Chapter: 11 - Forging Connections [Featured Characters: Bonnie, Caroline, TyKlaus, Damon, Jeremy, Stefan and Elena]
Author: JenniferH (Arabian)
Rating: M (For future chapters/language, sex, violence)
Summary: Post 3.22 -- Elena grapples with who she is as a vampire, struggling for control as she tries to find herself and accept who she loves (spoiler: it's Damon!) while her friends and enemies grapple with their own choices in this new world.
Word Count: 6,915
Disclaimer: The Vampire Diaries, and all her characters as presented, belong to Kevin Williamson, Julie Plec, the CW, etc., etc., so on and so forth. ;)
Notes: Thank you to my group of wonderful beta-readers who made this fic a ton better than it would have been otherwise. Following canon here, so there will be Stefan/Elena and as portrayed on the show, but fear not, this is very definitely a Damon/Elena story (with other pairings referenced, and some featured (Stefan/Rebekah, Matt/Rebekah, Stefan/Caroline).
Special thanks to ancholia for her Latin help. :)
After I had finally digested the season 03 finale, I began to think up where they could go from there, especially with regards to Damon and Elena. One narrative stuck in my head and as I continuing weaving it I became so fixated with two major turning points in the story that I just had to try and write it. I realize that there are tons of little(ish) things in my story that happened in the show, but I swear I wrote this all before. *sigh*
PREVIOUS CHAPTERS - 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10
Chapter 11: Forging Connections
Caroline sat on a stump in the clearing. She looked to her left, feeling a mixture of fear and curiosity about the witch house not too far off in the distance. She bit her lip, anxiety dancing across her every feature as she watched Bonnie pace back and forth, muttering the transfer spell under her breath over and over again.
“This is going to work, right, Bonnie?”
Bonnie smiled. “Yeah, all I need is the proper spell, my blood and Klaus and Tyler’s body. He should be bringing those last two.”
Biting down so hard that she drew blood, Caroline let loose a bitter smile, almost enjoying the prick of pain as a distraction before it healed. “So what did you do? I mean, where did his body go? How was it safe from the catching on fire thing?” Bonnie stopped, a brush of exasperation flickering on her face. Caroline grimaced. “I'm sorry. I don’t really care. I’m just nervous. You know me, when I'm nervous, I babble.”
With a friendly roll of her eyes, Bonnie grinned. "You always babble, Caroline." She gave a quick shake of her head, and sent her a reassuring smile. “Don't worry. It’s going to be OK. You’ll have Tyler back as Tyler very soon.” She nodded firmly. “I promise.”
“I’m trying to not freak out. I want this over. It’s just really, really weird looking at Tyler and seeing Klaus. It’s freaky.”
Bonnie nodded again. “Yeah. But you know that I had to do it. You and Tyler, my mom, you would all have died if I hadn’t.”
Caroline rose to her feet, remorse on her face. “I know, Bonnie, and I’m so sorry I was so awful when I first found out. I mean, God, we would all be dead if you hadn’t.” She shrugged. “I just wasn’t expecting, you know, that.”
Exhaling, Bonnie frowned. “Yeah, I know, but very soon it will all be over.” She clapped her hands together. “Details. You wanted details. Well, I just put a protection spell on Klaus’ body. That was a simple thing, even if I didn’t quite think it through.” She winced.
“What do you mean?” Caroline demanded, her voice rising.
“Well, it's OK, I mean, Damon must’ve distracted Mr. Saltzman or else he probably would have noticed that Klaus wasn’t bursting into flames, just sparking a bit.”
Caroline nodded, determined to be calm even as she began pacing in the small area. More distraction, I need more distraction. “So where’s his body?”
With a sigh, Bonnie shrugged. “I dunno. When I saw him after the transfer he said he was gonna retrieve it and keep it somewhere safe.”
“And I did,” Klaus entered the clearing, dragging the coffin behind him on a hand truck. Carefully, he lifted and placed it on the ground, then waved his hands with a flourish. It looked really strange coming from Tyler’s jock hands. “Here you go,” he continued, anticipation lighting his face. “I’ve done my part. Now you do yours, Bonnie Bennett.”
Caroline avoided looking at Klaus-in-Tyler, but couldn’t help the rush of concern anew at the anxiety on Bonnie’s face. She opened her mouth to speak, but Bonnie was already moving to stand before the coffin, determination in her every step. Patience, Caroline, patience. Let her do her witchy thing. She's got this!
“You need to stand on the opposite end of the coffin,” Bonnie instructed the hybrid. He did so, and Bonnie closed her eyes. She raised her hands, floating them above the dark wood casket, and began to chant in a low murmur. “corpus involucro novo re libera et id ab involucro origine mitte. corpus involucro novo re libera et id ab involucro origine mitte. corpus involucro novo re libera et id ab involucro origine mitte.
Caroline looked at Tyler’s face, seeing the composed stillness of Klaus in the purse of his lips, the frame of his shoulders, his hands folded behind his back. She wanted to look away, but she couldn’t. She was fascinated despite herself. It was the oddest thing, how she could so clearly see *Klaus* standing there even though it was Tyler’s body.
And then he gasped and shuddered. Suddenly the grace, the stillness was gone. His hands flew apart, landing on his hips as he bent over slightly. His mouth was agape, his eyes wide, a youthful light filling them once more as the aged experience faded away. Just like that, he was Tyler. Standing straight, he turned to Caroline, an exultant smile spreading across his face. “Caroline!” She ran the short distance to him even as he moved towards her. In the span of a few seconds, she was in his embrace, her arms wrapped tightly around his neck.
She pulled back to look into his face. Tyler’s face, she thought with a relief. “Tyler,” she managed softly before he captured her mouth in a fervent kiss. A creaking sound behind her drew her attention and she withdrew slightly.
“What?” Tyler whispered. Caroline shook her head swiftly and pressed her face into the curve of his shoulder. Lifting her head slightly, she opened her eyes and found herself caught by Klaus' gaze. The top half of his coffin was open and he sat up, straight and still, staring intently at her. She found herself unable to look away.
Bonnie cleared her throat. Caroline guiltily jerked her eyes upward to meet her friend’s questioning gaze. Caroline gave a quick shake of her head and dipped her chin back down, burying it in Tyler’s shoulder again. As she breathed in the scent of him, she shut her eyes, unable to say if she was trying to avoid the judgement in Bonnie’s gaze ... or the promise in Klaus’.
*Latin Translation - Free this body from its new shell and send it to its origin of birth.
Sketching a rough map of the winding caves below the Lockwood estate, Damon paused, reaching for the red Sharpie and marked an entrance with an X indicating another no-vampire zone. With a frustrated sigh, he set down the marker and ran a hand through his hair. The list of humans he could enlist for help was growing very small.
There was Liz, but with her sheriff-y obligations there were some things he just couldn’t share with her. Jeremy. Please. Donovan. Motherfucker should be dead. Meredith? Eh, too soon. A very short list and not one single person he trusted completely with Ric and Elena’s services no longer available.
His cell rang. Damon glanced over at the number. Speaking of … It was the old geezer, director of Mystic Fall’s one and only funeral home. This would be his third call, and if he didn’t answer, the third that Damon ignored. His finger hovered over the phone as he pictured Ric’s still-desiccating corpse in the trunk of his car. One good thing about dead vampires, for some reason, they didn’t stink. Thank goodness for small favors, he thought with a nod to his Camaro.
The cell stopped ringing. Damon sighed, looking at the missed call. He had been driving around with a dead history teacher in his car for about a week now. He had to let go sometime. He sighed again and hit the redial button.
Minutes later, he had a meeting set up for specifics, with a tentative date for the day after tomorrow for the funeral and burial at the Salvatore crypt. Done, he thought, but felt little satisfaction. He could admit to himself that he didn’t want to say goodbye to his friend, even if all that was left was a graying, marbled husk of the man he used to be.
The phone rang again. “What?” Damon whined before reaching for it and seeing Jeremy’s name pop up. Rolling his eyes, he answered, not disguising his annoyance at the interruption. “What?” He repeated, his voice sharp.
“Hey, uh, Damon, can I come and see you?”
“Why?” And then Damon sat up straighter, realizing the obvious reason. “What’s wrong with Elena?”
“What? No, nothing. Uh, well, yeah, she attacked this student the other day.”
Damon rolled his eyes. “Yeah, heard about that one. What else?”
“No, no, she's OK. I guess.”
“You guess,” Damon scoffed, but let it go. “OK then. What do you want?”
“It's about Ric.”
Having just relaxed back into his chair, Damon straightened again, on alert. “What?”
An exasperated note entered Jeremy’s voice. “That's why I want to come over.” And then he added under his breath, “dick.”
Despite himself, Damon grinned. He’d never tell him, but the fact that the kid still gave him attitude even after the whole neck-snap-incident impressed the hell out of him. “Fine, I’m home.” His gaze fell upon the sketch. Eh, I guess he’ll do. “Scratch that, meet me at the Lockwood caves. Good timing, Gilbert, I need a human.”
“Just meet me there. And bring a camera.” Damon hung up. Folding up the map, he wondered what Jeremy had to say concerning Ric. Ten minutes later, he was leaning against the entrance to the caves playing Angry Birds on his phone, still curious, while he waited for Gilbert to get there. Hearing his approach, he glanced up as he paused his game. “Finally,” he muttered.
Jeremy walked into view, wariness in his every move, and in the shifting glances of his gaze.
“Took you long enough,” Damon groused.
“Dude, it’s been like ten minutes.” Jeremy rolled his eyes. “Why here?”
Ignoring his question, Damon asked his own. “You bring a camera?” Jeremy slung his backpack off of his shoulder and set it down. He pulled out Ric’s camera and held it up for Damon to see.
“Good. Let’s go.” He turned, heading down the steps. “We never checked out all the caves down here because of the crazy going on. But, hey, I figure with Klaus temporarily out of commission and things on the down low, it gives me something to do.” He looked over his shoulder and noticed Jeremy squinting. Damon clicked his phone’s light on. “I found a few more no-vampire-zones earlier. So, human.” He was silent as they navigated the first turn. As the path straightened, he cleared his throat. “What about Ric?”
“Oh, yeah, I've seen him.”
Damon stopped without a sound. Jeremy ran right into him. Foregoing the urge to slap his forehead at his stupidity for not realizing that, of course!, Ric would visit Jeremy, he took a step forward and turned to face him.
“You've seen the ghostly specter of the late, great Alaric Saltzman.” It wasn’t a question.
Damon didn’t respond at first, fighting the pinch of jealousy that Jeremy could still communicate with Ric and he couldn’t. “Does Elena know?”
“No. Not yet, I haven’t– I don’t know how she’d react. She’s not quite Elena yet.”
Nodding, Damon was quiet for a moment longer and then turned the subject back to Ric. “So how's he handling the afterlife?”
“Hmm,” Damon offered, and then turned, walking again. He heard Jeremy begin to shuffle behind him, more careful now.
“He wanted me to, I dunno, hang out with you.”
Damon stopped walking. Jeremy walked right into him again. “DUDE! I don't have freaky vampire vision. I can't see that well in the dark, stop... stopping!”
Ignoring his outburst, Damon shook his head, bewilderment clouding his voice. “Hang with me?”
“Yeah, I know, stupid, but he said that Elena's written you off—“
“For now,” Damon interjected, finding it easier to discuss Elena’s no-Damon-decree with Elena then with anyone else. Jeremy was quiet, and Damon felt the ridiculous need to explain, but damnit, it’s not like she hated him again. It wasn’t like *that.* “She just needs to get her baby vamp emotions in check.” He shrugged. “My presence gets her all hot and bothered.”
Jeremy scoffed. “Yeah, so I’ve seen.”
Grinning, Damon started walking again. “Well, I have that effect on people. Especially girls.” He waggled his eyebrows, a leer in his voice. Damon’s smile faded with a shake of his head as he got back to the discussion at hand. “Hang with me?”
“Yeah, Ric said you need someone on your side.”
Damon winced, pissed off that Ric knew him so well, and *really* pissed off that he told Jeremy. “You're a kid,” he muttered, annoyance in his voice.
“Who's lived through more than most people twice my age,” Jeremy shot back defiantly.
Shrugging, Damon acknowledged what the kid said. “Fair enough.” He paused mid-step, realized what he did a moment later. “I'm stopping, don't—“ Too late. Jeremy bumped into him again. Damon sighed, backed up and turned to face him again, looking him up and down. “You know, you kinda remind me of myself a bit when I was a human.”
“Really?” And damn if Jeremy didn’t sound just the slightest bit flattered. Can’t have that.
“Yeah, I was a pathetic prissy-pants.”
“What?!” Indignation filled his reply. That’s better.
“Just sayin’. A fool for love. Heart on my sleeve, blah, blah, blah— that's why I snapped your neck.”
Jeremy let out an exhalation of disbelief. “You're just, like, bringing that up?”
Damon shrugged. “You're the one who wants to hang. I figure we should clear the air.”
Huffing behind him, Jeremy was quiet for a moment, and then with a surprising lack of anger or even resentment in his tone, he upfront asked him. “OK, fine, why did you snap my neck, Damon?”
For the second time, Damon had to give him credit. For all his oh, so annoying teenage-ways, Jeremy Gilbert had his moments of not being completely lame. Damon figured he deserved some honesty. “Well, mostly because I was pissed at your sister.” He paused, thinking. “And Katherine.” Memories of that God-awful night flooded through his mind.
”It was always Stefan,” she said with pity in her gaze, standing before him, her blouse torn, black bra taunting him.
Her doe-eyes stared up at him as she fervently held onto his hands, desperation in her voice striving to make him understand. “It’s always gonna be Stefan.”
“And my brother.”
Jeremy scoffed. “What does that have to with me?”
Shrugging, Damon waved a hand in the air, invisible to Jeremy’s eye. “Wrong place, wrong time.” Jeremy let out a sigh of frustration; Damon grimaced. “Look, that was mostly what it was, Jere. I was pissed. You showed up. Wrong place, wrong time.” Damon heard Jeremy slow down behind him, and in the darkness of the caves, the memory of that night fresh in his mind, amid all of his personal growth, thank you very much, Damon found himself telling the whole story.
“I knew you had vampire blood in your system. And you were so pathetic the night before.” He shrugged. “And I got it, what with Katherine ripping my heart to shreds all over again. It reminded me of *my* pathetic human self, and Elena just gave more bang for the buck. So I snapped your neck, OK?” He took a few quick extra steps, stopped and turned around, holding the cell phone up high so Jeremy could see that he had stopped.
“I figured it was what you wanted. You'd turn, flick the switch and be spared the pain.” He waited, watching emotions fly across Jeremy’s face before it finally settled on incredulity. “Yeah, I know. Once you get to know me, I'm such a selfless guy. Shocking.” He spun around, heading once more down the path.
Ignoring his sarcasm, Jeremy took him at his word. “Yeah, Ric said I’d find out you’re really not all that bad.”
Damon scoffed. “Ric lied. You do know how much alcohol he consumed when we were together, right?”
Jeremy was quiet for a long moment, and then he suddenly spoke, the words bursting out of him. “You saved my life that night.”
“I killed you that night.”
‘Yeah, but I had the ring, I lived.”
“Still… The way I see it, if you hadn’t done what you did, I would have kept on trying, either to turn or to... just die.”
Damon stopped and once more Jeremy ran into him before falling back a step. Neither made another move nor spoke. Damon replayed Jeremy’s words in his mind. He hadn’t lied when he said that Jeremy reminded him a bit of himself back in his human days. Thinking of what the boy was like the night he’d offered to compel his memories away, Damon thought of how similar he’d sounded the night he’d awoken from the dead after Katherine had been taken from him. Damon had been ready to die himself.
Finally, he spoke and there was no hint of sarcasm, condescension. “Why?”
Jeremy didn’t answer right away, and then with a sigh, he did. “Because I was done. I mean, I thought I was done. But when you killed me, and I came back, I realized I wasn't. I didn’t want to die. I didn't want to *undie.* I wanted to live.”
They were both quiet again, and in that silence Damon began to walk again. Jeremy followed. Damon waited for Jeremy to say more, but when he didn’t, Damon found himself thinking not only of his words, but of how he had shared them. It was as if he was telling a story; there was distance in his voice. It was an account he’d told before, more than once.
“You told Elena that?” It was a question, but Damon was pretty damn sure what the answer was.
“Hmm,” Damon smiled, finally getting the resolution to that little matter that he’d let go of after his deathbed pity party with Elena. “That's why she forgave me.”
"Well, yeah, I mean when she did. I lived, so we all know she would have forgiven you eventually. My telling her just kinda made it happen sooner.”
Damon nodded silently as he took the final turn. He stopped at the entrance. “Here's the cave. Get to it, kid.” Jeremy shot him a disappointed look. Rolling his eyes, Damon sighed. “Fine, yeah, you talking to your sister helped. Want a medal?”
“No, I mean, yeah, it was no big,” Jeremy shrugged. “Like I said, she would have forgiven you anyway.” Still as he set his bag down and began to play with the camera, Damon saw him smile. He wiped it clean before looking back at Damon. “So what am I doing?”
“If you see any drawings, take some pictures. We can check 'em out later at Ric's apartment.”
“We?” And the smile was back.
Unable to help himself because, damnit, it was nice not being hated every once in a while, Damon grinned, but then it slid easily into a smirk. “Whatever, just invite Ric along this time.” Speaking of… He cleared his throat. “Hey, I arranged for Ric's burial. It's the day after tomorrow. The Salvatore crypt.” He looked down, not sure he wanted to see Jeremy’s expression. “You should come.”
Jeremy was quiet long enough that Damon finally glanced up. He was smiling again. “Yeah.” He nodded. “Yeah, and I’ll let the others know. If that’s cool or is it just us?”
“Yeah, I figured just us. Everyone else already said goodbye the night of the big dance. This is just, you know, his body, but I figured those of us who were closest to him should be there.”
“Yeah, OK.” Jeremy nodded. “I’ll just let Elena know.” He laughed as he looked down at the camera. “She can skip her no-Damon-rule for Ric.” He shot a quick look at Damon, smirking. “I mean, temporary no-Damon-rule.”
“That’s right, it’s only temporary.”
With determination marking every step, Elena walked up to the boarding house. She’d skipped school yesterday, and had managed to avoid Stefan today, but it was time to make this happen. She needed to put her words into actions; she needed to actually *try* with Stefan instead of just going through the motions. Pausing at the door, she bit her lip and allowed herself to focus her hearing. She hated doing it, but she needed to be prepared if Damon was home.
Instead of Damon, she was surprised to hear Caroline. Elena thought that she and Stefan were barely friends anymore as little time as they spent together compared to when she first turned.
“I don’t know, Stefan, I just— why don't I hate him? Everything he's done. I should hate him, right? Right.”
Was she talking about Damon, Elena wondered, but even as she thought it she couldn’t imagine that it was him. Her friend practically reveled in her Damon-hate.
Shaking her head, Elena leaned against the door, hearing Stefan sigh before he spoke. “Sometimes we don't always feel what we think we should.”
“Yeah, I know, right? It's just— you know?”
Brow furrowed, Elena ran through a list of everyone they knew, trying to figure out who they could possibly be discussing, but Damon was the only name that fit.
“You *know* it sucks, or *you* know...” Caroline said, her voice low, and Elena straightened, her hand reaching out for the knob wanting an answer.
“I know what it feels like. I hate him, Caroline, I do, but there's a part of me that doesn't. When Klaus gave me my memories back from before... we were best friends.”
Elena pulled her hand back, shock flooding through her. They were talking about Klaus. *Klaus.* Talking as if they felt *something* for *Klaus.* A surge of anger with a healthy dose of disgust swept through her. That Caroline could even go there about Klaus. Who had tried to kill all of them. Who would happily have done so on numerous occasions had fate not intervened. Who had killed Jenna.
Taking a steady breath, Elena leaned against the door again, trying to control her anger, breathing through the rage. She was concentrating so intensely on smoothing the veins that had popped out under her eyes that she almost missed what Stefan said next.
“I really liked the guy, and the things about him I like are still there.”
Elena gasped. He’d never— Stefan had never led her to believe that he felt anything but hatred for Klaus, but he was telling Caroline that he liked him? She felt a fresh wave of shock and anger at Stefan's words, and the control she’d begun to exert faded as she felt her vampire face take over. Choking back a sob, she bowed her head, breathing heavily. Finally, she felt her human self reassert itself and she straightened again. This time, though, she didn’t reach for the knob. She couldn’t help but wonder what else Stefan had to say that she was clueless about.
His voice was soft and understanding as he continued. “And I hate it. I hate that I don't hate him. But, Caroline, we don't always feel what we should.”
There was silence, and then in a small voice, Caroline responded, her words making Elena feel sick. “He makes me feel safe sometimes. It's awful, I know.” Reaching up, Elena wiped away at tears that had begun to fall. “After Mr. Saltzman went all psycho and tortured me at the school, I got away and Klaus was there. He made me feel safe. What's wrong with me? “
“Nothing. Caroline, when you become a vampire, your moral compass jumps to a different level. You know that. Sometimes it happens right away like when you turn the switch off, but even if you don’t, it happens. Just gradually. It's not the same as when you're human. Because you're not. You see, you feel things differently.”
Closing her eyes, Elena thought of how she felt when she attacked Beverly, the exultation she felt physically with Damon. Even though both things were wrong, she still felt that thrill and she realized that she wasn’t being fair. She couldn’t judge Caroline or Stefan. Or Damon. Elena had only been a vampire for a week and she understood a little of what Stefan meant. All three of them had been dealing with that moral decay for longer, much longer in Stefan and Damon's case.
Caroline cleared her throat and Elena’s eyes opened. “Enough of him, speaking of humans and not... What do you really think of Elena and her whole plan to act like she's a human?”
Resting against the door, Elena nodded to herself, convinced that at least in this Stefan's words would reassure her that she was making the right choice.
“I hope it will work.” He hopes? Elena wondered with a sinking feeling.
“But you don’t think it will?
“I hope so.” His voice was quiet. “I hope so, Caroline,” he repeated. “She feels so strongly that this will work. And it could, maybe it will. She's strong, Caroline, stronger than just about anyone I've ever met. If anyone can do it, she can.”
“Do you really believe that?”
He was silent for a long moment and Elena held her breath waiting for his answer. “No. But she wants to try, so I'm going to support her
“But you can let her know your concern—“
“No! I can't let her think I'm second-guessing her. Then she'll second-guess herself. I can’t do that to her. I won't.”
Elena heard Caroline get up, her heels clicking in a dull thud on the carpet as she paced. “OK, fine. But I think you're making a mistake. You both are.”
“I won’t stand in her way, Caroline. I will support her 100%.”
Elena forced a smile, getting that it wasn’t that he didn’t believe in her, he was just worried. He was keeping quiet because he wanted her to believe. She could understand that, but still it was frustrating that he was being so honest with Caroline and not her.
“It probably helps that this plan of hers includes no Damon in her life.”
Stefan laughed, a short bark of laughter that held no humor. “Yeah.”
“Does that bother you? The whole Damon-y feelings she has?”
Elena waited for his answer, wanting to find out what Stefan truly thought of this thing between her and Damon. Because I’m obviously not going to get it from him firsthand, she couldn’t help the bitter thought from popping into her head.
“Oh, yeah,” was his only response much to her disappointment.
“I'm sorry. I shouldn't have mentioned it.”
Stefan was quiet and Elena reached once more for the doorknob, but before her fingers touched it, he burst out, frustrated anger lacing every word.
“I don’t get it. I don’t get her. Everything he's done and she does have,” he paused, and distaste filled his voice. “Feelings for him. Real feelings. There's times I've thought--“
“What?” Caroline demanded, and Elena shut her eyes, feeling sick for a completely new reason. She very much did not want him to answer. She almost turned the knob, but a morbid curiosity kept her hand still.
“That maybe she's even in love with him.” The same thing that Damon had said to her. Elena put her hand to her stomach, that sick feeling hardening in the pit of her stomach. I’m not. I’m not. She denied softly to herself.
“No, no, she's not.” Caroline proclaimed with more conviction than Elena’s own thoughts. “She's just— you know, it's the whole bad boy thing and, well, he's a total jerk, but, Stefan, he's hot. And Elena's so not shallow, but she is a teenage girl. I hate him and I still think he’s hot.” She paused, and then murmured, “ohh, Stefan.” She was quiet, and Elena could just see Caroline standing there with a look of compassion on her face. “I don't think— I mean, no, no she's not... in *love* with him. No, she can't be. She has you.”
He was quiet and then in low voice spoke. “Apparently I'm not enough.”
Elena bit her lip, a tear slipping from the corner of her eye.
“Stefan! That's not fair. You left. You left her and all of us.”
Nodding, Elena turned and leaned her back against the door. Yes, yes, he did. He left me. And Damon was here.
“I didn't have a choice, Caroline.”
You had a choice, Stefan, you just didn’t choose me.
“I know that, but, you can't blame her for turning to him when you were gone. She loves you. And you just need to remember that. This Damon thing is just, I dunno, it's just lust.”
Elena shook her head, refusing any longer to give that lie even a moment of consideration. She knew there was more to what she felt for Damon.
“It's more than that, Caroline.” And clearly so did Stefan. “I get that she cares, I'm fine with that. That's Elena, but I hate that it's more than that.” He was silent, and then Elena heard the sound of something breaking. She flinched and her heartbeat sped up, guilt sweeping through her. Admitting it to herself was one thing, but finding out that Stefan knew as well created a brand new kind of guilt. It suddenly made what she felt for Damon more real, if Stefan was so aware of it then she was much deeper into his brother than she’d even allowed herself to admit.
Wiping at the tears streaking her cheeks, Elena straightened, ready to leave. She knew she had come to talk to Stefan, to reconnect with him, but, God!, how could she face him knowing that he knew what she felt for Damon?
Elena took a step back and then froze. She was doing it again, grabbing at any excuse to not make it work with Stefan. She knew why; she knew that it was because she was afraid that if she did try and it still didn’t work, they were over. And she wasn’t ready to let go of Stefan and everything he represented yet.
They couldn’t keep this half-hearted relationship going. Screwing up her courage, she stepped back to the door, ready to enter, ready to face him, but Caroline and Stefan’s ongoing conversation stopped her as he let out a short bark of laughter, halting her momentum.
“Yeah, but, you know… rah, rah Damon. “
“I know, right?” Caroline laughed, her laughter fading into a sigh. “Bonnie and Matt are, like, not hating him anymore and it's just, it's weird! Look, I know he's done a lot for us, I guess. I get that. And my mom totally thinks he's like her best friend.” She broke off with a frustrated groan. “OK, fine, he does care about her. And he does love Elena.” She paused, squeaking out an apology. “But it's true. And he has saved like all of our lives a million times.”
Elena sighed, not sure that it was any better that Caroline was actually aware of all that Damon had done, since she still held on so tightly to her hatred of Damon despite it all.
“It's just— he acts like such a jerk. It's like he wants everyone to hate him.”
“It’s his defense mechanism. If he acts like a jerk and everyone hates him, it’s justified and has nothing to do with the real Damon.”
Elena let out a slight exhalation as Stefan put into words something that she had figured out about Damon so long ago.
It didn’t matter to Caroline. “Well, it works. I hate the way he acts.”
“Yeah, that's my brother.”
A cajoling note entered Caroline’s tone. “I think Jeremy still hates him at least.”
“Huh. Yeah, not really caring about him right now.”
“What do you mean?” Yeah, what do you mean, Stefan?
“You think Bonnie and Matt have a problem with me? I can't get within five feet of Jeremy before he starts giving me all kinds of attitude.” Elena shook her head, surprise filling her at how annoyed he sounded.
“Oh.” Caroline’s voice was soft. “Well, he's been through a lot.”
“He's not the only one. He doesn't have to be such a dick.” Stefan laughed, but there was a thread of anger contained in it. “He's really pissing me off.”
“Well, have you talked to Elena about it?”
No, he has not!, Elena thought angrily.
“Talked to her? She's there when he pulls his crap! She just coddles him, 'oh, he just needs time.' He needs a good knock upside the head is what he needs.”
“Stefan,” Caroline admonished.
“What? We've all been through stuff, and he's the only one acting like a little asshole. I don't even want to go to her house anymore because I could run into him. I'm tired of him. I'm tired of putting up with his bullshit.”
Elena shook her head, shocked almost as much by this reveal as she had been by their comments about Klaus. Stefan had never been anything but completely understanding about Jeremy with her. But *this* was how he really felt? Talk about an eye-opener. She wasn’t upset that he was mad at Jeremy. She got that. Jeremy was being a jerk to Stefan, but it did bother her that he wasn’t being honest with her about it. Chalk up another one.
“He is Elena's brother.”
“Yeah, so I put up with him. And I pretend I don't want to punch him in the face.”
“What?” He laughed. “Like you don't hate pretending to be nice to Carol Lockwood?”
“Well... yeah. I really don't like her. But she is Tyler's mom.”
“And he is Elena's brother.”
“The things we do for love.” They both laughed and Elena shook her head, not sure how she felt right now. The upset was fading and all she was left with was sadness that there was such an emotional and dishonest distance between her and Stefan now. And as easy as it was to blame him, she certainly hadn’t been honest with him either.
“I'm so glad.” Caroline said happily, and Elena felt a moment of confusion matched by Stefan judging from his next works.
“That I can't stand my girlfriend's brother and you can't stand your boyfriend's mother?”
“No, silly. That we're talking again. Friends. After you took off and even when you came back, we just were doing our own things. I missed you.”
He was quiet for a moment, and then responded softly, sincerely. “I missed you too.”
“So I'm glad we're on track again. You know I have your back. I mean, as long as Elena's cool with you. BFFs first.”
“Of course.” And Elena could hear the smile in his voice, and she imagined it wasn’t even remotely forced.
“I'm so happy you two are together again. I mean, I know I was all jealous in the beginning because *I* saw you first!” Caroline laughed. “But, Stefan, she was such a wreck after her parents died and you... you brought her back to life.”
Stefan sighed heavily. “Yeah. Now I just need to figure out how to do it again. She's not happy, Caroline. I want her to be happy.”
Elena leaned back against the door, remembering that first night when she had invited him in, how he had smiled and she had felt the first bloom of happiness since her parents had died. She shook her head, banishing the memory. So much had happened since then, but she did love him and he had, as Caroline said, brought her back to life. OK, maybe he wasn’t being honest with her now, but again, she wasn’t being honest with him either.
They just needed to recapture that happiness they had found that autumn night and they would be fine. Elena nodded determinedly and reached for the knob, this time turning it. She walked inside. Reaching the living room, both Caroline and Stefan stood up, a bright smile on Caroline’s face.
“Elena! Tyler is Tyler again!”
Elena forced a smile, forced herself to be happy for her friend even if she was still reeling from her comments about Klaus. She couldn’t summon enthusiasm, but she faked it as best she could. “That’s great. When did it happen?”
“After school. Bonnie did her witchy thing. Thank God, huh?”
Elena nodded, her smile coming more naturally because it really was great that Tyler was back to himself again. Then a sudden thought struck her. “Why aren't you with him?”
“Oh,” Caroline rolled her eyes. “He's with his mom. But,” she paused, glancing between Stefan and Elena, “I’m sure he wouldn't mind my company now. So I will leave you two and let you have some alone time, while *I* go have some alone time with Tyler.” She grinned, threw a wave Stefan’s way and hugged Elena quickly before heading out. “Bye.”
Elena looked to Stefan, noting the warm, open expression on his face as he watched Caroline’s departure. She realized that she couldn’t remember the last time that he looked at her that openly without a hint of concern or darkness in his gaze. Giving herself a mental shake, Elena was determined anew that she would make things right. Walking over, she took his hand and pulled him to the couch. Let’s do this, she thought, opening the door for some honesty.
“I heard you and Caroline talking— “ He looked concerned, but didn’t say anything, and Elena couldn’t help but realize it was something he did often. He kept quiet, refusing to offer up any rope with which to hang himself. He only ever gave details, and watered down ones at that, on what he was aware that she already knew. “About Jeremy.”
“Elena,” he sighed. “I'm sorry you heard that. I've just been frustrated. I don't really— I was just venting.”
She smiled, squeezing his hands. “You should vent to me. If it was bothering you, you should have told me. You *should* tell me!”
“No.” He shook his head. “You are dealing with so much right now, I'm not gonna burden you with my issues. I'm fine. He's fine. I'm sorry. How are you? I haven’t see you at school.”
Elena cocked her head slightly to the side, realizing that he wouldn’t say anything bad about Jeremy, not to her. He was going to protect her feelings. Elena told herself that this was sweet and wonderful of him. She blinked quickly, hushing a mental voice that pointed out that honesty would be better.
“Yeah, I'm sorry. I'm just working at keeping it under control there, so I skipped yesterday and I’ve been hiding out in the back of the library whenever I'm not in class. Avoid everyone else.”
“Oh.” He sat up straight, his brow furrowing. You should— I'll join you.” He smiled.
Elena offered him a matching one, hiding her sudden fluster. “OK, yeah” she responded even as she realized that she didn’t want him to. Guilt swamped her. I should want to. I should. She brightened her smile and pushed ahead. “So, we're alone.”
He looked surprised, and then pleased as a smile, full of sexy promised stretched across his face. “We are.”
Leaning forward, she kissed him, and it was sweet and familiar, but her blood wasn’t singing, her heart wasn’t racing. She deepened the kiss, determined to feel what she once had. Stefan pressed her down on the couch as he began trailing kisses down her neck, his hands running over her body. Huskily, he whispered her name.
“Elena,” but it wasn’t Stefan’s voice she heard, but Damon’s as he kissed her neck before biting sharply. His body pressing her against his bedroom door. His hard thrusts driving into her, her name falling from his lips like a prayer.
Elena pushed at Stefan, stumbling out from under him. She was flushed and shaking, wiping her hands nervously on her jeans. Turning, she let out a long, unsteady breath and then forced herself to face him again. “I’m sorry.”
He shook his head, his smile now somber. “It’s OK.”
“It's not. I know it’s not. I am sorry, I just— Stefan. I need a little more time. With us being apart so long, and this vampire thing. I'm just— I need time.”
“OK,” he said simply, no fight, no censure, but she felt terribly guilty.
Elena began to back out of the room, desperately trying to make this right. “I'm sorry.” And then she stopped, looking at him, not ready to give up. She took a deep breath. Painting a smile on her face, she met his earnest gaze. “I'll call Caroline, maybe we can meet up with her and Tyler later, have a double-date? It will be fun. Yeah?”
Elena needed him to say yes, she needed him to help make this better. Help make them better.
“Yeah.” He nodded and she felt relieved. “Sounds good.” He smiled, but she could see he was upset. Of course he’s upset, she berated herself. Stefan stood up, and walked over to her. He cupped her face in his hands and gave her a gentle kiss. “We'll be good. Like you said, it's just gonna take time.”
She nodded with a tentative smile and then backed away. Walking out of the room, she headed to the door and stepped outside. Elena stood still, tears slipping down her cheeks again. She tried to hold onto his words, as she pressed her fingers lightly to her lips, trying to hold onto his kiss at the same time.
But it felt like goodbye. Elena admitted for the first time that maybe all the time in the world wouldn't be able to fix them.
TO BE CONTINUED
Erm, so yeah, I severely underestimated my slavish devotion to this show. When new episodes are airing, I just am so immersed in what's happening on the show, writing about it, icon-ing, gif-fing, responding to others that I don't have time to work on/post/deal with the fic. So I'm thinking that hiatuses will be the time for posting. I'm going to try and get a jump-start on chapters and post two a week or so until the show comes back.