The Next Chapter

Chapter 41

A/N I'm feeling generous this holiday season. Here's a new chapter. I'll update again Thursday. Or maybe tomorrow...

Chapter 41

Buffy sat on Damon's bed staring at the sunlight on the floor the morning after Elena's birthday. She hadn't slept at all that night. Images of Stefan stabbing knives into her kept haunting her. He'd been like a brother to her and Klaus had turned him into this monster. Damon was standing across the room taking down all the leads in his closet. He hadn't known, or at least hadn't said anything about her being awake all night. But then again, he'd barely slept last night too.

"You just can't stay away can you?" Damon said. Buffy jerked her head up and saw Elena standing in the room. She hadn't heard the teen come in.

"You guys have been dodging my calls." Elena accused.

"Yeah. Well, busy day and all."

Elena rolled her eyes at Damon and went to sit with Buffy. "Why didn't you tell me about last night?" Buffy looked at her, confused. "Angel told me."

Buffy sighed. "What did you want me to say? 'Happy Birthday, Elena. Stefan tried to kill me.' I don't know. It just doesn't have that nice ring to it."

"I don't think he meant to kill you."

"Funny. The knife to the heart felt like it."

"He called me."

"What?" Damon and Buffy both asked.

"Stefan called me last night."

"What did he say?" Buffy asked.

"He didn't say anything. But it was him. I asked Sheriff Forbes if she would trace the calls origin. It came from Tennessee."

"Where he's binge drinking on the country folk." Damon said as he tossed the papers in the fireplace.

Buffy shook her head. "We went through this, Elena. Stefan's gone."

"If he was gone, he wouldn't have called."

Damon tossed a lit match into the fireplace and the papers flared up. Buffy looked at Elena. "I'm sorry, but we're done. He doesn't want to be found and that's it." Elena shook her head and walked out, obviously upset. Buffy hung her head and groaned. "Teenagers!"

"Tell me about it." Damon said, walking over and sitting down next to her. "You ok?"

"Stefan, someone I considered a brother to me, tried to kill me last night. How do you think I am?"

Angel knocked on the door. "Everything ok? Elena just ran out of here looking pretty pissed."

"That's because she is." Buffy said.

"If Stefan says…."

"I know that!" Buffy snapped, almost a growl. Her mood was completely foul and she didn't want to talk anymore. "Can I just be alone for a while? Please?" Both Damon and Angel looked hurt, but Damon was the first up.

"I won't be far." He said, kissing her forehead and walking out. Angel reluctantly followed.

Buffy stared at the fire. Everything had gone completely wrong in one month. She'd almost lost Damon. She'd almost lost Dawn. She'd almost lost Elena. She had lost Giles. She had lost Jenna. And now she could add losing Stefan to that list. How could everything be so messed up?

And for the first time in a long time, she wished that Lexi was there to talk to. Lexi had known how to make everything better. It usually involved tequila, but when things weren't looking up, Lexi somehow made them look up. What would Lexi say now if she could see Stefan like this?

Buffy sighed. "You can come back in Damon."

"I wasn't lurking." He said, walking in the room. "I just forgot something."

"Right." She stared at him.

"Ok, I was kind of lurking. I hate seeing you like this."

"Can we just rewind the last month and do it differently?"

"Sure. I'll get Willow on it." Buffy snorted. "What are you thinking?"

"Honestly?"

"No. Lie to me."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "I was just thinking that I really miss Lexi. That she would know exactly what to do right now." Damon looked down. "I'm sorry."

"No." Damon sighed. "I shouldn't have killed her."

"Nope." Buffy took his hand. "But honestly…. I'm almost glad you did." He looked at her, highly surprised. "If you hadn't, she would've whisked me away to that Bon Jovi concert in New York and then…." She paused. "You know…. I never actually knew her itinerary. Every adventure was a surprise." Damon smiled slightly as she shrugged and gently played with his hair with her free hand. "Everything happens for a reason."

He brought her fingers to his lips and kissed them slowly. "You have no idea how much I love you, Buffy Summers."

She leaned in and kissed him gently. "I think I have an idea." He smiled and Buffy's heart melted. "I also think that you should show the Damon that I know to everyone else."

"I've got a reputation to uphold." He glanced at his watch. "Come on."

"Where are we going?"

He smiled. "On a surprise adventure."

Buffy smiled as Damon held the door to the store open for her. He'd brought them to Richmond to a place called Carytown. There were lots of unique little shops and eateries down a long stretch of road. They had just left a place called Bygones that had been packed with different clothing and accessories from the early 20th century all the way through until the 80s.

Now they were wondering through a toy store called the World of Mirth. Damon was laughing at some silly stuffed toy of a germ when Buffy's cell phone rang. She looked at it. "It's Rick."

"Don't answer it." Damon said. "We're on an adventure."

"It could be about Elena." Buffy turned and answered her cell. "What's up?"

"I just thought you should know that I'm taking Elena to the mountains." Alaric said.

"Why?"

"She got a tip from Tyler that a pack of werewolves likes to go up there to run wild through the woods on a full moon."

"Tonight's a full moon."

Damon turned to look at her with a quizzical expression. She waved him off.

"Yeah." Alaric confirmed.

"Well, don't take her." Buffy said, the duh evident in her voice.

"Buffy, we're already on our way."

"Then how are you calling me? Obviously she didn't want Damon or myself to know."

"She's in the bathroom right now. We're at a rest stop off I64."

"Then turn around, Rick. It's not that hard."

"She's going to go into the mountains one way or another. I'd rather she do it with us. Will you and Damon please meet us?"

Buffy sighed. "I can't believe you are entertaining this, Rick."

"You know how stubborn she is."

"Yeah. I do." Buffy sighed again. She did that a lot these days. "Fine. Text me where you're going and I'll plug it into my GPS. We're on our way." She hung up.

"What's going on?" Damon asked.

Buffy pulled Damon out of the store and they headed down the street towards his car. "Elena's werewolf hunting in the mountains."

"Are you kidding me?"

"I wish I was." Buffy said.

On the way into the mountains, Buffy had grabbed a pair of shorts from her bag in Damon's trunk and changed into them. They'd planned on staying in Richmond at the Jefferson for a few days to explore the city since Buffy had never been. Damon had stayed in his clothes, not really caring how hot it was outside. Now they were making their way up a mountain with Buffy tracking Elena and Alaric.

"I think I may just kill her myself." Damon said.

"I think I may help." Buffy retorted. "I don't understand why she won't just accept that Stefan's not coming back."

"She's in love."

"I know that. But when your boyfriend tries to kill your guardian…. Someone he considered a friend and sister to himself…. Just to get the message out that he doesn't want to be followed anymore…. I think it's time to look past the whole love thing.""When did you become so cynical?"

"Right around the time Stefan tried to kill me." She stopped and held up a hand to shush Damon's question.

"I'm a doppleganger." Elena said somewhere up ahead. "It's not gonna work on me. He left it for if I ever have kids."

"Yeah, well…." Alaric said. "Then why don't you save it for future generations of stubborn, relentless baby Gilberts?"

"Ok. How about you borrow it until after we survive this? I'd feel bad if I got you killed before happy hour." Buffy and Damon came around some trees to see Alaric kneeled with his back to them and Elena standing near a small drop off next to a lake. "I don't know why you think that you're a lost cause…." Elena screamed as she was suddenly airborne and flying into the water. Damon had shoved past Buffy at blinding speed and tossed her in.

Alaric turned, crossbow aimed, only to have it taken away by Buffy. "Glad you brought weapons." She said, inspecting it. "Mine are at home."

"Damon!" Elena cried. She spotted Buffy. "Buffy! How are you guys even here?"

"Thanks for the tip, brother." Damon said over his shoulder.

Alaric moved forward and Elena stared at him incredulously. "You sold me out!"

"You think I'd take you into a mountain range with werewolves on a full moon without backup?" Alaric asked.

Elena glared at him. If looks could kill. Buffy rolled her eyes and put her hands on her hips. "Get out of the water, Elena."

"If I get out of the water, you're gonna make me go home."

"Yeah. Pretty much."

"You two gave up on him."

"I didn't give up on him, Elena. I faced reality. Now get out of the water."

Elena crossed her arms. "No!"

Damon sighed and marched down the slope. "What's your big plan, Elena? Huh?" He kept going into the water. "You gonna walk through a campsite of werewolves, roast a marshmallow, and wait for Stefan to stop by."

"My plan is to find him and help him. This is the closest that we've been to him since he left."

"I was pretty close to him when he shoved some knives in me the other night." Buffy said."I'm not going home."

"Klaus thinks you died when he broke the curse." Damon said. "That makes you safe. This?" He gestured at their surroundings. "This is not safe."

"I'm not leaving before we find him."

"It's a full moon tonight, Elena." Buffy said, the exasperation evident in her voice.

"Then we'll find him before then." Elena looked at Buffy standing by the water and then at Damon in front of her. "Please."

Damon refused to answer. He turned to look at Buffy. She threw up her hands. "Fine! Ok! But we are out of here before the moon is full and Damon becomes werewolf bait."

"I promise!" Elena said, smiling brightly.

"You know, you are not always going to get your way with me." Buffy threatened. "One of these days I'm going to lock you in the basement and not let you out."

Damon burst out laughing and Elena shot him a glare as she walked out of the water. Buffy handed Elena the shirt she'd taken off before Damon had thrown her in the water and they headed off. The hiking thing was no problem for Buffy and Damon, but Alaric and Elena had trouble keeping up. Eventually Buffy backed off and stayed close to Elena.

"How're you doing?" Buffy asked her.

"Fine." Elena said.

"You know, I could help you." Damon offered.

"No thanks."

"One little whoosh…." He pantomimed throwing her in the air.

"Yeah. With my luck, you'd drop me.""What are you guys?" Alaric asked. "Twelve?"

Buffy laughed. As she kept moving, she started to feel a familiar presence. "Did you call Angel?" She asked Alaric.

"No." Alaric said. "Why?"

Damon looked at her, knowing what she was saying. He made sure that Elena wasn't looking when he mouthed Stefan? Buffy nodded and said, "Just curious. I think he might be getting bored."

"Well, considering he's used to fighting the forces of darkness on a nightly basis, I'm surprised you didn't ask him along." Damon said.

"I'm sure you're fine with it." Elena shot back.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"You're jealous."

"No I'm not."

"Oh, you so are. You know about Buffy and Angel's history and now they're living in the same house."

"I'm perfectly secure in my relationship, thank you. Why don't you worry about your own?"

"All right, guys." Buffy said. "Bickering stops here please."

"We've got about a mile left." Alaric said.

"The sun's about to set." Damon observed.

"I can see that Damon." Elena said.

"I'm just saying."

"The moon doesn't reach its apex for a while. We have time."

Buffy stopped and looked around. Damon looked at her questioningly and she shook her head. It wasn't Stefan. He moved in front of Elena as Buffy took a stake from Alaric's backpack. Alaric raised his loaded crossbow at a figure approaching.

The man was covered in blood and shivering, but he was definitely not a human. He didn't seem to notice them until he was standing right in front of them and Alaric said, "Stay where you are."

The man looked at Damon and sniffed. "Vampire." Damon shrugged and the werewolf attacked. Buffy screamed Damon's name as the were got him pinned against a tree. Alaric shot the crossbow bolt into the were's back as Buffy threw him off of Damon and across the clearing. The were attacked Buffy this time and Elena called the Slayer's name as she tossed something at her. Buffy caught the wolfsbane grenade out of the air and smashed it into the were's face. He screamed as the liquid burned him and Damon kicked the were hard in the face, bowling him over and knocking him unconscious.

"Let me guess." Alaric said as Buffy walked over to Damon to check him for bites. "Hybrid."

Buffy looked down at the were and sniffed. "Yup." She looked at Alaric's backpack. "You got ropes in there?"

"Of course."

"Let's get this guy tied up before he comes around. Soak the ropes with vervain and wolfsbane."

"How'd you know I had vervain?"

"I can smell it." Buffy said as she and Damon hauled the hybrid up and against a tree. Elena soaked the ropes and handed them to Alaric. Buffy made sure the knots were tight.

"These aren't going to hold him much longer." Damon said. "What else do we have?"

"Rick, here. Take these." Elena said, soaking the last of the ropes with vervain.

Damon absentmindedly reached back and grabbed the ropes. They burned him and he cried out, shaking his hand in pain. "OW!"

"I said Rick." Elena said.

Buffy giggled and Damon shot her a glare. While Alaric tied the last of the ropes around the hybrid, Buffy kissed Damon's burnt hand with a playful smile. "All right, that's the last of the vervain." Alaric said. "We don't have enough stuff to hold him." He looked up. "I don't think we're gonna make that ridge before the full moon."

"If we can get him to talk, we don't have to." Elena said, stepping forward. She reached out to touch the hybrid and was startled when he woke with a loud gasp. Buffy yanked Elena backwards, away from the hybrid as he started to change. His head moved every which way, his neck and skull breaking and cracking as the transformation happened.

"Is he turning?" Damon asked.

"That's impossible." Elena said. "It's still daylight."

"Tell him that." Buffy said, pulling Elena further away as the hybrid screamed in pain. "Damon!" Her boyfriend had moved forward and was holding the changing were to the tree.

"There's not supposed to be werewolves out here until the moon is full."

"You know those ropes aren't going to hold a wolf." Alaric warned.

"Damon, we've got to get out of here." Buffy said. The wolf's teeth were way too close to his arm for comfort. "We've got to get out of these mountains now!" Buffy moved forward and yanked her boyfriend away from the wolf. "Damon, now!" The four of them turned and ran back into the woods as the sun began to go down below the horizon. It was full on dark when Elena tripped and fell.

She started to get up, but Damon said, "Don't move!" She realized they were all frozen as she heard a growl in front of her. She gasped as she saw the werewolf snarling at her. "Here doggie, doggie!" Damon turned and ran.

"Damon no!" Buffy screamed as the wolf gave chase.

"Come on, let's keep moving." Alaric said, pulling on Buffy and Elena.

"I can't leave, Damon." Buffy said, moving away.

"He can handle himself. Let's move."

"He gets bit, he'll be dead. I'm going after him. Get Elena back to your car and get out of here."

"Buffy!" Elena yelled as Alaric pulled on her and Buffy disappeared into the woods after Damon.

Buffy ran for all she was worth and tracked Damon's scent through the woods. She finally found him fending off the werewolf that had reverted back to his human form. The hybrid was trying his hardest to kill Damon. Buffy swooped in and threw the hybrid against a tree.

"What is the matter with you?" Buffy asked, fending off the wolf.

"I had to get it away from Elena." Damon said."By sacrificing yourself?"

"Well, that wasn't exactly the plan. Buffy!" The hybrid sprang at her and knocked her to the ground. She fought off his teeth as Damon grabbed the wolf and threw it off her. The wolf attacked Damon as Buffy was getting her bearings. Something moved beside her, too quick to track, and suddenly the wolf trying to kill Damon was dead. Buffy looked up to see Stefan holding the hybrid's heart.

"Fancy meeting you here." Damon said, as he helped Buffy up.

"What part of 'don't follow me anymore' got lost in translation?"

"You might want to take that up with your girlfriend." Buffy said. "If you don't want her chasing you, I'd stop with the late night phone calls."

"I didn't call her."

Damon rolled his eyes at his brother. "Sure you did."

"She's not going to give up on you." Buffy said, taking a step closer to Stefan. Damon didn't like the idea, but Buffy waved him off.

"Well, she has to." Stefan said. "Because I'm never coming back."

Buffy saw something in Stefan that she hadn't before at the warehouse. "Stefan, I meant what I said." She moved up to him, standing right in front of him. "We can find a way to get you out of this deal with Klaus before it's too late."

Stefan shook his head and Damon finally saw what Buffy saw. Stefan did still care. He lowered his voice and looked down at his hands. "The only way to do that, Buffy, is to trade me for you and I'm not doing that. Neither are Damon and Elena." Stefan gently touched her arm where he'd pinned her against the warehouse wall with the knife. It was a silent apology. "Now, why don't you get Elena home? See if you can keep her there this time."

"Stefan…."

"Go." Stefan turned and disappeared.

Buffy looked at Damon. "Elena was right."

"I know." Damon said. "Now let's go, please. There are other werewolves where that one came from." He took her hand and they walked back to where Alaric had parked his car.

Elena spotted them first and jumped out of the car with Alaric right behind her. "Buffy!" She raced over and hugged the blonde. "Are you guys ok?"

"We're fine." Buffy said.

"Bite free." Damon said. "Get back in the car."

"Can you just give me a minute to appreciate that you guys aren't dead?" Elena asked.

"I'll give you ten seconds." He started pushing her towards the car. "Nine, eight…. Hey Rick, did you happen to see where I parked my car?"

"Damon, stop being such a caveman." Buffy said, moving him away from Elena. "He's right though. Just get back in the car and we'll meet you at home."

"I'm going. I'm going." Elena got in and Buffy waved as Alaric started the car.

Buffy and Damon started the trek back to his car. "Our adventure's ruined now." Damon said.

"It's ok. We had another one." Buffy said, taking his hand.

Damon stopped and turned to her. "I'll say it before you do." She looked at him questioningly. "He's still in there and we can't stop fighting for him."

"What about Klaus?"

"It kills me to even allow you to be in the same mountain range as Klaus, but we've got to save Stefan. And not just for Elena. But for you, too. He became your Lexi after I killed her. The reason you wanted her so bad today is because Stefan was gone and you didn't have that friend to talk to."

"I have you."

"I'm just your boyfriend. You need someone to vent to. A best friend. And that someone is out there and he can be saved."

"This isn't because of that jealously thing?"

Damon snorted. "Yes. That is it completely. I want to save my brother to keep you from becoming best friends with Angel."

Buffy laughed and wrapped herself in Damon's arms. "I love you, Damon."

"You're making me soft." He said, kissing her gently.

Buffy sat cross-legged on Elena's bed and waited for the teen to get out of the shower. Finally the teen emerged and jumped when she saw Buffy. "Sorry." The blonde said.

"Is everything ok?" Elena asked.

"I came to apologize."

"For what?"

"For being so mean to you the other day. I was upset and hurt and I took it out on you. But you were right." She stood up. "I thought Stefan was gone, but I was wrong. And so was Damon."

"You saw him out there?" Buffy nodded slightly. "Is he ok!"

"No. He's not ok. But he can be saved."

"What happened out there? What changed your guys' mind?"

"We changed our minds because even in his darkest place, he couldn't let Damon or myself die. So, we owe him that in return."

"But you said he tried to kill you that night…."

"I don't think he was anymore. I think he was just trying to scare me. And it worked."

"What about Klaus?"

"I'll deal with that later."

"You can't trade, Buffy."

"No. I know that. We'll figure it out. We'll bring him back."

"Thank you."

"Yup." Buffy hugged Elena. "Now, I need to get back to Damon. With Klaus being so close, he's on edge."

"I can imagine."

"I'll see you tomorrow." Buffy walked out waving at Alaric as he made his way up the stairs with his bags.

A/N 2 And just to clear things up, Buffy got her memory back in Chapter 39. Angel and Bonnie worked it out. When Buffy goes to talk to Damon at the end of that chapter, she was 29 year old Buffy, not 17 year old Buffy. The spell had been reversed.

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