A/N A preview of Queen's sequel, The Rain King. Look for it to be posted separately very soon.

The Rain King

By Terri Botta

Summary: Sequel to The Queen of Unintended Consequences. Six years after Damon leaves Elena with Klaus, he's called back to handle a delicate situation. An AU Season 3 fic.

Disclaimer: All rights to The Vampire Diaries belong to Kevin Williamson, Julie Plec, L.J. Smith and the CW. I just take them out and play with them. No money, no infringement intended, yadda yadda yadda. I'm poor so don't sue.

Chapter One

He was living in Italy when he received the summons. The strange vampire hybrid found him one hot July afternoon in the villa he was renting on the Amalfi Coast. Some investments of his had paid off in spades, so he had decided to forgo his usual foreclosure squatting in deference to living a somewhat modest, but comfortable, life just outside of Praiano.

These were his mother's people, heralding from the bustling city of Naples, and, with his dashing good looks and flawless Old World Italian, he had fit right in. He'd spent a blissful four months surrounded by lemon groves, olive trees, good wine and hot women with the cerulean blue waters of the Mediterranean as his backdrop, and he hadn't been this content in the six years since he had made the most difficult decision of his life – or unlife as the case may be.

It had been a hard six years. A very hard six years. Harder in its helplessness and lack of progress. Harder in its lack of anything that could help him get rid of Klaus and wrench Elena away from his brother. In fact, the last six years had been an exercise in futility and frustration.

It seemed that things had started going wrong the moment he'd left Mystic Falls. It wasn't three weeks later that he'd been sitting in the back room of a voodoo shop in New Orleans, meeting with some witches related to Emily Bennett's son when one of them began to shriek. Soon the others followed, and he'd gotten a very, very bad feeling. Witches knew when one of their blood was killed, and their keening made his already cool blood run colder.

When the wailing had finally stopped, they'd looked at him, and he'd known without them having to tell him that Bonnie Bennett was dead. A few moments later, his phone buzzed, and he was treated to a picture of her lifeless body, eyes staring straight ahead, in a message from his darling baby bro. He'd smashed his phone to bits right there, but he'd never erased the image of her blank stare out of his mind.

He'd been so angry. Enraged even, because he'd warned them not to try to rescue Elena before they had a plan. His beast was still in primary control, but he'd tethered it for the night, and he'd almost released it so he could drive back to Mystic Falls and kill everyone there who'd been stupid enough to go along with that suicide mission. It was only the entreaties of the witches that more death would not solve the issue nor would it kill Klaus that stopped him, but he had to admit that it had lit a fire under their pointy shoes to get rid of the Original Were-Vamp once and for all.

He wouldn't learn what had happened that night until many months later when Katherine found him in San Francisco. She'd come up to him in a bar one night as he tried to find a willing participant in Find, Feed, Fuck, and Make 'em Forget, and he'd nearly tossed her out on her ear. It wasn't until she'd blurted that she had news of Elena that he'd relented, and she told him the tale.

Witchy and Blondie had staged a rescue, bringing along Blondie's mutt, Lockwood. He was relieved to know that neither Ric nor Junior had been part of it, so at least someone had listened to him. Witchy had magicked them into where Klaus was keeping Elena, but she didn't have enough Mojo to magick them back out. In the course of their escape, they were caught. Klaus had killed Bonnie outright, but he'd tortured Blondie with a werewolf bite. It wasn't until Mutt offered to turn hybrid in trade for Blondie's life that Klaus had relented, although Katherine thought Elena's hysterics might have had something to do with it. Regardless, the results were that Tyler became a hybrid, and Caroline became a minion of Klaus's, serving as Rebekah's handmaiden. Klaus had also compelled Elena after the botched rescue fiasco, and she was now bound to stay with him and not try to escape, so any further attempts to retrieve her would require force and a heavy dose of vervain.

Damon blamed himself for Bonnie's death. If he'd stayed in Mystic Falls, he might have been able to prevent them from executing their insane plan. Then again, if he'd stayed, they probably would have ganged up on him and killed him, so wondering how he could have stopped them was a moot point. But still, the loss of Bonnie Bennett was a severe blow. As young and arrogant as the witch might have been, she did have talent, and he could have trusted her to do whatever it took to free Elena from Klaus's clutches. Once she was gone, he'd needed to find another witch who was willing to take on the Originals, and those were in short supply.

Katherine had left him in San Francisco after staying a day or two and accepting the fact that no matter what she did, or how hard she tried, he wasn't going to sleep with her. He didn't really know why she bothered or why she didn't realize that seeing her was agony because she wore Elena's face. She found him again when he was in Peru hunting down an Incan shaman who had ties to the Bennett line. By then nearly nine months had passed since that fateful night in Chicago, and the pain was becoming more bearable.

The scent of Elena on his jacket and the clothes he'd taken from her bedroom had faded, but he'd had a custom pocket watch made that he kept on him at all times. On first glance it looked like a normal pocket watch, but upon closer examination, one would find a small latch on either side that popped open a secret compartment. One side had a picture of Elena – the one he'd taken from her mirror. The other had a small bundle of her hair rolled into a thin twist. The hair had come from his Camaro. Apparently some of it had gotten snagged in the stop gap of the seat belt at some point and several strands of hair had been ripped out. He'd found the hair when he was cleaning out the car to be prepared for long-term storage. He'd also found more hair clinging to the passenger seat, and he'd painstakingly plucked each strand until he had enough to make the twist. The watch joined the other two items that never left his person: his daylight ring and his No Mojo necklace, and whenever he felt the world spinning out of control, he would stroke its gold surface with his thumb to calm himself down.

In Peru, Katherine had found him in Lima just after he'd finished his quest. His search for the shaman had been both successful and a waste of time. Successful in that he'd found the man; a waste of time in that he'd known nothing of use. He'd been profoundly disappointed and pissed off, because not only had the trip been a wash-out, but he'd been forced to live on blood bags and llamas while he was out in the remote villages, and he'd developed quite a loathing for the hairy, ill-tempered beasts.

That time he had slept with Katherine, mostly because he hadn't had sex in nearly a month, and it was either fuck her or go kill a Quechua Indian. He'd toyed with the idea of doing both since his beast was sure to agree, but he'd decided against it because the Incans had Old Magic that he hadn't wanted to be on the receiving end of if he'd pissed someone off. In the afterglow and pillow talk, Katherine had filled him in on the happenings back in the States, and she had a few surprises for him.

Surprises like there was still quite a bit of spunk left in Elena, even though Klaus had killed her friend, turned Tyler Lockwood into a hybrid, enslaved Blondie, and compelled her not to run away. In retaliation, Elena had found where Klaus was keeping Elijah and the rest of his siblings (turns out there were five Originals, all from the same family,) and she'd undaggered them all – waking Elijah and his two brothers, Finn and Kol.

Finn had disappeared almost right away; going off in search of a vampiress named Sage, a vampire he'd known himself from back in the early 1900's. She and he had been lovers for a time, and she'd taught him how to enjoy being a vampire. He knew Sage had been turned by Finn, but he hadn't realized that Finn had been an Original.

Kol left, too, after a short while, wanting to experience the changes that had happened to the world after Klaus had daggered him, but Elijah had stayed. Katherine reported that he was half in love with Elena, and Damon added him to the list of potential allies, though he had serious reservations about trusting him.

He'd been proud to hear that Elena still had some fight in her, but he'd been enraged to find out that Klaus had broken her back as punishment, paralyzing her from the waist down. Her injury was thankfully short-lived, however, when Elijah fed her his blood as payment for freeing him. Damon was grateful. He didn't know what he would have done if Katherine had told him that Elena was still disabled, as it was, he was furious enough to learn that it had taken her weeks to learn how to walk again.

Katherine had had no sympathy for her doppelganger, saying that Elena had brought it on herself. Damon had kicked her out of his hotel room stark naked and threw her clothes at her, stating that, if she did not get out of his sight, he would do his level best to kill her. He didn't know exactly what it was about his threat, but she took him seriously and vanished.

From Peru, he'd followed a lead given to him by Gloria, and he took her down into Haiti to meet with some bokors. During a ritual that involved a number of sacrificed chickens and an enormous amount of rum, he'd gotten his first real lead on a weapon that could kill an Original. Turned out the Loa weren't too happy the curse was broken either, and they'd been willing to toss him a bone. Nothing was truly immortal or invincible. Always there would be a vulnerability, however small, that could end a creature's life. As with all vampires, wood was lethal. In the case of Original vampires, a very specific wood was deadly: the wood of a sacred white oak tree. Such trees were very, very rare, but a stake carved from the branch of one would permanently kill an Original if it punctured the heart. Ash from a sacred white oak that had burned was what had coated the dagger that had immobilized Elijah.

When he'd asked the bokors where he could find a sacred white oak, their answer had been vague. In keeping with Loa's habit of making you work for it, all that had been given was the hint that the answer he sought was somewhere in his family's history. Maybe they'd thought that they were being mysterious by saying that, but he knew full well that the Salvatores had owned and operated the lumber mills in Mystic Falls, and if the tree in question had been on Salvatore land, it had most certainly been cut down. If that was the case, the milling records kept in the Salvatore library would tell him when the tree was harvested, and where the wood went after it was milled.

So ten months after he'd left Mystic Falls for good, he'd found himself sneaking back to rifle through dozens of dusty, handwritten ledgers. The information he was looking for was in the ledger for 1912, and he'd been mildly amused to find that the tree had been cut down and used in the building of none other than the Wickery Bridge. God, he loved irony, especially when he'd given quite a bit of money to the "Wickery Bridge Restoration Fund" prior to leaving Mystic Falls. Much of the original wood under the bridge had been ripped out and replaced with steel girders, and he'd seen the wood stacked in piles meant to be recycled into other projects. Most of it had already been repurposed, but he knew for a fact that the original sign from the bridge was still there because Carol Lockwood had given it to Ric to be restored. He'd waited for nightfall, then headed out to the bridge, ripped down the wooden sign, and got the hell out of Dodge before anyone had known that he'd come back.

The sign had made twelve Original killing stakes, half of which he'd hidden in secret caches around the globe, but he'd given Gloria two. He'd wanted to test the stakes out on an Original that wasn't Klaus, just to be sure they worked, so he'd set about trying to track down Kol or Finn.

Katherine had found him a third time in Seattle, which had seemed far too much of a coincidence to him. His No Mojo necklace should have dispelled any tracking spells that were placed on him so she shouldn't have been able to find him that way. In the pursuit of getting her into a compromising position where he would be able to subdue her, he'd fucked her senseless, using every one of his considerable lovemaking skills to exhaust her and make her vulnerable. If his prowess had surprised her, she didn't say, but he could tell that she'd been impressed.

That stood to reason because he'd been just shy of virginal when he'd met her, and pretty much everything he'd known about proper lovemaking in 1864 he'd learned from her. But they'd had such a short time together, and the interim 145 years had given him many decades to perfect his craft. When she was sleeping the sleep of the sexually sated, he'd snuck out of bed and gathered the items he'd amassed for his next move.

He'd known that she was taking vervain to build up an immunity to it, but there were herbs that could be added to vervain to increase its potency, and thanks to Gloria, he'd known how to brew a batch of super-charged vervain, which he'd put in a set of darts. He'd used one on Katherine, drugging her just enough to make her too weak to break the chains he'd put on her.

"Well... this looks familiar," she'd said, taking in her position on the chair he'd chained her to.

"Ya, think?" he'd replied, raising an eyebrow.

"Not that I not impressed by your deviousness, but to what do I owe this honor?"

He'd pulled up a chair, swung it around so the back faced her, and straddled it. It had been one of those chairs that had thin wooden posts that could easily be ripped out and used as a makeshift stake. He'd seen her eye the chair, and he'd known she'd taken it for the subtle threat it was.

"You're tracking me. I'm immune to magic, so I want to know how you're doing it."

"Maybe I just have a better witch than you do," she'd taunted.

He'd fingered the slats on the chair and took pleasure in her uncomfortable look.

"Okay. We knew we couldn't cast a spell on you, so it was cast on me. Since it was my blood that made you, it could be used to help me find you. I get a feeling of a general direction to go, and it gets stronger as I get closer."

He'd brushed aside the tidbit about using a maker's blood to find an offspring, and focused on the other part of her statement. "We? Are you in cahoots with Klaus?"

"Klaus? Fuck no," she'd answered with disgust.

"Then who?" he'd pressed.


"Stefan? Why would my brother want you to track me?"

She'd rolled her eyes at him like he was an idiot. "Because he knows you're trying to kill Klaus."

"And he wants to stop me…"


"He's Klaus's little bitch. Of course he wants you to stop me," he'd countered with a sneer.

"I might have slipped him some vervain," she'd admitted with mock guilt.

The news had shocked him. "So if Stefan isn't Klaus's bitch anymore, why is he staying with him?"

Katherine had given him a look. "You know why."

He'd sighed. "Elena."

"Without a way to kill Klaus, even if he was to take my little doppelganger away, Klaus would just hunt them down and kill anyone who helped them."


"Any progress on that?" she'd asked, batting her eyes at him.

He'd wanted so badly to tell her his plans, but he'd known better. No matter what, Katherine would always put herself first, and she could not be trusted. He'd avoided the question by releasing her from the chains, but she wouldn't be deterred as she's stood and faced him.


"The less you know, the better," he'd said, a little wary of her.

"But you do have a plan right?"

He'd given her a cocky smile. "I always have a plan, Katherine, but you of all people should know how they work out. Best for you to skedaddle like you usually do."

"I know Finn is in Seattle, Damon," she'd told him, her eyes getting angry and maybe even a little worried. "You can't be thinking of facing down an Original alone."

"Now now, Katherine, you need to be careful. It almost sounds like you care."

"I do care. I do care about you, Damon," she'd insisted with as much sincerity as he'd ever heard from her, but it had been too little, too late, and it had only made him angry.

"No one cares about me, Katherine. I don't even care about me," he'd snapped.

He'd seen her flinch at his harsh words, and she shook her head. "Don't do anything stupid."

"Now why would I do that?" he'd countered with an innocent look, then relented. "I was being truthful when I said the less you know the better, Katherine. If things go wrong, you can't be implicated. You'd best go on back to wherever Klaus is keeping his little entourage."

"Ironically, they're in Vegas," she'd said.

He'd chuckled softly and shook his head. "Better than Cleveland, I guess. Go on, Katherine. Get as far away from here as you can. You want no part of this."

"This better not be the last time I see you," she'd warned.

"Right. The last time we had something to use against an Original, you admitted to letting me use it even though it would have meant my death. Somehow I doubt you've had a change of heart."

"Is that so hard for you to believe?" she'd asked, all hurt and offended. It hadn't fooled him for a second.

"Yes. You don't change, Katherine. You're the same manipulative, lying bitch you were 147 years ago. Now you'd best get out of here."

He could tell that she hadn't wanted to leave, but she'd done as he'd asked, and left the vacant house he'd been using as a center of operations. He'd waited another two days to make sure she was gone before going out to hunt Finn.

After all the preparations and angst he'd gone through leading up to the moment he'd shoved the white oak stake through Finn's heart, the simplicity of it had been anti-climactic. Surprise had been on his side, and Finn hadn't even seen him coming. At first, Finn had just looked at the wooden stake sticking out of him with amusement, but then they'd both been shocked when it, and Finn, burst into flames. Finn had died shrieking as the preternatural fire had consumed him and left behind nothing but a pile of ash, and Damon was glad he'd made twelve stakes because the one he'd used had burned up with Finn.

His success had made him euphoric, but his joy was short-lived because he'd no sooner gotten back to his temporary digs when Finn's lover, Sage, had ambushed him. He didn't know how she'd known that he was the one who had staked Finn, and she hadn't been giving him any chance to ask. Their fight had been bitter, and Sage had brought a helper with her, and he'd been certain that he wasn't going to survive the encounter, when both of his attackers had suddenly stopped in their tracks, began choking and vomiting blood, then they'd shriveled up and died just as surely as if he'd staked them. He'd stood in the room, looking at their desiccated corpses, and had gotten a very, very bad feeling.

He hadn't cared that it was nearly 2 a.m., he'd called Gloria to tell her what had happened, and the witch had promised to look into Sage and her companion's inexplicable deaths. After he'd gotten off the phone, he'd packed up his few belongings – he'd traveled light in those days, and put as much distance between him and Seattle as possible. He hadn't stopped until he'd made it all the way to Denver where he'd stayed under the radar for four days until Gloria had called him back. Her news had been devastating.

All over the world vampires had been dropping dead for no reason. One moment they'd been fine, and the next they would be convulsing and dying shortly thereafter. All of it could be traced back to the night he'd killed Finn, and it looked like the horrible truth was that all the vampires that had died were connected to Finn's bloodline. Kill an Original and all the vampires he had sired, and all those they had sired, died.

After Gloria had dropped her bombshell, he'd drunk himself into a stupor for the next week, and it was in that sorry state that Katherine had found him again. Too far gone and destroyed to care what she thought, he'd spilled the whole sordid tale between drunken sobs. Kill an Original, and all his progeny died with him, and he had a one in four chance of killing the vampire who had sired his line, thus killing himself, his brother, Katherine, and Blondie. Katherine had destroyed him even more when she'd admitted that Klaus was the sire of their bloodline.

It had been over. Everything. All of his plans, all of his dreams of killing Klaus and rescuing Elena and his brother, had been shattered with one truth. They couldn't kill Klaus, and everything he'd done – everything he'd sacrificed – had been for nothing. It was enough for him to let his beast have free reign, and he'd shut everything off.

He'd disappeared off the radar after that. He'd traveled from place to place, never staying in one spot longer than a week. He'd killed when he wanted, fucked who and when he'd wanted, and lived a life completely devoid of any emotional attachment. The next two years had passed in a blur of blood, sex, and violence, until he began to feel the nothingness creeping up on him. He'd almost let it take him, but then Gloria had called to warn him about an attack planned on Elena's life. Apparently, since killing Klaus was impossible for anyone who didn't have a sacred white oak stake, and in fact, the existence of the stakes was a very closely guarded secret – as was the fact that he was the one who had killed Finn, a group of werewolves and vampires had teamed up to plot to kill Elena. Since they couldn't kill Klaus, they would kill the source of the blood that made the hybrids possible.

He didn't ask how Gloria had gotten her information. He had always known that she was a powerful witch, though he had never realized just how powerful, and she had long ago earned his respect and trust. He went to the abandoned warehouse in San Diego where Gloria had told him the attack was being staged, and he had been surprised to find that he wasn't the only member of the cavalry coming to Elena's defense. There had been a number of Klaus's hybrids, including Lockwood, and, in the melee of fighting and killing, he'd seen both Ric and Jeremy Gilbert so someone had clued them in to the attack as well.

He'd known that he was still persona non grata with Ric, so he hadn't tried to approach them, but he'd met Jeremy's met eyes from across the killing grounds during the fight. He'd been impressed with the boy's skills. At 19 years old, Junior Gilbert was becoming quite the vampire-killing Jedi under the tutelage of Obi Wan Saltzman, and Damon was proud of him from afar. He'd always known that Jeremy possessed his sister's iron core.

When their eyes had met, he'd seen Jeremy recognize him, but there had been no hate or anger in his expression. The boy had nodded once to him, and he had nodded back, each acknowledging the other, before they had returned to their own fights. He hadn't stayed for the clean-up after it was all over, but he had seen the smoke after the warehouse was set ablaze. He'd done his part by hunting down the stragglers and killing any of the conspirators that had tried to escape.

After the Battle of San Diego, he'd kicked his own ass and gotten himself back under control. He'd been angry with himself for checking out for two years, but he'd needed the break. Now that he was back to giving a shit again, he'd started putting his life back together. He'd decided that Elena was better off where she was considering the circumstances, and obviously Klaus was still very much on the ball where threats to his doppelganger had been concerned. It was still safest to leave Elena with Klaus, and he'd accepted that. Instead, he'd turned to taking care of those who were important to her.

He'd discovered that Junior had applied and had been accepted to NYU, which was where he was attending his freshman year. Damon saw to it that Jeremy received grants and scholarships to pay for his education. When Jeremy had put the Gilbert house up for sale, Damon had bought it through one of the shell companies he owned. He'd also positioned himself through a different shell company to manage the rental of the lake house for Jeremy to give him extra income, and he'd made sure investments for the boy were sound and profitable. No one could say that he hadn't inherited Giuseppe Salvatore's business sense. It was too bad his father had been too busy being disappointed in him to see that.

As for Alaric, Damon had pulled some strings to get him a cushy job at Berkeley in their U.S. History department. He'd kept his eye on his former friend after that, steering his career in subtle ways in the background, making sure he was approved for research grants (funded by one of his shell corps, of course) and on track to make tenure.

He'd even made sure Matt Donovan got a football scholarship to Clemson.

He spent the next three years finding himself again. He'd wasted the first 145 years of his vampire existence pining for his lost love and hating his brother, and the next four either chasing after a girl who couldn't love him or drinking himself into emotionless oblivion. Now for the first time, he had no agenda, no plans to make, no one to hate or chase after. He had eternity and he decided to take some time to rediscover the man he used to be.

As a human he'd loved art and literature, beautiful women and thoughtful men. Had his father not insisted that he come home to join the Confederacy, he would have stayed at university and completed his education. He had liked big ideas and colorful places, and he traveled the world to look at it with new, fresh eyes. He had taken Gloria on a tour of the globe, letting her choose where she had wanted to go and what she had wanted to see. They were even lovers for a brief time until she'd told him that she knew no one would ever hold his heart the way Elena did, and they'd parted as friends and respected allies.

Katherine would find him every now and then, probably at the request of his brother, and he was always glad to see her. He'd accepted her for what she was: someone he had loved deeply and lost to her own selfishness, someone he could only trust as far as their goals coincided, yet someone who knew him, and who he knew well. They'd meet as friends, and he never slept with her again after that night in Seattle. If that bothered her, he couldn't care. She never asked, and he never offered.

She did drop hints that things were not all lovely dovey in Paradise, however. In fact, she'd come right out and told him that Elena and Stefan were not "together." Stefan was with Rebekah, and Rebekah didn't share. At least she didn't share Stefan's heart. If all Elena had wanted from Stefan was sex, she probably could've had that as much as she wanted, but since there was an emotional attachment in the relationship it was verboten. Katherine described the relationship between Rebekah and Elena as strained, but civil. Klaus had declared Elena off-limits to his sister, and Stefan obviously still had strong feelings for her.

As for Elena's feelings for Stefan… Katherine never came right out and said that the Epic Love was no longer so epic, but she did say things about Elena "maturing" and "out growing" her teenaged infatuations. He hoped so because she was approaching 24 years of age.

By the time Klaus's lackey had found him in Italy, he hadn't seen Elena in six years, but he'd made peace with himself and his decisions. He knew that he still loved her, and, if he had known then what he knew now, he would have made different choices, but there was no second-guessing himself and hindsight was always 20/20. He'd made mistakes, but he owned them, just as he owned his pain and took responsibility for it.

He'd become his essential self: thoughtful and fun-loving with the potential to be ruthless and uncompromising. He still loved with everything he had, and kept faith with those who kept faith with him. He still protected those he cared about and killed when he had to, but sometimes he hunted just for the thrill of the chase and the pleasure of the capture of his prey. He wasn't perfect, but he wasn't a monster either. His beast was still very much within him, but he no longer saw it as a separate part of him to be locked away. It had been assimilated into him, always there, taking control when it needed to, but tempered by his rational mind. He felt whole, no longer at war with his nature and his primal side.

He was happy, or as happy as he could expect to be under the circumstances. He wasn't unhappy, and if there was a hole in his heart where Elena used to be, that was his burden to bear. All in all, though, he liked his life, and he hadn't wanted it to be upended.

Needless to say, he wasn't pleased to be disturbed by one of Klaus' minions, not only for the reminder of all he had sacrificed and lost, but also for the missive that he was to leave his cushy, peaceful existence and return to the States posthaste. He'd wanted to cut the messenger's head off and send it back to Klaus tied to a cinder block, postage due, but since the vamp-were hybrid promptly tore out his own heart and killed himself right in front of Damon, he was denied that pleasure.

He didn't ignore the summons, but he did take his time in responding. He took a few days to settle his affairs in Italy and to say arrivederci to his lovely signorinas who cried for losing him. He didn't want Klaus to think he was a dog who could be called to heel. In the meantime, he did wonder why Klaus wanted him. The last time Katherine had been to see him he'd noticed that she was under some strain, but he didn't ask her about it, and now he was kicking himself for not following his instincts. She'd said something about Stefan and Elena no longer being on vervain, and he hoped that didn't mean what he thought it did.

He wondered if it was about his killing Finn, but as far as he knew, he and Katherine were the only ones who knew he'd been Finn's killer since Gloria had allowed him to wipe that memory from her mind for her own protection. There had been no other witnesses, although he still didn't know how Sage had known he'd been the one, and he figured that if Klaus knew it was him, he would have been dead a long time ago.

He thought about a lot of things as he boarded a plane that would take him from Europe back to the States, and another that would take him from New York to Chicago. He mulled it over on the long flight between naps, reading, and flirting with the flight attendants in First Class, and he finally came to the conclusion that worrying about it was a complete waste of time. If Klaus wanted him dead, he'd be dead so it had to be something else, and that something else was probably what had been bothering Katherine back in April. If it was bothering Katherine, it most likely involved Stefan and Elena, and he had to be ready to face whatever it was that was going to be thrown at him.

When his plane set down in Chicago, he'd felt an odd sense that he'd come full circle, and it made him uncomfortable. He would always associate the city with the betrayal he had committed there, and he wondered if Klaus had chosen it to deliberately bring back bad memories. He'd been given the address of a house in Lake Forest, but he didn't go there straight away. He knew he'd be a fool to go into Klaus's den unprepared, so he dropped in on Gloria first, only to find her bar closed. That tripped off his alarms because he'd just spoken with her the previous week, and everything had seemed fine.

Dread settled into his stomach as he called her and got her voicemail, but his fears were somewhat alleviated by her message. During their time together, they had worked out a system of code words that would relay vital information within a seemingly bland and innocuous message, and her choice of words told him that she was safe but that there was danger. He remembered that there was a secret compartment in a cabinet behind the bar, so he went to it, tripping the hidden lever and sliding the back panel aside to reveal a lockbox. He pulled it out and placed it on the counter, wondering if it was spelled closed, but he felt the lock click free when he touched the latch so either it wasn't locked at all or it had been keyed to his touch. Either way, he was able to open the lid to reveal the box's contents.

His time with Gloria had made him as much of a warlock as he could be without actually being able to cast magic. Vampires could use magic, but it was an uncertain thing because undead things using living energy often made the spells go awry. He could, however, mix non-magical potions, and he was a damn good herbalist. He even had a talent for gardening, although he'd gut anyone who'd say anything about it. He did have a reputation to protect, after all.

The box contained one of the sacred white oak stakes he'd given Gloria and a set of cloth pouches filled with herbs. He put the stake aside and examined the pouches, sniffing each one and trying to discern her message. Gloria never wrote anything down. Her letters were written in scent and signs, language another witch would speak… or a witch-savvy vampire. Her herbs would brew two potions – the super charged vervain and another potion meant to keep a clear head and focus the mind, it also somewhat dulled the senses – the sense of smell in particular. She was telling him that he needed to protect himself from compulsion, keep his head on straight, and keep his nose in check. Something was going to trigger his basal instincts, and she was warning him to be ready.

He took her message to heart and brewed both potions. While he was waiting for them to cool, he took off his No Mojo necklace and dipped it into the super-charged vervain. He wasn't relishing what he was about to do, but he didn't want anyone to be able to rip it off his neck. He took a sharp knife, gritted his teeth, and sliced a deep lateral wound in his left pectoral muscle large enough to create a pocket to slip the talisman underneath his flesh. His skin would heal over the pendant, but the vervain would prevent his body from expulsing it. It would sting and burn until he cut it out, but at least he knew he would remain protected from magical influence. When the wound was deep enough, he took the talisman off the chain and used a pair of small ice tongs to shove the black stone underneath his muscle, grunting as it stung and burned and gripping the edge of the bar to fight off the pain until his skin healed over.

When the potions were ready, he drank a thimble-full of the vervain, gagging and choking as it went down, and chased it with a full measure of the other. He didn't like the feeling of having his senses dulled, but he trusted Gloria. He poured some of the super-charged vervain into vials he found under the bar countertop and tucked them into his jacket, but he left the stake in the box as he packed everything up and stored it back in the hidden compartment. He locked the bar behind him as he headed back out to his rental car and drove to the address he'd been given.

The house was a typical Nuevo-riche mansion probably built in the boom years of the eighties, and the security gate closed behind him as he drove up the circular driveway and parked in front of the Georgian columned façade. Elijah opened the door when he rang the bell, and he gave the Original a jaunty smile.

"I'm here," he said.

"I can see that," Elijah replied in his usual cool voice, but there was something in his demeanor that tripped off red sirens in Damon's head.

He tamped it down, resisting the urge to rub the spot on his chest that itched and burned from the talisman under his skin, and stepped into the grand entry.

"My brother and I had a bet on when you would arrive. He thought you would come running as soon as you could, but I believed you would take your time responding," Elijah said, leading the way across the marbled foyer and through a set of open double doors.

"So which of you won and do I get a cut?" he asked with a smirk, using snark to hide his growing agitation.

"I did, and I'll consider it."

They walked into a large sitting room where several people were waiting. He noted Klaus and several of his hybrids. Lockwood was there standing next to Blondie whose eyes lit up when he entered the room, but he saw her quickly lower her gaze. Rebekah was sitting on a high-backed couch with her hand resting possessively on his brother's thigh as Stefan sat uncomfortably next to her. Stefan and he met eyes, seeing each other for the first time since that fateful night, and the emotions that ripped through him were nearly overwhelming. He was glad for Gloria's potion and warning, because he really was almost swept away. The expression in Stefan's eyes showed that he wasn't much better off.

There was another person in the room, one he needed to look at, but he couldn't until he had locked himself down. After several moments, he turned his attention to the woman sitting in the Queen Anne chair next to the couch. She was older, more mature. Her body had filled out, and she'd cut her hair to about shoulder-legnth, but she was still the same. His heart nearly leapt out of his chest, and her name was a prayer on his lips, when he caught a whiff of her scent.

His senses and primal instincts came shrieking to the fore, and his whole body went rigid. There was no mistaking that smell, and she even had the temerity to look guilty as her hand came up to protectively lay on her lower abdomen. His eyes went red, and his fangs came down, and he was at her side in an instant – not to threaten her, but to warn away any rival males who would dare to get too close. The hybrids scattered, and even his brother gave him a wide-eyed, wary look. He locked gazes with Stefan and growled possessively. If his brother had had anything to do with this…

Damon rounded on Klaus, furious and ready to fight to the death. "What have you done!" he demanded.

The Original flashed him a cocky grin and sauntered over to him even as Damon stepped forward to block his path to Elena.

"Now, now, mate, I think it's obvious what I've done," Klaus answered with a smirk and a gloating look in his eyes. "I decided that it was time for my doppelganger to continue the Petrova line, thus insuring that there will be another doppelganger in a few generations for me to use to make more hybrids."