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Across Unhallowed Ground

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“What’s this shelf?” She asks. It’s a collection of fiction, set aside from his Bronte and Dickens, and it’s the only shelf in his room not organized alphabetically by author. These are jumbled from author to author. Shaw to Cooper, P.C. Nast, D. A. Sauveur.

“Those are Damon’s,” he says.

Elena laughs. “Damon reads romantic fiction?” She’s looking at the misleading cover of Love Like Blood.

“No,” says Stefan, smiling. “He writes it. Those,” he nods at the shelf for emphasis, “are Damon’s.”

Elena’s staring at him in openmouthed surprise.

“They’re chronological,” he offers.


Damon wrote him letters, all through Stefan’s teenage years. Letters from West Point about the sun rising over the Hudson and the propriety of northern girls and about the other cadets. George Armstrong Custer was in Damon’s class, he remembers. Damon didn’t like him.

Later it was letters from the war. Glimpses of the camp life Stefan was still too young for. Descriptions of battles gone right and gone horribly, horrifyingly wrong. Some of those letters are the only firsthand accounts of the Battle of Deerrun Hill. There’s a reprint in Stefan’s history book that’s an excised portion of a letter Damon wrote to him in 1862. The scattered Salvatore family must have donated them.

All of Damon’s books are different. All written under different pseudonyms, all influenced by the decade he wrote them in, but all really about love, and guilt, and brothers, except the one he wrote in France in 1942 that was about love, and brothers, and war.

He wrote it mostly at night, bent over a war-correspondent's typewriter with a cigarette while Stefan watched him from their bed. He called it Across Unhallowed Ground in a pretty obvious metaphor for trench warfare, and it got put on the required reading list as a war memoir half a century later and Elena had to read it in English class last year. She reads it again when Stefan tells her the whole story and the subplot she never really got before moves her to tears this time.

He wrote a book in the sixties called Desolation Row about love, and guilt, and orgiastic destruction of the past. In it he proposed that the only way to be finished with something was to burn it to the ground.


Elena runs her fingers along the spines in a slow, wondering way. Stefan wishes she wouldn’t.
He won’t hide anything from her, but the idea of her reading Damon’s books claws at him with long green nails.

“What’s Love Like Blood about?”

“The same things all of Damon’s books are about. Love. Death. Doom. He wrote that one in Mexico. It’s about the darkness of the jungle swallowing you whole.”


Stefan moves on. He does different things, goes to college, goes to high school. Works as an art critic, a stockbroker, a handyman.

Damon writes the same book over and over for the better part of two centuries.


Elena tilts her head to the side and says, “Did that line used to work? Because I’m not buying this act. As usual, you get what you want, everyone else suffers.”

She hasn’t learned yet: this is not the way to handle Damon.

Stefan isn’t sure he ever wants her to learn how easily she could make Damon do anything she wanted.


He used to love watching Damon write. It has always been the one time when he seems completely human in his drive and his frustration. Damon uses disposable pens because he has a habit of destroying them when he hits a block, leaving his hands and the paper spotted with ink in dark colors.


Damon catches Elena with Stefan’s copy of Love Like Blood.

“I didn’t think you’d be into the whole escapist fantasy genre,” she says.

“No offense, Elena, but you don’t know me very well.”

She holds up the book he wrote about Mexico and eternity and loving Stefan. She’s more than halfway through it. “I know you better than I used to.”

There’s an old photograph tucked in the middle where someone was using it as a bookmark. A man at a desk with a typewriter, a cigarette in the corner of his mouth. The desk is metal, utilitarian, and the walls look like bare plaster. The typewriter has ‘Property of the US Army’ stenciled on it. The picture is sepia toned and faded around the edges and it takes her a long time to realize it’s Damon. Damon with the sleeves of his uniform shirt rolled up past his elbows, writing. It was taken from a low angle, maybe by someone crouched on the floor.

“D.A. Saveur,” she reads from the cover. “Salvatore. Saviour. Clever.”

Damon gives a little bow, joking through his discomfort the way he always has. Elena’s reading his books. Stefan must be going crazy, he thinks. He draws strength from the thought.

“What’s your middle name?” she asks.

He smiles. “Angelo.”

Elena stares. “No,” he says. “Really.”


In 1994, when Stefan left him for the last time, Damon wrote a book of short stories. Alternative fairytales were big that year and in every one of Damon’s stories the maiden was the monster and the thorns around the castle cut Prince Charming to pieces.


Elena calls him on a Saturday afternoon to essentially demand he get her out the house.

“Anything,” she says. “Absolutely anything. Let’s go play pool at the Grill. Let’s go sit on top of the school and look at the stars. Let’s go break into the public library and play backgammon. I have to get out of the house!”

Damon, Stefan thinks, would quite happily break into any public building at all to amuse Elena, no matter who he had to kill to get away with it.

Stefan says, “Let’s start with dinner. Possibly with extravagant dessert.”

They have dinner at the only French restaurant in town and Elena has a chocolate soufflé, an apricot Bavarian, and a pear and chocolate crepe for dessert.

“You’re going to have to roll me home,” she warns, only half in jest.

Stefan watches avidly as she licks whipped cream off the tines of her fork and says, “Gladly.”

They go for a walk in the pitch dark woods and Elena recounts the stories she and Matt and Caroline and Bonnie used to tell each other about the serial killers lurking behind every tree. She laughs at the darkness now, with the freedom that comes with having a vampire boyfriend. Laughs more softly when he pins her gently against a tree to kiss her for long, long minutes.

Later they climb the steps to his room and she kicks her shoes off and crawls up onto his bed, flinging her purse haphazardly aside. A book slides out as it hits his floor and when Stefan stoops to pick it up he realizes it’s Desolation Row. Damon’s opus of existential minimalism is the light reading Elena’s carrying around with her.

There’s something fluttering in his chest that might be his heartbeat but feels more like a laugh tinged with madness.

“Stefan?” Elena calls to him. “Is everything okay?”

Stefan clears his throat roughly, fighting the laugh back down. “Yes,” he says. “Yeah, everything’s great.”

He carefully tucks the slim volume back into her purse before he goes to join her.


Damon hasn't written anything in a couple of years, too busy now with his Diabolical Plan: The Sequel, but he watches Stefan and Elena and his fingers twitch. He starts writing notes and scraps of dialogue on the back of his list of founders for a book about brothers, and love, and secrets. It's about trying to move on and being strangled by the ashes of the past.

Because he never writes about vampires except in metaphors (doesn't write fantasy at all except for his magical realism period when he and Stefan stayed in Mexico for almost five years), in this book Katherine is the long buried secret still destroying the younger brother's happiness, represented by a mausoleum in the old cemetery that grows roses, wild, blood red roses the size of dinner plates.


Elena watches Damon and Stefan argue and notices for the first time the way they angle their shoulders at each other.

They turn and pace and dodge, Stefan moves in close when he makes a point, Damon circles like the lazy predator he is under his skin.

But she sees now how they turn to face each other, squaring off with careless ease. They’ve been fighting like this for a century and a half, she thinks, tiredly.

Damon wins this argument in the same way he wins almost every argument; he walks away, tossing a quip over his shoulder that makes Stefan grit his teeth.

Stefan looks for a moment as though he’ll call something after him, but he bites it back and watches Damon sweep a battered notebook off the writing desk and saunter off down the hall with it.

Curious, Elena thinks. And she goes to put her arms around Stefan because the time is long past when he wouldn’t talk to her about Damon.


“I need a favor,” Stefan says, walking into the library with his hands behind his back.

Damon squints at him. “Do you, now?” He is not in a good mood. He hit a serious block an hour ago and he doesn’t know how to move forward. It’s too early to go to the Grill and harass Alaric Saltzman and he doesn’t really want the Sheriff’s attention right now. His hands are spotted with ink and blood where he’s cracked the pen into sharp plastic shards.

He really, really needs to kill someone.

“You’ll like this,” Stefan says, and he lays a half sheet of paper on the desk in front of him.

“Not likely.” But he picks up the paper and stares at it in blank incomprehension. There’s a short block of text and a line at the bottom. The type face swims dizzily and he curses the invention of the keyboard for the hundredth futile time.

He blinks until the text under the line resolves itself into ‘Parent/Guardian Signature.’

“What the hell is this?”

Stefan smiles silently and Damon starts to laugh. “Is this a permission slip?” It takes him three tries to get the sentence out, laughter clawing up out of his chest.

“It’s for health,” Stefan says. “We need permission for Sex Ed.”

Damon falls out of his chair. Choking on giggles very inappropriate for a man of his time.

Too little, and a hundred and fifty years too late. He doubts Stefan knew much about sex before Katherine. And then, of course…

He lets his laughter play out into a loose chuckle and pulls himself back up. “Serve you right if I claimed a moral objection to your education,” he says.

He finds an unbroken pen and signs ‘Damon Salvatore’ on the line with a flourish.

He chases Stefan off with a joke and a sneer and ignores the irony of giving permission for someone to teach his brother about sex.


“Can I ask a kind of awkward question?” Elena says, frowning.

Damon smiles. “This should be good.”

“Katherine was sleeping with both of you, yes?”

Damon’s smile widens into the wicked smirk that has been making good girls follow him into secluded corners for the better part of two centuries. It’s a thin, fragile mask, but few people know him well enough to see it. “Oh, yes,” he says.

Stefan closes his eyes, nods. “Yes.”

“And she planned on turning both of you?”

They both nod. Damon makes a face, sips at his scotch.

“How did she think that was going to work out? Once you all left Mystic Falls?”

Stefan feels his blood go cold. Time stretches and the room spins and an unthinkable option occurs to him.

Damon is much better at these things. “Elena,” he says, “look in a mirror. Do you really want to go down this road?” He raises his eyebrows, managing to insinuate a wealth dark associations and things to be done between bedsheets with a single expression.

Elena gives Damon a wry look and appears to reconsider. “You have a point,” she says. “Question withdrawn.” She glances at Stefan who is doing his best impression of a man who is perfectly fine. “I’m gonna go call Bonnie back, I’ll just be a minute.”

She walks off down the hall, the buttons of her cell phone give off sharp, electronic pinpricks of sound. Damon tilts his head, listens to her walk down the hall. He’s still smiling, wearing his amused façade with next to no effort. Stefan has always envied him that.

His brother turns the smile on him, looking to share the joke, and pauses. He bends over, twisting to look up into Stefan’s face, peering close at his expression.

“Are you serious?” Damon asks, incredulous.

His face is genuinely shocked; Stefan has spent several lifetimes learning to separate Damon’s acts from Damon’s true displays of emotion.

“What?” he says, playing for time. He’s not even certain he was genuinely considering it.

Damon looks disgusted. “For someone who’s been lying about their identity for a hundred and forty-five years, you’re a terrible liar. You were thinking about telling her. The truth.”

“I don’t know, Damon,” he says. “I don’t know what I’m thinking.”


It’s not that she doesn’t like Stefan, and it’s not that she doesn’t trust Elena, and it’s not like she doesn’t have other things to worry about that are all labeled ‘Jeremy’, but Jenna wonders, sometimes, if Elena knows exactly what she’s doing.

Because no matter what all teenagers think about their adult guardians, Jenna is not stupid and she’s seen the way Damon looks at her niece and his brother and it isn’t with anything like an older brother’s quasi-paternalistic affection and it isn’t with anything as simple as jealousy.

She considers pulling Elena aside and asking about it, but then Damon brings Elena home late one night. They both look exhausted and they stand on the front porch for several minutes, talking soft and serious and very close.

Elena looks broken and sad and like she’d love nothing more than to rest her head on Damon’s leather-clad shoulder.

Oh no, Jenna thinks. Oh god, no.


He walks into the library to confront Damon about Caroline, and he sees the Moleskine notebook lying on the desk blotter. Pages ruffled and the elastic strap lying loose. A disposable Bic pen tucked into the middle.

He glances at Damon, lying crosswise in a chair with a mostly empty glass of scotch. His eyes are closed.

Stefan reaches silently toward the cover.

“Don’t,” Damon says without moving or opening his eyes. “No spoilers.”

“What,” Stefan shoots back, not bothering to deny his intention, “did you start with the end?”

Damon smiles. His eyes still closed. His hands loose, his whole body lazily content. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he says. “You know I never have any idea how the end is going to work until I get there.”

This is true. He’s seen Damon stall at the last twenty pages for weeks or months. Not having discovered, in the course of writing the entire book, how to get his characters out of the cyclical mess he’s made.

Stefan has always found that this encapsulates Damon’s problems perfectly.


Damon changes Elena’s name to Rachel, Stefan’s to Craig, his to Robert, and the town’s to Merriot, Georgia and when Craig admits that the girl in the tomb was his older brother’s lover as well as his own, Rachel takes it with Elena’s practical aplomb.

Craig says, “The answer to the question you aren’t asking is ‘yes.’ She wanted us both. And she wanted us together.”

Rachel swallows hard around her boyfriend’s admission, in oblique metaphors, of incest and says, “Love isn’t always nice, Craig. Sometimes it’s hard, and it’s awful, and it hurts but it’s still love. Love is not always pretty.”

Unrealistic, Damon thinks. But he likes the sound of it.

“I told her,” Craig says. “About us.”

Robert sips at a glass of scotch. Robert is an alcoholic. “That was fast.”

“She brought it up.”

“She came in here with her school books and her cheerleader outfit and asked, ‘Hey, Craig, are you sleeping with your brother?’” Robert uses sarcasm the way Damon does; as both a weapon and a shield.

Craig smiles with Stefan’s impenetrable patience. “She asked about the tomb.”

For that, Robert has no reply. He told her the greatest of their secrets like it was nothing.

“She had some thoughts about why you think it’s your fault.” Robert flinches visibly. If his grip on the glass tightens any further there’s a trip to the emergency room in his future.

“Oh, really,” he says as snidely as he can manage.

“She says older siblings blame themselves for things beyond their control. And that I’ll never understand that.”

Robert laughs like something’s fighting its way out of him. “How astute. You will always be my little brother whether we’re speaking to or sleeping with each other or not.” He shakes his head in disbelief. “’Love is not always pretty.’ You don’t deserve her.”

He turns to leave and Craig says, “I wasn’t ashamed because you’re my brother.”

Robert freezes.

Slowly, feeling the precarious, monumental nature of this moment solidify around him like a rime of ice, he turns back to face Craig, who hasn’t moved. Still standing in the middle of the parlor, his expression steeled. His courage screwed to the sticking point.

“I was ashamed because you’d become a monster. And I couldn’t stop you. And I couldn’t give you up.”

Out loud, Damon says, “You gave me up eventually.”

All of his books have been rehearsals for conversations he will never have.


After one her famous, overly polite interrogations at a party Elena says, “Why don’t you like Mrs. Lockwood?”

“Who says I don’t?” Stefan looks a little affronted, like she’s just accused him of being impolite to the Mayor’s wife and he’s about to challenge someone to a duel. Elena firmly tells herself not to giggle.

“Come on, Stefan. You don’t like her.”

He makes one of his twisting faces. I have a reason, but it’s not a good one and you’re not going to like it, that expression says.

Elena gives her best stern look and he laughs.

“She wears rose oil,” he says.

“And you hate roses?”

“Katherine always wore rose oil.” He waves it off like it’s nothing, takes a sip of his purloined champagne and gazes idly into the middle distance. His arm under her hand is inhumanly tense and still.

Ah, Elena thinks without saying anything. She’s not sure what to say to that, but she makes a mental note to stay away from roses.

She remembers Damon bending close to Carol Lockwood and charming her around his finger the way he charms all the women of the Founder’s Council into trusting him. She wonders if he held his breath, but she thinks it wouldn’t be very like Damon to deny himself that kind of torment.


“I’m a monster,” Stefan tells him. “I’m a worse monster than you ever were.”

He isn’t sure if he means it, but the words want to come out that way. Stefan isn’t sure what he’s talking about exactly. If this is about Elena or about Amber Bradley or about forcing Damon to turn. This is just something important, something that is in a way few things are.

The bed dips as Damon settles onto it. His knee alongside Stefan’s ribs is a solid line of contact that almost burns.

“That’s not true, brother,” he says in what, for Damon, is a gentle tone.

Stefan stares up at him, all clean lines and piercing eyes in the darkened room. He reaches without conscious thought and lays his hand on the side of Damon’s face feeling his brother go statue still at the touch.

I thought we were done with this, he wants to say. I meant it when I said I wasn’t coming back. Damon would laugh, he thinks, if he were to say any of this out loud. He laughed when Stefan said it the first time.

Damon isn’t laughing now. Damon takes a breath, hesitates. Stefan would trade almost anything to know what he’s thinking now, in this moment.

A shoe scrapes over the doorsill and Elena says, “Stefan? Damon? Anyone home?”

Neither of them heard her open the front door, or cross the hall, or come up the stairs. This is not a good sign.

Stefan takes a moment to contemplate what exactly this little frozen tableau looks like. He tries hard to deny that he’s grasping for more lies to tell her.

Damon jerks minutely in surprise and Stefan knows that his first instinct is to throw himself away from the bed, cross the room faster than the human eye can follow and stand casually in the door to Stefan’s closet like nothing at all was happening. Nothing more unusual than Damon wearing his clothes. (A common occurrence.)

But Damon was a master of subterfuge even when they were young and Damon is very old now and all Damon does is smile, and turn his head so that Stefan’s hand falls away from his face. He says, “Oh, good. You come talk him out of his emo. My shift is over.”

Elena rolls her eyes at him and smiles ruefully as Damon saunters past her out Stefan’s door and down the stairs, but there is something a little like suspicion and a little like speculation in her eyes. Elena is not stupid, Stefan reminds himself tiredly.

And Elena has been reading Damon’s books.


Damon lies on his back in Stefan’s bed and stares at the rafters.

He’s thinking about Elena, lying here under Stefan’s weight, staring up at him, probably smiling, murmuring something cliché.

Unfair, he scolds himself. He has no idea what Elena’s like in bed. The thought makes him twitch and he swats it away.

They’re at school now, probably. Maybe. What day is it?

He has no idea.

He imagines them at school anyway. Elena pretending to listen while actually watching Stefan. Stefan actually listening very intently, musing to himself on the changing scope of the American educational system.

Damon is not exaggerating, not just being obtuse or playing to type when he says he can’t imagine why Stefan is going back to high school.

Stefan is older than the high school, than the actual building. Damon honestly doesn’t know why he does it. Why he shows up every day and patiently follows instructions from people whose great-grandparents weren’t yet born when he learned to read and write.

This is a lie. He knows.

Stefan probably thinks he’s doing it as part of his doomed quest for normalcy. This is almost certainly what he tells himself. This is not why.

Damon could tell him. Has told him, in fact.

“Isn’t that why you play your little game, ‘I’m a high school human’?”

Maybe he came here and told himself that pretending to be normal was the most important thing. Going to school, following the rules. Spending time with Elena.

Spending time with Elena in a way Damon cannot. Will not.

It’s part of his charm. Part of his role.

This is the new push/pull between them. Stefan wins when he walks Elena to her locker and sits next to her at lunch. Damon wins when he convinces her to take the day off, that her time can be spent more profitably with him than sitting at a desk.

He’s not sure when Elena wins. She almost certainly does, sometimes. When she convinces him to cooperate, Stefan to back down. She’s knitting them together, he thinks.

He wonders what it would mean for them all to win.


She knows she walked in on something the other day, something neither of them wanted her to see.

Damon maybe because he likes to pretend, has to pretend that he doesn’t care whether or not Stefan’s strangling under the weight of his own guilt that particular week, but why wouldn’t Stefan want her to see Damon’s concern?

Elena won’t deny that she has her suspicions.

Some of his books are just as unsubtle as Damon himself and she’s now read five, six?, of them. Maybe Love Like Blood is about surrendering to the jungle as a metaphor for the acceptance of death, and maybe Desolation Row was mostly inspired by Kent State and the Kennedy assassination and the Manson cult. And, true, there’s nothing more than insinuation and implication and the bitter taste of at least three different kinds of guilt in Across Unhallowed Ground but…

Elena sighs.

She’s going to find Katherine and beat her to death with a tree branch.


Stefan sits contentedly on Elena’s window seat and watches her study for French. He once spent quite a bit of time in France and his French is pretty good. Damon’s is better, but his is okay.

He attempts to betray none of this while they practice dialogue. He must fail miserably because Elena makes that face at him where she wrinkles her nose and looks about twelve.

“You’re mocking me,” she accuses.

He is doing no such thing. “I am not,” he protests.

“No,” she agrees, “you’re not. But you could be.” She levels another of her looks at him. It’s sad that you think I’m this gullible, that look says.

“Okay,” Stefan says, “so maybe I do speak French.”

“Mmhmm. I know. You were in France during the second World War.”

Stefan takes a breath and hesitates. He’d forgotten for a moment her current passion for Damon’s books.

“Yes,” he admits. “I was there in the late ‘20’s with Lexi, too.”

It’s amazing, amazing and sad how little saying her name hurts. How the thought of her brings not the boiling rage it should, but more a sort of tired, sad regret. It is entirely possible there is nothing, literally and actually nothing he would not forgive Damon, in time.

It is very, very important that Damon never realizes that.

Something in the sideways set of Elena’s mouth says, I know what you’re thinking.

She already knows, he thinks. This truth that he must keep from Damon at all costs. She’s been trying to explain it to him for months.

”I’m not trying to save him, I’m trying to save you! You have no idea what this will do to you! Please, Stefan!”

“That must have been fun,” she says quietly. Her hands are still, poised carefully on the edges of her French textbook. “Paris in the 1920’s with Lexi.”

“Yes,” Stefan returns, just as quietly. He’s thinking about jumping naked in the Trevi fountain, blind drunk on French Champagne while Lexi laughed so hard she had to lie on the ground. He’s thinking about France with Damon, decades later. War torn and ugly. Quartered in a farmhouse, watching Damon write Across Unhallowed Ground by night on a war correspondent’s typewriter.

Elena is still watching him. She looks a little disappointed when he just says, “Yes, Paris was fun.”

He tries not to think about what she wanted him to say.


“Do you really think you can keep this façade up? I’m sure you’ve had plenty of practice, but really, how much longer is this town going to buy the Salvatore ‘brothers’?”

The insinuation is very, very clear. As it was no doubt meant to be. Damon’s reflexive taunt is buried by rushing fury and fear.

He can’t breathe; there’s no air in the Grill at all and he has to get out. “Excuse me,” he manages. John Gilbert tips his glass mockingly and Damon burns with the urge to rip him apart. It’s actually painful to keep to human speed as he heads for the door, taking all his available willpower not to move in one time-lapsed rush, get out of here faster than humanly possible.

He passes the table where Elena sits talking with Bonnie and Caroline and that blond boy whose name he’s never bothered to remember. Elena turns to look after him, concerned. When was the last time he passed her by without comment or even a glance?

Outside, under the pinpricked sky, is only marginally better. He moves away from the streetlights and lit windows more on instinct than plan, ends up in the alley digging his fingers into the brick. Hiding in the shadows.

As a vampire his instinct is to follow John back to his car, kill him slow and messy and bury him in a hillside. A new vampire would not be able to curb this urge. But Damon has not been young in a very long time, and Damon does not get mad, he gets even, and he can see the problems with this overwhelming desire.

There is, of course, the ring. But that is easily dealt with. There is the fact that absolutely no one on the council would believe John just mysteriously disappeared. But he could make that work. Somehow.

There is Elena.

She would understand, he thinks, tipping his head against the brick and closing his eyes. She doesn’t even like John that much. But then, he would have killed both of her parents. He’s not sure how many people she knows Elena is willing to bury before she turns to him and says, “Enough. Get away from me.”

How did this happen?

A shoe scrapes on the pavement at the mouth of the alley and he turns his head too quickly, and he sees her, silhouetted against the dark Virginia night, the lights on the street. Peering into the shadows where she knows he must be, but cannot see him.

Elena followed him.

He wonders why in a tired, unaffected sort of way. If he had the energy to think about it he could figure it out, maybe. He thinks it’s too bad Stefan wasn’t in the Grill tonight to see his girlfriend follow his brother out. That might have been amusing.

But this thought, too, is dulled. He does not flirt with Elena solely to annoy Stefan, not anymore. He can admit that to himself, in his own head.

“Damon?” she calls into the alley, questioning. He marvels that she dares, now that she knows all the things that can hide in the shadows, to step a careful foot past the edge of the light.

“Here,” he says, mostly to see what she’ll do now.

She takes another step, and pauses. Waiting for her eyes to adjust.

“What’s… Is everything okay?” she asks, drifting closer. She can almost see him now. The defined edge of his jacket, the shine of his eyes in the dark.

For a moment he feels the precipitous drop that Stefan must have experienced. The vertiginous urge to tell her. Tell her everything. Pour his whole history into her hands and beg her for judgment. He makes a mental note not to apologize to Stefan.

“Damon?” Elena takes another, half guided step. Reaching out with surety to lay her hand on his arm now that she knows where he is.

He sighs, and leans his whole body back against the wall. He wants to pull her close. He wants to tell her to run. He is so tired of this. His psychopathic edges worn down to his ingrained urge to be noble. Early childhood training is very hard to resist.

“Didn’t your mother teach you not to follow strange men into the dark?” He means it for sarcasm, but it comes out kind of sad and tired. He can’t even lie to her by inflection anymore.

She makes a soft sound of derision. “Which mother? The one who hunted you down and begged you to make her a vampire? Maybe it’s bad genes.”

He did not particularly want that reminder, but perhaps it’s better that she doesn’t lie to herself about him. That at least she knows, at all times, exactly what he is.

“Besides,” says Elena, curling her fingers a little more firmly into his jacket, “you’re not a stranger. And I’m not afraid of the dark.” Her voice shakes a little. He wonders what she could possibly be thinking. And then she steps close and raises her face to his.

Damon stops breathing. The moment hangs suspended and it’s only a few seconds, but he catalogues everything. The fall of her hair, the press of her hand on his arm and her knee against his, the scent of vervain from the necklace that means this is her choice, only her choice. The shape of her eyes in almost total darkness. For an instant neither of them moves at all, poised on the edge of something huge and terrible and it’s not quite yet too late to back away.

He tips his head a bare centimeter and catches her mouth, soft and hesitant and when the hell did he become soft and hesitant? Elena slides her free hand up his chest under his jacket and opens her mouth under his and he’s gone. His hands light and strong on her face, the curve of her waist, the soft weight of her hair. He flicks his tongue along her teeth and she sighs, winding her arms around his neck. He wants to run his hands through her hair. He wants to bite. He wants to stay in this blind silence forever.

He could lose himself in her.