with the possibility of being a normal girl with an almost-normal, almost-human life with Stefan. The second into the night, embracing Power, adventure, and all the exhilaration the darkness can hold, with Damon.
I chose the light, chose Stefan. But if I'm fated to become a Guardian, is the path of darkness and Power unavoidable? Will I become someone who can do the unthinkable - take the lives of people as loving and pure as my parents? What kind of normal girl could I be, as a Guardian?
Elena was jolted from her thoughts by the sound of a key in the door. She closed the velvet-covered journal and shoved it quickly under her mattress.
"Hi," she said as Meredith came into the room.
"Hi yourself," Meredith said, grinning at her. Her dark-haired friend couldn't have gotten more than a few hours of sleep - she'd been out hunting vampires with Stefan and Damon after Elena had gone to bed, and she'd left before Elena had woken up - but she looked refreshed and cheerful, her gray eyes bright and her olive-skinned cheeks slightly flushed.
Purposefully tucking her own anxiety away, Elena smiled at her.
"Been saving the world all day, superhero?" Elena asked, teasing her just a little.
Meredith raised one delicate eyebrow. "As a matter of fact," she said, "I just came from the reading room at the library. Don't you have any papers due?"
Elena felt her own eyes widen. With all that had been happening, she hadn't really been thinking about her classes. She'd enjoyed her college courses so far, and she'd been an honor roll student in high school, but lately different parts of her life had taken over. Did she have something due?
What does it matter, though? The thought was heavy and dispiriting. If I have to be a Guardian, college won't make any difference.