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Damon knew they were in trouble when he saw the glyph on the wall just before they entered the cavern. Something about it wasn't right, but he followed Ric and Elena because he couldn't leave them to face whatever trouble they were headed for alone.

Stefan had gone with Bonnie and Tyler and found that another piece of the curse was hidden in this cave. Unfortunately, they'd had to travel nearly to Canada to gain that insight and this cave had been sitting less than a hundred miles away from Mystic Falls. He, Ric and Elena had discussed it and thought it shouldn't be a problem for the three of them to make the journey and at least see what they could find. But that glyph on the cave wall had been familiar to him and not in any way to do with the curse. Something else was going on here.

"Are we sure this is the right place?" he asked as they walked carefully down a winding passageway, Ric and Elena both holding flashlights.

"Why?" asked Ric, stopping and looking at him and pointing the flashlight in his eyes.

Irritated, Damon pushed it back down, invading Ric's personal space at the same time, and looking up and down what he could see of the hall, admittedly more than they could. Elena took a step closer to them, doubt clouding her face.

"Something doesn't feel right," he finally admitted.

"Something?" asked Elena, raising an eyebrow and reminding Damon in a flash of Katherine. She turned to Ric and back to Damon. "Like what?"

He didn't think they'd seen the glyph and he couldn't say for certain what it was. He had a moment of indecision as they all looked between each other before he let go of Ric. "Never mind."

Despite his unease, he would wait until there was something concrete to tell them. Assuming, of course, that something concrete came along before something killed them all. They continued on, and the passage widened. He did notice that they were staying closer to him and each other as they continued. Five minutes later, the passage opened to a large room that was empty except for a pedestal in the very centre illuminated by some unseen light source.

They entered cautiously, each looking around, expecting more than this simple pedestal. Damon kept his body loose, ready to spring away from any attack and saw Ric fingering the knife he kept onhis belt. Elena gripped her flashlight harder, ready to use it to bash anything that might leap from the dark.

He supposed, then, that it wasn't really a surprise when the entire cave system started shaking as in an earthquake and the roof over the entrance came tumbling down. He knew he could have used his faster vampire speed to at least get out of the room, though all the way down the hall might be an issue. But he didn't try because he couldn't leave them here to die. He had gone soft and now it was going to get him killed.

Dust was still settling when they all finally looked up from where they had ducked in place. He was the first up, already testing the rock that had fallen, checking to see if there was anything loose. Ric went to Elena and placed a hand on her back, asking her if she was alright.

He was expecting her affirmative since he hadn't smelled blood, but he was relieved when it came and surprised that he felt the same relief when Ric answered the same to her. Elena turned to the pedestal when Damon declared that they were trapped in the cave, deciding to at least see what they had come all this way for.

He and Ric exchanged a worried glance and followed her. They formed a loose circle around the pedestal to see what lay there. The stone looked vaguely like the moonstone, though this one had a pinkish hue instead of the milky look the other had held. Damon definitely didn't like it.

Elena reached for the stone but stopped when both he and Alaric held up a staying hand, Damon starting to say something, but stopping.

"Maybe we shouldn't be so quick to touch things in here, yes?" Damon finally said, looking carefully between her and the stone.

Elena dropped her hand and held both out to encompass their situation. "We're trapped in a cave with no way out. There's not much more can happen."

"At least the roof we're under hasn't started coming down. That could change if you start touching things."

Elena frowned. "We're already pretty effectively trapped and going to die of starvation or dehydration. I don't see why a cave-in would be necessary."

He had moved closer to her as they argued and his attention was focused completely on her.

"Guys?" called Ric, pulling it right back to him and the stone.

The stone now glowed. They all took a step back but the glowing continued to get brighter and the damn thing started to rise of its own accord.

"What did you do?" asked Damon, glaring at Alaric. Surely the man had better sense than to touch things.

"Nothing!"

They clustered again as the stone held steady about a half a foot off the pedestal but continued to glow brighter. Ric stepped in front of Elena and Damon stepped in front of both of them, all still staring. He felt Elena touch his back, keeping him with them and then the stone brightened tenfold, forcing him to close his eyes or go blind. Seconds later he felt something sharp hit him in the chest and he blacked out.

***

He woke slowly, barely able to breathe due to a weight on his chest. When he opened his eyes, they were hindered by dark hair spread across his face and he realized Elena was laying on top of him. He felt someone move and figured Ric must be on him as well. Despite the impending lack of oxygen, he found he didn't mind playing pillow to them near as much as he probably should.

They all began stirring but were slow to rise. Based on the groaning and blinking, he would bet Elena and Alaric were both nursing the same headache he felt.

"What happened?" asked Elena as she sat up enough to let him move, but continued to lean into Ric.

Damon turned to the pedestal, now sitting empty. "I think your rock exploded."

"Why?" asked Ric. He helped Damon sit up, but did not release his hand once he had done so, and Damon found his own hand resting on Elena's knee. It was odd, but he wasn't complaining.

"No clue." He looked around and saw a small passage had opened across from where the original had been. "Hello," he said, nodding toward it.

"You may have been right about something being wrong," admitted Elena.

"I would've preferred to hear that before a magic rock exploded into us and the cave was dictating where we go."

"I'll try to remember that for next time."

They finally managed to stand up, and Damon regretted that they stopped touching each other. He felt bereft without the tactile contact, and that set off warning bells in his head all on its own. If the reluctant way the others let go was any indication, he wasn't the only one. They stood together at the entrance to the new passageway and looked nervously down it.

"For the record, I think this is a bad idea, too."

"Not sure we really have a choice, though," commented Ric, and Elena nodded.

"That makes it a worse idea." He stepped forward and boldly entered the hall.

Elena and Ric both reached for him and a hand on each arm kept him from going any further. He turned back, smiling smugly that they were both apparently concerned for his safety. Elena punched him and he pasted a wounded look in its place.

"As much as I don't like it, we really don't have a choice. So," he asked, stepping aside and sweeping an arm down the hall. "Are we going?"

Elena glanced back at the room before following, and Alaric took up the rear. They walked along a path similar to the one they had taken to get there, and it wasn't long before Damon could smell the forest again. He began to wonder if this wasn't exactly the path they'd travelled before. His suspicions were confirmed when they emerged where they had entered.

"Oh, you've got to be kidding me," he said, turning to see the same entrance they'd found however long ago. A few hours, judging by the sun.

"Isn't this…?" started Elena, before trailing off and looking between the two men and back at the forest.

"Yes. This is where we came in." Damon kicked the stone in frustration.

"Damon!" cried Elena, pulling him away and keeping him from doing it again. He probably shouldn't be happy to note that she called for Stefan in that same tone when he was doing something stupid or noble or stupidly noble.

"What the hell was the point of that?" he asked, wanting to punch the wall now but refraining.

"Simple," said a voice he knew all too well. He and Ric immediately stepped in front of Elena and Ric pulled the knife from its sheath. They all faced Katherine, leaning casually against a tree and smiling. "I thought I'd do a little matchmaking."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

She pushed off the tree and took a step forward, the smile widening. "It means I've had the stone that was in this cave for years. I knew you'd come looking for it, so I left a little something in its place."

"What?" asked Elena, pushing through the two men to stand even with them. Katherine wouldn't try to kill her. Not with Klaus still out there. "What was that?"

"It's how I'll show Stefan that he may have been your first love, but he wasn't the only one." She waved a hand at the three of them. "You can keep them and I get Stefan. And we all live happily ever after."

"That makes no sense, whatsoever," declared Damon.

Katherine chuckled. "Really? Well, I suppose you don't see the way you act around them. And I thought it was intentional this whole time."

"Spell it out for us." She turned to Alaric, surprised he'd actually spoken, but nodding in appreciation.

"It means, Alaric," she began, turning his name over in her mouth so that it sounded more like an invitation. "That I saw what was developing between you three and pushed it along." She laughed at her private joke. "The stone bound you together. The spell will only be broken in consummation. After that, one way or another, Stefan will be free to come back to me." They stood in stunned silence, unsure what to say, and her eyes flicked back and forth between them. "You still don't see it. But you will."

She turned around and started walking away, still chuckling softly to herself.

"What did you do to us?" yelled Damon, starting to follow, but held back by Elena.

She waved over her shoulder, not even bothering to look back. "You'll figure it out."

***

The drive back to Mystic Falls seemed to take much longer than their outward journey. None of them could keep still for very long, and none of them had much to say. When Elena's phone rang, they all jumped and then looked guiltily around.

"Hi, Stefan," she said and Damon had to stop himself from growling. He saw Alaric's knuckles turn white on the steering wheel and tried not to think about what that meant.

"We went to the cave. No, we didn't find anything. Katherine said she found the stone years ago She met us outside. No, Stefan, we're all okay. It's a long story. We'll tell you about it when we get back." She paused and Damon saw her close her eyes in the rearview. "I'm just tired. We'll be back in a half hour. I promise, we're all fine. Can you just have Bonnie meet us when we get back? And ask her to bring her grimoire." There was another pause. "Can you please just do it? It's a long story and we'll tell you everything when we get back. Yeah. Me, too."

That was the first time she hadn't said the words, "I love you," to him in a long time. Damon tried hard not to smile. He looked pointedly away from Alaric when he realized the other man was having the same problem.

***

They took a moment to just sit in the car after they pulled into the driveway. Bonnie and Caroline's cars were both sitting in front of them and Damon wouldn't be surprised if Jeremy had come with Bonnie and Tyler with Caroline which meant their entire merry band was here.

All too soon, they left what felt like the relative safety of the car and headed inside. When they had all managed to brush against each other in the few yards it took, Damon was sure it was all by accident and hadn't been intentional. He also remembered that he was very good at lying to himself, not just other people.

"Elena," said Stefan as the door opened and he rushed to her side, checking her for any injury she hadn't reported.

Damon crossed his arms over his chest and continued on into the main room with Alaric while Stefan brushed Elena's hair back and hugged her. They followed a few seconds later, Stefan hovering just behind her. Elena, he saw, was trying not to flinch whenever Stefan touched her.

The others were waiting patiently on the couches and Alaric took a seat in one of the chairs. Damon perched on the arm next to him. Stefan and Elena took the last couch and, if there was a little extra space between them, Damon wasn't one to complain.

"So what happened?" asked Bonnie, gripping her grimoire tightly and looking between them all. "Stefan said Katherine already had the stone."

"Yep," said Damon. "The one that was there was apparently some sort of decoy. But it blew up."

"What?" they all asked. Stefan continued. "It blew up?"

Damon launched into the story, telling them about the cave and the stone and what Katherine had said. Not surprisingly, Stefan moved closer to Elena when he told them that Katherine had called it matchmaking.

"So, Bonnie, we need you to take a look-see in your little recipe book and see if there's any other way to break the spell."

"Can we just ignore it?" asked Elena, more to Damon and Alaric than Bonnie, but still to all involved. Damon looked at where she was still scratching a place Stefan had touched her and raised an eyebrow. Alaric averted his eyes, preferring not to damn himself.

Elena couldn't see, but Damon was well aware of the suspicious way Stefan was watching the entire exchange, finally noticing what Elena had been doing.

"I don't think it would be a good idea," said Bonnie, pulling them out of their silent discussion. "If it was bound with a talisman like that, then whatever symptoms you're feeling will only get worse. Which…" she continued, looking between the three of them and Stefan, suddenly nervous. "Which is probably what Katherine wanted."

"I want to know why she picked the three of you," Stefan said, placing a hand on Elena's shoulder which she valiantly didn't shrug off. "Ric, you said she addressed you directly. Obviously, she saw something."

Alaric shrugged noncommittally. "I don't know. She may have been reading too much into how often I'm at Elena's to see Jenna."

Stefan wasn't convinced.

They broke shortly after Bonnie promised to see what else she could find out from other sources and discussing what they were going to do now that they knew Katherine had another piece of the puzzle. Damon watched Stefan pull Elena upstairs. Concern etched his face, and the occasional backward glance at Damon and Ric conveyed exactly what he thought of the entire situation. Damon didn't realize how hard he had been squeezing his glass of bourbon until Alaric laid a calming hand on his elbow.

***

"So," began Stefan as he closed the door to his room and turned to face her. "Did Damon leave anything out?"

"Nope. It's exactly how he said."

"So what are you going to do?"

Elena took a deep breath and leaned heavily against the window frame, staring out across the property and wondering if Katherine was watching all of this and giggling. More likely she had someone else watching and she was getting news. "I don't know," she finally admitted.

"You can't be seriously thinking about going through with it, can you?" he asked and Elena finally turned to face him.

"I don't know if we'll really have a choice," she said, hugging herself against the way her skin was crawling.

"After everything Damon's done—" he started, but Elena cut him off

"That's not what this is about, Stefan. I know what he's done and, despite the problems, he's honestly been trying to make up for it since he killed Jeremy. I don't know if you don't see it because you don't want to, or what's going on between you two, but he's at least making the effort." She paused and made sure he understood what she was saying. "And I do care about him."

He tried to laugh, but it quickly faded when Elena didn't join in. "Elena…" He looked hard for some sign that she was pulling his chain and found nothing. "And Ric?"

Elena turned away again. "I don't know. I trust him and I care about him. Since he and Jenna are dating, I hadn't really thought about him as more than a friend," she said, though that wasn't entirely true. She'd had her school girl fantasies followed by more mature fantasies as she'd gotten to know him. She definitely cared about him and, if their lives had been different, certainly wouldn't have turned him down. But did that leave anything else? And what did it mean that she was thinking about these two other men and not feeling as guilty about what this was doing to Stefan as she should?

"Katherine had to have seen more than that, Elena," he insisted. "She wouldn't have included all of you if she didn't."

"I don't know what to tell you, Stefan. Maybe she thought since he married Isobel that…" her words trailed off, and she waved her hands to suggest that there may be a connection there.

He crossed the room, his shoulders hunched. "I just don't want to lose you," he admitted, reaching for her.

She took his hands and tried not to think about how the itching got worse. "I know."

***

Alaric stood next to Damon as they watched the others mill about, waiting to see what happened between Stefan and Elena. They had agreed with a simple glance that they would wait to discuss matters until they weren't surrounded by people who could hear clear across the room as they were now. What felt like hours later, Elena finally descended the stairs while Stefan followed a few paces behind. She gave them a small smile and a nearly imperceptible nod that meant everything and nothing.

"Would you mind taking me home?" she asked, looking at Ric and ignoring Damon for now though he suspected that was more for Stefan's benefit than anything else. She had been tired when they returned but the conversation with Stefan seemed to have taken more out of her.

"Of course." He finished the last of his drink and headed for the door, not surprised when Damon followed and even less when Stefan followed Elena.

Damon went ahead of him and Alaric hung back with Elena as Stefan pushed ahead toward his brother. Once they were outside and the door was securely shut against eavesdroppers, Stefan grabbed Damon's arm and twisted his brother around to face him.

"Stefan, no!" called Elena, taking a step forward before thinking better of getting between two vampires, even two who both loved her. Stefan didn't even glance back at her, though Damon checked to make sure Alaric had her. He nodded, holding his arm out to keep her by his side.

"I bet you're enjoying this, aren't you?" asked Stefan, pushing Damon back and away from Elena.

"Not really, no."

"No? So what are you doing now? You just figured you'd tag along and hurry things along before Bonnie can find another way?"

"Stefan!"

"Actually, little brother, I was thinking the three of us could talk about what's happened. You know: with words. I know you don't care, but we're all going through some stuff that has very little to do with you. And Ric and I have some stuff to talk about that definitely has nothing to do with you."

"Yeah. Like I believe that."

Elena shook Alaric off and headed for the brothers. Without stopping, she pushed Stefan away and stood in front of Damon. Alaric joined them a few seconds later.

"Stop it, Stefan. Even if you don't trust him, at least trust me. Nothing is going to happen."

"Elena, he's got a plan," Stefan insisted, trying to reach for her, but Elena shook it off.

"No, he doesn't. Not like that, anyway. And even if he did, it wouldn't do him any good. I'm not consummating anything with anyone tonight. Please, just let them take me home and I'll call you tomorrow." He continued to glare at Damon over Elena and her shoulders slumped. "Stefan, you're losing me all on your own by how you're acting." That got Stefan's attention and he turned hurt eyes to her. "I've trusted you with Katherine. Please, trust me with Damon."

"Elena…"

"Please."

No one said anything for a few minutes and Stefan finally turned away and headed for the door. Ric took the chance to unlock the car and the three of them climbed inside.

***

The drive was more comfortable though no one broke the silence until they were nearly halfway back to Elena's.

"I'm sorry, Damon," she said. "You've proven that I can trust you and I thought Stefan knew that."

He turned in his seat and grinned, brushing it off. "I can't say I'd trust me if I were in his position. I can do the emo thing very well and I hear that's what you kids are into these days."

She punched him playfully and he sprawled across the console and Alaric, all wounded elegance. "You wound me! Defend my honour, Ric. Keep this crazy woman off me!"

They all laughed and any tension that might have been left was gone in an instant as they tried to at least pretend that there wasn't a curse hanging over their heads.

They sat together for a few minutes as the car pulled into the Gilbert driveway, and Ric suddenly wondered what they were going to do about Jenna. He couldn't think of a single thing to tell her that wouldn't either make him out to be a pervert or would eventually end with them telling her about everything happening in town.

With a sigh, Elena got out of the back and it spurred himself and Damon into doing the same. Inside the house, they could hear Jenna moving around upstairs. Jeremy, bless the child, was still at the Salvatore manor.

"Elena? Is that you?" called Jenna and she poked her head around the banister. "Oh, hey, Ric. Damon. Everything okay?"

"Yep. We were just going to be in the kitchen talking about, um…" she trailed off but Jenna had already gone back around the corner and her voice was muffled as she continued whatever task she had set for herself.

"That's fine. I'm just doing laundry. Holler if you need anything."

The three of them shared a puzzled glance but walked through into the kitchen. Elena pulled down three glasses and Damon found the bourbon. Elena may not legally be of age, but she needed the drink as much as the rest of them. The awkwardness returned as they sat down and stared at each other, no one knowing where to start.

"So we could just do the deed and get this over with," suggested Damon, looking between Alaric and Elena expectantly. "Stefan doesn't actually have to know."

Elena sighed, a small smile appearing behind her glass. "He would know, Damon." She took a swallow and continued. "It's not that I have a problem with the three of us," she said, taking the both of them in with a single glance, and Ric realized he didn't either. "I just don't want this to be some trick of Katherine's that leads somewhere else entirely. I want to make sure we'll still be, you know, us when it's done."

Damon quirked his head. "You think she's found some way to change our personalities?"

"I don't know. We all know she's ruthless when she wants something. I wouldn't even count on her wanting to keep me alive for Klaus at this point."

Damon hummed to himself, thinking. "You have a point. But the witch should be able to check that. Besides, as much as I don't like admitting this, I don't see us acting any differently now than we were. Except for the touching, of course." Damon looked directly at Ric for that comment. It was fair, since they hadn't ever really touched each other when Ric wasn't trying to kill Damon.

"So you're completely okay with me being here?" he asked, pointing out the pink elephant in the room.

Damon glanced at Elena then looked back at Ric. "You wouldn't be the first man I've been with if that's what you're referring to." Elena seemed intrigued by the idea.

"That's not actually what I was talking about, but is good to know." Damon raised his eyebrows, asking what else there was. "Have either of you ever thought about me as anything but a friend?" he asked, looking at Elena. He turned to Damon, "Or an ally."

Damon gave him a leer. "You'd be surprised what I've thought about."

Shaking his head, he turned to Elena. "Elena?"

She shrugged. "You've been with Jenna and I've been with Stefan. It was never a possibility."

"And now?"

"Now I don't know what to think." She took another drink and Alaric did the same. "I want to see what happens but I don't want to hurt anyone."

"That's the kicker, isn't it?" said Damon as he drained his glass and poured another. "Someone is going to get hurt no matter what we do." The two of them shared a significant look across the table and Alaric didn't have to be a mind reader to understand the subtext. If she decided to follow wherever this led them, Stefan would never forgive her. If she pushed them away, she would reject them and Damon didn't take well to rejection. At the same time, for Alaric, if he did this, Jenna wouldn't understand but he also knew that the spark between them had been slowly dying for some time. He kept too much from her.

One thing was certain: if they did follow through with the consummation, none of them would be able to leave it as a one-time affair.

***

They talked for another hour, simply enjoying each other's company. Damon and Alaric decided it was time to leave when Elena yawned for the fourth time in two minutes. Saying their goodbyes, they were nearly out the door when Jenna came downstairs, apparently headed for the kitchen.

"You two leaving already?" she asked, all smiles.

"Looks like," said Alaric, moving closer to her and pasting apology on his face. "Sorry I didn't come up and see you, but—"

"What are you talking about?" she asked, smiles turning to confusion and she looked between the three of them.

"I thought you'd be upset that I was down here with Elena all night."

She laughed, then. "You guys are kidding right?" She looked between them all, wondering. "Right? Of course you're here for Elena."

Damon suddenly came closer to her and pulled her gaze to his. After a moment, he stepped back and shook his head, gesturing for them to come outside with him. "Yeah," he said to her. "We were just messing with you. Didn't work." Alaric and Elena followed him out the door, questions on their lips that were stopped at Damon's grave look. "Katherine was here. It's like she's been compelled, but I can't break it."

"What? I thought we took care of that after …" she trailed off, talking about when Jenna had been compelled to stab herself with a butcher knife.

He nodded. "Yeah, me, too. But apparently not. Unless it's a witch." He looked between them and continued when they gave him matching looks of incomprehension. "There's a way that witches can do this sort of thing. It's not easy and not usually worth it for the witch."

Elena dropped her face into her hands. "But this is Katherine, and it's always worth it." Alaric laid a hand against her back and she turned to lean against him, trying to hold back tears. "Why can't she just leave us alone?" Damon took the step to bring him closer and touched her other shoulder.

"I understand why she's doing it, but she's gone too far. And," he paused, considering his words. Elena turned outward to look at him closer. "I want you to know, no matter what, how we decide to deal with this, I'm leaving that to you and Ric. You know what I want, but I won't force you into something you don't want."

She pulled him into a sideways hug. "I know. That means a lot."

***

As she stared at the stairs from the door, the climb suddenly seemed like Mount Everest. She made her way slowly up and into her room, dropping onto her bed immediately. She wanted to take a shower but she was just so tired. She curled into a ball on her bed, hugging her pillow close to her but then pushing it away when the smell of Stefan's shampoo invaded her senses and she was nearly physically ill. Instead, she lay in bed, dozing on and off and wishing that Ric and Damon were with her.

Jeremy peeked in at one point to check on her, but she grunted and he left without saying anything else. The next she was aware, the sun was shining in her eyes and her phone was ringing, the caller ID displaying Bonnie's number.

"Hello?" she answered, still blinking sleep out of her eyes and surprised she'd been able to sleep at all.

"Elena? Did I wake you?"

"Yeah, kinda. What time is it?"

"It's almost nine. Are you okay?"

Elena jolted awake, sitting up and nearly falling back over. "What? Are you sure?"

"Elena, are you okay?"

"I'm fine. I just, didn't think I'd slept that late." She looked at her clock and saw that it confirmed what Bonnie was saying. "Did you find something?"

"Yeah. Are Damon and Ric with you?"

"No. They left last night."

"Right. Um, can you get them to meet us at your place? I want to show you guys what I found, but I thought you should hear it before we tell Stefan."

"How bad is it?"

"Depends. I'll be there in twenty minutes."

The phone clicked dead and Elena was left in silence, unsure what that meant. She ran her fingers through her hair and realized she really did need a shower. Texting as she undressed, she sent Damon and Ric the same message: Bonnie found something. Meet here in 20.

Fifteen minutes later, she was towelling her hair dry and felt something wash over her. Damon and Ric were outside. She came bounding down the stairs, glad of their presence, and opened the door as they ascended the porch steps.

"Hey."

"Hey, yourself. So what's Bonnie's news?"

"She wouldn't say. But I don't think Stefan is going to like it."

"How did you sleep last night?" asked Ric, running a hand down her arm.

She frowned. "Weird. I fell asleep pretty quickly, but it didn't feel restful."

Damon turned as Bonnie's car appeared at the end of the street and they stood in a tight cluster as she parked and approached the house, watching them carefully. "Let's sit down," she said, entering the house.

"So Stefan won't like it?" asked Damon as they all headed for the kitchen for coffee.

"Definitely not." She pulled out a book that was not her grimoire and opened it to a bookmarked page. "It took me awhile to find this and I had to get a little bit of help—"

"Help? From who?"

Bonnie looked away, embarrassed. "Luka." Damon inclined his head, but didn't say anything else, so she continued. "It's a two-part spell. The stone you described was used to bind the three of you together, physically and magically."

"What does that mean?"

She looked at the way they were all casually making some kind of physical contact and they all jumped, not aware of what they had been doing. "It means, as time goes by and you don't complete the spell, you won't just be uncomfortable when you're not touching each other, you'll become physically ill when you don't."

"How long will that take?" asked Elena, still thinking of what she was going to do about Stefan.

"I'd say you have no more than a week. But it'll definitely be bad by the end of the week." Elena nodded, glancing between Ric and Damon.

"And the second part?" asked Ric.

"The second part is like a truth serum." They all looked between each other again, thinking of the very frank way they had talked the night before. "I know you can't lie to each other and I suspect you can't lie at all."

"Please tell me that won't be forever," said Damon, looking intent.

"Damon!"

He waved her off. "I don't intend to lie to the two of you, but if we can't lie at all, we'll be dead in a year. All any of our enemies will have to do is ask us what our plans are and we can't lie. So, dead in a year, tops, depending on whether Katherine spreads that little tidbit or not."

Elena glared but there was no venom to it. It was the principle more than anything.

"It should break, too," said Bonnie, interrupting their moment. "It's all connected and, when you complete the first half, it should break both halves of the spell."

"Can you break it?" asked Elena, grasping Damon's hand and Alaric's leg under the table.

Bonnie looked between the three of them, disappointed in herself. "I'm sorry, but no. It was tied to the talisman and since that's gone, there's nothing I can do."

"So we really don't have any choice in this, do we?" commented Alaric, looking between Elena and Damon.

"Thanks, Bonnie," said Elena.

Bonnie nodded and stood up. "I'll let you guys talk. Let me know if you need anything else."

"And, Bonnie? Can you let us tell Stefan?"

"Of course. Good luck, guys."

They sat together in silence while Bonnie left and for a few minutes more.

"What do we do now?" asked Elena, mostly rhetorically, but also hoping in vain that one of them could come up with something that didn't hurt anyone.

"I know what I want to say," started Damon. "But I know it won't help you and you have to make this choice yourself."

Elena turned to him, inspecting his face for something, though she couldn't say what. Not finding anything helpful, she leaned her head against his shoulder. "Thanks, Damon."

Alaric took her hand and they sat together, each with his or her own thoughts. Banging on the front door startled them out of their reverie.

"Elena!" yelled Stefan from the other side. "Elena, we need to talk!"

Elena groaned, not really wanting to deal with this right now.

"I can chase him off, if you want," offered Damon, not moving.

"We both can," added Ric.

"Please, don't tempt me." Sighing, she stood and headed for the door. As soon as she opened it, Stefan pushed his way through and gripped her arms tightly, trying to hold her to him.

"Elena! Did he hurt you? Are you okay?"

"Ow! Stefan! Let go!"

Damon was there, pushing Stefan away and throwing him against the wall. Alaric was a few seconds after, stepping in front of her in case Stefan managed to push past Damon.

"Get off me, Damon."

"Not until you settle down. What the hell has gotten into you? Elena is fine."

Stefan growled. "No thanks to you. I thought you weren't supposed to spend the night?"

"Stefan!" Elena moved past Ric, going to stand behind Damon. "What are you even doing here?"

"What did he do to you? Did he hurt you?"

"What? No! Why do you think he hurt me?"

"This is all his fault. It has to be. He and Katherine are working together; they have to be. You didn't finish the spell, did you?"

"Stefan, you're not making any sense."

"Katherine has no reason to do this on her own. But Damon has every reason, and this way he takes you away from me."

"You're not making any sense. Damon would never do that."

"Well, I would have not so long ago, but not anymore."

Elena stopped short and stared at Damon. "Wow. That truth thing really is working, isn't it?"

Damon frowned, but kept a tight hold on his brother. "I really hope that part of the spell is broken with everything else."

"No! Elena! You can't do this. He's just trying to tie you to him. If you do this, he'll never let you go."

"Stefan, he's been nothing but gracious since this entire thing started. He's not pushing me one way or another and that's more than I can say for you. God, Stefan, can't you understand that this isn't just about you? This is about me and what I want and that's a choice I have to make for myself."

"And you think if you go through with this, he'll just let it go?"

"Damon, even if we complete the spell, will you let me go afterwards?"

Damon took a deep breath. "It'll be hard, but that's up to you. I'll let you go."

"He's lying!"

"We can't lie to each other," said Ric. He had come up from behind, now standing in the middle.

Stefan made faces of confusion, starting to say something then stopping and then starting again only to stop. Finally, he managed to spit out, "what are you talking about?"

"We just saw Bonnie," said Elena. "It's part of the spell. We can't lie until the spell is complete."

"That's…that's not possible."

"Maybe. But it's true. And I told you that I needed you to trust me. If you can't do that, then it doesn't matter what I decide here."

"Elena, don't do this."

"No. No matter what happens with Damon and Ric, you've already lost me. You should leave now."

"Wait! Elena!"

"Please, Damon, just get him out of here."

***

Getting Stefan to leave was easier than he'd have thought. After Elena went upstairs, the fight seemed to leave his brother completely, and he went without any further comment. Once the door was closed, Damon turned to Ric, an eyebrow raised toward the stairs silently asking what they should do about Elena.

Alaric sighed and headed upstairs, Damon just behind him. Elena was in her room, tucked into the window seat, staring out into space.

"Hey."

She turned to them, tears streaming down her face. They both crossed the room in only a few strides, standing on either side, ready to comfort her as needed.

"I just don't understand how things could go so wrong with Stefan," she said, leaning into Ric and squeezing Damon's hand. "I've never seen him like that."

Damon let out a slow breath. "I've seen him get possessive and maybe a little creepy, but even I've never seen him that unreasonable. Honestly, I wish things could have happened differently."

"Could Katherine have influenced his behaviour, do you think?"

He shook his head, looking outside then back at Elena. "I suppose it's possible, but I just don't know."

Elena squeezed them both before pulling away. "Can I have some time alone? I just need to think."

"Of course. Just let us know what you need."

"I just need today. Can I, uh, meet you guys later?"

"Anytime. Do you want to call us?"

"Can I just meet you at Ric's later?"

***

Damon and Alaric left Elena's and headed back to Alaric's apartment, content to wait there in each other's company. They watched television and made fun of daytime divorce courts and cheesy scifi. And if they happened to be spending most of the day in each other's arms, they pretended it was completely normal.

Day turned into evening and then later. They were worried and were considering calling her to check on her when a text came through: On my way. Be there in a few.

Ten minutes later, relief washed over them both and they knew Elena was downstairs. Not long after, a tentative knock sounded at the door. Elena stood on the doorstep, her sleeves pulled over her hands as she hugged herself.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah. I'm actually remarkably okay considering everything that's happened."

They stood aside as she entered, watching her carefully. She stopped in the living room and turned to face them, nervous and almost shy. Damon had never seen this side of her and it intrigued him.

"I've made a decision. I want to do this. And not just to break the spell. I want to see where this leads. Obviously Katherine saw something between us and I've been doing some thinking of my own and I think she might be right."

"Are you sure? Things with Stefan being what they are, we don't want you to do anything rash."

She chuckled to herself, hugging herself tighter. "It's actually what I've been thinking about all day. I don't like to admit it, but things were falling apart between me and Stefan for a long time. But he was my first love and I didn't want to just give up on that."

"And now?"

"Now it's time to move on. I can't promise that it'll be easy and I do still have feelings for Stefan, but this feels right and not just from the spell."

Damon turned to Alaric and saw the same heat building in his eyes as he knew was in his. This was it. No matter what happened after this, they would always have tonight and he didn't want to wait any longer.

Ric was closer to Elena and it was simple for him to step forward and take her in his arms, she turning up into his kiss and the two of them seeming to fit together like it was made to be. Damon was right behind him, running hands up the other man's sides and across to Elena's softer curves, placing kisses along shoulder blades and up to his neck. Alaric shivered when he kissed the bare skin, instinctively aware that it would be simple for Damon to bite deeper but trusting him nonetheless.

Damon and Ric worked simultaneously to divest Elena and Ric of shirts and Damon leaned in to capture Elena's mouth in a kiss while Ric moved to the side to free Damon of his own shirt before moving behind Elena to work on the clasp of her bra. When they were all bare from the waist up, they took the chance to drink in the sight of each other, the three of them circling each other in an odd sort of dance and Damon took the opportunity to kiss Alaric deeply and thoroughly.

Elena took the chance to reach between their bodies and began undoing belts and pants, though how she was able to keep track of which was which, Damon wasn't sure. Truth be told, he didn't care since she was getting the job done. Then her hand was down his pants and grasping his erection and, if the way Alaric had just gasped into his mouth was anything to judge by, she was doing the same to him.

The two men leaned their foreheads together as she began stroking what she could, though her movements were limited by the denim still trapping them. They shared a wicked look before both reaching for Elena's belt and making short work of it, Damon pushing the fabric down so that Alaric's larger hand had the space to work past her panties, her own gasp telling Damon that Alaric knew what he was doing.

When Damon pulled her closer for another kiss, he also pushed Ric's hand further in. Elena tried to hook a leg around Damon's, but the denim was restricting too much movement and they were all nearly thrown to the floor.

"Bed," groaned Damon, pulling them all to the door which had remained partially shut all day.

They had to remove their hands to move but it also gave them a chance to shed their jeans, Elena's panties and Ric's boxers bundled with the fabric. Damon smiled at his proclivity for going commando. Access was so much easier that way. Naked, they all paused again to fully appreciate the sights before them, but a fresh wave of heat had them moving for each other again, hands exploring bodies and mouths meeting in passionate battles.

They pushed each other to the bed, Elena landing first and pulling Ric while Damon pushed, she reaching from behind to take his erection in her hands again and nipping at his neck, back and shoulders while Damon mapped the planes of his chest with his hands and kissed him breathless.

Damon's ministrations moved around to Elena's nipples and he tweaked the hard buds without breaking the kiss with Alaric. She retaliated by moving one hand to his erection and pulling the two men closer together to rub against each other. He and Alaric both moaned and broke the kiss, Damon looking over Ric's shoulder to see Elena smiling wickedly.

Between them, Ric was shifting his weight, trying to keep from slipping off the edge of the bed. They all looked between themselves and seemed to come to the same conclusion for the logistics of this as Elena started backing up and pulling RIc around so that he faced her and Damon crawled onto the bed to join them fully, reaching for Ric's ass.

Damon and Ric pushed Elena further up and back so she was lying on the pillows, her legs spread wide and leaving herself open for Ric to lean down and begin kissing down her stomach and kissing her inner thighs, slowly moving closer to where she wanted him. It gave Damon the perfect chance to run his hands down Ric's crack, teasing briefly before pushing a single finger into the opening at the same time Ric used a finger to enter Elena.

This was not Alaric's first rodeo and it didn't take Damon long to stretch the opening to his satisfaction. Again, they moved in sync as they moved further up the bed and Damon entered Ric in a single thrust, pushing his body forward to penetrate Elena. Their groans mingled together until it was hard to tell them apart and they stayed still for a long moment as they adjusted to the new sensations.

Damon felt the two of them slowly relax and placed a guiding hand on Ric's hip and slowly began to move, his own rocking pushing Ric deeper into Elena. Her legs spread wider and she pulled Ric with one hand and Damon with the other, needing more.

They established a quick rhythm, Damon and Alaric pulling out the same distance before Damon pushed forward into Ric and Elena by extension. A fire built inside each of them and it was like the same stone they had encountered in the cave was once again lighting up and pushing them further and harder and deeper until, like in the cave, it exploded and novas ignited behind each of their eyelids, their orgasms crashing over each other and feeding off the spasms of the other bodies.

What felt like a lifetime later, they all eased off the high and collapsed against each other, exhausted, Damon falling to Elena's left and Ric going to the right so no one was crushed. Somehow, they managed to pull the covers from beneath them so they were under them. When they fell asleep moments later, they were wrapped around each other, limbs tangled in such a way that they appeared more as a six-legged octopus than three separate people and that was fine with them.