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 and Kate C.


Chapter Nineteen

Damon woke up in a cell in the Boarding House with no clear memory of why or how he got there. His head was splitting, and he felt like his body had been set on fire – both telltale signs that he'd been vervained. Groaning, he sat up from the dusty floor, and tried to piece together what had happened. His last clear memory was of opening the front door to find Blondie and his baby bro on the stoop.

"Oh come on! At least let me take a shower! Have you seen my hair!" he heard Blondie's shrill complaint from an adjacent cell, which told him that she at the very least was locked up down there as well.

Wincing at the fire that still raced through his veins, he rose shakily to his feet and staggered over to the barred opening in the door. Ric beat him to it, peering in at him from the corridor.

"Thought I'd heard you wake up," his friend commented. "How are you feeling?"

"Like shit. What the fuck happened? Who vervained me, and why am I in this cell?"

"You went postal and tried to kill Caroline and your brother. You shot both of them with vervained crossbow bolts before we could stop you. Gloria was the one who shoved the vervain syringe in your ass."

"Seriously?" he asked, rubbing a sore spot on his left butt cheek. "If she wanted to fondle my ass that badly, all she had to do was ask."

Ric chuckled and stepped back as Damon gripped the cell bars. "I don't think she had amorous intentions. More like she was trying to curb your murderous ones before you did something we both know you'd regret."

"Offing my brother? Yeah, probably. Offing Blondie? Pffft. I'd be doing the world a favor."

"I heard that!" Caroline's voice shrieked.

"Put a sock in it!" he snarked back.

"I would, but I'm not wearing any socks! In case you hadn't noticed before you tried to kill me, my nylons are a holey mess, asshole!"

"Ooh, language, Blondie. Tsk tsk," he replied, then looked at Ric and gave an experimental tug on the bars. The cell door was firmly locked. "So? Are you gonna spring me out of here or what?"

"In a little bit. Gloria is brewing some kind of potion to dull your senses. Something about your primal side taking over when you smelled your brother and saw him as a threat."

Damon released the bars and nodded. "Yeah. If you say I went nuts and tried to kill them, that's probably what happened."

"You don't remember?"

He shook his head. "Not really, but I'm sure I will eventually. What I don't understand is why Stefan and Caroline are locked up down here. Why were they even let in the house?"

"Jeremy said Bonnie said they were legit."

"And they believed them?" he snapped, glad he was locked up because otherwise he might have strangled the kid. "Is everyone forgetting that they're both stooges for Klaus?"

"Hey! You were the one who gave me that vial of vervian, remember?" Blondie called. "You dropped it into my bra, you pervert!"

"Would you rather I have shoved it into your trachea? That probably would've drawn attention to it."

"Shut up!"

"Oooh, she's cranky when she's unwashed." He saw Ric open his mouth to ask so he tapped his nose. "The smell. Can't hide road grime and mud from this nose."

"Arrrghhh! It's not my fault!" Caroline whined. "The car we stole broke down, and we decided it was best to come the rest of the way on foot to stay under the radar."

"Because hybrid werewolves have an awful sense of smell," he quipped.

"We know how to mask our scents, jackass!"

"With skunk and Eau du Asphalt?"

"So help me god, Damon when I get out of here, I am going to rip out your tongue and feed it to you!"

"Now, now, children, play nice. We're all on the same team," Ric scolded.

"He started it!" Caroline accused.

Damon rolled his eyes, but Ric was smiling and shaking his head. 'That's enough,' he saw his friend mouth to him, and he gave a smirk in reply. It really was too fun to bait the girl, but it was always a fine line with her.

When he heard footsteps coming down the cellar stairs, he turned his head towards the sound, and he took a deep sniff to confirm that it was Gloria coming with the scent-dulling potion. A moment later, the witch appeared carrying two shot glasses of the acrid liquid. She handed one to Ric and took the other out of his view.

"Have him drink that," Gloria said, presumably to Caroline.

Ric handed Damon the shot glass, and he downed it, making a face as he swallowed. It wasn't long before he felt the effects of the potion as it dialed his sensitive senses down to just above human strength. He could still smell, hear and see like a vampire, but everything was muted, and the edges were softened. No doubt the brew had had the same effect on Stefan as well.

Ric gave him a wary look, then threw the bolt on the cell and opened the door. Damon zipped out at vamp speed and went to the adjacent cell to peer in at Blondie and his brother. Both of them did look like they'd traveled a good way on foot, their clothes bedraggled and hair dirty, but that could be part of an elaborate ruse.

Frowning, he gripped the bars on their cell door and bared his teeth. "What are you doing here?"

Caroline rolled her eyes. "What do you think we're doing here? We're here to help Elena and protect her from Klaus. Duh!"

"Not that I don't believe you, but I don't believe you," he stated coldly.

"Look, would we be here if I was lying? We just got away from Klaus. Do you think we'd come running here, exactly where we know he's going to be, if we weren't on your side?" Caroline argued.

"The last time I saw the two of you, my brother was Rebekah's boy-toy, and you were her bitch. How'd you get away from Barbie Klaus?"

"We daggered her."

"You did what?" he blurted.

"We daggered her. You know, with the stake dipped in white oak ash."

"I know what you're saying, but my question is how? No vamp can use the dagger. I know. Katherine set me up to use it knowing it'd kill me. Ric was the one who daggered Elijah instead. How'd you get around it?" he replied.

"Okay, technically, we didn't dagger her," Caroline clarified. "I compelled one of the girls Rebekah used for meals to do it, but it was Stefan who found the dagger and gave it to me."

"So why stab her in the back now?" he asked, amused at his own humor.

"She's tired of Klaus's obsession with Elena and making hybrids. She threatened to kill Elena and her baby, plus she was a liability. She kept leaving high profile kills."

"I'd noticed. That still doesn't explain how the two of you got here."

"Klaus left us in Brazil with Rebekah. We ran after we daggered her," Caroline answered.

"What'd he leave Barbie Klaus in Brazil for?"

"He was told to go up the Amazon and look for Lucy Bennett in Peru. Rebekah didn't want to go into the jungle, so he left us with her in Rio."

"Yeah, Blondie Bex didn't strike me as the Jungle Jane type," he commented. "Where's Elijah?"

"He went with Klaus, but I think we can trust him to help us when the time comes."

"Riiiight, because Original Big Bro has been so trustworthy with that in the past," he scoffed, remembering Elijah's betrayal on the night of the sacrifice.

"Elijah has a soft spot for Elena. He never agreed with what…" Caroline choked on the words. "with what Klaus did to her, and he knows what Klaus has planned for Elena and her baby."

"Which is?" he demanded through gritted teeth.

"Which is to take the girl and breed her to another man in the Petrova bloodline as soon as she starts getting her period. Klaus wants a new doppelganger as soon as he can get one."

Damon clenched his fists even as he heard Ric's sharp intake of breath followed by a low, possessive growl. It was an odd sound to hear from a human, but Ric was Elena's self-appointed father figure, so it made sense that he'd be a little possessive. Still, it was usually Damon who was doing the growling.

"Yeah, not happening," Damon stated firmly.

"Well, not if any of us have anything to say about it," Blondie agreed.

"Why is Klaus looking for Lucy Bennett?" Gloria questioned.

"Because he heard that you're looking for her," Caroline answered as if that was obvious.

Damon shared a look with Ric and Gloria.

"Does he know why?" Damon asked.

"I don't think so. He just knows you want her so he wants to find her first."

"Uh huh," Damon commented, clucking his tongue against the roof of his mouth. "So? What do you think about all this?" he asked his brother.

So far, Stefan had been silent. Unlike Blondie, who was standing and pacing the cell, Stefan was seated on the floor with his legs curled up to his chest. He hadn't tucked his head to his knees so Damon could see his brother's face, and the blank look in Stefan's green eyes was one Damon knew all too well. It was odd, though, but the lost, tortured expression on his brother's face did more to convince him that Stefan and Caroline were legit, than any entreaty on Blondie's part. Stefan's eyes were haunted and full of his own personal demons.

Had darling Lexi been alive, no doubt Stefan would've gone crawling back to her, begging for another round of her special brand of detox. Damon had never agreed with Lexi's methods, believing that Stefan only made his problems worse by suppressing his dark side. Instead of locking up his beast, Damon felt that his brother needed to make peace with it, and learn how to control it, so as to avoid the nightmare binges of bloody carnage that left whole villages in literal pieces. Damon had cleaned up enough of Stefan's gruesome messes to know that his brother's addictive personality only grew more twisted with depravation, making Stefan's falls off the wagon that much worse.

Contrary to popular belief, Damon did give a damn about his brother. When it came down to it, there was only one person in the world who Damon might love more than Elena, and that was Stefan. He hid it well, but anyone with the eyes open enough to see would recognize that Damon had done everything he could for his brother – even let him go when he'd had to in order to protect him. But now Stefan was ready to come home, and there was no Lexi to help him overcome his nightmares.

Damon didn't consider this a bad thing. Without Lexi to convince him that going cold turkey was the way to go, Stefan had no choice but to look elsewhere for guidance, and maybe – just maybe – he was ready to listen to Big Bro again.

And maybe Damon was finally willing to be Big Bro after everything they'd both been through. He'd long ago realized that he'd abdicated his elder sibling responsibilities and let his baby brother down. His mother had once made him promise to always look after Stefan and keep him safe, and he'd done his best while they were alive. It had been what he had perceived as his brother's betrayal, and being forced into vampirism, that had caused the schism… No, that wasn't true. Katherine had made the first cracks in their relationship. It was becoming a vampire that had shattered them both into pieces. The Change had been hard, and it had only brought out the worst in each of them until they'd both learned to face their demons.

But now there was no Katherine, no Klaus, no Rebekah, and no Lexi to save or enable Stefan. Now there was only himself and his guilt, and Damon. The brothers' eyes met through the bars, and Damon found what he was looking for in them. A single tear escaped Stefan's eye, and Damon understood. He gave a nod, then stepped away from the bars. He saw Blondie look at Stefan with concern.

"He hasn't said much since we daggered Rebekah, but he hasn't killed anyone either," she explained, but Damon wasn't paying attention.

Damon turned to Ric, and Gloria and gave them a nod of approval. Ric shook his head, but Gloria just pursed her lips and stepped up to unlock the cell door.

"Just you, Blondie," Damon said as the witch swung the heavy door open.

"But what about Stefan?" she asked even as she moved cautiously past him.

"He'll be fine. Trust me, this place is the Hilton compared to some of the shit holes I've found him in," Damon answered, casting a glance towards his brother as Gloria closed and rebolted the door. Stefan's expression was resigned, but his eyes were grateful. For the first time in decades, he and Stefan understood each other completely. It was an odd turn of events, but Damon hoped it was a promise of good things.

"Come with me," he ordered Blondie, then didn't wait to see if she was following him out of the cellar.

He heard her footsteps on the stairs behind him, so he knew she was there, plus he hadn't been joking about her smell. Both she and his brother reeked of gasoline fumes and mud, probably by design. Only the most sensitive of noses would've picked up the scent of vampire under the masking stench. He hated to admit it, but they'd done a fair job of making sure nothing with a heightened sense of smell could track them.

"I'd just like to make one thing clear: if you are lying to us, and you end up betraying us, I will hunt you down, chop you up into tiny, bite-sized pieces, and eat you while you beg for mercy, and the last thing I'll eat is your heart. You got that?" he told her as he led the way out of the basement and across the first floor to the stairs.

"Crystal clear," she said, her voice surprisingly steady.

"Good."

"But we're not. Lying, I mean. We really did escape and came all the way here to help you," she insisted.

"See? Here's where I have a problem, because that is exactly what a stooge would say. So please forgive me if I'm skeptical. If it had been up to me, you never would've been let in the house, but seeing as Junior Gilbert vouches for you, and I was vervained and locked in the basement, I didn't get a say in the matter. You're getting your chance. Don't fuck it up."

"Understood."

They had arrived at the closed bedroom door, and Damon rapped twice on it with the back of his hand.

"Special delivery," he called.

"Damon?" Elena's voice said through the door.

"Open up. I have something for you."

"Damon…" She sounded unconvinced, but he put a finger to his lips when Caroline moved to speak.

"Trust me, Baby. You want what I have. Open the door."

He heard her approach the door cautiously, then the snick of the lock releasing as she did as asked. He stepped back so Elena wouldn't see him and planted a hand against the small of Blondie's back, giving her a firm push into the room.

"Candygram," he sing-songed.

There was a beat of silence, then his ears rang with the squeals of delight from both women. The door slammed shut, and he rolled his eyes as he went to Stefan's room to get some clean clothes for their guest. He knew from before that the two were about the same size, and they'd often swapped clothes when they were teens. Elena's body may have changed, but Caroline's was still the same as it had been six years ago, as it would be for all eternity.

Elena had kept clothes in Stefan's closet for the nights she'd stay over, and more for the times she and Damon would be up late plotting how to find and rescue his brother from Klaus; before he'd begun tracking Stefan's bloody kills and had tried to hide them from her. On those nights, she'd sleep in Stefan's bed, needing to feel close to him, and driving Damon crazy with the knowledge that the object of his desire was sleeping, vulnerable and trusting, under his roof.

While the old clothes in the closet wouldn't fit twenty-four year old, pregnant Elena, they should fit immortal Caroline, so he grabbed a pair of jeans, a couple of shirts, and a lacy, pink bra that he found shoved at the back of Stefan's underwear drawer. He left off the panties because he didn't know any girl who was willing to swap bikini briefs with her bestie no matter how close they were. He brought them to the hallway and left them sitting on the floor just outside the bedroom door, knocking once to get someone's attention.

"Damon?" Elena asked through the heavy wood.

"Yeah, Baby, it's me. I left some of your old clothes for Blondie to change into."

"Thank you. She'll really appreciate that. She's in the shower right now."

He figured. With how she'd been carrying on about her hair, he wasn't surprised to hear that Little Miss Mystic Falls had made a bee-line for the bathroom.

"Knew she would be. I'm going to go back downstairs."

"Okay. And Damon?"

"Yeah, Baby?"

"Thank you."

He smiled at the genuine gratitude in her voice, and he stroked the closed door with a wistful finger. "You're welcome."

"I love you," he heard her say in a voice heavy with tears.

"I love you, too, Baby."

He lowered his hand and made himself walk away, knowing Elena wouldn't open the door while he was still on the other side of it. He heard her crack it ajar when he was at the top of the stairs and bring the clothes in. With a heavy sigh and a shake of his head, he made his way back down to the parlor and went directly to the bourbon.

"Figured I'd find you here," Ric said as the man came into the room just as Damon was pouring himself a drink.

"Best place to be right now," Damon replied, pulling out another tumbler for his friend.

Ric accepted the drink and sat down as Damon plopped down on the opposite sofa, stretching his legs out as he laid back and put his feet on the armrest.

"I'm surprised you're not in the cellar," Ric commented leadingly.

"Nah, Steffie's not in a talking mood. He's in the 'Please kill me. I am evil and don't deserve to live' phase of his recovery. Give him a couple of days, make sure he gets enough blood, and he'll start talking. Trust me."

"Animal blood?"

He clucked his tongue. "Nope. All human. It's about time Baby Bro learned the art of moderation."

"You think that's smart to do right now, with so much else going on?"

"If he's going to be under the same roof with Elena and her newborn, he'd better damn well learn how to keep a lid on it or I will pump him full of vervain, wrap him in chains, lock him in the safe we have down in the cellar, and dump him at the bottom of the quarry reservoir," he said with complete seriousness.

Ric winced. "Ouch. That's harsh."

"So be it. I am done playing with him. He learns or he gets locked up for a few decades. Believe me, at this point, he'll agree with me."

"You seem certain of that."

"Seen it all before. You didn't know Stefan right after he'd come off of one of these binges. All you've ever seen is boring, stick in the mud Stefan who's about as well adjusted as a thong bathing suit on an obese man."

"Thank you for that image."

He saluted Ric with his drink. "You're welcome. My point is, he's in the worst stage of his recovery: the morose, guilt-ridden, ready to sacrifice himself for the greater good stage. He'll snap out of it… eventually."

"So you've seen this before?"

"Oh yeah. Been there, done that, burned the T-shirt," he replied.

He glanced at the clock and saw that two hours had passed since he'd opened the front door and seen Blondie and Stefan on the landing.

"Where's Jeremy?" he asked, not bothering with the kid's nickname.

"He went back to the Gilbert House."

"What about dinner?" he questioned, sitting up. He didn't like that Junior had left the house. The arrival of Caroline and his brother changed everything.

"Pizza, dude, the dinner choice of college kids and bachelors everywhere."

Damon snorted and rose to his feet, putting the empty tumbler on a coaster on the cocktail table, then he headed for the door.

"Where are you going?" Ric asked.

"Blondie and Stefan being here changes everything. Now's not a good time for one of us to be on our own. I'm going to go get Junior and bring him back here. There's no telling when Klaus will come back from his witch hunt and find Blondie Bex daggered and his besties having flown the coop," he explained.

Ric stood and reached for his coat. "I'll come with you."

"No. You stay here and guard the house. Anything weird happens – especially with my brother then you call me, and do what you have to do."

"Damon…"

Damon turned and faced his friend, his eyes intense and resolute. "I'm trusting you to protect Elena. I need you here to keep her safe."

It looked like Ric was going to argue, but then the man lowered his eyes and nodded. "Okay. Just get back here as soon as you can."

"I will."

Damon was at the Gilbert House in record time, and he didn't bother to knock as he strode through the front door.

"Jeremy!" he called, and a noise upstairs told him the kid was in his old room.

He took the steps two at a time until he was on the top landing and making his way to the bedroom. He didn't spare a glance for Elena's childhood bedroom as he passed the closed door.

Junior was scrambling out of bed and reaching for clothes when Damon entered the room.

"Dude! What the fuck?" the boy yelled, hastily pulling on a pair of boxers, but Damon had already seen everything.

One whiff of the scent in the room told the vampire that the kid had been enjoying some "private time," and he sort of felt bad, but not really.

"Get your stuff. You're coming back to the Boarding House with me," he ordered.

"What the hell? No!"

"Blondie and Stefan daggered Rebekah. Once Klaus finds out, he'll be headed here, and he'll mean business. It's no time for any of us to be off on our own."

"I'm fine. Bonnie'll warn me if Klaus gets anywhere near here."

"I get that you want some alone time with your witchy, ghostie girlfriend, but that's the beauty of out of body sex. You can have it anywhere. Grab your toothbrush and a clean pair of underwear, and let's go."

"You've got to be joking, man."

He zipped vamp speed to shove his face directly into Jeremy's. "Do I look like I'm joking?"

Startled, the boy stepped back, but hit the edge of his bed. Damon was undeterred.

"Get your stuff. Let's go. I left Elena with Ric and Gloria, but Blondie and my baby bro are in there, and I don't want to be gone any longer than necessary. So get a move on. Chop. Chop. I don't have all night."

Jeremy stared at him for a few moments longer, then capitulated. "Whatever, man. You're something else."

"And don't you forget it."

Scowling at Damon, Jeremy did as asked and tossed a few things in a gym bag, slinging it over his shoulder. Damon took a minute to grab more of Elena's old clothes for Blondie, shoving them in a large, leather tote bag he found in the closet, and he met Junior in the hall. Damon nodded once to him then ushered him down the steps and out the door to the Camaro. They were back at the Boarding House in less than an hour, Jeremy sulking all the way.

Ric was in the parlor when they arrived, and Damon was pleased when he saw his friend reach for a weapon the moment he realized someone was coming in the door. Ric relaxed and lowered the crossbow as soon as he saw that it was Damon and Jeremy, relief etched all over his face. Damon smirked and shoved the kid towards the other man, earning him another scowl which he ignored.

"Honey, we're home," Damon announced.

"Dick," Jeremy snapped and headed upstairs without another word.

"What's his problem?" Ric asked.

"I could tell you, but then you'd never be able to get the images out of your head. Where's Gloria?"

"She went up to her room. Said she had to meditate and commune with the spirits, or some such."

He nodded. "Anything happen while I was gone?"

"Nope. I checked on Elena and Caroline. They were braiding each other's hair."

Damon smiled to himself. Elena's hair had grown about two inches since he'd brought her home, but it wasn't as long as it had been when she was a teenager.

"Sounds like fun. And my brother?"

"I left him a cup of blood. As far as I know, he hasn't touched it."

"He say anything?"

"Not a word."

"Not surprised. I'll check on him later."

"What's in the bag?"

"More clothes for Blondie," he answered, reaching into his pocket to retrieve the turquoise ring.

He put the ring on when he reached the top of the stairs, and he rapped on the door.

"Special delivery," he announced in his altered voice.

A second later Blondie was opening the door, and she burst into shocked laughter when she saw him.

"Not one word," he warned, shoving past her.

She kept giggling anyway. "You weren't kidding!" she said to Elena who was sitting on the bed, her hair in two braids.

She looked all of fourteen, albeit a heavily pregnant fourteen, which Damon found disconcerting. Damon threw the leather tote at Caroline, trusting that her vampire reflexes would allow her to catch it. She did.

"What's this?" she asked.

"More wardrobe choices," he replied, his eyes never leaving Elena. She was beaming, and it warmed his heart to see her so happy.

"Hey," she said, a shy smile on her lips.

"Hey back."

"Where'd you go?" Elena asked him.

"Back to your old house to fetch your wayward baby bro."

"Jeremy?"

"Unless you have another baby brother out there, yes. But if you do have a long lost sibling, or an evil twin, I don't know about, you should probably tell me now. Though, this place is getting kinda crowded. We may have to put them in the garage."

His joke made her chuckle, and she shook her head. "No long lost siblings, and we both know who my evil twin is."

"Where is Katherine anyway?" Blondie questioned, coming to sit beside Elena on the bed.

Elena had braided Caroline's hair into a single plait down her back, and Damon could smell that it was still damp from her shower. He shuddered to think what the girl had done to his impeccable bathroom.

"Ah. Ah. Ah," he replied, wagging a finger at her. "I may be allowing you to stay here, but you're still on probation. That information is on a need to know basis, and you don't need to know."

"Seriously?" the blonde vampire snorted.

"No one knows where Katherine is. She's disappeared. As usual," Elena informed.

"Figures," Caroline said.

"How's Stefan?" Elena asked suddenly.

The sound of his brother's name coming from Elena's mouth made the beast roar forward, and he had to struggle to shove it back. Of course Blondie would spill the beans that she hadn't arrived there alone, but the idea of his mate seeing her former boyfriend made every possessive and jealous cell in his body howl. He was glad Gloria's concoction was doing its job, though, it was giving him some control over the beast.

"He's locked up in the basement where he belongs," he answered through gritted teeth.

Elena blanched and seemed to realize her mistake. "Caroline told me he came with her. I don't want to see him. I just wanted to make sure he's alright," she explained.

"He's fine. Brooding in the cell we put him in," he responded tersely.

"Okay. As long as he's fine, that's all I needed to know."

"Okay."

He had to get out of there because his instincts were urging him to either kill something or reassert his claim on his mate, and he doubted Elena would appreciate him doing either of those right now.

"Well, I don't want to interrupt your girl time. I'll be downstairs if you need me," he said.

"Okay, maybe later someone can come up with a cup of tea for me and some blood for Caroline?" Elena asked.

"I'll see to it," he promised, mentally tallying how much blood he had in stores. He only factored in enough supply for one vampire, and now there were three. He will have to go blood bank hunting for more if he wanted to make sure there was enough blood to go around.

He gave a nod to them and left the room, making his way back down to the parlor. Ric was still there, but he could tell the man was getting ready to go to bed. Part of him wanted to say that they needed to set up Watch shifts now because Klaus was certain to be coming to Mystic Falls now, but he hoped that they'd at least have tonight before they had to go on high alert.

"I'm going down to see my brother," he announced.

"You want me to come with you?" Ric offered.

"Nah. I got this. You headed to bed?"

His friend nodded. "For a little while at least, but I'm thinking just a nap until you go up. With things being as they are… probably a good idea to have someone on watch at all times."

Damon smiled, more grateful than he could express that Ric had already assessed the situation and had come to the same conclusion that more vigilance was necessary.

"Good idea," he agreed.

"Yeah, so wake me when you go to lay down with Elena, okay?"

"Will do. Thanks."

Ric grunted and looked down into his empty bourbon glass. "We should probably stock up on more blood if Stefan and Caroline are staying."

"Yeah, I was thinking about that. Figure I'll head to Roanoke or Richmond. Raid a blood bank or two."

"Pick up more bourbon while you're at it."

He made a show of rolling his eyes. "At this rate, I'm gonna have to start buying the cheap stuff," he warned.

"Hey, you're the guy who's always telling me how rich you are."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," he said. "Just leave me some. I'm probably gonna need it after I'm done visiting my brother."

"Will do," Ric promised.

"Thanks."

He gave one last nod to Ric then walked to the cellar door, unlocking it and heading down the narrow steps. Stefan was quiet as Damon approached the cell door, but he looked up when Damon peered in through the bars. It looked like at least some of the blood in the cup Ric had left was gone.

"Well, that's a good sign," Damon commented. "And here I thought you were going to go all martyr on me and try to starve yourself."

"Now's not a good time for me to be weak," Stefan said in a surprisingly rational, calm voice.

Damon was a little taken back by it, actually. "You and me in agreement. The world must be ending. Please don't tell me it's a zombie apocalypse. I hate zombies. They smell horrible."

"It isn't funny, Damon," Stefan chided.

"No, it's not. What's your deal anyway? You giving everyone, but me the silent treatment?" he demanded harshly.

"I don't have anything to say to them."

"But you do to me?"

"I've never had to pretend with you. You've always seen through my lies."

Bluntly honest Stefan was a new and strange animal Damon had no idea what to do with.

"Duly noted."

Stefan chuckled.

"So what now?" Stefan asked.

"What now? Now you stay in here until I'm sure I can trust you, which might be never, and I get ready for all hell to break loose."

"I can help you."

"Ahhh, no. Don't need your help, but thanks."

"You need me," Stefan insisted.

"Don't think so. I got this all under control."

"I doubt that."

"You have no idea."

"Damon…"

"Well, this was a nice chat, but I'm bored now, so I'm gonna go."

He stepped away from the cell door and moved to go back upstairs, but Stefan's next words stopped him.

"He knows."

"He who? And what does he know?" he demanded, looking into the cell again.

"Klaus. He knows everything. Whatever you think you can keep from him, you can't. He always knows."

"And you know this for sure?" Damon pressed.

"Yes."

"Then he'd better know that I'm not about to give him Elena, and I won't care if I have to kill him – and all of us, to do it."

"He'll never let it come to that. He'll outwit you like he does everyone," Stefan warned, his eyes glittering in the dark.

"Well, this time I have a few moves that may surprise him," Damon bragged.

"Don't underestimate him, Damon."

"I won't."

"Let me out."

"No."

"You have to," Stefan said, rising to his feet and gripping the cell door bars.

"No, I don't."

"Let me help!"

"No! Every time, every time, I have had a plan, you or Elena or some other member of this brain dead Scooby Gang has fucked it up. This time the grown-ups are in charge, and I'm not letting anyone screw this up," he snarled.

"What about your plan to release Katherine from the tomb?" Stefan countered.

"What about it?"

"You were going to unleash 26 starving vampires on the town just to get her, and she wasn't even in there."

"I wasn't going to unleash 26 starving vampires on the town, especially after I met Elena, and I knew she lived here. I had planned all along to get Katherine and kill the others, if only to put them out of their misery," he admitted, offended.

"Let me out," Stefan insisted, pulling ineffectually on the cell bars.

"No. I can't trust you."

"And you can trust Caroline?" his brother accused.

"Caroline I can kill. Yeah, I'd feel bad for a while, and Elena might not be too happy about it, but if Blondie betrayed us, she'd understand. You? You're my brother, and even after 178 years, that still means something."

Stefan had no answer to that, and Damon was starting to feel out of control. He hadn't met this Stefan in so long, and it was upsetting to see him, now of all times. This was the Stefan who had existed before Katherine, his baby bro who he was sworn to protect. He shook his head and walked away, ignoring Stefan's calls for him to come back.

Ric was at the top of the stairs when he came up, pretending to be causal when Damon knew he was keenly aware of Damon's emotional state.

"You okay?" his friend asked.

"Yeah. You go get some rest. I'll wake you when I'm ready to go up," he answered wearily.

"Okay."

Ric went up to bed while Damon went to the liquor cart and poured himself the last of the single barrel bourbon in the decanter. He had a bottle of Pappy's Twenty-Three Year Aged bourbon hidden in a secret stash, but he wasn't about to crack that one open. Instead he fetched a new bottle of Peach Street, and replenished the decanter with it.

He took the drink with him as he made his rounds through the house, checking all the windows and doors, sniffing for scents that didn't belong, and listening to the sounds of the night. He performed little chores like rewinding the grandfather clock and dusting some of the shelves in the library, then he tidied the kitchen and scrubbed the stove top with baking soda to get off some burned on gunk that someone (probably Junior) hadn't bothered to clean up when it happened.

When he was done his little odd and ends, he refreshed his drink and sat down in the drawing room to go over what they knew one more time. He sifted through all of the notes, print-outs and police reports, looking to see if something new stood out to him, but there was nothing, and that only made his growing frustration worse.

He went up around one a.m., waking Ric from his nap before he headed to his room. The other man was headed downstairs as Damon was approaching the bedroom he shared with Elena. She was usually deeply asleep by this time of night, and he was hoping she would stick to her pattern even with her best bud visiting. He hadn't heard Blondie leave the bedroom, so he wasn't surprised to see two figures on the mattress when he slipped silently into the room. Taking in the scene, he wanted to make a lewd comment about what a turn on it could've been for him to find two women in his bed, but he decided against it. He was too tired and, oddly, not in the mood for a verbal tete-a-tete with a vampire 170 years his junior.

He moved to his bathroom where he ignored the mess the blonde had left with a pile of towels and her hair in the drain, and tossed his clothes in his hamper. Then he pulled on a set of pajama pants and walked back into the bedroom. Blondie opened her eyes when he approached the bed, but Elena was out like a light. He put a finger to his lips for Caroline to be silent and slid carefully in behind his mate. She obeyed him, but he noted her watching as he indulged his beast and sniffed Elena all over, refamiliarizing himself with her scent and checking for anything out of the ordinary.

Finally, he was satisfied that all was well with his mate, and he settled down, putting one arm around her and pressing his chest to her back. Her warmth and scent surrounded him, and he relaxed. He heard Blondie lay back down on Elena's other side, sandwiching her between them. He never slept when he was with Elena, and it looked like Blondie was keeping watch, too, but neither of them spoke. He closed his eyes and let out a deep sigh, allowing Elena's presence to soothe his worried mind and comfort his weary soul.


A/N: I know this chapter was a lot of filler, but things are going to get kinda nuts really soon. All the players are coming together.