If you're here looking for the February 27 update, skip to chapter three. Everyone else, welcome to part two of "Off by a Single Degree." Unless you haven't read part one at all, in which case, fly you fools! Spoilers lie ahead! And confusion.
Stefan didn't want to admit it, but underneath all the obnoxiousness, Damon might've been right not to want to leave him alone. He was feeling very twitchy. He simply wasn't used to having the kind of energy a generous diet of human blood granted him, and nothing he could do inside the confines of the boarding house could expend it. But if he went outside, he was sure it would only be a matter of seconds before he found himself dangerously close to humans. Even though human blood also granted him reckless levels of confidence and made it difficult to remember why using people for food was a bad thing, he was still just clear-headed enough to know that suffering cabin fever inside the boarding house was much better than whatever would happen if he went outside. So he poured himself enough of Damon's bourbon to give a grown human alcohol poisoning, then pulled out his phone.
It rang twice before someone answered. "Hello?" The voice was male.
"Is this Lee?" said Stefan.
"Yeah, you want Lexi?"
"Is she free?"
"She's right here."
"Hey, Stefan!" said Lexi.
"You two sound like you're in a good mood," said Stefan, smiling.
"We've been touring Europe. We're in Venice! But don't worry, I'll be stateside again in time for your birthday."
"I still don't get why you care so much about those."
"What's wrong with celebrating life? But anyway, what's up? It's been a while since you called."
Stefan wasn't sure how much to tell her. He didn't want her to think she needed to come dashing back here in the middle of her trip, and he was certain that she would think exactly that no matter how he phrased his explanation of his current diet. "I've been back in Mystic Falls since May," he said. He hesitated, wincing a little. "So has Damon."
"Oh yeah?" said Lexi, her tone instantly ice cold.
"I know what you're thinking," said Stefan. "But he's...different. His humanity is back on, for real this time."
"Sure about that?"
"He hasn't killed anyone since he came to town, and a few days ago, he saved one of the founding families from a werewolf attack."
"Wow," she said. He could hear the frown in her voice, but her tone lacked the skepticism from before. "What changed?"
"I didn't get here until after it started, but it's because of a girl. Elena Gilbert. She's brought out a side of him I haven't seen since...since before we turned. He's my brother again, Lexi."
"Sounds like a pretty impressive girl."
"She is. She's kind and brave and determined to see the best in people."
"Mm-hmm," said Lexi rather pointedly.
"No! It's not like that," said Stefan, feeling his cheeks grow warm. "I mean, maybe it could've been if things were different, but she's in love with Damon, and he's in love with her too, he just can't admit it to himself." Because that would mean throwing away the last century and a half he'd spent living for the moment he'd get Katherine back. How strange was it that the one person who had done the most to repair the relationship between Stefan and his brother was identical to the person who had shattered it in the first place? Stefan could remember how little it had mattered to him that Damon loved Katherine. All he'd cared about was having her for himself. But now, even when he was flush with human blood and his self-control was hanging by a frayed thread, Stefan had no desire to come between Damon and Elena. It was like they were getting a do-over. That Damon couldn't see it was maddening.
"Okay, then, is there a girl you are interested in?" said Lexi. Her teasing yet firm tone suggested they would be changing the subject from Damon whether he wanted to or not. "Because I still really want to set you up with my friend Rose."
"Well, there's definitely a girl who's interested in me," said Stefan.
"Ooh, is that so?"
"Her name is Caroline. She's really pretty, I guess, but..."
"What, you don't like her?"
"I don't know her well enough to answer that question. It's not that I don't think there's anything to like, but she's really pushy. And she doesn't know what I am."
"So tell her. If she handles it well, this might be something worth pursuing. If not, you can compel her to forget and leave you alone."
"Her mother is the sheriff and a member of the anti-vampire council. I'm not sure that's a good idea."
"You can't date someone under false pretenses," she said, gentle yet firm. "I know you love pretending you're a normal human teenager, but you can't keep a secret like that from someone you want to be close to."
"And if I decide I don't want to be close to her?"
"Then give her a human reason to leave you alone. If you don't like her, don't string her along. If you do, then do something about it."
Before either he or Lexi could speak again, Stefan heard the sound of an engine outside, followed by the loud crunch of wheels against gravel. "I think Damon's home," he said. "I should go."
Lexi sighed. "I hope you're right about him," she said.
"So do I."
"And don't screw things up with this girl."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence."
Stefan hung up just as the front door burst open, slammed shut again, and Damon came stalking into the parlor with the most murderous scowl on his face that Stefan had ever seen. His heart began to sink. Maybe he'd spoken his hopes to Lexi too soon. "Uh, are you okay?"
"No," said Damon. "But it's got nothing to do with you, so stay out of it." He headed straight for the drinks and rather than pouring himself some bourbon, he seized the bottle and downed half its contents in one go. "I would literally kill for some blood right now, but thanks to that asshole werewolf, this is going to have to do."
"What happened?" said Stefan, taking a cautious step closer.
Damon hurled one of the empty tumblers at the fireplace, where it shattered, then faced Stefan for the first time. "I told you to leave it the hell alone!" he snarled. Stefan hadn't jumped at the thrown tumbler, but he couldn't suppress a slight flinch at Damon's tone. He stood frozen in place as Damon stormed up the stairs with the rest of the bourbon. What had happened? Stefan heard Damon's door slam shut with the same force as the front door.
Fine. If he wasn't going to be able to get answers out of Damon, then he'd have to get them from somewhere else.
Jeremy pressed pause on his computer, slid his headphones off, and walked over to his window. Anna had compelled him. Even though he knew now what they had really witnessed using her animal spies, he still couldn't actually remember it no matter how hard he concentrated. Mayor Lockwood had arranged for Tyler to unwittingly kill Coach Tanner, which meant that Tyler, like his father, was now a werewolf. Why had Anna refused to help Tyler? How could trusting Jeremy's family jeopardize her getting her mother back? Hadn't they proven they could get along with vampires and work towards a common goal?
Jeremy leaned his forehead against the glass, closed his eyes, and sighed. He liked Anna. Forcing him to sing that Mulan song aside, they'd had a lot of fun together, and even though she was the oldest person he'd ever met, she didn't talk down to him because he was fourteen. And that thing she'd let slip about being in town to rescue her mom... He couldn't muster up any outrage over the compulsion. His plan had been to tell his parents about her if it turned out that she'd compelled him, but he'd been able to hear how afraid she was in the recording when she begged him not to get involved in the situation with the Mayor. She hadn't done anything to manipulate or use him, she'd just tried to protect herself so that she could do what she was here for. She clearly had some serious trust issues, but he was sure her intentions were good.
Still, it wasn't just about Anna and her mother. Tyler was a werewolf, and if Anna didn't want to do anything about that, it meant he had to. Resolve solidifying, he opened his eyes, then yelped and fell over in shock. Stefan Salvatore was standing on the window ledge, staring directly at him.
"What the hell, man?" said Jeremy, getting to his feet and opening the window. "Haven't you heard of texting?"
"Has Damon been here tonight?" said Stefan. He was somehow managing to look even graver than he usually did. "I wanted to ask Elena, but the curtains are drawn on her windows and it sounded like she was sleeping."
"Maybe," said Jeremy. "I've had my headphones on since I got home." He squinted at Stefan. The ledge wasn't very wide, and even though the window was open, his palms were still pressed flat against the air where the glass had been. So that was how an invitation barrier worked. This gave Jeremy an idea for how he could get back at Stefan for freaking him out. "You can come inside if you want," he said, smiling pleasantly. Whatever had been holding Stefan out vanished, and he promptly toppled into the room, landing in an ungraceful heap on Jeremy's floor. Within a split second, he was upright again and leveling a flat stare at Jeremy, whose smile had become a mischievous grin.
"So, why did you want to know if Damon's been here?" said Jeremy, hopping onto the end of his bed and sitting cross-legged.
"He came home furious about something and wouldn't tell me what that was about. I thought Elena might know."
Jeremy shrugged. "You should ask her in the morning."
"I probably will. Thanks." He turned back towards the window.
"Hey, before you go," said Jeremy.
Stefan paused and looked over his shoulder at him. "What?"
"Tyler Lockwood is a werewolf."
Stefan's expression turned to shock. "How?"
"I've been kinda spying on the Mayor ever since he attacked Dad," said Jeremy. "He got into a shouting match with Coach Tanner at the Grill yesterday because Tyler got kicked off the football team, and today he went to the school to try to convince Tanner to reverse his decision again. It went really bad for Tanner. Like, brain damage bad. Then the Mayor took him out into the woods at the old Lockwood estate and built a bonfire thing on top of him. He got Tyler out there, acting like he just wanted to go camping, and tricked him into lighting the fire. Tyler didn't know Coach Tanner was unconscious underneath the wood."
Stefan swore under his breath and ran a hand through his hair. "And I thought my father was an abusive asshole." He looked intently at Jeremy. "Does the Mayor know you know any of this?"
"No," said Jeremy. "I mean, he might find the recording devices, but there's no way for him to trace them back to me." And that was technically true; the "recording devices" just happened to be Agents Foxtrot, Hawkeye, and Archi. Stefan didn't need to know that. "What are we going to do?"
"Do your parents know about Tyler or Coach Tanner?"
"Not yet," said Jeremy, trying to sound sheepish. "I didn't want to get grounded for taking risks with the spying."
"I can pretend I was the one who found out. You're sure about all of this?"
"If you want to double-check, you can go find what's left of the fire. I'm sure Mayor Lockwood moved the remains to a better hiding place, but you'd be able to smell if someone'd been fire-roasting a football coach, wouldn't you?"
"Definitely." Without further ado, Stefan took off back through the open window.
Jeremy flopped backward on his mattress and reached for his phone on his desk. He spent at least five minutes staring at it before finally pulling up Anna on his contacts list. "Same time, same place tomorrow?" he typed. "He's bound to do something suspicious soon, even if he didn't today."
Friday, July 10
"So Liz'll be stopping by sometime today?" Grayson asked loudly over the sound of the shower.
Miranda turned the water off and quickly wrung out her hair. "At two-thirty," she said. She stepped out of the stall and grabbed her towel off the rack. "Will you be done with your appointments in time to make it?"
"Not if you keep giving me such a good reason to have Laura reschedule the morning ones," he said, pausing shaving so he could eye her reflection appreciatively in the mirror.
"Being responsible citizens can be so inconvenient sometimes," Miranda sighed, reluctantly wrapping the towel around herself. "And that reminds me. We got another reminder about the annual Whitmore alumni dinner tomorrow night. Are you sure you don't want to go?"
"I wouldn't feel good about going that far out of town before everything is settled with Richard."
"And you hate those parties," said Miranda, smirking. She grabbed a second towel to dry her face and arms before wrapping her hair in it.
"And I hate those parties," Grayson agreed. He paused the shaving again, now roughly at the halfway point, to look at her directly. "How are you feeling this morning?"
"Still fine," she said. It was the same question he'd asked every morning for the last few weeks. "No cramping, no bleeding." They shared a glance that didn't need words. If they were right about the timeline, then it would only be a few more days before this pregnancy would have lasted longer than any of them since Jeremy. She still didn't dare let herself feel excited or optimistic.
"Let me know how your conversation goes with Elena," said Grayson, resuming shaving.
"Of course," said Miranda, taking the towel off her hair and grabbing her brush. "I've been bracing myself for the day we caught her sneaking a boy into her room. Is it weird that I'm less worried about the deadly vampire than I was about some of Jenna's finds?"
"Considering what he did for us Tuesday night, I would say no."
Half an hour later, Grayson had left for the clinic and Miranda was busy making bacon and eggs—one dish she usually managed to get right. Sometimes she got distracted and they ended up overcooked or burned. At 8:30, Jeremy was the first to be lured downstairs by the smell of the food. He was already dressed for the day and had his schoolbag slung over his shoulder.
"Good morning," said Miranda.
"Morning," he grunted. He heaped his plate with scrambled eggs and the crispiest strips of bacon and put two slices of bread in the toaster, then set to work attempting to break a world record for how quickly he could eat it all.
"Any plans for today?" she asked him, adding two more strips of bacon and another scoop of scrambled eggs to his plate.
"Going to the library again," he said, retrieving his toast and buttering it. "There are a few more folklore books I want to check."
"It's supposed to be pretty hot today," she said, pouring him a tall glass of orange juice. "I can pick you up if you don't want to ride your bike home."
"Thanks," he said. He reached for the orange juice, then paused. "Can you put vervain in that, or does it have to be in tea?"
"If you want little shreds of vervain leaf in your OJ..."
"It's already pulpy," he said, now assembling his toast and the second helping of bacon and eggs into a sandwich. "It'll be fine."
"Okay," said Miranda. She wouldn't pass up vervain tea even if it wasn't protection against vampires. To each his own, apparently. She opened the spice cupboard. They had one jar of whole leaves and one of chopped leaves. The latter needed replenishing far less frequently. She poured a small pile of dried vervain leaf flakes into her hand and dumped them into Jeremy's OJ. He gave it a good stir and downed it in one go.
"Thanks, Mom. Breakfast was really good," he said, grabbing his backpack and the bacon and egg sandwich. "See you later."
"Don't forget to do the hand signals when you stop and turn," she said, handing him his bike helmet.
"I know, I know," he said, accepting the helmet with a grimace.
Miranda heard feet on the stairs again less than a minute after Jeremy left. "Is Jeremy gone already?" said Elena. She was still in her pajamas and sounded very groggy.
"Yeah," said Miranda. "He's going to the library."
"There's a pretty big section on local folklore. He's trying to see if they've got anything about werewolves."
"Still? That's what he was doing the last two days, too."
"I guess it's his way of coping with Vicki's death," said Miranda. She scooped up plates of bacon and eggs for both of them and sat on the stool next to Elena. "Any signs of life from Jenna's room?"
"Nope," said Elena.
They ate in a silence that was only comfortable because Elena didn't know what was coming when they were finished.
"So," said Miranda, taking her and Elena's empty plates over to the sink a few minutes later. "You had a guest last night."
She turned around to find Elena staring at her in confusion. "Someone came over last night? After I went to sleep?"
"Elena, you can stop pretending. Your father and I know Damon was in your room."
Elena only looked more confused. "What do you mean? Who's Damon?"
Miranda's eyebrows shot up. She stared at her daughter closely. Elena had never been a good liar. She always blushed guiltily and stumbled over her words. Those tells were completely absent now, and besides, feigning this level of ignorance wasn't even a lie that made sense. "Damon Salvatore," said Miranda. "Black hair, blue eyes, this tall." she held her hand up a few inches over her head. "You don't remember him?"
"Salvatore?" Elena repeated, frowning. "Is he related to Stefan and Zach?"
A feeling of dreadful suspicion washed over Miranda. "How did you get home from the bonfire in May?"
"I got a ride from someone," said Elena.
"I don't know," she said, shrugging. "Just some guy. Why are you asking me about that now?"
Again, Miranda ignored Elena's question. "How did you find out about vampires?"
"...You and Aunt Jenna told me. Mom, what's going on?"
"Why did we tell you?" said Miranda insistently.
"I don't know, you just did. I guess that was around when Stefan showed up."
"Why did you need a blood transfusion at your dad's clinic?"
"Because I...got hurt," said Elena.
"Who stopped Mayor Lockwood when he attacked us on Tuesday night?"
"Someone stopped him? I thought he just ran off after he got Dad."
Miranda suddenly realized that the kitchen smelled like smoke. She looked over at the stove. Smoke billowed from the frying pan, and the bacon and eggs that would have been Jenna's were almost completely black. She turned the stove off and brought the pan over to the garbage can to scrape out the contents into it, trying to keep the rising tide of fury she felt from showing on her face or in her movements.
"Mom?" said Elena. "Why did you ask me all that stuff?"
"No reason, sweetie," said Miranda. "Don't worry about it."
It looked like she had an errand to run.
Since Saturday, Liz had worked her way steadily through the list of Council members in her reopened investigation. The only ones left were the Lockwoods that morning, the Gilberts that afternoon, and the Salvatores tomorrow morning. She was keeping the idea of werewolves between herself and the Gilberts until she could confirm or deny it in a more substantial way than footprints in the woods, but the Council members she'd interviewed so far had been willing enough to let her examine their tire treads, compare their shoe sizes to the footprint mold, and take their fingerprints if they weren't already on file. They were less cooperative, however, when it came to the integrity of her investigation. They all seemed to think they were entitled to know everything she had learned just because they were on the Council with her, and many of them had snide little theories about who they believed to be a likely killer. She didn't have any matches for both foot size and tire tread yet, but she was so frustrated with all these people that she could scream. She did not expect the Lockwoods to make things any better.
The only other lead she had, the stone from the woods near where Vicki's body was found, was proving just as frustrating. She couldn't send it to Richmond for fingerprint analysis like she would in an ordinary case. It would be next to impossible to persuade a judge and jury that Vicki's killer had used the stone to frame vampires for the murder. No, the stone was only useful for proving to the Council who the killer was, and that the killer had attempted to trick them. Which meant that she had to do the fingerprint analysis herself, without putting it in the database. It was excruciatingly slow, tedious work.
Her suspicion that the interview with the Lockwoods would not go well was confirmed before she even got to their door. Carol had assured her that the Mayor was aware of the scheduled interview and would be available, but his car was missing from the driveway when she pulled up. He evidently believed his status in the community meant that even the Sheriff had to operate on his timetables.
Liz gave the doorknocker three sharp raps. It took about five seconds for the door to open. "Liz, hi," said Carol in that haughty-yet-gracious tone that seemed to be her default speaking voice.
"Carol," said Liz.
"Come on in," said Carol, leading the way to the sitting room. Liz spotted Tyler lurking at the top of the stairs, but he quickly ducked out of sight again when she caught his eye. "You'll have to excuse Richard. The weeks before and after major holidays are always particularly busy for the mayor's office. That won't be a problem, will it? I'm sure it's only for appearances that you're investigating us, but I won't tell the rest of the Council if you won't." She touched Liz's arm and winked on this last sentence.
"This investigation is not just for appearances," said Liz firmly. "I have to put every member of the Council under equal scrutiny, even Pastor Young, or my findings will be worthless. If the Mayor can't meet with me today, then I'll have to reschedule. I can't just skip him because of his position."
"But surely you can't suspect him of having anything to do with that girl's death?" said Carol incredulously.
"A week ago, I wouldn't have believed it possible that anyone on the Council could have had anything to do with it. But the evidence doesn't lie. Only a Council member would have tried to make Vicki's death look like the work of a vampire. I have to rule us all out before I start looking for outside suspects."
Carol let out a sigh, as though Liz was being incredibly inconvenient. "I understand," she said. "What do you need from me?"
"Just fingerprints, shoe size, and tire treads," said Liz.
"Fine. And I'll let you borrow a pair of Richard's shoes until you can meet him for the other two. Is that everything?"
"It depends," said Liz. "Have you told Tyler about the Council and vampires yet?"
"No. We aren't planning on bringing him in on any of that until he turns eighteen."
Liz nodded. That meant she didn't need to take Tyler's fingerprints and shoe size as well. "Bill and I agreed on the same thing for Caroline."
Once she'd gotten what she needed from Carol and had been provided with one-third of what she needed from Richard, it was time to leave. Carol Lockwood wasn't someone she enjoyed making small talk with. She made up some excuse about sheriff department work that needed doing. Carol, who seemed equally impatient for the end of the visit, called for Tyler to show Liz out.
The boy came skulking over from the direction of his father's office, an old leather-bound book tucked under his arm. "Whatcha got there?" Liz asked as he led her back to the entrance hall.
"Some journal one of my ancestors wrote," he said. His tone was casual, but Liz couldn't help noticing that his hand shook slightly when he reached for the doorknob.
"Is everything okay, Tyler?"
"It's fine!" he said, far too quickly. He seemed to realize it, because he ran the hand not holding the journal through his hair and added, "I mean, besides that I got kicked off the football team."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," said Liz, though she didn't buy for a second that football was the only thing on his mind.
Tyler shrugged, eyes on the floor. "I kinda deserved it. Coach was being an ass—I mean a jerk to Matt about...about his sister, but I shouldn't have lost my temper."
Liz smiled. "Caroline told me what happened. It takes a big man to admit he's made a mistake and accept the consequences for it."
Tyler ducked his head, looking embarrassed. "Thanks," he said gruffly. He opened the door.
"Take care," said Liz, giving him an affectionate pat on the shoulder. But, walking back to her cruiser, she had a bad feeling about that conversation. She didn't think Tyler had done anything wrong—other than breaking William Tanner's nose, and the wrongness of that particular action might be up for debate—but something had him scared, and her gut told her it was something connected with the investigation.
Damon had spent the entire night drinking. He'd lost count of how many bottles he went through after about the fifth one, and lost his ability to count altogether not long after that. But no matter how much he drank, he still remembered exactly why he was drinking. Elena was never supposed to see any of that. Not the little boy with a father who beat him. Not the idiot soldier who killed civilians because he panicked. Not the pathetic sap watching the woman of his dreams dance the night away with his little brother instead of him. Not the weakling who couldn't resist blood when all he wanted was to die. Not the hands that shoved Stefan headlong into the longest ripper spiral of his life. Not the coward who left his best friend to die in flames.
He'd had the whole night to be furious with Elena for what she'd seen, but he was starting to lose momentum. She had no right! But she hadn't done it on purpose. She'd gone through that door on purpose! But it was his fault she'd run off and gotten lost in the first place. The look on her face when he'd told her he couldn't just abandon his plans for Katherine...she'd been just as hurt as he had when Katherine chose Stefan to escort her to the Founders' Ball. Maybe more.
Dammit, he was supposed to be too drunk for introspection. He raised the bottle to his lips again, but it was empty. He tossed it aside. Before he could reach for the next one, someone started pounding on the front door.
"Yougongethat?" Damon yelled, his words slurring together into a single sound. There was no answer. Very fuzzily, he remembered that he and Stefan were supposed to be out compelling people for tomorrow's blood drive at some point today. The little over-achiever had probably started without him. He tried to vamp-speed down to the door, but didn't stop in time at the end of the corridor, so he crashed into the railing and tumbled head-over-heels down into the parlor, landing flat on his face. He barely felt the impact; his body was probably 20% alcohol by now. Grayson would be fascinated to see how differently the stuff affected him compared to a human. He giggled a little at the thought.
Whoever had come to the boarding house was still hammering on the door. "I'm coming!" he snapped. He figured out how to move his limbs again and heaved himself to his feet. He finally reached the door and jerked it open. Miranda Gilbert was standing on the other side. When she saw him, her features contorted in rage and she swung at him with her fist. He was seeing double, and he must've tried to dodge the wrong image, because her punch caught him directly on the nose and sent him toppling backward into the entrance hall, where his head thunked loudly and painfully against the rug. It had a somewhat sobering effect, but nowhere near what he needed. Mostly it just hurt. He dimly recalled hangovers from when he was human. They'd been about like this. He made a mental note to get a softer rug for the entryway.
"What the hell did you do to Elena's memory?" Miranda demanded.
"I erased myself from it," Damon grumbled, rolling onto his side so he could push himself up, but Miranda wasn't done with him yet. She delivered an expertly aimed kick to his ribs. He felt two of them crack, and he tumbled over again, wheezing.
"Our agreement was for you to protect her, not fiddle with her head!"
Damon mustered all the strength and coordination he currently possessed to get back to his feet, only for her to deliver another punch to his face, sending him right back down. His vision was still blurry, but he could tell just from the feel of the punch that she was wearing brass knuckles of some kind. Fantastic.
Searching for the remains of Coach Tanner had been an excellent way for Stefan to burn off some of the extra energy from human blood. Plus it kept his mind off Damon's ominous behavior. And it gave him time to think about Lexi's advice. Did he actually like Caroline, or was the blood making him want to take advantage of her interest in him? The easiest way to figure that out would be to spend more time with her. Somewhere public, just to be safe. Once he figured out if he liked her or not, he could either tell her he wasn't interested or tell her what he was and see if she was still interested in spite of it. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and sent her a text: "Do you want to meet up at the Grill this afternoon?"
He kept searching the grounds of the old Lockwood estate, not really expecting an immediate reply. He caught a whiff of smoke on the air and started moving in that direction when his phone buzzed. He pulled it out again and checked it. "Absolutely! How about 3-ish?"
"See you then," he replied. Since Damon wasn't nearby, he didn't bother to suppress the slight spring in his step as he followed the smoke smell to its source, which happened to be right where the old mansion had stood. The Mayor had clearly made an effort to cover his tracks. It looked like he'd removed all the charred wood so that he could retrieve the body underneath. That would explain the soot and flakes of charcoal scattered several yards west of the fire. Then, it seemed like he'd put everything back and lit a second fire using fresh wood, just to make sure that anything touching the body was burned beyond any recognition. By human senses, at least. The area definitely still smelled like burning flesh to Stefan.
The actual remains weren't far away. The scent led Stefan to a patch of ground that moved when he stepped on it. Based on what he remembered of the mansion, he was now right on top of the old cellar. Richard must have covered the entrance in plywood and dirt to hide it. Stefan moved all that aside easily and descended the crumbling stone steps. What he found through the sturdy door at the bottom was revealing in several ways. A large cell with thick bars took up the back half of the cellar, and its stone walls were covered in claw marks. Richard, then, was not the first Lockwood to become a werewolf. The dirt floor had recently been disturbed in two places: the back corner of the cell and the middle of the front half of the cellar. The latter patch of floor was easily big enough to conceal a body. Stefan exited the cellar quickly and replaced the plywood and dirt.
As soon as everything looked the way it had when he found it, Stefan turned and ran full-speed towards home. Hopefully this information would be enough to get Damon off his bender—or at least give him something constructive to focus on. They would need to talk to the Gilberts about the best way to bring the Mayor's second murder to the attention of the Sheriff. And what to do about Tyler.
Stefan slowed down once he was within a quarter mile of the boarding house, thinking it would probably be better to slip back inside quietly. That was when he heard shouting, punctuated frequently by what sounded like hard objects colliding with flesh.
"She's not even an adult! I guess it was stupid of us to expect you to respect the sanctity of her mind just because she trusts you!"
"What the hell, lady? Are those steel-toed boots too?"
It took Stefan about three more seconds to reach the open front door after that, where he found Miranda Gilbert whaling on his brother, who was struggling to get off the floor. Stefan thought back to the day Dr. Gilbert had shot him with a crossbow. Even though Mrs. Gilbert was fully nine inches shorter than her husband and had a fairly petite build, she was clearly the scarier of the two.
"What's going on here?" he said while Damon groaned pathetically on the floor.
Mrs. Gilbert rounded on Stefan. He took an involuntary step back at the ferocious look on her face. "Ask. Him," she said through clenched teeth. Then, without another word, she stalked past Stefan (who quickly got out of her way) and left the boarding house.
"What was she talking about?" said Stefan, turning to face his brother.
"I compelled Elena to forget ever meeting me," said Damon.
In the second it took Stefan to process what Damon had just said, it was like everything he'd ever wanted was ripped away from him all at once. He saw red, and his body seemed to move of its own accord. He let out a roar and lunged at Damon, seized him by the throat, heaved him up until his feet could no longer touch the floor, and hurled him with all of his strength. He crashed directly through the intricate wooden doorframe around the entrance to the parlor, leaving it in splinters, and smacked into the huge mantelpiece at the other end of the room. Stefan caught up with him before he could slump to the ground and began pummeling every inch of him he could reach. If he'd done this while on his usual diet, Damon would've had the upper hand in a second, but right now, Stefan could feel bones breaking under his fists with every punch.
It was only after he had reduced Damon to a contorted mass of broken limbs, blood, and bruises that Stefan was able to get his rage under control and stop raining down blows.
"What are you so angry about?" Damon panted, grimacing as his body began to heal, bones cracking back into place one by one. "A month and a half ago, you wanted me to stay away from her. There were times I thought you might even be sweet on her. Well, now's your shot."
Stefan's anger started to flood back in, but instead of attacking again, he found himself laughing. "Are you blind? I don't want a shot with her! All I wanted was for you not to blow yours! Have you not noticed how much things have changed since we came back here? Your humanity is back on for the first time in decades. You haven't killed anyone in months—and don't tell me it's only because of Dr. Gilbert's deal, because I know that only applies to the citizens of Mystic Falls. Three days ago, you risked your life to protect the entire Gilbert family, not just Elena. She's the best thing that's ever happened to you and you just threw that away!"
"Well I'm bad for her!" Damon shouted. "Katherine and I deserve each other. We're both selfish monsters. The best someone like me can do for Elena is to keep monsters away from her, and she doesn't have to know me for that."
"Then what the hell have you been doing all summer? Was this your plan? You'd spend a few months tucking her away into your memories of past decades and then leave her without any memories of you?"
"No, that wasn't my plan!"
"Well that's what you did."
Damon looked like he was about to keep yelling, but Stefan's words seemed to have finally hit their mark. He slumped back against the wall, avoiding Stefan's gaze. "Her not knowing me is better than her hating me, and that's what would've happened after what she saw last night."
Stefan couldn't remain so furious in the face of the bitter hopelessness in Damon's voice. Before he could think of something to say, though, Damon doubled over in a fit of wracking coughs. Stefan rushed to his side and helped him straighten up again. They both looked at the blood in Damon's palm. His body had finished healing from Stefan's and Mrs. Gilbert's attacks; this was something else.
"The symptoms are back?" said Stefan.
"Looks like," said Damon, right before his knees buckled.
As soon as her mom left the house after that extremely weird line of questioning, Elena went straight back up to her room and retrieved her diary from its hiding place. She could remember all of the events her mom asked about, but the harder she thought about them, the less they made sense to her. And she still had no idea who Damon Salvatore was. She flipped back in her journal until she found the heading for Saturday, May 23, then started reading.
Today was pretty crazy. I'm still trying to figure out what to do about Matt. Caroline says I just need to sleep with him and that'll fix everything, and Bonnie says I need to tell him that I don't feel the same way he does.
Feeling impatient, Elena skipped down a couple of paragraphs until she got to the end of the bonfire.
So after pretty much making a huge scene with the fight, I ditched the party. I tried to call Mom for a ride, but my phone was dead. And then I ran into this guy on the street. His name is Damon Salvatore, and he might just be the most beautiful man I've ever seen.
Elena frowned. She had no memory of writing this. She tried as hard as she could to picture the face of the guy who'd given her a ride home that night, but she got nothing. What was going on? She kept reading, determined to get to the bottom of this.
Grayson had barely finished his appointment with the third patient of the day when the Salvatores showed up at his clinic. Luckily, he'd finished the appointment early, so he had a few minutes to spare before the next one. "You're back two days earlier than my projections," he said, frowning. "Are you sure the symptoms have already started up again?"
Damon began coughing, and had to steady himself on the doorframe.
Grayson raised his eyebrows. "I'll take that as a yes."
"Apparently if he has to heal a lot, it comes back faster," said Stefan.
"Miranda called half an hour ago and told me she did a number on you—and why, but that shouldn't have been enough to—"
"It wasn't," said Damon.
"After Mrs. Gilbert left," said Stefan, "I might've...broken most of the bones she managed to leave intact." He looked rather sheepish about it.
"Oh," said Grayson. "Well, forcing his body to heal from something like that would definitely speed up the attack cells, but it shouldn't super-charge them the same way ingesting blood does. It could even make it easier to flush the rest of the them out faster. You might consider doing that on a regular basis."
"What?" said Damon indignantly. "I'm not allowed to drink blood and now you're prescribing regular beatings? How exactly have you never been sued for malpractice?"
"Well, this would be the first time one of my patients has altered my daughter's memories, so it hasn't really been an issue before," said Grayson. He felt that Miranda had expressed enough anger over Damon's actions for both of them, but that didn't mean he'd forgiven him. "Let's get the treatment set up." He stood and led the way to the lab. "I should have enough of the reconstituted blood Meredith brought, but that's all I've got until the blood drive tomorrow."
"We didn't just come here for the treatment, Dr. Gilbert," said Stefan.
"We didn't?" said Damon.
"Richard Lockwood killed someone else yesterday."
"What!?" said Grayson and Damon in unison.
Stefan went on to tell them about Richard's quarrel with Coach Tanner, and how he had carefully ensured that Tyler was the one to finish Tanner off. By the end of his explanation, Grayson's hands were shaking with anger, which made it slightly difficult to aim the needle he was sticking into Damon's arm. Grayson and Richard had always been enemies, but even though Richard had killed him three days ago, he still wouldn't have believed the man capable of tricking his own son into becoming a monster.
"Damn, that almost makes me miss Dad," said Damon, scowling.
"Yeah," said Stefan.
Damon glanced up at Grayson. "Still want to use the law to take this guy down? I don't need to know how to kill werewolves; as soon as we're done here, I could cut his head off, rip his heart out—just keep pulling bits off until he stays down."
"Tempting, but no," said Grayson. "He's still the Mayor and the head of the Council. The town needs to believe he's a killer before we can deal with him as a werewolf without getting in a world of trouble for it."
"Well, as long as it's tempting," said Damon, scowl still in place.
"What about Tyler?" said Stefan.
"I don't know," said Grayson. "He's innocent, but we need to learn more about werewolves before we do anything. Ideally, we can get him to side against Richard. It might be useful to have a werewolf on our side."
"Our side?" said Damon. "Then you're not voting me off the island? That's fine, but I might have to take out a restraining order against Mama Bear."
Grayson closed his eyes and breathed out through his nose. "Stefan, could you go up to my office and retrieve the spiral notebook on my desk?" he said once he was sure he could remain calm. "It has all my notes about Damon's procedure. Feel free to take your time."
Once Stefan was out of the lab, Grayson fixed Damon with a very stern gaze. "Would you mind telling me what possessed you to erase Elena's memories?"
"What does it matter?" said Damon, not looking at him.
"She's my daughter. It matters a great deal."
"So you'd prefer her to be pining after a mass-murdering vampire over having a few holes in her memory?" Damon snapped.
"Neither," said Grayson. "But I can't control what she feels and you have no right to control what she thinks. If this was just your way of not having to disappoint her when you leave town—"
"It wasn't," said Damon shortly.
Grayson clenched his jaw. According to his watch, he needed to get back upstairs for his next appointment. "This conversation isn't over," he said, and moved towards the door. He met Stefan in the file room outside the lab. "You remember what to do?"
"Keep the saline going until the other line runs mostly clear, then switch it out with units of my blood," said Stefan. "Take samples to check under the microscope every hour or so. Let you know if anything unexpected happens."
"Good man," said Grayson. "I'm going to have to head home around 2:30 for the appointment Miranda, Jenna, and I have with the Sheriff. I'll come back down to see how things are going before I leave. Your lunch is in that freezer over there." He pointed towards the back of the room. "See if you can limit yourself to just the ones that say 'reconstituted whole blood' on them, okay? The red blood cell packets are for patient transfusions."
Stefan swallowed. "Yes, sir."
Jeremy had arrived at the library long before Anna this time, and he was sitting in the same spot in the Young Adult section when she found him. "So," she said, plopping into the opposite chair, "ready for round two of surveillance?"
If he hadn't listened to the recording, he probably wouldn't have picked up on the signs of her nervousness. Her voice had a hint of shrillness to it, and she was tugging at the necklace she wore, not looking directly at him.
He sighed, deciding to cut directly to the chase. "I'm on vervain again."
Her eyes snapped to his and she jumped to her feet faster than he could blink. "What?"
He stood up too, hands in his pockets. "I know you compelled me." He said it calmly, without malice.
She seemed to shrink as his words sank in. "How?" she said, looking down.
"I had a recording device on me."
"Smart," she said. "How come you're not mad at me?"
"Because I think I get it," he said, shrugging. "Your mom's one of the vampires in that tomb my parents are helping the Salvatores open, isn't she? You've been waiting a century and a half to get her back, and you don't want to take even the tiniest risk now that you're this close."
"Well I guess I've blown it anyway, because you weren't supposed to find out about that either." She sounded like she might cry.
"Why not?" said Jeremy. "Did you think I'd be less likely to side with you if I knew you were trying to rescue your mom? Because that sounds like a pretty good goal to have. She's not a psycho or anything, is she?"
"No!" said Anna. "She's good. She did what she had to do to keep the two of us safe, but all she ever wanted was for us to be a part of a normal community. She could've used compulsion to have anything she wanted, but instead she ran a freaking apothecary in small town Virginia!" A couple of tears leaked out then, and she brushed them away impatiently. "Everything was going great for us until the Lockwoods started all the hysteria over vampires to cover their own asses. It might still have worked out, if not for Johnathan Gilbert. Mama was in love with him, and even though he returned her feelings, I watched him vervain her, strap a muzzle on her face, and drag her away without hesitation when he found out what she was. And then he had the nerve to claim our shop as his own property. It's the building your dad uses as his doctor's office now."
"So you didn't want to trust me because I'm a Gilbert, and you didn't want to help Tyler because he's a Lockwood," said Jeremy. He was definitely starting to feel a little angry now. "We're not our ancestors, Anna."
"You're lecturing me about trust when you brought a recording device yesterday?"
"Considering that you did actually violate my trust, you don't really have the right to get mad at me for taking precautions against that possibility. Besides, I wanted you to prove me wrong."
"I guess you've already told your family about me, then."
"Nope," said Jeremy, folding his arms across his chest. "All I did was give Stefan a heads up about what the Mayor did to Tyler and Coach Tanner."
Anna looked up at him, gaze flicking from one eye to the other. She gave a smile that looked more like a grimace and shook her head. "The reason I invited you here to spy on the Mayor with me was that I wanted you off the vervain so I could compel you into spying on your family for me."
"How come you didn't?"
"I couldn't do it." She tossed her head back with a bitter chuckle. "I've spent a century and a half planning and preparing to get my mother back, and less than a week after I meet you—a descendant of the man who got us into this mess in the first place—I already like you too much to use you like that."
Jeremy gave a bitter smile of his own, his insides twisting unpleasantly. "Even though it's been less than two weeks since the girl I've liked for years was killed and I feel like I'm betraying her for this..." He met Anna's eyes and forced himself to finish the sentence. "...I like you too."
She stared at him. She looked incredibly vulnerable, like a regular teenage kid. But her eyes looked so tired. He could almost see all those years she'd spent alone, missing her mom. He took a step forward and pulled her into his arms. She made a little squeaking noise at first, her posture rigid, but then gradually melted into the embrace until she was hugging him back so tightly it almost hurt. All the disappointment and anger he'd been feeling gave way to a mixture of happiness and fierce determination. He would help her.
"You don't have to do everything alone, Anna," he said, pressing his cheek into her dark, silky hair. "I might not be my ancestor, but I can fix his mistakes."
"How?" she asked, pulling away enough to look at his face.
"Let me tell my parents about you and your mom," he said. When she inhaled sharply and started to take a step back, he held onto her shoulders. "They're already helping the Salvatores, but I think you have a better reason to want the tomb open than Damon. They'll hear you out. Especially if you offer to tell them what you know about werewolves, because I haven't shared that with them yet."
She bit her lip, her hands resting on his arms just below his wrists. "How do I know this won't turn out like it did in 1865?"
Happy feelings increasing, he gave her a lopsided grin. "Because I wasn't around back then."
Elena climbed out of her car and looked up at the Salvatore boarding house. According to her diary, she'd been here many times since May. According to her memories, she'd only been a couple times, but she didn't even know why she'd come. On the first occasion, she'd nearly been strangled by Stefan, who thought she was Katherine. Apparently Damon had been the one who saved her. The other time, she'd shown Stefan a letter his mother had written, but she couldn't even remember what the letter had been about, and again had to rely on her diary to fill in the blanks.
She went up to the door, then hesitated. She didn't know why she felt so nervous. She should be marching straight inside and demanding to see Damon so he could fix her memories. Unless it was Stefan who had erased her memories. She didn't think he would do that, but he had tried to compel her once before. She had no way of knowing without more information. Maybe she was nervous because the missing memories felt more like a story about someone else's life, and marching in and making demands would be like intruding where she hadn't been invited.
She'd read every entry in her diary and every text in her phone, but it was like it was all just beyond her grasp. Assuming it had been Damon, why had he done it? Their text conversations were full of playful banter and the journal entries recounting all the dreams of different decades sounded nothing short of magical. Most startling had been the entries about letting him drink her blood, and how much she'd liked it the second time. She had clearly trusted him deeply, so how could he do this to her?
Mustering her courage, she knocked. And waited. No one answered. Well, Stefan and Damon were both vampires, so if they were home, they would've heard her. So she tried the knob. It turned. She pushed the door open and stepped inside. The first thing she noticed was the shattered frame on the wide doorway to the parlor.
Before she could investigate more closely, there was a loud cawing noise behind her. She jumped and spun around. A large raven was perching on the open door. "Shoo!" she said, waving her hand at it. It turned its head to stare at her and croaked in a way that suggested she had mortally offended it. She paused. Something else from her diary clicked into place. "Are you Edgar?" she said hesitantly.
The raven gave a much happier-sounding croak, then fluttered down towards her. She flinched, but he landed very gently on her shoulder, where he ruffled his feathers and gave off an air of utter contentment. She smiled and reached up to stroke the feathery beard beneath his beak. "I'm sorry I don't remember you," she said. "If it's Damon's fault, you should peck him on the head a few times for me, okay?"
Edgar croaked very seriously. Her phone buzzed then, making her jump again, almost hard enough to dislodge Edgar, which made him squawk and flutter his wings in alarm. She stroked him some more to help him settle down, then checked her phone. It was a text from Caroline.
"Second date happening this afternoon! I hope you've got $50 on hand, because you are definitely losing this bet. :P"
"Bet?" said Elena. "This memory loss thing is getting seriously annoying, Edgar." He bobbed his head. "Want to help me try and jog it?" He gave an enthusiastic croak. She turned back around to face the interior of the boarding house, feeling heartened.
Stefan was about to switch the third unit of his blood onto Damon's PIC line when his phone buzzed. He finished what he was doing, then checked it. Another text from Caroline. "It's 3:07. Where are you?"
"Crap!" he said. After everything that had happened today, he'd completely forgotten about his plans to meet her. "Sorry," he wrote back. "I'll be there in a few minutes." He was pretty sure the third unit of blood was the one when Damon had regained consciousness the last two times, so it would probably be fine if Stefan left. He grabbed a Post-It and scribbled a hasty note for Damon, which he stuck to Damon's shirt. He made sure the cooler containing the remaining units of blood he'd drawn from his arm was within easy reach of the exam table, then left the lab.
On his way out, the freezer at the back of the files room caught his eye, but he resolutely turned his head to look at the stairs. He'd succeeded, with difficulty, in leaving the units of red blood cells behind like Dr. Gilbert asked. He wasn't going to slip up now.
There were a few people at the Grill—not enough to overwhelm him with the number of beating hearts, but enough that there were plenty of witnesses. He found Caroline chalking up a pool cue, the balls set up for a game. When she saw him, she beamed. "Hey there!" she said, trotting up to him, grabbing his hand, and tugging him over to the pool table. "You had me worried for a minute."
"I'm sorry about that. Damon's still sick, and he's not being a very fun patient."
"But you guys live at that amazing vintage boarding house, so can't you just have the maid take care of him, or take him to the hospital?"
"He hates hospitals, and the maid quit a couple months ago."
"Really? The two of you have been keeping it that spotless this whole time?"
"I barely need to do any of it, actually. Damon's a neat-freak."
"Oh? Well then how do you spend most of your time?" she asked, handing him a pool cue, then moving over to make the opening break shot.
"I read," said Stefan. "I go hunting. I've traveled a lot."
"Where? I've been to Florida, California, and France on trips with my dad."
"Let's see," said Stefan, aiming the cue ball at a solid near a corner pocket and making his shot. It went in. He tried to figure out a realistic amount of traveling a seventeen-year-old could have accomplished. "I've been to all fifty states, a few countries in Europe...Canada, and Mexico."
"Wow," said Caroline, eyes wide. "What was your favorite?"
"Italy," said Stefan, making his second shot (which he deliberately missed). "Hands down."
"What's it like?"
"It's amazing," said Stefan. "Tuscan villas, Venetian gondolas, open air markets, cobblestone streets, Renaissance paintings and sculptures, and thousands of years of history." She looked completely enraptured by his words. He smiled. "What did you like about France?"
Hoping to avoid his dad for as long as possible, Tyler had taken George Lockwood's journal with him to the Grill shortly after Sheriff Forbes left his house. His dad had been freaking scary lately, and he didn't want him to know that he was actually doing the reading assignment he'd given him. He'd found the shadowiest booth, ordered bottomless fries, and read for hours straight. The old-fashioned cursive script became easier to decipher the longer he read, and the words more and more unnerving. It couldn't be true, could it? Werewolves didn't exist. And yet what he'd felt the day before when he was in that creepy-ass cellar...it was exactly like George's description. And he'd seen those claw marks with his own eyes. And even though he'd been in a completely different part of the house from his mom and the Sheriff, he'd been able to hear every word they spoke as clearly as if they were right next to him. Which still didn't help him understand why they would've mentioned vampires while talking about Vicki's death.
The most unsettling part of the entire journal was what George had written about how he became a werewolf. It happened after he killed his first Union soldier in the war, and George was sure the man's death had been the trigger. Vicki was dead, and Tyler had very strong suspicions about how that had happened. If he was right, then his dad was a werewolf. But what about him? He hadn't killed anyone. He remembered the way that campfire had smelled yesterday and suddenly felt like he might be sick. His dad had really wanted him to light that fire.
No way. It couldn't be true.
He was pulled from his increasingly horrifying reverie by a familiar voice. He glanced up for the first time in a while. The restaurant was far emptier than it had been when he'd arrived, but he saw Caroline Forbes and that new guy over at the pool table. It was the guy's voice that had caught his attention. Why, though? He remembered him from the 4th of July party, but they hadn't spoken. He squinted, trying to figure out what bothered him so much about the dude. Suddenly, an image flashed across his mind. It was the new guy's face, inches away from Tyler's. The whites of his eyes turned red, with dark veins writhing up his cheeks and eyelids, and his teeth went long and sharp. "I'm a vampire," he said. "And it's been a long time since I killed a human, but I used to be very good at it, so if you don't tell me what I want to know..."
"What the hell was that?" Tyler muttered. There was no way that had been real. First werewolves, now vampires? Had his mom and the Sheriff been talking about actual vampires? He glanced at the new guy again, and his stomach twisted. He was looking directly at him, eyes narrowed. But maybe Tyler had imagined that too, because the next second, Caroline had stood on her tiptoes to whisper in the guy's ear. He grinned, and then she pulled him towards the short corridor that led to the bathrooms.
Tyler dropped some money on his table and left the Grill. He needed to go for a long drive or a hike or something.
"Why, Mr. Salvatore, I'm surprised at you," said Caroline breathlessly.
"Why's that?" said Stefan, though he was much more interested in kissing his way down her neck—and maybe having a nibble at that vein pulsing there so alluringly—than he was in talking right now.
"Elena told me I needed to go slow because you're the old-fashioned gentleman type. This is so much more fun."
Stefan froze, his mind clearing. This was the blood, not him. Their conversation had been going really well, and then she'd straight-up asked him if he wanted to go somewhere quieter and make out. All he'd been able to focus on when she said it was the sound of her heartbeat and the scent of her blood, and the next thing he knew, they were all over each other right next to the ladies' room door. He had to stay in control. He pulled away from her.
"What's wrong?" she said, pouting.
"Look, Caroline, I...uh," he began awkwardly. When he saw her face fall, plainly anticipating a rejection, he blurted out, "I think I like you."
She looked nonplussed. "You think? Gee, thanks."
"I didn't mean it like—" Stefan cut himself off with a grimace, remembering his conversation with Lexi. "What I mean is, you're beautiful and you're like a force of nature in the way you tackle projects and go after what you want, but I want to take a little more time getting to know you before anything happens here."
"Oh," she said, a surprised little smile spreading over her face. She really was beautiful. "Um. I can do that."
"There are also some things you should know about me, and if you change your mind about dating me, I won't blame you."
"What, you don't have herpes or something do you?" said Caroline, making a face.
"No!" said Stefan. "It's not a disease, I promise. Can we meet tomorrow, somewhere we won't be overheard?"
"Ooh," she said, her blue eyes flashing with curiosity. "How mysterious."
Elena was about ready to cry with frustration by the time she got back home. She'd wandered all through the boarding house, matching rooms to scenes from her diary. The memories still wouldn't come back. She managed to slip upstairs to her room unnoticed because her parents and aunt were all in the living room, talking to Sheriff Forbes. On any other day, she would've been very keen to hear their discussion, but she was a bit preoccupied today.
She was not going to give up. That much she'd decided. But she no longer felt that the best approach was confronting Damon and demanding he fix her memories. He was still essentially a stranger to her, and the diary entries obviously didn't come close enough to the present to tell her why he would've done something like that. No, she had a plan. If it worked, her memory would be fully intact very soon. She poked her head into Jeremy's room through the bathroom. He wasn't back from the library yet. Still, she locked both doors to her room and made sure her windows were closed with the blinds and curtains drawn. Then she pulled out her phone and called Bonnie.
When Damon regained consciousness after his third "comprehensive blood replacement therapy" session, he found himself alone in Grayson's lab with a Post-It note stuck to his shirt. He pulled it off and squinted at it. Getting his blood drained and replaced with Stefan's alcohol-free blood had left him completely sober, but he still felt cold and tingly—not to mention extremely hungry. He found out why after he read the note.
Something came up, so I had to leave early. All you have to do to finish up is swap out the rest of the units of my blood from the blue cooler onto the other end of your PIC line.
"'Something came up,'" Damon repeated mockingly. "Something with blonde hair and a cheerleading uniform." He found the blue cooler right next to the exam table and set about swapping a new one onto his PIC line, which was difficult because his fingers barely had enough blood in them to move yet.
The process was incredibly slow. He hadn't noticed the other two times because he'd had company. Still, he had to admit that Grayson's cure for incurable werewolf toxin was pretty brilliant. As creepy as it was to be turned into an inanimate water balloon on a regular basis, he could tell that it was working. Each time, it kept his symptoms at bay twice as long (or, at least, it had been on track for that until Miranda and Stefan beat the tar out of him), and every time they came back, it was with less intensity than before. Grayson had been keeping meticulous notes of everything that happened, and by his estimation, Damon wouldn't need the full treatment again for nearly a week. In the meantime, he and Stefan just needed to come in every day so Damon could get a couple of units of Stefan's blood transfused into him to keep his levels normal. After the blood drive tomorrow, they'd have a big enough blood supply on hand to carry them through until he was fully cured.
But still, the longer the treatment went on, the more aggravating it was that he wasn't allowed to drink any blood for himself, especially now. Stefan was apparently staying well fed enough for the both of them, and Damon didn't feel as though he hadn't fed in four days, but his fangs ached for something to sink into.
He decided he could stick it to Grayson for that mandate by making him regret giving him free reign of the drinks machine, so he wandered upstairs to the break room, where he bought a V-8. At least it was close to the same color as what he wanted to drink, and it claimed to be a great source of iron. He grabbed a Post-It off the pad on the counter and wrote "Damon's drink tab" across the top, then "V-8: $1.25" below that. Next to this, he drew one tally mark. He was about to stick the note to the glass front of the drinks machine when he noticed something in the reflection. A diploma in a frame.
He turned around to look at the diploma hanging on the wall next to the door, and his insides seemed to turn back into cold saltwater. Across the top in fancy script with gold leafing was the name of the university from which Grayson Gilbert had earned his medical degree. Whitmore College. In a single, horrifying instant, all the unsettling vibes he'd ever gotten from Grayson, not to mention from his freaking secret lab, suddenly coalesced into understanding. It would appear that he hadn't been as thorough at eradicating the Augustine Society as he'd thought.
He heard a car door open and close in the lot behind the clinic. It was Grayson coming back to do the post-procedure tests. Damon waited, listening closely. As soon as Grayson's footsteps reached what sounded like the patch of floor at the top of the stairs to the basement, Damon vamp-sped behind him and struck him across the back of the head. He tumbled all the way down the wooden stairs and landed sprawled at the bottom, unconscious.
Damon slowly descended the steps after him, keeping his eyes on him the whole way down. How many more Gilberts were going to betray his trust?
Grayson opened his eyes slowly. The back of his head was throbbing with such intense pain that nausea rolled through him, and the rest of his body ached. His surroundings gradually came into focus. He was in his lab. When he tried to move, he discovered that he was strapped tightly to the exam table. How the hell had he gotten here? He tried to think through the pain in his head. He remembered getting back to the clinic after the meeting with Liz about the investigation, and then nothing.
"Is somebody out there?" he called loudly.
The lab door suddenly opened with an ominous metallic squeal, and Damon walked inside, his gaze locking with Grayson's. His expression was ice-cold, and he gave off an aura of barely concealed fury.
Grayson held Damon's gaze. "Want to tell me why I'm tied up in my own lab?" he asked.
Damon didn't answer. He simply reached out and set something on the stainless steel tray on the cart next to the exam table. Grayson's stomach contracted. It was the Gilbert ring. His eyes darted to his right hand. The ring was gone from his finger. The first stirrings of fear swirled up in his guts. He swallowed, trying to get it under control, and looked back up at Damon. "Is my family safe?" he said.
"I'm guessing they're at home, getting ready for dinner," said Damon. "They aren't the ones I need to have a chat with, and no matter how this conversation ends, I swear no harm will come to them."
"If you wanted to talk to me about something, why couldn't you just ask me about it during one of the blood replacement sessions?"
"I wasn't aware of the problem until a few minutes ago," said Damon. "And it's not something I want to discuss with my brother in earshot, especially not while I'm lying incapacitated on an exam table exactly like the one I was cut open on a thousand times." Damon's hands clenched into fists and he bared his teeth as he reached the end of this sentence.
Grayson's eyes widened. "How did you find out?" he said.
"You weren't as sneaky as you thought," said Damon. "A Whitmore diploma on your wall and a secret lab custom equipped for holding and experimenting on vampires?" he gestured at their surroundings. "One plus one equals...Augustine."
"Are you going to kill me like you've killed most of the Whitmore family?" said Grayson.
"I might," Damon growled. "But seeing as you're the reason I'm not currently dead of a werewolf bite, I'm willing to hear you out before I make my decision. You're going to tell me everything."
Yep. More cliffhangers. :) Tyler is starting to figure stuff out, Jeremy is about to try inducting Anna into Team Gilbert/Salvatore, Elena has a plan to get her memories back that involves Bonnie somehow, blood-crazy Stefan and boy-crazy Caroline are planning an ill-advised secluded meet-up so that Stefan can tell her what he is, and the big one: Damon might kill Grayson permanently if he doesn't give him an extremely good reason not to. Fun! Okay, non-cliffhanger stuff about the chapter. Lexi! Seemed like a good time to get her involved, even if only from a distance. No, she absolutely would not have given Stefan that kind of dating advice had she known he was freshly on human blood. Whoops. More Miranda! One of my two original purposes in writing this fic was to explore how Grayson and Miranda Gilbert not dying would impact the story, but I've been spending way more time on Grayson than Miranda (because I freaking love him and him being a doctor makes it easier to include him in the story more). Miranda deserves love too, so I decided to let her demonstrate exactly what she meant several chapters ago when she told Elena that she's always been better at melee combat than Grayson. Bahaha. Poor Damon (but he kinda deserved it). Also, I'm happier with the title of this chapter than I expected to be, because there's not just one character experiencing memory weirdness, there are three! Elena, Jeremy, and Tyler. Boom!