A/N So sorry it took me so long. I've had a busy week. I ended up having to move back home and sadly my parents don't have the internet yet. They're working on it (thank the powers) but for now I have to wait until I go to a friend's house. Hopefully the next chapter won't take so long. Enjoy!
Buffy was curled up against Damon's side sleeping peacefully. She was pretty sure she was dreaming about Italy. Damon's arms tightened around her and she pressed against him. Just as things were about to get good both in dreamland and reality, a scream came from Elena's room down the hall. Buffy and Damon shot up in bed and looked around.
"Was that Elena?" Damon asked. Buffy was out of bed and down the hall before he could even blink. "Sometimes I hate it when she does that." He complained as he made his way out of the room and down to Elena's room.
Elena was sitting up in bed looking panicked and Buffy was sitting on the edge of the bed holding her hand. "It was just a dream." Buffy said.
"No. It was Stefan." Elena said. "It was more than just a pit in my stomach. It was real. Like I was there with him."
"You've been spending too much time with me. I used to have dreams like that with Angel."
"Um, husband in the room." Damon said.
"Did they feel so real?" Elena asked.
Buffy glanced at Damon. "Uh…. Yeah. They felt pretty real."
"Can we skip the play by play of your psychic dreams with your jealous ex and skip ahead to Elena's dream, please?" Damon said.
Buffy smiled slightly and took Damon's hand. Elena sighed. "It was so vivid." She said. "I saw Stefan walking out of this bar. It had a, uh, a red awning and this broken neon sign…. And he was screaming in pain."
"Should I go check the attic to see if there's a crystal ball? Maybe it can conjure up an address."
Buffy turned to scold Damon like usual, but Katherine was in the doorway. "Route 29. Joe's bar." She said. "I think I had the exact same dream."
Damon let out a groan. "I'm going to get dressed."
Buffy stood up. "You know what? I think I'll join you."
"The bar's real." Katherine said. "That dream wasn't just a dream."
"You should know about that Little Miss Slayer. Your dreams are rarely just dreams."
"That's missus to you now, thanks. And I know that. Been a Slayer for a long time. We'll figure this out as soon as we're dressed."
Elena was downstairs writing in a notebook while Buffy and Damon were upstairs tossing some clothes in a bag. If they found Stefan, he was definitely going to need clothes. And toiletries. Buffy showed Damon her tablet where she'd been searching for bars on route 29. "I've found 9 bars along Route 29 and none of them are called Joe's." She said.
"So Katherine's a liar. Big surprise." Damon said.
"I don't know. Elena and Katherine have the same dream? That's not a coincidence."
"You don't believe in coincidence."
"Nope. That's why we're going out there to follow the lead." Buffy paused. "Is it just me or are we always searching for Stefan for Elena?"
"It's not just you." Damon zipped the bag up and they headed downstairs.
"I had a feeling that there was something wrong all summer, and I ignored it." Elena said as they joined her. "But I was right, Stefan was in a safe, and probably killed whoever it was that found him…. I know it sounds crazy, that I'm following some psychic dream, but it's the only lead that we have."
"It doesn't sound crazy." Buffy said. "It is crazy. But lucky you, we're open-minded."
Katherine walked in carrying an overnight bag. "Shotgun." She announced. Everyone turned to look at her. "What? I get carsick in the back seat. Another charming, human side effect you stuck me with."
"Please tell me that she's not coming?" Elena said.
"Trust me, we have no interest in Katherine's well-being, but for some reason Silas wants her real bad, and if Silas wants her, we want her more." Damon said.
"Can't we just stash her in the cellar? Or maybe a deep, dark well with a pair of water wings?"
"Do you really think that I wanna take a road trip with you, America's most boring, self-righteous vampire?" Katherine asked. "Just remember, Damon and Buffy wouldn't have to play bodyguard if you hadn't shoved that cure down my throat."
"You were trying to kill me!" Elena snapped.
"I will admit, though, I take great pleasure knowing that you wasted your one shot at a human life on me."
"All right, play nice, or I'm gonna revisit the deep dark well idea." Buffy said.
"I wanna find Stefan just as much as you do, and not just because I don't wanna be a pawn that you can trade off for his life. I care about him. I always have. And since we've been having the same dream…. makes me think you care about him just as much."
"Yeah, duh. She loves him. I think she cares about him more than you do. Especially considering the fact that you don't care about anyone but yourself." Buffy smirked. "Train's leaving the station now."
"Choo-choo!" Damon called. "All doppelgangers are riding in the caboose!" Buffy laughed as they headed out the door. Her phone buzzed and she pulled it out and smiled slightly. It was Klaus asking how life was. She texted back that it was the usual crazy with a bit of Silas thrown in. A moment later her phone was ringing.
"Tell me you're joking." Klaus said.
"Not joking. How's New Orleans?" Damon's attention was focused on her as he put the bags in the trunk.
"It's beautiful and full of intrigue. You should be here to enjoy it. But let's not talk about me. I thought Silas was at the bottom of the quarry."
"Little snag in that." Buffy glanced at Elena getting into the car. "Damon, I'll be right back."
"Ok." Damon said, watching her head back into the house.
Buffy made sure she was far away from Elena. "Willow used Bonnie's link to Silas to turn him to stone. But that link is gone."
"Bonnie's dead?" Klaus asked.
"Probably. We've been getting emails and postcards from her, but Willow thinks that the spell she did to bring Jeremy back from the dead killed her."
"Have you asked the young Jeremy?"
"No. He's got enough problems. He got expelled his first day back at school for fighting. I compelled the principal to change it to a three day suspension, but he's on thin ice. And on top of everything else, that is the least of my worries. Ready for this next part?"
"I'm not sure."
"My brother-in-law is Silas's doppleganger."
"I have to admit…. I didn't see that coming."
"None of us did. Silas dumped Stefan in the quarry, but now Stefan's missing. He was locked in a safe at the bottom of the quarry and somebody found the safe. Stefan killed him. He's been down there for three months, so…."
"I can imagine that he's hungry."
"And it's just like old times searching for Stefan again. This whole situation actually makes me miss the simple days when you were the big bad."
"Those days were never simple, but I miss you too, love. When things settle down, you should come for a visit. It would do me a world of good to show off my powerful friend."
"When things settle down?" Buffy let out a laugh. "Then I don't think I'll ever see New Orleans again." She glanced out the window to see Damon looking agitated. "I better go. We're headed out to follow a lead on Stefan."
"Keep me posted?"
"Sure. Bye Klaus. It was nice talking to you."
"It is always nice talking to you, Mrs. Salvatore. Tell your husband I said hello."
Buffy shook her head and hung up, heading back outside. "Ok, let's hit the road."
"Have a nice chat?" Damon asked as they got in the front seats.
"Yeah. He said hi."
"I'm sure he did." Damon turned the engine on and gunned it down the driveway.
"Are you sure you know what you're looking for?" Buffy asked Elena. "The last bar had a red awning and a neon sign."
"I'll know when I see it." Elena said.
"Me, too." Katherine added.
"Didn't ask you." Buffy said.
"I'm just trying to make conversation. Anything to drown out the sound of eggshells breaking. So, Elena, I couldn't help but overhear. You've been dreaming about Stefan all summer?"
"They weren't dreams." Elena said. "It was just a bad feeling, like something wasn't right with him."
"Oh, no, yeah, sure. I totally get it. There's still a connection between you two. Maybe deep down you know that he was your one true love and breaking up with him was a big mistake."
"Ignore her." Damon said.
"Yeah, as soon as the vervain's out of her system, we'll compel her and put her on mute." Buffy said with a grin.
"Or maybe Stefan's been trying to reach out to you all summer, but you've been too distracted with a trip to Italy to help him so he reached out to the person that he trusts: me."
"If that was the case, then he would've reached out to me." Buffy pushed on Katherine's face, forcing her back into the seat.
"That was rude."
Katherine huffed. "I'm going to sleep. This road trip is boring."
An hour later, Elena pointed at a bar on the side of the road. "There. That's the one." Damon pulled the car into the parking lot of the bar.
"Looks…. Homey." Buffy said as they quietly got out of the car.
Elena looked at Katherine sleeping in the backseat. "Are we really just gonna leave her in the car?"
"The only time she shuts up is when she's sleeping, and I didn't want to disturb our peace and quiet." Damon said.
Elena stopped walking toward the entrance and Buffy dodged around her. "I thought you said this was the one."
"It is." Elena said. "It looks exactly like it did in the dream. Isn't that a little freaky?"
"Yeah. It's a lot of freaky." Damon said. "Let's go see if Stefan's inside."
Buffy shook her head. "It's not freaky. Really, it's not. I have dreams like that all the time." Damon's head whipped around and she sighed. "Not with anyone specific, but dreams telling me where things are or when they're happening. They're Slayer dreams. They were really bad when the First was killing Slayers. I was there…. When they were killed." Buffy sighed. "Why you're getting them is beyond me, though."
"Maybe it's a doppleganger thing." Damon said, opening the door and walking in.
The girl working behind the bar looked up at them. "Can I get you something?"
"Yeah, sure." Damon got close to her and used his compulsion on her. "Why don't you tell me what happened to your neck," He glanced at her nametag. "Jo?"
"Some sicko attacked me, bit me, told me to run, so I did, and when I looked back, he was on fire." Jo said.
"The sun must have come up." Buffy said.
"He doesn't have his daylight ring." Elena added.
"And then what happened?" Damon asked Jo.
"Some woman shoved him into a truck, drove away." Jo said.
"Did you know this woman?"
"No. She was driving Cam Peterson's truck. He lives about 10 miles down that dirt road out back." Jo grabbed a shot glass and poured a shot of tequila. "Here. Looks like you could use one of these."
"Hmm. I could. Thank you." Damon threw it back and started gagging and coughing. Buffy held him up as his mouth and throat began sizzling. "Vervain."
"What did you do?" Buffy growled.
A woman walked in from the back room and raised a gun, pointing it at Buffy and Damon. "I told her to pour him a drink or I'd kill her."
"Who the hell are you?" Damon asked.
Katherine walked into the bar and the woman saw her. "Which one of you is Katherine Pierce?" The woman asked.
Katherine pointed at Elena. "She is."
"Katherine is a compulsive liar…. but I need her alive."
Elena rushed at the woman, throwing her against a table. "Katherine, run!" Katherine ran back out the front door.
The woman's eyes vamped out. "You really do look exactly alike." She straightened up and threw Elena against the wall with vampire strength, then rushed out of the building.
"Elena, go after her!" Buffy said. Elena rushed out after the woman.
"Wonderful. Now we've got a vampire bounty hunter to deal with." Damon said.
"Whoever she was, she wants Katherine, which means she's probably a Silas spy." Buffy said.
"And you sent Elena after her."
"She's a big girl. I have faith in her. We need to find Stefan. We've got a ten mile hike to a cabin to get on."
"You're faster. Go. I'll be right behind you."
"Come on." Buffy grabbed his hand and took off. She kept her speed to something Damon could keep up with and the ten miles went by quick. The cabin appeared in a clearing and they stopped at the front door. Damon turned the knob and they walked in to find Stefan bound to a chair and surrounded by a circle of herbs on the floor. "Oh, Stefan…."
"You couldn't call a brother?" Damon asked.
"Nice to see you, too, Damon." Stefan said. "Hey, Buffy."
"Hi." Buffy walked over to start working on getting the thorny vines holding Stefan to the chair off of him.
"What the hell is going on here?" Damon asked, coming over to help.
"Well, Silas' ex-girlfriend decided to come back from the Other Side." Stefan said.
"Qetsi-whatever?" Buffy asked.
"It's Qetsiyah." A woman said. "Do you see why I want to change it?"
"Don't feel bad." Buffy said. "I've always had a hard time with weird names."
"You're one to talk about weird names, Buffy." Qetsiyah said.
"Buffy is not weird. It's just…. 80s. What would you like to be called?"
"She likes Tessa." Stefan said.
"You won't be able to break those vines." Tessa said. "The spell won't release him until I get what I want."
"Well, I guess the rumors are true." Damon said. "You are a ray of sunshine. Question: why is my brother wearing your compost pile?"
"I'm going to link Stefan to Silas. Casting a spell on his doppelgänger will neutralize Silas' mental powers. Once he's weakened, I will force him to take the cure."
"Well, that's a great idea: force the cure down his throat. The cure is gone, done, it's ingested."
"Katherine, you mean? I'm aware of her condition. She was supposed to be with you."
"Wait…. Katherine took the cure?" Stefan asked.
"We have a lot to catch up on, Stefan." Buffy said. "Wait till we tell you about Pompeii!"
"Wait a minute…." Damon said. "Pompeii is a good story, but you should tell him about the villa we bought. And what do you mean 'supposed to be with us'? Did you plant those dreams? What is it, some kind of, like, witch party trick?"
"So where is she?" Tessa asked.
"We ran into a little snag." Buffy said. "We seem to be running into those a lot lately."
"Then I'll get started without her." Tessa began chanting over a bowl.
"Ok, well, thanks for the hospitality, but we should really get going if we want to beat traffic." Damon said.
"Yep, yep. He's right." Stefan said.
"Probably don't want to get on my bad side." Tessa warned.
"You realize you're not the only one with a bad side, right?" Damon asked.
"Aren't you brave? Without Silas' mental powers, he is an immortal nobody. We can defeat him. Isn't that what you want?"
Stefan sighed. "Just do it, all right? Just get it over with. Do it."
"Are you sure?" Buffy asked. She glanced at Tessa. "I recognize some of those words and it sounds pretty painful for you."
"If it defeats Silas, then let her do it."
"You need to get out of my circle now." Tessa said.
Buffy and Damon exchanged glances and finally backed out of the circle. Tessa dipped her fingers in the hot molten metal in the bowl and approached Stefan from behind as she chanted. She pressed her fingers against the sides of Stefan's head and he gasped.
Damon looked at Buffy. "You speak Latin?"
"Not really. But my best friend is a witch who uses Latin a lot. I picked up some things."
Stefan groaned in pain and the circle of herbs surrounding Tessa and Stefan ignited into flame. Buffy and Damon stepped back as Damon said, "What are you doing to my brother?"
"I'm frying Silas' brain." Tessa said. "No one said it would be pretty."
Stefan's eyes began to bleed. Buffy moved forward and Stefan's head rolled to the side as he lost consciousness. "We're done here." Buffy growled, rushing over to Stefan."You're right. We're done." Tessa said. "It worked."
Buffy held Stefan's head up and gently shook it. "Stefan. Stefan! Wake up, Stefan!"
"Whatever you did to him, undo it." Damon demanded.
"Relax. I just burned through his conscious mind." Tessa said. "He'll wake eventually. How is Willow liking those classes? She's gotta be pretty bored by now. She already knows all of that stuff."
"Spying on us from the Other Side?" Damon asked as he and Buffy started undoing the vines holding Stefan to the chair.
"Don't flatter yourself. You people are like watching a soap opera, except boring and with no volume control. You know, there was one thing worse than being on the Other Side and watching Silas resist the cure."
"Oh, yeah? What was that, realizing that your plan totally sucked?"
"Century after century, I watched versions of Stefan and Elena find each other, like magnets, always the same story: conquering all, falling in love." Buffy and Damon exchanged glances. "You didn't think your brother was Silas' first shadow? Destiny has been trying to get the doppelgängers together forever. Just like destiny put you and Angel together."
"Look here, Miss Crazy, why don't we just dial down the destiny talk a notch, ok?" Damon snapped.
"You don't want to hear it, but the universe is working against you."
"What are you even talking about?" Buffy asked.
"You and Angel are soulmates. It's destiny."
"If you're trying to downplay your reputation as being a psychopath, you might not want to say you're a spokesperson for the universe."
Tessa turned to Damon. "You and I are the same, Damon: the obstacle standing between two fates. Silas had his true love and Stefan has Elena and Angel has Buffy. We're merely the conflict that makes it interesting."
Buffy held up her left hand to show Tessa the rings there. "Angel is not in the picture anymore."
"His soul is permanent. There is nothing standing in your way of being with him anymore. You can't tell me that you didn't play with the notion of leaving with him."
"I didn't. Not for one second. You don't know anything about me."
"I know you were destined to meet Angel."
"Yeah, I was. And he helped me become a better Slayer and a better person and that is why he is my friend. But I love Damon and I married Damon and Angel will stay my friend. So butt out." Buffy threw the thorny vines at Tessa.
Buffy moved towards Tessa threateningly. "And while we're at it: You 'burned through his conscious mind'?"
"Look at you leaking scary Slayer all over the place."
"You burned through his conscious mind. What does that mean? When he wakes up, will he still be Stefan?"
"Of course he will!"
"Don't lie to me. I can send you back to hell."
"You can try, but just because Willow has put protection spells on you and Damon doesn't mean I can't burn right through them."
"Stefan!" They heard Elena yelling from outside. Buffy turned back to Tessa, but she was gone. A moment later, Elena burst through the door. She spotted Stefan and ran to him, touching his face. "Stefan! Hey! Oh, no. Stefan, hey. Stefan, can you hear me? Stefan! Wake up. Oh, god."
"We should probably get him home." Damon said.
"What's wrong with him?"
"Qetsiyah used him to shut down Silas's mind powers." Buffy said. "He won't wake up for a while."
Stefan was lying on the sofa in the living room still unconscious. Elena was sitting at his side and Buffy and Damon were sitting on the stairs in the hallway. Damon took her hand and kissed her knuckles. "Thank you." He said.
"For what?" Buffy asked.
"For telling that crazy witch that she doesn't know a thing about us."
"Damon, I love you. Nothing and no one is going to change that."
"Not even Klaus?"
"Especially not Klaus. He's my friend and nothing more. And yes, Angel is my friend, too. We have a history…. A very deep and very complicated history, but at the end of the day…. He's my past. You're my present and my future. I meant every word that I said."
Damon pulled her to him and kissed her passionately. After a long, breathless moment, they pulled away with big grins. "No one tells me how I live my life, no one tells me who I love, especially not some vindictive prehistoric witch, and definitely not the universe. And I'm not gonna let someone else's idea of destiny stop me from loving you or being with you or building a future with you, because you are my life."
Buffy kissed him again. "I love you so much."
Damon smiled brightly. "I love you, too." He said, standing up and pulling Buffy to her feet. "Let's see how Stefan's doing." They walked into the living room just as Elena was putting on Stefan's daylight ring. "Well, he's got his daylight ring back. We're all set for a picnic."
"He's lucky he has a brother who looks out for him." Elena said. "Otherwise, you might have pawned it for a pinball machine."
Buffy smacked him in the stomach. "You don't even like pinball." She walked over and leaned against the back of one of the chairs. "So, we learned something very interesting while we were at the cabin."
"Oh yeah?" Elena asked, standing up and joining Buffy and Damon.
"She told us a very interesting little story about the history of doppelgängers. How they're fated to fall in love with each other."
"Basically, the universe programmed you to fall in love with Stefan." Damon said. "I'm paraphrasing."
"Her words, not mine."
"So, she's crazy?"
"Maybe. Maybe she's not."
"Elena, you love Stefan. He loves you. I can't think of any reason you two can't be together."
"He doesn't want me as a vampire."
Buffy rolled her eyes. "He loves you. He's got you forever. Give him a chance."
Before Elena could say anything else, Stefan started waking up. Elena turned to see Stefan standing up.
"Welcome back, brother." Damon said.
"Hey, Stefan." Buffy said. "We missed you."
"We really did." Elena added.
"Uh, I'm sorry…." Stefan said. "I…. I have no idea who you people are."
Elena looked at Damon and Buffy with a confused look. Buffy sighed. "I called that."