A/N: I swear I'll finish the other stories I have posted one day soon. Most of them are near completion, but working on my Master's while teaching fulltime is cutting significantly into my writing. Plus, I have all these new ideas buzzing through my head thanks to the new season and they keep spilling over ...
This Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for many things, including my wonderful beta and friend secretindulgence24. If you haven't read her stories, you're missing out in a BIG way.
Elena's terrified screams were the soundtrack of Damon's nightmares.
They were supposed to stay in his nightmares, dammit! He clutched his cellphone to his ear and tried to drive while simultaneously deciphering her incoherent cries.
"Elena. Elena. Elena," he pleaded. "I can't understand a word you're saying."
Her screams got louder yet, something about Katherine-
Damon swerved off the side of the road, nearly taking out a tree. He gripped the wheel white-knuckled and just managed to keep the vehicle from flipping as two of its wheels came off the pavement.
"Elena, where are you?"
As far as he knew, Katherine was safely locked away in Alaric's apartment, compelled by Klaus to stay firmly put. If she'd managed to get away and had decided to go after Elena for some reason, hell wouldn't have enough money to pay for the punishment he'd wreak on his former love interest.
"Damon-she's-I'm-no no no no don't-oh my God JEREMY no please!"
That did it. Damon veered onto the shoulder and slammed the car into park.
"Where are you?" he demanded again, jumping out. Almost worst than her screaming were the broken-hearted sobs now filtering through the speaker.
"No, no, no, Jer, please, please ..."
Damon clenched his fist, trying to hold down his own panic. He couldn't lose the plot. She needed him.
"Damon, he's dying-"
He could almost hear the tears running down on her face as she sobbed her brother's name.
"One word, Elena." He stalked down the highway, unsure of what direction to take but unable to stay still one more second. "That's all I need to come find you, baby."
The call cut off abruptly, ending on a high-pitched, anguished shriek that reverberated around and around Damon's brain. He cursed a desperately blue streak, unaccustomed to feeling so utterly useless.
Far from being born yesterday; the vampire was fully aware that he was being baited. Otherwise, why would Katherine let Elena call him for help when she knew very well that hurting her doppelganger was the one airtight guarantee that Damon would send her to her belated grave-
He pulled up short, leaning his head back to glare at the sky in sudden understanding. Grave. Of course. Whatever Katherine wanted from him, it was linked to the tomb.
He reversed course and put on a burst of speed, dialing Stefan's number simultaneously. Instead of his younger sibling, a familiar female voice answered on the third ring.
"Bonnie? Why do you have my br-Never mind." Damon shelved that unexpected weirdness for later consideration. "Tell Stefan that Katherine's loose and on the rampage. She's got Elena and Jeremy. I need some baby brother backup."
"Where else?" The forest surrounding Fell's Church appeared on the horizon. "Moonstone Central."
"That's my best guess. Hurry." He ended the call and shoved the phone into his pocket as he arrived at the borderline of the woods. He should probably wait for Stefan before entering the thick wooded area where Katherine could have any number of unpleasant surprises waiting for him ...
"Bring it on, bitch," Damon said grimly, ducking his head and moving in.
Roughly 60 seconds later he reached the tomb utterly unimpeded.
"You used to be better at this game, Katherine," he called down the stairs, more certain than ever that he was walking straight into a trap. "Why not make it a little more obvious that you're luring me ..."
Elena's broken cry sealed the vampire's fate as cleanly as he'd once sealed Katherine's grave. He rushed headlong down the steps and into the tomb, not pausing to wonder who had opened it this time.
The warren of crumbling walls closed in around him as he entered, the thick stone serving a disturbing acoustic function and magnifying Elena's renewed screams.
Aware that Katherine's little trap might spring shut at any moment, he swerved in and out of the narrow passages, tracking the sound of her cries.
"Keep yelling, Elena!"
Dead ends tripped him up at every turn, sending him careening into rusting iron gates that attempted to impale him as he wrenched them aside. Damon's usually nimble feet snagged on ancient grave shrouds minus their former owners who had either crumbled to dust or joined the parade of walking dead who now lurked in the shadows of Mystic Falls' genteel facade. He caught himself on a low wall and blundered straight into a tangle of confusing cobwebs-what would spiders have to feed on down here, other than zombie flies, maybe? The incensed vampire barreled forward, pulling down fistfuls of thick, sticky swathes as he went. Maybe he could use them to choke Katherine on her own spit...
That was Stefan's concerned voice somewhere in the background. Finally.
"Stay out, brother," Damon warned, shattering another half-wall with an inhumanly strong shove. "Something is seriously screwy in vampire city ... You'll need to hold the fort and get Elena home if I go down in here." He snarled in frustrated fury as yet another dead end brought him to a standstill. "Elena, keep yelling! Where the hell are you, Katerina?" Klaus' pet name was the darkest invective he could hurl at the woman he had once offered his soul.
"Right here, Die-món," a softly accented voiced murmured. The antiquated pronunciation of his name caught Damon more offguard than anything else that evening. He hadn't heard that since his baptism at age six, when the priest had admonished his parents that they should've picked a more suitable name than the Greek for demon. Certainly, Katherine had never heard it or she would've mocked him mercilessly-
"That's taking things a little far, Bonnie."
Damon paused, confused.
The witch's cool reply drifted through the maze as easily as Elena's screams had moments earlier. "I had to use his given name to finish the spell."
Cold realization dripped down Damon's spine. He rounded a corner, still half expecting to find Elena's bloody, silence corpse waiting for him to arrive late. Late. Late. Too late.
A battery-powered lantern, misplaced Igloo cooler and green sleeping bag slid the final puzzle piece into place as neatly as Montresor had once walled in Fortunato.
Betrayal howled an unfinished symphony through Damon's brain. He groaned his brother's name, too shocked at his own stupidity to be angry just yet, too stunned at this twist of the knife in his back to do much more than just stand there dumbly.
"I'm sorry, brother. I kept telling you not to interfere ... " Stefan sounded surprisingly guilt-stricken. "Elena's fine, by the way. She didn't know anything about this."
Emotions buffeted Damon with the strength of hurricane winds. Astonishment at his brother's treachery after all the steps they'd made toward reconciling, relief that Elena was unharmed and uninvolved, fear at being trapped between a rock and the hardest place of all-his full, unfettered thoughts with no distractions to keep him from drowning-all collided with his desire to storm through the tomb and rage at the barrier that undoubtedly now stood between him and freedom. The only thing that curbed his immediate action was the broken need to preserve some crumb of dignity after proving to be such a colossal, heart-led idiot.
Slowly, the vampire slid to the floor, feeling the cold seep into his bones.
"Damon?" Stefan called after a short while, apparently concerned when his brother failed to react as expected.
Even if he'd wanted to respond, Damon couldn't. He rested his head against a ledge and stared straight ahead into the darkness. At his best, Damon held to self-control by a thin thread of lingering humanity which kept him from spiraling completely into the abyss. At his worst, that thread snapped completely and he destroyed everything in his path without regard for whether he loathed or loved those who tried to interfere.
A twisted smile graced Damon's face and he absently toyed with the spiderwebs still clenched in his fists. Unbidden, Elena had mended his torn threads. His love for her had drawn the vampire up out of his decades of self-imposed darkness, but even she would be unable to reach him if he flipped the switch this time. It was for her sake that he clenched his jaw and held his body locked rigidly now even as fury vibrated through him with enough force to rupture bodily organs. He could not go to pieces. Not physically, not emotionally: Until Elena's safety from Klaus was secured, self-serving insanity was simply not an option.
"Come on, Damon. Don't be that way. It's just a temporary thing to keep you from screwing things up with Klaus again."
Damon said nothing.
Bonnie stepped in, apparently stopping Stefan from being as dumb as his older brother had been.
"You can't go in there. No supernatural being can cross that boundary and get back out again."
"This may not have been the best idea." Stefan's inability to commit to a plan without backtracking all over himself was laughable. "Once he gets out-"
"He's not getting out," Bonnie said firmly. "Not until Klaus and all the originals and their pet hybrids have been disposed of and not until I can figure out a way to keep him from hurting anybody else again."
"Wait a minute. That wasn't the agreement."
Bonnie's trademark shrug was almost audible. Damon closed his eyes, feeling the anger writhe beneath his skin and barely containing it.
"You made a deal with a witch, Stefan. There's always a price to pay." Apparently even a vaunted witch couldn't quite hold her ground under the force of Stefan's martyred gaze. "I'll let him out eventually. This is best for the time being."
Damon's eyes narrowed and his fangs appeared alongside his desire to rip Bonnie's throat out. He drew himself up into a half-crouch, twisting toward the door that he'd promised himself just moments ago he wouldn't go near. That was the problem with being a vampire-both personality halves had to be in agreement, or war erupted internally.
"We'll bring you fresh blood in a couple weeks," Stefan called, as though Damon would jump up and thank him for providing for his physical needs.
A thought occurred to Damon, leading him to contemplate the piles of rubble scattered around the floor. Could he throw something through the barrier? Maybe take the witch out by smashing in her skull? If she died, the spell would went with her, right?
Always a slow learner, Stefan lingered near the entrance, waiting for a response that he should have known was never coming.
Damon hefted a sizeable chunk of mortar in one hand and climbed silently to his feet.
"He's playing with us, Stefan." Bonnie sighed impatiently. "Come on. Elena will be wondering where we are."
Suddenly afraid lest he miss his one chance at revenge-it was all about revenge now; freedom had died the minute they locked him away, giving free rein to the dark side he'd worked so hard to learn to contain-Damon bolted toward the entrance, cursing as he took multiple wrong turns. He finally burst into the entry passage, brick held aloft and already halfway toward being hurled at Bonnie.
A sharp gasp penetrated the fog of his bloodlust, shining a small light on his beleaguered soul.
Trembling, Damon continued to clench the mortar so tightly that it began to crumble to dust between his fingers. He stared at the lone familiar figure standing a few feet away and felt his divided subconscious tear just a little farther from its human moorings.
Any other day the sweet, pale green summer dress and carefully styled brown curls tumbling down temptingly bare shoulders would have been appealing. Today, it all only served to further bewilder the vampire. She looked alive and well and so innocent and yet he couldn't begin to feel relief without simultaneously feeling the sharp pricking of his treasonous DNA.
"Katherine?" he rasped, pressing into the invisible wall that kept him from answering his own question.
"No, Elena." She approached him slowly, eyes wide. "Why would you think-"
Words were no longer sufficient. Eyes fully blood-dilated, fangs exposed in warning, Damon demanded, "Prove it."
Wearing an appropriately frightened expression-Katherine was always a good actress-the woman in question paused, seeming to discern something. "Are you-did they-"
"Nah," he sneered mockingly, "I'm just in here for kicks. Figured I'd scout out a new drinking venue, you know. The Grille is so passé."
"I thought Stefan and Bonnie were up to something." She bit her lower lip, a typical Elena gesture that, unfortunately, Katherine had also perfected. "I swear though I had no idea, Damon."
"Come on over and have a looksee," the caged animal in him all but roared as he slammed his fist into the barrier futilely. "Throw a peanut at the monkey; maybe it'll dance a grateful jig."
As though the wall between them didn't exist, the woman squared her shoulders and stepped inside.
His bravado crumpled in horrified realization when she surpassed the supernatural barrier. Dropping the mortar chunk, he delivered a warning,
"Get out of here, Elena."
If he'd had any doubts, the total disregard for her personal safety confirmed Elena's identity as she moved toward him steadily in spite of his completely vamped-out appearance.
"This is wrong, Damon. I may not agree with all your actions, but this-" she shook her head. "You would never do this to Stefan. I can't believe this decision came from him."
Damon took several steps back, afraid to be anywhere near her when he was so far out to sea. "To be fair to my gullible sibling, the witch had more than a minor white stake in things." He laughed bitterly.
"Don't, Damon," Elena said quietly. "Don't push me away."
"I have to," he said desperately, the compassion in her expression acting like vervain against his alter-ego and just barely keeping him in check. "You need to go, Elena. I'm not to be around safe right now."
Damnably stubborn woman. The firm jut of her chin warned him what her retort would be. "I'm not leaving you here."
"Funny, that's not one of the choices Stefan allowed you to make," he snapped, terrified that he wouldn't be able to protect her from himself. A bone crunched under his foot as a potent reminder of what he'd be without blood for a few weeks. "You're a human, Elena. Coexistence in this airless dungeon-not a possibility. You need food, water, something to breathe."
"You need the same things."
"Don't ever try out for Jeopardy," he groaned. "Elena, I can survive in here for a long time without anything. Besides, Stefan wasn't totally heartless. He dipped into his Ripper stash for a cooler of Type B. That'll keep me sentient for a few weeks."
"Surviving on blood," she said slowly. "That's what you did when you were looking for Katherine. Your body survived-but your heart and mind, they need more, Damon."
He groaned, even if she was more than a little bit right. "So you'll bring me magazines and visit wearing a miniskirt occasionally to keep my blood pumping to all the right places."
When she didn't refute his innuendo, Damon knew this battle had been lost the moment she spotted him in the entrance. A wave of gratitude carried him above the black tide, propelling him to a handhold which he could use to drag himself from the slime.
Sensing a shift in his stance, Elena took a step forward and wrapped her arms around Damon's waist. He let out a slow breath as her head came to rest on his chest trustingly
"I'm not going anywhere," she whispered into his shirt fiercely, one small hand fisting in the fabric to punctuate her point.
Damon closed his arms around her, more carefully than usual just in case he wasn't quite back in control yet. Tentatively, he rested his chin on her hair. Her steady heartbeat filled his ears and, unlike most, this one didn't tempt him to anything more than to close his eyes and drift away. She was safe and sound and here with him and everything else was extraneous for the minute.
"Elena?" Stefan's voice resonated suddenly through the grave. "Are you in there?"
The guy really knew how to interrupt a moment.
Damon lifted his head regretfully to shout back a snide remark when Elena's finger covered his lips. She shook her head slightly and stood on tiptoe, whispering.
"Will you trust me?"
"Elena?" Stefan bellowed again, obviously standing right at the barrier.
Damon tried unsuccessfully to read her thoughts as she pinned him with her intent brown eyes.
"I will get you out," she mouthed, barely audible. "Don't answer, no matter what he says. Let me handle this, Damon, please. Will you. Trust me?"
Very slowly, he nodded, once again putting his trust in someone who had the power to take him down with his own ammunition.
She brushed her lips over his, so featherlight he wasn't even sure later on that it actually happened. Then she was gone and he was alone in a graveyard of bad memories.