The search for Elena lasted exactly three and a half weeks. That's when the police, from four states away, found her body in a swampy field outside of a small town. Her body was brought back to Mystic Falls where it was given a thorough autopsy and it was declared that Elena had died from drowning in the murky waters of the swamp.
The entire town, including the Salvatore's, turned out for her funeral. Jeremy was beside himself and Alaric had to carry Jenna out at the end. Stefan and Damon sat side by side in the pew, staring straight ahead, their shell-shocked faces speaking volumes of their inexplicable grief. Bonnie sat stock still, the tears coursing down her face falling to soak her lap. Caroline held on to Matt while he wept, her own tears falling thickly.
The town was in mourning.
When Damon and Stefan returned home that evening, it was Stefan who slid the ring from his finger. Damon followed suit without a word. No words were needed; neither of them could exist in a world where Elena did not. They sat quietly, staring into the dying embers of the fireplace, waiting for the sun to rise.
"You weren't always so dramatic," came a voice behind them.
Both brothers turned around to see Elena standing there with a haughtily raised eyebrow.
"Elena," Stefan breathed, half rising.
"Not quite," the woman said and Damon clamped a hand over Stefan's arm.
"Katherine," Damon spat. "How lovely of you to stop by."
She smirked and stepped down into the library. Damon deftly grabbed their rings and both he and Stefan jammed them back onto their fingers before sinking into a defensive crouch as Katherine came closer.
"Oh, get over it," Katherine laughed, advancing. "You two are so much more useful to me alive than dead."
"How can we help you today?" Damon bit out sarcastically.
Katherine smiled and waved her hand in the air dismissively. "Details," she purred. "I think you'll be more interested in what I have of yours." Katherine snapped two elegant fingers together and two vampires appeared in the doorway, supporting a bound and gagged carbon copy of Katherine. Elena.
A deafening snarl tore from Damon's lips as a vicious growl echoed in Stefan's chest. They leaned forward menacingly toward Katherine, who laughed lightly in response.
"You won't hurt me," she trilled. "I have the most precious thing you desire."
"What," Damon whispered dangerously, a restraining hand of his brother's arm. "Do you want?"
Katherine smiled. " I want," she began slowly. "Emily's spell book."
"We don't have it," Stefan spat.
"No," she conceded. "But you do know the filthy witch that does. I want you to get it for me."
"I can try," Damon allowed darkly. "But I can't promise the girl will give it to me."
"You'll get it," Katherine said easily, moving to Elena's side and caressing her unconscious face. "Or I'll kill your girlfriend," she added, trailing her nail across Elena's exposed throat and leaving a trail of blood in his wake. She leaned in to lap it up.
Damon roared, Stefan pulled violently against his brother's restraint, and Katherine laughed. "Get me the book, boys, and I'll give you back your little substitute for me. We'll be back in two days." With another snap of her long fingers, Katherine and the two vampires holding Elena disappeared.
"Are you insane?" snapped Bonnie. "First of all, you don't know if I actually have the book and second, if I did – why would I give it to you?"
"I told you," Damon snarled, his patience dangerously close to running out. "To save Elena."
"Elena is dead, Damon." Bonnie said flatly.
"She is not, Witch, but she will be soon, if you don't give me the god damned book!" he roared.
Stephen laid a hand against his brother's arm. "Peace," he murmured quietly before turning to address Bonnie. "Elena is not dead, I have seen her with my own eyes. You have my word that she lives."
Bonnie looked hugely skeptical. "If that's true Stephen," she said slowly. "And this Katherine demands Emily's spell book, do you have any idea how dangerous a book like that would be in her hands?"
"I do," Stephen said solemnly. "But when it comes to Elena's life, I simply don't care."
Bonnie stood up and paced the length of her porch. She would never invite the Salvatores into her home, and so the three of them lingered on the porch in the chilled evening air. "I went to her funeral." Bonnie said quietly. "I saw her in the casket; I put flowers on her grave. Elena was dead."
Damon made an exasperated noise. "Katherine!" he yelled, receiving (and ignoring) a dark look from his brother. "She looks exactly like Elena. She lied in the casket. She was buried. And she dug herself out."
Bonnie gazed narrowly at Damon. "I loved Elena," she said quietly. "But this book, it can't fall into the wrong hands."
"Are you saying you'd rather see Elena truly dead than hand over a spell book?" Damon asked, looking incredulous.
"I'm saying," Bonnie spat. "That as much as I love her, one life is not worth the number Katherine can take once she has the book. And Elena would agree with me!"
"I'll kill you, Witch!" Damon snarled, moving to stand over Bonnie menacingly.
She raised an eyebrow and Damon fell to his knees, screaming in agony and gripping his head. "You will, will you?" she asked darkly.
"Stop," Stephen said wearily and Bonnie grudgingly obliged.
Damon looked murderous as he rose to his feet and glared at Bonnie with open hostility. She returned his gaze with equal malice.
Stephen sighed and rubbed his temples. "Perhaps there is some middle ground we can find; some plan we can come up with that will allow us to save Elena and ruin Katherine at the same time."
"Forget your plans, brother!" Damon cried. "I don't give a damn what she does with the book as long as Elena's safe."
"No one is safe if she's in possession of the book!" Bonnie raged.
"I don't care," Damon said darkly, slowly, enunciating each syllable.
Bonnie threw up her hands and continued pacing.
The atmosphere on the porch was tense; the barely contained violence was palpable.
"Could we present her with a copy?" Stephen asked. "An altered edition with spells that do not work as they should,"
Bonnie paused. "Do you think she wouldn't know the difference?" she asked.
"Perhaps," Stephen allowed. "But I think it's our only chance."
Bonnie nodded, considering.
Damon exploded. "I will not take these kinds of chances with Elena's life!" he raged. "We will give her the god damn book if I have to slaughter a thousand people to get to it!"
"Damon," Stephen admonished gently.
"No!" he bit back. "This is the woman you love!" he yelled. "Do something about it. And you," he snarled, turning on Bonnie. "Elena is your best friend! You dare to take her life into your hands?"
"I have responsibilities!" she cried.
"Damn your responsibilities! The book, Witch, or I will go through you to get it!" Damon demanded.
"I'll kill you first," she hissed.
"You can try," Damon taunted.
They stood toe to toe, snarling into each other's faces.
"ENOUGH!" Stephen bellowed. "Elena is going to die if we can't find a solution to this problem, and the two of you bickering is not going to help."
"Send him away," Bonnie muttered. "And I will work with you, Stephen."
"Go," Stephen said firmly.
Damon narrowed his eyes and glared at Bonnie. "Two hours," he spoke softly. "You have two hours to figure something out and then I will be back. If you do not have a solution by then…" he trailed off with a shrug.
Bonnie's lip curled in disgust. "I'm a lot stronger than I look, Damon, it would be an interesting fight."
Damon smiled coldly. "You'll sleep sometime, Witch." He murmured as he stalked off into the night.