I should probably not assume any chapter will be easy to write before I've actually started writing it, because I think I jinxed myself by saying that. This one didn't give me the kind of trouble the last one did, where the characters wouldn't cooperate because I was foolishly trying to force them to do something uncharacteristic. No, for this one, I just had Writer's Block. And it didn't help that I randomly felt compelled to rewatch/catch up on Game of Thrones, a project that consumed all of my free time for two straight weeks. So yeah, this one is a couple of weeks late, but here it is. Enjoy! (And please note the shameless Bones-style chapter title, since we'll be dealing with a horrific burnt corpse.)
Bonnie had enjoyed the first hour or two of the party. She, Elena, and Caroline had a lot of fun playing water volleyball in the lake with the rest of the cheerleading squad and a bunch of guys from the football team, and when they'd had enough of that, they'd joined in with the dancing crowd, though Bonnie had stuck closer to the lake just to make sure nobody was being stupid in the water.
But then, not long after it got dark enough for the lights to go on, Bonnie started to get one of those bad feelings she couldn't shake, like when she'd been sure something awful had happened when Damon didn't show up to take Elena to the Whitmore swing ball, or when she'd touched Matt and had a vision of a werewolf standing over his sister's body.
She lost the rhythm of the dance and stared at the crowd. In one direction, she could see Caroline leading Stefan by the hand out of the clearing full of dancing people. She rolled her eyes. So much for Caroline's plan to take things slow with him. She heard a shriek from the opposite direction and spun around in alarm, but the only thing happening there was that Matt had apparently tripped and spilled beer all over Dana. Bonnie was about to disregard this when someone moved in the direction of the beer coolers, giving her a clear view of Elena dragging Damon off into the forest.
Despite the fact that she'd been determined to keep Damon away from Elena if he tried anything she didn't like, Bonnie hesitated rather than going after them. Judging from the brief glimpse she'd caught of Elena's face, she looked more furious than Bonnie had ever seen her. Elena probably didn't need help. She turned back to face the spot where Caroline and Stefan had vanished instead, and the bad feeling intensified. Allowing that feeling to guide her, she wended her way through her dancing classmates to the edge of the clearing.
Away from the party, the fireflies had started to come out. This time of year was peak firefly season in Virginia. Soon there would be thousands of them strobing among the trees. Fireflies had been magical to Bonnie since long before she knew magic was real, but she didn't allow herself a moment to enjoy them now. She kept walking until the trees had blocked out the light (though not much of the sound) of the party. The feeling in her guts tugged her slightly to one direction, and she adjusted her path.
After a few more seconds, she heard what was definitely the sound of Caroline giggling. "Oops! I guess I should've seen that coming. Next time, I'm choosing practicality over a romantic gesture."
Heat flooded into Bonnie's face. Whatever that was about didn't sound like something she wanted to interrupt. Mortification eclipsing foreboding, she turned and began to creep back in the direction of the party, hoping they wouldn't hear her.
Bonnie probably wouldn't have heard Caroline's scream if she'd been any closer to the party, because the music still pounded and people were suddenly screaming in that direction too. She doubled back and ran in the direction of Caroline's voice, nearly tripping over a tree root in her haste to find her friend in the firefly-dotted darkness.
The next tree she rounded revealed a horrific sight. Stefan had Caroline pinned against one of the larger trees in this part of the forest, and his head was bent over her neck. Bonnie couldn't see precisely what he was doing, but blood was smeared beneath Caroline's jaw, and Stefan was making grotesque slurping sounds as Caroline screamed and struggled.
It only took Bonnie a second to process all of this before she lifted one hand to clutch Emily's crystal and the other to extend towards Stefan. A rush of power shot down her arm, and she could almost feel the blood vessels beginning to pop in his brain. He immediately released Caroline with a strangled yell, his hands flying to his head. Bonnie increased the strength of the spell ruthlessly, bursting vessels far faster than he could heal them, and he fell to his knees screaming. Caroline slid to the ground, her back against the tree, both hands pressed tightly over her ravaged neck, though blood still poured between her fingers. Her skin was chalk-white where it wasn't spattered with crimson. She gasped for breaths that sounded more like sobs, and her eyes were frozen wide, staring at the writhing vampire before her.
Before Bonnie could make a single move or even formulate a thought about how to help Caroline now, a dark-haired girl appeared out of nowhere. Anna. Bonnie had met her briefly at the beginning of the party. "I heard the scream," she said. She winced as she looked at Caroline.
"Can you help her?" said Bonnie, keeping her spell trained on Stefan, whose movements and cries had grown feeble.
In reply, Anna sank her fangs into her own wrist, then bent down and held the bleeding skin to Caroline's mouth. Caroline made a faint confused noise before apparently forgetting what was so weird about the situation and sucking on the wound in earnest. Color returned to her face as she drank. Anna pulled her arm back, and Caroline peeled her own fingers away from what had been the grisly wound on her neck. It had healed, though she was still covered in blood.
"I want to go home," she said, in the smallest voice Bonnie had ever heard Caroline use. With Stefan now unconscious, Bonnie ran to Caroline and flung her arms around her. Caroline hugged her back, her body heaving with wrenching sobs.
Bonnie looked up at Anna over Caroline's shoulder. "Thank you."
Anna nodded. She cocked her head in the direction of the party, which made Bonnie notice for the first time that the music had stopped. "They're calling the police over those remains now. You should get her out of here. I'll take care of Stefan."
Enzo deliberately walking between Damon and Elena, the three of them headed back to the party to investigate the sounds of screaming. A couple seconds after they reached the main clearing, someone switched off the music. Many of the partiers now seemed confused and afraid.
"What's going on?" said Matt.
"We found something down in that cellar," said Amber, who was clutching Jake Miller's hand. Both of them were extremely pale and wide-eyed. "I think it was a dead body."
"Someone call the cops!"
"What are you talking about? We'll all get arrested for drinking!"
"We can't just not call the cops about a dead body!"
"We could leave and then send in an anonymous tip!"
"Too late, I'm already calling them."
"Let's get this beer out of here before they show up!"
Elena frowned. This was all going according to plan, but she'd just realized that she couldn't see Bonnie, Caroline, Stefan, Anna, or Jeremy in the crowd. With the exception of Caroline, all of them were meant to be helping make sure someone (who wasn't them) called the police. She looked over at Enzo and Damon to see if they'd noticed too, and found them both staring in the direction of the woods on the opposite side of the clearing with alarming intensity. "What's wrong?" she asked.
Before either of them could answer, someone tapped her shoulder. It was Jeremy. "Elena, I think something bad happened. Anna said she smelled blood and heard screaming all of a sudden, and she took off."
"Shit," said Damon. "Stefan." Elena barely had time to look around at him before he vanished.
"Where did he go?" said Elena, now very frightened. Had something horrible happened to one of her friends or someone else at the party? And what had Damon meant? Was Stefan in trouble, or had he caused the trouble? "What's going on?"
"Come on," said Enzo. He began heading around the perimeter of the clearing while everyone in it continued to clamor over what to do about the body in the cellar.
Jeremy made to go with Elena and Enzo, but Elena put a hand on his arm. "You should stick with Tyler," she said. "Whatever happened, Anna and I can tell you about it later." He looked a little grumpy about that idea, but nodded.
"Are you sure you want to see this?" said Enzo after Jeremy had rejoined the crowd. "The work of a ripper isn't a sight a tender-hearted young lady should have to witness."
"I have to make sure Caroline's okay," said Elena. She thought about all the chances she'd had to discourage Caroline from pursuing Stefan. Chances she hadn't taken. "I knew what Stefan was and she didn't until two days ago. If he hurt her, it's my fault."
"If he only hurt her, then she's a very lucky girl," said Enzo. "But it's no one's fault but his and whatever sick whim of fate made him a ripper."
Damon was a little surprised (and a lot relieved) to find no decapitated corpses when he reached Stefan. There was only the lingering scent of blood and Anna standing above his limp form with her arms crossed.
"What happened?" he demanded.
"Stefan attacked that girl, Caroline. I got here fast, but I probably would've been too late if the Bennett girl hadn't already been knocking him out with some spell."
Damon made a mental note to send Bonnie Bennett an obnoxiously large gift basket.
"Did you know about him and Caroline?" said Anna, just as Damon bent to pick Stefan up so he could take him back to the boarding house.
"Would've been hard to miss," he said. "She wasn't being very subtle about it."
"You knew he was a ripper on human blood for the first time in decades and you let him get that close to a human? I've always thought you two were idiots, but damn. You might as well toss a starving weasel into a henhouse."
"Back the hell off," said Damon.
"Only if you do a better job of keeping him in check from now on. It's not just his and your safety he's putting at risk anymore. It's the Gilberts and everyone else working with them too."
The wind changed, and Damon noticed for the first time that she smelled like Jeremy Gilbert. What was happening? Enzo had a date on Thursday, Stefan had been doing pretty well with Blondie until a few minutes ago, and now even the little brat was having delusions of young love with Baby Gilbert? He sneered. "You think Stefan and I are a bigger threat to them than you are?"
"Any reason I shouldn't? You certainly weren't much help in 1865."
Damon's sneer became a scowl. He tossed Stefan over his back in a fireman's carry and left for the boarding house.
Bonnie was helping Caroline clean off at the edge of the lake, since it would've been a pretty big gamble to try to get home covered in her own blood without anyone noticing. She hadn't stopped crying yet, although the sobs were beginning to subside into sniffles.
"Caroline!" came Elena's voice from behind them. Caroline didn't react, she just continued to scrub vigorously at her neck and shoulder with lake water. Bonnie turned to see Elena approaching with a very attractive guy who appeared to be in his mid-twenties. She hadn't met him yet, but she'd seen him arrive with Damon, and Elena had told her and Caroline that he was Enzo, a good vampire whose rescue from a creepy lab was the reason Damon and Elena's parents and aunt had gone out of town Saturday evening.
Elena rushed to Caroline's side. "Oh my God, are you okay?"
"I'm fine," said Caroline in that same tremulous voice from before. "I'm fine." She kept saying it, and Elena put a hand on her shoulder. Caroline glanced up, saw Enzo, and recoiled. "You're the other vampire," she accused.
"Just 'Enzo' is fine," he said in a husky, English-accented voice. "I'm not going to hurt you."
"Neither was Stefan," said Caroline.
"Fortunately for everyone, his self-control problems are fairly uncommon."
"Just go." Caroline turned to Bonnie. "Where's Anna?"
"She's making sure Damon takes Stefan home before anything else can happen."
Enzo looked around at Elena and Bonnie. Elena gave him an apologetic look. Bonnie's expression was grimmer, but not hostile. With a slight rush of wind, Anna appeared. "Damon took Stefan home," she said, eyes on Enzo. "You should make sure things go according to plan at the party."
"My pleasure," said Enzo. "I'll see you later, Elena."
"Come on," said Elena, turning to Bonnie. "Let's get Caroline home."
A dozen yards away, unnoticed by any of them, a figure stood in the shadows. Anna had told him the plan had changed and that he was to lie low in case something went wrong with the new plan, but she hadn't given him details. He'd come to find out for himself, and it was a good thing he had. It seemed that Anna had allied not only with the descendants of her mother's betrayer but also the idiots who'd nearly gotten Katherine killed after all her careful planning.
He'd watched Anna use her blood to heal that fool girl after Stefan Salvatore attacked her, and he'd decided that he could teach Anna a lesson about loyalty by killing the girl. It would be amusing to watch Mystic Falls go mad when one of their precious Founding Family members became a volatile new vampire.
But before he could act on that plan, while the girl was vulnerable at the edge of the lake with only the novice witch to protect her, he'd had the biggest shock yet. Katherine Pierce herself had arrived on the scene. Except—no, that couldn't be her. Katherine had never shown that much concern for someone other than herself, and the vampire he didn't know had called her Elena.
He changed his mind. She would make a far more interesting target.
Liz hadn't been surprised to get a call about a party out in the woods. It generally happened at least a few times every summer. What was unusual about this one was that the call wasn't about a noise complaint. It was from one of the partying teens themselves, to report a dead body. Even more unusual: the party was out at the old Lockwood estate.
She wouldn't be handing this one off to her deputies. She called Brian Walters and left the station immediately.
It took about twenty minutes to reach the site after receiving the initial call. When she got there, she found a few dozen anxious teenagers who had obviously been drinking, even though there wasn't so much as a bottle, can, or cup anywhere in sight. The two kids who'd found the body were Amber Bradley and Jake Miller. They pointed her to the cellar but refused to accompany her down into it.
Brian caught up to her in time for them to head down into the cellar together, along with one of her deputies and two of his assistants. There was a body in there, all right. It looked like some kind of small animal had partially dug it up. Brian's assistants got to work finishing the job while everyone fought hard against their gag reflexes. The more of the body was uncovered, the more the cellar smelled of putrefaction and charred, rancid meat.
The front of the body was burned black, which could make identification difficult. Almost nothing remained of the face or fingers. Liz's deputy took one look with his flashlight, then bolted, making retching noises. Any clothing the victim had been wearing had been burned away in front along with much of the flesh, but a lot of it remained on the back, where it seemed to have fused to the singed, decaying skin. Through the dirt and stains, the shirt appeared to be a maroon polo with horizontal white stripes, and the pants were khakis. What remained of the hair was black, curly, and short. Liz was guessing male, and she estimated him to be about 6'1" and close to two hundred pounds.
She made note of all of this on her pad, then turned her flashlight on the rest of the cellar while Brian continued his work. The body was buried just a few feet from the door, but the underground room was actually fairly large, divided in two by thick iron bars. She walked through the open door to this cell. On the walls inside it, her flashlight briefly illuminated something that gave her pause. She aimed it at the spot again and stepped closer. A chill ran up her spine. Claw marks. Deep ones. She shone the light around. They were everywhere, and they didn't look fresh. Maybe Richard Lockwood wasn't the first werewolf in the family. They needed to get to the bottom of this, fast.
"Find anything interesting over there?" said Brian.
Liz jumped, but played it cool. "Not another body, if that's what you were hoping for." She walked back over to him and his team, who were now unrolling a body bag. "When do you think this guy died?"
"Probably no more than a few days ago."
"Cause of death?"
Brian bent down and gingerly examined one of the burnt hands with his gloved fingers. "Considering that the palms are burned worse than the backs of the hands...I'd say it was the fire."
"Oh, God," said Liz, who had been expecting him to discover some sign that the body had been mauled to death by something with claws like the ones that made those grooves in the wall, then burned in an effort to disguise it. She steeled herself against mental images of what this man must have suffered in his final moments.
It went against her law enforcement training to make any assumptions before the evidence was in, but she was almost positive that this was Richard's doing, whether he'd been on two legs or four when he did it. They were on his land, in a cellar that few people outside the family likely knew about, he was a werewolf, and he'd already killed one person. She'd been hoping for enough evidence on the Vicki Donovan case to get a search warrant (or, even better, an arrest warrant), but a second body was not what she'd had in mind. "Get him to your lab," she said, "I'll take statements and open a homicide investigation back at the station."
She went back up the stairs and ducked under the crime tape someone had put up. Before returning to the clearing where all the kids were still standing around, she pointed her flashlight on the overturned plywood. It didn't show any signs of bowing or weather damage, even though it had rained just over a week ago. Whoever had put it there had done so recently.
She headed back to the clearing. "If one of my deputies has already taken down your name and phone number, you can go home," she called loudly. "You might get a call in the next few days, and if you think you have any important information for us, you can of course call us or come to the station. Thank you for your cooperation." She turned to face the three teenagers who were most likely to have information: the couple who'd found the body, and Tyler Lockwood. "As for you three, I'd like to ask you a few questions."
They nodded. Matt Donovan and Jeremy Gilbert were skulking near Tyler, but he shot them both looks and they left with everyone else.
"Jake, Amber, can you describe how you found the remains?"
"We, uh, we were looking for somewhere, you know, kinda private," said Jake, his face going red. "And I found that cellar—"
"You found it?" said Liz.
"I sorta tripped on it," said Jake. "It was covered with dirt and leaves at first. I lifted it up and saw the stone stairs under it. I thought Amber would think it was cool."
"So you brought her over to the cellar, and then what?"
"I had a bad feeling about the cellar from the start," said Amber. "When we got inside, Jake tried to prove it was okay, and that's when he tripped over the...the remains. As soon as we saw what was there, we ran back out."
"And the only things either of you touched were the plywood and the handle of the door down there?"
"The door was open when we went down just now. Was it open when you first found it?"
Amber looked at Jake, who frowned. "It was open a few inches, maybe."
"Okay," said Liz. "Thank you for doing the right thing and informing the police. You can go home. Same deal as with everyone else, though. We might give you a call if we have any other questions."
"Yes, ma'am," they said in unison before walking off in the direction of the dirt road where everyone had parked.
Liz turned to Tyler. "You're the one who threw this party?"
"Yeah," he said, hands in pockets.
"What made you choose this location?"
"Dad brought me out here to go camping last week. I knew we had property out in the woods, but I'd never been to it before. He said he used to party here with his friends when he was in high school, so I thought I'd do the same."
"Did you know about the cellar?"
"Yeah," said Tyler. "Dad showed it to me. We were actually going to spend the night down there instead of sleeping in a tent, but after he told me that's where our ancestors used to lock up slaves, I didn't want to be there anymore and I had Mom come pick me up."
"Are you the one who covered the entrance with plywood, so that people wouldn't go down there during the party? It looks pretty new."
"No. And it wasn't there last week."
Liz watched Tyler's expression carefully as he answered her questions. Something had prompted him to come in to the station to make a statement about Vicki Donovan's death on Saturday, almost two weeks after the fact. A statement that had strongly implicated his own father. She suspected he knew a lot more than he was saying, but she also believed he wanted her to discover the truth. Did he know his father was a werewolf? Did he know who that body had belonged to and how he had died? He was in an incredibly difficult position, and Liz wasn't going to make things harder for him by demanding further answers before he was ready to give them. Hopefully the evidence would do that anyway.
"Thank you, Tyler. I'm not thrilled that you threw an unsupervised party out in the woods, and I'm almost positive there was alcohol here, but I'm very grateful for your help in both of my investigations."
"I'm happy to cooperate however I can, Sheriff," said Tyler.
Damon poured a glass of bourbon and downed it in one go. The front door swung open behind him. It was Enzo.
"I tossed him in the cellar."
"How long are you going to keep him there?"
"That's up to him." Damon poured another glass and slid it to Enzo. "When he wakes up, he's going to be convinced he's the most evil creature on Earth. That's a given. If he decides he likes it that way, he's staying in that cellar for a long time, and I'm going to have to have a very unpleasant phone call. If he's a ball of miserable angst over it, then he gets to start ripper rehab tomorrow, whether he likes it or not. Wanna help with that?"
"Supervised nonfatal hunting. Two against one ensures the nonfatal part."
"Ah. How likely do you think it is we'll be doing that?"
"Depends how much he liked Caroline when he bit her."
"Thanks for the ride, Matt," said Jeremy, climbing out of the truck.
"Sure, no problem," said Matt. "Hey, do you know how Elena was planning to get home? I didn't see her after Jake and Amber found that body."
"She, Caroline, and Bonnie left the party early," said Jeremy. "She texted me to make sure I could get a ride home without her. She might not even know there was a body yet."
"Oh, okay," said Matt. "See you later."
"See you." Jeremy shut the door, and Matt drove off. When Jeremy turned to face the house, he wasn't very surprised to find Anna sitting on the porch swing, even though she definitely hadn't been there a second ago.
"Hey," he said, a bit of a grin on his face as he walked up to the porch, replaying their kiss in his mind. Surely she wouldn't look this relaxed if whatever she'd run off to deal with had ended too horribly, so he could spend a minute or two focusing on the good parts of the evening.
"Hey back," she said, getting to her feet and stuffing her hands in the pockets of her hoodie. She was grinning too. "So, as much as I'd like to talk about that slick move you pulled in the woods, I think it's time for our debriefing with HQ."
Jeremy's grin widened. "Is this you admitting you love the spy stuff as much as I do?"
He laughed and went to open the door, but she stepped in front of him and pulled his face to hers for another kiss, which he was perfectly happy to accept. "I'm really glad you were crazy enough to try bringing me onto the team," she said when she pulled away.
"Me too," he agreed. He briefly returned the kiss. "I'll be right back."
Feeling elated, he went inside. "Hey, I'm home!"
His dad popped his head through the doorway to the kitchen. "How did everything go?"
"The plan worked. Sheriff Forbes has Coach Tanner's body. There's crime scene tape and everything. She sent everyone home except the two kids who found him and Tyler, but Tyler said he'd text me about it later."
Grayson smiled approvingly. "Good work."
"Something else happened, though," said Jeremy, grimacing.
"What?" said Miranda, stepping out into the hallway from behind Grayson. "What's wrong? Where's your sister?"
"She's fine, I talked to her before I left," said Jeremy quickly. "Whatever happened, it was before that. Anna's outside. She was going to tell us about it."
Miranda relaxed to hear that Elena was okay, then brightened noticeably when he mentioned Anna. "Anna's here? Oh, good! I was hoping to see her again."
"Mom," said Jeremy, rolling his eyes. "Don't be embarrassing."
"Don't talk to your mother that way," said Grayson in an amused tone, while Miranda strolled past Jeremy to the door and pulled it open. Anna was standing on the doormat, hands in pockets again.
"Hi, Mrs. Gilbert, Dr. Gilbert," she said.
"Anna," said Miranda warmly, "won't you come inside?"
Jeremy's mouth fell open. Anna exchanged startled glances with him, but she recovered from the shock faster. "Th-thank you," she stammered, stepping over the threshold.
"Oh, don't thank me," said Miranda, moving aside so Anna could enter, then shutting the door behind her. "All my cards on the table? I'm just buttering you up so you'll let me interview you about all the history you've lived through. You're the best primary source I've ever met."
Anna laughed. "I think I can do that."
"Hey, don't get sidetracked!" Jeremy protested.
"Let's go in the living room," said Grayson.
They did so, and Jeremy was amused to see Jenna there, snoring lightly under a thick psychology textbook. Miranda woke her up by running a finger up the sole of her foot. She let out a shriek and pulled all her limbs protectively towards herself like a turtle retreating into its shell. "What was that for?"
Everyone sat down, Anna and Jeremy on the loveseat and Miranda and Grayson next to a still-grumpy Jenna on the couch.
"Like Jeremy said," Anna began, "the plan worked. The Sheriff now has some seriously incriminating evidence against Mayor Lockwood, without any of us being connected to the case. But Stefan lost control and attacked Caroline."
Miranda's hand shot up to her mouth, and Jenna let out a horrified gasp. Jeremy felt as though someone had dumped a bucket of icy water on him.
"Is she—" said Grayson.
"It was pretty bad, but she's still alive," said Anna. "Bonnie got there in time to incapacitate Stefan with magic, and I used my blood to heal her. I think Elena and Bonnie planned on spending the night with her."
"Where's Stefan now?" said Jeremy, watching his dad lean back on the couch, running both hands hard over his face.
"Damon carried him back to the boarding house. He was still unconscious."
Stefan awoke to a splitting headache, though that faded after a few moments. He sat up and looked around. He was in the cellar of the boarding house—specifically, the same room where he'd locked Damon.
The door swung open with a squeal and Damon strode in, tossing something at Stefan's feet. A blood bag. "Drink up! That was one doozy of a spell."
"Get that away from me," Stefan snarled.
"No," said Damon. "You're going to drink it, and tomorrow, Enzo and I are going to take you hunting."
"Are you insane?" said Stefan, getting to his feet.
"Nope!" said Damon. "But you are, if you think I'm letting you go back to living off bunnies."
Stefan groaned. "If this is about Dr. Gilbert's treatments, just see if Anna or Enzo have a compatible blood type. You might not even need me."
"Do you think I like taking my little brother's blood to stay alive? That's not what this is about! I'm enjoying not dying of werewolf toxin, but the only thing I ever liked about your involvement was that it was a convenient way to motivate you to work through your issues, since you're too much of a martyr to ever do anything for your own sake."
"My 'issues' have gotten thousands of people killed! That's not something you just work through."
"Which you would know because you've tried it...when?"
"Lexi—" Stefan began hotly, but Damon cut him off with a contemptuous sneer.
"All Lexi has ever done is help you get better at lying to yourself about what you are. You're not a human. You're not a high school student. You're not built to live off animal blood. How the hell are you supposed to ever be good at being a vampire if you won't even accept it?"
"Caroline accepted it!" Stefan shouted, getting right in Damon's face. "She's only known the truth about me for two days, and when she saw me vamped out tonight, you know what she did? She kissed me! Fangs and all. But the second she started bleeding, it didn't matter anymore how much I like her or how amazingly fearless she was. All I could see was a meal, and I would've taken her head off if Bonnie hadn't gotten to us in time. You can't fix me, Damon. So tell me, what's the point of being honest with myself when all the truth does is make me wish I'd stayed dead in 1865?"
Damon stared at him for a long time, brow furrowed and jaw muscles flexing. Then he bent down, picked up the blood bag, and pressed it into Stefan's chest. "Drink it. We're taking you hunting tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day. Every day, until you can be surrounded by bleeding humans without so much as a ripple of veins under your eyes. You do not get to give up without trying."
Stefan's outrage was too incoherent for him to form a retort before Damon had stalked back out of the room and slammed the door behind him. By the time he heard Damon's footsteps on the stairs to the main floor, he was already tearing his way through the blood bag, and he didn't think he'd ever hated himself more.
Tuesday, July 14
"Liz," said Richard Lockwood, taking a seat across from her desk. It was barely after nine o'clock, but Liz hadn't wasted any time calling him in to the station. "What's this all about?"
"Last night, a body was discovered in the cellar of the old Lockwood estate," she said.
Richard's eyes widened, then narrowed in apparent confusion. "A body? But nobody's been out there in years."
"Apart from when you and your son went camping there last week?"
For the briefest instant that she would've missed if she'd blinked, his lip began to curl, but then it smoothed into a smile. "Of course. And I saw no sign of any dead body then."
"What about when you returned to place plywood over the cellar's entrance?" said Liz. "Tyler assured me it wasn't there during your camping trip."
"I didn't want any wild animals making nests down there," said Richard. He seemed to be growing more tense with every word.
"You didn't think the door was enough to keep animals out? It seemed solid enough to me."
At this, his eyes unmistakably flashed golden in a way no human eyes could. Only her years of experience in law enforcement and her prior knowledge of what he was kept Liz from leaping out of her chair and drawing her sidearm. "I am the mayor of this town and the head of the Founders' Council. How I look after my own property is none of your business."
"It is when I find the corpse of a man who was burned alive on it," said Liz coolly. "That'll be all, Mayor Lockwood, but I'm sure I'll see you again soon."
The sleepover at Caroline's house had consisted of lots of crying and hugging, and then a surprising amount of actual sleep, the two times Caroline had woken up screaming notwithstanding. Both Elena and Bonnie were perfectly willing to stay with her the entire day if she needed them, but around nine in the morning, Caroline insisted that she just needed a long shower and a good hard cheerleading practice. Things needed to be normal enough that her mom wouldn't get suspicious. So they both went home.
By the time Elena walked into the house, her dad had already left for the clinic, but her mom, aunt, and brother were all eating breakfast in the kitchen. "Hey, Elena," said Miranda. "Are you hungry? We're having pancakes."
"Thanks," said Elena, grabbing a plate. She piled four pancakes on it and drowned them in butter and syrup.
"So how's Caroline?" said Jenna after Elena sat down.
Elena shot Jenna and her mom a quizzical look while she chewed her first bite of pancake.
"Anna came over and told us what happened," said Miranda. "Is she okay?"
"She had a rough night," said Elena, "but she insisted on doing cheer practice today. I don't think she's really as okay as she's forcing herself to seem, but, eventually…." She trailed off with a shrug. She didn't want to bring up Stefan in case her family hadn't already made plans for what to do about him, so she changed the subject. "What about Coach Tanner's body?
"The plan worked," said Jeremy. "Sheriff Forbes and the medical examiner's team roped the cellar off with crime scene tape and everything, and Tyler texted me after he got home. He said he'd like to see his dad try and get out of this now."
"I still can't believe what that man did to him," said Miranda. "To condemn his own son to be a werewolf for the rest of his life? How could he possibly justify that to himself?"
"Maybe he sees it as an advantage," said Jenna. "He didn't exactly waste time using his new wolf abilities to attack Grayson. And he probably expected Tyler to just fall in line."
Tyler had known from the moment he first told Jeremy and Anna about his plan for getting Coach Tanner's body found that he was going to have to face his father's wrath for it at some point. Despite this, he fell asleep almost the second his head hit his pillow and woke up feeling more rested than he had since he didn't know when. After that, he surprised his mom by greeting her in the breakfast room with a kiss on the cheek and an offer to help her with her errands. She gratefully took him up on that, so he spent the next couple of hours bouncing around town collecting items his mom had lent out for various dinner parties, delivering notices and invitations for committee events, and dropping off dry-cleaning.
He pulled into the driveway at home feeling remarkably peaceful and relaxed, but he knew his grace period was over before the garage door had even finished rising. His dad was waiting for him. Part of him wanted to put his car in reverse and then keep driving until he had crossed a few state lines, but he ignored that part and pulled into his spot. His dad walked right over to his door, depriving him of so much as the opportunity to position the car between them when he got out.
"Get out of the car, right now," said Richard, leaning menacingly close so that his breath fogged part of the window.
"What does it look like I'm trying to do?" said Tyler, removing the keys from the ignition and opening the door so abruptly that his dad had to leap back. He retaliated by slamming the door shut when Tyler was barely clear of it.
"You threw a party on the ground where the old Lockwood mansion stood?"
"So?" said Tyler. "You said that's what you did when you were my age. Why shouldn't I?"
"Because the Sheriff is calling me into her office like I'm at her disposal instead of the other way around, and our family heritage is covered in crime scene tape!"
"Yeah, that's what happens in places where there was a crime, Dad."
"If you'd read that journal like I told you to, you would've known why no one outside the family should've been out there!"
Tyler looked him dead in the eye. "I did read it. Cover to cover. On Friday."
Richard clearly hadn't expected that. "And you pretended you hadn't?" he demanded.
"What were you expecting me to say?" said Tyler. "'Thanks for not telling me about the family curse before tricking me into killing someone so I'd become a werewolf'? Go to hell."
Richard's eyes flashed and he seized fistfuls of Tyler's shirt. "You think you can turn on me, boy? It won't do you any good. There's no taking it back. I'm the only one you've got now!"
"Then I'd rather be alone," said Tyler, shoving him away hard enough to send him staggering back a few steps. "You know, you did do me one favor by making me a werewolf. I'm not a little boy you can bully anymore. Have fun talking your way out of two murder charges."
Tyler made to stride past his dad into the house, but he grabbed him by the arm and jerked him back to face him. "Where do you think you're going? You think you get to stay under my roof after this?"
A cold feeling doused Tyler's insides, but he remained defiant. "Fine. I don't want to live under your roof anyway." He yanked his arm out of his dad's grip. "Am I banned from going inside to take Mom the stuff she sent me to get?"
"Leave it here and get out."
Considering what had happened the last time Elena went to the boarding house, part of her felt like going back was insane. But she raised her hand to knock anyway. She still couldn't help blaming herself for this whole mess because she hadn't done anything to stop Caroline from dating Stefan when he was just barely back on human blood, so she was going to do whatever she could to make sure they were both alright.
Somewhat to her dismay, it was Damon who opened the door. Neither of them spoke, and tension seemed to settle in the space between them like a noxious cloud. "What are you doing here?" he said eventually.
"I'm going to go visit my dad's clinic next," said Elena, fidgeting with the strap of her purse, which she hadn't really needed to bring with her from her car. "I want to be able to tell him that nothing needs to change with the deal you guys have. Is that something I can say?"
"Stefan didn't kill anyone, so he hasn't violated the terms," said Damon. "Why? Do you think the Doc would do something preemptive?"
"No," said Elena. "I just want to make sure everyone's on the same page. At least, about that."
"Oh yeah?" he said. "And where exactly are we not on the same page? We both know you're furious with me, and we both know I deserve it."
She felt like he'd slapped her. Was he just going to give up, then? "That's not where it ends!" she said. "But apparently I'm the only one who doesn't want to keep things that way, because instead of trying to fix it, you're fine with just being the bad guy and antagonizing my friend!"
"You think making your ex spill beer on some girl was me being the bad guy?" he said with a nasty laugh. "You haven't seen me be the bad guy."
"Yeah, I have," said Elena hotly, thinking of some of the memories she'd witnessed.
"No, you really haven't," he said, all traces of laughter gone.
That brought her up short. She folded her arms tightly over her chest. "Just tell me how Stefan's doing, okay?"
"Well, he's broody and miserable, which means he's doing great."
She scowled. "Can you be serious for one second?"
"I am being serious. Right now, the options are miserable and broody or bloodthirsty and murderous. Which one sounds better to you?"
Her stomach twisted. "So he'll be okay?"
"Not yet, but he'll be closer to it after Enzo and I take him on a hunt."
"Wait, you're taking him hunting, as in, for people, right after he almost killed Caroline?!" Elena was so appalled that it was difficult to get the words out.
"It's what he needs, Elena," said Damon, eyes flashing and voice growing louder. "He almost killed Caroline because he's always hidden from his bloodlust instead of learning how to control it. The only way to learn control is to practice. Hunting people is practice."
"But what if he kills someone?" She couldn't believe this.
"That's what Enzo and I will be there to stop," he said. "Now, run along and tell daddy all of Damon's evil plans. I've got a hunt I don't actually get to participate in to prepare for." And he shut the door in her face.
Matt walked into the Grill, head low and hands in pockets. He'd enjoyed Tyler's party, except for the part where he'd spilled beer all over Dana and didn't get a chance to dance with Elena. Today had been less enjoyable so far. The sign about practice being cancelled on Friday was still up on the locker room door, and nobody had been able to get in touch with Coach Tanner. Matt had decided to do something about it, so he'd gone to see Sheriff Forbes and told her he thought his coach might be missing.
After that, there wasn't much else he could do, which was why he was hoping to kill time before his afternoon lifeguard shift by getting food and playing some pool. He headed for his usual booth, and found Tyler already sitting there alone, looking like he wasn't in a very good mood either, judging from the way he wasn't touching the burger and fries in front of him.
"Hey," said Matt.
Tyler looked up. "Oh. Hey, man."
"What's up?" said Matt, sliding into the booth across from him and stealing a few of his fries.
"Nothing," said Tyler. "Except that my dad kicked me out."
"What, for throwing that party?" said Matt, a fry halfway to his mouth, his own troubles forgotten. "You've thrown plenty of parties, and he's never done that."
"It doesn't matter. I don't want to live with that asshole anyway. I wish I could get Mom out too."
"Need a place to stay until you figure something out?"
"I don't think that's a good idea."
"Come on, Ty, where else are you going to go? Just because you've been weird for the last couple of weeks doesn't mean I'm not gonna help you out."
"You wanna know why I've been weird?" said Tyler. "I was the second-to-last person to see Vicki alive."
Matt froze. "What?" He watched Tyler grit his teeth, his eyes darting all over the restaurant.
"She and I had been going out on and off for a few months," he said finally. The admission looked painful. Matt didn't care.
"Why didn't you tell me? She's my sister! You're my best friend!"
"We didn't think you'd like it."
"You know what I didn't like more?" said Matt, furious. "Not knowing where she was and who she was with the night she was killed by some wild animal!" Tyler finally met Matt's eyes again. His expression sent a jolt of foreboding through him, and something he'd said earlier suddenly clicked. "Wait, you were the second-to-last person to see her alive? Who was the last?"
"We were having fun together, and then my dad found us. He yelled at me and made me go home, and he said he was going to give Vicki a ride."
Matt frowned. The foreboding was only getting stronger. "But...how could a wild animal have attacked her if she was in your dad's car?"
Tyler looked miserable. "There wasn't a wild animal, Matt. I found Vicki's phone in my dad's desk the next day."
Matt's breaths were coming in short bursts. He felt like the floor and booth had fallen out from under him. "Why would Sheriff Forbes lie to us about what happened to her?"
"No idea," said Tyler. "Maybe she just didn't want you and your mom to worry about some killer running loose until they had a suspect. But I've told her everything I know, and I swear to you that he's not going to get away with this."
Matt stared at his best friend. He felt empty. "What about the body they found at the party? Was that him too? Is that why he kicked you out, because it got found?"
"What the hell, man? Is your dad a serial killer or something?"
"No," said Tyler. "He's just a monster."
Elena was still seething when Laura sent her to the clinic's break room to find her dad. He looked up from his half-eaten lunch as she entered. "Hi, Elena. How's Caroline doing?"
"She's fine. Physically, anyway. Thanks to Bonnie and Anna." She sat down across from him rather heavily.
"What's bothering you?" he asked.
"I went to the boarding house to make sure Stefan's keeping it together."
"And Damon said he wants to take him out to hunt people tonight!" she burst out.
"Hmm," said Grayson, swallowing a bite of chicken salad. "He should probably take Enzo, then. Stefan might overpower him if he's the only one with him."
Elena gaped at her dad as he continued to nonchalantly eat his lunch. "Wait, you're okay with this?"
"It was inevitable," he said. "I'd hoped they'd be able to start before any incidents like what happened last night could occur. Stefan shouldn't have been at that party."
"You really think this is the only way for him to learn control?"
"I'm not happy about it, but yes. You saw him the day we started Damon's treatment. He trusts himself so little that he was willing to be locked in the cell for the whole duration of it. He doesn't want to hurt people, but right now, that's not up to him. Continuing to do nothing to overcome his ripper tendencies at this point would be grossly irresponsible, and this is the only way forward."
"But why can't he just drink from blood bags, like he's been doing?" said Elena, deflating.
"Because that's what put him in this position. And blood bags were never a long-term solution. We were able to get him enough of them to last a few weeks because we got lucky and because we manipulated a blood drive, but hospitals need blood to save patients' lives. Vampires feeding directly but nonfatally off people is the solution with the greatest benefits for them and the fewest consequences for us."
"Elena," said Grayson. He was smiling at her, but there was a tinge of regret in it. "I know you want there to be a way that everyone gets what they need and nobody gets hurt. You're a good girl with a tender heart. But there are no easy answers when the goal is for vampires and humans to coexist peacefully."
His words reminded Elena of the day she'd persuaded Damon to drink from her instead of going out and making a meal out of some random person. There really were no easy answers. Thinking this made her realize that she had assumed, deep down, that Damon had only come up with this dubious strategy for helping Stefan because he wanted to piss her off even more, and that assumption had played a large role in why she'd gotten so upset. She felt ashamed of herself. This, at least, had nothing to do with her.
Liz rapped her knuckles against the door of the apartment above the barber shop. There was no answer. She knocked harder. "Mr. Tanner? It's Liz Forbes," she called loudly. Still no answer. She went back down to the shop where Bob Fitzgerald was finishing up a haircut for a freckly boy of about eight or nine.
"Anything I can help you with, Sheriff?" he asked when he saw her approaching in the mirror.
"You and Laura own this building, correct?"
"Then you're the ones renting out the apartment over the shop?"
"When was the last time you saw your tenant?"
Bob set aside his clippers. "Okay, kiddo, what do you think?"
"I like it!" said the boy to his reflection. Both of his two front teeth were missing. Liz couldn't help smiling.
Bob unfastened the apron. "You were a very good customer today. Tell your dad I said hi, alright?"
"Okay!" said the boy, and he scampered off.
Bob went to get the broom to sweep up all the hair clippings. "You know, now I think about it, I don't think I've seen William yet this week." He frowned. "I definitely remember seeing him on Wednesday, because he had bloody tissues sticking out of his nose. Said one of his football players punched him, and then he went across the street to get a few drinks."
There was that creeping chill again. Tyler Lockwood had been the football player who threw that punch. Caroline had told her about it that night at dinner, and Tyler himself had admitted it when she went to talk to Carol. Liz found herself mentally comparing what she remembered of Tanner's physique with that of the remains they'd recovered, but abruptly stopped. She couldn't make that leap. What she could do was call Brian and tell him to check the remains for evidence of a fresh broken nose (although the face was so badly burned that he might not be able to tell one way or the other), while she went across the street to the Grill to ask about Tanner's Wednesday afternoon.
Early in the afternoon, Elena got a text from Caroline: I made it through cheer practice. Can you come over?
Even though it was often difficult to read emotion in a text, Elena was instantly concerned. She wasted no time heading to Caroline's house. On arriving, she opened the door without knocking. "Caroline? I'm here! Are you okay?"
"I'm upstairs, Elena!"
Elena jogged up to Caroline's room. Caroline was sitting on her bed, still wearing her cheer uniform. Her cheeks were lined with fresh tear tracks, and she was hugging her knees. When she saw Elena, her lips quivered. Elena rushed forward and sat in front of her, grabbing both her hands and squeezing.
"I thought I could be okay if I made myself go through my normal routine like nothing was wrong, but I don't think I can do it again, and I can't break down because nobody but you and Bonnie can know why. If my mom so much as suspects something's wrong, it could ruin everything."
"Hey, if you're worried about your mom, you can sleep over at my house tonight. You can stay as long as you want."
"Your parents know what happened, don't they?"
"Anna told them. They're so relieved she got there in time to heal you."
Caroline let out a heavy sigh, then raised her eyes to look at Elena. "I don't want to know this, Elena. I don't want to have these memories. I've never liked a boy as much as I liked Stefan, and just when I was sure he really liked me back, he ripped my throat out. I'm going to have nightmares about that every night, I know it. It doesn't matter that Anna healed me. I'm not going to be able to stop thinking about it. It would be easier if I could be mad at him, but I know he didn't want to do that to me, so all I can do is be scared."
"Caroline…," Elena began, completely at a loss as to how to make this better.
More tears spilled from Caroline's eyes. She looked so small. "The last few days of being in the loop with you and Bonnie were amazing, but I don't think I can know any of it without needing to know all of it. I'd pick at it, convinced it couldn't be as bad as I thought. So I'm going to ask Anna to erase everything." Her chest heaved. "I'm sorry I couldn't be braver. You and Bonnie have been handling this for months, but I couldn't even make it half a week!"
"No, no," said Elena, throwing her arms around Caroline, her own vision blurring with tears. "It's okay. You don't have to be involved in any of this if you don't want to, and I don't think anyone should have to live with memories like that."
"I already told Bonnie, after practice was over, before she headed to her shift at the pool. She said the same thing."
"Do you want me to get in touch with Anna?"
"Yeah. I might as well get this over with."
Anna was annoyed. She wanted to keep hanging out with Jeremy so they could track the progress of the Sheriff's investigation through her animal spies together (and hopefully resume last night's kissing session), but she'd gotten an unexpected text from Noah. She strode into Mrs. Flowers' dining room, where Noah was helping himself to some casserole.
"Noah, what are you doing here?" she asked, not bothering to disguise her irritation.
"I've been here since before sunrise," said Noah. "Emily didn't make me one of those fancy amulets, remember?"
Anna gritted her teeth. "I mean, what are you doing within fifty miles of Mystic Falls?"
"I got bored, Anna," he said, raising his eyebrows. "You've had me on hold for over a week."
"Yeah, and the comet is still nearly two months out, so you've got eight weeks to go. There's nothing for you to do before then! You are the backup, not the scout." Another of Katherine's dupes—one she had turned early on during their stay in Mystic Falls—, Noah would have been useful to Anna in a similar way as Damon Salvatore, except that he was nowhere near as resourceful. Privately, though, Anna now viewed him as entirely vestigial to the plan. The Gilberts had laid the last shreds of her misgivings about them to rest when they invited her into their home. Unfortunately, Noah's interest in Katherine and ignorance of her escape was going to make him difficult to get rid of, particularly because he hadn't done anything to warrant a stake through the heart.
"Fine," he said, a little smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. "I await your orders."
She grimaced at him. Then her phone buzzed. It was a text from Elena. "I'll call you if there's a good reason for you to close in, but get back to the perimeter after sundown." She left without waiting for his response or reaction. Once outside, she opened the message.
Call me when you get this?
Anna stuck her phone back in her pocket and took off running in the direction of Mystic Falls. She didn't want Noah eavesdropping on whatever this was about.
"So," said Elena after hanging up with Anna, forcing a smile onto her face. "I get my memories back, you lose yours?"
"Aren't we a pair," said Caroline with a humorless giggle. Then she sobered and seized Elena by the forearm. "You don't have to go out of your way to make sure I don't find out about all this supernatural stuff again. I trust you and Bonnie to know when it's okay for me to know, but no matter what, the last few days never happened, and I never went out with Stefan Salvatore, okay?"
"Okay," said Elena.
"And...and the next time you see him, tell him what I did," her grip on Elena's arm intensified and her eyes were bright, "but make sure he knows I don't hate him." Her voice broke on the last word.
"I promise." There was a knock downstairs. "Do you want to meet her outside or invite her in?"
"Anna, you can come in!" said Caroline after barely any hesitation.
A second later, Anna had joined them in Caroline's room. Her expression was sympathetic and a little regretful. "Are you sure about this?"
Elena made to get up, but Caroline redoubled her grip, so she merely shifted her position to sit at Caroline's side, hand in hand with her. Anna climbed on the bed and sat crosslegged in front of Caroline in Elena's former position. For a few minutes, the three of them discussed how best to approach the memory revisions. Once Caroline was satisfied, Anna locked gazes with her, and Elena looked away. This was too much like what Damon had done to her.
"You met Stefan Salvatore," Anna began, "and you liked him, but when you tried to flirt with him at the Fourth of July party, he turned you down. He was kind of a jerk about it. So you moved on, and you haven't interacted with him at all since then. You don't remember anything he told you at the football field. If you see him around, it won't even slow you down, because he's yesterday's news…."
I've been looking forward to doing the parallelism of Elena's struggle to get her memories back and Caroline wanting her memories removed for quite a while, and now we're finally here! This pretty much means that all of Caroline's lovely character development will be reset, though, and I am sad about that. Damon is still being a big dummy, but Elena is beginning to get some distance that will be helpful later. Richard kicking Tyler out of the house wasn't part of the original plan, but it feels right, and I'm really happy with it. And now there's Noah! Fun times ahead with him. And fun times ahead for Stefan's hunting lessons with Damon and Enzo.
Okay, little announcement now. Every November is the I Will Remember You Buffy/Angel fic marathon, and I've signed up as one of the writers again this year. This could potentially delay the next chapter, but hopefully not by much. As soon as I get a couple of those fics done, this will be my priority again before working on more of them. (Also, if any of you are Buffy/Angel shippers with untapped fic ideas, you should totally participate too, because there are plenty of writer spots open, and it's always awesome to get new writers involved. Just send me a PM about that, and I'll help you find the signup page.)