Buffy and Damon sat in the empty cafeteria with the principal of Mystic Falls High School. Buffy was holding Hope, gently patting her back and cooing at her. Hope was playing with her hair, randomly chewing on it and running her fingers through it."I had no idea you two were parents." Principal Weber said.
"We're not. This is our friend's daughter. We're taking care of her for a while." Damon said.
"Ok, let's get down to it." Buffy said. "Principal Weber, I know that graduation isn't for a few months, but Jeremy just got accepted into this great art school and…."
"Jeremy Gilbert? I don't think so, not with his academic record." Weber said.
"What exactly is wrong with it?"
"You have a few hours? Let's start with drug use in his freshman year."
"You mean the year that his parents died?" Damon asked.
"Ok. So what's the excuse for the next 3 years of woeful attendance?"
"Extracurricular activities…. health and fitness…. that sort of thing. I mean, did you see how scrawny he used to be?"
"No, but I do recall the 4 months where he faked his own death."
"Funny thing about that, he actually didn't fake it. We went to this island off the coast of Canada in search of this cure for vampirism, and Jeremy…."
"Damon!" Buffy snapped.
"Is this some sort of joke to you?" Weber asked.
"No. Of course not. My husband just chooses the weirdest moments to be funny. Look, Jeremy has had a rough time here, I know, but that's part of the reason why we want him to go."
"Well, I'm sorry, but I can't let that happen."
Damon looked at Buffy. "So can we try this my way now?"
Buffy shrugged. "We already compelled him into art school."
"Ok." Damon clapped his hands and moved to sit next to Weber. He caught the principal's gaze. "Um…. This small-town atmosphere doesn't nurture a creative spirit like Jeremy Gilbert, and it's of your opinion that it's high time for him to get the hell out of Mystic Falls."
Weber nodded. "Jeremy's grades shouldn't be a problem. I can work around them. I'll get the papers drawn up and have him all graduated in about an hour."
"Thank you." Buffy said. She looked down at Hope as Weber walked out. "Don't get any ideas later in life, ok? You need to grow up and graduate high school properly. This is for Jeremy's own good."
"Do you get the sense that Klaus will be a pushover with her?" Damon said. "I mean, all she'll have to do is bat her eyes at him and he'll compel her whatever she wants."
Buffy laughed. "I get the sense that you would definitely be like that as a father. Klaus might end up leaving a trail of bodies."
Damon looked at Buffy seriously. "Do you ever regret becoming a vampire?"
She blinked at him. "That was a topic change."
"Not really. I mean, as a vampire you'll never be able to have kids. I'll never be able to give you kids."
"I told you, I'm fine with that."
"I know, but do you mean it? You're so good with Hope."
"I do mean it. Babies are great, but they turn into teenagers. And I've had my fill of those with Dawn…. and Jeremy and Elena. Eventually Dawn and Jeremy will have babies that we can dote on." She looked down at Hope and cooed, "Just like we dote on you." Hope made a happy sound and shoved another handful of Buffy's hair in her mouth.
Damon held the Mystic Grill door open for Buffy and Hope. Elena, Jeremy, Matt, and Alaric were supposed to be at the Grill celebrating Jeremy leaving for art school. When they walked in, though, only Jeremy was sitting at the table. Damon walked over and handed Jeremy his diploma and slapped a graduation cap on his head.
"Look who graduated!" He announced.
"He was ok with it?" Jeremy asked.
"Sure. I mean, practically flunking, missed 100 days of school, and you can barely spell the word 'cat', but sure. He was fine with you graduating early."
Buffy rolled her eyes. "We helped the process along. I'm gonna go make Hope a bottle before we head over to get Liz. I think she's hungry. Damon?"
Damon grinned. "Come here, cutie." He took Hope from Buffy and set the diaper bag down on the table. "Uncle Damon has you now."
"Don't bounce her." Buffy called as she headed into the kitchen. "She'll throw up on you again."
"Ruined my favorite shirt, too." Damon shook his head and bounced Hope lightly. "But I don't mind. Aunt Buffy has ruined lots of my favorite shirts and you're cuter than she is."
Jeremy shook his head. "God that is so weird!"
"Oh, are you still here? I thought you'd left already." Jeremy laughed and stood up to play with Hope while Damon held her. "Oh, look under the cap. I jacked a little going-away present from Rick's girlfriend's stash." Jeremy pulled the cap off and discovered the hidden joint. "Put it away, you idiot. Tell your sister or Buffy, I'll kill you…. again."
"Did you forget I have super hearing?" Buffy called from the kitchen.
Damon cringed slightly. "Yes." He called back.
She walked in from the kitchen carrying a warmed up bottle of formula for Hope. "I don't care. Just smoke it responsibly. Where is everyone?"
"Matt had a visitor and Elena and Rick are cleaning up."
"I didn't see them in the kitchen."
Jeremy shrugged. "Maybe they went to find Matt?"
"Ok, let's go get Liz." She held out her hands to take Hope, but Damon turned away.
"I've got her." He said. "Gimme the bottle."
Buffy shook her head. "Ok." She handed Damon the bottle and picked up the diaper bag. "Onward. Jeremy, try not to party too hard. I don't want you getting kicked off the plane tonight."
"Yes, mom." Jeremy said, giving her a tight hug.
"Text me as soon as you get to the airport and call me as soon as you land."
"I mean it, Jeremy. Don't forget or I'm hunting you down."
"Got it. Go get Liz."
Buffy and Damon walked outside and headed across the street to the Sheriff's office. Damon paused by Buffy's car and shook his head. "That's not a sight I ever thought I'd see."
"What?" Buffy asked, checking her car for any scratches or dents.
"A car seat in your car." He laughed. "So weird."
"Definitely weird." They headed into the building and up the stairs. Liz was moving around her office holding a case file with more case files piled on her desk.
"Not to be blunt, but I think dying gets you a ticket out of work. Just saying." Damon said.
"You have a baby." Liz said, sounding completely shocked. "Why do you have a baby?"
"We adopted!" Damon said with a big grin.
Buffy shook her head as she sat down the diaper bag in one of the chairs. "We didn't adopt. Liz, this is Hope. She's the daughter of a friend of ours. We're just keeping an eye on her for a few days."
Liz smiled as Damon walked over to her with Hope. "Hello, Hope." She said, stroking Hope's hair. "Aren't you a cutie pie?"
"How are you feeling?" Buffy asked.
"Like I'm not gonna leave this job with unfinished business." Liz gestured at all the files on her desk. "I have all these open cases."
Damon handed Hope over to Buffy and sat down behind Liz's desk. "Well, let me see if I can help you close a couple of these open cases. Yeah. This one was me." He tossed the file in a box. "Me." That file went in the box, too. "Also me." He tossed that file in. "Ooh, this one was Stefan's. Oh, wait. No. Me. Yeah." He dropped it in the box and held out his hands. "Gimmie the baby back."
"Nope. You lost your turn." Buffy said, smiling down at Hope drinking her bottle.
"I always had a sneaking suspicion." Liz said to Damon. "What about this one?" She handed Damon a file.
"Elena's parents?" Buffy asked, reading over Damon's shoulder.
"Didn't know there was an open investigation." Damon said.
"Well, at the time, I was taking care of Elena and Jeremy, and I didn't want to drag them through more heartache." Liz said. "Then when I was finally ready to reopen the wound, Elena had moved on, and you and I had become friends, and I worried that…."
"What, that I was involved?" Damon asked. "Liz, no. No, I promise you."
"Miranda left me this message two hours before they got in that car. Two hours before they drove off that road for no reason." Liz dialed her voicemail and went to her saved messages.
Liz, it's Miranda Gilbert. I have something urgent to talk to you about. Please call me back as soon as you can.
"I'll be damned." Damon said. "Looks like you got a good, old-fashioned, sheriffy whodunit on your hands."
Hope made a noise and pushed her bottle away. Buffy tried to give it back, but Hope wasn't having any of it. "I guess she's done." Damon held his hand up and Buffy tossed him the bottle. He shoved it in the diaper bag next to him and pulled out a burp rag. "I'm going to get her carrier so she can sleep." She handed Damon Hope so he could burp her and headed out of the office.
Liz watched the entire thing with a slight smile on her face. "You two."
"What about us?" Damon asked, patting Hope's back.
"You two are good at this." Liz gently stroked Hope's hair. "I'm glad I got to see you two with a baby."
"Because I always thought you would make good parents together."
"Yes. You two are the most amazing couple. You tackle everything together and you two are so connected…. Even when you're angry with each other, you still find a way to get through it together. I've seen the changes you've each had on the other and I am so proud of both of you." Liz leaned down and kissed Hope's forehead. "And one day, when you're ready, I can see you both making the best parents."
Buffy walked back in carrying the carrier. "Ok, whoever the hell invented these things was evil. Even with mad Vampire Slayer vampire skills, I still almost had to rip it out of the backseat."
"It's to make sure they're safe." Liz said.
"Oh, I get that, but can't we make it even a tiny bit easier? Don't even get me started on strollers." Buffy sat the carrier down on the floor next to Damon and then sat down next to it. She took Hope back from Damon and laid her in her carrier, covering her up before she started to rock the carrier.
"Strollers were invented by an evil scientist. I'll give you that one. I think I pinched my fingers at least once a trip every time I had to take Caroline anywhere as a baby."
Damon grabbed a pile of files and pulled the rubber band off. "Right. You know, this would be a lot more fun if I had some…."
"Top right-hand drawer." Liz said.
"Well, look at that. This is why you are a terrible sheriff."
"No. I'm a terrible sheriff because one of my best friends is the perp in half my open cases." Damon nodded and offered Liz the bottle. "Not till I finish this."
"Ah, suit yourself."
"Can I ask you something about that night? You saw Elena, and Stefan pulled her out of the car."
"Yeah. Stefan, always a one-upper."
"So you both just happened to be in town the night her parents died. Why?"
"Well, believe it or not, Liz, I once had a mommy, too. She died around that day. In the years that my emotions were on, I would stop by and leave flowers at her grave."
"You never talk about her."
"He does occasionally. And he still leaves flowers on her grave." Buffy said.
"Honestly, there's not much to say about her." Damon said. "She died. Old-timey disease…. Consumption."
"Why do I feel like you're leaving something out?" Liz asked.
Buffy started to say something, but Damon cut her off. "Tell you what. Why don't we use your investigative instincts to solve this? Come here. Check this out. All right. So why were the Gilberts taking Wickery bridge when old Miller road was clearly 10 minutes faster, and why are there no skid marks at the scene of the accident, and why was the trunk full of luggage as if they were going out of town?"
"Something did happen that night." Liz nodded. "I think there's some more stuff down in evidence. I'm going to go grab it." She walked out before Buffy or Damon could offer their help.
Buffy looked up from watching Hope falling asleep. "Should we call Elena and ask her to come look at this?"
"I think we need to. See if she remembers anything from that night."
Damon grabbed the phone off Liz's desk and dialed Elena's number. After a moment he looked at it and hung up. "What's wrong?" Buffy asked.
"She ignored me." Damon shook his head and pulled out his cell phone. He hit Elena's direct dial.
"What, Damon? I'm bonding with my brother." Elena answered.
"We want to run something by you. Is there any chance you can get to the sheriff's office?"
"I'm not so sure it's a good idea to be around a sheriff right now." Elena let out a laugh. "Jeremy and I smoked your going-away present."
"Are you stoned?"
"No. I'm lightly buzzed."
Damon looked at Buffy apologetically. "Ahh, ok. Well, you need some eye drops, a squirt of perfume, and half a pizza. This is important."
"Ok. I'll walk over now." Elena hung up.
Damon looked over at Buffy shaking her head at him. "I can't believe Elena actually smoked that joint with him instead of getting angry that I gave it to him."
"I can't either." Buffy said. She sighed. "I'm going to text Caroline and let her know we're not going to be bringing Liz any time soon."
As soon as the text was sent, Caroline called Buffy. "Hold on, Caroline." Buffy stood up and gently scooted Hope's carrier closer to Damon so he could keep rocking it. She walked out of the room and headed outside. "Sorry, had to make sure I wasn't around your mom or a sleeping baby."
"Why isn't she coming?" Caroline demanded. "You guys were supposed to drive her out here and…."
"With what!? She should be here relaxing and enjoying whatever time she has left!"
"Caroline, calm down. You cannot control every little thing. She's working on trying to close some of her open cases."
"It's giving her a piece of mind. Let her do this, ok? Damon and I aren't going to leave her. I promise."
Caroline let out an exaggerated sigh. "Fine. Just…. Don't let her tire herself out."
"Sweetie, I've got this."
"I know. I'm sorry."
"It's ok. Is Stefan helping any?"
"He's been texting Elena a lot, but yes…. He's helping."
"Good. We'll see you later." Buffy hung up and headed back inside. Elena was sitting behind the desk now looking over the case files. Liz stood on one side of the desk and Damon had taken Buffy's place on the floor, rocking Hope's carrier. Buffy walked over and sat down on the floor on Hope's other side.
"Honestly, I don't remember why we took that route home, and I had no idea that there was luggage in the trunk." Elena was saying.
"What about the lack of skid marks?" Liz asked. "Any reason your dad would just drive off the road like he was trying to avoid something without braking?"
"I was texting with Bonnie when it happened. Embarrassing, I know."
"What about the voicemail?" Damon asked.
"I wasn't home that night. You really think there's something up with my parents' crash?"
"I don't know, but given the way this town works, I wouldn't be surprised." Liz sighed. "Oh, I'm so sorry, Elena. I know I should've brought this up sooner, but in those first few weeks after your parents died, I…."
"No. You took care of Jeremy and I. I remember. Poor Jenna was trying and failing, but you let us stay at your place. You took us to school, made us dinner."
"Wait. You cook?" Buffy asked Liz.
"She really tried." Elena said, causing Liz to laugh. Elena laughed along with her for a moment. "I'll see if Jeremy knows anything."
"Thanks." Liz said.
"Yeah." Elena stood up and turned to Buffy and Damon. "See you guys later. Bye, Hope."
"Shh." Damon said. "She's sleeping." Elena shook her head and headed out. Liz was looking through the case with a worried look on her face. Suddenly the color drained from her face and she fell forward. Damon was suddenly there, holding her steady. "Hey…. You ok?"
"Yep. Yep." Liz said. "I'm good."
"Are you sure?" Buffy asked.
"I'm fine." Liz looked over at Buffy and Hope as Damon helped her to sit down. "You should take her home, Buffy. There's no need to hang around here and be bored. You guys should go out into the sunshine and have some fun."
"Nope. We're hanging out with auntie Liz today and helping her solve cases. How many other babies can say they've done detective work before their first birthday?"
Liz chuckled. "If you insist."
"Actually," Damon said. "When she wakes up and Buffy changes her, we should all go out into the sunshine for a little bit."
"Why do I always have to change her?" Buffy griped.
"Because the smell makes me nauseous."
"You're a vampire. You don't get nauseous."
"Baby poop apparently makes vampires nauseous. The smell is…." Damon dramatically shuddered. "It's something."
Liz started to laugh a bit uncontrollably. Buffy and Damon looked at her in surprise, but it made her laugh harder. They exchanged glances and then started laughing too. It was the first time Liz had laughed in a very long time.
It was dark outside and they'd been there all afternoon and well into the evening. The three of them had taken Hope out to the town square and sat in the sunshine. Damon had gotten them food from the Mystic Grill. Liz had enjoyed playing with Hope and watching Damon and Buffy fawn over the baby.
Now Damon was standing outside the office. Elena had called him a few minutes ago. "That makes sense." He said. "Yeah. I'll let her know." He hung up and walked back into the office. Buffy was leaning on a pile of boxes holding Hope. Damon put his arm around her waist as he sat down on a box next to her, kissing her shoulder. "So the message was a joke. Miranda wanted you to bust Jeremy for smoking pot."
"Well, what about everything else?" Liz asked. "I mean, the route, the skid marks? What about the luggage?"
"There was a storm the day before. Jeremy's dad was planning a secret trip to their lake house, and the storm rained them out."
Liz sighed and nodded. "The storm. Yeah. Oh, the storm that dropped a power line across Old Miller Road, explaining why they took Wickery bridge, which had a drainage issue before its renovation. Meaning the road was probably still slick."
"Slick roads, no skid marks."
"The storm…. That was the reason. Mystery solved." Liz blew out a breath. "Would you mind calling Caroline and telling her she can surprise me tomorrow? I'm not really feeling up to it tonight."
"Absolutely. I'll go get the car." Damon kissed the side of Buffy's head and walked out.
"Ok, little girl. Time to get back in your carrier and go home." Buffy placed Hope in her carrier, smiling and cooing at her. Liz stood up and placed her badge on her desk. She waited until Buffy had picked up Hope's carrier before turning the light off. As they walked out of the office, Liz leaned heavily against the wall. "Liz?"
"I'm ok." Liz said.
"No, you're not." Buffy set Hope's carrier down and moved in front of Liz. "You're really pale all of a sudden and your heart is racing." She rushed down the hall and came back with a chair. "Sit down." Buffy helped Liz into the chair. "Stay here. I'm going to put Hope in the car and then I'll come back for you." Liz nodded.
Damon was just pulling the car up when Buffy walked outside with Hope. "Where's Liz?" He asked.
"Can you go up and get her? She's not doing so good."
"Yeah." Damon headed back into the building as Buffy started putting Hope's carrier in the car. They got Liz home and Buffy and Damon focused on getting Hope fed, changed, and sleeping while Liz changed into her PJs. She came out and watched them for a moment before Damon turned around and noticed her.
"Hey, you should be resting." Damon walked over to her. "Come on, let's get you to bed." He led her upstairs and helped her climb into the bed. "Ok. Get in there." He said. "Oh, nice PJ situation. You look hot."
"Oh, I do not have the energy to tell you how deeply that disturbs me." Liz said.
Buffy walked in. She'd called Caroline to let her know that her mom wasn't doing so good and she needed to get home. "Ok, Hope is out. She sat down next to Liz on the bed and Damon stood next to her. Buffy took Liz's hand. "You wanted more today, didn't you, about the accident?"
"If there had been a supernatural reason they died, it would've been easier, would've been a reason. As it is, it was just an accident. It was a stupid accident."
"No. You wanted someone to blame." Damon said.
Liz nodded and began to cry. "I did everything right. I lived a good life. I took care of my family. I just…."
"I know." Buffy squeezed Liz's hand. "Sometimes really terrible things happen to amazing people." She looked down, trying to hide the tears that were threatening to overwhelm her.
Liz reached out and gently cupped Buffy's cheek. "I'm sorry you're going through this again."
"I know it's hard for you, but you have been so amazing. Caroline has told me a few times that she doesn't know what she'd do without you around. Thank you for that." Buffy couldn't speak around the lump in her throat. "I have to admit, there is a certain amount of peace knowing I'll be one of the only people in Mystic Falls to die an ordinary death. I'm exceptionally ordinary. I'm ok with that. Caroline is anything but…. She was meant to be extraordinary, and she needs to know how proud I am of her."
"Yeah. She will." Damon said. "You tell her yourself."
"Come on. Lay down." Buffy said, helping Liz to scoot down into the covers.
"Thank you both."
"For today, for being here."
"We wouldn't be anywhere else."
"You know, I didn't get a chance to spend much time with my mom before she died." Damon told Liz. "I volunteered to write the eulogy, and then when she actually died, I didn't even go to the funeral."
"You want a second chance? Write mine. Only do me a favor…. Nothing dirty."
"No promises.""Oh…. I'll take that drink now."
"Yeah? I'll be right back." Damon squeezed Buffy's shoulder and headed for the door. Liz laid her head back and closed her eyes. "Want rocks, or you want neat?"
"Liz?" Buffy asked. Liz didn't wake up. "Liz?"
Buffy and Damon sat next to Liz's hospital bed. Willow and Tara stood out in the hallway. Willow was holding Hope, bouncing her gently. They'd met Buffy and Damon at the hospital when Buffy had called. Damon had ridden with Liz in the ambulance while Buffy had gotten Hope packed into the car.
A door burst open in the hall and Caroline's voice could be heard. "Where is she? Elizabeth Forbes, what room's she in?"
"Caroline." Willow said.
Damon walked out of the room and met Caroline there. "She fell asleep. We couldn't wake her up. They said she slipped into a coma. They said they can make her comfortable…."
"She's not comfortable. She's dying!" Caroline snapped. She appeared in the doorway and Buffy stood up. Caroline's face fell and she began to cry. "I didn't get to say good-bye. I didn't get to say good-bye to my mom." She allowed Buffy to wrap her arms around her and they clung to each other as they cried.
Stefan and Damon joined Willow and Tara out in the hallway, leaving Buffy to comfort Caroline. "What'd the doctors say?" Stefan asked.
"Oh, she's stable, but, you know…." Damon said.
"How much longer?"
"Not long. The hospital says she has a DNR, so…." Damon looked over at Willow. He held out his hands and took Hope from her. "I'm gonna take her out to get some air. She doesn't need to be spending so much time in a hospital." Damon hugged Hope to him and walked out.
A little while later, Caroline had finally settled down. She was sitting at her mother's bedside, holding her hand. Buffy sat curled up in a chair next to the bed. She didn't want to leave Caroline.
"I should have been with her." Caroline said.
"You didn't know." Buffy said.
"But I knew she was sick, and I knew it was bad."
"I'm her daughter! I was supposed to give her peace and convince her that I would be ok and thank her for being an amazing mom."
"We don't always get that chance."
"God, I don't even remember the last thing that I said to her. I was supposed to be with her in her final moment."
Buffy sat up, remembering something that Damon had done for her and for Rose when they had been dying. "You still can."
"What do you mean?"
Buffy stood up and walked over to Caroline. "She's not gone. She's still in there. You can be too. It's something vampires can do. Damon did it for me and for Rose. I did it to Rebekah when she was asleep. Be with her in your memories."
"I…. I don't know how."
"I'll show you. Take her hand." Caroline took her mother's hand. "Clear your mind. Think about your favorite memory of your mom."
"I don't know. There's too many."
"It's ok. Just relax and close your eyes. Open your mind." Buffy stepped back and let Caroline be alone with her mother. Damon came in behind her and she buried herself in his side. He was holding Hope and she reached out for Buffy. Buffy gently took Hope, hugging her tiny body to her. Hope laid her head down on Buffy's shoulder and Buffy gently cupped her head, kissing her tiny temple as she began to cry. Stefan, Elena, and Matt came into the room behind Willow and Tara. The heart monitor began to slow and then it flat lined.
"Mom…." Caroline began to sob. "She's gone…."