The Next Chapter

Chapter 106

A/N Annnnnd we're back! This is going to be a roller coaster of a season. I hope I reflected that in this first chapter of the new season. And I really hope you guys enjoy it. Please let me know what you think with a (hopefully positive) review.

Chapter 106

Damon wrapped his arms around Buffy's waist as he stood behind her and laid his chin on her shoulder, kissing her neck. "God, this place is beautiful." They were standing on the balcony of their rented honeymoon Italian villa looking at the amazing view spread out in front of them. The sun was setting and casting the entire world in a pink and orange glow.

"We should've just moved here." Buffy said.

"All good things must come to an end."

"Don't talk like that. I don't think we have much time."

Damon sighed. "I know. I'm sorry."

"What if I just stayed asleep forever? I could stay here…. With you."

"You know I would love that, but I also know that you can't."

"It would be so easy…."

"Buff, you don't do easy."

"In this instance…." She turned in his arms and laid her head on his chest, snuggling closer. "I think easy is the way to go. It's too hard being awake. It's too bright and harsh. It's like just after I came back from…." Damon silenced her with a kiss, holding her tightly to him. "You know that doesn't help your case any."

"I know. But kissing you is way better than anything else."

"Are you sure?" Buffy's hands moved lower down his back and pulled him even closer.

He let out a groan and picked her up, rushing them into the bedroom and pressing her down on the bed. "Ok…." He ran his hands up her shirt along her ribs. "Maybe there are a couple of things better."

Buffy closed her eyes as she felt his lips press light kisses and his teeth took tiny nips up her thighs. The sound of a key in a lock made Buffy's eyes open and she realized she wasn't in Damon's arms about to head into a really good night. She was curled up in her bed in a little ball, buried under the covers with the windows all heavily blocked. She wasn't sure if it was daytime or nighttime outside.

It had been four months since Damon had died. They still couldn't go home to Mystic Falls, but truthfully…. She didn't want to go home and sleep in the bed that she and Damon had shared. She didn't want to roam the halls and look at the places where she and Damon had fallen in love and made a life together. The dreams were hard enough to deal with.

In the last four months, everyone had tried to get her out of her grieving period. Dawn and Spike had come for a week. Angel had come for a while, offering to stay, but Buffy had told him she didn't need him to. Willow and Tara came by every day to check on her. They lived a couple of streets over. Xander had come for a few days. Faith had come for a couple of weeks. Enzo even made an effort every other week. Caroline came by at least twice a week and tried to force Buffy out of the apartment. Last week, she'd managed to get Buffy to come out on one of the picnics she had with Sheriff Forbes by the Mystic Falls sign.

Stefan was scarce. He was off looking for a way to bring Bonnie and Damon back from the dead. He didn't talk to many people, rarely ever answering his phone, but he never stayed away from Buffy for too long. He snuck in at night every now and then and just slept in the bed next to his sister…. Making sure she was still making an effort to live. He and Elena were taking a break from their rekindled romance. Stefan was so grieved over losing his brother and Elena was so busy with school and worrying about Buffy that the only option she could come up with was to put the relationship on the back burner.

Elijah and Klaus had even come for visits as well when they heard about Damon. Elijah had held her hand and talked to her, letting her cry when she needed to and holding her tightly through it. He was great at talking, the first one that had managed to get Buffy to say more than two sentences at a time, but he was an even better friend to her. He knew how much Buffy had loved Damon. And how much Damon had loved her. He knew that nothing anyone said or did would make her miss her husband any less. Nothing would make the pain of losing him any less. Nothing would make the idea of eternity without him scare her any less. So he never tried to talk her out of her grief, or try to convince her to go out on the town. He just simply let her talk, let her cry, and told her stories about his lost loves.

Klaus had been an entirely different visit. He and Buffy had just laid in bed, holding each other and not saying much of anything. He'd lost his daughter and he was grieving too. If Buffy had been in her right mind, she would've marveled at how much Klaus had changed since she'd last seen him. She also probably would never be lying in bed with him and letting him hold her. But they were both going through a similar situation and they needed the comfort.

Eventually he'd had to go back to New Orleans. He'd asked her to come with him, just as he always did, but she'd refused, just as she always did. She still had Alaric to look after now. He was back from the dead and he needed help adjusting to being as powerful a vampire as Buffy and the Originals. They'd moved in together just off the Whitmore campus where he was now a professor. He was a great roommate. He took care of Buffy, made sure she ate and bathed and took care of herself. She helped him get his vampire nature under control and taught him how to control his strength. Both of them together managed to make it look like they were actually functioning individuals.

Buffy heard the front door of the apartment finally open and the light steps of Elena walking into the living room. A few moments later, she opened the door to Buffy's bedroom and stuck her head into the dark room. "Buffy?" Buffy just let out a groan. "I brought fresh blood and muffins." Elena said enticingly.

"I can smell that." Buffy felt the bed dip where Elena sat down on the edge. The blonde sighed and sat up when the bedside lamp came on, letting the covers drop away from her head and spill in her lap. Elena raised an eyebrow at Buffy's hair. "Shut up." She ran her fingers through the tangled mess as best she could.

"I wasn't going to say anything. You look beautiful."

"Don't patronize me."

"Sorry." Elena held out the coffee cup filled with warm blood and a bag with a blueberry muffin in it.

Buffy took the bag first. "It's still warm."

"It's fresh."

Buffy looked over at the clock on the nightstand. "It's 1:45 in the afternoon."

"I compelled the bakers to go back to the kitchen just for you."

"You spoil."

"You took care of me. Now I'm taking care of you. It's the circle of life." Elena got up and grabbed Buffy's brush off the vanity. She sat down behind Buffy and got to work brushing out the long blonde hair while Buffy picked at the blueberry muffin and sipped the blood. "You want to go to the football game today?"

"The last time I went out with you, I got hit on by college guys. They were like flies buzzing around a pile of poop. I don't want to be a pile of poop."

Elena chuckled. "Alaric is coming. He'll scare off the guys."

"Ow." Buffy said pathetically as Elena tugged on a particularly nasty snarl.

"Don't be a baby."

"Well quit trying to rip chunks out of my scalp."

"Well quit trying to grow dreadlocks." Elena let Buffy work on the muffin as she worked on Buffy's hair. After a long moment of silence, she finally asked, "Did Stefan come by last night?"

"Not last night."

"When was the last time he was here?"

Buffy sighed. "Elena, if you want to talk to him, you have his number. Call him."

"He's busy and he doesn't want to be bothered."

"Neither do I, but everyone keeps bothering me." Buffy muttered.

Elena pulled on a snarl and Buffy growled. "You are different."

"Why am I so different?"

"Because as much as you loved Angel, you chose Damon. You loved him so much, you gave up the love of your life to be with him. You married him. You told the world that Damon is the love of your eternal life. And you continued to choose him over everyone through everything. That kind of loss is something that can consume you. Especially since you can't turn your emotions all the way off." Elena set down the brush and started French braiding Buffy's now smoothed out hair. "Stefan made me promise to make sure that you kept your head above water and didn't completely lose yourself to grief. He promised not to completely lose himself if we made sure you didn't lose yourself. So, if you want to blame someone for everyone 'bothering' you, then you can blame Stefan and get onto him the next time you see him."

Buffy was quiet for a long time, letting Elena finish braiding her hair. "I would never have tried turning my emotions off or losing myself or letting my life slip away." She looked down as she played with her nails. "Damon would be so mad at me if I even think about trying that. I understand that your intentions are good. And I appreciate how hard you guys are trying. I just…. This is something that I need to work my way through…. slowly. My heart is broken and there's a large part of me that doesn't believe that he's really gone."

"Well, sure! You came back from the dead after three months. Anything is possible. But you were on the Other Side and…."

Buffy shook her head. "No…. I wasn't on the Other Side. I remember bits and pieces from my time…. Away. I was happy. I knew that everyone I cared about was going to be ok. And I'm certain now that where I was…. It was whatever is beyond the Other Side. It's where my mother is. Where Giles is." Buffy's voice dropped to just above a whisper as she choked on a sob. "Where Damon has to be. So I can't help but wonder if Stefan will find a way or if Willow could bring him back…. Somehow. Someway. She pulled off the impossible when she brought me back. Maybe she could find a way to do it again."

"Buffy…."

"But there's a smaller, slightly logical part of me that knows when she brought me back…. That was the last urn for that type of spell and it got destroyed. That there are no more chances." Buffy looked over at Elena with tears in her eyes. "I'm at war with myself. I know that he's gone, but I refuse to accept it. I can't…." Elena wrapped her arms around Buffy tightly. "I dream about him, Elena. When I close my eyes, I can see him and I can hear him…. I can feel him. He's not really gone."

Elena smoothed her hand over Buffy's braid. "We'll figure something out, Buffy. I promise. We will. I've got to head to class. Alaric will be home later. You should come to the football game this afternoon."

"I'll think about it."

"Well, at least 'think about it' is better than a 'no'." Elena stood up. "I'll see you later."

Buffy watched her walk out and then turned to the nightstand to turn the light off. There was a picture of her and Damon, smiling and happy on their wedding night. Sheriff Forbes had gotten it from the boarding house along with a bunch of Buffy's clothes and shoes. She'd also brought some of Damon's things. They were in a box underneath Buffy's bed. Every now and then, she'd pull out one of his shirts, slip it on, and just breathe in his scent.

Buffy picked up the picture and leaned back against the headboard. She traced the lines of Damon's smiling face. They were looking at each other and the love they'd shared was leaping off the picture. She would never in her eternal life find anyone she loved more than Damon Salvatore.

"That was the best day of my life."

Buffy glanced at the other side of the bed where Damon was leaning against the headboard looking at the wedding picture over her shoulder. "I know. It was mine, too."

"I'd never seen you more beautiful." He glanced over the side of the bed. "The rest of the wedding album is here, isn't it?"

"Yes. Along with the scrapbook that Elena insisted on making of our honeymoon."

"Why aren't they sitting out?"

"It wasn't even my idea to put the wedding picture out. That would be Elena being stubborn."

"Babe, you don't have to hide this stuff away. It's happy memories to be relished."

"It's a constant reminder of the life we were robbed of."

"Or you could look at it that way." He took her hand and kissed her knuckles. "Celebrate our life together."

"It was so short!"

"It was so amazing!"

"How are you not angry that you're dead?"

"Because I had 173 years to get used to the fact that I was already dead?"

"Damon! Be serious. I'm furious that you're gone! You shouldn't be a figment of my subconscious in a dream. You should be here trying to figure out how the hell to take down that spell on Mystic Falls so we can go home."

"So do that. Go help Willow and Tara and Blondie Vamp out."

"I can't!"

"Why?"

"Because my life doesn't have a purpose without you in it."

"Yes it does. You have Elena to look after. Jeremy is going crazy. You should reign that in. You have Alaric to help learn the ins and outs of being a super powerful vampire. He's gotta learn to feed off humans at some point and we both know that's not going to go over too well. You have Stefan to…. Actually, I'm not quite sure what you have Stefan for. What is he doing exactly?"

"Travelling the world trying to prove Willow and Tara wrong."

"Then why aren't you with him? You love proving people wrong!"

"I love you! And I don't have you, so what's the point?"

"Well, at least you're doing better than Willow. She lost Tara and tried to destroy the world. So, I'm proud of you in that respect."

"Gee, thanks."

"Come here." Damon held out his arm and Buffy snuggled into his side, laying her head on his chest. "Buff, go to that football game with Alaric. He needs your help."

"I don't want to go anywhere. I want to stay right here with you."

"You can't sleep forever." He kissed her forehead. "But we've had this discussion before. You know all of this. I'm a broken record at this point."

"I'll take a broken record as long as it's you." She moved her leg between Damon's and snuggled in even closer to him. "I'm so scared that I'm going to forget what your voice sounds like and that I'll forget what you smell like when I press my nose right here." She pressed her nose into his sternum and breathed deeply. "What happens then?"

"I don't know, baby. I just don't know."

"Buffy?" Alaric's voice sounded from outside in the living room.

Buffy opened her eyes and realized she was holding a pillow tightly to her chest with her wedding picture clutched against it. The bedside lamp was still on and the clock read 4:03. She'd only been asleep for a couple of hours. Rick's class was over and he would be heading out to the football festivities. With a sigh, she got out of bed, set the picture back on the nightstand, and opened the door.

Alaric smiled at her. "Hey. Were you asleep?"

"Aren't I always?" Buffy shot back.

"True." Alaric brushed the blueberry muffin crumbs off her shirt and pants. "So, are you coming to the football game with me? Elena said that you said you'd think about it."

"I lied. I didn't think about it. I fell back asleep as soon as she left." Buffy walked into the kitchen and grabbed a blood bag from the fridge. She poured it into a large mug and popped it in the microwave to heat it up a bit. "How was class?"

"Tyler was late. Elena almost sent me into a feeding frenzy. Liv made cracks about my lesson on resurrection. And Willow corrected me way too many times for my liking."

"That's because you took her job." She took the mug from the microwave and walked over to curl up in the oversized recliner.

"I'm not going to keep it. She has to finish school first." Alaric sat down on the couch across from her. "I'll transfer to the history department when she's ready to take over."

"I think she's ready now." Since Willow had missed out on at least three of weeks of school from being dead, she hadn't finished her last semester. She was making it up now and Alaric had made sure to keep her job offer open for her when he'd compelled himself a job. Occult studies had been the only opening at the time.

"Quit dodging my question. Will you come to the football game with me?"

"That's not what you asked."

"I reworded it. I'd really like you to come. Being around that many people makes me nervous.""Rick, you're doing great. Really."

"I don't feel like I am. Buff, you're the only person who knows what I'm going through. I need you."

Buffy sighed and looked up at the ceiling. "Ok, I get it! Message received."

"What message?"

"Never mind. Fine, I'll go with you to the football game." She hauled herself to her feet, taking her now empty mug to the kitchen. "Have you talked to Jeremy today?"

"No. I called a couple of times before class, but he didn't answer."

Buffy sighed. "I'll call him." She walked into her bedroom and grabbed her phone. While Alaric leaned in the doorway, she dialed Matt's number.

"Hey, Buffy." Matt said. "How are you?"

Buffy didn't feel like talking about her. "Why isn't Jeremy answering his phone?"

"Uh, I don't know. He's probably doing homework or something." Matt said uncertainly. Buffy could hear the video game being played loudly in the background.

"Donovan, don't lie for him. Put me on speaker." Buffy waited until the game got louder. "Jeremy, get your ass off the couch and do something productive."

"Or what? You're gonna come here and make me?" Jeremy asked.

"Did you forget that I have non-supernatural friends and you don't have your Hunter strength while you're in that little bubble? I will have you bound and gagged and dragged to the town boarder where I will kick your ass in person."

"Hollow threat. You don't leave your apartment."

"This is one thing that will make me leave. Donovan, don't make me drag you into the ass kicking, too. Help me out."

"Yeah, I'll deal with it." Matt said.

"Thank you." Buffy hung up and set the phone down. She didn't need to break another one.

"What are we going to do with him?" Alaric asked.

Buffy sighed. "I don't know. I get the whole not wanting to do anything, but only one of us can curl up and stop existing. And just for the record, I think losing my husband trumps losing his girlfriend." She sat down on her bed. "Can I just stay here and sleep?"

"That's all you do these days. That and eat."

"What else is there these days?"

Alaric walked over to her and gently cupped her face in his hand. "Buff, it'll get easier. It will. You just have to put one foot in front of the other. At least you're getting out of bed more these days."

"I don't make it past the fridge."

"You went out with Elena a couple of weeks ago."

"That was horrifying." Buffy shook her head as he sat down next to her. "Rick, how am I supposed to move on when I feel it deep in my heart and soul that mine and Damon's time together isn't done?"

"What do you mean?"

"Exactly what I said. I don't feel like Damon can actually be gone. That we still have so much left to do together. That somehow, someway…. He can be brought back."

"Stefan is out there looking. Willow hasn't been completely slacking either."

"I thought she was working on bringing down the no magic spell."

"She's been working on both…. Trying to follow some of the leads that I've been digging up. With Tara back, though, she's got a lot on her plate. Tara was gone longer than anyone. She's having a bit of trouble adjusting."

Buffy put her face in her hands. "I never even noticed."

"Well, you're a little busy grieving your husband."

"Will they be at the football game?"

"Yes."

"Ok. I'll…. Get dressed. And we can go."

Alaric leaned over and kissed her cheek. "Ok."

Buffy and Alaric walked around the festivities looking for Willow and Tara. People were having fun before the match playing games, drinking beer and booze, and some were even placing bets. Tyler was walking with his head down and bumped into Alaric.

"Oh. Watch it, dick!" He realized it was Alaric. "Whoa, sorry. Still working out the kinks of being human. My tolerance blows." He sucked back some beer from a cup and realized Buffy was with Alaric. "Buffy! You're out of your apartment." He hugged her tightly, genuinely happy to see her.

"Yeah." Buffy gently moved him back, holding his shoulders. "Tyler, are you sure somebody with your anger issues should be drinking at all this close to a full moon?"

"My issues are under control. Coach lets me practice with the football team. I get to kick ass in a controlled environment."

"Till you get plastered and do something stupid and trigger your werewolf curse all over again." Alaric said.

"Guys, chill. It's under control."

"Good."

Buffy took the beer from Tyler. "Just in case."

"Really?"

She shrugged. "Look, coming out into the world when all I want to do is stay at home in my PJs and sleep is a bit overwhelming. I need some anesthetic. And a distraction from all the pumping veins around me."

"You know, I haven't been buzzed since I came back to life." Alaric complained. "And saying that aloud while sober really freaks me out."

"It's part of being a vampire." Buffy noticed Tyler staring at Liv standing a few feet away. "Tyler, you can seriously do better than her." He looked at her with a shocked expression.

"I doubt she'd even give him the time of day. Trust me when I tell you this, Tyler: The girl is so not into you."

"Shoot higher." Buffy patted his arm. "Thanks for the beer." She and Alaric started to move away.

"Buffy," Tyler said, making her turn around. "It really is good to see you out and about. You should make it a habit."

"Thank you, Tyler." She turned and walked off, tossing back the rest of the beer in the cup. "Ok, seeing Liv and being reminded that her brother is the reason Damon isn't here…. The blood lust is rising. This beer isn't going to be enough."

Alaric pulled out two blood bags from his pocket. "I brought some extra sustenance. Being surrounded by all these walking talking blood bags isn't easy."

"I'm going to tell you the same thing Damon once told me…. And Elena…. You've got to learn to drink from them at some point." She chuckled, remembering what Spike had once called humans. "Just look at them as Happy Meals with legs."

"I'm not ready for that. Not yet."

"It took me a little bit to get used to the idea, too. But it's really not bad."

"Until then," Alaric pulled out two flasks and walked over to a trash can.

"You bought me my own flask?"

"I thought it might get you out of the apartment more." He filled hers up and handed it to her.

She inspected it closely. The entire thing was made of silver and was engraved with pretty filigree woven around her initials. "Pretty."

"I figured you'd like it." He filled his own flask up as Buffy started to drink from hers.

"Thank god. Someone over 20." A woman with dark hair said, walking up to them. "The rest of the chaperones are huddled around the burger bar."

"And you're a vegetarian." Alaric said, making sure the empty blood bags were hidden in the trash.

"I don't eat red meat. I look at blood all day. Because I work at the medical center. Not because I'm a serial killer or anything. I'm Jo."

"Alaric. I teach Occult Studies here."

"I didn't know that was an actual thing."

"Yeah. And this is Buffy. She's…. My best friend's wife."

"Nice." Buffy said to him under her breath.

"Sorry."

She turned to the newcomer. "Jo from the hospital? I think my kid works for you. Or with you. Elena Gilbert."

"You're her mother?" Jo looked Buffy up and down disbelievingly.

"Well, sort of. I'm her and her brother's legal guardian."

"Oh. Nice to meet you." Jo motioned to Buffy's flask. "May I?"

"Uh, sorry…. No." Buffy slipped the flask in her pocket. "I'm actually a germaphobe."

"A germaphobe. So, you're like the vegetarian of cool people."

Buffy was suddenly fascinated by Jo's neck. "I guess so." Alaric's quick squeeze on her arm alerted her to the fact that she was staring at the pulse beating just below Jo's skin. "Um…. Will you excuse us for a second? Elena was supposed to meet us here and we haven't seen her."

"Yeah, sure. It was nice meeting you both." Jo walked off, glancing back at Alaric a couple of times.

"She thinks you're cute." Buffy said to him, taking a long draw from her flask.

"And apparently when I lost my human nature, I also lost my game. I didn't even notice." He took her arm and steered her away from the crowd around them. "What was up with that?"

"What?"

"Buffy, you were staring at her neck ready to pounce."

"I…."

"Buffy!" Alaric and Buffy turned around to see Willow and Tara walking up to them. "You came!"

"Yeah. Starting to regret it."

"She almost jumped someone." Alaric said.

"What?" Willow looked at Buffy. "Are you ok?"

"Maybe this was too soon." Buffy shook her head. "I'm not ready for this."

"It's been four months." Alaric said.

"Is there a time limit to grief? Cause I didn't get that memo. Maybe it's your fault."

"My fault?"

"Being around you and your newfound blood lust. I've been extra hungry since you came back."

Alaric realized that her entire flask of blood was now empty. "Maybe it's because you've been sleeping a lot." He said. "Your body needs the extra energy because you're not doing anything."

"Willow." Tara said. Alaric and Buffy turned to look at Tara giving a guilty-looking Willow a stern expression.

"What's wrong?" Alaric asked.

"It's not like there's a label with all the side effects!" Willow said defensively.

"What did you do?" Buffy asked.

"Ok, Luke felt bad for what he did…. Stopping the spell before Damon came back…. So, he came to me a couple of weeks after it happened and he gave me these herbs."

"I said it was a bad idea." Tara said. "But I saw how heartbroken Buffy was. In all the time that I've known her, I've never seen her this hurt."

"You're supposed to drink them, but I found a way to use them in a spell so all I had to do was make a talisman and hide it under your bed. So whenever you slept…. You would have good dreams of Damon. Luke keeps me in a steady supply so I can recharge it whenever I come over. I just…. I'm sorry. I wanted to help you, Buffy. Give you a chance to see him again…. I didn't think there would be serious side effects."

Buffy shook her head. "So all those dreams…. Of Damon…. They were just the drugs in your talisman? A hallucination?"

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you."

Alaric started to wrap his arm around Buffy, but she moved away. "I thought it was really him. I thought Damon had found a way to come to me and was…." She looked at Willow before turning and walking away.

"Buffy!"

Willow went after her, but Buffy used her super speed to disappear. She rushed back to the apartment and got in her car. Before she knew it, she was driving back towards Mystic Falls and heading for the crypt where she'd last seen Damon. The real Damon.

Before she reached the turn off to the graveyard, there was a car sitting on the side of the road with a woman standing in front of it looking at a map. Buffy sighed and pulled over. She didn't want to deal with anyone else's drama, but she was hungry. A stranger on the side of the road was a good snatch and erase. And the appeal of a live vein instead of a blood bag was overwhelming after four months.

Buffy rolled down her window. "Are you ok?"

"Depends. Am I still in the western hemisphere?" The woman asked.

"I think so." Buffy got out of the car and walked over to the woman.

"I'm sorry. I'm from New York and we're big on cell phone reception."

"Where are you heading?"

"Mystic Falls. My GPS died and then I started second-guessing myself…."

Buffy grabbed the woman and sank her fangs in. She knew when to stop, but she reached that point and kept drinking. "Oh, my god! What are you…." Buffy was startled by Caroline's sudden appearance and released the woman.

"Caroline. It's not…." Buffy realized that the woman was running away and she went after her. Unfortunately, they were really close to the border of Mystic Falls and her arm burned in the sunlight when she reached out for the woman. Buffy backed away from the border and sat down in the grass.

Caroline made her way over to Buffy. "What did you do? Why the hell are you feeding on people? Hey! You're out of your apartment!"

"Hello to you, too, Caroline." Buffy said.

Caroline heard the tears in Buffy's voice and sat down beside her. "What's going on?"

"For the last four months, my best friend has been casting a spell on me to make me see Damon. She's been using these…. Herbs that Luke gave her. I just found out today. Apparently they're the reason I've been super hungry."

"Have you been coming out and hunting?"

"No. Just sucking down the blood supply that Elena brings Alaric and I. Why?"

"My mom has been hunting for a vampire border lurker. I thought maybe…."

"It's not me. I don't leave the apartment." Buffy sighed. "Elena and Alaric convinced me to go to the football game today. I almost attacked Elena's doctor teacher person because I'm so hungry."

"So, Willow has been casting a spell on you to make you see Damon, but it also makes you really, really hungry?"

"I thought he was real." Buffy wiped at the tears falling down her face. "I thought that he had found a way to talk to me…. Be with me…. I've been holding onto those dreams like a lifeline…. And they've all been fake. They haven't been him at all."

"Oh, Buffy…." Caroline wrapped her arms around Buffy's shoulders. "Stefan is out there looking for a way to get Damon and Bonnie back. He'll fix this."

"Speaking of 'fix this'. That girl…."

"Don't worry about it. My mom and I will fix it. You go home and get that spell out of your system."

"Tell your mom I'm really sorry about that. I was going to compel her, but…."

"That was my fault. Don't even worry about it." Caroline helped Buffy to her feet. "I'll come by later to check on you, ok?"

"Yeah." Buffy headed back to her car and got in. She didn't go home, though. She drove to the woods and headed for the crypt where she'd last seen Damon. Pulling out her phone, she dialed Stefan's number.

He picked up just before it went to voicemail. "Buffy?"

"Yeah." Buffy let out a shuddering sigh.

"What's wrong?"

"Have you found anything? Please tell me you're on to something. Because I am seriously losing an uphill battle, here, Stefan. Willow has been dosing me with some kind of witchy herbs to make me see Damon. They were so real…. But it wasn't him. And now I don't know what to do. What do I do, Stefan? How do I go about my day without completely falling apart? How do I make it to tomorrow without my husband? I can't face another minute without him. I don't want to go through eternity without him." Stefan didn't say anything. "Stefan?"

"I'm sorry, Buffy."

"Sorry for what?"

"I gave up."

"What do you mean? You've been looking for a way to bring him back."

"I did. I was. But then I realized it was pointless and I needed to move on with my life. So, I stopped."

"What do you mean you stopped?"

"I mean I said goodbye. I moved on. Damon is gone. It's time you said goodbye, too." He sighed. "I'll come by soon to check on you."

"Don't bother." Buffy hung up and threw her phone across the crypt. It shattered against the wall and Buffy turned and started destroying anything and everything within her reach. She ended up curled in a little ball against the wall, sobbing into her knees and begging the universe to give her her husband back. "Damon, I need you. I can't do this without you. Please…. Please…. I need you to find a way to come back to me. I need the dreams to be real. I need you to be real."

Hands gently gripped her arms and she looked up hopefully. It was Alaric. "Hey." He moved to sit next to her and she let him hold her as she continued to cry. The sun set around them, but they didn't move.

Finally, Buffy said, "I feel like I've lost him all over again.""I can imagine." Alaric kissed the top of her head, giving her a tight squeeze. "You did a number on this place. And I see we're going to have to get you a new phone…. Again."

"Stefan gave up. He hasn't been looking for a way to bring Damon back. He said he moved on."

Alaric sighed. "I'm sorry, Buffy. I had no idea. I've been feeding him leads for months. He let me believe he was following them."

"He let us both believe it."

"I know you were hoping he would find something."

"I wasn't just hoping…. I was depending on him to find something. I was depending on him not to give up on his brother. I don't understand…. He never gives up on Damon. Ever."

"Maybe there just isn't a way to bring Damon and Bonnie back."

"Why is everyone giving up on this?"

"I'm not giving up, Buffy. But you have to admit that it's starting to seem a little hopeless."

Buffy shook her head and stood up. She walked a few feet away and turned back to Alaric. "When Enzo killed Willow…. Damon was the only one that had hope we could find a way to bring her back. He had to talk me into it. So, like I told Stefan then, I'm telling you now. I have to believe that if someone like Damon could find that much hope inside himself, then we can find a way to do what he did. That we can pull off the impossible, too. We owe him that."

Alaric stood up. "So…. What are we going to do?"

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