Oblivion is Calling Out Your Name

By Terri Botta

Summary: Post 4x09. Elena goes drinking at the Grill. Stefan and Caroline find her there. Drama and a few epiphanies ensue.

Disclaimer: All rights belong to The Vampire Diaries belong to Kevin Williamson, Julie Plec, L.J. Smith and the CW. I just take them out and play with them. No money, no infringement intended, yadda yadda yadda. I'm poor so don't sue.

A/N: The title is derived from the Bastille song played at the end of Episode 9. This is a one-shot that takes place after Damon sends Elena away.


Elena Gilbert passed through the doors of the Mystic Grill, and it felt like she was coming home. She'd been sitting alone in her empty house, moping and miserable, for two days since Damon had "set her free" and told her to go home. She'd had no choice but to obey him because he had invoked the sire bond, but it took her a while to figure out that he hadn't told her she had to stay there.

He hadn't told her a lot of things, things she'd realized that Damon was supposed to tell her. Things like "Don't love me anymore. Don't think about me anymore. Live your life without me." Those words had never left his mouth. Probably because he knew that wasn't what either of them wanted, and because telling her that was taking her choices away from her as surely as the sire bond was supposedly doing.

She had serious doubts about that.

Tyler had told her that the sire bond affected how she acted, not how she felt. Damon had told her the witch he and Stefan had gone to see had said sire bonds only happen when the person turned had real feelings for the vampire before the change. Stefan had – reluctantly – confirmed it when she'd pressed him on the subject.

So, yes, she was sire bound to Damon. There was no doubt about it. But what did it mean? Tyler only had to obey direct commands from Klaus, and she could think of a number of times when she had defied Damon, so it looked like the whole "obey me" thing worked the same way for her and Damon. In order for her to be forced to do what he said, the sire bond had to be invoked, either accidentally or deliberately. The rest of the time, the sire bond supposedly would make her want to make Damon happy. She failed to see what was wrong with that or how it differed from any other relationship. Wasn't it normal to want to make your lover happy?

She smiled as she headed for the bar. Her lover. Damon wasn't her boyfriend. He was her lover. Her relationship with him was in a whole different league than the one she'd had with Stefan, and she was still working out the dynamics between them.

Which is what she had been doing for the past two days. She'd been skipping school, staying home, reading her older diaries for entries about Damon, and sorting through her feelings. She wanted to be ready when she faced him again, ready with arguments and proof to convince him that what they had was real, and that her feelings were genuine. She was almost there. When she was ready, she knew she would have to go back to the lake house to face him because he wasn't answering her calls. She was fairly certain she'd be able to do that despite his command for her to go home because he hadn't forbidden her from returning.

She was also avoiding Caroline and Stefan after the debacle of returning to the boarding house after Damon sent her away, only to find a guilty, but smug, Caroline and an enraged Stefan who immediately laid into her (and Damon by proxy) for betraying him by sleeping with his brother.

"We need to talk about that," she'd said, after she got over her initial shock of another one of her secrets being given away by someone whom she thought she could trust.

"What is there to talk about?" Stefan had snarled. "How many times are you going to rip my heart out?"

She didn't know why his words had incensed her so much, but she'd growled and snarled right back. "Like I ripped out Damon's heart on the night I died, when I chose to have Matt drive back to you and left him to die alone?"

He'd seemed stunned that she would fight back, and his momentary pause had given her enough time to push past him to go to Damon's room. He and Caroline had caught up with her as she was packing up the clothes she'd stored there the morning before while Damon was still sleeping. If they had thought to tag team her, they'd been sorely disappointed because she cut them off the moment Caroline had opened her mouth.

"Damon set me free," she'd said.

"Stefan had a right to know," Caroline had explained.

"It wasn't your place to tell him," she'd answered harshly. "I'm going home."

She'd slung her bag over her shoulder and stomped out without a backwards glance to either of them. She'd been half expecting them to try to stop her, but they hadn't. Maybe because they knew she was a hair's breadth from tearing them both to pieces, and they didn't want the fight. Whatever the reason, they'd let her leave. She'd gotten into her SUV and drove home.

That had been two days ago, and she was fed up with moping. She'd done nothing but wander around her silent house in her pajamas, eating ice cream (and drinking from blood bags thanks to Damon), watching depressing romantic movies, and reading through her diaries. She was miserable, she knew Damon had to be miserable, and she had to get out of the house or she would drive back to the lake to give him what for before she was ready.

The Grill seemed a logical choice since she was avoiding Caroline and Stefan, hence the school-skipping. (And really, with everything that was going on, did high school really even matter? If she wanted to graduate, she could just go back at a later time. She had eternity after all. Stefan had told her he'd graduated from high school dozens of times, and he had the cap tassels to prove it.)

She sidled up to the bar and sat on Damon's usual stool. The bartender flicked her a curious look, probably because he knew she was underage, and probably because she was in Damon's spot wearing his leather jacket. It was an older one that she'd found in Damon's closet, and she'd shoved it into her bag on the night she'd left the boarding house. She'd seen it hanging there next to one of the sweaters that she'd put in the closet earlier, and she'd grabbed it on impulse, needing something of his to keep with her. It was worn in places, and his scent was fading from the leather from who knows how many years of disuse, but wearing it made her feel close to him.

She caught the bartender's eye and nodded to him.

"Bourbon," she ordered, then cast a glance at Ric's seat. "Make it two."

When the drinks arrived, she slid "Ric's" over to its customary place with a sad smile.

Little did she know that a ghostly Ric was there, watching her with concerned eyes. Disembodied and impotent, he'd been unable to communicate with anyone regarding the looming danger, and he'd taken to following Elena and Jeremy around in hopes of getting through to one of them.

He should have been able to talk to Jeremy, but for some reason the boy couldn't hear him. Bonnie Bennett's grandmother, Sheila, was there on the Other Side with him, trying to contact her granddaughter, but both of them were being blocked. Sheila said it was the warlock who was snaring both Jeremy and Bonnie in his web, and that was why Jeremy couldn't see him. She was working on it, but he kept trying to make his presence known with little to no success.

Eyesight in the afterlife was 20/20, 360-degrees actually, and it sucked. Ric was well aware of what was going on between Elena and Damon. He'd been watching their relationship unfold from the moment Elena had awakened as a vampire, and at first he railed against it, but then he saw how Damon treated her, how he had tried to help her and how he had been there for her, accepting her even when she continually rejected him. He also saw how manipulative and dishonest Stefan was being, how he did some seriously questionable things, and then tried to justify them by saying he was doing it for Elena.

When he'd seen Stefan sabotage the budding relationship between Damon and Elena with the sire bond theory, he'd known Stefan wasn't doing it for Elena. He was doing it because he couldn't stand the thought of her choosing his brother over him. Yes, they should have been told about the sire bond, but how Stefan and Caroline had gone about it had been unnecessarily judgmental and cruel.

It wouldn't matter though. Elena and Damon would find their way back to each other. He'd been watching the both of them over the past two days, and he'd seen the determination on Elena's face to win back her place in Damon's life. He'd seen Damon's silent tears and longing when he thought he was alone, and Ric knew he'd take Elena back in a heartbeat if he thought her feelings for him were real.

The fact that he was questioning Elena's feelings was a problem, and Ric felt that Elena would probably have to chain Damon to the bed and sit on him to make him listen to her, but if he knew either of them at all, they'd work it out. They always did. Somehow, despite everything that had tried to tear them apart, Damon and Elena always found a way to reconnect with each other.

But the sire bond business, and the relationship drama, was going to have to take a back seat to the brewing crisis that was Atticus Shane. Ric was desperate to get through to Elena and Jeremy to warn them of the grave danger they were in, and that took priority over everything else. He sat in "his" seat, unable to do anything but watch helplessly from the sidelines, and waited for any chance at all to make himself heard. He wanted the bourbon so badly, he could almost taste it, and he smiled wistfully as he watched Elena lift her glass to her lips.

Elena grimaced as the whiskey burned her throat. The stuff they served at the Grill was a pale comparison to the smooth top quality alcohol Damon kept in his personal stash, but somehow ordering a pina colada while wearing Damon's leather jacket just seemed wrong.

She looked around. There was a sparse lunch crowd, but they were heading out. Soon it would be only her and the bartender, and maybe a cook in the back.

'Damon should be here,' she thought ruefully. 'This place seems empty without him.'

Every place seemed empty without him. She hadn't realized how much a part of her life he had become until he'd taken himself out of it. Even when they weren't together, she'd always been able to call him, and he'd usually answer or at least he had before this whole "sire bond" mess. Not including the last two days, she couldn't remember a day when she hadn't spoken to him at least once, usually more. He was her go-to guy for just about everything, and had been since last summer when Stefan was off with Klaus. She'd called him more than she'd called Ric, and she'd leaned on him when she was having down days because she hadn't wanted to burden Ric or Jeremy when they were hurting as much as she.

Damon had been her rock. That hadn't changed after Stefan returned, and it certainly hadn't changed after her transition. In fact, she'd depended on Damon more after she became a vampire, and that had nothing to do with any stupid sire bond and everything to do with the fact that he was the only one who had accepted her unconditionally. She could trust Damon to be honest with her, even if she didn't like what he'd had to say, and she knew that he would do anything she asked of him. To now have no contact with him at all… it wasn't right. She missed her friend. She missed the man she knew she could trust and depend on. She hadn't been lying when she'd told Caroline that Damon had always been there for her. And it hadn't been because he'd hoped she'd sleep with him.

Damon loved her, and he'd do anything for her. She knew that – she'd been witness to it countless times. Damon accepted her. Damon loved her just the way she was, and he didn't think she was wrong or different. In his eyes, she didn't need to be fixed because she wasn't broken. When she was with him, she could just be herself and not worry about hurting him or shocking him or offending him. With Damon, she could be honest, and she missed that. She needed that, and to be deprived of his guidance and support now with everything that was going on? It wasn't fair, and it wasn't right, and she was going to fix it even if she had to have someone vervain Damon and lock him in a cell to make him listen. She'd do it herself, but she doubted the sire bond would allow her to hurt him.

'Maybe I could make it a test to see how deep it affects me. If I didn't really want to hurt him, and was only doing it because I thought it would help, maybe I could get away with it,' she wondered.

She sighed and finished the bourbon, motioning for another even though Ric's was still there untouched. She looked at it and felt the pang of loss again. She needed Ric. Ric would help her get through to Damon. He had been Damon's only friend, and Damon still mourned him. She knew that now. She understood.

"You'd help me knock him out, then you'd help me shove him in a trunk and take him out of town. That's what we need, isn't it? We need to be away from everyone to sort this mess out between us, without the interference of our so called friends and loved ones," she said to the empty seat.

"Are you talking to me?" the bartender asked as he brought her another drink. She thought his name was Brad or Bob or maybe it was Bruce. She didn't remember.

"No, just to myself."

On their own, they could have worked it out, figured out a way for him not to force her obedience. If all it took was for him not to give her direct commands, they could have dealt with that. As for the "happy" part, making him happy made her happy, and she'd been happier with him than she'd been in a long time. And it wasn't just the sex – although that had been very, very, very good. The best, actually, though she didn't want Stefan to know how much better his brother was in bed. She had a feeling he knew anyway. It had been the bonding, the laughter, the natural way they fit together without angst or concern about hurting each other's feelings.

Left alone, they would have found their equilibrium, but no, her best friend had to interfere and be a blabbermouth, and her lover's brother had to prey on all of Damon's insecurities to make him question her feelings. Then Stefan had the nerve to force Damon to promise to do "the right thing by her." What the hell was that supposed to mean? And Damon also said he had to do the right thing by his brother. Well, what about the right thing for Damon? As usual, no one cared a whit about how Damon was hurting. Stefan had even been self-centered enough to make what was happening all about him and how much pain he was suffering. Really? And Damon was supposed to be the "selfish" one? Pot, meet kettle.

She was working herself into a righteous snit when the objects of her ire walked through the door and headed her way. Both Caroline and Stefan wore twin set jaws and determined looks as they hurried over, and she knew she wasn't going to like anything either of them had to say. But that was okay because she was spoiling for a fight.

"There you are! I told Stefan we'd find you here," Caroline said in a high, exasperated voice as she swung around to Elena's right side.

She shrugged and took a sip of her drink, ignoring her friend's disapproving look.

"Elena," Stefan began, moving to sit on the stool beside her. She cut him off.

"That seat's taken," she stated in a stern voice that said she wasn't going to tolerate anyone taking Ric's spot any more than Damon would.

Oddly, she felt a cold chill touch her left shoulder as Stefan cast her a pained look, but remained standing.

"Elena you haven't been to school in two days," Stefan told her, as if she didn't know.

"My mom's gonna have to send the truancy officer after you if you keep this up," Caroline added.

"Seriously?" she replied, cocking her eyebrow the way Damon did. She saw Caroline's eyes widen, then her mouth turned down into deep frown.

"Elena," Stefan tried, his face conciliatory, but Elena could see the lies swimming in his eyes.

"I have all the time in the world to graduate from high school. I'm immortal, remember?" she answered.

"This is ridiculous, Elena! You can't skip school to go sit on a bar stool and drink bourbon while wearing Damon's clothes!" Caroline snapped.

"Why not?" she countered. "It's my choice, isn't it? He set me free, right? He did what he promised he'd do regardless of how I felt about it, but the bottom line is, supposedly, I'm my own again." She took another drink, leaning into the coldness on her left side and imagining Ric was there with her, giving her support. "Well, this is how I am choosing to spend my afternoon. You both should be happy."

She saw Caroline take a deep breath, and she knew her friend was preparing to make a preplanned speech that would just explain everything in neat, little terms that Caroline would understand.

"Look. You were sired to Damon, and you were all wrapped up in those feelings. Now that he's set you free, it's understandable that you'd still be a little confused…"

"I'm not confused. I'm not confused at all. In fact, I'm the most clear-headed I've been in weeks," she argued.

"I'm sure how you're feeling will fade soon enough and you'll…"

"I'll what? Stop feeling things for him? Stop loving him? Stop missing him?"

"Your feelings will lessen. They'll go back to the way they were before… before you turned," Stefan explained.

She gave him a look that called him on his bullshit, and he had the decency to look chagrined.

"Really? You really believe that? I'll bet you even think I'll come back to you. That I'll decide that I didn't really love Damon at all, that you're my soul mate and epic love, and I was – obviously – under the influence of the big, bad sire bond when we broke up."

She looked at him, and his face said it all. He did believe that. He wasn't feeling the least bit sorry that both she and Damon were hurting and miserable. The only thing worrying him was the fact that she hadn't come sniveling back to him yet. Somehow, that made her angrier than she already was, and she nearly broke the glass in her hand. It was only the spreading of the cold down her left arm – as if someone was stroking her bicep – that made her ease her grip.

"You do believe that," she said with a gasp. "You actually believe that I'll come crawling back to you as soon as I'm "really" free of Damon." She lifted her hands to put the really in air quotes.

"You have to admit, Elena, it is a bit out of character for you," Caroline pointed out in an I-know-better-than-you voice.

This was going to be good. "What's out of character for me?"

"You know… going from "I choose you, Stefan, you're the only one keeping me together" to breaking up with him and shacking up with his brother."

"News flash. Stefan broke up with me, and this thing between Damon and me has been brewing since before I was turned. I know it. I went back and re-read all my diary entries. You know it, too, Caroline. I told you about Denver. I told you about how I kissed Damon. I can't believe either of you are doing this. Now I know why Damon drinks so much. It's the only way to deal with the stupidity," she growled, downing her drink even though guzzling it made her eyes water.

"See? We have to do something. She's even starting to sound like him!" Caroline complained to Stefan.

"Maybe because he's the only one who ever makes any sense!" she snapped, slamming her glass down on the bar.

"Stefan," Caroline said, just on the edge of whining.

"Elena," Stefan began in a voice that was meant to sound sympathetic, but she recognized the touch of cruel excitement in it. He was going to tell her something that he thought would change her mind, something that he thought would turn her against Damon. "There are things you don't know about what happened in New Orleans…"

"Damon told me everything that happened in New Orleans," she stated firmly.

The glint of cruel anticipation grew in Stefan's eyes, and Elena realized that Stefan was enjoying this; he was reveling in the chance to tear down his brother. It was so odd because she had always been told that it was Damon who was cruel, but now seeing Stefan, and going back to all the times when Stefan had bad mouthed Damon, she could see that it wasn't true.

"Did he tell you he killed twelve innocent people because the witch he went to told him it would break his sire bond to Charlotte?" he asked, a hint of gloating in his voice.

She drew her mouth into a thin line and glared at him. Damon had told her about the twelve people he had killed, but he'd also implied that they hadn't been all that innocent. He hadn't gone into complete detail, because he knew that, even though she'd been willing to listen to him, she didn't approve of his actions, but the implication was that he had chosen thieves and cutthroats.

"Yes, he did. He also told me that the witch was playing him, that there was no spell to break the sire bond," she answered with conviction, throwing his smug look back in his face.

She was glad to see the surprise in his eyes. He hadn't thought Damon would tell her that, and the fact that she knew threw him off. She saw him rally, though, his eyes narrowing, and she wanted to get up and leave, but the cold moved back to her shoulder, as if someone had placed a cautionary hand there.

"Hold, Elena. Stay and listen. You might hear something really important," Ric said, even though he knew she couldn't hear him. It was taking nearly all his energy to get her to feel his touch, but he had to communicate with her. Stefan was about to talk about New Orleans and the witch. She had to hear it because it might help her draw the parallels he desperately needed for he to make. They had to know about Shane, and the horrible things he had been doing.

Stefan cast a glance at Caroline then at one of the empty booths nearby. "Can we sit down over there? We really need to talk."

Elena looked over at the booths and shrugged. "Sure, but it's not going to make any difference."

She stood and let them take her over to one of the booths in the middle of the row. Stefan sat across from her, and Caroline boxed her in. Their positions, and the choice of a booth that was harder to get out of, were not lost on her. They thought to trap her. If they believed they could keep her there against her will, they were in for a surprise, because both Ric and Damon (and Stefan himself) had been training her, and she could already map out at least four ways she could escape. Unless they had vervain, which she wouldn't put past them to try, thinking she just needed to be locked up until she "came to her senses." Now she was very glad that she had worn Damon's leather jacket. It was thick and would offer her some protection if they tried to stab her with a vervain dart.

"Smart girl," Ric said, following them and taking a seat in the booth behind Elena. "You recognize the threat. You can't trust them. It's a shame, but it's true."

"Okay, so talk," Elena said, giving them both her best version of Damon's "I'm not impressed" look.

"So, Damon did tell you about Charlotte and how she was sire bound to him," Stefan pressed, the glint back in his eyes.

"Yes. He told me she was crazy about him as a human, and even more crazy after she was turned. He went to the witch who told him about the spell to break the sire bond. He killed twelve people like she said he should, then he left her."

"Did he tell you that he told her to count every brick in New Orleans, and she did?" Stefan asked.

"Yes." She could admit to herself that she wasn't happy about that, but it was all so Damon, and it was between them, and she wasn't about to let Stefan know that she was bothered by it.

"And that doesn't bother you?"

She steeled her face and stared him down. "No."

"Ugh! Elena! He told her to count every brick in the city, and she did! He killed twelve innocent people!" Caroline cried.

"That was sixty years ago," she countered. "A few days ago, Stefan helped Klaus turn my brother into a Hunter by goading him into killing one of Klaus's hybrids, then he turned some random guy into a vampire just so my brother could kill him. Forgive me if I care less about something Damon did decades before I was born, and more about what you two have been doing in the last week."

"We didn't kill twelve innocent people!" Caroline hissed.

Ric reached over the back of the booth and touched Elena on the shoulder. This could be it. She had to feel him.

The cold on her shoulder was back, and it made all hair on her neck stand up. Somehow she knew it was a message, and she had to pay attention. Stefan reached across the table, but she didn't take his hand.

"Elena, those twelve people… they were human sacrifices Damon helped her make. The magic she was using was blood magic. Her daughter said witches don't even call what her mother did magic. They call it 'expression'…"

She gasped and the cold spread from her shoulder, all the way up her neck and down to the middle of her back.

"What did you just say?" she questioned hoarsely, casting a frightened glance at Caroline and glad to see the shock on her face as well.

"Yeah, what did you just say?" Caroline echoed.

Stefan looked nonplussed, but shook his head. "The witch's daughter. She said her mother practiced expression…"

"Expression. And you're certain she said it was called expression," Caroline stated.

Elena nodded, wanting the answer as well, but her mind was already leaping ahead. The cold was spreading further, and she knew what it meant, it meant she was on the verge of figuring out something very, very important.

"Yes. She called it expression," Stefan confirmed.

"Stefan… Bonnie told us that the type of magic Professor Shane is teaching her is called expression," Caroline said worriedly.

"And Damon told me he thought Professor Shane had something to do with Pastor Young blowing up the Founders. Twelve people died there," Elena breathed. The lights were coming on in her mind, but the cold was receding.

"And Klaus killed twelve of his hybrids," Caroline added.

"He did?" Elena blurted. "When did he do that?"

"Three days ago, on the night Tyler was supposed to bring Klaus down. Hayley betrayed him. Tyler told me that she made a deal with someone to help her find her family, and you would've known that if you hadn't been all Miss Mopey and Avoidy for the last two days," Caroline snarked back, but Elena could see the fear in her friend's eyes. Stefan was looking a little pained, too. "Stefan, Tyler told me Hayley said Klaus was needed for the sacrifice, and that there had to be twelve…"

Elena went cold again, fixating on the number. There was something there, just out of reach. Twelve hybrids. Pastor Young and eleven members of the Founding Families. Twelve not-so-innocent humans…

"Yes, Elena! Yes! Put it together. C'mon, you're smart enough to figure this out. C'mon, Elena," Ric pleaded.

Elena gasped and sat up straight.

"Give me your phone," she demanded of Stefan.

"Why?" Stefan asked, hesitating.

"Because Damon won't answer my calls, but he might pick up a call from you."

"Elena, I don't think now is the time…" Caroline said, but she stopped when Elena glared at her.

"Professor Shane practices expression. Hayley said that Klaus was needed for a sacrifice. Twenty-four people are dead. The last place Shane was seen was at the lake house with both of our brothers. Now give me your phone!" Elena commanded.

Stefan didn't argue as he handed over his phone. Elena grabbed it and pressed the speed-dial for Damon's number.

'Please, please, please, please answer.'

"I did what you told me to do and sent her away. The least you can do is leave me alone, and not call me to gloat," Damon's voice said.

Elena let out the breath she was holding and shoved aside the twinge she felt at hearing his acidic comment, meant to hide the pain he was in.

"Damon," she said, his name a prayer and a plea on her lips.

There was a brief pause, then a sigh. "Elena…"

"Please don't hang up. It's really, really important. Is Professor Shane still there with you and Jeremy? Just answer yes or no."

There was another pause, and she could just imagine the crease forming between his eyebrows as he tried to figure out what she was doing. The image made her smile, and the sound of his voice, even under the circumstances, filled her with happiness. Sire bond? Maybe, but she was beyond caring. He and her brother might be alone with a mass murderer, and that trumped everything else.

"Yessss," Damon answered carefully.

"Are he and Jeremy within earshot?" she asked.

"Yes."

She swallowed the fear that lodged in her throat and pressed on. "Don't let him know I'm calling about him. Make him think I'm calling to try to convince you to let me come back."

"Elena, we've been through this. You need to stay away from me. That's what would make me happy," Damon said.

'Bullshit,' she thought, but didn't voice it. "Listen to me. The witch in New Orleans who told you she could break your sire bond to Charlotte, she made you kill twelve people, right?"

"Elena, please, you're making this so much harder than it needs to be."

'I'll take that as a yes.' "And when you and Stefan found her daughter, she told you there was no spell, and that her mother practiced a human sacrifice magic called expression."

"I can't let you come back. I'm sorry. This isn't any easier for me than it is for you, but I have to do right by you."

'Another yes.' "Damon, Bonnie told us the magic Professor Shane is teaching her is called expression. You think he had something to do with Pastor Young killing the Founders, and I just found out that Klaus killed twelve of his hybrids. Hayley betrayed Tyler. She told him twelve were needed for a sacrifice, and Klaus had to do it."

She stopped because she knew she didn't have to continue. Damon would put the pieces together the same as she had without any help from her. He was quiet for a long moment, but she could hear him breathing.

"Elena, please don't do this to me," he finally said, but his voice was stressed and had an edge to it that told her that he'd figured it out.

Unfortunately, that edge sounded too much like how his voice got whenever he was planning to wreak vengeful carnage on an unsuspecting populace, and the last thing they needed was for Damon to go after Shane when they had no idea how powerful the man was or how well he could protect himself. It was entirely possible, and in fact likely, that he had defenses that could incapacitate and even kill a vampire, and she couldn't let Damon take that kind of chance.

"Damon, please. Please. I know what you're thinking. Please don't try to kill him. He just planned the deaths of twenty-four people. We don't know what he's capable of. Please, just get Jeremy and get out of there. Please," she begged, trying to cut him off before he got a head of steam going.

She heard him moving, heard the swish of the door and the clomp of his boots across the grass, then on wood. He'd gone out to the dock, presumably out of hearing range.

"Are you sure?" he asked.

Relief flooded through her because he was listening to her and not going off on a "let's tear the professor's head off" rampage. She briefly flashed back to Kansas and what he'd said to her in Scary Mary's house.

'What if there was no bump?'

In that moment, she was immensely proud of him.

"Yes. You have to get Jeremy and get out of there. I'll meet you back at my house."

"I'd rather just skewer Professor Shadypants and play with his entrails until he squeals."

Hearing the disgust and anger in his voice made her smile, but she had to keep him from doing something stupid.

"Please don't. We don't know what he can do, and he might be able to give you the witchy migraine. Please, just do what you said you'd do and protect my brother. Get him and get him out of there," she said, not above using his words against him. He'd made a promise, and she'd make him keep it.

"Elena…"

"Damon, you promised."

"Elena… okay."

There was defeat in his voice, but all she felt was triumph. It was tempered with fear, though. Jeremy and Damon were still alone with Shane, whatever he was, and they still had to get away from the lake house without him figuring out they were on to him. Anything could happen between now and then. Damon could try to get Jeremy only to find that her brother wouldn't go or that they were somehow trapped at the house by a barrier spell.

All the possible ways things could go wrong made her heart pound and her breath catch on a sob. The cold spot on her back stroked back and forth, and she had another revelation.

'Ric. Ric is here with me.'

His presence gave her strength even as she fought back tears.

"Thank you," she said to both Damon and Ric.

"Elena, I'll do what I can, but I don't know how I'll get Junior to leave," Damon told her.

"You'll come up with something. Pick a fight. Tell him we slept together, then let him try to kill you," she said, only half serious and ignoring Caroline and Stefan's uncomfortable looks.

"Somehow I don't think that's such a good idea if you want us both back in one piece."

"He has to find out sometime," she pointed out.

"Yeah, but preferably not when he has access to so many weapons. I found your grandfather's secret stash. He made Ric's closet look like an episode of Tool Time."

She chuckled in spite of her fear, then had a moment of insight as she felt the cold spot move again.

"Ric. Tell him to think of Ric."

"Why?" Damon asked, and she could hear the grief in his voice.

"Because I think Ric is here, and I remember that Jeremy could see a someone's ghost if he thought about that person," she explained.

"Elena, honey, you're a genius. If this works, I'll tell Jeremy everything," Ric promised, winking out to join Jeremy and be there when and if the boy thought of him.

"Ric's there?" Damon questioned with disbelief mixed with a hint of hope. It nearly broke her heart.

"Yeah. I can't tell you how I know, but I think… I think I can feel him. Tell Jeremy to think of Ric. If he's trying to communicate, that should be enough for Jer to be able to see him."

"Okay. I will. Hopefully Ghost Hunter will put in an appearance and save my ass from being staked by your baby bro."

She chuckled again, then grew serious. If Ric had been trying to get through but couldn't, then their situation might be much graver than they thought. If Shane got even a hint that they knew about him, he could kill Damon and take Jeremy, and she'd never see either of them again. The thought scared her to her very soul.

"Damon," she breathed.

"Elena" he replied, his voice full of love and longing and concern.

Once they got off the phone, she knew that there was a chance that she might never talk to him again. It was a small chance, but a chance, and that possibility filled her with dread.

"Damon…"

"I'll do it, Elena. I'll find a way to get Junior Gilbert and bring him back to you safely," he vowed, sounding tired and resigned.

"I know you will. That wasn't what I was going to say."

She paused, choosing her words, even as she began to understand the ramifications of saying them.

"There's something else. There's something I have to tell you."

"Elena…"

"I just have to say it once. You just need to hear it."

Across the table, Stefan was staring at her, but she met his gaze without remorse or regret.

"I love you. I loved you before I turned, but I was too much of a coward to admit it. I let other people tell me how I should feel and what I should do, instead of following my heart, and I am so, so sorry. I hurt you so much. I ripped your heart out so many times, but you never left me, you never gave up on me. I don't know how you found it in yourself to forgive me after I chose Stefan, and left you to, maybe, die alone, or for all the times I blamed you for having to make the hard choices, or the time I told you that your love for me was a problem. It was never the problem. I was the problem. Me and my own fears and insecurities."

She took a deep breath, tearing her eyes away from the shattered look on Stefan's face as she confessed her love for his brother.

"I'm sorry. And I am so grateful that you kept your promise to never leave me even when I made that promise almost impossible for you to keep. I promise to try to do better if you'll let me. I know we have the sire bond thing between us, but we can work that out if we do it together. We've always been better together than we are apart, and I want to try. I miss you, and I need you. Not because of the sire bond, but because you're my friend and my lover, and I love you. Please give us a chance."

She took another breath, hoping he would say something, but there was silence. Stefan was crying, and Caroline was trembling, but she pressed on.

"Please Damon. Do whatever you have to do to keep yourself and Jeremy safe because I don't know what I would do if anything happened to either of you. I love you both so much, and I am terrified that something will happen, and I'll never see you again. So please, find a way to get my brother, and come back home to me."

She was finished, and she felt empty and exhausted, but exhilarated at the same time. She waited for Damon to respond. And waited. And waited.

"Damon?" she finally called. "Damon, are you there?"

There was still no answer, and she started to shake. Had something happened? Had Shane realized what was going on and attacked? She hadn't heard anything, but that didn't necessary mean that nothing had happened.

"Damon? Damon, please answer. You're scaring me. Damon!"

There was a thud, and the sound of running feet approaching, and terror seized her as she gripped Stefan's phone.

"Damon!"

There was scraping and rasping, then Jeremy's voice came on the line, out of breath and worried.

"Hello?"

"Jeremy!" she blurted, so happy to hear him and not Shane.

"Elena? What is it? What's wrong?"

"Where's Damon?"

"He's on his knees with his face in his hands. What's going on?"

"Where's Professor Shane?"

"He's still in the house. He was setting up some new meditation circle or something to help me focus."

'I'll bet,' she thought, but that meant Shane didn't know they were on to him. Jeremy and Damon had a chance of getting out safely.

She was so giddy with relief that she almost forgot to be afraid.

"Jer, think of Ric. I think he's trying to contact us."

"Ric? I haven't seen him since the night you died." He sounded flustered and confused, and she didn't blame him.

"Just think of him, and if he's there, you should be able to see him," she said.

"Okay. Oh… Elena, Ric's here. He says he has a lot to tell us."

She sniffled and fought back tears, but a few escaped anyway to roll down her cheeks.

"Yeah, I know. You do what he says, and help Damon get up. I'll see you soon."

"Yeah," she heard him agree, but he sounded distracted, probably because he was listening to Ric.

Part of her wanted Damon to come back on the line, but another part understood that the rest of their conversation would have to wait. The most important thing right now was for him and Jeremy to get away from Professor Shane safely, and there was no time for them to do any more soul bearing, especially if her confession had brought him to his knees.

Smiling and crying both tears of relief and joy, she hung up the phone and handed it back to Stefan. She'd done it. She'd told Damon she loved him, and he was going to come back to her. Jeremy could see Ric, and they would learn what he knew. They still had to figure out what to do about Shane, and they needed to break the bad news to Bonnie and find out how deeply she had gone into expression. But all of that could be handled once Damon and Jeremy were back safe.

"I'm going home now," she told Caroline and Stefan, making them come out of whatever thoughts they had lost themselves in.

Stefan was staring blankly ahead, but he looked at her when she nudged him with her foot.

"I'm going home. Damon will get Jeremy and bring him back to my house. We need to figure out what we are going to do. We need to find out how deep Shane has gotten Bonnie into expression, and why he needed twenty-four sacrifices."

He gave her a nod, and his crushed expression tugged at her heart because she did still care for him even if she wasn't in love with him anymore, but she wasn't about to apologize for loving his brother. She wasn't the least bit sorry about that.

Caroline yielded when she moved to slide out of the booth, and she smiled when she saw her friend sit beside her former boyfriend to offer support. Caroline was good for Stefan. She would comfort him and help him through the messy post-breakup period. In many ways, Caroline had already been fulfilling that role.

"I'll see you back at my house," she told them, catching Caroline's eye and waiting for her friend to acknowledge what she had said.

When she saw Caroline's little nod, she nodded back, and walked out of the Grill, her head held high and her heart hopeful.