New chapter! I know I left you guys dangling off a cliff with the last one, so I'll save the longer author's note for the end. Enjoy!

Damon was about to go grab the keys to the Camaro and head out to pick up Elena when he heard the front door open. "Finally decide to stop dodging me, Zach?" he said, but when he turned to face the door, he froze. "You are not Zach," he observed unnecessarily.

The person framed rather dramatically in the doorway was a thin black woman with curly, chin-length hair. "My name is Sheila Bennett," she said, arching one eyebrow.

"And to what do I owe the honor of a house call from a Bennett witch?" said Damon, spreading his arms wide in a mocking imitation of a gracious welcome.

"That would be to whom," another voice corrected him, and Grayson and Miranda Gilbert appeared in the doorway on either side of Sheila. "We asked her to come here with us."

"Why would you do that?"

"We'll be asking you the questions, vampire," said Miranda. "And you have one chance to answer them nicely."

"Or what?" he said, his lip curling. All of a sudden, his skull felt like it was going to explode. He groaned and sank to his knees, clutching his head in both hands.

"Or I'll be the one asking them," said Sheila.

"I can kill all three of you in under a second," Damon spat, but the pain only intensified to such a degree that he couldn't stop himself from crying out in agony.

"Not if you can't move," said Sheila.


Zach arrived back at the boarding house at 5:50. Damon hadn't made any new threats for a few days now, nor had he brought up the subject of vervain, but Zach didn't plan to give him the chance. He had rented a small RV and would be hitting the road with it at the earliest possible opportunity. Then Damon and Grayson could settle their little power struggle without dragging him into the middle of it.

When he pulled into the drive, he was surprised to see two more cars parked there in addition to Damon's Camaro. He thought one of them might be Grayson's, but couldn't place the other one. For a second, he froze, indecisive, but then he reached into the backseat of his car and pulled out his crossbow. He knew Damon would kill him in a heartbeat if he found out he even had it, but he felt it was worth the risk, which was also why he had the vervain.

The only reason he could imagine that Grayson was here at the boarding house at the same time as Damon was that he had come to kill him. And if some kind of showdown was going on between them, then Zach would do whatever he could to help. Maybe after this was over, he would finally be free to pursue the life he'd always wanted.


Elena and Bonnie slipped cautiously inside the boarding house, but they hadn't taken two steps beyond the threshold before the sound of someone yelling in pain reached their ears.

"Damon!" said Elena under her breath, and she took off running, a very alarmed Bonnie hurrying in her wake. Once they were actually in the parlor, they had a clear view of what was going on, and they froze in their tracks as they tried to understand what they were looking at.

As indicated by their cars in the drive, Elena's parents and Bonnie's grandmother were all there. They were standing in a V formation in front of Damon, who seemed to be suspended about a foot off the ground, his back against the wall by the fireplace. Sheila's hand was outstretched towards him, and as Elena and Bonnie watched, he gave another cry of pain, though they could see no sign of what was causing it.

"Is that the best you've got?" he said, glaring contemptuously at the three of them.

"Not even close," said Grayson. Elena realized with a thrill of foreboding that her father was brandishing an iron poker. "I can drag this out for days if you decide not to cooperate."

"Then you'd better get started," said Damon. "'Cause no matter what you do to me, I'm not telling you a damn thing."

"We'll see about that," said Grayson, and he drove the poker into Damon's stomach.

Elena screamed. Grayson, Sheila, and Miranda all turned to look at her and Bonnie in surprise.

"Elena!" said Grayson and Miranda together, while at the same time, Sheila called out, "Bonnie!"

Meanwhile, Damon slid to the ground with a groan behind them. "I guess the game is up," he chuckled, pulling the poker out of his gut. "Sorry, Elena, but your parents were right about me." He made as if to lunge at Sheila with the poker, only to drop it to the floor, his hands flying up to his head as he let out another yell of pain.

"Miranda, get the girls out of here!" said Grayson.

Miranda hurried over to them at once. "Mom, what's going on?" cried Elena, her eyes still fixed on Damon. "What are you doing to him?"

"It's okay, sweetie," she said, putting one hand on Elena's shoulder and the other on Bonnie's. "I can explain everything, but not here. Let's go."

Elena was still too bewildered to do anything but comply numbly. She started to turn around when she noticed someone standing in the doorway that led to the darkened dining room. It was Zach Salvatore. He was holding a crossbow and was aiming it directly at Damon's heart.

She didn't stop to think, she just ran, knocking her mother's hand aside. She vaguely heard her mother and Bonnie calling after her in surprise, but she didn't stop. All she knew was that she had to reach Damon before Zach could pull that trigger. She was past her dad and Sheila and only a foot or so away from Damon when there was the quietest click, twang, and hiss from the direction of the dining room. The next second, Elena jerked slightly. Her eyes locked with Damon's, which were round with shock, and then she was falling forward into his arms, her ears ringing with the fading sounds of four voices yelling her name in horror.


Bonnie stared uncomprehendingly at the narrow strip of wood protruding out of her best friend's back next to her shoulder blade, at the trickle of blood leaking out around it and dripping down onto the fabric of her dress. The next second, she was running forward, screaming Elena's name, her voice mingling with those of her grams and Elena's parents. She had almost reached Elena when a pair of arms caught her and held her tight. "No, Bonnie, you have to stay back," said her grams's voice in her ear, holding fast though Bonnie struggled to get free, sobbing and protesting incoherently as she watched Elena slump limply against the unfamiliar black-haired man.

After a moment, Sheila succeeded in quelling Bonnie's struggles, and Bonnie turned and buried herself in the comforting embrace, her mind reeling. From this position, she watched Elena's dad rush across the room and pull a protesting Zach Salvatore out of the shadows of a doorway by the front of his shirt. "You shot my daughter!" he shouted in Zach's face.

"I was aiming for my uncle!"

"You were aiming to kill. I still need him alive!"

"I don't give a damn what you need, Grayson," said Zach, throwing Grayson's hands off him. "He's been ruining my family's lives since before I was born! I saw a chance to be free of him and I took it."

"And you hit Elena instead!" Grayson's fist collided with Zach's face so hard that he went spinning around and crumpled to the ground in a heap.

"Grayson!" cried another voice. It was Elena's mom. Bonnie turned to look at her instead, then followed her anguished gaze back to Elena and the black-haired man—Damon, evidently. Bonnie took one look at Damon's face and let out a scream. The whites of his eyes were turning a deep, blood red, and dark veins were creeping down from his lower lids onto the tops of his cheeks. He switched Elena's weight to support it all with one arm and bared his teeth, which had elongated into vicious fangs. What was he?

Before Damon could get those fangs anywhere near Elena, Sheila's arms tensed around Bonnie, and then he was clutching his head with his free hand and groaning. "Would you lay off, witch?" he snarled, still holding Elena tightly with his other arm. "I'm trying to help her!"

"Let her go!" said Miranda, who didn't seem to have heard him.

"We have to get her to the hospital," said Grayson. "She looks like she's already in shock."

"You'll never make it there in time," said Damon angrily, still grimacing at whatever Sheila was doing to him. "One of her lungs is punctured. I can hear it in her breathing."

"I'm a doctor," said Grayson, "I can help her!"

"How? With the fully equipped operating theater conveniently located in the next room?" Damon demanded. "The only one here who has a real shot at saving her life is me, unless the witch's voodoo is good for something besides melting my brain."

"Do it," said Miranda. She spoke quietly, but the hostile atmosphere evaporated at her words. Sheila stopped doing whatever painful thing she was doing to Damon and Grayson's posture relaxed. Damon locked gazes with Miranda and nodded once, then sank into a crouch so that Elena was lying almost flat along the floor, her torso supported across his knee and the arm he'd been using to hold her. He raised his other wrist to his mouth and bit down sharply.

"What's going on, Grams?" Bonnie asked in a strained whisper.

"I'll explain everything later, baby," said Sheila.

When Damon pressed his bloody wrist to Elena's lips, Bonnie let out a horrified squeak, but when nobody else seemed surprised, the worst of her shock slowly began to ebb away. She was struck by the look on Damon's face, which had now lost its demonic appearance. Though she had been as certain as the adults a moment ago that Damon was going to use those wicked fangs of his to hurt Elena, nobody looking at him now could deny that his expression was one of deep concern.

At first, he had to tip Elena's head back so the blood would run down her throat, but then Bonnie saw the muscles of her neck begin to contract rhythmically as she swallowed on her own. Damon shifted the hand supporting her head so that he could pull out the crossbow bolt. It clattered to the floor, covered in Elena's blood. Bonnie looked at the wound, but to her astonishment, it closed before her eyes. Damon swiped his thumb over the place it had been, then pulled his wrist away from Elena's mouth. Elena didn't open her eyes, but she did mumble something indistinct and move vaguely closer to Damon. She looked like she was merely sleeping now.

"There," said Damon, stroking a few stray hairs out of Elena's face. Bonnie noticed that the wound in his wrist was gone too. "She's going to be fine."

"Oh, thank God!" cried Miranda. Bonnie looked over at her and saw Grayson put his arm around her.

"You were never any threat to her at all, were you?" said Sheila.

"Of course I wasn't," Damon snapped. "She's my friend." Bonnie thought she could see a mixture of surprise and awe in his face as he said it.

"If that's really true, then you'll let us take her home so she can rest," said Grayson.

"What, saving her life wasn't proof enough for you?" said Damon, scowling at him.

"Everything she thought she knew about the world is going to change tonight," said Miranda. "She should be somewhere safe and familiar for that."

For a few seconds, Damon only continued to glare, but then he nodded jerkily and scooped Elena into his arms. They all walked to the entrance hall, then back outside, Miranda leading the way. She opened the back door of Elena's car and Damon gently laid her across the seat, buckling the middle seatbelt around her waist.

"You take her home," said Grayson. "I still need to discuss a few things with him."

Miranda looked uneasy at this, but Bonnie saw Grayson flash the big black ring he wore at her, which for some reason seemed to quell her fears. She kissed him briefly before getting into the driver's seat. Elena had left the keys in the ignition.

"You should take Bonnie home, Sheila," said Grayson once Miranda had started to pull out of the drive.

Sheila nodded, and Bonnie followed her quietly to her car.


Damon didn't think he was ever going to forget the look on Elena's face in those seconds between the crossbow bolt hitting her and her collapsing into his arms. Though her eyes had gone wide and glassy and blood had begun to trickle from her slightly parted lips, there had been a flicker of something like relief on her face—relief that she had made it to him in time.

Even if Sheila Bennett hadn't stopped trying to make his brain explode, he would've found some way to get his blood into her system. If it had been the very last thing he ever did, he would've ensured that saving him wasn't the last thing she ever did.

This realization rocked him to his core. Elena Gilbert's life was more important to him than his own. How had that happened? And yet, as strange and frightening as the idea was, he could not regret it.

Under any other circumstances, the man who had orchestrated his torture and interrogation would not have lived to see the end of the night, but as Miranda Gilbert drove away with Elena, closely followed by Sheila Bennett and her granddaughter, Damon found that he had no immediate desire to do Grayson Gilbert harm. It seemed, after all, that everything he'd done tonight had been born out of a desire to protect his daughter. Damon couldn't fault that. So when Grayson followed him back into the boarding house a minute later, he didn't stop him, and when he reached the bar in the parlor, he poured two glasses instead of one.

They both drank their bourbon in silence, during which Damon noted with a flash of anger that Zach must have recovered from whatever Grayson did to him and used their time outside to make himself scarce. Oh well. He could still kill him later. The longer he tried to hide, the longer Damon would make his death last.

"So," said Grayson as he set his empty glass down on the table. "If you aren't in Mystic Falls because of my daughter, then why are you here?"

"Why would you jump to the conclusion that I came here because of Elena?" Damon shot back. "I mean, an assumption like that is either really arrogant or really paranoid."

Grayson eyed him closely for a moment, looking like he was having a rather intense internal debate. His gaze traveled to the bloody crossbow bolt lying near the fireplace where Damon had dropped it. Somehow, this seemed to make up his mind. "It wouldn't have been the first time," he said darkly.

"What do you mean?" said Damon.

"A very old, very powerful vampire came looking for her when she was just a little girl," said Grayson, staring into the fireplace as though not really seeing it. "He would've killed her if he'd gotten his hands on her, but my wife's best friend, Sheila Bennett's daughter, managed to neutralize him. Nothing else has happened since, but we knew it was only a matter of time."

"Why would someone like that come after Elena?" said Damon, utterly perplexed. Considering her resemblance to Katherine, he could maybe understand if any of Katherine's enemies who'd missed the memo about the fire in eighteen sixty-five mistook Elena for her and attacked her if they ran into her, but why attack her as a small child, before the resemblance was even obvious? Why actually go looking for her in the first place?

"You haven't answered my question yet," said Grayson.

Damon's eyes narrowed. He poured them each another glass of bourbon and took a drink of his, but Grayson left his own untouched.

"I came back for Katherine."

"Katherine," Grayson repeated. "Katherine Pierce? But she's dead. She died with the rest of the vampires when Fell's Church burned to the ground in the Battle of Willow Creek." He said this forcefully, as though daring Damon to challenge these facts, but apprehension and doubt showed on his face.

"You know, I never understood why that was the Founders' big plan," said Damon, enjoying Grayson's agitation as he stalled on giving him the information he wanted. "Throwing a bunch of vampires into a building and then trusting that the flames will kill them, leaving behind only stone and ashes that nobody with the forensics of eighteen sixty-five could be sure contained any actual vampire remains…. Why couldn't they just have staked each one individually as they subdued them with vervain?"

Damon watched the truth dawn in Grayson's eyes. "They survived?" he said. He looked like the horror of this revelation might knock him off his feet.

"Only in the strictest sense," said Damon. "Thanks to Katherine's friend Emily, as soon as they were locked in that church, they escaped into a tomb underneath it, and Emily's spell sealed them inside, protecting them."

"And you want to get Katherine back out," said Grayson. He frowned. "Why wait nearly a century and a half?"

"Because the spell that seals the vampires inside will only be breakable after the comet Emily used to bind it in eighteen sixty-five passes again."

"Which will be…?"

"This September."

Silence fell again, and Damon took another swig of bourbon. "It's funny; the first time I saw Elena, there was just one second when I thought Katherine was already free." As elated as he had been in that second to see his long lost love again, he was glad now that it hadn't been her. If Katherine had been free all this time, but never came looking for him and instead let him wait so long to rescue her like the world's biggest chump….

"What are you talking about?" said Grayson.

"What," said Damon, "are you telling me that even though you knew what I am and have the Bennett witches in your pocket, you're not aware of the fact that your daughter is an exact carbon copy of Katherine Pierce?"

Grayson's eyes widened and the color drained out of his face. He picked up his glass at last and emptied it in one swallow. "Getting into that tomb won't be easy," he said, rolling the empty glass between his fingers. "If the rest of the Council finds out what you are—"

"You mean they don't already know?" Damon interrupted.

Grayson arched an eyebrow and set his glass down. "They don't have access to Johnathan Gilbert's journals. But as I was saying, if they find out, you'll be lucky to leave Mystic Falls with your own life, let alone Katherine's."

Damon looked at him suspiciously. "Why does it sound like you're about to make me an offer I can't refuse?"

"Not an offer," said Grayson. "A deal. And whether or not you can refuse depends on how much you care about the other twenty-six vampires in that tomb."

"I don't give a crap about any of them," said Damon. "I just want Katherine."

"In that case, I will do everything in my power to help you get that tomb open, and I think I can even get Sheila on board as well."

"How?" said Damon skeptically.

"She said she's in your debt for what you've done for her family over the years—"

"And she thought making my brain dribble out my ears was a good way to repay me for that?"

"Like Miranda and me, she thought you were a threat to Elena," said Grayson. "She wants to be free of the debt, and she wants Emily Bennett's spellbook. Johnathan Gilbert's journals say the secret of the spellbook lies with Giuseppe Salvatore."

Damon's eyes went wide, and the corner of Grayson's mouth twitched in a smile. "Now, I could try to puzzle out what that means on my own—though as Giuseppe was already dead when Johnathan wrote that entry, it could be difficult—or I could ask the man's own son for help."

"But that would only increase Sheila's debt to me," said Damon.

"Enough for her to be willing to open the tomb. Or at least to allow it to be opened, if you already have another witch lined up to do the job."

"Which brings up another question—why do you want it open in the first place?"

"With the exceptions of you and your brother, I thought Mystic Falls' Civil War era vampires were all dead. Some people might be content with the knowledge that they're trapped in a mystical holding cell, but not me. I'll help you get the tomb open if you swear you'll leave town with Katherine and let me stake the other twenty-six. What's more, I'll help you lie low until the comet if you promise not to kill any of the citizens of Mystic Falls while you're here."

"I assume 'lying low' includes staying away from Elena," said Damon.

"That'll be up to her," said Grayson. "It could be useful to have you around in case someone who does want to hurt her shows up while you're in town."


The first things Elena became aware of were the quiet voices of her mom and aunt. Her mom was asking something about Jeremy, and Jenna was saying that he was up in his room, blasting his music as usual; they didn't have to worry about him.

She opened her eyes groggily, realizing as she did that she was lying on the couch in the living room with a blanket draped over her. The two older women were sitting across from her, one on the loveseat, the other on the ottoman. As soon as they saw she was awake, they both leaned towards her, their faces full of concern.

"How are you feeling?" asked Miranda.

"I'm okay, I think," Elena mumbled. She frowned, moving her tongue around against the backs of her teeth. Why did her mouth taste so coppery? The memories started coming back to her, driving that strange detail from her thoughts. She and Bonnie had walked in on what looked like a thoroughly non-Geneva Convention approved interrogation. Zach Salvatore had tried to shoot Damon with a crossbow, and she had thrown herself in the way. She sat up hastily, suddenly much more alert. "What about Damon? Is he—?"

"He's fine," said Miranda, though it looked like it pained her to say it.

Elena sagged with relief. For all she'd known, Zach might've tried again after missing the first time. Why on earth had he been trying to kill his own nephew, anyway?

But then, Zach hadn't been the only one trying to kill him.

"Why would you risk your life to save him like that?" said Jenna, wearing the same pained expression as her sister.

"It wasn't really a plan," said Elena. "But he's my friend." My friend I should have been kissing right about now at the dance at Whitmore, she added mentally. "I couldn't just let him die. What were you and Dad and Bonnie's grandma doing there?"

"What were you doing there?" said Miranda. Her voice was gentle, but there was a hint of sternness in it. "We told you to stay away from him."

"You wouldn't tell me why," said Elena. "And I still don't see why. He's funny and interesting and he needed a friend and he was gonna take me swing dancing tonight. Why were you so worried about me spending time with someone like that? Is he like a mobster or something? Are you and Dad and Bonnie's grandma and Zach mobsters or something? What was going on over there? Why did Dad stab him with a poker? Why did Zach try to shoot him?"

"Sweetheart, calm down," said Miranda, extending a hand towards Elena, but Elena was too agitated now to appreciate it.

"I can't calm down, Mom!" she cried, standing up and striding around the living room, running her fingers through the hair Bonnie had so carefully arranged for the swing ball. "Just tell me what the heck I walked in on."

Miranda sighed. "The reason your father and I didn't want you spending time with Damon Salvatore…is that he's a vampire."

Elena stared blankly at her mom, then at her aunt. A grin spread across her face as she waited for one of them to say "Just kidding!" and start the real explanation. When neither of them did, her grin slipped a little. "You are joking, aren't you? Vampires aren't real."

They both continued to look at her gravely. "You've learned about the Battle of Willow Creek in school, haven't you?" said Miranda.

"Yeah…," said Elena, baffled by the subject change.

"The school's version isn't entirely accurate," said Jenna.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, the part about it being one of the last battles of the war is correct," said Miranda, "but it was more than that. While the soldiers were fighting outside of town, a council made up Mystic Falls' founders was rounding up the vampires that had been plaguing the town for the last several months. They trapped them inside Fell's Church and burned it to the ground, killing them. But before they put her in the church, a vampire named Katherine Pierce turned two Mystic Falls boys: Damon and his brother Stefan."

Elena sank back onto the couch, her knees no longer able to support her weight. "Katherine Pierce?" she repeated faintly. "That's the girl Damon said died in a fire. The girl who could be my twin."

"What?" said Miranda sharply. When Elena blinked at her in confusion, her expression softened again. "Never mind. We were going to tell you about all of this when you turned eighteen."

"Why did you wait so long with me?" said Jenna.

"You left Mystic Falls, and it had been years since anything happened. Our parents thought you would be happier not knowing. You were—"

"—Their baby," Jenna finished, rolling her eyes. "I know."

"Oh my god," said Elena, who had been watching this exchange but not really focusing on it. "It's true. All of it. It's really true. He said he knew every dance invented since the Civil War, and that he's been a master of screwing with little brothers since the turn of the century—I guess he didn't mean this one—, and there was that second the first night I met him when I got this weird feeling that he was really dangerous, but then he was back to normal and I didn't think about it again." Her eyes widened and she stared at her mom. "Zach shot me!" she cried, as if realizing it for the first time. She reached around to feel the spot the crossbow bolt had hit on her back, but it was awkward and she couldn't seem to find anything but smooth skin. "I know he shot me! What happened? How am I okay?"

"You weren't," said Miranda, her eyes bright with tears. "The crossbow bolt punctured one of your lungs, and you were going into shock."

"But I can't find a wound," Elena protested, finally giving up attempting to. "I feel completely fine."

"That's because Damon helped you."

"Helped me?"

"A vampire's blood can heal almost any wound. He made you drink some of his."

Jenna turned away, looking queasy.

"He…made me drink his blood?" said Elena. Well at least that explained the coppery taste in her mouth. She waited for this revelation to turn her stomach, but it didn't. But then something else occurred to her. "Wait, does that mean I'm gonna be a vampire now?" she asked, going straight into panic mode.

"No!" said Miranda and Jenna loudly together.

"No," Miranda repeated, more calmly. "It doesn't work that way. By this time tomorrow, the blood will be out of your system and there won't be any chance of that happening."

"But it could?" Elena pressed, her voice still rather higher than usual.

"Only if you die," said Miranda reluctantly. "But that's not going to happen. You can even stay home from school—"

"What?" said Elena. "No way, I have two tests tomorrow! And cheer practice! I can't miss those." She froze, realizing that she had just prioritized the everyday matters of school and sports above the risk of death and vampirism. After the stress of the night's events, she couldn't help herself; she burst out laughing. Jenna followed suit, and even Miranda cracked a smile.

When Elena recovered, she said, "I've made it this far in high school without dying horribly; I think I can make it through one Friday. And actually, it'd probably be more hazardous to my health to tick Caroline off by missing practice than if I just went like normal."

"Okay," said Miranda, still smiling.

"Try to make sure you're not the one they're tossing in the air, though," added Jenna. "Just to be on the safe side."

"Deal," said Elena. Over the next few seconds, all three of them sobered, their smiles fading. "I think I'm gonna go to bed. There's just so much to process."

"And I should head back to Whitmore," said Jenna, standing up. "One more final, and I'll be back for the summer."

The phone rang then, and Miranda went to answer it. As she climbed the stairs, Elena listened to her mom's half of what sounded like a conversation with her dad about arranging a ride home from the boarding house. She was about to go into her room when Miranda poked her head into the hall, still clutching the cordless phone. "Are you and Jeremy going to be okay here if Jenna takes me to pick up your dad?" she asked.

"Yeah, we'll be fine," said Elena. She just wanted to sleep.


Though nothing about the evening had been physically taxing—well, unless you counted punching Zach out—, Grayson felt exhausted by the time he and Miranda got back home. The drive had been silent. He would've driven home himself, but it had occurred to him that after two glasses of bourbon, it probably wouldn't be wise to risk it.

Only when they were inside the house did Miranda begin with her questions. "What happened?" she asked.

"I made a deal with him." They headed to the kitchen, where Grayson poured a tall glass of water. He had nine appointments tomorrow; he couldn't afford a hangover.

"What kind of deal?"

"The vampires from eighteen sixty-five didn't die in Fell's Church like our ancestors thought."

"What?" said Miranda, aghast.

"They're in a tomb underneath what's left of the church. They've been sealed there ever since it burned down. Damon wants to open it to get Katherine Pierce out."

"Grayson," said Miranda urgently, "Katherine Pierce is—"

"Another Petrova doppelgänger," said Grayson heavily. "I know. We should have realized. Mikael used the name Katerina Petrova, but she must've changed it to draw less attention."

"She could be dangerous to Elena!" said Miranda. "You're not really going to let her go free, are you?"

"Of course not," said Grayson. "I have no intention of letting her out of that tomb alive. Damon is willing to cooperate with us until it's time to open the tomb. He can protect Elena better than we can, and he agreed to not kill anyone in Mystic Falls as long as we get it open for him. Then we can get rid of all the vampires inside along with the only one who knows Elena exists all at once."

"There are so many ways this could go wrong," said Miranda. "If he finds out you plan to double-cross him—"

"He won't," said Grayson.


After helping himself to a third glass of bourbon, Damon cleaned off the poker Grayson had speared him with and replaced it in the set by the fireplace, then worked on starting a fire while he went over his conversation with Grayson in his head. The man was a fool if he actually believed Damon would comply with his terms, though it had been nice of him not to ban him from seeing Elena. If playing along made it easier to get the tomb open, then play along he would. No killing, but that was already a given if he wanted to avoid suspicion anyway—he would still feed as much as he wanted. And as for leaving town with Katherine once she was free, well, that would be up to her, just like he'd always planned.

Once a decent blaze was going, he moved to clean up the small streaks of blood the crossbow bolt had left on the floor before throwing the bolt into the fire. Next, he walked over to where the crossbow itself had landed. He had picked it up and was about to give it the same treatment as its ammo when he noticed a drop of red on the floor. It seemed Grayson had drawn blood with that punch. Damon's lips curled in a smile as the veins crept over his cheeks. He strained his senses, and his smirk widened when he caught the distant sound of a nervous heartbeat. It was coming from somewhere in the basement.

"I know you're still here, Zach," he said in a loud singsong voice as he strode into the kitchen and pulled the cellar door open. "You should've run while you had the chance, but if you show yourself now, I won't make it hurt as much."

At the bottom of the stairs, something shiny on the floor caught his eye. He bent down and picked it up. It was the head of a key—Zach's car key. All that was left of the blade was a twisted stump a couple of millimeters long. "Oh, so you did try to run first," he said. "What'd you do, bust off the key in the ignition?" He tossed the broken key over his shoulder and kept walking towards that heartbeat, which, he was pleased to note, was thudding steadily faster as he drew closer to it.

He stopped in front of a broad metal door with a small, barred, rectangular window level with his head. "Let's see what's behind door number one." He reached for the latch, but as soon as his skin made contact with it, pain seared across it. He withdrew his hand sharply, cursing, but the vervain burns were already healing. "Good trick, Zach," he said. "Won't stop me from getting in, though." He placed his hands against the door and pushed, testing its strength. His smile returned. He took one step back, then kicked the door as hard as he could. It crashed open, the frame on the lock side in ruins.

He walked inside. The room was completely dark except for the dim light spilling in from the hallway, but if Zach thought that was his advantage, then he was even dumber than the rest of his actions today suggested. The only real advantage he had in here was that the poor acoustics of the stone room confused the direction of the sound of his heart pounding.

"You know, I told the esteemed Dr. Gilbert that I wouldn't be killing any Mystic Falls citizens while I was here," said Damon. "But somehow I don't think it'll be a deal-breaker when he finds out I made an exception for the man who nearly killed his daughter."

Damon heard movement behind him, but he pretended not to notice until the quiet footsteps were less than a yard away. Then he spun around, catching the arm swinging towards him by the wrist. "Nice try," he said, tightening his grip until the bones creaked and Zach cried out in pain. Something fell out of his hand. Damon looked down at the floor and saw a syringe rolling around on the stone. "Ooh, a vervain syringe. I guess your plan wasn't that bad after all," he said. "And I'm impressed. This took guts. Too bad I'm going to rip them out." He wrapped his other hand around Zach's throat and slammed him against the wall.

"Why did you have to come back here?" Zach choked out. He looked desperate and broken, and he wasn't even fighting anymore.

"Believe it or not, it wasn't to shatter your peace of mind," said Damon. "That was just a bonus." Beneath the anger and malice he felt, there was also a twinge of guilt at the thought of everything he'd already done to Zach—not that Zach remembered the worst of it. Stefan had made sure of that. Until tonight, being Joseph's grandson was the only thing Zach had ever done to deserve Damon's wrath. It had seemed like justification enough when he killed the pregnant girlfriend, but now that Elena had brought his humanity roaring back to the surface, the memory of that day made him sick. But guilt or no guilt, Zach had to die now. He'd tried to kill him and nearly killed Elena instead.

Still, Damon couldn't help but wonder how different things might be. If he hadn't come back in 1994, if Gail had lived. The baby would be about fifteen by now, and maybe Zach and Gail would've had more kids. Maybe the boarding house would be full of them, and maybe there would've been a place in that family for him and his brother.

But that was all ashes thanks to Damon. He felt as though he could hear his father laughing at him. He'd turned out to be exactly as disappointing as the old man had always said.

Damon gritted his teeth. This kind of crap was exactly why he'd been better off without his humanity.

"Was it for that girl?" said Zach. "Elena Gilbert?"

"Another bonus," said Damon.

"You'll only bring her misery, Damon," said Zach. "You're not capable of anything else."

"She would've died tonight if it wasn't for me!" said Damon, speaking loudly in an effort to drown out the sneering voice in the back of his mind that was agreeing with Zach. "Just because misery is the only thing I've ever brought you…."

"She wouldn't have been here at all if it wasn't for you!" said Zach. "And you're the one I was aiming for!"

"Which brings us right back around to that revenge I was about to get."

"Let him go, Damon."

Damon and Zach both looked around at the doorway. "Stefan!" said Damon in a falsely welcoming tone. "I was wondering how long it would take you to get here after that phone call. You're just in time. I was about to start removing Zach's organs one by one."

"I said let him go!" Stefan roared, lunging across the cell at Damon, knocking him away from Zach. "Zach, get out of here!"

It only took a second for Damon to get the upper hand, but Zach was already fleeing the room. Damon threw Stefan away from him entirely, sending him crashing hard into another wall. "I see I was right," he said, straightening up. "You are still on the bunny diet. You're not strong enough to fight me."

"Maybe not," said Stefan. "But I'm strong enough to protect Zach."

"Why bother?" said Damon, rolling his eyes. "The guy hates you just as much as he hates me."

"He's family, Damon!"

"Pfft. He's our half-nephew five generations down," said Damon. "Considering that you're the one who killed our father, you're in no position to cast stones when it comes to dealing with human family members. Zach tried to kill me first; I'm only taking my turn. Just like with Joseph."

"So is this really about revenge, or are you just doing it to get to me?" said Stefan. "Like the way you left Joseph dead on the floor upstairs for me to find?"

"You honestly think revenge against Zach and getting to you are mutually exclusive?" said Damon.

The muscles in Stefan's face tightened. "Right. Eternity of misery. How could I have forgotten."

"Don't look so grim, Stefan. You know how this works with us." He stepped forward and clapped Stefan on the shoulder. "But if it means that much to you, I'll lay off Zach for…a week. Convince me he deserves to live without pulling the family card by then and I might reconsider. Provided he doesn't try anything stupid."

The title is one of my favorite Bible verses. Go check it out. I thought it summed up Damon and Elena's actions regarding each other rather nicely. Anyway. Originally, I was going to have Sheila accidentally hit Elena with the brain whammy when Elena ran between her and Damon, but the thought that Sheila would make a mistake like that with her spell after practicing magic for as long as she has didn't really make sense. Then I remembered Zach, and it all came together. So overall, now we have a tenuous alliance between Damon and the Gilberts, Elena and Bonnie know a lot more than they did earlier that day, and all is not well in casa Salvatore. Stefan's back, so that should be fun. I know there wasn't much of Elena in this one, but the next chapter will make up for that. How's she going to react to all this new information once she's had some time to process it?

P.S. You reviewers are crazy awesome. 100+ reviews after just four chapters? I love you guys.