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 Layla Reyne
Damon woke to the sound of birds outside his bedroom, and the feel of a warm, human body cuddled up to his own. Elena's scent was so strong, he could feel it clogging his pores, but this time he was ready for it, so he didn't wake in an uncontrolled blood lust. Still, Little Damon was standing at attention because, usually when he woke with a woman sharing his bed, morning sex ensued, and Little Damon, very much a creature of habit, was getting with the program.
'Sorry, buddy,' Damon thought, feeling the ache in his balls, even as he shifted to make himself more comfortable. 'Not getting any this morning.'
Elena, as proof that she was his penance sent down to make him pay for his sins, made the most alluring, little moan and curled her fingers against his chest. He bit back a groan and tried to think of anything that would help him get through the next ten minutes without throwing his self-control to the wind. Then Elena made another sound, and the hair on the back of his neck stood up.
'That was not a happy sound,' he thought, his brow creasing.
He was about to wake her, thinking she was having a nightmare, when her body jerked like a dreaming cat. She made more small noises, but they sounded more like groans of exertion than fear, and he paused, waiting. The last time she was just waking from sleep, his Elena had been in control for a few moments, so it was possible that she was trying to break through again.
He waited, silent and still, until she finally opened her eyes. He looked at her, afraid to say anything at first, and tried to figure out who was looking back at him.
"Damon," she whispered in a voice that had obviously taken some effort, and he nearly grinned. It was her. His Elena had awakened first.
"Elena," he whispered back.
The start of a smile touched her lips, and his heart melted. He wanted to kiss her, to hold her and tell her it was all going to be okay, but first things had to come first. He had a chance now, and he couldn't waste it. He had to ask her permission so he knew what was allowed and what wasn't.
"Elena," he began, waiting until he had her attention again. She looked still half-asleep, but he somehow knew she was listening. "You're coming on strong, and I'm no saint. Is sex okay?"
He saw her process his words, her eyes growing serious and thoughtful, and he waited anxiously for her response. Her answer would frame how he would have to behave for the next five months, and it would tell him what he had to do to stay sane in this whole fucked up situation. Half of him dreaded her reply, because if she said no, his life would be one long, cold shower until he could break the compulsion. He doubted Stepford Elena would give up trying to seduce him.
After what felt like an eternity, Elena's mouth opened, as she started to speak. He held the breath he didn't need, waiting for her answer, but then his phone rang. The sound broke the spell, and he almost screamed when he saw his Elena go scurrying away as Stepford Elena awakened.
'No!' he wanted to cry, but it was too late.
Cursing and vowing painful death to the caller if it was something stupid, he rolled and reached for his phone. It was Gloria, finally calling back.
'About fucking time.'
"Damon?" he heard Elena ask.
He looked at her and gave her a reassuring smile as he answered the call.
"About time you called back," he said, trying to sound calm and upbeat.
"I take it from your tone that you have Elena with you," the witch replied, making him smile. Gloria knew him so well. It almost made him wish that he could have loved her the way he loved Elena. She would have made a good vampire's mate, putting aside the whole witch thing.
"Just a second," he told her, then turned to Stepford Elena. "I'm sorry the phone woke you. I have to take this call, but you try to get some more sleep, okay?"
She gave him the sexiest smile he'd ever seen her give anyone and teasingly ran a finger down his arm. "Not tired anymore. Come back to bed soon?"
He bit back a moan because she'd just upped the ante, and his Elena hadn't given him an answer.
"If you're ready to get up, I'll make pancakes," he replied, pulling away from her. She gave him a disappointed pout, but he just smirked to hide his anguish and blew her a kiss as he got out of bed. He snagged a clean shirt as he passed his dresser and slipped it on, buttoning it up with one hand.
He waited until he was out in the hall and headed towards the kitchen before he addressed Gloria again.
"How bad is it?" the witch asked him.
"Bad. Klaus is one fucked up asshole."
"I know. That's why I had to get away from him. I'm selling the bar and moving out of Chicago."
'Wanna come to Mystic Falls?' he almost suggested. "Where will you go?"
"Not sure yet, but I'll let you know when I do."
"You knew what Klaus had done. You left me the warning and the ingredients for the enhanced vervain and the sense-dulling potion. You knew Elena was pregnant," he accused, practically stomping down the hall.
There was a long pause, and then Gloria sighed. "Yes, I knew."
"Why didn't you tell me?" he asked, his voice betraying his hurt.
"What could you have done? Klaus had made up his mind. He'd already killed anyone willing to stand against him. I figured if you knew what he was planning, you'd try to stop him and die in the process."
"He compelled her to lie there and take it!" he seethed.
"I know. Believe me, I know. I couldn't stop it. All I could do was cast the spell to enhance her scent."
"You did what? Why?" he demanded, shocked that she would put Elena in such danger.
"Because it was the only way to get her away from him. I know Klaus. If her scent was driving the rest of his little pack crazy, he'd send her away. I was the one who suggested to Miriam that you would be able to tolerate her smell," Gloria explained, and he had to concede that it had been a brilliant ploy.
"You know Miriam?"
"She is a student of mine. Klaus found her while you and I were travelling together. She's been keeping me informed."
He shook his head as he entered the kitchen. Witches were such wily creatures.
"Well, your crafty, little plan worked. Klaus gave her to me. We're back in Mystic Falls, but there's a catch. She's been compelled. I need to know how to break it without vervain," he stated.
"How do you know she's been compelled? What does the compulsion entail?"
"Let's just say she's picking out curtains and china patterns," he replied, grimacing.
There was another long pause before Gloria answered. "I'm sorry. I know that's all you've ever wanted. It must to be very difficult for you."
"I'm dealing. Just tell me how to break the compulsion because the very scent of vervain makes her puke her guts out."
He tucked the phone between his ear and his shoulder as he gathered the ingredients for his famous pecan-blueberry pancakes, and pulled out the griddle, giving it a quick wash as it hadn't been used in over six years.
"Without vervain, it's tricky, especially because she is pregnant. Most of the alternatives shouldn't be used on a pregnant woman. You may have to tolerate it until she gives birth."
"Yeah, that's five months away. Not happening. I was thinking maybe mugwort would do it?" he offered, retrieving a mixing bowl from a cabinet and plucking a whisk from the utensil crock.
"Musk root is better, but it'll still take a while. It has to build up in her system, and it's not as effective as vervain. The results can be sporadic."
He put the griddle and the whisk down and took the phone in his hand again as he paced the kitchen. He couldn't cook and talk at the same time, not when he was making pancakes. He did, however, start a pot of coffee brewing in the coffee maker.
"What about combining musk root with peppermint and Indian pennywort?"
"Not the pennywort. It can cause stomach upset. Use lemongrass instead."
"Okay. I was also going to burn some rosemary and frankincense oil."
"Burn coltsfoot, too. If you can strengthen and clear her mind enough, she might break the compulsion herself," Gloria agreed.
Damon didn't think either of really them believed that. Klaus was a master mind-manipulator, but maybe he could increase the frequency and length of his Elena's moments of control.
"Once she has the baby, you can bring out the heavy mojo and break it. Though if it's a deep compulsion, you may have to do it manually, and that can get dangerous."
"What do you mean by break it manually?" he asked, confused. His mind was whirring, and he stopped pacing to listen to her answer.
"There are ways to gain access to a person's mind. To go in and reorder their memories…"
"I've done that, but only in dreams," he told her.
"I know, which is why I think you could do it. You open a channel and go in. Once you find where the compulsion has altered her mind, you remove the ties and set her free."
"I've never done anything like that."
"It's not much different than going into someone's mind to give them a dream. It involves walking the same path, only a little more forcefully."
"So you think I can do it?"
"Yes, if the pathway is opened, I think you are strong enough to go in and break it manually, but it's an option of last resort, Damon. The herbs that open those channels are not to be used lightly."
"Magic mushrooms and peyote," he guessed.
"No. Both of those induce astral states. You want her grounded firmly in her body. For this, you want Belladonna or absinthe, but the absinthe needs to be home brewed. The commercial stuff is useless."
"I'll need to know how to do that when the time comes."
"I'll help you. How is Elena otherwise? Miriam told me she was having a lot of problems with morning sickness."
"Uh, yeah. She was having trouble on the drive here. I showed her the pressure point on her wrist and brewed the mint-ginger tea. So far, it's helping."
"I'll text you the recipe for the tea I brew. It has a few other things in it to balance hormones and settle the stomach."
"How are you doing?"
"I'm fine. Just peachy," he managed to say with a steady voice.
"I'm fine, really. I'm dealing."
"I know you better than that. If she's bonding with you, that has to be driving you crazy."
He resisted for a moment longer, but then gave up. It was Gloria, and he could trust her. "She's Stepford Elena, okay? The Vampire's Girlfriend edition. She's not afraid of blood or me being a vampire. Hell, she even called housekeeping to send someone for me to feed on, and she didn't bat an eye yesterday morning when I lost control and almost killed the maid. She's making advances towards me. Gloria, she straddled me and put her tongue down my throat! If she'd had her way, I would have fucked her into next week by now," he confessed.
"Ouch. I can only imagine what that did to you."
He huffed and started pacing again. "She sexy and strong, and she sees me. She's everything I ever wanted or dreamed of, but none of it is real! And then, sometimes, my Elena breaks through, and I try to talk to her, but she can't stay in control for long. I'm trying to stay in control, and do things the way I know Elena would want me to, but she's really screwing with my head, and it's driving me nuts."
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, feeling the pain he was suffering almost too keenly for words.
"I love her, Gloria. I never stopped loving her. She's everything to me," he said softly.
"And now… to have her, yet not have her. It's really messing up my mind."
"It has to be. I am sorry that Klaus did this to her. Keep brewing the sense-dulling tea. It'll help."
He shook his head in response even though Gloria couldn't see him. "Can't. I need to be on my best game for this because God knows what else Klaus has planned. He's a sick bastard, and he did this on purpose to torture me."
"Yes, he did. He wants to get to you."
"Well, it's working, but I'll be damned if I'll dance to his tune or let Elena dance to it. I'll do everything I can not to give that asshole the satisfaction of breaking me. I've been tortured by the best of them. I'll get through this."
"I know you will. It's just a matter of how many pieces you'll be in when it's all over, and how many people you'll kill before you're able to pull yourself back together," Gloria answered, her voice resigned.
"I'm not like that anymore," he insisted.
"You try not to be, but where Elena's involved, I've learned all bets are off."
"I won't. I won't lose it and become like my brother. He's Klaus's lap dog and Rebekah's boy toy. I'll stake myself before I let that happen to me," he vowed, surprised that he actually meant it.
"Stefan never had the strength to tame his dark side. His suppression of it only made it worse in the end because he never developed control. He lets Klaus compel him because it's easier. That way he doesn't have to face himself," Gloria said.
"Anything happens to Klaus, and Stefan's going to go off the deep end, isn't he?" he asked with concern. Stefan might be a royal douche, but he was still his brother.
"Maybe not. Rebekah keeps him grounded. They're both immortal teenagers, but she's more in control than he is, and she does love him in her own way. I don't think she'd let him get that far gone."
"Well, you know Barbie Klaus better than I do. I hope you're right, because scent-enhancing spell or not, I don't think Stefan is safe around Elena, and I won't let him near her."
He heard Gloria chuckle. "Your protective instincts kicked in the moment you smelled her, didn't they?"
A warning light went off in his head, and he frowned. "Why? Was that a spell, too?"
"God no, honey. That was all you. But I did have my suspicions as to how you would react. I'm glad I was right."
He ground his teeth and bit back a growl. "You still should have told me."
"I saved your life."
"A heads up would have been nice."
"I gave you as much warning as I could. If I'd told you any more, you would have gone tearing off to the rescue. You wouldn't have been able to stop yourself. That girl is your North Star. You'd do anything for her."
It was true, and he knew it. As much as he wanted to be upset with Gloria for keeping him in the dark, she was right. If he'd known ahead of time, he would have tried to stop it, and Klaus would have killed him outright. At least now, he had Elena, he was there to protect her, and there was hope he could break the compulsion.
And speaking of Elena, his vampire ears were picking up the pitter-patter of bare feet coming towards the kitchen.
"I gotta go," he said. "But I want to talk more with you about this in a few days. I'll have a better idea then about what I'm up against."
"Okay. In the meantime, I'll text you the recipe for the morning sickness tea."
"Thanks. And thanks… for everything else."
"Hang in there, baby. You'll be okay."
He smiled to himself. There were few people in the world who could call him "baby," but Gloria was one of them.
"Thanks. I'll call you next week."
"Bye, honey. You take care of yourself. Be safe."
"I will. You be safe, too."
"Always," the witch said, and then the line went dead.
Her timing was perfect because Elena entered the kitchen a few seconds later. She hadn't dressed, but at least she was still in the granny PJs, and she'd even put on a robe. He turned away from her as she came in, focusing on mixing the pancake batter as he took milk and eggs out of the refrigerator.
"Morning!" he said cheerfully.
"Gah! This floor is cold," she complained.
"That's what you get for walking on tile in bare feet," he scolded.
She huffed and sat on the counter next to the sink, letting her legs dangle. "I can't find my slippers. I thought I'd packed them, but no go."
"Then we'll have to get you a new pair when we go out later today," he offered, whisking the eggs and milk into the batter. "How's your stomach this morning?"
She held up her hand to show him that she was pressing on the pressure point. "A little queasy, but this works wonders. Thank you."
He set the griddle to warming and put a kettle on the stove to boil water for her tea.
"Whatchya making?" she asked, swinging her legs like an impatient child.
"Mmmmm, sounds wonderful."
He flashed her a grin and chopped the pecans before dumping them into the batter with a cup of the fresh blueberries he'd bought at the market yesterday.
"Did you sleep well?" he questioned, testing the griddle temp by dropping a small dollop of batter on the hot surface.
"Yeah. I slept fine… once I was with you. Thank you for letting me stay with you last night."
"Planning on making it a habit?" he fished, giving her a raised-eyebrow.
She dipped her head and smiled shyly, tucking her hair behind her ear. "If you want me to. I… I feel so much safer when I'm with you, Damon."
He made a sound of agreement and nodded as he determined that the griddle was hot enough and began ladling out the batter in neat portions. He knew she felt safer when she was with him, and he knew he felt better knowing she was right there. The question was if he could stand sleeping next to her without acting on his desires if she turned him down.
"So you'll let me stay with you?" she prompted after a few moments of heavy silence.
"Let's play it by ear, okay? You may get to the point where you feel safe sleeping by yourself," he answered, taking the boiling water off the stove and pouring it into a mug with a tea infuser filled with the peppermint-ginger tea blend.
He handed her the mug and set the timer for the tea to steep. She gave him a disappointed look, but nodded.
"I get it. You need your space."
"Yes, but let's not forget that you're going to need space, too. Pretty soon you're going to be getting heavier and more uncomfortable. It'll be harder for you to sleep, and you'll be restless when you do. You're not going to want someone else in bed with you, snoring and stealing the covers," he stated, flipping the pancakes with a quick flick of his wrist.
She snorted. "Vampires don't snore when they sleep. They don't even breathe," she countered, rolling her eyes.
He grinned. "Noticed that, did you?"
"I knew that from sleeping with Stefan. But he didn't hog the covers. You, on the other hand, I swear you take up more room than is physically possible. That bed is big enough to sleep six, yet you still managed to kick me at least twice last night."
He gave her his best "who me?" look. "I'm part cat. I have grandiosity of spirit."
She laughed and shook her head while he flipped the pancakes onto a warmed plate, then she hopped down from the counter and retrieved plates and silverware from the cupboard. She followed him into the dining room where he set the pancakes down, and then he zipped back to the kitchen for butter, syrup (the real stuff), and the coffee. The timer for her tea beeped so he took the tea infuser out, tossing it in the sink, and brought that to the table with him, too.
"So, what's on the agenda for today?" she asked him, as he forked two steaming pancakes onto her plate.
"Grocery shopping, then the post office, and then I thought it might be a good idea for you to look into finding a doctor here in Mystic Falls."
He almost spilled the coffee he was pouring as he jerked his head up to look at her.
"Don't tell me that you haven't been going to a doctor to monitor your pregnancy."
She shrugged and slathered butter on her pancakes. "Klaus said women have been having babies without doctors for centuries."
"Yes, and they also have a nasty tendency to die in childbirth. Tell me you were planning on having a midwife at least."
She frowned and looked down at her food. "Miriam was going to do it."
He turned his eyes to the heavens and prayed for patience. There was no point in being angry, and it would be wrong for him to take his fury out on her. Klaus not wanting her to see a doctor made sense, but it was still seriously stupid. Unbeknownst to most people, he did have a fair amount of medical knowledge, and he knew pregnancy was a dangerous prospect for even the healthiest of women.
"Okay, okay," he said, regrouping. "I think you should be seen by a doctor. This is your first pregnancy. You should be monitored. You should be on pre-natal vitamins…"
"I have vitamins," she interrupted.
"Where? I didn't see you take them yesterday."
"They're in my bag. I don't like them. They make me sick."
"Were you taking them on an empty stomach?"
"Sometimes," she admitted.
"That's why. Where are they now?"
"In the outside pocket of my rollaway bag."
"Okay," he replied, and vamp-sped up to the room she'd chosen. He was back in the dining room with the bottle of prenatal vitamins in less than a minute.
"Here, take these after you're finished eating," he told her, placing two pills on the table.
She eyed them warily, but put the vitamins on the edge of her plate so she wouldn't forget them. He sat across from her and served himself some pancakes and coffee.
"These are delicious, by the way. Thank you," she said.
"You're welcome. I've been told I flip a mean pancake."
"This girl thinks so."
"Thanks. Duly noted."
They ate in silence for a minute or two, and then he saw Elena take her vitamins.
"So? How do you think I should go about finding a doctor?" she asked. "I don't think I want to just look up obstetricians on-line. You have to admit, my circumstances are… unique."
"You're human. Baby's human. Should be a normal, human pregnancy."
She gave him a look that told him she thought he was smoking something, and he gave in. "Okay, okay. Maybe not. Doppelganger mojo and all. I'll make some calls. Ask around."
"Who was that on the phone this morning?" she questioned.
"Gloria. She finally called me back," he answered absently, snagging another pancake off the plate. They really were very good.
"Gloria?" Elena repeated, and the tone of her voice made him pause. "You still talk to her?"
Somewhere in his head the robot from Lost in Space was shrieking "Danger Will Robinson!", and he did his best to hide his sudden wariness. He wasn't speaking to his Elena. This was Stepford Elena, and her tone told him that she was fishing for information.
"Sometimes. Not often, but I left her a message yesterday about your morning sickness. She is going to text me a recipe for the tea she uses."
"Ah. That's great. You'll have to tell her thank you for me."
He quickly finished his pancake and began gathering up the dirty dishes, guzzling the last of his coffee as he stood up.
"If you're finished, I'll take your plate. Why don't you go up and get a shower and get dressed. I'll wash these and take a shower myself. Then we'll go out when we're both ready. Sound okay?" he said.
She shoved the last of her pancake in her mouth and finished off her tea before handing him her dirty plate and mug.
"No problem," he assured her with a smile.
He left her sitting at the table, bad manners he knew, but he needed to get away from her piercing eyes and unasked questions.
'So she is a spy for Klaus. I wonder if she has his number on speed-dial in her phone.' The most logical thing to do would be to destroy the phone and force her to get a new one, but that might raise suspicions, and there was no telling if Klaus had hardwired his number into Stepford Elena's brain. He could destroy as many phones as he wanted, and still not succeed in cutting her off from the Original Were-Asshole.
Obviously, there were some subjects that triggered her information-gathering mode. Lucky for him, he could spot a mole a mile away so she wouldn't be able to pull one over on him. Still, knowing he would have to edit everything he said and did with her sucked, making it all the more important for him to loosen Klaus's hold on Elena's mind as soon as possible.
He quickly jotted down a list of the essential oils he needed for the aromatherapy part of his plan and shoved the scrap of paper into the front pocket of his shirt. There was a new age-y shop (or at least there had been) downtown that would probably have everything he needed. If not, then he'd have to make a trip back to Lynchburg.
He washed the dishes and scrubbed the griddle, leaving everything to dry in the dish drainer, then he snagged a blood bag and went to take a shower. He half-expected to find Elena in his bedroom, but he didn't, and he heard her moving about in the room next door. He wasted no time in washing and dressing, and he was showered and ready to go in less than half an hour. He was just finishing buttoning up his shirt when Elena knocked on his door.
"Yeah?" he answered.
"Are you decent?"
He couldn't resist. "I'm never decent, Elena, but I am dressed."
The door opened and she came in, all eye rolling and har-dee-har-har. He shot her his cockiest smirk.
"Oh, c'mon, Elena. It's nothing you haven't seen before, remember?" he reminded, alluding to the time when she'd come upon him naked in the parlor.
Even now, six years later, she ducked her head and blushed. "I remember. You were covered in suds and standing there stark naked and dripping wet."
"Ah memories," he said with a dramatic sigh.
She put a hand on her hip and returned his smirk. "Were you planning on doing an instant replay of that for me anytime soon?"
He wanted to tell her that if she gave him the green light, he wouldn't bother even getting dressed, but he held it in. That was not something for this Elena to know.
"Only if you're really, really, really lucky," he answered, breezing past her. "Ready to go?"
She turned and followed him, a sly, little smile on her face. "Yep."
"Great. Let's go then."
She trotted alongside him as they went out to the car.
"We need to go car shopping, too, unless you've changed your mind about a car seat in the Camaro," she said as she buckled herself in.
"Nope," he replied, putting the car into reverse, but her statement did remind him that he needed to make arrangements to have his car shipped to him, and also to deal with the rental he was driving. Technically, he should have returned it to the rental lot at Chicago O'Hare airport this morning. He needed to call the company and extend his contract.
"I liked my Ford Escape," she told him as they headed down the driveway.
"I'll pick up a copy of Consumer Reports, and we'll see which ones have the best safety record," he offered, turning out into the street.
"Okay. I have money. Or at least… I did. Klaus wouldn't let me have access to anything after I tried to run away, but I should have enough for a new car in my accounts, provided they're still there."
"They are," he confirmed, plotting their route in his mind. They'd go to the post office first, then the new age store, and stop for groceries last.
He heard her intake of breath and felt her staring at him, and he gave her a sidelong glance. "What? You think I'd take care of Junior Gilbert, Ric and Donovan, and not take care of you? I set up trusts for you after… after Jenna died, and I have your account information. We can stop at the bank and get a new debit card for you."
He was also planning to open up a trust for the baby within the next couple of months. It was never too early to start planning for a child's future.
"You set up trusts for me?" she asked.
"Yep. They matured when you turned twenty-one."
She grinned. "How rich am I?"
He rolled his eyes and gave her a disapproving look. "You have enough for a new car, but if you want to go hog wild and drop $15K on trinkets on a regular basis, you'll burn through it in no time," he warned.
She made a face and shook her head. "You know I'm not like that, but I do need new clothes, and we'll need things for the baby's room. Will you take me shopping in Richmond?"
"Thanks. And thanks for… you know, taking care of my finances."
"Hey, I can't have you running up huge bills on my Platinum card all the time, now can I?" he teased, looking over at her. They were almost to the post office.
"No. It's good for a woman to have her own money. I should probably get a job or something."
"Now, now, no reason to get carried away. I'm all for women's lib, but your job right now is to take care of yourself and the baby growing inside you. Nothing is more important than that."
She beamed at him and put her hands over her lower abdomen, her eyes growing moist. "You're right. Thank you, Damon."
He shrugged. "And if you want, I can show you a few things about following the market and picking stocks."
"Okay. I think I'd like that."
He pulled into the post office parking lot, and they got out to take care of business like submitting a change of address and removing the mail hold order from the boarding house. When they were done there, they headed downtown, and Damon was pleased to see that the new age-y store was still there. It was called Mystic Pathways or some such nonsense that played on the town's name. He didn't much care what it was called so long as it had what he needed, which it did, including a line of herbal supplements, cleaning and personal products that he thought might be useful in the future. He let Elena browse while he grabbed the essential oils he was looking for and some of the herbs Gloria had listed when she texted her recipe for morning sickness tea. The store even had the coltsfoot, and he picked up some incense and a bottle of massage oil that he liked.
Once finished at the store, they headed over to the bank, and Damon called the rental car company while Elena met with the bank manager to get a new debit card. She ended up just opening a new checking account that could be linked to her trusts, and he told her he would set up automatic deposits for her after they got home.
After the bank, Elena confessed to being hungry so they went to the Grill for lunch. It was surreal to enter the restaurant and bar where he had once spent so much of his time. Nothing much had changed inside the place, but all the staff members were new so no one recognized them. He avoided the bar where he and Ric used to drink together, instead steering Elena towards a booth.
Their meal was quiet and subdued. Being there affected both of them, and they ate in near silence. For once he didn't try to fill the emptiness with chatter and snarky comments. He just let her eat her steak salad while he had a burger and a bourbon. He was hungry for more blood, but he'd be okay until they got back to the house. He needed to plan a blood bank raid, however, and he wondered how he'd manage that when Elena hated being left alone. He thought that he might be able to do it when he took her shopping in Richmond. If he left her in a mall, he could probably swing by the closest hospital and snag some bags from their supply before she missed him. Or at least he hoped so.
"So? Grocery store when we're done here?" she asked him suddenly, breaking him out of his thoughts.
"Then home? I'm getting tired."
She was looking a little wan. She might talk a good game, but pregnancy knocked a woman on her ass more often than not, and she was in her second trimester. It was only going to get worse from here.
"Yeah, I think so, unless there's somewhere else you want to go before we head back."
She shook her head. "No. I think I've got enough energy for the food store, but after that, I'll be done."
"We should get to it then," he said, waving the waitress over and asking for the check. He paid the bill and then ushered Elena out to the car.
Thirty minutes later, he was standing in the produce section, trying to decide if he wanted crimini or Shitake mushrooms in the risotto he was making for dinner when a feminine voice called his name.
He looked up sharply to see the Mystic Falls sheriff herself, Liz Forbes, staring at him as if he'd just risen from the dead.
"Liz!" he greeted cheerfully, genuinely happy to see her.
"It is you. For a moment, I thought I was imagining things. When did you get back to Mystic Falls?"
"Last night," he answered, reaching out to give her a hug with the arm that wasn't holding the carry basket. "I was going to stop by your office tomorrow."
She returned the hug, but it was stiff, careful, and her eyes were wary and full of questions when he pulled back.
"Is your brother with you?" she asked.
"No. My bro… he's doing his own thing now," he answered with a small grimace. Losing Stefan to Klaus still hurt, even after all this time.
Liz dropped her eyes. "Oh. Are you back for good?"
"For a little while. You should come to the house for dinner…"
She gave him a wide-eyed stare, and he blinked at her, not understanding her sudden fear. He leaned in close and whispered, "Liz, I don't eat my friends."
She shook her head, flushing with embarrassment. "I know. I'm sorry, Damon. I know. It's an old habit. We haven't had any of your kind for a while. I'm not used to it."
"No vamps have been terrorizing the town then?" he teased.
"We get about one or two a year that we have to deal with. My team is getting rather efficient at it. But none… like you and your brother."
"Like me and my brother?" he repeated.
She dropped her voice. "You know, the non-slaughtering humans kind."
"Ah. Well, yeah, we're an exclusive club. Kind of like MENSA for vampires. Only the ones not stupid enough to hunt where they live are allowed in."
She laughed nervously. "I'd forgotten your sense of humor."
He smirked and turned on the charm. "Is that all you've forgotten, Liz?"
She stuttered and looked away. "I…"
"Damon, I think I got everything on the list except the Arborio rice… Oh, Sheriff Forbes. Hi," Elena interrupted, wheeling the cart up to them.
Liz looked even more surprised to see Elena than she had upon seeing him. "Elena! You're back too. Did you come back with Damon?"
Elena tucked her hair behind her ear shyly. "Yeah, umm…"
"Oh my God! Are you pregnant?" the sheriff blurted suddenly.
"Umm, yeah. How can you tell?" Elena stammered, surprised.
Liz grinned and touched Elena on the shoulder. "Honey, you're glowing."
Elena blushed, but smiled. "I am?"
"You are. You really are. When are you due?"
"December 8th or thereabouts."
"Speaking of which… Do you have any suggestions for a doctor? You know, one that can handle a delicate situation?" he asked.
He saw Liz consider his question before she replied, "Meredith Fell. She's a doctor at the hospital, but she knows about Mystic Falls's paranormal problems. We collect vampire blood for her to use in the E.R. I am sure she'd be willing to help if you promised her regular donations in trade for her services."
He didn't like being used as a blood donor, but if it got Elena a doctor, he'd tolerate it. "Can she be…"
Liz cut him off, nodding. "She can be trusted. I'm sure of it, Damon. I'll give you her number, but let me talk to her first."
"Okay. I'm trusting you, Liz," he reminded with a hint of warning and a possessive hand on Elena's shoulder. The sheriff got the message.
"I know, and I understand your position. I wouldn't betray you, Damon."
"Good. I'm glad we got that settled," he said with a tight smile, then he addressed Elena. "Elena, you said you couldn't find the rice?"
"Have you seen Caroline?" Liz asked suddenly.
He turned back to her, his brow creased. Liz looked stricken yet hopeful, but it was the expression of someone who was expecting to receive horrible news. At first he was confused, but then it hit him. Liz had no idea Caroline was alive. As far as she knew, her daughter had left town with Mutt and Witchy, and he doubted Klaus or Rebekah would have let Blondie call home.
In that moment, he felt such sympathy for Liz; suffering, believing her daughter dead or trapped somewhere with no way of knowing what had happened to her only child. He reached out and placed both hands on Liz's shoulders, looking directly into her eyes.
"Yes, Liz. I have."
The woman let out the breath she'd been holding and started to sag, but Damon was ready and he caught her, steadying her on her feet.
"She's alive…" Liz breathed, closing her eyes with relief.
He didn't bother to correct her because now wasn't the time for a snarky comment, not when Liz was so close to tears.
"She's fine, Liz. She's just fine," he assured her, drawing her into an embrace. Liz hugged him back, fisting her hands into his shirt, and Elena wrapped her arms around them both.
"She's okay, Sheriff. She's with Tyler," Elena said.
That got Liz's attention, and she pulled away to look at them, her eyes brimmed with tears. Elena, sweet Elena, was crying openly.
"Tyler's alive, too?"
Elena nodded, sniffling. "Yeah. So you can tell Mrs. Lockwood that her son is okay."
"When did you see them?"
"Three days ago, in Chicago," he replied.
He cut her off before she could get the thought process he could see forming behind her eyes going. "But I doubt they're still there, Liz. They aren't exactly… free to phone home."
"This has to do with… why your brother left and what happened to Jenna Sommers," Liz said astutely.
He tightened his lips into a thin line and nodded. "Yeah."
"Is the Bennett girl with them?"
Fresh tears rolled down Elena's cheeks as she shook her head. "No. Bonnie… Bonnie didn't make it."
Liz processed the news with stoicism, but he could tell she was clenching her jaw, fighting to keep it together. "Thank you for telling me."
"I'm sorry we can't tell you more, but…"
"But the less I know, the better. I'm just glad to know she and Tyler are alive. They're okay?"
"Yeah. They're okay, and maybe… maybe someday they'll be able to come home," Elena answered.
He wanted to tell Liz about the supercharged vervain he'd given Caroline, but he didn't want to do it in front of Stepford Elena.
"I hope so," Liz said, brightening.
"Well, we should be going," he announced, noticing Elena beginning to fade.
"Yes. Yes, of course. You're looking a little worn out, Elena. Damon, you should take her home and let her rest. You're staying at the Gilbert house?" Liz agreed.
"The Salvatore Boarding House actually," he corrected.
"Oh. Okay. I'll talk to Dr. Fell and get back to you. Is your number still the same?"
She knew it wasn't, but it was a nice way of asking him for his new one.
"No. Is yours?"
He quickly dialed her number from memory, making her phone ring. "There, now you have my new number. Don't give it out to all your single lady friends, now. Understood?" he teased, waggling his eyebrows and making Elena groan at his shameless flirting.
Liz chuckled as she saved his number in her contacts. "It's good to have you back, Damon."
"It's good to be back, Liz. We'll be seeing you. Be safe."
"You, too, Damon. Be safe."
He put his arm around Elena's shoulder, letting her lean on him a little because she really was just about out of steam, and waved good-bye to Liz as he guided Elena towards the grains aisle.
"The Arborio should be with the basmati and jasmine rice," he told her, letting her use the cart for balance as he pushed it.
"I'm glad we ran into Sheriff Forbes," she said after a moment.
"Me too," he agreed, plucking the box of Arborio rice from the top shelf. "Got it. We can check out now."
She nodded, and they headed for the front.
"You think Rebekah will ever let Caroline come home?" she asked in a small voice.
"I don't know. Maybe. Maybe Barbie Klaus will get tired of her little toy and let her go."
"Do you really believe that?"
She sighed. "Me either."
He tightened his hand on her shoulder, much more for reassurance than support, and ushered her towards a checkout lane.