Chapter 1

Where are we?
What the hell is going on?
The dust has only just begun to form crop circles in the carpet
Sinking feeling

Elena gasped as she jolted into consciousness, springing deftly to her feet. Her eyes took in the dark room as she spun around, trying to find out where she was or how she'd gotten there. In the corner, her gaze fell upon the shaggy black mop of hair that she'd know absolutely anywhere. She ran to him, desperate to see his face and know that he was only unconscious, still there to open his mouth and tease her for believing he'd leave her.

Just out of reach from him, something snapped at her ankle and she found herself flying through the air. A scream tore from her mouth as a wave of pain flowed through her leg. Her hands swung around her, reaching for anything to grab hold of, but she soon landed roughly on the hard floor. She looked at her ankle to find the source of her sudden flight through the room. A chain was attached to a weird cuff locked around her ankle, and there were the red marks that could only come from exposure to vervain.

Elena inspected the contraption, trying to find a way to free herself, but the tube that connected to the spiked cuff, told her that her efforts would be futile. Whoever locked her up knew exactly what they were dealing with: vampires.

Son of a bitch!

A groan filtered through the air and she scrambled across the room, worry of vervain be damned. "Damon," she called out hoarsely as her hands shuffled over the rough floor. "Damon."

At the sound of her voice, he shot up, fully alert. When his eyes landed on her, he lunged forward, reaching his hand out to grab her, but just as she had, he came up short, bouncing back roughly against the wall as he cried out in pain. "Elena," he groaned.

"I'm here," she said to him, stopping when she felt the resistance from the chain. "I'm chained too."

He tugged at the cuff around his leg for a few moments before coming to the same conclusion as she had. In frustration, he slammed his leg to the floor, but his face quickly contorted in pain and he struggled to not scream as the vervain coursed through his veins. All she could do was watch, unable to do anything to help him, as he writhed around on the floor.

When the pain lessened, his head rolled to the side so he could look at her. "I think they go off when pressure is applied."

Not wanting to tell him she found that out after the first time she quietly asked, "Are you okay?"

He moved to his hands and knees and came to her, his movements slowed from the toxic drug he'd just gotten two doses of. Before he could reach her, his chain ran taut, leaving feet between them. The distance could do nothing to stop him from reaching out his hand to her, which she quickly greeted with her own, their hands barely touching enough to twine their fingers together, but they could at least find a small comfort in that.

"What happened? Where are we?" she questioned, her eyes frantically searching the barren room with only one steel door several feet away. "The last thing I remember is getting out of bed this morning."

"Someone snapped your neck," he whispered. "I heard something when I was in the bathroom, so I went to find you. I found you on the floor in the hallway, and before I could do anything, everything went black."

Elena shook her head, confusion marring her still flawless features. "Who would do something like this?"

For over eighty years, Elena had seen her fair share of violence being at Damon's side. This wouldn't be anything new for them, but no amount of torture and kidnappings would ever completely dull the fear of being held against her will, especially when she was blind as to who they were up against.

"I don't have an answer for you," he said to her quietly, his head rolling to the side, "But I'm going to guess it has something to do with me."

"They can't just leave us here," she pointed out. "Whoever did this, they have to come in eventually."

He looked over at the door that stood tall across the room, waiting for someone to open it and reveal what they were up against. With a sigh, he turned back to her, a look of sorrow on his face. "This isn't going to be good."

"Well, that's obvious," she snapped, her voice laced with sarcasm. Being married to Damon Salvatore did have a tendency to rub off on a person.

"You know the drill. Stick to it."

She nodded her head, not having to question what it was he was telling her to stick to. It was something she knew quite well by now. They were about to be tortured, and he was reminding her to get prepared for the long battle ahead of them.

Too long ago to remember Elena would have been shaking like a leaf at the mere idea of being physically hurt. Once you become a vampire and live for several decades, the fear soon disappears though. Throughout the years, she'd been tortured more times than she would have liked, but she'd survived them all. If anyone had thought of the technique, it had been used on her. She'd been staked, burned by the sun, and had vervain injected directly into her heart. She wasn't poor, defenseless Elena anymore, and she made sure everyone she encountered knew that.

Their time together hadn't only been filled with torture though. No, their years were filled with more good memories than bad. It was a strong relationship, one that had taken years to cultivate to the point where they both felt truly secure in what they had. They'd built a life together that she was more than happy to live for an eternity. Many might never be able to understand it, but she did. She knew she loved him, and as long as he was by her side, everything else could go wrong for all she cared.

That wasn't to say they didn't have their issues. They were still the same people after all. He was still a cocky bastard that drove her up the wall and made her want to smack him upside the head on a weekly basis. And according to him, she was still the stubborn know-it-all she had been at seventeen years old, but it somehow helped to make them work. They drove each other crazy and loved each other harder. Their fights were as volatile has they had been back when she was a human, but there was just the added bonus of makeup sex to go with it now.

There had also been the learning curve of trying to find the line that couldn't be crossed in their fights. It had been a tough battle that they'd lost on numerous occasions through the years, but practice had finally made perfect. Well, as perfect as they could get anyway. They'd found a balance through it all. He no longer went on daylong drinking binges after their fights, and she finally stopped telling him she hated him, even if 95% of the time it was only said in the heat of the moment.

All in all, they worked. In some weird, one in a million way, they worked. And she loved every moment of it.

Today they would come together and find that balance like they always did. They'd be the team they were and face whatever was about to be thrown at them. It wouldn't be easy; being tortured never was, but whenever she kept that goal in mind, she always got through it. As long as she had that hope that they were both coming out of it alive, she could hold it together and stay calm. There was no time for panic in a situation like this. Damon needed her to be calm and focused, and that was what she would be.

When the door finally opened after hours of sitting on the cold, hard floor, hands clasped together, they straightened up. Damon was on high alert, as they watched a man that could only be a few years older than both of them enter the room. His caramel colored hair hung loosely around his face, shading his eyes, but his presence loomed through the room.

She could feel Damon tense beside her and the agitation radiated from him in waves. "Jameson," he said stonily. "Long time no see."

The man smirked and pushed the hair off of his forehead. "Obviously not long enough for your taste to change." He bent down in front of Elena to get a good look at her face. Defiant, she lifted her chin and held his gaze, refusing to cast her eyes away. "Over 200 years on this planet and you're still pining after the same girl you were searching for when we first met."

"Looks are as far as their similarities go," Damon snapped.

"I don't know," Jameson chuckled before straightening again so he could stare down at them. "Miss Gilbert has earned herself quite the reputation in the relatively short time that she's been a vampire. There's some Katerina in there somewhere."

Elena steadily rose to her feet, ignoring the small voice of fear in the back of her head. "Salvatore," she corrected him. "Elena Salvatore."

She had been Elena Salvatore longer than she'd ever been Elena Gilbert and she wanted to be addressed accordingly. She'd come to appreciate what her married name did for her when Damon was not by her side. Two brothers were rarely found in their circles, and the fact that these brothers had not only been in love with the same girl once, but twice, and also killed a hefty number of powerful vampires throughout the years, gave their name a lot of weight in the vampire world.

As a human, the idea of using her name to gain some form of respect would have made her cringe. She had wanted to be independent and known for who she was. However, now nearing 100, things had changed – she'd changed. If using her husband's last name gave her an extra boost when she needed one, she'd gladly use it.

Besides, it was who she was. She was Elena Salvatore, Damon Salvatore's wife. She had been for decades now, and she couldn't imagine being a Gilbert ever again. She was Damon's and he was hers, mind, body, and soul.

"How old-fashioned," he cooed as his eyes turned to Damon. "You finally managed to land that traditional housewife you always wanted, I see."

Damon laughed openly at this statement. "I'm married to a doppelgänger, there's nothing traditional about her. The girl can't even cook."


"Okay, let's cut the shit." Damon jumped to his feet and crossed his arms over his chest. "Let's start with the basics. Why did you sneak into my home, snap my wife's neck, do whatever to me, and then lock us up in here?"

"Boredom, entertainment, revenge, etcetera. Take your pick." When neither he nor Elena responded, Jameson said, "You took the most important thing in my life from me. I told you then that I would return the favor one day."

"It's been over 100 years. Move on, already," Damon groaned. "Even I couldn't follow through on submitting my brother to an eternity of misery, and I can hold a grudge, believe me."

"She was my wife!" he shouted, his voice filled with unchecked rage and pain. "I shouldn't have to get over that. She was my partner and you killed her!"

Elena resisted the urge to cringe when Damon unashamedly shrugged. "She brought it on when she inserted herself in my business and tried to kill me. Newsflash, Jameson, that's kind of how this vampire thing works. It's survival of the fittest. Not my fault she couldn't hang."

"She was stronger than you could ever be."

"Then why is she dead?" Damon countered. "Give it up, already. She thought because she was older she could play with the big boys. I proved her wrong. Not my problem."

"Well, is this your problem then?" Jameson motioned to the room around them and the shackles on their ankles. "Or how about this?" Elena froze when she saw Jameson pull Damon's daylight ring out of his front pocket, the dim light in the room reflecting off of it. She looked down in a panic to realize that hers was also gone. How had she not noticed that before?

"You son of a bitch," Damon whispered coldly. "You better kill me, because I am going to end you."

Jameson merely ignored Damon's threat and continued on. "So, here's the deal. I don't really care which one of you dies, but you have an hour to figure it out." He pushed a button next to the door and the wall seemed to open in front of them, and Elena realized what was about to happen. The sun would rise soon, and the grand window that was being revealed would flood the room in sunlight. With nowhere to hide, they would be defenseless to the sun, unless they found a way out of this before it was too late.

"Oh come on," Damon started, working hard to make his voice appear calm and steady, but she could see the fear in his eyes. "You're not really going to risk me dying. How will you get your payback if I'm not here to suffer?"

"But that's the thing," Jameson taunted him, "Either way I get revenge. It really is a win/win for me. If your precious little doppelgänger turns to dust, I will have successfully taken your eternity from you. You'll want to burn right along with her. And if you die, the precious baby brother that you could never just walk away from will have to face an eternity on this earth without you around to protect him and save him. Cause really, I hate you both. I just happen to hate you a little more. Either way you'll end up dead by the time this is all said and done."

"So that's how you're going to play this?" Damon asked. "You know exactly how this is going to end."

"Yeah, Damon," he smirked, "That's how I'm going to play this." He tossed Damon's daylight ring high in the air and watched it fall between her and Damon, bouncing slightly on the cement floor before it came to a stop. "You have an hour."

She could feel her stomach clench as she watched him turn and saunter out of the room, not a care in the world about leaving them to their deaths. What kind of person did this? She'd seen some messed up things through the years, but this was torture on a whole new level.

Once Jameson was out of the room, Elena turned panicked eyes on Damon. "What do we do?"

"We try and get out of these things, that's what we do."

"What if we can't?" She knew Damon was trying to be calm right now and think rationally about everything, but she couldn't do that. Without two daylight rings, one of them would die. They'd already found out hours ago that there was no getting out of these shackles. They wouldn't suddenly think of something now.

Damon looked up from where he was inspecting the cuff around his ankle. "We can't think that way. Jameson isn't bluffing, Elena, which means we have exactly one hour to get ourselves out of this or I'm dead."

"Don't you say that," she hissed. "You're not dying today." He wasn't ever dying. She would not live a life without him.

"And neither are you," he bit back, his jaw clenched tightly. "So, if you want to make sure I'm around in an hour, start trying to get us out of this."

Damon's threat jolted her into action and she went to work on the chain and cuff bound to her ankle, trying to be careful to not inject herself with anymore vervain. She'd already weakened herself enough with it; she didn't need to add more into the mix. Damon needed her to be strong and alert for this. Getting out of this would require both of them.

They worked frantically, trying to free themselves from the chains, pulling and smashing them into the ground in an attempt to break them. Nothing worked though. She could see progress, but it wasn't enough. There wasn't enough time. Looking at the clear window she knew that their chances of getting out of this alive were quickly running out.

"Are you ever going to tell me what this is all about?" she asked her husband, trying to distract herself from thinking about how quickly the night was fading into day. When she panicked her hands shook and she was useless to do anything. She needed to be as calm as possible. Listening to Damon could do that for her. "Why would he do this to us?"

Damon sighed and looked up at her for the briefest of moments before returning his eyes back to his chain. "I met him and his wife back in the early 1980s when I followed Stefan to Seattle. He'd been on one of his binges for a few months and I was keeping an eye on him to make sure he didn't get himself killed."

"It's always the same with you two," Elena sighed. No matter how much time passed, the brothers attracted the most trouble when they were together.

"Do you want to hear the story or not?" She silently nodded her head and waited for him to continue.

"Well, Stefan started running in their crowd and I joined to see what they were about. It wasn't pretty. They weren't subtle or smart about anything. I finally decided to get Stefan out of there before things turned really bad. When I went to get him one night he didn't want to leave, and Genevieve came in as we were fighting. She tried to stake me, but she hadn't realized Stefan wasn't gone enough to let her kill me. He attacked her to try and get the stake away from her, but she was stronger and older. He couldn't match her. So when she overpowered him and was briefly distracted, I ripped her heart out."

"How did Jameson even know it was you who killed her?"

"Yeah, about that," he inhaled a sharp breath as he prepared himself for what he was about to reveal. "I may have left her heart in a box and told him to stay away from my brother or I'd make sure to reunite him with his love. I wasn't exactly rational back in the 80s; too much hairspray is never a good thing, even for vampires."

Elena angrily tugged at her chains. She couldn't reach out and slap him across the back of his head, so that was the best she could do. "You just can't do something mean without taking credit for it, can you? Yet, if you do something nice and selfless, you'll practically rip someone's heart out to keep others from finding out."

"Hey, at least I'm predictably unpredictable. Now stop chatting and break free from your chains. We don't exactly have all the time in the world here."

"So I've noticed," she snapped, but they both knew it was more out of fear than anger. Even if he had set this train in motion many years before, she didn't blame him for the position they'd found themselves in. It was easy to see that Jameson wasn't right in the head, and if he had been running around having a grand old time with the ripper version of Stefan back in the day, she knew she had to be halfway right.

No normal, sane person would do this. Hell, even Damon wouldn't do it, and she knew for a fact that he hadn't seen a day of normal in his entire existence. It took a demented and cruel person to think up an idea of shackling two vampires with vervain and leave them one daylight ring for when the sun came up. And they were paying the price for his insanity.

She could feel the sun inching its way higher into the sky and the panic rose in her, beginning to cripple her limb by limb. They weren't going to make it out together. That much had been obvious from the moment Jameson had showed them that window and the solitary ring. It was the whole point of his torture, to force them to lose the other, no matter which way that turned out. Now they just had to make the choice on how this would end. She knew they'd both be divided, but she wouldn't give in; not a chance.

When Damon hissed and jumped back she stopped all efforts to try and break free from the shackles. "Put the ring on, Damon," she demanded.

"You know I'm not going to do that," he told her, trying to move as far away from the incoming sunlight as he could. They had five minutes, at most, and they both realized it.

"It's your ring. Put it on."

He picked the ring up and threw it into her lap. "You're going to put the ring on, close your eyes, and then find a way out of this. Do you hear me?"

"I don't hear anything. I'm not putting it on! You can't make me and you know it."

"I can and I will," he threatened her, desperation creeping into his voice. "You're not going to die because I was a stupid asshole before you were even alive! Put the ring on, Elena!"

"No!" she shouted, throwing it back at him.

"Put it on!"

"And what am I supposed to tell Stefan, huh?" There was no way she'd be able to look his brother in the eyes and say she'd let Damon die. She wouldn't do it.

"That I died saving the woman I love. He would've done it for you once upon a time too. He'll understand."

"He'll hate me!"

She wasn't an idiot. If she showed up and told Stefan that Damon was dead, he'd be furious with her. Through all the horrible lows those two had been through, they were brothers, and Stefan loved him more than anything. He wouldn't even be able to look at her without knowing she was the reason his brother was dead.

Elena screamed as the sunlight flooded over her and she jumped back, putting even more distance between her and Damon. She was desperate to reach out and touch him, but it was impossible now. This was it, and she wasn't ready for it at all. They were supposed to have an eternity. That was the whole point of being a vampire and finding a partner, right? It wasn't supposed to end like this.

"He'll get over it."

"But I won't!" she yelled at him. "I'll never forgive you if you do this, Damon." It was a petty threat, and one that would never work, but she made it nonetheless. She could not take that ring and willingly let him die.

"I'm okay with that."

Of course he was. Damon and his stupid unintentional hero nonsense drove her up the damn wall, especially when it came to her, but this took the cake.

"You can't seriously think that I'm going to go on without you."

"I do think that, and here's why." She saw the façade finally break and his face fell with heavy emotion. "You're going to live because it's what I want, and because this can't all be for nothing. You'll get out of here, track Jameson down and stake his ass, then live on for an eternity, just like you promised me."

"I promised you that when it meant spending it with you," she cried. She hadn't come into being a vampire by choice, and it had taken her years to fully come to terms with what she had become, but once it happened, she was all in. A big part of being all in had been for him. So much of her vampire life had been all about him. She couldn't do it without him. "I won't live without you."

As she said those words, their time finally ran out and there was no way left to hide from the sun. It hit her flesh like a blowtorch and she screamed at the searing pain.

With nothing left to lose, they both came toward each other, crawling as best they could through the pain as the sun rose higher. Soon their entire bodies would be engulfed in torturous pain from the sun, but they still had a few precious moments left. When they reached each other, she grabbed hold of his hand and squeezed.

She held on to him as long as she could, but soon had to pull away. Her entire body was exposed to the sun now and she could feel her flesh burning to ash with each passing moment.

He smiled as best he could through the pain and whispered, "I won't let you die for me."

"No, no," she begged, "Don't do this. Don't say that.

"I love you."

Before she could react he grabbed her hand again and shoved his ring onto her thumb, and then pushed her away from him as hard as he could. She flew through the air, screaming as he stood up and exposed himself fully to the sunlight.

When her back collided with the wall she heard her chain snap. Weakened after being smashed and tugged on for so long it finally gave way under the sheer force of his strength, making it crack beneath her. The impact left her dazed and in a whole new kind of pain. She fought through it, lunging to her feet to try and get to him as quickly as she could, but she was too late. Arms outstretched toward him and screaming his name, she watched as he burned to ash in front of her very eyes.

"Damon, no!" she cried out as her arms connected with nothing but air. Her legs instantly gave out, and she fell to the hard floor like lead, her body heaving with sobs. "This can't be happening. This can't be real. You can't be dead. Please, no!"

Her fingers fell into the ash and the smell of burned flesh assaulted her senses as her body began to shake uncontrollably. Guilt wrapped a crushing grip around her heart when the sunlight flashed off of Damon's daylight ring shoved so far onto her finger, blood partially covering it. His symbol of life on this earth was now the symbol of his death.

After everything they'd been through, it couldn't end like this. They had fought too long and too hard to be together for him to be gone now. There hadn't been enough time. It hadn't even been close. At the beginning of it all they'd wasted so much time fighting each other and everyone else to prove they were meant to be together. Now, after less than a century together it had been ripped away from them.

He was supposed to be by her side for an eternity. After all she'd lost, every family member and loved one she'd seen die throughout her time on this earth, she'd thought she finally had something that wouldn't be taken away from her. She'd thought she was done watching the people she loved die. She'd thought it was all over, and she'd finally earned her chance to be happy and loved.

It was all gone now. He was gone, and she had nothing. He left her. Now, she was left to face an eternity without him.

Damon was gone, and he wasn't coming back.

Elena barged into the small shop in downtown Charlotte and the bell above the door signaled her arrival. She breezed through the small store in the front, knowing the person she was looking for would be in the back.

Elise's eyes widened when she appeared in the room, but she didn't pay attention to that just yet. Elena peered down into the eyes of the customer that Elise was currently feeding some bull to about how some random deceased relative was sending a message from the other side. "You're going to go home, forget that this ever happened, and come back whenever Elise calls you to schedule an appointment."

The woman quickly got up and left, her eyes glossed over from the compulsion Elena had just laid on her, and then it was just Elena and Elise in the room.

"You have some nerve coming in here and kicking out clients like you own the place," Elise snapped at her as she pulled off the scarf she wore around her head to help look the part of the psychic she claimed she was.

"You'll get over it," Elena assured her coldly. "Damon and I saved your life two years ago, and I'm cashing in on that favor right now."

Damon and Elena had met Elise years ago when she was just coming into her own as a witch and they'd managed to maintain a cordial relationship over time, helping each other when needed. So when the witch had run into some trouble of her own with a coven of witches, Damon and Elena had risked their lives to save her. It was a favor they'd never asked her to repay, but Elena was asking now. She would get her husband back at all costs.

Elise stood from her chair and went to turn on the overhead lights so she would be able to see well. "This must be something bad if Damon sent you in alone to negotiate this deal. Lay it on me."

"Damon couldn't send me," Elena said, her voice growing thick with emotion before she cleared her throat to try and conceal it. "He's dead, and that's why I need your help."

The witch turned on her heel, her eyes wide, and mouth open. "He's what?!"

Elena silently offered her arm to Elise. "Check for yourself." Elise looked unsure, but when Elena kept her arm extended she came forward and touched it for a few brief moments before quickly pulling away because of the onslaught of images and emotions. "Now that you know I'm not lying, you're going to help me get him back."

Elise immediately shook her head and backed away. "You know I can't do that."

"Yes, you can," she hissed. She knew Elise had the knowledge and the power, all it would take was her tapping into it.

"I can't bring someone back from the dead if there's no body."

"I'm not asking you to. I'm asking you to send me back."

"Do you know what kind of magic it takes to send someone back in time? That is dark magic, Elena, dangerous magic."

"You wouldn't be alive to pull your psychic crap on people if it weren't for me and Damon! You will help me fix this!"

Telling a witch what to do was never something that ended well for vampires, but Elena was too far gone to think rationally. Hell, she couldn't find rational if she wanted to.

She sat in a room with Damon's ashes for an entire day before she finally got out of that torture chamber. Her nerves were slowly starting to fray. Every ounce of strength she had was invested in holding herself together long enough to convince Elise to send her back and give her the chance to wrap her arms around her husband again. Once she could see him and touch him, she'd be fine. She just had to hold on until then.

"Oh, Elena," the witch sighed, "You have no idea what you're even asking me for."

"I'm asking you to give me a chance to save my husband. You know I'll do anything."

She could see the battle in Elise's head, at war with herself and what choice to make, but Elena knew she would make the right choice. At the end of the day, she knew they were friends. The relationship might be unorthodox and outside of what most people thought of friendship, but for most vampires and witches, it was as close as they'd come to the real deal.

Elise's voice was quiet when she finally spoke. "This spell, it is ugly and unpredictable, Elena. It's been done one time to my knowledge, and it wasn't pretty."

"I don't care. You tell me what to do, and I'll do it."

"Okay," Elise finally nodded and pulled the curtain back to lead to her private workshop, "Let's get my grimoire."

Elena followed Elise into the room she'd been into many times over the years, and allowed herself to have one small moment of grief as a vision of Damon wandering the room clouded her vision. He loved to touch everything he could in the room, always with the intent to aggravate the normally soft-spoken witch. Her eyes burned with tears at the memory, but she quickly forced it away and sat down on her usual chair at the table in the center of the room.

"So, what exactly does this spell entail?"

Elise took a seat and quickly found the page in the grimoire that she needed. "How about we worry about the details when we have everything we need? Let's just focus on the other stuff right now."

"Just give me a list and I'll do and get whatever you need." Elise, who was already looking down at the spell nodded and said nothing.

It felt like hours as Elena watched Elise read the worn pages, her brows furrowed in concentration as she followed each and every single word in front of her. Elena waited impatiently, tapping her foot incessantly and sighing every few moments. It was rude and ungrateful of her, but she could not stop herself. She felt like every moment she continued to go on without Damon ultimately took her further from him, and she couldn't do that. She could not survive an eternity without him. She wouldn't.

When she was ready to burst at the seam, Elise reached across the table, grabbed a pen and paper, and began to write down a list of things, most of which Elena could not read. She had no idea what Elise was writing down, comparing it to gibberish in her head.

"Okay," Elise finally sighed as she looked up. She tore the paper in two and slid one half across the table to Elena. "Here's your list. I'll worry about getting these things on mine, but you need to worry about yours. If you don't come back with it, I can't do the spell."

"What happens if I don't get everything? Is there anything else we can do?"

Elise's eyes softened, and she could only imagine the desperation the witch could hear in her voice. "This isn't an easy thing, Elena. I'm not just making a daylight ring. This is dark, heavy stuff. There's no other spell like it. If I don't have everything, there is literally no other option."

Elena looked over the list and was surprised when she saw one single item on it. Her eyes shot up to Elise and she questioned, "Why is Stefan needed for this?" She had been planning to simply keep him in the dark about everything and handle it all without him knowing. She couldn't tell him that she'd let his brother die.

Elise swallowed thickly and glanced away for a moment before she said, "It's probably best that you don't know anything until the time comes. I told you, Elena, this won't be pretty."

Her words weighed heavily on Elena as she rose to thank the witch and set off on her mission to get her husband back.

Elena's heart jumped in her chest as Stefan's door flew open and she came face to face with her brother-in-law. A look of confusion and slight surprise flashed across his face, but after a moment, he froze and quietly asked, "What happened?"

She'd spent the four hour drive trying to figure out how she would tell Stefan about Damon when she saw him, but all of her thoughts flew out of the window the moment she saw him. How she told him and what words she used wouldn't matter. It would all end the same way: her telling him that his brother was dead. So she simply cut to the chase, deciding they needed every moment they could get. "Damon's gone."

Stefan sprang into action, retreating back into his apartment, leaving his door open for Elena to enter. It was a small, studio apartment, so she could see him retrieve his suitcase from under the bed and begin to pack a few things. "What happened? Do you know where he is? Have you called anyone else?" He was asking the questions too quickly for Elena to intercede, and honestly, she didn't know how to tell him he was wrong. She'd thought her words and posture would have conveyed it enough. He actually thought she meant in the literal sense, as if he needed to be found. "You should have just called me. It would have saved time."

"Stefan," she finally tried to interrupt him. She moved closer to him, hoping he would look up at her, but he continued to pack, oblivious to the pain radiating from her voice. "Stefan," she tried again, and this time he looked up. "You don't understand."

"What do you mean?" He questioned and took a small step toward her, as if that would give him the answer to his question.

"He's not missing. He's gone."

"Elena, what are you saying?" His face paled and she could see the beginning of realization dawn on him, but he wasn't quite ready to admit it yet.

It was a complicated relationship Stefan and Damon had. One that even she didn't understand all these years later. No matter what they did to hurt each other or how far apart they got, they always remained brothers, there for each other when it mattered. Stefan was his baby brother and not even over two hundred years on this earth could change that for Damon. And as for Stefan, he'd sacrifice everything for his big brother, even her. It had never come down to that, but she knew the truth.

"He's dead."

"No," Stefan began shaking his head, "that can't be right."

"He's dead, Stefan. I saw it happen."

"Okay, give it up, Elena. Tell Damon to stop being a dick and trying to jerk me around."

Elena extended her hand to show the only thing she would be able to offer to her brother-in-law that would convince him that his brother was really dead. The light caught the shine of Damon's daylight ring. Stefan walked toward her, slowly and tentatively, unsure of whether this was all real or not. When he reached her and placed his fingers on the ring she saw the denial flood from his eyes and he staggered back, an agonizing groan falling from his mouth.

"Stefan," she said as she followed him, trying to keep her voice steady and firm, "I need your help." He shuddered and she ached to reach out to him. Though once lovers, they were now close friends, and it hurt her to see the agony rip him in two. The reality of her words were hitting him and he looked as if he wanted to be dead. "Please, I need your help," she whispered, tears burning her eyes.

He stood silently for several moments, and she was beginning to grow worried as to just what his reaction might be. He'd become calmer over the years, but if there was one area where his response could never be quite predictable, it was when it involved Damon. She had no idea which Stefan she would get by sharing this news with him. He could accept the pain and allow it to not cloud his judgment long enough to help save his brother. Or it could all simply be too much for him, and he could shut it out to embrace the murderer inside of him, the vengeful monster that would stop at nothing to avenge his brother's death.

People liked to believe the brothers were as different as different could be, but after knowing them for as long as she had, Elena knew differently. They were more alike than either realized, particularly in their love for the other. If he embraced his dark nature, he would massacre towns until he made Jameson pay in whatever ways he deemed necessary. She just hoped she didn't have to see it.

If he wanted to turn to that part of himself he could, but she needed him to help her first. Once he did that, he could murder whoever he wanted in this time, because it wouldn't matter. She'd be fixing everything where it counted, and it would undo any damage he might do. She needed him to come through for her now more than ever before.

Slowly, his hands closed into fists at his side, his eyes filled with so much agonizing pain that she could feel it coming from him. "What do you need me to do?"

"Damon and I know a witch who owes us a few favors that I'm cashing in on. She knows a spell that can send me back so I can kill who did this and save Damon. To do this spell, I need you. She didn't tell me why, but she said you're the key to it. Please, do this for me."

"I'll do it," he immediately agreed, no moment of hesitation.

Elena threw herself into his arms before he knew she was even coming, and wrapped her arms tightly around him. "Thank you," she cried. "Thank you!"

It took several moments for Stefan's arms to slide around her waist, and when they did, they were heavy and loose. "He's my brother, Elena."

"I'm sorry I couldn't save him."

"Me too," he whispered.

"Did Elise say how this all works?" Stefan asked after a long, tense silence in the car.

"No," Elena shook her head, "She just said she's never done it before and that she can't even send me back to a particular time or place."

"What if she sends you back to before you're even with Damon? How is that supposed to work?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you and I were together once upon a time. How do you think it's going to work if you get sent back to a time when you're with me, but you're married to my brother in your head?"

"Stefan, Elise is a powerful witch, but surely, a spell can't send me back that far."

"But what if it does?"

"Then I'll deal with it," she snapped, not wanting to even think that way. It would be some cruel twist of fate to be sent to a time when she wasn't even with him. Her life had been a whirlwind of one disaster after the other back then. She couldn't imagine trying to live through that all again.

"If it does happen, you'll have to tell me. The me back then that is."

Her head snapped in his direction. "Why would I do that?"

"Because I won't understand it in that time. I loved you once, Elena. You know how unstable I was back then. Besides, you'll need to let someone in on everything."

"Why would I tell you? As you just said, you were in love with me. I can't just pop in one day and spill this grand story of how I end up being a vampire married to your brother, and that you're totally cool with it. That Stefan isn't going to get it. I don't know why I'd even want to open that can of worms. Besides, I'll just tell Bonnie or Caroline about everything. There's no need to fill you in."

"You know why you'd have to tell me," Stefan's voice dropped considerably and he turned to look out the window into the dark night. "I know we don't talk about that time anymore, but you and I both know one of the reasons we ended was because of Damon and –"

"Because you loved him more than me," she finished for him. "I know that, Stefan. It's okay to say it." It had been a hard revelation for Elena to come to all those years ago, but it was something that she never would have been able to change, and in the end she had accepted that.

One night, back in the era where they still believed they were epic, Stefan had revealed the reason he'd turned Damon. He'd changed his brother to a sentence of immortality that he did not want, because for Stefan eternity would not be possible without Damon.

Looking back, she now realized that it was that moment she first began to understand where she ranked on Stefan's list. For as much as he loved her, Damon came first. It had been why she had never truly gotten mad at him for striking the deal with Klaus to save Damon's life, even when he'd let her walk to her own imminent death. If it came to her and his brother, he'd choose Damon every time. While he would have mourned her death, and maybe never even fully moved on to another woman, he would not have survived the loss of his brother. Without the existence of his brother somewhere in the world, Stefan would not be able to live.

And she'd been counting on just that when she had shown up on his doorstep. She was counting on his will to do anything and everything to bring his brother back to life. This would have to be a team effort, and a brutal one if Elise's words were to be taken seriously. Without him, she would fail, and she did not know what she would do if that happened. So she needed him to be selfish and sentence his brother to even more time on this earth as a vampire.

"And that's why I'll have to know, Elena," Stefan continued. "The only thing that will make the past me let go of you, will be if it means saving my brother."

"Okay," she quietly conceded. "If I'm sent that far back, I won't keep you out of the loop."

"We know I won't be happy about it, but as long as you tell me why, I'll get over it. I got over you before, I'm sure it can be done again."

"You remember when you came back to Mystic Falls after you had been on the run with Klaus for all those months?"

"Yeah, what about it?"

"We were all trying so hard to bring back the Stefan we all knew. For a while I was convinced that I could do that, that it would be me. Cause, you know, I was 18 and thought I had the world all figured out. And then, when we locked you in that cellar to try and bring the real Stefan back out, I realized it was never going to be me. It finally hit me that it would never be my love or our love that would bring you back."

"Elena, we don't have to talk about this," Stefan tried to tell her, but she continued on.

"That night I told Damon you wouldn't come back to us because you loved me, you'd come back because you loved him." Stefan's jaw clenched tightly and he turned his head again, shielding her from being able to see his face. "I don't know if he ever let himself believe that, but I knew it was true. And I know he never really said it, but he loved you, Stefan. He'd burn every city to the ground to save you. Nothing ever changed that. Not Katherine, and not me. You were his brother, and he loved you."

"For over 200 years, he has been all I've had. All of the fighting never changed it, not really. At the end of it all, I always knew he'd show up if I needed him." Stefan's voice caught in his throat and he tried to mask it with a cough.

The road ahead of Elena blurred and her eyes stung with hot tears. "I begged him not to do it, Stefan. I begged him to let it be me." There were no words to describe the guilt she felt sitting next to Stefan in that car. He'd trusted her to take care of his brother when he couldn't, and she'd failed. She'd failed because he died saving her. "I'm sorry." She'd said the words a lot in the past few hours since she had shown up at his door, but she found she couldn't say it enough.

"Just promise me you'll save him, Elena."

Elena turned to him, making sure she had his full attention and said, "I will save him, even if it's the last thing I'll ever do."