The Next Chapter

Chapter 40

Chapter 40

Buffy sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. "Caroline, I said no big parties." She said into her cell phone.

"It's not big." Caroline said. "I promise."

"Then why did you charge my credit card $200 at the party store?"

"Decorations are expensive. It's not like you have any just laying around. And I'm pretty sure Damon wouldn't want teenagers using his fine china from 18whenever."

Buffy took a deep breath. "Just promise me that you'll do all of the cleanup if it's too big."

"I promise."

"Thank you." Buffy hung up and looked in the mirror to finish applying her makeup. "I swear. Dealing with this many teenagers is aging me."

"Nope." Damon said behind her from the tub where he was taking a hot bubble bath. "You still look young and beautiful."

"Thank you." Buffy said, grabbing the front half of her hair and pinning it back with a clip.

"We are out of champagne."

"No." She half turned and fixed him with a glare. "You are out of champagne. I don't drink in the morning."

"Well, would you be a dear and…."

"I'm thinking that you have two legs and can walk down to get it yourself." She turned back to the mirror and applied some lipgloss. Damon stood up, covered in water and soap suds, and seemed to pose for her. Buffy laughed slightly and shook her head. He smiled and walked over to her. "Damon, no!" He grabbed her into a bear hug, getting her clothes wet. "Damon!"

He kissed her and let her go. "Mmm…. Strawberry flavored. Nice."

Buffy watched him walk away. "You're dripping a little." It had been two months since they'd started looking for Stefan, but every lead that turned up turned out to be a dead end with more dead bodies. They were no closer than when they'd started. Klaus had put a cloaking spell on him, so Willow was having zero luck tracking him. Angel was down in Florida tracking a lead at the moment through some old informant of his. He'd followed one of the leads down there and had volunteered to see what more he could dig up.

Elena was holding out hope, but Buffy was starting to lose hope. Everywhere they went, Damon was more and more convinced that the old Stefan was back. That Klaus had brought out the ripper side of him. Buffy didn't want to believe it, but she'd seen enough to know that anything was possible.

Buffy sighed and grabbed a pair of jean shorts and a dark green, strapless baby doll top. The summer in Virginia had been brutally hot and humid and she'd been forced to skimp-up her wardrobe to keep from burning up. Damon was loving it. As she worked on changing out of her wet clothes, she heard Elena come in downstairs. She also heard the gasp and the angry tone. Damon must be showing her more than she needed to see.

She quickly made her way downstairs and sure enough, Damon was wrapping himself in a blanket. "Damon!' She scolded.

"What?" Damon asked. "This is my house. I can walk around naked if I want to. It's not my fault she can't knock."

Buffy glared at him. "Last time I checked, it's my house and Elena doesn't need to knock." Despite her protests, Elena was insisting on staying at her house with Jeremy, but she had a key to Buffy and Damon's house. "I'm sorry, Elena."

Elena shook her head. "It's…. fine. Whatever."

"Everything ok?"

"Sherriff Forbes gave us another location to check." Elena held out a piece of paper. "Memphis."

"Another dead end, you mean?" Damon interjected.

"You don't know that."

"You're right, Elena. This could be the one. After two months, this could be the clue that tells us Stefan is alive and well and living in Graceland."

Buffy rolled her eyes and took the paper from Elena. "I'll call Angel and see what he can find out."

"That will take too long. I'll go." Elena said. "By myself."

"And let Klaus know you're tracking him? He thinks you're dead. Let's keep it that way." Damon said.

"It's a new lead, Damon. We haven't had one in a while."

"Elena, stop." Buffy said. "We'll check it out and if we find anything, we'll call you. Ok?"

"Thank you." Elena sighed and walked back out to her car.

Buffy looked at Damon. "God, do you have to be so mean?"

"I'm getting worried." Damon said. "We're getting a little too close for comfort."

She gently placed her hands on his drying chest. "I'll be fine."

"I don't want him near you."

"I'll be fine."

"You know, Klaus may not scare you, but he scares me. If anything were to happen to you…."

"It won't." Buffy looked at the piece of paper. "Come on. Let's go add this to the list upstairs and I'll call Willow to get her to do some hacker stuff and find the address." She paused as they made their way back upstairs to Damon's room. "You know that victim in Pensacola Angel's looking into? He had family in Tennessee."

"Did he?"

"Yeah. I'll add Angel to my call list and see what he knows."

"What about party planning with Caroline?"

"Though I loathe leaving her alone with my credit card, this is more important."

"What happens if we find Klaus?"

Buffy looked away. "We'll deal with it."

Damon sighed. "Fine. Road trip?"

"I'll call Rick." Buffy grabbed her shoes and started to put them on as she dialed Rick's number.

Alaric drove his SUV up to a beautiful farm house and stopped the car. Damon got out of the passenger seat and opened the door behind him for Buffy to get out. Alaric walked around the SUV as all three of them stared at the place. Buffy's phone chirped and she looked at it.

"Elena?" Alaric asked. Buffy nodded. "I don't know why you don't just come clean and tell her where we are."

"Because this is only a half lead and I don't want to get her hopes up." Buffy said, putting her phone back in her pocket.

"Yeah, well, they're all half leads. And I'm your guys' accomplice. What do you want me to say to her? I'm practically living there."

"Still sleeping on the couch?" Damon asked.

"I keep thinking they're going to kick me out, but they don't. I don't know why. It's not like I'm helping or anything."

"You help me by keeping an eye on them." Buffy said, gently touching Alaric's arm.

Alaric nodded and looked around. "It's quiet."

"Yeah." Damon said. "Too quiet."

"I smell something not good." Buffy said.

"Blood?" Damon asked.

Buffy nodded. "And death."

They started towards the house and Damon opened the door. He was the tester to see if everyone was dead. "Oh yeah." He said as he walked in without anything stopping him. Alaric was the last one through the door and he shut it behind them as Buffy and Damon made their way around the house.

"I'm having déjà vu." Buffy said.

"You've been here before?" Alaric asked.

"No. But I've been somewhere like this before. I think. The deaths in this house were not peaceful." She eyed the bloodstains that were everywhere.

The three of them rounded a corner and found two very dead girls sitting on the couch, their dead eyes staring in front of them. "Ugh…. Vampire for sure." Alaric said.

"Stefan for sure." Damon corrected.

"How do you know?"

"It's his signature. There's a reason they call him the Ripper. He feeds so hard, he blacks out and rips them apart. But then, when he's done, he feels remorse. It's the damndest thing." Damon stuck his foot out and nudged one of the girls with it. The blonde's head rolled off and fell to the floor with a wet plop. "He puts the bodies back together."

"Back together?" Alaric asked.

"It's definitely Stefan." Damon turned around and realized that Buffy was missing. "Rick, find me a gas can." He strode off to find his girlfriend. She was sitting on the front porch steps staring off into the distance. "Hey."

"This can't be Stefan." Buffy said quietly.

Damon sighed and sat down next to her. "Not the Stefan you know."

"It's like coming across something Angelus put together. Is he really that ruthless deep down?"

"It's not ruthlessness that makes him put the bodies back together. It's guilt."

"Not from where I'm standing."

"The Stefan you know is still in there. He's just harder to find once this one takes the wheel." Damon stood up, kissed the side of Buffy's head, and headed back inside. She smelled gasoline as he poured it over the bodies and explained to Alaric why he was burning the place down. She heard a door open and shut and Damon say something about werewolves before setting the place on fire and walking out.

Buffy stood up and walked away with the two men. "How did you know they were werewolves?"

"We found their chains in a hidey hole." Damon said. "Did you know they were werewolves?"

Buffy nodded. "I could smell them."

"What does Klaus want with werewolves?" Alaric asked.

"That's the million dollar question." Damon said. "Come on. Let's get back. We've got a party to attend."

Buffy walked into her bedroom and found Elena staring at herself in the mirror. The teen had gotten more sullen as the days went by. It had really hit her that her aunt was dead and Stefan was gone.

After a moment, Elena noticed Buffy standing in the doorway. "Don't worry. I'm not gonna lose it. At least not before the cake."

Buffy smiled. "Hey. It's your party. You can cry if you want to." Elena smiled and held back the tears. "Hey, hey, hey. You're only turning 18. No tears until you turn 29 and realize 30's right around the corner. Then you can cry." She hugged Elena tightly. "God, now I'm depressed."

Damon walked in. "What's going on in here?"

"Just telling Elena how beautiful she looks." Buffy said, keeping an arm around Elena. "And realizing just exactly how old I am."

"Ok, one: You do look amazing, Elena. And two: You're not that old, Buff." Damon said. "So, have you told her about her present yet?"

"No."

"You guys!" Elena protested.

"I know!" Buffy argued. "We promised not to buy you anything, so don't worry. We didn't pay for it."

"You stole it?"

"No! Geez, are we that shady?" Buffy took the box from Damon and held it out to Elena. "We found it. Ok, that does sound shady, but I promise. No shade. All sun." She took Damon's hand as Elena opened the little black box.

"My necklace! I thought I'd never see it again."

"Alaric found it in his loft and figured you'd be happy to get it back." Damon said.

"I am happy. Thank you, you guys!"

"You're welcome." Buffy smiled.

"Can you…." Elena held out the necklace.

"Of course." Buffy took the necklace and Damon took the empty box. Elena lifted her hair up and Buffy slipped the necklace around her neck, clasping it. Damon watched Buffy's eyes as she put the necklace on Elena. He could see the almost motherly pride she had for the teenager.

"Shall we?" Damon asked, holding out an arm for each girl.

Elena nodded and took one arm while Buffy took the other. Damon escorted them out and down the stairs. The place was jam packed with people. Elena looked a little confused and panicked, but Buffy just looked annoyed. People shouted "happy birthday" at Elena as they passed.

When they reached the living room, Buffy groaned. "You have got to be kidding me! They're doing keg stands in the living room."

A girl walked by holding a bottle of Damon's vintage liquor and he stopped her. "Hey, hey, hey, hey! You don't want that. You want the cheap young stuff over by the cheap young people."

"Did you just compel her?" Buffy asked.

Caroline came bouncing up, all smiles. "Do you like?" She watched Elena for a minute. "Don't answer that."

"This is keeping it small?" Buffy asked.

Caroline just kept smiling and Elena sighed. "What are we drinking?" Elena asked as she took Caroline's arm and walked off into the crowd with her.

Damon slipped his arm around Buffy's waist and took a drink. "This is insanity." Buffy said, looking around.

"Oh, quit being a mother for five minutes and enjoy it." Damon said, smirking.

Buffy sighed and took the bottle from him. "Fine." She downed a few gulps and handed it back to him. "But I'm definitely not cleaning this mess up."

"We'll hire someone." Damon pulled her towards the dancing crowd and wrapped his arms around her as he started to dance.

About thirty minutes later, Damon, Buffy, and Alaric were sitting on the back patio drinking and talking. Damon and Alaric were straddling the ledge of the patio, facing each other, while Buffy was stretched out and balancing on the ledge with her back leaning against Damon's chest, her head resting on his shoulder. Damon had on arm wrapped around her waist to keep her from falling.

"I am every parents' worst nightmare." Alaric said. "I'm the chaperone teacher from hell."

"I love high school parties." Damon said.

"I had one that was this big." Buffy said. "It got crashed by zombies." She looked around the grounds, double checking that there were no zombies.

"I am so glad I didn't grow up in Sunnydale." Alaric said.

"Hello Birthday Girl." Damon said as Elena marched out onto the patio.

Elena held out her hand to Damon saying, "drink" and then just took his glass from him.

"What's wrong?" Buffy asked.

"Jeremy's smoking again."

"Is his stash any good?" Damon asked.

Buffy groaned and slapped Damon's thigh. "Would you shut up?"

"You're an ass." Elena added before turning to Alaric. "Talk to him? Please? He looks up to you." She handed Damon his glass back and walked off.

Alaric sighed and Damon smirked. "You're screwed." He said to the history teacher.

Buffy looked at Alaric. "Want me to go talk to him?"

"No. I've got it." Alaric got up and walked off.

Buffy looked around the party. "You know…. I haven't seen Angel yet. He said he was going to be here."

"I'm sure he's lurking somewhere." Damon said. He still got jealous pangs whenever the older vampire was around. Buffy's comfort level with him made Damon's non-existent blood pressure go up.

"Don't be like that. What if something happened to him?"

"Call him." He handed her her cell phone from one of his back pockets.

Buffy unlocked the phone and was about to dial when Angel's number popped up. "Oh." She answered it. "Hey, where are you?"

"Don't hang up and if you're near Damon, move away." It was Stefan and his voice made Buffy's blood run cold.

"Uh, hang on." She looked at the phone and hopped down off the ledge. She started to move off. "I've got to find better reception." Damon held up his hands with a confused look, but she just kept moving. As soon as she was out of earshot, she said, "What's going on Stefan? Why do you have Angel's phone?"

"Come to the old Fell warehouse. I'll be waiting." He hung up.

This was so not good. She briefly thought about going to tell Damon what was going on, but Stefan didn't seem to want that. The whole situation screamed "trap a la Klaus", but if she could get Stefan back, then she was going to play by the rules. Especially if it kept Angel and Stefan alive.

"Where are you going?" Elena asked as Buffy headed for the door.

"Uh…. Angel's car…. It stopped working." Buffy said lamely.

"Oh. Don't miss the cake. Caroline's insistent that it be a perfect moment."

"I won't miss it. I'll be right back." She smiled and headed out the door.

The drive over to the warehouse felt ridiculously long even though it was only a few minutes. She saw Angel's car sitting outside and looked around for the trap. Apparently it was waiting inside the warehouse. With a sigh, she walked up to the door and opened it, not surprised that the lock on it was broken.

The place was dark, but her night vision kicked in and she could see just fine. "Angel?" Buffy called out.

"Buffy!" Angel called.

"Where are you?"

"It's Stefan! He's…." There was the sound of flesh hitting flesh and Angel was quiet.

"Stefan…." Buffy said.

"Hello Buffy." Stefan said, turning on a light.

Buffy blinked against the brightness and held her arm up to shield her eyes. That's when a large knife flew out of the brightness and pinned her arm to the wall behind her. She screamed and went to claw it out, but Stefan suddenly appeared and held her free arm down. He was stronger than she remembered.

"Stefan…." Buffy said, tears falling from her eyes at the pain in her arm and in her heart at seeing her friend like this.

"Where's your phone?" Stefan asked calmly.

"What is the matter with you? Where's Klaus? What has he done to you?"

"Klaus isn't here. But he has a message for you and my brother."

"Where's Angel?" Buffy asked as Stefan searched her coat pockets.

"Just so you know, if you so much as touch that knife in your arm, I will kill Angel." He produced her cell from her inside pocket and unlocked it.

"Stefan, this isn't you."

"You don't know me."

"I do know you. This isn't who you are. Those bodies in Tennessee…. You still feel guilt. This is Klaus' doing. He did this to you. He's making you do this to us." He ignored her as he sent a text to Damon summoning him to the warehouse. "Stefan!" He turned away and disappeared into the darkness. Buffy briefly thought about taking the knife out of her arm and attacking Stefan, but she didn't know where he was. For all she knew, he was holding a stake at Angel's heart. "Stefan, I know you made a deal with Klaus to save Damon and keep him away from us, but this is insanity. You don't need to do this. We can find another way! Stefan?"

It felt like an eternity before she heard Damon's car pull up outside. He was talking to Elena on the phone, but suddenly hung up. "Buff? Sweetie, Angel's car looks fine." He called as he walked into the warehouse. "Where are you?"

"Damon…." Buffy said, the fear and tears evident in her voice.

He suddenly smelled her blood on the air. "Buffy!" Before he could get to her, Stefan appeared in front of her, blocking Damon. "Stefan."

"Hello brother." Stefan said calmly.

"You don't write. You don't call."

"I need you and Buffy to stop following me. It's causing some problems."

"With who? Klaus? I'm supposed to care what he thinks?"

"What you're supposed to do is let me go."

Damon moved forward slowly. "I saw your latest artwork in Tennessee. You're walking a fine line there my friend. Keep that up and there will be no saving you."

Stefan smiled slightly. "See, the thing is…. I don't need any saving. I just want you to let me go."

"You know, Buffy and I have a birthday girl at home who's not going to let us do that."

Stefan nodded. "You know, maybe I haven't made my point." He was suddenly in front of Buffy and another knife was sticking out of her shoulder. She screamed in agony and both Damon and Angel cried her name.

Damon growled. "Not cool, brother."

"Oh come on! A little bit cool. I mean, neither of us has ever bested her."

"You didn't best her. You tricked her." Damon growled.

Stefan laughed and another knife appeared in Buffy's side, right underneath her heart. She screamed again and Damon suddenly had Stefan pinned against the wall opposite Buffy.

Stefan shoved him back and then flipped them so he could slam Damon against the wall. "I said…. Let me go."

Damon no longer cared about saving his brother. He shoved him away and rushed over to Buffy. "I'm sorry." He ripped the knives out of her, hating the screams of pain he caused, and then bit into his wrist. There was no hesitation as he pressed the wound to her mouth.

"What are you doing?" Angel asked, suddenly appearing next to Damon. Stefan had broken his bonds as he'd run out.

"Saving her life."

"You're not supposed to give her your blood!"

"I've done it before." Buffy gasped and came around, sitting up straight suddenly. "God!" Damon pulled her to him and kissed her hair. "I'm sorry, baby. I'm sorry."

"Oh god…." Buffy began to sob as she her brain registered what exactly had just happened.

"I'm sorry." Angel said. "He called me and said that he'd escaped from Klaus and needed me to come help him. I didn't know…."

Buffy stayed pressed into Damon's shoulder as she cried. He rocked her gently and whispered comforting words into her hair.

Buffy felt completely drained and had no energy for the party going on inside her house. Damon kept his arm wrapped around her as they made their way in. Caroline handed Damon and bottle on her way out with Tyler. "You missed the cake." She said accusingly to them before disappearing out the door.

"Angel, can you end this party please?" Buffy asked. "I'm going to bed." She didn't wait for his response as she walked to the stairs with Damon right beside her. He led her up to his room…. Might as well be their room for all the time she spent there…. And shut the door.

"What are you doing in here?" Damon demanded.

Elena was standing by his bed holding papers she'd collected from his closet where he and Buffy had been tracking Klaus and Stefan. "Why didn't you guys tell me? Why did you keep it a secret?"

"Can we not do this right now?" Buffy asked. "I'm having a really bad night." She didn't want to tell Elena what Stefan had just done. The bloodstains on her light blue dress were covered up by one of Damon's leather jackets he'd had in his car.

"All summer…. Every single time I came to you with a lead…. You had hope. And then you stopped having hope and you said that you'd stopped looking. What happened?"

"We were both idiots for having hope." Buffy said.

"Tell me what you know."

"I know you need to get back to your party. It's going to end soon." The blonde walked past Elena and sat down on the bed, pulling the coat tighter around her. Damon decided to leave the room. This was a fight between the parental figure and the teenager.

"We're supposed to be in this together, Buffy! You've been tracking Klaus' victims and…."

"Because they're not Klaus' victims, Elena! They're Stefan's."

"What?"

"He's left a trail of body parts up and down the eastern seaboard."

"No! You're wrong."

"I wish I were…. You don't know how badly I wish I was wrong, but I'm not. I didn't tell you that we were still tracking him because as soon as we discovered that it was Stefan doing the killing, not Klaus, I couldn't bear the thought of you finding out, but after tonight…."

"What happened tonight?"

Buffy shook her head. She wasn't going to tell Elena the details. They were too horrible for Buffy to even want to repeat them. "Never mind about tonight. Just know that Stefan is gone and he's not coming back. Not in your lifetime." Buffy sighed and held back the tears. "I'm sorry you had to find out this way, but this is the truth of it." Elena shook her head, tears falling down her cheeks. "Go back to your party, Elena. You can stay in my room tonight if you want." Buffy held open the door to the room and looked at Elena expectantly. She didn't have the energy to be nice at the moment. She'd apologize later, but right now she was exhausted and hurt beyond words.

Damon came back twenty minutes later to find Buffy staring out the window into the night. He closed the door behind him and walked over to her. "What do we do now?" Buffy asked, her voice hoarse. She'd been crying.

"We just keep breathing. Keep moving." Damon said, wrapping his arms around her.

She looked down at his blood flecked arms. "That's not mine."

"No."

She turned in his arms and looked at his disheveled hair and torn shirt. "What happened?"

"I was pissed."

"Am I going to have another mess to clean up?"

"No. I shut the door and it's not going to be opened again."

Buffy realized he'd trashed Stefan's room in his anger. "Ok." She wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tightly. "Next chapter begins then."

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