Previously: Grave robbing.
Chapter six: may as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb
"You can't just leave! John, please, I don't know how to do this. I can't –"
"They're teenagers Jenna." She hates Grayson's ring on his finger, the Gilbert family ring. He cared more about finding that ring, finding out if Grayson wore it when he died, than he did about figuring out the funeral. As if the Gilbert legacy was so important, more than seeing his niece or nephew or admitting that he felt any grief at all. "They just need someone to lay out ground rules until they're eighteen."
"That's not all they need, and you know it!"
She leaves great big openings for him to insult her abilities here. But he won't fight, won't argue. Damn him! He's the only one who understands what she lost – to lose the big sister who was more her mother, who had all the answers, who helped with all her screwups. Grayson was the big brother, the quasi-father to him, who stood by him exactly as Miranda did for her.
He can't run. He can't leave this to her. Her own urge to bolt is vibrating through her, with Elena and Jeremy at Liz's, it would be so easy to just…
And she hates that he's running first. That he's taking that option away from her.
She shoves him, so his own weight slams the front door closed. He turns to her, and there's a flicker of that lost grief that shows only because she's caught him off guard, his jaw already tightening against it.
She softens and croons in victory at the same time. Finally, finally she's getting something from him. She doesn't let him recover from it, slams herself against him, kissing him, brutally and defiantly, and desperate. And he kisses her back, just as angry, just as broken, pulling her against him in the first contact that's been for her since 'I'm sorry Jenna, Miranda and Grayson, they…'
They yank each other, pull and push, and bite. It's fury as he has her up against the back of the front door, and even lost to it, she still has her arm thrown over the doorway as a barricade.
And then he's gone. He doesn't even grab his shirt, or button his pants. He leaves her out of breath, fallen to his feet.
And she never, ever, forgives him.
She awakens early, in one of the shuttered rooms of the once-Boarding House, in the new sheets Stefan and her had fitted onto the mattress. It's hard to sleep, with grief that isn't hers clogging her throat. She wonders what will happen to Jenna with only Miranda dead. Will she still feel abandoned, will she let herself run away? Will she avoid a fate, of dying in a world she doesn't understand?
She takes her glass to the kitchen to refresh her water and sees Stefan unloading crates of fruit – apricots and cherries and strawberries, with large leafy greens, and asparagus, zucchini, cucumbers. She takes a deep, savoring breath, of a plucked garden come to life on the kitchen island.
"I went to the farmer's market when they opened," he explains.
She nods slowly, wondering how early that could have been, to be done before seven. "Don't you sleep?"
His head is tilted down to the groceries he's sorting, hands busy and able, but she catches the slight raise of an eyebrow. "Do you?"
She sighs, rubbing at her eyes. "Yeah, dreams," she explains.
He nods, watching her gently set down her glass and carry a carton of large brown eggs to the fridge. The nearly empty fridge. No wonder why Stefan pulled a grocery run, it looks like Zach survived off of frozen meals and take out. "So how was the Mystic Falls farmers market?"
"Small," he answers after a moment, handling the items for the cabinets while she neatly places organizes the items in the fridge. "There's less farmers than there used to be."
"Since when?" She wonders curiously, wondering if he means the 1860's or the visits since.
"1994," he answers with a slight delay, forearms flexing as he moves the crates of fruit and vegetables closer to her at the fridge, glancing subtly at her hand as she handles the produce. She pulls a strawberry to her nose, pleasantly surprised by the aroma. The dearth of farmers might be linked to the loss of witches, or it could something more common and mundane.
Perhaps Mystic Falls effected like any other small town, by national and global chains, no matter that they try so hard to stay the same.
"I bet they miss when this place used to be a boarding house." She teases, setting down the cucumbers as well. "Though I'm sure you've left them with the impression you're going to revive it."
A smile graces the corner of his lips. "I might have bought more than I intended."
"And you didn't buy any junk at all, chips, frozen pizzas, nothing. I bet you didn't even buy chocolate," she eagle-eyes what's left.
"I was going for the most nutritional value."
Her fake-offense drops. He shrugs at her expression, the understanding of why he went out for garden-fresh produce, and stocked the kitchen, passing between them. Even though she could be out the door, today or tomorrow.
He easily, as if the consideration doesn't need to be acknowledged, returns to something else that needs to go in the cabinet. Could she say thank you, and not have it sound gruff in her throat?
She swallows, looking for something else she can help with.
There's a brown paper sack, seated nearly invisibly in one of the island chairs that she grabs next.
"Uh, that's not –" he quickly interjects, halting before he comes closer as she has the container, half out of the bag, the deep red, almost black, viscous liquid inside.
"I was going to take that to the downstairs freezer," he explains, in barely a murmur.
She shifts, not sure if she should immediately put it back or...
"Did you…buy it?" She wonders, voicing her confusion. "In Mystic Falls?"
He pulls in a deep breath, his sentences coming out short and reluctant. "Grove Hill. It's a town over." He inhales, the back of his hand running across his mouth. "It's pig's blood."
"Oh," she sets it back down on the counter.
"Oh?" he echoes, watching her expression.
She had told him it was a terrible idea not to have blood in the house. She was only surprised he bought some. She hadn't considered he listen. "You know I have had Black pudding before. It's not like pigs' blood in the fridge is weird."
He still spends a moment gauging her reaction before lightly shaking his head, glancing away. "Cooking it makes it even less appetizing."
"But deep freezing it like a popsicle makes it yummy?" She asks with skepticism.
He huffs, so quietly she almost doesn't hear it. It's almost a chuckle, but she can tell he doesn't feel quite comfortable joking about it. "No, it doesn't," he admits drily.
She smiles in commiseration, not that she understands the blood, but the part of deprivation and hiding parts of yourself? That she gets.
She puts the container back into the paper sack, like it's contraband alcohol, and places it back in the island chair. Out of sight. Stefan watches her do it, wordlessly.
But he doesn't say anything, as Zach wanders into the kitchen.
He looks at Casey, in light summer pajamas and her braid tousled, and realizes she spent the night.
He awkwardly stalls, like he might back out instead before his shoulders drop. "Is there any coffee?" he asks Stefan, still only glancing at her.
"No, I just got in," and Stefan answers normally, like this morning isn't different from any other he's shared with Zach.
Zach nods, moving towards the coffee pot.
Casey almost wants to say good morning, but it might come across sarcastic, so she just refills her water glass and leans against the island, opposite of Stefan.
He finishes with the flour, and claps the powdering off his hands. "What would you like?" Stefan asks her, hands stretched out above the island.
"For breakfast?" She wonders, watching Zach pick up the folded newspaper from the corner of her eye. "Are you having anything?"
He deliberates, head tilted as he intunes she's going to say she's fine if he doesn't eat as well.
"How about a omelet?"
"Sounds great," she agrees, smiling.
"Zach?" He offers.
Zach looks up from the paper, hearing his name, but deaf to the context. "Miranda's funeral is tomorrow." He crinkles the paper, so it folds enough that she can see Miranda Gilbert's smiling face and Tragic Accident in the headline. "Are you…going to attend?"
Stefan shifts back on his feet. He sounds nearly exasperated. "I don't think my presence is wanted there, Zach."
Zach nods, keeping his head down. "Right." He crinkles the paper back and forth, pondering what to disclose. "There's going to be a council meeting, after. Or during the reception." He pauses. "There always is, if a member of the Founding Families dies in an accident."
Casey sips slowly, seeing another opportunity for Grayson to come clean, or to blame vampires. To alert the council.
Stefan folds his arms across his chest.
"And do you think he'll tell them the truth?" he asks, watching Zach.
Zach rolls his tight shoulders. "I don't know him that well," he admits, like it's a very recent revelation. "He's my GP. He's most people's GP, here. I know he still works as a surgeon at the hospital, in pediatrics. He's won awards. Saved a lot of kids." He looks back at the paper, folding it so Miranda's smile is hidden away. "The whole town will likely be there. She, Miranda, did a lot for the community."
Asking her to stay was giving her an excuse to delay a departure. She doesn't forget that he did it after seeing his father's bones, after hearing his father's story that's been hidden for 145 years. Right now he's alone. He knows he's out of his depth, and she has answers. But she also knows he did it because she doesn't quite know where to go yet.
Just a delay of departure, she reminds herself.
Stefan offers to help her run the tests on her kidneys and liver, but she makes herself another glass of water and says she's fine.
So, they finish breakfast, without Zach, and break the seal to Emily's grimoire in Stefan's loft.
There're at least five things she intends to show him. The daylight ring. The ward on the tomb. The 'Gilbert device'. The compass. The Gilbert ring.
She's not sure what other secrets Emily's grimoire holds, but those are highlights, what will soon, one day, might be, relevant.
And the daylight ring spell is right there, on the second page.
So she started this grimoire after meeting Katherine…
"I was hoping there would be more," she frowns in disappointment.
"Is it incomplete?"
She shakes her head. "No, that's fine. It works. It's just…I thought she might have had the mechanics of how it worked. It would have been interesting to get her take on it, see if she experimented."
But it was early in her grimoire. Perhaps she hadn't come into herself as a witch, for breaking spells down and experimenting.
"And instead?" He wonders.
"It's just a copied answer. Like a…clock face, with no gears inside."
He smiles at that, pretending to nod seriously.
"What?" she laughs, realizing she was pouting just a little. Emily was a bit legendary in a family that had a lot of impressive witches.
"Nothing," he denies, but with a smile still in his green eyes. "It's just, this," he gestures "it's amazing. But you're used to seeing amazing." He catches her surprise in her quick blink. "It's uh, nice, that you like to see how something works not just…know…that it works."
"I don't think anyone has put it quite that way," she jokes. "More like easily-dissatisfied, why does it matter?" She tilts her head back down to the grimoire, her smile small and self-deprecating. "You'd think I'd of had enough answers for a lifetime."
"Maybe," he agrees, soft and leading "or…"
"Or?" She bites her lip, glancing up.
She sits still as he considers it, his eyes doing a slow perusal of hers. "You know the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything?"
It sounds like a set-up. To a joke, a logic problem, or a quotation. She frowns, trying to trigger a memory, but draws a blank.
"...No. That one must have escaped me."
He ducks his head, hiding his smile. "It's from a book. The answer is 42."
"42...what?" She wonders, not getting it.
"The answer to life, the universe, and everything," he repeats.
She's obviously missing the context, but...
It dawns, slowly.
That's the point. It doesn't answer anything. It's not enough.
She looks back at the spell. The spell that she's seen performed an untold number of times. The spell Katherine was gutsy enough to steal. She knows more about it than Emily did, even if she knows less than Esther.
"42," she repeats, hearing the symmetry to her own answer when someone asks how something works and she replies 'magic'.
"I do have a question though," Stefan broaches.
"Shoot," she agrees easily.
He frowns thoughtfully. "Can you…scan a grimoire?"
She's close enough when Stefan makes the call, checking that the uploaded image hasn't obscured any parts of the spell, that she can hear Lexi gut reaction of disbelief 'shut up!' and building excitement when Stefan tells her what he's emailing her.
The fact that he couldn't play coy for longer than two minutes makes her shake her head with a grin. Two minutes to break from 'you'll have to see' to 'it's the spell for the daylight ring'.
'How?! How in the world did you get it?'
Stefan looks over at her at the same time she's turning in the office chair, their eyes catching.
"I met someone," he answers after a moment.
She bites the inside of her lip, skating her eyes away as she gets up from her seat, giving Stefan the all the clear that the image is ready. She doesn't let herself listen to the nuances in 'I met someone'. Instead, she flops down onto couch, lets herself enjoy watching Stefan relax and laugh as he talks to his oldest friend.
How did Damon take this from him?
She reabsorbs herself in the grimoire to give him privacy, wondering absently if Emily knew what the Gilbert ring actually did.
When Stefan gets off the phone, shoulders still loose and open, she sets the book back down.
"Has she convinced you to run off to some far away, sunny place?"
He laughs. "She tried. It's still unbelievable to her." He smiles softly. "She's a lot older than me, but…there's a lot she hasn't been able to see."
It's the first time she's seen him smile without unconsciously ducking his head, maybe even including the visons. She blinks at the image slowly. "So…why didn't it work, enticing you to run away?"
He thinks over his answer, twisting his ring on his thumb. "I told her she needs to decide where she wants us to go first."
But if she can hear the excuse, Lexi definitely can.
"You could come back," she offers. His eyes lift in surprise. "Things will get dicey soon enough. By that time Grayson will realize…" she trails off. She can't lie. She's not sure what he'll realize. Some people learn lessons too late, or they learn the wrong ones.
"And would I leave them for Damon or leave Damon to them?"
She's not surprised he's thinking about Damon. Resigned to cleaning up after and caring for the brother that only half-hates him.
"Damon will get his chance to leave too, when he finds out Katherine isn't in the tomb."
He tilts his wrists, nodding slowly. "Then I guess I'm here, until then."
Stefan hears them when they're still in the driveway. Last time he met a surprise visitor, with Zach standing next to him, he got a syringe of vervain to the gut. This time she pushes against Stefan's shoulders, tells him to step onto the balcony that overlooks the driveway, while there is still sun to lighten his face.
If Grayson alerted Liz to the daylight ring, it's pointless, but if Liz doubts Stefan is a vampire for even a moment, it might make the difference.
Stefan steps back into the loft to Casey rubbing at the center of her forehead.
"I'm sorry to meet you under these circumstances." She rattles off quickly. "If I say that it means I don't trust it, and I think Grayson told her."
He exhales through his nose. "You want to meet them?"
"I think it's safe to say Zach is going to let them in regardless." She bounces on her toes, suddenly flooded with nervous energy. Her hand twinges, but she shakes it out at her side. "If it seems fine, I'll say Stefan will be down in a second."
He pauses. She can tell he isn't entirely comfortable with this plan, so she waits to see if she has his agreement. He rakes his hand through his spiky hair, nodding. "Okay."
She drops back onto her heels, inhaling slowly to calm, to center, surprised and not surprised at his acceptance. Alright, so this is the plan. She can work with this. Make it work. "Okay," she decides, looking down at the loft's steps. "It will be fine. I rather Sheriff Forbes than Dr. Gilbert."
Even if the Liz that accepted her daughter as a vampire was different from the Liz of today. Was closer to the Liz that ordered the shooting of Damon and Stefan, no matter that Damon had just been her closest ally. All she has to do, is make sure Liz doesn't know Stefan is a vampire.
She's still on the stairs as she hears the chime of the doorbell, to normal and cheery to mean danger.
She slides up to the wall, waits for Zach to answer it, with Stefan no doubt upstairs above the open living room.
"Hi Zach," Liz greets polite but weary. "Grayson said you have guests staying with you who reported the accident."
Zach pauses. Hopefully not suspiciously. She has no idea what he sees on the other side of the door. "Yes, my nephew and his friend."
"Nephew?" Her surprise sounds genuine. "I didn't know Josiah had a son, before he…" she trails off awkwardly.
"Yeah, well, it's not the first bastard of the Salvatore family," Zach sounds too flat to be joking. She wonders if the human Salvatores of Mystic Falls carry a stigma all the way from the Civil War, or if illegitimacy is a recurring theme.
"Right," the Sheriff answers uncomfortably. "Would they mind each giving a statement, I know Grayson wanted to keep the kids out of it, but for the report, we just like to know what happened from their perspective."
"You...just need a statement?" He clarifies.
"Well," she sounds slightly off-kilter. She hates that she can't see. Liz's voice hushes. "Even though it looks like an accident so far, I'd like to pick up vervain for my officers. We've been lax with it, but at the meeting tomorrow I'd like to tell the council that everyone on the force is on it."
"Uh…right. Of course," Zach agrees.
"You should bring some to the meeting, I think it will set a lot of minds at ease. If you hadn't continued cultivating it, I think we'd all be at a loss."
She's only a half-step out of sight when Zach says. "Do you want me to get that first, before I call Stefan?"
It sounds too much like a hint. She skips the last step, turns the corner with a puzzled expression. "Mr. Salvatore, is everything alright?"
The door is wide open, and the Sheriff is stepping through, with the officer behind her still standing at the squad car. Zach clenches his back, and doesn't immediately turn to her.
She ignores him, stepping forward and sideways so the Sheriff only has her in her direct line of sight. Nothing in Liz's expression gives away worry or fear. And Liz is a lousy actor. "Is this for our statements? Stefan will be down in just a second. We might, um, go to a movie together," she stuffs her hands into the back pocket of her jeans, biting her lip. "You know, something…normal."
Sheriff Forbes smiles in sympathy, seeing Casey as an out-of-depth teenager. And Casey sees an overworked mother, with the pain of losing a good friend wearying her eyes. "I understand, you're too young to have seen what you had to last night."
She swallows. "I'm glad Stefan was there. All I did was call the ambulance. He's the one who saved two people."
And when Stefan steps up to her side, Liz's smile is pure gratitude.
"I have an idea, for the funeral tomorrow." She glances at Stefan after Sheriff Forbes and Officer Franklin drive off with a burlap sack of vervain, and Zach apologizes for the vervain Stefan had stepped into the basement to see. It wasn't because of you. It was Damon. In case he came back.
"Switching out the vervain?" he muses, without any real interest.
"No," she nibbles on the corner of her lip. "I think Grayson expects that. He wanted you to know Zach is supplying the council, and that you can't stop it unless you want the council suspicious."
Stefan's expression doesn't change. He's realized the point of Liz's visit as well, even if Grayson was never mentioned. He's more Machiavellian than she expected. And she knows that because this visit didn't happen originally.
"What's your idea?" he wonders, his voice and his crossed arms giving away his support to strike back. He wouldn't blink if she said they need to dig up ten more graves.
"Well, I was thinking about…breaking into his office?"
Here's what she knows about Grayson Gilbert's clinic. First, when Elena was a girl, he tortured vampires in its basement. And second, John Gilbert in a future where his brother is dead, burns it down.
Those two things might not be connected. But maybe.
And vampires can enter clinics, even if they have to break a window to do it.
There's an embalming table in the torture room, in the one room morgue. Ordinary but for the bucket of rope soaking in vervain. Stefan is on the other side of the door, breathing shallowly, when the smell becomes overpowering. The vervain is cloying.
"Are you okay?"
He shakes his head tightly, but answers that he's fine.
She gives up her search in another five minutes, certain that the Augustine journals aren't here. She's not totally ready to give them up as lost in Whitmore. She wants to check his office first.
"Why does he do it," Stefan asks quietly "torture them?"
So, he knew what he was looking at, in that room, even with the electrodes stored away.
"It's like Zach said. He's won awards. Saved kids," she repeats flatly. Why Grayson does this, and the organization he's a part of, is a lot to unpack right now. She isn't sure he'll keep his cool if he finds out what was done to Damon.
They make it up to Grayson's office. Stefan breaks the lock by turning it past the point of resistance without even leaving a mark.
But it won't lock back up when they leave. Grayson will know someone was here.
There's a wall of pictures. Of cards. Of children's smiling faces. A hundred of them.
Thank you Dr. Gilbert and Merry Christmas Dr. Gilbert and I've graduated the 5th grade! and We can't tell you how grateful we are.
"He tortures vampires, and he saves kids," Stefan says, staring at the wall.
"Yeah, that's where I'm at with it too," she shrugs ruefully, making her way behind the desk.
No college-bound journals. His desk is neat and orderly, with prime of place given to pictures of his family. The books behind him are all medical in nature. Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. Grey's Anatomy. Gold-leafed titles in leather bound, and…
A book about the writings of St. Augustine. The one thing that isn't like the others.
She holds her breath as she slowly pulls it out of the stack.
And hidden away in the cut pages, is a hard drive.
She asks Stefan if they should leave a note, something in the line of 'A secret for a secret'.
He takes a deep breath, with the memory of vervain in his lungs, in his veins, and a possibility of what could have happened the other night, and says, simply, no.
She sips at an unappetizing green smoothie that tastes like algae and kale, while she explains the process of pretending to be a vampire groupie to Stefan.
"You met this goth girl who talked about how this vampire named Slater is going to turn her, here in Richmond, and drop in some true lore about vampires."
"And that's how you want to get in touch with him, through an online chat," he raises his brows at her.
"There are enough people out there that make sure pertinent information about the supernatural is hidden in a marriage of myth. He's one of them, and he's established himself as part of the network of knows someone who knows someone who knows someone."
He taps at the keyboard without pressing down. "What's the girl's name?"
She crinkles her brow. "I don't remember," she admits. "I only had one vision of her helping Elena after Slater was killed."
"And so, you want me to play the vampire groupie, on the internet," he deadpans.
She shrugs. "Can't you just say what women have said to you?"
He makes a face, like she's said something ridiculous. "I've never had vampire groupies."
She abandons her smoothie, less joking and more focused on the nuances of his expression. "You're kidding. Or you're embarrassed. Don't be, honestly."
"I'm not," he says it like he means it, like she's the one still being ridiculous for suggesting it.
"You never had a hanger on who wanted you to turn her, or wanted the," she uses air quotes "'vampire experience'?"
She knows other vampires do it, had met them, had seen them and 'seen' them. But her understanding makes Stefan look away, become distant without even moving out of reach.
"I know that lifestyle exists," he explains "but I don't agree. I wouldn't want to use people that way."
She observes his expression quietly, the statue he's become. This is a Stefan that no matter the hardships hasn't turned off his humanity. Hadn't bent on a moral code that was more human than vampire. More human than her own.
"Okay," she agrees after a moment, abandons her approach to Slater, to the message boards. "We won't try what's-her-names method. We'll just be…direct."
Need: To break into a password locked hard drive. Born in the 1800's so I don't know how. Heard mention of a Richmond vampire named Slater who is a whiz at computers. Anyone know his information to get in touch? Keywords: vampires. vervain. Stake to the heart. Daylight. Mirrors and crucifixes and garlic are myths. Dracula never existed.
The responses pour in. All she has Stefan send back is 'if a vampire named Rose is staying with you, then tell her I met her in Brookland'.
More bogus messages. Which character is Rose in vampire literature?
Eternal74 sends a phone number.
It's Rose who answers, curious but not surprised to hear Stefan's voice.
"And what do you want with Slater?"
"Help in breaking into a hard drive."
"And what makes you think Slater can help you?"
She gets that Rose is pulling the gate keeper act, that she's wary of being called out directly. She wants to know Stefan, and her, trustworthiness. 500 years of running has that effect.
Casey pips in over the speaker phone. "I heard his name around the boarding house, and you and your companion mentioned him."
It's silent for a moment as Rose processes that, chooses whether or not to believe her.
It is true, but with a slant.
When the phone is transferred to Slater, the first thing he asks is when was Stefan turned.
Stefan looks at her in question. She shrugs.
"By Katherine Pierce, correct? You and your brother Damon?"
"Yes," he answers dryly.
"Sorry, if you consider that personal. I'm creating a database of known vampires and their bloodlines. Katherine Pierce is pretty infamous. Or was, there are conflicting reports about whether she's dead."
Stefan pulls a deep breath into his lungs. Casey sips at her smoothie, trying not to make a face. She's still anemic, so she does it without complaint.
"So I've heard," Stefan agrees.
Slater warns with Stefan's computing power, no matter Slater's code, it could take days or weeks for the hard drive to unlock.
If they bring it to Slater in Richmond, it could be done in a few hours, even less if Grayson picked something simple.
"So, should I expect you?" Slater offers.
Stefan and she share a look, wondering how badly they want the hard drive cracked, and if they're willing to risk Slater, and Rose and Trevor, and Richmond.
The 1st scene is a vison Casey had of the aftermath of Miranda and Grayson's funeral. It's my interpretation of why Jenna hated John.
Next: devil may care.
Paging Dr. Gilbert.