Prologue

"There must be another way," Elena Gilbert says again, keeping her voice down. "There must be."

Stefan rolls his eyes. He never thought he'd feel this annoyed with Elena. She has been repeating this over and over, ever since he came back from his meeting with Klaus with a stinging sense of failure. They are in Damon's bedroom – Elena, Caroline, Jeremy, Alaric and him. Their friends are watching, as the two people who love Damon Salvatore the most are reacting very differently to the news of his unavoidable and imminent death. While the brother seems to have accepted it, the friend/crush is losing it.

"Tell me again what happened," she urges him.

Stefan stays silent.

"He bit Katherine and fed her his blood. So Emily was right, Klaus' blood is the cure. He won't give it to us because he found out that I'm alive and it upsets him," she chants mechanically, echoing the words Stefan said before he fell into a complete silence. "This is my fault," she starts mumbling. "This is everything I never wanted to happen. I have to find something, quickly. I won't lose someone else, I can't lose him. It's not happening."

Normally, Stefan would get to his feet and wrap the young human into a tight embrace. He would kiss her hair and promise that everything would be alright, that he would take care of this. But everything he can hear is how she keeps saying "I" and not "we" – like it's not his brother who is agonizing just a few inches away. The vampire is deliberately looking elsewhere; the sight of Damon, his own flesh and blood, in decay, causes him physical pain. Every time Damon spits out blood, every time he groans in pain, Stefan feels like ripping his heart out, just to put an end to it. He might be the younger brother, but an overwhelming feeling of protectiveness is crushing him – as well as guilt for failing Damon.

"Stop trying," Damon whispers through gritted teeth. "Say goodbye and get over it."

"Stop talking," Elena snaps back at him. "You need to keep your strength until Bonnie comes back."

Bonnie – she is all the hope they have left. They were hoping against hope that Klaus would help them save Damon, but it shouldn't have come as a surprise that he wouldn't – he is, after all, the bad guy in the story. When Stefan came back with tears in his eyes and just shook his head after he met with the Original, Bonnie decided to try and call on her ancestors one last time. At the moment, she is downstairs, trying to find a way to wound Klaus severely enough to cause massive bleeding. Stefan is aware of the irony: he – a vampire – desperate for blood, once and again. The blood of a very untouchable, invincible Original Vampire and newly Hybrid werewolf.

Elena starts crying. Again. Jeremy rushes to his sister's side and hugs her. Stefan suddenly realizes that everyone is gathered around Elena, trying to soothe her pain. They are throwing concerned glances at Damon every now and then, but no one looks at him. Maybe it's because they are afraid to see the worry lines creasing his forehead, but it's more likely they assume he will be alright, unlike their very human and paper-like Elena. This is always about her, somehow, he thinks bitterly. He is not being fair, but how can he be expected to, in a situation like this?

"Caroline, do you hear what she's saying?" Elena asks.

"Still chanting."

"She'll come up with something."

That's enough. He won't have her fooling everyone into thinking there is a way out of this. It hurts too much.

"The witches gave her a hard time when I asked for a cure, earlier today. Besides, they already gave her Jeremy back," Stefan states in an expressionless voice.

"They won't let Klaus get away with everything he has done so easily," Elena objects.

Stefan shrugs. He is not strong enough to talk some sense into her. He can hear Bonnie coming back from the parlor and she is not walking with a confident step like she usually does. That can mean no good.

Bonnie enters the room with an undecipherable expression on her face. She is solemn and Stefan hears Elena's heart starting to race, along with Alaric's and Jeremy's. His own heart would race if it were still beating. The dark-skinned teenager makes her way to Damon and sits on the bed, next to him. She grabs a cold towel and mops his forehead; he closes his eyes, enjoying the brief coolness.

"Remember that night at the school when Klaus cornered me?" she says. "Remember what you said?"

Klaus does not get to win tonight, no way. He just nods slightly; talking requires him to take in breaths and it hurts. Despite the fever and the dementia, Damon can smell the salty tears menacing to fall from her eyes. Caroline has been crying, too. He would not have bet on those two, but somehow, he can be fine with dying surrounded by people who will miss him. He manages to open his eyes and catch a glimpse of Bonnie. A sad smile is curling her lips.

"I can save you, Damon."

His blood injected eyes widen in surprise. That comes as a real shocker. Who would have thought that the vampire hating Bonnie Bennett would be his light in the dark? He looks at Stefan over Bonnie's shoulder and the incredulous look on his brother's face almost makes him want to laugh. Everyone starts talking at the same time, Elena repeating that she knew Bonnie would come up with something, Caroline wondering if there will be consequences for her friend, Alaric asking everybody to calm down.

"Listen carefully," Bonnie commands and she feels the natural authority that her power is giving her. "Time is a very complicated concept to wrap one's head around. The future is like a crossroads; as you make decisions, you draw your path and gradually erase the others. When Damon decided to rescue Tyler and Caroline, he erased the path in which he was not going to get bitten, for example. The witches have agreed to send him back in time, to a precise moment, to change something specific."

"Obviously. Before Tyler bit him! He will be sent there to change the past!" Elena exclaims.

Stefan glares at her. She is hysterical and he can't focus with all the noise she's making. God, when did she get so unbearable?

"I'd rather you tried the spell you used on John," he tells Bonnie, ignoring the collective gasp.

"We have been through this, Stefan. You are a vampire, your life force is inexistent."

"I know these time traveling spells. They are tricky. I don't want to take chances."

"Neither do I," Bonnie says reassuringly. "They have assured me that his life would be spared."

Alaric, Jeremy and Caroline are watching from a distance. The dynamics have not changed that much since Bonnie dropped the good news. Stefan and Elena are obviously disagreeing and while Damon should be the one to make the decision, it's Bonnie who calls the shots.

"Someone must go with him," the witch says and her gaze automatically falls on Stefan.

"Just tell me what I have to do."

"I don't know," Bonnie admits and she can't believe she's seriously going to do this when there are so many things she does not know. "There will be signs for you to read, there. I'll be in touch as much as I can."

"No!" Elena screams and everyone jumps a bit. "Stefan, please. What if something goes wrong? I don't want to lose both of you," she says in a pleading voice.

That's about it. Stefan wants to stay calm and tell her that it's his brother and so he will go, no matter what but his anger gets the best of him and he starts yelling at her instead.

"Damn it, Elena! I'm not going to stay here and babysit you while my brother is going to die!"

He immediately regrets losing his temper; she looks as if he had slapped her.

"Stefan," Caroline says softly. She puts a soothing hand on his arm and he looks down into her watery blue eyes. "Klaus is still around and if he decides to make a move while you're in the past with Damon, we will all be dead. You need to stay."

"No, it's not…"

"This is not open for discussion. Damon got bitten because he was trying to save me. I'm going."

Stefan looks down to his protégée and nods. As much as he feels guilty for being the one who turned Damon into a vampire, Caroline feels guilty for getting him in this deadly situation. He can see it in her eyes, the deep-rooted need to make things right. And then, he knows that just like him, she will do anything to save Damon. Except for him, she is probably the only one who can do it.

"I am trusting you with his life here, Caroline," he whispers. "Are you sure?"

"I will save him."

Silence falls upon the room and everyone can hear Damon's painful breathing, reminding them that something needs to be done quickly. Bonnie asks Jeremy and Alaric to get the candles from downstairs and when they bring her everything she needs, she pauses.

"You need to say goodbye," she says, suddenly ashamed. "Whether he dies now or goes back in time, he will be lost to us."

"What?" Elena says. "No!"

"He will be alive, somewhere," Stefan says dryly. "It's the only thing that matters."

"Of course," she whispers when she clearly thinks otherwise.

The following minutes are among the most painful of Stefan's life. He feels like all the light is being drawn from the room as Alaric, Jeremy, and Bonnie bid his brother farewell. Damon stays silent, pretending he is too weak to talk, but Stefan knows better. He is frightened. He is the last one to approach Damon's bed. Unspoken words are exchanged between the two brothers as a single tear rolls down Stefan's cheek. He knows he should let go of his brother's shaking hand but he can't. His fingers are so tightly wrapped around Damon's that Caroline has to make him let go, finger by finger.

"You will be alright," Stefan finally says.

"You, too, brother," Damon whispers, and he closes his eyes.

Next thing Stefan knows, Bonnie is chanting again. Soon enough, Damon and Caroline are gone.