Chapter 3

Nearly six months after the accident at Wickery Bridge, he still maintained his post. The vampire had only commanded him to watch her until safe, and there laid the implication. The crow wasn't sure whether he was supposed to just stay for that one night only.

The crow was no stranger to Mystic Falls, having lived there for all his five years, and had seen many a predator come and go from the area. Vampires were nothing new, but nothing short of dangerous. Even as a hatchling, he knew to give them a wide berth. As wise as the crow was, he was as opportunistic as any other bird, and he'd adopted the habit of picking on the remains of a vampire's meal.

Crows are highly social birds and always stick near their flock. However, too often he would come back to his nest smelling like a vampire, and he soon found himself fighting with the others. Even the crows that had hatched alongside him showed animosity. It got to a point where he could no longer get near his nest without claws and beaks threatening to shred him. He was forced to leave as if he were an intruder.

As lonely as the crow was, he still refused to get too close to the vampire that enslaved him. Of course, at this point the vampire's hold had faded and he could go when it pleased him, but he stayed. It was in exchange for being alienated by his own species, the vampire had given a trade-off.

The human.

In the first couple of weeks that the crow spent watching over Elena Gilbert, he found her to be quite a pleasant human. Many birds were frightened of humans, but crows could adapt to their presence. His nest resided in the woods near Wickery Bridge which was a prime camping spot, perfect for a scavenger. Overall, he showed indifference toward humans and ignored them for the most part. But his orders were clear to keep an eye on Elena, and she quickly piqued the crow's interest.

Elena and her brother, Jeremy, stayed at the Forbes' residence until their Aunt would arrive to gain custody. The siblings dealt with their loss differently, almost separately, which saddened Elena even more deeply. The crow watched as she would try to be there and talk with Jeremy, only to constantly be pushed away and ignored. The residents of the household, the Sheriff, Caroline, and occasionally Bonnie, did the best they could to console them. However, with Jeremy acting out and Elena needing her brother, it was an uphill struggle. Sometimes, Elena would take to the couch and be writing for hours in her diary.

The couch had been placed below a window facing the backyard. With no tree to perch on he still had to follow the vampire's orders, so he did something quite brazen. Elena had let out a sharp gasp when the crow landed on the windowsill beside her. The crow cawed out the equivalent of a laugh when she nearly leapt from the couch.

Elena had spent a good few minutes trying to shoo him away, but he had orders to follow and wouldn't budge. Exasperated, she dropped the effort of trying to chase away some stubborn bird and went back to her diary. Every day she would occupy this part of the living room, and when no one was home but her, she would voice her thoughts and writings aloud.

She would simply talk with him, prattling off writing ideas and entries and asking for the crow's unspoken opinions. Sometimes the crow would make some form of cackling noise in response. When he did that, Elena would grin at him in response, maybe even a rare chuckle. The crow had become a constant during a tumultuous part of her life, and both were benefitting from each other's little companionship.

Then, the finalization came and their Aunt gained custody of the siblings, enabling them to move back into their home. Elena certainly benefitted from finally having another family member to talk to, but Jeremy more or less hadn't changed. Much to their chagrin, he still snuck out only to come back during the early hours of the morning.

It seemed that since Elena had moved back in, her demeanor changed. Her energy was still tired and her diary was never too far away, but after realizing the crow had followed her back to her home she appeared more relaxed - relieved? The crow wasn't quite sure, but he certainly wasn't complaining.

Not only did Elena begin talking to him more frequently, but she started leaving tidbits for him, scraps from the kitchen. To express gratitude for her kindness, he'd set off in search of something for her. The objects were almost always shiny or reflective, so you can imagine her surprise - and the vampire's anger - when the bird brought her a lapis lazuli ring that he found within the boarding house. The vampire never knew whether the bird was screwing with him or not when he did that, but the crow did bring the ring back upon command.

This became a routine for Elena and him. She would find food to give, and he would leave to find something for her; bits of aluminum, a broken cell phone part, stripped wiring, and pens were among the few. Whatever he brought to her she'd either display in her room or put it in a drawer for safekeeping. Every now and again he would find rocks, too. But these were often a burden to carry, given the shape or size. However, he'd found a stone that felt as light as air and, despite its size, he took off with it. When he got to Elena's open window, he flew onto the sill and gave a muffled trill before setting the stone down.

At first, it seemed like she didn't hear him, but then she turned to face the wall. She exhaled deeply. "Today will be different," she said, repeating the words she had written. "It has to be." This time, she looked down to the crow sitting across from her on the windowsill. "It's the first day of school. If I can make it through today..." She paused to get lost in her thoughts, until she realized what the crow had brought.

The stone appeared to be some kind of quartz. It fit in the palm of her hand and was as smooth as glass. After taking a few too many minutes to marvel at it, she realized how late she was going to be. She thanked the crow before hiding her diary, tossing the stone into a desk drawer, and ran downstairs.

"My god," she heard her Aunt groan from the kitchen. When Elena finally reached the coffee maker she saw Jenna holding a hand to her forehead. "It's your first day of school and I am totally unprepared." She began rifling through the fridge. "Toast? Eggs? I can make toast and eggs!"

"We don't need food," Jeremy said, strolling into the kitchen to grab a travel mug. "Not when Elena makes a gallon of coffee every morning." Elena rolled her eyes, then protested when Jeremy took the coffee pot from her.

"Are you sure, 'cause I-"

"We'll be fine Aunt Jenna," Elena assured. "Just focus on your presentation today."

"Well considering I'm supposed to be giving it now," Jenna panted as she began fussing quickly over herself. "I'd say it's off to a pretty interesting start. Do you have everything? Do you-"

"Go," Jeremy and Elena told her. Jenna left, and a few minutes later, Jeremy and Elena's rides came for them as well. It was unbeknownst to Elena of the kind of day she was going to have. However, as she watched the crow hovering high over Bonnie's car, she thought that something seemed off. The bird had never gone near Bonnie's car before. Elena shook her head rapidly, trying to blame it on her nerves.

On the evening prior to the first day of the school year, the crow had finished scavenging and was ready to head for his nest. During his flight, he spied a familiar face. Quick as a shot, he reeled around and flew rapidly to the boarding house.

He was standing in the study adjacent to his bedroom, pinning more thumbtacks onto a map of the eastern U.S. The corkboard also had enough space for extra things like newspaper clippings, but his search attempts so far, surprisingly, yielded none. Which made it all the more vexing. He needed more time to think, and the arrival of a certain bird was not going to help. He was about to force him to come back later when the crow started shrieking incessantly. At first, he could feel himself getting a migraine and was beyond aggravated, but then he realized that the crow would only be acting like this for a reason. Damon immediately loomed over him and closed his eyes. He willed images from the crow's mind into his and was not happy with what he saw.

An irritated snarl rattled him. "Why," he exclaimed. "Why the hell now?" He looked the crow in the eyes. "Find Elena and stay with her. If anything strange comes up, find me."

Just as the crow took flight into the evening, the front door of the house swung open. Damon cursed and sped downstairs. Before entering the foyer, he squared his shoulders and mussed his dark hair irately. The downstairs was extremely quiet, the front door was closed, nothing was disturbed. A human off their guard would've tucked themselves back into bed without a care. Of course, humans weren't vampires.

It was obvious to him that there was another presence in the boarding house. He walked soundlessly from the foyer and towards the living room where he saw the illumination from a reading lamp. And then, there was the clink of one of his decanters.

With a forced, devilish smile, he settled his shoulder on the archway of the living room. "Hello, brother."

The brother in question was frozen to the spot, mouth opened in pure astonishment. Guardedly, he slowly set the decanter down, never taking his eyes from Damon. "What are you doing here," he muttered steadily.

"I'm pretty certain I live here," Damon shrugged.

Stefan shook his head. "You hate it here. So, unless you're here to antagonize me...But you didn't even know I was coming..."

"Well, you're right. I'm not here for you." Damon stepped into the living room to begin lighting the fireplace. Stefan remained where he was. "Hey, while you're over there, mind pouring me a glass?"

"Answer me, Damon," Stefan demanded, his hands not leaving his sides.

"My reasons are my own." Damon placed the fire poker aside once a flame ignited. Then, he shoulder-checked Stefan to get to the alcohol. "You being here," he smirked cruelly at the ceiling. "is just an added bonus. What about you? Or are you finally as secretive as I am?" He waggled his eyebrows.

Stefan shook his head. "It's nothing you'd care about." He brushed past Damon and headed for the staircase.

"Oh come on, Stefan," Damon cajoled. "I've decided to take a vacation from making your life miserable."

Under the arch of the entryway, Stefan halted and spun on his heels. "A vacation," he repeated incredulously.

Damon poured out the rest of the scotch and plopped himself down onto the couch. "I've got bigger fish to fry," he said calmly and casually. "So whatever broody or poignant reason you have for visiting, I don't really give a crap."

Did Stefan trust him? No? This was Damon, for god's sake. But did he believe him?

Damon made it a point to make his life a living hell. He knew Damon better than anyone, so he could hear the obvious ulterior motive in his voice. Stefan cocked his head. Something was different, though. There was a new edge to the way he spoke. Whatever he was scheming, Stefan didn't know whether he was going to do something to him, or in spite of him. There were no other options that Damon chose when it came to his little brother.

He stood up straighter, and Damon raised an eyebrow expectantly. Stefan came back to Mystic Falls for one purpose. And he might not be as strong or agile as Damon, but he knew his brother's mentality. Perhaps he was fooling himself into thinking he would be able to keep up with him, but he saw no other choice. Would Damon ever kill him? No, that's not the name of his game. But whatever he was going to throw his way, Stefan would deal with it one day at a time. And who knows? Maybe someday he'd get the upper hand.

Sometimes you've just got to live with your demons.

"I'm not visiting," Stefan said after a while. "I'm staying. I need to try and live normally again."

Damon deliberated for a moment. "This isn't one of Lexi's Twelve-Step Program's, is it? There is no shame in admitting you have a problem, little brother." Damon reached for another decanter, this time bringing a bottle of crimson liquid to his lips, his wide smirk never leaving his face.

"No," Stefan growled in frustration. "I'm doing this because I want to. I'm doing this for me."

Damon gasped widely and clapped a hand over his chest. "And you're not here just for me? Selfish!"

Stefan rolled his eyes and began turning back to the stairs. "Please," he scoffed. "Even if I knew you'd be here, the only family I'd ever come back to is Zach." Stefan almost missed the hissing exhale that came from Damon. "What is it now," he asked in exasperation.

"Nothing, nothing," he heard Damon spout quickly, but Stefan was alert. His tone became patronizing, and he knew this wasn't going to be good. "It's just...Zach's a little MIA right now."

The boarding house fell quiet and Stefan could almost hear the sickening laughter in Damon's head. "Where. Is. Zach?"

"He was a good guy and all, but a little on the dim side." As Damon spoke from the living room, Stefan was still staring up at the staircase, knuckles turning ghost-white as he gripped the banister until it splintered. "And for years, I thought he was smart enough to fear at least one of us, until his fear gave him an adrenaline kick. Or, I don't know, he might've hit the lottery that night and he was just feeling lucky. Either way, it's not my fault-"

"Where is he, Damon!"

"It was in self-defense-"

"Damon!" Stefan's yell deafened the boarding house as his eyes began glowing, veins crackling like firing beneath the skin of his face.

Finally, Damon spoke and Stefan could hear the smirk. "Deader than a cemetery."

With a final roar, Stefan tore off a section of the banister and used every ounce of his energy to rip through the house and into the living room. Blindly, he aimed for Damon who was still sprawled on the couch and drove the weapon down with raging force. Once the stake had been lodged into the couch, no blood, no mess, only then did Stefan's head clear enough to realize he wasn't quick enough.

Before he could make a counter move, Stefan could no longer breathe as he was hoisted by his throat and thrown down onto the glass coffee table near the fireplace. His eyes snapped shut at the spray of glass before he felt the banister stake being stabbed into his ribcage, just shy of his heart.

Damon smiled and knelt down to pat his shoulder, the motion jarring Stefan's body. "I give you points for drama," he said jovially.

The hand that was on Stefan's shoulder moved to the stake, and Damon gave it a vicious twist. Stefan gasped when a rib snapped. Among the crackling from the fireplace and the ringing in his ears, Stefan just barely made out what his brother said next.

"Don't ever try that again."