The Next Chapter

Chapter 12

Chapter 12

Buffy woke up to find Damon lying in bed next to her. Then she realized that she'd fallen asleep in his room. They'd been talking almost all night long and Damon had laid her head down on his chest where she'd fallen asleep.

He smiled. "Morning sleepy head."

"God, I'm sorry. I invaded your space."

"Don't be sorry. If I wanted you gone, I would've made you leave. It's fine."

"What time is it?"

"A little after eleven in the morning. You do need to get up, though."

"What's going on?"

"I just got off the phone with Liz. She needs to speak with us at Founders' Hall."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "I'm taking a vacation and soon."

Damon smiled. "I'll make you coffee while you get dressed."

"Thank you." Buffy shook her head as he left and sat up.

Damon had made good on his dinner and drinks that he owed her the night before. After they'd gotten home, he'd come into her room after talking with Stefan and they'd started talking about more stories from Buffy's past. Eventually he'd wanted to change into something more comfortable, so he'd headed to his room and had invited Buffy so they didn't have to break the flow of conversation. It had been the nicest time Buffy had had with Damon since she'd met him.

"There was a disturbance at the hospital blood bank last night." Liz said. "Some of the supply was compromised."

"Compromised?" Buffy asked. "You mean stolen?"

"We almost missed it. The inventory records were altered but when the night manager was questioned he had no recollection of changing them."

"That means that the vampire who stole the blood used mind control to hide the theft." John said.

"We knew what you meant." Damon said snidely.

"We wouldn't have noticed if John hadn't alerted us to recent discrepancies in other hospital blood banks in the county." Liz said.

"How lucky for us we have John."

"We're stepping up security at the hospital…. Giving the guards vervain to prevent this from happening again."

"Sheriff, may I offer a suggestion?" John asked. "Why don't Buffy, Damon, and I put our heads together? We can track down whoever is doing this."

"Truthfully I can use the extra hands. Is that something you would be willing to do?"

"I would rather it be on my own." Buffy said. "I'm really not used to working with so many people."

"Oh, come now." John said. "I think we could make a good team, don't you think?"

Buffy gritted her teeth against the unpleasant remark about to escape her lips. Damon took over. "John, whatever we can do to help keep this town safe…. even if it means spending time with you."

Buffy was pacing the hallway while Damon leaned against the banister watching her. "What the hell is he up to? I just can't get a solid read on him."

"We'll find out." Damon said calmly.

"That guy just gives me a wiggins. I don't trust him." Buffy was interrupted by the doorbell.

Damon sighed and went to open the door. Buffy stayed back, too agitated to care who it was. "I suppose I should be grateful you learned how to use the bell." Damon said to Anna.

"I'm here on behalf of my mother."

"On behalf of or in spite of?"

"I'm sorry about what the other vampires did to Stefan. Abducted him, tortured him…. It wasn't supposed to go down like that."

"You're playing house with half of a tomb of really pissed of vampires. What do you think was going to happen?" Buffy asked.

"My mom is devastated. They tried to overthrow her."

"Why isn't she here telling us this?"

"She doesn't really do apologies."

"Well, it's a coincidence, cause I don't do forgiveness." Damon said. "Let's just roll along."

"And, by the way, if you're going continue playing house with these little vampire pets of yours, you might want to stop robbing the blood bank dry because they're onto it."

"I haven't been to the local blood bank in at least a week." Anna said.

"Then it's one of your others."

"The others are gone."

"Where did they go?" Buffy asked.

"They weren't cut out for this town. After what happened with your brother, Damon, my mom kicked them out and they took off. It's just us and Harper now."

Damon was silent for a moment, then he said, "Well, Anna, thanks for stopping by."

"What?" Anna asked.

"Bye now." Damon showed her to the door and slammed it behind her.

"What was that about?" Buffy asked.

"I think I know who's stealing the blood. And you know him, too."

"Stefan?"

"Who else? Haven't you noticed that he's got a little bit more of a bounce in his walk the last couple of days? He's less broody…. He's acting more like…."

"You."

"Exactly."

"What do we do? Search his room like we're his parents looking for Playboys under the mattress?"

"No, no, no. We'll just ask him when he gets home from school."

Stefan dropped his bag on a chair in the hallway and headed towards the stairs. "How was school?" Damon asked from his place in the doorway to the library.

"Fine." Stefan said.

"Yeah? Same old, same old? Nothing new? No stories to bring home?"

"You're making small talk. Why?"

"You've seemed awfully chipper lately. A little less doom and gloom…. A little more pep in you step."

"And you think it's because I drank human blood again."

"I don't want to brag but I would definitely take responsibility for this new and improved you."

"Well, I hate to burst your bubble but I'm clean."

"Yeah, not possible."

"Not only is it possible but it is quite true."

"Stefan, just be serious for a second. You spent the last century and a half being a poster child for Prozac and now you expect me to believe that this new you has nothing to do with human blood. Nothing?"

"I'm clean."

"You're lying!"

"Believe what you want." Stefan walked away and Damon turned to look at Buffy standing in the library doorway.

"Verdict?" He asked her.

Buffy shrugged. "Guilty. Just like an addict, he's lying about his problem."

Buffy and Damon followed Stefan down into the basement. He cleared off a refrigerator and opened the lid. Inside was a large amount of blood bags. "Well, well, he's a liar and a thief." Damon said. "So, when are you gonna share?"

"Go ahead, help yourself." Stefan said.

"No, no, no. I'm talking about the fact that you're a closet blood junkie."

"So, I'm drinking blood again. You're the one that shoved it on me, what's your problem? I have it under control."

"Under control?" Buffy said. "You robbed the hospital!"

"So? What's your point?"

"Fine, whatever man, drink up." Damon said. "Just remember, we're trying to keep a low profile. Why don't you just walk up to Sheriff Forbes and ask her to tap a vein?"

"Have my actions negatively impacted you? I can't imagine what that must feel like."

"Yeah, what does Elena think about the new…. you?"

"Nothing's changed. I'm still the same person."

"Clearly."

"Elena doesn't need to know anything yet."

"You've been out the human stuff for years, Stefan. If you're having problems controlling…."

"I don't have any problems."

"Who do you think you're talking to? I know what it's like. The Jekyll and Hyde feeling, that switch, sometimes you go off and snap. Right now is not a good time for me to be worried about you snapping."

"I know that it pains you to see this but I'm fine ok? I'm fine." Stefan took a pouch from the fridge. "So please, both of you, do me a favor and back off." He closed the fridge and walked out.

Buffy and Damon exchanged looks. "This can't be good." Buffy said after a long moment.

Someone was ringing the doorbell as Damon was putting on his tux jacket. His tie was hanging around his neck. He opened the door and saw that it was John. John didn't wait for an invitation. He just walked into the house. "Hey partner!"

"What do you want?"

"You and Buffy haven't returned any of my calls."

"Most people take that as a hint."

"Where do we start looking for vampires?"

"Why the act John? You obviously don't care about catching vampires. You're here talking to me."

"Actually, I care very much."

"What does Isobel say about that? I mean, considering that she is one."

"Isobel and I share a mutual interest. The original Jonathan Gilbert has an invention and it was stolen by a vampire. That vampire was then burned alive in Fell's church or so Jonathan thought and the invention was lost forever. But then the vampires weren't killed, were they? They were trapped and now they're free, thanks to you which means the invention is retrievable."

"What is it?"

"The only thing that matters is that I want it back and you're going to help me if you want your secret safe."

"Why bring me into it, John? I mean, I don't know what you are talking about much less who has it."

"Oh come on, Damon! You were around back then, you know what this people are, what they look like. He was friendly with a woman who turned out to be a vampire. Her name was Pearl. Does that ring a bell?"

"I'm not playing anymore. Get out."

"I beg your pardon?"

"You know, I only entertain this whole blackmail scheme thing of yours because I thought you and Isobel could lead me to Katherine but see, now I know you have no idea where Katherine is, because if you did you would know that Katherine and Pearl were best friends. See, you don't know everything do you?"

"I'll tell the entire council what you are."

"Go for it! I'll kill every last one of them. Then I'll sever your hand, pull your ring off, and I'll kill you too. Do you understand that?" He shoved John out the door and slammed it. Damon headed back into the hallway as he started to tie his tie.

"Who was that?"

Damon looked up and suddenly found himself speechless and frozen. Buffy was walking down the stairs in a blood red, strapless, satin dress that clung to her body all the way down to her knees where the skirt gently flowed outwards and flowed around like waves in the water with every step. In the middle of the sweetheart neckline was a diamond brooch that sparkled with every movement. There was a small train in the back that flowed gracefully behind her as she made her way down the stairs. Her hair was done in loose waves and had a deep side part. She looked like an old Hollywood movie star.

"Damon?" Buffy asked.

"Oh, uh…. It was John Gilbert." Damon said, still mesmerized.

Buffy's beautifully made up face turned sour as she started to tie up Damon's tie for him. "What did he want?"

"To annoy us. You look…. Stunning."

Buffy blushed. "Thank you. The last time I was this dressed up was for prom. Thank god I'm not fighting hellhounds this time. Cause this dress doesn't allow too much movement."

"I will be the focus of every man's jealousy with you on my arm."

Buffy blushed again and changed the subject. "Elena asked if I would come help get her ready for her Miss Mystic Falls thing. So as soon as we get there, I have to leave you for a little bit."

"I'll count down the seconds until you return."

Jenna was arranging Elena's hair while Buffy worked on Elena's makeup. "Thanks for helping me guys." Elena said.

"Don't thank me until you're sure your hair isn't gonna burn off." Jenna said.

"And don't thank me until you're sure you don't look like a clown." Buffy said.

"Did you do your own makeup?" Elena asked."Yes."

"Then I feel pretty confident." Elena sighed. "You know I remember when my mom and I were first planning for this, she was so excited."

"So were you if I recall." Jenna said.

"I was. She just made it sound like so much fun. A lot's changed since then."

"I hate to brake it to you but its little late for cold feet."

"I don't have cold feet. It's just…. I think I'd be enjoying it a lot more if she was here."

"Well I'll tell you one thing, your hair would have a better chance if she was."

"Ok, I should go put my dress on. Be careful with that thing, don't hurt anybody. Buffy, will you help me?""Sure." Buffy stood up.

"Did I mention how jealous I am of how awesome you look?" Jenna asked.

"A couple of times." Buffy smiled. "But one more never hurts."

"Well, you look absolutely amazing and if I could fit in that dress, I would steal it from you."

"Come on." Elena laughed, grabbing Buffy's hand and pulling her towards the door. They headed over to the dressing room where another girl was having a panic attack. "Are you ok Amber?"

"I hate being the center of attention. I get panic attacks." Amber said.

"You need some privacy so you can change?"

"Actually I'm gonna go get some air." Amber left and closed the door.

"Here." Buffy picked up Elena's dress. "This is such a pretty color."

"Thank you." Elena started to get undressed, but Buffy stopped her.

"You can't be back here." Buffy scolded Damon.

"We need to talk." Damon said.

"It has to be right now?" Elena asked.

"Normally I would have a completely different outlook of what I'm about to tell you but since it's really inconvenient to me, I'll squeal."

"What are you talking about?"

"Stefan's still drinking human blood."

"What?"

"Yeah, a month ago I would have rejoiced but with the Council back on the alert, it is not a good time for Stefan to fly off the handle."

"I know he's been a little edgy but he said that was normal."

"He has a fridge full of stolen blood bank contraband in the house." Buffy said. She hadn't wanted to tell Elena before her big moment, but that was ruined now.

Elena sat down on the couch. "Oh my god."

"He has no idea what normal is." Damon said. "His entire existence isn't normal. Normal to a vampire is drinking human blood but he spent all the time fighting it when he should have learned to control it and now it's controlling him instead."

"I can't believe it. I mean, it's Stefan that we're talking about here."

"Stefan on human blood, Elena. He'll do anything, he'll say anything because he's not gonna want to stop. Trust me."

"This is all my fault. I'm the one who fed him the blood in the first place."

Stefan walked in just then. "What's going on in here?"

"I was just filling Elena in on your extra-curricular activities." Damon said.

"What are you talking about?"

"I know about the blood Stefan." Elena said.

"I'll be downstairs, drinking." Damon said. He smiled at Buffy as he left. "See you soon."

Buffy looked around and then started fiddling with her hair in the mirror trying not to eavesdrop. "I was going to tell you." Stefan said.

"When?" Elena asked.

"I'm fine. I'm fine. The blood…. it doesn't change anything.""It's changing you."

"Why? Because I kept a secret from you? Come on Elena, look, given the way you're reacting right now, can you really blame me for doing that?"

"Are you hearing yourself right now? You've been stealing blood and lying and you say that everything's fine? Everything's not fine Stefan!"

"So what? You, Buffy, and Damon all of a sudden have everything figured out then?"

"It's not about Damon or Buffy. It's about what's happening to you."

"I know and I'm telling you that I'm fine. I'm fine. Please come on. Elena I thought you…. I thought you believed in me."

Carol Lockwood started knocking on the door and then she walked in. "Elena, let's go. The line up's starting."

"I just…. I need a minute." Elena said.

"You're not even dressed yet. Escorts wait downstairs, Stefan."

Stefan looked at Elena and then left. Buffy sighed. "Thank you, Carol. Elena will be ready in just five minutes. I promise."

"Thank you, Buffy. You look beautiful." Carol walked out.

Buffy turned to Elena. "Everything will be ok. Just forget about it for right now and get dressed and go out there and smile." Elena nodded.

Buffy came down the stairs and spotted Damon waiting for her. He smiled and met her half way on the stairs. "A lady isn't supposed to come down the stairs unescorted."

The blonde shook her head. "It's not 1864 anymore."

"Never hurts to show some chivalry. Most women these days believe its dead."

Alaric was standing near the bottom of the stairs when he spotted Buffy. He gave a long, low whistle. "I didn't recognize you at first. You look…. Wow."

"Thank you." Buffy said, shaking her head. "With all these compliments, I should probably dress up more often. But wait till you guys see Elena. Jenna and I worked our magic on her and she is gorgeous."

"Am I sensing a little pride there?"

"Actually, yes. My little sister didn't get to have a prom considering we blew up the high school again…. And the town…. Right around when prom was supposed to be happening. So…. I pretended Elena was my little sister. I got a little teary up there. I think I need to call Dawn…." Buffy looked around. "Wait…. There are all the escorts…. Where's Stefan?"

"Last I saw he was upstairs with you and Elena." Damon said.

"Oh, that's not good."

"Miss Tina Fell, escorted by Bartholomew Whitmore." The mayor announced and the first girl began her descent down the stairs.

"I've got to join Jenna." Alaric said, heading outside.

Buffy watched for Stefan as they called the next two girls down. There was still no sign of him.

"Miss Caroline Forbes and her escort Jeffrey Lockwood Hamilton." Caroline made her way down the stairs to her escort and then it was Elena's turn.

"Miss Elena Gilbert, escorted by Mister Stefan Salvatore."

Buffy looked for Stefan one last time before pulling Damon's ear to her mouth. "Do you know this dance thing she has to do?"

"Vaguely." Damon said. "Why?"

"Because you need to take Stefan's place. Go."

Damon looked a little confused, but he walked over to where Stefan should be. "Where is Stefan?" Elena whispered.

"I don't know." Damon said. He took her hand and they joined the others girls and their escorts outside. Buffy walked out to where Jenna and Alaric were.

"What is she doing with Damon?" Jenna asked.

"I have no idea." Alaric said.

"I asked him to take over." Buffy said. "Stefan is MIA."

"He was just here." Jenna said."I know, but now he's not and I couldn't let her be embarrassed. This meant so much to her mom. So I asked Damon to fill in."

"That was sweet of you to give up your date."

Buffy smiled and shrugged as she watched Damon and Elena dance. "Elena's become like a little sister since I moved here."

"She talks about you all the time. I think she sees you as an older sister, too. I, personally, am very glad to have such an awesome friend in my life and in Elena's."

Buffy smiled brightly and clapped as the dance ended. He bowed to Elena and escorted her back inside before coming out to find Buffy. "Vaguely?"

"Well, that dance is kind of easy." Damon admitted. "What were you and Jenna talking about?"

"Elena." Buffy took Damon's hand and pulled. "Come on. They're going to announce who won."

On the stage, the girls were lined up and Mayor Lockwood was at the microphone. "Before I crown a winner, I'd like to offer a personal thank you to all of these young ladies for their efforts to better our community." Everyone applauded. "So, without further ado it is my honor to announce our very own Miss Mystic Falls, Miss Caroline Forbes!"

Caroline was obviously surprised as she hugged Elena. Buffy and Damon didn't get to enjoy the moment because a deputy came and said that the sheriff was requesting their presence in a bathroom upstairs.

Buffy spotted Elena walking through the crowd and she waved the teenager over. "What is it? Did you find him?" Elena asked.

"There were signs of a struggle in the upstairs bathroom." Damon said. "There was blood and that Amber girl is missing."

"Oh my god! He wouldn't hurt her. He won't!"

"Let's just find him ok?" Buffy said soothingly. "Let's get your coat. Come on." Damon helped both the women into their coats and the three of them ran outside. Bonnie was suddenly behind them. They heard a scream and Buffy and Damon followed it. Stefan had a hold of Amber and was tearing into her neck.

"Stefan!" Elena cried and Stefan released Amber.

"Stefan, come on…. Get control." Damon said as he cautiously approached his brother. "It's ok, come on. Breath through a it."

Stefan grabbed Damon and threw him against a tree. As Damon got up, Buffy tackled Stefan and they rolled to the ground, he tried to throw her off, but she was stronger. Since he'd taken human blood so recently, he was strong too, so Buffy was starting to struggle to hold him and keep her balance in the tight dress. Finally he managed to throw her off, but Damon was there to catch her. Stefan started to attack them, but all of a sudden he grabbed his head, screaming in pain. Everyone looked over at Bonnie.

After a long moment, he seemed to come to himself. He looked over at Damon holding Buffy up. "It's ok." Damon said soothingly to his brother. "It's ok, Stefan."

Stefan bolted.

The police had surrounded the area where Stefan had attacked Amber. Amber was sitting with the sheriff wrapped in a foil blanket for warmth. Buffy, Damon, Bonnie, and Elena were still there. Finally, the sheriff walked over to them.

"She doesn't remember what happened." Liz said.

"It's a good thing the girls got here before we did. She lost lot of blood." Damon said.

"You didn't see anything?" Liz asked Bonnie and Elena.

"No, we just found her and called Damon and Buffy." Elena said. "That's what Buffy told me to do if anything happened."

"Is she gonna be ok?" Bonnie asked.

"It looks like it…. Yeah." Liz said. "Why don't you girls get back to the party? Damon, Buffy, and I can take it from here."

"Ok." Elena said.

"They didn't see the bite mark?" Liz asked Damon and Buffy.

"No, we got here before they got too close." Buffy said. "There was too much blood. They couldn't see it clearly. Besides, something this traumatic…. It plays tricks on the mind. Denial is an easy thing for the mind to settle on. I saw it a lot back home in Sunnydale."

"Well, there's really nothing more you two can do here. Why don't you go on in and enjoy the rest of the party?" Liz patted Buffy's arm and headed back over to Amber.

Buffy looked up at Damon. "I really don't feel like partying anymore."

Damon nodded. "Yeah. Ok. Come on."

Damon and Buffy walked towards the front door arm in arm. The car ride home had been silent, but in their heads they were going over how to fix Stefan. Buffy was still stuck in her thoughts when Damon pulled her to a stop. Anna was waiting for them.

"Anna, this is getting weird." Damon said.

"We're here to talk." Anna said. Pearl walked over from the shadows by the front door.

"Not in the mood. Today's been a no good, very bad day."

"Annabelle tells me you're looking for something I took from Jonathan Gilbert." Pearl said.

"I'm listening." Pearl handed him the device and Damon pulled out a pocket watch.

"What is it?" Buffy asked.

"Jonathan was passionate about his inventions." Pearl said. "He confided in me that he had created a detection device meant to track down the town's vampire element.

"It was a pocket watch." Damon said.

"That's what it turned out to be yes. But that's not what I stole. I discovered my mistake when I saw the watch in Jonathan's hand the night he took us. Its stile pointed at me."

Damon looked at the device. "So what is this?"

"I have no idea but now it's yours."

"What's the catch?"

"There is no catch. My daughter wants to stay here. I want to stay here. You refused to trust us and for good reasons. Consider this an apology." Damon looked at Buffy and then back at Pearl and Anna, nodding slightly. He turned and headed for the front door. "By the way, Buffy." Buffy turned to look at Pearl. "You look beautiful."

"Thank you…." Buffy said slowly.

"I overheard a conversation you had with Elena about how you never dress up." Anna said. "My mother's right. The look suits you." Pearl and Anna smiled at Buffy and then disappeared.

"You even get hit on by women." Damon smirked. "I'm going to have to lock you away, aren't I?"

Buffy's cell phone rang. "It's Elena." She answered it.

Stefan walked into his bedroom as he tried to calm down. Elena walking in didn't help him. "You shouldn't be here." He said.

"I know."

"Now you know."

"That wasn't you."

"Oh, it was absolutely me. A monster. A predator. That's who I am, Elena."

"That's what the blood makes you."

'The blood brings out what's inside of me and if you think any differently then you're an idiot."

"I know this isn't you, Stefan."

"I wanted to drain every ounce of blood from that girl's body."

"No."

"It's who I am, Elena."

"No, you can't scare me off."

"Why would you risk it? Why would you come here?"

"Because I did this. This is my fault. I'm the one who made you drink the blood."

"All you did was expose me to who I really am."

"It isn't you."

"Stop saying that! Don't get any closer to me."

"I'm not gonna let this happen to you."

"Stop!"

"Stefan, I'm not gonna give up on you! I believe in you!"

"Stop!" He threw her against the wall. "Stop!" Stefan hit the wall next to her head and Elena jumped, terrified. "I'm so sorry."

"It's ok."

He put his head on her shoulder and began to cry. "I don't know what's happening to me."

"It's ok Stefan. Shh…. It's ok. You're gonna be ok." Elena took a vervain dart and stuck it in his back. He fell and Buffy and Damon walked in.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" Buffy asked, brushing Elena's hair out of her face.

"I'm sure." Elena said, hugging Buffy tightly and beginning to cry.

"Shh, Elena…. It's going to be ok. I promise." Buffy looked at Damon as he picked Stefan up. He nodded at her and then carried Stefan downstairs. The girls followed him down into the cellar and Damon gently placed Stefan in the holding cell down there, closing the door and locking it.

"There's no guarantee it's going to work." Damon said.

"It has to." Elena countered.

"Coming?"

"I'm gonna stay here." Elena sat down against the wall opposite the door. She looked up at Buffy and the Slayer nodded, sitting down next to her. Damon looked at the two women and then sat down across from them. Buffy smiled slightly and reached out to touch his hand gratefully.

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