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.

A/N: Many thanks to my awesome betas Glamoured-by-Eric, Kate C, and Layla Reyne


Chapter Thirteen

After he left Elena sleeping in his (their!) bed, Damon moved silently down the hallway towards the stairs. He could hear Ric and Junior talking in the parlor, and he wanted to listen in on what the Dynamic Duo were saying without them knowing he was there. He stopped at the top of the steps and dialed his hearing up to catch their harsh whispers.

"This is ridiculous. What the fuck are we doing here?" he heard Ric complain. His old friend was pacing. There was a clink and a splash, and Damon knew the history teacher had poured himself another drink.

"Ric, that's enough. You can't be drunk right now," Junior scolded.

"Why not? What I want to know is how you can stay sober while that monster is upstairs screwing your sister. You know that's what they're doing up there."

"I know," Jeremy admitted with a resigned sigh.

"Drink then?"

Damon heard the sloshing of the bourbon in the decanter.

"No. He's giving her what she needs. I may not like it or agree with it, but it's her life, and I have to respect her choices."

"Did you miss the part where Klaus has compelled her to obey him and Damon?" Ric reminded.

"I know, but Damon is doing what he can to break the compulsion. Bonnie tells me the herbs he's putting in the tea are genuine, and she says he's been burning rosemary and coltsfoot. They'll clear my sister's head as well."

Ric snorted. "Hopefully they'll clear it enough for her to stake that son-of-a-bitch in his sleep and run away with us."

"Ric stop it. I know you're still mad at him for what he did, but everything we've learned since then has proved him right. If he hadn't left her with Klaus, we'd all be dead."

"You don't know that."

"No, but Bonnie does. She forgave Damon. Whatever happened that night in Klaus's house convinced Bonnie that Damon had been right," Junior answered with the air of someone who has argued the point over and over and is losing patience with it.

"We know what happened. Bonnie got them in, but she didn't have enough power to majick the four of them out once they'd gotten Elena. They were caught as they tried to escape, and Klaus killed her," Ric stated.

"There's more to it than that. There's something Bonnie hasn't told me about that night. I know it. I know when she's keeping things from me."

Damon frowned. So ghost witch hadn't told Junior that Elena had refused to leave without Stefan, and it was Stefan who had turned them over to Klaus. He was trying to figure out the dead witch's angle in withholding that info when Junior spoke again in a conspiratorial whisper.

"But there's something else now. Something I haven't told you."

"Oh?" he heard Ric ask.

'Yeah, Junior Gilbert, oh?'

"Rose is here," the littlest Gilbert – for now – confessed, and Damon had to admit that he was surprised to hear Jeremy speak that name. He thought Rose would've been long gone to the great hereafter.

"Rose?" Ric said for him. "As in vampire-bit-by-a-werewolf-and-Damon-killed-her Rose?"

Damon bit his lip and gripped the railing at the top of the stairs. He remembered Rose vividly: her last moments, the dream he gave her, her sharp intake of breath as he staked her, the weight of her desiccating body in his arms… He remembered Elena's attempts to comfort him, and how he had rebuffed her. And he remembered killing Jessica on the road in his drunken grief.

He swallowed hard, but shook it off because Junior was talking.

"Yeah. She appeared to me in the kitchen this morning when we were bringing our breakfast."

"Why is she here?" he heard Ric ask, and he listened all the more intently because he wanted to hear the boy's answer. Why would Rose of all people stick around after he'd mercy killed her to keep her from suffering any more from the werewolf bite?

"She says she's here for Damon, that no one's on his side, and she is. She and her friend ran from Klaus for five hundred years. She knows what it was like to be hunted by him. She says Damon did the right thing. She also says Damon loves Elena, and he'll do right by her. She knows we'd like to stop it, to protect Elena from him, but right now, he's her best bet. She says he'll surprise her and challenge her, make her question her life. Yeah, Elena made him a better person, and she still does, but he changes her, too. He'll either be the best thing for her or the worst, but we can't interfere, and we have to let whatever went on between us in the past go."

Damon closed his eyes and smiled softly to himself. Rose had been a good friend, and a good lover. He hadn't loved her like he loved Elena, but she'd known that and had accepted it. If things hadn't played out the way they had, he could've been content with her in his bed for a few decades.

"She can't be serious," Ric gasped.

"She is."

"Great. What's Bonnie say about the whole thing?"

"Bonnie says we need Damon."

"For how long?" the former history teacher asked, an eager edge to his voice.

"Oh come off it, Ric. You know you're only holding a grudge against him because you found out he got you the job at Berkeley."

And that was Damon's cue. He zipped down the steps to the landing, but took the rest at human speed, adding an extra swagger to his hips as he strolled into the parlor.

"I didn't get him the job at Berkeley," he corrected, heading for the decanter. "I put in a good word for him and recommended him for a professorship. Which, by the way, he will never make tenure on if he doesn't stop taking sabbaticals." He added a disapproving glare to his comment and poured himself a drink.

"Don't start. I know you bought my house, and that you're reinvesting the rents from the lake house for me," Junior Gilbert snapped.

Damon rolled his eyes. Only the Gilbert family would be pissed off that he was helping them maintain their financial independence.

"Witchy-Woo tell you that?" he teased, waggling his eyebrows at the empty space beside the kid.

Jeremy snorted. "D.E.S. Triumvirate Financial, LLC? Seriously? How transparent can you be, Damon?"

"And here I thought I was being so clever."

"Yeah, well, routing the money through a shell corporation in the Caymans made it harder to trace, but my roommate's a geek with a talent for sniffing out conspiracies."

"Fascinating. I'm impressed."

"You should be. You should see what he's turned up about GMO food companies."

"Monsanto is evil," he agreed immediately.

"Oh. So you know then."

"Anything that negatively affects your food supply, little mortal, affects mine, so yes, I know," he said, smirking that he'd popped Junior's balloon. "But enough about the conniving machinations of a corporation. Tell me about your own."

He sat down on the couch with his drink in his hand and looked expectantly at them. They looked back at him with uncomfortable expressions on their faces.

"Oh, c'mon. Don't be shy," he prodded. "You know you want to spill your guts, so get to it. You're both here for a reason, and it isn't for the tearful family reunion or my cooking."

They were silent a few moments longer, and he was starting to get pissed off when Junior sighed and ran a nervous hand through his hair.

"Bonnie says she may have a way to get rid of Klaus," the boy said.

"Get rid of him after we separate him from his bloodline you mean, or yours truly, my brother, dear, sweet Caroline, and your good buddy Tyler, all end up dead," he pointed out, an edge of irritation in his voice.

Junior shook his head. "Not necessary. The spell wouldn't kill him. It would only stop his heart and desiccate him."

"Like daggering him, but without the dagger?" he asked, intrigued.

"Something like that. It's a complicated spell. It requires linking a powerful witch to another person or persons. Those people would have to make a connection to Klaus's blood stream, either directly to his heart or into a vein. Then the witch would have to stop a human heart in the process to balance out that she's stopping a supernatural one," Jeremy explained, looking at his hands.

"So you need a witch with a set of questionable morals when it comes to the sanctity of human life, a bunch of volunteers willing to risk Klaus ripping their heads off, and a lamb to be led to slaughter," he summed up, staring at the boy with intent, predatory eyes.

"I've volunteered to be the one who gets his heart stopped," Jeremy confessed.

"What?" both he and Ric blurted in unison, and he was sure they were wearing twin shocked expressions on their faces.

"No! No, no, no, no. Did I mention, no!" he declared, too stunned to hide his surprise.

"Elena's my sister. I want to do this. For six years I haven't been able to do anything while Klaus held her prisoner and used her for her blood and her body. Now it's my turn to help her."

"You helped your sister four years ago in San Diego when you fought to take down that pack of werewolves and vampires who were planning to kill her. This? Even if I were to let you do it, which I won't, she'd never forgive you."

"Bonnie wants to use Lucy. She's a Bennett witch, and Bonnie's pretty sure Lucy can channel her. Besides, guys, I have my ring. If Lucy can't revive me with C.P.R., I'll come back anyway."

Ric shook his head. "We don't know how many times that ring'll work, Jer. It's taking longer and longer for me to wake up after I'm killed. There may come a time when the magic's all used up."

Damon gestured to his former friend. "What he said. Took him hours to wake after I broke his neck early this morning. We don't know how many Super Mario lives are packed into that thing."

"You guys aren't hearing me. I'm doing this. The only difference is if you're with me when I do it. I don't need your approval or your permission," Junior stated, and he had the same stubborn expression on his face that Damon had seen on Elena when she was being her most belligerent. He knew then that there was no use in arguing with the boy.

"Jeremy…" Ric began, but Damon cut him off.

"Okay. Fair enough. But you're going to be the one to tell her what happened when it's all over, and deal with her hysterics, and if you send her into false labor, I will kill you – twice!" he threatened.

Junior met his eyes, and they looked at each other, regarding each other man-to-man. The kid wasn't a punk teenager anymore, stoking up in the Lockwood's den with emo music playing over the stereo; maybe it was time to let him play Varsity.

"Deal," Jeremy agreed. "Bonnie was hoping both of you would be on Team Desiccation."

"If it'll get rid of Klaus, but not hurt me, or my brother, I'm all for it," he answered.

"Do you think Stefan would do it, too?" Junior asked. "I mean, theoretically, it's going to take a bunch of people to bring him down and hold him while the blood connection is made."

"Did Sabrina tell you Stefan was up to it?" he questioned leadingly, using his old nickname for the deceased witch.

"No. I was just hoping…"

"Don't. Just assume that my brother is doing his own thing right now," he stated, hoping his firm tone clued the kid in that he shouldn't ask for details.

"Our sources inside Klaus's inner circle tell us that Klaus's hold on Stefan is weakening. You have anything to do with that?" Ric informed.

"First of all, if you think Klaus isn't aware that his number one barking vampire isn't a squealer, you're delusional. Second of all, if I did have something to do with it, I wouldn't tell you," he replied, smirking.

"Regardless, we have some time. Bonnie hasn't located Lucy yet, and we aren't anywhere near ready to pull off this plan," Jeremy said. "I was hoping to have more than just the two of you to bring Klaus down. If we can't rely on Stefan, do you think we should call Matt?"

"No! You leave the quarterback out of this! I went to a lot of trouble to get his ass out of this town, and I want to keep it that way!" he snapped.

"So you did get him that scholarship to Clemson! I knew it! Did you conjure up his long lost cousin Maude, too, who left him just enough money to pay for the rest of his education and his first condo?" Junior crowed.

He snarled. He hated getting caught being the good guy. Even Ric was looking at him with some of the old respect and admiration that he used to have for Damon.

"None of your business!" he growled, getting defensive.

"I don't get you, man. You buy my old house. You make investments for me and my sister. You get Ric a job at a prestigious university. You get Matt a scholarship to Clemson. We hate you. We've tried to kill you, but you still help us. Why?"

"Because we're his family, and he loves us. Even when we hate him," Elena's voice interrupted, and he whirled his head around to see her shuffling her way into the parlor. He scowled because he hadn't heard or smelled her, and that was not a good thing.

He was up and by her side in a vamp second, his hand on her arm, steadying her because it looked like she was having trouble controlling her body. A million questions were on his lips, but he asked none of them because the Elena he needed to speak to was no doubt locked up in the dungeon of her mind.

"Short nap, Baby?" he asked, as he took a moment to light the sprigs of coltsfoot and rosemary he always kept in a fireproof dish on the accent table.

She shrugged and leaned on him. "I had to pee."

"Want me to come up and tuck you back in?" he asked with a sexy leer.

She gave him a tired smile and shook her head. "No. You know I don't sleep well when you're not there. I miss you, Damon."

"Hmmmm," he hummed, drawing her close and guiding her to their preferred sofa.

He shot Ric a look he hoped the other man would correctly interpret because Stepford Elena was out in force, and, until he could get her back into her cage, anything they said could be held against them. As it was, he wondered how much of their plan she had overheard.

"Were you done talking?" she questioned.

"Yup," he answered, popping the "p" with a purse of his lips and casting another glance at Ric.

The history teacher made a gesture that the two of them used to tell each other that a message was received without resorting to the usual nods, and Damon knew he'd been understood. Even after six years apart, they still could read each other well enough to communicate without the need for words, and it made him miss his friend all the more.

"Good," she said, snuggling close as they sat down together, and she nestled herself into his arms. He draped the blanket around her shoulders again, and he tucked it over her feet to make sure her toes stayed warm because she'd forgotten her slippers.

Ric and Jeremy were seated opposite them on the other couch. Ric looked relaxed, but Damon knew better. He was watching Damon carefully. If Damon so much as twitched, Ric would be on his feet, reaching for weapons they both knew were hidden nearby, and following Damon's lead on how to deal with the threat. Knowing his former friend was with him, and ready to provide support, made a warmth blossom in his chest, and he almost smiled. Instead he saluted Ric with his drink and drew Elena closer with the arm he had around her shoulders.

"Warm enough, Baby? You forgot your slippers," he said to her.

She glanced at her blanketed feet, and he saw her toes wiggle under the soft chenille.

"I didn't even think of it," she admitted.

"Bare feet are no good with hardwood floors, no matter how well polished," he said, sliding his arm away and pulling back. "I'll go get them, and I'll brew you a cup of tea while I'm up. Do you want a snack, too? Are you hungry?"

He saw her think for a moment, then she smiled at him. "Do we have any leftovers from last night? The chicken you made with the basil and lemon?"

He nodded as he stood up. "I'll make you a sandwich with the rosemary thyme bread I baked."

Her smile spread to a grin. "That would be perfect."

He bent down to give her a quick kiss. Stepford Elena, especially in her hormonal state, needed a lot of reassurance. "Well, you've got the right guy for the job. You stay here and chat with baby bro about all the fun you're going to have after you convince me to bring you to New York to visit him at school, and all the shows you want to see, and all the places you want to shop, and all the baby shit you want to buy at FAO Schwartz…"

"Hey, you're the one buying all the baby shit," she countered.

"I didn't buy most of it. I up-cycled it. Chicks dig guys who care about the environment," he quipped.

He gave her his smoldering look, and she giggled. "My vampire is green."

"No one can say I'm not a sensitive guy who cares about the planet. And like I said, if it screws with your blood, it affects my food supply. Hence why you won't find me anywhere near China these days; I'd starve in Beijing."

With that, he kissed her on the forehead and left her in the living room with Ric and her brother. He found the slippers on the floor by her side of the bed, and he brought them down, placing them on the rug under the cocktail table before he disappeared into the kitchen to brew Elena's tea and make her a sandwich. He did keep an ear out, but Ric had received his warning loud and clear, and Witchy Woo must've warned Junior, because the conversation never strayed from such titillating subjects as the weather in northern California, or Little Gilbert's love life. Ric loved the Bay Area, but missed the greenery of the east coast. Junior had dated some, but had no one serious in his life. Possibly because having a long term relationship with someone is problematic when your sister's a mystical being, you can see ghosts, and your former high school History teacher is training you in how to kill vampires. That could lead to an unwilling internment in a mental ward until someone could spring you out.

He brought the sandwich and tea to her about fifteen minutes later, and he presented them to her with all the flourish of a waiter at a fancy Italian restaurant. She smiled at his antics and accepted the food, but he frowned when he looked in her eyes and did not see any trace of his Elena coming to the surface. The coltsfoot and rosemary should have started to work by now, and he was starting to get that little tickle up his spine that warned him when everything was about to go to complete shit. He gave a sidelong glance to Ric, catching his eye and raising an eyebrow. Ric's lips thinned, and he took the thumb and forefinger of his right hand and traced his left wrist with them – their signal for "no." Damon's heart sank because that meant Ric wasn't seeing a change in Elena's behavior either. He only hoped the tea did the trick. He'd added three drops of absinthe again, but now he was wondering if he should've used five.

By all accounts, Elena should have been exhausted enough to sleep for hours, but her alter ego was up in less than one. He was trying to figure out why, and he didn't like any of the answers he was deducing. The only thing that had changed was the addition of Junior and Ric. Their presence altered the situation, and Stepford Elena's behavior changed. That meant that Klaus's compulsion was adaptive, and that did not bode well. Unfortunately, there was no telling what all Klaus's compulsion entailed, or how deep it went, without causing serious psychological harm to Elena in the process.

"So, what was decided?" he asked lightly, smiling. "When are we headed to the Big Apple to spend lots of money?"

"Classes for the fall semester start the Tuesday after Labor Day," Junior said. "I'll be a senior."

"So it's your last year of college before you have to grow up and get a real job," he teased, flopping down next to Elena on the sofa. "We should plan to do something for your last Spring Break. Maybe send you to Cancun or Jamaica for a big beach blowout with lots of topless co-eds."

"Damon!" Elena scolded, but it wasn't his Elena, and his heart sank even further. If pushing buttons like he was doing wasn't bringing her out, they were in deep trouble.

"What? He's an unattached bachelor, and not a bad looking one at that. Now is the time for him to have some fun before he settles down. A man shouldn't limit himself before he's done jell-o shots out of a woman's bra."

Elena's expression darkened, but he just kept looking innocently at her, as if he had no idea that he was being offensive or crass.

"My roommate and I went to Daytona this year," Jeremy admitted, a mischievous glint in his eyes. Damon wondered if either Rose or Witchy Woo was filling him in.

"Ohhh, nasty. Did you get lucky?"

"Damon! Stop talking about my brother like that!" his Elena fumed, making him grin even as she glared daggers at him.

"Hi, Baby, there you are," he greeted.

She scowled, then blinked as she realized what he'd done. "You were pissing me off on purpose."

"That depends. Did it work?"

She cocked her head and looked thoughtful. "I'm in control, so yes, I think it worked."

"Took a while there, babe," he commented, trying not to sound as worried as he actually was.

"I was tired. It was harder to push her back."

He waggled his eyebrows at her, leering, and she hit him with a throw pillow.

"Ah ah ah. That could be considered domestic abuse," he warned.

"I could probably kill you and get away with it. Liz knows what it's like to live with you," she shot back without missing a beat as she finished off the rest of her sandwich and took a gulp of the tea.

Junior Gilbert laughed, and even Ric cracked a strained smile.

"But then I wouldn't have you around to cook for me, and I'd probably starve," she added with a shrug.

"Can't have that now. You have to think of the baby," Damon commented, watching as her hand went immediately to her abdomen.

"I know," she agreed, then turned to her brother. "I would like to visit you at school, though, Jer."

"You should come before it gets too cold. New York in winter can suck," Jeremy replied.

Elena nodded. "Maybe right after classes start then, before it's too cold, and I'm too heavy. What shows are good to see these days?"

"There's a couple of ones off Broadway that are really good. I'll look into getting tickets the third week of September," Junior answered.

Elena turned her doe eyes to Damon. "Do you think we could go for a long weekend?"

"Baby, we can go for however long you want," he said earnestly. "I told you, I'll take you wherever you want to go, whenever you want to go there. If you want to visit Baby Bro in the Big Apple, I'll call and make us reservations at the Waldorf Astoria right now."

She gave him a tender smile and rested a hand on his knee. "We'll talk about it later tonight, and I'll look up hotels on TripAdvisor. I'm not sure I want to stay at a place like the Waldorf. I think a smaller boutique hotel might be better."

He shrugged. As long as the place had rooms with King-sized beds and soundproofing, he didn't much care where they stayed. "Whatever. My Platinum card is yours for the swiping."

"What if I want to use my own money for once?" she countered.

"And have people believe that I'm a kept man? I don't think so."

Jeremy had been taking a drink at that moment, and he almost spit alcohol all over the couch.

"Hey, hey, careful there, Junior. If you can't hold your liquor, don't pour yourself a drink," he chided.

"Dick," Jeremy responded, wiping his mouth.

"Yep."

The rest of the afternoon passed in much the same way as the morning. Damon left Elena with their guests as much as possible, and all subjects remotely concerning Klaus were avoided. Jeremy and Ric stopped trying to get Elena to run off with them, and Elena seemed to be enjoying a day of what passed for as close to normal as they ever got considering their situation. He kept her supplied with tea and re-lit the coltsfoot a number of times, but he could tell that maintaining control was a harder task for her, and he didn't like that. It was something he was going to have to figure out how to handle. If the compulsion was adaptive, that meant they weren't playing a simple game of chess anymore, and Klaus had just upped the ante.

He made a light lunch around one since they'd had a late breakfast, and plans were made to go to the Grille for dinner. Junior caught him alone in the kitchen while he was tidying up after the meal, and he could tell the kid wasn't there to help dry the dishes.

"Something on your mind?" he asked nonchalantly as he made a show of ripping off the top of a blood bag with his teeth and pouring half of it into a mug to be nuked.

"There's something I gotta tell you," the boy answered.

He nodded as he put the mug in the microwave and heated it to temperature. Junior waited until he'd taken the mug out and had a sip.

"So? Spill," he prompted, leaning his hip causally against the counter.

"Rose is here."

He pretended to be surprised, although in a way he was because he hadn't expected the kid to admit the dead vampire's presence quite so soon.

"Really? Now, now, Rose, I know you're obsessed with me, but don't you think stalking me from beyond the grave is a bit much?" he sing-songed, casting his eyes around the room for a ghost he couldn't see.

Jeremy chuckled and looked briefly to his right. "She says you're still dripping with sex, but that's not why she's here."

"Good to know, coz I'm taken, but even if I was the cheating type… I'm not stupid enough to cheat on your sister," he answered, taking another sip from the mug.

"I always knew you were smarter than you looked."

"Same goes for you," he admitted. "So, if she's not here to ogle me in the shower and pine away that she can't touch me, why is she here?"

"She wants you to know that she is rooting for you and Elena."

"Well, that's nice. A dead vamp is on my side. Duly noted," he said, drinking the rest of the blood in the mug and refilling it with the rest of the bag.

"She also says to not underestimate Klaus. He always has plans within plans within plans."

"Yes, I am familiar with Klaus's Russian dolls of plans. The night of the sacrifice when he punted to your Aunt Jenna as the vampire after I'd freed Blondie proved that."

He turned his back long enough to nuke the second serving.

"She says you have to account for every possibility, even the ones you can't bear to bring yourself to think about."

"You mean like Stepford Elena betraying me to Klaus and getting me killed?" he said with a shrug as he took the mug out of the microwave and faced the kid again. "Yeah, I've thought about it. I consider it a likely scenario, especially after what we learned today."

"That the tea took longer to take effect," Junior observed.

"And the fact that she only slept for an hour. She should've been out for two at least," he responded, taking a drink of the blood in his mug.

"Bonnie says alter egos can take control any time one persona is unconscious. Because the mind rules the body, it won't register things like exhaustion, hunger and sleep depravation."

"Yeah, I got that."

"So what are we going to do?"

"What? Witchy Woo doesn't have an answer to that already? Being dead's made her lose her touch," he snarked, knocking the mug back to finish off the blood before rinsing it out in the sink and tossing the empty blood bag in the garbage. He made a mental note that it was almost time to burn the trash. No good leaving evidence around for anyone to find.

"Yes, I know," Junior said suddenly, and Damon turned his head to look at him.

"Huh? Are you actually agreeing with me?"

"No, Rose was just reminding me that you always get snarky when you're upset. Well… snarkier. As for the other, Bonnie's been concentrating on finding Lucy. She hasn't been spending too much time watching you."

"Good, coz thinking about Sabrina watching me is just creepy."

Jeremy rolled his eyes, but Damon just smirked.

"Damon…" the younger Gilbert said seriously.

He sighed and faced the boy.

"I don't know," he stated, cutting the kid off. "I don't know what we're going to do. I learned from before that I can't out think Klaus. I can only prepare for the worst and go from there. Does he have some sinister, horribly evil plan? Probably. Is Elena's compulsion part of it? Most definitely. Do I want a better idea of what I'm up against? Hell yes, but the herbs I would have to use to break through would hurt the baby."

"Belladonna," Jeremy confirmed, and he probably got that from Ghost Witch.

"Exactly, and I'm not willing to risk using it. So what do I do? Nothing. Not until the baby is born. I think I impressed upon Klaus the need for Elena to breastfeed, so I'm hoping the rat bastard leaves us alone for a while after the baby comes. Once the baby is no longer in danger, I can break out the big guns. Until then… I play Johnny Bench to a pregnant doppelganger with a multiple-personality disorder."

It was the most honest he'd been with anyone since this whole mess had started, and he wasn't too keen on baring his soul to a kid who had every reason to hate him, but he needed help. Rose was right. Klaus had plans within plans, and if he wanted to get all of them through this alive, then he needed an edge, and Ghost Whisperer Gilbert might just be exactly what the witchdoctor called for. Unless Klaus knew about Jeremy's little after-death side effect…

"Who else knows you can see ghosts?" he asked.

"Ric and now you…" The kid's eyes opened wide. "and Elena…"

Yes, Elena in both her incarnations knew about his secret (or not so secret) weapon. His heart sank even further. 'Shit.'

"Everything okay in here?" Ric asked as he came into the kitchen.

There was a look on the history teacher's face that made all the alarms go off in Damon's head.

"Just cleaning up. Everything okay out there?" he replied casually.

"Yeah, everything's good," Ric said, but his hand made the gesture for "caution, danger."

Damon narrowed his eyes and fought down the wave of dread as Elena came into the kitchen on Ric's heels. One look at her told him that Stepford Elena had resurfaced, and he hid his disappointment behind a warm smile.

She moved past Ric and Jeremy to reach his side as if being a few feet away from him was unacceptable. She even squeezed her way between him and Junior Gilbert, almost pushing the kid out of the way. She put an arm around his waist, and he wrapped one of his around her shoulders.

"Hey Baby, how are you doing?"

She looked up and smiled brightly. "Better now. You and Jer were in here a long time. I thought I was going to have to send Seal Team Six in to get you."

He chuckled. "Not necessary. I was just schooling Junior in the proper way to load a dishwasher. Kid's useless in the kitchen."

"Hey!" Junior complained.

"You were talking about me, weren't you?" she accused.

"You got us. We were planning your baby shower."

She gasped and looked crushed. "Baby shower? I'm not going to have a baby shower. Who'd come? Everyone I knew is either dead or moved away. Mom's gone. Klaus killed Aunt Jenna. Bonnie's here, but she's a ghost. Caroline is stuck with Rebekah. Who's left?"

"Ahh…" 'Okay so maybe the baby shower thing was the wrong thing to say.'

He cast a panicked glance at Ric, looking for backup, but the history teacher just glared disapprovingly at him. Elena sniffled, and he knew he was in for it.

"I mean… all the women in my life are gone. I'm in this alone…"

"Hey, now, you have me and Junior Gilbert and Ric, and Liz, she's a woman. And Dr. Fell…"

"Sheriff Forbes? She's old enough to be my mom! And Dr. Fell only helps me because you're giving her your blood for her to use."

Oh, what he wouldn't do for a pack of hybrids to come barging in there to save him from the hormonal crying jag he knew was coming. So far, she didn't have them often, but when she did, they were epic. He prayed they weren't a taste of what was to come as she got further into her pregnancy. He wracked his brain on how to derail the train wreck he saw barreling at him, and he cast a pleading look at Ric and Junior, but they appeared to be planning a hasty retreat. They were also communicating with hand gestures, and he felt a rush of betrayal and irrational jealousy. Secret hand language was for him and Ric alone.

"Oh, you know women. They're all catty and back-stabby. Guys are much more fun. You can have an all guy baby shower with yours truly as the host," he teased, trying to distract her.

She gazed at him with watery eyes that flashed a bit of the Petrova fire. "You're not serious?" she scoffed.

"Aww, c'mon, you know I make a mean potato salad," he answered with a winning grin.

It didn't work. She burst into tears and punched him in the abdomen before running, sobbing, out of the kitchen with an "I hate you!" tearing from her lips as he doubled over from the blow.

"Damn, for such a little thing, she packs a hell of a punch," he complained, rubbing the sore spot. "Well, that went well."

Ric shrugged. "At least she didn't say it was all your fault."

"Don't worry. She'll get to it."

"Aren't you going to go after her?" Junior asked with an edge of accusation.

"I will. I'm giving her time to make it upstairs to the bedroom. I hope she doesn't try to lock me out. That door's original. I'd hate to have to kick it down," he answered.

"You could go in through the balcony," Ric suggested.

"True, but I'd worry about breaking the glass if she locked the French doors."

Ric chuckled. "You are so house proud."

"Hey, the house I grew up in has turned to rubble. I'd like this one to last, thank you very much."

"What ever happened to the Salvatore Plantation, anyway? The story is that it burned down," Junior questioned.

"It did. I set it on fire to hide the bodies of the people my brother had killed. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a pregnant woman to placate."

"Got any Haagen-Dazs?" Ric asked.

He paused to mentally inventory the freezer. "No, but I have something better. I have Klondike Bars."

"That'll work," Jeremy confirmed.

He fished an ice cream bar out of the freezer. "Wish me luck."

"If we hear any screaming and things breaking, we'll call Sheriff Forbes," he heard Jeremy call after him as he left the kitchen.

'Kid thinks he is so funny. He has no idea what this is like for me,' he thought angrily as he climbed the stairs.

He tracked the sound of her crying all the way to his bedroom, and he stopped outside the closed door to gingerly test to see if she had locked it. She hadn't, but he still felt the need to announce his presence by knocking.

"Elena? It's me, Baby? Can I come in?" He added silently, 'I can't believe I'm begging to go into my own fucking bedroom…'

"Go away! I hate you!" he heard her yell back between sobs.

"Sweetheart, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you."

"I'll never have a baby shower!" she wailed.

'Okay, that's it.'

He opened the door and strode in, Klondike Bar held out in front of him. She was on the bed, hugging her pillow and looking miserable. His heart ached.

"Peace offering?" he said hopefully with a small, sideways grin.

She sniffed loudly. "What is it?"

"Klondike Bar. Would you forgive me for it?" he asked, coming to sit beside her on the bed.

The pillow hit him in the face, but he felt her grab the ice cream bar from his hand. She was unwrapping it as he tossed the pillow back against the headboard.

"I guess not," he commented.

"Why should I forgive you? You're mean," she stated, chomping down on the Klondike Bar.

"All the shit I've done in the past that you've managed to forgive me for, and you choose to hold a grudge over a half-assed comment I meant as a joke?" he complained.

"It's not a joke," she insisted, fresh tears falling and her face crumbling again. "This is supposed to be the happiest time of my life, Damon. I'm going to have a baby. I should be married, with a supportive husband, and my mom and Aunt Jenna and all my girlfriends should be gathering around me and telling me how happy they are for me. But I don't have any of that."

He tried not to let her words sting, but they did anyway. His pain must've shown because she immediately looked contrite.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean… you've been perfect, and I love you so much…"

"But it's not the life you wanted," he admitted, refusing to meet her eyes.

"I was never going to have the life I wanted. Being a doppelganger insured that," she said softly, eating more of the ice cream.

"But you wanted the husband and the white picket fence and the 2.5 kids."

She nodded guiltily. "Yeah, but I'm not going to get the 2.5 kids either. If Bonnie's right, this one is it, so I have one chance for a baby shower. One. And I'm not going to get it."

He shrugged. "Well, I don't know about that. With Ghost Whisperer Gilbert, maybe he can… y'know…"

"Don't you even suggest that Jeremy try to contact Mom and Jenna so they can come to a baby shower."

"Okay, bad idea. Noted."

She rolled her eyes and finished off the ice cream. "You're hopeless."

"You're just figuring that out?" he questioned fondly, reaching over to tuck a strand of her hair behind her ear.

"No," she answered with a small smile. "I've known it for a while."

He grinned back. "Feeling better?"

"Not really, and I'm sure my eyes are all bloodshot, and my face is all red and blotchy."

"You're beautiful."

He reached over and gathered her close, hugging her tight as she wrapped her arms around him.

"I love you," he whispered.

"I love you, too. I'm so sorry I punched you in the stomach and said I hated you."

"It's okay. I've had a lot worse things happen to me."

"I know. You were always getting beat up trying to protect me."

"I'm tough. I can take it."

"Big badass vampire… who cares about the environment and can't leave a dirty dish in the sink," she razzed, snickering.

"Hey, when your nose is as sensitive as mine, you like things fresh and clean."

"I guess that makes sense."

He shifted them so he could lie down beside her with her body tucked up against his, and she snuggled up, one hand on his chest.

"It's weird having Jeremy and Ric here, isn't it?" she commented.

"Yeah, but it's good to see them. You're right. Now is the time for family to gather and support you," he replied, letting one hand stroke her hair because he knew she liked it.

"And we need all the help we can get."

"Exactly."

"You smell good," she said suddenly.

"Good to know."

"Mmm hmmm."

He tried to stay very still with only his hand gently petting her head because he could tell that she was falling asleep, and he wanted Stepford Elena to sleep so his Elena would have an easier time surfacing. As soon as he felt her go slack, he slipped carefully out of bed to light the coltsfoot and simmer the rosemary oil over a tea candle. He added frankincense to the rosemary in hopes that its astral properties would help clear Elena's mind and allow her to take control. When the room started smelling of the herbs, he got back into bed and stretched himself out alongside Elena to watch her sleep. He was waiting for some sign of her waking, when she let out a little moan and slowly opened her eyes.

"Hey Baby," he greeted in a soft voice.

"David," she breathed, a frightened look on her face.

"I'm here."

She reached out to him and he took her into his arms, soothing her as she clutched his shirt in her hands.

"She just shoved me back. I had no warning…" she told him in a worried whisper.

"Shhh. It's okay. I think Ric and Junior being here triggered another part of the compulsion."

"I don't understand what's happening to me. How can she seize control so easily when we have the tea and herbs?"

"Because the mind rules the body, and Klaus's compulsion is a powerful thing. It's a geis- a curse. You can't fight it. If you do, it'll only get stronger," he explained, stroking her hair.

"What are we going to do?"

"We're working on it."

"David, I'm scared."

The words were a punch to the balls, and he drew her closer, trying to protect her with his body even though their enemy wasn't something he could physically protect her from. Now that he had her, now that she loved him, Elena's pain was Damon's pain. Her ache, his ache. Her fears, his fears. But he could not allow her fear to cloud his judgment, nor his hidden terror that all his efforts would be in vain. He needed to keep a clear head so that he could see the game Klaus was playing. He knew there would be a moment, probably at the last second, when Klaus was certain he would win, and he would let his guard down. It would be in that moment where Damon could best him. He had to be ready because he would only get one chance.

It was likely he would die in the effort, but if it meant she and the baby would live, he was more than willing to lay down his life for her. Junior and Ric would make sure she was safe, and he'd already set up all the accounts needed to insure her and the child's financial security. If sacrificing himself assured her survival, he would do it without hesitation or regret. The only thing he needed to do was make sure that she didn't figure out his plan – whatever it would be – before the big reveal.

"I know, Baby. I'm scared, too," he confessed, caressing her back.

"You are?"

"Of course I am. Only a fool wouldn't be. But it's going to okay, I promise."

"How can you be so sure?"

"Because no matter what crazy shit this world seems to throw at us, we find a way. We always find a way."

She sniffled, and he felt her nod her head against his chest.

"Yeah. We do."

"Yep, so don't worry. I got this," he whispered, his voice filled with more confidence than he actually felt.

"Okay."

"Okay?" he repeated, smirking at her and giving her an eyebrow wiggle. She gave him a small smile.

"Okay," she confirmed.

He sighed and gently rubbed circles on her back until he felt her relax and snuggle closer.

"I love you, David," she said softly.

"I love you, too."

He placed the palm of her hand over his heart and held it there with his own, his fingers curled around hers as they lay quietly. Somewhere in the house, Ric and Jeremy were plotting and planning, and no doubt Klaus was plotting and planning wherever he was in the world, but in this moment there was peace and love, and he would take them and cherish them in the dark times ahead.