The worst night of his life starts with a bang.

Alaric is caught in some dreamless half-doze when a door is slammed shut, pulling him out of the darkness of his mind. Footsteps hurry closer, then slow down. Not entirely sure what is happening, Alaric straightens—and something crashes to the floor, smashing into a million pieces. He winces, sits up, looks around.

He's not at home.

Alaric blinks. Utterly lost, it takes him a moment to recognize the living-room of the boarding house. And Stefan standing in the open door, looking over at him with a frown.

"You okay?"

Alaric rubs his burning eyes, tries to clear the sleep from his brain, tries to find back to reality.

"'m okay," he mumbles, running a hand through his hair. As he shifts on the couch to get up, there is a crunching sound beneath his shoes and he looks down to find a broken glass—and bourbon spilled on the floor. He must have knocked it off the couch.

"Sorry 'bout that." He gets to his feet, takes a deep breath, rolls his shoulders. "Where is everybody?"

Stefan is watching him, looking deep in thought… and worried. Since this is more or less his usual expression, Alaric has no idea what to make of it.

"Klaus took Elena," Stefan says suddenly—and, just like that, Alaric is wide awake, stomach clenching in worry, a sudden burst of adrenaline chasing the last remains of sleep away.

"What?" He's lost for a moment, doesn't really know what exactly that means, wishes, not for the first time, he knew more about their plan than he does. "What are we going to do now?"

Stefan cocks his head to the side, looks like he is listening to something, frowns. "Where's Damon?"

"Last time I saw him he was at my apartment, talking to Katherine, he said he had a plan…"

Stefan tenses, curses under his breath and yanks his phone out of his pocket.

Alaric takes a step toward him. "When I got here the place was empty, where is everyone?"

Stefan ignores him, a moment later he growls into the phone. "Where are you?"

There is a moment of silence, then Stefan runs a hand through his hair, jaw clenching. "Klaus took Elena, Damon, she's gone."

"What?" Damon's outcry is loud enough for Alaric to hear it over the phone. Stefan listens for another moment, then hangs up, looks around, clearly fighting for his composure.

Alaric has had enough. "What the hell is going on here?"

"We'll meet Damon and Bonnie at the Bennet house, we're sticking with the original plan." Stefan turns to leave, but Alaric holds him back.

"Hold on, what plan?"

Stefan looks surprised. "Damon didn't tell you?"

Alaric fights not to roll his eyes in annoyance. "No one's told me anything, I know you've got something planned to save Elena and that's going to piss Klaus off and Damon—" Something suddenly clicks into place, something he's heard earlier this day, something that should have rung a bell then but never quite registered in his brain. "Wait, Damon gave Elena his blood so she would come back as a vampire? Are you insane? You're going to let Elena kill herself?"

Stefan winces and his whole body goes rigid, his eyes flaring, not unlike Katherine's. "I'm not lettingher do anything—it was her decision, she—dammit, Alaric, she's—" He breaks off, takes a deep breath… and a step back, away from Alaric. "It's her decision," he forces out through clenched teeth.

Shit.

Alaric forces himself to take a deep breath as well, to calm his racing thoughts, to not give in to the panic that's making his head swim. He crosses his arms in front of his chest to hide how badly his hands are shaking, but can't hold still, runs them over his face a moment later. "What's the plan?"

Stefan is in no mood to chat and nods at the door. "I'll tell you on the way to the others."

"What are we going to do at the Bennet house?"

"Meet the others, Elijah and Bonnie—"

"I am already here."

Elijah's calm voice makes both of them jump in surprise and they turn to look at the main door. The Original is standing there, looking over at them with that annoying calm expression.

"We shouldn't waste what little time we have left." He turns and walks out, leaving Stefan and Alaric to follow him.

In less than a minute they are in the car. Stefan is driving and Alaric is grateful for that; his eyes are still a little blurry and his brain feels like it's wrapped in cotton. He couldn't have had more than an hour or two of almost sleep and that short rest has done nothing for the pressure behind his eyes that is slowly turning into a stress-migraine.

They spend a long time of the drive in silence, until Alaric feels collected enough to ask about the plan they've come up with.

And then spends the rest of the drive wishing he had just kept his mouth shut.

It's hilarious, and that is putting it mildly.

Apparently the sun and moon curse is fake and was originally placed on Klaus who's not only an original vampire but also a werewolf, a hybrid as Elijah calls him. The hunter in Alaric is curious, wants to know how exactly this works, what it means, if Klaus is a super-hairy vampire or a werewolf who only drinks blood on full moons—but the rest of him only wants to know how to stop him—how to kill him, how to finally put an end to him.

Klaus wants to break the curse so the dormant werewolf-part of him will be reactivated… and to do that, he has to perform the infamous ritual: He has to sacrifice a vampire and a werewolf and drain the doppelganger of her blood.

He has to killElena.

It doesn't get easier hearing it, especially since it's part of the suicide mission that they are generously calling a 'plan'. Elena is going to sacrifice herself so that Bonnie can step in and attack Klaus after the curse is lifted since that's apparently the only moment he will be vulnerable. Then Elijah is going to finish the job.

And as if all of this isn't bad enough already, now that Elena has Damon's blood in her system, she will wake up as a vampire.

It's like watching a horror movie, a really bad one.

"Klaus has a werewolf and a vampire he is going to kill before he… before he drains her—who's he gonna use for that?"

Stefan flinches. "We don't know yet," he says. "Probably some innocents who are going to get dragged into this because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. If there's such a thing as an innocent vampire… or werewolf."

Elijah speaks up from the backseat. He's been so quiet Alaric has almost forgotten he was there at all. "My brother is a very vengeful man, he will chose his victims for a reason. They will have a meaning for him, someone he knows, someone who has caused a significant amount of trouble for him over the years."

"Katherine," Alaric and Stefan say in unison.

"It is possible."

What little he has heard and seen of Katherine hasn't exactly made him a fan of her, especially not since she was responsible for Jenna stabbing herself— still this seems wrong.

Alaric sighs and leans back against his seat, watching the dark road. Something about all this... is weird. He can't put his finger on it, but he feels as if they've forgotten something, something they should have remembered, something important.

When they arrive at the Bennet house there's already a car in front of it. Bonnie is going through the trunk, obviously looking for something. She looks up when they climb out of their car—

And freezes. Stares at Alaric, eyes going wide, a look of panic flashing across her face. Bonnie raises her hands as if to ward off a blow and Alaric almost turns to look behind him, expecting to see someone sneaking up on him—

"Alaric?" Bonnie's voice sounds suspicious.

He remembers then, remembers how the others told him that Klaus had killed her, that she had to fake her death while he—Klaus was attacking her, hurting her… He suddenly feels sick to his stomach.

Fuck, she's just akid...

"Bonnie, it's me…" He takes a step back, doesn't know what to do, just wants that expression to be gone from her face.

Stefan steps between them. "Bonnie, it's him, we checked, it's Alaric, Klaus let him go."

Bonnie stares at him for a moment longer, then relaxes, smiles. "It's good to have you back," she says softly—but Alaric feels bad.

"I'm sorry." He doesn't know what else to say.

Bonnie's smile widens, a little, turns sympathetic. A little. "I know it wasn't you," she says and turns to take a few books out of the trunk. "We're downstairs, looking for something that might help Elena. There has to be something in the books." With that, she turns and disappears into the house.

Alaric watches her go, can't believe this is happening at all. And there's still so much he doesn't know. He shakes his head, turns to look at Elijah. "Okay, how is this going to go down exactly?"

"The sacrifice is completed in stages as the full moon sets. First the werewolf is killed, then the vampire. Finally, the doppelganger." Elijah pauses, looks first at him, then at Stefan. "Once Elena dies, the curse will be broken. Klaus will become a hybrid."

Alaric takes a deep breath. "So when do we attack?"

"Elena's death will activate his dormant werewolf side. He'll be vulnerable during the transformation." He turns, looks at the house. "That's when Bonnie comes in."

"And you're sure Bonnie will survive this?"

"If she can deliver him to the brink of death, I'll finish the job myself."

This is not a plan, it's a disaster. Alaric wants to protest, to make them see that they can't let this happen, but before he can say anything, Stefan's phone rings. He gets it out and answers, stepping away from them. "Damon."

Alaric can't help but hold his breath when he hears the name. Stefan has his back to him, so he can't see his reaction to whatever Damon is telling him, but his voice tells him enough.

"Cut to the chase, Damon, is the sacrifice happening or not?"

A pause, then Stefan shifts—and his back goes rigid. No good news then. Stefan obviously tries to keep his voice as calm as possible when he speaks again. "We're sticking with the original plan then. We're meeting Bonnie right now."

And then he gasps. "What?"

Stefan turns suddenly, and looks at Alaric, eyes wide, shocked, and Alaric's heart skips a beat. "What is it? What's wrong?"

"Oh my god..."

"What, what is it?" Alaric barely gets the words past the lump in his throat. Whatever this is, it's worse than bad, and the way Stefan is staring at him makes his blood run cold. "Stefan, what…"

Stefan cuts the connection and shifts, swallowing heavily. Elijah, who has clearly been able to hear whatever Damon told Stefan, turns away and begins walking toward the house, while Stefan seems frozen, like he doesn't know what to do.

"Klaus has Jenna."

Stefan might as well have spoken Swahili because nothing he says makes any kind of sense.

"What?"

"He…" Stefan swallows hard. "He's planning on using her as the vampire in the ritual."

It doesn't make any sense, Jenna is human, she's not a vampire, how could she—

Oh god.

The weapon bag drops from his suddenly nerveless hand and his knees grow weak.

"No…"

He stumbles back, turns around to—he doesn't even know what to do. "No, no, we can't—he—she—"

It takes his breath away, the panic—the terror that Klaus will—that he has her and that he's—

Oh god, he can't think

"Alaric, calm down, we're going to save her."

Stefan is close, his voice low, reasonable, determined—but Alaric barely hears him. His head is swimming, he feels like he's been run over by a truck, all he's capable of thinking—all there is in his head is 'he can't have her', over and over and over again.

He feels sick.

He should have known. He should have stayed with her, he should have done… something—been there, he should have—

"Alaric, listen to me!" Suddenly Stefan is there, in front of him, shaking him. "Listen, we're not going to let anything happen to her! We will save her, okay?"

He nods slowly, feeling numb, wants to believe, wants—needshis words to be true. This can't be happening, after everything, everything he's been through—this just can't be happening…

Stefan is talking again. "—Jeremy's inside—I'll… tell Elijah and Bonnie to meet me here, okay? I'll talk to them. Jenna is going to be okay."

Alaric nods and turns, eyes the house. He doesn't want to go in there, he needs to do something, to help get Jenna back—but they need a plan, first.

Inside the house it's dark. There are a few lit candles in what he assumes has once been some sort of living-room. Elijah is standing in the middle of it, staring at the fireplace, unmoving, looking more like a shadow than a man. Alaric stands in the hallway for a moment, unsure where to go, but then he hears voices, Jeremy and Bonnie, talking to each other. He follows them and ends up in a small hallway that's completely dark and has stairs leading down at the end.

He slows down, stops walking. Leans back against the wall, closes his eyes. Takes a deep breath.

He has to calm down, he needs to be able to think, Jenna's life depends on it. They are going to find a way to save her, he has to believe in that. They have an Original on their side, they have Bonnie's magic… there isa way to get her back and they are going to find it. All he has to do, right now, is calm down, he won't be of use to anyone if he can't calm the fuck down.

Alaric starts walking again, goes down the stairs, slowly, thinking about what to say now, how to tell Jeremy about this.

Jeremy and Bonnie are sitting on an old mattress, reading something in a book. They both look up when he enters the room and Jeremy frowns.

"Alaric? What are you doing here?"

"Elijah and Stefan are upstairs… Bonnie, do you mind if I have a second with Jeremy?"

"Sure." Bonnie, nods, gets up and leaves the room and Jeremy gets to his feet, narrowing his eyes.

Alaric is pretty sure the kid can read his face just right, he has no illusion about the fact that he looks as bad as he feels. He avoids Jeremy's worried gaze for a moment, looking at the floor as if he can find all the answers there.

"It's about Jenna..." he starts, doesn't know how to go on.

Jeremy tenses, looks alarmed. "What is it?" he asks, stepping closer.

There is no easy way to tell this, so Alaric takes a deep breath and steels himself, meeting Jeremy's gaze uneasily.

"Something's happened to Jenna… Klaus… he took Jenna, he's going to use her as a vampire in the ritual."

Jeremy stares at him, dumbstruck, probably pretty much the same way Alaric had looked earlier when Stefan had told him about it.

"But' she's no—"

"And she won't, Jeremy, she won't be turned, we won't let that happen, okay?" He realizes he's trying to convince himself almost as much as Jeremy with this. "We are going to find a way to get her out of there."

Jeremy just stares at him and it suddenly strikes Alaric just how many people the kid has lost in his life so far. Jenna won't be the next one, Jeremy won't lose her, too, he won't. Alaric is going to make sure of that, no more deaths in that family, no more.

Jeremy is going for the staircase, but Alaric grabs his arm, pulls him back. "Wait."

The youth stills, turns around to look at him, barely concealed panic shining in his eyes. He's shaking his head when he speaks. "We have to save her, we have to—I can't lose Elena… and Bonnie and… and Jenna, it—I just, I can't—"

There are tears shimmering at the corners of his eyes and he looks so scared and vulnerable and impossibly youngthat Alaric's heart breaks for him. He thinks about pulling him in for a hug, just to give him a little comfort, but Jeremy is already moving again, stepping away from him.

"I can't lose them," he whispers in a small voice.

"And you won't," Alaric says, ignoring how empty that promise sounds to his own ears. Hell, he doesn't even have the slightest idea what they are going to do now, but he needs to convince Jeremy to keep the faith, to not give up.

It's not working, he can see it, for a moment Jeremy looks like he's going to flip out, to turn around and stomp up the stairs, leave him standing in the room, act like the teenager that he is. But then he relaxes, a little, takes a step back, away from the stairs. Takes a deep breath and runs a shaky hand over his face, gives a nervous smile. He shows a lot more self-control than Alaric had earlier.

"Okay," Jeremy breathes, "okay…"

Alaric squeezes Jeremy's shoulder reassuringly and nods at the stairs. "They'll come up with a plan," he says, motioning toward the upper rooms. "They're good at that."

Jeremy nods and points at one of the open books on the floor. "We found something that might help with keeping Elena human." He pulls his phone out of his pocket. "I gotta phone John, we need the journals…"

Jeremy turns away from him and Alaric takes that as a hint to give him some privacy. He stands in the room for a moment, unsure what to do now, then heads up the stairs, slowing his steps when he hears agitated voices from outside.

"… and we're going to offer another vampire," Stefan is saying, "someone he wants a lot more than Jenna." There is a pause, and Alaric stops dead in his tracks, straining to hear, doesn't dare move.

"Me."

Alaric doesn't realize he's walking toward the door, only when he's suddenly looking at Bonnie and Elijah, who are standing closer, becomes he aware that he's outside.

"You can't do that," he starts, eyes on Stefan who is standing a few feet off. "Elena needs you."

Stefan shakes his head. "Elena needs Jenna more, Alaric. You, too."

Next to Alaric, Bonnie speaks up. "Stefan, we're going to find another way. You can't just hand yourself over and die, that's not an option."

Stefan is wearing that face, the expression that says 'I'm older than you, I know what I'm doing'. "Bonnie, I've lived my life, longer than I should have, longer than you two, I can't— I won'tlet any of you do this. It's bad enough that Elena is in danger, I can't let Jenna die, too, I won't."

"But—"

"I 'm doing this, Alaric, it's my choice not yours."

Before either of them can protest again—not that Alaric would know what to say, how to hold him back— Stefan turns and walks into the house, leaving Bonnie and Alaric to look at each other.

"Jeremy's calling John to bring the journals over for that spell... for Elena..." Alaric says after a moment, helpless. Bonnie nods and then she, too, goes inside.

When Alaric steps into the house, Stefan is waiting for him.

"I'm going to get her back, I won't let anything happen to her," he says calmly. Alaric feels himself nod slightly.

Stefan studies him closely. "You have to look after her, when everything's over, no matter what… no matter what happens. You— and Jenna... make sure she's safe."

Alaric nods numbly. Stefan is saying goodbye.

"Okay," he says softly. Wonders, for a moment, just how he is supposed to tell Damon about Stefan's decision, almost opens his mouth to ask him, but he doesn't. Nods again because he doesn't know what else to do. Or say. Stefan grasps his arm, squeezes, gives him one of those earnest I-know-what-I'm-doing-nods, then steps outside.

And is gone.

Alaric sinks down onto the stairs, exhausted. He leans his head back against the wall next to him, staring at nothing in particular. This is wrong, all this... all that's happening... all wrong. So many lives in danger—because of a ritual for one vampire...

Unbidden, the image of Klaus appears before his eyes, the arrogant smirk, the way he holds himself, moving like he owns everything—everyone... Alaric tenses, can barely fight back a noise from deep in his throat, can barely suppress a shiver. Because of him, because of this monster they are in danger, they are going to lose Stefan, because of him Jenna is in danger, Elena is going to die and come back as a vampire—as the same thingthat has ruined all their lives…

The whole situation feels unreal, like it's not happening, like he's dreaming, some fucked up, please-let-me-wake-up-right-now-nightmare. He knows it isn't, he knows he won't wake up and everything will be all right again, will make sense again.

Alaric takes a deep breath and sighs, letting his gaze wander across the room, then outside the open window. This house is a weird place, old, cold, drafty, and yet, somehow, alive. Even if you didn't know that it used to be a magical place where witches used to live, you would recognize it as a place that is special, like you can feel some form of residual magic in the air, like the house has an aura, a character. It's old and creaky and falling apart, but it looks… quiet and peaceful in the moonlight.

"There you are."

The sudden voice scares him so badly he lets out a sound that might have been a squeak and whirls around.

Damon is standing in the open door, frowning. "Why so jumpy?" he asks and Alaric can hear a car door fall shut outside. How did he miss a car?

"Where have you been?" Alaric can't help but snap at Damon, angry at him for some reason, couldn't even say why.

Damon raises an eyebrow and steps inside. Behind him, John Gilbert appears, carrying a box of books.

"Where's Jeremy, I brought the books he asked for."

Alaric points to the stairs leading downstairs. "Down there, with Bonnie, they're waiting for you."

John nods and disappears down the stairs.

Damon cocks his head to the side, listens for a moment, then frowns. "Where's Stefan?"

Alaric can't suppress a wince. "He's not here, Damon."

Damon's frown deepens. "He told me to meet him here, where is he?"

Damon is good at reading people, understands Alaric's wince as easily as the pained grimace he can't quite hold back. Damon takes a step closer.

"Spill."

Alaric takes a deep breath, fighting the urge to back away. "Stefan went to see Klaus… and exchange himself for Jenna."

"He did what?"

"He wasn't gonna let Jenna die," Alaric says, voice deliberately calm.

Damon shakes his head, agitated, getting louder. "We have a witch—she kills Klaus—no one needs to die!"

"Except for Bonnie," Alaric says softly—and prepares for Damon to lose his cool.

Damon doesn't disappoint him, he stares at Alaric, then turns, punches the wall so hard his fist goes through. He's shaking with anger, glaring at his hand like it is the source of all their trouble—and then he loses his balance, sways, looks sick and unsteady—

"Hey, Damon, are you okay?" Alaric is about to step closer, hold him up, but Damon straightens immediately.

"I'm fine."

He's obviously not fine, but before Alaric can say anything, Damon walks past him, growling under his breath. "That's my brother for you, always cleaning up my messes…"

Alaric watches him stalk out of the house, torn between going after him… and staying out of his hair. Damon doesn't want company when he's as pissed like this. It's best to stay low and be quiet until he has calmed down and wants to talk.

Yeah, right. Alaric actually chuckles sadly at his own thoughts. It's not very likely that Damon will ever calm down enough to talk. Shaking his head slightly, Alaric turns to walk into the living-room, leaning against the wall next to the window. There's nothing he can do, no one he can help. Everything is happening around him and he's not really part of the team because he's just a human, no vampire superpowers, no witch who can do spells. All he has are his weapons, a few vervain grenades and a little practice at staking vampires before they can eat him. And none of this is going to be of help against Klaus.

Taking a deep breath, he lets his eyes fall closed, resting his head against the wall. His eyes are burning and he rubs them distractedly, wishing he could keep them close for a few minutes, just get a short rest, give his tired brain a chance to catch up with everything.

Footsteps behind him pull him out of his thoughts and he turns to find Elijah standing in the doorway of the living-room.

"Can we save her?" The words are out of his mouth before he can stop himself.

Elijah cocks his head to the side, regarding him calmly. "Ms Summer's involvement in all this is most… unfortunate."

It's not an answer to his question. Alaric barely refrains from rolling his eyes exasperatedly. Unfortunate. It might be an appropriate term for a being as old as Elijah, but to him it almost sounds like mockery. He shakes his head and is about to turn away from the vampire, when there is suddenly movement on the stairs.

A moment later Bonnie and Damon appear.

"We're leaving," Damon says quietly as he passes them.

"I got the weapons in the car—" Alaric starts as he follows them, but Elijah interrupts him.

"Bonnie's the only weapon we will need."

Damon and Bonnie leave the house, Alaric close behind—

He walks into an invisible wall. It takes him a moment to realize he can't cross the threshold, that he can't move any further. What the

"What is this?"

Bonnie stops, turns to look at him, can barely meet his eyes. "I can't put anyone else at risk," she says softly, clutching her books to her chest as if they are holding her up.

Alaric stares at her, incredulous, straining against the invisible force holding him back. "I can't stay here with Jenna out there," he protests, a sudden panic rolling through his insides like a searing wave.

"I'm sorry."

With that, she turns, starts walking away. Alaric is so shocked he's speechless—for exactly one second—and then he explodes.

"You can't do this—Bonnie!" He yells after her, willingher to turn back, to release him.

Her steps never falter and his gaze snaps to Damon who's standing, a few feet away, silent. Alaric's heart constricts painfully, Damon is never silent, not like this—

"Damon—"

Damon shrugs, aims for nonchalant—but he doesn't meet Alaric's eyes. "Sorry, buddy, she's right."

And he, too, leaves.

"You can't do this!" Alaric shouts after them, but they never turn, never look back at him. He punches the wall in frustration— and steps back. Runs his hands over his face, through his hair. Tries to take a deep breath and fails.

Oh God.

Jenna.

And he can't—

Oh God.

He stumbles back, has to lean against a wall to keep on his feet as panic sets in. He's shaking, hard, his heart beating a mile a minute—

"Fuck you!"

His boot crashes into the wall and hot, white pain rushes up his leg, but he doesn't really feel it, doesn't care. He's numb, unable to think past the roaring in his head, the angry red haze that settles across his vision. How dare they? How can they do this to him, how can they simply shut him out like this? How could that witch—that fucking teenage girldecide that he wouldn't be allowed to help? That he would be locked away—left behind like a useless tool—

"What happened?"

John is standing at the top of the stairs, watching him with a concerned expression.

John Gilbert is about the last human being Alaric wants to see right now. Or ever. He shrugs him off, turns without saying a word, stalks into the living-room, shaking with the need to move, to burn off some of the adrenaline that is coursing through his system. He was tired and dizzy only a few moments before, but now he's wide awake, senses sharper than ever, hearing-smelling-seeing-feeling everything at once—

Restless.

Pacing.

Back and forth, in front of the crumbled fire-place.

Shaking.

Thoughts racing.

Back.

And forth.

He can't do this, he can't be here, he will go insane if he can't—

But he can't.

He can't.

Someone's made that decision forhim, when they had no right to do it.

Oh god, he can't do this.

He stops pacing in front of the window. The glass is broken, it would be so easy to just kick the rest of the broken frame in and leave this way—but he knows that he will meet resistance, that the spell doesn't need intact windows to keep him back. He needs to do something, he's so wound up—enraged— this close to hitting something, snapping someone's neck—

Somewhere in the distance, just at the edge of his awareness, an animal starts howling, a long, haunting call that cuts through the silence of the night.

Stops.

Starts again.

Alaric takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly. Closes his eyes, concentrates on his breathing.

In and out.

In and—

"Alaric?"

Jeremy is standing in the doorway, one hand on the wood, leaning heavily against it. He looks as if he is about to keel over, pale, eyes wide, confused. Helpless.

"Bonnie left me behind." Jeremy takes a deep, shuddering breath, almost a sob. "I don't know what to do."

He looks so young, like the scared kid that he is, a frightened boy who's lost too many people in his short life.

"They didn't want me there, either…" Alaric trails off; there is nothing to say to this, nothing that will make this any less painful.

"But Jenna…"

Alaric wants to laugh, wants to point out how it apparently doesn't count that Jenna is out there, in danger, that he shouldn't be here, where he can't help, can't do anything… But all he manages is a tired shrug; there is no point in pointing out the obvious.

"This sucks," Jeremy mumbles softly.

"It does," Alaric agrees, wholeheartedly.

They fall silent for a moment, then Jeremy points at the stairs behind him. "You wanna join us?"

Actually, no, he doesn't, he wants to go out, be anywhere but here.

"I'll be down in a minute."

Shoulders slumped, Jeremy heads down the stairs, looking as miserable and dejected as Alaric feels. Alaric stands in the middle of the room, arms hanging at his sides, staring off into space. Again. It's becoming some sort of weird habit as it seems, but it's too much effort to do anything else. Outside, the animal howls again, sounding just as sad and lonely as before. It fits Alaric's mood perfectly, like the animal is mourning someone and all he can do is stand back and listen. Useless as ever.

He's so sick of this, of others deciding over his life. Isobel deciding that their marriage—that theywere over, that he didn't have any say in it. Klaus deciding to kidnap him and use his body because who would stop him? Bonnie deciding he won't be allowed to help save the woman he loves. It's all about control—and how little he has of it.

When this is over? When he has Jenna back and the ritual is done and everybody is safe—when everybody is back, human or vampire, things are going to change, hewill change them.

It becomes the longest night of his life.

He stays upstairs for a while longer, standing at the window, looking out into the night. Thinking. About everything at nothing at all. He's no longer tired, his body is tingling with adrenaline, his heart beating too fast inside his chest. It hurts, it makes breathing difficult. He feels light-headed, would love to sit down, to calm down, but he can't.

Jenna is out there, somewhere. And he isn't.

Sometimes he thinks he should worry about Elena. Or Damon. Stefan. Bonnie.

He can't.

Jenna is out there—and he wants her back. God, he wants her back. He doesn't care how, doesn't care if she comes back a vampire, a werewolf or a cave troll, he just wants to hold her again.

He starts wandering around the empty house aimlessly, stalking through the living-room, the other empty rooms, stopping here and there to listen into the silence. Hoping against hope to hear them. Alaric doesn't really know how he finally ends up in the room downstairs.

Jeremy and John never say a word. They look up, questions in their eyes.

Do you know something? Are they back?

Alaric shakes his head, leans against the doorframe—and stares at nothing in particular. John goes back to writing something and Jeremy disappears behind one of the journals that are scattered across the floor.

And they wait.

~~.~~

It's Jeremy who finally breaks the long silence that has settled over them. He looks up from the book he's holding, looking at John's back. "Did you read all this?"

Distracted, John nods, keeps writing. "I did."

Jeremy frowns, cocks his head to the side, gesturing with the book at John's back. "So you understand what happened to the child's mother after the baby was brought back to life?"

Alaric has no idea what baby or mother they are talking about, but he forces himself to pay attention; it sounds important. Dimly, he remembers they were talking about a plan earlier to save Elena from becoming a vampire, but he's been so lost in his thoughts about Jenna it never occurred to him to ask about it.

John finally looks up from his writings and he has a look on his face that makes Alaric's skin crawl. There is definitely something going on here. "She saved her daughter. She found peace."

Alaric should have asked, he definitely should have asked. He shifts slightly against the wooden beam that is keeping him upright, studying both of them nervously.

"John…" Jeremy doesn't look happy, not at all. John doesn't meet his eyes when he gets up and holds a folded paper out to Jeremy.

"I need you to give this to Elena for me, and also this." John takes off his eternity ring.

Alaric knows a 'good-bye' when he sees it and he frowns, takes a step closer, looking from one to the other. "What's going on here?"

Instead of an answer, John locks his gaze with Alaric, looking serious. "Take care of each other. Please."

Before either of them can answer, there's suddenly a noise upstairs, the front door is opened and falls closed.

"I think they're here!"

Alaric is already jogging up the stairs before he finishes speaking.

He walks right into a nightmare.

Stefan is in the living-room, crouching in front of what's left of an old couch, Elena lying in front of him, as still and lifeless—pale—as a statue.

Dead.

Stefan's back is to the door and he reaches up to brush a lock of hair out of Elena's unmoving face, whispering something to her that is too low to make out. He's tense, his hand shaking ever so slightly as he leans closer, pressing his lips against her temple. Alaric can't get closer, he freezes in the doorframe, staring at Elena, unable to move, to think—

Suddenly Elena goes rigid and starts coughing, snapping to life from one second to the next. She barely moves, dragging in one huge breath after the other as Stefan tries to hold her down.

"How do you feel?"

Elena stares at Stefan, eyes wide. "I feel fine," she gasps and Stefan pulls her into his arms, buries his face in her neck, shaking almost as hard as she is.

Next to Alaric Jeremy breathes out a sigh of relief and collapses against the doorframe, closing his eyes. Alaric turns to look at the door and finds Damon standing outside, head cocked to the side, obviously listening to what's happening inside. He seems to be alone, Alaric can neither see Bonnie nor Elijah with him and it takes him a moment to realize—

"Where's Jenna?"

He isn't aware that he has spoken out loud, but Damon must have heard him, looks up at him. Shakes his head, slowly, an odd look—regret—flashing across his features. I'm sorry.

No.

It can't—

It's not—

No.

For a long time, Elena's panicked gasps for breath are the only sounds in the universe. Stefan is talking to her quietly, but, again, too low to understand. At one point Elena starts sobbing, softly at first, then louder, until she's crying, muttering, choking out a word, a name.

"Jenna…"

Somehow the earth must have moved and Alaric is standing in front of Damon and Damon is pressed against the wall of the house and Alaric has his hands fisted in Damon's leather jacket and is pushing him back, back against the wall, with all he has, and he is searching his friend's face for an answer because he needs to know what happened and where is Jenna and what—

"Where is Jenna?"

Beneath his hands, Alaric slowly realizes, Damon is tense, hands flexing at his sides, clearly fighting down his instincts to notfight back against being manhandled like this. He doesn't care, when Damon doesn't answer, when he just looks at him, eyes dark and unreadable, he shakes him roughly, pushes him into the wall again.

"Whereisshe?"

"I'm sorry, Ric."

No. Sorryis not enough, it's not enough, not this time, Alaric needs to know—

"What the fuck happened, where is Jenna?" He might be shouting at Damon, he might be shaking him, again, might be shaking himself, trembling with anger, this close to lashing out—

"She's dead, Klaus killed her." Damon says it calmly, matter-of-factly. As if he is talking about the weather and not… and not her.

Behind them, Jeremy makes a choked noise and turns away, disappears into the house.

"Take me to her." Voice soft, barely above a whisper.

Damon tenses further, looks away. "Ric, she—," he hesitates, jaw clenching. "It's not pretty."

"Take me to her," Alaric hears himself say again, louder now.

"Ric—"

"Now, Damon."

They walk in silence, Damon in front of him, sometimes disappearing behind the trees for a moment. It all looks the same to Alaric, what little he can see once they have left the lights of the house behind. It's dark. It's silent. It's so cold. They don't talk, not a word. He doesn't ask what happened and Damon doesn't offer any details.

All too soon and not soon enough they arrive at a clearing. This is the place, Alaric can feel it, can sense the magic in the air. Damon walks up to a big stone at the foot of a small hill and looks back at him, indicates a spot close to him with a tilt of his head.

It's her.

It's Jenna.

Even in the darkness he can see her blond hair, swaying softly in the wind.

Her hair is the only thing that's moving.

He takes a deep breath—and starts walking. Stumbles over something on the ground, ignores it. Keeps walking, gets closer, eyes fixed on the lifeless body.

Jenna is on her back, arms flung out to the sides, eyes open, unseeing, gazing up at the sky.

There is a stake.

In her chest.

Jenna has been staked. Through the heart.

Like a vampire.

The world turns on its axis and he lurches to the side, starts gagging. A tree is holding him up, keeps him standing on his feet and he gags and spits and convulses until he realizes there is nothing in his stomach to bring up.

Footsteps approach him, slowly, haltingly, a figure stops close to him. Alaric forces his stomach under control and straightens, takes a deep breath and turns, forces himself to look at her. Her face is grey, her mouth open in a silent scream, dark veins standing out against her pale—deadskin.

Alaric stumbles forward—and pulls the stake out. Ignores the slick sound when it slides out of her chest, ignores the smell of blood that assaults his senses immediately, ignores how her body shivers slightly with the movement and then stills again.

Has to tell himself that she doesn't—that she can't feel it. Not anymore. Because she is dead.

Jenna is dead.

Alaric throws the stake away, as far away as he can. Takes a step back. What now? He can't leave her here, where she died, it wouldn't—it doesn't feel right. He shrugs out of his jacket, covers her upper body with it, her face—and the wound. The horrible wound. Alaric wishes he had something else to cover her with, something bigger so that he could wrap all of her inside, maybe then she wouldn't feel so cold…

Damon shifts beside Alaric, but he ignores him. Takes a deep breath, pulls Jenna into his arms. She had been so warm—so alive… earlier. Smiling at him. Kissing him…

She's not warm anymore.

Damon starts walking and he follows.

They don't talk. Not a word.

Alaric is grateful for it, for the silence. Or… he would be. If he could feel…

The Bennet house is quiet. There are still lights inside and movement, there are still people inside. Stefan and Elena, maybe, Jeremy. John.

Alaric doesn't look. He walks up to the car, waits for Damon to open the back door. Puts Jenna on the backseat, carefully arranging her unresisting body so that it can't slip off—and stands in the open door, lost. No idea what to do.

The driver's door is opened and Damon slips inside. Waits. Stares ahead, unmoving. Doesn't say a word when Alaric gets in as well, not bothering to buckle himself in. The car starts moving and Alaric watches the scenery fly by, his mind blank, empty.

When they arrive at the boarding house, Damon disappears inside and reappears a moment later, a shadow at the passenger's door. Waiting until Alaric gets out as well. Damon hands him a blanket. Alaric covers Jenna's—Jenna with it and pulls her into his arms again. He follows Damon inside, down the stairs into the cellar. Dimly, he remembers carrying Elijah down here after he had staked him—when Jenna had been upstairs (alive), unaware of what was happening right in front of her eyes.

But she'd been alive—

Damon is gone when Alaric straightens, running his burning eyes across the still form on the floor. He feels like he should do something now. Maybe say something. To honor her memory. His breath hitches in his throat. His voice is so low, so raw it hurts to get the words out.

"I'm so sorry."

The words ring hollow in the small room. It's not enough, won't ever be enough. He runs his hand over his eyes, clears his throat, opens his mouth to say more…

But there is nothing, no more words to say.

He stays with her until his body decides he needs a rest.

The living-room is empty, Damon nowhere to be seen. But there's a glass of bourbon waiting next to the couch, Alaric's favorite. Alaric sinks down next to it, picks it up, stares at it. Tries one, two, three times to bring it to his lips.

Gives up and stares off into space.