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Life After Death

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"Not that one. This one, and I want it to look exactly like this when it's done." I looked at the picture Caroline was showing the hairstylist. It was shoulder length, would have some longer layers that would frame my face, like bangs, and it was messy. That meant I didn't have to spend time styling it, right? Like I'd just be able to get out of the shower, dry it if I felt like it, and go, because the whole point of it was for it to look messy? Or would it take work to make it look like that? I didn't mind drying it if that's all it took, but if it took more than that, I didn't know if I wanted the hassle. My hair wasn't naturally flat, the way Elena often wore hers, nor was it curly the way that Katherine kept hers. It took work to make it look like either. It was mostly straight, but there were some soft waves to it. I didn't mind the length of Caroline's choice. I'd like my hair to be shorter, but I wasn't sold on faux-messy if it was going to take a lot of work.

I looked at Caroline through the mirror. "Are you sure about this? It's not just going to frizz out after I get it home and have to take care of it myself, is it?"

She rolled her eyes. "No, it's not going to look frizzy." Glaring at the hairstylist, she added, "As long as she does it the way she's supposed to do it, it should look good whether you put much effort into it or not." While I pondered whether it was a good idea to give the woman with the scissors any kind of attitude, Caroline looked at me and said, "There will be some minor maintenance, but I'll show you what to do, and it will be super easy. I promise." She looked at the book of colored hair samples and pointed at the purple before saying, "That one for the highlights, but I only want you to give her a few . . . just enough to add a splash of color." While the coloring assistant left to mix up the hair dye, Caroline glanced at me. "You're okay with the color?"

I wasn't opposed to it. "Well, I did tell you that you could do this however you wanted. If it looks terrible, I have nobody to blame but myself."

She'd wanted to do something for my birthday, and I'd told her that if she wanted to get me something, she could help me not look like Elena and Katherine. It was safer if I didn't, and I was tired of being mistaken for both. Smiling, Caroline said, "It'll look great, and you'll have me to thank."

Looking nonchalantly at the magazine in my hands, I muttered, "And I will give credit where it's due if it's warranted."

"Why can't you just be nice?"

I dropped the magazine and looked at her. "I will . . . I'm waiting to see how it turns out. Some of the clothes you thought looked good on hangers - "

"Did look good on you. You just didn't like them, because you thought they were uncomfortable."

Picking my magazine back up, I said, "I'll have to take your word for it."

"Well you should . . . all things hair and clothes, you can run by me, and I will tell you if they work or not."

Fair point. "That is one of the things I like most about you Caroline. You're not afraid to hold back what you're thinking."

Examining her fingernails, she responded, "There's no need to insult me," and I threw her a look in the mirror.

"A. It was a compliment, and I meant it as one. B. What's really on your mind? You get overly sensitive when I'm not the problem."

Focusing harder on her nails she said, "I think you were right."

"About what?"

She bit her bottom lip, while she thought about whether or not she should tell me and finally said, "I think I like Tyler." Her eyes flicked up towards me, like she was expecting me to make fun of her. I merely smirked before sitting further back into my chair, and she said, "Shut up."

"What? You like him. I'm betting that he still likes you. What's the problem?"

"Well, for one, Matt already hates me, and - "

I waved that off. "So what? Matt's boring."

"Eve!"

"Well, he is."

"You don't even know him."

Flicking the pages to another article I thought looked interesting, I said, "I know he's got a massive chip on his shoulder when it comes to just about everything, and you shouldn't put your happiness on hold for him."

When she didn't immediately respond, I glanced at her, and she quietly said, "And I'm not so sure Tyler is interested anymore."

I shrugged a shoulder. "You could always show up outside his bedroom window with a boom box playing In Your Eyes."

She didn't like that idea. "I'm not going to go crazy-stalker girl on him."

I glanced at my magazine again. "Yeah, and maybe that's too close to you serenading Matt on stage, but you should do something, a big gesture of some kind. You're a modern woman of the times. Why do you have wait around for him?"

She smiled. "You think so?"

"Maybe. What's the absolute worst thing that could happen? He rejects you and is an ass about it, you feel stupid, so you kill him in front of a bunch of people, and the world knows your secret, so you get staked. As long as that doesn't happen, you'll live, and you'll find someone else, but if you try, you could also get what you want."

The colorist came back, and Caroline eyed her, while saying, "So, you think I should make a big gesture?"

"A spontaneous one that won't embarrass him and that makes you look confident."

She rolled her eyes. "You're no help."

What'd she expect? My only experience with this kind of thing came from movies. "Or you could just talk to him, but that's boring." Caroline kept throwing out ideas, while the colorist did her thing, but the whole time she kept an eagle eye on the woman. If she was that worried about it, she should've just compelled her not to make any mistakes. I suspected that if she hadn't, she might with the woman who was going to cut my hair. She was just that kind of a perfectionist, particularly when it came to style, and with the added pressure of it being her birthday present for me, I guess she wanted it to be right.

Later, while the stylist got started on cutting, I admired the highlights in the mirror. There were only a 4 or 5 strands a quarter-inch wide that were different, and they were a rich violet, so not very red and not too blue. They blended and still popped against the normal chocolate, but they weren't overpowering . . . just a splash of color the way Caroline had said she wanted. "Do you like it?"

I smiled. "Yeah, I think I do." I wouldn't be confused for either Katherine or Elena.

"So, are you getting excited about school?"

It took me right out of my good humor. I only had a month to decide. Glancing briefly at Caroline in mirror, I picked up my magazine off the counter. "I'm not sure I'm even going." The idea of attending high school made me feel dread like no vampire hunt had, and that was without thinking about what it'd be like going to school with my sister. People would expect us to be sisterly when the truth was, that the first time either of us had spoken to one another had been at Dad's funeral, and since then . . . well, since then, we were only in close proximity when finding Stefan was being discussed as a group, and there was a lot of eye rolling, sighing in contempt, and snide comments muttered so the other could hear, but not directly said to the target, and it wasn't all just her or me. It was both of us.

Our meetings were stressful for everyone involved. After the first couple, the people around us kept us apart. Being in class with her? Well, that wouldn't be much fun, especially since this was 'her' school, not mine. I wasn't sure I'd get much done in the learning department. It seemed like a waste of time. I'd never needed to go to school, and I still had the syllabus that my Mom had planned out if I should make it to my senior year. I could do that if I wanted to be educated, and I did, because nobody takes a dullard seriously.

"Come on, Eve. I know at least part of you wants to go, or you wouldn't have taken that test to determine what your grade should be."

Oh no. She was starting to whine. "You mean the test that said I could graduate now if I wanted?"

"Yeah, if you don't want to go to college, but you still have requirements you need if you - "

"College? I can't afford that, and no college is going to accept - " pausing to censor myself, I tried, "what I've been doing with my free time."

She rolled her eyes. "You have no idea how lucky you are to have a hard-knock life story that you can use in your essays. Colleges love those . . . and if you try out for the cheerleading squad - "

"The what?" I stared at her blankly. This was the first I was hearing about that.

"The cheerleading squad. I think you should try out, and - "

I started laughing, and the woman cutting my hair put her hands on my head to hold me in place. "You're serious?"

Getting frustrated, Caroline yelled, "Yes! I think it might be good for you, and you're coordinated and fit. You wouldn't be terrible at it, and I love those girls, but I want someone that knows the real me to be on the squad with me."

"To keep an eye on you?" I thought she'd gotten enough control over her urges, and it wouldn't be a problem.

"No, to be my friend."

Now I'd gone and hurt her feelings, and I felt the need to apologize. "Caroline - "

"Forget I said anything. It's just that cheerleading is really important to me, and I've always felt like I belonged on the squad. I'm the freaking captain for goodness sake, but now . . . it's just going to be different." Throwing a sad look in my direction she added, "And I thought since Elena and Bonnie weren't up to doing it anymore, then you wouldn't have to worry about running into them, and it'd be something we could do together."

I watched her and slumped back in my seat, much to the frustration of the woman trying to cut my hair. "You're good . . . Faking like you're all sad and using Elena and Bonnie not being up for it as a way to try and get me to do it."

She smirked before mocking me. "Well, it was the truth, so even if I am manipulating you, it doesn't make what I said any less true."

I sighed. "Caroline, I'm not - "

"You are. You just haven't agreed to it yet, but I'll convince you."

"Yeah, well, I don't foresee that happening, and if what you want is quality time with me, then I thought you wanted to start a band. That should be enough, shouldn't it?" She wanted to be the lead singer and for me to play the keyboard/guitar after Damon brought it up to her. It was like I had the two of them trying to push me out of the nest, but all that was going to happen was that I was going to fall flat on my face, break a wing, and most likely get eaten by a cat.

Bulldozing her way right through what I'd said, she countered with, "And I am looking forward to that, but I was talking to my Mom about how I was concerned you were going to become a social pariah, and she said maybe you should give cheerleading a chance. I think she was right. You can get by with being a little mean the way I get by with being a little bossy because of the status being a cheerleader provides."

The woman cutting my hair snorted, and I inhaled deeply before trying to derail Caroline's train of thought. "A little bossy?"

She didn't take the bait. "You're not just a little mean either. The point is that you'll have a group of built-in friends, and you won't have to worry about spending all your time dodging your sister."

I muttered, "Except when she's with you," and Caroline ignored it.

"Oh yeah, that reminds me. What do you think about her kissing Damon?"

My eyebrows rose in surprise. "I guess she's moving on from Stefan faster than I thought."

Sitting forward to gossip, Caroline said, "See, that's the thing. She's not, and she's pretending like it was nothing, because he was . . . really sick."

Really sick? Did she mean when he was dying after he got bitten by Tyler? "You mean - " She nodded to keep me from saying it. "That was ages ago . . . did she even know Stefan was gone then?"

"Wait, you didn't know?"

"Nope."

"I would've thought he'd tell you."

I would have too considering he always used to go to me when he wanted advice about her. Maybe that'd changed since she and I had met, and it hadn't gone very well. "I told him that I don't want him trying to convert me to Team Elena . . . I don't want him being caught in the middle. If she wants to make amends, she can do it herself."

Holding her breath for a few moments, Caroline shook her head. "Yeah, I don't see that being on the horizon any time soon." That's what I thought. I rolled my eyes, and she said, "Maybe you could try apologizing?"

"For what?"

"Well, you weren't exactly nice with what you said about her parents."

"She's the one that interrupted my Dad's funeral and said it was stupid even though I put all that work into making sure it was perfect. And she walked out in the middle of my eulogy."

Caroline nodded sympathetically. "I know, but you did kind of say that she ruined your life and that he wasn't her Dad."

"He was her biological father, but she only ever knew him as her Uncle until recently, and when Mom died, I heard her tell him that he screwed everything up, but since he was the only parent she had left, maybe she could learn not to hate him. That was only a few days before he died. She didn't change her mind on him that much in a few days." Caroline opened her mouth, but I quickly cut her off by adding, "And let me ask you this . . . with as sensitive as she is about the subject of her parents, how would she have reacted to someone saying their funeral was stupid or slapping her in the face when she was burying them?" She didn't answer, so I did it for her. "Nobody would've ever thought of doing something like that to her, so you can't imagine it, but that's what she did to me, and for some reason, I'm supposed to just get over it and apologize to her. Well, I'm just not that big of a person." I looked away from Caroline and sighed. "Look, I know you're just trying to help - "

"No, I shouldn't have said anything. It's just hard, you know? I don't want to be in the middle."

"Well, I don't want that for anyone either . . . How about this? If she apologizes for all the rest, I'll apologize for saying she ruined my life. It's the only thing I said that I didn't mean. I don't blame her for what happened to my parents."

"You may not blame her for that, but I think maybe you do blame her for what your parents did to you in order to make sure she had the best life possible." Maybe I did. I didn't respond, and Caroline smiled, "Which is just one more reason to take your life by the horns and try out for cheerleading."

I sent her a little glare. "And how do you think that - "

"You were raised like a hermit, but you're not one anymore. You need to get out more, and this is the perfect way of doing that."

I started to shake my head, and the hairstylist firmly put my head back into position. Huffing, I said, "I'll have you know, I get out almost every night."

Waving that off, Caroline sat back in her chair. "What, your little top secret game that you play with Damon?"

"Yep."

"Why can't anybody know?"

"By anybody you mean - "

"Me."

"I actually think you'd have fun, but if you told anyone - "

Sitting up again, she cut me off. "Is it bad?"

"I guess it depends on who you ask."

"But I'd have fun?"

"Yeah, I think maybe you would." She bit her bottom lip in thought before saying, "Would you bring me along if I promise not to tell anyone?"

She wasn't making me suspicious at all. "Let me guess, it's the topic of conversation when Stefan isn't being discussed. If you're just going to report back to - "

"I promise I won't tell them. I know you're not a bad influence on him, and if it's anywhere close to as much fun as training can be, then I want in on it."

We'd taken a break from it for a while after her ordeal with the werewolves, but she'd come to me wanting to start self-defense training again in the summer after Klaus left town. And if she knew it was training adjacent, then she had to know it had something to do with Damon getting to use his vampire skills, which meant she enjoyed being able to let loose and just be what she was for a little while. Maybe she didn't want the others to know that. "Okay. If we go out tonight - "

"I can't tonight."

"Okay, well then when your schedule is free, let me know, and you can come with us if it's what you want."

She smiled, quite pleased with herself and sat back again before saying, "You know another reason I think it'd be more fun to have you on the squad with me? You're fearless and with my strength, I have some new stunts I want to try. I think we could take State."

If I could shake my head I would. Instead, I resorted to giving her an annoyed look. "You're not going to let this go, are you?"

"Nope, and I have a month to convince you. I'm just getting started."

Chapter Text

It was never, 'Hi.' It was never, 'How's it going?' It was almost always, 'Guess what I found?' or as was the case in this instance, "Where are you?" Damon and phone etiquette when he was the one calling weren't exactly synonymous with one another.

"I'm having my birthday lunch with Caroline and Tyler."

"At the Grill?"

"Yep."

"What would you say to getting out of this town for a while?"

I smiled and started to pull some money out to pay my fair share until Caroline slapped my arm and indicated I should put it away, because she wanted to pay. Giving her a death glare, I answered, "I'd say that's the best birthday present ever . . . Wait, you're not going to try and talk me into being a cheerleader too, are you?"

Tyler laughed at the notion and nudged Caroline to get her to fill him in on what I meant by that, while Damon answered, "Nope. We have a solid lead."

Getting up, I said, "Even better," before he said he was almost there, and we both hung up.

I walked behind Caroline's chair, and leaned over her from the back. Her flinch was noticeable, and it made me frown. "Relax. I'm not going to break your neck in front of all these people."

Putting up a bit of a struggle as I wrapped my arms around her, she awkwardly said, "What are you . . . are you hugging me?"

"Yep . . . I just wanted to say that even though you've annoyed me as much as I can tolerate for one day, thanks. I like the new hair. You did a great job."

"Aww." She patted my forearm before I let her go. Looking at Tyler, she almost gleefully said, "See, I said she wasn't an evil twin."

Putting his hands up, Tyler replied, "Hey, I never said she was."

"Yeah, but now you can back me up when I say it."

I saw Damon's car pull up and gave Tyler's arm a playful shove, while saying goodbye, and bounded to the car. Getting in, I asked, "Where are we going this time?" and Damon drove away from the curb saying, "Memphis," before glancing in my direction and then doing a double take. "What'd you do to you're hair?"

I smiled. "It was Caroline's present to me."

His brow furrowed before he put his eyes back on the road and shook his head. "Well, it's different."

"Exactly. Now, I don't look like either one of them anymore, and I don't care what you think. I like it."

He rolled his eyes. "Then I guess you're fine with giving up?"

"Giving up?"

"Yeah, Katherine and your sister get to keep their identity, but you're the one who has to change."

I frowned before directing my attention out the passenger-side window. I hadn't thought of that. "Or maybe I can look however I want now, and this is what I want . . . and it's safer. If I'm shot or attacked now, it'll be because they're going for me and not someone else." He didn't appear to be in the best of moods, so before he could find another way to insult me, I said, "So, what's the lead in Memphis?" He reached behind his seat and pulled out a stack of papers. Going through them, I muttered, "So, they're not done with Pensacola?"

"What?"

"Don't you remember? That guy we went to check out in Florida had family in Memphis. That's either some coincidence, or there's something to it. There is an organized pattern to what they're doing . . . well, what Klaus is doing. The more places they go, and the more bodies they leave behind, the clearer the pattern gets . . . Do you think that's why Stefan is - "

"No. He's not dropping bodies, like breadcrumbs. He doesn't want to be found. He just can't help himself."

"So, he's definitely - "

"I don't know if he's gone full-blown ripper yet, but he is in way too deep to control it."

I put the papers down in my lap and looked at Damon. "Can you bring him back?"

"Yeah, but if he's flipped that switch . . . " He sighed before saying, "Lexi is the only one that could ever bring him back from that."

"Lexi?"

"His best friend."

Ah, Stefan's file called her Alexia. "Do you know where she is?"

"I killed her."

"Oh."

His eyes flicked in my direction, and he felt the need to explain. "When I first got to town, I wasn't all that discreet, and the Council was looking for a vampire. She came to town for Stefan's birthday, and I gave them a vampire."

Well, if that was his idea of a birthday present, I guess it was a good thing I didn't have any best friends other than him. "What does it take to switch it back?"

He thought about it for a while. "There's no set formula. It just happens. It can be anything that makes you feel. Anger's a pretty good one."

"Well then you are the man for the job." I smirked at the look he gave me, and then said, "Could Elena get through to him?"

He waited a few seconds before saying, "She could be used to make him flip it, like if he really believed she was going to die, and he felt that fear, then that would work . . . but he's just as likely to be the one that kills her, and it wouldn't flip until after he realizes what he's done." Looking at me he added, "But don't go getting any ideas about killing her to bring him back."

I laid my head against the passenger-side window and closed my eyes. "You're in a bad mood. Wake me up when we get there."

"Eve."

It sounded like a warning, like he expected me to promise not to kill Elena. Without opening my eyes, I grumbled, "I can't believe you think so little of me. I may not like her, but I'm not sororicidal. It would go against everything I was raised to be, and it would be a waste of Dad's life if I was so flippant with hers. If she ever needs protection from anyone, I'll be there if it's required and then leave without talking to her . . . so no. I'm not going to kill her or attempt to kill her to make your brother flip his humanity back on." A thought occurred to me, and I opened my eyes to look at him. "It's not something you were considering and just projecting onto me, is it?"

He looked offended. "I would never - "

"Good. Then we're on the same page." I hesitated before saying, "It's more than just a lead, isn't it? You think they might still be there. It's why you're so . . . tense."

Resting his elbow on the door and his head in his hand, he answered, "I just don't know what we're going to find when we get there."

Mm. He'd said the same thing when we went to Florida, but he hadn't been this moody then. It'd been more of a holiday, because I'd never been to Florida, and we were days behind when they'd been there. "You don't have to worry about me." He glanced in my direction, and I tried to explain. "I mean, Stefan is the priority, and his is your brother, so however you want to play this is what I'll do." I wasn't going to do anything to jeopardize Stefan just to get at Klaus.

He relaxed, but still snarked, "Does that mean I can turn around and take you back?"

"You can if you want, but you're the one that called me . . . and you should ask the Sheriff to get the address of where that Pensacola guy's family lived in Memphis, so we know where we're going when we get there. Maybe we can head them off."

I went back to closing my eyes, heard him texting, and then a few minutes later, he asked, "So, have you ever been to Memphis?" I shook my head. "Do you want to check out Graceland, while we're there?"

That was better. I opened one eye to look at him, and the corner of my mouth turned up into a small smile. "Bit tacky for you, isn't it?"

"You can say that after we've gone, not before. It's all about opening you up to new experiences."

I drily responded, "By going to Graceland."

"That's right."

"And Pensacola."

"You bet." He chuckled before looking at me and saying, "I promise when this is all over, I will take you somewhere good."

"Like?"

"Wherever you want to go."

"Then I want to go to Gabon to see the gorillas."

He did another double take of me before he snorted. "Figures."

"What?"

"Couldn't be somewhere simple, like Paris or Rome. No, you want to go trekking through the jungle to see some gorillas."

"And?"

"And - " he bit his bottom lip before looking at me again with a more considered face. "It'd be a first for me too. Yeah, I think we could do that if you want."

"You won't eat the gorillas will you?"

He rolled his eyes. "No. You won't kill any poachers will you?"

Good question. "It presents an interesting conundrum. They are humans, and they hunt to survive or for sport, but vampires kill to survive and for sport, and I kill them to protect people who need it. Why would it be any different if gorillas were the ones who needed protection?"

He opened his mouth to give an immediate answer and then thought better of it before coming out with, "You're right. You should give up vampire hunting." Well, that's not what I'd expected, because that isn't what I'd said. I sat up to look at him, and he said, "It is a slippery slope you're on, and if you continue going the way you are, it won't be long until you start thinking like that all the time."

"You don't mean that."

He concentrated on his wording. "I might . . . if it's better for you, then yeah, I think you should give it up, but it's all you've ever known, and I don't know if you could . . . maybe just stick with the 'no killing humans' policy?" He glanced in my direction, like he wanted to see if that was the right answer, and I shrugged, because I didn't know.

"But I can beat them up, right?"

He grinned. "Any humans or just poachers?"

"Whoever needs it."

He laughed again. "Who are you planning on fighting?"

"Nobody . . . just curious."

"Well, for starters stay away from the humans with badges."

I looked away from him in annoyance. "Why? You've gotten a lot of good mileage out of that one. I have to be on the Council, which is as boring as you said it was, and none of them listen to me anyway. And I have to go to school even though my Mom did such a good job teaching me, I don't really need to go . . . and now, Caroline won't leave me alone about joining her stupid cheerleading squad."

Lifting his finger, he contradicted me. "Actually, two of those weren't me . . . and now I think I understand why you want to know if you can fight with other people."

I sat back in a huff. "I'm not trying out for her squad."

He paused and then shook his head. "Yeah, I've got nothing for that one. You're not the type . . . although I wouldn't mind going to games to see how many cheerleaders you put in the hospital by the end. I don't think she's really thought this through."

"It was her Mom's idea."

"Liz?"

"Yep . . . I guess Caroline thinks I'm going to be a social pariah if I go to school, and her Mom said I should try out for cheerleading, so I could make friends."

"Why would she think you're going to be an outcast?"

He seemed concerned, so focusing out the side window, I said, "It's just Caroline being Caroline. I'll know her, and I'll know Tyler. For me, that's fine. For her, that'd be awful."

"And that's all it is?"

I shrugged without looking at him. "I may not even go. I don't know if I'm cut out for - "

"You deserve to have the normal teenage experience."

I'm sure he meant that as a good thing, because to him, being human was a time in his life that he missed, but for me, trudging through halls full of students was going to be torture. Giving him a sad smile, I said, "Lets just say that for the first time, I wish I'd had it when you did."

He smiled whimsically and then said, "Yeah, things were a lot different then. The entire school fit in one room, and it was still probably smaller than one of your classes is going to be. It would've suited you a lot better . . . except that mouth of yours would've gotten you into a lot more trouble. Teachers believed in corporal punishment back then . . . and you would've hated the corsets and dresses ladies were expected to wear."

He had a point. Maybe I wasn't meant to go to school in any time period. "You're sure I - "

"Just try it. Besides, I thought graduating was on your bucket list. This is kind of the only way to officially do that."

He was on fire with making sense today. I still felt the need to say, "I would've been happy finishing my Mom's syllabus and simply saying, 'I graduated.'"

He gave me a look that said he didn't believe that for a second. "And then what? The two of us stand around in your room with a cupcake that says, 'Good job?'"

I tried not to smile. "With little cardboard party hats and party horns? Yeah. That."

One of his eyebrows rose as he said, "I think we could do better than that."

"I guess we'll find out."

"So you'll do it?"

I sighed. I couldn't go to school for him or Caroline or anyone else. If I was going to do this, then I had to do it for myself, and what exactly was it that I wanted? I didn't know. When I was little, I did want to go to a normal school, but now was a different story. It would be a challenge, but I wasn't one to not do something, because it was difficult.

Chapter Text

My head tilted to the side, while I examined the woman's dead eyes. "Milky eyes." Poking her in a couple of places, I said, "Full rigor mortis and cold to the touch . . . They were here over 8 hours ago, but it hasn't been a full day."

I looked over my shoulder at Damon, and he muttered, "I knock this one's head off, and you totally ignore it?"

I shrugged. "They're dead. Knocking her head off isn't going to change that, and when you're tracking, you have to know approximate times of death, so you can know how close you are to your prey . . . I mean vampire."

"Be honest. You don't do this to save people. You do it for the kill."

I shook my head as I stood. "It's not the kill."

Stopping me from leaving by gently grabbing my forearm, Damon said, "It's the hunt?"

"That's what makes it fun, but I have fun with you, so I could have fun doing something else."

"I don't get it."

"It's my responsibility to keep that - " I pointed to the headless woman. "from happening to anyone else. But I don't feel bad about the ones who die, because I didn't kill them, so it's not my fault it happened. What I can do is use them to find what I'm tracking rather than letting them go to waste."

Damon looked at the two women again in semi-fascination before saying, "Trust me. Stefan didn't let any of them go to waste."

"Not their blood. I meant their lives."

"And you don't do it to save someone that's being attacked?"

"99% of victims I find are already dead."

"I am struggling to understand why this is your responsibility."

"Because I can do something about it."

"That doesn't mean that it has to be you that does it though."

How could I explain this? "Doctors have a responsibility to save people who are sick. Captains have a responsibility to stay on a sinking boat until everyone else is off. This is my responsibility."

He still seemed perplexed. "Killing vampires?"

"It's where I fit . . . not good or bad, but somewhere in the middle."

He shook his head. "You're more than that."

Turning away from him, I muttered, "I'm really not," and paused. I had a conscience. It's just that my lines on the difference between right and wrong were a little blurry, but they had to be to do what I did, and I knew he kept a close eye on it. Why, I wasn't sure, but I think he didn't want me to turn into a monster, because it was a tricky balancing act on the edge of a razor. Most vampire hunters were just as bad as the things they hunted . . . maybe a little like the way I was heading when I first met him, what with how flippant I'd been with that woman's life at the farmhouse. From what I understood, vampire hunters were vicious and deadly to anyone they came across, and that included innocent people if it meant getting their true target.

The difference between vampire hunters and vampires was that rather than flipping a switch, they were able to do what they did because they were fueled by pure hatred. That probably made them even more dangerous than vampires, because hate was such a powerful emotion, and it's not something they could simply shut off, so their humanity could be returned to them, the way a vampire could with the touch of a button. "If I don't feel anything about the victims, it means I don't hate the things that do this to them . . . It may make me calloused, but I'm not blinded by rage or hate."

Stepping up behind me, he said, "And what happened after Rose?"

I knew he'd been more worried about that than he'd ever said. That's the real reason he decided every now and then that we needed to do something 'normal.' Sighing, I answered, "I'm not perfect. I cared about what happened to her, but it wasn't hate that fueled me to do what I did. It was a . . . I don't know. Anger at the injustice of it all? Jules lost her temper over nothing, went for you, and got Rose. It wasn't your fault or Rose's, but Rose and her victim at the school paid the price, and to achieve that, Jules had to intentionally let herself roam free that night knowing what could happen if she did. She killed even more people that were camping as a result . . . It was a lot of needless death and destruction over nothing, and I couldn't let that go. Her pack wasn't any better. I didn't hate them. I just couldn't let a war break out, and if there's only one side, there can't be a war. If there's no war, there's no collateral damage."

"And they were torturing Caroline." I shrugged, and he said, "You told me one time that you hated needless death and torture . . . I said I didn't care and walked away." I didn't particularly remember that, but I nodded anyway, because that sounded about right. "So, it was a perfect storm for you."

"Yeah, it wasn't a normal occurrence." I briefly smiled. "I'm not a sociopath, psychopath, or whatever it is you've decided to think I might be today."

"You've been fine all summer. It's just that with them being so close - "

"I told you I'm going to play this the way you want. I'm not going to kill your brother."

I looked behind me when he pointed back at the bodies and said, "That doesn't look like needless death to you?"

It looked like needless suffering to me, not necessarily needless death. I didn't know how to explain how I defined the difference. Maybe Stefan was just hungry, and he went overboard, or Klaus had some greater purpose for their deaths. Either way there may have been more need behind it than I knew . . . or maybe I was just making excuses, because I wasn't going to kill Damon's brother even though he probably deserved it. "That looks to me like your brother has some serious issues. I actually find it more disturbing to see them sitting there like prim and proper dolls than I would've found it if we walked in here, and they were in pieces scattered all over the house." I glanced at Damon and added, "Seriously strong serial killer vibes coming from that one. I think I'll call him 'The Doll Maker.'"

He tried not to smile. "You know he does it because he feels remorse, right?"

One of my eyebrows rose in amusement. "Sure. I get it. He wishes they weren't dead, so he makes it look like they're not . . . It's still disturbing, and I now dub him The Doll Maker."

"You can't call him that to his face."

"Why, because it'll hurt his feelings? I think that's the least of his problems."

Rolling his eyes, Damon turned me and pushed me towards the door. "Come on, we need to get some things to burn this place to the ground."

"Well, look at you, cleaning up after your brother for a change."

"Shut up."

Looking over my shoulder at him, I asked "Can I light the match?"

"What the birthday girl wants, the birthday girl gets."

I smirked. "Plus 2 tickets to Graceland."

Chapter Text

We pulled up to the boarding house, and my hand went to the door handle out of habit even though it froze there, while I took in the sight before me. There were young people hanging out all over the lawn . . . some were hanging out of actual windows. There were red plastic cups littering the place. Loud music was blaring inside. "What fresh hell is this?"

Damon laughed. "Caroline wanted to throw you a surprise party."

I looked at him in confusion. "Me?"

Sighing as he looked at the house, he said, "It's for you and Elena. Elena knew. You didn't, hence the surprise."

I felt betrayed. "You were in on it?"

"I knew about it."

"That's why you wanted to go to freaking Graceland? You wanted us to get here when things were in full swing, so I couldn't do anything to sabotage it."

He gave me one of his more annoying smirks. "And isn't it great that I know you well enough to know that's exactly what you'd do if you did know about it."

I watched in disgust as a kid threw up in some bushes. Suddenly my eyes widened as I opened my door. "My piano!" There could be kids puking in that at this very moment. I didn't get more than a few steps before Damon was standing in front of me.

"Caroline knows that room and yours are both off limits."

Looking past him at the crowd of drunken high school students, I flicked my hand in their direction before whining, "And you think they care about boundaries right now?"

Doing a terrible job at trying not to laugh, Damon put his hands on my shoulders and said, "Eve, it's just a party. You're going to be going to school with all these people in a month anyway. You might as well get used to them now."

I looked at them in horror and shook my head. "I'm seriously reconsidering that decision."

"Nah, you promised you would. You have to go through with it now." Turning me towards the side of the house, he said, "So, here's what we're going to do. You are going to sneak into your room. It's half your party, which means that if you want to stay in there hiding all night you can, but when Caroline inevitably kicks you out, come find me. I am going to go in the front to start chaperoning."

Leaning back into his chest, so I could look up at him, I whispered, "You're going to check on my piano, aren't you?"

"That's the first place I'm going."

"And if anyone - "

"They're dead."

I breathed a sigh of relief and nodded. "Okay . . . You're not really going to kill - "

"No."

With a final nod, I left him and made my way around the back, so I could climb in through my bedroom window. I wasn't entirely sure if he'd meant that when he told me to sneak into my room, or if he'd thought I'd go through the back door, but using the window prevented me from being seen by anyone. I was relieved to find that when my feet hit the floor, I was alone. It didn't seem like anything was out of place, and I searched high and low to make sure it wasn't. The sounds of the party were much louder from in here. It was one thing going to a club with Damon to play our game. It was an entirely different experience having that loud, obnoxious vibe brought into a place where I normally felt calm and could decompress. It felt a little like I was in a combat zone, and my room was my safe house, but an attack could come through the door at any moment to completely derail that.

Caroline would come looking for me when she saw Damon. I looked down at my boots. There was probably blood on the soles of them, so I sat on my bed to remove them and reached down for my black Converse. Those should be fine . . . so should the jeans. I didn't see any blood on them. I may have gotten blood on my shirt, because that house had been covered in it, so I changed out of my t-shirt, put on a black long-sleeve v-neck, and threw on my fitted, and altered to be fully-loaded, olive green army jacket before looking at my door. If this was a combat zone, that jacket was what made me feel safe.

It may not have seemed like it, but I'd spent a good 30 minutes making sure none of my things had been touched, pacing and thinking about what I was going to do, and then changing my clothes. Now the moment of truth was upon me. Did I hide in here like a coward? Did I wait for Caroline to come get me and seem like a prima donna that I wasn't, simply because I was too uncomfortable to make an appearance? Did I go out there by myself, make an appearance, correct people when they called me Elena, and then meet Damon at the other end of the gauntlet? The last one is the option that would cause me the greatest amount of discomfort, but it's the one I had to do.

Taking a deep breath, I pulled the door open to find Caroline standing there with her arm raised, like she was about to knock. She grinned and then looked down at my clothes. "What are you wearing?"

"Whatever it takes to get me through this in one piece."

"Oh no, no, no. You're supposed to wear something pretty and - "

"Caroline please?"

It was a heartfelt plea, and maybe that's why when she looked back up at me, she relaxed before sighing. "Okay. I thought for sure you were going to stake me just for making you come out of your room, so I guess it's better than that."

She gave me an attempt at a compassionate smile, and I said, "And there's no blood on it."

Looking more confident in her decision to let me wear what I wanted, she stood a little taller and responded happily, "Well, that's a small miracle in and of itself." Waiting for me to step out of the room, so she could walk next to me down the hall, she whispered, "So, you found something?"

"We did."

"You'll tell me all about it later?"

"Definitely." Klaus was hunting werewolves based on what we found under that house, and to my mind, that meant that he thought they were the key to making his hybrids. I mean, it made sense. He was technically born a werewolf first and then became a vampire, which is what made him a hybrid, so to make his hybrids, he probably needed to start with werewolves too. Luckily werewolves were hard to find, so we weren't too late to stop him, but we were running out of time, because he was getting close.

Caroline grinned and said, "Excellent," before quickly adding, "I have to talk to this girl . . . you go on ahead. Work the room, like you own it. You live here, so act like it's where you belong. Don't hide," and then she was gone, talking to some girl that we'd passed. The numbers of people grew, the further I got down the hall. It may be where I lived, but it didn't seem like the same place at all. I definitely felt like hiding, and the best way to do that was to get lost in the crowd. It's what I did in the clubs, and nobody here was really paying attention to anyone they weren't talking to unless I bumped into them, and then they looked at me and said, "Happy Birthday, Elena."

I'd mumble, "It's Eve," and keep going, more careful not to disturb anyone else that was in my path until I made my way out onto the back patio and managed to get enough air to breathe. Resting my hands on the stonework, I focused on taking slow steadying breaths. "Hey, you look like you could use one of these."

I looked to my left and saw Damon. I'd been so focused on keeping upright that I hadn't even known he was there. Taking the glass he offered me, I muttered, "Yeah, I think I've told at least 5 people that I'm Eve so far . . . Great party," and he raised his glass in a toast.

"To first steps."

I clinked my glass against his and took a small sip before looking out at the drunk kids on the back lawn. "Damon, what am I going to do? It's different when we're playing one of our games in a club because nobody knows anyone else, and they don't care who anyone else is. I could get through this if I went in there and pretended to be Elena, but - "

He reached up to touch my hair and said, "You kind of made sure you couldn't." I looked at him, and he said, "And I think I like it better this way."

"You said - "

"Yeah, but if it means you can't hide behind being Elena anymore, then I'm all for it." Moving so he could sit closer to me, he started to say, "Eve - "

But then someone came up on my left, demanded, "Drink," and took his glass from his hand. I looked over my shoulder and saw it was Elena. She was too busy complaining to notice me. "Jeremy's smoking again."

I muttered, "Well, addiction is a huge problem. You should get him into rehab fast," and that earned me a glare as she finally realized who I was.

"He's not an addict!"

It was the first time since she slapped me that she'd spoken directly to me. She finally broke, and it made me want to smile. "Then what's the problem?" From what I understood, he did drugs after his parents died, and then stopped when Damon compelled him to forget Vicki dying. If he was doing drugs again, then he must have a reason, but it wasn't a reason he was apparently sharing with her, and all she could see were the drugs, not the real problem. Standing up to look at her, I said, "I could talk to him . . . cousin to cousin. Maybe not all is well with your revenant brother, and he needs - "

I barely got my eyes closed in time to keep them from getting splashed with alcohol as she threw Damon's drink in my face. While I wiped it off with my sleeve, she heatedly told me, "Stay away from my brother," before storming back into the party. Well, that hadn't gone well.

When I glanced at Damon, he said, "Why does everything you say come out sounding like a threat?"

I sighed before leaning back on the stone wall next to him. "It wasn't a threat."

"I know that, and I know what you meant. Maybe you're right. Maybe he did come back a little wrong, and he's not telling anyone, but you called him a revenant, and - "

I cut him off while looking at him over my shoulder. "You know she might think me calling him a revenant was threatening if somebody told her what I said after I found out he died and came back." He'd been the only one there other than me.

"I am wounded that you think I would betray your trust in such a fashion."

Maybe it'd been my body language. Maybe she just didn't like me calling her brother a zombie or offering to talk to him, in general, if it meant he might open up with me when he wasn't with her. "Okay."

"You believe me just like that?"

How long had we known each other now, and he was still surprised whenever I went with something he said. "When you revert back to 1860s Damon, and it's a genuine slip of the tongue, I know you're being honest."

His eyes widened. "I never - "

"You so do. Authentic Proper Damon doesn't make much of an appearance, so when he does, I take note, and I've identified a pattern."

Gone were the days when me hitting a little too close to some hidden truth of his meant that he was potentially going to snap and kill someone. Giving me an easy smile, he said, "Well, you, Miss Eve, are missing your party . . . I would be most honored if you allowed me to accompany you to it, so you don't miss anymore."

I rolled my eyes. "You said it that way intentionally."

"And yet I meant it. Perhaps you do not know me as well as you think."

Focusing my attention on the cuffs of my sleeves, I said, "Well, Mr. Salvatore, I wouldn't presume to know everything . . . Just today a little birdie told me something about you to which I had no prior knowledge."

Enjoying the game, he sat forward and asked, "And what, pray tell, might that be?"

I looked at him over my shoulder with my eyebrows raised in expectation. "It would appear that another Miss Gilbert was quite forward with you when you lay dying and yet I heard not a peep about it until today."

His brow furrowed. "Eve - "

"I'm sorry." He seemed confused by my response, so dropping the pretense of sounding like a lady from the 1860s, I tried to clarify. "If you couldn't tell me something that had to make you feel pretty conflicted with the Doll Maker gone, then I'm sorry. I know my cold war with Elena hasn't been easy on anyone."

He looked like he wasn't sure what to say to that, but then he picked up on the thing I'd wanted him to when I said it. "Stop calling him the Doll Maker."

With a smile, I responded, "I quite like seeing you be a protective big brother. I don't think I will."

"Eve."

"Yes, Damon?"

He tried not to smile, while he said, "Stop trying to pick a fight with me because you don't want to go back in there."

My shoulders dropped. "Is it that obvious?"

"Little bit." Hopping up from his seat, he offered me his arm and said, "Shall we?" I reluctantly took it before looking up at him, and he smiled. "Miss Eve if you would be so kind as to save a dance for me on your card, it would make the night most memorable for me."

I laughed. "Mr. Salvatore, if I may be so bold as to select the music for the rest of the night, then you may have all the dances on my card."

"Why do I feel like if I agree to this, you're going to use it to clear the house? " All I did was grin in response. "All right. I'll show you where they set up the sound desk."

Chapter Text

Damon tried to take away the microphone I'd found, but I hugged it to my chest saying, "Let me do it."

"You're going to self destruct before you even start school."

"Oh, Damon, haven't you heard? I've already got nicknames. I'll be fine." You could hear the whispers every once in a while when you passed people, or I could anyway, particularly when Caroline made them all sing happy birthday to Elena and I before we cut our cakes.

He sighed before looking out at the throng of drunk students. "Yeah, I'm starting to think you were holding back a few things from me when you said Caroline thought you were going to be an outcast."

"Well, I knew about the evil twin one. Bizarro Gilbert is new to me." Those were the nicest ones I'd heard.

Plugging the mic back in he said, "Might as well start the year off with a bang."

Tapping the mic to see if it worked, I cut the music to loud groans from everybody. Looking around I grinned before saying, "As some of you may already know. I'm Elena's sister, Eve Gilbert. I'm looking around, and I don't see my cousin Jeremy anywhere . . . where is he?" I saw a few hands at the back of the room pointing to somebody, and then smiled when I saw him come around the corner into view. "There you are. This song is dedicated to you. Come find me if you ever want to talk. The rest of you . . . since twins have to split everything, the music selection is mine for the rest of the night. You'll probably hate it." Putting on an a flight attendant's voice, and gesturing to the doors, I added, "If you do, please make your way to the nearest exit, and you should be just fine."

I hit the play button and Kiss Off from the Violent Femmes started blaring out over the speakers before Damon leaned down towards my ear and yelled, "That wasn't as bad as I was expecting."

I gave him a devilish grin and said, "We'll see." If Elena was around to hear the lyrics, maybe it'd piss her off. It'd probably piss Jeremy off too even though that wasn't my intention.

I need someone, a person to talk to
Someone who'd care to love
Could it be you?
Could it be you?

People were mostly standing around staring, like they didn't know what to do, and Damon took my hand to pull me out from around the desk saying, "If I get all the dances, then I want this one too."

The situation gets rough, and I start to panic
It's not enough, it's just a habit
And kid, you're sick
Well, darling, this is it

When we got out in front of the desk, Damon unexpectedly spun me out away from him and back to his chest as the drums kicked in at the start of the chorus, and I laughed before following his lead when he started the jive.

Well, you can all just kiss off into the air
Behind my back, I can see them stare
They'll hurt me bad, but I won't mind
They'll hurt me bad, they do it all the time (yeah, yeah!)
They do it all the time (yeah, yeah!)
They do it all the time (do it all the time!)
They do it all the time (do it all the time!)
They do it all the time

The thing about Damon is he is a great dancer, and he had this ability to make anyone he was dancing with look good. He did it at clubs when he got drunk and danced with random women, and he had that ability when he danced with me even though he never danced with me the way he danced with those women. Like he'd never do a jive with one of them. I had natural rhythm, and my mom and I used to dance around our house when I was younger, so I could dance a little using what she'd taught me, but he always took it to that next level.

I hope you know that this will go down on your permanent record!
Oh, yeah? Well, don't get so distressed
Did I happen to mention that I'm impressed?

He let me bounce around him, while he left his hand up for me to use for twirling during the interlude, since it was essentially un-danceable. I stopped in front of him with a little bounce on the beat at the end, and he grinned, which was my cue to follow his lead again as he started doing his cool take on the twist. By then I didn't care if anyone was watching or dancing or leaving. I was having fun.

I take one, one, one 'cause you left me

We got a little lower and kept going lower with each line.

And two, two, two for my family
And three, three, three for my heartache
And four, four, four for my headaches
And five, five, five for my lonely,

We started getting a little higher with each line after that.

And six, six, six for my sorrow
And seven, seven - n,n,n-no tomorrow
And eight, eight, I forget what eight was for
But nine, nine, nine for the lost gods

And on ten, we raised our arms above our head and started jumping around each other on the word everything.

Ten, ten, ten, ten for everything, everything, everything, everything

He pulled me back into his arms for the jive we'd done at the start of the song.

Well, you can all just kiss off into the air
Behind my back, I can see them stare
They'll hurt me bad, but I won't mind
They'll hurt me bad, they do it all the time (yeah, yeah!)
They do it all the time (yeah, yeah!)
They do it all the time (do it all the time!)
They do it all the time (do it all the time!)
They do it all the time time time time t-time time tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-time tu-time time (do it all the time!)

We stopped on the final beat, and he let me go with a brief laugh. I looked around. People drunk enough not to care what was playing seemed to be bouncing around even though the song had stopped. There were fewer people, but for the most part, I think everyone was drunk enough to stay.

Blitzkreig Bop started, and Damon pointed at me from a few feet away in recognition of it before we both started jumping up and down to that song, like we were at an actual gig, and if I ever bounced too far, he pulled me back towards him to make sure he still got his dance. The rest of the night went by in a blur until I felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked behind me, and there was Jeremy. "Hey, what did you mean earlier?" Glancing around at everyone else in the room to see if they were listening, he leaned closer and asked, "What do you know about what's happening to me?" Ah ha, so there was something.

I looked back at Damon with my eyebrows raised, like 'I told you so,' and he rolled his eyes before saying, "Go talk to him, but you owe me a dance for every song you miss."

Turning to follow Jeremy, I said, "Deal." When we got out the back door, there were fewer people than there had been earlier, so I found a quiet spot in the corner and hopped up on the wall before patting the spot next to me as an indication he should sit. He seemed reluctant. "I won't bite. Kind of against the rules for those of us who hunt the things that do bite."

A little smile passed across his face before he inhaled sharply and took a seat next to me. Looking around again to see if anyone could hear us, he leaned his forearms on his knees and quietly said, "What do you know?"

I shrugged. "Well, I know that for you to be sitting here right now, some bad juju had to go down."

"Bonnie wouldn't - "

"Not intentionally, but it is against the natural order of things, and witches who go against the natural order, particularly when it comes to raising the dead, aren't doing something 'good' with their magic. There are always consequences."

"How do you know that?"

"My Mom became an expert on all things occult . . . I picked up a few things along the way."

He smiled again and relaxed. "So, that's why you think I'm a revenant?"

I rolled my eyes. "I did when I first found out . . . and how do you know that?"

"Caroline told Bonnie, and Bonnie told me."

I looked off to the side in annoyance. "Of course it was Caroline. I must've said something while we were training."

He laughed. It wasn't particularly funny, but I guess just about anything would seem funny to him right about now. "I believe the exact words she said you used were, 'I have to be ready in case there's a revenant outbreak in town.'"

Nodding as I remembered that, I said, "And she took me seriously enough to think it was something that Bonnie might need to know about." I sighed. "She's still hit and miss on getting my humor." I looked at him. "I didn't think that you were seriously a zombie by the time I said it, and I don't think that now. I may have briefly thought it would be cool to hunt something new when I first found out, but Damon assured me that it wasn't necessary, and said I couldn't kill you." Looking off into the distance, I added, "I still think they must be out there somewhere though. I will have my day." He laughed again, and I focused on him. "What are you trying to block out with the drugs?"

"I just had one joint, and it was tonight. How did you know - "

"Your sister complained to Damon about it earlier." He rolled his eyes, and I attempted to keep the conversation from derailing again. "Seriously. What is it? Are you seeing things, or hearing - "

"Both."

Huh. That'd been a shot in the dark. He'd died a couple of months ago, so I knew he wasn't smoking weed because of stress from the incident itself, which meant it had to be something else that he wanted to hide from by altering his brain chemistry. "And it's getting more frequent?"

"Yeah . . . does your Mom's research say anything about how to get rid of it?"

"Jeremy, you died."

"Yeah? I've died before and - "

"This is different. You died - no hope of coming back kind of died - the ring preserves you in a state of stasis if you've been killed by something supernatural and acts like an anchor until your soul has a chance to make it's way back to your body, but when you died, your body shut down permanently and your soul went to wherever souls go. Then you came back. There are consequences for that, and they aren't the kind of consequences that go away . . . at least not as long as you're alive."

He ducked his head. "I was reading about it online, and there is a lot out there that's just plain crazy, but I found this one theory that seems about right. I don't remember being dead . . . but I think wherever I went, I brought some people back with me."

"Your parents?"

He shook his head. "Vicki . . . and Anna."

"Interesting."

In confusion, he asked, "What?"

"Well, from what I understand, they were both vampires, right?" I didn't wait for him to nod before saying, "If vampires and humans go to the same place when they die, then it might make sense that you brought those two back, but why not your parents if it has to be people who had close ties to you? Why is it only vampires? If vampires and humans don't go to the same place when they die, then it could explain why you aren't seeing your parents, but that would mean that you went where vampires go, which wouldn't happen if you're human, so it makes even less sense . . . unless you bringing them back with you isn't what's happened."

Running his hand down his face, he muttered, "I must be really stoned, because I think that almost made sense . . . So I'm seeing my dead girlfriends because they were vampires, and it's not because I brought them back with me. It's something else?"

"That's as far as I've gotten so far. Without more information, I doubt I'll get much further . . . Have they told you what they want?"

He shook his head. "I think they're mostly trying to get my attention right now, and I am trying to ignore them."

"But they're getting more persistent?" He nodded. "Do you see them at the same time?"

"No, it's usually one right after the other."

"Does one always show up first and the other always second?"

He nodded before giving me a confused smile. "Yeah . . . it's always Vicki first."

"Do you get the same vibe from both?" He started to think about it, and I harshly rushed him, like a drill sergeant. "Quick answer. Yes or no. Do you - "

"No."

He looked a little surprised, like he wasn't sure why he said that, or maybe it was because of my sudden outburst, so I tried to explain why I'd rushed him. "I'm a big believer in what your instincts tell you . . . at least when confronted with the supernatural . . . why are the vibes you're getting different?"

"Vicki just looks really desperate, and she sounds sad when I hear her say my name. It's like she needs help, and Anna . . . she looks angry a lot of the time, but she's the one I want to see more."

"Could she be chasing Vicki off?"

"What?"

"Well, it's always Vicki first. Then it's Anna. She looks angry, but she's not so angry that it's keeping you from wanting to see her. Maybe your instincts are telling you that she's not angry with you. Maybe she's angry with Vicki, because she doesn't want Vicki to talk to you."

"You mean she's jealous?"

"I don't know." Looking off the side, while I thought about it, I spoke mainly to myself. "It would mean that they have to be aware of each other even when you don't see them . . . which begs the question, where do they go when you don't see them? Do they go back to where they were before you died, or are they always around, and you only see them at certain times?"

"I see them when I'm thinking about them."

He muttered it, like he hadn't really wanted to say it, and I looked at him. "Well, that would've been good to know. It would've saved a lot of time."

"I feel guilty. I'm with Bonnie. I shouldn't be thinking about - "

"They meant a lot to you. They died. You're allowed to mourn them for however long you need and think about them from time to time . . . It's interesting that you think of Vicki, and then immediately think of Anna even if you feel like Vicki is the one that needs help. I'm guessing you trusted Anna more?"

"No, I - "

"Not to speak ill of the dead, especially if they're listening, but I know Vicki had some problems, Jeremy. It would make sense if you trusted - "

He stood up to leave. "I don't know you well enough to talk about any of this. Just forget I said anything."

Well, the tone of that conversation turned pretty fast. When he got to the door, I said, "Talk to the one you trust more . . . Find out what she wants. Confronting this rather than hiding from it will help you come to terms with your new place between the living and the dead."

Stopping, he turned to look at me, conscious of the fact that we were the only two out here now, and what I'd said hadn't been heard by anyone. "Is that what I am?"

"How else would you describe it? You're not a near death escapee. Technically, you are a dead man who can see dead vampires, but you're also alive without being a vampire . . . I wouldn't expect Vicki and Anna to be the last, because I don't think you brought them back from wherever they were if thinking about them is what lets you see them. It's just you. You can see through to the other side now, and for some reason, it must be vampire heaven that you can see. Maybe it's because you were brought back by supernatural means? I don't know, and I don't think it matters as much as testing out what it is you can do. Try thinking really hard about someone else supernatural that's died and find out if you can see that person. Just make sure it's not somebody scary."

In thought, he pounded his fist lightly on the doorjamb before nodding and then looking at me said, "I'll think about it . . . Bye Eve." Pausing before he disappeared, he added, "Happy birthday," and then was gone.

Chapter Text

I was not cleaning this place by myself. I'd clean the hallway leading to my room, since there was less mess there, and it'd make a dent, but we could leave the rest until Caroline and Elena and whoever else had a hand in putting this party together could come back tomorrow and help.

When I got done with my hallway, I tied the trash bag off at the top and walked towards the living room. I was pretty sure that Damon was still there. I don't think he was done drinking yet. I smiled when I heard the song that started playing. Heroes by David Bowie. I loved this song. Perfect song to end this night with if you ask me.

My smile quickly fell when I rounded the corner. Damon wasn't alone even though the party had long since died. He was on his knees, and it looked like he'd been hurt. I whispered, "Doll Maker," under my breath at the sight of the man standing in profile above him, and in the blink of an eye, it went from being what looked like an unexpectedly tense situation to one where I had to act without thinking. It's hard to describe what that's like, but there's a reason I believed in instincts so strongly. If they are well honed, and you trust them, then they were often the only thing that stood between you and death.

One thousand one. I triggered one of the little stake launchers that were sewn into the sleeves of this jacket and grasped the stake that came out in my left hand as Stefan took off from his position in the middle of the room. I didn't have to think about getting my stake ready. I just did it, because this immediately felt like a fight or die kind of situation even though I didn't know anything about what had been going on in here. Damon was somewhat to my left, and if Stefan was going to kill me, he'd want to get a good look at his brother's face, while he did it. Why? I didn't know. I didn't have time to think about it. I just knew he'd be looking over my left shoulder when he got to me, and my stake needed to be there when he was, not before and not after, but the microsecond that he was.

One thousand two. Stefan's hands touched the sides of my head at the exact moment the tip of my stake came into contact with his eye. I didn't let the feel of that squish and pop, the sound of his growl of pain, or the loss of his finger tips on the sides of my head stop my backwards motion, and the stake went as deep into his eye as as the back of his orbital socket. I twisted to cause more damage and longer recovery time, and then pulled it back out. Without stopping, my hand swung down in a fluid motion to bring the stake down into his upper thigh.

One thousand three. I began to side-step out from in front of him. I didn't have to think that I shouldn't spin around him even though it'd be faster, because I wasn't going to let him be at my back again for any length of time. I just did it.

One thousand four. I turned to face his body as I moved around him and grabbed the stake out of his thigh with my right hand as my left hand went to his left shoulder.

One thousand five. I pulled down on his shoulder as I kicked out at his left knee, and drove the stake up into the middle of his back.

One thousand six. He fell to his knees, and I leaned over his shoulders to thrust the stake into his chest. I didn't have to think that I wasn't going to kill him and to stay away from his heart. It just happened.

One thousand seven. My hands, now free as I left the stake in his chest, I finally reversed the tables on what he'd been planning for me, brought my hands to his head and snapped his neck.

As he slumped to the floor, sound returned to me, and I felt like I could breathe again. I looked up at Damon who'd gotten to his feet but was still hunched over in the middle of the room and holding onto the back of the couch to support some of his weight. His shirt had a hole in it, but I didn't think that's why he looked . . . well, I wouldn't have thought anything could shake him, but he looked shaken. I told him I wasn't going to kill his brother, but I guess it'd probably looked pretty touch and go there for a couple of seconds.

I gave him a brief smile that I didn't mean as I said, "How to drop a ripper in less than 8 seconds." He started ambling towards me, like a wounded soldier, and I tried again to get him say something. "I know I said 1 second was enough time to figure something out, but it's probably really 2 if you're unprepared and want it to be effective, and - " Damon got to me, and I quickly glanced at his brother's body before looking up at him and quietly saying, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt him as much as I did."

It turns out he wasn't interested in anything I had to say. His hands came up to cup the sides of my face as his mouth landed over mine. My eyes closed, and my instincts overrode common sense as I kissed him back. I didn't care that he'd spent most of the night drinking alcohol, which meant it'd been hours since he'd had any coffee, so his lips and hands were a little cold. I didn't care that his hands were covered in his own blood from where he'd been hurt. As my hands went to his waist to keep me steady, I didn't care that the last time he'd done this, he'd drugged me. I didn't care when he pushed me back into a wall and used my little gasp at the unexpectedness of it to deepen the kiss or that his tongue felt a little like he'd been sucking on ice cubes. I didn't care that he tasted of bourbon or that his brother's body was lying somewhere on the ground near us. I didn't care that he loved my sister. I didn't care about any of those things, because there was a part of me that really wanted this, and it was perfect. My instincts let me have it for the briefest of moments until my mind had enough time to think, and then that fear kicked back in with a healthy dose of confusion.

He must've felt me tense, because just before I did it myself, he broke the kiss and pulled back to rest his forehead on mine. I could still feel his breath against my lips, so he didn't go far. I wanted him to do it again. I wanted to run. I wanted to ask why he'd done that and if it was a birthday present or if he was thanking me for incapacitating his brother. I wanted to ask a lot of things I'd never ask, because I didn't want the real answers to those questions. Luckily, I didn't have say anything at all. He took a slightly larger breath before his hands slid from the sides of my head to my collar, so his fingers could slip under and grab the chain of my necklace.

Letting his fingers trail to the back, he unclasped it and took it off of me, so he could shake my Dad's ring off into his hand and then slip the ring onto my thumb. "You weren't wearing this." I was going to tell him why even though I'd already told him, but he stopped me by saying, "I know it falls off, and you don't want to lose it . . . Tie some string around it or tape if you think getting it resized will make it useless . . . I don't care what you have to do to make it fit, but you are not talking this off again." I never wore it when I was hunting in the past. It was a safety net I shouldn't get used to having. If I did, then I'd think mistakes were acceptable, because, hey if I died, I'd come back. I opened my mouth to say that, and he prevented me from saying anything again. "It won't make you weak." That was close enough to what I was thinking that I nodded against his forehead. He responded with a shake of his head, waited a few moments and then said, "He was going to kill you."

Finally getting a chance to speak, I said the only thing I could. "I know."

"No, I don't think you do . . . My brother would have - "

I put my hand on his chest to comfort him and said, "I understand. You think he's gone." I pulled my hand away, and it was covered in blood. "What did he do to you?"

Standing up and rolling his eyes before looking down at Stefan he muttered, "The quickest way to get your point across is to wrap your hand around a guy's heart and start to squeeze."

"What was his point?"

"He knows we were in Memphis today. He wants me to let him go."

I muttered, "Yeah, well that's not happening," before looking at his brother. If he'd wanted Damon dead, he would've done it. I don't know how his hand ended up in Damon's chest, but I'm guessing that Damon either hadn't known Stefan was there, or more likely, that he had, and, in typical Damon fashion, had been annoying and cocky with his response to whatever Stefan had said to him, because he hadn't thought Stefan would take things to such extremes. Either way, Stefan'd had Damon where he wanted him, and he hadn't taken his chance to kill him when he had it, which meant that even though he wanted Damon to stop looking for him, he wanted his brother alive more. "He wasn't going to kill you."

"I know." Damon's eyes flicked in my direction. "Enter you."

"Damon, I didn't exactly hit him with kid-gloves, and I'm the one still standing." Glancing at Stefan, I added, "Although, I am starting to feel that I treat your brother like my own personal punching bag."

He walked over to Stefan's head and said, "Yeah, well, this time he deserved it . . . Help me get him in the basement."

He bent over to pick Stefan up under the arms, and I went to Stefan's feet, but stopped. "You need blood."

"It can wait."

"No, you - "

Throwing me a look that told me he'd just about all he could take, he said, "I am not leaving you alone with him." I flicked my hand in Stefan's direction and was going to say, 'He's mostly dead. I'll be fine,' but decided against it. It wouldn't make me a very good friend if I added more stress on top of what he was already feeling, and we did need to get Stefan downstairs before he woke up again. The blood was in the basement anyway, so Damon could grab some bags as soon as we got Stefan locked in a cell. I bit the inside of my cheek and nodded before bending down to pick up Stefan's feet. "Just like that?"

I looked at Damon, as we both heaved Stefan off the floor, and shrugged, while I shuffled after him. "You need blood, and if it means you'll get it faster, then I'll do whatever it takes to make that happen."

"I really should consider almost dying more often. It makes you much more agreeable."

"You didn't almost die, because he wouldn't have killed you."

"Well, if it's not that, then maybe I should consider - "

I shot him a look that said, 'Don't you dare.' It had nothing to do with him kissing me, and I wasn't ready to have him start talking about it. Ducking his head briefly, he averted his eyes before giving me a slight nod. We got Stefan downstairs and into a cell without another word be spoken. As soon as I dropped Stefan's feet, I left to go get some blood bags, while Damon locked the door. I handed him some blood, but he stopped me from dropping a bag in for Stefan too.

"Damon, he's really hurt." I'd stabbed him how many times? Four? And one of those was in the eye.

Looking through the bars at his brother's body, he nodded. "Yeah, it might take a little longer, but he'll still heal, and the more energy he uses doing that, the weaker he'll be. The weaker he is, the easier I'm hoping it'll be to make him angry."

Standing next to Damon, I peeked into the cell and said, "You really think he's flipped his switch."

"It's the only thing that makes sense."

"Well, not the only thing. If he knows we were in Memphis today, then Klaus probably does too. Maybe - "

"My brother wouldn't do what he was going to do to you unless he flipped his switch."

"Maybe he wanted you to think - "

"He wasn't bluffing, and you know it, or he wouldn't be where he is right now. The fact is that he knows how much you mean to me, so killing you is the next best thing to killing me." Oh. My eyes focused on nothing in particular in the cell, and I swallowed before moving to the side as he leaned towards me and said, "Which reminds me - " I turned to walk away, and he put his arm out in front of me to block my escape. "We need to talk."

Uh, no we didn't. Without turning to look at him, I said, "You didn't have your switch flipped when you killed Lexi, so - "

I almost flinched when his fingers gently brushed back the hair curtaining my face, so he could see me. "You're no Lexi." I held my breath and refused to look at him, so he quietly said, "That's okay . . . You don't have to look at me. I know. You'd rather take on 100 of my brother in full ripper mode than hear any of this, and that's why I haven't said anything, but I'm not going to let anymore chances pass me by when it seems like you are determined to leave this world before I can tell you, and you need to hear this almost as much as I need to say it."

Please don't ruin this. "Damon, don't - "

"I don't choose you." At his words, I relaxed and looked up at him. That's not what I was expecting, and the smirk on his face told me he'd known that. My eyes narrowed marginally into a glare to let him know exactly what I thought about him worrying me like that, and his grin grew as he took a step back and began to walk slowly back and forth in front of me, like he was professor giving me some kind of a lesson. "I hate that word . . . choose. Makes it seem like there's a choice, and there is no choice . . . It either is or it isn't. It took me a long time to figure that out. I used to think if I was a better man, then maybe I had a chance of being chosen, but that's not how it works, and I have spent the last 2 months trying to figure out how to put it in a way that you will understand."

"I have a perfectly functioning brain."

"Shut up . . . I'm not done yet." His eyebrow quirked up as a warning, and I rolled my eyes as he went back to his slow and steady pacing. "Either being around you makes me feel more alive than I've felt in my entire life, or it doesn't . . . It does . . . Either you make me a better person, or you don't . . . You do. And it's not because you expect it of me, not that you don't think I could be better. Who I am is enough for you." He exhaled a disbelieving laugh as he shook his head and said, "Either I've had that before, or I haven't . . . I haven't . . . I didn't tell you about what happened with Elena because I didn't want you to know. I didn't want it to confuse a situation that I've confused and only saw clearly for myself when I was dying. Either I felt something when Elena kissed me, or I didn't . . . I didn't feel anything in those final moments except regret and maybe fear that I was never going to see you again . . . Either for the first time since I've been a vampire, I feel like it is my responsibility to look after someone else, that person being you, or I don't . . . I have no idea how it happened, but you are my responsibility, and it is a responsibility that I want . . . Either you're my best friend, or you're not . . . You are . . . Either that's all it is, or there is a spark there that I have wanted for as long as I can remember . . . I've kissed you twice now. Trust me that spark is there." Stopping to look at me, he said, "Either I love you, or I don't . . . I do." Just had to slip it in there at the end, didn't he? I ducked my head, and he quietly added, "And I'm not expecting anything over night . . . I will wait as long as it takes for you. If it never happens, then at least I'll have gotten the best friend I've ever had out of it."

I still didn't know what to say or do, but he'd put himself out there, and I didn't want him to feel rejected, because I didn't want to reject him. I just couldn't quite wrap my head around it or really get past how anxious all of this was making me feel. Without looking at him, I reached my hand out to pat him on the chest, and he watched me before breathing out a laugh. Letting my hand slide around to his back, I gave him half a hug, and rested my head on his chest while he wrapped his arms around me and said, "I'll take it."

I waited a few seconds before asking, "Are you hedging your bets? Is that what this is?"

"No." His hand smoothed down the hair at the back of my head until it go to the ends. "I said I'd wait for you, not that I'd wait to see how things go with Elena first. It'll always be you."

I rolled my eyes and grumbled, "A ham sandwich with - "

"The most beautiful eyes I've ever seen, especially when the light hits them just right."

Patting his back, I muttered, "Laying it on a little thick," and he smiled.

"Well, I'm not retracting it. They're like polished tigers eye stones with flecks of gold I have memorized down to the finest detail."

I don't know why, but it really annoyed me, so I snapped at him. "I thought they were like toffee."

Trying not to laugh, he conceded, "In the dark they are warm and comforting, like the sticky toffee pudding my Mother used to make on a cold winter's night, but in the sunlight they are something to behold."

"Stop it."

Still sounding way too jovial for my liking, he said, "No, I don't think I will, but I know that I've pushed you enough for one night."

He started to pull away from me, and I uttered something, I hadn't intended. "I don't want things to change."

I finally looked at him to see his response. What I'd said could be taken a couple of different ways. He could think I was turning him down. He could think I wasn't and just didn't want things to change. I wasn't sure which way I meant it, but I was leaning towards the second, and he must have too. "Well you didn't want to be friends either, and that worked out."

Chapter Text

I woke up, and the first thought I had was that I was glad that I hadn't had more than a sip of alcohol last night. I remembered the last time I woke up after getting drunk, and it was almost enough to put me off of it for life.

Then I remembered that Stefan was back, and I started to feel fingers of dread wrap themselves around my head and chest when I thought about what happened after we got him into the cell downstairs. I knew that Damon cared about me, and I knew that I cared about him, but what he wanted was more than I could give. If I was honest with myself, I felt something more for him than I should if we were friends, but letting go of that friend safety net meant free falling out into nothing and trusting him to catch me, and what was almost as bad was that he'd apparently already taken that chance on me, which put a lot of responsibility on my shoulders. I didn't want to hurt him, and I had no idea what he expected. How was I supposed to act? How was I supposed to adjust to the idea that everything he said and did around me was because he had this ulterior motive? And how long had he felt this way?

I didn't want to stay in bed all day thinking about it, so in a huff, I threw my blankets off and got up, thinking that maybe I should get out of the house for a while. I could use a jog to clear my head before figuring out what to do about Stefan, and if I was gone long enough, it meant I didn't have to help clean the rest of this place by myself. Maybe I could even get out of doing the rest of it if I waited until I was sure Caroline and Elena were almost done to come back. I could slip in at the end to help with what was left, and then I couldn't be accused of not helping.

I left without bumping into anyone and was gone for about two and a half hours. The first hour, I spent jogging as far as I could, and the next hour and a half, I walked back. I could have stayed out longer, but the more time I was gone, the more I started to think that I didn't want Damon to think I'd done an actual runner. When I got back, it was probably close to 11. I figured that Caroline would want to run cleaning this place, like a military operation, and get an early start on it at that, but unfortunately, it looked like she wasn't feeling up to it just yet. Except it didn't seem like vampires got hangovers no matter how much they drank. They just slept it off and woke up a little groggy and moody, but more or less fine, or at least that's what Damon did. Maybe Caroline, being a young vampire, didn't have that luxury yet. It still seemed odd though, and when did she even go last night? She didn't say anything before she left. Maybe she wasn't planning on coming back to help with this mess.

After a shower that I used to ponder everything but the one thing I should probably think about, I padded down to the kitchen. Nobody was there. I made myself some toast and considered my options. It appeared that I was going to have to do the cleaning all on my own, which annoyed me more than a little. I hadn't asked for the stupid party. Granted, I'd eventually had fun with Damon, but I could've done that without a hundred drunken high school students falling around the place and leaving their mess behind for me to tidy. Should've had Damon or Caroline compel the kids to clean up after themselves before they left.

I was maybe 5 minutes into my angry cleaning session when there was a knock at the door. Maybe Caroline had her hands full with cleaning supplies and could knock, but couldn't quite get the door open. Walking to the door, I muttered, "It's about time. Oh, look, here's a surprise party you don't want, and the biggest part of the surprise is that you get to clean it all on your own." I finished my little rant just as I swung the door open, knowing full well that Caroline most likely heard me griping the entire way. What I did not expect to see was a full-grown man standing there. Well, that was disappointing, and I think the disappointment showed on my face.

I don't think I was the only one caught off guard by the unexpected meeting, although if he was the one knocking, I felt like he should have expected someone to open the door, so it was his responsibility to explain what the hell he was doing here. My eyebrows rose expectantly as I said, "Can I help you? You know if you're the stripper that would've made last night a whole lot more interesting, then you're late, and as a penalty, I think you should clean this mess."

Taking note of how I didn't recognize him, he stepped closer and smiled. "You must be the sister. I heard about you, but I had no idea the resemblance was so . . . identical."

I could almost feel the gears in my head starting to shift and speed up, making connections, and searching for adequate responses to get me out of the trouble, I only now realized that I was in. Pointing to my eyes, I said, "Not identical if you take a closer look." Looking down at my body, I added, "My eyes are different, and I've been told my chest is smaller." Thank you Caroline for verifying Damon's opinion on that. It came in particularly helpful in moments like this when I was trying to convince someone that I wasn't Elena. "Oh, and I'm 100% human." Looking back up at the man, I rolled my eyes before adding, "Witches, right? Always interfering. I guess Elena would've siphoned the doppelganger power away from me until I died in the womb, so they just gave her all the power, and voila, you're left with one identical twin of a doppelganger. It is Klaus, I presume, or would you prefer Niklaus?"

"I loath being called Niklaus."

"Okay. That's what Elijah called you, but if you hate it, then Klaus it is. I am Eve."

Giving me a charming smile, he said, "Well, Eve, if you let me in, you'd be helping me a great deal. I'm looking for Stefan."

"Would that I could, but that's the problem with signing everything over to the cleaning lady and then sending her on an all expenses-paid trip around the world for the remainder of her days." Pausing to smile, I said, "If you're here to help me out with the little conundrum I'm having with Stefan, I would greatly appreciate it."

His eyebrows rose as he said, "Ah, so he is here?"

"Yep." I pointed a thumb towards the basement door and said, "I locked him in a cell last night."

I don't think he believed me. "Did you, now?"

"Well, that's why I'm at a bit of a loss on what to do with him. See, he tried kill me, so I had to deal with him, and - "

"Deal with him how?"

He clearly thought that we were pulling a fast one on him, like Stefan had run away, and we were harboring his fugitive. Without missing a beat, I answered, "I stabbed him in the eye and a few other places before snapping his neck and locking him in a cell. You can imagine that I wouldn't exactly be jumping at the chance to let him go if it means that he's going to continue to try and go all Doll Maker on me, and I can't exactly kill him, because Damon would never forgive me, so it leaves me in a precarious position, but if you were to take him off my hands, and keep him under control, it would help me a great deal . . . providing you give me your word that you won't kill him."

"I don't negotiate. Give me - "

"I'm not asking you to negotiate. I'm asking you to help me not be the bad guy if I let him go. Everyone always thinks the worst of me, and I'm getting a little sick of it, because I'm not good or bad." I caught his attention briefly, but didn't stop to ask him why or to tell him to not start looking around me again, like he was listening for someone else. I used his attention while I had it to keep talking. "I understand that you can't let him go unpunished if he's left of his own accord, because you have a reputation to uphold, but that's not what happened. You want him with you. Fine. Take him. For what? I don't know, and I don't particularly care, but he wouldn't still be alive if you didn't have some use for him. If you give me your word that you won't kill him, or even hurt him, because it's my fault that he didn't come back when you expected him, then I would know that a man such as yourself would want to keep your word providing it doesn't inconvenience you, and it wouldn't more than it already has. Stefan lives, and I don't come out of this looking as awful."

"You expect me to believe that you took my Ripper down alone?"

"I prefer to call him the Doll Maker, and whether you believe me or not, that's what I did. You don't seriously think he's stupid enough to do a runner on you and come straight back here, do you?"

Leaning as close to the threshold as he possibly could, while he examined me, Klaus said, "Your mother thought she was clever too."

Sure, bring Mom into this. See how far that gets you. "She was. Just because she couldn't outfox a man with 1000 years of experience, doesn't mean she wasn't . . . maybe just a little naive."

Seeming amused, his eyes narrowed as he responded with a faux-suspiciousness. "But not you."

"When I need to be." Making sure I appeared as bored as I sounded, I added, "And really I find your attempts to rile me rather pedestrian." I took a step back to look him up and down, and then said, "I was expecting more." His demeanor changed, and his facial features transformed into a more menacing scowl. I responded with a smile that didn't quite meet my eyes. Those stayed glued to his as I said, "That's better . . . Still not what I imagined when I tried to picture evil incarnate, but better."

"You would challenge me!"

Feigning innocence and ignoring his almost juvenile shouting, I shrugged. "Well, not so openly . . . That wouldn't make me very clever, would it? Nor would negotiating . . . I assume that's what my Mom tried to do. As my father used to say, she was always a poor judge of character . . . All I want is to give you back the Doll Maker and make you leave without me looking too bad."

A cold smile came to his face as he said, "And where is your father? I believe I have him to think for us not meeting on my last visit here."

"Dead."

Something about my one-word response made him say, "I find it curious that you blame me for that as well. Whatever drove him to his death has something to do with what I did the last time I was here."

Maybe it was irrational, because it was my Dad's choice. He hadn't wanted Elena to turn into a vampire, but I suspected that it was more than that. Whichever of his daughters had been killed in that sacrifice, I think it'd always been my Dad's intention to do what he did. He didn't just happen to remember that story about the woman and her child. He'd known about it all along. Thanks to my Mom, Klaus found out about both of his daughters. In that situation, the possibility that he could only save one of us threw his plans off kilter, and his commitment to the plan wavered. That's why he gave Damon his blessing to keep me out of it, and sacrificed his life to make sure Elena could have hers. None of that was Klaus's fault, but he was the one who killed Elena and who would have killed me, so he's the one who put my father in that position. How Klaus got all of that from what I'd said, I didn't know, and I refused to let him find out about Elena being alive, but given what he'd already deduced in less than a minute, he could with enough time.

I took half a step closer, while I studied him, and he met my scrutiny head-on. "There you are. I was beginning to think that your inherent werewolf-driven impulsiveness completely overruled your ability to be cunning. It makes you unpredictable for sure, but that ability to be sly is what makes you dangerous. Maybe you're not such a disappointment after all."

Seeing it for the compliment it was intended to be, he relaxed. "Poking and prodding the hybrid to see what he does and how you can use it . . . It's unusual that a child would see me as an adversary . . . even more so that she would want me to be a worthy one. I take it my Ripper really wasn't the competition you'd hoped he'd be."

My eyes searched his face, but I was ever cautious of the fact that he could turn on a dime and find a way to kill me faster than I could stop him, and he had a reason to do it, since I was about 90% sure he now believed that I had done what I said I did to Stefan for some reason. Maybe it was all the weapons I had hidden on me if you took a closer look, and all I was doing was cleaning up after a party. Maybe it was my attitude. Maybe it was something else, but I was almost sure he believed me. "And yet I'm still standing."

The corner of his mouth turned up into a partial smile as he said, "Before I arrived into town, I heard stories that Mystic Falls wasn't safe for werewolves." I unconsciously took a step back, and his smile grew. "Now, I've seen stories grow legs and take on a life of their own, but rarely in such a short amount of time. Some said it was a group of hunters; others, a ghost. I even got the blame once or twice - but the one thing that all those stories had in common was the sheer brutality that was brought down upon the heads of a poor unsuspecting pack outside of Mystic Falls one dark and stormy night."

I muttered, "It wasn't stormy. It would've been a lot harder to get the timing right if there was lightning and - " My eyes narrowed as I cut myself off. "What?" Why was he looking at me like that?

Resting his arm on the side of the house and causally leaning on it, Klaus looked past me towards the basement and said, "I'll do you a favor and take Stefan off your hands. I'll even give you my word that I won't kill him or his interfering brother." Looking back at me, he leaned closer and whispered, "But I want something in return."

I warily replied, "Of course you do," and he grinned.

With another whisper, he said, "As luck would have it, I'm looking for a driver, and I think you'll do just fine."

Well, this hadn't gone the way I'd thought it would at all. In confusion, I asked, "Can't Stefan drive?"

"I have bigger plans for him."

What the hell was I supposed to say? It wasn't a negotiation. I knew that. It was a tit for tat over a request for help that I'd brought into the conversation for some asinine reason . . . but on the other hand, he was giving me what I wanted. I didn't want Damon dead or for Damon to lose his brother. I'd be able to keep an eye on Stefan and learn more about Klaus. The man standing in front of me wouldn't trust me, and he'd be expecting me to retaliate in some way. This was almost a keep your friends close and your enemies closer kind of arrangement, but at the same time, I think there was more to it. What? I didn't know, but I'd find out. Crossing my arms over my chest, I asked, "What's the pay like?" and his eyebrows rose at my brazenness, but at the same time, he seemed more amused by it than angry. He was a weird creature indeed.

"Not killing the Salvatores isn't enough?"

"I'd really rather not rely on you having to compel people into giving me everything I want . . . The money you give me may get me what I want just the same, but at least I'd feel like I was standing on my own two feet."

He took it under consideration and answered, "I won't kill the Salvatores, and . . . $1000 a week, but you have to do whatever I say."

"You won't kill the Salvatores, $200 a week, and doing what you want is up to my discretion." Looking annoyed, he opened his mouth to argue, and I said, "If what you want is an indentured servant, then I'm not your girl, and frankly, if that's what you're used to having, then I could see why being alive this long might be incredibly boring and make you feel lonely in a crowd of posers all 'oohing' and 'ahhing' over you when none of them mean it. It is not the way to garner real respect . . . If you want that and true loyalty, then do it the hard way and earn it instead of compelling, bullying, blackmailing, or buying it."

"You are an impertinent little - "

Turning away from him, I drily cut him off. "Yeah, you'll either get used to it or kill me. Either way I'm going to get my things before I fetch Stefan for you. Long distance high five on our agreement. Looks like it's all done and dusted."

"We didn't agree - "

Looking at him over my shoulder before I rounded the corner, I interrupted him again. "Can't take it back. We already high-fived on it, and you wouldn't want me to think you're not a man of your word, would you?"

When I got to my room, I didn't put much thought into what I packed. I just threw some clothes into a duffle bag and my weapons in another. I didn't think I had much time, and before I left, I wanted to write Damon a note, but then I struggled with what to say.

Damon,

Klaus was here. I had to make a deal, but I'll come back - whatever it takes. I left most of my things here, so you know that's my intent.

I'm wearing my ring, and I promise I won't kill Stefan. I'll do whatever I can to bring him back too.

Yours,
Eve

I read through it again. It didn't say much, but I hoped it was enough. I didn't want him to think I was leaving because of what he said last night. We could work through that if I stayed, but if he thought I left because of that . . . well, I didn't want to hurt him, and I didn't want him to hate me. I'd added, the 'yours' at the end, so he'd know that I wasn't running from him. I sighed before putting the letter on my pillow. He had a tendency to just walk into my room whenever he wanted, so he'd probably see it if he came looking for me.

Time was up. I just didn't think you could keep a werewolf-vampire hybrid waiting for very long. I doubted he had any patience at all. Slinging my duffle bags over my shoulder, I took one of my dart guns out of my weapons bag, walked with purpose down the hall, ignored the man at the door, and put my hand up to signal that I'd only be one more minute before dropping my bags, pulling the basement door open, and descending the stairs. When I got to the bottom step, I froze.

Apparently, I hadn't been as alone in the house as I'd thought. There was Damon with his hand clasped over Elena's mouth. She did not look happy. Neither did he. I'm guessing the only thing that'd kept him from running up those stairs or stopping me from giving Stefan back was my unruly sister, and Damon not wanting Klaus to know she was here. I would've knocked her out, but that's just me. Damon wouldn't do that to her, and there was something that niggled in the back of my mind and said there was a reason for that. He never said he didn't love her . . . just that it wasn't a choice. I didn't know how much he and Stefan had heard of what Klaus and I had said, or if they knew about our agreement, but that thought in the back of my head did make me think that maybe this was for the best.

Touching my ears, I shook my head in warning. They couldn't say a word, and I couldn't say anything to them, but Stefan was a different story. When I got to the cell door, I could see him at the bars, and while he went from staring at Elena to giving Damon a look that said not to let her do anything to get in the way, the first thing out of his mouth was to me, "So, I take it you're here to let me out."

"Yeah, your bail's been posted, but I want to make sure he doesn't have you kill me before you leave the house, since you are his inside man, so . . . " I raised the dart gun and shot him in the neck, and without looking, aimed it behind me before pulling the trigger a second time. Turning quickly, I had just enough time to note that I'd missed my sister's face and had gotten Damon in the shoulder before I had to shove Elena out of the way and moved to catch Damon as he fell. It wouldn't do to have Klaus hearing two bodies hitting the ground, or he'd know for sure that someone else was down here, and maybe I shouldn't have done it, but I just couldn't have Damon getting involved.

His eyes started to flutter closed, but the look on his face was one of livid betrayal. Leaning forward to whisper into his ear, I tried to use those final moments to say goodbye. "I'm sorry . . . I'll miss you more than you can imagine."

When I pulled back, he was out, and then I had to stand to deal with my sister, who was being a little too loud in asking, "What are you doing?"

Placing my hand over her mouth, I pushed her back into the wall, and harshly whispered into her ear, "I am saving their lives . . . I promise, I will do everything I can to bring him back to you." When I got a good look at her face, the glare told me that she didn't put much faith in one of my promises. She was going to make this more difficult than it needed to be, wasn't she? I guess I did owe her one for the funeral. I rolled my eyes, pulled back the hand I had the dart gun in, and used that to pack my fist, while punching her in the chin where her jaw connected to her neck. As her legs gave out from under her, I caught her and propped her unconscious body up against Damon's before taking the dart out of his shoulder. Then I unlocked the door to the cell, so I could jab the dart I'd used on Damon next to the other one in Stefan's neck. That way, if Klaus heard me shoot twice, he'd think I'd shot Stefan both times. Grabbing him under the arms, I started the arduous job of dragging his body back up the stairs.

When I got to the top, the first thing I heard was an amused, "What took so long?"

I threw Klaus a glare as I dropped Stefan, threw the straps of my duffle bags over my head, and then proceeded to grab Stefan's arm, so I could drag him the rest of the way, like I was some kind of cavewoman. "Not all of us have super human strength, you know."

"You could've just let him walk out."

"And have him attack me again? I don't think so."

"I wouldn't have told him to kill you."

So, he had heard what I'd said down there . . . in my normal speaking voice at least. I really hoped he hadn't heard the rest of what happened. I muttered, "You wouldn't have told him not do it either," as I got to the door that he was barring and then pulled my keys out of my pocket to say, "If I'm driving, we're taking my car." He stepped aside, and indicated with his arm, that I could leave. I looked down at Stefan again. "You're not going to help me get him to the car, are you?"

"Absolutely not . . . and since you took it upon yourself to knock him out, you can get the body out of the other car and put it in yours as well."

I briefly thought, 'Here's the moment of truth,' because I still wasn't sure he wouldn't kill me. Taking a short breath, I shook my head and then stepped past the threshold saying, "You're the worst first boss ever."

Chapter Text

As the lone human in this un-merry band of misfits, I sort of felt like it was on me to keep an eye out for poisonous snakes as we trekked through the back end of nowhere. Poking another bush with my machete to see what shook loose, I listened for the distinct sound of a rattle or the more threatening sound of a hiss while ignoring my traveling companions and thinking that I really needed to start reevaluating my life choices. How did I get here on the side of a mountain with these two?

Stefan had been out for most of the car journey, and when he'd woken up, he hadn't been all that happy about me being there, but it wasn't for my safety. He was just generally annoyed by the idea of me being there, and if that hadn't been Klaus's intention when he brought me, then he sure made the most of it. He had done nothing but poke fun at him since he'd regained consciousness. Stefan responded to it by giving him the silent treatment . . . and that was probably smart until it wasn't, because he broke his silence to start snarking back at him.

It took so little goading for Stefan to respond to Klaus's taunts that it just showed how irritable he was - whether it was because he was stuck with Klaus or was just hungry, I didn't know. Either way, I had my eye on him and was staying clear. Not that I was going to be buddy-buddy with Klaus either. He was even more likely to fly off the handle over nothing with that werewolf nature of his, and his demeanor with Stefan suggested that he knew that no matter what Stefan threw at him, he'd come out on top. He wasn't just an apex predator. He was the apex predator . . . although right about now, I'd like to drop him in a tank with a great white and see how he got on.

"Are you sure about that? You know, we've been walking for quite some time now. If you need some water, or a little sit down - " Looking back at me, Klaus added, "Or perhaps you could let the girl take him for you for a while."

I rolled my eyes and sighed before going to back to mostly ignoring them. We came around bend and upon a small gathering, and Klaus said, "Thanks to our pal Ray. We've found ourselves a pack." Was this why we were here? He hadn't said much about it on the drive. Mostly he'd annoyed me over the radio and entertained himself with asking stupid questions that were meant to make me uncomfortable. I sized the group up, and they looked like normal people camping. Hardly werewolves, let alone people that would become a new species to end all species. Was I really going to be present for the birth of a new race of supernatural creatures? They wouldn't be as indestructible as him, would they? I guess I'd find out. "Hands off this pack, Little Wolf-Killer." I looked up at Klaus, and he was watching me. I felt a little like a kid with my hand in the cookie jar, and he smirked. "Nothing to be ashamed of . . . It just takes a killer to know one." Nudging Stefan, he added, "Doesn't it, Ripper?"

Stepping away from him, Stefan grumbled, "Let's just get this over with," before walking into the crowd and unceremoniously dropping the dead guy into the middle of it. Klaus followed, and I made my way to the nearest tree where I could have a good view and some distance. The last place I wanted to be was on ground zero when this all kicked off. The dead guy stayed dead for a while longer, and Klaus rambled on about who knows what. I couldn't hear him, but everyone else stood around looking terrified. It took about 20 tense-minutes that felt like an eternity before the dead guy came back and rolled over with a gasp loud enough that I could hear. Klaus looked at Stefan, and said something before Stefan got to his feet and asked, "Are any of you human?"

Much to Stefan's annoyance, Klaus took the spotlight off of him by looking at me and shouting, "Are you volunteering, Little Wolf-Killer?"

I guess it was a reminder that he knew exactly where I was, and if that's why he brought me, then it'd been a mistake. "I don't think you want me for this. I'm loaded with vervain . . . and a healthy dose of wolfsbane. Probably not the best first meal he could have."

I had vervain every single morning, and while I was packing, I took a shot of wolfsbane mixed with a dash of white oak ash, not that I was telling him about the ash. It was a cocktail I planned on making myself every morning that I was with them. Stefan looked around the crowd again. "Any other takers? Your friend here needs human blood to complete his transition to vampire."

There's really only two ways I could stop what was about to happen, and that would've been to kill the human they found, except I don't kill humans, or kill the entire pack before Klaus got to them, but I didn't think that was possible, so I mostly watched in rapt fascination at the spectacle before me. Stefan took over handling the human and getting the new hybrid to drink the human's blood, while Klaus force-fed his blood to a female werewolf who tried to interfere and then killed her. It only got more violent from there.

Stefan seemed to be genuinely enjoying his role in all of this, which surprised me and didn't, but Klaus . . . he loved every second of the blood bath that ensued, and I have to say he was impressive. Quick, efficient, no mercy, an absolute killing machine. They were all dead within a matter of minutes. The problem was that he didn't wait to see how the first one turned out first, and really, you could only blame that on his lack of impulse control.

There was a bit of banter between he and Stefan, but I wasn't watching them. I was watching the new hybrid. He didn't look so hot, and I suddenly felt like my choice to hit the trees was an even better one than I'd first thought, because when Klaus caught sight of him, he did not look happy. Something was wrong, and if this went wrong with all of them, I did not want to be the one Klaus took it out on. He could take the massive hissy fit this was sure to unleash out on Stefan . . . Stefan, who seemed to still be throwing out little comments that annoyed Klaus, and I wondered for the first time how smart Stefan actually was. As long as I was wearing my ring, I could come back if I died by Klaus's hand. He couldn't.

That's what I was thinking when a second hybrid came back, and the first hybrid used the distraction to take off. I went to jump down from my perch, so I could go after him, because if he was unstable, then he couldn't be allowed to be around any people, but stopped when Klaus yelled, "Wolf-killer stay." Looking at Stefan, he said, "You go get him."

The female hybrid fed on the man she'd literally died trying to protect only a short while ago. While Klaus made her stop feeding on the human, I decided I wanted to get a little closer and jumped to a branch on another tree and then tried another. The female hybrid didn't look like she was doing very well either. Klaus had her sit, and then I heard him grumble, "Nothing to say?"

He threw a glance at me over his shoulder, and that's when I knew that he'd been talking to me. I'd like to know what I was doing here and why he'd sent Stefan off, while telling me to stay. Was it strategic, because I couldn't run as fast as Stefan, or because he didn't want me running away? Or was it part of some game he was playing? I didn't ask any of those things. Getting comfortable in my new tree, I muttered, "So you can have a reason to kick the new girl when you're down? I don't think so."

"Let me guess . . . my new master race is falling before it's even begun."

"Actually, I was thinking that it's like watching a vampire that's been bitten by a werewolf, but worse . . . it's not the venom. It's their own werewolf blood that's attacking them, hence the bleeding from their eyes . . . and if it goes the way I think it will, then they're all going to eventually go mad before they die. It's like the piece that is needed to bridge the two halves is still broken even though the sacrifice worked on you . . . Only two have woken so far. There's still time to figure out what to do with the others. They don't have to complete the transition straight away."

I finished just as another one woke up with a gasp, and Klaus indicated that he wanted the compelled human to go feed it, before saying, "It's a simple process. My blood. Die. Feed. It will work."

"No, it should work . . . It's not. I'm guessing that in 1000 years, you've been bored enough to try this on other werewolves and have gotten similar results. Think outside the box and come up with something else . . . maybe it takes feeding on something other than a human . . . like a regular run of the mill werewolf or another hybrid?" Was it because Elena was still alive? I didn't know, but I certainly wasn't going to brainstorm that idea to him. Another hybrid woke up, and he ignored me and tried again and again and again. It was the definition of insanity according to Einstein and a tremendous waste of life. He should've waited to see if this would work before he went and killed all of them.

Dusk came quickly, and night soon followed, but the time seemed to fly, because as he went blindly from new hybrid to new hybrid and made them complete the transition, I watched his new creations with fascination as they slid further and further from humanity. Lying on my stomach on the branch that supported me, I was careful not to make a sound until I was sure of what I was seeing. It may have been the epitome of senseless death on a large scale, but it was also something else that left me feeling mildly excited.

I breathed out, "Revenants," and Klaus's head snapped in my direction before he looked at what I was watching. He wasn't quite done making them all finish the transition yet, but the ones who had were bleeding from the eyes, growling, and stumbling around in aimless patterns. His shoulders dropped, and he looked back at the two that were left to complete the transition. I noticed that he started just ripping their hearts out instead of making them feed on their human friend, which I took to mean that his experiment was over. Now mine could begin.

Carefully taking a vervain dart and a wolfsbane dart that I'd hidden away in my pockets, I left the vial of white oak ash where it was and quietly snapped the wolfsbane dart in half, waited for the nearest hybrid to wander under my tree, and let a few drops fall on his head. He immediately started sizzling and hissing before looking up and spotting me. With a growl, he tried to jump up and grab me, and not knowing if he'd have normal wolf jumping capabilities or not in his condition, I quickly got up and stood on the branch. His actions got the attention of some of the others, but I wasn't concerned about it yet. Snapping the vervain dart in half, I dripped that on another one's head, and got a similar sizzling, result. Well, now I knew they were affected by both vervain and wolfsbane. That would come in handy in the future if Klaus ever successfully made a hybrid.

I silently slid my machete out of it's sheath and flicked a look in Klaus's direction. He'd finished with the others and the human. Now, he was just watching me play with his creations. I felt the need to ask, "Do you want to do it, or shall I?"

Looking at the growing horde beneath me in absolute defeat, he was was across the camp one second and under me tearing them apart the next. Standing there, I was a little disappointed that I wasn't going to have a chance to kill any revenants, and wondered once again what I was doing here, but at the same time, I think he earned just a little bit of my respect. He didn't get to all of them before some of them just keeled over and died on their own, but he got to most of them. When he was done, I was sitting there with my back against the tree, and my knees pulled up to my chest. He turned away from the slaughtered remains of the last hybrid and walked towards the large flat stone in the center of the camp, while muttering, barely loud enough for me to hear, "You can come down now."

Well, I hadn't been up here because it's what he wanted. I chose to climb up here, and I chose to let him clean up his own mess if it's what he wanted. I hopped down anyway and immediately went to the nearest hybrid to start a cursory investigation. Taking their hearts seemed to work at killing them. I wondered if that meant taking a head would too. What was so special about these things again? Head or heart, just like a werewolf or vampire, but both vervain and wolfsbane were toxic to them. They could walk in the sun, I guess, and they could change at will, but from a vampire-hunter perspective, the ways to bring them down remained the same. They didn't desiccate or go grey and veiny, but died like werewolves. All that was different about them is they drank blood. I checked this guy's fangs and was trying to determine if they looked more like a werewolf going through the change or a vampire's, when I heard Klaus say, "Are you quite done now?"

I looked around, but didn't see Stefan. When I glanced in Klaus's direction, he was staring at the beer bottle in his hand. Had he been talking to that? His eyes flicked in my direction, and I rather stupidly asked, "Me?" I don't know why, but I was really having a difficult time adjusting to the fact that I was here . . . with him. I guess most people wouldn't know how to react to their heroes. I didn't know how to react to what was essentially my version of the Bogeyman from my childhood talking to me. I could handle it earlier back at the house, because it's what I'd had to do to get him out of there, but now? Now I was on a road trip with him, and it was a little too surreal.

Pointing his bottle in the direction of the bodies, he added, "They're all dead. It's just you." His eyes went to the body I was examining, as he asked, "Are you done looking for weaknesses you can exploit in the future?"

My eyebrows rose in immediate surprise before I looked back down at the hybrid in front of me. "I, uh," Cutting myself off, while I stood, I started walking over to him and said, "I think I have enough for now." Sitting next to him, a little unsure of what I was supposed to say or do, I awkwardly looked around the place before trying, "I found it really quite admirable that you dealt with the fallout yourself. They were your responsibility from start to finish." Focusing on the ends of my army jacket sleeves, I added, "I guess I don't understand what's so special about them. I could see how they might be a problem for other vampires if those fangs of theirs cause the same kind of damage that a werewolf's do, but there is nothing about them that changes my job description."

"You don't understand, because you don't know what it is to be truly alone."

"Actually, I do . . . until about 6 months ago, the world outside my parents didn't know I existed. Now it's way too much. I think I prefer being a ghost." I felt him look at me, but then Stefan came walking through the trees carrying the same dead body he'd been carrying when he got here, and Klaus got up. I stood up too when I saw the bite on Stefan's arm, and immediately my eyes went to the back of Klaus's head. He had to heal him. I'd promised Damon and Elena that I'd bring Stefan back to them. Klaus yelled in frustration at the sight of his last hope being yet another corpse before smashing his bottle, and I took a step back to put some distance between us before assessing Stefan's bite again. It looked bad, but Stefan would have some time before it really started to do a number on him, so even if now wasn't the time to ask Klaus for any favors, there would be more time later.

Then my eyes were on Klaus for a different reason as he yelled, "I did everything I was told!" Why was he yelling at Stefan? He'd just been here quiet, seething, but calm, and now he was letting loose. Did he consider Stefan a friend, like an honest to god friend? Is that why he felt like he could show his true pain with him? Stefan . . . if I had to guess, I'd say that was apprehension on his face. He didn't necessarily want to say anything to bring that ire that Klaus was feeling down on him. That seemed prudent. His expression turned to poorly concealed fear as Klaus said, "I should be able to turn them . . . I broke the curse. I killed a werewolf. I killed a vampire. I killed the doppelganger."

I stayed where I was, my mind going back to the 'not drawing attention to myself' idea. Almost like he was reading my mind, Stefan looked past Klaus towards me, and I threw him a glare at the suggestion that look gave. There had been a time and a place for me to have been in that sacrifice, but that time had passed, and I was no longer willing to do it, particularly now that I'd seen these hybrids up close and knew that they weren't all that special. If Klaus created them, then it wouldn't be a doomsday scenario the way I'd always envisioned. I'd have a better shot of stopping them if I was alive than if I was dead. Waving his hand in my direction, Klaus shook his head, while deep in thought. "It's not her . . . She may be a novelty, but there are enough differences that I know she's not a doppelganger. I got the right one." Looking at Stefan again, like he was really only seeing him for the first time since he'd gotten back, he said, "You look like Hell."

Stefan started talking, said he was dying, and gave an explanation for why he'd had to kill the first hybrid, but in all honesty, I didn't think it was really all that necessary. Klaus'd just had to do the same thing with all of the others, but I guess Stefan wanted something else, because he eventually got around to saying, "I failed you. I'm sorry. Do what you have to do." Is this what groveling without asking for what you really want looked like? I think it was, and it shouldn't have worked, because it was poorly concealed manipulation, but apparently it did.

I watched as Klaus walked away from him and did the single most unsettling thing I'd seen him do. It was the way his eyes changed, as he bit his hand to get blood to give to Stefan . . . The look on his face when he did it, like a wounded lion, his eyes, and the fangs and . . . Hm. He had to go and ruin what I was thinking by confirming what I'd suspected. Apparently, Stefan was the only comrade he had left. How sad was that when it was obvious that Stefan hated him?

Chapter Text

Oh. My. God. Stefan ate a lot, and I mean a lot. He was practically getting 3 square meals a day with snacks in between, and Klaus was encouraging it, not that he was much better. The number of bodies I'd seen them drop since I'd been with them was . . . well it was life changing, and not just for the people they were killing. I know I said I didn't care about the people that died, and I didn't when they were cold bodies I was using to try and track my prey, but it was entirely different when my prey was right in front of me slaughtering their prey. I'd lived with my Mom being a vampire for 2 years. I knew what she did when she went out hunting or slipped up and killed someone in front of me, and I could handle that, because she'd found a way to survive that I could tolerate. I lived with Damon, and I knew about his past, but he'd really cleaned up his act and had gone to blood bags almost all the time now.

This was entirely different. I knew what a ripper was. They were essentially blood junkies, and they were exceptionally rare. I'd killed at least two, and that was why they were rare. They were so easy to find because of the number of bodies they left behind. Right now it was taking everything I had not to kill Stefan too. I really had to hold on tight to the notion that Damon loved his brother to keep myself from ending Stefan once and for all, but I was coming to the end of what I was willing to accept, and I'd only been with them for a couple of days.

Klaus didn't take pleasure in the hunt. He took pleasure in the kill, which ended immediately after his play things were no longer of any use to him, and then the bodies he dropped were quickly forgotten as he moved onto something else that amused him. Stefan took pleasure in all of it from start to finish, but his hunts lasted about 2 seconds, and his killing lasted maybe another 10. It was never enough, because he'd never be able to quench his thirst. He really did deserve to die, whether he was here because he'd saved Damon and was protecting Elena, or not.

Had they been like this the entire summer? Probably, but Damon and I had only found a handful of bodies, which meant that he and I had both been right in a way. I had been right in that the bodies we found were important. They weren't important because Stefan was leaving them for us to find, which is what Damon had told me, but they were important to Klaus. They were discarded, because whatever the victims knew had been useful, and Klaus wanted to put a move on the information they'd given him as fast as possible. The other bodies he and Stefan dropped, he at least took the 4 seconds required to compel a random human he was using as a servant to clean up the mess.

Stefan carelessly threw the woman he'd just drained to the ground and turned to the little girl that'd been with her, and I didn't think. I just acted. Taking the gun I had in my hand every time they ate, so I could be prepared if one of them got a little overzealous and tried to eat me, I lifted it and shot Stefan with a wooden bullet through the temple from my position on the alley wall. I hadn't said much since the night of the failed hybrid attempt, because I'd mostly been observing. I'd let a lot slide, and I was never far from their carnage, which is most likely why he hadn't thought I'd do anything.

Klaus laughed, and the little girl jumped at the sound of my gun before shrinking back in horror as Stefan's body landed at her feet. She'd been compelled to stay where she was and not scream. He'd done the same thing to her Mom, but he never told them not to be afraid. He wanted his victims afraid to their last drop.

Crouching down in front of her, I ignored Klaus saying she'd be better off dead. I assumed that was because what she'd seen would scar her for life. Most kids would probably be dead behind the eyes after what she'd seen, and she wasn't far off it. The jump at the sound of my gun had been a reflex more than any real sign of life. I doubted she was really even aware of what was happening anymore. If humans, like vampires, could turn off their consciences, then they could also shut down after a traumatic event when they became so overwhelmed by fear that their brains couldn't handle it, and that's about where she was. Nothing I said or did now would be able to help her, and in a way Klaus was right. Maybe she would be better off dying than face the lifetime of damage this had done. She wasn't a natural born hunter, so her instincts weren't to use what she'd seen as fuel to hunt the things that had killed her Mom when she got older.

There were tears staining her cheeks, and even if she could scream, I doubt she would. She'd been left practically catatonic . . . and yet when I showed her an ounce of kindness by giving her an easy smile and quietly telling her that I wouldn't let the bad man hurt her, her shoulders relaxed before her eyes flicked up to my face . . . not my eyes, just my face, but it was enough. She was scared of me, but there was more life in her than someone who just found her like this would think, and more than that, she still had hope that was tucked away deep down where nobody could take it, hope that this was over, hope that I wasn't like Stefan, hope that I wouldn't hurt her . . . it didn't matter why she had it or how small it was, it was there.

I didn't dare touch her even though I would've loved nothing more than to wipe her tears and give her a hug. That's not what she needed. Without taking my eyes from her, I said, "She's not completely broken." She shrank back from Klaus when he came to crouch next to me, and I looked at him over my shoulder before sighing in frustration. "Wipe your mouth, you dope. You're still wearing her Aunt."

He chuckled before giving me a side-glance and using his sleeve to do what I said as he went back to examining the girl. Finally he asked, "What do you see that I'm not?"

"She has hope, and that's enough."

"How can you tell?"

"Because she wants to believe that either I won't hurt her or that this is over, which means she still has hope that it could be over . . . it's not much, but it's something she can build on as long she doesn't remember this."

Sounding somewhat intrigued, he looked at her again as he said, "An experiment?"

"I know enough about compulsion to know that the more primal part of her brain, the one that controls emotions, it won't forget the way her more conscious mind can, but she's young, and if she can feel that hope, no matter how small, then she can still grow up to have something that resembles a normal life."

Mocking me, he asked, "Do you want to do it, or shall I?"

I threw him a glare before turning my attention back on the little girl. "I probably could fix this given enough time, or someone could, but time isn't something we have, and I'm not sure that I have the right skill set to make things better for her . . . unlike the situation with the revenants, which I would have been fine settling myself . . . You, on the other hand, have the ability to use your gifts to do something good here."

"And what makes you think I would?"

"You have no reason not to do it."

Looking back at the girl, he said, "Some might say it would be wrong to strip her of this character defining moment."

"Yeah, well, I'm guessing those that say that have never had their parents's heads literally bitten off in front of them at the tender age of 6."

Again Klaus went with that annoying cocky attitude that I'm sure Elijah was talking about when he said their sister called him a 'smug twat.' "Maybe you underestimate her."

"Maybe you underestimate yourself." All joviality left his face, and I added, "She hasn't done you any harm, and she won't when she gets older, because she's not the type. That leaves you in the unique position of doing something kind for her simply because you can and not because you're going to get anything out of it by preventing her from retaliating in some way . . . Call it your own character defining moment."

"You think me incapable of mercy."

Standing, I looked down at him and shook my head. "Uh uh . . . no, you are not going to do something good just to prove to me that you can . . . Do it for the right reasons . . . Do it for her." Looking from the little girl to her Mom and then over at the dead Aunt, I added, "And would it kill you to be a little more discerning in who you have for dinner? Use what you are to help clear some of the worst humanity has to offer instead of whatever the hell it is you've been doing."

Doing a poor imitation of him, I said, "I need something to do. Oh, look, there's some random people for me to kill. Aw, now they're dead. What should I do now?'" Waving my gun in disgust towards the woman's body, I started my rant. "I mean what is this? I'll tell you what it is . . . It's a complete waste, and it's boring, and don't say I don't understand, because I don't know how to have fun . . . I know how to have fun. Fun is hunting your target, fighting in the moment, executing a plan perfectly, and reveling in the victory over your adversary."

Pointing in the dead woman's direction again, I asked, "Does she look like an adversary to you?" before raising my hand a fraction of an inch and pulling the trigger without taking my eyes off of Klaus. I heard the thump of Stefan's body as it fell back into the position it'd been in before he'd started trying to get to his hands and knees and then said, "This is not fun, and I get that nothing can kill you, so the thrill of a good fight is lost on you, and I also get that you have done just about everything there is to do, which makes it all seem so 'been there and done that,' but there has got to be more to you than this . . . this homicidal frat boy facade you've got going on."

"Feel better now?" Taunting me, he asked, "Got it all out of your system?"

My shoulders dropped as I sighed and looked away from him. "Not really . . . Just help her, so when Stefan wakes up again, she won't know who he is when he undoes his compulsion."

"You're lost." I glanced at him, and he said, "You were hoping I'd have answers for you."

And that right there was another reason why I'd been mostly observing instead of talking. The less I said, the less he'd be able to get inside my head and figure out things I didn't want him knowing. "Not answers . . . maybe that you were the answer to what I'm supposed to do now. You should've stayed a mystery."

His eyebrows arched. "You find me a disappointment."

"I don't know what I find you. You're all over the place." With another sigh, I looked down briefly before shaking my head and looking at him to offer him some advice, and I think that because that's how it came across, he didn't rip my heart out for saying it. "If you think these hybrids are going to fill that void you feel and give you a purpose, think again."

His face was unreadable for a few moments before his eyes turned to the little girl. If he killed her now, I was going to gut him in his sleep. Ducking down, so he could see her face as she shied away from him, he cooed, "Hello, Sweetheart." Her eyes flicked in his direction, and then he had her. I momentarily felt powerless to stop him from making things worse, but that was before he started talking. "Once the scary man tells you that you can go, you'll run home and won't remember what happened to your Mum and her sister today. As far as you know, they have gone on an amazing adventure, and they won't be coming back. You'll miss them, but it's important that you know it's not your fault they left. You'll dream sweet dreams at night, make friends, and live your life to it's fullest. Nod if you understand." She nodded in a daze, and then he looked at me. "I can show mercy . . . just so you know," before getting to his feet and looking down at Stefan to add, "Have fun getting him to play his part when he wakes up," as he made his way to my car.

Chapter Text

I don't know how long I'd been with them. More than 3 weeks and less than 4? I'd never been to Chicago, and it may almost be morning, but I wanted to go explore. Instead, we were parked outside these storage lockers, like a small group of drug dealers, waiting for that stupid truck that'd been following us. I heard Klaus clear his throat and rolled my eyes before getting out of the car and walking around to his side, so I could open his door for him. I guess it is what I was being paid to do. When the truck pulled up behind us, I knew better than to ask what was in there, but it seemed important.

I was getting better at listening without appearing to listen. All I had to do was stare at the buildings in the distance and wait until I heard the inevitable, "Little Wolf-Killer, we're leaving." It made it look like I wasn't paying attention, because he had to tell me we when he wanted to go, but I was. I know Stefan was questioning what he was doing here just as much as I was, but he was being vocal about it. I know that Klaus was dead set on finding out what was going wrong with his hybrids no matter what anyone said to him about it, so we were here to see one of his favorite witches. I knew that Stefan had lived here in the 20s, Klaus had too, and he was waxing all nostalgic about it. What I didn't know was what was in the damn truck. It might be my ticket out of here.

"Do you want me to drive?"

I looked at Klaus. I guess he had been talking to me. "No, you're all right."

Extending his hand towards the city, he said, "You said you've never been to Chicago. It's a much better view when you're not in the driver's seat."

"I like being in the driver's seat."

He smirked. "Let go. Live a little."

I don't think he understood how much this car meant to me. "I know how to live. I just - "

Stefan interrupted me. "I don't even know why you allowed her to bring this car. It's not up to your usual standards, is it?"

I threw him a look. "Leave my car alone."

His eyes narrowed as he squared up to me. "Or what?"

He'd been like this for a while now. Maybe it was because I'd seen him at his worst day in and day out. Maybe it was something else. And I wasn't sure when it'd started. When I shot him sometime near the beginning? Well, if it was that, then he should be thanking me for keeping him from crossing that line. Maybe he expected me to keep him from crossing more, but I wasn't his Blood Junkie Anonymous Sponsor, and there was only so much I could do with the always volatile Klaus with us. I'd been lucky Klaus had been in a good mood that day.

Either that's when it'd started, or Stefan had been like this since he woke up after we left Mystic Falls on our way to Tennessee at the very beginning, and it got worse after I shot him. He just kept pushing and pushing, and it was wearing thin on top of the time I spent tiptoeing around Klaus, while he tried to figure out what was going wrong with his hybrids.

I sliced my finger on the edge of a stake inside my sleeve and smirked when I saw Stefan tense at the smell before lifting my finger to my lips and blowing the blood drops in his eyes. The large amounts of vervain had an immediate effect as he hissed and clutched at his face, but before either of us could do more, a laughing Klaus, stepped between us, and I turned away from both of them with a little growl. Rounding the front of my car without opening any doors for anyone, I said, "Like I said, leave it alone . . . and while you're at it stop being a dick to me. I now consider us even for all the things I've done to you. The time I've devoted to patiently ignoring you is over, and I've been more than reasonable considering 3 out of the 5 times were me protecting you in one way or another. If we're even, expect me to stop taking it."

"But we're not even, are we? You're here, and Elena isn't."

Is that what he was doing, acting like he hated me because Elena was dead? Smart, but annoying, and I wasn't putting up with it anymore, especially since she wasn't dead, and I was really missing Damon, like homesick kind of miss. I'd only ever felt that with my Mom when I was little. I wasn't in the mood to play along. "Well, I'm done playing nice, so - "

"It's so hard to tell. You're never nice . . . That's kind of your thing, isn't it? Starting fights, crashing funerals - "

"I didn't crash that fucking funeral. You and your friends are so blinded by your imaginary halos that you still can't see past yours even after a summer of mutilating bodies up and down the Eastern Seaboard . . . You're no better than the rest of us who are in the gray, Doll Maker . . . Newsflash. Just because you make them look alive after you kill them doesn't make it so, you fucking creep." I climbed in the front seat and then huffed in frustration before climbing out and going back around to open Klaus's door. I paused when he didn't immediately get into the car and said, "I'm not apologizing."

"I wouldn't dream of having you do such a thing." Reaching back to pat Stefan on the shoulder he said, "Stefan's going to sit in the back and behave." Stefan gave him a look that said exactly how annoyed he was by that before getting into the back, and then Klaus turned to me and held out his hand. "Keys."

"You understand that I built this car." No way was I telling him that I built it with my Dad. He didn't need to know just how sentimental I was about my baby, or he'd use it against me . . . sort of the way I was planning on using whatever was in that container truck against him.

"I do now."

"It's mine, not yours."

He seemed amused. "And I'm sure you'll find a way to pay me back ten fold if anything were to happen to it."

My brow furrowed. "Yeah, that's about right."

"Then rest assured that it will be safe in my hands."

He seemed so earnest. With a little sigh, I capitulated and reluctantly dropped the keys into his hand before walking around him to get in the passenger seat. While he went around the front of the car, Stefan sat forward and said, "It's probably for the best you're not going to go to high school. You would've had a difficult time if it only takes you this long to break."

Right, and he was the poster child for restraint. He just couldn't play nice even when he was told to do it, could he? "Don't you think I know that? They're already calling me names . . . Evil Twin and Bizarro Gilbert were the nicest ones I heard at that stupid party."

Sliding into the car, Klaus asked, "The party you had the night before I arrived? You never did say why you had it."

He'd never asked. Turning to look out of the passenger window, while he started my car, I responded, "I didn't have it. I showed up at a house full of drunken high school students and was told it was a surprise birthday party for me. I think Caroline wanted to use it as a chance to introduce me to the community . . . turns out no introduction was needed." I wasn't an idiot. I knew Elena, Bonnie, Matt, and Jeremy hadn't done it intentionally, but all it took was a look or a careless throw away comment about me doing something like crashing Elena's Dad's funeral, and that was all it took for rumors to run rampant in a small town.

I heard Stefan mutter, "Evil Eve," from the backseat, and I ignored it until he said, "Or is it Evie?"

I should call him Snooping Stefan. Damon'd had me in his phone under both names at one time or another. My head whipped around to look at him, and I couldn't be any clearer with my tone. "Only one person gets to call me that, and it isn't you."

He smirked. "Such an easy target."

"Such a juvenile delinquent. Forever 17 and always a pain in the ass."

"Eve."

"Yes, Klaus?"

He did a double take at the sweetness of my changed tone and then said, "He's right, my dear. Something my Rebekah has never learned is to not rise to it. It makes you an easy, more enjoyable target."

I went back to facing the front and shook my head. "It's just him and people like him. He annoyed me before I even officially met him." That wasn't entirely true. It was Elena that had annoyed me, not Stefan. I suppose some of my feelings about her may have rubbed off onto him, but that's not the Stefan I'd been dealing with the last while. It'd been this jackass, and I couldn't stand this guy.

"And how did the two of you meet?"

He was looking through the rearview mirror, so I knew he wasn't talking to me. I took the opportunity to appreciate the fast approaching skyline, while Stefan took that one. "Officially? After she clawed her way out of a coffin and walked into our house unannounced."

Klaus gave me a side-glance before saying, "A coffin?"

I tried to focus on the city and said, "And the tomb encasing it. I wasn't buried or anything."

"And you were in a coffin because?"

"Apparently, the only thing that could be done with me was to drug me and stick me in a coffin during the ritual to break your curse."

His eyebrows rose as he made a face that would make it appear like he thought that made sense before he said, "And you walked into his house unannounced, because?"

"I'd been living there for months without him knowing."

He started laughing and looked through the rearview mirror again. "You really are slipping, my friend . . . Tell me about the unofficial meetings."

Well, he hadn't asked me, so Stefan could take those too and omit what he wanted that would make him look bad. I wished that I'd known I'd be coming to Chicago before I left my computer behind at the boarding house. If I had, I might've looked up what some of these buildings were called. The closer we got, the bigger they seemed, and I was fascinated by not only the architecture, but some of the sculptures I saw between buildings. I turned to watch one go by and was drawn out of my musings when Klaus said, "This car handles beautifully. I can see why you go so fast on an open road."

Was he complaining about my speeding? Or paying my car a compliment? I didn't know. "Thanks? But I speed because with you and your little side kick in the back, I figure I can get out of any speeding tickets . . . not that I'd receive them anyway. My IDs are all fake."

"Ah yes, you're a ghost . . . Why is that again?"

I looked at him. Between Stefan and I, he was fishing for answers, and I should wonder why, but really, I just wondered, why now? "You tell me."

"Are you playing coy, Little Wolf-Killer?"

"I'm interested to see how that mind of yours connects things."

Glancing at me briefly, he once again seemed amused as he said, "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles."

I flippantly replied, "Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat . . . See, I can quote Sun Tzu too."

"And you know exactly what I meant, which is why you returned with a quote that was suitable for responding without making it look like you were."

He gave me a look that said not to deny it, and I sighed before responding to his quote more directly. "Maybe . . . I'm also curious."

"I still don't match up to your expectations."

I answered honestly. "No . . . not better than or less than, just different."

"What were you expecting?"

"Cold-tempered, not hot-tempered. That may have changed a little when Elijah told me about the werewolf-side of you, but I still thought it'd be less a part of your personality than it is . . . You're just as calculating and violent as I imagined, but you're not sterile about it. I thought you'd be uncaring rather than the way you are, and - "

"How am I?'

"You care too much." His eyebrows rose, but he didn't respond, so I said, "And I didn't think you'd have a sense of humor, because after 1000 years, what could you possibly find funny anymore? A jaded old soul without an ounce of humanity . . . not you."

He was focused on driving, but I could tell he was thinking and not quite hurt, but something along those lines. "You are describing someone I know." Giving me a brief smile, he said, "But I'm afraid it isn't me." His eyes took on a thoughtful look again as he took a crack at his original question. "If your parents hid you away from the world, it wasn't just to hide you from me, or you'd say that . . . It was to hide you from me, so you could replace your sister at the sacrifice. I'd still have just as much trouble as I'm having now with the hybrids, but I wouldn't have broken the curse on myself."

Sitting back in my seat, I tried not to look too impressed. "Pretty good."

His brow furrowed. "They raised you as a sacrificial lamb but trained you to be a wolf in sheep's clothing."

Going back to looking out the window, I shook my head. "They thought I was born weak, so they pushed me hard, particularly my Dad. That I was actually trained in the meantime didn't seem to factor into their plans at all."

He didn't say anything, so I looked at him again, and he had that wistful, almost hurt look again. He gave me a quick smile to diffuse my scrutiny before saying, "And yet your father changed his mind at the last second."

"I don't think he would have if you hadn't known about both of his daughters. One was better than two, but two was too much."

"So, he chose to save the weaker of the two?"

"He chose to save the one he raised." And die for the one he didn't.

"He didn't hate you despite your perceived weakness."

"No." Looking back out the window, I added, "Damon thinks our fathers would've been great friends . . . same kind of man. Mission, honor, and duty before kids. There was a time when I agreed. Now that Dad's dead, I'm not sure that I do."

Klaus asked, "How did he die?" and Stefan said, "She wasn't there. She was locked in that coffin, and our fathers were nothing alike."

Nicely played, Stefan. I'll go along with you on this little distracting argument. "I don't know. He may have changed at the end, but the way he treated me before that, particularly in the last few years . . . I don't think there was much of a difference."

"You never met my father, so what would you know about it?"

"More than you think . . . And what would you really know about it? Were beatings the only time you got his attention? Nope, but then you were his favorite."

"My brother - "

"Wasn't."

I didn't know what he was planning to do in retaliation, but Klaus apparently did, and fitting into the big brother role he'd started taking on more and more recently, he looked back between the seats and pointed at Stefan, while giving him a clear demand. "Don't."

When I looked back, Stefan had slumped in his seat, like a petulant child. Had his target been me or the car? Maybe both. He could get both of us if he punched his hand through the seat and ripped out my heart. What I'd said hadn't exactly warranted that kind of response, so maybe it just would've been the car, but even then . . . he was getting desperate to keep me from bringing up any reference to Elena still being alive. We'd never spoken about it, but by now, he should've realized that I wouldn't say anything. He's the one that almost screwed up earlier by bringing up the funeral. That could've gone horribly wrong . . . unless it was a test to see what I'd do on something that was sure to trigger an outburst from me. Even then, I hadn't said anything about her, but then I did bring up my Dad dying, and that was an easy in for Klaus.

Maybe Stefan had wanted to punish me for that? Or had he even blamed me for it? I didn't know him well enough to be able to put together the pieces of how his mind worked, because his mind was mostly controlled by the blood lust these days. I just knew that he'd marginally showed me his cards tonight by letting me know that he was acting this way because he wanted Klaus to believe that he hated that I was alive and Elena wasn't. It really was clever, but it was also taking a massive toll on me to be under constant verbal attack and always under threat of a physical one.

Chapter Text

It was morning when we finally got to where we were going. I was getting tired, but as we walked into the club, my eyes went immediately to the stage and the piano I saw to the side of it. I didn't even notice the woman who owned this place until I heard her say, "You've gotta be kidding me," but even then I wasn't really paying attention.

I ignored the other three as I made my way towards the piano, such was my need to play. I was across the bar when I heard Klaus say my name. Ugh, just leave me alone for 5 minutes. I glanced behind me when he said, "Don't be rude. Come meet Gloria."

Looking from him to her, I pointed in the direction of the piano and asked, "May I?" It wasn't a greeting, and I wan't going back over to them, but at least I'd asked.

She smiled. "Sure, you go on ahead." And that was all the permission I needed as I hopped up on the stage and bounded over to my instrument of choice. Sitting down, I allowed my fingers trail over the keys and let them help me decide what to play. Zombie from the Cranberries. Dark, angry, just right. From there, it transitioned into Where Did You Sleep Last Night. It was a song made famous by Leadbelly, but I guess I'd always loved Nirvana's Unplugged cover for the sheer emotion in Kurt Cobain's voice. I'd come up with my own arrangement for it, but kept the feel of that one, the pain, the anger. It was all there. When it ended, I released a slight breath I hadn't known I'd been holding and kept myself from starting another song when Gloria said, "Don't think I've ever heard that song quite played like that."

My eyes darted to where Klaus and Stefan should be to keep up the act of not being aware of my surroundings, and Gloria felt the need to explain why they weren't there. "Known a lot of musicians in my time, so I know you're not planning on going anywhere for a while. It seems like you've got something you need to get out . . . I told 'em it'd be best to leave you be for now." Looking at the keys as she turned to go to the bar, she added, "Don't let me stop you. Can't imagine your traveling companions are all that easy to get along with."

No, they were not. Turning back to the keys, I let my hands choose what was next, and they decided Twenty Four Hours by Joy Division would be best. I played another song after that and another and then lost track of how many I'd played by the time she opened the doors. I glanced at her, and she nodded. It was time to put this away, so I pulled the key lid down, while she put the house music on for the night, but I didn't particularly feel like going to the bar to talk to her. I stayed where I was and watched from the shadows as more and more people filtered into the place. I might've even dozed for a bit. It was so hard to get any real sleep when I had no faith that my traveling companions wouldn't kill me in my sleep.

I was somewhere between sleep and being quasi-alert with my head tucked into my arm on the piano when I heard my name. I blinked, unsure if I'd actually heard it, or if it'd been a dream. When I lifted my head, I blinked again, and saw him on the ground standing next to the stage. My first impulse was to get to my feet, which I did, but then doubts started flying into my head. Does he hate me? Can we fix it? Will we ever be friends again? I think my apprehension at the sight of Damon left me glued to my spot, but it seemed to have the opposite effect on him, because he went from standing where he was to holding me in his arms faster than he should have. Somebody could've seen him move at vampire speed, and nobody was drunk enough yet to not think anything of it. I returned his embrace and closed my eyes, so I could savor this while it lasted. It felt like the wind had been sucked out of me, but I still managed to murmur, "You don't hate me?"

Resting his hand on the back of my head with a slight sigh of relief, he answered, "Never," and I just had to remind him of what I'd actually done.

"I shot you."

He breathed out a barely audible chuckle. "Yes, you did . . . And I did the same thing when the situation was reversed."

Yeah, I guess he had even though paying him back for knocking me out hadn't entered my mind once when I did it to him. "And I knocked out Elena."

"Yeah, you did that too."

"And I gave him your brother."

"No other option with your sister there."

"I didn't know she was."

"Doesn't matter. You did what you had to do in the moment to stay alive. He would've killed you before I could've stopped him if you didn't come up with something to give him, and then he still would've ripped the house apart until he got to Stefan."

"You've had a lot of time to think about it, haven't you?"

I felt his chest heave again in another quiet laugh before he held me a little tighter and said, "Too much . . . come home, Eve."

My eyes teared up as I said, "I don't know how."

"Just leave with me tonight."

"But if I leave - "

"Let me worry about me and Stefan. It's not your responsibility to sacrifice yourself for us . . . Why does Klaus want you?"

"Well, as far a I know, I'm just his driver, but I suspect there's more."

"Like?"

"I don't know. I feel like he's playing some kind of game."

"And Stefan?"

"Klaus wants a brother. Your's does not hold back on how much he hates him, but Klaus still thinks Stefan is his only friend, and they were both here in the 20s. Gloria seems to know both of them, and she didn't seem surprised to see them together . . . I think Stefan was upset by a picture he found behind the bar before they left . . . My guess with the way that Klaus has been talking about Chicago in the 20s is that they knew each other then and were maybe even good friends, but Stefan doesn't remember it, and Klaus desperately wants that back."

"Why wouldn't he remember?"

"I don't know. It could be chalked up to that decade being a drunken-vampire haze for Stefan, but to block it out that completely, I'm thinking - "

"He was compelled to forget."

"Yeah."

"I brought Elena. If he sees her, then - "

"Stefan still won't leave."

"Is he compelled to stay?"

"No."

"Has he flipped his switch?"

I pulled back to look up at him. "No, but how do you know that? I thought you thought he did."

"He was way too concerned about what was going to happen to Elena when Klaus came a knocking for him to have his humanity off."

Biting the inside of my cheek, I considered that before nodding. "He may not have flipped his switch, but it may have been better if he had. Klaus is going to figure out why his hybrids aren't working, and the closer he gets to the solution, the more desperate Stefan gets to keep him from finding out that Elena's alive."

"How desperate?"

"Very."

"I need examples if - "

"I feel like he's more of a threat to me than Klaus is."

There was no emotion to his voice as he asked, "Still?"

"He has been the whole time. The day we left, Klaus found a werewolf pack . . . His hybrids failed. It was a complete disaster . . . 10x worse than when a vampire is bitten by a werewolf and at a much faster rate. Klaus had to kill them all, so you can imagine he wasn't in a very good mood, and the first thing Stefan did was indicate that maybe Klaus had gotten the wrong twin in his ritual, but Klaus didn't agree. Since then, Stefan's been pushing me more and more, and I can't figure out why. He is really hard to get a read on. He's good. He's bad. He's up. He's down. He's a terrible liar one second and a master the next. He pushes his luck with Klaus, but I am convinced that the only reason he hasn't actually tried to kill me yet is because Klaus won't let him."

"Have you been playing nice?"

I opened my mouth to say I had and then sighed before saying, "Mostly . . . I did shoot him in the head a couple of times."

Trying not to laugh, he asked, "Why?" and I answered, "I just did it . . . He was going to kill a little girl, and I watched him kill her Mom without doing anything, but I just - I had enough. I'd only been with them a couple of days, but they were completely out of control."

His humor was gone. He looked concerned. "And since then?"

"It's hit and miss . . . depends on the day and Klaus's mood. Sometimes it's the same as it was those few days. Most of the time, he at least picks more difficult targets, or occasionally, he attempts to get them to go a day without blood, so they can partake in the finer things in life. Your brother really hates those days and blames them entirely on me."

"Have you gotten in his way again?"

"I keep an eye on him, but . . . no." I bit my bottom lip before admitting, "I'm not really sure what it is I should be doing. I feel like I should be stopping them, but if I do - "

"They'll kill you if you do it too many times."

I nodded before saying, "And if I'm dead, I can't keep my promise to you. I did say I'd do whatever it took to come back." The corner of his mouth turned up into a sad smile, because he knew that wasn't the only reason. Taking a short breath, I said, "If I die, then who will eventually stop them? I have to be alive if that's going to be me . . . I just can't do anything if I'm standing right next to them, because it's impossible to hunt someone that way. I'm not stronger than them, and I'm not faster than them, so it's going to take the element of surprise to pull anything over on Klaus, and I think Klaus knows that, which is why he has me in his sights at all times. This is the most I've been left alone since I've been with them, and I'm sure it's because his witch is here. And in the meantime, they're still killing . . . maybe not as much as they were, but they are, and I have no idea what to do. I just . . . I feel like I'm being complicit, like that saying about evil triumphing when good men do nothing . . . I'm doing nothing."

"Have either of them hurt you?"

I could honestly say they hadn't. "No, but Stefan wants to and until last night I was ignoring it, but he's getting more and more confrontational with every day that I'm with them, and ignoring him might have been the best way to handle it at first, because it made him look bad, but I can't ignore him stepping into my space and looming over me, like he's going to try something. I have to keep him in check, because the second Klaus stops seeing me as a Little Wolf-Killer, I'm done, and maybe Stefan is too . . . It's like I still have to live up to what I said I did to Stefan when Stefan came home even though what I told Klaus was the truth, because if Klaus suspects otherwise, then he'll kill us both . . . Klaus doesn't want to be lonely, but he doesn't trust anyone, so depending on his mood, which changes even more than Stefan's, it could go bad in a second if he thinks someone has betrayed him. I mean that is the entire reason why he has to steal other peoples' brothers instead of still having his own."

"But you think Stefan's more of a threat to you?"

I sighed. "Well, on the plus side, I strongly suspect that he thought I was wearing my ring the night of the party, but yeah . . . erratic and desperate trumps paranoid and ill-tempered. Both are unpredictable, but Klaus is a little less so. You can see the cues that let you know when to take cover with him. He explodes, and then he's fine. Stefan's desperation is mounting, and he isn't built like you or Klaus. He doesn't go hot. He goes cold, so there is no way for him to relieve that stress . . . unless he's on the hunt, but as soon as he feeds it's over, and he has no self-control when it comes to that, so the hunts don't take long."

A look of understanding crossed Damon's face as he said, "Except for this one. He's hunting you." I hadn't really thought of it like that, but it was possible. It made more sense than him testing me to see what I said about Elena.

I shrugged a shoulder. "Maybe . . . He also said he's being a dick to me because I'm alive and Elena isn't, so maybe he's going overboard with it?"

Looking pensive, Damon shook his head. "Maybe there's a part of him that believes that'll work, and maybe at first he thought it would be safer for you if he made it clear that you and he were not friends . . . If Klaus is paranoid, then the last thing he'd want is you two getting along, because that might mean that you'd try to take him down together . . . but now? The blood's got my brother's brain so scrambled, he's actually convinced himself he means it, and you are his target, the one he really wants but can't have if Klaus won't let him. The urge to kill you is only going to get worse until that's all he can think about doing."

That didn't really worry me as much as it seemed to worry him. I guess I'd just gotten used to the idea that Stefan wanted to hurt me. He could, but I wasn't going to let him kill me. I could see that Damon's last statement didn't particularly make him happy, so I tried to put his mind at ease. "But it hasn't all been bad, like there is a lockup in this city, the contents of which I would love to get my hands on, and I also know the weaknesses all future hybrids will have if he gets his way . . . wolfsbane and vervain. Taking their heads and hearts kills them . . . They're not that special . . . certainly nothing to die trying to prevent."

The tension in his shoulders relaxed. "Not the apocalypse you thought you were dying to stop?" I shook my head, and he smiled, like it validated him keeping me out of the ritual. Never one to pass up an opportunity, he asked, "What's in the lock up," a few seconds later.

"I have no idea, but it's important to him."

"Can you give me the address?"

"Yep. As long as you promise that if you take something, you'll make sure everything looks exactly the same as it did when you walked in there. If anything is even moved a centimeter, he'll notice, and we may need the bargaining chip for another time, so he can't suspect a thing until we use it, or it won't be as effective. He'll just come after us to get it back, and he'll turn it into a war we can't win yet. What we want to do is take him by surprise, especially if he's going to find out from Gloria that Elena's still alive and will show up in Mystic Falls anyway. We can start planning for that now."

With a grin, he pulled me to his chest again in a bear hug as he said, "God, I've missed you. They're coming back here tonight?"

"Yeah. Gloria told them to leave me with the piano for a while. They're here to see her for help on the hybrid problem, and they haven't gotten it yet, so they'll be back for that."

"I promise I will get you out of here tonight. Until then, I need you to go along like nothing's different and distract Klaus . . . I'm coming for you before I try for Stefan."

Chapter Text

I doubted that Damon himself had known what he would do tonight when I saw him earlier, so there's no way that I knew what he was planning, but I knew why he wanted to get me first. He might hope that Elena talking to Stefan would work, but he took what I said about his brother seriously. If Stefan didn't leave after Elena talked to him, then Stefan couldn't interfere with Damon extracting me if I was already out.

I looked around the club. It wasn't exactly full, but there were enough people around to blend in if I could just get away from the Original sitting next to me at the bar, and the Doll Maker on the other side of him before the Original sister apparently joined the three of us. My focus was on the stage, while I waited for my opportunity. The house music was dull, but I suppose it provided background noise that made this place seem livelier than it actually was. It was a little sad. I bet this place used to be packed and had class, but now it was just bland. "Penny for your thoughts."

I glanced at Klaus. "You're nostalgic for this place, so I'm sure you see it differently than I do. You see what was. I see what is . . . You left, but Gloria's stayed here all along, which means she's poured her extended life into it, and look at what that's yielded. Poor music and a room that's only half full of people. That's about it. It's sad . . . Bet you've seen that a lot over the years."

"More times than I care to remember." Pushing a glass in my direction, he added, "You're much too serious tonight. Drink. Have fun." Following my gaze to the piano at the back of the stage, he said, "I meant to tell you that you play beautifully."

"I started learning the day I turned 2. If you enjoy something and do it for that long, you'll be okay at it."

"So, if a compliment isn't what you seek, then you play for you, and nobody else."

I looked at him in slight confusion. "I've never once wanted a compliment for it. That'd be like expecting to be complimented for breathing. Sometimes it's the only way I can think to communicate with others if they care to listen to what I'm saying, but most of the time, I don't really think about it. I just know it helps me clear my head."

"For me, it's art."

"Creating or observing?"

"Creating."

My head tilted to the side, while I studied him, and then my eyes landed on his forehead as I said, "I would love to see what kind of art that mind creates when nobody is at the helm."

"There is always someone at the helm."

"No." My eyes narrowed thoughtfully before I said, "Not always if you truly submerge yourself in the experience of letting your hands create whatever they need to create to express what it is you're feeling or thinking and can't quite work out through conventional means."

Was that a Klaus caught off guard look? I'd been nailing my ability to get those the last couple of days. Quickly recovering with a charming smile, he said, "As I said, for me it's art, but music is something you have in common with Elijah."

The corner of my mouth curled up as I said, "I heard him play once. It was Tiny Dancer, which surprised me a little, and he said you have to go contemporary if you want good tips."

It would appear that I'd grabbed Klaus's full attention as he swung towards me and said, "That's right. You did meet Elijah, didn't you? Tell me what you thought of my brother."

I smiled before joking, "I liked him until I met you and found out just how much he insulted me by comparing you and I."

Thankfully, he grinned before exhaling a genuine laugh. "See, Stefan, I told you she could be charming when she wants to be."

"And I told you - "

Klaus raised his hand to silence him without actually looking away from me and said, "Why did he compare us?"

"He was determined to follow me around and keep me from doing whatever I wanted. I told him I didn't need him to babysit me, and that he was going to cramp my style. Then I called him a buzz kill."

His whole face lit up at that. "He is a total buzz kill, isn't he?" Leaning forward he asked, "What did he want to interfere with you doing?"

"What do you think?"

His smile fell somewhat. "He didn't want you in the sacrifice, because it wouldn't have worked for him if his intention was to kill me."

My eyebrows knitted together, as I gave my head a slight shake, and I was as earnest as a truthful person could be as I said, "I knew he wouldn't go through with it. I was so sure, I bet someone's life on it."

Watching me in interest, he asked, "What made you so certain?"

I knew from what Katherine had told Damon that Elijah was in another time out, one his brother had decided to give him, but I thought Klaus should know his brother didn't really hate him enough to kill him. "As far as he knew, you're all he had left. He could be furious with you, feel betrayed, and all the rest that goes along with the belief that you are the reason he lost the rest of his family forever, but at the end of the day, you are still his brother. I knew that to him, you must be the only one who truly understands what it is to be alive for that long, but more than that, you're the only one who knew him when he was human and who grew up with him. Nobody else could ever replace that. Without you, he'd be alone, and I was willing to bet that you guys need each other more now than you ever did when you were alive, because to be 1000 years old must be difficult enough, but to be 1000 years old and alone? He wouldn't have gone through with it."

Klaus swallowed before taking a slow breath and then sat back marginally. This is what I meant by him caring too much. I'd hit too close to home for him in what I'd said, and he quickly changed the subject. "And now for the plan . . . I have to know how would you have outsmarted me if you thought him stopping you would have ruined your buzz. You must've considered it to be your pièce de résistance of quite a short life."

One of my eyebrows ticked up as I said, "And risk bringing that anger of yours down on me? I don't think so."

"Come on, tell me. What was my protégé planning?" Protégé ? What the hell was he talking about? I guess he had been pushing me lately to use my brain more, almost like he was mentoring me on how to kill him, because he knew I couldn't, and it amused him, but protégé? My eyes narrowed slightly in thought, while I considered how much to tell him, and he smirked before saying, "No holding back. I want all the details." He had been studying me way too much, just the way I'd been studying him.

Licking my bottom lip, I said, "I'd rather play a game."

"A game? Now there is an idea. What do you have in mind?"

"Well, I'm the bad guy, and you're the good one for starters." He seemed intrigued, so I said, "We'll keep the first round short . . . 5 people, and since I don't know you, you have to tell me your targets, and - "

"What if you did?"

"Know you?" He nodded, and I said, "Then, I'd know you well enough to figure out who you'll pick, so you wouldn't have to tell me."

Seeing where I was going with this, he said, "So, it's a getting to know you game."

"Of sorts, and there are only two rules. Gloria can't find out, and you can't use your super human speed to get to your targets before me."

"What do I do when I get to them?"

"Try to compel them to do something good with their lives before I can stop you."

"And if I think what would be good for their lives is that they should jump off the nearest bridge?"

"Well, it wouldn't make me the bad guy if I stopped you from doing that. I'm supposed to rob them of their dreams, and you're supposed to provide them. That's how it works."

He laughed and looked over his shoulder at a Stefan who didn't give him the jovial response he wanted. Looking back at me, he said, "What if their dream is to become a serial killer?"

"Well, then I'd better get to them before you can compel them."

"What do you do to prevent me from compelling them?"

"Whatever I have to do."

Looking over his shoulder at Stefan again, he said, "What do you say, Ripper? Are you in?"

Stefan did not seem so inclined, and maybe that was a good thing. If Stefan played, he might start killing people to keep Klaus from compelling them, or he wouldn't, because if he did that, then Gloria would know about the game. Compelling people to leave and jump off a bridge would yield the same results as if he ripped into them, but he would be able to do that without her knowing, and even if he didn't go that low, he wouldn't do anything good. He might at first, like he might just compel them not to listen to Klaus, but as the night wore on, I was sure he'd slip further and further into the ripper mentality.

It would make it easier for Damon to get me out of here if they were both playing. Was it wrong for me to use both Stefan and the people in this bar to make that happen? Absolutely. Could I stop it now that I'd gotten the ball rolling? Probably not, especially since Klaus didn't appear to want to take 'no' for an answer from Stefan, so I might as well roll with it. At least now, I had a way to extricate myself from their company, regroup with Damon in Mystic Falls, and he and I could figure out what to do about them together. I couldn't do this alone anymore.

To goad Stefan a little, I asked, "Who's team would he be on?"

"Yours of course. I wouldn't want to discourage you from playing by making you compete against two who can compel when you can't. The game would be over before it's begun."

Drumming my fingers on the bar, I appraised him before saying, "Why do I get the feeling that I'm really getting kicked out of my own game, and you're trying to put a positive spin on it?"

Leaning towards me, Klaus asked, "And why do I get the feeling you don't want him on your team?"

"Because I don't. I'll still be competing against both of you if I don't want him to get all the points."

It was quick. It was blunt. It was partially true. It was enough to make Klaus's eyes widened in amusement, as he quickly came to the belief that my conscience wasn't getting the better of me with regards to Stefan playing and people possibly dying. I just wanted my fair share of points. "Ah, but his points are your points, Little Wolf-Killer. That's what being on a team means."

"I don't do teams."

"One of the best lessons you can learn is how to be on a team with people you don't trust as long as you ultimately reach your goal."

Yeah, I used to think that when I first met Damon. He kind of screwed that all up by becoming my friend and stomping my goal into dust. Klaus seemed sincere in his advice, and I looked speculatively at Stefan. "Yeah, but then once you reach it, you have to keep them from running off with your trophy."

"Stefan isn't going to run off with anything, are you Stefan?"

He looked over at Stefan, and Stefan rolled his eyes. "I'm not playing."

"Sure you are, and I'm adding a new rule. It just wouldn't do to have one teammate attacking the other, would it?" Stefan threw him a glare and opened his mouth to respond, but Klaus looked back at me to say. "So, Eve, play nice."

It caught me off guard, and I did a poor job of concealing my laugh with a cough. "Me?"

"You're the one who wants to win more, and I'd just hate to see what would happen if he gets in your way."

My eyes flitted back and forth between the two of them, and I finally stood with a sigh. "Whatever. If it keeps him from getting his kicks hunting me with your tacit approval, I'm all for it."

"You honestly believe I would condone - "

I cut Klaus off by saying, "I think you would do anything to get the friend you knew back, and this game is a pretty good way of testing how far he's come, which is why you want him to play." So heads up, Stefan. If you didn't know it until now, he's got certain expectations for you. Call it a test of loyalty.

With a chuckle that did the opposite of deny what I'd said, Klaus got to his feet saying, "And now for my 5."

He pointed his targets out, and there didn't seem to be a particular type he was shooting for right now, just their spacing around the room. They were at opposite ends and corners. The pattern was essentially like the 5 on a cube of dice. He wasn't just going to go from 1 to 2 to 3 to 4 to 5, and he wouldn't do it in reverse number count either. This was about their location. Furthest to nearest or nearest to furthest, it didn't matter. I was willing to lose one or two if it meant I could get to the other 3 and still ultimately come out on top, which meant that I was going to start with the girl in the middle.

I took a step, and realized Klaus took a step in her direction at the same time. I looked up at him, as he looked down at me and smirked. "I am really starting to see the appeal of this game. If the strategy is lose 2 to gain 3 . . . What do you do if your opponent is of the same mind? That's where tactics come in . . . Bravo, Little Wolf-Killer." Looking back at Stefan, who still hadn't moved from his seat, he added, "Sit this round out, but the round after that, you're working with her whether you want to or not."

His attention came back to me, and his eyebrows rose expectantly as he tilted his head in his intended victim's direction, like 'shall we?' Sure. I actually wouldn't mind seeing how this turns out. I shrugged a shoulder, and rather than make a bee-line for the girl in the middle the way I'd originally intended, I looped out away from her, so I could approach her from the side, while he took the more direct approach. I just had to time it so that I got to her a millisecond before he did and pay attention to what the girls surrounding her called her before I got there.

Then I was turning on a bubbly-enthusiastic demeanor as I shrieked, "Oh my God, Casey, is that you?!" while I threw my arms round her in a giant hug, surreptitiously jabbed her in the shoulder with a vervain dart I had hidden up my sleeve, and immediately released her saying, "I haven't seen you since . . . was it camp when we were - "

"14? Yeah . . . Yeah, that was a great summer. How have you been?" She had no idea who I was, and it was so apparent, but it was so easy to get people to think they knew you and had just forgotten. To make up for forgetting you, they always let you get by with just a little bit more than they would an absolute stranger.

Turning to look behind me, I said, "Well, you know . . . good. You have to meet my friend, Nik." He was already on his way somewhere else. I don't know if he knew what I'd done, or if he just didn't want to waste time on someone I'd gotten to first, but if I tied him up just a little with the prospect of a potential point, I could get to another intended victim before he did.

As he turned, he threw a look at me to let me know he knew what I was thinking, and then he took her hand with a charming smile to make his introductions. It wouldn't take him long to figure out she couldn't be compelled, or that I literally had a trick up my sleeve to keep all of his targets from being compelled if I got to them first, so I was off through the crowd as quickly as I'd approached her, but I didn't go the way he'd been heading. I went in the opposite direction. Jabbing them with darts was, in this instance, the lightest shade of gray I could be. It was fast, efficient, and it meant I was most likely saving their lives, because he was going to do something to make me pay for any point I lost. I just knew it.

I jumped into dancing with a group of people, so I could get to the next target, felt no regrets in jabbing him when he got a little too familiar for my liking, and then jumped back out of dancing, so I could make my way to a third target. That's when two girls came up to block my path with their arms crossed over their chest. I went to go around them, and they side-stepped in front of me. My eyes narrowed, and I looked across the room to find Klaus smirking at me. He was walking from the direction of target 4 and just getting to target 1 at the back, so that really meant that it was a race to get to the final target, and he was compelling other people to block me.

It's something Damon did too, but he'd only done it once, because I'd started a bar room brawl, and at first he'd thought it was hilarious, but then he came a little too close to killing people when he felt like he had to step in to protect me, which was still fun for him, but not the good kind of fun . . . which was probably true of the kind of fun I was having fighting. He thought it was better for me if he didn't do that again. I thought it was better for him if he didn't do it again. We agreed that he wouldn't do it again . . . but maybe he could if I put a rule in place that said no fighting. At the time, I hadn't thought I'd be able to do it even if it was a rule, but maybe I'd been wrong. If I could get through with this without fighting, then maybe we could do it again. It did make it more interesting.

I went to go around the girls again. Another side-step, and then I just pushed right through the middle of them. One grabbed my arm, and I automatically twisted out of her grip before giving her harsh shove to make her take a step back and ducked before the other girl could retaliate. Her arms grabbed around thin air, as I dodged behind her, and used her forward momentum to push her into the other girl before zipping through another dancing group that blocked them from following me.

I could see Klaus getting closer and picked up my speed, but he didn't. I guess he didn't have to move faster if he could make people do it for him. There appeared to be two more people standing between me and the target now. Guys. Similar bouncer stance to the girls, except they were pretty tall. Hm. Mindful of the two girls who were most likely still behind me, I glanced over my shoulder, saw the girls making their way through the crowd, and took a step back before sprinting towards the two men in front of me and rather than go over, around, or through, I went under, slid between the tallest ones legs and got back on my feet to keep going without knocking anyone down on the other side of the guy.

I was almost there when someone stuck their foot out to trip me, and I landed at the male target's feet. He looked down at me, and I sheepishly waved just before Klaus got to him and took his attention off of me by putting his hand on his shoulder. I quickly reached forward to stab the guy in the leg, but somebody grabbed ahold of my ankle and pulled me away from them. Fuck.

My immediate reaction was to flip over onto my back, ready for a fight, but before I could kick the guy in the knee as hard as I could, someone picked me up by the collar and put me on my feet saying, "Now, what would Gloria say if she saw you hurting these fine patrons?"

Sorry, Damon. I think that's still a no-go. "Get out of my club?"

Looking over my head at the 5 people he'd set loose on me, Klaus said, "You lot can carry on with your nights," before saying to me, "What lesson have we learned from all of this?"

"Don't wave. Just stab."

Laughing what was probably one his more genuine laughs, Klaus said, "Well, that's a given . . . What else?"

"Don't make a rule that makes it twice as hard to win."

"You know that the harder it is, the more fun you have, and the sweeter the victory when it's earned . . . but you need a team."

Sighing, I said, "Your team was compelled."

"And now you have someone on your team that can do the same thing."

"This is not going to go well. No need to divide and conquer. Stefan and I are already divided."

"Well, then I'll continue winning all night."

Let's hope not. My real team could use a win.

Chapter Text

This was going better than I'd expected. We'd upped the number to 9 in the second round and 13 in the next. I had no idea what these people were being compelled to do. I just knew that the three of us were totally absorbed in the game, and I was probably having more fun than I should be having. We were spread out around the room in a giant triangle, and there was a bit of a stand off going on with the last target. Stefan looked in my direction and gave me a little nod, I started moving to my right, but was stopped a few feet away when some guy, smiling like the Cheshire cat bumped into me. I'd been bumping into people all night, but the look on his face creeped me out. "Move."

"Care to dance?"

"What? No."

Leaning towards me, he said, "You're gonna wish you had."

I looked down at my thigh where I'd felt a slight sting and then back up at the guy as he turned and walked away. Sure I'd been doing that to people all night, but did he just? I looked in confusion at Stefan who seemed to have started making his way over to me, and then it started to feel like the room was spinning. Should've put a rule in about attacking the other team too. I'm pretty sure the accusatory look I threw Klaus's way let him know that I fully blamed him for this as my legs started to give out from under me. As I fell, I tried to reach out for something to hold onto and someone grabbed my arm, but that's all I remember.

'I've left bodies scattered from Florida to Tennessee. Innocent people. Humans.'

Stefan? My hearing returned before anything else did. I just couldn't open my eyes.

'Lexi found you like this before in the 20s, and she saved you.'

Who was that? I tried opening my eyes again with little success.

'And do you know what I did after that? I spent 30 years trying to pull myself together. To a vampire, that's nothing. To you, that's half your life.'

I tried to move, and I may have tried to say something. What that was, I didn't know, but a hand quickly clamped down over my mouth, which made me put a little more effort into opening my eyes. When I did, everything seemed blurry and a little out of focus until it wasn't. Damon? He put his finger up in front of his lips to indicate I should be quiet, and I nodded. I didn't know what what was happening, but I could be quiet.

He took his hand away, and I tilted my head in the direction of the voices coming from the end of the alley. "I don't want to see you. I don't want to be with you . . . I just want you to go." I waited for what felt like an eternity, but that was probably only about 30 seconds, and then Damon was picking me up to take me in the direction of where the voices had been.

"Are you okay?"

I looked from Damon to where he was looking when he said that and saw my reflection standing there. Is that who was talking with Stefan? How'd that happen? Why isn't it in a mirror? Is that what I sound like? When we got to my runaway reflection, I reached an arm out in her direction, and poked her in the shoulder to see if my hand went through, but she was solid. My eyes widened. Am I the reflection?

I looked up at Damon, and he was watching me. "'M I real?"

He smiled. Oh, that was a beautiful smile. "Yeah, you're real."

"She?"

"Well if she isn't, who do you think she is?"

"Flection."

Damon laughed, and it made me smile as he said, "You think she's your reflection?"

While I nodded, I heard my reflection say, "What'd you do to her?"

My head snapped in my reflection's direction, and I heard Damon say, "I didn't do this."

"Maybe not, but you did get whatever it is she's on."

Pointing at my reflection, I tried to sound stern as I said, "No. Bad, 'flection," and Damon laughed again.

"Why is she bad, Evie?"

"Saved me."

"That's right, I did save you, didn't I?" I nodded, and Damon said, "What if I said that was Elena, not your reflection?"

I rolled my head to look back up at him. That's right. He did say he'd brought her, didn't he? I sighed in frustration at my inability to think or speak and then rested my head drowsily on Damon's shoulder. "Drugged me . . . again."

"It wasn't totally my idea."

"Lena?"

He exhaled a laugh before walking towards his car. "No . . . I found out what he's hiding in that storage locker, and his sister was all too happy to take one of her brother's toys away if it meant getting back at him for the 90 or so years he's had her in a coffin."

My eyes fluttered closed. "Hm . . . kicked your ass . . . didn't she?"

"Little bit."

"Thought fast."

"I did."

"Stefan?"

"He got sent out to look for you, while Klaus and his sister were reunited, and it gave Elena her shot."

"No good."

"Nope."

I don't know when my eyes opened, but they must have at some point, because I could see Elena when I said, "He didn't mean it."

Damon took a deep breath. "Maybe. Maybe not. He ended it either way."

My eyes went to him "Have another shot."

Looking at Elena over his shoulder, like he was concerned about getting her hopes up, he said to me, "You're sure they're coming?"

"Yeah . . . need to prepare."

Opening his car door and putting me in the back much easier than a human could, he made sure I was lying down comfortably before he leaned over me and said, "There's time for that. Right now you need to sleep. Doesn't look like you have for weeks."

Closing my eyes again, I disagreed, "Slept earlier."

"Yeah, a power nap on a piano doesn't count."

"Does."

"Do you even know why you're arguing with me right now?"

I shook my head and felt him brush my hair back behind my ear. Whatever he did or didn't say after that, I didn't hear. I was out, and I don't think it was all down to the sedative. I hadn't been given as much as the last time, or I wouldn't have woken up when I did. Maybe I was just mentally exhausted and finally felt like I could sleep, because I was safe for the first time since I'd left.

--------

I sat up with a gasp hours later, not knowing or caring where I was or what was happening, because I only had one thing on my mind now that it'd finally come to the surface. "My car!"

Damon leaned into Elena, who was sitting in the passenger seat, and muttered, "You're sure you got all her weapons?" She nodded, and he looked back at me in the rearview mirror. "We had to leave it behind."

It's not as though I hadn't already figured that out, but there was just something about hearing it confirmed that made my eyes widen before I lunged forward to put him in a sleeper hold. The car swerved, but I didn't care, as I yelled, "Take me back. I have to go get it."

In a strangled voice, and doing a remarkable job of staying on the road, Damon exclaimed, "We're in West Virginia!"

I ignored Elena pulling on my arm and telling me to stop, while I yelled, "I don't care! You left it with them, Damon. You. Left. It. With. Them! Take me back!"

"He would've known . . . If we took it, he would've known."

My hold loosened somewhat. "Would've known what?"

"That you told me about the storage locker . . . It had to look like you were taken against your will. Why do you think I didn't show my face in there and had the sister do all the work? I didn't want any of this to fall back on you."

He couldn't seriously be that naive. "She's his sister. She isn't going to lie to him about - "

"There's a 50% chance he'll think you're dead. They're the best odds I've had for a while. I had to take them. What other choice did I have?!" There was unmistakable desperation in his voice, and it wasn't because he was concerned about us crashing or because he wanted me to believe him. It was the ordeal as a whole. My hold around him weakened until it became more of a hug, so I could tuck my head against his, and he said, "Ring or not, until I saw you today, I didn't even know if you were alive."

This wasn't all just about me. Klaus still had his brother, and that was weighing on him as well . . . but it was my car, the last thing I really had that reminded me of both of my parents working together for me, of time I'd spent with my Dad, of what little normality I'd been able to eke out of my existence with them. I mumbled, "But it's my car," and his hand came up to pat my arms as he said, "I know, and I will find a way to get it back for you, Evie, but you have to let it go for now."

Chapter Text

Damon went to open the door, and I turned to get out of there, but was stopped when his hand reached out to grab my arm and pull me back. "There's not much time for you to start fixing that reputation of yours. Couple of days, and then you're on your own. You need people."

I responded, "Not these people," in a sing-song voice, and he didn't find it all that amusing.

"They're your family. If you can't win them over - "

"And I can't."

"Then you're screwed, and I am going to have to change my number if I don't want calls from the school informing me you're in trouble every single day."

I looked up at him over my shoulder. "Wow. Your opinion of me couldn't get much lower, could it?"

He smirked. "Sure it could. Like if you don't get in there right now, it will plummet." I sighed, and he rolled his eyes before saying, "You've been on edge since you came back. What you need is something normal, and making dishes for a potluck with your sister is just about as normal as you can get. Besides, she needs us right now."

"Funny, I don't recall getting a phone call saying, 'Eve, come over and bring Damon with you. I just really need you guys right now.'"

The look on my face had to have let him know that I thought he was full of it, but he didn't seem to care. "See . . . on edge." He opened the door and wrapped an arm around my waist to pick me up and carry me through it backwards. I couldn't help but laugh. "And look at that. Just being here is already making you better."

After closing the door, he put me down, and I turned to look at him, while trying not to focus too much on my surroundings. "I've never been here before."

Leaning towards me, he whispered, "I know."

"I don't think I can - "

Elena came around a corner, but you could hear her before you saw her. "Hello? Is somebody there . . . Damon is that you? I told you I'm fine. I don't need - " She saw me, went, "Oh," and I quickly looked up at Damon. What was I supposed to do now that I'd been spotted? Especially since it would appear that just like I'd said we weren't expected. He might be tolerated here, but me? I was like a stranger, but worse, because my Dad had been in this house quite a few times over the years, and my sister grew up in this house in a happy, normal family, and -

I went to leave again, and Damon's arm wrapped around my midsection to pull me back to his side again, while he said, "We're here to help. What are you making?"

Pointing her thumb towards another room, she said, "Uh . . . chili. I was just - "

Letting me go to start walking in that direction, Damon said, "Chili? You can't make chili. Everybody makes chili. Eve's going to make an angel food cake, because it's her favorite, aren't you, Eve?"

Hugging the box of cake mix in my hand, I muttered, "I'm not really up to the standard of making one from scratch," while taking a hesitant step to follow them, but was stopped when I heard a voice at the top of the stairs whisper-yell my name. I looked up, and there was Jeremy. Damon stopped to check on me and then waved his hand in the direction of the stairs, like if my cousin wanted anything to do with me, it was a good thing, so I should go see what he wanted.

The trudge up those stairs was the most uncomfortable one of my life. I tried not to look at any pictures on the wall as I climbed, and when I got to the top, I didn't know where to go, so I just kind of stood there until Jeremy came out of a room and waved me over. As soon as I stepped into what I assumed was his room, he shut the door behind him and said, "Anna's here."

I immediately relaxed. Talking about the supernatural, I could handle. Any kind of heart-to-heart with a cousin I didn't know, I could not. I looked around, and he said, "She's to your right."

Okay, well, it still looked like empty space to me. I looked at him in confusion. "What exactly do you want me to do about it?"

"Just listen." He brought his hands up to the back of his head and began pacing, while he filled me in on what'd been going on with him, his newfound powers, and the problems he was having with at least one of his dead girlfriends. I mostly watched him go back and forth. When he stopped, he said, "Anyway, she told me to ask you."

"Ask me what?"

"If Vicki wanting my help to bring her back is a bad thing." He looked in another direction of the room and said, "Anna says that whenever Vicki is around, there is this dark energy, and that whatever I do, I can't let her in . . . it's a two-way street. She pushes from her side, I pull from mine, and that's how I can see her . . . I think she just wants you to verify that she's not lying."

"You know she's not." He looked at me, and I said, "We already talked about this. You trust her over Vicki . . . You have all along, but the last time I said it, you threw a fit, so why does she think - "

"She thinks I'm ready to listen now." He looked at the empty space on the other side of the room and said, "She says I wasn't, but after what happened with that window the other night, I am."

One of my eyebrows rose as I said, "She knows you pretty well, huh?"

He smiled at the space near his bed and said, "Yeah, I guess she does." It was so obvious that he cared deeply for her. Seeing her like this wasn't going to make moving on very easy for him.

I looked in the general direction of where he was looking and said, "Well, for starters, hello, Anna . . . I remember you actually." Jeremy looked at me, and I shrugged. "I kept pretty tight surveillance on the comings and goings of this house before I moved into the boarding house . . . outside of school hours, because you guys were never here then, and I had my own schoolwork to do. Anyway, I remember her . . . Sorry my Dad killed you, especially since I don't think you were bad . . . just looking for your Mom."

His gaze trailed across the room until it was approximately in front of me, and he said, "She really wants you to make sure I know how serious the situation with Vicki is."

Attempting to look at an invisible woman, I said, "Something tells me you already believe her, Jeremy, and she knows it. She really wants something else from me."

Jeremy watched her walk away from me saying, "In time."

"Still looking for your Mom, Anna?"

Jeremy looked from her to me saying, "We both want to know how you know that."

"Oh come on, she doesn't need me to tell you that Vicki with a dark magic battery boost strong enough to break windows this side of the divide is bad news, and she doesn't need me to tell you that Vicki saying that she can come back if you help her is bad either, especially since the consequences for you coming back after 20 minutes is that you get to see dead people for the rest of your life. That tells me that Anna wants something else . . . and if Anna were corporeal, and I said something to agitate her enough to make her walk up to me and say that she was here to talk about something everyone in the room already knows, I'd know she was the worst poker player in the world. She thinks I can help her find her Mom. I want to know why."

A flicker of surprise crossed his face as he watched her walk back over to me. "She thinks you're her best bet."

"Why?"

"You're the only one who would care enough to help her."

Looking from her approximate location to Jeremy and back again, I said, "Jeremy cares. Why - "

"She thinks I don't understand the way you do that Pearl wasn't just a vampire, she was her Mom. That means something to you, and she says you're smart and intuitive, so you can make connections that people who are good at one or the other don't . . . She wants to help us with the Vicki problem first though."

Rolling my eyes, I muttered, "No need for the unnecessary flattery. I'll look into it, but I'm not doing it because I expect your help with the Vicki situation. I'm doing it because it's the right thing to do." And maybe because it would be better if she found her Mom and left Jeremy alone.

"Yeah, she meant it that way. She didn't think you'd want payment for it. You're not the type."

I breathed out a uncomfortable laugh. Guess this is what it felt like to be spied on by a ghost. "And I'm not making any promises. It'll take a witch, a.k.a. his current girlfriend, to commune with your Mom, and I don't even know where any of your Mom's belongings are, but if I bring Jeremy with me to the farmhouse, I'm sure you can point something that she owned out to him . . . As for Vicki . . . How do you die knowing next to nothing about the supernatural, and then manage to find a way to come back? She's talked to somebody. Who - "

"Anna says she can't see anyone on the other side. It's just her."

"That she knows about . . . or maybe they're just people she doesn't know, so she doesn't converse with them the way she does you, and that makes her even more tied to the land of the living . . . But Vicki has talked to someone, and whoever that person is has dark magic to spare for Vicki's visits. You work it from that side, Anna. We'll work from this side."

I looked at Jeremy, and he watched her before nodding. "Yeah, she says she'll try."

"Okay." I gave a thumbs up before saying, "Good team talk . . . I'll give you two love-birds some space. I have an angel food cake mix to add water to downstairs," and then turned to leave. That wasn't weird at all. I almost bounded down the stairs, so I could get away from the weird factor of knowing that at least one vampire on the other side watched me enough to see how my mind worked and knew how much my own vampire Mom had meant to me. When I got to the kitchen, I kept on going and headed out the front door.

If anyone had seen me do that, they would've thought that was my plan all along, but really I'm just always on guard, so I'm quick to react to any situation that presents itself, which does have its advantages. The very last thing, and I mean the very last thing I wanted was to awkwardly interrupt another pair of star-crossed lovers in what appeared to be a pretty compromising position. If they hadn't kissed already they were about to and I really did not want to be there for that. Stupid Gilbert House of Love. All it really did was make me think of dying.

It's not as weird as it sounds when you take into account that on a whim after I almost died, Damon said he loved me. Then I left. Again, he thought there was a good chance I was dead, and it took him a month or less to move on to Elena . . . or back to Elena? Is that how this ridiculous situation had gone? It mostly made me think about how there's nobody who would really mourn me if I were gone. Before, when I used to think about being in the sacrifice, I knew my parents would grieve if I didn't go vampire the way Mom wanted, and that was enough, because they were all I knew, and if your whole world mourns you, then I suppose your life had some meaning. Now my parents were dead, and I was mourning them, but there was nobody really left to mourn me.

Was that the sum of our existence, how many sit up and take notice when we're gone and how deeply that is felt by those who do? I guess not if you were a vampire. Apparently, they kept going in some weird alternate reality the way Anna did, or that's what they did if they weren't at peace when they died, and let's face it. Most monsters aren't at peace when they're alive, let alone when they're dying, so most of them probably ended up where Anna was. Where did they go once that peace was found? Did they go where humans do, and where do humans go?

I was halfway down the block when I heard someone call, "Hey, where are you going?"

Who knows? That's what I'm trying to figure out. I only stopped because I knew the voice. "I, uh . . . to buy a pack of smokes."

Biting his bottom lip, Damon nodded before saying, "You smoke now?"

"Nope. What better time than the present to start?"

"You can't be a hunter and smoke. It's a dead give away on where you are, so you lose the element of surprise."

Turning to continue on my way to nowhere in particular, I interrupted our little game by saying, "I know. I'm not actually going to buy cigarettes . . . I just remembered I have other things to do." Usually, we could go like that for a while with me coming up with more and more ridiculous things to say and him questioning me to try and catch me out. I don't know when we started doing it, but it was another one of our games, and I guess I just wasn't feeling it.

"Like what? Caroline's coming over here later, and I know you're not going to help set up the Lockwood's for this potluck, so - "

"Like not be in that house another second. Literally, anything is better than that . . . hot fire pokers, finger nails being ripped out with pliers, needles in the eye . . . anything."

"Well, are you going to be doing that to somebody, or having it done to you, because - " I stopped when he was suddenly in front of me. "I'm pretty sure being on the receiving end would be worse than spending another second in that house." He was still trying, and he looked a little concerned when he saw I wasn't going to play along, but quickly masked it with a cocky grin. "Is somebody jealous?"

I just turned 18, and the romantic part of life was never something I thought I'd ever experience. I always expected to be dead and never saw much point in it, and the declaration that he'd made to me the night before I left . . . I wish he'd never said it, because I must've bought into it more than I'd thought. He'd said that he wasn't just waiting to find out how things turned out between Stefan and Elena, but if actions spoke louder than words, then what I'd just seen back in that house spoke volumes. He wanted her first, so I guess it was only fair that she get him if it's what they both wanted now, and from what I could tell, it was. With a sigh, I ducked my head and said, "Go be happy, Damon. You deserve it. I'm - "

"Eve, it's not what it looked like."

Why'd he sound worried? If he loved her, then he loved her. He didn't do anything wrong. His tone was almost enough to make me look up at him, but I didn't quite have all my walls in place, and I didn't want him to know exactly how hurt I'd been. I was a little surprised by it to be honest. Patting him on the chest to give him some kind of comfort for his distress, I walked past him saying, "I'll see you tonight. I have a Founder's Council meeting to attend, so I don't go to jail."

"Eve - "

Without stopping to look back at him, I said, "Your phone is ringing. You should probably get that. Might be important."

Chapter Text

Well, this was a totally pointless council meeting to add to the others I'd attended. I'd wanted to bring up the Original family potentially being a problem for the town, but according to the three de facto leaders of the council, i.e. Liz, Damon, and Carol, that was a bad idea. The council was a wholly worthless entity that was full of people who had just a little more knowledge than the typical town person, but not much more, and the people on it would just freak and do something stupid if they knew what was really going on out there. "I have a question."

I was on the sofa with my back to the door, so I didn't immediately see who'd said that. Liz said, "Bill," and that plus a look behind me didn't really get me any further in my knowledge of who that man was.

"Do you three think that everybody on the council is clueless or just stupid."

I immediately responded in a way that was strongly reminiscent of my father, "Trick question. The answer is both," and got his attention before Liz came up to put her hand on my shoulder.

"Eve, why don't you go downstairs? We'll deal with this."

"Who is he?"

She gave me that 'Mom look' she got sometimes before saying, "Just go downstairs, please."

"Why don't you want me to meet him? You think I'm going to do something - " My eyes widened in understanding. "He's Caroline's Dad." I'd heard what happened to her. Conditioning a vampire not to be a vampire was just crazy and had caused unnecessary harm to his daughter. Getting to my feet to get a better look at the man, I threw Damon one of the only looks I'd given him since that morning. "I thought you compelled him to leave town."

"I did!"

"Hm." I examined her Dad, while asking, "How'd you pull that one off if the vervain was out of your system?"

"Decades of training my mind - "

"Ah, so you think because you can pull off a neat trick of the mind, you can torture your daughter into doing something impossible? To not feed on blood would be to desiccate, and no, her mind wouldn't keep her body from doing that. Speaking of mind over matter, you know, I would love to see how that mind of yours works to stave off compulsion after you've been burned repeatedly by a flame thrower. I have one at home if you want to try - "

He looked around me at his ex-wife and said, "Really, Liz? You're allowing teenagers on the council now?"

"Eve." I looked at Liz, and she said, "You're not helping."

"Oh I'm not trying to help you guys make him think this council is legit. I want him to know the error in his logic. Mind over matter only works up to a point . . . a demonstration seems apt."

She sighed before looking over at Damon. "Would you mind - "

He threw his hands in the air and was quick to say, "Don't look at me. I think she has a point."

Putting her hand on my shoulder again, Liz tried, "He's Caroline's Dad."

I breathed out a slow breath before looking at her. "Yeah, my Dad had his moments too, and he chose dying over allowing Elena to become a vampire, but he was still my Dad, so I understand." Taking my Zippo out of my pocket, I flicked it open before saying, "Just a tiny demonstration?"

She brought her hand to her forehead, while she mulled it over, and then shook her head. "No, I can't condone it." Throwing her ex-husband a look she said, "Although, I admit there is a part of me that would love to watch him burn for what he did to our daughter . . . How could you, Bill?"

"I did it for her."

"No." I shook my head and said, "You did it for you."

Finally, Liz put her hands on my shoulders before turning me and directing me towards the door. "I'm sure Damon will fill you in later. Out."

Looking over my shoulder at her, I whispered, "If after your meeting, you change your mind, my offer still stands," and she chuckled.

"I'm sure it does, Eve. Thank you for looking out for my daughter."

I muttered, "Not well enough if she still hasn't picked up any of the lessons I've been teaching her during our training sessions," and was met with a half-smile from Liz as she closed the door in my face. Well, now what I supposed to do? I should find Caroline. I had an idea.

I saw her downstairs and ignored the person standing next to her. It just felt easier to ignore Elena at this point than to actually make any sort of effort with her. That's how it'd been the rest of the car ride home from Chicago after I woke up, and it's how it would've been this morning if I'd stayed. Landing next to Caroline, I quickly let her know what was happening. "Heads up. Your Dad is here."

"Where?"

She instantly started looking for him, like he was the monster hiding in her closet, and I said, "He's upstairs."

Leaning closer, she whispered, "I thought Damon - "

"He did. Apparently, your Dad takes this mind over matter philosophy seriously . . . Quick question. Would you be totally against it if I burned him with my lighter?"

"What?"

"I just think he should see what it's like to be burned and find out how strong his mind is at resisting."

Sighing she looked up the stairs before shaking her head. "He's still my Dad."

"Yeah, that's what your Mom said. She was tempted though . . . Anyway, I was thinking. How about a song?"

She gave me an uncertain smile. "Really?"

Turning to look towards the other room, I said, "The Lockwoods have a piano. I could play. You could sing and show him that you're still you."

"I was never brave enough before to do something like that."

"Hm . . . Or you could do it to prove to yourself that you're not afraid . . . of him . . . of losing his approval . . . of anything really. You keep coming out of these things stronger even though it doesn't feel like it right after they happen."

She started playing with her bracelet before looking at Elena to see what she thought, and Elena shrugged. "I say go for it if it makes you feel like you have more control over your life."

Yeah pretty much that. I nodded in agreement, and Caroline smiled. "What'd you have in mind?"

"Uh, it's ambitious."

She laughed before saying, "You don't think I know it, do you?"

My eyebrows rose as I said, "Maybe not."

"But you think I can learn it."

"Yeah, I do . . . You up for it?"

Taking my arm and heading towards one of the back rooms, she said, "Yeah. Let's do this."

We came back 30 minutes later. She was a little unsure, but the second she saw her Dad, she turned to run out of the room, and I grabbed her. "You need to do this. I'll be with you the entire way, and if it gets to be too much, let me know, and I'll play you out with the song we talked about."

She bit her bottom lip and looked in her Dad's direction before nodding. "Okay. I'm just not sure about starting without you backing me."

"It's just a cappella for one verse, and it will draw people's attention, but there's hardly anyone here anymore."

"Easy for you to say, you're gong to be sitting back there the whole time."

"Well, I don't want to be a front woman, so . . . " I rolled my eyes at the obvious point that she did, and she took a deep breath before nodding again and pulling me with her over to the piano. I took my seat, and she stood in front before looking back at me. I played her first note and counted her down. She started off quietly, almost like she was hiding behind her phone with the lyrics on it.

'Birds flying' high, you know how I feel.'

She looked back at me again, and I nodded for her to keep going. She had the pitch right.

'Sun in the sky, you know how I feel.
'Breeze griftin' on by, you know how I feel.'

One more glance back, and she smiled before nodding to let me know she felt a little more confident as a few people started to take notice, and then her volume finally started to lift.

'It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life for me
Yeah, it's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life for me
And I'm feelin' good.'

I joined in with the piano for the rest of the Nina Simone song Feeling Good, and Caroline killed it. I glanced at the stairs about half-way through and saw her Mom standing there with a hand over her mouth to hide her proud grin. Caroline may not be her Dad's little girl anymore, but she was her Mom's. Speaking of her Dad, he'd come to listen with everyone else left at the party, but he was standing there with a condescending smile, like it wasn't his daughter, and he wasn't impressed at what she was trying to do. Caroline absolutely saw it. There could be a massive crowd here, and he would've been the only one in the audience she wanted to reach.

She may have faltered a bit the first time she looked at him, but then she picked it back up at the start of the second chorus and didn't drop it again. She hit that last note like a professional and then turned to look at me. I smiled before nodding towards the crowd, like she needed to take a bow, because they were all clapping for her, so she did. That's when she saw her Dad again, who was doing a slow clap, and then she quickly threw me a look to let me know she needed to get out of there, so I took it from there and started playing, Sinnerman, another Nina Simone song, to take the attention off of her, while she left. Of course I also intended it to be a second message to her father.

I only played a 3 1/2-minute shortened version of the song, because to do the entire song justice, I knew I'd need more than just me to get the claps in the middle right, the same way I'd needed Rose to get the song we'd worked on together right. When I was done, I quickly got up, gave a half-hearted wave to the people clapping and walked out the front door, so I could breathe. I was a not a performer, and that was without a doubt the most people I'd ever played in front of in my life. It made me feel sick. "Hey." I looked over my shoulder and saw Elena. "It was nice of you to do that for Caroline."

Respond in kind. Be nice, Eve. "Yeah, well, she's my friend, and I'm not a bad person."

"You lie."

Leave me alone. I turned to walk down the stairs saying, "Mm. Not that much. I generally get in trouble for being too honest."

"You lied for months when you got here."

You can go now. "Being alive without telling you doesn't mean I lied to you."

"No, you just lied to everyone you met when you were pretending to be me, and you had Damon lie for you too."

Probably would've apologized for that at some point if you hadn't smacked me in the face at Dad's funeral. Now hell will freeze over before I apologize for anything.

"He and Stefan already have enough problems without you getting between them."

Ha! Do you even hear yourself right now?

"Damon is already volatile without you screwing with his head and manipulating - "

Well, if ignoring her isn't going to work. "How is it that I've become so 'bad' in your mind that you are shocked I'd do even one nice thing for Caroline? Everything I did was so I could save your life."

"I didn't ask you to do that. "

Why is she still following me? "Yeah, well, I didn't ask to be the one raised to do it, but it is what it is."

"You know, Damon told me how much you wanted to save my life, but if it was so important to you, why did you tell Damon, of all people, what you were planning to do if you didn't want him to stop you?"

Piss off, you annoying brat. "Well, why the fuck did you let him know you were planning to hand yourself over to Klaus?"

"Because I wasn't expecting him to - "

"Well, then we were in the same boat, sister."

"I think you knew . . . if being there is what you really wanted, you wouldn't have chanced telling him what you were planning when you knew how badly he reacted the time you tried to kill Katherine."

"Oh you mean the time you think Katherine and I teamed up so I could wrap him around my finger even tighter?" Sorry Caroline. There's only one way I could know that. Hope it doesn't get you in trouble.

"Exactly . . . Just another manipulation in a con you've had going since you got here, and Damon is the one you've done it to the most. You found a way not to be in that sacrifice without making you look bad, and you used him to do it. You and Katherine made sure that Jenna was there instead of you. You used Stefan as bait to draw Klaus here, and then you took off with him the first chance you got. Big surprise when Katherine is the one who 'found' you in Chicago . . . You even have Damon believing he owes you for saving your life, so you can keep using him, and look at how well it's working. He brought you back here, and you are sure that Klaus is on his way here too, so when he does show up, I'm sure you'll use it to your advantage . . . I wouldn't be surprised if you're working with him too now. You've been playing all sides since you got here."

What do you say to all that? I guess Jenna was right. Elena wasn't going to believe anything I said now, and I understood from her perspective that she didn't really know anything about me, but to think I'd done all of those things? I mean I hadn't exactly defended myself or apologized. I'd just let it fester and build all summer, and apparently, this is where we were now. I still couldn't resist saying what I said next, and that was probably part of the problem. I just couldn't help my go-to self-defense mechanism, 'pushing people away.' "Katherine was right . . . You are an ingrate."

"You act as if I owe you something when I actually owe you nothing."

How about a fucking sister? Is that asking too much? I stopped walking and tried in the calmest manner I could to grit out, "Yeah . . . an entire life devoted to one thing, and I didn't do it." I turned to look at her in a quiet fury and steadily walked back towards her saying, "I wish I had, because then I would've never had to meet you and see what a monumental waste my life has actually been. Every moment of it has been devoted to you . . . I mean every single second . . . and then I meet you, and I get this?" I waved my hand in the direction of her body in disgust before stepping closer and saying, "I resented you, and I still do. It's not fair, but I'm human, not a saint, and I may have resented you . . . But I also stayed for you . . . On nights when I wanted nothing more than to run and get as far away from them as possible, I stayed, because my sister had no idea what was coming for her, but I did. It's all I've ever known. There was no light at the end of the tunnel for me even if I left, just darkness and misery, but she had a chance if I stayed and did things right . . . and I would've gone through with the intended ending without a second thought, because it's the only thing of any merit I was ever going to do . . . die for my sister and save people . . . that's it. You don't owe me a damn thing, but a sister that wasn't a self-righteous, self-absorbed, asshole would've been nice." Losing steam at what I'd just admitted to her, I muttered, "But I guess that would've been too much to ask."

I turned to leave again, and Elena said, "I don't see us as sisters though . . . I didn't even know about you until - "

"Elena, why don't you go inside?"

I stopped at the third voice that'd joined us. When did he get here? "I'm just trying to explain - "

"She doesn't need to hear it. She already knows. Go inside."

Rather than do what Damon said, she muttered, "I was just leaving anyway," before brushing past me, and I closed my eyes and turned my head in a direction that didn't involve having to see her.

"Eve - "

"Don't." I didn't want to talk to him either. Especially if he was just going to give me a hard time for arguing with her again. I knew how this was going to turn out. I was scared of losing him. I couldn't let myself be with him in a way that reclassified our friendship because of it. It terrified me, and because of that I was going to lose him anyway. He was going to be with her, and because she hated me, I'd lose my friend, so he could make her happy.

"Do you want to go try that fire thing with Bill?" It got my attention, because it caught me totally by surprise. Looking towards the house he said, "I've been thinking about it, and I'm sure that if you hold that lighter of yours under his hand long enough, he won't be able to concentrate on anything but that . . . I can compel him, and he'll go without causing more problems. Plus, we don't have to kill him, or go with an ironic twist where I turn him into the thing he hates most." I didn't say anything, and he ran his tongue along his bottom lip before raising his eyebrows in hope of a response, and it made him look boyish, uncertain, and very human while he added, "It's the lightest shade of gray I think I go on this one."

Maybe it's the way he said it. Maybe it's what he hadn't said about whatever it was that he'd heard before we knew he was there. Maybe it was him using my philosophy on right and wrong, not just to get me to do the right thing the way he usually did, but for himself too. Whatever it was, something about it made me feel like maybe I was in way over my head already, because I did love him even if I wasn't ready for any of that.

What the hell did I even know about love other than it was a really good way to leave yourself open to getting hurt by the person you loved, and that was just with my parents. I had no idea what it mean to love someone romantically. Is that what I felt or was it just that I loved him as a friend bordering on family? I suppose I wouldn't be tempted to kiss him right now if it weren't the first, and the hurt I'd felt this morning should've been my first clue that this had gone far beyond what I was willing to admit to even myself.

I slowly nodded my consent, and he grinned before throwing an arm around my shoulders, so he could steer me back towards the house. "Good. Wait until I tell you some of the things he wants. For starters, he wants to put vervain in the town water supply."

"That's actually a good idea."

"No, it's a terrible idea."

Maybe it was for him. I ducked my head before shaking it with a small smile. "If Klaus and his sister show up here, then I'd feel a little bit better knowing that any faucet I turn on will give me some kind of weapon against them . . . imagine being able to use a fire hose on them if there's vervain in the water."

Looking off in thought, he said, "I am, and I love it . . . but what are we going to do about compelling people who find out about the vampires in this town?"

"Same thing you do now with people who are on vervain. Lock them up until it's out of their system, and then compel them."

Rolling his eyes, he said, "Yeah, but that takes forever."

Well, I wasn't going to say he could kill them. "Here's a novel idea. Don't get caught."

"Point taken . . . and showers? What about - "

"The Boarding House's water has been filtered for vervain for decades."

"How is it you know that, and I don't? No wait, let me guess . . . the dossier you got on all of us before you got here, a dossier, I am sure Katherine helped create, so really it was made by the three most conniving, secretive, backstabbing - "

"Thorough?"

"Thorough people I have ever met." He sighed before looking down at me and relaxing. "I guess I've been getting my blood from hospitals out of town since your Dad showed up, so it doesn't really change that. If I get a strong urge to feed from the tap, I could always go with people visiting from out of town."

"True. So, it's settled?"

"Yeah, all right, I'll talk to Liz about it tomorrow . . . And Eve?" I looked up at him, and he said, "About this morning - "

I said, "I don't want to talk about it," at the same time he said, "I knew you were there," and it made me pause before my eyes narrowed into a slight glare as I turned my face away from him, and his arm slid off of it's perch on my shoulders.

"Great. So, you wanted to make sure I knew how fast you moved on after thinking I was dead . . . Good talk."

I could've thrown a fit and stormed off. I could've accused him of lying about what really happened. I could've done a lot of things to blow this friendship up beyond repair . . . I guess I had an opportunity to do that over just about anything every day, and I never took it. Neither did he.

When he didn't immediately respond, my eyes flicked up to him in uncertainty, and he finally said, "That's what you thought? That I moved on?"

Shrugging a shoulder, I answered, "Well, that and that I don't really have anyone to mourn me when I'm gone."

His eyebrows rose as he took that in and nodded. "So, I guess that's why I got more doom and gloom than the fire I was expecting."

Rolling my eyes, I shook my head. "Tell me you're not playing games, Damon."

"Hey, I said I'd wait as long as it takes, but I didn't say anything about not fighting dirty to speed the time line up a little."

"Oh yeah?"

He smirked in response to my challenge. "Yeah."

"Then know this. I will not be the Damon to your Katherine."

His shoulder's dropped, as he almost whined. "Oh come on, that's not fair. I am nothing like her."

Ignoring him, I said, "And I won't let Elena be that either. How could you do that to her? She looked like she meant it, and - "

"Well, I wasn't the one putting moves on her, I can tell you that much."

"No, you just let her do it. You know you're half the reason she hates me, right? I'm the big bad vampire hunter that's using you, and - "

"Now that is a game I wouldn't mind playing with you."

It caught me totally unprepared. "I, uh . . . Are you being mildly suggestive right now, because - "

"Nothing mild about it."

"Stop it."

With a laugh, he threw his arm back around my shoulders and said, "Okay, well, then how about this? From the second I woke up in my cellar until the second I found you, I didn't stop looking . . . I went back to Memphis to see if I could pick the trail up there. Found a witch, but the pin Elijah gave you blocked her from finding you. Went from there to Mississippi to see a voodoo priestess . . . different kind of magic, same thing. Heard about a werewolf pack in Georgia and went there thinking that if Klaus needed werewolves, then I'd find him his damn werewolves and trade them for you. They really are impossible to find . . . Looked for a pack in Alabama and was on my way to check out a pack I heard was in the bayous of Louisiana when Katherine called. I came back here, and picked up Elena. I didn't move on. I was looking for you . . . And I swear that what happened this morning won't happen again."

"Sure it will. For a smart guy, you sure do make a lot of dumb decisions."

"I prefer to think I'm spontaneous."

"Reckless."

"Impetuous . . . just like you."

Chapter Text

I'd planned to work on helping Anna find her Mom, but I had no real idea where to get started on researching something like that. Vampires who died just didn't come back to write down their tales, so who knew what was on the other side for them. I suppose I could have gone to one of my Mom's storage lockers with all of her research, but it seemed wrong to take Stefan's car to do it, and I had no idea how to drive a motorcycle. I wasn't going to steal a car the way I had the mayor's that one time. It wasn't exactly an emergency, and I couldn't just ask Damon to take me, because he was gone.

When he and I got back to the boarding house last night, Katherine showed up and said she had a plan on what to do about Klaus, and off Damon went. I would've gone with them too, but since I was starting school on Monday, and they had no idea how long they'd be gone, Damon wanted me to stay. I guess that me getting the full 'human' experience was important to him now that I could, and missing out on the first few days of my first and last year of school were something he was decidedly against . . . well that and me hiding away in the boarding house for the rest of my life. It's like the only place I fit was with the supernatural contingent, and I wasn't supernatural, so I didn't really fit there either. I could live with what I had, but he wanted me to have better.

I wound up spending all morning learning how to play Lou Reed's Perfect Day. I think the first time I'd heard it was after my Mom's ban on all keyboards, and I might've snuck out occasionally to play when I knew she was preoccupied with something else and wouldn't catch me, but that really only gave me a chance to play a song or two that I already knew before I had to take off again, which meant that everything I played was something I'd already known before the ban. It wasn't an overly complicated song, but learning something new took some time. I think I had it down pretty well by mid-afternoon, and then decided that I wanted to try and learn how to play Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen on the guitar, but chose Jeff Buckley's version to play. It'd take me a whole lot longer to learn that. I wouldn't be doing it in a day anyway, or a week . . . maybe a month if I took time off from learning it to write my own songs, which happened occasionally when the mood struck and always took a lot of time . . . and then of course there was also school. That'd definitely slow down my learning curve.

I was stumbling through the introduction when I got a call. My phone said it was from Caroline, and I briefly thought, 'Shit,' before answering. "Caroline, before you say anything - "

"What'd you do to my Dad?! I just got done having lunch with him, a lunch he picked me up to have out of the blue, and all he did was talk about how glad he was that he came here to take me shopping for school clothes, because it means he got to see me perform last night. He said he always knew I was talented, and he's really proud of me now that I'm pursuing it more."

I'd planned to tell her, but it'd slipped my mind. "I was going to tell you. We took another crack at it, and -

"Eve, what'd you do?"

I tried to remind her of what was important. "He's fine."

"Then why'd he have a bandage on his hand and tell me he burnt it on the stove?"

Still staying away from the negative, I tried, "Do you have your Dad back?"

"That's not the point. You - "

"Does he hate what you are to the point that he'd sacrifice both of you for it."

"He isn't your Dad! He's mine, and I told you to leave him alone. Whatever you and Damon did to him - "

"Wasn't what you wanted and was borderline wrong, but at the same time, is it really any different than your Mom having Damon try to compel him into leaving?"

"It's completely different. What'd you do when Katherine hurt your Dad?"

I pulled the phone away from my ear to briefly give it a dirty look. I should've never introduced even a hint of my own Dad into this conversation. Putting the phone back against my ear, I said, "I think that's a bit of an exaggeration. She - "

"Put him in the hospital, which is what you did to my Dad."

"Uh, ER versus ICU doesn't really equal the same thing, and - " I cut myself off with a sigh. She didn't want me to justify it. "I'm sorry. He's a human, and I try not to hurt people, because it's wrong . . . Although, if you think you're up to blackmailing vampires, then you should expect to get hurt, and I'm getting really fed up with parents abusing and neglecting their children in the name of their own selfish interests and then saying that they do it for us. It isn't right, and all it does is hurt us and turn us into monsters. Tyler's Dad, your Dad, Damon and Stefan's - "

"Eve - "

"Okay, I'm just sorry."

"You're really not."

"I'm sorry I upset you. Does that count?"

"Not really." She sighed before saying, "I don't want to look at you right now, so I don't think you should come tonight."

"Come to what?"

"Senior prank night? Nevermind. You just stay home and do whatever it is you do."

She hung up and I tossed my phone on the bed. Staring at it for a while, I thought about what happened last night. Her Dad had lasted a little longer than you'd expect, but not much, so it was more like a 2nd degree burn than a 3rd degree burn. There hadn't been any charring of the skin, but he did have a blister. Was it wrong? Yeah, probably. You shouldn't go out of your way to hurt people. He, however, had given Caroline 2nd and 3rd degree burns all over her arms, legs, and the back of her shoulders - pretty much anywhere that skin was exposed with the exception of her face - and that wasn't right just because she was a vampire, was it?

Was anyone else going to do anything about it? No. You couldn't exactly turn him over to the authorities for child abuse. His ex-wife was the Sheriff, and unless she wanted to pin something else on him, she couldn't do anything about it if she was going to stay within the confines of the law. I was sure that the rules changed, however, when you were human and knowingly got involved in the supernatural. You play by their rules, not human rules, and her Dad knew that, because in what human setting was it acceptable to tie your daughter to a chair, starve her, and burn her repeatedly in an effort to keep her from wanting to eat, and yet that's exactly what he did, so he knew the rules were different when dealing with supernatural beings, and he was still arrogant enough to think he could threaten to out another known vampire without there being any repercussions.

My Dad was similar in the way he'd approached Damon when he met him, but he'd also understood the game he was playing. He hadn't just waltzed into town and expected his words and pedigree to be enough to save him the way Caroline's Dad had. He had a ring that went a long way to ensuring his safety, unlike Caroline's Dad. It was also a game my Dad would've ultimately won had it not been for Stefan, Elena, and Bonnie saving Damon. Then, of course, there's what Katherine did when she made her presence in town known.

She had put my Dad in the hospital . . . probably for a number of reasons. She'd wanted to make an entrance. She'd wanted to prove a point to me. She'd wanted to get even for what he'd almost done to Stefan. She'd wanted to keep him from telling anyone what her larger plans were if he knew them. None of those had mattered to me. She'd hurt my Dad, the way I'd hurt Caroline's Dad, and I did get even with her for it by responding in kind. She stabbed him. I stabbed her. If Caroline wanted to burn me to get back at me for burning her Dad to get back at him for burning her, then she could, but she wouldn't. Apparently, the bitterness in my cup overflowed, and it manifested in the often spiteful ways I responded to things, but Caroline wasn't me. She'd likely give me the silent treatment for a while, and that was about it.

If anyone had been there to stand up for me the way I'd tried to do for Caroline, then I doubt I'd be quite so offended by what I deemed to be unfair treatment of others. I hadn't really started responding to it by doing what I thought was necessary to right those situations until my parents sent me off to live on my own, but it did seem to be an ongoing issue, first with Katherine, then with the werewolves, and now with this. I didn't know if it was right or not. Damon had seemed to think this was the lightest shade of gray he could go in response to Caroline's Dad threatening him, and I'd had my own reasons for being involved. People didn't seem to think my responses were right, but I sort of did.

They felt right, and in this instance, my point had been made to Bill before he forgot it, but the compulsion that Caroline and her Mom had both wanted was also made possible, which meant that the overall results were a positive. Caroline's Dad wasn't making her feel bad anymore. He wasn't going to attack her again. He wasn't going to get himself killed by continuing to go after Damon. Didn't the outcome outweigh the methods? Was that possible, or did people really expect you to be a white knight all the time when dealing with supernatural beings and the humans that knew about them? Well, that just wasn't realistic. I doubted that I'd ever think it was, so, no, I wasn't sorry for what I did, and at the same time, Caroline had every right to be mad at me for what I did.

If she wanted to punish me for it, then I wouldn't hold it against her. I could live with it as long as the results meant that things turned out okay in the end. Did that mean I was like my parents? I hoped not. I hoped I was doing it for other people and not for selfish reasons. I guess that just because I thought it was right and was willing to take whatever punishment I received, it didn't mean I wasn't being selfish. I did what I wanted rather than what other people wanted me to do. My parents raised me the way they did because they thought it was the right thing to do, and Caroline's Dad tortured her because he thought it was right. They'd been willing to live with whatever the consequences were if it meant they succeeded too. Did it make me like them? Maybe, except I wasn't doing it so I could get anything out of it.

Caroline's Dad did what he did, so he could find a solution to the fact that his daughter was something he hated. That was for him. If my parents raised me alone, it was to save Elena. Those actions were for them. If my Dad planned on finding a way to save me that might one day include sacrificing his life for mine, then he trained me, so that when he was gone, I'd be able to protect myself, and that was different, because that had been for me instead of him. He'd sacrificed being the kind of Dad he maybe wanted to be, so I would be okay in the long run. Was I? That was the question.

How I'd responded to Katherine had been a 'two birds with one stone,' kind of situation. I'd planned on killing her, because it would've solved the problem with Tyler, but I'd drawn it out to get back at her for a multitude of her sins; me, Mason, Damon, Dad. Killing myself to kill her and save Tyler was altruistic. Making her attempted death take so long wasn't.

How I'd responded to Jules had been as much about handing out some kind of punishment for the suffering she'd caused as it was finding a way to take my mind off of Rose's death. Neither were particularly altruistic, but the first was more just, while the second was selfish. Except Jules isn't the one I'd killed, and how I'd responded to the pack had been about having a challenge to take my mind off of Rose at first, but then it'd changed. I think that's what threw me off about it for so long. When I'd first seen the pack, my thoughts were drastically different than when I actually took them on. Jules may have been my target, but it wasn't about going through them to get to her or about more numbers meaning a greater challenge. They needed to be stopped. If they'd had their war, people would've died, and the way they tortured Caroline meant they were cruel.

They were a far greater danger to the town than any vampires were. I think maybe tracking Mason down on my own was the first step in my philosophy on what my responsibilities were when it came to protecting people, but killing the rest of his pack is when I really started committing to it. It was definitely a turning point . . . and if it had really only been about killing Jules, then I ultimately wound up letting her go, because it was better if she left town with Tyler than have Damon kill Tyler or Tyler continue to not really understand his new wolf status and kill people.

What happened with Caroline's Dad was a mixed bag. I'd done what I wanted, but something had to be done about the guy, and if it kept Damon from killing him and made him nicer to his daughter, then it had to be done anyway . . . And this was what happened when you spent time alone. You used it to think.

I knew myself well enough to honestly say that there were negative aspects to things I'd thought or felt before I'd done some of the things I'd done, but I wasn't overly bad either. I was somewhere in between, and really only just becoming an adult. I was still defining my place in the world and figuring out who I was away from my parents and what they wanted. I was also human, and I don't know if it was even possible to be truly altruistic as a vampire hunter, or if there would always be this duality to the things I did.

Looking at my guitar, I didn't feel much like playing anything anymore, so I decided to go out to my little training course and get some practice in while I had the chance. It helped settle whatever anxiety I was feeling over the phone call with Caroline and the first day of school fast approaching. When I was done, it was getting pretty dark, and I'd tired myself out, but I was nowhere near being tired enough for sleep. A long shower didn't help on the sleep front either. Hm. What to watch? What to watch? Grabbing my laptop, I decided on Monsters Inc. and was all of 5 minutes into it when Damon's ringtone started playing on my phone. I rolled my eyes at the first thing out of his mouth.

"Where are you?"

"The last place you left me."

"So, you're not . . . you know what? That's great. Stay there."

"Wh - "

I looked down at my phone after his abrupt ending and considered chalking it up to . . . Yeah, I got nothing. He didn't call for no reason. Knowing he probably wouldn't answer, I still tried calling him back and was pleasantly surprised when he picked up on the second try. Taking a page from his book, I didn't bother with saying hello. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing. I'm on my way back . . . just wanted to know where you were."

"You are such a liar."

"Hear that?" He stuck his phone out of what I assume was a car window before bringing it back to his ear and saying, "I'm coming back as we speak."

Getting up from my bed to put on a pair of jeans, I responded, "But I was just getting ready to go - "

"Don't. Just stay where you are."

Hm. He really wasn't making this very easy for me to guess where it was that he didn't want me to be. "So, Klaus is in town . . . I've got that much . . . Where -"

"Eve. So help me - "

"You thought I was somewhere else. Everyone my age is most likely wherever Caroline is, and she said something about a senior prank night . . . senior being a school thing . . . Is he at the school, Damon?

"Eve. Do not - "

"Meet you there."

I hung up and ignored it instantly ringing back, while I went to my door to grab my black hooded sweatshirt. Hooded sweatshirts wouldn't keep you from being bitten by something supernatural, but if you kept them zipped up, they did have a tendency to get in the way and buy you a microsecond before you were bitten. If it wasn't the middle of August, I'd probably just wear my leather jacket, because that did help put a little more of a barrier between you and whatever hard surface you were thrown into than a sweatshirt did, but it was the middle of August, which meant it was hot even at night, and the leather would make me miserable and slow me down. I needed to be able to move as fast as my reflexes allowed me to be.

Then I was onto my weapons cabinet, so I could pull out a few things I thought I might need from there. I wanted to travel light, so I could keep my hands free, which meant I was thinking a couple of stakes, my gun with the wooden bullets, and my dart gun. I'd been working on a couple of new darts for just this kind of occasion. I hadn't expected to need them so soon, but at least I was quasi-prepared . . . better prepared than the town was anyway. Damon hadn't had a chance to tell the Sheriff about putting vervain in the town's water supply. Such a shame. I really could've used that tonight.

Last but not least, I put on a pair of leather army boots. I needed something a little heavier to protect my feet. It really wouldn't do to have an Original stomp on my foot and have that bring me to my knees. It was only as I was heading out the door that I realized that if I wanted to get to the school, then I needed to get there by foot, and if I wanted to get there in a timely manner, I needed to run. Damn.

Chapter Text

Almost to the final corner that would lead me onto the street where the school was, and I was all too well aware that the shower I'd taken had been in vain, but despite the sweat, I was sure I'd made it here in record time. I wasn't even sure anyone at the school was still alive, but the thought that they might be was enough to push me to run harder. I slowed my pace to a walk just before I got around the corner, and it would appear that I'd missed the show. They were packing up to leave.

Klaus was taking a dead Elena from Stefan's arms, so he could carry her to my car that was parked down the street. Stefan didn't seem all that broken up about it, so maybe she wasn't dead, but even if she was just hurt, I didn't think he'd be all that calm about handing her over to Klaus like that, and why did Klaus want her body at all? Did he want to make sure she stayed dead unlike the last time he left her body behind? Well, she was my sister, so really funeral arrangements should go to me. I'm pretty sure she would be happiest being buried next to her parents for all eternity, so I needed to make that happen. I couldn't think about the ramifications of the invisible sister I'd grown up with being dead and leaving me the last remaining survivor of my family, because first, I had to focus on negotiating the release of her body.

Realizing that my dart gun was already in my hand as my feet carried me closer to them through the shadows, I lifted it and aimed at the blonde woman that was complaining about something to Klaus. Her accent was eerily similar to his and Elijah's, so I'd say she was most likely the sister, not that I'd ever seen her face. I couldn't see it now. They were walking away from me. Two shots fired in quick succession and aimed lower than Klaus anticipated meant that even though he heard the shots and stuck his arm out to take the darts for her, he didn't put his arm or hand in the right place. His hand went high to protect her heart. He should've gone low, but then most brothers probably wouldn't go near their sister's asses, and that included Klaus in this particular situation.

When she whipped around with a sharp gasp, she seemed surprised. I was good, but I doubted I was good enough that an original vampire wouldn't be able to hear me walking up on her. They had just come out of the high school, so maybe she just assumed I was another student, but she had to have heard the shots going off, and with as fast as I expected her to be, she should've had enough time to move out of the way, but she hadn't. That left me with the conclusion that she was so used to her brother looking out for her that she thought she could afford to tune out everything going on around her as long as he was there, and she wasn't actually fighting in a battle scenario.

Her brother, on the other hand, was always on alert no matter the situation, but his hands were full . . . her brother that started laughing when he saw where she'd been shot. She ripped the darts out before throwing them aside, so she could storm back towards me and slowed a few steps away as the contents of the darts took effect. Her legs started to give out as her eyes fluttered closed, and she landed on the ground rather ungracefully.

Without having to look to know who it was, as he proceeded towards my car, Klaus said, "Ah, Little Wolf Killer, does this mean you're coming back?" His jovial humor lapsed somewhat when he looked over his shoulder and saw his sister's body going into full desiccation mode, the way it would if she were dead. I was a little surprised that it'd worked so well myself, so I'd stopped to stand over her and watch it while it happened. I guess white oak ash really didn't agree with them.

He quickly deposited Elena's body in Stefan's arms, so he could flash to his sister's side and give her a shake. "Rebekah? Rebekah?!" He listened for a heart beat, and I'm guessing there was none. "Reebeekaaah!" Okay, now I felt a little guilty. He was going to be pissed beyond belief, and I was a dead woman for sure, but what got to me was that his last outburst had been a grief stricken plea if I'd ever heard one. I couldn't let him think she was dead. Well, she was, but not dead, dead, or I didn't think she was.

Putting my hand out in his direction, palm out, so he could see it in his peripheral vision, the way you would do with someone you wanted to console without touching them, I leaned forward and said, "Shhh . . . It'll wear off . . . She's only about as dead as when you stake her with one of your special daggers . . . less even. I swear . . . I only want to talk."

Still staring at his sister's body and through gritted teeth, he spat out, "What was in it?"

Like I was going to say it out loud. I'm sure he already knew. "What do you think was in it, Klaus?"

At my tone, his face slowly turned in my direction, and if looks could kill? Yeah, I was so dead, but I wasn't scared of him . . . at least not of what he would do to me. Damon? Caroline? Yeah, but me no, and that was another excellent reason for me to have no friends. "How did you find out?"

Nobody told me. He needed to know that, so this only fell back on me. "Guesswork? I mean I could spell out how I got from A to B, but there are ears on us, and I don't think it'd do you any favors in the future if those ears heard . . . I started drinking it when I went on the road with you, and to be on the safe side, the habit stuck. So what was in the dart was just my blood."

Realizing that I wasn't being coy, just protective of the information, his eyes remained deadly, but the tension in his brow smoothed out somewhat. "It won't kill me."

My eyebrows arched. "I didn't think it would . . . Mostly, I figured if it felt the way a punch to the stomach feels to a human, it'd be enough."

"Enough for what?"

"To make you second guess biting me twice? I didn't know you when I first started taking it. I had no idea you're more of a ripping hearts and taking heads kind of guy than a biter."

"Oh, I've done my fair share of biting."

Rolling my eyes, I said, "I know, but it's not really your go to method of killing . . . unless you drain someone when you're feeding or want to torture a vampire with that werewolf venom of yours." Glancing at his sister quickly before looking back at him, I added, "You know I'm actually helping you out with all of this . . . She did lie to you about killing me, and rather than you punishing her for it, I did, so now I'm the bad guy."

His face took on a calculating look. "You may be onto something . . . Maybe I'll just let her kill you when she wakes up."

"Sounds fair."

He smirked. "You underestimate her."

"I assure you that I do not, or I wouldn't have gone to such extremes just to talk to you. I want my car back . . . and my sister's body, so I can give her the funeral she would want."

"Your sister is not dead. I need her alive . . . It would appear your theory on something other than human blood being required to complete the transition was not that far off base." Oh. I didn't really have time to register that before he looked reluctantly from me to his sister. "You can't be allowed to keep the information that helped you do this, Little Wolf Killer . . . I have too many enemies that will want it."

I was a little surprised by it, but the more we talked, the more I was almost sure that he didn't want to be the one to kill me. First Rebekah could do it, and now I suspected that he was seriously considering waiting until the vervain was out of my system and compelling me to forget what I knew about the white oak ash. "I know. Can't show me mercy either . . . You have a reputation to uphold."

His attention came back to me. "I believe I am the one who has underestimated how much you hate the thought of school. I notice you were not here tonight with the rest of your classmates."

I may have said once or twice that I'd rather be on the road with he and Stefan than go to school, and my opinion about being on the road with the two of them had been expressed many times. "Yeah, well I - "

"What is this?" I looked at Stefan and wondered where he'd put my sister, because I didn't see her in his arms. A quick glance behind him told me that he'd already put her in my car. "Let me finally kill her and be done with it."

Staring past me at Stefan, Klaus considered it before making a face that said, 'Why not,' and getting to his feet. "I have a proposition for you, Little Wolf Killer . . . Defeat the Ripper of Monterey and I will give you your car back. Your sister is mine though."

The Ripper of Monterey? Holy fucking shit. Stefan is the Ripper of Monterey? Klaus didn't think I could do it, or he would've at least mentioned compelling me to forget what I knew if I won. To be honest, I had my own doubts about it. That was some reputation that proceeded my roommate . . . but I was a professional. I didn't let my doubts show as I said, "Or you could let her stay here, where she won't be a suicide risk, because she'll be surrounded by her support system. You could compel her not to commit suicide, but then there are always loop holes, so she could just find a way around it. If she stays here, you can come by every month or so for a bag of blood, and I can protect her."

Leaning over my shoulder to whisper into my ear, and sounding amused, Klaus retorted. "I can't allow that, but we'll discuss you coming with us to protect her, and that's assuming you win." Walking around me as he made his way to the sidelines, he added, "By the way, he's been compelled to flip his switch, so account for that," with a half-hearted flick of his wrist over his shoulder, and I don't know if that was really intended to help me or not. It did make me immediately adjust the way I felt I had to deal with Stefan, but not in time to really do anything about it, because apparently that motion of his hand was the signal for his attack dog to finally come off its leash, or at least that's the way Stefan took it.

The timing on this one was tighter than the last time Stefan attacked me.

One thousand one. Stefan flashed in front of me, and had his fangs sunk into my neck by the time I had a stake in my hand. The vervain in my blood wasn't going to be enough to stop a true Ripper. He'd drink as much as he could stomach, but mostly he just wanted to rip my throat out and didn't care about the contents of what was inside. And here's the thing about being bitten by a vampire. Never panic. Never get angry. Never do anything to increase your heart beat. Make your body believe that it is bored, or you'll pump your blood into them faster. Never get scared or allow the shock of being bitten get to you, or you'll pass out, and you need all the time you can get. In short, shut down your emotions as well as they do, and you buy yourself a few seconds.

One thousand two. I reached up behind him and plunged my stake through a soft part at the back of his neck until I felt it scrape against my shoulder at the front. His jaws unhinged slightly at the shock of being impaled. Thank you Katherine for that little piece of advice.

One thousand three. With the new space I had, I brought my other hand up to the part of the stake sticking out of the front of his neck, and now I had complete control of his head as I turned it away from me. Based on past experience, I knew could sever his head from his shoulders with a stake as well as I could a dagger with this move, but I didn't want him dead.

One thousand four. I continued to turn his head away from me and pushed it down using both hands. Since I didn't want the stake to rip out his throat, I slammed my body into his, making him fall face first on the ground with me on top. Before we even landed, my left hand was going to my other stake at the back of my jeans.

One thousand five. I was a centimeter away from slamming the second stake down through his spine, roughly 3 vertebrae down, so he would instantly become a paraplegic and stop moving. I would've then snapped his neck, but none of that happened, because I was flung away from him by unseen hands. I didn't have time to think about why that'd happened or do much of anything other than quickly grab another stake, while I rolled onto my back, so I could at least be facing him when he pounced again. This time, he knew better than to bite me, so it was an easy guess on where his hand was going when he reached for me.

One thousand eight. I slammed my favorite stake through his wrist at the same time his finger tips got to the skin roughly just above my heart. He roared in annoyance more than pain, and I grabbed my final stake as his other hand flashed towards me.

One thousand nine. I jammed the stake through his other wrist, and he decided biting me might be for the best as my hands were occupied with the stakes keeping his hands away from me, but I let his right hand go as his fangs tore into my neck, so I could grab my gun with wooden bullets.

One thousand ten. I struggled to lift the gun to the base of his skull before pulling the trigger.

One thousand eleven. He fell on top of me, but I wasn't done with him yet. I quickly rolled him under me before reaching down to snap his neck and making sure he stayed down.

Still in full hunter mode, I put my gun away, retrieved the stakes from his wrists, and stood to face my unseen attacker. My gaze landed on one Bonnie Bennet.

Chapter Text

I'm sure I made quite the sight, covered in blood, hair a mess, eyes that coldly promised death to anyone who crossed my path. I wasn't the slightest bit happy that I'd been prevented from finishing my bout with Stefan in under seven seconds, and it wasn't because I cared about winning in even less time than I had the last time he tried to kill me. It was those tacked on 4 seconds that'd nearly been my undoing, and it was all the fault of someone who thought they had a right to interfere on his behalf . . . someone who should have for all and intents and purposes been on my side, because I was a human, and he was a vampire.

Witches had rules on those kinds of things, or the supposedly 'good' ones did, and yet there she was interfering on a vampire's behalf, like I was the real monster. What right did she have to judge me when she's the one who essentially killed my Dad? It just went to prove what I'd been saying all along. If she or the others did something 'bad,' then they didn't think it was bad because they were the ones doing it, and damn anyone who went against them.

My stride carried me in her direction, and she haughtily said, "Like I was gonna let you kill him. Elena - "

"Right . . . Elena." I got to within half a dozen steps of her before I started circling, like a tiger circling it's prey.

"Eve - "

"You think getting personal by saying my name is going to save you now?" She scoffed at that, and circling behind her, I emotionlessly said, "Maybe you think it's because you are best friends with my sister, but here's the truth. You are a witch, and that makes you fair game to a hunter like me."

Her eyes widened marginally before they set in a scowl as she turned to look at me. "Anytime you think - "

"I already know what the consequences for Jeremy have been since you raised him from the dead . . . But what have they been for you?" Stopping to face her, I added, "You clearly still have some of your power, but I couldn't help but notice that I didn't get flung all that far . . . Are your powers depleted, Bonnie?" The look on her face and the way she shrunk back into herself were answer enough. "Then I'd suggest you not say anything that you can't back up with actions. It's a bad tactic to start using, because some day someone is going to call you on it."

Anger flashed across her face as she closed some of the distance between us. "Who the hell do you think you are?"

Stepping closer until I was in her space, I answered, "The person you just tried to kill . . . Better watch it Bonnie. If you keep breaking the rules like this, then nature might just take all of your powers." Circling her again to unsettle her, I said, "I bet those powers are pretty important to you, huh? I mean they give you a sense of identity . . . purpose . . . what if you didn't have them at all?" Witches could kill other witches with magic. Witches could kill monsters with magic. Witches could kill humans with a ceremonial knife or some other kind of ritual required for a spell, but to use their magic to kill a human? It was seriously frowned upon unless you found a loophole, and I knew she knew at least one of those. I just had to make her mad enough not to think of one. Smirking, I added, "I say we find out."

The power of suggestion was exactly that, a power. Her eyes never left me as I walked in an ever steady arch around her, so she was watching me when I pulled my dart gun out of my pocket and reached into my pocket to pull out a vervain dart. It wouldn't do anything to hurt her, but now I was curious to find out how much those powers meant to her and if she actually deserved to have them. If they meant a lot to her, but she didn't deserve them, then she'd kill me if she thought I took them. If they meant a lot to her, and she did deserve them, then she would let me walk away. It wasn't a forever kind of test. It was a 'is she too immature and unable to control her powers at this point of her life' kind of test.

I tried not to let it get to me when I heard another voice enter the conversation. "What's going on here? Bonnie? Eve, what are you doing?"

I shrugged before loading the chamber with my dart and answered, "Well, Caroline - "

Bonnie cut me off. "If you think you're going to take my powers from me without a fight, then you've got another thing coming."

One of my eyebrows arched as I flicked a nonchalant gaze in her direction. "Only if you don't deserve them, and with responses like that, I'm beginning to think you won't."

A second later, Caroline was standing between us. "I meant, why are you two over here fighting when he has Matt?"

Yeah, I was vaguely aware of the fact that after Bonnie had interfered in the fight, Klaus had made a point of saying that if she did it again, he'd kill Matt. Pointing my thumb over my shoulder in the direction of Klaus, I answered, "Well, apparently that is the only way that he could keep Bonnie from getting me killed . . . You know it's pretty bad when he is the arbiter of what is a fair fight."

Looking over her shoulder at Bonnie, Caroline seemed surprised. "Bonnie?"

Dodging the question, Bonnie asked, "Where's Tyler?"

"I sent him home when I smelled the blood. What's she talking about?"

"She was going to kill Stefan. Elena's already lost so much. I couldn't let her do that."

And now back to me. "Kill him? Yes. Permanently? No."

Back to Bonnie as Caroline looked at her friend and said, "She'd never kill Damon's brother, Bon. I know she can play a bit rough, but - "

"Play? Are you kidding me right now? Wait. Is that what she does to you when you two are training? Does she have you convinced that this is some kind of a game that - "

"What do I look like, an idiot? I know she wasn't really playing. The blood pouring out of her neck tells me she actually had to defend herself." She was right. There was a difference between fighting for your life and training. Training made defensive moves and attacking moves more ingrained, so that you didn't have to think about them when you were fighting for your life.

"You didn't answer my question." Looking past Caroline to me, Bonnie appeared to take that as the only answer she needed. "You're no better than Damon, you know that? He used to hurt her too for some kind of sick and twisted - "

Stepping between us again, so the attention was on her, Caroline's voice rose while she said, "It's nothing like what he used to do to me when I was human . . . She builds me up. He only used to tear me down."

As if she suddenly understood something, Bonnie's eyes narrowed. "How are you so controlled around all this blood, Care? You should be struggling with it more than you are. Does she - "

Looking confused, Caroline responded, "She bleeds when I hurt her, so I'm used to it, but I'm not going anywhere near her blood again. It's toxic. Stefan doing what he did to her also tells me that there is something seriously wrong with him . . . like he's flipped his switch kind of wrong." You could say I was almost proud of how well she was piecing things together. She was already a lot smarter than most people believed, but I'd been trying to get her to become more confident in her intelligence. She didn't have to choose brains or beauty.

"For you to know that, it means you've had to bite her."

"You're missing the point."

"No, I think you are, Care . . . She's making you a better killer."

"She lets me be who I am!" There was a brief pause, and Caroline almost whispered, "Without judgement . . . She's making sure that I never end up like that." Caroline pointed at Stefan's body before saying, "You guys aren't always going to be around. I'm going to have to learn to protect myself, and she understands that. I haven't quite figured out the not getting taken part, and I wasn't expecting Klaus's sister to be Klaus's sister, but - "

Raising her hands as if to wash herself of the problem in front of her Bonnie cut her off. "Look, I'm gonna make this real easy for you Care . . . I won't be friends with you if you keep going down the path she's leading you down. I tolerate what you are because - "

You could heal from a physical wound, but emotional ones never really healed, and Caroline was too good to turn her back on someone she thought needed her help, which she clearly thought I did. I wouldn't let her suffer for me. "There's no need for that."

Turning towards me, Bonnie said, "You can stay out of this. It doesn't concern you."

"Really?" My forehead crinkled in faux-confusion as I said, "I thought it was all about me . . . I will not allow you to hurt one of the most sensitive people I've ever met - "

"And how many people have you actually met? I thought you were raised by wolves or something."

Yeah, Damon had said that about me more than once, and Caroline must've parroted it back to the others at some point . . . possibly after I burnt her Dad's hand with my lighter. That seemed like something an angry Caroline would do, and now Bonnie was throwing it back in my face. Arching an eyebrow, I answered, "More than I care to have met . . . yourself included, and as I was saying, I won't allow you to use one of your oldest friends as an emotional punching bag over me . . . I'm bowing out of something I didn't even fully comprehend was as big of a problem as it is until now. You don't want me to be Caroline's friend . . . fine. I won't be, but it's not because she doesn't deserve to be. It's - "

"Doesn't deserve to be? Wow, you've got some nerve. Could your ego be any bigger?"

"Says the witch that's about to lose all her power."

"Eve - "

I glanced at Caroline. "Relax. She'll keep it if she deserves it." My eyes went back to Bonnie as I straightened my shoulders and then looked at the gun in my hand. "I really wanted to talk to Klaus - "

"Elena said you might work with him. I thought it was just Katherine, but I'm starting to think she was right."

I didn't let it rattle me. The time for childish games and words and whatever the hell else this had devolved into was over. Instead I threw her a look that said not to interrupt me again as I continued. "And I came prepared." Tilting my head in the direction of Rebekah's body, I said, "A couple of darts for his sister . . . and one for the witch I last saw him with in Chicago, and let me tell you. She was a lot more powerful than you . . . particularly now that your power's depleted."

"Eve, don't."

Thanks for helping me sell it without meaning to do it, Caroline. "So, here's how this is going to go. I am going to - "

Seeming a little unnerved as I started my methodical circling of her again, Bonnie interrupted me to try and postpone the inevitable. "There's nothing out there that can - "

"Bind a witch's power?" My eyebrows rose as I said, "Oh there is." When she didn't have anything to say to that, I innocently asked, "What, didn't any of your family's grimoires say that, or have you just not gotten that far along in reading them yet?" According to my Mom's books on the subject, you didn't really get very many strikes as a witch. Rarely three. Sometimes two, and depending on how big the infraction, one. Raising someone from the dead was a big strike. If her powers were depleted, then I'm guessing the spirits of her ancestors had already cut her off . . . that was usually like being put on probation and a pretty good lesson to witches. Something told me it wouldn't be enough with this one.

"Eve, my Dear, I know what you're thinking, and I can't allow it." Hearing Klaus's voice took me out of the moment briefly. I'd known he was there, but I hadn't really thought of him as a threat, so I put him on the back burner. Matt wasn't even there anymore, because Klaus had let him run along home . . . and Klaus really wanted me to listen to him if he was saying my actual name instead of one of his nicknames.

I'd developed a theory about him during my time on the road with he and Stefan. Unless you were in his family, he used nicknames, like doppelganger, ripper, little wolf killer, to dehumanize the people around him, so he wouldn't feel guilt if he killed them or so he could put a wall up between himself and friends, because he didn't trust anyone not to hurt him, which meant he'd been hurt a lot by the people closest to him in his life. I think that based on what Damon had said he'd found in the storage locker, it was also why Klaus's entire family was put on ice and stuffed in coffins. They couldn't hurt him if they were dead and yet undead, like keepsakes he could cart around with him wherever he went. He was by far the darkest shade of gray that I'd met, but anyone who could love and hurt that deeply wasn't as truly evil as he seemed.

While I debated on what Klaus would do to interfere, Bonnie said, "I don't need you - "

Cutting Bonnie off with a look, Klaus said, "Oh, it's not for you, love." Looking back at me, he continued, "But I do know the price that it requires, and it's one that I know to be too high."

I didn't know if that was enough for Caroline or even Bonnie to piece together what the price would be, but I suspected it was, so almost as soon as the words left his mouth, I was forced to act before he could stop me. My face set in defiance, I kept my attention on him as I pointed my gun in the general direction of Bonnie and shot her in the leg, thinking, 'This from the guy who wanted me to fight a ripper.'

"What'd you do?! What'd you do? What'd you - "

Caroline tried to calm Bonnie down, while I kept an eye on Klaus and muttered a partially coded message. "Don't get involved. My family has more than one secret. Just ask Caroline."

Bonnie cut herself off as the shock of being shot took full effect. "You bitch!"

My eyebrow ticked up as I said, "Temper. Temper. My advice would be - "

She let out a blood curdling scream and forced all her anger in my direction without realizing that her powers hadn't been effected at all. The next thing I knew, I was doubling over in pain with a silent shriek of my own as my hands clutched my head almost like they thought it was the only way to keep my brain from trying to escape my skull, but I wasn't a vampire. I wasn't a werewolf. I was a human, so all it took was one aneurism to wipe me out.

Chapter Text

I sat up with a gasp, like my body was craving air the way a fish craves the water. Oh, sitting up that fast may not have been a good idea. I felt awful as I fell onto my back with a slight groan. My head hurt. My body was freezing and sore. I felt nauseous. It was only after I collapsed onto my back that I noticed I wasn't lying in the middle of the street. I was on a bed, a comfortable bed, my bed? And it provided me with a perfect view of Damon Salvatore as he paced back and forth, like a caged animal. He'd stopped briefly to watch me as I took my first breath in what must have been hours, but now he was back to the pacing again.

"Do you have any idea what happened?"

Yes and no, but I was sure he was about to fill me in on the parts I'd missed. Apparently, Caroline thought fast to keep Klaus from killing Bonnie and did what I'd hoped she'd do, which was tell Klaus that I'd be fine because I was wearing my ring. He hadn't known what she meant, but then she'd told him what the ring did, and he took off with me and Elena in my car.

From the sounds of it, Damon had met up with him at the hospital. How he knew to go there, I don't know, because he skipped right over that to say that he'd had to play the only card he had, which was that he and Katherine had found Mikael, some guy who scared Klaus, and Klaus dropped everything to flee Mystic Falls. I pondered who this Mikel was, while Damon went on to say that Klaus had found the time in his escape to go find Stefan, compel him to stay here and keep an eye on things, and left me what must've been a letter, because one landed on my chest after Damon flicked it in my direction.

I had just enough time to register that it'd already been opened and most likely by him when he flung his hand in the direction of a pile of my bloody clothes on the floor. I guess Caroline was waiting for Damon when he got back to the house with Elena and I, and she changed me out of my things, so it didn't look like I was so obviously dead or something, because it was getting to him. He'd seen the ring work on snapped necks, but not bites, and she'd tried to tell him how I'd actually died to put his mind at ease, but that made it worse, because even though witches were supernatural, he didn't know if the ring really worked on anything supernatural or only vampire related issues or something. I don't know. He was rambling by that point, or he was until he stormed out my bedroom door and slammed it closed behind him.

Before I could move a muscle, he was back and continued pacing with a frustrated growl, as he said, "I can't stand the sight of you right now, and it is taking everything in my power not to tell you I never want to see you again, because I know if I do, you'll believe I mean it, walk out that door, and I'll never see you again . . . and that . . . the idea of what'll happen to you . . . what you'll become . . . the thought of you dying out there somewhere in pain and alone?" He paused and shook his head before saying, "I had a taste of what that's like the month you were gone and I can't live like that . . . And why the hell aren't you telling me I'm overreacting and that you won't leave even if I do kick you out?"

He seemed to genuinely want to know the answer, but my throat was parched. I looked around and saw a glass of water on the nightstand by the bed and went to reach for it, but he was faster and got to it first. Holding it away from me, like I couldn't have it until I told him, his eyebrows rose in expectation, and I slumped back on my pillow again. I touched my throat in the hopes that he'd understand and all I got was, "You're thirsty?" I nodded. "Does it hurt?" I nodded again, and he said, "Good . . . If you want this, then I want - "

It felt like hot pokers were being shoved down my throat as I said, "I went too far this time." At the scratchy, hollow sound to my voice, his hand holding the glass shot out in my direction. I drank and let the water soothe the pain in my throat until it was gone and then sat up, so I could swing my legs over the edge of the bed. I think my blood was finally starting to pump the way it should, so I was feeling a little better. "Our fights are almost always one sided. I do something reckless. You get mad. I don't think I've done anything wrong, so I'm not going to apologize for it, and then I have to live with you giving me the cold shoulder until it blows over." Hanging my head, I sighed, "But this time I went too far, and what you really want is for me to fight back, because it means I care enough to do it." Shaking my head before I flicked a glance in his direction, I went back to staring at my feet and said, "But I'm not going to fight with you this time, because you're not in the wrong. I know I am. I didn't take how you'd feel about it into consideration at all. So you have all the power . . . what happens next is entirely up to you."

Crouching down in front of me, so he could catch my eye, Damon, looking really quite vulnerable, quietly whispered, "You died."

I gave him a slight nod. "I know."

"On purpose."

"I know."

"To take out the powers of the only witch who sometimes helps us."

"I know."

"Why?"

"A lot of reasons."

"Just give me one."

"After my fight with Stefan, I - "

I didn't know how to explain it. Cutting myself off with a sigh, I looked away from him, and he said, "I saw what he did to you, and to come out on top the way you did, I know what you must've had to do. You couldn't flip it back, could you?"

I threw a glance in his direction and shook my head before forcing myself to breathe and saying, "Not when I felt like I was still under attack. All I kept thinking was that she's too immature to have that much power, and if I pushed her over the edge, she wouldn't have something she wasn't responsible enough to have until she's a little older."

"It's too soon to know if it worked, but it's not looking good, and you are going to have a lot to answer for with everyone else."

I absorbed that before bowing my head. "I'm not even sure that's the reason I did it when I did though . . . I think it was something else."

Gently placing his finger under my chin to make me look at him, he asked, "What? I need to know, so this doesn't happen again."

"When Caroline showed up, it threw me off."

"So her being there was enough to bring you back, but it wasn't enough to stop you."

I felt my eyes sting and blinked a couple of times, but ultimately lost out to the single tear that decided to slide down my face as I shook my head and whined, "It sounds so stupid."

"Tell me." His voice was gentle, but I went to look away from him again, and his hand slid to the side of my face to keep my focus on him. I felt another tear fall before quietly answering him.

"I was hurt . . . I was literally fighting for my life, and she helped the ripper. I know she didn't think it through, but her instinct was that he's the lesser of two evils. She automatically assumed that I would kill him . . . like permanently kill him, and then the things she was saying to Caroline . . . the absolute hatred she has for me, and I know it's the same thing Elena feels . . . They think I'm like Katherine. They think I'm like Klaus. There's some debate on whether I'm working with one or both of them . . . I was hurt, and now I've gone and proved just how bad I can really be out of spite. I'm sorry."

Taking one of my hands that was folded in my lap and leaning forward, so he could touch his forehead to mine, Damon was quick to say, "I don't want you apologizing to any of them."

"Why not?"

"Because no matter what you said or did, you died for it. That's apology enough."

"Damon - "

"No . . . And why were you there at all? I told you not to go."

"I thought I could do something about it, but when I got there, I saw them carrying Elena . . . I thought she was dead. I wanted to negotiate for her body, so I could bury her next to her parents, rather than whatever shallow grave he gave her . . . and I wanted my car back."

He smiled briefly at the mention of my car. "Well, it's sitting out front right now." I relaxed a little at that even as I felt his breath on my lips and became aware of how close we were. "And you wanted to test out your white oak ash theory?" Other than Klaus, Damon was the only person on the face of the planet that knew what'd been in that dart. I nodded, and he said, "I hear it worked." I gave him a single nod again, and he said, "And you wanted something to take your mind off of the big day on Monday?" Nuzzling into his face a little more, I hummed in the affirmative, and it was a good three seconds before he whispered, "It's okay . . . You have my permission to kiss me any time you want." With an unsure smile, he leaned forward, so his lips were hovering just a few centimeters from mine as he said, "Not that I don't find you completely intoxicating, but I said I'd wait until - "

"What about Katherine?"

He pulled back to look at me. "What about her?"

"I look exactly like her . . . You loved her for like 150 years. How am I supposed to know it's really me that - "

"No, I thought I loved her for 150 years."

"Until she said she'd always choose Stefan. That doesn't mean what you felt wasn't real."

"I kissed her . . . Actually she kissed me, and I let her."

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure the two of you have done a lot more than - "

Rolling his eyes, he said, "No, I mean when she had me driving around in circles on my most recent road trip . . . I wanted to see if I felt anything. I don't. That's done . . . Next question."

I guess he told me. Was that good? It seemed like it should be, but I still felt a little disappointed that they'd kissed. I tried not to dwell on it, because I was starting out easy on the issues I had. "So if it's done, and you hate her, but I look like her then - "

"You don't look much like her anymore . . . At least not to me . . . It's the differences I find most attractive."

"And Elena?"

Looking a little cocky, he smiled. "Same answer."

"Damon, you almost died for her. You can't tell me that you don't - "

Placing his forearms on the bed to either side of my thighs, he leaned closer to say, "I loved the idea of her, but it'll always be you. I just didn't know it until I was dying. I didn't care where anyone else was as long as I had you, and I knew I deserved to die for the things I've done, but I would've given anything to take it all back, and it wasn't for me. It was for you . . . You need me, and I don't think that because I want it to be true. I know it is." Looking at my lips, he smirked. "Next question?" When his eyes came back to mine, they were smoldering, and I felt my confidence wither.

"What about my Mom?" His eyebrows furrowed in confusion, and I quickly said, "I know what you told Stefan the night we met . . . when he was asking about Isobel, and before you knew it was Elena's Mom, you went on and on about how you - "

"When have you and my brother even been in the same room long enough - " A look of understanding crossed his face. "On that little road trip of yours? May I remind you that it's the same road trip he wanted to kill you on . . . Nothing happened. I swear."

"I don't believe you. You didn't know about Elena or me. There was nothing to stop you from - "

Sucking in air between his teeth, like I'd staked him, he paused a beat before asking, "Is it a deal breaker?"

So he did sleep with my Mom. I muttered, "Liar," and he smiled as he leaned closer.

"That wasn't a yes."

"It's sick, like really messed up and twisted."

"Still not a yes." I didn't respond, and his eyes scanned my face before he looked at me and said, "Does admitting it account for nothing?" I sighed. I really didn't want to think about him being with her. It was just way too Mrs. Robinson for me. On the other hand, he did eventually confess, which meant it wasn't a question that was floating around in the back of my mind anymore. It may not be the answer I wanted, but it did put those questions to rest, and it was in the past. It's not like he could change it. Almost as if he could read my mind, he added, "I'd take it back if I could . . . There's a lot I'd take back if I could, but it's like you said. I didn't know about you then. What matters now is that I'll look nowhere else if you just say the word."

I was entirely out of my element. Planting my hands behind me on the mattress, I defiantly asked, "What word?"

Leaning over me as he started to crawl onto the bed, Damon answered, "Say you want me."

When I opened my mouth to respond, not even I knew what I was going to say. "What do you mean exactly?"

Now he was confused . . . maybe a little angry? "What do you mean, what do I mean? It's pretty simple. You either want me, or - "

"Yeah, but like want you, want you or want you?"

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"Well, you're kind of going at vampire speed here, like 0 to 100 in a second, and I'm a little unsure of - "

His posture changed from being one that was predatory to one that resembled my friend as he relaxed. "Evie?"

"Hm?"

"Have you ever - "

"Are you kidding me right now? I said I used to sneak out to play the piano. That wasn't a euphemism for having anonymous sex with every guy in a 5 mile radius."

A short laugh escaped him before his eyes narrowed in thought as he bit his bottom lip. "And the list of guys I need to kill for just close encounters would be . . . "

He had to know all this, didn't he? Was it just that he hoped that I'd had something else, however fleeting, or maybe he'd been trying to reign in the vampire side of him that would be thrilled that he was the first to mark his territory . . . maybe he just expected me to be more like my sister. Sounding defeated, I answered, "Look no further than the guy in the mirror."

Gently touching his forehead to mine with a sigh, he murmured, "You never said."

"Was I supposed to say something?"

"Would've been good to know that your first kiss was when I knocked you out using your own stash . . . I could've maybe tried to make it right."

"There's no way you could possibly make that right."

"Made it better then."

"It was memorable enough."

"For all the wrong reasons."

"I guess you did save my life."

Pulling back to look down at me, his eyes searched my face, like he was trying to see if I really believed that. A few moments later, he said, "So do you want me? And just to be clear, before I meant for sex, because I thought if that's all I can get, then I'll take it until I can make you love me . . . Now I mean the whole fucked up package . . . I mean deep down somewhere in there that is locked down tighter than Fort Knox do you want - "

Don't lie to him. After everything he's been through in his life, he needs to know. I breathlessly answered, "Yes," and he stopped.

"Yes?"

I nodded.

Getting a sly look on his face, he asked, "Yes, what?"

After briefly holding my breath, I hesitated and then said, "Yes," and he laughed.

A few seconds later, his eyes narrowed, as his smile fell, and he tried to appear serious, while he mocked me. "What do you mean exactly?" I threw him a look, and he struggled to maintain his composure. "Is it more of a 'I'm all you've got, so you guess I'll do' kind of thing?" He might be teasing me, but I suspected he really wondered if that was true, because now he was waiting for the answer, and it reminded me that I wasn't the only one who had serious issues with letting people close, because I wasn't the only one who'd been hurt by the people who'd mattered most to me.

Biting the inside of my cheek, while I debated with myself on what to say, I eventually muttered, "You make me laugh. You make me cry. You make me so angry that I have to stake you sometimes. You make me feel . . . But - " I paused when his eyes narrowed into a more genuine glare, "You mean so much to me that I don't want something fleeting or temporary to take you from me . . . Dad said that Mom was his first love, and I saw how that turned out . . . I have to be sure that you'll be my only one if I'm going to risk it, and - "

He leaned down to silence me by tentatively brushing his lips against mine. Part of me thought that it was a pretty effective way of getting me to shut up and part of me was still stuck on my point. Letting his lips hover just over mine, he asked, "Do you feel that?"

"Damon - "

His lips came back to mine with a little more pressure, and I responded in kind, causing him to linger a little longer this time before he pulled back to gently say, "Tell me you feel that, and I will spend every day for the rest of your life proving to you that I feel the same."

What kind of feeling was he looking for me to feel? Was it that feeling in my chest, like the walls that I tried so hard to keep up were crumbling and the inevitable panic that followed? He didn't look like that's what he wanted to hear as his eyes searched mine for something to let him know I felt more. He was starting to look hurt, so I felt like I had to give him something. "I missed you."

Uh, that's not what he was expecting, but he was quietly desperate enough to wait it out to see where I was going with it. "When I was on the road, I felt homesick . . . but it wasn't for my room or piano or this horrible little town. I still hate Mystic Falls . . . I was homesick for you. I could be anywhere as long as I have you with me." Looking away from him, I said, "And I don't know if that's what you want or not, but my Dad was wrong. It's not the piano that's kept me here as long as I have been." Flicking my gaze in his direction, I exhaled, "It's you."

Finally putting me out of my misery, his mouth landed over mine again, and this time, I rode the panic out to see what was on the other side of it. Was this the feeling he'd meant? I didn't know how something could be euphoric and comforting at the same time . . . or how those could come together to make me feel like I wasn't alone. He deepened the kiss, and at my hum of approval when his tongue found mine, he smiled before shifting his weight to readjust us as he laid me back on the bed. Breaking the kiss to look down at me, he said, "Nothing has to change except we do that a little more."

In something of a daze, I asked, "But what if it doesn't work out?"

He seemed like he was debating with himself on something, but finally ended whatever it was by saying, "We'll make sure it does." Before I could say that it wasn't that simple, he stopped me by saying, "You should get some sleep. You've got a big day ahead of you if we're going to celebrate your last day of freedom."

Well, that was annoying. "You still expect me to go to school on Monday?"

He smirked. "What, you didn't think a little thing like dying was going to get you out of it, did you?"

Chapter Text

Two mornings later, I reluctantly walked out of the bathroom, a billow of steam following me. I wasn't going anywhere unprotected, and my black hooded sweatshirt was still covered in blood. It was too hot for leather or my peacoat, so over my Bowie t-shirt and fitted-purple flannel, I threw on my army jacket, but found it strangely light. Searching it, I didn't find any of my weapons. "Looking for something?"

I turned and saw Damon lying on my bed, holding one of my stakes. I went to take it from him, and he held it away from me with a laugh. "It's school, not a war zone. You're not going to need these."

I reached for the stake again saying, "I might. I am going to school with 2 vampires and a hybrid," before he grabbed me by the wrist and rolled me under him.

Handing me the stake he said, "It might be three vampires and a hybrid. One stake."

Hugging the stake to my chest, I continued trying to negotiate. "One stake, one dagger, two vervain darts, and three wolfsbane darts. And what do you mean 3 vampires?"

He smiled. "Did I forget to mention we have an annoying house guest?"

"I already know Stefan's here."

"It's his house too. He's not a guest."

"Then who - "

"In his hurry to get out of Mystic Falls, Klaus may have left his dead sister behind, and she showed up earlier. Stefan and I both told her she can't stay here, but she doesn't have anywhere else to go, so it looks like she's staying for now."

"So, you're saying the Original vampire I temporarily killed is my new housemate?"

"For now."

Elena wouldn't have just invited her in here. "How the hell did she get into the house?"

Damon frowned. "Best guess? She found my realtor."

"Does that mean my room - "

"I, uh . . . I'm going to deal with that this morning. I need to find a new realtor."

"And that'll work?" He shrugged, and I said, "But it'll just be for my room . . . you don't want a pissed off Original to tear the house down, because she can't get in?"

"Something like that."

Taking a deep breath, I said, "If she's staying here, then she's staying here at the boarding house, right? She's not really going - "

Damon looked towards the door before saying, "I have no idea what she's planning on doing, but from the sounds I've been hearing out there for the last half hour, I'd say she's getting ready to go out. I doubt she's worked a day in her life, so the timing suggests school."

"Why would she - "

He shrugged. "To get the full teenage experience now that her brother's out of her hair? Because she has a thing for Stefan and he's going? To actually do her brother's bidding and watch over his hybrid? To keep an eye on you? Who knows?"

"To keep an eye on me? You mean kill me. I should really take - "

"You're not taking all the weapons I found in this jacket and adding to them from the cabinet." I frowned, and his smile grew. "She's not going to kill you . . . Her brother made it pretty clear in his letter that she was to keep her hands off of you."

"Really? How would she know - "

"I gave it to her."

"What's it say?"

"Read it for yourself."

The last letter he'd given me hadn't really been a very good one. I doubted this one would be any better. "I don't have it." Reaching under the pillow beneath my head he pulled the letter out and gave it to me. Tapping him on the chest with it, I asked, "Is this going to make my day worse?"

"I don't know . . . I'm done waiting to find out what it means, so you not reading it and explaining it to me might make my day infinitely worse."

"Which would ultimately make my day worse."

Shrugging a shoulder he came back with, "If that's how you want to see it."

I reluctantly opened the envelope as Damon gave me room to read it.

Little Wolf Killer,

I knew from our first meeting that you are an intriguing creature. You've managed to best the Ripper of Monterey at his worst, and you have yet to reach your peak. As discussed, I've returned your car. It is well deserved. Heed not the discouraging words of your peers for I know your heart to be pure. To valiantly go against the grain and fight fiercely in the face of adversity is but a show of strength. It is a strength someone I once lost possessed, and I know she would be most proud that you come from her. One of my greatest regrets is that I did not do more upon her death to preserve her memory. At times I've done the opposite and sought only to destroy her legacy for my own gain. You provide me with the opportunity to correct my past mistakes, and for that I am most grateful. Continue your education while I am gone, and when I return, we will train.

Yours,

Nik

P.S. Rebekah, my Dear Sister, look after my hybrid for me while I'm gone, AND in the name of Tatia and all she once meant to me, I ask that you refrain from harming a single hair on Eve Gilbert's head. You know what will happen if you do not comply.

Damon was watching me intently as I read, so I tried not to smile when I read that Klaus wanted to train with me. I felt a little like I'd gotten an acceptance letter from the college of my choice. When I was done, I put the letter down to rest on my chest and looked at Damon. "Well, he certainly has lovely penmanship."

Not one to be outdone, he felt it important to say, "I have nice handwriting . . . what does it mean?"

"You've had longer to process it. What do you think it means?"

Picking the letter up and glancing through it, he answered, "It bothers me that he left you a letter at all. And who is Tatia?"

"I have no idea. I don't recognize the name."

"Well, it sounds to me, like he loved her. I don't like his interest in you."

"You may not like his interest in me, but it shouldn't be for the reason you think."

"See, I knew you'd know what this meant. You spent way too much time with him not to know."

"Well, for starters, I'd say you're right. He did love this Tatia, and obviously I remind him of her, but not quite in the way you're thinking. He's not looking for another love. He's looking for something else." Sitting up and pulling the top of the paper down, so I could see it too, I said, "See, here. He says I come from her . . . so - "

"You're related."

"Yeah, like I'm related to Katherine . . . if it weren't for her, I wouldn't be here. The same goes for this Tatia . . . and here, he says, he's sought only to destroy her legacy for his own gain . . . Elena, Katherine . . . the doppelgangers are Tatia's legacy . . . Remember what I said about doppelgangers? Their blood is - "

"Used by witches in powerful spells. Yeah, I remember . . . Breaking the curse took a doppelganger, so creating it probably took one too . . . Tatia?"

"That's what I'm thinking."

"So you look almost exactly like his lost love. It's not exactly instilling much confidence in me that this isn't a problem."

"The key word is 'almost'." Damon looked at me and I said, "You said it yourself. It's the differences that you notice. Maybe it's the same for him." His mind wasn't ready to shift off of being jealous of Klaus, so I rolled my eyes. "I'm the first descendant of hers that he's come across that he doesn't feel like he has to kill, because it gives him nothing in return. He doesn't need to use me for my blood to create hybrids either. I'm giving him another chance to do something he wishes he could've done if the situation was different. That's why he's grateful. I look almost exactly like her. If he wants to honor her, then instead of imagining I'm her, he imagines I could be -"

"Her child?" He shook his head, and now it was his turn to roll his eyes. "You're so naive sometimes."

"Does it help if I tell you he called me his protégé the last night I was with them? His interest in me is not the way you're thinking."

Damon bit his bottom lip in thought and looked at the letter again before pointing at a line and saying, "He does basically tell you not to listen to the kids being mean to you, go to school, and he'll train you when he gets back." His eyes squinted before he looked up at me. "He hates me."

"Yep."

"If he's decided to step in as your guardian, he's not going to like that we're together."

"Nope."

A grin slowly spread across Damon's face. "Sneaking around behind his back to be with you is going to be so hot."

"He'll rip that bad boy heart of yours right out of your chest."

Damon's grin widened. "It would be worth it."

"Not to me."

"That's because you have yet to experience the desire for that which is forbidden, and that's exactly what you will be. If you add on top of that, the idea that every second I'm with you, I'm going against him, it makes the thought of being with you even more irresistible." I sighed and he leaned forward to press his lips to my forehead. "I already professed my love for you, so never doubt that. This is just the icing on the cake."

"Yeah, I don't know if the idea of you thinking about Klaus when we're together is all that appealing to me."

"Oh come on. Let me have my fun with this."

Rolling out from under him, I said, "Fine. While you do that, I'm going to have my own fun coming up with new and inventive ways to deal with his multitude of enemies who will be lining up to find ways they can use me against him when word gets out about this."

He was blocking my exit as I got to the door. "Whoa . . . This Mikael guy is going to take care of our little Klaus problem, and - "

"And how do we know he won't be an even bigger problem then Klaus?"

"Everything will be fine. I promise . . . But until Klaus is gone, word won't get out about this. You can't say anything to anyone."

"Hi, have we met? I'm Eve, a former recluse and current social pariah among my peers. It's not me you have to worry about. Word always finds a way of getting out . . . especially with you supernatural folk. You're always gossiping, like you haven't got anything better to do. His sister knows. You know. I'm guessing Stefan knows." Looking around us, I leaned forward to whisper. "I bet even Anna knows . . . It all goes downhill from there. Dead folks talk even more than the living because they definitely don't have anything better to do."

He looked torn between being concerned and wanting to smile. Eventually he pulled me to him in a tight embrace and exhaled a silent laugh before saying, "I won't let anything happen to you."

"Do I sound scared to you?"

He sighed before leaning back to look down at me. "Just let me have my moment and let me believe that me protecting you is something you actually want."

Patting his chest, I gave him a dry reply. "Great . . . So, this whole Klaus thing plays into both your bad boy and white knight fantasies . . . This is going to be so great for you."

His face took on a boyish look as he laughed again and let the warmth of his fondness for his best friend shine through before his lips landed over mine in a tender kiss that made me want to stay there all day. A minute later and sounding amused, he rested his forehead on mine to whisper, "Now about the weapons you stole back from me when we were on the bed."

"I thought those roaming hands of yours just got them back."

"I'm still missing one."

"What's the big deal? You're always up for breaking the rules. Why not on this?"

"It's going to be a high stress environment for you. The last thing you need is to be tempted to use one of your weapons on your classmates on your first day."

"Like you care what happens to any of my classmates."

"You're right. I don't. They could die in a fiery blaze for all I care, but that's not what would be best for you."

"What would be best for me?"

"Having a chance to be normal even if it's only for a few hours a day . . . You need to take back something that should've never been taken from you. You deserve a life. You're a human, not a monster, so stop hiding in the shadows, like one."

I sighed before stepping back to pull a dagger out of my boot and placed the handle in his palm muttering, "But stalking prey from the shadows is particularly useful when hunting."

"Yeah, I know . . . I'm a monster. Kind of use shadows for the same thing myself." I looked up at him, and he smiled. "But I don't spend all my time there." Lifting his hand to show me his ring, he added, "I come out during the day and interact with people."

"So school is like my daylight ring?"

Pulling me to him again, he shook his head. "No. Knowing that I love you, whether they accept you or not, is."

So, use knowing that he loved me to protect myself emotionally, the way his ring protected him from sunlight that hurt him physically, and if I did, then I at least had a chance of functioning semi-normally in society, more specifically, the shark infested waters of my soon to be school. The corner of my mouth turned up into a small smile as I said, "I think that was your moment."

Resting his forehead on mine, he asked, "And how'd I do?"

"I liked the parallel with your ring . . . Points off for be sappy . . . points added for it being short." Holding my breath, I whispered, "It was perfect. You keep that up, and I might eventually believe you."

Chapter Text

I walked down the corridor to the sound of loud music and laughing and forced myself to take a deep breath and stay calm when I saw 2 bodies lying on the steps that lead up to Damon and Stefan's rooms. A quick glance into the living room, told me that Stefan was still at it, given the girls that he had playing Twister with him in there. What the hell was I supposed to do about that? I couldn't just let him carry on uninterrupted until those girls were dead too. I guess school was going to have to wait.

"Your brother is infinitely messier than you are."

I felt Damon's hands on my shoulders as he leaned over me saying, "Yeah, well, he's flipped his switch. He doesn't care about the mess." Biting my lower lip, I debated on what I should do, and he added, "Go. I've got this," before giving me a small shove towards the door.

I took a step, and Stefan eagerly bounced up from the couch before sprinting over to us. "Great. So, we're finally ready to go. It was taking forever."

Damon did not like that. I guess by saying he had this, he didn't necessarily mean he was going to get rid of the bodies. "Where the hell do you think you're going?"

Stefan grinned at Damon. "To school . . . I have a job to do." Gesturing towards the bodies he smugly added, "You don't mind cleaning this up for me, do you?" before slinging his arm around my shoulders and saying, "Now that my lift's ready. I'm out of here."

Stefan steered me towards the door as I attempted to shove him off me and grumbled, "Drive your fancy red car."

Refusing to budge and leaning down to whisper in my ear, Stefan said, "What fun would that be?"

I looked up at him. "Then take your motorcycle."

"Nope." Calling over his shoulder, like he was going to a party, Stefan said, "Don't wait up, brother. Not sure when we'll be back," and Damon was immediately in front of us blocking the door.

Taking my arm and pulling me to him, Damon focused all of his attention on Stefan. "She's not going anywhere with you."

Stefan seemed amused by Damon's reaction. "Oh come on. You've finally convinced her to go. If you keep her here today, she'll talk herself out of it, and then she'll never go." Looking down at me he added, "Now or never, right?" before leveling a determined look at his brother.

Before I could respond, Damon did. "Well, I'm taking her. Find your own way there."

Looking at me, Stefan grinned. "You know the beauty of older models? They are so easy to hot-wire, and - "

I stepped out of Damon's grip and went around him saying, "You are not hot-wiring my car . . . I'm driving."

Condescension dripped from Stefan's tongue as he walked around Damon and patted him on the shoulder. "You hear that brother? She's driving."

I was really starting to hate the way they called one another brother. There were times when it held all the warmth that the term should hold, but most of the time it was used as the greatest insult, an antagonistic word meant to slap the other in the face with what the two of them should be but weren't because they hated one another . . . not that Stefan hated Damon right now. He couldn't feel a thing. He was just running on pure id and enjoying what amused him in the moment. Right now that was annoying Damon, and he was using me to do it.

Damon went to follow us out the door and Stefan put his hand against his chest to push him back. "What are you going to go to school with us? Aren't you a little old for that? They aren't going to let the creepy older brother of one of their students follow her around all day . . . Or do you want to ruin this for her the way you - "

He hissed in pain before looking down at his side and the stake I'd just jabbed into it. His eyes flashed red, and he turned to lunge at me, but was held back by Damon as I said, "Stop using me to torment him." Smirking, I added, "And go change your shirt. That's what looks ruined to me . . . I'm afraid I have to go now if I don't want to be late. Listen to Damon and find your own way there," before turning on my heel and making my way to my car.

I tossed the bloody stake in the trunk, wiped my hand off with a towel I had in there, and picked up a fresh stake before holding it up, so Damon could see that I was only going to keep the one on me today. He smiled briefly before looking at his brother and rolling his eyes as Stefan pushed past him muttering something. Following him back into the house, he waved for me to go. I took that as half a 'see ya later' wave and half a 'go before he changes' wave, so I wasted no time in getting into my car, but I still wasn't fast enough.

I'd just finished putting on my sunglasses and was putting my key in the ignition when the passenger door opened, and in hopped another vampire. "You didn't think I'd let you leave without me, did you?"

Slowly, I turned my head to look at the blonde. And what the hell do you think you're doing? Asking that probably wasn't a smart move . . . eh, probably smarter than what I did say. "Funny. I thought leaving you behind is what people did."

Reaching across the car to grab me by the front of my jacket faster than I anticipated, she pulled me to within a couple inches of her face. Her fangs were bared, eyes red, veins protruding across her face. "Listen to me, you little brat. Don't think for one second that I've forgotten what you did to me. You may be my brother's pet project for now, but he'll soon grow bored of you, and when he does, I intend to have my fun."

I arched an eyebrow in response, and brought my hand up from the under the bottom of my seat. I'd kept a small stash of white oak ash in here when I was on my road trip and was glad to see it hadn't been touched. Opening my hand in her direction, I calmly blew the dust in her face, and she quickly let me go, as I asked, "Are you done?"

She screeched in pain, while her hands covered her face, and then she cried, "God! What did I ever do to you? Why are you so mean to me?"

That made me pause. Because I didn't want her to think I was weak? That made the most sense given the current circumstances. Because she was my practice dummy for the rest of the Original family? That made sense too, but it wasn't particularly nice. "I'm sorry."

She sniffed and then peeked through her hands at me. "What?"

I shrugged a shoulder, while finally putting my key in the ignition. "You're right . . . I haven't been very nice. I guess I've just always thought of the Original vampires as these . . . gods, and all gods tend to do is find their amusement by toying with us mere mortals . . . If that's not you, then I apologize for thinking that I should let you know right off the bat that I won't let you walk all over me."

Okay, so it wasn't an actual apology, more of a conditional one. Watching me for a few moments, like she wanted to make sure I wasn't going to attack her again, she eventually brought her hands down from her face and pouted before saying, "You ruined my make up. Do you have any idea how long I spent making it look perfect this morning?"

"No." Maybe the question had been rhetorical. I sighed before rolling my eyes and saying, "If it makes you feel better, you still look flawless."

Her lips twitched into a smirk. "And what would you know about looking flawless? You look like a hobo."

I looked down at my clothes and frowned. "Hey, I'm clean. My clothes are clean . . . definitely not a hobo."

Tugging on my army jacket, she asked, "What about this monstrosity?"

"It's stylish in an offbeat kind of way . . . I mostly wear it to hide my weapons."

"You don't need weapons. You're going to school."

I rolled my eyes before turning the key. "So I keep hearing . . . I guess we'll see."

I put the car in reverse, but stomped on the brakes when she reached out to touch my hair. "And what is this?"

"Don't touch me when I'm driving."

I scowled at her from behind my sunglasses, but she seemed to take no note of it as she stared at the highlights. "Why is there purple in your hair?"

"Caroline thought it would look good, and it makes me look less like Elena."

She cattily replied, "Neither of you hold a candle to Tatia."

"I thought she was a doppelganger."

Rebekah's head turned in my direction. She knew I didn't know for sure, but she was trying to determine the harm in a definite answer. She must've decided there was none, because eventually she said, "She was."

"Then Elena looks identical to her, and I look more or less the same . . . now if our personalities influence how other people see us, then maybe . . . I have a wretched personality with people I meet, as you know, so - "

I was cut off by my back door opening as Stefan said, "Just with people you meet? I thought it was everybody."

I turned to look at him, the frustration evident on my face as I hissed, "What the fuck are you doing here? I told you to find your own way to school."

Touching his finger to the tip of my nose, he grinned as he said, "And I told you, this would be much more fun."

Turning around in a huff and finally putting my car in reverse, so I could get the hell out of here, I grumbled, "You're the annoying brother I never wanted, you know that?"

"Ah, as opposed to the sister you do have, but who hates you . . . Oh she is going to love seeing you roll up into the parking lot with the two of us in your car . . . especially after what you did to her little friend the other night."

So that's the fun he was talking about. Sure, I could see how it would be fun for him. I didn't care. I was done trying with Elena. If and when she wanted a sister, my door would be open, but I wasn't going to let it get to me anymore . . . Oh who was I kidding? Of course I was, but I didn't have to show it. My lips tightened into a thin line before I shook my head and focused on the road, while Rebekah asked, "Which friend?"

Stefan answered for me. "The witch friend."

"Good." Looking at me, she said, "You leave that blonde vampire for me."

My brow furrowed before I glanced in her direction. "You mean Caroline? You're not going anywhere near her."

She shrugged before sitting back in her seat. "Who said anything about going near her? There's plenty I can do from far away." That so wasn't happening, but I was driving and not about to wreck my car by getting into it with the Original in my passenger seat. She flicked a look at Stefan in the back. "What'd she do to the witch?"

Stefan grinned. "Stole her powers."

I looked at him in the rearview mirror. "I did not steal them. It's not like I have them or sold them on to someone else. Maybe I got her kicked out of the witch club for the time being, but that's because she doesn't deserve any of her powers. If she hadn't killed me - "

She seemed disappointed. "It didn't take."

I threw her a look, like 'obviously,' it didn't, and she flicked her gaze back to Stefan as Stefan said, "Her ring brings her back if something supernatural kills her."

Working through it, Rebekah said, "So the witch killed Eve, loses her powers, and that somehow equates to Eve stealing them?"

"Eve pushed Bonnie into it, specifically, so Bonnie would lose her powers."

"It wouldn't have worked if Eve wasn't really an innocent by the standards set forth in the natural rules that govern magic . . . It was a test this witch failed."

Tapping the back of her seat, Stefan sat back before saying, "Well don't go saying that to them. Trust me. It's much better this way. We get to sit back and enjoy the show . . . direct it the way we want it to go . . . it's going to be fun."

And how did that fun of his start? Immediately after we got out of the car, he slung his arm around my shoulders, the way he had at the house, and Rebekah linked her arm through mine. To anyone not next to us, it'd look like we were the best of friends. Anyone near us would have seen me trying to shrug them off, but they were a lot stronger than me. If I wanted them to get off of me, I'd have to resort to more extreme measures . . . measures that would get me arrested as well as kicked out of school if anyone saw me do them. What was so wrong with the shadows again?

I caught a glimpse of Matt walking with Tyler, and the look he gave me was full of disgust. Nudging Rebekah, I whispered, "Being seen with me is going to hurt your reputation." I tilted my head in Matt's direction and added, "And not just with the people who sort of know me. Look around. Nobody here likes me." She took a survey of the school population standing around outside and the people who were flicking looks in our direction . . . half out of curiosity and half because of rumors that had snowballed out of control during the summer. "On the other hand, me being seen with you might boost mine, because they know nothing about you, and that gives you a blank slate, so - "

She let go of my arm to walk ahead of us saying, "Is that my brother's hybrid? He looks hungry. Think I have just what he needs . . . see you two later."

One down. One to go. I looked at Stefan, and my eyes narrowed, which only made him snort. "I'm not going to be that easy to shake."

And he wasn't. The one good thing he did that day was make me so distracted that I barely registered that we'd gone through the school doors until we were walking down the hall. He followed me right to the office where I got my schedule and really, I'd had no idea where the office was, so it was like he'd guided me there. Of course it was so he could try and compel the woman behind the desk into believing I was a troublemaker, but thankfully, Damon had gotten to her first, which meant she only thought the best of me, and Stefan's compulsion couldn't override his.

Then he went off to torment Elena, and instead of using my chance to break away from him, I felt like I had to step in and make him leave her alone. Anyone with eyes could see she was scared of him. I noted the scarf she was sporting, and for the first time, wondered if Stefan was the one that'd hurt her the other night. Sure Klaus had probably told him to do it, but it was by Stefan's hand . . . he was not going to want to feel any of the emotions that went along with that, which meant that getting him to flip his switch back was going to be an uphill battle.

He skulked off, probably to go attack someone, and I felt like I had to go with him to keep an eye on him, but paused when I heard a voice behind me say, "You didn't have to do that. I can take care of myself."

She sounded conflicted, like maybe she wanted to say thanks, but couldn't bring herself to do that with me, so it came out sounding like I was being scolded without a whole lot of heat behind it. Maybe she just didn't want me to think she was weak the way I hadn't wanted Rebekah to think I was? I glanced at Elena over my shoulder and muttered, "Maybe . . . I guess I need to see that to believe it, and someone has to keep him in line. This place is full of dark corners, hiding spots, and warm bodies . . . I've gotta go babysit. Maybe I'll see you in class," before heading out the door he'd exited.

I'd been detained long enough to lose him, and then the warning bell for class rang, and I was switching gears. I needed to go to class . . . but what about Stefan? Maybe he'd just be in whatever class Elena was in to torment her further. I looked down at my schedule . . . History? Where the hell was that room? I felt an arm wrap through mine and was pulled down the hall. "Come on, we're going to be late."

I glanced at Rebekah. "How do you know where we're going?"

"How do you not?"

I gave her a confused look. "Because I've never gone to school a day in my life. I don't know what the hell I'm doing."

She smirked. "Good to know . . . so if I told you to go right down this hall and out the doors at the end?"

I responded unsurely, "I'd say you were sending me outside?"

"Yep, and my advice would be to keep on walking. These kids will eat you alive."

"Probably . . . Could always give me directions to the nearest closet. I wouldn't mind the solitude."

"And miss the look on people's faces when they see us walk into class together? Not a chance."

The corner of my mouth slid down into a slight frown. "You knew I said it to get - "

"Me to leave your side? Of course I did . . . I can sense deception with an uncanny ability. My brother says it borders on the supernatural - Although, you weren't being dishonest in what you said about your classmates' opinion of you, just your intentions behind why you were informing me of it."

"Finally, your 1000 years of experience pays some kind of dividend that sounds useful."

"Useful to who? To you? Don't flatter yourself."

"I have my own sense of intuition that serves me just fine, thank you very much. I meant to you."

"Thinking you can antagonize me and get away with it tells me your intuition isn't all that strong."

"Hm . . . you know what my intuition is telling me about you right now?"

"No, and I don't care." I shrugged a shoulder, and she glanced at me before saying, "Fine. What is it telling you?"

"That you've missed out on the last 90 years, so you're as out of your depth here as I am. And while you sympathize with your brother's efforts to create hybrids, so he doesn't feel alone, you can't help but ask yourself, 'What about me? What about the rest of us? We're your family. Why aren't we good enough?'"

Her lips tightened as did her hold on my arm before she replied. "Has anyone told you that mouth of yours should stay shut? You wouldn't piss people off half as much if it did."

"Hey, you asked. I just gave you the answer as I see it . . . Except I didn't also say that I think your brother will eventually get bored with his hybrids, so you have nothing to worry about."

She loosened her hold and shook her head. "I wish. You haven't spent the last 1000 years hearing him do nothing but talk about it."

A few weeks of it had been more than enough for me. "Yeah, I still don't think it's going to give him what he wants. It may take a year or 50 before he realizes that, but he will eventually. Him getting his hybrids might just be the best thing that's happened to you and your siblings, because when he realizes hybrids aren't what he expected them to be, he'll appreciate you guys more. Not that he doesn't appreciate you now. He just - "

"You think you know my brother?" I looked at her again, and the anger she had for me was once again apparent on her face as she said, "You know nothing."

"I know him well enough to say that instead of shooting you in the ass, I should've said 'thanks for helping me out in Chicago,' and then shot you in the ass . . . My brain wasn't quite working past hunting you though."

Leaning closer, she smirked. "No thanks required. What you really should have done is apologize. You were supposed to die in Chicago . . . they were supposed to drag my brother's new toy out and kill her in the alley."

I replied with a sickly sweet smile of my own. "You know, I'm curious. I mean it's obvious that you are so used to having your brother look out for you that you've forgotten how to do it for yourself . . . maybe you never could. Can you do it now that you're on you're own?" Her grip on my arm tightened as the bell for class rang, and my grin became more wicked as I said, "And don't tell me that the Queen of Intuition was completely oblivious to what would happen once I was dragged out of that bar . . . You knew. You just didn't care. You were sloppy, and it literally bit you in the ass."

She stopped and pushed me into the lockers by my throat. "It's not a mistake I'll make again."

I choked out a laugh. "Well, at least you learned something from it . . . Oh, and here's something else you should know." My smile fell as I pushed the tip of my dagger under her ribcage. It didn't break the skin, but she could definitely feel it. "That dagger your brother has with your name on it? I have one too. I used it on Elijah for a while, so I know it works, and if I have to use it on you, you're staying down for good this time."

Alright, so I might've lied to Damon about just having a stake, but in fairness, he should've known I wouldn't go to school with an Original without a dagger that could stop her if and when needed. I'd only planned to keep it just in case a situation like this arose. Besides, thanks to Stefan, Rebekah now knew that she could kill me without her brother punishing her, because the ring would bring me back, and I'd be just fine . . . even healed from any wounds I may have sustained, the way I'd healed from Stefan's bites. I wasn't looking to die again. I didn't particularly like the experience, and it had upset Damon. I couldn't do that to him again so soon after having done it to him once already.

She backed off a bit. "You're bluffing."

"Am I, oh Queen? Or are you starting to see the appeal of my jacket now?"

She let me go and grabbed my arm to continue dragging me to class. "I hate you."

"Join the club."

"I'm going to make your life a living Hell."

"If you could start by giving me the silent treatment, that would be just great."

Rebekah pulled me in through the door of a room with a smile plastered on her face. Apparently, they took those bells seriously around here, because the teacher had already started her lesson. Stefan was already in here. He seemed amused. Rebekah introduced us with an air of superiority, "I'm Rebekah . . . This is my friend Eve . . . We're you're new students," and went to take a seat directly in front of Elena. She told the kid sitting in front of Stefan to move, which he did immediately, because she compelled him, and then I was awkwardly taking that desk as my own. What else was I supposed to do? Go sit in one of the empty seats by the window? Yeah, I probably should've done that, but I didn't particularly want to be the center of attention for longer than I had to be.

While pulling out my notebook, I tried not to think about how I now had Rebekah to my left, Stefan behind me, and could feel the looks I was getting from Elena and Caroline as Stefan leaned forward to whisper, "Told you this was going to be fun."

Chapter Text

My only respite that day came unexpectedly. I was stealthily tracking Stefan, the looser canon of the evil duo, when my arm was grabbed, and I was pulled into a small alcove of the hall. "Hey, can we talk?"

Looking down the hall, so I could keep my eyes on Stefan, I distractedly answered, "Sorry, Jeremy . . . Now's not really - "

"Trust me. I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important." At his tone, I finally forced myself to look at him. Yeah, he wasn't happy with me.

"Jeremy - "

"Save it. I know what you did."

Taking a deep breath, I tried to remember what Damon had said to me about apologizing. "Uh huh . . . and was anyone's reaction to get mad at you just because you were wearing one of these when Damon killed you?" I raised my hand to show him my ring that matched his, and his shoulders dropped.

"I wasn't playing mind games with him and telling him to do it."

No, you were tried to protect your sister. I just had my feelings hurt. Remember not to apologize. "Uh, I didn't tell Bonnie to do it either. It wasn't even on the list of options I gave her . . . All I did was make her think I was taking her powers, and she reacted by killing me with said powers."

His head tilted to the side, like he was listening to someone, and then he looked at the empty space. "Yeah, I know Bonnie's being punished for . . . Being an innocent doesn't mean she was innocent. All it means is - Fine whatever." Turning his attention back on me, he said, "We have a problem."

So much for normal. I just don't think that's going to work out the way you want, Damon. I looked at the empty space next to Jeremy and gave a small wave. "Hi Anna." Glancing at Jeremy, I asked, "And what's the problem?"

"Vicki."

"Are you still seeing her?"

"Yes, but she doesn't know I can, and it's not me she's talking to now. It's Matt."

"Matt? That doesn't make any sense."

"He died the other night . . . in the pool. Bonnie brought him back using CPR."

"Even so, it's not like people who die and come back with CPR instead of magic can just start seeing dead people. Whatever was giving her a power boost before is still giving her one."

He looked down at his invisible girlfriend and sighed. "Anna says you should know that I heard Vicki say that the person helping her is a witch."

Ah. "Well, it makes sense. We already suspected that whatever was doing it was using dark magic, and a witch is the only thing I can think of that would have that kind of power."

"Yeah, but Anna also wants me to tell you what I heard Elena say to Caroline after I got back."

"Got back from where?"

He hesitated before getting a nudge from Anna and said, "Katherine took me. She and Damon needed Anna to find out where Mikael is. After Damon came back here, Katherine and I found Mikael. He's a vampire that hunts vampires. He was desiccated in a tomb and had all these chains on him. We couldn't wake him up, but I had to come back for school, so - "

"Katherine's there with him alone?"

Putting his hand out, he was quick to say, "She'll be fine."

I realized my hand had gone to my phone. She'd given me her number when they'd left the other night in case Klaus showed up in town and I couldn't get a hold of Damon. Why I felt the need to call her, I didn't know. I guess I may not trust her, but she was more of a sister to me than my real sister was. Oh, that was a bad thought. I hated it as soon as I thought it.

I mean, I knew she was always using people, and I did not trust her in the slightest. She was going to find a way to screw me over at some point more than she already had, and yet she's also the only reason that Damon found out I was in Chicago. I'm sure she'd had ulterior motives for that, but still. I thought of the picture she'd kept and wondered if I should burn it, so I didn't get roped in by her.

Seeing the agitated look that came over my face, Jeremy looked concerned, but decided to steer clear of that one. "Anyway, Vicki's ally on the Other Side is telling Vicki that she knows how to bring Vicki back, and I heard Vicki tell Matt that she needs his help. He's not a witch, but apparently it doesn't take one. He can do it himself."

I thought for a moment and said, "Maybe because he's a blood relative?"

Jeremy looked like he thought that made sense, and glanced down over his shoulder to listen to what Anna had to say about it. "Anna says that no matter how it's done, bringing a spirit back would upset the natural balance in a big way, and we should be worried about what Vicki has promised this witch in return."

Yeah, she made a valid point. "Anna's right . . . This witch isn't helping Vicki out of the kindness of her heart. If she's using dark magic, then she's not a particularly good witch. The fact that she can even use her magic in death, says she's powerful, but not powerful enough to do something she wants on her own. She needs someone on this side for the kind of magical power required to do whatever it is . . . And I'm guessing this witch is still hiding her presence from Anna?" Jeremy looked down at her and nodded. "Then either talk to Vicki or Matt . . . whichever one you think might listen. Matt's not going to want to pass up a chance to get his sister back, but I'm guessing Vicki's even more determined not to stay where she is if it's as lonely as Anna makes it seem. Loneliness leads to introspection, and from what I've heard, Vicki doesn't sound like the kind of girl who likes to think about her problems. She'd rather avoid them at all costs." I heard a bell ring and sighed. "I have to get to class . . . And Anna, I haven't forgotten about helping you find your Mom."

"She knows you've been busy."

I looked at the empty space where she now stood and nodded. "I have, but that's no excuse. I, uh . . . I'm not a fan, but I might know a witch or two that could help now that I've sort of screwed up Bonnie being able to use magic. We'll go with the plan we had. After school, you could maybe go with Jeremy to find something of your mother's, so the witch can use it to connect with her . . . maybe just don't bring up this dead witch on the other side to the witch I send you to . . . Living or dead, I'm guessing witches tend to stick with their own."

"She says thanks . . . and she won't tell a soul. She knows a little better than you how bad it would be."

I'd gone to leave, but stopped and looked at him. He shrugged. "She wants you to know, she's not a creep. After we got back, she heard what happened and went to check on you . . . And she can't speak for all dead folks, but she won't say a word to anyone including me."

My eyes widened slightly. She had heard Damon and I talking about Klaus. Jeremy laughed. "I'm going to have to mark this day down in my calendar. I'm guessing not many people have seen you surprised."

I turned around with a grumble, "None that are alive to tell the tale."

Catching up with me, he laughed again. "So does that mean only the dead can?"

It brought a genuine smile to my face. "Yeah, I suppose it does."

He opened his mouth to say something in response, but was cut off by a feminine voice down the hall. "Jeremy?" I looked over and there was Bonnie, but she wasn't looking at me. She was looking at him with betrayal in her eyes. Might as well have said, 'How could you?' before she turned and walked away from us, Jeremy quick on her trail. I felt bad, not just because of what I did to her, but also because it would appear that my cousin was off limits just like Caroline was. It was limiting my options.

What was I supposed to do? Hang out with the people they considered, 'bad guys?' Was that my place? No, I wouldn't let them make me believe I was worse than I was. I was somewhere in the middle with some 'bad guys' hating me, others that I'd never trust, but who liked me well enough, and one anti-hero who claimed to love me. The 'good guys' would continue to dislike me and think I was 'bad,' but not all of them did. I just couldn't be friends with the ones who didn't.

They already had lives. I was just starting mine. It wasn't right for me to bulldoze the relationships that were important to them and well established just so I had someone to talk to other than Damon . . . and it wasn't right for me to always rely on him. I was stronger than that. And it wasn't right to put that responsibility on his shoulders either . . . I'd just go back to being used to a lot of alone time.

Alone time that I really quite enjoyed in the band class I had next and alone time that I was planning on enjoying at lunch. I'd found a tree to sit under. It shielded me from the sun. If I sat back against it, the trunk was thick enough to protect my back. If I faced away from the school, you couldn't see me unless you walked past. It was pretty ideal until it wasn't. Without having to look, I knew who'd walked up behind me to the right. Being alone doesn't mean not being aware of your surroundings. In fact, you're more likely to be aware of everything going on around you. "Stefan."

Sitting next to me, Stefan asked, "Where'd you go? Here I've been waiting for my little buddy to drive a stake in my back . . . even dropped a body I was sure you'd find, but nothing."

I sighed before looking at him and trying to determine if he was being honest about the dead body . . . probably. Whoever it was is probably just as dead as the people that'd been compelled to kidnap me in Chicago. I'd thought about it during my last class. I was about 50/50 on it, because Elena had been there. Damon wouldn't have wanted to kill them if it messed with her beliefs that he could be all that she thought he could be, but they were compelled to kill me, and they wouldn't stop until that task was complete . . . maybe he just knocked them out, but when they woke up they still would've been compelled.

Maybe they were still wandering around Chicago looking for me. They'd drop out of college or lose their jobs. Eventually, they'd become one of the other homeless people wandering around the city, but with one thing on their mind. 'Must kill Eve Gilbert'. Years from now, they might still be searching. Death would be better than that, so I sort of hoped Damon killed them, because there's no way that Rebekah would undo her compulsion now. Did I feel guilty about any of it? Not one bit. It may have been for me, but I didn't do it.

Stefan waved his hand in front of my face and asked, "Are you ignoring me now?"

"Nope. To ignore you would mean that I care enough to ignore you . . . I don't. I'm just thinking."

He grinned, like my remarks breathed some life back into him. It was much more fun for him if he got some kind of annoyed response from me. It was something I could use. If he was getting what he needed to keep himself entertained by bothering me, he wasn't going to Elena or anyone else to get his jollies. "You can play at not caring all you want. I know I have you beat."

"Mm . . . why because you have a nifty switch to do the hard work for you? Not so easy to flip it back though, is it? Wanna see how mine works?" I lifted my finger, like I was flicking a light switch and said, "On, off, on, off . . . On. You don't want to be anywhere near me when it's really off."

Bopping me on the nose again with his finger, he said, "If I were anyone else, maybe, but I know your weakness."

"What's that?"

He smiled. "My brother. You won't kill me because of him."

No point in denying it. He wouldn't be sitting here if that weren't true. "True. There are lots of ways I could hurt you without killing you though. I'm sure he'd understand."

"Cute . . . How's your first day going?"

Again, I appraised him. He didn't really want to know beyond that it was a shitty day. That's what would make him happy in as much as he could be happy . . . amused was really the only way to describe it - instant gratification, not true happiness. His emotions may not be working, but his mind was. I bit my bottom lip, while my eyes narrowed in thought. Leaning closer, I asked, "What do you know about witches?"

He waved his hand in boredom. "I'm tired of hearing about Bonnie."

"It's not Bonnie . . . It's Vicki."

"Vicki's dead."

"Yeah, but she's still a problem."

That almost got his attention, but I'd need to sweeten the deal to get him truly interested. "How?"

"When Matt died in the pool, he came back being able to see her."

He tongued the inside of his cheek, while his brow furrowed in thought. "That shouldn't happen."

Sitting closer, I nodded. "I know . . . She's getting help from a witch on the other side to boost her power, and this witch is telling Vicki that she can come back if she has help on our side, which Matt is totally going to want to do."

"Why should I care?"

I smiled at successfully baiting his interest. "Why did Matt die in the first place?" Stefan was there. I wasn't. Neither were Jeremy or Anna, and it seemed like there was a piece of the puzzle I was missing.

"To get answers from the great beyond."

I rolled my eyes. "You're going to have to do better than that."

"I don't know. Klaus told Bonnie to figure out how to make his hybrid. Matt came back with the answer." His brow creased again. "Or the opposite of the answer . . . He said to make hybrids, Klaus had to kill the doppelganger."

"I'm guessing Vicki gave him the message." Stefan didn't immediately say anything, and I said more to myself than him, "It's not important if you don't know. I'm going to assume that since Matt's seeing Vicki now, he saw her then, and how would she know the answer about hybrids if she wasn't getting it from - "

Rolling through his memories, Stefan said, "The Original Witch . . . that's what I heard. I don't know who said it, but I definitely remember hearing somebody say it."

Original Witch? Who the hell was that? She was dead. She'd had her chance. She needed to stop trying to fuck up this side of the divide. I'd figure that out later. "So, why you should care is that if this same Original Witch is still getting involved through Vicki, and if Vicki wants to come back - "

"I should kill Matt to keep that from happening, so it doesn't become my problem." Patting me on the shoulder, he smirked as he got to his feet. "Great. Thanks for the help, little buddy."

Unable to stop him by stabbing him in the foot or knee, pretty much anywhere around all these people, I quickly lunged forward to wrap my arms around his leg. He looked down at me with another amused grin. "You keep this up, Evie, and people will start to talk."

I frowned up at him. "I told you not to call me that . . . and you can't kill Matt."

"And why not? If the only person who can see Vicki dies, then it's problem solved."

Wow. So glad I didn't tell him about Jeremy now. "Not necessarily . . . people die every day in hospitals and then come back. If she has as much power backing her as she seems to have, Vicki will just latch onto one of those people and scare them or annoy them into doing what she wants. You're supposed to be doing whatever Klaus compelled you to do. How are you going to do that and monitor everyone who dies and then comes back in every hospital in a 50 mile radius . . . maybe further? We know who Vicki's talking to at the moment, so it's contained. The second you kill him, it won't be."

Crouching down to look at me, he asked, "So, what do you propose I do?"

"See if Rebekah knows anything about this Original Witch and keep an eye on Matt. Prevent him from doing anything stupid."

"I can't watch Matt and Elena."

I rolled my eyes. "I'll watch Elena. You watch the threat, which isn't Matt, but Vicki. You can hear what Matt's saying a hell of a lot better than I can. You can figure out what she's saying to him when he thinks nobody is around."

"Or I could lock him up and throw away the key."

He could do that except Vicki would just go to Jeremy and tell him what happened. Jeremy would then find a way to save Matt, and then he'd be in Stefan's line of fire. I had to talk Stefan out of that by using this flipped switch against him. "I don't know . . . You don't want him dead, because Vicki would just go to someone else. That means you could throw away the key, but you'd still have to feed him and give him water . . . basically take care of him all on your lonesome."

"You'll do it."

Like hell I will. Do a better job of convincing him, Eve. Sounding demure, I said, "I can barely take care of myself, and you trust me to do it? I'll forget, and he'll die . . . If you lock him up, he'll be your responsibility."

"I'll remind you."

"Then it's basically like you're still taking care of him, because you'll have to think about him enough to remind me."

He growled in frustration. "Why'd you tell me any of this at all?"

Because now you'll be preoccupied with this and won't keep trying to intimidate or annoy everyone here. Maybe even save some lives? I shrugged before letting him go and getting to my feet. "Just trying to help."

Grabbing my arm to stop me from walking around him, he growled, "I don't believe that for a second."

I smirked before poking him in the chest with my finger. "See, you're smarter than Rebekah gives you credit for being." Stepping away from him, I smiled again when he followed me asking, "What's she been saying?"

"She doesn't have to say a thing. It's obvious she doesn't think you're up to the job of protecting Elena. Why else would she have come to school when looking out for Elena is supposed to be your job?" Or so he told Damon. I was seriously starting to question that with as much time as he spent annoying me.

"I know what you're doing." Setting Mothra loose on Godzilla? Winding you up in knots? Giving you a taste of your own medicine? "Divide and conquer won't work."

"That's adorable. You actually think she's on your side . . . your ally? She is so much stronger than you. She doesn't need allies. The second she gets tired of this new and improved Stefan, she'll put you down . . . Klaus doesn't care about you. All he needs is somebody to watch Elena. I'm pretty sure Rebekah can do that on her own, or I can."

"Where are you going?"

"Class."

"Which one?"

"Why?"

"Because I'm coming too, since I'm not leaving you out of my sight, and you have no idea where you're going."

"You're not leaving me out of your sight, huh?"

"Nope. See, I think you're - "

I stopped and abruptly turned to look at him. "I'm what?"

He met my look head on with an intensity that would've had anyone else concerned for their well-being. "Tricky."

I smiled. "Is that the best you can do? Maybe you're not smarter than she thinks . . . Let me know when you come up with something better."

I winked before turning away from him, and quickly found myself pushed up against a locker for the second time today. I held my breath when I met his eyes. Was that anger, like a genuine flash of anger? It made me feel hope rather than fear. "A manipulative bitch? Channeling your inner Katherine? Take your pick."

I had to keep needling him. I brought my hand up between us and lifted three of my fingers. Dropping the ring finger, I said, "Dead witch." Dropping my forefinger, I said, "Elena," and smiled at the middle finger still sticking up at him. "Or me . . . you pick."

I went to duck under his arm, and he grabbed me by the back of my jacket to pull me back in front of him. "I'm willing to bet there is no dead witch, and Rebekah can watch Elena. I think it's more important to know what you're planning."

Did Klaus tell you to protect me without letting anyone know, so I can protect Elena? Did our little death match make him reconsider having you do it? My eyes widened in mock-delight as I said, "Shirking your responsibilities . . . what's that going to do to the electric dog collar, Klaus has implanted in your brain? Are you going to short-circuit? Or are you supposed to be watching someone else?" He didn't immediately answer that, and I smirked. "Maybe he'll just kill you after he finds out you're not very good at keeping secrets even after you've been compelled to keep them . . . Why not save him the trouble?"

The stake I had up my sleeve pierced into the tenderest part of his side, and he lunged forward before slamming his hand against the locker next to my head so hard it dented beyond repair. He'd murder me if he could. If Klaus hadn't compelled him to protect me, then I was fairly certain he'd compelled him not to kill me and possibly to keep an eye on me to keep me from doing anything foolish. The frustration of wanting to kill me but being unable to do it might make it easier to get Stefan angry enough to flip that switch back.

"Is everything okay here . . . Eve?"

I recognized the voice and immediately backed down. She was standing back a bit, and I'm sure she meant well, but he could kill her faster than I could stop him. Pulling the stake out of his side and making sure it was once again hidden in my sleeve, I nodded without taking my eyes off of Stefan. "Fine, Caroline. We were just having a little chat . . . discussing the pros and cons of him taking Physics . . . He's still undecided."

He shook his head, the same intense 'I'm going to kill you,' look on his face as he replied, "Not so undecided." He flashed me a smile he didn't mean before saying, "I believe that's my next class," as he threw his arm around my shoulders in a way that almost felt like a headlock as he dragged me in the other direction. Muttering just loud enough for me to hear, he said, "You stake me again, and I'll kill the nearest person to us." And why not me? Yeah, I was starting to seriously believe Klaus had compelled him not to kill me.

"Maybe I'll just use you to start killing people I don't like. Use the stake as a button to make you do my bidding, like the good little minion you are."

I heard him growl and smirked. If Elena couldn't get through with love, I was beginning to think I might be able to do it with hate.

Chapter Text

I walked into the bathroom to take a 2-minute break from Stefan. Minding him was beginning to feel like a full-time job. It certainly made today feel a lot slower. I splashed some water on my hands to wash away his blood from when I'd stabbed him before my last class and rolled up my sleeves to splash more on my forearms and neck, so I could use the cool water to try and calm me down. As infuriating as I was being to him, he was being the same to me, which made me being level headed that much harder to maintain for long periods of time. I needed a clear mind and not to be ruled by emotions if I was going to get through this intact, and that was on top of the actual stresses involved with sitting in regimented classes and trying learn, while surrounded by people I didn't know.

Resting my palms flat on the counter in front of me, I closed my eyes and forced myself to take calm slow breathes until I could get my heartbeat back under control. I heard the door open and thought nothing of it. The hair on the back of my neck didn't stand on end, which meant a vampire wasn't present. Stefan might be waiting out there for me to come out, but he hadn't sent Rebekah in here after me. I had no idea where she was. One problem at a time. One more class to go. Then you're hanging out in your room all night to decompress.

I reached forward to grab a paper towel, so I could dry myself and looked in the mirror to find three faces I didn't want to see behind me. Well, fuck. Instincts, you're letting me down . . . Not really. She may be a vampire, but you clearly don't think she's a threat . . . uh, the witch standing next to her tried to kill me . . . But she's not exactly a threat anymore is she? Bonnie might have been glaring daggers at me, but Caroline stood in the middle, arms crossed, like she was about to give me a lecture, so that's where my focus went, and she took it as her cue to speak. "What's going on, Eve?"

Using the paper towel to dry my forearms, I shrugged a shoulder, while saying, "Taking a breather. Is that so unusual?"

Her arms unfolded. "It is for you. Why are you acting so weird?"

Balling the paper towel up and throwing it in the trash without having to look to know I made it, I turned to look at her. "I'm gonna need more than that . . . How exactly am I - "

"You're ignoring me for one."

"I'm not ignoring you. I've spoken to you both times that you've spoken to me."

"Fine, then you're avoiding me. I've hardly seen you today."

I gave her a cool response. "Why would I avoid you? You're not a friend. You're not an enemy. I'm just getting on with my day."

She stomped her foot in annoyance. "Stop it! Why is it so hard for you to just behave? I haven't done anything to you, so - "

"Nope."

She immediately deflated. "I haven't?"

I shook my head. The fact that she thought she had made me a little sad. Didn't she remember the other night at all, or had she thought I was kidding about not being her friend anymore? "No . . . So, are we done here, or - "

I went to leave, and Elena stepped forward. "Why did you bring Stefan and Rebekah to school this morning?"

Exhaling a humorless laugh, I shook my head, while reaching for the door. "Like I had much of choice."

"If you hate it so much, then why have you been with one or both of them all day?" At the tone of her voice, I turned to look back at her, and yeah, Elena was angry about something.

I smirked before turning on a tap to muffle our conversation from prying ears outside the door and told her the truth. "It's all part of their diabolical plan to make my life a living Hell."

"And that plan includes lots of touching, does it?"

I started to answer without thinking. "Yeah, it seems to - " Wait a second. She wasn't talking about Rebekah in the slightest. She was jealous. "Are you freaking kidding me?" Stepping towards her, I pointed back towards the door while loudly whispering so he wouldn't hear. "If you think you can handle it, be me guest. Take him off my hands. You'd be doing me a huge fucking favor if you did."

Putting her hand on Elena's shoulder, Caroline said, "See, I told you something was wrong. I saw them fighting. It's like she's his prisoner."

Almost ignoring it, like a little detective that wanted something confirmed, Elena said, "Or he's hers."

I wasn't offended by it. She really seemed to be on a fact finding mission rather than a crusade where she thought she already had the answers. She was pushing me the way I pushed other people to find out what I wanted. Lifting a shoulder, I answered honestly. "If he's focused on me, he'll leave everyone else alone . . . I think he might've killed someone earlier to antagonize me when he couldn't find me during band. He's like a murdering toddler right now. You have to keep him occupied at all times, or there will be a lot of death and destruction."

"And you live with him."

Again, not an accusation. Almost a question of if I was going to be all right. It caught me slightly off guard. "Damon's making sure he can't get in my room . . . Good thing too. He's a complete slob now. He left 2 bodies and 4 bloody girls for Damon to clean up this morning, because he was bored last night."

"That's not funny."

"I didn't say it was."

She took a shaky breath as her eyes floated over my shoulder to look at the door. "He really did that?"

"Did he really bite you?" Her eyes came back to me, and she unwrapped the scarf for me to see the bite marks before quickly covering back up. "You're scared of him now." It was a statement on my part, and she didn't answer, but her eyes said, 'yes.' I gave her a nod to let her know I understood. "Then let me handle it . . . I'm working on flipping his switch. He still won't be him . . . more like the dick you met in Chicago, but the Stefan you know will be more accessible, which is a start."

"I can't ask you to do that."

"Can't ask me not do it either. I - "

"Let her do what she wants . . . She's getting what she deserves, and this is just the start. Karma is a bitch."

My eyes went to Bonnie, and my demeanor immediately went from older sister to antagonistic. "Karma for what?" Her eyes gleamed in unshed tears of rage. Stepping to the right of Elena, so I could stand toe-to-toe with Bonnie, I asked, "Karma for what?" again with the barely controlled anger I'd come in here to get away from for a little while. I'd had enough of all of this. I could take just about anything people threw at me up to a point. I'd had to learn to do that with my parents, but all that meant is that I'd developed poor coping techniques. I kept it all bottled up inside me with no outlet other than killing monsters to let it out. Sure, playing the piano helped calm that beast, but it never really made it go away, and I couldn't exactly kill anyone in this bathroom even though I'd reached my breaking point, so I finally let loose on everything I'd been thinking to the people who deserved it the most.

"Karma for nobody in this room telling me that Klaus was here? Karma for getting to the school just in time to see them carry Elena out the door? Karma for thinking she was dead? Karma for letting Klaus know that I know his family's greatest weakness just so I could show him how serious I was about getting her body back? Karma - "

"Why so you could burn it, like trash?"

"Bonnie, it is taking everything I have not to kill you right now, so shut your damn mouth and listen."

"I don't know who you think you are, but - "

"Bonnie, please." Bonnie and I looked in Elena's direction, and she turned her attention on me. "You wanted to bury me next to my parents, didn't you?" I wasn't quite expecting that or really know how she came to that conclusion, but I nodded, and she said, "That's what you did for John . . . gave him what he wanted?" She looked at Caroline instead of me, like Caroline, who'd stayed for the entire funeral, had told her that, and Caroline nodded. When Elena looked back at me, she asked, "Why were you fighting Stefan?"

"It was a penalty for letting Klaus know the Original family's secret. Klaus said if I beat him, I could have my car back, and we'd discuss me coming with him to protect you."

"Is that when you found out I was alive?"

"Uh, no I found that out when I was trying to convince him that I hadn't just killed his sister . . . I didn't really know if I had. It was an experiment that worked, but I didn't know how well. I just sort of thought that if the daggers didn't work permanently than this wouldn't."

Her eyes widened as she exclaimed, "You're an idiot, you know that?"

"Uh . . . not really. It worked, so - "

"You could've killed his sister over what you thought was a dead body, and if you had, then he would've killed you and everyone else in this town."

"Nah, probably just me, Damon and Caroline. He knows I hate everyone else in this town."

"Eve!"

I sighed before looking at Caroline. "What?"

"You're not helping your case."

"And what case is that? Why do I have to defend myself for anything? Just because this is my first day of school, doesn't mean I'm an idiot. I'm smart . . . I had a good idea of what that dart would do when I shot her, and I was right . . . I talked him down. It was fine."

"Except with how angry he was at Stefan for lying to him, he decided having you two fight it out would take care of both his problems, and you were more than happy to play your part."

Looking at Bonnie I wondered why she was even here as I responded to what she'd said, "And Stefan wasn't?"

"He didn't have a choice. He has to do whatever Klaus tells him to do."

My shoulders dropped as I looked at Elena. She really didn't understand how this whole vampire thing worked at all, did she? "Actually it was his idea. Klaus didn't want to kill me. He was thinking of ways to get around it. Stefan said to stop wasting time, and he'd do it. It's Klaus that gave me a fighting chance by turning it into a competition and telling me Stefan had been compelled to flip his switch, so I could account for that."

"No, Stefan wouldn't - "

I cut her off with an incredulous look. "Of course he would. Did you know that Stefan's called the The Ripper of Monterey?" She was hesitant to respond, so either she knew and didn't really know what that meant or had no idea, so I spelled it out for her. "That may not mean anything to you, but I grew up with stories about him and had no idea he was the guy I live with until the other night . . . Do you know why he's a legend? Because he slaughtered an entire migrant village that was about the size of Mystic Falls. I'm talking men, women, children . . . every last one of them. And he did it in one night." Looking at Bonnie, I said, "That is the monster you protected . . . It's who you'd rather see live than me . . . One bite is fine if you know how to take it. Two? Well, that's why you never let them bite you more than once . . . He was in a bad position, or that's what would have killed me, and I had to beat him. He needs to believe I can keep him in check, or he will run around thinking this town - this world - is his personal playground."

Looking at the three of them with a sigh, I shook my head and said, " There is so much more to this than any of you think . . . You're new at this. I'm not. Just because you're good doesn't mean you're always right." Turning my attention back on Bonnie, because I was still annoyed with her, I added, "So, yeah I'd say Karma is a bitch, but it's not me she's after right now . . . That Ripper out there in the hall . . . The Original Blonde that's his co-pilot . . . Klaus . . . This Mikael who is on his way to Mystic Falls . . . The Original dead witch that's helping Vicki convince Matt to bring her back, so she can do god knows what . . . Dealing with all of that is not my punishment for anything you chose to do to me with your powers . . . It's my life, my job, my responsibility. Nobody has to ask me to do it, and I don't have to like who I'm helping to do the right thing . . . I do it willingly because given my knowledge and talents, it would be wrong if I didn't . . . People would die. To do what needs to be done, I'm not good, and I never claimed to be . . . but I'm not all bad either." Looking at the other two, I said, "Now if you don't mind, I have to get back to my stalker, because if I don't, he's going to get bored, and right now, his humanity is what I'm concerned with saving . . . It'll save more lives in the long run."

I turned to leave, and Bonnie said, "You're such a hypocrite." I stopped without looking at her, and she said, "You punished me for saving his life? If you think he's so bad, you should've killed him, but you didn't because of Damon."

Still not looking at her, I said, "I didn't punish you for saving his life. I punished you because you chose his life over mine, and I didn't do anything wrong, so what does that say about you? And I am a hypocrite when it comes to who I do and do not kill, but I can own it. I know I'm not perfect . . . I could rationalize it and say that with Originals running around, hybrids being made as we speak, and all the rest, we need someone like him on our side . . . I could say that if he died, Damon would flip his switch, rip this town apart, and I wouldn't be able to do what was necessary to stop him . . . I - "

I stopped when she came around me to block me from getting to the door. "And why not? I mean he's a vampire. He's killed a lot of people too . . . the right thing would be to kill him, so why haven't you?"

"Right . . . So, next, I guess you'll say I should have killed my Mom too . . . Shouldn't have cried when she died? Shouldn't have cared when Rose was suffering an excruciating death?" Leaning closer to her, I said, "Humanity, Bonnie . . . Somehow, I've retained mine . . . You may not know this, but vampire hunters are as bad as the things they hunt. They take innocent people, carve them up, and leave them as bait. They think it's fun to prolong the hunt as long as possible to scare their prey, and yes, vampires do get scared . . . I've scared them myself. They're just like humans, except you can kill them and get by with it, because they're classed as monsters . . . Most vampire hunters get a high out of torture and draw out the deaths in order to find their next victim. Everything to them is black and white. There are no shades of gray. Vampire hunters kill their brothers, sisters, parents, lovers, anyone around them that turns. If I were like them, nobody in this room would still be alive . . . doppelganger whose blood can create hybrids, vampire, witch . . . and then of course, there's Stefan, Damon, Tyler . . . the list goes on. It's never ending, because there's always another monster and another excuse to kill in the name of what's right when it's really just masking pure hate. And Damon . . . he knows this. He knows it's not what would be best for me . . . He doesn't want me to become a human monster, and it's not an easy balancing act that I have to maintain, so yes, it may make me a hypocrite, but I'll take that over the alternative . . . and you really need to stop focusing on me and start thinking about what you did and why it is you've lost your powers, or you'll never get them back."

She took half a step back. "I can get them back?"

I bit the inside of my cheek before giving her a single nod. "Yep."

"How?"

"I thought I just said that. Stop focusing out and start focusing in."

"She didn't mean for it to sound like that." I rolled my eyes at Caroline's remark without letting her see. Pretty sure I did mean for it to sound the way it had.

Looking at Bonnie, I said, "You still have no idea what you really did, do you?"

"You shot me, and I had to defend myself from - "

Stepping closer to her, and looking more confused than angry, because how did she not understand this, I stated the obvious. "Bonnie, you killed me." It very much sounded like I was scolding her as I said, "I told you not to lose your temper. Your emotions for me got the better of you . . . You don't deserve your powers if that's what you do with them."

"No, I thought - "

"Bonnie, it's not up to me, but I do know that until you do some serious soul searching, no powers for you." Reaching for the door again, I asked, "Are we done?" and she stepped aside.

I stopped with a sigh once more when I heard Elena say, "Wait."

"You won't kill Stefan?" Looking back at her, I shook my head. "And Rebekah?"

"One problem at a time."

"Let us help."

"With what?"

She rolled her eyes in a way that was identical to the way I did it. "Bonnie will help with whatever you were talking about with Matt; Caroline will deal with Tyler, and I will help with Stefan. We'll deal with Rebekah after that. . . . and Klaus and Mikael . . . one problem at a time." I opened my mouth, and she cut me off. "I'm not taking no for an answer. You either let us help, or we'll do it without you."

And get themselves killed? I don't think so. Ugh, did this mean I was going to have to start taking a more active role in babysitting them? Well, that was annoying. They were going to get in my way, weren't they? Of course they were, and I'd have to constantly defend whatever choices I made. Rolling my eyes, I grumbled, "Figure out somewhere to meet, and I'll find a way to sneak out. It won't do any good to discuss it at the Boarding House. We'll have two sets of nosey ears eavesdropping on everything."

"And you'll bring Damon?"

"Fine. Are we good? Done?"

I looked at all of them and turned around in a huff before finally pulling the door open and walking right into Stefan, who gave Elena a pointed look, as he threw his arm around my shoulders and lead me down the hall. "What took so long?"

"Oh you know tedious high school conversations . . . my idea of Hell."

Chapter Text

"How much longer is this going to take?"

I fixed a glare on Stefan, while wiping the dirt from my hands onto my jeans, so I could get a tighter grip on the tire iron. "It's like you don't understand the concept of 1 + 1 = 2." He didn't understand my point, and my eyebrows arched in annoyance. "Helping me change the tire would go a hell of a lot faster."

His hand flicked in a half-hearted attempt to wave that off as he continued to lean back against my car, like he thought he was a goddamn model who didn't have to do manual work, and looked away from me saying, "Nah, I don't want to do that."

"Well, then you're going to have to wait." I'd come out of the school to find all 4 tires on my car slashed and had to walk to the nearest garage to buy 4 new ones, which was expensive and annoying and took time, and I knew exactly who did it, or more precisely, who was behind it. The same person responsible for 'Slut,' now being scratched in the hood and doors of my car. Of course she hadn't done it herself, but she didn't even need to compel anyone to do this. It certainly fit with those rumors that had begun circulating in the last couple of days about how Elena really hated me because I crashed her Dad's funeral by stealing her boyfriend. After that, the rumors had started taking on an even darker tone. Rebekah had been busy even though I hadn't seen her much. . . Guess she was right about not needing to be anywhere near someone to make their life hell, and Stefan's plan was working, because the two of them were writing their own narrative, not that I think he even cared about that anymore. That was Monday. Today was Friday. He was all about the now. "Or you know, you could walk home."

"I'd rather not."

Finally, tightening the last lug nut, I stood and made my way around to the trunk asking, "Why is that?"

I wiped my hands on the bloody towel I had back there, thinking that I'd have to do something about the paint tomorrow and maybe talk to Damon about signing a lease over to me for the garage too, so I could keep my car somewhere the other two couldn't go. Once I did that, she was staying put. I think it might be better to walk to school for now. I wasn't going to let this happen again, but I wasn't going to let this get me down either.

Honestly, aside from what happened to my car today, things were sort of going to plan. Damon finally figured out what was wrong with Tyler, and Caroline was dealing with him being sired bonded to Klaus. Sheriff Forbes had finally gotten the Founders Council to approve putting vervain in the town's water supply without telling them there was an Original here or even that there were vampires in Mystic Falls. All she'd had to do was tell them it would make a good deterrent for any vampires considering moving into the area. That meant Damon, Stefan, Caroline, and Tyler's secret was safe, and it meant that Stefan and Rebekah couldn't just compel random people to do their bidding, which ultimately meant that they had to do their own dirty work.

Stefan's attention was on me at school and Damon at home. Rebekah's attention was on Caroline or Tyler. Bonnie was free to go with Jeremy to talk to Imelda, the witch I'd set them up with and were on the Matt/Vicki/Anna problems. Divide and conquer had to work tonight, because tonight we were finally doing something about Stefan, and that's where Elena came into it.

She'd been stressed out all week. Every time Stefan was around her, she looked like she might break, because he was a complete and utter dick to her. Tonight was her big night. I was her back up. I really couldn't afford to be late, not that anything would get started until I apparently chauffeured Stefan there.

I walked around to the driver's side door, got in before he did, and pulled my door closed before looking at him as he slid into the passenger seat. "Well? Are you finally going to admit that Klaus compelled you to watch me, or are we going to continue this charade where you pretend like you're always around because bothering me is amusing for you?"

He threw me a short look, but his mind was somewhere else. "Are you going to tell me what you're planning?"

Of course, Elena wouldn't be needed tonight if I could just get him to flip his switch on my own. I know Klaus compelled him to turn it off, but he'd only said to turn it off, not to keep it off, so Stefan should be able to flip it back. There were times I'd thought I'd been close. I just wasn't sure. Putting my keys in the ignition, I ignored his question by saying, "I can't imagine how humiliating it must be for you to have to protect me considering how many times I've owned you . . . but I guess humility is something you could stand to learn. You don't even have to feel it . . . just learn that pretending you have it is a good way to survive."

"Hey, anytime you think you're up for a rematch."

"Nah, I've confronted you in all your iterations. You're boring now."

Leaning towards me, he smirked. "Or you know the next time I'll win."

"Nope. I've moved onto bigger and better things."

Narrowing his eyes in thought, he said, "You'll never beat Klaus."

"Not Klaus."

"Rebekah?"

"Nah, I'm thinking of putting her into your category. Nothing to prove there."

He sat back and observed me on the drive home, and it wasn't until we were pulling up to the Boarding House that he said, "Mikael?" I didn't answer and simply put my car into park before opening my door and getting out. He was next to me a second later on the way into the house. "You do realize that going after Mikael helps Klaus, right?" Yeah, I did, but Mikael was a vampire that hunted other vampires, and from what I'd gotten from Anna through Jeremy, I knew he was really old, like possibly as old as the Originals themselves. He was the worst of both worlds, vampire hunter and vampire. The vampires I knew didn't stand a chance against something like that. Katherine still wasn't answering her phone, and that told me all I needed to know about Mikael.

Walking through the door behind me, Stefan, still looking for a definite answer said, "You think that taking down the thing that scares Klaus is better than going after Klaus . . . So, what are you just gonna skip right over that rung in the ladder?" You know, vampires weren't invulnerable. I was beginning to think that sometimes even they needed to be protected from time to time. Protect the people who needed it from a worse threat than Klaus, and ingratiate myself more to Klaus, so I could negotiate Elena staying here under my protection? I smiled before looking at him. "Something like that." Heading to my room, I added, "Go get changed. Wouldn't want to show up at the bonfire wearing the same thing you wore to school today . . . how could you ever live with the embarrassment of that faux pas? Make it snappy. I want to be out of here before the She-Devil comes back and expects a lift."

I really only needed to grab a few weapons from my room, and then I was ready. Jeremy was going with Bonnie and Matt. Caroline was going with Elena and Tyler. Damon was making his own way there. When I got to the foyer, there was still no sign of Stefan, and I entertained myself by flicking my dagger up and making it stick in the ceiling. Taking a few steps back, I then rushed forward to try jumping high enough to grab it. I saw the volleyball team doing something like this when I was going to get tires for my car. Of course, they did it without the dagger, but I wondered if it was potentially a sport I could do that wasn't cheerleading.

My frustration grew as my attempts at reacquiring my dagger failed. It's not like the ceilings in the hall were all that high. They weren't cathedral ceilings or anything, but they were higher than that stupid net had been, and they were high enough that I couldn't reach the dagger through conventional means and had to resort to sprinting at one of the beams in the wall, so I could spring off of it with my foot and propel myself towards the knife . . . got it one. Not bad, but then when it came to hunting I did that move to varying degrees quite a lot to jump over things, like walls, or onto things, like the roofs of houses. I really enjoyed it. I doubted very much that Mystic Falls had a parkour club. Maybe I should start one. I suspect Tyler would join. Who else? I went to throw the dagger up there again, but immediately stopped when I heard a voice at the top of the stairs ask, "What are you doing?"

"I, uh, " Hiding the dagger behind my back, I answered, "Seeing if I could be a volleyball player? I think I've decided to start a parkour club instead."

Licking his bottom lip before taking a deep breath, Stefan paused a beat before bounding down the stairs, and my eyes narrowed in suspicion for probably the 100th time this week. Was he trying not to laugh? Every move he made had me wondering if he was close to flipping his switch or already had. It was so hard to tell. Flipped or not, he was a dick to me either way. "One person, does not a club make, and if you start it nobody would join."

"Tyler might."

"No club you start is going to tear him away from football." Looking at my attire as he got to the bottom step, he said, "Why'd you tell me to get changed if you weren't going to do it? I mean, come on, Eve, you're wearing the same clothes you wore to change your tires . . . Would it kill you to put in a little effort? You're going to make me look bad."

Uh, the easiest way for me to make sure people knew I was me and not Elena in the dark was to wear the same thing I'd worn to school. My eyebrows rose as I turned away from him and headed to the door saying, "Like you care what anyone thinks of you. Come on, Grandpa . . . Let's get you to your bonfire with all the teenagers. You know, if I wanted to put in even the slightest bit of effort, I would have locked you in an old folks home on Sunday, because you have really been cramping my style at school all week."

Following me out the door, he said, "What are you talking about? I'm like the coolest kid in that high school."

"Sure you are . . . in the made up little fantasy world of Stefan. Little tip . . . nobody who calls themselves cool actually is."

"Like you'd know."

"What I know is that nobody likes being around you. You're like the smelly kid in class everyone tries not to sit by, and if anyone does have the misfortune of having to talk to you, they try to get away from you as fast as possible. That's not cool."

I was expecting a retort and got none. When I looked at him, he was covering his face with his hand. Was he trying to hide frustration or trying not to laugh? Maybe he was just coming to the decision he made. "I'm driving." Brushing the episode off, like it was nothing, and making my doubts overcome my hope, he looked at my car and then the garage before saying, "I'm not riding in the slut-mobile," and veered off in the direction of the garage. Were we taking the Porche? Nope. Guess it only made sense. This party was in the middle of the woods, which really only left his motorcycle, but how the hell was I supposed to get him to rehab on that if our plan worked? Well, this should be interesting.

Chapter Text

I rested against a tree on the outskirts of the party, watching, like some older sister unhappy that she had to chaperone. Was this supposed to be fun? With the fire and crappy music, it felt a little like a modern day, knock-off of some pagan ritual, or a debauchery celebration given up like an offering to Dionysus. Drunk kids were falling around the place, and being caught by their slightly more sober friends when they got a little too close to the fire. Others were making out or doing drugs.

My Dad was right. I am more of a one-on-one kind of person. My campfire with Damon was miles more fun in my opinion . . . although this did provide me with an opportunity to study my peers from a closer perspective than through the lenses of binoculars or sitting next to them in class. There may be a large gathering here, but they were broken off into groups. Some groups were bigger than others. The larger groups of 7 or 8 seemed to have one or two people who had the attention of everyone else. I could never be those people. I could never be the person in the middle with all the attention, but I could never be one of the people who stood around them either . . . not a leader and not a follower, I guess.

I glanced at the smaller groups of 4 to 5 people. Their dynamics seemed similar to the larger groups, but they had fewer people hoping to be desperately noticed by one of the more popular people. They were more intimate, more devoted to one another than the kids in the larger groups. The groups of two or 3 seemed to be even more genuine in their interactions. Sometimes the smaller groups converged with other small groups and became big groups and the big groups broke apart and became smaller. The ebb and flow of their social interactions was fascinating.

Then there were the couples that were obvious couples. Some were holding hands or boys had their arms around the waists or shoulders of their partners, while they talked about something with their friends, like the partners were just an extension of them . . . maybe like they were trying to stake their claim in the case of a few of them. Some couples were isolated and kissing in the dark just beyond the light from the blaze, and the one thing I strongly suspected about all of them was that their ebb and flow was quite similar to the patterns I'd noticed with the groups. The couples would eventually break apart and join in another pairing, like it was the most natural thing in the world, and really it was, because they were all so young.

I say 'they' but 'they' were more or less my age. Once again, I felt much older . . . and different. I had no desire to participate in the societal dances they didn't even realize they were doing. I was a lone wolf, and I certainly wasn't a lone wolf that did it for appearances sake. It's just something that was. Call it programming or an unintended side-effect of my upbringing. Either way, I was wired differently than these people. It didn't mean that I wanted to be alone. I just didn't belong with any of them.

I glanced at Damon across the fire. He was a lone-wolf for sure. He'd only had one real friend in 150 years, and he'd essentially had to be locked up in a cage next to the guy for 5 years for them to become friends. Other than that, everyone in his life had been a momentary amusement to fill his time. He'd been stuck in the past in the times he'd had with Katherine and in the future he'd hoped they'd have together, which meant he'd missed out on what was present. That also meant that this whole working together in a team was new to him too. I honestly didn't know if we'd be able to work as part of the team this time, let alone for every new threat we faced, the way Elena was suggesting, but I guess we had to try or she and her friends would get themselves into trouble they couldn't handle. Fair enough that they were brave enough to want to fight back, but they were really only just starting out. I didn't have the patience necessary to wait for them to catch up, not that they necessarily would.

It was times like this that I wondered how my father had done it. He'd started training me from an early age. I mean before I could skip, I was learning how to hold a stake. Before I could ride a bike, I knew how to use a crossbow. Before I could drive, I was well versed on playing bait. I had no idea how he'd let me learn all of that instead of just doing it for me . . . but then I guess he was only just learning himself.

He wasn't born to be a vampire hunter. He'd been raised hating them, but the training that went along with being a hunter is something that he hadn't started doing until after I was born, which, I guess would've been when he was about my age, and I couldn't imagine that. I couldn't imagine me having a child at this age and at the same time learning how to hunt vampires. I guess that's the reason he had been a weekend kind of Dad. He'd had to make a choice with what he knew from the witches: learn to do what he had to do to protect his children or be a more present kind of Dad, and knowing what he knew about vampires from an early age, he chose the former, because to protect his daughters, it's what he'd thought was the best.

Just like he'd thought it was best that I learn how to protect myself, because he'd known that he wouldn't always be around, specifically after the time came for him to sacrifice himself to bring me back after Klaus's ritual. Just like he'd thought it was best to distance himself from me these last couple of years, not for himself and the thought of losing me, the way I'd thought, but for me, so I wouldn't feel his death so acutely. It hadn't worked. I missed him dearly, and it made me sad to think that I understood him better now that he was dead than I had when he was alive. Like no wonder he was pissed off when my Mom turned. He'd spent all that time training himself and me . . . trading being a father for becoming a hunter, and then my Mom not only becomes something that he's supposed to hunt and kill, but also skips ahead of him by leaps and bounds in her ability to protect me and my sister simply by the nature of what she'd become, something she proved to him when she threw him into my piano after he tried to stake her . . . ugh, that was not a good night.

My eyes flitted in Damon's direction again. If anyone said it to him, he'd deny it and say that whoever the person was must have him confused with his brother, but he seemed a little broody, as he watched the party going on in the middle of the clearing. He was supposed to be waiting for his moment to intercept Rebekah, but I didn't get the impression that's where his head was. His gaze landed on me briefly before moving on, but then came back to me when he registered that I was watching him.

Settling against the tree he was leaning on, his features softened. Even though we were standing apart, just knowing I was with him in that moment made him feel relief at the notion that he wasn't alone here. Giving me an infinitesimal smile, that I think mirrored my own, he paused briefly before tilting his head in the direction of Elena. His eyebrow ticked up, like, 'What are you going to do about that?'" and I sighed.

Maybe my Dad could put up with training a child, because when I was a child, I wasn't getting drunk, not that Elena was getting any training from me. Dealing with Stefan was just something she wanted to do, most likely because she wanted to prove to herself and Stefan that she was stronger than the victim he'd turned her into by biting her and then flaunting his carefree attitude all over the place in front of her. If anyone was going to do something about him, then she wanted it to be her. But she was essentially playing bait . . . being bait didn't necessarily require a whole lot of training. Humans are lower on the food chain, so it doesn't take whole lot of training to learn how to be eaten.

What takes training is being focused and acting the way bait should act with the knowledge that you're either going to kill the thing you're baiting or someone you trust, like your Dad, will, and you need to do it without giving into your urge to fight back until the time is right . . . or letting the thing you're baiting know that's what you're doing. You needed to be a good actress, and while Caroline might be a good actress, Elena was not, so she was making a rookie mistake. You don't drink on the job. You fake like you're drinking and act drunk, but you keep your wits about you. Maybe, if I was feeling charitable, I'd say that a bit of liquid courage was probably okay if it steeled your nerves . . . but downing drink after drink . . . no. She'd gone beyond her limits, and I knew that, but what was I supposed to do about it?

I looked at Damon again, and he nodded towards her, like I should go talk to her. It was less because he thought it was time to get this plan going and more because he was being a mother hen that wanted me to go talk to my sister. He kept insisting on it. In fact, I think that's the reason he was even going along with any of this instead of dealing with it himself. Don't know why it was so important to him that I have a sister when his brother and he weren't exactly the poster children for healthy sibling relationships, but whatever. He gave me a more insistent look, and I sighed once again. I guess part of the plan included starting a fight with her, so she'd have a reason to storm off on her own. Might as well be over this. My shoulders dropped before I left my place on the sidelines to make a beeline for Elena. When I got to her, I took the red cup that she'd just filled out of her hand and poured it out on the ground.

Eyes wide in shock, she turned to look at me. "What are you doing?"

Leaning closer, I hissed under my breath just loud enough for her to hear, "What are you doing? Act drunk. Don't get drunk." Standing back, I said a little louder, "You've had enough . . . more than enough."

"You move to Mystic Falls, try to steal my life, and now you're stealing my beer? Who the hell do you think you are?!"

Whoa, wait. Was this a real fight or a fake real fight? Because her anger looked kind of real, and like I said, I didn't think she could act. Maybe it was the booze. I mean I know we were supposed to have a fake fight, but I didn't really want to say something to turn it into a real fight and make her hate me more if she was faking. "Hold up, I just . . . uh . . . ." She's the only person on the face of the planet that really just threw me off my game. Trying to recover, I said, "I need a second to process that you think I'm trying to steal your life . . . You have a shitty life . . . Why would I want it?

Now she looked confused. This was going badly. "Well, hasn't your life been one big sob story that you bring out to endear everyone to you against their better judgement? "

My brow furrowed in confusion as I said, "But yours is equally bad . . . Mine's just been bad for longer. I mean, in a way, being around you has made your sucky life rub off on me . . . dead parents . . . I have to go to school with these neanderthals . . . put up with your stupid boyfriend . . . live in this retched town . . . Really, it's me that should be pissed that your life is affecting mine."

Leaning closer, she growled, "Then leave," and again in confusion, I almost yelled, "And go where?"

"Anywhere that isn't here . . . You don't want to be here. Nobody wants you here. Just leave." I was again thrown out of the moment when she suddenly reached forward to grab my forearm and pulled me behind her, yelling, "Don't touch her," while sending a glare at someone behind me. I'd thought maybe it was Stefan, but it wasn't him at all . . . just some guy I didn't know. It would appear we were drawing a bit of a crowd. Looking at another guy, she demanded, "What did you just say?"

Now I was even more confused. Looking over her shoulder, I whispered, "I said act drunk, not crazy," and she nodded in the direction of the guy I didn't know while saying, "He was going to grab your ass."

"Oh." My brow furrowed as I puzzled over that one. "So, you're saving him."

She looked back at me with an identical look of bewilderment. "What?"

"Cause you think if he did, I'd detach his hand from his wrist, or - "

"No . . . nobody deserves to be groped like that." Sighing in frustration, she grabbed my forearm once again to drag me away from the party and out into the woods.

"What are you doing?"

"Getting you out of here."

"Taking the whole me leaving town thing a little far aren't you?"

"I meant the party. You shouldn't be here."

So she didn't want me to leave town? "But I thought the plan was - "

Stopping to look at me, she said, "I heard what happened today."

What in the actual hell is going on right now? Why are you so damn confusing? My cheeks puffed out slightly as I held my breath, and then my eyes narrowed as I cluelessly asked, "What happened today?"

"Your car!" Pointing in the direction of the bonfire, she said, "I heard what they did to it . . . That wasn't Rebekah or Stefan. It was the people I've lived with my entire life, and that was when they were sober. Now they're drunk, and you need to leave."

I exhaled a brief laugh. "I think I can handle - "

"No, you can't . . . Do you know why Damon and Stefan have never wanted their secret getting out? It's because they know if it did they don't stand a chance against a whole town of people out for their heads, and you are not a vampire. You're a human."

"Elena, it's nothing I haven't dealt with the last couple of months. I don't really understand - "

"I go to the same school as you, so I know what they say in the halls, and it is unbelievable. I heard someone today say - "

"It's fine. I know you guys didn't mean for it - "

Her eyes widened in shock once again. "Wait, do you blame me for this?!"

What, is it only a problem now that you've noticed it? "Uh . . . you, the people around you . . . I know it wasn't anybody's intention. It's just that this is a small town. It's kind of amazing that vampires have remained a secret here. If you complain about someone new and anyone overhears you, they're going to embellish it to the next person they tell, and so on and so forth and voila, you create the devil incarnate . . . Add to that Rebekah's political maneuvering and Stefan's constant presence, and yeah . . . that's how this happened. It's fine. I don't care. It's not a big deal."

Throwing her hands in the air in frustration, she practically yelled, "It is a big deal . . . and I don't care what you say. It has gotten so much worse in the last week." Visibly distressed she started pacing back and forth in front of me, while she ranted. "Your car is just the start of it. It's only going to get worse . . . which is why I'm pulling you out."

"What?"

"I can't believe I'm saying this, but it's gotten too dangerous for you . . . the people in this town are too dangerous for you, so I'm making a judgement call." Grabbing me by the shoulders, she took a paranoid look around before leaning close enough to whisper into my ear in case any vampires were listening. "If this plan doesn't work, and we don't do something about Stefan tonight, then you're out. No more playing double agent." Stepping back and using a normal voice, she added, "No more living at the Boarding House if it means you have to drive him to school in the morning, because they see him with you, and they think you stole him . . . I'm not letting them think that anymore . . . And no more - "

"Wait, you can't tell me where to live. That's my home . . . I'm not leaving the only home I've ever had."

Waving that off as she started pacing again, she muttered, "What'd you grow up living in a cardboard box? Of course it's not the only home you've ever had."

"Uh - "

Her eyes widened once again as she looked at me, "Oh my god . . . did you grow up in a cardboard box? Because - "

"What? No . . . We just never stayed in one place for more than a month or two tops."

Crossing her arms across her chest, like she didn't believe me, she asked, "Really?"

"Yes, really! Pretty much anytime someone got to know us well enough to know my name or ask Mom about her daughter, she'd move . . . Didn't matter who it was, kindly old woman . . . creepy guy down the road. All of them were potential witnesses. Witnesses don't remember you very well if you keep a low profile and aren't there long. Their lives move on and so does yours."

She quietly asked, "They really kept you hidden?" Biting the inside of my cheek, I nodded, and she said, "Even after she turned?" I nodded again, and she asked, "What was she like before?"

Did she really want to do this now? "We have something we're supposed to be doing. Now isn't really - "

"I know. It's just that Damon was right." She cut herself off with a sigh before ducking her head. "I have all these questions that I have to have answered, and you're the only one who can answer them." When did he say that? "Never mind. It's stupid, I just - "

I went from holding my breath to saying, "She, uh . . . she was brave, independent, smart - "

Looking like she wanted to know how rather than casting doubt on what I'd said, Elena interrupted me. "Brave?"

"I don't know what else you'd call someone our age faking her death and going off on her own to raise a child by herself."

"What else?"

I was not going to do my Mom justice in the time we had. I guess if Elena wanted to know more, she could ask me another time. "She was distrustful of people, so she isolated herself from everyone that wasn't me or Dad, which meant she never had any friends, but she was never sad about it . . . or at least not in front of me. She was soft spoken and really patient with me, but she also had the weight of the world on her shoulders, so she was serious most of the time. She rarely laughed, but when she did, it filled the room. She loved music. She was a terrible cook. She was always busy. Grayson gave her money for the first 5 or 6 months, and she made that last, but - "

"My Dad?!" I stopped, and she exclaimed, "He knew about you?!"

"He did deliver both of us and forge Mom's death certificate."

"Are you serious?" I thought she already knew that . . . I mean she knew her Dad delivered her in his office and made a fake birth certificate for her. It kind of made her seem . . . I don't know. Self-absorbed? Like the only part of that situation that mattered was that she was born, but if we were twins, then we were both born under the same circumstances . . . and it made her seem either not all that intelligent or so disinterested in my story that she hadn't comprehended what us being twins really meant until now . . . or maybe it was something else. Maybe she had known all of that and just wanted me to confirm it for some reason? Giving her the benefit of the doubt, I nodded, and she looked off to the side with a sigh of frustration before saying, "And he gave you guys money?"

Maybe that was the real issue? Her father had been more involved than she'd thought. "Um . . . he couldn't afford to keep doing that with Jeremy on the way, so he stopped."

"And then what? Did John - "

I shook my head. "He was just a kid himself. It was a couple of years before he was in a place where he could give her anything, and by then she didn't want it."

"So what did she do to survive?"

"Well, I couldn't have a babysitter, so she worked at night when I was little. Dad came over to watch me on the weekends, because we lived too far away from here for him to do it every night, and - "

"So, what, she left you alone, while she went to work the other days of the week?"

I shrugged, "What other choice did she have?"

Looking off to the side, Elena shook her head. "She could've found somebody. Nobody would've known you'd grow up to look like Katherine when you were a baby."

"Yeah, but she was young . . . She was scared after learning about the things that go bump in the night, and - "

"She left you alone as a baby!"

"As far as she knew then, anonymity was the best way to protect me, and it was either leave me there, or live in the cardboard boxes you were talking about . . . She never worked in diners that were far away from where we lived, so she was able to slip out and check on me. It's just the way things were, and what's done is done, so - "

Lifting her hands to stop me, Elena said, "All right fine," but I felt the need to say, "She worked during the day when I got older."

"How much older?"

"I don't know . . . when I was old enough to read. She'd give me my lessons, tell me she wanted them done when she got back, and then would go to work . . . Sometimes I'd leave some of the homework for when she got back, so when she did her research in the evenings, I could sit next to her at the table, and it was like we were doing our homework together. She didn't mind that . . . When I got a little bit older, I'd help her with her research on all things occult." Feeling like I'd done a great disservice to my Mom, I almost sounded desperate when I said, "But the important thing to know is that she loved both of us with everything she had . . . She even became a vampire for us, so she could find the answers she was looking for in places humans couldn't go."

Looking away from me in disgust, Elena said, "Yeah, well I met her when she was a vampire, so I know - "

"No, you don't." Elena looked at me, and I shook my head. "You don't know what she was like after she turned. I heard about the things she said and did when she was here, and that wasn't her. It was an act . . . She needed the Gilbert device, and she couldn't let anyone think you were a weakness that could be exploited, so she did whatever she had to do to make it seem like she didn't care about you, but she did . . . She - "

"Why did she want it? Why would she - "

"She hated vampires."

"She was a vampire."

"So? From what I've heard, Mikael is a vampire too, and nobody hates vampires more than that guy." She tilted her head to the side to concede my point, and I said, "The tomb vampires were here, and on top of that, she didn't want her daughter dating one . . . She loved you, Elena. They both did. You were like a ghost resident in each house we lived in over the years. Whether she was a vampire or not, there were two birthday cakes, one for me and one for my invisible sister. Stories from Dad telling her what you'd been doing when he was allowed to see you . . . It was literally the first line of questioning out of her mouth every time she saw him even after she turned. "How's Elena? What are her friends like? How are her grades? Are there any boys? How does she like the bike? And - "

"Bike?"

Biting the inside of my cheek nervously for a moment, I nodded, "White tires and handlebars . . . pink frame and streamers, pink stripe around the tires, purple - "

Elena finished for me. "Basket . . . I remember. It was my first bike. My parents gave that to me for Christmas - " I shook my head, and in disappointment she said, "They didn't?"

"Dad heard you begging your parents for one, and they said - "

Looking hurt, because she knew where this was going, Elena again finished my sentence for me. "Maybe when you're older."

"Yeah . . . Dad told Mom, so they picked one out together, and Dad gave it to Grayson to give to you on their behalf."

Tears welled up in her eyes. "No."

Yeah, saying it sucked almost as much as hearing it must. Feeling my own eyes sting, I looked away from her and licked my bottom lip before I had it under control. Looking back at her, I nodded before giving her a weak smile. "Yeah . . . I remember, because they asked if I liked it, and I didn't like the pink one. I liked the sea foam green one, but Dad said you liked pink, so I said it was all right."

"You were with them when they got it?"

"I was with them when they picked it out. They didn't get it until closer to Christmas."

Giving me a smile she said, "And you got the green one," like it'd make us more like sisters if I did, and again I looked away from her before saying, "Got my first crossbow instead." Looking back at her with a smile I didn't mean, I said, "So it all worked out okay."

A look of concern crossed her face. "But you must've been expecting the bike if - "

"Birthdays were for keyboards. Christmas was more for clothes or books . . . the essentials. So a crossbow was a pretty good present."

Seeming like she wasn't sure she wanted the answer, Elena asked, "Why'd they do it? Why'd they give me up and keep you if I meant so much to them?"

I was tempted not to answer. She looked like she was reaching the limits on what she could process for now. "Elena, we have to - "

"I know we have other things to do, but I need to know."

"Right now?"

"Yes, right now."

I rolled my eyes and sighed before saying, "I would've thought that Stefan or - "

"Damon did. I want to hear it from you." Why? I was still hesitant, but she said, "Please."

"All right. Fine. You have to remember they were our age when they had us. The plan was supposed to be that your parents would adopt both of us . . . They were having trouble starting their own family . . . Jeremy wasn't supposed to be possible, and we came along a year before him. Mom was going to go to college . . . Dad too . . . Both were going to move on with their lives and grow up knowing we were being raised in the loving home of someone they knew and trusted . . . but then Mom went to some stupid carnival, and her friends convinced her to go see the fortune teller, who turned out to be a witch. Her plans changed."

Elena quickly asked, "What'd the witch say?"

I brushed the back over the thumb of my forehead with a sigh and answered, "She told her that only one of her babies was going to survive . . . that to save both a great sacrifice had to be made . . . Mom freaked out, went to Dad, who knew a little about witches because of our family history, and during the week, they went to school, but on the weekends, they snuck away to find more answers from other witches . . . each one gave worse news than the last . . . eventually, they had to make a decision, and went to a coven that . . . well, see the reason only one of us was supposed to survive was - "

I stopped. Did she really need to know this? I suspected that this part had been sugar-coated for her by Damon. Stepping forward, she asked, "What?"

I huffed out a sigh before saying, "We were both doppelgangers."

"So?"

"I'm not now."

Her eyes widened. "They took it from you and gave it all to me?" She started her pacing again as she began to yell, "Unbelievable. How could they - "

Yeah, that's part of why I'd thought better of saying it. The next words out of my mouth were the other part. "You were killing me, Elena." She stopped, and my shoulders dropped guiltily. "I wasn't supposed to be born." Laughing without humor, I said, "Call it survival of the fittest . . . We were both doppelgangers, but you were siphoning off my power to get all the doppelganger magic for yourself, and it was killing me. In order to stop you from doing that, they had the coven just give you all the doppelganger magic. Then you left me alone, and I was born, but there was a price for that . . . They couldn't keep both of us. They couldn't give both of us away and live the lives they'd planned either. They essentially sacrificed their own lives, so I could be born, and they did it knowing that they'd eventually have to lose one of us in the sacrifice or risk losing both of us in it. That's why they kept me secret . . . They figured if I took the doppelganger's spot in the sacrifice, then at least the curse wouldn't be broken, and Klaus wouldn't make his hybrids and kill even more innocent people. What they didn't want was for him to know about both of us. The witches said if he did, then we'd both die in the sacrifice . . . I didn't realize it until after the ritual, but I think they meant that Klaus would do to me what he did to Jenna . . . If I became a vampire after the sacrifice, that was . . . well, it was my choice to make, but if I was the vampire in the sacrifice, and you were the doppelganger, there was no coming back from that for me . . . and I guess Damon and Katherine's spontaneity threw the witches prophecy off."

She didn't say anything, and I bowed my head before saying, "Anyway . . . we were born, and we had one moment as a family . . . Dad held both of us up for Mom to see until Grayson came in and said it was time. Dad handed you to him and me to Mom, and she held onto me, while they took you away. When they came back, they had the forged death certificate for Mom and a new identity . . . There was no birth certificate for me, and she walked out the door to try and find a way to support me on her own when she was just a kid herself. No college . . . no love of her life . . . just work, raising a kid, and researching every free second of every day, so she could maybe try to stop what was coming for her children some day."

"Is this why you hate witches?"

I threw a suspicious look her way at the strange change of topic. "Mostly."

"But Bonnie's not like - "

Wait. Is that why she had me out here talking about our dead parents? Was she playing me? "Elena, don't . . . Just don't. I don't have her powers. I can't give them back. The spirits that she gets her magic from don't think she's worthy at this time to have them. Plus, I'd say there is a fair share of Bonnie herself that doesn't think she should have them and until she confronts herself over what happens, she won't."

"But I know you know more than you're saying on how she can get her powers back, and Vicki - "

"Bonnie talked to Matt about Vicki, so it's up to Matt now."

"And if he brings her back?"

"Then I'll deal with it."

"How? How are you going to - "

"Dad had plenty of contacts I can - "

"What, like your friend, Imelda? Bonnie told me she was sketchy."

Yeah, I'd definitely been played. She'd dragged me over here to bond with her, so she could get what she'd really wanted from me. Guess I was wrong about her being a bad actress. I laughed another humorless laugh before looking away from her. "Yeah, I bet she did, because Imelda told her what I just said."

"How do you know her?"

And that's relevant how? "Did she or did she not help Anna find her Mom on the other side?"

"That's beside the point."

"That's the only point. It's why I set Jeremy up with her."

"I want to know how you know the witch you sent my brother to."

Well my Mom didn't know about it, that's for sure. Dad only took me because he sort of thought of it like me going to the store to buy something. It was transactional, so the woman didn't really get to know more about me other than I was a hunter, and she was a complete recluse, so she wasn't going to go around telling everyone about me. "Dad. She usually expects a favor in return for her services, but she's never asked me for more than I was willing to give. I know where I stand with her, so I trust her as much as I can trust a witch . . . And it's good to have one in your back pocket. Every serious player in this game has one."

"What's wrong?"

My walls had come back up . . . every last one of them. I felt . . . more than used, more than betrayed. I don't think there's a word to describe how I felt. I shared things with her that were important to me . . . And I felt stupid. I should've known she was only listening until she could bring up what she really wanted to talk about. Shaking my head, I said, "It doesn't matter," and went to walk away, but stopped in front of her to say, "You know . . . I can say the exact same thing about Katherine. I don't trust her, but at least with her, I know where I stand, and she has never made me feel the way you just did. In all honesty, she's the better sister," before going around her.

"Eve . . . I had to try . . . Eve, please, she's my best friend. I don't think you realize what this is doing to her, and we need her. Matt really wants his sister. What if he . . . Eve? Eve! Where are you going? I thought we were supposed to - "

And that? That was all the confirmation I needed to know I was right about what her intentions had been all along. She'd used me wanting to have a sister against me to get something she wanted. "Do it yourself . . . I'm leaving."

Chapter Text

My bedroom door slammed open, and I didn't need to look at the whirlwind that entered to know who it was, so I didn't bother to look up from my book. "Where the hell were you tonight?"

I shrugged, not really feeling like having this conversation. I was still mad . . . just not at Damon, and I didn't want to take it out on him. "Why don't you ask Elena?"

"She said you left. How the hell do you let a fake fight turn into a real one? We had a plan."

He was angry, pacing, and looking for a fight. My nonchalant attitude wasn't helping. "I'll shoot him up with vervain in his sleep . . . or whenever I feel like it, something I could've done days ago if we didn't have to follow the stupid plan."

"Right . . . and what about Original Barbie? I thought the idea was to - "

"I'll do it while she's at school. She won't know the difference. She's too wrapped up in looking after Tyler and high school politics with Caroline."

"Yeah, and how do you plan on getting him to rehab from the school after you've darted him?"

"Who said anything about doing it at school? I'll do it on the way home. He'll already be in the car, so that's problem solved . . . And I'm not sure if you noticed or not, but somebody followed me home tonight. He's in his room now . . . I think that puts to rest whether or not Klaus compelled him to watch me, and he obviously can't kill me either. I told you I thought Klaus might find it more amusing if Stefan was demoted to protecting me, so I can protect her."

He didn't say anything, and I finally looked up at him. He looked like he was struggling with himself, maybe tempted to rip the book out of my hands or throw something . . . possibly rip the book out of my hands and throw it. I put the book down on the bed next to me, and now that I'd taken away what he'd wanted to do to express his frustration, all he could do was throw me a look as he harshly sat on the foot of my bed. He chose not to look at me as he said, "Meaning it wouldn't have worked, and Elena could've been hurt or killed if she did what she was thinking of doing." He shook his head before looking at me. "But that's not why you left . . . And you didn't tell me, so I was left hanging. I don't care about anyone else, but you and I are supposed to be partners."

Oh. I felt the first twinge of guilt for my actions and quickly found that the frayed hem of my sweatshirt sleeve needed my attention. "I didn't think about that."

"You mean about me?" I shrugged a shoulder, and he said, "Yeah, well, I've been hearing that a lot lately."

"Actually, I think you've been hearing it all along . . . just maybe not in those words or in words at all." My eyes flicked up to him. "I've been pretty selfish from the start. I used you for my plan, went after Mason alone even though I knew you wouldn't like it, was going to use myself to kill Katherine even though it was blatantly obvious it's not what you wanted . . . you get the general idea." Going back to staring at my sleeve, I said, "I guess I really don't do teams."

I waited for him to say something, and eventually he said, "So you knew I wouldn't like you going after Mason on your own, and that's why you made sure I was out of town with Elena. You're such a liar."

Of course that's what he'd pick up on first, something to settle an argument we'd had going for what seemed like ages. I looked up at him, and he seemed awfully smug. I gave him a small glare. "I'm not a liar. I didn't want you hurt. That is why I made sure you were out of town with Elena. I didn't tell you what I was going to do, because I knew you wouldn't like it after the way you reacted when I said I was going to go after Katherine."

He looked away from me again with a little scowl before shaking his head and exhaling a deep breath. "You're wrong." I waited for him to say how, and he directed his attention back to me before saying, "We're a good team." My eyebrow arched, and he said, "Okay, we're a good team, like 95% of the time, but even with that 5%, I make decisions for you when I know you're making the wrong one, and you do the same for me. We get pissed off, and then we get over it . . . But what happened with Bonnie, and now this . . . I'm not even a factor."

My first instinct was to be snide, to say something to push him away, because I knew he was right. I struggled with it briefly before bowing my head and looking at the hem of my shirt again. I was hurt both times and then both times, I'd unintentionally turned around and hurt him. "What happened with Rebekah?"

"Don't change the subject."

"I'm not. You're right. I left you there to deal with her alone, so - "

"Yeah, well, you were going to do that anyway to help Elena."

"Did she hurt you?"

"I'm fine."

"That's not what I asked."

My eyes went to him, and he slowly shrank back from the sudden darkness that overtook them and my entire change of demeanor. If Rebekah hurt him, then I was going to take that dagger, bury it in her heart, and throw her somewhere nobody would find. Part of my anger was directed at myself for having been so careless with his life as to not be there when he needed my help with an Original, and another part was anger at life in general. I could really use something to kill.

"I'm fine."

"Damon - "

"What happened? Why'd you leave?"

"It doesn't matter."

"It does to me."

"It shouldn't."

Rolling his eyes as he looked away from me in frustration, he muttered, "Awesome. So we're right back where we started." He shook his head before throwing me a side-glance. "With the added bonus of murderous eyes." I turned my head to look away from him, so he didn't think I was going to murder him, and he reached forward to rest his hand on the calf of my leg. It had the immediate effect of making me relax, and he smiled to himself before saying, "We should get away from here for a while."

My shoulders dropped as I looked back at him. "What about school?"

"Meh, I'm over it. I'd rather have you here to entertain me during the day."

It smoothed out any remaining tension I was feeling. "You know."

"That my brother and Klaus's sister have turned it into anything but a normal high school experience and too many of the students want to run you out of town on a rail? Yeah I know . . . not that you've told me."

I ducked my head again. Stupid bonfire party. What he was really angry about was me downplaying how things at school were going, not that I'd bailed on the plan tonight . . . He wouldn't have cared why I did that, just that I didn't tell him I was doing it before I did. He thought I was shutting him out, and maybe I was. "It's not that big a deal."

"Saw your car on the way in."

Maybe I should give him something. I bit my bottom lip before taking a deep breath. "It looks better now that I changed the tires."

"What was wrong them?"

I shrugged a shoulder. "You know . . . just must've driven over a construction site without knowing it and punctured all four on my way to school this morning." I glanced at him and saw the tail end of the anger that flashed across his face before saying, "I was thinking after I get it re-painted, I might just start leaving it here."

"Or . . . you could just quit, and we can hit the road."

"It's only been a week."

"A week too long. Come on, you don't even need to go. Just finish your Mom's lesson plan. That way you don't feel like you didn't earn it when I compel you into a spot in a random graduating class, so you can walk across the stage." I loved that idea, and I think it showed, because he felt it was safe enough to crawl up the bed and sit next to me. "What do you say?"

"I say, you've put some thought into that one."

"Yep . . . It was either that or kill every last one of them that was there tonight."

Resting my head on his shoulder as he wrapped an arm around me, I muttered, "I can't just quit."

"Sure you can. Just stop going."

"And hide away from everyone but you forever?"

Nuzzling into the hair at the top of my head, he continued trying to coax me into it. "It worked before, didn't it?" Yeah, it's something I'd been saying since the night of the ritual. I really did miss being a ghost. I hesitantly nodded, and he said, "And I was thinking about it. I think you were right . . . about your Dad. I don't think what he did for Elena was a last minute save he came up with on the spur of the moment. I think maybe when I tried to get him to talk you out of going through with it, he knew he wasn't going to see you again. I hated the guy, and I know he hated me, but I can't shake the feeling that he was giving me pointers on you, and I didn't listen . . . What's normal by other people's standards isn't normal for you . . . You can do one-on-one or one-on-two, but any more than that, and it all starts to fall apart. It's not your fault. It's just the way it is, and if I want you to be happy, which I do . . . then I want you home with me until we figure out this Klaus mess and then we can hit the road."

"Low blow pulling out the Dad card."

"Not if it works."

"I don't know if it's in my DNA to quit."

"Then don't think of it as quitting. Think of it as transferring to the Salvatore Boarding School for Girls Named Eve."

Oh, I really wanted to do what he said. "Doesn't that mean they win?"

"Nope. It means that you're getting what you've wanted all along . . . I just didn't want you to miss out on it and regret it later, but I don't think you will, and you have been off all week."

"I honestly can't hear anything they say anymore. I'm completely tuned out to anything that isn't your brother. He killed a janitor on the first day of school, because he couldn't find me during band class, so I started letting him go to that class too, and now, he's decided he's the band's premiere triangle player . . . He thinks it's hilarious to intentionally get it wrong so everyone has to start over again."

Damon snorted before wrapping me up a little tighter in his arms and saying, "So quit and stay home with me."

"I want to do that, but I have a responsibility to - "

"Screw that. You are not responsible for keeping my brother and Goldilocks from killing anyone, especially the dicks at that school."

"I am though . . . and it's not just that. I'm drifting, and if I don't stick at something, then I'll always be a failure."

I looked up at him, and he rolled his eyes. "Just because you didn't die in a stupid ritual, doesn't mean you're a failure."

Ignoring him, I grumbled, "And of course my plan to ruin Klaus's life hasn't exactly gone to plan."

"Did he, or did he not leave Elena, his hybrid, his sister, and my brother here? It's a good start."

"You did that, not me." Shrugging my shoulder, I added, "And I'm not even entirely sure I want to ruin his life anymore."

Damon's eyebrows rose as he slowly nodded, and then his eyes narrowed before he said, "This is about him training you when he gets back, isn't it? Don't think I didn't see your eyes light up when you read that. "

"Would it be so bad?"

"Yes." I gave him a look that said I was expecting more, and he said, "Eve, it's Klaus! He killed your Mom and is the reason your Dad is dead."

"No, my Dad is dead because he decided that was better than Elena becoming a vampire, and my Mom is dead because - "

"Klaus compelled her to take off her necklace and burn in the sun." Yeah, Klaus had done that, and I knew that, but I hadn't seen it, so it was a little hard for me make the connection even though it wasn't hard for me to imagine the guy I knew doing it. I sighed before resting my head on Damon's chest, and he added, "You don't need the guy you used to call 'evil incarnate' training you."

"Maybe not . . . but he really puts me through my paces mentally."

"Yeah, so you can keep him from killing you!"

Ignoring that the volume of his voice was on the rise again in favor of continuing to hold onto him to calm him down, I said, "And you . . . and anyone around him, but I can't help but feel like I could learn something from him."

Resting his chin on top of my head, Damon muttered, "Nothing good," and I said, "Bet he could teach me how to use a sword."

"When are you ever going to need to use a sword. Your machete, stakes, guns, bombs, whatever else you have in that cabinet, and your brains are enough."

I was genuinely conflicted at this moment in time when it came to Klaus, but I also knew that this was quickly becoming one of our games. I looked up at him again to seriously say, "But what if he gets me a pony," and he immediately cracked up. When one of us laughed, it typically meant that the other one had won, and usually it was me that came out on top, but he normally held out longer than this. I didn't mind though. Seeing his whole face light up with a genuine laugh was probably one of my favorite things in life. As his lips found mine a few moments later, I decided this was quickly becoming another.

I reveled in the feeling of warmth that spread throughout my body as his tongue swirled against mine. It worked to thaw the icy build up in my chest that seemed to be a constant more often than not these days. I may have gotten a little carried away when I felt him start to pull back, because I bit his bottom lip a little hard, but he issued a soft growl as he came back to me with a greater urgency. Well, he liked that I guess. Good to know.

He might like it, but that didn't mean he wasn't fully committed to keeping things at a glacial pace, because he did force himself to stop a minute later. Tucking his face against mine, he took a couple of breaths to maintain control before he whispered, "I get it . . . I get that for whatever reason, Klaus has accepted you in a way that nobody around here has - "

"Except for you, and that's really all that matters, isn't it?"

I felt him relax as he brought his hand up to brush my hair out of my face. "Except for me . . . But with Klaus, it isn't permanent. He will turn on you the way he has everyone else, and on top of that, he is a bad influence."

I quickly sat back to look at him. "If you think he's a bad influence, that implies that I am being bad."

Tapping his finger against my temple to accentuate his point, Damon said, "He's got you switched off and in hunter mode more than you're not. It was really noticeable after you got back, and it hasn't really gone away."

"Well, maybe that's because it's my default setting when I feel hunted, and I feel hunted all. the. time."

Not looking like that surprised him in the slightest Damon responded. "Yeah. And that's because you were being hunted when you were on the road with him. You still are, and he isn't even here. It's because of him that I'm a little surprised my brother hasn't come knocking on your door to bother us, and it's because of him that Rebekah is now our problem. It's because of him that what happened with Bonnie happened."

My shoulders dropped as I absorbed that. "Point made . . . with the exception of what happened with Bonnie. That was all Bonnie and I."

"Yeah, but you wouldn't have been - "

I put my finger to his lips to silence him and said, "Let me take responsibility for that one. It is well deserved."

He nodded to let me know he'd consider it, and I removed my finger before he said, "I don't want you near him."

My eyebrow arched in response. "Yeah, I'm getting that. Guess that white knight fantasy is winning out over the bad boy fantasy, huh?"

Touching his forehead to mine, he sighed, "Eve - "

I brought my hand to the side of his face to reassure him and whispered, "Damon, I'll be okay."

"Stay home with me."

"I'll do you a deal." He waited, and I said, "Give me a week to turn things around. I owe it to you . . . I'm a little tired of your well-intended plans for me backfiring, and - "

"I changed my mind. I'm really fine with it."

Rushing on, like I hadn't heard what he said, I continued, "But more than that, I owe it to myself not to give up on me . . . And I mean, I can't exactly spend years bitching about not being able to go to school and then give up after a week when I finally have the chance to do it, can I?"

He gave me a soft smile before shaking his head, and then held his breath before asking, "What happened with Elena?"

"I don't want to talk about it."

"Please?"

I'm pretty sure that word was invented to manipulate people, and if it wasn't, that's totally why he was using it now. It was a little sad that it kind of worked. "Will you stay out of it?"

"I can't promise that."

"You can and you will."

"Not if you don't want me to lie to you."

"Damon, it's none of your business."

"What happens with you is my business."

I sighed before pulling back to look him in the eye. "If you don't want me to shut you out, then I need to know - "

"All right. Fine. I promise."

"You don't mean that."

"Nope."

Chapter Text

"Ready?!" I think it was meant to be a rhetorical question, but Caroline tossed a look in my direction. As ready as I'd ever be. I gave her a nod, and she smiled before yelling, "Okay! 5, 6, 7, 8!"

After not training with her since the Klaus fiasco, I'd shown up at her house out of the blue on Saturday morning wearing the normal clothes I did for our training and told her we needed to talk.

I'd had a whole speech prepared. It went something like, "We're not friends. We can't be. In case you've forgotten, it has nothing to do with me not wanting to be your friend. You have done nothing wrong. It's just the way it has to be, because I will not be responsible for destroying long-standing friendships you've had for your entire life . . . Having said that, there is nothing stopping me from being on your squad with you, and I can't help but notice you've had your hands full with Rebekah joining it, so - " and that's all the further I got as she stopped me from pacing by throwing her arms around me in a giant hug. It was then that I'd felt like I had to begrudgingly admit that she may have been right, and I might need her help to rehabilitate my image.

I didn't tell her that I was only giving myself a week to do it, and if I didn't, then I was going to quit. She didn't need the added pressure, and it's not something I wanted to admit, not that I was going to leave town if I did leave school. I might want to take off with Damon, but I couldn't. Everyone else here would be screwed if we left. Damon might not care about that, but I did, so I'd just stay at the boarding house, do the home schooling thing, and when it came time for graduating, we'd go on a road trip, so I could have my graduation somewhere else. But none of that would happen without me trying first, and being there on bended knee asking Caroline for help was my attempt at doing that.

She'd spent the rest of the weekend drilling me on cheerleading the way I drilled her on self-defense. I guess it helped that my Mom used to be a cheerleader. When I was younger, there was a phase she went through when she used to run through some of her old routines with me on her days off from work. I guess I was 11 or 12 though, so it was a long time ago, and it showed, but Caroline was like a drill sergeant and wouldn't let me get anything wrong. I think she was a little surprised that she didn't get much in the way of resistance from me, but then I reminded her that I my Dad had trained me to be a vampire-killing machine by doing pretty much the same thing she was. She'd looked momentarily concerned, like she wasn't sure she wanted to be like him before it passed when she realized she didn't care how I got better as long as I did, and I did get better, particularly when I saw the usefulness that learning some of these flips, tucks, and stunts might have for vampire hunting. I didn't care about the rest of the routines, but those were fun.

Anyway, that's why I was here on Monday evening at cheerleading practice, going through the routines, and despite some grumbling at the start about why I was there when I'd missed tryouts, I guess it was going okay even with Rebekah around. I don't think she liked me being there at all. As far as I was concerned, it served her right. She'd found her way onto the squad to annoy Caroline. It seemed only fair I should do the same to her, and it was immensely amusing for me to watch her with the other girls. They didn't like her anymore than they liked me, but at least I had Caroline . . . well, I did for as long as we were at practice.

Grabbing my water bottle when Caroline finally let us leave, I looked over and saw Damon's car. He was picking me up today, since I hadn't wanted to chance bringing my car now that he'd gotten the realtor to also sign over their garage to me. It may seem like he was slowly signing the house over to me, but I had everything important to me protected now, so Elena could keep the rest. Neither Stefan or Rebekah could get into the garage to do something to my car, like hot-wire it, and it wasn't like they could compel anyone from town to get in there to mess with it. They could talk someone into it the normal way, but I didn't think they'd do that anymore than I thought Rebekah would knock the garage down on top of it. It took too much effort.

Another reason today didn't seem as bleak as last Monday was that with Damon driving me, Stefan and Rebekah had to find their own way here . . . It felt a little like cheating to have him pick me up and drop me off, like I was a little kid that needed him to take me to school, because I couldn't figure it out on my own, but at the same time, I felt like maybe I should've tried it out a week ago. It'd made this morning infinitely easier, because I didn't have to see the dreadful duo until my first class, and knowing I would see Damon at the end of the day, gave me something to look forward to all day.

I was almost to his car door when I heard steps rapidly approaching me from the direction of the school. "Hey!" That wasn't a happy hey. It was a,' stop walking, because I want to kick your ass,' kind of hey. My shoulders dropped as I turned to look at Bonnie, but she wasn't in my line of vision for very long as Damon got out of the car and blocked her approach.

"Watch it, Witchy, you don't want to walk up on her like that."

"Why? What's she gonna do?"

"Probably nothing now that you've lost you're basically human, but me on the other hand?"

I didn't have to see his face to know he was giving her one of his more devilish smirks. Sighing, I stepped out from behind him and looked at Bonnie. An apology for finding a way to hang out with Caroline was on my lips, but then I decided as long as Caroline didn't get yelled at for letting me on the squad, then I wasn't going to apologize for it. Besides, that may not even be what this was about, so why apologize until it was brought up. "What's wrong?"

"Your witch is what's wrong."

Uhhh. My eyes flicked up to Damon, and he didn't have any idea what she was talking about either. Glancing at Bonnie, my eyes narrowed in suspicion. "What'd she do?"

"When Elena and I went to talk to her, she - "

Realizing I hadn't actually done anything wrong, I finally gained back the rest of my confidence and stepped in front of Damon saying, "Elena wasn't with you when you went to see her with Jeremy. Did you go back?"

Holding her head high, Bonnie's chin jutted out as she squared her shoulders. If that was her, 'I just realized that I fucked up, but I don't want you to know it,' pose, then it was quite proud and formidable. "You - "

Raising a finger to stop her, I said, "I set you up with Imelda to help Jeremy and to get you some answers. I did not tell you to go to her again. You never go to a witch like her more than once unless there's like a year spread out between visits, because on your first visit, she will suss you out by helping you out on something small, see how desperate you are for what you really want, and then the next visit, she'll up her ask." That's why you wait at least a year. By then whatever the problem is will most likely have worked itself out, and whoever the witch was wouldn't be able to use it against you. If it was a lifelong problem, then you were better off just finding another witch.

"I know the type." I looked up at Damon, and he shrugged. "It's a little like a drug dealer giving you the first hit for free. They get you hooked, and then you're screwed." Looking at Bonnie, he added, "To fix whatever it is that you want fixed now, she's going to ask for more."

Turning her attention back on me in concern, Bonnie yelled, "Why the hell did you tell Elena you trusted her?"

Oh for the love of god, whatever problem they created was going to end up being turned around and placed on me, wasn't it? "I didn't say I trusted her. I said I trust her as much as I can trust any witch, because I know where I stand with her. I don't know if you've noticed, but I don't trust any witches."

Balling her hands into fists are her side, Bonnie gritted out, "Why would you send us to someone you don't trust?"

"Because Imelda's not far from here, and Jeremy had a simple problem that needed fixing. Contact the other side and help Anna find her Mom. There's not a whole lot required to do that, so I knew the price would be minimum. You had questions. Imelda's a shut in, and she likes the company, so again, another simple solution to your problem. What I did not do was tell you to keep going back to her . . . and - "

"You didn't say not to go back to her either."

"Yeah, well, I didn't say you should look both ways before you cross the street, but you don't have much trouble doing that without me saying it, do you? You should know I didn't trust her with anything important, because I gave very specific instructions not to tell her about - " Bonnie took a step back, and I paused. "Oh Bonnie, tell me you didn't."

Here came that proud, yet determined look from earlier, but I found it much less inspiring this time. "I would've dealt with it myself, but you took my magic away from me, so - "

I wasn't strong enough not to take the bait. I should have been, but apparently, I wasn't. What was it about she and Elena that just made me regress into this pathetic teenager. "I didn't take your damn magic. It's not like I have it hidden up my sleeve somewhere. You broke the rules with Jeremy, and you know it. You - "

"He is your cousin! And he's done nothing but give you the benefit of the doubt. How can you - "

"It's not up to me, Bonnie. When it's your time, it's your time, and - "

Looking calm and sounding hateful, Bonnie interrupted me. "You don't fool me. This isn't about teaching me some kind of lesson. It's about what happened to your Dad."

It sucked the air right out of my sails. Was she right? No, but it did shine a light on the reason why I didn't like her or think about her unless we were in the same room together. In truth, there was a lot of blame to go around when it came to the circumstances surrounding my Dad's death; Klaus, Damon, Elena, Dad himself . . . but almost all of that blame could ultimately be laid at Bonnie's feet. She's the one who did the spell that tied my Dad's life force to Elena, and she knew what it would do if Elena died, but she did it anyway, and she did it simply because she didn't want her best friend to become a vampire . . . and because it was a loophole. If Elena hadn't died, then nothing would have happened to my Dad, so it wasn't technically the spell that killed him. It was Elena dying that killed my Dad, which means nature let it slide, and Bonnie got off scot free on a technicality.

If I really believed that, then why hadn't I gone after her? Honestly, it's probably because I was lost after my parents' deaths, and I still was, especially when it came to trying to figure out life without ever having really been prepared for it. I needed something bigger than a witch in high school to take my mind off of all of that, and going after Klaus was about as big as I'd thought I could get. Now it was Mikael.

The thought of going after Bonnie had never crossed my mind until she almost got me killed and then started spewing all of her high and mighty bullshit about how bad I am, and that meant my Dad's death wasn't a conscious factor in my decision to strip her of her power. It was just the cause of this prevailing feeling I had whenever I was around her, one that made me dislike her, one that said, 'who are you to judge me for anything I do after what you did?' and that dislike I had for her probably fueled me on to do what I did when I probably wouldn't have if it had been anyone else.

By saying what she did about my Dad, she'd touched a raw nerve, and it made me say, '"If you honestly think you are important enough for me to waste my time plotting some kind of revenge against you for murdering my Dad, then think again, because you're not. After what you took from me, I need much bigger prey to take my mind off of it."

She rolled her eyes and started to walk away. "Forget it. I'll deal with - "

"I'm not done yet." My voice had barely risen, but there was an unmistakable edge to it that made her stop.

Bonnie turned back to look at me, and I ignored Damon saying, "If she wants to deal with it herself, I say we let her. Let's just go home," and was then forced to listen to him when he stepped in front of me and put his hands on my shoulders to make me look at him. Leaning closer, he tried again, but quieter this time. "You're not hunting right now. You're in the high school parking lot."

It took me right out of my mood. "I wouldn't - "

"I know." He threw me a small smile before saying, "But not everyone can see past the claws."

I bit the inside of my cheek before taking a deep breath and saying, "Are you saying I'm scary?"

He shrugged a shoulder. "Not to me." His head tilted in the direction over his left shoulder, and I saw Elena and Caroline approaching as Bonnie went over to them loudly saying, "You were right. She wouldn't help. Let's - "

Before I could respond, Damon stood taller and turned around to look at them. "Oh, give it a rest!" He left me to go over to them saying, "You wanna know why you're a powerless witch now? It's because you get your power from spirit magic, and you have to follow their laws on nature. You rose the dead. Strike one. You used magic to kill an innocent human. Strike two, and that's all the strikes you get. You failed Witching 101, and now your powers are gone. That's on you, so leave it alone."

I hadn't needed him to do that for me. I could deal with this on my own, but there was a part of me that'd felt completely satisfied watching him do it. He turned to walk back to me, but Elena felt the need to stand up for her friend, which was entirely understandable. It's what Damon was doing too. "I wouldn't expect you to understand it, but she at least owes Bonnie an apology."

He stopped and turned on a dime, but I was standing in front of him to block his way before he could take a step in their direction. Keeping him behind me, I muttered over my shoulder just loud enough for him to hear, "You're not hunting right now . . . You're in the high school parking lot," before looking over at the three girls and saying a little louder, "As the aggrieved party in this situation, know that I forgive you, Bonnie Bennet." I felt Damon relax behind me as he exhaled a laugh, and Bonnie's head snapped in my direction. "Before you say whatever it is that you're about to say, Bonnie, give yourself time to absorb what I just said, know that I mean it, and if you still want to say it, get back to me on it in a couple of days. I promise you that if you don't, it will make it 10x worse when you're finally ready to stop being in denial and face everything that happened."

She needed something to hold onto as she grappled with her inner demons, and my forgiveness may not be much when what she needed was her own forgiveness, but it was a start. I may not like her, but I was trying to help. I don't know if it was for her or me. I was just ready for this whole thing to be over. She didn't take my advice. "You think that you're blameless here? Why don't you go f-"

I stepped away from Damon to say, "You don't need an apology from me. In fact, I think it'll make you feel worse in the long run. What you need is my forgiveness, and you have it, but if it's what has to happen, so you can even begin to listen to what I am saying to you, then I'm sorry that you now know what you're truly capable of doing and are forced to confront the darkness that lies within. It is not an easy thing to confront, and I would know. But at least now you know it's there, and you can do with it what you will. I would recommend facing it, accepting it is a part of you that you need to control, and moving past it, or it will eat you alive - maybe turn you into the thing you fear most."

"That is not an apology. You're not sorry for what you did. You're sorry for how you think I feel about it."

Damon responded for me. "Well, that's the most you're getting. I suggest you all run on home and fix whatever mess you made yourselves."

Gently pressing his hand into the small of my back, he turned us to head back to the car, and only stopped, because I did when Elena quietly yelled in desperation. "Vicki tried to kill me."

I looked at her over my shoulder, and Damon sighed before dropping his hand from my back as I turned to ask, "When?" .

Caroline nudged Elena with her elbow and nodded towards me. Ducking her head briefly before looking over at me, Elena begrudgingly answered, "Saturday started out okay, but then I started having all of this really bad luck, like fall down the stairs for no reason and feel like I'm being pushed into traffic kind of bad luck . . . Bonnie figured out what was happening and talked to Matt. We got Imelda's number from Jeremy, and she said to bring Matt with us when we met her. That's where we all were today."

I just couldn't help myself. "Hm . . . maybe that's why today seemed like it was going better."

Caroline stopped Elena from turning around and heading in the other direction, while she directed a look at me that said to be nice. "Eve."

Tilting my head back to look up the sky, I pondered my next question and tried to think of how to put it in the least insulting way possible, I eventually sighed before looking at Elena and saying, "I take it Vicki is gone now?"

Elena nodded. "Yeah, but something's not right."

I'd get to that in a second. "And how much did you tell Imelda?"

"She said she needed to know everything if she was going to help."

"That was her price."

Elena quickly shook her head. "No, she asked for something else."

I shook my head in disappointment. "Then you paid double what you should have." She looked confused, and I said, "It's all in the word play. If she said, 'I need to know everything if I'm going to help,' or 'If I'm going to help, then I need to know everything,' and not, ''I need to know everything, so I can help,' then information was her price for helping. Of course if you didn't know that and then asked what she wanted in return for her services, then she wouldn't correct you or turn it down. What was her price when you asked? Please tell me that you didn't give her any of your blood, because - "

Elena cut me off by pointing her thumb over her shoulder in the direction of the school, and that's when I saw the tiny figure hiding in the shadows. "She said we had to do it here, since Mystic Falls is where Vicki is strongest, so - "

"You told her what she wanted to know over the phone instead of in person?!"

Elena looked a little embarrassed by my rebuke, while saying, "We thought we should call to let her know we were coming instead of just showing up on her doorstep . . . and she needed a lift here, so we gave her one, and then after Vicki was gone, she said what she wanted was a place to stay, and now she's staying at my house . . . apparently. She hasn't mentioned going home."

"My God, how are we related? You do realize you paid 3x over the asking price, since the lift here was something else she weaseled out of you." I sighed before shaking my head and then turning my attention back on the hidden figure by the school. She was shorter than Bonnie in height and had a very delicate, some might say, fragile, bone structure. Her clothes were supper baggy, like 5x too big, and you couldn't see her from here, but I knew without a doubt that she was hiding, because being out in public made her immensely uncomfortable, possibly with good reason.

Her stature, the way she held herself, and the fact that she was essentially hiding meant she looked skittish, unassuming, and weak, but I knew she wasn't any of those things. If she was making an appearance, Elena was right, that wasn't good. Slowly extending a hand towards Caroline, and speaking calmly and clearly, like I was advising her to step away from a snake that was ready to strike, even though Imelda was a good 30 yards away, I quietly said, "Caroline, can you come here please?" She looked at Bonnie and Elena in confusion before stepping closer, and I used her body to hide that I was searching for my favorite stake at the bottom of my gym bag as I said to Damon, "You need to go. Take Caroline with you and hide my stake for me."

He started to say, "I'm not leaving you - " at the same time Elena walked up next to Caroline and asked, "Why? Did you steal that from her?"

I looked between the two, unsure of who I should answer first and just decided on an response that might make sense to both. "It was a 16th birthday present. I made it, and Imelda made it indestructible. To keep it that way, I had to kill 17 vampires with it by my 17th birthday. Trust me, I earned it." Handing it to Damon, I felt the need to add, "I will be fine, but I'm not so sure she won't try to take this back if she's figured out what you and Caroline are." I have no idea whether she'd been able to hear any of what we'd been talking about from where she was standing, but I did know that there was a reason vampire hunters went to Imelda, and it wasn't for the pleasant conversation.

Chapter Text

Well, if we wanted me on my back foot and feeling out my depth, then this was the perfect venue for our visit. I felt as uncomfortable in Elena's kitchen as Imelda had looked outside the house. Of course her discomfort disappeared the second she got in here, so it's like she was a brand new witch. She was already sitting at the head of the kitchen table, like she owned the place.

Elena went over to the counter to make some tea, and Imelda flicked her wrist in the direction of the chair nearest to me. It came sliding away from the table of its own accord, and she cast a brief look at Bonnie in challenge for being able to do something as simple as that when Bonnie couldn't. Then her attention was on me. "Sit."

Well, I guess I could see why Bonnie would think she was sketchy if she was doing passive aggressive things like that to her when people's backs were turned. In reality, Imelda was most likely affronted by what Bonnie had done to lose her powers. Imelda was a purist. That meant that she was insulted by the misuse of magic and all things that went against the rules of nature. In fact, Bonnie bringing Jeremy back was probably higher up Imelda's list of dislikes than killing me had been. She absolutely loathed vampires, because they cheated death, but then again, I suppose she did have other reasons to hate them as well.

She was young, maybe in her early 30s or about to be, and she had a look about her that reminded me somewhat of Jenna. They had similar hair and facial features, or they would if Imelda's hadn't been scarred almost beyond recognition along the right side of her face and neck. She probably could've used some of her magic to heal the bite marks, or at least make them less noticeable, but she hadn't. Her hatred ran so deep that not only would she rather shut herself off from the world and keep her scars as a constant reminder of the ordeal that'd given them to her, but she'd also given her right eye in a spell she used to decimate the group of vampires that'd tortured her. It was a milky gray sort of color compared to the hazel green of her good eye, and it also made her more powerful than she'd already been.

"So . . . Eve. Long time, no see." I exhaled a laugh at her joke, and she gave me a smirk in response before saying, "There's something different about you . . . and it's not just the hair, which I love by the way. It's something else . . . something magical . . . what have you got?"

Elena and Bonnie both immediately looked in my direction, and I briefly bit the inside of my cheek before unzipping the new black hooded sweatshirt that I'd gotten to replace my old one, so I could show her the tie pin I kept on me at all times. Leaning forward to take a look at it, she studied it for a few moments before her eye flicked up to mine. "Do I want to know how you got that?"

Did she want to know a vampire that was part of the original family of vampires who created all other vampires had given it to me? No. "Why? Do you have nothing better to do than keep tabs on me? Were you suddenly unable to do it anymore?"

She tossed me a small smile for poking fun at her solitude before sitting back and taking her cup of tea from Elena, while saying, "Well, it's not every day you meet a 16-year-old hunter, let alone one who can deliver. Of course I kept tabs on you . . . How's your stake working out?"

She was not getting that back. I earned it fair and square. "Still my favorite . . . Why are you here, Imelda? It's not to help them . . . Are you the one who really needs help?"

Knowing I was giving her the benefit of the doubt, Imelda's shoulders relaxed, and she shook her head. "I'm here because I'm needed."

"By?"

She smiled at my gentle prodding before flashing another look in Bonnie's direction. "Your friend here screwed up the balance in more ways than one. It appears that my job is not yet complete."

Bonnie took the reprimand the way it was intended and ducked her head. See. Witches all stuck together. I'd been saying the same thing all along, but all it took was another witch to say it, and suddenly she was listening to what was being said . . . but then she hadn't exactly been willing to listen to Imelda after her first visit. Maybe it was just harder to ignore when the consequences for bringing Jeremy back were starting to do things like try to kill her best friend . . . Still, I didn't believe that was why Imelda was here. She had to have ulterior motives, and there's a reason I hadn't wanted her to know anything about this Original Witch.

My guess was that if Vicki had been trying to kill Elena, then it was for the same reason she'd said that for Klaus to make his hybrids, Elena had to die. The witch on the other side told Vicki to do it as her price for helping Vicki get a foothold on this side of the divide, and really, it made sense if you were a witch, because if vampires were an abomination to the natural order, then hybrids had to be too. Of course, Imelda would want to get in on that, because she'd want to stop hybrids from being created too, but something told me there was more, or she would've already found a way to kill Elena. "Says who?" Everyone at the table's attention turned to me, and I elaborated, "You didn't happen to contact anyone on the other side who said, 'Imelda, you should get on down to Mystic Falls. Your services are required, and your payment will be in the work itself.'"

Elena and Bonnie rolled their eyes. Imelda smiled. "You see, now that, Elena, is something you simply cannot fake."

My eyes narrowed marginally as I glanced in Elena's direction. Had she gone to Imelda pretending to be me? After all the grief I'd gotten for pretending to be her, she suddenly decided it was a good idea to do the same thing? I should be annoyed or angry for the double standards, but really I just found it amusing. "You tried to be me?" Glancing at Imelda with a grin, I said, "Did she not get the charming personality quite right? I bet she went with all snark all the time, didn't she?"

"She's just not as quick. You've either got it, or you don't."

I frowned slightly. "There's no need to be mean, Imelda. That wasn't nice."

"But true nonetheless."

I rolled my eyes. "What's true is that you are annoyed that she thought she could pull a fast one on you, and now you're being nasty about it. I've got something blocking you from sensing me with your magic, and she doesn't. That'd be a dead give away if she so much as shook your hand . . . Well, that and shaking your hand, because I don't do that, and she's also a doppelganger, so there's that . . . nothing special about me."

"See. Quick."

Taking a slow breath, I observed her. "So, that's a yes on you communing with the Original Witch anyway . . . Who is she?"

Leaning forward across the table from me, Elena whispered, "We don't have time for this. Ask her what she thinks is going to happen, so we can fix - "

Was she really interrupting me when I was doing my thing here? I glanced at her and said, "Since you've kept me out of the loop on all of this, then you can ask her that yourself when I'm done."

"You told me to do it myself. You can't get mad at me for - "

"I told you to deal with your boyfriend yourself. If you have dead vampires trying to kill you, then it's probably something you should tell me. You didn't, because your feelings were hurt that I wouldn't let you walk all over me, you big baby. Now stop arguing with me, and pay attention to how this is done. It's time for the grown ups to talk." Holy shit. Did I just say that out loud? Yeah . . . yeah, I'm almost sure I did. Judging by the way her eyes widened before they narrowed as she slumped back in her chair with her arms crossed over her chest, I'd say I definitely had.

We'd argued quite a few times, and sometimes it became quite heated, or we said the meanest things possible to one another, or both, but I'd never really put her in her place or sounded quite like a big sister annoyed with having to clean up her little sister's mess until now. I'd also never had her simply back off like she did and take on the role of the pouting little sister. That had to be new for her, because I know that she grew up as the oldest in her family.

I guess that maybe when it came to the supernatural, she was essentially on my turf. Her turf involved dealing with normal people and this town. I'm sure that there was almost a constant turf war going on between us, because my world and hers collided with the supernatural friends she had around her. This was different. Her friends might be vampires, witches, and werewolf-hybrids, but that didn't mean she actually knew anything about vampires, witches, and werewolves beyond the personal connections she had with the people she knew, and the world was so much bigger than that, which meant the balance of power had shifted in my favor . . . at least this time.

My eyes went back to Imelda, and for the first time, I felt like myself around Elena, not angry or bitter or unsure of what to say and do, just me with a job to do, and she wasn't going to get in my way. I could ask Imelda what the Original witch wanted, but I didn't trust Imelda to tell me. If she said anything at all, it'd be so she could send me on a wild goose chase, and I really didn't want that kind of a distraction. What I wanted was to know who this witch was, so I could research her myself and get my answers that way. Imelda smirked before sitting back and playing coy. "I could tell you who she is for a price."

"I could kill you for free, especially since you're here to reset the balance and at a minimum keep hybrids from being created on a large scale, which means my sister's head just might be on your chopping block if whatever you're planning fails. How about we say I don't kill you, and that is your fee paid in full."

"At all?"

Ooh, she was sure I'd want to kill her if I knew what she was planning. I considered it. It was never good to issue blanket statements of safety for supernatural beings that might some day need killing, particularly if they did indeed go after your sister. Meh, I could always have Damon kill her, but what if she killed Damon, or tried to kill Damon, then I'd have to kill her. The same went for Caroline. Might as well throw in another freebee just in case it was needed. "With four exceptions that I'm keeping to myself to make sure you behave yourself."

Sitting forward, she almost whined, "Eve, that's not a fair price, and you know it." It's times like this when her youthfulness shined brightest.

I gave her a mischievous grin and said, "Why, because we've come full circle and are right back where we started with no real deal in place? Yeah . . . and yet your price has been met, so spill. Who is the Original Witch?"

Flicking a crumb off the table, she focused on that, as she grumbled, "Who says that was my price?"

"You did when you started negotiating. I countered, and we have a deal."

"You're even more boorish than your father."

Resting my arms on the table and ducking down to try and catch her good eye, I said, "Imelda, I'd help you for free too if you needed it, and you know it."

Her shoulders dropped before she sighed and said, "I do . . . and I appreciate it more than you know, but just because you don't value yourself enough to let others know they can't use you whenever they feel like it without a price, doesn't mean I do."

"So, having a simple conversation with you has come this now, has it? I can respect how you conduct business, but you have priced yourself right out of any meaningful interactions with people. I didn't ask what she wants. I asked who she is. I'd like you to tell me, so we can get onto other more interesting things that don't involve why you're here at all."

"Like if you've seen The Road yet?"

She could be an all-powerful witch one second, and an insecure child the next, but it wasn't calculated. She was just really messed up after a lifetime of damage, some done to her by the things she hated, and some done by herself. It didn't mean she wasn't calculating, just that the drastic swings in her personality weren't. I guess you could say that Klaus was similar, but Imelda wasn't as paranoid, and she didn't rip people apart the way he did. You just needed to know how to talk to her, like an equal, not an all-powerful witch, and not like she was a victim. And she's probably the only person I knew who'd had even more alone time than me, so movies were a big part of her life too. Giving her the best poker face I could, I answered, "Yep, like that."

Sitting forward, she quickly said, "Have you read the book, because - "

"Imelda."

My eyebrow ticked up, and she sighed. "How is it that I'm the one paying you now?"

I couldn't help the genuine smile that crept up on my face. "You're not . . . It's called hanging out, Imelda . . . without the expectation of anything in return other than time spent conversing and doing things that are fun."

She sat back with a bit of a pout and said, "I know what hanging out is."

"Yeah? Then maybe you should try it instead of learning everything you know from movies."

She laughed before looking at me, and I knew she was back to being somewhere closer to her age. "Like you're one to talk."

"True."

I opened my mouth to say something else, and she sat forward to stop me. "Okay, I'll tell you, but you're not going to believe who it is."

She sounded gossipy, and I loved it. "Who is it?"

"I don't know what her name was when she was alive, but I know she has A LOT to answer for from when she was. She's the one who started it all."

My eyes narrowed slightly as I thought about it, and I wasn't entirely sure that she didn't know what the woman's name had been. Imelda must know I planned on putting the research in on this one. If the dead woman wasn't a threat to something important to me, then Imelda wouldn't think I'd want to kill her if I knew what she was planning. I had to be ever mindful of that, and that is why no matter how I interacted with Imelda, I'd never really trust her. "I figured that she's the one who put the curse on Klaus to keep his werewolf side dormant, so she was probably alive 1000 years ago."

Grinning, Imelda responded, "That she was, and that she did, but she was trying to dampen the true scale of her crimes against nature. Even then it wasn't enough for her to truly understand what it is she did . . . at least not until her son killed her, and she's spent a long time watching her children wreak havoc on this world, regretting the choices she made, and learning in death what she didn't understand in life . . . why the balance has to be maintained."

Sitting back as I took that all in, I looked off to the side and shook my head a little disappointed with myself. "I'm such an idiot." Flicking my eyes back to Imelda, I said, "It's all in the name. I should've seen it."

Elena sat forward, clearly intrigued. "What?"

Glancing at Elena, I said, "Well for one, she's their mother . . . Original Witch . . . of the Original Family, and I'm guessing Klaus is the one who killed her . . . probably just one of the consequences for what she actually did." My attention went back to Imelda as I said, "She's the one who turned them into what they are now, isn't she?"

Imelda smirked, and that's all the answer I needed. This was bigger than I'd thought. For Imelda to be working with the witch who actually created vampires, she had to overcome an insurmountable amount of hate for the woman, and that would've been even more difficult than it obviously had been for her to walk outside the door of her house. The timing on it had to have been fast too. She had to have contacted the Original Witch after the phone call she got from Elena and Bonnie telling her they needed her help with Vicki and why. She'd probably intended to tell the Original Witch to back off, but the Original Witch must've had a proposition for her, and she'd given almost no thought to agreeing to it.

I didn't know what the Original Witch had promised her, but whatever it was had to have been huge, and I knew there's no way she'd tell me. Maybe this Original Witch knew a way to undo what she'd done, and her children could go back to being human again. Maybe the Original Witch knew some kind of cure that would make any vampire a human again. Maybe she knew how to kill her children. And why did Imelda need to be here to do whatever it was she was planning?

Was the Original Witch buried around here? That'd be an unbelievable boost of power for someone like Imelda to tap into. For a witch to be able to pull off the kind of spell required to create a vampire from scratch, she had to have been one of the most powerful witches that'd ever lived. I'd say the most powerful, but if meeting Klaus had taught me one thing, it was that there was always something bigger and badder out there than you knew . . . Enter Mikael.

Maybe the Original Witch had told Imelda that Klaus would be coming back for Elena, so Imelda wanted to use Elena as bait for some reason. I'd figure all of this out given the time . . . I just didn't know how much time I had or want to do it in front of these three. Sitting back, I exhaled a slow breath before giving Imelda a well intended warning. "Just be careful. I've met three of her children, and if she's the one who raised them, you cannot trust her."

"You don't have to tell me that, but I think I'll take my chances . . . Now about The Road. Have you read the book, and - "

Flicking my hand to wave off the question, like she was being ridiculous, I said, "Of course I've read the book . . . I'm still waiting for something like that to happen. It'd be so much easier to navigate this world if almost the entire planet was wiped out. I used to think zombie apocalypse. Now I'm thinking witch armageddon because you magical folks seem to screw up an awful lot - probably create something that'll kill us all."

She laughed before saying, "My bet's on human-made . . . A nuclear holocaust is still not off the cards or a biological weapon."

Drumming my fingers on the table, I nodded, "Fair point . . . Or it could be nobody's fault and a good old-fashioned pandemic. Something like that would bring you witches down with the rest of us, you know. Guess it's a good thing you live alone out in the middle of nowhere." She laughed, and I smiled before saying, " And yeah, I saw the movie. I actually thought it did a good job of keeping to the spirit of the book."

"Me too! They got the bleakness and the feelings of isolation and desperation just right."

Chapter Text

I closed the door behind me and bounded down the stairs, but stopped when the door opened, and I heard someone whisper-shout for me to wait. Turning to look at Elena, I sighed. "What?"

"What am I supposed to do? She can't stay here."

Glancing over her shoulder at the house, I answered, "Well, you can't kick her out. You made a deal, and it's one you have to keep. Besides, it would be cruel. Her agoraphobia is genuine. It's a miracle she left her house to come here at all. She doesn't have anywhere else that she can go while she's here, and it's not like she's going to ask for a lift back from a random stranger. She wouldn't book a room in a hotel either. If she did, she may not leave."

Walking down the steps, Elena quietly asked, "What happened to her?"

She seemed to want to know, because she cared, so I said, "I only know what Dad told me. I'm sure her story differs, because she was there, and everything else is just hearsay. I mean, it's obvious vampires did it. The bite marks say that. I don't know how many there were . . . anywhere between 6 and 10 took her when she was about 15 or 16. They wanted to use her for her power, and they thought that since she was young, and only really starting to come into her powers, they could get her to do what they wanted easier than an older witch."

"That's why she makes people pay her for her help." I nodded, a little impressed at how Elena had pieced that together, and then she said, "But she wouldn't do what they wanted her to do, would she?"

"No. So they tried to force her to do it . . . hence the scars."

Showing more concern for Imelda than she'd ever shown me, Elena asked, "Did they do that to her eye?"

"No . . . she did that to herself, so she could take all the vampires out at once. It was what the spell she came up with required. I can't stress how important it is that Caroline does not come over here while she's here. Imelda won't see who Caroline is. All she'll see is a vampire. Caroline will be dead before you see it coming."

"Is she dangerous?"

"She's powerful . . . That eye of hers gives her the kind of power Klaus and Elijah's witches only wish they had. She may be on par with how powerful Bonnie was when she had access to the power of those dead witches, and her personality fluctuates pretty frequently and without warning, but she's really only violent when it comes to vampires, so you should be all right. Look at it this way. Klaus won't be able to knock on your door anytime soon."

"Really?" She seemed hopeful.

Nodding, I said, "Yeah . . . but never forget that if she hates vampires, she must hate the idea of hybrids even more, and you cannot trust her not to kill you if she thinks there is no other way to prevent him from getting his hybrids."

Biting the inside of her cheek briefly, Elena nodded before looking back at the house. "So trust her as much as I can trust a witch that hates vampires and hybrids."

"Pretty much . . . And never give her your blood."

Her face turned back in my direction. "You said that earlier. If it's not to make hybrids, then why would she want it?"

"A doppelganger's blood is extremely powerful magic, and it's used in powerful spells. The curse that was put on Klaus - "

"Required my blood to break it."

"Exactly, but it also required a doppelganger's blood to create it."

"Katherine wasn't the first doppelganger."

"No . . . There was at least one other, but maybe more. Elijah said he'd met 3 in his time, but he thought there were some that may have fallen through the cracks . . . Anyway, the point is that you never give your blood to a witch. You have no idea what they're going to use it to do."

"What's so special about it?"

"It's like a binding agent. It's what is needed to tie the whole spell together. Look at the hybrids. Without your blood, the vampire half and the werwolf half tear the hybrid apart, but with your blood, it bridges the gap and makes them a whole entity . . . And if a witch uses your blood, there's a good chance the spell will also be tied to you. Maybe it won't kill you. Maybe it will, but you have no way of knowing which it will be, because they will lie and say whatever they have to do to get your blood from you."

"What if they just take it?"

That's why you have me. "They could try. In fact, I read a book that was pretty much all about the sacrificing of doppelgangers, and - "

"You mean not all doppelgangers look like me?"

"No. There are other lines. Yours is the Petrova line, but that's just because that was Katherine's last name, and she's the most well known from your line." Elena took that all in before nodding slowly, and I looked at her house before turning to leave and said, "Anyway, I doubt Imelda will be here long. She's waiting for something to happen, so you'll ask her for her help again, and when it's done, she'll want to go back home."

"Help with what?"

Turning back to her, I shrugged. "I have no idea. It doesn't really matter. She'll solve the problem and then another one will crop up . . . probably of her own making, and then she'll solve that. It's the end game I'm concerned with trying to figure out, so I can head her off - if it's bad. It may not be."

"But you don't know for sure." I shook my head, and Elena looked at the window to her living room before saying, "It'd be so much easier if Bonnie - "

Not this again. "Elena."

Her shoulders dropped before she looked at me and said, "Imelda told Bonnie if she wants answers, then she needs to talk to her Mom."

Ah, so what she'd been thinking had been more about Bonnie not doing what she should, than me doing what I did. I could live with that for a change. "Then that's what Bonnie should do."

"Bonnie's Mom left when she was little, and she never came back."

"I know. That's why her Grams was the one who had to fill her in on all things witch." Elena gave me an annoyed look, but I stopped her before she could say anything. "And I can understand why Bonnie may not want to talk to her Mom, but if it's the journey she has to take, then it's the one she has to take. Nobody said self-reflection was easy, and it shouldn't be. Once you kill somebody, it's kind of time to grow up."

Her eyes narrowed, but instead of saying what I thought she would, she said, "Can I ask you something?"

"Go for it."

"Did you mean it?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

Stepping closer before glancing over her shoulder, she looked at me and whispered, "When you said you'd kill Imelda?"

"Yes."

Why'd she look angry? "She's a little strange, and she might be dangerous to vampires, but she's sweet, and she's been through a lot. You can't just kill her if she does something you don't like."

Oh. "And if she kills someone because I don't? Is that okay, or is it as bad as me killing them myself, because I didn't do anything to stop her and could have?"

That's definitely the way I'd felt when I was on the road with Klaus. Elena's eyes tightened into a glare as she answered, "You don't have to stoop to her level."

"You don't get second chances in this game, Elena."

"You could find another way . . . tie her up or something. You don't have to kill her."

"And when she gets out and comes after me or people I care about for retribution? What then? Am I supposed to keep tying her up and giving her chances to come after me?"

"If that's what it takes. It's the right thing."

"Yeah? Is that what you think about Katherine? You wouldn't kill her if you had the chance? Or are you going to keep letting her come back again and again to go after all your friends . . . maybe your brother if it fits into one of her plans?"

I think I had her briefly until she said, "There's a big difference between wanting to kill someone and actually doing it."

"Mm . . . but you're fine with letting Stefan and Damon doing the killing for you, aren't you? It keeps your hands clean and conscience clear. Like you didn't kill that Noah-vampire when he came after you at the school. They did. And you didn't have to deal with Mason when you went looking for the moon stone. Damon did. I'm sure I could think of other instances if - "

"How does you killing Imelda make you any different than those other vampire hunters you were talking about?"

"Because I'm not going in there and killing her right now, not that they would. That black and white way of thinking - that's Imelda all the way. It's why vampire-hunters go to her. If she's here long enough, you'll see what I'm talking about."

"But how could you kill her? How can you be friends and - "

"We're not friends."

"That's not what I saw in there."

"You think she wouldn't find a way to kill me if I got in her way? She would in a second."

"You're wrong."

"If you really believe that, then you're naive."

"I'm not. You don't talk to someone the way you were with her and then turn around and kill that person."

"You want the truth?"

"It's the least you owe me."

I owed her? I couldn't help the glare, but I did my best to stay calm. "When you are truly alone, and you have to be either because it's how you were raised or you don't trust anyone or you're on the run or you're afraid to leave your house, whatever the reason, you do one of two things when you meet someone new. You either push them away, and I am a champ at that, or the part of you that is desperate not to be alone forms an instant connection with the people you meet . . . that one I'm not so good at when it comes to normal everyday people, but when I meet someone who is as equally alone, it happens sometimes. This is only the third time I've met Imelda . . . One more time than Bonnie has . . . We are not friends."

Not bothering to hide her suspicion, Elena asked, "But you connect with her. That has to mean something to you."

"Well, I can connect with Katherine, Klaus, or Imelda, but it doesn't mean I trust any of them not to kill me. That connection doesn't mean we're colluding, or I'm teaming up with them, and it's not because I'm a monster too . . . We're just in the same lonely club, and I'm not talking about an 'I'm lonely because it's Saturday night, and I have nothing to do," kind of lonely. It is a deep-seeded feeling that you are truly alone in this world, because you are."

Still trying to prove her point, as an idea occurred to her, she quickly said, "What about Rose? Damon said you connected with her, and you didn't want her to die. You went and killed a whole bunch of other people when she did die, so - "

"Werewolves."

"What?"

"I killed a pack of werewolves, not people."

"That doesn't matter. It doesn't mean you have the right to - "

Well, this had quickly derailed into an 'it doesn't matter what you say, I'm not going to listen to any of it,' kind of argument. "And Jules had a right to rip those campers apart? She had a right to put Rose through what she did or make Rose kill that innocent man by the school? We aren't playing by the rules you're used to playing by. We're playing by their rules, and they only have two: kill or be killed."

"Then what about Damon?"

"What about him?"

"Would you kill him?"

"No. I wouldn't kill him anymore than I would've killed Mom."

Stepping back slightly as she looked off to the side in thought, Elena's eyes narrowed before her attention came back to me. "And why is that?"

It instantly made me angry. She didn't get to ask me questions like that. She hadn't earned it. "Because he's my best friend and the only person I completely trust." To get the topic off of him, I added, "I'd never kill Caroline either. They're my friends, and they've worked hard to be that."

I turned to walk away, and she said, "And Bonnie?"

It made me stop. "She is not my friend."

"No, she's my best friend, and you didn't kill her."

No, I just took something incredibly important away from her. Glancing at Elena over my shoulder, I said, "What's your real question, Elena? Do you want to know if I'd kill you?"

Seeming uncomfortable with me coming right out and saying it, she shrugged a shoulder. "Well?"

Half the point of me wanting to be in that stupid ritual instead of her was to protect her, and the entire reason I'd crossed Klaus was to get her body back from him, so how did she not know the answer to this? She still didn't believe most of what I said, did she? I may not like her or trust her or really know how to act around her, but I'd die to protect her. Always would. She was my sister even if I wasn't hers. Rolling my eyes, I turned to leave, because in no way was I going to say that to her. I wasn't entirely sure she wouldn't try to use it against me again.

A couple of seconds later, she ran around me to block my exit. "That's not an answer."

"Elena, stop it."

"No, why won't you just tell me if - "

Make her retreat."Because I don't trust you."

Looking offended, she quickly exclaimed, "YOU don't trust ME?." I stepped around her, and she said, "We're supposed to be sisters."

Whipping around to look at her, I quickly responded, "When it suits you." Stepping closer, I added, "And don't play that card with me unless you really mean it. I won't allow you to use it to manipulate me ever again. If you need help, I will be there, but we have a long way to go before we're even friends," before turning on my heel and getting out of there before either of us could make it worse.

Chapter Text

"Good morning, sweetheart." My eyes threatened to open, but I let them flutter shut. I missed that voice more than I let myself dwell on for very long. If the only time I got to hear it was in dreams, then I was staying asleep as long as possible.

"Come on, Eve . . . It's time to wake up."

"I don't want to."

"Well, we can't always get what we want, and we have a busy day ahead of us."

I groaned. "Do I have to go to school?"

"Absolutely not . . . If I had my way, you wouldn't go back there again . . . A structured environment really isn't right for you. It's holding you back. You learn so much more when it's at your own pace, and you don't have to wait for the simpletons in your classes to understand something you learned in the first 5 minutes or already knew."

My eyes flicked open, and I laid motionless as I stared at the wall in front of me. Something wasn't right. My heart started pounding, like it was going to beat out of my chest, and I didn't know if I was more afraid to look over my shoulder and find nothing there or see what I was beginning to suspect was there. "Mom?"

"The one and only. Now why don't you take a shower, and I'll see what there is in the kitchen for breakfast." I felt something nudge my shoulder and immediately shot up and scurried away from it until my back hit the headboard, and I found myself staring into the face of my Mom, who was sitting on my bed, like it was normal for her to be there.

I don't know if tears of hope or tears of dread were in my eyes as I said, "My Mom doesn't make breakfast."

Momentarily looking sad, she nodded before trying to smile. "I know . . . it's been a while, but I can make a mean waffle . . . you remember?"

A tear slid down my cheek as I nodded. "You learned how to make them in one of your home economics classes in high school."

Smiling a little more brightly, she said, "That's right," before she got up. "I don't know how much time we have, so don't stay in there too long." I watched her walk out my bedroom door a little mystified by the entire experience and then looked down at myself to see if I was really sitting up in bed. Yeah, I was, but that didn't necessarily mean anything. I could be sitting up in my dream, but the way my heart was thumping didn't seem like something I'd sleep through. Maybe the shower would feel real? Or not. Then I might have answer? Or not. I was in and out as fast as possible even if I wasn't sure what was going on right now. The water felt real, but I wouldn't know for sure until . . . No. No, she wouldn't be there.

I have no idea how I could ever possibly think that had been real. I almost had myself talked out of it ever happening. It was just the last vestiges of sleep that must have made my brain a little fuzzy or . . . something? I wandered down the hall slowly, like I was conscious of the fact that when I got to the kitchen she might not be there and wanted to prolong that disappointment for as long as possible. My pace quickened when I heard a loud thud come from that direction, and coming around the corner, I found myself faced with a situation I couldn't quite comprehend, but one that definitely made me say, "Mom! Put him down!."

She had Damon picked up off the floor and slammed against the wall by his throat. With a short growl, I knew all to well, she spat out, "With pleasure," before throwing him across the room, and he went flying past me into the fridge and landed on the floor in a heap.

I immediately went to him and helped him to his feet before scrambling to stand in front of him as a shield when I saw her fast approaching. Putting my hands out in front of me as a signal for her to stop, I almost begged. "Mom, please, don't . . . Please." If she'd never hurt me, then it was safe to say that I'd never hurt her . . . not even to keep her from killing someone. I just couldn't. She was my Mom . . . That didn't mean I didn't have a lot of experience trying to talk her down though. "This is his house. He has every right to be here."

Taking me by the arm and pulling me away from him without taking her eyes from his face, she snarled, "And you are my daughter," before dragging me over to the island and flicking a warning look at him that said to back off as she started getting whatever ingredients she'd found ready. This was the more possessive side of her that I'd come to know, particularly when it came to my Dad. My eyes went to Damon, and he looked as confused and caught off guard as I felt, but if he could see her, then she had to really be here, didn't she? Or was I dreaming that too?

The look he gave me asked if she was really standing in his kitchen, and I shrugged, because I didn't know. He relaxed before nodding, like he was answering his own question for me, because he knew she was, and he wanted me to know it too. His unspoken question had been more of a rhetorical one, I guess, and then he tilted his head in her direction. He wanted me to ask what she was doing here.

I looked at her. Her head was bowed, and her expression suggested she was fully concentrated on something else now, like what'd just happened had been forgotten, as she wrote something down on a piece of paper. I knew that look. It's the one she always had when she was researching her lore. "Mom?"

"Yes, baby?"

"Are you really here?"

Smiling, without taking her eyes from her task, she answered, "Of course I am."

Damon stepped forward and without looking at him, I put my hand up as a signal for him to wait. If he started being a smart ass now to push her into a better answer, then he'd completely derail her moment of calm. "But . . . but I thought you died."

She paused in scribbling what she'd been writing, but didn't look at me. Looking ashamed for the briefest of moments, she nodded. "I did . . . but I'm here now." Flashing me a smile over her shoulder, she said, "So, let's make the most of it, while we can . . . okay?"

I felt myself nod before I knew what I was doing, and she happily went back to writing on her piece of paper. My eyes briefly stung with the threat of tears, but I quickly blinked them away as I watched her and asked, "What are you doing?"

"I am giving you my recipe . . . It's something, I, as your mother, should have done." She flicked another dangerous look at Damon, as she said, "And now I'm rectifying that." So, she'd at least seen Damon's cooking classes with me that we'd been doing regularly since my road trip with Klaus, was jealous about it, and I guess now she wanted in on that experience? Looking back down at her sheet of paper she said, "And it's the only recipe I know by heart . . . but I used to be pretty great at it, didn't I?"

She gave me a look that said she was fearful she hadn't been. She hadn't done it while she was a vampire, and truth be told, when she was human, the only time she'd been able to do it was for birthdays until I was maybe 11 or 12 when she'd been called into work, hadn't been able to do it that birthday, and hadn't done it since. Nodding as I tried to give her a smile, I answered, "Yeah . . . yeah, you were."

Her shoulders relaxed as she carried on with her recipe, and I glanced at Damon. He pointed for the door, and I nodded. I'd be okay with her, and he needed to find out what was happening. I didn't want it to be over the way he probably did, but I did want to know how long I had with her. He started heading for the door, but before he got to the archway, she haphazardly said, "Don't go near Elena's house. That witch will kill you if she sees you. Find the Bennet witch . . . the dead one. She'll probably be with her granddaughter," without looking up from her work.

He paused, threw another confused look in my direction, and then walked over to us. "How about you tell me what the hell is going on, Isobel, and save me the trouble."

"No, I don't think I will." Putting her pen down and looking up at him with another threatening expression, she said, "I won't stop you from doing what needs to be done, but I'm not going to help you figure it out either. It's Mother-Daughter Day, and I don't want you around to distract her." He opened his mouth to argue with her, and her attitude changed as she quietly implored, "You get her tomorrow and whatever days there are after that. Let me have today . . . Let her have today." She didn't say please, but it was implied in her tone, and his mouth closed as he took a step back to look at me. His eyes flitted back to her a few moments later before he nodded, and then he was gone in a flash. Her shoulders relaxed as she turned back towards the counter with a happy sigh. "Now. If I can do this, you can. First, you mix together the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar."

She went through it all step-by-step, and we did it together over and over again until I got it right. I ate, and then she wanted to hear me play my piano. Sitting at my bench, I placed my fingers on the keys and started a song before asking, "Do you know this one?"

A smile slowly crept up on her face as she said, "Perfect Day."

"Yeah, I just learned it."

I went back to focusing on the keys, and she said, "Will you sing it for me?"

My attention immediately went back to her. Had she heard Dad say something about that the last time I saw him? "Mom, I - "

"I should've never said that. I was having a bad day, and I didn't think. I never meant for you to stop altogether . . . Sing it if you want." She seemed so earnest that I couldn't really turn her down, so I did . . . with the exception of the 'you're going to reap just what you sow,' part at the end. I didn't think that was probably a very good thing for a dead person to hear. When I was done, I looked up at her, and her eyes were watery as she smiled through it and said, "Will you play it?"

I should be angry. There was a thread of it somewhere deep down. How could she just waltz back into my life, like she wasn't dead, and I hadn't lost her, but more than that, how could she come back and try to be who she was before she was a vampire or who she thought she should've been all along? She'd never cooked with me when she was human. She'd stopped me playing the piano when she was a vampire. What was she trying to prove? Was she seriously trying to make right the mistakes she thought she'd made but hadn't been able to see until she was dead? I should feel that anger more, and push back against what she wanted, but I was either in more of a state of perpetual shock by her presence than I'd thought, or I just couldn't bring myself to feel that, because she was here, and none of that mattered, did it?

Biting my bottom lip, I looked back down at the keys. I knew what song she wanted. It's the first song I learned how to play . . . the one my Dad had been talking about when he said she played a simple little melody to get me going. Of course I hadn't learned more than about 4 or 5 notes that first day, but I've been told I played them over and over again until she got tired of hearing it and had to teach me 4 or 5 more notes to add to the others, and it kept going from there, a little more every day . . . just the basic song, not even with two hands. She wasn't a musician herself, so I have no idea how she even knew how to play those first 4 or 5 notes, but I guess when she was younger, it'd been one of her favorite songs, so she must've been messing around on a piano somewhere and figured out the melody, or at least those 4 or 5 notes.

After she started teaching me, she had to figure out the rest of the melody in her free time, so she could keep showing me what to play until I had the entire melody down . . . At some point, I learned to play properly and more songs than just this one. Most likely because she'd had to teach herself the basics, so she could stay ahead of me enough to be my teacher, the way she had with all my schooling, and eventually I surpassed her in being able to play. She's probably the only one who knew when that was, because I didn't. Anyway, it all started with this and after I learned to really play, it became something of a tradition for us that on her birthday, I'd play this song as a present, and every year it'd be the same song, but different, as my ability grew and my arrangements became more difficult. That all ended following her fight with Dad after she turned, and now she wanted me to play it again? I hadn't played it in years.

Exhaling a slow breath, I nodded before hesitantly putting my fingers on the keys. I could do this . . . just focus on the keys and not how playing this song made me feel. Friday I'm in Love by The Cure coming right up. When it was over my eyes darted in her direction, and she grinned before saying, "Thank you . . . You have no idea how much that means to me," before she teared up again and looked towards the door saying, "I'd love to stay in here and listen to you play all day, but there are so many things I want to do." Holding her hand out to me, she smiled again. "Come on."

Next, she took me outside, and while we were walking the grounds, she asked, "You're determined to go to that school?"

"I owe it to myself to try."

"You could do it for a couple of months to get the experience of having gone and just skip straight ahead to college at the start of next semester. I think you'd flourish in that kind of an environment."

She sounded hopeful and uncertain, because she didn't really know if I would, and for the first time, I actually considered college. I didn't consider it for me, but I think I realized that maybe I owed it to her to go, because she'd had to give up her dream of going for me, and now she couldn't do it, but I could. "I'll think about it." My forehead creased as I admitted, "I actually have no idea what I'd study."

"Music?"

"I don't know. I love music, but I don't want to study it, like that, or that'll strip the enjoyment away."

"You could do occult studies. You've already got a good idea of what's involved in that, and it'd help you with your hunting."

"So go to college to become a better hunter?"

"Yeah, if that's what you've decided to do, then you can do the normal thing of going to college to further your career the way everyone else does even if your career is far from normal."

She made a valid point - a very valid point. I looked at her with something of an epiphany, and she smiled. She always did know how to sell things to me. "You know most vampire-hunters are always on the move. They don't stay in one place very long."

Knowing what I was really saying, she nodded. "I know, but you're not most vampire-hunters, are you? For starters, they can't stay in one place, because it isn't safe for them to do it, but you live with vampires, sweetheart. Something tells me you can afford to stay in one place. The other reason they're always on the move is because they go where the work takes them, but there's no rule to say that you can't stay in one place and watch over a state or two. You could go on business trips further from home when you see something important that needs to be handled, but lord knows this town has an above normal level of supernatural activity, so something tells me you won't be short of work if you make it your home."

I smiled briefly, feeling better than I'd felt in a while. It felt a little like a plan was coming together for my future. Returning my smile, Mom said, "Now, if you're serious about going to that school, then I think you and I should go through a few things," before she had me run through the cheers that I was supposed to be learning and gave me pointers.

Apparently, my cartwheels were fine. She and I had worked on those when she was alive, but my round offs and hand springs were a little frenetic, and she wanted me to slow them down. "But if I use them hunting, then I'm going to have to be as fast as possible, aren't I? I mean vampires aren't exactly slow."

Breathing out a quick laugh she answered, "You're not fighting vampires out there on the field, Eve. You're energizing the crowd, so they can energize your team, and if you're team sucks, you're giving the crowd something to to watch that isn't your team losing."

"Well, that seems stupid."

"Well don't tell anyone on the squad that . . . and what you need is control. Slow it down, or if you do this when you're hunting, you'll fall on your face, and then you'll be dead . . . and make sure before you even think about using these on a hunt, you've practiced doing them with your little blonde vampire friend during training . . . She's getting a lot out of it, but it is making you a whole lot faster, so you're getting something out of it too. You should tell her that. That's what friends do."

I nodded, while I took that under advisement, before exhaling a slow breath and trying again. When I was done, I looked at Mom, and she smiled. "Better . . . Do it again."

We worked on it until the sun went down, but I don't think either one of us wanted to go back inside. I took her to where Dad's pyre had been, so she could see it. I was pretty sure she'd been around since she died, because she kept telling me things I should or shouldn't do, like she'd been watching, so she must've known where it was and had seen what happened that day too. Wrapping my arms around my waist to stave off the chill of dusk, I glanced at her over my shoulder. "Do you know if this is what he was planning to do if it'd just been me in the sacrifice?"

Her lips drew into a straight line as she shook her head. "No, but it wouldn't surprise me if he had . . . It'd explain why he kept taking you hunting even after I turned."

"You didn't want him to anymore?"

"No. He was right. You needed to learn how to protect yourself. You couldn't always just rely on him, because what if something happened to him, or what if something happened when you were with me, and he wasn't there? What if I wasn't there, because I was working? What if something happened to," her breath caught in her throat before she said, "to both of us? But it was too much. He was taking my little girl away bit by bit . . . Every time you were with him, you came back a little different, and he couldn't see it - probably because the life he was living was changing him too, but I couldn't just keep him from seeing you. You needed your father . . . and I wanted you to have being a vampire as an option, but every time you came back with a bite, or after you killed one or saw what they did to their victims, I knew there was a slimmer chance of you choosing it as an option. It didn't have to be all monster all the time, but how could I just say that and have you believe it if all you saw was the bad . . . So, I turned, thinking I could show you it would be okay . . . and I found a way to make sure I didn't have to leave you to work anymore, and if anything happened when you were with me instead of him, then I could handle it, so you wouldn't have to hunt anymore . . . and those aren't the only reasons I turned. I did get more information as a vampire . . . but I think maybe I did the opposite of what I'd really wanted . . . I showed you how much it would change you, and you saw how much I hated it. It took away any chance of this as a real possibility for you."

Taking a shaky breath, she looked at me, and I felt a couple of tears fall, but I couldn't say anything past the lump in my throat. I'd thought I knew the reasons she'd turned, but she really had done this for me, not the information, and not Elena. I'd be lying if I said it didn't hurt. She did this to herself because of me, and she'd been desperate about it because of what I was becoming. What was I supposed to say to that? Swallowing, I couldn't keep the emotion out of my voice as I said, "But you also gave me back a heart . . . It taught me it's not all black and white . . . It wasn't a waste, Mom."

Struggling to keep it together, she looked away from me and back towards the ashes as she said, "Your father loved you . . . If this is what he was planning, then he would've wanted you to be able to protect yourself after he was gone, and he would've wanted you to be able to protect yourself from me, which is why I think he kept taking you on hunts, and after I turned, I wasn't as concerned with the injuries as I should have been. I was more concerned with him taking you from me . . . and I know he pushed you away . . . maybe it was to make it easier for you when he was gone, but I think part of it was because of me. You lived with me, and he hated what I'd become, so maybe some of that rubbed off on you, and I let him do it, because I thought it'd keep you with me instead of going to live with him . . . He had his plan, and I had mine . . . I guess he got his way, but I don't think he really thought about how difficult this was going to be for you to do all on your own . . . The important thing is that I know he loved you, and wherever he is now, he still does . . . we both do. Never doubt that."

Trying to wipe the drops off my face that wouldn't stop coming, I nodded and after a short gasp asked, "Why aren't you with Elena?"

Giving the pile of ash a sad smile she answered, "I know I'm not her mother. I'm yours, and I didn't do enough when I was alive to make sure you knew that."

"You did. You just - "

Cutting me off, she shook her head. "I didn't Eve, and I think we both know that. You thought I paid more attention to the books than you, and I did. Even when you researched with me just to get some of my time, I was still more focused on reading than you, and it wasn't all just so I could figure out our problem. It was for me . . . I just wanted something that was for me, and after I found out about this whole other world I knew nothing about, I was fascinated by it, but I neglected you . . . And I know you thought I paid more attention to my invisible daughter than you, so what did that make you, less than invisible? I'm sorry, and I know that's not enough." Tears swarmed in her eyes before she looked around her in a panic, as she said, "I can't make it right in a day."

Choking out a sob, I quickly said, "Mom, you don't have to make anything right . . . It's okay. I'll be okay . . . I mean, that's why you're still here, isn't it? You couldn't find peace, because you had unfinished business . . . and I'm it, right?"

Stepping closer, so she could wrap me up in her arms, she cried, "I love you so much Eve . . . I should've let you see it more." Taking a few deep breaths, she finally said, "And you've lost too much as it is. I don't want you to lose any more . . . So listen to me carefully. Damon Salvatore is dangerous, cocky, and careless . . . But as much as I hate to admit it, he wants what I wanted for you. Sweetheart, he keeps you human. That's why I can forgive him all the rest, but never forget that he needs to be put in his place every now and then, or it's in his nature to walk all over you . . . And as long as Klaus is alive, then he cannot know about you and Damon. You're safe in the boarding house. Klaus's sister will sympathize with you, so she won't say a word to Klaus about it even if he asks. Stefan hasn't been compelled to spy on you two, because it hasn't even crossed Klaus' mind that it may be a problem for him, and he will see it as a problem, which is why not a soul outside of the residents of the boarding house can know . . . Now, here is the important part. Despite the danger he presents, you must do whatever it is that you have to do to protect Klaus." She pulled back to look at me and put her hands on my shoulders before saying, "Klaus cannot die, or you will lose Damon. Do you understand me?"

She looked so serious. I nodded, and opened my mouth to ask why, but then she was gone, and it took a couple of seconds for me to register that I couldn't feel her anymore. Looking around, I didn't see her. My face crumpled, as my chest started heaving in short gasps, like I couldn't breath. My hand automatically went to her daylight necklace as my knees gave out, and I sobbed in the dirt near what was left of the ashes of my Dad. Getting her back for a day and then having her just disappear like that after all the things she'd said and done hurt worse than the first time I lost her, and now I didn't know if she'd been able to find any peace.

Chapter Text

Walking back into the house, my face was caked in mud from where my tears had mixed with the dirt. I felt a little dead inside, because at some point, I had to shut it off, so I could get up, and start getting on with my life, which is why, it was with unseeing eyes, I made my way through the house to my room. The house appeared empty. Instead of a shower, I felt like a bath was what was needed to wash away today. A shower felt too quick, and maybe I wanted to savor my numbness a little while before soaking it all away. I don't know how long I'd been in there. Long enough for the puffiness around my eyes to have gone down and my face and hair to be clean.

And apparently, I'd been in there long enough to feel a sharp twinge of annoyance when the door to my bedroom was kicked in hard enough for it to come flying off its hinges and land on the floor next to my bed, or I'm assuming that's what happened. I didn't exactly have my bathroom door open, because when you have at least one vampire with free reign to come and go as he pleases, you get really good at closing your bathroom door when you're in there.

Climbing out of the tub, I took my time drying off and getting dressed in a pair of flannel pants and a t-shirt. Whoever it was could wait until I was good and ready to talk to them. Stepping out of my bathroom, I looked at my bedroom door, and just as I suspected, it was lying on the floor. So much for privacy. My eyes flicked in the direction of where the door used to be, as I climbed on my bed to brush my hair and opened my lap top. I would've expected it to be the other one. What does she want?

"You weren't at school today." Sure. She used a battering ram of some kind to get my door open, so she could state the obvious. Shaking my head, I typed 'occult studies' into the search engine. Might as well look into what colleges around here offered that as a major. I can't imagine it would be too easy to find. Filing her nails, as she leaned against the wall outside my room, Rebekah muttered, "Which means you missed practice too . . . I thought you were made of stronger stuff than that. You should've been able to last at least until - "

"I haven't quit."

Focusing on her nails, as she smirked, because she finally got a response, Rebekah said, "Who said anything about quitting? It's only been a week, and you were a no-show."

Waving that off, while I focused on my laptop, I responded, "Caroline won't kick me out of the squad."

"Oh, but she'll have no choice if she wants to keep her captaincy. What would the other girls think if she showed favoritism . . . I mean more than she already has, because really, you shouldn't be on the squad at all, since you missed tryouts."

Still not thinking her important enough to look at any more than I already had to know who was at my door, I said, "And I'm sure that's what you used my absence to sell them . . . bet you forgot to mention that you also missed tryouts."

"Doesn't matter. At least I show up. All the private coaching lessons in the world can't save you now."

She started to walk away after delivering her news, and I felt the need to say, "It was my Mom."

I saw her stop out of the corner of my eye, but still didn't look directly at her. "What was?"

"The woman who was training with me outside . . . It was my Mom. She used to be a cheerleader."

"I thought you parents were dead."

"They are."

I finally looked at her, and she was appraising me. "You're not lying, are you?" I guess that at the very least, the Queen of Intuition should be able to glean that I wasn't messing with her. Biting the inside of my cheek, I shook my head. "Where is she now?"

I shrugged a shoulder. "I think she's gone."

Coming back to stand in my doorway, she asked, "Well, what did she want?"

"To make up for a lifetime of mistakes in a day."

She seemed confused, but that was becoming overshadowed by anger. "Well, what makes you so special? 1000 years, and I've never had - "

"I think it was your Mom's doing."

That made her stop. Her anger quickly cooled, as her head tilted to the side in confusion. "Why would you think my mother gave your mother back to you for a day?"

"She's the Original Witch, isn't she?"

"Yeah. So?"

Sighing, I put my laptop on the bed next to me, as I swung my legs over the side of the mattress and said, "Do you really not pay attention to anything going on around you other than what you're going to wear or how your hair looks or what your brother's hybrid is doing or how you can screw me or Caroline over? There's a whole lot more going on than whatever is in the little bubble you've created for yourself."

"Is this why your sister and her little friends were here snooping around Damon's room when I got home?"

"Probably . . . Whatever caused it ended, so they probably put a stop to it."

"Because they were jealous?"

She was being genuine for a change, and I knew that would probably end in an instant when her inner bitch decided to rear its ugly head again, but as long as I expected it, I wouldn't be bothered by it when she said something snide and then walked off again. "No." Taking my phone off of the nightstand next to my bed, I looked at it and said, "12 missed calls . . . they left a few messages. I haven't listened to them yet, but you don't get 12 missed calls if everything is fine."

I pushed play on the first voice mail from Jeremy and put it on loud speaker. "Eve, where are you? We have a problem."

Rebekah's eyebrows rose as she said, "So, I'm guessing it wasn't just your Mom that made a come back."

I muttered, "I'm thinking not," as I pushed the next voice mail from Jeremy. "Elena wasn't sure if you've talked to Damon, but she wants me to tell you to hold off on doing anything, because Lexi is here, and she wants to fix Stefan."

"Who is Lexi?"

"Nobody that should make you jealous. She was Stefan's best friend and his sobriety coach. Damon killed her."

Seeming to be slowly drawn in by the intrigue, Rebekah looked at my phone. "Well if anyone needs fixing, it's him. I am so over him until he stops being mean to me . . . What's on the next one?"

Again Jeremy. "I don't have time to explain, but you need to get Damon to tell you where he put the necklace and bring it to my house."

Rebekah's eyes narrowed. "What necklace?"

Shrugging, I said, "I know as much as you do. You said they were here looking around Damon's room. I'm guessing it was to try and find it if he knew where it was."

She nodded to my phone again to signal that she wanted me to continue, and this time it was a message from Damon. "I held them off as long as I could, but I think maybe you should start saying your goodbyes . . . The tomb vampires are - It doesn't matter. Call me when it's done. I have something I want to show you."

"Who are the tomb vampires?"

I almost smiled at her interest, but still wasn't quite feeling up to it. "There were 27 vampires locked in a tomb here over 150 years ago. They got out a few months ago, and now they're all dead. I'm guessing they were running amok around town. It had to have left a bad impression on them."

Her eyes widened. "So the town was under siege by ghosts, probably the most exciting thing I've heard of in far too long, and I missed it?"

"Sounds like."

"Why do you think my Mother was involved?"

I didn't know quite how to answer that and taking a deep breath didn't really get me any closer to a suitable answer. "Well, for one, she's up to something. Jeremy died, and Bonnie brought him back. Since then he's been able to see his dead girlfriends. Your Mom has been backing one of them by giving her enough extra power to make her break windows, and she told her how to come back . . . a witch wasn't needed to do it. The girl got her brother to do it, but the price was that she had to kill Elena. She's gone now, but the witch who made her go talked to your Mom, and now she's hanging around waiting for something . . . something like - "

"A break down in the wall separating the living from the dead." I nodded, and for a moment Rebekah didn't look like she could breath. "And I missed it. If she was here, then - "

"Unless you didn't."

"Why would you say that?"

"A massive jail break of ghosts would be an excellent way for one to slip through and stay if that ghost planned it and knew how to stay."

"So, she might still be here?"

"Maybe."

"Why hasn't she come to see me?"

"I don't know." If my Mom was here to right the wrongs she felt she'd committed when she was alive, then I guess maybe Rebekah's Mom was too. My mother felt her wrongs were all done to me . . . and I was beginning to think that Rebekah's mother felt the same way about her own children, but not for the same reasons, particularly when I took into account what Imelda had said. I wasn't going to tell the girl standing in front of me that her mother felt her wrongs were in turning her children into the monsters she'd been watching for 1000 years or that her mother was more interested in what she was planning to rectify that mistake than actually spending time with her children.

"Well, what good are you then?"

Guess that's what being moderately nice got you. My worth wasn't tied up in how useful I was to other people, and her tone immediately angered me. "Not much right now . . . I'm sure with your 1000 years of experience, you can figure it out. Now if you don't mind . . . I'd like to be alone. I'd close my door, but you sort of broke it."

As she stomped off in the direction of her own room, all I could think was that I was here to help, not serve, something the others might do well to remember considering the number of times I'd been called. Talking to Elena or Bonnie about anything was almost impossible without an argument breaking out, but the second they needed something, I apparently got a call now . . . just not a direct call. Jeremy was the go between, and I was like some kind of mercenary that he'd call in as needed. Well I would be a mercenary if I expected payment, which I didn't, and I guess I did tell Elena that I'd be there if she needed help, so that she had anyone call was an improvement, but at the same time, I hadn't been there, and I can't say I was sorry that I hadn't been, because I wasn't.

Seeing my Mom again might have re-opened old wounds and created fresh new ones, but at least I'd seen her, and in death she hadn't been a slave to her need for blood. She'd been somewhere in between the mother I'd lost when she turned and the mother I'd lost when she burned to ash in the sun. I missed both mothers, but I'd been missing the one that'd been dead longer more than I'd let myself dwell on for very long, because what had been done had been done and couldn't be undone. I'd still had her. She'd just been enhanced.

When I was in a fit state to do it again, I would go back to helping the others, but right now I just wanted to be left alone. Turning to look at my laptop, I had a second thought. Being alone didn't sound all that great either. I might call Damon to find out what he wanted to show me. I'm guessing it was something to take my mind off of my Mom disappearing, but at least with him, I wouldn't feel used. I'd feel like I was working with my partner on something, and if my head wasn't with it enough to pull my fair share, he'd pick up the slack until I felt more like me.

Chapter Text

Apparently, I hadn't given Mason that much peace on his deathbed, because he showed up at the Mystic Grill. Damon had gone there to drink, while he waited for my Mom to leave, and Mason went there specifically looking for him, which was more than a little odd. Of all the people he could've gone to see, why Damon? Following Damon through a cave, I asked, "Why was he still here? I thought he found peace. I mean that's the entire reason I killed him - so he could find it. If he didn't want to die, then he should've said something before - "

"How much peace could he really find if he was worried about what was going to happen to Tyler? That's as much why he had you kill him as anything - to buy you time to do something about Katherine before she got to Tyler - or something like that." Damon rolled his eyes, and I looked at him.

"He was mad that you screwed it up, wasn't he?"

"He might've said something like that." Using a different voice to mock Mason, he muttered, "It was all for nothing . . . just couldn't control yourself long enough for my death to mean anything." Going back to his normal voice as he argued with a dead guy who wasn't even there, he said, "Here's a tip. Don't die thinking it'll mean something. All it means is that you're dead."

Ouch. "That was a bit harsh."

"Oh, I forgot. I'm talking to the Wishful Martyr."

Glancing at him out of the corner of my eye, I muttered, "What's got you in a mood?"

"Think I've had my fill of dead people for a while. Once they're gone, they should stay that way . . . What'd Isobel want?"

"To make things right."

Stopping to look at me, he asked, "How?" and my forehead furrowed in confusion. Why was he so angry? Did Mason say something to wind him up, or had he been thinking about how he'd gotten his ass kicked by my Mom all day and angry about that?

"Well for starters, she taught me how to make waffles." He didn't immediately say anything or move. He was still pretty tense, but a little less so than he had been. "And, uh . . . then she had me play my piano . . . she said I could sing if I wanted." His posture relaxed a little more, but he was still silent, so I said, "And then she coached me in cheerleading, and we went to Dad's pyre and talked."

"About?"

I think that's when it clicked. He'd thought my Mom had moved on - that she couldn't have as much of a hold over me as she used to have - and he'd kind of moved in on her territory by becoming my family. She came back, and in seconds managed to take it all back, so he thought all the hard work he'd put in with me was gone in an instant. He may have relinquished it just as quickly as she took it, because he thought it's what was best for me, but now he was feeling possessive . . . guess that was another thing he had in common with her. "Why? Do you think she's going to push me into another sacrifice or try to talk me out of staying here or - "

"Well did she?"

"No . . . She thinks I might like college if I give it a try - like if I take Occult Studies, then it'd help with the hunting - I can go to college like everyone else to further my career."

He seemed torn, and then growled in frustration as he looked away from me and muttered, "She's good. I'll give her that."

Because I now understood where he was coming from, or at least I was pretty sure I did, I smiled softly before saying, "Why, because you think should've thought of it?"

Glancing in my direction, ready to throw me a glare, he relaxed when he saw me. "What else did she say?"

"She said there's nothing that says if I'm a hunter, I can't stay in one place. I can watch the state for signs of a problem and go on business trips further away from home if I see something that requires my attention."

"Which means you can still stay here and be a hunter."

"Yep."

Mulling it over, he decided it wasn't a horrible idea and nodded before saying, "What else? I know she screwed me over somehow."

I wasn't ready to get into the other things we'd talked about yet. They made me feel way too raw. "She didn't."

Turning to walk away from me with a shake of his head, Damon said, "So, the woman who hated me when she was alive and helped try to have me killed just gave me her blessing, did she?"

I guess that was also part of the problem. He must've thought she'd try to talk me out of being with him, and because of her influence over me that I'd listen. "Yeah . . . actually." Looking like it was one of those rare moments when he was without words, he stopped to look back at me, and I felt the need to say, "She did say you were dangerous, cocky, and careless, but she also said she could forgive that."

Coming back to me, he asked, "Why?" but all I could do is shake my head and look away from him as I felt a lump form in my throat. It came too close to the things I didn't want to say. I hadn't had time to process them or incorporate them into a way of thinking that I could cope with yet. I wasn't bad. I knew I wasn't bad, but maybe I wasn't bad, because my Mom sacrificed her life to become vampire, so I wouldn't be. Blinking back the water that threatened to escape my eyes, I cleared my throat and was going to change the subject, but Damon said, "It's because I'm so awesome, isn't it? I mean, who wouldn't give me their blessing? I am a catch." I exhaled a teary laugh before looking up at him, and he studied me for a few moments to see if I would be okay before grabbing my hand and saying, "We can talk about it later. Right now, I want you to tell me what Mason found."

"What is it?"

"If I knew that, I wouldn't need you to tell me."

"You mean, he gave you no hint of what it might be?"

"Old Lockwood family secret . . . blah, blah, blah, all I heard is that it'll lead me to something that'll kill an Original."

"Like the Gilbert family secret?"

"You mean the dagger?"

"Yeah."

"I'm thinking it'll work a little better than that."

I immediately remembered something else my Mom had said. What were the odds that she'd tell me not to kill Klaus at the same time that Mason was showing Damon a way to do just that? She'd also seemed to know that Bonnie's grandmother would be with Bonnie. How aware of one another were these spirits on the other side? Anna'd made it seem like she was all alone, but she had eventually been able to move on with her Mother after Imelda helped push them together . . . either she really hadn't seen anyone else, or it was like I'd said and she hadn't known any of the dead people around her . . . maybe it was a little more than that. Maybe they were aware of one another, but couldn't actually talk to one another, so they saw one another and knew which living people the others were following, but couldn't actually interact with one another - except the Original Witch had managed to interact with Vicki, but then she had been dead for 1000 years, AND she was a powerful witch, so maybe she'd figured out a way to do it - it really did sound awful for everyone else though.

Glancing around us, I hoped my mother had been able to find peace, so she wouldn't have to go back there. And who did I listen to on this one? That was a no-brainer. I had no choice but to listen to my Mom. She may not like Damon, but I knew she cared about me, and she didn't want me to truly be alone. Mason had despised Damon in life and probably still did if he'd been as angry as he sounded about Damon ruining his plans to buy us time to save Tyler, so while he may want to do Tyler a favor by showing Damon a way to kill Klaus, he didn't have the desire to do the same for Damon.

I looked up at Damon as he let go of my hand to slide through a tighter part of the tunnel. He wasn't going to like it if I told him my Mom said we can't kill Klaus. I should say something . . . or not. He wasn't going to listen, simply because my Mom had said it. If anything, it'd make him want to do it more. I could see what it was that Mason had wanted to show him. If it was nothing, then no harm, no foul. If it was something, then I could hide it while I found answers on what exactly my Mom had meant. Why would killing Klaus take Damon from me? Was it the same kind of thing that made a vampire using a dagger on an original die, or was it something else?

Getting lost in my thoughts and trying to decide what the right thing to do was, I lost track of Damon and came to a fork in the tunnel. Right or left? Did it matter, or did they go to the same place? I picked one and started heading down it, but a hand grabbed a hold of the back of my jacket and yanked me back. I glared at Damon over my shoulder, and his eyes flicked in the direction I'd been going as he said, "Not that way," and then tilted his head in the direction of the other corridor, like that's the way I should go.

"Abandon hope all ye who enter here?"

Fighting a small smile, he answered, "Had to learn that the hard way, but yeah. I don't know what else is down there." Pausing, he added, "You know I wouldn't have to worry about it if you were a vampire."

We'd never really delved too seriously into me turning, but I'd made it pretty clear what my stance was even if I hadn't specifically said it. Continuing the grand tradition of talking about it without actually talking about it, I said, "It might improve my sense of direction, but that'd be offset by - "

"I'm serious."

"I know."

"We've got to talk about it some time."

"Why tempt fate?"

"Eve - " He waited a beat before gently asking, "What'd your Mom say?"

It was a little unexpected this time. If he wanted to talk about something, he usually would eventually, but he never really pushed it before I was ready. "A lot of things."

"About me."

Forcing the air into my lungs, I slowly exhaled it and then murmured, "That you keep me human."

The corner of Damon's mouth turned up into a half-hearted smile. "It's not hard. You are human."

He took credit when it wasn't due and never when it was. I guess that's what happened when you were convinced you weren't really worth genuine praise of any kind. I turned my face away from him and said, "She said it's important to you, and that's why she can forgive the rest." Glancing up at him with saddened eyes, I added, "She turned because of me. It wasn't just for the information she could get on Klaus in vampire circles or to get me to choose becoming a vampire after the sacrifice by becoming one herself to show me it wasn't all bad . . . She was desperate to do it because of what I was becoming . . . She said every time I came back from a hunt, I came back different, and if she could protect me, then she thought I wouldn't have to hunt anymore . . . obviously that backfired, because if anything, Dad took me out more after she turned, and she didn't care as much about putting a stop to it, because he took his anger at her out on me and pushed me away, so she thought his attitude would keep me from moving in with him."

Slipping his arms around my waist to pull me closer to his chest, he touched his forehead to my temple and said, "She turned because she chose to turn. That's not on you." My vision became blurry as I nodded in disagreement, but he shook his head and said, "With as well hidden as she was, she could've taken you away without letting him know where she'd gone and put a stop to the hunting that way, but she didn't."

"She thought about it, but she said I needed my father."

"Well, then she made her choice . . . him or her . . . she just regretted it after she turned, and that is why she didn't want him to have you. It's not your fault."

Turning to wrap my arms around him, I choked out, "She did it because I was going bad, and if she hadn't turned, I would be . . . wouldn't I?"

"Evie, you could never be bad. Brave to the point of stupidity maybe . . . Willing to go as far as you need to go to do what needs to be done to protect people or right a wrong . . . but you also hold yourself to account."

"You mean wallow?"

He exhaled a laugh. "Yeah . . . You don't do that because your Mom turned. That's all you." His perspective quieted me right down, but I wasn't ready to agree just yet. Nestling his face against the top of my head, he added, "And I know you haven't done that in a while, but that's because you're the one calling the shots now, so you're not doing what your parents want you to do anymore."

But even if I didn't have to do things I didn't want to do the way I'd felt I had to do with Dad, it didn't mean that I wasn't still a killer at heart. "I killed that werewolf pack on my own. I didn't feel bad about it. I still don't."

"I know . . . and I, personally, don't think there's anything wrong with that."

"Then why did that make you start feeling like I have to have normality in my life?"

"Because I'll never forget the way you looked when I found you. I was expecting this fierce woman I only caught a tiny glimpse of in the farmhouse, not . . . I don't know how to explain it. You looked 10 years younger . . . innocent, but you were covered from head to toe in blood. If I hadn't known any better, I would've thought you were a victim of the same thing that killed them and had only made it out, because you hid . . . but I did know better. I knew that if I'd gotten there 10 minutes earlier, I would've seen that woman I was expecting, and I bet she was amazing, but the person standing in front of me was the girl she never really got to be . . . and that girl deserved more than she ever got . . . You can slaughter a pack of werewolves if you want. I don't care as long as you don't regret it, but that's not all you are . . . You're not just a killer. Underneath all that blood was a very human girl, and I decided that if nobody else is going to give you everything you need in life, I will, and what you need is to be normal from time to time and to know that you're more than what you were raised to be."

Yeah, I refused with every fiber of my being to let Klaus or killing Klaus take him from me. I'd do whatever it took to keep that from happening.

Chapter Text

Apparently, what Mason had found really was just a road map to the weapon, because after searching that entire section of the cave for anything that even remotely looked liked a weapon, all I saw were a bunch of cave drawings. Don't get me wrong. They were pretty cool, and I felt a little special to be the first living human down here to see them in who knew how long. In fact, when Damon asked me what I found, all I could say was that it was priceless, but unless one of the boulders in here was a magic Original-killing boulder, then all that was down here was information that lead to the weapon, and I had no idea how to read that information.

I took a few pictures of the wall with my phone, so I could work on it after we left, and then I'd had a little debate with myself on whether I'd show them to Damon or not. I doubted he knew what they said any better than I did, because he was from the 1800s, not prehistoric times, so I figured what harm? It'd help me be able to swoop in at the last moment and stop whatever he was planning if I went along with this for now, and that's pretty much the only way I was going to be able to stop him if he was as determined to kill Klaus as he seemed to be. Besides, I needed to get more information on what my Mom had meant anyway. Why rock the boat when it wasn't strictly necessary yet?

I made it through my second week of school relatively unscathed, not because cheerleading allowed me some kind of special status the way Caroline had tried to say it would when she first started trying to convince me to join, but because it allowed me to hang out with the only person in that school I really felt was a friend. That's all I'd needed, and between that and my chat with my Mom, I felt miles better about the whole school situation, which is really all that mattered. I'd made it through the week I'd set myself, so I'd stick with it for now.

That weekend, I went over to Elena's, because I was sure Elena wouldn't be there. She was on a road trip with Bonnie, so Bonnie could talk to her Mom. I guess Imelda's role in the ghosts wandering the town had left Bonnie feeling like she needed to do more to get her powers back if it meant getting rid of Imelda sooner, and I figured that Imelda might need some watching or company or company that watched her without making it look like it.

"And where do you think you're going?"

I looked from the cards in my hand to the front door behind me and saw Jeremy. He immediately threw Imelda a dirty look and said, "Out." He went to open the door, but seemed to be having some trouble with it. Looking at me, he whined, "Eve, tell her to stop."

I tried not to smile as my attention went back to Imelda, and she shrugged a shoulder as she laid a couple of her cards down on the table. "What? These kids have entirely too much freedom. In and out at all hours. Leaving for days on end. Someone has to keep them in line."

Leaning closer, so Jeremy couldn't hear, I whispered, "And that person has to be you?"

Her eye immediately flicked to me. "Who else is there?"

"Fair point . . . but you can't just come in and try to replace the people they've lost, or they're going to resent you being here, and you are a guest in their house."

"They'll get over it."

"Imelda." There was a gentle rebuke in my tone, and she rolled her eye before flicking her wrist in the direction of the front door before her voice rose as she said, "It's not a school night, so be back by 12. If you're not, then you won't be getting back in here, and don't even think of trying to sneak in your window. This place will be sealed up tight until I decide you've learned your lesson."

Throwing the door open, Jeremy threw a look from her to me and grumbled, "Talk to her," before he slammed the door on his way out.

Turning back to Imelda, I shrugged a shoulder and said, "I did just talk to you, right?"

"Yep."

"And nothing's changed?"

"Nope."

Laying my cards on the table in front of me, I said, "Well, then I guess my job here is done. Just don't go overboard and treat them like prisoners in their own home. If you want to help, you can find a way to do it without taking their freedom."

She saw me grabbing my jacket and asked me where I was going. It sounded less parental than the way she'd asked Jeremy and more, like 'don't leave yet.'

"I have a chicken cacciatore to learn how to make, and apparently it takes a while."

"Cacciatore . . . Italian for hunter. Cute."

Well, I hadn't actually known that, but now that I did, I wondered if that's why Damon had decided on it, and it made me exhale a laugh before a thought struck me, and my eyes narrowed. "How good are you at languages, Imelda? I mean I know with my alone time, I spent a lot of time learning how to play the piano, so are languages one of your outlets?"

"I've learned my fair share."

Biting the inside of my cheek as I debated on whether I should ask her, I finally decided that I'd brought it up, so I might as well. Pulling my phone out of my pocket, I skipped the pictures with the drawings I'd found in that cave and found one of the etchings. Turning it around to show her, I asked, "Do you know what this says?"

Reaching out to pull my phone closer, she studied it before shaking her head. "I said I know languages, not dead ones . . . where'd you find this?"

Moving around the table to sit next to her, I answered, "I've been looking into the history of this town and came across it."

"I don't know what it says, but I don't get a good feeling from it." Getting up to grab a notepad and pen from the fridge, she came back and started scribbling on it. It didn't take long for me to realize she was copying the writing down, so she could keep it, and she confirmed it by saying, "Do you mind if I look into this a little more?"

"Are you going to cheat to find the answers?"

There should be no price if no magic was involved. Her shoulders dropped as she looked up at me. "Not everything I do involves magic. I have a laptop, you know."

Yeah, one she probably got as payment from another hunter. There's no way she went to the nearest electronics store to buy it, and how do you buy a computer to have delivered at your house without a computer? "Well if it gives you something to do, I'm all for it. I doubt it'll take you long to get through those books I brought." She absentmindedly shook her head, while she finished off her drawing and then put the pen down. "That reminds me." Getting to her feet, she moved into the living room and pointed towards the TV before asking, "Do you have any idea how to make that work? I've always wanted to try it."

I smiled when I saw that she was actually pointing at the video game console under the TV. "No, but I've always wanted to try it too. People who play them in movies always seem to be having fun." She nodded, like that's what she thought too as she crouched down to study it further, and I added, "I'll help you figure out how to turn it on, and the next time I come over, maybe you could show me how to play?"

"And when will that be?"

She hadn't looked at me, but there was a definite tone to her voice. "Whenever it is . . . You know, I don't remember you being needy, Imelda."

Finally glancing at me, as she stood, she said, "You misunderstand. You shouldn't just come over when your sister isn't here. Whatever wrongs have been done, be the bigger person and give her a chance."

Hm. That might be what she was saying, but this was about something else. What? I didn't know, but I'd find out with a little poking and prodding. Crossing my arms over my chest, I said, "Winning you over, is she?"

"No." Imelda shook her head before saying, "I'm not taking sides. I just know that she is absolutely clueless about the way this world works, and with the power she possesses, she needs to get up to speed fast."

"She won't listen to me."

"She listens more than you think." Pausing Imelda said, "And if you two can work things out, then it means you can stay here instead of wherever it is you go when you leave."

Ding, ding, ding, and now we were getting to the real reason. "And if I'm here, it means you can keep an eye on me too, right?"

"I get a bad feeling when you both walk out that door, but it's worse with you . . . what have you been doing with your spare time, Eve?"

So bad feeling equated to vampires. That told me at least a little about the etchings in that cave. And like I was going to tell her that I was living with vampires. Sighing, I answered, "Well for one, I'm hunting something big."

"What?"

"Ever heard of Mikael? He's a - "

Her eyes widened as she said, "The vampire-vampire hunter . . . Tell me he hasn't been raised?"

"Uh, well . . . "

"Eve, if he has, you can't go anywhere near him."

"Why? Because with what he is, he can do my job a whole lot better than I can, so the numbers of vampires can go down a whole lot faster with him alive?"

"Not at all. That he's a hunter doesn't change that he's a vampire, but he's - " Stepping closer, she whispered, like she didn't want to be heard by prying ears as she said, "He's worse than you're typical vampire. Eve, he feeds on the dead."

Oh Katherine, what have you done? "The dead? You mean other vampires."

She nodded before quickly saying, "He doesn't right the balance. He's an even greater abomination."

"Then why can't I kill him?"

"Because he's as old as vampires themselves and leaves a path of destruction in his wake everywhere he goes . . . and you are just a girl."

"So? You were 'just a girl' when you wiped out an entire vampire nest on your own . . . Actually, I think you were younger than I am now."

"Correction, I was a witch, not a human girl, and they were vile, but they were your run of the mill vampires, nothing like Mikael. He can't be killed."

Mm. I'd heard that when it came to the Originals, and yet I was beginning to think otherwise. "Anything can be killed as long as you find the right weapon."

"If there is one, then I'm sure it's been destroyed."

"I guess we'll see."

Imelda's shoulders dropped as she sighed. "I just made you want to look for him harder, didn't I?"

"Pretty much."

She shook her head in disappointment at herself before saying, "And I don't think that's why I get the feeling I do when you leave. It's not a new one I associate with you."

"Is there a question in there, Imelda?"

"I've heard your mother is finally dead, so it's not her. Tell me you're not living with a vampire again, Eve."

Actually 3, and one of them is an Original. Probably shouldn't say that. "Speaking of my mother, I assume I have you to thank for her visit the other day."

Sitting on the couch in a huff, she said, "This whole thing is turning into one big disaster . . . First, let me say, that I truly respect Bennet witches, but they have a knack for finding loopholes I wouldn't even come close to touching because those loopholes stomp all over that line we shouldn't cross and make it muddled, and sometimes that means they lose sight of that line all together. That teenage Bennet wouldn't be the first to outright break the rules, but man did she really screw things up. When she brought Jeremy back, she poked a hole in the divide between the living and the dead."

She glanced at me as I came to sit on the arm of the couch. "She did that, or Vicki did that with the access she had to the Original Witch?"

"Both. That troubled vamp would have never gotten a foothold on this side of the divide if she wasn't first connected to Jeremy . . . And Esther used that to her advantage."

Esther? So now we suddenly know her on a first name basis, do we? I knew she'd been lying when she said she hadn't known what the Original Witch's name was in life. "So Vicki made the tear in the divide worse?"

"Putting her back did . . . again something I'm sure Esther planned on happening."

Starting to feel a little used, are we, Imelda? "Hence the jailbreak from the Other Side that happened a few days ago?"

Waving the idea of that off, Imelda looked away from me and said, "Actually that happened before . . . They were walking around and causing problems without anyone being able to see them until I made them visible. I had to do something, so people could at least try to protect themselves while I figured out how to send them all back."

"Mm . . . and in doing so created an even bigger problem. She made it out and knew a way to stay out even though the rest got sent back, didn't she?"

Throwing her hands up in frustration, while she sat back against the couch, Imelda whined, "She was supposed to tell me what to do and let me handle it, not come do it herself."

"What'd she want you to do?"

Crossing her arms over her chest in a pout, Imelda spat, "I can't tell you. You live with at least one vampire . . . maybe one of the ones I saw you with the first day I got here." Sighing, Imelda added, "What is the world coming to when the Forbes ignore their child turning, like nothing's happened?"

There was an imperceptible hitch in my breathing. I'd suspected that she knew what Caroline and Damon were, but she'd obviously found out Caroline's identity. Living here with Elena and Jeremy certainly seemed to working to her advantage in the information department. "Maybe some of us can see past what some of them are to who they are."

"Yeah, I know your mother threw a wrench in things with you . . . It's a lot harder for a child to kill a parent than a parent to kill a child."

"Says the woman who's never had children."

"Not nice, Eve. I was at least attempting to sympathize with why you never killed her the way you should have . . . It's certainly something your Father should have rectified though."

"And I am going to sympathize with you by saying that having children is something you must want, because you seem to be getting awfully maternal living in this house."

"Still not nice."

"Well, you brought my Mom into it, so I'm not going to be very nice . . . and to answer your question, I live in a room that I leased, and the house also happens to have vampires living in a few of the rooms down the hall."

"Why aren't they dead?"

"Well, at least one of them is an Original, so - "

Her eyes widened as she sat forward on the couch and interrupted me. "Oh my God, Eve, what are you doing?!"

"Me?! What are you doing, Imelda? You essentially brought this Esther back from the dead after 1000 years, and you're going to criticize me? I think we've both altered our standards on what is acceptable just a smidge."

Growling in frustration, she plopped back against the couch again before muttering, "I didn't bring her back. She brought herself back."

"With your help . . . and now you can't find her to make her go back, can you?"

She gnawed on her bottom lip, while she debated with herself over something and then finally sighed before reaching into one of the giant pockets on her giant shirt and pulling something out. "I had to destroy her talisman to make them go back where they belong . . . and yet here it is." Her eyes flicked to me, as I both pondered how many things she actually kept in her pockets and looked at the necklace.

"There's not a scratch on it."

"That's because it's tied to her, and wherever she is, she is whole . . . A witch's talisman still has power once a witch is gone, but if she is dead, and it is destroyed, then it remains destroyed. I don't know if she's possessing someone or who it might be, because I've tried to locate her, and I can't find her anywhere, but wherever she is, she is tied to this plane as surely as you or I."

"Oh." I went from staring at the necklace dangling between her fingers to Imelda and said, "That's comforting . . . the witch who created vampires now walks amongst us once again." My mind flashed to what I knew about Klaus. It flicked to a memory I thought might be important. Maybe she was tied to this plane now, but she was also tied to being dead, and that's why Imelda couldn't find her. No way was I going to say that to Imelda though.

"You have to believe I didn't know this would happen."

Yeah, Imelda wouldn't have done this intentionally. It may be a loophole of some kind, but it broke every rule in her book. "What I believe is that you wanted something from her bad enough that you didn't look at what her price was before agreeing to it, and she asked for something more than you'd willingly give. She beat you at your own game . . . That tells me a lot about her. It tells me she's unscrupulous, manipulative, and will expect your help when the time comes, whether you want to give it or not, because she's already got you to cross your proverbial line in the sand to get this far, so you'll have to continue crossing lines if you want it to mean anything . . . I told you not to trust her, Imelda. I hope it was worth it."

She quietly admitted, "It might be if she delivers," and I rolled my eyes.

"Well then welcome into the gray way of living, Imelda."

"You mean, like you? You're not going to kill the vampires you live with, are you?"

"Nope. I'm just not blinded by hate. I understand why you are, but if I were going to hate anything, it'd be witches, and you're still alive, aren't you? I kill werewolves. I kill vampires. I know how to kill hybrids - "

Sitting forward in excitement, she asked, "Ooh, how do you do that?"

I smiled. "Sorry, trade secret. If you want to know, put the leg work in and find out yourself." To make her stop pouting, I said, "But something interesting about them is that if they bite a vampire, then it has the same effect that a werewolf biting a vampire has."

"So, they could entirely replace vampires some day?"

"Maybe, but I'm thinking not . . . Their numbers are limited by the number of werewolves there are, because they have to start as werewolves, so - "

"They'll replace werewolves."

"Yeah, that's what I think."

Nodding, while she took that in, she finally said, "I've never seen a werewolf, but I've never been particularly one way or the other on them. Someone in their shared lineage had to have crossed a very powerful witch, and they wouldn't trigger the curse if they didn't kill someone, so they really only have themselves to blame . . . on the other hand, at least they get old and die, and they have their uses. They are essentially vampire-killing machines." Her eyes flicked up to me before she said, "But they have no control. At least vampires have that, or they could if they cared enough to have it . . . and they are just as likely to unleash absolute carnage on innocent people as they are a vampire . . . are these hybrids like that?"

"Well, you've heard of - "

"The Hybrid? Obviously."

"Well, it would appear that his hybrids may be sire-bonded to him."

Her forehead crinkled in confusion. "Why? Do they love him before the turn?"

"No, and that's the thing that makes this a strictly hybrid situation. It would appear that it happens, because the hybrids are so grateful that they are no longer slaves to the moon."

"They don't have to turn anymore unless it's something they want, and who would want that?"

"Exactly."

She mulled it over be saying, "And they already come with a built-in leader. Less stress should mean less aggression."

"Bravado goes through the roof, but aggression seems to be in check."

"So this hybrid in town?" Of course she knew there was a hybrid in town, and she probably knew it was Tyler Lockwood too. There was nothing I could do about it now other than prepare. I nodded for her to continue, and she said, "Are you going to kill him?"

My shoulders dropped. "No . . . Before I killed his uncle, I promised him that I'd look out for his nephew."

She hummed in understanding. "An oath on a deathbed can be a powerful thing."

"Are you going to call in one of your hunters to clear this town out?"

"I need to know more before I do anything, and - " She sighed before saying, "Eve, you'd be seen as a sympathizer."

"I know."

"And hunters are human. Your ring won't protect you from them."

"Nope."

"You've already considered all of this."

"Yep . . . I actually think you've called someone, and that is why you want me to move in here with you."

She ducked her head before looking at me again, and that was as good of an answer as I needed before she said, "You're really planning to kill Mikael?"

"That is the plan . . . and I think Esther has just moved up into the next place on my list . . . You and your little hunter friend can try to stop me if you want."

"If you can kill Mikael, you can kill the others." Giving her head a little shake, she added, "I don't want to keep crossing lines I'm uncomfortable crossing . . . What if you and I worked together? I may not get everything I want, but I could live with what I get, and I'd be able to live with myself."

"Well, what'd you have in mind?"

I didn't trust her to call off this hunter or hunters, and I didn't trust her not to do whatever it is the Original Witch wanted when the time came. She was too tempted by whatever it was not to go through a few mind changes between now and then, and that's if she hadn't already made up her mind to do it and was just pretending that she hadn't, but as long as I knew that and kept it in mind when I dealt with her, it might be beneficial to hear what she had to say. I didn't have to take her at face value, but I also wasn't going to let her send me off on any wild goose chases either. It might be difficult to work with her, but there was always a chance it could be worth it.

Chapter Text

I started pulling handfuls of notebook paper out of my bag and depositing them on Liz's kitchen table. Being over here was as good as anywhere else I could've gone to do this. At least here, I could get some fresh eyes to help me decipher this. Picking up one of the hand-drawn pictures of the photos I'd taken with my phone, Caroline read it and said, "Rebekah? How do you know that's what this says?"

"Well, once you find a couple of characters online that match up with what's in that cave, it gives you a language, and that makes translating go a whole lot faster." When she didn't say anything, I looked at her over my shoulder and said, "I got help," before going back to my drawings as she picked up a couple more scraps of paper.

"Elijah . . . Niklaus . . . Kol . . . Finn . . . Henrik . . . Mikael . . . Esther . . . what is this?"

Exhaling a laugh, I looked at the papers in her hand and pulled out my phone to refresh her memory. Taking it from me, she said, "So, you're telling me that they essentially graffitied their names on this cave wall 1000 years ago?"

"At least one of them did."

She continued looking at the pictures on my phone, while she muttered, "Guess things haven't really changed that much . . . And you're sure that means that Mikael is their father?"

I turned back to the papers in my bag and answered, "Yeah . . . if Esther is the Mom, then I'm guessing Mikael is the father because of how their names are written at the top above the kids' names. Told you bad parents turn people into monsters."

"Not always. Sometimes people are born that way, and sometimes people born with bad parents don't turn into monsters."

"True, but in this case?"

I looked at her over my shoulder, and she said, "Fair point . . . And does this mean there are really this many Originals out there?"

"So it would seem. There were some rumors that said 5. I'm guessing those rumors weren't talking about Mikael if he's essentially been hunting down his family all this time and turned himself into something worse than his children to do it. Esther is dead, or was. We've met Klaus, Rebekah, and Elijah, so that leaves Finn, Henrick, and Kol as unknowns we can research. A name is a good place to start though."

Putting the pages in her hand back down on the table, she moved around me to look at some of the drawings and compared them to the pictures on the phone as she said, "I don't think your drawing skills are much better than the people who originally drew these," and I laughed.

"No, I suppose not."

She started rearranging the sheets of paper, so they matched up with where they were in the photo of the entire cave wall, and sighed contentedly when they were all in place. Her eyes narrowed as she looked at one picture, and then she leaned over before saying, "Is that a wolf?"

I looked at where she was focused. "That's what I was thinking."

Dragging the sheet of paper next to it on top, she said, "Man + Wolf = werewolf?"

"Yeah, I'd say so . . . keep those sheets together and write it down on the paper, so we can keep track."

She did, and then we spent the rest of the night piecing them together until Liz got home. We were still a long way off by the time we were done, because there were some symbols that just didn't make any sense, and others we hadn't even gotten to yet, but we were both getting tired, so maybe they'd make more sense tomorrow or the next day. Before I left, she asked if I could send her the pictures on the cave, so she could keep working on it, so I did even though I was almost sure that she'd tell Elena what we'd found so far. Apparently, Elena had joined the kill Klaus team. If my sister wanted to get her hands dirty for once, then more power to her, but we'd see how long that lasted.

I just didn't think Elena had it in her to kill someone permanently. She'd help right up until it mattered, and then she'd let Damon or Stefan be the one to do it. Maybe she'd even falter along the way. I guess we'd find out. Either way, everyone was working on piecing this together the same way I was. They just had no idea that I had no intention of killing Klaus and was doing it so I could head them off. I didn't need to be 10 steps ahead as long as I was ahead of them, which was why I was having Caroline help me, while also keeping things back from her, like some of the symbols I figured out when she wasn't looking.

A couple days later, I was at practice and in the middle of doing a handstand when Rebekah walked up and pushed me over, while saying, "What is your sister playing at?"

Landing on my feet, almost gracefully, I stood and looked at her. "I have a better idea of what Mitzy over there is going to wear to some dance this weekend than what Elena is doing. We're not exactly close."

Looking at the girl I'd pointed out, Rebekah snorted. "I think her name is Monica, but close . . . You really don't give a damn about any of this, do you?"

"Nope . . . It's the only way I could hang out with Caroline at school without getting in trouble with Bonnie."

Looking at her nails, she asked, "Why do you let them walk all over you?"

"I don't. I just pick and choose my battles, and that particular battle would have hurt Caroline, so I let it go."

"You do realize you're still friends with her, right?"

"Not technically."

Rolling her eyes as she moved to my side to stretch, Rebekah said, "Elena had a picture of something I haven't seen in a very long time."

Following Rebekah's lead on the stretching, I muttered, "Did she now?"

"She did. She said she wanted to talk about it, or she was going to wake up Mikael."

"She actually threatened you?"

"As good as . . . that was her meaning."

Don't bluff with vampires. Just don't. Taking a deep breath, as I switched legs, I said, "You do know that Mikael is already awake, right? I mean, that's why your brother left."

She immediately stopped what she was doing and turned to face me. "What are you talking about?"

"Uh . . . Mikael's awake . . . has been since at least the night your brother left. He has yet to make an appearance, but he is definitely out there in the world again."

"Why has nobody said anything to me?"

Standing up to look at her, I said, "Well, I think the general thinking was that he was after your brother, not you . . . and I guess nobody knew he was your father either. Now that that's out, it makes you relevant to the story."

"How do you - " Cutting herself off with a shake of her head, she turned to walk the other way saying, "I can't believe I thought for one second that . . . you know what? It doesn't matter. Go tell her that I won't say a word to either of you about it."

"Tell her yourself . . . I don't know what she's doing. She has her plans, and I have mine."

Coming back to step toe-to-toe with me, she asked, "And what are your plans?"

"Well, I want to kill Mikael. She basically wants to use him to kill your brother."

"Oh." She relaxed before taking half a step back. "Why would you do that?"

"I have my reasons . . . one being that I feel like if he's had you all running scared for this long, then if I take him out, it'll look good on my resume . . . Is that a problem? I mean he is your father, so - "

"He stopped being that a long time ago, if he ever was . . . but you don't stand a chance against him."

"I might."

"Are you willing to risk your life on 'might'?"

"What else have I got to risk it on? Nothing I do is certain."

She breathed out a laugh before shaking her head and then said, "I still haven't seen her."

Her eyes flicked in my direction, like she wanted to make sure I understood her abrupt change of topic, and I did. She must've been looking for signs every day that her Mom was somewhere nearby, most likely as a ghost, and hoping for a chance to see her. I felt a little bad about that. "Well, she's out there somewhere too . . . Her talisman is what they were looking for the night they were over at the house."

"Her necklace?"

I nodded. "It had to be destroyed to send the other spirits packing, but after it was destroyed, it just magically came back, like nothing had happened to it."

"So, she's really out there?"

"Yeah. Where? I have no idea, but she is definitely grounded in a body this side of being dead. I guess she'll show up when she's ready . . . I kind of feel like she and your Dad are just waiting for their individual moments." No way in hell was I telling her that I also had her mother in my sights. Something told me that one wouldn't fly as well as what I'd said about her Dad.

Her eyes narrowed as she looked at the spot where Elena had been, and then she said, "I have to respond. I can't just let her threaten me like that with something she knows has already happened."

"Well, you could feed her false information and tell me the truth."

I gave her a quick grin to accentuate that I was joking, and she snorted before saying, "Nice try . . . I need to know how you know what you know before I decide what I'm going to do."

"Was the picture she had of writing in a cave?"

Rebekah nodded. "It was my name."

"Well, next to your names were a bunch of cave drawings all telling a story. There are symbols for werewolves and the moon and vampires . . . It's in a part of the cave where no vampires can go. It's blocked off, like when you guys can't get into a house you haven't been invited into yet. I don't know why, but it's like the werewolves or someone close to them, kept tabs on you guys, wrote down your story, and they wanted to keep vampires out, because it's their secret on what to do about vampires . . . the answer is in the beginning."

Sighing, while she grabbed a towel, Rebekah said, "Well, I'm sure you've already got a pretty good idea of what would work on killing us, but we destroyed it . . . hence the ash."

I'd suspected that based on how badly she'd reacted to the white oak ash in my blood. Plus, there were all those cave drawings of a white tree. I just hadn't been sure, and I'd wanted to be. "Yeah . . . I'm guessing it was a specific white oak tree, not just any one out there."

"That would be correct."

Why was she telling me this? Maybe she really didn't think I'd be able to do anything with it. "But I suspect that even though it was destroyed, some part of it had to have made it's way into Mikael's hands, or you guy's wouldn't have had to run from him."

Tossing the towel over her shoulder as she walked away, she answered, "Yep . . . Good luck getting it from him. It's never far, but he never keeps it on him unless he's close to getting what he wants."

I watched her go, and when she was far enough away that we knew she couldn't hear, Caroline came up to me and asked, "Why did you tell her that Mikael is already out?"

"Because - "

She looked at me, while she answered her own question. "You might be manipulating her too, but the truth works just as well to get what you want."

"Yep. Now I'm sure of what the weapon is and who has it. That's only half a step away from having it myself with the added bonus that I didn't make her feel like I think she's an idiot by lying to her."

"What do you think she's going to do to Elena for trying to lie to her?"

"Nothing except maybe make her wait a day or two to tell her what she told me in 5 minutes."

"Are you sure?"

"As sure as I can be. She's not going to kill the girl that her brother needs to make his hybrids, because she wouldn't do that to her brother, but she is going to want to put Elena in her place, and stringing her along will just about do that, because she knows she has what Elena wants, so Elena's time and attention is all hers for as long as she decides she wants it."

"Why would she tell either of you what can kill her family?"

"That I don't know . . . except she obviously doesn't think we'll be able to do anything with it."

"I still hate her, but maybe she's lonely and just wants to talk."

"Maybe." I picked up my own towel and said, "Or maybe she has a big mouth, like you, and needs her brother around to keep her from saying things she shouldn't all the time."

"I don't have a big mouth."

"Uh huh, and Elena just happens to know Viking well enough to know Rebekah's name when she sees it."

"Oh come on, you can't seriously be upset with me."

Walking towards the parking lot, I answered, "Nope."

I really had been expecting it, not that Caroline believed that I wasn't upset. Following me, she quickly said, "I mean we're all on the same team, and she's one of my oldest friends. She was really struggling with it . . . And she said she wouldn't be able to go to the Homecoming dance if she didn't have it figured out by this weekend." I breathed out a laugh, and Caroline asked, "What?"

"Nothing. She is full of surprises. I'll give her that much."

"What do you mean by that?"

"What I mean is that as one of your oldest friends, she knows how to play you, and she did to get you to give her exactly what she wanted."

"She wouldn't do that."

She didn't sound so sure of that. "Uh, well she did, or do you think with the way she has Stefan locked up in Ripper Rehab that she really ever wanted to go to a dance he can't attend?"

A growl of frustration left Caroline's lips, before she said, "Am I really that easy to trick?"

"Any one is. It's not just you."

"I didn't tell her everything."

That surprised me. "No?" I glanced at Caroline over my shoulder, and she shook her head.

"I didn't tell her what any of the pictures meant . . . Something is wrong . . . You're working with me on things you should be working on with Damon. You are up to something, and I don't know if it's bad, but I want to believe it's not, so I didn't tell her . . . but I do need you to tell me what's going on."

I argued with myself over it for a couple of seconds, and finally decided she needed to know at least part of it. "Imelda called a hunter."

"She did what?!"

"Yeah . . . I told you guys how she was."

"What are you going to do about it?"

"I haven't decided yet."

"But you don't kill people."

"Hunters aren't people. They're just monsters that haven't turned."

"How can you say that? You are a hunter."

I looked at her again. "No, I'm a sympathizer."

"What?"

"In their eyes, I'm no different than you. I'm worse in some respects, so - "

"Anyone she called will come after you." I nodded, and she looked a little shell shocked. "But you didn't do anything. You - "

"Let you live . . . I live with vampires . . . There's really no other way to describe it."

"That's why you've been coming over to my house every night until Mom comes home. Does Imelda know - "

"She pegged what you were the first time we saw her, and whether it was intentional or not, either Elena or Jeremy have let slip who you are. There is a part of her that wants to take care of them, but that doesn't mean she's not also keeping a close eye on them and listening for anything that could be useful."

"That's why you don't want Elena to know everything . . . You think she'll let Imelda know."

Shrugging a shoulder, I answered, "Just the important parts . . . Imelda's also the one who helped me figure out those names were in Viking. She may be a pain in the ass, but she has her uses. I just don't want her to know everything."

"And Mom? Will this hunter see her as - "

"Yes . . . She knows what vampires are, and she's been tasked with protecting this town from them. She wouldn't be considered a civilian. She's fair game if she's using what she knows to protect you."

"Oh my god, Eve! Why haven't you told anyone?"

"Because I don't know if the hunter or hunters are here yet. I don't get the feeling they are, but when they do arrive, they will probably wait to see what happens with Mikael before they make their move."

"How do you know that?"

"Because I told Imelda I was going after him."

"But shouldn't this hunter want to help him if - "

"Mikael is a vampire. It doesn't matter if he's a hunter too."

"Eve, you have to tell the others. They need to know."

"What they need to do is stay out of my way, and them being preoccupied with studying these pictures is the best way to keep them out of it."

"And what are you going to do about Imelda? I'm guessing if this hunter dies, she'll just call another one . . . and maybe she has called more than one. You can't let her keep living with Elena and Jeremy."

"Their house is now a safe house. She won't let anything happen to them as long as she's there."

"You mean she's holding them hostage."

"Using them as collateral . . . and I think she genuinely likes them, so that helps."

Stopping at her car, she asked, "What should I tell my Mom?"

"Whatever you think she needs to know . . . and keep an eye on Tyler. Imelda has a keen interest in the hybrids."

Chapter Text

"What the hell is wrong with you?"

My eyes fluttered open just enough to see who it was before they closed, and I rolled over grumbling, "Get out of my room."

"No." One second I was warm and comfortable. The next, I was on high alert as my blankets started to be violently torn away from me. Gripping onto them tightly to keep the warmth from leaving my body, I sat up yelling, "Stop it, you little cretin."

Elena stopped tugging, and her eyes narrowed as she said, "Or what?"

"Or I'll kick your ass and make you think twice about coming in here again . . . What are you even doing here anyway? Damon just had that door fixed, and - " I stopped when she held up a spare set of keys for the lock. "Did he give you - "

"He doesn't know I have them yet, and I am waiting for one good reason why I shouldn't tell him what you - "

"He always keeps those on him, so things like this don't happen." My eyes narrowed slightly. What had she done to get them? He'd promised that he wouldn't lead her on anymore, and that included putting a fast end to anything she may try to start. He may have to do it without letting her know why he wasn't interested, because he'd agreed not to let anyone know about us until Klaus wasn't a problem anymore, but it was doable, and I had to start trusting him sometime. "Did you take those while he was in the shower?" Her eyes widened in shock, and I smirked. "You saucy little minx . . . that's exactly what you did. You know, his bathroom doesn't have a door. Did you get a good look while - "

"Oh my god! Shut up."

"That's a no, but you were tempted, right?"

"Will you stop it?! You're not going to distract me from this . . . Caroline told me - "

With a soft growl, I muttered, "Of course she did," as I flopped back on my bed and pulled my covers over my head to add, "Go away!"

"I'll tell Damon if you don't talk to me."

"Go ahead. It'll make breaking the news to him that much easier if you're the one who does it . . . and then you can be the one to stop him from just going over there to try and kill her. He'll be dead before he crosses the threshold."

Growling in frustration herself now, Elena said, "I know you told Caroline that it isn't safe for any of us to leave town. If we do, it'll just make it easier for whoever this person is to pick us off, so where were you yesterday?"

"I needed to get some things."

Pulling my blankets off my head, she looked down at me and demanded, "What things?"

I'd gone to my Dad's storage locker and then went to one of Mom's. "None of your business . . . oh that reminds me." I reached into the drawer by my nightstand and pulled out a little pouch before tossing it in her direction. "Tell Jeremy to keep that on him at all times. It should do what the tie pin Elijah gave me does."

Turning it over in her hand, she examined it, while saying, "That's who gave that pin to you?"

"Yep . . . When the plan was for me to replace Katherine, so I could get closer to Klaus and then swap myself out with you, he said it was the only thing that'd keep Klaus's witches from knowing I wasn't you."

Still studying the hex bag she said, "He was actually going to help you?"

"Well, he didn't think of it as helping. He thought of it as keeping me out of the way. He didn't think I'd be able to make the final switch being that close to Klaus."

Lifting the bag in my direction, she said, "Where'd you get this?"

"I made it."

Her eyebrows rose. "Then why didn't you just use this instead of using the pin Elijah gave you?"

"Because I just made it last night. I didn't even know if I could without the ability to perform magic . . . turns out I can. Witches might be nature's servants, but nature gives us ways to protect ourselves from them."

Taking a deep breath, she looked at the bag again and asked, "Is there any way you could make more of these?"

"I already have." I tossed her another one and said, "You can give that one to Matt."

"I didn't think you liked him."

"I don't."

"Then why would you give this to him?"

Well that should be obvious, shouldn't it? "Uh, because he's a target."

Sitting on the edge of my bed, she asked, "How so?" and I tried to think about how to explain it.

"Well, for starters, he's important to Caroline and Tyler. Let's say they aren't easy to get for whatever reason. Then all a hunter has to do is take Matt, and either one of them will come running. When they do, they'll land in whatever trap's been set for them."

"Is that what you would do?"

I shook my head. "No. I watch my targets, learn as much as I can about them, and then use myself as bait using what I know about their likes and dislikes . . . sometimes all I have to use is an open blood bag, and that does the trick."

She nodded before looking back down at the bags in her hand. "These only work if you're human, don't they?"

"Yeah, that's not up to me. It's nature's call on that one . . . I know my pin will work for everyone else, because it worked for Elijah. Think I'll keep it for now and see who needs it most."

"And this will hide Jeremy from Imelda?"

Sitting up against my headboard, I nodded to the bag and said, "It'll do a little more than that. It'll keep her from being able to use magic to harm him."

"I thought witches couldn't use their magic to harm humans."

"Sure they can . . . They can use it to kill one another, and they can use it to kill monsters. They can most definitely use it to harm humans . . . It's just killing humans that's a problem, and even that, they can do if they use their bare hands . . . or a knife or gun . . . you get the picture. That won't protect him from a physical, non-magical attack, so he still has to be careful . . . and Imelda isn't necessarily the only one with magic . . . hunters use a lot of weapons that witches have charmed in one way or another. It should work for those kinds of things too, since those weapons were essentially made with the use of magic."

Her fingers traced the bag as she studied it, but her forehead furrowed in discomfort as she asked, "And Bonnie? You think she killed John with the spell to bring me back? If she did, then - "

"A loophole." She looked at me, and I explained what I'd meant. "The spell didn't technically kill him even though she knew what would happen to you when she did it. If you hadn't died, he wouldn't have either."

She swallowed before looking down again in shame. "Do you blame me for that?"

"If you didn't know about it, then no . . . and yet yes, because if you hadn't cared about becoming a vampire, then I don't think he or Damon would have done what they did that day to keep you from turning."

Tearing up a little as she looked at me, she said, "I never asked them to do any of those things for me."

"I know. That's why I've tried really hard not to blame you for it. I blame Dad and Bonnie, and I blame Klaus for putting all of you in that position . . . I don't blame Damon, but I probably should. I can't help who I blame though . . . Until she apologizes for her part in it and shows true remorse, I'll probably never like Bonnie, and even then, it'll be a struggle. Klaus - he's an outside party to what happened. He didn't even know about it, so I shouldn't really blame him, and I do less now than I did, which is probably progress in the mental health department. Dad . . . I blame him them most, but he's dead, and my grief over losing him probably overrides it most of the time."

"You've thought about this a lot." Of course I had. I shrugged, and she looked down again as she changed the subject. "What else did you get while you were gone?"

"Nothing you need to worry about right now. All you need to know is that I'm on it."

Sticking the bags in her jacket pocket, Elena said, "I want her gone."

"Finally starting to understand why I said I might have to kill her?"

Giving me a disgusted look, she was quick to say, "No. I just don't want her in my house anymore."

"You can't just kick her out. You made a deal. You may have done it without looking at the fine print, but you still did it, and you never cross a witch . . . There may be a way around it though."

"What?"

"You could sign your house solely over to Jeremy, and then it would no longer be your right to say she can stay there, so he could kick her out . . . but then you have to ask yourself if that's what's best, because her being there is what is keeping you and Jeremy safe from whoever this hunter might be."

"Do you really think she wants to keep us safe, or is she planning to use one of us as bait?"

Taking a deep breath, I considered it before saying, "She's not bad . . . She's just trying to do what she thinks is the right thing even if that means people get hurt. She could use one of you as bait, but she really seems to like the two of you . . . I'm about 55-45 that she'll behave even if she thinks she has no other choice. 75-25 on any other given day."

"And those odds sound acceptable to you?"

"Well, I live in a place where it's about 50/50 that I'll be murdered by my housemates on any given day and 80-20 if one of them is in a bad mood, so I'd say the odds are more in your favor."

She exhaled a laugh before ducking her head and giving it a small shake. "You missed a lot, while you were gone."

Yeah, I'd left early and hadn't gotten back until late. "Damon filled me in on how he and Stefan had a run in with Mikael."

She nodded before saying, "Did he tell you that I got Rebekah on our side?"

No, but he had said that she had some news and that if I wanted to know it, I should ask her myself. He was never going to give up on trying to get me some kind of family, but he never seemed to realize he was my family, and I think he'd become that before my parents were even dead. Glancing at Elena, I asked, "How'd you do that?"

Lifting the keys to my bedroom door, she flicked a glance in my direction before bowing her head again. My eyes immediately went to my school bag, and I flung my blankets off as I crawled to the foot of the bed and went to my desk. Unzipping it, I took the papers out and only had to go through a couple before I felt the need to roll my eyes and mutter, "I would've known someone went through these. They're all out of order."

"How do you know what order they belong in?"

Shuffling the papers to make them right, I answered, "Uh, I know how to read a story. It doesn't start three quarters of the way through and jump to the front, then back, and finally the middle."

Walking up beside me to look at what I was doing, she asked, "But how do you know what any of this means?"

"Caroline helped on some of it. Imelda helped on the names. Then it was just a matter of piecing things together into a cohesive story."

"You're not mad I went through your things?"

"Honestly? I feel a little violated. I'm not sure how I feel about that."

I glanced at her over my shoulder, and she looked away before nodding towards the papers and asking, "What do the pictures say?"

"Short version?" She nodded, and I looked at the papers again. "This family lived in peace with its werewolf neighbors until one of them was killed . . . I don't know if it was Kol, Henrick, or Finn, but one of them was killed by the werewolves. The mother was a witch, and she drew power from the sun and this tree . . . the white oak tree . . . to make the family immortal and as monstrous as their neighbors . . . The tree that gave them a long life could also end it, so they burnt it down . . . and the world was left with a family of monsters so beastly that one of them, the hybrid . . . killed his own mother, and that was the end of peace, not only with their neighbors, but of peace as it once was all across the land."

I looked at Elena again, and she exhaled a breath she'd been holding. "That's pretty much what Rebekah said happened. You really got all that from those cave drawings?" I shrugged a shoulder, and she shook her head before she said, "Except she didn't know that Klaus killed their Mom."

"So you just filled her in on that little detail?"

Elena nodded, and I said, "It won't matter . . . She might be more of a free spirit than Elijah, but the same thing that told me he wouldn't really kill Klaus, is telling me she won't either."

"I don't know." Looking away from me with a somewhat guilty face, Elena muttered, "It destroyed her to find out that he's been lying to her all this time."

"But he's her brother. She might be hurt and angry . . . and she is definitely the spiteful type, but we are still talking about the same girl who forgives him every time he stabs her in the heart and sticks her in a coffin for decades at a time. I mean, do you have any idea what that must be like . . . to go to sleep against your will in the roaring 20s and wake up today? She's missed so much. Women had only just been allowed to vote in this country when she went down. She missed the Great Depression and World War 2. She missed out on flower power in the 60s and the music and the scientific achievements and inventions that have happened since then . . . and we weren't alive to see most of those things either, but she was. She just missed them, so there's this huge gap in her own personal story that she'll never be able to get back, and it's not the first time he's done that to her, but she forgives him every time . . . She'll forgive him for this too."

"Why does he do it?"

"Because he's afraid she'll leave him."

"Rebekah said he can't stand the thought of those around him disappointing him."

"Yeah, by leaving him . . . to him there'd be no greater disappointment. I think he's been hurt deeply by the people he cares about the most, and that's because he cares so much. A lot of what you see is an act he uses to protect himself."

"You make them sound so human."

"Well, all vampires, even Originals, start as humans. When they turn, they become enhanced . . . In some ways for the better and others for the worse."

"And yet you kill them."

My eyes flicked to her, and I said, "I know there might be some good, however small, in any vampire I kill, but - " I cut myself off with a sigh before saying, "Stefan has a good side, right?" She nodded, and I said, "And you've caught a glimpse of his bad side, but his bad side is bad, Elena. I guess that you could say that every day I was with them, it was a struggle for me not to kill him. When I go after vampires, the side of Stefan that I felt like I should kill is the side of them I'm hunting. There are so many other options for them. They could go the tame-Stefan route and eat bunnies. They could go with blood bags. They could bite, heal, and erase . . . Honestly, I'd let them go if they only stuck to bad people."

"Who decides if they're bad people though?"

"Come on, Elena. If someone is bad, you know it . . . Do you think Ted Bundy was good, or was he a human monster? There are plenty of human predators of all kinds for them to feed on out there, and if they did, they'd be doing the rest of us a favor."

"You mean like Isobel? Caroline told me you said that's what she did."

I nodded, and she thought about it, while I said, "Anyway, if they survive by doing any of those things, then they don't get on my radar."

"Can you show me what to do?"

My eyebrows flattened in confusion, as I said, "You mean - "

"Can you train me . . . the way you train Caroline?"

"I, uh . . . "

"I need to know how to protect myself. I need to feel like I have some control over my life, because I haven't in I don't know how long."

"I understand that, but we've kind of got a lot going on right now, and - "

"Even more reason for me to know how to protect myself and everyone around me. You can't be everywhere at once."

"Yeah, but it's taken me years to get where I am." She started to walk off in a huff, and I said, "You can't expect to be good at it overnight. It takes time and commitment, and maybe it's a little like playing the piano." She stopped to look at me, and I said, "I started when I was young. It helped mold my brain and natural reactions into what they are now . . . that only happens when you start young . . . I'm not saying you can't learn to protect yourself. I'm just saying, leave it at that . . . Don't go into this thinking you can run around doing what I do or protecting other people. That's a good way to get you and everyone around you hurt."

Crossing her arms over her chest, she said, "That's not a no."

I shook my head. "It's not a no . . . more like a conditional okay . . . but if I see you pick up any kind of weapon and go looking for trouble, that's it. I'm pulling the plug."

Chapter Text

Feeling every bit like this shouldn't be happening as I watched the interloper in my living room, I hung back in the corner, partially hidden by shadows. This was my hunter-setting at one step above attack mode. Watching without looking like I was, waiting, learning about my foe, and reading body language, listening for tone, and hearing what was really being said under the words that were actually being spoken, so I could be there to stop something before it started. Everyone in the room was aware I was there, because they'd seen me walk in here when I got back from checking the secret perimeter I'd set up around the house, but I made myself as inconspicuous as possible to dampen the knowledge that I was there . . . maybe until they forgot about me.

It only took a few minutes for me to latch onto the idea that this was the monster from my childhood, and that is why it felt bizarre to be standing here in a place I considered a home, while I watched him drink some of Damon's best bourbon. He was cold. Just the air around him was menacing. He appeared to be clinical . . . precise. You could see it in the way he moved, spoke, and even breathed. Any attacks he made would be the same. He was calculating, and he accounted for almost everything, but he also wasn't one to think outside the box, which meant he could be surprised - not that it'd be easy. There's a reason his son had been able to stay ahead of him for 1000 years, but there was also a reason his son had been on the run from him for 1000 years.

It all made sense . . . the sad looks when I'd described how I'd imagined Klaus to be before we met, the concern with measuring up to what I'd expected . . . I'd had no way of knowing then that I'd been describing his father. Mikael was a jaded old soul without an ounce of humanity . . . maybe. The way he spoke about killing his son was pretty cold, and his determination to do so was unsettling. It had nothing to do with making the world a better place and everything to do with him just not liking his son . . . or the bastard son he hadn't known wasn't his, but if he'd liked his son before he found out, then it wouldn't have mattered if Klaus was his or not.

Finding out that Klaus wasn't his just gave him an excuse to do what he'd always wanted to do . . . either that's because his instincts had told him that Klaus wasn't his, and he'd ignored them until he couldn't, or there were personality clashes. Whatever it was, it may not be overly apparent given his calm demeanor, but there was pure, unadulterated hate there, and hate was a human emotion. Family connections always seemed to bring out the human side of monsters, even when you were sure there was no humanity there at all. I'd keep that in mind. Best not to pin him down into any one box, because when you did that, people had a tendency to surprise you, and that was a good way to wind up dead. Always expect the unexpected.

Him being here was surprise enough. It's not that I hadn't expected him to show up. I'd been expecting it since I'd heard of him. Katherine woke him, and Mystic Falls was the last place she'd known Klaus to be, so of course he was going to come to here. I wasn't all that surprised that he'd introduced himself the way he had either. Damon was right. The quickest way to make your point was to wrap your hand around another guy's heart and start to squeeze. It was a pretty effect way to say, 'Hello,' and also, 'Don't fuck with me. I'm the dominant one here, and you are of no use to me whatsoever if you cannot provide my son's head on a stick.' If that's what he thought of vampires, I think the humans in the room meant less despite his change in feeding habits over the years.

The vibe I was getting was that his choice of diet was less about seeing real value in human life and more because he thought he was above praying on humans, like he got more power if he was the predator's predator. Vampires were more of a challenge, I suppose, something I'd told Klaus he should look for in his victims, but I hadn't meant he should eat vampires. I don't know. That just seemed . . . cannibalistic? Vampires may have started as humans, but they weren't humans. They'd mutated into something else, so they were no longer the same species. That made vampires eating humans seem - well, I wasn't going to say it was acceptable, but it was in comparison to vampires eating vampires. That felt wrong, like it really did go against the natural order in a way I didn't think merely becoming a vampire did. I could see why Imelda would still be against Mikael even if he was a hunter.

What surprised me was that on this day, I was standing here, while my childhood monster stood half a room away talking to people I knew, like he belonged here. He was real, but unlike the monster of my childhood, he wasn't after me. I also had a way to kill him, something I'd never thought was possible when I was growing up. He could be stopped, and he had to be, because whether everyone in the room knew it or not, he was going to turn on them.

He'd use Elena as bait. He'd kill her if necessary. If Stefan or Damon made even the slightest mistake, he'd kill them. Once he was done, he'd probably kill them anyway, because his use for them would be over, and what was a guy who'd spent the last 1000 years with one goal in mind supposed to do when he finally got what he wanted? He wouldn't just smile to himself and say, 'Well, that's a job well done. Think I'll go to the pub for a pint,' and then head off into the sunset to enjoy his retirement.

That hate and drive to kill had to be turned on someone. It wouldn't just go away now that his target was dead. He didn't seem to have any interest in killing his other children, so who did that leave? Every other vampire on the face of the planet? They wouldn't be the competition that Klaus had been for him. What happened when other vampires were all that was left? He wouldn't get any satisfaction out of killing them. Maybe then he would find reasons to turn on his other children, but what happened when they were gone?

Humans weren't even on his register of things to eat, so it wouldn't be us he'd kill, and that drive to kill wouldn't be turned inwards, because he was too full of himself to ever end his own life. He wasn't lonely, because he'd had his need to kill Klaus to keep him warm at night for over 1000 years. Would he grieve it, like some kind of widower once that need had been met? I didn't know what he thought he was going to do when the chase was over. Maybe he thought the children he'd alienated in his pursuit of Klaus would be reunited with him, but they wouldn't want that, because if killing Klaus was part of his DNA now, then running from Mikael was in theirs.

Maybe there was a part of him that was aware of all of this, and if that part of him existed, no matter how small, then I suspected that he would find a way to let Klaus slip through his fingers once again. I mean, the guy'd had 1000 years to catch him, and he hadn't done it yet. He needed Klaus alive. Sure, he'd turn around and blame us, which meant he'd kill us, but it'd really be his fault. He'd draw it out, and lose focus sometime near when his son was about to die . . . take his eye off the ball for the briefest of moments . . . and that would be my moment to strike.

I watched as Mikael handed a dagger over to Elena, and she seemed a little taken aback by it. "You want me to actually dagger you?"

He answered her kindly, almost in a fatherly, reassuring manner, but all I could see was the poised snake ready to strike underneath the disguise. "Klaus will leave nothing to chance . . . Especially when it comes to trust."

That was true, and I needed Klaus here as much as they did, but it wasn't to kill him. I needed him here as bait for his father even though his father was standing right in front of me. To get the white oak stake and his father to be in the right place at the right time, Klaus had to be a part of it. Stepping out of the shadows, I spoke for the first time. "Then I'll do it." Maybe I'd done a better job than I'd thought of making them forget I was here. That's what the look on their faces told me anyway. "He'll never believe Elena did it if I'm here."

Mikael looked at Elena to see if that was true, and she shrugged a shoulder before looking back at Stefan and Damon. Damon started to answer, but Stefan's the one who got it out there first. "She's right . . . It should be her. He thinks Eve is a wolf in sheep's clothing, and Elena's just a sheep. He'd expect Eve to be able to pull it off."

Standing taller, Mikael thoughtfully asked, "Would he now?"

His eyes were shifting from Stefan to me as he opened his mouth to respond, and I took the dagger from Elena's hand and thrust it into his chest with little to no style. Just a quick, almost comical, movement to get the job done. As he fell to his knees, Elena shoved my shoulder in frustration. "Why'd you do that?"

"What, you want to fight over stabbing Originals now?"

"No! You could've given him fair warning. He is helping us with - "

"You're kidding right? I guarantee the next words out of his mouth would have been, 'If Klaus believes you are duplicitous, then perhaps it would be best if he believes you are dead, or he will know something is suspect and may not make an appearance.'" She tried not to smile at my imitation of Mikael, and my eyebrows rose expectantly, like I was hoping she'd fill in the next part for me, but she didn't, so I did it, and it came out sounding confused, because I didn't know how she couldn't see it. "And that means he would've killed me, since Stefan can't lie to Klaus?"

Her smile fell as she looked over at the boys, and they shared a look before exhaling an identical sigh. Stefan shrugged, like 'probably,' and as the most paranoid one out of all of us, Damon nodded, "Yeah . . . yeah, that's definitely where that was going." Throwing a look at the body, he added, "We aren't waking him back up until we're sure Klaus is on his way here," before he looked at me and said, "And you, Little Miss Stabby, are staying clear until we know Klaus is here."

Yeah, I should be relatively safe as long as Mikael saw that me being alive didn't complicate things with Klaus returning, and Klaus hearing that I was the one who stabbed him wouldn't do that. I really believed that Klaus would expect me to do just that, because he understood that I would see his father as an adversary as much as I saw him as one. I also think Klaus was tired of running, and with the newfound confidence he must have with any hybrids he'd created while he'd been gone, I suspected he'd come back just to finally finish this. Chasing might be all his father had, but running was not all Klaus had. I'm guessing it'd ruined a good chunk of that 1000 years he'd lived. He was definitely ready for it to be over.

I lifted a shoulder in agreement with Damon's plan, and he felt comfortable enough with my response to tell Stefan to get Mikael's feet, so they could move him somewhere else less conspicuous. That's when Elena's attention came back to me, and she felt the need to say, "But you don't know that's what he was going to do for sure."

Stabbing him in the heart had been part of the plan, so she didn't think what I'd done was completely wrong, but she definitely believed I'd done something rude that bordered on wrong, and I had no idea how to respond to that. I'm pretty sure the look I was giving her said I thought she had green skin and was warbling her words in some unintelligible alien language, because she frowned as she stepped back, like she didn't like being examined under my microscope. Blinking a couple of times, while I tried to think of how to put it in the simplest terms possible, I eventually landed on, "I don't need to know it for sure. If I waited long enough to be sure, I'd be dead." Turning it from me onto her, I argued, "And you need to get something straight. He is not helping us with Klaus. He doesn't even really think we're worthy of helping him. To him, all we are is a means to an end . . . that's it."

Getting defensive, she spouted out, "I don't trust him or anything."

"Then what's the problem?"

"That was way too easy for you to do."

Oh. She knew I could teach her how to protect herself, but I guess hearing something about someone isn't the same as seeing them do it, and despite all my talk about it - and all the talk that she'd heard from the others, she'd only really ever seen me dart Stefan and Damon in the basement before I knocked her out and took off with Klaus. That's not quite the same level of violence as stabbing someone in the heart. "Well, he did leave himself wide open, so - "

"That's not what I meant."

"I know what you meant . . . but let's pretend I didn't and won't."

"Why? Why can't we - "

"Well, why must everything be talked about ad nauseam? I'm violent. I kill. You know that. You just didn't really start to believe it until now, because seeing is believing."

It's essentially what her problem was with Stefan now. She'd known all along what he was, and maybe he'd held some things back on how he'd been in the past, but she'd known about it to a certain extent. It just wasn't something she believed until she saw it with her own two eyes the night Klaus came here, and now she didn't know what to do about it. I guess this was another eye-opener for her, but I hadn't really thought much of it, because in terms of acts I'd committed over the years, it registered as next to nothing in my books.

My eyebrow lifted as I waited for her to respond, and finally, she sighed before saying, "Okay." Both of my eyebrows shot up in unison, and she exhaled a laugh. "Don't look so surprised . . . You're right. I do know, but I didn't really know until now. It doesn't mean I'm just going to stand here and say nothing when I see you doing things I don't think you should do though."

Whatever. She could say whatever she wanted, but it didn't mean I had to listen. Judging by the look she gave me when I rolled my eyes, she was probably thinking something similar, except the opposite, like I may not listen, but she could say whatever she wanted. That meant we were kind of on the same page, or we would be if that page was ripped in half and on two different planets.

Chapter Text

After doing my morning check of the perimeter and finding nothing to indicate it had been breeched, I waited for Elena to come over for her first lesson. I don't know why this couldn't wait until after this Mikael situation was over, but apparently, she didn't want to wait, and she'd just go to Caroline for training if we didn't start the second she wanted to start. She was really demanding, and it wore on my nerves, but I couldn't let her train with Caroline. Caroline was only learning herself, but it wasn't just that. The way I trained Caroline was entirely different, because she was a vampire. There were things she could do that Elena couldn't. She couldn't turn around and then teach Elena those things.

When Elena's car pulled up in the drive, I walked around to the front of the house and was waiting for her when she got out. She seemed a little unsure of herself, but I tilted my head in the direction of the back of the house, like that's where we were going, so she'd at least know to expect we'd be outside, and then I turned to head back where I wanted to go without waiting for her. If I was her instructor, then I was her instructor. If I had a pleasant chat with her until we got where we were going, then it'd blur the line between being me being an instructor and me being a peer. That wasn't a problem with Caroline. We could hang out, while we trained, but with Elena, there was a constant power struggle between the two of us, so if this was going to work, then she needed to know right off the bat, that I was not her peer when it came to hunting.

Coming to the spot I'd selected, I waited for Elena and waved my hand in the direction of the blanket I'd laid out on the lawn, while saying, "Have a seat."

When she didn't immediately do what I'd said, I looked back at her over my shoulder and waited. She could do what I said or not, but I wasn't saying anything else until she did what I'd said. Rolling her eyes with a sigh, she finally sat on the blanket, and I started. "You already know that vampires are stronger than you and faster than you. Those are advantages that are difficult to overcome, but not impossible as long as you have a weapon, and the single greatest weapon you have is your mind . . . If it's not strong, then none of your other weapons will matter. You need to know how to act without thinking, but before you even get that far, you need to know how to think."

"I'm not an idiot."

I stopped the slow and steady pacing I'd started to look down at her. "I never said you were, but you have vastly underdeveloped instincts. They should have told you when you met Stefan that he wasn't human, and if they did, you didn't listen, so it took you weeks to piece it together."

My eyebrow ticked up, like I knew I was right, and she sighed. "I didn't think monsters existed. How was I supposed to know he wasn't human?"

Crouching down to look at her, I said, "Elena, we're human, but that's just the type of animal we are, and all animals have instincts that tell them when they are in danger. The ones who don't are the ones who die. Think of a fox in the wild . . . if it's never seen a human before in it's life, it still knows to run the first time it sees one. It may be curious and stay in the area, but it doesn't come walking up to the human, like a dog would. Now if that fox sees the same human day in and day out, it's instinct to run will lessen, because it'll think the human is safe to be around, and maybe that human is, but what happens if a hunter then walks up to it? It's instincts have been trained to think that humans aren't dangerous, so the hunter has a free shot at the fox, and it dies."

She took that in, and her forehead crinkled as she said, "So, you're saying that I did know Stefan wasn't human before I found out, and now that I've gotten used to him, my instincts against other vampires is weaker?"

"Yeah . . . pretty much."

"But I didn't know he wasn't - "

"You did . . . something in you told you there was something wrong about him, but you ignored it because of the pretty face or because your mind said, 'He's just the new kid. I'm probably imagining it.'"

She bit her bottom lip in thought before saying, "The day we met . . . it wasn't in the halls at school or in class, but I went to the cemetery, and there was this fog and a crow - "

I rolled my eyes. "Damon playing tricks."

"Damon?"

I exhaled a laugh. "The fog and the crow were him. Vampires sometimes have gifts. Stefan's too concentrated on either controlling his blood lust or giving into it to know if he has one, but those are Damon's. He uses them when he hunts. He hasn't hunted in a while, so he hasn't had a reason to use them lately unless he's trying to show off."

One time, he did that fog thing to me, while I was watching Halloween. I only noticed it when I had to swat it away from the screen, so I could see. He was reading a book at my desk, said he didn't see anything, and by then it'd disappeared, so I'd thought maybe I'd imagined it. The fog came back when I started watching again and disappeared when I checked my window to see if it was open. It came back when I started watching the movie a third time, and it wasn't until he laughed when I touched the screen of my laptop to see if it was coming from there that I realized it was him. It was actually pretty funny. I would so consider turning just so I could get a cool super power, like weather manipulation, but with my luck, I'd wind up with nothing at all.

Sounding annoyed, Elena said, "Yeah, well I got a bad feeling about both the fog and the crow, so I ran, and then I ran right into Stefan, but I wasn't glad to see him. I felt like he was part of the problem. It took a minute or so of talking to him to feel like I'd been overreacting."

Yeah, well the difference between when she saw the fog and when I did was that Damon was probably really hunting her at the time. "See . . . those instincts are there. They're just underdeveloped. You need to learn how to trust them." She nodded, and I stood before saying, "And what goes hand-in-hand with instincts are your senses. They come together to create a sort of alarm system to alert you to the presence of danger before your mind is even aware it's there. So, I want you to close your eyes." She seemed unsure, but my eyebrows rose in expectation, and she eventually complied.

"What am I supposed to be doing?"

"Listening." Taking three steps to the right, I said, "We'll start easy. Keep your eyes closed and point to where I am."

She did, and I said, "Good . . . but that's with me talking. I'm going to stop talking, and I want you to point to wherever I am whenever I stop moving." She nodded, and I moved again. When I stopped, she pointed at where I was, and we did it a couple more times until she started looking bored when she flicking her hand in my direction. I smirked. Now for the not so easy. When you're a vampire hunter, you have to know how to be almost silent when you move. It's not something vampires have to learn, because their prey can't hear as well as they can or move as fast, so sneaking up on their prey isn't as hard for them to do as it is for a hunter to sneak up on a vampire.

I moved with all the stealth I possessed and watched her tilt her head, while she tried to hear where I was now. Her head turned from side to side in confusion, and I finally said, "I'm right here," from about 6 feet behind her. She jumped before looking back at me over her shoulder.

"How'd you - "

"You may not hear me move, but you should still know where I am . . . listen for cues in the area . . . like there are 3 birds in the trees about 50 meters behind me. They've been tweeting away the entire time. I'm somewhat blocking the sound of one of them, so the change in volume of one should give you an approximate location . . . or the wind . . . listening to changes in that or noticing a difference in how it feels to let you know it's being blocked in a certain direction are a good way to know where someone or something might be if it's close. A better one than either of those is being able to feel when someone is looking at you. The only downside to that one is that it weakens over time with certain people when you get used to them."

Giving me a disbelieving look, she said, "And you can really do all that?"

"Sometimes I get caught off guard, but it doesn't happen very often, and I don't have to think about what I'm telling you to do . . . All those things have become part of my instincts, so it's a little hard to explain, because I'm trying to deconstruct them, so you can learn." Walking up to her, I offered her a hand to help her up, while I said, "Try me."

I took her seat, and she looked down at me unsurely. "I have no idea how you got from there to there without making a sound."

"So move further back until you don't think I'll be able to hear you move."

She took it under advisement before giving me a nod, and I closed my eyes. I let myself relax and cleared my mind. I didn't listen for anything specific, because I didn't need to do that. I could just feel where she was even after she was a good 30 feet away. There's something about being watched that let you know where someone was . . . like I was fairly certain that even though my perimeter hadn't been breeched the previous night, we'd been watched at least part of the night from outside it. That's why I'd been so late in coming in when Mikael was here. Whoever it was, wasn't there now. It was pretty early, since Elena and I had school. That told me it was probably one hunter. If there were two, then there wouldn't be a gap in times when we were being watched, because while one hunter slept, the other could keep watch.

When I'd pointed Elena out five times, I opened my eyes and saw her running in a big circle to get to somewhere else, and it made me laugh as I got up.

She stopped running when she saw me and started walking up to me saying, "I don't think I would've like playing you in hide and go seek."

"Funny, because that's sort of where my training started."

"Really?"

"Yeah . . . It's a great way to hone those instincts from an early age."

Looking like she was considering how that might work she said, "Is this what you do with Caroline?"

"Not quite . . . She's getting to a place where she can defend herself pretty well, but it doesn't matter how many times I shoot her with a vervain dart, she still doesn't expect it half the time."

"You shoot her with vervain darts?"

"Well, that's what's dangerous for her, isn't it? It's one of her weaknesses."

"But maybe she just trusts you, and she doesn't think you're going to shoot her."

"Yeah, and she trusted Tyler's Mom not to shoot her and hand her over to her Dad. She needs to be ready at all times, because it may not always be a stranger that's after her. This town is full of people who are half aware of vampires, and they are trigger happy. All it takes is one little slip on her part and the wrong person will have her where they want her. She'll die."

"But Stefan's been alive a lot longer than her, and you were still able to catch him by surprise. How do expect her to be any better?"

"Because she can be. Why think in terms of limitations when I know how capable she really is, and who says it isn't what Caroline expects of herself? We have an understanding, Elena. You may think it's harsh, but if I went easy on her, then she'd think I didn't think she was up for it, and it would hit her self-esteem hard. She'd get discouraged . . . It's actually a sign of respect that I don't go easy on her."

"And what about me? Aren't you going easy on me?"

"You're human. The things that are threats for you aren't threats for her and vice versa. And with you I have to start at the foundation and build you up from there."

Taking a deep breath, she nodded before looking back down at the blanket and taking a seat. Looking at my watch, I said, "We'll do this for another 15 minutes, and then we'll move on." I glanced at her to see if there were any arguments and got none as she closed her eyes. She did get better. It still took a while for her to pinpoint me, but that wasn't a problem, because when she did point, she was getting closer. It would take more than a day for this to sink in, so we'd probably do this at the start of every time we trained together until I was sure she didn't have to think about it anymore. There were other instincts she needed to build up, like learning when to run and not to run from a vampire, but we'd get to those later.

After we were done with that, I went to bag and pulled out some wood and a spare Bowie knife before tossing them on the blanket in front of her. Looking up at me in confusion she asked, "What are these?"

"You need stakes."

She looked at her own bag and said, "But I already brought some."

"Did you make them yourself?"

Giving me an annoyed look, she was quick to say, "No."

"Then how do you know you can trust them?" She hesitated, and I said, "If they were in the cabin or the attic, they might look fine, but they're old, so they could be rotten on the inside and will fall apart when you try to use them. Maybe they aren't rotten, but are weathered, so they aren't smooth, and they'll give you a splinter. A splinter means blood, and maybe that'll give your position away, or maybe it'll make an already agitated vampire lose what little control they have over not biting you. What if the stakes you brought were made for bigger hands than yours? Will the grip be suited for you, or will it be too big? If it's too big, you could lose your hold on it when you go to strike. If you want control over your life, then there are no short cuts. There's a certain kind of power that comes from the confidence you gain using a stake you've created . . . You'll know these down to the finest detail, because they'll be entirely yours from start to finish, and you'll know they're reliable when you need them to be, because you made them that way."

Her shoulders dropped as she sighed and looked down. Picking up one of the pieces of wood and the knife, while I sat next to her to do the same, so I could show her how to do it, she glanced at me and said, "Did John teach you that?"

Shrugging as I started shaving away some of the wood, I answered, "The part about making your own stakes being important, so you know you can trust them. The power you gain from doing it is something I came up with myself. All I had one time was one of his, because it was a spur of the moment kind of attack, and it wasn't the same."

Watching what I did and trying to do the same, Elena asked, "Is that why you always have one on you?"

"It's why I have my stakes hidden all over the house, like Easter eggs you have to search to find."

"They attacked his home?"

"Yeah . . . I was staying there during one of Mom's 'I need some space' times. She didn't get them often, but when she did, it was time to go. Anyway, Dad had gone after this nest. It was a small one, like 4 or 5, but 1 got away, and it must've followed him home . . . It also must've thought I'd be an easy target, because it stopped by with another friend when Dad was out shopping."

"But how'd they get in?"

With a small smile, I said, "I let them in . . . Katherine had just taught me something I wanted to try. Dad didn't have any leads on any new hunts, and there they were, like two Christmas presents on my doorstep. I killed the first one with the stake I had on me, but I had to go for one of Dad's in the little time I had before the second one got to me. I knew where his stake was, but it wasn't mine, and it just didn't feel the same . . . I had to stab the vamp three times to kill him."

"How old were you?"

"I'd just turned 15."

Taking a deep breath, she held it for a few moments before saying, "When I was 15, I was more concerned with cheerleading camp." Her eyes narrowed in thought as she concentrated on shaping her stake. "What did Katherine teach you?"

"What to do if I was bitten."

Elena stopped what she was doing and looked at me. "Is that something you can teach me?"

"I can tell you what to do, but I can't really teach it to you."

"What do you do?"

"Jam the stake the stake through their neck. It makes their jaws unhinge."

Her eyes widened. "Is that all?"

Ignoring her sarcasm, I said, "Well, that's what Katherine taught me to do, but if you want to do it right, then you want to make sure they're dead, so I developed this technique where you use the stake as a handle. It gives you complete control of their head, and you can tear out the fleshy part of their neck . . . off pops the head . . . it's easier with a dagger, but it can be done with a stake. It's just messier."

"Oh my god . . . you tear their heads off?"

"Yep."

I gave her a look, like I didn't know what the problem was, but I wasn't sorry for it, and she rolled her eyes while huffing out a short breath of air. Shaking her head, she said, "And Katherine taught you . . . Does that mean - "

"She let me stab her in the neck? Yeah . . . How else was I supposed to get a feel for what that was like?"

"That doesn't sound like her."

"No, but it is a good way to gain trust, not that she's ever really gotten mine . . . here and there we have our moments, but they're never permanent."

"Just like with Imelda?"

I nodded, while I focused on my stake. "Just like Imelda."

"So you'd kill Katherine too?"

"I did almost kill her . . . another half inch, and she'd be dead right now."

"You mean at the masquerade ball?" I nodded, and Elena said, "You really would have gone through with it?"

"The only thing that stopped me was Caroline. I was already falling on my stake when she got to me."

"But you would've been dead too."

"Yeah?" I gave her a look that said I thought she was strange and then said, "I figured it'd keep Tyler from triggering the curse if her compulsion wore off, and without Katherine interfering, all Damon would have to do was get rid of the moonstone, and things would be fine. I didn't know that Rose and Trevor were going to mess that all up by taking you to Elijah the same night."

"And if you'd died then or in the ritual or when you were letting random vampires into your house for practice, would I have ever known about you?"

Oh, she was getting angry. "Uh . . . well, I suspect that Dad was maybe planning all along to do for me what he wound up doing for you if I was in the ritual, so maybe?"

"But how many times before that did you almost die?" My eyes squinted, while I thought about it, and she interrupted my concentration by saying, "If you have to think about it, then it's too many times."

"Well, it depends on what you mean by almost died . . . If it's by letting vampires into the house that wanted to kill me, then it's like every time I hunted one, but I don't really consider that almost dying. If it's times I've been hurt . . . again, I don't really think of it like almost dying. If you mean hospital visits . . . there have been a few of those, and - "

"How many?"

Seriously? How was I supposed to know that off the top of my head? "I don't know Elena. A few."

"For stitches?"

I threw her an annoyed look. "The smaller things, Dad could fix. If it was severe, then he'd take me to the hospital, and it'd require surgery of some kind, or if I had a broken bone, then we'd go to the hospital . . . One time I was in a medically induced coma for a few days, and - "

She quickly snapped, "What happened?" and I wondered why she was mad now.

Thinking back on it, I tried to remember what'd happened that time. "Uh, well . . . I didn't really remember it until after Damon gave me his blood the first time. I guess I must've had the memories for the day or two leading up to that hunt knocked out of me, and his blood fixed that . . . so it's a little like it happened to someone else even though I can remember it now. I was 12. Before I was allowed to get close enough to play bait, I used to act as back up with my crossbow. On this hunt, I was supposed to stay up in my perch until Dad's signal . . . He got attacked without giving it, and I shot anyway. I hit the vampire in the chest, but not the heart, gave away my position, and Dad got hurt, so he couldn't stop it from coming for me. I killed it before it killed me, but it messed me up pretty bad before I could . . . bad enough they didn't question Dad when he brought me in saying I'd been in a car accident, and I was in the hospital for a couple of days under a fake identity . . . I guess I'd consider that almost dying, so . . . once?"

She didn't look like she believed that and backed it up by saying, "I don't believe you."

"Okay?"

"Why did Damon give you his blood? He wouldn't do that if it weren't serious."

"Oh . . . yeah, I guess he almost killed me too. He punctured a lung and didn't think I'd make it to a hospital out of town."

"When was that?!"

Why is she yelling? "Um, not long after I met him. Mom had just gotten ahold of the Gilbert Device, and he thought I knew more about what she was doing here than I did. I actually had no idea she or Dad were in town until Damon told me after he attacked me."

"And what about the other times?" The confusion must've shown on my face, because she rolled her eyes and said, "You said you got those memories back the first time he gave you his blood. I want to know about the other times."

Oh. She could be quick to pick up on things when she wanted to be. Why'd it feel like I was digging myself further into a hole instead of out of one? "Well, the next night, Katherine staked me, and I guess I almost died then too . . . It's the night she attacked Dad in your house. Damon found me passed out on the floor of my apartment."

"Is that it? Or has he had to give you his blood more than that?"

Sighing, I thought through it and said, "I guess maybe the night I had to dagger Elijah he gave me some, but it wasn't really necessary. I just got stabbed in the shoulder."

Her eyes widened. "By Elijah? Was it after you told him your plan to trade places with Katherine, or - "

"No, I did that after I removed the dagger. The night I used it on him, Damon threw the dagger at him, but I knew it'd kill him if he succeeded, and the fastest way to stop him was to take the dagger for Elijah."

Dropping the half-carved stake and knife into her lap, she buried her face in her hands and took a slow breath before shaking her head and whispering a muffled, "And what about what happened with Mason? Damon told Caroline you got hurt going after him on a full moon."

Waving that off, I said, "Meh, I just got a few scratches. I gave myself stitches, and I was fine."

Looking over at me, she angrily asked, "Then why is he still mad about it?"

"Because he's melodramatic? Maybe he heard the attack over the phone, and maybe it sounded more vicious than it was. He's mad that I did it without him and tricked into going out of town, so he wouldn't be here when I did it . . . I was fine."

"I think your version of fine and a normal person's version of fine are on two totally different planets . . . If you'd died any of those times that weren't the ritual, then you would've lived and died without me ever knowing about you, wouldn't you?"

Sighing, before I pulled out some sand paper, so I could start going over my stake, I answered, "Yeah . . . although in fairness to Mom and Dad, they did want me to meet you when I came here. Katherine convinced them we should get to know one another and that I could live with you . . . but it kind of went against everything I'd been raised to do. I would've had to convince you not to tell anyone about me . . . stay somewhere like your attic, and then convince you to let me substitute myself in for you on things that were too dangerous for you to do. That would've never worked, and what was the point of meeting you if I was going to die anyway? If you didn't know about me, it would have made no difference to you if I was dead or not."

"How can you say that?"

Resting my hands in my lap as I looked at her, I shook my head and said, "One thousand one - two people just died. That's how many people die every second of every day, and are you going to feel bad about all of them? No, because you don't know them. This is no different."

She almost yelled, "It is different," while she angrily took out her frustrations on her stake, and a moment later grumbled, "I would've told you . . . If it'd been me, I would've wanted you to know about me."

"Well that's selfish."

She threw me a glare, and I thought for a moment that maybe making stakes hadn't been a good idea. "You know what's selfish? Not telling me. It wasn't your decision to make on whether or not I got to know about you."

"Actually, as the other half of this twin pairing, it was my decision to make, because I was the one who knew about you, and it wasn't all about you." Throwing her unfinished stake on the blanket, she went to get up, and my tone held a warning in it as I said her name. It made her stop. "You can throw in the towel on this any time you want, but once you do, there are no take backs." She glared at me over her shoulder, but my face remained impassive. I wasn't mad, but I'd meant what I said. Sitting back down on the blanket in a huff she picked up her tools, and I went back to focusing on what I was doing as I said, "I did what I thought was right, not just for you, but for me too."

"You didn't want to meet me?"

I glanced at her over my shoulder. She looked sad. I still said, "No." Looking down at my stake, I continued. "It wasn't all because I resented you."

"Then what was it?"

I didn't know her well enough to go into any of that. Smiling briefly, I answered, "That's a story for another day." Looking down at her stake, I handed her some sand paper and said, "You need to make it more even at the point, so it doesn't come out lopsided, or it'll break. The pressure at the tip needs to be handled evenly on all sides to make it as strong as possible. Once it's right, use this to make it smooth. You can do what you want with the handle after that. It doesn't need a defined one, but you should make sure it feels right in your hand."

Chapter Text

"I'm so sorry. I can't leave anything to chance."

My eyes widened in surprise as I silently slid back and stepped into an abandoned room a little further down the hall. Guess Elena hadn't needed me to keep an eye on her after all. If anyone wanted to know if she had it in her to be cruel, then the answer was yes. Manipulative? Yes. Traitorous? Yes. A thief? Yes. Violent? Apparently, yes, even though she gave me a hard time about it. Why was she 'Saint Elena' again? I really needed to start taking her more seriously and stop letting my guard down around her. I waited until she was gone and then slipped out of my hiding place to head for my room, so I could get what I needed for tonight.

I'd thought it was strange that Elena had gone to have a girly conversation with Rebekah. Being on the lookout for my hunter had me pulling out all my devices, including my listening equipment, and that meant I was picking up sounds from all over the house, including duplicitous sisters. I'd planned on making myself scarce tonight, so I could have the freedom to do what I wanted, but this sped up my timeline.

Walking back to Rebekah's room before anyone came in to deal with the body, I pulled the dagger out of her heart and put it in my bag where it belonged with my things. Picking her up under the arms, I dragged her to the window, opened it, and . . . well, it's a good thing she was mostly dead and a vampire, or with how rough I was getting her out, she would've been bruised and in some serious pain when she woke up. She was already going to be cranky after being stabbed, but maybe I could make that up to her.

When I was done dumping her body out the window, I turned to grab her another dress that she had hanging in there, ran back to the window and made sure nothing else was amiss before tossing the dress, a pair of shoes to match, and my bag out. Climbing out after them, I closed the window behind me and picked up Rebekah's hand, whispering, "Not sorry . . . Think I'll take a chance on you," and then proceeded to drag her into the woods, so I could hide with her somewhere the others wouldn't find. It may have looked crude, like I'd reverted back to being a cave woman, but it also left at least one of my hands free in case my fellow hunter decided to attack. Whoever it was definitely had eyes on me at this particular moment. Maybe seeing me drag a 'dead' vampire out of here would buy me some time.

It was a few hours later, the hunter had gone, probably when the vampires in the house had, and it was dark when Rebekah finally sat up with a gasp. Her eyes immediately found me as she lunged in my direction snarling, "You!"

Still sitting comfortably with my back against a tree, I quickly pointed the gun dangling in my hand up at her and said, "Not Elena." She stopped, unsure of whether I was going to dart her with my blood again, and that was the single best reason to have let her know not to mess with me early on. It meant she took me seriously without me having to do a whole lot to earn that kind of respect. When I saw she wasn't going to attack, I said, "I had no idea she was going to do that." Getting to my feet to grab the dress hanging on a branch around the side of the tree, I tossed it to her saying, "Don't you have a dance to get ready for right now?"

Clutching the dress to her chest, and showing a rare moment of vulnerability, she whispered, "You mean I haven't missed it yet?"

Looking down at my phone, which I'd put on silent, I checked the time and said, "No, but you'll want to go through the finishing touches with as much vampire speed as possible. Your make up is fine, and so is your hair if you pick the leaves out, but I sort of ruined the red dress getting you out of the house. I like the blue dress better anyway. I think it'll bring out your eyes better." Tossing her the shoes I'd put in my bag and one of the mirrors I always kept in there to help me look around corners, I added, "And just so you know, it's been unexpectedly moved to Tyler Lockwood's house at the last minute."

Thank you, Caroline, for texting me that little detail. My eyes flicked up to Rebekah's face as I zipped up my bag and waited to see if she caught my meaning. She did. "Nik."

I nodded and then picked up my bag to sling it over my shoulder. "That would be my guess. You can go to the dance or not. I would suggest you go. If you want him dead, then don't hide behind Mikael and the others to make it happen. Doing it the way you were planning to do it by pretending it isn't happening, while you dance the night away, is nothing but cowardice. You owe your brother more than that, and you owe it to yourself . . . You'll never forgive yourself if you aren't the last face he sees. Dying is one thing. Dying at the hands of a father that hates you is another. Give him a face that still loves him even if it is ending his life." If she didn't watch it, those tears she was trying to keep back were going to ruin her make up. I walked past her, but stopped a few feet away to say, "In the cave . . . there was one symbol, I couldn't figure out. It was of a triangle with an infinity 8 inside it at the funeral of your mother . . . Do you have any idea what that means?"

I heard her choke out a sob, but she didn't say anything, so I turned to look back at her, and she finally said, "Always and forever." Hm. It'd seemed important. The hybrid symbol was at one of the corners. I wasn't sure who the other two corners of the triangle were meant to represent, but I suspected they were she and Elijah based on the way those symbols had been used in a couple of other places. I guess I was right that she was at least one of them. I turned to leave again, and she stopped me by saying, "He killed my Mother."

"I know. He killed mine too, but I'm still going to do everything I can to save him. Feel free to stop me if you want."

Flashing in front of me, she said, "Mikael is involved now. You can't stop him."

"I guess we'll see."

Her face scrunched up slightly as she struggled to keep it together. "If Nik killed your mother, why would you help him?"

"Because she told me to do it . . . When she came back, she said I have to protect him, and she is the one he killed, so if she could let it go, then it's something I have to let go too."

"But I haven't seen my mother."

"No . . . but something tells me you will soon."

"You know something."

There she was, the Queen of Intuition. I'd wondered where she'd gone. "I do. She's tied to this world now, but she may not be entirely free of being on the other side, and I think that's why you haven't seen her yet . . . She's waiting for something to happen before she can come back completely, but I think when she does, you won't want to see her."

Taking a step back, she asked, "Why?" and I answered, "Because I think if she were here right now, she wouldn't be trying to stop Mikael . . . but unlike him, she wouldn't stop at Klaus."

With a quick shake of her head, Rebekah was fast in denying it. "No . . . my mother loved us . . . she did this for us. She would never - "

"Listen to my breathing and the rate of my heart." I wanted her to focus. What I had to say may not be something she wanted to hear, but she needed to hear it, and she needed to believe it. I think maybe the reason Elena had been able to trick her earlier was because her intuition was malfunctioning. It had everything to do with her knowing what was supposed to happen tonight, but she could stop it if she wanted. Looking her in the eye, I said, "Your mother been talking to a witch I know, and that witch's sole purpose in life is to wipe vampires off the face of the planet. Your mother told this witch that after 1000 years of watching her children become what they have, that she finally understands why it is she shouldn't have gone against the natural order, and she wants to fix that mistake. When you see her again . . . run."

If my mother's forgiveness of Klaus for my benefit was what allowed me to feel free to do what I had to do tonight, then maybe Rebekah's Mom turning on her children would have the same effect on Rebekah. I'd meant every word, and there's no way Rebekah didn't know that I was telling the truth as I saw it. Taking a step back and looking a little like I'd staked her, Rebekah got out of my way and let me pass her once again. Whether she'd do what I needed her to do, I didn't know, but I suspected she might, and that is why I'd wanted her involved tonight. I just couldn't rely on her not to go overboard and kill the real person I was trying to save, so as I walked away, I added, "I don't know what you're going to do, but if you feel the need to be there, don't take Damon from me, and we'll be even on me making sure you at least have a chance to do whatever it is you feel is right about your brother."

It would appear that I got to the party a little late, because it was in full swing when I arrived, not that I minded. I wasn't exactly here to be social, more like hang out in the woods around the house. I mostly intended to keep an eye on what was happening at the party and keep a low profile until the right time. I was sure there was another hunter out here in the woods the way I was. Whoever it was had no idea what they were in for tonight. Should be interesting.

About 25 minutes later, I got the fourth or fifth text from Damon asking whether I knew where Rebekah was.

It was way too close to game time for him to still be stressing about that. Finally breaking my radio silence, I texted back, I took her.

I knew it. You have an unhealthy obsession with stealing dead Originals. What are you planning?

I sighed. How was I supposed to respond to that? Maybe I wouldn't. No, I had to say something. Couldn't just leave her where she was. I read through it. There was no lie there that I could see. Press send.

I would've moved her. Why did you take her?

I saw an opportunity I couldn't resist.

This doesn't have anything to do with the hunter, does it?"

I scowled at my phone. Which one told him? Something told me it wasn't Caroline. She was too wrapped up in planning the stupid dance, and Elena had been around him all day. She was a little, back-stabbing, weasel is what she was. Hunters were the last thing he needed to have on his mind when he was going up against Klaus. His plan, and my plan that was piggy-backing off of his plan without him knowing were dangerous enough as it was and needed his entire focus. To try and put his mind at ease somewhat, I texted back, Dragging a 'dead vampire' out of the house does make an excellent prop.

I left it at that and slid the phone back into my pocket as I felt someone, or more like something, come up behind me. Without looking, I muttered, "It's been too long, and yet not long enough, Kat."

"You're getting better."

I smiled without looking back at her. I hadn't been sure it was her, just a hunch - something about her perfume. When she stepped up next to me, I glanced at her over my shoulder and said, "I was glad to hear Mikael didn't kill you."

"Why, my Dear Niece, were you ever really worried?"

I hadn't called her, but Damon had tried quite a few times, and she hadn't picked up until around the time Mikael made an appearance. Shrugging a shoulder, I turned my attention back on the party and muttered, "I thought about calling once or twice."

She nodded slowly in understanding without making a big deal out of it. That's the most she was going to get out of me, but it said enough. "I thought you weren't supposed to be here tonight."

"When have I ever done what I'm supposed to do?"

Biting the inside of her cheek to hide her smile, she nodded before saying, "You know, there's being a wallflower, and then there's skulking around the outskirts of a party. Why are you out here?"

"Plotting, scheming . . . You know, the usual."

"Anything I would want in on?"

A smile flickered across my face before I nodded. "You play your part the way you're meant to play it, and I'll spin it, so you come out on top to the right people." If I got her off the hook with Klaus, that should make us just about square after she told him I'd already left town the night of the ritual. I'd find another way to make it up to her for telling Damon I was in Chicago.

She was quiet a few moments and then finally turned to look at me. "You're going after Mikael?"

"I am."

"Before he kills Klaus?"

"That is the plan, but I'm thinking both sides may need to get a little bloody for it to work."

"Hence why you still need me to play my part."

I nodded before looking at her, and she said, "Good . . . I was just on my way to go find Stefan. Klaus is onto us. He's put a contingency plan in place. If he dies, then he's instructed his hybrids to kill Damon."

Oh. Well, I don't think that's what my Mom had meant by saying that if Klaus died, I'd lose Damon, because she'd made it seem, like this was going to be an ongoing issue instead of a one off, but it certainly seemed to fit in this particular instance. "I'm already doing this to protect Damon. It doesn't really change anything for me, but it wouldn't hurt to let Stefan know too in case my own contingency plan falls through."

Flashing me a genuine smile, she nodded before looking at the party and saying, "Excellent. That means there's no added pressure to throw you off." Nodding, like she felt comfortable with how things were going, she started to take a step back, but then stopped to add, "Word of advice . . . They all expect you to be here even though you're not supposed to be - even Klaus. Being late is fine, but not showing up when people are expecting you increases the anticipation, so everyone is looking for your arrival instead of seeing you arrive and then forgetting you're there to focus on their own plans. You need to make an appearance if you want a clear shot to victory when the time is right."

I actually kind of missed her giving me advice like that. Sighing, I looked back at the crowd. She was right, but there were an awful lot of people there. "I'm not exactly dressed for it."

Smirking, as she looked at what I was wearing, she responded, "When you're mingling, tell the people you don't know that you're a roadie with the band. Anyone who knows you will expect you turn up dressed just the way you are."

Looking down at my leather jacket, I asked in annoyance, "Like a roadie?"

"Like a modern day Athena." The goddess of wisdom and war? I gave her a more considered look, and she said, "You look the part, Eve, and you have nothing to prove with me. Now go show the rest of them what you've got."

Well, that was nice of her to say, and it was more of a pep talk than I would've ever expected her to give. Biting the inside of my cheek nervously for a moment at the compliment, I finally muttered, "Yeah, well it's not just the audience we know about that I'm concerned with tonight. When this is over, you should still get out of town as fast as possible." That should make us just about square for Chicago too . . . or it should if she didn't get killed by the hunter on her way out.

Pausing for a moment, she eventually leaned closer and cryptically whispered, "I have my rules. You have yours. We may bend them from time to time, but we have them for a reason. Self-preservation above all else . . . You leave that with me." By the time I looked over my shoulder, she was already gone.

Chapter Text

"Eve!" I'd found it more comfortable to be in the house than outside. There were less people in here . . . still enough that I didn't immediately know who'd said my name, but at least I'd been able to hear it. My eyes landed on the stairs, and I saw a panicked Tyler waving me over to him, so I made my way to the bottom step and got there at the same time Matt did. We followed Tyler up, and he opened a door for us before he began pacing. "I don't know what you guys are planning to do tonight, but Klaus knows you're planning something, and you need to stop doing whatever it is. This place is packed with hybrids, and they are sired to him just like I am."

I briefly noted that Caroline was passed out on the floor and looked back up at him. See, this was exactly what I'd been trying to explain to Elena. Caroline trusted Tyler, and what did Tyler do? He shot her up with vervain, or I assume that's what he did. Her neck didn't look bumpy and disjointed, like he'd broken it. As Matt went to check on her to see if she was okay, I muttered, "And did Klaus tell you to knock your girlfriend out?"

Seeming distracted, Tyler looked down at her before shaking his head. "No, I'm trying to protect her. He won't care if she isn't involved."

"You're right . . . He won't."

Tyler did not need a nudge to ratchet up his anxiety even higher than it already was. Matt was standing next to me by that point, so I saw him start to open his mouth out of the corner of my eye and put my hand up to signal he needed to keep his mouth shut as Tyler's attention came back to me. "So, you understand why I had to do it, right?"

I nodded. "Sure."

Relaxing, as he looked down at her again, he started to say, "Good. Help me get her out of here, and maybe you can help me explain it to her when - "

He cut himself off to look at me in shock as he reached up to touch the side of his neck. "Did you just - "

"Shoot you? Yeah." I watched him fall to his knees and said, "You understand, right?" as he fell on his face.

I may have jumped the gun a little, but this was always the plan to keep him out of the way, since he had no control over being on Team Klaus. It wasn't supposed to happen until Damon got here, but why tempt Damon into doing more than was strictly necessary to deal with Tyler on what was already a stressful night. The whole idea of keeping Tyler out of this was to keep us from having to hurt him when he inevitably turned on us. Sighing, as Matt went over to check on Tyler, I reloaded my gun with another dart and slid it under my jacket to tuck it into the small holster at the back of my jeans. Looking down at Tyler and Caroline, I tried to decide what to do with them.

My attention went to Matt as he finally asked, "Why did you do that?"

"Why do you think? He's already agitated, which makes him unpredictable, and he is literally a slave to Klaus right now. I have no idea what Klaus did or did not tell him to do to any of us. He may not want to do whatever it is, but he has no choice, so neither did I . . . besides, it was a bit of a dick move for him to use vervain on Caroline like that."

"You told him you understood why he did it."

My eyebrows rose. "Oh, I do . . . I mean, I did just do the same thing to him to protect him, because if he comes at one of us, he's going to get hurt or worse. That doesn't mean I can't be annoyed that he did it to Caroline. She trusts him. He used that. Now look at her."

Shooting me a little look, he grumbled, "Does that mean you're annoyed with yourself?"

"Not in the slightest."

"How can you say that?"

"Every decision we make has a number of considerations that go into making them. Being annoyed that he knocked Caroline out isn't the sole reason I did it, or did you miss the part where I said he has to do what Klaus says . . . If Klaus told him to kill you, Tyler would do it, and we'd have to stop him. There is a world of difference between knocking someone out for tactical reasons, and him knocking her out, because he doesn't trust her to be able to protect herself. Both are acceptable under the right circumstances, and both are understandable, but one leaves her feeling like he doesn't have any faith in her. That is not a nice feeling to have. At least when I've been taken out of a fight, I knew it was because my abilities weren't being questioned. In a way, they were being complimented."

I paused to take in the look of disapproval he threw my way. Matt was the King of Judgement, but then he was the only one who really had the right to judge. He was only one who was truly blameless out of all of us, a real innocent . . . for now. The more involved he got, the more that'd change. I should really be putting him off the idea of going down that path, but really, what choice did he have? It was that, or lose the only thing he had left, his friends, and right now, he needed a boost. He seemed annoyed by what I'd done, but the one thing that clung to him as much as judgement was this prevailing sense of sadness he carried around with him wherever he went. If it's something I didn't like to be around, I'm guessing he didn't like to feel it all the time. I glanced at his suit jacket and asked, "Do you have the medicine bag Elena gave you?"

His automatic reaction was to pat his jacket pocket even as he asked, "Why?", like he didn't want to give me a direct answer.

"Because if you want these two to be safe, then the best place for them to be is away from here. Pull your car around to the side and get them out of here without being spotted by anyone. That means anyone inside or outside the party. Take them to your house, and keep it on lock down until you get a call from one of us. Nobody in or out . . . That medicine bag may keep you hidden, but it won't keep Imelda from being able to find these two if she's - "

Standing, he said, "Spotting for the hunters?"

I had to resist the urge to stomp my foot and growl in frustration. This is why I kept my secrets to myself even if I was crucified for them after they came out. If nothing else, this hunter situation had been enlightening on how quickly a secret spread and to whom it spread. I saw Matt trying not to smile at my obvious annoyance, and my eyes narrowed into a glare. A moment later, I forced myself to accept the idea that this was out there now, because I didn't need it cluttering up my mind tonight. My shoulders dropped before I resignedly answered, "Yeah. If she figures out these two are on the move, then she's only a phone call away from letting whoever she sent know that, and as you can see, Tyler and Caroline can't exactly protect themselves right now . . . You, on the other hand, because you're an unknown with that medicine bag, would make a nice surprise for anyone who decided that they might want to go for the youngest monsters in town first. Always use the element of surprise when you have it."

Finally reaching into his pocket to pull the bag out and look at it, he nodded to let me know he'd keep that under advisement. "This really works?"

"Elena and Jeremy tested it out on Imelda without her knowing. It works."

"Elena said it'll protect me too?"

"Within reason. A fang is still a fang even if the being that has one is a monster made of magic. A bullet is still a bullet even if it's been hexed by a witch. It can help with the laws of magic, not physics. Got it?"

He nodded before putting it back in his jacket pocket. "It doesn't make me Superman."

"Nope, and even he is vulnerable to kryptonite . . . something you'd do well to remember. Everyone has a weakness. It's not just you." He gave me a look, but I didn't give him a chance to say something snide as I walked away from him. "Not that you can't do a few things here and there to build up your defenses . . . The vervain you're drinking is a good start." Crouching down to sit Caroline up, so she looked more put together than a rag doll thrown haphazardly onto the floor, I added, "I'll keep an eye on them until you bring the car around."

"I don't get you . . . You do the same thing Tyler did to Caroline and somehow convince me it was different and almost the right thing to do. I know you don't like me, but you gave me this to protect myself . . . and now you're giving me advice?"

"Well, I gave you the bag for tactical reasons. I know as well as you do that you're the weak link." I glanced at him over my shoulder, and he ducked his head. "But that doesn't mean you aren't a link." His eyes came back to me, and I said, "You don't think you matter. It is written all over your face whenever these things come up. Accept your limitations and find ways around them, so that you can find your own strengths, because you do matter . . . I mean, look at these two. If someone shoots you with vervain or wolfsbane, do you go down? Not at all. That means you're the one left standing to protect them when they can't do it for themselves . . . And whether or not I think it would be better for you not to be a link in this chain, I know why you are. You might hate what they are. You might hate what they do. And there might be a part of you that is scared of them . . . but they're all you have, and that is something I understand, which is why I gave you advice and am handing them over into your care now."

Turning his face down again, he coughed uncomfortably to clear his throat before exhaling a laugh. "Guess I've been 'Eve-d' now, huh?"

"What?"

He grinned before looking at me. "Caroline said you do this thing where you say something mean, but somehow turn it around to make a person feel like it's one of the nicest things they've heard in a while. Almost like you know it's what they need to hear."

Moving over to Tyler, so I could prop him up next to Caroline, I shook my head. "Nah, it's just something that comes with the job, an uncanny ability to see other's weaknesses. Like I said, everyone has them."

"But you could leave them as weaknesses instead of trying to fix them."

"Well, I would if you were an enemy." I looked over at him again and saw that he was getting ready to respond, so I rolled my eyes and looked at the door behind him. "I thought you were going to get your car. While you're at it, tell Bonnie the people she's worried about are safe, so she can make herself scarce. Hurry up, before I decide to shoot you in the ass with a tranquilizer dart and just stuff all three of you in the closet." I don't think he believed me, because with a shake of his head and another laugh, he turned to go get the car. As soon as he was gone, I took my dart gun out of it's holster and replaced the tranquilizer dart I'd put in there earlier with another wolfsbane dart before sticking the extra dart in my pocket. As soon as these three were gone, I thought it might be just about show time.

Chapter Text

Thus far, I'd been able to stay under Klaus's radar. That was part of plan. I wanted Klaus to hear that I was here, but not know exactly where I was for a couple of reasons. I wanted him distracted. A distracted Klaus was a Klaus that would make mistakes. If he made mistakes, he'd be less likely to kill Damon when Damon finally made his move, and I knew that because this was not the school, it'd have to be Damon that made a move on Klaus. Mikael could've gotten into the school, because it was public property. He couldn't get in the Lockwood mansion unless the Mayor invited him in her home, and something told me that Klaus had made it impossible for her to do that, so who did that leave as the best option to stake Klaus? Damon.

So was Klaus distracted? I'd say he was. Mikael would be the greatest distraction of all, but even before he made an appearance, Klaus was distracted. He didn't know where his sister was. He didn't know where I was. He didn't know any of us were planning, but he knew we were planning something. Hence, the large presence of what I could only assume were hybrids and a large number of people Klaus had to have compelled here from out of town.

I didn't know many people in town, but I didn't get the feeling that most of these people were from Mystic Falls. Stefan must've told him what we'd done to the town's water supply in one of his phoned-in updates, so Klaus had come prepared with innocent bystanders from out of town. Well played by him . . . as was letting Katherine, posing as Elena, know that if he died, then Damon died. Damon's plan was still better. Damon, like Katherine, was wily and great at thinking outside the box. It's just a shame, I couldn't let his plan work. That's the second reason I didn't want Klaus to know where I was.

I needed him to play the part of bait, and sometimes the best bait was bait that didn't know it was bait at all. I needed him to believe he was doomed with every fiber of his being. He needed to see his life's work being destroyed and believe nothing would remain when he was gone. If Klaus believed I was destroying his legacy, then MIkael would, and that meant Mikael would stay focused on Klaus and feel more comfortable turning his back on me even though I had weapons and was using them without him expecting me to be here.

The downside to my plan? Mikael's arrival. None of this was supposed to make me feel for Klaus. He may not be all bad, but he certainly wasn't a good person. He'd been dropping bodies, like they were nothing for a millennium. He'd made me feel powerless. He made me feel almost permanently on edge. He was dangerous to everyone around him. He literally wanted to bleed my sister dry over and over again, so he could use her blood to make more hybrids . . . and yet, Klaus's father took what I'd thought about Caroline's Dad and Damon's Dad and just blew it out of the water.

Where some might hear Mikael berating Klaus and think it was long overdue, because someone had to put Klaus in his place, I didn't. If I hadn't already planned to do what I was going to do, listening to Mikael would've made me change my mind about killing Klaus, because before Klaus said, 'My whole life you've underestimated me,' I could tell this was the same kind of thing Mikael had been doing to Klaus since Klaus was a human kid. That didn't mean that I could let Klaus do whatever he wanted once his father was gone, and I wouldn't even though I wasn't going to kill him. It just meant that I knew Mikael is who created the monster we had today, so what did that make him?

Even though Mikael wasn't supposed to hurt Elena, when I heard Klaus yell, "Kill her!" I knew Mikael would, or at least, he'd believe he was killing Elena when he did whatever he was going to do to Katherine. I already knew the reason he went after vampires for food wasn't because he really cared about what happened to humans. I also knew that Klaus yelling that was my cue to move, because there were a few seconds here where it could go wrong for all of us if I didn't do my part, whether I was part of Damon's plan or not.

There's no way that I would let Mikael just kill Elena without doing something to try and stop it. If Klaus was going to believe that Katherine was Elena, then I had to do what I'd do if it was Elena. Mikael may take notice of what I was doing and think I was trying to stop him, but with me targeting the hybrids, it should make Klaus believe his burgeoning empire was crumbling in front of his eyes. Mikael would know that Damon had the only weapon that could kill him and think that with the hybrids between me and him, he had time to stay where he was to watch his son's reaction to losing everything, because I couldn't hurt him, and he was a sadistic dick who hated his son that much.

When Katherine gave away her real identity and distracted Klaus, Mikael, and the hybrids with her wolfsbane grenades, everything should click into place. That's the moment that Mikael would think I hadn't been trying to protect Elena but was really on his side and wiping out his son's legacy. Then he would only be focused on watching his son die.

Stepping out from my place in the shadows behind the hybrids, gun trained on the nearest one to me, I shot it in the heart through it's back. I did have normal guns, even though I didn't really get the chance to use them. They weren't as quiet as the dart gun, but they also didn't require me to reload as often, and they were more reliable than the gun with wooden bullets. The bullets got where they were going faster than a dart or wooden bullet, and if you used custom made ammunition, like I did, then they'd make mince meat of a heart with the added bonus that if the monster didn't immediately die, they were loaded with vervain . . . and in this case, a little bit of wolfsbane to knock them out and prevent them from healing until I got a chance to take their heads. Just because I felt for Klaus, didn't mean he got to keep his 'toys,' as his father called them.

One bullet gone. Two more shots fired in quick succession. Two more hybrids down, and three bullets gone. Movement on my right. My right hand went into my jacket to pull out a shuriken that I flung in the direction of the body flashing towards me, as my left hand pulled the trigger on a different hybrid to my left where the larger numbers of hybrids were. The shruiken exploded on impact with the hybrid on my right, and nothing remained of that hybrid's chest as it collapsed on the ground. Back to the two-handed grip on my firearm. One shot. Two shots. Three shots . . . five, six, and seven bullets down, all with a vervain/wolfsbane concoction. Next came special bullets eight and nine.

Katherine yelled, 'Boom,' as she threw the wolfsbane grenades into the crowd of hybrids by the house, and I used the smoke from the grenades to take my shot on Mikael. The timing was perfect on it. Just as I'd suspected, he was a little too obvious in looking over Klaus's shoulder, almost like he was telegraphing to Klaus that someone was approaching, as Damon came vampire sprinting from the other room towards Klaus, and that's what bullet nine was for as I shot Klaus in the chest before Damon got there. The hybrids were still blinded by the grenades, so it bought me time to watch as a blue flash moved in behind Damon, and a millisecond later, he was falling to the floor with with a broken neck as Rebekah took the stake from him.

Klaus was struggling after I'd shot him. He was looking pretty sick and a little worse for wear, so I'd say vervain, wolfsbane, and white oak ash did more than make him feel like he had a punch to the stomach . . . especially if it was delivered straight into his heart with one of my special bullets. His Dad looked worse. That's all I needed to see. I couldn't stand there watching all day. I was still surrounded by hybrids. Taking aim at one blindly clawing at the air beside me, I fired bullet 10 point-blank into its head, and now the house was to my back, so I'd successfully put myself between the hybrids and it. I was pretty sure that most of his hybrids were out here, and even if they could right now, I would not be letting them interfere in what happened next.

I needed to be focused on finishing what was left of the hybrids, but the gun was loud, so I re-holstered it, and replaced it with my dart gun and machete, because I couldn't help also wanting to listen to what was happening in the house as Rebkah stabbed her brother in the stomach with the white oak stake and hatefully told him that she knew he killed their mother. I shot 2 hybrids that seemed to be making a comeback from the grenade, and they went down. I saw a blonde hybrid starting to head for the porch even if he couldn't see and darted him too.

It felt like entirely too long before Rebekah finally added that she couldn't kill Klaus. Instead he was going to miss out on the one thing he'd been waiting for 1000 years to see. A second later, she snapped his neck, and caught his body before it fell. Then she was saying my name to get my attention, and I tucked my dart gun away as she tossed me the white oak stake over her brother's head. She picked him up to get him out of there, and now I was looming over the fallen Mikael with the only thing that could kill him in my hand. Checkmate.

Obviously there wasn't as much white oak ash in one of the bullets as there had been in the two darts I'd used on Rebekah, but that and the vervain were enough to put Mikael flat on his back even if it didn't quite knock him out. When you're in a position to kill, you never monologue, especially when it is something you know is more powerful. You just kill, so bringing the stake high above my head, I took a knee next to him as I brought it down through his heart with as much speed and force as possible without ever giving him a chance to stop me or a reason why.

In almost no time at all, the part of him that'd been stabbed caught fire, and I wasn't expecting that. Normal vampires didn't do that when you staked them. The fire might've started slow, but it didn't take long for him to become completely engulfed in flames, so I had to hop back to keep from being burnt. Well, I guess that solved the problem of what to do with the stake.

With a dark smirk, I now turned my attention onto what was left of the pack of hybrids, who were more or less starting to come around now. Keeping my hand with the machete down by my side, I reached into my jacket to pull out two more shurikens and fanned them out in front of me, like a deck of cards. To the naked eye, they looked like any other ninja star, and that meant they got to their target faster than a dagger could and were harder to stop, but they'd also been hexed to add a little extra kick when they hit something vampiric. My Dad kept them in his lock up along with some other cool weapons I'd always wanted to try, but I was going to have some fun with these ninja stars first.

I felt a presence step beside me and knew who it was without looking. I'd successfully managed to evade him for a couple of days now. Well, since Damon broke him out of bad-vampire rehab. We'd been in the same room together when I stuck a dagger in MIkael's heart and at school, but other than that, whenever I was home, I'd managed to steer clear of him by bringing back the same skills I'd used when he hadn't known I lived in the house. "Stefan . . . You're a little late."

"Nah, I got here in plenty of time to see Rebekah snap my brother's neck."

"Let me guess. You didn't care."

"Actually, I did . . . I was sort of hoping I'd finally get my freedom if I was the one who stopped him."

Hoping? I glanced at him briefly out of the corner of my eye without taking my eyes off the hybrids that were starting to form in an arch around us. Without their leader, they were waiting for something to kick things off . . . maybe trying to figure out if Rebekah snapping Klaus's neck meant he'd technically died and they should go after Damon? Well, they weren't getting past me. I just needed them to spread out a little more, like the good little wolves they were. "How long have you been a pain in my ass, so you could get your freedom back from Klaus by tricking him into thinking you didn't care enough to go after him?" It's the only thing that I'd thought might explain why he would fake it all the times I hadn't been sure if he was faking it or not.

"Long enough. I really hate you sometimes."

"Did Lexi figure it out?"

"Maybe towards the end. She said I was an idiot."

"And you're filling me in on it now, because I screwed up your plans, and it's getting too hard not to blow you're cover, especially now that he's back?"

"Something like that." His eyes flicked back and forth between a few of the hybrids before he said, "So, do you need help with this, or can I leave you to handle it yourself?"

"Do you have a choice?"

His shoulders dropped. "Not really, and thanks for reminding me."

"Well, look at it this way. Now you have an excuse to screw him over by killing all of his hybrids, because you are technically doing what he compelled you to do. It might just be enough for him to reconsider that compulsion."

A look came over his face that suggested he thought that was something he could maybe get behind, and he nodded. "They are without a leader right now, so there's nobody to call them off. I really don't have a choice, do I?"

I smiled briefly. "Well, you could choose not to help if the bigger threat is our hunter audience. Not sure I should be seen fighting alongside a vampire."

"I already dealt with that . . . You really should've said something about it sooner."

Oh. So the hunter was no more. Was that a relief or not? I'd kind of enjoyed playing hunter games with whoever it had been. I guess I'd wanted to see one up close that wasn't my Dad to see how I matched up against whoever it was. Would I have killed the hunter? I don't know. Maybe if they were serious about killing me, but it was a shade of gray that it might be better for me to stay out of if at all possible . . . Maybe that's what Katherine had meant by the last thing she'd said to me? "So I keep hearing."

"Yeah, the last person I should've heard about it from was Katherine."

Sighing as he confirmed what I'd begun to suspect, I muttered, "I'll just add it to the growing list of things I owe her for doing."

"I'm not sure that you do owe her."

"Of course I do . . . If I don't see it that way, then I'll get used to her doing it, and she'll save them all up for a time when I really don't want to pay her back . . . She'll say something like, 'Oh remember the time, I took care of that hunter for you by telling Stefan about it? Now jump into that pit of poisonous snakes to get me the relic I want.'"

"Probably. I'm just not so sure she's thinking that far in advance . . . So, I go left. You go right?"

That really meant I went left, and he went right . . . the opposite sides from where we were standing. How did I know I that? Well, I guess we had Klaus to thank for that. He is the one who forced Stefan to be on my team when we played that game against him. "On my mark." Those two on the right needed to move a couple more feet. "Just stay out of my way."

"Ah, just like old times."

Getting a tighter grip on one of my ninja stars, I grumbled, "And did you listen then?" Throwing the ninja star into a hybrid on the left, I answered myself. "No."

Stefan said, "But as I recall we still won," as I threw the second star at a hybrid to our left that flashed towards Stefan, and then Stefan was suddenly behind a hybrid to our right and ripping out it's heart.

A hybrid ran at me from the left, and I raised my machete throat level. Why do all the work when the hybrid was willing to do it for me? He slowed down enough to stop when the blade had gone through his neck, and I replied, "On the second round and only after you listened to me."

As I grabbed ahold of the handle with two hands and sliced out and down to partially finish the job, Stefan responded, "That's not how I remember it," from somewhere to my right. Never letting the motion of my machete stop as I adjusted the grip and swung it over my head, I then brought it down to finish decapitating the hybrid as it hit the ground. As I stood, Stefan grunted, "A little help," and whipping my gun out of its shoulder holster, I aimed it at the head of the hybrid to Stefan's right and pulled the trigger without a moment's hesitation. Now that it wasn't there to try and bite him, Stefan could focus on the one attacking him from the front as I drew my gun on another hybrid that was much closer to me than it had been before my little distraction.

That hybrid went down, and I was grabbed from behind and lifted off my feet. Before the hybrid could bite me or throw me or whatever the hell it was thinking of doing, I reached for the last star I'd brought, looked up behind me, and shoved the star in his eye. As he opened his mouth to scream at the pain of that, his head exploded, but it didn't do anything to me other than make me fall when the hybrid dropped me as it's body collapsed. I wasn't part vampire, or it would've exploded where it scratched my hand . . . although now, I wondered if one of those stars would work on me if I had actually ingested vampire blood anytime in the recent past. Best not to chance it in the future.

Why could I think about that in the midst of all this? Because I felt the calm that came at the end of a battle, and as I got to my feet and looked around, it confirmed the way I'd felt. All that was left were Stefan and I.

Klaus was going to be so pissed, but I had killed his Dad for him, and he couldn't mad about that even if he was mad at his sister for making him miss it. Damon was going to be pissed that Klaus wasn't dead and that I hadn't told him what I'd actually done with Rebekah, and he wasn't going to be happy that with Klaus's hybrids gone, Klaus was going to want to replenish those numbers, but if Klaus really wanted to do that, it meant he'd have to leave to find more werewolves, and Elena was still safe with Imelda, so she wouldn't be going with him, which meant I wouldn't have to stop her from going with him. On top of that, I may not have let Klaus die, but I also hadn't let him off easy, which should show Damon that I wasn't on Klaus's side even if I couldn't let the guy die. Both of them had a reason to be angry and both had a reason not to be so angry, so it's the best outcome I could have hoped for under the circumstances.

Chapter Text

Surveying the battlefield, I knew there was going to have to be a massive clean up effort involved. To be on the safe side, I was going to have to cut the head off of all the hybrids I'd shot, starting with the ones I'd only shot with darts. I took their heads first and then stood to look at the other bodies scattered around the place. None of them were moving, but it was best to err on the side of caution.

After the heads were gone, something would have to be done about the bodies. Was getting rid of them Tyler's responsibility, since it was his house, or mine, since I killed them? It seemed a little rude to leave it for him, especially since he was the only hybrid left other than Klaus, and what if I just left these bodies like this, one of the party guests came around this way and found them, called the sheriff, and she gave me a lecture about doing more to keep a lid on what was really going on in this town. Ugh. That seemed more torturous than cleaning it up myself.

It'd probably be best to burn the bodies, because I was not digging a grave for all of them, but then burning them would require an extremely hot fire, and the last thing I wanted was people from the party coming and dancing around a bonfire of corpses. Guess I hadn't really thought this part of my plan through. I never usually did. Body disposal. Not something I generally thought of in my downtime. It's not until I moved here that I really had to start thinking about it, but I guess it had to be done. I'd get to all of that, but first, I had something else I needed to do.

Turning to look at Stefan, who appeared to be looking out at the bodies and searching for signs of life the way I was, I waited until he glanced in my direction and then lifted my hand in the kind of wave you'd give if you were greeting someone. "Hi Stefan . . . It's nice to finally meet you."

I don't shake hands. If the person was a human, then he or she might also be a witch, or have the psychic abilities of one, and then that person might know my secrets with a single touch. If the person was a vampire, werewolf, or other kind of monster, even the human kind of monster, then giving that person your hand seemed a little stupid, because it put you at a disadvantage with them right off the bat. I mean, what happened if whoever it was pulled you closer and stabbed you in the gut or something? Yeah, it was best not to shake hands to be on the safe side.

Stefan didn't immediately respond, and my hand fell to my side as I said, "You know, when I'm me, and you're you, and neither of us has just climbed out of a grave or at a parent's funeral or when your brother's dying or when we're on the road with Klaus or when you're a flipped switch kind of dick - whether you're faking it or not. I'm Eve."

He ducked his head and nodded in understanding before saying, "Yeah, we haven't had the best start, have we? Not sure we will for a while."

Oh. Ew. I saw something dangling in my hair with my peripheral vision. "Is it because of the brains I think I'm wearing?"

Glancing at me as I made a face and plucked something somewhat gray out of my hair, he paused before his eyes narrowed. "You are, aren't you?"

Flicking the gunk off my hand, I muttered, "So, it would seem."

The smile he was thinking of letting grace his face almost made it and then disappeared as he looked away and shook his head. "It isn't that . . . I'm not me yet. I can't be as long as I'm compelled by Klaus, and even then, it's going to take a long time before I'm able to claw myself out of the hole I'm in this time."

"Maybe not as long as you think. You have something this time that you haven't had all the other times."

Hanging his head, he said, "I can't be with Elena . . . not now. Not after what I've done."

"Maybe. Maybe not. I was talking about your brother, you ninny."

That flicker of a smile almost made another come back before he looked at me, and then his eyes flitted over to where his brother was. "There's a reason we've spent almost the whole time we've been vampires apart."

"Yeah, well despite that, there's a reason you went to Klaus and were willing to do whatever it took to get the cure too, isn't there?" He looked at me, and I shrugged. They may have a love-hate relationship, but half of that was love.

Looking at his feet, Stefan waited a moment before finally saying, "Are you saying I did this to myself?"

Not really, but thanks for taking it the worst way possible. "Yes and no. You could've told Klaus no and let Damon die, but that wasn't an option for you. Damon or yourself. You chose Damon. It's actually pretty inspiring - in a way. You became the monster you hate because you chose to stay with Klaus to protect Damon and Elena - again, sort of inspiring - to a point. The choices you made when it got too hard to not give into your nature on the road with him were less than admirable, but you know that. It's why you broke up with Elena in Chicago. You're in the mess you're currently in because of what Klaus did to you when he found out you were lying to him, and yes, lying to him was your choice to make. I understand why you did it, and I was with you on it, but it was your choice, and the way he chose to retaliate and what it's done to you since is on him."

"Do you know what he made me do?"

Bite Elena? "Yeah." I gave him a knowing look, and his eyes flitted down again. "And she is afraid of you now, but she's made of stronger stuff than she ever gets credit for having, and the way you've been treating her hasn't helped . . . That's hurting her more."

"I can never be with her again."

"So when you get your freedom from Klaus, break up with her like a normal person to let her know it's really over if that's what you think is best, and leave it at that. I know she blames Klaus entirely, which means she absolves you of everything, but stop intimidating her, and stop trying to prove to her how bad you are, so she'll let you go. That isn't what's best for her."

"And you know what's best for her now?"

"No . . . but I know that isn't."

Shaking his head as he looked away from me, Stefan said, "I didn't know what to think - when I first found out about you. Maybe at first that Damon had compelled himself a play thing, because he was bored, and then maybe that he hadn't with the way he reacted when you started using yourself to hurt Katherine. I knew you weren't a vampire. He wouldn't have thought you were going to die if you could heal from what you were doing to yourself, but you were definitely the crazy little psycho he said you were. Then you said you were a hunter, and it clicked. You were the one there when Mason turned, and then I thought maybe that you and my brother were using one another, but that was never going to end well, and I needed to protect him, because he was obviously in over his head. Then you got angry enough to end your own life when you realized Katherine was using you against him, so I knew that hunter or not, you did care about him . . . All that was in the span of about 5 minutes, and I still don't have you pinned down. You aren't like either one of them. The entire time we were on the road with Klaus, not once did I ever look at you and think 'Elena' . . . Sometimes when you're being annoying, you do channel Katherine, but it's not very often, and whereas she's all charm, so she's warm and hides her intentions, you just do it to be annoying or mean . . . and I may not be good for your sister, but you bring out the best in my brother . . . You're good for him." Bobbing his head, like he was sure of what he'd said, he looked at me again. "And that is something I wanted to say to you . . . before . . . I could see it at the funeral, and the way you two were together in the cell . . . I've never seen him put someone else first . . . above what he wants."

Scrutinizing him to see how sincere he was being, I found it a little hard to know, but it seemed genuine. Maybe he had thought that before he left with Klaus, but who he was then wasn't who he was now. I didn't know why he brought it up right after I told him to let Elena go if he thought it was what was best for her. He wasn't ready to let her go and see his brother be happy. I don't think he had to necessarily do a whole lot of acting to make it seem like his humanity was still turned off, which is why it'd been so difficult for all of us to see it.

I may have said 'hi' in an effort to start over again with him, because just knowing he felt human emotions again meant there was some hope there for a fresh start even if it might be a bumpy road, but this sudden moment of sincerity seemed totally out of character, or at least it did with the Stefan I'd gotten know. I didn't trust it. "If you're saying that to get me to help you with your compulsion problem, it's unnecessary. I'll help you anyway. It's better for all of us if you don't have to report anything back to him."

His eyes narrowed slightly as he appraised me. "You sure about that? You are who it would benefit the most if I stay compelled. I think you underestimate how much I don't like you sometimes." Yeah, see, he might as well have admitted he hadn't meant it, right? Maybe he was just responding to my distrust in kind? I didn't know.

"I don't underestimate that hate of yours at all." When he looked away from me, I added, "What, you think I didn't use that to my advantage?" When his eyes came back to me, I said, "His compulsion binds you as well as any chains ever could . . . a little poking and prodding without you being able to do anything about it? I used it, Stefan, so we could have this conversation what feels like a lifetime ago." He looked like he was more than a little annoyed that I was both admitting I'd been intentionally annoying to him and was now scolding him for not saying it'd worked sooner, so I changed the subject. This conversation kept having peaks and valleys to it, and it was both our faults. I didn't want it to completely get derailed. Maybe he just needed to be reminded of what he still had if he was determined to end things with Elena - something I didn't disagree with him on if truth be told. She may not have seen him at his worst over the summer, but I had. "I know of a time Damon put you first."

"When we were human? That's not the same."

"He was there when you got on the train to go off for the war."

"No, he was supposed to be - "

"And he was . . . Lexi was waiting for him in the train station. If you want the details, those are for him to tell, but I will say that he fully intended on going with you, because he wanted his little brother back. She convinced him that he was a bad influence on you, so he let you go, because he thought it was what was best for you."

He didn't say anything at first, as he looked back at his brother lying on the floor of the house. Snorting, a few moments later, he said, "One time in 150 years . . . and he's like that with you every day."

I wasn't going to stand here and get in an argument about how much Damon really did love Stefan even if he didn't always show it or let Stefan know he did. That was a battle that would take longer than 5 minutes to settle. "You're an ass."

"Well, what would you rather have me say?"

"At this point, I'd settle for 'Good job chopping off those hybrids' heads. I think I'll stick around and help you with the rest before I get rid of their bodies, and then go tell my brother that I thought you were wearing your ring when I tried to kill you the first time, but now I hate you enough to flip my switch when I'm not allowed to kill you.'"

Pointing at me he said, "Yes to all of that, except I'm not cutting off any of their heads, getting rid of their bodies, or telling Damon I've flipped my humanity back on yet."

Oh. So he really had thought I was wearing my ring the night of my birthday party. I guess that was something. "Yeah, I guess chopping their heads off isn't quite the same as biting them off . . . Hey, are you going to go around and try to put them back together again after I done with them?"

"See, that right there is what I'm talking about. That's all you . . . not a hint of Katherine or Elena in any of it. You're just mean for the sake of it."

"Nah, I just don't have a very well developed filter, so it doesn't do a very good job of stopping me from saying what I'm thinking. I only mean something by it about half the time." His shoulders relaxed, as he nodded to let me know that he'd take that into consideration, and I added, "Also, I found what I said highly amusing . . . not everyone gets my humor."

"Is it really funny if you're the only one laughing?"

"Well, there are only two of us here, and I've won over at least half the audience. I'm okay with that."

He exhaled a frustrated laugh, while saying, "And the worst part is that you are funny more often than you're not. It's really confusing when I want to kill you and laugh at the same time, especially when I don't want to laugh. I am doing everything I can to use my anger to get me through the day, because I can't let myself feel anything else right now . . . and then you go and screw that all up." Looking away from me, he added, "Plus, I don't deserve to laugh."

"Pretty sure laughter isn't something you can deserve . . . nor are the feelings associated with it. They're a natural reaction, so if you find something funny, don't take it so hard . . . You can't really control it any more than you can control blinking a speck of dust out of your eye, and doing that, says nothing about your character or that the anger, guilt, and whatever else you're trying not to feel have really gone away." He flicked a glance in my direction, and I asked, "Why won't you tell him?"

"Because there's something you and I need to do first."

"What?"

"Help me get him home, and I'll tell you."

"I have to finish what I started with these hybrids first, and then I need to burn their bodies . . . You know you don't have to chop off their heads. You have the strength to just rip out their hearts."

Making a face as he looked at one that I'd shot in the chest, he asked, "Is there really much of their hearts left?"

"No." He looked at me, and I said, "Probably not enough to grab, but you could scoop out what's left."

"I am not scooping out a bunch of mushy hearts. Just leave it. They're dead."

"Yeah, well, that's one thing I'm not willing to leave to chance."

Chapter Text

After my shower, I walked into the living room to face the consequences of my actions. I just had to get through this without telling Damon what my Mom said, because if he knew what she said, it'd make him want to do the opposite. Damon, who was now awake, slammed his drink down on the bar before stalking into my personal space as I made my way around the couch. "What did you do?! We had him, and you - "

Even though I was expecting it, his anger automatically put me on edge, so it was with a fairly dark look that I interrupted him. "Took all his toys away from him and killed his father . . . who was a cannibal, need I remind you."

He took half a step back, but his volume was still a little loud as he said, "This was about Mikael?!"

This is where it got tricky. "It wasn't just about Mikael."

"She did it to save you."

Bad Stefan. I gave him an incredulous look before looking up at Damon as he yelled, "You didn't need to save me. I had him!"

Stefan, still standing near the fireplace and looking as bored as he sounded, said, "His hybrids were ordered to rip you apart as soon as he was dead. The sire-bond doesn't wear off in death."

Nooo! He wasn't helping, and what Damon said to me next is why. "There is no way you could've known that when you took Rebekah. Was there even a hunter, or - "

Again Stefan intervened. "Well, if there wasn't, the guy I killed in the woods was carrying an awful lot of gear for a civilian."

Was he now? I might have to ask Stefan later if he managed to grab any of it. I could use some new weapons. Damon looked back at him, and Elena, who'd been awfully quiet since I walked in here said, "You killed him?"

It really was creepy how easily he was able to slide back into the Stefan I knew and disliked. He shrugged, and the air of indifference surrounding him couldn't have been more apparent. "It was either him or us."

Yeah, once he was uncompelled, he was going to have a lot of making up to do with Elena if he even wanted to be friends. Before she could say what those hurt eyes of hers were thinking, Damon turned back to me. "Why was today the first I heard about this hunter?"

Because Elena has a big mouth? "Because I wanted to deal with it myself."

His eyes narrowed as he studied me. "How? How were you - "

"First, I needed to make a statement."

He paused a beat, and then quickly jumped to the right conclusion. "No, you mean you wanted to put a target on your back!"

Elena's voice came floating across the room, a little angrier this time. "What's that supposed to mean?"

I looked at Elena, and my shoulders dropped as Damon said to her but yelled at me, "It means he would've already branded her a traitor for living with us, but she's young, and he would've overlooked her until he saw her take on those hybrids and Mikael, and then he would've zeroed in on her as his biggest threat in this town. It would've bought the rest of us time if he was hunting her, but a hunter doesn't stop until the target is gone." Speaking exclusively to me, he asked, "But you have a 'no humans' policy, so what would you have done when he did come for you?" His eyebrows rose in expectation of a response, but he didn't really wait for me to give him one as he said, "And if you had to think about it even that long, you would be dead."

With a fairly straight face, I replied almost instantly. "Maybe I wanted to see how I matched up against whoever it was, but if Stefan beat him, then I guess I'm better than he was."

"How can you joke about it? The man is dead!"

I think Stefan, Damon, and I all looked at Elena for entirely different reasons, but we were still more on the same page with one another than we were with her. At the same time Stefan said, "What part of it was him or us did you not understand," Damon said, "Did you miss that he wouldn't have stopped until she was dead," and I muttered, "Why wouldn't I? I never met him."

There's a time Stefan would've agreed with her, which might be why she glanced at him first with a defeated look. Damon was Damon - no surprises there. Eventually, she focused all of her disgust on me. "He wouldn't have even been here if it weren't for you bringing Imelda into our lives. His death is on you."

"Well, you can blame me for it if you want, but I don't. His choice of profession, his hatred, his thrill of the hunt - those are what lead him there, and he knew the risks, because he knows we play by their rules, not yours."

Stepping closer, she yelled about the thing she was really angry about, "Why did you do it?! We had a plan, and it needed to work . . . And don't tell me it was to save Damon. If you really cared about him, you wouldn't have set Rebekah loose on him, and - "

How could she call into question that I cared about him? "I fixed it so she wouldn't kill him."

"How?! What did you do?"

Why was she still yelling? Did she actually think I sold one of us out? My dealings with Rebekah were done. My eyes narrowed as I calmly said, "I gave her what she really needed and told her that we'd be even if she didn't kill Damon."

"And what did you promise her? What did she need - "

"To be there . . . Not everyone can hang back, let others do their killing for them, and feel no guilt about it. You know, it takes an incredibly special person to do all that and then judge those who did do something . . . If she wanted him dead, then she owed it to both of them for it to be her, not the father who hated him . . . If she didn't want him dead, then she should be there to save him."

Zeroing in on the catty thing I'd said, Elena quickly responded, "I wasn't hanging back and letting others do the killing for me! I stabbed her, so - "

Anyone who had it in them to at least make an appearance tonight could be angry with me, and that included Bonnie. Elena hadn't earned that right. "Yeah? Then where were you tonight?"

"You knew Damon's plan was for me to stay here in case Mikael did what he did to Katherine! How can you say that?!"

"Because I wasn't supposed to be there either, and yet nothing was ever going to stop me from being there. I wasn't going to let anything happen to any of them. But since you weren't there, let me fill you in on how it turned out. Caroline - safe. Tyler - safe. Matt - safe. Bonnie - safe. Damon - alive. Katherine - alive. Stefan - alive. Mikael - dead. All of Klaus's out-of-town-hybrids - dead."

Stepping into my space, she yelled, "Klaus - alive!"

"He didn't come out of it unscathed, but I'm not going to let him die."

"Why not?! You know what he has planned for me! He's going to want me to make more hybrids."

"You are safe with Imelda. If he wants to make more hybrids, he'll need to leave to do it. Just give him some blood and let him go."

"Imelda needs to go too."

"Well, she can't, because we need her."

"We wouldn't if you'd just let Damon kill Klaus! You killed all his hybrids, so none of them could've gone after him, and - "

"If Klaus dies at any point in time, I will lose Damon, and I am not letting that happen."

Maybe it was watching Elena and I argue it out, but Damon and Stefan had gone quiet until then. "What?"

Oops. Why was she so infuriating? I shot her a glare before my eyes flitted up to Damon, and I took a deep breath. I could withhold information from him, but I couldn't lie to him. "It's the last thing my Mom said to me. I can't let Klaus die, or I'll lose you. I think she meant you'll die, and I don't think she meant just tonight. I will not go through that with you again . . . but I'm not on his side."

Getting angry, the second he'd processed what I'd said, Damon turned away from me with a frustrated growl. "I knew your Mom found a way to screw me over!"

Yep. Now all his anger was on Mom instead of me. Poor, Eve, blindly trusting anything her Mom tells her. He wasn't going to believe anything she'd told me about this. "All Mom wanted was to make things right with me."

He turned to look back at me. "So you can tell me with absolute certainty that the woman who hated me and wanted me dead suddenly - "

"Yes." The finality of my answer made him pause, so I drily added, "Death is a pretty life changing experience."

Reluctantly grinning, he finally said, "That was bad." It had been a bad joke, but that was kind of the point. I gave him a small smile and the tension left his body once again. "The white oak stake is gone?" I nodded, and he sighed before turning away from me again. "In all of your scheming did you have a plan on what to do about Klaus after we tried to kill him?"

"Well, first we have to get him to let Stefan off his leash."

Looking back at his brother, Damon shook his head. "Klaus isn't going to let Stefan go now. Killing him was the only way to do that."

"Not the only way."

Turning to look back at me, he quickly said, "No . . . You're not going near him. I didn't miss the part where you said you killed ALL of his hybrids that aren't Tyler Lockwood."

"Let Stefan and I handle it. We have a plan, and I think it's a good one."

Turning with a threatening scowl to look back at Stefan, he yelled, "What is she talking about?"

Playing the part of being an ass to perfection, Stefan shrugged. "She stole my chance to get my freedom back, so now she owes me."

Stalking into his brother's space, Damon got dangerously tense as he spat out, "I don't know what she told you she'd do, but - "

"Oh, it's already done . . . There's no going back. The only way is through."

"Then she's out, and I'm in - What - "

"I'm afraid that's not gonna work, Brother."

I think Damon may have taken the stake I had hidden under the mantel and stabbed Stefan with it if Elena hadn't shoved me. "What did you do now?!"

I'd been more focused on stopping a fight from breaking out between the brothers, and it made me more than a little angry to be blindsided like that, so I quickly rounded on her. "Don't touch me, you back-stabbing little wretch. You weren't supposed to say anything about the hunter, and definitely not today of all days. You went into my room and stole my dagger after I told you I felt violated when you went in there to look through my research, and those aren't the first times you've metaphorically stabbed me in the back - the exact same way you actually did it to Rebekah. Now I see that's just who you are, and I trust you even less, so I'm not telling you anything about anything."

Pointing her finger in my face, she quickly responded, "You said if you saw me with any weapons, you wouldn't train with me again, so I knew you'd say no, and - "

"Nope. That doesn't work for me. If you believed I thought Rebekah was going to intervene, and you didn't know that's what I wanted, then you may have thought I'd say 'no' to you doing it, but you'd also just think I'd do it for you when you told me your idea. Why'd you sneak into my room and steal my - "

"Who said it's yours? It's a Gilbert family heirloom. I have as much right to it as you do."

Really? I don't remember there being two princesses who used the daggers to slay Originals in the story. Taking off my ring, I looked at it and said, "You want this too? I mean you can't use it, but maybe if you have kids some day - "

"Like it'll do you any good. If you've got hunters after you, then it won't work, will it?"

My eyebrows rose. "So you do want it."

"That's not what I said."

"Close enough."

"Why is it you're the only one who gets our family's hand-me-downs? I may have been adopted, but I am still a Gilbert."

What the fuck was she talking about? In total confusion, I said, "Yeah? Don't you have plenty of your own stuff, like the compass and - "

"You're missing the point."

"Well, maybe that's because you're the most confusing person I've ever met."

In a huff, she turned to leave. "Forget it."

"Did something happen?" She stopped, and I said, "I think there's another reason you didn't ask me about the dagger, and you want to say it, but you don't, or you'd make a hell of a lot more sense. What happened between the last time I saw you and now . . . I mean other than me stealing Rebekah and screwing up your plans?"

Sounding sad, she asked, "Did they keep the wrong twin?"

"What?"

Turning, but not enough to look at me, she said, "Imelda said that they kept the wrong twin . . . that it would've made more sense to keep me hidden instead of you . . . She said that you could've had a normal life, and then if Klaus showed up, he would've used you in the ritual if he hadn't known about me, but when it didn't work, he would've thought it was because the little differences he hadn't wanted to admit were there, were there because you weren't the doppelganger, so if John brought you back the way he did me, you would've been okay, and Klaus would've gone back to looking for his next doppelganger without ever finding me or coming back here . . . She said I stole your life . . . that after I got all the doppelganger magic, I used it to throw the witches off in their predictions, so I could have the life you should've had."

And that meant these hunter heirlooms were suddenly hers now? No, I don't think that's quite what she was thinking. She felt guilty, that much was obvious, but it was almost like she was also trying to prove she belonged in my family instead of the happy family she'd had. How strange. I didn't know how to address that, so I didn't. "You told her about that part of our history?" She shrugged a shoulder, so that was a 'yes'. She really needed to learn to watch what she said to Imelda. "Well, first of all, you were a fetus. You didn't have the cognitive skills to throw the witches off."

"I had enough to try and kill you."

I snorted, and she finally looked at me. "You were a greedy baby that liked the magic you were getting from your twin, so you kept stealing it. There was no conscious decision on your part to kill me."

"Well, maybe it was the same with the witches. Maybe I didn't know I - "

I shook my head. "Nah, Mom and Dad got the message loud and clear on what had to be done before they made the decision to give you all the magic, so it was when we both still had it."

Her shoulders relaxed, while she said, "So you don't think they kept the wrong twin?"

"No. They were told to keep the oldest."

"But what if there was a mix-up when they weren't looking."

I tried not to smile as I said, "Then it really would've screwed things up if they'd swapped you into the ritual to keep Klaus from breaking the curse."

She nodded, while she absorbed that. "But it does make more sense to have kept me hidden, doesn't it?"

"Yes and no. Yes for the reasons Imelda said, but no, because in a way, letting you have a normal life meant you got to act as bait to draw him here, so I could replace you. If I had, hybrids wouldn't be something the world would have needed to worry about until the next doppelganger was born, and that's what the witches wanted. There's no guarantee Klaus would've thought I was the doppelganger if I'd had your life. There are enough differences that he may have known straight away that I wasn't, and if he didn't, then his witches would have . . . How did this come up?"

"Why? What are you going to do about it?"

My hands clenched in frustration even as I took a slow breath to remain calm. "Well, for starters, I'm going to tell you something I thought I made clear, but obviously didn't. Stop talking to Imelda about things that are important to keep hidden . . . homework; frivolous dances; a healthy debate about what's on TV . . . those are okay. Letting her know the identity of the blonde vampire that she saw when she first got here is not okay, and - "

"I didn't tell her who Caroline is."

"Well, she knows . . . Maybe she saw a picture with Caroline's name written in glitter under it or Jeremy said something, I don't know. The point is that she knows, because you aren't being careful enough. She knows about Tyler too." Elena looked for a moment, like she wanted to argue with me, but a second later, her shoulders dropped in acceptance, so I said, "Telling her anything about the life you knew before you met Stefan - okay. Telling her family secrets, no matter how small - not okay. She'll find a way to use them against you - against all of us."

"Then why are you working with her?"

"Hm?"

Her eyes narrowed at my innocent non-answer. "I know you are. Why is it okay for you - "

"A. Start using some of those skills to start spying on her instead of me. B. Because I know how to do it without telling her anything important, and I know that about half of what she says is either a flat out lie or misdirection of some kind, but that also means that half of what she says is something I can use - like there being a hunter. She never specifically said that she'd called anyone, but I figured it out, and I was right, or Stefan wouldn't have found anyone tonight, and we would've been caught unprepared - not that it should've ever come to that. You're supposed to be our inside person with her, Elena, and if you are, then you need to be better at it."

She could've gotten mad at that. Instead, she paused a beat, and then said, "Since when?"

"Since she moved into the house. Who better to have keeping an eye on her than a person who lives with her? You have the potential to know what she's doing at all times, even if you're not always there, but you're letting her run the show."

"Why didn't you tell me any of that?"

"Because I thought it was obvious." Now she was angry, but as she opened her mouth to respond, I said, "No seriously, I thought it was obvious. It's what I would do. My experience with other people is limited, so I expect other people to do what I would. I didn't think I'd have to spell it out to you."

She hesitated, but must've still needed to vent that anger she felt at being scolded somewhere, because a few moments later, she threw a glare over my shoulder and asked, "Don't you two have anything better to do?"

My eyes followed hers. Damon and Stefan were lounging against the bar, drinks in hand, and watching what would appear to be something they found highly entertaining. Stefan looked over his shoulder at Damon. "I'm good . . . You?"

Damon shrugged. "Yeah, I think watching them makes me feel oddly good about us."

One of Stefan's eyebrows arched. "You know, I think you might be on to something . . . That reminds me." Reaching into his wallet he pulled out a 20 and handed it to Damon as he said, "I believe I owe you this."

I almost groaned in shame when Elena took the bait even though her tone made it clear she was less than enthused. "For what?"

Taking the money and putting it in his wallet, Damon smirked. "Oh, nothing . . . just a nice friendly wager between brothers. You wouldn't understand."

Chapter Text

I tensed as I felt someone disturb my sleep, but then instantly relaxed as the light hint of cologne enveloped me. I threw an arm around him and snuggled into his side before he murmured, "Hey."

With a sigh, I whispered, "Hey," and Damon rolled to face me as he wrapped an arm around me and said, "I didn't mean to wake you."

My eyes stayed closed, but my lips turned up into a small smile. "Sure you did . . . You want to talk."

Not even bothering to deny it, he asked, "What are you planning with my brother?"

"Nothing bad."

Tracing small patterns on my shoulder, he tried again. "Well, did you think what you had planned tonight was bad?"

I breathed out a, "No," and he responded, "Then I need you to tell me."

"Do you think what I did was bad?"

He was quick to quietly reassure me. "No . . . not bad . . . dangerous . . . and you should've told me."

I relaxed a little. "You wouldn't have let me do it. You want him dead and nothing my Mom said would have stopped you."

"Maybe not, but you still should've told me."

I drowsily muttered, "Probably would've knocked me out to keep me side-lined."

He hesitated and then said, "What if I promise never to do that again?"

"You can promise, but I don't think it's a promise you'll keep."

"What if I mean it?"

"You might mean it now, but - "

"No, I'll mean it forever if it means you'll stop holding things back from me and doing these kinds of things on your own." Oh. My eyes opened a fraction to look at him, and he said, "It's something I already told myself I wouldn't do again, and now I'm telling you . . . I knew you were going to show up there tonight, and I didn't do anything to stop you, did I?"

I gave him an almost imperceptible shake of the head. He hadn't, but then I'd also made myself scarce early in the day, so he hadn't had the opportunity. He did seem to be serious about what he was saying now, but I still wasn't sure. When he got desperate, anything went. "I would've thought you'd be angrier than you are."

"Think your sister may have stolen my thunder just a tad . . . and I know if your Mom told you - "

With a heavy breath, I stopped him by saying, "You're not going to stop looking for a way to kill him, are you?"

"Nope."

"Why? You have your brother back. I'm back. I'll keep Elena safe, so - "

"And that's the problem. You almost died just to get her body back. You did die because of the head space you were in after the fight you had with my brother, and - "

"No that was me, not - "

"I don't care. It wouldn't have happened if it weren't for him, and if he doesn't kill you for killing his hybrids, then he's going to follow through on what he said about training you, but he's not going to stay here to do that. He'll leave when he gets bored, or to go make more hybrids, or whenever he feels like, and he'll take you with him when he goes, the same way he was planning to take you when I found him at the hospital, and I am not letting him take you from me again."

He was getting angry even if he was trying to stay quiet to keep from completely derailing my moment of calm, so I tried to bring it back to what was important to me. "And if you die?'

"Then I die, but if it means he's dead too, then at least I'll know you'll be safe."

"Safe from what? There's always something bigger and badder out there if you go looking for it."

"Eve - "

"And who says I'd let him take me anyway?"

"You wouldn't have a choice. You'd do it to keep him from killing me or Elena . . . Eve, he's got to go."

"Think I finally understand what you meant when you said I was your best friend and worst enemy . . . I won't let you take you from me either."

A flash of annoyance across his face, and then he forced himself to try and relax. A moment later he said, "What if we turn it into our game? I try to kill him. You try to stop me." I paused, and he gave me that uncertain, but hopeful look as he said, "If it's a game, then we can't get mad at what the other one does to try and beat the other." It automatically made me lean close enough to lightly bump noses with him. I would've kissed him, but I didn't want him to think I was agreeing with his game. I guess I was just a sucker for that look of his, the one that said, 'I'm trying here, and I think I've got it right, but do I?'

He tilted his head to touch his forehead to mine as he pulled himself closer, and I sort of thought this might be my 'happy place.' It was safe and calm and it felt like there was nothing outside of it except the two of us. I wanted to play his game, because he was honestly trying to find a way to keep Klaus from coming between us, but if we turned it into a game, I didn't want the competition to make me lose sight of why I was playing, and losing this game was simply not an option for me. "What if I find a way to make him disappear without killing him?"

"Disappear how?"

"I don't know. I haven't figured it out yet, but I will."

Not wanting to argue or agree, he hummed in the negative before saying, "It's just a temporary solution."

"But that's all we need, right? I have a temporary life."

He didn't tense. In fact, he did the opposite and relaxed before quietly saying, "But what if you don't?"

His tone held that same boyishly uncertain quality to it that his look sometimes did, and maybe that's why I didn't shove the conversation to the side this time. "Damon, I can't be a vampire."

"Why not?"

"You know why. I'm already a killer. Sometimes, killing is the only way I can relieve stress. That'll get enhanced, and - "

"But it'd be just like the way you are with vampires. You don't kill all of us. You see something in some of us that makes you want to do the opposite of what you should do. It makes you want to protect us. I think it'd be the same if you were a vampire. I think you even have who your meal of choice would be already picked out, because it's what Isobel taught you to do."

"And the wallowing?"

Taking a slow measured breath, Damon eventually said, "That might be a problem . . . but I'll be there to talk you out of doing things that might bring on those kinds of lows. I won't fail you the way I've failed Stefan."

"Do you think I'd be like him?"

"No. You wouldn't be a ripper, and I don't think you'd flip your switch unless you lost someone important, or for survival, the way you do now, but I wouldn't want you to feel that kind of guilt and self-loathing times 10." When I didn't respond, he continued, "You already know it doesn't change everything about you. It just enhances things that are already there, and it won't matter to me what you do. I'll never judge. I just want you with me. I don't want to always have that 'this is only temporary' in the back of my mind whenever I'm around you."

"But isn't that just part of life? It's supposed to be temporary. It's what makes living so bittersweet, but it's also what gives us the drive to really live, because what's the point if it never ends?"

"And what am I supposed to do, eventually start calling you my grandmother when I introduce you to people?" I exhaled a laugh, and he quickly said, "I'm serious."

Bringing my hand up to the side of his face to offer him some comfort, I whispered, "I know . . . but I think we both know the life expectancy of a hunter is shorter than most."

Closing his eyes to hide his discomfort as he nodded, he asked, "What am I supposed to do when that happens?"

If he felt about me, the way I felt about him, then I didn't know. He'd spent 150 years pining over Katherine. I didn't want him to do that over me. I should tell him I wanted him to move on and to do it without shutting off his humanity, going on a bender, and massacring entire villages, but I knew that was easier said than done. If I cared about him, and I did, I needed to take how he felt about all of this seriously. "Can I think about it?"

His eyes popped open as he said, "You've already had years to think about it, and it hasn't changed anything."

"True, but I sort of stopped thinking about it after Mom died. Give me a couple more years . . . That'd make me at least a little closer to the age you were when you turned, and if you're just going to go and die trying to kill Klaus, then I won't consider it at all, because what would be the point without you."

Lifting his head to look at me, he waited briefly before saying, "That almost sounds like 'yes.'"

"Almost."

He knew where I was going with this and gave me a slight glare. "But you're going to use it to keep me from killing Klaus, aren't you?"

"Now that you mention it."

Smirking as he settled his head back on my pillow, he murmured, "And what if I say I've changed my mind?"

"I'd say you were being fickle."

His eyes took in the sight of me, while he considered it, and I thought there was a chance he wasn't as set on the idea as he'd seemed. It wasn't that I was blackmailing him into leaving Klaus alone. It was that I'd successfully shut this conversation down the few times it'd been brought up, and now that I hadn't, he was thinking of all the angles in a way he normally didn't, because normally, he just wanted the conversation to start. "Maybe I think it'd be better than you going to an early grave as a hunter, but it's not the life I want for you either . . . Plus, you're not supposed to use my undying love against me like that."

Deciding to change the subject, I gently mocked him by saying, "You really are the cheesiest vampire I've met."

"I prefer, hopeless romantic."

"Well, you can prefer it all you want, but you're really just cheesy. You're lucky you make up for it by being a badass."

A brief smile shot across his face at the backhanded compliment. "Yeah? You think it might be a problem at the vampire convention?"

Closing my eyes, I hummed in the affirmative and then said, "Without a doubt, but you'll have plenty of practice kicking Stefan's ass between now and then if he ever overhears what you say half the time."

There was a hint of humor in his voice as he quietly said, "I think you're exaggerating. It's nowhere near half."

"Feels like it."

"See, you say that, but I think you love it. You just don't want to admit it."

Turning it around on him, I asked, "Really? How do you figure?"

"Well for one thing, I know that deep down, you're a princess at heart, and princesses love romance."

My chest shook, as I tried to contain it, but I quickly lost out to a short burst of giggles as my eyes opened. "I actually thought about that tonight."

Quite pleased that he'd won that time, Damon grinned as he asked, "Was it before or after you staked your Original?"

Smiling, I whispered, "After . . . it's when Elena wanted to know why the dagger was mine. I might've thought there weren't two princesses in the story."

It made him grin, and then a few moments later, he said, "I want to hear it."

"Hear what?"

"The story."

"You want a bedtime story?"

He chuckled again before saying, "Consider it background research. I want to know what Little Evie felt she had to live up to when she got older." I didn't want to tell him the story. It was mildly embarrassing. I went to quickly shake my head, and he said, "It's either that, or you tell me what you and my brother are planning."

He'd find that out soon enough, but for him to be safe, his reactions had to be authentic, so I couldn't tell him now. With a sigh, I rolled onto my back. "Once, there was a princess with no name. She killed Originals. The end."

"That's it?"

"Yep."

Resting his head on my shoulder, he asked, "Well, why didn't she have a name?"

"Her kingdom was not a peaceful one. It was at constant war. To keep her safe, she was spirited away from her kingdom to live in a far away land on the day that she was born, and it had to be done quickly - so fast that she wasn't given a name, but that was okay because without a name, her real identity was kept a secret from the kingdom hers was always fighting."

"So she just didn't have a name?"

"Well, if she had a name, then on cold dark nights, when she attacked her foes around the campfire, it wouldn't exactly sound scary for them to scream, 'Ah, Princess,' before she cut them down. A nameless, faceless, but legendary figure is much scarier."

Exhaling a silent laugh, he quietly responded, "Tell me, he didn't think you could really go around without a name."

Biting my lower lip to keep from smiling, I said, "Well, I know my name was a secret my Mom kept from him for a while. She'd had to call me something, and when she heard Elena's name, she went through names that started with 'E' and came up with Eve, because I was born first."

I felt him move as he lifted his head to look down at me. "How long was it before he knew?"

"I don't know. It was before I can remember. I think he knew by the time he got me the red keyboard, and I got that when I was 2."

"For such a tightly held secret, you sure did fill me in on it pretty fast."

"Well, you thought I was Elena, and then you thought I was Katherine. I had to keep you from killing me somehow."

The corners of his mouth turned up briefly before he said, "I remember. You caught me at a bad time, and I still let you walk away."

"Why did you?"

"You didn't flinch." I was a little confused by that, and he said, "When I pinned you, you looked bored, like it was an inconvenience, and I think you insulted me." He snorted at the memory before saying, "So I tried again . . . I would've bitten you, but you didn't flinch then either. It was like you had no idea what I was going to do and at the same time knew all too well what I was going to do."

"The most trusting and untrusting person you've met?"

"Exactly . . . and it was the same when you showed me the scars on your neck. It was like you were taunting me by baring your neck and at the same time like you didn't know that's what you were doing. You definitely made yourself a curiosity that I had to see again . . . Plus, you knew Katherine."

"But you didn't know I was dangerous until the farmhouse." Now it was his turn to look confused. "When you were dying and thought I was Elena, you said that's when you knew you were in trouble."

A slow smile spread across his face before he said, "Yeah, I remember thinking 'this girl is going to kill me, and I'll probably let her do it without putting up much of a fight'." Laughing, he added, "That deadly gymnast routine you did was hotter than anything I'd ever seen Katherine or Elena do . . . You dazzled me again the first time you staked me. I think that's the first time I noticed your eyes were different. It wasn't until I was climbing through your apartment window, even though I was sure you'd set a trap for me, that I knew it was impossible for me to stay away."

"You seriously thought I invited you in without you knowing and was carving someone up to set a trap for you? Why'd you ask if you could come in?!"

Resting his head back on my shoulder, he laughed again. "I felt like I had to let you know I was there, so you could have a chance to change your mind. I wasn't looking forward to having to kill you if you didn't. I wanted you to have a fair shot."

"That's insane."

"I know. I can't explain it. You were intriguing . . . but then when I found you, it sort of changed. The night before, I was angry, and maybe I thought about killing you, but I didn't go over there to kill you. Something didn't add up, but I didn't know what it was, and I wanted information. I just lost sight of you being a fragile human for a fraction of a second, and that's all it took. I didn't realize how much I had hurt you until I wasn't angry anymore, but it was different when I found you the next night. Mostly, I wanted to kill whoever did that to you." He nuzzled into the crook of my neck a little more, and it sent tingles down my spine. He smiled at my involuntary reaction and said, "Now back to the story . . . I want to hear it. Tell me all about this kingdom that was always at war with hers."

"Well, it was ruled by a family of vampires, and the King was cruel, heartless, and bloodthirsty. He never showed mercy, and he took no pleasure in the finer things in life. His only concern was ruling his household with an iron fist and dominating the kingdoms around him. Once his subjects were created, he no longer cared what they did so long as they served as cannon fodder in his wars, but it was also his subjects' hunting infringements on the outskirts of the princess's kingdom, that sparked the wars, so it was endless cycle of war."

"Tell me more about this King."

"He doesn't really sound like Klaus. He sounds more like - "

"Mikael?"

I nodded, and didn't expect him to smile as he said, "So, the Princess didn't just kill an Original, she slayed the King tonight." Maybe that's why he wanted to hear the story. He wanted to forgive me, and maybe he already had, but the story would help him do that more completely.

"Yeah, I think she did . . . Of course in the story there was no way for her to kill him, and the daggers didn't work on him, so she had to use the daggers on his family members to take them one by one and weaken him that way . . . but if she'd known about the white oak stake, she definitely would've used it the first chance she had."

"Well, now you can rewrite the story, so she did."

"Then it won't be the story I heard when I was growing up."

"Think I'll like it better this way. Start at the beginning, and don't leave anything out. I want to hear it all, but don't forget to change the ending." Okay maybe there was a part of him that really did just want a bedtime story. Well, if it's what he wanted, then I guess it's the least I owed him after what I did to him tonight.

Chapter Text

There was a knock at my bedroom door, and Damon pulled me closer to try and keep me from getting up. He stayed in here quite a lot, mostly to make sure Stefan and Rebekah left me alone, because all they had to do was break my door down and throw something at me to hurt me, but Rebekah hadn't been back since our attack on Klaus, and he'd stayed in here every night since. I think it's because he was concerned about Klaus smashing up my window to get at me or something. I don't know. I didn't ask. He was being protective without being over the top about it, so I was okay with it.

"Eve . . . I know you're in there." I smiled at Stefan's hushed yell through the door.

Groaning as he stretched, Damon threw the door a look and grumbled, "Not today, Stefan . . . If you want to bother her, wait until Monday morning when you see her in class."

There was a pause. "Eve, I need to see you, and it can't wait . . . That thing we're supposed to do . . . It's happening."

I was out of the bed a second later, but I still think Damon beat me to it. I went to go brush my teeth as he went to the door and flung it open. "And what thing would that be?" Even if Stefan had wanted to answer, there was no time for him to do it as both their heads turned to face the front of the house. Damon asked, "Who is that?" and Stefan gave him a look over his shoulder as he said, "Who do you think?" and then they were both leaving my room. That's okay. I needed a few moments to prepare myself. I threw some cold water on my face to wake me up. There. Brushed teeth. Fresh face. Hair in a messy pony tail that worked to sell the idea that I wasn't a threat.

Running out of my room, I got to the living room as Klaus said, "First things, first. I take it Mikael is dead."

I heard Stefan use his foot to slide something out from behind the couch as he said, "We gathered his ashes . . . in case you wanted proof this time."

Klaus responded with a short, tight laugh that he didn't mean at all. "Well, I won't be taking your word for it. I hope you understand."

Opening the lid on the plastic bucket, Stefan said, "Think there might be a few identifiable pieces, but you'd have to dig for them . . . pocket watch, ring . . . "

I'd already dug through Mikael's ashes for those pieces, so they were right on top for Stefan to find. "Let me see those." There was a moment of silence as Klaus examined the items, and then I heard him clear his throat. "He could've given these to you, and - "

Stefan cut him off as he dug out another thing near the top. "Piece of the stake that killed him?"

Yeah, Damon didn't know about that, so he didn't sound all that happy when he asked through clenched teeth, "I thought it burnt up when he did. What are you doing?" like Klaus wouldn't hear him. There was maybe enough there to make a wooden bullet, but I wouldn't trust it not to explode in my face if I tried to use it with the heat damage it'd already sustained. I guess if one of the guys wanted to try throwing it at Klaus, like a dart in the hopes that it would get the job done, they could try, but it'd probably splinter on contact. Still, it's all that remained of the only weapon he knew of that could kill Klaus, so I could see his reluctance in wanting to just hand it over. His reaction really worked in mine and Stefan's favor though, because it started building the obvious tale that Damon had no idea what Stefan and I had been up to lately, so it should help keep him safe through these negotiations, which is why we hadn't told him anything.

Starting to believe that Mikael was really gone, Klaus cleared his throat again as he tried to hide the regret that tinged his voice as he said, "Tell me the truth. Is this a replica?"

"No." Stefan being compelled to do whatever Klaus told him to do did have it's uses. He couldn't lie if Klaus told him to tell him the truth. If the stake wasn't a replica, then it obviously meant that Mikael was gone, because his children knew he'd never allow that stake to be destroyed as long as Klaus was alive.

"Then it would seem a celebration is in order." Klaus couldn't have sounded less like he meant that. His sister really got him good. Taking away his chance to kill Mikael and giving him that kind of closure had been the best way to punish him without killing him. "But it's one that'll have to wait. Now, that that's out of the way . . . It would seem that I'm missing something. You two wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?"

I grabbed the remote for the stereo that I'd hidden out here in the hall for just this occasion and hit play. I may not have expected it to be morning when this happened, but that didn't mean I wasn't prepared, and I'd earned a kick ass introduction. I waited through the opening bars and then prepared to make my entrance when I heard the trademark, Dun . . . dun, dun, dun . . . dun, dun, dun . . . dun - dun - dun.

The second the first set of punchy chords at the start of Eye of the Tiger had finished blaring, I came into the doorway with just the right amount of attitude and small smirk on my face. Klaus was looking at Damon and Stefan, like he thought they were behind it and was less than amused, and the Salvatore brothers didn't look like they had a clue what was happening. "Aren't you missing a few things, Klaus?"

I grinned at the expression on his face as he caught sight of me and then bounded down the steps to take a victory lap around the room as the introduction really kicked in on the song.

Phase 1, make Klaus believe Stefan still had his humanity turned off. If Stefan could feel human emotions, it meant he could feel anger, and that feeling often lead to revenge. If Stefan didn't feel anything, then he would be seen as less of an immediate threat - not that he had any idea what I was doing right now. He'd left it up to me to decide on how I would respond when Klaus finally made his first move. Stefan's only job during Phase 1 was not to respond at all, and that's why I had to make it as difficult as possible for him not to break. Klaus may not even be aware of it if Stefan didn't respond, but his subconscious would, and that's what mattered.

As the lyrics started, I started a fun, but ridiculous victory dance.

Risin' up, back on the street
Did my time, took my chances
Went the distance, now I'm back on my feet
Just a man and his will to survive

Stefan didn't crack once.

Damon looked confused, then mildly horrified that I was blatantly admitting that whatever had been taken was taken by me. He still couldn't help the snort that escaped him when I started dancing.

Klaus looked . . . well, he seemed annoyed, and then slightly amused.

So many times, it happens too fast
You trade your passion for glory
Don't lose your grip on the dreams of the past
You must fight just to -

The music cut out, and I looked over to find Klaus standing by the stereo. "Very funny, Little Wolf Killer . . . now if you don't mind -

It was time for Phase 2 to commence. "Wait, wait, wait . . . You might not really want to celebrate, but I do. You're about to realize how good I got you." I hoped Damon got the meaning behind this song choice. I was his Little Tiger, not Klaus's Little Wolf Killer. He'd never seen Klaus and I in the same room together, so I thought the nickname might be a problem.

Using the remote, I hit play again. It's the eye of the tiger, it's the thrill of the fight

Again the music cut out. "Do you think this is a game?"

"Absolutely, and I won . . . You're not jealous are you?"

I found the look of immediate surprise that came over his face funny, but it was quickly hidden as he said, "I can assure you that I am not - "

"Really? Because I think I'm feeling something you'll never feel now that I've taken out your only real adversary." I hit play again and started to lip lynch with the remote, while I pointed at him with an 80s hairband flourish for the next lyrics. Risin' up to the challenge of our rival

He turned it off again. I turned it on with a look that told him to stop it as I skip-danced backwards to the music and continued lip synching. And the last known survivor stalks his prey in the night. And he's watching' us all with the eye . . . of the tiger.

He turned it off and said, "If you turn that on again, I'll tear it out of the wall and throw it at you."

I hesitated with my finger on the button. The key was to annoy him, not enrage him. There was a fine line, and I had to walk it, because if he felt one, he wouldn't feel the other, and annoyance meant I was endearing, but he wanted me stop. Enraged meant death. "Nah, you won't . . . If you did that, you'd have to buy a new stereo, a better one, to make up for it, and that'd just mean I won twice."

I hit play again, and he looked for a moment like he was going to do what he'd said, and then just sighed in frustration, like I was an annoying little sister, before deciding to ignore me as he went over to Stefan and left me to dance away on my own. "You were supposed to watch her."

Phase 2 complete. All of this, the song, the boastful dancing - they were meant to dampen Klaus's rage. We were putting all the blame on me and at the same time making him think it was me just playing one of my games with him. I was less of a threat if he believed it. Phase 2 was laying the groundwork for that.

Phase 3 was Stefan showing how cumbersome him being compelled by Klaus was for Klaus, and it commenced as Stefan answered, "And I did. I watched her use you as bait for Mikael, because . . . what was it you said, Eve?"

Risin' up straight to the top . . . Have the guts. Got the glory. Bouncing past them, I shouted, "The best bait is bait that doesn't know it's bait."

Using that faux-cocky attitude of his, Stefan nodded, "Yeah . . . yeah, that's right . . . And why did you do that again?"

"Because I needed his stake and the right moment to strike."

Looking at Klaus, he said, "She decided to just skip right over you on the ladder, and I let her, because I figured that was the safest way for her to show you she could beat you, since you haven't been able to do anything about him for 1000 years, and her plan seemed solid."

Stefan'd had no idea what my plan was before I did it, but if we didn't want it to look like he'd been sleeping on the job, then he had to know everything I'd planned and make Klaus believe he'd known it. With a low growl, Klaus asked, "I assume I have her to think for my sister making an appearance?"

"Yeah, that was all Eve."

Klaus looked from Stefan to Damon, and Damon, looked like he still had no idea what was happening, but was more than happy to play smug as he said, "Don't look at me. I just wanted you dead. If I'd had my way, you would be."

Turning in my direction, Klaus yelled over the music, "So, I guess this means, you still don't do teams, Little Wolf Killer."

"Maybe I was on Rebekah's team and your team and their team and ran away with the trophy at the end."

Trying to hide his smile, he let his eyes narrow before he yelled, "And my hybrids?!"

"All dead except for one. I had as much fun destroying them as I thought I would."

His smile fell marginally. Stepping in to respond, Stefan said, "They were without a leader, so what else was she supposed to do?"

Klaus looked at him over his shoulder. "I don't know about her, but you should have gotten her away from them."

"Yeah, I didn't think I could do that without getting both of us killed, so I helped her."

Klaus's face dropped as he grew more serious. "You what?"

"You told me - "

"To keep an eye on her and keep her out of trouble . . . protect her if necessary, so she can protect her sister, not - "

"That's what I did."

Despite the song being nearly over, Klaus changed his mind on destroying the stereo, as he sped over to it, picked it up, and threw it against a wall, but it wasn't anywhere near me. Crossing my arms over my chest, I huffed, "You're getting me a new one."

Muttering as he turned away from me to think, he said, "It wasn't even yours. It's theirs."

"So? I told you what the penalty for breaking it would be, and you did it anyway."

Turning back to me, Klaus finally asked, "Where's my family?"

Damon quickly responded to that one, "You wanna say that again?" with just the right amount of surprise, because it was genuine, and Klaus looked over at him.

"Oh you mean, she didn't tell you? I went to get them, but now they're missing."

Stepping forward, Stefan, feigning stupidity said, "Would now be a bad time to tell you that I helped her do that too?"

Actually, it was the other way around. Using what was in that container truck might've been my plan while I was on the road with them, but using it now had been entirely Stefan's idea, not that it'd taken much convincing for me to do it. Getting in Stefan's personal space, Klaus asked, "And why would you do that?"

"She was sneaking off, so I followed her."

Klaus's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Then where are they?"

"I don't know. She moved them when I wasn't looking." That was true. He'd literally turned his back on the coffins, and I moved them a few feet from where they'd been when he last saw them.

"And why did she do that? You weren't supposed to let her know, or she'd find a way around it."

"I haven't said a word."

"What exactly is that you've done while I've been away?" Stefan puffed out a breath, while he looked up and tried to think of everything he'd done while Klaus was away, and he made a show of it, so Klaus would get even more annoyed with him being compelled. It seemed to work, because Klaus snapped, "I mean where it concerns Eve."

"Oh . . . I was getting a lift with her to school, but Damon put an end to that. I showed her where her classes were, because she was totally lost for the first couple of days, but I also made her life Hell while I did it to keep her from finding out that thing we discussed . . . Uh, when some kids trashed her car, I kept watch to make sure they didn't come back, while she changed the tires, and - "

"Mm." Klaus squinted again as he said, "Didn't think to stop them from doing that in the first place? You just stood there and watched while she dealt with it?" He wasn't concerned about what'd happened to my car. He was searching for a hole in Stefan's story, because he sensed deception.

Stefan met his look head on while he said, "Well you did tell me not to let her know, so I couldn't be obvious about it."

After a few moments of close scrutiny, Klaus rolled his eyes with a sigh before looking at me. "Except you were too obvious in the other direction." Phase 3 looked like it was going well, as Stefan stepped next to Damon to keep him under control. This had now become Stefan's sole job - watching for any signs that his brother was about to do something stupid and keeping him from following through on it. Watching me, Klaus asked, "If you were really using me as bait, then why?"

Phase 4: Total improve. Say whatever was needed to maneuver Klaus into Phase 5.

"Because Rebekah said he never kept the stake on him unless he was close to getting what he wanted."

"And why did you go after him?"

"Why wouldn't I? You should've told me the guy I was describing was him. He was the worst parent, I've ever seen."

My candor made him relax. With a slight nod as he looked at the bucket of ash, he said, "He was that . . . but why did it have to be you?" His eyes came back to me, and he added, "Was it because you blamed me for taking your father - "

"That didn't enter my mind once . . . Would you rather Mikael was still out there - "

"No. I would've rather it'd been me that killed him." There was a sadness in his eyes in between blinks that let me know he'd really needed that closure, and then the sadness was gone as he said, "Did you do it for me?"

"No." My shoulders slumped as I said, "Listening to the way he talked to you outside the house that night might've been enough to make me change my mind, because I have issues with bad parents, and your father landed in the indefensible category. I really didn't like the way he called you, 'Boy'."

There was that blink and you'd miss it sad look again, and I quickly pressed on with my answer. "But I went there planning to do what I did. I just didn't like him. It's as simple as that. He would've turned on us the second he accidentally let you go once again, and that's exactly what he was going to do. He totally telegraphed to you that Damon was behind you without even realizing he was doing it, and it may not have spared you, but it would've given you a chance, and I think that's because chasing you became a part of him. Running from him never became a part of who you were, so I don't know if that makes sense. I just know that both killing you and not killing you would've made him more dangerous. Especially to vampires because he was a scumbag who fed on his own kind. There's something really wrong with that. Like you guys eat us . . . whatever. We're lower on the food chain, so at least that makes sense. He was a cannibal for no other reason than he liked the idea of being the predator's predator. I mean, if you are the apex predator on this planet, then he was some kind of alien that just didn't belong here . . . Plus, he was my monster to kill."

Klaus had started to smile marginally as I rambled until the last sentence. I think the briefly dark look in my eyes said I was being marginally territorial about it, and given his nature, he responded in kind. "I think he was mine before he was yours."

"Maybe, but I didn't have any familial connection to him, so I didn't have any of those emotions tied up in wanting him dead. I just wanted him dead, because it was better for everyone if he was."

"But you took my hybrids as a dig at me, didn't you?"

"Well, you had to believe you were losing everything to make it believable AND I like to think of it as being more like I took your toys away for bad behavior."

"What bad behavior?"

"Uh . . . like 90% of the things you do are bad."

"You killed a couple dozen hybrids to teach me a lesson?"

"Well, that, and it was also kind of hard to stop once I got started. That pack mentality made it impossible."

"And the rest of my family?"

Phase 5: Use the leverage we have to make him give us what we want. There would be anger, but it was my job to calm him down. For some reason Stefan thought I could.

"They're my trophy."

He scoffed at that and said, "You're claiming my family as your trophy?"

"Yep. I won them fair and square."

"Well, I think they'd have something to say about that."

"I bet they'd have more to say about being stuck in a coffin for however many years."

"Give me my family back."

My eyebrows rose as I said, "What are they worth to you."

"I don't - "

I quickly stopped him. "Negotiate? I know. It's not a negotiation. I won them. If you want them back, then it's only fair that there's a price for that. Besides, I already gave you your sister. Where is she?"

His anger went from building to cooling as he said, "Currently indisposed."

"You stabbed her in the heart and stuck her in another coffin, didn't you?" I said it like I already knew the answer and then shook my head in faux-disappointment. "How do I know you're going to take care of the rest of my Original family if you do that to the one member you got back."

"You little - " Trying to reign in his anger, he cut himself off, then growled in frustration before looking off to the side. When his attention came back to me, he was still angry, but worked really hard to control it. He couldn't kill me, or he had no way of getting his family, since technically, I was the only one who knew where they were. "Give me my family back, or I'll take yours, and you'll never see them again."

And there it was, the entire reason there'd been a part of me that'd really quite enjoyed celebrating my victory. He was about to find out how badly I'd beaten him. Sucking the air in through my teeth, I paused before saying, "Good luck with that. The One-Eyed Witch is living with them now."

Nobody really knew her by her real name. I think she'd only told me what it was when we met, because she felt the same connection I did and magically knew nobody really knew my name outside of my parents. She hadn't known why I was kept a secret until Elena told her, but she'd known I was a secret when we met. It was sort of strange now that everyone here only knew her as Imelda. Klaus definitely knew her by the pseudonym she went by. His face took on a calm look, and that was a sure sign of danger. "You're bluffing."

"I don't bluff."

"Nobody knows how to find her."

"Hunters do, and that's part of the problem, isn't it?"

"She never comes out of hiding."

"She did this time."

He was angry, but instead of turning it on me, he turned it on Stefan. "You let the One-Eyed Witch move Into my doppelganger's house?!"

"You didn't tell me to - "

Pointing at me, Klaus yelled, "I told you to keep an eye on her!"

I spoke up at that, because he was getting a little too angry, and he was giving me too much credit. "Actually, it was an accident. I introduced her to a couple of people. They were gullible, and now she won't leave." Klaus threw me a glare over his shoulder, and I said, "Just admit defeat. You're really starting to look like a sore loser." Handing him a folded up piece of paper, I said, "Here's my first demand."

Ripping it out of my hand, he went to tear it up, but stopped when he saw there was writing on the outside of it. Do not tear. Take a breath. Count to 10. Open. Read. (Promise it's not bad. I just have to let you know I won). His eyes flicked to me in another glare, and he scrunched the paper up in his fist for about 5 seconds, which I'm guessing meant he was counting to 10 pretty fast before he finally opened it and started to relax as he read. "Agreed." His eyes came back to me expectantly, and I said, "You can have the big guy."

Standing taller as he crossed his arms over his chest, he said, "Finn," before sticking his hand out for another piece of paper. I handed it to him, and he immediately read it before trying not to smile. "As you wish."

I was holding onto Elijah to get the thing I really wanted. I think Klaus liked him the most. "You can have the coffin that isn't Elijah's and opens."

"Kol."

Well, now I knew the names to research. Finn and Kol. "I know it was a long time ago, but I'm sorry about Henrick."

He hesitated before asking, "Did Rebekah - "

"If she said something about it to anyone, it wasn't to me. Maybe Elena? I only just figured it out . . . Somebody scratched all your names into a cave near here, and - "

Thinking briefly about it and then sounding whimsical, Klaus said, "Rebekah started them, but I finished it . . . It wasn't more than a few months before we were turned."

"Maybe that's why there were cave drawings next to them. They told the story of how you became vampires. It said one of your brothers was killed by werewolves. I just wasn't sure which brother it was."

He ducked his head before nodding to accept my condolences and then held his hand out for another piece of paper. When he read it, he paused before flicking his eyes in Stefan's direction. "When you said you were making her life Hell to keep her from finding out, what exactly did you mean?" And there was the sometimes older brother Klaus sneaking through. Stefan shrugged, like he didn't have a care in the world, and Klaus rolled his eyes before looking at me. "I could compel him to behave?"

Nope. I wanted that compulsion gone full-stop. It may not be because Stefan was mean to me and made school a lot harder than it already was, which was true by the way, but Klaus didn't have to know that I could live with that. I just didn't like Stefan being compelled. It made him a spy in our midst, and that wasn't good for him or us. Everything that'd been said and done had been leading to this moment. Klaus didn't think I'd really meant anything by what I'd done, because I'd been playing a game to see if I could beat him. He didn't think Stefan was a threat, because he didn't think Stefan could feel anything yet. He did think Stefan being compelled was starting to be troublesome, which was an annoyance he could do without. He should undo the compulsion with just the right amount of gentle prodding. "I could use Elijah as my new piano teacher."

Exhaling a laugh, as he looked down at the piece of paper, Klaus shook his head and eventually said, "Fine . . . you have my word." I handed him the final piece of paper, and he read it before saying, "Is this supposed to be a joke?"

No. I'd talk Elena into giving him a bag of her blood if it meant I could drop that coffin in the ocean. I had a bad feeling about that coffin. "Is that a no?" He gave me a look that said it was indeed a 'no,' and I said, "Is it all right if I hold onto that one for a while?"

He gave me a thoughtful look before glancing at the brothers. He seemed to know pretty quickly that they had no idea what I was talking about even though it was fairly obvious that Damon was already thinking of ways to use this coffin, because it was clear I wanted it for a reason . . . I think maybe my offer from a few nights ago might make him reconsider killing Klaus for a short while, but he was impatient and impulsive, and if he truly believed it was better for me if Klaus was dead, then he'd do anything to make sure Klaus was dead, so I couldn't tell him what I thought might be in it. It was strange, but I think Elena might be the only one who could figure it out based on the things I'd already told her, which of course meant I didn't want her knowing about it at all - more for her own protection than anything. The question was, how did I keep Damon from talking to her about it, or her from talking about it with Damon.

I was distracted from my thoughts when Klaus, pointed the folded piece of paper in my direction, as he turned to leave and said, "I'll consider it . . . but we need to have a chat . . . another time, perhaps. I'll send you an address where you can have the others delivered." Flicking another glance at Damon and Stefan as he passed them, he added with a smirk, "Gentleman . . . it's been a pleasure."

And half a minute later, he was gone. As soon as he was, and I was sure he was gone far enough not to hear, I doubled over to rest my hands on my knees and exhaled a sharp breath to relieve some of the stress I felt. That might be why I didn't see it coming when Damon turned around and suckerpunched Stefan. I looked over my shoulder at them as Stefan landed hard on the ground and Damon angrily said, "That's the plan you couldn't tell me? And how long has your humanity been back, you dick?" How he finally figured out Stefan's humanity was back for the most part, I don't know, but I'm guessing it was a brother thing I wouldn't understand.

Chapter Text

Turning to look at me from the passenger seat, Stefan considered the ramification of his words before finally just deciding to say, "You know, I'm a little surprised. I was expecting there to only be three coffins back there."

Why? Was it because he'd been expecting me to secret it away when he wasn't looking? I guess it was only fair that he'd think that. Before we got there, I'd thought the same thing about him. Why hadn't he been sure if he should say that to me? Did he think that him bringing it up would suddenly give me an idea I hadn't already had? Maybe he hadn't wanted to insinuate that I was the kind of person who would do such a thing. That was laughable, because of course I was. I just had no idea what to do with that stupid coffin, and that is why I hadn't moved it.

My idea when we took it had been simple - throw it in the ocean in the event that what I thought was in there was actually in there. Klaus said 'no,' to that idea, and I guess I should probably respect that. The next best option I had was to hand it back over to him once Stefan was free of his compulsion. Until then, it was a good insurance policy to have if we wanted to make sure Klaus followed through on the promises he'd made. Once he did what he said he was going to do, the fourth coffin would be of no further use to me. It'd simply turn into a casket-sized millstone around my neck, because the only thing that could be done with it was to hide it so well that nobody would ever find it.

Klaus could do that better than me, so as soon as I was sure that's what he'd do if it couldn't be destroyed and too dangerous to him to be discarded, then he should definitely take on the responsibility for it. I didn't want to always be thinking about whether it'd been stolen by someone else when I wasn't there. I didn't want my life to revolve around a coffin. The problem was what was I supposed to do with it until I gave it back? I knew two vampires who would be more than happy to crack it open and see what was inside.

Leaving it where it was seemed like the best option for now. Besides, it's not like the logistics involved in the stealing of a coffin would be very easy for me to do on my own. I couldn't just ask Jeremy or Matt to help me move it, because none of these people could keep a secret. I couldn't just pay some moving men to get it, because how would I explain having a coffin hidden down in the basement of an abandoned house. I guess it was almost Halloween, so I could've used that as an excuse, but all they would've been able to do was carry it from the house to a moving van, and then I would've had to take it from there, because I didn't want any witnesses knowing where the coffin's destination was.

No matter how much someone was paid to keep quiet, something told me the conversation of moving a coffin from an abandoned house to a crypt in an abandoned cemetery might be a good topic to discuss at a bar or maybe even the police station, where anyone could overhear it. That meant that even if I had help getting it to the van I'd have transport it on my own. Then I'd have to get it out of the van, drag it from there to the crypt, and then set all the anti-witch, anti-vampire, and anti-human booby traps I could to make sure the place was secure when I left. I had most definitely thought about doing all of that, but it took time to pull something like that off, and I hadn't had much time before Tyler stopped by with the address of where we were supposed to take the Original Vampires.

I was also doing everything I could to keep the importance of that coffin quiet. Right now, we were all on the same page about doing whatever it took to get Stefan uncompelled, so the fourth coffin was relatively safe where it was. If I took it before Stefan was free of Klaus, then it'd pretty much confirm in unspoken words that I thought that whatever was in it would kill Klaus, since they all knew my stance on that. Was there a chance that the coffin might be stolen by Damon, while Stefan and I took these other three back to Klaus, or that Stefan would steal it as soon as he was free? Yeah, but until one of us made a move, we were all on the same team.

If I got to it first, then it would be to give it back to Klaus, and the two of them would be annoyed that I'd squandered an opportunity to use it against Klaus. If Damon took it, he'd be mindful of the fact that Klaus would most likely hold me responsible for the coffin disappearing, so he'd want it open if it meant killing Klaus to protect me. He'd also be more likely to give it back to Klaus if opening it took too long. I didn't know what Stefan would do if he got to it first. He was angry, and Klaus had taken the most from him, so he might go into an all out war with Klaus over it, and in war, there was always collateral damage.

It could become a race between Stefan I to get back to the fourth coffin, but no matter how fast I drove, I wouldn't beat Stefan there. I didn't know how far a vampire could run at top speed - if they were like cheetahs or humans - I'm pretty sure humans were the only animals that could run long distances at a sustained speed, and vampires were at one time humans, so knowing my luck, he'd just vampire sprint there, or he'd call Damon and tell Damon he was free, so Damon could snatch it. While I should want to keep that from happening, I mostly convinced myself that I should start getting used to the idea that I was going to have to react to a missing coffin than think I was being proactive in dealing with it only to find that I'd failed when I got there and the coffin was missing.

Of course, I was going to check in case they hadn't gone after it at all, but I wasn't going to get bent out of shape if they did steal it. It seemed almost inevitable at this point. I needed to plan on how to impede their progress in opening it or protect people who got caught in the crossfire with Klaus. That seemed to be a more valuable use of my mental capacity and time - or not. Maybe I should just vervain Stefan, go back there, somehow get it from the basement to the back of the truck, and hand it over to Klaus with the other 3 coffins. How the hell was I supposed to do any of that? I'd have to go get a dolly of some kind to even attempt it, and even then it'd be difficult, possibly impossible for me to do in the time I had before Stefan woke up from his nap.

I flipped the turn signal on and prepared to turn left as I said, "I'm fine with where it is for now."

"Damon has a theory."

"I'm sure he does."

He waited until we turned, before saying, "He thinks that whatever is in that fourth coffin will kill Klaus, and that's why you won't say what's in it."

Well, the last thing I was going to do was confirm or deny that. "Well, it is spelled shut, so it's not like I know for sure what's in there."

"That doesn't mean you don't have a good idea of what's in it. You do seem to have a habit of gathering information from everyone, like some kind of intel magpie, and then holding onto all of it for yourself."

I'm fairly certain that's the first time I'd ever been called a magpie. I glanced at Stefan over my shoulder. "Why does it matter? When I give it back to him, then - "

He told me to go right at the next stop sign before saying, "Eve, you can't just give back the only piece of leverage we have on him."

"I don't want to have a war with Klaus. Innocent people are always collateral damage in wars."

"Eve, he needs to pay for what he's done."

Turning right, I tried, "And what about the people close to you that he hurts in retaliation for what you do?"

"What, you mean Damon? That's not - "

"Going to happen? Yeah, you don't that, and I was actually talking about Elena this time."

"She's safe . . . Imelda will see to that."

"There's more than one way to hurt her. What about the people around her? What if she loses Caroline or Bonnie or anyone else that she has left? Are you prepared - "

"You're damn right I am. If it means - "

Giving him a pointed look, I cut him off by saying, "And maybe that's why I won't have Klaus undo his compulsion. Maybe I'll tell him I've changed my mind and want a pony to go with the bouncy castle, TV and X-Box."

He leaned closer with a challenging glare. "You wouldn't."

"If it's better for everyone not involved, then I might."

He studied me for a few seconds before finally sitting back in his seat with a frustrated sigh. Looking out the passenger side window, he grumbled, "Yeah, well if you think I'm unbearable now, just wait and see how I am if you do." There was an awkward silence for at least a minute before he muttered, "First thing I'll do is kill your pony."

He would not kill my imaginary pony. "You do that, and I'll kill you."

Focusing his attention outside the window, Stefan shook his head. "Not with Damon - "

"Nope. If you cross that line, then you are done."

It was almost like he suddenly realized what we were talking about, because his attention rapidly came back to me, so he could see how serious I was being. "That's your line?" I shrugged a shoulder, and he quickly said, "All the things you've seen me do, and you'd - "

"Put you down in an instant if you killed my pony."

He opened his mouth to respond, and then realized he didn't have anything to say to that, so he still looked a little dumbfounded as he sat back to face the front. A second later, he chuckled before looking back over in my direction. "How serious are you being?"

Honestly? "I'm not really sure."

"On like a scale of 1 to 10, how much of a line would that actually be for you?"

If Stefan killed my imaginary pony, I'd be sorely tempted, but there was a chance Damon could talk me out of it if he anticipated what I was going to do before I did it. "An 8?"

He breathed out another laugh before shaking his head and looking back out the side window. A minute later, he asked, "What would that have been before you met my brother?"

"What do you mean?"

Giving me a side glance, he finally said, "I mean if that's your line now, what would your line have been before you met him?"

No, Stefan, Damon is not the reason why my line in the sand moves depending on the vampire and maybe even disappears for others. "0 out of 10 for the people my mother killed."

Looking a little more sober, as he remembered who my Mom was, Stefan said, "You seriously had no issues with it when she killed people?"

"I didn't say that. I said there is no line she could have crossed that would make me kill her."

Slowly nodding in understanding, Stefan said, "So you did have issues with her killing people?"

"I had issues when she snapped and killed random people, because I couldn't stop her from doing it, but that was more about me than her, and I didn't have issues with it when she went hunting, because I knew what she was looking for when she did hunt."

"So, Damon - "

"Is a 0 out of 10."

"Do you have any idea how many people - "

"Yep. And I know how many people he's killed since I've met him. 4. Not long after I met him, I gave him the woman who owned the farmhouse where the tomb vampires took you knowing he'd have to kill her to get in the house. It didn't bother me. I guess it still doesn't. I still think it might have been a mercy killing, and I didn't kill her. He did, but he seems pretty sure that I shouldn't have just handed her over to him like that, or at least not the way I did without a second thought. Then there's when he killed Jeremy, and he killed the 2 people Rebekah compelled to drag me out of the bar in Chicago. I think of them as mercy killings too. He was seriously tempted to kill someone the night Rose died, but that was before he realized that I'd disappeared, and then he spent the night looking for me. He's also been tempted during a couple of our game nights, but he hasn't."

"And other vampires? What's your line on them?"

That was a little harder to explain. "Honestly?" I glanced at him, and he nodded, so I thought about it. "I've grown pretty calloused over the years. It used to be a 10 out of 10 when I found dead victims, but that's when I was 12 or 13 and before I got used to seeing the bodies. Plus, it was before Mom turned. Now it's 0 out of 10 for the victims I come across after they've been killed. Again, I didn't kill them, and I can use them to find what did, so I can stop it from happening to someone else, but when I kill those vampires, it's more about the victims of the future rather than the victims that are already dead, because there's nothing I can do for the dead ones."

Voice devoid of emotion, as he pointed me down another side street, Stefan said, "And the victims of the future . . . if they become the present, then - "

Tired of beating around the bush, I said, "Yes, if I didn't know Damon, I would have killed you by now."

I glanced at him over my shoulder, and he diverted his gaze out the window. "You should've done it . . . you had so many opportunities you didn't take because of my brother, and now you're doing the same thing with Klaus and for the same reason."

I didn't like that sentiment all that much. He wouldn't do anything to Damon, but that didn't mean he wouldn't think of ways he could use Damon to get me to agree to whatever it was he wanted to do about anything, not just Klaus. He wasn't stable right now. He was okay one second and weird the next. Who knew what was running through his mind in any given moment. "The first couple of days it was about Damon, but if you want to know why you're sitting here right now, it's because of Klaus." His eyes flicked in my direction, and I said, "There's only so much I can take, whether it's for Damon or not, and you used that up in about 60 hours, but I knew Klaus wouldn't allow me to kill you, and I needed to stay alive if I was going to find a permanent solution to him."

Turning back to me, he quickly exclaimed, "Then you know what needs to be done!"

"Yeah, but I haven't found a way to do it without killing him."

"You can't seriously believe Isobel - "

"I can, and I do. I also know there are better ways of going about this than to steal his coffin and yell 'nana nana boo boo, you can't catch me' at him, because that's essentially what this is going to turn into . . . child."

"Are you kidding me? You asked for a freaking bouncy castle. How is that not squandering the best chance we've had at getting him out of town?"

"It served the larger purpose of getting you out from under his compulsion."

"Yeah, and the fourth coffin is still in our possession, so we can use that as leverage, the same way you're using it now to make sure he gives into your other demands without really saying it. If the other three coffins are the carrot, it seems to me that the fourth coffin is the stick, and for it to be the stick, it has to be something that can hurt him."

Sighing, I focused on the road, while biting my tongue, so I didn't give too much away, even though I knew my non-response was an answer in and of itself, which was apparent in the way Stefan relaxed before sitting back in his seat. "Any idea how to get it open?" I threw him a look for trying his luck, and he looked out the side window again with a slight nod. "What'd you ask him for in return for that one?" I gave him another similar look to the one I'd just given him. There's no way I was going to tell him I wanted that thing dropped in the middle of the ocean. It'd only confirm what he and Damon already suspected, and I only had another 5 minute to try and talk him out of whatever he was thinking of doing.

Chapter Text

Climbing out of the truck, I still had no idea what Stefan was going to do, but I might as well sell this like all was well in world and would remain that way for the foreseeable future. Tossing Klaus the keys to the rental van, I waited until he caught them before smiling sweetly and saying, "3 Originals, as promised." Not paying much heed to the greeting, Klaus went around to the back of the van to lift the door, and as Stefan moved to the front of the van, I shared a look with him. His expression was unreadable. Mine pretty much told him one last time to behave.

I quickly returned to an easy going facade when I heard Klaus jump down at the back. He waved some people who were standing on the porch over, and they started taking the coffins into a mansion. Either he had no problem with anyone knowing his family's whereabouts, or the people were from out of town, and he'd compelled them to help him move and renovate. They'd forget all about this job if they were compelled. Maybe he was simply going to kill them when they were done, or what he was paying them would prevent them from saying anything about what they saw or heard here. It could easily be any one of the above with him.

I'm guessing that getting more hybrids would be on his agenda soon, but first he was setting up a place to live here in Mystic Falls and getting his family back. Then, he might be further distracted if Stefan decided to take that fourth casket. Eventually, he was going to want more of Elena's blood, and Elena wasn't with Imelda all the time. That was a problem for another day. Today's problem was getting Stefan uncompelled. Although I was seriously tempted not to go through with that, because I had no idea what he was going to do with his freedom, it seemed like helping him was the right thing to do. I suppose I was just hoping for the best and had to start planning for the worst at this point.

I watched as Klaus walked around the other side of the van to get to Stefan. "You understand this isn't for you? You haven't earned it."

I'd lied by omission to him too, but I guess maybe there were two differences between Stefan doing it and me doing it. One, was the more obvious reason that Elena was my sister, and that gave me something of a free pass, whereas she was just Stefan's girlfriend, so he didn't get that same pass in Klaus's book. The second, was that Klaus had really considered Stefan a friend, and that betrayal was felt more keenly by Klaus than a betrayal by me would've been. Stefan silently nodded in response to Klaus with a look that said he knew that, and maybe he'd show he was contrite if he felt it, but he couldn't, because he didn't feel anything. It was a nice little piece of acting by him.

A moment later, and with a sigh, Klaus placed his hand on Stefan's shoulder, and looked him in the eyes, while saying, "You no longer have to do as I say."

With a short breath of relief, Stefan took a step back, and glanced at me. His hand went into his pocket, and a moment later he was tossing me a small object. "I don't know what that is, but I found it on the body of that hunter I killed. You might want to look into it."

I just took my eyes off of him for as long as it took for me to catch whatever he'd thrown, and he used the opportunity to vampire sprint his ass right out of there. He was going to get that coffin, wasn't he? Awesome. I threw an annoyed look at Klaus, and he chuckled. "Well, that's gratitude for you." Nodding towards my closed hand, he asked, "What is it?"

"It's, uh," Looking at it again, I said, "A dice cube, but it's not like one I've ever seen." I guess if Stefan was compelled to keep an eye on me without me knowing, it meant he couldn't tell me about it if he thought it might be dangerous, or if he thought me knowing about it would lead me in a direction of trouble? If this was problematic, then I'd rather know about it than not. Score 1 for him having his freedom back even if he was most likely using it to score a point for not having it back by keeping me preoccupied, while he stole Klaus's coffin. "I'm guessing it's been charmed in some way. There are little runes on it instead of dots." Turning it over in my hand, I added, "Something tells me if I roll this die, I might not like what happens if it lands on at least half the sides . . . that's the way it works with magic, doesn't it? For every good thing, there has to be a bad thing to balance it out?" When I looked up at him, Klaus had stepped closer and was staring at the cube, but his jaw was clenched. My eyes narrowed as I said, "You know what this is, don't you?"

Throwing me a brief smile, he said, "Why don't you ask your One-eyed witch what it is?"

"Well, who do you think sent the hunter in the first place?"

His eyebrows rose. "Ah, and I take it she doesn't know her hunter is dead, but if you show up with that, she will."

Yep. I certainly didn't want to be the one to tell her. As long as she thought the hunter was alive, she wouldn't call anymore hunters. Looking back down at the dice cube, I said, "Is he dead?" My eyes shot up to Klaus as I briefly lifted the cube in his direction and said, "This doesn't work like my ring, does it? Like if you roll 1 rune, then you get to come back. You roll a side with 6 runes, you don't?" I went back to looking at the cube and muttered, "Maybe a 2 gives me extra strength, or a 3 gives me speed, something like that?"

A slow smile spread across his face. "So this is how that mind of yours connects things."

I shrugged before looking back down at the object. "Maybe . . . Can this be destroyed?"

He seemed to relax as he became more inquisitive. "Why would you destroy it?"

Why lie? "I don't like it."

Sounding as though he wanted me to use my brain more, he said, "What's not to like? You don't even know what it is. You may find it quite useful."

"Well, my ring has a single purpose, but this seems to have multiple purposes, and some of those might be sinister, not to me, but people around me . . . good luck for me. Bad luck for them? I'm guessing it only works for humans . . . and I'm not entirely sure that its previous owner isn't going to come looking for it if he's not really dead . . . I don't want it."

"You have nothing to fear."

My eyes darted up to Klaus. "You think I'm making a decision based on emotion, but I'm not. I don't fear this object, and I don't fear this hunter, or anyone who knows what this thing is and may coming looking for it, but if he's only temporarily dead, and I have this, it does make him more dangerous than he already was, because it's no longer just that he wants to kill the vampires and hybrids in town along with any sympathizers he's seen. It's more personal if I have something he believes is his, and that will make him more relentless in his efforts to kill me until he gets it back. I'm not looking to go to war over an inanimate object . . . the people in my life, even if they're vampires? Yeah, I'd fight for them, but not this thing unless I knew for sure that it was worse for the world if he got it back."

Continuing to observe me, he offered, "I think it's better in your hands." Hm. Another small clue. He wasn't very forthcoming though. Picking up on something I'd said, his eyes narrowed as he asked, "Do you think he was sent for you?"

He didn't care if the guy had been. He was looking for ways he could use the information to his advantage and at the same time trying to make it look like that's not what he was doing. How should I respond to that? "I think Imelda is a bigot, and that she may have wanted me to move in with her, so I wouldn't be branded a sympathizer, but she also knows the history I have with vampires because of my Mom, so she brought in someone who would be able to deal with me if I got in the way . . . Stefan killed him, so I don't know how good he was. Maybe his abilities were all tied up in the luck he got from this."

There. That should answer his real question. He was smart enough to know Imelda was the One-Eyed Witch without having to ask, and that meant I was on at least a first name basis with her, and names were an important source of power in some magical circles, so that she trusted me enough to know it said a lot without having to say much. What I'd said also indicated that there was a part of Imelda that did like me if she wanted to protect me from the hunter, but not enough to overrule her hatred of vampires. He wasn't going to be able to use me to get her out of Elena's house, and she was strong enough in her convictions not to let him anywhere near Elena.

While he absorbed that, I went back to studying the item and said, "There's taking a chance on something and then there's putting all your faith in chance. Someone who used this all the time would have to be a risk taker, but that's not who this guy was. He staked out the boarding house for a few days before he followed us to the Lockwood mansion. He was mindful of the perimeter I'd set up. That tells me he was cautious. If this isn't intended for constant use, it's at least intended as a hail mary, something to be used as a last resort when nothing else will work, and that tells me it's not safe to use on a regular basis, which means there is powerful magic surrounding this, and it's probably dark magic . . . having weapons that are charmed to add a little extra kick when you use them is one thing. This is entirely different."

"You don't feel a pull to use it?"

I slowly shook my head before looking up at him. He seemed unsure of my response, and that told me all I needed to know about this cursed object. Anything that compelled you to use it wasn't good, especially if it was an inanimate object. Sticking my hand into one of my jacket pockets, I pulled out a little medicine bag I'd made for me. I might be holding onto Elijah's pin in case one of my supernatural friends or sister needed it, but that only did so much to protect me from Imelda and whatever hunters she sent my way with magical extras. "I made this. It protects me from magic." He went to to reach for it, and I pulled it away from him, while saying, "It's sort of doing a job right now, or I'd let you see it."

Seeming to be amused by that, he twirled his finger to indicate he wanted me to spin it, so he could see the markings on the back. I did, and his eyes narrowed as examined it. "If that's what I think it is, then I haven't seen one in a very long time. How did you - "

"I found it in one of my Mom's research books. I could show it to you."

Grinning, like he knew something I didn't, he said, "That's quite all right."

"It was really old. Did you write it?"

His smile grew as he said, "I did not, but I know who did."

There were no names on it. It was really more of a handwritten journal than a research book. "Who?"

"I'm sure you'll find it if you look hard enough." Great. Something else to occupy my mind on top of figuring out what to do about the hunter, this magic cube, Imelda, the Original Witch, school, and Stefan. Don't get me wrong. I'd been looking all summer for a purpose, and I was starting to get a clearer picture of what that was, but it was a lot of things to be juggling at once, and that meant one of them might get dropped. I couldn't really afford for that to happen on any of the important ones.

My eyes flicked back down to the magical die lying in the palm of my hand. "You're not going to tell me what this is, are you?"

"I have no doubts that you'll have it figured out in no time without my help."

"Mm." I stuck the cube and the medicine bag in my pocket and said, "You sound like Aunt Kat."

It took him a few moments to piece together who I was talking about. "Katerina? I am nothing like that traitorous - Did you just call her Aunt?"

I did enjoy catching him by surprise. It felt like an accomplishment simply because nothing should catch him by surprise anymore. "Yeah, she didn't exactly like being called the worst great-grandmother on the planet, so she got my Mom to have me start calling her Aunt. Sometimes the habit is hard to break."

"You kept your relationship with her hidden."

"Yep."

Sounding annoyed, Klaus said, "Until now. Why?"

"You wouldn't do me a solid out of the goodness of your heart and just forget about her, would you? I don't like waiting for her to ask for something in return for the things she sometimes does for me, because I know for sure if she has to ask, it's not going to be something I want to do."

And he might be annoyed, but he also didn't like the idea of me owing her any more than I did. "And why do you owe her?"

"Well, she did tell you my Dad took me out of town and helped you use Jenna in my place for the ritual . . . I have no idea why, but she must be saving it up for something big, and I do not want to owe her for that."

Rolling his eyes he answered, "I haven't gone looking for her at any point since I let her deliver the cure to Stefan's insufferable brother."

"I know. You've been all about the hybrids, but she has a tendency to think she's the center of the universe, so she doesn't need to know that you don't care if you ever see her again, just that I did something for her."

Looking away from me, he went back to looking annoyed. "Fine. I will maintain the status quo by continuing not to look for her, but if I see her again, I will kill her."

"Yeah, good luck with that. She has a way of getting out of almost anything. I almost killed her once. I'd say that's the closest she's come to it in a while, and yet she's still out there."

Relaxing when he looked back at me, he asked, "And was this before or after the Sun and Moon Ritual?"

"Before . . . See, she staked me and left me for dead, knowing somehow that I wouldn't die, and then she went after my dad. I tried to kill her a few weeks later . . . We were even until she told you I was out of town with Dad. Now we're uneven in the opposite direction. She also told Damon we were in Chicago, and I thought me telling her that she should get out of town because there was a hunter here would pay her back for one of those things, but then she went and had Stefan kill the hunter, so I'm lagging behind again."

"None of those things are worthy of you owing her anything."

"She won't see it that way."

"Why don't you?"

"I don't know how to explain it. I just don't want to be indebted to her or to get used to her doing things like that for me, because the next time I see her, she could very well stake me again. It's a complicated relationship . . . She's family and yet not. I don't really understand it at all."

Finding something he could relate to in all of that, he nodded and said, "Complicated family, I understand . . . You never did say what happened to your father, by the way."

He was forever poking that wound to try and find the answer. It was almost like if he knew the secret behind my Dad's death, he'd understand my motivations or actions better. Now that he knew Elena was alive, there was no reason not to tell him anymore. "Bonnie tied his life force to Elena, so when Elena died, his life force went to her, and he died instead."

His eyebrows arched as he processed that. "I killed Elena in the ritual, so . . . " I shrugged a shoulder in response. Yeah, that's pretty much why I'd put the blame for Dad's death on him. "And if he died to bring her back, that's why you never told me how he died. We haven't actually spoken yet about - "

"Don't even start on me with that whole 'You deceived me,' thing you having going on with Stefan. How forthcoming with me were you about what was in that container truck that followed us around all the time?"

His eyes narrowed into a slight glare as he considered it, but a second later his shoulders dropped. "Fair enough." Turning, and changing the subject all together, he gestured towards the front door. "Come on. I want to show you the house."

Ugh, being around him was really stressful. I could only do it and keep up the act that I was fine being around him for short periods of time, and even then I needed a bit of a break in between visits. Besides, I had a coffin I needed to check on sooner rather than later. "I don't know. I have people waiting for me at home. Wouldn't want them sending a search party with pitchforks and torches."

Unfazed, he turned toward his house saying, "I'm sure they won't notice you being gone another 20 minutes."

That coffin would definitely be gone by the time I was done here. I forced myself to accept that, because it wasn't safe for me to tip Klaus off on it before I got away from him. Might as well play along for now. We walked through the front door, and he seemed to want to know what my thoughts were, so the first thing I said as I looked around at the big empty space was, "How are you going to fill it?"

"I'll leave that to an interior decorator."

"Yeah, but that's for style . . . I would've thought living on the run for 1000 years would mean you'd have to be ready to drop everything and go at a moment's notice. Do you really have that many things that mean something to you that you can put around the place?"

Looking around, he muttered, "No, I suppose not . . . You think it's too big."

"Just a tad. Even for 5 vampires."

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't you live in a boarding house? Sure, the floor space of this one is bigger, but - "

With a look, I stopped him by saying, "Tell me, you're not living here because it has more square feet than the boarding house."

Rocking back on his heels as he stuck his hands in his pockets and looked around, he quietly said, "There's nothing wrong with me wanting to live in the bigger, better, house."

"Sure there is." He looked down at me, and I said, "It's an unnecessary taunt."

"It's showing that I'm the better man."

"It's a pissing contest that doesn't need to start."

Chuckling as he went left to show me into another room, he said, "It's one that's already started. You just haven't taken note of it yet."

"Yeah, no, I get that there is one, but it's one you started, so instead of escalating it, just leave it be now that things are square."

Looking down at me over his shoulder, he asked, "And are they square?"

I held my breath, while I thought about that one. For sure, I knew they weren't with Damon or Stefan. Looking up at him, I meekly tried, "They are with me?"

"So, you're saying that what you did to my hybrids equates to what I did to your parents?"

"No. You didn't care about your hybrids. Bet you didn't even know all their names, since you essentially wanted them as canon fodder. As long as Elena's alive, you know you can get more, or you'd be a lot more upset they're gone than you seem to be."

"Then we're not square."

I mulled it over as I considered what exactly, I should tell him. "We are. I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out the blame for my Dad's death, and I don't think it's really on you. Sometimes I blame Elena too even though I know it's just as unfair. A lot of the time, I blame Bonnie, and I think that's probably right considering the role she played in it, but the more distance I get from it, the more I realize that I blame Dad the most, because it was his idea, and it was his choice to do it, and at the same time, I understand why he did it and don't want to take away from something heroic he did for one of his children even if that child wasn't me . . . I guess it's the grieving process? I don't really know."

I looked up at him to see if I was right, and he was watching me, but didn't give any indication of whether he thought I was right or not. Looking away from him, I sighed. "Anyway, with Mom . . . you are directly responsible for her death, but magic in this town went haywire a few weeks ago. The divide between the living and the dead monster realm broke down for a day, so she made a come back and told me I had protect you, and if she can forgive you, then I can, so that's what I've done."

After hesitating a brief moment, he finally dipped his head to let me know he'd consider the notion that I forgave him before saying, "So what she said to you is why you spared my life." I nodded even though it'd been a statement more than a question. "Why did she tell you to protect me?"

"I can't tell you that."

He thought it over and decided to leave it for now. "That wouldn't happen to be why you want to drop my fourth coffin in the ocean, would it?"

"Yes."

I think the bluntness of my answer gave him pause. "Do you know what's in it?"

"I think the reason there was a ghost outbreak in town has something to do with it . . . One soul, in particular, had a place to go when it got out, didn't it?" He went rigid in what I would call momentary fear before he swallowed it back down, and I added, "I'd suggest getting rid of it rather than letting it hang around for someone to open, because when there is a will, there is a way, and there's a pretty strong will out there to kill you, but if you just can't bring yourself to part with it, then prepare to see her again, and know that no matter what she says, she is not on your side . . . she's manipulative and conniving, and she has had 1000 years to come up with a plan on what to do about her monster-children."

"Children?"

There was that look of sadness again. He really could do sad, puppy dog eyes just about as well anyone I'd ever seen. "Yeah, it won't just be you. It'll be all of you."

"How do you know all of this?"

"She's working with Imelda, and I've pieced it together from conversations I've had with her and information I had about you." Rumors of 3, 4, or 5 Original Vampires, that's what I'd heard from my Mom for I don't know how long. Damon said there were 5 coffins in the lock up in Chicago. I didn't think anything of it until Imelda said she couldn't find the Original Witch after the ghost mishap, but Klaus was never in one of those coffins, so why were there 5? There was one too many, because that'd make 6 Original Vampires.

I'd hit a bit of a hitch in my theory when I first saw there were 5 children's names written on that cave wall, but then I figured out one of the 5 kids had been killed by a werewolf from the cave drawings, and my theory was back. Klaus's Mom's soul may have moved on, but her body had been preserved in a sort of stasis, the way my ring did with my body if I died. When the ring did that, my body had to wait until my spirit returned for me to come back. I assume it was the same with The Original Witch; hence the reason for the ghost jail break. I was pretty sure she'd wake up the second that coffin opened.

With a sharp in-take of air, Klaus nodded before looking away from me. Running a hand down his face, while he quickly tried to find a solution to a problem he was only just now starting to realize he had, he looked a little panicked, but tried to hide it as he said, "She's the reason the One-Eyed Witch moved into the doppelganger's house."

"Yep."

Turning his attention back on me, he said, "If they are working together, it may be contrary to what your mother told you to do, but you're still using that to your advantage, while you can."

"For now."

His eyes flitted back and forth in thought as he looked down in thought. "And the Bennet witch? Is she still without her powers?"

"Imelda sent her to talk to her mother, so she could figure out how to get her powers back."

Flicking a gaze in my direction, he said, "Did it work?"

"I don't know. We aren't exactly close."

A thought struck him, but he didn't fill me in on what it was. Instead, he looked around the room, like he was seeing it for the first time and said, "I was thinking about turning this into a reading room."

"It's awfully bright, isn't it?"

His shoulders dropped, as he shook his head. "You're not going to like anything about this house, are you?"

"I prefer dark and cozy . . . but it's not about what I want. It's about what you want, not what you want to show off, but what makes you feel comfortable in your down time, and if this does, then more power to you." Taking a look out of the window, I added, "I like the grounds though . . . they're quite nice."

"Eve?"

It got my attention. "Hm?"

"I'll take my coffin back . . . I think I know what to do with it."

Brilliant. Too bad it was probably already gone. "Then you've met the price I have on it. I'll bring it tomorrow."

Chapter Text

"Hey."

I barely looked up at Elena as my attention returned to the tiny object in my hand. "Hey."

Sitting next to me on the blanket, she had a look at what held my interest and asked what you'd expect. "What's that?"

"I don't know." Careful to place the dice cube on the blanket instead of dropping it, so it didn't think I was rolling it, I said, "Stefan found it on that hunter he killed . . . or maybe didn't kill. I don't know if this brought the hunter back or will if it's used again or what is up with this thing, but there's something kind of sinister about it." I glanced over my shoulder at Elena and added, "I think it's supposed to make humans want to use it. I don't know if it's a constant thing or if it's only in times of trouble or what it is, but I don't think any inanimate object should make you feel like you have to use it . . . Do you feel like you have to use it?"

Looking at it, she shook her head. "No."

"What about if you touch it?"

"Are you experimenting on me?"

I shrugged a shoulder. "Well, you're human, but not, like a witch, so I'm guessing that might make it not want you to be its owner. I think it's meant for humans only. I've got my hex bag on me, so it's not affecting me. I just want to test my theory, and it's probably better if I don't do it on myself."

Rolling her eyes, she stuck out her forefinger and poked it before pulling her hand back and shaking her head again. "Nope."

My eyes narrowed as I watched her. She seemed annoyed that I was acting so cautious about an inanimate object, but she didn't really look like she was waiting for an opportunity to run off with it saying, 'My precious.' "Okay. Do you think you could take it for me? I think we should keep it hidden by switching it back and forth between us. Just don't let any humans touch it or let Imelda know you have it. I made a medicine bag to keep it in when you're around her, so it should dim it's power as long as it's in it."

Starting to take me a little more seriously, she asked, "You really think this is a problem?"

"It might be."

"More of a problem than Klaus is right now?"

Except I didn't think Klaus was the problem right now. Stefan was. He took off with that fourth coffin before I could get back to it. I'd known that he was probably going to do that, so that wasn't as much of a surprise as how I found out that he'd taken it. That came in the form of a lovely phone call I'd gotten from Klaus after I'd just left his house and was on my way to check on said coffin.

It would appear the first rule in the Salvatore's playbook was to do something to piss off someone stronger than them and then immediately tell that person they'd done it. Their complete lack of impulse control was astounding sometimes. There was a difference between doing what Stefan had and rubbing a win in Klaus's face by doing a victory dance the way I had, because the victory dance was never intended to be a direct challenge to Klaus. It'd been meant to keep Klaus's temper in check and his attention on my audacious behavior, not what was really important.

Actually, it would appear that my little act had been more beneficial to me than I'd thought it would be at the time. It had worked so well, that Klaus really believed I was essentially a child and felt the need to give me a lecture on being more careful with a trophy that I was supposed to be responsible for keeping safe. Then he told me that he was relieving me of the duty of getting the trophy back from Stefan. I still had to worry about what happened to the people caught in the middle of their little fight, but somehow, I'd pretty much been let off the hook for now. I wasn't sure how I felt about that.

I didn't like being overlooked as unimportant, but my plan had worked - maybe a little too well? I guess I could use that. All of Klaus's attention was on Stefan, because Stefan could be an out right prick when he wanted to be. He was being pretty blatant about it too. I wouldn't be surprised if I heard at some point that Klaus's mansion had gone up in flames in the middle of the night, but Damon was the one looking out for Stefan this time, so to get around him, Stefan would have to be more wily than him, and I don't think he was creative enough to do that. Bet the idea of burning Klaus's mansion down hadn't even occurred to him yet.

At any rate, Damon was preoccupied with Stefan. Stefan was preoccupied with Klaus, and Klaus was preoccupied with both of them, so it pretty much left me on my own to do whatever I wanted to do, and what I wanted to do was figure out this magical dice cube and the growing witch problem in this town. "Possibly. It could also be nothing. Maybe it'll help, but I don't think it should be used unless we know for sure that if it is used, it won't have some kind of negative effect. Right now, my theory is that if you roll it, and something good happens for you, something bad happens to someone else around you."

Paying more attention the cube, Elena's asked, "What do you mean?"

"I mean, like let's say, you're a hunter who is fighting a vampire, you lose all your weapons for whatever reason, or you're caught unprepared, and you need a little boost. If you roll the dice, maybe it'll give you extra speed, and take it from the vampire you're fighting, so the vampire slows down, you speed up, and you win." I glanced at the cube and said, "But I don't only fight vampires. I'm also friends with some, which might throw this thing out of whack. What if it takes speed or strength from a vampire I'm friends with instead, someone like Caroline, and it weakens her when she can't afford for it to do that?" My eyes narrowed, as I stared at the mini-cursed object and said, "But that's not what concerns me the most. What if you roll it and get something that does nothing for your speed or strength. What if you roll the wrong thing, and it kills you? Or what if it helps you heal from a life-threatening wound, or you roll it just before you die, and it lands on a side that will bring you back from dying? It might heal you by giving that injury to someone else, or it might take that life from someone else and give it to you. It wouldn't be a vampire or werewolf life - more like a human life for a human life."

Elena's eyes shot open as she looked up at me. "It could really do all that?"

"Maybe. I don't think it would work like my ring with no strings attached. There's the potential for great reward, but risk is inherent to the roll of any die. If you're playing Monopoly, and roll the wrong thing, you could land in jail or on Boardwalk when your opponent has hotels on it. If you're playing a game where you place bets on what you roll, then the likelihood of losing money is high. A million dollars to a billionaire isn't much. A million dollars to just about anyone else is. If you don't care about the life of yourself or others if it means killing your prey, then the risk won't matter to you anymore than that million dollars does to a billionaire. You'd roll this without giving it a second thought."

Looking at the cube, like she was starting to see it as dangerous, she shook her head. "But I thought you said a witch couldn't kill someone with magic."

While she wasn't looking at me, I took the opportunity to roll my eyes. Why did nobody ever listen to me? Using this wasn't all that different from what Bonnie had done to bring her back. "I also said there were loopholes . . . or maybe whoever made this used really dark magic to make it. If you don't get your magic from nature, you can find ways around its rules."

Exhaling, Elena said, "I could take this to Bonnie and see what she thinks."

Yeah, I didn't trust that witch not tell Elena it was safe to use if she knew I might be using it. "When did she - "

"We didn't think - I mean after what happened, I thought it might be better if you didn't know if - "

I drolly cut her off. "Sure, I get it. Why notify the victim when her attacker is getting out on probation?" She looked worried, and I relaxed. "Look, I get it. You don't want me to try and short-circuit her magic again, but doing what I did wouldn't work twice, because she'd be aware of what I was doing. If that means she's learned not to lose control of her powers to keep it from happening again, then her lesson's been learned, and the world is a safer place."

Elena hesitated before slowly nodding and then bowed her head as she said, "She doesn't have all or even most of her powers back, but she says talking to her Mom is helping. Her Mom lost her magic too. I guess her Mom thinks nature did it as punishment for leaving Bonnie, and deep down, she didn't want the magic anymore, so it was a little of both, and it's the same for Bonnie. Nature didn't like something she did, and maybe deep down, Bonnie doesn't think she deserves her magic either." Flicking me a glance, she added, "The way you said."

She was looking at me, so I fought the urge to roll my eyes that time. "If you take it to her, don't tell her I'm looking into this. I don't want - "

"She wouldn't tell you to use it if she thought - "

"Yeah, well she did kill me, so my trust in her is a little low."

It was Elena's turn to roll her eyes as she reached for the cube. I quickly stopped her by picking it back up and saying, "Nobody can know about this. I don't have it all figured out yet, but I do know it's powerful, and that means if that hunter isn't dead, he'll want it back. If he is dead, then other people who know about it will come looking for it when they find out he's dead. Imelda can't - "

"I haven't said anything about what Stefan did to that hunter. I know she'll just call more hunters if she knows he's dead." Elena's eyes flicked to the cube, as she amended that. "Or potentially dead."

I hesitated before dropping the cube in her hand, and added, "And I'm sure it's way too late to say it, because none of you can seem to keep your mouths shut, but no matter how weak they are right now, nobody should really know about Bonnie's powers resurfacing."

I pulled a small burlap bag full of those magic-weakening herbs out of my pocket, and Elena cautiously let the cursed die fall into it. No way was I just going to let that thing walk around in someone's pocket where it could easily fall out and wind up in the wrong hands. "Why can't anyone know about Bonnie?"

Placing the bag inside a small key safe, I'd bought, I answered, "I have my reasons, the least of which is that if Klaus knows, it will put her in danger."

She almost bit her tongue to keep from saying what she was thinking, but that lasted all of 2 seconds before she quickly said, "If you know something, you need to tell me."

Handing her the locked key safe, I responded, "I don't need to do anything."

"Eve, you tell me whatever it is right now, or - "

"No."

"Does it have something to do with what Stefan did?" I didn't immediately respond, and her eyes narrowed. "It does, doesn't it?"

With a sigh, I let her see my rolling eyes that time and finally said, "How am I supposed to know you won't help her if I tell you?"

"Eve, what is it?"

"What do you think it is?"

"I'm not playing games with - "

In complete exasperation, I cut her off. "I'm not playing a game! Use your freaking brain, Elena. Why do you think - "

"What I think is that you think she can open that coffin, and you don't want Klaus to know that, but more than that, you don't want Stefan to know, so he won't bring it to her. You know whatever is in it might kill Klaus, and you've already made your opinion on that quite clear."

"Hm." The corner of my mouth ticked up in a slight smirk before I said, "Not bad."

Her shoulders dropped as she relaxed. "Really?"

Giving her a slight smile of reassurance, I responded, "Yeah . . . Except I would also add that I think the reason nobody can find the stupid casket in the meantime is because Stefan went to Imelda despite my warnings that she would kill any vampire on sight."

Sitting forward in interest, Elena said, "But I think you were right about that. Just listening to her day in and day out, she seems fine - nice and funny - just someone who has had a hard life and is a little socially awkward, but then she comes out with these comments sometimes that are kind of shocking and show exactly how much hate she really has hidden underneath the person you think you know. So, how did Stefan go to a person like that without her killing him?"

Good question. I'm sure the answer would come in time, but until then, all I had were theories. "I don't know. Maybe he called your house phone and said, 'I've heard about you, and I've got something I think can kill, Klaus. Help me hide it and find a way to open it. Oh, by the way, I'm a vampire, so don't kill me when you see me.'"

"That sounds nothing like Stefan."

I exhaled a brief laugh and said, "I know . . . but I'm guessing something like that went down. He had to arrange the meeting from a distance. Maybe even talking on the phone would open him up to her powers, so he had a human go between, who helped set up their meeting."

"Could she really use her powers on him through the phone?"

I didn't have all the answers. "I don't know. Who knows what spells she's come up with over the years? Maybe a couple of words down the line would make him burst into flames."

Not liking the idea of that, Elena made a face. "So if someone delivered his message for him, do you think it was someone we know?"

"Maybe. It could've been anyone. He could've paid whoever it was to deliver a message."

Thinking through it, Elena asked, "Could he have compelled someone visiting from out of town to do it?"

"Well it isn't exactly something that he'd be above doing right now." Elena nodded, like that's what she'd thought, and I added, "But if he was being smart, then he would've known not to flaunt one of his vampire abilities in her face, so I'm thinking he used more conventional means, like simply asking or just paying someone to do it."

"And why would she help him? If she has a clear idea of what she thinks is right and wrong, then she wouldn't cross that line and help a vampire, would she? Why wouldn't she kill him on sight, or kill him once she got the coffin if she thought what was in it was important?"

That was a little harder to explain, but I suspected that Imelda had made her way into the gray way of living more than she'd wanted me to believe. Her part in bringing the Original Witch back hadn't been a mistake. She'd done it intentionally. I was sure of it, and I don't know why. It was just a feeling at this point, because I was missing a few key pieces of information.

It had something to do with the questions Klaus had asked me when I went to deliver the rest of his family to him. One of his questions, in particular, made me think that Bonnie was the key to opening that coffin some how. Sure Bonnie had gone to Imelda for help in getting her powers back before Imelda even knew about the Original Witch, but I felt like there was something more to the advice that Imelda had given to her now. "Well, that depends. Did Imelda tell Bonnie to talk to her Mom the first time they met?"

"No. It was in the car on the way here."

Nodding as I picked a dandelion out of the grass, I muttered, "That's what I thought." It pretty much confirmed what I'd already begun to suspect. Looking around us, I started to say, "We should - "

"Wait, that's it?"

"What's it? We haven't even started training yet. It'll be a little shorter today, but - "

"No, I mean, you can't just ask a question like that and keep what you're thinking to yourself."

"Why?"

"Because it's not what people do."

"Sure it is. I've seen plenty of shows with cops in them to know that during an interview, they don't say - "

"Well, this isn't an interview. I'm not a suspect, and you are definitely not a police officer . . . You can tell me what you're thinking, especially, if it has something to do with people I care about. What does any of this have to do with Bonnie? I know there's more, and you're not - "

I didn't particularly take being badgered very well. Bringing up the same topic until I was worn down over an extended period of time? Sure. Dropping hints and hoping I could verify something I wanted someone to know if they guessed it? Of course. Getting yelled at by someone? Yeah. Being nagged until I relented? Not so much. "Just stop talking!" I threw her a look, and she glared at me. "I don't feel comfortable talking to you about it. I told you about the cursed object. Isn't that enough?"

"No. It's not. Why can't you just - "

"Because that's sort of important, but not really important, and I want to see how you do on the not so important things before I go telling you about important things."

Sitting back, she looked vexed, but calmly said, "You still don't trust me."

"Nope."

Her shoulders dropped as I confirmed her statement. "Why not?"

"For starters, I don't know you."

She wanted to agree with that, but still felt the need to argue, "You've known about me for years."

"Knowing about someone doesn't mean you know them. I don't know Julia Roberts just because I know she is who plays Vivian in Pretty Woman." Elena hesitated with an expression that said she couldn't argue that, and I used the time to push forward before she could come up with something else to say. "This is too important to me, and - "

"And what about me? Don't you think Bonnie and Stefan are - "

"Yeah, I do, which is exactly why I can't tell you, because they are on the opposite side of this from me. Stefan is too blinded by his need for revenge to listen to sense right now, and Bonnie is . . . well, she's young and wishy-washy in her beliefs right now because of you and the way you align yourself with vampires, but her instincts tell her that Imelda is right in what she says about vampires . . . Deep down, she hates them as much as Imelda." Looking away from Elena I grumbled, "Which is why it is particularly poignant that she chose saving Stefan over me, but that's beside the point."

"Bonnie is nothing like Imelda. She considers Stefan a friend, and - "

My attention quickly returned to Elena as I stopped her. "And how long has it taken her to even give Caroline much of a chance?" Elena didn't have an immediate answer, so I gave it to her. "It's still something tenuous that could end any time Bonnie thinks Caroline has crossed a line she doesn't like, and we both know how she reacted after her Grandmother's death . . . She has reason to hate them. Part of her does, and that kind of hate is hard to extinguish once it gets started, and then there's Klaus, who everyone hates, so she thinks it's okay to hate him, and that means - "

"You think she's the only one who can open the coffin, don't you? That's why you think Imelda told her to talk to her Mom."

"You're like a little terrier, aren't you? Just grab ahold of something and won't let go." Elena didn't respond, and I sighed before looking down at my dandelion. Methodically plucking the pedals, I said, "Yeah . . . I think the first time Imelda met Bonnie, she was insulted by the things Bonnie did to lose her powers, and she didn't particularly want to help her, but then you went and called her before Bonnie went to see her a second time, told her about the problem with Vicki over the phone, and then by the time you got there, Imelda had already contacted the Original Witch to tell her to back off, and that is when she was offered a deal she couldn't refuse."

"But we already knew that. We knew that she was here waiting for something that the Original Witch wanted her to do, so why - "

"Because this is it. Everyone, and I mean everyone is playing into the Original Witch's plans. She has everyone exactly where she wants them, and nobody is listening to me, so she's going to get what she wants. Imelda's helping her by doing small things here and there to make sure things get back on track. Bonnie is working hard to try and get her powers back, so she can do whatever it is she thinks is right to protect you from Klaus. Stefan is angry, so he's taken that coffin to the little coven we've got growing here in town, and - "

"Coven? I don't know much, but I don't think you can call Imelda and Bonnie a coven. They don't even talk to one another."

"That you know about . . . and no, two witches, does not a coven make, but three or four? That's a good start on one, and let's not forget all those dead witches that are hanging around the place. You've got a massive witch problem in town, and - "

"What are you even talking about? There aren't even 3 or 4 - "

"Well, there's Bonnie's Mom, which would make 3, and - "

"Bonnie has only seen her a couple of times, and talked to her on the phone a couple of times."

"Yeah, well, she doesn't have to be mother of the year to be a witch, so - "

In exasperation, Elena exclaimed, "She doesn't even have any magic."

"Oh come on, Elena! She lost it the same way Bonnie did, and Bonnie's is coming back, so - "

"I don't know that it is. She probably needs to apologize to you and make things right if - "

Looking back down at my dandelion, I muttered, "Thanks for the heads up. If I see her coming, I'll run the other way. Might buy me some time."

"For what?!"

"To find that stupid casket and do what I should've done, which is throw it in the ocean."

"What's in it?"

I mostly just looked at her in response and once again debated on what I should say. Eventually, I decided on saying, "Well, what do you usually put in caskets, Elena?"

"It's a person?" My eyebrows ticked up in the affirmative, and I waited for her to figure it out. When it didn't look like the answer was going to be forthcoming, I released the breath I'd been holding and shook my head before looking back down at the flower in my hands. Seeing that I'd given up on her, Elena sounded a little wounded as she said, "It's someone who can kill Klaus." My focus stayed on pulling off another pedal, and a minute later, she tried, "It's a witch . . . you said 3 or 4. Bonnie's Mom would make three, and then I interrupted you . . . the fourth would be whoever is in that coffin, right?" My eyebrows rose again as I bit my bottom lip and looked at her. She seemed more than a little worried as she looked off to the side and said, "And it's not just any witch, is it? It's someone that would mean something to Klaus, or he wouldn't have been carting this witch around with his family . . . Is it . . . " She looked at me, and I nodded. "But . . . no . . . he killed her. How could - " I still refused to answer, but it's not like she needed me to do it. Answering herself, Elena said, "Magic . . . that could preserve her body. It's why the casket won't open. You need magic to open it . . . and Imelda . . . Imelda's helping her come back." I shrugged a shoulder, and Elena sat back, while she thought about it. "But if she want's to kill her son, then - "

"I think it's all her children, not just Klaus."

"But why would a mother - "

"What did Imelda say that first night?"

Searching through her memories, Elena finally said, "She's watched her children, and she finally understands why the balance needs to be maintained . . . Imelda didn't say it was just the son, who killed the Original Witch, but her children." Looking up at me, Elena said, "Even Elijah?"

"Yeah, I'd say so. He is one of her children."

"But he's not like them."

"I'm guessing after 1000 years, it doesn't really matter to her, and maybe he used to be like the rest of them. 1000 years is a long time to get your act together and fall and get yourself back together again a few times."

"Do you think that whatever she has planned for her children can also be used against other vampires, like Damon? Is that why Isobel told you to protect Klaus?"

"I don't know. I don't have it all figured out. I just know opening that coffin is a bad idea. The balance may need to be maintained, but after 1000 years, that balance has realigned to include vampires, because if nothing else, they are a counter balance to werewolves, and if the Original Witch and Imelda are working together to eradicate all vampires, then I'd consider that genocide, but they'll think they're right . . . which is what makes them dangerous, and it makes Bonnie dangerous too, because she wants to hate vampires and will help them. If it means getting in her daughter's good books, then I'd say her Mom will want to help too."

"Aren't you being a little paranoid?"

I preferred the term 'cautious.' "Well, is it paranoia if I'm right?"

"But you don't know that you're right."

"I guess we'll see."

Looking down at the key safe in her hands, Elena nodded, "Yeah, I guess we will." Glancing at me, she changed the subject. "You know today's Caroline's birthday, right?" I nodded. "Are you coming to the party we're having for her?"

Well, this was the first I was hearing about any party. "She's having a hard time with her birthday. I don't think she wants a party."

"Why do you say that?"

"Uh, because she said, 'I don't really feel like celebrating my birthday this year,' when I said I was going to pay her back for the birthday party she threw us."

Elena's shoulder's slumped. "Oh . . . well why would - "

"Because she's hung up on being dead. It kind of makes it hard for her to want to get excited about when she was born when that's all she's focused on right now."

"If I came up with something else, do you think you'd come?"

"Not if it's tonight. I already have plans."

"What?"

Dropping my dandelion, I looked at her. "You're annoying, you know that?"

"I'm not annoying. You just have a short fuse."

I rolled my eyes. "Whatever. I have to babysit two 150-year old man-babies tonight and pretend like the Council is going to listen to anything I have to say if I even say anything at all. I'm hanging out with Caroline on Saturday night, so I'll make it up to her then. We're going to be celebrating the things she can do now that she couldn't do when she was a human."

"Like what?"

If she thought I was going to give her any ideas on what to do for Caroline's party, then she was going to be sorely disappointed. As I got to my feet, I tried to get us back on track. "Less talking, more training. We'll only do a mile run today instead of two, and - "

Standing, so she could stretch, Elena muttered, "Why do I get the feeling this has nothing to do with training and everything to do with - "

"Making you stop talking? Yeah, that's about right."

"You're not very nice sometimes." I took off at a jog, and she followed suit as she asked, "Are you still going to show me how to use a crossbow?"

"Well that depends. Are you going to push yourself to finish this mile fast enough that we have time to - "

She picked up her pace. Guess she really wanted to shoot a crossbow, not that I could blame her. I never got tired of shooting one, and as far as weapons went, they were a good weapon for her to learn. Stakes were all well and good, but they definitely required you to be close enough to stab a vampire that was trying to kill you unless you knew how to throw one, and she was terrible at that. If she learned how to use a crossbow, she'd have to get good at anticipating when and where to shoot because vampires didn't usually stand around to get shot, but I didn't want her to get frustrated too soon, so today it would mostly be about getting acquainted with the weapon, learning how to load it, aim, and shoot. Hopefully, she was good at it, because I wanted her to be good enough at one thing to feel more confident in her ability to protect herself. That was sort of the whole point of all of this.

Chapter Text

I walked with Damon to the front door of the Founder's Hall. We always went to these things together, but this felt a little different, because with the other Council meetings, we were together day in and day out, and the meetings were an otherwise boring interruption from whatever we were doing. This time, I was kind of looking forward to going just because it meant spending some time with him, because we'd both been busy dealing in different ways with the fallout with Klaus being here.

We separated briefly, so he could look for Stefan, but he wasn’t gone long, just long enough for me to mingle with a couple of people who were on the Council. They were always awkward around me, like I was an outsider who shouldn’t be an insider, and there was very little I could do about my age being an issue. They were all middle-aged. I was 18, and they were never going to believe most of what I said unless they either saw a demonstration, or I was their age.

I finished a particularly cumbersome conversation with a Maxwell and was considering going to find Damon when he leaned over my shoulder and sing-songed, “Don't look now, but I think you missed one."

"Guy at our 3 o'clock?” I don’t know what it was about the guy, but he seemed a little out of place.

"Yep."

Damn. When it came to picking other monsters out of a crowd, Damon’s instincts were even better than mine, simply because of the nature of what he was, so I wasn’t going to disagree with him. Maybe Klaus had held back a hybrid or two at the Homecoming party to keep in his back pocket in the event that his father killed the others. With a grumble, I turned to look up at Damon. "You don't have to sound so smug about it."

"It does sort of crush the illusion of you getting one entirely over on him, doesn't it?" He seemed particularly amused by that, like I needed to learn a lesson on humility, and he was all too happy to point it out to me. Well, I may not be a perfectionist, like Caroline, but I hated failure just as much, and this hybrid situation wasn't anything I couldn't rectify. I took a step in the out-of-town hybrid's direction, and Damon grabbed my forearm to pull me back in front of him. "Not here . . . Besides, the moment's gone. That was then. This is now." Looking around the party, he added, "And right now I'm more interested in finding out whether his master is here and why."

My shoulders dropped as I realized he was right. I guess I'd been naive to think that tonight would be a Klaus-free zone. "I'm guessing the answers are yes and to get a dig in at you and Stefan."

Catching the disappointed tone in my voice, Damon went from surveying the crowd to looking down at me. "You made sure that Stefan’s not his puppet anymore, so there’s that."

Except the idea to use Klaus’s family to get Stefan free wasn’t my idea. It was Stefan’s. “Yeah, well, your brother is an ass, so I’m not sure that’s such a good thing, and now I find out that the one thing I thought I did right, I didn't finish."

"You still killed Mikael."

"Even that's starting to feel like less and less of an accomplishment considering all the things I didn't do and probably won't do."

"Hey." Stepping back against the wall and turning me away from the crowd as he placed his hands on my shoulders, Damon ducked down to be closer to my height as he quietly said, "What you did - "

“It wasn't just me.” My glower slowly fell before I added, "It was all of us, including Stefan and Katherine, but especially you. I never considered you not part of my team. Your plan is the only way my plan could've worked. Maybe I added a dash of Rebekah in at the end to spice things up and keep you from killing Klaus, but the entire thing hinged on your success, and you carried it off to perfection. Apparently, I'm the one who dropped the ball on my end if there are still hybrids other than Tyler walking around here."

I saw him relax, and it was noticeable, like he was being relieved of a stress I hadn't realized was there. "You think we were working together."

"With the exception of about 5 seconds after Rebekah entered the picture, yeah."

Giving me a faint smile, he murmured, "Your idea of teamwork is unique unto you."

"Is it?" I didn't think so.

His smile grew. "Yeah . . . But I'll take it."

"Take what?"

"You don't need it. I'm not sure you've ever needed it, but the one thing you've thought you needed from me from Day 1 is my help."

Did he think that I thought that I’d outgrown him? “I don’t like that sentiment.”

I think my response wasn’t what he was expecting it to be. “It’s true though. That’s why you contacted me. You always said I was your partner, and I thought maybe I was when you needed me to be, but – “

“I’m not Katherine.”

Again, he hadn’t expected me to say that. “I know. I just – “

Well, tonight wasn’t going the way I’d thought it would at all. “It’s not your fault if I’ve lead you to believe that you’re only important in so much as you are useful to me.“

He was quick to deny that. “No, that’s not what I meant. It’s just that before, I know you sort of thought I was . . . well me, but now with Klaus – Look, I know you want to train with him – whatever that means, and you think he’s faster than me and stronger than me and smarter than me, and – “

“I said that before I even met him.”

“But you still think it.”

“No I don’t.” His eyebrows arched, like he knew that wasn’t true, and I sighed. “Because of his age and the fact that he’s a hybrid – yeah, okay, he’s stronger and faster than you, but smarter? Not at all. He is limited by what he thinks he knows to be true based on 1000 years of experience, and you are much better at being able to think outside the box. You’re crafty, and your street smarts are impeccable. You’re both impulsive, but he’s worse, and unlike you, he plays the victim. If you piss someone off, you know why they’re mad. He thinks the world is out to get him for no reason simply because he doesn’t understand that his behavior is what has led to others wanting to exact revenge.”

Damon considered it, looked like he was maybe coming around to what I’d said, but still decided to say, “Then why do you want to train with him? You’ve never once wanted to train with me.”

I'd never even considered it and because of that, I don’t think I could feel any worse than I did just then. I was briefly at a loss of words and then finally said, “If you want to train with me, then bite me.”

He couldn’t hide his surprise as well that time. “What?”

“If you want to train me, then I need to believe you’re a threat, because that’s the only way I’ll take you seriously enough to learn from you when we’re training. Katherine’s done it. Caroline’s done it. Stefan’s done it. Klaus doesn’t have to do it for me to know he would without hesitation . . . bite me, and you can train me.”

He almost looked offended now. “I’d never bite you.”

“I know. It’d change something between us if you did.” For a moment, Damon looked defeated, as his head dropped to concede my point, so I said, “And I don’t want to train with him. I did, but what I really wanted was to prove to myself that I was a worthy opponent, and I did that. Mikael terrified him, and I killed Mikael. That was enough for me. Stefan needed my help, and I was tired of him always being around, so I helped him with his plan to – “

“So, stealing Klaus’s family was Stefan’s idea?”

I’d wonder how he didn’t know that, but I was starting to understand why he may feel the way he did right now. We’d talked about how I’d screwed up his plan to kill Klaus and why I’d killed Mikael, but we hadn’t really talked about what happened when Klaus came to the house to get his family back. I guess it was an uncomfortable conversation for both of us for different reasons.

Deep down, I felt like an idiot for not only acting the way I had even though it’d been a means to an end, but I also felt like an idiot for helping Stefan at all with the way things were going now that he was free. Damon apparently didn’t want confirmation of something he must fear deep down as well. It was time to dispense of that notion immediately. “I mean, I filled in the details of his plan to make it more believable, but yeah, Stefan’s been planning this for a while, and he’s had multiple plans.”

Damon hesitated before saying, “But it was your idea to make Klaus believe it was your idea.“

I shouldn’t be getting credit for any of that any more than I should be getting credit for killing that hunter in the woods. I only deserved credit for the actual killing of Mikael and the hybrids that night. “No, that was Stefan’s idea too. My idea was to go over the top with it to make Klaus think I was being a brat instead of a deadly opponent. It was the only way I could see it working without somebody being killed.”

“But that could still go wrong, especially with the way things are right now.”

“I know.”

“Then why would you – “

“Like I said, I was tired of having Stefan follow me around everywhere, and he let me know he was more himself than inhuman, so I guess it felt like the right thing to do.”

“I take it all back. You do need me. You let my brother use you and walk off with the only thing that could make it all go away.”

I hated to kill his newfound confidence, but, “I don’t need you.” Before he could get too upset by that, I quickly added, “It’s a problem if you think that’s why you’re important to me, and I can understand why you think that. I didn’t exactly keep my intentions a secret when we met, but – “ I didn’t know how to say this. Bowing my head, I tried, “I guess you screwed that up, because you were relentless about being my friend, and things changed . . . Now, I think that maybe it isn’t this way for everyone, but for people like you and me, maybe we survive the families we were given until we find the ones we want, and for me, that’s you.”

My eyes flitted up to him, and my heart started pumping faster. I knew that look. What I’d said had hit the mark, and he wanted to kiss me right now. “Damon – “

“I know.” He might know we were in a room full of people with Klaus nearby, but his eyes said he didn’t care about that. My eyebrow ticked up in a challenging look, and he took a long drawn-out breath before pulling back a bit. Forcing himself to look away from me, he glanced around the room before directing his attention back on me. “I need to know what’s in the coffin, Eve.” I opened my mouth, still a little unsure of how I’d respond to the change of topic, and he added, “If you want to find another way that doesn’t involve killing him, then I’m in as long as I know he won’t be our problem anymore, but I need to know that if I give it back to him, it won’t be used against us.”

See, I knew he’d known where that coffin was. “I can say that if what’s in there is let out into the world, it will kill Klaus.”

“And then you think I’ll die because of what your Mom said.” I nodded, and he looked around the room again to make sure there were no ears listening in on us before he leaned closer to say, “Okay, so what’s in it?”

“His Mom.”

Damon hesitated. “The witch who turned them into the first vampires?”

“Yep.”

Even though he may not necessarily agree with what my Mom had said and was going along with it for now because it’s what I wanted, he immediately started to see how this could be a problem for him. It's the way his mind worked. "Does she know how to reverse the process?”

“Either that, or she knows how to kill every last vampire there is . . . maybe with a counter spell?” My phone rang, and I reached for it. “I don’t know, but I think it’s bad, and that’s why Imelda is working with her to bring her back.“

The caller ID said it was Elena, so I answered, but before I could say 'hello,' I heard a distressed voice on the other end of the line. "What are you doing, Stefan?"

Chapter Text

My eyes immediately locked with Damon’s, and he reached for the phone, but I turned away from him and covered the receiver with my hand, so Stefan wouldn’t hear the voices of the people in here. She’d said something before I could, because she didn’t want Stefan hearing me, and she sounded more like background noise than the scratches I could hear against the phone, which led me to believe it was in her pocket. That meant it wasn’t safe for her to talk more openly. Damon speaking to his brother wouldn’t do us any favors either. A hostage negotiator, he was not.

I glanced at Damon over my shoulder and suspected by the way he was looking around the room that his brother had been here when we first got here, but wasn’t anymore, so it’s not like the call was most likely coming from inside the house. I started heading for the door, while still listening to what was happening on the other end of the line. "Where are we going?"

Come on, Little Sister. Give me something I can use. She sounded angry and scared, but he wasn’t giving anything away. I didn’t know how long he’d had her, but I felt a little relieved that she had the wherewithal to call me if something was wrong. ”Why did you do that to Matt? We were just at the cemetery celebrating Caroline’s birthday. You didn’t have to –

Finally, Stefan responded. “He’ll be fine, or he won’t . . . I don’t really care.

It wasn’t just the words Stefan used. Those on their own might almost sound like a rebellious teenager. It was his tone. He sounded cold. That was bad. He was at his most dangerous when he went cold. “Where are you taking me, Stefan?”

Again, she got nothing. I went towards my car, but Damon grabbed my free hand and pulled me in the direction of his. Such a control freak. Are you taking me out of town? I mean this is the main road out of town, heading East – Stop it! Stefan don’t -

There were sounds of a short struggle, and then Stefan came through loud and clear. “Eve –wanna race? Something tells me I’m faster.” The line went dead, and I looked down at the phone as Damon took off out of the parking lot. There was no point in calling her back. I’m guessing Stefan wouldn’t answer.

I glanced at Damon. “Do you know where he’s going?”

You could see that his mind was going a million miles a second, even as he shook his head. A moment later, he said, “But I know where we can head him off . . . just have to use some back roads to get there.”

I didn’t really know any back roads, so maybe it was better that he was driving. “This is obviously about Klaus, so – “

“His next call will probably be to him. ‘Get out of town, or – “

He stopped himself, so I finished it for him. “No more hybrids . . . But he wouldn’t – “

“I have no idea what he’s capable of doing right now. Every single thing he’s thought of trying has gone wrong. To get free of Klaus, he had to squander the best leverage he had when he gave Klaus his family back. One or two hybrids running around town that I don’t even think he knows about aren’t enough. All that’s left is a coffin he can’t open. There’s not as much impact with that.”

“Except he has the four witches of the vampire apocalypse working with him, doesn’t he?”

“Four?”

So he didn’t deny that Stefan was working with witches. “At least four. All the witches in this town, living or dead, are on this, aren’t they?” His jaw clenched, and I knew I was right without him having to answer. “And then there’s Bonnie’s Mom.”

He started to shake his head. “She can’t – “

“Yet, but I bet since Bonnie’s the one asking, she’s working on getting her powers back just like her daughter, isn’t she.”

A look of momentary fondness washed across his features before he cast a brief look in my direction, and I knew that theory had been correct as well. Looking back out the windshield, Damon answered, “The problem is that my brother needs immediate satisfaction, and he hasn’t had any, so he’s trying to prove just how seriously Klaus should take him by doing the one thing Klaus would never expect him to do.”

I didn’t say anything for about half a minute as we flew down the back roads surrounding Mystic Falls. “He’s not going to back down, is he?”

“Honestly?” I looked at him to get his opinion, and Damon said, “He can’t back down now that he’s taken this step. Klaus is the one who has to blink first, and if he doesn’t then . . . if it were me, I’d turn her given his options.” So, she’d die but not really, and Klaus wouldn’t get his hybrids. “I mean, I wouldn’t do it if it were you.” His eyes were on the road, and he was concentrating on using those vampire reflexes to get us wherever he was going as fast as possible, so he wasn’t really trying to hide the concerned look on his face as he said, “Probably stab me as many times as you could before you crashed my car for even thinking it.” A few moments later, he added, “But this is Stefan, and he wouldn’t do this to her if he was himself. His brain is just fried . . . This is on Klaus, Eve, you can’t take it out on him when we get there.”

His eyes flicked in my direction, like he wanted me to agree to what he’d said, but the best I could do was, “I guess it depends on what we find when we get wherever we’re going.”

“Eve – “

“Damon, if he kills my sister, I’m not going to just let him get by with it.”

Sounding hopeful, Damon responded, “He might just take her out of town and keep her hidden.”

Maybe. But he’d only be able to do that for so long before she ran away and came back, and what would he achieve by doing that? She’d be safe for a while, but was he doing this to protect her or get Klaus to do what he wanted? “That seems a little passive for the way he’s acting right now, doesn’t it?”

Damon considered it and tried, “Maybe the worst thing he’ll do is turn her.”

“You almost died to keep her from turning. My Dad did die to keep her from turning. If he throws that away over this, then I might not kill him, but I’m not going to go easy on him either.“

His facial features relaxed. That’s something he could live with if push came to shove. “He might not do anything. Klaus might give into his demands and – “

“Leave town without her? Not likely unless those are part of Stefan’s terms, but even then, Klaus would drain her of all her blood before he goes, and he will find a way to do that, because she doesn’t listen to what anyone has to say most of the time. All he has to do is take someone she cares about to lure her away from Imelda, and she’s screwed. Then of course there’s your brother. If Klaus agrees to leave town, he might live up to his word on that, but it doesn’t mean he won’t kill Stefan before he goes either . . . He’ll probably kill your brother if she’s turned too. As for me – “ I paused, and Damon turned a sober look in my direction, so I laid out my terms. “We either stop your brother from making a deal with Klaus, or he turns her. Those are the two paths of least resistance that I can see. If he kills her outright or goads Klaus into killing her, then - ”

“I swear to you that I won’t let either of those things happen.” I exhaled a soft breath in response before giving him a slight nod to let him know I knew he’d do the best he could to follow through on that. I think we both knew there was only so much he could do though, that either of us could do. A lot of this hinged on Stefan, timing, and maybe a little bit of luck. I was hoping that Elena’s fast thinking on calling me and Damon’s even faster driving would help with some of that.

His attention returned to the road as he pushed the car to its limits, and in what was probably almost no time at all, but felt like an eternity, we were following a road that ran parallel to a river. The bridge out of town was up ahead, and as we sped onto the main road out of town, he slammed on the brakes and turned the wheel. The car spun in a 180 before coming to a sideways stop to block anyone from being able to use the bridge. Despite the circumstances that had been fun, exhilarating. I couldn’t help but laugh.

The smirk on Damon’s face before he exited the car said he was quite proud of himself for eliciting that kind of a response from me. For my part, I scrambled out my door intent on finding out what his plan was, but it would appear there wasn’t time for one. Damon’s attention zeroed in on the road up ahead of us, but I didn’t need to have super-human hearing to see the headlights coming down the road maybe a mile away. “Is it – “

“It’s his car anyway.”

At the speed that car was taking the winding road, we had less than a minute to come up with something. “Well, is he going to be able to stop even if he sees your car? He’s going awfully fast.” When Damon didn’t immediately answer, I tore my eyes away from the headlights. “Damon, if he hits your car at that speed, she’ll die.” I got nothing. “Damon?”

Without looking away from the challenge in front of him, he finally answered, “I’m gonna slow him down. Stay here,” and then he was gone.

Stay here and do what? I guess if he was doing what I thought he might be doing, he’d need blood. He didn’t keep blood in his car. He was too smart for that given this town, but it sure would come in handy for moments like this. He wouldn’t be lying down the way he sometimes did when he was hunting. He’d be standing, so he could react quicker to whichever way Stefan turned the wheel. He didn’t want the car to crash. Ideally, if his brother saw him standing in the middle of the road, he’d stop, but he was probably going too fast for that, so if Stefan swerved, Damon would have to get in front of the car to stop it from hitting one of the trees. The worst case scenario would be if Stefan plowed right through Damon, because -

My brain shut down, and my feet carried me forward of their own accord as I heard the squeal of tires come from around the corner. They were immediately followed by the sound of metal crunching and glass breaking. I had a feeling that the worst case scenario just happened, and less than a second later, the red Porche was fishtailing around the corner as Stefan tried to regain control of the car. Damon’d slowed him down all right, but he hadn’t exactly stopped him. Stefan had gone from maybe 120 to 60, and he was having some trouble making himself stop even though I knew he could see Damon’s car blocking the bridge and me standing in front of it.

I should move. Yeah, that’s about all I could do at this point. I jumped at roughly the same time that I saw a terrified Elena reach towards the steering wheel. Before I even hit the ground, I knew what she was thinking, but it was too late to tell her not to do it, because I was going to be all right. As I landed, it wasn’t to the sounds of metal smashing into metal. It was to the sounds of the engine revving as it careened into the brush of the woods. I rolled onto my back to watch as the car flew past a tree and right over the edge.

Fuck . . . What was I supposed to do? I forced a breath into my lungs that I hadn’t known I was holding and forced myself to my feet. My steps were slow at first, and then I was running to the other side of the bridge to see what the damage was. I don’t know if it was by luck or design, but the car had been going fast enough that it hadn’t just driven down the ravine and crashed in a fiery blaze at the bottom. I guess that was something. It was slowly sinking in the waters below. They were high. We’d had some rain recently. That worked in my favor.

Without really thinking it through, I moved to just in front of where the car was, took about 4 steps back and sprinted forward. My hand hit the railing, and I vaulted myself right over it too late to stop at the sound of my name being called from down the road. It wasn’t exactly the Brooklyn Bridge, so it felt like I was in the air less than a second before I was brutally plummeting through the surface of the water, my body trying to acclimate to the instant cold as I went further and further down. The depth was good. At least I wasn’t going to wind up paralyzed, but stopping my decent was proving a little difficult, or maybe I was just stuck in a current.

At some point, I stopped dropping and was able to claw my way to the surface. Breaking through to the night air, I gasped in a gigantic lungful of it, oriented myself to my surroundings, and then started swimming out of the current and in the direction of the car. It was sinking faster now. There were two ways this could go. I could wait until it was fully submerged, so the pressure inside the car was the same as outside. Then I'd be able to open the door, or I could smash a window . . . or Stefan could, but he seemed to be in a state of vampire shock as he tried to wake up an unconscious Elena. Or maybe she was dead. I didn’t know. All I knew was I needed to get her out of there.

I knocked. No response from him, and now he was starting to make me angry. He needed to get his shit together. This wasn’t the time to panic. I reached for my favorite stake. It may be made of wood, but it was indestructible, or it would be as soon as I got rid of my magic-resistant hex bag. I dug that out of my pocket and let it go in the water before attempting to smash the window with the handle of my stake. It may not have broken through on my first attempt, but it did crack. That was enough to get Stefan’s attention, but I wasn’t waiting around for him to do his part. I hit the window again and more cracks splintered across the glass. I should get it on 3, or I would have if the glass hadn’t exploded from the inside out before I could.

The debris from the window sprayed me, but registering the sting of cuts was secondary to using my stake to clear the glass from around the edges, so I could reach in and check Elena’s pulse. It was there, faint, but there. There was always the concern of making a neck or back injury worse, but what was I supposed to do, leave her there to drown? Water was flooding in through the window now.

Stefan had already unbuckled her seatbelt, so I turned her upper body away from me. My hands went under her arms, so I could try and pull her out backwards, and a second set of hands tried to help me. My response was immediate as I snarled, “Don’t touch her,” before tugging on her upper body and using the water taking some of her weight to wiggle her towards the window.

“Eve – “

I refused to look at him as I said, “I will deal with you when you get home. My main concern is – “

“So is mine. Let me – “

My eyes finally went to his as I coldly cut him off. “I think you’ve done quite enough for one night.” Planting my feet against the car door, I pushed against it as I pulled on Elena with all my might, and a couple seconds later, she was free. I looked towards the shore and saw Damon waiting there to help me get her out of the water, so I swam towards him using one arm, ever mindful of keeping her face out of the water, but he didn’t wait for me to get there before diving in to help. When he got to us, I handed her over to him without any qualms as I watched Stefan swim past us to the bank.

Crawling onto the shore after them, I put my stake away when I saw that Stefan was no longer in sight, and then Damon was wrapping his arm around my waist to help me stand. I looked to where he’d left Elena. “I’m okay. Elena – “

“You’re bleeding. Let me see.”

He didn’t look angry . . . yet. I’m sure that would come in time. Right now, he was more concerned with examining me for injuries, but he’s the one who looked like he needed medical attention. “You’re a mess.”

“I’m fine.”

“You need blood.”

He responded absentmindedly. “You offering?”

I shrugged. “I might have a cut or two that requires stitches, and you’re on vervain with Klaus here, so you might be able to handle it . . . no biting necessary.”

His examination of me stopped as his eyes flitted to mine. A moment later, his hands were cradling my face as his forehead rested on mine. “I think you’ve done enough saving for one day.”

“You’re sure?”

“I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life. Besides, you have enough vervain in you to knock me out a few times over, and I need to get you two to the hospital.”

“I’m fine.” I didn’t feel like I’d almost drowned or had any broken bones or internal injuries. No sprains or strains. Maybe a few scrapes on my arms from the window. I wasn’t wearing my leather jacket, so the glass had cut me, but that was probably better than wearing it and being weighed down in the water.

“Let a doctor check you out when we take Elena to the hospital, and I won’t get angry about you literally jumping off a bridge tonight.”

The threat of him being angry with me might not be enough to make me think before I did something dangerous, but maybe he’d found a way to finally use it to his advantage, because that seemed reasonable. I nodded in agreement, and he touched his lips to mine in a gentle kiss that seemed to relieve most of his stress. To do more than that with his injuries would be dangerous. With those, his need for blood was higher than normal, and vampires’ emotions were tied in with their blood lust, so it’s for the best that he didn’t linger for long.

As he pulled back, I whispered, “I’m sorry for worrying you, but I’m not sorry I did it.”

A small smile played across his lips before he said, “Who says I was worried?”

“Your face still says it loud and clear.”

He waited a beat before coming to some kind of realization as he said, “You’re going to keep doing this to me, aren’t you?”

“It’s not intentional. I didn’t wake up this morning thinking, ‘What can I do to give Damon a heart attack?’”

“Probably be the first vampire in history to ever die of one.”

I dryly quipped, “I don’t know. Don’t most vampires die by heart attack?” and he tried not to laugh, but quickly lost out to a quiet snort.

“You come up with the worst jokes sometimes.”

“They make you laugh.”

“Yeah, I guess they do.” Becoming a little more somber, he asked, “You’re really okay?” I thought I was. I nodded, and he released me as he stood and turned to look down at Elena. “We should get her to the hospital.”

“Can you – “

He was full of bravado as he brushed off what I’d been about to say. “Please. I could carry her in my sleep.”

“Really? Because I couldn’t help but notice how long it took you to get down here.”

“Shut up.”

He went to pick her up, and I had to say, “Thanks . . . for putting your body on the line. If you hadn’t slowed him down, it would’ve been a lot worse.”

As Damon hoisted her into his arms, he asked, “How’d they end up down here instead of – “

“Elena grabbed the wheel.”

“Maybe you two are more alike than I thought.”

I smiled as I watched my footing on the path behind him. “Well, she didn’t stab him.” I paused before adding, “I think she thought he was going to hit me the way he hit you.”

Looking back at me over his shoulder, Damon asked, “Was he?”

“I jumped out of the way, so I probably would’ve been fine.”

Trudging forward, he was quiet until we got back up to the top. “I’m going to put an end to this.”

“You don’t think this was enough to make Stefan rethink things?”

He put Elena in his back seat before closing the door and turning to look at me. “He could go one of two ways after all of this. He might realize he’s gone too far and give it up, so he can start doing some kind of penance, or he’ll realize he’s gone too far and think there’s no going back. My money is on the latter at this point.”

“You were already thinking about giving the coffin back, so what more are you going to do?”

Opening the driver’s side door, Damon stopped before getting into the car and answered, “I haven’t got it all worked out, but I will.”

Chapter Text

I stared at the clipboard in my hand and thought that maybe it would’ve been better if I’d just convinced Damon to give Elena some of his blood, but then vampire blood wasn’t some kind of magical drug. It was blood, which was gross, and there was the potential for a pretty negative side effect. That side effect, namely becoming a vampire if you were killed with the blood in your system, was what kept me from suggesting it.

Elena was a target right now. It was probably best not to tempt fate even though that fate may have already been tempted. I honestly didn’t know if Stefan had given her blood the way Damon had suggested he might to turn her, but I figured it was best to err on the side of caution in the event that he hadn’t. I was also erring on the side of caution by sticking close to her if he had. Somehow I’d managed to convince the medical staff here to let me stay in Elena’s room once they’d stabilized her. They were even letting me sit in here to fill out these forms that I was taking an inordinately long time to complete.

I’d filled most of this form out without any problems. Name? Fine. Birth date? Fine. Family medical history? Fine . . . and probably better than she could. Social security number and insurance information? Not so fine. That meant that I’d had to make a call that I wasn’t all that keen on making. I didn’t want to worry Jeremy until Elena was in better shape, but maybe he deserved to know what was happening for a change, and if he was given an important task to do, like getting the documents necessary for her admission, maybe it’d make him feel like he was helping even though there really wasn’t anything he could do at this point. What would make things infinitely worse was if I called, told him what was needed, and then he couldn’t find it. I really hadn’t wanted to make that call, but I did it, because it had to be done. Guess there was a downside to putting vervain in the town's water supply, or the woman behind the desk could have been compelled into overlooking this paperwork process.

After giving the hospital a big wad of cash to cover my expenses on a thorough check up, Damon had gone to get some blood. With his body needing blood to compensate for the injuries it’d just healed, the hospital was probably the last place he should be. Once he got that sorted, I think he was going to go look for his brother, so I didn’t really have anything to keep me awake other than the need to keep watch in case one of Klaus’s thugs came here looking for Elena. They shouldn’t, because I hadn’t told him where she was, but he probably had eyes and ears everywhere, so it was a possibility, especially now that he knew she was still alive.

After I’d had my check-up that included me obtaining professionally administered stitches, I’d called Caroline to tell her what happened only to get her mother, who’d been in something of a panic even though she tried to hide it. She told me that Tyler had bitten Caroline, and it was bad. According to Liz, Matt told her that Caroline had told him that Tyler had gotten a call from Klaus, argued with him about something, and then wound up biting her maybe 10 minutes later after she’d calmed him down. That sire bond was entirely too dangerous if it could completely override Tyler’s free will like that. I knew he’d never hurt Caroline under normal circumstances, and I’m pretty sure that’s what the argument over the phone had been about, but he still did it. If Klaus was benevolent, then the sire bond may not be such a problem, but he wasn’t.

My suspicion was that Klaus had most likely ordered the hit on Caroline in retaliation for what Stefan had said to him in the car on the way to the bridge. Maybe he’d even heard the crash over the phone. I told Liz that I’d fix it and then immediately called Klaus to tell him that Elena was alive. He wanted to know how. I’d told him that wasn’t important. What was important was that he was going to go fix what he’d done to Caroline, or I was going to kill his remaining hybrids, starting with the one I’d seen at the Founder’s Council party that night.

He hadn’t really taken that very well, but then I reminded him that this was his doing for flying off the handle without having all the facts first, and he’d taken it out on someone who had no relevance to what was going on right now. Stefan didn’t care about Caroline anywhere close to as much as he cared about Elena, and he’d just kidnapped Elena and threatened her life to make a point to Klaus, so all killing Caroline was going to do was piss me off. It wouldn’t affect Stefan in the slightest.

I think I might’ve started rambling in my ranting, because by the time I was done, he’d already gotten in his car and was on his way to Caroline’s. He said he’d do it if it meant I’d stop bothering him, but he could’ve hung up on me at any point if that’s why he was doing it. Maybe I’d convinced him in my extended monologue to do the right thing? Doubtful. I think he just found me yelling at him amusing for some reason. There was the possibility that he'd always planned on doing it if he got something out of it, and my phone call spurred him into action. I don't think he would've done it out of the goodness of his heart. There was a part of him that wanted to do the right thing most of the time. It’s just that it was a small part of him, and he didn’t usually listen to it.

By the time I was done on the phone with Klaus, I was exhausted. It’d been a fairly exhausting night, so it was with heavy eyes that I waited. Try as I might, I just couldn’t seem to keep my eyelids open after a while, which might be why I was almost dozing when someone walked into the room with what I perceived to be a loud, “Hey,” but that was probably relatively quiet. It’s just that given the quiet, but steady beep of the surroundings, and my drowsiness, it’s seemed almost booming.

Opening my eyes, my head rolled in Jeremy’s direction. “Hey.” Handing him the forms, I said, “You’re up.” He took a couple of cards out of his pocket and instantly had the answers required to finish filling out the form. I’m guessing his Aunt had kept up on these things, so he had to go through her things to find them, which couldn’t have been easy for him to do and might be why it’d taken him so long to get here. Poor kid. He was already an orphan twice over, had lost his first two loves, and with the way things were going with his sister, on track to lose her too.

He turned to the nurse who’d chased him in here and handed her the clipboard before turning his back on her to walk over to his sister’s bed. The nurse’s attention came to me, and I nodded for her to go. “He’s fine.”

“Visiting hours – “

“Are over, and you’re already breaking the rules by letting me be in here. I understand. One of us will have to go. It’ll probably be me, so be good to him, when I’m gone.”

Because their father had been a doctor, Elena and Jeremy’s parents had been well known by the staff at this hospital, which is probably why I’d been allowed the leniency I’d already had. Her eyes flicked from me to Jeremy to Elena and eventually she sighed. “Just keep it down. I’ll be back in a little while to check on her.”

I didn’t know what she thought we’d be doing, having a dance party in here around Elena’s body? I nodded anyway to tell her we’d be quiet, and then she was gone. As soon as she was, Jeremy turned to me with a hint of anger. “What happened?”

“She was in a car accident.”

“Yeah, I know. You said that over the phone. What I can’t figure out is who was driving, because I know she left with Bonnie.“ Before I could respond, Jeremy looked back down at his sister and said, “Is Bonnie . . . I tried calling – “

“As far as I know, Bonnie is at home in bed. She wasn’t there.”

“Then who – “

“Stefan took her from the party.”

“Why would she get lift from him? Did she and Bonnie have a fight? I didn’t want that. I just – “

“What are you talking about?”

The features on his face contorted briefly before he looked at me. “Bonnie and I broke up this morning. She had a hard time understanding everything that happened with Anna, and I’ve been having a problem with all the time she spends on the phone with that guy who lives with her Mom. I just . . . Is this my fault? Did they fight? Is that why Elena got in the car with him, because – “

“No. When I say that he took her from the party, I mean, he took her from the party. He knocked Matt out to do it and then drove as fast as his little Porche could carry them on the road out of town. They didn’t quite make it to Wickery bridge, but they went off the road and wound up in the river anyway.”

His anger built until he looked back over his shoulder at his sister’s peaceful slumber, and then all that energy was building inside of him just dissipated before he grabbed her hand and sat on the side of her bed. He was still angry, but it was more of a seething kind of anger that he was keeping in check until he was sure that she was going to be all right. “I saw her like this before . . . after – “

To spare him from having to think too much on the last car accident she’d been in at the Wickery Bridge, I said, “The difference is that she didn’t almost drown this time. She hit her head . . . She already woke up once, but they’re keeping her here for observations. She should be able to go home tomorrow if she doesn’t get any worse.”

His head quickly turned in my direction. “Worse?”

Slumping back in my chair, I thought about it. Was it better to be blunt or smooth things over, so he felt better, while he waited? He wasn’t a baby, so he didn’t need to be coddled, but at the same time, he’d already lost so much. “Yeah, well, you know . . . head injuries. If I say everything is going to be peaches and cream and then it’s not, you’ll feel worse.” Jeremy didn’t respond as he stared at his sister, so I tried, “Of course that doesn’t mean she won’t get better. There’s science or vampire blood if – “

“No . . . No, I’d rather take my chances with medicine.”

Well look at him making grown up decisions on his sister’s medical care. “Yeah . . . I know what you mean. There is one thing though. There’s a chance he gave her some of his blood at some point before they went in the water, so until she wakes up and can tell us for sure, someone needs to stay with her and make sure what happened to Caroline doesn’t happen to her.”

His head turned to look at me. “Before they went in the water? You mean on the way down, or – “

“No, I mean before they even got there. He took her to get at Klaus.”

There was that anger of his bubbling back up to the surface. “He did this to her on purpose?”

“Yes and no. I don’t know how far he was willing to take it if Klaus didn’t give into what he wanted. I honestly don’t think he thought that far in advance, because he seemed pretty shook when I got to the car. I guess the decision was taken out of his hands when Elena grabbed the wheel. He was going too fast to stop, so it was either try to stop, slowly go over the edge, and crash into the rocks along the shore, or speed up and shoot for the water. They had a better chance if he sped up. That’s about all the choice he had at that point.”

“Why does it sound like you were there?!”

I looked towards the door. That’d been a little loud. When I was sure nobody was going to come to kick one of us out, I muttered, “I was.”

“And she grabbed the wheel? Why would she – “

I looked from the doorway to him. “To keep him from running me over.”

“Why would she think – “

“Because she underestimates my cat-like reflexes to jump out of the way.”

“This isn’t funny.”

“I didn’t say it was.” Trying to steer the conversation back into a more calming direction, I said, “The point is that while it could’ve been worse, she’s okay now. She just needs someone to keep an eye on her for the next day or two, or until she wakes up and says she doesn’t have vampire blood in her system.” Maybe that wasn’t the right thing to say? He looked like he was still a tempest of emotion and itching to get out of here. If he did take off, it’d probably be to numb all those thoughts and feelings with some kind of drugs or alcohol, and he’d probably need a lot of either to get the job done, but when he sobered up again, all those things would come rushing back 10 fold. Anger and fear were at the top of the list. There was also confusion, which really just meant he wanted someone to tell him what to do, and there was sadness. Those tears were only an empty room away. He wasn’t a child, but he was a teenager, and that made him volatile even though most adults wouldn’t know how to react either if they’d lived the life he had. “And I can think of nobody better for the job than you.”

My words broke through his thoughts as his eyes turned in my direction. “Is he coming back to finish the job?”

No, I honestly didn’t think Stefan would do that. “I suspect he’s going to stay as far away from her as possible now.” Jeremy visibly relaxed until I added, “I think the problem is Klaus. This might push him into thinking that he should just take off with her now to prevent anything like this from happening again.”

His eyes immediately went to Elena. “What are we going to do – “

“Let me deal with Klaus. What you need to focus on is keeping an eye out for anyone you don’t know and calling me. There may still be one or two hybrids left that aren’t Tyler. We saw one tonight at the Founder’s Council party, so Klaus will probably just send one of them to – “

“To kill them, you cut off their heads, right?”

Uh. Killing monsters was usually a pretty good distraction, but it wasn’t the kind of distraction he needed any more than he needed the drugs and alcohol. “Yeah, but look around you. Do you think one is just going to stand there and let you hack off its head with a scalpel? Call me, and I will – “

“By the time you get here, it might already be too late. Don’t you like always have a weapon on you? Give me one, and – “

“Jeremy, there are rules, and one of those is that you do not let the general public know that these monsters exist.”

“Isn’t that exactly what they count on, so they can do whatever they want to people whenever they want to do it?”

Yeah, it was, but there was a larger picture he wasn’t seeing. “And how do you think people would react if they really knew what was out there? It’d be pandemonium. There’d be riots at the cover ups that have been involved to keep this hidden and mobs of people killing random people they think are strange on misguided witch hunts, others staying in their houses too afraid to leave . . . and the entire time vampires and werewolves and hybrids would blend in without being noticed, because they look just like normal everyday people.” He started to argue with me, and I quickly stopped him by adding, “You know for a guy who sees dead vampires now because he was killed by someone who knew just a little about what’s out there, I’d think you’d get it. You decapitating a guy in your sister’s hospital room is not the best way to deal with this.”

“And who would know? If the sheriff gets called, she’ll just say it was an animal attack, right?”

He had to see that I was right. Now he was just being stubborn. “Yeah, I don’t think that’d work. How would an animal that big get in and out of here without being seen? You’d probably get locked in an asylum, because she wouldn’t be able to hide what you did with as many witnesses as there are here, and nobody is going to believe that you killed him because he’s a hybrid. That’s the other reason these rules are in place – self-preservation. Denial runs deep in the veins of society. The larger public doesn’t want to know about these kinds of things. Trying to expose monsters is an uphill battle nobody could win. You’d have to take people one by one on hunts and have them see a vampire attacking before they’d believe you and even then, they’d try to explain it away logically . . . Or they’d die, because vampire safari’s aren’t exactly safe. You’d have to do that so many times with so many people that the balance tips from one or two or ten believers to more believers than non-believers, and there are too many people on the planet for that to work . . . even if you televised it by putting it on the internet, people would think it was doctored. It’s just not practical. If a hybrid shows up, call me, and I will deal with it . . . And maybe use your time to start planning an exit strategy for you and your sister.”

“What?”

It was time for him to get off this killing train of thought. If he wanted to obsess over something, it might as well be something useful. “I’m not saying it has to happen right now. I know she won’t leave her friends if she thinks they’re in danger, but there has to be an out for you two in the event that things take a turn.”

“Like what?”

“Well, for starters, you could start learning how to go into hiding. Don’t use your computer to research places to go. Go to the library and read the books there, so the records of what you check out won't exist. Start saving or taking out money from your parent’s estate to horde away, so you can pay cash for everything instead of using ATM cards. I could give you one of my IDs for Elena. You’ll have to get one for yourself. Buy a car ahead of time using cash and have it registered under your fake alias, so it doesn’t raise suspicions. If you steal a car, then you’re just asking for unwanted attention, and make no mistakes. Klaus has eyes and ears everywhere, including law enforcement, so you’re not just on the run from him. You’re on the run from anyone, and you’ll have to be ready to go at a moment’s notice, so have ‘go bags’ ready with the essentials and things you really just can’t leave behind. Forget about everything else. Forget about everyone else. Do not go to family friends . . . that kind of thing.”

He briefly considered it before looking down at his sister. “You're right. She’d never leave if she thought her friends were in danger. She had a chance to do that before the sacrifice, and she wouldn’t do it.”

Well, he could knock her out and force her to go, but that was wrong, and if he wanted to do this right, then she had to be on board, or she’d just come running back. “Maybe . . . or maybe you’re her brother, so if you tell her it’s what’s best for you, she will.”

His attention came back to me. “She won’t . . . If she thinks I’m in danger, she’ll send me away, not – “

“She doesn’t have to think you’re in danger. She just has to believe that you need her. She doesn’t think about what it’ll mean for you if you lose her and wind up alone. All she thinks about is what it’ll mean for her if she loses you or one of her friends. She only sees things from her perspective, so while she knows on a cerebral level that you’ve lost people – that you’ve actually lost more people than she has, she really only feels the losses she’s had and focuses on those. It’s why she clings so tightly to the people she has left.”

He listened and then did something I didn’t expect. He snorted. “You make her sound like a sociopath.”

No. Glancing at Elena, I corrected him by saying, “Self-centered. I wouldn’t even call her a narcissist, because she doesn’t necessarily want to be the center of attention. She just is because of the nature of what she is in a supernatural world, but she is also totally selfish.”

He seemed amused by that. “You don’t even know her.”

“I know her well enough to know that. Don’t get me wrong. She cares about people that are close to her, but it’s less about you guys and more about how she feels about you. She uses people, like Elijah, Stefan, Damon, and Bonnie, and she doesn’t take their feelings into account. She also has what I consider a weird code of ethics where she really hates pain, suffering, and death for most people, but she’s not opposed to it for everyone, specifically people who have done wrong to her in some way. It’s human, I suppose, to want to strike out at those that have hurt you, but she seems to think that it's only okay for her to do it. If anyone else does, then she has a fit, and I suppose it’s human to not want people around you to do things that are dangerous, because they could get hurt, but she doesn't seem to understand that other people around her don't want her to be hurt for the same reason. It's like only she gets to feel that, and anyone who goes against that is wrong. I think that she has a strong sense of sympathy, but her ability to empathize is severely lacking.”

“And yours isn’t?”

He wasn’t angry. He almost seemed to want to know out of curiosity, maybe as a way to further distance himself from the current plight of the sister next to him. “No, I have empathy enough for the both of us. It’s really the only way I’m able to connect with people because I had an isolated upbringing, so I have to put myself in their shoes to understand why they feel the way they do and can feel it based on how I felt in similar situations . . . what I lack is sympathy. I think both of those are what allow me to be bad sometimes, because I can use one without the other to help me do what I have to do . . . In the right circumstances, I can feel and show compassion. I’m just not very good at it yet. It’s a work in progress.”

“Maybe you’re the sociopath.”

I shrugged. “Maybe I am . . . except for one thing. I feel genuine remorse for some of the things I do, particularly if the other person doesn’t deserve it, but then that all depends on whether I think they deserve it. If I think they do, then I don’t feel bad about it, so who knows?” Getting to my feet, I said, “So, you’re okay to do the night watch?” He looked at Elena and nodded, “And you’ll call me, not – “

His head turned back in my direction as he gave me a somewhat reluctant, “Yeah.”

“And you’ll consider what I said about planning an exit strategy?”

“I might. It’s not just Elena. I’m not sure it’s something I could do either. It’d mean leaving everyone and everything I’ve ever known.”

“It’d also mean a fresh start somewhere else. You could be anyone you wanted to be and do anything you wanted to do without the constant reminder of all the things you’ve lost here. Just make sure you relocate somewhere that doesn’t have any monsters. Stay out of the South and Alaska . . . big cities, towns the size of Mystic Falls . . . uh, I think Klaus said the werewolves he found were in Kansas and the Pacific Northwest, so - ”

He cut me off with a laugh. “Is anywhere safe?”

“Not really, no . . . and they’re nomadic, so they may not be there when you get there, but they could move in after you’re there a while. Just don’t go anywhere that has a lot of missing persons or animal attacks.”

He gave me a more considered nod before looking at the door. “So, what are you going to do . . . I mean about tonight. You have to think this was wrong, right?”

“I do. And I’m not sure how I’m going to respond yet, but I’ll think of something.”

Chapter Text

After I left the hospital, I went home to wait for Stefan, but he didn’t show. Damon had gone out looking for him, but Stefan hadn’t been where he’d thought he’d be, and neither was the coffin, or so Damon had said. I wasn’t entirely sure he was telling the truth. Either way, it would appear that he was right and Stefan was going all in on his war with Klaus. Stefan didn’t come home the next night either, but that didn’t mean I hadn’t stayed up most of that night too waiting for him to come back.

On the third night, I was sitting in the same place I had the last two nights. It was dark, silent, and then I heard the door to Stefan’s bedroom open. As the light was flicked on, I pulled the trigger on my crossbow. Good thing Damon was fast. Glaring down at the arrow that was pinning him to the door through the collar of his shirt, he made his displeasure known. “Damnit, Eve, what’d I say about shooting your weapons in the house?!”

“Make sure they’re not pointed at you when I do.” I watched him pull the bolt out of the door and then added, “But in fairness, you knew I was in here and why, so you should’ve expected it.”

Looking down at the tip of the bolt he was holding, he muttered, “I did, or this would’ve gone right to the top of the list of reasons why today is the worst, and that list is hard to top.”

“Why?”

Still sulking, he grumbled, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

I pointed out the obvious. “You do, or you wouldn’t have said that.”

“Fine. Then I don’t want to talk about it right now.”

Sure, walk into the dark room where you know a girl is armed and then complain when you're nearly shot. “You know, you could’ve knocked. I think you wanted to see if you were faster than me.”

His entire demeanor changed as the truth of that hit home. Looking up at me with a smirk, he responded, “I admit to nothing . . . but I was faster, wasn’t I?”

“So it would seem. Although, if you’re going to stop and be all whiny about every shirt that gets torn, then someday, you’re going to be in some serious trouble.”

“Yeah, well not as much trouble as you’re going to be in if your aim doesn’t get better.”

As he took a couple of steps towards me, I defended myself by saying, “My aim is outstanding.”

“I’m walking proof that’s not true.”

“Or you’re walking proof that I can see a silhouette in the dark and subconsciously recognize that it’s you.”

“Are you saying you missed me on purpose?”

Maybe? I honestly didn't know. I shrugged. “Wanna be my practice dummy the next time I’m doing target practice, so we can find out?”

He opened his mouth to respond, and then relaxed with a smug smile. “If you hit me 10 times out of 10 shots, you can say you were right about missing me on purpose and intended to shoot where you did. If you miss me 10 out of 10, you can say it’s because you don’t want to hurt me.”

“And if it’s 5 out of 10?”

“That mostly means you’re a bad shot half the time, so you wouldn’t do that. If you missed on the first shot, you’d intentionally miss the next 9. If you hit me on the first shot, you’d do whatever you had to do to get all 10.”

Hm. Intriguing. I hadn’t actually considered that. Sometimes his thoughts on my deviousness were more extreme than how I thought I actually was, and it usually happened in the hours and days that followed me doing something dangerous, or when he thought I was going to kill his brother. Right now, we were sort of in the middle of both scenarios even though he’d said he wasn’t going to be mad about what I’d done at the bridge, and I’d said I wasn’t going to kill Stefan. His perception of both circumstances is what was skewing his opinion on my underhandedness, which made him less trusting of me overall, and that reinforced his thoughts that I was up to something that would end with either his brother or me dead, and so on and so forth in an ever spiral downward. Placing my crossbow across my lap as I relaxed, I mumbled, “Well, I might now that you suggested it. That’s not a bad idea.”

Coming to stand in front of me and handing me back the bolt before placing his hands on the arms of the chair, Damon leaned down to say, “You didn’t eat again today.”

That’s where he was wrong. “Yes, I have.” I pulled out a small handful of instant coffee packets out of my pocket and said, "I saved these for you."

“Eve, eating Army rations, while you’re camped out in my brother’s room, does not count as eating.”

Right. So, I guess that meant that him drinking blood bags didn’t count as eating. “Sure it does.”

“Where’d you even get them?”

Hm. Good question. I wasn’t entirely sure. A combination of Army surplus stores in Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Maryland? Once I got them, they sort of just went into a pile with the rest. “They weren’t online or anything. I got them at legitimate Army surplus stores.”

He seemed to be enjoying this line of questioning. “And why do you have them, exactly?”

“Well, when you’re on a stake out, you can’t exactly leave to go get food . . . Well, you can’t if you’re the only one on the stake out. If there are two, then one can stay behind to keep watch, while the other gets food.” Hint. Hint.

“Mm hm, and that brings me to my second question. Are you planning to stay in here again all night?”

“The same reasoning applies to sleep. One person makes it much more difficult to watch and sleep.”

“You need to sleep at some point.”

Hunting a vampire took a lot of dedication. “I have been.”

“15 minutes, when your eyes won’t stay open any longer, isn’t sleep . . . And what about school?”

Stefan was no longer attending school, so why would I lie in wait for him there? “Damon, what’s your point? You only seem to be making one to yourself.”

“Yeah, well you’d get it if you were taking care of yourself, because your brain would be firing on all cylinders, but you’re not, so it’s not, and . . . Eve, you need to stop hunting my brother. I don’t even think you’re that upset about what he did, or at least you haven’t been since you came home from the hospital. You’re just bored.”

Hm. I was bored, or he was? “I think that you’re the one who is bored, and now you’re trying to ruin my fun.”

“How is this fun, Eve? Tell me, because I really don’t understand. This isn’t hunting. We both know it’s not.”

Well, hunting wasn’t always action-packed, or at least it wasn’t when you were a human. “Sure it is. You follow the bodies. Track. Then you research your target, which might also include an extended stake out, and that is where I currently am in the process.” Before he could disagree, I added, “Admittedly, it doesn’t usually take this long for a vampire to show up where I’m expecting him to be, but that’s because usually, my targets don’t know me. In this instance, Stefan knows where I should be and is avoiding those places at the times that I would normally be there, hence me not going to school or sleeping or leaving here until he comes back, most likely at a time when he doesn’t think I’ll be here. I mean, I could track him down, but I’ve exhausted all the places in this town that he could’ve hidden that damn coffin and none of my other leads have paid off, so – “

“I can guarantee you that you don’t even register on the list of things my brother is thinking about right now.”

My eyes narrowed. “He doesn’t have any reason not come back here other than to avoid me. He’d still come back here if all he’d done was piss Klaus off, because this boarding house is his safe haven, and I know it’s not because he is actually concerned that him coming back would impact on what Klaus does to you if he’s here. I told him I’d deal with him when he got home, and I strongly suspect that is why he hasn’t come home.” Leaning my head back against the chair, while I appraised him, I slowly shook my head in disappointment, “I knew you knew where he was.”

“I don’t – “

“Before you finish that sentence, think long and hard about whether you want to lie to me again. There’s playing with the truth, like let’s say you went looking for him and didn’t initially find him, but he found you, then you could say that you didn’t find him even though you know where he is, and there's withholding the truth, and then there’s outright lying, like when I asked if you really had no idea where he was, and you said – “

“No.”

I watched him. There was a reason he stopped me from finishing the reason for why I was I camped out in his brother’s room, and I thought that reason was mild guilt, because he knew where his brother was, and since I was only camped out in Stefan's room, because I couldn't find the owner of said room, then that meant that me being in here for days on end was Damon's fault if he knew where Stefan was. Damon was without a doubt my best lead, and okay, so maybe me being in here to get my lead to crack was a bit manipulative and underhanded, which went hand in hand with what Damon thought of me right now, but really how else was I supposed to find Stefan? Ask Bonnie? Or Imelda? Yeah, I don't think so. Besides, how else could he guarantee that Stefan wasn't concerned about me at all unless he'd talked to Stefan, and Stefan said, 'I don't care what Eve is going to do to me when she sees me again.'

Maybe he was just guessing, but even if he was guessing, he'd have to admit that at the very least, Stefan would have to consider me a nuisance that he didn’t want in his way, so to say I wasn’t even on a list of things that concerned Stefan wasn’t necessarily true. Damon was overplaying it, and that’s either because he really wanted me out of this room and was willing to say anything to make that happen for my own good, or because he’d tried to convince Stefan to come home and had done so by saying that he'd keep me out of his brother's way. Either way, he wanted me out of this room, and for that reason alone, I wasn't going to leave until I knew for sure whether he was telling me the truth or not. We kept one another in the dark on the things. We didn't lie to one another, and I wasn't going to make this easy on him if he was. “Well, then I guess that in the absence of any other options, I’m staying right where I am.”

Trying a different tactic, Damon asked, “And what are you going to do when he actually shows? I mean, what would you have done if I’d been him?”

Well, I did have the bathtub three-quarters full. I was thinking I might shoot Stefan in both his shoulders in just the right place so that his arms would be useless and then do the same thing to his thighs to weaken his legs. Wood really hurt them, like Stefan would be able to feel being shot by wooden arrows more than a human could, and that would hurt a human a lot. Plus, until that wood was gone, he wouldn’t heal. He might bleed out until he desiccated, but he wouldn’t die, and I didn’t want him dead. Maybe I was just considering drowning him repeatedly until he felt the fear of being drowned. Drown. Wait for him to revive. Do it again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat until he was scared.

In my opinion, he needed to feel a good dose of fear to break through that anger that was fueling him at the moment, and what better fear for him to feel than the same fear that Elena'd had. He needed to be reminded that there was more to fear than death, because he clearly didn’t fear that. He’d obviously lived a fairly charmed kind of life if he didn’t realize that there were a whole host of bad things that could be done to him before death ever happened, and anything I considered would be tame compared to the torture that Klaus could inflict upon him. Better me than Klaus, right?

On top of all of that, I’d had to stand around and watch him mentally torture and then kill way too many people in the time I was with he and Klaus on the road, but I wasn’t under the same restrictions now, and I was fed up with all his nonsense. How he was acting wasn’t just leading to his own downfall. He was dragging everyone he knew down with him. I lifted a shoulder in response to Damon’s question, and Damon looked over his shoulder towards the bathroom where the tub was before saying, “If you won’t say it, then it’s too dark for you to be doing.” Before I could argue that, his eyes came back to me as he said, “I’m not saying you can’t do it, but can you live with yourself after you’ve made your point?”

Yes. Probably. Maybe. Well, I would have if he hadn’t started guiltting me about it before I even did anything. You know, he wouldn’t do that if it were anyone other than his brother, and I was starting run out of ideas on what to do about Stefan. Damon certainly didn’t appear to be coming up with anything, or if he did, he wasn’t sharing what those plans were. Were we just supposed to scold Stefan to death? Talking didn’t work with him. “You’re hiding things from me.”

With a sigh, his shoulders fell, and he finally relented. “Maybe . . . but can you blame me?”

“I am a tad extreme.”

Breathing out a silent chuckle, Damon responded, “Yeah, you are.”

“Your brother’s a problem.”

“And 6 months ago, I was the problem. What would you have done about me?”

I knew that vampire’s lived their lives on a never-ending rollercoaster of emotion and morality, and I understood why. I also knew that Damon was no saint. In fact, he was far from it. “Well, what did I say after you killed Jeremy?”

“That you’d find a way to get even.”

Yeah, that’s what’d sparked off our little disagreement about me going after Katherine. “But I also said that you had to accept responsibility for what you did and not make any excuses for it, that you had to live with the consequences, and that would be a start.”

“That was for Elena, not you.”

The faintest of smiles touched my lips as my fingertips found their way to the hole I’d made in his shirt, and I focused on that, while I said, “That’s the way it is for everyone, Damon. You were just faster at getting there with me than you were with Elena, so you had to be told what to do with her. When you came to my room that night and told me what you did, you accepted responsibility for it. You told me that being drunk wasn’t an excuse. You wanted me to tell you I hated you and drive a stake through your heart, and you were maybe being a little dramatic, but the remorse you felt was real.” My eyes flicked up to him before they went back to the hole in his shirt as I added, “And maybe that was because you crushed Elena by doing what you did, so that’s the real reason you felt bad about it, but that you were able to feel bad says something, and at least I know that you’ll think twice about doing that again even if it’s only to people who are important to someone who is important to you.”

“Except I then killed your Dad by doing pretty much the same thing.”

My smile grew as I said, “Yeah, but you made sure to point out that he was wearing his ring, which means you were conscious of it being there, and then you left to find me a better family and came back to give me a lecture on why I should be more upset with you than I was.”

He returned my smile as he quietly said, “You mean at all.”

“Yeah . . . yeah, that was back when I knew he’d come back.” A hint of sadness tinged my voice, and I took a deep breath before saying, “But the point is that you learned from your past mistake and didn’t make it again, or at least not in quite the same way.”

“Or you let me off with a pass that I didn’t deserve.”

I lifted my shoulder in a slight shrug before dropping his collar and looking away from him. “Maybe . . . and maybe I’m right too. Even now, you don’t want me to give you any credit for it, and I think that says something . . . But the difference with Stefan is that he took off instead of facing the consequences of what he did. He hasn’t shown any remorse for what he did to anyone that his actions had an impact on that night, not Elena or me or Caroline or you or even Tyler . . . and from my perspective, that means that what happened to Elena and Caroline is secondary to his own agenda. He’s still putting himself first, so he hasn’t learned from it, and he could do it again.” After a brief pause, I looked back up at Damon and said, “I don’t know if any of that makes sense. That’s just the way I see it.”

“If I tell you where – “

I quickly exclaimed, “I knew you knew where he was. You lied to me.”

He seemed more amused than I thought he should as he said, “Right, and you’ve never lied to me.”

“Nope . . . I play with the truth, but it’s always the truth.”

“Always?”

“Yep.”

“Uh huh, and what about the time when you told me you were going to wear your Dad’s ring during the ritual even though it was so obvious that you weren’t?”

I was going to respond, but then shut my mouth. I had done that. “Well, there’s a reason I play with the truth. I’m not very good at lying.”

Grinning, Damon said, “You’re really not.“

“Then can we dispense with notion that I’m deceitful at every turn and that you have to lie to me about where your brother is, because you’re trying to protect him from me. I’m really not that bad.” Damon glanced over his shoulder at the bathtub once more before exhaling another silent laugh. When his attention returned to me, I muttered, “Well, I’m not exactly a saint either.”

He leaned closer and whispered, “And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I know you have something in mind – something you want him to feel to get your point across – you need to find another way to get there.”

My shoulders fell as I considered what he’d said. "Any ideas on what that might be?"

"Nope. That's between you and my brother. I have to handle my own issues with Stefan."

"And does it have to be without violence, because I really think that's the only way I know how to make these kinds of points."

Giving me something of a soft smile, he answered, "You're a smart woman. I think you can find another way. I'm violent enough for both of us."

That instantly got my attention. "Ooh, what'd you do."

With a chuckle, he responded, "You're not supposed to be impressed. You're supposed to hold me to a higher standard."

"And I do. In my own way."

I wasn't expecting him to agree with me, but after a brief moment, he grew a little more serious before nodding. "Yeah, you do . . . If it means you won't lock yourself away for days on end, then I won't lie to you again, but you have got to stop keeping things from me too."

I was pleasantly surprised that he'd surmised the unspoken reason for why I'd stayed in here so long. It felt better to know he knew than to think he hadn't - more honest. "I'll try?"

"I'll take it . . . and I'll let you in on what I'm planning, but you have got to promise you won't get involved."

Well, that hardly seemed ideal, but I did want to know. "Until you give me the go ahead?"

"I won't."

"I don't like making deals with no wiggle room. Why agree to something that's set in stone when you have no idea what may happen? If I'm not needed, I won't be, but if I am, and I've agreed to something that says that even in those circumstances I can't act, then all I can do is stand around and watch everything go up in flames."

"All right, fine."

"Really?"

"Yeah. You wore me down."

The genuine happiness I felt at that was a little hard to hide. "Excellent."

Damon smiled at my enthusiasm, and leaned closer, but then his posture went rigid. I automatically tightened my grip on the crossbow in my hands, but before I could react, he put his hand over mine to keep me from doing anything rash as he smoothly transitioned into a safer conversation, “And in the meantime, there are other people who need your attention.” I felt someone else come into the room behind him, and Damon stood taller. “That’s why I came to get you. You have a visitor.”

How much of that had Tyler heard? The last thing I needed on top of everything else was one of Klaus’s spies giving Klaus a reason to start paying more attention to what I was doing. My response was almost immediate. “What do you want?”

Stepping forward, Tyler quickly answered, “Look, I know I screwed up. That’s why I’m here.”

I sat a little taller in my chair as I said, “Well, it’s going to take more than a bunch of flowers or whatever Mommy’s money can buy to make things right with Caroline.”

“Don’t you think I know that? I had no control over – “

“I know. Believe me. I understand. It was Klaus, and I don’t blame you for what happened, but that doesn’t mean that any of us can afford to trust you. You’re like the Manchurian Candidate, a sleeper agent that’s just waiting for the right phrase from your master to activate you, and then you’ll rip all our hearts out. On top of that, you allowed Klaus to give your girlfriend the best birthday present she could’ve ever gotten.”

If I was a little sore about that, because I’d wanted my birthday weekend to be the thing to cheer her up, Tyler went from looking like he understood my indignation and felt like he deserved it to downright angry that something may have happened with his girlfriend behind his back. “What are you talking about?”

“If you remember, she was hung up on being dead and quite upset about it. He showed her that she’s not as dead as she thought and made her realize she really wants to live . . . that’s something that money just can’t buy.”

He took a step in my direction that Damon met to block him as Tyler angrily asked, “Did she say something to you?”

Climbing up to sit on the arm of the chair, so I could see around Damon, I answered, “Yeah, but she didn’t have to say anything. There was Caroline before and Caroline now, and she is definitely different, but it’s not just because she doesn’t trust you anymore . . . It may have been his doing, but he also got the save, so that’s what she remembers, and what he said to her made an impact.”

“What’d he say?!”

That was between she and I and totally confidential. “You’ll have to ask her.”

“I can’t. She won’t see me.”

“Yeah, well, she’s scared of you, but can you blame her?”

Continuing to ride the ups and downs of the emotions he was feeling, Tyler went from jealous to contrite in almost no time at all. “No . . . and that’s why I need your help. You have to help me fix this.” Whenever someone told me I had to do something, I was always tempted to say I don’t have to do anything, and sometimes I did, but this wasn’t really the time for it, and he beat me to it by adding, “You promised my uncle – “

“I’d look out for you. Yeah, I remember. I was there. Something tells me he wasn’t talking about girl trouble.”

“Maybe not, but I bet he did mean not letting me be mind-controlled by a sadistic asshole.”

I brightened up a little. “So you’re here because you want to break the sire bond, not find ways to get back in Caroline’s good books.”

“Well, yeah . . . and I sort of thought that by breaking the sire bond, it’d go a long way in showing her I’m still me. I know she can’t trust me right now. I don’t want her to until this is gone, but I thought it’d be a start.”

I relaxed as I thought through it. I honestly had no idea how to even begin to break a sire bond. With normal vampires, they loved the vampire who turned them before they were turned, and even then it didn’t lead to there being a sire bond most of the time, so what made those vampires different, and how did you even begin to cure someone of being a literal slave to love? Maybe with hybrids it would be a little easier.

We knew the reason they were sire bonded had nothing to do with love. Tyler said it often enough. He hated changing into a werewolf, and being a hybrid meant he didn’t have to do it anymore. It was still really strange to me that despite him wanting to not be sire bonded to Klaus anymore, if Klaus told him to bite Caroline again, he would. Why wasn’t him not wanting to be sired enough? I guess his gratitude was stronger on a subconscious level than he could control or was even aware of most of the time. “I don’t think I can help you.” Tyler was going to say something, but I stopped him before he could. “I just don’t have the mental fortitude to train you through something like that . . . but I might know someone who is.”

Chapter Text

”So, I was thinking that to make this work, we might need a head start before anyone knows we’re gone. What do you think about telling people that you’re the one who took me out of town, when you’re the one who is really staying behind?”

Uh, given my present company, it was probably best not to discuss this with Jeremy now. ”That’s not a bad idea. Go over some of the final details and get back to me later.”

”You can’t talk right now, huh?”

I looked at Damon who was actively listening in on our conversation over the phone, and it confirmed that even though I’d stepped away from the group, what was being said could still be heard. ”No, but I’ll meet up with you later to talk about it.”

He didn’t sound too disappointed by it. ”Okay . . . and I have something else I found that I want to run by you.”

I told him that was fine and got him off the phone as quickly as possible. Before Damon could ask what that was about, my eyes flicked to the back of Tyler’s head to let him know that I couldn’t talk about it around one of Klaus’s mind-controlled minions. Damon nodded to let me know he’d let it go for now, and even though we were supposed to be filling one another in on more of what we were doing, there was a part of me that didn’t want to tell him about it. You don’t tell people when you’re helping others with an exit strategy, because the more people who knew, the less likely it would be for it to remain a secret. If Stefan wanted to know where Elena was, Damon probably tell him because of their bond that took a beating and still came back strong every time it happened. Or maybe he wouldn’t tell him anything.

He had kept me a secret from his brother for quite a long time, and apparently, they weren’t as in sync on this whole coffin thing as I’d thought. He’d stolen the coffin from Stefan after the Wickery Bridge incident only to have it stolen back from him yesterday – most likely with the help of the witches in this town. Ugh, witches. Jeremy needed to keep them in mind too. If I stayed behind to act as Elena, then my blood could be used to track he and Elena down when it was inevitably discovered that I was not Elena. Other than me, there no other blood relatives of theirs left, so it was just me that could lead to their downfall . . . I’d figure something out.

When I got to the front porch, Tyler turned to look at me over his shoulder. “What was that about?”

Wanting to get rid of the mental shackles that kept you chained to a fiery overlord was a far cry from actually removing them. I smirked before responding, “There are just some things that you don’t talk about in the presence of rat-faced weasels.”

Tyler immediately took offense. “Hey, I said I was sorry. That's why we're doing this, so he can never use me against any of you again.”

“Who said I was only talking about you?”

It was Bill’s turn to look at me, but I was saved by the door as it finally swung open . . . or maybe not. Liz immediately caught a glimpse of Bill’s bandaged hand and turned her eyes on me. “Eve, what did I tell you?”

That if she found out I burnt anyone else, she’d make sure that assault charges were filed against me. Summoning his charm, Damon intervened, “Now, Liz, we’re all friends here. Bill’s not going to be pressing charges today or any other day, isn’t that right, Bill?”

His free hand clamped down over Bill’s shoulder, and Bill flinched before saying, “I’m just here to see my daughter.”

He’d already been in town for Caroline’s birthday, so Liz was quick to understand what was happening. “You spent the last couple of days with our daughter. I take it this means you remember – “

Bill finished the sentence for her. “Everything? I do . . . and I’m here to make things right.”

We’d nabbed him on his way out of town, so she’d had to keep her anger at Bill contained while he was here, because he couldn’t remember doing anything wrong. Looking like a weight had been lifted, Liz crossed her arms over her chest, and her gaze traveled over to Tyler. “I’m not sure that the best start was to bring him here.”

Tyler quickly pointed his thumb over his shoulder and said, “Eve’s locked and loaded, because she doesn’t trust me either.”

Liz’s eyes went to Damon, and there was a definite softening as she said, “Can I count on you to keep things here civil, while I’m at work?”

I sort of liked that he’s the only one that she trusted out of the four of us. I think what I liked is that she recognized a kindred spirit in him. She worked all the time and was a single Mom, so she didn’t have time for many friends outside of work. She was also the boss, so she couldn’t exactly be friends with the other officers. She was stronger than Damon emotionally. Maybe that’s because she was human and could hide the knocks that life had given her, whereas he tended to wear his heart on his sleeve, because he was a vampire and couldn’t hide how he felt, but the personal difficulties they’d encountered over the years were similar.

That meant that they had more in common than you’d think even though they were on opposite sides of this cosmic battle that Liz had been raised to believe in from the time she was a kid. Tossing a look down at me, Damon said, “Well, I have something else I need to do, so I’m going to leave this in Eve’s capable hands.” Looking back up to Liz, he asked, “Walk you to your car?”

The something else he needed to do was to steal back the coffin he’d stolen from Stefan. His plan to end this war wouldn’t work if he didn’t get that back and have leverage over both his brother and Klaus. If he was going to do that, I could deal with this. To reassure her, I said, “I can’t guarantee civility, but I can guarantee that your house will still be standing at the end of this.”

A smile threatened to break out on her face as she reached for her Sheriff’s jacket behind the door. Stepping outside and stopping to look at me as she passed, Liz gave me a candid, “Be nice.” Glancing at Tyler and Bill, she added, “But not too nice. Just look after Caroline. If she wants them to go, then make sure they go.” I don’t know if she meant it this way or not, but I interpreted that to mean that I had free reign to do whatever it took to make that happen. I nodded in understanding, and that smile finally came through as she patted me on the upper arm and walked away with Damon.

As soon as they were off the porch, I turned and gestured towards the open door. “Shall we?”

Tyler and Bill both seemed hesitant, so I took the lead and walked in ahead of them. I got to the living room and called for Caroline. It wasn’t very long before you could hear her voice coming from the direction of the hallway that lead to her room. “Hey, so where are we going tonight. I need to know, so I can plan what to wear. If it’s – “ She stopped mid-sentence when she came around the corner and saw Tyler standing in the room behind me. “What’s he doing here?” Just like her mother, Caroline’s eyes then went to her Dad’s hand, and she added, “And what’d I say about hurting my Dad, Eve?”

It’d proven to be just as difficult to remove the compulsion as it had been to put it there in the first place. The only easy thing about it was that we didn’t have to wait days for the vervain to leave his system, because we’d already known when we compelled him the first time that we were going to add vervain to the town’s water supply, and we’d known that every time he came back to Mystic Falls, he might be a pain in the ass again, so Damon had compelled him to drink bottled water and to think that salt was vervain, so Bill might have higher sodium levels than normal, but he didn’t have any vervain in his system even though he thought he did.

“Well, if I recall correctly, and I’m fairly certain that I do, you said that you’d put me in the hospital if I put him in the hospital, but this time I came prepared, because he’s a bit of a handful, so I just patched him up myself. No hospital visits necessary.” When her attention came back to me, she seemed less than enthused, and I added. “We fixed him . . . I mean, removing the compulsion wouldn’t take at first, because he pulled his– “
Taking a step back as her eyes went to her father in recognizable fear, she murmured, “He remembers?”

“He does.” Bill went to step around me to go comfort her, and she took another step back, so I pivoted to put a hand on his chest and keep him from getting any closer. “Just wait.” The look on his face said he really didn’t like being told what to do by teenagers. “If you’re really here to make things right, then you need to give her time to process all of this. There’s the you who hasn’t hurt her, and that’s who she’s been with the last couple of days, and then there’s the you who has hurt her . . . which is pretty much you right now. Give her a few seconds to process that both versions of you are really one and the same. She needs it. Anyone would.”

If Caroline was going to come to his defense and tell me to let him through, that would’ve been the moment for her to do it, but she didn’t. I tossed a look at her over my shoulder, and it would appear that she was planning to stay behind me and utilize the deer in headlights strategy. How could anyone torture her was beyond me, let alone a man who was supposed to be her father, but then he was also the same father who essentially abandoned her and replaced his presence in her life with presents, which is why so much of her self-worth was tied up in clothes and money – external things instead of who she was as a person. I quietly asked, “Are you okay?” and it seemed to snap her out of her daze. Her eyes flitted in my direction, and I said, “Look at this way. Anything he says or does now is real . . . the way it was before may have been easier, but it was fake.”

Her expression changed into one of her more determined ones that I really quite admired, and then because I was the one she was least intimidated by in that moment, she leveled that look on me. “And that is exactly why you shouldn’t have done it in the first place.”

If she needed to use me to reclaim some of her inner strength back, then I was fine with it to a certain extent, and I actually got her point. “I know.”

“I was just getting used to the idea that I really had my Dad back, and now – “

No reason to go overboard on it though. It’d only serve to make her lose sight of the intended purpose of this meeting. “Remember what I said after your Mom found out the first time?”

I was specifically referring to the part where I told her that nothing would stop Liz from protecting her regardless of whether or not Caroline was a vampire. Caroline stopped short before slowly nodding. Her eyes made their way back up to her Dad, and I took a step back to get out of their way as she quietly said, “You heard what happened before you got here?”

“That’s why I’m here.”

Letting a bit of her fragility show through, Caroline countered by saying, “But the last time you were in town, you – “

“I made a terrible mistake.” Using the silence that followed his admission, Bill added, “Sweetheart, if these last few days have proven anything, it’s that you’re still my Care Bear. I don’t think I would’ve had to have my memory erased to eventually see that.” He threw me a brief look before saying, “But it’s true, and it has rather rudely been pointed out to me that when I found out, I didn’t even take the time to find out how it happened.” His voice softened as he said, “You weren’t given a choice on whether you were given vampire blood. It was made for you without your knowledge. You died alone in your hospital room.” He paused to clear the emotion out of his voice before saying, “You must’ve been so scared, and when you woke up, nobody was there to tell you what was happening, the change you’d undergone, what was happening to you, and for that . . for not being there and not teaching you about the way this world really works . . . I’ll never forgive myself . . . and for what I did to you after I did find out, I don’t deserve to be forgiven, but I am truly sorry.”

Not bad. Caroline blinked back a couple of tears, and Bill looked over my head at Tyler before focusing once more on his daughter. “And this young man knows he made a mistake too. I knew you were down the last couple of days because of a rough patch you two have been having, but I had no idea the extent of the reason why. You almost died again, and I wasn’t there again, but I’m here now, and if you give us both a chance, we’ll do everything in our power to make it up to you.”

She finally broke and launched herself forward into her father’s arms with an almost inaudible, “Daddy,” and I looked back at Tyler, because this had suddenly gotten awkward. I think my expression asked him what we were supposed to do. Like were we supposed to leave for this kind of thing? He shrugged, and then tilted his head beside him, so I took another few steps back until I was standing next to him.

As soon as I got there, he nudged me with his elbow and gave me a nod to say ‘thanks.’ Poor guy. He had no idea what was ahead of him. I’m fairly certain Bill knew what had to be done, but neither of us had really gone into the details with Tyler, not that Tyler couldn’t figure it out if he really thought about it, or maybe he couldn’t. He was really more of a socially intellectual person than an actually intellectual person, so maybe he didn’t realize how much this was going to hurt, or maybe he was just in denial to the point that he hadn’t even let it enter his head. I failed miserably at giving him a smile as I nodded a ‘you’re welcome,’ in return. This was going to suck.

Chapter Text

“Hey! Back off!” I pulled Bill away from Tyler and grabbed the axe out of his hand. I know that I’d aptly demonstrated that the mind had a more difficult time being in control when the body was in pain, and one way to get around both issues with Tyler having to voluntarily break every bone in his body was to use what Tyler was against him by using his heightened emotions to force the change, but this was too heavy-handed. “Let’s get one thing straight. The only reason I woke you from your metaphorical sleep was so you could teach him some of that mental fortitude you have. If the right way to do this was to threaten, beat, and scare him into changing, I could’ve done that. I got you involved, because I expect more from you Obi Wan.”

Bill stood his ground. “If you don’t have the stomach to see this through, then I suggest you leave.”

I was so tired of the condescension that oozed from every pore of this man’s being. I’d only helped them convince Caroline to go, because I’d thought that maybe part of what was making this so difficult for Tyler was that he was too self-conscious about the change to do it in front of her. Sure, he’d changed into his wolf form in front of her the first time, but he hadn’t had a choice then. This time he did, and he didn’t want her to see him changing. It’d be like having his girlfriend watch him vomit or lose control of his bowels, and most people, let alone teenage boys would be too proud for that, but if I’d known Bill was going to act like this as soon as she’d gone, then maybe I wouldn’t have been so quick to help them turn her away. “I’m not going anywhere, and you are going to find another way. Appeal to his better nature.”

There was a right way to do this and a wrong way. He just wasn’t being patient enough to find the right way, and it may literally come back to bite him in the ass. We had no idea what the differences would be with Tyler being a hybrid now. Typically, a werewolf had to change on a full moon and what followed was a path of carnage, but with Tyler being a hybrid, who could change at will, whatever emotions he triggered in Tyler to force the change might stick with Tyler as a wolf, and it was one thing to have a man-shredding wolf on your hands. It was an entirely different thing to have that man-shredding wolf targeting you out of anger or fear. It might mean the difference between Tyler staying in those chains and breaking free of them.

I gave Bill what I considered to be ample time to respond and then turned away from him saying, “Fine, then you’re off the team. We’ll figure this out on our own.”

Knowing that I intended to let him go, so we could regroup and try this again later, Tyler said, “It’s okay, Eve. Maybe he’s right. You don’t have to stay. You can go.”

Bill wasn’t right. If I left and Tyler didn’t change into a werewolf, then I seriously suspected that Bill would follow through on the threat he just issued. Killing Tyler to protect Caroline was an option for Bill that probably carried some legitimate weight considering what Tyler had already done to her. The flip side was that if he carried on the way he had been and Tyler did change, then Bill might die, and I didn’t like the guy, but I didn’t exactly want to be the one who had to knock on Caroline’s door with an arm and a leg and say, ‘Here’s what’s left of your Dad. Sorry, I didn’t stay behind and keep Tyler from ripping him apart.’ They needed a mediator, and right now that was me. “No, you can do this, Tyler. You just don’t believe it yet, because you haven’t done it voluntarily. Once you do, you’ll prove to yourself that you can, and – “

“Look out!”

In my profession, if someone tells you to look out or duck or move or anything that says you are in some serious shit, the first thing you do is drop. You know you don’t have time to look for whatever it is that’s coming, because vampires are so fast, so you do the fastest thing you can to change your location and buy yourself a second or two by letting gravity have its way with you. On my way down, I felt the whoosh of air above my head that told me something had been swung in my direction. Landing on my knees, I turned in time to dodge, if not completely get out of the way of, a brick swung down in my direction. It struck my shoulder, and I felt my collar bone pop, but managed to take the handle of the axe and hit him in the stomach to make him drop the brick. “This is not what I was talking about when I said appeal to his better nature!” Even if the Incredible Hulk was a superhero, the last person you wanted to be was whoever pissed him off enough for him to change.

While Bill was doubled over, he picked up a wooden object that was lying against the wall next to him, stood and approached. I blocked the first strike, but my left shoulder wasn’t really up for it, so I still took a glancing blow to the left side of my head, brought the axe handle up in front of me with both hands and with a rapid flick, whacked him in the side. He grunted, took a step back, and then came back to continue his assault. He tried to hit me again and again with . . . what the hell was that? Could be a broom. Could be a sledgehammer for all I knew. This place was full of junk just lying around the place. I mean where the hell had the axe come from anyway?

I blocked what I could, but with the limited use of my arm, I didn’t block everything, and all it took was a direct knock on the top of my head for lightening to flash across my vision and an immediate headache to emerge. Fair is fair. He owed me for the role I played in his compulsion, but I would argue that a broken bone and concussion were both more damaging than a measly old burn to the hand.

I took a knock to the left side, hit the ground and immediately went from disliking to hating the guy standing above me as he brought the handle of whatever the hell he was using to try and club me down on my injured shoulder. I rolled onto my back, so I could block any more attacks, and he brought his foot back to kick me in the side. I took the kick as best I could, prevented him from striking me again by jabbing the end of the axe handle into his stomach, and then thought two things almost at once as he stumbled back a couple of steps. ‘Swipe his legs out from under him, roll to your knees, and swing the axe down through his skull,’ and ‘Behave, he’s a human.’ It left me open for a another blow to my side, and I felt something crack.

I got the basic gist of what was happening. I think Bill had wanted to knock me out, so he could finish this the way he wanted, but he hadn’t, and now we were at a point where he saw this as an opportunity that he could seize to get his way. The fact that I wasn’t a part of his little plan meant I was selling it to Tyler by my reaction or lack thereof, and I needed to put an end to this before it got out of hand. My foot went out, and I kicked Bill as hard as I could in the knee, but maybe it was too little too late.

One second Bill was yelling out in pain as I dislocated his kneecap. The next, the noise in the room was swallowed whole and replaced by an earth-shattering roar that came from near the top of my head. It was followed by a giant fur ball that sprung over me and knocked Bill out of view. Oops. My timing on taking out one of his legs couldn't have been worse.

Ignoring the calls for help, I slowly got to my knees. A few moments later, I used the axe as a staff to get to my feet, and then I turned my eyes on the disaster to my left. I seriously considered walking out and leaving Bill to his own devices. The first time the wolf got a good bite in on one of Bill’s forearms, I felt nothing except a sense of satisfaction. Bones crunched, another scream. He was clawed with those razor sharp talons and screamed again. Okay, I should probably do something to stop this.

The wolf was totally focused on Bill, so as I slowly approached from the side, it didn’t register that I was there. Taking the axe, I brought it over my shoulder and then swung the broadside of the axe into the side of the wolf’s head as hard as I could. I’m not sure who yelped in pain louder when it connected, me or the wolf. The only good thing about being injured at this point was that my adrenaline was already starting to kick in, so while I’d only managed to knock the wolf a couple of feet off of Bill, I was able to react when the wolf then changed direction and launched himself at me.

Falling to my knees, another small cry left my lips at the pain I felt in my shoulder and ribs when I rapidly leaned back to flatten myself against the ground, but he sailed right over me. I pulled my custom-made automatic dart gun, and he landed. I shot him twice over the top of my head before his body could turn to charge again. Getting to my knees and spinning to face the wolf, I shot it in the chest two more times, and then reached down to grab the axe that I’d dropped next to me, because he might be slower with 4 darts, but not slow enough to stop. He barreled into me and knocked me onto my back again, but I’d brought the axe handle up to block those teeth from tearing into me. He gnawed on that a total of twice before snapping it in half, and using my right hand, I immediately took the pointy end of one of the halves and shoved it up under his chin to keep that mouth closed.

He yelped of course, and it instantly made me feel bad, so as he started pulling and shaking his head as a means to try and get away, it was with alarm that I yelled, “Tyler stop,” and he did, but it was to look at me and growl in indignation, and I understood it. I really did. He’d just broken every bone in his body in record time to help me, and I’d belted him upside the head with an axe. “Come on, you did this to protect me, and now look at what you’re trying to do to me.” He gave a pitiful look and whimpered again before trying to pull away from me, and I had to yell, “You’re going to hurt yourself worse! Just stop!” He froze and gave me another pleading look, more whimpers. “I’ll let you go, but you can’t attack me . . . You can’t kill Caroline’s Dad either.”

A sharp whine for help left him, and I sighed. I felt like an asshole. “I’m sorry, Tyler . . . I really am.” I pulled out the makeshift stake that was impaling his face and we had a bit of a stare off to see what the other would do. I finally broke the ice by saying the only thing I could. “What you did for me just now Tyler . . . I think it might be one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me . . . You put me first, above you, above anyone . . . so thank you for that.”

I didn’t know how much of this was getting through. He was really more animal than man right now. The only thing separating him from being entirely an animal was that he should be able to understand every word I said. He hadn’t killed me yet, so I took that as a positive sign. There were a few moments when I thought this could go either way. I guess if I was going to die, it’d be better if he killed me than if Bill did. I was wearing my ring and because of that really quite grateful that I hadn’t had a chance to make a new anti-magic medicine bag yet. I might have to rethink that. The moments of uncertainty on how this would end passed when the wolf hovering over me ducked his head and licked my cheek. I was immediately confused. He was supposed to be a wild beast whose sole enjoyment was found in the ripping and tearing of flesh.

“Did you just – “ He did it again. “Tell me your just testing me out to see how much of a tasty morsel I’d be and not – “ I had to shut my mouth and turn my face when I was attacked by a frenzy of licks until I finally laughed out, “Stop it . . . Stop . . . If you don’t stop, I’m telling Caroline.” He quit, and I opened an eye to peek up at him. When I saw he wasn’t going to do it anymore, I turned my face to look up at him. “So, we’re good?”

I guess we were, because he let out a soft groan as he stretched and then plopped down with his front paws draped over my torso. His eyes immediately went to the bloody mess that was Caroline’s psychotic father on the other side of the room, and he issued a low growl. The meaning was clear if Bill was conscious enough to heed the warning. He’d better not get too close, or tired from the wolfsbane or not, Tyler would finish the job he’d started. Maybe Tyler was more of a friend than I’d thought, or maybe he would be now, or maybe we would never speak of this and just let things go back to being the way they were.

Speaking of Bill, I tilted my head back to look for him and saw how much blood he was losing. Someone should probably help him. I didn’t really feel like being that person, but I suppose I had to be. I was the only one here right now. With a sigh, I started to move out from under the wolf pinning me down, and he growled. I immediately threw him a look. Maybe he was just protecting his lunch until that wolfsbane wore off . . . nah, I was going to give him the benefit of the doubt.

He was an animal right now, so he was either trying to protect his lunch, or he didn’t want me getting too close to Bill even though Bill wasn’t up for doing much harm at the moment. The wolf didn’t really understand that. All he knew was that he wanted me away from Bill, because Bill was dangerous. “I’d love nothing more than to take a nap and sleep this headache off, but it’d be more than a little embarrassing if you changed back where you are right now, Mr. No-Pants, wouldn’t it?” I tried to move out from under his paws again.

Another little growl followed by a small whimper as if he was asking me to stay where he thought it was safe. Why did I have to be such a sucker for animals? I stopped with another small sigh. “I have to go check on him. You can either stay here, or come with me, but if you come with me, no biting. Do you understand me?” He looked from me to Bill to me to Bill to me and then whimpered again, like he was unsure about all of this before slowly rising to his feet.

With my adrenaline quickly subsiding, I was able to roll away from him at what felt like a smidge faster than a snail’s pace before getting to my knees. Standing was going to be a problem, but it seemed like a better idea than crawling. I got a knee up and used that to give me enough leverage to stand before stumbling over to Bill aware that the wolf was following me. Looking down at Bill, I took note of the fact that he was unconscious. Must’ve passed out from the pain. I looked around for something I could use as a tourniquet. He was losing most of his blood from his arm.

I stumbled back to where I’d been and bent down at the knees to pick up the half of the axe handle that was no longer attached to the axe and went back to Bill before taking a Swiss Army knife out of my pocket, so I could cut a strip of cloth from the bottom of my flannel shirt, wrapped the cloth around the bleeding arm, stuck the stick in the cloth, and then turned the stick until the cloth was so tight it cut off the blood flow to the lower part of his arm. Maybe if it was on there too long, he’d lose the arm, but I didn’t really care. Better that than death, and he was a dick, so it’d probably serve him right. Maybe he’d lose that arm anyway. It was sort of lose and just hanging there as it was.

He was also bleeding out from a pretty substantial claw mark that went from his shoulder down to his stomach. He wasn’t disemboweled, and I couldn’t see any internal organs, or bones . . . eh, peeking through a tear in the shirt, I thought maybe I saw a rib or two. I took off my jacket and used the rest of what was left of my flannel shirt as a compress. The pain from that is what eventually woke him up with a startled cry, one that turned into a full-fledged scream of horror when he saw Tyler standing over my shoulder. Of course Tyler didn’t make it easy on him. His teeth were bared. He was snarling and snapping. If there was ever an embodiment of the face of danger, that was it.

I looked at the wolf over my shoulder and tapped him on the nose. “No. What did I say?”

It startled him, and he went from focusing on Bill to looking at me. I wouldn’t say he was sheepish in the slightest. Maybe a little confused, so I spelled it out for him. “No biting, which you’re totally building towards right now. No killing . . . The way you're going, you’re gonna scare him to death.” He licked his nose and then sat down in what I would call a huff before throwing another small growl in Bill’s direction. Sure that he wasn’t going to attack, I turned back to Bill, so I could stuff my jacket under his feet to elevate them. “You’re in shock, literally, and this is just about the worst advice I can give you right now, because the thought alone is going to make that heart of yours pump the blood out of you even faster, but you’re gonna have to stay here with him, while I go call Liz.”

“You can’t be serious. No. You can’t leave me with – “

I stopped him there. “Hey!” With a finger pointed in his face, I continued, “The only person you have to blame for this is yourself. It isn’t his fault. It isn’t my fault. It’s yours. You chose for it to go down this way, and now you have to live with the consequences of your actions. Thanks to you, I am unable to drag you upstairs, which means you are going to have to stay here, and stay conscious, so you can hold this over your wounds and stop the bleeding. He’s staying here, because I am not letting him out in his current state.”

Resting his head back on the ground, Bill gave a drowsy shake of his head before finally saying, “Well at least lock him back up before you go.”

Those chains might be able to hold Tyler now with the extra wolfsbane in his system, but there was one small problem with that. “Yeah, well he’s not going to do that willingly, and I’m not going to chance my own safety for your peace of mind.” Slowly getting to my feet, I went back to where I’d had my little scuffle with Tyler and bent down to pick up my dart gun muttering, “You know you’re the real monster here, right? None of my injuries were caused by him.”

He deadpanned, “You’re bleeding,” but I waved that off as I came back to him.

“Mere flesh wounds from his claws.” I handed him the gun and said, “Consider this your peace of mind, but remember, even though he may be slower than normal, he’s still faster than you on a good day, and he’s not going to take his eyes off of you, so if he sees you point this at him, you’re done. Only use it if there is no other option. You’ll need to empty the clip for him to go down and stay down, but I don’t think he’ll attack you again.” With that, I turned to make my way upstairs, so I could get some cell phone reception.

Liz answered on the second ring. “Hi, Eve. How’s – “

“There’s been an animal attack.” There was silence on the other end, and I sighed. “Caroline’s home. She’s fine, but you’re going to need an ambulance at the Lockwood estate . . . If you get here fast enough, you’ll still see the animal . . . wait a little longer, and your people should be safe to enter. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

I couldn’t guarantee that Tyler wouldn’t attack the EMTs or even her until after he changed back. “Is it bad?”

“Yes, but I’ll leave it up to you on how to proceed from here.”

It sounded like she was on the move as she asked, “Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine. I’ll meet you at the front. You’re going to need someone to show you where this place is. It's not easy to find.”

Chapter Text

Like a whirlwind with furious bouncing blonde hair, Caroline descended on my room. Probably shouldn’t have called and told her that her Dad was in the hospital until after I was sure he was out of surgery. “What happened?!”

My eyes flicked to the annoying nurse. She was fussing over me way too much, and she wouldn't leave no matter how much I hinted at it. “Uh, you know, teeth, claws, a general blood bath ensued.”

“You promised to look after him!”

Maybe I should be flattered that she'd had that much faith in me, a faith that had apparently been shattered, but I wasn't. I knew Caroline was worried about her Dad. I also knew that as a woman who needed to have absolute control over every part of her life, the fact that she was powerless to change the past few hours or alter the outcome of what was happening with her Dad now was getting to her. She’d come here to take her mind off of it by venting her frustration on me, and I understood that, but I wasn’t in the mood to put up with it. On a good day, I would’ve been hard pressed to put up with it for very long, and today had not been a good day. “Can we talk about this later?”

“No. I want to know how this happened, because right now I’m thinking that you let his happen . . . blah, blah, blah.”

If one of the other two people who were there told her what happened, then more power to them, but I wasn’t going to voluntarily offer up the information that I got my ass kicked by a middle aged man. Monsters I could handle. Humans were another thing entirely. I found walking the line between using too much force and not enough difficult to manage sometimes, or I did now that everyone around me seemed to have an opinion on it that they were whispering in my ears on an almost daily basis.

‘You have a ‘no humans policy.’ ‘Reign it in, or I will see to it that assault charges are brought against you.’ ‘You don’t have to kill. Do the right thing.’ The truth is I’d never really had to deal with humans very much, so the ‘no humans’ policy was more of a theory I’d developed, because it felt right after the harm I'd already seen done to humans, but it’s a theory I’d never really had to put to the test, and if there was ever even a look from a human that could be construed or misconstrued as threatening, my Mom had dealt with it. I was dealing with all of this on my own now, and it was proving difficult to say the least.

I stopped her mid-sentence, because I'd long since stopped listening, and she wasn't getting what my body language said. “Get out.”

Caroline seemed genuinely surprised by that. “What?”

“Go bother your Mom. She’s waiting for news on your Dad, who the doctors said will be fine by the way.”

“He’s going to lose his arm. How can you - “

Leveling a grumpy look in her direction, I grumbled, “Leave.” Lifting my good hand in her direction, palm splayed, like I was pushing her away with the force of my mind, I added, “I don’t feel like dealing with all of this.” She opened her mouth again, and I said, “Go. . . before I make you go.”

Her face fell into a scowl, and then she turned on her heel to presumably stomp her way to her mother. I flicked another glance at the nurse and said, “I want to be discharged.”

“But you haven’t even seen the doctor – “

“Well then get him in here, so I can see him and go.” She finally bustled on out of the room, and the doctor came in about 5 minutes later. What followed were questions that I lied to answer by saying I was in a car accident, and that was followed by poking and prodding and the suggestion of an x-ray. We both knew what was wrong. I had a concussion, a broken collar bone, and maybe a cracked rib. He wanted to be sure. Where I hurt was a good enough indicator for me. I finally relented to save myself the hassle of arguing over it, and we found out precisely what I’d thought was wrong with the added cost of an x-ray now thrown into the evaluation.

I was waiting for him to come back when the terrier came flying into my room. I could already tell by her pace, posture, and the expression on her face that this wasn’t anything I felt like dealing with either. I have no idea how she knew I was here, but I’m guessing that Caroline called her, so she’d come to be emotional support for Caroline in this ‘difficult time.’ What a crock. At this point, they all knew Bill was going to be more or less fine. That’s not why Elena was really yapping at me right now.

“Blah, blah, blah, blah, are you even listening to me?”

Honestly? “No.”

With a growl of frustration, Elena balled up the object I’d just told her I didn’t want right now and threw it into my lap before storming out of the hospital room. Why was she angry? Because she wasn’t following through on her responsibility to keep an eye on Imelda, or if she was, she wasn’t filling me in on what she found, so since Jeremy and I had been talking on the phone more since the Wickery Bridge accident, I’d put him on Imelda duty for the time being, and he’d come across the lock box with the demon die in it.

He hadn’t known what it was or why it was there. He’d just figured that since he didn’t know where it came from and Elena pretended not to know where it came from when he asked her about it, then it must be Imelda’s, so he’d wanted to talk to me about it, but I’d been busy with the Tyler and Bill fiasco, so he’d taken a sledgehammer to the lock box, had a peek inside, and Elena had walked in on a lifeless Jeremy in their backyard. Had he had his medicine pouch on him to keep him safe from the die? No, because he apparently figured out sooner than I did that it would render the magic on his ring useless, which left him open to the powers of the die that Elena’d just carelessly flung into my lap, but it did also save his life, because he was already back, and I guess we’d learned a few important things about the die.

For one, it did have the power to kill. Two, its magic didn’t supersede the Gilbert ring’s magic, and since it was supernatural in nature, anyone who died because of it and who was also wearing the Gilbert ring at the same time, would ultimately come back. Three, since I wasn’t now dead after it touched me, I’m guessing that it’d killed Jeremy for a reason. What that was, I didn’t know, but my theory had always been that it took something from someone to give it to the owner, so the owner may now be amongst the living again. I may have my shot at a genuine revenant yet. Four, I may not have my magic pouch, but I also didn’t feel a pull to use the die. Either this thing didn’t see me as a potential owner, or it’d done it’s job of protecting its previous owner by drawing a human near enough to touch it, so it could give their life force to the owner, and now that that was done, it wasn’t trying to mind control anyone into using it anymore.

I’d have to wait until I found Stefan and asked him what he did with the hunter’s body to see if any of my theories were correct, or if I was way off base, but we’d learned a few important things about it, and Jeremy was fine, so I was okay with the results, but Elena was less than happy about how we’d gotten them, and I guess this was now mine again. What to do with it was another question. I picked it up, examined it briefly, and stuck it in my pocket until I could find somewhere safe to put it, as the doctor returned.

The sling he’d given me was ridiculous. Maybe I should just go the vampire blood route. No, it did nothing for my fighting abilities if I relied too heavily on an easy fix to the problems I encountered. Lesson learned this time? Don’t turn your back on people you know are dicks. They’re worse than monsters and fighting them limits your options to non-lethal means if you are trying to live by the code of not killing humans.

The doctor that was bossing me around backed away as I stood to sign some forms, so that I could be formally discharged against medical advice and got up to leave. “I’m going to write you a prescription for some pain killers. Only take – “

Pain medicine dulled your mind. Brushing past him, I muttered, “Don’t bother, I won’t take any,” as I made my way to the door. My lift was taking ages to get here, and maybe that was part of my problem. He’d answered the call Liz made right after she’d gotten to the Lockwoods’ even though I’d told her not to call him, so I knew he knew I was here and why, and the fact that he wasn’t here yet meant I had to go looking for him. If she told him I was hurt, he’d be here. Even if he was in the middle of something he had to finish and couldn't come right after she called, he should've been here by now. Something was wrong.

My suspicions grew as I got outside and saw his car parked in the parking lot. My free hand went to my phone, and I immediately started eliminating suspects by calling the most obvious choice first. “Eve. To what do I owe the pleasure? Are you calling to convince me to do the right thing again?”

I sighed at Klaus’s mocking tone. “That depends. You wouldn’t happen to know where Damon is, would you?”

“Is he missing?”

My eyes narrowed as I tried to determine if there was anything in his tone that would give me the answer I wanted. “Would I be asking if I knew where he was? He’s supposed to be here, and he’s not.”

“Well, his type aren’t normally known for being dependable.”

“They are when you need them to be.”

“And why would you need him to be now?”

I couldn’t exactly tell him where I was or why I was here. We had been trying to get Tyler to change, so he could break his sire bond to Klaus, and his line of questioning led me to believe he didn’t know where Damon was. He’d play more mind games if he did instead of trying to ask in a round about way what was wrong and needed fixing. “No reason. I’ve got to go. Bye, Klaus.”

I was just about to hang up when I heard him say, “If it were me, I’d look to his brother for answers.”

I snapped, “Yeah, well finding Stefan is proving to be difficult,” and then deflated as I said, “Thanks for eliminating yourself from my list of suspects instead of sending me on a wild goose chase and wasting too much of my time.”

Again, I was ready to hang up when he said, “Eve.”

I responded with an exasperated, “What?”

“If you need my help, all you have to do is ask.”

There was really only one person I’d ever asked for help, and it’s because I’d thought we had the same goals when I approached him. If other people helped me, like Katherine, or Tyler, I didn’t ask for it. They did it on their own, people usually got hurt, and I still wound up feeling like I owed them for some reason. “I’m not the type to ask, but thanks for the offer.”

I pressed the button to end the call before he could say anything else, tried Stefan, didn’t get answer, but left a message, tried Tyler, didn’t get an answer, and didn’t leave a message. Next, I made my way to Damon’s car to begin my investigation. I didn’t see any blood. I didn’t see any dents or broken glass. There was nothing to indicate that there’d been a struggle here. I turned to look at the hospital. It wasn’t too far. I guess he could’ve made his way inside. Maybe one of the wannabe vampire slayers in this town suspected him of being a vampire and had tried to take him out when they saw an opportunity, or maybe the real vampire hunter had gotten out of his grave, made his way here, and had gotten him.

I could try to get into the security room and go through security footage or ask Liz if she’d mind doing it, but she was a little preoccupied right now, and if she got involved and went the more official route, then others might have to watch what she was watching, and what if they saw something that proved Damon was a vampire? If I did it on my own, it wouldn’t be easy because the current state of my body made stealth a little more difficult with my limited motion. I’d probably get caught, and I honestly didn’t feel like adding that to my list of things that’d gone wrong today.

I could do this the hard way and go room by room to see if I saw any signs of a struggle. If anyone asked me what I was doing, I could say I was lost and looking for Bill’s room. It wasn’t a very big hospital, so it didn’t take me more than about 15 minutes to find him in one of the more long-term care rooms. He was passed out on the floor by the door, but a cursory look at him told me he wasn’t dead. He didn’t have any of the tell-tale signs, like skin discoloration or black veins. If he had his head, his heart, and no hole in his heart made by something wooden, then he was alive . . . unless a witch killed him using magic somehow, but he looked normal, and when they killed another supernatural being using magic, then whatever it was they killed usually ended up looking pretty far from normal with charred remains if magically controlled fire was used or the normal skin discoloration and black veins, but missing or bleeding eyes, other missing body parts, shrunken or badly disfigured body parts – not normal.

His neck didn’t look lumpy or wrong in any way, so he didn’t have a broken neck. He didn’t appear to be sick, so it wasn’t a hybrid bite. My money was on vervain. The fact that he was alive said it wasn’t the hunter, and the fact that the room seemed untouched except for him being sprawled out on the floor said this had been a sneak attack. He hadn’t seen his attacker as a threat, or there would have been more of a struggle. I could carry on postulating about what happened, or I could wake the one witness who could tell me.

Crouching down in front of him, I reached forward to gently shake his shoulder. “Damon.” Nothing. I pushed on his shoulder again. “Damon. Wake up.” I patted him lightly on the cheek. “Damon.” Nothing.

I went to slap him kind of hard in the face, but his hand reached up to grab my wrist just before I connected, and there was a smirk on his lips before his eyes even opened into tiny little slits. “You have no patience.”

“Are you okay?”

“I will be.”

“What happened?”

His eyes opened more fully as he took in the sight of me, and he frowned a little before inhaling deeply and sitting up taller against the door. “Shouldn’t I be asking you that?”

“We both essentially know why I’m here. You, on the other hand, are the big bad vampire that’s passed out on the floor for unknown reasons.”

“Vervain.”

“Reason 101 not to become a vampire. It makes the strongest of you guys weak.”

His brow furrowed. “You’re mad at me.”

“No. I’m mad at whoever did this to you, but in their absence, you’re sort of stuck with my ire until you point me in the right direction.”

He breathed out a silent laugh and started to push himself off the floor, so I stood and waited for his answer. “I’ll tell you after you tell me, but first we’re getting out of here.”

Yeah, it was probably for the best if there was some distance between he and Bill when I told him how everything went wrong today. Looking up at him, I guessed he was thinking something similar about his own attacker. “You think the person is still here in the hospital.”

He gave me a small smile before opening the door for me. “Oh, I know the person is still here in the hospital, but I think we’ve both had enough of this place for one day.”

Chapter Text

“It’s not too late to back out.”

Continuing to ignore Stefan the way I’d done since he showed back up at the house this morning, I opened the back door and hopped out of the car before it’d even pulled to a stop. I walked off into the night without another look back, and listened as they drove off down the road. They were going in the front because they were expected. I was going in the back because I wasn’t, and if I was suspicious of Damon right now, Stefan’s comment almost proved I was right not to trust them. When they weren’t fighting over a doppelganger, they got along, and when they got along, they were a pain in my ass.

Why was I suspicious? Because I probably shouldn’t be here, and yet I’m fairly certain both of them wanted me to be despite what they said. I knew the negative side of Stefan well enough now that I knew when he was goading me into doing the opposite of what he said, and that back there was a prime example of it. Then there was Damon.

The list of people who were important to him might be small, but there was a list, and he was afraid of losing people on it to the point that he’d trample all over them just to keep them around. I was living proof of that, so why hadn’t he put up more of a fight about me coming? It’s not that he didn’t put up a fight, just that his arguments had been a little weak. He’d said all the right things, like, “I have no idea how this is going to go. I don’t want you there,” but it was two seconds before he helped me put my hair up, so it wouldn’t get in my way tonight. I’d told him that he was welcome to bring one of the others, like Bonnie or Elena instead, and he said that maybe he would as he took my dart gun, so he could load it for me when he saw me struggling to do it with one hand.

In fairness to him, he did try to talk me out of coming here by giving me something safer to do that he knew was bothering me. “Why don’t you go hunt down that doctor and tell her all the things you’ve been telling me about what was wrong with what she did? That’d be way more fun than this is going to be.”

The truth is that I’d love to meet her, so I could go over the morality of luring a person away from a crowd to steal their blood. It’s the kind of thing that vampires and people who sold organs on the black market did, not upstanding doctors. I’d also love to know how she found out Damon is a vampire. She was a Fell, so maybe she overheard someone ‘in the know’ talking about it at a Council meeting, or maybe she’d just figured it out on her own. Is that why she took the blood, to know for sure if that’s what he was, or was she sure and had other plans for that blood? Was she a part of that organization that’d had him in the 50s, or was she something else?

I could pay her a visit, but I already had a lot on my plate, and no doctor in their right mind was going to listen to a high school senior about much of anything, especially a young doctor, who had more to prove than an older doctor and would therefore be more arrogant. I could go with a more violent solution, but that didn’t seem quite right just yet, so I did the only thing I felt I could. I told on her. Liz said she’d handle it, and for now, I had to trust that she would, which is exactly what I told Damon, and that was it. He was seemingly out of arguments as he handed me my stake. His words sounded like he didn’t want me to go tonight, but his actions proved otherwise, so why was I doing this despite my misgivings?

The doctor said that my collar bone would take 6 to 8 weeks to heal, not less than a week. My arm was in a sling, and my brain was probably still bruised, but I’d never willingly sit something like this out, because I was never one to put tending to a few bumps and scrapes above a fight. As I told Elena, your mind was your strongest weapon, and mine seemed to be working just fine despite the damage, which meant that by my own standards, I had to be here, but it was more than that. I needed a win. Things moved so fast in this town that a win didn’t stay with you very long before there were a string of losses, and the losses didn’t have to happen over more than a couple of weeks before they started wearing you down.

That’s why I needed to be here and for tonight to go off without a hitch with the ultimate goal being that Klaus got his coffin back without killing Damon or Stefan. Why did the Salvatore brothers employ different techniques in pushing me towards being with them tonight? I didn’t know. It could be for a few different reasons.

Damon might genuinely need me as part of his plan and didn’t want to admit it. Out of all the reasons, I think I liked that one the best. It meant that he could admit to himself that he trusted me to be competent in whatever I did even if he didn’t want to admit it to me. Admitting it to me would mean that he’d have to accept me as an equal member of his team who was more likely to help than need to be helped, and he wasn’t quite there yet, but if he could admit it to himself, he was almost there. He could also be coming around to the idea that I knew what was best for me and was going to respect that going forward. The notion of that one almost made me laugh. It wasn’t that.

Maybe he thought that I was going to do whatever I wanted anyway, and I’d worn him down enough that he believed it was best just to go with it, but that was almost as ridiculous as the second option, and I didn’t want to be that kind of person, so I hoped that wasn’t the case. He might joke about me wearing him down from time to time when I outmaneuvered him in an argument, but there was a fine line between being strong and being a bully who steamrolled over other people to get what I wanted enough times that people eventually just gave up and gave in to everything I said and did. I wanted to be strong, but I also wanted to listen to the concerns other people had . . . okay not everyone, just a select few, but still I wanted to be better than I was, and to be perfectly honest, Damon wasn’t a push over, so I doubted that was the reason why he wanted me here without wanting me to know it.

If it wasn’t any of those things, then maybe he wanted me in the lion’s den with him, because at least then, he’d know where I was and that he wouldn’t be far if I ran into trouble. He wouldn’t want me to know that, because he knew I didn’t like the idea of anyone thinking I was a damsel in distress or behaving as if I were one. My money was on that one, but there was still an idea niggling at the back of my mind that said maybe he wanted me here for some other reason, and Stefan had just fanned the flames on that one. If I had to guess, I’d say Damon wanted me to be a shadowy presence in the background at Klaus’s not-so-humble-abode, because he didn’t want me to screw up whatever deal he’d made with Stefan to get Stefan to have a sit down with Klaus.

Whatever the reason, I guess I was here now, and I had a job to do. It involved a lot of sneaking around, staying out of sight, and waiting for a signal that may never come, but I wasn’t just playing back up. I was providing it. It really made me more of a B option as far as back up went, but it was an integral part of this plan, and it had to be done before I stationed myself outside the room they were in to act as back up if and when I was needed. For this to work, I couldn’t go toe-to-toe with any foes I might find. Ideally, that meant I wouldn’t be discovered.

It’s not that I was too terribly concerned with being captured. I didn’t think Klaus would kill me or lock me in a dungeon, but he would put an end to my night, and if he acted out towards the Salvatore brothers or if Damon’s cavalry wasn’t the help he was expecting it to be, then I needed to be here. My plans on how to deal with Klaus had nothing to do with violence. I just figured that I might be able to talk him down, and maybe that’s why Damon was secretly okay with me being here, but Klaus’s minions were a different story. There were no guarantees that one of them wouldn’t try to kill me if they saw an intruder lurking around the premises. It was more prudent for me to stay hidden until the right time if there ever was one.

If I was discovered, then I had my dart gun. It was a lot quieter than a normal gun. If I wasn’t fast enough with that, I also had my machete in a thigh strap next to my good hand. The idea was to deal with an opponent who became aware of my presence without alerting other nearby opponents that I was there. If that didn’t work, if I was too slow to stop the foe given my limitations, then I had a dagger and my trusty stake. If all else failed, Damon had given me a vial of his blood just in case. Good thing vampires healed so fast they had no need for platelets, because it meant their blood wouldn’t coagulate. I had no intention of using it, but I felt better knowing I could if I really needed it. Maybe Damon did too, and that’s why he hadn’t done or said more to prevent me from being here. I really needed to stop thinking about that and focus on the task at hand.

When I got to the house, I went to the back and made it inside without any trouble. All I had to do was wait until I was sure I was in the clear before simply opening the door. Once again, being what he was, I’m guessing Klaus didn’t feel the need to lock the doors. I think that might be why I wasn’t very good at breaking into pl