The Next Chapter

Chapter 70

A/N Sorry it took me so long. Turns out that Christmas when you're older and have people to buy for is a very busy season. Not to mention, I was bad and waited till the last minute on some gifts. Whoops! Enjoy! :)

Chapter 70

Buffy opened her eyes and realized she was wrapped in Damon's arms still. They'd finally gotten to sleep in their own bed without any interruptions. She'd rested her head on his chest as she'd fallen asleep and hadn't budged an inch all night. Damon was still asleep, but he had a small smile on his face. Buffy smirked and slid a hand up his chest and he groaned, moving his body towards her hand.

"Morning." Buffy said, kissing his chest.

"Hi." Damon said. He opened his eyes and looked down at her. "We should be all the way naked."

Buffy laughed. "Only a couple of pieces to take off to make that happen."

Damon smirked and bucked underneath her so she was all the way on top of him. He started to slide his hands up her ribcage, but Elena knocked on the door. "Are you guys awake?"

Damon groaned and rolled his eyes. "No."

"Bonnie just called. She's teaching Jeremy how not to kill me today. Do you guys want to come?"

Buffy was suddenly standing at the door in just Damon's buttoned down black shirt. She opened it as Damon covered himself. "How is she planning to do that?"

"She asked Professor Shane for his help. He can hypnotize Jeremy."

"Well in that case…. Sure. Count us in. I'll drive."

"Ok. I'll meet you downstairs."

Elena walked off down the hall and Buffy shut the door, turning back to Damon. "This Shane guy is just wriggling his way in, isn't he?"

"Should we put a stop to it or let him keep wriggling?" Damon asked, getting out of bed.

"Let's see what he can do with Jeremy. I'll text Will and make sure she's going to be there. If he does anything fishy, Willow can shut him down."

"I like having your best friend around. She's a lot handier than Bonnie."

Buffy pulled up in front of the Gilbert Family lake house with Damon in the passenger seat and Elena sitting in back. Jeremy was outside of the house, chopping wood. He pulled the axe out of the log he had just chopped in half and placed it into a tree trunk. He obviously thought that no one noticed him pick up a sliver of wood. He stared at it before throwing it down and picking the axe back up, chopping another piece of wood.

"Well, I see the work hasn't started." Damon said.

"Bonnie's waiting for us." Elena said.

Just then, Bonnie hurried out of the house and over to Jeremy. "Jeremy."

Jeremy walked out in front of the car and looked at them. "They shouldn't be here."

"They're here to help you. Do you trust me?" Bonnie wrapped her hands around the handle of the axe which Jeremy was still holding with a firm grip.

"Yeah. Yeah, I trust you." Jeremy released his grip on the axe and Bonnie took it from him.

She threw the axe aside and took his arm in her hands. "Let's go inside." Bonnie led Jeremy back towards the house as Jeremy continued to look at Buffy, Elena, and Damon. As they approached, Shane opened the front door and walked out towards Bonnie and Jeremy with Willow. Buffy, Damon, and Elena climbed out of the car and Willow headed over to meet them.

"Any shady business from him?" Buffy asked in a low voice.

"Not yet. He's willing to help Jeremy." Willow said. "Jeremy is really anti-vampire. I've tried touching his mind a couple of times, but it's incredibly dark with his hatred of vampires. I'm scared to go any deeper." Buffy squeezed Willow's hand gently.

"Ok, listen, we are ready to get started," Shane said. "But before we can do that, we need her." Jeremy looked out the front door and saw Elena and Damon approaching. "In here."

"This is your house now, Jer." Elena said as Jeremy walked closer to the front door. "You have to invite me in."

Jeremy stared at Elena but didn't invite her in. "Go ahead, Jeremy. Invite her in." Shane said.

Jeremy continued to stare at Elena and hesitated for a moment longer before saying, "You can come in. You too, Buffy."

"Thank you Jeremy." Buffy said as they walked in.

Elena stopped in front of Jeremy and looked up at him. She gently touched his arm and walked past him, setting her bags on a counter. Jeremy looked down at his arm where she'd touched him and suddenly grabbed a small wooden stake from his waistband. Before he could reach Elena, though, Buffy had his arm twisted behind his back and the stake thrown out the door. She kicked his legs out from under him and made him fall face first to the floor. Jeremy struggled to release himself from her grip, but Buffy was stronger and way more experienced with fighting.

"Take some deep breaths, Jer." Buffy said. "If you keep struggling, I'm going to end up breaking your arm. I really don't want to do that."

"Then let me go." He growled.

"You need to calm down first. You want to kill vampires, you need to learn to control your emotions. They can be your greatest strength or your greatest weakness." Jeremy struggled for a moment before taking a deep breath. "Good." She released him and stepped back. "If I offer you a hand up, will you take it?" Jeremy sighed and took her offered hand. He chose not to attack her. Buffy smiled slightly. "Progress. I like it."

"Good job, Jeremy." Shane said.

Damon's phone rang and he sighed. "It's Stefan." He walked towards to car and answered it.

Buffy turned to Willow and noticed Shane looking at her with admiration. "Yeah. Vampire Slayer. I know a little something about fighting.""That was amazing." Shane said. "I've read so much about Vampire Slayers and their abilities…. You don't seem to fit the profile."

"I never have. They broke the mold when they made me."

"Why did you become the thing you were sworn to destroy?"

"To protect my family from something I couldn't fight as a normal Slayer. Besides, this type of vampire isn't like the other type."

"There's more than one type?"

"And here I thought you were an expert on all things supernatural."

"I've researched vampires, sure, but not in depth. My field is the occult…. More specifically witchcraft."

"You're missing out. There's a whole, very large, very scary world out there." Buffy nodded and headed out to join Damon.

"Well, he's not walking around with it. Check the rest of the house." Damon was saying.

"I am. I haven't found anything." Stefan said on the other end of the line.

"Try the sock drawer. People leave the sketchiest stuff in sock drawers."

"I'm gonna need real ideas, Damon."

"Here's two: Kill Tyler before he goes to Klaus or, since Klaus has suddenly become MVP in our relay race for the cure, tell him about the hybrids and he'll kill Tyler."

"Nobody's killing Tyler." There was a rustle of papers and Stefan made a quizzical noise.

"Hello? Stefan?"

"Look, I know it's a touchy subject, but do you know where Elena is today?"

"She's here at the lake house with me and Buffy trying to figure out how to deprogram Jeremy."

"You didn't break the sire bond?"

"Buffy and I decided not to until Jeremy was cured of his hatred of his sister and his foster mom. Safer that way."

"How are you planning on fixing that?"

"Bonnie has enlisted Dr. Evil in her plan. Buffy has enlisted Willow's help to thwart him in case he does anything fishy. Gotta go." Damon hung up on Stefan. "Everything good?"

"Peachy." Buffy said. "Professor Shadypants was gawking."

"A celebrity was standing in front of him." Damon shrugged. "I'd gawk too."

"They're setting up in there. Wanna see how this works out?"

"Sure." He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and they walked into the house together.

Inside the lake house, Shane had started up the pendulum of a metronome which ticked slowly back and forth. There were candles lit around the living room, encircling the group. Shane tightened some thick leather straps around Jeremy's wrist to finish tying him into a chair. Jeremy had his eyes shut and appeared to be in a trance. Willow stood off to the side, still facing Jeremy and Shane while Bonnie and Elena sat next to each other across from Jeremy.

"All Jeremy feels when he sees a vampire is a burning desire to kill them." Shane said. "Even if consciously he doesn't want to. As in your case," He gestured at Elena. "It's his subconscious that's calling the shots."

"Persuasion helps reverse your subconscious thoughts." Bonnie said.

"Think of it as kind of a conditioned response, right? See vampire, kill vampire. What I'm doing is creating kind of a middle step. It's like a detour, where his subconscious learns to recognize you as someone he loves, someone he wants to protect. And that gives him a choice. He can choose to take the detour instead of the conditioned response." Shane sat on the table next to Jeremy and looked at Elena. "Ok. Talk to him. He'll listen."

"I'm not sure what to say." Elena said.

"You chose to do this here at your family's vacation house, right? So, maybe just start by telling him why."

"Every holiday, we came here. This place was family. And when mom and dad died, Jenna made us come here and we thought it was an awful idea, but it was like they were here with us." Jeremy opened his eyes and looked at Elena. "They would have wanted us to stick together, Jer. To fight for each other, no matter what."

"Jeremy, how do you feel about Elena right now?" Shane asked.

"She ruined our lives." Jeremy said. "She's not even my real sister. She's just the reason that everyone I've ever loved has died. She means nothing to me. I will kill her even if that means I die myself." Shane rapped his knuckles against the wooden table and brought Jeremy out of his trance. Jeremy looked from Shane to Elena. "Did it work?" Nobody responded and the look of disappointment on their faces was enough of an answer.

Elena sighed and walked out of the house. Willow looked at Shane skeptically for a moment before sighing and heading out to the front porch. Buffy and Damon decided to follow her. "Everything ok?" Buffy asked, sitting down next to her best friend. Damon stood in front of the girls, leaning against a pillar.

"I'm not sure. This isn't exactly magic that he's doing." Willow said. "It's just your basic hypnotism. I never studied that. So I'm not exactly sure if he's actually helping Jeremy or doing something else."

"What would you suggest doing?" Damon asked.

Willow sighed. "Well, going into his mind…. You know, like I did with you when Dawn got taken."

"Why don't we try that?" Buffy asked. "It worked out great for me."

"Buffy, you saw how hard it was for me to get to you. Jeremy's mind…. From what I could see before…. I wouldn't know how to navigate that. I had some idea with you because I've known you for so long and I know everything there is to know about you."

"What about Elena?" Damon asked. "Could she do it?"

"No." Willow shrugged. "It's a witch thing. Honestly, when I did it to Buffy, I shouldn't have been powerful enough to do it. I just didn't know what else to try."

"You've always underestimated yourself." Buffy said. "You had a ton of power when you did that spell to give Angel his soul back the first time."

"I don't feel all that powerful right now. I feel like I'm letting you guys down by not knowing how to fix Jeremy."

"I have an idea." Damon said. Buffy and Willow both looked at him. "Using a vampire to suppress the need to kill another one isn't gonna work on a Hunter. It's like dangling a cheeseburger in front of someone on a master cleanse. We just need to find someone else to attach Jeremy's warm and fuzzy detour feelings to."

"Bonnie." Buffy said.

"Exactly. Baby Gilbert has warm and fuzzies about her."

"That's brilliant, Damon!" Willow said. She bounced up and headed back inside the house.

"She gets excited about the most random things." Buffy shook her head at her best friend.

"Think Shane can hypnotize Elena out of a sire bond?" Damon asked.

"I doubt it."

"It would make it a lot easier. I feel like that's making you choose between us."

"It's not a choice."

"It feels like it. Those kids need you. I can't ask you to stay with me all the time."

"You can stay at the house with me."

"Not if Elena is supposed to stay away from me."

"It's not like it's permanent. We'll find the cure for Elena, no more sire bond, and we can resume like normal. Until then…. We'll figure something out."

Shane walked outside just then. "That was good thinking, Damon. Using Bonnie, I mean."

"Yeah." Damon shrugged. "So, if your hypno herbs work, we should be singing 'Kumbaya' around the fire by dinner. So now, tell me why I'm not killing you? Why are you after the vampire cure?"

"I didn't say I was looking for the cure, but I can tell you where to find it."

"Klaus' sword will tell us where to find it."

"The sword will lead you there, sure, but so can I."

"How?" Buffy asked.

"Cause I've already been there."

"Well, that's a convenient bargaining chip." Damon said. "How do we know you're not lying."

"I can prove it." Shane gestured for them to go into the house. Buffy and Damon exchanged looks before heading inside. Shane went over to a bag and brought out a large wrapped something.

"What's going on?" Elena asked, walking in from the back deck.

"The good professor says he knows where the cure is and he has a way to prove it." Damon said.

"Seriously?"

Shane set the package down and unwrapped the cloth from around it. Damon just scoffed. "It's a rock."

"It's not just any rock." Shane said.

"Hmm, so is this that silly little wives tale that you told at the occult exhibit?"

"Right, long story short. Once upon a time, there was a witch named Silas who loved a girl and wanted to be with her forever, so he and his best friend, another witch, made an immortality spell and then Silas' best friend got jealous and killed Silas' girl before he had a chance to make her immortal. Well, cursed to an eternity without his one true love, Silas finds a way to reverse the immortality spell and then before he has the chance to take it, his former friend buries him underground, leaving him and the cure to rot."

"So, it's a cure for immortality?" Willow asked.

"Human blood is the life force of an immortal. No more immortality, no more need to feed on blood. You dig up Silas and you've got your cure." He pulled the piece of paper with the Hunter's mark that Jeremy had drawn and laid it on the table. He pointed to the first part on the hand. "This is the mark of the Brotherhood of the Five. And up the arm, you have the murder of a girl by a witch. The symbols in the vines are your map, which obviously, you no longer need. When this mark is complete, it will contain the spell that we need to dig up Silas."

"And where'd you say he was buried?" Damon asked. "Oh, I forgot, you didn't."

"You've threatened to kill me, what, like three times already this week."

"Yeah."

"The location is how I'm gonna survive your bad moods." Buffy laughed at Shane's remark and Damon glared it her.

"And what's in it for you?" Elena asked. "If not the cure, then what?"

"I'm in this for Silas. Up until this point he's only been myth."

"So write a thesis." Damon said.

"Would you rather be the guy who writes about Noah's Ark or the one who sails it down the Hudson River?" Shane stood up and folded the paper with the Hunter's mark drawing.

Damon held his hand out for the drawing. "I'm not buying it."

"You don't have to buy anything." Shane looked over at Elena. "You just have to believe that I can fix your brother. And when his Hunter's mark is complete, I'm gonna take you to the cure." Shane walked out of the room.

Elena had pulled out a box of Christmas decorations from a closet. Bonnie and Jeremy were in another room with Willow. They were working on fixing Jeremy using Willow's way of getting into Jeremy's head. Damon was sitting on a side table with Buffy leaning against him between his legs. He was lightly running his hand up and down her ribs and playing with her neck.

Elena placed the box on the coffee table. "We should take these decorations home with us. We could use the holiday cheer." She said to Buffy.

"Look at you, suddenly Polly Optimist." Damon said.

"I think Shane's gonna get us through this. I trust him." Damon scoffed and shook his head with a roll of his eyes. "But you clearly don't."

"Well, Willow's actually the one to thank for this one." Buffy said. "Her method will work a lot better."

"And maybe because I think he blew up twelve people at the Young farm." Damon said.

"What?" Elena gasped.

"Little tip, Professor, I heard you before you even took your first step."

Shane was standing in the doorway behind Damon and Buffy. "I see we're back to the false accusation part of our relationship."

"What is he talking about?" Elena asked Shane.

"Damon discovered that I was in contact with Pastor Young prior to the explosion at the Young farm. And the Pastor was severely depressed. He had lost his wife to cancer and he sought me out for a little supernatural assistance. I tried to help but he was too far gone. I just…. I never expected that he would take eleven innocents with him."

Jeremy and Bonnie suddenly entered the room with Willow right behind them. "Elena." Jeremy said, looking right at his sister. Buffy moved closer to Jeremy when she noticed he had a stake in his hand. "It's ok. I think we've got this."

Bonnie walked towards Elena. "Elena, don't move, ok? No matter what."

"Jeremy, remember the detour. Choose the right path." Shane said.

Jeremy nodded and started to walk forwards. He stopped by Buffy and looked down at the stake. He took a deep breath and held the stake up for Buffy to take. "Here…. You're better with these things than I am." Buffy smiled and Jeremy wrapped his arms around her tightly. He motioned for Elena to join them and the three of them held each other, all smiling and laughing. They were finally a family again.

A little while later, Buffy, Elena, Jeremy, Bonnie, and Willow were all gathered around the Christmas decorations. They were laughing and telling stories as they went through the boxes. Damon had gone outside to call Stefan and let him know how things were. He sat out there now watching the festivities.

Jeremy pulled out a string of mistletoe and laughed. "Hey, check this out."

"Jenna used that to make out with Logan Fell." Elena said.

Jeremy set it down as Buffy looked out onto the deck where Damon was sitting on the railing. She grabbed the strand of mistletoe and walked out to him. "Of all the drama, you're missing the actual fun part." Damon turned to look at her and smiled when he saw her holding the mistletoe over her head.

He leaned down and kissed her, moving her hair behind her ears. "It's good to see you like that. All normal with your kids. I want to be a part of that."

"Then come on."

"I've got to set Elena free."

"Yeah."

"It really does feel like I'm having to let you go, too."

"Why?"

"Because you need to stay with them. Elena needs you. Jeremy needs you. They need you more than I do. I can't be selfish and ask you to stay with me."

"Are you breaking up with me?"

"No! God no. I would stake myself before I did that. I'm just saying…. That's what it feels like…. For me…."

Buffy sighed and looked back at Elena and Jeremy. Jeremy did need her, but Elena…. She'd proven more than once that she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself. Jeremy needed someone to guide him. To train him. And out of everyone in his life, Buffy was the only one fully qualified to fill that role. She couldn't leave him.

"I'll stay here." She finally said. "Elena can go home and Jeremy can stay here. I've got to train him to fight vampires. Here would actually be perfect for that."

"What are you saying?""I'm saying that I want your help training Jeremy. Release Elena. Send her home. I can check on her by phone or Willow can stay with her." Buffy took Damon's hands. "I don't want to hurt you. Ever."

"You can't choose me over your kid, Buff."

"My kid is 18 years old and very capable of taking care of herself. My other kid, however, needs both of us." Buffy turned around and caught Elena's eye. She motioned for her to come outside and join them.

Elena smiled and bounced outside. "So, are we planning a wedding now?"

"Ha! No." Damon said. He smiled slightly. "I wish."

"What's up?"

"I'm releasing you."

"What?"

"You're gonna go home."

"Wait…."

"I'm gonna stay here with Jeremy. Help him complete the mark. Buffy and I will teach him how to hunt. We'll protect him and we'll kill vampires without you. I'm setting you free, Elena. This is what I want. This is what will make me happy."

Elena blinked for a few seconds and then sighed. "Ok. If that's what you want." She looked at Buffy. "Are you coming home?"

"No. I'm staying here." Buffy said. "Out of everyone Jeremy knows, I'm the only one that's actually qualified to teach him how to be a vampire hunter."

"I'll keep an eye on her." Willow said, standing in the doorway. "I don't have any plans to leave any time soon."

"What about Kennedy?"

Willow shrugged. "She's not talking to me at the moment. Apparently I put the needs of my best friend over the needs of my girlfriend way too much. I've decided I don't care anymore. You've been my best friend for a long time…. You've saved my life way more times than I can count…. And I figure that I owe you big time for not having your back in Sunnydale because I chose to listen to everyone else and not believe you about Caleb and the First and the scythe."

"Wills…. I'm sorry."

"Don't be. If my girlfriend doesn't understand how important family is, then I don't understand why she'd be important to me. Family first." Willow smiled brightly and Buffy walked over and hugged her best friend tightly.

"Can we put up the decorations?" Elena asked.

"Sure." Buffy glanced at Jeremy laughing with Bonnie. "Just…. Leave some for here? I'd like some holiday cheer too."

"Ok. Sure." Elena smiled and walked away.

"You released her?" Willow asked. Damon nodded. "It's not forever. We'll get to the cure and make Elena human again. Then you guys can go back to being a crazy, loving, yet slightly dysfunctional family."

"What if it doesn't work?" Buffy asked quietly.

Willow smiled. "I made thousands of Slayers all over the world. So, if this Silas guy can figure out a spell to cure immortality, then so can I. Hope is never lost when you have a super witch for a best friend."

"I kinda love you."

"I kinda love you, too."

Damon hopped down off the railing and kissed Willow's cheek. "If it wouldn't garner a knockout by my fiancée, I would totally ask you to join us for a three way. That's how much I'm loving you." He grinned wickedly and both girls smacked his arms.

"Way to ruin the moment, bonehead." Willow said.

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