The Next Chapter

Chapter 63

Chapter 63

Buffy shrugged and kept washing the dishes. "I'm just saying…. Damon's right. We both need to learn more about our vampire nature and how to control it. Which includes feeding off humans. Not Bambi."

"Please don't use that reference." Elena groaned.

"Sorry. I don't like it much either." Buffy took a deep breath and set the glass in the dishwasher.

"I don't want to let Stefan down."

"I know he's big on the animal blood thing, but I think it's better to stick with human."

"Have you tried animal blood?"

"Once. It was disgusting. And it was a bunny, so all I could think about was that I was eating Thumper. I cried for an hour. Damon found it all hysterical."

"I'm sure he did." Elena stood up. "Tell you what…. I'll let Stefan take me out for this hunting trip and see how it goes. If it doesn't work out, I'll…. try it Damon's way."

"Sounds fair." Buffy sighed and rolled her eyes. "I swear…." She turned and walked out of the kitchen. Elena followed her. Upstairs, Buffy had heard Stefan and Damon arguing. They were in each other's faces and about to come to blows. "Cool it. Both of you. Elena's going to try the animal blood diet. If it doesn't work, we'll explore other options."

"I say rip off the proverbial Band-Aid and let it bleed." Damon said. "You're a vampire, Elena. Be a vampire."

Stefan picked up his backpack. "Ready to go?" He asked Elena.

"Vampires eat people. It's part of the natural food pyramid. Trust me…. You're going to be miserable."

"Damon, please…." Buffy walked over to him and wrapped herself in his arms, waving Elena and Stefan out of the room. "Leave her alone, ok? Just let her try it Stefan's way." He looked ready to protest, so she threw in, "You've got all weekend to work on me."

Damon smirked. "When you put it that way…." He pulled her to him and leaned down to kiss her.

"Don't let me interrupt." Angel said behind them. Damon growled and Buffy rolled her eyes. "Where are they going?"

"Hunting." Damon said, walking out of the room.

"What's his problem?" Angel asked.

"He thinks that Stefan trying to teach Elena how to live off animal blood is a waste of time."

"What about you?"

Buffy shrugged. "I agree with Damon. I think it's best to start her off on human blood. Get her used to it so she doesn't go crazy Ripper vampire on us."

"Like Stefan did."

"Exactly."

"I can see Damon's point."

"That's a first."

"Won't happen again." Angel smirked. "I just came to say bye."

"You're leaving?"

"Yeah. It's still not easy to watch you be with him."

"I know." Buffy sighed. "A part of me feels like apologizing and another part of me wants to beat the snot out of you."

"Which part is winning?"

"The other part that says to give you a hug and let you go."

"That sounds like the grown up thing to do."

She reached up and wrapped her arms around his neck. "Thank you for coming. It's really meant a lot to me. I was glad that I had the chance to say a real goodbye to you."

"Even though you didn't die."

"Which is a first."

Angel chuckled. "Don't ever hesitate to call if you need me. I'll always come running."

"I know you will." She kissed his cheek and let him go. "I'll walk you out."

He let her walk out the door first and then caught up to her. "Is Elena going to be ok?"

"In time. She never wanted this, so it's difficult on her."

"Well, she's got a good mentor."

"Stefan?"

"You."

"No…. I'm just as new at this as she is."

"You seem like you've got it down."

"I haven't really had time to explore the whole vampire thing. I spent the first few weeks breaking everything I touched. I've only ever really drank from blood bags, so I haven't got the eating but not killing thing down. The speed and superpowers are about the only thing I've sort of figured out. And that's because I already had them down before."

"You're doing great."

"Thanks."

Angel headed towards his rental car. "Bye, Buffy."

"Bye." Buffy shut the door after Angel drove off and headed into the living room. Damon was standing by the liquor cabinet debating which drink he wanted. "Pour me one, too?"

"What do you want?" Damon asked.

"Whatever you're having." Buffy sat down on the couch and turned around to face him. "So…. Not to quote a bad 80s song, but I think we're alone now."

Damon paused and listened to the silence. "That hasn't happened in a long time."

"I think we should lock the doors and windows, shut all the curtains, and settle in for the weekend."

"Actually…." Damon came over to sit next to her and handed her a glass of bourbon. "That's not a bad idea. Let's order Chinese and watch some horror movies. Maybe tomorrow we can head up to Richmond and go shopping. Add to that bracelet I got you for your birthday."

"Ok. As long as we're back before Stefan and Elena."

"Deal." Damon clinked his glass against hers.

Buffy and Damon walked into the Grill after driving back into town from Richmond. Liz had called and asked if they would meet her before they went home. She wasn't anywhere in sight, so they headed up to the bar. Damon looked at the seats with a sad look in his eyes.

"Are you ok?" Buffy asked.

"I'm fine." Buffy started to sit down in the chair to Damon's left that Alaric had usually occupied. "Buff…."

"Oh." She nodded. "Ok. I get it." She stood up and moved to the seat on Damon's right, removing her leather jacket and draping it across the seat back.

"What do you get?"

Liz walked up just then and started to sit down in the seat Buffy had just vacated. "I wouldn't." Buffy said. "Come over here, Liz."

Liz looked confused, but did as Buffy said. She tossed down a newspaper in front of Buffy and Damon as she moved to Buffy's empty side. Damon held it up and read the headline. "'Faulty gas line leads to tragic explosion at Young farm.'" He set the paper down. "Really?"

"Better than 'Town Council blown up. Police have no suspects.'" Liz said. "Unless the perpetrator is right next to his fiancée."

"Well, don't look at me. I always take credit for killing people." Liz continued to stare at Damon.

"Seriously, Liz? Damon didn't do this." Buffy said.

Damon put down his drink. "If I was going to kill twelve people, I wouldn't blow them up. I'd have a dinner party." He laughed at his own joke.

"The explosion was sparked from inside. This wasn't an accident." Liz said.

"You say that like it's a bad thing. The Council's dead, Liz. I see that as a win."

"I've known some of the Council since I was a kid. They were my friends."

"I have to say that I'm with Damon on this." Buffy said. "It's sad that so many people died, but your friends tried to kill your daughter. They tortured Stefan, Elena, and myself. They shot Damon. They…."

"Ok! I get it."

Damon noticed a tall, dark man approaching. "Who's the new guy?"

"Excuse me, Sheriff." The man said. "Hi, um, I was wondering if I could speak to you for a minute about the explosion at the Young farm."

"I'm sorry, Mr…?" Liz asked.

"Oh, Connor Jordan." Connor held his hand out to her. He was wearing fingerless black gloves. Buffy noticed the gloves and was instantly suspicious. It wasn't cold outside and he didn't look like a bodybuilder. Plus the gloves had a funky smell. Not the usual leather smell they should've had.

Liz took his hand and shook it. "Are you with the insurance investigators?"

"No, no, I'm more of an independent contractor." Connor looked at Damon and Buffy. "Can we speak in private?"

"Sure."

"Thanks." Connor walked away.

Liz looked at Buffy and Damon and followed Connor. "Nice to meet you too, Mr. Busy Body Guy." Buffy watched Connor leave. He moved way too smoothly for a normal human. He was human, though. She could sense it. "I see the wheels in your head turning. What's up?"

Buffy looked at Damon. "He's fishy."

"You think?" She shot him a glare. "Yes. He's releasing weirdo vibes into the wild. But who isn't these days?"

Buffy's cell phone started ringing. "It's Elena."

"Better answer it. She's probably gagging from Bambi blood and needs our help."

Buffy rolled her eyes and answered her phone. "Hey. How was the hunting trip?"

"Uh…. It didn't go so good. I'm having some adjustment issues." Elena said.

"Everything ok?"

"Not really. Where are you?"

"I'm at the Grill. Why? Where are you?"

"At your house. Oh, I gotta go. Stefan's coming. I'll meet you there in a little bit." Elena hung up.

"Was I right?" Damon asked.

"Possibly." Buffy looked at her phone for a minute. "She doesn't want to talk in front of Stefan."

"Why?"

"She said she's having adjustment issues."

"See? Gagging on Bambi blood."

"Damon!"

"Have a drink and wait for your baby vamp to get here."

It was just past sundown when Elena walked up to Buffy and Damon at the bar. "Did you do it?" She asked Damon as she began to sit down.

"That seat's taken." Damon said.

"But there's no one here."

"Well, I'm just going to pretend like there's someone there, because the alternative is just too damn depressing."

"What?"

"Just go with it." Buffy said. "Where's Stefan?"

"Sitting at home." Elena moved over to sit next to Buffy. "I told him I would come talk to Damon." She looked at him. "Did you set off the explosion that killed the Town Council?"

"Am I wearing my 'I Blew Up The Council' t-shirt? Why does everybody keep asking me that?"

"Liz left Stefan a voicemail earlier. So did you?"

"No. He didn't." Buffy said. "So, you're away from Stefan. What's wrong?" Elena hesitated. "Elena?"

"I can't keep any of the animal blood down."

"Well, there's a shock." Damon said.

"Damon!" Buffy groaned. "Chill."

"I think I need your guys' help."

"Of course you do." Damon said. "Pick your meal. You've got Asian fusion. Mexican. What about some good old American comfort food?"

"No. No, no human blood. Stefan's right, I have to at least try to get through this without hurting anyone."

Damon finished his drink and got up. "Fine, come on." He grabbed both Elena's and Buffy's arms and drug them behind him. They entered the bathroom together and he closed and locked the door.

"What are you doing?" Buffy asked. Damon lifted her hand to his mouth and bit it. "Ow!"

Damon held Buffy's bleeding hand to Elena. "Drink."

"What?" Both girls asked.

"You're a new vampire, Elena. You need warm blood from the vein. Maybe this will do the trick. Or not." Elena stared at the blood on Buffy's hand uncertainly. "Elena, just drink."

"It can't hurt." Buffy said, looking at her healed hand. There was still a pool of blood there."Are you sure?" Elena asked.

Buffy sighed and took her hand away from Damon. She bit her hand to open the wound again and held it out to Elena. Elena looked down at her hand. She hesitated and then grabbed Buffy's hand in hers and started to drink. She closed her eyes and laid her head on Buffy's shoulder as she continued to drink.

Damon moved over to Elena. "Ok, baby vamp. Time to let go." He tugged on her and Elena let go.

"How do you feel?" Buffy asked, smoothing Elena's hair out.

"Better." Elena said. "Thank you."

"Come on. Let's go get some rest. We've got that memorial tomorrow."

"I promised I would help set up for it."

"I remember that I also promised that I would come with you."

"Are you sure? You don't have to."

"I'm sure. Someone's gotta look out for you and since there's a piece of paper floating around out there that says I'm your legal guardian, I guess it's going to be me." Buffy smiled and wrapped an arm around Elena's shoulders. "Let's get you home."

Matt and Elena were laying out memorial pamphlets on the rows of benches in the Mystic Falls Church. Buffy was up front talking with Carol about the incident that happened with Tyler the night before. Apparently the new guy in town had shot Tyler with wooden bullets. Tyler had gone to the Salvatore house for help, but Buffy, Damon, and Elena had missed it since they had stayed at Elena's. Stefan had been the only one home.

"Buffy, this man is dangerous." Carol said. "He's after Tyler and he could come after you and Damon and Stefan."

"I know." Buffy said. "Tyler is welcome to stay at the boarding house until this is resolved."

"I'm really worried about this. He's human. He could just walk right in without an invitation and…."

"He would be an idiot to walk into a house full of vampires. And he doesn't sound like an idiot."

"I just hope you know what you're doing."

"Trust me, Carol. I've been a Vampire Slayer a long time. This guy doesn't have anything I haven't seen before." Buffy smiled and squeezed Carol's hand. She walked over and caught up to Elena as she made her way over to a dark haired girl sitting alone in the front pew. "Who's that?"

"That's April Young. She's the Pastor's daughter." Elena explained.

"The torturous prick that wanted to kill us?"

"He was still her dad."

Buffy shrugged. "Sorry. Daddy issues." She followed Elena over to April and stayed standing as Elena sat down.

"Hey there." Elena said.

"Hey. Long time, no see." April said. "Not since…."

"My parent's funeral."

"Yeah."

"April, this is Buffy. She's mine and Jeremy's legal guardian."

"Hi." April shook Buffy's hand. "I've heard nothing but good things about you."

"From who?" Buffy asked.

"Jeremy. And Matt. I saw them earlier at school when I went to enroll."

Elena hugged April. "Are you gonna survive this?"

"They want me to speak. I guess all the kids who lost somebody can. What am I supposed to say? I'm sorry my dad didn't fix the gas line? But, if I don't say anything then…. I mean, what if nobody does? My dad and I didn't always get along or anything but, everybody still deserves to have nice things said about them at their own funeral, you know? I mean, for my mom's funeral, everybody said these really nice things."

"You say what you want to say or you don't say anything at all. And don't worry about your dad, everyone in this town loved him."

"Yeah." April started to choke up. "Until two days ago."

"Even still." Elena took her hand to comfort her.

Buffy noticed Elena's sudden fascination with April's wrist and the light sheen of sweat on her skin as the bloodlust started to rise. Time to intervene. "I'm sorry, but I really need to steal Elena away." Buffy took Elena's hand and pulled her towards the side door.

"Bathroom!" Elena cried suddenly.

Buffy got Elena into the bathroom just as she started to throw up blood. Quick thinking by Buffy got Elena to the toilet and most of the blood in the bowl. Unfortunately it splattered and landed on Buffy's emerald green dress and Elena's pink dress. "Come on." Buffy helped her to stand up. Elena walked over to the sink and suddenly threw up more blood. Buffy managed to get Elena's hair out of the way in the nick of time. Elena looked at Buffy in the mirror and breathed heavily, tears starting to fall. She noticed the blood staining Buffy's clothes and her own. There was blood dripping down her chin. Elena began to get upset and started to panic. "Shh…." Buffy hugged Elena tightly. "Calm down. It's ok. We'll clean this up and get Damon here with new clothes for both of us." Elena started to sob and all Buffy could do was hold her.

Elena and Buffy worked on cleaning the blood she'd thrown up. It was all over the sink, the mirror, the floor, the wall, and it was dripping down the side of the toilet Buffy was on the phone with Damon. "I'm here. Where are you?" Damon asked.

"We're in the basement bathroom." Buffy said. The knob on the door started rattling and turning. Buffy and Elena exchanged looks, stopping their cleaning, before they both looked at the door. "Is that you at the door?"

"Not yet."

"Sorry, there's someone in here!" Buffy called. She had a feeling that it was that Connor guy that had shot Tyler. "Damon, hurry." She hissed into the phone.

Elena turned on the water and continued to clean up the blood on the floor and toilet. Buffy hung up the phone and started cleaning the sink and the mirror. Out in the hall, Damon walked down the stairs with new dresses for Buffy and Elena to change into. Connor was sitting on a couch in an open room at the end of the little hallway. Damon spotted him and stopped outside the bathroom door. "You again. Stalking small town funerals?"

Buffy opened the bathroom door and took the dress bag from Damon. "Thank you, sweetie." She kissed him quickly, keeping her blood stained front turned towards him, and then glanced over at Connor. "Sorry, I am such a klutz! I walked right into Elena and spilled coffee all over our dresses!" Connor stood up and moved towards them. "We'll be right out." She kissed Damon again and shut the door. Damon leaned against it and looked over at Connor.

"We haven't met. I'm Connor Jordan." He held his hand out for Damon to shake.

Damon just looked at him. "Damon. Germophobe." He looked at the door. "Everything ok in there?"

"Yeah, just a minute!" Buffy called as Elena placed all of the bloody tissues into a canvas bag.

Damon looked back at Connor. "So, what brings you to Mystic Falls? Bible salesman?"

"No, actually I'm in environmental clean-up." Connor said.

"Oh."

"Heard you had a bit of a pollution problem."

"Huh, well…. I was unaware. I breathe pretty easy."

Buffy opened the door and Elena came out of the bathroom first. Damon stepped out of the way and Buffy came out, wrapping an arm around Damon's waist and snuggling against him. She smiled politely at Connor. "I'm so sorry that took so long."

"No problem." Connor said.

"Well, enjoy your stay." Damon said. "We love visitors and the scenery is to die for." He gasped and put his hand to his mouth. "Funeral pun. Too soon. Sorry."

Buffy smiled tightly and placed her free hand on Elena's shoulder blade. "Come on, Elena. The memorial's starting soon." She and Damon led Elena up the stairs and then outside.

"Did you bring the blood bag?" Elena asked.

"Would you mind saying that a little louder?" Damon hissed as the three of them ducked behind a large tree. "Here." He handed her the blood bag from the clothes bag and she took it. Her hands were shaking as she ripped the top open and began to drink. She started to feel sick again and spit the blood back out.

Buffy took the bag back from her and set it on the ground. "No, I can't. It tastes like…. What's wrong with me?" Elena cried.

Buffy gently wiped the blood off of Elena's chin. "I don't know. Maybe it's your doppelganger blood. Maybe you're rejecting the transition."

"I'm dying, aren't I?"

"No! You are not dying."

"You just need to drink from the vein." Damon said.

"No. No, I don't…. I can't risk killing anyone, Damon. Maybe I'm better off dead."

Buffy grabbed Elena by the shoulders and shook her slightly. "Don't you dare think like that. Elena, you'll be fine. Ok?" The church bells began ringing.

"I have to get back inside." Elena said. She hugged Buffy quickly and then walked back towards the church. Damon picked up the blood bag and put it back in the clothing bag. He looked at Buffy's worried face as she watched Elena walk away.

"What's in the bag, Damon?" Stefan asked, walking up to them.

"Mid-service snack. Church always gets me hungry." Damon said. "The whole blood Christ thing, you know." Stefan glared at him. "I brought it for Elena."

"Are you really that intent on having your way?"

"It's not my way, it's the only way."

"Stop!" Buffy said.

"If she hurts someone, she'll be desperate to turn the guilt off." Stefan said. "Maybe even desperate enough to shut off her humanity."

"What, and become a Ripper?" Damon snapped.

"I can't let her be anything like me."

"Well, God forbid, she's anything like me. That's really what you're thinking. She's gonna go off the rails eventually, anyways, Stefan, so the faster we can make it happen, the sooner we can get her back on track."

"She's strong. If we help her, she can survive this." Stefan said.

"She's starving, Stefan!" Buffy blurted. "She hasn't been able to keep blood down for days."

"What are you talking about?" Stefan asked. "She told me she was fine."

"She lied. Animal blood makes her sick. Blood bags make her sick. She can't even keep my blood down."

"She drank from you?"

"Yes. She drank from me. She needs to try human blood from the vein, Stefan. I know you don't like that idea, but right now…. It's the only option."

Damon smirked at Stefan and followed Buffy to his car. She sighed and leaned against it as he tossed the bag in the trunk. "Hey," He took her hands and squeezed them gently. "Elena's going to be fine. We'll get her a neck to chew on and she won't be sick anymore."

"I'm just really worried about her. I didn't react this way to other blood sources."

"You were probably right about her doppelganger blood rejecting anything non-human."

"That blood bag was human blood."

"But it's not fresh from the vein. You know how much different that is." While in Richmond, Damon had helped Buffy work on learning to feed from humans without killing them. She was a natural at hunting. Of course, she would be with all of her experience hunting demons and bumpy-forehead vampires. "Come on. Let's get inside. The memorial's starting."

Buffy and Damon walked into the church hand in hand. Damon smirked and dipped his fingers in a bowl of holy water and touched his forehead, chest, and shoulders in the formation of a cross. Buffy shook her head when he said, "Don't know why that always makes me smile." They sat down next to Stefan and looked at Elena who had made her way up to the podium.

"She doesn't look so good." Buffy said.

"Maybe you should have told me she was rejecting all food sources." Stefan said.

"Talk to her about it. Don't snap at me for taking care her."

"You should've told me."

"She didn't want you to know."

"I uh…. When I talked to April earlier she was kind of nervous about coming up to speak." Elena said at the podium. Buffy sat up straighter in the pew, causing Damon and Stefan to look at her. The smell of fresh human blood was permeating the air.

"Do you…." Buffy looked at Elena. If she smelled that blood….

"And now that I'm up here, I'm kind of nervous too." Elena held on to the sides of the podium and her grip tightened. "The worst day of loving someone is the day that you lose them." Elena smelled the blood now, too. Buffy glanced at Stefan, Damon, Tyler, and Caroline.

"Do you smell that?" Caroline asked Tyler.

"Blood." Tyler said.

Elena started to breathe heavily. "Nobody move." Damon said quietly. All the vampires in the church heard him. "Don't turn around, it's a trap."

Elena was still at the podium, trying to fight the urge for the blood. "I um…." She breathed in and out, but the veins started crawling towards her eyes.

Buffy stood up, swatting away protesting hands from Stefan and Damon, and made her way up to the podium. She wrapped an arm around Elena. "It's ok. It's ok. I've got you." Buffy led Elena off the stage and back into the row next to Matt. It was closer than Stefan and Damon.

The priest went over to the podium and said, "Please turn to page forty two in your hymn book. Let us join together in a song." Everyone in the room stood up and began to sing.

Elena leaned on Buffy, sweating and gasping. "The blood. Buffy, the blood…. I can smell it. There's so much."

"It's alright." Buffy soothed. "Just focus, ok? Breathe."

"What's wrong with her?" Matt asked.

"She's hungry. She hasn't fed."

"So, get her out of here."

"I can't. We're being watched."

"I'm gonna go rip his head off now." Damon said from his pew so only the vampires could hear.

"You do that, Damon, and you risk exposing all of us." Stefan said.

"Well, I think the risk will be slightly diminished when I, you know, rip his head off."

"Buffy, I'm losing it." Elena said.

"You have ten seconds before I go old fashioned on the new guy." Damon said.

"Don't do it, Damon. Please." Buffy said.

"Three, two, one. Bye." Damon started to leave.

"Wait, wait, wait, wait." Matt said. "Elena, feed from me."

"Matt…." Buffy started.

"It's ok. Everyone will think you're upset. Just feed from me." Buffy looked at Matt and nodded. She helped Elena move towards Matt and he hugged her against him. "It's ok. You'll be ok." Elena moved Matt's collar and began to drink from his neck.

Buffy rubbed her back and played with her hair like a mother watching her grieving child. "Elena…." She warned when Matt's eyes started to flutter.

Elena stopped drinking and her face went back to normal. "Thank you." She said to Matt as she pulled away. She wiped the blood from her mouth and Matt hid the wound on his neck. Elena looked at Buffy. "The blood. I can still smell it."

"I can, too." Buffy said.

"It's got to be April. We have to help her." Elena tried to leave, but Buffy stopped her.

"Elena, we can't risk it."

"Then I'm gonna do it!" Elena tried again to push past Buffy.

Suddenly, Tyler moved past them and up to the podium. "Excuse me. I just wanted to say a few words about Pastor Young."

"What do we do?" Elena asked as everyone sat back down.

"Back in first grade, I was a brat who couldn't be bothered with team sports. Didn't care much about anything that didn't affect me. But he was the one who made me understand how important it is to be part of a team…. A community. Of giving yourself up for the sake of…." A gun went off and Tyler fell to the floor. Everybody started to scream and ducked into the aisles before they started to rush out of the church.

Damon made his way out with the crowd as Caroline tried to make her way towards Tyler. Carol rushed towards Tyler's side. Buffy and Elena pushed past everyone and headed up to the stage as well.

"Oh my God." Carol said.

Caroline fell to the floor next to Tyler and ripped the stake out of his chest. Stefan rushed onto the stage and stood next to Elena and Buffy as Tyler started coughing. "I'm gonna kill that bastard." Tyler said.

"Damon's way ahead of you." Stefan said. "Stay here, I have to help him."

"Stay with Elena." Buffy ordered. "I'll go after Damon." She used her vampire speed to go out the back of the church. She came out just as Connor shot wooden bullets into Damon multiple times. Connor's eyes widened as the gun was suddenly gone from his grasp and thrown aside. He pulled a stake from his belt, but Buffy took that from him, too. She examined it. "Not bad. Not as good as mine, though, but something tells me I've had more practive." She tossed it over her shoulder and put her hands on her hips, staring Connor down. Connor took off running, jumped in his truck, and sped off. "Smart boy."

"Ow!" Damon groaned.

Buffy turned and helped him up. "Are you all right?"

"Help me get these bullets out? They're soaked with vervain."

"Come on." Buffy helped Damon to his car, keeping out of sight of the frightened townspeople.

Buffy and Damon got out of his car and walked over towards Bonnie and Willow, who were getting out of Bonnie's car. Willow was staying with the young witch to help her deal with everything that had happened. The red head walked over and hugged Buffy.

"What are we doing here?" Damon asked.

"I don't know. Ask Stefan." Bonnie said.

Caroline, Stefan, Elena, Matt, and Jeremy were all sitting at the tables outside of the school. They all turned and looked at Buffy, Willow, Bonnie, and Damon approached them.

"Stefan, what are we doing?" Damon asked.

Stefan had some of the paper lanterns that were supposed to be used at the memorial in his hand. "We're finishing the memorial we didn't get to have earlier." He handed Elena a lantern. "We need to start healing, Damon. We've all lost so much, especially recently. I think we're numb to it. We push it away, we make a joke out of it, ignore how we feel. We've never just let ourselves grieve."

"So, you're lighting lanterns?"

"Yeah. Yeah, we need to do this."

"What we need to do is find out who this hunter is and what he knows about the death of the Council. We have more important things to be doing right now than this."

"Not tonight, we don't. This is for my uncle Zach and my friend Lexi and for Alaric." Stefan lit the lantern and handed the lighter to Matt.

"This is for Vicki." Matt lit his lantern.

Caroline stood up and took the lighter from Matt. "This is for my dad. And Tyler's." She lit her lantern.

Jeremy got up and took the lighter from Caroline. "This is for our parents." He said to Elena. "For Vicki. Anna. Jenna. And Alaric." He lit his lantern and looked up at Damon.

Damon refused to take the lighter from him. "No way. I'm not doing that." He turned on his heel and marched off.

"Damon! Damon?!" Buffy called. He kept walking. She sighed and turned back to the others. Stefan handed her a lantern and Jeremy handed her the lighter. "This is for my friends Lexi and Jenna and Alaric…. And for Giles…. The best Watcher a Slayer and her Scoobies could ask for." Willow hugged Buffy's waist as they held the lit lantern together.

Buffy handed the lighter to Bonnie. She took a lantern out of the box and went to stand next to Caroline. "This is for my Grams."

Stefan looked at Elena. She got up and stood between him and Buffy. She lit the lantern. "This um…. is for my mom, my dad, Jenna, everyone that you've all lost, everyone that this town has lost. And for me, I guess." Elena stepped forward and released her lantern. One at a time, they all began to release their lanterns as well. As everyone watched them float off into the night sky, Buffy let go of Willow and melted into the shadows to go find Damon.

It took her a little bit, but she finally found him sitting in the cemetery. He was sitting on a bench with a bottle of bourbon and talking to one of the headstones. Buffy knew which headstone he was having a conversation with.

"They're floating lanterns in the sky, can you believe that? A Japanese lantern is the symbol of letting go of the past. Well, here's a news flash, we're not Japanese!" Damon took a swig of the bourbon and Buffy crossed her arms and leaned against a tree. "Do you know what they are? Children. Like lighting a candle is going to make everything ok or even saying a prayer or pretending Elena is not going to end up just like the rest of us murderous vampires. Stupid, delusional, exasperating, little children. I know what you're going to say; 'It makes them feel better, Damon.' So what? For how long? A minute? A day? What differences does it make?" Damon stood up and walked towards Alaric's headstone. "Because in the end, when you lose somebody…. Every candle, every prayer is not going to make up for the fact that the only thing that you have left is a hole in your life where that somebody that you cared about used to be. And a rock with a birthday carved into it that I'm pretty sure is wrong." Buffy smiled and laughed quietly as Damon sat down on Alaric's tombstone. "So, thanks, friend. Thanks for leaving me here to babysit, because my girl and I should have been long gone by now. Soaking up some rays in Italy or the south of France. But we're stuck here fighting with my brother and taking care of the kids. You owe me big."

As Damon took another swig from the bottle of bourbon, Buffy walked over and sat down next to him. He wasn't surprised she was there. She took his hand and laid her head on his shoulder. They sat there together for a long while in silence, staring straight ahead.

"I miss him, too." Buffy said finally.

"Did you light a lantern?" Damon asked.

"Yes."

"Did it help?"

She looked straight ahead for a minute before saying, "Not really." Buffy took the bottle and knocked back a hearty swallow.

"Let's go home." Damon wrapped his arm around her waist and they stood up together. "See ya later, Rick."

As they walked away, Buffy heard, "….miss you too, guys." She turned around, but there was no one there. "Rick?"

Damon looked down at her. "Is he here?"

"I can't see him, but I could've sworn…." She shook her head. "Maybe I just wish he was here." Buffy shrugged and snuggled back under Damon's arm as they started to walk.

Alaric stood by his headstone and watched them go, a smile playing at his lips.

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