“Out of no reason I’ve decided to stay
Present a solution, to the problem
Typical of me, that I concentrate on the destination
So much that I miss the journey there and back
Unpredictable fortune, my past
Lights up my future, at last
Ending my torture”
Poets of the Fall – Gravity
Chapter 17: Enter Stefan Stage Left
Stefan pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed again.
“Stefan, calm down. It’ll be alright,” Elena’s soft voice reassured him.
He shook his head and looked out the window again, but the driveway was empty still.
“Something’s going on, Elena. I’m worried.”
She smiled, getting up from her seat on the couch and taking his hand in hers. “Of course you are, I mean, this is Damon we’re talking about.”
Grudgingly, his lips twitched upwards. “But it’s more than Damon being Damon. You didn’t talk to him, he sounded different over the phone. Younger, almost.”
“Well,” she sighed. “He took the whole tomb thing pretty rough, but maybe his road trip did him some good?”
Shaking his head, Stefan abandoned his post from the window and led Elena back to the couch where they sat as he attempted to calm down. “I’m afraid of whatever can do Damon good,” he said dryly.
She snorted in agreement.
“But it’s more than that, Elena,” he said, turning serious again. “The way he sounded over the phone… He was so torn up about Katherine about what her absence in that tomb meant. But to talk to him, however briefly, he sounded like he did before her; he sounded like he did when we were human.”
She bit her lip worriedly. “What do you think it means?”
Hearing the sound of gravel crunching under tires, he sighed and steeled himself. “I think we’re about to find out.”
The faint sound of car doors closing echoed, followed by footsteps – two pairs? – up the walkway. There was a rattling of the door knob before it was pushed open and Damon’s voice called out, “Lucy, I’m home!”
Shaking his head, Stefan stood, Elena following him as they went out to the foyer to greet his wayward brother.
Only, when they got there, it wasn’t just his brother waiting for them.
A girl was with him, maybe twenty or just under. She was slim, pale, and smiling shyly from behind Damon, who – he was surprised to note – stood partly in front of her, the gesture screaming protectiveness.
Stefan frowned. “Damon?” he said pointedly, looking at the girl then to him. Suspicion started twisting his gut and he moved slightly in front of Elena, mirroring Damon’s defensive pose.
Damon scoffed. “Come on now, Stefan. At ease, we come in peace, yadda yadda yadda.”
“Damon,” Stefan said seriously, unwilling to fall for his games. “Who is your friend?”
The slow, eager grin stretching across Damon’s face instantly had Stefan stiffening in worry. “I come bearing gifts, brother.”
“Gifts?” he deadpanned.
“Yes,” Damon said. “You always wanted a sister – well, now you have one.”
Stefan frowned, his concerns from earlier multiplying as his mind scrambled. “What?”
Damon smiled again. “Mina, this is my brother Stefan and his girlfriend, Elena. Stefan, Elena, I’d like you to meet… my wife.”
Behind him, Elena choked on a gasp.
“Your what?” Stefan barked. Good lord, what was his brother up to now?
Curiously, he watched the girl behind Damon smile slightly as she nudged his brother’s shoulder reprovingly. “You’re terrible, Damon.”
Damon smirked. “But that’s why you love me.”
The girl rolled her eyes. “Someone has to,” she said quietly with only the barest hint of sarcasm.
Curiously, Damon’s look softened. Everything about him softened, Stefan noted. His tense shoulders eased and he reached back a hand to the girl and laced their fingers together.
“Everyone loves me, mina. They can’t help it – I’m irresistible.”
“Irresistibly annoying?” she offered with another quiet, but playful smile.
“Be careful, mina. You’re starting to hurt my feelings,” he pouted.
They’d quite obviously entered their own little world, so frowning, Stefan cleared his throat to gain their attention. “Um, Mina – ”
Damon tensed, anger taking over his features as he looked ready to spring to spring at him. “You don’t call her that,” he growled.
Bemused by his brother’s fierce reaction, Stefan held his hands up in peace.
But before he could defend himself, the girl spoke again in her quiet, unassuming way and her hand lightly resting on Damon’s shoulder in a show of comfort. “Relax Damon,” then she turned to Stefan and Elena and smiled, looking embarrassed and shy. “Um, hi. What he means to say is that my name is Bella, and it’s nice to meet you both.”
Stefan nodded politely, but somewhat absently. Turning to Damon he asked, “Did you compel her here to make some sort of point, Damon?”
“Wow,” Bella said. “I don’t know whether to laugh or be offended.”
“I don’t mean to offend,” Stefan quickly said.
“Only insinuate,” she said dryly.
“Listen, I apologize if I’ve insulted you, but I’m trying to understand what’s going on here,” he said. “Damon, you took out of here like you couldn’t wait to get away, ignoring all our calls, then you call out of the blue asking about Bonnie and making a day necklace… then another call saying you’re on your way home and bringing a present. Is she the present, Damon?” he said sarcastically. “Really? What are you playing at?”
“Of course she’s the present,” Damon said, and rather than his usual mocking lilt, he sounded serious, sincere. “Isabella is a true gift.”
Isabella – Bella as she’d introduced herself – smiled up at Damon and Stefan was a little horrified to see her eyes twinkling with something stronger than admiration.
“What have you done to her, Damon?” he asked. “I won’t let you manipulate her like you’ve done in the past. When will you grow up?”
“Whoa,” Bella said as this time she took up the protective role and moved in front of Damon. “Damon hasn’t done anything to harm me. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, he saved me. So I’ll thank you to stop making assumptions and judging him by his past.”
“Mina,” Damon said softly, pulling her back against him.
“What, Damon? I mean, you warned me on the way here what it would be like, but he hasn’t even asked for crying out loud.”
“You hear that, Stefan? Maybe you should ask Bella how we ended up together because you know what happens when you assume things… You make an ass out of you and – well, actually just you.”
“Listen,” Elena spoke when all Stefan could do was look between them. “Tension is a little high given some things that have happened while you were gone, Damon, but Stefan doesn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings. Why don’t we go sit down and catch up. Please, Bella, I’d like to hear how you and Damon met…?”
Stefan obediently followed them into the living room where they sat, he and Elena on one couch and Bella and Damon on the one opposite. Unable to help himself, Stefan’s eyes darted between the two of them suspiciously, taking in their body language and their silent glances to each other that seemed to allow then to communicate as if they were talking aloud.
“Um, well, he kind of kidnapped me…” Bella said lightly.
“Kidnapped, mina? We both know you were waiting for me in that meadow, ready for me to sweep you off your feet. Silver platter, anyone?” Damon said.
Bella snorted in amusement, but all Stefan could focus on was…
“You kidnapped her?”
Damon shrugged dismissively. “Only in the strictest definition of the term.”
“That’s not true, Damon,” she nudged his shoulder with hers. “The truth is, Damon came across me by accident at a very opportune moment for me. He saved my life.”
“Yes,” Stefan said stiffly. “You said that before. Will you please elaborate? The image of Damon saving…”
Bella huffed and glared at him in admonishment. “I was in a meadow,” she began, her voice firm until it wavered and she started twisting her hands. Stefan watched in amazement as Damon’s hand moved over hers, squeezing lightly as she continued, “I was in a meadow… with a Cold One.”
Stefan sat at attention. “A Cold One?”
“Yes,” Bella said, not meeting his eyes. “Well, long story short, Damon took care of him and has offered his services in taking care of the other one after me.”
Damon smirked. “I’m good at killing things. I haven’t killed something in – too long.”
Bella snorted. “You took care of that newborn in Aspen just a couple days ago.”
“I know,” he drawled out. “Like I said, too long.”
“Newborn? You have a Cold One and newborns after you?”
Bella sheepishly nodded before looking away guiltily. “I’m sorry. I know it’s a hassle, but – ”
“But nothing, mina,” Damon cut her off, his voice brooking no refusal. “I’ll take care of Icky Vicky and whatever friends she makes. We’re only here so Stefanie,” Damon glared at him, “Can help keep an extra eye out on things.”
“Damon, the tomb vampires are out, there’s a vampire hunter in town who just so happens to have been married to Elena’s birth mother whom you killed. Don’t you think we have enough going on…”
“Don’t be a dick, Stefan,” Damon snapped. “You want to hand her over to fucking Cold Ones?”
Sensing things were about to get heated, Elena spoke up. “No one is suggesting that, Damon. But, please, I’m confused… Cold Ones, newborns?”
“Another breed of vampire,” Stefan supplied. “Their skin is impenetrable, but they’re ultimately weaker than us.”
“Ah,” she chirped. “Well, we can’t let Bella get hurt. We’ll just have to work together. Cooperate.”
Damon snorted and Bella elbowed him again. Rolling his eyes, Damon gave a long suffering sigh before nodding. “Yes, yes. Work together, BFFs through it all. Now if you’ll excuse us, Isabella and I have a tradition to uphold.”
“What?” Bella asked.
“Gotta cary you over the threshold, sweetness. Now come and give me some sugar,” he wiggled his eyebrows.
Bella giggled. “But we’re already in the house, genius.”
“There’s still the bedroom,” he said suggestively.
A sweeping blush took over Bella’s cheeks but her eyes as well as Damon’s wicked smirk softened into something more affectionate. Without giving anyone a chance to refuse, Damon stood and yanked Bella up into his arms.
“I’m afraid we’ll be taking out leave now. Newlyweds, you understand,” and then he rushed them up the stairs, Bella’s laughter trailing after them like leaves in the wind.
“Um, what just happened?” Elena asked dazedly.
“I’m not sure,” Stefan said carefully. “But I think we just met Damon’s wife.”
Damon swung her down to her feet in a smooth, graceful movement she almost ruined by falling on her ass.
“Easy there, cupcake,” he steadied her… with his hands on said ass.
She huffed in mock annoyance, but did nothing to move from his hold. “So, that was interesting,” she said.
Which was the biggest understatement.
Damon had not sugarcoated things on their way there. He spoke of his past with a bluntness that made every word unmistakable. No deed was left unconfessed, no murder denied.
“I’ve killed people, mina, good people. Some I regret, most I don’t. If I had the option, I wouldn’t be telling you this right now. Maybe in a couple months… but our time is up. You have to know because they’ll bring it up. Stefan will bring up every sin I’ve committed to convince you that I’m using you and he’s right to do so. I’m not a good man, Isabella,” he’d said slowly, each word enunciated carefully and with a weight to it that settled on her chest, the burden of loving an imperfect man.
“But you’re good for me,” she’d told him.
It was undeniably the truth. Damon had come into her life and brought her strength and laughter. She didn’t doubt the sins of his past, but thought it unfair to judge him by them. After all, it was his past that had shaped him into the man she loved currently. He’d been put through the crucible and come out stronger.
So with perfect patience and unfailing kindness, she listened as he told her his life story. He spoke of Katherine, how he’d loved her for decades – or so he’d thought as he was now coming to terms with the fact that it hadn’t been love so much obsession – he told her about Stefan, their relationship and the torments he had visited upon him in retribution of the life he had forced Damon into.
He casually took her through his every decade, speaking of wars and battles, both internal and external. Eventually, as they reached the outskirts of North Carolina and began to enter Virginia, he told her of his return to Mystic Falls. Caroline, killing the history teacher in a fit of anger, Vicky, opening the tomb… He’d even confessed about the faint stirrings of curiosity when it came to Elena, Katherine’s visual double, but so different in personality.
There was no stopping the small throb of jealousy when he’d said, “She kind of reminds me of you.”
Her teeth gritted. “Don’t you mean I remind you of her?”
The note of jealousy was heavy so she shouldn’t have been surprised when Damon glanced at her with the knowing look of his as he said, both gently but firmly, “No. I meant exactly what I said. You are who I compare people to and find lacking, not the other way around.”
She’d been embarrassingly relieved and touched at that, but Damon politely ignored her soft sniffles.
Despite the selfish gratefulness that had swelled when he’d finished talking, her heart ached for him having gone through that familiar pain. That type of betrayal didn’t just cut, it scarred, and Damon was littered with emotional scars so similar to her own.
“Mina,” he’d said gently, pulling over once he had finished telling her everything. “Don’t cry for me, Isabella. I’m not worth your tears.”
She’d lifted a hand to her cheek, amazed by the wetness she found there having not realized she was crying at all. “But you are, Damon,” she told him in a warble. “You are worth it to me.”
His eyes had softened on hers, relief coloring him as he leaned towards her and planted a tender kiss to her lips. “I don’t deserve you,” he confessed, his lips brushing hers with every word.
“It’s not about deserving, Damon,” she said, the elusive ‘it’ she was referring to sitting in the car with them, the proverbial elephant biding its time until they acknowledged it. “It’s not my place to forgive you for the things you’ve done. You’ll have to learn to forgive yourself.”
“Mina,” he sighed, a tenor of vulnerability making him frown. “They will try to take you from me.”
She’d smirked at him. “Let them try,” and then it had been her that kissed him.
“What do you think of them?” Damon asked, shaking her from her thoughts.
“Um… well, you’re right about Stefan – he does have an Easter Island head,” she said.
Damon snorted and tapped her on her nose. “That’s not what I meant, though you should know by now I’m always right.”
Biting her lip, she resolved to tell him her true thoughts. “Stefan reminds me of Edward,” she said quietly. She half anticipated the painful lurch in her chest that came with speaking his name, but all she felt was a minor throb, almost a twinge that sounded as an after thought.
“Does he now? Explain,” he said in a deceptively light tone.
“Damon,” she said reassuringly. The last thing she wanted was for him to entertain thoughts of her developing feelings for Stefan who reminded her of her past love. Bringing her arms up and around his neck, she kissed the corner of his mouth and smiled. “Everything about Stefan screams depressed and repressed. Honestly, just the ten minutes or so I’ve spent with him so far have been exhausting. He makes me want to slap my past self for ever seeing those traits as romantic, like Edward had been some sort of tragic hero.”
Her chest didn’t even twinge that time.
You have nothing to fear, she thought but knew better than to say.
“Though if you weren’t so insistent on maintaining this married cover things probably would have went more smoothly,” she said dryly to lighten the mood.
His resulting smile had a tinge of relief and it warmed Bella thoroughly. “But far less entertaining. Come on, let’s take a shower, mina. Sounds like I’ve got quite the mess to start sorting here, and I’ll need to bring Stefan more up to date in the morning.”
Blushing, she allowed him to pull her into the bathroom and while a small part of her mind marveled at the gorgeous room, the larger part of her chose to marvel Damon’s physique as he stripped, first himself and then her, and pulled her under the spray of the shower.
A part of her was embarrassed, but Bella was surprised by how quiet and small that part was. It was almost like she was only self-conscious because it was simply a habit. Truly, she was largely comfortable with Damon and her body now. They’d seen each other naked before, he’d obviously liked what he’d seen, and they’d each become intimately familiar with each other.
It didn’t hurt that Damon held no expectations of her, never demanding or presuming. While it was quite clear a certain part of him was up for fooling around, he knew the last few days of sleeping in the car as they booked it to his home had taken their toll on her. Instead of fiery kisses, he laid soothing ones across her shoulders, following them with his hands in a comforting caress that lightly calmed the stiff aching there.
He helped wash her hair and Bella damn near purred in contentment. Damon’s light chuckle told her he’d heard the light moan she’d been attempting to hold back, but he continued taking care of her silently.
“Isabella,” he murmured behind her.
Opening her eyes, she turned to him and was mildly startled to see his fangs had descended.
“Damon?” she asked. She wasn’t afraid as Damon had more than proven his self-control around her, never once – playful insinuation aside – suggesting she let him drink from her.
He brought his own wrist to his lips and she heard the small crunch as his teeth broke the skin there, small rivulets of his blood leaking around the wound.
He held out his wrist to her in silent offering, a slight pleading looking in his eyes just as he’d looked when he’d recovered from their moment of passion in the snow to remember a psychotic Cold One was likely lingering in the same woods with them. He’d been quick to fix their clothes and bring her back to the hotel where he’d chomped on his wrist and demanded she drink some of his blood immediately.
“But why?” she groused at his imperial command.
“Isabella,” he growled. “The small amount you’d had is out of your system by now. If that newborn had reached you before I got there, you would have been dead. The kind of dead there’s no coming back from. I don’t – ” she was startled when his voice cracked. “I can’t lose – ”
He stopped again, unable to articulate his emotions when he’d spent so long repressing anything like them over several decades.
She’d silently held out her hand for his wrist, her eyes never leaving his as she drank from him. It’d been shockingly erotic and when she drank from him now, their naked bodies sliding against each other, it was even more so.
Once the wound had closed, she pulled back and kissed his wrist in thanks. If the Cullens could see her now, she thought in vague amusement. Naked in a shower with a man, drinking his blood and not fainting. She was like a whole new person and secretly, she thought she’d relish in their looks of shock and horror. It’d serve them right.
“Thank you, cara mia,” Damon kissed her head.
She hugged him, aware of every inch of him pressed against her tired body, particularly a certain part that was poking her abdomen.
“You don’t have to thank me for that, Damon,” she soothed his arms with her hands. “I told you I would drink your blood and I meant it. As often as you see fit, I’ll do it.”
“Every day, mina,” he said. “I won’t risk otherwise.”
She nodded against his chest and yawned softly. “Then every day, Damon.”
They stood there for a minute before Damon turned her back to him and finished washing them up. Afterwards, he’d wrapped her in an unbelievably soft towel and dried first her off, then himself. Then he pulled her back into his bedroom and slipped another on of his button down nightshirts over her head while slipping on the matching pants.
She fell asleep to the feel of his fingers slipping through her hair and the contented hum that sounded deep in his chest that served as her pillow.
Waking up, she was mildly surprised to find him gone, but not worried. Dressing, she made her way downstairs and towards where she presumed the kitchen was.
Stefan was there, scrambling some eggs with his back to her.
“Oh, um, hello,” she said awkwardly.
“Good morning, Bella,” Stefan turned and greeted. “I made enough for you, if you’re hungry.”
“Thanks, that was nice of you,” she said.
Silently, he made up two plates and they sat in awkward silence at the large table.
Her mind searched for something to say, but before she could speak, Stefan said, “Damon went out to run some errands. He asked me to keep an eye on you today.”
She rolled her eyes at Damon’s over protectiveness. “He’s been a little worried ever since Victoria caught up with us in Aspen.”
“The Cold One?” he asked.
“That’d be her.”
“You,” he frowned, trailing off before continuing, “You know Damon very well, don’t you?”
“Better than you, I’d reckon,” she said pointedly, still unhappy about his attitude when they’d arrived yesterday.
He looked dubious at that. “Well, he’ll be gone for a while. He wanted to confront Alaric, the hunter I mentioned, and then find Pearl.”
“She was in the tomb, right?”
He was mildly surprised at her knowledge. “Yes, she was. She’s taken charge of the tomb vampires, but a couple – well, more than a couple – are more than a little upset about their imprisonment.”
“Are they blaming you and Damon?” she asked curiously.
Again, he gave her that searching look of small shock. “Yes, they are. Damon’s worried they’ll try to get revenge, more so than they’ve already done, so he wanted to talk to Pearl.”
She nodded absently and brought her hand up to her necklace to fiddle with the chain. She was concerned for Damon but knew he could take care of himself.
“That’s a pretty necklace,” Stefan said pointedly.
Bella thought back to their car ride over and how Damon had confessed he’d gotten it to protect her from the sun should she make the transition. Even back then, he’d had the desire to change her and had made preparations. It wasn’t spelled yet, but he seemed confident that Elena’s witch friend would do it if he could get Elena to ask her.
“Yes, it is,” she said, not elaborating.
Stefan gave her a closed lipped smile. He was about to speak, but the sound of shattering glass had him pulling her behind him and letting out a low growl.
There was a flurry of movement so fast her human eyes couldn’t comprehend it. Hands grabbed at her and Stefan shouted until his voice cut off is sickening abruptness.
“The girl smells like Damon,” she heard someone say behind her.
“Bring her then,” said another. “If she’s his human he might be attached. At the very least she’d make a tasty snack.”
There was just enough time for her to realize it wasn’t Victoria and her newborns that had her and Stefan, as she’d first assumed. These were Damon’s enemies and given the topic of conversation right before their arrival, she rather knew who they were.
Tomb vampires, she thought right as a sharp blow to her temple turned out the lights.
(A/N): I know… that was evil! But consider how quickly I just updated! That takes away some of the evil, right?