A/N: Well, we come to the end of our journey. I thought about an epilogue, but no, I think we're going to stop here. I think the loose ends have all been tied up, and can be left to the readers' imaginations. It's been a strange trip. I said from the beginning I knew a non-D/E story was a hard sell, but I SO appreciate each reader, each follow, each favorite, each review. I have to give a special shout-out to jairem, who has faithfully reviewed every single chapter! I am so grateful she stayed with me on this. If anyone wants to leave more reviews or other feedback, please don't hesitate. Thanks to you all!
Disclaimer: I do not own or operate "The Vampire Diaries."
Chapter 26: Reunions and Farewells
"Well, at least Mystic Falls is a pretty town," Lindsey said as they drove through the downtown area.
Damon shrugged. "It's all right, I guess. I like Oneonta better." Oneonta was the town nearest Lindsey's home.
"This is nice, though. We're going by the boarding house, first?"
"Yeah. Let baby brother know we're here and get our stuff out of the car."
Lindsey stroked Damon's arm. "I know this isn't easy for you, sweetheart. Liz has been a good friend to you."
"We started out hating each other," he said.
"I know. So did we," Lindsey reminded him.
He had to chuckle. "Yeah, I guess we did." They drove a little ways out of town and Damon pulled into the circular drive. Stefan's Porsche was in front. They went in with their luggage. Damon called as they walked inside. "Baby bro! Where are you?"
"Here," Stefan said, emerging from another room. He went immediately to Lindsey. "Welcome to the boarding house. It's about time one of us brought a bride here. And about time I had a sister." He hugged her and kissed her cheek. "You look great."
"Thank you, Stefan. It's good to see you, too."
Stefan and Damon looked at each other for a minute, then went into a rough hug and Damon lightly smacked the back of his head. "Good to see you, Stefan. You haven't moved into my room yet, have you?"
"God, no. I don't want your cooties," he said, wrinkling his nose in disgust.
"But it's O.K. for me to get them, right Stefan?" Lindsey teased.
"You're married to him. You've already got them."
"True enough. Lead the way, my love," she said to Damon.
"I did change the bedding, completely, though," Stefan said.
"Thanks, brother," Damon answered.
When they got into the room, Lindsey nearly laughed out loud. With its huge bed and glassed in bathroom, it was obviously designed as a room where a bachelor would bring his female conquests. He saw her broad grin and said, "What is it?"
"Nothing," she snickered. "This room just screams 'player.'"
He rolled his eyes. "I like it."
"You would." She sniffed the air and gave Damon a sidelong glance.
"She was in and out of the place for six years, Lindsey. It's inevitable you're going to smell her in the house."
"I know. I just smell her more in here."
"I know. One more thing to go nose blind to," she said.
They went back downstairs. "How's Liz?" Damon asked.
Stefan shook his head. "Not good. Caroline decided to try to feed her some of her blood. It made the cancer grow faster."
"Shit," Damon said and looked at Lindsey. "Good thing you decided you didn't need to do that."
"I know it. I take it Liz decided she didn't want to turn," Lindsey said.
"No. She said it's her time," Stefan explained.
Damon shook his head, his face sorrowful. "Where is she?"
"At the cabin. Caroline already asked me to tell you she'd like you to do the eulogy at the service."
Damon's eyes widened. "Me? Why?"
"She said you've always been a friend to her."
Lindsey took his hand. "I'll help you write it, if you want me to."
He nodded. "I'll probably need you to. Well, let's go see her."
They drove to the cabin and Caroline met them at the door. She actually hugged Damon, to his utter surprise. "I'm so glad to see you, Damon!" she exclaimed, and then spotted Lindsey. "You must be Lindsey! Thank you so much for coming!" and she flung her arms around Lindsey, nearly crushing the breath out of her.
"I'm glad I could be here, Caroline." She and Damon exchanged looks and he just shrugged.
"Come in, please. Bonnie, look who's here!"
Bonnie came in from the back. "Damon! I was hoping you'd get here." She turned to Lindsey. "Lindsey," she said, taking her hands. "Wow. I'm glad we got to meet." She caught sight of her left hand. "Is that a wedding ring?"
Lindsey nodded. "We got married in November."
"Caroline, did you hear that?"
"What? No. I was talking to Damon. What?" Bonnie held up Lindsey's hand and pointed to Damon's left hand.
Caroline's eyes nearly popped out of her head. "Married? Seriously? Oh, my God! That is so incredible! Does Stefan know?"
"He knows," Damon said, mentally rolling his eyes. Like he wouldn't tell his brother he got married.
"Who's married?" came Liz's voice, weak, but audible.
"Just a sec, Mom!" Caroline said, her eyes growing teary. "She'll be so happy for you, Damon."
He smiled gently at her and took Lindsey's hand and led her into Liz's room. He was shocked at the change in his friend. She had never had too much weight to spare, but she was pitifully thin, and her color wasn't good. He went to her and kissed her cheek. "Good to see you, Liz," he said.
"Glad to see you, Damon," she said. "Who got married?"
He held up his left hand. "I did. To Lindsey. You know, from Alabama."
Her face lit up. "Really, Damon? She made it, then?"
"Yeah, she made it."
"I'm so happy for you, Damon. God knows, you deserve some happiness. I know how much you love her." Lindsey smiled at that.
"Would you like to meet her?"
"Yes!" Liz said, and Lindsey went to her side.
"Hi, Liz. I'm Lindsey. So nice to meet you."
"You too. You too!" Liz reached for her hand. "I have worried so much about Damon, but I see I don't have to worry about him, anymore. Thank you so much for what you've done for him."
"Thank you, Liz, for being a friend when he needed one." She motioned Damon out of the room. "And shut the door and shut your ears, if you don't mind." He shook his head, but did as she asked.
"Now then," Liz said. "I see that lapis around your neck. Did you turn?"
"I did. But it was because we had been in an accident, and I had Damon's blood in my system. So I woke up in transition and decided I couldn't say goodbye to Damon again. But he's been wonderful. And I'm determined to live this life the right way, and help people whenever and however I can."
Liz shook her head. "I wouldn't have wished that fiasco in Nashville on Damon for anything, but he got you out of the deal. You know, I think of him as one of my kids, in spite of the fact he has 150 years on me. I liked him in spite of myself."
"He has that effect on people," Lindsey chuckled. "I couldn't stand him at first, either, let me tell you. I wished he would just disappear. Biggest jackass I'd ever met."
Liz chuckled. "I know it. But how do you resist those eyes?"
"You don't. And he knows it, believe me."
"Well, I wanted him to do my eulogy."
"Stefan told us. That's very sweet of you, Liz."
"He's been a friend. And with that voice of his, he'll do it right. Stefan would do a good job too, but I'm closer to Damon."
"Stefan understands. He'll want to sit with Caroline to be there for her, anyway."
"That's true. I'm glad they found each other."
"I am too. You're getting worn out. I'll go now."
Liz squeezed Lindsey's hand again. "Thank you for talking about this with me. I need to."
"I know what you mean. I was on that same countdown, too," Lindsey replied. "See you soon."
"Send Damon in, if you will."
When Lindsey left the room, she said, "Liz wants to see you, Damon."
"Oh, O.K." He went into the room and closed the door.
Lindsey sat with Bonnie and Caroline at the kitchen table. "Where's Elena?" she asked.
"At Whitmore. She'll be here for the, um, service," Bonnie said.
"I figured she would be. So Caroline, how long have you and Stefan been dating?"
"Oh, since the late summer. It was easier once Elena pretty much moved to Whitmore permanently."
"I'm sure. Damon is really pleased about you two being together. He wants Stefan to be happy, in spite of how he acts sometimes." She smiled.
"Damon is a different man," Bonnie said. "And just between us girls, I think getting rid of that ring helped. Stefan's different, too, since he got rid of his."
"Really?" Lindsey said. "I didn't notice he didn't have it on."
"Nope. Caroline found him a ring that has a bar of lapis. It's a third of the size of the old one. And Damon's thunderbird looks gorgeous on him. Good choice!"
"Thanks. I like my hummingbird."
"It's beautiful," Caroline said. "Isn't it funny how we all share a history with these guys?"
Lindsey laughed. "It's like being in a sorority. We should have T-shirts. Pink ones."
"Yes!" Caroline exclaimed. "What should we call it?"
"First thing that came to my mind was Sigma Alpha Sigma. Stands for Slept with A Salvatore," Lindsey said and all three erupted into laughter.
"Except me," Bonnie said. "I just cast spells for them. Never slept with either one." She shuddered a little.
"It ain't bad, Bonnie. Trust me," Lindsey said. "Of course, I can only speak for one. How about it, Caroline? You've been with both of them."
"What?" She looked around and motioned them in close. "True confessions," she barely whispered. "They're both hot in the sack. Different, but hot."
"Well, there you go," Lindsey said.
"It doesn't bother you that she was talking about your husband?" Bonnie asked.
"Nah. If it had been Elena, probably. But not you, Caroline. I know you're attached to Stefan. But of course, I am the woman who convinced Damon Salvatore to put a ring on it. Took me long enough, but I did it."'
"Stefan said Damon looks like he did before Katherine came into the picture," Caroline said.
Lindsey nodded. "The hardness has gone from his face, for sure. And I'm so glad."
Caroline looked pensive for a moment. "Is it OK to be laughing like this when my mom is dying in the next room?"
Bonnie was at a loss, but Lindsey took her hand. "Yes, it's OK. Liz will be glad to hear you laughing, I promise. She knows you can get through this."
"I guess you're actually about Mom's age, aren't you, Lindsey?"
"Close. Does your mom have any siblings?"
"Nope. She's the only one, just like me." Her face threatened to crumple.
Lindsey patted her hand. "I know what you mean. I can't replace your mom, and wouldn't try. But if you need a Mama for a little while, call me. You too, Bonnie. Damon told me about your mom. I'm sorry."
"Thank you. I appreciate that."
"What am I going to do without Mom?" Caroline said.
"You make it the best you can," Lindsey said.
"I feel like flipping the switch," she answered.
Lindsey nodded. "I know you do, but you don't need to do that. It would dishonor your mother's life and her memory. She had a career based on helping people and making the world better. Flipping the switch wouldn't honor her legacy. And when she's gone, that's what you have left. Live to honor her memory, Caroline."
"You're right, Lindsey. I guess no one ever said that to me before."
"Well, when I was in transition, I thought about how I wanted to live from here on out, if I decided to turn. I wanted to use these abilities to help people, not hurt them. And Bonnie, you'll appreciate this. Witches want nature to be balanced. When a vampire goes off the rails, that's completely unbalanced, and one reason why they're so miserable. It's like Eve eating the apple in the garden. The temptation to flip is always going to be there, but keeping the balance means you resist it."
Bonnie nodded. "That's it! I think I've been trying to tell Caroline, and Elena and Stefan that, but I never could quite articulate what I really meant. That's what I meant!"
Lindsey smiled. "Well, as my dear husband said, I've had a long while to think about it, and that's the conclusion I came up with that made the most sense. He said it's because I was 46 when I was turned."
"You don't look 46," Caroline said.
Lindsey grinned. "Thanks! Let me tell you, Damon and I were at the Summit in Birmingham, oh, probably a month after I turned. It was right before we got married. Anyway, he was teaching me to hunt. We were in Johnny Rockets for a milkshake and these young chicks were walking by me, looking daggers at me. It was hilarious. Even Damon noticed. When he asked me, I told him it was because they were ill because an older woman had a hot, young thing like him. If they only knew..." She laughed, and Caroline and Bonnie joined her.
"What did Damon say?" Caroline asked.
"Well, I used the term 'extra hot, boy toy stud.' He objected to me saying 'boy toy,' but was fine with the 'extra hot stud' part. Some things don't change," she chuckled. "But really, I'm just fine with people seeing us as the cougar and the boy toy. That really works for me." Lindsey's grin was infectious, and Caroline felt her spirits lifting, in spite of herself. She was looking at Lindsey's rings.
"That sapphire ring is beautiful. Where did you find it?"
Lindsey held out her hand so Caroline could see the ring. It was an oval sapphire set in white gold filigree. "It was an estate piece. Found it in antique store. I loved it because it was different and Damon said that would be a perfect engagement ring. So he bought it. I don't wear a lot of jewelry. Never have. Once in a while, Damon will see something he thinks I absolutely need, though, and he'll get it for me. I wear it because he likes to see it on me, but I'm satisfied with a watch and that's it."
"Where did you find Damon's thunderbird? He never did tell me," Bonnie asked.
"At a craft show. A Cherokee artist was selling handcrafts and had the thunderbird. He said he got it from a friend in the Southwest. I saw it and knew that was Damon's token. The man said that thunderbird was full of good spirits. I'm not sure I believe that, but it's certainly an improvement over a gaudy hunk of rock picked out by a vampire heifer bitch."
"Yeah, that definitely covers all the bases," Bonnie said. "Gaudy, vampire, heifer, bitch. Works for me." All three laughed.
Caroline was looking curious, but it was obvious she didn't want to say anything. Lindsey looked keenly at her. "What's on your mind, Caroline?"
"I probably shouldn't even ask."
"Ask. Now I want to know," Lindsey said with a grin.
"Well, I was just wondering, since you had feelings for Damon before you were turned…" her voice trailed off.
"You're wondering if I'm sired to him."
"Well, yeah. I remember how Elena was."
"Damon was really honest about that with me. Which is why he proposed before I completed transition. He didn't want any sire bond feelings to interfere. And Bonnie can explain more about it, but we have what they call a blood bond, but it's not like what he had with Elena. It's different. We want to make each other happy, which I think is a good thing in a relationship. Obviously, when you're in a relationship, sometimes you do things you really don't want to do because it makes the other person happy, but it has to come from a place of being unselfish, not because you can't say no."
Caroline and Bonnie looked at each other. Bonnie cleared her throat. "Well, that kind of explains why Damon and Elena's relationship went off the rails like it did."
"How do you mean?" Lindsey asked.
Bonnie shrugged. "Well, with them, Damon wanted to be unselfish with Elena, but she was totally selfish with him. It sounds bad because she really does love her family and her friends. Before she was turned, she would have done absolutely anything for her friends, but now…"
"Damon said they ended up bringing out the worst in each other," Lindsey said.
"Yeah," Caroline agreed. "They did. Not that Elena doesn't still care about her friends, but maybe she just has a tougher time balancing out her life."
"Well, it's not like she was my age when she was turned. I think that's been a huge advantage for me. Damon's theory is that it was because she had so much darkness in her life to begin with, is why she had such a hard time. And he freely admits he didn't help the situation. He really regrets that."
"I know," Caroline said. She couldn't believe how generous Lindsey was where Elena was concerned. "I also know he's absolutely crazy about you."
Lindsey chuckled. "Well, the feeling is mutual."
Damon finally came out of Liz's room, looking very thoughtful. "We need to go," Lindsey said. "We don't want to impose." Damon was going to need to talk, and she needed to be there to listen.
"Please come back soon," Caroline said.
"We will," Lindsey answered, giving her a hug. I'll get Damon's phone and send you my number, so you can reach both of us. I want you to be able to get one of us any time. I'll send it to you, too, Bonnie."
"Thanks, Lindsey. So good to meet you."
"You too. We'll be around," she said as they left. She took Damon's hand as they left the house.
Once Bonnie heard the car pull out of the drive, she looked at Caroline. "Damon and Elena had sparks and chemistry to burn, but…"
"It was never like him and Lindsey," Caroline finished her sentence. "They just fit together. Stefan says Lindsey just expects Damon to behave, and he does. She doesn't try to manipulate him into it."
"Well, you were the one who said she treats him like an adult, not a wayward teenager," Bonnie replied.
"And that's it. I've never seen him look like that. Even the summer with Elena when things were going really well. He still didn't look like he does now."
"His aura has completely changed. There's just peace there. I don't know how else to say it," Bonnie agreed.
"I'm betting the old creature of the night version is still in there somewhere," Caroline mused, "But it's not the dominant part of his personality anymore. Thank goodness."
"Amen to that," Bonnie agreed.
"I want you to explain this whole blood bond thing to me," Caroline said as they went inside.
Damon didn't have a lot to say on the way back to the house, and Lindsey didn't push him. She knew if he needed to talk, he would.
"We're both worn out, mentally if nothing else," Lindsey said when they got to the boarding house. "Let's get some rest. It'll do both of us a world of good."
For once, Damon didn't even pull out the "vampires are superior and don't need as much rest" argument, which in itself told Lindsey exactly how tired he was.
"O.K. I'll grab some blood and bring it up," he said. Lindsey nodded and went upstairs. She collapsed on the huge bed and giggled again at her very randy husband. Only Damon would think of a bedroom like this, the tomcat.
"I might be a player, but that bed is comfortable. Admit it," he said, handing Lindsey a bag of blood.
She broke the seal and sipped. "Oh, it's comfortable, all right. And let's make a correction: you used to be a player. Not anymore. Now you're a semi-respectable vampire husband."
"Only semi-respectable?" he said, when he caught the expression on Lindsey's face. "Well yeah, you're right. I'll never be completely respectable, will I?" His grin was wicked.
"Goodness, I hope not," she said.
"Me either." He looked around the room. "Last time I was in here was when Elena and I had our final blow-up. I told her I was going home, fired up the Camaro and headed to Alabama to be with you."
"Things have changed a lot since then," she said.
"For the better. Well, except for Liz." His voice was sad. "That's the worst part about being a vampire, is watching regular humans you care about get sick or get old and die."
Lindsey nodded in sympathy. "Yeah. Time seems so slow from our viewpoint, but I remember how oppressive it was when I was at twelve weeks to live. Getting your lifespan delineated that way is an eye-opener."
"Mmm. And Liz is down to what - days?"
"That would be my guess. A week at the most. She's tired and ready to go. At some point, you just have to make the decision to go with dignity. She's there. I talked to a lot of people like her when I was taking treatment. Death is a release - the knowledge that something better is waiting on the other side of this life."
"Caroline is gonna take this hard. She and Liz haven't always had the best relationship." He was sitting beside Lindsey on the bed.
"I kind of picked up on that talking to her while you were talking to Liz. She said she felt like flipping the switch on her emotions."
Damon's eyes widened. "Caroline said that? What did you tell her?"
"That it wasn't a good idea, primarily because Liz wouldn't want her to do it. I told her Liz had legacy of helping people and flipping the switch didn't honor her mother's life or her legacy."
"Think you got through to her?" Damon finished his blood bag and tossed it in the garbage can.
"I hope so. Eventually, you have to do it for yourself, but maybe thinking about her mom not wanting her to do that will keep her on a more even keel. But Caroline is young and so is Liz. From what you've told me, she's always been an active, hands-on kind of sheriff. I know that's why they kept voting her into office. So this is especially tough on Caroline. And with her dad gone too… It's hard to be what, 20? And have both your parents gone. But you know what that's like. Your mom died when you were just a boy, and from what you've told me, Giuseppe might as well have been dead by the time you were turned, for all the care he showed you."
She sighed. "You know, I don't wish eternal damnation on many people, but I hope he's in torment for the way he treated you and ultimately, Stefan. Turning Stefan into the golden child was just as damaging as brushing you aside. He damaged both of you. He had no business ever having children. You can't even say he did his best and failed. No, he was just a piss-poor excuse for a parent. Period."
"Leave you to put everything in clear perspective," Damon said, humor in his tone, but he deeply appreciated Lindsey being his unshakable advocate. He still wasn't used to having someone stand up for him like that.
Linsdey's cell rang early one morning. It was Bonnie. "Can you and Damon come now? The hospice nurse said we're down to hours - maybe. Probably sooner."
"Absolutely. We'll be there as quick as we can." She nudged Damon. "It's Liz, hon. Bonnie just called. They're saying hours."
"O.K.," he muttered. Lindsey gave him a quick kiss and squeezed his hand.
When they got to the cabin, there were several cars in the drive, already. Stefan was there. Lindsey had stopped for ice, paper plates, napkins and cups. This was the county sheriff, and once word got around after Liz's passing, people would be bringing food, she knew. Damon had been to Richmond the night before on a blood run and brought a cooler. He knew Stefan had been out the night before to hunt, as well, and if he needed to disappear for an hour, the cabin was near the woods.
Bonnie answered the door, looking tired and pale. Lindsey hugged her. "You go be with Caroline. I've been down this road. Leave it to me." She lowered her voice. "Where does Caroline keep her blood?"
"In the little fridge in her bedroom," Bonnie answered.
Lindsey looked back at Damon, who nodded and went in the room with the cooler. "I know Stefan's here. Who else?"
"The minister, the hospice nurse, and one of Liz's cousins she's always been close to. Elena's on her way in."
Lindsey nodded. "O.K. Is there a memo pad or something I can write on? You'll want to keep track of people bringing stuff so Caroline can write the thank-you notes."
Bonnie gave her a tiny smile. "You have done this before. Look in the drawer underneath where the coffeepot is. I know that's where Liz kept the pad she used for her grocery lists."
"Perfect." Lindsey found a pen in her purse. "I'll direct traffic out here. You all go be there for Liz. Give her my love."
"All right. Thank you."
"You're more than welcome. Glad I can help." She went into the den and saw Damon sitting on a chair, head in his hands. She went to him and kneeling, put his head on her shoulder. She stroked his hair. She knew he would go in when he was ready, but she wasn't going to push him.
After a few minutes, he raised his head. "I need to go in there," he said. She nodded.
"Let me know when it's time."
Lindsey found the list Caroline had made of people who needed to be called. She put it next to the phone so she could find it when she needed it. She cleaned off the kitchen table, and got rid of obviously old food in the fridge. They would need the space.
She had been working about an hour when a soft knock sounded on the door. Since she was the only one not in Liz's room, she went to the door. Elena stood on the porch. Well, awkward or not, Lindsey knew she had to be the adult. "Come on in, or do I need to get Caroline to invite you in?"
"No, I've been invited," she said, and walked inside. She looked at Lindsey. She had put on some weight since Elena saw her last, and looked healthy. Her face was fuller and looked younger. Elena knew Lindsey had turned and she glimpsed the hummingbird token at her throat. She knew it had to be a gift from Damon.
Lindsey nodded. "I'm glad you got here, Elena. Liz is still with us, and she was conscious the last time Stefan came out to give me an update. I know she'll want to see you. I am very, very sorry. I know you've known Liz all your life."
Some green-eyed monster inside Elena wanted to tell Lindsey what she could do with her sympathy, but she realized the woman's feelings were genuine. This wasn't the time or place. And really, Damon made his own choice. Lindsey was in the picture before she was. Didn't make it sting less, though. "Thank you. I appreciate that." She went into the room and Lindsey sighed in relief. The last thing she wanted was to be party to a catfight. That wouldn't do at all. She went back to her cleaning and prep work.
Lindsey had lost track of the time when Stefan looked out of the room. She turned and he nodded at her.
"O.K." She dried her hands and very quietly went into the room. Caroline was on one side of the bed, holding her mother's hand, Bonnie and Elena with her. To her surprise, Damon held Liz's other hand and Stefan sat next to him. He started to make room for her, but she shook her head. She took Damon's and Stefan's hands and joined them, the look in her eyes daring either one of them to say a word. She stood behind Damon and put her hands on his shoulders.
Elena glanced across the bed. She couldn't believe Lindsey was content to just stand behind Damon. She would have wanted to be snuggled next to him at a time like this. Then, she saw Lindsey's left hand resting on Damon's shoulder, with its rings. She glanced at Bonnie and Caroline, but they didn't seem to notice. But again, certainly not the time or place to start a fight.
Liz's minister offered a short prayer, and Elena saw Lindsey bow her head and seemed to pray with him. She looked at the woman, who wore a black-and-white striped top and a black cardigan over it. There was nothing flashy or showy about her. Her face showed sorrow for Liz, and as she leaned over to put her cheek against Damon's hair, Elena saw sorrow for him, too. She realized Lindsey knew he was losing a friend.
The room was largely silent, and Lindsey felt a change in the air. She looked to Caroline. Liz's hand had relaxed. The nurse nodded, confirming that Liz was gone. Caroline collapsed into tears, as Bonnie and Elena comforted her. Lindsey kissed Damon's cheek and Stefan's too, and whispered, "I'm sorry." She slipped out of the room to allow Caroline to grieve privately. She went to the phone and called Liz's chief deputy to tell him. He thanked her and offered to call the coroner. It was an attended death, so there wouldn't be any problems, but the coroner had to sign the paperwork to release the body to the funeral home. Lindsey found the list of Liz's wishes and had them ready for Caroline when she talked to the funeral director. Then, she called the funeral home.
The coroner and the chief deputy arrived about the same time, and the coroner talked to the nurse, and she signed the required forms. Lindsey knew death was a legal process, like anything else, and had been through this routine with both parents.
Most of the visitors had come out of the bedroom, leaving only Caroline, Elena and Bonnie inside with Liz. Damon was sitting on the sofa, looking pale and shocked. Lindsey heard the hearse pull up outside and went to Stefan. "Caroline needs to meet with the funeral director, just for a minute," she said. This was going to be hard and Lindsey knew it.
He nodded and went into the room. Lindsey went to show the funeral director into the house. He was very kind and Lindsey went to the bedroom door and motioned to Stefan. "He's here," she said.
"Go ahead and bring him in here," Stefan answered.
Lindsey motioned the man into the room and she left, closing the door behind her. The sounds of other cars outside took her to the window. She smiled. Every deputy on the force was waiting outside. The chief deputy said, "We'll escort the hearse to the funeral home." She nodded. She knew how law enforcement officers honored their own.
Caroline came out of the bedroom, visibly leaning on Stefan. She hugged the deputy and he took her outside and had her sit in his car. He didn't want her in the house when the funeral home staff removed the body. Ric and his fiancée Jo had arrived by this time, and Lindsey had them clear the front rooms out while the body was taken away. Damon looked like he was going to collapse and Lindsey stood close to him, her arm around his waist.
Ric came to Lindsey and kissed her cheek. "This is Jo, my fiancée," he said.
"So glad to meet you. I wish it were under happier circumstances," she answered.
The sound of engines starting outside alerted Lindsey. She went outside, followed by the rest of the mourners. Stefan and the minister had already left, and the chief deputy pulled out of the drive first, lights flashing. The hearse followed, and the remaining cars took up the rear, also with their lights flashing. She had seen this kind of procession many times in her career as a reporter, and it never failed to bring tears to her eyes.
The nurse had already cleared out all the medical equipment and with Damon's help, loaded it into her van. He thanked her for her care and she left. Lindsey and Bonnie changed the sheets in the bedroom and made up the bed, Bonnie sniffling the whole time. Lindsey knew how she felt.
Elena was standing in the den, talking to Ric. He knew this had to be awkward for her and Lindsey, but Lindsey seemed determined to be as unobtrusive as possible, going out of her way to avoid any kind of confrontation.
After putting the old sheets into wash, Lindsey went to the kitchen to see what else needed to be done. Elena appeared. "So, you're just taking charge?" she said.
"I'm just trying to help Caroline. I've done this before. We use our gifts. Mine is organizing this kind of thing. But if you know of something that needs to be done, please do it. I know Caroline's glad you're here."
"But you're not."
"Caroline would be heartbroken if you weren't here, therefore, I'm glad you're here, too."
"Why do you care?"
Lindsey heard the pain in Elena's voice. "Because I care about people besides myself and you do, too. Or you wouldn't be here."
Damon heard the exchange and shook his head. He wasn't sure how to handle this situation.
Ric looked at him. "This could be bad."
"Lindsey won't let it get out of hand," he said.
By the time Caroline and Stefan got back, friends and neighbors had already started bringing food. In a very short time, they had enough to feed Lee's army, as Damon said.
Elena caught Damon out back as he was getting rid of some trash bags.
"You didn't tell me you got married. I had to hear it from Bonnie a couple of days ago," she said.
Damon sighed. "Elena, would you really have wanted me to call you and tell you? Really?"
"No, I guess not. It hasn't been easy for me, though."
"I'm sorry. But now that you've got some distance, can't you see it wasn't working? It doesn't mean I don't care about you. But it wasn't working."
She chose not to respond directly to that statement. "And now there's that whole blood bond thing. What about that?"
"What about it? I didn't know about it until after Lindsey transitioned. But what difference does it make?" Damon's tone was as gentle as he could make it. Elena was grieving, and he was a safe target. He could take it.
"It means I've lost you, completely."
"It means you never really had me, and I'm so sorry because I didn't realize it sooner. I used you because I was trying to hang on to Katherine. It was damned selfish and so unfair to you. I am really sorry."
Stefan saw the two standing outside and started for the door. Lindsey caught him. "No. They've got this to do. They have things they both need to say."
"But..." Stefan began.
"Stefan, Elena isn't some horrible person. She's not going to tackle Damon. And even if she did, he's wearing my ring, not hers. He can take care of himself."
Outside, Elena was quivering with rage. "You bastard!" she hissed.
He nodded. "Hit me, slap me, whatever. I deserve it. I screwed up."
The only thing that stopped her from staking him was the genuine remorse she heard in his voice. He really was sorry. And hadn't she used him, cast him aside, treated him like a monster? "I guess we've both screwed up. I can't hate you, Damon, as much as I'd like to. And I will try to be happy for you, since you and Lindsey are obviously happy together, and she's good to you."
Damon smiled at her. "There's the Elena I know. I'm not asking you to be best friends. Just be civil. I guarantee she's not going to provoke you." Lindsey had better sense and was more mature than that.
The service was tough. Even though several people spoke in celebration of Liz's life, it was still a sad service. Lindsey was so proud of Damon for his delivery of the eulogy. It was dignified, and he did a good job.
They gathered at the house in Mystic Falls after the service. Caroline had closed up the cabin temporarily and sat on the sofa in the den. "What am I going to do?" she said. "All of Mom's things…"
"Don't try to do too much right now. It can wait. At least the house is paid for," Bonnie said.
"Yeah. I just don't know what to do without Mom in the house. I'm just - lost at sea."
Lindsey's heart ached for Caroline. She knew that adrift feeling all too well. She went to the door and motioned for Damon and Stefan to follow her outside. She walked to the edge of the yard, where Caroline couldn't hear them.
"I'm worried about her, guys. I'm afraid if she stays here, she'll flip the switch, which is the last thing she needs to do, for herself or for you, Stefan."
Stefan's green eyes were dark with worry. "I know. I don't want her to do that. Do you have any suggestions?"
"I do. If she stays here, she's surrounded by memories of her mom, and people who, although they mean well, will want to tell her over and over about how much they appreciated Sheriff Forbes. Six months from now, that's what she'll want to hear, but in the short term, it can get suffocating. I've been there. Why don't you two come back to Alabama with us? There's nothing keeping you here, and I'm sure Bonnie or Ric will be willing to keep an eye on the boarding house and Liz's cousin can house sit here. She's already offered, if Caroline wanted to get away."
Stefan smiled. "That's really sweet of you, but…"
Damon snorted. "But nothing, baby brother. Lindsey's right. Barbie's about this close to shutting it off. We've got plenty of room. And you know how quiet and peaceful it is out there. There's just something about that old house that's good for you."
"And we're only 40 miles from Birmingham, so if she wants to shop or get her hair done, or anything, we're close. I wish you'd think about it, Stefan. We'd love to have you."
Stefan looked at his brother. Damon stared back at him. "What? Yeah, I'd like to have you there, too. We've probably got some stuff we need to work out, anyway."
Even at a time like this, Stefan had to grin at his brother's attitude. Lindsey was the only one who usually got his sweet side, although he had been very, very tender to Caroline these past few days. "I'll talk to her," he said.
Stefan and Caroline pulled into the gravel drive at the farmhouse. She sighed. "It's so pretty, Stefan! It looks like my great-grandmother's house!"
"Probably built about the same time. Lindsey grew up here." They followed two days later, since there were some loose ends to be taken care of. But Stefan could tell Caroline was excited about the trip.
Not surprisingly, Lindsey met them on the porch. "Hey, you two! Did you have a good drive in?"
"It was fine," Stefan said.
"Good. I'm so glad we've got a warmer day today. My buttercups will be blooming in a week or two, so that's a good sign of spring. You all go upstairs. Last room on the right." She put her arm around Caroline's shoulders. "You making it?"
"Mostly. It's hard," Caroline answered.
"I know. Damon's on a blood run. He's much more suited for that kind of larceny than I am," Lindsey said. "I live in fear they're going to catch him one of these days. I just hope he's slick enough to get away." She shook her head.
"I love your house," Caroline said.
"Thank you. I do too. It's quiet out here."
"Yeah. It's like we left the world out there, somewhere," Caroline agreed.
"That's how I like it," Lindsey said. "When you get settled in, make sure you check out the porch at the end of the hallway. It's everyone's favorite spot. Make yourself completely at home. If you need anything, I'll be in the upstairs office. I'm doing a freelance piece on the covered bridges in Blount County. I put my earbuds in when I write, so I'm oblivious, but don't worry about bothering me."
"Thanks for having us here, Lindsey," Stefan said.
"Oh, you're welcome. You're family! Damon's pleased you're here, too. Prickly old thing, he'll hardly admit it, but he is. You know how he loves to tramp around out in the woods. He needs the company. I am not the outdoorsy type." She grinned and kissed Stefan's cheek and hugged Caroline.
More than ever, Lindsey was convinced there was just something in the water in Mystic Falls that caused conflicts. When Caroline and Stefan had been in Alabama a week, he and Damon were acting like real brothers who actually liked each other. It seemed that being away from Virginia, with its old, sad memories enabled them to become friends again.
One spring-like day, Caroline and Lindsey were sitting on the upstairs porch watching the brothers throw a Frisbee to each other. Of course, it was vampire Frisbee which meant the spinning disc was being thrown impossible distances at unreal speeds, but they were obviously having a blast.
"I never thought I'd see this, ever," Caroline said. "Those two, being friends."
Both women laughed out loud as an argument ensued over a possible cheating violation, and the game dissolved into a wrestling match.
"I know. They're like two little kids out there. So much lost, wasted time. They've got a lot of catching up to do," Lindsey said.
"Yeah. Stefan was so sad about Damon until he found out you turned and you'd be all right. You know he didn't tell me you and Damon got married. But I knew there was a change in him. He was so happy."
They watched as Damon gave Stefan a hand up from the grass, and they walked back to the house, arms around each others' shoulders, talking companionably about growing up, cars, football… the things brothers talked about. Lindsey felt tears start in her eyes. Nothing she offered Damon could compare to him mending his relationship with Stefan. They heard the brothers come into the house, and the clink of glasses that signaled sweet tea was being served, masculine laughter and teasing. Then, footsteps on the stairs, pushing and shoving in the hallway and more laughter, and finally, they got to the porch, where Damon collapsed on the glider next to Lindsey and Stefan sat on the rocker next to Caroline.
"You so cheated on that throw," Stefan said.
"You can't cheat in Frisbee. Stop whining," Damon answered. He threw a piece of ice at Stefan, who had to return the favor.
"Boys! Stop it!" Lindsey said. "Either one of you hit me with ice and I'm pushing you off the porch. The hard way. You both look like you've been rolling in the hog pen. I'm glad that's an old shirt, Damon. I'll never get the grass stains out."
"Yes, Mom," he said with an eye roll.
"That's about what it's like with you two, for sure." Caroline was grinning and nodding her agreement.
Late that night, Damon woke Lindsey with kisses. "What is it, sugar?" she said, sleepily.
"For insisting Stefan and Caroline come down here. It's been good for all of us. For the first time in over a hundred years, Stefan and I are really friends again. I never thought that would happen, ever."
Lindsey snuggled to Damon's chest and stroked his hair. "You both needed some perspective. I can't tell you how glad I am you're mending fences with him. Caroline and I were both teary-eyed with joy watching you this afternoon. It was beautiful to see."
Damon put his cheek against Lindsey's hair. "My warrior angel can even fight the demons keeping me and my brother apart."
She laughed softly. "It wasn't me, Damon. Had nothing to do with me. It's your willingness to change."
"You're the catalyst. It's a whole new world with you, Lindsey. It was ever since I woke up in that bedroom in Nashville. I was just too much of an idiot to admit it."
"And I was terrified of you."
"With good reason," he answered.
"But now, and even before I turned, I never feel safer than when I'm in your arms," she whispered in his ear.
His laugh rumbled in his chest. "You know just how to turn me into mush, you sneaky wench."
"I'm so glad neither of us is lonely anymore," she sighed and leaned into Damon's kiss. She wanted every kiss of his to last forever. "I love you."
"I love you too."