The Next Chapter

Chapter 117

Chapter 117

Buffy stood in front of the freshly cut Christmas tree she'd just put up in her and Damon's new living room. She was working on decorating it and the house with Caroline's help. Liz had come in from Mystic Falls to spend time with her daughter and had volunteered to help out. Caroline didn't know she was coming, so Buffy was going to let her be surprised when she got here. Damon was out with Willow, Tara, and Elena trying to find a new Ascendant. Since this was their first Christmas as Mr. and Mrs. Salvatore, Buffy had wanted to make it special.

Caroline was coming up the sidewalk outside and Buffy could hear her talking on her cell phone to Liz. "I just figured that we were skipping Christmas this year, you know, considering the part where I die if I cross the border into my hometown."

"What happened to Christmas being your favorite time of the year?" Liz asked her as she pulled some garland out of a box.

"It was my favorite time of year when I could actually live in my own house and help decorate the town tree and drink hot cocoa with my friends."

Caroline knocked on the door. "It's open!" Buffy called.

The other blonde vampire walked in and spotted her mom. "What are you doing? You're supposed to be at the Mystic Falls tree decorating ceremony."

"I'm playing hooky this year. I figure just because you guys can't come home for the holidays doesn't mean the holidays can't come to you."

"You even brought our favorite ornaments. Mom!" Caroline hugged Liz tightly.

"You don't mind if they're hung up here at Buffy and Damon's house?"

"No. That's fine. It's where we were going to spend Christmas anyway."

Stefan appeared in the open doorway with two boxes of Christmas lights. "Hey. I, uh, didn't know which ones to get, so I got both."

"What the hell are you doing here?" Buffy demanded.

"Liz said you needed Christmas lights."

"You have a whole house to decorate, inside and out, and I thought we could use an extra set of hands." Liz said when Buffy turned to glare at her.

Buffy sighed and rolled her eyes. "They'll both work. The little ones can be inside and the big ones can go outside."

"I got some decorations for the yard, too." Stefan said. "They're on the porch." He gestured for Buffy to come look.She relented after a long moment and walked outside with Stefan. He'd picked out a couple of white metal deer covered in white lights and a wire tree wrapped in multi-colored lights. "Oh. Those are…. Nice. Thank you." Buffy turned around and went back inside with Stefan behind her.

"Where's Elena?" Caroline asked.

"She said she would join us later. She wanted to help Willow and Damon."

"Why aren't you?" Stefan asked, trying to sound casual.

"Because I wanted to decorate for mine and Damon's first Christmas as a married couple in our first house together."

"It's not your first house…."

"It's the first house that's belonged to just Damon and myself. No one else lives here but us. We've felt like an actual married couple for the last two weeks and now I'd like to throw a holiday party like a married couple would throw."

Stefan nodded. "Ok, then. Any particular way you want the lights put up outside?"

Buffy handed him a picture she'd cut out of a magazine. "Like that."

"Pretty and simple. I like it." He smiled at her and grabbed his bag of big lights.

"He's trying, Buffy." Liz scolded.

"He's going to have to try a lot harder than hanging some Christmas lights. He abandoned his brother, he abandoned me, he abandoned the girl he loves…. He dropped his entire life because it made him sad! How the hell does he think that I felt!?"

Liz reached out calmly and patted Buffy's cheek. "He's here now, though. And he wants to make it up to you."

"Then I better get a damn good Christmas present…. For the next hundred years." Buffy walked over to pick up her ringing phone from the fireplace mantel. "Hey, sweetheart."

"Hey, baby." Damon said. "I know you're busy decorating the house, but we may have a problem."

"No. No problems today, Damon. Problem free day, remember?"

"I'm sorry. We're on our way home now."

"The house isn't ready! We've barely even started. Damon?" She looked at her screen to see that he'd hung up. "Ugh!"

Caroline laughed. "I guess the honeymoon phase is over."

"Looks like." Buffy looked at Liz. "You were married before. Do I set out anything for company even though it's unwelcome and just our friends?"

Liz laughed. "I'm the wrong person to ask. My ex-husband was the more domestic one. Probably should've figured out sooner that he was gay."

"They can fend for themselves, then. Let's get to work."

Twenty minutes later, the front door opened and Elena, Tara, Willow, Alaric, and Damon came streaming in from outside. "So I asked around the hospital." Elena was saying. "No one's seen Jo since last night at the ER. A bunch of stab victims came in, and one of them is missing, as well."

"It was Kai." Alaric said. "Jo knew he'd come after her, and he did."

"Hey, baby." Damon kissed Buffy's cheek before turning around to look at the others. "Not to give you boyfriend lessons or anything, but considering I'm the happily married one of the two of us, then I hope you'll hear what I'm saying here." Alaric rolled his eyes at Damon. "If you knew Jo's whackjob brother was out on the loose and after her, don't you think that keeping an eye on her would have been a smart move?"

"And what would you have had me do, Damon, ask you to compel Jo to stay put?" Damon nodded as if the suggestion wasn't absurd.

"If Kai has Jo, we need a plan." Willow said. "Tara and I can't go near him without him sucking up our magic."

"You really don't need to go near him." Tara said to Willow. "There's no telling what he could do with the magicks you have in you."

"Don't panic, ladies." Damon said. "The plan's easy. Find Kai," He made a slicing motion across his neck, "Kill Kai."

"What's going on?" Caroline asked, setting down the ornament she was holding.

"Kai nabbed Jo last night and we're going to save her." Damon nodded at himself and pulled out his phone.

"Who are you calling?" Elena asked.

"Donovan." Damon wasn't talking to Elena. "Have you seen Kai?"

"Who?" Matt asked.

"Seriously? The bad guy that came into town two weeks ago? Just think sociopathic Ryan Reynolds."

"Haven't seen him."

"Grunge vibe, annoying as hell."

"Still no idea."

"Well, if he has half a brain, he will be hiding where vampires can't find him. So in between levels of Mario Kart, can you and little baby Gilbert maybe keep an eye out?"

"Yeah, got it. If we see him, we'll let you know."

Damon hung up and put his phone back in his pocket. "Well, Bevis and Butthead are on the lookout. Anyone else brimming with confidence?"

"I mean, this just doesn't make sense." Alaric said.

"What could possibly not make sense about magical twins absorbing into one another?" Buffy retorted as she picked out a spot in the tree for a large and intricately painted ball ornament.

"Listen, Jo needs her magic for the merge to work, ok, and she got rid of that back in 1994."

"How do you get rid of magic?" Elena asked.

"You can store it in something." Tara said. "A lot of witches, before they die, store their magic inside a book…. A grimoire…. So their gifts can be passed down to their families."

"Bonnie stored hers in her bear." Damon added.

"Jo doesn't have magic because it's stuffed in a knife that was stolen and hidden by yours truly." Damon said. "Kai won't find it."

"Yeah, unless Kai does a locator spell." Alaric said.

"It's impossible."

"Why?"

"Kai was born without the ability to do magic." Buffy said.

"How does Jo get her magic back?" Elena asked.

"She needs to reunite with it." Tara said.

"If the only way to restore Jo's magic is to reunite her with that knife, Kai's gonna come for it." Alaric said.

"Rick's right." Elena said. "Even if Kai can't do the locator spell, he's gonna make it his mission to find it."

"Kai finds it. Great. Love it." Damon said.

"Why aren't you more concerned?" Willow asked him.

"Because if Kai goes for the knife, I will kill him because the knife is right here where I hid it." Damon took down a picture frame from the wall and opened the back. "Tada!" There was nothing there.

Buffy sighed. "That little twerp was in my house?!"

Willow stood up. "Ok, Tara and I will put a protection spell around the house and install a magical alarm so if any bad guys show up…. EEE EEE EEE!"

"That would've been handy when we moved in." Damon said.

"Sorry. I didn't think you would have and hide the one thing that Kai needs to do his creepy twin power thing in your brand new house."

"Why wouldn't you think that?" Alaric said. "That's exactly the type of stupid and crazy thing Damon is known for."

"Hey!" Buffy and Damon protested.

"It's true."

"Don't make me return your Christmas gift." Damon threatened. "Ok, Willow and Tara, you work on the witchy alarm system. Alaric, you keep looking for Jo. Elena, you stay here and help my wife decorate our house. I'm going to go search for the Wonder Twins." He turned to Buffy and kissed her cheek. "It's looking beautiful in here."

"Did you seriously need to pack the house and distract from decorating?" Buffy asked him."No, but it was a great excuse to see what you've done so far. And I see that you invited Stefan to help…."

"I didn't. Liz did."

Damon smiled at Liz. "Good job, Sheriff." He gently took Buffy's face in his hands. "Give him a chance, babe. He's trying." He kissed her for a moment before heading out with Alaric.

Buffy sighed and shook her head. "We need some supplies." Willow said. "We'll be back."

"Ok." Buffy said, walking them to the door. She watched Willow and Tara walk to the sidewalk and was about to close the door, but Stefan appeared in front of her.

"Everything's done out here." He said.

"That was quick."

"I may have used some supernatural abilities to finish."

"Ok, well there's plenty to be done in here." She stepped out of the way to let him in, briefly checking out the front yard.

"Where do you want me?"

"The garland on the staircase banner needs lights."

"Got it." Stefan grabbed some of the small lights he'd bought and got to work.

Buffy went back over to the tree. Elena, Caroline, and Liz excused themselves to the kitchen, leaving Buffy and Stefan in silence. Eventually, Buffy found a great spot for the ornament she was holding, but it was towards the top of the tree where she couldn't reach.

"Here, I got it." Stefan offered, taking the ornament from her.

"What are you doing here?"

"Liz asked for my help."

"No, Stefan, what are you really doing here? If you think hanging some lights is going to make me forget how horrible you've been the last few months, then you thought seriously wrong."

"I'm trying, Buffy."

"Why does everyone keep saying that!? This? This is the easy part, Stefan. We're decorating for Christmas. Anyone can be friends when you're decorating for Christmas."

Liz, Elena, and Caroline returned with Liz carrying a tray with steaming mugs. "Who wants hot chocolate?" Liz asked. Caroline had a bowl of marshmallows and Elena was holding a whipped cream canister and a bowl of crushed candy canes.

"I was just leaving." Stefan said, turning around to leave. Liz frowned at Buffy, but Buffy just ignored it and turned back to the tree. Suddenly Liz looked faint and dropped the tray of hot chocolate. She braced herself against a chair.

"Mom?!" Caroline cried, setting down the bowl of marshmallows. Buffy dropped the ornament back into the box and walked over to Liz's side as Elena went to get something to clean up the mess.

"Oh, wow." Liz said. "I just got really…." Suddenly, Liz collapsed. Buffy and Caroline caught her, holding her up.

"Mom! You ok?"

Liz nodded, but she still looked a little out of it. "That's it. We're going to the hospital." Buffy handed Stefan her keys. "You drive, I'll get our coats. Elena!"

Buffy sat with Caroline at the hospital outside of Liz's room. Caroline was holding tightly to Buffy's hand. Elena had gone to get some vampire sustenance for everyone and Stefan was filling out paperwork so Caroline didn't have to. Buffy had called Willow and Tara and told them to hold off on the spell since she couldn't be home until they found out what was going on with Liz.

"Maybe she forgot to eat." Caroline said. "You know, sometimes, she skips breakfast."

"When was the last time you ate, Caroline, as in fed?" Buffy asked her.

"Oh, god…. Now you sound like Stefan."

"Don't make me hurt you."

Caroline gave a small laugh and shook her head. "Do you think Bonnie knows it's Christmas? You know she never liked being away from Elena and me at Christmas."

"I don't know. It's probably better that she doesn't know, though."

"Buffy…. What if it's something really bad with my mom?"

"It's probably nothing. Like you said, she just forgot to eat."

"But what if it's not that?"

Buffy looked over at Caroline staring at her with pleading eyes. She remembered giving that look to her friends when her mother had first gotten sick. "Then we'll deal with it."

"Hey." Elena said, walking up with four to-go coffee cups of blood. "Here you guys go."

"Thank you." Buffy looked between the two girls. "Look, you guys go for a walk. Liz is going to be out for a while. I'll stay here and keep watch."

"Are you sure?" Caroline asked.

"Yeah. Hospitals suck. Get some fresh air when you can." Caroline and Elena exchanged glances and nodded. They got up and walked down the hallway. Buffy watched the doctor and nurses move around the room and sighed. This was becoming a little too familiar. Finally Stefan walked up and stood at the window. Buffy sighed and stood up. She joined him at the window, handing him the last of the coffee cups. "Is it just me, or does that look like something worse than someone forgetting to eat?"

Stefan nodded at one of the doctors. "That doctor just came over from radiology. I overheard her say 'glioblastoma'."

"What does that mean?"

Stefan reached out and took Buffy's hand. She looked down at it in confusion, but didn't let go. "We brought her in a couple of weeks ago after Tripp's guys grabbed her." He said. "The doctors ran some tests, and apparently they found something suspicious."

"Suspicious?" Stefan looked at her and waited for her to figure out what suspicious meant. "No. That's…." Buffy shook her head. "Caroline would have said something, Stefan."

"Or maybe her mom hasn't told her yet. Didn't your mom hide how bad her condition was at first?"

Buffy pulled her hand from Stefan's and rushed over to a doctor that had just come out of the sheriff's room. She caught the woman's gaze. "What's going on with Liz Forbes?"

"Her recent MRI showed a lesion on her brainstem. We think it's metastasized to her spine."

"Can it be operated on?"

"If the tumor's already spread, it would be impossible."

"What about chemo? Radiation? Something!"

"It won't work. The tumor is growing too fast for it to actually do any good."

"Does she know? Does Liz know about…."

"For a few weeks now, but news like this takes time to digest."

Buffy released the doctor and she walked away. Her eyes met Stefan's and he came over to her, holding out his arms. She relented and let him hug her tightly. "How do I tell Caroline this?"

"You don't have to. I can tell her." Stefan said, stroking her hair.

"No. It should be me. I should tell her. Soon. It's only a matter of time before she compels a doctor. This isn't the kind of news anyone should find out from a stranger."

"How do we deal with this, Buffy? There's a 22-year-old sociopathic witch running around Mystic Falls right now. That we have a plan for. We've dealt with every kind of evil there is, and we always have a plan, but this…. If Caroline loses her mom, it'll destroy her. She doesn't deserve this. She's a good person. How do we deal with this?"

"There's no plan. There's no good way to deal with it." Buffy pulled away from Stefan. "Can you let Damon know? I'm going to go find Caroline." She turned and walked out of the hallway. It took her a little while, but eventually she found Caroline alone in a waiting room down the hall from her mother's room. "Where's Elena?"

"She went to find Stefan. We just got back from a walk around the outside of the hospital." Caroline said. "There's no news. Apparently, they're still running tests."

Buffy sat down next to Caroline and took a deep breath. "Caroline…. We need to talk. I spoke with one of the doctors about your mom. It's not good. She has what they said was a lesion on her brainstem."

"What does that mean? Like a blood clot?"

"No. No, it means…. Caroline…." Buffy reached over and took Caroline's hand. "Sweetie, your mom has cancer. They think that it's spread to her spine."

"That just doesn't make sense. My mom would have said something to me."

"I wish it wasn't true, but I compelled one of the doctors for the information."

"Ok. So my mom has a brain tumor. Then we'll just give her vampire blood."

"I think if our blood cured cancer…. Well, that's probably something that we would have heard about that by now."

"Fine. Then when are they gonna operate?"

"They, uh…. They can't. It's not operable."

"Ok. Well, if they can't operate, then they'll give her chemo, right?"

"The…. Tumor…. It's growing too fast and the doctors don't think it will work."

"Well, then they're wrong because they don't know her." Buffy just squeezed Caroline's hand as it started to sink in. "They don't know how strong she is. I mean, she's gonna get through this, Buffy. Right?"

"I…. I don't know. But whatever she needs or wants, Damon and I will make sure she gets it. The best doctors. The best hospitals. Whatever she needs."

Caroline finally lost it and began to sob. Buffy reached out and pulled the younger blonde to her, holding her tightly. They both stayed that way for what seemed like hours. Buffy wished she had better answers to Caroline's questions, but she didn't. Nothing would ever make losing your mother to something so random and horrible any easier.

Buffy walked up the drive to her and Damon's house, admiring the pretty lights that Stefan had put up. She unlocked the front door and stepped inside. "Damon?" She called. "Are you home?" There was no answer. She walked over to the switch to turn on the Christmas lights in the house and realized the tree was gone. "What the…." She turned around and realized that all the decorations were missing. "Ok, who am I killing?" There was a note on the fireplace mantel with her name on it.

Hey baby,

I have amazing news. Call me as soon as you get this.

Love you,

Damon

Buffy sighed and pulled out her cell phone, dialing her husband's number. She heard it connect and said, "Where's my Christmas tree?"

"It's at home."

"No, it's not. I'm at home and there's no tree. Did that little twerp Kai steal it?"

"No. I took it and everything else in the house and I'm working on decorating our nice big house with our amazing bed and your custom built gazebo…."

"What? You're in Mystic Falls? How?"

"That little twerp Kai sucked up all the Traveler magic in the spell over the town today. That's probably going to be a bad thing and soon, but right now I'm just happy to be home. I thought we could celebrate."

"Happy is something I could use right now. Today was horrible."

"Come home, babe. I'll cook you dinner and we'll talk about our crappy days."

"Ok. I'll see you soon. I love you."

"I love you."

Buffy hung up and turned to leave, but something hit her upside the head hard enough that the world went black. Kai stood over Buffy's unconscious form and said, "I may not be able to use magic on you just yet," He picked up the object she'd been hit with. "But a magically enhanced crowbar seems to work just fine."

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