Disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot.
"We're never getting him back, Elena. You know that, don't you?"
"Then we'll have to let him go."
Klaus can't decide if he's impressed and pissed off, or just downright pissed off. He's got to hand it to Stefan; he certainly didn't think when he released his favourite wingman from compulsion that said wingman would make off with the coffins of his entire family. It's the type of cunning plan that Klaus himself would come up with, and for that he decides to be furious with a small hint of admiration. Stefan Salvatore may be acting on his own free will, but his time with the Original vampire has clearly rubbed off on him.
Getting his family back won't be an easy task. Sure, he knows that Stefan would likely avoid flying anywhere as the red tape involved with transporting coffins or massive number of employees to compel is rather discouraging. That still leaves the vast majority of North and South America as Stefan's playground, and Klaus knows he needs a plan. Doing the work himself would take far too long, so he chooses to do what he does best: intimidate others into doing his dirty work.
He whips out his cell phone and dials Stefan, surprised when he actually answers. "I want my family, Stefan," he growls.
"That's good, Klaus. It's nice to want things."
Huh. The little bugger's balls have finally dropped. That small hint of admiration grows like the Grinch's heart on Christmas. Perhaps there's hope for Stefan after all.
"The way I see it, you have two choices. One, give me my family back and maybe I'll take you back under my wing. Maybe. Two, spend the rest of your undead life on the run with some very heavy coffins, and hope that I never find you."
Stefan laughs. "I prefer option 3. You leave me, Mystic Falls and everyone in it alone, and I won't do something drastic like drop your family's coffins into the depths of the ocean. I doubt even an Original could survive the pressure of the Mariana Trench. That's thirty-six thousand feet deep, Klaus. Just in case you were wondering."
"Give me my family, Stefan, or I will kill you and everyone you have ever met."
"You do that; you will never see them again."
Klaus stares at his phone in anger. Stefan has hung up on him. Since his first plan has failed, he heads out to get started on his backup plan.
"So what's up with you and Damon?" Caroline is always blunt and to the point.
Sometimes Elena wants to throttle her for it, but tonight she just sighs and takes a sip of her soda. The Grill is steady as usual, and they're seated comfortably near the bar. "Honestly, Care? I'm not even sure."
Caroline raises a perfectly arched eyebrow, and shakes her head. "Well at least that's a step up from the last time I asked you about him and you refused to even acknowledge there might be feelings there. He sleeps next to you every night, Elena. How is that even normal?"
"It's a comfort thing," she mumbles in response, avoiding Caroline's gaze and instead focusing on the pool table across the bar. "I feel safe with him there. He's... changed. He's different now."
"Interesting how you ignore the first thing I say and go straight to that. What does it say when you're more comfortable acknowledging that Damon Salvatore is sharing your bed every night, than you are admitting you might actually feel something for him?"
Elena's eyes snap up to meet Caroline's, and a blush creeps up on her cheeks. "Damon makes me feel safe," she admits.
"Oh come on, Elena! Safe is not the only thing he makes you feel! I've seen the two of you together! There is so much unresolved sexual tension between you that you could teach a class on it. I swear I can see it sometimes; it's like those heat waves coming off the road when it gets really hot in the summer. You want him. You kissed him when you thought he was dying. I wish you would just admit it to yourself, because as much as he used to be the biggest asshole in Virginia, he's not anymore. Because of how he feels about you."
Caroline flounces out of their booth and over to the bar, leaving Elena to herself for a few minutes. She compels the bartender, flirting with him as he pours a row of shots for her to take back to her table. She figures if Elena isn't going to tell the truth, she's at least going to get buzzed with her. Maybe if she's drunk enough Caroline can get her to engage in a game of Never Have I Ever and trick her into admitting her feelings for Damon.
Elena sighs again, lowering her head to sip more of her soda. She hears the brush of denim against the vinyl seating of the booth and clenches her jaw.
"Fine, Caroline, you're right. There's something between Damon and I, and I can't keep pretending it isn't there."
She hears a low throaty chuckle that definitely does not belong to Caroline, and nearly falls out of the booth when she looks up to meet Klaus' eyes. They're sparkling in amusement, and Elena is sufficiently terrified.
"It's about time," drawls Klaus, giving her a smug smile. "It seems history truly does repeat itself."
"Klaus." Elena grounds out in greeting, heart hammering in her chest so loudly that she's surprised it hasn't drawn Caroline back to the table yet. She glances quickly at the bar and sees Caroline somehow balancing three shot glasses in each manicured hand, and the surprise on her best friend's face at Elena's new tablemate.
"Please, Caroline. Join us. Elena was just giving me all the juicy details on how she feels about Damon." Klaus gestures to the empty space next to Elena, and Caroline has no choice but to slide in next to her, setting the shots on the table. Elena's phone begins to vibrate in her pocket, signalling a text message.
"What do you want?" asks Elena, biting off the words as her hand reaches under the table for Caroline's. She squeezes it, silently letting her know that she's grateful to have the perky vampire with her.
Klaus reaches for a shot glass, tipping his head to Caroline before downing the vodka she'd procured. "I want my family back." He says simply.
Elena cocks her head to the side and looks at him, confusion all over her face. "Not that I don't understand how that feels, but I have no idea what you're talking about." Her phone vibrates again.
Caroline is openly glaring at Klaus, annoyed by his casual appearance and his theft of her booze. Who does he think he is? Just because he's an Original doesn't mean she won't happily go down trying to rip his head off. She rises a fraction of an inch to do just that, and Klaus holds up a hand to stop her.
"Unnecessary, Caroline. I'm not here for a fight." He turns to Elena, a smile eerily reminiscent of Heath Ledger's Joker stretching across his face. "Not if you and your little band of followers cooperate with me, that is."
Both girls just stare at him, waiting for him to continue. Antagonizing Klaus really isn't a good idea. Especially not when it's just the two of them, and the Grill is full of innocent humans. Elena wishes more than anything that she hadn't insisted Damon stay at the Boarding House tonight so she could have time with Caroline; at least he'd be better at handling the ancient vampire.
"Haven't you wondered yet, Elena, where your precious Stefan is?" Klaus' hand snakes across the table, snatching another shot from Caroline. He pushes the remainder of the glasses in front of the girls, indicating they should join him.
The three raise their glasses, but Elena and Caroline keep theirs in front of their faces. As bizarre as this situation is, there is no way in hell they are toasting with Klaus. They reluctantly take the shot, the vodka burning a trail of fire down Elena's throat.
"I suppose you haven't wondered," Klaus continues, "given that there's something between you and Damon now."
"Just tell us what you want, and leave us alone," Caroline spits out. As if Klaus hasn't done enough to them already, the fucker has now stolen one third of her shots and the casual attitude of the act has her ready to scratch his eyes out.
"It's simple, really. Stefan stole my family. He refuses to give them back. Bring Stefan and my family back to me."
Elena blinks, surprised. Of all the things she thought Stefan might do with his freedom, kidnapping a tractor trailer full of daggered Original vampires was not one of them. "Putting aside the impossibility of finding a way to make this happen, why? Why us? We all tried to kill you. Why would you ask us to do something for you?"
"Retrieve my family and the youngest Salvatore. Succeed, and I will leave you alone. However, if you fail..." Klaus steals the last two shots from Caroline, throwing them back in quick succession. "You people seem to respond best to violence," he says with a slow smile and an indifferent shrug.
"Absolutely not." Elena says, growing angry. "You need me, Klaus. You can't create more hybrids without my blood. I will agree to help you, on one condition. I actually respond better to kindness, so instead of threatening to hurt or kill people I care about, you will protect them."
Caroline stares at Elena in horror. "Are you insane? You're actually making a deal with this psychopath?"
Elena pinches her thigh under the table, and Caroline squeaks before shutting up. "Deal?" she asks Klaus.
"Counteroffer. I will not protect them. I will, however, promise to stop actively trying to maim and injure the people you care about. This does not extend to the entire town, Elena. You have to choose people."
"Damon. Caroline, Bonnie, Ric and Jeremy." Elena rattles off quickly.
It's Klaus' turn to be surprised. "You didn't include Stefan?"
Elena crosses her arms over her chest and just her chin out in defiance. "He betrayed us. All of us."
"Very well then. I accept your terms." Klaus extends his hand to Elena.
She stares at it like it's a cobra, coiled and ready to pounce. Tentatively she reaches out and shakes his hand.
He grasps her fingers firmly and leans in close. "Do not double cross me, Elena. You have two weeks." He releases her hand and slides out of the booth. His exit from the Grill is surprisingly peaceful, until he collides with Damon at the doorway. Klaus grins evilly at him and brushes by, disappearing into the night.
Damon is shocked and stands there staring after Klaus, trying to process that the Original vampire was just at the Grill. He is torn between going after the Original, and making sure Elena is okay. It takes a second before he remembers its Elena, and suddenly it's not even a choice. "There is no way I am drunk enough to have hallucinated that," he growls en route to the table, knowing Caroline can hear him. He gives Elena a quick once over, confirming that she is physically fine. He is absolutely terrified, knowing that she was just alone with the Original and he wasn't there to protect her. Damon refuses to show it, however, and buries the feeling under layers of anger. "Well now I understand why you weren't answering my texts. Care to explain what the fuck just happened?" he asks both girls, coming to a stop at the edge of their booth.
Elena is having trouble finding words, and Caroline throws up her hands in defeat. "You're the one who agreed to this, you tell him!" She grabs her purse and storms over to the bar again. She needs the shots Klaus stole more than ever now, and as frustrated as she is with Elena she isn't about to leave her entirely alone to deal with Damon.
"I'm waiting, Elena," Damon taunts, and his teasing tone takes her mind to all the other things he could possibly be waiting for; namely her, ready and willing.
She shakes her head to clear it, and drags Damon into the booth to sit with her. "Don't get pissed at me, it's not like I called up Klaus and asked for a drinking buddy."
"Drinking buddy? Elena, you do realize that you were just in the middle of the Grill with a batshit crazy Original vampire who has either killed or tried to kill nearly everyone you care about?"
"I'm fully aware!" She spits back at him, visibly shaking.
Immediately Damon regrets snapping at her. The last thing he wants is to hurt Elena, and he realizes he should have handled the situation with more tact. He's sure that she's done something stupid again, given how Caroline is mad at her, but he would rather sit next to her with her pressed snugly into his side than yell at her while she cries.
She gives him the Coles Notes version of Klaus' visit, and Damon grows more and more agitated. When she explains that she made a deal to find Stefan and Klaus' family in two weeks, Damon suddenly understands why Caroline is angry. She stops speaking when she feels him tense up next to her and sees his jaw clench.
"Did you not learn anything from the last time you made a deal with an Original, Elena? You didn't even think to include yourself on that list?"
Elena falters for a moment; she knows that he's scared that something else horrible will happen to her (as if enough hasn't already), and she understands that. She finds her backbone again and glares at him. "No, Damon, I didn't. Klaus told me to choose specific people that I wanted to make sure no harm came to. We've been over this before. I would happily trade my life to see everyone else safe."
Caroline starts to make her way back to the booth. She's had several more shots and is feeling less tense, and even without her vampire hearing she was able to catch bits of Damon and Elena's conversation from the bar.
"Not to interrupt your little love spat, but subtlety really doesn't seem to be your specialty. People can hear you. Why don't you two take this back to the boarding house? I'll round everyone else up and meet you there so we can start working on a plan. It's almost 8, so I'll give you two half an hour to sort your shit out and get on the same page." Caroline winks at Elena and leaves the Grill.
Damon is still quietly fuming, so without a word he gets up, gently taking Elena's elbow and guiding her from the bar. They get into his car and spend the drive back to the boarding house in silence. Elena crosses her arms, pushing up her breasts just enough that Damon can't help but notice and he has to remind himself to keep his eyes on the road. The moment the car stops in the driveway Elena flings the door open, not even waiting for Damon to put the vehicle in park. She slams it behind her and storms into the house, him following in her wake.
He finds Elena hovering near his liquor supply, a cut crystal glass with amber liquid in her hand. She tosses back the glass, and Damon blurs in front of her, taking the glass and setting it on the table.
"What are you doing, Elena?" he asks, his tone softer than at the bar.
She manages to keep glaring at him for all of five seconds before the fight goes out of her, and she slumps back into a leather chair. Her eyes remain cast downward, following the patterns on the antique Persian rugs.
"I just want to make sure everyone I love is safe," she mutters, knowing he hears the words as clearly as if she were screaming them directly in his ear.
Damon swears his undead heart just skipped a beat; she included him on that list. He dares to let himself hope that she returns his feelings, even just for a second, before he pushes that all aside. Reaching out to her, he grasps her hands and pulls her upright again, folding her into an embrace. He tangles one hand in her hair and the other rests on her lower back, keeping her pressed tightly against him. He can't stop thinking about how perfectly she fits in his arms, or how incredible she smells. He wonders when Elena started carrying his balls around in her purse, and realizes that he doesn't even care.
Surprise is the first thing Elena feels, followed by a sense of safety and comfort. She and Damon have hugged several times, but she can't recall a time that he initiated it. His chest is radiating warmth and she catches herself trying to burrow further into him. The alcohol now coursing through her bloodstream loosens her tongue, and she finds herself saying something she's afraid she might regret. "Is it so hard to believe that my first thought was to make sure Klaus wouldn't hurt you? That if he really wanted to hurt me, all he'd have to do is go after you?"
She feels his hands slide up to cup her face, and Damon backs up a few inches searching her eyes. She has this nagging feeling that they've been in this position before, but she can't quite remember when or why. Elena meets his gaze as her hands clasp behind Damon's neck, and she bites her lower lip in nervousness.
Immediately his eyes drop to see her plump lower lip held by her teeth, and he involuntarily lets out a groan. Slowly he dips his head a few inches, hovering just above her lips before looking into her eyes once again.
"I'm not dying this time, Elena," he whispers, so close to her that she swears she can feel his lips moving. "If you don't stop, I can't pretend it never happened."
She takes in a sharp breath, paralyzed by his words. He's giving her an out, and she falls just a little bit harder for him knowing that he's still willing to sacrifice his happiness for her. Seconds tick by, neither one of them moving, and then he sees it. She's moved forward by the tiniest fraction of an inch, as if she knows only his heightened vision would be able to tell. As he moves to close the infinitesimal distance between them, Elena's cell phone starts ringing in her pocket.
The moment's gone, and Damon lets out another groan, this time in frustration. He drops his forehead onto hers, both of them with eyes closed, and he savours the last few seconds he can.
Suddenly Elena's standing by herself, and she opens her eyes to see Damon with a bottle of his precious bourbon. He takes a swig straight from the bottle; there's no point in using a glass for the amount of alcohol he'll need to consume to even begin to attempt dulling his desire for her. He feels like their picture would be in the dictionary next to 'Unresolved Sexual Tension'.
Elena pulls her phone from her pocket and sees Caroline's name flashing on the screen. "Hey Care," she answers, trying her best to be casual.
"Five minute warning!" her best friend declares in a sing-song voice. "Thought you might appreciate it."
"I guess I'll see you in a few then. Thanks." Elena hangs up the phone, and walks closer to Damon. She rests a hand on his bicep, trying to be reassuring.
He leans into her touch for a moment, and then pulls away. "Stop." He says in a pleading tone, refusing to look at her. Damon's sure that she'll do what she always does and pretend that they weren't about to kiss, that they weren't interrupted by a phone call for the second time, that she doesn't have feelings for him. He's used to that, he can handle that. The apologetic attempt to comfort him is more than he can handle right now.
The front door swings wide open just then, with Caroline at the head of the pack. She has Bonnie right next to her, with Alaric and Jeremy following behind.
"I figured we should leave Tyler behind," she says with a strained voice, "Something tells me plotting against his new best friend might not go over so well."
Elena is immediately enveloped in a hug from Bonnie, with a promise to do whatever she can to help. Damon pours a glass of bourbon and hands it to Ric as the teenagers assemble in the living room.
"So. We need to kill Klaus." Says Jeremy, trying to break the tension. "Is anyone else getting a serious case of déjà vu?"