AN: Welp, here goes.
Chapter One – What Was Lost
Damon's blood wasn't moving. Three pairs of eyes stared anxiously at the crudely drawn map of Virginia, waiting for the slightest hint that the spell was working. Jeremy and Elena held their breath. A muscle in Damon's jaw ticked. Bonnie perched on the edge of the couch with her eyes closed and her arms stretched out over the ritual paraphernalia. Her soft chanting was the only sign of life in the vast Salvatore house.
"It's not working," Jeremy muttered, breaking the silence. Bonnie had started to sway – barely – but enough for the boy who was hyper aware of her every move to notice.
"Shut up," Damon hissed, his eyes flicking toward Jeremy for the briefest of instants. "Let her concentrate."
"It has to work," Elena whispered, her attention focused exclusively on the map. This was their last solid plan. Alaric's apartment had been searched, summoning spells attempted on everybody they could think of: all failed. With Caroline and Tyler's help, Damon had tried to pick up a scent but it had been cold, even for a vampire. Somehow, Klaus, Elijah, Katherine and Stefan had vanished from Mystic Falls without a trace.
Beads of sweat broke out on Bonnie's brow and trickled down the side of her face. Then the faintest touch of crimson appeared just under her nose, turning to a dark rivulet that coursed down and over her upper lip. Damon caught the tantalizing hint of copper first and said nothing, but Jeremy noticed a split second later.
"Bonnie! Bonnie, stop!" he shouted, breaking through her concentration. Her eyes flew open, pupils dilated against the stark whites. Then they rolled back in her head, her lashes fluttered. Jeremy caught her as she started to slide off the cushion, easing her gently to the floor.
"Dammit," Damon cursed and shot up from the darkly upholstered couch to pace in front of the fireplace. His agitated gaze went automatically to Elena's crestfallen face. With renewed urgency he took in the unconscious witch and her valiant white knight. "Wake her up. She needs to try again."
"No freaking way," Jeremy proclaimed, utterly defiant. Bonnie was out cold and he cradled her head against his shoulder. "After everything that's happened, I'm not letting her kill herself over a stupid location spell."
"I need to find Stefan," Damon argued, uttering the catch phrase they had all repeated numerous times over the past few days. It had become their calling card, their mantra, despite the fact that it was losing steam as they ran out of options. The location spell, the same one Bonnie had used to find Elena when Rose and Trevor had taken her, was their last obvious resort.
"We don't even know if it works on vampires," Jeremy shot back, unperturbed to be fighting with a being that could kill him – and had - without breaking a sweat. Damon fumed in impotent silence and went to the fireplace, turning his back on the room and everybody in it. Jeremy smoothed Bonnie's disheveled hair off her face and looked up at Elena. "I'm sorry."
The shrug and half smile she gave him was a direct contrast to the tears pooling in her dark eyes, but she said nothing as Jeremy looped his arms more securely around Bonnie and lifted her easily from the floor. The witch stirred slightly, nuzzling her face against his chest, but didn't wake. They disappeared into one of the many dens and sitting rooms scattered throughout the house. A familiar heavy silence fell on the room.
Elena's gaze fell to the remnants of the failed ritual. Damon's blood had soaked into the parchment, a spreading stain that covered the area representing Mystic Falls and the miles surrounding it. Barely audible, she murmured. "Three strikes and you're out."
"We'll find him," Damon promised harshly, his back still turned. He'd made the oath so many times, Elena had run out of things to say in response.
But even a vampire couldn't hear her head nod, so she cleared her throat and said. "I know."
"Klaus won't kill him," Damon asserted, turning around and treading the well worn path to the bar. He splashed bourbon into a crystal tumbler and after a sharp look at Elena, poured another. "He already had a chance and he didn't take it."
"I know," Elena repeated and reached for the offered drink with just the slightest hesitation. Their fingers brushed accidentally, lingered and her gaze skittered over his face. In a rare moment they made eye contact before both looked away. The setting sun reflected off the faceted glass as Elena took a tentative drink, blinding her momentarily. The fiery liquid burned down her throat, but she didn't flinch.
Damon eyed the empty space beside her on the couch, then changed his mind and walked around the low table to sit across from her. Despite the distance, her heartbeat echoed in his head. By now, he should have been used to it, but since Stefan had acted the sacrificial lamb nothing was the same.
"Damon, we need-."
"Klaus must have found himself another witch," the vampire muttered darkly, ignoring the expectant tension rising in the room. Elena could feel it, like a string from her heart to his, tightening with each moment they spent alone. "Someone who can keep Stefan off Bonnie's radar. She's jacked up on too much Power to have just failed."
"That makes sense," Elena nodded, tilting her glass to watch the bourbon catch the sunlight through the crystal, but also to avoid the hypnotic intensity of Damon's eyes. When he was upset, he forgot to control it and if she slipped and fell in they couldn't keep avoiding each other. "Klaus would know we'd come after Stefan. There's no way he wouldn't have planned for that."
"Elena, I'm sorry," Damon said for the hundredth time.
Her shoulders sagged. "You don't have to keep saying that. I know. Besides, this was Stefan's choice."
"Yeah, the choice to save me," he replied, contempt coloring every word. "He should have just let me die."
Elena sucked in a sharp breath and lifted her head. Damon's gaze was black as their eyes caught. He'd been thinking that every second since Katherine brought him the cure that cost Stefan his freedom, but this was the first time he'd said it out loud. Elena shook her head. "Stefan couldn't let that happen."
After another drink, Damon borrowed her non-committal words, making them drip with self-loathing. "I know."
"Maybe…maybe I should go to Alaric's apartment," Elena suggested in an attempt to dance away from the elephant in the room. "I know you checked it out, but I might find something or see something you didn't. Some message Stefan left for me."
"No," Damon said a little too quickly. Elena frowned at him, met his gaze, and Damon looked away. "There's nothing there, there's no point. Klaus is too smart to leave breadcrumbs."
Once again, silence fell. They were caught at a crossroads, paralyzed and uncertain now that the last option in finding Stefan had been exhausted. His disappearance had provided them with a distraction and they had gladly used it to avoid discussing what had happened the night Damon nearly died. The specter of their brief kiss hung between them, the proverbial key to Pandora's Box and although Elena had no idea what to say, she could no longer fight the impulse to bring it up. Damon, on the other hand, seemed to be able to sense her primal impulse and threw up walls to keep her out.
"Damon, we have to talk about it," Elena finally managed the entire sentence without being interrupted. The surprise victory left her giddy and she gulped down another swallow of bourbon. She was beginning to drink the harsh liquid like a pro.
"No, we don't," Damon replied definitively and left no room for argument. Of course, that's exactly what Elena did.
"Yes, we do," she insisted. "You can pretend all you want that you don't think about what happened, but I know you do. Because I do. And the longer we ignore it, the harder it will be to even be around each other and we need to be to find Stefan. We need to focus on him."
"I know what I need to focus on," Damon replied, his jaw clenched so tight it actually hurt. He was surprised his teeth didn't shatter. "I've been focusing on it. I'm not confused about what happened, Elena. I was dying and while I appreciate the kiss, I meant what I said. I know it's Stefan and that it will always be Stefan."
Damon managed with ease what Elena hadn't been able to do – he mentioned the kiss aloud for the whole universe to hear. Despite the importance of that small but momentous act, the tension hadn't relented. Elena suspected she knew why.
"But what if – ."
"I think I know a way we can find them," Jeremy bounded into the living room, oblivious to what he'd interrupted. Bonnie wasn't with him, but he was holding his laptop exultantly in one hand and didn't wait for an invitation to take a seat on the couch next to Elena. Ignoring her look of irritation, he flipped the cover up and hit the power button.
Damon raised a brow and demanded. "Well?"
Jeremy quirked a half smile, enjoying the fact that the arrogant vampire was at his mercy. Nudging Elena with his elbow, he offered a vague phrase. "Google to the rescue."
Stefan lingered at the mouth of an alley, eyes closed, idly stroking his fingertips over the rough brick of an old building. Old, he smirked, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it twitch of his lips. Only in America would a building that had been built a mere century ago be considered old. He caressed the bricks tenderly, his already keen vampire senses heightened by the human blood glutting his system. Animal blood did more than help him maintain his humanity, it dampened sensation. Only now did he remember how vivid the world truly was to those of his kind. Stefan pressed his hand flat against the wall, still warm from baking all day in the merciless sun. Everything had a life force, even that which humans considered dead, and at that moment he could feel the stone and mortar pulse. How did Damon control this?
Why would he want to?
Thinking of his brother had an odd effect on Stefan. He felt no pain or fear, but in a detached way he found the space where those emotions should have been. The smooth surface of his psyche rippled around the switch he'd flicked off himself the moment he'd clamped his bared fangs down on the soft flesh of the nubile gift Klaus had offered him.
It happened again, that awareness that something should be there, in this case regret. The Stefan of mere days before would have been riddled with guilt over the barbaric and completely unnecessary violation of a young and presumably innocent girl. He hadn't needed to feed and Klaus had only given him a slight nudge, somehow knowing the arm twisting and threats were no longer necessary. But the high from his blood bag feast had been wearing off, leaving behind only the longing to sink his teeth into something alive and fresh. Giving in hadn't just felt good, it felt right. Drinking blood – human blood – was a vampire's true nature.
This time, something pierced through and took Stefan by surprise. Not love, exactly, but longing, intense and deep coursed through him. Not even a vampire could turn off desire. The humanity in him, banished and exiled, screamed for Elena loud enough to awaken the base lust of an animal realizing that the homeless man he'd just drained and tossed aside behind the nearby dumpster had only partially satisfied him.
Jerked out of the blood haze, Stefan's eyes flew open. During the 1960s, at the height of the counter culture sweeping aside the staid '50s, he'd been deep in one of his most human periods. Bunnies and nothing but, as Caroline might have said. He'd heard about the effects of pot and acid, LSD and PCP, but had never tried them for fear they'd damage his control and he'd fall off the wagon. Now, he cocked his head and stared at the brick walls of the alley, watched them drip with thick, rich, delicious blood that he knew couldn't be there and wondered if this is what a trip felt like. He heard a giggle, realized it had burbled up from his bloodstained lips and laughed harder.
Klaus grinned, showing fang, and clapped his protégé on the shoulder. "I see you've put your qualms aside."
Stefan nodded, the unfamiliar echo of his own laughter still hanging in the warm night air. "I've missed this."
"Then I'm pleased our little arrangement is proving mutually beneficial," Klaus replied with a gentlemanly nod, the gesture of a forgotten era.
"Speaking of which," Stefan replied, pushing away from the brick wall and admirably reigning in the stupefying effects of the blood. While his system initially went into a tailspin immediately after falling off the wagon, this time, surprisingly, he was able to find equal footing. "What exactly is our arrangement?"
Klaus clucked his tongue against his elongated teeth. "We have been over this, Stefan."
"I don't believe you," Stefan shrugged. Inadvertently, he channeled Damon and cocked an eyebrow. "Sue me."
"Calling an Original a liar," Klaus mused, a distinct note of admiration in his tone. "I had no idea you were so…bold."
Stefan said nothing and waited, his gaze wandering to the nearly full moon. The longer he stared at it, the bigger and brighter it appeared. Klaus watched as Stefan slipped once again into the thrall of the blood, hypnotized by the cosmic hunk of rock reflecting the sun's rays back to earth. The ancient creature eventually laughed and slung an arm over the shoulders of the comparatively younger man.
"All in good time, my friend, all in good time," Klaus promised. Stefan tripped over his feet as they exited the alley. "And believe me, that is the one thing we have plenty of."
"What?" Stefan asked, blinking through dissipating blood soaked cobwebs.
"We're immortal on a level that surpasses even those of our kind," Klaus continued, undeterred by Stefan's inability to pay attention. "There is no other creature on this planet like me and you…well, you have your ring. A delightful trinket that vastly expands your world. Why not enjoy that a bit before getting down to business, hmm?"
Klaus made no move to hide their otherworldly speed as he guided Stefan out of the alley and down the block. Even at the late hour, heavy traffic zoomed past. Or perhaps in his state of detached consciousness Stefan only thought it was heavy. For all he knew it was just one car going by over and over, like a demented merry-go-round.
That train of thought came to an abrupt halt outside a large black, metal door. Stefan glanced around, disoriented and saw that they were in another alley, this one suspiciously clean and devoid of rats. Klaus dropped his arm from Stefan's shoulders and opened the heavy looking door as if it weighed mere ounces. No light emanated from within, but Stefan could hear music dominated by heavy bass and mournful violins. Layered beneath that were murmured voices that no human could have heard. Actual words were indiscernible, but something in their tone beckoned. The Original stood in the doorway, half cloaked in darkness.
"Are you going to join me or stand out here and miss all the fun?"
Stefan took a step forward, his focusing sharpening to a point. "What's down there?"
"The world in which you belong," Klaus replied, dropping the smirk and speaking with unusual earnestness. "The world you have been denying yourself."
"I don't…" Stefan hesitated, but he didn't know why.
"Stefan. Why won't you come see me?"
The familiar plaintive cry cut through every other sound, reaching deep inside him to the primal core where human and vampire shared an uneasy co-existence. Stefan took an involuntary step forward. "Elena?"
Another figure joined Klaus in the doorway, lithe and ethereal. Distinct features materialized slowly and at first Stefan thought it really was Elena. The odd mixture of insatiable lust tempered by the remnants of love surged within him.
Then the moon climbed higher, illuminating the doorway and the owner of the voice. Brunette and pale with perfect feminine features, the girl was Elena's type, but nowhere near as beautiful. His humanity wailed in anguish.
Klaus sensed the change in him and caressed the girl on the bare arm. She shivered, clad only in a skimpy pale pink slip dress and Stefan's desire wound tighter. "I can make you believe it is her, your beloved doppelganger."
With a snap of his fingers the girl stepped forward and smiled shyly, ducking her head and tucking her hair behind her ear. During those seconds, she transformed and when she lifted her head, it was Elena, her dark eyes sparkling with love. This time, despite crippling need, the vampire within rejected the ruse.
"No!" Stefan ordered, mounting the remaining steps and using his height to full advantage. "No compulsion. I made a deal and I'll honor it, but not if you compel me."
Klaus held up his hands with an acquiescing smile and the girl shifted back to her given form. Closing his eyes, he wrestled with his dual nature until the human part of him was subdued. With a delicate mental caress, he coaxed the switch back into place. Instantly, Stefan's senses sharpened, the need for blood and sex coalescing into one burning desire. Faster than any human eye could ever process, he whirled and pressed the girl against the doorframe.
"What's your name?" he demanded, fangs bared and ready. The girl's pulse raced beneath her skin, blood pumping so loudly Stefan thought the entire city would surely hear it.
"M-Monica," she stammered. Moonlight lit upon her face and Stefan caught his reflection in her wide eyes. He looked every bit the monster he was.
"Aren't you afraid, Monica?"
Jerkily, the obviously terrified girl shook her head. Stefan caught her excitement beneath the fear. If Monica was compelled, Klaus had done an amazing job. Dipping his head, Stefan pierced the delicate skin of her throat just enough to draw blood. Monica's breath hitched, her pulse thrummed faster. Stefan licked the tiny wound slowly, his tongue an erotic weapon setting her skin on fire. By the time he reached her mouth, she was arching against him, straining to be closer to the being that would most likely kill her by dawn.
Stefan's kiss drew blood, he didn't know whose – didn't care. His lips brushed her ear as he whispered thickly. "You should be."