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The Pit

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The Pit

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"Yeah, I will. Thanks, Elena."

Head bent, Stefan Salvatore paced the kitchen, freezing when he heard a sudden noise.

"I think he might be back. I gotta go. … Yeah, I'll tell him to call you..."

With a swift movement, he disconnected the call, sliding his phone back into his pocket before quickly making his way to the door. If this was really his brother Damon, as he hoped, he wanted to get to him before their irate father had a chance to lay into him.

Damon had been gone without a trace for more than 48 hours. He hadn't answered any calls, his friends had been unavailable, not even his girlfriend had had a clue as to his whereabouts and had been just as worried as Stefan himself.

It wasn't unlike Damon to go on a bender for a night, but two? And without telling anyone? Without at least dropping a hint to Stefan or his girlfriend Elena? Completely unheard of.

That none of their mutual friends had been around, either, had only made the whole situation more obscure and honestly, truly worrisome. As if they had all just vanished.

"If that is your stupid dipshit of a brother," Guiseppe Salvatore hissed through clenched teeth, storming out of the living room so fast that Stefan hurried to try and get to the door before him.

"Dad…" Stefan sighed, clenching his jaw to suppress his growing anger.

"I'm fucking livid!" The older man glared at him in passing, quickly focusing back on the door from where they heard scraping noises. As if someone had trouble finding the keyhole.

Was Damon maybe just stupid drunk? Whenever he was out with that shady friend of his (the one with the weird Italian name, the grating accent, and that had flirted a little too obviously with Stefan's ex-girlfriend even before she had been an ex, thank you very much. What a complete douche...), he turned into an even worse version of himself. Stefan shook his head at the mere thought. If they had all been worried for nothing, he'd make sure himself that Damon felt their wrath.

He immediately felt guilty for thinking that way, however, when he heard his dad continue with his tirade. "Kid better have a damn good explanation or I'll beat the living hell out of him - and if I find out that you covered for him, Stefan…" Guiseppe's eyes flickered dangerously and his younger son couldn't help a grimace marring his face for a second. They were almost grown men now, yet the older man instilled the same fear in his sons he always had.

"He'll wish he never came home," Guiseppe was just gritting out, when the door flew open with a gust of wind, bringing in a soaking wet Damon along with the icy cold and rain of a storm that had been raging outside for hours.

"Damon." Stefan's voice and that of his father overlapped as they called out his name, but Damon merely stared past them as if he hadn't seen or heard either of them. His eyes seemed almost empty, his expression blank, both in stark contrast to the vivid story his blood stained clothes and battered face were trying to tell.

Blood.

Stefan's breath caught in his throat. "What happened," he tried to ask but the words got stuck just like his gaze got stuck on the blood on Damon's hands.

"What the hell happened to you?" Guiseppe brushed past his younger son to get to his eldest, grabbing him roughly by the arms. Damon flinched, trying to focus his gaze on that of his father, whose larger form was hunkering over him.

"Dad." Stefan laid a hand on the older man's shoulder, but got shrugged off immediately. His body tensed. He knew Guiseppe's temper all too well, and he knew his brother. The two of them were like dynamite, always ready to explode around each other, and with Damon covered in blood already, Stefan doubted the outcome of any outburst on either side would be anything but futile.

So he forcefully shoved himself between the two, ignoring his father's outrage as best as he could and shielding his older brother at the same time.

His eyes finally found Damon's, and he tried locking gazes, keeping the older one's attention.

"What happened, Damon? Are you hurt?" The question seemed dumb. There was so much blood. But he couldn't be sure it was really Damon's. Or whether someone else was involved.

Did he maybe have a car accident?

"Unbelievable," Guiseppe growled, now from behind him, shoving Stefan, but the younger man was not a child anymore, was stronger these days, and despite his father's larger frame, he could finally withstand his anger. It didn't stop the old Salvatore from griping. "Tell me why the hell you didn't find the time to at least call?! Just a minute out of your precious day. As long as your lazy ass is living in my house, you listen to my rules, and you tell me where you are! This behavior in the past two days is outrageous! Two whole days, Damon! Without a word."

"Dad." Stefan rolled his eyes, running a hand through his already ruffled looking hair. He felt so achingly tired all of a sudden. "Not now, okay? Let me deal with him."

"Stefan, I don't think you understand—"

"I do, okay?!" He interrupted his dad, shooting him a glare, then forcing himself to calm down. He was absently holding Damon's arm, noticing a small tremor in his brother's muscles. A shiver.

Something was really really wrong. Damon still hadn't said a word.

"Please, dad. Let me take care of this. Just… just go back to the living room or, why don't you go to sleep. It's almost two in the morning."

"He owes me an apology and an explanation."

Guiseppe sounded like a petulant child, and Stefan's mouth turned into a hard thin line. But for the same old reason, he bit down anything he wanted to say and settled on an appeasement instead. "I know, dad. And you'll get both. Tomorrow. Okay? Please…"

He hated pleading. Hadn't he just sworn to himself he'd finally tell the man where to shove it? After the breakup with Caroline and his decision to go to the big city with Lexi, he had felt so liberated, so ready to leave behind his old home and all the ties binding him to this dark place.

He had basically only waited for Damon to come back home so he could say a proper goodbye and maybe encourage his brother to come with him.

And now said brother was standing before him like a statue, lost and forlorn and not saying a single word.

Stefan wasn't listening to his father long enough to hear his reply, instead solely focusing on his older brother.

"Come on, man," he cajoled, trying to get Damon deeper into the house, but it was as if he was rooted to the spot. "Can you tell me what's going on? Was there an accident? Do I need to get you to a hospital?" He indicated the blood on Damon's jacket, on his shirt, his pants with a nod, and inclined his head. "This yours?" When there was still barely a reaction, just the same empty stare, a chill crept up Stefan's spine. Damon was never this quiet. He was never lost for words and he certainly never left out an opportunity to be the center of attention.

"Brother, you're scaring me," he admitted, tightening his hold on the other's arm just as Damon collapsed in on himself, almost dragging a startled Stefan with him, who tried to keep him from hitting the floor.

Stefan was cradling his unconscious brother in both arms, staring wide eyed at him then over his shoulder at their father, who looked genuinely perplexed.

"What the hell?!"

...

"Rebekah?"

Klaus peaked around the corner into the large foyer of their house, squinting to see in the darkness.

His younger sister had been gone for almost three days. Elijah, always playing the parent since their own had basically left them to fend for themselves, had glumly walked the hallways well into the small hours since her unannounced departure, always waiting, always hoping for her return.

The police was treating it like just another teenage girl that ran away from home and would be back soon enough, maybe overwhelmed by finals, or boy trouble. But Elijah had known better, and so had Klaus.

His little sister was the only person he truly cared about, truly worried about, and so it hadn't been just Elijah who had paced the rooms and called numerous friends and acquaintances over and over. Klaus had done the same.

Now Elijah was asleep in the large reclining chair in the living room, so exhausted that he hadn't heard the small sound from the lock being opened. But Klaus had been there, and he had known.

She was back.

"Rebekah?"

She was sitting not far from the door, arms slung around her bent legs, head resting on her knees. Until it wasn't resting there any more and she whipped it up in an abrupt movement, though not to look at him as he thought at first, but to bang it harshly against the wall behind her.

A gasp escaped him, his legs already breaking into a run before his brain had quite begun to comprehend what was going on.

Then she did it again. And again. A few more times before be finally reached her, hands clawing at her arms in order to lift her up off the cool floor and against his own warm body.

"Stop!" He hissed when she tried to fight him, tried to continue banging herself against the wall. "Rebekah. It's me!" He had to say it a couple more times before eventually she seemed to snap out of it and looked up at him out of wide and fearful eyes.

His strong, sassy sister, so vulnerable, so broken, with streaks of mascara and tears on her face.

"Who hurt you?" I'll kill them, he wanted to add, but knew better than to say it out loud. Not now. Not when she was in this state.

...

...

Grams stared out the window, listening to the loud staccato of the rain against the pane. It was so cold and unwelcoming out there, but in here, there was warmth and coziness.

Or, there should have been. She lay in her bed, blankets strewn over her and the shivering bundle she was holding in her arms: her granddaughter.

Bonnie had been gone for a while, quite unlike herself she had not told Sheila where to she had vanished and the old woman had been worried sick about her. Then, tonight, Bonnie had finally been back.

Sheila had found her crawling up the stairs to the door, drenched in rain and something much more disturbing, and the poor girl had shaken so hard back then that she could not even walk unassisted.

"They're dead; he's dead" she had cried out, so much agony in her tone that it had broken her Grams' heart. They had remained her only words. Bonnie Bennett had fallen silent after that. She hadn't spoken to the doctor Sheila had called, nor the two nice police officers. She hadn't said a word, hadn't elaborated anything. No explanation.

No one had found a dead body, or more than one.

Not yet.

The cops had left their number, and told her they'd be back in the morning. The doctor had strongly recommended she stay at the hospital, but Bonnie had had a breakdown at the mere mention and Sheila had decided to keep her home.

The reluctant doctor had given Bonnie a sedative and attended to a few strange marks on her body that looked like she could have had an altercation of some form, could have been beaten up. A split lip, bruises on her arms, her abdomen. Scratches on her cheeks and legs. But nothing that explained all the blood on her clothes...

Eventually, though, they had gone on their ways, promising to return come morning, leaving Sheila Bennett to deal alone with the mess that was her grandchild.

No amount of hot bath water, hot tea, warm and dry clothes, no amount of blankets seemed to be able to stave off the cold that seemed to be emanating from her body.

Something had happened to Bonnie. Something very bad.

Someone was dead.

But Bonnie was alive. Thank goodness, she was alive. If only Sheila knew what had happened and whether her granddaughter would ever be okay again.

"Oh my sweet, sweet child..."

...

Caroline opened the door in a flurry, sassily swinging her hair back. The blonde girl was ready to give a few choice and cheeky comments to her late night visitor, whom she expected to be none other than the formerly AWOL Ms. Bonnie Bennett, who had been supposed to help her with the preparations for the winter ball but hadn't answered any of her calls in the last two days, instead surely cozying up somewhere with her likewise absent boyfriend without telling anyone about it.

Caroline couldn't really be upset with her, however. How could she begrudge Bonnie her well deserved happiness? (She did, though. Just a little bit. Because why was everyone else so happy when her own relationship was like a pile of debris? Nothing to hold onto anymore but painful reminders.) Quickly, she bit her lip to stop those thoughts.

"So, the love birds are finally back from. . ."

She didn't so much trail off as stop abruptly when she realized that the dark figure at her doorstep was not who she had expected. At all.

Was this…

"Enzo?" Her brow knit together in utter confusion. "What are you doing here?"

They had flirted a couple of times. She had felt a bit guilty about it, until she had realized that Stefan didn't care and that cocky douchey Enzo was surprisingly and legitimately genuinely sweet when he was with her, sweeter than her own boyfriend had been for a while. But a late night visit? They didn't exactly have that kind of relationship. They weren't even really friends.

"What are you doing here?" Folding her arms in front of her, she inclined her head to take him in. He was soaking wet, dark hood over his head plastered to his skin, mouth a - bloodied? - half bow in his face. There was a gash on his temple dripping rivulets of blood that were mixing with the rain, running down the side of his face.

And he wasn't wearing any shoes.

"Geez, what happened to you?" she asked with sudden concern, a mound appearing between her eyebrows like it always did when she was upset. When he didn't offer any explanation, or even a single word, she resolutely stepped forward, her socked feet instantly getting drenched, and tried to pull him inside by his arm.

A visible jolt ran through him and he flinched away with sudden force, making Caroline stumble a bit.

"I'm sorry…" Dumbly, she looked down at her hand, noticing blood. "Oh gosh, did I… did you get hurt? Is your arm. . ." When she stared back at him, his face was hidden in shadows.

"I…" The small word was a mere breath. When he didn't continue, Caroline smiled the smallest encouraging smile.

"Come inside," she whispered, because of course she couldn't just let him stand there and close the door in his face. Something was obviously not right. Maybe he and his bestie Damon had had a fight or something. She knew he practically lived with the Salvatores.

But he still didn't move, just stood there, rain still showering down on him in torrents.

"Come on. Just get inside," she cajoled, beckoning with an outstretched arm.

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have. . . I just. . . Didn't have anywhere else to go," he choked out, and her features softened with sympathy and ache. Maybe it really was a fight with Stefan's brother then. (Stefan, who she tried so hard not to think about…)

"It's okay." Her arm still outstretched, she cautiously tapped the fabric of his drenched hoodie, close to his face, but far enough away to not touch him directly. Just a small gesture of comfort. "Let's get you warm. If you don't mind a bunch of winter ball stuff lying around, mi casa es su casa." She was still smiling, although she felt uncomfortable and cold and an odd sense off doom or dread seemed to be hanging above them. Tilting his head a little as if to make sure it wasn't a trap of some sort, Enzo stared at her until she nodded at him. "It's okay," she repeated, softly, almost as if talking to a small child, and eventually, he did follow her offer and made a first few dragging steps toward her and the door.

The warmth from inside seemed to be sucked out around them. Caroline was ready to just get Enzo inside and close the door on the cold out there. Then she'd try and figure out what was going on, and what she could do about it.

His steps were so slow, so halting, she had to force herself not to break into her usual banter and make a stupid joke about him shuffling like an old man. This clearly wasn't the time, and she didn't want to set him off and make him run away now, not when he had said there was no other place for him to go. (He and Damon must really have had a bad fight. But what about his own family?)

When he was finally past the threshold, almost but not quite brushing against her as he entered her home, Caroline shivered involuntarily, then closed the door. She slung her arms around herself, turning toward him. For a while, they were just silently staring at each other.

There was an expression in his dark eyes, blank, empty, so haunting that it pained her.

"What happened to you," she breathed, unable to keep herself from reaching out and hovering over the gash on his face. He flinched again, making a small step back, but she shook her head. "I'm not gonna hurt you, you know that, right?"

Their gazes locked again, but she wasn't sure he really understood or believed her. Awkwardness seeped into her unbidden, seemed to turn the moment into something charged, and just like always when she found herself in a situation like that, she began to ramble.

"Why don't I try and find you something warm to wear. I think there're still some of Stefan's things lying around somewhere. I know, I know. You guys aren't exactly friends and don't exactly have the same style, but I'm sure it's better than freezing. I mean, you're soaked. Did you walk here or something?"

She gave a nervous chuckle, her gaze falling on his feet.

Only then did she remember that he wasn't wearing shoes. "Right," she made, as if to herself, staring at their socked feet on the cream colored rug they were standing on. Her mom liked the thing so much but hated it simultaneously for how inappropriate it was for a hallway (A dirt magnet! It's so hard to get any stains out...). She had to think of that now as she saw it starting to turn dark underneath him.

Red. Blood.

Swallowing down a lump, she looked back up, into his face. There was something else there now, something even darker: pain. Despair.

"Oh gosh, Enzo, what the hell happened?"

Chapter Text

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[Two days earlier]

...

"Are you sure you don't just want me to stay and cuddle up with you? I could do that, you know?" Damon winked at Elena, laying an arm around her where she half sat, half laid on the couch, dark circles around her eyes, lips almost without color. She gave a weak grin in reply, leaning into him for just a moment, before shaking her head.

"Nah. You should go. Message me, send pics of the fun. I'll live vicariously through you." She paused to cough, letting her head sink back exhaustedly once she was done. Having the flu when she was supposed to party like there was no tomorrow sucked. This was their big night, the night of their graduation party, and now she wasn't going to be able to go because this stupid flu virus had made its way to her just in time.

Why Jeremy or Damon weren't equally sick was baffling to her, but she couldn't begrudge them their health or the fact that they could go out and party, even though it seemed unfair.

Jeremy was impatiently waiting by the hallway for Damon to get ready. He couldn't wait to pick up Bonnie, she could see it in his eyes. Elena suspected that the two had some plans of their own, especially considering that aunt Jenna wouldn't be home for another few days and there was no one there to monitor what the Gilbert siblings were doing.

She just wished she and Damon could make some raunchy plans of their own, or that she could at least go down to the lake with her friends to celebrate together one last time before college would take them all far away from their old home Mystic Falls.

But no such luck.

Damon was smiling at her drowsily. He had started the partying early, the smell of booze on his lips making her nauseous, but she didn't want to ruin his fun. Not tonight. If only he didn't ruin it for himself by doing something stupid. (Again…)

Stefan wasn't coming to the party, and that worried her. There would be no one there to keep an eye on Damon, keep him out of trouble. Rather the opposite. Left to his own devices, without her or Stefan around but in the company of his shady sidekick Enzo, she feared he might overdo it.

"Alright, pretty girl. I'll leave you to it. And I'll send all the pictures," he was just saying, taking a quick selfie with her before giving her one last peck on the forehead. Then he nodded over to Elena's brother, who was clearly getting antsy. "Ready, Little Gilbert?"

Jeremy gave a curt nod, then smiled over to his sister briefly. She had asked him and Bonnie to keep Damon out of trouble if at all possible, but she knew they just wanted to celebrate, too, and not play babysitters to a grown man. With a sigh, she huddled deeper into her blanket, trying to smile.

"I love you," she said, meaning both her boyfriend and her brother, "now go, go, go."

"You sure? Last chance to have this guy for company…" Damon wagged an eyebrow suggestively, indicating himself with his outstretched pointer finger. Elena chuckled weakly.

"I'll be fine."

And she would be.

The question, as usual, was, would Damon be, too?


 

"Come on, BonBon! Don't be such a spoilsport." Damon Salvatore was dancing around his friend, grinning a wide suggestive grin before taking a large swig out of a bottle hidden in a conspicuous brown paper bag.

It didn't take a genius to know what he was drinking. The bourbon smell wafted around him like a cloud of nauseatingly strong cologne. Bonnie rolled her eyes, then sighed. There was something contagious about his good mood and carefree attitude, despite the booze, and if she was being honest, she did want to go into that ominous looking ramshackle building that was in front of them, warded off by a broken down chain link fence.

They were all drunk, or almost all of them... It was the beginning of summer, school was out, college waiting ahead, and it would be their last chance to just enjoy life together, without a care in the world.

"Elena told me to keep an eye on you, not exacerbate the problem." It sounded like a reprimand, but Bonnie was smiling at him warmly.

"Exacerbate the problem?" Damon used air-quotes. It was his turn to roll his eyes. "You sound like Stef. If I had wanted my moral compass with me, I would have taken my dear brother on this trip, Bon, not you."

She raised an eyebrow at him, then smiled innocently.

"But you are prettier," he admitted, earning himself a playful slap to the arm, before Bonnie turned around to where her boyfriend Jeremy was already waiting with their motley group of friends. Vicky, Damon's shadow Enzo, Rebekah and her crazy brother Kol with his weird crew of friends (No, 'weird' was not quite right. They seemed even crazier than Kol. Almost... dangerous.)

It was stupid. All of it. Why had she even agreed to follow them to this cheesy party location? Was this supposed to be the new thing? Not celebrating at the lake with the rest of their class, scarcely clad high school graduates enjoying beer and barbecue, but instead crashing what was apparently - supposedly? - a party of some acquaintances of Kol and his friends? Something about it all made Bonnie feel uneasy.

Besides, since when did they all mingle with the Mikaelson siblings? Rebekah had only recently returned - apparently just for this party, while Kol had been around, staying with his shady friends. Bonnie shot them a sideways glance now, saw Kol pat Enzo's shoulder, then kiss his sister's temple.

"What's the holdup?" he then yelled over to her and Damon, oblivious to Bonnie's sudden inner struggle.

Well, if that didn't sound promising. Bonnie made a face as Damon nudged her gently with his shoulder before wrapping an arm lightly around her shoulders, tugging her into a sideways embrace.

"Come ooooon." It was an exaggerated plea, his puppy dog eyes to go with it making Bonnie chuckle involuntarily, then roll her eyes at Jeremy, who was grinning at her from a few feet away, giving her a small encouraging nod.

"Fine." She huffed, slinging an arm around Damon's waist, briefly wondering how natural it felt to be so close to him, so intimate. But he was just her best friend's boyfriend, a good friend of her own boyfriend, and he was her friend, too. Why wouldn't this feel comfortable? (She must have been more drunk than she thought...)

Jeremy cast a glance in her direction that she caught, grinning a little awkwardly. She couldn't quite read his expression. Was he jealous? Bewildered by his girlfriend's sudden closeness to his sister's boyfriend? After all, it should have been Bonnie and Jeremy strolling into that building together, not Bonnie and Damon.

Jeremy and Bonnie.

Damon and Elena.

She shook her head, trying to shake off the weird feeling that was growing inside of her, like something wasn't right about all of this. But since Elena was too sick with the flu to go, and Jeremy was trying his best to keep a heavily drunk Vicky from making a complete spectacle of herself, Bonnie was left to keep an eye on her best friend's boyfriend instead of snuggling with her own. That was all. Right?

Maybe they should go home. Get Damon to sleep it off next to Elena, get Vicky home to her brother. Then they could steal away together like they had initially planned. Bonnie smiled over to Jeremy sympathetically. He shrugged, regret obvious on his features. The night wasn't exactly going as planned. But there was little to be done about that now. They would just have to have their own private celebration later…

Part of her wished she had backed out of going, just like Caroline had, and Stefan. Or she had at least stayed at the lake, like Matt and Tyler. But she had wanted to prove something to herself, or maybe to someone else? That Bonnie Bennett could have fun, too, that she could go a little crazy. That she wasn't just here to study and study and study, going directly on from high school to college, dutifully studying there, too, and being a good little grandchild to her Grams. (Why that was so bad, she didn't know, but she had been tired of Damon teasing her about it, so she had said "screw it" and had told her grandmother she'd be back before dawn, but not much sooner. Because Bonnie Bennett did know how to party, alright?!)

"Okay," she finally conceded grudgingly, much to Damon's delight.

"Did you hear that?" He exclaimed, turning to face the rest of the group, "Ms. Bennett is joining us after all! . . A toast!" He raised his bottle, followed by the rest of their ridiculous little crew, then pointed an arm in the direction of the entrance as if he was a general getting ready to storm the stronghold of an enemy. "To the party!" He yelled, and off they all went.

A light laughter escaped Bonnie. This was going to be a long night. A good night. She was finally free. No more high school. College was waiting, new adventures. For the first time she felt the pull of the unknown, and she was ready for it. (Wasn't she?) Ready to let go, to be a little crazy for once. To be more than just a dutiful and dependable student, friend, and granddaughter. (Or was she just telling herself that?)

She had great friends, a cute boyfriend, she had a cozy loving home at her Grams'. She was happy. And tonight, tonight she was going to celebrate all that.

Chapter Text

[Now]

There was an obnoxious beeping sound that made it to his ears as if through cottonwool. He grimaced, annoyed, but too exhausted to open his eyes, so he simply laid there, enduring it.

Until he couldn't anymore. Until other muffled sounds mixed in with the beeping. Until something dark seeped in at the back of his conscience.

"Damon. Hey…"

He blinked, kept his eyes closed for another long moment, then opened them again. This time, it was a little easier and he managed it long enough for the haze to lift and his sight to adjust.

"Stefan?" He stared up at his brother with a quizzical look. For a moment, he didn't know what was going on, or where he was. But then it registered: the beeping came from a monitor by his side, recording his heartbeat. The sound seemed to be picking up at the same rate as Stefan's concern.

Damon's memory whooshed back. He was in the hospital, because of what had happened. The pit.

"Bonnie," he half gasped, half yelled out, starting to struggle up in a panic. Pulling at the various cords he found on his body - the small tubes in his nostril helping him get enough oxygen, the patches connecting him to the monitor - he tried to escape the bed that seemed to keep him hostage.

"Damon. Damon!" Stefan's tone was insistent, the hand he placed on his brother's bandaged chest even more so. "You need to calm down."

Nostrils flaring, Damon stared at his younger brother, trying hard not to flinch under his touch. "You don't understand," he rasped out urgently, the words hurting in his throat. He had probably yelled and screamed too much in the last few days.

"No," Stefan agreed, "I don't. I don't know what the hell happened, but I do know that you are injured and you need to stay in bed."

"I can't. Where's Bonnie? Is she here? Where are the others?" He was struggling to free himself but Stefan wasn't having any of it. If he was confused by his brother's strange behavior, or the fact that he asked about Bonnie but not his own girlfriend, he didn't let on, but even in his current state, a part of Damon could observe himself like an outsider and notice how out of character he seemed to act.

"You need to calm down." Stefan's tone brokered no argument. But Damon didn't care. He was still fighting against the cords, against his brother as if they were restraining him. He felt trapped. Again.

"I can't do this."

His heart was fluttering like a caged bird, his panic roaring like a trapped animal in a too confined space. It needed to stop. The images, the memories.

The pit.

He clutched at his face, trying not to hyperventilate and failing.

"Shit, Damon. . ." Stefan quite obviously didn't know what to do or say. Because there wasn't anything he could say, or do. There was nothing anyone could do. Not anymore.

But Damon couldn't just lay in this damn bed, either. He needed to check on Bonnie, make sure she was okay. The others, too. Except. He couldn't really face any of them either. Especially her. Especially Bonnie.

...

"Stop!" At some point, he must have succeeded in getting the cords off him and scramble out of bed. He was distantly aware of a searing pain crossing his abdomen, and he almost doubled over, trying to breathe through it. He felt Stefan's touch against his arms, and this time couldn't help but flinch away violently.

"Don't," he hissed, pulling away, feeling the bed against his legs.

"Mr. Salvatore."

Startled, he turned his head to where the voice had come from. Feeling betrayed, he cast a glance at his brother, then stared back at the few people that had appeared by the door and were now slowly closing in on him. A man in scrubs and a white lab coat and two people that looked like orderlies of some kind.

"Please try to calm down. You have been quite seriously injured and we don't want you to rip open your stitches." He waved a hand in the general direction of Damon's midsection, very slowly walking closer.

Damon needed him to stop doing that, stop coming nearer, stop moving. The lump in his throat grew, the tension in his body couldn't stop him from starting to shake, it only made it even more uncomfortable. He felt backed into a corner. Like he couldn't get out, couldn't get away.

"Stay the hell away from me!"

"We're not here to hurt you, Mr. Salvatore. Damon, right?" The doctor got a death glare in return, but didn't let that perturb him. "You need to lie down. I don't know how much you remember and I'm not going to question you on that. I'll leave that to the police. But my job is to do my best to help you heal, and for that you need to rest. You've been stabbed. You can see the large bandage on your abdomen?" It was asked like an honest question, and Damon cocked his head, swallowing hard, trying to think. Looking down briefly, gingerly touching the white of the material wrapping his body, he nodded. "It covers a deep large laceration. 30 stitches. - What you may have felt but not seen, is the patch next to your right shoulder blade. A sharp object - we're not exactly sure what exactly, although we suspect a smaller pipe or a tool of some sort - stabbed you from behind and perforated your lung. You may have noticed that breathing is painful?"

He honestly hadn't, not until that moment. But once made aware of it, it was hard not to. It didn't help that he was heaving in every breath as if he had just run a marathon. If only he could get himself under control. He was out of there, wasn't he? It was over. They had made it out. He was safe now. They were…

No. Not all of them.

And what if… No. No no no no no.

As the world abruptly faded to a painful darkness, Stefan's worried face and Elena's disembodied voice coming from somewhere far away were the last things that registered with him.


 

She had heard it all. From his first urgent outcry for Bonnie (why her?) to his last yelled "no." Elena had heard it and watched in shock from the safe distance of the hallway.

Damon had seemed so different, panicked, wild. Completely unlike himself. Gone was the cockiness, the casual ease with which he normally moved. His voice had sounded hoarse and like it belonged to someone else.

This was her boyfriend, and yet she could barely recognize him. As if that wasn't disturbing enough, upsetting enough, he had called out for her best friend. Not for her. Not for his girlfriend.

Now she was sitting in his room, holding his cool hand, stroking his fingers absently, her gaze locked on his broken off fingernails instead of on his calm face. They had sedated him, she had been there for that, too.

The cops had been supposed to talk to him, but the doctor had adamantly told them no.

And this is where she had begun to feel like the worst girlfriend ever. Because she wanted them to question him. She wanted to know what happened. She needed to hear whether he knew anything about Jeremy's whereabouts. They had been supposed to be together, but her brother was still gone.

She felt awful, so terribly awful.

When Stefan had called her first to inquire about Damon, Elena had been annoyed that her boyfriend hadn't called her, after all, hadn't sent the promised messages and pictures from the party, instead going on another bender with stupid Enzo or something.

She had gotten one single text message. One.

~ Not missing anything, gorgeous. Party's boring. Headed to a dif location. TTYL ~

(He never even used freaking text speech. That last too casual "TTYL" instead of an "I loved you" had upset her more than she had wanted to admit even to herself.)

When Sheila Bennett had called hours later asking about Bonnie Elena had started to wonder. But she had tried telling the woman (and herself) that her best friend was probably just enjoying a short little getaway with Jeremy, who hadn't come home yet either.

She hadn't suspected anything bad happening.

Then Elijah freaking Mikaelson had called. About Rebekah. Who had apparently left her new home in New Orleans to hang out with the old crowd and had never been heard of again.

Then Matt. Vicky hadn't come home either. At first he had suspected her of staying with Tyler, but then he had learned that the two of them had broken up that night at the lake. While Tyler had drowned his sorrow in alcohol and a fling with some random girl from another town over, Vicky had vanished without a trace.

To think that all of this could be connected, it hadn't even crossed Elena's mind.

But now Damon had come back, and according to Sheila Bennett so had Bonnie, both blood soaked and obviously traumatized, and neither of them had disclosed what had happened to them.

Elena didn't know what to think. Where were the rest of them? Where was Jeremy?

And why did she feel so lost and estranged from her boyfriend?

With a sigh and a furtive look over to Stefan, who had fallen asleep in a chair on the other side of Damon's bed, Elena stretched her legs a little, trying to get comfortable. Sheriff Forbes was on her way, and Elena would have to tell her about Jeremy. She would have to call Jenna, too.

She should have long done that…

Chapter Text




The sound of the shower running mirrored that of the rain outside. Caroline had turned it on already to make sure the water was a decent temperature. The old thing didn't always work so well and she didn't want to further traumatize Enzo with scalding hot water. She had managed to gently cajole him into following her into the bathroom to look at the gash on his face and maybe check on his arm and feet, but now he was just standing there, rooted to the spot, watching her.

She tried her best to act her usual chirpy self, to find something light to talk about, but this was not a very light moment, and soon they would have to address the elephant in the room again.

What had happened? Should they call someone? Or rather, should she?

"You know, I can call Damon if you want?" she suggested, rubbing a few stray water droplets off her arm. "Or your family? - I mean, if you give me their number; I don't think I've ever even heard you mention them…" Gosh, she was rambling again. Biting the inside of her lower lip, she forced herself to shut up, then walked slowly back to where he was still standing close by the door.

"I'll leave you to it. A warm shower will do you good after the cold." She smiled awkwardly, then pointed to the clothes she had found for him. Just a pair of dark pants and a light gray t-shirt. Nothing that screamed "Stefan" too overly obviously, she thought. "We might have to get this seen." She was standing so close to him that she could finally get a good look at his bleeding face. His eyebrow was sporting a deep laceration, and she was certain it needed stitches. "I could drive you over to the ER, or maybe Urgent Care."

With sudden ferocity, he turned away, covering the injury with his hand. "No."

His knuckles were bruised, too, his fingernails dirty and torn.

"Was this… did you and Damon have a fight?" The words were out before she could stop them. Her tone, incredulous and concerned, made her cringe. But Enzo merely stared at the water cascading down in the shower and didn't even seem to be listening.

"You know, my mom is the sheriff, maybe. . ."

There was no warning. He just banged his hand against the mirror to his side so hard it shattered into a million tiny pieces. Caroline stifled a whelping cry as she jumped out of the way, equal parts shocked and scared.

"I can't," he choked out, "This was a mistake, I shouldn't have come here, I shouldn't even be here anymore." It didn't make sense to her at all. Can't what? She wanted to ask, but knew better.

Can't shower? Can't stand in this foreign bathroom? Can't deal with whatever happened to him? Can't have the sheriff involved? Go to the hospital?

All of the above, probably. But why? What was so bad that it had messed him up this much? She had never seen someone so… disconnected.

"Enzo." Slowly, very slowly, she walked up to him, until her fingers found his, until she could touch him. Very carefully, she pried his hand away from the mirror, checking his hand for cuts as she did. When she saw fresh blood, she grimaced.

"The hospital isn't too far," she tried again, but he turned his gaze toward her and for the first time since he had knocked on her door that night, he really looked at her. Desperately.

"I'm fine," he breathed, she could barely hear him, it was so quiet. "I don't need the hospital."

"Your eyebrow needs stitches, at the very least some glue. You'll probably need a tetanus shot. And I don't even know what's going on with your feet or your arm, yet, but the way things look to me, all of it needs medical attention, and I'm not a doctor or even a nurse."

"I'm sorry. This was a stupid idea," he suddenly said, still barely above a whisper, and she would have gotten annoyed with him for being so… difficult, had she not seen tears start welling in his eyes. Throwing caution to the wind, she grabbed both his arms, making him whirl around violently, almost making her topple over and fall, but she didn't let go, didn't lose her ground.

Staring straight at him, all she could say was, "It wasn't. A stupid idea. I'm glad you came to me. I'm glad. Now please let me help you. If you don't want to go the the hospital, fine. We'll figure something else out. I'll take a look and see whether I can patch you up with our first aid supply. My mom keeps a big box of stuff in the medicine cabinet so I'm sure we can make do somehow. Just please stay. Don't run out again. Okay? Please…"

She looked up at him, worry and sorrow in her features, the mound between her eyebrows arched high. It was a strange feeling to worry about someone she barely knew, but she did. She really did.

And she didn't want him to go.

"Listen, why don't you take that shower now and I'll grab the medical supplies, okay?"

She half expected him to balk, to make a run for it after all, and was surprised when he didn't. When he nodded.

Only then did she notice how sticky her one hand had gotten again and she remembered the blood on his arm. Was it actually his? Could it be Damon's? She really needed to find out what had happened, whether anyone else had gotten hurt and might need help. But how, when everything she said could set Enzo off? Could make him run off and vanish into the night and the rain again?

She'd have to try and call her mom, ask for help.

Maybe once he was in the shower and couldn't overhear her...





"I'm sorry, sweetie. I know I said I'd be home to have dinner with you. . ." Liz Forbes had just gotten behind the steering wheel of her sheriff's car, when Caroline's name had popped up on her phone. Exhausted, she rubbed her forehead, then pinched the bridge of her nose with her thumb and index finger. Checking the time, she grimaced, then placed a hand on the gear shift. It was too late. Or, early.

The last few days had been so tiring. A bunch of AWOL teenagers and their more or less worried families. The guy from New Orleans had been especially obnoxious about trying to lead her investigation for her. And now the girl had shown up after all.

No explanation given.

Instead, her creepy fellow council member Guiseppe Salvatore had called out of nowhere telling her his son had been the victim of some attack or other, and when she had just started her engine to drive over there, her colleague had called her about an incident over at the Bennett home. Apparently Bonnie was home, and Sheila Bennett had requested her by name.

So she still had to go over to the Salvatores, then the Bennetts, and now her own poor abandoned daughter was calling, surely to complain about the fact that it was eight in the morning and her mother hadn't been home all night, not to mention the dinner Liz had promised to bring.

She was ready to repeat her apology. But Caroline wasn't actually complaining.

"Wait," she interrupted, when Caroline seemed to just be spewing out a torrent of words at her. "You. . . What? So he's a friend of Damon Salvatore? And he's at our house. . . No. No sweetheart, I'm not mad. I'm… Listen. Do you think he needs medical attention?"

She could barely get a word in sideways, Caroline's reply was all over the place. Panicked, worried. Something else. Clearly, her "guest" was in a bit of a state and didn't want to get seen by a doctor. Apparently he had been quite… adamant. Plus, Caroline was starting to connect dots that Liz herself had only just started to combine. Asking about Bonnie, and Damon...

"Okay okay okay okay," Liz said hurriedly, trying to get her daughter to calm down. No one benefitted from her having a panic attack, too. "It's fine. Just… Wait till I get home. Don't let him leave. . . I know. But try your best. I'll get home as soon as I can. I just need to…" She closed her eyes, pressing her palm against first one then the other eyelid. Too much going on. She could use the ability to split herself in half right about now. And she'd still be swamped.

Part of her - the mom, wanted to rush home where her daughter apparently let a battered looking young man and friend of Damon's into her house. There was something going on there, something that should have been obvious, she knew it, but it wasn't. This other kid hadn't even been declared missing.

So he had to wait, and with him, Caroline. Because Sheriff Liz Forbes still had to deal with a number of kids that had been reported missing and of which only a handful had reappeared so far. None of them in a very good state.

With a regretful sigh, she got ready to end the call. Of course she couldn't tell Caroline anything about her ongoing cases, but she had to tell her something. "You know I can't talk about work much, right? But I want you to know that Bonnie and Damon..." She shouldn't say it. But she couldn't do this to Caroline. "They're back. . . No, stop, sweetie. I can't tell you more. I'm sorry. Listen, I just need to finish up at work real quick, okay? I hope I can tell you more later, but… I'm sorry. I really gotta go. Just stay put, and don't engage too much, okay? We don't know what he's capable of or what exactly happened…"

Caroline tried to say something, but Liz had to go. Feeling like the worst mother ever, she disconnected the call, finally getting ready to start her car.




When Caroline Forbes moved to close the bathroom door, that gentle sympathetic smile still playing around her lips, his arm shot out to stop her.

It was like an instinct, a move of panic. He couldn't help it. He just couldn't be locked in there, in a room he didn't know. Not even here, when rationally, he knew this was merely the Forbes' master bathroom. It was just…

Concern marred her features when his gaze half met hers. He couldn't quite look her in the eyes. A big part of him still didn't understand why he had come here. It had simply happened. He hadn't been thinking.

"We can leave it open a bit?" It was a question, Caroline's voice so soft that he could pretend he hadn't heard her. Instead, he clenched his jaw and gave a small half nod. Just a short movement of his head, really.

"I'll be right outside." She pointed in the general direction of the hallway. "Looking for the first aid kit. Holler if you need anything."

They both knew he wouldn't.

Then she was gone and he was alone again. A shiver crept up his spine along with a feeling of panic. Closing his eyes briefly, he tried to breathe evenly.

It was over. It was over.

Except, it wasn't. Not really. And he didn't know if it ever would be. His breath hitched. His body started shaking, he couldn't stop it.

He wasn't functioning.

The shower. Steam had built up in the bathroom, and he finally remembered why Caroline had brought him in here. Eyeing the clothes she had placed on a small stool for him, he took a deep shuddering breath, then began to slowly undress.

Jacket, hoodie, shirt. The shirt was uncomfortable because it stuck so much to his arm, but his socks were worse. He had to pry them off, grimacing as he did, unable to quite recall how it had gotten so bad. It was as if his mind refused to allow any thoughts about what had happened, any real contemplations. It was fuzzy, and dark, and whenever he got close to some of what had happened, something zapped shut in his brain and the fog got worse.

When he was finally done, he gingerly stepped into the shower, welcoming the almost too hot pelt of the water on his skin. Closing his eyes, he braced himself against the tiled wall, then rested his forehead against it, too, zoning out.




Bonnie woke up with a panicked start. For a few horrible horrible seconds she thought she was back there, back in the pit. Back with…

"Damon," she breathed out, scrambling for him, until she remembered. Until Grams' arms came around her, warm, calming, reassuring.

"Oh Bonnie," the old woman said with sorrow and sadness, slowly moving to gather her grandchild up in her arms again. She obviously didn't want to spook her, but little did she know how much Bonnie craved the contact of a loving touch. In the arms of her Grams, she finally felt a modicum of safety once more, a feeling she had thought she had lost forever just mere hours earlier.

She had honestly thought she would never make it out of there alive. She hadn't been supposed to.

But she was here. She had survived.

While others hadn't. While…

A wail escaped her, unbidden, loud, almost feral. It was something she couldn't stop or control. It was all too much. Too much to deal with, too much to allow back in her brain. She wanted it to stop. The images, the thoughts and feelings. The dark pit of her memories.

She didn't want to be alone, yet she also didn't know how to handle being in the company of others. In the arms of her grandmother she could forget it all for a few blissful moments, before it all came washing back over her with a vengeance, smothering her.



They sat together, huddled on the bed, Bonnie clinging to the old woman as if she was a lifeboat or a parachute keeping her from certain death. They sat like that for hours, quiet, until Bonnie's shaking subsided eventually, and Grams felt it was safe to gently disentangle herself a little in order to look Bonnie in the eyes.

Bloodshot eyes, full of distress.

"Can you tell me what happened, child? The sheriff will be here later this morning, maybe you want to tell her. . ."

"I don't know how," Bonnie interrupted her, expression wild and haunted. "They'll lock me up and I can't be locked up," she added, cryptically, and her desperate tone and contorted face pained Grams.

"Why would anyone lock you up?" Bonnie didn't volunteer any information. Grams felt reminded of the times when her granddaughter had been a little girl that had been caught in a harmless lie and was unwilling to admit it. It was tiring, annoying in a way. But Bonnie was clearly severely traumatized so Sheila couldn't possibly be upset with her. No, all she felt was immense sadness and a brewing anger.

Who had hurt her baby? They were in for a bad surprise themselves if she got a hold of them. They didn't know who she was. Who she could be…

When Bonnie remained unsurprisingly quiet, Sheila tried to cajole her into talking a little more. She had to know… "If someone hurt you, Bonnie…" It was so hard to speak about it out loud, as if that would make it more real, but she had to. For Bonnie. "Did you… do we need to get you to the hospital? Do you need an emergency contraceptive?" It wasn't the most elegant way of bringing the topic up, but now the words were out, and Sheila felt she might as well call it by its name, especially with Bonnie being in the half stupor she was in. "Did someone rape you? Did… maybe Jeremy?"

An appalled stare appeared on Bonnie's pale face. "No," she gasped. "Jeremy would never. . ." She broke out in tears again before she could finish her sentence. "He'd never. He is the sweetest. . . He was. . . He…" She choked up, unable to continue.

Sheila furrowed her brow, feeling physically ill. "Okay," she acknowledged. "Someone else? Bonnie, I know you don't want to talk about this, but we have to. If something happened, if. . ."

"Stop!" Bonnie blurted out with sudden vehemence, scrambling out of bed, slinging her arms around herself, her warm woolen sweater enveloping her like a blanket. She stood there, staring at her Grams with something akin to disgust, or revulsion perhaps. Sheila couldn't be sure. Slowly, she got up, too, but didn't encroach on the girl's space for fear of making her run away, or at the very least clam up again.

She raised her arms as if in surrender.

"Can I call someone for you?" she then asked, the thought having come to her out of nowhere. Maybe Bonnie would feel more comfortable with Jeremy, or one of her girlfriends.

But when Bonnie whispered just one name, it wasn't the one she had expected at all. "Damon."

"Salvatore?" Sheila couldn't hide her surprise. Elena Gilbert's obnoxious boyfriend? Guiseppe Salvatore's bad offspring? To this day, she hadn't understood what sweet Elena saw in him. And up until today, Bonnie had always mostly agreed with her, even though she had grown a little more lenient towards him lately, maybe because she spent so much more time over at the Gilbert house since dating Jeremy, and Damon was always there.

"What if I call Jeremy first," she suggested instead, but when she saw Bonnie's face fall, she dropped her hand before she had even reached her phone. "Bonnie?"

"You can't," she rasped, her expression changing yet again, more tears welling in her eyes.

Sheila didn't need to hear more. It was as if the puzzle pieces were falling into place, the picture becoming clearer. "He is dead, isn't he?"

"I killed him…"

Chapter Text

 

[Two days earlier]

...

The building was even larger inside, if that was possible. Large, and bare, and like a labyrinth.

As soon as Kol stepped over the threshold, just like Damon with a bottle of bourbon in one hand, he turned to his nearest friend, a shorter but bulky looking guy that went by "Beast" for a reason Kol didn't want to think about right now, and he put an arm around the guy's neck, pulling him close.

"Beast, your friends have a strange sense of what's good party decoration," he muttered as they both followed a quiet lanky figure into the depth of the building. The guy had given Beast a handshake and a curt nod and weirdly sized up the rest of them just seconds before when he had opened the heavy front door to let them all in. Beast shrugged, mumbling something in return that Kol didn't quite catch.

An odd feeling of dread was starting to creep into him, and yet he proceeded on, leading his little group deeper into this strange house.

Nothing in there gave off the vibe of this being a party location. A wide, bare foyer greeted them, leading into a huge equally barren room that could have once been a ballroom. But lanky dude kept walking on in silence. They reached another long hallway, which abruptly widened, giving way to a meandering indoor balcony of sorts, spanning the width of a large hall. Its balustrades had begun sagging and crumbling in places, which made it seem even more hazardous that it was crowded with people. Maybe a hundred, maybe more. Kol gasped quietly, catching himself quickly. No one had mentioned that this was going to be such a big event; and still he couldn't shake the feeling that something wasn't right.

"Here." Lanky had stopped a few feet short of a massive staircase leading down into a hall that was almost completely filled by what Kol could now see must have once been a pool. Wide, tiled in blue with a dark ribbon running along its entire top, it lay before them, empty, and just as broken looking as the rest of the house. Its bottom, barely visible in the bad lighting the place provided, almost seemed like someone had dug it out to make it even deeper.

Yes, upon looking a bit closer, Kol could see the remains of a small pool ladder getting lost half way down into the depth.

"Okay, seriously," Damon was now saying, sounding somewhere between annoyed and amused. "What is this? Kol, I knew you were crazy, but man, your friends can top that. Honestly, I'm outta here. Bon, Jer, with me. Enzo?"

"Yeah, not staying either," the Brit said nonchalantly, tapping his head to Kol as he passed him, grabbing a semi reluctant Lexi by the arm. "Hey," she said, but complied after a short whispered exchange. They all started leaving. Sexy drunk Vicky, too. And his sister, who shot him one last annoyed, or maybe disappointed look. (He always managed to disappoint Rebekah. Always, without fail. He grimaced at the thought.)

He couldn't blame them for wanting to bail out of there, of course. This whole thing was freaking creepy.

The pool was warded off with something that looked a lot like barbed wire fences, rows and rows of them. There were poles drilled into the bottom of the pool, or pipes. He could see something shiny, maybe tools, or scraps of metal lying around.

But that wasn't even what had made his blood chill inside of him. It was the glistening ground that looked like it had just been hosed down, a puddle of blackish water pooling in one corner, with nowhere to go.

He glanced at Beast, then turned around to watch the others making their way back. Rebekah was glaring at him with annoyance in her eyes, or possibly disappointment. He made a face at her, shrugging, then addressed the man next to him.

"Dude, I hope you don't have some fighting bullshit planned here. I thought we made it clear that we're just here to party." Beast stared at him, his expression unreadable. Whispering conspiratorially, Kol added, "Honestly man, I brought my little sister, okay?"

But Beast merely stepped away with a shrug, walking backwards in the same direction as the others, all the while staring at Kol.

"Happy celebrating," he then said, raising his chin, and grinning, just as a wall of big goons closed in on them all, making Kol and his remaining friends instinctively try to jump into a fighting stance before all hell broke loose and he lost sight of almost everyone.

"Rebekah!" He yelled her name, knowing already that it was hopeless. He should have turned around as soon as that first feeling of doom had settled within him. Somewhere deep inside, he had known.

As he tried to fight his way out, he caught glimpses of the others. Someone was holding a knife to Bonnie's throat, making Damon freeze in his tracks, Rebekah was standing pressed against Lorenzo's back, both of them trying fruitlessly to shield each other against oncoming attackers. There was Lexi, pretty Lexi, who he had admittedly only invited to mess with Stefan Salvatore a little more. Sweet Vicky Donovan was a sobbing heap on the floor, Jeremy Gilbert lost in the crowd.

And then there was Kol Mikaelson, idiot of the day, being dragged away by his arms and legs, desperately fighting to no avail. He saw his old friend Heath struggling somewhere to his left, Mazzy, the guy's girlfriend, clawing at an attacker. Casey, Martin, and Joel, nowhere to be seen.

Kol opened his mouth, baring his teeth in an angry yell as he was dragged down the stairs, toward to pool.

He really should have known not to trust a guy going by the moniker of Beast...


What a dumb idea it had all been. This was the moment it all went completely wrong, but she should have seen it coming way earlier than that.

When Kol invited her over to spend some time with her and get a chance to celebrate her graduation after all, she should have heard the alarm bells ringing loudly. After all, it was Kol. He always managed to get himself in trouble.

But Rebekah had been too happy at the chance to show Elijah that she didn't need him anymore. She had been ready to show both him and Klaus that she was a grown woman who could take care of herself and just because they had some problems with Mystic Falls didn't mean she had to have them, too.

So she had traveled over the day before to stay at Kol's and he had promised to take her to the lake party. Except, once there, he had quickly sidled over to a bunch of randos that turned out to be a group of friends he had been hanging with for a while, and with whom he had already made other plans for the night, one of them seemingly being none other than Lexi, whom she had heard would be moving in with a certain someone that Rebekah had hoped to see that night. But no such luck...

Even then, though, she had remained in pretty good spirits. The party may have been lame up until that point. Stefan hadn't shown up; but at least she had learned the reason for his absence from a way too drunk Caroline, who had just been on her way out when Rebekah had gotten there, being escorted (half carried, really) by an apologetic and sweet looking Matt Donovan.

Soon, she had found herself hanging out more with the older Salvatore and his friend, and Donovan's sister, who broke up with her boyfriend right in front of everyone, making a scene that alone turned the night into an entertaining event after all.

Rebekah had also decided to inconspicuously try and interrogate Lexi about her future plans, hoping to gauge whether the girl might see more in Stefan than a platonic friend.

It could have ended there, with her learning a few things here and there, but of course Kol had to challenge Damon to crash another, bigger, more exciting party, the two of them always clashing eventually when they ran into each other. And of course it all had gone downhill from there.

Why she had even gone with them, why any of them had, she couldn't remember now. Not in the face of her current demise.

Lying at the edge of the deep hole that used to be a swimming pool what must have been a long time ago, she lifted an arm to shield her eyes against the flickering beams of light someone shone down on her.

"Time to explain the rules," someone said from way up above on the balustrades, and her throbbing head sent pulses of pain through her body in the same rhythm as the ensuing cheers from up top.

Trying to lift herself back up, she rolled onto her side, her gaze meeting that of Bonnie Bennett, the younger Gilbert's pretty girlfriend. She looked just as petrified as Rebekah felt.

Yeah, she should have never followed her brother here, she should have never even left New Orleans. Not for this. Her throat was closing, doom coursing through her body.

Was this the end?


...


The rules. What rules?

"Alright alright alright," a tall, handsome guy with a shock of wild blonde hair was waving both arms across the heads of what looked like a wild crowd. This could have easily been a rave or something, the way the bobbing people seemed to sway in some sort of trance-like state.

Damon swallowed, tasting copper. The hit against the side of his head had come out of nowhere. He didn't remember what exactly had happened after that. He remembered wanting to leave, or maybe he had actually started to leave? And then the world had broken into turmoil until it had gone dark around him.

Then he had come to only to find himself tied up with what might have just as well been freaking barbed wire by the way it stung his ankles and wrists, and looking around, he found that the same fate had befallen the rest of their group: they were all bound and awaiting an unknown fate.

How much time had passed?

He couldn't understand it. How could anyone have rounded them all up like that in no time at all? They were no small group. They were a freaking dozen people.

Surprise, and sheer numbers, that's how. And because this had all been meticulously planned. It must have been...

He swallowed again, getting tired of the blood going down his throat from his bleeding nose. His head was fuzzy but he felt like it was important that he heard whatever the big dude up top had to say.

Rules, he had mentioned rules.

The crowd had gotten a little quieter, but there was still a droning noise in his ears that he could probably also attribute to the headache that was raging behind his eyes.

Looking to his side, he saw Bonnie staring at him, her eyes wide with fear. Jeremy was out, Kol too, and a few of the others whose names he couldn't even remember. Rebekah was leaning against Lexi, a dazed looking Enzo staring into nothingness. This was not good. He choked on a humorless chuckle. That was the understatement of the year. Clearly they had managed to fall into a trap and it was a bad one. A very bad one.

He wiggled his arms, trying to get free, but the restraints were too tight.

"Rule number one: we distribute the players into two groups. Since we have an odd number of players, that has to be remedied beforehand..."

A cheer ran through the crowd. Damon blinked. How many freaking people were there?

"Is this Fight Club or something?" he asked, tilting his head to the side and blinking as someone from up high shone a flashlight or something directly at him.

"Shut up," someone hissed from up close, from somewhere behind, but Damon couldn't see anyone.

"So this is Fight Club. Awesome. Shouldn't rule number one be 'We don't talk about Fight Club'?" The snark earned him a blow to the head, if nothing too bad. He didn't pass out this time. But his head rang.

"Damon!" Bonnie looked at him with sheer panic in her eyes. "Please don't," she mouthed, shaking her head ever so slightly, clearly not happy with his antics. He knew she was right, he should keep quiet and not egg these weirdos on, but he couldn't help himself. It was just who he was. For her sake, however, he would try to keep himself in check. She was Elena's best friend after all.

"Rule two." Blondie paused theatrically, his gaze zoning in on the lined up group by the pool. "Each group has to halve their number of players."

A strange roar went through the crowd while Damon still tried to comprehend what the dude might have meant with "halve." They obviously knew more than him.

"Rule three: halving is achieved through…" Another pause for effect, but Damon didn't need to be a genius to figure out the rest of the sentence. With a stony expression, he waited for the last blow. Like a sports announcer, Blondie stretched each of the next five words until he got drowned out in ecstatic waves of cheers from everyone around him.

"A… fight... to... the… deeeeeeeeeath!"

Damon tried not to look at the others. "Yeah, thanks for the invite. This has been fun and all," he stated soberly, "but I think it's time for us to leave now."

A whip against his ear, and a whispered warning. "You think you're funny, huh?! You're not, asshole. - Shut it. You don't want to die before the fight has even started, do you?!"

"Actually, I don't even want to fight. But thanks for the, uh, offer," he challenged back with a grin, looking up at the goon that had appeared before him, sneering down.

"Hey, Sykes!" the guy shouted up at the announcer on the balcony without taking his eyes off Damon. "This one really needs to hear Rule Four now. Tell him and his friends here what happens if they don't fight."

Damon badly wanted to smash the guy's freaking head in or at the very least spit in his face, but he didn't. (It's called self-restraint, he thought to himself. Whatever everyone else might think of him, he totally had it. Yeah. Right…)

The blonde he now knew was called Sykes let his annoying voice boom down to him. "Rule four: If any group refuse to fight and kill each other until there is only one half of each left, everyone will die. And trust me on this one, guys and gals, it's not going to be pretty. You'll soon wish you had obeyed the..."

He held out a microphone like he was some goddamn rock superstar, and the cheering crowd completed for him:

"Ruuuuuuules!"

The clamor around him got so loud that he was completely drowned out.

Great, Damon thought. A fight to the death. What the hell kind of bored and too privileged kids came up with this shit?

"You're fucking insane!" One of Kol's friends, Joel or Heath or whichever one he was, yelled, and actually managed to stand up. "Let us go, or—"

Yeah, or what exactly? Damon would like to know that, too. Because he was pretty sure they weren't exactly in a position to make empty threats.

Goon Two or maybe Three walked over to the guy and with a horrible smack from… a pipe? he smashed him down, not once, but twice, three times, until the poor kid fell backwards so hard that he went over the edge and down into the depth of the pool. Damon clenched his jaw so as not to gag when he heard the sound the body made upon impact.

That couldn't have ended well…

Goon One stepped away from him to look over into the pool, signing something up top when he walked back.

"And the pit has claimed its first victim," Blondie announced cheerfully, followed by what Damon could only imagine was the trampling of a couple hundred feet. How that balcony hadn't long crumbled and disintegrated, he had no idea. Not that it mattered…

"Well, that takes care of our odd numbers problem, at least," Sykes stated matter-of-factly.

Damon felt sick. He was desperately trying to come up with a plan of how to get free and do something about all this. But how, when every freaking move could lead to him becoming the next to die? And if there was one thing he knew, it was that he didn't want to die. Not yet. Not today or tomorrow, or anytime soon.

Closing his eyes, he took a few shallow breaths, bracing himself. He was honestly thinking of trying and hurling himself forward to at least try and do something, when someone else sprang into action before he had a chance. For a second he only saw a shadow flying up, then heard another loud thumping smack exploding, and for one terror filled moment he thought it was one of his people, maybe Bonnie, or Little Gilbert, maybe Lexi or Enzo, crap, even Vicky, or Rebekah would have been a blow at this point.

But the one that had dared to escape was another one of Kol's friends, the pretty red-head that had hung off the dead kid's arm for most of the evening, and that now screamed and yelled and blubbered, until Goon Two pulled her real close, squishing her mouth with his too large hands, threatening her to shut up if she didn't want to lose her tongue, because if she was trying to get herself killed too, she was tough out of luck. "We need the freaking players, okay bitch?! So no one else is going to die by our hands unless you all are dumb enough to break rule four!"

The guy grinned ferally, showing gnarly looking teeth as he did. "You can do yourself and the others a favor, though," he added. "Let them kill you first. That way, another one of your group gets to live and you get to be with him." He casually pointed down into the dark pool, still holding onto the now sobbing girl in front of him with one hand.

"Alright alright alright. Chill, everyone! Let me get on with this." Skyes was openly laughing at his audience's booming enthusiasm. "We got another few rules and regulations to revisit real quick before the fun can begin. So, without further ado: rule number five! Once both groups have fought their fights to the end, we will enter the face off phase! We'll throw everyone together and let the fight start again. The winners are free to go. Under one condition of course."

Sykes's gaze ominously zoned in on Damon, a smile spreading on his face. "Rule six: we don't talk about Fight Club." He winked, then broke into insane laughter, just like his audience. Damon should have probably been more scared or angry or… something else. But all he could do was roll his eyes at how stupid this douche really was. These people couldn't be serious. Did they honestly think they'd get away with what basically amounted to the murdering of a bunch of innocent people?!

But apparently they did.

"That's it! The rules have been proclaimed. Let us divide the players into groups!"

Damon finally exchanged another glance with Bonnie, his mouth twitching. His pent up annoyance and anger wanted to escape but he couldn't let it out, not yet. Not up here. And not down there.

Or would he really have to kill someone to get out of this hell? Freaking murder another human being? How fucked up was this? They would never get out of there again. Not really. He couldn't see it at all. And yet he also couldn't see this happening. It couldn't, right? It couldn't be happening. He just couldn't see it.

All he could see was the growing darkness and fear in Bonnie's eyes. Mirroring his own.

Chapter Text

...

[Now]

Liz was too late, apparently. First, a drunk seeming Giuseppe Salvatore roughly redirected her to the hospital, saying his deadbeat son had collapsed and she should get over there already and not bother him at home anymore. It really didn't seem like he cared much, which didn't surprise her, but it still deeply disturbed her.

That Guiseppe was a bad father was the worst kept secret in this town, and while she and CPS had done their best to monitor the situation at the old Salvatore boarding house, the man had always managed to sneak his way out...

She grimaced, just thinking about it now.

Then, once she finally got to the hospital, the doctor told her his patient had had some kind of episode and had lost consciousness. They had also given him a sedative to calm him down. He had apparently been in quite the state before collapsing.

Liz stifled a yawn while she was listening to the doctor explain Damon's condition.

According to him, the Salvatore kid had been stabbed, beaten, cut open. He hadn't said a word about who had done those things to him; and just like her other few returned kids, he had just appeared back home out of nowhere.

Rubbing a few drops of leftover rain off her nose, she eventually thanked the doctor, then decided to wait around a little longer. Maybe Damon would wake up soon and she could question him before going over to the Bennetts. It would be surprising if the cases weren't somehow related. They were all friends, after all, or had at least gone to the same school. They had disappeared around the same time. And reappeared. This whole case was puzzling, to say the least.

"Sheriff Forbes?" A tired looking Elena had appeared at the door to Damon's room, startling Liz. "Stefan said you were here…"

She nodded, waiting for her daughter's best friend to continue. This must be hard for her, too. The poor girl had been through a lot in her life already. Losing her parents a couple of years ago had taken its toll, and she wasn't the same always happy girl anymore.

"I'm here to investigate what happened to Damon and…" Liz explained, then trailed off, rethinking. Reassessing. Elena's face, she had seen that expression before, on others. A kind of "guilt of the innocent" as she had dubbed it. People that felt the need to tell her something as if it was a confession. Something they felt they should have said a long time ago. "Can I help you with something, Elena?"

The girl was worrying her lips, leaning against the doorframe, hugging herself. "I'm not sure. This has probably nothing to do with it, but since Damon came back like… like this," she nodded into his room, "I've been worried."

"Worried about what?" Who, Liz meant, but didn't want to put her on the spot just yet.

"Jeremy has been gone for a few days, too. I assumed he was on a little getaway with Bonnie, you know, before she heads off to college. He had said he would..." She paused, not looking at Liz. "I didn't even think anything about it. Honestly, I didn't even try calling him until Damon reappeared. Then Bonnie… But she was supposed to be with him; and now I can't get a hold of Jer and. . ."

She didn't continue. She didn't have to. There were tears shimmering in her eyes before she looked down on the ground. Liz sighed. Another kid missing. Ugh, this was bad. Collecting herself, she gently touched Elena's arm, just a small gesture of comfort.

"I'll try and track his phone. If you hear anything, if he does come back, you let me know right away."

Elena nodded, tears now freely streaming down her face. "Do you think," she choked out, "whatever happened to them... Do you think it happened to him?"

"I don't know, sweetheart." Liz' heart ached. The chances were high, but she wouldn't burden Elena with that guess. "I'm sorry. All I can promise is that I'm looking into it. But whatever Damon, Bonnie and the other two might have to say, will be crucial information to figure this one out, and to bring him back."

"The other two? There's others?"

The Sheriff bit her lip. She had said too much already. Redirecting the conversation, she cajoled, "I want you to try and stay calm, okay? I know it's hard, but so far we don't even know whether Jeremy was with them. We really don't know anything yet."

"Right." Elena swallowed, wiping her face with the sleeve of one arm, just as Stefan returned from somewhere, holding two cups of coffee in his hands. A frown appeared on his face.

"What's going on here?" He asked, and turned from Elena to Liz. "Sheriff?"

She grimaced at him, then returned her attention to the girl. "Did you call your aunt?"

Elena shook her head.

"Call her. Now. - I know she's on that trip with Alaric," Liz loudly remembered, "but if she can't make it home by tonight, promise me you'll call me. You can stay at our place."

If she could first figure out what the situation at home was…

Elena nodded, taking one of the cups Stefan held out to her. Liz was insanely glad when he offered her the other one. A little coffee would be wonderful right about now. She needed something to fuel her.

"Call me as soon as Damon is up again," she then instructed the younger Salvatore brother, who nodded at her dutifully.

"Will do. Thanks, Sheriff."

"Uh huh." She checked the time. Almost 9. Then checked her phone. No new messages from Caroline. But four missed calls from Elijah Mikaelson.


Elijah was seething. That stupid sheriff wasn't available, no one but his own family seemed to care about the fact that his sister had come home a mess, bloodied and traumatized and barely functioning. And that...

He shook his head, not wanting to think of that. But of course he did anyways.

...

He had woken up to a sickening thumping sound, only to find Rebekah in the arms of his younger brother Klaus, the two of them once more a unity, inseparable in the face of whatever horrors had befallen their baby sister.

But that wasn't the worst. When she had finally opened her mouth to say something intelligible, her words had cut through him like a dagger. They had torn his heart right out.

...

"I'll rip his heart out," Elijah had hissed, angry, pulling out his phone to try and reach his youngest brother one more time. Kol had been supposed to keep an eye on Rebekah, he had promised Elijah! But he hadn't kept that promise. He had ignored any and all calls and messages, which hadn't been too unusual in and of itself, but since their sister had been with him, Elijah had simply expected. . .

Yeah, what? Kol suddenly showing a modicum of responsibility? He scoffed, angrily swiping his phone, trying his number once again. "I'll kill him if he—"

"He's dead, Elijah!"

Something in his brain had zapped. He had turned around, surprised by her sudden outburst, and he had seen that look in her eyes...

...

After their parents had abandoned them, their own issues and need for freedom apparently too big to be bogged down by their own children, he had been the one to step up and try to keep everything under control. Freya had gone on her way, the same free spirit as their parents. Though she occasionally came back to reconnect. Finn was the easy one, helping as best as he could, if a bit too withdrawn, quiet and moody. Then he had left for college and the emotional distance had only grown.

So it had been on Elijah alone to try and keep the youngest ones together, and out of the foster system, out of trouble... Klaus had acted up and given him a hard time every step of the way. Rebekah had done the same, mostly, always siding with him, until she grew up a little more and learned to be at least a bit more responsible. And then there was Kol.

Kol, who was now dead if he was to believe a word Rebekah had said (and he really didn't want to, but her eyes, so hollow, so earnest, had underscored her story.)

Kol was dead. (It couldn't be.)

And the sheriff was ignoring his calls.

He took a shaky breath, clenching his teeth until they made a grinding noise. It was time. He wouldn't just sit there, high and dry, and wait for that woman to figure it out. No, he'd bring his family back to freaking Mystic Falls one last time and make sure that those responsible found a nasty end.

The wrath of the Mikaelsons should have never been stirred, but now it was too late, and someone would have to pay.


Bonnie didn't like having to talk to Liz Forbes. Somehow, that it was her made it worse. Someone who knew her so well. One of her best friends' mom.

How could she talk about any of this with her? When it was already so bad she didn't know how to live with it? How could she talk to anyone? She should have died. They all should have. But they didn't. And now she had to deal with her stupid bout of survivor's guilt or whatever you wanted to call it. Maybe confessing everything would help after all.

But what if they'd lock her up? She would have to go to prison, surely. His blood, Jeremy's blood had literally been all over her.

His blood.

That last stare, his eyes, looking at her so warmly, so full of undeserved love. He had seemed relieved, glad. Like this was how things should go.

But it wasn't right. It shouldn't have gone like that. He shouldn't be dead. He couldn't be.

He couldn't.


Liz was smiling at her, a sad motherly smile that pained Bonnie. She didn't deserve her sympathy.

"Can you tell me what happened, Bonnie?"

For a minute or two, there was a ticking silence in the room. The only sound coming from the last soft pitter patter of the receding rain outside. There was a hint of sun and blue skies on the horizon, but Bonnie didn't notice it, didn't care. The darkness in her head was too consuming to see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Then, it burst out of her. "I killed Jeremy. I can try and tell you where to find him, but don't make me go back."

Liz seemed stuck between utter shock and perplexity. "You… killed Jeremy. Gilbert?"

Bonnie raised her chin, almost defiantly. "With a knife. He's dead. If you need to arrest me, I'm ready." She put her hands on the table, offering up her wrists, but Liz just sat there, staring at her.

"Was it self defense? An accident? What happened, Bonnie?" she asked, but Bonnie didn't want to answer those questions. Clearly, Sheriff Forbes couldn't believe what she had heard, and Bonnie had to agree. It sounded horrific, like a bad, fabricated story, a lie, a nightmare. The truth. It was the horrible truth.

"What kind of knife?"

Bonnie stared at her, suddenly annoyed. This wasn't just a game. She wanted it all to be over.

"Sheriff, I think I should call a lawyer," Grams piped up from the background, and Bonnie turned around to glare at her.

"I don't need a lawyer. I did it, okay? I did it. He's dead, because I killed him and I deserve to be punished for it. I deserve to go to prison, I deserve. . ." None of this, none of this none of this. Why did it happen, why to her? To them? Why…

She wasn't even quite aware of the wailing until it was in full swing. And even then it was almost as if she was watching someone else.

This was never going to be over.

Part of her just wanted to die. But he hadn't let her. Damon hadn't let her. And he had paid for it, too. What if he died?

She got up, heaving and wailing, raising herself up on the table with shaking arms. She was a blubbering mess, but she didn't care. "Arrest me," she yelled at the sheriff, over and over, but when Liz finally walked over to her, she opened her arms and pulled Bonnie in for a hug. She didn't even struggle against it, just slumped against the other woman, allowing her tears to soak into the uniform Liz was wearing.

There could never be enough tears to make any of this right again.


Rebekah didn't want to talk about it. Not anymore. Not again. Slumping down into the large sofa chair, she turned away from her brothers, staring out the window.

Elijah had announced they'd be going back to Mystic Falls; he had made up his mind, arguing was futile, but she wasn't sure she could go back there. She had barely made it out alive, and Kol had died in the process. (Not just "died". It was her fault, wasn't it? Even if he... No. She didn't want to think about it.)

The worst, however, the worst was that she couldn't help feeling a little relieved that it had been Kol, not her. (What kind of sick and selfish person did that make her? She hated herself so much for thinking that way.) She loved her brothers, she really really did, but their crazy life style, that reckless abandon, that willingness to hunt down danger and try to conquer it, she couldn't keep up with it. Didn't want it.

She was like a daisy among roses, the sore thumb among fingers in her family. When she was younger, she had sometimes entertained the thought of having been adopted, or switched at birth.

The only thing keeping her from feeling like she didn't belong was and, strangely, had always been Niklaus. There was a connection between them that almost felt like she imagined the bond between twins must be, something deep, urgent, and essential. He was also what kept her sane now. She almost chuckled. If crazy Klaus was the one keeping her sane, then she was probably truly crazy herself.

"When are we leaving?" Klaus was just asking, hauling another suitcase down the stairs. Elijah checked his watch.

"Half an hour. I told the sheriff we'd meet her first thing when we get there. But then we'll pay a visit to your fellow returned friends." He stressed the last word ominously, making Rebekah turn toward him.

"You're not going to threaten them, are you?"

He made a face at her, folding his arms defiantly. Innocently?

"I want to know what really happened."

"I told you what happened."

He gave her an unreadable look. He wasn't believing her, not completely. Biting down on her lip, she stared back out the window. She couldn't argue with him now, didn't want to be upset about the fact that, yet again, she felt like she was just the "little sister".

All she had ever wanted was a normal happy life, away from the money, away from her already absent parents, away from shady business and lunatic family members. And yet she couldn't be without them.

She couldn't be without them. Not even idiotic Kol with his dangerous friends. Even though she wanted to believe it was all his fault and he deserved what had happened to him. He didn't, though.

None of them did.

Chapter Text

...

Caroline checked her phone again. Nothing. Her mom truly was a busy woman. Right now, that really sucked. She needed her here, needed her to help with this. With Enzo.

Because she didn't have one freaking clue how to deal with it all.

"Enzo? You alright?" What a stupid question. She let her head drop against the wall next to the bathroom door from where she could still hear the water running in the shower. Had he fallen asleep in there? Or, worse, passed out? Should she check? How awkward would that be? She didn't want to barge in on him standing naked in the shower and thinking she was trying to come on to him. She also really didn't need or want to see him naked (well, that was probably not quite true. He was admittedly not the ugliest specimen out there, but…)

She shook her head, holding her face in her hands for a moment. "Ugh, come on," she cajoled herself, or maybe berated herself, then forced herself to think of something else. "I got the first aid stuff here. Whenever you're ready," she announced. "I'll be in the kitchen. Just down the hallway…" She had go cringe at her tone that had oscillated somewhere between too chipper and too detached.

There was no answer, not even after a few extra minutes she spent waiting, but eventually the shower was turned off and with a heavy sigh, she made her way over to the kitchen, letting her head sink.

Checking her phone once again, she noticed that her mom had sent a message in the meantime.

~ So sorry. Got held up. Will probably still be awhile ~

~ Everything okay at home? I can send someone to pick the kid up. ~

Pick him up? Like, one of her mom's deputies coming over, possibly entering the house and trying to take Enzo with him? Somehow, Caroline doubted that that would end very well. No, she'd rather try and wait it out some more. She had promised him he was safe with her and she wasn't going to flip on him. Where that strange loyalty had come from, she had no clue. But she wasn't going to fight it. She only hoped he was really worth it.


They were talking about her. About Bonnie. They probably thought he was still unconscious, but he wasn't. He just didn't want to face either of them.

What could he tell them, anyways? Stefan wouldn't want to hear what he had to say, neither would Elena, most likely even less so. She might even blame him for what had happened, and she had all the reason to. In a way, it was his fault. At least part of it. It hadn't been supposed to go that way.

He swallowed. The pain in his abdomen, his shoulder were beginning to become very uncomfortable. Breathing was a task he wished he could leave for another day.

"So she's here now? Have you seen her?"

"Only her Grams. Said Bonnie broke down when Sheriff Forbes was over there. But, I don't know, something was off. It was as if she couldn't quite look me in the eyes. It was… unsettling."

Damon's eyes peeled open. It was like an instinct, or perhaps a reflex. He had to be there for this, he couldn't take the easy way out. He had to be there for the women in his life, and while once that had mostly meant Elena, those last couple of nights had also welded a bond between him and Bonnie (and the others. He couldn't forget the others. They were all in this together, whether they wanted to or not.)

"Heyyy." Elena smiled down on him sweetly, her hand clutching his. For some reason he hadn't quite noticed that before although he was sure she had been holding his hand for a while by then. But now that he had opened his eyes, allowing the world back in, her touch suddenly seemed like too much to handle, and he couldn't help pulling away from her.

There was a flicker of hurt on her face, but she didn't say anything.

"Hey Elena." Speaking still hurt a bit, but he tried not to show it, tried to go for a casual tone, which of course couldn't fool anyone, least of all her. She knew him too well.

Furrowed brow creasing even more, she leaned over to him slightly. "How are you feeling?"

"Pretty okay for someone who. . ." His voice died down, his fake energy dissipating instantly. As much as he wanted to, there was no way he could pretend everything was okay and act like his usual easygoing self. He would have to tell her. Before anyone else could. He would have to try and be there for her.

And for Bonnie. In fact, he had such a strange and strong urge to go looking for his girlfriend's best friend that he couldn't even explain it to himself. Was it because she had been there? Because they had suffered through it all together? Because he had made sure she got out?

If he ever so much as caught a glimpse of one of those… those fucking assholes (and no, he wasn't sorry for the expletives) he'd fucking tear them apart as viciously as he possibly could. He would show them that, yes, everyone could be turned into monsters. Everyone. Damon Salvatore included.

"Brother?"

Damon got jolted back into the here and now by Stefan's calm if concerned voice. Turning toward him, Damon tried to smile, but failed.

"Did you say Bonnie was here?"

"Yeah. They brought her in just a little while ago. She suffered some kind of breakdown." Stefan and Elena both frowned at each other, then at him. "Whatever happened to you, you were all in this together, weren't you? Bonnie, you, who else?"

"Was Jer there?" Elena looked positively alarmed. A weird energy seemed to course through her body. Then she slung her arms around herself and he couldn't see it anymore, as if she had smothered it. Now she looked exhausted, empty. "He's dead, isn't he?"

She knew.

"Elena." He didn't know what to say. He couldn't say anything. He couldn't. But his silence was answer enough, or probably even worse. It left too much room for interpretation, for her imagination to run wild. He wished he could tell her something soothing, something that would make it better. He didn't suffer or some such platitude. But it would have been a lie, and she didn't deserve that.

He watched powerlessly as she crumbled before him. Her lips twitching as she tried to hold in a whine, her arms tightening their grip around her own waist, she sat there, staring at him. "He's dead?" It sounded incredulous, completely different than the first time she had said those same words.

"I'm… sorry." What a dumb thing to say. He wanted to facepalm. He wanted a freaking large tumbler of bourbon, or make that a whole bottle, and then he wanted to drown the world in amber, wanted to kick back his legs, wanted to go for a drive until he reached the west coast, and then even further. He wanted to drive off the face of the earth and it would still be too close to home.

Elena contorted her face, then her body followed. "Excuse me," she barely managed to sputter before she pressed one hand over her mouth and bailed out of his room, a shocked looking Stefan exchanging a glance with Damon.

"Jeremy was with you? Are you sure he is dead?"

Damon merely nodded.

"How . . . Who else." It wasn't a question, and that was for the better, because Damon wasn't going to answer any question about that awful awful time. He wasn't. He was going to shove it deep down and forget about it as best as he could. He was going to try and pretend it never happened.

Except. He wasn't going to do any of those things. He couldn't. He owed it to the others to talk about it. He had to. He had to.

But he didn't want to.

"You want to fucking know?!" he blurted out, a desperate anger growing inside of him, "You really want to know what the hell happened to me, to us, to Jeremy? Are you sure about this? Because trust me, brother, if I open this can of worms, there will be no going back. And that Jeremy is dead is not even the worst. I mean. . ." Damon paused, his stare turning almost threatening. What he was about to say would hurt his brother more than anything. It would change everything. It could quite possibly break him.

"Damon, stop speaking in riddles. What happened to you? Please, if there's anything I can do—"

Damon chuckled an eerie humorless chuckle, interrupting him. Stefan looked kind of appalled. "I wish you could, Stef," Damon said hoarsely when he got himself under control again. "I really wish you could."


He needed to see her. He didn't care whether he was supposed to stay in his bed or not.

After having told his brother a few details (nowhere near the complete story, because he couldn't bring himself to relive it, not yet, and besides, Stefan had pretty much shut down after the first big "reveal" anyways), Stefan had left to collect himself, and Damon had used the opportunity to shakily get out of bed and look for Bonnie. It didn't take him very long to get to her. She was just down the hall from his own room. He had overheard a couple of nurses talking about the strange case of the two returned missing kids, now lying in the hospital so close to one another, and it hadn't taken rocket science to put two and two together and find her.

What did take long, however, was overcoming whatever made him stop in front of her room. There was no one with her when he got to it. From the hallway he could see her pale face surrounded by a black halo of hair, her eyes closed. She almost looked like she was sleeping.

Or dead.

No.

He turned around, checking the hallway. He thought he spotted Sheila Bennett talking to someone around the corner of the hallway, but he couldn't be entirely sure.

"Are you supposed to be up and walking?"

He startled at the voice, and turned to see a kind looking male nurse standing to his side.

"I'll only be a minute," he rasped, rolling his eyes at how broken he sounded. "She's a friend. . . I promise I'll go back to my own room right after."

Thankfully, the nurse gave him a warm and understanding nod instead of the lecture Damon had expected, and with strange relief, he saw the man go on his way.

Damon was already steeling himself to finally enter Bonnie's room, when he heard the nurse call out again. "I'll be back to check on you in ten." The man gave him a knowing look.

Damon tried to smile, being half successful, then, with a deep shaky breath, he stepped into the room before he could change his mind.

The air got sucked out of his aching lungs when he arrived at her side. She looked so troubled, even with her eyes closed. But at least he could now tell that she was indeed just sleeping, the slow rise and fall of her chest hypnotizing him as he watched her.

He stood there a minute or two, before he looked around and found a small plastic chair that someone - probably Sheila Bennett - had left by the side of the bed. Slowly, with the motions of a much older man, he brought it in position and let himself fall into it heavily, making the material creak a little. He cringed at the sound. It went straight through him.

"Hey Bon." Speaking was a chore, but he had to say something. There were too many emotions pooling inside of him (not a good expression. He shivered involuntarily.)

His voice seemed to have registered with her, and she stirred ever so slightly. Damon fought with himself on whether to extend a hand and caress hers, or not. For a moment, he contented himself with just looking at her even face, her slender fingers, her moving chest. Her bruised knuckles, discolored left cheek and swollen left eye, the dark marks around her throat, making him seethe with anger all over again. Swallowing hard, he closed his eyes, trying to breathe evenly, in and out, in and out.

He remembered that little exercise from when he had been sent to anger management class his freshman year of high school, after having gone off on some poor unsuspecting juniors. He had been lucky they didn't expel him. It had only dawned on him recently that he probably had Sheriff Forbes to thank for that. She had been the one they had called, and she had initiated the stupid classes.

He suspected she had known more about Giuseppe's great parenting than she liked. She had even said something along those lines. That he didn't need to become his father. That he needed to learn to control his anger so that he could have a better life.

He had sulked and ignored her back then, but now he suddenly remembered. How different things could have been if only they had ever managed to catch Guiseppe doing something bad. But he had been too smart, the physical abuse had mostly stopped after he had almost been found out once. A terrified Stefan had lied about how he had broken his arm, Damon hadn't been there that day, and that had been the end of that.

He was about to drift off deeper into unpleasant childhood memories, almost as if his brain used them to ward him from the much worse, much more recent memories, when he heard his name.

A soft whisper, from very close to him. Turning his head a little, he gazed into Bonnie's wide open eyes. She swallowed, her features falling a little as tears began making their silent way down her cheeks.

When she moved her fingers the tiniest bit, he suddenly realized that he must have grabbed her hand at some point after all. His fingers were intertwined with hers, his thumb caressing the back of her hand.

Sighing, he tried to smile. "Hello, gorgeous."

Her return smile was weak, then a dark flicker went through her eyes and he knew she was remembering something they both didn't want to remember.

Were they supposed to talk about it? To mention it? He didn't know.

"We made it out," she suddenly breathed, taking the decision from him, and he was grateful for it. Yet her acknowledgment of their ordeal still set something off in him, and he had to look down and swallow the lump building in his throat so as not to lose his composure.

"Yeah," he eventually agreed, taking a deep breath and raising his head to look at her, no smile on his face, just raw emotion. "We did."

"Thank you."

He didn't want to hear that. Didn't want her to thank him. Didn't want to acknowledge that particular part. He couldn't. He wished he could reply, 'I didn't do anything.' But it was wrong. He had done something. Something awful.

But now she was here, and so was he. They were not there anymore. They were… out.

Abruptly, she sat up, startling him, and he flinched away at first when she lifted her arms to hug him. But then she proceeded anyways, the touch of her arms sending aching shivers down his spine, making him want to cry out with despair and sadness, until she tightened her hold on him, clinging to him, her chin resting on his shoulders, his face in the crook of her neck, and suddenly he felt like he could let go, letting out all that bottled up emotion, that pain, and he started sobbing like a small child, he couldn't help it, her soothing arms holding him as he dug his fingers into her thin hospital gown, needing this, needing her, needing this gentle warm human touch to make it out of the darkness again.

"I'm so sorry…"

Chapter Text


...

Previously:

Kol and some friends invited a few of the Mystic Falls Gang to join them crashing a party. But the party turns out to be a front for something much darker. Soon, they all find themselves thrown into a large pool known as The Pit. That's when a game is announced: they are to be split in groups and fight each other. To underscore how serious they are, one of Kol's friends is already killed...


...

[Two days earlier]

The first thing you do when someone tells you there is no escape is, of course, you try to escape.

Lexi was rubbing her face, assessing her situation. How she had gotten into this mess was the most stupid misjudgment she had made in a long time.

Wanting to surprise Stefan, she had come to Mystic Falls before his own impending departure and had waited at this silly little graduation party for him. (She hadn't even gone to her own…)

And then he hadn't even shown up. For a moment she had contemplated messaging, revealing herself, but then she had stumbled upon Caroline, and things had gone in a different direction altogether. To say that she had felt awkward and awful seeing Stefan's ex-girlfriend so heartbroken pretty much summed it up.

Kol Mikaelson's appearance out of nowhere had actually come as a relief, a rescue from an uncomfortable situation in which Lexi had basically watched as Caroline's level of intoxication rose. She had been unable to persuade the girl that it was time to stop, until the blond kid had shown up to take her home. Lexi had been left somehow feeling responsible (she doubted that poor Caroline ever did believe her that Stefan was a platonic friend…).

Then Kol had swaggered over, all grand gestures and big mouth, and even though she had felt the need to roll her eyes, she had still gladly accepted his offer to leave the lake together. He and his little entourage of bored friends that, just like her, really had no business being at this party had finally decided to move on. It had sounded like a good idea.

If only she had known back then that that decision would lead her here, into this horrible horrible mess.

"Groups are almost complete! Last players to be chosen are… girl in the black dress and Kol!" The innocent looking surfer boy was just calling out and part of her had difficulty aligning his looks and his chill attitude with what he was talking about. They were choosing players for their sick game, Kol the only one they at least knew the name of. The rest of them were not even asked theirs, just got called by what they were wearing, or - in Damon's case - by their loud mouths. Although he had kept pretty quiet after one of them had already been clobbered to death. Lexi swallowed, squeezing her eyes shut for a moment, trying to forget the sound the body had made upon falling.

Girl in the black dress, that was her name, and not a minute after she had been called, she was shoved over to where Vicky, Mazzy, Casey, Joel, and Enzo were already being dragged down into the pool.

Big, too bright lights had been turned on to illuminate the stage where she was supposed to fight for her life, but she still couldn't believe that this was really happening.

Until it was.

For a moment, they all just stared at each other, like deer in headlights, frozen, and unsure of what to do.

"You got two hours before we start intervening. Two hours to figure out who dies, and how…" Gosh, she was so tired of the surfer's voice. She was hugging herself, sidling over to the people she knew best, Vicky and Enzo.

They had been told everyone would die if they refused to fight. But… what if they were just trying to mess with them? Maybe they'd proclaim it all a big giant fucked up joke in a minute, and then she would be sorry she ever even started attacking anyone.

They didn't, though.

Seconds and minutes ticked by and nothing happened. Lexi saw the other "group" wait their turn up top, Kol, Damon, Bonnie, Jeremy, Rebekah, Martin. They looked so small from down where she was, so unreal. Suddenly, an alarm rang, jolting her back to reality; a blaring sound that made them all put their hands to their ears.

"One hour is up. One more to go. You better start making a move before the time runs out."

The alarm hurt her ears, her brain. She needed it to stop. But when it finally did, she half wished for it to turn back on, to drown out her wild thoughts.

Exchanging a glance with Vicky, then Enzo, she grimaced. Vicky was shaking in her tiny blue dress, a girl too pretty to be standing in a dirty old pool. Lexi's gaze wandered down to her shoes, to Vicky's. She sighed. Stilettos wouldn't do either of them any favors, no matter how this ended.

"Take off your shoes," she whispered over to the other girl, who looked at her a little confused but then did as she was told.

"What do we do?" The shaky voice of the other girl, the redhead, asked a question neither of them wanted to answer. Nobody wanted to be the first one to make a move, the first one to give up, to give these assholes what they wanted.

Lexi was just trying to get her brain to work and come up with something to say, when she saw Enzo shake his head, half turning away from them all, scoffing. "Fuck this," he cursed, "I'm not—"

With an unexpected and fast movement, Joel abruptly hit him against the side of his head, making Lexi gasp, and Vicky yelp out. He was holding a large piece of piping that he must have picked up off the ground at some point, even though she couldn't recall having seen him bend down for anything.

"What the fuck?!" (Had she said that? Someone else?)

Enzo was trying to regain his bearings, Lexi trying to hold onto him to keep him from falling to his knees. The blow had been bad. Blood was pouring freely from what looked like a large gash that had appeared where the metal had connected with the side of his face.

"I'm sorry, man," Joel hissed out, his face contorted into a pained mask, "I just can't die down here. They're gonna kill us all if we don't. . . They're gonna kill us!"

He was aiming to hit again. Out of instinct, Lexi reacted. Pulling at Enzo, she made him duck down with her. Searching for something, anything to block Joel's attack, she found a hammer and reached for it, then quickly aimed for him. Shooting up, she whirled around, blocking his attack, if barely. Enzo stared up at her in shock. Under other circumstances she would have laughed at his expression. But this wasn't funny at all. None of it.

There was no time to think. Swinging the hammer again, she rotated forward, feeling the tool connect with shocking precision, its sharp end getting embedded in Joel's temple, cracking open his skull at its weakest point.

She gasped as his features went slack, a look of surprise and disbelief appearing on his face before his eyes glazed over way too quickly, the life seeping out of him almost instantly. She hadn't expected him to die. She hadn't expected herself to… to kill him.

It had been so easy, so horribly, awfully easy.

Someone was screaming. Maybe it was her.

Things went crazy after that. It was as if she and Joel had opened Pandora's box, had pulled the trigger. Now the boy's friends came at her at once, Mazzy, the pretty girl, and Casey, the solemn looking black headed kid that she had barely exchanged a word with all evening. She better not start now because what she would have to try to do was… kill them, too.

They were six people, three of whom had to die. And while she knew neither Vicky nor Enzo very well, at least she did know them. She couldn't say the same about the other three.

Casey was a force to be reckoned with, however. Strong, with a bulky muscled body, his movements were surprisingly lithe. He and Lexi danced around each other while elsewhere, Vicky was trying to gain the upper hand on a feral looking Mazzy. Out of the corner of her eye, Lexi saw Enzo standing up, shaking his head as if to clear his vision, half tumbling toward where she and Casey were now engaged in a vicious fight, trying to dodge and attack each other simultaneously.

The guy was going for her throat with a small knife, almost getting her, when Enzo rammed into him from the side, making him topple over and cut Lexi's cheek instead of a more vital part.

She hissed in pain, exchanging a wild glance with Enzo, when they both noticed Mazzy strangling a struggling Vicky.

"Go," she told Enzo, "help her." Then she sprang to her feet again, moving quickly to hold Casey down, and preventing him from getting the upper hand again. It wasn't easy. He was just so bulky, so strong.

She was dimly aware of Enzo pulling Mazzy off of a heavily panting Vicky, saw him smash the girl's head against the ground so hard her body went completely limp. Then, grimacing, closing his eyes, he did it again, and again, as if to make sure...

A sudden searing pain brought her back to her own problems. Casey was towering over her, his face bloody and dangerous. He had brought down a hammer on her shoulder in one quick violent move, crashing her clavicle in the process. It was the same stupid hammer that must have slipped her grip earlier. She went down heavily under the blow, yelling out in agony.

Gulping in breaths of humid air, she tried to get up and couldn't. Dazed, she watched as Enzo repaid her for her earlier help by warding off another attack on her, tackling Casey to the ground hard.

He went to help her stand up again. Holding onto his arm, feeling his fingers wrap around hers, she got pulled onto her feet. A woosh of air sent chills down her body. Their gazes met, his eyes so full of pain and shock and disgust that she wanted to cry. What this was doing to them, they would never be able to—

"No!"

Enzo's voice was the last thing she heard. Her head seemed to explode with a glaring white red light, almost painless. "Oh…" Her mouth remained in an O-shape as she lifted her hand to touch the back of her head. He was rushing to meet her, falling to his knees in front of her. She felt his arms come around her, saw his mouth move. But she couldn't hear.

Somewhere, the lights went crazy, maybe there was an alarm she also couldn't hear? Was she deaf?

Her hand had come away sticky. Her gaze searched for Enzo's, for someone's. There was blood on her hand. She touched the back of her head again. More blood, flowing freely now. But the worst, the worst were those hard pieces she could peel out of her hair. That gooeyness underneath the tips of her fingers…

A long sigh escaped her as she tried to comprehend and failed. Tried to think of Stefan and her plans to move in with him. But the pull of darkness was so strong. Too strong. She slumped forward, against Enzo, not even aware anymore of him calling out to her, of his desperate touch against her head, as if he could somehow stave the bleeding and make her skin heal over.

It didn't work, of course. Lexi's fight was over.

At least she was out of the pit...


They raced down into the pit as soon as it was over, as soon as they had their first three dead. Brandishing tasers, they rounded up the three winners before anything else could happen. Because sometimes these players got a little too crazy. Overzealous. Into a frenzy of blood. Then they wanted to continue fighting and killing even after they had achieved their goal. It kinda took away from the game, made it end too quickly, so they had started to intervene. This way was working better for them.

Such a shame that the little sassy fighter girl was dead. She had been an instant crowd favorite.

They had just barely kept the kid that had killed her from also smashing in the head of the pale dark one. They had almost been a player short, there. Beast coughed into his arm. That wouldn't have been good for ratings. For the entire game, really.

There was more to come after all, and he was sure that having both of these guys still in the game could make for some interesting dynamics in the next round. After group two got a chance to reduce their numbers, of course. (He couldn't wait for Kol and Loud Mouth to get down into the pit, couldn't wait to see how they fared…)

This was the biggest event they had had so far. Up until now, it had been nothing but an elusive circle watching a few bums fight it out. Usually just a group of two against two. But the forgotten creatures of society simply didn't hold the same… excitement as a few fresh and clean faced college kids.

They had gotten to the next level, and this was going to be exhilarating, to say the least. Beast grinned as he looked down to where little naive Kol, who thought of himself as such a black sheep, was rounded up and brought down into the pit.

The kid didn't even see him up here, but it didn't matter anyway. Although Beast was genuinely interested in finding out how far the Mikaelson siblings would make it. Whether either of them would survive.

The thing was, Beast and his people had been making money out of this. For quite a while now. There was a market for everything, and when they had first advertised on 4chan, and other places of the dark web, there had been an astonishing and quite immediate interest. Bum fights had been around for decades, but with the right kind of setting, they had still brought good money, even though that was nothing compared to the numbers they were making now. This, this was truly insane. What a difference it made whether a player was pretty much dead already, with not much to hope for in life anymore as opposed to some privileged kids with their lives ahead of them.

Beast sniffed. Yeah, he thought. This was going to be good. He'd be freaking rich in one fell swoop.

It didn't hurt that he'd also get to land a blow against the stupid rich Mikaelsons living their stupid rich better-than-thou lives. He would hurt those assholes. No matter whether they'd survive (he'd see to it that they didn't…), the damage was already done.

Chapter Text

 

...

[Now]

At some point, the night had turned into morning and Caroline Forbes hadn't quite realized it until now - now that Lorenzo St. John slowly limped over to where she was sitting at the kitchen table, waiting for him.

She had been playing with the various packages of gauze and ointment and hydrogen peroxide and antiseptic. She had counted and rearranged band aids and bandages multiple times, half falling asleep, and once even catching herself with her head resting on the table in an awkward position, neck protesting and a small puddle of drool at the corner of her mouth. Furtively, she had wiped her mouth and sat up straight, looking in every direction to see whether anyone had seen her.

But no one had been there. At that point, she had been ready to go up there again and barge into the bathroom after all, fully expecting Enzo to be lying dead and glassy eyed in a puddle of his own blood and the thought of having to try and explain how he had died on her watch had sent chills down her spine. But then she heard a noise, a creaking of steps on the worn floorboards not quite muffled by the thick carpet above, and a new panic had filled her almost instantly.

Soon, he would get to where she was waiting and she would actually have to face him once again. They were basically strangers. Maybe if he had been a friend, she would have felt more confident. A friend she could hug and hold close. She would know what helped them. A cup of tea or coffee? A tub of ice cream? Distance? Proximity? Talking or silence?

Probably silence if she knew anything about Damon's friend.

She slapped her forehead. Why hadn't she thought of that before? He was Damon's friend. She should have long tried to call him. Except, she didn't even know whether he was back, too. Hadn't they all been gone? It had been the talk of the town lately, a true mystery here in Mystic Falls, how a bunch of people had disappeared - from a party she herself had attended. Had planned… People thought it was a prank, just some kids having fun.

She grimaced at the thought. The lake had been her idea. She had been so stoked to party there one last time. And then she had met Lexi there, and the girl had told her Stefan was leaving town to be her roomie. It all had gone downhill from there. She had envisioned Stefan and Lexi "rooming together" in all the colorful details. Soon, she had been a few drinks in, and the lightweight that she was, she had ended up in poor Matt's arms, Matt, who had generously not brought up again how he had had to take her home…

She sighed loudly, getting up quickly to busy herself with something else, take her mind off that particular memory, and the hangover she had had..

While she waited for the water to boil, she sent out a message to Elena (safer than trying Damon directly, certainly safer than trying Stefan…)

~ Damon back yet? ~

~ Heard from Bon & Jer? ~

There was a dark thought building somewhere at the back of her mind, but she pushed it away. Placing her phone on the counter to pour the water for the tea, she almost spilled it on herself when she looked up to see Enzo standing by the open doorway.

"Oh, hey." She smiled, fumbling a little with her cup to mask her awkwardness. Heat flushed into her cheeks, making her feel like it was much warmer than it actually was.

He was wearing Stefan's clothes, and yet he didn't look remotely like him. He was darker, less familiar, slightly intimidating without his usual snarky banter.

"Shower okay?" She asked chirpily, putting a strand of hair behind her ear, then leaning with her back against the counter, starting to feel more and more awkward with every second of silence that passed between them.

"Soooo," she began when she couldn't take it anymore, his empty dark stare, his silence. He was just standing there, like a rod, like part of the freaking interior, and he didn't say a single thing. He was freaking her out, and she didn't like it. What was she supposed to do with him?

"I suggest we take a look at, um… your…" Pointing at pretty much all of him, she had to force herself to be the grown up here, because clearly, he wasn't going to be, no matter whether he was technically a year or two older than her and should have been the adult. Taking a deep breath, she made her move. Resolutely walking over to him, she stopped just a few inches before him, making him back away until she extended both hands, assuring him, "I'm not going to do anything you don't want, okay?" Her voice was firmer than she could have hoped. "We should at least put some antiseptic on the cuts and bruises. Though I still think you should see a doc..."

She stopped mid-word, when her gaze fell on his left arm that had been hidden in the shadows up until then. He had wrapped it in one of the towels she had given him, but the thick fabric hadn't done a great job covering the mangled mess underneath.

"Geez, Enzo," she breathed, arms dropping slack at her sides. She hissed in air between her teeth as if she was the one in pain. There was no way she could take care of that here, at home. Not a chance. When she looked up at him, she could tell that he knew as much. Adam's apple bobbing as he swallowed drily, he raised his head, his chin as if in defiance. Or denial. He made a sound, somewhere between a chuckle and a sob, then looked away again, down, at his feet.

When she did the same, just for a moment, just because there was always the pull to look where others are looking, she noticed that he still left stains on the ground where he walked.

She took a deep breath, exhaling very slowly, too loudly. Following a sudden urge, she touched his cheek, almost feeling an electrical current pass between them before he suddenly grabbed her hard by the wrist, making her gasp. She wanted to back away, to let go, but she didn't. She held her hand there, gently pressed against his skin, feeling his jaw muscle work underneath her touch. "I'll drive you to the hospital," she whispered, making him look at her. "No discussions. Ipromise I'll stay with you, make sure no one's gonna. . ."

Yeah, no one is going to what? Hurt him? She couldn't promise that because just wrapping his arm would probably already hurt a lot. She also couldn't promise that the police wouldn't want to question him, her mom first and foremost (and why wasn't she here now to take matters into her hands? Why did Caroline have to figure this out?) Her forehead began hurting with a constant frown of sorrow.

"It's alright," he suddenly, shockingly said, so quiet she had to strain to hear him, even in the silence surrounding them. "I'll take care of it myself. Thanks for… for this." He nodded, lost for words.

Wait, she thought. He was going to run out on her, wasn't he? He was honestly going to just leave, somewhere, and he didn't even have shoes or a jacket and it was still drizzling out there and cold.

No, he wasn't going anywhere. She wouldn't let him. Sighing, she let go of him, but his hand remained around her wrist as if he had forgotten he was holding it.

"You really don't want to go to the hospital, do you?" She looked up at him, but he wasn't meeting her gaze.

Finally, he gave the smallest, most defeated shake of the head. "I can't."

"Why, goddammit?!" It suddenly exploded out of her, she had no idea where it was coming from, but she had enough. She had enough of his weird evasive behavior, of her mom not showing up. She had enough of being heartbroken about Stefan and not hearing back from either of her supposedly best friends.

"No one is telling me anything," she complained, knowing full well that she sounded like a child with a tantrum, "Elena doesn't call, Stefan is an ass, Bonnie bails on me and leaves me to deal with the whole winter ball stuff all by myself; my mom takes care of everything and everyone else before she has time for me, and now you show up at my doorstep, at my doorstep - and I honestly don't even understand why, we're not even close, we're not even friends. And you're such a complete freaking mess, but I have to pull every freaking word out of you, trying to make sense of your erratic and stupid and positively self endangering behavior. Seriously, Enzo! Open your freaking mouth and tell me what the hell happened! Did you and Damon hash it out? Did you have a car accident or something? Did someone die?"

When she finally got herself back under control, she felt a little ashamed of her outburst. When she saw how his face had fallen, his expression turned withdrawn, she felt even worse. She knew he wasn't doing any of it on purpose, deep down she knew. It was just so horribly frustrating and none of it seemed to make sense to her.

She could tell that she had hurt him. ("We're not even close, we're not even friends," she had said. Oh gosh, she hadn't really, had she?)

"You're right. I'm sorry. I should go," he said, then walked past her so quickly she was surprised he could even manage that with the state his feet were in. He left footprints all through the kitchen, and new ones on the rug to the front entrance. (Her mom was going to have a fit.)

He was so fast, and yet she was faster. She had caught up with him in seconds, hurrying to grab his shoulder to keep him from running out just as he started opening the door.

"Stop."

He tried shaking her off, but she grabbed his arm, too, placing a hand against his neck, which made him back away like she had slapped him, made him raise an arm as if in defense and then…

It hit her before she could fully comprehend what had happened. His fist connected with her temple and she blinked away stars as she clutched at him so as not to fall.

He had hit her.

Time froze around them, as she slowly, very slowly raised herself up again. She was fine. Her head was pounding a bit, but she was okay. Enzo, on the other hand, wasn't. He was so far from okay that Caroline had trouble understanding just what the hell had just happened.

"You hit me," she noted stupidly, stating the obvious, mostly for her own benefit, so that she could understand. "You hit me…"

He was standing with his back pressed against the door, still closed, or maybe closed again because of the force with which he had slammed himself into it. One arm raised as if to protect himself, the other useless by his side, he stood there, staring at her wide eyed and in obvious shock, his breathing way too fast, too erratic, like he had just run a marathon or had barely escaped certain drowning.

But he was still drowning. He wasn't safe yet. He was drowning and she watched him as he did. He had hit her, but not because he had wanted to, not because he was violent and out of control. He had hit her to protect himself. From her. The realization came to Caroline so abruptly, so clearly that she didn't know how she hadn't seen it before. He had thought she was attacking him. It had been like a reflex, instinct, when he had lashed out. And while she couldn't exactly excuse his behavior (because she still didn't understand! How could she?!), she felt awful for him.

"I'm. . ." His words didn't come, his breaths got in the way. Or something else. "I'm sorry. Oh fuck, I'm. . ." He was shaking so badly, she felt the urge to just wrap him in her arms and hold him, but she couldn't be sure he wouldn't hurt her again, this time for real.

He was panicking and breaking down right in front of her, after barely having held it together all night and all morning, and she didn't know how to help him. All she could do was stand there and watch him from the distance of a few extra feet away, her arms outstretched, her expression full of shock and sadness.

"It's alright," she allowed, although alright was probably not the word for whatever this was. It was all wrong, so very very wrong.

"No, I. . ."

"Enzo. I'm really not going to hurt you, okay? You're safe here. If you don't want to go to the hospital, that's okay. We'll figure something out." She was repeating herself, over and over. They were back where they had been last night, or no. Even farther than that. He was back way farther than that, he was reliving something entirely different.

Not just a fight, not an accident. Something even darker.

"I shouldn't have ever made it out, you know?" His voice was surprisingly clear when he spoke. Hearing him speak startled her and she could only stare at him as he continued. "They were right. Everyone is a monster, and once you've shown your true colors, there's no going back." His expression looked like the saddest, most pained smile she had ever seen. Tears were welling in his eyes. His tone was heartbroken, and heartbreaking. Caroline couldn't help but start crying, for his sake, for her own...

"You're not a monster if that's what you're thinking."

He sniffed, wiping his eyes with the palm of his hand, composing himself as best as he could. "Yeah, I am. I'm sorry, Caroline. I'm sorry I hit you. I'll better go—"

"Please don't." She moved her arms to reach out to him, barely catching herself and stopping. He still looked like a cornered animal, waiting for a predator to attack. For her to attack... She gnawed on her lip. "Enzo, you need to see a doctor. And whatever it is, whatever happened, I'm sure my mom can help you—"

He scoffed, a humorless sound. "Let me go, Caroline. No one can help me. I'm already lost."

And with that, he smiled at her sadly, taking a few slow steps toward her. Part of her wanted to flinch away when he got close, but she didn't. She waited, with baited breath.

The kiss he placed on her forehead, a cool kiss, so soft, was the most surprising thing that had happened between them up until that point, and she was still marveling at where it had come from, when he looked at her one last time before vanishing out the door.

(And she let him. Why the hell did she let him?!)

...

Chapter Text


...

A loud yell woke Rebekah up out of an uneasy sleep, and going by Nik's concerned face, it had been her own.

Slumping back in the backseat of the car, adjusting her position, she slung her arms around herself as if that way she could get warmer, could feel protected, but it wasn't working.

She still felt like she was freezing, even though she wasn't wearing a cute little top and super short skirt anymore. It took her a while to even remember that it was supposed to be summer. In light of everything that happened, the heavy storm still lingering three days later (or was it four, she was hazy on the details, time especially) and that had felt like the world was about to end, she felt like winter would have been a more appropriate season.

The car was halfway to their destination, Mystic Falls waiting ahead as it had always been, and although she hadn't wanted to go back, she simply hadn't been able to stay back in New Orleans, without her brothers. She needed them now, more than ever before.

"I'm sorry," she mumbled, hiding in her large woolen cardigan, staring out at the landscape passing by in a blur. If only she could forget what had happened, could pretend it had never happened.

But Kol was dead and they owed it to him to not let this rest until…

Until what, though? What did Elijah think he could do to make any of this better or more bearable or more "just?" There was nothing. Revenge wouldn't help anyone. Especially not revenge on the wrong people.

He simply didn't understand; and she couldn't let him go after her friends. They were not the ones to blame. It wasn't their fault. It was Kol's. He had gotten himself killed (don't go there, don't go there...) and he had put them all in this mess. Sniffing, she wiped her nose with the back of her sleeve, like a lost child, crying for her innocence.

No, she didn't want to have to face them again, any of them. She didn't want to go back to this stupid place, didn't want to see her brothers get caught up in a play of revenge and violence. Most of all, she didn't want to get ground up in between, didn't want to be forgotten by Nik and Elijah because they got too focused on the wrong thing. But she wasn't strong enough to fight. Not anymore. So here she was, getting ready to face some of her demons, or maybe all.


Klaus exchanged a glance with his older brother.

Their sister was worrying them. It wasn't like her to yell and scream in her sleep. Or bang her head against walls.

What they had done to her, what they had turned her into, it made him so incredibly angry that he wanted to smash something. Or someone. At this point, he honestly didn't care if innocent people got hurt along the way. His little brother was dead, his sister a shadow of her former self. That needed vengeance. Cold, hard, finite.

No one messed with the Mikaelsons and expected to come out whole at the end. It simply didn't happen. That much at least they had all learned from Mikael. Their father was a douchebag, but at least he had instilled a sense of pride and power in his offspring, and Klaus was ready to show anyone that had so much as looked at Rebekah the wrong way that messing with his family had consequences.

He put his thumb to his lips, absently biting into its skin as he stared ahead at the damp world out there, still in a haze from all that unexpected late summer rain. At least he was used to the humidity…

It was still hard to process, to understand. That Kol was not there anymore. Dead. He realized now that he wouldn't fully believe it until he saw the kid's body. Saw it with his own eyes.

He loved Rebekah more than anything, he did, but he also didn't always trust her. Maybe she had made a mistake.

And what kind of "mistake" could that be? She had been pretty vivid with her descriptions. He had wanted to throw up and crush something when he and Elijah had listened to her. In fact, he had destroyed the tv and one of Esther's fancy lamps before his older brother - and his sister's panicked outcries - had stopped him from doing any more damage.

"When we get there, I want you to stay with her," Elijah suddenly addressed him, shooting him a sideways glance, then checking on their sister in the rear view mirror. She seemed oblivious to their little conversation, lost in another realm, just staring out the window.

Klaus frowned. "I'm not going to let you deal with this alone. I want to find our brother, too." He had sounded harsher and more upset than he had wanted to, but he couldn't fool Elijah anyways.

"I know," he replied, eyes focused on the road ahead, "But I don't want your temper to mess this up for us. We need to be careful. These people… I doubt that the sheriff will deal with them in a way we would want to."

Klaus had to agree. Chances were, dear old Liz Forbes would protect half of them, and be too stupid to find the puppeteers in the back. Small town sheriffs. He rolled his eyes.

"Then let me help—"

"No." Elijah cut him off. "Someone needs to be with Rebekah, and as much as it confuses me, she has always favored you. You are her safe haven; so step up and be there for her. I will deal with the rest. If I do need help, trust me to let you know."

Klaus pressed his lips together, anger rising inside of him, but he had something to prove to his older brother, had to prove that he could indeed keep himself in check. So he remained silent.

He would be at Rebekah's side. But that didn't have to mean that he couldn't go looking for the others, couldn't start a little investigation of his own.

After all, the person he trusted the most was still he himself. And he would see to it that Rebekah felt safe again in this stupid stupid town.


Stefan tasted bile, and forced himself to swallow. Wiping over his mouth, he slowly got up off the ground, and used the flush of the toilet he had just kneeled in front of. Then he made his way out the door and toward the row of sinks. Taking his paled complexion in for a few seconds, he forced some cold water into his face, clapping his cheeks a little as he did to get some color back in his face.

Damon was right. He wished he hadn't heard any of the things his brother had told him. Things his brother had experienced.

And worst of all, he wished it wasn't true. That it was all a lie or some weird booze dream Damon had had, a fabrication of his intoxicated mind.

But the dots were connecting, and a picture was forming. Jeremy Gilbert was dead, Damon and Bonnie had shown up injured and traumatized. And now, now he had learned that Lexi had been there too.

Lexi, who had no business even being in Mystic Falls anymore. So why had she been there? Why had she met up with Damon and the others? How did they all end up at the same freaking place?

He swallowed again, closing his eyes, then opening them quickly again when all he saw in his mind's eye was Lexi's smile and his brother's pale and bruised face.

Damon had said she was dead, too. That he had seen her.

She hadn't been found yet. She hadn't even been missing. Stefan felt sick again at the thought that he hadn't even suspected a thing, hadn't once tried calling her or messaging her.

The last time they had seen each other, shortly after the breakup with Caroline, and after he had already made the plans to move and stay with her, Lexi had asked him again whether he was certain. Whether he really wanted to do this, and he had said yes. She had smiled and nodded and said, "Okay. Call me when you get there and we'll settle you in. Until then, do me a favor and focus on wrapping stuff up here at home. I don't want to hear from you until you're on your way…" And she had given him this curious look.

He hadn't known. He hadn't known.

She wasn't even supposed to be missing, but now he had called her, once, twice, ten times in the last five minutes. He had sent her text messages and left voicemails. And no reply. Maybe she was just busy or annoyed or didn't hear her phone. Except. He knew Damon wasn't lying. He had seen it in his eyes, in his soul. He had seen it and felt it and it had broken something inside of him, something essential.

Here he was, worried about his brother's ordeal, and suddenly it turned out that he was going to have to deal with his own tragedy. How was he supposed to be there for Damon through all this when… when Lexi had died and he didn't even know how to handle that, how to process it.

Lexi was dead. Jeremy was dead. Damon was fucked up and Bonnie, Stefan didn't even have any idea how she factored into all this. Why was Damon suddenly so attached to her? He hadn't gotten to that part of the story before Stefan had had to run out and empty the contents of his stomach into the nearest toilet bowl.

He took a shaky breath, staring at his own reflection once more. Not much better. Still pale and lifeless, but at least a little color to his lips again. It would have to suffice. He would have to go out there again, to face his demons. And those of his brother.

Whether he wanted to or not.


It felt good. Bonnie had closed her eyes to just wallow in Damon's touch. His embrace, even his tears against the bare skin of her neck, felt comforting.

She hadn't been sure she would ever be able to bear another person's touch again, especially if that other person was one of them, but here she was, and here he was, and his proximity was the most soothing perfection. The one thing that could actually help her now.

Slowly, she felt him move, and straighten, her hand still tracing the patch on his bare shoulder when he lifted his head to look at her. Grimacing, he furtively wiped away the tears that had made their way down his face, then went on to trace hers with the tip of his thumbs.

Tilting his head, he looked at her, trying to smile, and she smiled in return. (How could she even still do that, after everything? Smile…)

"I'm sorry," he repeated his previous words, but she shook her head.

"It's not your fault."

Averting his gaze, he disagreed. "It is, though."

"If you really want to play the blame game, Damon Salvatore..." She couldn't help but push herself away from him as she said it, hugging herself as she sank back against her backrest. "We all agreed to going. We're all to blame for that part. If I had listened to my intuition, I wouldn't have gone. Something felt off from the very first moment we ran into Kol and his friends. What were they even doing at a stupid high school party? Not exactly their typical turf…"

She was starting to ramble, all the bottled up words suddenly trying to come out at once. She hadn't gone there before, hadn't dared think about it at all, but now, now that Damon was sitting before her and blaming himself, she couldn't let him.

Part of her wanted to find someone else to blame. Kol… for just being there, for being stupid enough to fall in with the wrong crowd and getting them into that situation to begin with. Damon, for being drunk and making her feel like she had to keep an eye on him instead of sneaking off with Jeremy. Jeremy, for not being more adamant about them leaving and for feeling the need to carry Vicky along instead of bringing her home. Elena, for having the stupid flu at exactly the wrong time. Enzo, for being a friend to Damon, egging him on rather than stepping up and taking him home like a real best friend would have done (Matt had taken a just slightly more drunk Caroline home. That was what a good friend looked like.). Rebekah, for not having her brother under control. Caroline, for choosing this one night to get stupidly drunk so that she couldn't warn Bonnie off of going anywhere with a Mikaelson (with two of them, even). Even Lexi, for being there in the first place, for being older yet not more responsibly acting. And for making Caroline so upset that she had gotten so wasted. (It was all a big cycle of cause and effect…)

But most of all, she was angry at herself, blamed herself. For thinking she needed to prove anything to anyone, for disregarding her gut feeling that something about it all seemed off. If only she had voiced her concerns, had spoken up, had made them stay at the lake.

They could all be okay now, if she hadn't felt like she needed to be cool and crazy like the rest of them. Yes, they might have teased her a bit, called her a spoilsport like Damon, or even something a little harsher. Boring, lame. But they would be okay. They would still be okay. And alive. Jeremy would still be alive. Vicky, too. Lexi. But she didn't. She went against her instinct, and they had all paid for it dearly; and if it weren't for Damon, Bonnie would be dead. So, no, she wasn't going to cast blame on him. He had saved her. He had gotten her out. If only he could also get her out of her own head. The memories were drowning her.

"As much as I'm always up for pinning everything bad on a Mikaelson," Damon interrupted her straying train of thought, "I don't think he knew what he was getting us all into."

"Ignorance is not an excuse."

"Bon…"

Looking at him with rising anger - if not directed at him, she shook her head.

"I'm just so angry," she choked out. "And if I don't blame him, then there's only myself left and I, I don't think—"

"None of this is your fault, Bonnie," he repeated her own words from earlier back at her, and she cringed a little at hearing them. "You know that, right?"

"I killed my own boyfriend, Damon," she insisted exasperatedly, covering her hand with her mouth when she noticed how horribly matter-of-fact it sounded.

The look he gave her, full of an aching sympathy, made her eyes well up again, but she didn't want to cry anymore. She couldn't.

"It was not your fault."

"No? Do you think Elena will see it that way? Do you think she won't hate me for killing her brother?"

"She'll understand. . ." he trailed off, clearly realizing that he couldn't actually make such a claim, that in all likelihood, Elena would be appalled and hate Bonnie for what she had done. She had every right to be.

"She won't," Bonnie therefore told Damon drily, looking out the window to her side. "How could she ever understand?"

Damon seemed to be growing restless, upset. "Because they fucking made you do it," he bit out, then pulled her against him once more. "Because they are the monsters, not we… Not we…"

He said it again, as if he was trying to convince himself more than her, and she allowed herself to cling to him, to soak up his sympathy and understanding, even if part of her still wanted to push him away.

They had been friends before, for Elena's sake more than anything. He had gotten on Bonnie's nerves often. He had been immature and at times a bad influence on her best friend, and she hadn't liked that about him.

But she had always known that, deep down, he was a good guy, even back then. And now he was suddenly her anchor, her one solace, the one person that could comfort her and she didn't know what to feel or think about that, either.

Chapter Text

...

[Two days earlier]

...

Jeremy was thinking of his sister. He had told her that he would take Bonnie on a secret little weekend trip right after the party. He had even gotten her to make sure that Bonnie's Grams wouldn't get worried.

Elena was completely oblivious to the fact that anything was wrong. She might have noticed by now that Damon was overdue, but even that was not the first time and probably rather angered her than worried her. Her own brother, however, she would think he and Bonnie were enjoying some happy couple's quality time right about now.

The lump in his throat had grown over the last few hours.

He had regained consciousness only to having to watch their friends fight it out in this godforsaken place. Vicky had barely made it out. Part of him still didn't want to process what had happened, or that three of them had really been killed by the other three. Would his "group" do the same?

It had been his hope that they would find a way out before it came to that, but that hope had been squashed when he had seen up close with how much violence the three had been killed.

His gaze met Vicky's as she was pulled up and out of the pool while he was being lifted down. It was a strange exchange, surreal. Both of them hanging from ropes like this was some weird climbing event or something, they dangled off the wall of the blueish pool and what he saw in her eyes, that almost empty hopeless darkness, it scared him more than anything else he had seen so far.

"Jer." His feet touched ground as Damon and Bonnie both walked over to meet him. He rushed over to embrace Bonnie as soon as he was down there, relieved to see that she was in okay spirits, all things considered. He was shakier than she was, it seemed. But she had always been a strong woman (which was a big part of the reason why he had fallen in love with her.); she was quite possibly the strongest one down here now, and he would make it his mission to keep her alive. If he could make sure of nothing else, he would see to it that she got out of this alive, at least this round.

He could give her a fighting chance (how aptly it was named…).

Damon nodded over to him while the rest of their group was still brought down. Rebekah, Kol, and his broad shouldered friend with a name like Mark, or Mike, or… Martin. Right, that was his name.

Elena's boyfriend, who was kind of like a big brother to Jer, if he was being honest, put an arm around his neck, pulling him close. "We need to make sure the girls get out of this," he whispered, half surprising Jeremy with his knightly gallantry. Admittedly he hadn't pegged Damon for the kind of selfless guy who thought of the women first. But was it really that surprising? Think of him what you wanted, he was treating Elena like a princess most days.

Jeremy nodded, clearing his aching throat. As they heard the horrible gong and the announcement that their two hours were starting now, he quickly leaned over to Damon again, his hand digging into the older man's arm. "Promise me you'll do what you can to get Bonnie out of here."

"Course I will, Jer." Damon gave him a curious frown. Like he knew what Jeremy was up to.

He probably did.

"What are you talking about, Jeremy?" Bonnie was fussing with her hands, then walking closer to him, grabbing his shirt. He looked at her with a smile - even down here, he had a smile for her - and whispered something in her ear.

"It will be okay," he breathed, "just let me talk to Damon and Kol real quick. I might have a plan, but you gotta trust me."

She gave him a concerned dubious look, but nodded, reluctantly letting him go.

He stepped even closer to Damon.

"Tell Elena I love her," he said so quietly that Bonnie wouldn't hear him. "Jenna, too. Please make sure they're okay."

"You can do that, Gilbert. We'll make it out of here together." Damon grabbed his shoulder, hard.

"Yeah…"

The problem was, they wouldn't. Not all of them, at least. He knew that, Damon knew that. They all did. And nobody wanted to see happen what had happened with the others. It had been a blood fest, a nightmare.

No, Jeremy thought. Theirs would be a nightmare, too, but hopefully not as loud. Not as… feral. Closing his eyes briefly, he walked over to Kol, hands raised to make sure the guy didn't see it as an attack. He needed to talk to him.

The kid was rubbing his nose like a coke addict. Keeping his sister wrapped in his other arm, he pulled her away with him as Jeremy got nearer.

"I just want to talk for a second," Jeremy said appeasingly, trying not to think of the fact that a hundred or more people were cheering somewhere above them.

Kol raised his head challengingly, but Jer ignored it. There simply was no time for any sizing up and power plays, not in their dire situation.

It wasn't difficult at all, persuading Kol of his plan. He had expected some resistance, had expected the Mikaelson to be more - yeah, what? - … selfish. But he wasn't. Of course Jeremy couldn't be sure he'd follow the plan, but he had to make a gamble, and trust Damon's instincts that had so far always made the Salvatore come out on top against all odds.

In the end, it all went at least somewhat according to plan. And that gave him peace. Seeing her beautiful eyes one last time, he only hoped she would get out and over it all. That she would heal. Maybe with Damon's help. He had promised after all…


Damon knew what the kid was up to as soon as he uttered his first cryptic words. He was just that transparent, that foolishly in love. Damon couldn't blame him. How was he supposed to explain any of it to Elena, though? How was he supposed to look her in the eyes ever again? No. There was no way he could or would let it happen. He'd just…

But then it all happened so quickly, so swiftly, that he didn't get much of a chance. He was honestly surprised that the younger Mikaelson brother agreed to the plan, actually tried executing it alongside Jeremy.

One moment the two of them were still talking, while he was trying to keep a desperate and panicked Bonnie from paying too much attention. Then the two were already moving to take out a completely oblivious Martin so fast that the kid never saw it coming. Damon, Bonnie, and Rebekah were all watching on in a complete stupor of shock as it unfolded in front of them.

How Kol walked over to the guy, saying something, Damon couldn't quite hear it over the cheers from above, then he watched as Jeremy stooped down to grab a discarded tool from off the ground - a wrench - and not thirty seconds later, poor Martin was breathing his last breaths in Kol's arms, Bonnie shrinking against Damon in shock, Rebekah gasping out her brother's name.

What followed after that was something Damon would rather not think of ever again, but he was quite certain that he would have to, over and over and over again.

Jeremy groped for a blade he found on the freshly hosed down floor, quickly holding it against his own skin, while Kol did something similar not far from him.

"Jeremy, no!" Bonnie was yelling, overlapping with Rebekah's shocked call for her brother to stop. An alarm blared, a loud feedback noise signalling that someone was about to use the microphone to make yet another announcement.

"No suicide, guys and gals! For every suicide, an additional player will have to die." Sykes sounded like a slightly disappointed parent.

"That wasn't in the rules before," Damon stated drily, which only earned him a glare from Bonnie, who then rushed over to her boyfriend.

He should probably consider himself lucky that no one up top had heard him. He sighed wearily, making up his mind. It wasn't going to end well, but at least this way he still got a chance to save Little Gilbert - and Bonnie. Walking over with a determined gait, he quickly made it over to where Bonnie was quietly scolding Jer, tears streaming down her cheeks, her hands groping at the collar of his shirt. Damon looked away, as if trying to give them privacy.

They were all standing so close together that Damon figured he could pull it off without anyone interfering too much.

Kol's hand was still holding a knife when Damon walked close to him, whispering something in his ear. "Hand it to me."

Kol shot him a wary look.

"You want her to live, right?" Damon jerked his head in Rebekah's direction. She stood there, angry, trying to get past Damon to her brother.

Kol nodded, swallowing.

"Then hand it to me. I'll take care of it. I'll take you out, and Jeremy will take me out."

"Why should I trust you?" Kol scoffed disbelievingly. "She doesn't mean anything to you, you could just take her out once I'm gone. Jeremy means something to you because he's your girlfriend's brother, and he won't let anything happen to Bonnie, so the logical thing for you all to do—"

Damon shook his head, interrupting him. "You'll just have to trust me on this."

"Yeah. Right."

Geez, the guy was horribly stubborn. But of course Damon couldn't blame him. They were brokering about their own deaths, after all, something so beyond anything their minds could really fathom that it was no wonder that the youngest Mikaelson brother wasn't accepting it all so easily.

Running a hand through his hair, trying to keep Rebekah at bay, Damon got so close that his lips briefly touched Kol's ear. (Should this be his last human touch that didn't end in his own death?)

"Listen to me, man. We got Rebekah and Bonnie who we want to get out of here. That leaves me, little Gilbert, and you. Two of us will still have to freaking die, and you were just about to off yourself anyway."

"Along with Gilbert, yeah."

"Yeah. So what has changed now?"

Kol rolled his eyes. "I told you I don't trust you, Salvatore."

"But you did trust him." Damon nodded over to where Jeremy and Bonnie were still hugging.

Kol grudgingly nodded in agreement.

"Then let me tell you something. Jeremy… he's Elena's brother - my girlfriend's brother, right? . . . She needs him. She's got no one else left—"

"She has you…"

It was Damon's turn to scoff. "I'm her no good boyfriend. She'll get over me. But her own brother?" He shook his head. "You know all about the magical connection between siblings, Mikaelson, don't you? - It'll have to be me."

Kol was squinting at him, still not convinced. "What if I try to get one up on all of you and kill you and one of them, huh? So that my sister gets to live and I?"

Damon gave him a look. A half grin. "You're scared," he noticed. "Scared that we might all side up against you. It's okay to be scared. Understandable..." He patted Kol's shoulder, the guy's quietness quite telling. "But we won't, okay? - Listen. How about we try and do it simultaneously?"

Scanning the floor, Damon quickly found another shiny object, a rod of metal, long and sturdy enough to do the job.

Behind him, Bonnie was calling out, sounding panicked, but he ignored her. He had to.

"Here," he held out both weapons to the other man, waiting until Kol picked one.

"What are you doing?" Rebekah was staring from her brother to Damon and back, appalled, angry, something else, too. He had almost forgotten she was there until she forcefully shoved herself in their way, trying to grab the rod Kol had chosen; but he wouldn't let her.

"What does it look like, blondie. We're trying to save your lives." Damon looked at her intensely, watching her eyes widen as he grinned a humorless grin. "Listen. You two gotta say your goodbyes, okay? And I, mine. I'll be back in a minute." Exchanging another glance with Kol, raising and eyebrow, he added. "This has to happen. Now."

The other man nodded, mouthing an, "I know."

"Are you crazy?" He heard the upset Mikaelson sister lay into her brother as he was walking away. He briefly saw how her fists began to hit Kol's chest, until he stopped her, half squishing her against him. Then Damon concentrated on his own destination. Jeremy and Bonnie, still hugging each other, Jeremy still soothingly muttering into Bonnie's hair, her hands clutching at his neck.

Damon tried to keep the lump in his throat from suffocating him. If he didn't get a move on, he would hyperventilate before he had a chance to execute the damn plan.

"Tell Elena I love her," he called out, getting their attention. The look on little Gilbert's face would have been priceless if it hadn't been under the circumstances. "Tell Stefan the same, and that they need to move on. . ." He froze as he heard an abrupt yell behind him drown out his words.

Whirling around, he watched as he saw Kol's hands wrapped around his sister's, both holding the rod that Damon had left with them. Coughing up blood, he stared at Rebekah, then his gaze wandered over to Damon. "You promised," he wheezed, coughing again, Damon's heart clenching at the sight, he gave the kid a somber nod in return.

"No. No no no, please, Kol. No…"

Rebekah was sobbing, her hands clinging to the rod as Kol's fell away, and Damon understood exactly what had happened.

Kid hadn't wanted to die by anyone else's hand, so he had forced his sister's hand to do it for him, with him. Rebekah probably hadn't had a chance.

He licked his lips, suddenly acutely aware of how thirsty he was and how disgusting the bourbon residue tasted with a parched mouth. With a sigh, he forced himself to ignore the Mikaelson tragedy and focus on his own.

He would have to die next. There was no way around it.

"Hey Jer," he started, but then he saw the wet spot that had grown on the boy's shirt, dark and blossoming, and he knew that the warning of their tormentors had been too late. He must have already cut himself pretty good when the alarm had shrilled. "No, Jeremy." His eyes locked on Bonnie's. Bonnie, who stood, shocked and sobbing, holding her boyfriend. And how had he misread that situation before? How had he not seen it?

"It's okay," Jeremy was saying, wheezing, really. "I did it for you two. I love you Bonnie. I love you…"

"You can't, Jeremy, please. I… I can't. . ." Her hands were still trying to staunch the flow of blood coming from a gash in his neck.

"You need to get out of here. Tell Elena I'm sorry. That I wish I could have been there for her. But…"

"Goddammit, Jer!" Damon didn't know how he had made it over there so quickly. Still clutching the stupid knife, he gripped Jeremy hard, trying to keep him on his feet as the color slowly drained from his face.

"Damon. Please." Jeremy licked his lips. "You need to… you need to finish it for me."

"Nonsense." Damon exchanged a glance with Bonnie, both of them upset, both of them clinging to Jeremy.

"You need to finish it or we'll all have to pay for this." Jeremy weakly indicated the wound in his neck, so horrible and bloody and deep. Damon grimaced, clenching his teeth.

"Oh you stupid idiot," he bit out. "It was supposed to be me. I was going to… it wasn't supposed to be you, little Gilbert, don't you know that?"

Jeremy chuckled, then coughed, his forehead falling against Bonnie's. She was silently crying, an agony visible in her entire stance that pained Damon. All that life, wasted. All that love…

His own eyes were tearing up, he couldn't do anything about it, he was weak in the eye of this. It wasn't supposed to end this way. Not for Jeremy.

"I'm sorry," the poor boy now choked out, his hands cupping Bonnie's tear stained face. "I didn't know. I thought if I did it myself, no one else would have to get blood on their hands, no one else would have to die." He smiled sadly. "I was a bit too fast for their stupid last second change of rules."

As if it was just a little game. But it wasn't. It was cruelty. It was hell. It was… Damon shook his head, forcing himself to focus. Jeremy was dying and if he wanted Bonnie and Rebekah and even himself to live, he would have to kill Jeremy before they would consider it a suicide. He would have to be quick, he would have to…

But she was faster. While he was still trying to get himself to move and end this, Bonnie had leaned in to kiss her boyfriend one last time. "I love you,"'she breathed. "I love you, Jeremy Gilbert."

Then she took the bloody blade from his hand and with a pained smile full of love and terror, she plunged it into his throat. As his eyes stared at her, a gurgle escaping his lips, a wail built up inside of her, and when he finally collapsed, seconds, minutes later, too heavy for her petite frame, Damon jumped forward and caught him, lowering him slowly to the ground.

"You're free, Jer," he whispered, watching helplessly as the kid's eyes glazed over, as Bonnie's wail got droned out by yet another alarm. "You're okay now."

He held Jeremy in his arms, held him until no more gasps and gurgles could be heard, until his eyes fluttered closed, and a taser shocked Damon from behind with such force that he fell right onto his dead friend.

It was over, and yet it had only just begun…

...

Chapter Text

 

...

[Now]

...

The car door on the driver side slammed loudly shut, and Niklaus Mikaelson slid out on the other side, swaggering over to Elijah with a half scowl. His older brother was already on his way however, racing after a slow figure making their way down the street. Sighing, Klaus flicked his hand, then looked over to where Rebekah was peeling herself out of her seat.

"You have to stop him," she said urgently, her hands grabbing the lapels of his jacket once she was out and standing before him. He looked at her, raising his chin as if to prove a point. "Why would I? Didn't you just say that bloke was there too?"

"I said he was with us," she said, sounding angry, upset, and like she was starting to panic.

"Yeah. One of the douchebags endangering you."

"Screw you, Nik! If you want to single out a "douchebag endangering" me, choose Kol!" And with that, she suddenly started running after their older brother herself, calling out his name as she went. By then, the eldest Mikaelson had already reached the person his anger was directed toward and had tackled him to the ground, his fist connecting with the side of the man's face.

Enzo's face.

"Stop! You're going to kill him!" Rebekah yelled, just as another shadowy figure came racing down a nearby driveway, yelling the exact same thing.

Klaus did a double take. If that wasn't Caroline Forbes. With a bored sigh, he eventually jumped into action, whether for his sister's sake or Caroline's, he couldn't even quite say. There was just such an urgency to both their despair that he thought it best to intervene.

With a few quick sprints he was at his brother's side, pulling him away from his victim, Elijah violently thrashing against his younger brother.

"Acting a little out of character there, brother," Klaus told him calmly, not letting go, and pulled Elijah onto his feet.

"Let me go."

"Elijah, I think our dear sister changed her mind. Or maybe we just weren't listening properly, but she's clearly upset and doesn't want this bloke beaten to a pulp. Besides." He looked down to where a panting Enzo was scrambling up, cradling one arm awkwardly as he wiped blood from his face. "I think he's already had it."

"What the hell is wrong with you?!" Caroline screamed just then into Elijah's face before kneeling down next to her… friend? And Klaus felt a small shock of disappointment at her completely ignoring him.

Rebekah, too, was laying into their older brother, spit flying from her mouth as she did. Something had changed in her behavior so suddenly that Klaus let go of Elijah and grabbed her by the arms.

"Let go," she whined, "don't freaking touch me! You… you can't just run out there and attack people, especially not him," she pointed at Enzo, who stared up at her dazed or in shock, or like maybe one of Elijah's hits had gotten him a little too hard. "Not them! They are the ones that helped me, for heaven's sake! They helped me! Were you not listening at all?! Were… were you not. . ." She sobbed so hard now that she couldn't even talk anymore, still fighting against Klaus for a little moment longer before all fight went out of her and she slumped against Klaus, allowing him to hold her and stroke her hair like one would with a small child.

"I'm sorry," he breathed, looking over her head at Elijah, who was wiping his mouth and doing a little pirouette of despair, taking in the obvious damage he had done.

Klaus felt unusually helpless. He wasn't used to others but him going all over board with their emotions and tempers. Maybe Kol. Not Rebekah; certainly not Elijah. Elijah was the collected one, the smart one, the defense lawyer that always kept his temper in check, even when dealing with the most unruly clients. Which was why he was so good, why all the real douchebags of the world seeked him out to defend them, even if it cost a fortune. Rebekah and Kol's demise had gotten to him more than he had let on before, then. Klaus realized that his brother did still have a heart after all.

Feeling his sister's fluttering heartbeat against his body, he tightened his grip a little more. His gaze caught Caroline's, who was looking up at him briefly, appalled, shocked, upset, before she returned her attention to the man on the ground. Only then did he realize he had seen him before. Wasn't that Damon Salvatore's friend? Of course. He rolled his eyes.

Meanwhile, Elijah was stepping back into his usual role. A hand running through his hair, he stood hovering over the two people sitting on the ground. Taking a few deep breaths, clearly still riled, still working on his calmness, he asked, "Does he need an ambulance?" He sounded so distant as if he wasn't the one who had slammed into Enzo.

Caroline glared up at him with fire in her eyes. Klaus suppressed a small smirk. He almost felt sorry for his brother.

"Does he need an ambulance?!" Caroline repeated the words back to him, scoffing. "What the hell was that?! I think you need the freaking police, and maybe an ambulance to check your head because clearly, something is wrong with you."

Elijah huffed, made a face. Looking to Klaus, who shrugged at him, he rolled his eyes.

"Let it go, Caroline," Enzo said, finally moving to stand up, backing away whenever the girl tried touching him. Klaus noticed that he wasn't wearing any shoes, or a jacket for that matter.

"A bit underdressed for a morning stroll, aren't you?"

Enzo's eyes flickered dangerously at him, and Klaus smirked.

"Care to tell us what your role was in all of this?" he then asked, aware of Rebekah stirring against him.

"Leave him be, Nik. I mean it."

"Yeah, Nik, leave him be." Caroline shot him another glare that he answered with a smile.

It was Elijah's turn to exasperatedly pipe up again. "What do you want us to do, Rebekah? You told us he was there. Right now in the car you told us he was one of—"

"One of the ones with me. In the pit. I told you not to threaten them. Nothing we did in there was because we wanted to. It's not his fault. It's not Damon's or Bonnie's fault either. It's not even Kol's fault," she added, anger and grief making her start crying again. Her hands turned into fists as she pulled away from Klaus a little, but he kept an arm around her shoulders, trying to give her some comfort, some support. Just anything to not feel so helpless and useless. "Leave them alone, or I'm packing my things and going straight back to New Orleans," Rebekah continued, "I didn't even want to come back here in the first place!"

"Fine." Elijah sounded anything but fine.

Klaus felt like a spectator. Focusing on Caroline, then Enzo instead of his siblings, he jerked his head a little upward. "So, mate, ride to the hospital?" he inquired chirpily, pointing toward their car invitingly, already knowing that Elijah's victim might have needed a visit there but wasn't ever going to accept the offer.

To his surprise, Enzo didn't even acknowledge him or his words, instead looking straight at Rebekah. "You okay?" he asked quietly, the sincere concern in his tone confusing Klaus somehow.

"Not by a long shot." Rebekah smiled. She actually smiled. "I'm sorry. About this." She waved a hand, and Enzo nodded briefly, wiping at his temple again as if to underscore her point. "It's alright."

"No, it's not. But we both know that, too. - I'm sure I'll see you around, Lorenzo."

He grimaced a little in reply.

"And thank you," she added with a sad smile, before she went back to the car and got in, staring out the window, in the opposite direction, away from them all. Klaus followed her with his gaze. Thank him for what, he wondered. What had she not told them?

"Get in the car, Elijah," he then ordered, returning his attention to the scene in front of him. Ignoring his brother's angry glare, he gave the older one a light pat on the shoulder. "Go."

With a last look back at Caroline, he smiled at her, tapping his head. "Caroline..."

His gaze fell on Enzo right beside her. The guy's lip was cracked, too. But that wasn't what caught Klaus' eye. It was the blood running down the man's arm.

"Mate. You really need to get that seen," he told him, pointing, earning himself another glare that he shrugged off. Then he, too, got into the car, and off they drove.

Hello Mystic Falls, he thought, I really didn't miss your drama. Although, technically, his family had brought it. Once again. Hadn't they?


...

"What the hell?! Are you okay?"

Caroline had to force herself to keep some distance between Enzo and herself because he clearly didn't have the best of experiences with physical touch lately, and she didn't want him lashing out at her again, either.

Just a minute ago, she had been leaning against the door, struggling with herself. Let Enzo have his wish and get away, or force him to confront whatever he clearly didn't want to confront. Making up her mind, she had quickly pulled the door open and rushed out, ready to call out to him, fully expecting him to have vanished out of sight already, although she remembered how labored his walking had been before.

When she had spotted him, he had indeed not made it all that far, and she had felt bad for him again. He clearly wasn't thinking very straight, rushing out like that, without shoes, his arm still bleeding…

He had hit her, too. The thought had made her gingerly touch her face again where his hand had connected. Shaking her head, she had broken into a slow run.

That's when things had suddenly gotten out of hand. She had seen Elijah appear out of nowhere, Klaus. Rebekah… Elijah slamming Enzo down, hitting him pretty hard, and Enzo hadn't even really put up a fight, hadn't even really moved to defend himself.

He had just kind of given up somehow.

So her question wasn't even necessarily about all the glaringly obvious things: what secret he shared with Rebekah. What she had meant with her cryptic words. What the hell Damon and Bonnie had to do with any of it. No. Those questions would need to be asked, and soon. But she wanted to know why he hadn't done anything to protect himself, to fight back. What the hell had been done to him?!

Enzo had gotten up again, not looking at her, not saying a damn word. He was already starting to move away from her, but she wouldn't let him, not this time, not again.

"Okay, you know what?" she quipped, changing tactics once again. "I'm gonna drive your stupid ass over to the hospital now. Come with me." She grabbed his hand a little harshly, surprised when he actually allowed the gesture and even reluctantly followed her back to the driveway. "And then," she continued, shooting him a cautious glance, her tone turning softer at seeing his lost expression, his moving jaw muscles giving away his tension, "then you'll tell me what happened to you. Who did this to you. - But first..." She sighed, making a face as she wondered how best to bring it up, then went for the direct way. "I know you don't want to talk about this, but I need to know this now so you'll just have to… to suck it up and deal with it, because I need to know whether my best friend is okay. Is Bonnie alright? Is Damon?"

They had stopped in the middle of the driveway, the car right behind them. Her voice had started shaking, her hands too. Looking at him with growing fear, she saw his throat working as he was looking anywhere but at her. Gently, but insistently, she raised a hand and touched his cheek, turned his head until he faced her.

"Enzo. This is important. Are they okay, do they need help?"

He shook his head, making a jolt of sheer panic shoot through her body.

"Please," she begged, her free hand clutching at his shirt (Stefan's shirt…). Bonnie had to be fine. She had to be. She was just supposed to be having fun with Jeremy. Oh god. Jeremy. She needed to talk to Elena. If Damon and Jeremy… if anything had happened to any of them…

"She got out. Damon, too. That's all I know." Enzo spoke quietly, but Caroline heard him clearly.

"That's all you know?!" she queried, disbelieving, confused, growing more and more upset. Did he just not care? She had so many questions and he wasn't forthcoming at all. "Were… were they hurt? Did you guys get out of wherever it was you were together? And where was that, anyway? Some... some kind of prison? Do you know where they went? I mean, you could have made sure they were alright, couldn't you? What… what if they're bleeding like you and and and you just left them to die?! We need to go look for them, we need to—"

"Shut up!" The yelled words came as a shock to both her and him, going by his lost and embarrassed expression. But Caroline was visibly taken aback. Letting go of him, she crossed her arms in front of her, nodding as if to herself. He was standing there with the palm of his hand pressed against his temple, and while she couldn't see his face anymore, she knew he was in turmoil.

Inhaling deeply through her nose, she forced herself to calm down. "Okay," she then hissed, "okay. I get it. You've been through something bad. But that does not give you the right to treat me like shit. Do I have to remind you that you came to me?"

"No…" His voice was so small she was almost ready to let it go. But she couldn't.

"Then pull yourself together and step up," she ordered him. "We'll go to the ER first, but I'll call my mom now. She's the sheriff and she needs to know. I don't care whether you want to talk to her or not. You'll have to. She can meet us at the hospital and send someone out to look for the others. And you better come clean right now about who else could possibly be involved in this mess. I'm not losing another minute."

She stared at him where he stood before her, palm of his hand still pressed against his head as if he had the mother of all headaches (which, granted, he probably did…), snorting at her words as if he was about to start laughing. She put her fists into her waist, shooting him a challenging glare. Because by all that was holy, if he did, if he did start laughing at all this right now, she would . . .

But he didn't. Raising his chin high, he took a few heaving breaths, breaths that sounded like they were not reaching deep enough into his lungs, were not doing what he seemed to hope they would; and before she knew it, he slumped against the car, sliding down its side until he came to sit on the still wet ground, and still his breaths came out in too short bursts.

Caroline frowned, fidgeting. She didn't know what to do. It was like her brain was refusing to work, and wasn't she usually so good at logistics? She could deal with the most intricate party plans, yet she couldn't deal with…

A half stranger breaking down in her driveway after an ordeal that somehow involved her friends, too? A half stranger whose eyes were blurry with tears before she couldn't see them anymore because he hid his face behind his arm?

Her hand went to her phone as she sank down next to him, one side of her body touching his. This time, he didn't flinch or move away from her, and when she gently reached to touch him, he finally began crying for real, and shocked, she moved to wrap her arm around him, pulling him against her. He didn't struggle, didn't fight or try to run.

"Shh," she made, "it's alright. I'm... I'm sorry. We'll figure this out, okay? Okay?"

Then, holding him tight, she called her mom. Again. Hoping this time Liz wasn't too busy to listen to her, because if she was, Caroline would have to call 911.

This couldn't wait anymore. Something really really bad had happened to her friends.

...

Chapter Text

"I'm sorry I didn't call earlier. I'm sorry I never even suspected. . . I'm sorry. . ." Elena was crying into her phone, rambling, head bent forward and half hidden against the arm she had rested against the wall of a bathroom stall as she tried her best not to break down. "Can you please come home?"

Focusing hard on the voice of her aunt, she nodded.

Jenna was coming, was almost on her way. Was already starting to pack as they were speaking. Elena could hear her rummaging through stuff, giving Alaric orders as she went, all the while talking to her niece. Telling her to hang in there, hang in there, hang in there. She was so obviously lost for anything to say that it would have been comical under other circumstances.

But what was there to say about something like this? Jeremy was dead, and no one was willing to talk to her about how.

Something switched on in Elena's brain suddenly. Or maybe it snapped. A thought had come to her. Why she hadn't come up with it before was baffling to her now, but it was probably due to her lingering sickness and the shock of the news she had just received.

Sobering up, she ended the call rather abruptly. "I gotta go. . . Ya, okay. I will."

Then, with a deep inhalation, she pushed herself off the wall and exited the stall, the bathroom, and walked down the hallway. She knew Sheriff Forbes was there, talking to Damon, to Bonnie, and Elena wanted to be there, too. Wanted to hear from them directly what had happened.

She needed to know.

"Elena?"

She whirled around at hearing Stefan's soft voice, only giving him a cursory glance where he stood not far from the bathrooms before turning back to go on her way.

"Elena, wait. Where are you going? Are you okay?"

She heard his footsteps quicken behind her, heard him break into a run before she felt his presence right next to her, his gentle touch against her arm.

"Elena…"

She pressed her lips together, not slowing down. They made it back to Damon's room only to find it deserted.

"What—"'Stefan seemed puzzled, or worried perhaps, but Elena knew where she'd have to go. Knew where she would find Damon.

With Bonnie.

Swallowing hard, she forced herself to go on. She didn't know what she would say to Bonnie. Poor Bonnie who might have been there for all of it, for whatever had happened to Jer. And Damon.

What if Bonnie was hurt, too?

"Elena, maybe you should—"

"Leave me alone, Stefan. I need to find Bonnie. She's here, we saw her Grams. We heard that something happened to her, and now that I know that Jer…" She couldn't bring herself to say it. It would make it too real, too final. But Stefan understood.

"Okay," he said. "Let's go together. Maybe we can talk to Sheriff Forbes."

"I need to know what happened, Stefan. My brother… I didn't even suspect anything bad was going on, I was just laying around on the couch, feeling sorry for myself and it never even occurred to me that… why did it—"

She broke off, sobbing, strangely relieved when Stefan's arms came around her, holding her, soothing her. He knew better than to tell her everything was going to be okay, that she'd get over it, that it was alright.

Because it wasn't. And his silence was the acknowledgment she needed to feel like it was okay to be upset.

When nothing else was okay anymore, her feelings were still valid.


...

Liz was leaning lightly against the door to Bonnie's room, feeling like an intruder. She watched as the girl and Damon Salvatore were hugging each other, more like clinging to each other like there was no tomorrow, and she felt awful for what she had to do now. End their moment of solace.

But she had a job to do, and a daughter desperately waiting for her to come home, and none of this could wait.

Tapping the door, she made herself known, giving the two a moment to collect themselves.

"I'm sorry to interrupt, she muttered, slowly stepping closer, watching as Damon sat up straighter, running a furtive hand over his face briefly, before giving her a short look.

"Sheriff."

Bonnie was hugging herself, leaning against the raised backrest of her bed. Her poor face, discolored around one eye, the marks on her neck the only indicators of whatever darkness had happened to her.

"I'm so sorry, but we'll have to talk about what else happened to you two. Whether anyone else was involved."

Bonnie breathed in deeply, not looking at Liz when she exhaled. "What else do you need to know. Jeremy is dead. I killed him. It's over now."

Liz forced herself not to let out the scoff that had built inside of her. She knew the girl had been through something traumatic. She knew Bonnie Bennett wouldn't just randomly kill her boyfriend, Jeremy Gilbert. And she was starting to suspect that others had been involved in all this, too. How else could the injuries be explained. Was she to believe that Jeremy had stabbed Damon than attacked Bonnie? Had drugs been in the mix? Somehow, she doubted that strongly. What kind of drugs would have such an effect?

Her phone vibrated. Reflexively, she checked it, pressing decline when she saw it was Caroline. She felt awful, but this couldn't wait anymore.

There was also another missed call from Elijah Mikaelson. She sighed.

"It's not over, Bonnie. Listen. Your grams only allowed me back in here without your lawyer present because I promised her I just want to talk, I'm not going to arrest you."

"You should." Her tone was so cold. So emotionless. It simply didn't sound like her at all, and it pained Liz to witness that. This was going to be hard. Steeling herself, she went on.

"I need to know what happened. What exactly happened. And I need to know who else was involved. I keep getting calls from the Mikaelsons." She watched the two intently for a reaction and was not disappointed. They exchanged a glance, Damon's hand reaching out to Bonnie.

"Let's tell her," he muttered, but Bonnie's eyes turned wide.

"You know what they said…"

"I can protect you," Liz reassured them, even though she didn't have the slightest clue how big this whole thing was. If only she knew what was going on.

Her phone vibrated again. Caroline. With a sigh, she swiped across the screen again. Declining. Caroline would get the message. She would know Liz was going to call back as soon as she could.

Bonnie scoffed. "You can't. You didn't."

That last part hurt. But Bonnie was right. Whatever had happened, it happened on Liz' watch.

"So Rebekah Mikaelson was there, Jeremy. A guy named Enzo?"

Damon turned around to her, eyes flickering. "You didn't arrest him, did you? Because he's got nothing to do with this."

That was interesting. And unexpected.

"No, I didn't. He's at my house, actually…" She had no idea why she even told him that. The kid had not been on her list of missing kids. In fact, aside from Sheila Bennett, Guiseppe Salvatore, and Elijah Mikaelson, no one had contacted her about anyone else missing. (Three had definitely been more than enough.) Of course then there were the handful of college students someone from Grove Hill had called her about. A professor had inquired about them, apparently, but since they were all grown up and living on their own, it was suspected that these students had just gone on some little trip of their own.

But Liz was beginning to question that, like so much else.

Then Damon went on, saying something that chilled her, something that she had already suspected, of course.

"He was there, too."

"Damon," Bonnie chided, nervously shaking her head, but he gave her a sad smile.

"It's not gonna go away on its own, Bon. You know that."

"You know what they said." Urgent, panicked, her hand gripped his arm.

But the older Salvatore boy closed his eyes, shaking his head at her, then he addressed Liz instead. "It was me, Bonnie, Jeremy, Enzo, Kol and Rebekah Mikaelson." Liz gaped at hearing there was another one of those involved. "Lexi, a friend from out of town. Vicky."

"Donovan?!" Liz' voice sounded a bit too shrill to her own ears. Damon merely nodded. At some point during their conversation, she had pulled a chair closer to these two kids. Now she was leaning forward a little more, jotting notes down with swift movements.

Her phone was vibrating again. She clenched her jaw, fumbling for it.

"I don't really know any of the others. They're. . . they were friends of Kol's…"

Damon drifted off, giving her an odd look. She understood immediately. These kids were dead.

"What happened to Jeremy," she began, contemplating whether she was pushing her luck with how open Damon had been. "Did it happen to them?"

Bonnie made a noise, a scoff perhaps? A huff?

"You mean, did I kill them, too, like I killed him?" she asked, but Damon gently laid a hand on her head, pushing strands of hair to the side absently.

"Bon didn't kill him, not really," he breathed, just as Liz caught a quick glimpse of who was calling. It was her daughter again. For the fifth time. Something wasn't right.

Swallowing, she tried to think. She took her phone, swiped green. "Excuse me," she breathed, holding up a finger as if she was trying to explain something to a child, "I really have to take this. I'll be right back with you, okay?"

Getting up off the chair, she answered the call, briefly noticing Elena and Stefan by the door as she exited. She gave them a half smile, then walked down the hallway.

"Caroline," she sighed. "What's going on? I'm in the middle of questioning—"

Sheriff Liz Forbes stopped in the middle of her sentence, a deep frown wrinkling her forehead. Briefly, she closed her eyes, trying to focus.

"Hold on, sweetie. Did you say Elijah Mikaelson?"

Her daughter had called her, five times in quick succession, and no matter that she was currently sitting down with a surprisingly talkative Damon Salvatore, finally able to talk to him about whatever had happened, to hear his perspective, she had felt in her gut that this was urgent. Caroline knew what it meant when her mother declined her calls, and yet she had called again and again until Liz had finally picked up.

She had every intention to keep the conversion very short, just a quick check whether Care and her companion were doing okay or whether the kid was giving her daughter trouble. (He had been where the other two had been. If Bonnie and Damon were anything to go by, things might be a little more crazy at home than she would have cared for. She was getting worried. Why hadn't she long sent someone over?)

Now Caroline was rambling like a crazy person, and Liz scolded herself even more.

"I'll send someone over right now. No, sweetie. He does not get to decide whether— . . . Okay. Alright. He hasn't hurt you, then? . . ." Liz pressed her lips together, trying to calm her breathing.

Caroline was dealing with another returned disturbed young man, Elijah Mikaelson had made a scene, her daughter had gotten a slap to her face, and was now dealing alone with an injured kid having a breakdown.

And where the hell had she been? Where had Sheriff Elizabeth Forbes been through all this?

She wanted to bang her head against the wall, she was so upset with herself. Things like this simply didn't happen in her town, under her watch.

But they had. And now everything was getting out of control, and she had forgotten the most basic rule there was: before making sure the town was safe, she had to make sure her own flesh and blood was okay. Her daughter.

She had to focus hard so as not to allow tears from welling in her eyes, and she almost failed. This was hard. She wanted to rush over to Care, wanted to explain that something horrible had happened to her friends, wanted to make sure she was okay, wanted to take matters out of her daughter's hands. Because it was not Caroline's job. It was hers.

"Listen," she told Caroline, forcing herself to sound calm and composed. "I'm still at the hospital. And you're right about Bonnie. But she's here and she's alive, and I'm currently interviewing her. I know. . . I don't know all that much yet. But whatever happened, it was bad. So I want you to bring Enzo to the hospital and I'll meet you there. . . No, I promise no one is going to just grab him and lock him up. Okay? Tell him that. I just want someone to check on him, and then maybe we can talk. Tell him that Damon is here, too. They're friends, right? Just, meet me here as soon as possible. Can you do that?"

With a shuddering breath, and a last "I love you" she finally hung up, then walked back over to Damon and Bonnie.


Like I killed him…

They had arrived just as Bonnie had said those words, and now they were standing a mere few feet from each other, Bonnie with Damon, Elena with Stefan, and the atmosphere was charged as if this was an old western perhaps, a duel about to be fought.

Bonnie couldn't look Elena in the eyes. How was she here? Why did she have to hear the offhanded confession? Bonnie wanted to break down crying again, but her eyes felt so sore, so dry as if she had cried all the tears she had had and there was nothing left.

"You killed Jeremy?" Elena's face was scrunched up with incomprehension, and pain.

"Elena." Bonnie's shaky voice seemed to betray her. "I…"

"You killed my brother. Your, your boyfriend. This… this doesn't even make sense. You guys are… you were…" Elena couldn't find the words. She was stumbling through her sentence, her words clearly not coming, and Bonnie knew so well what that felt like, wanted to give her best friend a hug, wanted to be there for her, but she couldn't.

She couldn't because she was the reason for her despair.

Watching Stefan gently place his hand on Elena's shoulder felt like a punch to the gut for some reason, the small gesture underscoring just how much distance there was between Bonnie and her friend. Her best friend. Whose brother she had killed.

It wasn't like that, though. It wasn't. She only had to tell Elena. Had to explain.

"It's not what it sounds like." What a weak statement.

"Ladies, how about we… talk about this another time," Damon tried, his eyes flying from one girl to the other, then settling on his brother, pleading.

Stefan seemed to pick up on it after only a few seconds. It wasn't like Damon to plead, whether with words or non verbally.

"Come on, Elena. Let's go sit down somewhere for a moment, we can—"

She shook him off, shaking her head. "I want to know what happened. Right now." She stepped closer to Bonnie, making her back into the backrest as if she was trying to get away. And she was. She was starting to panic. This was just Elena Gilbert, her long time best friend. She wasn't going to do anything to Bonnie. She was merely - and understandably - upset.

This was not the pit. It wasn't it wasn't it wasn't. Then why did she still feel so trapped?

"Tell me how the hell you could have killed him?! What the hell is wrong with you?!"

"Stop! Elena!" Damon had stood up at some point, Bonnie wasn't sure when. "I get you're upset. You have every right to be—"

"Upset?" Elena was grinning a humorless grin. "Upset that my best friend freaking murdered my brother?! Hell yeah, I am upset! You two… you're all secretive and torn up about whatever the hell happened but neither of you is going to tell me how Jer died? Where were you guys? Why—"

It was her turn to be interrupted, because clearly, Damon had lost his patience. Bonnie stared at him, quietly begging for him to stop, because she didn't want to hear his words, didn't want to have them out there in the open, telling of horrors that she wanted nothing more than to forget. But he didn't look at her, he was staring at his girlfriend and his brother, swaying slightly as he did.

"Brother, why don't you sit down." Stefan seemed worried, but his older brother shook his head.

"You didn't tell her about Lexi, I'm assuming." They exchanged a glance. Bonnie's heart stopped. Thinking about how Lexi had died, thinking about how Damon had had to reiterate that story to his brother, it pained her. Her hand found Damon's wrist that she lightly touched. He didn't push her away as she had half expected.

"Okay, fine. We were at the lake. It was boring. Kol came by with a better idea and a more fun clique of people. We went with them. Ended up in this… this Hell House where they had a pool set up for people to fight in. For us to fight in. Against each other, to the death. We were a dozen." He scoffed, disbelievingly, Stefan shooting him a worried look. Bonnie could see him swallow hard, could see the impact the mere story of Lexi's death had had on him. Now to imagine how much worse the damage would have been if he had been there with them…

"Only four of us came back. Four." There were tears in his eyes when he shot her a brief glance, and she began hoisting herself up off the bed a little, to be able to hold his hand, give him some comfort.

Elena, on the other side of the room, was speechless. Silent tears were streaming down her face. "No," she mouthed, but it was soundless. Over and over again.

Bonnie squeezed Damon's hand when he didn't continue, exchanged a long look with him. He was awfully pale, should have probably never stood up or even come to her, and wordlessly, she made him sit down again, at least that. With a half nod and a defeated slump, he fell back onto his chair, his shallow breaths worrying her. She couldn't help but remember a moment when she had thought he was going to die right there in front of her.

Closing her eyes, she banished those images, then searched for that strength that she had channeled before, when she had gotten them all to go home. "He tried saving me," she then whispered, smiling at Elena with tears in her eyes now too. (Still tears left. So many more…) "We were in a group of six, only three of us could survive or they would have killed us all… They wanted to force us to fight each other, but Jeremy…" His name made her sob, the memory of his face… "He didn't want anyone of us to have to kill our friends, so he and Kol decided to… do it themselves. Suicide… But they changed the rules just when he started to…"

She had to force herself to go on even though she was sure her words didn't even make sense to her friend. How could they? This was insane. "He had already cut himself pretty badly." She indicated the spot on her own throat. "But then they said suicide would mean we all have to die, so he asked me to… he asked me to finish it for him, so that I could live. And get out. I'm sorry, Elena. I'm sorry it was him and not me and I can't change anything about it, even though I wish I could. I'm so so sorry. He should have never died. He…"

She fell silent, worrying her lips, watching Elena's reaction from behind a veil of tears. She fully expected her friend to come at her or throw insults or… something. But all Elena did was very quietly say, "I'm so sorry this happened to you. I can't believe… I really am sorry, but I can't be here right now. I can't do this."

And off she ran, so fast that her purse almost caught on the door. An apologetic looking Stefan lingered for another moment, exchanging a helpless glance with both his brother and Bonnie.

"I should probably make sure she's…" He wanted to say "okay", but they all knew better, knew that no one and nothing was okay anymore. Pressing her lips together, Bonnie nodded as she sank back onto her bed, feeling empty and lost and so very tired, just when she spotted Sheriff Forbes waiting by her door.

"I'm so sorry for the holdup," the woman said, carefully walking back into the room, and by the way she looked at them, Bonnie realized that Caroline's mom had heard everything. It was probably for the better, but still, Bonnie felt a pit open in her stomach again, with all her demons out for the world to see. Now they wouldn't be able to keep anything to themselves anymore. The secret was out. But what if they'd all have to pay for it?


In the end, Caroline managed to persuade Enzo to get in the car with her, go to the ER. She was pretty sure that he only relented because there was no fight left in him, not after all that had happened. He was so exhausted, in fact, that he barely made it onto the passenger seat.

She had to help him get up, open the door for him and pretty much push him down onto the seat. With a small smile, she leaned over - her proximity didn't even make him flinch anymore. "Seat belt," she explained softly, as he just stared at her blankly. Then she strapped him in, feeling a sudden surge of protective worry.

What her mom had said, that it had been bad… It made her worry. But Bonnie was alive, and so was Damon, and how bad could it really have been when they were all still alive, right?

Yeah, persuading herself of that didn't work. She hadn't spent the last hours with Enzo without realizing just how badly whatever had happened had screwed him up. It would have to have been pretty awful for someone like him who usually didn't seem to really give a crap about much to be so wound up about it. (Traumatized. That's what he was. Pretending otherwise by scooting the subject with lesser words didn't make that fact go away.)

She sighed, shooting him a worried look once she got in the car herself, getting ready to drive.

He was so awfully quiet, so pale, withdrawn, and her mind was already thinking ahead, worrying about how she was supposed to get him out of the car again once they got to their destination. She might just have to get someone to help her if it came to it…

At least they were finally on their way to the hospital. Even with her having wrapped the arm again, she was a little afraid of infection or him losing too much blood, and besides, by now she suspected he probably had a bad concussion. (It would explain so much and she really needed an easy explanation right now.)

"You hanging in there?" She asked when the quiet got to her too much, and he startled a little, then nodded. Not saying anything. She couldn't help a loud sigh escaping her. "Those Mikaelsons sure have a temper," she told him conversationally, noticing him clench his jaw at the mention. Frowning, she changed her direction. "She was there too, right? Whatever happened, she was there, Bonnie, Damon…" It must have been her upbringing by the sheriff of the town that she felt the urge to ask these questions. To get to the bottom of it. If only she could make him talk, it should help, right? Wasn't that how these things worked? You talked about stuff and it would get better, you would get help if you needed it, you—

"Ya," he interrupted her thoughts, staring out the window. That he had actually answered her question surprised her, and she gave him another furtive sideways glance. Maybe now was the time to get to the core of it?

"Can you tell me what happened? Did you guys… did you meet at the lake? Was that where it happened?"

His shoulders tensed, and she knew it wasn't time, yet. That he wasn't ready. (Would he ever be? How did her mom do this? Talk to people when they were like this? When a case or other people relied on someone else to open up, someone who clearly didn't want to talk?)

"Almost there," she redirected their conversation yet again, letting him know he was safe with her and that she wasn't going to insist he say something.

...

But once they got there, he froze again. She made her way around the car, even opening the door for him, and part of her - the part that wished for normalcy - wanted to quip. "Let me be a gentleman and help the damsel out of the car."

He would shoot her a glare or give her a roll of his eyes and make an offhanded comment, maybe a hand gesture and a "Why, thank you, kind sir."

Of course that didn't happen, though. A profound sadness came over her instead, when she cajoled him to come with her.

"Time to go," she softly said.

Jaw muscles working, he finally looked up to her, nodding. She could tell that he realized she was right. Grudgingly.

"Think you can walk, or should I—"

"I'm fine." It was a rather abrupt statement, defensive, and she knew to back off.

"Okay…" Her chipper front in place, she waited for him to stand, then casually, naturally grabbed his arm, guiding him over to the entrance. "I'll be with you, okay? I'll be right here and it's all going to be okay."

She gazed up at him, smiling a wide winning smile to persuade herself as much as him, and was surprised to see him reciprocate it, at least to an extent. A sad small smile.

"In case I don't get to say this later: thank you."

For a moment, she didn't know what to say, or how to react. Then she whispered, "Of course," smiling again before they arrived by the large entrance.

Taking a deep breath, she waited for the whoosh of the automatic doors, and stepped inside…

… only to almost run into Stefan.

Heart jumping into her throat, she subconsciously tightened her grip on Enzo's arm, unaware that she seemed to set his alarms off, making him tense as he scanned the room.

"Stefan," she gasped out, then realized that he was not alone, that he was holding a sobbing Elena pressed against his side.

A pit opened inside of her. What the hell was going on?

"Elena? Is… is Damon. . ."

"He's okay," Stefan quickly inserted, their gazes meeting as Elena shrank deeper against him, as Enzo seemed to prepare to balk beside her. Then Stefan's attention rather abruptly seemed to solely focus on Caroline's companion. Misreading the situation, she got ready to explain, shaking her head self-consciously as she did. "Oh, we're just—"

"You were there," Stefan suddenly hissed, taking a step forward. His expression had changed completely, into something threatening, something almost inhuman. Flustered, Caroline stared from him to Enzo, then back.

Oh shit.

"Stefan," she tried to appease him, aware that Elena was looking up now, too, wiping at her tear stained cheeks.

Enzo shook her off gently, easily, raising his chin, defiantly, eyes flickering.

"Guys…" Caroline was starting to feel very uncomfortable, tugging at Enzo's arm again, she urged him to go. "Why don't we go do our thing? Meet you guys later?"

Acutely aware of a sudden tension, of a truth shared between these three that she wasn't a part of, she wanted to break this up before it turned into something bad.

Suddenly, Stefan charged forward, trying to get in Enzo's face, but the other man didn't back down. "What do you want," he gritted out.

"What I want?! You were there."

Enzo glared down at him as if he was way taller than he actually was. "So?"

"Guys. Stefan?" She gave him a "really?!" look that he answered with a dismissive glare before focusing back on Enzo.

"So?!" He mocked, suddenly pushing hard against the other's chest, making Caroline yelp out a "Stop!" before trying to shove him away again. But Stefan didn't. Instead he was aiming for Enzo's throat.

"Lexi fucking died and you did nothing to help—"

Emotions clearly boiling over on both sides, Enzo's reaction was so fast that Caroline had to blink to catch up with what was happening. Deflecting the attack with his arm, he grinned at Stefan with what Caroline could only describe as despair.

"You have no fucking idea what happened—"

"Then enlighten me! Because I don't understand how she died with you right there! You were right fucking there!" There were tears running down Stefan's face now. Caroline had to swallow back a horrible lump and fight the urge to try and gather him up in her arms for comfort.

Lexi was dead?

Everyone was in different stages of crying around her and she had no freaking clue what horrible nightmare this was anymore.

"Enzo?" She quietly whispered, her fingers traveling until she could touch the bare skin of his arm. He wasn't looking at her, or any of them for a long moment. Caroline was starting to scan the large entranceway for possible help before the situation escalated. Maybe she could call her—

"Mom!"

Liz was there! She was actually there, but still so far away. Their gazes met over the crowd, Caroline urging her mom with a few frantic waves to hurry, then she forced herself to try and de-escalate the situation.

"I thought Damon told you," Enzo suddenly said, lifting his head again, his eyes dark and shuttered.

"Stefan, I'm sorry about Lexi," Caroline began rambling, barely noticing how she was inserting herself between the two young men. "But can this wait, please? He needs a doctor, and—"

"He was there when it happened, Caroline. Can't you understand why I need to know why he didn't do anything to help her? Why this even happened?!" Looking from her to Enzo, he at least backed off a little bit, but Caroline could feel the amount of tension still in the air. (And in Enzo's rigid body right behind her. He was right behind her…)

Stefan cocked his head, sneering. "I guess that's how it happened, then. You are letting a girl protect you now and I'm sure you did it then and there, wherever the hell 'there' is."

It happened so quickly that Caroline only realized what was going on when Enzo had already moved past her to stand right in front of her ex-boyfriend, their noses almost touching.

His dark shuttered eyes locked on Stefan's, he calmly (way too calmly) told him, "You were not there. And though you're yet again behaving like a bloody arsehole, I'm glad you weren't, because I wouldn't even wish it on someone like you."

Stefan grabbed his throat with both hands as if to strangle him, but Enzo merely grinned at him. Caroline was shocked. Shocked at their behavior, at their words, at the whole freaking thing. She was trying to make eye contact with Elena, but the girl seemed so out of it, so…

Even Stefan seemed to catch on to that, as suddenly he said, "Wanna help Elena understand how her brother died, then? Or are you all just going to keep this to yourselves like your dirty little secret and we are supposed to somehow deal with that? With you?!"

Something else was going on. It dawned on Caroline quickly. This was not just about Enzo or Lexi, or even what happened with Jeremy (he couldn't be dead…). This was about so much more. About Damon, and Bonnie, and the feeling of being left in the dark, left with a too immense loss.

"You kids alright? Caroline?" Liz was close now, but still not quite there. There was someone with her now, security personnel, a doctor, too, or at least someone wearing scrubs. A chill crept up from the small of Caroline's back. If Enzo noticed, he would probably run again, unless...

Enzo was shaking his head when she looked at him, when she started tugging at him again.

"Please, let's just walk away from this. Stefan's clearly not quite—"

"Not quite what, Caroline?!" Stefan shot her an angry glare. "Thank you, but I feel fine. Let him talk. Let him explain."

"He is not here to give you a freaking explanation, Stefan. Geez! Walk away, okay?! Walk away. Go see your brother or something, go be with Elena. She clearly needs you right now. She doesn't need this, you losing it like a crazy person. No one needs this." Sighing, shaking her head, she addressed Enzo, signing to her mom to wait. Hoping Liz would. "Come on, let's get this looked at," she quietly said, giving him a light shove in the right direction.

To her utter relief, he was eventually slowly following her, his jaw clenching and unclenching as he went, as if he was still mulling over a reply to Stefan's last hatefilled questions.

Then, when they were already a bit further away, and Liz had almost completely caught up with them, he turned around again, stopping Caroline in her tracks, too.

"Know what, Stefan? You're right. She was trying to protect me. She did, actually. I'm probably only here because for once in my bloody life someone actually cared about me." Caroline squeezed his arm at his words, feeling incredibly sad for him, but he didn't acknowledge her. "I tried to do the same for her…" His eyes were welling up a little again, but he fought it, going on. Subconsciously, Caroline tightened her grip on his arm yet again, tears welling, then overflowing in her own eyes at his words.

"But I couldn't. I couldn't save her. I was too late. . . So, you know what? You're not supposed to deal with any of that, because it's too bloody much! Which is probably why Damon spared you the details. But if you want them, fine: what do you want to hear? How they made us fight each other? How they put us in groups and told us we'd have to kill each other until only half of us were left? And if we didn't, they'd just kill us all? Is that what you want to hear? Or how someone actually did start fighting? How I was stupid enough not to expect it and get myself hit over the head? How the same guy went after Lexi because she came to my aid, and he just crushed her clavicle like it was nothing? How I barely made it over to her before he hit her again? Do you want me to tell you how wet it sounded? How you could hear it crushing her skull? Do you want to know about that vacant surprised look on her face?"

"Enzo…" She looked at him, shocked and appalled as he went on.

"Or what it felt like to try and stop the bleeding only to find all these pieces of bone in her hair? Feel her bloody brain all exposed like it had no business to be? Do you really want to hear that? Deal with that?! Then be my fucking guest!"

Caroline was speechless, truly and positively speechless. The color had drained completely out of Stefan's face, and Elena's, even her mom looked almost shell shocked as she gave her daughter a small sign.

"Why don't we all take a seat over there for a moment," Liz then said, quickly stepping back into her sheriff's role, and Caroline was so glad that someone else was finally taking over, because she was pretty sure she wasn't going to be able to function much longer.

This was what he had been through? And Bonnie? And Damon? Rebekah? This is how Lexi had died, and Jeremy?

She wanted to run and hug each and every one of them, and there was no way to even start! It was like everyone needed a friend right now, she included. But then she saw Elena huddle into Stefan, Stefan using her almost like a crutch, she saw Liz giving her a sympathetic look, arms widening reflexively to gather her in, but all she could think or do was stay by Enzo's side, where he just stood, as if frozen in space, with heaving breaths looking at the damage his words had done.

"Enzo, right?"

Liz was suddenly before them, Stefan and Elena further away, sitting down, talking to someone. Her mom's deputy? Caroline felt like she had lost time.

"Mom, please not now, he just really needs a doctor," she breathed, and Liz gently stroked her cheek.

"I know, honey. It's okay. I'm so sorry you had to deal with all that by yourself. But I'm here now, okay? . . . Okay?"

Caroline nodded dumbly, her hand still around Enzo's arm. Was he shaking? Or was she?

"You can let go now…"

No, she couldn't. She shook her head. "I promised he'll be safe with me."

Liz nodded her head. Focusing on Enzo instead of her daughter, she waved over to the one in scrubs.

"Enzo, this is Dr. Luisa Rodrigues. She's going to take a look at you, okay?"

He nodded, again surprising Caroline. His lips were almost blue.

"Let's get you to sit down," the doctor said with a gentle smile, moving a wheelchair over toward them. But before Enzo could even reply anything, his eyes suddenly rolled back into his head and he slumped to the ground so abruptly that Caroline went down with him, still clinging to his arm.

It shouldn't have come as a surprise, not after what he went through. But still Caroline hadn't anticipated him passing out like that.

The last hours - days - had finally caught up with him, and with her.

"Mom," she said, looking for help, gently running a hand over Enzo's face, clutching at his chest, before the doctor gently told her to move, and that she was there to take over, before Liz eventually did gather Caroline up in that long awaited hug, and it all was finally over.

At least for now.

Chapter Text

...

[Two days earlier]

...

Vicky hadn't seen it coming. Any of it, but certainly not the fact that she would even make it to the next round.

She had sat there, in a strange stupor of shock and disbelief and panic, and the aftershocks of being tased, when she had watched Bonnie Bennett stab her own boyfriend in the neck. Jeremy Gilbert was now dead, the same Jeremy she had once dated and had never really gotten over. The boy who should have probably escorted her home rather than bring her here, but even though she had been too drunk to fully understand where they had been headed, she couldn't really blame him. Now that the alcohol was out of her system, she remembered how excited she had been about going someplace else, away from Tyler, away from Matt, too (because the idiot had sided with his friend instead of his sister, and how dare he?!), and Jeremy had tried persuading her to go home for the longest time, until he had given up. Because how could you argue with someone who repeatedly said that she didn't want to go home, that she would just go off alone, see where it took her? No, it wasn't his fault that she was here.

Now Jeremy was dead, and she was still here. How was that possible? How was any of it possible? Leaning heavily against Enzo, she just kept staring on as the three survivors of the other group got tasered, too.

"He was ready to die for her," she breathed to herself, which was just as well, because her companion didn't seem to listen or care about anything, and kept rather quiet throughout it all.

So she fell quiet again, too, and waited some more. It wasn't like she could really do anything else. Soon, soon they would be thrown into the pool down there again, to fight each other once more. And aside from that guy Casey, all the others were friends.

Yeah, she highly doubted she would make it out of there alive. She simply couldn't see herself killing any of the others. Then again, if someone were to attack her…

Maybe doing nothing was the best option after all. Maybe they should all just be killed. (Would they really do that? Kill them all? Part of her still doubted they would kill them all off just like that. But hadn't she seen what they had done to that guy, Heath? They hadn't cared at all.)

Moments, or hours went by until she was roughly pulled up to her feet again and dumped back into the pool. Unlike Enzo, or Casey, she didn't even try to fight these self-proclaimed "guards". After all, what was the use? She'd just spend much needed energy on something futile.

"Everyone! Get ready for the Pit to claim its last three lives, and to turn the remaining humans into monsters!"

She cringed, pulling her shoulders up toward her ears as she heard that grating voice again. Closing her eyes she tried to zone out, block it out, to no avail. Would she ever get that voice out of her head again? She doubted it.

The real question, though, the real question was whether she would ever see her brother again? Or her mom. Yeah, even seeing her crazy alcoholic mom who was always dating the wrong guys (like freaking Guiseppe Salvatore. And what the hell was wrong with her?!), even that would be wonderful right about now. She wanted her mom, or, the memory of her when Vicky was still a child, to come save her, come scoop her up and cuddle her until she could forget this all ever happened.

Of course those thoughts were stupid.

When Sykes, the announcer, spoke his next words, she wasn't really listening. She was already back in the pool, staring at her feet. Her shoes had gotten missing at some point, not that it was important, and she was in the company of friends again. How bad could this still get?

She blinked as sudden images of Mazzy appearing in front of her, clawing at her, strangling her shot through her mind. Would it be worse than that? Probably. She had felt bad for the girl. She had actually been a sweetheart before, it was just... unfortunate...

"Here's the deal," that voice interrupted her displaced musings, "in case anyone has forgotten: we have six players and only three will make it out alive! No suicide, children! Remember?" He chuckled up there on his stupid balcony, echoed by his assholeish crowd. Vicky wanted to throw up in his face.

"You will have a little more time than before, so make your choices wisely, or fight well." Did he honestly just wink at her? She couldn't be sure, the light from above came in glaring beams, so she couldn't exactly see too well, and besides it didn't really matter anyways, did it? But, seriously?

"We give you eight hours. Once it's halftime, we will start filling the pool. By the time the water is up to the top, three of you will have to be dead by your own hands, just like before. And I mean, that's at the very latest. Feel free to kill each other off way before that. - But whichever way you choose to go, remember: if you don't halve your numbers, you will all die. Each and every one of you. And we don't want that." He waited, nodding, pouting, as if he was honestly worked up about it. He wasn't fooling anyone, of course, certainly not her, and of course it hadn't been his intention anyways. When he continued, Vicky quickly felt her heart thump all the way up into her throat.

"We want three of you to make it out of here. We do. Needless to say, though: you'll be closely monitored afterward, to make sure you don't talk about any of what happened here. But other than that, you'll be free. If you do talk, though … just think about it: there's no real way to track down any of us. Besides, you'll be the ones that will get charged with murder, and," he paused for dramatic effect, his audience going wild, "your loved ones back home might end up in the pit next time…"

Clenching her jaw, she finally understood. She had been puzzling about that fact. How they were going to ensure that none of the survivors talked. It had seemed pretty stupid to assume they wouldn't run straight to the police.

She felt a hysterical laugh build inside of her and worked hard to suppress it. How unfair this all was. And suddenly, suddenly, she didn't want to make it out of here alive anymore. Suddenly she just wanted to die already. Because she knew she would only endanger Matt if she made it out of this pool alive. And no matter whether she had been upset with him earlier, or whether they sometimes fought, he was her brother, he had always been there for her when it really mattered, the one person she loved above anyone else. He couldn't get into these people's hands. She wouldn't let that happen.

There was only one thing she could do about it now. Get herself killed, preferably fast, hoping she would have the courage to see it through. (Oh gosh, she didn't want to...)


Bonnie was in shock. She didn't remember making it out of the pool or being lowered back down into it (or if they had even been taken out after the tasers had hit.)

All she remembered, all her thoughts were revolving around was Jeremy's face, pained, yet with a smile, and the blood, all that blood, all over his shirt. All over her, too. Looking down, she still saw it stain her hands, felt the stickiness of it, and yet it felt so unreal. Like somehow, he wasn't dead, was still here.

He had to be. He couldn't be dead. Because if he really was, she had really killed him. She had killed him. Bonnie Bennett, straight A student and obedient granddaughter was a murderer. Heaving in a labored breath, she fought to not collapse, stumbling against Damon as she tried to keep on her feet.

"You alright, Bon?"

She stared at him, briefly annoyed at what a stupid question that was, but then the terror and grief won over and she just shook her head, fresh tears welling in her eyes.

"No," she sobbed, "I'm not."

A hand gently descended to the crown of her head, a soft nudge pushing her into Damon's embrace as he tried to soothe her. "I know," he muttered. "But I will get you out of here, Bonnie. We will get out of here together and…"

And what? Even Damon didn't seem to know, as his words just ebbed away. Was there even going to be an "after" for them? Wouldn't everything be tainted by this? The pit?

"I don't think I can go on anymore." She didn't know why she said it out loud, or why to him, but she had to say it and somehow, he felt safe. The one safe place she still had down here.

"I'll do it for you. Just promise me you'll stay by my side and do as I say. Can you do that?"

Looking up at him, his light eyes too bright and beautiful for such a dark place, she nodded, pressing her lips together so as to stop her chin from wobbling.

"Good. Trust me, Bon. This freaking pit won't claim us."

The thing was, it already had…


No sooner had they all been freed of their temporary restraints, did Casey Benedict Ormond, 24 years old and long time friend of Kol Mikaelson, charge forward, ready to fight. He knew he only had one chance. After all, his friends were all dead already and this group of strangers that Kol had introduced him to wouldn't care one bit about him. Casey had a ginormous target on his back and a larger arrow pointing at him from above, screaming "kill this guy first because we don't know him nor do we care about him."

He couldn't blame these kids of course. If the odds had been in his favor, if his friends had survived, he would do the same. That's just how life worked.

But since it wasn't how things had turned out, he needed to be fast. He needed to try and kill three of them before they could kill him, it was the only way. Did he feel bad about it? Hell yes. But it was a necessary means to grant him survival.

And he was a survivor. Dammit, he was going to be a freaking survivor! And then he would go in search of that asshole Beast who had gotten them all into this mess. Why had Kol thought it was a good idea to hang with someone who had once lived on the streets, earning money and a nasty nickname fighting less fortunate homeless people in gory illegal fights?

A charity project, of course. Kol had always liked to associate with the poor, the underprivileged, the ones that would elevate his status of black sheep of his family and would make his brothers and sister come looking for him...

Once Casey was starting to race forward for real, he banished those thoughts to the back of his head. If he got a chance, however, he would visit the Mikaelsons and tell them how careless Kol had been and how many lives had been lost because of it. (It was a bit unfair, but Casey had to blame someone and he didn't want to blame himself…)

The brown haired slender girl with the pretty blue dress stood closest to him. But also close to the tall guy with the Italian name. Casey didn't have much time to think. He'd take her out first, then the dude. He was injured already so an easier target, too. (Hopefully...) After that, he'd have to be extra fast to get one more of the others. He was thinking Rebekah, because "karma" and everything, but he'd go with whoever he could get to first.

Stooping down to pick up a long axe, he broke into a sprint, aiming for the brunette's head before he even got close.

The girl just stood there, staring, then closed her eyes. Casey almost stopped in his tracks. She saw what was coming her way, yet didn't make a move to protect herself? He kept racing forward, thinking this was going to be much easier than he thought when the Italian - or wasn't he yet another Brit? - turned around and tried to push the girl out of the way. But she fought the guy. She actually fought him, pulling away from him, yelling toward Casey, "Do it!"

...

Then he did. With a sickening sound, the axe connected with her face, so close to his own, to the other man's, that they both got spattered in her blood. The girl gave a horrible noise, then slumped down like a rag doll cut off her strings, barely caught by the other guy before she could hit the ground. Her willingness to die should have given Casey more pause, but there was no time to contemplate. He swallowed down bile, but knew he had to continue. He had to take out the Britalian, too, before the guy could get one up on him.

Swinging his axe hard, he managed to hit the other man, but when Casey looked he saw that his opponent had shielded himself with his arm. It didn't matter. Case hit him again, trying to get to the more vulnerable body parts but the guy was damn lithe and moving so freaking quickly that it really wasn't easy.

He got his arm another time, but this time, the force made his opponent fall down on his back, where he tried moving backwards away from Casey, pushing himself with his legs and good arm, but not fast enough.

Casey leaped forward, swinging again, fully prepared for his axe to—


Damon had been yelling from the moment that idiot kid had picked up a weapon - a freaking axe to boot. "Stop!" he screamed, "Duck! Get the hell away from him!"

That last part, he had used for both Vicky, then Casey. But Vicky hadn't listened for some reason, that crazy chick had probably already lost the last remnants of her sanity down here, and neither had Casey.

He, Bonnie and Rebekah had been shoved on one side of the pool, and the other three far away on the other side. Damon never had a chance to make it over there in time to save Vicky, but he was fast enough to stop Casey before that asshole could kill Enzo, too.

He simply couldn't let that happen. Enzo was like a brother to him, had stayed over so many times that it had almost felt like he lived with the Salvatore's, and then, when Enzo had turned 18 and the foster system had basically kicked him out to fend for himself, Guiseppe Salvatore had shown some unexpected kindness in one of his few decent moments and taken him in to live at the boarding house until he would get on his feet.

So, no. Damon was not ready to turn his back on his best friend, even if it would have heightened his own chances of survival, but he had come up with a plan, and he'd rather they all died trying to escape than anyone else of his friends dying down here.

The rod he had picked up connected with the back of Casey's head just as the guy swung down his axe to slice his victim in half. Startled, the guy dropped his weapon, mid-swing, Enzo barely being able to kick it out of harm's way.

"You alright?" Damon called over to his cursing friend, who slowly tried standing up, just as Casey started turning around to face Damon, clutching his head as he did. How he was even still standing was a miracle. The guy was pure muscle and adrenaline. When their gazes met, Damon's dark and angry, Casey's feral and dazed, it was time to make another move.

He didn't want to do this. Didn't want to kill someone else. But there were other people to protect down here and he had to try his best to get them out, so he did what he had to do.

He hit Casey again. And again. He continued hitting him when he was slumping over, curling into a ball on the ground, reflexively still trying to cover his body, protect himself, even though by then he must have known it was futile.

"No," he begged. "Please. I don't want to die!"

And I don't want to kill, thought Damon. I don't want to kill. But that didn't mean it didn't have to happen.

...

"Damon. Damon!"

He whirled around, almost hitting Enzo with the rod, stopping a mere inch from his face. His friend flinched wildly, then shook his head, but didn't say anything other than a very quiet "Thanks."

With a nod and a grimace, Damon lowered his weapon until its tip made a clanking noise against the ground. Staring at the blood on it rather than at the lifeless heap in front of him (two heaps, really. Vicky wasn't too far away…), he clenched his teeth, trying to control his breathing.

Bonnie and Rebekah would have seen all of it… He couldn't turn around to look at them.

"Damon."

With a sigh, he slowly lifted his head, strands of sweaty hair flying into his face as he looked at Enzo. They didn't say anything, but there was something in the way Enzo touched his shoulder now that felt somewhat soothing. Like while he didn't know who he was anymore, what had happened to Damon Salvatore of old, someone else did. He saw it all in Enzo's eyes, and more. His own despair, and disgust, but also the necessity, compassion.

Damon shook his head, trying to think. He needed to snap out of it, and fast, if he wanted to get their plan under way.

Pulling Enzo closer, he whispered, "The tasers, you think they'll come down here again to use them once this is over?" He felt Enzo tense under his touch and wanted to assure him. "Relax, I'm not planning on killing you. Well, not for real anyways, but…" He closed his eyes, gripping Enzo's arm hard. "You think we could make it look like you were bleeding somewhere else? Like you were bleeding out?"

He felt Enzo give a small jerk of the head, heard the smallest tone of agreement before they started moving as if in an intimate tango, a dance of death. "I told the girls to grab something to fight with, for when these assholes come to get us," Damon explained his desperate plan. "We'll try and hold their people hostage, make them let us out of here. If we have to, we will use them as shields or kill them. Because there will be no going back if we do it this way. You understand? We either make it out of here or we will die."

"How did you—"

"Come up with this shit in such a short time?" Damon gave a small snort, grinning a bit like a lunatic. "Brains, my man." He tapped the side of his head. "I have always been the smart one…"

Enzo rolled his eyes. "It's called being delusional…"

Damon stifled a chuckle. Even down here, they didn't quite let go of their usual banter, and it felt good. Like maybe not all was lost. Maybe there was a coming back out of this for them. Just maybe.

If his haphazardly put together plan actually worked. (He had come up with it when they had seen Vicky die so violently. It had hit him out of nowhere, like a gory epiphany.) And if luck was finally going to be on their side for once. Because they would need it.

Focusing his attention on the task at hand, Damon left a little more wiggle room for Enzo to get his injured arm between them. Grabbing him by the shoulders, he stared him directly in the eyes. "I'm afraid this will probably hurt, but since I'm gonna pretend to stab you, and you'll have to act the part, feel free to just scream bloody murder."

"Sounds so reassuring. Thanks."

"Anything for a friend."

He didn't wait. Didn't let Enzo think about it for too long. They needed to pretend one of them had died, and since fate - or Casey - had involuntarily laid the groundwork for them, they might as well work with it.

Digging his fingers into Enzo's arm, he tried to get as much blood over his hand as possible, then wiped it off on Enzo's shirt.

"Bloody hell," Enzo hissed, his head falling forward against Damon, who grimaced on his friend's behalf.

"I'm sorry, man, just a few more times. Don't pass out on me, okay? You'll have to pretend to die. But I need you alert! You'll need to help me get those assholes."

"Just hurry."

He didn't have much time or room to see whether the shirt was stained well enough to fool anyone, but he had to chance it. "Now," he whispered to an erratically breathing Enzo, hoping the kid would get that under control so he would be a convincing dead person. With a quick movement, he pretended to stab his friend, then gave him a slight shove.

Enzo fell to the ground a little too convincingly. Damon felt his heart in his throat and in his chest, beating too wildly. Don't be unconscious, he silently pleaded, then raised his arms, the sign for Bonnie and Rebekah to yell and pretend to be in shock, and to prepare themselves for the tasers.

Now he only had to hope they'd really come…


There was a loud eruption of applause and whoops coming from above. Lights that went crazy, a weird gong-like chime.

Bonnie blinked. Swallowing, she tried to keep her bearings. She had still stared at Vicky in shock when Damon had suddenly pulled her and Rebekah close, telling them his crazy idea.

"Let me try and convince these guys to play dead," he had said. "I'll run over and make it look like I killed them—"

"How?" Rebekah had scoffed, disbelievingly. "And why didn't you come up with your fancy plan before Vicky had to die?"

Bonnie had seen the flicker of sorrow and sadness in his eyes. Then he had shaken his head.

Bonnie had turned to look at the other girl. "It's not his fault she's dead," she had told her, firmly, with a challenging glare that had made Rebekah nod. "I know…"

"We don't have much time." They had all been looking over to where Casey had suddenly started trying to go after Enzo.

"Shit," it had escaped Damon. "Listen. Change of plans. I'm not sure I can convince that guy to do anything. But you need to be prepared. We need to be ready. When they come and get us, we need to hold them hostage. I don't think for a second that they will let any of us go. Besides, I'm trying to not lose anyone else. You understand?"

He had stared at them both intently, and Bonnie had found herself nodding, bracing herself. She had been ready to fight back. Finally.

Because she had to be.

"Damon!" She had pointed over to where Enzo had seemed to have some serious trouble. If they really wanted to keep everyone alive, they'd have to deal with Casey first. "On it. As soon as it's over, wait and be ready!"

Then he had run away and Bonnie had been left to wait once more, feeling Rebekah in her short skirt and thin halter top shiver beside her.

"We're going to get out of this," she had tried to reassure the girl, and had gotten an unconvinced "Ya" as response.

She couldn't blame her. They had both lost someone very close to them.

But now the "game" was over, Damon standing over Enzo like he had killed him (had he?!), waiting for the goons to come and lead them out, or try to kill them. Whichever one it was, it made adrenaline course through Bonnie like crazy, her nostrils flaring with anxiety and anticipation.

They needed to get out. Despite everything that had happened, she didn't want to die. She didn't. She couldn't. And yet, how would she be able to live with this?! Could she?

Rebekah suddenly lightly touched her arm. "They're coming," she breathed, nodding her head briefly in the direction of the small and way too short pool ladder. Ropes had been thrown over the side, and three of their captors were getting ready to rush down them, tasers at the ready.

Bonnie was a little shocked to realize how much slower it actually seemed to be happening. The first time she had been so shocked and out of it, so torn over Jeremy (don't think about it, don't think about it, don't…), that she hadn't paid any attention to the men with their tasers. It had seemed as if the world had just grown dark from one second to the next as the tasers shot electricity through her body.

This time, however, she watched as they quickly slid down and hopped onto the ground, then ran over to where they stood, she and Rebekah on one side, Damon and Enzo (if he was still alive) on the other. Her hand clenched around the long bread knife she had picked up, she bumped into Rebekah ever so slightly, the Mikaelson girl returning the gesture. As if to reassure each other that they were at least not alone, that this was truly happening.

"You think we can take them on?" There was doubt in Rebekah's tone, doubt that Bonnie felt, too, but didn't let seep through when she replied, "Ya. We have to."

Inhaling deeply, she readied herself as best as she could. Out of the corner of her eye she saw someone approach Damon, while another few people were trying to gather up the dead.

Then she saw the guys that were coming for her and Rebekah. The good thing was that they were nowhere near as large and muscular as you would think for someone doing that kind of job. It was probably because they underestimated their targets, thought of them as just some harmless girls.

A wild grin appeared on Bonnie's face as she suddenly ran forward, followed by Rebekah. Their move surprised the two men so much that they never got a chance to properly aim their tasers. They hadn't seen the attack coming at all.

"What the hell," one of them hissed out, before Rebekah poked him in the throat with a large metal file she had found.

"Shhh," she made, grinning at him ferally, her white teeth gleaming dangerously in the cold light coming from above.

"Fuck!" someone was yelling, Bonnie wasn't sure from where, up above or from where Damon was, but she had to concentrate on the guy she was trying to keep from struggling free. The guy, muscular, but very lean, and not very big at all, was putting up a fight, but she wasn't letting him win. Not this time.

"Hold still or I will kill you. You should know that I mean it," she told him with a voice so calm she almost creeped herself out. It certainly had an effect on her "hostage." The man didn't so much as move a muscle when she pressed the knife so hard against his throat that she drew blood.

It was so easy. So awfully, horribly easy. The way Jeremy had died… It should have been more difficult, more physically straining, more…

"BonBon. You got it under control over there?"

Damon's voice jolted her back before she could spiral too far down. Panting, she looked up and nodded. He was holding a rod across his own hostage's throat, making the guy walk over to them slowly. The man was struggling to breathe, Damon's grip on the rod unrelenting, and the pressure he put on his opponent's jugular quite obviously rather oppressing. The guy's lips were slightly blue.

Not far from Damon, Enzo was escorting two more goons over to them, holding them at gun point. Gun point… Bonnie audibly gasped, exchanging a glance with Rebekah. They had managed to get their hands on an actual freaking gun.

Soon, their friends had reached them, Damon giving Bonnie a quick peck on the cheek. "Ladies," he said, trying to smirk but not quite getting it right, and when Bonnie saw the streaks of blood on his face and hands, she knew why. Looking furtively over her shoulder, she saw one of the taser guys lying pretty dead looking close to the other two bodies (Vicky, she scolded herself. Vicky and Casey. They were not just bodies. They were people…). She hadn't seen what had happened, and how, but it was easy to put two and two together and assume that Damon had done most of the work there. A quick glance over to where Enzo was awkwardly pressing one arm against his torso while with the other keeping the two captives in check, and she knew that he wouldn't have been able to put up much of a fight. Damon, on the other hand, was in better shape. At least physically.

"What now?" Rebekah asked what Bonnie hadn't even dared think about just yet. But the girl was right. What should they do now?

Staring up into the bright lights, they noticed that it had grown eerily quiet up there. Like the room was waiting with baited breath. She looked around, spotting the surfer around the same time Damon did.

"We have something of yours!" He yelled up, shoving the man he was holding into a glaring beam of light.

"You'll let us walk out of here now. With these guys. Once we're far enough away, we will let them go. Not before."

What he didn't say, of course, was what everyone knew. That, if they didn't, none of the people in the pit would make it out alive, Damon, Bonnie, Rebekah and Enzo included.

Did she care?

She did. Still. She wanted to live so freaking bad it was breathtaking.

Watching Damon, how his shoulders squared as he kept staring up, how confident he seemed, and at the same time, how broken, she realized the toll this was taking on them all would be hard for others to understand. She could see the cracks in his exterior, showing something dark underneath, but it didn't scare her. It almost gave her comfort. Because she shared that darkness with him. Briefly, their gazes met, Damon nodding to her, then the quietness above got disrupted by some feedback noise and then…

"Be. My. Guests," Sykes enunciated each word, underscoring them by gesturing with his arms toward the ropes and ladder. "If you can make it up there and out, you're free to go. Pinky promise!"

He turned to face the crowd, earning a few chuckles here and there, but the people seemed a little less enthusiastic and a little more uncertain. Bonnie considered that a good sign. Sykes was putting on a show, but he, too, must have been slightly unsure of how to handle this new situation. Good.

"Too kind," Damon muttered, then shoved his human shield forward some more. Toward the ropes. They could only hope these people wouldn't shoot at them from up there or something, at this point Bonnie couldn't be sure of anything anymore. But she knew they had to risk it. It was their only chance.

Inhaling shakily, Bonnie followed Damon. He gave her a good feeling despite everything. Having him around, it made it all a little more bearable, made her believe they did have that chance.

She'd have never thought she'd be so grateful for Damon Salvatore's company.


Rebekah wasn't sure she was going to make it after all. The ropes were long and she wasn't the greatest of climbers. At least not in a short skirt and with high heels. And not up a rope. Kol's face appeared in front of her again, unbidden and painful, and she closed her eyes to focus on other things. On getting out. Easier said than done. As she hung off the rope, one guard above her, the other forced to hold her rope by Enzo, Damon was cajoling her from above, pulling up the guard first then waiting for her.

While Damon was keeping the hostages in check with the gun Lorenzo had passed him before, while Bonnie and he were still waiting their turn, Rebekah couldn't help but go back to the moment her brother had taken her hands and guided them. To stab him. The same hands that were now clinging to a rope, still tinged reddish from her brother's blood.

...

"I'm so sorry, Bekah," he had breathed when she had realized what he had done, her face contorting in agony and betrayal, but also love. "I never wanted for any of this to happen," he had continued, "For you to become part of this bloody mess."

"I know… Kol…" She hadn't known what to say, other than, "I love you, brother. You stupid stupid idiot."

"Had to protect you somehow, right? Or Nik and Elijah would have never let me live it down." He had chuckled, then coughed, their fingers still entwined around the blade of the knife that had been killing him. "Love you, Bekah. Always..."

...

He was dead, had died to protect her. She owed it to him that she made it out okay. Stealing herself, she hoisted herself up more, inch by inch, until she could finally grasp for Damon's extended hand, where he stood waiting, only protected by the gun he was holding, two captured guards already tied to the barbed wire rows behind him. Pulling her up, he grinned at her.

"Welcome topside, blondie!"

She would have rolled her eyes under normal circumstances. Instead, she hugged him fiercely, only letting go when he gently pushed her away a little. "I need to get the others up, too, okay?"

She nodded, appreciating his soft unaccusing tone. As she let go of his hand, she was relieved to have finally left the pool behind, although seeing the rows of barbed wire and the people still peering down from the balcony sobered her quickly. They were far from being free of this place.

Next, they brought the last three guards up, tying each of them to the fence with fabric Bonnie had torn off the lower portion of her gorgeous moss green dress. Such a shame, Rebekah briefly thought, although a torn dress was the least of any of their problems. Bonnie clearly didn't seem to mind or pay it a second thought.

As Rebekah watched her slowly make her way up the rope at the same time as Lorenzo, she noticed the other girl sliding down a good chunk, barely stifling a yell, making Damon grimace. "You okay, Bon?"

She wasn't looking up to him, just clinging to her rope, which was swinging too much. Rebekah felt her fingers clench into fists as she helplessly watched as Lorenzo tried to calm the poor girl. He couldn't do anything for her, however, seeing as he was too far away, and already slightly incapacitated.

"Hold this." Damon suddenly shoved the gun into Rebekah's hand, startling her, making her flinch when she realized what she was holding. Her heart rate picked up dangerously. She didn't want anyone else to force a weapon into her hands ever again, but yet again she didn't have a choice.

"Keep 'em around, blondie," he told her, indicating the guards behind her, "We'll need them." Then, rushing over to the rope, he called out to the struggling girl. "Bonnie. Bon! Look at me! You can do this!"

Laying down flat on his stomach, he gripped her rope, hard, trying to stabilize it as best as he could, trying to hold out a hand for her at the same time. Rebekah couldn't see too well from where she stood, training the gun at their hostages, and she probably didn't want to know what was happening anyway.

If Bonnie fell… She was already so high up… Rebekah focused hard on the staring glaring men before her. Raising her chin, she looked at them challengingly, remaining quiet, listening.

As if she wasn't part of it all. As if she was somewhere very far away...

"Come on, Bon. Just a little more. You're almost there… - Enzo, you got this, man? I can't get both of you—"

"I'm good."

"I can't—" Bonnie looked ready to give up.

"Yes you can, pretty girl!" Damon cajoled, breathing heavily. "Come on! The world needs Bonnie Bennett up here. . . Just a little more. . .Yeah, like that."

"Damon—"

"You got this, gorgeous!"

A thudding noise. Panting. Another loud noise, then a sudden pat on Rebekah's shoulder made her turn around. She was looking straight into the eyes of Damon, then Bonnie, who was standing tucked under his arm, shaking like a leaf. Rebekah had to smile. It had worked. Hugging them both, her gaze fell on Enzo, who was standing behind them, half doubled over, grimacing. The four of them had made it up. Out of the pit. They were really out of there.

But then her features froze into another frown. "What now, Damon?" she asked, the lump back in her throat.

He raised his eyebrows at her, sniffing. "Now we'll get the hell out of here."

Words were always so much easier than deeds…

Chapter Text

...

[Now]

And then there was Vicky. The forgotten girl.

When Matt watched his sister break up with his best friend in a super awkward scene, he couldn't help but side with Tyler. Sibling loyalty and all, but that had just been real shitty of her.

They'd had their moments, their fights. Tyler was by no means the perfect boyfriend, and he had a temper at times that made Matt want to distance himself from him. But deep down he was a good guy, and he genuinely loved Vicky. With all her faults. And she had many. Oh gosh did she have many.

Just like their mother, she simply couldn't stay away from the alcohol. She partied too hard. She got into trouble. Matt loved her like he didn't love anyone else, really. He would do anything for her. If only she would accept that she needed help, would let him take her to a rehab center or something.

But no. According to her, she "didn't have a freaking problem, Matt. You do! Don't be so uptight all the time. Gosh, you and Tyler, you really complement each other. Why don't you two go out together, huh?"

Not their greatest moment. It had been right after she had grabbed another drink, her speech already slurred and washed out, and Tyler had begged her to let him take her home. Instead she had sidled over to Jeremy Gilbert, running her hands over the poor kid's body like he and her were still a thing, making Bonnie next to him look uncomfortable and awkward, to say the least.

Matt and Tyler had both tried to get her away from him, had tried talking to hear. Everything. But in the end, Vicky Donovan had declared that she didn't need a loser and a hothead like her brother and her boyfriend in her life and told them to get lost, and that she was going to have some fun now, thank you very much.

It had taken Matt some serious convincing (and muscle power) to get Tyler to come with him without making it worse. Without letting his anger get the better of him and accidentally let it all out against bystanders. Like Jeremy.

They had had a drink of their own, then had split up, Tyler soon finding solace in the arms of another cute girl, and Matt...

Well, Matt had made sure that yet another cute girl got home safe: Caroline, still obviously heartbroken over her breakup with Stefan. He had brought her up the stairs, had placed a bucket by her bed, taken off her shoes, put a blanket over her, and then he had left. To wait for Vicky to come home.

When she didn't, when she stayed away all night, he wasn't concerned more than usual. It wasn't the first time it had happened and it wouldn't be the last. Still, he couldn't shake that strange feeling, so he called the sheriff's office anyways, asking whether they had heard anything.

Liz Forbes of course knew the spiel. It wasn't the first time he had called her. Sometimes, he called about his mom, then about his sister. It was always like that, a perpetual cycle of calls that led nowhere, of the sheriff making reassurances and promises to keep an eye out. Sounding so sympathetic that Matt wanted to hide somewhere forever.

In the end, both his mom and his sister always showed up again and he was left to feel stupid and dumb, and used.

So this time, he had promised himself he would leave it at that one phone call and be done with it. Leave others to deal with his stupid sister and her stupid decisions. She had probably shacked up somewhere with one of those random guys from a town over or something anyways. She'd be back in no time, happy and chipper, maybe drunk again, wearing the same outfit she had worn days earlier, smelling rank. And he would turn the shower on for her and push her into the bathroom, telling her he was angry and upset and that this was the last time he covered for her at work or school or anywhere, and then they'd start the whole thing over again.

But then, while another day passed where she didn't show up and where he told himself he wouldn't worry, wouldn't bother the sheriff yet again, he started hearing people mention other people that hadn't come home after the party.

Stefan was asking around whether anyone had seen Damon, clearly more annoyed than worried.

"It's always the same, when he's with Enzo and Elena isn't there, he ends up screwing up. They probably went out of town and got drunk and now don't know how to get home."

Matt shot the younger Salvatore a sympathetic look. He knew too well what the guy was talking about. "I know, man," he said, "Hope you find him soon."

The call from Elijah Mikaelson had been weirder. His little fling with Rebekah lay months in the past and yet he had still felt an instant prickle of discomfort when her brother had called. As if he had done something wrong, not treated Rebekah the way she deserved. (He had, though. You could say what you wanted to about Matt Donovan, but he had always treated his girlfriends well.)

But Elijah didn't care about any of that, he simply inquired whether Matt had seen his sister after the party at the lake, which apparently was where he had lost track of her. But Matt hadn't seen her.

There were rumors about Jeremy and Bonnie on a fun trip. Some kids in Jer's class went as far as speculating he had taken his older girlfriend on a weekend trip to Paris and that's why he was a day late for school. Matt scoffed at the idea, but decided to send Jeremy a message, commending him on his lady-skills and having his whole classmates think of him as a legendary womanizer. It didn't seem too surprising that his friend didn't reply. Not if he really was away with his girl, even if it surely wasn't Paris.

Overhearing a rumor about some AWOL college students made him think Vicky was probably crashing somewhere with them, probably one of those hipsterish gatherings he couldn't stand, couldn't care about.

No, Matt never started worrying. And he never stopped. He didn't call the sheriff too often. (Well, maybe a little more than the one time he had promised himself he would…). He didn't bother Tyler with any of it, Tyler who was surprisingly heartbroken over the breakup. And he didn't call any of his friends.

Of course he should have put two and two together, perhaps, should have wondered whether maybe she and all the other AWOL kids were all together somewhere. But then, why should he have? Why, when this seemed like nothing out of the ordinary. (Not even his stupid mother cared that her daughter was gone.)

Because she was his sister and there was supposed to be a bond between them, something that should have clued him in to the fact that no, Vicky was not just chilling with a bunch of strangers somewhere, hungover and reeking. But it hadn't. He hadn't known. He hadn't suspected a thing.

She was dead, and he hadn't known.


Liz felt awful. Looking from Kelly Donovan back to her son Matt, she felt her mom heart bleed for this kid more than for the crying mess that was his mother.

She had had the horrible task to inform them that according to trustworthy sources - she hadn't been allowed to tell them more - Vicky Donovan had been the victim of an atrocious plan to murder a couple of people, a pawn in a sick game of some yet to be found perpetrators.

"How?" Matt wanted to know, one arm around his mother's back, trying to console her as best as he could and failing. Kelly was sobbing uncontrollably. "My baby…"

Liz swallowed. All she wanted to do was go back to the hospital like she had promised Caroline. There was so much to do and so little time to a day, and she was so overtired already, so starved for just a moment of shut eye.

But here she was, doing her duty, the next conversation should be even more interesting. She was going to meet up with Elijah Mikaelson. A sigh escaped her.

"I'm so sorry, Matt," she breathed. "I really don't know all that much yet. I wish I did. I just felt like I should tell you this now, before it might get out."

"But you said you didn't even find a - a body yet…" She could tell how hard it was for him to process the news, the information she had given him.

"No," she calmly admitted. "But I don't doubt my sources at all, Matt."

He scoffed, desperately grasping for straws. "What if they made a mistake? What if—"

"Matt. I can't tell you how I know or who told me, but this is big, and you'll soon hear of others who've lost someone. I promise you I'll do everything I can to return her body to you to… to bury. That I will find who did this."

His face was a grimace, but he nodded, even now trying to be the good boy that he was, to fight the anger.

"Would you like me to talk to Tyler about this?"

"What?" He stared at her blankly.

"He's her boyfriend, right?"

"They just broke up…"

Liz nodded, giving him a sympathetic look. "I think he needs to know…"

"Yeah. Alright. Of course. I'll… I'll talk to him."

After a few minutes in awkward laden silence, he eventually went with her to the door, seeing her out. Patting his back, Liz turned to walk over to her car when he called her name once more.

"Sheriff Forbes?" So formal…

"Yes, Matt?"

"The others. That were missing… this doesn't have anything to do with them, does it?"

Liz pressed her lips together, trying not to grimace. "Goodbye Matt," was all she felt comfortable saying, then she got in her car and drove off.


Elijah was already sitting at a table, a glass of wine balancing between his fingers, when Liz made it to his favored place of meeting. A fancy Italian restaurant that apparently had "the best fish in town."

She rolled her eyes before tensing her shoulders and walking over to him. This was not going to be pleasant. There were the other two Mikaelsons, Niklaus and Rebekah, all of whom she had hoped to never see in her town again. They always brought trouble, just like this time.

"Sheriff." Klaus shot her a suggestive smile that she quickly ignored, focusing rather on his slightly more gentlemanly brother and the usually sassy sister that seemed rather out of sorts today.

"Thank you for meeting me," she stiffly told them, sitting down more heavily than she had wanted to. This day was so damn long already and it was only going to get longer.

"Of course. I'm glad you finally agree with me that there is a necessity for a meeting." Elijah smiled at her, but it didn't reach his impenetrable eyes.

There was a tension between them, right from the start, even though she wasn't here to arrest him and his clan. For once, the Mikaelsons were victims, too, not the ones that had caused the trouble. And yet it didn't feel that way.

"I believe your sister here might have some crucial information to share with me." She looked from Elijah to Rebekah, who was nervously nestling with the sleeves of her sweater. Her outfit seemed rather untypical for her, or at least for the girl Liz remembered from the few instances she met her before. Mostly when she had come by to bail one of her older brothers out of jail… No cute dress now, no pretty and expensive looking accessories. Just an almost frumpy looking sweater and a pair of white long pants.

"My sister is not here to be interrogated, Ms. Forbes."

"Sheriff," she corrected him, making him smile again. This time, though, a flicker of something - maybe mirth? - was crossing his eyes. She had to force herself not to huff indignantly and remain professional. Distant.

"Of course, Sheriff. My apologies. - Like I said, my sister is not here to—"

"Be interrogated, right. So why then are you here? I mean, I can easily make you all come down to the station with me, talk to you - to her," her gaze pierced him, "there." She paused for effect, waiting. "But we all don't want that. I already know that she was part of a so-called 'game', I have a rough idea what she and her fellows have been through."

"Oh ya?" Klaus piped up, always the annoying little shit that he was. "And what would that be? Sheriff?"

She looked at him, level, almost bored. He was the kind that needed a special treatment. She knew his type too well. Which was why she never liked him being around her daughter, playing his game with her. Taking a deep breath, Liz focused on the here and now.

"They had to kill. Each other. Friends fighting friends. And I heard that…" This was going to be the hard part. Turning toward Rebekah, her features softened. "Your other brother, Kol, he was there, wasn't he? But he didn't make it."

Klaus' eyes darkened, Elijah's flickered, but Rebekah's, they began swimming with tears so abruptly that it was clear she had fought hard to even be able to sit there in the first place.

"He died, trying to protect you, didn't he?" Damon had told her that, had relayed the whole horrible plan they all had made, he and Jeremy and the youngest Mikaelson boy.

"He wanted to do it himself, but they changed the rules. So he... made me do it," the girl suddenly broke out, shocking her brothers, but not Liz. Not after what she had already heard earlier. After seeing Bonnie and Damon, and hearing their horrible accounts.

"He what?!" Klaus took his sister's arm, but she shook him off.

"You heard me. He wanted it to be me, so he shoved the knife into my hands and then… it was… he just grabbed my hands and plunged it straight into his chest. He made me kill him. I killed my own brother. Everyone always said he was such a screw up, such a disgrace to the family, but he didn't deserve to die, not by my hands, not like this. - He did it to save me..."

"Rebekah. Rebekah, hey…" Klaus leaned over, pulling her against him, the show of affection genuinely touching. Liz had never seen that side of him before, hadn't expected him to be capable of unadulterated love. But here it was on display, and she felt like an intruder.

"I am so sorry," Liz whispered, giving them a moment's time before continuing. "I need to know something else, Rebekah. I'm sorry I have to bring this up now, but it's important. Do you remember any of the people that were there? That put you in that pool? Any names, faces, clothes. Anything."

The Mikaelson sister looked up at her out of clouded eyes, wiping her cheeks with one hand. She shook her head, mouthing a small "no."

"Are you sure? Anything could help."

Elijah licked his lips, clenching his teeth once he was done. "Now is not the time Sheriff," he intervened, putting up a hand as if to stop her. "I promise we'll come over to the station as soon as my sister feels a little more like herself."

"This is really important."

"Believe me, I know. I want to find the people who did this just as much as you. Probably more so. They are responsible for the death of my brother, and for… what happened to my sister."

Liz nodded, understanding. "I have a whole team on this now. Can I trust you not to take matters into your own hands, Mr. Mikaelson?"

"Elijah. Please."

"Can I trust you to stay out of my investigation and leave me to do my job, Elijah?" Liz caught herself touching her hair and pulling it behind her ear like a damn teenager with a crush. She wanted to hide. Was it just her or was there really something going on between her and… Elijah freaking Mikaelson?

"Of course, Sheriff."

Nodding, she slowly got up. "As soon as possible. This is really important. Oh, and please?" she added, before she went on her way, hoping they'd honor this conversation, "No more beating up anyone in my town. Is that clear? You're lucky the kid didn't press charges..."

"Crystal clear."

His eyes flickered again, and she had to peel herself away from his gaze to leave.

"I'll be in touch," he called after her, before she had a chance to say the same, and that irked her, too.


"What the hell was that?" Klaus wanted to know as soon as the sheriff had left. Still holding his shivering sister in his arms, he glared at his older brother challengingly, waiting for an explanation.

He had let the woman off the hook way too easily. They hadn't learned a thing. No other names, nothing. The woman had barely even put together a bloody team, something she should have done when they had first called about their sister. Days ago. But no, the dear sheriff had decided to wait. Because, teenagers. Klaus bit down hard, trying to deal with his anger without upsetting Rebekah. Being so considerate was new to him, and it was not easy.

With Rebekah not forthcoming with any more information, either, he felt so frustratingly helpless that it was physically painful. Elijah shouldn't have gone after that guy, Caroline's new boytoy or whoever he was. Now Rebekah didn't trust him anymore and didn't tell them anything else about her ordeal. But he needed to know. As sickening, as horrible as it was, he was starving for details. Needed to know how his brother had died, how his sister had suffered. He needed to know it and feel it and then go after who did all this, after those responsible and make them feel the exact same things.

"Watch your language, please." Elijah was so bloody aloof it made Klaus' skin tingle.

"You didn't get any information from her."

"I didn't have to."

"You… what? What the hell do you mean? I thought we were here to make sure—"

Elijah's dangerous glare made him stop before he could finish his sentence. Wordlessly indicating their sister, the older brother coldly said, "Not now. Let's get home and we can discuss it later."

Home. Klaus rolled his eyes. One of the perks of being a Mikaelson was owning a bunch of realty in a bunch of strange places. Why they had kept the house in bloody Mystic Falls, however, was a mystery to him. Probably Elijah being sentimental.

Scooping his sister up into his arms, he guided her out without another word, keeping his grudge to himself for now. Once she was asleep, however, after a nice dose of the downers their doc had prescribed on a quick house call, he would sit down with his brother and hash out a better plan.

He wasn't here to play nice with the sheriff. He was here for revenge. And to retrieve his brother's body, bring it home to New Orleans, the only real home for a Mikaelson…


Damon felt exhausted. Even after a night of sleep - only achieved by a good dose of sleeping pills courtesy of his caring hospital staff - he still felt bone tired, and like a train had run over him.

It was thirst that woke him and he was grateful to see a glass of water perched on the small table by his side when he opened his eyes. Sitting up sent a shooting pain through his abdomen, and he had to roll onto his side so as not to use too many stomach muscles, which then hurt his stupid shoulder like some annoying bodily vicious circle.

With a hiss, he finally managed to grab his glass, taking a few sips before almost spilling the contents when he saw Bonnie appear at his door.

Leaning against the frame, she smiled the smallest smile, pretending to knock. "Can I come in?"

It was as if he felt instantly lighter, but then a sudden darkness washed over him like a wave and he had to cough a few painful coughs to collect himself and get his breathing back to normal.

"Of course. I could never say no to a pretty woman gracing me with a visit."

Raising her eyebrows, she gave him a look that almost made him chuckle. It didn't last.

"I'm glad that doctor intervened and got you back to your room."

"Yeah…"

He'd rather not think about it. Being reminded of the state his body was in didn't help with his urge to go home, to leave everything behind they had experienced.

Yesterday, when they had decided to tell the sheriff everything, part of Damon had felt like the younger boy again he had once been, back when Liz had made sure he went to the anger management classes, back when she had poked her head in every few months or so to check up on him and Stefan, pretending to be on council business.

But he had forced himself to endure it, to roll with it, and somehow it had helped in getting it all off his chest. Well. Not all.

Bonnie had often shot him furtive glances, both of them silently communicating which parts to mention and which ones to leave out. Some things should simply best remain in the past… Damon's eyes had been trained on Bonnie for most of the conversation, both of them thinking they should make sure to talk to Rebekah and Enzo, clue them in on the fact that they had talked to Liz, and what they had talked about before the sheriff came to talk to them as well. If it wasn't too late already...

They had told her about Jeremy, of course. About Lexi, too, and Vicky. They had mentioned being the only ones out of thirteen to survive.

Then, thankfully, that nurse had shown up again, an irate looking doctor in tow, and the woman - Dr. Rodrigues he now knew - had read Liz Forbes the riot act. It would have been funny under any other circumstances, it was even kind of funny then…

"My patients need rest, Sheriff. Did I not make myself clear before when I asked you to wait with interrogating—"

"Interviewing…"

"Interrogating them? Please go now. You may come back tomorrow. Excuse me, this young man needs to lie down. - Mr. Salvatore…" And then she had given him such a reprimanding look that he had wanted to laugh. Which had kind of confused him. How there was still room for something lighter in the world, for laughing, despite what he had just come back from. (No, not come back, he had brought it with him…)

"How's Elena?" Bonnie's raspy voice interrupted his musings. "Has she been back to see you?" Slowly coming closer until she could sit down on the side of his bed, she was close enough that he could feel the air stir around her.

He made a face, his lips a line when he shook his head. "I think she needs time to process."

"Uh huh. Of course."

While she seemed lost in thought, he swallowed, dealing with some weird thoughts and feelings himself. This was the worst part, really. How the terror of their experience had rubbed him raw somehow, as if his nerve ends were all bare, and all those bottled up emotions from even years ago seemed to sting and burn their way to the top.

And then there was Bonnie, her presence like a soothing ointment, confusing him. He shook his head, trying to clear it.

"Which should be understandable, right?" he suddenly blurted, as if to convince himself, "I mean; it's what I told you, and it's what I told Stefan. That it's all a lot to process, to even begin to comprehend. It's not easy, it takes time and blah blah blah. Right? Losing your brother, losing your loved ones - I don't have to tell you…"

"No, you don't." She was biting the inside of her lip, not quite looking at him. Her hand on his white blanket was so close to his own, his fingertips almost touched hers. "But honestly? What about us? I mean, how are we to process this? How are we supposed to go back to… to normalcy? To this?" He wasn't sure why she was asking him this, or where it had come from, but he felt so horribly lost, so sad for her, even for himself, and it was all so freaking unfair.

Bonnie was openly gnawing on her lip now, her hand gently grabbing his. Her gaze fell on the bruises webbing his knuckles, and for a moment she seemed to have gone elsewhere. Somewhere darker.

"Bonnie? Bon?"

His voice brought her back, and she looked at him with a sad smile. "It seems unfair, doesn't it? Or is it just me? How we feel obliged to cut them some slack when all we want is for someone to take our memories away, to make this all go away. Now I feel like I have to traipse around everyone because my horrible truths will only upset them. That I need to keep them all to myself." She paused, then looked him straight in the eyes. "We should have never said anything. We should have never told the sheriff. Now they'll hear about it and they'll come for the people that we love and it'll get even worse than it already is!"

Damon wished he could tell her something that would make her feel better, something real. Soothing. But there was nothing, because deep down, he felt exactly the same.

And if someone came for Stefan, or Elena, or Bonnie, even his freaking failure of a father, he wouldn't be able to handle that.

There was a slight knock on the door and they both turned around to see Caroline standing in the doorway, looking tired and a little lost, but red cheeked and much better than anyone else they had seen in the last couple of days.

"Heyyyy," the blonde said, looking a little sheepish. "I hope I'm not interrupting?"

"Care…" Bonnie was in stupid tears again the second she saw her other best friend. (The one whose brother she hadn't killed.)

"Can I…" Caroline seemed undecided, her cheeks flushing. "Do you mind if I hug you?"

Bonnie broke into a genuine smile. Getting up off the bed, she made her way to meet Caroline and the two girls held each other for at least a full two minutes, both crying lightly. It felt so good. Bonnie wished it would never stop.

The beautiful thing about Caroline - aside from her being a great friend - was that she was absolutely untainted by the horrors of the last few days. Or so Bonnie thought. When they finally parted, the girl waved over to Damon with a small smile, but the mound between her eyes gave away how worried she really was.

"I'm so glad you guys got out of…" Caroline stopped herself, clearly unsure of whether she could say it. All Bonnie could wonder was how much she knew.

"You've heard. Of course…" she said, and Caroline looked at her apologetically. "Probably not how you think… Um… Enzo is here, too." She pressed her lips together, wringing her hands.

Bonnie shot a glance at Damon, her heart starting to beat too fast.

"Is he okay?" Damon asked, suddenly sitting up straighter, hissing out in pain as he did. Of course his friend was here. He remembered the feeling when he had dug his fingers into the other's arm, the broken flesh and bone, the blood. Remembered how he had haphazardly pulled out his belt to tighten it around the kid's arm once their little charade had been over. He swallowed hard, sudden nausea washing over him.

Bonnie noticed his sudden pallor, and so, quite obviously, did Caroline.

"Ya," she hurried to assure him, "he's okay. I mean. Not really?" Her face fell slightly. "I don't think any of you can be okay…" Carefully, she reached over to touch Bonnie's arm, the compassion in her face almost making Bonnie cry again. "I heard about Jeremy. I'm… so sorry. - And Lexi…" Her gaze met Damon's, and he didn't know what to say.

Had Enzo told her about it? Somehow he couldn't picture it. Enzo never told anyone anything, certainly not about something like this. What else could he have said?

"Enzo told you that?"

"Well…" She fidgeted. "Not exactly. I mean, I was there when he said it. It was…" With a loud sigh and a slump of her shoulders, she came clean. "He kinda had a… a moment there with Stefan yesterday. Stefan was upset, said some things…"

Damon didn't really need to hear more. He could picture it quite vividly. With how upset Stefan had been, it had only been a matter of time until he exploded. That poor Enzo had been the recipient was just typical. The two had never gotten along. Ever since Damon had first made friends with him, had somehow felt the need to look out for the poor kid, Stefan had been jealous, had feared that the friendship would take away from their brotherly bond. It hadn't helped matters that Enzo had really needed some stability in his life and that Damon had brought him over more and more. It also hadn't helped that Guiseppe almost treated Enzo more like a son than Stefan - even though that had mostly meant Enzo had almost gotten as much of the "good treatment" as Damon. That he had still moved in with them for a while after turning 18 underscored just how desperate the kid had been.

So, Stefan exploding on him had been a long time coming. It sucked that it had happened over Lexi, especially because of how…

...

Damon needed air. He couldn't breathe, couldn't think. His chest felt so freaking tight all of a sudden that he wasn't sure whether he was having a heart or a panic attack. And he didn't do panic attacks. He simply didn't.

"Damon…" Bonnie looked at him with concern, and he could only stare at her for a moment.

"Should I go get help?" Blondie's concern made him want to roll his eyes, but he couldn't. Oh gosh, this wasn't happening, was it?

"I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to upset you further. I promise the situation got resolved. Stefan went home with Elena, and Enzo…" His gaze locked on hers, making her grimace.

"What about him," he gritted out.

"He, uh… passed out?"

"That a question, blondie? Because I wasn't there. You were." He raised an eyebrow at her, acutely aware of Bonnie's slender hand on his chest, just a little above the large patch covering the whole of his abdomen. Whatever magic she possessed, it was totally working on him, calming him, making him feel a little more like himself again.

Taking a few more deep breaths, he focused back on Caroline, still waiting for a reply.

"Uh…" She fussed with her hair, clearly suppressing the urge to make a sassy remark, or roll her eyes at him, and it made him almost want to smile. If it hadn't been for the fact that Caroline Forbes clearly seemed to think that she needed to cut him some slack. Ugh, he already hated how everyone was treating him differently; that better stopped soon…

"What? Is he still here or. . ."

She closed her eyes, licked her lips, shrugged her shoulders, looking from him to Bonnie and back. "His arm got infected?"

There it was again, that stupid questioning tone.

"Make a freaking statement, Care Bear, don't ask us the questions only you have the answers to." Did he want her to snap at him? Yes, he did; oh gosh, he freaking did.

She glared at him, a little more fire in her expression now. Finally. Good...

"Geez, Damon. He showed up at my door, okay?! It took me forever to get him to come to the ER with me, so by then his arm was apparently already infected, and he has a pretty severe concussion, according to the doc. His feet are messed up too. You probably know more about what happened there than me, though, so..." She trailed off, looking guilty. But he felt like he had deserved her annoyed, half accusing tone.

"I do, yeah," he allowed.

Raising her chin, she looked at him before she quickly deflated again. "I'm sorry. - Look, I'm sure this is hard for all of you. I mean, I can't even begin to imagine... I just wanted to make sure you guys are… as okay as you can be, I guess, and let you know I'm here if you need me." She smiled a small smile, focusing on Bonnie, who returned the gesture.

"Thanks, Care," she breathed, an awkward silence spreading for a moment or two, before Caroline bridged the gap between them with another hug for good measure, and a smile.

"Okayyy," she sang, apologetically, "well, um, I think I'll go check on Enzo."

"Tell him I'll come over soon."

"If they let you…" Bonnie smiled and Damon rolled his eyes, frustrated at the prospect. She was probably right, of course.

"Yeah, by the looks of you, I'd suggest Enzo come see you instead," Caroline agreed with a small daring wink, and Damon was unexpectedly grateful for her trying to be her usual self. He scoffed at her, waving a dismissive hand.

"Yeah, whatever."

Then, with a wave, Caroline eventually moved to get on her way, lingering in the doorway for just awhile longer. "Vicky was there, too, right?" she then asked suddenly, half turning back to the other two. She had obviously fought with herself on whether she should bring it up, the only real question she had dared ask them. (She probably had a ton more.)

The mention of the girl's name pained both Bonnie and Damon more than they would have thought. In all this they had half forgotten that another of their friends had lost a sibling. Nodding solemnly, Bonnie averted her gaze, leaning closer to Damon, needing to feel his presence.

"Okay," Caroline breathed, collecting herself. Then, with a sad smile she added, "We'll talk later. Whenever you're ready. - I'm just glad you made it out."

Then she left Bonnie and Damon to themselves again. (And their demons).

Chapter Text

Caroline was walking through the gray and white corridors of the large hospital building, already getting way too familiar with its purposeful architecture after not much more than two days or so, really. Which was plenty of time to find her way around, though.

Having left Bonnie and Damon feeling worse than she had before, more awkward, for sure, she was now on her way to the next visit. It was so difficult to talk about all the nightmarish things her friends had been through, and part of her felt like she had no right to ask any questions, no right to even merely mention anything about that dreadful pit.

Caroline wanted so badly to be there for Bonnie; the girl was her best friend after all. She wanted to hug her and cuddle with her on the couch, and talk about all the things Jeremy had done right and all the ones he had screwed up. She wanted Bonnie to be able to reminisce without judgment, to talk about everything, even her boyfriend's death, with every last excruciating detail. But how? Bonnie seemed withdrawn (of course she was. Who wouldn't be after what she had been through?) And the way she had interacted with Damon had somehow confused Care. There was something unspoken between the two, something intimate and painful that had made her feel uncomfortable, like she was intruding. She felt so lost among all the horrors, didn't know where her place was in all of this. What they were expecting of her, if anything.

She would also have to call Matt. No. She would have to go over to him and make sure he was okay. She would bring some chicken soup and a couple of guy movies and…

Tyler, too.

Caroline froze. Halfway down the hallway and headed toward Enzo's room, she suddenly felt like the world was crashing down on her. And she hadn't even been in that "pit" everyone was talking about. Taking deep breaths, she forced herself to continue moving before anyone would come over to ask whether she was alright.

...

Last night, her mom had finally brought her home, and they both had had a long needed whole night's sleep. Not exactly decent or anything, but she had pretty much conked out the second her head had hit the pillow, her body had been so exhausted from the previous day and night.

At first she had refused to leave Enzo alone, but her mom had assured her that he would be taken good care of, and that he wouldn't benefit from her passing out alongside him. Besides, she had started to feel like it wasn't her place to even care so much. It wasn't like they had all that much of a relationship. (But he had come to her, in his moment of need, of terror, he had come to her, that had to mean something, right? If only she knew what…) So Caroline had followed Liz home after her mom had fulfilled a few last sheriff duties of the day, among them placing some police guards in the hospital. As if this might not be over yet, as jf someone might still be coming for her friends…

Caroline had noticed the precaution. Liz had seen the look her daughter had given her, but they had both decided not to mention it. Because Caroline couldn't talk about it. About the possibility that whatever horrors her friends had escaped might come back to haunt them again, and not just in their dreams and memories.

She thought of Stefan, whom she also needed to check on. And Elena. Who had been noticeably absent. (Shouldn't she have been by Damon's side?)

Too many people to worry about. Too little she could do for them. The fallout of this all was immense. She couldn't believe that Jeremy and Vicky were dead.

And Lexi. A pang of guilt shot through her at the thought of her last meeting with Stefan's best friend. She had been so jealous of the older girl, and now Lexi was dead, and Caroline still here. Alive. She had made a fuss about nothing.

Arriving at Enzo's room, she stopped briefly, taking a deep breath before she knocked. Would he even want to see her? Maybe she would just be an awkward reminder. Maybe she had done her duty and now he was done with her. She honestly didn't even know what she was doing here. Maybe she should just go.

Except. She couldn't. Not after what he had said, how lost he had looked. How broken he had sounded. (For once in my bloody life someone actually cared about me…)

The others all had someone. Bonnie had Damon (though what about him and Elena? There was something going on there that she didn't understand either...) Damon and Stefan had each other. Elena seemed to have Stefan now, and Jenna. Matt had his mom (well…) and Tyler, they had each other. Rebekah, she had her brothers. Enzo had Damon perhaps. But with Stefan in the mix… Difficult.

Caroline knew what to do. Raising her chin, tucking her hair back a little, she braced herself, then opened the door.


Some things could never be forgotten. Enzo was pretty certain that one of those things was Lexi's face when she must have realized this was it. Her moment of death. Or the moment he should have died. When Casey had come for him. Maybe everything would have turned out differently if he really had died then. Damon could have still killed Casey, then he and the two girls might have made it out unharmed. (But would those arseholes have kept their word? Doubtful...)

There was too much to think about, too much he remembered. But when he woke up to find himself lying in a strange bed, he didn't remember how he had gotten there. For one scary second, he wasn't even quite sure where he was. His breathing picked up before his surroundings came into view and he realized this was a hospital room.

The hospital. Caroline had made him go...

His full memory came back shortly after. Painfully, shamefully so. He had made a complete fool of himself on more than one occasion. First at Caroline's, then here, in the freaking foyer, blowing off because of something Stefan Salvatore of all people had said. Rubbing the back of his hand across his forehead, he noticed that they had put some steri-strips over the laceration on his eyebrow and temple, and touching them with his fingers seemed to bring on the next headache, or probably rather made the old one come to the forefront of his conscience once more. Advil would have been nice right about now.

Looking down on himself, he noticed an IV drip attached to the back of his other hand, the arm thickly bandaged and feeling like it wasn't part of him at all. He wondered whether they had given him some local anesthetic or something that could explain the blissful absence of the gnawing pounding pain, but decided not to question it.

He couldn't stay, though. Not here. Soon, someone would show up and ask him things he didn't want to talk about. They might even take him with them, put him in jail. He didn't think he could do that, be kept from leaving. Not again.

Trying to sit up, he managed to unhook the IV without making too much of a mess, then, gingerly, he climbed out of bed, feeling like an old man. His body was so battered, he hadn't even really noticed it before. But now, after however many hours of involuntary unconsciousness or sleep or whatever the hell you wanted to call it, his body had only just begun to heal and was outraged at his disregard of the fact that he needed more rest. That it had been nowhere near enough.

But it had to suffice. He wasn't going to stay here and wait for the sheriff or the others to come for him. When he came to stand on his feet, he hissed in pain, his eyelids flickering as he tried desperately to hold onto consciousness. The pull to just let go was so strong. His vision blurred in a yellowish black speckled fog, and he had to clutch the edge of the bed to keep upright.

Don't bloody pass out, he ordered himself, then, when the moment had finally mostly passed, he hobbled over to a small closet on the far side, hoping he'd find the clothes he had worn before in there. If he wanted to walk out of here, he better looked the part. And a stupid hospital gown wasn't gonna cut it. But he was out of luck. Cursing to himself, he was just about to try and see whether he could at least steal some scrubs from somewhere, when the door suddenly opened and he stood face to face with Caroline Forbes once more.

Reflexively backing away, he felt himself half crash into the wall, closing his eyes briefly to take a breath. He seriously needed to get his shit together, couldn't flinch like that every time someone made a somewhat surprising movement. The world wasn't out to get him. (It wasn't that easy, though, it wasn't that bloody easy.)

"Caroline…"

"Oh, heyyy. I'm…" The smile on her face made room for concern, then a frown. "I didn't mean to startle you, am I… were you just trying to bail out of here?"

He rolled his eyes, giving her his best innocent look. He could feel the banter under the surface, hiding somewhere, almost coming through, but then the darkness took over again way too fast and he just stood there, feeling worse by the second, praying he wouldn't pass out on this girl again. She deserved better.

She had probably saved him yesterday.

When he remained quiet, just staring at her, his brain refusing to work, she took his hand, resolutely guiding him back over to the stupid bed and made him sit down.

"Sit. Down." Going by her tone, she had probably said it a couple of times. For some reason he must have zoned out. "Geez, Enzo. Are you crazy? Did they tell you that you got an infection? And that they said it was good I brought you in when I did or you might have lost the arm, not to mention your life?!"

He hung his head, pinching the root of his nose. No, he hadn't known that. "My head's about to explode."

"Let me get the nurse. I'm sure they can give you some—"

"No." His hand stopped her before she could get up, grabbing her by the wrist. When he looked up, his eyes meeting hers, she looked like she wasn't quite sure whether she should be scared of him or not. He grimaced, letting go instantly. "I'm sorry," he breathed.

"It's just some pain killers…"

"I'm alright."

She placed a hand against her hip, looking at him like a teacher. "Of course you are…" She rolled her eyes, seeing straight through him. He squared his shoulders, unable to help a sense of defiance.

But then she surprised him. Sitting down right next to him, with maybe an inch to spare between their legs, she lightly touched his hand, her fingers gently intertwining with his. Staring down at their hands, hers so soft and clean and slender, his rough and bruised, he felt a lump build in his throat again (such a familiar feeling by now) and he had to clench his teeth to keep it together.

She was only holding his hand because she had no idea what horrible things he had done with it.

"Enzo?"

Startling, his gaze moved up to her concerned her sake, he tried to plaster a smile on his face, unsure of whether it was in the least bit convincing. Her grip on his hand tightened momentarily.

"You don't need to put on a front for me, you know that, right?"

He jerked his head dismissively, chuckling very lightly. So much for the convincing smile.

"I mean it." She made him look at her.

Strangely, the touch of her hand against his cheek felt better than it should have.

But then he remembered all the things he'd said yesterday, and how upset Stefan was with him, that she was Stefan's girlfriend and that that would make things even worse. Why the hell had he even thought it was a good idea to go to Caroline Forbes in the first place?

Because he hadn't wanted to be alone and going up to the house with Damon hadn't sounded like a good idea. He had already known then that Stefan would not react well to his presence. (Not that he ever had…) And because Caroline had always been kind to him; and for some reason he used to feel like he, too, was a decent human being when he was in her company.

And because she felt safe. And he liked her, he really really liked her...

Torturing himself, he asked her what he didn't even want to know. "Is Stefan alright? I shouldn't have… said what I did. I'm sorry. I should probably go apologize to him, too."

"Uh." She wiggled a little, suddenly looking shy. Her cheeks flushed a little, making him frown. He was messing this up again, wasn't he? (He sucked at picking up on social cues.) He should have probably not ever mentioned it again, his whatever it had been (a breakdown?).

"I didn't get a chance to talk to him," Caroline mumbled. "We're, we… um, we kind of broke up. Before the party…" Raising her head, she gave him a "You know how it is" type look, rolling her eyes.

"I should probably say I'm sorry…" He smiled a small smile at her, making her smile too, despite the fact that she was obviously still torn up about it. The moment extended, both of them acutely aware of each other, of the fact that he didn't actually say "I'm sorry"...

"Alright. So…" With an abrupt movement, Caroline jumped off the edge of the bed, fixing her already immaculate hair once she stood before him, if a few feet removed. The moment was over, and he sighed quietly, waiting for the feeling of dread to wash over him again.

"Think you could help me find some actual clothes?" he then asked boldly. Since she already knew that he wasn't going to stay, he might as well try.

She inclined her head a little, crossing her arms. "Why would I want to make it easier for you to run out of here? I actually want you to stay and get better first."

He shrugged. "They patched me up. They can give me some antibiotics or whatever. I'll be alright."

"No." That mound between her eyebrows appeared. He almost smiled. He loved that mound. "That's not how it works. I don't trust you to actually take any antibiotics if no one makes you."

Rolling his eyes again. he remained quiet. Already making other plans. He'd go in search of some scrubs as soon as she was gone.

"You'll leave no matter what, won't you?"

How did she do that? Read him like an open book. He was probably incredibly predictable. He scoffed.

"Where will you go? To Damon's? He's still here, so…"

"Yeah, I know. I have my own place." If you counted that tiny hole he was renting, and that he barely ever set foot in unless he really had to. The apartment was in the worst part of town, the landlord an idiot, but rent was cheap and all he could really afford back when he first got it.

Caroline seemed surprised to hear about it. Seeing as he'd always hung out at the Salvatore boarding house, she had probably believed he actually lived there. (He kind of did…)

"You do?"

Grimacing a little, he nodded. "Anyways," he then said, bracing himself for some awkwardness. "I wanted to thank you again. I'm sorry I pulled you into this. I don't want to steal any more of your time."

She scoffed. "Sounds like you're breaking up with me too."

"I. . . What?"

Chuckling at his confused expression she explained, "The stealing time bit was pretty much verbatim what Stefan said. 'I'm sorry. I feel like I'm just stealing your time." She huffed, wiping at her cheeks as unbidden tears ran down her face. "I seem to give people that impression. That they're just a nuisance to me or something. I guess I should work on that. I'm doing it all wrong..." She paused. "You probably don't care about any of that, though."

Her chuckle became embarrassed, and he didn't know what to say. It was almost surreal to realize that of course the world had continued turning while he and the others had been gone, but it was so strange. That feeling of being disconnected was back, and he didn't know how to shake it off. It was pulling him under, and it wasn't a good feeling.

Something must have shown on his face, because suddenly she blurted, "Oh, gosh. I'm so sorry. Here I am, wallowing in self pity after everything you have been through."

"No," he rasped quickly, his voice barely complying, "you have your own struggles."

"They're nothing compared to yours." She licked her lips, looking away. Composing herself. He wanted so badly to tell her something that would make her feel better, didn't want to see all that pain in her face. But how was he going to do that when all he was was such a mess. She didn't need this darkness in her life.

"This is not a contest..."

She grinned awkwardly at his words. "Yeah. But still..."

Maybe it was time to cut the ties before she broke, and before he relied too much on her. (But he already did.)

He was spared having to say anything else when there was another knock on the door and Sheriff Forbes poked her head in, clearly surprised to see her daughter there.

"Oh," she made, looking from him to Caroline and back. "Mr. St. John, can we talk for a moment?"

He looked away, nodding tightly. It wasn't like he had a choice.

"Caroline," the sheriff said, "do you mind waiting outside?"

"Actually, I was just leavi—"

"Can she stay?" His heart almost stopped. Where the hell had those words even come from? He should have sent her on her way, he was supposed to cut the ties, he was making this more awkward than it needed to be. She shouldn't have to hear any of what he might have to tell the sheriff. (He wasn't going to say much, though. He wasn't. He couldn't…) She wouldn't want to be here. Wouldn't care. He could have at least asked her first. He wanted to roll his eyes, hit his forehead against the wall. Never in a million years would she stay, for him. Why would she?

"Uh…" The Sheriff was lost for words. Eyeing her daughter, she eventually said. "I guess that would be okay…"

He couldn't look at either of them. He needed to get out of here. The room was suddenly suffocating him, too small, too bright. He couldn't breathe properly. But then he felt an indentation next to him as Caroline sat back down beside him, grabbing his hand once more. She didn't say anything, just nudged his shoulder; and it was enough.


Stefan had had some time to process the news and his run in with Lorenzo, and still it all felt too raw. He had tried to be there for Elena last night, and she had somehow been there for him for a while, but thankfully her aunt and Alaric had been back, and so he had gone home, not surprised that his dad wasn't there, and he had allowed himself a big shot of Damon's bourbon and wallowed in his own misery for a while.

Lexi was dead. He still couldn't believe it. She was his best friend, the one person who had always understood him. Well… She had told him breaking up with Caroline had not been his best idea.

Maybe she had been right about that, too.

The way it had hurt him to see Care at Enzo's side definitely made him question his decision. He had felt so noble when he had "let her go." With college coming up and him moving so far away, he had simply felt it was best to end things before she got annoyed with him for having a female room mate or not making it back to Mystic Falls enough. He had told himself he was doing it for her. But deep down, he knew it had been a selfish decision, and now he was paying for that.

And it all came down to Enzo. It always had. The guy should have never come here, should have stayed in freaking England or wherever his family had shipped him from to live with a distant family member. Or that family member shouldn't have freaking died. Damon shouldn't have decided to have pity on that kid - when he had never shown pity for anyone before and after. He shouldn't have brought his new friend home all the time and left Stefan to fend for himself. Damon should have been more of a brother to him, not this stranger, and Guiseppe could have chosen any other freaking moment to show decency but the one where he allowed Lorenzo St. John to move in.

Stefan knew it was all irrational thinking, that he couldn't blame this kid for everything that had gone wrong in his life, but he couldn't help feeling the way he did.

Now Lexi was dead and instead of him, Enzo had shared her last moments with her. Enzo had been through the same as Damon and would always know more about it, understand it better. And now he was apparently also going for Stefan's girlfriend (ex-girlfriend, but it didn't matter, it had started long before. When he had tried so hard not to let his jealousy show).

He wasn't being fair. But none of this was fair.


...

"Brother."

Stefan had knocked and opened the door before Damon could even say "Come in," but it didn't matter. It wasn't like Damon was doing anything super secret in this godforsaken boring hospital room. Sitting on his bed, leaning sideways against the pillows so as not to aggravate his shoulder, he was flipping through the channels of the small tv above, already tired of the complex drama daytime television provided these days.

He had tried calling Elena a couple of times. When she had finally answered, sounding exhausted and emotional, they hadn't been able to keep up much of a conversation. It was his fault, of course.

She was distant, because he was. He simply couldn't bring himself to talk about what had happened, other than what he had to tell her about Jeremy. He had made sure to tell her everything. Leaving out some of the gory details, however, like that noise Jer had made as his lungs filled with his own blood. Or Damon's own jumbled feelings about it all.

"You wanted it to be you?" She had asked, and he had thought she would maybe acknowledge it as what it was, a stupid but well meant gesture. But then her tone had changed completely, and he had known that he should have just kept it to himself. "You would have died for him. I honestly… I don't even know what to think. So it would have hit me either way, I guess? There was only ever the choice between me losing my brother or my boyfriend?"

He had had no answer for her. Still didn't. What had she expected? That he told her he could have killed the Mikaelsons, or Enzo? The problem was, he knew that would be her thought. He knew it because sometimes, he thought so too. What if he had quickly stabbed Casey, then Enzo, who had already been down? With Vicky already dead that would have made three...

But it wasn't so easy. It hadn't been. Trying not to turn into a monster when a bunch of psychos wanted nothing more than that wasn't easy. He wasn't sure he had managed it. But he had certainly tried, had tried to keep his word to Kol. And he was going to stick by it. Because he had to cling to something that proved to him that there was still hope.

Elena hadn't been there. She didn't understand how you could make decisions as horrible as the ones he had made. It wasn't her fault, it was just what it was.

"You okay, Damon?"

Blinking, he returned to the here and now, managing a small smile for his brother. "I heard you had a bit of a moment with my boy Lorenzo?" he quickly deflected the attention from himself, making Stefan wince a little.

Running a hand through his hair, the younger one gave a half apologetic shrug. "Not my finest moment. I get that you all didn't have a choice in the matter, and that you've been through a lot. I just…" He visibly deflated, making Damon wish he could give his brother a pat on the shoulder at least. But Stefan was still lingering by the door, hands shoved into his pockets. Finally, he moved a little closer, searching the room for a chair.

Damon nodded over to the one standing by the tiny table close by the window, the chair Bonnie had sat in earlier, before she had gone home with her Grams. He felt a pang at the realization that she was so far away now. Almost as if he still needed to protect her. (Bonnie Bennett didn't need his protection, though. Not out here…)

"I can't believe she is gone. Lexi..." Stefan's words pierced him, it was a pain not unlike the one he had felt in his shoulder, sudden and sharp.

"I know. I'm sorry, brother." He didn't really want to ask, but he had to. "What did Enzo say?"

Stefan swallowed. His face was so unusually pale, his lips too. And did Damon smell a light whiff of bourbon on him? "Some of the more gritty details. I shouldn't have provoked him. I guess I had it coming."

Damon clenched his jaw. He was both angry at Enzo for doing that to Stefan, and worried about him, because it wasn't often that his friend snapped like that anymore. (Well, he had had good reason to…)

"He wasn't thinking straight," Damon said, watching his brother, who nodded, shoulders slumping slightly as he sat down with a sigh.

"I know. It's just… why did it have to be him, you know?"

Damon did know… "You're feeling left out again." Stefan shot him a glare that Damon returned, shaking his head, "It's my fault, too. You never did like him, did you? But." He sighed. "This is honestly not the kind of thing to be jealous about."

"I know it's fucked up, okay?! I know that…"

Damon raised an eyebrow, cocked his head. "Then stop feeling sorry for yourself! At least for that part of the story. Honestly? I'm damn sure he would trade places with you in a heartbeat if he could."

"He kinda already took over my life."

Damon couldn't help but roll his eyes. Why was he the level headed one in all of this? He was supposed to be the brother with the temper! The one getting in all the trouble. (Well, that part was still true…) He was the one that had escaped hell by a hair's breadth. "Seriously, Stefan?"

It was his brother's turn to roll his eyes. Licking his lips, he met Damon's unrelenting gaze. The older brother could tell that there were a million things Stefan wanted to say, but after a long moment, he lowered his head and settled on, "I'm sorry. I'm acting like a complete asshole. - How have you been? How did the talk with the sheriff go?"

A change of topic. Of course. Damon was sure he'd have to revisit this whole rivalry issue his brother got going, but he was kind of relieved he didn't need to do it right now. Neither of them were in the right state of mind for that, and going by what he'd heard, neither was Enzo. Things were best left unsaid for the time being.

"Went as expected," he said, an awkward silence filling the room until Stefan suddenly stood up, reating a hand on Damon's shoulder.

"You know you don't have to talk about any of it if you don't want to, right? I just want you to know that I'm here for you."

Damon pressed his lips together as unbidden emotions battled inside of him. Part of him was ready to deflect and make light of it all, but the bigger part was still half stuck in the pit and it was hard to pretend all was well when it really wasn't.

With Elena, he had felt guilty for his own feelings, his own bad experiences, had "traipsed around" as Bonnie had put it. But he couldn't do that with his brother.

"I know I overreacted with Enzo. I'll go apologize. But I hope you know you can tell me anything, if you want. Even the very worst. I'll always be here."

Stefan gave him a look, so heartfelt, so sincere and earnest that old Damon would have laughed and made fun of him - especially since the poor kid had ruffled his own hair so often that he had the whole hero hair look going again. But this was no time to laugh, and he was honestly simply... moved.

Chapter Text

 

...

[Two days earlier]

What happened after they had managed to climb out of that pool was nothing but a big blur. Some things they would never be able to piece together, to recall, and it was probably for the better.

But some things, some things stayed with them forever.

...


...

Rebekah remembered the fence, the barbed wire and shards and shards of glass lining the ground behind it, and how Enzo had taken off his shoes to give them to her, seeing as she had lost hers a while ago. (Or had she taken them off? She didn't remember that part.)

She remembered the wall of people. Climbing stairs in a daze, holding a guard in front of her, a knife to his throat.

Then everything went crazy and she didn't recall (didn't want to, didn't want to…) what happened after, when she lost sight of the others. When…

...

Until she found herself out in the open air, running through the woods, stopping a random lady in a pearly white family van and allowing the woman to drive her all the way to the nearest bus station.

She barely remembered huddling into the bus, or how the woman had kept asking whether she could call anyone (the police?) for her and she had just shaken her head and pretended all was well and for some reason no one had really paid much attention to her after that and she had made it home, still in one piece.


Enzo remembered that he made it out of the pool, adrenaline and an unquenchable will to survive his main catalysts. He had pulled himself up slowly, using his leg muscles, his feet and right arm, his left arm feeling useless and stiff, throbbing with pain. By the time he came back up, his head was smarting like crazy and he felt like he had barely escaped certain drowning.

It took him a full minute to get his breathing under control, his body to obey him, before he could walk over to where the others were already waiting, untying their hostages from the fence.

He felt so drained and tired and somehow like he wasn't quite there anymore, except. He was most definitely very much still there. Here. In this nightmare.

Later, he would have a hard time remembering how they had made it across the fence and that bed of glass shards lying strewn around the outside, a strange detail he hadn't noticed when they had first been shoved down into the pool. (The pit. As deep and dark and full of horrors as the pit in his stomach that felt like it was here to stay forever…)

He would feel the pain radiating from the soles of his feet, would remember giving Rebekah his shoes to protect her bare feet. But the glass cutting into him? Only a blurry recollection, a small little piece in a large sea of way worse memories.

The fence was a surprisingly small hurdle. One of the guards, a small black clad guy with a large beard and beady little eyes got so scared of Damon's facade of crazy that he showed them all a makeshift gate his people had made in order to enter and exit the pool area quickly. They must have come to that gate earlier, Enzo realized, but he couldn't quite remember.

The feel of Lexi's open skull against his hands, however, or the way she had looked at him, the humid warm smell of the insides of a human body, those were still at the forefront of his mind. Or the sound Mazzy's head had made against the hard floor, the strain of his muscles as he smacked her down. He had to close his eyes, concentrating hard not to pass out from a sudden mix of wooziness and disgust.

"Enzo?"

When he looked up, jaw clenched so hard it hurt, he saw Damon look at him. Concerned?

"I need you to focus." His friend sounded very insistent. Grabbing Enzo by the shoulders, he continued. "You good to go? Because I need you, man. The girls need us to get them through this crowd. I don't want to scare them, but honestly, if these guys get their dirty freaking hands on them. . ."

He didn't have to continue. Enzo knew exactly what he meant. Nodding, he pulled himself up straighter. "Yeah, I know. I'm good. Let's get going." He spoke with more conviction than he felt. But it didn't matter. It wasn't like he could give up now, leave Damon to handle all this by himself.

So when the older Salvatore, the only family he really had, pulled him in for the briefest hug, patting him on the back as he retreated to go straight for the exit, Enzo followed. No questions asked.

...

The only way out was up. Literally. The large staircase, massive and undeterred, lay ahead of them, leading straight up to where their audience - at least part of it (when had the others left? Another blank spot in his memory, another detail he had missed) - was strangely still lingering, hanging over the bannisters to watch them like they were nothing but a cute little theater act.

And that was where they went. Damon keeping Bonnie close, the poor girl looking stricken after what she had had to do, and Enzo trailing slightly behind with Rebekah, all of them using the five guards as shields as best as they could.

"There better not be any hidden mines in here or something," he heard Damon grumble, but no one said anything in return. Leave it to Damon to be the one still able to talk even after all this.

...

They passed the sea of broken glass and began climbing the stairs in a hurry. There was no time to lose. They had already lost too much of that. They had already lost too much. Period.

When they made it up toward the balcony, the people up top so abruptly exploded down the stairs like a stream of lava that they all lost their bearings. And more pieces of the puzzle.

Their group got torn apart, Damon being lifted into the air, their captured guards getting free and running, falling away. Enzo saw Bonnie's head bob up like she was drifting in an ocean of bodies, half swallowed by waves.

There were screams, Bonnie's, Rebekah's.

He fell forward onto his knees and hands, almost passing out from the jolt it sent through his left arm, but struggling to stay conscious. Because he had to, or he would die. Here on the stairs. Maybe he should.

Maybe. . .

A piercing scream, too close to him, made him fight his way up into a standing position before he could be smothered and trampled by a hundred feet. Rebekah. He saw bits and pieces of her, her shiny red skirt, rucked up way too high. Her arms flailing. A foot, not wearing his shoe anymore...

A bunch of guys had pulled her into a dark corner right beside where the stairs opened into the large balcony, and it wasn't difficult to guess what they were up to. Additional adrenaline kicking in, he propelled himself forward, shoving people out of his way, until he reached the cluster of people surrounding her.

It was instinct. The way he banged into the nearest man, slamming a fist into his nose until it made a splintering noise and the guy's hands let go of the girl to cradle his broken nose. But Enzo didn't stop there, he hit and kicked, disregarding his own safety, not caring whether he got hurt in the process. All he knew was that he needed to get her out and that he had had fucking enough.

There was a crazy level of noise everywhere, so loud that it was oppressing, that he felt like this all was not really him, or her, that this wasn't real. Couldn't be real.

When his hand abruptly touched her arm, his fingers closing around her wrist as she briefly lashed out to fight him off, their gazes met. Her eyes were wild and fearful, until she recognized him, and he pulled her up and with him, not a word spoken between them, nothing acknowledged. They were functioning, that was all. Because they had to. Because if they didn't, they would die, and not in any easy way.

They stumbled forward, getting lost in the crowd, going up and down as if with the tides, never letting go of each other's hands for fear of getting lost forever.

They saw Bonnie and Damon, on their way out, too. Still so far from safety.

Enzo closed his eyes. The world was a blur, and at the same time too vibrant, too real. Time slowed down as they ran forward, down that long hallway, people around them, behind, in front, chasing them, circling them, touching them. They would have to break through them, would have to keep running.

And they did. Somehow.

He remembered the feeling of dread and panic, the pressure from too many bodies, the tearing touching hitting kicking of too many people until his body felt like it was being torn apart.

Images of a dark clustery shadow racing toward Damon and Bonnie, him calling out to them, making them turn around just in time. Damon with blood down the front of his shirt (when had that happened? Was it Damon's? Was he okay?) Then Damon whirled back around, gathering Bonnie into his arms, shielding the girl against the large gleaming pipe someone was bringing down on them.

Enzo was trying to get to them, help them ward off their opponents, but it was so hard. It was as if he was stuck in a river of glue, only slowly being able to move, pulling Rebekah with him, Rebekah who was slowly starting to wane and crumble.

When they got to the other two, the pipe was sticking out of Damon's back before a guy with arms like a bodybuilder pulled it out again, trying to go for a follow up blow. A yell escaped Damon, blood curdling and raw, and Enzo got to him just in time before he would have fallen down.

"Stay on your feet, mate, or they'll trample you," he hissed urgently, holding the full weight of his best friend, trying to hurl him closer to the wall, out of harm's way. (But the harm was already done, and he hadn't been able to prevent any of it. He had just let it happen…)

Bonnie began pushing a piece of fabric against the bleeding wound, with no way to keep it in place.

"Shit," she cursed, "what do we do, what do we do. Don't die on me now, Damon Salvatore! I need you!" She sounded so desperate, so panicked, and he just stood there, stupidly, holding his friend up, staring at Bonnie. "What do we do?" she repeated, looking at him like she expected him to have an answer, expected him to take over somehow.

So he did. Using his injured arm to stabilize a heavily panting Damon against his upper body, he lifted his right arm to try and take off his jacket. They needed something more to stop the bleeding.

It wasn't happening. He couldn't get it done, not with Damon so immobile, not with—

"We'll use his." Bonnie's gaze met his. Suddenly, he was the one with panic in his eyes, and she seemed cool again, composed. In charge. "Help me get his shirt off," she ordered him and he did his best to comply. Together, they managed to get Damon's shirt off and wrap it around the wound in his back as best as they could, which wasn't very good, but it had to do.

"You think you'll be able to walk?" Bonnie's hands tenderly caressed Damon's cheeks. There was something between them, an intimacy that made Enzo feel like he shouldn't have been there. But he was still the main reason why his friend was still standing, so he couldn't exactly have left him.

There were still people around them, but they didn't seem to chase them anymore. They barely even acknowledged their presence, as if there was a different goal now.

To get out. Get lost in the dark.

It's what they had to do, too.

"We gotta move," he said tonelessly, tightening his grip around Damon. "You'll have to help me, mate. Come on."

With a grunt, Damon followed him, half smiling at Bonnie. "Lead the way, gorgeous," he wheezed out, making Enzo shake his head. Even now Damon managed to sound like he was just flirting.

Eventually, they moved forward, incognito among the crowd. Which was good, because they were so slow. So painfully slow…

But then. He didn't remember much about their way through the hallway after that, like it didn't matter anymore. Until there was a wall of cold cold air they crashed through as they stumbled out of the building, dazed, barely standing, still running running, always running because they couldn't slow down, not yet, not when these… people were still everywhere.

Why they escaped them, he had no real clue. They shouldn't have. It should have been impossible.

There was an abrupt silence at some point, when they stopped to catch their breaths, hidden in the woods behind the large looming house. Enzo was ready to just drop on the ground and stay there forever, but it was Bonnie who told them all they needed to go, make sure their families were okay. Get out, and away.

Rebekah was the first to run. Like a wild animal in a panic she dashed off, vanishing in seconds as if she had just been a figment of his imagination.

He remembered still holding onto Damon, Damon with blood on his shirt, holding his abdomen, looking out of it, like he wouldn't be able to make it home by himself.

He wouldn't have to. Enzo would be going with him. He just couldn't stay. Couldn't deal with the Salvatore drama. Because he didn't belong, didn't want to intrude. Because of Lexi, because he couldn't ever look Stefan in the eyes again.

There was nowhere for him to go.

...

Then how had he made it over to Caroline Forbes? And why?

He had no idea. It had just felt like the only place in the world that he could still turn to, the only person that might care...


Bonnie would never quite remember how she had gotten all the way into that dark hallway. What had happened between then and the time in the pit. She would see a hand - Damon's hand - pulling her up from a darkness of bodies that were pushing down on her from everywhere, suffocating her.

One of them had tried to suffocate her more than all the others. With his hands around her neck, squeezing her throat closed—

She didn't want to remember, she couldn't. So she shoved that memory down, far far down where it would get buried, like some others. Sadly not enough.

Jeremy's face would forever stay with her, that look of actual relief that she would live, that he could give his life to save her. The things that had happened in the pit, they were painfully chiseled into her brain.

The crunch of the glass under her feet, the feeling when the fence gate opened and they could rush through, away from the pit. But then, a haze set in, dulling all feelings, making her memory so very foggy that she didn't recall how she had made it over to the stairs, how she had managed to climb up them. All she remembered was holding Damon's hand, then losing touch, panicking as she was washed upward.

"The monsters are loose. Let them go, let them go," someone said, distinctly not Sykes, but she had heard that voice before. "Get yourselves home before the police show up."

"The fuck, man?! We can't let them get out?" The second voice sounded incredulous, and uncertain. The microphone was muffled right after, but the words had gotten out and would stay with Bonnie.

They had never planned to let them go. Of course not.

"Stay close, Bon," Damon told her at some point, when they had lost the other two, and their guards and were just trying to flit past the suddenly moving crowd. It seemed so much larger now that she was in the middle of it.

Her throat constricted. Left and right, people were grabbing for them, until… one of them got her good. A fist right into her eye socket sent her reeling, falling. Her name was yelled out, it had to be Damon calling for her.

Then that feeling around her throat. No air. No air…

Until the guy leaning over her flew to the side as if in a weird accelerated slow motion, a move out of a comic book. Blood was pouring into his eyes and he tried to lunge back up, but again, something hit him, and again, and again, until he was nothing but blubbering pulp, too close to her face, and she threw up, finally, the poor contents of her stomach splashing to the side of her as she barely managed to roll to her side.

To see Damon. There was a clang as he dropped whatever he had used to get that guy off of her, to kill him. Another one dead, and she felt nothing.

Grabbing his proffered hand, she stood up, tumbling against him, breathlessly, shakily.

"Thank you," she muttered, and startled when he kissed the crown of her head.

"Let's go."

They made it to the hallway, that dark claustrophobic nightmare that had creeped her out even before she had known what waited at the end of it, and she felt like balking, but of course she couldn't. So she trudged on, Damon's grip around her hand almost too painful, almost not enough, until someone yelled out their names behind them, a warning.

And then… Damon's face contorting into a grimace of intense pain. Her heart stopping, her brain thinking this was it, the end. It was over.

But it wasn't. Out of nowhere Enzo and Rebekah appeared, Enzo keeping Damon upright, Rebekah just staring, so obviously in shock that it stirred something in Bonnie. As if it was her mirror image, her own panic looking back at her.

Her gaze found Damon's. He was hanging on, if barely, and she had to pull herself together. For his sake. (For Jeremy's.)

But she couldn't. She couldn't. He was hit, he was bleeding. . .

"What do we do?" she asked over and over, with no one there to answer.

The panic was surging, reaching a peak, then something happened, a weird calm came over her as she saw the three others struggle to function and failing.

They had gotten this far, now they would make it to the end. So she did her best to get Damon patched up with Enzo's help. Then, summoning her last strength, she cajoled her best friend's boyfriend, cajoled them all to get moving as she led the way out of the darkness into the cool night.

She had no idea where that sudden strength, that sudden rush of adrenaline had come from, but it got her out, it got them all out, and she was still calm, still rational when she made them all go home, watched as Rebekah just sped off, guided Damon on his way with Enzo, until it was time for her to take a turn, to go home, too.

To reach Grams. And safety. The end of this nightmare.

...

Or the beginning.

As she heaved herself up the stairs, all energy leaving her in a whoosh, she collapsed on the ground, suddenly unable to move another inch.

It was all too much. It was never going to be over. Never.


Damon had orchestrated their escape, and it had worked out pretty damn well, all things considered.

Except. It hadn't.

He had almost lost another one, had almost lost Bonnie. To see her being held down like that, with that disgusting piece of scum pushing his thighs between her legs... Damon tasted bile again.

Something in him simply snapped. Getting to the guy was difficult enough. There were people between him and that creep, people that Damon saw no other way as to hit left and right with the rod he was still holding in his hands, the same one he had used to keep his hostage in check earlier. The same hostage that had escaped when they first got to the stairs and an avalanche of people had descended down on them, then up. (Or maybe he had simply lost track of directions. Along with time…).

He hit them hard, not caring about the damage he did. Hoping he did enough to keep them down and out of the way. Then that scum bag… There was no holding back.

When the guy was dead, he still couldn't stop hitting, until he noticed Bonnie throwing up nothing but clear liquid, saw revulsion on her face, and all of a sudden he felt like the dirtiest most disgusting person there was.

He did this. He alone. This was not the pit anymore. He had taken the pit with him. It was part of him.

After that moment, he wouldn't remember much. The realization darkened the world around him, until he went through the motions almost like a robot. Emotionless.

He only snapped out of it when a pain sliced his stomach in half, when a searing arrow of white heat shot through him from behind, so vast that it threatened to consume him. There was blood and shock, and Bonnie, who looked at him with so much fear and compassion and worry that he felt like he owed it to her to keep going, even though his promise was almost fulfilled.

They were almost out after all.

And then they were. Even though he didn't remember how he had even made it.

It was so cold outside, way too cold for the season, way too cold for Bonnie to wear such a short torn dress, for Rebekah too. Way too cold. There was a drizzle in the air, too, that turned into a downpour at some point. By then he was on his way home, Enzo half carrying him, or maybe completely because he didn't remember feeling the ground under his feet, and all he could think was, where is Bonnie? Is she okay?

"She's on her way home, mate. Remember?" Enzo reassured him, more than once. "Let's get you home, too."

Damon was sure he said something else, too, but he couldn't follow anymore.

The next thing he knew was Stefan opening the door, and Enzo somehow gone, and he would never know how much time he had lost there at the end right before the world turned completely…

… black.


Beast couldn't believe this was happening. This had never happened before. It was simply impossible. And even for the unlikely case that anyone would try, there were the large barbed wire fences with the well hidden gate, the perimeter warded off with glass shards, the crowd blocking the way.

Except that it had happened. Their last few surviving group members were out there, were gone.

He had tried to catch up with them, find them. But the crowd had gone crazy and then someone had mentioned police. Their live video footage had been targeted by someone on the Internet, possibly FBI, and they had to shut down everything and make a run for it.

He didn't even get to finish off the Mikaelson sister, and that probably felt like more of a defeat than anything else. Yet again they got away. At least one of them…

With a sigh, he took in the scene one last time before he made his way out.

What a blunder. He shouldn't have trusted people like Sykes and his stupid crew of beginners, not with something as big as this. The biggest game yet.

The building was deserted now, the bodies collected. Oh well. Time to move on. Make money elsewhere. At least he had learned a good deal on how to make it a better experience for everyone.

He simply had to make sure no one traced any of this back to him, to his friends. Which wouldn't be easy, but he had had more difficult challenges. He would be fine.

...

As morning dawned, Beast was on his way following the rest of them all out into the woods, and from there… Freedom. He was still free and he intended for it to stay that way.

Chapter Text

. ..

[Now]

The thing about the Mikaelsons was that they had a good name, a ton of inherited money, and what seemed to be questionable morals at times. Which was why Elijah had become one of the best defense attorneys there were. He had had a name before, but he had given it his own ring.

He was no longer known as just Mikael's eldest son. No, he had made a name for himself. People didn't come to him because of who his father was, a stupid-rich realty broker that had come from money his ancestors had amassed in ways no one wanted to talk about.

Rumor had it that the clan had lived somewhere in Scandinavia, making a deal with the devil and a witch to become rich and immortal. All fairy tales of course, but they had always amused him.

But fairy tales were fairy tales, and the realty business simply not Elijah's, and so he had set his mind to law instead. At first, it had been more out of necessity, to figure out a way to keep his siblings together. Later, to keep them out of trouble. Really, in a way he had them to thank for what had become of him. Had it not been for them always getting in trouble, especially Niklaus and Kol with their hot blooded temper, he might have never gotten this good.

Being a defense lawyer had meant defending a bunch of really shady characters along with the truly innocent. He had never minded that. It wasn't that he didn't have morals. They were just… different. But no case had ever been this difficult, this personal. He had promised his sister he would make sure she and her fellow sufferers wouldn't have to fear repercussions for what they had done, for the "murders" they committed.

After she had ripped his head off for attacking that guy in the street that was… The incident had surprised him, too. She had told them about who had been with her, had muttered to herself in the car, too, suddenly calling out, "Enzo."

"The bloke with you in that 'pit'?" he had asked her, instantly hyper alert. His hands had cramped around the steering wheel as he had shot Niklaus beside him a glance of concern.

"Yeah… in the pit. And after." Her voice had been so soft, almost dreamy, but more in a nightmarish kind of way, and all of a sudden he had just somehow snapped.

That didn't happen often. It barely ever had before. But when it did, there was generally no holding him back. Enzo was lucky Klaus had been there, too. Elijah wasn't sure he would have stopped if it weren't for his younger brother (the one who was still alive...).

Afterward, when his sister had looked at him all appalled, then ignored him for the entire remainder of the drive home, he had tried to comprehend what his train of thought had been. How he could have misjudged her words so much, misread them.

What she had endured, had watched, it had angered him so much. That there was anyone else still walking around who could somehow have been involved in her demise had sent him over the edge. He had apologized. Had told her (and himself) he would listen better from now on. He would protect her, defend her in every way possible, including as her lawyer. And that deal would now have to include Lorenzo St. John, Bonnie Bennett, and Damon Salvatore, whether he cared about them or not, it didn't matter. Rebekah cared, and that would have to be enough. It was. If this made her sleep a little better again or at least kept her from finding ever new ways to self-harm, he could live with that.

He would make sure no one put the blame on these four, he would make sure they wouldn't get seen as anything other than victims in this horrible affair.

And then he would see to it that the people behind it all would pay. He just didn't quite know how yet…


Rebekah was surprised to find out that she didn't loathe being back in their Mystic Falls home. She might not like the town, but the house was nice and airy, and so much lighter than their New Orleans one that it even kind of helped with her general state of mind. (As much as anything could help.)

Touching the sore spot on the side of her head where she had repeatedly banged it against the wall just a little while ago, she marveled at the fact that she was the only one of all four of them who had gotten away with almost no visible injuries. She was the "lucky" one, and yet she felt like that one line out of a book that she had once read, "injured without the pleasure of a scar."

There was nothing on her that showed any of the horrors, and it simply didn't feel right. Like she wasn't even allowed the physical pain to go with it, to tell her she wasn't just imagining it, hadn't just had a very bad dream. They had died down there, fought, she had barely made it out unscathed, and now all she wished for was a little bit of outward pain to mirror her inner one.

As the quietness of yet another night had descended upon the house and the city, she silently tiptoed over to the kitchen, careful not to wake her sleeping brothers. Idling in the doorway for a while, she tried to make up her mind, tried to shake herself out of her weird stupor.

Elijah had been so upset, so feral. He probably had no idea how much he had scared her. People had this in themselves, this violence, and she didn't know how to live with that. With how easy it was to hurt, even kill another person.

Her heart was aching.

This just wasn't right. Poor Enzo had paid for Elijah's outburst and somehow she felt responsible for that, too. Maybe if she had made herself clearer, if she had pulled herself together enough to appear normal, he wouldn't have gone off like that.

It was all her fault. Kol, too. She had killed her own brother, assisted in his horrible horrible suicide at the very least. She swallowed, trying to keep the tears at bay that were already burning in her eyes.

That look he had given her, that amount of love that he had really ever allowed to show… it had broken her heart. She wanted him back. Wanted to be annoyed at him again, not miss him like amputees missed their limbs, the phantom pains torturing them, taunting them forever.

Strolling through the wide kitchen, tracing cabinets and islands with her fingertips, she eventually stopped in front of the wooden block of knives. Caressing their hilts, she picked on, just a small paring knife, and pulled it out, touching the sharp blade with her fingertips. Just a small cut, a little bit of blood, and she would feel better. Right?

Somewhere where no one could see…

With a sigh, she pulled her shirt off her shoulder and upper arm enough so that she could reach the tender skin there. A small cut, not even half an inch. A trickle of red…

Closing her eyes, she took a few deep breaths, wallowing in the searing feeling. Then, quickly pressing a tissue against the tiny prick, she pulled her shirt back up and made sure to clean the knife before putting it back where it belonged.

Maybe this would help. At least for a little bit.


The hospital was not her favorite place to be, but Sheila Bennett would do anything for her granddaughter, and picking her up from there was certainly a very good reason for a visit.

When she got there, Bonnie was already waiting outside, surprising Sheila a bit. Admittedly, she had begun to worry about Bonnie being outside alone, after… after her ordeal, as she had started to call it, for lack of a better word. The horrors her poor grandchild had had to endure, they were too scarring, too terrible to be described with any word however.

Part of the reason why she had trusted Liz Forbes with questioning Bonnie was that she knew the sheriff would go about it with the right kind of candor, but also gentleness. Like a mother. That Bonnie and Liz' daughter were best friends, that Bonnie had been over at their house so often, had given Sheila the hope that it would be easier for Bonnie to open up about it all.

She had tried, she definitely had. And Bonnie had talked a little bit about what had happened, some of the gruesome details. Jeremy's death… But she couldn't shake the feeling that the girl was still hiding some things, things she maybe thought she couldn't tell her Grams.

"Bonnie…" Putting a smile on her face, she walked over to her now, extending her arms to wrap her in a quick hug.

"Hi Grams." Bonnie's voice was soft, quiet. It had lost a little of the rasp, her vocal cords probably having had some time to recuperate from whatever had made her so hoarse. (Screaming, she couldn't help but think. Bonnie must have screamed.)

"Ready to head home with me, baby girl?"

Bonnie gave her a look. The two women had intertwined their arms and were walking toward the old car Sheila called her own. Not a fancy or pretty ride, not even one of those reasonable family vans, just a good old dependable Ford.

"You haven't called me that in forever…"

Sheila smiled. "You're still my baby girl. You always will be." She paused, nudging her granddaughter lightly, lovingly. "Come on, let's get you home. We'll make some tea. Turn on the tv… We can ask Caroline over if you want?"

Bonnie gave a sigh.

"Or just quiet, if that's what you prefer. - Did they give you any prescriptions or anything we need to take care of first?"

"Nah. I mean… I am to take it easy for a couple of days, take some ibuprofen for the pain. Nothing major." She paused, looking a bit sheepish. They had just arrived at the car, Sheila was already opening her door when her gaze met Bonnie's over the roof of the vehicle.

"What is it, sweetheart?"

"They gave me the numbers of a few therapists. They seem to think talking about it will help me, but I'm not sure I can do it. Not with… not with a stranger."

Sheila's shoulders sank a little. She felt so awful for the poor child. If only she could take on some of her pain, she would. "It's a good idea, Bonnie."

"Talking with Sheriff Forbes was already so…" She trailed off, averting her gaze. Then, with sudden determination, she got into the car, waiting for Sheila to follow.

"I know," Sheila said, patting her grandchild's knee lightly when she settled in next to her. "Give it time. You just got out of that place. Everything is so very fresh. But I promise you, you're not alone and I'll be there for you through it all." She smiled encouragingly, lovingly.

Bonnie beside her gave a heaving breath.

"Can I tell you something?" She suddenly asked with a tone that made her Grams frown.

"Of course, child. Anything."

"Is it bad of me that I really want to be with Damon right now? I mean," she began stuttering, "not like in a romantic sort of way or anything. Jeremy just died, of course… But. I don't know. He just… he feels safe. He understands."

Sheila's frown softened, turned into a sad smile. Bonnie had said "Jeremy died", not that she had killed him. Deep down her granddaughter knew she wasn't really the one responsible for his death. There was hope… But of course she didn't say that to her. Instead she replied, "Of course that's not bad, sweetheart. In fact, it's perfectly normal. You two have been through a lot together. That creates a powerful bond."

Bonnie nodded, trying to smile. "You always know what to say, Grams. Thank you."

"Don't thank me, child. I fully intend on making you watch a lot of that Australian soap I've been following lately." She winked, trying to stop the moment from becoming too laden. Bonnie had done enough soul baring in the last couple of days. For her to have admitted her need to be close to Damon seemed huge, especially considering that Bonnie knew Sheila wasn't exactly a fan of the Salvatores; and she didn't want Bonnie to feel like anything that made her cope a little better could in any way be bad. She also didn't want her to dwell on it, question herself and her need for closeness so shortly after the death of her boyfriend.

Bonnie needed a break. And Sheila fully intended on making sure that she got it. Even Liz Forbes and her case work wouldn't come between them.

That handsome lawyer that had introduced himself to her earlier had assured her he would take matters into his hands and leave Bonnie out of it as much as he could, and Sheila was going to hold him to his word.


After her mom was finally done with her questioning (or rather, after she was probably too tired of Enzo's evasion tactics; he really wasn't very forthcoming), Caroline had sat with him for a while longer, making sure he was okay.

Well, not really. Because clearly, the dazed young man that sat on his hospital bed, barely saying another word, was far from okay. Not even when she had quite boldly kissed him on the forehead, mirroring his own gesture from before, had he given much of a reaction. The tiniest curl of his lips that, with a lot of good will she could read as a smile.

So before she eventually left him to go over to his apartment, having promised him she would get him some clothes of his own, she came up with an idea. (Why had she even offered to go? She had no business being in that part of town, had no business being in his apartment all by herself, and when Liz found out…)

To make sure he wasn't going to try and leave the hospital again like he had wanted to earlier, she asked his doctor, Luisa Rodrigues, to put him in the same room as Damon. Knowing full well that it could turn messy, could even end in a full blown disaster the moment Stefan came to visit his brother, she still felt like this might be the only way to help him. Help them both. She had seen how Damon had struggled earlier, how Bonnie (Bonnie, not Elena) had been able to ground him. Like there was magic between them, two people that had gone through hell together and that now relied on each other to keep going, to leave that hell in the past, and Caroline could only hope that that magic bond might extend to Enzo, too.

Because if not, she wasn't sure she alone could save him from being pulled back into the dark. She would try her best, though, that much was sure. She wasn't going to lose another friend to that horrible "pit." (And when had Lorenzo St. John graduated from "half-stranger" to friend?)

"Ms. Forbes, I can't make any promises," the busy seeming doctor just told her, but with a half-smile on her face, making Caroline feel the tiniest bit better.

"It's just, they're friends," she felt the need to explain again, "they've been through a lot together and I thought… if they could just be together, it could benefit them both."

"They need rest, too," Dr. Rodrigues pointedly noted, raising her eyebrows as if to highlight the importance of her words. Caroline got the impression the doctor thought the boys would keep each other up when they were together.

"Please," she begged. "I know these guys. Neither of them is going to stay here very long if they get a chance. If you put them together, though, they might feel a little more inclined to do so, mostly because they'll try to look out for each other."

"Don't you think they might also just egg each other on? Assist each other in leaving against medical advice?"

Caroline pressed her lips together, feeling caught. She hadn't thought about that, but the doctor might have a point. Still, if she was being honest, she'd prefer Enzo and Damon at least relying on each other while "escaping" this place than doing it on their own.

If only Bonnie was still here, she'd be able to keep them in check. Bonnie had been released earlier, however, as a short text message exchange had revealed. (Which was a relief, though. Care couldn't wait to see Bonnie in the comfort of her friend's own home. Maybe it would be a little easier there to reconnect, and to offer Bonnie a listening ear if she wanted it…)

To the doctor, she said, "Honestly, I don't know. What I do know, though, is that Enzo - Mr. St. John - will bail out of here the minute I come back with his clothes if he doesn't share a room with Damon. These guys…" She stopped, giving the doctor a look. Feeling like she was fighting a losing battle that she should probably not even bother with, she decided to just give up. It wasn't like Damon or Enzo would thank her anyway.

To her surprise, the tiny doctor nodded her head. "Actually," she said, "Let me consult my psych colleagues. If they agree with you that it's a good idea, it'll be a done deal. No promises, though. They might see it differently, and since you know what your friends have been through, you'll understand that psych's decision will have to be heeded."

Caroline's eyes lit up. This was as much of a success as she could have hoped for. She was quick to say, "Of course! Thank you," knowing that the doctor had already said more than she probably should have to a non-family-member. The knowing pointed look Dr. Rodrigues gave her was all she needed to send her quickly on her way.

What if she was wrong, though? What if there was more to it all and Damon and Enzo in the same room was not a good thing? She really hoped that wasn't the case. She needed there to be a little hope for all of her friends' recoveries. Their physical wounds could probably (hopefully) be healed all right, but what worried her was the things that lay hidden, the terrors that had left invisible marks on them all.

She had glimpsed them, very obviously (and up close) on Enzo, but also on Bonnie, Damon, and even on the seemingly unblemished Rebekah, who, outwardly, had looked like nothing was amiss. Caroline knew better, though, and it was the way the Mikaelson girl had acted, just the way she had moved, really, that made her see just how deep the experiences in that so-called Pit must have cut into them all, and it sent a shiver down her spine.


The Gilbert house was quiet, no bustle, no "Welcome back" exchanged when Jenna got home. Elena felt a little bad about it, even apologizing briefly when she noticed it, way later, but right then all she could do was keep herself upright, fighting to not break down.

It seemed like their initial hug was going to last forever, Elena simply unable to let go of her aunt, the one blood relative she had left.

Jeremy was dead and she couldn't wrap her head around that. Without having seen him, without a body to prove the verity of the others' statements, the information simply didn't want to register with her brain, it seemed. Not even going back over what they had told her, what Liz Forbes had reiterated later, too, made her completely believe it. At the same time, she knew it was true. They wouldn't lie about it, her best friend and her boyfriend, not about something as grave as that, she knew it. It was just…

He couldn't be dead. Because if he was it meant she was alone, and it meant that he had spent his last few moments suffering horribly. Hours of torment in that horrible pit they all had been thrown into. Part of her almost wished she had been there.

At least he had had Bonnie. But while the thought was comforting in one way, it was painful in another. Because Bonnie had also killed him. Rationally, she knew it wasn't really Bonnie's fault at all. Bonnie would have never done such a thing, not even in that place. Had Jeremy not injured himself that badly, Elena was certain Bonnie would have never picked up that knife and ended it for him.

And yet.

Emotions weren't always logical and until she could figure out how to deal with her sudden unwarranted hatred of her best friend, she would have to stay away from her. That Bonnie and Damon seemed to be extra close after all that had happened, only complicated the matter.

It was as if, all of a sudden, she was the outsider, the odd one out. She had no clue about anything they were talking about or were going through. Even Caroline seemed to have more of an idea. Maybe she should talk with her, figure out from her how best to deal with the… the returned. Care at least seemed to know how to handle it, after all she had been taking care of Enzo ever since he'd gotten back from that same place her boyfriend had been, her other best friend. And her brother. Her dead brother. (What a horrible, horrible truth.)

"Can I get you anything?" Jenna was looking at her with concern when they had finally sat down on the couch together, but Elena shook her head. She didn't need anything. Other than her brother. And for her boyfriend to be there for her, but for understandable (and yet not!) reasons Damon couldn't be there for her, couldn't be her rock or her shoulder to cry on, and that stung. More than it should have. (There it was again, rationality battling with emotion…)

With a sigh, she turned to Jenna, leaning against her a little for comfort. "I talked to Stefan," she muttered. "At least he understands a bit. Matt, too. How it is to not know. I mean, we are all waiting here desperately for someone to tell us it was all a mistake, because until they show us their bodies, we can't truly believe what they've told us. Unless I get to see Jer's body, I just can't fully accept that he's gone."

"I know…" Jenna's sad frown stung her heart. They were all grieving; Elena knew she didn't have a monopoly on suffering, and yet it felt like that sometimes. All the bad things always seemed to be happening to her. Why?

"Stefan said he'd be here later, I hope you don't mind?" She suddenly remembered, but Jenna merely nodded.

"Of course not. It'll be good for you to have each other." Her aunt paused, mouth moving as if she wasn't quite done yet, as if she was contemplating her next words carefully. When Elena heard her next words, she knew why. "What about Damon? Did you go and see him?"

She shook her head. Gnawing on a finger, she stared down at her feet. "No. Not after…"

"After he and Bonnie told you about Jer?"

"Uh huh. I just… I can't see them right now? I know it's stupid, it's not like they wanted to do any of it, but..." She breathed out heavily, unsure of how to even put her whirlwind of contradictory feelings into words.

"It all doesn't make sense," Jenna said quietly, nodding. Elena gave her a look.

"Yes… I called him, today… For some reason we had nothing to say to each other. I felt so distant. I don't know how to deal with all this. And then I feel guilty for actually feeling something when I'm with Stefan. Like we have a connection, you know? In a way it feels like I'm betraying Damon, though." Abruptly, she sat up straighter, flattening invisible creases in her pants. "I'm sorry, I'm all over the place."

"That's okay, sweetie. You've just gotten some really bad news. Nobody expects you to be functioning as well as you are."

"Am I, though? Functioning? Because it really doesn't feel that way. It doesn't even feel like it did when mom and dad died. And I was there for that. Shouldn't I know better what it feels like to be part of something so horrible? - I guess now I finally understand how Jer felt after the accident, the only one who hadn't been there, who had escaped. He was left to suffer just like us, but in a way it must have felt like he didn't have the same right to be upset. I wish I could tell him I understand it now. You know? I wish I could hug him and hold him and tell him I get it…"

Her words wouldn't come anymore, chased away by tears, until all that was left was pain and sobs and Jenna holding her like she had wanted to hold Jeremy.

Just one last time.


There's no scaling, no competition with grief and trauma. Yet Damon almost felt like he had gotten off easier compared to some of the others. He hadn't actually lost a loved one.

While Jeremy's death had gutted him, while he had liked the boy a lot, his death didn't devastate him as much as it probably should. Maybe something was just very wrong with him, maybe that's why he felt so disconnected from his emotions when it came to the dead.

Jeremy, Vicky, Lexi… he was grieving more for poor Stefan than for her, really. And how screwed up was that? At least Stefan was still alive. Things would be very different if he weren't. But Damon didn't want to go there. He couldn't. A life without his brother… No.

That moment when it had looked like Enzo was for sure going to get offed had been the closest he had come to utter despair down there in the pit. After the loss of Jeremy, after watching poor Bonnie's half breakdown, he was pretty damn sure that he wouldn't have handled the kid's death very well. At all.

There had always been that strange connection between them, like somehow the Brit understood his darkest side and made it tolerable to live with it.

And now? Now that they had truly seen the darkness and felt what it could do to a person, to them, would he still feel that connection? Or would it be an intolerable reminder of things he'd like to bury and forget alongside the bodies of the dead. (If they were ever even found…)

It was just so his luck that he would soon find out. His favorite nurse (yes, he already had one. Two days in and he was already grading them…) had just informed him that he was going to share his room, starting today. For a second his heart rate had peaked, perspiration instantly appearing on his forehead, as if a room mate was somehow a threat. (He knew it wasn't a very logical thought, but fuck it if anything in his life still adhered to freaking logic.) Then the nurse had told him it was going to be Enzo. And somehow, Damon had felt both instant relief and a sudden lump in his throat. They hadn't seen each other since… since getting the hell out of dodge.

Aside from the little info Caroline had given him, he didn't know how his friend had fared. How he was doing now. It didn't help that Bonnie had just been released.

...

"It'll be fun," she had said, sitting on his bed. "It'll be like college roommates. And he's your friend." She had smiled, her shiner already looking a tiny bit less garish, her lip healing well, her throat covered by a wide and flowing scarf. She had almost looked… okay. And yet he had seen the cracks in her facade, still there, wide and oozing and raw, so obvious to him because he knew where to look.

She was far from okay. But physically, you could barely tell anymore.

They had both wanted to make light of their situation, he, because anything else terrified him too much. And she? Probably for the same reasons.

But then his fear had overwhelmed him again. What if all of this had ruined his remaining relationships? With the few people he cared about? He and Elena were strangely distant, Guiseppe hadn't even visited, Stefan was broken, and it was his fault. (No it wasn't… But why did it feel that way?) If he lost Enzo now, too, he'd have no one left.

"You won't lose him." Bonnie's voice had been so soft. Like a breath against his cheek as she had lifted her arms to wrap them around him. "And you'll always have me…"

He had closed his eyes, breathing her in, wondering how often they had already done this since they had gotten out. Hug each other, and not just lightly either, but like their lives depended on it, like they could never ever let go again.

Why did it feel so right?

Because he didn't want to drown in the darkness, he wanted to swim to the top and breathe again. And with her, he could do that somehow. She didn't drag him back down, she didn't need his apology, didn't need him to pretend all was okay, or keep quiet about the pit. She was simply there, had been there, and she understood.

So how was he going to do this next step without her there? When he had relied so heavily on her the last couple days? She had been the one to pull them all out that last crucial bit. When everyone had been too drained to function for much longer, it had been her to keep them going, force them to go on, and he wasn't sure he could take these next steps without her close. And how silly was that?!

Telling himself to keep it the hell together, he took a few deep breaths, forcing himself to stay calm, to just wait and see. He could do that. This was the freaking hospital. And they were gonna send Enzo in as his new room mate. Not the pit. No one was going to make him fight his own friends anymore. No one was going to get killed.

When the door eventually opened, and a good natured chatty little nurse wheeled in his moody looking friend, Damon was surprised to feel his chest tighten so much. (Please, not a panic attack, that would be so awkward. Poor Enzo would probably be pretty freaked out if Damon did that to him now…)

Slowly, he got up off his bed, having to roll himself to his side first in order to not strain his abdominal muscles too much. Trying to smile at the nurse, he came to stand, then started walking slowly over as the woman wheeled Enzo further into the room.

She wagged a finger at him. "You're not supposed to get up so much, Mr. Salvatore."

"Relax." He read the name on her shirt. "Mimi. This is my friend Enzo, and I wanted to welcome him to my humble abode. You can't fault me for being a good host and getting up for that, can you?"

There. He could totally still do it. Sound nonchalant, smile. You should see me now, Bon. I'm totally doing it, he thought, then allowed himself to actually look at Enzo, who was kind of just staring up at him for a moment there.

"Damon." It almost sounded like a question, but not quite. No smile, but something close to it playing around the corners of his mouth. Slowly, as slowly as Damon had gotten up out of his bed, Enzo stood up from the wheelchair, instantly scolded by Mimi again.

"What is it with you boys not listening to what the nurses tell you, huh? I'm supposed to wheel you over to the bed and then you two are supposed to lay down, stay in bed and get some rest!"

"Mimi…" Damon put a finger to his lips, slightly shushing her. "We're totally having a guy moment here, and you're ruining it with all this talk."

Then he went over to Enzo without another warning, despite being so slow apparently still fast enough that he noticed the other man stiffening for just a moment, almost flinching away (he would have probably done the same if their roles had been reversed), then they embraced each other like they hadn't done in a very long time, or maybe even ever. It should have felt more awkward. (But it didn't.) They should have probably made fun of it, too, of their stupid emotions getting in the way of their manly self-images. (But they didn't.)

"It's good to see you, man," he rasped, feeling his friend slowly relax a little. "It's so good to see you."

"You too, mate..." So quiet.

Damon closed his eyes.

Chapter Text

Days too late, Sheriff Liz Forbes had finally put a team together to investigate the case of "The Pit." Consisting of detectives from both Mystic Falls and the next town over, where the students had gone missing - the same students now confirmed to have been in the pit, too, it was a large team that was now canvassing the area Bonnie Bennett had roughly pointed out to them.

Liz would have liked to bring her here, to help them, but a psychiatrist had strongly advised against it, and Bonnie's own refusal to come near the place again had made it pretty much impossible to get her to come of her own free will. (Not that she would have really made her go, it was just... she was desperate.)

She had already brought Rebekah out here, but the girl had just stood there, lost, her eyes completely blank as if she didn't remember a thing. It had been downright eerie. And Klaus Mikaelson had not been pleased...

Now she was here again, with yet another Mikaelson, freaking Elijah standing right next to her, and his mere presence was enough to set her off. He hadn't even said a word yet. She was trying her damnedest to ignore him while she gave orders over her radio or to the people coming over to her, but it was hard when she felt like her every move was monitored.

Because he was here in his new capacity as Rebekah's, Bonnie's, Damon's, and Enzo's lawyer as he had so very kindly informed her.

"Really?" she had asked him with incredulity and maybe a trace of… disrespect? Contempt? "You. A defense lawyer. What exactly makes you think they'll need you as their lawyer?"

He had given her this… this absolutely smug look. (And that little smile…) Raising his eyebrows, he had informed her that he couldn't talk about any of that, not with her. "It's precautionary," he had allowed after a brief pause, abruptly more serious. "Because of the nature of the 'things' my sister and her friends were forced to do…"

Liz had understood it then. Of course. Although she highly doubted these kids needed Elijah Mikaelson and his questionable reputation to allay their fears of getting prosecuted for what they had clearly only done under distress. Had been forced to do. No judge would ever send them to prison for that.

It's what she had asked him then, too, point blank, with a scoff. "Come on. No judge would ever prosecute them for that. Right?"

"Like I said," he had evaded, "it's a precaution. The law can be fickle. You should know that…"

Had he really winked at her or had she seen things that hadn't been there? Hard to tell. Either way, here she was, and here he was, and it finally looked like they were on to something.

Damon and Enzo had only had rather spotty memories of the location, of their walk back to the town, something the consulted psychiatrist has attributed to both mental and physical trauma. Damon had been half unconscious by the time they had made it out of that mysterious house, while his friend Enzo (Caroline's Enzo…) had been hit over the head so hard that a lot of his recollections were hazy at best. (The psychiatrist had also pointed out that the kid was clearly refusing to talk, a self-preservation type reaction a lot of his PTSD patients apparently showed.)

Really, they hadn't been much more helpful than Rebekah.

If it hadn't been for Bonnie, they might have never known where to even look. It wasn't like this area was particularly illustre or exciting. No, it was right there, smack dab in the middle of Mystic Falls, the only interesting part being that there were a lot of houses located around the large forest all the kids had mentioned.

Trees. Enzo had only remembered trees. Two, a few, or maybe just one? He couldn't remember. Didn't know whether the fog in his brain had been an actual fog outside. Damon had remembered "a forest so thick it was like a freaking jungle or something", and stumbling over a ton of exposed roots. Rebekah had remembered coming out of the darkness and seeing city lights. A mysterious lady in a car that no one had been able to track down yet.

Bonnie, however, she had led them here. She remembered. The trees. Sparse at first, then thicker, than thinning out. A little like the woods behind the Lockwood mansion. "There shouldn't have been anything there," she had told Liz with an almost dreamy voice, the kind psychiatrist and her Grams sitting in on their conversation, and Liz had seen the doctor give her a sign to just let Bonnie speak for a bit, no interrupting.

Liz had begun to see a picture unfold. A house, old, large enough to hide a big pool inside. (It shouldn't be that difficult to find that in the city's registry. There would have to be a plan for that house lying around somewhere. And yet they hadn't found anything so far.)

Four kids, tired, exhausted, injured. Dazed, and in shock. One of them - Bonnie Bennett - taking the reins at the very end there, when everyone else seemed to have been too out of it to function much anymore. She had forced them to keep going. To make it out of there. Away from that house, through the woods, toward the nearest road, and from there? Home.

They had split up again, that much Liz knew. But how everyone had made it back to their families (or to Caroline in Enzo's case, which still slightly baffled her, although since finding out he had been a foster kid until a couple years ago, she understood how no one seemed to have been looking for him.), she had no idea.

There was a huge gap between them getting out of their "prison" and back home, just like there were huge gaps in their stories. Inconsistencies. Like either they honestly didn't remember, or they were not telling her the whole story.

"Sheriff?"

"Hm?" Turning to look at a young detective who had appeared in front of her, she pushed her thoughts to the side for the time being, trying to focus on the task at hand.

"You might want to come, I think we've found it."

Liz tensed. Raising herself to her full height, she looked over to Elijah, exchanging a glance.

"Mind if I tag along?" His eyes were dark, a frown visible on his features. She hadn't noticed it before, but behind his aloof facade, behind his cocky lawyer act, she could suddenly see the worried brother. He cared. And now he seemed nervous with the anticipation of seeing where his younger brother supposedly lost his life, where his sister suffered trauma.

Solemnly nodding, patting him on the shoulder (why, Liz? Why did she do that? Physical contact with Elijah Mikaelson was the last thing she needed…), she started following the detective into the woods.

"Let's go."


If a house could look evil, this one actually did. Old, not very well kept up, it was partly disintegrating, part of the windows in the back were actually barred, leaving only the front to look like this place was still inhabited.

There was a huge yard around it, with an unwelcoming metal fence, and in the light of day the chipped gray facade looked like it had seen better days, and like someone had made a very strange choice of color.

Elijah involuntarily shivered, forcing himself to stand up straighter as they had ended their walk around the premises.

"Okay, here's the deal. This is an ongoing investigation and I'd rather—"

"I'm going in with you." No debate. He wasn't going to stay behind and let these people destroy any evidence. He needed to see this place for himself, needed to see everything.

"You'll have to put these on." The detective was holding out a plastic coverall and covers for his shoes. Great, he'd be looking like a moon man, or a lab rat. Whatever. It wasn't like he had to impress anyone with his devilish good looks out here or anything.

"Ma'am?" The detective seemed a bit fidgety. He frowned, paying close attention while he and the sheriff were putting the ridiculous outfit on. "Sheriff?"

"Detective?"

"Um…" The young woman shot him a sideways glance, then looked straight at Liz Forbes. "I haven't been in very far, but… Roberts said there's a bunch of… blood…" The last word was a mere whisper, he almost hadn't caught it. Almost. Blood. So this was really it.

...

"Sir?"

"Elijah?"

When he looked up, Liz was almost standing right in front of him, a hand on his shoulder. He stared from that into her face, moving his head very slowly as he did. There was sudden concern in her features, concern that he couldn't quite place. Concern for him?

"Are you alright? I know this is a lot to take in. I really don't think you should…"

"My brother might still be in there…"

Pressing her lips together, she nodded. "Which is exactly why you'll let me go in first. I promise you I'll come and get you as soon as I've taken a tour around the place. Then we can go in together. But let me do this on my own first." Her expression had softened considerably, and he had no idea why he felt so frozen, why he didn't say anything to her in return. "Okay?" she asked, and he eventually nodded.

Kol could still be in there… It would become real.

With a last nod and a smile, Liz went on her way, and he actually stayed behind, waiting.

Inside the house, the air smelled musty and used. There was a deep gray haze over everything, making it hard at times to see. There was a large long hallway, a man in a white plastic coverall bending down to collect samples from a dark spot on the ground as Liz walked by.

"Blood," she said, and the man looked up to nod at her.

"Most likely, sheriff. You might wanna follow the hallway, Link's already waiting for you further down. They found the pool."

She grimaced at him.

Klaus could see her from behind the large protective goggles and mask he had put on to disguise his appearance. To her, he would look like just another one of her people, examining this horrible place. He had seen his older brother out there with Caroline's mother, had seen him obey the woman's orders to wait outside.

But he wouldn't stay behind and wait. He was going in, would keep an eye on her, would see for himself what Rebekah had talked about. And if Kol was still here, he wouldn't let them just treat him like part of a crime scene. He'd make sure his brother was treated with the respect he deserved.

His chest tightened uncomfortably at the thought of finding his little brother here. Forcing himself to shut off his emotions for the moment, he went deeper into that house, always staying a little behind the sheriff, busying himself with pretending to inspect a stain here or there, a shard of glass or a piece of dirt whenever she turned around.

"You!" She suddenly called out, making him freeze. "Do me a favor? Get Link to come out of that pool or 'pit'," she airquoted, "and give me the tour. His eyes see more than anyone's, and I need to know what the hell happened here."

Swallowing, he nodded at her, mouthing a "Yes ma'am" so quietly that she wouldn't be able to hear his voice.

Bloody hell, he'd be down there before the sheriff. He'd be going into that pit…

"And tell him to hurry. I'll wait here."

He half stumbled off, before regaining his footing, pretending to know where he was going, pretending he had been in there before. Following the long hallway, he soon came to an opening, a wide mouth that turned into a large staircase leading down. But first, he saw the huge balcony spanning the width of the large hall or room beneath. Rebekah had told them about it. How she had felt like an animal at the circus, having people stare down at her, watching her every move. She had been so exposed down there, so vulnerable.

An invisible fist squeezed his heart, he tried to take deep breaths to battle the feeling, but it wasn't easy. He was so angry, so bloody angry.

Closing his eyes for just a moment, he continued his walk, following the stairs down. Deeper and deeper he went, hearing the noise of his feet reverberate, even with their plastic covers. Until he got to the bottom, and was in the actual room where it happened. Just a few feet from the pool.

Rebekah's Pit.

"Watch it, there. Bunch of glass and barbed wire lying around," a chubby looking plastic blob was calling out to him from where he could see a large fence of barbed wire spanning the outlines of a pool.

What the bloody hell was this place?

"You don't wanna rip your shoes apart."

"Thanks." His voice sounded foreign, he could barely get it to work. "Found any bodies?"

"Nah, man. Must have been discarded somewhere else." The guy pointed behind him, where he must have just exited the pool. "There's some dang gnarly bloody tracks down there. Looks like a horror movie."

Klaus' stomach revolted. Clenching his jaw, he had to wait a few seconds before he remembered why he was here. Slowly walking closer, he could eventually peek down into the depth of the pool.

"Uh, Sheriff wants you to give her the tour," he offhandedly told the other guy, assuming this was Link, never taking his eyes off the darkness down in the pool.

The other man sighed. "I'll better get up there, then. Man, she ain't gonna like this. Those poor kids…"

"Uh huh…" Klaus nodded. Not paying attention anymore, he just kept walking.

"You here for the weapons?"

"The weap—? Uh, yeah."

"Might wanna bring a bunch of bags, man. There's a ton of stuff down there. Blood spatter crew's already taking care of most of the rest…"

The guy was right. The pool was swarming with a herd of white clad people, all busily collecting samples.

He needed to know where his brother had died. He needed to see…

"The dead," he asked before Link passed him to get to the stairs, hoping his voice would hold. "Where'd you think they got killed?"

Link turned around, staring at him. Then he pointed in a couple of rough directions. "Hard to tell for sure. There's a shit ton of blood. Sheriff said at least one of the survivors got hurt pretty bad down here, too, so it's difficult to say anything for certain. kid could have left a lot of blood down here, too. But yeah, man, I don't know. Just my guess."

"Right. Thanks mate."

The man nodded, looking slightly puzzled for a moment, then went on his way. "Yeah," he mumbled, more to himself than to Klaus. "This shit gets to you. Fucked up…"

Klaus exhaled when the guy was out of sight, feeling a little surreal. He wouldn't have much time before the sheriff got down here, before someone might ask questions and realize he had no business being here.

His shoes crunched on the ground as he walked over the glass and barbed wire strewn floor surrounding the pool and went past the giant multi-fortified barbed wire fence of some sort that lined the entire thing. Once he had stepped through, a weird smell hit him, and that's when he realized that the bottom of the pool was filled with water. Not much, not enough to fully get rid of some dark spots of what could only be the blood the other guy had mentioned, but enough to probably wash off fingerprints and mess up a lot of DNA-samples that surely would have been down there. Whoever had done this, they had a method. Had probably done this before. Klaus stored away that information, making sure he'd follow it up later.

Briefly, he contemplated climbing down into the depth, but something kept him back. There was no knowing where exactly Kol had died. He wasn't here anymore. Not in the house. Klaus had trouble breathing. Maybe outside…

If there were that many dead, he doubted someone would have been able to take them all someplace far. No, it was likelier that they'd be found somewhere close.

He'd get his brother home, and he'd get him justice. And Rebekah. No one messed with his family, especially not with his younger siblings. A long time ago, they had lost their youngest brother, and he had sworn himself something like that would never happen again.

But now it had, and someone had to pay.


Tyler didn't really know how to handle the whole situation. How to be there for Matt, how to forgive himself for sleeping with that girl right after breaking up with Vicky. How to forgive himself for having pushed her to break up with him and go with those people. Go to her own death.

It was too painful. But what could he do? He had to be the strong one. For his friends. Had no right to grieve. She hadn't been his girlfriend anymore, she…

She was dead and he still loved her, and he would never be able to tell her how upset he was that she had gotten herself killed. Why couldn't she have gotten out like the others? Why did she go in the first place? Why couldn't she have gone home with him?

Sighing, shaking his head, he stopped in the middle of the woods surrounding his home. He had gone on a run, trying to burn some energy off, trying to come to grips with it all, but it wasn't working. Sweating, and out of breath, he bent over to cool off a little, to stretch, to think.

That's when he noticed the strange tracks on the still slightly damp ground. Frowning, he stooped down until he could touch them, his hands sweeping a few leaves and broken twigs out of the way. Was this from a car? Who the hell would drive a car this deep into the forest, though? Not to mention, on their property.

Since he didn't exactly have any better plans (moping around and trying to get Matt to play stupid boring video games with him didn't count...), he decided to see where they led and was only half surprised to find them stop by the old cellar his forefathers had once dug into the ground to deal with their slaves. He felt a coldness rush up his spine at the thought. The cellar always gave him the creeps.

Someone probably dumped their freaking trash down there again. It had happened before. Tyler rolled his eyes. His mom had made him clean the mess up, thinking it had been him and his friends. No amount of telling her otherwise had persuaded her. He better get ready to deal with this too, then. It better not be days old and reeking already.

But when he slowly, cautiously made his way down, his gagging reflex got instantly triggered. Putting a hand over his mouth and nose, trying not to throw up, he walked deeper into the cellar. If someone had killed a freaking deer in the off season and left it down here to rot, he'd go to the police and report them. Because fuck that! He wasn't going to clean up something dead. He wasn't going to—

Eyes widening, he shrank back against the stony wall behind him, his hands clawing at the cool surface, before his hand flew to his mouth again, but too late. With a violent heave, his lunch from earlier shot out of him and splattered on the ground before him, all half digested peppers and rice and beef. It was disgusting, and yet he focused on it hard as he tried to keep it together, tried not to look back to what he had just seen in the vault-like room ahead of him.

Fuck this shit. He was out of here, he was so fucking out—

Something caught his gaze. He didn't want to look that way again, just wanted to get the hell out of there and far far away, but upon turning around, he had noticed a speck of blue. A familiar blue, shiny like satin, with a few sparkly sequins. Her dress.

Turning around some more, as if someone was holding his ropes and making him move, his eyes flitted over the scene until he found it again. The piece of blue. Until he found her, all limp arms and legs, and unrecognizable face. It was not even really there anymore. She was…

"Vicky?"

He knew it was useless to call out. She wasn't going to magically answer. Because she was dead, she really was truly awfully horribly dead. And he had just found her.

A moment he would never forget.

Body shaking, stomach empty, throat burning, he ran out of there as fast as he could, falling on the stairs not once but twice, cutting his knees open and not caring, not noticing. All that mattered was that he got away, didn't have to see her anymore. See them.

Once he came back out on top, heaving, gagging, he kept running like someone was behind him, like if only he was fast enough, he could leave the images behind him, never see them again.

But he would. They would always come back to haunt him.


She got the call in the middle of the pool. The Pit. Lips pressed together, angry at the world, she kicked at the half inch of water under her plastic covered feet and nodded.

Tyler Lockwood had found the bodies. And she had another one to add to her list of severely traumatized kids. Just great.

It was time to go up and tell Elijah Mikaelson the news. She knew she wouldn't be able to keep it from him. Her worry was, what would he do with the information? She didn't want him to run off and go over there. No one should have to see that, especially not when there was a loved one among the heap of dead and decaying bodies. She closed her eyes, pinching her nose.

She would have to go down there, too. If only she didn't have to. This thing was too big for Mystic Falls, too big for the local police. Already they were borrowing the FBI's crime scene unit. But she'd have to call even more reinforcements. It was a miracle that these four kids had ever made it out of this place. There seemed to be way too much intricate planning going on here, as evidenced by the meticulous way this house had been built upon with its fencing and "carpet" of glass shards, with the way the pool had been dug out even deeper, and now with the disposal of almost a dozen bodies, nonchalantly brought over to a cellar on one of the adjacent lots.

The fact that there had been a large audience present for this suggested a level of planning that was mind-boggling. Grabbing her radio, she called in to Darcy at the station.

"Sheriff?"

"Give me Agent Stinson's number, Darce. Text it to me, will you?"

"You got it Sheriff. - Sheriff? These kids… they found them, right?"

A grunt was Liz' only answer. She heard Darcy swallow.

"Um… You have someone waiting here for you. I'm not sure what to tell them. They say their son is one of the missing. A Casey Ormond?"

Sighing, Liz hung her head. There was an ache building up behind her eyes, but no time to deal with it. No Advil at the ready either. "I'll be there as soon as I can, Darce. Tell them that. Nothing more."

"Okay, boss."

This was not going to be her week or even her month, or year. This was going to be the thing that decided whether she would continue on as a sheriff or not, and she didn't even mean whether the people would vote for her again. No, right now, she wasn't even sure she wanted to do this anymore.

All these dead kids. All the harm done.

Someone better pay for it.

Quickly, she checked her phone, dialed the number Darcy had messaged her. "Agent Stinson, this is Sheriff Forbes. Yup. The Mystic Falls case. I need you down here. This is even bigger than we thought."

When she was finally out of that house again, Elijah Mikaelson and his strangely shaken looking younger brother were waiting for her where she had left the older one standing before. (Shouldn't one of them be with their sister? What was Klaus doing here?)

How was she going to say what she had to say?

"Mr. Mikaelson, Elijah… Klaus?"

"Sheriff. Did you find anything in there."

She sniffed, watching him intently. He looked so put together again, wearing a nice suit, a fancy overcoat, his expression distant, unreadable. His brother beside him didn't look at her, didn't make one snide remark, which was highly suspicious. Did he know anything she didn't?

"We're still cataloging. Got the FBI here to help us out. It's in the best hands, I promise you."

He nodded. This wasn't easy. Going the direct route would probably be best, though.

"There's something else." She paused, stalling the inevitable. "We found the bodies."

"Here?" A flicker went through his eyes, his brother slightly bumping into him.

"Where?" Klaus asked. She squinted at him, noticing the distinct difference between his and Elijah's questions. He knew they weren't here. How did he know?

"Not here. A little further away on one of the neighboring plots. Owner found them…"

"Where," Klaus repeated, his voice sounding dangerous now, flat and cold. Elijah grabbed his arm, almost as if holding him back. Only then did Liz notice how close the younger one was standing to her.

She gave them both a look. "I don't want to see either of you there."

"Where, Sheriff." Elijah's turn to ask the question.

"The Lockwood cellar. They're a local fam—" (What power did this man have over her that she just stupidly blurted this kind of information out?!)

"We know who they are, thanks."

"I need you to stay away from there. The place will be crawling with police. And... Don't bother the family. - I mean it." She gave them her most serious, intimidating stare.

"We want to bring our brother home."

She had to suppress a scoff. They must have known she couldn't say yes to that. Not yet. There'd have to be an autopsy, there was a protocol to follow.

"You know I can't allow that."

Klaus' nostrils flared, but Elijah stayed eerily calm. "Of course. But we'd still like to see him."

"Mr. Mikaelson… Elijah." She sighed, her features softening, frown vanishing and making room for something else. Sympathy? She hadn't seen it this obviously before, but the man was hurt. A deep pain was radiating off of him that she didn't know how to handle. "You don't want to see him. Not like that. Not yet. Please. Let us at least make sure what state his… what state he is in. Can you do that?"

She could see him think her words over, could see it work in his mind before he finally gave a small nod. "Alright."

"What?!" Klaus whirled around abruptly to face his brother. "We're not just standing around here waiting until dear Liz here," he pointed at her as if she wasn't right there, "tells us it's okay. You can stay here, but I'm going. He's our brother and no one tells us when to see him. You want to tell Rebekah, Freya, and Finn that we just left him there? Alone?!"

With that he sped off so quickly it made Liz blink.

"I'm so sorry," she told Elijah, who made a face at her, running a hand over his hair. Her heart ached for him. He looked like he was in over his head. A traumatized sister at home, one brother dead, the other teetering dangerously close to the edge of something bad.

"Thank you Sheriff. Now, excuse me please. I better make sure my brother stays in line…"

And just like that, he walked off, cost tails flying, and Liz was alone, using the moment to let a breeze remind her that she was alive and well, before she finally went on her way to her car, ready to get over to that cellar.

This was not going to be pleasant. She'd also have to tell the returned kids about this later. And Caroline.

No, this really wasn't going to be pleasant.

Chapter Text

...

[~ a year later]

"Noooo," Bonnie sang, laughing brightly, "Stop it, Damon Salvatore!"

Nuzzling up to her, nibbling on her neck from behind, he gently steered her over to the table, which was adorned with pretty yellow flowers, two plates stacked with pancakes, one of them sporting the cutest little blueberry face, and two glass flutes filled with champagne.

"Come on, BonBon, it's time to celebrate."

"No." She tried to wiggle out of his grasp, chuckling lightly. "This tickles!"

"You said you weren't hungry," he teased. "I made my world famous pancakes for you, and bacon. Stefan is over at Elena's, the house is ours, and you are refusing to eat with me?"

She giggled, Damon still not letting go of her.

"I just said I already ate. But I'm sure I can always have another bite of…" Her words ebbed away as he got a little more insistent, his mouth traveling down from her neck to her clavicle, the sensation sending prickles down her body in two rows that seemed to meet right in the middle of her. She moaned involuntarily, forgetting to laugh or struggle. He felt so good. How he pressed into her, so close…

"Damon. Damon, I… where's Enzo?"

Damon pulled away briefly to give her a "seriously?" face. "Now is the time to inquire about my dear best friend?"

"I… just. We can't do this here." She gave him a very pointed stare, clarifying, "In the kitchen, when—"

"He's at Caroline's!" Damon interrupted her exasperatedly. "Where else would he be these days?!" Already, he was busying himself with the buttons of the top she was wearing. "You couldn't have put on something a little easier to take off?" he asked, as if to himself, and she gave him a light shove, smiling.

"Can't make it too easy, Mr. Salvatore. Besides, I was promised some breakfast first. And we have places to be later..."

He scoffed, shaking his head. "Had your chance, gorgeous! Now you'll have to wait till after I'm done with you."

And with that, he lifted her up and sat her on the table, not far from the pancakes, but far enough to leave a decent amount of room for what he was planning to do with her.

"Celebrate, huh?" Bonnie said, gripping Damon's arms as he leaned over her, his mouth traveling down her now bare chest, down, down, further down until… one hand went under the waistband of her skirt, the other coming up from below, and Bonnie gasped.

"Damon Salvatore," she breathed and he looked up briefly to smirk at her.

"I love it when you say my name like that." He wiggled his eyebrows, then vanished between her legs, making her arch her back off the table.

"Fuck," she hissed, capturing her lower lip between her teeth, hands clawing at his arms. "You really mean it, huh? Okay, let's…"

A flick made her throw her head back, gasping. Thrusting her pelvis forward, toward him, her skirt and panties already in a small heap on the floor, she thought she could definitely get behind this kind of celebration.

After, they playfully put their clothes back on, sitting down at the table like two civilized people, then laughing when they noticed some awkward fluids on the table still as they bit into their pancakes. Hiding her face behind her hands for a second to catch her breath, Bonnie then looked over to Damon, her smile growing a little wistful.

"Thanks for this," she told him, just sitting there and looking at him, and the way he had sobered up too, suddenly uncharacteristically quiet and earnest told her that he, too, was standing at the edge of that pit again for a moment.

The Pit that would forever stay with them, follow them, the Pit they had defeated.

She watched his Adam's apple move as he seemed to think about what to say. "You don't have to say anything," she quickly told him, because she knew how difficult it was. For all of them, but especially for him.

"I know. I'm glad this is over now, Bonnie. Elijah did a terrific job. - And who'd have thought I'd ever say that, huh?" He chuckled briefly, eyes flickering. She still worried about him in moments like this… When he continued, she gently laid a hand on his arm, which made him smile, sadly. "Even with the lawsuit out of the way, though, this… this thing will always be with me. I don't want to weigh you down, but…"

"I get it. You know I do. You're not alone, you know that too, right?"

He nodded, but it didn't look very convincing. Those episodes had become a part of their lives, really. He'd be happy one second, then wistful the next. Or she would be, and they'd oscillate between two states of being until they managed to pull themselves out again and look ahead. The Pit would never let them go completely, but it had gotten much better already. For most of them.

"Despite what Elijah told them in court, I still feel like a monster sometimes," he allowed, making her heart ache for him.

"We killed people, Damon," she told him, harsh, true, and he looked away, not wanting to hear it. "It wasn't pretty, it wasn't nice, but it was what we had to do, under the circumstances. You heard the jury: not guilty on all counts."

Her hands had come up to cup his face, making him look at her. Thumbs caressing his cheeks, she leaned in closer until their foreheads touched.

"Not guilty," she repeated softly, making him nod, grimacing slightly. "Yeah," he allowed as if to persuade himself of the truth of those words, "Yeah…" Then he gently pulled away with a smile plastered onto his face, kissing her lightly on the lips before leaning back to bite into a bacon strip he had picked up. Abruptly, the old Damon, the happy Damon was back. "Mmmh, this is some damn good bacon if I do say so myself. Have you tried it?"

Smiling, she shook her head. "Should I?"

"Should you? Damn straight you should, or I might have to serve another course of Bonnie Bennett first."

They both chuckled, the light happy sound filling the otherwise empty kitchen. They chuckled until they grew a little wistful once more, and Bonnie's gaze stayed locked on Damon's as they slowly grew silent, their half finished breakfast sitting before them.

Life was good again. Mostly. They had been cleared of all accusations, and yet she felt like the stain would never be completely lifted off of them. The stain of death and murder. The stench of the pit.

But she had learned to live with it, each day getting better, and she was happy to see that Damon was getting better, too, if slower. They had made it out alive together, he had saved her, and now she was here to save him, too. However long it took.

"Okay," she eventually said, getting up with a flourish. "You ready for the big event?"

She laughed as he rolled his eyes playfully, sighing theatrically. "Alright, Bonnie Bennett. Let's do this." And holding out his arm like a gentleman, she interlinked hers with his and together they walked out into the bright blue day to celebrate with the others.


"Come on, love." Enzo was leaning casually against the doorframe, watching as Caroline put on the fifth - of maybe sixth? - dress, never quite pleased with the way she looked.

"I don't know." She huffed. "Maybe the yellow one after all. Do you think… does this look like I'm trying too hard?"

She frowned at her reflection in the mirror, doing a little half pirouette to see the back of her rose colored a-line dress.

With a sigh, Enzo pushed himself off the doorframe and swaggered over to her with a small smile, coming up behind her to wrap her in his arms, pushing her hair away to kiss his way down the side of her neck. Her judging expression immediately melted into a soft grin.

"You look marvelous, Caroline Forbes," he breathed, his lips so close to her ear that it tickled her. She giggled lightly before gently pushing him away, a small flicker of regret crossing her mind upon realizing just how easily he let her do it. He never tried holding her tight, never tried using a little more force, to keep her from shaking him off. It didn't take a genius to guess why, of course, and she understood it. Still, a part of her couldn't help but wonder how different they could have been together if they had gotten together before everything.

Everything. She shook her head a little at noticing that she was doing it again, censoring herself even in her own thoughts. Before the pit.

With an effort, she focused back on her task at hand, finding a suitable dress for the little gathering they had planned to celebrate the fact that the stupid lawsuit was over, that none of them had to go to prison, that it was finally time to leave it all behind and to learn to move on for real. Without a dark cloud above their heads threatening to descend upon them.

"Okay," she finally conceded. "This is the winner, then. Let me just fix my makeup and we're good to go. You have the wine, right?" She turned around to look at him, pulling him closer by the lapels of his jacket.

"I have the wine," he rasped, tilting his head downward to smile at her, tracing her lips with his thumb. "And there's nothing here that needs fixing."

She beamed. She couldn't help it, he was just too damn sweet sometimes. How in the world had they even gotten here? Together? Having cute cheesy moments that weren't all overshadowed by the terrors from a year ago. She was so grateful for this that she felt tears well in her eyes, unbidden, and she chuckled self-consciously, trying to blink them away.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, wanting to wipe at her cheeks, but he was faster, the concern in his face obvious.

"You okay, love?" His frown was too cute.

"Of course. Yeah," she hurried to assure him, "I'm sorry. Just got a little emotional there, is all." She laughed embarrassedly, trying to wiggle out of his grasp. But he grabbed her arm and kept holding on to her.

He was holding on to her, his hand wrapped around her arm in a gentle, yet firm grasp.

This was… Caroline's eyes widened as she looked up to meet his gaze. He seemed completely unaware of anything out of the ordinary. But this, it seemed so small, but it was so incredibly huge that she almost stopped breathing. This was like a… like a breakthrough.

"Caroline…"

Her lips opened, but no words wanted to come. Then she broke into a wide smile. "You're holding my arm."

His frown showed confusion, incomprehension. "I'm… yeah?"

She nodded, her hand reaching up to hold the side of his face, to make sure he wasn't clenching his jaw like so often when he was inwardly upset. She went on her tiptoes to place a soft kiss on his lips, clearly confusing the poor guy even more. Rolling back onto her heels, she showed him her smile again.

"Are you alright, love? I'm afraid I don't quite understand what—"

"It's nothing, Enzo. I'm just… happy you're here, with me. Looking out for me." Maybe she could have told him. But somehow she felt it was better not to.

He was holding her arm and felt confident enough of himself and of her, confident of their relationship to keep reading the signals right for once. For the first time, he didn't let go immediately as soon as she moved the tiniest bit in a way that could be read as her trying to get away. For the first time he didn't seem upset with himself or worried he might hurt her or crush her or become the monster he was in his worst dreams.

He was still swimming upward, wasn't quite at the top, yet, but he wasn't drowning in the depth anymore. He wasn't.

"I'm really okay," she told him, leaning against him for a moment, wallowing in the warmth of his arms coming around her, of his heartbeat so close to her ear. They would be okay. After everything, after the horrors of the pit, they would be okay.

Maybe not today, or tomorrow or even in a week or a year, but there would come a time when the pit was so far in the past that it wouldn't come back to haunt them on a daily basis, in every waking moment.

"I love you, Enzo St. John. Do you know that?"

"I don't think I do. Could you tell me that again?" he asked, a smile in his words, and she raised her head to look at him again, chuckling lightly when she repeated, "I love you, Enzo."

"I love you, Caroline Forbes."


Rebekah didn't really feel like celebrating, but she knew they had said they would, so here she was, sitting at the bar, balancing the stem of a wine glass between her fingers, watching the others dance and laugh, and live.

It was also Elena's and Stefan's engagement party. An engagement that had happened rather abruptly, and in a way Rebekah found it tacky. But she wasn't very good company lately, so what did she know.

There was Elijah, dancing with the sheriff - and how weird was that? - and Damon holding Bonnie so close not even a piece of paper would have fit between them. She was happy for them, all of them, she really was, and yet.

"Hello, Rebekah Mikaelson."

She looked up to see Enzo slowly swaggering over to her, hands shoved deep into his pockets. Sometimes she was still surprised that he wasn't walking gingerly anymore, even though those days were long gone. (Not long enough. Often it felt like yesterday.) Subconsciously, she rubbed at her upper arm, before smiling over at him.

Looking him up and down, she waved a hand at him. "No drink for you?"

He smiled, shaking his head, then sat down on a stool beside her.

"Where's your pretty girlfriend?"

He jerked his chin in her direction, and Rebekah could see Caroline talk it out animatedly with Klaus and Stefan, and Elena.

"You're not worried Nik could try to seduce her?" She shot him a glance and saw him smile as he lowered his head, tilting it slightly toward her.

"Nope."

"Good," she said firmly. "Caroline deserves a confident man by her side. Besides, we all know Nik is a flirt. And…" She grinned at him, patting his arm as if to make sure he understood that she didn't mean anything by it. "It would be too awkward if he pursued the daughter of his brother's girlfriend, wouldn't it?"

Enzo snorted. "Absolutely," he replied, sobering quickly. "You holding up okay, Bekah?"

She didn't remember when he had first used the nickname only her brothers had used before, that Kol had used the most… But for some reason it seemed fitting. Almost like she had lost one brother in the pit and gained another one. Because that's what Enzo had become to her, an older brother who was looking out for her. (Whenever he wasn't too deep in the darkness himself, which still happened sometimes.)

"Ya," she breathed. "I mean. Mostly. Elijah and Nik are there. The lawsuit has been dealt with."

"But?"

She didn't look at him when she answered. "You think you'll stick around for the... other trial?" Gnawing at her lip, swigging her wine, she waited for a reply she knew she wouldn't get. Sighing, she stroked his jacketed arm with her free hand. It was his right arm, the one without the gnarly scars, not that she could see them now anyways, but she knew. "I'm really alright, Lorenzo," she said after a long pause. "I hope you are too..."

They exchanged a smile, not talking about the glaringly obvious. When she saw him falter, saw his smile slowly wane away, she felt an ache spread inside of her.

"I think I might travel to the old world for a while. Now that I can…" she abruptly told him, chuckling briefly. But it was a sad sound, and Enzo gently nudged her. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to spoil the fun."

"You aren't."

Her smile turned into a genuine one when she realized just how awkward this whole event probably was for him.

"Your girlfriend's ex, who kind of loathes you, is getting married, to your best friend's - his brother's - ex," she informed him as if he hadn't realized it."

"You don't say? A little incestuous, don't you think? I am shocked."

They grinned at each other, before Rebekah turned serious again. "Do you ever just want to get away from all this? I mean, this can't be easy for you, being at this party, with Stefan."

Enzo shrugged. "I'm used to it."

"Always being reminded of what we went through here."

She noticed his jaw muscles working, but he didn't say anything. They both knew she was right. This was Mystic Falls after all, where everything had happened. And the worst was that they still hadn't locked up who was responsible for it all.

"Anyways." It was probably better to give him an out, be the "sister" for him, because he, too, needed people to look out for him. At least there were a couple more these days. Caroline and Damon prominent among them, but also Bonnie, and she herself, even her brothers. In a way, they had become a bit of a big family, tied together by fate and shared horrors, and no matter what her plans were, she knew she would always come back to them.

"I'm leaving tomorrow, actually. Flight is already booked."

He gave her a look. "You're serious then."

She nodded, smiling, patting his arm again as she slowly got up, nodding to Caroline who was slowly walking toward them, a big smile on her face. "First stop, Rome. I'll send you a card. And don't worry, Freya will be there. And I'm bringing Nik."

With a soft kiss on his cheek, and a light half hug with Caroline, she went past them with a smile, zoning in on the youngest of her surviving brothers. Yeah, she thought, this definitely felt right. Leaving this musty town behind, the pit. Seeing the wonders of the world.

Kol would have liked that.

Chapter Text

...

[Now]

The call came unexpected and at an inconvenient timing. The man was in the middle of an important meeting, but when he saw the number, he excused himself briefly, ordering everyone to take a quick break.

He had barely dialed back the number that had appeared on his phone, when the person on the other end already started rambling.

"What the hell have you led us into?! Did you know that they found the bodies? You promised me that wasn't going to happen. You promised."

"Fell." He pinched his nose, rolling his eyes. Staring out the large glass window overlooking the harbor, he tried to keep his calm.

"On Mayor Lockwood's property of all places! What the fuck were your stupid henchmen thinking? And Guiseppe Salvatore's son was fighting in the pit?! I'm sitting in the fucking town council with these people! You promised this was going to be anything but risky! You promised it was going to be a clean business, just one game and now the whole council is somehow involved too. It won't be long and Sheriff Forbes will have put the pieces together and —"

He hadn't heard about these details. Why the hell had he not been informed about this.

"Logan. Calm down."

"Calm down?! Fuck you, Joshua! Clean up this fucking mess already or we'll have a serious problem here. The whole business could be exposed. Geez, I should have never brought the game back home. What a fucking SNAFU!"

"Sit back, pull yourself together. I'll get my people to clean this up."

Logan Fell snorted loudly, irking the man. That little piece of shit. He should have never trusted him to deal with something as big as the game.

"Sit back, my ass. Elijah Mikaelson will tear us all a new one if he just sticks his nose deep enough into this pile of sh—"

"Elijah Mikaelson?" the man interrupted him, suddenly very alert.

"Yeah, I know, you'd—"

He ended the call abruptly, fuming. Banging his hand against the glass in anger, he pushed himself away, quickly pulling up another number on his phone. This had to be dealt with STAT, or Elijah Mikaelson would dig them all a grave.


Rooming in with Enzo was a surprising relief. Damon hadn't realized how wound up he had been in that room all by himself until Enzo joined him.

The one thing was… talking to him was suddenly kind of hard. He saw it all in his friend's eyes, how torn up he was, how deep the pain went, the disgust and despair. All those feelings he knew he himself felt and had tried so hard to shove aside, or down, where all those other horrible memories resided.

Should they talk about what had happened? He really wasn't sure.

"You and Blondie, huh?" He blurted after a while, when Enzo had settled into his bed beside him, staring out the window, lost in thought. Damon didn't know why, but he had always felt a sense of protectiveness around both Stefan and Enzo. Why the two couldn't get along, he didn't know. (Well, he did. He just didn't really understand…) It would have made things so much easier.

His friend cast him a glance, unreadable, maybe with a flicker of something.

"Excuse me?"

"You, Stefan's dearest Care Bear?"

Enzo rolled his eyes. "I like her. She was kind to me…" He didn't continue, but he didn't have to. Caroline had of course already told him that Enzo had appeared at her doorstep, afterward… His features darkened as a sudden sadness came over him. He didn't remember much about how he got back, but he did remember Enzo being there, dragging him on, cajoling him. How they had both made it all the way to the Salvatore boarding house and then… somehow his friend had vanished by the time Stefan had opened the door. Enzo must have not felt at home there anymore, not after the freaking pit that destroyed everything.

When they had both been quiet for what felt like way too long, Enzo just staring out the window, Damon cleared his throat. "You know our home is still your home, too, right? You should have stayed that night." (Oh gosh, how awful it felt to mention that night, as if it should never be spoken about again.)

Enzo gave him a look, a raised eyebrow, a half smirk, but so very full of sadness. "I don't think that would have been a good idea."

"Because of Stefan?"

Enzo looked away, jaw taut. It was obvious that he couldn't or wouldn't speak about it, but Damon felt like they should get it out in the open. His friend was a master at pretending nothing fazed him, yet in the last few hours he seemed to have come very close to losing it.

"Caroline mentioned you and Stef made a little scene there. You probably got lucky everyone was bent out of shape over that pile up on the interstate or they would have been on you guys in seconds."

"Yeah. Whatever, Damon."

"'Whatever, Damon'?" he mocked, using air quotes, shaking his head at Enzo. "Come on, man. What you said there, Caroline mentioned it was pretty damn vivid imagery."

He watched as Enzo moved his legs up, placing an elbow on one knee, tension leaving his body as he grinned sadly. "Not my proudest moment," he then admitted so quietly that Damon barely heard him.

"Yeah, no kidding. You know I love you like a brother, man, but you can't say shit like that to my actual brother, okay? He's not like us. He wasn't there, and he won't understand. Besides, no one needs to hear how exactly… how things went down. He doesn't need to know."

"I know that. Okay? I know." Enzo looked positively desperate, and Damon felt the urge to reach out and hug him. (And what the hell had turned him into such a touchy feely guy? Oh, right. The pit, that stupid fucking pit full of horror and shit.)

It was quiet between them for a long moment. He could hear Enzo sniff, wipe at his eyes, but neither of them acknowledged anything. The lump in his throat that had become all too familiar reappeared in Damon's throat, and he had trouble swallowing around it. Too much pain. This nightmare had caused way too much pain.

With a deep inhalation, he forced himself to steer them into safer territory. There was no way of knowing how they would deal with the darkness in the long run, but he knew for damn certain that right now, just one more minute talking about it would spiral them downward so fast they wouldn't be able to get back out of it for days.

"So, Caroline," he therefore repeated, surprised that Enzo didn't immediately rip his head off for mentioning her. Instead, he sighed, not looking at Damon.

"She's a friend."

"Oh, you have friends now? Aside from me of course. - How neat!" As an afterthought he added, "Stefan will probably pop a vessel when he sees you and Caroline together, though. That should be interesting."

"Can you stop that, Damon?"

He was smirking over to a slightly annoyed looking Enzo. Something about that annoyance felt good. Like old times. Before the darkness had dragged them down.

"Stop what?" He played innocent, shrugging lightly until his shoulder reminded him that it wasn't a good idea. The searing pain made him gasp.

"You alright?"

"Peachy, Lorenzo. Just peachy. You? How's the noggin'?"

"I'm serious, Damon. Can you be serious for once?"

Damon sighed. He didn't want to be serious. He wanted to banter again, to take things lightly. To have fun. He didn't want everything to be so weighed down. He wanted the old Enzo back, cocky and careless and a pain in the ass at times. But he wanted that back.

Rolling his eyes, he sighed. "I can be, yeah, you know that. You heard me before... I'm done being serious for today, though. Don't you get it?"

He shot Enzo a glance and saw the other man nod, and he knew his best friend understood him better than almost anyone. (Like Bonnie… she understood him, too.)

"Well then," he quipped, "how about we try and talk about something—"

He didn't get to finish his sentence, however, because right then there was a knock on the door and it was opened the second he said, "come in."

He wasn't at all prepared for this visitor, however, and going by the looks of it, neither was his room mate, who abruptly sat up straight, pulling his legs up toward him even more.

"If that ain't Elijah Mikaelson," Damon called out, bridging the awkwardness that had filled the room. "To what do we owe this pleasure?"

The man stood close to the door, looking all businesslike, with a briefcase in one hand, wearing a silly coat. He nodded over to Damon, then took a step toward Enzo, opening his mouth to speak.

Damon noticed the tension in his friend, the weird expression on his face, the quickened breathing, and he knew there was something going on here that he had no clue about.

They were all pretty shell shocked of course, Enzo's reaction might have been because of that, but somehow there seemed more to it. Forcing himself to roll on his side a little so he could sit up a bit more, too, he raised a hand when Elijah began walking even closer.

"Eh, why don't you stay over there for now, pal, okay? And tell us what brought you here. Is Rebekah alright?"

"She's the reason I'm here," Elijah levelly explained, looking from Damon to Enzo. "I'm here because we think you all might need a lawyer—"

"A lawyer?" Damon scoffed, but the oldest Mikaelson spoke over him, his tone slightly quieter now, and a little regretfully?

"Because of the nature of your stay in the pit. The… things you had to do." He cleared his throat. "People got hurt, killed… Need I go on?"

Damon had shut up, pressing his lips together. No, Elijah did not have to go on. He wished the man had never even opened his goddamn mouth. But he was right of course, or maybe Rebekah was. It couldn't hurt to have someone with Elijah Mikaelson's reputation in their legal corner. And yet…

"I'm also here because I wanted to apologize," Elijah suddenly said, making Damon frown in confusion. He looked from the man over to Enzo, then back, noticing how Elijah's gaze was set on Enzo, who didn't move a muscle, didn't even blink. Damon's frown deepened

"Alright, I think I'm a little out of the loop here. Apologize for what exactly? Enzo?" When his friend didn't say anything, just clenched his jaw, Damon leaned over a bit. "Care to explain? Do we need to get him thrown out?"

Enzo finally shook his head slowly, not leaving Elijah out of his sight. Damon was already growing tired of this, growing tired in general. His body was still trying to heal itself and apparently that came with a constant need for sleep. Yawning, he wiggled a little into his pillow, crossing his arms in front of him. "If you are going to be our lawyer, I need to know we can trust you. This," he waved over to Enzo, then back to Elijah as if indicating the tense atmosphere between them, "can't continue. Whatever the hell you did that needs an apology can only be pretty fucked up because Enzo isn't generally one to hold a grudge. And after… well, you know, going through hell the last few days I really can't have people fighting around me. So?"

Elijah sighed as Enzo smirked at him, almost like his old self. There was a certain aloofness in his expression, the curl of his lips, the fire in his eyes a welcome sight to Damon.

Glaring at Enzo, then Damon, Elijah quietly said, "I, uh..." He seemed to be looking for a fitting word. "I attacked him yesterday. Unprovoked," he admitted, making a face as if he only reluctantly spoke about it. Which was probably the case. "I misunderstood something my sister said and had pegged him for one of the guys who did this to her."

Enzo chuckled briefly, incredulously, making Damon oscillate between a frown and a stupid grin.

"You thought I was one of them." After Enzo slowly got up off his bed, in his sweatpants and plain t-shirt, he slowly walked over toward Elijah in his fancy suit, each step achingly slow on his bandaged feet, until he stood right in front of the older man, tilting his head slightly to size him up. Damon had never seen it like that before, but suddenly he realized that Enzo could indeed be intimidating. "You thought I was one of them…"

Elijah swallowed, not losing his cool. Damon figured that, with his job, threats and alpha male behavior were part of the deal and Elijah was surely used to it. "Like I said," he now repeated levelly, not taking his eyes off Enzo. "I misunderstood. Rebekah has since set me straight. Told me if it weren't for you she would have probably ended up dead and possibly raped before ever making it out. So, thank you for that."

Enzo shook his head, like Damon grimacing at the open way Elijah had said "rape." Then he snorted. "You have no idea what you're even talking about, have you?"

"Guys…" Damon was peeling himself out of bed very slowly, cursing at the pain, at being so impaired still. Shuffling like a hundred-year-old, he made his way over to the other two, placing a hand on Enzo's shoulder, squeezing it lightly. "Don't let him get to you," he whispered so quietly that Elijah wouldn't hear. "He's here to help. Let's accept that. For Rebekah. And leave the other crap out of it. Think you can do that? Come on man. For the girls. For me…"

With a slow nod, still staring at the Mikaelson, Enzo eventually agreed, slowly taking a few steps back, one arm raised as if in surrender. "Fine," he said. "You can be our lawyer, if you stay the hell away from me."

And thankfully, Elijah simply nodded, didn't try to get one up on him, and for the first time ever, Damon suddenly had an ounce of respect for the man. Because Elijah had quite obviously seen past Enzo's facade and had not exploited that.

"Do we have to do this today?" Damon then asked with a pointed stare, glad when Elijah shook his head.

"Good. Let's talk tomorrow then." Talk about the murders they had committed, the lives they had ruined for the sake of their own…

"Tomorrow. Alright…"

This was going to be fun…


When Sheila had told Bonnie about the deal she had made with Elijah Mikaelson, hiring him to be her grandchild's lawyer, Bonnie had almost spilled the tea she had been drinking.

It had seemed insane, surreal.

"I don't need a lawyer," she had told Grams, but the old woman had shaken her head, insisting that, yes, Bonnie did indeed need a lawyer, and who better to do the job than the best defense lawyer south of the border.

"It's not just you, child. He's defending all of you. His sister, Damon, Enzo. And you," Sheila had explained, a soft frown of worry flitting across her face at Bonnie's vehement denial for the need of all this.

"I already told the sheriff that I… that I killed him. Jeremy died because of me."

"He would have died anyway! You did what you had to do!" Grams' had been unusually loud, startling Bonnie. Those words… the truth behind them, Bonnie had tried so hard to deny it, but Grams was right. It wasn't her fault. None of them had wanted to be there, to do any of the things they had done. And deep down she knew that someone like Elijah Mikaelson could be good to have on their side, in case anyone was going to blame them for what had happened.

Those poor college students, Kol's friends, they were all dead, killed by her friends. By Damon, and Enzo. They had all killed someone, they had all wanted to survive. Desperately. But someone might want them to pay. There would be parents, brothers, sisters, girl- or boyfriends of the ones that had died. These people would want someone to be held accountable, someone who had actually held a weapon, not just the faceless evil that had thrown them all down into the pool.

Jeremy would have died anyway. The others would have probably died anyway. So when she followed an invitation to the Mikaelson house, Caroline in tow for some much needed moral support, she was ready to hear what Rebekah's brother had to say.

...

Caroline was holding her arm, a gentle smile on her face as she nudged Bonnie. "It's going to be alright. I promise. We'll just hear what he has to say and then take it from there."

Bonnie tried to smile back at her, but it wasn't quite working.

"Damon and Enzo know you're doing this?"

"I haven't talked to them yet," Bonnie allowed, feeling sheepish for being so secretive about it. The truth was, she didn't want to unnecessarily worry them, worry Damon. He had so much on his plate. Between Elena, Stefan, and the problems Stefan seemed to have with Enzo, Damon was slowly wearing thin when he would have needed rest and someone to look out for him. So she had to do it, had to look out for him.

She knew that neither he nor Enzo liked to mention the deaths, but she also knew that eventually, the bodies would be found and the questions would soon follow.

The door swung open rather abruptly after they rang the door and for the first time in a couple days, Bonnie stood across from Rebekah Mikaelson, the girl that shared her fate, and that up until recently she hadn't really had all that much to do with.

"Bonnie…" Rebekah's chin wobbled ever so slightly as she pressed her lips together, taking a step forward, eyeing Caroline warily.

"She's on our side," Bonnie stupidly explained with a wave of both hands, wondering why the hell she had said it. Were there sides now? But Rebekah merely nodded, then held out her arms to hug Bonnie.

It was surprising how natural it felt. The girl's long slender arms came around her, the smell of lavender on her white long sweater lulling Bonnie into a calmness she hadn't felt in a long time.

"It's so good to see you," Rebekah said, slowly letting Bonnie go, smiling at her softly, and a little distantly, as if part of her wasn't quite there. It worried Bonnie.

"It's good to see you, too."

"I know this must seem quite out of the blue," Rebekah explained, guiding both girls into the large house, where they went down a wide foyer into an open living room with nice white couches and a working fireplace. "I hope you don't mind," the Mikaelson sister indicated the crackling flames, "I've just been so cold ever since…"

She didn't finish her sentence, and Bonnie shot Care a glance, then nodded.

Elijah was already waiting for them, looking all business, and a little out of place in his dark suit and with his laptop sat before him.

"Ms. Bennett." Standing up, he gave a half bow and a nod, such a gentleman that she wondered whether he'd be treating Damon and Enzo similarly. When he turned toward Caroline, however, his face darkened slightly, although he didn't quite forget his manners. "Ms. Forbes?"

Caroline raised her chin, staring him down. Tugging at Bonnie's arm protectively, she pulled her away with her a little bit.

"Be careful, Bon. He attacked Enzo after you guys first came back."

Bonnie's face fell, confusion and shock coursing through her. "What?!"

Rebekah was quick to step in, laying a hand on Elijah's arm. "I scolded him for it, and I made him apologize. He got it wrong; when he first saw Lorenzo I had pointed out that he and I had been in… in there together, and Elijah jumped to the wrong conclusions…" She paused, biting her lip. "I feel awful. But Lorenzo knows it was a misunderstanding and I'm glad nothing else happened."

"Nothing else happened?" Caroline's sass was back, along with her temper. "Excuse me, but did you see Elijah beat him up? The guy already has a severe concussion and god knows what else, and your brother thought it a good idea to tackle him to the ground and—"

"Stop!" Bonnie's eyes had widened at the words, the description somehow making her stomach turn. It was too real. She was too raw still. Images of Jeremy taking his last breaths, of Damon being washed away by the crowd, then bleeding profusely appeared before her again, lightning-fast, like a stroboscope. Vicky with her face cracked open, Lexi… "Stop, Caroline. Please stop."

"Okay. I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Bonnie." Caroline gently touched Bonnie's cheeks, looking her straight in the eyes. "I'll stop now…"

Taking a deep breath, Bonnie angrily told herself to get it together. Then, when she felt like she had herself under control again, she sat down on one of the fluffy looking couches.

"I'll take it you'll refrain from that kind of behavior from now on?"

He gave her a courteous nod, before she continued. "Okay, good. So, what exactly is the deal here? A defense lawyer? Really? The famous Elijah Mikaelson?" She looked from him to Rebekah and back, earning herself a smile.

But it was Rebekah who replied. "I asked him to. I want to make sure that we don't suffer any more than we already have. This should be over, but I'm afraid it might not be. There are at least nine people dead. The sheriff knows - at least in part - what happened. I don't know about you, Bonnie, but I don't want to go to jail for killing my brother, and I don't think any of us should have to fear repercussions for what we did. Elijah is going to make sure we won't."

It sounded good. In theory. Bonnie didn't want that to happen either. Any of them getting locked up for crimes they committed against their will. "Shouldn't it be a pretty easy case?" She asked, gaze shifting to Elijah. "Self defense and all that?"

"Technically yes. But if this goes in front of a jury, we could still have to face some form of penalty. Jail, we can basically rule out. Unless…"

"Unless what?"

"Unless any evidence they find could point to excessive use of force, or cruelty, or… if they find more bodies than the ones that should have been in the pit with you…"

Bonnie licked her lips as it dawned on her what he was insinuating. That some of them could have begun to kill not because of self defense, but something else. Blood lust. The assumption alone made her feel nauseous. Frozen, she sat on that couch, not feeling the softness under her, just seeing Elijah's dark eyes and Rebekah's knowing stare.

What were they going to do? She wasn't sure she could survive having to relive this all in court. But she might have to.

This was never going to end, was it?

Elijah seemed to pick up on her unease, as did Caroline who had sat down next to her, gently holding her hand. Elijah smiled softly. "Not to toot my own horn, but I know what I'm doing and I'll see to it that we keep all of you out of trouble. Trust me."

Bonnie scoffed. "My trust in humanity got squashed a little, lately…"

"I understand." He nodded solemnly, but didn't relent. "How about we sit down all together tomorrow, with your two friends at the hospital. We'll talk it over. You can guide me through what really happened."

Bonnie breathed in a sigh, pressing her lips together. Caroline's touch on her arm made her acutely aware of the fact that things wouldn't be able to stay in the pit from here on out. Everything would eventually come to light, whether she wanted to or not. Maybe Elijah could at least help them in channeling it all.

"It won't be easy," he softly continued, looking from Rebekah to Bonnie, "I know that."

"Did you talk with them?" Rebekah asked, worry in her features as she stared at her brother. "To Enzo and Damon?"

He nodded.

"Okay." Rebekah chuckled, it was an almost eerie sound. Slightly panicked. "Let's talk then. Tomorrow at the hospital. Bonnie?"

All she could do was whisper a halfhearted "Okay." Somehow, all of them being together again sounded scary, daunting, too real. It would bring it all back, wouldn't it? And she wasn't sure either of them were ready to talk about what had happened.

"It's going to be alright," Caroline muttered next to her, but somehow Bonnie doubted it.


"This is not good, Beast." The voice sounded calm, but that made it even more dangerous, unpredictable. The man generally had a temper, but when he didn't show it, that was when things were most likely to go bad. Beast sniffed, walking up and down slowly as he talked to him.

"I know, Sir," he replied, looking down to where his feet had stepped into something squishy. Shit. Stifling the curse, he scraped them on the curb as best as he could, waiting for the man to continue talking.

"Elijah Mikaelson was just confirmed as lawyer to the four. Elijah freaking Mikaelson! I don't have to tell you what that means. These kids should have never even made it out alive. You were supposed to make sure of that!"

He swallowed, closing his eyes. "I'm sorry, Sir. You're right."

"Of course I'm right. You must not have been thinking at all when you planned this last game. Targeting the Mikaelsons was not a smart move. You might not realize how influential these people are. This is not the kind of coverage we need."

"I'm already on it, Sir. I exchanged almost the entire team."

"Make sure the old one won't be found. We don't need anyone else talking about this."

"Absolutely, Sir." Shit. How was he supposed to do that? Getting Sykes and his people to shut up and leave the state had been difficult enough. He and his own guys, just a handful he truly trusted, had had to take out a couple of them before they had understood.

But taking out everyone that had worked with them, for them? It would put them all in even more danger. And what about the four?

"You better hope it doesn't even come to a lawsuit. I do not want to see this on the news. It better die down quickly."

"It won't, Sir."

"Well, Elijah Mikaelson seems to think otherwise."

Beast rolled his eyes. These freaking Mikaelsons. Would they ever leave him alone?

He remembered how his dad had told him he had started working for Mikael, fresh out of high school, his first year of college, and the man had generously hired him, saying he reminded him so much of his own younger self. His dad had worked hard, had done everything for the man. Lots of overtime. When he was little, Beast had often not seen his father for days or weeks on end because of it.

Then Mikael had vanished without a word, tired of living his predictable boring rich people life with his rich people problems. Tired of the money and his spoiled bratty kids, he had just up and left, liquidating his company in part, firing people left and right. Beast's dad had been without a job from one day to the next, and it had thrown the entire family into turmoil. He hadn't been the youngest anymore, and he had taken being fired very hard. From being something like Mikael's confidant, his personal assistant to just another name to be fired, had left a mark on the man, crushed his self esteem and he had taken to the bottle, had succumbed instead of fighting.

So Beast had had to fight, for himself, his siblings, his mom. Even for his dad. When they couldn't afford their house anymore, had to move into a small trailer, he had begun to look for anything to make more money, legal or not. Then there had been the fights. Just a few street urchins against each other at first, but soon he had made a name for himself.

Beast, for his ferocity, his complete lack of humanity when it came to fighting. He bit, he clawed, he always drew blood. Then his first kill put him in contact with the man, and the rest was history.

From a fighter, he turned into an orchestrator. He got off the streets, he made good money. By then it had been long too late for his dad, but his mother and younger siblings could at least live in an actual house again.

And yet. He had never forgotten how carelessly the privileged treated the less fortunate, how Mikael had disregarded the fate of his employees, and he had sworn there would be payback of some form. He never could find Mikael, he didn't even know what the man looked like. He had never seen him. His kids, however, those he had found quickly. Befriended one of them. Watched him die… He was still occasionally rewatching the grainy video one of his people had made of it.

The video...

„There's one way how we could make it all go away," Beast blurted abruptly, the epiphany pushing adrenaline through his body. This was it!

"I'm listening," the man quietly told him.

"We'll make the footage available."

"Beast."

"I mean. We'll cut it first, of course. Choose the scenes that will focus on the four and what they did, then we'll flood the internet with it."

"I'm not sure this is a good idea. I told you I want to keep it out of the news, away from the public.

"Trust me, Sir. The public won't see them as victims any more after seeing the footage. Interest will zone in on them. People are pretty easy to understand. For every crime, they want someone to blame. And if we present them with these four, we'll be out of their focus. We'll go to ground, freeze our accounts. Keep quiet on 4chan for a year or so. And then. Bam. We'll come back."

It remained quiet on the other end for a very long time. Beast was beginning to get extremely nervous again, trying to come up with something else to suggest, when the man eventually said, "Go ahead. I want the footage out by tomorrow."

Fuck. That didn't leave him with much time. "Appreciate it, Sir. Tomorrow it is."

It would have to be, or Beast himself was a dead man.

The line went dead without another word spoken, and he raced back to get to work. If this worked, if he could really get the police off their tracks, it would be fun to watch Elijah try his luck winning this case. To watch the Mikaelsons fall for real.

Chapter Text

...

"Hooooly shit."

An emergency meeting had been called that very morning. It was only five minutes in when FBI Agent Stinson had presented the Mystic Falls sheriff's department with the "gem" of his findings, and the attending people, Liz included, had not been prepared for what they saw.

Liz's finger reflexively began hovering over Elijah's name in her contacts. He needed to see this, too. Or rather, he probably really shouldn't. But he needed to know… She had only pulled her phone out to check whether Stinson was right, which of course he was, she had known that already. He was FBI, after all, and he dealt with Internet related crimes on a daily basis. Still, she didn't trust anything anymore, least of all her own judgment, so she had decided to better make sure… From there, it had only been a few extra clicks and swipes to Elijah's contact information.

She looked up. Before her, projected onto the far wall, was the website they were all still staring at, and which must have been set up pretty much over night.

*You're looking for the 'monsters behind the scenes'?*

They were paraphrasing a news article that had only recently appeared. Where the press had even gotten the information about the pit, Liz didn't know, and probably wouldn't want to know, either, although she strongly suspected Klaus Mikaelson having something to do with it. He could never leave well enough alone and he certainly didn't trust the sheriff to do her work. No, he liked to fight his battles out in the open, liked to garner the help of the media for his crusades. But he was most definitely not behind this website.

*Here are the real monsters…*

Stinson had warned them. "The site claims that this is footage from the actual crimes. Our forensics team has mostly confirmed the video's authenticity, although it is clear that it has been edited significantly. It should be noted, however, that the edits seem to be mostly of an 'omitting' nature, which is to say, nothing has been added, just cut. To be clear, what you'll see is… not easy to watch."

Not easy to watch. What an understatement. Liz was trying not to show too much of a reaction, what with the whole "female-in-a-leading-law-enforcement-role complex" and all, but this was awful. The first was the girl, a pretty red-head, looking scared in one frame, then, in the next, she was getting her head bashed in by a merciless Lorenzo St. John. There was a shot where you could see the blood on his face, and while Liz realized it was probably mostly his own - she had seen the stitches up close, had gotten him to tell her it all had started with a hit to his head - the video made it seem like it was all the girl's. It hadn't even needed an artist in the cutting room to make it look that way. The brutality with which he slammed her head down against the ground again and again made Liz' stomach turn. That man had spent hours alone with her own daughter, right after… after this.

Then there was Bonnie, so quickly shoving a knife into Jeremy's throat that it looked as if she hadn't given him a chance. Ruthless, cold. Liz knew better, or so she thought. She knew Bonnie, had heard her and Damon, and later Rebekah and Enzo confirm the story of how he had already been bleeding, how she had only ended it because he had begged her, because her own life - all of their lives, really - had been on the line. But the video didn't show any of that. There were no threats, no indication that this wasn't voluntary. You couldn't even see the blood that must have already been on Jeremy's clothes because the video had turned black and white for this bit, and the red blood didn't show on his black shirt.

How had they even filmed that angle?

Most of the footage was pretty grainy, but you could still discern who the people were that seemed to be easily killing their friends, their panicked, pained looking friends.

Next up was Rebekah Mikaelson stabbing her own brother. Remembering the girl's own account of what had happened, remembering what the others had confirmed, it was actually easy to see that Kol was guiding her hands, that she was struggling against him. But it was all too easy to think it had been the other way around if you didn't know any better.

But the real shocker, the worst bit came right there close to the end. When Damon Salvatore bludgeoned Casey Ormond - poor Casey who was heartbreakingly begging for his life! - to death. It was nauseating. And while the girl's, Mazzy's death at the beginning had been gruesome, too, there was something about that last murder, the way Damon hadn't stopped even when his victim had pleaded for him to do so, that turned Liz' stomach and had made some of the others excuse themselves for a couple of minutes.

The rest was a mess of wonky shaky images, not an actual video anymore, here a shadowy Enzo raising a weapon, a pipe perhaps or something else, to smash it down on someone, here Damon shoving his way through what looked like a panicking crowd.

It was awful.

It looked like the truth. It was a video after all, real footage from down there in the pit, and even with her prior knowledge, Sheriff Liz Forbes began questioning all she had been told.

What should they do about this?

It was out there for the whole world to see. There was no hiding this case anymore and the (supposed?) victims had just been turned into the attackers, thus potentially victimizing them even more. Who would do that? What should she do?

As if of their own accord, her fingers had opened the message chat with Elijah Mikaelson.

~ There's something you need to see. ~

She added the link to the site, then pressed 'send' quickly, wondering why she even did that. No, she was fooling herself. Of course she knew. While she was supposed to be neutral in this, representing the law and nothing else, she couldn't help but feel responsible for what these kids had been through. Maybe if she had put two and two together earlier, she could have prevented at least some of this mess.

That it had come this far felt like it was in part her fault, too. Was it really so bad that she wanted to make sure these kids at least got someone on their side that knew how to defend actual criminals?

"We're thinking that the masterminds behind the pit are also responsible for 'leaking' this footage," Agent Stinson was just saying, breaking her train of thought as he stopped the video on a rather unfortunate looking image of Damon Salvatore mid-swing.

How often had he seen this video? Because she was pretty sure she couldn't do this even one more time.

She would have to, though. And then she would have to talk to Caroline, and the four kids…

Could this case stop getting any worse?


Bonnie had been apprehensive all morning, worried about the meeting she was about to have, a reunion of sorts with her fellow survivors, her pit-companions, her fate-mates. In her head she was randomly trying to come up with a way to describe their relationship, but nothing sounded appropriate.

Now the moment was here and she took a deep breath before finally opening the door. What would it feel like to see Damon, Enzo and Rebekah all at the same time? To be reminded of the horrors they had shared.

At least Damon would be there, too. He felt the most familiar out of everyone, lately, and Bonnie was strangely relieved that Grams had validated those feelings for her, had told her it was alright and normal and nothing wrong, when she herself had begun to doubt that. Was she just clinging to him because she didn't know what else to do? Or was there something more, something deeper?

The one thing she knew was that it was a relief to not have to spell everything out that was going on in her head. He had been there, he understood what it had felt like, and that there had been no other way but to do as these horrible people had told them to.

She felt so guilty and tainted around most everyone else, she felt like everyone was expecting her to still be the Bonnie Bennett of old - even she herself expected to be the same. But of course that was impossible. She was the same and yet she wasn't. They had all profoundly changed down in that hellhole. And no one who hadn't been there would ever be able to truly understand that.

The door swung open to reveal the same boring hospital room she had seen before. A few balloons, a big cheesy "get well soon" banner - surely courtesy of Caroline - were adorning the otherwise bare off-white walls now, but that was it.

Damon winked at her immediately, her features (and mood…) brightening as soon as she saw him. Then, with another deep inhalation, she chanced a glance over to the other bed, only to find it deserted.

Then she saw why. Enzo was sitting in one of the chairs, Rebekah in the other, Elijah Mikaelson leaning casually against the windowsill behind them.

Rebekah smiled, her face showing deep emotion as Bonnie absently wiped across her own cheek, realizing only then that there were traces of fresh tears. The pang she felt at seeing these people all together was shocking. She hadn't had much of a relationship with any of them before, but suddenly all of that had changed.

It was mind blowing how fast pain and trauma could fuse some people together, could break others apart.

"Hey," she said, trying to smile, unsure whether she should walk over to hug them or flee over to the safety of Damon's bed. Forcing herself to keep it together, she decided to go with her first instinct and slowly went over to where Enzo had gotten up off his chair, staring at her with an unreadable expression. A bit of a smile was there, too, though, so that was good. It made it a little easier for her when she got close and gave him a small hug that, thankfully, he actually reciprocated.

"Bonnie."

Stepping away from him, she smiled briefly. "I hear you and Damon are doing the room sharing thing now," she said, "I hope he doesn't snore too much."

Her light tone made him chuckle, just for a second or two, before they both turned serious again and she went over to Rebekah, who in turn had gotten up to hug her. Hands half swallowed by her oversized sweater, she looked way more fragile recently than Bonnie remembered. She had seemed so strong back there in the pit. But she guessed things like that could change easily, especially after what they had been through.

With a sigh, she nodded over to Elijah, as Rebekah extended an arm to point at him.

"You remember my brother from yesterday, of course."

Bonnie nodded. It had only been a day since she last saw him, but it felt longer. Waving over to him with an awkward nod, she finally walked over to where Damon was leisurely sitting in his bed. She had to tell herself not to break into a run so as not to look completely like an idiot, but damn, was she relieved when she finally got to him, felt his arms come around her, his breath in her hair.

"You smell good, BonBon. What is that? Coconut?"

Giving him a disbelieving glare, she scoffed. "Really?"

He gave her a pointed look. "Really." Then he sighed, both of them picking up on Elijah growing restless. Shifting his position, checking his phone, his expression, his whole stance suddenly changed completely.

"Elijah?" Rebekah had seen it, too, and was sidling over to him with concern. "What is it?"

He swallowed, looking from her to the others. "Something's come up."

"Something…" Bonnie gave him a half annoyed blank stare. Really? That's how he was going to play this? She didn't need him to be all cryptic, not when they were all merely here because he had said it would be best to "streamline their stories" as he had called it, making sure they wouldn't get in trouble, as a "favor to his sister."

It had sounded so enticing that she had wanted to decline, to tell him to stay out of it, but when she had messaged Damon he had insisted they at least listen. Couldn't hurt to have a defense lawyer on their side, could it?

So here she was. And Elijah Mikaelson was making a weird face.

"Okay, Elijah," Rebekah huffed, a little more fight back in her pale face as she continued with a slightly annoyed tone. "What? What has 'come up'?"

He cleared his throat, putting his phone back in his pocket. Then, giving them all a quick sideways glance, he pulled his laptop out of his briefcase, clicking a few keys here and there, before placing it on the table for all of them to see.

"Someone posted a video," he said and Bonnie shot a quick glance in Damon's direction, seeing him shrug at her. But they both already had a suspicion. She could see it in the way he tensed and shifted his position. Her hand grabbing his, she waited for the blow.

Elijah had opened the laptop on a tabloid type looking page. The font was ugly and glaring, the words offensive and hurtful. "Here are the real monsters…"

Blinking, wiping over her eyes as if they were just playing tricks on her, she shrank against Damon as the cursor hovered over the play-button of an imbedded video.

"It's footage," he explained, licking his lips as he worriedly glanced over to his sister, to Bonnie, then to Damon and Enzo. Only Bonnie was staring back at him, unwilling to see what that video might show.

"From the pit," she completed his sentence for him, and their gazes met.

"We need to know what exactly it shows so that we can counter any claim of theirs that you are not the victims here." He paused, a hand lightly touching that of his sister, who was staring at the laptop with mesmerized horror. "I can do this alone. You don't need to see this. - But you need to know, and it would be good if you all could tell me how accurate this is. The video has been online for a few hours and it's gaining traction, fast. The police is investigating and their angle might be influenced by this."

"This footage," Bonnie whispered, not trusting her voice not to break, "What exactly does it show?"

He looked at her, head on. He was no coward, and used to uncomfortable truths, that much was obvious. "It shows each of you, killing someone…"

Her throat closed. She tried to swallow and could barely do it. There would be images of her sticking that knife into Jeremy's throat. Elena would see it. Grams. Everyone, everyone would see…

"Bon." Damon's hand squeezed hers. When she looked at him it seemed as if he wanted to say something, but there was nothing. Just silence.

"Do you want me to play it?"

They all exchanged glances, Bonnie beginning to fidget as they did. This was not what she had expected, what she had come here for. Not this…

Damon was nodding. "We need to know what we're up against," he rasped with dread and uncertainty overshadowing the fake confidence in his voice, and Bonnie watched herself nod in agreement even though she didn't want to see it. She didn't, she didn't, she didn't.

His arm came around her, pulling her close.

Rebekah slowly nodded, too. "Okay," she allowed, making Enzo stare at her, at them all as if they had kicked him.

"No."

"Lorenzo," Damon sighed, shaking his head. "It's three against one. Besides, we were all there. We know what happened. We've seen it before. Now we'll just have to be prepared for their version of events. Do you want to just face this all blindly?"

His friend clenched his jaw, glaring at Damon briefly before looking away without another word. Bonnie couldn't blame him for not wanting to see this again, but Damon had a point. She'd rather know how the world saw her, saw them now. She'd rather not be blindsided by it later.

And so Elijah pressed 'play.'

It wasn't a super long video, ten minutes perhaps, but it felt like an eternity. They all sat in silence, staring at the flickering screen, each of them in varying degrees of tension, until Enzo abruptly stood up, going for the door.

"Fuck this," he hissed, then left, and part of Bonnie wanted to do the same.

Then Jeremy's face appeared, and Bonnie couldn't take her eyes off the screen, although she was close to hyperventilating, or vomiting or crying. But she was so strangely frozen that she did none of those things. Just sat there, watching, her hand clutching Damon's all throughout, until the end, when she felt him tense up next to her, heard his breathing pick up as he heard that kid plead for his life again, over and over.

She had been there…

It had been just as awful as this video suggested. But this, this was all contorted.

"They made it look like we did this… did this for fun." She was incredulous. Hurt. Violated. "They're going to think we did it because we wanted to, because… because we're…"

"Monsters," Rebekah whispered, not looking at anyone when her brother finally clicked the site shut.

"We'll find out who posted this," he told them. "I'll try and get the original footage, find the parts that were obviously edited out. We might have to prepare for an actual lawsuit, however."

"A lawsuit." Damon's tone was dry, sober.

"A trial, yes."

"Because of this."

Elijah nodded at him, crossing his arms in front of him.

"I'll go check on Lorenzo," Rebekah said, fidgeting, quite obviously trying to escape the building tension in the room. "See whether I can bring him back in here..." She was up and out the door almost as quickly as Enzo had been just a little earlier, leaving her brother to huff uncomfortably, then focus back on Damon, who was sitting up straight beside Bonnie now, holding his abdomen gingerly, staring daggers at Elijah, that bringer of bad news.

"We already talked to the sheriff…"

"You left out a lot of details." Elijah gave him a pointed look that made Damon grimace. Bonnie absently laid a hand on his leg, the touch strangely grounding her, keeping her from losing it completely.

She had seen herself kill Jeremy. Like it was a bad movie…

"And the Ormond family - the kid you... had to kill - they made a statement just a few minutes ago," Elijah added, taking his phone out and waving it as if it was evidence. "They're going to press charges, Damon. Against you. I'm certain the families of the others involved will follow."

"The others involved?" Damon scoffed disbelievingly. "You mean yourself? Are you gonna press charges against your sister? I mean, she told you what happened, didn't she? What about Elena? - There…" Damon began faltering, a slight sheen appearing on his forehead that worried Bonnie.

"Damon…"

"There weren't even all the kills in this goddamn video!" He blurted out, running a hand over his face, a slow tremor going through his body.

"Damon. We'll figure something out." She had turned around, running a hand through his hair, gently, like a caress. "Look at me."

He was shaking now, still staring at Elijah, and Bonnie shot the man a look, let him know it was time to give them a moment. Then she focused back on Damon.

"We'll figure something out," she repeated. "Elijah is a damn good lawyer, say what you will about him. Okay? We got through the pit, we'll get through this, too."

"You saw the video, Bonnie. I'm a fucking monster! Did you hear him plead? Did you see what I did? His freaking parents probably saw this, too!"

He was so desperate all of a sudden, so panicked, and Bonnie knew she had to be the strong one for him, had to bring him back before he fell over the edge into the depth.

"I know," she soothed. "I know. But you're not a monster, and we'll show them that this video doesn't tell the whole truth. We'll get through this, Damon. Okay? Together. All four of us. Just look. At. Me…"

And he did. He looked at her like his life depended on it, trying to take deep breaths. Her forehead pressed against his, she kept whispering, whispering until she didn't have words left, until he finally calmed down again, until they could face Elijah again and listen to what else he had to say.

"What's the plan?" Bonnie asked, cold, determined. Because there better was a plan, or she would see to it that they made one.

She was not going to let these assholes paint them in the wrong light and destroy even the rest of their lives. No. She was going to fight this. She had gotten this far.


She knew they had had their big "reunion" today, of course. Walking down the hallway toward Enzo's and Damon's shared room, Caroline decided she would wait around a moment before knocking. It was just, she wasn't sure whether this was a good time at all. Or how bad or good the meeting had been. Surely it had stirred up a lot of things the four of them would have liked to keep buried.

And in all honesty, she simply didn't know how to approach Enzo, especially when Damon was in the same room, too. What was she even doing here? It wasn't exactly like they were friends all of a sudden, right? She had been there when he had needed her. Yeah. He had seeked her out. And yet…

They weren't close, weren't friends. But what kind of relationship did they have?!

Not knowing was awful. Caroline had no idea what was expected of her. What he expected. Did he even expect anything? Probably just for her to stay away and pretend it never happened. She was just a reminder of an awkward time in his life.

Maybe she should just go. What was she doing here?

Stopping in the middle of the hallway, just a few feet away from their room, she deflated like a tired balloon, then made to turn around when the door opened and she saw Enzo take a few hobbling steps out before he leaned heavily against the wall next to the quickly closing door.

His hand in front of his face, he raised himself up to his full height, balancing his weight on his heels, probably to relieve the torn open soles of his feet. Even from over where she stood, she could see the tension in his body, the rigid way he held himself, the deep breaths that made his chest rise and fall a little too fast. He was wearing the gray pair of sweatpants she had brought him, and a white t-shirt, looking completely different than he usually did. And yet he seemed so familiar.

So pained.

Should she…

"Enzo?" Her mouth was faster than her mind and she wanted the ground to open and swallow her, because, really? What was she thinking?

Arm sinking down to gingerly hold his left one close, he only slightly turned to look at her, the memory of a smile on his face.

"Caroline."

"I'm sorry. Are they… are they still here?" It suddenly dawned on her that that might be the reason. If Elijah, Bonnie and Rebekah were still there, then whatever they were talking about might have just been a little too much to bear. His small nod confirmed her suspicions.

Just a few more feet and she was standing before him, where he gave her a sheepish look.

"I couldn't…" He waved his hand dismissively, leaving his sentence unfinished.

She bit her lip, feeling awful for him. She had no idea what they had been through, and what talking about it could mean. But just the few pieces he had shared, with Stefan, with her mom, had been enough to paint a gruesome picture. She couldn't blame him for not wanting to be reminded.

Suddenly, he pushed himself off the wall and slowly began walking, his gait awkward and wobbly and Caroline shot him furtive glances as she rushed to follow him. Surely someone was going to approach them and escort him back any second?

What if he walked out of here, just like that?

"Enzo, can we… can we stop? Sit down somewhere?" She asked, her uncomfortableness and worry growing with every step they took.

"Lorenzo?"

The door had opened again behind them, and when Caroline shot a glance over her shoulder, standing next to an abruptly frozen Enzo, she saw Rebekah poke her head out. Caroline waved stupidly, feeling like an idiot. Gently, she grabbed his hand, surprised that he didn't pull away. His expression was stony. It reminded her of the look he had given her before, when he had first appeared on her threshold.

Rebekah was lightly jogging toward them, a weird look on her face that Caroline could maybe describe as horrorstruck.

Horrorstruck?! What the hell was going on in that room? Were Bonnie and Damon alright?

"Elijah didn't attack anyone, did he…?" Her words ran away with her, ebbing away at the half question in Rebekah's features.

"What? - No. No," the girl said. "That's… no."

"Okayyyy," Caroline thought - did she say that out loud, too? Nobody seemed to care, however, as Enzo turned around, agitated and on edge, eyes flickering as he addressed the Mikaelson sister.

"I'm not going back in there to… to watch—" He bit down so hard Caroline saw his jaw muscles dance, stopping in the middle of his sentence.

"I know," Rebekah said appeasingly. "I can't… I can't watch it anymore, either. We need to know what's on that video, though. We need to be prepared.—"

"What the hell was he thinking turning that bloody thing on?!"

Enzo was aggravated, angry, so angry that his hand had turned into a fist, a few pearls of blood escaping his knuckles as they cracked open again under the strain.

Caroline looked from him to Rebekah.

"He's a defense lawyer. Sometimes he doesn't think in terms of what is uncomfortable, just what is necessary."

"Uncomfortable?!" Enzo snorted, rubbing the root of his nose with his open palm, then shaking his head.

Rebekah seemed a little helpless and Caroline felt sorry for the girl. Enzo was really not an easy person, especially not lately. Under normal circumstances she would have called him out for being a bit of a diva about it all, but she was dead certain that that would have the opposite effect as intended. But then, to her horror, she saw Rebekah Mikaelson - Rebekah freaking Mikaelson, Klaus' sister - break out in tears, and half yell, half hiss, "Do you think I wanted to see that?! How I killed my brother? Do you think I wanted Elijah and Nik to see that?! No. Oh gosh, no. I wish I could erase it out of my brain, out of everyone's brain, and now it's there for the whole goddamn world to see!" She was sobbing now and Caroline gingerly stepped forward to try and comfort her, but Rebekah shook her off immediately.

All seemed lost for a short awful moment, until Enzo unfroze and moved an arm to pull his fellow returned close. She didn't even struggle, not for one second, it all went so fast that Caroline could only watch and marvel as Enzo held Rebekah, neither of them moving much, until the girl seemed to gain her control back.

Minutes had passed, a few hospital visitors giving them questioning glances, but Caroline had shrugged them off with an apologetic smile, reassuring one old lady that everything was under control, but thank you.

Eventually, Rebekah pulled away again, apologizing quietly for her little "melt-down."

"I better go in now, before Elijah comes after me," she said, then nodded over to Caroline who smiled at her understandingly. Care had no idea what to say to the poor girl, so she decided to keep her mouth shut for once. "I told them I'd bring you back, too…" Rebekah gave Enzo a look that he returned with a grimace, but he nodded when she asked, "Five minutes?"

Then she rushed back, leaving Caroline in an awkward vacuum-like state, acutely aware of Enzo standing so close to her that his arm touched the light ruffles of her top. Her heartbeat quickened as if it was betraying her. She closed her eyes briefly so as not to roll them in annoyance.

"I'm sorry I pulled you into this."

"What?" She hadn't expected him to say anything.

"I'm sorry," he repeated. "You shouldn't even be here."

Suddenly she understood what he was doing, but she didn't quite understand what she herself was doing, it just kind of happened. Placing her hands on his chest, feeling his heart beat underneath, much slower than her own, she shook her head, then smiled. "I'm right where I'm supposed to be," she assured him. "And I'm not going anywhere."

"You'll change your mind when you see the video."

So soberly, so dry.

"What video." It wasn't even really a question because she suspected the answer.

"Someone made a video. Of the…" He closed his eyes, clenched his jaw, his fist, tensing his body until it felt as if there was a statue underneath her touch. Coming even closer until she was almost pressed against him (he didn't move an inch, stood frozen again. And why the hell was she even getting so close to him?!), she looked up, saying the word for him, the word that wouldn't, couldn't pass his lips.

"Pit?"

He nodded, his eyes shuttered, his expression raw.

"I'm not going anywhere," she repeated. "Video or no."

"I killed someone, Caroline. In an awful way," he pressed out between clenched teeth, looking her straight in the eyes. There was so much pain in his, tears threatening to fall that her throat closed as she fought to breathe past the lump lodging there once more. (Would it ever completely go away again?)

Biting her lip, she fought with herself. She needed to say something. Anything. But what was there to say? She couldn't make it go away. She had no idea how awful it really was. This was the first time he had told her about this, and she just didn't know how to handle it. He had killed someone.

Taking a deep breath, staring at her feet for what felt like too long, she eventually tore her gaze up to find him still staring down at her.

"You do realize that you were forced to do these things, right?"

"Caroline—"

"You were fearing for your lives, all of you. Whatever happened in that… in that pit, it was out of an instinct to survive. They made you do it."

"But. Not like that. It... should have been me."

An aching frown made her crunch up her face, all her sorrow accumulating as she watched him hang his head, rub his temple where stitches were visible. "What are you even saying? You should have died?"

"They all have someone who cares about them, except for me. It wouldn't have mattered," he explained so matter-of-factly that it made her gasp. "It would have been easier for them that way, too..." He waved over toward the room, not looking at Caroline

"No," she breathed in horror, her hands cupping his face, trying to make him look at her. "It matters. It matters to me. I care about you. Damon does. Seems like Rebekah, too..."

And because she simply didn't have any words to take away this kind of pain, she pressed a light kiss on his cheek, then wrapped her arms around him, just like that, and held him, waiting. Until she could finally feel his arm around her too, feel some of that tension leave his body.

"I'll wait out here for you," she whispered. "You go back inside now, and when you're done, I'll still be right here."

He shook his head, averting his gaze when they parted. "You won't. - You shouldn't."

Caroline's shoulders slumped in resignation. Whatever was going on here, this was not just the pit anymore. This was something else. The man before her had some serious abandonment issues on top of everything else that was going on with him. Her heart went out to him, but at the same time, it was tiring.

This would be a challenge, and she knew she had to make up her mind. Was she willing to stick around and deal with it?

He was trying to give her an out, let her leave and be done with this, his mess, their pit nightmare. But she would still be there for Bonnie, right? No matter what. For Elena. For Matt, too. For Tyler. Even Stefan, if he'd let her. So, wouldn't she just feel awful if she singled out Enzo and turned her back on him? The pit would always linger around. Whether she wanted to or not, she couldn't change that.

Her hand went to his face again, both of them so still that out of the corners of her eyes she noticed a few passerby give them strange sideways glances. They were trapped in a timeless bubble, in a snow globe perhaps, and the world was spinning around them as they stood there.

His jaw must have been the most tense part of his body.

"I will be right here," she eventually, very carefully repeated, making her decision. No matter what she saw in that video - if she could even bring herself to watch it (should she, even?) - she made a commitment, she'd be here for him.

Because at some point during the last few days, Caroline Forbes had begun to lose her heart to this broken young man before her. And she was not going to be the reason why he broke even more.

So when he looked down at her with a defeated semi-smile, before slowly limping back to the room and vanishing, she kept looking after him until she couldn't see him anymore.

...

Then, with her legs drawn close to her body, she sat down on the floor close to his and Damon's room, and she took her phone to start googling.

It didn't take her long. "The pit - game - fight to the death - video - missing people - Mystic Falls," she had tried a couple of different things before an ominous webpage appeared, making her dread even clicking on it. She probably shouldn't. But she needed to know, so she could understand. It was a sick feeling of dread paired with curiosity that eventually made her click on it, made her read, then watch. It made her feel like a voyeur. One hand flying to her mouth in horror, she watched as hell began to unfold. The blurry pictures on her tiny phone came with sound, and she had to quickly adjust the volume back and forth because sometimes it was so loud and the noises made her stomach turn, until she couldn't do it anymore and forced her screen to turn black.

It was awful. Worse than what she had expected. (What had she expected, though? This was unimaginable.) Still, she felt her heart break for all of these people, for Bonnie, poor Bonnie who looked like she was stabbing Jeremy just for the heck of it, Damon, who had had to make a choice and looked like a psycho lunatic in this video, Rebekah, killing her own brother after a brief struggle, and Enzo, bashing a girl's head in repeatedly until it was nothing but a bloody mess.

A girl that could have been her…

Closing her eyes, she forced herself to take a few deep breaths. Forced herself to think. This had really happened. Of course she had known. She had seen them, had heard some of their accounts. But this was different. This was real.

No. It wasn't. None of this had happened the way the video seemed to suggest, deep down she knew it. This video omitted the entire frame of force, didn't tell the whole story. People out there would think this had been a sick game, yes, but they would think her friends - her friends! - had played it out of their own free will. Images were just so powerful.

It made her feel sick.

Regardless. She knew better, she had seen what this had done to them, to Bonnie, Damon, Rebekah, and yes, to Enzo, too. And she wasn't going to turn her back on any of them. She wasn't.

...

So, much later, when Elijah, then Rebekah, then Bonnie all came out, she was still there. Smiling briefly at Rebekah, exchanging a hug with Bonnie, she told her best friend she was there for her, was there to talk or just eat ice cream together later.

And when Enzo eventually opened the door again, by the looks of it not expecting her to be anywhere near the hospital anymore (she couldn't blame him for thinking that, not after everything), she was still there, waiting for him.

Their gazes meeting, he stopped just a few inches out of the door, head sinking, looking tired and withdrawn. "Still here, love?" he said, with a curl of his lip, as if not believing what he saw, and she smiled at him, walking close until she could touch him.

"Still here."

...

Chapter Text

 

...

[~ three years later]

...

The bed was warm and cozy. The hazy sunlight seeping in through the curtains made Bonnie's nose tickle, but that wasn't what woke her up. It was Damon thrashing beside her, so obviously stuck in a bad dream that she immediately startled wide awake.

"Damon," she called out, not too loud, because if she was too loud, too frantic it made it worse. As if her yells washed over into his dreams, reminding him of how she had screamed for him in that house…

"Damon. Baby… It's okay." She had to be careful. If she got too close he could accidentally hit her. It had happened before, ruining both her and him for the day. She had panicked and scrambled out of bed, and he had felt so guilty that he had taken to the bourbon again until Enzo and Stefan had gone in search of him and brought him home, so drunk he could barely stand anymore, talking nonsense.

She remembered how she had slumped down on the couch next to him, stroking his hair, not scared of him anymore. Stefan had asked, "Will you be okay here?" And she had nodded.

"Thank you."

Enzo had lingered, she remembered that, too. His torn look, somewhere between worry for his best friend and worry for Bonnie.

"We'll be fine," she had assured him. "Go to Care. I'm sure she's already waiting for you." She had smiled, waiting for him to nod and leave. But even then he had taken his time, an obvious inner battle taking place before he had eventually nodded, and left, following Stefan out.

"Call me if…"

"I will."

They still did this. All four of them. Talk in elliptic sentences, leaving out parts for the others to pick up on. It worked pretty damn well, but she knew it was a coping mechanism and her therapist had told her to take a deep breath when it happened and just say the words. Say the words…

"It's a dream, Damon. A dream. You're okay."

When he still didn't seem to hear her, his expression so anguished even in his sleep, she decided to be a little bolder. Getting on her knees, she leaned over, her hands cupping his face. "Damon."

Abruptly, he opened his eyes, gasping lightly. Not like they did in the movies, there was no sudden movement accompanying it, either, just a blinking as he adjusted to the world, slowly realizing that he was in this bedroom with her, with his girlfriend, sun shining through the window, everything peaceful and quiet.

"Just a dream," she breathed, stroking the side of his face, not daring to get too close yet. He would need a moment, a minute. She knew that, too.

"Bonnie?"

This wasn't the pit. She saw it dawn on him in that instant, and she smiled.

"You're okay."

He stared up at her for a long moment, then his arms came up to wrap themselves around her and he gently shoved her down onto the bed with him again, cuddling up.

"I'm sorry," he breathed. "I did it again, huh?" His voice was muffled as he began kissing her, making her giggle involuntarily.

"You did," she admitted, "But you're back with me now."

"I am, aren't I?" He nuzzled up, getting a little frisky. Sometimes she was still amazed how quickly he could go back to being his normal self after a nightmare. It hadn't always been like that. But these dreams had become part of him, and in a way part of her, too. And they had gotten strangely used to it. Or at least had learned how to deal with it.

"You ready to go to Europe with me, Bonnie Bennett?"

Her smile widened. "Born ready," she whispered before she couldn't think anymore as he made his way under the blanket.


The café was beginning to bustle with activity, but it wasn't too bad yet, the morning still early.

The woman was already there, dressed in soft colors, her hands cupping a steaming pot of coffee, or maybe tea. She looked a little out of it perhaps, or anxious, and very handsome. Not pretty.

Damon walked over to her carefully, not with his usual swagger or attitude, but with a slow and cautious gait.

Because this was Alexandra Ormond, the mother of the boy he had clobbered to death. His insides churned inside of him as he briefly wondered why the hell he had even agreed to this meeting.

He wanted her to have some sense of closure, that's why. She deserved it. After everything. The main trial was long over now. They had convicted and put away the group that had been behind it all. But it must be strange for her to know that the person that had held the weapon killing her son, the man who had actively killed him was still walking around, a free man.

"Mrs. Ormond."

She looked up, startled, tensing immediately as she tried to get up.

"Please," he said, shaking his head. Then he sat down opposite her, leaning back.

This was surreal. He could see a slight resemblance between her and the kid, surprised that he even remembered what Casey had looked like. It had been almost three years after all and he had only known the kid for a couple of hours.

But it didn't happen every day that you ended up killing someone, so there was that. The whole scene had ingrained itself in his brain to stay with him forever. Like so much else.

"Thank you for agreeing to meet me here, Mr. Salvatore," she said, her voice softer than he had expected. Almost girly.

He nodded, grimacing slightly.

"I know this must be weird for you," she admitted and he wasn't sure what to say to that. Damon Salvatore lost for words, who would have thought that was possible.

"I just wanted you to know that I forgive you." She gave him a look as he gasped slightly, shifting uncomfortably in his seat, putting his arms on the table in front of him to stop from fidgeting. "I know you don't need my forgiveness. I understand now that this… situation was very difficult for all of you, and I know that Casey made his own bad decisions. But…" Letting go of her cup, her hands came over to grab his, and he couldn't help but stare down at them instead of at her face. "I can only imagine what mental torment you all must have gone through. I tried thinking of how I would have felt, in Casey's place, in yours. And I believe you couldn't have made a 'right' decision down there. Not with that kind of pressure and stress. I know that now. Maybe… maybe knowing that I forgive you will help you forgive yourself some day."

When he did look up, she was smiling at him, tears in her eyes. Part of him wanted to defiantly tell her that he had nothing to forgive himself for, or that she had no freaking clue what she was talking about because she hadn't been there. She hadn't been there.

But there was something about her words, about the way she was holding his hands, that stopped him.

"I hope you get to live a good life from now on, Mr. Salvatore. And if you think of Casey, please try not to think of the bad things. Think of him as the one who gave you this chance to live. Please…"

And finally he understood. She needed this just as much as she thought he did, needed for someone to see her son not just as a victim, not just as someone who had killed down there in the pit. But a person, someone that could be forgiven.

Slowly, he nodded, his throat still too closed to say much, even when she got up and ready to leave.

"Thank you again. And don't worry. Our paths will probably not cross again." With that, she went on her way and he was left to stew over her words alone.

She had forgiven him for what he couldn't forgive himself yet. Would he ever?

...

"Hey babe. She already gone?" Bonnie slumped into the seat opposite him what felt like just minutes later, but when he checked the time had been an hour.

"Yup."

"Go okay?" Her hand stroked his and he smiled, leaning over to kiss her.

"Ya, actually," he admitted, his words slowly coming back to him. "She was really… nice."

Bonnie gave him a look, a soft smile, a mouthed "Okay…"

Then, Damon got up abruptly, startling her a bit as he came over to hold out his hand like a gentleman. "Can I have this dance?"

She chuckled incredulously. "This is a coffee shop, Damon." She looked a little sympathetic, too.

He raised his eyebrows. "So?"

Accepting his proffered hand with a half roll of her eyes, Bonnie semi reluctantly got up. Then he whirled her into his arms, making her laugh.

"You know you're crazy, Damon Salvatore, right?"

"Just hungry to live, gorgeous. And now let's dance!"



...

Caroline was with her head deep in preparations for the fundraiser she was organizing for the fine arts department, trying to come up with a sophisticated yet not over the top motto, and for some reason, her mind was completely blank.

Sitting on her dorm bed, she crunched up the umpteenth page of her legal pad, then tossed it in the general direction of the trash can - i.e. ("id est," because she totally had her Latin down pat these days) all over the place.

"Ugh," she made, rolling her eyes at herself, honestly questioning what the hell she had been thinking, taking on this… this thing.

"Hey, girl."

Caroline looked up, beaming when she saw it was Bonnie. Bonnie who must have just returned from her trip to Europe with Damon.

"Bonniiiiiie," she squealed, jumping out of her bed and closing the gap between them with a few wide hopping steps. "Aw, I missed you! I'm so glad you're back!" Her words got muffled by Bonnie's shoulder, as they hugged and giggled and hugged some more, until they finally extricated themselves from each other, grinning.

"I missed you too, Care." Bonnie gave the room a wide scanning look and her friend rolled her eyes, tutting, then pulling her in by the arm.

"Don't mind this mess. I'm a little… in over my head with this stupid fundraiser they're having? - But." She clapped her hands as they both eventually sat down on the bed, Caroline giving Bonnie a sideways hug. "How was it? Where did you go? Did you get to see Rebekah? I want all the details, and I want them now."

Bonnie was chuckling, then began telling her about the trip.

"Let me see… We went to Rome. Which was nice. Lots of old buildings and history. - Florence, to visit Rebekah. She gave us a tour of the whole city. It was amazing…"

Caroline's eyes were locked on Bonnie, marveling at how much her best friend was positively glowing. She seemed so full of life, so…

She only realized she had completely zoned out when Bonnie gave her a weird stare, waving at her exaggeratedly. "Earth to Caroline! Are you still there?"

She grinned sheepishly, grabbing Bonnie's hands in hers. "I'm sorry," she apologized, "I probably shouldn't even say this, but you look so happy, so… relaxed like I haven't seen you in the last two years. It's just. It makes me happy."

There it was again. The moment where the pit came back into their lives. It always did. Sometimes because of someone's nightmares, sometimes because of something someone said, sometimes because of something someone didn't say. Sometimes because of Jeremy's birthday or the day of his death, or Vicky's or Kol's, or Lexi's, or because Bonnie had a panic attack, seemingly out of the blue. Or Damon went on a self-destructive path until Bonnie or Stefan or Enzo (or all of them together) intervened, making him stop. Sometimes, because Enzo had a moment he couldn't snap out of until Caroline did her thing and brought him back.

And sometimes - most of the times - it just kind of snuck up on them and was there like a dark shadow looming at the periphery, threatening to take over at any moment. But it had gotten better, was still getting better, every day, and that was good.

Now here they were sitting, two best friends that had often talked about some aspects of the pit, but never about it all, never quite getting down to the core, and Caroline had never seen the whole picture, so to speak, had never dared to ask all her questions, instead storing them away carefully for those moments where Bonnie or Enzo seemed in the mood to talk a little about it (never for long…).

And she hoped she hadn't ruined the moment now with her observation.

But then Bonnie smiled, squeezing Caroline's hands. "I am happy, Care. For the first time in a long time, I think I'm really happy." She took a deep breath, Caroline just quietly waiting, knowing that something was going to come now, and she freed one hand to furtively dab at a traitorous tear that had escaped down her cheek.

"Oh Care, I didn't mean to make you cry." Bonnie's eyes were welling up with tears too, and the girls giggled like they had used to way before, giggled until it turned into a laugh, then more tears, before they slowly sobered up.

"So the trip was good then? You and Damon…"

Bonnie gave her a look, half smile, half conspiratorial smirk, and Caroline's eyes widened. Knowing. "Oh my gosh!" She hugged Bonnie before the poor girl had a chance to even say anything, and she laughed at Caroline's reaction.

"I didn't even say anything yet."

"He proposed, didn't he? Oh gosh, please tell me he proposed! Damon Salvatore and Bonnie Bennett are so getting married!"

This was epic!

Bonnie's bright smile was answer enough, her nod the extra confirmation, and her explanation, the best part.

"In Paris. This tiny tiny bistro in some random side street." She scoffed. "I had been upset with him for keeping me up on my feet after we had done the Eiffel Tower before, Champs Elisée, the Louvre, and even the gardens over in Giverny. And then he had the waiter bring over champagne, and I mean, real champagne, and there were all these tiny lights and the best bread and cheese and a piano player, and he pulls out this ring…" She turned around the ring she had had on her finger all along and Caroline couldn't believe how she hadn't noticed it before. It was the most beautiful thing.

"Bonnie…" Her voice was an octave higher, her tears flowing freely, and her heart beating so fast it should have already fluttered right out of her. She could barely have been happier if it was her own story to tell. "This is soooo romantic!"

Bonnie was smiling. Finishing her story. "I said yes of course…"

Caroline made a face. "Um. Duh!" Then her features morphed from a soft smile again into an exasperated grimace. "You're getting married. Oh my gosh, and I have to plan this stupid fundraiser!" Caroline threw her hands up in the air in defeat, and Bonnie broke into a laugh.

"It's not like we're getting married tomorrow... If you really want to, you'll have plenty of time to help me plan the wedding, because I'd love your help."

"If I really want to? Are you kidding? Of course I do! Oh my gosh!" Then Bonnie listened, laughing, as Care quickly came up with a ton of plans on how to help her best friend and Damon have the most beautiful wedding and what all they would have to do.

"This is going to be amazing!"

Much later, when they were still sitting together, making plans - not all of them serious, Bonnie eventually grew quiet, for so long that Caroline began to feel a little uneasy.

"Bonnie?" She gently touched her friend's arm, tilting her head to look at her with concern. "You okay?"

Bonnie smiled, or maybe grinned was more appropriate, because it had something harsh to it, something raw. "Did I ever tell you about how he saved me down there in that pit?"

Caroline shook her head, pressing her lips together, before allowing, "Not really. But it's alright, you don't have to—"

"I want to. I'm just not sure I can do this to you. Because it's not going to be pretty, and I don't want to ruin our friendship—"

"Oh Bonnie! You're not going to ruin it! Nothing you say could ever do that." Caroline felt so much sadness and compassion for her best friend that tears began stinging in her eyes again, and she half annoyedly wiped at them. "I'm sorry. Don't mind the stupid tears. I promise you I'll be just fine. I'm here for you, Bon. I hope you know that."

Bonnie nodded, taking a huge breath and letting it out with a sigh.

It had been almost three years. Three years in which she hadn't much talked to anyone other than Damon about what had happened. A little with the other two, of course. Especially now that Rebekah was not as fragile anymore, had regained some of her former strength and determination, thanks to her brothers, but also her sister who had taken care of her for a while there after everything. A little with Grams.

Now it was time to tell Caroline, and when she slowly began to speak, half fearing the power her words might have because she wouldn't be able to take them back, it felt almost a little like relief.

Her best friend would finally know. At least Bonnie's part of the story.

When she was finished, feeling a strange mix of power and exhilaration along with a bone deep exhaustion, she was relieved to see Caroline just as strong as before, with the same kind of compassion, without any judgment.

THe girl gave her another hug, long and soothing, and when they parted, still lightly leaning against each other, Bonnie licked her lips, thinking for a moment about her next words.

"How much has Enzo told you?"

Caroline gave her a puzzled look, and Bonnie almost rolled her eyes, half smiling, despite the horror her story had brought into the room.

"He's not much of a talker, is he?"

"He's told me a few things. He's gotten better about it over the years..." Caroline sighed, shoulders slumping. Suddenly she looked sad and defeated and it was Bonnie's turn to gently nudge her friend. "Care?"

"I'm sorry. It's nothing. Listen, I'm so glad I could finally be there for you and—"

"You've always been there for me, Caroline. I just wasn't ready to talk before."

"It's… I tried." The blonde girl smiled, still sad, still something going on behind her eyes.

"You did more than that. You were there for me, for us. You are there for Enzo."

"I'm not sure I'm doing such a good job there, lately." There it was. Bonnie made a face, feeling sad for her friend, sad for Enzo, too.

"He's not getting in his own way again and ruining things with you, is he? Because if that's the case we'll tell Damon to have a word with him. He'll get through to him, he always does…"

"No." Caroline chuckled a bit sheepishly. "He's… amazing, really. Most of the time we're really amazing together - well, that sounds cheesy, but we really are." She laughed a short bright laugh, and Bonnie joined in, before it ebbed away again, leaving them in silence until Caroline spoke up again with a quiet voice. "He gets those… episodes, you know? Not often, but sometimes. It's like he's back in the pit then or something, and I just wish I knew what happened to him there, all of it, so that I could help him better to come back up."

Like Damon and his nightmares, she thought, immediately understanding Caroline's struggle. It would be harder for her, too, since at least Bonnie knew exactly how it had felt down there, what he was seeing. Caroline was fighting monsters and memories she had no idea of, had never seen or experienced. That couldn't be easy. (As if any of this was easy for either of them.)

It wasn't Bonnie's place to fill Caroline in on things that hadn't happened to her.

Bullshit. This was her best friend and Enzo was her friend, too, and if she could do anything to help them, she would. If that meant telling Caroline what she knew about Enzo's stay in the pit, then so be it. He might get upset about it. But deep down he would know that he needed to face the darkness to overcome it. Like she had. He would get there, too...

"It's been different for him, you know? His… his group… Did he tell you about it at all?"

Caroline nodded, then shook her head. "Just a little. The things that came up in the trial…"

Bonnie nodded, leaning in, Caroline's big sorrowful eyes trained on her as if she was waiting for some wisdom. "Well," she continued, taking a breath, "The thing is…"


It was a perfect day for a little get together, and the Salvatore boarding house the perfect location. Caroline had spent the morning decorating, was still busy decorating, humming to herself as she did.

Elena was getting the flowers ready, Stefan and Matt were pouring over a recipe in the kitchen, their light chuckles occasionally still surprising Caroline. How these two had become friends was still a little strange to her, but probably had to do with the fact that Tyler had followed Rebekah to Italy just a short little while ago.

"The heart streamers and pink balloons most certainly say 'Damon', don't they?"

Enzo's voice made her beam before she even turned around to face him. Rolling her eyes, she huffed. "Of course they do. Damon is very good about channeling his girly side. We all know that."

His smirk made her smile until her cheeks ached.

How did he make her so ridiculously happy? Just by being here…

He had slowly walked up toward where she was still standing, holding one end of a pink, white, and rose colored garland in one hand, and a large nail in the other, with which she had wanted to hang the thing up on the other side of the room.

"Engaged!", it spelled out, and was supposed to span the length of the living room, adorned by a showering of string lights. He moved to take the garland and nail off of her, so close to her now that she could feel his body heat.

"Hey! I'm busy here!" she scolded him exasperatedly, only making the curl of his lips more prominent.

"I love it when you're all bossy, Caroline Forbes." His lips caressed her neck, moved to her ear, a tickle making her giggle and fidget.

"Enzo!" She tried to shove him away, too late remembering that he wasn't the kind of guy she could ever "playfully" shove without changing the whole dynamics, the whole atmosphere in the room, but then he surprised her by staying insistent, nibbling at her lower lip next, until she wrapped her arms around his neck, sighing. "I'm kinda busy here," she breathed, reluctantly now, and he smiled, his forehead touching hers.

"Well, what a coincidence, love. So am I."

Chuckling, then sighing again, she pressed a kiss on his lips. "Give me fifteen minutes?"

"How about you give me ten and afterwards I'll help you hang up this bloody thing - and whatever splendid decorations else you may have?"

She raised her eyebrows, mound appearing as usual, making his smirk widen into a full blown smile. "Ten minutes, huh, Mr. St. John? You're pretty fast."

"I like to call it skilled," he rasped, not giving her much of a chance as he picked her up bridal style and began carrying her up the stairs to his room, before she had a chance to protest, making her laugh so brightly that she was sure everyone could hear her, would know what they were up to. But she didn't really care.

Ten minutes. It would have to suffice. This was going to be their little moment in a day that was revolving around Damon and Bonnie, and she intended to make it a great ten minutes.


Matt shot Stefan a glance as they heard Caroline laugh throughout the house.

"I didn't know hanging up garlands could be so much fun," he commented drily, making Stefan grin a little awkwardly.

"Gotta be Enzo," he explained, making Matt nod understandingly. It was Stefan's turn to laugh at seeing the other's face. "Consider yourself lucky he is not your housemate."

"I… yeah..." Matt was trying to piece together what the comment meant, a little slow on the uptake, and Stefan continued with a pointed look, "She's here all the time…"

"Oh. Oh! Yeah, gosh. No." Because, hell no, he really didn't need to picture Care and her boyfriend doing those kinds of things. Just, nope.

"So, uh…" Flustered, he tried to gloss over the fact that he felt awkward, choosing the exact wrong way to go about it. "You ever still regret breaking up with her?"

Stefan half choked on a spoonful of the dressing he had concocted, and Matt couldn't be sure it was because of the dressing or because of what he had said.

"No," the other man then said. "Can't say I do."

Matt facepalmed inwardly. Half a year had passed since Stefan's and Elena's wedding. Of course the guy wasn't broken up about Caroline anymore. It had been over three years ago since they had even been together.

He really needed to remember that not everyone's world had kind of stopped back then, that people had generally learned to live with what had happened and had moved on. Not everyone had constant memories of things they had said three freaking years ago.

Because most of them had tried so hard to forget, while he… he had tried to hold on to the memories.

It was quite likely part of the reason why Tyler had eventually looked elsewhere for comfort, and had now gone to Europe to be with Rebekah and his new bestie Klaus. Matt rolled his eyes at the thought. He was so pathetic that even his best friend had not been able to handle it anymore.

That wake up call had made him pull himself together a little more recently. Which is why he was even here now, mingling, hanging with the old crowd. But it still felt a little weird. He'd have to work a little harder to fit in and not seem like that weird dude that lived a few years in the past and brought everyone's spirits down.

"Hello. Anyone here?" A thick British accent - that was distinctly not Enzo's - called out, and he froze in the middle of decorating the stupid cupcakes Elena had made and Caroline had insisted needed a little extra pizzazz in the form of sprinkles. Vicky would have gotten a kick out of seeing him daintily put those things on, trying his damn best to not ruin the lightly pink tuft of frosting…

"I heard there's a celebration about to start?"

A head poked into the kitchen: Rebekah, looking a little forlorn for a moment. What was she doing here? And if she was here, did she perhaps bring…

"Tyler." A smile crept across his face, settling there, surprising him. He hadn't thought he'd be so happy to see his friend (his best friend. Still…), but he really was.

"Matt! Good to see you. You look…" Tyler gave him a funny look, obviously thinking, then chuckling lightly when Matt rolled his eyes at him and said, "Dapper and dependable as ever?"

"Something like that, yeah… - I missed you, man." Their bro-hug was heartfelt if short, and Matt even surprised himself by giving Rebekah a hug too. Hard to believe he had once dated her too. (If he thought about it too hard, he really had to roll his eyes at how much of an incestuous group of friends he belonged to…)

Shaking his head, he waved over to the cupcakes, excusing himself. "As you can see we're in the middle of a very important task here. But Elena is outside, and Enzo and Caroline should be back shortly…"

Rebekah smiled, nodding over to Stefan. "Seems lately we always come together to celebrate a Salvatore making a right decision," she said, and Stefan smiled back, inclining his head slightly.

"We missed you at the wedding, though," he told her, and she gave him an apologetic shrug.

"I saw the pictures. It was beautiful…"

Matt began feeling slightly awkward with all this small talk, but who was he to interrupt them.

"How's Freya," Stefan asked, and Matt saw Tyler shoot him a glance behind the other two and roll his eyes exaggeratedly.

"Oh, she's great. Meddling a little too much, as expected…"

He didn't hear the rest as he tried not to laugh at the faces Tyler was making to accompany her account. At least some things didn't change, and it looked like his friend was still not the biggest fan of Rebekah's family.

At that moment, Elena rushed into the kitchen, wide-eyed and excited. "They're here!" she said, "Quick! Gimme these." She indicated the half bedazzled cupcakes and took them with her as she led the way out, the rest of them following.

Matt felt slightly out of touch as he obediently waited by the main entrance like they had planned, Elena shoving balloons into everyone's hands, Caroline and Enzo racing down the stairs, Care looking flushed with her hair a little wild, Enzo as slick and smooth as ever - except for the top button of his dress shirt. Matt almost snorted. Stefan found his place beside Elena, smiling at her with so much love it could have been sickeningly sweet, but wasn't. Rebekah leaning into Tyler, Sheila Bennett chatting with Sheriff Forbes as they quickly came over to join the younger ones. Alaric accidentally popping one of his balloons, making Jenna beside him giggle like a little girl and Elena chide him, but with a smile.

What a cliché gathering they were. But somehow, somehow this was nice. And felt like home. Like he still belonged in this strange world, with these people. His people. With their exaggerated little engagement parties and everything.

And then the door opened, and under loud whoops and lots of laughter, Bonnie and Damon made their grand entrance.

If this was just for their engagement, he wondered what their wedding would look like.

He would find out soon enough, because he was definitely going to be there…


The cell they had stuck him in was barren, cold. With nothing to occupy the mind, and that, perhaps, was the worst. He was used to having his phones, his tablets, computers, even his car could basically speak to him. But here, there was nothing. Not even a crack in the freaking ceiling or a water stain or… anything. He was going to go insane in here.

No, he had probably already arrived there.

This had never been supposed to happen. He was untouchable. He had diplomatic immunity. (Not anymore…) His fortune. Gone, too. Confiscated.

And all he had left was his own sins and memories to keep him up at night. And the smug faces of the four surviving players (kids...) Who had had the chance to kill him, who he had taunted so they would.

But they hadn't fallen for it, and now he was here, paying for everything. For having come up with that stupid game, for having shared his visions with the wrong kind of people, for having believed he was invincible.

Everyone carried a monster inside of them. It had been his father's lesson to him way back when. And he had wanted to teach it to the world. At least, in a way, he knew he had. His legacy, then, would live on. There was the seed of something dark in the world, and he had sown it in the four kids that had escaped.

Except, of course they hadn't really escaped. And that gave him hope in this awful awful place.

Chapter Text

 

...

[Now]

The cellar had been something out of a horror movie, as if the pit hadn't already been bad enough.

Klaus, wearing his plasticky white camouflage again, had made it down there way too easily, even exchanging a wave with that bloke Link as if they were old comrades. But when he had stood in front of that pile of bodies - like something out of a cheesy horror movie or maybe a war movie, but way too damn real - nausea had washed over him, threatening to make him puke. He wasn't generally squeamish, but this?

The bodies had been dumped down here without grace or dignity. No last rites, no Rest In Peace. Just the putrid smell of decay and the empty staring eyes of the dead.

Of his brother.

He had found him toward the bottom of the heap, unseeing cloudy eyes staring into nothing, half smothered by the weight on top, his limbs at strange angles.

Klaus' heart had been in a vise (still was, hours later), his mind consumed by a sudden burst of pain and an insatiable anger, hatred for the people who did this. They had dumped Kol there like garbage. His brother! His little brother. Completely forgetting about his disguise, about being stealthy, and leaving before anyone could see him, he had abruptly stumbled forward, caressing Kol's cold face, his own scrunching up in despair.

"No," he had whispered, "No… Come on, brother. Come on…"

Grabbing the kid's arms, he had tried to pull at him, had needed to get him out, but it had been futile. The pile hadn't budged, hadn't let his brother go. A yell had escaped him then, angry, full of raw emotion, and before he knew it, someone had been by his side, trying to drag him away.

"How the hell did he even get down here?" Someone had hissed. The sheriff? But he hadn't even quite been aware, had been fighting the people holding him back. He had wanted nothing but to get to Kol, had needed so desperately to get him out.

"He was in the pit, too, you sent him there to get me, Sheriff. Remember?"

"No, I didn't. Do you know who that is? Jesus Christ. - Klaus? Niklaus. I need you to look at me. Look. At. Me. - Come with me. You can't be down here. Come on, kid. Come on…"

No one had called him a kid in a very long time.

He hadn't been aware that he had started sobbing until her blurry face had materialized in front of him: Sheriff Forbes. Of course…

"Klaus."

He had tried to focus on her voice, had tried to look past her to where his brother was lying just a few feet away.

"I have to take him home. I have to…"

There had been so much sympathy in her face, in the sheriff's face. While talking to him. It had been real. It was real. Rebekah had been right. Of course she had been. Oh god, Kol was dead. His obnoxious little brother, the one he liked to be annoyed with, if he didn't party right alongside him…

Kol was dead, and he would never come back.

"Sh. It's okay," he remembered her saying, Liz Forbes, of all people, consoling him. "It's okay. It's going to be okay. - Come on. Let's get you out of here. You shouldn't have to see this. Let's go up to Elijah… Come on…"

He had heard the words, had understood them, but he could only stare at her as she and the big blob from before had guided him out, all struggle having left him quite abruptly by then.

When they had reached the top again, leaving behind the dead musty smell to breathe in the clean forest air, Elijah had noticed them instantly. How had he been there so quickly? He would be so mad at Klaus, and honestly, Klaus couldn't deal with that right now. He couldn't—

But then Elijah had merely exchanged a frowning meaningful look with the sheriff, then zoned in on his younger brother, pulling him in for an unexpected hug.

"Niklaus." Had there been reprimand in his voice? Disappointment? No. It had sounded more like… compassion. Sympathy. Pain.

"He's dead," Klaus had stupidly remarked, grabbing a fist of Elijah's coat to hold onto as his brother's embrace tightened. "Kol's dead…"

"I know…"

...

He kept replaying it over and over in his head, even now, at home. And when the eyes wouldn't leave him alone, when the smell and the words wouldn't stop assaulting him, he grabbed his jacket and ran out into the night, looking for a place to drown it all out. The nearest bar...


It was late - again - when Sheriff Elizabeth Forbes finally arrived back home, some Chinese take out in a white plastic bag dangling off one arm, a large folder of case work tucked under the other.

She was by far not ready to call it a day. Not after spending so much time at that horrible house and then the Lockwood cellar. A shiver went down her spine again at the thought of those discarded bodies. So many of them. In her town…

Forcing herself to shake it off before stepping inside the warm cozy house, she called out to Caroline, announcing dinner time.

She had decided to make it a point to at least have dinner with her daughter today, something to ground her, to give them time to bond in this horrible mess, but afterward she would have to go over the file of evidence, would have to review what Stinson had sent her. Bringing the work home with her instead of staying at the station had always been something she hadn't wanted to do. She hadn't wanted to bring the horrors to the home where she raised her child, br desperate times called for desperate measures and blah blah, so here she was, with her work stuff, ready to let it go for an hour or so to reconnect with her daughter, who probably felt pretty abandoned by now.

To her surprise, Caroline had set the table and was already waiting for her, leaning over the phone she had placed in front of her, staring at it with an upset expression, when Liz walked in.

"Hey sweetie," she called out, smiling as her beautiful girl looked up, and then a pang hit her as she realized that soon, Caroline would move out, away for college, and no one would ever care anymore whether she came home early or late, or never.

With a sigh she slumped onto her chair, dumping the bags and the folder next to her plate on the table.

"I'm sorry," she apologized, watching as Caroline furtively pressed the home button of her phone, the screen turning black as she did. "I didn't mean to come home so late."

"I know." Caroline managed a small smile. Sad. This case was getting to her, too.

"Dim Sum?" Liz had rummaged in the bag and gotten a box out to offer to her daughter, who took it with a small "thanks."

There was a heaviness in the air that made Liz pause halfway through opening her own box of food. She grimaced slightly, locking gazes with Caroline, reading her. "You know I can't really talk about the case, right?"

Her daughter looked down, caught. Fidgeting with her food, she pretended to have an appetite, not fooling her mother.

"You've heard about the video…" Of course she had. Everyone had. Caroline looked up again, shooting her a glance, nodding. "Have you seen it?" Another small nod that made Liz sigh wearily, tiredly.

Pushing herself up off her chair, she came around the table to sit down closer to her child, laying a hand on hers. All she had ever wanted to do was protect Caroline, keep her safe, away from all that was terrible in this world.

She had failed spectacularly.

"Is Bonnie okay?" Liz asked, knowing that the two were best friends and had probably talked about it. Or at least messaged each other.

Caroline made a face. "We ate a whole tub of rocky road ice cream," she offered by way of explanation, "With extra chocolate syrup."

Liz couldn't suppress a snort. That answer pretty much told the whole story. She could go for a tub of ice cream herself right about now, and there wouldn't be anything left to share…

Poor Bonnie, she thought, chiding herself when she realized how hypocritical she was. She felt sorry for the girl, her daughter's best friend that had spent so much time over at her house, yet she was hesitant about the girl's fellow pit-survivors who she didn't know as well. About Lorenzo St. John in particular.

Because he was a man, and he was a year or two older, and he had come to her daughter - after murdering a girl. She had had a murderer in her house; who had been alone with her daughter. And while she knew thinking like that was unfair, didn't do the severity of the pit-problem justice, she couldn't help herself.

Because she was a mother, and her daughter meant everything to her.

"I think you should probably stay away from Lorenzo for a while, sweetie." The words were out too quickly. She wanted to take them back as soon as she saw Caroline's face fall, but she couldn't. How could she if she honestly believed in them. She wanted Caroline to stay away from him.

Just until… Yeah, until what?

Reaching out to touch Caroline's cheek, Liz felt hurt when her daughter pulled away immediately, glaring at her, angry and upset.

"Stay away from him?!"

"Just…" She sighed. "You saw what he did."

"You know this was none of his fault. None of theirs."

"Caroline. I know what they said, and everything points toward it being true, that there was someone behind all this, and I promise you—"

Caroline scoffed, disbelievingly. "That video was obviously made to put them in a bad light, and I can't believe my own mother is falling for it."

"I promise you we'll continue investigating this, and treating them like victims. Caroline, we're trying to find the masterminds behind all this, okay? I brought the freaking FBI in for goodness' sake! But… you can't deny that what Lorenzo did, what Damon did… that there is a significant difference between how Jeremy or even Kol died and how these other kids died. That girl, the boy begging for his life…"

"Did you talk to them again, after the video surfaced? To Enzo and Damon, I mean?" Caroline looked at her half accusingly, and Liz didn't like feeling like she was being interrogated for a change. By her own daughter to boot. "Did they tell you more about what happened? Because going by how little Enzo said before, I highly doubt you have any real idea how that girl died, or the boy. Maybe she attacked him first. Maybe—"

"He smashed her head into the ground multiple times, Caroline! Viciously! Over the top violently! You can't deny that! You've seen it! And Damon?!" Liz yelled exasperatedly, frustrated now, angry at… at who? Caroline? The world? The people who did this? Herself… "That boy was begging for his life!"

"He would have killed Enzo! Damon had to do something! They all had to! - These people made them kill each other so they could live. They… they were terrified for their own lives! You know that, mom! Who is to say how humanely we would have killed the others had we been in their shoes, down in that stupid pit!"

Liz didn't really know what to say.

Caroline was right. Of course she was... Still, something didn't sit right with Liz, and maybe it was more than the violence displayed, maybe it was her own failure staring back at her. Because while this video had been recorded, while these kids had been forced to fight each other, she had gone home early, thinking it was a pretty quiet weekend. She couldn't have been more wrong...

"I just want you to be careful around him, that's all. We don't know what could trigger him. These… these kids all suffered trauma, Care. There's no knowing what it did to them. And…" She pauses, making herself say it, order it, despite already knowing her daughter wouldn't like it. "I don't want you to be alone with him anymore."

Caroline got up slowly, scoffing. "Well, it's not like he's going to smash my head into the ground and kill me. He would have done that already when he first got here and you were too busy to come home."

That one hurt. Because it was so true.

"Can you be sure of that?!" she asked defensively, unable to stop herself. Caroline looked ready to cry and Liz felt like the worst mother there was. Deflating, she also stood up, taking a step toward her daughter, who had crossed her arms in front of her, distancing herself. "I'm… I'm sorry. Look. Caroline. All I want is for you to stay safe while I'm dealing with this. Can you please promise me you'll be careful?"

There was a flicker in Caroline's eyes, Liz wasn't sure what it meant, but then her daughter nodded slowly. "I will be careful. I promise," she allowed, making Liz feel a tiny bit better. She knew Caroline would understand. She might hate what her mother had said, she might not be on the friendliest terms right now, but her daughter was smart and she usually knew why her mom did what she did and said what she said.

"I'm not doing this to hurt you."

"I know…" She sounded so small, and Liz felt so awful.

Then Caroline turned around, proclaiming. "Actually, I'm not hungry. Too much ice cream, I'll just go to my—"

"Hey" Liz interrupted her, pulling lightly at her arm. "Hey. Look at me, sweetie. I want you to know that I'm doing all of this because I love you, okay?"

"Okay," her daughter said grudgingly, her features softening as Liz dared giving her a small hug.

"I'm sorry. I know this whole thing is awful. We're all trying to deal with it. And I'm sorry I wasn't there when you needed me that night. I should have been there. I should have come home."

Caroline's chin wobbled a little. "Yeah, you should have…"

Liz made a face, apologizing again. "I'll do better from now on." She smiled, nudging Caroline lightly before they parted, her daughter slowly walking toward the stairs as Liz fell back into her chair with another sigh. She was so starved. Even though that video had made her lose her appetite all day.

"I can't stay away from him, though," Caroline suddenly piped up from the hallway, making Liz press her lips together in defeat. But she didn't say anything when Caroline continued, "He needs me. And I… I kinda really like him…" Her voice had grown so small that her mother barely heard it, but she did. It made her mom heart ache too much...

What was she supposed to do about that?

About any of it...


It had taken Elena a few more days before she felt ready to face them again, the world, Bonnie, Damon.

The video that was coursing around the Internet, she hadn't been able to bring herself to watch it, but Caroline had been kind enough to give her the Cliff Notes version, just so that she could know.

She hadn't really known what to say to Damon about it, or even Bonnie, things between them awkward and strained, and even though she wanted to overcome that, it wasn't so easy.

"I feel like I should pick up smoking so that I can fit in a little better with these old geezers out here." Damon sounded almost like his usual self, shooting her a smiling glance as he pointed at a group of wheelchair bound old folks not far from them.

She had to chuckle. Since she had only been allowed to take him out in the wheelchair, he did kind of have something in common with them. Even down to the comfy looking robe he was wearing, in his case a nice dark satin one, though, which had made her smile when she had gotten there in the first place.

He had given her the Damon-eyes, raised eyebrows and all, and exclaimed, "A man's gotta keep up his style even here, although…" He had shot a glance at Enzo then leaned in conspiratorially, telling her in a stage whisper, "I don't think he got the memo."

Enzo had rolled his eyes, grinning, as she had made her reluctant boyfriend sit down in the wheelchair to go out.

"Do I have to?" he had asked, and she had nodded, insistent.

"Doctor's orders. You can walk for a little bit, but not outside the hospital floors. And I thought it'd be fun to… you know, feel the sun on your skin?"

Then she had taken him for a walk down to the small park behind the hospital, hoping that the fresh air and lack of walls (and roommate…) would make it feel more natural again, would make them feel comfortable around each other again.

Now here they were and at first she loved seeing him behave a little like his usual self again, at the same time noticing that they were both putting up a front.

They were putting up an act around each other, for each other, and that couldn't be good.

Sitting down on a bench next to where she had wheeled him, she put her hands in her lap, fidgeting a little.

"How are you really feeling, Damon?" She quietly asked, earning herself a questioning frown.

"We doing that now? Let me get my collection of hair pins and bows out so we can braid each other's hair."

She shot him a glare, not even as annoyed as she maybe should have been. Of course he was evading her.

"I'm serious, Damon."

He sighed, a long deep exhalation that showed her more of what was really going on with him than any of the words he had said to her so far. "I'm good," he allowed, "It's all healing, still have to be a bit of a contortionist to make it out of bed, but otherwise—"

"I mean, in here." She rapped her own head, their gazes locking. There was a wordless exchange between them, almost like a strange pact being made, and toward the end, Damon sighed again, shaking his head.

"It's… dark in there. - What about you?" he deflected. "How you coping?"

His diversion tactics was so obvious, but that wasn't what bothered her. What bothered her was her own relief at not having to talk about his ordeal. She wanted to be there for him, wanted them to be close, but for some reason she felt horribly distant, as if this guy in front of her was not really her Damon anymore.

Giving him a shrug, she looked away. "You know…"

She wanted to tell him how sheriff Forbes herself had come by personally to tell her they had found Jeremy. Wanted to tell him how she had broken down. That Stefan had come by instantly after she called him, unable to say a word.

How Jenna had let him in and she had heard him rush up the stairs after a few whispered words, and how she had almost thrown herself into his arms when he peeked into her room, finding her in a heap on her bed, holding Jeremy's favorite old stuffed animal.

"Stefan said he—"

"He really helped me, ya."

Damon nodded, neither of them openly saying anything of substance. How much had Stefan told his brother?

Elena abruptly snorted, making Damon give her a curious look. "This is stupid, isn't it?" she said, his blank stare changing. "How we scoot around each other? Never really talking about anything real anymore? You fought for your life, Damon. You got Bonnie out of that hell. You had to do uns—"

"Elena…"

"Unspeakable things," she spoke over him, determined now to get it out while she had the courage. Wherever that had even come from. "You killed that kid and to the world it looks like you did it for fun. But he must have provoked you, I know he must have. You would never… you… you tried to save Jer and I will always be grateful for that. But I… I'm so sorry, I just don't think I can get over this. Over you in that pit. Over almost losing you, too… I mean, I don't even feel like I have a right to be upset about any of this because you had it so much worse, and I really want to be able to be there for you, but I honestly don't think I can. - I'm a selfish asshole, aren't I?" She chuckled a little desperately, feeling awful. Guiltily, she looked at him, fighting the urge to hide away, stare down at her hands.

That his face was full of understanding made it worse. "Maybe just a little," he said, indicating it with his thumb and index finger and she laughed a bright clear laugh, making him smile. Then he shook his head, his expressions growing wistful. "You're not, though. And I get it. I wish I could be there for you, go to the funeral…"

"I know you can't. They won't let you leave before your lung is in the clear…"

But that wasn't it, and they both knew it.

"This is not going to work anymore, is it?" Her voice had grown raspier, quieter. The truth may have been obvious, but it hurt nonetheless. She still loved him. But she couldn't be with him, not at the moment. And since this moment was so damn defining, so crucial, was a time when they should have been there for each other, it wouldn't work if they turned their backs on each other now. Love or no.

Damon's face said it all. He hadn't looked at her like that in a very long time. Then he shook his head again. "We had something great…"

"We did." Fresh tears rolled down her cheeks that she wiped away quickly. She hadn't come out here to end it, but here it was. Their final moment, and it felt achingly okay.

"I still love you. Elena Gilbert."

Her heart was brimming over, her throat too right. "And I love you, Damon Salvatore." This was probably the weirdest break up she had ever gone through.

"Promise me you'll look out for yourself. And that you don't let this get in the way of you living your life."

"Same goes for you."

He winked at her, his hand reaching over to caress her face. "And I know it's asking a lot. But… don't blame Bonnie. It really wasn't her fault."

"I know." She was sobbing now, mourning the loss of something that had been great and could have been epic. But also amazed at how even now he was thinking of someone else, too, of Bonnie.

Falling silent, they remained sitting there in the park for a long time. Neither of them speaking, neither of them quite ready to leave just yet. Because leaving meant it was truly over.

And then it was.


Stefan opened the door without so much as a second of waiting after his knock and stopped in his tracks when he saw Enzo whirl around, an open duffle bag on the bed in front of him.

"Uh. I'm sorry," he apologized, feeling slightly sheepish. He had forgotten that Damon had a roommate now, and when he saw that his brother wasn't even there, he was quick to give a half wave of his hand and excuse himself. "I guess he's not here. I'll just… wait outside."

Enzo stared at him, his stance not as tense anymore, then he slowly turned back to his bag, packing. "Relax, Stefan," he said. "You can wait here. I'm about to be off anyway. So… no worries. You won't have to suffer my presence for much longer."

"I.. you… they are discharging you, then?" Why was he even trying to make small talk with the guy? To bridge the awkwardness…

Enzo chuckled. "Something like that, ya."

Stefan nodded, understanding. "So. Where are you headed?"

"Fear not, I won't disturb your peace back home."

Rolling his eyes, Stefan walked into the room after all, sitting down on Damon's bed, watching the other man. He was about to make a snarky comment, when he told himself to stop. This was becoming stupid. And Damon had been right. He wouldn't have wanted to trade places with Enzo. Not down in that pit, at least. With a sigh, half annoyed at himself before he even opened his mouth, he said, "You know you still have a room there, right?"

"I also have an apartment."

It was Stefan's turn to chuckle. He knew that little hole, even though he had never set foot in it. "Just come home, Enzo. I promise I'll be civil if you are."

The other man closed his bag, then turned around to look at him. Unreadable eyes staring at him, Stefan felt himself grow tense, wary.

"I wanted to apologize," Enzo abruptly said, raising his head as if he was trying not to be too vulnerable despite his apology, as if he was expecting Stefan to blow up again. He couldn't really blame him. But he was too flustered for that, couldn't even say a word. "I shouldn't have said what I did."

About Lexi. But he didn't say that.

Crossing his arms in front of him, Stefan cast a glance at this man, this familiar yet strange person that he had never come to like. And for the first time in probably ever, he had respect for him. He hadn't expected an apology. Definitely not with Enzo being the one initiating it.

"Yeah. Well… I guess I shouldn't have provoked you. Especially not after…" He nodded, unsure of how to say it. "What happened to you."

It was as close as he was going to get to an actual "I'm sorry," and it would have to suffice. He knew that Enzo probably deserved more than that. The guy had gone through hell and had somehow survived, just like Damon. But Stefan wasn't ready yet. There was too much between them, and the thing with the pit (Lexi's death…) was just the latest.

Which didn't mean he couldn't see plainly how Damon seemed to do better with his friend around. Couldn't seven that they both needed each other, whether Stefan wanted it or not. There was something Enzo could give Damon that his own brother couldn't, and since he would do anything for Damon, anything to make him feel better, he had to make sure he tried his best to keep Enzo around.

"See you at home?" he asked, their gazes meeting again, Enzo's flickering, his own steady, then, before Enzo could say anything (could decline…) Stefan got up with a flourish. "Good. That's settled then I guess. I'm sure Damon will be glad. We'll have to make sure he doesn't bail out of here as soon as you're gone, though. Do me a favor? - Don't tell him you're leaving against medical advice. Or he'll do the same. And…" He was already almost out the door again, looking back at Enzo, "Tell him you'll come visit him."

As he opened the door, he was flustered for just a moment at seeing Caroline standing in front of him, hand held ready to knock.

"Stefan." Her cheeks flushed as she self consciously put a strand of her hair behind her ear. He had to suppress the urge to do it for her.

"Caroline." Trying to go for a light tone and failing miserably, he cleared his throat. "You here to, uh…"

"Pick up Enzo," she completed his sentence, looking to the ground, then back up at him.

"Yeah, right. Um… i see you later, I guess. He's… going home to the boarding house, by the way," he added, "Don't let him go to that ratty place of his…"

She smiled up at him, a genuine warm smile that made him miss her even though she was right there in freaking front of him. She wasn't his anymore, though. She was here for another man…

"Okay." Her hand came up to touch him and he was too weak to back away. "How are you holding up?" She asked, and the ache spread until it was surely visible on his face.

"I'm alright. Caroline. We weren't in that pit, right?"

Her brow furrowed, eyebrows arching up. "Right…" Then she patted his arm and walked past him into the room. "Hey, you," he heard her say, imagining her smiling at Enzo and Enzo smiling back. (Apparently he really liked torturing himself…) And with a grimace, he closed the door behind him.

Chapter Text

...

"Another one."

Tyler was half slumped over the counter as the bartender shook his head at him, declining the order.

"You had enough, kid."

Tyler shot him a nasty look, cocking his head to take him in. "Oh ya?" He challenged. "You might want to change your mind or I'll tell the cops that you just served whiskey to a minor."

"What the…"

Triumphantly, Tyler showed the man his ID, his real one this time, and grinned at him as he reluctantly poured him another shot of the burning liquid.

"Last one," the bartender grumbled. "I mean it. Or I'll have to call an ambulance for you and we both don't want that…"

Tyler scoffed, licking his lip. To be quite honest, he didn't care either way anymore. As long as he could just get Vicky's broken skull, her distorted looking face out of his goddamn head. He had tried calling Matt earlier, but then, when he had heard his friend's voice, he had chickened out. Because what was he going to say to him? I saw your dead sister and it was awful? Her face was almost split in half and the smell—

Oh gosh, that smell.

Abruptly, Tyler pushed himself up and off the barstool, stumbling toward the door, barely making it before the contents of his stomach came out, spattering the ground beneath him.

Closing his eyes, he waited for his body to calm down, waited for the nausea to pass, and when it finally did, he was suddenly facing Caroline, all concerned eyebrows and wide eyes.

"Caroline?" Confused, he stared at her, the world swaying under his feet. "What are you doing here?"

That sad frown…

"Oh, Ty. You called me. Left a bunch of cryptic messages, too." She gave him a look that he couldn't decipher. Concern? Annoyance? Pity.

Rolling his eyes at the latter, he wiped his mouth, stalking past her. "Well, I'm sorry. I honestly don't remember what I even said. Didn't mean to waste your time…"

What had he said, though? Oh gosh. His head was beginning to feel awful, and the world was turning a little too damn quickly and Vicky wouldn't stop looking at him.

"I'm sorry, I think I'm…" He was sick again before he could finish his warning, embarrassed when he realized he had thrown up right in front of Caroline.

There was no "yuck" or reproach coming from her, however, and that's when he realized he must have told her more than he should have.

"Let's sit down, okay?" she suggested, softly, and he nodded, because really? He could barely stand anymore. Letting himself sink down on the curb, head between his legs, he sat there, just waiting for the spinning to slow down again.

"I saw Vicky," he suddenly blurted out, only half surprising himself. "I saw Vicky…" And then he couldn't stop himself from freaking crying because it was all too much and he had no idea how to cope anymore. No idea.


"Aw. And here I thought you already had a new boy toy with dear Enzo, Caroline?"

She looked up to see Klaus Mikaelson of all people swagger up to where she sat, trying to console a heartbroken Tyler, and all she could do was roll her eyes at him and say, "Not funny, Klaus. Not right now, okay?"

"Why so gloomy? Did you perchance not enjoy the drinks in this quaint little bar?"

"Klaus!" Raising her eyebrows, nodding toward a bent over Tyler, she tried to clue him in to the obvious, that now really wasn't a good time. But of course he didn't seem to care. And how was that possible? He should be shaken up by this whole mess, too! He had lost a brother after all, and his sister had returned a complete wreck. So why was he not with her, with his family, instead of spewing his usual not funny crap.

"Enzo not the jealous type?" He gave her this weird look that made her angrier than it probably should have. Mocking, pouty. For some reason she felt immediately defensive. Like she was doing something wrong. But she wasn't! She and Enzo didn't exactly have a very defined relationship yet, certainly not anything that would warrant jealousy.

Still, Klaus had gotten to her, and suddenly she felt guilty for not being there for Enzo now. For not making sure he'd be okay this first night out of the hospital and back at the Salvatore boarding house.

It was probably way too late now to still go and check on him. Besides. She had Tyler to worry about.

"I should probably go," her friend was saying right then, abruptly wiping his eyes, then getting up and almost falling over if her reflexes hadn't been so good that she jumped up to steady him.

"Oh, I see! Bit of a drinking problem, that one."

"Shut up," Tyler told Klaus, making Caroline cringe. Please don't fight, guys, she pleaded inwardly, then put a hand around Tyler's waist just as her phone vibrated and she caught a glimpse of Stefan's name.

He had texted her… She tried to take a peek, but couldn't quite see, not without letting go of Tyler.

"Stuck in the middle, I see. One boy right here; the other elsewhere, both of them a mess. Your taste in men is impeccable, Caroline."

It was all a play to Klaus, but Caroline wasn't in the mood.

"Pull yourself together, Tyler," Klaus was just saying, sidling over way too close until he was in the other's face.

"Stop it," Caroline hissed.

Klaus smirked at her. "So protective… the mother hen job strangely suits you, love."

"Don't be an asshole, Klaus. Please. Don't provoke him, okay? Not today."

"Aw. Did he have a bit of a hard day? What about the rest of us?!" There was a sudden venom in Klaus' voice that made Caroline stop and think for a moment. Like his facade was about to crack, the cockiness making room for… pain.

Sighing, she shook her head. "I know what you've been through."

"Do you, now?"

"Leave her alone," Tyler suddenly piped up, as if he remembered he was there too, and he sounded like he was getting slowly riled. Caroline gave him a pat. "Just ignore him, okay? Come on, let's get you home."

"I don't want to go home."

"Matt then." She sighed again, frustration building up. She still hadn't been able to read Stefan's message when she noticed the phone in her purse light up again briefly. Another message.

"You're a wanted woman tonight."

"Geez, Klaus. Can you just shut up and maybe help me here? I know you've had a horrible few days, I'm… I'm so sorry you lost your brother, but I… I really need to get Tyler home—

"He found the bodies." There. Out of the blue, Klaus said it. Making Tyler lift his head again, eyes flickering. Klaus' expression had shifted, no trace of a smirk or mirth visible anymore. Just sudden realization and… understanding.

Had he… "You saw it too?"

Oh gosh, Caroline thought. In over her head, she didn't know what to do. Too many people around her needed help and she was just one person. The only one who hadn't personally been affected.

Defeated, she shoved Tyler against her car when they finally got there, Klaus still lingering, and she checked her phone.

~ Could use your help. It's Enzo. ~

~ Think he needs you. ~

~ I'd try Damon, but… ~

She looked up at the sky, seeing a few stars sparkle up above, and all she wanted to do was scream.


He didn't normally care about being a good person or doing good things for people, except his family. And, for some reason he didn't even understand himself, for Caroline Forbes.

While he had been stuck in his own moment of horror, of terror, he had gone to that bar to drink himself senseless, hoping Elijah wouldn't notice and come looking for him before the buzz had decently set in. But he had to run into Caroline and her next project, well, he guessed they called it a "friend"... And something had touched him when he had seen her eyes grow darker, more desperate, right there next to her cute little girly car, with her pathetic little friend. (Who wasn't that pathetic, now was he? Kid was just a little ahead of Klaus in terms of getting wasted, and after learning why, he most certainly couldn't blame him.)

With a roll of his eyes, already regretting it, already annoyed that he was going to do this, he took pity on her - and the kid. "I'll get him home," he rasped with a sigh, making her look at him with a startled frown, then disbelieving grin.

She scoffed. "You?! Klaus Mikaelson."

"Trust me, Caroline. I can be nice sometimes too. You were actually the one telling me that one day…"

Her expression changed. She was cautious (he couldn't blame her either.) But he was right, she had always been someone to see a different kind of potential in him, back when he had still lived here, and somehow, that belief now made him want to help her out.

"Was that boy toy one?" He pointed his finger, indicating her phone that she almost furtively shoved back into her purse, glaring at him.

"He's not my boy toy."

Raising an eyebrow, he smirked. "Come on, Caroline. Let me help you this once. I'm sure Tyler and I can be best friends for tonight, and you'll be free to check on the not-boy-toy."

He could see it work behind her facade, could see the inner struggle, while Tyler beside her was too out of it too take notice of pretty much anything. Kid looked positively shaken - almost as bad as the way he felt, and following a sudden instinct, he patted him on the back, pulling him slightly with him.

"Let's go, Tyler. Time to head home," he said, emphasizing the name as if it was just a nickname, making the boy scowl at him before he stumbled along.

"You're bringing me home?" He scoffed, coughed, then shook his head as if to clear it. "Whatever… I don't even—"

Klaus suddenly grabbed his neck, not too harshly but enough to get the boy's attention, and got real close. "See that girl right there? I kind of like her - despite her general taste in men - and she is a little overwhelmed with all you people right now. So I'm trying to do her a favor. You want to do the same? Then let me take you home. - Besides," he paused, taking Tyler in, who was looking slightly more sober again, squinting at Klaus suspiciously, surely not quite trusting him. "I might have a bottle of Scotch to share back at my home, if you don't mind a little detour."

"And I'm to believe that you suddenly—"

"You're not to believe anything, Tyler. But I heard you've been to the cellar…" He clicked his tongue; talking about it was harder than he had expected. "My brother was in there. I want to thank you for getting him back to us."

Tyler's face had changed, a sudden pallor creeping into his features at the mention of the cellar.

"Relax," Klaus was quick to add, "I'm being sincere. So: Thank you." Indicating all of Tyler, he added, "and I get it, I was there too…"

"You… you were there? - You saw…"

They both exchanged a long look, then finally continued walking.

"Are you sure," Caroline called after them, and he shot her a glance, seeing her still fidget uncertainly. Phone in hand, she must have already messaged back her boy toy (not-boy-toy), though. "Tyler? Will you be fine?"

"It's alright, Care. Klaus and I… you just go on your way. Oh and… thank you."

"Of course." She smiled at him, and then turned toward Klaus one last time, her grateful expression making his heart jump slightly.

"Thank you," she mouthed, and he took a half bow, then slowly turned away, suppressing a loud sigh. He'd have rather gone home with her instead. But this wasn't too bad. He could pretend to be a nice guy and had a companion who understood…


Damon woke up in a near panic, needing a moment to get the world around him into focus and realize where he was.

Not in the pit, except in his head. Running his hands over his sweaty brow, hissing as the movement aggravated his injuries, he forced himself to exhale slowly. Then take a deep breath.

"That's right," he cajoled himself, "Easy does it."

Of course talking to himself like that wasn't exactly a good sign either. Maybe there was a screw loose in his head somewhere after the last week or so. He looked around in the semi darkness of the room, checking the time on his phone briefly. Barely even two at night. He really should try and sleep.

His gaze fell on the empty bed next to his, and he felt a sudden pang of regret. He hadn't realized before just how much better he had been doing with Enzo as his roommate. When he had woken up in the middle of the night before, a quick look over there had usually done the trick. Sometimes, Enzo had been up, too, and they had joked a little about how pathetic they were and how overrated sleep was these days. He chuckled briefly to himself. Enzo had understood, at least.

But now his friend was already home and thanks to his own stupid lung, he wasn't allowed to leave yet. Had, in fact, gotten "threatened" by Doctor Lu that if he just followed Enzo as he had said he was going to, his lung might collapse and then he'd be back here for even longer - if he didn't die. And he didn't want to die, not after all he had gone through to get back here, to survive.

His throat felt tight. He didn't want to think about it, about the pit. About Casey, or that other guy, or… Jeremy.

Watching helplessly as the first group just went completely crazy down there. He remembered yelling something to them. To Lexi, to Enzo. "Watch out!" "Don't!" To that kid, Joel or whatever his name was, who had lost it, had panicked, setting it all in motion. He couldn't blame the kid. Maybe he even had to thank him because if Joel hadn't done what he did, none of them might have started fighting, and then Damon, too, might have died.

But it was useless to play this game of "what if." Why then couldn't he stop it? Why.

His fingers were faster than the rest of him and he caught himself typing a short message. To Bonnie.

~ You're probably not awake. Moon is pretty tonight, though… ~

A reply came surprisingly quickly.

~ Didn't know you were such a romantic. ~

An instant smile appeared on his face. He didn't even need to think before typing again. ~ Why are you not sleeping. ~

~ Probably just so you'd have someone to talk to. ~

She had used one of those emojis he never used, the weird face with the laughing mouth and squeezed shut eyes, whatever the hell that even meant.

~ Aren't I a lucky one. ~

There was a longer pause this time, and stupidly, he began worrying that he had said something wrong. The lack of intonation sometimes didn't make his usual snark and banter translate too well to text. And he didn't want to screw things up with her. It was stupid, but she really made him feel a little more grounded. Like he wasn't all screwed up. Not just a monster. (He had killed that poor kid in the pit. But he didn't even feel bad about that other guy. The one who had tried to rape Bonnie…)

~ We are, though, right? Lucky. We made it out alive. We're supposed to be the lucky ones… ~

Her text made his throat constrict. She always said the things he himself was thinking. It pained him to know she was so tormented, too.

~ We are, Bon. ~

~ I'm lucky to have you… ~

She sent a heart in reply, nothing else, making Damon wistfully stare at it. Then:

~ Not sure I said it yet: THANK YOU. You saved me that weekend. In more ways than one… ~

It was his turn to be lost for something to reply, his fingers hovering over his phone. An ache spread in his chest, making it even harder to breathe. He wanted to come up with something lighthearted to say. Or something funny, or witty. Instead he settled on,

~ You saved ME, Bonnie Bennett.

He could almost see her, sitting up in her bed perhaps, or maybe cuddled deep into her blanket, laying on her side, phone close to her face so as not to light up the room too much. She had mentioned (admitted, really, flushing slightly) that she had been sleeping with her Grams as of late, ever since the pit. None of them were sleeping well anymore… Maybe she was smiling now, though, a little melancholic, or maybe he was just projecting, because he was definitely smiling to himself, thinking of her.

He was glad they had made it out of there, was glad she hadn't given up, because he was pretty damn sure that if she hadn't pulled it together there toward the end, they would all not be here anymore.

~ I'll let you go, gorgeous. Try and get some sleep. ~

~ You too, Damon Salvatore. Count some sheep. ~

His smile grew momentarily, before it vanished, the bleakness of his room coming back into focus. How was he supposed to go back to sleep? The images would be back the second he closed his eyes. If only he wasn't so alone in here. If he ever admitted to Enzo just how much he missed him right now, the guy would probably never let him live it down.

With a weary sigh, Damon tried to get comfortable, then decided to press the call button. Maybe the nice night nurse would give him another one of her magic sleeping pills.

When the door opened just a few minutes later, he had put his chipper front back in place.

"You're a fast one, Cheryl," he started, expecting the matronly blonde woman to make an appearance and startled when he found himself look at his brother instead.

Creases appearing on his forehead, he gave him a hesitant look. Did this mean something had happened?

"Stefan? What brings you here at this beautiful moment?" He probably didn't sound as smooth as he had hoped. "Did you miss me that much? I mean, I would miss me too, but…"

Stefan smiled, shaking his head. "I just thought you could maybe use some company."

Damon's frown grew. "Okay, that's… unexpectedly… brotherly of you? Spit it out, what's going on."

Stefan let himself fall onto Enzo's deserted bed. Briefly Damon wondered whether he'd get another roommate soon and whether he'd be able to sleep at all with a stranger right next to him. (Or maybe, he'd be sleeping in the medical ward of prison by then…)

"It's nothing. I just… I couldn't sleep so I thought I'd go check on you." Something told Damon that that wasn't the whole story.

"Enzo okay? You didn't let him go to his rathole, did you?"

"Nah, man. He's at the boarding house. He's…" Stefan gave a sigh, coming back up a little to look at his brother. "He's not doing so great. I got Caroline to come out for him, and I… I was worried how you are holding up."

That was more truth and honesty, more directness than Damon would have liked, but he figured it was for the best. There was not really a reason to be all evasive and pretend-okay around his brother. Stefan had always been able to read him like an open book. Much to Damon's chagrin.

Looking slightly past Stefan, he nodded. "Thanks, brother. I guess I could use a little distraction…" Then he exchanged a small smile with the younger one, and they both let themselves sink down into their respective beds.

"Cheryl is gonna love you."

"Cheryl?" Stefan shot him a glance. "You and Elena barely broke up—"

Damon laughed. A full blown laugh straight from the diaphragm, making his lungs shoot stabbing pains through his body, forcing him to take shallow breaths until he got himself back under control.

"You alright?" Stefan was grinning, at the same time looking concerned.

"Peachy." Damon was gasping for air just as Cheryl opened the door, poking her head in.

"What in the world is going on in here. Mr. Salvatore?" she inquired with a scolding tone and expression, waddling over to him with her hand held out, handing him his pill. "You know visiting hours are long over, right?"

"Cheryl," he said, putting his best flirty smile on his face, "meet the family. This is my dear brother Stefan."

He gave her a wave, trying not to chuckle. "Nice to meet you, Cheryl."

She raised her eyebrows at Stefan, then looked back at Damon. "Just for tonight I'll pretend I didn't see anything. But tomorrow…" Giving him a pointed look, she handed him a glass of water.

He nodded at her, solemnly. "Okay."

"Goodnight, boys."

"Goodnight, Cheryl," they chorused, then broke into a laugh once she was out the door.

It almost felt like old times.


When she got to the boarding house, Stefan had texted her again.

~ Went to see Damon. Door's unlocked. ~

For a moment, she got angry at him, upset. If Enzo was really in need of her help, should Stefan have left him alone like that? Besides, maybe a part of her had hoped she could see Stefan, just for a moment? Make sure he was okay?

Huffing, she exited her car and made her way over to the large doors. Briefly she wondered whether she should ring the doorbell. But at three at night? Probably not a good idea. Plus, she wasn't sure Guiseppe Salvatore was home and she'd rather not deal with him if he was.

So she carefully tried the doorknob and when it budged she went straight inside, a different darkness than outside enveloping her in the hallway.

"Enzo," she whisper-called, unsure of where to go looking for him. She remembered that he had a room upstairs, just a little down the hall from Stefan, and decided to check there first. But it was empty, the bed not slept in. She caught herself taking in the room, frowning at how bare it was. No pictures, no books, nothing personal, the sheets a boring gray or offwhite. There was just a large dresser there, and an old oak wardrobe that seemed to overshadow the entire room.

Okay, so not in there, she thought, trying to very quietly walk down the hallway, checking the bathrooms, Damon's room. Nothing. He'd surely not have gone into Stefan's, but despite her certainty, she found herself poking her head in there anyway. To no avail.

Stefan's bed had definitely been slept in. Blanket and pillows still ruffled, it looked almost welcoming and she felt awkward at the thought. Just a little while ago, she had been in an out of that room on a daily basis, and now…

Things had changed so much.

Swallowing, feeling that familiar lump settling back in her throat, she walked out backwards and went back downstairs.

She had noticed that Guiseppe's door had stood wide open, and she wondered about that, now, too. Who left their sons alone in times like these? One son barely back alive after a traumatizing event, the other having suffered a bad loss. But he had never been a very caring father, of course.

"Enzo?" She called out a little louder, feeling more confident now that she wouldn't wake anyone up. Partly she just felt like she had to cut through the silence, at least hear her own voice in this gloomy building.

She found him in the kitchen, that heart of the Salvatore home that she had always liked best, too, had always felt the most comfortable in. It was a gorgeous kitchen, and it kind of felt… safe.

He was sitting on the floor, legs bent, back and head leaning against the cabinet behind him, his chin raised so that he spotted her as soon as she was through the door.

Something gave her the feeling that he had chosen his spot wisely. From there, he could overlook the entire kitchen, keep an eye on the open sides. No one would be able to sneak up on him.

"What are you doing here so late, Caroline Forbes?"

She looked at him with a soft half-smile, slowly walking a little closer.

"I couldn't sleep?" she said, both of them knowing how obvious she was being. He raised his eyebrows, lips curling up slightly, before he clenched his teeth and she saw his jaw muscles tense again.

"You and me both, love."

"Can I sit with you?"

He shrugged, which she decided to take as agreement.

"Stefan tell you to come over?"

"Seems like you and him are becoming close friends quickly," she joked, making him roll his eyes as she very cautiously sat down next to him, carefully making sure they weren't touching. Not because she would have minded, she just wasn't sure about him...

"Yeah. BFFs in the making." He chuckled softly. Too shortly.

"He was worried about you, at least."

He didn't look at her when she said it, but hung his head, rubbing his neck with one hand.

"I wish you would have stayed at the hospital a little while longer," she breathed, not sure she had the right to say that, not sure how he'd react, either.

Scoffing, he shot her a glance. His eyes were so sad. It made her sigh in sympathy.

"I couldn't stand the place. Besides. Damon snores, couldn't get a good night's sleep if I tried," he joked, but she didn't bite.

"Unlike here, where you clearly seem to be doing so much better."

"Yeah…" He said it so softly she barely heard him. She really didn't know what to say.

"Have you talked to that therapist they recommended? I know Bonnie did," she tried, and he turned his head to look at her again.

"Not my thing."

"What is your thing, Enzo?" She was growing frustrated again, she could feel it, and she knew she shouldn't. It was too early. But she couldn't help it. "Tell me. Because clearly, you need something. You won't be able to keep going like this, disregarding your own health, not sleeping, sitting here in the kitchen at night, not talking about what happened to you. At least talk to Damon, or… I don't know... Talk to me, please. I'm here. I'm listening. And I promise I won't judge. I meant what I said before, you know I do. I'm still here. And I'm here to stay." She gave him a pointed look, a bit surprised to see him hold her gaze unwaveringly.

"You're too good to be true, love."

She felt herself flush, and was grateful for the very dim light that would keep her secret. (What was it with everyone calling her "love" lately?)

"Let me be there for you. Please."

He chuckled lightly, self consciously looking down again. "I don't know how, Caroline. No one has ever taught me how to talk about things like that."

"Not many people have had to suffer through what you've had to suffer through," she stated drily, hand flying to her mouth when she realized what she had said, and that that was probably not what he had meant.

For some reason, it made him chuckle.

"I'm a mess, Caroline, I don't want to drag you down with me."

"Then don't. Let me help pull you up instead."

There was so much pain in his expression that it was almost unbearable to watch. He was leaning with his head against the cabinet again, and she couldn't help but stare at the steri-strips on his eyebrow and temple.

"I'm too far down." He made that noise again that he had made once before, the noise that told her he was trying his damnedest not to break and failing. Her heart was aching for him so badly. "I shouldn't even be here," he whispered, still staring at her, and very slowly, she moved a tiny bit closer to him, noticing how he warily watched her. Then she gently touched the side of his face, her fingers wandering up, tracing the strips, careful not to touch the wound underneath.

"Why do you say that?" she asked, not expecting an answer, just trying to keep him talking about something.

"If Lexi hadn't tried to help me, she might still be alive." He suddenly grabbed her wrist, making her stop her movement, making her grow still.

"You don't know that."

She saw his throat work as he swallowed, averting his gaze.

"No, I don't. But I'm pretty sure. I just… don't understand why she did it. She didn't even know me all that well. And she's Stefan's friend."

"She is a good person, and why wouldn't she try to help you?"

"Because no one ever does, Caroline. I'm…" He scoffed, not continuing for a long time. Acutely aware of his hand still around her wrist, she tried to relax, to show him that she was here to listen. Because what else could she do? "Damon should have just waited, let that kid end it, kill me, then taken him out. That way all the other stuff wouldn't even have happened, they would have been free to go."

Frowning, she tried to make sense of his words. Tried to remember what she had learned about that weekend, about that pit. A game, groups that had to fight each other to the death until only half of them were still alive. Groups of six. There should have been only three survivors going by that awful logic. But there were four.

Four…

"Damon would never willingly let anything happen to you." She tried to catch his gaze, but wasn't successful. "Enzo. Look at me. Even I know that guy loves you like a brother."

"He shouldn't. He should have let me get killed. Now he's in the hospital, and I… I was so bloody useless. I couldn't save Lexi, I couldn't save Vicky. I should have just done what she did, give up, wait for it to happen, but I… I just bloody couldn't."

Vicky had given up? Caroline had to suppress a gasp at the news. What was she supposed to think about that? Should she tell Matt? (Of course not! Never! He didn't need to know that.)

Focusing on the man before her, she wiggled her arm, making him unlock his grasp and back away so abruptly as if she had stung him. He even completely moved a few inches away from her, eyeing her so warily that she felt the need to appease him with her arms outstretched.

"Neither should you have," she calmly told him, realizing what was going on here. If this wasn't textbook survivor's guilt, she didn't know what was.

"Nobody needs me here, anyway. Nobody would have missed me." He scoffed. "Told you I'm a mess. I'll give you one last chance, love: walk away now, leave me alone. You don't want to get your pretty head wrapped up in all this."

"Too late." She smiled as his gaze finally met hers again. She swallowed, unsure of what to do or say. "I'm already wrapped up. In you…" (Oh hell no, she hadn't just said that, had she? Could the ground please open and swallow her? Coming on a little strong there, Caroline Forbes. Ugh…)

To her utter relief, he didn't say anything in reply. Just showed her the sweetest smile in return. She wasn't sure she had ever seen him smile quite like it before, open, sincere, without any cockiness or mirth. And it made her shyly smile back.

They sat quietly for a while after that, until Caroline could tell how hard it was becoming for him to even stay awake. It was like watching him fight against himself, fight against that spiral of sleep that was trying to drag him under. His nostrils flaring, jaw taut, and chin held high, he hung on, until she wasn't willing to let him anymore.

"Alright. Enzo St. John, it's officially time for you to go to bed," she ordered him, getting up to sit on her haunches in front of him, extending a hand. "Come on, I'll bring you upstairs. I can stay, if you want…" (Another thing she should have maybe not blurted out like that…)

He stared up at her, exhaling slowly, looking defeated amidst the exhausted tiredness.

Frowning, she beckoned him. "Come on. You look like you're about to keel over at any moment. Wouldn't you rather it be in your bed instead of the kitchen?"

It seemed to be a huge effort for him when he finally quietly admitted, "My feet are killing me. I don't think I want to walk…"

"Oh." She swallowed, feeling awkward and awful as her gaze fell on his still thickly bandaged feet. Other than about a headache, he hadn't much complained about any of his injuries to her so far, not when he first came to her, not at the hospital, not ever. Which might be why she had completely forgotten about them until that moment. Biting her lip, she tried to think. "Okay," she announced, "Not a problem. How about I go and get your blanket and pillow and we'll just, uh… camp out here for tonight." She looked at him triumphantly, then nodded to herself. "Just give me a minute."

"Caroline…"

She raised a finger, putting it to her lips. "Just a minute. I promise I'll be right back," she whispered, and off she dashed, up the stairs, to his room, grabbing his blanket and sheet, wrapping all the pillows she found in them, too, before she began hauling it all back down the stairs.

"Ta da!" She made, like this was some fun get together, like Stefan hadn't texted her to come check on Enzo because even he had been worried about the guy.

The poor guy's smile was wan at best, and when Caroline draped out the things she had brought, he didn't even protest or make a comment or… anything, making her frown at him in worry.

"It's okay, you know?" she assured him. "You can sleep. If you want I can stay up and…" What, watch over him?

Yes, exactly that. She would watch over him. He didn't move. Just sat there as if frozen, staring at her with his head half turned away, then he shook his head. "I can't…"

"But you will." She sighed, sitting in front of him again, reaching out to cup his face. "Your body is gonna give out on you, Enzo, any minute now. You can't keep this up."

His features crumbled slightly, fatigue making his walls come crashing down, despite his obvious efforts to keep it together. "I have to."

"No you don't. Come on." She gently tugged at him, making sure she didn't get his injured arm.

"Someone's gonna have to look out for them…" (What?) His eyes, dark and intense, stared at her, almost through her, and it dawned on her what was happening. He wasn't quite with her anymore, was he? He was back in the pit.

"It's okay, Lorenzo. They're alright. Stefan is with Damon, Bonnie with her Grams, Rebekah has her brothers, and you… you have me. Just close your eyes and I'll be here." She pulled him closer to her, surprised that he let her, then, when his body finally sank against hers, his breathing going from slightly erratic to calmer, she sank back against the cabinet, just holding him.

Until hours later her eyes, too, fell shut as if of their own accord, her arms still tightly wrapped around him.

...

Chapter Text

[ ~ four years later]

"Are you sure they won't mind?" Liz clung to Elijah's arm, suddenly feeling apprehensive. What had she been thinking agreeing to see his family for Thanksgiving. In Florence, to boot. Rebekah was not the problem. The girl was sweet and kind, if her old fire had returned ever since she and Tyler Lockwood of all people had become an item. (Did the kids still call it that these days? An item? She felt old and out of the loop, and what the hell was she doing here?)

But then there were Klaus, and the ever detached Finn, and bossy Freya, watching over them all like a mother hen. Liz sighed wearily, just as Elijah leaned down a bit to brush his lips against her ear.

"They'll be civil, Elizabeth. That's all I can promise."

She snorted. "At least you're honest," she allowed, both of them grinning at each other. "Okay. Let's do this," she said, and with a nod, he opened the wide wooden door to Freya's gorgeous dining room.

"If that isn't our dearest Elijah, and his… ladyfriend." Klaus was quite obviously already a few drinks in, his cheeks flushed, his speech slightly slurred as he swaggered over to them, pulling his brother in for a bear hug, then toasting to Liz with an almost suggestive smile.

"Klaus."

"Sheriff?"

"It's Liz now…" She smiled and he grinned back at her.

"Of course. Liz."

"It's good to see you!" Rebekah came rushing over, giving first her, then her middle brother a soft hug, followed by a slightly sheepish looking Tyler.

He gave a wave to her, and a handshake to Elijah, quite obviously feeling a little awkward. But then Klaus pulled him into a sideways bro-hug of sorts, and it was Liz who was pleasantly surprised. These kids had grown close. Somehow, it made her feel better to see that. She knew how Rebekah relied on the youngest of her surviving siblings, and that her boyfriend got along with him must have been a relief. Besides, the two men shared a fate in that they had both seen that cellar full of bodies. (Don't think about it…) She was sure that's where the root of their friendship had formed. With shared horrors, and understanding.

Wasn't that how all of their relationships had formed? She thought of Caroline then, her heart aching at the fact that they were not celebrating together this year. But her daughter was living her own life these days, and she was happy with Enzo.

Sometimes, though, Liz still allowed herself to think that she wished for Caroline to find someone else to share her life with. She had grown to like Enzo, she really had, but he carried that darkness inside of him that she wished she could keep away from her daughter. He was a constant reminder that she had failed. She had failed her daughter. Her community, all those dead kids. She had failed Rebekah, Bonnie, Damon, and him. Even Klaus and Tyler.

"It's good to finally meet you." A woman had come up to them, giving Rebekah a light kiss on the cheek as she passed her by, and now she was extending her hand to shake Liz'.

"Freya, this is Elizabeth Forbes. Sheriff of Mystic Falls and—"

The woman gave her brother a sympathetic look. "Elijah, dear," she interrupted him, with a soft laugh, "you need to learn to introduce her as your girlfriend. She's not here as the sheriff, is she?"

Liz almost broke out laughing when she saw him slightly flush right next to her, looking a bit glum. Like a child that had just been reprimanded by his mother.

Freya was gently intertwining her arm with Liz', smiling at her. "Follow me, Liz. I am so curious to hear about what life in dear old Mystic Falls is like these days. I'm sure you've heard that I might move back to the States soon, although I'm still favoring New Orleans…"

Liz smiled at her, then turned slightly around to catch Elijah smiling back at her. "I love you," she mouthed, and with a smile he looked down on the ground almost shyly, as his younger sister started roping him in.

No, she figured, this wasn't going to be so bad...


...

Laughter wafted through the Salvatore boarding house in waves, accompanied by the smell of a fire burning away in the fireplace, and the heady smells of a damn good dinner.

Damon sat back in his chair, stomach full, heart full, and watched as his family finished the rest of their turkey, ham, cranberry sauce, their sweet potato casserole and stuffing. Even the green beans rolled in bacon - especially the green beans rolled in bacon! - had been devoured almost completely. Part of him was bewildered by how domestic, how homely they all had become. Thanksgiving had never been a big event in his or Stefan's childhood. And certainly not in any of their friends' and spouses' lives.

Elena had lost her parents early, then her brother. Bonnie was estranged from hers, but had celebrated with her Grams, and Enzo… Well, he hadn't known any other family but Damon's, so that explained that.

"Okay, who wants dessert?" Caroline beamed at them all, always the planner, and the only one among them that had made a big deal out of having this get together in the first place. Since her mom and Elijah had flown out to meet his family in Europe over the holidays, she had been a little down until Enzo had suggested they allow her to plan a small Thanksgiving get together for all of them.

He had rolled his eyes at the idea - at Caroline's enthusiasm - before, had nudged Enzo and told him in a quiet moment to please rein his girlfriend in a little, to no avail. Enzo had merely smirked at him, slapped his shoulder and told him to suck it up.

Now, surprisingly, he was glad that he had. Because this was nice. Really really nice.

"Ladies," he announced, abruptly standing up as Caroline had brought out the pecan and pumpkin pies, two humongous and beautiful looking tartes that would definitely need some room and a good swig of bourbon to go with them. "How about we give it half an hour or…" He looked around, nodding to Stefan, then Enzo. "Until the guys have finished clean up duty?"

The girls started clapping and whooping, laughing as Stefan rolled his eyes theatrically, and Enzo gave an exaggerated sigh.

"Really, brother?"

"You have the best ideas, Damon," Bonnie said, standing up too to give him a kiss, and he couldn't help but surprise her with a tango move, almost pulling her off her feet.

"Whoa," she made, laughing as he dipped her down, their gazes meeting. Smiling at her, he very slowly brought her back up and placed another kiss on her lips for good measure. "If I'm being completely honest," he whispered so that no one else would hear, "I'd rather start the last course now. But since I'm not gonna share that one, it'll have to wait."

Her eyes flickered, her smile widening, growing suggestive as she raised her eyebrows. "I can always try and persuade the girls to leave early…"

"You do that, BonBon. And I'll work on the boys."

They exchanged a last conspiratorial chuckle, then he let go of her and helped the other two bring the plates and utensils over to the kitchen, where a huge pile of dishes from the other courses was already waiting to be washed and stowed away.

"Explain to me again why you Salvatores don't own a functioning dishwasher?" Enzo inquired with a sigh that was very much real this time, and it was Damon's turn to pat him on the shoulder and grin.

"Chin up, my friend. This is going to be fun. We have bourbon to keep us company. Well, you and me, none for my dear brother, since he and Elena will be leaving to go over to Ric and Jenna later and I promised Ric I'd make sure that you'd be sober enough to keep him company while the girls watched cheesy movies," he explained with a wink at Stefan, who rolled his eyes before placing a teetering tower of plates on the counter beside the sink.

"Yeah, yeah," he said, pretending to shrug it off, and Damon exchanged a glance with Enzo, both of them chuckling at poor Stef's expense.

Never in a million years had Damon believed it possible to have both of his "brothers" in one room without them constantly provoking each other, and in a way he had been right about it. There was still not much love lost between the two, but at least they were mostly civil, and times spent together were not as draining anymore as they used to be.

"Alright." He sighed. What had made him volunteer to do the freaking dishes again? Oh, right, his gorgeous wife-to-be. Only five more weeks until their end-of-year wedding, but he'd already do anything for her, married or not.

And the promise of unwrapping her out of the gorgeous dress she was wearing was certainly incentive enough to get a move on already and be done with the official part of the evening.

"Enzo: sink, me and Stefan: towels—" He had grabbed one for himself, tossing the other over to his brother, his aim a little off. Stefan's arm made a wide arc as he barely caught the flying piece of fabric, accidentally sending a bunch of glasses and plates and their late mother's cherished serving trays flying, then crashing to the floor, shattering into a thousand pieces.

"Oh, crap," Stefan cursed, running a hand through his hair as he took in the giant mess, Damon's shoulders slumping visibly as he stared from his brother down to the shards strewn all across the floor.

"Are you kidding me right now? You know I have plans for tonight, Stef, don't you? And they do not include crawling around on the floor trying to pick up a sea of glass—"

A memory abruptly shot through his brain, fierce and way too real, almost like an electric zap.

A damp and musty smell. Blood. Closed throat. A wide high barbed wire fence, a sea of glass and cut off wire pieces, Bonnie's panicked wide eyes, Rebekah's vacant look. Enzo, with blood all over him, and Damon… just trying to get the hell away. Get them out.

The overwhelming urge to flee, make a dash for it.

And behind them: the pit.

He had stopped breathing for a few seconds before he abruptly snapped back out of it, taking a heaving inhalation to fill his lungs. His gaze wandered from an annoyed looking Stefan to Enzo. Maybe to check whether his friend had experienced the same creepy flashback. Maybe because he already knew Enzo most certainly had.

"You alright in there, boys?" Elena's bright voice inquired and then she appeared in the doorway. Stefan, who had frowned at his brother, quickly turned toward her, holding up both arms.

"Don't come in here," he quickly urged her, putting a smile on his face, "floor is full of shards. Broke most of the freaking glasses and plates."

She chuckled. "That you guys' way of getting out of dishwashing duty?"

"Something like that, yeah…" He paused, chuckling, a moment passing between them. "You mind getting a broom for me?"

With a nod she went away, and Damon distantly heard her say something to the other girls.

"Um…" Stefan sniffed, looking around. "Watch where you're stepping. I'll try and pick up the larger pieces. But… geez, they're freaking everywhere."

Damon stared from Enzo's frozen face to the guy's socked feet. "He means you, especially," Damon rasped, trying to sound calm and like his usual self, but his voice was barely functioning. He kinda wanted to clue his brother in on the fact that something was going on that Stefan hadn't noticed yet, but he didn't know how. He was stuck in this strange moment, barely able to move.

"Ugh," Stefan made, sighing wearily. "I'll just… how about you two wait there until Elena comes back with the broom. You guys are standing right in the middle of it, and… I can't see a damn thing. I don't wanna cut my hands up fumbling for glass. Maybe we can clear a path for you with the broom or something and then we can sweep the rest up.

"Uh, Stef…" Damon swallowed, shooting a sideways glance to where his brother was now sitting on his haunches, beginning to collect some of the larger pieces.

"I'm sorry man, but your aim was way off," Stefan said obliviously, and Damon wanted to slap him over the head, yell at him to freaking pay attention to what was so glaringly obvious to him.

"Enzo," he said, redirecting his focus, his friend standing just a bit too far away for him to touch him. But Enzo merely stared at the ground beneath him, his chest moving up and down a little too quickly, his fingers curling into fists. "Look at me, man. - It's just the kitchen. You know the kitchen, it used to be your freaking bedroom for a while. Remember?"

"Damon?" Stefan was slowly standing back up, finally catching on to the fact that something else was going on.

"Could you get Care," the older brother said, his gaze still trained on his friend, his words an order more than a question.

"Caroline? Ya, sure, I'll—"

"Now."

As Stefan hurriedly left, Damon took a deep breath, trying to think. But thinking also meant that the images came back and he didn't want to see the images.

"I need to get the hell out," Enzo abruptly muttered, unfreezing so quickly that Damon didn't have a chance to stop him when he took a step forward, stepping straight onto a large piece of glass.

"Geezus fuck, Lorenzo," he hissed, squeezing his eyes closed for a second before taking two hurried yet calculated steps forward to grab his friend by the arms, hard and determinedly, stopping him in his tracks. "Do not move another inch."

Enzo's head came up to meet Damon's gaze, his eyes so dark and shuttered that it made Damon's heart clench. They were back. Back in the fucking pit. "Let me go."

"I can't, man. You'll rip your feet apart. Again. I can't let you do that." His one hand grabbing Enzo's neck, he pulled him a little toward him, tried to pull him out of his memory, this moment, trying to pull himself out at the same time.

But the other man tried shaking him off, making them both move, making Damon take a few steps back, shards crunching under his shoes. (And thank goodness he was wearing shoes. He always did, never took them off at the entrance like some people. He always needed to be ready to make a run for it. Just in case… Now would be a good time to run the hell away. He wanted to. He really didn't want to be here. But he would never leave Enzo alone, either.)

"Stop!" he yelled, and he wasn't sure whether it was directed at his friend or himself, at his whirling thoughts.

Enzo tried shaking him off again, as if he didn't hear, as if he didn't even feel the glass cutting through his skin. Damon stared down, watching as blood appeared on the ground, his throat so tight now that he felt like he was suffocating.

Blood. All that blood.

"I can't breathe," he said, startled, panicked, trying to heave in air, letting go of Enzo's arm, but not his neck, his forehead falling against his friend, finally making the other man stop moving. "Fuck."

Really?, part of him thought, now I'm having a panic attack again? After over a year in the clear my body and mind think this is a good time to give out on me like that?

"Damon?" Enzo's hands came up to touch Damon, a new expression on his face. Concern mixed in with the emptiness, but Damon had a hard time focusing on it.

"Just don't fucking move anymore," he half wheezed out, clutching at Enzo as he forced himself to take deep even breaths, to remember what the therapist had told him. He needed to ground himself...

Touch: Enzo's shirt was as good as it was gonna get.

Sound: sound, what sound but his own freaking frantic breathing?!

"Let's get you out."

Enzo's voice. Let's get you home… He hadn't said that just now. This was… from before. He suddenly remembered… That pain in his shoulder, his abdomen. Enzo's arms holding him up, Bonnie's worried face right before him.

Grinning, Damon stared straight up at his friend. This wasn't working so well, was it?

Color: No freaking colors, everything was a blur. He needed to focus. Staring at his friend like his life depended on it, he squinted until his vision became clearer. Okay. Better. Again. Color: Enzo's eyes... freaking green, or maybe hazel. A little like Bonnie's eyes.

Bonnie...

Smell: all he thought he could smell was the freaking blood mixing with the leftover pieces of food on the freaking mess of a floor. It was going to take forever to clean that shit up.

"Come on, mate. Let's get you out of here."

It took him a minute to even process the words, but when they did, he chuckled like a lunatic.

"Get me out?!" He snorted. "Geez, Lorenzo, my man, you're in a serious state of denial here, let me tell you. Have you seen your goddamn foot lately? Did you not hear me before?"

Damon finally felt good enough to stand up straighter again, noticing only then that he had put a lot of his weight on poor Enzo, who was now slowly turning his gaze downward again, making a face as he did. As if he hadn't realized he was in pain until seeing the blood, he slowly moved his right foot, hissing.

Before he could do anything else, anything rash or stupid, Damon grabbed his neck again, forcing him to look up. "Enzo," he said urgently, "Look. At. Me." Shaking his head, Damon very carefully implored him, "We're not there anymore, okay? You hear me? We are not there, and you don't need to get me out of anywhere. You already did, remember? You already did..."

Enzo's expression turned horribly pained, making Damon's eyes well up alongside those of his best friend. "It's Thanksgiving, okay? Stefan crashed the pile of dirty dishes, and you need to stop the fuck putting your feet into shards of glass."

Enzo gave a pained chuckle, averting his gaze. He was clearly not ready to even acknowledge verbally that anything had happened, but Damon didn't mind. Enzo was coming back out of it, he had seen the realization dawn, and that and the fact that Enzo wasn't trying to walk anymore, was enough for now.

"Enzo?" Caroline's worried face appeared at the doorway at that exact moment, and Damon was strangely relieved. He'd never thought he'd be so happy to hear her light voice.

"Don't come in here, yet, unless you're wearing decent shoes, Care Bear. Which you are not, if I remember correctly." He cast a half reassuring glance at her, nodding at her wide eyed worried face. "But do me a favor and tell your stubborn boyfriend here to stay put while Stefan cleans this mess up." He took a deep breath, feeling much more like himself again. "Speaking of… where the hell is my dear brother. Can someone tell him to hurry the hell up? We're kind of having a situation here…"

Enzo sniffed, furtively wiping an arm across his face. Damon looked from him to Caroline, her face full of concern and confusion, and he tried to put on a smile for her, knowing it wasn't a very good one. "No worries, blondie. I'm taking good care of him for you." He beamed, shaking his head at seeing tears well in her eyes, at hearing her say, "I'm right here, Enzo. Still right here…" And Damon was glad when he saw Bonnie come up beside her, gently putting her arms around her best friend.

His gaze met his fiancée's briefly, the compassion and understanding in hers grounding him almost instantly. "You're magic," he mouthed, smiling. And it was a real smile this time.

Then he pulled Enzo in for what he'd tell anyone who saw them was just an extended bro-hug, and together they waited another few minutes before Stefan had finally cleared that path for them and he could help his now limping friend over to the nearest chair.


"We should still get you to urgent care. You'll need stitches."

He shook his head at Elena's assessment, still in denial. Caroline sighed, putting her hands against her hips, looking slightly frustrated. He couldn't blame her, he was kind of frustrated with himself.

What the bloody hell had happened back there? Four bloody years later and he still couldn't keep it together?

Closing his eyes, he waited while Elena was wrapping his foot, shooting him sympathetic looks every so often as she did. "Can you please tell him he's being stupid if he doesn't go get seen, or better yet, tell him he'll get gangrene or rabies if he doesn't get a shot and some stitches? Please, Elena," Caroline begged, crossing her arms, looking adorably upset.

Still, the price for that adorable pout of hers was high. The more time passed, the more obvious the pain got, pushing itself to the forefront of his mind. And that wasn't good, either, because he remembered the same kind of pain from before, the slew of memories washing over him as a result ready to overwhelm him again, even now. After Damon had pulled him back from the edge.

He'd done it before. They had done it before. Would that ever stop? Or would he one day fall straight back down again, and never resurface? If not today, then maybe next time, or…

"Blondie is right, Lorenzo." Damon ruffled his hair like he was a little boy, making him flinch away and clench his jaw. (No one but Damon would even get away with that kind of treatment…) "Alright. As we've all seen, I should probably not be the designated driver, so… Stefan, brother? It's your turn. Get us to the hospital, our favorite place in the world! I'm sure Cheryl will be especially pleased to see you, Enzo. She did have a thing for that accent."

Enzo rolled his eyes, too tired for a come back. How did Damon even do that? Go from break down back to his chill and cocky self within minutes, while he still sat here, reeling, feeling exposed and vulnerable and like there were way too many people in this damn house.

"I'll drive him," Bonnie piped up. "The rest of you guys - aside from Care - should stay here, no need to bring a crowd..." He looked up to see Bonnie smile over to him from where she was standing, wrapping her arms around Damon's waist, and he was pretty sure his gratitude was obvious to the entire room. Her sympathetic smile widened as he nodded over to her and not for the first time he wondered how he even deserved to have these people in his life.

How the worst time of his life had also opened up the world a little more, had gotten him out of his loneliness, and had presented him with more friends than the one person he had had before.

The one person he still had. His best friend. Who had saved him yet again. Really, he had never even complained about it before because he had always known that having someone like Damon Salvatore to call your best friend was more than enough. Still, it felt good to have more people in his life. And even the best of friends couldn't compete with having a girl like Caroline by his side.

Right then, she walked up next to him, her arm snaking around him, just as Elena proclaimed, "All done. Off you go. If you want, I can call ahead, maybe you won't have to wait so long…"

He smiled at her, not sure the expression he gave her could really be counted as a smile. "It's fine. Appreciate it, though…"

She nodded, standing up to gather her supplies. It came in handy, having a medical student in your circle of friends. If only the others would leave him alone with the stupid hospital, he'd just call it a day and wait it out. Couldn't be that bad, could it?

He'd had worse.

"Yes, please, Elena!" Caroline shot him a scolding, yet soft glare, more concern than anything, and Elena nodded briefly, getting out her phone.

"I'll drive the car over to the entrance." Bonnie gave Caroline a nudge, then kissed Damon, who was clearly reluctant to let her go. He'd have to make Damon go in the car with them. He might not want all that many people at the hospital, but Damon needed her now. He'd seen the same hell as Enzo, after all, and Enzo definitely wanted his girlfriend close. (To even be able to admit that to himself was evidence how far he had come. It wasn't all bad. He had made progress…)

He looked up at his beautiful girl then, mouthing an "I'm sorry," but she merely shook her head, blinking away tears.

At some point, she had become his life, and even days like this weren't half bad because she was there.

"You don't need to apologize, babe. Just remember: I am here to stay."

And he smiled.


...

While they waited for Enzo, Bonnie tried getting comfortable in her plastic chair, intertwining her arm with Damon's as she leaned over to him, resting her head on his shoulder.

Caroline had gone to be with Enzo, which was probably for the better, since he tended to not heed doctor's advice and with Care there to pay attention to whatever he might be told, Bonnie felt a little less worried that their friend might do something stupid again. She sniffed, suppressing a light chuckle, making Damon stir.

"What's so funny, BonBon?"

"Nothing." She patted his chest lightly, breathing in his scent.

"You know you're a terrible liar?"

She sighed. "The worst."

"But you're not gonna tell me anyway?"

She raised her head a little, looking at his bright eyes, and smiled. "I just thought that I'm glad he has Caroline, and not just us - you."

"Hey," he interrupted her, pretend-hurt, "what's that supposed to mean? I am pretty awesome."

"Yeah, you are. You're also a danger to yourself and a hothead, just like your dear best friend. Left to yourselves, you'd only get in trouble. He'd probably have never even gotten his foot looked at, and you…" Did she dare say it? "You'd never go back to the therapist to talk about what happened tonight."

He raised his eyebrows. "I'm going back, eh?"

She gave him a very firm nod. "You are."

"Huh." He looked as if he was mulling it over in his head, then nodded. "Can't argue with the fiancée, can I?"

"Uh uh. I want you to be okay, babe. And I need to know that the wedding won't be too much for you."

"Too much for me?! Our wedding?!" He scoffed loudly, giving her an "of course not" look, lightly shaking his head. Then, quieter, more serious, he added. "I can't wait to be married to you, Bonnie Bennett. And I'll do anything to be worthy of you. - And," he raised a finger, mirth back in his features, "dear Sheila. I can't wait to call her Grams!"

Bonnie snorted. "I want to see that!"

"You will, gorgeous. Soon."

Chuckling, she shook her head. "She's so not gonna like it."

"Nope. But I've grown on her. I can see it. She wants to not like me, but she can't help herself. I'm just that lovable."

She smiled up at him, glad to see he was okay. Mostly. But she couldn't quite shake that dark feeling that had settled over her again at having been reminded of the past.

They had been doing so well. All of them. Then, tonight, when everything had seemed so perfect, so innocent and fun, the pit had resurfaced, and just like that, their evening had completely changed direction. Had brought it all back, fiercer than in a very long time. Months. Maybe even a year.

She just hoped this was going to be a one time thing, not something that had opened the floodgate once more.

With a sigh, she nestled back into Damon's embrace, her eyes slowly growing heavy. "You think he'll be okay, too?"

"Enzo? Of course he'll be…"

His sentence had started out with conviction, and had ended in a question mark. No, none of them were completely safe yet; but they would be.

Because they had to be. They had to. Right?


"Try and keep your weight off it for a while. I'd suggest crutches but I know how well that worked last time, Mr. St. John." The nurse gave Enzo a reprimanding look, and Caroline shot him an "I told you so" glare, before reining in her feelings and focusing on being supportive again.

"Thanks, Cheryl. Always lovely to see you, too," Enzo was telling the woman, making her smile despite herself when he moved to place a kiss above her hand.

"You and your royal antics. Now get out of here. Take your girl somewhere nicer next Thanksgiving."

He raised his eyebrows, smirking awkwardly, then allowed Caroline to guide him out and into the hallway. "You heard her," she reminded him, because she had a feeling she couldn't start early enough. "Let's get you home and off your feet."

He didn't argue with her. Just placed a soft kiss on the crown of her head and followed her out, walking awkwardly, only allowing her to carry more of his weight when she nudged him repeatedly, saying, "I can handle this, okay. At least walk on your tiptoes."

Rolling his eyes, he followed suit. "You're bossy, love."

"I'm worried about you," she snapped, biting her cheek as soon as the words were out. "I'm sorry," she whispered, casting him a glance and seeing his jaw muscles do their familiar dance. Making him stop, she paused to cup his face. "I just want you to be okay. And not in pain."

"I'll be fine, Caroline."

"Will you tell me what happened back there? In the kitchen?" She watched as he closed his eyes, taking a breath, and she felt herself deflate. A little further down the hallway, their friends were waiting, ready to take them home.

"I'm sorry I disappointed you." His words made her frown with sadness.

"Oh Enzo, that's not—"

He shook his head, interrupting her. "I'm damaged goods, you knew that from the start. But you probably never pictured yourself still having to deal with this years down the road. If you—"

"If you tell me to move on and walk away from you one more time, Mr. St. John, I'll scream," she told him with her most earnest expression, making his expression turn into the smallest grin. "Right here. In the hallway. Of the hospital. In front of our friends." She glowered up at him angrily, but her touch, a hand on his chest, one on his face, was soft and reassuring. "I love you, with all my heart. I knew what I got myself into and I'm still here. I'll always be here. You can't get rid of me."

"I don't want to…" His jaw was still working, she could feel it, his expression a mix of desperation and pain and love, and even a trace of a true smile, and she quickly leaned forward to kiss him, feeling his arms come around her as she did.

When they eventually disentangled, making their way toward their friends, her throat was aching, her heart heavy despite everything she had said.

It was true, though. She would never leave him, she loved him so much. If only she could help him more deal with his past. There was so much she still didn't know. Because she hadn't been there.

But she was here now.

Chapter Text

...

[Now]

Liz rubbed her hands over her face, still tired after a short night of sleep. It was 5:40, according to her alarm clock, and while she was bone tired she figured she might as well get up and start her day. She quietly made her way to the bathroom, hoping she wouldn't wake Caroline, and turned the water in the shower on as she got ready.

With a sigh, she took care of her business first, while the water began steaming up the mirrors. Good, she didn't really want to see her own reflection staring back at her. That woman with the dark circles under her eyes that had royally messed up this case so far.

As she eventually stepped into the shower, she let the last few days play back in her head, trying to see details she might not have noticed before.

The bodies. A shiver ran down her spine at the thought, despite the hot water pelting down on her, and she had to lean against the wall for a moment to steady herself. It had been that bad.

She remembered the conversation with poor Tyler Lockwood, his dad - her fellow council member - hovering like a hawk, more fatherly than he normally seemed to be. (And what was wrong with the fathers of Mystic Falls? Even Bill, her daughter's dad, was noticeably absent, after all… Or was it all the fault of the mothers?)

The kid had looked so shaken, had barely been able to talk about it.

And then she had walked out of the Lockwood mansion, making her slow way back to that awful cellar, only to find an ashen looking Klaus Mikaelson.

"Oh, no," she had said to herself, out loud, she remembered it vividly. "He went down there, didn't he?" It had been so obvious that it had hurt her. For the first time in probably ever, she had felt sorry for Niklaus Mikaelson, that kid - now man - that had never followed any rules, had wreaked havoc on so many occasions, always barely getting bailed out again by his older brother. But yesterday his face had looked so pale, so full of anguish, pain, revulsion, and the way he had allowed Elijah to run a hand over his head and pull him in for a hug had told her everything.

...

Her list was growing. Bonnie, Rebekah, Damon, Enzo. Elena, Matt, Stefan, the Ormond family, the parents of the other dead kids. Tyler, Klaus.

Who would be next? Should she count her own daughter among that list? Poor Caroline had had her fair share of dealing with the fallout of this nightmare. It was really only a matter of time before she broke, too. If Liz didn't try harder to intervene…

She was almost done in the shower when the thought of the Ormonds made her turn the water yet another notch warmer.

That poor heartbroken woman. Alexandra Ormond had been sitting there, eyes red rimmed and raw, while her husband had blown through the place with a rage enough for all bereaved fathers together.

And that's pretty much what he had said, too. "I am here for all of us, my son and my son's friends' parents. Because we demand someone be held responsible."

Except, it hadn't remained just "someone." No, pretty quickly it had become clear that the man, Benedict Ormond, had zoned in on Damon Salvatore as the culprit. Citing that godforsaken video as his source, he had yelled at Liz why she hadn't put him in jail yet, had even threatened to go over to the hospital himself and drag Damon out to kill him with his own bare hands, or "the way my son was killed! I want to hear him beg for mercy and then I want to spit in his face and deny it him!"

She rolled her eyes at the memory, glad that someone else had dealt with the man after that. One of Agent Stinson's people. But she knew she couldn't run away from this. She'd have to talk to Stinson, about how to even handle that, then talk to Damon, and Elijah in his capacity as Damon's lawyer.

She was suddenly glad the older Mikaelson had proclaimed he was going to take matters into his hands, because, it turned out, the four survivors really would need someone like him by their side. At the very least, Damon would. And Enzo. Mazzy's parents hadn't come to talk to her yet, but she was pretty sure it was only a matter of time. And she already dreaded having that conversation, too.

At least Elena had made it pretty clear that she wouldn't press charges. The girl had been appalled at the mere mention of the possibility of suing her best friend, Bonnie. And Rebekah's siblings would most certainly stand behind her, in front of her, too, shielding her in every direction. There was no question there, and that was something. These four kids didn't need all those additional complications. Their lives had already become complicated enough.

When she was finally done in the bathroom, annoyed that all her thoughts were still clinging to her instead of having vanished down the drain alongside the water, she made her way over to the kitchen, where she made herself a cup of coffee, then sat down with the case file.

Time passed as she got lost in the paperwork, connecting some dots here and there, rewatching the video for clues other than the obvious. There was a man briefly in view. Beachy looking spiked hair, and a microphone in hand. She had almost missed him - had missed him before - but then the mic briefly lit up in the back, probably a ray of light catching it, and she saw it.

The kids had mentioned an announcer, a commentator, like this had been some sort of game. It's what they had called it, too. A game. Sick and way too gruesome to be considered as such.

Getting excited, she picked up her phone, trying to reach Stinson. The man needed to see this. If he hadn't already.

She hadn't even pressed on his number yet, when the door suddenly opened and Caroline appeared in the kitchen, her face so drawn, so pale, that Liz' hand sank down, her brow furrowing in sorrow instead of anger that her daughter had quite obviously not come home at night, at a time like this.

"Caroline," she called out, "What happened?… Where did you just come from?"

It was clear to Liz that Caroline was hanging on by a thread, her chin was already starting to wobble, her features falling, and Liz didn't wait until she was fully crying before she got up and made her way over to her girl, wrapping her in a tight embrace.

Caroline was sobbing almost instantly, making her mom's heart ache for her. Did that disturbed young man do anything to her? Was that why she was so upset? Had she been with Enzo? (Of course she had been.)

"Can you tell me what happened," she asked, as soothing as she could, careful not to make any accusations, because she knew it wouldn't sit well with her daughter. "Come on, let's sit down."

Caroline took a heaving breath, eventually allowing her mom to guide her over into the living room, where she plopped down on the couch right next to Liz, sniffing.

"I'm sorry," she muttered with a huge sigh, looking at her mom a little forlornly. "It's just… I don't know what to do. I don't know how to help them."

"Oh, sweetie. You're doing what you can." Liz felt so awful for her. Knowing how bad she herself felt about not being able to do much, she could imagine how it must be for her daughter. These kids were her friends, and she was tearing herself apart trying to help them all.

"Am I, though? Mom… Bonnie is… she's so strong, but honestly, I'm worried she's going to break soon if she keeps this up. She's… she seems fine, until she doesn't. Matt is a mess. Tyler got super drunk last night and I barely got him to go home with Klaus."

"Mikaelson?" Liz frowned. She hadn't known the two were even close.

But Caroline merely nodded offhandedly before continuing. "I feel like someone needs to be there for Stefan, too. Because knowing him, he won't try and unburden any of his grief on Damon, not after what he went through. And Elena… I don't even know when to 'fit her in'", she air-quoted with a gloomy face, "And how messed up is that?! I mean, she's my best friend too!"

"Caroline." Liz grabbed her daughter's hands firmly, making her look at her. The girl needed a mother now, a strong one, and she was going to be that for her. She'd leave her own overwhelming feelings out of this and would focus on Care. "This is not all on you, okay?" she assured her. "These kids have families, too. You can't be there for everyone."

"But—"

She shook her head. "No 'but.' I know you want to help. It's just who you are. You are an amazing, caring, beautiful girl, but everyone has a limit, and after that, you need to look out for yourself, too. Because if you don't, you won't be able to help anyone."

Caroline heaved in a deep breath, and Liz hoped she remembered that Liz had told her something similar before, at the hospital, after that awful scene between Stefan Salvatore and Enzo St. John. She needed her to understand.

"He didn't want to fall asleep," Caroline suddenly muttered, startling Liz a bit with the seeming non-sequitur. "He was so exhausted, though. So tired. I… I sat with him in the kitchen, until he finally just, you know, succumbed."

"Enzo?" Liz' frown grew. "Has he been seeing a therapist at all?"

Caroline shook her head.

It made sense. The kid struck her as someone who had fended for himself for most of his life, someone who wouldn't easily accept help now. Not when no one had probably helped him much before. Seeking a therapist surely must seem like a daunting step to him at the moment.

"Sweetie. That's to be expected. The things these kids - your friends - went through, are highly traumatizing. I'd be surprised if they didn't all suffer some case of PTSD in the process. How could they not?"

"What can I do, though? Mom? How can I help him?"

Liz' face fell. Caroline looked at her with such desperate hope for advice, for something helpful to say, but she had nothing to offer. Run, she wanted to tell her, run far away and leave this all behind, because he might drag you down with him if you don't! But of course she couldn't say that. Not if she didn't want to lose her daughter completely.

Because in that moment, it was suddenly clear to her that she had already begun to do so. Caroline was drifting away, if in a natural way. She was going on her way, growing up, making her own decisions, her feelings leading her on and the love of a mother, of her, while all-encompassing and so very strong, was simply not the same as what Caroline was drifting toward: the person her heart had chosen.

Swallowing, cursing herself for growing so sentimental, she sat up a little straighter, trying not to start crying.

"Be there for him, sweetie. If he lets you. And don't be hurt if he pushes you away."

"I might have to go over there again," Caroline told her, gnawing on her lip as if she expected Liz to shake her head and say no. "I might have to spend a few nights with him. Try to get him to sleep somewhere other than the kitchen…"

"The kitchen?" This really didn't sound so great...

Caroline nodded, a sob-sigh escaping her as she quite obviously forced herself to calm down and pull herself together. Liz suddenly felt awful not only for Caroline, but also for this young man.

And then she was glad that he had her daughter.

"It's going to be okay, Caroline. Just know that you can always call me, day and night."

Her daughter looked up, still pained. "I tried that before, remember?"

Liz felt a pang at the words. Of course she knew what Caroline was inferring. "I know, sweetheart."

"I really needed you that night, but you never answered your phone. I… I had no idea what I was doing. I could have really used your help."

"I'm so sorry…" Liz' forehead hurt with the intensity of her frown, her throat felt too tight. She had a million excuses. And held back on all of them.

"If I hadn't finally - by some miracle - managed to get him to come to the darn hospital with me, he could have died! Maybe right here, in our home! This was not supposed to happen! It just… wasn't supposed to happen…"

"I know, sweetheart. I'll do better from now on, I promise…"

"Okay…" As Caroline began crying anew, all her mom could do was pull her in for another hug, and part of her never wanted to let go again.


"They are going to press charges."

"What?!" Bonnie sat on Damon's bed, both legs underneath her, staring at him, wide eyed and shocked. He nodded at her, raising his eyebrows briefly.

"Yup."

Casey's family. But also Mazzy's. The Ormonds, however, were the driving force behind it, as was quite evident by the way they had addressed the public, had brought the whole case to the attention of national tv.

"Have you talked to Elijah about this?"

Damon licked his lips, looking down on her hand that had grabbed his out of some impulse. "He'll be here in a bit… Enzo, too. To, uh… talk options, I guess."

There was no energy in him today, no fight. Part of him was ready to finally just give up. He had fought his damn way out of that stupid pit, had gotten Rebekah, Bonnie and Enzo up with him, but now. Now he was tired. Like, "hanging off a rope and just letting go" tired.

Bonnie gave him a determined look. Adjusting her position, she let go of him and he felt that loss of physical contact like a sting.

"Damon?"

She had lowered her head a little, squinting at him as if she had called out his name more than once. Had he zoned out? Looking at her with a fake grin, she saw her shake her head, lift a hand and smooth his cheek, lingering by his lips, lost in thought, before she jolted back with a sad smile.

"There's no need to pretend with me, you know? If you don't feel like smiling, then don't."

Her words made him smile for real this time. "How could I not feel like smiling when you're in the room?"

"I'm serious." She rolled her eyes, but there was a softness to her features.

"What?! So am I. I'm the most serious guy there is. You know how to make a man smile, BonBon."

She scoffed. "Uh huh."

Her hand grabbed his again, and it was as if the connection made things instantly look a little less hopeless. Because she wasn't avoiding him, wasn't treating him the way the media did. Like the monster these people had turned him into. She was also not treating him like he was about to break at any second.

"Elijah is a damn good lawyer. He won't let anything happen to you, or Enzo."

"Did you forget that he hit Enzo?"

Bonnie pressed her lips together, a flicker going through her eyes briefly. "I didn't," she admitted, "But it was a misunderstanding, and he apologized, and if you're here with them, I'm sure they can be civil and behave themselves."

Damon rolled his eyes. "It's getting a bit tiring to play the mediator all the time. First Stefan and Enzo, now Elijah and Enzo. Guy needs to get over himself and not alienate himself all the time."

Bonnie smiled. He had a feeling she could see right through him, when she said, "He gets along well enough with you. And Caroline…"

"Well, of course he gets along with me. I'm a pretty amazing friend, kind, forgiving…" She laughed, and he wiggled his eyebrows at her, "What, you don't agree? - Barbie, on the other hand? That one's a shocker."

"Is it? I mean… I get along with you 'amazing friend'," she airquoted, "pretty well, too, these days. Surely it's not more shocking than that, is it?"

"I don't know..." Damon smirked. "I think you and I, we're pretty awesome together, nothing shocking about that."

Bonnie laughed again; it was a light happy sound. She threw her head back a little, her hair falling away from her face, baring her neck. Where there were still traces from someone else's hands.

Damon swallowed, trying not to get torn apart between emotions. Happiness these days always seemed to come with reminders of the horrors they had been through. And he was growing angry about that.

As if of its own accord, his hand came up to reach toward her, his fingers very very gently, softly grazing the marks on her skin. It made her freeze, stare at him warily, the laugh ebbing away, her smile making room for apprehension. He could feel her pulse under his fingertips, picking up its pace, but she didn't say anything, didn't push him away either.

He shook his head slowly, pained. "I'm not sorry for what I did," he admitted, "not in this case." And they both knew what he was alluding to. His second kill, the one without obvious evidence present, at least for now.

He'd probably still have to tell Elijah about it.

"Me neither," Bonnie breathed, her hand finally circling his wrist. But when he wanted to pull away, she held his hand there, against her throat, looking at him intently.

Something passed between them, so many unspoken things, confusing things. Because he realized that he wanted her in that moment. He wanted her, and he wasn't sure that was okay, or even acceptable, and what the hell would she think if she knew that he even thought of her in that way? Mere days after his breakup, days after the pit. What was wrong with him? Was it Guiseppe's bad DNA messing with him? Was he turning into his father? An even worse version? Because as far as he knew, his dad had at least never killed anyone.

He swallowed again, his throat aching.

"You okay? Damon?"

He shook his head. There was no need pretending with her, just like she had said. Besides, he was too tired of it. He wanted something real. Something he could hold onto.

And then she suddenly placed a soft kiss on his forehead and looked at him. "If you want me to stay, just say the word. I can do the mediating. You just concentrate on you for a bit. Okay?"

He nodded, smiling weakly. "Okay, BonBon. Just this once. Just because you're a badass."

"I guess I can be pretty amazing, too, every once in a while." Playing along, she chuckled, stroking his arm gently, absently for a second, before the moment grew too serious too quickly, and she grew shy.

"Hell yes, you are, Bonnie Bennett," he told her, lifting her chin with a finger, smiling at her. "You got us all home."

Then he leaned over, ignoring his stomach's protest, his lung's outcry, and, in turn, kissed her forehead.


"We have a new lead, Elijah. That's all I can tell you." Liz was busy sorting files when he had shown up at her office, inquiring about the case.

Of course she wasn't very forthcoming, as expected, but he had to try anyways. This case was a mess and becoming a major pain in the ass. He had hoped he could solely focus on finding whoever had done this to Rebekah, to Kol. He had been the one who had to tell his older siblings about it all, and it had been painful. Accusations that neither of them could ever take back had been made, and they had left him feeling reeling, and inadequate.

And he hated feeling that way.

Freya especially had accused him of not taking his job as the big brother seriously. "Finn and I weren't there. You were. It would have been your job to keep them out of trouble."

He hated to admit to himself that he had exploded at her. Had thrown all the pent up anger of years ago at her. Because hadn't it been him to keep the younger siblings out of trouble? Especially Klaus and Kol. But Rebekah, too. Freya might not have realized just how fierce and strong her younger sister could be, but Elijah had seen it. Which is why her breaking down like that had been so much more shocking to see.

He sighed. No, he was not going to let anyone blame him for what had happened to his siblings. Because he already did a great job of that himself.

Focusing back on Sheriff Forbes, he asked, "What kind of lead?"

She cast him a glance, slightly annoyed, and for some reason that he didn't quite understand himself, it made him smile briefly.

Exhaling loudly, she lifted herself up to her full height, staring at him. "I shouldn't even have said anything." She shook her head at herself, then added. "You might want to watch that video again. Around the four minute mark… That's all I can say." With that, she picked up a large folder and walked toward where he stood by the door. "If you'll excuse me, I have somewhere to be. And you, I believe, should be busy dealing with that other problem…" She gave him a knowing look that wasn't hard to read. She meant the Ormond statement of course.

There was going to be a trial after all. And his sister's group of "friends" would be at the center of it. He'd have to try and get them out of the limelight, protect his sister from the people that were already spewing hateful things on the internet. She wasn't ready to deal with that, yet. So he had to be.

As if all that wasn't enough already, Niklaus was doing his usual thing again, getting himself from one bad situation into the next. Elijah knew it was his brother's way of dealing with everything. He had never been good with channeling his emotions, dealing with them like an adult, and he was especially bad lately.

Elijah nodded to Liz, making a face. "Thanks for the heads-up," he then said as she waited for him to step out of her office, and be on his way. He was already halfway to the exit when she called out to him again.

"For what it's worth, I do hope you'll get to keep these kids from having to pay…" She didn't say "jail", but he knew that's what she meant. Because suddenly, that had become a real possibility.

Time for him to head on over to the hospital and deal with this. But first, he needed to check out that video again.

Klaus was waiting for him in the car, smirking knowingly. "How did your talk with the sheriff go, brother?"

Elijah rolled his eyes. For some reason, Klaus seemed to think there was something developing between him and the sheriff. What a ridiculous thought.

"She said they have a new lead. Told me to check the video again."

"Lovely idea. As if we haven't seen our brother getting killed by our sister often enough."

Why did he have to do that? Sometimes, Elijah really didn't understand the man his brother had become. Pretending to be so detached, talking about Kol and Rebekah in a way that didn't seem like he cared much at all, when it was so glaringly obvious to Elijah that his brother was hurting, and hurting badly.

Shooting him a glare, Elijah slumped into his seat and took out his phone, quickly pulling up the video. The four minute mark… He remembered Liz saying that. Fast forwarding, he pressed play right around 3:50 minutes, and watched. Klaus was leaning in, their shoulders touching.

"Couldn't she have been a little less cryptic? What is it with those small town sheriffs and their hubris? - What are we even supposed to be looking for here?" Klaus was just asking when they both saw a little gleam somewhere in the back, then nothing again. "What was that?"

Elijah exchanged a glance with his younger brother, then shrugged, replaying the scene. There. Up on the balcony… A man with a… microphone? His face was a grainy blob at best, but maybe they would be able to extrapolate a better image once they got to a computer. And then… they could go looking for him.

"Is that Luka Martin?" Klaus was frowning, looking lost in thought. Elijah blinked at him, perplexed. Luka Martin was just one of those kids he liked to use to track down information on a case or a client here and there. He and his dad had a pretty decent underground net going, living on the margins of society themselves, but not outside of it. At least not that Elijah knew and he had prided himself in knowing everything about the Martins. Certainly, neither father nor son seemed like the type to attend something like this sick "game" of bizarre proportions.

Taking a closer look, Elijah eventually spotted what Klaus had seen before him. Sure enough, there he was, Luka Martin, his face briefly illuminated by the same ray of light that had caught the microphone and then traveled over the crowd's faces with lightning speed. Elijah checked the time stamp. 4:10. Was this what Liz had seen, though? Probably not. She was surely going after the mic-guy.

Which meant he might be a step ahead of her. If he could find Luka...


It hadn't taken them all that long…

With a well calculated kick, Klaus got the kid in front of him to double over, falling to the ground, holding his knee. But he wasn't done, yet. Bending down to pick him up by the collar of his shirt, Klaus came so close to the other man's (boy, really, but he didn't care…) face that there was barely an inch between them, that the kid could feel the spit flying out of Klaus' mouth with every word he said.

To say that he was irate was an understatement.

"What the hell were you doing there?"

"Niklaus." Elijah, standing slightly off to the side, sounded bored, and looked the part, too. Klaus shot him a glance, a wild grin on his face. He wasn't ready yet to stop.

"You do not mess with the Mikaelsons, you understand?"

The guy tried shielding himself with an arm as he nodded up at Klaus, visibly shaking. Good. Of course he knew that the kid probably had very little to do with it all, was certainly not the mastermind behind this "pit." But Klaus was angry, full of a wrath that needed an outlet, and this kid would have to suffice for now.

"You tell me exactly what I want to know and I might consider letting you live instead of giving you more than this little taste of that lovely 'game'..."

While Elijah had been busy trying to contain the bloody mess after that awful video had surfaced, Klaus had looked for other ways to deal with it. Less legal ones. The luxury of those not bound by law, he thought, chuckling to himself as he thought of Elijah's frustration with him.

After they had found Kol, after Klaus had snuck his way into that terrible cellar to see him with his own eyes, he had been ready to go on a rampage.

Thanks to a quick intervention by Elijah, Freya, and Finn, Niklaus had kept a low profile however and had promised them he wouldn't do anything stupid.

Nothing that would upset Rebekah further, or endanger the Mikaelson clan even more. Having lost one brother was enough. But of course Kol hadn't even been the first brother to die, as Freya had so kindly reminded them all.

Klaus was angry. With her, with Finn - for just showing up out of the blue and then leaving again, Freya not without begging Rebekah to come with her, or go away on a trip, maybe to Europe. He had been upset with Elijah, too. He had been the one tattling to their older siblings, after all. He had told them to come out here, and they had. They had actually made their way out to Mystic Falls, if briefly, only to coddle poor Rebekah, who didn't need their suffocating love at the moment, and to lecture him on how not to deal with what they had called "his grief."

Bloody hell! This was not just grief. He was irate, blindingly so. Because someone had forced his brother and sister to play a game that no one could win. Because it had destroyed his family, had torn his little brother away from them all, had broken his baby sister, and he didn't know how to fix her. He didn't know.

So he had to try and fix something else. This mess.

It hadn't taken him too long. After he and Elijah had spotted Luka Martin in that video, they had gone looking for him. It hadn't been too difficult.

While Elijah had his sources, Klaus had his own.

There was a girl, the daughter of a cop, who helped him with whatever he needed information on. She was a cute little thing and seducing her that first time hadn't been difficult at all. Some things simply worked better than just money.

She had pulled up an entire file on Luka Martin, complete with a list of known addresses. It hadn't been difficult at all from there. The kid hadn't even suspected anyone might be out looking for him.

So here he was, here they were, staring down at this scum and waiting for him to tell them a little more about the pit.

"I swear I don't know much," Luka was begging, spitting out blood and nursing his chin, not daring to take his eyes off of Klaus. "I was invited by a friend. I didn't know what kind of game would be playing."

"It was not a game of sports." Klaus glared down on him and the kid had the audacity to shrug, nonchalantly?

"Man, it is what it is. There's a lot of sick stuff going on in the world, okay? You ever been on 4chan? Other darkweb corners of the Internet? Shit can get pretty sick. Snuff has been around for ages, too. Man, you should know that!" Luka looked from Klaus over to Elijah. "Don't tell me some of the guys you've defended haven't done similar shit."

Elijah glared at him, crossing his arms. Suddenly, the boredom was wiped out of his face, and Klaus almost felt proud, when his older brother stepped forward, and said, "My clients don't generally target my family. Because if they did, they'd be dead. Like you will be if you don't talk."

"Let me go, man. These people, they're trying to get me too, okay? It think they're trying to clean up. I… I was just trying to get away."

"Didn't do a very good job then, did you. It was incredibly easy for me to find you. I'm sure even the police will be on to you soon, and they're not the fastest around these parts…" Klaus couldn't help the little jest. That he was more than a little upset with Liz Forbes' sheriff-work was an understatement. He simply couldn't understand why Elijah cut her so much slack. (She had been nice to him down there in that cellar, though… But he was trying to forget that place…)

Kicking the guy in the ribs again, making him yelp, Klaus sniffed, shaking his head, trying to think. His target didn't seem to know much, which annoyed him.

"Alright, mate. Time to say goodbye," he told the man, grabbing him by the collar of his shirt roughly, hauling him up.

"Whoa whoa whoa. Wait. Goodbye?! Wait, man. Elijah… Wait. I… let me think. Okay. Let me think!" The guy was panicking as Klaus did his thing, Elijah merely watching passively. It wasn't like either of them cared that the man was obviously scared. "Shit, man. Come on. I… there… there was this dude, okay? Beast?"

"That's not a name, mate." Klaus sounded disinterested. The guy was talking nonsense to try and save his life. But he wasn't going to kill this kid, he wouldn't stoop down to that level. (At least not for this guy…) Elijah wouldn't have liked that, either.

"It's the only name I knew him by. He… he was friends with this rich kid." Klaus froze, exchanging a glance with his brother. Luka seemed to notice that something was up. "Got him and his friends to come to this little "party"," he continued, looking almost hopeful. "It was all planned, though, man. That guy, Beast? He told us he used to do him fights, but things had gotten a little stale lately? So he'd decided to bring in these college kids? See how they'd do?"

"Are you asking me that?!" Klaus glared at him, fed up with the guy's antics.

"No, man. Just telling you, is all. Okay? Okay? Please… I swear to god it's all I know."

"I don't believe in your god. I do, however believe in revenge."

"Shit, man…" Luka tried to scramble away, panicked. Elijah stepped forward to grab him, while Klaus zoned out for a moment, his mind focusing on this new name. Beast. He'd find him, the man that had gotten Kol into this mess. Had pretended to be his bloody friend!

That man would have to pay.

But first, they'd have to deal with Luka. With a sigh, he watched passively, as Elijah took out his phone, knowing he was calling the sheriff's station.

"Today's your lucky day," he told the guy. "My brother is a little more civil than me."

Then he waited.

...

Chapter Text

"You're supposed to take it easy. Mr. St. John!"

Cheryl placed her hands against her hips, hoping against hope that her reproachful look would leave an impression on the young man, but of course it was not to be.

"Missed you, too, Cheryl," he rasped, and she almost blushed at the smile he cast her way. These boys...

She had been a nurse for a long time, had seen her fair share of awfulness. Of heartache and heartbreak. She had even had more stubborn patients, believe it or not. But something about Lorenzo and his friend Damon got to her more than usual.

Maybe she was just getting old. It wasn't long now until she would retire and she had noticed that she was more prone to take stuff home with her these days. Emotional baggage. She found herself thinking about some of her patients for days, and they would sometimes revisit her in her dreams.

Like Lorenzo here. With his sad eyes and fake if handsome smirk, or Damon, who pretended to be all cocky, all flirty, a player. But when she would check on him at night, he couldn't sleep and tossed and turned, aggravating his injuries, until she gave him a sleeping pill or sat with him for a few extra minutes.

When they had been rooming in together, her work had been a tiny bit easier in a way, yet also more annoying. These boys simply didn't listen to any orders, any advice.

Now Lorenzo had left against medical advice, barely able to use those poor feet properly again, not to mention the arm, and darkness had returned into Damon's nights. She felt awful for both of them, awful too that they didn't seem to be able to communicate properly with each other about their needs and fears.

She made a face as the handsome Brit passed her by now with that innocent smile.

"You here for your friend Damon?" She asked him, then said. "You wouldn't have to visit if you had stayed a little longer - like Doctor Lu told you to."

He raised an eyebrow briefly, smile still in place. She could tell that he was about to say something, something snarky or "funny" (yes, definitely with quotation marks). But he stopped himself and settled on silence instead, then, with an off handed wave, went straight to his friend's door.

It was jarring sometimes, to see how hard these kids worked on appearing like nothing had fazed them. When it was so damn obvious to her how broken they all were. The girls, too. The pretty one that always came to see Damon, but pretended they weren't all that close. And the distant blonde that struck her as the most furtively suffering of the two.

Because that was another thing Cheryl had gotten good at over the years. Noticing people's different kinds of pain.

Damon Salvatore who tackled his pain like something that could be shoved down, put aside, could be pretended away with cockiness and banter, until it came back to haunt him.

Bonnie Bennett, who forced herself to be strong, to face her pain, but was threatening to break under the strain of wanting to do it on her own, while always putting everyone else first.

Rebekah Mikaelson, who was suffering in silence, watching her friends out of big pain filled eyes, unable to communicate how she really felt.

And Lorenzo St. John, who carried the pain like a cloak or a shadow that was part of him yet that he denied, using his physical pain to shield himself against the real one.

The problem was, they all weren't listening to her, and why would they? She was just an old nurse to them, and probably not a very beloved one either (despite Damon's flirty reassurances. She could see right through him…)

So, with a sigh, Cheryl went back to work, making a mental note to make sure she checked on Damon later. He was always especially agitated after a visit from his friend, because lately, it meant that the lawyer would be there, too…

It was time the poor kid got discharged, too. Got back to the comfort of his own home.


Damon was trying to listen to Elijah talk, but concentrating was somehow insanely difficult.

Enzo had arrived an hour earlier, the Mikaelson ten minutes later, and all Damon really processed was how he and his friend were probably going to have to face an actual murder trial instead of a wrongful death lawsuit.

The problem was, Casey had pleaded for his life, multiple times. For some reason, though, Elijah seemed to think this was good. Apparently the burden of proof was much higher for the murder trial, and even despite the fact that there was a video showing what they had done, what he had done especially, Elijah said they would probably win this one.

As long as they managed to find the people that were behind all of it first. Which was way easier said than done.

At that point, Damon had begun to zone out, trying to figure out how to even get to these people, how to deal with them if they found them. He'd have a hard time letting them live...

"I mean," Elijah was just saying, as if he was answering a question that Damon hadn't caught, "that even Rebekah and Bonnie are in danger of being prosecuted for murder, if we can't clear your charges."

"You or Elena are not going to press charges, though, right?" Damon shot Bonnie, who had been quietly listening, a cajoling look as he said it, which she didn't quite return. She clearly knew he was trying to sound more enthusiastic for her sake, and she wasn't having it. So he deflated quickly, watching as Elijah made a face.

"It doesn't work like that, unfortunately. In the case of a murder trial, the state could press charges on behalf of the victims."

Damon was exasperated. "You said the murder trial was a good thing. Fuck that, Elijah."

As if talking to a child, the man calmly replied, "It is. But we have to win the trial. If we prove that you were forced to fight, they won't come after the girls. If we don't, however, it'll become harder to keep them out of it. Since your case will create a precedent."

Getting up gingerly, Damon began pacing the room. He had enough of this lawyer talk. "So," he said, glaring over to where Elijah was standing, "what do we do? How do we find those assholes?"

The ensuing silence was not particularly encouraging, and he exchanged a look with his tired looking friend.

"Tell me we can find them. Tell me the police—"

"We are looking into it." Elijah seemed to contemplate his next move. Licking his lip briefly, he looked from Damon to Enzo and back. "My brother and I found someone who was at that… event."

Event. Damon scoffed at the word, but remained quiet, catching Enzo's gaze. The kid looked as ready to bail out of here as he was.

He needed to go home. He couldn't sit here anymore, patiently waiting for others to try and make this go away.

"Who."

"You won't know him. Just a local kid. But… he might know something. He's currently being interrogated by the sheriff and the FBI agent they put on the case."

"Good. I mean, is that good?"

Elijah smiled a small smile. "I think it is. Yes. I know this is hard, but try and stay calm. And… most importantly: do not go out there on your own to try and find them. Do you understand me?"

He looked at them so earnestly that Damon felt the urge to laugh. But he didn't.

"Yeah, yeah, whatever, E."

The man rolled his eyes. "I mean it. It's already hard enough to keep my own brother out of trouble, I cannot have you two get into more problems out there, not with the trial looming over your heads."

Making a face, Damon nodded. Maybe the guy was right, he admitted grudgingly. It wouldn't help anyone if he and Enzo got caught doing anything stupid.

But it might help him feel less like an idiot, like a helpless pathetic idiot...


...

A day had gone by since Elizabeth Forbes had met Elijah Mikaelson on a balmy evening to take Luka Martin into custody.

She remembered his distant expression, the kid sitting slumped in on himself before him, hands tied together, blood staining his shirt in the front, his nose looking broken, eyes bruised, one of them swelling shut. But Elijah's hands had been without any evidence of a fight.

It hadn't been difficult to piece it all together. Elijah hadn't assaulted this kid, but Liz was pretty certain she knew who had. Klaus, noticeably absent, was the type to get violent, and she could picture it all. How he had hit Luka to get some kind of confession out of him, how Elijah had probably stood by, letting it happen - for their sister, but then had stepped in, probably making sure Luka ended up in her custody instead of in the ditch that Klaus might have pushed his body into.

Not because he cared about Luka. But because he cared about his brother, and didn't want him to commit murder, didn't want to see him go to jail for someone like this kid.

Liz sat across from him now, Luka Martin. A handsome boy, too young to be involved with something as horrible as that game. Yet here they were, and he was fidgeting slightly under her unrelenting stare.

"Luka. We have identified you on that video. What were you doing there?"

His lips pressed together, he waited a moment before he reluctantly reiterated what he had told her before. "I swear I have nothing to do with this. I wanted to leave as soon as I realized what was going on."

"But you didn't."

"No…" He drifted off, gazing to the side.

"You could have called the police."

Turning his head toward her once again, he glared at her defiantly. "I was scared, okay? Once I was in there and all these people began to cheer and stuff? I didn't want to end down in that pit alongside them. This guy, Beast, he was just so damn into it. Told us if this was gonna go well, he'd do it again, plan an even bigger event."

"The guy that, as you said, had befriended 'the rich kid down in the pit?'" She read off of her notes, and he nodded at her.

Liz clenched her jaw, pressing her lips together as she mulled it over. It all came down to a guy going by the name Beast. According to Luka, this man hadn't exactly been the initiator, but had set the whole plan for the game in motion for someone higher above. The question was, for whom? And if she wanted to find that out, she needed to find Beast.

The problem was that she had no idea where to even start looking for him.

Just as she was contemplating her next move, Agent Stinson, who up until that point had quietly sat back, letting her lead the interrogation, leaned forward until his face was almost in Luka's.

"Tell me something," he said, "A kid like you, young, handsome, with the right kind of connections to all sorts of people, and you really had no idea about any of this?"

"Like I said, man, I didn't know what I was getting myself—"

Stinson got up so quickly his chair toppled over, startling both Liz and the kid across from her.

"Fuck that!" he blurted, loud, venomous, and very unlike his neat outer FBI-Agent-in-a-suit appearance would have suggested possible. "Let me tell you something, Luka Martin. Me? I deal with internet crimes. The bigger ones, crossing state lines and all. And this 'game' is a pretty big thing online right now. You can find people chatting about it in secluded little corners of the internet, but also out in the open, on public forums your own grandma might be using. Believe me when I tell you that we were able to trace this stuff back to a bunch of IP addresses already. Since we don't normally go for the small fish, we don't knock on all the doors, but yours… yours came up, too. And I know you've been watching that video. You've shared the link. You've messaged with your friend 'Josh' about it."

Stinson paused as if for effect, but it was obvious by how pale Luka had grown that the effect had already been achieved. "Apparently you thought it was, and I quote, 'pretty dang hot how that chick just slashed that loser's throat.' Gave you a hard-on, you said. - So excuse us when we don't believe a single fucking thing you just said. You were not there against your will. You enjoyed it. - And now you are going to tell us everything we need to know about this guy, Beast. Where you first met him, how tall he is, what he looks like. Whether he has a beard, what he likes for breakfast, whether he needs to be at home to take a shit… Every damn thing."

Slowly, Liz turned her baffled attention from him to Luka, unsure of what to think.

It had been a pretty damn smart move to bring him and his team in, that was for sure. There was an actual chance that they'd be getting somewhere. And it had been a good idea to try and be friendly with Elijah Mikaelson or he might not have ever brought them this guy. (Maybe, just maybe, Elijah had felt the same way. That meeting her had been a good thing, that it had made him want to do the right thing and hand over Luka to her…)



...

Being wheeled out of the hospital felt both awkward and exhilarating. After almost three weeks there, Damon was so ready to sleep in his own bed again, take a nice long shower in his own bathroom, and pretend that the world was still okay.

Bonnie had said she might come over once he got home, and he couldn't quite put his finger on how exactly, but it did make his level of anticipation rise another notch.

"Alright, Mr. Salvatore." Cheryl looked down on him with a rare open smile and he beamed up at her. "Here we are: freedom. Do me a favor and take it very easy."

"I'll make sure he does," Stefan chimed in, patting his brother's arm lightly, and Cheryl nodded at him.

"Please do."

"Bye, Cheryl!" Damon grinned, slowly getting up and out of the chair, doing a little pirouette just for her, and just because he could. "See, I'll be just fine. Nothing to worry about. I know how to take care of myself."

She made a face, but smiled anyway. "I don't want to see you back here, Damon."

"Aw. Cheryl." He gripped his chest theatrically. "You're breaking my heart! I thought we had a thing there."

"Off you go." She chuckled with a shake of her head and a roll of her eyes, before she sobered a little, looking him straight in the eyes. "You boys take care of each other now," she whispered, and he knew instantly that she didn't just mean him and Stefan, but him and Enzo, her two former patients.

With a last, more solemn nod, he waved at her, then slowly walked toward Stefan's car, ready to slump into his seat as if he had walked ten miles instead of a couple hundred feet.

The drive went by in a bit of a haze, the landscape half blurring before his eyes as he tried to follow what Stefan was saying, while at the same time trying to go over the things Elijah had told him.

No one was going to put him in jail just yet. He was a free man and would stay free for the time being, but they would have to get ready for a lawsuit, and it would begin in the next few weeks.

"Oh, and… you might want to steer clear of the kitchen at night," Stefan was just saying, making Damon frown over at him.

"Why would I be going in there at night. People sleep at night, Stefan. Even me. It's not like we're vampires, the days our nights and the nights our days."

His brother rolled his eyes, concentrating on the road ahead. "Just…" He sighed, pressing his lips together, suddenly making Damon nervous.

"Spit it out. What's going on."

Stefan shot him a glance. "Enzo's sleeping in there."

Damon made a face. Trying to comprehend. "Well, it's a free world I guess. Let him sleep there if that makes him feel better. At least he's not in his shitty apartment. Thanks for that, by the way. Didn't think you'd manage that," he deflected, and Stefan let him.

But the thought was jarring. Enzo sleeping in the kitchen… He knew, they all knew that they had been through something completely fucked up, but he generally managed to pretend even to himself that it wasn't so bad, that he'd just have to keep pulling himself together, not let it get to him. It was always there, however, somewhere, on the periphery, and stuff like that damn lawsuit, and now Enzo's stupid sleeping arrangements put it all to the forefront and made it harder for him to ignore what he didn't want to think about. Didn't want to relive.

"Our father is still AWOL by the way."

Stefan's words cut through the hovering darkness of Damon's musings and made him return his attention to his brother. He scoffed. It wasn't like he had expected Guiseppe to suddenly grow a heart and visit him at the hospital, but for the man to just vanish without so much as a goodbye was pretty low, even for him.

"I guess that's for the better," he said out loud, earning himself a concerned look. Stefan was clenching the steering wheel a little too hard, Damon found, and he was just about to comment, already raising a finger and putting his best "good advice is coming" face on when the younger man suddenly said, "You think something could have happened to him?"

"What?" That was a thought he could honestly say had not occurred to him. At all. "Nah. Brother, you know him. That he's gone probably just means he's on some oh-so-important business trip and his latest mistress is with him. Probably enjoying life a little too much right now. Away from the sons that drag him down…" Damon rolled his eyes, knowing that he sounded bitter, but Stefan didn't seem to notice or at least, didn't comment on it, and he was strangely grateful for that.

"Yeah… Anyways. At least we don't have to deal with him right now."

"You'd love him lecture Enzo on what is proper house etiquette, wouldn't you?"

Stefan made a face, shooting Damon a glare. Somewhere between upset and angry. "I'm not as bad as you think, you know? It'd be nice if you could give me some credit every once in a while."

"I was joking, Stef."

"Yeah. Not funny, okay? I've done my best trying to be nice and understanding. I even called Caroline for the guy, despite the fact that he is living in my house - my freaking home - after everything. I haven't asked him about it, I haven't given him a hard time. I've even accepted his apology for what he said about… about Lexi. Okay? But…"

"Stefan…"

"I just don't understand what you see in him. What even dad saw in him, when he allowed him to come over so much while I could barely bring a friend over. He's arrogant, aloof, he flirted with my girlfriend, and nobody cared—"

"Didn't exactly look like you cared either," Damon stated drily, but Stefan only shot him a sideways glance before continuing on his unfounded rant. And Damon let him. Because, really? Stefan clearly needed to get this off his chest and he better did it now than later, at the boarding house.

"I did! Okay?! I just… didn't feel like letting him mess with me like that. He's always pushing my buttons. He's always freaking there. Taking my brother away from me, my family, my girlfriend, and… he was even the one with Lexi when she died. He got to see her. He… I just… I want to see her one last time, Damon. I wanted to be there for her. And now she's dead and I never got to thank her for coming all the way out here, for me. And it's my fault that this even happened."

Stefan had stopped the car in the middle of the road, awkward silence suddenly spreading between them as Damon realized that at some point during his monologue, Stefan had blurted out what was really bothering him. None of this was really about Enzo, it had never been about him. It had always been about Stefan and the way he thought of himself as the root of everything that went wrong in his life.

The older brother hung his head, tired, exhausted. Rubbing a hand over his eyes, he spoke as if to himself. "It's not your fault that she died."

Slowly, he looked over to where Stefan sat, clutching the steering wheel so hard his knuckles were white.

"I know. I mean, logically I know all that. I also know that I can't blame your bestie for any of it. And I'm sorry that I even bring it up when I should be looking out for you." Stefan sighed, sounding defeated, and almost as tired as Damon.

"You don't need to be looking out for me. I can take care of myself, little brother." Damon tried it with a lighter tone, a wag of his eyebrow, but it was lost on Stefan, or rather, the kid could see right through him, as usual. Of course.

"I mean," Stefan said, "I'm sorry. You don't need to hear about my minor little struggles, especially not on your first day back."

"We aren't even home yet, so technically, I'm not back."

They both chuckled briefly, despite themselves. Then, Damon patted Stefan's shoulder like the good big brother he wished he could have been more often, and said, "Come on, Stef. One step at a time. - At least that's what Bonnie keeps telling me and I trust that girl to know what's good for me."

The car slowly began to move again just as another car appeared in the rear view mirror, and quickly, Stefan accelerated, leaving the dark moment on the street behind them.

"You seem to be getting along well," he noticed, making Damon shoot him a glance.

"Me and BonBon?" He half-frowned. "Of course. We've always been tight." Crossing his fingers, he grinned at his brother, who rolled his eyes at him, then shook his head.

"Not like that. No. You two tolerated each other. For Elena. That's it."

"Yeah well, what can I say? She kind of grew on me. Tough little cookie, I never knew that before…"

There it was, looming ahead again. The things they had had to endure. The things he didn't want to share and yet would have to share with the world now. It would only take another few minutes before Stefan would mention the video or the Ormonds, or…

Stefan nodded, making a turn. They were almost home now. Yet still so far away.

"You're all pretty damn tough," Stefan allowed, looking at Damon briefly. "I'm sorry you guys have to deal with a lawsuit on top of all of this now."

"Ya…" Damon scoffed. Trying to get the conversation into a different direction again. He didn't want to talk about this now. About the accusations, or the fact that, soon, he'd have to sit in an actual court and defend himself against the allegations the Ormonds had made. No, not allegations. They were right, weren't they? He had killed their son, merciless, ruthless. And if he was being really honest with himself, so honest that he didn't dare share it with anyone, not even Bonnie Bennett, he didn't even feel bad about it. For having killed Casey, despite his pleas. No, he didn't even feel sorry for that kid.

Because if he hadn't killed Casey, the kid would have gone on a rampage. He'd already started after all, had cloven Vicky's face in half, had tried to butcher Enzo next, mincing the guy's arm in the process.

Casey Ormond would have killed him, too, and then… then he would have gone for one more person. Maybe Damon, but more likely one of the girls, Bonnie, or Rebekah.

And that couldn't happen. He couldn't have let that happen.

He had made a promise to Kol, after all, to Jeremy, too, and while they hadn't exactly been the best of friends or even all that close, it had been something he had wanted to honor. Because how could he not honor an already dead man's wish?

And Bonnie. Bonnie had had to live. Not just because of Jeremy's sacrifice, or Damon's promise to get her out, or even because she was his (then) girlfriend's best friend, but because she had something about her, a strange energy, fight, kindness. People like her simply weren't allowed to die in dark pits or pools or horror houses, not on his watch.

So he didn't have any regrets. He had done what needed to be done, he had protected his friends. It was as simple as that. (Except that it wasn't simple.)

"Almost there."

Blinking, Damon realized that his thoughts had spiraled him down and away from the world for a moment, and sniffing, he quickly adjusted his position, giving Stefan the thumbs up.

"Can't wait. You better have the bourbon ready and the welcome home party under way."

Stefan gave him the funniest look, and Damon smirked involuntarily, shoving his darker thoughts even further away where he could ignore them again.

"I thought you'd prefer some quiet, to be honest. I…"

"Relax, brother. I was kidding." Because Stefan was right. The idea of having a bunch of people hang out at the house was kind of… not very enticing at all. Especially after his last party experience… He added, "You, me, the bourbon, on the other hand, now that sounds like a grand plan."

Stefan made a slightly sheepish face. "I kinda invited Bonnie over."

"You… what?"

"You were so much more relaxed whenever she was around, Damon. A blind man could see that. I just figured…"

Damon didn't even really know what to say. Or feel. Was he supposed to be excited? Or upset, or…

"Stef, if I didn't know any better I'd think that this is all a great ploy to pave your way into my ex-girlfriend's panties—"

"Damon!"

He grinned, happy that he could still make Stefan feel awkward in an instant. "No," he continued, "I mean, I get it. We just broke up, and you guys have grown close quickly these last couple weeks—"

"She lost her brother, Damon. I was just trying to be there for her. And with Lexi… I kind of understood where she was coming from…"

His poor brother looked flustered, swimming to gain back control over the conversation and failing. And Damon had to chuckle, even though maybe he should have felt something else.

"And then you send Bonnie to me in hopes of distracting me, hooking us up, is that it?"

"Oh geez, no! That's absolutely not—"

Damon raised his eyebrows, laughing, lightly boxing the other's shoulder just as they pulled into their driveway.

"I'm messing with you, Stefan," he allowed, watching his poor brother roll his eyes. "I'm honestly glad Elena has you to lean on."

"You don't mind…"

"I don't mind, no. I'm relieved, actually. It couldn't be me. Trust me, I wanted it to be me, but I couldn't… I can't. I'm pretty messed up, Stefan. And I can't drag her down with me. So I'm glad you were there for her."

He had surprised himself with his confession, and clearly his brother, too. Stefan's gaze was on him, the car parked, but neither of them ready to get out yet.

Damon bit the inside of his lip, contemplating. "Bonnie gets it. I don't have to explain or pretend or…"

Stefan nodded. "I know. Same with me and Elena." He shot Damon a glance. "Not on your level of course, but…"

Damon smiled, shoving his brother. "At least this time I win the jackpot, huh?"

They both chuckled briefly, quickly realizing how not funny it was and growing quiet.

"Anyways. You ready to go in?"

Heck yeah, he was. Anything was better than the hospital. And if Bonnie was already here...

Chapter Text

...

[~ four years later]

It had taken her years to come to terms with it all. Years before she had gone to seek out the man that had killed her son and offered him forgiveness, another year to go looking for Casey's victims to ask them for forgiveness, in turn.

Now Alexandra Ormond sat at Matthew Donovan's kitchen table, seeing her same pain and heartache reflected in the young man, and she briefly wondered whether she was asking too much of him, before he quietly said, "It's okay. You and me, we both weren't there. We don't understand what exactly happened, so…"

"He made the wrong choice down there, and your poor sister lost her life because of it. I can't begin to tell you how sorry I am, how…" She trailed off as she saw his pained grimace, the way he held up his hand to stop her.

"I understand why you're doing this, Mrs. Ormond, I really do. But listen. I can't forgive you for something your son did to my sister. It's…" He paused, and she had trouble processing what he had said. (I can't forgive you…) Then he continued, with a long sigh. "Honestly, it's taken me years to see this, but it was not their fault. Not your son's… They were all terrified down there. I don't know whether you've met one of the ones that made it out, but…"

He continued on, but despite her best efforts, she couldn't follow anymore, her mind zoning in on "the ones that made it out…"

Her son hadn't. Why couldn't it have been him?

She was soon going to meet another one of the survivors. After someone had leaked more video footage from the pit over the last year, she had been forced to accept that the accounts she had heard in court all those years ago during the trial had been correct. No, that wasn't quite true. She had accepted it long ago, the instant Damon Salvatore, Lorenzo St. John, Rebekah Mikaelson and Bonnie Bennett had shared their accounts in court. It had been pieces of a puzzle at best, but all of them had agreed on a few core details.

That Casey had flipped, had panicked, had killed Vicky Donovan, had attacked Lorenzo, would have probably killed him and maybe someone else, had Damon not intervened and killed him before.

It had also been Casey, who had snapped the minute his best friend growing up, Joel, had steered the pot by being the first to attack, and it was Casey who had gone on to kill that other girl. Lexi.

She remembered the young man she had spoken to before Matt. Stefan Salvatore had seemed so very collected, in a way not unlike his older brother Damon a year ago, and in a way Alexandra had felt like their story was coming full circle.

First she had forgiven one brother, now she was asking the other for forgiveness, and just like Damon before him, Stefan had been very calm about it all. And just like Matt he had said that it wasn't his place to forgive anything, because the girl Casey had killed - his best friend - had died under circumstances he would never understand, because he hadn't been there, and neither had Alexandra.

It always came back to that. She hadn't been there. And, as a mother, that was the hardest thing to accept. That she hadn't been there to protect her son, to take those decisions out of his hands, to save him from these monsters and from himself.

She had failed. And she was blaming herself when she knew there were others to blame here. Joshua Parker. Michael Reid, who had gone to prison, but who could never pay enough for what they had done.

She walked out in a daze, Matt smiling down on her sympathetically, even shaking her hand. "I've beaten myself up for years over what happened," he said as an afterthought when she was already out the door. "I kinda stopped living there for a bit because I blamed myself for letting my sister go to that party… But it's not our fault. It's not our fault."

She smiled, sadly, her heart squeezed in a vise, her eyes welling up. All that pain that had been inflicted, that her Case had inflicted. She would never be able to make that okay. No one would.

"Thank you, Matthew."

And with that she was gone, on her last errand of the day, meeting Lorenzo St. John, who had finally agreed to see her after she had sent a pathetic amount of letters and emails, finally realizing that she was quite possibly agitating him, bringing back memories he'd rather forget. Just when she had accepted she'd never get a reply, he had sent her a message, saying he would meet her.

Now here she was. After a day spent in this awful small town that she had hoped to never see again, the town where her son found his terrible end, she was back and waiting to talk to the last name on her list.

When he showed up at the bar that he'd suggested as a meeting spot, he looked so much taller than she remembered from four years ago, and handsome. She didn't remember him looking handsome back then. But neither had she thought of Damon as handsome until he had sat right in front of her with his bright eyes and curved lips.

Lorenzo, with his dark hair and unreadable eyes, looked unapproachable at best and downright intimidating at worst, and she carefully sat down waiting for him to do the same.

"Thank you for meeting me here, Mr. St. John," she rasped, her voice not quite obeying, and he made a face, the softest hint of a smile playing across his features perhaps.

"I heard you're doing a tour today," he said before she had a chance to repeat the words she had already said a couple of times before, and bowing her head she grimaced slightly at the awkwardness.

"I'm… I need to apologize. I know it's too little too late and what you… what you had to endure in that… that pool—"

He shook his head, making her stop. The expression on his face was somewhere between pained and detached and she suddenly realized that what she was doing to all these kids was cruel. Seeking forgiveness at the cost of them having to relive what surely was the worst time of their lives.

"I'm so sorry, I should have never come here," she blurted out, gathering her purse and stumbling to get up, but then Enzo's hand touched her wrist briefly and her gaze met his.

"It's alright," he said, his voice level, "Iit helps you, then yes, I'll grant you my forgiveness."

She gasped, tears running down her face. "He hurt you so badly, he killed those girls, and… and you were always right there."

The pain reflected on his face was so raw as if he had just seen the girls die all over again. She had seen his face on those grainy video clips, the agony, the shock, the complete disbelief when he was holding the blonde girl. The terror when Casey attacked Vicky Donovan, that poor girl that had just stood there, fighting him off to let Casey kill her. She had seen it and it had looked exactly like it did right now.

"The trauma he caused you… he ruined your life. You were just a kid and he—"

He licked his lips, averting his gaze as he shook his head again, looking down on the ground.

"He didn't ruin my life, Mrs. Ormond."

"But—"

"The pit damaged me, I'm not gonna lie. And your son's image will probably always haunt my nightmares. Which is not what you wanted to hear," he allowed soberly, and she couldn't help but chuckle lightly, surprising herself.

"No. But it's okay. I came here for the truth, for something real."

"Listen. Casey was probably not a bad kid, he was just put in an impossible situation so he made some impossible decisions. Okay? Nothing any of us can do about it now. And he wouldn't want you to spend the rest of your life feeling responsible. It's not your fault. It wasn't even his. It's easy to think he could have gone about it differently, but let me tell you: down there? In that pit? All we wanted to do was try and survive, by whatever means possible."

She nodded, letting him pat her arm almost patronizingly, but it felt strangely soothing.

"Now please excuse me, my girlfriend wants to pick a dress for her best friend's wedding and I'm in for a long afternoon at the mall."

And with that this dark and intimidating man winked at her with a handsome smile, then walked past her, out the door, and the last time she would ever see him, he was whirling a cute blonde in his arms right in front of the big window looking out from the bar and he looked happy.

He had been right. Casey hadn't ruined his life after all. And maybe it was time that Alexandra finally forgave herself too, just like she had told Damon last year it was time he forgave himself.

Time to allow the past to stay in the past.


...

Five weeks after their slightly disastrous Thanksgiving, right before the end of the year their wedding finally took place. Under a beautifully lit ceiling, adorned with a sea of string lights in place of the real stars outside, they were dancing, and everyone was there.

Bonnie looked up at Damon's face with a dreamy smile, one hand on his shoulder and the other holding his hand as he pirouetted her across the dance floor, and he felt like the happiest man in the world. And maybe he was.

Though, scanning the room, he could see that his little brother and Elena, Enzo and Caroline, and even Rebekah and Tyler, or Elijah and Liz were all close seconds. How they all had managed to find happiness, a significant other among the terrors of the past was a bit of a miracle to him at times, but he wasn't going to question it.

"Alright, gorgeous," he eventually said, slowing his movements, and thus hers, and he looked her in the eyes. "As reluctant as I am to part with you, I have a duty to fulfill now." He bent down a little, placing a soft kiss on her forehead, then another, more passionate one on her lips before gently extricating himself from her with a smile.

"A duty, huh?" She smirked, her fingers still holding onto his, before he nodded, and, bowing, went on his way, but not without calling out to her over the music, "I love you, Bonnie Bennett-Salvatore!"

Curtsying in her wide white dress, she smiled before Matt sidled over to her, holding out a hand. "May I have this dance, then?" he asked, and she nodded, gladly accepting.

"Thanks for coming, Matt," she said as they slowly waltzed across the room, smiling at their friends here and there. "And thanks for dancing with me now that my husband has abandoned me."

They both chuckled, watching Damon as he went on his way over to where Grams was sitting, making a bit of a face.

"Oh, she's so gonna give him the Sheila Bennett scowl for this," Bonnie muttered, and they both started laughing.

"Who hasn't gotten that scowl at least once in their lives?"

Bonnie frowned with a smile. "I think you might be the only one, Matt Donovan."

"Nope," he disagreed, "Remember freshman year? When Elena and I broke up?"

"Oh…" Bonnie giggled. "That. Poor Grams. I think she has a bit of a hard time keeping up with all our relationships."

"In her defense, we don't make it easy. Case in point being that you married Elena's other ex-boyfriend…"

They both laughed again, before slowly growing a little wistful.

"You doing okay, Matt?" Bonnie looked up at her friend, her worry probably showing slightly, but he smiled at her.

"Yeah," he said with a light nod, "it's… I'm good. Glad you guys are all doing so well for yourselves."

"I know it's hard sometimes to move on," Bonnie allowed, giving him a knowing look. Because she really did. Just this morning she had thought of how different things could have turned out if Jeremy had lived. If she had put her foot down and insisted they all not enter that stupid stupid house with its pit. Thinking like that was futile, of course. She hadn't forgotten that lesson, but sometimes, she simply couldn't help it. Looking at Matt, she smoothed the shirt on his shoulder absently.

"Vicky would be happy for you and Penny, you know?" she told him, referring to the cute new girlfriend he had met at the police academy. "And I honestly think that Jer would be happy for me. They wouldn't want us to dwell on the pain forever, right? They'd want us to be strong and kick some serious butt and show these assholes that they didn't bring us down."

Matt stopped to look at her. "I still miss her sometimes, you know? I wish she could have met Penny…"

"I know." She smiled at him, wondering how best to steer them out of dangerous territory. Matt had needed a long time to come out of his shell again, but for the last year or so, he had been pretty much back to normal, and she was glad to see him like that. But their dead would always be with them, Vicky, Jeremy…

Had she been right there? Would Jeremy have been happy for her? Yes, she really believed so. Over the years she had gotten a little better at remembering that relief in his face. That beautiful smile, and not the blood, the pain, the gurgles.

No, just his smile and the fact that he might have found peace knowing that Damon would look out for her.

He had told her that eventually. Maybe a few weeks later, maybe a couple of months, she was a little hazy on the details. Damon had sat her down when she had been exceptionally angry at the world, and he had told her about his promises to Jeremy, to keep her safe. To make sure she was okay.

"He wouldn't want you to be angry all the time, Bon," he had told her, in a rare moment of absolute seriousness, and she had sighed and looked at him, admitting that she knew.

"I promised him I'd try my best to keep you safe, get you out," he had told her, "but I promised myself I'd make sure you'd be happy again."

And he had...

"Come on, let's sit down for a bit," she eventually said, tugging at Matt, who seemed lost in thought. "My feet are killing me. - Don't tell Damon I said that, though. I insisted on wearing these shoes and he had to go meet the delivery guy in a parking lot this morning so I would get them in time…"

Matt chuckled, offering her his arm to guide her over to her table. "I promise I won't say a thing."

They both were grateful that the heaviness of the prior moment dissipated quickly, not leaving them feeling down, but content. Happy.

Yes, Bonnie was incredibly happy. And so were her friends, and that was amazing.


Holding out his hand gallantly, Damon stood waiting in front of Sheila Bennett.

"Damon…" There was a whiff of reproach or annoyance in her tone, but he put on his best smile, then asked, "May I have this dance, Ms. Sheila Bennett?"

"I don't think you really want to dance with an old woman like me." She smiled, despite herself, smoothing down her dress a little as she looked up at him.

He wagged his eyebrows, bowing, then tilting his head. "Oh, but I do. Indulge me, please."

With a chuckle and a roll of her eyes, she stood up, taking his hand. "If I must."

Then she followed him to the dancefloor where he swiftly whirled her around, making her openly laugh.

"Easy now, Mr. Salvatore, I'm not a young girl anymore. You can do these fancy moves with your wife."

"And I will. But first, I'd really like to dance with my favorite granny-in-law." He beamed, then laughed at Sheila's exasperation.

"Granny-in-law is not what you will call me, Damon Salvatore."

"Grams-in-law? Grams?" He bent down to dip her, making her clutch his arm.

"Young man," she gasped as he pulled her back up, the other people in the room clapping for the daring move, "Don't do that again. Also, no. No Grams, certainly no Grams-in-law. Sheila is just fine."

"Okay." He smiled mildly, leaning in, until his lips were close to her ear. "You're still the best Grams out there, Sheila Bennett, and I'm honored to be your grandson-in-law. And I promise you I'll take good care of your grandchild."

Smiling, she patted his arm. "I know you will. I may have had my reservations, I won't deny it, but you've proven yourself, Damon. You are one of the good guys and I'm glad she has you. And that you have her. I know you kids never see it that way, but you've been good for each other. Without you… I don't think she would have made it out of it all so…"

"Unscathed?" He provided, but she shook her head.

"No. Not that. You all have quite obvious scars, nothing and no one can make those go away again. But you've come out on top, stronger, and it's because you didn't have to go through it alone."

"Can't argue with that," Damon mused, slow-waltzing her through the room.

"She's very happy, Damon."

"So am I."

"Make sure it stays that way. And don't ever stop treating her like the queen you treat her as now."

He smiled. "I promise I won't."

"Good. Because I'm incredibly protective of my girl and I won't let anyone mess with her ever again. - And now bring me back to my table before I break my old ankles."

Chuckling, he did as he was told, beaming at Bonnie when he passed her by.

"Don't go anywhere, gorgeous. Next dance will be mine," he told her, and she smiled back.

"I'll be waiting."


And after that last dance, they gathered their things to go run out to the car and drive off together. A short little honeymoon, but a honeymoon nonetheless, and she couldn't wait to spend a few days just with him.

A few nights, too…

When they got to the little cabin, the fireplace was already burning and someone must have clued the staff in to the fact that this was their wedding day, because there were rose petals leading the way across the threshold and all the way to the bed, and a little card on the bed, saying "To the newlyweds" and some chocolate pralines, all a bit cheesy but so adorable, and really, Bonnie could do with a little cheesiness. Cheesy was perfect right now, and so was this day, her wedding day.

As Damon bent to pick her up and carry her over the threshold, she laughed, for once living right in the moment and hoping she would store this memory away to always be able to recall it. How happy she was, how happy they were. Full of love and energy, a little tipsy on her part, too, and just ready for this life together as husband and wife.

"Let me ravage you, Bonnie Bennett-Salvatore," Damon whispered in her ear before laying her down on the comfortable and soft looking bed, and she felt like she was on her own little cloud. Yeah, she could get used to this, she thought, feeling Damon's hands try to get her out of her dress.

"BonBon, next time, choose something with the undressing bit in mind," he mumbled, coming up briefly to smirk at her, and she laughed.

"Next time? I'm not planning on doing this again, babe. One marriage is enough for me."

"You sure?"

"Uh huh, unh…" Her voice trailed away as he had finally managed to pull her dress down, and helping him, she wiggled until he got it completely off of her, his hands busying themselves with the clasp of her bra next.

"You're too gorgeous to be so wrapped up, Bonnie Bennett-Salvatore." He huffed, a light flush appearing on his face as she chuckled, playing with his tie, with the buttons of his shirt.

"You sure like using my full name, don't you?"

He gave her a duh-look. "You're my wife, of course I like to say your name."

"Even though I wanted to keep the Bennett?" His buttons were undone, and her fingers traced his chest, trailing downward, but her gaze held his.

"I wouldn't have it any other way. It's who you are, gorgeous. - But I'm done talking…" He wagged an eyebrow, then grabbed her around the waist, and let himself fall onto the bed, where she came to lay on top of him. Chuckling, she tried pulling herself up a tiny bit to look him in the eyes, her hair cascading down both sides of his face.

It was just them now, and they had all the time in the world.

"I love you, Damon," she breathed, smiling, before softly kissing his lips.

"And I love you…" His kiss was much more passionate, daring, and his hands were traveling down her body while she was busy undoing his pants. One more smile, but then it was no longer time for smiles, or words, or anything, really, just touch. Touch, and taste, him and her, and the world would have to wait until another day…


The happy couple had long left when the party eventually ended, Rebekah smiling wistfully, sipping a glass of water as she watched Tyler, Matt, and Stefan laugh together, Caroline and Enzo dance a last dance, wound so tightly around each other that she knew they wouldn't be here for much longer than this song would last. Then they, too, would rush out into the night to be together, just the two of them. And while she and Enzo didn't often get a chance to talk, she had enjoyed seeing him here today, so happy, so healthy, even though if she looked closely enough, she could still see that familiar darkness in the depth of his eyes, that darkness that she shared.

"Our guys seem to be enjoying themselves…"

She looked up to see Elena Gilbert smiling at her, slowly pushing open a chair to sit down next to her at her deserted table. Most everyone had left already, including dear Matt's girlfriend, who had to be up for work early the next day.

Rebekah smiled. She and Elena didn't really have much in common, didn't really talk—

No. That was a lie. They did have something in common. They both had lost a brother, at almost the exact same time, in the same place.

"Ya. Tyler has been looking forward to being back here. He was a tiny bit cross that we couldn't make it for Thanksgiving."

"We missed you guys, too."

They were so polite with each other, it felt a bit strange. How they never mentioned the glaringly obvious.

"I heard we missed a bit of a dramatic moment there," Rebekah said, remembering Bonnie's account of events, and Elena nodded.

"Probably for the better that you weren't there."

"You know, it's alright to mention it." Rebekah had enough of being polite. She wanted a real conversation or none at all. Actually. She wanted a conversation like the one the boys were having.

Elena swallowed, grinning a little sheepishly. "I know. I'm sorry. I always have a hard time. But it must be worse for you."

"Because I was there?"

Elena nodded, remaining silent. Then she looked at Rebekah's glass. "Just water, huh?"

"I started with the harder stuff."

Elena unexpectedly giggled. "Ya, me too. Sorry, I'm blaming the booze for me having worked up the courage to approach you."

It was Rebekah's turn to chuckle softly. "Courage? I don't bite."

"It's just… because I've been wanting to ask you something and it's—"

"About losing a brother down in that pit?" It had been pretty obvious to her what Elena really wanted, she couldn't blame her, either. In a way, she would like to talk about it too. With someone who really understood her pain.

"Yeah," Elena admitted, grabbing her glass and downing the rest of its contents. "I know it's not exactly a topic for a wedding, but… I'm sorry, feel free to ignore me. I clearly had too much to drink."

"It's alright. We should invite Matt over, too. We can be an eclectic little club."

They both chuckled at her gallows humor. It had come that far. She was actually able to joke about it. Kol would be so proud. The thought made her smile.

"I still miss him sometimes. And I'm still angry at him sometimes," she admitted, catching Elena's attention. The girl nodded at her.

"Matt said something similar to me once. I think we're all still a bit angry. What's that with those five stages of grief? I feel like I should be way past that anger stage…"

Rebekah rolled her eyes. "I'll drink to that," she announced, then looked around until she found a bottle of champagne on an adjacent table. Walking over there quickly, she grabbed it, then took a quick swig, making a face. It was stale, and too warm. Had probably sat on that table for way too long already. But it didn't matter.

"Want some?" She held out the bottle to Elena, who gladly accepted it.

"Thanks. Can I ask you something? You don't have to answer, I don't—"

"Just ask, Elena, and I'll see whether I have an answer for you."

The girl nodded, self-consciously tucking a strand of her behind her ear as she leaned on her elbows to look at Rebekah. "He made you do it, right? Like how Jer made Bonnie… like how she had to kill him."

Rebekah realized that she didn't really want to talk about this, and yet she opened her mouth to reply, as if something else was deciding for her, a part she had suppressed for a very very long time. "He did. I know you and Bonnie never quite recovered from it, but she really had no choice. Believe me when I tell you that this pit made us do things none of us ever dreamed we'd be capable of. I killed my brother, but I also didn't. The bastard held my hands and made me do it. Just like Jeremy had already cut himself. They did it out of love, I know that, but it still hurts. No one should ever have to kill their loved ones, no one should ever be forced to be the survivor. They never asked us whether we wanted this. Maybe we would have preferred to die instead."

She wasn't quite sure where that had come from, but now it was out and she couldn't take it back. Didn't want to take it back.

Elena licked her lips, something quite obviously running through her head. Her brow was furrowed in deep thought, when she eventually nodded. "Thank you, Rebekah. This probably sounds weird, but I think you just made me understand something that I never even realized this clearly before."

"Glad I could help."

Elena laid a hand over hers, and it was Rebekah's turn to frown.

"I'm glad you're still here, Rebekah. I hope you don't ever regret that you are… And I'm glad Bonnie is still here, too, and got to get married today. This wedding was bittersweet for me, because I once thought Jeremy would marry her, and I Damon..." She chuckled self-consciously. "But I'm happy I got to be there, and I think this is exactly what my brother - and your brother would have wanted: to see us all celebrate again. Together."

Rebekah smiled wistfully. "Maybe you're right."

"I know I am." With that Elena got up slowly, extending an arm. "Enough of this heavy talk. What do you say: shall we go over and see what these guys are laughing about so much?"

Rebekah's smile widened, grew happier. Then she nodded, grabbing Elena's hand. "Let's go…"

Chapter Text

...

[Now]

It took him two months to adjust to being back at home. Two freaking months. And all that time, he had felt like he was being rubbed raw between the trial preparations, checking on Bonnie, on Stefan, trying to subtly coax Enzo to sleep in his freaking room again already, and wondering where the hell his father had vanished to.

Not to mention his own goshdarn nightmares that had grown in intensity lately, making him wake up soaked in sweat and unable to go back to sleep for hours.

"These are really good." He looked up, startled out of his thoughts by Bonnie smiling at him, pointing at her stack of pancakes with her fork, mouth still full. "I didn't know you could cook. Certainly not breakfast."

He frowned, mock-hurt. "What's that supposed to mean?! I'm a pretty dang good cook, actually. Thank you very much. You should come over for dinner sometime. I'll make you my ribs in bourbon glaze."

"Bourbon glaze." Bonnie looked half impressed, half amused. "Of course there'd be booze involved."

"Hey!" he protested. "Nothing beats the subtle woody flavor of bourbon in that dish."

"You'll have to prove it. But first, let me finish theses babies here. They're truly delicious."

He watched her as she dug in, a smile forming that was genuine happiness. And Damon's heart felt heavy in a good way for the first time in a while. Because Bonnie Bennett looked pretty okay for someone who had barely escaped death a rough three months ago. (Hell, more than "okay." She looked super hot and gorgeous - but they didn't have that kind of relationship, and besides, his breakup and the violent death of her boyfriend were way too fresh still, way too raw.)

Still, part of him wanted to ask her how she was really feeling, just like he had done with Rebekah a couple of days ago. Back at the Mikaelson mansion, that large too familiar house, where he had spent too much time lately, sitting down with Elijah and Enzo and talking about all the things he didn't want to talk about.

Admittedly, he had been avoiding her for quite some time by then, just because… well, he hadn't really kept his promise to Kol all that well, had he? It was so obvious how she was silently suffering, and no amount of brotherly love and cajoling seemed to get her back to normal. He had seen it, of course, but he had ignored it, shoved it aside like all the other stuff, until one day, she had opened the door for him.

He had found himself lingering, unable to move away from the doorstep until she moved aside a little more and, with a soft smile, had told him to come in already.

"It's way too cold, isn't it?" She had asked him, and his gaze had fallen upon the thick warm sweater she had huddled up in. A sudden memory flash had zapped through him, then, reminding him of the clothes she had generally worn before, the clothes she had worn that night. A super short skirt, a halter top. He had noticed it, because dang if he didn't always notice a super hot girl. (Bonnie had worn that gorgeous green dress that had accentuated her figure so well, he remembered that, too, and the thought made him feel like a creep. The dress she had torn up until it was so very short it had barely covered her legs anymore…)

Clearing his throat, he had reached out to touch her, carefully, because he had anticipated the flinch that had made her shiver slightly.

"How are you doing, Rebekah?" He had asked, trying to smile, but it hadn't reached his eyes, and neither had hers when she returned it.

"Hanging in there, Damon. You?"

He had nodded, watching her as she clung to the still open door, suddenly apparently not caring anymore that it had gotten quite cold in the last couple of weeks.

"Eh." He had grinned, contemplated, then surprised himself. "It sucks sometimes, doesn't it? And nobody really gets it. Except you. Except Bonnie. Except Enzo. We're a sad little club."

She had chuckled softly but more with sympathy than humor. "Ooooh yes."

"I promised him I'd take care of you, that I'd get you out," he quietly told her, and her face had taken on a pained expression. "I feel like I failed him, and honestly," he chuckled desperately, "I don't even know why I care so much. Your brother was an obnoxious little shit for most of the time and I never bothered about anything he said."

Rebekah had half chuckled, half cried, pressing her lips together to stop herself. "You did get me out, Damon. And it wasn't even your job…"

With a sigh, he had shaken his head. "I didn't, though. Did I? Not really? You're still trapped down there. We all are."

He had felt her hand on his arm then, had seen that look on her face. Compassion, maybe? Forgiveness?

"It wasn't your job."

"Yeah." He had scoffed, then swallowed, averting his gaze. "Anyways. I'm sorry I haven't really… um, checked up on you before, I guess. But I will from now on."

"You really don't have to." She had smiled, the expression suddenly growing more sincere as she had slightly changed the direction of their conversation. "Besides. My family is already all over me with their annoying concern." She had rolled her eyes. "And you have seen for yourself how Elijah can get."

"Oh ya. Say no more." He had grinned, adding, "Speaking off…" He had pointed down the hallway. "I should probably get in there now…"

"Good luck, Damon."

"Yeah…"

"How's the trial coming? Or is it… is that…" Bonnie huffed, deflating, her fork sinking down onto her plate with an awkward clang. "Do you even want to talk about that?"

"I'm not Enzo, pretty girl. I can talk about these things," he said with a grin that was nowhere near as charming as he had hoped it was. He could see it in the look she gave him.

"We're not all as strong as you are, Damon."

He almost choked on a sip of orange juice, the tangy acidity burning in his esophagus as he coughed. He was so far from being strong, it wasn't even funny. Heck, it was the most pathetic thing. Maybe he didn't need to sleep in the kitchen, maybe he didn't hide in oversized sweaters, but he was not coping so well, as evidenced by the fact that he had finished a couple of bottles of bourbon all on his own in the months since he had gotten back from the hospital.

"If anyone is strong, BonBon, it's you," he let her know, toasting to her with his half full cup.

She scoffed, playing with a strand of her hair. "I'm not strong at all," she said, head dropping a little. "Did I tell you I've been talking to that therapist like they recommended?" Looking up at him, she looked as if that was somehow a sure sign of defeat.

He frowned. "That's good. Right? It's good?"

"Are you talking to one?"

He made a face, staying noticeably quiet.

"See? I'm the nutcase, I need a freaking therapist and still I keep getting these… these zaps of panic, and and and you all are somehow managing to live a normal life!"

Damon laughed, making her glare at him angrily.

"I'm glad this is so amusing to you."

"No, no Bon."

She got up, getting ready to storm out or smash a glass he wasn't sure which, and he held out his hands appeasingly. "Bon. Bonnie. I'm not… I'm not amused, I'm—"

"You have a weird way of not being amused."

"Yeah, well. I'm a Salvatore. We're pretty messed up to begin with. I just. - Can you please sit down again? - Listen, You're not a nut case, alright? You're the only one of us that's functioning."

"Yeah, right," she hissed, pouting, but she did sit back down, glaring at him still.

With a weary sigh, he returned her gaze. "I wasn't laughing because you think you're… crazy, or because I agree. I was laughing because your assessment couldn't be further from the truth." He stopped briefly, noticing that he did have her attention, even though her expression was still wary, her arms crossed in front of her as if the distance between them had grown since she had first gotten to the boarding house this morning.

"See, Bon. I don't even know how you do it, and I don't even think you see it, but you've been keeping it together ever since coming out of that godforsaken pit. You got us all back. If it weren't for you, we all would have never made it further than that freaking hallway. - And as for me, for the rest of us? I drink that aforementioned bourbon like it's water lately, Rebekah… is hiding in her oversized sweaters, never leaving the house, and we're actually eating in Enzo's current bedroom, so to speak. So, yeah. None of us are as sane or functioning as you are."

There was an awkward pause when he was finished, his heart beating too fast, his mind going a mile a minute trying to figure out a nonchalant way of getting back on a safer, more easygoing track. But he was blanking. And reeling.

Then she smiled. A small smile at first, just the lips, but then her teeth blinked, her eyes lit up, and he felt himself breathe easier, felt his own mouth turn upward.

"See? You're not doing so bad at all," he said with a hint of triumph in his tone, and she tilted her head sideways shyly before worry crept back into her features.

"Enzo's sleeping in the..?"

"Yup."

"And the bourbon…"

He made a face, nodding.

She gnawed on her lip, he was strangely hypnotized by it, but then she said, "I'll call the guy for you if you want, but please talk to a therapist, too, Damon. I don't want you to go down that road. Drinking problems are serious."

"I know. I've seen it with my dad." He grinned stupidly, but he didn't feel like grinning at all. He wanted to ignore the problem a little while longer. But she wasn't going to let him, was she?"

She wasn't going to give up on him, which meant he couldn't give up either. So he nodded. "Okay, BonBon. - But can we eat up first?"

There was that smile again.


Say what you wanted about Guiseppe Salvatore, but when it came to someone hurting his family, he did get angry on their behalf, and set out to make sure it didn't happen again.

Back when Stefan and Damon were little, there had been a neighborhood bully. Technically, the kid hadn't done worse to his boys than he had done himself, but seeing that little shit screw with them hadn't sat right with him at all. So he had gone over there one day, when Damon had come home with a bleeding nose because he had tried to defend his little brother, and he may have pulled that kid by the collar and gotten right in his face saying, "If you hurt my sons again I'll come to your house and drag you out, and dump you in the lake, and I'll make sure you won't be able to hurt anyone ever again."

He had been lucky that the child's parents hadn't been there and that the boy had been too scared afterward to talk about it, because threatening a ten year old was probably not exactly a great move. But that was Guiseppe.

He always managed to weasel his way out of awkward situations. He had even managed to get on the town council, simply because of who his family was: one of the oldest in the town. He had claimed his right and no one had dared to protest.

But then he had seen Damon come home covered in blood, and that was covered. Completely. He hadn't seen so much blood on a living person ever.

It had been a miracle his oldest hadn't died.

Guiseppe had known what that had meant. Logan freaking Fell had probably thought he was oh so inconspicuous, but you couldn't do stuff like he had done right under Guiseppe's nose. It had been a beginner's mistake. Because of course Guiseppe had noticed the man make his weird phone calls, had heard him talk about a "game" every now and then, furtively with a hushed voice so that it had been pretty clear it wasn't just going to be football or chess.

And then all these kids had gone missing - not that the sheriff (that stupid woman) had even really noticed, and not that he had put two and two together yet, but then Damon had reappeared like that, breaking down in the hallway, and Enzo had not come home, and then he heard about the other kids, Bonnie Bennett, Rebekah Mikaelson, and what they had told the sheriff, and he had known.

Injured and traumatized kids - a game - Logan Fell's secret talks.

He had stood on the man's threshold just two days after his son had been brought to the hospital, ready to tear his head off.

"What have you done?" He had demanded, grabbing Logan's collar like he had grabbed that young kids years ago, and the man had looked just as terrified.

"Guiseppe, what—"

"My son was in your stupid 'game', wasn't he?!"

Logan's face had turned pale so tellingly quickly that he hadn't needed more for confirmation. "You tell me right now who's behind this and then—"

A searing pain had gone through his head right then, and the world had turned bright white before it had turned dark, his last thoughts muffled by the tug of unconsciousness. He had gotten himself in deep shit.


Logan Fell was getting nervous. First, the sheriff had found Luka Martin. Not that he knew the kid, but he had heard the rumors. That boy had been at the game, and he had talked. Extensively. It didn't help that Logan had absolutely no idea what Luka had seen or what he knew or whether one of the crew had brought him in or whether he had been just a normal "guest."

It didn't help that that FBI agent was involved, or that Elijah Mikaelson was defending these kids in court. It didn't help that the sheriff wasn't as stupid as he had thought or hoped and that she was slowly putting the pieces together.

So now they had found Sykes, and from him it wouldn't be long until they found the rest of them. Found him

He should probably try to get away. Hide somewhere. Lay low until the whole thing was forgotten. Because if he didn't, either Liz Forbes or the man would get to him and he didn't even know which one would be worse.

So Logan Fell packed his bags, bought a ticket to Aruba, and went on his way.

He didn't know what to do with Guiseppe. There wasn't really anything he could do. He couldn't bring him, obviously, and he couldn't let him go. He didn't have it in himself to kill the guy, either, although he surely deserved it. So he simply left him. Giving him a last few rations of food and the cleaned out bucket for his business, he would have a little longer before he freed himself. By then, Logan would be long gone.


And Logan Fell did get away. But he hadn't anticipated that Guiseppe Salvatore was so dazed from his concussion that he simply couldn't figure out a way to free himself. His vision was too blurred, he couldn't even really see down in the cellar Logan had put him in. He also couldn't seem to keep any of the water or food down long enough, and dehydration had already set in before Logan was even on his way. He would have needed a doctor, an IV, maybe even an MRI, and lots of rest. But all he got was darkness, a ratty mattress and a heavy door that wouldn't budge.

So when Logan had only been gone a day or maybe two, Guiseppe Salvatore took his last breaths, his death going completely unnoticed by everyone, including his oblivious sons.

They wouldn't have cared anyways, he thought with one of his last thoughts, and he probably deserved that. They would never even know he had gone out to avenge them.


Physical therapy was a bit of a nightmare, but Enzo couldn't possibly admit that to anyone but himself. In a way it was a constant reminder of what had happened, making it hard for him to forget, making it hard, too, to get it together enough to stop sleeping in the kitchen already. And he didn't even know why the hell he did that. That his feet had suffered some nerve damage and had made walking a chore at first was only half of the problem at most. No, his physical therapist, a nice mate named Cooper, or Coop for short, had done wonders there and he couldn't use it as an excuse for anything but his slightly wonky gait anymore. (Something Coop had tried to prepare him would always be there.)

Why the kitchen, then?

Because it felt safest. And it was close to the door, that's why. He could easily sneak in and out of the house if he felt like the place was suffocating him, if he felt like he was back there.

Stefan had shot him those sympathetic, quite "un-Stefan" looks when he had first noticed it, but thankfully he hadn't commented. Neither had Caroline, after she had found him there that first night.

Damon on the other hand had taken it upon himself to constantly remind Enzo that he had a room upstairs. "Poor thing is suffering from withdrawal," he would say. Or, "Your sleeping arrangements make it a little awkward to bring home girls."

As if either of them were bringing anyone home. Well, aside from Bonnie, who spent more and more time over at the house, and Caroline. But they were just friends…

"And one more set."

Enzo stared up, seeing Cooper's concentrated face. The man was making sure he got all the movements right, though Enzo was pretty sure no movement could be right, because his freaking arm always felt like it was being cloven in half and it never failed to bring him straight back into that stupid freaking pit where he saw Casey's face in front of him again, all adrenaline and panic and pure frantic will to survive, and Vicky's. Before it was split in half, but also right after.

Closing his eyes, he swallowed, trying not to grimace too hard.

"Almost done, Lorenzo. Just two more, come on. You doing okay?"

"Fantastic, mate," he gritted out, shooting the man an eye rolling glare. "How could I not be doing okay with you making sure I feel every fiber in my damn arm?"

"It'll get better, man. At least you can bend it again, that's terrific."

He couldn't argue there. It was definitely better than not being able to move his arm, but he didn't used to have any bloody problems with his arm a mere few months ago, so this was still pretty damn… annoying.

"And, that's it. Free to go." Coop patted his shoulder then waved over to the door, making Enzo look there, too. "See you on Monday, Lorenzo" Coop said, "and take your girl out to celebrate your progress or something."

"Yeah…" Enzo made a face, staring from the guy back to the door, where Caroline stood waiting, a smile on her face and about three shopping bags hanging off each arm. (Bags he would offer to carry for her and she'd politely decline…)

"What are you doing here, love? There's not exactly a lot of shopping opportunities. Unless you want to count the gift shop they have on the first floor."

She beamed, looking way too happy to be seeing him.

"I was in the area…" Were her cheeks flushing? He couldn't help but smirk at her.

"Do I make you nervous, Caroline Forbes?"

"No?!" It sounded like half question and half denial, and was one hundred percent a lie. It made him chuckle despite himself. This girl was something else. Why she even bothered with him, he had no clue, but he wasn't going to question it, because he kind of really liked her, and she had been there for him at a time where no one else had or could have been.

She was still there for him…

"Anyways." She huffed. "I remembered you had your physical therapy thing today and since I was already here, I thought maybe we could go and get a coffee together or something?"

"A coffee?"

"Um. Yeah?" She looked at him as if he was a bit dense. "You know, friends do that sometimes? They pick each other up, go have a coffee together, or a tea, or just a water and a piece of cake or… Geez, Enzo, do you live under a rock? I'm trying to hang out with you so please say yes or I will have to go back home and wait for my mom to lay into me again about delaying college a semester."

College. Right. She wasn't the only one delaying of course. So was Bonnie, so was Rebekah. Not to mention that he hadn't even gone in the first place back when everyone else his age had gone off. Instead, he had followed Damon, because he always followed Damon, because even before the damn pit he had already been damaged and messed up and hadn't been able to get it together enough to send out an application and do something with his life.

"I'm sure she'll be thrilled to hear that you chose my company instead, then." He raised an eyebrow, giving her a look that made her press her lips together somewhat guiltily.

"You know you can still go if you want to, right?"

"It's fine. I have a job, a place to stay. I don't need college—"

"Okay." She beamed, surprising him a bit. He had gotten defensive again, like he always did when the subject came up. But apparently there was no need, not with her.

"I don't want your mom to think I'm even more of a bad influence than she already thinks."

Caroline began walking when he had made his way over to her, accompanying him out the door, but now she gave him a weird look. "What?! No. My mom doesn't think—"

"She does," he told her mildy, by her reaction guessing that she knew as much. "I can't blame her," he told her, "She's the sheriff, you are her daughter, and I… killed a girl and am facing murder charges for that."

The thought made him slightly queasy, as usual, although talking about it like he was completely detached from it made it somewhat more bearable.

"Enzo…" She sighed, her face so sad and sympathetic that he couldn't look at her. He didn't deserve her sympathy and he didn't want her to see that it got to him. Didn't want her to see that part of him wanted to give up and cry and never go out anymore. But he couldn't do that, of course.

He shook his head, smiling at her for a second before averting his gaze again for another couple minutes. "Let's go get that coffee."

And then she suddenly kissed his cheek and he felt… better.



...

"I'm sorry Stefan, we can definitely file a missing person report, if you're sure he's not on a business trip…" Liz gave the boy a cautious look, feeling awful for him. First the thing with his brother, then he had lost his best friend, and now his failure of a father - her fellow council member Guiseppe - was missing, too.

She had wondered about him when he hadn't shown up at the meeting she had urgently called in after the whole pit mess had first surfaced, but then, his eldest son had been involved and she had put it down to him being busy dealing with his family. (Of course he hadn't been. She should have known better. A man like him…)

But then Logan Fell had sent her a message explaining he would be gone for a while, dealing with some urgent business out of town, and she hadn't gotten around to asking him about Guiseppe and then she had simply been too busy dealing with the aftermath of the horrors to keep up with everything.

And now here was Stefan Salvatore, his youngest son, actually reporting his father missing. While she couldn't wait to go back to sit in on the interrogation with Jacob Sykes, the guy they had just now found, following her find on that video. This man who had obvious ties to the higher ups behind the game that had claimed over a dozen lives three months ago. In her town.

"Can you please do that, then?" Stefan was saying, and she nodded sympathetically. "I'll send deputy Richmond over to you in a bit, okay? Tell her everything out of the ordinary you might remember." He nodded at her, running a hand through his ruffled looking hair. He must have done that a couple times already. She sighed, part of her wishing he was still with Caroline. Why did they have to break up? This kid was sweet, and smart, and maybe a little boring, but in a good way. She wanted this kind of boring for her daughter, she wanted it way more than the constant electrical current that seemed to fill the air around Caroline whenever Lorenzo St. John was around, who wasn't boring at all. Who was murder-charges-against-him exciting. No, she really missed Stefan by Caroline's side. And of course she could not tell her that.

"I'm sorry, Stefan…"

"Yeah, well…" He grinned a little lopsidedly, "To be honest, I can't even say that I am." And with that, he nodded at her, then waved, leaving the station and her to deal with the bigger matters.

Jacob Sykes. With a big sigh, she turned and walked toward the interview room, ready to hear what that kid had to say. It better be good. They desperately needed an actual lead. Especially if she wanted to help Elijah find enough material to get his two defendants through the trial.

Which she really did.

Chapter Text

...

Rebekah hadn't realized someone was there, someone other than her highly unpredictable and therefore to her almost predictable brothers.

But when she was busy doing her usual thing - usual only for the last six or so months - she suddenly heard her name being gasped, and with a soft clang the knife she had been holding fell to the kitchen floor.

Whirling around while shoving her sweater back up her shoulder, she stared at the intruder with an angry fiery glare. "What the hell are you doing here?! Nik is not here."

Tyler Lockwood lifted his hands appeasingly, backing slightly away. "I'm sorry," he muttered, "I... Klaus said I could stay here a couple of days."

Rebekah frowned, leaning against the countertop as she stared him up and down. It was still a bit strange to her how Klaus had taken to this kid. She knew they shared some dark secret, and she suspected what it was (don't think about it…), but it was so unlike her brother that she marveled at what it was about Tyler that had made Klaus decide to be nice for a change. Because no shared darkness would ever turn her brother into a philanthropist. Maybe he was hoping to get something out of that new half-friendship. She just didn't know what.

"Well, he isn't here now."

"I'll just… I'm sorry. If you want me to leave…" He trailed off, pointing at the door, taking another step backward before slowly turning around.

"Wait!" She didn't quite know why she was calling out, why she didn't just let him leave because she wanted to be alone, she didn't want him here. "Are you…" Her hand indicated her shoulder, her arm, and she swallowed heavily as he shook his head with a slight grimace.

"I'm not gonna spill your secret, if that's what you're afraid of." A sigh of relief escaped her, but he wasn't ready yet. "Why are you doing it, though? I know it's none of my business—"

"Exactly."

He pressed his lips together briefly at the harsh interruption, but didn't back down yet, much to her dismay. "It's not going to bring Kol back, you know?"

"I do know, thank you for your concern. I really think you should go now."

"If you need someone to talk…"

She snorted. Tyler Lockwood was offering to be her confidant?!

"Doesn't have to be me," he added, as if he had read her mind.

Scoffing, she looked away. As if she would have talked with him about any of her struggles. Out loud, she said, "Well, it's not like my family understand."

"Have you tried them?"

"They weren't there." It sounded more upset than she had wanted to let on. Tyler gave her a weak grin.

"Then talk to someone who was."

He and his bloody logic. It made her irrationally angry. When she didn't reply, he sighed strangely wearily, almost making her feel guilty. When she couldn't come up with anything to reply - because how could she explain to him that the obvious injuries of the others were part of the reason why she was doing this? - Tyler gave her a long sad look that she wanted to punch straight off his face. But how could she ever explain it? Tell it to anyone? How could she tell Damon she envied him that giant scar forming on his stomach, or the pain he had suffered from the hole in his lung? How could she confess to Lorenzo that she wanted her pain to manifest like his still slightly wonky gait or the impaired mobility of his arm? Even Bonnie, whose injuries had almost vanished as if they had never been there, still had at least a tiny tiny scar right under her left eye, and a heart full of ache, while Rebekah was so bloody numb.

"Anyways," Tyler said when the silence had stretched for too long, "You can't keep doing that. There's other ways to deal with the pain."

Geez, he got to her way more than she liked. She could feel it bubble up inside of her, hands forming to fists by her side. If he wasn't going to leave soon, she would explode, and the world wasn't ready for that yet. She wasn't ready. Why couldn't he just shut up? "Thanks," she said dryly, trying to sound calm, "I wasn't aware you got a degree in psychology."

His eyes flickered defensively. "Never mind," he mumbled, "See you around." And with that, he finally, finally left.

But he was right. He was bloody right. And despite everything, his words had gotten to her. She was hurting herself, but the short bliss she felt had faded over the weeks until it felt like nothing anymore. No relief, no short moment where her inner turmoil got channeled toward the outside.

It had become a habit. A bad habit. And she hated bad habits. Nik was the one with the bad habits, Kol, too. (Had been. Had been…) Not Rebekah.

Closing her eyes, she inhaled deeply, then let out the air in a long breath.

Time to stop this. She only hoped she was strong enough.


Tyler had changed his mind. He had slept over it, at home - even though he hadn't wanted to be at home because his dad was always in his business and his mom too concerned all the time - and now he was ready to go back.

So he did. And when he got there, he knocked on that goshdarn too large door frantically, angrily, banging and banging, until suddenly, she opened up, glaring at him with that annoyed look she had mastered at some point in her life, arms crossed in front of her, and the way she spit his name at him made it sound like a curse.

"Tyler."

"Okay, so here's the deal," he began, not waiting for her to invite him in or anything because he knew that wasn't going to happen, "I changed my mind. If you don't tell your family, I will. Because what you're doing, how you're hurting yourself? That is sick, it's sad, it's breaking my heart. You've been through enough, Rebekah. You don't need blood and scars to prove that, not to yourself, not to anyone. It doesn't diminish your suffering that you don't have any marks on your body, okay? See, I saw Vicky, I saw what they did to her. Her face was nothing but… but… pulp. You couldn't even really tell anymore that it was her, and god help me if I sit here and watch while another beautiful girl gets torn to shreds by this."

When he was done, chest heaving as if he had run a half marathon, he expected her to either laugh at him or yell at him or at the very least close the stupid door right in his face, but all she did was stare at him for a very long time, and then she leaned over slightly, and placed a chaste kiss on his cheek.

"Thank you, Tyler Lockwood," she breathed, making heat creep into his face. "For caring. And you're right. I should probably tell them about it."

"Good," he said a little dumbly, because her reply was way too unexpected.

"In fact, my dear sister has been hounding me about going to Europe with her someday, and maybe I will. But first, I have to figure out a few things about myself."

She smiled at him sweetly, arms uncrossing as she stepped to the side. "Nik is not back yet, but if you still want to stay a bit, please do."

And so he did.


...


...

They found him months later. Months, over half a year in which his body had lost all form, and still, Liz Forbes knew instantly who this man was.

"Oh Guiseppe," she sighed, hunching down beside him, holding a hand over nose and mouth, not exactly mourning the man, but mourning the loss his poor sons would have to deal with now.

To think that they might have never even found him if Jacob Sykes hadn't mentioned Logan Fell showing him around the horrible pit house about a year earlier, it made her stomach turn.

What other secrets did the people in her town have? Would they ever find Logan? She had sat in the council with the freaking man and never in a million years had she ever suspected him of being involved with something as vile as this. Now there was a dead man in his basement and she would have to talk to Damon and Stefan, and—

"Uh, Sheriff. We found something in his wallet."

She looked up to see Link stare down at her, wearing his usual attire and she wondered how bad of a health hazard it was that she was sitting beside this body without so much as a mask on. If the stress wasn't going to kill her, then this surely was.

With a grimace, she waved her hand for him to hand her whatever it was. "Whatcha got?"

"It's a bit faded. A letter."

"Anything to do with this? I doubt this was a suicide."

"Nah," he made, shrugging. "Just, uh. Since your daughter is dating that guy, I figured…"

The creases in her forehead might as well have been canyons. Somehow, the mention of Caroline's boyfriend (he really was her boyfriend now, wasn't he? There was no more denying it, he wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. Or rather, Caroline wouldn't let him…) generally made her uneasy, and today was no different, especially when it was in connection with a dead man and a suspicious letter. Quickly, she took the piece of paper from Link's hand to unfold it, and read it.

It was a letter from Guiseppe's late wife. Lily Salvatore. Maybe it would give his boys a bit of peace to know he had kept it on him, that he had had feelings after all. When she read, however, her breath caught, her hand clutching the letter as she slowly got up, shooting a glance at the body beside her that was finally being placed in a body bag to be transported to the morgue.

She would have to drive over to Damon and Stefan right now. She had to tell them herself. That their father was dead. And that they had a half-brother on their mother's side.


Stefan stared at the sheriff with a completely lost expression before he eventually turned around to look at his brother. "Did you know?" he breathed, dumbfounded, but Damon's eyes told him he hadn't. That his brother was just as shocked as he was. Still, he had to ask, "Is that why he was always like a brother to you? Because you knew? Did she tell you? Did… did he?"

"I had no idea, Stefan," Damon stated soberly, more collected than seemed possible, and still Stefan felt like he was the only one in the world who was out of the loop. Again.

Until the door opened and Enzo swaggered in, looking too damn amused, Caroline dangling off his arm as if the stupid pit was a mere thing of the past, and why couldn't he feel glad for the guy? Why did he want to see him suffer, why why why.

Because he was Guiseppe's son and had all his bad genes, while Enzo, Enzo freaking St. John, was his beloved mother's son and Stefan had never known.

"Mom," Caroline said, her laugh ebbing away, her expression sobering upon seeing Stefan stare at her wide eyed and lost. "What's going on. Why are you here?"

"Caroline, darling, could you… could you give us a minute?"

Hurriedly, she nodded, grabbing Enzo's hand. "Oh, of course. Yeah, we're…" she pointed to the door, tugging at Enzo, when her mom said, "Actually, um… Lorenzo, if you could stay?"

He squinted at her with an unreadable expression, then glanced at Damon, as usual ignoring Stefan. It didn't even annoy him anymore, he was so used to it.

"Then she can stay, too." It was a statement, which sounded suspiciously like an order, and Stefan had to suppress a huff of annoyance at that display of… whatever the hell that was. (Love. But he was exceptionally angry at the world right now, so he didn't allow that admittance either.)

Sheriff Forbes looked to him and Damon as if waiting for their consent, and while he just shrugged, Damon said with a slightly pained smile, "She's seen and heard enough of our combined bullshit over the last couple of months, she should definitely be around for this, too." Then, with a look straight past Stefan he addressed Enzo directly. "Lorenzo, my man, you might want your girlfriend to sit down for this one, because this is gonna make you dating Care Bear a whole lot more awkward…"

"What are you talking about?"

Stefan sighed, slumping back down on the couch next to his older brother - his eldest brother, he should say - and ran a hand over his head in a nervous gesture. This was all a little too much to process. It hadn't even completely registered with him that Guiseppe was never going to come back. And while that wasn't exactly a huge loss, it still and very surprisingly hurt. But what hurt even more was his mom's betrayal. How had she never told them about this other child of hers? Why had she even had him? Why had she abandoned that child, and then come back to her husband, to Damon, why had she had another child - Stefan - with Guiseppe? Why? It sounded like she could have gotten away, but she didn't. She went back to him and then she died, and now he wouldn't ever be able to ask her all these questions that were already driving him insane after only half an hour or so.

He hadn't known her at all. And he never would.

"Um…" Liz was obviously trying to come up with a way to break the news, but she should have known better. Damon wouldn't let anyone take this moment, this revelation away from him. It was just who he was.

So, once Enzo and Caroline had cautiously walked closer to them all and sat down on the sofa opposite Stefan and Damon, the older one said, "Guiseppe is dead. Got himself killed somehow and dear Liz here," he pointed offhandedly, "seems to think it might have been because he figured out that Logan Fell of the freaking city council had something to do with the pit."

Enzo was squinting at him, looking a little suspicious, but not exactly shocked.

"Anyways," Damon continued, "Now here's the good part. Because him dying wasn't it, believe it or not. Which is a shocker, I know…" He scoffed, Enzo frowning at him before Damon finally continued. "Congratulations, Lorenzo. Turns out you're actually quite possibly our mothers' son, too."

Stefan watched the man opposite him closely, saw his features soften into a disbelieving grin. Heard him chuckle as if Damon had made a joke. Saw his expression change when Damon shook his head, saying, "Not kidding, man. I wish I was, for your sake, because hell if I'm not lucky to call you my brother, but… this is some fucked up shit and I don't know why Lily would have ever abandoned you like she did, because she was a great mom to us while we had her."

Enzo's eyes flickered, but to Stefan's surprise he didn't move, didn't even say anything, no theatrical walking out of the house, no snarky comment, no eye roll about the news that he was related to Stefan. Just a shuttered unsettling look on his face that made Stefan actually feel truly sorry for this guy. For the kid he had been. The kid that hadn't ever known a mother. Their mother.

"I should probably leave you to it," Liz Forbes eventually said when the silence had grown too heavy, only once slightly interrupted by Care's gasping and whispering something into Enzo's ear. "Caroline?"

"I'll stay a bit if you don't mind." She smiled up at her mom briefly, clutching Enzo's hand a little too fiercely, Stefan thought. But then again, if this had been him, he would have been grateful for that fierce and loyal touch, too.

Taking out his phone at the thought, he decided to message Elena. ~ Can I come over? ~

And thankfully he didn't have to wait long for her reply.

~ Course. You okay? ~

But he wasn't going to answer that over the phone. Because he really didn't know whether he was okay anymore. There was always something new, wasn't there? That thing down there in that pit, that game that had changed his brother, his friends, that had changed everything, it wasn't over yet. It was still claiming victims, and he wasn't sure when this all would be over.

Liz had gotten up, the letter still in her hand. When she looked to Damon and Stefan, the older one nodded over to Enzo. "Let him have it first."

Then Stefan couldn't do it anymore, any of this, and got up with a short, "Excuse me," storming out the door before the sheriff even had a chance to start walking.

Sometimes, the world was just such a screwed up place. He had honestly thought things had started to feel normal, even good again. He wasn't constantly thinking about Lexi anymore. Damon wasn't drinking so much anymore and his nightmares not as often and as violent. He had even gotten along with Enzo, mostly built on mutual ignoring each other, but hey, whatever worked.

Now his father turned up dead, had been dead for months, and he had a half brother, and the world was spinning wildly around him again.

It needed to just stop.


At some point in the last half year, in the last seven months, to be exact, because it had started the minute Enzo St. John had appeared on her doorstep looking broken and lost, Caroline Forbes had lost her heart completely to this man.

She had tried to keep her distance, to be a friend, nothing more. She had been there for him, had held him, had watched over him, had picked him up from physical therapy, until picking up had morphed into something else. Coffee and a cake, a stroll downtown, a walk through the park. Things that she had begun to look forward to the minute she woke up.

Things that had slowly become more prominent than the painful nights spent on a kitchen floor, the strange episodes in which he seemed in another world altogether, and where he withdrew from her and everything until she somehow managed to snap him out of it.

And then, one day, not too long ago, really, she had realized she had fallen in love with him. Stupidly, hopelessly in love with a man that was just… not easy at all and not at all like the kind of man she had always thought of would be by her side.

She had laughed at herself, chided herself, discouraged herself. She had even admitted it all to Bonnie and Elena, her two best friends, one booze filled girls' night in which Elena and Bonnie had made up again as best as they probably ever would (and their friendship would simply never be the same anymore, it wouldn't…) and lots of tears had already been shed, when she had blurted out pathetically, "You're gonna think I'm crazy. But I'm in love with Enzo."

She would always remember their "duh" expressions, their giggles, their sidehugs. Because in that moment it had almost felt like old times.

Then Bonnie's sudden earnest face when she had said, "You know he's all over you, too, right?"

Her heart had probably skipped a beat right there and then. Still, it had taken her - or them - another few weeks before something happened, before she thought she might finally have the courage to say something to him.

They had been at the boarding house. Just a few weeks ago now. She had finally managed to persuade him to try and sleep upstairs again, in his room, suggesting yet again that she could stay.

"Don't worry," she had joked, "I will be very discreet. I can sit over here in this… lumpy old chair and watch over you, or curl up on the floor or—"

He had pulled her close to him so quickly that she had gasped, then chuckled, her face flushing so fast the heat had felt like it would burn him if he dared touch her. And when he had, it had been his lips on hers, so cool, so urgent, and her hands had begun to tear at his clothes as if of their own accord, while he hoisted her up and brought her over to that bed that hadn't been slept in for way too long.

Way too long. And it had been another few hours and a lot of lovemaking - beautiful urgent, desperate, passionate lovemaking - later, before they both had finally fallen asleep together, her head on his bare chest, her legs intertwined with his in a way that should have been uncomfortable if romantic but had felt so very right it had almost been too much.

So right.

Just how it felt right that she could be there for him now, when his world was crashing down around him yet again, and he seemed lost once more, confused by the realization that his mother was also his best friend's mother, and that she had abandoned him overseas, letting him grow up with his British father who had then abandoned him in turn, sending him over to the US, apparently to see his mother. Which had obviously never happened, because she had secretly begged some distant family to take him in so that Guiseppe wouldn't find out.

Lily had kept tabs on him. And when she had gotten so sick, she had sat down and written that letter, confessing everything. Begging Guiseppe to keep an eye on the boy for her, even though she had known it was asking a lot. But she had begged him anyways, to make sure the child would be okay, would not be without a home. If he had any love for her, in the smallest corner of his heart, could he please take that boy in because he, Lorenzo St. John, had been hers, too. He was hers.

It was all so bizarre, the circumstances so unclear, but Caroline figured the woman had been tormented. When Stefan ran out, she briefly had the urge to run after him - because she still cared, of course she did, but then she focused on the here and now, knowing that taking care of everyone was simply not possible. Not even for her, the queen of logistics.

Damon across from her gave a sigh, while her mom still stood rooted to the spot, looking somewhat flustered. "I'm so sorry," Liz said, addressing Damon now, who, surprisingly, suddenly smirked, then sidled over to where she and Enzo were sitting, giving Liz a light pat when he passed her.

"Not to worry, Liz," he said, sounding a little too familiar, but her mom didn't seem to mind, just waved one last time before she exited.

Damon walked all the way over to them, patting Enzo on the back, nudging him. "Can't believe I have another brother." He shook his head, grinning.

Enzo looked up at him, sniffing, before he got up, too. "I'm sure Stefan is particularly thrilled, as evidenced by the way he just stormed out of here. Yet another reason for him to despise me, I surmise."

"Aw, he'll come around. You know Stefan." Damon made a gesture as if swatting away some flies. "He's always broody and glum at first. But he won't mope forever. Right, blondie?"

She made a face, thinking now was not actually a good time to share her opinion. (What he had said earlier… This totally meant she had slept with two brothers, didn't it? Ugh…)

"I think a celebration is in order." Damon was already halfway over to the liquor cabinet when Enzo frowned at him somewhat concerned, exchanging a glance with Caroline briefly.

"You just got news that your father died, Damon. Don't you think it's—"

"A perfect opportunity for some bourbon? Heck yeah, I do! The man was a bully and obnoxious, to say the least. You know that as well as I do. So… I think between his death and gaining another brother, there's a hell of a lot of reasons to celebrate."

Caroline noticed how the atmosphere in the room changed abruptly, as if someone had put a filter on, from bright and warm to cool and scary.

"We're not going to drink that bloody bourbon." Enzo walked over to where Damon was standing with a bottle in hand, both men staring at each other.

"Guys…" Caroline sighed tiredly, not ready to sit there and just watch them do whatever it was they were doing.

Damon threw his head back a little, squinting at Enzo, who in turn raised himself to his full height.

"What?" Damon asked. "You trying to intimidate me or something?"

Enzo pressed his lips together, suppressing a humorless half smirk. He shook his head.

"Good, because for a second there I thought you did, and we both know your special charm doesn't work on me there."

"No alcohol, Damon. I'll call Bonnie if I have to."

"Goooosh." With an exaggerated eye roll, Damon shoved the bottle at Enzo, then let himself fall back on the couch, suddenly looking much more exhausted than before, all energy having left him.

"You know I can never say no to Bon."

"And she doesn't want you to drink."

Damon huffed, his gaze falling on Caroline. "He's annoying, isn't he? Just because we're brothers now doesn't mean he has to turn into a spoil sport and pull a Stefan on me. Does it?" He looked like he was honestly wondering about that, and she had to smile.

"You know I already messaged her, right?" she said mildy, holding up her phone to show him, and he tilted his head slightly, nodding as if to himself.

"Yeah, figured you would." He chuckled, then grew quiet. "Man, I can't believe he's dead. That asshole is actually gone."

"Sounded like he was actually angry on your behalf there at the end," Enzo allowed, making Damon shoot him a glance.

"Yeah. Maybe…"

It was surprising, really, Caroline thought, how sometimes, when it was really necessary, when someone else needed him, Enzo could step up like he did now, and be there for his friend, postpone his own troubles. Sitting down next to Damon, Enzo looked at his friend - his half-brother - and whispered something she didn't catch. But it made Damon laugh, and then Enzo, and all of a sudden she just sat there, marveling at these two, and how they were still functioning after everything they had been through.

She knew the moment was fragile, however. She knew it was time Bonnie got here, because Damon would need her, and Care would be ready to pick up the pieces elsewhere, because that crash was going to happen too, later, when Enzo could be sure Damon was taken care of for the time being.

And just as always, she would be there.


Bonnie was at the Salvatore boarding house within minutes. Grams had kindly driven her over, because as the old lady had said, "I can't in good conscience let you drive yourself, Bonnie. Look at yourself, you're as shaken by the news as he probably is." And she had winked at Bonnie sympathetically, making her granddaughter suspect that her Grams knew that Bonnie had begun to slowly but surely fall for Damon Salvatore of all people.

Probably because they had spent a ridiculous amount of time together lately. Probably just because of the shared trauma. It would never last. Heck, she would probably never even tell him because it was just so…

Right. Yes, she could tell herself what she wanted, but it felt right. Being with him felt right, thinking about him, worrying about it, being happy with him, it all felt right and good. So could it really be that bad? That hopeless.

Jeremy wasn't even dead a year. She closed her eyes, his face still so vivid when she conjured it up in her mind. That last smile, anyway. Sometimes, and she hated herself for it, she was beginning to have trouble remembering what his voice had sounded like, what his touch had felt like. How could she forget something like that, and so quickly?

But now was not the time to think about it, because Damon's father was dead and Enzo had turned out to be his half-brother, and the whole Salvatore family was just a huge big fat mess. Damon was a mess.

As Sheila pressed her hand one last time, Bonnie smiled at her, leaning in to place a gentle kiss on her cheek. "Thanks, Grams. You're the best."

"Give me a call when you're ready to head home, baby girl. I'll come pick you up. But," she raised a finger, looking at her earnestly, "If you need to spend the night, that is okay too—"

"I won't, I—"

Sheila shook her head, gazing at her knowingly. "There's nothing wrong with you two having grown close. And he might need you tonight. Just promise me you listen to your heart. And: make sure you message me and let me know if you're staying over." She didn't have to add that otherwise she'd get worried sick because the last time Bonnie had spent the night somewhere, it had turned out to be in the pit, and no one wanted to remember that now. (Too late…)

Just a minute later, she was at the door, and before she could even ring the doorbell, the large door opened and Damon's face appeared in the crack.

"I'm sorry, no solicitors. Didn't you see the sign?" He leaned against the door, casually pointing to the small little embossed sign, smirking at her.

She couldn't help but roll her eyes mildly, shaking her head. He was doing it again, deflecting, hiding behind snarky comments and a front so obviously fake that she could see how lost he was from a mile away and she was only a few feet away now at best, so it was glaring.

"I'm sorry about your dad," she said without preamble, and he shrugged, but visibly deflated a bit. Accepting defeat.

"Come on in, BonBon. Brother one has already left the premises, in a huff of course. I'm sure brother two - wow, that sounds weird - and his Barbie doll are ready to do the same and leave me stewing in my confusion. I mean, why do I even feel upset about that asshole's death? And why am I angry at my mother?"

"Damon…"

"Oh, right, because she lied to us, she lied to me. That's why. And poor Enzo had a shitty - or shittier, I guess - life growing up because of it."

She brushed past him, gently kissing his cheek, then taking his hand. He didn't fight her. There was a familiarity between them that made these things possible, made them feel like the most natural thing in the world. It was almost funny, in a way they behaved like a well oiled couple.

"Those feelings are all normal," she assured him, but he shook his head, as he guided her deeper into the house.

"You sure I can't have a drink? Bourbon sounds really good right about now."

She shook her head, pressing her lips together.

"I bet it does, but nope."

The therapist she had finally managed to persuade him to go to had suggested to cut out any and all alcohol for a while because Damon had been on a fast track to addiction, and it really wasn't easy to keep him away from the stuff, although he was trying hard, and everyone around him was doing the same.

So it wasn't even all that surprising when they both caught Enzo and Caroline standing by the liquor cabinet, Caroline holding a large bag, while Enzo put bottle after bottle after bottle in it.

"Hey." Damon pouted. "What do you two think you're doing?!"

"What we should have done right from the start," Enzo dryly informed him, meeting his glare head on.

"I think I really liked it better when you were my friend, Lorenzo. This new side of yours is nowhere near as fun.

Enzo grinned at him without mirth, raising an eyebrow, but he didn't back down. "Bonnie," he said by way of greeting, and she waved over, foregoing the hug as usual. He still didn't like being touched very much, though it had gotten better over the months, mostly due to Caroline's persistent and patient help. That girl was a gem, and Bonnie was glad she was here now, too, because she wouldn't be able to deal with both these guys alone.

Damon was going to be a handful, as usual. And still her heart almost burst with strange affection. (With love. But she didn't want to admit that to herself now.)

Tugging at his arm, then interlinking hers with his without him struggling, she gently began guiding him away. "Come on." She nudged him. "Why don't we go out for a bit. Go for a walk. It's really pretty out there."

"You just want to keep me from stopping Enzo and blondie here from dumping all my precious booze in the trash. - That stuff cost a lot of money, by the way," he yelled over to them, looking grumpy, almost like a teenager with a bad mood, but that, too, was just a facade. And Enzo and Caroline knew it too, not gracing his brief outburst with a reply.

Smiling sympathetically, Bonnie steered Damon away, and he let her without a struggle. Because he knew as well as she did that she never let him get away with his diversion tactics.

The air outside was surprisingly crisp, but in a refreshing way, and Bonnie in her long coat, and scarf was glad she had at least managed to persuade Damon to put his leather jacket on. It was better than nothing.

For a while, they just walked around, enjoying the countryside - at least in her case, she was sure he didn't pay it much attention, before she eventually leaned into him a little more, nudging him, looking up at his handsome face, lost in thought.

"You're awfully quiet, Damon Salvatore. I was expecting more quips from you."

He gave a sigh, a lopsided grin. "Did you now?"

"Usually you can never shut up, so…"

"It's called having a conversation, Bon. You should try it sometime."

She grinned, rolling her eyes a little. "Right. So, are we going to have a conversation about the giant elephant in the room back there at the boarding house?"

"Are you referring to your girlfriend, or her dearest loverboy?"

"I'm trying to be serious, Damon."

He surprised her with a kiss to her forehead and the way he tucked her into his arm a little closer, but she wasn't going to protest, because it felt way too nice. Swallowing, she tried to concentrate, tried to keep herself in check. If he did one more thing like that she might just forget all her good intentions and kiss him on his freaking way too sensual bowed lips.

"Your dad. Enzo…"

Looking down, Damon stopped, then raised his head to take her in. "I know we have a deal, I know we're always honest with each other, about everything. But this is still hard."

She bit her lip, feeling so much affection for him that his pained expression made her feel all his pain, too. (If that was really possible.) "I know." She squeezed his hand encouragingly. "I'm here, though. It's okay if you need some time. I didn't mean to rush you."

"No, it's… You're right. You're all right. The booze is a bad idea and it never helps anyway. Not with this stuff. It never goes away. I'm just… not sure what to even think. Did you hear how they found him? Where?"

Bonnie nodded. Caroline had a way with words. Just a few sentences and Bonnie had known the gist. Guiseppe found at Logan Fell's place. Fell, who seemed to have ties to the pit. And a letter from Lily Salvatore stating that Enzo was her son. Yup, Bonnie was up to speed on it all.

"That man is lucky he isn't here right now or I would probably forget myself. I mean, Guiseppe was a damn failure of a father, a nightmare, but… even he didn't deserve this. And… That freaking pit is still claiming people, Bon, and I'm not sure how long I can keep going if this doesn't stop soon."

Tilting her head slightly she looked at him, gently grabbing the lapel of his jacket. "It will," she whispered, nothing more, just that, and Damon nodded, and she wanted to believe her own words, for all their sakes.

"What about Enzo?"

Damon raised his eyebrows, taking a deep breath before finally beginning to move again. "I mean," he began, seemingly looking for a way to express what he was thinking. "Don't tell him I said that but I always loved that idiot like a brother anyways - much to Stefan's dismay; and now here he is and it turns out he really is our brother. Honestly? I think it's harder for Stefan, for Enzo too. For me? It's a silver lining in all thi. - But I can't really tell them that, can I?"

"Actually, you can. You should. You guys need to sit down. Probably not today or tomorrow, but maybe after the trial, after everything has had some time to settle. They need to hear from you how this is a good thing. Enzo needs to know that you're still there for him, maybe more than ever, especially when dealing with these news, and Stefan needs to know that this is good news, that it doesn't mean he lost a brother, but that he gained one."

"Sounds so easy when you say it. Maybe you should talk to them."

She gave a chuckle at his words and the accompanying glance he shot her. Grabbing his arm with both of her hands, she held him a little tighter.

"I know this is a lot to deal with. I want you to remember that I'm here for you, okay? You don't have to deal with all of this by yourself."

"If only that stupid trial was over at least."

There it was, his pained admittance for which she didn't have a good comeback. Because she wished for the same. Oh gosh, how she wished for the same. For the trial to be over and dealt with, for them all to be free of it so that they could finally focus on really getting themselves out of that pit without constant reminders.

All she could say was, "I know…"

...

They kept walking for a long time, further and further away from the house, before they finally turned around and walked all the way back until her legs felt tired and her nose frozen, and their moods had changed from something sad and somber into chuckles and laughter somewhere down the road. How it had happened, she couldn't even quite say, but it didn't matter. All that mattered was that it felt good.

Once back inside, Damon went over to the kitchen, while she called into the suddenly deserted seeming house, not getting any answer, then followed him.

"Nobody home," she announced, and she had to admit that part of her was kind of relieved that they wouldn't have to deal with any more potential drama.

"Want a hot chocolate, gorgeous?" Damon asked, and slumping down on one of the stools, she nodded, rubbing her frozen nose with the palm of her hand.

"Oh yes please!"

The smile he gave her when he said, "Coming right up" was the best thing she had seen all day.

(He had one of the most handsome smiles, didn't he? Oh, Bonnie Bennett, you are hopeless…)


Elena opened the door to a bedraggled looking Stefan, beckoning him to come inside without needing any words. She didn't know what was going on, but she didn't need to. He had asked to come over, meaning he needed someone right now and after months of him being there for her while she tried to figure out how to live with the knowledge of her brother's violent death, how to deal with seeing his involuntary killer walking around in the same circles as she did, she was more than happy to return the favor.

Of course Lexi's death and Enzo's involvement in Stefan's life had come up a lot, too, and she was confident that their newly developed friendship had helped not just her but him, too. That they had been there for each other. And she would be there for him again.

"So," Stefan eventually said when they had both sat down on the couch in front of a movie neither of them were paying any attention to. "Jenna and Alaric out?"

She smiled a little melancholically. "I made them. They don't generally like leaving me alone but they really needed a date night. I could tell that Ric was growing stir crazy."

He nodded, smiling an unconvincing smile that made her suspect he had barely listened to her reply and had only asked her out of courtesy.

"Wanna tell me what's going on? Another run in with Enzo?"

Stefan scoffed. "Not quite. No. Uh… they found Guiseppe. He's dead—"

"Oh my gosh," her arms flew up to hug him and he let her. "I'm so sorry, Stefan. I know you had a… difficult relationship, but… I'm so sorry. How are you holding up?" And because she still cared about him, even though the distance slowly made it easier, she added, "How's Damon dealing with it?"

Another scoff. "I don't even know. I… I kinda ran out on him." He rolled his eyes. "I've had better moments. - The thing is… you're not gonna believe this… apparently my mom had sent him a letter once saying that she had another child, not by him. A child she had left in England when she had run away from him for a little while to be with some relatives or something?" He swallowed, his features turning so very agitated that it gave her a pang.

"You have another sibling?"

"It's Enzo. It's freaking Enzo." He stared at her helplessly. "And all these years, Guiseppe must have known. Which is why he even tolerated him around, I guess. It doesn't make sense at all. And yet it makes more sense than before, when there was no explanation for why he even let Damon bring him over so much."

Elena's brain had stuttered after the first reveal, and she had difficulty processing what Stefan was saying. Because this was a shocker. The one person Stefan had always felt ruined his life, the one person he had slowly begun to at least ignore-accept as of late, that guy was his half-brother?

"Are you sure? I mean… maybe it's another one of Guiseppe's tall tales?"

"I wish." He scoffed. "But no. It was in a letter from my mom. Her handwriting. And I don't know, ever since the sheriff told us about it, I can actually see a little bit of her in him. Just a tiny bit, and it… it does something to me and I'm not sure what. It's… I don't even know what to think or feel anymore."

He gave her a look, running a hand through his hair as he got up abruptly, pacing the room. Slowly, she stood up, too, walking toward him until she could touch his arm and make him stop.

"I know this is not easy. But if you don't mind… coming from someone who lost the only brother she ever knew, I'd give anything for a surprise-sibling being thrown my way right about now. I'd even take Enzo."

She grinned at him, feeling her heart pick up its pace when he broke into a sudden smile of his own, then chuckled.

"Can't argue with that."

"No…" She shook her head, then moved a little closer to wrap him in an embrace, just holding him there for a while. A long while.


Enzo slumped into bed right next to Caroline, feeling bone tired and emotionally exhausted, and when she cuddled up with him, it gave him a tiny bit of peace.

"You holding up okay?" she asked, her voice sounding as if she was already drifting off to sleep, and he smiled briefly, mumbling an affirmative in reply.

"Okay… wake me if you need me…"

But he wouldn't. She needed her sleep and he was pretty damn sure that he wouldn't be able to sleep for a very long time. In fact, he had to actively struggle not to get up right then and there and walk out on her and down to the kitchen and just sit there and stare until his eyes grew too heavy.

But he had made an effort lately, sleeping up here, with her, and it had been okay most of the time.

Today, though, today he had suffered another punch, and between that and the stupid memories the trial was whirling up, he didn't know how to cope so well.

Her proximity helped. Feeling her slender body right next to his, her hand on his chest, her even breaths against the crook of his neck… But he was still reeling.

He had a mother, and not just anyone either, it was Damon's and Stefan's mother, as if his life was some bloody lifetime movie, riddled with improbability and heartache. When would he catch a break?

Stefan would probably hate him even more now, Damon would need extra monitoring while he dealt with his father's awful death on top of the pit trial, and Enzo? Was so bloody upset with this woman that he had never even met (or didn't remember…) that he wanted to smash something.

She had abandoned him, and even though it seemed like she hadn't wanted him to end up in the foster system like he had, Guiseppe Salvatore hadn't exactly been father of the year either. It sucked that despite everything he still felt obliged to be grateful to that man for taking him in. Him, the constant reminder of Lily Salvatore's infidelity.

"Babe?" Caroline blinked up at him, quite obviously trying hard to fight sleep. "You sure you're okay?"

He made a face but didn't say anything, just forced himself to let it go for now, and turning a little until his forehead could rest against hers, he breathed, "Don't worry, love. I will be…"

He wanted to add, "as long as you're here", but it sounded too much like he'd only be putting another huge burden on poor Caroline, so he kept it to himself.

But it was true. He could do this. Just not on his own. Not anymore.

Chapter Text

...

[~ ten years later]

And all these years later, he had somehow become just a footnote in someone else's larger narrative of life. How had that happened?

Over a decade lost, a decade he would never get back, a decade in which no one had even asked him about his game or the wide net he had once spun on the Internet, using all his knowledge to create a virtual playground for grownups, using his real life connections to make it work smoothly like clockwork, never a hiccup until…

Until that idiotic kid had brought his idiotic idea over to him. "Bum fights are yesterday. What you want is tomorrow, and I can give you tomorrow today," he had said. The beast, or as he had later learned, just Beast.

A pretty grand name for someone so… ordinary. Just a normal thug.

Yet somehow, he had fallen for this man's lies. Because he had wanted it to work, had wanted his game to give him the old thrill. Because despite everything, Beast had been right: bum fights were not very exciting anymore.

These young people, on the other hand…

With a sigh, he leaned back against the wall, forcing himself to concentrate on the book he was reading. It was a privilege he had earned through hard work, discipline, obedience. Yes, these days, Joshua Parker was obeying someone else.

Because if he didn't, he'd grow crazy.

When he leafed through the pages, looking for the note he was awaiting, he closed his eyes briefly when he didn't find it. Maybe tomorrow then. Or the day after.

To be honest, it didn't even matter. He had been waiting forever.

The beast is slain. That's what the message was supposed to read. But it never came. As if Michael Reid had somehow escaped justice, had evaded his long arm. He had had so many connections, but now it was suddenly impossible to get to that man and give him the awful ending he deserved?

Joshua scoffed, the noise sounding strange to his own ears. He didn't get to hear much anymore. TV privileges, music, Internet, were all something he hadn't been granted. Because of the nature of his crime.

Crime. The word felt funny in his mind. It had been entertainment to him. Not a crime…

He remembered that girl's face in court. When he had taunted her - them. It was after he had learned how she had held Beast at gunpoint.

"You were nothing but tokens in my game," he had said with a derisive tone, zoning in on her, grinning at her. "Like pawns in a game of chess. Why would I see you as anything other than that? What do I care that you suffered some 'trauma'?" He had used air quotes, yelling over the judge's angry order to his defense lawyer to keep the client quiet. The client. Because that's what he had been then. No longer the diplomat. The criminal, the client. But he hadn't kept quiet, and that boy had stood up, glaring a time him, pulling at the girl, then almost dragging her out with him while Joshua had yelled after them, his last ditch effort to get out of this. The same cheap trick Beast had used.

"Kill me," he had told them, laughing maniacally, "I know you want to, and there is no death penalty for this kind of crime, because I didn't do anything! You can't pin this on me! You killed someone, all of you! Not me. My hands are clean! But you, you enjoyed what you had to do down there, didn't you! You loved it! I could see it in your eyes! You were naturals! You all were born to be killers! I merely gave you a chance to let it all out! I did you a favor!"

The gavel had banged again and again, his defense lawyer had implored him to shut up, guards had been walking toward him to bring him back to his holding cell (no bail for him. Apparently they had seen a seriously flight risk in his case. Which they hadn't with these escaped kids. Oh the irony...)

But that feisty girl (too pretty, all these kids had been way to pretty...), she had stared him down, strangely unfazed, making him feel a sudden sense of awful finality when she had scoffed, "You already wish you were dead, don't you? Because you know you'll be paying for this for the rest of your pathetic life. While we'll still be out here, living ours, free of you." And then she had had the audacity to grin at him angrily. Grin! Her lame-ass boyfriend too. How had these kids made it out of the pit when they were such wusses?

Why couldn't they have killed him?

Why did he have to sit here and watch his life pass by, his skin growing thinner, more wrinkly, turning into that of an old man, how—

The door to his humble cell was opened with a jarring noise, making him clutch his ears as usual. He had long given up asking for someone to please oil the goddamn thing, but it was still as awful as ever.

"Someone here to visit you," a guard he had never seen before said before stepping back into the hallway, quietly talking to someone out there. "Ten minutes," Joshua heard as he raised himself up a little to see who his visitor was.

He didn't get visitors. Not here. Not ever. His wife had divorced him in absence, his money had all gone to her and the children, and to the four pit-kids. Money they had gotten for the damage to their lives, the physical and emotional trauma suffered. He wanted to scoff again at the mere thought, but then the visitor turned toward the dim light and despite the decade that had passed, he could still recognize that face. A few more lines, a lot more haggard, as if prison life didn't become him any better than it did Joshua.

Because the man that stood in front of him - of course, how could it be anyone else? - was none other than Michael Reid, his prison uniform slack on his form, and yet he still had more bulk than Joshua, a detail he already knew was going to play an important role in those next ten minutes.

With a weary sigh, he got up, staring at Beast, cocking his head a little. "That one's new," he pointed out, his finger indicating a large scar under the man's chin, and all the way down his throat, and Beast grinned back.

"That was new eight years ago. Not now. But I guess you haven't been out much, Parker." He grinned, and Joshua swallowed, a prickle running down his neck to his spine. "It's from when you sent someone to kill me. Needless to say, they didn't succeed… Took me a while to get to you. It's high security after all. Everyone knows you'd be dead in gen pop in ten seconds straight. But hey, I had enough time to build myself a bit of a network, not unlike yours, and now here I am."

"What do you want?"

"What I want?" Beast scoffed. "You tried to kill me. And while there was once a time where I had kinda accepted that that was gonna happen, I have since had a bit of time to think about that. About what an asshole you are. Letting me do your dirty work—"

"I'm in here, too, Michael. It's not like I got away. I should be the one angry. Because you fucked this up. It was you! I told you to clean up the mess but you let those kids escape and I don't need to tell you what happened then. Storing those bodies a couple of yards from the house? Were you insane? Did someone hit your head a few too many times when you were still fighting down in the pit yourself?!"

The first hit was nothing, but it hurt anyways. Drew some blood. Joshua grinned, holding his chin. He wanted to taunt Beast again when the man suddenly pointed to one of the cameras high up on the ceiling, then the other ones.

"You'll get to be the star of my next project, Josh. Prison fights. It's the new big thing. And no one will care jack shit if any one of those fighters die."

He raised his chin, grinning, and Joshua suddenly felt cold. There would be a video.

Beast was going to kill him now, wasn't he? (But the video was almost worse. No, not almost...)

Sure enough, the guy suddenly lunged forward, Joshua grappling to try and defend himself, but he didn't really have much of a chance. He hadn't been very physically active in a very long time. He could only hope now that it would be fast. That oblivion would take him soon.

But Beast took his time. Grinning up at the camera every once in a while.

Ten minutes.

The longest agonizing ten minutes of his life.


...


...

Rebekah chuckled softly, slightly amazed as she watched Klaus play with his infant daughter. She had never pictured him as a dad before, but now here he was and he was a natural.

Cooing at the baby girl, he was oblivious to his sister until she lightly knocked on the doorframe to announce her arrival.

"Bekah!" He beamed, picking up the baby, cradling her as he walked over to his sister, giving her light kisses on both cheeks. "How was Africa?"

"Hot." She grinned, finally shrugging off the bag she had carried over her shoulder. "How was New Orleans?"

"Hot." They both chuckled, a calm spreading between them, a familiarity that made her instantly feel like home.

"I missed you," she allowed. "How's everyone?"

"Good. They're good. Elijah's been staying in Mys—" He corrected himself quickly, surely thinking she might not want to hear that name, "at Liz' place for a while now. But he's back every four weeks or so. - And you know Finn. He's busy being a broody college professor. How's Freya?"

"You'll find out soon enough." Rebekah laughed at his expression.

"She came, too?"

"Don't worry, we've all mellowed out over the years. I'm sure she'll be excited to be an aunt, and won't rip your head off for screwing it up with Hope's mom."

He rolled his eyes, looking down on his baby. "She's something, isn't she?"

Rebekah nodded, gently stroking baby Hope's cheek. "Can I hold her?"

He placed the baby in her arms, smiling, and she gasped softly. This was the next generation of the Mikaelsons. She sighed, breathing in the baby's scent. "She's beautiful."

"Yeah. - You been doing okay, Bekah?"

"Ya, actually." She smiled.

She was single again. But it didn't matter. She had heard that Tyler had a new girlfriend and she was honestly happy for him. Maybe she was even falling in love with someone else herself… But it was still early and she'd have to see whether he could handle her, complete with all her issues. She was confident, though. Already the trip to Africa with him had turned out to be really… nice.

"I'm okay, Nik. I think I really am."

He smiled at her, putting an arm around her and baby Hope as he led them into the room and over to the sofa. "Good. And now tell me all about Africa."

And she did.


Damon's hand in Bonnie's left, the pregnancy test in her right hand, her eyes began welling up with tears.

"Oh no," she breathed, letting her hand sink, feeling Damon's grip tighten.

"Bon. Bonnie, it's going to be okay."

She hung her head, sniffling, putting the offending stick on the table before her. Looking up at Damon, she wiped her eyes.

"How is this going to be okay? It's a positive. I'm… actually pregnant, because I forgot to take the pill one freaking time. One time! When we always knew we didn't want kids."

"Shouldn't have kids."

"What?!"

His expression was mild, a small smile playing around his mouth, twinkling in his bright eyes. "I never said I didn't want kids." She glared at him, ready to explode. Because this was not a good moment to confess something like that. She felt instantly betrayed, angry. But then he went on, shushing her with a finger gently placed over her lips (always reading her right, always knowing what was going on inside of her), before she could say anything, and the anger dissipated instantly.

"Hell, I want all the kids with you, Bonnie Bennett-Salvatore. I mean, can you even imagine how adorable they would look - will look? With your gorgeous eyes and my chiseled features?" He chuckled as she rolled her eyes, a reluctant smile making its way onto her face. "We just always thought we shouldn't have kids. Because of how screwed up we are. My nightmares, your panic attacks… But it's gotten better, hasn't it? And maybe this is just the world's way of showing us it needs children like ours will be. Maybe they'll be stronger and better because of what we went through. I know we can do this. But I'm here for you whatever you decide."

"Whatever I decide?" She knew what he meant of course, but she didn't think she could do that, either. Getting rid of a child that was hers and his? He was right, part of her was so curious to find out what they'd look like. Would they have her skin tone or his? Green eyes or blue? And the hair, what about the hair, the nose, the lips.

"We'll be okay, Bon. That's all I'm saying. You and me, we've been through way worse together. Hell if we can't do this."

A soft sigh escaped her as she leaned to the side, letting him wrap her up in his arms, just holding her close. The beat of his heart as usual calming her, and the world a less daunting place.

Maybe he was right. Maybe they could do this. (But what if not?)


...

"No no no no no no no." Caroline was not ready to accept defeat. The show she had been working on for the last two years was finally gaining enough viewers to attract a larger network, and now their producer wanted to throw in the towel. With an eye roll, she stared at her phone and was about to dial his number, when arms wrapped around her from behind and she smelled her husband before she even saw him, clutching his hands as he held her.

"You look fiery when you're angry, love."

She huffed, turning around in his embrace. "At least you didn't say 'cute'."

"I know better than that." He smirked at her, his lips grazing hers, making her want him to kiss her properly already, making her wiggle in frustration before she regretfully pushed him away a little. "I really need to make this call. Russ is threatening to bail on us."

Enzo rolled his eyes, reluctantly allowing her to swipe her phone screen, and she smiled at him. "It'll only be a min—" Stopping mid-sentence, she gasped, a hand flying to her mouth as a message popped up before she had a chance to dial the producer's number.

"Everything alright?" When she looked up, Enzo was looking at her with a slightly worried frown. Caroline looked up at him, blurting it out before Bonnie - who had written the message - could follow it up with a "Don't tell anyone yet."

"Bon's pregnant."

Enzo's lips curled slightly upward, but she slapped his chest lightly, looking at him stonily as she shook her head.

"No no no, this is not a reason to smile."

"It isn't?"

"No. I mean, yes. I mean… Gosh, this is difficult!"

"Okay…" She had clearly lost Enzo somewhere along the way, and with a deep inhalation, arms stretched away from her, followed by a slow exhalation she tried to calm herself, before explaining. "They didn't really plan on having any. Sounds like they're going to keep it, but… Now she's freaking out. I'll have to drive over to her."

He still didn't quite follow, she could see it in his confused look. Men, she thought. They didn't always get it, did they?

"Well, love. She has Damon—"

She fisted the lapel of his leather jacket, looking up at him from an inch away. "He could probably use a friend too. Maybe you could call him?"

"I'll drive you. I can talk to him there if you think—"

"I thought you'll have to be back in the cutting room, editing that last episode with Frank."

"The luxury of the freelancer." He grinned. "I make my own schedule."

Rolling up onto her tiptoes, she kissed him. "Thanks, babe. You're the best. I owe you."

"I love the sound of that."

She lightly nudged his arm, then grabbed his hand, intertwining her fingers with his. "Let's go."


Sheila Bennett had gotten a lot older in the last ten years, sometimes she felt more like it had been twenty, but that was okay. At least she had gotten to see her granddaughter get better and better, almost back to normal. Often it was as if the pit had never happened, but Sheila knew that wasn't true. Sometimes, Damon called her, asking her to come over and have breakfast with them or lunch or dinner, and more often than not she got the impression that Bonnie might have had a panic attack or a flashback or something like that just right before that.

They never talked about it and she was too smart and too careful to bring it up, not wanting to make it any harder on them. (She always knew, though, she always knew.)

But when Bonnie suddenly stood in front of her door, announcing that she was pregnant, Sheila had not expected that at all. Her eyes welling up at seeing Bonnie in tears, she opened her arms wide to embrace the girl, and Bonnie flew toward her almost immediately.

"What do I do?" she asked, beginning to sob, and all her Grams could say was, "Baby girl, it's going to be alright. I'll be here for you as always. And Damon, too. You won't be alone. - You're going to be a mama. And I'm going to be a great grandma."

And suddenly, they had both cry-laughed, holding each other, before Sheila slowly guided her granddaughter into the house, ready to make her some tea, and to make plans for the future. Real plans.

It was going to be alright. She knew it. And she was happy for them.


He was saying something to her, briefly casting a glance at her, smiling, and she started laughing because he had said something funny.

She was still laughing when they saw the other car come at them way too quickly, swerving all across the road, Enzo trying to evade it, pushing down hard on the breaks when the car was racing straight toward them, but it was too late, too late, the impact so loud, so ear shattering, that Caroline wanted to hold her hands over her ears to muffle the sound, but she was kind of flying and moving was hard.

Then, quite abruptly, everything went silent, and the car had stopped. The windshield was spidered with cracks, smoke came out the hood, and Caroline felt a ringing in her ears, her vision slightly blurry.

With shaking hands she touched her head where it was smarting like crazy, her hand coming away sticky with blood.

"Ouch," she made, trying to roll her eyes, but it hurt so she stopped. Gently touching Enzo beside her, patting his shoulder lightly, she called his name.

He seemed dazed but okay, and so was she. They had gotten lucky. Just the car was pretty banged up. When she looked outside briefly, her hand still on Enzo's shoulder, she called, "You okay?"

Then she saw it: the other car had stopped, had rammed into them hard, and now the asshole behind the wheel was backing into reverse and driving off.

"What the hell?" She was ready to get off her seatbelt and storm after him. Turning to Enzo, she asked, "Did you just see that?!"

But he was looking at her with such a strange expression that she forgot all about that stupid plan, about running after a car. Her brow creasing, she gently touched his cheek. "Hey babe. You alright."

His nostrils were flaring, like he was seeing something that she wasn't seeing, something terrifying, something awful. Instinctively grappling with the small mirror above her, her hands shaky and not quite obeying her, she finally managed to check her reflection and saw that she had a pretty nasty gash on her forehead, right at the root of her nose where her eyebrows arched into their prominent mound. With a grimace, she looked back at him. "Looks worse than it… feels, I promise." She smiled, the expression freezing on her face.

It clicked then. As his hands came up to cup her face, to hold her way too tightly, his breathing a staccato rhythm that didn't sound very alright at all, he said something under his breath, almost not addressing her.

No, definitely not addressing her.

"Not again. Not again. Please don't die… oh god, please don't die. Not her, not her, too…"

"Enzo. Enzo. I'm okay. It's just a gash. Pretty superficial. Okay? Might need some stitches, your wife might get a gnarly scar of her own, a prominent one too. But it'll be fine." She tried to go for a light tone but her voice was betraying her, slightly starting to shake.

"Not again. I can't lose you. Not you. Not you…"

Her features crumbled as she clutched at his face, his jacket, noticing a bit of blood trickle down the side of his face, just where he had once been hurt before, and suddenly she really understood. For the first time in the last ten years she really understood what he was going through, had been going through, because right then she was suddenly back there, on that night, when she had opened the door to see him standing before her.

And the slew of confusion and panic and helplessness petrified her, made her want to throw up. But that wasn't even the worst. The worst was that she knew how much more horrible his own memories must be.

She remembered what he had said about Lexi, Lexi with her awful awful headwound. Vicky, with her face split in half. Ten years in the past, but still so fresh, and currently happening again, in Enzo's head.

"Babe. Listen to me. Enzo. Can you close your eyes for me? Close your eyes and take a deep breath." He was staring at her still, unable to follow her request. Okay, she'd have to roll with it. Letting go with one hand, she searched for her phone with the other, patting herself down and grateful when she found it right where she had put it, in the side pocket of her jacket. It didn't even have a scratch.

This really could have ended so much worse, the accident was minor, absolutely minor, and yet the repercussions she was dealing with right now were tremendous, and she didn't really know how to handle that.

It was all back. Her own inability to help him, help them all. Once, she had wanted to become a project manager, an event planner, but the aftermath of the pit had quickly shown her that she couldn't handle too many things all at once, at least not as well as she had thought before.

Traumatized friends simply were on a whole different level than a high school dance. She had felt so inadequate having to prioritize between them, had felt like she was bound to fail at least some of them. And she had, hadn't she? Like Elena, who she had almost fallen out of touch with in recent years, because the strangely polite but strained relationship she and Bonnie had made it hard to be there for both of them at times.

But she had never failed Enzo and she wasn't going to start now.

He was still muttering something, still holding her head in his hands, his expression panicked and like he was somewhere very far away. She had to get him back.

Care closed her eyes, trying to take a deep breath, but it was shaking. Come on, she cajoled herself. She had done this before, many times. Maybe it hadn't ever been this bad, but she had done it, and she could do it again. Would do it.

"Enzo. Look at me, I'm okay. I'm okay." She clutched his neck, brought her face closer to his until she could rest her forehead against his, despite the pain. She needed him to feel her touch, needed him to look away from what was causing the flash back. And right now, that was her own face.

"Enzo. Shhh. Please, babe, please." His agonizing distress was causing her distress of her own. It was always so hard to watch, but it hadn't happened in so long. Years, even, and so it felt even worse now. As if she had forgotten how bad it could get, how awful it felt.

No. She hadn't forgotten. And it hadn't been this bad before, had it? Not since that one Thanksgiving years ago.

"Enzo." She had to say it, hadn't she? Had to be brutal because the soft approach wasn't working so well. It would be okay, he probably already saw the images anyway, she was just going to make sure he remembered they were from the past.

"I know Lexi died in your arms, okay? I know you held her. I know you watched Vicky die. That her head was split open. But you're not in that pit anymore, in that pool. It's all over. You made it out. You're here with me. We had a car accident, you'll probably be annoyed about the state of the car, but me and you, we're okay. We are okay. I'm okay. You're not going to lose me. I'm right here, remember? Remember what I promised you? That I'm here to stay. I am here. I'm here. In this car, with you. And we're okay." She kept talking, kept repeating her words until she could tell that she was slowly getting through to him, that his breathing evened out again a little, before it turned into sobs as his tears welled over, as realization finally completely dawned on him.

He fell forward a little more, his head against her shoulder as he muttered, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry… I thought I'd lost you. I can't lose you… I can't."

"You won't," she cried, holding him tightly, "you didn't. It's okay, babe, it's okay…"

It took a long time before they both could finally get up and out of the car, and even longer for the tow-truck and their friends to come meet them. Caroline had debated calling her mom, but then she had remembered that Liz was in New Orleans with Elijah, and besides, Enzo would probably be best in the company of friends.

They both waited sitting on the hood of the car, Caroline leaning against Enzo, his arm around her as she cuddled up, a big patch on her forehead now from where he had used the first aid kit to patch her up once he had finally calmed down again completely.

"You sure you're okay now?" she asked, looking up to see him nod, a slightly sheepish expression on his face.

"I'm sorry I freaked out on you. I thought that was over…"

She watched him make a face and smiled at him sympathetically. "No need to apologize, babe. I'm glad you're okay now."

"I'm glad you are… Let's get you checked out at the hospital, though."

"You too." She gave him a pointed look and he smiled softly, touching the side of his head.

"Can I object?"

"Nope."

"Alright."

The both grinned at each other, then she leaned closer until she could kiss him. "I'll be right by your side, okay? Not going anywhere…"

His grip on her tightened.


Bonnie was panicking a little when Caroline called, but her friend reassured her everything was fine, that they just needed a ride and maybe a few stitches.

"Please don't freak out when you see me, I got a bit of a gash on my head. I would call Elena and Stefan, or Matt but…"

"Yeah," Bonnie allowed, "probably not a good idea. Okay. We'll be right there."

"I'm sorry," Caroline said quietly. "Here I was on my way to be there for you and now—"

"Don't worry about it." Bonnie smiled to herself briefly, already walking downstairs to find her keys, and get Damon. "I'm already doing better. I talked to Damon and my grams and… I really think we can do this."

"Oh Bon! Of course you can. You'll be great parents, I know you will be. And if you ever need a break, auntie Caroline will be there to babysit!"

"Thank you, Care. - But now let's get you off the road. We'll be there soon." And with that, they exchanged their goodbyes before she walked over to the kitchen where she found Damon busy making them a snack.

"Hey baby," she breathed and he turned to beam at her.

"You ready for some comfort food, gorgeous?"

With a sigh she nodded. "It'll have to wait, though. Care and Enzo had a bit of an accident on their way here. Nothing bad," she was quick to add before the panic in his eyes could spread. "But their car needs towing and I said we'd pick them up."

"Of course. Where they at?"

"Not far…"

Damon squinted at her as he wrapped her in his arms for a quick hug. "What are you not telling me?"

She made a face. "Nothing..."

"Bon."

She rolled her eyes. "Don't tell him I said anything, but Care said she busted her forehead open quite a bit - she's mostly fine but we'll have to bring her over to the hospital to make sure, and she probably needs stitches."

"You said, 'don't tell him.'..."

Sighing, she reluctantly explained, a little worried that the mention of Enzo's freak out would cause too much of a reaction in her husband. "I think the way she looked, with the blood… it made Enzo relive what he saw…"

"Vicky."

"Probably Lexi, too."

"And Mazzy…" Damon clenched his jaw. They had arrived at the car and he was absently opening the door for her. She looked up to him, realizing that both she and Caroline hadn't even thought of the girl. Had kind of just blocked her out. But of course Damon would remember. Just like he would always remember Casey. (Would probably dream about him again tonight, and she, she would dream about Jeremy…) She bit her lip, feeling awful for all of them, because all four of them had gotten blood on their hands, and the faces of the dead would forever stay with them.


When they got to them, Bonnie's hand flew to her mouth, and Damon squeezed her briefly.

"It's really not as bad as it looks," Caroline was quick to assure them, an apologetic smile on her face as she walked toward them, giving Bonnie a big hug, while Damon walked over to where Enzo still stood by the curb, hands shoved deep into his pockets, talking to the owner of the tow-truck.

When the man finally went on his way, Damon came to stand right before Enzo, who slightly averted his gaze, rubbing his nose with the back of his hand in a self-conscious gesture.

"I'm sure she told you," Enzo said, not looking at Damon, a defeated looking expression settling on his features.

"Well, you know the girls," Damon allowed, nudging the other man's shoulder lightly. He briefly considered going the easy route, glossing it over, talking about Enzo's shitty driving skills or some other funny reason for a crash, but then he let out a sigh and decided against that. After all, Enzo had actually brought it up, that probably meant something. So what he did was ask, "You doing okay now?" Then he saw Enzo's bloodied temple, closing his eyes briefly at the memory flashing through his brain at the sight.

Enzo turned his head, putting a hand over his temple briefly, clearly noticing what was going on behind Damon's eyes. "It's okay, man."

"No, I—"

Damon shook his head, patting Enzo's shoulder, then going in for a bro-hug instead. "I'm just glad you guys are okay."

Enzo sniffled lightly, trying to pull himself together, while Damon smiled at him, before turning slightly to give him space.

"So you and Bon are going to have a baby," Enzo suddenly said, and in that moment, it really dawned on Damon that it was true.

That it was really happening. And that he was insanely happy about it.

Turning back to face Enzo, he beamed, his eyes betraying him a little bit. "Yeah, man. I'm really going to be a dad. Someone help us all." He chuckled, then grew silent. Both of them were standing there, quiet, watching the girls animatedly talk, hug it out, cry and laugh together on the other side of the road.

"I need her to get checked now," Enzo very softly said, and Damon nodded, patting his shoulder, leaving his hand there.

"I know. Let's get you both checked out." Then, as an afterthought, he asked, "You think I'll screw it up?"

Enzo frowned. "The baby?"

"Being a father. I mean, Guiseppe wasn't exactly a great role model. And… what if the pit screwed me over too much to…"

"No, mate. You'll be great. You never were like him."

"You sure? I'm…"

"You've taken me in the moment we met. You've been a brother to me ever since. You'll do amazing."

Damon grinned. "Technically it was you who took me in when I was at my worst. You were kinda the only one there. The only one who noticed…"

Enzo shrugged, both of them suddenly self-conscious and feeling a bit awkward. With a sigh, Damon ruffled Enzo's hair, making the other man glare at him with an expression somewhere between amusement and annoyance.

"Come on. Hospital. Now. Let's get your girl taken care of, and then you."

"You think Cheryl is still working there?" Enzo shot him a glance, just as Caroline sidled over, slipping under his arm, wrapping hers around his waist, Bonnie coming up to do the same to Damon.

"Nah, man. She got retired a couple years back. It's a shame," Damon explained, then kissed his wife lightly on the cheek, smiling at her as she nuzzled closer, wiggling the keys.

"She deserves it," Enzo muttered, "That place gets tiring."

Damon chuckled. "Hell yeah, it does…"

"You boys ready to go?"

They were.

Chapter Text

...

[Now]

"Fix this. Now."

The connection went dead.

Shit.

Things were not going according to plan at all. Beast rubbed his face with both hands, trying to take deep breaths. Shit was about to hit the fucking fan. Scratch that, shit had already hit the fan, and he was covered in it. The man was livid, seething, hell, Beast couldn't even blame him.

They had found Sykes. The freaking small town sheriff had called the stupid FBI in and they had found Sykes. Who Beast had promised the man was not going to be a problem anymore. Because he himself had already taken care of it. He had honestly believed it to be true.

The last time Beast and Sykes had met, the guy had kneeled on the ground, a blubbering mess, and he had promised, promised Beast he would stay as far away from that town, from the US of freaking A even, that no one would ever be able to find him. The idiot that he was, Beast had believed him, had sent him on his way.

It was time to step up his game, to try and save what he still could. Get to Sykes before he could spill even more of their secrets. Make sure the four didn't ruin everything when it was their turn to speak at that goddamn trial. And most importantly, stay undetected, stay alive himself.

The police had his name now, because Sykes had talked. That moron had talked and now his own existence was on the line.

It took him a while to find out what he could about the case, about what the small town coppers really knew. For months, Jacob Sykes had remained mostly quiet, had refused to talk. But then something had happened. Maybe he had gotten too scared, maybe they had gotten to him, but eventually the stupid asshole had talked extensively. Sykes had told them Beast's name! As if the disaster with Sykes mentioning Logan Fell hadn't already been bad enough! That idiot that had had a freaking body in his basement!

Beast tore at his own hair, the frustration building up in him until he kicked the wall of his little apartment with so much force that he left a hole.

It didn't matter. He'd be out of there by the end of the day. He had to go to ground. Hide. From the man as well as the police.

There was still a chance to make it right. Make it easier on himself. He just needed to show the man that he could trust him. That Beast could take care of this.

The murder trial was running, he knew that much. Sykes was going to appear in court. Maybe he could take him out before that. And if not, he'd have to go threaten the scared little kids a little so they would shut up, so they would persuade their little town and their nosy freaking lawyer to stop poking their noses where they didn't belong. To stop looking for the so-called masterminds.

Sniffing, he looked around, making sure he had packed everything he needed. When he was sure that he had, he zipped his hoodie up, grabbed his duffle and walked out the door, leaving the keys behind.

Then, he went to the bus station. Got himself a ticket. Paying in cash. Of course.

Destination: Mystic Falls, that stupid town he had never wanted to see again. If this ended with him getting caught, he'd only have himself to blame. (And the man. The stupid man. He should have never agreed to work with him.)

Pulling out his phone, he made a few quick calls before his journey began.


...


...

The horrors of the pit were nine months in the past by the time their trial was finally in full swing. Nine months of slow progress and occasionally fast regress in terms of physical and mental healing, but also building and evolvement of friendships, and relationships, and now they were sitting in court, looking all dapper and handsome in their suits and not at all like men with long prison sentences looming over their heads. (If only someone could have looked on the inside, too, though, where it was still ugly and dark. So damn dark…)

Damon exchanged a glance with Enzo beside him, grimacing slightly before looking over to their lawyer. Elijah Mikaelson was presenting their case, appearing very confident in what he did, and somehow, it made Damon feel a tiny bit better. Just like it helped knowing that Bonnie was sitting somewhere behind him in the stands, rooting for him.

It had been a few weeks, months even, but now their trial had started for real, and not a minute or a second too early, Sheriff Liz Forbes and her FBI led task force had finally come through with the kind of evidence they so desperately needed.

Of course Elijah had already done a great job deconstructing the goddamn video, showing the jury (that surely had been biased because everyone out there had seen that video. Every freaking one) that it was quite obviously cut, that it was not a reliable source at all, and the judge had actually ruled that the video should be disregarded completely. But the damage had been done. Damon knew it, could see it in some of those faces staring back at him. They had all heard Casey plead for his life, they had all seen Damon kill him, no matter what the judge had ruled.

But then they had found that surfer dude. The announcer, or commentator or whatever the hell the guy had thought he had been. Damon would forever remember him as the surfer, the moniker being way too innocent for what the man had done. And it was their chance to bring this case home, even in the absence of the greater evil behind it all.

That man was going to be here any moment, for now just a witness, but awaiting a trial of his own, and Damon was worried that he would lose his mind once he saw him again.

"Don't look at him," Elijah had urged him before, and he had nodded, feeling detached, numb, while Enzo beside him had done his usual thing and clenched his teeth and stared out the window as if no one else was there. The kid worried him sometimes… But then, who was he to judge? He was pretty sure that his own coping - or not coping - was just as bad and just as glaringly obvious, so he couldn't judge the kid for the way he was going about things.

The courtroom was thankfully cold, almost freezing, because Damon had felt perspiration pearl on his forehead and upper lip before, but now he was sufficiently cold, his only worry being that he might start shivering. Which would also not be all that great. Still better than sitting there red faced and soaking.

Then the moment came.

Elijah stood up to his full height. "The defense would like to call Jacob Sykes to the stand."

Damon felt his chest tighten, his heart race. It was happening. Looking behind him briefly, he exchanged a glance with Bonnie, noticing how pale she looked, even with Caroline's arm wrapped around her tightly, and her Grams right by her side.

"It'll be okay," he mouthed, trying to look like he meant it, then he slowly turned back around. Waiting.

Staring over to Enzo, he saw his friend's (or brother's, would he ever be able to call him that?) white knuckles stand out prominently, and when he looked down on his own hands, they looked much the same. It was almost comical.

Until he saw that face again. The blonde hair, more ruffled than Stefan's on a bad day, the tan face that had more lines than he remembered. But then, he hadn't ever gotten a good glimpse of the man, and the lighting had been abominable to say the least. Damon tried to take a deep breath and couldn't. He knew this was how a panic attack started - those strange and awful occurrences that he had never believed could happen to him. To him! - and he tried his utmost to calm himself down.

Elijah laid a hand on his shoulder briefly, shooting him a glance. "Don't look at him," he muttered under his breath and Damon nodded. He could do that, he could do that.

That voice, though…

When Elijah began his questioning, Damon felt himself spiral down memory lane.

"Is it not true that you were at the house on that weekend?"

"Yes…"

"Isn't it true that you announced a 'game' that was about to start?"

"Yes." Reluctant admittance. Damon couldn't look up to check the man's expression, but he surmised it was an annoyed one.

He had to blink as flickering lights danced in front of him again, the noises of an excited crowd ringing in his ears. Panic closing his throat, his body trying to go into flight mode. The stale musty odor assaulting his senses, and that voice.

Time to explain the rules!

"Did that game have a set of rules?"

"Yes."

Rule three: halving is achieved through… a… fight... to... the… deeeeeeeeath!

"Is it possible that one rule stated… 'halving the number of players is achieved through a fight to the death'?"

Damon peeked up, saw Sykes lick his lips, avert his gaze. Very quietly, the guy said, "Yes."

...

You got two hours before we start intervening. Two hours to figure out who dies, and how…

Watching Lexi die from up high, hearing his best friend yell down there in the pit…

Jeremy's sad young face, desperate, pained, but determined...

No suicide, guys and gals! For every suicide, an additional player will have to die…

All that blood, the gurgling breaths… Bonnie's panicked wide eyes, imploring him to do something.

Everyone! Get ready for the Pit to claim its last three lives, and to turn the remaining humans into monsters!

Casey. So much blood. "Please. I don't want to die…"

And I don't want to kill. I don't want to kill. I don't want this, I don't want this, I don't want this make it stop!

...remember: if you don't halve your numbers, you will all die.

"Is it not the case that the so-called players were there against their will?"

"Yes."

A rumor ran through the jury; the gavel could be heard a couple of times. This was it. This was it. Damon's heart was in a vise. He raised his head, for the first time looking straight ahead, chin raised. His gaze met that of Jacob Sykes, until the man looked away.

...

The feeling of torn flesh and blood and broken bone under his touch. Enzo falling away...

... just think about it: there's no real way to track down any of us. Besides, you'll be the ones that will get charged with murder, and, your loved ones back home might end up in the pit next time.

"Is it not true that one of the people behind this game is a man named Michael Reid, also known as Beast?"

A clicking tongue. Another gritted out, "Yes." Elijah's smug face, not really showing much of a reaction, and Damon was in a daze, so thick he found it hard to hear any of the rest…

...

Bonnie's desperation, those hands around her throat, those… those people trying to tear them all apart, like one giant live organism trying to devour them alive.

What do we do what do we do what do we do...

Her eyes, determined now. "You think you can walk?"

And then. Where was she? Was she okay? Bonnie…

Bonnie.

"Damon." A shock ran through his body. He looked up to see her standing right by his side, her hand moving to gently touch his cheek. Stefan not too far behind her. Confused, he frowned up at them, then slowly moved to stand, feeling strangely wobbly.

"It's over." She embraced him, her arms slung themselves around him, and she felt so good, she smelled so good. "It's over," she repeated, and he tried to smile and nod, tried to say the words.

"Over…" But was it? Would it ever be?

Looking over to Elijah, he saw the man smile at him. "Not quite over, I'm afraid. But we will bring this case home. Today was a good day, Damon. Enzo. Tomorrow will be better."

He gave a nod, then moved to go on his way, but Damon called out to him again. "That guy, Beast…"

"Sheriff is on it," Elijah said. "It's only a matter of days, if not hours."

"What if they don't find him." It wasn't a real question. He needed to know, needed to prepare for the worst case scenario. He simply couldn't get his hopes up.

There was a strange dark light in the Mikaelson brother's eyes. If Damon didn't know the man was a lawyer he might have thought it was a bloodthirsty flicker (it probably was…), then Elijah said, "The case works even without him physically here. We will charge him for murder in absence if we have to. For our case it's irrelevant, Sykes' statement brought it out of the park for us. It couldn't have gone better."

"You think they'll believe us?"

Elijah nodded. "I must warn you, though. They might still give you some form of… punishment," he said the word delicately, "for the way Mazzy and Casey died. But I do believe that with your statements and maybe those of Bonnie and Rebekah we can persuade them that it was still a case of self-defense."

"No."

Damon turned to look at a pale looking Enzo who was still sitting on his chair, shaking his head now. He frowned down on the kid.

"No?"

Enzo glared at him. But it was Elijah, who, more patiently than Damon felt was necessary, told him, "I know you don't want to talk about what happened there, Lorenzo. But tomorrow, you will all have to. If you don't, you might still end up in prison. Not just you, but Damon, Bonnie, Rebekah… Need I go on."

There it was again, the typical clenched jaw and wordless glare, and Damon almost felt like laughing. Almost. If he didn't understand the kid's reservations (revulsion, panic, aversion, disgust, inability) all too damn well. He didn't want to talk about this stuff either, certainly not with strangers present, certainly not with Bonnie and Rebekah there.

Hell, he didn't want the girls to have to go through the same. But if it saved them all from being locked up, he was willing to go ahead and do it. One time only. Ready or not. But he wasn't going to ever repeat it.

He watched as Enzo shook his head with a grimace before abruptly standing up and walking away, so fast that Caroline shot them all an excusing glance before hurrying after him until Damon could see her grab Enzo's hand and walk out beside him, and seeing blondie be there for his best friend when he couldn't was such a strange relief to him that he really questioned his own sanity. (He was growing soft, wasn't he? But for some reason, Lorenzo St. John had always appealed to his soft spot, and now he finally knew why…)

"Come on, brother," Stefan said just then, nodding to him, then leading the way, while Bonnie moved over to Damon's side without letting go of him. "Let's go."

She beamed up at him, not as anxious or worried as he felt when he thought about her having to endure testifying tomorrow, just genuinely happy, and open.

It was that moment, when everyone else was already walking out, when only he and Bonnie still stood there, rooted to the spot, that he suddenly realized how his affection for her, that strange magic feeling that had developed in a crash course down in the pit and that had blossomed and evolved over the last nine month had turned into something even stronger, even deeper.

Because he loved this girl. Damon Salvatore had fallen in love with Bonnie Bennett, and when he leaned forward now, following an instinct, or a feeling, or maybe a deep knowledge, he placed a soft kiss right on her lips and when he backed away ever so slightly to look at her, ready to apologize even though he didn't feel sorry at all, she slung both arms around his neck and kissed him back so passionately that his heart jumped right out of his chest.

This, then, was their love story. This. And one day, he knew it, deep down he did, one day it would outshine all the horrors they had been through together.


But tomorrow was not that day…


...

He found them at that large house, the Mikaelson mansion. A scoff escaped him at the alliteration. Those Mikaelsons with their hubris and their money and their delusions of grandeur again. Of course they were living in a freaking palace. At least it would make this a little easier. That they were all here together, the Mikaelsons (some of them, anyways) and all four of the escapees, it was like a nice little fluke and he accepted it happily.

They were sitting in the living room, oblivious. Talking about the case. He could hear the loud mouthed one being a loud mouth again. Yelling at Elijah Mikaelson, until his friend, that short but pretty girl stepped in front of him, saying something Beast couldn't hear, but that quite quickly made the loud mouth shut it.

Gnawing on his lip, Beast tried to think. He had already screwed up yesterday, had been too late to get to Sykes before the man could talk in court. He had, however, been able to sic someone on him now that he was back in lock up, and checking the time he figured by now the guy was finally dead.

Good. Time to—

"Who are you?" A cold collected voice spoke right in his ear, a hand clamping around his neck like a vise. He wanted to grab his Glock, but the man that had grabbed his neck was faster. "Uh uh."

Beast felt more annoyed than scared or worried. Yet another block in the road.

"I asked, who are you. Don't make me repeat myself again."

Beast swallowed, his Adam's apple feeling too constricted. "Relax, dude," he pressed out, holding out his arms, his hands to show he was not a threat. (Well…)

The guy didn't let go. Going by his obnoxious accent and the place they were in - the dark upper story hallway, he made an educated guess and pegged him to be one of the Mikaelsons.

"Your bloody name."

"My name doesn't matter."

"It does to me."

The Mikaelson whirled him around until he could see him, pulling up his balaclava to see his face. Beast grimaced, his annoyance growing. Then he started grinning at the other man's smug face. The guy really thought he had the upper hand here, didn't he?

"Did you think I came here alone, Mikaelson?"

The man tried to suppress a reaction, but his forehead creased ever so slightly, a tell-tale sign that Beast had gotten to him.

"Who else is here, and where?" The man gave him a hard shove. "Talk!"

"Nik?"

He remembered that voice. It belonged to the pretty blonde by Kol's side that day. His sister.

"Go back to the living room, Bekah. Tell Elijah to call his lady friend."

"Nik, you're—"

"Now."

Beast chuckled softly. The kids were growing scared. As they should. He was shoved hard against the wall and wondered whether the kid realized that Beast could easily shake him off, that his fighting skills surpassed the other man's by far.

He would soon find out. Beast couldn't wait for them all to realize that there was no chance for them to get out. Not this time.


When Rebekah came running back into the living room, pasty white and wide eyed, Caroline's alarm bells rang so shrilly it was like a white noise blocking out all sound.

"Rebekah, what is going on?" Elijah asked, his face slightly falling as he walked toward her with quick strides. But before he could even reach her, his sister's fellow pit survivors had already tensed up, Bonnie clutching Damon as they both jumped up, Enzo's hand clamping around Caroline's as he pulled her up with him. All of them were exchanging wild glances and Caroline felt like she was missing some very important detail.

"Someone's here," Rebekah breathed, panic in her eyes, "Nik is out there. He said to call your 'lady friend'... Elijah, he's out there. They've come for us. They've come for you!"

What? Caroline stared up at Enzo blankly, more confused than scared, although the general atmosphere was slowly getting to her.

"Alright," Damon said, grabbing Bonnie and looking wildly around the living room. "Enzo: doors. Elijah, any chance you guys have electrical blinds to close these freaking windows? We're kind of out in the open here." He was already pulling the heavy curtains closed while he waited for a reply, all of them grimacing when Elijah shook his head.

"It's an old house. We have shutters, but those can easily be pried away…"

"Doesn't matter. How do we close them?" Damon was all business, and so was Enzo. Caroline just followed him around as he shut the doors, since he never once let go of her hand.

"What's going on?" she asked him, the others, anyone that might have an answer for her.

"Open the windows and lean out to grab them." Elijah shrugged apologetically, while typing something in his phone. "We don't normally use them…"

Damon rolled his eyes, making a face as he exchanged a glance with Bonnie. Leaning forward a bit, he kissed her forehead, and all Caroline could think was that she had never seen him this serious. Damon Salvatore serious could not be a good sign.

"I'll do it," Enzo said beside her, shoving her over to Damon unceremoniously, and she would have been a bit upset with this kind of treatment if it weren't for the circumstances, and the way he stared at Damon, telling him imploringly, "You keep her safe."

Damon nodded solemnly, grabbing Caroline's arm to pull her closer to the wall with him and Bonnie.

Care swallowed, her gaze meeting Bonnie's. "What the hell is going on? Who do you guys think is here? The… the people from the pit?" Her voice was too shrill, her heart beating too fast as Bonnie cupped her face, looking straight at her.

"We don't know," she allowed. "But… these people… they threatened to come back for us if we ever told on them. After yesterday…"

Caroline nodded as Bonnie's voice ebbed away. Turning her head, she watched as Enzo pulled open the first large glass window, leaning way too far out to reach the stupid shutters. She suddenly felt like she was in some Quentin Tarantino type movie and soon, a gang of gunmen would barge in, shooting them all to smithereens while some upbeat song was playing in the back. This couldn't be happening. Not to them. To her. Her mother would be soooo angry, because she hadn't listened, hadn't stayed away from Enzo.

But all she really worried about was him. And why the hell did it take him so long? (Please don't die now…) He had had way too many close calls in that pit from what she had gathered. If something happened to him today, he would never survive it. No one could escape fate that many times...

"I can't do this again," Bonnie suddenly said beside her, making Caroline turn her attention toward her best friend. She was prepared to see Bonnie break down, but what she saw instead made her insanely proud.

There was such fight and anger in the girl that she looked downright intimidating.

"I'm not gonna let them ruin our lives again."

"No one's gonna ruin our lives, Bon. They'll have to go through me. And you know how that turned out for them last time."

Damon grinned, a wide winning expression that seemed out of place, but somehow, it calmed Caroline to see his determination. If she had been in that pit, she was pretty sure she'd be a wailing ball in the farthest corner of the room right about now. But these people, her friends, they were ready to fight.

She looked up to see Enzo close the last blind, watching him dive at the exact moment a loud noise exploded and zoomed somewhere past her. Was that a shot?

"Lorenzo, you alright?" Damon's heart was beating so fast Caroline could see his shirt dance up and down, and she tried not to panic as she waited for a reply.

"Fine. Everyone else? Caroline?!"

"I'm okay," she called out, along with the others, feeling stupid, only now realizing that she was lying flat on the ground right next to Bonnie, their gazes locked.

A banging on one of the doors made them all tense up again, then someone's annoyed voice filtered into the room.

"Open the door. I have your dear brother here."

Rebekah's face turned more ashen than it had been, Elijah trying to pull her toward him as she stalked over to the door.

"No. You can't let them in." Elijah, always the reasonable one, held her back, but she shook him off, too easily.

"He has Nik. I'm not going to lose another one of my siblings, Elijah."

"Rebekah, no!" Damon yelled, but the door already swung open, a man appearing in the dim light of the hallway, holding a gun to Klaus' neck. The expression on his face would have made Caroline chuckle if the situation wasn't so obviously not a laughing matter. Klaus just looked like he had finally been one-upped.

"You," his sister hissed, slowly backing away when Klaus shook his head at her.

Caroline was slowly getting up, following Bonnie's and Damon's lead, watching as Enzo appeared behind Rebekah, pulling her with him and toward her older brother, never taking his eyes off the man.

"Nice to see you all again," the stranger said, and Caroline felt the sudden urge to be closer to Enzo, who was still kind of standing in the middle of the room, shielding Rebekah, but also diverting the man's attention from where she, Bonnie and Damon were standing.

"I'm not alone, as you might have noticed," he waved toward the now closed windows, grinning smugly at them all. And Caroline felt her heart sink, briefly catching Enzo's gaze.


What the idiot maybe hadn't realized was that you couldn't simply one-up the Mikaelsons. And you sure as hell couldn't mess with Sheriff Elizabeth Forbes a second time.

Well before Elijah had had a chance to message her, she had already been prepared. The kids might have been unaware, but after what had happened to them all, Liz had very quickly decided to place guards wherever they went, to keep details on them all.

So, yes, she had known that her own daughter had run straight back to Enzo even after she had begged her not to, and she hadn't said a thing. Because she, too, had once loved a man, she too understood what it meant to be hopelessly and head over heels in love with the wrong man (maybe with the right man, too? But she wasn't quite ready yet to ask herself that question).

She had known where Bonnie was, where Rebekah was, where Damon was, and yes, where Enzo was, too. She had a permanent guard at the Mikaelson mansion and the Salvatore boarding house. She had someone monitor her own home, and the Bennett house.

Because she had made a huge mistake. She had not seen or known about this game that someone had brought to her town. She had not been there to prevent these kids from suffering, had not been there in time to help them out or even arrest the monsters behind it all.

But she was not going to repeat that mistake. She had been prepared the minute she had first heard that threat. She didn't quite remember who had said it, Bonnie perhaps, or Damon. That the lives of their loved ones had been threatened, that they had been told someone would be coming for them if they opened their mouths.

Once the trial had been in full swing, her people had been extra alert, ready.

It had paid off. Tonight, when dusk had settled over her town again, when it had grown quiet and calm, her people had been there to keep a guy from breaking down Sheila Bennett's door, the old woman remaining completely oblivious of the danger she had been in.

They had been there to stop the car full of heavily armed men headed toward the Salvatore boarding house, a confused looking Stefan holding a wide eyed Elena Gilbert tight when Liz informed him he needed to stay in his house and lock all doors.

And they had been there when a flock of dark clad strangers snuck onto the Mikaelson premises, guns at the ready.

Liz's heart had skipped a couple of beats knowing her daughter was in there too, as moral support for her friends. She was still a little breathless, even now, now that they had taken these men into custody and were getting ready to get the last guy, too. They had known someone was going to come and want to talk to the kids. Sykes had told them this right after they had barely managed to save his life.

"It was Beast," he had wheezed, still panicked, still breathing too fast. "They sent him to clean up after them. Oh gosh, I almost fucking died! You almost let me die!"

She had walked away, had let Stinson deal with this little shit, who had kept them in the dark about Beast, for way too long, for freaking months, and who had only finally talked when his own life had been in danger. She couldn't deal with that man or she would have forgotten herself, so she had rushed out, had made a few calls, finding out where the kids were. And her people had already been on it.

What they hadn't realized, unfortunately, was that Beast had been hiding out in the house for hours by the time his team arrived. He must have slipped in at some point, when the guards had looked elsewhere, followed Elijah and the others over to the courthouse perhaps, and he had waited for the perfect moment.

But she could deal with that. Just one guy. Who thought he had a team waiting for him. The surprise he was in for…


Beast grinned from one ear to the next and Bonnie was growing so uncontrollably angry that she gripped Damon's arm briefly before taking a few steps forward, despite his urging her not to.

She wasn't going to just let that… that man waltz into their lives and destroy everything. She wasn't going to let him trample down their slowly rebuilt walls, their functionality. They all had suffered enough trauma and if he added even one more iota to that, someone was going to break and she was not having that.

"No." She said it firmly, angrily, making Caroline behind her call out her name, making Elijah wave at her weirdly as if he was trying to relay some kind of message. She kept going, kept walking, extending an arm to gently grab Enzo's arm (the wrong one she realized when he jolted under her touch, but she didn't let go, just placed herself right in front of him. It must have looked funny, she briefly thought, how she stood in front of him, while he had only moved there to shield Rebekah from the man that had befriended her brother with the plan of leading him - leading them all to their deaths.

Beast grinned at her, showing his feral looking teeth. It wasn't hard to imagine why someone had come up with that nickname.

"You will let him go," she ordered him, surprised that she didn't feel an ounce of fear. As if she had felt all the fear she was capable of back in that pit and there was nothing left anymore. Nothing. Because nothing could ever be as bad as that place.

He chuckled, then looked to the side. She felt more than saw that Damon and Caroline had walked over to them, Caroline gently loosening Bonnie's too harsh grip on Enzo's wrist, Damon then grabbing her hand, pulling her close and ever so slightly behind him.

"You should have just kept your stupid mouths shut." A sudden rage flickered through Beast, and he pressed the gun into Klaus' throat harder, making him gasp.

Bonnie shook her head, a fire burning inside of her now, making her feel too hot, her cheeks burning. "You should have never come back here! You should have never thrown us into that pit."

"Someone is angry."

Hell yes, someone was angry. What the guy didn't realize, though, couldn't know, was that ever since the pit, Bonnie Bennett had only regained control over her life by climbing up into the attic of her home and retrieving the gun that Sheila Bennett had always kept there, far far away from her grandchild, but not far away enough for her to not know about it.

It had been maybe a week, maybe two after she had come back from the pit that she had found herself drawn up there, and knowing her grandmother, it hadn't been difficult to know where she kept the key to the inconspicuous box Sheila had kept the gun in. It was one of those "girly" ones, small, with a white shaft, and easy enough to hide away in a purse. A purse like the one Bonnie had.

And it was that purse she reached in now and that gun she took out, aiming it at the beast in front of her.

"Whoa, Bon," Damon hissed, "didn't know you've become a gunslinger."

"There's a lot for you to learn about me," she retorted, hearing a disbelieving chuckle escape him, despite the situation.

"Easy there, girlie. You don't want to accidentally shoot dear Rebekah's other brother, do you? Wouldn't wanna ruin that cute little bond you got after you both killed a loved one down there in that beautiful pool…"

"Shut up."

"Got a temper, that one. I wish we had seen more of that during the game. You'd have had a couple more fans…"

Damon wanted to say something, she could feel anger bubbling up inside of him, but she shot him a glance shaking her head.

"Bonnie, no."

She squinted, surprised to see Caroline's mom appear by the other door. The door that was supposed to still be closed, but wasn't.

What was going on here?

But she wasn't the only one who was surprised. Whirling toward Liz, pulling Klaus a little closer, Beast stared at her, utter confusion, or maybe shock on his face.

"The fuck—"

"Your crew is not going to come for you, Mr. Reid." Mr. Reid? Like he was an actual person, just a normal human being. (But he wasn't.) "Put your gun down and let Klaus go." It was Liz' turn to look smug, and she waved a hand at both Beast and Bonnie, making a downward movement. "Guns down. Both of you."

But Bonnie couldn't do it. She knew that if she did, that monster would do something stupid. He had nothing left to lose now, but she… she still had everything to lose, despite what she had been through. Despite the pit.

She still had so much to lose.


When had his life become such a cheap movie? Damon was a little flustered as it all unfolded in front of him. Bonnie wielding a gun, Liz barging in to save the day, Klaus as a hostage, Beast the menace, his features crumbling into a mask of anger and frustration. And all the while Damon just stood on the sidelines, watching as it all happened.

"Time to listen to Liz over there, Bon, and let the cavalry take over."

She shook her head, gritting her teeth. "Him first."

He looked to Liz, "The lady has a point." He raised and eyebrow, catching the sheriff's annoyed look.

"Don't listen to them," Beast piped up, making Damon's blood curdle. He knew what that guy was trying to do. He had probably realized that he was tough out of luck, his plan no longer going to work, because the gun he was holding would never have enough bullets to get them all, not even if he was an exceptional marksman.

"Come on, sweetie, you know you want to. You can give it a try. It's your only chance. Try and kill me. We both know you don't care enough about this guy here to not try. He's nothing to you. These guys," he nodded at them all, "on the other hand, you'll miss them, won't you? When I kill them too?"

"Shut up," Damon hissed, tugging at Bonnie, exchanging a glance with Caroline and Enzo behind him.

"Think about it, I got you all into this mess, didn't I? I got you into the house and from there it was so damn easy to get you all into the pool, see you fight. Honestly, you all were naturals. Wild, feral. It didn't need much to provoke you. And that look in your eyes when you stabbed that cute little boyfriend of yours."

"Stop." Bonnie's voice was toneless. Damon grabbed her around the waist in a daring move, laid a hand over her gun arm. He was ready to try and grab that gun from her, spare her the heartache and do it himself. He wanted to kill that asshole so bad.

"I destroyed your lives, turned you into caricatures of your former selves, didn't I? I mean, can you still sleep? Do you get scared when you walk home alone in the dark?"

"Mr. Reid." Damon had forgotten that Liz was still there. "Last warning: lower your weapon or I will have to shoot."

"Hey," Klaus said, the gun pressing harder into his throat, and somewhere Rebekah implored him to be quiet, to not move. But all Damon could focus on was Bonnie, and his friends, and the trajectory Beast's bullets might have. The repercussions if Bonnie shot instead. If she killed Beast. If she accidentally shot Klaus.

He clenched his teeth, trying to keep himself from doing anything rash. It sounded too good, to see that man die before his eyes. Right here, right now, before his own trial was over.

But Bonnie would pay for it. She would pay. In one way or another, if she shot, there would be no going back. She would sink down under the surface of that pool, sink and sink, and he wasn't sure he could ever pull her back up. And if he shot, he wouldn't be there for her, and he couldn't do that to her. He couldn't. So he tightened his grip and whispered into her ear, feeling her soft skin against his lips. So very soft…

"Put it down, gorgeous. We got him, okay? He's trying to evade a trial, prison. He wants you to shoot him, but it's not who you are."

She scoffed. "What if it is. He deserves to die."

Damon shook his head. "Not like this. Not here. Look at Rebekah. She's terrified to lose another brother. Or Enzo. If he has to watch one other person die from up close, get their blood on his face…"

"It's not like I want that..." She was wavering, began shaking ever so slightly. "But I can't let him get away."

"He won't get away, Bonnie. Sheriff Forbes is right over there. She'll take it from here."

"I can't lose you."

He frowned, only a bit confused at her thought process, a soft chuckle escaping him. "Won't happen. I'm all yours. Besides, I'm pretty much invincible."

"You're not."

"Trying to shatter my delusions?"

She rolled her eyes at him, slowly lowering her arm. He had her.

What happened next was so fast that he was surprised his brain even managed to store it all away: as soon as Bonnie lowered her weapon, Beast raised his, tried to pull the trigger, but the banging noise that could be heard came from a different direction: Liz Forbes, balancing her own revolver with both hands, had shot the beast - in the shoulder.

Seconds passed, maybe a minute. There was Klaus, looking a bit shaken, in the arms of his sobbing sister, and Damon felt like a spectator once again. Caroline gasped somewhere behind him. He turned to see her cling to Enzo. His gaze met that of his friend (his brother), both of them similarly tense, both of them trying to keep it together. Damon moved as if on autopilot. Nodding to Enzo, he steered a dazed Bonnie toward the couch. "Let's sit you down for a moment, gorgeous," he told her, glad when she followed him easily. Then fell against him with a heaving sigh of utter exhaustion and he finally arrived back in this moment, present and alert.

"Didn't know I had such a badass for a girlfriend," he whispered, hugging her close, a smile playing around the corners of his mouth as he looked down on her.

She gave him a tired smile. "More like, a lunatic girlfriend. My therapist will have a field day with this."

He was strangely relieved that she was so good about going to that man, but what really caught his attention was something else.

"I'll take it," he informed her, "As long as we can agree that you really are my girlfriend."

Her following expression was almost worth it all.


"You okay, babe?"

Enzo looked at Caroline slightly vacantly, before his features softened into a smile.

"Are you?" He sighed as her arms wrapped around him.

"I'm fine," she muttered. "Never a dull moment with you, huh?"

His jaw clenched. "I'm sorry you were here for this. - On a scale of one to ten, how much do you regret ever having met me?"

She gave him a nudge, a smile. "Not one bit."

Liz cleared her throat as she approached the two, acutely aware of how her daughter was holding this young man's hands, how her eyes were brightly shining with what Liz knew too well was true love and affection. If she was being honest, she didn't think she had ever seen it this clearly before, certainly not when she had seen Caroline with Matt, not with Tyler, and not even with sweet Stefan. A sigh escaped her as she gently tapped her daughters arm.

"Come on," she said, "I'll give you two a ride." It was a small concession, an admittance of her still slightly grudging acceptance, but she knew now that she would get there.

It was Enzo who shook his head, thanking her, but declining. "As much as I'd love to call it a day, we're still not ready here," he allowed, and she nodded, understanding.

"I'm sure I could talk to the judge, explain the situation, give you all a day to breathe…"

He shook his head again. "I'd rather get it over with… But I appreciate the offer." Always such a gentleman. Maybe he wasn't so bad for her daughter after all.

Caroline smiled at her. Which felt too good. Her daughter needed her to be a caring mom now, especially after a scary event like this, and Liz hoped that at least she would come home with her, knowing she'd probably want to stay with Enzo though.

But he surprised her again, lightly kissing Caroline's forehead, making Liz look to the side a bit shyly, feeling like a teenager again that had to watch her best friend kiss her new boyfriend right in front of her. (Where to look to not make it awkward for everyone…) "You should go home, love. I'm sure your mother would like to spend some time with you after all this."

"What about you? I don't want you to be alone after—"

He was a little too quick interrupting her. "I'll be fine." Caroline gave him a look and he tilted his head a little, slightly averting his gaze. "And I'm not going to be alone. Elijah will probably want to go over everything again, and that means Damon and I are in for a long night..."

Caroline sighed sympathetically. They exchanged a few more words, but when the tone got a little too intimate for Liz, their gestures a little too laden, she whispered a quick "I can wait for you outside" to her daughter, then walked out, catching up with the team, also taking a quick peek at Michael Reid.

She couldn't believe they had him. They really had the man who had led all these kids into the pit. Maybe they still didn't know who the people behind the scenes were, and where, but this was pretty damn close.

This felt like a win. And she needed a win. They all did.

"Good work today, Sheriff."

She turned around to see Elijah Mikaelson walk up toward her, an air about him that told her just how shaken he really was. The man had just seen his younger brother being held at gunpoint, had watched his sister break down in tears. It was a bit of a miracle that he still looked so put together, not even a flush or paleness to his cheeks.

She wasn't quite sure whether he was being sincere but for the sake of the moment she decided to go with a simple, "Thanks."

"I didn't realize you had put up a guard around our houses."

"I thought it might be easier for everyone if we didn't do it too on the nose…"

Prepared for an argument, she was relieved when he nodded instead. "Thank you, Sheriff. You may have very well saved a lot of lives today. I am indebted to you, so if there's anything I can do for you—"

"How about dinner," she heard herself say, unsure what had made her be so daring, so bold. Maybe he was getting to her more than she allowed herself to admit.

"Dinner."

Swallowing, she looked away, feeling self-conscious. "I haven't had much time to eat well lately. I think a good dinner is really all I want right about now."

"Tomorrow," he said, "8 pm." Last day of the trial, she realized, then nodded.

"I hope we'll have even more to celebrate then."

He nodded at her, so formally that she wanted to yell or shake him or maybe kiss him. (Who exactly did she think she was? A freaking teenager? This man was too young for her, wasn't he? He would never see her like that anyway.)

"Indeed." He smiled at her, nodding briefly before slowly turning back toward the house. (And dang, he looked even good from behind…)


He was screwed. Pretty much dead already. How had he ended up handcuffed in the back of a police vehicle with the stupid small town sheriff gloating and these stupid Mikaelsons still alive.

His shoulder hurt like a bitch. That idiotic girl had been supposed to shoot him, to kill him. But no. She had stopped herself. No final blow, no last triumph for him. If she had killed him, he wouldn't have had to look over his shoulder to fear for the man's goons coming for him, and he would have proven them all that there was no escaping the pit.

Because there wasn't. He knew it. And one day, so would they. And they would wish they had died down there, too.

Chapter Text

...

When they got home, Damon felt incredibly tired, and emotionally drained. Part of him had wanted to take Bonnie with him, to spend the night with her, but she had taken his hands and shaken her head, smiling.

"Not tonight," she had whispered, then kissed him for one long glorious moment, and the way she had looked at him after had told him that it was simply too early.

Besides, she had been right, he was so damn exhausted that he really did need to try and sleep, what with the last and crucial day of the trial coming up.

What if the nightmares wouldn't let him, though? What if they came back? He had been apprehensive a lot about going to sleep during the last months, but today he was exceptionally nervous again, and he hated that. It was so much easier to shove everything aside when the bright light of day shone down on him. But when it was dark and quiet...

Liz had insisted in making them all talk with a trauma psychologist right after it had happened, after Beast had shown up, and he had to admit that it might have helped a little. This whole therapist deal, too. Which Bonnie had kinda persuaded him into by saying that if he didn't want to look out for himself, he should do it for the rest of them. Because they all needed him. She needed him.

He closed his eyes briefly, steadying himself against the bedroom wall as a sudden wave of lightheadedness washed over him. Between Beast's reappearance and the trial, he was worn thin, and with a heavy slump he eventually let himself fall on his bed, just as Stefan poked his head in with a knock.

"Hope you don't mind… Elena is staying over," he said quietly and Damon turned his head to give him a quizzical look, before recognition dawned.

"Ooooh." He wagged an eyebrow at his brother. "You mean, you and her, same bed, that kind of staying over?"

Stefan rolled his eyes. "It's just because of what happened tonight. She's a bit shaken - I mean, we all are…"

Damon gave a tired wave of his hand. "You don't need to explain, Stef. I'm happy for you either way. Honestly. - I'm glad she's staying over, but now please, just let me sleep."

"Will you be alright?"

He scoffed, drowsiness growing exponentially since he was laying flat on his back. "Course! I'm always alright…"

"If you need me. I can leave the door open a bit."

"Pfff," he made. "Please don't. I said I'm glad Elena is staying over, but - this is gonna be awkward to say… - I remember her being quite, uh, loud at times and I don't need to hear that."

"Damon…" The eye roll in Stefan's words was obvious, but he was too tired to open his eyes.

"Night, Stef," he mumbled, giving a last half wave.

"Goodnight, brother. I'm glad you're okay…"


Hours later, he woke up with a start, panicked and sweaty and disoriented, and it took him a full minute to figure out where he was and to calm down again.

Reflexively, his hand went to his phone, opening up the chat with Bonnie before he even quite knew what he was doing. But then his fingers hovered over the screen and he saw her last message to him, just a silly little selfie she had taken with a pouty mouth and wrinkled forehead, and a thumbs down to indicate she didn't like what he had sent her before. Which had been a picture of his outfit for the last day of the trial, dark jeans and a deep gray v-neck shirt that he wanted to wear as a "fuck you."

Of course now a nice suit was hanging off his door, complete with tie and white dress shirt, waiting to be worn tomorrow - or today, as his phone reminded him. Just a few more hours…

~ You look way too handsome in a suit to not show it to the world, Damon Salvatore ~

The words stared back at him now, and he smiled. He wouldn't message her after all, not because he didn't feel the need anymore or because he didn't want to, but because chances were she'd hear the noise and be up instantly. Her sleep was always way too light these days. And she needed sleep.

So, with a sigh he heaved himself out of bed, his hand momentarily clutching at his stomach out of reflex, although it had long since healed. In his nightmare, however, the pain had been back, that moment where it cut through him, blinding him…

Grimacing, he walked out of his room, regretting the early hour, the quiet in the house. He briefly listened in the hallway whether he could hear Stefan or Enzo, but there was nothing. It probably meant they were fast asleep, and that was good, he guessed. Still, he could have done with some company.

He should have really asked Bonnie to stay over…

Finding his way downstairs he briefly thought of pouring himself a bourbon before he remembered that there was still no alcohol in the house. It didn't really matter.

The living room felt too deserted so he decided to walk over to the kitchen, maybe make himself an omelette or something, drink a glass of ice cold water. He realized that he had never eaten any dinner. After the tumultuous day he had simply forgotten. And when had Damon Salvatore ever forgotten to eat?!

He scoffed to himself, then stopped in his tracks right at the door, sighing.

"Thought you were done with this, my friend," he said with a light shake of his head, earning himself a weary look and shrug from Enzo, who was sitting on the floor, legs outstretched, balancing a bottle of the good stuff in his hands.

"I thought this wasn't allowed anymore," Damon remarked dryly, indicating the liquor, and Enzo smirked at him.

"It wasn't…"

Damon let himself slump to the ground next to him, holding out his hand. "As good a day as any for an exception."

"Bonnie won't like it."

"I'm pretty sure Caroline won't like it either." He winked at Enzo who took another swig before handing the bottle over.

"If you don't tell Caroline, I won't tell Bonnie."

"Deal."

Silence fell over the kitchen for a long time, neither of them ready to admit that this all was hard on them, that they still hadn't quite learned how to cope. Not always, anyways. There was some consolation in the fact that it was not just him up at this hour, however, and it made Damon relax a little, the alcohol helping, too.

He should stop, though. A bit of a buzz was okay, but he didn't want to be hungover in the stand tomorrow so he better stopped soon. Enzo, too.

"Okay, we're done with this," he eventually announced, keeping the bottle and closing it, making Enzo roll his eyes in what couldn't be very serious annoyance, because he didn't even say a thing or try to get it back. "Wanna talk about it?" Damon shot him a glance, asking more for his friend's sake than anything. Because he sure as hell didn't want to talk about it. At least not about anything pit-related…

When Enzo kept quiet, leaning his head against the cabinet, looking a little too lost and pained for Damon's liking (because as usual it was too real and too much of a mirror image of how he felt and he didn't need to see that, didn't want to see it…), he nudged the other man lightly.

"Brothers, huh?"

Enzo scoffed softly, turning his head a little to cast a glance at Damon, but didn't say anything.

"I wish he would have told us instead of keeping it to himself," Damon went on, "I mean, why be all secretive about it? You should think he would have wallowed in telling us our mother was a cheater and a liar." Damon stopped when he noticed his words didn't have the intended effect. Enzo's eyes shuttered closed way too quickly. "I'm sorry."

"No, you're right," Enzo muttered, with a sigh, something going on behind his facade that Damon couldn't quite read.

"He was an abusive, manipulative asshole, probably figured we'd get too much enjoyment out of the fact that we're actually related…" Damon was grinning as he said it, but Enzo merely clenched his jaw hard, averting his gaze, worrying Damon more than he liked to admit.

"At least he let me stay here," Enzo eventually quietly allowed, "I just... wish Lily hadn't given me up so easily..."

Damon's heart ached for the kid, his friend, his blood-relation. How deep all their pain went, it was a bit mindboggling. Guiseppe had not been a good father at all, to any of them, and yet he was all they had ever known, the only stability and family. It was surprising, really, to think that a man like Guiseppe must have loved Lily enough to at least take in her "bastard son". And the thought that there was a grain of good - tiny, but there - in his dad strangely comforted Damon. Despite what he had always thought, the man hadn't been all bad.

And despite what he had always thought, his mother wasn't without fault.

"I don't think for a minute it was easy for her, Lorenzo," he eventually said, because he had to say something. Had to tell Enzo something a little comforting, too. "You didn't know her, and I'm sorry you didn't, but she was a good mother, and honestly, I believe she probably thought she was protecting you from Guiseppe at first - and then, when she realized she couldn't keep you from him anymore, it must have eaten her up to ask him for his help. But I know in my heart that she would have never willingly let you get sucked into the foster system, okay? Never."

Enzo didn't look at him, but Damon was pretty hopeful that his words had gotten through to him. He wasn't going to tell Enzo that, but he himself had wondered about the exact same thing, and this explanation he had found sounded like the only acceptable one, the only one making it somewhat more tolerable, and possible to keep the memory he had of his mother alive. She had been a good woman...

"Anyways. I am excited about this," Damon said, nudging Enzo's shoulder again. "We'll be legendary together. The three Salvatore brothers."

"Hate to break it to you, mate," Enzo replied dryly, "but I'm most definitely not a Salvatore."

"Lucky bastard," Damon growled, before both of them started chuckling, then grew silent again for a while.

"You know I've always loved you like a brother, anyway, right?"

"I can tell you had some of that bourbon, Damon…"

"Can a man not connect with his emotional side without the help of alcohol."

"The question, mate, is whether you can."

Damon frowned at him, pretend confused. "What are you talking about. I'm awesome at this. I carry my heart on my sleeve. I'm an open book "

"That's only because we know you too well."

Both of them startled, looking up to where the voice had come from. Stefan was leaning in the doorway, arms crossed, staring down at them both.

"Stefan. It's four in the morning. Shouldn't you be in bed?" Damon grinned up at him, acutely aware of how Enzo had averted his gaze, how Stefan gave him a sideways glance.

"I don't have to sit in court tomorrow, Damon, contrary to some other people." Stefan gave him a pointed stare, then grinned.

"Such a spoilsport." Damon rolled his eyes, an expression his brother reciprocated.

"So… what is this? Secret get together? Nerves before the big day?" Stefan slowly walked into the kitchen, then sat down on one of the bar stools as Damon shrugged at him.

"Freaking long day, is all."

"Long year," Enzo piped up, surprising both him and Stefan, and Damon gave him a pat on the shoulder.

"Want me to leave you guys to it?" Stefan pointed to the door, locking gazes with Damon, and honestly, he didn't know what to say to that. Part of him would have liked Stefan's company, but with the way he and Enzo always provoked each other, always danced around each other—"

"Stay." Enzo's quiet reply surprised him and Stefan alike, making them both raise their eyebrows. "We're all brothers here, right?" he continued, giving them both a half smile, and Damon could tell that Stefan hadn't expected that. Hell, he hadn't expected it either.

"Okay." Stefan nodded, running a hand through his hair. "Anyone want an early breakfast?"

"Aaah, yes! You reader of minds." Damon paused briefly, grinning when he went on. "Make sure you make enough for your girlfriend, too," he quipped, chuckling when he noticed the slightest bit of color shoot into Stefan's cheeks. He wondered how long it would be before Stefan admitted that his relationship with Elena had been going on for a while. But he wasn't going to put him on the spot. He knew that, just as usual, Stefan had wanted to protect his older brother, had been secretive so as not to hurt his feelings.

Maybe Damon could give him a hint soon, showing him it was really okay. That he didn't mind. That he was happy for them.

...

By the time breakfast was ready, he finally seized the opportunity and it all got out in the open.

When the food was finally done and the all sat down, Damon couldn't help it anymore and asked with a smirk, "So, Enzo. You starting to sleep in the kitchen back then... Be honest, was it because Stefan's bedroom is right next to yours and Elena was being too loud?"

As Stefan choked, and Enzo snorted, and a yawning Elena puzzled as she found them all eating a second helping of the hashbrowns Stefan had made, Damon broke into loud bright laughter, startling them all.

"What?" He asked innocently, biting into his potatoes, pleased with himself. Pleased to see them all happy, enjoying the moment as long as he could.


...

Dawn was finally in full swing, and the darkness of yesterday past them. But there was still today to deal with.

...


...

Eventually, when tomorrow had come, had turned into today, the trial proceeded - almost as if the day before had never happened. But it had, and they were all still affected by it, even if no one liked to admit it.

Rebekah sat in the stand with her eyes closed, licking her lips. When she opened them again, her eyes finding her brother, she tried to focus on him, and him alone. Kneading her hands where no one could see it, she took a deep breath and slowly exhaled, seeing Elijah's encouraging half smile…

The world whirled around, then stood still.

The attorney's voice lazily seeped through to her, almost as if she was underwater. "Did you see with your own eyes that Damon killed Casey?"

"Yes."

"Is it not true that he attacked Casey unprovoked?"

"Casey had just killed—"

"Let me rephrase: had Casey attacked or provoked Mr. Salvatore?"

She glared at the man angrily, huffing.

"Yes or no, Ms. Mikaelson." The attorney stared at her with stoic calm, making her curl her hands into fists. She didn't want to answer that question, but then she looked to Elijah again, who nodded, then to Damon, who did the same.

"No."

"No more questions…"

But Elijah had questions. She had been warned that he would. She was ready. Looking into his warm eyes, she tried to concentrate on what he asked, but it went by in a blur and she almost functioned on autopilot, not unlike how it had been down in the pit.

"Isn't it true that by the time Damon attacked Casey, Casey had just killed your friend Vicky and was going after Lorenzo?" Elijah pointed at poor uncomfortable looking Enzo, and Rebekah nodded.

"I need a yes or a no," her brother gently reminded her.

"Yes."

There were more questions, more answers. She got to tell him most everything she remembered. About Vicky, Damon, Enzo, Casey. He even made her tell the jury how she herself had killed Kol, how the life had seeped out of him. Until it was over, and she staggered off the stand toward her other brother, toward Klaus, who had been allowed to come up and get her because she had felt like her knees were going to give out.

She had said it all, however, and now her part in this trial was over. Over…

But the pit was not gone.


Bonnie seemed a little more put together, but deep down, she really wasn't. She had had to wait outside, but now she was allowed in - requested - and she felt her legs grow weak and her breath catch as she walked past the jury and up to the stand from where she could see Enzo, and Damon. Damon, who had kissed her just a little while ago. Ages, ages ago…

"Is it possible that Damon attacked Casey first?"

"Casey had just—"

"Yes or no, Ma'am."

"Yes."

"Did you hear Casey plead for his life?"

She closed her eyes briefly, not wanting to say it. "Yes."

...

"Isn't it true that Mazzy stopped moving after Lorenzo smacked her down the second time?"

"I'm not certain. I wasn't down in the pit then, I'm—"

"Yes or no, Ma'am."

"I. Don't. Know."

"Did you see the video?"

What kind of question was that? She glared at the man, biting out a "Yes." He was going to discredit everything she said, wasn't he? Because like everyone else in this damn room, she had heard Casey plead for his life, and she had seen Enzo smash Mazzy into the ground at least three or four times. They would not believe another word she said...

After that, she simply went through the motions, answering the state attorney's questions one by one. Elijah had prepared her well, which is why she didn't appear too upset, too frustrated, at least not on the surface. But deep down, she was beginning to seethe. And she couldn't look at either Damon or Enzo. Her poor friends. They didn't deserve this.

When it was Elijah's turn to ask, she tried to stay calm, tried not to seem like the crazy person she felt she was quickly becoming. He made her talk about the things she rather didn't want to talk about. Made her talk about how they had met up at the house, expecting a party, how she had felt a cloud of doom descend upon her when someone had announced that they were all going to play a game. How she had lost her boyfriend. Because the "rules" had stated that there couldn't be a suicide…

How Damon had come up with a plan to get them out, which had resulted in four of them surviving, not just three. How they had still had to fight their way out so they could be free again.

When she was done, she was so drained that she was sure she could have just laid down right there and then and slept the sleep of the exhausted.

But of course she couldn't sleep now. She had to wait and hear, had to be there for Damon, for her friends.

With Grams on her left side, she took a seat behind Damon, who smiled at her briefly, so sadly, while Enzo merely stared down, like he wasn't there.

Caroline on her right side heaved in a sigh, and Bonnie felt bad for not being able to be there for her friend now, her friend who was just as anxious as Bonnie about this whole thing, both of them worrying about their boyfriends.

"It's going to be okay, girls," Sheila muttered, and Bonnie grabbed her hand, holding it tightly, gratefully.

She hoped Grams was right. She really did.


They made Damon and Enzo relive the whole thing, too. Lexi's death, Vicky's. Elijah needed the details because they had to paint a picture of the hopeless situation down in that pit. The pure survival mode the four had been in. Everyone down there had been in. Exceptional circumstances, as he called it.

"Why did you not stop after she was unresponsive?" Elijah asked a pale Enzo and he didn't quite look at anyone when he finally admitted, "I panicked. I had to stop her from killing Vicky. I didn't know how. I couldn't even see straight, and…"

"Because you were hit over the head" Elijah asked, just to use the chance to remind the jury, and Enzo nodded briefly, biting out a "Yes" when Elijah reminded him he needed a verbal response.

"Wouldn't her being unresponsive have been enough to keep Vicky safe?" He had to ask that question, he had prepared Enzo, and yet he could see in the man's eyes that he had kind of forgotten everything. "Mr. St. John?"

He swallowed. Very quietly, almost detached, he eventually replied. "I had to make sure she would stay down."

"Stay down?"

Enzo glared at him as if this was personal. But Elijah was only doing his job.

"Because Casey was trying to kill Lexi, and I couldn't be in two places at once. I thought I could save Vicky's and Lexi's lives if I just got..." He closed his eyes briefly. "If I got Mazzy to stay down for good."

"For good?"

"If I killed her." Enzo's expression changed into a haunted, a pained mask, a sad half-smile, tears threatening to fall. "I thought if I killed her, Vicky would stay safe and I could save Lexi." He scoffed softly. "But they both died anyways. It was all for nothing."

Elijah felt a lump in his throat. He couldn't help but think of his little brother, his sister, the decisions they had had to make...

But this was not over yet, and he needed to focus.


...

Lexi's death was next, and Stefan had to close his eyes like he had done every time one of the four had talked about how she had died. He had thought Enzo's first outburst about it had been harsh and horrible, but this… this made him leave the room. Because it was too much. No one should have had to hear this again and again, but certainly not Stefan.

When he rushed out, he was trying to keep it together, trying not to draw too much attention to himself, but once he closed the heavy door behind him, he was almost hyperventilating.

Bending over, he tried to take deep breaths, in and out, wishing now that he hadn't told Elena to stay away. But he hadn't wanted her to go through this, to hear more disturbing details about the time their loved ones had spent in that pit.

It was enough that he had to be there for this. But he had to be there for his brother, had to be strong for Damon, right? (And yet again he was awfully failing...)

There was a light clicking sound behind him, and he turned around, feeling caught.

"Hey…" Caroline was slowly walking toward him, a concerned, apprehensive look on her face.

Awesome, he thought. They had pretty much mostly avoided each other ever since the breakup. (since the pit, because if it hadn't been for that, he would have probably tried to clear the air, would have tried to stay friends or, who knows, maybe even made up with her. But then… yeah, that hadn't happened, and now she was with Enzo.)

And she was here to witness him break down over Lexi yet again, like she had witnessed him losing it at the hospital all those months back.

Turning slightly away from her, raising an arm as if to try and keep her away (like you could ever keep Caroline Forbes away when she was determined…), he tried to pull himself together, tried to take those damn even breaths.

That she was here probably meant that at least Enzo was done with his account of Lexi's gruesome end, otherwise Care wouldn't have left, would have remained the friendly face in the crowd for him. And for the first time Stefan could actually see how that was a good thing. Maybe knowing that Enzo was his half-brother had changed something in him, or maybe it had finally caught up with his emotional side completely that blaming Enzo for everything that went wrong in his life was actually unfair and irrational, and only hurt himself rather than help him deal with it. He didn't know and didn't care, he was just glad he didn't begrudge the guy his little bit of happiness, even if that happiness included Stefan's own ex-girlfriend.

"Stefan," Caroline addressed him, her voice a mere whisper, and he finally turned around to face her now. "I just wanted to make sure you're… how you're doing. I know this must be hard for you, too…"

He raised an eyebrow, grinning without amusement. Somehow, he was surprised that anyone (other than Elena who had seen him at his worst), especially Caroline, had realized that he was affected by all this too.

"I'm fine. Just needed some air," he was quick to assure her, and she nodded, hovering close to the door, making him smile for real this time. It must have battled within her. Going out to check on him versus staying to be close to Enzo. "You can go back in to be with him," he said, "I'm really okay. I promise."

She licked her lips, tilting her head more shyly than he remembered ever having seen her. "Are you sure? I mean… having to hear that… I'm so sorry. If you… I know you have Elena, but I just want you to know that despite what happened between us, I'm still here for you, too, okay? Because I know you, and I know you've been holding back on putting this on Damon, and probably even with Elena. Because you don't want to burden them on top of what they're going through."

"Caroline…"

She knew him too well.

Shaking her head, she continued despite his silent plea not to. "It's who you are. But you need someone, too. Don't bottle it up or it'll come back to haunt you."

He had a feeling she was referring to Enzo's and Damon's not very successful approaches at tackling their traumatic experiences.

"I'll be fine. It was just… a bit much hearing it again. I'm… I'm fine now. You should really go back inside before he misses you…" He pointed to the door, watching her shoulders slump. "I'll be right in, too."

"Okay. If you're sure…"

"I really hurt you, didn't I?" he suddenly burst out in a strange but urgent non-sequitur, as if something inside of him had realized this was his one, his last chance to bring it up, to make up with her. Her non-reply was answer enoug, and he scoffed. "I'm sorry, I really am. I wish I had handled that better."

"It's okay," she allowed, sounding tired. He figured she had had a lot of time to stew in it, and he felt awful for that, too.

"You know I just did it to make it easier for you, for us. But I completely messed it up, didn't I? I thought I was setting you free. Like this was some grand gesture, but all I did was break your heart. Wasn't it?"

A smile appeared on her face, sad, but definitely a smile. "You were a bit of a douchebag," she allowed, and he had to chuckle.

"That's putting it mildly. I probably sounded like I was ready to bang all the girls in college without having to feel guilty about it."

"Is that why you did it?"

He frowned, shocked when he realized that she must have really wondered that at some point. Thought it. Did she still? "What?! No, oh gosh, Caroline. That was never my intention. Oh man." He shook his head. "I really screwed this up, didn't I? How are you even still talking to me?"

"Because I'm awesome?" She gave him a smile with her question, which he gladly reciprocated.

"That you are. I'm really sorry, Care. All I ever wanted was for you to be happy, for you to enjoy college without feeling bogged down by me and my difficult family." He chuckled at a sudden realization. "And now you're still very much a part of this family, aren't you? You and Enzo…"

She flushed, looking away, almost as if she was expecting him to say something… hurtful?

"I was jealous of him even back then," he admitted, unsure why he was being so candid with her, and now of all times. Maybe he was trying to distract himself from picturing Lexi's open skull, the look that must have been in her eyes, Enzo's desperation, the feel of her brain under the guy's fingertips…

"Stefan?"

He shook his head, noticing Caroline look at him with sudden concern. His renewed queasiness must have shown on his face, but he tried to smile through it. "I'm sorry. Care…"

"You know you had no reason to be jealous, right? He was just teasing you."

"It's what he does. Can't even blame him, if I'm being honest, I'm an easy target."

"Stefan. I loved you, in a way I probably still do even now, but… you need to stop blaming everything on him. Back then? You should have focused on me. On my reaction. I never led him on, we were just bantering, but I was always with you. You didn't look there, though, did you? You were never even worried about me, because all you saw was him and what he did, how he looked at me, at you. What he did or didn't say, and instead of being there with me, you tried so hard to distance yourself from him, tried so hard not to let it bother you that you came across as not caring about me at all."

The truth hurt, but it was the truth. He could see it. At some point during their relationship, he had stopped focusing on Caroline, and had let his own resentment ruin his relationship with her. Had he maybe just broken up with her because part of him couldn't stand how relaxed Enzo had been with her? How the guy could even make Stefan's girlfriend happier than he himself could?

And now those two were together. He scoffed softly, feeling like a complete idiot.

"You're right. I was awful to you."

"You kinda were…" She looked at him mildly. "It's in the past now, Stefan. If you're willing to give it a chance, I'd be happy to stay your friend, but I could understand if that's not really a possibility with the way things are."

"No. I'm… I'd like that."

"Okay." She smiled, taking a deep breath. "You sure I can leave you here now?"

"Actually, I'll just go back in with you now, if you don't mind…"

She took his hand and squeezed it briefly as she nodded, then she quietly opened the door.

Because while they had finally gotten a bit of closure for their failed relationship, while they had finally talked, the trial had continued, and there were people in there that needed them now, needed them more than ever, and he was going to be there for them. For both of them. All of them...


...

When it came to Casey, Damon was ready to revert to old coping mechanisms, wanted to use snark and quip at everything he was asked, but he knew he couldn't. He stared straight at Enzo when he told them all, "Casey hit Vicky in the face with that axe, just straight between the eyes. Her nose was gone. There was blood, everywhere, and she… just fell away and against Enzo and then…"

"What happened then, Damon?" Elijah gently cajoled and Damon realized he must have been zoning out, was still being dragged back into that pit. When he looked up, he saw Bonnie sitting not too far, and he tried focusing on her, her hair, her lips, her eyes, when he continued.

"He went straight for Enzo. Got his arm, right here," he indicated it on his own, but it wasn't necessary, the jury had already seen the pictures, just like they had seen pictures of the marks on Bonnie's body (Damon couldn't think about that, he had felt that same seething anger and hatred and revulsion when he had seen them, had had to tear his eyes away from those pictures to keep it together…), the hole in Damon's back, the ripped open abdomen. That poor jury would surely have a few sleepless nights of their own, he was dead certain about that…

Damon looked at them now when he soberly said. "Enzo was down on the ground, and Casey went after him again."

There was a pause before Elijah stepped closer to him, asking his next question. "Is it true that Lorenzo is like a brother to you, Damon? That, in fact, he was just confirmed to be your maternal half-brother?"

"Objection—"

Elijah raised an arm appeasingly, immediately explaining. "I am trying to highlight how strong their bond is."

"Do it quickly, then, Mr. Mikaelson…" The judge shot him a look, eyebrows raised, and Elijah nodded a thanks.

"Damon? Would you say Lorenzo is like a brother to you?"

"Yes."

"And is it true that you felt like Casey was going to kill that brother of yours next?"

"I had seen him fucking slaughter Lexi—"

"Mr. Salvatore," Elijah tried to calm him, but he wasn't having any of it. He couldn't stop. So he just spoke over him.

"And then Vicky, so yes! I was fucking terrified he would just up and split him in half, too!" Damon clenched his jaw, breathing way too fast, his hands fists in his lap. He didn't want to remember that moment. That zap of absolute panic, that feeling of being completely out of control. And then Casey. Casey swinging, Casey falling to the ground, Casey begging, Casey lifeless…

"Damon."

Looking up, he realized Elijah must have asked another question. "I'm sorry, what?"

"Did you hear Casey plead for his life?"

"Yes."

"But you didn't stop."

"I couldn't fucking stop, okay?" he blurted out, unable to control himself. "Did you not hear what I said? He had slaughtered two of my friends already, and he was going for the third. I wish I could have fucking stopped. I didn't want to kill anyone. But that guy was out of control, and I couldn't let him go after Enzo, he wouldn't have been able to defend himself with that arm, and then Casey would have gone after one of the girls next! You don't understand what it was like! These people were crazy! They would have killed us all; we were all freaking terrified, okay? Is that what you want to hear? That we were afraid for our lives, that we did things we shouldn't have done and shouldn't have had to do, because we were panicking?! Is that it? Then okay! We didn't things we shouldn't have done! - I mean, is it so hard to understand that we didn't want to die?" Damon felt bile rise in his throat. What this did to him, having to talk about it all, having to relive it, it was awful. He felt trapped, as on edge as back in that damn pit.

"No." The small word pulled him back. Turning to look at Elijah, Damon held the other man's gaze.

It hadn't been anything other than a rhetorical question of course, but Elijah's firm and sympathetic reply reverberated through the room anyways, finally making Damon stop. Pressing his lips together, he let husband gaze wander, searching until he found Bonnie, Bonnie, who always understood.

He felt so drained after his awkward outburst, and like he couldn't possibly look anyone else in the eyes, but she was there, and she understood, didn't judge him, didn't think he was weak or screwed up or a monster. So if these twelve people thought he was, it didn't matter, all that mattered was her.


But they didn't think he was a monster. Almost all of these twelve people had sat through everything, had listened to the different accounts, and had been shocked, disturbed, pained to see and hear that there was this kind of evil in the world.

The evil that forced young people like these to fight against each other, to feel that kind of panic and fear, that kind of a sense of existentialism that you'd normally only find elsewhere. During war perhaps... Not here, not so close to home, in a small town like Mystic Falls.

But of course evil was everywhere. Would always be, and it was their task to make sure the right kind of people paid for what had happened.

A few of them couldn't quite get past just how violently Mazzy and Casey had died. How awful that video had been. A few simply couldn't understand why they didn't stop earlier.

The majority, however, pictured themselves or their loved ones in a similar situation, the feeling of intense horror making it all way too easily understandable.

Besides, these poor kids had clearly looked haunted, traumatized, violated. And having to live with the horrors they had had to endure would be more than anyone should have to suffer through.

So, in the end, they proclaimed their verdict, with heads held high, standing behind it completely.

"Not guilty. On all counts."

Might this give them at least a little bit of peace…


They walked out of the courthouse tired but relieved, Damon holding Bonnie pressed against his side, placing a kiss on her temple, Enzo interlinking hands with Caroline, kissing her softly on the lips before they all followed Elijah, Klaus and Rebekah down the stairs.

Their trial was over. The Beast and the surfer were going to have to face a trial of their own, Michael Reid and Jacob Sykes…

But there was still a large white patch on their map, they still didn't know who had been behind it all, and maybe they never would. Bonnie didn't know what to think about that, whether to be scared or upset or…

No. She was not going to be scared, she wasn't going to be upset or weighed down by this. She would try and be hopeful that one day, they would find the people. She would be grateful that, in the meantime, Beast and Sykes would get very high prison sentences and would forever rot in their own personal hells.

And she, she was going to get to know Damon Salvatore a little better now. She was going to live her life, and get it back on track. Go to college, keep up with her therapist appointments, watch Grams' favorite Australian soap opera with her, have girls nights with Caroline, maybe take a cooking class so she could compete with Damon's bourbon glazed ribs. And most of all, she was going to be happy. She was going to celebrate the end of the trial with her friends. Maybe give it a month or two, or maybe even three to let it all settle, but then she was going to celebrate with them, Damon, Enzo, Rebekah, and everyone else. She was going to cherish this life that Jeremy had wanted her to live, that he had given her, and there would always be a corner in her heart where he, too, would live on.

Now, though, now she was going to have a small celebration with just Damon Salvatore, because some things simply couldn't wait.



...

And then one day, the moment came when Joshua Parker, famous American diplomat, ready to leave the country to go to his next posting in Germany, was stopped at the airport, and taken into custody, after he failed to have an explanation for the large sum of snuff videos that had been found in his possession.

Yelling for his lawyers, cursing and pointing out his diplomatic status, he was put into the back of a police van, a smug looking Agent Stinson giving Elizabeth Forbes a quick call.

"Got him," he said, and she smiled, clutching her desk for support as she slowly sank down into her chair, nodding.

"Thank you," she breathed, just that, and then she hung up. Giving herself a few minutes before she informed the four, and then, after that, she went over to the prison to visit one of the new inmates.

Logan Fell looked at her out of dark rimmed tired eyes. "I was good on my word, wasn't I?" he asked, referring to the tip he had given her after they had found him a month ago, living a wild life on the run, a life he had always known he wouldn't be able to keep up. "Will you be good on yours?"

Nodding, she pressed her lips together. She hated this part, but she was going to honor the deal they had made. Immunity for him, because he had helped them bring Parker down, the true mastermind behind it all. Logan really had only been a small fish in the pond. But he had killed Guiseppe Salvatore, too…

She sighed. She couldn't always catch all the bad guys. But at least she had finally caught the biggest one…

Chapter Text

...

[~ fifteen years later]

"She's beautiful, Care!" Bonnie's eyes welled up as she held the baby. Lizzie was cooing in her arms, reaching with her little arms to grab Bonnie's curls.

"I don't know how you do it," Caroline said with a tired sounding sigh. "I'm already so exhausted with one, and you have two!"

Bonnie chuckled. "You get used to almost anything."

Caroline raised her eyebrows. "Gosh, I don't know. This is way more difficult than I thought. Lizzie screamed for pretty much the entirety of the drive. I could really use a drink right about now."

Chuckling, Bonnie handed the baby back over to her best friend. She knew exactly what Caroline was craving. And it wasn't alcohol, it was a plan. "Babies have their own schedules," she said, smiling sympathetically. "They don't care about logistics."

"Ugh. I know!" Caroline rolled her eyes, then looked down at her baby. "You take after your dad, baby girl. He also sucks at keeping a schedule."

"Hello, ladies." They turned around to see Enzo standing in the doorway, watching them with a smirk, arms crossed in front of him.

"You didn't hear that, did you?" Caroline looked over to him, an innocent smile on her features and he chuckled in reply, starting to slowly walk toward them.

When he reached the couch they sat on, Bonnie got up, smiling at him as he took a few steps over to Caroline, bending down to take their baby from her.

"Where's the gang?" she asked him and he looked at her with a smile that made her almost tear up because it was so open, so genuine, and had been rare for so long.

"Uncle Damon, Lucy and Rudy said they'll take me and Elizabeth out to the playground," he eventually replied, "That way you girls can have some time alone." He was still smiling, and Bonnie saw Caroline beam back at him, watching as he expertly took the baby from her, the little arms grabbing at his shirt instantly, the cheeks rising up as Lizzie smiled at her dad.

"See you later, ladies." With that, Enzo swiftly went on his way, leaving them in the quiet of the large living room.

As an afterthought, knowing her crazy littlest kid, who took too much after his father, Bonnie suddenly yelled after him, "Tell Damon to make sure Rudy keeps his beanie on! It's too cold out there!"

But she was loud enough for Damon to hear her and his reply was almost instant. "How could I ever forget?! I got this babe! - You girls do your thing! See you in a couple hours! Love you, BonBon! You too, Care Bear, but yelling that is a little awkward with your husband standing right next to me!"

The girls exchanged a glance, breaking into a laugh.

"We love you both!" They yelled back, then, when they finally heard the door fall shut behind the men and kids, leaving only silence behind, they looked at each other, Bonnie once again heavily slumping down on the couch next to her best friend.

"Isn't he cute with her?" Caroline looked to Bonnie as if she needed her confirmation, as if she was almost not quite sure whether it was just in her head. Bonnie had to smile.

"He really is." Putting her legs up on the coffee table, she let her head sink against the cushions. "But as cute as our dear husbands are, I'm kinda really glad they'll be gone for a bit."

Caroline chuckled, giving Bonnie a sideways hug. With a sigh and a half-frown, she eventually admitted, "I miss you too much, Bon. I miss Mystic Falls too."

"You could come back…" Bonnie knew it was a bit of a difficult topic. That Caroline had mostly left town because of Enzo wasn't a secret. But then she had made a career for herself and now work was easier to get in the big city. New York for now, but maybe LA or even Vancouver next, because that's where her show was shot and that show was getting stellar reviews. She could make it big. Really big. But Bonnie knew that even that didn't matter when the rest wasn't how it should be, when the heart wasn't quite in it. And she could tell that something was amiss, that her best friend wasn't as happy as she should be.

She had known her best friend for so long, it was easy to read her. Back when they had first met, Bonnie the new girl at school, Caroline the slightly intimidating girl who had it all together, who was captain of the cheerleaders, Bonnie had wondered whether she'd ever feel at home in this town, with these too perfect people, but then Caroline had been the one to take her by the hand and show her around - and also show her what lay behind that perfect facade. And Bonnie had felt better instantly, had soon really felt at home.

So she knew what Caroline was dealing with now, because it was the same reason why she and Damon had eventually stayed in their hometown, in perfect little Mystic Falls with all its dark pasts and scary secrets, after a long and hard debate on whether they really wanted to raise their child - or their children - there. In the town where they had lost so much, had suffered so horribly.

It hadn't been an easy decision. They had tried living with Caroline and Enzo for a bit to see how they'd like the big city, the freedom of the world. But when Bonnie had seen how tough it had been on Damon to be away from Stefan and the boarding house, when she herself had felt overwhelmed with the sheer size of New York, she had known that despite everything, their hearts were still in their stupid hometown. They had debated, weighed the pros and cons, and had ended up back in Mystic Falls after all.

And eventually, they had made so many new memories, good memories that the dark ones had started to be pushed back, then fade, until they didn't seem to matter so much anymore in the grand scheme of things.

Damon had his job at their finally established restaurant. Soon, Lucy would go to school here. Rudy was friends with both Matt's and Tyler's youngest, and it felt like there was a new rugrat Mystic Falls Gang in the making.

Almost all their closest friends still lived here, their families, too (not that they had large families, there was her Grams, and there was Stefan…), and if it weren't for Caroline and Enzo living so far away, this could be the happiest place for them to be.

Because she was happy here, she really was, and so was Damon. Besides, the past would always be a part of them anyways, no matter how far away they went. Nothing would change that. But they were getting better and better at dealing with it.

"Actually…" Caroline suddenly said to Bonnie, jolting her back out of her thoughts, giving her a slightly apprehensive look. Or was that a flicker of excitement? "We're debating coming back."

Bonnie's eyes widened, a huge smile appearing on her face. "What?! Really? Oh my gosh that'd be so amazing! You mean, coming back here?"

"Well," Caroline injected, "not back-back. I don't think I could get Enzo to ever move back to Mystic Falls again. But one of the neighboring towns…"

Bonnie tried not to get too excited but was failing. Gripping Caroline's hands, she grinned widely. "So you really talked about it? What did he say? Is he being super stubborn as usual? Should we tell Damon to talk some sense into him? I know Damon is going half crazy with his bestie so far away."

Caroline smiled, shaking her head a little. "Enzo's the same. I think that's the reason why he isn't so opposed to the idea anymore. He misses Damon too much." She chuckled mildly, fondly. "He's been really looking forward to coming out for this Thanksgiving trip. We're actually going to stay at my mom's until after Christmas."

"I thought she and Elijah were going to celebrate in New Orleans."

"Not this year." Caroline grinned. "You better prepare yourself, Bonnie. The whole Mikaelson clan will be in town for the holidays."

Bonnie chuckled, shaking her head. "Well… That'll be an exciting few weeks then. I knew Rebekah is coming. She'll be celebrating with us at the boarding house. She said we'll finally get to meet the mysterious Marcel…" Bonnie raised her eyebrows, wiggling them, making Caroline laugh.

"He's not all that mysterious," the blonde said, laughing at Bonnie's disappointed expression.

"You've met him? How have you met him?" She pouted as Caroline nudged her side a little.

"He's really handsome, though," she explained as if that made up for the lack of mystery. Bonnie figured she could live with handsome, too.

"Alright. Accepted. - Still, I'm curious: when did you get a chance to meet him, when I haven't even seen you in a few months."

Caroline looked at her slightly guiltily. "We may have visited them in New Orleans last month? Enzo was working on this short and—"

Bonnie raised a hand, laughing. "You don't have to explain, Care. It's fine. I'm happy you got to see them. I know she and Enzo are close. And I mean, they're family now." She winked, making Caroline put her hands in front of her face.

"Still can't believe my mom and Elijah finally tied the knot. She was so apprehensive all the time. Didn't want to tie down such a young man, and all that."

Bonnie chuckled. Sometimes it was hard picturing Liz Forbes married to a Mikaelson. But somehow they had made it work. Just like all of them.

Bonnie and Damon.

Caroline and Enzo.

Stefan and Elena, who had struggled there for a bit - but hadn't they all?

Matt and Penny.

Liz and Elijah.

Tyler and his wife of two years, Haley.

She hoped Rebekah had finally found the right one in Marcel, too.

And Klaus, well... Klaus had his daughter.

There was happiness in all their lives, so much more than she could have hoped for after the pit. It had all worked out somehow. She was still sometimes afraid that she was ruining her kids, her five year old daughter especially, because Lucy was finally old enough to want to roam free, old enough, too, to have picked up on the fact that Bonnie wasn't going out all that much, preferred to stay home in the safety of their house.

But she was working on it. She always would be.

And maybe one day, she would go out more again, would maybe even see the world.

Until then, she was happy here with Damon, her children, her friends, the occasional trip to the grocery store or coffee shop, the rare visit to Caroline and Enzo all she really needed to be happy.


Thanksgiving came and went. As usual, Caroline had done all the planning, helped by Bonnie, the guys were on child entertainment duty, Damon and Enzo were not allowed to do dishes (an unspoken agreement for the last ten years) or even so much as step a foot into the kitchen, really, and when dinner was over, everyone had to go on a nice long walk, enjoying the fresh air and each other's company.

It was a low key affair, a quite uneventful day, nothing exciting, which was amazing, though probably weird for someone like Rebekah's handsome boyfriend, who wasn't really used to a small town like Mystic Falls, and this motley group of strange friends. But he was a trooper.

Damon still worried about them all sometimes, he couldn't help it. But seeing Kol's sister doing so well, so much more collected again, so strong, so happy had made him realize that maybe, after fifteen years, he could stop worrying about her. This man by her side was a big part of the fact that she finally seemed able to settle down again, to stay in one place for longer than just a couple months here and there, and that was the biggest giveaway that she was finally past the shallows and back on solid ground.

Maybe that meant he could finally persuade himself that he hadn't screwed this up, hadn't broken his promise to Kol. That he had gotten her out.

Because she was here now, wasn't she? Just like they all were.

Bonnie, all smiles as she was talking with Sheila, Liz and Caroline, Stefan laughing outside, where he was shooting some hoops with Tyler, Matt, Klaus, and the kids, Elena chatting with Elijah, probably about some work related stuff, and Enzo, his best friend, his half-brother, sitting across from him now with a frown on his face.

"Since when are you the brooding one?"

Damon looked at him, his mouth curling upward in a wide grin before he scoffed. "What?!"

"You, those creases on your brow." Enzo pointed a finger, raising his chin slightly challengingly as he sat back in his chair. "The way you sit here all by yourself, and keep staring at everyone."

Damon raised his eyebrows. "I'm not staring. Besides. I could ask you the same. You're sitting here with me after all…"

"I just put my daughter to sleep. And talked with Sheila for half an hour about that Australian show she's been watching for decades. She told me my accent always reminds her of it and I kindly explained that Australian doesn't sound anywhere near what I sound like…" Enzo rolled his eyes, making Damon laugh from the heart.

He could just envision it now and was almost sad that he hadn't been there to follow that conversation.

"Sheila's a gem, isn't she?"

Enzo nodded, still looking at Damon with a weird expression, though, making him sigh.

"I'm okay, Lorenzo. I promise," he allowed, "You can go and join in the fun again. I'll just sit here for a moment longer and—"

"You're not wondering again whether you have failed us in any way, are you? Because, mate, you haven't. Bonnie doesn't think so, Rebekah doesn't think so, you know that I don't. And Kol and Jeremy wouldn't think so either."

Damon rolled his eyes. Since when did Enzo know him so well that he could read all of his damn thoughts? Oh, right. Since pretty much forever.

He remembered how he had first met him, this sad skinny boy with the too dark eyes and too dark hair, clothes dirty and torn, sitting on a wall looking gloomy and alone. Like an easy target...

Then he had found out that kid had bruises mirroring his own, something he had only found out about because he had kicked that kid, hard, wanting, needing an outlet for all the pent up anger he had felt after his own abuse by Guiseppe had caught up with him once again, had made him angry and ready to explode. His father had hurt him so badly that he could barely sit, or walk, or ride his bike, making him the target of ridicule among his ignorant classmates.

This dark and dirty kid, however, who had appeared out of nowhere, apparently new in the not so nice neighborhood close to school and far away from where the Salvatores lived, this kid had not backed down, had even fought back - until he had seen the red mass that was Damon's back when they had both lain entangled on the ground.

Damon had jolted away as soon as the kid had seen it, had glared at him, had threatened him. "I'll kill you if you tell anyone!"

But then the kid had just shaken his head and stared at him, wordlessly showing his own back, his arms. Full of bruises, old, new, some so large and raw that Damon's eyes had widened, unable to comprehend how someone could really have it worse than he did.

Hadn't Guiseppe Salvatore been the worst father? Hadn't his and Stefan's childhood been the biggest lie?

The kid had apologized afterward, had asked him whether he was okay. He had even offered Damon a piece of his sad excuse of a lunch - just a stale bread with some cheap slice of cheese, and the way he had clearly been starved for someone else's company, had moved something in Damon, had made him stay and sit with this kid, allowing his tears to just flow without fear of getting laughed at again, and when one of those filthy arms had come around his neck, consoling him, he had bitten down the harsh "Don't touch me, you disgusting piece of shit" and opted for silence instead. For friendship.

"If you need a place to stay, I'll smuggle you into the place I'm staying at," the kid had said much later, when Damon had composed himself a bit again, only sniffling a bit still, and he had smiled and shaken his head.

"I think your home is even worse than mine," Damon had stated soberly, making the kid laugh out loud before he had replied, "It's not a home."

Why Damon had later asked the boy to come home with him, why the kid had even said yes, or why he had stayed over even after the first time Guiseppe also raised a hand against him, Damon hadn't even quite understood until much later.

Maybe he hadn't even quite understood it until the pit. When he had felt that same panic, that urge to be there for someone else, to protect his best friend and the girls with whatever means necessary, and no matter the costs to his own safety.

"Damon."

He looked up, slightly startled, then smiled. "We've come a long way, haven't we?" He asked, clearly a bit too cryptically for poor Enzo, who shot him the weirdest glance.

"You're worrying me, mate. Are you sure you're okay?"

"I'm fine, Enzo. Just a little Thanksgivinged out, perhaps. So much to be thankful for lately. My gorgeous wife, my beautiful kids. Restaurant's doing amazing. Stefan and Elena are back together, Rebekah seems happy, and you and Caroline will be moving back here."

"That last one isn't—"

"Aw, shut up, Lorenzo, that last one is most definitely gonna happen. I know it, Bonnie knows it, Caroline knows it, you're outnumbered and outruled, my friend. Better get used to it now." He chuckled as Enzo rolled his eyes, his features turning into a reluctant smile.

"I assume I don't get a vote."

"You assume right." Damon stood up, patting the other man's shoulder, as he, too, got up, facing him with a sigh. Suddenly, Damon sobered, the atmosphere changing momentarily as he gripped his friend by the neck, looking straight at him.

"In all seriousness, though, if you don't think you can do this, then don't."

"Damon…"

He shook his head. "It's okay. I know this town is not exactly your favorite place to be. Caroline understands that too. You know that. And just in case your stupid stubborn head gets in your way again: she will not leave you over Mystic freaking Falls. Okay? So, if you'd rather remain an Englishman in New York, then do that. You'll just have to live with me and Bon visiting you guys a little more often."

"Liz gave us the house."

His eyebrows shot upward at the sudden confession. "What? When did that happen?"

"Just a few days ago." Enzo made a face, and Damon wasn't entirely sure whether his best friend was happy about it or ready to balk.

"I thought you had told her that whatever you'll end up doing it would not be moving to Mystic Falls directly."

Enzo swallowed, looking a little uneasy. "Yeah, well. I said I'd try it." Then, very reluctantly, very quietly he admitted. "I might need some..." He trailed off, grimacing, averting his gaze a little as Damon squinted at him, a smile wanting to creep into his features. Then, almost as just a breath, Enzo eventually continued, "I might need some help...?"

Beaming from one ear to the other, Damon pulled his best friend in for a hug. "Of course," he muttered, clutching Enzo a little too forcefully, but he couldn't stop himself.

If Enzo had finally learned to ask for help, he knew they were all going to be okay. No, that they were okay.

Out loud he added, "Whatever you need, my man. I'll even keep your spot in the kitchen free for you. If you don't mind being woken up by a toddler demanding pancakes at 5:30 in the morning."

They both chuckled, eventually letting go of each other as they heard their wives coming closer.

"What's going on over here?" Bonnie asked, grinning, snaking an arm around Damon's waist as Caroline kissed Enzo's cheek.

"Just some important guy stuff," Damon explained, pulling Bonnie off her feet for a second to kiss her.

"Hey!" She chuckled. Then, when Damon was done, he turned to face their friends again.

"What do you guys think: should we sneak off for a bit, let uncle Stefan watch the kids while we all get a hot chocolate downtown?"

"Hot chocolate?" Caroline asked, overlapping with Bonnie's slightly suspicious, "On Thanksgiving?"

"Yes on Thanksgiving. And yes hot chocolate."

"You guys sure you're alright?" Bonnie squinted from one man to the other, earning herself smirks, then she shrugged at Caroline, smiling mildly.

"Hell yes, we are," Damon assured her, "And now I'm ready to celebrate the return of Care Bear and her man to the grand town of Mystic Falls. Come on, let's go."

And they did.

This, then, was their happiness.