“I feel the fire flare alight inside me
Higher so I can see
N’ aspire to survive this fight in spite of
Liars and travesty
Poets of the Fall – Fire
Chapter 11: An Honest Discussion
Bella was still wide awake a little more than an hour later, lying on her back and engaging the ceiling in a fruitless staring contest. There was an odd noise here and there in the bathroom where Damon had retreated to. Not long after the slam of the door closing, she’d heard the water switch on and run into the tub. As hurt, angry, and regretful as she felt, Bella still couldn’t stop herself from picturing Damon naked taking, of all things, a bath.
She wondered if he was using bubbles… Her lips twitched up despite her emotional turmoil.
It was an odd feeling to be sorry but not regretful. She’d spoken without thinking, not that she can truly be blamed for that considering how Damon had completely blindsided her, but even though she’d only known Damon a short period of time, she still should have known better.
Damon Salvatore was a walking contradiction. He appeared confident and unflappable, but Bella had recognized a shadow of herself in him almost within minutes of meeting him, and that meant that Damon wasn’t as put together as he liked to appear. He’d been hurt emotionally in the past – how distant she didn’t know – and had suffer a great betrayal, probably worse than she herself had.
She’d known all of this in theory. They never talked about their pasts, but there’d always been an understanding between them, a subtle acknowledgement of the elephant in the room. Hell, it’d been part of the reason she’d come to trust him so quickly, nearly instantaneously. They’d shared an affinity, no matter how unlikely or how different they were personality wise.
But Damon wasn’t perfect. He was brash and impulsive, among other things, and had a biting sense of humor that could reduce even the thickest-skinned to tears. Still, Bella guessed him to be a little insecure no matter how self-possessed he appeared, and she wondered if his uncertainties had gotten the best of him that night. It seemed strange to look at Damon and see a glimmer of herself, but they truly were two of a kind – he just wore better armor.
And, she reminded herself as she continued staring at the ceiling, she had wanted to forge armor just as strong for her own heart. Never again did she want to be at the mercy of her own self-doubt and grief. Sadly, though, she hadn’t been doing a good job of it, at least not consistently. It seemed she looked for reasons for Damon to leave her at the drop of a hat, constantly giving him an ‘out’ to be rid of her. Even now, the gaping hole in her chest created by Edward’s harsh words and abandonment throbbed, only partially healed.
Without even trying, Damon had taught her things about herself, about Edward, that she may never have come to realize even with the benefit of hindsight. Slowly, he’d handed her the tools to begin patching her emotional wounds and if she dropped them accidentally, he was there to pick them up and use them himself. And it was for that reason alone that she couldn’t simply forgive and forget what had just happened. She could meet him half-way and admit some fault, but Bella couldn’t brush it off like it didn’t matter. Like she didn’t matter.
Perhaps if he’d approached her differently… explained his reasoning more thoroughly, or given her more time to consider what it was he truly meant by offering her his blood.
But they’d never know now how that would have worked out. Instead, Damon had acted without taking her opinions into consideration; he’d used her emotions and desire for him against her. While she knew him well enough to detect some remorse, she believed him when he’d said he wasn’t sorry, not really. If she had to guess, he was probably sorry it upset her, but not that he’d done it.
And strangely, Bella could understand his reasoning. After all, if what he’d said was true then there was no obligation for her to complete the change into a vampire and he’d simply been affording her more time should the need ever arise. But truly, Damon was not so benign and his actions had been self-motivated.
This led Bella to one conclusion, no matter how hard it was for her to believe; Damon wanted her to become a vampire and stay with him.
On one hand, the vast expanse of eternity scared and intimidated her enough to not even contemplate taking such a leap. On the other, however, she was almost – flattered? Touched? – that he would want her that much and for that long. Edward certainly hadn’t.
In the end, she currently wasn’t prepared, or emotionally strong enough, to make a decision either way. But still, Damon had most definitely shed some light on a future she never would’ve imagined possible. A future of limitless potential. A future with him by her side, for however long they wanted to stay together. For the first time in what felt to be an eternity unto itself, Bella felt hope. Hope that maybe she was worth it, that she wasn’t as inconsequential as Edward had made her believe.
And so she’d find a way, somehow, to show Damon that she’d consider his offer of eternity, that she appreciated his willingness to do whatever it took to safeguard her while at the same time making it clear that she did not appreciate his methods. Edward had often made decisions for her as if she was no more than a toddler incapable of thinking for herself. It was Damon himself who had enabled her to see otherwise, to believe in her own strength. She may have let Edward get away with it, but Damon certainly wouldn’t, not when Bella now knew better.
She’d have to find a way to show him, to demonstrate this new feeling to him. To Damon, talk was cheap. Sure, Bella recognized that her relationship with him was growing far more serious than either of them had probably imagined it would be and they’d have to communicate better; actions alone weren’t enough. They’d have to talk about their pasts eventually, confront their fears and lay everything out on the table in a show of vulnerability that both of them were dreading. But talking wouldn’t be enough for either of them. They’d need to show each other in actions that they were committed and meant what they said and that they were serious about whatever it was that was between them, otherwise neither would believe it. Not with their pasts.
So as she rolled to her side and forfeited the staring contest with the ceiling, Bella couldn’t help but smile slightly even as she still fretted over Damon and their future together. She couldn’t help the feeling of pride that tickled her spine and contentedness that settled in her gut. There was still remorse for the way things had gone down, but she wasn’t sorry for sticking up for herself, for deciding not to let Damon completely off the hook for his actions despite her new understanding of them. Bella really was stronger than she’d been weeks ago and no matter how much that was in thanks to Damon, she knew the real way to show her gratitude to him was not to bow down, not even to him.
Despite the slight fear that remained for his reaction, Bella couldn’t help but think that in the end, Damon would be proud of her.
Slowly, waves of drowsiness pulled her into a light slumber. She felt buoyed by her conclusions, but still adrift in the uncertainty of her situation. In the midst of the floating sensation of sleep, she felt the bed dip beside her and automatically rolled into the warmth there, clutching to it like a life vest.
“Damon,” she sighed knowingly, half-asleep, half-awake. “Stay with me.”
Stay with me, she’d bid him, instead of her usual pleading of don’t leave me.
And as the tide of sleep pulled her away once more, she sensed his arms wrapping around her, keeping her afloat in this new sea of confidence and uncertainty she found herself in. Distantly, she heard him promise, his voice flowing over her like warm honey, “Always.”
Always, the word echoed throughout her subconscious mind and held all the solemnity of a vow made in his own blood.
When the deeper currents of sleep whisked her away, there were no dreams of being lost in the forest by her house. There was no Edward sputtering hurtful words, hammering them like little nails into her psyche while she passively let him, accepting each wound as if she’d deserved it.
No, that night she found herself in a pretty but sparse field, the sun glinting off the green blades of grass. Across from her was Damon, watching her with a cat-like curious tilt to his head. His lips were curled up and his expression was suspiciously void of his normal mocking condescension. Instead he looked vaguely encouraging and expectant.
Bella walked towards him, stopping halfway before dropping to her knees where she saw a trowel laying innocently. Without thought, she grabbed it and slipped it into the dirt to dig a small hole in the Earth, her hands sifting efficiently through process.
Reaching into her pocket, Bella pulled out a seed. She held it aloft in her palm and stared at it. Glancing up, she saw Damon now standing closer to her, watching with that same, encouraging glint in his eyes.
Dropping the seed into the hole, Bella moved the dirt over it, startling only sightly when Damon suddenly kneeled across from her, his hands joining hers, their fingers entwining over the small patch of Earth they’d planted over their promise.
Looking at their combined fingers, Bella smiled and when she looked up at Damon, she was content to see he was smiling too.
When she awoke later that evening, she was blissfully without her headache. Vaguely, she thought about how their plan had been to checkout of the hotel earlier that day, but she supposed neither of them had been in the mood or the proper condition to hit the road again. She would’ve been too hungover and Damon probably too annoyed to put up with her in the close confines of his Camaro.
Despite the awkwardness that lingered between them, Bella was pleasantly surprised to feel Damon spooned up behind her with his arm thrown across her in a casual display of possessiveness that was quickly becoming familiar. She remembered him coming to bed some point after she’d succumbed to sleep, holding her to him as though nothing had ever happened.
Biting her lip, Bella waited for him to make some sort of quip about their spat or say some random thing that would inevitably distract her from being mad at him.
But no words came.
Twisting slowly around, Bella was met with Damon’s face, smooth and peacefully blank as he slept deeply beside her.
Odd, but this was the first time she’d ever woken before him. Each morning, Bella had become accustomed to waking up curled around Damon as he held her unashamedly close to him. There’d be a brief moment where her cheeks heated into a blush of embarrassment and desire, and then he’d say some off the wall snappy comment that immediately set her at ease and took her mind off of the intimate press of his body to hers.
But now she had the opportunity to study his sleeping form without fear; to really take him in and study the picture of deceptive innocence he made.
Funny how her conclusions from after their argument were thrown even more into light as she watched him sleep. She’d never given much thought to it before, but there was a tightness to him when he was awake, a wary guardedness that was always present even as he disguised it under flirting and witty humor. Here, asleep with his arms around her, Damon looked truly peaceful, happy even. There were no preconceptions, no delusions.
Even more strange was when she could see awareness slowly creep into his being. The smooth brow of his forehead furrowed ever-so slightly, and his lips puckered as though he was about to speak. Quickly after those two, small changes, his eyes flew open and bored into Bella, their startling blue brighter than she’d ever seen.
There was a long, awkward silence.
While Bella was used to feeling awkward and predictably began to twitch a little bit in his embrace, she was mildly surprised to see Damon shift uncomfortable, his hands at her hips subconsciously gripping her tightly and then easing.
Bella spoke first. “Good morning… or evening, rather.”
She saw his eyes flick to the clock behind her and take in the time, nearly seven o’clock.
“Morning,” he said, his voice painfully neutral.
A beat of silence passed.
“I won’t apologize either,” Bella abruptly said.
Damon’s pointed look pinned her to the bed, but she stubbornly refused to pull away from him. After a moment of him studying her, he lifted a brow in clear invitation for her to continue.
“For last night,” she needlessly clarified. “You said you won’t apologize, but I won’t either. I was upset by what you did and wasn’t thinking rationally when I responded to your actions, but I won’t apologize for the way I feel. You should’ve explained it all properly before acting.”
“Is that so?” he murmured, his tone mild and giving nothing away.
Steeling herself, Bella gave him a pointed look of her own. “Yes,” she said tartly. “I regret that I spoke without thinking and may have hurt you, but I’m not sorry for sticking up for myself. I can’t let my decisions be taken from me, not again, and while that wasn’t exactly what you were trying to do, that’s how it made me feel.”
“Not again?” he prompted, his tone again giving nothing away.
Here it was – her moment of truth. To show Damon that she meant what she was telling him, she had to put herself out there and talk about that which she simply wanted to forget. For so long, Bella had handled her grief with the childish approach of ignoring it until it disappeared. Naturally, that had only made matters worse and it was time she grew up. Time she opened up, at least a little bit, to Damon.
“Edward,” she started, her breath hitching only slightly over the name. “He often made decisions for me – acted like I never knew what I wanted or needed. Even when he left me out in the middle of the woods, he tried to reassure me that I was so inferior to him that I simply should move on and forget about him, about the promises he’d been making me. I offered him everything and he took it and threw it back like it was nothing – like I was nothing.”
She paused and took a quivering breath as the memories flew across her mind that the familiar wound in her chest fluttered painfully. Damon’s hands tightened on her hips again, this time in an unmistakable sign of encouragement.
With a hollow smile, Bella said, “I won’t be with someone who won’t treat me like an equal.” There was a small victory within her as she said this, a lesson so hard learnt. “Because of the way he treated me and even more owing to the way he left me, I know I’m insecure and that I have trust issues. But don’t you see, Damon? They’re not just my insecurities – they’re my wounds. It’s like he let a big truth escape that day in the woods and it’s festering within me constantly. And I want to heal the wounds, but in order to do that, I have to be honest with you – and you have to be honest with me.”
The last bit escaped on an exhaled sigh and the instant the words left her, Bella felt lighter even as she worried about Damon’s response.
No more, she reassured her heart. No more blind trust like she’d done with Edward and his family. Trust was earned and while she trusted Damon more than anyone, she’d also make it clear that he didn’t have carte blanche against her.
“So if you want me to drink your blood, I will,” she abruptly continued in the silence that followed her declaration. “I will, because I now understand what you meant by offering it and because I appreciate the gesture for what it is. I can’t promise you I will ever complete the transition if it ever came to that, but given the current state of jeopardy my life is in, it makes sense to make sure I have time to make the choice.”
Her hands lifted to frame his frowning face. He looked a little bewildered, and honestly, she couldn’t blame him. She didn’t think she’d ever spoken so forthrightly in her life, much less to him. “But I’m not doing it for you,” she whispered. “I’m doing it for myself.”
She let that hang between them, allowing it to sink into his mind so that there was no doubt that in this decision, her opinion mattered most.
“And while I don’t expect you to apologize for being a dick,” she said, her lips quirking some as she lifted a pointed brow, “I do expect you to show me more respect in the future. I trust you, Damon, with my life. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a say in it. I deserve more than that – and if that pisses you off, then you have no one to blame but yourself, because you’re the one who’s made me realize that.”
She took a deep breath and continued before she could chicken out, “So deal with it now, and get over it. I’m not saying you have to answer to me for your actions, but I am saying that I won’t accept you treating me like an errant child incapable of handling the truth and making an informed decision based on the information you can give me.”
They stared at each other for what felt like at least an hour. Bella wanted so desperately to look away, or pull out of his arms and retreat, but she knew that to do so would pretty much ruin the point she was trying to make here. It wasn’t that she wanted to change Damon, she hoped he realized this. She loved his snarky quips, his rash decisions and the way he constantly flirted with trouble. He was funny, brave, smart…
And loyal, even to someone like her who he barely knew.
No, she wouldn’t change him for the world, not even his bloody temper and silver tongue. All she wanted was him to respect her, to communicate with her. And if this – whatever it was they had – was to continue, then he had to make an effort too. She couldn’t be the only to give.
Damon cleared his throat in a quite cough, but still, when he spoke, he sounded rough, emotional even. “So what you’re saying, mina, is that you won’t put up with my shit.”
Unsure about his tone and what exactly he meant, Bella bit her lip and frowned.
“That you won’t put up with my games, not when it comes to you, at least.”
He looked at her with a brow raised, waiting to her a response.
“More or less,” she admitted. “I like you the way you are, Damon. I’ve told you before that I accept you the way you are. You’re an ass, but you’re my ass.”
His lips quirked. “I like your ass,” and his hands went down to suggestively cup said ass.
With a roll of her eyes, Bella nudged him and Damon went back to being serious.
“I’m going to mess up,” he said blithely, his eyes focusing on a point just above her shoulder. “I’m impulsive, and as you’ve so kindly pointed out, I’m an ass. I’m pretty much guaranteed to fuck up again in some big or small way. But,” he paused, licked his lips and then brought his eyes down to bore into hers brightly with the fire of truthfulness, “For you, I will try, mina. I am a selfish being, but with you, I will try. You are worth the effort.”
“I don’t want perfection, Damon,” she reassured him, her body sighing into his as she realized he was being open and receptive to her. “I’m not really sure what I want, really, but I do know I want to find out with you.”
All remaining tension left her when he felt his lips ghost over her forehead in a light, almost reverent, touch. “We are going to have so much fun, little girl. I’m going to show you the time of your life.”
It was another promise he made that held the weight of a vow, but this time, there was a lightness to the declaration that resonated in her. Before, the words would have scared her and she would have fretted and read into whatever it was he could secretly mean. Now, though, while the fear was still present, she shoved past it and heard the promise of adventure.
Instead of turning away from it, Bella embraced it.
“I’m going to let you, Damon – and I’m going to do my best to show you a thing or two of my own,” she said.
Damon chuckled and it sounded light and free. “You’ll be the death of me, mina – I just know it.”
Bella snuggled back into his arms, drained from the stress of the night and their talk even though she felt ultimately lighter for it all.
“No Damon,” she whispered. “Not death. We’re going to show each other how to live.”
He didn’t reply, but Bella thought the tightening of his arms around her was answer enough.
(A/N): I hope everyone likes the character growth found here – a lot of people were very clearly Team Bella or Team Damon after the last chapter (more Team Damon than anything) and I hope this explains a little more where they’re both coming from… Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to vote at Energize by tomorrow and Bloodlust by 12/5!