Disclaimer:If I owned them, there'd be an actual triangle.
AN: Before I begin, thank you to those who have followed, reviewed, and liked this. But I really have come to the point where I must ask. Am I doing the characters wrong? Is my story telling less than stellar? I am not asking for reviews in of itself. I seriously want to know where I can improve so I can deliver a better story. If it's a beta, then I am open to one. If it's something else, please let me know, even if it's in the privacy of a PM. There has to be a reason why my reader base is so silent, and these are the only things I can think of.
Part Three – Day Three
"Elena, it's time to wake up. You'll be late for school."
The familiar voice dragged Elena from her troubled sleep. Blinking, she stared up at her mother. Something was off, she could not quite put her finger on it. "What time is it?"
"Don't worry, you still have time." Her mother sat beside her on the comforter. "You doing okay? Seems like you were having a pretty intense dream there."
Elena sat up, her wrists burning and her mouth dry, but her dream slipped out of her mind the moment she tried to remember. "I don't remember."
"Well, no worries then." Miranda patted her on the knee. "So tell me. Why haven't you asked me about your boy troubles?"
Elena furrowed her brows. "But I already told you about Matt."
Miranda leveled her with that look, the one that said she could see through anything. "I meant about Damon and Stefan, Sweety."
She was confused at first, then her mind shifted and readjusted. She sighed and rubbed her face with her hand. "Because there's nothing to tell. Stefan is Stefan and Damon is...well, Damon. There's nothing I can do to change it."
"Of course there is, Dear," her mother said, taking one of Elena's hands in her own. "There's a simple solution to all of your problems."
Elena wanted to cry. Her mother would know what to do, she had all the answers, and always had. "And what's that?"
"Stake them, Honey. Stake them both."
Elena stilled. "What?"
Miranda gave her a gentle smile. "They're vampires, Elena. All vampires deserve to die."
Then there was a stake in her hand, and it flew toward Elena's chest.
She woke with a start. Panic clawed at her, demanding she find a way to free herself. Before she could think, she put her teeth on the knot at her wrists and pulled, barely feeling it loosen when she hissed in pain and pulled away.
"Don't worry, it was just a dream."
Elena jumped. Damon sat in the shadows, shifting as the moonlight filtered through the small window. She could hardly keep focus on his face. "When did you get here?"
"I've always been here, Elena," he said with a smirk. "You just haven't been looking hard enough."
She missed his voice. "I'm hungry."
"I know," he said. "You're getting weaker. Soon, you won't be able to move at all as your body mummifies. I give it two, three days tops. Then again, it's not like I'm telling you something you didn't already know."
Elena tried to swallow, but her mouth was too dry. "Are you real?"
Damon shrugged. "I am whatever you want me to be. I could be Stefan, if you like."
That idea did not sit well with her. "I need to find a way out of here."
"Oh, but that's not what you want. What you want is to stay here so Crazy Stalker Bitch doesn't hunt down your friends and kill them just to get at you." He lounged against the wall as he crossed his hands behind his head. "After all, it's always about what you want, Elena."
"That's not true," she said as she shook her head. "That's not what I want at all."
"Isn't it? You always play the martyr, wanting to save the lives of your friends, even if it means your own death." His tone was cold as ice.
"This isn't you," she said. "Why are you being like this?"
He shrugged again. "It's your hallucination, you tell me." Not waiting for her to respond, he continued. "You want to play it safe. You want simple. You want to protect everyone else above yourself. And when it gets to hard, you want to run home and cry to mommy, only she isn't there any more to take away your fears. Even if she was, well, you saw how that went."
Elena jerked. "Now you're just being mean."
"I'm always mean, Sweetheart. Get over it," he said. "None of that's what you need, though."
"Oh, no?" she said, getting angry at this ghost. "What do I need, then?"
"You need someone to look out for you above all others, Elena. You need to make the hard decisions. You need to stop shutting out life just because you're a vampire. You need to live." He leaned forward. "You need me."
Tears stung her eyes. "But you left."
"Because it was what you wanted," he said. "See? What you want and what you need are two different things."
Elena shook her head. "That wasn't what I wanted at all."
He was gone, though, and her words echoed in the small room.
After a moment, she tugged at the ropes. They remained tight, but ever so slowly, she could feel something give.
Damon never thought he would find himself sitting at his regular bar stool, but there he was. It was midday, as well, and he wondered at how easy it was to fall back into familiar patterns.
He had spent the night looking for Elena, turning up no clues. Now he sat, listening, wondering if perhaps someone would not be talking about evil plots for world domination. It was a long shot, but one worth taking.
The bourbon burned his throat. He sipped it this time around, knowing he had to stay on alert.
"Damon? Is that you?"
Turning, he saw a face he never expected to see in Mystic Falls. If the crazy were any more evident on her, she was one he never hoped to see again. He cursed overcast days and their tendencies to draw out the lunatics. "Well, well, if it isn't Little Miss Sunshine. What brings you here?"
"Oh, you know, business." Sunshine slid into the bar stool next to him. Alaric's seat. He clenched his jaw.
"In Mystic Falls?" he said.
"I never did get the chance to thank you," she said, ignoring his comment.
Sunshine laughed. "You know what. Really, you helped me out when I needed it most. I owe you for that."
"And don't you forget it," he teased.
"Trust me, I won't." Her sudden serious tone made him face her for the first time.
Her hair was different. A different shade of red, several inches shorter. She had gotten rid of the curls. Her eyes were just as he remembered. Just as green and just as crazy. "I only did it because I was bored and had nothing better to do."
"But you really did help me," she said. He rolled his eyes. She always was a broken record. "Really. If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't know how to enjoy life as I do now."
He pressed his lips together in a thin smile. "Always glad to help. You ever get over your...issues? We never really talked about those."
"That's currently a work in progress. But that's something, right?"
He hummed. "Right. Now, if you don't mind, that seat's taken."
Damon turned away, effectively shutting her out as he sipped his drink. He was only vaguely aware when she left.
"Come on, Bonnie, you've got to try harder," Stefan said.
"Don't you think I know that?" Bonnie snapped. Then she sighed. "The spell isn't working. I can't find her anywhere."
"Then you're just not trying hard enough," he said.
"If you think it's so easy, then why don't you try?" she asked. "Oh that's right, you can't. Now shut up and let me try this again."
Bonnie closed her eyes, focusing on Jeremy's blood on the map. After a moment, she peeked, then let out a frustrated sigh when she saw it had not moved. "I told you this was pointless."
Stefan bit back the remark that formed on his tongue. Logically, he knew it was not the witch's fault. Despite whatever differences were there between them, Bonnie and Elena were still best friends. He knew that Bonnie would do anything to see her friend safe.
"Look, it's been a rough couple of days," Stefan said. "Let's just take a break and continue this after lunch."
Bonnie sighed. "You're right. I need to refocus my energy." She offered a tight lipped smile as she head for the door. "Meet you back here in an hour?"
She was out the door before Stefan could respond. "Sure, no problem."
All he heard was the ticking of the clock on the wall as he stared at the map on the table. He was not sure why it had not worked.
Frustrated, he pushed away from the table and headed out the door himself. Bonnie was not the only one who needed lunch.
Caroline surveyed her work with a great sense of pride. The gymnasium was back to pristine condition. It had gone faster than she would have liked, but the distracted helped to focus her mind.
Picking up her purse and gathering the rest of her things, she strolled out of the massive room. It was time for lunch, and after sipping on the blood bag in her trunk, she decided to head for the Grill for desert.
Not to her surprise, she saw Damon sitting at the bar. Irritation settled in her chest. She wanted to be angry that he was not out looking, but then she could not be one to talk.
"Fancy meeting you here," she said as she came up to the right of him.
"Best place to think," he said.
"Has there been any change?" she asked.
Damon leaned back on his chair. "Nope. Been listening for any busy bodies. No one's saying a word."
So he had been working, just not in the way she would expect. Deciding to forgive him, she slipped onto the stool beside him and ordered a slice of pie. "Bonnie called. The locator spell was a bust."
He smirked. "So there is something that even the great witch herself can't do."
Caroline rolled her eyes. "Anyway. As head of the Prom committee, I got first dibs on the candid shots."
"What does your little dance have to do with any of this?" he asked.
Caroline shrugged. "I don't know. I figured there may be some clue in one of the pictures. She was last seen there, after all."
He gave her a slow smile. "Good thinking there, Forbes."
"What, no Blondie?" she asked as she pulled out her laptop and slipped the memory stick into the slot.
He shrugged. "You're right. Blondie suits you better."
Caroline rolled her eyes before clicking on the folder. Then she sagged. There must have been hundreds of photos in here. It would take awhile to go through them all.
She started her search, and stopped on one. Casting her snack companion a sly glance, she smirked. "Oh look, here's Elena. See how happy she looks?"
Elena looked anything but. Her smile was a grimace, and even in that one shot, the dancing awkward. Damon stared at the screen anyway. "Nice dress."
Sighing, Caroline sorted through the pictures as he returned to the drink. Her pie was delivered, wonderful and gloriously fattening. He drank, she ate and sorted through pictures, and things were almost calm between them.
"Look," she said. He groaned and slumped his shoulders. "Teenage girls are young. And stupid. And I am saying this completely knowing I am one of them."
"Let me know when you get to a point," Damon said.
"What I'm trying to say is, we don't know what we want. Or what we need. Our biggest concerns are – or should be – homework and wonder who will ask us to the dance. Our toughest choices should be what classes not to do said homework in, and what to wear to the dance."
"Still waiting for a point."
"All I'm trying to say is I hate you. I hate your guts and more than once have I considered spiking your drink with vervain before staking you," she said. "But Elena doesn't. And for a teenage girl, that's a big something."
"If you hate me so much, why are you telling me this?" he asked.
"Because it's Elena. For whatever twisted reason, you make her happy. I'm not saying you're her end-all be-all, and I'm not saying you're her today, but maybe if you stick around, you could be her tomorrow."
Damon was silent for a moment. "You've been visiting the Hallmark store in the mall again, haven't you?"
"You are such an ass," she said. Disgusted, she finished her pie. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have some work to do. Not all of us can afford to sit on our rear ends drinking scotch all day. We do have a girl to find, after all, in case you forgot."
Irritation fueled her as she gathered her belongings, threw down a five dollar bill, and stormed out the bar.
That was what she got for being nice.
Elena worked at the knot, ignoring the pain in her wrists and gut.
"That's never going to work, you know," Damon said behind her.
"Oh great, you're back, just what I need."
"You're getting worse, Elena. You need to save your strength."
"Why, so I can be a living mummy for the next fifty years? I think not." Slowly the bonds were loosening. "Besides, it's not like anyone can find me. There's not exactly a neon sign pointing here."
"People are already looking for you," Damon pointed out.
"You're not," she said without thinking, and the realization hurt.
Finally, her hands were free. With a cry of triumph, she staggered to her feet. The world swayed beneath her, and it took a moment to collect her equillibrium.
"I'm surprised you could stand at all," Damon said.
"Yeah, well, I'm running on adrenaline right now."
Staggering, she chased after the stairs. This time it was only her own inertia that made her fall, but nothing pulled her back. She climbed the rest of the way up and grasped the handle. The door was locked.
"Told you this wasn't going to work," Damon said.
"I got free, didn't I?" she snapped.
She pulled at the knob with all her strength, which slowly left her. Finally she turned and slumped against the old wood. Maybe if she had her strength she could break down the door, but as it was she was sure she had been stronger as a human.
Helpless to stop the tears, she cried in frustration. Damon slowly walked toward her and sat on the step below her, offering no words.
"Why aren't you here?" she screamed at him. "Where have you gone?"
"Where I'll always be now," he said. "Gone."
Having come up with nothing at the Grill and with closing time quickly approching, Damon entered the boarding house. There was no sign of Stefan, so there was no one to hide the defeat in his shoulders from. Earlier that morning he had scoured where he knew his brother had already looked, desperate for clues that were easily overlooked. Nothing. What clues there could have been had been washed away, just as he had been told.
With a calm he did not feel, he gently closed the front door. He shed his jacket and placed it neatly over the arm of the couch. His bar was his next destination, and even though he had just finished drinking, he poured himself another glass of bourbon. It was empty in no time, so he poured himself another.
Damon stared at the swirling amber, clenching his jaw and tightening his grip on the glass. Then he hurled it at the cool fireplace.
This was not why he left.
The nearly full bottle soon joined the glass in shards. The bourbon would stain his rug, but for now, he did not give a damn.
Instead he staggered back. Then he regained his footing.
His bar was soon decimated.
Stupid girl. Stupid idiotic girl who could not keep herself out of trouble for a single day. He had been done, but she had dragged him back here, worried out of his mind, and it was now he realized he had never truly left.
If she went and did something stupid like getting herself killed, he would flip the switch, raze the god forsaken town to the ground, and never look back.
Damon leaned against the shattered remains of the bar, paying no mind to the splinters of glass that pierced his palms.
She'll be okay. You just have to look harder.
Damon ran shaky fingers through his hair. He had to get it together, for her, so he could do his job. Even if in the end, she chose Stefan again, realized he was her one and only, he would not give a damn just so long as she was safe and alive and very much not dead.
His knees buckled as he walked toward the kitchen. Stefan had no blood in the house, he had already checked, but cold water could possibly work in a pinch. The bourbon had clouded his mind, that was the problem, and he needed something to shock his system.
He paused at the table. The map lay face up, a stain of blood congealing over a couple square blocks. Caroline had said the spell had not worked. Looking closer, he noticed a minute smear that he would normally miss. It was there, though, obvious that the droplet had shifted. Or it could be his eyes playing tricks on him, desperate for anything at this point.
Whatever it was, it was a start. Better than destroying his house.
Water forgotten, he jogged out of the house and into the night, path clearly marked in his mind.
Oh no, what ever will happen. You tell me.