fallinangelz21 (fallinangelz21) wrote in evening_ground,
fallinangelz21
fallinangelz21
evening_ground

Down a Crooked Path - Chapter Twenty-Three

TitleDown A Crooked Path
Author
: fallinangelz21
Fandom: The Vampire Diaries (tv show)
Pairing: Damon/Elena, (Stefan/Katherine), (Caroline/Tyler)
Rating: R
AN: Some loose ends should be burned. Sequel to Self-Inflicted Wounds.



Chapter Twenty-Three – A Time for Every Purpose

Leaving Alaric to his drinking at The Bleeding Wolf, Damon drove aimlessly through the streets of Mystic Falls, too agitated to go home. The teacher’s words – more like desperate plea – ran through his brain on a continuous loop.

“Elena told me about Atlanta.”

“She’s eighteen, Damon.”

“She’s got a chance at a long life, man. A normal, human life.”

“All I’m saying is that maybe…maybe what’s best for her is to end things now, before either of you get in too deep.”

Damon scowled, gripping the steering wheel tighter as he drove down Main Street. As usual, the town square was bustling with activity – this time in preparation for the Mystic Falls High School graduation ceremony – and with Tyler being one of the seniors due to cross the stage and accept his diploma, Mayor Lockwood had taken the reigns.

Pulling up to the curb, Damon parked the Camaro and shut off the engine, leaning back in the seat to watch the volunteers count chairs and put up awnings. Come Sunday, the center of town would be bustling with proud parents and students, all clad in identical caps and gowns. Considering the fact that the citizens of Mystic Falls had ‘social responsibility’ programmed into their DNA, he expected the entire town to turn out for the festivities. Family, friends, neighbors, babysitters, hell, the orthodontists who’d put on their braces in junior high would all be there to wish the graduating seniors well.

Elena’s parents won’t be there.

Taken aback, Damon blinked at the sobering and unexpected thought. Elena rarely mentioned her parents anymore, although he knew she visited their graves regularly – once in a while, she’d ask him to join her, but most of the time she went with Jeremy.

Tapping his thumb against the steering wheel, Damon wondered if Elena had thought about the fact that her parents wouldn’t be at her high school graduation. She’d have family there – Jeremy, Alaric – and friends sitting on the bleachers beside her.

And you, a part of his brain reminded him, but he shoved it aside. He’d planned on being there, of course – before his happy hour from hell with Alaric – but now Damon wasn’t as certain.

He knew that he couldn’t return Elena’s parents to her – the car accident was one of the few awful things that had happened to her that neither he, nor the supernatural world that he lived in, was responsible for – but that didn’t stop him from suddenly wishing that he could. She’d been forced to endure so much tragedy – more than most humans encountered in their entire lifetime – and she hadn’t just survived, she’d thrived. Giving fate the proverbial finger, Elena had created a new family with Jeremy and Alaric, Bonnie and Caroline after she’d lost her parents and Jenna. She’d survived Katherine, Stefan’s descent into bloodlust and ripper madness, and defeated Klaus.

She’d survived death itself.

Then, after all of that, when most people would have curled up into the fetal position and hoped to die, Elena had finished high school, applied and gotten into her dream college.

She’d learned to laugh again, to enjoy being alive. She’d done and lived so much in just the past year alone…

She deserved to have her goddamn parents at her high school graduation ceremony.  

Just this once, she deserved to have something in her life that was normal.

Narrowing his eyes against the glare of the setting sun, Damon looked away from the town square. Ric’s right, he thought as the knife of realization sliced through his heart. For some inexplicable reason, Elena loved him with an all-consuming passion that had already prompted her to give up on her plans for a normal, human life and contemplate forever with him as a vampire. He knew that it was only an idea at the moment – an appealing yet terrifying idea – but he’d seen the truth in her eyes. There would come a day when she would ask and he would comply and in the split-second that it took to snap her neck, Elena’s life would be irrevocably altered.

As long as they were together, the supernatural would intrude. Werewolves, vampires, witches – the species didn’t matter, they were all a part of Damon’s existence and at some point their paths would cross with his and all of the darkness in his world would eventually destroy the light and the hope in Elena’s.

Their relationship would ruin her – he’d ruin her.

He wouldn’t mean to and it would kill him, but it would happen. It wasn’t a question of whether or not Elena could survive his world, it was a question of whether or not she should have to.

The answer was no.

Hating everyone and everything, Damon twisted the key, gunning the engine as it roared to life before pulling away from the curb with a squeal of the tires. His cell phone buzzed with an incoming text as he ran a stop sign near the edge of the business district. Picking it up from the passenger’s seat he saw Elena’s name flash across the screen.

“I’m at your place. When are you coming home?”

Swallowing past the lump of anxiety and dread lodged in his throat, Damon fired off a quick response.

“Five minutes.”

Tossing the phone back onto the seat, he tore through the quiet residential streets, mulling over the best possible approach to what was going to be the worst conversation of his life. Somehow, he had to end things with Elena. He had the chance to really be the better man, to do what Stefan should have done, but hadn’t been able to.

Elena may have chosen to love a vampire – to love him – but Damon had a choice as well.

He could choose to let her go.

Pulling into the driveway, he parked the car and climbed out quickly, blurring toward the house as he did his best not to think about what letting Elena go really meant. He needed to spit out the words and worry about the implications later when he was three bottles deep into the biggest drinking binge of his incredibly long existence.

Opening the front door, he set his keys on the table by the wall, taking a moment to listen for Elena, but he didn’t need his super hearing to pick up on her heavy footsteps as she walked across the hardwood floor. Taking a deep breath, he forced his feet to carry him toward the living room.

Elena didn’t notice him at first, giving Damon a moment to take in her familiar features. Her long hair was pulled up into a messy bun with small tendrils escaping to curl around her face in the humidity of the late May afternoon. Wearing denim shorts and a tank top, her naturally tanned skin practically glowed in the waning sunlight filtering through the windows. Drink in hand, she paced in front of the fireplace – even the angry scowl on her face looked beautiful.

Fuck, Damon thought, clenching his jaw. He’d lost track of the number of times he’d tried to leave Elena, but it always came down to this moment – the moment when he had to look at her and somehow ignore the emotion he saw in her eyes. Beneath the anger, betrayal and rejection, beneath the love and desire, all he ever saw was his own hope, his own need, reflected back at him.

Jesus fucking Christ.

 Desperately, he wondered how much of an ass he’d be if he broke up with the love of his very existence via text message.

“It’s about time,” Elena muttered, noticing him hovering in the doorway. He was fairly certain he hadn’t done anything to upset her today – yet – so he wondered who the guilty party was. She’d been at the mall with Caroline and Bonnie, shopping for graduation dresses…had it been one of them?

“Something wrong?” he asked, amazed that the voice coming out of his mouth sounded halfway calm when the rest his body was completely on edge.

“You will not believe what Bonnie said to me today,” Elena said, taking a large sip of whatever she was drinking before gesturing wildly with the glass. “I swear to god, Damon, she’s reached a new low.”

“She must have finished her degree in Hypocritical Bitchery,” he said vaguely as he worked on a new strategy. Elena hadn’t stopped surprising him since the day in her kitchen when she’d acknowledged that he’d lost Katherine, too. He hadn’t gotten used to falling asleep with her or waking up with her, let alone hearing her tell him that she loved him. Sometimes he still caught himself waiting for the other shoe to drop or for Stefan to return and for Elena to tell him that she’d changed her mind.

What Damon had gotten used to – long before they’d even become friends – was fighting with her.

“I always thought you were exaggerating when you said that she hated you,” Elena continued, drinking and pacing as he slowly crossed the room. “But after today…you might be right.”

“I often am,” he murmured, carefully choosing which buttons to push. I’m a fucking coward, he thought, knowing that if he played his cards right – if he pissed her off enough – he wouldn’t have to tell her that they needed to end their relationship.

Elena would do it for him.

~*~

Lying on his side, Damon woke slowly, becoming aware of his surroundings one isolated detail at a time – his face buried in Elena’s hair, his legs tangled with hers, one arm pillowed beneath his head, the other draped over her body, holding her close. Her hips were pressed against his, her back molded to his chest, fitting together like two puzzle pieces on the forest floor.

Squeezing his eyes shut, he fought against the immediate onslaught of regret, guilt and doubt that came with consciousness as he tried to sink back into slumber. He wanted to go back to the dreamless state he’d been in where Landis and his own failure hadn’t existed – where everything had just been him and Elena. For a few brief moments he drifted, thinking that it might be possible, but then she moved and his eyes snapped open.

She was awake.

The grey light of predawn illuminated the forest, draining everything of color except for Elena, lying alive and vibrant in his arms. Taking his hand, she brought it to her lips, gently kissing his fingertips as she murmured. “I know you’re awake.”

Damon smirked, momentarily letting go of their problems as he recalled the many times he’d said the same thing to her when she’d tried to feign sleep in his arms. “How long have you been waiting to say that?”

She chuckled softly, rolling over in his arms and propping her head in her hand as she touched his cheek. “Three years,” she admitted as he mirrored her pose, keeping his other arm possessively around her waist.

“Three years?” he raised a brow, trying to ignore the way his heart constricted painfully upon hearing her laugh – he couldn’t remember the last time he’d heard it.

She nodded. “My motivation for wanting to turn has always been to catch you sleeping.”

At loss for words, Damon got lost in her eyes, stuck on the reality of simply waking up beside her as he stroked his hand languidly up and down her back. He’d been shocked when Stefan had reminded him that it had been two weeks since she’d turned – unable to believe that so much time had passed – but now he felt every second and wondered how he could have kept his distance for so long.

I never meant to push her away.

“Hi,” he said finally, studying every line of her face as if he was seeing it for the first time and engraving it to memory.

“Hi,” she replied, her cheeks flushing pink as she dropped her gaze to his lips. Memories of the way she’d tasted, the way she’d kissed him with such bruising intensity that it had drawn blood, flitted through his mind. He wondered if she was remembering it as well, if the amazing blush staining her skin pink from the roots of her hair all the way down to the dusty tips of her bare breasts was because of what they’d done.

He hoped so.

“So,” Elena said after a moment, dragging her gaze back up to his. “When you asked me to dance, I had no idea we were going to end up naked in the middle of the woods. Waking up in a pile of leaves is…new.”

Damon chuckled, picking a leaf out of her tousled hair. “It does take some getting used to.”

“Oh, really?” she replied, pretending to be scandalized. “You’re used to this?”

“I wouldn’t say that,” he admitted, cupping her jaw as he dragged his thumb over the smooth skin on her cheek. “But I’ve been around for awhile, Elena. This is not my first time in the forest.”

“You’ll have to tell me about that sometime,” she said with a grin.

“Sometime I will,” he promised, coaxing her closer and claiming her lips. Elena kissed him back, her mouth flowering beneath his as he wrapped his arm around her waist and rolled onto his back. She followed him without breaking contact, sliding her leg between his as she snuggled against his chest.

Basking in the ease of their connection, he kissed her slowly and thoroughly, tasting every part of her. It had been too long since they’d woken up like this, since he’d been able to enjoy the way they knew each other and fit together so goddamn well. Her body responded to his touch with the same intensity as the night before, as if she were starved for the bond and desperate to see it through.

The night before…

The errant fragment of thought opened the door to the guilt and regret, ushering it back to the forefront of his mind where it managed to take precedence over the amazing sensation of Elena’s lips and bare skin against his. Every angry word and tearful accusation washed over him like a bucket of ice water, making it impossible to forget that although the physical distance between them had been shattered, there was still more to say – more to apologize for.

The resolution was still to come.

“Elena,” he murmured between kisses, unable to find the strength to stop touching her.

“I know,” she replied breathlessly, pushing herself up on her elbow for better access to his mouth. Her leg dragged up his, nudging his stiffening cock in a move that was definitely unintentional.

The first time.

Groaning, he slid his hand over her hip, grabbing the back of her thigh to hold her still. He couldn’t believe he was about to put on the brakes, but between Stefan’s blunt words and Elena’s heartbreaking confusion from only hours ago, Damon knew that he had a lot to explain. “Elena, we need to…”

She cut him off with her lips, delving her tongue into his mouth and short-circuiting his brain so completely that he had little choice but to kiss her back. His hand on her thigh shifted higher, cupping her ass as she rubbed herself against his bare hip.

She was already wet.

Jesus. 

Making a decision, he tightened his grip and deepened the kiss.

They could fucking talk later…

Abruptly, she broke away, pressing her forehead to his cheek as she held the side of his face and whimpered in frustration. “We need to talk,” she admitted, as he sank his fingers into her hair. “I know that, I just…” Swallowing audibly, she shuddered. “I miss this so much.”

Waiting for his pulse and his raging hard-on to calm down, Damon held her in silence, their tortured breathing the only sounds punctuating the stillness of the forest.

“I miss you,” she whispered, her voice tinged with desperation as she stroked his cheek. “I didn’t know it was possible to miss someone this much.”

He wanted to argue that he’d been right there, but he knew it was a lie. Sighing, he rolled back onto his side, easing her gently to the forest floor as he kept his arm pillowed beneath her head. Brushing her hair off of her face, he pressed a kiss to her forehead before gazing down at her. “I’m sorry.”

“For what, Damon?” she asked, the doubt in her eyes cutting straight through him. “What are you sorry for?”

Jesus, where do I even start? “I’m…sorry I sent you back to Atlanta,” he said, choosing the mistake that had started the avalanche of events that had nearly destroyed them as a place to begin. “I thought it would be safer for you there, but obviously I was wrong.”

A line appeared between Elena’s brows. “That’s what you’re sorry for?”

It’s not the only thing, he thought. He was sorry for pulling away, for confusing her when he’d been trying to help her. He was sorry for not being there when she woke up in transition, sorry for the cliff, and for not protecting her from Landis.

He was sorry for fucking everything.

“If I’d kept you with me, Landis would never have had a chance to grab you,” he explained, gazing down at her almost reverently. As her expertly landed punch had attested, Elena was a vampire now – infinitely stronger and able to protect herself – and Damon knew that he’d have to find a way to curb the protective instinct that made him want to wrap her in cotton and hide her from the world, but gazing into her incredible brown eyes with the memory of all they’d gone through still hauntingly close, the idea of curbing anything that involved Elena’s safety sounded downright ludicrous. “None of this would have happened. You’d still be human.”

Tears gathered in her eyes as she stared at him silently for a long moment before pushing him away. Damon tensed, ready to chase her if she decided to run but instead she simply sat up and drew her knees to her chest. He wanted her back in his arms so badly it ached, but he didn’t move. He’d hurt her, he’d been the one to pull away when she needed him most.

It was time to stop being a fucking coward and be there for her.

So, he waited.

“Were you ever going to turn me?” she finally asked, her voice thick with emotion.

Damon blinked, unable to make sense of the words. “What?”

“You heard me,” she insisted, her shoulders shaking slightly as she released a shuddery breath. “Were you ever going to turn me, Damon?” she asked, turning slightly to offer him her profile. “Or were all of your promises a bunch of lies to shut me up?”

Abruptly, he pushed himself to a seated position, studying her tearful but resolute features as he tried to figure out which question to answer first. The image of her cold, dead gaze filled his vision, reminding him of the pain of losing her. Nausea rolled through him at the thought of having to be the one to bring that death upon her – purposely throwing her life away without a guarantee that she’d come back to him.

Fuck me, he thought, trying to focus on the fact that she was there as he grappled with two conflicting truths. Damon had never worshiped Elena’s humanity and he’d never been trying to protect her soul. From the moment he’d fallen for her, he’d fantasized about her becoming a vampire. When he’d forced his blood on her and taken the choice away from her, there had been a small part of him that had been relieved beneath the horror of his actions. As a vampire, Elena would have all of the time in the world to forgive him and to maybe realize that what was between them was real and worthy of attention.

He’d been willing to deal with that – to wait her out. When it came to matters of the heart, no one was better at patience than him and, vampire or human, as long as she was alive in some capacity, he had hope.

It hadn’t happened that way, of course, and he and Elena had found their way to each other a hell of a lot faster than he could have ever dreamed. Suddenly, every single one of his fantasies had been coming true, practically falling into his lap like goddamn manna from heaven. Not only did Elena want to be with him, she loved him and—the biggest mind-fuck of all – she wanted to become a vampire and be with him forever. He’d been given the chance to literally have it all and there was just one catch…

He had to kill her to make it happen.

“I don’t know,” Damon admitted finally, hating his weakness and the fact that he was contradicting a promise he’d made to her. “But I never lied to you. I meant what I said, I want you with me forever. I’ve always wanted that, it’s just…fuck, Elena. Killing you? I don’t know if I ever would have been ready to do that.”

A spark of gratitude to Landis for taking the decision out of his hands snuck up on him, blindsiding him with an immediate surge of guilt and anger as he was reminded of what his indecision had cost her. “Then again, if I’d turned you on your birthday like you’d asked, none of this would have happened.”

“You don’t know that,” Elena said softly, staring into the trees. “And…I’m kind of glad that you didn’t.”

Damon gaped at her in the silence that followed, utterly dumbfounded and certain that his jaw was literally on the forest floor.  

“What?” he demanded, positive that this time he really had heard her wrong. Elena couldn’t possibly have said that she was glad that she’d been kidnapped, tortured and ultimately killed by a sadistic vampire.

“Don’t get me wrong. I could have done without the compulsion and the kidnapping and the torture,” she admitted, her voice breaking even as she cracked a weak smile. Resolutely, she met his gaze, reaching for him and running her fingers through his hair before settling her hand at the nape of his neck. “Being thrown off of a cliff isn’t something I ever need to have happen again, but I’m glad that Landis took the decision out of our hands. I’m so glad that you didn’t have to help me turn.”

“Elena, what the hell are you talking about?” he asked, wondering how his attempts at an apology had turned into something that felt a lot like absolution.

Not that he wasn’t counting the fucking seconds until they could put the past three weeks of hell behind them.

“I didn’t understand…this,” she said, sitting up and gesturing toward herself as she turned bodily toward him. “Being a vampire, I mean. You, Stefan, Caroline…you all talked about the heightened senses and emotions and how hard it was to handle and I thought that I understood.” Her gaze darkened, turning inward as she continued. “But then I woke up and you were gone and no one could tell me if you were alive or dead and I…It was like the worst fear I’d ever experienced as a human multiplied by a thousand. Every breath hurt, every thought was about you and what I could do to reach you, what I would do if I couldn’t reach you, what would happen to me if…if you didn’t come back. I think the only thing that kept me sane was going through the transition and having to focus on not eating my family.

“Then you came back and I thought my heart was going to literally burst out of my chest with relief and…joy,” she continued, shaking her head as she stared at him as if she were reliving the moment when he’d walked through the front door. “I wasn’t just happy, Damon, I was ecstatic and the high was more intense than anything I’d ever experienced. The thought of ever being apart from you again…there aren’t words to express how awful just the idea of that felt. I swore it would never happen.”

“But it did,” he said as she fell silent, understanding with a sickening clarity exactly what he’d unintentionally put her through in the past two weeks. 

“I felt you pulling away,” she said, frowning as she tightened her grip on his neck. “I was so angry and scared and lonely, but every time I worked up the nerve to confront you about it, my heart just…broke. I knew you were in pain and I wanted to make it better, but I just didn’t know how. It was paralyzing, Damon.” A tear slipped down her cheek as she paused, swallowing to collect herself before continuing. “So, I think…I think I finally understand what it must have been like for you to think about killing me to have me around forever. To want something so badly that one second, you’re literally willing to do anything to make it happen and then in the next, your heart is being ripped in two by the reality of it all. I get a panic attack just thinking about what I was asking of you, so yes, I’m glad that you didn’t have to go through with it.”

Damon stared at her, astounded by her empathy and compassion. She was glad – glad that she’d suffered unspeakable horrors at the hands of a monster all to spare him the agony of having to turn her himself.

God, I fucking love this girl.

“You’re insane,” he muttered, roughly wiping the tear from her cheek before taking her chin in his hand and kissing her. “Do you realize what you just said?”

Elena’s eyes flashed with a hint of mirth as she offered him a watery smile. “I think I just said that I was glad that my boyfriend didn’t have to kill me.”

That is insane,” Damon insisted, tucking an arm behind his head as he tugged Elena down to the ground to lie next to him. As usual, she’d shocked the hell out of him, completely derailing his train of thought, and he had no idea how to get his apology back on track. 

“You know, if I’d been a vampire when Landis came after me, I don’t think I’d be here now,” she admitted, tracing a pattern on his chest with the tip of her finger as he wrapped his arms around her, smoothing his hand down her hip. “He probably would have staked me in front of you or set me on fire or something. I don’t think he realized that I still had his blood in my system when he threw me off of that cliff.”

“He didn’t,” Damon replied, swallowing as his gaze wandered from her face toward the lightening forest.  Landis’s final words were burned into his brain. He’d never forget the look of hope that had flashed across the vampire’s face as he’d tried to tell Damon the truth – not that it would have mattered. He wouldn’t have believed it and regardless, Landis’s death had been a non-negotiable inevitability. He paused briefly before closing his eyes as he tightened his grip on her waist. “Not until the end.”

Elena watched Damon as he gazed into the distance, wishing that mind-reading came with the vampire speed and general indestructibility. She’d been content to let the details of Landis’s death wait until they’d found their footing regarding her transition, but she was beginning to understand that it was all connected. What had happened to her – to them – began and ended with Landis and the nightmare would never truly be over as long as there were things left unsaid.

“How did he die, Damon?” she asked quietly, feeling the now familiar surge of fear and hatred toward the dead vampire rise to the surface. “I need to know.”

Hesitating for such a long time that Elena began to doubt he’d answer at all, he finally said. “Painfully.”

“Tell me,” she insisted, curling her fingers around his hand and squeezing as he continued to hesitate. She knew he didn’t want to talk about it, but she couldn’t tell if it was to protect her or himself. Her stomach fluttered in anticipation as he finally began to speak.

“Landis had a habit of running back to his brother every time he screwed up,” Damon said, staring into the surrounding forest as he began the story. Elena listened without interruption as he explained how he and Katherine had headed for The Crossroads, taken over the bar and held everyone hostage while they waited for Landis to make his grand entrance. Her stomach churned as he spared no detail in describing the torture he’d inflicted upon the younger vampire and the various ways he’d made him bleed and scream. “When he tried to tell me about you…when he said your name, I…”

Looking at her for the first time since he’d begun his narrative, Damon pulled his hand from hers, bringing it to her face and tracing her features as if he still wasn’t sure that she was real. Elena waited, unable to breathe, as he continued. “I lost it. Whatever control I had over my humanity switch shattered – not that it had been that strong to begin with –and I shoved your bracelet down his throat.”

“My bracelet?” she repeated, frowning for a moment until understanding – and the horror that accompanied it – dawned and she realized that he meant her vervaine bracelet. “Oh.”

“I don’t…remember everything that happened after that,” Damon admitted, speaking as if she hadn’t interrupted him. “At least not in the right order. I know I killed Gregory. He was the only person Landis had ever cared about. It wasn’t the same, but watching Landis’s face when I ripped out Gregory’s heart right in front of him…it was something.”

Elena listened quietly as he explained what Katherine had done – the way she’d helped him keep the patrons at the bar in line and eventually doused them all in alcohol before setting the place on fire.

“You killed them all?” Elena asked, expecting to feel shock or revulsion when he nodded. Instead, the violence he described sated the fury and thirst for vengeance that had been burning increasingly hotter within her bloodstream since the moment she’d woken up in transition. Turning had shifted her moral compass, highlighting the shades of grey where she previously would have seen black and white.  Damon’s life – his sanity and peace of mind – was more important than the lives of a few unknown vampires.

“I didn’t want to leave any loose ends this time,” he explained, still lightly stroking her cheek. “And I…I wanted them to suffer,” he confessed, holding her gaze defiantly, as if he were daring her to chastise him or question his decision. “So, I made it happen.”

“Good,” she said, a small part of her feeling smug over the surprise that washed over his features, while most of her was simply glad that he’d gotten his revenge and it wouldn’t be there to fester inside of him for years like it had for Landis.

“You think that’s good?” he demanded skeptically

Elena smirked. “You were avenging my death, Damon, it’d be kind of bitchy of me to disapprove of how you did it,” she reminded him. “Besides…I have more important things to worry about than a bunch of nameless, faceless vampires.”

“Like what?” Damon asked, as if he still couldn’t quite believe it. “Usually you’re all about the nameless, faceless hordes.”

“Like you,” she replied, ignoring his derisive comment and turning her face toward his hand, kissing his palm as he gazed at her in something close to awe. A fierce protectiveness washed over her as she continued. “I don’t want you to end up like Landis.”

“What do you mean?” he demanded, narrowing his eyes.

“He took me because he wanted you to suffer,” she explained, launching into her own story – that of Landis’s torture and imprisonment at Klaus’s hands. Her stomach still turned at the thought of hanging upside down and slowly desiccating for three years and, although she refused to feel sympathy for the monster, she understood what had happened to him and took an odd comfort in the fact that at least there had been a reason behind his actions.  

“Landis spent all of that time dreaming about revenge,” she said, draping an arm across his chest as she laid her head on his shoulder. Her memories of the time she’d spent with Landis were fuzzy during the day –only sharpening into focus in her nightmares – but she’d never forget the fury in his eyes as he’d shared his story. “He’d probably still be hanging there if that homeless man hadn’t wandered in. It wouldn’t have mattered if I’d stayed in Mystic Falls, gone back to Atlanta or if we’d moved across the country. Eventually, he would have found me.”

“Because I let my guard down,” Damon replied angrily.

“No, you idiot, because he was determined,” Elena sighed in exasperation as she lifted her head and glared at him. “This wasn’t your fault, Damon. We didn’t know that Klaus had him, let alone left him to rot. How were you supposed to have seen Landis coming after three years?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Damon insisted, shaking his head and staring resolutely at the overhead canopy of branches and leaves. “I had two jobs, Elena. Two simple jobs. I was supposed to keep you happy and keep you safe. I failed both of them.”

Elena stared at him, caught between frustration and bitter disappointment as her eyes welled yet again with traitorous tears. Two jobs? she thought with fury, sucking her lip between her teeth to hide the emotion. She’d thought they were past this – past his feelings of unworthiness and the whole concept of whether or not he was worthy of being with her.

Apparently they weren’t.

Suddenly needing to put some distance between them before she punched him again, she pushed off of his chest and sat up, looking around the clearing for her dress. Locating it at the foot of the tree where they’d made love – the first time – she crawled toward it.

Goddamn him, she fumed, finding the dress ruined beyond repair and feeling naked and exposed for the first time since she’d woken up in his arms. How many times would they have to fight about this? How many times did he need to hear that she loved him for him before he believed it? Reaching for his black button-down shirt, she slipped her arms into it and secured the few buttons that still remained after she’d practically ripped it off of him the night before.

Chucking Damon’s pants at him without looking, Elena hunted down her heels. She shivered at the memory of his breath on her skin as he’d whispered for her to keep them on while he’d had her pressed against the tree, her legs wrapped around his waist. The thought fanned the flames of her still smoldering desire, making her momentarily forget her anger as she recalled how he’d brought her to a seemingly endless succession of orgasms.

Shaking her head and summoning every ounce of her considerable self-control, Elena banished her lustful thoughts, forcing herself to stay focused. Covering up their problems with sex wouldn’t make them go away and if she wanted the whole idea of forever with Damon to work, she needed to stay angry.

Catching a glimpse of him slipping into his slacks out of the corner of her eye, she realized that wouldn’t be a problem.

Goddamn him.

“Elena,” Damon said as she located her heels and got to her feet. His voice was calm, soothing – the tone she remembered well from all of their fights before – the ones where he known he’d fucked up and said something stupid, and was trying to use his considerable charm to smooth things over.

Not this time.

Clinging to her frustration, Elena stomped passed him, determined to make it back to the Salvatore house and take a shower – alone – to buy herself time while she nurtured her anger and figured out exactly what she wanted to say to him. She sensed, rather than saw, the way he rolled his eyes, her super hearing picking up on his huff of exasperation and the rustle of fabric as he zipped up his pants.

“Where are you going?” he demanded, catching up to her easily and touching her arm as she struggled to put on the sky-high heels and walk at the same time.

“Back to the house,” she snapped, keeping her gaze resolutely focused on the trees as she shook off his hand. The sensation of his fingertips on her arm – even through the fabric of the shirt – nearly short-circuited her brain.

“It’s the other way,” he said, stopping her in her tracks as humiliation swept over her. Hating him a little bit more than she had a moment before, she mustered as much dignity as possible and turned around.

In a move that would prove to be her undoing, Elena looked at him as she prepared to blur away and lick her wounds in private. The single glance at Damon’s unguarded expression revealed everything – pain, longing, confusion and an intense, desperate need to make it better.

Goddamn him.

A tear slipped through her lashes, adding another layer to the jumble of conflicting emotions raging inside of her as she wiped it away. Drawing a breath, Elena tried to run, but Damon was there, taking her arm and pulling her to him even as she fought to escape.

“Elena, no. I’m not letting you run again,” he said as she struggled in his grasp, curling her fingers into fists and beating them against his bare chest. The tears of rage blinded her, but she couldn’t tell who they were for, couldn’t breathe or think straight long enough to figure out where the emotion was coming from. Shifting his grip, Damon wrapped his arms around her one at a time and held her in an unbreakable embrace. “Stop protecting me and talk to me. Tell me what’s wrong.”

“I…everything,” Elena replied, pressing her face against his shoulder as the influx of heightened sensations pummeled her from every angle. Pounding her fist weakly against his chest, she sobbed. “Damon, I can’t think, it’s all too much.”

“I know,” he replied, holding her tightly as she continued to struggle. “I know it’s overwhelming. Just…breathe and pick one – pick one feeling to latch on to.”

Gritting her teeth, Elena squeezed her eyes shut as another emotion blindsided her – gratitude. She was so grateful for Damon – for his grounding presence and the feeling of strength that radiated off of him as he held her in his embrace – that she almost latched onto it and wrapped herself in the calming familiarity of making him the anchor in the center of her storm.

Almost.

He’ll just pull away again, she thought, the errant fear a whisper that grew to a scream in the forefront of her mind. He’d pull away from her the second she calmed down, wallowing in failure or unworthiness or whatever other fucking excuse he came up with to justify leaving her.  

“Stop,” she muttered, a sudden stillness coming over her as she arrived in the eye of the storm. Grabbing the thread of her anger, she flattened her palms on his chest and shoved him away with every ounce of vampiric strength that she had.

Taken by surprise, Damon stumbled backwards, his brow furrowing as he looked at her. “Elena?”

“You can’t do that,” she declared, clinging to the fragile thread for all she was worth. “We can’t do that.”

“Do what?” he asked, bewildered.

Shaking her head, Elena pushed her fingers through her hair, wincing at the knots she encountered. “You have one job, Damon,” she insisted ignoring his question and focusing on his statement from before.  Forcing herself to meet his eye, even though every new instinct she had was telling her to run, she gazed at him evenly.  I can’t do that anymore, either, she thought, knowing that if she ran, he’d just catch her and they’d probably fall to the forest floor again in a heap of raging desire and amazing sex that wouldn’t solve a goddamn thing. “Not five, not six, not two…just one.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Your only job is to love me,” she said as sorrow crept up on her, wrapping around the thread of emotion and joining her anger. Rushing toward him, she took his face between her hands, searching his unmasked features. His eyes were open and vulnerable, letting her see down to the depths of his raw and wounded heart. “That’s it. Just…love me.”

“Elena,” he murmured.

“I don’t understand why you think you have to earn it,” she continued as if he hadn’t spoken, remembering the way she’d fallen for him effortlessly, without even realizing it. “Love’s not a deal, it’s not a contract or a bargain. There’s no end for you to uphold, Damon. Love just is.”

Elena paused, searching his eyes for some hint that her words were having an impact. She knew he’d always felt that he had to earn her love – as if it were some kind of prize to be won, some reward for his good deeds. She’d thought that it had been about Stefan being the ‘good’ brother and Damon being the ‘bad’, but it ran deeper than that, as if he’d be worthy of her love and get to keep it only if he kept her safe and happy.

“I don’t deserve you. But my brother does.”

That’s it, she thought, her eyes widening at the realization.

Damon still believed that he didn’t deserve it – didn’t deserve her.

“Do you believe that I love you?” she asked abruptly.

Damon frowned. “Of course,” he replied. “You tell me that all-.”

“Forget what I’ve told you,” she said, shaking her head as tears began to course down her cheeks. “Do you believe it?” Pressing her palm flat against his chest, over his heart, she continued. “Do you feel it in here?”

“Elena-.”

“Because I’ve always believed that you loved me,” she explained, ignoring the random spikes of sensation that threatened to distract from the message she was trying to hammer home. “Even before that night when you were dying from the werewolf bite and you told me for the second time, I believed it.” She paused before continuing earnestly, “Well, I love you, too. And you deserve me, Damon. Not because you’re better than your brother or because you achieved some impossible task like keeping me safe from an enemy that you never could have seen coming. You deserve me because…I say so. Because I love you.”

“Elena,” Damon muttered, pressing his lips into an exasperated line as he glared at her. “You died. Because of me. Because I failed, you fucking died. I don’t deserve shit if I can’t keep you-.”

“I’m not fucking dead, Damon,” she cried, releasing her hold on him and shaking out of his grasp. Brushing the tears off of her face she threw up her hands. “I’m alive and I’m right here. I’ve been right here. So, fuck your failure and…and fuck you if you’re going to let Landis win by tearing us apart.”

Emotionally drained, Elena turned away and began walking back toward the house, grateful that the influx of sensation had apparently rendered her completely numb. She didn’t want to feel the crushing disappointment and overwhelming sense of loss just yet. It was only a matter of time before they overwhelmed her and she preferred to be at home and at least wearing pants when it happened.

She wasn’t surprised when she felt Damon blur by her and appear in front of her, blocking her path, but she tried to side-step him anyway. “Damon, please. I can’t,” she admitted brokenly. “I don’t have anything left.”

“Then stop talking for five seconds and listen to me,” he said, taking her face between his hands and brushing the tears from her cheeks. “You’re right, okay? That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you since we woke up. You’re right about how I’ve been acting and the way I’ve been blaming myself for everything and letting Landis win because I’m a coward and an ass. You’re right about all of it. Except for one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“I do believe that you love me,” he said, his eyes shining. “I do, Elena. I’ve never doubted that,” he promised, stroking her cheeks as he searched her features. “I just…I don’t know why.”

“Why?” Elena repeated, staring at him incredulously as she stepped out of his arms. “What do you mean…why?”

Shaking his head, he tried to speak. “Elena, no, that’s not-.”

“Damon, I…I just…” she paused, shaking her head as she tried to wrap her mind around that utterly ludicrous statement. After all of this time, Damon was asking why? “Goddamn you. You don’t put sugar in my coffee.”

Visibly taken aback, he said. “I don’t what?”

“You don’t put sugar in my coffee,” she repeated, as she recalled the bright, sunny morning in the Salvatore kitchen when she’d realized that she was in love with him because of the little things. In the three years that they’d been together, he hadn’t changed – hadn’t stopped doing the small things that proved he knew her better than anyone. “And you took me to Spain because I told you once about a trip I missed before we even met. You’re nice to my brother and he thinks you’re a total badass even though he’ll never admit it. You made me apply to Emory even though I was terrified and pretended like I didn’t want to. Even when I try to hide it, you always know when I’m upset, but you never try to fix it, Damon you always just…let me be and somehow that makes everything better.”

The words spilled from her lips, faster and easier as she held his gaze and thought about the past three years she’d spent with him. Why did she love him? It would be easier to come up with reasons why she shouldn’t love him. Even during the past few weeks, when she’d thought for sure that everything that she and Damon had worked so hard to build together was falling apart, he hadn’t stopped paying attention. “You knew without asking what kind of vampire I wanted to be and you made sure that it happened. You knew what I could handle and when. Damon, I…” she paused, unable to speak around the lump in her throat. “I love you because… you listen and pay attention. You challenge me and you…you make me feel alive. I don’t know how else to say it, I love you because you’re just…you and you have to believe that you deserve it, you have to-.”

“Elena,” Damon finally interrupted, catching her by the arm and pressing his thumb over her lips to silence her. A slight smile played over his lips as he said. “Let me finish.” Elena held her breath as he took a beat, anxious and terrified for whatever he was about to reveal. “The why doesn’t matter. You saved my life, Elena. As cheesy as it sounds, you saved my soul. It started the day we met and crept up on me. I fought it – hard – but there was no way to escape the hold you had on me, the way you made me want to be a better man whether you loved me or not. So, I won’t apologize for wanting to keep you safe and happy and I will never forgive myself for not being able to save you.

“I don’t know the magic words to get us past this, but we will,” he said, his brow furrowing with the intensity of his promise. “I never meant to hide from you and I never meant to pull away. I just…I didn’t realize that it had gotten this bad,” he admitted, pausing to take a breath. “I’m done, okay? I’m done letting my guilt be more important than you and how much I love you.  I need you to believe that.”

Elena thought her heart was broken beyond repair, but she felt it move inside her chest at his words. She wanted to believe it – more than anything she wanted to believe in that beautiful promise and the sincerity in his open, hopeful features. Admitting that he’d been hiding from her and wallowing in his guilt was a start – a big one, considering how rarely Damon admitted to being wrong about anything.

She’d take it.

On one condition.

“I’ll believe it,” she said, reaching up to latch onto his wrist. Warmth spread through her as she felt his pulse – slow and steady beneath her fingertips – beating in time with hers. “As long as you believe that there’s no one who could love me better than you do.”

“Deal,” Damon said, nodding as a smile curved his lips and the palpable tension between them eased. Dipping his head slightly, he raised a brow. “Now will you shut up and let me start making up for lost time?”

Silencing her with his lips before she had a chance to do more than open her mouth, Damon pulled her into his arms. Sinking gratefully into the kiss, Elena felt her heart begin to repair itself with each brush of his lips and stroke of his tongue as he poured everything he had into the connection. She did believe him – believed in him – and as long as he kept his promise they’d be okay.  It might not be easy and it might not be right away, but if they stopped hiding, they’d find their way back to each other. 

Because this isn’t luck, Elena thought, wrapping her arms around his neck and leaning into him. Tilting her head to deepen the kiss, she whimpered softly as he pulled her tightly against him. It wasn’t mere coincidence that had brought their paths crashing together four years ago. Somewhere along the way fate had decided that they belonged together.

Forever.

Click Here for Part Two




Tags: fandom: the vampire diaries, fic: down a crooked path, rated: r
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