Damon was researching Katherine when his cell phone rang. The caller ID flashed Elena's name. He answered with, "What's wrong?"
"Gone? What do you mean he's gone?"
"I dropped him off at his class right after lunch, and when I came to pick him up a few seconds ago, he wasn't here."
Demon could hear his brother's voice in the background talking to someone. Elena said, "His teacher just told us that Jeremy was feeling sick right after class started. We're going to go check the nurse's office right now."
Slamming his book shut, Damon said, "Don't bother, he won't be there."
"What are we gonna do, Damon?"
"I'll go look for him. Call me after your next class, and I'll give you an update."
"I can't go to class when I know he's missing. Stefan and I can help look."
Pursing his lips, Damon said, "Can I talk to Stefan?"
Elena handed the phone over, and Stefan said, "Yeah?"
"I'll go out looking for Jeremy, and I'll call if I find him. Try to talk Elena into staying there until school's over."
Stefan looked at his girlfriend's determined face. "I don't think that's going to happen."
"Fine. Take Elena to her house, and tell her to stay there in case Jeremy goes home. Then you come over here in case he shows up at our house. If I can't find him by the time school gets out, we can have Bonnie help."
The two hung up, and Damon grabbed a jacket on his way out the door. He muttered, "I'm gonna kill him."
# # #
In his unemotional state, Jeremy had newfound patients. He wandered the woods looking for a nice classmate to snack on, but couldn't find anyone at the usual spots. Normally this would have irritated him, but now it only made him consider other options. He thought about going back to the Salvatore house, but quickly dismissed the idea. He wanted fresh blood, not something out of a refrigerated bag. After a few minutes of running through ideas, Jeremy decided on the gas station that Damon had taken him to the night before last.
He loitered in the back next to the bathrooms, and waited to see who would come along. While he waited, he wondered if he'd be able to stop himself in time. He tried to tally up the pros and cons of accidentally killing someone. There would be the body to deal with, and he knew drawing attention to the town because of a murder could make things harder for him in the long run. But on the other hand, it seemed like a waste of blood not to drink it all, and his hunger was getting stronger by the moment.
The first person to walk past him, was a mother with two little kids. Jeremy realized he'd want to find someone who was alone, just in case he couldn't stop himself, or didn't want to stop himself once he'd started to drink. Trying to deal with more than one person at a time would be too much of a risk.
Twenty minutes passed before a woman in a tasteful skirt and blouse walked by. While she was in the bathroom, Jeremy quickly checked the front of the gas station. There was only one car parked in the parking lot, and no one else was in it. He smiled and walked back to stand in front of the bathroom door.
The woman gasped when she saw Jeremy standing so close when she opened the door. Using the compelling techniques that Damon had taught him, Jeremy ordered the woman to get in her car and drive half a mile up the road before pulling over.
With obvious confusion, she did what he'd asked. He met her there, and ordered her into the wooded area on the side of the highway. She followed him, asking him repeatedly why she was doing this. He ignored her until he couldn't see the freeway anymore. Then he turned and ordered her to stand still.
Without preamble, he grabbed her shoulder to hold her in place, and bit deeply into her neck. Fresh blood tasted so much better than the bagged stuff, Jeremy groaned with physical pleasure. He completely dismissed the idea of trying to stop himself, and drank her blood until he felt her go limp in his arms.
Feeling his hunger truly quenched for the first time in days, Jeremy sighed with relief. He dumped the body onto the ground, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and tried to decide what to do with the body.
# # #
The longer Damon searched for Jeremy, the more anxious he became. When he'd stormed out of the house, he'd been pissed, but that anger quickly turned to worry when he found no sign of the kid. He didn't think he could take watching Elena cry again if he had to tell her he hadn't been able to find her brother.
Just as he was getting out his phone to call Stefan for an update, Damon saw an abandoned car on the side of the road. Putting the phone back in his pocket, he closed his eyes, and concentrated on his hearing. In the distance, he heard a scuffling sound, and went to investigate.
He found Jeremy waist deep in a hole he was digging. A woman's body lay beside the growing dirt pile. Damon noticed the woman's eyes were wide open, staring blankly at the sky, and he knew without asking that Jeremy had figured out how to shut out his humanity.
Jeremy hadn't noticed him yet, and Damon didn't alert him to his presence right away. Instead he frowned and considered his options for dealing with this turn of events. After he'd formulated a plan, he plastered a pleasant expression on his face and said, "Need a hand?"
Startled by the sound, Jeremy almost dropped the flat rock he was using as a shovel. "Damon?" Jeremy felt a tingling at the base of his skull, but he took a deep breath, and concentrated on not letting any emotions out.
Damon sauntered over, and crouched down beside the hole. "Looks like your chances of making it through the first week are going down by the second."
"What are you talking about?"
"The police in this town know about vampires. Your fang marks are as clear as day on her neck. You're burying the body less than a hundred feet from her abandoned car. Once the police start looking for her, they'll find her body within minutes of finding the car. That is unless you move the car, but moving the car is a bad idea because you're likely to leave fingerprints or hair in it."
Jeremy slowly nodded in agreement, seeing the logic in everything Damon had said. "I hadn't thought about it, but you're right. This isn't a good plan. What should I do?"
Damon stood, and held a hand out to Jeremy to help him out of the hole. Jeremy dropped the rock, grabbed Damon's hand, and climbed out. "We'll fill this back in first. The police will waste time digging it up looking for her."
The two had the hole filled in a couple of minutes. Once it was done, Damon picked up the woman in a fireman hold, and said, "We'll bury her next to Cabin Creek on the edge of the old Lockwood estate. Know where that is?"
"I know where the old Lockwood estate is."
"Good. Follow me." Damon moved at inhuman speed, and Jeremy followed. They were there in minutes, even though it was miles away. Soon they had the body buried in a secluded area that was difficult to get to on foot.
After stomping the dirt down on top of the fresh grave, Jeremy said, "Thanks for helping me. This is a much better spot."
"You should have called me to tell me you wanted fresh blood." Damon let a little irritation show.
"I thought you'd try to stop me."
Not wanting to have this discussion out in the open, Damon said, "I don't know about you, but I need a drink. We can talk back at my place."
Jeremy nodded, and the two ran to the Salvatore mansion.
# # #
Jeremy followed Damon into the house, and watched him poured himself a shot of whisky. Damon downed it in one gulp. As he set down his glass, Stefan stormed into the room, and got into Jeremy's personal space.
"Where the hell were you?" Stefan demanded.
Before Jeremy answered, Damon said, "He's figured out how to shut out his humanity."
Stefan and Jeremy both turned to Damon with surprise. Jeremy asked, "How do you know?"
Damon gave Jeremy a look that clearly indicated that question wasn't worth answering. Jeremy smiled and said, "It's exactly like you said it would be. I don't have to feel anything I don't want to feel."
With a tight-lipped frown, Stefan said, "Damn it!"
Damon said, "I found him by the gas station trying to bury the body of a woman he'd drank from."
With a sigh, Stefan got out his cell phone. But Damon took it out of his hands before he could push any buttons. Damon said, "What are you doing?"
Stefan crossed his arms. "Calling Elena."
"Why not?" Stefan asked.
"Jeremy and I are going to work some things out, and I don't want Elena to interfere. I don't want you to interfere either. Go keep Elena company until I call."
The base of Jeremy's skull started to tingle again after hearing that ominous statement. He took a discreet step away from the two brothers.
Stefan said, "What are you planning to do, Damon?"
"Force him to let his humanity back in."
"How do you plan to do that?" Stefan asked.
Before Damon could answer, Jeremy made a dash for the front door. He wanted nothing to do with his emotions. He made it to the edge of the Salvatore property before Damon caught up to him.
Damon tackled him, and they both tumbled down onto the grass. Damon quickly had them both standing, with a hand on Jeremy's upper arm to make sure he wasn't going anywhere. Damon said, "Like it or not, you're letting your humanity back in."
Struggling to get away, Jeremy hissed, "Good luck with that."
Damon started walking back towards the house, and planted a solid swat on the kid's rear end.
"Hey! What the hell?" He protested, trying harder to get out of Damon's grip. "Get your hands off me!" Jeremy yelled, and put all his newfound strength into trying to get his arm away from Damon. He was dismayed to find that Damon didn't even seem to notice the struggle. Damon swatted him even harder without breaking his stride towards the house.
"Ow! Knock it off!"
Damon said calmly, "Anger is the easiest emotion to trigger, and once you let that one back in, the rest will spill over. You don't have enough experience to hold it in, so stop fighting it."
The tingling at the base of Jeremy's skull was turning into a burn, and he struggled to keep himself calm.
Damon pulled him up the porch steps, and through the front door. He kicked the door closed behind them, and propelled the kid towards the living room with another hard smack.
"You're really pissing me off!" Jeremy yelled, and shoved Damon's shoulder, still trying to get out of his grasp.
"Good," Damon said, and hauled him down the two steps that led to the sunken living room. He swatted him again on the way to the couch.
"You're a Dick!" Jeremy shouted.
Damon stopped in front of the couch, and turned to Jeremy. "Yeah? Well at least I'm not a disobedient child! You skipped school, you shut off your emotions, and you wandered off alone to find someone to drink from. I'm pretty sure I told you not to do all of those things."
"Fuck off!" Jeremy tried pushing him away again. "I don't have to listen to you!"
Damon reached down and unbuckled Jeremy's belt, while Jeremy tried to back away.
"What the hell are you doing?" Jeremy's voice was unusually high, showing his rising panic.
Stefan stood by the fireplace, and tried to figure out if Damon had a plan, or if he was just taking his frustration out on Jeremy. "What are you doing, Damon?"
"Stay out of this, Stefan." Damon said, without looking back at his brother. He yanked the kid's pants down to his knees, put a foot on the couch, and hauled Jeremy across his raised leg.
"No!" Jeremy shouted at the top of his lungs. His hands reached out instinctively to catch himself as he went forward, but they never came in contact with the floor, because Damon wrapped an arm around his waist. This kept him from falling, but also prevented him from standing back up. The base of his skull burned, and he couldn't keep his anger or his fear locked up anymore. He awkwardly put one hand on the couch next to Damon's foot and begged, "Stefan, help!"
Damon started smacking the navy blue briefs in front of him.
Confused and mildly surprised to see his brother spanking Jeremy, Stefan said, "Do you really think this is the best way to get him to open up?"
Ignoring his younger brother, Damon kept slapping the wiggling butt over his thigh.
Jeremy yelled, "Stop it! Ow! Damon, stop!"
Irritated with the lack of response, Stefan walked over, and caught Damon's arm in mid swing.
While the brothers glared at each other, Jeremy took a deep breath of relief. But that relief quickly turned to horror when he realized he felt nothing at the base of his skull. His emotions were running rampant. Anger, frustration, and embarrassment all swirled around his head, making his stomach twist.
Stefan asked Damon, "Have you even thought this through?"
Instead of answering him directly, Damon said, "Do you remember how things were between us before I went off to war? Before Katherine?"
Stefan raised an eyebrow, wondering what that had to do with anything. "Yes."
"Was I a good older brother?"
"Yes." Stefan admitted, and let his arm go. "That's why I wanted you to become a vampire too."
"I turned my emotions off the first chance I had, because it hurt too much to think about Katherine, but that was the wrong thing to do, because I couldn't be your older brother once they were off. If I could go back and do it again, I'd do things differently."
Surprised by the amount of honesty he could see in his brother's face, Stefan said, "Me too."
Damon tilted his head down to indicate Jeremy and said, "I'm trying to be the good older brother here. Yes, I've thought this through, and yes, it's the best way to help him."
While Stefan considered that, Jeremy squirmed to get away, and yelled, "This isn't helping, and you're not my brother!"
Knowing it would upset Jeremy, and force more emotions out, Damon said, "Shush, the adults are having a conversation."
"I'm not a God damn child!" Jeremy yelled with rage, and tried to push himself off Damon's leg again.
"You turned yourself at sixteen. You'll be a child forever."
Damon swatted him hard.
"Ow! Stefan! Make him stop!"
Damon turned to Stefan with his eyebrows raised, to see if he understood.
Stefan frowned, unhappy with Damon's methods, but had to admit that Jeremy would have a difficult time keeping his emotions in under this kind of onslaught. With a reluctant sigh, he said, "No."
"No? What do you mean no?" Jeremy yelled.
"I'll be at Elena's." Stefan told his brother. "Call me when you're done working this out."
Stefan turned and walked out to the sound of Jeremy yelling, "You can't just leave me here with him! Stefan! Elena wouldn't want you to! Please, Stefan!"
Damon's determination grew when he heard the front door shut. Wanting to prove that Stefan's trust was justified, he turned back to the boy over his knee, raised his hand, and started a steady stream of smacks.
"Aaahh!" Jeremy yelled with frustration. With each new swat, his anger towards Damon grew, and so did the pain. He tried to keep his mouth shut, not wanting to give Damon the satisfaction. He bit his lip to keep quiet, but his stoicism lasted less than a minute. Small grunts of pain started escaping first, and when he couldn't muffle those anymore, he blurted out, "I fucking hate you!"
Damon kept smacking and said, "Looks like we have anger back in full force, now let's work on shame and remorse. I want you to think about that girl you killed today."
Shaking his head, Jeremy said, "I can't… Ow! I can't think about that."
"Yes you can, I know you don't want to, but you have to."
"No I don't! Owww! Just let me up! Ah! I've already lost control of all my… Ow!… all my emotions, so you've won. Ow! Now leave me alone!"
Damon stopped swatting. "You know," he said conversationally, "every time I pause for more than a minute, your body heals itself, so we could literally do this all day if you're not going to be cooperative."
Unable to ignore the fear those words evoked, or the pain that didn't seem to be going away very quickly, Jeremy swallowed his pride, and said quietly, "No. Please, Damon. Please just let me up, and I'll… I'll think about her."
"I'm sorry, did you think you had say in how this was going to play out?" He punctuated that statement with smack.
"Ow! Okay, okay! I'm thinking about her!"
"Did you see the wedding ring on her finger?"
Startled out of his anger and humiliation, Jeremy jerked his head back into an awkward position to make eye contact with Damon. "What?" he whispered.
The kid's eyes got to Damon in a way that none of his yelling had. With a sigh, he hauled Jeremy back into a standing position, took his foot off the couch, and said, "Fix your pants."
Once Jeremy had yanked his jeans back into place, Damon put a hand on each of his shoulders and said, "She was married, Jeremy. That means you ripped her away from her husband the same way those men ripped Anna away from you. The same way Stefan and I ripped Vicki away from everyone who loved her."
With a weak shake of his head Jeremy whispered, "No." He desperately wanted it not to be true, but he did remember the ring. Tears started spilling down his face, when he realized he'd caused someone else the same emotional trauma he'd been trying to escape.
Damon said, "The way you feel right now is the reason I wouldn't show you how to shut it out. And I'm not going to let you do it again, because none of us want you to become a monster like me."
The weight of what he'd done was too much for Jeremy to take. He put his head in his hands, and sobbed. He would have fallen to his knees if Damon hadn't held him up.
Wincing at the loss of innocence he heard in Jeremy's tears, Damon pulled him into an awkward hug. He understood the self-hatred, the crushing guilt, and the sick horror that came from taking another person's life. He'd tucked those emotions safely away for over a hundred years, but even if they hadn't been escaping lately; he would still remember what it felt like the first time he'd killed a man, because he'd been human at the time. It was during his first day of combat in the Civil War, and he'd killed more than one. The battle itself was a bloody violent blur, but he clearly remembered pressing his face into his bedroll that night to muffle the sound of his tears.
He hugged Jeremy tighter and murmured, "I know."
Too caught up in despair to refuse the comfort, Jeremy pressed his forehead into Damon's shoulder, and grabbed a fistful of the older man's shirt. All he could think about was the expression of terror on the woman's face as he lured her away from her car, and the image of her dead body lying on the ground with a blank stare.
For several minutes, Damon just held the shaking boy, hoping that the physical comfort helped. A couple of times, the crying seemed to taper off, only to come back in full force. The third time the tears started to lessen, Damon patted Jeremy's back once, and gently pushed him away from his chest.
Unable to face the older man, Jeremy kept his eyes glued to the floor, and wiped at his face with his hands and sleeves. He muttered, "Sorry."
"For what exactly?" Damon asked quietly.
Jeremy shrugged. There were so many things he was sorry for, he couldn't pick one.
To help Jeremy get through the next few days, Damon decided to make things black and white for him. He knew that blindly following orders had helped him get through his second day of combat. "No more running off alone until I tell you you're off suicide watch. No more trying to feed from someone without me around to make sure you stop in time. And no more shutting out your humanity, period."
Still wiping off his face, Jeremy nodded. "Okay."
"For now," Damon got his cell phone out of his pocket, "plant your butt on the couch where I can keep an eye on you until Stefan gets back with your sister."
Fresh tears went down Jeremy's face. "Elena's gonna hate me."
Damon rolled his eyes as he dialed. "No she won't, she loves you." He had no problem forcing Jeremy's humanity back into place, but he didn't exactly want to deal with the kid's emotions now that they were back. In his mind, that job clearly belonged to Stefan and Elena, who were much better suited to the task.
Stefan answered his cell phone immediately with the words, "Are you done?"
"Yes. Hurry back," Damon said, and hung up. He saw Jeremy wiping at more tears, and had to pour himself a double. As they waited in silence, Damon became more and more anxious to leave. Hearing Jeremy's gut wrenching regret had stirred up long dead feelings, and he found himself unable to shut them out the way he had in years past.
The instant he heard Elena's car in the driveway, Damon downed his drink. He pointed to Jeremy and said, "Stay," before walking out to meet Stefan and Elena in the driveway.
Elena said, "Thank you," as she rushed past Damon and into the house to see Jeremy.
Damon raised an eyebrow and turned to Stefan.
He said, "She means thanks for finding him. I didn't tell her what you were doing when I left. I assume it worked?"
"Yeah it did, and now he's a mess, and he's your problem." Damon walked towards his car without waiting for a response.
Suddenly angry, Stefan called after him, "I thought things might be different between us now, but here I am cleaning up your mess like usual."
Damon was in front of Stefan, and invading his personal space, before Stefan could blink. The brothers faced off. Damon grabbed Stefan's upper arm, and hissed, "Can you still shut it out?"
"What?" Stefan asked with confusion.
Frustrated, Damon shook him and said, "Can you still shut out your humanity?"
Scrutinizing his brother, Stefan said, "I don't know. I haven't tried for years."
Damon glanced back to the house to make sure they were still alone, and growled, "Well, I can't anymore!" He shoved Stefan away, and stalked off to his car.
Watching his brother drive away, Stefan finally understood why he felt closer to him than he had in years. Damon was getting his humanity back whether he liked it or not.
# # #
Jeremy felt the sun on his face, and opened his eyes. He could see the outline of tree branches above him, but in his peripheral vision, he saw dirt. He tried to sit up, but couldn't move his body. The dirt was all around him weighing him down, suffocating him. He tired to scream, but nothing came out.
A hand on his shoulder woke Jeremy out of his dream. He jerked himself into a sitting position. Breathing hard, and feeling ill, he gave Stefan a grateful, "Thanks for waking me up."
Stefan said with sympathy, "Nightmare?"
"Wanna tell me about it?"
"I was lying in the bottom of a fresh grave, and I couldn't move. The dirt piled up on me, pushing me down." Jeremy rubbed his face with his hand, trying to lose the panicky feeling the dream had given him.
Stefan sat down on the other side of the bed, and said, "The woman you killed couldn't feel anything by the time you buried her."
"Yeah, I know," he said softly, "but she knew I was killing her while I did it."
The older vampire squeezed Jeremy's shoulder in comfort, and kept quiet.
Something made a soft thunk downstairs. "What was that?" Jeremy asked.
Jeremy looked at the clock. "What's he doing at three AM?"
Stefan shook his head, and sighed. "Probably trying to make it up the stairs. He stumbled in drunk about two-thirty, and he's been in the living room since then." Stefan could see the confusion in Jeremy's expression, and added, "Dealing with you today, brought up some feelings he'd rather not have, and he can't shut it out anymore."
"Can't?" the kid asked.
The room was quiet for a few seconds, while Stefan thought that over. "You want to know what I honestly think it is?"
Stefan said, "I heard Damon tell you that anger is the easiest emotion to bring out in people, and while there may be some truth in that, love is a hundred times stronger. Once you feel love, it's nearly impossible to lock it away. That's why it was so easy for Damon to force your humanity back in. You loved Anna and Vicki, and those relationships were very recent. You also love your Aunt Jenna, and Elena. Love is the best reason not to shut it out again. You can't feel the joy of being in love with someone without your humanity."
Seeing the truth in that, Jeremy said, "I don't plan on trying to shut it out again." He looked down at his lap and added, "I hate myself for what I did today. No way do I want to have more things to hate myself for."
"I regret most of the things I did when mine was shut out. I hope you can learn from this one mistake, instead of making hundreds like I did, or thousands like Damon."
They both heard Damon's bedroom door shut.
"At least he made it to his room," Stefan muttered. "Talk about setting a bad example."
"If me being here is driving him to drink, then maybe I should leave."
"Are you crazy?" Stefan asked. He thought having Jeremy around would actually help his brother deal with his own emotions, but he kept that to himself. "You're not going anywhere until Damon lets you. Unless you wanted a repeat of this afternoon's spanking?"
Cringing, Jeremy muttered, "No, of course not. And could we please never mention it ever again."
They heard Damon's bed springs creak as he flopped down.
Even in the dark, Stefan could see Jeremy's face turning red. "Don't worry, he'll stop treating you like a kid eventually."
With a smile Stefan said, "Give it ten years… twenty tops."
Jeremy lay back down, groaned, and put his pillow over his face.
Taking pity on the kid, Stefan pulled the pillow off his face and said. "I'm kidding. Give it a year or two. If you don't go around pulling idiotic stunts like you did today, you shouldn't have anything to worry about."
Jeremy certainly wasn't planning to make waves again, and Damon really had helped him adjust. He said, "A year doesn't sound too bad." After a pause, he pushed himself up on one elbow and said, "Wait. Who does Damon love?"
"Well that's a tricky question. My guess is he thinks he's in love with Elena."
"You don't think so?"
"No, I do think he loves Elena. But I think he also loves me, and you, and Caroline, and the Sheriff, and Katherine, and Anna, and this town, and this house. Loving Elena may have opened the door, but now that it's open, he can't close it. And since his emotions are free for the first time in years, they're going to make up for lost time."
From his bedroom, Damon growled, "Shut it, Stefan. I don't love anyone. I hate all of you."
Surprised at how sober Damon sounded, Stefan grinned. "Yeah, sure you do, Damon."
"I thought you said he was drunk," Jeremy said with worry.
Smirking, Stefan said, "Guess he's just been downstairs wallowing in self pity."
Jeremy glared, and hissed, "Don't irritate him on purpose!"
"Sorry," Stefan said, without any real repentance. He understood why Jeremy was nervous about Damon's reactions right now, but hoped it wouldn't last for more than a couple of days. Damon without his humanity was dangerous and unpredictable, but Damon with his humanity intact was a decent guy who could be trusted.
Raising his voice, Damon said, "If you two girls are done with your slumber party gossip, I'd like to get some sleep."
Jeremy immediately snatched his pillow out of Stefan's hands, and lay back down.
With a smile, Stefan went back to his chair to keep an eye on him while he slept.
Jeremy rolled over, got comfortable, and let his mind wander. He was still miserable with grief and self-hatred, but he also had to admit that a newfound sense of security was building in him. There was security in knowing that Damon, Stefan, and Elena were going to make sure he kept himself in check for the next year or two. That security gave him the willpower to keep going, and it gave him hope that things could eventually get better.
Praying for no more nightmares, Jeremy let himself drift off to sleep.