Chapter: 08 - A Matter Of When [Featured Characters: Elena, Caroline, TyKlaus, Stefan, Jeremy, Ghost!Alaric and Damon]
Author: JenniferH (Arabian)
Rating: M (For future chapters/language, sex, violence)
Summary: Post 3.22 -- Elena grapples with who she is as a vampire, struggling for control as she tries to find herself and accept who she loves (spoiler: it's Damon!) while her friends and enemies grapple with their own choices in this new world.
Word Count: 6,380
Disclaimer: The Vampire Diaries, and all her characters as presented, belong to Kevin Williamson, Julie Plec, the CW, etc., etc., so on and so forth. ;)
Notes: Thank you to my group of wonderful beta-readers who made this fic a ton better than it would have been otherwise. Following canon here, so there will be Stefan/Elena and as portrayed on the show, but fear not, this is very definitely a Damon/Elena story (with other pairings referenced, and some featured (Stefan/Rebekah, Matt/Rebekah, Stefan/Caroline, Jeremy/Bonnie).
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Chapter 08: A Matter Of When
“So, Elena …” Klaus began, the wintry smile so familiar on Klaus looking out of place on Tyler’s face. “You are no longer any good to me. And by me, of course, I mean when I’m out of this body. Your friend, the witch, is working on that, yes?”
With his attention focused on Elena, Caroline took the opportunity to reach into her pocket for her phone. Risking a quick glance at her contacts, she scrolled surreptitiously through them. Reaching ‘Stefan,’ she pressed the call button and prayed with everything in her that Klaus was too busy baiting Elena to hear Stefan’s greeting because she certainly heard it.
“Hello? Caroline? Caro –“ He broke off when Elena spoke.
"What are you going to do?" Elena was putting on a good show, probably enough to fool Klaus, but Caroline had known Elena since first grade and she could hear the fear in her friend's voice. As strong as Elena was, this was one situation where Caroline definitely had more leverage.
“Yeah, Klaus, what are you going to do?” she demanded, pulling his attention away from Elena.
He didn’t answer at first, simply gazed at Elena for a moment longer with a cocked head, that impish, evil smirk lighting his face. Caroline gulped, still freaked out at seeing so many Klaus characteristics on her boyfriend.
“Katherine turned herself!” Elena suddenly burst out, her voice impassioned. Caroline sent an anxious look her way as Elena continued, a note of desperation in her voice. “I didn’t want to die! You know I didn’t want to die. You can’t punish me, the people I love, for something I didn’t want, something I never would have chosen if I had a choice!”
Crinkling her brow, Caroline was still for a moment, regretting that she tended to block out Katherine-talk because of her history with the older vampire. She had no idea what Katherine had to do with what was going on with Elena now.
“Tsk, tsk. Elena, I’m well aware that your situation is quite different from Katerina’s. From what I hear, my little sister had a hand in your death.”
“*Your sister* had more than a hand, she’s the reason Elena died!” Finally! Klaus turned to look at Caroline, the winter of his smile heating and his eyes softening. A shudder ran through her. It was Tyler’s smile, Tyler’s warm eyes, but it was Klaus’ smitten gaze that held a promise of so much more. It was so different from the boyish ardor of Tyler. And as strong as the revulsion was – and it was freaking strong! – she would be lying to herself if she didn’t admit that there was a thrill too. He was terrible, the very worst and yet somehow, she got to him. Caroline Forbes, everybody's second choice, but not for him.
“Yes, which is why I haven’t been to see her yet. Let her mourn my loss a bit. It might teach her to not take away my playthings.” And then he turned to Elena again. “Bonnie? She is working on getting me out of this body?”
Elena ducked her head quickly and then with a deep exhalation met his gaze again. “I think so, but I don’t know what she’s going to do because,” she paused and then continued, her voice slightly shaken, “Ric staked your actual body and I don’t know, I didn’t ask Damon but if you were staked wouldn't your body have burned like he told me your father’s did?”
Klaus shrugged lazily, a genteel grace in the gesture making it so different from the jerky shrug that was Tyler's adolescent norm. “When we last spoke she informed me that in addition to transferring my, aah, soul into my hybrid –“
“He’s not YOUR hybrid! He broke your control, remember?” Caroline interrupted sharply, a sneer presented with bravado in her voice.
Fat lot of good that did, she thought with a mental groan when Klaus continued as if she hadn't spoken at all. "Bonnie also put a protection spell on my body. I should be fine. The re-transfer just needs to happen. Soon." His smile turned tight. "You best make sure that Bonnie gets on it. I have no reason to not kill you and everyone you love now that you're of no use to me."
"What about Caroline?" Stefan's voice called out and Caroline felt a rush of relief flood her. She turned to see him striding into the clearing and was so happy to see him, she could have kissed him.
Not so happy, judging by the fading smile on his face, was Klaus. "Ah, are you going to acknowledge me this time instead of letting Caroline do all the talking?"
"Since you were there to play games with her, I figured it was up to her what to say, or do, to you." With a tilt of his head, Stefan smiled mockingly. “Like kick your ass.”
With a derisive laugh, Klaus nodded his head. "Yes, you're so good at letting others make the decisions for you, aren't you, mate?" He glanced over at Elena. "Right, Elena? After all, it was your decision to die. And your loving boyfriend respected that decision."
Caroline looked at Elena and was surprised to see her stiffen for just a moment. It was brief, but noticeable enough that Caroline saw it. Turning her head, she saw Stefan give a slight wince and realized that he caught it too. She bit her lip, feeling a surge of sympathy for him. While Stefan was freaking out over Elena last night, feeling guilty as hell, Elena was macking on Damon. Again!
“Trouble in paradise?” Klaus said. Caroline frowned as she realized that even he was picking up on the tension. She knew that Elena felt *something* for Damon, but she hadn’t realized that it was something enough that was causing a real, noticeable strain between her and Stefan. Then she thought about Stefan’s comments last night and suddenly wondered how much the strain was just between Stefan and Elena period. Especially after her outburst before Klaus showed up. Klaus! God! This is so not the time to be worrying about Elena’s love life, Caroline! she admonished herself.
With a determined nod, she turned to face Klaus once more, grimacing at the sight of Tyler instead. He’s right about one thing, Bonnie *really* needs to get a move on and get him out of my boyfriend’s body! She shook her head. Focus, Caroline!
“Klaus.” It wasn’t a question, it was a command and she couldn’t help but be gratified when he turned to look at her immediately, Tyler’s eyes melting again with that stirring smitten look that was soooo Klaus. “If you won’t keep your ancient, hybrid killer hands off of my friends because of Elena anymore, would you please do it for me?”
He froze, his eyes narrowing. She could hear Elena and Stefan both shifting on either side of her, but she kept her gaze locked on Klaus. She could see whatever there was left of his soul so clearly that, for a moment, she would have sworn it was Klaus she was looking at and not Tyler at all. Taking a step towards her, his expression was open, almost hopeful for just the slightest moment and then like a mask slipping over his face, a petulant smirk curved his lips, lighting his eyes. “Are you asking me for a favor, luv?”
Caroline took a step back as he moved closer and then Stefan and Elena were by her side.
Klaus laughed. “Really, now. You can’t kill me or you’ll all die." His gaze flashed to Elena. "You too, my lovely, since, no doubt, it was Damon who fed you his blood." His smile spread as he took in all three of them. "Oh, and you can’t stake me either because that would kill poor Tyler.” Then ignoring the presence of her two friends on either side, he stepped even closer. “Caroline?”
Quick as lightning, Stefan stepped between them and shoved Klaus hard. “Get out of here, Klaus.” He clenched his fists at his side, getting right up into the hybrid’s face. “I may not be able to kill you, but I can kick your ass now. Until you’re back in your thousand-year old body, stay the hell away from Elena *and* Caroline.”
Still for a moment, Klaus considered Stefan and then gave a slight nod. “Whatever you say, mate, just bear in mind … when I’m back in my thousand-year old body?” Caroline stiffened because she just knew what was coming next. “I won’t forget this.” And then he smiled. “And neither will you.”
Stefan let out a short bark of laughter. “But you wouldn’t kill me, Klaus, or anyone I love.”
“I wouldn’t, then?”
Shaking his head, Stefan stepped back, arms spread out and Caroline marveled at his devil-may-care attitude. “If you do, you’ll never get your little buddy back. And hope springs eternal, doesn't it, *Nik?* And, hey, we do have eternity.”
It was Klaus’ turn to laugh then, a genuine one. “Well played, my friend. Well played.” He held Stefan’s gaze for a moment and then looked past him to Elena. She shuddered beside Caroline. And then Tyler’s eyes with Klaus’ fascination lighting them locked onto her. “Caroline. I won’t be in this body forever and my time *will* come.” Just like Elena, Caroline shuddered.
It wasn't entirely for the same reason.
The house was quiet and Jeremy found he liked it. It made it easier to pretend that everything was still normal. His parents were just out buying groceries; Elena was hanging out with Bonnie and Caroline. There were no vampires, no witches, no werewolves. His family – all of them – was still alive. Sighing, Jeremy began sifting through the pile of random papers he’d shoved aside throughout the last year. He needed a mind-numbing activity and his room was a mess, so why not?
Look at me, being all responsible, he thought with a half-smile. Even that faded as he found a picture from a few Thanksgivings ago. Grouped around a gorgeous spread, the golden turkey proudly on display, stood his parents, Aunt Jenna, and slightly younger versions of himself and Elena. They were all smiling. They looked happy.
They were happy.
His fingers gripped the edge of the photo and he looked up, staring straight ahead, seeing nothing. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying not to cry. He let out a deep breath, and then another. His body relaxed; the picture slipped from his fingers. Jeremy opened his eyes, waited a beat, and then bent over to pick it up. He managed a smile and set it in a box of stuff marked ‘to keep.’
Leaning over, he picked up the next set of papers and his smile widened. “A+,” he said aloud, taking in the bright red mark on his vampire mythology paper submitted to the once upon a time new history teacher. Shaking his head, his expression grew serious, resentment building in him as he flipped through the report. “No vampires, right.”
“When you submitted that paper, I knew that I had the right town.”
Jeremy spun around, surprised, but not to see Ric standing there, a gentle smile on his face. “Hey, Jeremy.”
Dropping the report, Jeremy smiled again, this time it spread wide across his face. “Hey, Ric!”
They were both silent then, and long enough that it began to feel a bit awkward. Jeremy cleared his throat. “Uhm, so how’s the afterlife?”
“I’m adjusting right now.” He sat down on the bed, bouncing a few times, and then glanced up at Jeremy. “So, I guess you were thinking of me when you saw that paper?”
“That must be how it works then. I’ve been checking on you, Elena and Damon since I, you know, but I wasn’t here. So, if you wanna talk, just think of me.”
Jeremy nodded. “Yeah, that’s how it worked with Anna and Vicki, well, I mean, they had to be thinking of me too, I think.”
“Well, I was thinking of you.”
Ducking his head, Jeremy set the paper into the box, and then he looked up with a jerk, a sudden thought grabbing him. “Hey, have you seen Jenna?”
Ric was quiet for a moment and then shook his head. “She’s not where I am. Wherever that is. She never killed anyone, never went evil so you won’t be seeing her, Jeremy. Neither will I.”
“Good, I mean, you know… ” Jeremy trailed off.
“Yeah,” Ric nodded with a smile. “I know. So, how are you doing?”
“Elena’s a vampire.”
“Yeah.” Ric nodded again.
“Yeah.” Making a fist, Jeremy shook his head, frustration clear on his face.
“Hey, Jere, she'll get through it. She's strong, and she has tons of support.”
“Yeah.” Jeremy laughed harshly. “Like from Stefan? He let her die, Ric! That’s why she’s a vampire.”
“I wasn't thinking of Stefan actually.” He waited until Jeremy looked at him. “I was thinking of you, the girls... and Damon.”
Rolling his eyes, Jeremy plopped down next to Ric. “Damon, yeah, things are gonna be easy as pie if *Damon* is one of her best bets to pull through.”
“Hey, cut him some slack. He’s really not as bad as he pretends to be.”
Jeremy raised an eyebrow, unable to stop the laugh that escaped him. “You do know he snapped my neck.”
“Yeah, well,” Ric paused. “OK, that was bad.”
“Ya think?” Jeremy laughed, but as it faded, a slight smile still played along the lips. “Actually in a twisted way, he kinda saved my life when he did that.” Pulling back, Ric shot a surprised glance his way, eyebrows raised. He was silent, waiting for Jeremy to continue. “You know why Elena forgave him for that?”
“Because she has a limitless pool of forgiveness that defies sanity?”
Jeremy let out a bark of laughter, but spoke through it. “Beyond that.”
“Because she cares about him, more than she wants to, even though she doesn’t even want to care at all?”
“Well, that, yeah, but mostly it’s cuz I told her what happened earlier. I told her that he came to see me, offered to compel the bad feelings about Anna away." A note of bitterness entered his tone. "Unlike Elena ever does, he gave me a choice.” Jeremy tilted his head back, letting out a sigh as he let go of the resentment and thought of that night. His pain, his desire to just let go of it all and then there was Damon saying the right words that pushed him to take that risk with Anna’s blood.
He straightened up and looked back at Ric. “I asked him about being a vampire, if it would help with the pain and he gave me an honest answer. So the next night, in Elena’s room, he already knew what I wanted. I really don't think he was trying to kill *kill* me, you know? I mean, sure, yeah, he was pissed, but I think he was maybe trying to give me what I thought I wanted.”
“Jeremy… ” Ric began, trailing off when Jeremy shook his head.
“I did really think I wanted that... that or death.” He shrugged. “So either way, he was giving me what I wanted.
“Jeremy,” Ric murmured again, pain in his eyes.
“Ric, you don’t know. I was just so done. Done with everything. After my parents, then Vicki, then all the crazy vampire stuff, Elena lying to me, then Anna was the last straw... I was just done. When Damon did that to me, it gave me a new direction.”
Jeremy smiled, his eyes lighting up slightly as he tried to explain his state of mind. “What he did, me dying? It made me realize I wasn't done, I still had a life worth living, I had Elena, I had my future, I had my life. I mean, God, it was terrible what he did, but when you live surrounded by dead people and supernatural shit everywhere, it just doesn’t seem that bad when I think of how what he did made me want to live. It made me *realize* I wanted to live.”
“Did you tell Damon that?”
He scoffed. “No.”
“But you did tell Elena?”
Jeremy nodded. “Yeah, so she forgave him." He snorted. "Which she would have anyway. Like you said, she always forgives everybody. Plus she so has a thing for him. No matter how mad she gets, no matter what he does, she always lets him back in.”
Letting out a breath, Ric rose to his feet and looked through the open bathroom door across to Elena’s empty room. “Well, maybe not this time.”
“Yeah, right. Tell me something I’ll believe.”
Ric leaned against the doorjamb, turning to face Jeremy. “She's going through stuff right now.”
“Duh, she’s a vampire.”
Shrugging lightly, Ric slipped a hand into his jacket pocket. “Like I said, I've watched her a bit and she's taking a breather from all things Damon. I don't think it's a good idea personally, but, you know your sister, she's very stubborn.”
Jeremy rose to his feet, suspicious suddenly. “What happened?”
He pulled his hand out and held both up in a display of innocence. “Not for me to say.” He shut his eyes for a brief moment, giving a slight shudder. “God, wish I didn’t know. Talk about mental scarring, couldn't get gone fast enough,” he muttered under his breath, but Jeremy heard him.
“What happened, Ric?”
“Never mind. Trust me, you don’t want to know. Just know–“
Jeremy cut him off with a scoff. “Probably making out again. Denver all over, I bet. Guess she can't be alone with him and not jump his bones.” He rolled his eyes.
“Something like that,” Ric confirmed. “So she *doesn't* want to be alone with him.”
Dropping back down, Jeremy gave the bed a hard punch. “Right.” His voice rose to a high falsetto. “Because she's with Stefan.” Then just as quickly, he lowered his tone, anger lacing his words. “She's so stupid, Ric! He let her die.”
“I know.” And for the first time Ric showed some anger, alongside the sadness. “Her death– ” he broke off and then continued, his tone level. “It was her death that saved Damon. When she died, that’s when I did. I was about to kill him.”
Jeremy’s eyes widened. “Oh,” was all he managed.
Ric shook his head. “It’s done, it happened. She may be technically dead, but she’s still here. And she has to figure this whole mess out– including whatever the hell is going on with Stefan *and* Damon. And she's stubborn–“
“And it's going to take time, but she needs to figure it out herself. No one can make things right for her except for her. Do you understand that?”
Sighing, Jeremy threw himself back and gazed up at the ceiling. “Yeah, I get it.”
“Good. In the meantime, I have an outrageous favor to ask.”
Jeremy sat up, a wary look on his face. “What?”
“Damon's all alone.” Ric shrugged. “You know, he pretty much had me and Elena with an occasional side-helping of the Sheriff, and that was it. Now Meredith,” he paused, a smile flitting across his face. “She might become a friend, but right now, there’s so much she hasn’t been a part of and so he's alone.”
Rolling his eyes, Jeremy laid back down. “He's got Stefan.” And then under his breath. “Stupid Stefan. Asshole.”
Ric chuckled. “No, not like that. He and Damon, they have too many issues. Stefan loves Damon, but he also hates him. And he's so caught up in that struggle that he sees only the best or the worst in his brother. Or whatever the hell Damon lets him see. Which isn't much.” Ric walked over to the bed to sit down again. “Stefan does have Elena and Caroline, probably Matt and Tyler when this mess is straightened out.”
Jeremy shot up. “Yeah, dude, Klaus is in Tyler!”
“I know." He paused, his expression stern. "Jeremy, listen, this is important to me and right now, even though Elena won't admit it, it's important to her too. Damon needs someone on his side.”
Sighing, Jeremy turned to face him fully, confusion lighting his eyes. “So what? You want me to be his buddy?”
Ric laughed. “No. Just when you see him, don't assume the worst. Don't pile on like everyone always does. And if he's being a particular brand of nasty, get him alone, tell him I told you to kick his ass – metaphorically-speaking – and get whatever the hell is bugging him off his chest. Hell, tell him I'm there even if I'm not and get him to talk at least a little. He needs an outlet or he'll explode.”
It was Jeremy’s turn to laugh. “Ya think?”
Ric’s laughter faded, his expression serious. “I know. Can you try and do that for me? You might actually be surprised to find out he's really not all that bad.”
Shrugging, Jeremy stood up and turned to face Ric, looking down at him. “Fine, I'll try to be there, I guess.” His brows raised and he shot Ric a determined look. “But I'm gonna be on guard. With him you never know when the other shoe's gonna drop, you just know that it will.”
Ric nodded. “Fair enough, and good call.” He stood up, stepping forward and reached out a hand, before dropping it with a shake of his head. “Oh well. No touching.” A smile flashed across his face. “Thank you and,” he paused, his smile fading. “I'm sorry.”
Jeremy shook his head. “None of this is your fault. Hey, I'm just glad I still get to see you, talk to you. That's something.”
“Yup. Better than nothing.”
Suddenly, a car backfired outside. Jeremy’s gaze shot towards the window, his attention captured by the sound. With a shake of his head, he looked back to Ric, but he was gone.
Jeremy sighed, missing him already, but he felt better. “Better than nothing.”
Damon pulled into the driveway of the boarding house and hopped out of his car, whistling as he headed to the front door. Pausing, he took a moment to listen intently and was rewarded with the ever-so earnest tones of Stefan.
"Enough about Klaus. How was your first hunting attempt?" Damon could just see the puppy dog gaze of his baby brother, staring deeply into Elena's eyes, trying to communicate wordlessly how important every single, solitary syllable that dripped from her lips was to him.
"I didn't like it," was the dulcet reply of his heartbreaker.
Then there was a pause which Stefan filled. "You could have called me..." he trailed off tentatively. Interesting, thought Damon, pettily pleased at the undercurrent of discomfort in the statement and the tone.
"I know, I just–" she broke off and Damon rested against the door, determined to capture her every sound. She sighed. Success! "I hadn't seen Caroline since..." she trailed off, obviously not ready to just fucking deal with it. You're a vampire, Elena, get over it. She sighed again. "I didn't like it," she repeated. "It was a cute, innocent bunny. I murdered a cute bunny today."
"You don't have a choice, Elena."
She was quiet for a long moment, and when she did speak, her voice was soft, vulnerable. "I know." Damon waited for Stefan to respond, to say something, anything to make her feel better because even if he couldn't see her, he knew the look on her face, in her eyes, tears unshed, but this close to falling. She was using *that* voice. And then it broke. "I never wanted this."
And Damon's heart broke for her even as a surge of frustration filled him. Right, Elena, you *never* wanted this. Not even for Stefan. How do you not get that this is not the truest love that ever loved if you can't see yourself together for more than a couple of teenage years, let alone for an eternity? God damn.
"Elena," the non-love of her life (undead or otherwise) finally spoke up. "I think it's great that you're not even going near the human stuff." Pfft, stuff? Really, Stefan? "I know there was Jeremy's–"
She cut him off with a weary note in her voice. "Honestly, I don't even remember the taste of it. I just remember feeling awful that it was his."
Not looking at her, instead just hearing her, the strain was so evident in every word he was surprised she hadn't just fallen apart under the tension already. But Damon knew Stefan and knew that he wouldn't see it even as it sat right in front of him. Damon knew that his brother would be too busy trying to make Elena the perfectly behaved vampire that he would blind himself to what she was going through. He would just plaster over her pain with misplaced, albeit heartfelt, understanding and offer up useless words about a better tomorrow! They both operated on a daily basis inside a bubble of pretense just to get through another day of merely coping, as opposed to confronting the situation head on. It didn't matter how many times it popped, they just blew another one. And another, and another. And here we go again.
Elena might be playing her little keep-away game, but he was going to do his damndest to interject some reality into this situation even if he pissed her off even more. What else is new? Living in fantasy-land where a vampire could subsist on cute forest animals alone was only going to lead to a meltdown of epic proportions. Lord knew the girl had a major, major one due. It's not a matter of if, dot, dot, dot.
Quietly Damon opened the front door and carefully shut it behind him, not ready to announce his presence. He waited a beat for a conversation lag to see if they'd noticed him. There was none. Moving to the open passage of the drawing room, he leaned against the jamb and watched the pair, their backs to him, oblivious for the moment.
He used that moment to observe not only the two of them, but the level of heartbreak he was feeling at seeing them together... again. After their six months of solidarity and togetherness when they were the 'we' in the triangle instead of she and Stefan. After Stefan kidnapped her, force-fed her his blood and played a game of chicken with Klaus. After Denver. After fucking in his bedroom. After she played the 'if you love me' card and his magnificent epiphany ala Jack Daniels. He figured that 'it's always Stefan' was a ten, while Caroline getting over him in like a piddly-ass week was a one. Narrowing his eyes, he took in the two of them, their physical closeness, totally in each other's dance space and decided he was at a three. Elena sighed and shifted a smidge closer. OK, fine, four.
She shook her head and laid a quick hand on Stefan’s thigh. Damon rolled his eyes. "I'm sorry, Stefan, I don't want to be like..." She paused, and Damon waited for her to say his name because, of course, he was the worst.
Elena surprised him.
“You,” she said and she was referring to Stefan. Go figure. OK, she’s not a complete moron.
Damon could hear the rueful smile in his brother’s response. “I'm not your normal vampire when it comes to blood. You've seen what happens…” He trailed off again, unwilling to paint an unpretty picture.
“I don’t get it.” Moving to the right, Damon could see the side of Stefan’s face and he looked as confused as Damon. Elena threw back her head with a sigh. “You drank my blood.” Narrowing his eyes, Damon recalled first hearing about that and felt another small pinch of jealousy, and then frustration as he suddenly realized that now he would never taste Elena’s human blood Elena's human blood, at least offered willingly and when he wasn't out of his mind in a feverish delusion. Fuck me.
“Yeah,” Stefan prompted, still confused, but Damon figured out where she was going with this. Her response proved him right.
“After Katherine showed up, you drank my blood and you were fine, so I don’t get why it’s a problem for you. You drank human blood.”
Laughing lightly, Stefan reached down and squeezed her hand that was still on his fucking thigh. “Elena, most vampires can drink one to two blood bags a day if they want. I drank the equivalent of a handful of bags over the course of two *months.*” He sighed, releasing her hand. “I don't know, maybe if Klaus hadn't forced me to go all out, I could have learned moderation eventually.” He leaned back with a sigh. “Damon says he wants to teach me, but things with us are not,” he paused with a quick shake of his head, “good right now.”
With a shout-out, Damon figured it was time he made his presence known, woefully aware that any vampire who actually drank human *stuff* would have already picked it up no matter how quiet he was being.
“You can say that again.” He moved into the room, delighting at their reaction. Stefan’s expression went blank, while his fists clenched in self-conscious defense as if he could even dream of taking Damon right now. Elena? Now that’s where the real delight came from. Her eyes widened and he was listening oh so intently. Her heartbeat began doing the mambo and her breath caught as her gaze met his own. Quickly, she looked down and then snatched her hand from Stefan’s thigh. And his brother stiffened. It was almost enough to make him rub his hands together in glee.
Feeling his hope rejuvenated by their response, he smiled, beaming at them across the room. He continued, satisfaction absolutely resplendent in his tone. “After all, you did kill our girlfriend. Tsk, tsk.”
Stefan rolled his eyes, but there was an undercurrent of anger in his voice. “Are we gonna go through this again?”
Shrugging, Damon leaned against the doorjamb, cool as a cucumber. “Nah, she may be dead, but at least she's a living dead person. I'm getting over it.”
“Good.” Stefan nodded, getting all super-serious and down to business with a slap of his hands on his thighs. “Elena and I were talking about how she's going to handle the blood situation.”
“Yeah, got that memo. Human blood, bad. Cute, fluffy bunny blood, good.”
Stefan sent him a look of annoyance and then with a brisk shake of his head turned to Elena. He took her hands. Damon rolled his eyes, well-used to his brother’s passive-aggressive nyeah-nyeah-nyeah tactics. Whatever, dude, you got the girl now. ‘Now’ being the key word, baby bro.
“Elena, one of the worst things about being a vampire is the blood. But it's something you have to deal with–“
You’ve got to be kidding me! “Seriously?” Stefan sighed and glanced over at Damon, while Elena finally looked at him, oh so casually slipping her hands from Stefan's grasp. “Drinking blood is not one of *the* worst things. It's one of the *least* not worst things, well, for those of us who don't go crazy over it.” He waggled his eyebrows in Stefan’s direction, pulling away from the doorway and stepping into the room.
“No, the worst thing for the rest of us non-rippery-vampire types is the amplification of emotions. Anger, fear.” Damon paused and looked directly at Elena, determinedly capturing her gaze and locking on hard for this next one. “Lust.” Bingo! She blushed beet red, and the mambo of her heartbeat went into double-time. Damon looked to his brother, and fortunately for Elena, Stefan was still looking at him.
“Damon–“ he began.
“Stefan,” Damon interrupted, saying his name in a sing-song manner. He rolled his eyes and continued. “It's all about controlling those things and, while yes, I've had my issues in the past.” Stefan scoffed. “Hey! Really, I'm getting better. I've been really pissed off the last twenty-four hours and I haven't killed anyone, haven’t even thought of it." He smirked. "And I didn't go calling Rebekah for a good time either– oh, wait, I’m still mad at her seeing as how she was numero uno in the 'let's kill Elena' brigade.” Stefan winced, but kept the perma-frown and furrowed brow going at full-attention. “OK, fine, I beat the holy hell out of you but you deserved it, and we both know you did.”
“Damon!” She speaks!
“Elena,” Damon shot back mockingly, drawing her name out. She was quiet once more. Ah well. “Back on point. The darker side of vampirism is not drinking blood, it's emotion control and it's about the desire...” he offered up a deliciously long pause letting that sink in. Bull’s-eye. She broke eye contact with a start and looked down and away. Then she abruptly stood up and turned her back on Damon. He shrugged, continuing. “The desire to kill. Those are the things you need to worry about, not sipping on a blood bag or two.”
The two of them were quiet, Stefan unable to argue with what he damn well knew was the truth, and Elena not willing to deal with it. She finally turned to face Damon once more and her expression was hard. Uh oh, she’s sticking to her guns. Oooh! I’m scared. He didn’t even try and fight back his grin.
She paused at the smile, momentarily thrown, but then she stood up straight, firming her resolve. “I told you, Damon, I don't want your help. I have Stefan.”
Instead of even a ripple of a pain, he found himself rolling his eyes and wanting to walk over and chuck her on the chin, a measure of both pride at her incredible strength and amusement at her refusal to pop the damn bubble once and for all. Oh, Elena.
“Right, you have Stefan.” And he meant it. He wasn’t being sarcastic. She one hundred percent had Stefan. Damon just very much hoped that his brother could help her hold together until she was ready to let go of the fantasy. But he needed to remind her of the reality of the situation, even if she chose to ignore it. “Stefan, the Ripper, Salvatore... that's your vampire model?”
She raised her chin, determination settling over her like a cloak. Of course, she was going to choose to ignore reality. Of course. Shaking his head, Damon clicked his tongue. “Don't think there's gonna be a happy ending here. Just sayin.'” And he hoped that she saw past her expectation of his pain to hear even a glimmer of the sincerity in his words. Her eyes flashed; her fists clenched at her side and he knew that she hadn’t. He sighed and, with a shake of his head, walked out.
Despite her avowal to have nothing to do with him, he wasn’t the least bit surprised when she left Stefan behind and came charging after him, her Chucks pounding on the floor. Elena spun him around. Gently, he noted, as if she was finally getting a hang of her new strength. Her eyes were bright and her face was flushed; she was angry and frustrated and struggling to not go vampire-psycho on his ass, but all he could think was how beautiful she was and how proud he was of her. Yes, she was shutting him out – or trying to anyway – but she was keeping control as best she knew how and as much as he wanted to, in this department, his brother wouldn’t be a lick of help.
Neither would her friends. Everyone was too acquiescent to her wishes, loving her so much and too damn young and inexperienced to know that sometimes you had to play the tough love card. But she was so responsible with that rigid moral compass – never mind that her morality was pretty whacked by the definition of most humans at this point – that the others just followed her lead because they were followers and never called her out when she was being so, so stupid.
So she was doing this, taking control of her life as best as she knew how all on her own. It was stupid. It was reckless. It was going to end in disaster. But he couldn’t not respect the fact that she was doing it on her own terms. Love makes you stupid. If what he was feeling right now wasn’t proof of that, he didn’t know what was. It took everything in him not to reach out, brush the loose strand of hair back into place, kiss her gorgeous mouth, promise to stand by her forever. Even when she was being an unbelievable idiot.
He sighed, even as she was sighing, clearly gearing herself up for some lambast or such. She wasn’t ready for him, for them. He got that now. But he had said it months ago and he knew it then, and it was just as true, if closer to fruition, now as it was then. They were right. They definitely would be right. Just not right now.
Elena breathed out, unclenched her fists. Instead of anger, she was going for a tone of appeasement. “Just because you're mad at me, don't take it out on him.”
He shook his head. “I'm not mad at you or Stefan. Elena, I'm not mad at all.” He smiled and he could feel it stretching across his face, the sincerity of it in every pull. “I’m good.” Damon inclined his head to the drawing room. “Go on. Go have fun with your boyfriend.” With a raise of his brows, he shrugged. “His time is now.”
She was silent. Damon nodded, and then swung away, leaving her standing there. Whistling, he headed up the stairs and glanced over his shoulder when he reached the turn of the stairs. Elena was still looking up at him, unmoving and looking very, very perturbed.
He winked at her, kept on moving and then she was out of sight.