Author's Note: This is an alternate universe story that takes place directly after the Season 1 finale, 'Founder's Day', with one slight difference, and takes the story in a different direction. The first few pages of this story are taken directly from that episode. Written April 2011.
Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters, and I'm not making any money from these stories.
Warning: Non consensual disciplinary spanking of a teen by an authority figure.



SHUT IT OUT

While getting ready for the Founder's Day parade, Jeremy kept thinking about his parents. They'd always gotten excited about Founder's Day, and their enthusiasm was contagious. He could picture his mother's smile while they watched the parade, and smiled himself. He always missed them, but today was worse than usual. The smile faded as quickly as it had come. With a sigh, he put on his confederate jacket and looked at himself in the mirror.

Anna walked into his room, and smiled, thinking Jeremy was the last good thing she had to hold onto in this town.

Jeremy saw her. "Anna."

"Look at you," She said with a sweet smile.

He chuckled. "I know, it's stupid, huh? Part of the parade. How are you? I've been so worried, and I feel awful."

"Why? You didn't kill my mother. Your uncle did."

Jeremy hated the thought of that. "Are you sure it was him?"

"Who else would have done it?"

"He doesn't understand, Anna." Jeremy said, trying to make her see his uncle in a different light. "It's who he is. He hates all vampires. He's just doing what he thinks is right."

With a glare Anna said, "Are you defending him?"

"No!" He was quick to clarify. "No way. It's just I do understand where he's coming from. He's convinced that all the tomb vampires want revenge on this town, and he's just… he's trying to protect it."

"They do want revenge. Or at least they did. That's why we separated from them. My mom wasn't after revenge; she just wanted her life back. I have to get out of this town, Jeremy."

"You're leaving?" he asked with a frown.

"I've been thinking." She got closer to him, and looked into his eyes. "You could come with me. I could turn you. You said you wanted me to." She handed him a small glass vial with red liquid inside. "Here. It's my blood. If you die with it in your system, you'll come back."

He didn't know what to say. "Anna…"

"I know you. What it's like for you. Being alone. Always feeling empty inside. No one to understand. But when you're a vampire, you don't have to feel that way. You can shut it off. I can show you how."

He turned and took a few steps away, trying to collect his thoughts. "I wanted to, but now… I don't think I can. Sorry." He turned to see her reaction, only to find his room empty. He sighed and stuck the vile of blood in his top desk drawer, and continued getting ready.

Once he got to the parade grounds, he wandered around until it was time to get on the float, hoping to avoid his sister. After reading her diary and finding out that she'd been lying to him for months, he was upset. But after reading that she'd had his memory erased, he wanted nothing to do with her. Unfortunately, she was persistent when she felt guilty. He saw her coming his way, and kept walking.

Elena found jogging the few feet to her brother was difficult in the cumbersome period costume. The corset made it difficult to breathe, and the skirt was so wide, she kept bumping into things without realizing it. Once she reached him, she fell into step beside him. With a smile she tried starting a conversation, "Jeremy. I was wondering where you were. You look great. You guys did a really great job on the float."

Without glancing her way he said, "Go away Elena."

"Jeremy come on please!" she begged. "I don't want it to be like this between us."

Angry that she thought things could be normal between them again so soon, he turned to confront her. "Then why don't you have Damon erase my memory again. Then I can go back to being your in the dark little brother again."

"Jer… Please."

"Just don't! You can't fix this that easily. Something like this just doesn't… get fixed." He walked away, and she let him this time.

During the parade itself, Jeremy rode the float and goofed off with his classmates. Once it was done, he quickly changed clothes and went to get some lunch at The Grill. When he was half way done with his lunch, he saw Elena come in. He started eating faster, when he saw her make a beeline for his table. He was pleased when Damon intercepted her, and he listened in on their conversation.

Damon said, "I like you better like this. The period look didn't suit you."

"Is that an insult?"

"Actually Elena, it's a complement of the highest order."

She smiled, but after a moment to think about it, she said, "Look, I know Stefan is worried about our friendship."

With a conspiratory smile he said, "Did he mention something to you, too?"

"No, did he mention something to you?"

"No." He shrugged and added, "Nothing worth repeating."

"So I think you should stop with the flirty little comments, and that eye thing you do."

Damon did the eye thing with a flirty smile, and said, "What eye thing?"

With complete sincerity, Elena said, "Don't make me regret being your friend."

Damon's smile faded quickly when he realized she was serious. He swallowed once, and gave her a tiny, but honest, nod of understanding.

Once Elena saw it, she went to Jeremy's table. "I don't believe that we can't fix this. I lied. I was wrong. But you're my brother Jer, and I love you. And I have to fix it. So just tell me. What can I do?"

With sincerity of his own, Jeremy said, "You can go to hell Elena." He walked away before she could get over her shock. He failed to see Damon's reaction to their conversation.

# # #

Damon watched as Elena tried not to cry, and fury build inside him. It seemed the more time he spent with Elena, the more difficult it became to shut out his emotions, and now it was almost to the point where he simply couldn't do it anymore. He saw Elena head to the bathroom, probably to cry, and stalked off after Jeremy.

He caught up to the kid quickly, and mocked, "I have so many emotions, but I don't have anyway to express them. Being a teenager is so hard."

Jeremy had glanced behind him the second he'd heard Damon's voice, but kept walking, intending to ignore the vampire. But the mocking got under his skin, and he muttered, "You dick."

Seriously irritated, Damon said, "You do not talk to me like that, I'm not your sister. And from now on…" He grabbed Jeremy's upper arm, and forced him turn and face him. "…don't talk to your sister that way either." He let the kid go waiting to see what he had to say.

"So what? You're gonna kill me just 'cause I hurt Elena's feelings?"

Trying not to rise to Jeremy's tone, Damon said, "Cut her some slack."

"She erased my memory!"

"No, I did." He paused to let that sink in, before adding, "She was protecting you." He waited, expecting Jeremy to see the logic in that, and turn his anger away from his sister and towards him.

"That wasn't her call to make." Jeremy said, and turned to walk away.

Frustrated, Damon grabbed the kid's arm again, and yanked him back to continue the conversation. He dug his fingers into the kid's arm for good measure, and was pleased with the wince he saw.

Trying not to panic, Jeremy kept his voice steady and whispered, "Let go of me before I cause a scene."

"You'd be unconscious before you even got a word out." Damon dug his fingers in a little more, unwilling to let him go until they came to some kind of agreement.

Stefan was suddenly next to them with a hand on Damon's arm. He said calmly, "Let him go."

Damon and Jeremy faced off for a few more seconds before Damon let go.

Relieved, Jeremy backed up a step.

Stefan stepped in between them, and put a hand on Jeremy. He asked with concern, "You alright?"

Jeremy was sure he'd have a bruise on his arm, but nodded anyway. "Yeah."

Stefan let his hand fall. Always the voice of reason, Stefan said quietly, "What my brother is trying to say, is don't blame Elena for this. Damon turned Vicki. I killed her. She was a threat to you, and she was a threat to your sister. I'm sorry that it happened, I wish that it hadn't."

After a second to think it over, Jeremy said, "You shouldn't have made me forget." He made eye contact first with Stefan and then with Damon before walking away.

Damon smiled at the back of Stefan's head and said, "Good cop, bad cop. I like it."

"What are you doing?" Stefan asked, frustrated more than usual with his older brother.

Damon nodded towards Jeremy's retreating back and said, "He's being a punk."

"Elena's relationship with her brother is none of your business, so stay out of it."

"Oh there's only one do-gooder hero role available." Damon faked a chuckle. "My bad, I'm sorry."

"Get over yourself. We both know that you're not doing this for the right reasons."

"See there you go with that little jealousy act again. What are the right reasons, Stefan? Enlighten me, please."

"See Damon, it's only real when it comes from your desire to do the right thing for nothing in return."

"Right." Damon nodded.

"Yeah, and I know that that is an entirely foreign concept to you, I completely understand how you wouldn't get it." Stefan grinned and walked away.

Damon almost tackled his little brother right there on the fairgrounds, but decided there were more subtle ways to get back at him.

# # #

Too annoyed to go home, Jeremy wandered the fairgrounds until it started to get dark. He went back to The Grill, and found Anna, who'd been looking for him.

She said, "We've got to talk," and pulled him towards the women's restroom.

Surprised and worried, Jeremy let her pull him in. Once they were alone together, she said, "The tomb vampires are planning their revenge right here, right now."

"What!?"

"It gets better. Your Uncle is also planning revenge. He's going to use a device to incapacitate all the vampires, and he has a group of 'deputies' who are going to help round them up."

Knowing that there would be blood shed on both sides, Jeremy whispered, "We have to so something."

"That's not all, Damon said the device won't work."

He took a second to think about that. "It will be a bloodbath."

Anna nodded. She was about to tell him to go home, but before she could, something went wrong. She screamed and held her head with both hands. A high pitched whine pierced her skull, blocking out all her other senses.

"What's wrong?" Jeremy asked, and put his arms around her when she started to sink to her knees. He couldn't hear or see anything that would make her react this way. "What's wrong, Anna? What can I do?"

"The noise!" She screamed. Tears of pain rolled down her face. She pushed on the sides of her head as hard as she could, but it didn't help block out any of the noise. She could barely sense Jeremy's presence.

Jeremy turned to the door when two deputies came in. Relieved to see adults, he said, "Something's wrong. Help her please!"

One of the deputies called, "We've got another one."

Suddenly the relief was gone, and all that Jeremy could feel was terror when one deputy pulled Anna out of his arms, while the other held him back. He struggled and yelled, "Anna! Annaaaa!"

A few seconds after Anna was out of the room, Jeremy stopped struggling. The deputy let him go, but stood in front of the door, blocking his way for the next few minutes. Jeremy knew it was pointless, but yelled, "What are you going to do with her?"

"Sorry kid. This is for the best."

"Do you even know what they're going to do to her?" He asked with disgust. "Or are you just following orders?"

"That thing was a danger to you."

Crossing his arms, Jeremy said, "You sound like a good Nazi soldier."

The man shook his head. "You're lucky you're underage, or I'd kick your ass for that comment."

They glared at each other for the next few seconds, until the deputy heard, "All clear," over his radio.

Once the man left, Jeremy made his way out to main lobby, expecting to see chaos. But instead, he saw nothing out of the ordinary. There were people playing pool, people eating dinner, people drinking at the bar, and people visiting with friends. Jeremy frantically scanned the restaurant for anyone with a look of horror or disbelief on their face, but found no one. He had such an overwhelming feeling of deja vu, that he couldn't breath.

He stumbled to the door, shoved it open, and rushed out into the night. Knowing he couldn't stop the injustice about to occur, he walked towards home. He pulled the hood of his hoodie up, to try and hide his tears from the people on the street.

Helpless. That's how he felt all the time now. Catastrophic things happened to him, and to the people he loved, and he was helpless to stop them. His parents death had messed him up for so long, he wasn't sure he'd ever get over it. And then he'd found some solace in Vicki, or maybe he'd found solace in the drugs he took with her, but either way, he'd had moments of feeling good for the first time in a long time. Then she'd been ripped away from him, and even though he couldn't remember it, he still felt the empty void she'd left in him. Now Anna had been literally ripped away from him too, and there was nothing could do. Because everyone around him was older, stronger, faster, or more influential than he was. The thought of being able to shut out his humanity, and turn off his emotions became more and more appealing, the longer he thought about it.

# # #

Damon woke up in a basement surrounded by other vampires. The vervain was still pulsing through his veins, so moving was next to impossible. Straining, he lifted his head off the ground. Anna was lying on the floor a few feet away, pleading with John Gilbert. He watched bastard drive a stake into her heart. John poured gasoline all over the basement, and tossed a match into it on his way out.

Damon tried to move away from the flames, hearing the others scream as they burned. Suddenly Stefan was next to him, pulling him up, and dragging him up the stairs. Damon could have sworn the stairs were engulfed in flames moments ago, but the brothers didn't have any problems walking up them, and out into the night air, where Bonnie and Elena were waiting for them. The second he saw Bonnie, he understood, and found himself grateful.

Bonnie glared at Damon and said, "I'll see you guys later."

Elena said, "We've got to call the fire department, before the whole building goes up in flames."

Stefan nodded in agreement. She pulled out her cell phone, and he said, "I'll get Damon out of here, and meet you at The Grill."

She walked away and made the call.

Once she was gone, Damon turned to Stefan and said, "Why?"

Stefan patted him on the shoulder once and shrugged, "You're my brother."

They looked at each other for a few seconds, trying to figure the other out. Stefan wrapped an arm around his brother to help him walk, and said, "Come on, let's get you home."

Feeling like a jerk for the way he'd taunted Stefan earlier that day, Damon pushed his little brother away and said, "Go look after Elena. I'm fine."

Stefan rolled his eyes. "You're not fine."

Forcing himself to stand up straight, Damon said, "I am fine, and I don't like her out here alone right now. What if some of the vampires didn't get caught, and are looking for revenge?"

Stefan turned worried eyes in the direction Elena had left. Damon gave him a push in that direction and said, "I'll be there in a minute."

Once he was alone, Damon winced, and forced his feet to walk towards The Grill. It took him a while, but soon he was at the front door. He was about to enter, when he heard his brother's voice. "I try so hard to hate him. I guess it's just pointless."

Damon let his hand fall, and heard Elena's response. "You care about him. So do I. But I love you Stefan. And I know you're worried about that."

"No I just… I know my brother."

"I love you Stefan."

"I know the trouble he can cause."

"I love you Stefan. You. You have nothing to worry about."

Feeling like an ass, Damon scowled. He'd done nothing but cause his brother worry and heartache over Elena, and his brother had walked through fire to save him. He'd repeatedly made Elena's life more difficult, and here she was telling Stefan she cared about him. He turned towards home, but as he walked away, he heard Elena say, "I called Jenna. She said Jeremy is already home, so I'm going to go pick up my stuff at the school and then go home to check on him."

"Jeremy." Damon whispered to himself while thinking about Anna, and headed to the Gilbert house.

# # #

Lying in bed, Jeremy held the vile of Anna's blood in his hand, and missed her. He thought about drinking it, but without Anna, he didn't see the point. He walked over, and put it back in the desk drawer. When he turned back around, he was startled to see Damon standing in his doorway. "What are you doing here?"

"Anna's dead," Damon said, knowing there wasn't a nice way to break that kind of news.

Jeremy sat on the edge of his desk, shoulders slumped, and muttered, "I figured that once they took her away."

"I know you cared about her."

"Yeah I did."

"I saw her killed." Damon said. "I was watching and all I could think about was… I wanted to help her, but I couldn't." He still couldn't believe that he'd wanted to help Anna, but it was true. Elena had opened the door to his humanity, and now he was finding it very difficult to shut it out, even when it came to people he didn't want to care about.

"Why are you telling me all this?" Jeremy asked.

Damon walked closer. "I took away your suffering once before. I can do it again. But it's your choice."

Jeremy shook his head. There was no anger, only sadness in his voice when he said, "Look, I know you think you took it away, but it's still there. Even if I can't remember why, I still feel empty… alone. And making me forget won't fix it. It won't fix what's really wrong."

Damon felt a rush of remorse for what he'd done to make Jeremy so unhappy. He said with unusual sincerity, "What I did to Vicki…was wrong. I'm sorry for my part." Damon turned to leave, not sure what else to do for the kid.

Jeremy's voice stopped him before Damon got to the door. "Anna said that vampires don't have to feel pain. That they can turn it off if they shut out their humanity."

Damon made eye contact again. "That's very true."

"Is it easier that way?"

"Is what easier?"

"Life."

Shaking his head Damon answered, "Life sucks either way, Jeremy." He thought about the awful way he was feeling right now, and added, "At least if you're a vampire, you don't have to feel bad about it if you don't want to."

"Is that what you did?"

"I did it for… I did it for a very long time. And life was a lot easier." Damon left quietly, thinking more about his own feelings and problems than about Jeremy's.

As soon as the vampire was out of his room, Jeremy got up, took the vile out of his desk, and choked the liquid down. Once the foul tasting stuff was gone, he went into the bathroom to find the sleeping pills the doctor had prescribed for Elena right after their parents had died. He looked at himself in the mirror, and nodded once. He couldn't keep living in misery. This way he wouldn't have to feel anything he didn't want to feel.

# # #

Damon walked out the front door of the Gilbert house, only to see Elena coming up the stairs.

"What are you doing here?" She asked.

"Failed and feeble attempt at doing the right thing."

"Which was?"

He smiled. "It's not important." Getting serious, he said, "You know, I came to this town wanting to destroy it, and tonight I… found myself wanting to protect it. How's that happen? I'm not a hero Elena, I don't do good. It's not in me."

"Maybe it is."

"No." Damon looked away. "No that's reserved for my brother… and you… and Bonnie. Even though she has every reason to hate me, she still helped Stefan save me."

"Why do you sound so surprised?"

He walked closer to her and said softly, "Because she did it for you. Which means that somewhere along the way you decided that I was worth saving. I wanted to thank you for that."

She smiled, "You're welcome."

Damon leaned in to kiss her forehead, but Elena's aunt Jenna opened the front door before he touched her. He took a step back.

"It's late," Jenna said, aiming a suspicious glare at the man who was way too old for her niece. "You should probably come inside."

Damon watched Elena go in, but once the door was shut, he couldn't shake the feeling that something was off. He walked home slowly, trying to figure out what had been different, and decided Elena's reaction to him had been less guarded than usual.

# # #

Jeremy woke with a start. He looked at the clock. It had only been an hour since he'd taken the sleeping pills. Had they already worked? He had trouble believing that was all it took to end his life, but he didn't feel sleepy or sick to his stomach, so he hoped that they'd worked.

He went to look at himself in the mirror. He didn't look any different. He took a deep breath. That felt normal. He put his fingers up to his neck to feel his pulse, but felt nothing. He tried fingers on the other side of his neck, and again felt no pulse. He held his breath, closed his eyes, and listened for his own heart. Instead of a heartbeat, he heard voices. His uncle and sister were talking, but the voices were so loud and clear, that Jeremy had to look behind him. Then he heard the sound of silverware, and realized they were talking in the kitchen. He focused on what they were saying for a minute, needing to know what had happened to Anna.

John said, "You know I first met Isobel when I was a teenager. I fell in love with her instantly, although I'm pretty sure she never loved me. She was special. Part of why I hate the vampires so much is because of what she became. How it ruined her. I never would have sent her to Damon had known she wanted to turn. It's my fault. I'm telling you this, because I hoped maybe you'd understand."

Jeremy knew Elena disliked John, so he was surprised to hear her say, "Thank you."

John said, "Can I help?"

"Sure."

Jeremy heard a loud thunk, and heard his uncle scream. His uncle said, "Katherine?"

Jeremy rushed to his bedroom door, but his legs got him there much faster than usual, and he ended up slamming into it. He backed up a step, shook his head once, and heard Katherine say, "Hello John, Goodbye John."

Jeremy yanked the door open, and ran down the stairs. There in the kitchen he saw his sister stabbing his uncle. "Elena?" he asked.

The girl turned to look at him. Her eyes were dark black.

Jeremy had heard that Elena looked like Katherine, but he hadn't realized they would be exactly the same. "You're Katherine?"

John sank to the floor and urgently choked out the words, "Run, Jeremy!"

Katherine yanked the knife out of John, and turned towards Jeremy. The murderous look she gave him rooted him to the spot. Her lip curled in disgust, "Gilbert."

Jeremy held his hands up in front of him defensively, as she advanced on him.

Both of them heard the front door open. Elena called out, "Jeremy?"

Katherine dropped the knife, and ran out the back door so quickly that all Jeremy could see was a blur. Jeremy rushed to John and called out, "In here Elena!" He stared at the huge red stain on his uncle's stomach. He couldn't take his eyes off it.

Elena came in, and saw the severed fingers on the counter first. She put a hand over he mouth and said, "Oh my God!" Her eyes followed the trail of blood over to John and Jeremy. Immediately knowing what needed to be done, she grabbed a couple of dishtowels off the counter, and ran to John. She put one towel over the stomach wound, and held the other towel out for Jeremy. "Wrap this around his hand."

He took the towel, and looked down at John's hand. He tentatively picked it up and wrapped the towel around it, getting blood all over on his own hands while doing it.

"What happened?" Elena asked.

"Katherine." John said.

Elena took Jeremy's free hand and put it over the towel on John's stomach. She stood and said, "Keep direct pressure on the wound. I'm calling 911."

He nodded numbly, and watched as John lost consciousness. Once John's eyes were closed, Jeremy's focus went back to the blood. His sister's voice sounded far away, as he watched the blood seeping through the towels. It felt warm and inviting on his hands.

Suddenly his eyes were sore, like a muscle that was being stretched after a long workout. His vision changed. The dim kitchen lights now seemed glaringly bright, and the spilled blood turned bright magenta. Taking a close look, he could almost say the blood was glowing. He looked at John's neck, and he could clearly see all the veins under his skin. The large vein in the neck stood out and pulsed stronger than the rest.

He swallowed, and noticed the blood that had pooled under John's hand. He pulled the hand up to look at it. As the hand got closer to his face, he felt pressure building in the front of his mouth. The pressure was released all at once, like a sneeze, as his canine teeth extended. He felt them with his tongue, surprised at how sharp they felt.

He glanced back at Elena, but couldn't see her. He could hear her in the hallway yelling up the stairs to get their Aunt Jenna out of the bathtub. Even with his face turned away, he could smell and hear the blood.

The pull was too strong. He turned back to John, yanked the towel off his hand, and brought it up to his mouth. The blood was still flowing freely where the three fingers had been severed, and Jeremy gulped it down. He sucked to get as much of it in one gulp as possible. When it wasn't coming fast enough, he dropped the hand in irritation, and went for the neck. Before his mouth could make contact, he heard someone scream.

Instinctually, he crouched over the body to defend his food, and hissed at whoever had screamed.

Elena stumbled backwards away from her brother. "Jeremy?"

His eyes went to her neck. Her skin looked like a road map of veins all pulsing with fresh food for him. Before he could leap for her, Stefan was in front of her blocking his way. Jeremy snarled in frustration.

Stefan saw the bloodlust in Jeremy's eyes, and didn't even try talking to him. Instead, he lunged forward, grabbed Jeremy by the throat, and slammed him back against the refrigerator.

Jolted out of his haze, Jeremy's fangs retracted, and his eyes went back to normal.

Stefan kept him where he was and said, "The paramedics are going to be here any second, so I'm gonna let you go, and you're going to follow me to my house to talk about what happened. Okay?"

The kid nodded, and Stefan eased the hold on his neck. Turning to Elena, Stefan said, "Tell Jenna that you don't know where Jeremy is. Tell her he probably snuck out to see Anna. Meet us at my house as soon as you can."

Instead of answering, Elena just stared at Jeremy with tears running down her face. Stefan walked to her, held her face in his hands, and rubbed her tears away with his thumbs. "We'll figure it out, okay? But right now I need you to take care of things here with Jenna and John. I'll take care of Jeremy."

Knowing he was right, she nodded. "I'll be there as soon as I can." She went to John, and wrapped the towel back around his hand.

Jeremy watched his sister and realized with growing horror what he'd just done. Stefan grabbed his arm and said, "Come on, the sirens are right out front now."

"I… I drank his blood."

"I know." Stefan pulled him towards the back door, and out into the night.

Once they were outside, Stefan said, "You can move much faster than a human now."

"Yeah, I found that out the hard way."

"We'll run to my house. I don't want to talk about this out in the open, especially after tonight."

Jeremy nodded, and the two took off together.

# # #

Damon poured himself another scotch, and tried to shut his humanity back out. He muttered, "I don't care about Anna. I never cared about Anna. I don't care about anyone in this town. If they all died tomorrow, I would feel nothing."

With a sigh, he sank down onto the couch. He stared into the fireplace, trying to make those lies become true.

He heard the front door open, and called out, "Home so soon, Stefan? I thought you'd be helping Elena with… Jeremy?"

Jeremy stopped at the threshold between the living room and the entranceway. "Hey."

Knowing Jeremy wouldn't show up on their doorstep at this hour unless something was wrong, Damon stood and asked, "What happened?"

Stefan showed up behind Jeremy, and nudged him towards the living room. Stefan pointed Jeremy to the couch, and said, "Sit down, and start talking."

The run had invigorated Jeremy, and his thoughts had turned to his stomach. The ache was much worse than regular human hunger. He needed more blood, and he needed it soon. But for now, he sat.

Damon moved to stand next to Stefan. Jeremy looked up at the two men, and then turned his eyes to the floor. He said quietly, "Anna gave me a vile of her blood this morning."

When Jeremy didn't continue, Stefan said, "And?"

Thinking about what had happened to Anna, Jeremy got pissed and glared up at Stefan. "And they killed her! She wasn't hurting anyone, but it didn't matter. They came into the bathroom, yanked her out of my arms, and I couldn't do a God damn thing to stop them!"

"Look Jeremy, I know you're angry," Stefan said. "I'm angry about it too, and we can talk about what happened to Anna later. But now I want to know what you did with her blood."

Damon started feeling something he hadn't felt in a long time. He wasn't exactly sick to his stomach, but he didn't feel well either. With apprehension he said, "What did you do, Jeremy?"

Standing so he could be at eye level with the brothers, Jeremy glared and said, "I drank it, and then I took all of Elena's sleeping pills."

Stefan put a hand on his forehead, and sighed.

Damon shouted, "You what!" Without waiting for a response, he rushed to the kid, and felt his neck for a pulse.

Jeremy pushed the hand away. "Back off!"

With a glare, Damon grabbed Jeremy's upper arm to hold him in place, and again felt for a pulse.

"I said back off!" Jeremy tried pulling his arm away, and shoving the hand away from his neck, but it didn't work.

Finding no pulse, Damon muttered, "Damn it!" He let his hands drop and said, "Was this before, or after we talked?"

"After."

Damon's stomach twisted, and he realized the feeling that had been building was guilt. This was his fault, and Elena would never forgive him. He'd turned Vicki into a vampire in the first place. He'd compelled Jeremy to forget Vicki. He'd told Jeremy about Anna's death, and then left him alone to deal with his pain, because he'd been too involved with his own issues. He groaned when he thought about the last thing he'd said to Jeremy.

Putting a hand on his stomach, Jeremy said with a wince, "I need more blood."

"More?" Damon asked. "You mean you've already had some?"

Mumbling to the ground, Jeremy said, "Yeah."

"We have some blood in the basement." Stefan said. "I'll get you some."

When Stefan was out of the room, Damon grabbed both of Jeremy's upper arms, and shook him hard. "How could you do this to Elena!"

Trying, and failing, to push the older vampire away, Jeremy yelled, "This has noting to do with Elena! This is about me! Not her, me!"

Damon shoved him back with disgust. Jeremy fell onto the couch, and stayed where he was, too nervous to move.

Running a hand through his hair, Damon shook his head. "That's the kind of garbage I've been trying to tell myself for the past hundred years, and you know what? I can't hide behind those lies anymore. You don't live in your own little universe, Jeremy. The things you do affect other people. Elena's the only family you have left. It may have been about you when you did it, but you know this will change Elena's life too."

Stefan came back, carrying a handful of blood bags. He set them on the couch, and handed one to Jeremy. Jeremy examined the bag, trying to figure out the best way to drink the blood without making a mess. Damon handed him a straw, grabbed a bag for himself, and demonstrated the best way to drink it.

Jeremy gulped it down in seconds, and reached for another bag. After draining all five of the bags Stefan had brought him, he said, "I'm still hungry."

Damon looked at Stefan pointedly.

"No," Stefan said.

"He won't be satisfied until he gets it," Damon said.

"No!" Stefan turned to Jeremy and said, "Later tonight after we talk to Elena, I'll take you to the woods, and we can find you a deer to eat."

Jeremy saw Damon roll his eyes and said, "What do you mean I won't be satisfied until I get it? Get what?"

"Fresh human blood."

Stefan yelled, "Don't you think this is going to be hard enough for Elena as it is? Now you want him to go find some unsuspecting human to kill!"

Damon yelled back, "You don't have to kill someone to drink from them, and Elena wouldn't want her brother to suffer! Don't tell me you don't remember the intense hunger from when you were first turned. After tonight he won't be so hungry, and he can switch to bagged blood. Then maybe in a few months if he wants to, he can try animal blood. But for now he needs fresh."

Taken off guard by his brother's intensity, Stefan shook his head. "You don't have any say in this. If you think helping Jeremy is going to get you closer to Elena…"

Having heard enough, Damon got in Stefan's personal space. He tried to keep his voice level, but even he could hear the anger in his voice. "No Stefan. You don't get any say in this. Jeremy is my responsibility. He turned himself a few seconds after talking to me. It's my fault, and I'm going to do my best to make up for it."

"I'm not anyone's responsibility!" Jeremy yelled. "I can take care of myself."

Both brothers ignored him. Stefan's hands balled into fists. "Don't pretend to care about this, Damon."

"I wish I didn't have to care! Believe me, I've tried not to!"

Not sure if he should believe his brother or not, Stefan shook his head and opened his mouth, but before he could speak, Damon said, "I'm doing this for the right reasons, Stefan."

Stefan searched his brother's face, and found he believed him, even though he had every reason not to given their past history. He stepped back and said, "Okay, but if Jeremy ends up killing someone, you'll have to answer to Elena."

Pleased at the trust Stefan was showing him, Damon said, "He won't." Turning to Jeremy, Damon snapped his fingers and said, "You. Come."

Standing, Jeremy crossed his arms and said, "I'm not a dog, and I don't need your help!"

Glaring, Damon took a step towards Jeremy, but Stefan stopped him with a hand to his chest. Stefan went to Jeremy, put a hand on his shoulder and said, "Are you hungry?"

"You know I am, but that doesn't mean…"

Stefan cut him off, "I can't help you with this, because I don't feed from humans anymore. If you try to do it yourself, you will end up killing someone. It's almost impossible to stop while the blood is still pumping. I know Damon isn't your favorite person, but he can help you."

Jeremy pursed his lips thinking about it. After a second he sighed. "Fine."

Stefan patted Jeremy's shoulder, and turned to Damon. "Elena will be here in a couple of hours, and she'll want to see him."

"We'll be back by then." Damon beckoned Jeremy with a crooked finger. "Come on. Time to learn how to compel people. It'll be fun."

With tired exasperation, Stefan said, "Damon."

Damon walked towards the door and called back over his shoulder, "What? It is fun."

Stefan didn't answer, but nudged Jeremy towards Damon. Jeremy followed the older vampire outside, and had to agree with Damon on this one. After feeling completely helpless for the past year, being able to compel people did sound like a lot of fun.

# # #

Fifteen minutes later, Damon and Jeremy arrived at the gas station on the outskirts of town. Damon led the way, and soon they were standing in the back, close to the public restrooms.

Damon leaned up against the wall, and said, "Okay, for the first couple, you let me compel them. You just concentrate on stopping when I tell you to, because it won't be easy. Then you should be full enough to try and compel someone yourself."

Nodding, Jeremy leaned up against the wall next to him, and held his stomach. "It's really hurting now," he muttered.

"It'll get better in a couple of days."

"Does it really get better, or do you just get used to it?"

"It gets better."

"Thank God."

A semi truck pulled into the gas station, and a few minutes later, a large middle aged man with a beard came around the corner of the building. Jeremy groaned. "Gross."

Patting the kid's shoulder, Damon said, "He'll taste plenty good."

Damon got to the man before he got to the bathroom door. "Excuse me, Sir?"

When the guy looked in his eyes, Damon compelled him. "You're going to stand still and let my friend drink some of your blood."

The man muttered, "I'm gonna stand still, and let your friend drink my blood."

Damon turned back to Jeremy and said, "The dumber they are, the quicker they listen."

He beckoned Jeremy to him. As Jeremy got closer, he felt his eyes changing. When he could see all the veins under the guy's skin, his teeth came out too. He was about to lean in to bite the guys neck, but Damon stopped him with a hand to his arm. "Bite him on the wrist. It's easier for him to explain away later. And remember to stop when I tell you."

With a nod, Jeremy yanked the man's wrist to his mouth, and bit. As the warm blood ran down his throat, the pain in his stomach receded. After a few seconds he heard Damon's voice in the distance, but had no idea what he was saying, and certainly couldn't be bothered to pay attention, when there was blood to be had. He felt a hand on his arm, pulling. He dug his teeth in deeper, and tried to shrug the hand off.

Irritated that Jeremy didn't even seem to be trying, Damon cuffed him on the side of the head, hard enough to dislodge him.

Jeremy stumbled and then snarled at Damon. Damon grabbed him by the throat in one hand, squeezed to keep him quiet, and turned back to the trucker. He said, "You're going to go to the bathroom. When you come out, you'll notice that you accidentally cut yourself on the edge of the metal sink."

The man recited those instructions, and then headed to the bathroom. Once he was gone, Damon let Jeremy go.

Jeremy had come to his senses while Damon was talking, and realized with fear that he'd completely lost control of himself while he fed. When he was let go, he rubbed the sore spot on his head and muttered, "Sorry."

"Try harder next time," Damon said with irritation.

Jeremy nodded, and leaned against the wall again.

After the trucker left the bathroom, Damon said, "How's your stomach?"

"Still hurts a little, but nothing like before."

"Good."

After a few minutes of silence, Jeremy tentatively asked, "Did you mean what you said back at the house?"

"What part?"

"That you're partially to blame."

Damon scowled. "Yes."

"So you're going to help me figure things out?"

Gesturing to the gas station, Damon said, "Well I'm not out here for my benefit."

"Right, thanks." Jeremy had heard the irritation, in Damon's voice, but still pressed on, "Will you show me how to shut out my humanity?"

Damon glared off into the distance, and said quietly, "No."

"What? Why not? You know that's why I did it!"

Damon rounded on him. "I know you made a huge mistake, and I'm here to make sure you don't make another. Shutting out your humanity won't fix the problem. It would do about as much good as compelling you to forget about Vicki. You might be able to get through the day better, but somewhere down the line all those feelings you wanted to shut out, will come back to bite you in the ass. Trust me, I'm speaking from experience. You're better off facing your problems now." Damon lost his glare and said more gently, "Give yourself some time to mourn for Vicki and Anna."

Swallowing once, Jeremy whispered, "You said life would be easier if I shut it out."

"I also said life sucks either way."

"I don't want to hurt anymore."

Damon leaned back against the wall. "Neither do I, but we're both stuck with it."

They fell into silence for a few minutes until the next customer came around the corner. Two young women dressed in high heals, short skirts, and tight tops headed towards the bathroom. Both were blondes, but one of them had hot pink highlights in her hair. The one with highlights was staggering a bit, obviously drunk, and the other was helping her walk.

"Now that's more like it," Damon said. He pushed off from the wall, put on a charming smile, and said, "Good evening ladies." Once he had eye contact, he gave them the same instructions as the trucker, and they stood still.

Damon turned to Jeremy and said, "Same as before. Do it on the wrist, and listen for my voice telling you when to stop."

Jeremy nodded and reached for a wrist. This time as he was drinking, he heard Damon tell him to stop, and he understood what Damon was saying, but still clamped down harder on the wrist he was drinking from, not wanting to let go. He felt Damon's hand on his arm, and paused in his swallowing, but didn't let go. Damon said, "Let go and try the other girl."

Remembering there was another, Jeremy let go of the wrist, but before he could grab the next girl's arm, Damon stopped him with a hand on his chest. A noise of frustration came from Jeremy's throat.

Damon said, "Now change back to normal for a few seconds, and then you can drink from the next one."

"Why?" Jeremy snarled.

"Because you need to learn control."

It took a few seconds, but eventually Jeremy was able to make himself look human.

Damon nodded and said, "Okay, go ahead, but bite this one on the other arm, and make it a little higher up. We'll compel them to believe a raccoon was in the bathroom, and bit them both."

Jeremy did as he was told, and almost felt full when he heard Damon tell him to stop. He was able to stop at the first request. Damon patted his shoulder and said, "Looks like you're ready to try compelling someone."

Jeremy grinned. "Awesome."

Damon nodded his head towards the sober girl and said, "You can try it with her."

"Okay." Jeremy moved to stand in front of the woman and said, "What do I do?"

"Let's try something easy. Tell her to put her hand on her head."

"Sure, but how do I compel her?"

"You have to say it with conviction, and you have to believe she's going to do it."

"That's it?" Jeremy didn't think it would be that easy.

"You have to force your words and your thoughts into her head through your stare."

"But…"

Damon cut him off. "Just try it. Your body will take care of the rest."

Jeremy stared at the woman and said, "Put your hand on your head."

The woman did as he'd asked. Jeremy wasn't sure if he'd actually compelled her or not, and turned to see Damon's reaction.

"Good start, but next time make it an order, not a request. If you don't have confidence in yourself, the person you're compelling will sense that hesitation. Then if you're telling them to do something they don't want to do, they may not do it."

Jeremy nodded in understanding, and turned back to the woman. He put more force behind his words and said, "Sit on the ground."

The woman sat. Damon nodded. "Better. Time to try a hard one. Compel her to believe a raccoon attacked her and her friend in the bathroom."

A few seconds later, both women were running back to the front, and yelling for the manager. Damon clapped Jeremy on the shoulder, and said, "Looks like you've got it. Let's head for home before the manager gets here."

# # #

Damon was the first through the door when they arrived home. He winced when he heard Elena's crying before he could see her. He turned the corner, and saw her sitting on the couch with Stefan's arms wrapped around her. Damon heard Jeremy come in behind him, and turned to glare at the kid, but Jeremy wasn't looking in his direction.

Jeremy couldn't move. He hadn't heard his sister cry like that since the day of their parents' funeral. He'd been so angry with her earlier that day, but now that all seemed petty. He was startled out of his thoughts when Damon grabbed his arm in a crushing grip.

"Hey!" Jeremy tried to pull his arm away.

Damon pointed towards Elena and hissed, "You'd better do something to fix this," before letting him go.

Having heard the exclamation of pain, Elena pulled her head away from Stefan's chest to see what was going on. When she saw Jeremy, she stood and said, "Jer?"

Seeing her tear streaked face made him feel even worse. He walked up to her, and pulled her into a hug. He whispered, "Don't cry."

She hugged him tight and said through her tears, "How could you leave me all alone?"

Stefan wanted to comfort her, and prove she wasn't alone, but didn't interrupt, knowing he wasn't the one she needed comfort from right now. But he couldn't stop himself from standing up and hovering nearby.

Damon felt her words stabbing him in the guts, and took a few involuntary steps closer to her, needing to convince her that it wasn't true. He opened his mouth, but Stefan motioned for him to be quiet. Damon found it nearly impossible, but understood why Stefan wouldn't want him to interfere in this moment. He crossed his arms tightly, and held himself stiff.

Jeremy's throat tightened, and his eyes filled. "I… I wasn't thinking about you."

She pushed away from him to look in his face. "What were you thinking about?"

"Anna." A couple of tears slipped down his face. "She's dead. They killed her, and I just… didn't want to feel anything anymore."

Elena pulled him back into a hug, and said softly, "I'm sorry."

His throat tightened up, and he hugged her even tighter for a second. Well aware of their audience, Jeremy let her go quickly, before he broke down into tears of grief.

She pushed the bangs out of his eyes and said gently, "Why didn't you call me if you were feeling that bad? I've been trying to talk to you all day."

Jeremy shook his head, and let the bitterness show in his voice. "Why would I call you? I haven't called you to talk things out for months. You've just been too busy hiding things from me to notice."

Elena gasped at the harsh words, and put a hand over her mouth.

Reacting to the look of misery on Elena's face, Damon slapped the back of Jeremy's head hard enough to make him stumble to the side. He ignored the yelp of pain that came from Jeremy, and the shout from Elena for him to stop. He grabbed the kid's upper arm, and forced Jeremy to look him in the eye. Damon hissed dangerously, "I told you not to talk to your sister like that."

"Sorry," came out of Jeremy's mouth without forethought. He wasn't usually afraid of Damon, but there had been a couple of times in the past few months, when he could see Damon struggle not to lose his control. Jeremy's self-preservation had always kicked in during those moments, before he could push Damon over the edge.

"Tell her," Damon ordered, and gave him a push towards Elena.

"Sorry, Elena," Jeremy said, and then made eye contact with her.

"It's okay." She pulled him back into a hug, and glared at Damon with reproach.

After having a few seconds to think about it, Jeremy hugged her back and said honestly, "I know you were trying to protect me by keeping me in the dark, and by having Damon take my memories away. But it wasn't your call to make."

She shook her head and let him go. "But you were…"

He interrupted gently, "You're not Mom, Elena. I want you to stop protecting me, and start treating me the way you did when they were alive."

Her eyebrows crinkled in confusion.

"Like a sister, not a parent." The corner of his mouth twitched up when he remembered something their mother had often said, "My partner in crime."

She snorted a laugh in spite of the fresh tears on her face. Trying to sound like their mother, she said, "Go get your partner in crime, and clean up this mess together."

He nodded and smiled, but it faded as he said, "When you try to mother me, it makes things worse for me. It makes me push you further away, instead of confiding in you."

After a short pause to think that over, she put a hand on the side of his face and said with sincerity, "I promise that I'll try to stop."

"Thanks." He wasn't sure he really wanted to know, but felt compelled to ask, "How's Uncle John?"

"Still in surgery. Jenna's at the hospital. She'll call as soon as the doctors tell her anything." Feeling more like herself, Elena wiped the tears off her face, and got back to the matter at hand. "Stefan told me you drank Anna's blood, and then killed yourself with sleeping pills."

"Yeah." His face flushed with embarrassment at hearing her say it so bluntly.

"When did she give you her blood?" Elena asked.

"This morning, before the parade."

"But you didn't drink it when she gave it to you?"

Jeremy shook his head. "She wanted me to. She said we could run away together. But I just couldn't."

"But after you saw them take her, you decided to do it?"

Jeremy nodded.

Damon interrupted their conversation, "That's not exactly true." He couldn't believe he was about to confess something that could make Elena hate him, but after their conversation on the porch, he felt the need to be honest with her. "Jeremy probably wouldn't have done it if I'd handled things better when I came to see him."

"When did you come to see him?" Elena asked.

"He's the one I was trying to help."

"What?"

"When we talked on the porch. You asked me why I was there, and I said it was a feeble attempt to help."

Elena shook her head. "I have no idea what you're talking about. When was this?"

Frowning, Damon said, "A couple of hours ago on the porch…"

Jeremy said, "It was Katherine."

Damon and Stefan both said, "What!"

"You didn't talk to Elena, you talked to Katherine."

Damon shook his head not wanting to believe it, but the more he thought about it, the more it made sense. After a few seconds he ground out, "That bitch!"

Elena moved over to Stefan's side. The thought of Katherine being in town terrified her, and she always felt safer when Stefan's arm was around her.

Shaken by this news, Stefan automatically wrapped an arm around Elena and said to Jeremy, "Maybe you should tell us everything from beginning to end."

"When I got home, I thought about taking Anna's blood, but… I didn't really see the point since she was gone. Then Damon showed up, and offered to help me forget again, and then I realized I didn't want to forget. I just didn't want it to be painful to remember. Anna told me if I turned, I wouldn't have to feel any emotions. So as soon as Damon left I drank the blood and took the sleeping pills."

Before Jeremy could continue, Damon looked him in the eye and said, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have just left you there."

Jeremy shrugged. "Don't be. You didn't know I had Anna's blood, and I don't think this is a bad thing."

Damon turned to Elena and said, "I'm so sorry."

"You left him there alone after telling him Anna had died?"

Swallowing hard, Damon nodded. "I was trying to help. I just… didn't do a very good job of it."

Not ready to forgive him, or to yell at him, Elena turned to Jeremy and said, "Then what?"

"I woke up and heard Katherine and John talking in the kitchen, but I thought it was you. Then I heard him scream, and say Katherine's name. So I ran down to see what was going on. It's shocking how much she looks like Elena. She came after me with a knife too, but then Elena came in the front door calling for me, and Katherine ran out the back. Then when Elena called for help, I… I…"

"You drank from him." Damon finished the sentence for him, knowing without being told what would have happened.

Stefan put a hand on Jeremy's shoulder and said, "It's almost impossible not to drink blood that's in front of you, especially when you're new. It's not your fault."

Jeremy muttered, "You know the rest."

Stefan turned to Damon and said, "What did you and Katherine talk about?"

That conversation was much too embarrassing for Damon to repeat. He shook his head and said, "I thought it was Elena."

"I know. What did you talk about?" Stefan asked again.

"The weather," Damon sneered.

"Hey," Elena said, "You thought it was me. If you were going to tell me then, there's no reason not to tell me now."

Damon darted his eyes to Stefan and then back to Elena. He was never able to hide his true feelings from her. Something about the way she looked at him forced his humanity to sit up and take notice. He mumbled, "I'll tell you alone."

Elena nodded and said, "Okay. Let's talk on the porch."

Stefan's face was grim, as he watched the two of them head to the porch.

Elena shut the door behind them, and turned to Damon expectantly. Damon swallowed, and said, "I… I'm not a hero, Elena. I don't do good."

Elena put a hand on her hip. "That's what you said?"

Her expression wasn't very promising. "Well, I mostly wanted to say thank you."

"For what?" She glared at him suspiciously.

"Bonnie saved me tonight, but she did it for you. That means that you think I'm worth saving. Nobody has thought that about me in a very long time."

"You left Jeremy in misery to say that to me?"

"No… I left Jeremy in misery, because I didn't know what else to do for him. I didn't think I'd run into you… or Katherine as I was leaving."

Elena slapped him.

His eyes widened in surprise for a moment, but gave no other outward reaction.

She poked a finger into his chest and hissed, "If you hadn't left him there, you could have stopped him!"

"I'm sorry. If I'd known…" he whispered, despair evident in his voice. He reached out to touch her hand, but she backed up a step.

He put his hands back at his sides, and said with sincerity, "If I could go back and do it again, I would, but I can't. All I can do now is help him adjust, and hope you'll forgive me someday."

Elena turned without another word and went into the house, leaving the door open behind her. He rubbed his face, and then followed her in.

When they were all back in the living room, Stefan said, "And?"

Elena said, "Katherine doesn't know anything too damaging."

Stefan didn't like not knowing more than that, but forced himself to leave it. He said, "What do we do now?"

Damon said, "We don't know where Katherine is, or what she wants. We know she doesn't want Elena dead, or she would have stayed and finished the job while John was incapacitated. We'll have to wait for her to make the next move."

Elena said, "What about Jeremy?"

"What about me?" Jeremy asked with annoyance.

Damon rolled his eyes. "You can't go out in the sun anymore. Going to school is going to be a problem tomorrow."

Jeremy shrugged. "School sucks anyway. Perfect excuse not to go."

"So you want to be uneducated as well as undead?" Damon said with a glare. "Your chances of making it through your first week are going down as we speak."

"First week?" Jeremy asked.

Stefan said, "Eighty percent of new vampires die within the first week. That's a rough estimate from what I've seen over the years. Make it past that, and you're relatively safe."

Damon turned to Elena and said, "Talk to Bonnie. She can make Jeremy a ring to protect him from the sun tomorrow after school. Tonight, we'll all go to the hospital to check on John, and then I'll compel Jenna to let Jeremy stay here for a week."

"What!" Jeremy shouted. "I'm not staying here!"

"Then you'll be dead before the week is up!" Damon shouted back.

Stefan let go of Elena, and went to put a hand on Jeremy's shoulder. "Look Jeremy, it's just temporary. Stay with us for a few days, until you learn to control your urges. You don't want to lose control, and accidentally kill someone you love. We have a lot of blood stored, and you're going to need more than usual for the first few days. It's better for everyone if you stay here. Damon and I can help you adjust."

While Jeremy was thinking it over, Elena said, "We could tell Jenna that Anna left town, and you're upset about it. Make her believe that you don't want to be around any women for the next few days, and that Stefan invited you to do some male bonding with him and his brother for a week. As long as you're going to school, she should be fine with it."

Jeremy didn't like the idea, but he couldn't overlook the fact that he needed blood, and there was a large supply here in this house. Reluctantly he nodded. "Okay. I guess I'll stay for a few days."

# # #

Jeremy woke up the next day, momentarily confused as he looked around the unfamiliar bedroom. Within seconds the previous night came rushing back to him. It had been a long night, and with the drapes closed tight, he had no idea what time it actually was outside. He grabbed his cell phone from the nightstand and wasn't surprised to see that it was past noon.

He sat up, and felt a sharp ache in his gut. Wincing, he put a hand on his stomach as he got out of bed. He picked yesterday's jeans up off the floor and pulled them on before going downstairs. The living room was empty, but Damon had taken him downstairs last night to show him where they kept the blood. His voice had even been kind when he'd told him to help himself to as much as he wanted, any time he wanted.

After three bags of blood, the ache was gone, and Jeremy sighed with relief. He went back to the living room, and cautiously opened one of the curtains a crack. He could see the sun shining outside without being directly in the sunlight. The ray of sunlight cut through the living room, illuminating specks of dust floating in the air. Needing to test the information Damon had given him, Jeremy stuck his hand into the beam. The immediate burning pain was intense. He snatched his hand away, and stared at the tiny spot of charred skin.

"Believe me now?" An amused voice came from behind him.

Jeremy spun around and saw Damon standing a few feet away with his arms crossed and one eyebrow raised. Feeling childish and defensive, Jeremy put the damaged hand behind his back and muttered, "Dick."

Damon walked past Jeremy and closed the curtains, making sure no sun came through. He said casually, "It'll be healed in a few seconds. Have you had any blood yet?"

"Yeah," he said absently, as he watched his skin repair itself as if by magic.

"Healing takes up energy. You'll be hungry again in a few minutes."

Jeremy stared at his skin until it looked normal again. He touched the recently wounded area with his other hand, and then flexed his fingers. There were zero residual effects from the burn. He made eye contact with Damon and said with awe, "It's healed."

Damon grinned. "It's one of the perks."

Jeremy grinned back and said, "Awesome."

Getting serious, Damon said, "I got a call from the sheriff. I need to go and talk to her this morning."

"What's wrong?"

"The mayor was killed last night, along with the other vampires, and Liz asked me to help calm his wife down."

Jeremy felt sorry for Tyler. He didn't like the guy, but he felt empathy for anyone who lost a parent.

Damon nodded towards the entranceway and said, "Elena dropped off a backpack for you this morning, and she said she'd be here after school to bring you your homework."

"Great." Jeremy said sarcastically.

"Don't look so glum, she brought your laptop, and your mp3 player, too." Damon eyed him for a second, and said, "Are you going to be okay if I leave you on your own for a couple of hours?"

Jeremy rolled his eyes. "I'll be fine."

Squinting, Damon said, "Don't let yourself get even a little bit hungry. Drink as much blood as you need. Don't go outside for any reason. Don't open the door for anyone except Elena. And don't answer the phone unless it's me."

"Jeez, I'm not an idiot."

"You killed yourself yesterday. Sounds pretty idiotic to me."

"Whatever. I wasn't planning on going anywhere, or talking to anyone anyway, so just go already."

"If you have any problems, you have my number."

Jeremy waved towards the door, and Damon left with reservations.

Once he was alone, Jeremy dug through the things Elena had brought over. Within seconds he was listening to music and booting up his laptop.

# # #

Hours later, when Damon got home, he noticed that Bonnie's car was in the driveway next to Stefan's. He almost drove away, not wanting to deal with Bonnie's hatred, but he wanted to make sure she made a ring for Jeremy. He sighed and muttered, "Man up."

He forced a smile on his face as he walked into the living room. Elena was sitting on the couch, and Jeremy was lying down, with his head in her lap. She brushed the hair away from Jeremy's face, and Damon could tell Jeremy had been crying. Stefan and Bonnie were nowhere to be seen. Damon lost the smile as soon as he made eye contact with Elena.

"What?" he asked.

Jeremy looked up, and when he saw who it was, he slurred, "I remem'er. I remem'er it all."

Elena shushed him gently, and then glared back at Damon.

Damon's eyebrows drew together while watching Jeremy. "You're drunk?" His eyes darted over to the bottles of alcohol that they usually kept on the end table by the couch. His voice went up a notch. "You're drunk on my good scotch?"

Struggling for a second to get himself upright, Jeremy babbled, "I was soooo wrong. Remem'ering is baaaad. I don' wanna 'mem'er anymore."

Damon looked to Elena for a better explanation. Elena said, "He was already drunk when we got here, but from what I can gather, he was listening to music, and a song reminded him of Vicki. That triggered his memories to come back. He apparently remembered everything you compelled him to forget."

Jeremy looked up at Damon and pleaded, "Make it go 'way again. Please Damon."

"Sorry, I can't. Vampires can't compel each other."

Lying back down, Jeremy mumbled, "Jus' wanna forget."

Elena stood up, took a couple of steps toward Damon and hissed, "You were supposed to be here watching him!"

"He's sixteen, not six, and he was fine when I left!" Damon crossed his arms. "How was I supposed to know he'd be taking a trip down memory lane? I couldn't have predicted that!"

"You said you were going to help him. I was counting on you Damon, and you let me down."

Damon wanted to deny it. He wanted to blame it on Jeremy. But found himself unable to do that. He'd known that Jeremy was emotionally unstable. The kid had just committed suicide yesterday. And Damon had to admit he'd been concerned earlier that day before he left. The accusation in Elena's eyes made his stomach twist, and he promised, "It won't happen again."

Before Elena could respond, Stefan and Bonnie walked into the living room. Bonnie gave a ring to Elena. Elena said, "Thanks, Bonnie."

Bonnie shook her head. "I still don't know if this was the right thing to do." She glared at Damon. "Especially since he's mixed up in all of this."

To Damon's surprise, Elena jumped to his defense. "Damon is trying to help."

Bonnie rolled her eyes, not believing it for a second. Stefan said, "We appreciate your help Bonnie. Jeremy needs to be able to go back to school, and he wouldn't be able to do that without you."

She glared at him too, "You better hope I don't regret doing this."

Elena put a hand on her friend's shoulder. "You won't."

When Bonnie didn't comment, Stefan said, "Can I give you a ride home?"

Bonnie nodded. As soon as they were gone, Elena took the ring to Jeremy and put it on his finger. Jeremy stirred long enough to look at it, and mumbled, "'s fugly."

Brushing his hair back again, Elena said, "It may be ugly, but it will protect you, so you have to keep it on. Okay?"

Damon saw Jeremy's expression turn sour, and decided it was time to take charge of the situation. "Stop mothering him, Elena."

She whirled around. "What? I'm not mothering him!"

"Yes you are, and he already told you he wants a sister, not a mother." Damon walked over and put a gentle hand on Elena's shoulder. "Why don't you go make us some coffee? Vampires sober up much quicker than humans."

Wanting desperately to help, but doubting Jeremy would accept it, Elena sighed and went to the kitchen.

Once she was gone, Damon went to the basement and grabbed three bags of blood. He went back to Jeremy, grabbed his wrist, and yanked him into a sitting position. The kid groaned, but stayed up. Damon tossed the blood in his lap and said, "Drink."

"Don' wanna get sober."

"I don't care what you want, you drank two hundred dollars worth of my scotch!" He leaned down into Jeremy's personal space, "Drink the blood, or I'll hold you down, and shove it down your throat, plastic and all."

Jeremy quickly grabbed a bag, and started drinking. Once all three bags were gone, Jeremy frowned. The room was no longer spinning when he closed his eyes, and the feeling of detachment he'd had, was rapidly fading. He glared at Damon.

"Good," Damon said. "I need your full attention for this." He grabbed Jeremy's wrist again, and pulled him to a standing position. Jeremy didn't have any difficulty staying upright. Damon kept a hand on him, and made him walk towards the same window he'd tested the sunlight with earlier that morning. Jeremy tried pulling away when he saw where Damon was going, but couldn't. Damon stood to the right side of the curtain with Jeremy, and then opened it a crack to let the sunlight in. Jeremy tried taking a step further back, but Damon kept a grip on his wrist, and shoved Jeremy's hand into the sunlight.

After a moment, Jeremy realized the ring was working, and stopped trying to pull away. He took a deep breath of relief, and said, "It works."

Damon took Jeremy's hand out of the light, and pulled the ring off.

"What are you doing?" Jeremy asked with wide nervous eyes.

Damon kept the ring in his palm, and shoved Jeremy's hand back into the sunlight. Jeremy screamed and tried to pull it back, but Damon wouldn't let go until a significant portion of Jeremy's hand was burnt.

When Damon did let go, Jeremy stumbled backwards, and cradled the damaged hand to his chest.

Damon held the ring up for Jeremy to see. "This 'fugly' little ring is the difference between night and day for you, literally. You never take it off. Got it?"

Elena rushed into the room, "What happened?"

Ignoring his sister, Jeremy glared at Damon with tears of pain on his face. "I wasn't planning to take it off! You ripped it off my friggin hand! I already knew the sun would burn me!"

"What's going on?" Elena demanded.

Damon tossed the ring to Jeremy, and said to Elena, "Object lesson."

Jeremy caught it in his good hand, and said, "A lesson I already learned! You just wanted to hurt me because I got drunk!"

Damon turned, and got into Jeremy's personal space. "Listen to me, you ungrateful moron, the alcohol has nothing to do with this. You may not believe me, but that lesson could save your life someday. You need to remember how much the sun hurts. Every single time you walk into the sunlight, you'll remember this, and check to make sure the ring is on your finger."

Elena stepped in between them, and gently took Jeremy's damaged hand. With unshed tears in her eyes, she turned to Damon. "You did this to him? How could you, Damon?"

Keeping his voice quiet, Damon said, "This is me keeping my word. You may not agree with my methods, but I'm keeping Jeremy safe. He'll be healed in fifteen minutes."

She glared and turned her back on him. Linking her arm into her brother's, Elena said, "Let's go talk in the kitchen. I made some coffee for you."

Jeremy glared at Damon as he let his sister lead him to the kitchen.

Once Damon was alone in the living room, he poured the last of the scotch into a glass, and downed it in one gulp. He sank down into the couch, leaned his head back, and closed his eyes for a few moments, wondering how he'd let himself get so involved.

# # #

Jeremy walked into his history class, and stopped short. There in the back row, Tyler was leaning over to Vicki, and whispering something in her ear. Feeling the usual jealous anger when he saw the two of them together, Jeremy's shoulder's tensed. He headed towards the third row, but stopped again, when Vicki made eye contact with him. To his amazement, she grinned and waved him towards them.

Wary of the invitation, Jeremy checked Tyler's reaction. Tyler rolled his eyes and whispered something to Vicki while pointing in Jeremy's direction. Instead of laughing like Vicki normally did, she glared at Tyler, and punched him in the arm hard enough to make him flinch. Then loud enough for everyone in the class to hear, Vicki said, "Shut up. Jeremy's my boyfriend, and if you can't get past that, then we aren't friends anymore."

Surprised, Jeremy scanned the faces of the classroom, and found most of them smiling at him. When he still didn't move, Vicki got up, walked to him, and kissed him on the mouth. He heard some cheers and applause from the class. After a few seconds, Mr. Saltzman cleared his throat, and said with amusement, "If the two of you don't mind, we have some history to go over."

Vicki pulled away, but kept her hand in Jeremy's, and pulled him towards the back.


Jeremy woke slowly, with a smile on his face. The smile faded into a confused frown when he realized he wasn't in his own bed. Turning his head, he saw Stefan sitting in the armchair across the room. When their eyes met, Jeremy remembered yesterday afternoon's conversation and scowled. Damon, Stefan, and Elena had all agreed that someone needed to watch him around the clock for the next few days, even though he'd disagreed vehemently. They'd sat at the kitchen table, drinking coffee, and arranging a schedule to watch him, despite his protests.

"Hungry?" Stefan asked.

Jeremy rolled over, turning his back to Stefan, and refused to answer. He held himself tense for a few seconds, expecting Stefan to say something. When all he got was silence, the muscles in his shoulders relaxed, and his mind wandered to his recent dream. He remembered the way Vicki smelled, the way she tasted, the way she smiled just for him when they were alone, the excitement of skipping class and getting high with her. He felt tears building in his eyes, and hated Stefan for being there. Trying to keep his voice level, he said, "I am hungry. Will you go get me some blood?"

"Nice try. If you're hungry, we'll go get the blood together."

Shoving himself into a sitting position, Jeremy avoided his grief, and focused on his anger. "I want to be alone!"

Instead of rising to the anger, Stefan remained calm. "I'm sorry, but that's not happening."

"Get out!" Jeremy yelled.

Stefan sat forward, leaned his elbows on his knees, and said, "No, but I'm happy to listen if you want to tell me what you're so upset about."

"I'm upset, because I'm being kept prisoner here!"

"It's called a suicide watch, and you know it."

He did know it. They'd gone over it again and again yesterday, until he wanted to punch everyone in the room, including his sister. They were watching him around the clock for a few days to make sure he didn't get drunk or high, and try to kill himself again. He'd yelled that they couldn't watch him every second of the day, especially if they were going to make him go to school. But after Damon threatened to call Bonnie, Caroline, Matt, Tyler, and Alaric to help keep track of him, he'd quickly stopped arguing.

Stefan said, "Remembering Vicki on top of losing Anna is a lot to deal with. None of us expect you to be able to keep it together right now. That's why we're helping."

"It doesn't help!" Jeremy's voice cracked, and he quickly rolled back over, so Stefan wouldn't see the tears.

With a sigh, Stefan got up, and sat on the opposite side of the bed. He put a comforting hand on Jeremy's shoulder. Jeremy tried to jerk away from the touch, but Stefan just put his hand back where it had been. "Just this year I lost someone I loved too. Her name was Lexi. I know how much it hurts. Talking about it helps."

"Why don't you just shut out your emotions?"

Stefan smiled at the irony. "Lexi would hate it if I did that now."

Jeremy sniffed and wiped his eyes with the palm of his hand. "Will you show me how to do it?"

"Not right now. Maybe in a few months, after you've had some time to adjust."

He hadn't really expected Stefan to agree, and didn't bother trying to talk him into it. After a few minutes of companionable silence, Jeremy's stomach started to hurt. "I really am hungry."

Stefan patted his shoulder, and stood up. "Okay. Come on."

Once he'd drained a couple of bags of blood in the basement, Jeremy was able to go back to sleep.

# # #

Damon's voice pulled Jeremy out of sleep with the words, "Get up. Time for school."

Blurry eyed, and momentarily confused, Jeremy looked at the empty chair Stefan had been sitting in when he'd fallen asleep. Noting the confusion, Damon said, "Stefan's already in the shower, and Elena will be here in half an hour to drive you two to school.

Jeremy rolled over onto his stomach, put the pillow over his head, and mumbled, "School sucks. I wanna stay home."

The plaintive tone made Damon smile despite himself. A much younger Stefan had never wanted to get up for school either, and until he'd left for war, it had been Damon's responsibility to get him up. He crossed his arms and said, "Too bad. Get up."

Pulling the pillow down tighter over his head, Jeremy said, "If you guys were really trying to help me, you'd let me take a week off."

Using the same method that never failed to get Stefan moving, Damon gave Jeremy a quick smack on the rear.

"Hey!" Jeremy complained. He brought his head up from under the pillow, leaned up to glare at Damon, and yelled, "What the hell?"

"You're going to school today, even if I have to drag you there myself."

Jeremy opened his mouth to comment, but when he saw Damon raise his hand to smack him again, he moved at super speed to get out of the bed. With the bed between them, Damon crossed his arms, and raised an eyebrow in challenge.

"Okay, okay. I'm going." Jeremy gathered some clothes, and headed to the bathroom to get ready.

# # #

During the ride to school, Jeremy stewed in the back seat while Elena and Stefan went over the schedule. One of them would be checking on him after each of his classes. The instant Elena parked Jeremy jumped out of the car, and stalked off towards the school, wanting to get away from them.

Stefan immediately caught up with him, roughly put a hand on the back of his neck and made him stop. Forcing a smile, Stefan said, "This is going to work one of two ways, Jeremy. Either you stay next to me by choice, or I keep you next to me by force. I'm thinking the first option will be less embarrassing for you since there's an audience."

Jeremy looked around, and saw other kids in the parking lot watching the two of them. He tried to push Stefan away, but it didn't work, which only added to his humiliation. Gritting his teeth, Jeremy said, "Fine. I'll stay next to you. Now let me go."

Stefan let go, and patted him on the shoulder. "Good choice."

Elena came and linked her arm into Stefan's, and the three of them headed into the building.

# # #

During his first class, Jeremy found himself feeling more and more alienated from his fellow classmates. He sat in the back, completely ignored the teacher, and focused on the other people his age. They smiled at each other, and talked about nonsense like who was dating whom, what they'd watched on TV the night before, and what they were going to do on the weekend. The longer he listened, the more fury built in his chest. How could his friends be so happy and oblivious to the horror that surrounded their town? Why did they get to be happy with parents and girlfriends that weren't dead?

History was his second class of the day, and when he walked in, Mr. Saltzman said quietly, "See me after class."

Jeremy could tell that his teacher knew something was up, and rolled his eyes as he walked to the back of the class. He wasn't sure what Alaric knew, but he was sure he didn't want to talk about it with him.

When class was over, Jeremy stayed in his seat until everyone had cleared out. When they were alone, he got up and said, "What did you want Rick?"

Before he could answer, Stefan showed up to check on Jeremy. Alaric said, "I'd like a word with Jeremy alone before you take him to his next class."

"Okay," Stefan said, and closed the classroom door, so the two could be alone.

Alaric turned to Jeremy, and said gently, "Stefan told me everything. How are you holding up?"

Scowling, Jeremy said, "Don't act like you care."

Alaric sat on the edge of his desk and said, "I care, because I understand what you're going through. When I lost my wife, I didn't handle it well."

Jeremy lost the scowl. He'd been expecting a lecture, not sympathy.

"I drank myself into oblivion most nights, and wished I were dead most days. I pushed everyone away who tried to console me. I walked around hating everyone who dared to be happy when I was miserable."

Swallowing, and feeling close to tears, Jeremy whispered, "How did you get past it?"

"Time."

Jeremy shook his head, not wanting to hear that.

"About a week after it happened, I drank so much that I passed out, and missed work. That day I realized I needed to do something, or I'd lose my job. So I got rid of all the alcohol in my house. Then every morning as I got ready for work, I pictured my grief as a monster in my head, and I locked it in a cage. I forced myself to feel numb to get through the day, and then let myself miss her when I got home."

Alaric put a hand on Jeremy's shoulder and said, "It will get better. You can always call me if you want to talk."

Too emotional to answer, Jeremy simply nodded, and walked out the door, where Stefan was waiting.

During the next class, Jeremy thought over what Alaric had said, and tried to picture all of his emotions as a monster that he could lock away into a cage. He was so involved with his own thoughts that the bell for lunch made him jump.

Elena was in front of his classroom before he got out. She smiled gently and said, "How's it going?"

"Awful."

"I'm sorry," she said with sincerity.

Stefan walked up to them. "Ready for lunch?"

Elena forced a smile, and said, "Sure."

Stefan asked Jeremy. "Are you hungry? There's a snack for you in Elena's trunk if you need it."

"No, I'll be fine until school's over. I drank a lot before school."

The three of them went to the cafeteria. Elena ate lunch, while Stefan and Jeremy ate a couple of bites, and then moved the food around on their trays, trying to blend in. Elena and Stefan spoke quietly, and mostly left Jeremy alone to his thoughts.

Jeremy closed his eyes, and focused all his energy on trying to lock his emotional monster away. He felt something tingle at the base of his skull. He cocked his head to the side, and the tingle turned into a burn, before fading away completely. He opened his eyes, and suddenly realized he'd succeeded. He didn't feel anything. He wasn't exactly numb, but he didn't hurt. He took a deep breath, and for the first time in weeks, he felt clear headed and alert, instead of angry. Now that he was clear headed, he realized he was hungry.

Keeping his head down, Jeremy waited patiently for the bell to ring. He let Elena walk him to his Algebra class, and when she asked how he was doing, he gave her an honest answer, and hoped it sounded sarcastic. "I'm fine."

She put a hand on his shoulder and said gently, "I'll be here when you get out." Jeremy went into the classroom thinking, I won't be.

He waited for two full minutes to pass before raising his hand, and telling the teacher he felt ill. Once his teacher let him go, he quickly and quietly left the building. He headed towards the woods behind the school, where the stoners hung out, hoping to find some other kids who'd decided to skip.

# # #

Damon was researching Katherine when his cell phone rang. The caller ID flashed Elena's name. He answered with, "What's wrong?"

"Jeremy's gone."

"Gone? What do you mean he's gone?"

"I dropped him off at his class right after lunch, and when I came to pick him up a few seconds ago, he wasn't here."

"Damn it!"

Demon could hear his brother's voice in the background talking to someone. Elena said, "His teacher just told us that Jeremy was feeling sick right after class started. We're going to go check the nurse's office right now."

Slamming his book shut, Damon said, "Don't bother, he won't be there."

"What are we gonna do, Damon?"

"I'll go look for him. Call me after your next class, and I'll give you an update."

"I can't go to class when I know he's missing. Stefan and I can help look."

Pursing his lips, Damon said, "Can I talk to Stefan?"

Elena handed the phone over, and Stefan said, "Yeah?"

"I'll go out looking for Jeremy, and I'll call if I find him. Try to talk Elena into staying there until school's over."

Stefan looked at his girlfriend's determined face. "I don't think that's going to happen."

"Fine. Take Elena to her house, and tell her to stay there in case Jeremy goes home. Then you come over here in case he shows up at our house. If I can't find him by the time school gets out, we can have Bonnie help."

"Okay."

The two hung up, and Damon grabbed a jacket on his way out the door. He muttered, "I'm gonna kill him."

# # #

In his unemotional state, Jeremy had newfound patients. He wandered the woods looking for a nice classmate to snack on, but couldn't find anyone at the usual spots. Normally this would have irritated him, but now it only made him consider other options. He thought about going back to the Salvatore house, but quickly dismissed the idea. He wanted fresh blood, not something out of a refrigerated bag. After a few minutes of running through ideas, Jeremy decided on the gas station that Damon had taken him to the night before last.

He loitered in the back next to the bathrooms, and waited to see who would come along. While he waited, he wondered if he'd be able to stop himself in time. He tried to tally up the pros and cons of accidentally killing someone. There would be the body to deal with, and he knew drawing attention to the town because of a murder could make things harder for him in the long run. But on the other hand, it seemed like a waste of blood not to drink it all, and his hunger was getting stronger by the moment.

The first person to walk past him, was a mother with two little kids. Jeremy realized he'd want to find someone who was alone, just in case he couldn't stop himself, or didn't want to stop himself once he'd started to drink. Trying to deal with more than one person at a time would be too much of a risk.

Twenty minutes passed before a woman in a tasteful skirt and blouse walked by. While she was in the bathroom, Jeremy quickly checked the front of the gas station. There was only one car parked in the parking lot, and no one else was in it. He smiled and walked back to stand in front of the bathroom door.

The woman gasped when she saw Jeremy standing so close when she opened the door. Using the compelling techniques that Damon had taught him, Jeremy ordered the woman to get in her car and drive half a mile up the road before pulling over.

With obvious confusion, she did what he'd asked. He met her there, and ordered her into the wooded area on the side of the highway. She followed him, asking him repeatedly why she was doing this. He ignored her until he couldn't see the freeway anymore. Then he turned and ordered her to stand still.

Without preamble, he grabbed her shoulder to hold her in place, and bit deeply into her neck. Fresh blood tasted so much better than the bagged stuff, Jeremy groaned with physical pleasure. He completely dismissed the idea of trying to stop himself, and drank her blood until he felt her go limp in his arms.

Feeling his hunger truly quenched for the first time in days, Jeremy sighed with relief. He dumped the body onto the ground, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and tried to decide what to do with the body.

# # #

The longer Damon searched for Jeremy, the more anxious he became. When he'd stormed out of the house, he'd been pissed, but that anger quickly turned to worry when he found no sign of the kid. He didn't think he could take watching Elena cry again if he had to tell her he hadn't been able to find her brother.

Just as he was getting out his phone to call Stefan for an update, Damon saw an abandoned car on the side of the road. Putting the phone back in his pocket, he closed his eyes, and concentrated on his hearing. In the distance, he heard a scuffling sound, and went to investigate.

He found Jeremy waist deep in a hole he was digging. A woman's body lay beside the growing dirt pile. Damon noticed the woman's eyes were wide open, staring blankly at the sky, and he knew without asking that Jeremy had figured out how to shut out his humanity.

Jeremy hadn't noticed him yet, and Damon didn't alert him to his presence right away. Instead he frowned and considered his options for dealing with this turn of events. After he'd formulated a plan, he plastered a pleasant expression on his face and said, "Need a hand?"

Startled by the sound, Jeremy almost dropped the flat rock he was using as a shovel. "Damon?" Jeremy felt a tingling at the base of his skull, but he took a deep breath, and concentrated on not letting any emotions out.

Damon sauntered over, and crouched down beside the hole. "Looks like your chances of making it through the first week are going down by the second."

"What are you talking about?"

"The police in this town know about vampires. Your fang marks are as clear as day on her neck. You're burying the body less than a hundred feet from her abandoned car. Once the police start looking for her, they'll find her body within minutes of finding the car. That is unless you move the car, but moving the car is a bad idea because you're likely to leave fingerprints or hair in it."

Jeremy slowly nodded in agreement, seeing the logic in everything Damon had said. "I hadn't thought about it, but you're right. This isn't a good plan. What should I do?"

Damon stood, and held a hand out to Jeremy to help him out of the hole. Jeremy dropped the rock, grabbed Damon's hand, and climbed out. "We'll fill this back in first. The police will waste time digging it up looking for her."

The two had the hole filled in a couple of minutes. Once it was done, Damon picked up the woman in a fireman hold, and said, "We'll bury her next to Cabin Creek on the edge of the old Lockwood estate. Know where that is?"

"I know where the old Lockwood estate is."

"Good. Follow me." Damon moved at inhuman speed, and Jeremy followed. They were there in minutes, even though it was miles away. Soon they had the body buried in a secluded area that was difficult to get to on foot.

After stomping the dirt down on top of the fresh grave, Jeremy said, "Thanks for helping me. This is a much better spot."

"You should have called me to tell me you wanted fresh blood." Damon let a little irritation show.

"I thought you'd try to stop me."

Not wanting to have this discussion out in the open, Damon said, "I don't know about you, but I need a drink. We can talk back at my place."

Jeremy nodded, and the two ran to the Salvatore mansion.

# # #

Jeremy followed Damon into the house, and watched him poured himself a shot of whisky. Damon downed it in one gulp. As he set down his glass, Stefan stormed into the room, and got into Jeremy's personal space.

"Where the hell were you?" Stefan demanded.

Before Jeremy answered, Damon said, "He's figured out how to shut out his humanity."

Stefan and Jeremy both turned to Damon with surprise. Jeremy asked, "How do you know?"

Damon gave Jeremy a look that clearly indicated that question wasn't worth answering. Jeremy smiled and said, "It's exactly like you said it would be. I don't have to feel anything I don't want to feel."

With a tight-lipped frown, Stefan said, "Damn it!"

Damon said, "I found him by the gas station trying to bury the body of a woman he'd drank from."

With a sigh, Stefan got out his cell phone. But Damon took it out of his hands before he could push any buttons. Damon said, "What are you doing?"

Stefan crossed his arms. "Calling Elena."

"Not yet."

"Why not?" Stefan asked.

"Jeremy and I are going to work some things out, and I don't want Elena to interfere. I don't want you to interfere either. Go keep Elena company until I call."

The base of Jeremy's skull started to tingle again after hearing that ominous statement. He took a discreet step away from the two brothers.

Stefan said, "What are you planning to do, Damon?"

"Force him to let his humanity back in."

"How do you plan to do that?" Stefan asked.

Before Damon could answer, Jeremy made a dash for the front door. He wanted nothing to do with his emotions. He made it to the edge of the Salvatore property before Damon caught up to him.

Damon tackled him, and they both tumbled down onto the grass. Damon quickly had them both standing, with a hand on Jeremy's upper arm to make sure he wasn't going anywhere. Damon said, "Like it or not, you're letting your humanity back in."

Struggling to get away, Jeremy hissed, "Good luck with that."

Damon started walking back towards the house, and planted a solid swat on the kid's rear end.

"Hey! What the hell?" He protested, trying harder to get out of Damon's grip. "Get your hands off me!" Jeremy yelled, and put all his newfound strength into trying to get his arm away from Damon. He was dismayed to find that Damon didn't even seem to notice the struggle. Damon swatted him even harder without breaking his stride towards the house.

"Ow! Knock it off!"

Damon said calmly, "Anger is the easiest emotion to trigger, and once you let that one back in, the rest will spill over. You don't have enough experience to hold it in, so stop fighting it."

The tingling at the base of Jeremy's skull was turning into a burn, and he struggled to keep himself calm.

Damon pulled him up the porch steps, and through the front door. He kicked the door closed behind them, and propelled the kid towards the living room with another hard smack.

"You're really pissing me off!" Jeremy yelled, and shoved Damon's shoulder, still trying to get out of his grasp.

"Good," Damon said, and hauled him down the two steps that led to the sunken living room. He swatted him again on the way to the couch.

"You're a Dick!" Jeremy shouted.

Damon stopped in front of the couch, and turned to Jeremy. "Yeah? Well at least I'm not a disobedient child! You skipped school, you shut off your emotions, and you wandered off alone to find someone to drink from. I'm pretty sure I told you not to do all of those things."

"Fuck off!" Jeremy tried pushing him away again. "I don't have to listen to you!"

Damon reached down and unbuckled Jeremy's belt, while Jeremy tried to back away.

"What the hell are you doing?" Jeremy's voice was unusually high, showing his rising panic.

Stefan stood by the fireplace, and tried to figure out if Damon had a plan, or if he was just taking his frustration out on Jeremy. "What are you doing, Damon?"

"Stay out of this, Stefan." Damon said, without looking back at his brother. He yanked the kid's pants down to his knees, put a foot on the couch, and hauled Jeremy across his raised leg.

"No!" Jeremy shouted at the top of his lungs. His hands reached out instinctively to catch himself as he went forward, but they never came in contact with the floor, because Damon wrapped an arm around his waist. This kept him from falling, but also prevented him from standing back up. The base of his skull burned, and he couldn't keep his anger or his fear locked up anymore. He awkwardly put one hand on the couch next to Damon's foot and begged, "Stefan, help!"

Damon started smacking the navy blue briefs in front of him.

Confused and mildly surprised to see his brother spanking Jeremy, Stefan said, "Do you really think this is the best way to get him to open up?"

Ignoring his younger brother, Damon kept slapping the wiggling butt over his thigh.

Jeremy yelled, "Stop it! Ow! Damon, stop!"

Irritated with the lack of response, Stefan walked over, and caught Damon's arm in mid swing.

While the brothers glared at each other, Jeremy took a deep breath of relief. But that relief quickly turned to horror when he realized he felt nothing at the base of his skull. His emotions were running rampant. Anger, frustration, and embarrassment all swirled around his head, making his stomach twist.

Stefan asked Damon, "Have you even thought this through?"

Instead of answering him directly, Damon said, "Do you remember how things were between us before I went off to war? Before Katherine?"

Stefan raised an eyebrow, wondering what that had to do with anything. "Yes."

"Was I a good older brother?"

"Yes." Stefan admitted, and let his arm go. "That's why I wanted you to become a vampire too."

"I turned my emotions off the first chance I had, because it hurt too much to think about Katherine, but that was the wrong thing to do, because I couldn't be your older brother once they were off. If I could go back and do it again, I'd do things differently."

Surprised by the amount of honesty he could see in his brother's face, Stefan said, "Me too."

Damon tilted his head down to indicate Jeremy and said, "I'm trying to be the good older brother here. Yes, I've thought this through, and yes, it's the best way to help him."

While Stefan considered that, Jeremy squirmed to get away, and yelled, "This isn't helping, and you're not my brother!"

Knowing it would upset Jeremy, and force more emotions out, Damon said, "Shush, the adults are having a conversation."

"I'm not a God damn child!" Jeremy yelled with rage, and tried to push himself off Damon's leg again.

"You turned yourself at sixteen. You'll be a child forever."

"Screw you!"

Damon swatted him hard.

"Ow! Stefan! Make him stop!"

Damon turned to Stefan with his eyebrows raised, to see if he understood.

Stefan frowned, unhappy with Damon's methods, but had to admit that Jeremy would have a difficult time keeping his emotions in under this kind of onslaught. With a reluctant sigh, he said, "No."

"No? What do you mean no?" Jeremy yelled.

"I'll be at Elena's." Stefan told his brother. "Call me when you're done working this out."

Stefan turned and walked out to the sound of Jeremy yelling, "You can't just leave me here with him! Stefan! Elena wouldn't want you to! Please, Stefan!"

Damon's determination grew when he heard the front door shut. Wanting to prove that Stefan's trust was justified, he turned back to the boy over his knee, raised his hand, and started a steady stream of smacks.

"Aaahh!" Jeremy yelled with frustration. With each new swat, his anger towards Damon grew, and so did the pain. He tried to keep his mouth shut, not wanting to give Damon the satisfaction. He bit his lip to keep quiet, but his stoicism lasted less than a minute. Small grunts of pain started escaping first, and when he couldn't muffle those anymore, he blurted out, "I fucking hate you!"

Damon kept smacking and said, "Looks like we have anger back in full force, now let's work on shame and remorse. I want you to think about that girl you killed today."

Shaking his head, Jeremy said, "I can't… Ow! I can't think about that."

"Yes you can, I know you don't want to, but you have to."

"No I don't! Owww! Just let me up! Ah! I've already lost control of all my… Ow!… all my emotions, so you've won. Ow! Now leave me alone!"

Damon stopped swatting. "You know," he said conversationally, "every time I pause for more than a minute, your body heals itself, so we could literally do this all day if you're not going to be cooperative."

Unable to ignore the fear those words evoked, or the pain that didn't seem to be going away very quickly, Jeremy swallowed his pride, and said quietly, "No. Please, Damon. Please just let me up, and I'll… I'll think about her."

"I'm sorry, did you think you had say in how this was going to play out?" He punctuated that statement with smack.

"Ow! Okay, okay! I'm thinking about her!"

"Did you see the wedding ring on her finger?"

Startled out of his anger and humiliation, Jeremy jerked his head back into an awkward position to make eye contact with Damon. "What?" he whispered.

The kid's eyes got to Damon in a way that none of his yelling had. With a sigh, he hauled Jeremy back into a standing position, took his foot off the couch, and said, "Fix your pants."

Once Jeremy had yanked his jeans back into place, Damon put a hand on each of his shoulders and said, "She was married, Jeremy. That means you ripped her away from her husband the same way those men ripped Anna away from you. The same way Stefan and I ripped Vicki away from everyone who loved her."

With a weak shake of his head Jeremy whispered, "No." He desperately wanted it not to be true, but he did remember the ring. Tears started spilling down his face, when he realized he'd caused someone else the same emotional trauma he'd been trying to escape.

Damon said, "The way you feel right now is the reason I wouldn't show you how to shut it out. And I'm not going to let you do it again, because none of us want you to become a monster like me."

The weight of what he'd done was too much for Jeremy to take. He put his head in his hands, and sobbed. He would have fallen to his knees if Damon hadn't held him up.

Wincing at the loss of innocence he heard in Jeremy's tears, Damon pulled him into an awkward hug. He understood the self-hatred, the crushing guilt, and the sick horror that came from taking another person's life. He'd tucked those emotions safely away for over a hundred years, but even if they hadn't been escaping lately; he would still remember what it felt like the first time he'd killed a man, because he'd been human at the time. It was during his first day of combat in the Civil War, and he'd killed more than one. The battle itself was a bloody violent blur, but he clearly remembered pressing his face into his bedroll that night to muffle the sound of his tears.

He hugged Jeremy tighter and murmured, "I know."

Too caught up in despair to refuse the comfort, Jeremy pressed his forehead into Damon's shoulder, and grabbed a fistful of the older man's shirt. All he could think about was the expression of terror on the woman's face as he lured her away from her car, and the image of her dead body lying on the ground with a blank stare.

For several minutes, Damon just held the shaking boy, hoping that the physical comfort helped. A couple of times, the crying seemed to taper off, only to come back in full force. The third time the tears started to lessen, Damon patted Jeremy's back once, and gently pushed him away from his chest.

Unable to face the older man, Jeremy kept his eyes glued to the floor, and wiped at his face with his hands and sleeves. He muttered, "Sorry."

"For what exactly?" Damon asked quietly.

Jeremy shrugged. There were so many things he was sorry for, he couldn't pick one.

To help Jeremy get through the next few days, Damon decided to make things black and white for him. He knew that blindly following orders had helped him get through his second day of combat. "No more running off alone until I tell you you're off suicide watch. No more trying to feed from someone without me around to make sure you stop in time. And no more shutting out your humanity, period."

Still wiping off his face, Jeremy nodded. "Okay."

"For now," Damon got his cell phone out of his pocket, "plant your butt on the couch where I can keep an eye on you until Stefan gets back with your sister."

Fresh tears went down Jeremy's face. "Elena's gonna hate me."

Damon rolled his eyes as he dialed. "No she won't, she loves you." He had no problem forcing Jeremy's humanity back into place, but he didn't exactly want to deal with the kid's emotions now that they were back. In his mind, that job clearly belonged to Stefan and Elena, who were much better suited to the task.

Stefan answered his cell phone immediately with the words, "Are you done?"

"Yes. Hurry back," Damon said, and hung up. He saw Jeremy wiping at more tears, and had to pour himself a double. As they waited in silence, Damon became more and more anxious to leave. Hearing Jeremy's gut wrenching regret had stirred up long dead feelings, and he found himself unable to shut them out the way he had in years past.

The instant he heard Elena's car in the driveway, Damon downed his drink. He pointed to Jeremy and said, "Stay," before walking out to meet Stefan and Elena in the driveway.

Elena said, "Thank you," as she rushed past Damon and into the house to see Jeremy.

Damon raised an eyebrow and turned to Stefan.

He said, "She means thanks for finding him. I didn't tell her what you were doing when I left. I assume it worked?"

"Yeah it did, and now he's a mess, and he's your problem." Damon walked towards his car without waiting for a response.

Suddenly angry, Stefan called after him, "I thought things might be different between us now, but here I am cleaning up your mess like usual."

Damon was in front of Stefan, and invading his personal space, before Stefan could blink. The brothers faced off. Damon grabbed Stefan's upper arm, and hissed, "Can you still shut it out?"

"What?" Stefan asked with confusion.

Frustrated, Damon shook him and said, "Can you still shut out your humanity?"

Scrutinizing his brother, Stefan said, "I don't know. I haven't tried for years."

Damon glanced back to the house to make sure they were still alone, and growled, "Well, I can't anymore!" He shoved Stefan away, and stalked off to his car.

Watching his brother drive away, Stefan finally understood why he felt closer to him than he had in years. Damon was getting his humanity back whether he liked it or not.

# # #

Jeremy felt the sun on his face, and opened his eyes. He could see the outline of tree branches above him, but in his peripheral vision, he saw dirt. He tried to sit up, but couldn't move his body. The dirt was all around him weighing him down, suffocating him. He tired to scream, but nothing came out.

A hand on his shoulder woke Jeremy out of his dream. He jerked himself into a sitting position. Breathing hard, and feeling ill, he gave Stefan a grateful, "Thanks for waking me up."

Stefan said with sympathy, "Nightmare?"

Jeremy nodded.

"Wanna tell me about it?"

"I was lying in the bottom of a fresh grave, and I couldn't move. The dirt piled up on me, pushing me down." Jeremy rubbed his face with his hand, trying to lose the panicky feeling the dream had given him.

Stefan sat down on the other side of the bed, and said, "The woman you killed couldn't feel anything by the time you buried her."

"Yeah, I know," he said softly, "but she knew I was killing her while I did it."

The older vampire squeezed Jeremy's shoulder in comfort, and kept quiet.

Something made a soft thunk downstairs. "What was that?" Jeremy asked.

"Damon."

Jeremy looked at the clock. "What's he doing at three AM?"

Stefan shook his head, and sighed. "Probably trying to make it up the stairs. He stumbled in drunk about two-thirty, and he's been in the living room since then." Stefan could see the confusion in Jeremy's expression, and added, "Dealing with you today, brought up some feelings he'd rather not have, and he can't shut it out anymore."

"Can't?" the kid asked.

"Not anymore."

"Why not?"

The room was quiet for a few seconds, while Stefan thought that over. "You want to know what I honestly think it is?"

Jeremy nodded.

"Love."

"Love?"

Stefan said, "I heard Damon tell you that anger is the easiest emotion to bring out in people, and while there may be some truth in that, love is a hundred times stronger. Once you feel love, it's nearly impossible to lock it away. That's why it was so easy for Damon to force your humanity back in. You loved Anna and Vicki, and those relationships were very recent. You also love your Aunt Jenna, and Elena. Love is the best reason not to shut it out again. You can't feel the joy of being in love with someone without your humanity."

Seeing the truth in that, Jeremy said, "I don't plan on trying to shut it out again." He looked down at his lap and added, "I hate myself for what I did today. No way do I want to have more things to hate myself for."

"I regret most of the things I did when mine was shut out. I hope you can learn from this one mistake, instead of making hundreds like I did, or thousands like Damon."

They both heard Damon's bedroom door shut.

"At least he made it to his room," Stefan muttered. "Talk about setting a bad example."

"If me being here is driving him to drink, then maybe I should leave."

"Are you crazy?" Stefan asked. He thought having Jeremy around would actually help his brother deal with his own emotions, but he kept that to himself. "You're not going anywhere until Damon lets you. Unless you wanted a repeat of this afternoon's spanking?"

Cringing, Jeremy muttered, "No, of course not. And could we please never mention it ever again."

They heard Damon's bed springs creak as he flopped down.

Even in the dark, Stefan could see Jeremy's face turning red. "Don't worry, he'll stop treating you like a kid eventually."

"Eventually?"

With a smile Stefan said, "Give it ten years… twenty tops."

Jeremy lay back down, groaned, and put his pillow over his face.

Taking pity on the kid, Stefan pulled the pillow off his face and said. "I'm kidding. Give it a year or two. If you don't go around pulling idiotic stunts like you did today, you shouldn't have anything to worry about."

Jeremy certainly wasn't planning to make waves again, and Damon really had helped him adjust. He said, "A year doesn't sound too bad." After a pause, he pushed himself up on one elbow and said, "Wait. Who does Damon love?"

"Well that's a tricky question. My guess is he thinks he's in love with Elena."

"You don't think so?"

"No, I do think he loves Elena. But I think he also loves me, and you, and Caroline, and the Sheriff, and Katherine, and Anna, and this town, and this house. Loving Elena may have opened the door, but now that it's open, he can't close it. And since his emotions are free for the first time in years, they're going to make up for lost time."

From his bedroom, Damon growled, "Shut it, Stefan. I don't love anyone. I hate all of you."

Surprised at how sober Damon sounded, Stefan grinned. "Yeah, sure you do, Damon."

"I thought you said he was drunk," Jeremy said with worry.

Smirking, Stefan said, "Guess he's just been downstairs wallowing in self pity."

Jeremy glared, and hissed, "Don't irritate him on purpose!"

"Sorry," Stefan said, without any real repentance. He understood why Jeremy was nervous about Damon's reactions right now, but hoped it wouldn't last for more than a couple of days. Damon without his humanity was dangerous and unpredictable, but Damon with his humanity intact was a decent guy who could be trusted.

Raising his voice, Damon said, "If you two girls are done with your slumber party gossip, I'd like to get some sleep."

Jeremy immediately snatched his pillow out of Stefan's hands, and lay back down.

With a smile, Stefan went back to his chair to keep an eye on him while he slept.

Jeremy rolled over, got comfortable, and let his mind wander. He was still miserable with grief and self-hatred, but he also had to admit that a newfound sense of security was building in him. There was security in knowing that Damon, Stefan, and Elena were going to make sure he kept himself in check for the next year or two. That security gave him the willpower to keep going, and it gave him hope that things could eventually get better.

Praying for no more nightmares, Jeremy let himself drift off to sleep.



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