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After the Fury

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"Come on," [Stefan] said quietly, putting the ring in his pocket. "Let's get you someplace where you can rest."

He put an arm around his brother to help him up. And then, for a moment, he just held on.

--The Vampire Diaries, Vol III: The Fury. Page 278

*~*

It was difficult to move Damon, with his half-dead arm and uselessly weak legs. It was exhausting for both of them, the few paces that took them out of the crypt and towards the grey-haze that seeped through the open tomb in the ruined church above. Damon could barely help Stefan walk himself out, and once they approached the rungs of the ladder ascending to the square of pale light, Stefan knew there was no way he could carry his brother out of the crypt like this.

Damon felt so heavy in his arms, yet so vulnerable. So weak. Stefan almost lost his brother. That would have been more than he could handle. There had been enough death this day.

"I'm Sor--" Damon loosely shaking his head held off what he was going to say.

"If you say that one more time, I will have to hurt you, little brother." Damon's deep voice, usually velvety and dangerous, was weak, and by the end of his sentence it had degenerated into little more than a coughing up of the words from a parched throat. His breathing was raspy, even worse now that he was completely upright. He probably had a few broken ribs…

Carefully, like laying down a newborn child to sleep, Stefan crouched down, easing Damon to the hard ground of the crypt. Damon grunted as he sat up on the floor, leaning heavily against Stefan's chest. He tried to say something, but his mouth twisted and his body convulsed first with coughs, then with the awful pain that followed.

Damon had lost a lot of blood, more than Stefan himself had. Even though Damon was by far much stronger than Stefan, even he would have trouble recovering from the extent of his injuries. With every breath, Stefan could see the naked meat of his shoulder move and pulse, giving just a glimpse of bone beneath. Damon needed to feed, and soon.

Stefan had one arm wrapped around his lower back, holding Damon upright, while the other was pressed to his lower chest for stability. Hardly even thinking, Stefan shifted his hold on Damon, easing his brother closer to him, almost cradling him against his chest. Gently, he pressed a hand to Damon's cheek, encouraging him to rest his head on his shoulder.

"What?" Damon rasped, his lips barely moving with the word. It was more like a pained wheeze than a question.

Stefan didn't speak, simply pressed Damon's head closer, until he could feel his brother's panting breath against his neck. Damon tried to pull out of Stefan's grasp, but this time, Stefan was the stronger.

"I can't carry you out of here," he spoke, his voice low. As though someone would overhear. He turned his face away from Damon, baring more of his neck to his brother. "Go ahead."

Damon's one good hand, the only one he could still use, pressed against Stefan's chest, the long fingers digging weakly into his skin. He was trying to push himself away, but Damon no longer had the strength to do so.

Soft lips touched Stefan's neck, and it was an effort to keep from shivering at the touch. It brought back the memory of the way it felt when his brother had first taken his blood. How those cruel lips bruised his skin as his teeth tore into the vein. How much pain and fear and impotent rage he felt as Damon took him, raping him with his teeth. Stefan felt that same fear as Damon's lips moved against his blood-covered neck, sliding through the half-dried blood that Katherine had left smeared across his skin. Would it feel the same this time, even though he was willing?

There was a small, warm, wet tickle, just a flicker of sensation across his skin. A tongue? Yes. Damon had licked him. A tiny taste. It happened again, this time a longer swipe as the taste of Stefan's blood tempted Damon to greater boldness. The weak body in Stefan's arms shuddered, but Damon sighed happily as he swallowed the trace of blood on his tongue. Again, Damon licked Stefan's neck, lingering, swiping his skin clean.

Stefan held himself perfect still through this slow examination, allowing the allure of his blood to call out to Damon so that the hunger would direct him the rest of the way. Truthfully, he was afraid to move. Afraid of scaring Damon. Or himself. Stefan wasn't sure.

Damon's lips were a little warmer this time when they parted, wrapping around the skin covering a ripe vein. Stefan held his breath, expecting the great ripping pain as he had felt before.

There was a little pain, the prick of a needle, as Damon carefully breached the skin with his teeth. Then there was simply the warm wetness of his mouth as Damon drank from him, and sweet sense of well-being and comfort. It didn't hurt at all.

They were both too tired and weak to try to shield their minds from each other. When a vampire shares his blood with another vampire, their minds can become open to each other, sharing thoughts without the need for the Powers. As Stefan released the breath he was holding in a long sigh, he relaxed into the feeling of their thoughts melting together.

Damon's thoughts were sleepy, sad and vague. Fleeting images passed by, and with them sharp flashes of emotion. A warm hearthfire as seen through a cold-frosted window, a sense of longing. A quick, sharp pain in his heart as Giuseppe congratulated Stefan while scowling at his elder son. A cloying jealousy as a purely beautiful Katherine, young and innocent and mysterious, walking towards Stefan with an adoring smile. A hollow sadness in the midst of the triumph of winning fair Katherine away from Stefan.

Anger, envy, pain, loneliness, despair.

And in the whirl-wind landscape of these thoughts, Stefan could see the center of the picture. An image of himself as Damon saw him.

A tall, dark boy, emerald-grass eyes flashing with innocent enthusiasm. Cheeks flushed with a zest for life and duty. A dazzling smile that no one could resist returning. A purity and innocence that Damon could never dream of matching. The sun haloing the wavy-silk of Stefan's hair.

A picture of a saint.

I am not an angel, Stefan spoke in his mind, shocked by all that he had seen.

Then Stefan saw another image, this one dark and grainy, as though someone had painted it on sand, then raked their fingers through it. It was an image of how Damon saw himself. A twisted animal-like person, vaguely human, his body scarred as though by fire. A cruel face distorted by a snarl, black eyes void-empty, all frightening and menacingly evil. And chains…a long length of chains dotted here and there with a thick, old-fashioned padlock, keeping him trapped in the jagged nightmarish night. This Damon did not choose the darkness; Darkness had chosen him.

Better than me, Damon answered Stefan with his own mental voice, brutally honest about his feelings now that he had no more walls to protect him. Always better than me.

Stefan simply held Damon tighter to his chest, turning his face to lightly nuzzle Damon as he lazily fed. Stefan began to feed Damon images as well as his blood. They were his own memories, old memories that had been hidden behind years of rivalry, and later by centuries of fear and hate. Memories of how a young Stefan saw his big brother.

A prince visiting a pauper; Damon sweeping into a room, all casual grace and self-assuredness. Seemingly not caring about anything, while those dark eyes took in everything. He showed Damon how he envied his brother's magnetism, the way people gravitated towards him; even if they hated him, they liked him. The way everything came to him easily. Irresistible. Inevitable.

Finally, he created a new image of Damon out of the ragged painting his brother had shown him. Dark and dangerous, true, but beautiful as well. Like a wolf is beautiful. Savage and wild, but free. And honest, in his own way. Honest about his instincts, his desires, his hungers. A certain kind of special strength in his willingness to face the darkness.

Damon pulled away at last, slowly licking at the wounds his teeth had made, cleaning away the small trickles that still seeped out. He didn't take much blood, but it was enough to help heal him, enough to get him out of this damned crypt. Damon rested his head on Stefan's shoulder a moment, gathering his strength as he concentrated on healing.

It hurt as his skin and muscle slowly closed together in his shoulder. The smaller wounds, inside and out, itched and twitched, an incessant, annoying pain adding to his all-over discomfort. Damon shuddered in Stefan's grasp, refusing to cry out as his body remade itself. Even as he watched, Stefan could see the mauled flesh of his shoulder knit together.

Stefan knew Damon's wounded pride wouldn't allow him to ask for the comfort he needed, so Stefan gave it willingly, cuddling his brother in his arms, stroking his back carefully. He waited out the pain, just being there for his brother as he suffered through the healing.

And then the shuddering stopped.

Two hands--good, strong, healthy hands--pushed against Stefan's chest. Damon slowly but deliberately pulled away. His night-dark eyes glittered with tears that he refused to let fall. To Stefan, who knew his brother to be a cold-hearted killer, one who thought of humans as prey--to Stefan, his brother suddenly looked as tired and as lost as a little boy without his mother. Sad, frightened, and utterly alone in the world.

On impulse, Stefan darted forward and kissed Damon on the forehead, the need to comfort his brother overriding everything else. Damon could kill him later, but it was something the moment seemed to call for.

Damon blinked at the unexpected tenderness. Then something crossed his face, and he rushed forward, pressing his lips to Stefan's. It wasn't quite a chaste, brotherly kiss. The sudden fury of it startled Stefan, and his mouth opened as though to gasp. Damon pressed inward, instantly taking possession of Stefan's mouth. There was an undeniable sensuality in everything Damon did, and the fiery passion of the kiss was evidence that it wasn't all just a show for other people. No, this wasn't just a brotherly kiss. It lasted too long, felt too good to be entirely innocent.

But then, neither of them were entirely innocent. Stefan felt himself melt into the coaxing kiss, returning it with just as much needy passion as Damon. It was reassuring to feel the strength returning to his brother, knowing that it was his blood that did it. Knowing that despite everything, there was good in Damon. In both of them.

They saved the town. They saved each other. That was what was important now.

The kiss ended slowly. Damon was the one to pull away, nipping lightly at Stefan's lips, his black eyes heavy-lidded and tired. Stefan opened his mouth to say something, but the look in Damon's eyes stopped him.

"Later, little brother," he said, his voice a little bit stronger, closer to its usual silky purr.

The slight fear that Stefan had felt building inside him, the instant self-recriminations and guilt that usually followed any pleasure, subsided. The kiss hadn't meant what it seemed to on the surface. After all these centuries, sex was the only way Damon knew how to relate to people. It was the only way people would allow him to act. The kiss, as intimate and as passionate as it was, was simply Damon's way of expressing himself, of giving Stefan a little of the gratitude he felt, but couldn't properly voice. Stefan would have to teach him. Guide him. Watch over him, just as Elena had asked.

Stefan nodded his head, both in answer to his brother's promise to talk later, and to agree with his own thoughts. "Let's get out of here."

Damon stood with only a hand-up from Stefan, and he started to ascend the iron rungs set into the stone wall. Stefan kept close behind him, adding support to Damon's climb, and to assure that he wouldn’t fall off. It was a very slow journey back to the dim light of the morning as it filtered through the ruins of the old church.

Elena--Elena's body was still below, but Stefan could feel her spirit nearby in this sacred space. Her ghostly voice spoke to him as though through a memory. 'Who was there to understand Damon now? Who would be there to push him, to try to see what was really inside him?'

"I am. I will," Stefan answered reverently. And he meant it.