Next

Bonnie was rubbing moisturizer on her neck when she heard the buzzing in her bedroom. She'd taken a quick shower, with Jeremy sitting in her bedroom, and now his phone was buzzing.

She crossed the threshold in her pale blue pajama pants and brown tank top, her hair still tucked under the cap that had allowed her to wear Tikki's wig. She put her arms around herself as she walked. Jeremy was sitting with his thigh on the bed and his other leg touching the floor. His jacket and tie were off.

The phone buzzed loudly on the bed, Elena's name in bright lights. She watched him swallow hard. Then the buzzing stopped. Her lips felt like they were glued together. He looked so melancholy that he unsettled her.

The voicemail icon spun on his phone, and he finally looked away from it.

She took a step forward without intending to. "Maybe it's good news." What was the harm in saying it? It couldn't hurt anything. She was wrong anyways.

He looked at her. "It's not. He's dead. I know. I just...know now. He's gone." He wasn't speaking about a supernatural knowledge. He simply knew because of experience.

She watched him take off his shoes and slide back into the space he would occupy for the night and cross his arms over his face. His breathing was even. Too even. Too controlled. Too slow.

She climbed the bed and put a hand on his chest.

"Why do these things keep happening?" He couldn't help asking. His voice was strained.

"I don't know," she said quietly. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Jeremy."

He took a deep breath and dry-washed his face with his hands. He opened his eyes and stared at the foot of the bed.

"You know...there are some spells in my mom's grimoire...some homeopathic spells and breathing rituals...I could-"

"No."

He didn't look at her when he said it, and it stung a little like rejection. She remembered their conversation in the living room, so she had to ask because she still didn't believe that he was okay with her playing with his life. "Why not? I could channel you-"

And he finally looked at her. "No spells. No magic, I just-" he covered the hand on his chest with his own. "Not now." And he looked down again.

The mile away look on his face oddly made her feel better about his decline. He just wanted to feel loss, that familiar feeling, and nothing else. "Okay," she said and laid down next to him.

He scooped her closer so that she laid her head on his shoulder blade. As the minutes ticked by, they tangled even closer, both of her legs between his, and he fell asleep first. His face showed none of the worry and burden that were apparent when he was awake. She watched the way his eyelashes rested on his cheeks, looked at the mole on his right cheekbone, and swept at the tuffs of hair on each side of his forehead.

His week had just gotten worse. Hers had taken a small but important upswing. She felt secure for the first time in too long. This feeling of power, real or projected, the feeling of standing on solid ground while everyone around her waited to hear what she had to say, while everyone had to listen, this feeling was familiar. It was recognizable, and she was finally feeling comfortable in her skin again. She would go out tomorrow, just walk the block. She didn't care about how the future looked: bleak, dark, dangerous. She'd had a good day; she felt good being in the present again, and she hoped the feeling continued. And the sleeping boy in front of her had played a hand. Again. She smiled. He'd willingly played a hand, and then she'd taken over and used him to play her hand.

She'd played her hand, and whatever happened next, she had taken a look at the pieces in front of her, which included the pieces of her face on the floor, and she'd made a move. In this instance 'Next' both mattered and did not matter. It mattered because she was beginning to feel like herself again. She was returning to a position she liked to occupy.

And 'Next' did not matter because she was beginning to feel like herself again. She was returning to a position she liked to occupy.

THE END

A/N: The end! It seems that while Bonnie's reached a happy medium, she's left everyone else floundering. Elena never would've expected this from Bonnie. Caroline just heard that her best friend is willing to let her die; Matt just realized that he allied himself with the people who've caused him pain; Tyler hasn't broken his sire bond but might have another chance; and Jeremy still has issues with Elena. I think that calls for a sequel! How does the "Family" party scene in an AU 3.21 play out after the events of AU 3.20?

Speaking of Jeremy, I talked a bit about his feelings wrt the compulsion and only teased how he felt about the ghost arc and cheating on Bonnie. I have a fic in the works for him that's completely his pov. It takes place during his time in Denver and explores why he did what he did during the ghost arc. I view it as a companion piece to this fic since Jeremy's apathy is the same, so I'll be posting it before the sequel.