Prologue: Home, Sweet Home
Bonnie promised herself that this was just a temporary trip back. Flipping the sun-visor down, she veered her father’s old station wagon off to the left, merging onto Highway 238, and breathed a slow exhale. Mystic Falls – 7 Miles, a sign said. It had been years, but the sight was achingly familiar and she wondered about the small surge of home-sickness that mingled in with her apprehension. No matter the level of horrors and disasters that had befallen her in this place, it was and always would be her hometown.
Six years away hadn’t taken that away, as much as Bonnie had tried to put her teenage years behind her.
Bonnie recited yet again a small mantra that had been playing over and over again in her head. She was just here for a brief period; she wouldn’t stay long; she wouldn’t get drawn into the latest drama or emergency that had befallen her old friends. She’d help – however she could – but as soon as she could, she’d leave. It was best for everyone. It was best for her.
After a brief pause, Bonnie gave a mirthless laugh. Damn it. She wasn’t even convincing herself with her promises. After all, it had taken just one missed phone call and resulting voicemail message from Elena – just one, where she’d heard tears in her friend’s voice – and here Bonnie was, rushing back like she’d never made the decision to leave in the first place.
But it was Elena, and no matter the years and the distance, Elena was the closest thing she had left in the world to family. There was no one else left.
Bonnie just hoped she wasn’t too late.
She saw her exit, and quickly pulled the car off the highway. The truck rolled onto uneven pavement for a brief period before she hit the hard smooth asphalt that led to the Salvatore driveway. Another minute later when she was ringing the doorbell, no one answered. Seven hours rushing here, no stops, not even bathroom breaks – and there was no one to greet her. Bonnie kept her agitation reigned in, but the fear – oh, the fear quickly creeped in so easily.
“Bonnie, something’s happened,” Elena had sobbed desperately in her message. “It’s Damon and Jeremy. We need your help. Just please, call me as soon as you get this. It’s important. As soon as you get this.”
But Elena had never answered her phone, and now there was no one answering the door.
Bonnie waved a hand and the door flew open. She entered without hesitation, finding the interior of the house dark and empty despite the early evening hours. The sunlight barely penetrated the inner sanctum of the Salvatore mansion; Bonnie wondered if that had been purposeful. There was a draft somewhere that sent a shiver up her spine; she was wearing a black skirt, heavy makeup and her hair had been done in hot-iron-induced waves. Before she’d gotten the call from Elena, Bonnie had been on her way to a party. Now, she felt strangely dressed, wearing attire more appropriate for clubbing than one suitable for anything supernatural.
She wandered through the long hallway, calling out – only silence greeted her. When she came to the main room, she stopped short in surprise.
The sidewall that was covered from the floor to the ceiling with books looked like someone had tossed a tornado its way. The place was disastrous – books shredded, torn and loose pages everywhere, entire bookshelves broken and fallen to heaps on the floor. The rest of the room remained untouched. Only the library had suffered. Someone had gotten angry, and decided the written word was their enemy. Bonnie didn’t know what that meant, but it couldn’t have been good.
She pulled her cell free and dialed Elena again. Again, she received the voicemail. This was followed by a series of other calls – to Stefan, Jeremy, Caroline, and Tyler. Lastly, she tried Damon. Nothing. Not a single one of them answered. Bonnie tried not to panic.
What the hell was going on?
Her second stop was to The Grill, which – thank God – she finally found someone. Matt was behind the counter, preparing for the evening by setting up the bar and cleaning glasses. He looked up when she entered, and surprise bloomed on his face.
“Bonnie? Whoa, what are you doing here?”
Bonnie flashed a brief smile before stepping up to the bar, placing her hands against the edge of the counter. Her fingers dug into the countertop. “I just got into town.” She looked around, then dropped her voice into a conspiratory whisper. “I got a strange call from Elena, actually. Something about Damon and Jeremy? It didn’t sound good.”
Matt’s face closed off. “Look, I wish I could help, but I really don’t know. I don’t… I saw them the other day, and everything look cool.”
Matt shrugged. “Two days ago? Maybe three?”
Bonnie sighed. Two or three days was more than enough time for the shit to hit the fan, and she knew better than to assume Matt was in-the-know about anything that had gone down in the supernatural world.
She tapped her finger against the countertop. “If you see anyone? Just – tell ‘em I’m in town and looking?”
“Caroline should be coming in for her evening shift any second now,” Matt answered.
That surprised Bonnie. “She works here?”
“Two months now,” he offered, with a sheepish shrug and a small smile. “Broke a dozen glasses in the first month, but she's getting better.”
Bonnie gave a small laugh. “I’ll wait around, then.”
She turned around to find a place to sit, when Matt called, “Hey, Bonnie? It’s good to see you again.”
And Bonnie went flustered all over, realizing she’d forgone all normal conversation of a reunion in favor to her concerns. God, she hadn’t even asked him how he’d been doing. Feeling a little embarrassed, she returned to the bar and struck up a conversation with him, asking him about his life and telling him as little about hers as she possibly could. She was doing a graduate degree, like a normal girl her age, but the truth was, she’d spent the better part of the last decade of her life brushing up on advanced witchcraft and anything paranormal. That stuff freaked Matt out; freaked out any normal person, of course. He’d gotten better at dealing with it over the span of their senior year in high school, but he’d never liked it much. Bonnie could understand that, and even appreciated the sentiment behind it. He’d made his decision years ago to stay out of this world, and God bless him, he’d stuck to it. Bonnie envied him that. She’d never been given the choice either way.
At a quarter passed seven, the doorbell that hung above The Grill’s front door gave a little ring, and Bonnie turned, hoping to find Caroline walking through the door. Instead, she found Damon Salvatore – beaten and bloody – stumbling through the doorway, barely able to keep upright.
“Get down!” he shouted.
A second later, the windows of the bar shattered inwards with an explosion.
Chaos broke out. A part of Bonnie would have mused that chaos always broke out when Damon entered a room, but she was too busy ducking behind an unsturdy table to think quite that wryly yet. She saw Damon stagger in, take the brunt force of the shattered glass, and fall behind another piece of furniture in the room. Bonnie could smell magic in the air; there was a mage nearby, or a witch.
“What the fu—” Matt exclaimed.
“Stay down!” she told him. She turned back towards Damon’s fallen body; he looked a bloody mess. The front door was half hanging off its hinges, and she couldn’t see anyone outside but the smell of magic was too stark and rank. Someone was outside. “What’s going on?”
Damon grimaced and glared. “What do you think, Glinda? We’ve got ourselves a pissed-off warlock outside.”
Bonnie didn’t have time to get the details. The front door burst open with such a force that it knocked the door clear across the room. A moment later, Bonnie watched a man walk in - tall, white, in his early thirties, with a long black coat and his hair pulled back into a sleek ponytail. She could sense the power in him.
She wasn’t impressed.
Rising from behind the counter, she called out, “Hey.”
The mage didn’t even pause to think about innocent bystanders or who she was; he just struck out a hand and threw a fireball at her, but Bonnie was already on defense. She warded off the fire and deflected it back towards him. He took the brunt force of his own spell and flew back towards the wall. She advanced. Damon remained on the ground, face down with his black leather jacket scorched and damaged. She had a spare thought to his welfare before the mage rebounded with a psychic push. He threw her back against a corner pool table.
“And who the hell are you?” the mage demanded.
Bonnie’s eyes narrowed, but didn’t bother to answer. She summoned the jukebox and slammed it into the side of the mage. He crashed onto the floor, and the psychic hold over Bonnie that pinned her to the pool table let go. She fell, but by the time she recovered her legs, she looked up and found the mage running out the door. She could have followed, and finished it. But a glance around reassessed her situation and her priorities.
“Matt?” she called out.
Matt was rising from behind the bar. “I’m here.”
Damon groaned, still on the ground. They both rushed to Damon’s side, though Bonnie reached him seconds first. She hauled him over, revealing a bloody face - a dark bruise was forming on the side of his face and his lip was torn open. He looked like hell, and probably felt worse. It wasn’t anything life threatening to a vampire, though.
“What the hell is going on?”
“And hello to you too, Bonnie,” he tried to snark back, but it came out a grimace. He spat up blood. “What are you doing back in town?”
“Apparently saving your ass. Elena called me. She said something happened to Jeremy—”
Damon broke out in laughter, half sadistic, like he was privy to a perverse joke. “Oh, yeah, something happened, all right. Jeremy’s dead.”
And he said it just like that, like he was talking about the weather, something simple and fact-like. Bonnie felt all the blood drain from her face, frozen. Jeremy? Dead? No. Her mind rebelled. It wasn’t possible. It wasn’t true. She couldn’t imagine it.
Matt was in the sense to follow up with, “What? When did that happen?” But by the time the words were out, Damon’s eyes had rolled back and he’d passed out. “Damon? Damon?”
“Damon!” she demanded.
“Shit,” Matt said, “He’s beat up bad.”
“I don’t care,” she threw back, shaking him. “Wake up, damn it! Damon, what happened to Jeremy? Damon!”
“I don’t think he’s gonna wake up.”
Bonnie wasn’t in the mood. She didn’t care about his injuries; she just shook him harder. Anger burned through her. Typical, she thought furiously, for Damon drop a bombshell like that and then pass out before giving her any answers. She’d broken up with Jeremy over seven years ago, but he’d always be the first boy she’d ever loved, the guy she lost her virginity to, and if nothing else, he’d always be Elena’s little brother.
“Damon!” she said, and her voice broke, not realizing there were tears welling in her eyes. “Wake up! What happened to Jeremy?”
Damon still didn’t respond, passed out as if he’d slipped into a coma. Finally, some measure of concern trickled in, and Bonnie finally started thinking again. He probably needed blood. They didn’t have any on them, and hell if she was gonna offer any of hers. She could still help him, though. She reached out with her powers to sense his injuries and fix them magically. The injuries should have been an easy fix; his body would already be doing most of the work.
But something within the psychic connection shocked her, and Bonnie pulled back abruptly. Her thoughts slammed into breaks, frozen in a moment of disbelief. No. It couldn’t be. That didn’t make any sense—
“What?” Matt asked, throwing a look askew at her. “Why aren’t you helping him?”
She sat back, legs tucked under her, stunned. “He’s… I don’t understand. He’s…”
He had a warm body, a sedated breath, and a heartbeat – an honest to god heartbeat.
Chapter One: Of All the Gin Joints…
They took him to the backroom. Matt helped her deposit him on top of a corner table, where Damon splayed out like a beaten bag of bones. A thousand questions raced through her. Matt left briefly to close up the front when some patrons started gathering around the broken entrance. The place had been left a warzone; someone had already called the cops, but Matt assured her that Sherriff Forbes would cover up the attack quietly.
It figured that her first interaction of Damon Salvatore in years would be end in violence. She assumed that the last decade of trying-to-do-good in Mystic Falls would have left its mark somewhere on him, but it was almost like Damon preferred things bloody and mysterious. How had this happened? Damon, as a human being. It was a paradox. He looked the same: dark hair, pale skin, sulky mouth, and that lean, flamboyant grace that was particular to his body. She stared at him in bewilderment.
The injuries he’d sustained were significant, so Bonnie healed him of what injuries she could.
When he finally came to, he groaned, squinting against the bright beams of light overhead. His eyes shifted to find her studying him. “Huh,” he grunted, lazily. “So you’re really here, then?”
“Yeah, you weren’t dreaming. The pain of you flying through a wall should have tipped you off.”
He looked wasted away, or prematurely haggard, but even beaten and human, Damon didn’t let that phase him. He rose up from the table, ignoring his pains with nothing more than a wince. The thing that struck her as most odd was the sober expression on his face. Then the corner of his mouth kicked up, and…there. There was that smug expression that riled her up so easily, like a finger snap.
“Bonnie,” he said with a leer. “Anyone ever tell you look good enough to eat. You do something new with your hair?”
Leave it to Damon to pick up on her flashy attire when she’d nearly forgotten about it, herself.
“Damon,” she warned. “Not now.”
“Really? I think it’s the perfect time for it.”
He winced. “Easy there. My head still feels like a truck ran over it.” He paused, then glared at her. “Judging by the fact that I’m not bleeding internally anymore, you healed me. Couldn’t take care of the headache too?”
“Be thankful I’m not doing my infamous aneurism trick right now.”
“That’d kill me, seeing as I’m human at the moment.”
“Don’t tempt me,” she challenged, then braced her hands against the table.
She took a couple of deep breaths, trying not to concentrate on his smirking face. It was scary, how easily they fell back into this pattern. It had been six years, and they still traded barbs like they fed off it. It wasn’t that they weren’t friends – somewhere over the past decade, despite herself, she’d grown to realize that Damon wasn’t all bad. He could, given the right circumstances, be an upstanding guy with good intentions. Those circumstances usually revolved around Elena.
“How the hell are you human?”
He gave her a mock-smile. “A spell, how else? It’s complicated.”
“No shit,” she threw back. “What spell?”
He waved a hand, dismissing her question like it was a petty one. He climbed down from the table slowly, wincing as if he had sore muscles and aching joints. Being human again must have been an readjustment, and the truth was Bonnie could have helped take away more of the pain, but she was running low on her power and needed to reserve some if there was anymore trouble. She suspected there would be.
Besides, he was still being dismissive of her questions, so Bonnie wasn’t in the most cooperative of moods either.
“Where’s Elena and Stefan?” he asked.
She threw up her hands. “How should I know? I came into town an hour ago. I stopped by your place, but it was empty.”
“I was your first stop in town? I feel special.”
“I was looking for Elena, and she’s usually with Stefan. I was looking for them.”
“Well, I guess that makes two of us, now.”
“Why hasn’t anyone been answering their cell phones?”
Damon’s eyes darkened with annoyance. “ I don’t know anyone else’s excuse, but I was busy having my ass kicked by a warlock. But I’ll make sure to text next time, pinky-swear. Speaking of, where is evil little Gandolf anyway?”
“That guy that sent you threw the wall? I sent him away.”
He paused, glancing at her, and a small smirk grew on his lips. “My hero,” he said, in a tone that was half-mocking, half-serious.
Whatever. He was still an asshole.
“You got a ride?” he asked, then looked out the back window and spotted her pick-up truck. “Never mind, I see it. C’mon.”
“Where are we going?”
“Jeeze, you ask a lot of questions. Get in the truck and drive. I’ll explain on the way.”
Turned out, there was new baddie in town. What else was new? First Katherine, then Klaus – actually, now that she thought about it, the first baddie to sweep through this town had actually been Damon. She rubbed a hand across her brow, and attempted to refocus.
She hadn’t gotten the details yet, just the broad brushstrokes. The warlock had a first name, but no last: Ethan. He’d been attempting to channel the powers of all the supernatural forces that had been making its way through Mystic Falls, presumably trying to harvest it into his body. It was basically what Bonnie had done years ago in her junior year, where she’d gained a hundred witches’ power and effectively became one of the strongest witches in the world. Except, of course, Ethan didn’t seem to have her well intentions.
Damon was distracted or in pain, but either way he was slow to answer her barrage of questions. Ethan had kidnapped a few among the group: Damon, Jeremy, Elena and Stefan. Possibly Caroline, too. There had been a spell performed, a bad one. Damon didn’t know what had happened to the others, but the end result for himself - for reasons Bonnie couldn’t yet fathom, Damon had ended up human.
“And Jeremy became a vampire,” Damon added, like an afterthought. “I think it was about balance, or something.”
She slammed the brakes on her trucks, bringing them to a screeching halt. “What?”
“Balance,” Damon repeated in a wry tone, though he knew that wasn’t the part of the sentence that tripped Bonnie up. “Life and death, yin and yang, human and vampire. I became human, and Jeremy became a vampire. I told you he was dead.”
“Jesus, Damon, when you say dead, I think—” she forced a deep breath, and refocused, “where is he?”
Damon shrugged, looking out the window. “Last I saw, he was leaving me high and dry in the hands of good ol’ Ethan back there. He escaped, and failed to bring me along for the ride.” He shrugged again. “Must have been the blood thirst.”
There was something there – an undercurrent of emotion. Bonnie couldn’t figure it out, but she knew by his impassive tone that it wouldn’t do for her to press him on it. It didn’t matter. The idea of a bloodthirsty Jeremy was a good distraction. She couldn’t imagine him like that. She didn’t want to.
“We gotta regroup,” he added. “Let’s hope Elena and Stefan escaped too, and if they did, we have to find them.”
“Would they go back to your place?”
Damon shook his head. “That’s where we were taken from. They’d know better than to go back there.”
He pointed towards the left. “Take the next turn, and try Caroline’s new place on Fifth Avenue. She was there when we were kidnapped, but I don’t think she was taken. I don’t… ” He broke off, and this time, the emotion was too clear on his face to misinterpret. Grief. Damon Salvatore was feeling pain on behalf of a person other than himself, his brother or Elena. She’d never really witnessed that before. “We gotta find her.”
She didn’t need to be told twice. Doubling her speed, Bonnie took the fastest route, but she was a little disconcerted to realize that she’d forgotten some of the turns and needed to rely on Damon’s directions somewhat. Six years had changed little of Mystic Falls, but her memory wasn’t as fresh as it used to be.
“Damon,” she took a deep breath, forcing her voice even. “One mage couldn’t have done all this. You guys are more powerful than that.”
“It isn’t just one mage. There’s another one. The second one… she’s more powerful.”
“A witch, too?” She paused. “Why didn’t you call me before?”
He slanted her a dark look. “Would you have come? If it hadn’t been Elena, if she hadn’t been in goddamn tears – would you have come?”
The words were said harshly, incredulous – and for a moment, Bonnie was taken aback by the vehemence behind it. She had no idea why Damon was pissed at her; her decision to leave Mystic Falls had nothing to do with him. Instead, ignoring the spoken question, she pulled into Caroline’s driveway and shut off the engine.
They walked to her front door in silence, but once again, no one was there to answer it.
Damon crashed onto Caroline’s couch, needing a moment to rest and recover. A growing list of missing friends, and a thinning reservoir of patience, and Damon was one tick shy of just collapsing. This goddamn human body. And as much as he loved riling up Bonnie, a neglected hobby as of late, it took out more energy from him than he probably had left to spare.
He needed to regroup, refocus, and then he could make heads or tails of the situation. Right now, the blinding headache behind his right eye was making it hard to focus on anything else. The only thing that registered was the very real tinge of panic that he beat back. Stefan, Elena, Jeremy, Caroline – they were all gone and missing. Bonnie only knew half the story, and he wasn’t sure he was up to spilling the beans on the rest.
Bonnie pursed her lips, considering. “Tell me about the spell.”
He waved a hand. “Lights. Candles. Blood. Some incomprehensible Latin. I couldn’t tell you the specifics even if I hadn’t been unconscious for most of it.”
“Did you see any of the ingredients?”
He thought back furiously, though outwardly he made it seem like he was just resting his eyes. Yes, there had been something – a red jewel of some sort? He couldn’t recall much, but he remembered the way the light had reflected off it when Ethan had dropped it into the center of his pentagram. He peered his eyes open, spied a pen and a notepad on Caroline’s shitty little coffee table, and snagged it. After a few seconds sketching in quiet, he handed Bonnie a piece of paper with a drawing. The jewel was an octagon shape, smaller than his hand – probably the size of hers.
“It’s red,” he said. “Very shiny.”
She studied it. “It doesn’t look familiar. I’ll check it out.”
He collapsed back on the couch again and stayed that way for some time, while Bonnie made her way through the house. On the corner table, Damon snagged a framed photo of Caroline and Tyler on their wedding day from the prior summer. A werewolf and a vampire, married – Damon still couldn’t stop gagging over the cheesiness of it.
Bonnie made a lot of noise as she dug through the drawers in the living room. He had no idea what she was doing. Looking for clues? There were no clues. Three days ago, all had been right with the world – or as right it got in a place like Mystic Falls. Then Ethan and that bitch of a witch had shown up, and seventy-two hours later he’d somehow ended up with an added heartbeat and shortchanged a few friends.
“What was the witch’s name?” Bonnie called out to him, from the kitchen.
“Don’t know,” he called back. “She was black, the same age as Ethan. Maybe a little older? No, wait... I think I did hear him call her something. Betty? Becky? No, that’s not — Bethany. That’s it. I think it was Bethany.”
There was a moment of silence that stretched out, and then he heard Bonnie approaching his couch. He opened his eyes to find her looming over him, and the expression on her face had just gone pale. Stark pale.
“Bethany?” she asked, very quietly.
Damon grunted. “Yeah, Bethany. Why? You know a witch by that name?”
Bonnie looked away and swallowed thickly. Recognition was written all over her face, along with growing surge of apprehension. Shit, she looked pale. Damon pulled himself up, settling his feet on the floor. He didn’t like it when Bonnie got scared. Bonnie scared meant very. bad. things. for everyone.
“I only know of one witch named Bethany,” she said, uncertain. “Bethany Bennett.”
Shit. That was just what they needed. An evil Bennett witch.
“She your aunt or something?”
“No,” Bonnie said, nonplussed. “She’s my mother.”