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~ The Vampire Diaries ~

 

"You sure you don't mind?" Alaric questioned as his fingers brushed delicately over the worn and cracked spines of the leather journals that were crammed on the shelf, feeling both excitement and trepidation.

"Yes, Ric." Stefan replied with an even voice despite the nervous lick in his belly. "You're an historian and a hunter, I know you can read with objectively—besides, I saw the look in your eyes the first time you saw them." He smirked, "Like a kid in a candy store."

Alaric straightened and turned to the vampire seated behind the computer desk playing homework catch-up. "It's not every day you get an opportunity like this,"

"I don't think there's anything historically accurate," Stefan admitted, "I mean I lived through those times, but their mostly accounts of my infrequent encounters of Damon, when I lost myself to the call of human blood, and Lexi putting me through years of detox back onto animal blood."

"Don't sell yourself short. Jonathan Gilbert's Journal was very educational."

The vampire gave a soft snort. "Everyone just thought he was a madman."

"Not if you know how to read between the lines. Now come on, any suggestions?" Alaric wondered.

Stefan flitted over to him, leaving his wheelie chair spinning. "The '63 journal is the only one that has entries pre-Katherine, from when I was still human. I managed to save it." He easily pointed to the spine. "Want to read about how I lost my virginity?" he joked.

"I thought you lost your... virginity to Katherine." Alaric said.

"Damon did." Stefan shook his head, "Thankfully I did not. I was still 16, soon to be 17." He recounted, "Damon had just gone off fighting in the confederate war. It was at the night of the County Fair in Mystic Falls. She was just passing through and we spent the day together—and then briefly the night, in a wagon filled with hay." He gave the dirty blond a subdued smile, "We were going to run away together, she wrote me to meet but never showed. A week after my birthday, Katherine came to stay with us."

"It was senior prom," Alaric confessed his own, "Graduation. I was 18, before I left home to attend college. It was in the back of a Station Wagon," he chuckled, "In the school parking lot. Nothing like your hot tryst in a hay wagon."

"'64," Stefan pointed, "Katherine. '64," he pointed to another, "I was a... bampi, Katherine was dead, Damon had left—and I loved human blood. I was a vampire for a couple of months before I met Lexi and she took me under her wing. She was the one that told me I was a Ripper, got me to turn my switch back on, and put me on the vegetarian diet." He paused as Damon's shadow box gave a rattle, and ignored it. "I was on it 48 years before I fell off it," he pointed to the 1912 journal, "Hard. I was a Ripper again, but it was nothing like it was in 1864 when I'd just turned. I'd been denying myself my hunger, my craving, for nearly 5 decades. I couldn't stop myself, the bloodlust eclipsed me, turned my humanity switch off because I couldn't face myself, what I did to my victims because I couldn't control my hunger, because I could never sate it so I just kept feeding, and tearing, and killing." Stefan swallowed as he felt the hunger burn in the back of his throat, the craving yawning as he just simply recounted those times in the barest of terms, feeling disgusted with himself for feeling this way.

"Hey," Alaric whispered, a gentle hand on his cheek, trying to draw him back.

Stefan's eyes snapped open and his fangs snapped down, able to sense the flow of blood under the thin layer of skin at Alaric's wrist so close to his mouth and nose. Alaric stilled but didn't pull away and Stefan quickly pursed his lips and turned his head away. "Sorry," he managed to fight his fangs back into his gums.

"Stefan, I know you're a vampire. I know you've killed when you didn't have to. You don't have to keep turning away from me,"

"Knowing and seeing are two completely different things, Ric." Stefan denied. "Hearing about it is different than listening to it in person. I haven't drunk human blood in 74 years and I plan on staying on animal blood as long as I am undead. I've thought I had control over the bloodlust before, but it's just like saying 'I'll just have one drink,' that's not how it works in real life. I'm not going to make the same mistake again, I've made that mistake too many times."

"You're right," Alaric turned the stoic vampire's face back towards him, locking blue with green. "I've never seen you be a vampire before—I've seen the speed, the strength, the intelligence, even the fangs a little," he glanced at the teen's mouth, "—I've never seen you vamp-out, or feed, or kill, but if I didn't think I could handle those things if they ever came... I would have let things stand how I had in the classroom."

"Ahem, love to interrupt this touching moment," Damon suddenly appeared in Stefan's doorway, much to the pair’s chagrin, wagging a cell phone, "But Elena finally called, she's on her way. Just wanted to make sure you two were decent."

Stefan narrowed his eyes as he faced his brother. "That's my cell phone," he accused, and flitted to his brother to snatch it out of his fingers. "Why do you have it?"

"You left it downstairs, was I just supposed to let it ring?" he challenged indignantly. "That would have just been rude, Elena might think you were screening her calls."

Stefan gave his brother a little playful shove. "Next time I'll be just as curious with your phone," he warned.

Damon chuckled. "I'm not that careless, brother."

Stefan shook his head and slipped his cell into his pocket. "What did she say, did she find something?"

"I don't know, Stefan." He said patiently. "That's why she's coming over. To tell us."

"I never would have guessed you two were brothers," Alaric deadpanned as Stefan glared at his brother and Damon smirked in return.

Suddenly, Stefan flashed a grin. "I can show you pictures."

"Excuse me?" Damon sputtered. "What pictures? Where?"

"I got them when I went back for my journal before I left Mystic Falls." Stefan crossed his arms, "And if I tell you, you'll steal them... so I'll keep that to myself when I'm showing all our friends baby-Damon."

Alaric chuckled and Damon swivelled his glare the teacher's way. "I was just picturing that look on a cuter, chubbier face. Adorable."

"Don't you start," Damon warned the human before he flitted from the room. "I will find them even if I have to tear your room apart."

Stefan smiled at Ric and stage whispered to his lover's amusement: "He won't find them." He went over to the open-faced cabinet by his balcony doors and carefully picked up Salvatore's fishbowl to take down to the parlor with them. It wasn't the first time and it wouldn't be the last; he just didn't want the comet goldfish to become lonely, sitting in his room all day while he was at school or out hunting, so he'd take him to the parlor, or the library.

Damon rolled his eyes as he watched his brother put the fishbowl on a pre-cleared spot on the end table under the lamp beside the sofa. "You take that thing everywhere you go. Why don't you save yourself the trouble and just get a dog already?"

"You know why," Stefan said. He sped to the kitchen, leaving Damon and Alaric alone, to put the coffee pot on. Alaric had stayed the weekend so he'd stocked the fridge and cupboards; being a vampire meant that he didn't need to eat food to survive, but that didn't mean he couldn't eat.

He found a package of Oreos in the cupboard as the coffee brewed, and dumped them on a plate, before grabbing four mugs. He filled them each with a different order and put everything on a serving tray.

Stefan walked back to the parlor at human speed, to find Damon with a tumbler of bourbon and Alaric setting down an empty glass.

"I don't want coffee," Damon informed his brother as he eyed the tray.

"That's fine," he set the tray on the coffee table, "It's not for you."

"That's just makes me want it," Damon pouted, he reached forward with a flash of speed, but it was only to grab some Oreos. He sat back in the chair, ankle crossed on his knee as he twisted to cookies apart and licked out the icing. Alaric quirked his brow in amusement across in the opposing chair as the vampire lined the empty cookies along his leg, then dunked the halves in his bourbon like it was a glass of milk before he ate them.

"The red mug's yours, Ric." Stefan said before he left the parlor for the door as he heard Bonnie's Prius pull up the drive. He had the door open even before the two teenagers made it to the front porch.

"Hey, Stefan." Elena said. "I brought Bonnie."

"And I brought some magical reading," Bonnie patted her book bag as they came in.

Stefan smiled at them. "And I have coffee and Oreos. We're just in the parlor," he proceeded them down the hallway.

"You win," Elena declared and they chuckled.

The vampire, witch, and doppelganger filled the couch; Stefan sitting closest to Alaric, Elena to Damon, and Bonnie in the middle. Stefan handed out the coffee, taking his own and leaned against the arm; the Oreo plate dwindled.

"Now that refreshments are out of the way," Damon said. He looked to Elena, "Talk—starting with why you dragged Ms Judy-pants along." Everyone rolled their eyes.

"Because I'm more useful than you," Bonnie answered him promptly; they exchanged glowers.

"Elena," Stefan interceded. "You said you found something when you called?"

"Yeah." Elena nodded. "Uncle John was waiting at the house and I was totally ready to tear into him about hitting you with his car, but he beat me to it. He was like 'let's stop lying to each other, Elena. We both know what the Salvatore brother are,' and then he tried to tell me what monsters you were and that you were just going to get me killed." Stefan grimaced because he knew it was true. "I realized that he thought Stefan and I were still on the outs from Tuesday so I used that to my advantage, and to try and convince me further to stay away he gave me some more Gilbert Journals."

"Jonathan Gilbert?" Alaric questioned, sitting forward. "The same who wrote that first journal?" Elena nodded.

"That's not possible," Stefan said quietly, and everyone looked to him.

"What do you mean?" Elena asked.

"I killed Jonathan Gilbert in 1864," Stefan confessed, "After I was turned."

"He must of had a ring," Bonnie realized. "Uncle John said there were two, passed down through the Gilbert family to members of the Council. Emily was the one that spelled those rings. She was also the one that made that compass that could detect vampires."

"It must have been her way of helping the Council keep the town safe from vampire's even while in Katherine's service," Stefan murmured. "Jonathan Gilbert thought he'd created those devices, but it was really her spelling them in secret."

"Right under Katherine's nose," Damon swirled his bourbon before he drank. "She always was a sneaky witch."

"There was something else," Elena said. Bonnie took the grimoire from her bag and Stefan pulled the tray out of the way as they all put their mugs down. "In one of the journals, Jonathan Gilbert wrote about how Pearl stole another device from him, but hadn't discovered it until after they burned the vampires in Fell's Church."

Bonnie opened the grimoire, flipping carefully through the pages. "Here are the rings, and the compass," she turned the page, "And then this." They all leaned forward to look. "It says that it's a device that can incapacitate vampires for a short period."

"How?" Damon questioned lowly.

"It emits some sort of sound that only vampires can hear,"

"Like a dog whistle?" Alaric asked.

"Essentially, I guess."

"If Pearl had the device on her when she was captured by the Council," Damon speculated, standing and going to sideboard and refreshing his glass from the decanter. "But was actually sealed in the tomb beneath the church instead of burned—then she must have still had it on her in the tomb." He turned to the group and gestured with the glass before taking a sip, "We should look for it."

"If Jonathan Gilbert thought it burned in the church fire," Stefan pointed out, "What makes you think it could have survived the flamethrower in the tomb?"

Damon shrugged. "I don't know. What I do know, little brother, is that if it did survive the fire, then I don't want Uncle Douchebag getting his hands on it—seeing as its a weapon against us. He has the journal telling him what happened to the device, he knows that the vampires were sealed in the tomb instead of burned 145 years ago, and he knows that we opened the tomb. So assuming that he thinks we already have it or it's still in the tomb—survey says we should look for it before he does."

"He's right," Elena said in agreement, standing to face the others.

"See," Damon pointed at the teen. "She knows. Besides, I'm in charge."

"Who put you in charge?" Bonnie asked, packing up the grimoire.

"I did." Stefan said.

"Stefan was in the slope of a nervous breakdown," Damon informed them blandly. "But the power shift still stands. We're looking for the device, I don't want something that could hurt us in that bastard's hands or the Council's."

"Tomorrow after school," Stefan stood.

Damon looked at his brother for a moment. "Fine."

"You being responsible," Bonnie said, standing and slipping the strap of her bag over her shoulder, "Is creepy."

"And you being judgy," Damon returned, "Is still annoying. I have nothing to prove to you, little witch."

"If you hurt Stefan like that again, it will be fear that you have for me." She warned ominously.

He faux shivered. "I'm so scared." And gave her his vamp-face.

"And I'm not scared of you, Damon Salvatore." Her expression was stiff and her fingers twitched, holding herself back. "But you will be of me." And they locked glares for a long moment, before Bonnie visibly snubbed the vampire. She had a friendly smile as she looked at her friend, "We'll see you at school tomorrow, Stefan. Come on, Elena." She passed the long-haired brunette.

"Right." Elena blinked. "Bye, guys." She gave them a wave and followed Bonnie out.

"Where do you find these people, Stefan?" Damon complained.

Stefan deadpanned, "You like them and you know it."

"I'd like to torture them," Damon agreed. "I know that."

"You've finally met people who aren't afraid of you and take your crap, you must be beside yourself." He teased with a grin.

"I will ground you," Damon warned him and Stefan laughed.

"I should be going, too." Alaric set his empty mug on the tray with the other cups as he stood. "I have to figure a lesson plan-- no I don't. Caroline has completely taken over with these Founder Floats. I don't have to do anything but supervise."

"Can't wait." Stefan smirked.

"He means that, too." Damon pointed out.

Stefan ignore him and held out the plate to the man. "Cookie for the road?"

"Sure." Alaric took one of the last standing Oreos and ate it. "Thanks."

"Only so I could do this," and Stefan kissed the crumbs from the corner of his lips.

Damon muttered wryly as he finished his drink, "The fact that you have a more active sex-life than me, means that there is something truly wrong with the world."

"That's because you eat all your dates," Stefan kindly pointed out.

"I don't date,"

"Maybe that's your problem." Alaric told him.

"No." Damon said. "I am not taking dating advice from the guy sleeping with my baby brother." He shuddered. Alaric shook his head, but chuckled at the vampire's discomfort as he left.

"See," Stefan turned to his brother, "You're already making friends."

"Just because I haven't killed him yet, doesn't mean we're friends."

"Really? With you, isn't that the definition of friends?"

"Ha ha. I am not befriending your... boyfriend, Stefan."

"Why not?" Stefan pointed out, "I mean, there's the whole you-killed-his-wife thing, but you became friends with Elena and we were dating, and there's the you-killed-her-birth-mother thing."

"You've never slept with Elena." Damon pointed out. Then added, "And she never tried to kill me,"

"Please." Stefan scoffed. "Everyone you know has tried to kill you. If we went with that logic, you'd have no one." Damon said nothing and simply turned his back to his brother, topping off his glass. The teen stared at him guiltily. He approached his brother with the plate, "There's one left."

He turned stoically to his little brother. "Trying to bribe me with an Oreo, Stefan?"

"If you don't want it..." he started, then smiled as Damon's hand flashed and he snatched the Oreo and dunked it haughtily into his bourbon.

~ T V D ~

Stefan set the oven to preheat. He got a casserole dish from the cupboard below and put the small hen in it with two cups of water. Alaric stood behind him at the breakfast bar with the chopping board and fresh vegetables.

Stefan washed his hand in the sink. "How's it going over there?"

"I can cut vegetables," Alaric told him in faint amusement. "I've been cooking for myself for the last 2 years and change." It was followed a moment later by: "Shit," hissed quietly and the chopping halted.

Stefan instantly smelled the blood and was at Alaric's side in a flash of speed despite the man only being 3 feet behind him. The teacher was holding his left index, as blood welled from the cut and dripped onto the wood board.

"You okay?" Stefan managed, eyes riveted on the liquid red; like the drip of water against a steel sink bottom in a silent house; it echoed through the vampire's head like a call.

"Just a cut," Alaric went to the sink and ran it under the tap, his hissed lost in the running water.

Stefan's fingers were drawn to the blood, smearing it with his fingers. They shook as he rose his hand, fingers smeared preciously red. His jaw ached and mouth watered as they drew towards his mouth on their own accord. He gripped the edge of the breakfast bar with force, his knees almost buckling in ecstasy of human blood on his tongue after 74 years. His tongue worked his fingers clean and he swallowed the moan as he swallowed the blood.

He couldn't believe he'd just done that! Stefan pulled his fingers from his hungry mouth in shame but his want only grew. God, how his every cell throbbed painfully with want for more.

Alaric turned off the tap. "Shit, it's still bleeding. Is there paper towel?" he searched the counter, hand held over the sink. plink. His blood dripped into the sink and Stefan was pulled to his side.

Alaric was pulled back to attention as Stefan took his hand. "Stefan, what are you--?!" he was wide eyed as the vampire wrapped his lips around his bleeding finger. Stefan groaned as the cut bled directly onto his tongue and he sucked. "Stefan, stop!" Alaric shoved at his shoulder with his free hand and tried to pull his captured one free; but Stefan gripped his wrist painfully tight, preventing him from pulling away and cracking the delicate bones under the pressure. "Ah!"

But all too soon the flow abated from the small limb. And Stefan released it with a growl as discontent. He was still hungry, always so fucking hungry!

He wanted more, he wanted it all! He grabbed the man and shoved him roughly back against the counter, knocking the chicken dish and sending it smashing to the floor. But this was the meal he wanted, this was what he truly hungered for. His fangs descended hungrily in relief, the throbbing veins crawled around his eyes, his eyes turning a deep dark red.

"Stefan, stop!"

He was demonic as he wrenched the struggling Alaric's head to the side and lunged for his lovely exposed throat.

The oven beeped—and Stefan was jolted awake by his alarm clock. He looked around his room in momentary confusion before he quickly shut his alarm clock off, laying back heavily.

"It was just a dream," he assured himself quietly, feeling his fangs scrap against his bottom lip. He stared at his ceiling, trying to calm himself from the hype the dream had left him in as it continued to run through his mind—not vague like a dream, but vivid like a memory. It took him longer than he would have liked.

Stefan ran his tongue over his human teeth as he climbed from bed. Even without his fangs, his canines were pointed like a simulation of fangs, just not as prominent as his real ones; like something telling him he would always end up this way. He paused long enough to feed Salvatore some flakes, before he opened his balcony doors and leaped down.

Barefoot and in his flannel bottoms and wifebeater, he raced into the woods at speed—trying to burn some of his nervous energy off as fast as possible. He felt amped up and unusually predatory after his vivid blood lusting dream, his fangs coming down sharply as he tracked some larger prey; he would just drink more on his hunt this morning to compensate for the gnawing hole of hunger in his throat, drown out the want with animal blood.

Stefan returned to the Boarding House, clothing and skin covered in grass and dirt stains. He'd tracked a young doe in the woods and was unusually vicious in his takedown of the mammal. The dream had just left him so filled with craving and hunger, that the 'human' part of his brain was subleased temporarily by the 'monster' and he tore into the poor, frightened creature with such fervour, feed so harshly, that he nearly Ripped it apart. He left the drained carcass for the other predators to strip the meat from bone. He'd managed to clean most of the blood from his neck and chest with grass, but his wifebeater was still stained in blood.

There was a moment pause in the hallway upstairs as he encountered Damon on the way to his bedroom, caring a glass filled with donor blood. Stefan lashes fluttered as he smelt the human blood and pursed his lips as his mouth watered, but did not swallow. Damon didn't ask if he was okay, just raised a dark brow and Stefan said nothing in return. The moment passed and Damon went downstairs while Stefan showered, dressed, and went to school.

Stefan used Caroline's gruelling building schedule for the Founder's Day floats that the Seniors were building to distraction, making sure to do the heavy lifting, to avoid conversation. Every time he caught sight of Ric when the teacher did the rounds, he remembered the fear and horror on his face and was flooded with guilt and shame.

...

The four school attendants met up with Damon after school to check out the tomb under Fell's Church for the mysterious device as decided the previous night. They transversed the woods toward the church.

"Stef, are you okay?" Alaric gently pulled the vampire back and let the others get ahead to give them some privacy. "You've been giving me odd looks all day."

"Chicken dinner," Stefan blurted. He hadn't meant to say that, but the stupid dream had been on his mind all day.

"What? You want to have dinner?" Alaric smiled, "Okay."

"I'll cut the vegetables," he added, just in case the man got any ideas.

"If you insist," he chuckled. They caught up with the others.

The vampires used their strength to uncover the opening to the tomb that Bonnie had fallen through when the ground had collapsed under her. The rope ladder was still set up from when they had all gone down, Sheila included, to open the tomb. The brothers leapt down, with the bags, and Stefan made sure the two girls and teacher made it down safe. The flamethrower was still sitting abandoned in the dirt.

"The barrier's still down right?" Damon cast aside at Bonnie as Stefan and Elena handed out flashlights.

"Go inside first and see, Mr In-charge." Bonnie told him, flicking her flashlight on and shinning it in his face.

Stefan sighed and turned on his own torch, proceeding into the darkness of the tomb, Elena and Alaric following. "Will you two ever get along?" he didn't get an answer and he didn't think he was expecting one. "Let's just find this thing, please."

The vampire and witch took up the tail, but soon enough the group came to a halt.

"Look, the catacomb diverges." Elena shone between the two passages. "We're going to have to split up."

"Alright. Two and three," Damon decided. "A vampire each."

"This feels like getting picked for teams in gym class," Alaric mused to Elena.

"Bonnie and Damon, you take that way," Stefan pointed with his light to the left. Then he shone his light down the other, "And we'll go this way."

"Why are we stuck together?" Damon questioned. "And I'm in charge, remember."

"Yeah," Bonnie agreed.

"It's already decided. And look, my plan's already working—you're agreeing with each other!" Stefan's team all shared grins as the brunette vampire received glowers.

"Come on," Bonnie growled at Damon, turning down their chosen tunnel. "Let's just get this over with and find this thing so we can get out of here."

After sending one more glare his brother's way, Damon stomped after the witch. "Bossy."

The vampire and two humans advanced down their chosen catacomb, the scuffs of their foots steps on the dirt and stone, and breathing magnified eerily as they bounced off the close quarters. They descended the stone steps into the first chamber.

"God, this is creepy," Elena said as they toed around in vampire ashes, bits of burnt clothing and scored pieces of bone.

"It had to be done," Stefan said softly. "If they had gotten out, they would have been bent on getting revenge against the Founding Families for putting them in the church to burn. I'm sure they would have preferred that than to be imprisoned down here to starve and desiccate for 145 years."

They went through several chambers without success of finding anything.

"I wish I could remember where I saw Pearl before," Stefan muttered, "I just never thought that we'd have to come back down here."

"Maybe Damon and Bonnie found something," Alaric said.

"If they're not too busy bitching at each other about each other," Elena pointed out as they made their way back through the catacombs and out of the tomb.

Stefan packed away the flashlights as they waited in the anti-chamber to the tomb. Elena took out her cell to see if she might be able to call, but there were no bars down here.

"I can hear them," Stefan told the pair, head cocked lightly as he concentrated on the scuff of footsteps. "They're quiet. That can't be good," he noted.

The pair exited the tomb in a fouler mood towards each other than in the beginning. Looked like Stefan’s attempt for them to be friendly failed epically.

"Any luck?" Stefan asked, taking their flashlights.

"We found a pocket watch." Damon announced, "It looks nothing like the picture that was in Bossy's book, but it has an inscription inside with Jonathan Gilbert's name and the date, it could be something or it could be nothing."

"Can't you just check if it's imbued with magic?" Elena questioned.

"I could," Bonnie agreed, "If he'd hand it over," she glared at the blue-eyed vampire.

"Wasn't it just last night that you said I should be afraid of you?" Damon mocked. "'Cause I got nothing, witchy-pants."

"I was trying to be polite, but if you insist..." her fingers spread, tense, palm towards Damon and arm outstretch, and muttered.

"Argh!" Damon grunted in pain as it felt like the cells in his brain were exploding, he clutched at his head, gritting his teeth.

"Damon! Bonnie!" Stefan and Elena both shouted in suck and concern.

Bonnie continued for a few seconds more to get her point across before she stopped. Damon was breathing harshly, as he straightened, his vamp-face slowly morphing back into his handsome human one as he gave her a dirty, pissed look. Bonnie stared back impassively, turning her palm up and waited pointedly.

"I'm going to relish tearing into your throat for a second time, Bennett." Damon slapped the watch into her palm as his brain healed and the headache eased off.

"Just try," she said. Bonnie put her other palm over the watch, taking a deep breath and closing her eyes, concentrating. A gust of wind curled through the chamber, lifting the girls' hair. The witch finally opened her eyes. "There is magic in it," she pointedly handed the pocket watch to Stefan.

Alaric and Elena crowded the vampire on either side as they inspected the watch, but there seemed to be nothing extraordinary about it. Other than it being an antique and heirloom, the arms stopped because it hadn’t been wound in decades. Stefan flipped it shut and handed it back to Damon.

"You can't tell what kind of magic is in it?" Alaric asked. "Like what the spell does?"

"It doesn’t' work like that," Bonnie sighed. Damon looked about to make some unhelpful, witty comment but twin looks from Stefan and Elena held him off.

"What would John even want it for—if he even does?" Stefan wondered aloud. "He's had several openings to expose us to the Council. He could have staked me after he hit me with his car and I was down for the count. Why go through all the trouble with this device?"

"Trying to protect Elena?" Alaric suggested. "He did warn you away, Stefan."

"Maybe," Stefan consented. "And it's not like the tomb vampires are a problem."

"Does he know that?" Bonnie wondered, the others looked surprised by the question.

"When he tried to taunt me at the party, he blathered on about how the vampires rounded up in '64 were never burned but sealed in the tomb below and how I opened it. Then he provoked me so I snapped his neck and threw him over the terrace railing," Damon shrugged. "But nothing further was said on the subject of tomb vampires, so he could think they got out, especially with how eager he reported the blood bank thefts."

"Killing someone tends to tarnish their honestly," Elena said, upset despite herself.

"He's alive and free to cause us all drama we don't need, untwist your panties, Elena." Damon told her mordantly.

She scowled. "You didn't know that when you did it."

Damon leaned close and hissed quietly. "He hurt my brother and you think I was just going to let him get away with that?"

"I know." Elena crossed her arms and turned her back to the blue-eyed vampire.

Stefan rubbed Elena's arm soothingly and squeezed his brother's shoulder. "That's in the past," he told the pair, "It's over and done with. Let's just focus on the real problem."

"Wind it!" Elena suddenly blurted, turning. "It's an old-timey watch, you're supposed to wind it, right?"

Stefan looked at his brother, turning the watch over in his palm with interest. "I don't think that's a good idea..."

Damon wound it anyways and everyone tensed, but nothing happened. "It doesn't even work like a normal wind watch." He shook the thing in irritation. "That was useless,"

"It is over a century old," Ric pointed out.

"That wouldn't matter," Bonnie shook her head. "The magic is still there, if that was the device, it would work. Just like the rings, just like the compass. Magic doesn't fade."

"It's starting to get dark out," Stefan tipped his head back and stared up into the open sky above, hands tucked into his jacket pockets, "We can worry about it later. We have the watch, we have time."

"Wait," Alaric interrupted, stopping them. "The picture in the book was like a little box of gears, wasn't it?" he mimed the shape. "Like the skeleton of a music box or something. Maybe it was separated for safe keeping, in case something like this happened so they couldn't destroy it."

"That actually makes sense, Teacher." Damon said, grinning. "Now we just have to find the other piece."

~ T V D ~

Stefan pulled the shower door open and stepped out onto the mat. Water droplets dripped down taut, supple flesh. He grabbed a towel from the rack and dried himself. Alaric paused in his ministrations with the straight razor at the sink, a towel knotted around his hips as he admired the vampire in the mirror's reflection.

Stefan straightened and tied the towel around his hips, smirking as he caught Alaric's dark eyes in the mirror. The teen approached, leaning his hip against the side of the sink to watch the teacher. Alaric gave him a small smile as he wiped the blade before looking back into the mirror. He rose his chin and turned his head; starting from halfway down his neck where the stubble ended, his carefully drew the blade upwards towards the hinge of his jaw.

"You look good, you smell good... is there anything you aren't good at?" Stefan teased.

Alaric flinched lightly as he nicked himself with the razor. "Shaving, apparently," the dirty-blond chuckled.

Stefan green eyes were drawn to the well of red against his skin. The drop of blood ran tantalizing down the side of his throat, leaving a faint pink streak in its wake before it settled in the shallow indent behind the man's clavicle. His eyes darkened with hunger.

Alaric set the straight razor on the edge of the sink and reached over for the toilet paper, but Stefan put a hand on his cheek and drew the man back. "Stefan?" he questioned.

But Stefan's gaze was locked on the blood. He kissed the man's collarbone, the faint taste of blood already sending his taste buds into a frenzy. He gave a soft groan, his tongue drawing against the smooth, freshly shaven flesh as he followed the track of blood up his neck.

Instead of pushing him away, Alaric pulled the teen closer as Stefan licked, kissed, and sucked the sensitive flesh of his neck. The vampire could feel the man's blood thrum against his lips through the thin layer of skin, but it was the hunter's delicious blood he wanted to pulse hotly against his tongue. His sharp human canines scraped enticingly against Alaric's skin and the man shivered, hand squeezing the nape of his neck. Stefan's fangs slid out with a sigh of relief and he sunk them hungrily into Alaric's throat unexpectedly.

Alaric cried out in shock and pain, and tried to shove the feeding vampire off, but Stefan had wrapped his arms around the dirty-blond like an anaconda, making the struggle futile. He scrabbled around the sink instead, grasping the straight razor. He slashed the vampire with the sharp razor, cutting through his flesh like butter.

It had Stefan backing off for a moment with a growl but the pain was momentary as it was swallowed by the bottomless hunger inside of him. But he wasn't finished, the warm blood streaking down Alaric's bare chest told him so, he would stop when the blood stopped. And not even then...

He brandished the cutthroat razor like it was a weapon that could truly hurt the vampire and Stefan chuckled at the futility of the gesture as he sped forward and knocked the blade out of his hand. Alaric gave a shout as the bones in his arm shattered, but Stefan was already shoving him back and pinned the teacher back against the glass shower door.

And sunk his fangs back into the already torn flesh of his throat.

His nails sunk into the man's biceps as he gripped the teacher's arms, blood coating both their chests as the vampire tore his jugular, blood gushing too fast for the vampire to catch it all. The didn't stop him from trying as he ravaged Alaric's throat, his struggles growing weaker, nothing but gasps and whimpers. The glass cracked from the pressure that Stefan was applying before it shattered, throwing the both of them back into the tub in a rain of glass.

There was a sickening thud of Alaric beneath him, but Stefan simply bit back into the still man's throat; blood, glass, and flesh in his savage mouth as he groaned in pleasure.

Something caught in the back of his throat—Stefan jolted awake, twisted in his bed sheets, arms wrapped around Alaric's designated pillow when he slept over, fangs savagely tearing into case, his mouth full of feathers even as he salivated from the memory of blood.

Stefan quickly threw the pillow across his dim bedroom, spitting out the feathers. He buried his face in his arms for a minute, pulling at his hair in anxiety before he kicked off the sweaty sheets and rolled onto his back. He felt helpless as he stared at the ceiling and was thankful that Alaric hadn't been sleeping over because of school.

His first dream had been Sunday night, and now it was Thursday morning. He'd had one every night this week. Alaric getting a paper cut in the library. Alaric falling and hitting his head. Always the two of them, domestic and happy—normal. Then Alaric would injure himself, bleed, and the blood would draw out the Ripper, no matter how small the trickle. His dreams were all awash with Ric's blood and the driving hunger Stefan had for it, always losing control against the bloodlust.

Stefan sat up against his headboard and turned on his bedside lamp. He pulled his journal into his lap from the table where it had a permanent position all week and wrote through dawn against his raised knees.

He swallowed against his dry throat as he recounted the dream in vivid detail, filling the pages with visual representation of his shame, thirst, fear and agony. It had been years since he had dreams filled with blood and couldn't help but speculate and analyze why. What his subconscious might be trying to tell him through these dreams? It made his undead heart ache deeply with the conclusions he was drawing.

He'd been trying to drown out the siren call of human blood, Alaric's, by feeding on more animal blood. It was like he was dehydrated and he was drinking molasses to curb his thirst instead of water. That was to say... it wasn't helping, not anymore. Not when the dreams continued, not as his hunger continued to awaken for the thing he could never give it.

He finally forced himself out of his spiralling thoughts as his alarm went off. He set his journal on his bed and climbed from it, grabbing the fish food from the shelf, he leaned over the fishbowl on his computer desk:

"You're the only one I could never hurt, but simply because you lack the thing I thirst for most. I wish desperately to God that I could say the same for the others." He sprinkled the flakes into the water and spent a minute watching Salvatore dart around smoothly to collect each flake.

Stefan grabbed the sweater from the back of the chair, zipping it around his bare chest. He couldn't face his en suite so soon after that dream, so he went out onto his balcony and dropped over the edge onto the drive below. This had also become a habit of his since the dreams had started. He stuffed his hands in his hoodie pockets and walked to the tree line at a human pace, already drawn back into his thoughts and a continuous play of his dream... s.

The vampire returned half an hour later, going for the faster feed, a nest of sleeping squirrels. He continued to drink blood not because he had a desire for it, but because he knew if he didn't, he would lose what thin veil of control he had left to him. He was halfway into his room before he even realized his brother was present. Damon sat on the foot of his bed, leaned back on his hands. Stefan's green gaze darted from his brother, to where his hand lay so close to his closed journal.

"Don't worry," Damon read his expression easily. "I didn't read it, as tempting as it was. I'm a changed vampire, remember?"

"Of course." Stefan stayed where he was, no matter how much he itched to flit over and grab his journal. What would Damon make of his dreams? Would he draw the same conclusion that Stefan had? "What's up?" he stuck his hands into his sweater pockets for lack of anything else to do as he stood awkwardly in the middle of his own bedroom.

"That is the question of the week," Damon agreed. "Since you're not going to admit it, why don't I say it?" he took his brother's silence as agreement. "You've been having blood dreams, Stefan—the equivalence of wet dreams—side effects including, but not limited to... premature fang ejection, tearing into your pillow like it's the supple throat of a lover, animal blood binges to try and curb the hunger." He pulled the torn pillow from behind his back and into his lap. "I was willing to stay out of it, hoping you could work through it alone... but you're manifesting, Stefan." He tossed up a handful of feathers spilling from the assaulted pillow in his lap for emphasis.

"There's nothing to worry about," Stefan assured him. "I just get these dreams sometimes. It's been really stressful lately." It was both true and a lie, but he said it with convictions. These were crisp, clear, with all the detail of a live moment, not choppy flashes, a broken film reel of a past blood fugue. His gaze drifted to each of the drifting feathers from the light breeze coming through his open balcony doors.

Damon dipped his chin in acceptance of the point, but his blue eyes still held concern. "I think you should stay home," he announced, standing and tossing the pillow back onto the bed.

"No." Stefan shook his head. "You're not barring me from school again. I accepted it before because I was not in a stable place and really needed my big brother. But this is not that, I can't be trapped in here like some damsel in a tower—that is the last thing I need. The dreams go away, they always do."

And he stalked passed his brother into the en suite, closing the door. He could hear Damon linger so he stripped from his clothes, opened the glass door and stepped into the shower. He flinched as he remembered the thud Alaric's body made as the crashed into the tub, too fixated on the man's blood to even wonder if he broke the teachers neck or cracked his skull as he lay motionless.

Stefan took Damon's absence when he stepped out of the bathroom, hair damp and in a towel as acceptance as he got dressed. His journal still laid untouched on his unmade bed, but the pillow and scattered feathers were cleaned away. A small smile graced the corner of his mouth, Damon used to do that sometimes when they were kids.

He grabbed his bag and headed out. Damon roared up in his Camaro Convertible as he stepped down the porch.

"Get in," Damon told him, fingers drumming on the steering wheel. "I'll drop you, I have things to do."

The brunette quirked an eyebrow in response, but tossed his bag in the backseat. Stefan jumped over the door instead of opening it and as payback for shoes on his upholstery, Damon put the peddle to the metal before he was seated. He chuckled as his brother's styled hair became windswept by the time he dropped him off at school.

The Founder's Day Parade was the next day on Friday, so it was just last minute touch-ups to the floats and costumes, the rest of the day back to regular scheduling.

There had been a small incident, with no injuries, thankfully; Stefan did not want to see how that might have played out with his tenuous connection to his mentality at the moment. Some wires got crossed, there was a collision of paths, paint everywhere—red paint—on the pavement, on students. He was mesmerized as a glob trailed towards him, like it was magnetized. He felt the ache in his jaw, held his breath subconsciously so he could not catch the enticing scent—it's not blood!

He bent the metal frame of the trailer, tearing himself away and back just as the paint touched the toe of his boot, breathing heavily. The pavement was quickly hosed, so were the students much to the others amusement, sent to the showers then set back to work in their dry and clean gym clothes, all under the strict guiding hand of team leader Caroline Forbes.

"Stefan?"

"Yeah?" the vampire blinked his dry eyes rapidly and tore his gaze away from the red spot on the toe of his left shoe to the doppelganger seated to his right on the bleacher by the football field where they'd decided to have lunch.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah." He turned to stare out blindly across the field instead, eating a chip as an afterthought. He just bought them from the cafeteria so he wouldn't be the only one not eating.

"Well, I'm convinced!" Bonnie said mildly from his other side.

Stefan snorted in his own mild amusement. "And I am convinced that you're convinced."

"Well, I'm not." Elena grouched. "You look tired, Stefan."

"Just a little lack of sleep, Elena." He assured. "No more than usual. I'll just be happy when the parade is over."

"And Caroline can go back to being a moderate control freak," Bonnie added. "That girl is giving me nightmares." They all chuckled. The bell rang a few minutes later and they groaned instead. "Back to the whipping post."

...

Stefan went with the entire extended group of friends to the Grill after school to celebrate finishing the floats with pool, darts, soda and nachos. He discovered Damon and Alaric at the bar when Matt and Tyler got everyone's orders; he tuned his hearing to listen, heard the word 'device' and was disappointed to find it was business and not pleasure that brought the two together or maybe it was better in the long run.

He caught blond hair from the corner of his eye and followed John Gilbert as he walked to the bar and cockily sat a couple stools from Damon, flagging his order from the bartender. John smirked over at the pair and literally said 'howdy', Stefan didn't have to hear to know, he could see the shape of it against the man's lips.

Stefan could feel the tension from here and was just thinking about interceding or not when his attention was called away as it was his turn and he picked up a cue, distractedly chalked the tip and lined up. He screwed up his shot, much to the guys' delight.

When he looked over again, the threesome was steadfast ignoring the other. Stefan put his cue back on the rack and excused himself to the men's room; he just needed a minute. It wasn't that he was holding back, it was that he was off his game. Using the urinal, he washed his hands at the sink, his green gaze automatically flicking over as the door opened and closed—and there stood John. Stefan straightened cautiously, grabbing paper towel from the dispenser over the trashcan to dry his hands. He didn't have to wonder if the man was there for nature or him, as he spoke:

"I thought I could convince her to stay away from you with the journals." He was in front of the door, much like at the Gilbert home. Stefan knew that he could easily overpower the man to make his exit, but for whatever reason, felt helpless and weak, same as before. "Elena is a very determined young woman... one I fear who is determined to get herself killed, or worse—turned—because of her open, benevolent heart that could even feel sympathy for the devil. For you." He sighed. "I thought you of all people would understand, Stefan. With your history..."

Stefan's too recent nightmares flashed through his mind and he felt a helpless, directionless resentment. He growled and flashed forward, grabbing fistfuls of John's shirt and shoving him back against the paper towel dispenser. "You don't know anything about me!"

John was unflinching in his anger; perhaps because of the protection afforded by the Gilbert ring or simply because Stefan was a poor excuse for a vampire. "I know that blood sings to you. Each pulse the ringing of the dinner bell to that monster, that Ripper inside of you that feels nothing but glee and hunger at the sight, the smell of blood. Salivates at the injury of others. Men, women. Old, young. You don't care. Children--"

"I've never hurt a child!" Stefan exclaimed in horror.

"Haven't you?" he wondered. "You've killed mothers and fathers, torn them limb from limb in your bloodlust. What do you think that does to a child? When they discover the macabre scene you've left them to return home to, when an officer has to sit them down and tell them they will never see the ones they loved whole and happy and alive again—because a monster, a demon, couldn't help himself! Haven't you?"

Stefan released him, backing away; his green eyes glistening with the sting of unshed tears. "That's not me," he whispered weakly, "That's not who I am." ANY MORE! rang loudly in his head through the screams of his victims like an accusation. "I just want to have a normal life!" he shouted with a deep desperation inside of him.

"Normal ended a long time ago for you, Stefan." He told the vampire firmly, if almost sympathetically. "There's none of that for you here, you're just fooling yourself trying to look." John silently regarded him a moment longer before he turned and left the bathroom, leaving the upset vampire alone.

Stefan caught his reflection in the sink mirror. He looked like your normal teenager. The light overhead chose that moment to flash and flicker, cutting his face into slashing shadow. He looked like your normal teenager—but that just masked what lie beneath. Stefan was hopeless in the thought that if he hung out with careless, happy teenagers, it would rub off on him and he could be just like them—normal.

He bent over the sink and splashed water over his face like he could baptize his demons away.

Switching it off, switching it on, twisting the ring off his finger, never settled. Forces were determined to keep him here, keep him living the same mistakes over and again. He could run away from a lot of things, but he could never run away from himself.

He grabbed paper towel from the dispenser, patting his face dry and pressing the sheets over his closed eyes, cloaking himself in darkness, breathing deeply. He heard the door and lowered his hands to find Alaric standing there.

"Hey," Stefan greeted quietly. He crumpled the damp sheets in his hands and threw it the garbage.

"Damon went to have a little chat with John," Alaric explained, he turned the lock on the door. "He heard you shout and then John come out, he wasn't happy. I came to check on you," he didn't ask the obvious question.

"I'm tired of fighting," Stefan sighed. "That's all it feels like lately."

"I know, but once Damon finds the other half of the device, we hold Gilbert in a stalemate, everything will calm down. It'll all go back to normal."

Stefan snorted quietly at his wording and closed the distance between them. "You're probably right." He cupped Alaric's cheek, thumb brushing over his prickly stubble. "Your stubble, I always liked how it feels against my skin, feels real. Don't shave it."

"It makes me look older." He mused. "Better for teaching teenagers."

"You're not old, Ric. In fact, you've hardly even lived... yet you've lived more than I ever could."

"When you say stuff like that, Stefan," Alaric admitted, putting his hand over his on his cheek, "It scares me a little."

"Sorry," Stefan continued to stroke his cheek; as long as this fantastic stubble was there, he would know that it had all just been a nightmare. "I haven't been sleeping well the past few days," he confessed quietly, unable to look into his blue eyes so he focused on corner of his lips. "I've been having these dreams, about you, us," he corrected. "They start out great, amazing, and then..." he shook his head helplessly. "I never want to hurt you, Ric." This time he did look up into his eyes.

Alaric instantly pulled his boyfriend in, afraid the vampire would come apart if he wasn't there, holding him. "You won't hurt me, Stefan." He whispered into the hair above his ear.

The brunette wasn't entirely certain that was the truth, so he said nothing and instead fisted the material of the man's shirt at the back of his shoulder and lower back, cheek pressed against the side of throat, feeling the prick of stubble. John was right, it sung to him, called just for him. His eyes slipped closed and he sighed, slumping against the man and the strong comfort of his embrace, feeling Alaric's body play a living tune against him. Stefan always found it so beautiful, alluring. You always craved most what you couldn’t have.

The dreams flashed through his mind; the heat of the blood, its sweet taste and call. But he didn't remember the teacher's heart pulse. This is real, Stefan thought. As longs as this beat sings in my ears, it is the truth.

The door rattled and the pair pulled apart. "Hey! Is someone in there?" they pounded on the door, "Open the door, I gotta take a piss!"

"This will be awkward to explain," Alaric noted.

"You go first," Stefan said quietly, "Act casual." And he stood behind the door.

Alaric raised a brow, but did as instructed and unlocked the door, quickly pulling it open. "Sorry, man. The door must have jammed," and he passed the guy. The disgruntled man headed straight for the urinal, and Stefan slipped out before the door swung closed with a little vamp-speed outside the slightly inebriated man's notice.

"Smooth," Stefan teetered to a halt, toe and toe with his brother, a neutral expression on his face. "Have a little face-to-face meeting?"

"How did your little chat go?" Stefan returned, po-faced.

"You tell me," Damon said, watching him closely. "Should I have snapped the weasel's neck again?" Stefan couldn't stop the minute tightening of his expression and Damon's steeled in response. The brunette quickly put a hand on his shoulder, stopping him from flitting off and doing just that. "What did he say to you?" he growled.

"The same party line as before," he shrugged.

Damon scrutinized his a moment longer, but his brother didn't seem willing to give any further detail up. He exhaled. "Wave goodnight, Stefan. I can feel Judgy glaring daggers at me."

Amusement smoothing the lines of his face, Stefan looked over Damon's shoulder to the pool table where he could feel Elena's curiosity/concern and see Bonnie's narrowed gaze pinned to his brother's back. Grinning, Stefan waved at the girls and gestured between Damon and the door. They waved back.

"Alright, already." Damon shuffled him out the door and to the car.

...

Stefan was reluctant to go to bed, but he knew that it wouldn't do to be half-asleep when he was part of the parade the next day after school. But even then he lay awake in bed, staring up at the dark ceiling, wondering what horrible domestic-turned-bloodlust-Ripper scenario was next up on slot. But he eventually lost the fight, no matter how desperate he was not to.

~ T V D ~

Stefan groaned as his back hit the wood-paneled wall, the picture frames hanging on the wall shaking as Alaric pumped into him, his legs wrapped around the man's waist, the teacher's hands grasping his buttocks in support.

"Ric," Stefan panted, his finger's shoved into dirty-blond locks as Alaric sucked marks and slopping kisses to his partially exposed torso, his shirt buttons half torn open, in too much of a rush to fully undress. Alaric had only one arm out of his tee shirt, it half bunched around his neck, his jeans pooled around his ankles.

This position was perfect for stroking deep inside, Alaric's cock head stroking his prostate with healthy enthusiasm, but was fast draining on the man's stamina. Stefan bit his tongue hard enough for blood to sluggishly fill his mouth before the wound quickly sealed, he drew Alaric's face up to his and gave him an open-mouthed kiss, drawing the teacher's tongue into his mouth and to take his blood.

Alaric grunted as his thrusts speed up, driving his back into the wall, causing a frame to skew momentarily before it dropped to the floor with a crack of glass.

Stefan's desire was driving him insane, driving him hungry. His head thumped back against the wall, arching into the sweaty, panting man, clenching desperately around the blood-filled organ pumping into him, veins crawling around his eyes. He wanted everything of the man.

Stefan pushed harder with his hips, unbalancing the thrusting man, making him stumble back, overbalanced by the vampires weight, and tangled in his jeans; Alaric gave a shout of surprise as he began to fall backward, only to have Stefan jerk his head to the side, exposing his throat.

Eyes filled with dark blood, a mouth full of fangs and a erotic hunger, Stefan lunged for his delicate jugular as they fell—Stefan grunted as he landed face-first on the floor beside his bed, tangled in his sheets, panting heavily.

He was so relieved he'd been knocked from the dream, that he wasn't as hard in real life. He knew how it would have ended, with the added lust of sex with blood, it would have been a complete frenzy. There hadn't even been the enticement of blood this time, just the lust and hunger brought on by sex.

Alaric's head would not have lasted long on his shoulders—thankfully the vampire teen always awoke before that gruesome habit could come into play. Could the ring bring him back from decapitation? Stefan didn't want to be the cause for an occasion to find out. Luckily he wasn't going to have to find that out, as long as his nightmares stayed just that.

He thumped his head against the floor for a full minute before he forced himself to get up. He hopped into the shower instead of hopping over his balcony railing; the thought of any sort of blood actually made him feel ill, even as the craving would always bore a hold into his brain. He dressed and said morning to Salvatore, sprinkling flakes into his bowl. He grabbed his full garment bag from the back of his door and headed downstairs.

He found Damon in the parlor drinking his breakfast. "Have you seen my--? Never mind, found it." Stefan retrieved his bag from the back table, pulling the strap over his head and folding the garment bag over his forearm more comfortably,

"You didn't hunt," Damon noted. "Any particular reason why?" he raised a dark brow that said he already knew and was just waiting for the poor excuse his little brother would provide.

Stefan always hated to disappoint. He shrugged. "I wasn't feeling hungry, that's all."

"Mm."

His gaze flickered away as Damon took a sip from his glass of blood. "I'll hunt after the parade." He added. "You still going ahead with this plan of yours?" he questioned.

"I'll tear apart his place—with glee—if need be, brother." Damon agreed. "I will find the other piece to this device. Of course, I'll drop around first, got to make an appearance for the Council. You--?" he offered.

Stefan shook his head. "Elena's picking me up."

She picked him up at the end of the driveway in Jenna's Mini. He hung his garment bag off the hook on the backseat passenger's side, Elena's own behind her seat. "Hey, Elena?" he questioned hesitantly as he buckled in.

"Yeah?" she glanced over after she pulled onto the road.

"Could we... could I talk to you about something, later?" He was sure he knew what he had to do, had set himself to do it. "After the parade?" maybe she could someone convince him it was the right thing or the wrong thing.

"Sure, Stefan. Should I be worried?" she pondered jokingly.

"Don't worry," he managed a light chuckle, "You're not in trouble."

~ T V D ~

"I'm having flashbacks," Damon announced as he approached his brother in the active school parking lot wearing 1800's attire. "Terrible flashbacks."

Stefan grimaced as he turned to his brother. "I know," he uncomfortably smoothed his hands down his lapels of his brown Victorian styled jacket, the vest and suspenders underneath making him feel tense and constrained. It being a parade for the day that Mystic Falls was founded, the floats and corresponding costumes were based in the 1800's. It all left him with a subconscious inevitability that was writhing in his brain and it made him feel ill.

Stefan watched his brother's eyes flicker over his shoulder, a minuscule widening before the shutters came back down. Stefan turned and stumbled back a step into his brother, who grasped his arm unseen; it was like she was a ghost back from their past to haunt them.

"Katherine," Stefan uttered so quietly that Damon only caught it because of his vampire hearing and his close proximity to his brother.

Damon squeezed his arm bone-crushingly. "Elena!" he called cheerily. "Don't you look the picture of elegance and 1800's sophistication." He released his brother and stepped forward. He took the tips of her gloved fingers in the cradle of his palm to give her a half bow. "Won't you give us a spin, Lady Elena?"

With a coy grin, Elena gave a spin as Damon held her hand, giggling as she stumbled a little for the weight of the skirts and the blue-eyed vampire steadied her. "It's not really my style," she smack at the skirt. "Thankfully I was born a 21st century girl."

"Pick up you jaw, brother." Damon turned to him. "Be a proper gentlemen and give your arm to this lady, I've taught you better than that." Still holding Elena's hand, he offered it to Stefan.

Stefan cleared his throat and gave Elena an embarrassed smile as he quickly stepped forward and offered the teenager his elbow. Elena took it with a dimpled smile.

"Say cheese!" Damon quickly snapped a shot with his cell before Stefan could protest. " Teacher and I have a mission while the blond chipmunk is otherwise occupied with the festivities as a Founding Member. So, you two behave yourselves."

"I think we should be telling you that," Elena said. Damon just flashed them a devious smirk as he turned and disappeared into the milling crowd. They were all called to places.

Stefan focused on the warmth of her arm curled around his arm, her side brushing against his. The steady, constant beats of her heart, the expansion of her lungs. The life thriving inside of her of every second of every minute of every hour, continuous, constant. Alive. He looked over at her profile as she matched strides on the thick skirt of her dress. Elena Gilbert; he breathed.

...

Stefan hadn't heard from Damon on news about whether his and Alaric's search of John's rented apartment produced the other half of the device, but got a text from Elena that she would meet him at her house.

He was just about to knock when she opened the door. "Hey, I just got here." Her long straight hair was curled and wavy from being pinned up and hair sprayed for hours before being let down. She looked slightly more Elena like this, the modern clothes helped significantly. "Come in," she smiled. "It's just us," she said. "We can talk in the living room?" she suggested and lead them back.

Stefan nodded and followed, worrying the inside of his cheek. She sat on the sofa and looked at him expectantly, but he stayed standing.

"Stefan, what's wrong?" she patted the cushion beside her. "You can tell me anything,"

Stefan sat on the edge of the cushion. "I know things are still getting back to normal between us," Stefan started carefully, "And I don't want to freshen all that pain for you again by talking to you about-- about Ric and me," he paused and watched her carefully as her plucked brow flickered and her lips tightened a bit oddly in response but she silently indicated for him to continue. He swallowed. "I've been having these vivid dreams—nightmares. They just feel so real and--"

"About what?"

"Killing Ric. Losing control and feeding on him, just tearing into him with such hunger and I--" he shook his head, choking on the words.

"They're just dreams, Stefan."

But he shook his head. "They don't feel like dreams, they feel so real. I can taste his blood, the warmth of it down my throat and in my belly." He was too preoccupied to notice if she was acting a little off, just thought it was because they were talking about Alaric and that was still something of a sore subject with them, still fresh. He didn't want to hurt her, but...

"You could never do that--"

"You don't know me when I get like that." He insisted. "Like that, with one taste of human blood, I truly do become a monster. One so starving that I will never stop because I can never get full, no matter how much I drink."

"Even if that did ever happen..." she started. "The ring..." she implied as delicately as possible.

"He shouldn't have to have a ring that brings him back from the dead in order to be in a relationship with me!" Stefan snapped in helplessness, jumping to his feet and pacing the carpet in front of her. "This is why I broke it off between us, because I was afraid of something like this happening. The draw of the blood!" He squeezed his eyes closed against prick of tears, inhaling deeply. "But I just exchanged one never-future for another. I just keep doing this to myself and I can't seem to stop." He opened his eyes and looked at her, his voice a defeated whisper, "Why do I keep putting myself through this? Why?" she looked like she wanted to say something but was holding back. "Just tell me," he said desperately.

"Stefan," she sighed reluctantly. "It seems to me that you're trying to cling to your human-life. But you don't have to attach yourself to a human to keep your humanity. That's like saying you're only somebody if you're dating somebody. Or maybe... haven't you ever tried dating a vampire?" all the strength was suddenly sapped from him body and he slumped on the couch facing her. "You wouldn’t have to worry about bloodlust, or hurting them, or outliving them..."

"Only Katherine," he whispered, and her posture piqued. He had vague impressions of interacting with vampires in the '20's but he was afraid that period would always be lost to him, but maybe that was a good thing in the long run. "But I was human... I've never been with a vampire as a vampire, I usually tried to avoid them, other than Damon and Lexi." Because of Stefan's blood diet, he was an outsider in the vampire circles; and when possessed by his Rippr persona, he didn't think there was a more dangerous vampire out there.

There was utter silence in Stefan's ears, his brow furrowed.

She licked her lips, leaning forward towards him. "Stefan, I l--" she started, when he cocked his head in listening.

"Damon," he said. "He's on the porch." He straightened and twisted back to look at the door. "He must have--" he cut himself off as he heard Elena say something, but not Elena inside, right next to him—Elena outside! Stefan jerked back around, but she was gone, vanished without sound.

Stefan stumbled to his feet, pale as a the ghost he'd just seen. He knocked the corner of the end table, and just managed to save the lamp from smashing to the floor as the front door burst open and there stood Damon and Elena. Elena with her hair straight and clothes from earlier.

His sharp ears instantly zeroed in on her beating heart, her breathing, the pulse of her blood. How hadn't he realized how quiet it had been? The lamp smashed unexpectantly in his hands.

"Stefan!" Elena gasped in surprise.

He stared blankly at the sharp shards that cut into his hands and made them bleed. When he looked up, Damon was in front of him.

"Stefan, what just happened?" Damon put his hands on his brother's shoulders, giving him a little shake when he seemed unable to speak.

"Katherine," Stefan croaked, "She was here. Damon..." he shook his head, helpless to say anything more for the tremendous lump in his throat and the fear in his undead heart as Damon squeezed his shoulders with a bruising force he barely felt.

tbc...

~ The Vampire Diaries ~