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Damon hates.

He’s missing an object in that sentence, he’s aware, but he can’t settle for one. Rose for being an idiot, Stefan for being himself, Katherine for fucking him up, Elena for trying to unfuck him so hard. Himself.

His mostly empty flask. His reawakening conscience. His feelings.

Personal fucking growth.

Today he killed a woman he liked because it was better than watching her die slowly and in agony. He did it while trying to keep suicidal Elena alive, stay ahead of a bunch of vampires more powerful than anything he’s ever seen and not getting busted for ripping Mason Lockwood’s heart out.

He is done.

He is so fucking done with this town and all the people in it, with Elena and Stefan being perfect at him and the way she looks at him. Stefan stopped that look, eventually, after the tenth or eleventh time Damon fucked his life up for him. But Elena still does it, big doe eyes, full of pity.

Like he needs it. Like he deserves it. Like he’s some fucking stray that she wants to make happy with scraps and the occasional pat on the head.

So, yeah, Damon hates.

And here’s an object: everything.

He’s lying in the middle of the road in the middle of the night in the middle of a crisis and he hates everything.

Himself most of all.

He’s almost out of booze, too, but the idea of going either home or to the Grill turns his stomach. He’d kill someone and then Elena would look at him and he’d kill some more people and then… well.

We know how that one ends, don’t we?

There’s a car coming. He hears it, considers moving, decides he can’t be arsed. Either he’ll be run over, or he’ll have dinner.

He’s such a monster.

Brakes.

Dinner, then.

A door slams and then footsteps, light, quick. A woman running.

“Hey, are you okay? Do you need help?”

Sweet voice. Young. He wonders if she’s older or younger than Elena and hates that, too. She smells like flowers and old paper. He squints up at her. Pale; long, dark hair. Slim. Short. Pretty.

Such a shame.

“Yes,” he says, then adds, “I’m lost.”

She stands a few feet away, phone in hand, looking cautious. Smart. Not smart enough. “Can I…,” she trails off, unsure. Shy, maybe. “Can I help you?”

He waves a hand. “Not that kind of lost. Metaphorically. Existentially.”

Sitting up, he goes for his flask, drains the last few sips. Damn it.

The girl takes a step back, realization dawning on her. “You’re drunk.”

“No. Yes. Little bit.”

He shows her little with two fingers squished together, winks at her. She backs up some more. Good instinct. Too late.

“I can call someone for you,” she offers, even as she starts back to her car, going carefully around him, instead of past. Always out of reach. Well, out of human reach.

He inhales, smells the beginnings of fear from her, sweat and adrenaline, as she realizes she’s alone in the dark with a drunk maniac. Her heart beats too fast, but her steps are still steady. Measured.

He feels almost sorry for what he’s about to do to her.

With a single leap, he’s in front of her, grabbing her by the shoulders, stopping her in her wake. “Don’t move,” he orders and she freezes, eyes going wide and white, like a terrified horse, the second she realizes that she literally cannot move anymore, that he is something else, something different, something so terrifying, he can nail her into place with two single words.

She strains against his hold, muscles quivering, and all he can hear is her breathing and her heart, so fast, so scared. He thinks she knows she’ll die here. He hates that, too. Her eyes are dark, her pupils blown. There’s a red flush on her pale, pale skin, a tease of things to come. She’ll taste like spun sugar, he thinks, sweet and soft. Her mouth is open, just a little, breath escaping in puffs. She’s pretty, even though the shoulders under his hands are too bony, too skinny. There are bags under her eyes, like after a sickness.

He hasn’t even torn her throat out, yet, but she already looks tragic.

“Please,” she whispers, scared, so scared. “I don’t want any trouble.”

She has to know it won’t work, has to realize there’s no point in begging, not when she’s frozen in place by nothing but his will and hunger, but she tries anyway.

Damon laughs. Can’t help it, really. “Neither do I,” he tells her, sharpish. “But all I got is trouble.”

Heart trouble, soul trouble, family trouble, original fucking vampire trouble. Life used to be so easy. Party, feed, drink, sleep. Rinse and repeat as necessary.

He should just flip the damn switch and be done with it, but he keeps pulling up short at the last moment, keeps hesitating.

Fuck Elena for ruining him.

Fuck her for turning him into this.

He lets go of the girl, backs away, reaches for his flask. Empty. Damn it. He fires it into the underbrush by the side of the road, uncaring where it lands. It was a gift from Stefan, 1992, engraved and all.

Fuck him, too.

The girl blinks at him, tears in her eyes, shaking with the strain of fighting his compulsion. “I can’t move,” she says, panicky. Then she closes her eyes, opens them, repeats her words more calmly. “I can’t move. What are you?”

What, not who. Clever girl. Too little, too late, but the way she holds herself together, the way she’s still thinking, well, he’s almost proud of her.

“What’s your name?” he asks, because he’s apparently some kind of masochist.

Her heart goes ba-thump, ba-thump, ba-thump.

“Bella,” she answers promptly. He wonders if she thinks it’ll change anything, knowing her name. “My name is Bella.”

Bella. Isabella? Annabell? Bella. Italian. Home. Mystic Falls. Elena. Better, Isabella, Isobel, Elena. Forget Rome, all damn roads lead back to her. He wants to laugh, wants to run, to snap her neck. Elena’s, Bella’s. Can’t really tell the difference.

“Bella,” he says, lets it roll off his tongue, all accent and charm. Bella. He grabs her by the arms, bends closer. He can smell nothing but her fear now, her body’s desire to runrunrun. “I have a secret, mia bella,” he tells her, because, hey, why not?

Why the hell not?!

“I have a secret that I’ve never told anyone, because what’s the point?” Letting go of her, step back, step forward. He throws up his arms. “It’s not gonna make me good, or make me adopt a puppy or something. It’s not gonna fix me.”

He reaches for her again, tucks a strand of her wild, dark curls behind her ear, almost gently. He’s always done this, always confused his kills with compassion, violence with gentleness. Thank you, Father, thank you, Katherine, thank you, years of war service that everyone seems to conveniently forget ever happened. Thank you, for all the crossed wires and confused impulses.

She stares at him, gaze fixed on his eyes, like he’s hypnotizing her. He’s not. He’s just…, “I can’t be what other people want me to be. I can’t be what she wants me to be.” She looks too much like Elena for him to keep his mouth shut, to not let it all out. “She keeps trying to change me, to make me better, but this,” he shakes her, poor thing. “This is who I am, Bella. This is me!”

He spreads his arms, look, look, here I am, here’s Damon, the monster. His brother’s the Ripper, the one who can never stop, but he’s the monster. Evil Damon, bad Damon. Made a mess on the carpet again, Damon!

He’s panting like a dog, head bowed. This, this whole mess, it’s exhausting. For a moment, there’s silence, like an exclamation mark. There it is. Here’s the truth. He keeps trying, but he’s doomed to fail. Always has been.

Then Bella shakes her head, as much as she can under his compulsion, shakes it and says, “She shouldn’t.”

“What?”

“Ch-change you. She’s not…,” she gasps for air, swallows around the panic and then, somehow, steadies herself, steadies herself and says, “No-one has the right to try and change someone else. Not ever.”

There’s a note of steel in her voice, something hard and certain. Like a lesson learned and a wound scabbed over and he smiles at her, bitterly, because, God, why? He doesn’t even know.

Maybe because his dinner is the first person to say something nice to him in months.

“But she only wants what’s best for me. She wants to be my friend, to make me feel, to make me…” Stefan. To make him Stefan. Because the world needs more Stefan.

She shakes her head again and he can hear her heart slowing down, can feel her gain control of herself. She’s calming down. Why is she calming down?

“No,” she says, “that’s not right.”

He laughs again, puts his hands on her cheeks and bends low. Looks her in the eye – dark brown, god – and tells her, “You should stop talking, sweet Bella. Because I’m not a good person, and she… she would want me to let you go, but I…. Do I kill you? Do I not kill you? You’re kind of my existential crisis, right here, and if you keep telling me to ignore her, I will drain you dry.”

He might feel sorry, but he’ll do it. At his words, he expects her heart rate to sky-rocket again, but, paradoxically, it settles even more.

“You’re not human,” she states, absolute certainty in her voice, realization and resignation.

“No.” He lets go of her again, can’t stand to be so close to her. Why is she calm, all of a sudden? It’s almost like she’s not afraid anymore. “No, I’m not human! And that’s my secret! I’m not human and I miss it. I,” he trails off, shakes his head. He hasn’t even allowed himself to think this, not since the early days, not in so long. “I miss it,” he confesses to the dead girl walking, “more than anything in the world.”

Being human, knowing peace. Aging. Knowing that things have endings, that life is precious. Being able to connect to things, people. Knowing that whatever he feels, he feels, no option of flipping a switch, no escape. Just one human life, with all its ups and downs and then, one ending. One death.

He only ever wanted to die once.

He breathes, but it’s like there is no more air in the night. His chest feels hollow.

There are tears in Bella’s eyes, big, fat ones rolling down her cheeks. “I’m sorry,” she whispers, like she means it. Like she actually cares. “I’m so sorry. Are you… is that why you want to kill me?”

With a shrug, he admits, “I’m not sure, yet, if I want to kill you. But there’s only so much hurt a man can take and…”

And he’s reached his breaking point. It took the better part of two centuries, but here he is, spilling his guts to a breakable, human girl.

He hates that he feels relieved, with his secret out in the open.

“Please don’t,” she breathes, between quiet sobs. The pity should grate, should burn, but at least someone here can cry. “Please don’t.”

Kill her, let her go. Kill her, let her go. Kill her, let her go. Be who Elena wants him to be, or be himself. Be…

“But if I let you go, she wins, don’t you see?”

Shaking her head again, she argues, “But she wins anyway. You let me go to be what she wants you to be, you kill me to prove that you’re not. Either way, it’s about her. If you… if you decide like that, she wins anyway. Please.”

She’s clever, Bella. So clever and insightful, telling him no-one has the right to try and make him change. Like someone tried to change her, once. Like she knows…

He can’t let her live, can he? If he does, he’s letting Elena win. And he can’t… he can’t do that. But if he kills her, he’s only doing it to spite Elena and he doesn’t… he doesn’t know what to do. What Damon before Elena would have done.

He doesn’t remember. Gentle and cruel, he’s always messed those up, always confused them, letting his victims live as often as not. But now…

“Go,” he pants, “go.”

He hopes she runs. He hopes she runs and doesn’t stop running until she’s five states away and her scent lost to him forever.

She takes a step back, to one side, toward her car, then stops.

Run, he thinks. Jesus fucking Christ, just run.

She doesn’t.

Instead she takes a step closer again, another, spreads her arms and hugs him.

She’s hugging him.

He wants to laugh, or maybe cry. Definitely run away. Rip something, kill someone.

“What are you doing?” he asks, incredulously, standing stiffly in her embrace. She’s so warm, and her hair smells so good and she feels… she feels alive. She feels human. And she’s hugging him.

The last person to hug him was Elena, back when he first opened the tomb. “I’m sorry,” she said, and he actually believed it.

Bella shrugs, not letting go. Her face is buried in his shoulder, hidden away. She just keeps holding on. Somehow, Damon isn’t pushing her away.

“You should run,” he tells her, surprised at how steady he sounds. Almost like a sane person. Neat.

She shakes her head into his chest. “Never run from something immortal.”

A snort escapes him. “Did you just quote The Last Unicorn at me?”

This night has officially exceeded his tolerance for bizarre shit.

She giggles – giggles! “You recognized the quote.” Then she adds, “You’re a vampire. If you want me dead, I’m dead. And I… I know how it feels, to… I know how it feels when someone makes you feel worthless. Like you don’t deserve to live. I… no-one deserves that.”

She knows what he is. And she’s still hugging him. Him, who threatened to kill her less than five minutes ago. Who told her, explicitly, that he can’t stop being a monster. Can’t be…human. Not ever again.

“You’re crazier than I am.”

She giggles again and finally lets him go.

“She’s human, isn’t she?”

How the hell does she know that?

“The woman who wants to change you, I mean.”

“Yes.”

She nods. “You can’t change what you are. She should… she should accept that. You’re a vampire and you’ll never be human again. I’m sorry.”

It actually takes him a moment to understand that she’s apologizing for the fact that he’ll never be human again. Because she knows how much he misses it. She knows his secret. It’s strangely freeing, to have someone know. Someone alive.

“Even if I change my mind and kill you after all?”

Another shrug. She tucks her hair over one shoulder and he realizes, for the first time, how damn young she is. Barely older than Elena, really. Nineteen at the most. “I’ve known since I was seventeen that it’s going to be a vampire who kills me. Although you’re not like the vampires I’ve met before.”

That sounds a lot like she’s met icies before. And survived them. The bizarre just keeps piling up.

For a minute, they stand there in silence, Damon still coming down from the killing edge, and Bella just… waiting. Observing him. He… doesn’t hate it, the way he does when it’s Elena, or anyone else.

Suddenly, Bella laughs. “This is so weird,” she tells him. “You almost killed me, and I kind of want to help you anyway. Do you need a ride?”

“You’re… something else.”

She makes a so-so motion with one hand, the other digging into her pocket. She bounces on her toes a little, uncomfortable. Now. Now that he doesn’t want to kill her anymore – and when did that happen anyway?

“I dated a vampire in high school,” she offers as an explanation. “When he left me, I lost it for a bit. My friend Jake says I’m not normal.”

Damon is pretty sure he would have killed her, if she were. If she weren’t crazy enough to hug him away from the edge, to tell him that it’s okay for him to be a vicious killer. That Elena is the one in the wrong.

And she knows what he is, knows he’s a vampire. She understands what he was going to do to her, so her words aren’t empty. She means it. Every word.

More silence. “So. A ride? And… uhm. Do you have a name?”

“Damon.” He laughs as he follows her to her car, gets in shotgun. “My name’s Damon.”

Bella laughs, does up her seatbelt and then holds out her hand to him. “Pleased to meet you, Damon. Now, where am I taking you?”

“Boarding house,” he says, only to have her frown. Her car is an old Ford that looks like it might fall apart at any moment, but she coaxes it to life with practiced ease.

“Sorry, I’m not from around here. I’ll need directions.”

He gives them to her, then leans back, asks, “Passing through?”

She nods as she takes a left into Mystic Falls. “I’m from Washington. Coast to coast road trip. I finished high school last year and I… needed some time off.”

“Does that have anything to do with the ex?”

She nods but doesn’t explain. Silence falls between them and it’s comfortable. Calm. Damon hasn’t felt calm in so, so long. She navigates them through Mystic Falls at two am, taking turns when he tells her to, and after fifteen minutes, they pull into the driveway of the Boarding House.

It’s a Friday and there’s light in the main room. Probably Saint Stefan and Elena being coupley and talking about Evil Damon in front of the fireplace. The thought of walking in there and having them talk down at him makes him nauseous.

Bella turns off the engine and contorts herself to look out the windshield of her old clunker to take in the entirety of the building. “Wow,” she breathes. “That’s…”

“Impressive? Awesome? Gorgeous?” he offers.

She shoots him a look. “Gloomy, depressing and stereotypical?”

No-one’s ever called the house anything but gorgeous, but Bella’s right. Damon shifts in his seat. He should get out.

“She’s in there, isn’t she?”

He gives Bella a look. She’s far too perceptive. “Is she your girlfriend?”

“My brother’s, actually.”

She winces. “Ouch.”

“Yeah.”

“But you….”

“Yes.”

“Oh.”

He imagines getting inside. Elena and Stefan asking where he was. Elena telling him it’s okay to feel what he feels. You’re angry, she’d say. You’re grieving. You’re hurt. Elena never asks, she always tells him what he feels. Like she knows, like he’s a three-year-old who can’t tell left from right. Condescending, even though he knows she means well.

He hates it, that mixture of innocence and calculation in her. The way she plays him like a fiddle and then pretends not to know what she’s doing to him, all doe eyes and compassion.

He hates her.

“I want to get to the water,” Bella suddenly interrupts his downward spiral. “Tonight, I mean. I’ve been on the road for months, and I want to reach the ocean tonight. It’s why I’m out so late. It’s only a few more hours, and I don’t sleep well, anyway.”

He tears his gaze away from the house, looks at her instead. She’s playing with her hair, nervous gesture. “You could come with me. I can drop you back here tomorrow? And I could use some directions, anyway.”

Bizarre.

“Are you inviting me on a road trip?”

She shrugs one shoulder. “A really small one? You… I like you.”

“You’ve known me for thirty minutes. I tried to kill you for ten of those.”

She smiles at him and hey, she’s actually kind of pretty. Paler than Elena, a bit sicklier, shorter. Rounder, in some places, skinnier in other. Imperfect. He likes it. She starts the car again and gives him a searching look. Waiting. Letting him choose.

Damon can’t remember the last time someone was careful with him, or gentle. The last time someone thought he needed to be treated like that. His mother, he thinks. Probably. He was eight when she died.

He nods.

Bella fights the stick into first and pulls out of the drive again. “Left at the intersection,” he tells her. “And then a right out of town.”

It’s a two hour drive to a deserted stretch of beach he sometimes visits.

They make most of the trip in silence, keeping conversation light. Bella asks questions about his kind of vampire, sunlight? Stakes? He confirms or denies and asks just enough questions in return to know that yes, she hooked up with an icy, and no, she doesn’t know how exactly she survived that either.

“I broke down completely when he left. Finished school in a daze and then got the hell out of that town. I’ve been on the road forever now, but I feel… like myself again. It’s nice.”

Damon can’t imagine it.

“Park here,” he tells her eventually, pointing to a wider strip of gravel by the side of the road. The rest is a bit of a walk.

Bella obediently pulls over and gets out, grabbing a jacket out the back. Her teeth are chattering with exhaustion, but Damon can see the excitement in her. She lived right by the coast in Washington, she told him, and her goal was to reach the other side of the continent.

And now she’s finally here.

With him.

She locks the car with all her things in it and follows him down a rocky path. Her human eyes fail her and she keeps stumbling, yawning, apologizing. Damon rolls his eyes and grabs her hand, leading her like the blind. Her hand is warm and soft and fragile and he wonders how the fuck he went from an existential crisis in the middle of the road, to showing a human girl one of his favourite places in the world.

Bella stumbles again, smacks into his back and giggles into his shoulder, getting a little manic from lack of sleep. It’s past four now. Dawn is already starting to tickle the edges of the horizon.

Damon pinches her in the hip and then sweeps her up and simply carries her the last few yards. Cruel and gentle, again.

He plonks her ass down in the cold, damp sand and watches her squirm as she struggles back to her feet. “Jerk,” she snaps, but there’s still a smile on her face.

In the end, she holds out a hand for him to pull her up, stubbornly, until he takes it, and then yanks him down with her. There go his designer jeans.

Rose has been dead for something like twelve hours. He remembers her awe at being in the sun again, of feeling warmth on her face. She would have loved this, sitting on the beach, watching the sunrise.

“A friend of mine died yesterday,” he says, sorting out his limbs. Bella scoots closer, until he can feel her warmth through his jacket.

“I’m sorry.”

“You should stop apologizing for things you have no control over.”

“Do you want to tell me?” She ask. Not, ‘you’re sad’. Just an offer.

Damon doesn’t know who is more surprised – her or him – when he actually starts talking. It starts with Rose and then just spills out, Elena and Stefan and Katherine, Klaus and Elijah, the tomb, the past century and a half. The whole damn mess, his whole eternity of misery.

He tells her all of it with the sky growing lighter and she interjects with pieces of her own story, the boyfriend, the tracker, the woods and the wolves, being a pet, a distraction. She was to her vampire what he was to Katherine, once upon a time, and he finds it oh, so fitting, that a nineteen-year-old teenage girl dealt with the situation better than he ever did in all his decades.

“He tried to change me into this ideal he had,” she confesses, snuggling into him for warmth he doesn’t really have. “And when he left it all just caved in and I went and found someone else to live for. It took until Jake… met his girlfriend for me to realize I can’t do that anymore, you know?”

She looks sheepish and half-asleep and hopeful that he’s catching what she’s throwing, trying to help him and she’s fragile and human and the sun is coming up and Damon adores her.

He adores the little girl he meant to kill and it’s too weird for words.

“Fucking bizarre,” he mutters, slinging an arm around her shoulders. A few hours ago, he hated everything and now he’s actually smiling. Genuinely smiling.

It won’t last, can’t last, not with Klaus and Suicide Elena hanging over everyone’s heads. But if there’s one thing living forever has taught Damon, it’s to take the moments as they come, because without endings, you need to mark the passage of time somehow.

Yesterday sucked, today doesn’t, tomorrow might again. In any case, he thinks he just made friends with a kooky teenage girl with abandonment issues, and he doesn’t even care.

Bella smiles. “Does it matter?”

What the hell. “Not really.”

+

The end.