The Next Chapter

Chapter 81

A/N As always, let me know what you think. Hope you like it!

Chapter 81

Elena arrived at school and walked among a crowd of high school students outside. Caroline, Bonnie, and Matt caught up to her. Caroline was bubbling with excitement and Bonnie and Matt were smiling.

"Elena, you're here!" Caroline said. "I got valedictorian! You can help me write my speech."

"Pass." Elena said.

"Come on, we're graduating this year, this is it! We need to soak up every second before…."

Elena stopped. "Wait. Something's not right. I don't want to be here."

Willow appeared behind Elena. "Elena, you should want to be with your friends. It's that great time of your life where it's all graduation parties, caps, and gowns…."

Elena rolled her eyes. "What is this…." She looked around and realized all of the students in the schoolyard had disappeared. "We're not really here, are we? We're in my head."

"I thought it would be a good idea to show you all of the things that you've been missing out on since you went all 50 Shades of Crazy." Willow said.

Elena dropped her bag. "The last thing I remember…."

"Was prom? A beautiful dress that you stole from Buffy? You trying to murder Bonnie?"

"Buffy…. She starved me."

Willow sighed. "Yup. I've felt bad for you, so I wanted to try this before Damon, Stefan, and Buffy went through with their plan. I figure if I could just make you nostalgic, then you'd already be halfway to getting your humanity back before they get their hands on you for the more negative emotions."

"It's not gonna work, Willow."

"Then I hate what's going to happen to you next. Sorry, Elena." Willow opened her eyes outside of the safe in the basement.

Buffy stood in front of her, arms crossed. "Well?"

Willow shook her head. "Nothing. That is one tough nut to crack."

Angel came down the stairs. "Wow…. You still have her locked in the safe? You've been in her head for an hour. Still nothing?"

"Nope."

Buffy unlocked the safe and opened the door. Elena was inside, curled on the floor in a weak and barely conscious ball. Buffy pulled her out and kept her on her feet. "Is the old you ready to come out and play?"

"Go to hell." Elena croaked.

"Fine." Buffy shoved Elena back into the safe and locked it. "We can do this the nice way or we can do it the other way. But either way, we're not stopping until you turn your humanity switch back on. We're gonna let you think about that and then I'll come back for you in a couple of hours…. Or a couple years…. Whichever…. I mean, really, all we have is time." Willow and Angel followed her upstairs and she locked the door behind her. "Are Damon and Stefan back yet?"

"No." Angel said. "I guess fire extinguishers are hard to come by."

Suddenly the front door burst open and Caroline stormed into the house. "Where is she? I wanna see her."

"Hi Caroline." Buffy said. "Nice to see you too." Caroline just stared at her. Buffy sighed. "We're not letting anyone see her. Isolation leads to misery leads to emotion."

"She's been here for days. She hasn't improved at all?"

"She doesn't want to. Not yet, anyway. She's devastated. She lost her brother, she attacked her friend, she killed an innocent woman…."

"You said that you guys knew how to help her."

"We are."

"What, how? By torturing her?"

"It's not torture, it's an intervention. I think now our only chance is to provoke her to trigger something. I'm going with fear, anger, self-pity…. Anything negative cause the positive isn't working."

"Let me talk to her. Before any more intervention-ing. If she's weak, she can't hurt me."

"Caroline…."

"Please, just let me try."

Buffy sighed again. "Give me just a minute." She headed downstairs and there was some banging around for a minute before she reappeared in the hallway again. "Ok, she's ready for you. Good luck."

Caroline sighed and headed downstairs with the key to Elena's cell. Buffy, Willow, and Angel moved off into the living room. Willow sat down on one couch and Angel sat down on the other, but Buffy moved over to the window and stared outside.

"Are you sure you have to do this?" Willow asked. "Won't she hate you for it?"

"Honestly, Willow, I don't care." Buffy said, not turning around. "I just want Elena back. Even if she hates me for how I got her back."

"Maybe Caroline will talk some sense into her."

Buffy turned around angrily. "Seriously, Will? She's been like this for weeks and the only thing that made an impact on her was nearly killing her!"

"Whoa!" Angel said. "Calm down."

Buffy took a deep breath. "Sorry. I'm agitated…. And hungry."

"Say no more!" Damon said, walking in with Stefan. Along with a large extinguisher, they had rope, duct tape, zip-ties, and bags of food from Wendys. "We come bearing food."

"I was thinking more along the lines of a liquid diet, but if there's a spicy chicken sandwich in there…." Damon reached in one of the bags and produced said sandwich. "Did I ever tell you that I love you?"

"Not in the last hour."

She smiled and kissed him gently. "I love you."

"I love you, too."

Stefan laughed. "Maybe you two being gushy around Elena will torture her into some feelings."

"Shut up." Buffy said, gently shoving Stefan's arm.

"I'll go get some blood." Stefan headed for the basement, but Caroline bursting out of it stopped him.

"Do whatever you have to do. I need some air." Caroline said to Buffy as she walked past everyone and out the door.

"By the way, Caroline's here." Buffy said, unwrapping her sandwich.

Stefan went downstairs and locked the door to the cell. He grabbed a few bags of blood and headed back up. "She broke Elena's neck." He said, tossing a bag to Buffy.

"Yeah? Good. That gives us some time to actually enjoy our meal."

"So, I think when we're finished eating, we should bring Elena upstairs and get to work." Damon said, glancing outside. "The sun's hitting a good angle."

"Do you guys mind if I'm not here for it?" Willow asked. "I'm just not up for the whole 'actually torturing Elena' thing."

"It's ok, Will." Buffy said. "I understand."

"Thanks." Willow grabbed her food and headed out after Caroline.

Damon noisily set down a fire extinguisher and Elena startled awake, groggily finding herself strapped down in a chair on the main level of the house. Stefan walked around the dimly lit room. Buffy sat in front of Elena holding her daylight ring. Angel stood in the doorway, watching the room.

"Good, you're awake." Buffy said. "We thought you could use a little sunshine." Stefan pulled the curtain back a little, allowing a ray of light to creep closer to Elena. She looked down at her hand. "Looking for this?" Buffy held up her daylight ring. She reached for it as much as the bonds on her wrist would allow, but Buffy pulled it away. "You know the rules."

"Bad girls don't get nice jewelry." Damon said as Stefan let go of the curtain, shutting out the sun again.

"You took my ring." Elena said impassively. "I'm devastated. And bored. Can I go back to solitary now?"

"No." Buffy sat back in her seat and crossed her legs. "Whenever you're ready, Stefan." Stefan reached for the curtain again.

"Am I supposed to be scared?"

"You will be." Stefan said. "And when you are, focus on that fear. It's the key to getting your humanity back."

"You're not gonna burn me."

"You don't think so?" Buffy asked.

"No." Elena said evenly, looking at Buffy. "And even if you do manage to get my emotions back, I'll remember all this, and I'll hate you for it."

Buffy shrugged. "It's worth the risk."

Stefan opened the curtain wide and the sunlight hit Elena's hand. She started to burn and screamed in pain, struggling in her chair. Her arm ignited for a few seconds before Damon put it out with the fire extinguisher. Stefan let go of the curtain.

"Bet that feels better, huh?" Damon said. "How about a little gratitude, or any human emotion whatsoever, and we can stop this?" Elena, still gasping and straining against her bonds, mumbled something. "I didn't quite catch that."

"I said, I'm gonna kill you."

"See?" Buffy said to Damon. "There's a little rage."

"I should've figured that'd be the first emotion that came out of her." Damon said. "I tend to pull that out of people."

Stefan crouched down in front of Elena. "Elena, look at me. We don't wanna do this, ok? You can stop this right now. It's your choice."

Elena laughed. "It's kind of funny, actually…. You being the one to pull back the curtain. I bet part of you enjoys it, since, you know, I dumped you and all."

"That was vindictive." Buffy said, leaning forward in her chair. "I think we're starting to break through that tough candy shell and we're getting into the gooey center of your humanity. This is good." Buffy looked at Stefan. "I think we should shine some light on the subject." Stefan nodded and got up to go to the curtain.

"Let me guess…." Elena said. "This is gonna hurt you a lot more than it hurts me?"

"Look, I know what you're going through." Stefan said. "After all you've done, you're afraid to face the guilt you'll feel if you turn your emotions back on. Only way we can help you is to make the alternative hurt even worse." Elena laughed at him softly and closed her eyes.

Stefan wrenched back the curtain and Elena's face started to burn as she screamed in pain. Angel caught the look on Buffy's face. Hurting Elena was killing her, but she wasn't going to show that to Elena. She stayed sitting calmly in the chair watching Elena scream and burn. Stefan left the curtain open for a few seconds longer then closed them. Elena gasped in relief as her wounds healed.

"You're gonna thank us for this after you turn it back on and realize life with no emotions blew." Damon said.

"You know what else blew? Being sired to you." Suddenly Elena broke free of the bonds on her and tried to rush away. Buffy was too fast and had her standing in front of the windows suddenly. She yanked the curtains away and held Elena in the sunlight. Elena immediately burst into flames and started screaming. Damon grabbed the fire extinguisher and put her out while Stefan patted her down frantically.

Buffy let her go and stepped back. "Bet you didn't see that coming."

Elena lay on the floor, coughing and laughing while her skin healed. "I'm the closest thing to a daughter you'll ever have. You wouldn't do anything to actually hurt me. You just proved that. So what do I really have to be afraid of?"

"I'm sorry, but I'm the one that tore down those curtains and held you in the sunlight." Buffy said.

"You knew they would put me out." Elena passed out and Buffy sighed.

"She's right." Buffy turned and headed outside. "Lock her back up."

While Damon and Stefan took Elena downstairs, Angel found Buffy standing out on the front lawn. He handed her the decanter of bourbon that he'd grabbed. "Figured you could use this."

"Thanks." She took a swig from it. "She's right. I won't actually hurt her."

"She is being really stubborn about this."

"It's because she has nothing to come back to. Her home is gone, her family is gone, she alienated her friends, she destroyed her relationships…." Buffy shook her head. "She wants to come back. I know it. I feel it. Scaring the hell out of her should've worked, but she's smart."

"So get somebody else who really will hurt her."

"Who?"

"Katherine." Stefan said as he and Damon joined them on the grass.

"No." Buffy shook her head. "Hell no."

"Think about it: she's the reason Jeremy's dead, right? So if anybody's gonna provoke an emotion, it's her."

"So we call her and then what, beg her to help us out of the kindness of her own heart?" Damon said. "Are you kidding me? I'm with Buffy. Hell no."

"Katherine was just abandoned by Elijah. She has nothing. She has no one. We invite her into our house to come torture Elena? There's no way she's gonna turn that down."

Buffy sighed. "Let me think about it for a minute?"

"Ok." Stefan nodded. "Elena's out cold, so we have some time."

Buffy nodded and walked off. She headed for the gardens and sat down in a hidden alcove. It was a gazebo that had been overtaken by the vines and flowers of the garden. It was her favorite spot and Damon, as a present, had the inside of it turned into a little comfortable cabana for her. There was a day bed on one side and white wicker chairs with light blue cushions on each side of the archway. A glass table sat in the middle with an old porcelain tea set sitting on it. Of course there was a drink cart off to he side. The flowers were in bloom, completely hiding the space from the outside world. She set the decanter down on the cart and moved over to lay down on the day bed.

"I want your opinion on something." She said into the phone when Klaus answered.

"All right." Klaus said.

"Elena's not breaking because she knows we won't actually hurt her. And she's right. Stefan suggested that we bring Katherine in."

"And you want to know if I think it's a good idea."

"I want to know what you would do. Angel and Stefan think it's a good idea. Damon took my side, but I expected that. I don't like the idea at all because I don't trust Katherine…."

"As well you shouldn't. You took her life away from her by turning Elijah against her. Bravo, might I add. Very ruthless."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome. As for what I would do, I would have a plan of my own. You know that you can't trust Katherine. She'll probably do exactly the opposite of what you want."

"How would you break Elena?"

Klaus was silent for a long moment. "I would take away something she loves."

"She doesn't have anything left."

"Of course she does."

"Jeremy's gone. Damon, Stefan, and I are getting on her nerves. She's tried to kill Bonnie and Caroline. There's no one else close to her she hasn't tried to kill."

"Think harder."

It was Buffy's turn to be silent for a long time. "Matt."

"He's her oldest friend, is he not? She's never actually tried to kill him, has she?"

"No."

"Hurt him. Kill him if you have to."

"I'm not going to kill Matt to get Elena back. She would never forgive me for that."

"You have Willow."

Buffy sat up straight. "I don't need Willow to bring him back. I already have what I need! Klaus, you're a genius."

"Thank you."

She hung up and headed back out front where Damon, Stefan, and Angel were still waiting. "I've got it!"

Buffy walked into the living room to find Matt on his phone using a translator app. Rebekah was pouring herself a drink at the cart. "Rebekah…. I didn't realize you were here." Buffy said to her.

"Hi Buffy." Rebekah said. "I came to help Matt with his homework. He's failing school. I'm going to tutor him."

"Matt!" Buffy said.

"You don't have to tell the whole world." Matt said to Rebekah.

"That's kind of important, don't you think?" Buffy said, shaking her head at him.

"I'm working on it."

"You should talk to Willow. She was the only reason I made it through school."

"I'm good!" Rebekah said.

"At history and languages, yeah. But what about math and science?"

Rebekah sighed. "You've got me there."

"I'll give Willow a call." Matt said. "I don't wanna get left behind while all my friends go to college and I'm the only repeat-senior."

"The only reason that you're failing is because you're preoccupied with training doomed hunters and dealing with Elena's drama." Rebekah said. "You need better friends…. like me. I could compel you good grades and a scholarship."

"I don't wanna do that."

"Why not? Everyone needs an advantage in life. I could be yours. When you convinced me to save April Young's life at the prom…. I realized that I could be a better person, and I'm grateful for that. So, let me give you some advice: take advantage of what I'm offering you. Make something of yourself. And for the record, anyone who leaves you behind is a fool. I wouldn't."

"Wow." Buffy said. "If I didn't see it with my own eyes…." Suddenly the front door opened and Katherine walked in. "Seriously? You can't knock?"

"Sorry." Katherine said. "I didn't realize we were standing on formalities."

"What the hell are you doing here?" Rebekah asked.

"You didn't get the memo? I'm here to talk some sense into poor, emotionless Elena."

"Are you out of your mind?" Matt said to Buffy.

"Apparently." Buffy said. "Stefan!" Stefan appeared a moment later. "You get to deal with her since it was your idea." She turned and headed into the library to get away from everyone.

Damon turned around from his place at the liquor cabinet when she shut the door. "Hey, sweetheart."

"Every time she's around me, all I want to do is rip her throat out." Buffy said, walking over and wrapping herself in Damon's arms.

"No one would stop you." He kissed her forehead. "Want a drink?"

Buffy shook her head. "Actually," She suddenly had him sitting on the couch in front of the fireplace and straddling him. "I want you."

Damon gave his sexy smirk before pulling her lips to his. "You keep me on my toes." He muttered into her neck as he kissed and nipped her skin. "I'd like to keep you on your back." He flipped them so she was underneath.

They were down to their underwear and Damon was working his way across her ribs when Katherine's voice interrupted them. "All that pain and torture and now watching you two, I've worked up quite a thirst."

"Again with the knocking thing." Buffy growled as she and Damon grabbed their clothes.

"Did you guys ever think Elena would've been better off if she'd never met you?"

"Are you trying to get a rise out of us?" Damon asked. "Cause our emotions are fine. We love each other and we despise you."

Katherine walked over to the sofa and sat next to Damon, placing her arm on top of its back behind him and she began playing with Damon's hair. "Mm, so romantic. So doomed to fail."

Buffy stood up and yanked Katherine away from Damon. "I'm going to tear out your heart. How's that for romantic?"

Suddenly Stefan entered the room. "She's gone."

"What?" Damon and Buffy asked.

"Elena's not in her cell. Angel and I are gonna check the grounds. Find out what she did."

"Oops. Did I forget to lock her in?" Katherine said. "Let's just say I've lost interest in Elena's recovery. I'd rather watch her tear through an orphanage. Imagine trying to come back from a spiral like that."

Buffy growled, her eyes changing. "You have exactly three seconds to disappear or I really am going to end you." Katherine was good at knowing when to exit a situation that was going to get her killed. She was gone in less than two seconds.

Matt walked into the room with Rebekah. "Elena's gone? What happened?" He asked.

"Matt, you're coming with me."

"Why should he?" Rebekah asked.

"Because Elena's hungry and missing. His life has purpose at the moment." Buffy grabbed Matt's arm and pulled him with her. "Damon." Damon grabbed their coats and headed out after her. "Here," Buffy reached into her jacket pocket as they headed for Matt's truck and pulled out Jeremy's ring, handing it to Matt. "Put it on."

"Why?"

"Because I'm going to kill you in front of Elena."

"Whoa…." He tried to stop, but Buffy was too strong and kept pulling him.

"She cares about you more than anyone else here. She hasn't tried to kill you. Ever."

"Buffy…."

Buffy stopped and wheeled around to face him. "Do you want her back?"

"Of course I do."

"If she thinks that I just killed you…. I think it'll be the shove she needs."

"How long have you been plotting this twist?" Damon asked.

"All day." She looked back at Matt. "Put the ring on." Matt thought about it for another second before putting the ring on. "I'll make it as quick as possible." He nodded nervously. "Get in the truck and we'll follow. She went that way from the smell."

"But…."

"Vampires. We can keep up." Matt climbed in his truck and Buffy turned to Damon.

"Are you sure you can kill him?" He asked.

Buffy glanced at the truck moving off towards the woods. "Yes."

Elena shuffled weakly through the woods until she heard a car approaching behind her. She turned and waved her arms at it causing her to lose her balance. She fell to the ground as the headlights of the truck blinded her. She shielded her eyes as the driver got out and walked toward her.

"Please, help…." Elena saw that it was only Matt. "Matt. Thank god you found me." Her face started to vamp out and she growled as she stood and moved toward him.

"Elena, stop." Matt said. "I know you don't wanna do this. I know you don't wanna hurt me."

"I'm a vampire, Matt. The thing about vampires is that we need to feed." She moved towards him again, but Matt threw out his hands and backed up.

"No, but you're more than that! You're my friend! You're my oldest friend. You're the girl that I've loved longer than I can remember. Whatever wall you wanna put up, I know that still means something to you."

The veins disappeared from around Elena's eyes and she reached out a hand to his face. "Deep down, it probably does mean something. But I'm really hungry." Her face vamped out again and she sunk her teeth into his neck. After a long moment, she dropped a woozy Matt to the ground. She stretched slightly, letting the blood warm her, and gave Matt a light kick with her foot. "Oh, come on, I barely drained an artery." Matt's eyes opened and he looked up at her blearily. "Come on! Get up. I'm hungry. My head's fuzzy. I can't think straight. I need more."

"Elena, stop."

"But you're so good!" She pulled him up off the ground, but Stefan arrived and pulled her off him. Angel was beside Matt, helping him to lean against the truck and turned to look at Elena and Stefan.

"Hey, hey, you're cut off." Stefan said.

"Let go of me!" Elena demanded.

"Stop it."

Buffy and Damon arrived and Buffy pulled Matt up off the ground, holding him up by his shirt. "Enough!" Buffy said. "You're acting like a spoiled little brat! You think that we can't punish you? Maybe not. But I can sure punish him."

"Buffy…." Angel warned.

"Back off." Buffy snapped.

"Seriously?" Elena said. "You think this…."

"Shut up! I'm done playing nice. Turn your emotions back on right now, Elena, or I will give you something to be sad about. I will kill him right here in front of you."

"Buffy…." Stefan said, moving closer.

"Don't. Stay back. She doesn't love anyone? Fine." Buffy looked at Elena. "Prove it. And if I'm wrong, what difference does it make? One less busboy in the world."

"Buffy, this isn't you." Angel said.

"Angel, if you don't back up, Damon's going to stake you to a tree."

"You're bluffing." Elena said.

Buffy shrugged and snapped Matt's neck violently. Elena gasped loudly, her mouth hanging open in shock. "Not bluffing."

"Are you crazy!?" Angel yelled.

"What the hell?" Stefan cried.

Elena walked closer, her eyes glistening with tears. "How about now?" Buffy said to Elena. "Do

you feel anything now? Are you angry that I just turned your pal into roadkill? Or are you sad that the guy that everybody loves is now just a pile of dust waiting for a good breeze? Remember when he was a little kid? Warm heart, big goofy smile, his whole life ahead of him…. It was probably a really good idea that he was wearing this." Buffy knelt down and lifted Matt's hand to show that he was wearing Jeremy's enchanted Gilbert ring.

Elena fell to her knees and took Matt's hand into her own, crying. "Oh, my god, Matt."

"You feel that weight lifting off your chest?" Damon asked. "That's joy, because your friend isn't dead. That's emotion, Elena. That's humanity."

Elena was openly sobbing now, tears streaming down her face. Angel shook his head, backing away from Buffy and Damon. Buffy knelt down by Elena. "You're gonna be ok." She said gently.

"No…." Elena sobbed.

"Look at me."

"No, no, no. It's not ok."

"Elena."

Elena stood up and Buffy followed her. "What have I done?" She cried.

"Hey, it's ok."

Elena started pacing and grabbing at her head. "No, no. What did I do? I…. I almost killed him…. Matt, I almost…. And Bonnie, and Caroline, I just…." Buffy reached out to put her arms around Elena but she pushed Buffy away. "No, no, I mean, that woman…. The waitress…. I actually killed that waitress…." Stefan moved toward her but she resisted him, too. "No, I killed that waitress!" Elena punched through the window of Matt's truck, sending glass everywhere as Stefan and Buffy worked to restrain her.

Buffy got a grip on Elena's arms and held them firmly. "Hey, hey, look at me. Look at me. Shh…."

"I know this stage, ok?" Stefan said, moving up next to Buffy to look at Elena. "The emotions are overwhelming you. You just have to focus on one thing, ok?"

"No, I can't…. I can't…."

"Just find that one thing inside of you that makes you strong. It's in there, just latch onto it. Channel everything you're feeling into that one emotion. Find the thing inside of you that makes you wanna live, Elena. Let it in. Let it in."

Elena calmed down and stopped sobbing. She seemed to find a focus and Buffy pulled Elena to her, stroking her hair. "That's good. That's it. Just breathe it in, blow everything else out." Elena started to yell in pain. She tried to clutch at her head, but Buffy held onto her. "Shh…." Elena finally calmed down and hugged Buffy tightly. "Are you ok?"

"No." Elena pulled away from Buffy. "I'm not ok. But it'll get better." She walked away from them, heading back for the house.

"Jesus, Buffy!" Angel yelled. "You could've warned us."

"Probably." Buffy said.

"I thought you'd killed him."

"I did." She glanced at Damon. "We should get Matt back to the house."

Damon nodded. "I'll get him in the truck."

Buffy looked back at Angel and Stefan. "Sorry, I didn't tell you. I just didn't want other prying ears to hear the plan."

"I get it." Stefan said. "I'll meet you guys back at the house. I want to make sure Elena gets there ok."

Buffy nodded and Angel blew out a breath. "I used to think that I was a better actor than you." He said.

She shrugged. "I've had practice."

Elena sat near the fire in the library just staring ahead of her. Buffy approached her and wrapped a blanket around her shoulders. "Hey. How you feeling?" She sat down in front of Elena.

"The pain's still there…. The grief and the shame." Elena said. "But I get it now. Shutting it off…. It's a cheat. I mean, you put up this wall and shut out everything that makes you who you are. Nothing affects you, nothing matters. But things do matter, things that happen that can't be undone. And now I know that there's something I need to do about that."

"Elena, what you need to do is rest." Stefan said. "Take it easy for a couple of days. Maybe even a couple of years. Here." He offered her a glass of whisky but she ignored it and started folding up the blanket.

"I…. I'm done resting. I have to get ready. There's so much that I have to do." She started to get up but Damon put a hand out to stop her.

"Whoa, hey." Damon said. "What are you talking about?"

"Think about it. It's so obvious. Go back far enough, there's one person who brought us to this…. Who ruined our lives. Look at you guys. Everything that's happened to you, she did that! She brought Klaus to Mystic Falls, she turned Caroline into a vampire…. She killed my brother. It all comes down to her. Katherine. Ok? Stefan said to focus on one thing, so I did. I focused on hate…. And I hate her so much."

"I don't think that's what he meant…." Buffy said.

"Elena, Katherine's not worth your time." Angel said. "Even if you spend ten minutes of your life hating her, she wins."

"Not if I kill her." Elena said evenly.

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