"Get your hands off her!"

"Oh, grow up, John. My hands are on him, too," Elena retorted, her lip curling with disgust at the sight of her uncle. Father. Whatever. Damon couldn't hide his smirk as she leapt to his defense. She wasn't trying to hide what had happened, to deny it. Interesting. Very interesting.

"Didn't expect to see you back in town so soon, John. How's the hand?" Damon jerked his head towards the compression glove John wore. The man's livid face paled just a trifle, and he moved the hand behind his back.

"I hear you've taken care of the Katherine problem. I have to say, Damon, I never thought you'd have the stones to do it. Decide you were tired of being a whipped dog?"

Elena groaned. "Do you have to start the pissing match again? No, don't answer that. Of course you do. What do you want, John? I thought we made it pretty clear you aren't welcome here."

John's hard eyes softened as he looked at her. "I heard what happened—with Katherine. And with Stefan. And I hear there's a new player in town." John glanced from Elena to Damon and back again. "Elijah. Do you know what you' dealing with here?"

"I think we can handle it a little better than you can. After all, we can't just lock him in a basement and light him on fire, now can we?" Damon's words dripped venom. The temptation to exact revenge for what John had done was nearly overwhelming. Elena didn't even like him, surely she wouldn't miss him if he had a little "accident."

"Stop. Both of you, stop. I can't deal with this while I'm in my pajamas. I'm going to get dressed. Go downstairs and try not to kill each other. I mean it." She glowered at them for a moment before ushering them into the hall and shutting the door.

The two men stared at each other. Damon's eyes wandered down to John's uninjured hand. Yep, there was the deus ex machina ring. He gave John a significant look before heading downstairs and making a beeline for the coffee pot. He was hungry. Damon couldn't even remember the last time he'd fed, and Elena didn't keep O-negative in the fridge. It seemed likely he'd be spending more time here in the near future, and he made a mental note to bring a few blood bags over. Elena was fairly tolerant of his diet, but he didn't think she'd let him keep hookers in the basement for a quick bite.

John sat at the kitchen table as Damon dumped heaping tablespoons of coffee into the machine. "Where's Jeremy? Where's Jenna?" Damon asked.

"Jeremy let me in, said Jenna had to go to campus for something. Then he left. Didn't want to be around me, I guess." John couldn't keep the sadness out of his eyes. Ah, family troubles. The great equalizer.

"Can't imagine why." Damon punched the button on the coffee machine, leaning against the counter, the better to keep his eye on John. He was only a human, but he was wily. And the bastard had almost killed him once—it wouldn't happen again.

"Coffee?" Elena asked hopefully, fully dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, binding her hair back into a ponytail as she entered the room. Damon wished she wouldn't. He loved her hair, that silky curtain that famed her face, made her eyes more vibrant...

"Soon," Damon assured her.

She nodded, seating herself at the table as far as possible from John. "If you came here to express concern, you should've saved the trip. We have Elijah under control."

"You can't have an Original 'under control,' Elena. It's not possible," John said. Finally, something they could all agree on. Damon never thought he'd welcome John's presence, but if the man could talk some sense into Elena, get her to run...well, Damon would just have to reconsider mounting John's head on the wall of the boarding house.

"I said we've got it, John," Elena said sharply.

John sighed, rubbing his eyes. "You don't like me. I get the picture, Elena. Really I do. But at the end of the day I'm still your fa-" John caught the outraged look on Elena's face. "We're still family. And I still have a duty to protect you. And whether you believe me or not, I take that very seriously."

The coffee maker buzzed. Damon turned his back on the little family scene, pouring two cups of coffee. He dosed one liberally with cream and three packets of sugar, sliding it to Elena, while he kept the other mug for himself, returning to lean against the counter.

"So how are you going to keep her safe? Let's cut to the punchline," Damon said.

John looked up at Damon uneasily. "I won't. I can't. I don't stack up very well against a vampire, as we've seen." He raised his hand as proof.

"Oh, I dunno, you do pretty well when they're screaming on the ground in agony and you have a gas can handy," Damon smirked.

"You're not helping," Elena said. "Go on, John."

John reached into the messenger bag he wore slung across his chest and produced a long, ornate silver dagger and a small vial of dust. Damon frowned, moving towards the able for a better look. "The hell is that?" he asked.

"The only way to kill an Original." John clutched the dagger awkwardly, a man not used to handling weapons, and clinked it against the vial. "You dip the dagger into this ash. It's from a white oak tree that has some sort of mystical significance, I'm not sure. And then you plunge it into the Original's heart."

"Where did you get this?" Elena asked. "And how do you know all this, about Elijah, about...about Stefan?" Her voice faltered at Stefan's name.

"You forget, Elena. I'm a Gilbert." He smiled. "Our family has be hunting them-" he nodded at Damon "for a hundred years. Something you'd do well to remember." Elena snorted. "I still have contacts in Mystic Falls and around the world when it comes to dealing with vampires. But none of that's important right now. What matters is getting rid of Elijah."

"Agreed," Damon said, reaching for the dagger and vial. John moved them out of his grasp.

"You'll only have one shot, Damon. If you screw this up, we're all dead." John swallowed hard. "What I saw up there, in Elena's room, makes me sick. Stefan was one thing, at least he could pretend to be human. But you're an entirely different beast, aren't you? But I know you'll keep her safe. I'm depending on you for that." He slid the items across to Damon.

Damon hefted the dagger, testing its weight in his hand. It was surprisingly light, and hummed with some deep, hidden power. Yep, he believed this thing could take out an Original. He slid the thing into the back waistband of his jeans, tucking the vial into a pocket.

"Elena, I've got to run by the boarding house, pick up a few things, run some errands. If you even try to leave this house, I will have Bonnie seal you in it. Are we clear?"

She rolled her eyes extravagantly. "Crystal. But you had better not go rogue and try to kill Elijah now. Come back, we need to plan this. We need to figure out what he's after before you kill him."

"Deal. Walk me out, John." Damon jerked his head towards the door, and the other man reluctantly stood. Damon clapped him on the back as they headed for the entryway.

"Don't think this is a truce between us, Johnny Boy," Damon murmured. "I owe you a little suffering. And if I find you've betrayed us with all of this, I'll have your guts for garters."

"The feeling is mutual. But for now, we're on the same side. Her side. So try not to fuck this up."

"A temporary cease fire, then. Let's shake on it. Oh, wait." With an ironic salute, Damon slipped out of the house. He never even noticed the sleek black car driving past, nor the familiar driver behind the wheel.

Isobel.