Disclaimer: Everything belongs to our CW overlords. Title is courtesy of Explosions in the Sky.

Unintentional hiatus what?

In all seriousness, I'm sorry. I suck. I'm begging, groveling in fact, for your forgiveness. I have a terribly long list of excuses—new job, a total lack of inspiration on this plot, TVD's general lack of sense lately and my own laziness—but still. I hope it won't happen again.

So everyone remember, S4 has ZERO to do with this fic. We picked up right where 'The Departed' left off and went to AU-town from there.

Hope everyone took that red pill, because down the rabbit hole we go.


the earth is not a cold dead place


"The hell do you think you're doing, Stefan?" Caroline whispers into her phone, casting a wary glance over to Elena's bathroom door. There is no pause in the running water, only the steady hum of the shower. "Look, I appreciate the whole knight in shining armor routine, but this isn't any of your business and I don't need any saving, alright?"

"Except that no, actually, it is," Damon interrupts and she hisses through clenched teeth as she realizes she's on speakerphone, "And you told Damon? Stefan."

"Deal with it," Damon says airily. "Somebody's gotta look out for your ass since you clearly have no interest in doing it yourself."

"Oh spare me," she snaps, forgetting to stay quiet and Elena calls from the shower, "Everything okay, Care?"

"Fine!" she hollers back, tucking her phone into her neck and shifting slightly away from the open door. "You of all people, Damon, should get why I'm doing this."

"I get it," he informs her brightly and she scowls, "but what can I say, Barbie? Elena would mope around, Call of the Wild would go psycho and I refuse to clean up after him. And besides, you've grown on me. Like a fungus." He pauses and she gapes like a fish at the empty air in front of her. "Or a barnacle."

She screams on the inside. "Listen, both of you," Caroline orders, injecting as much authority into her voice as she can muster on approximately seventy-two hours—but who's counting—of no sleep. "I made this call. I did, and I did it for my best friend, who we all love, so stay out of it."

"Klaus isn't going to kill Elena," Stefan says and Caroline's breath catches. "It's too big a risk, Caroline."

"Very convincing, Stefan," she says, shaking her head. "You'll excuse me if I don't buy it."

"He's a con man, Caroline," Stefan insists and there is so much passion in his voice that she wavers. "It's what he does—he pinpoints weakness and exploits them for his own twisted ends."

"Okay," she breaks in, "say you're right. Say he's manipulating me, or twisting a desperate situation to his advantage. If I go back on this, if I break off the deal, what's stopping him then? I thought the two of you, of all people, would understand that I'm not gambling with Elena's life!"

"Caroline," Stefan says exasperatedly, "think about what you're giving him here. Klaus pushes people until he breaks them." His voice gentles. "No one wants for you to go trading your soul for Elena's life. We can fix this another way."

Caroline pushes an errant lock of hair away from her eyes. "It's not my soul he's getting, Stefan."

"Whoa, hang on, Barbie," Damon drawls and she can see him leering in her mind's eye. "Have you decided to join the world's oldest profession?' He pauses and she grimaces into the vacant air. "Got a nice corner picked out yet?"

"Go to hell," she immediately retorts, her fingers clenching down hard on her iPhone. "He gets time. Three cities, no expiration date. And let's be real, guys—time's one thing we've all got plenty of."

… … …

"You lied to me," Elijah says tonelessly, staring into the amber depths of his glass of bourbon. "You used me to trick Caroline Forbes into giving you what you want."

Klaus doesn't look at him. "She is hardly giving me what I want," he drawls lightly.

"Regardless, I remain a means to your end." Elijah gives a soft snort. "Always and forever."

"Someone's bitter," Kol says cheerfully, dropping into the seat next to Klaus. "Did Nik play in your toy chest again, brother?"

"You shouldn't talk about things that you do not understand," Elijah says darkly and Kol grins at him.

"Oh I understand," he says, sitting so that his ankle rests on his knee, his eyes glittering. "I understand that you think Nik stole your one true love away from you and that you have been forced to relive it—oh, twice now, yes?" He clicks his tongue at them. "Mo—Esther may have had the right idea about her."

Klaus and Elijah both stiffen at that. "What are you getting at, Kol?" Klaus growls and Elijah's eyes narrow in suspicion.

Kol gives an unaffected shrug. "Just that no silly, simpering girl should be allowed to create such a chasm between family." He stretches idly, long arms extending over his head. "Don't look so worried, Nik. It's only a thought."

… … …

"Be careful," Elena says, hand clasped around Jeremy's as they sit at the Gilbert kitchen table. Caroline is fidgeting restlessly on her other side and Bonnie is leaning against the counter, as far away from the three of them as she can get without leaving the kitchen. "This is way bigger than any of us imagined, and while the Mystic Falls Council may implicitly trust you, there's no guarantee that all of them will. "

Jeremy rolls his eyes fondly at her. "Thanks, but the thought had already crossed my mind, Elena." He glances over at Bonnie and offers gingerly, "We think—I mean, Bonnie thinks she's figured out how to de-spell the White Oak stake."

Caroline visibly brightens. "Really? How?"

Bonnie's eyes are hooded and unreadable. "It's still just a theory," she warns, "but I think it's a variant of the spell Lucy used to link you and Katherine, Elena." She doesn't meet Elena's eyes as she speaks. "So I'm gonna try it out."

"Okay," Elena says softly. "Do you need—" but Bonnie's already gone, Elena's words falling on empty air, "—anything from me," she finishes, voice trailing off and Jeremy squeezes her hand.

"Give it time," he advises. "She'll come around." He scoots forward to dig around in his jeans pocket. "She made this for you earlier."

Elena hesitates before taking the ring from him; she stares at it as though it might bite her. "I'm so sorry, Jeremy."

Jeremy shakes his head firmly. "Don't do that, Elena. It's not your fault." His eyes search hers pleadingly. "Everything that led up to this was…" he gestures helplessly. "A series of unfortunate events, I guess."

"I keep saying that," Caroline sighs, slouching down in her chair and Elena can hear the affectionate exasperation in Caroline's voice. "And she keeps not listening."

"I just keep thinking that I'm destined to end up like Katherine," Elena says softly, worry lining her forehead and Caroline holds up her hand.

"Wait just a hot minute," she says incredulously, leaning forward. "How many people have you killed?" Before Elena can open her mouth, she barrels on resolutely, "Oh, right—none. How many twisted, evil plots have you come up with? None. I'm sensing a theme here—a 'look at how un-Katherine Elena is' theme."

"How many brothers have I turned against each other?" Elena challenges bitterly before Caroline can continue. "Two. The same ones as Katherine."

"I still maintain you're being way too hard on yourself," Caroline informs her, crossing her arms over her chest. "You didn't set out to, like, seduce Damon or anything, which is a lot more than your freaking grandma can say."

Jeremy points to Caroline. "Listen to her," he says, and Caroline says triumphantly, "Thank you!" Barely sparing her a glance, Jeremy's eyes flicker to the doorway to the kitchen as he stands. "Caroline's right, Elena. Is Tyler awake?"

Caroline glances over her shoulder, her hair fanning down her upper arms. "He was a few minutes ago."

Once Jeremy has left, Elena says lowly, "I don't like this, Care. That ring only protects him from supernatural stuff, and the Council is made up of humans."

Caroline's voice drops to a whisper. "Do you think they would do anything to Jeremy though? I mean, if they came after me and Tyler, but not Stefan and Damon—maybe Alaric didn't tell them everything. He couldn't have, right? Something would have happened by now."

Elena bites her lip worriedly. "You would think."

… … … …

"So what's the plan?" Tyler wants to know as Jeremy hunches over, his elbows on his knees. "Stealth infiltration right?"

Jeremy nods, one hand rubbing against his chin. "Something like that."

"Want backup?"

"Uh—" Jeremy blinks and frowns at him. "You really want to put yourself in that situation? It's a powder keg, man, and you're in their crosshairs."

Tyler's eyes are hooded and he shrugs. "Look, Jeremy, I've had someone else take over my body and been tortured all in the same week. I dunno, I just gotta feel like I'm controlling something."

"Yeah," Jeremy says quietly, "I get that." And he does. After all, hadn't that been the root cause of all his own bad behavior after his parents died? "But you have to be careful, man." He pauses for dramatic effect. "Caroline can be kind of scary."

He gets a half-laugh from Tyler for his effort but no other response.

"So what's the plan?" Bonnie asks as she walks in, grimoire in hand. Her eyes narrow slightly on Tyler, but she doesn't comment on his presence.

Instead of answering, Jeremy nods towards the grimoire and stake in her hands. "Any success?"

"Haven't tried yet. Stop evading, Jer. What's the plan?"

Tyler shoots him a sympathetic "you tried" look and Jeremy winces. "Pretty much no plan," he admits, running his hand over his scalp sheepishly.

Later, as he's standing in front of a non-descript office building next to the Grill, he thinks maybe a plan would have been a good idea.

Pastor Young motions him inside, his eyes unreadable and his face tight. "Thank you for joining us, Jeremy," he says gravely, motioning to an empty seat at a long rectangular table. Seated around it are members of the Founding Families, their eyes focused on him. "Your father would be proud of you," the pastor adds in what Jeremy is sure is supposed to be a comforting voice. It falls pitifully short and Jeremy tries not to flinch away.

"I'm afraid I have some bad news," Pastor Young tells him and Jeremy's heart is pounding out a nervous tattoo against his ribs.

"Yeah?" he manages to ask, staring at his hands with acute interest.

"Your friends—" Pastor Young shakes his head sadly. "I'm sorry Jeremy, but they are vampires."

James Bond. Play it cool. Jeremy doesn't say anything, just stares at the pastor in what he hopes looks convincingly like shock. "You're crazy," he says finally, moving his gaze to the others. "There's no such thing."

He's met with expressions filled with pity. "No, son," Pastor Young says quietly. "Your friends—Tyler Lockwood, Caroline Forbes, the Salvatore brothers—" Jeremy suppress a jerk of surprise as the pastor continues, "—they are all of the undead."

Jeremy shakes his head slowly. "You can't be serious."

"He is," one of the Council members says gravely from down the table. "And we have a plan on getting rid of them."

Paydirt. "I hate to be the bearer of bad news but you can't get rid of things that aren't real," Jeremy informs them, rising from his chair. "You should all get help—professional help."

Before he's made it out of his chair, a pair of strong hands grips his shoulders tightly and forces him to sit back down.

"I'm afraid," Pastor Young says grimly, "that you remaining with us is integral to our plans."

… … …

Bonnie makes the executive decision—her first in a long time, it feels like—to not de-spell the stake. She's pretty sure she can do it and the idea of having some leverage gives her a sort of thrill she will probably never admit to.

Her phone's buzzing and she sees Elena's name flashing on the screen, but Bonnie hesitates, her finger hovering over the answer button.

Guilt gets the better of her and she swipes the unlock button. "What's up, Elena?" Her voice is tight.

"Um—can we talk?" Elena asks, the nerves in her voice evident; Bonnie chews her bottom lip.

"I guess," she says finally, standing up from her spot on the couch and starting to pace. The flames of the lit candles in her living room begin to flare and Bonnie takes a deep, cleansing breath through her nostrils.

Elena sighs into the phone. "Bonnie, I need to tell you—I need to know that you know that I—I'm still me. And you're my best friend and I need you so, so much."

"Believe me, I'm aware," Bonnie says sharply, wincing at her own words even as she can't stop them from tumbling out. "What do you need me to fix now, Elena? Maybe look for a spell to help you chose a brother?"

"Bonnie," Elena whispers and Bonnie hates herself so much in this moment but it's like her voice has detached itself from her control.

"Or maybe you want me to do another spell that stops Jeremy's heart again?" She literally cannot stop. "Or maybe—"

"Bonnie," Elena cries, and instead of letting her runaway mouth continue, Bonnie hangs up, her hand flying to her chest.

She looks up and catches her reflection in the pane glass of her front door. The glass shatters without warning.

Bonnie doesn't even flinch.

… … …

"I need you to do something for me," Caroline says seriously, hands wrapping around the steaming cup of tea in front of her. Elijah looks at her in curious silence and since she spiked this tea herself, she takes long sip. "I need you to compel Tyler to not love me anymore."

Whatever Elijah had been expecting, Caroline's pretty sure that wasn't it. He blinks and leans backwards, eyebrows rising slightly. "Why?" he wants to know, tilting his head at her.

Opting for more liquid courage before she answers that, Caroline finishes off the rest of her mug and stares down at her hands. "Because," she says carefully, "I love him." She risks a glance upwards and the words spill out before she can stop them. "I know it's not fair to him, and you're totally judging me, but I—I think he deserves to be happy." She pauses for a ragged breath; Elijah's expression hasn't moved in the slightest. "He deserves to really be with someone."

Elijah moves forward, startling her. "Do you not deserve to be happy too?" he asks gently and she already had this argument with herself so she's prepared for that.

"I traded my happiness for my best friend's life," she says flatly, crossing her arms and side-eying him. "I don't care. I'd do it again in a second, you wanna know why?"

Caroline doesn't waste a second, barging onward without waiting for his response. "Elena has run straight into death, without a moment's hesitation for me. She did it again two days ago, for God's sake." Her eyes flicker up and down Elijah for a moment, as though sizing him up. "I can suffer through tourist-ing it up in Europe on Klaus's dime." There's a pause and she tries heroically for humor. "Talk about a first world problem."

Elijah doesn't crack a smile and after several beats of silence, Caroline starts to fidget under his stare. "I will not compel him," he finally says quietly, eyes never leaving her; Caroline's entire body deflates. This is basically Plan Z; she's so out of options.

"Then you can leave now," she snaps, standing up so quickly her chair wobbles. He doesn't move and she sees red in the corners of her vision. "Seriously, get the hell out."

Elijah doesn't move and it pisses her off. "Seriously, do you speak English—"

"I'm going to fix it," he says and she freezes in place.

"Excuse me?" she rasps, clearing her throat. "Wait, what?"

Grave dark eyes bore into her. "It is my fault that you sold yourself to my brother," he tells her solemnly and she blinks at him because what in the ever-loving fuck is even happening right—seriously, what is her life, "And I am going to fix it."

… … …


A/N: Mmm what up, long time no see.

I've been a shit author, I know, but tomorrow's my birthday and you should all leave me reviews as my present.

Also fuck you TVD, we're breaking up.