“Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah”
Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah
Chapter 16: Hope
Anger was no stranger to Damon. For years, it had been the monkey on his back, making him lash out even as it dictated his near every decision and action. Anger at Stefan for supposedly getting Katherine trapped in the tomb; anger to fuel his mission to break her out; anger when he’d finally succeeded only to learn she’d never been in there and had played him a fool.
Damon’s life had been filled with so much anger that he’d almost not recognized happiness when he’d come across it in the form of Isabella Swan.
But he had, after a time. Each minute spent in her presence had brought back shades of the man he’d been before Katherine’s manipulations. He could never go back to that youthful naivety permanently, but Isabella brought him something he feared he would never feel again – hope.
It was small and it was tentative, but Damon felt the flutterings of hope blooming in his chest every time he looked at Bella. The twinge of it was painful in its foreignness, almost like a muscle protesting an exercise, but he grew acquainted with the sensation more and more each day. Grew to expect it, anticipate it… want it, desire it.
And so for someone to come and try to take his hope away, to kill it… Well, that made him beyond angry. It brought him to a height of fury he’d never reached before. There was not a word strong enough for the rage that burned through his veins as he chased after the red-headed bitch. It consumed him, tinging his vision red as his vampire visage took over his features, his mind sharpening, focusing on the need to tear, rip, kill.
It reminded him of their first night in Vegas when Isabella had left to use the restroom and had been cornered by that wannabe murdering prick. It’d happened then, too. The urge to kill had risen within him, completely unstoppable, though he’d no desire to stop it at the time.
He’d no desire to stop it now.
He halted, his head tilted while listening for the deft fall of her feet on the crisp snow.
She was good, he’d give her that, and was leading him on a merry chase. But for once Damon wasn’t in the mood to play. Every step he took towards her was one that brought him away from his Isabella. His mina who was alone in the cold snow; vulnerable.
“Come out and play, icky Vicky.”
A sharp hiss sounded. His head snapped to the north and he smirked while casually strolling in her direction.
Idly, he started whistling a jaunty tune, kicking little tuffs of snow as he imagined the fun he was about to have ripping her dainty little head off her shoulders.
“I don’t have all day, Cold One. Places to go, people to kill – you understand. Come on out so I can kill you. I may even do it quickly.” But not painlessly, he thought ungraciously.
“I want the girl,” Victoria said. “Give her to me.”
He’d yet to see her, other than the flash of her flaming red hair, but her voice chimed like a bell. It was grating, almost babylike, and it made Damon want to rip her throat out just on principle alone.
“Well you can’t always get what you want – you’ve heard the song, right? Do you need me to sing it for you?”
Victoria growled and finally stepped out from a grouping of trees. Her face matched her voice, possessing the same frozen beauty of all Cold Ones while looking pale, smooth like a porcelain doll.
He couldn’t wait to shatter her.
Damon straightened his shoulders, his weight shifting forward with clear aggressive intent.
“Not so fast,” she tinkered. “Do you really think you should be wasting your time here with me?”
Ice filled his veins as he read the implied threat.
“Do you really think I’d come alone in a fight against one of your kind?” she smiled chillingly. “I know I’m no match for you. You can kill me now, but you’ll be wasting time; time our dead Bella can’t afford to lose…”
Gritting his teeth, he took a step back. His skin vibrated with the urge to kill, but Isabella trumped everything, even his most basest instincts. Damon couldn’t act until he knew she was safe. “You’re lying,” he glared at her.
Her smile grew. “Am I?”
For so long Damon had been accustomed to anger, then with the introduction of Isabella into his life, he’d been learning what it meant to hope. Now, however, Damon found a new emotion swirling in his repertoire – fear. For the first time in decades, Damon felt true fear dance down his spine and sink its claws into his heart.
“If she’s harmed,” he said lowly, stopping himself in order to collect his racing thoughts. “There is no place on this Earth you will be able to hide. You are a dead woman. I will peel the flesh from your bones and you will beg for something so sweet as death, but I won’t grant you that peaceful oblivion. You will suffer for years if that girl so much as catches a cold because of today. For years, I will keep you alive and teach you the true meaning of the word pain and when your cries finally bore me, I will rip your head off and make you watch as I burn your every limb. I am going to kill you, Victoria. Painfully.”
Her Joker-like smile froze and behind the sneering haughtiness pooling in her blood red eyes, Damon saw her acceptance. She knew she was dead. Knew he was going to take great joy killing her.
But she didn’t care.
Slowly, her head bobbed up and down. “I believe you. But it won’t be before I kill her. Tick-tock, vampire… her time’s running out.”
Her bell-like laugh echoed in his head as he tore out of the clearing, running faster than he’d ever had before. Tree branches snapped in his wake sounding like sarcastic applause as he raced to save his mina.
He hadn’t been making an empty threat. If one hair was out of place on his Bella’s head, if the unthinkable happened and she died this day, there would be no future for Victoria where Damon didn’t find her and kill her, slowly and so very creatively. He would burn the world to ashes in order to find that bitch, and when he did, he’d spend decades enacting his revenge, letting her screams fill the void in his chest where his hope once resided.
Eventually, when he tired of the sport, he’d kill her and then he’d find his own peace. It would be as simple as slipping of his ring and taking a stroll in the sunshine. Damon didn’t know what the afterlife would have in store for a guy like him, but not even the shackles of Heaven or Hell would keep him from finding Isabella there. In life or death, he’d always find her.
She’s had my blood, he told himself as he ran. She’ll be alright.
But deep down he knew the small mouthful would have left her system by then. He swore to himself to never let a day pass without giving her his blood again. He knew better, but had hesitated given her initial reaction, wanting her to come to him as she had implied she would.
Victoria thought she knew true pain without her mate by her side, that she already had nothing to lose, but Damon would show her otherwise. She’d know the rage in his soul if she tried to take his hope from him.
He drew closer to where he’d tossed Bella and his nostrils flared when he saw the Cold One creeping up behind her. He read the determined set in her shoulders and knew she’d fight back – his mina was stronger than she’d once been.
The Cold One stretched out his hand towards her and Damon roared.
The cold burned her nose.
Bella had long since crawled out of the snow bank Damon had tossed her into, but the damage had been done. While the snow had broken her fall and protected her from harm, being submersed in it, even for such a short time, had her bones shivering.
She’d always hated the cold.
Her head fell back against the tree she had moved to, her arms wrapped around herself and moving vigorously over her jacket to cause warmth. It didn’t work, of course, but the movement kept her aware and provided a mildly distraction from her fear.
Like anyone in such a position, she tried fervently to stay positive, but the dark thoughts broke through. A terrible question rang out in her mind and caused her fear to escalate to near panic.
What if something happened to Damon and she was stuck all alone on this deserted part of the mountain…? What if Victoria killed Damon…?
What if Bella had to live without him?
They were such futile thoughts, she knew. In her mind she chanted that she trusted Damon. His kind were stronger than Cold Ones and Damon was powerful. He’d told her a while ago, that while Cold Ones held insurmountable strength their first newborn year, it faded and plateaued at a lower level. But his kind of vampire grew stronger with age. With Cold Ones, their strength weaned and if they possessed a gift it was always singular.
Damon was strong and continued to grow stronger as time went by. He didn’t hold one gift, but several. Weather, compulsion… he could turn into a crow, for chrissakes! He could surely handle Victoria… couldn’t he?
“Damon,” she whispered, knowing he couldn’t hear but finding comfort in the shape of his name on her lips.
From behind her, a twig snapped.
She didn’t know how, but she knew without a single doubt that it was not Damon behind her.
Please be a bunny, please be a bunny, she mentally chanted.
But the crunch of snow as someone slowly approached her from behind was too loud for a small, benign furry creature. It sounded distinctly like footsteps, sure and measured as they made their way up behind her.
“Damon,” Bella said again, not in an inquiry to the being behind her, but because if she was about to die she couldn’t think of a better last thought.
A low growl sounded.
Oh god, her heart seized.
Instantly, she was brought back to the meadow, to Laurent looming towards her with his hand outstretched to swipe away her life. She’d moved towards him then, welcoming the death he’d wanted to bestow on her.
Peaceful, she remembered thinking it would be. Death would be a peaceful surrender.
But now she responded differently. Instead of acceptance, she felt defiance. She didn’t want to die – not anymore, not when she had something to live for… someone to live for. She no longer viewed her life as something trivial and expendable. The desire to live pulsed in her veins, sang in her heart. She was worth living for – Damon was worth living for. Despite all the pain it brought, living was quite simply beautiful.
Even the pain of it was a gift. There was a strange beauty to heartache and sadness, something Bella had never understood which was why it had been so easy for her to try to throw it away. But a person could only know true sorrow if they’d experienced real happiness beforehand. Like two sides of the same coin, joy bred despair and vice versa. Life was a gorgeous curse, a terrible blessing that she no longer wanted to squander.
The footsteps drew closer and her resolve stronger. Be it beast or man behind her, she wouldn’t go down without a fight even if it was a futile one.
The air stirred against the back of her neck and she clenched her fists at her sides, ready to swing and kick in her fury, in her desire to live, but before anything happened there was a frightening roar followed by a crash and growling, then the undeniable screeching sound of shredding metal. A vampire being torn apart.
“Damon,” she breathed, knowing he had come. He had saved her again.
He was in front of her instantly, his hands cupping her face and moving over her hair and arms, reassuring himself she was there.
“Mina,” he whispered and the vulnerability she heard there made her heart race.
He was here, her Damon was here and she was safe and he was safe and… and…
She started crying. Her relief broke free by way of tears streaming down her cheeks.
“Sh-h,” he said, an aching gentleness in his voice. “I’ve got you, Isabella.”
He’d said that the other night, too, she remembered. The night she fell apart in his arms and he put her back together in a way that made her better, stronger.
“I was so scared,” she said.
“You know I’ll always save you, mina.”
She shook her head and grabbed his hands in hers, squeezing them as tight as she could, grounding herself in the knowledge that he was there. Her Damon was there.
“I was scared for you, Damon,” she confessed. “I was scared you’d get hurt or worse…” her lip trembled and he pulled his hand away to brush his thumb against it. “That you’d be gone and I’d be alone again. I don’t want to be alone again.”
“You’ll never be alone again, mina,” he said quietly, his blue eyes piercing her. “You have me.”
She dove for him. Not expecting the movement, Damon toppled back with her on top of him and had just enough time to smirk playfully at her before her lips came crashing down against his.
The cold left her. The fear, the worry… it all slipped away like water down a drain. It felt like a part of her was slipping away too, not into nothingness, but into Damon. A part of her soul climbed up into his and burrowed there, safe and warm.
Home, she thought as their lips moved together. In Damon’s arms, she was finally home.
“I want,” she began against his lips. So many things she wanted, but how to say them? “I want you,” she said definitively.
That just about encompassed it all, anyway.
He looked mildly surprised at the confession, like a part of him couldn’t believe anyone would actually want him, but her heart was in her eyes. For all of Edward’s complaining about not being able to read her mind, her eyes had always made her an open book to those who knew her well enough. It should have registered earlier about what it meant that Edward constantly misread her even with her open eyes as a cheat sheet. But it didn’t matter. Not anymore.
Damon knew her very well. He read her heart in her eyes and his own ignited with passion. His ice blue gaze melted and Bella felt herself falling into his gaze, never wanted to be anywhere else ever again.
He surged up and resumed kissing her. They were nothing but a mess of teeth, lips and limbs tangling together.
Hot, she was so hot now.
As if reading her mind, Damon unzipped her jacket and tossed it aside as though affronted by its mere presence. The cold air was delicious against her overheated skin and nerves, and with trembling fingers, she returned the favor, slipping first his jacket, then his shirt off.
“I want you,” she repeated against his mouth as he kissed her again.
He looked dazed, his lips slightly swollen and his eyes wide, darker than their normal blue. “The hotel,” he said, his voice filled with gravel and want.
“Here,” she countered, her hips rocking above him as he’d taught her the other night.
He groaned. “Here,” he accepted, his hand slipping into her hair and tugging lightly. They fell into each other again, kissing and touching wherever they could reach.
“Not sex,” Damon said abruptly, and Bella frowned, pulling away from him while fighting off the soft prickling sensation of hurt.
“Isabella,” he chided, knowing her so well. “When we have sex it’ll be because you want to, not because you need to affirm something. You deserve better than a bed of snow and my jacket as a blanket… well, at least not for the first time.”
He smirked with a wink and emotion exploded in her chest as she melted against him once more. He always knew what to say, knew what she was thinking. No one knew her better than the man beneath her. He’d done so much for her and the sudden urge to thank him rose. She wanted to show him that she wanted him. She wanted to show him she was thankful that some unnamed woman had spurned him and sent him right into her arms.
She was so very thankful Edward had left and that Damon had found her.
“No sex,” she agreed.
“Yet,” he countered.
And she laughed.
“Yet,” she sealed her promise with a kiss. “I still want you,” she confessed.
“Of course you do – look at me, I’m gorgeous,” he said, his arms sliding down to her ass and rocking her against him again.
She giggled. Bella never would have thought that moments like these – moments of intense passion and emotion – could be filled with light and laughter.
“I want to touch you,” she clarified, biting her lip nervously but unable to regret her forthrightness.
She was safe with Damon. With him, she could do or say anything without fear of judgment of repercussions.
He propped himself up on his elbows and looked at her intently. “So touch me,” he said slowly, each word soft and deliberately pronounced.
Her hands rested against his chest. His skin was chill, but still held heat from their amorous activities. Fingers twirled little unseen patterns across his chest and when they ran over his nipple she was fascinated by his humming sound of approval.
Remembering what it had felt like when he’d done it to her, Bella leaned down and cautiously flicked her tongue over one, feeling accomplished when he jerked up against her and breathed her name. Kissing along his chest, she went to the other one and repeated the gesture, smiling again as he responded the same way.
“You look mighty proud of yourself,” he noted amusedly.
Bella blushed, but shrugged unrepentant. “I like pleasing you.”
He sat up so quickly, their chests pressing against each other with one of his arms at the small of her back pulling her closer and the other in her hair. “You always please me, mina.”
“I want you,” she said in response. There was a strong comfort in her knowing that he knew she meant more than just physically.
“I know,” he murmured, kissing her lips and then moving down the column of her neck to freshen up his mark there.
“Show me how to touch you, Damon,” she breathed. “I want to give you what you gave me.”
He lifted a brow. “An orgasm?”
Her blush intensified. She knew it was silly to be dancing around it the way she had been, but though she knew every part of herself was safe with Damon, it was hard to find the courage to say what she wanted when she’d felt so repressed for so long.
“Yes,” she admitted shyly.
His smile was small, but warm and genuine. He could have laughed at his awkwardness, but his fingers twirled a strand of her hair playfully. She needn’t have feared being pushed away or made to feel like her desire was wrong. Damon understood her and was slowly teaching her to embrace her passion.
“There’s no right or wrong way, mina,” he said. “Keep in mind how it felt for you and follow your instincts. Just feel.”
Feel, she repeated to herself. Damon had taught her to feel again.
Feel was exactly what she did. She felt the smoothness of his skin under her fingertips, the shudder under his skin as she lightly scratched her nails over him. She felt his abs clench and marveled at the unconscious thrust of his hips up against her.
And when her desire overrode her shyness and courage had her hand moving under his pants, she felt the velvet hardness of him against her palm. Keeping in mind his advice and remembering how it had felt for her, she moved her hand against, her eyes wide in amazement at his every thrust into her palm, his growling against her lips.
“Isabella,” he said her name like a prayer. “My Isabella.”
When he came under her, it wasn’t with a growl or a curse as she would have expected, but with a whimpering sigh that bespoke true satisfaction. His eyes locked onto hers and held her gaze, the subtle unconscious tilt of his hips against her hand slowing until they stilled there, panting lightly as they stared at each other as if they feared the other would suddenly disappear and a vital part of their being would be lost to them forever.
As she stared at him, she admitted to herself a great truth she had been dancing around.
She loved him.
It wasn’t the naïve love of a school girl mesmerized by the supernatural. While they’d only been together for just under a month now, she had taken the time to get to know Damon, to understand him as a person and a vampire.
And what she knew of him, what he’d shown her in his patient and snarky way… she loved. So ardently and without reservation.
She felt it burning in her chest, scarring over the wound Edward had left and bringing tears to her eyes. She’d done it right this time, she knew. Her eyes were open and though she risked pain by opening her heart to him, she also courted joy. Life, loving… a burden and a curse.
For now, she locked the words safely in her heart for another day. She’d tell him when the time was right, when it wouldn’t be tainted by Victoria or anything else.
But she suspected he knew. Damon always knew.
“Mina,” he whispered as his breathing slowed back to normal. His eyes darted around her face until they settled with unprecedented calmness. He kissed her once, twice, softly.
“We have to go,” he murmured.
She smiled lightly. “To the hotel?”
He kissed her again, his lips lingering for a long moment before pulling away. “No sweetness. We have to go home, it’s not safe anymore.”
Frowning, she tilted her head in askance. “Home, Damon?”
He sighed, looking like he dreaded what he was about to say. “To Mystic Falls. It’s time to go back to Mystic Falls.”
“Victoria?” she asked with sudden insight.
His teeth clenched and that was all the answer she needed. “She’s made some friends, mina. I’d prefer to bring you home where I can protect you better. Stefan will be there too. The odds will be better.”
Her nose wrinkled at Stefan’s name. From the little Damon had told her, he sounded like a taller version of Edward.
Damon laughed at her expression. “Buck up there, sweet cheeks. It won’t be so bad.”
She rolled her eyes and he popped her once on her ass in response.
“Damon,” she hissed with another blush.
“Come on, love bunny. We’ll get our things and hit the road. I’ll even tell you a story on the way home, one of two brothers who loved the same woman.”
Despite the levity, she knew it was serious. Victoria was making new vampires to help in her vendetta and in order to prepare her to face his home, it sounded like Damon was finally going to tell her about his past, and knowing him as well as she did, she knew it was going to be a sad tale.
“Just remember that the story ends with you finding me. It ends with us together,” she said comfortingly. It was so obvious he was loath to confess his past, but wouldn’t allow her to face it without the benefit knowledge.
Damon pulled her in for a kiss, his teeth lightly scraping her lips. “Together,” he promised.
They’d face Mystic Falls together.