A/N: Sooooo...I know I said in the last chapter of With Eyes Wide Open that I was going to put this up next week but...I COULDN'T WAIT! Okay you guys, here it is: my first ever AU/AH and I'm SO nervous and SO excited and this is gonna be all a little new for me so hang with me please. I cannot thank you enough for your support and excitement! Oh, and we're in Damon POV, because that boy has been LOUD lately.

This was beta'd with overwhelming encouragement and passing to her husband for further gushing and embarrassment by Trogdor19, who I love like no one else.


Chapter 1: Buttons I Press

I hate my apartment.

I hate my bank statement.

I hate my boss, most days.

My mom's okay, when she's not swinging between some version of a nagging, hugging, overly-affectionate mound of cotton-candy fluff and a real life version of the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland because menopause is a wicked, bipolar bitch. And Dad? What Dad? Thanks to being the product of a behind-the-gas-station sperm donor, in the classy words of my mother when I was eleven years old, I burst into being with three shots of tequila and her encounter with a mysterious sexy wizard behind the Gas-N-Go. Thanks, Mom.

At least whoever the guy was, he had some looks going for him. I know this because I look nothing like my mother. She's blond, my hair is black. Her eyes are brown, mine are the lightest shade of blue that's ever been captured on digital record. She's a stout 5'1, and I clock in at a cut and lean 6'0, if I'm not swaggering, which I always am. So no father-son football memories to fall back on, but at least I'm hot. And for that, I tip my hat to you, Pops. Wherever the douchebag may be.

I don't really care. As far as I'm concerned there are only two things in this world worth giving a damn about.

The first one? My car. She's a '69 Dodge Charger R/T HEMI. Like the beast from Bullitt, the mother fucking General Lee, but I repainted her in such a deep shade of forest green that the moment the sun hides from her eight cylinders and all 425 horses, she becomes a black dragon that screams for anyone to dare her to a fight. And my girl always wins.

I found her wilting away in a junkyard when I was 17, begging to come home with me. And I don't believe in love at first sight, but she is the one exception and if I could marry my car, I would. After seven years and every single penny I could scrape together to restore her piece by expensive piece, Faora is now perfect.

And yes, naming my car that does make me Zod, the villain from Superman. Because she is loyal to me alone, and her history as a man-hater is spot on. She is rocking many advanced degrees in the ability to attract girls like a Venus fly trap, which she does oh so well, while wrenching infinite jealousy out of all the other suckers that are driving their adorable little Toyotas and end up leaving the bars alone. Their fault though, because it took me a grand total of three seconds after starting High School to figure out that the louder your engine roars, the faster the chicks flock. Get a brain, dipshits. Or at least a HEMI.

And that brings me to my second love.


I love them and they love me, at least between the hours of ten P.M. and four A.M. And you can bet your frozen yogurt that my bed stays empty because no one is coming back to my crappy little economy sized apartment that I wouldn't show off to a hobo. But each night's Pick-Me-Up Princess throws open the castle's front door for me, and that works pretty well in my book.

Two drinks and a smirk, drive them back to their place, and Faora takes care of their first climax while they're buckled in my passenger seat. I will happily take care of their next couple of rounds while we're in their girly bedroom complete with purple flower IKEA artwork and eight thousand pictures of them and their besties on Spring Break. But once they're too tired to ask for my phone number, I get to go home where no one bothers me. Hooray! No one asks me if they look pretty or whether I want to watch this sappy show or that one, no spinach salad or sushi debates because it's whatever I fucking want.

Thank you, and good night.

By the way, yes, I know I'm a prick. A womanizer who is the nightmare of fathers all over the world. Well guess what, Daddy? Your little angel is the one pushing her lace-clad breasts into my face, and using those ten years of ballet lessons you paid for to give me a world-class lap dance in the apartment she decorated with your MasterCard. My sincerest gratitude.

But karma is a dirty skank, so I try to make up for it at work. Yeah, that's really not even true; it just works out that way.

I fell into a job that my buddy, Ric, got me hooked up with. He'd worked there for a couple of years and when I got hired, he got a check for getting me in the door. Sweet for him. Selling point for me? No drug tests. And at the time, that was a huge bonus. So I flirted my way through a phone interview and two more in person and got my fancy-schmancy headset and a six week course on taking auto accident claims, and voila! I now get paid to sit in a cubicle and talk to people about car wrecks for forty hours a week.

The pay is decent, but it's all spent on rent and gas and overpriced drinks and a wardrobe that I maintain so I can work my way into the ones worn by the opposite sex. And working at a call center is life-draining most of the time, but at other times it can be pretty cool.

Don't get me wrong, I hate having the same conversation eighty-six times a day. For instance, I know that it takes me one minute and thirty-seven seconds to leave a voicemail with a phone number and claim number and hours of operation, repeated twice, because call center work is kind of like baseball. We count everything.

Four point two seconds between calls. Said calls should range somewhere between five minutes and forty-three seconds to the longer seven minutes and twenty-two. I have ninety-seven minutes of break time including my sixty minute lunch if I work a ten hour shift, with an additional ten minute buffer on standby if I need it.

Pay is clocked at quarter-hour intervals that round on the seventh minute, and overtime is always, always available at a gorgeous time and a half. When I come in, it should take me somewhere between three and seven minutes to get fully logged in with three different company-issued usernames and passwords on my eight different software systems before I hit the button of ultimate detest on the phone that rules the use of my debit card: Auto In. That's when the delightful consumers are automatically routed to me by our phone system because I am signaling to the IT gods that I am now ready to handle public interaction, and each new conversation/crisis is brought to my attention by two little beeps that some days feel like the crushing of my soul.

All inbound calls pool into one big bank and then trickle off into those of us that are on standby, but have more than three calls holding and the shit hits the fan. Wait time should never exceed twelve seconds or it's the goddamn apocalypse. For every twenty-five reps available you can afford to have five unavailable, so we can call out to someone or smoke a cigarette or just beat your head against your fucking desk.

At least the insurance company I work for knows our job is a bucket of shit the majority of the time so they try to make up for it any way they can. Dress code equals a politely hinted: Please Be Dressed. The building is bright and decorated like they handed a checkbook to someone tripping on acid, and the cubicle walls are barely to my knees so everyone is talking and making jokes and bullshitting with everyone, all of the time.

There are more break rooms and couches to relax on than we could ever fill if every single person that worked there tried to occupy them at once, because I think Human Resources is waiting for someone to have a nervous breakdown and chose overdose by furniture as the way to combat it. Works pretty well too, because I've used them once or twice when the option was to throw my computer through a window or just close my eyes for five minutes and try to forget the prick that just called me a dickless drone. Also wasn't a bad idea to have an onsite café that will make you whatever you desire at any time of day, and is consistently better cooking than most restaurants with a four star rating.

The whole place is pretty much just a loud school cafeteria, people swinging by your desk every fifteen minutes while munching on something that smells incredible to joke with you about this game or that movie and what you did last night or who you did. Bosses that graduated five seconds before you and all they want to know is where you bought that hat and who is on your fantasy football draft. At least, when they're not asking why it takes you twenty minutes between starting your shift to hitting your Auto In button. Whoops.

But maybe the ever growing time between me logging in and hitting the Auto In button has something to do with the fact that when I leave work and my cell phone rings, I accidentally answer it, "Claims reporting, this is Damon. How may I help you?" And then I die.

But, back to karma. Ninety percent of calls are no big deal. Light rear-end collisions on a jammed highway during rush hour traffic. Parking lot fender benders. Maybe vandalism. The occasional theft. Rare fires. I get the facts of the where and when and send them on their way. The next nine percent gets a little more attention worthy.

Multiple car collisions. Multiple injuries. Genius blew a light and t-boned a minivan on its way to the league championship soccer game and sent five kids to the hospital because the van got sent spinning into a pickup truck, head on. Two of the kids now have a broken arm, three of the five have concussions and I am talking to one terrified, crying mother who's on the side of the road watching kids that aren't all hers get loaded into an ambulance while a police officer asks where she wants to send her totalled car and she has no idea because her husband is out of town on business and she's never been in an accident before.

It can be a little stressful when you first start, when their panic bleeds over the phone lines and into your chest, and you feel like you're there with them on the side of the road. When I started, I never expected the nightmares and the paranoia, and Ric conveniently left that shit out because we're not girls that cry over When Harry Met Sally. But it didn't stop the endless dreams of car wrecks, directly translated from the claims I took. Ones that were so damn vivid it made me almost quit. Every intersection I approached, I was suddenly looking for that asshole that was going to run his red light and send me to the morgue.

It took a while, but eventually it went away, and that's imperative for me to be able to do my job.

Because once you can face their trauma and keep yourself detached, you can be the calm they need to cling to when they are completely lost. You take their fear, the giant mess they just got slammed with, place it on your shoulders for six minutes and forty-five seconds and repackage it all nice and organized and manageable, then give it back and then send them on their sniffly way.

Four point two seconds and then you do it again.

The whole thing is a little insane. And with how many times we have these conversations a day, it can really fuck up your empathy levels since you get numb to the chaos. Because when you're talking to them, you're on that side of the road, but you're also in a brightly lit, crazily decorated building with three people around you debating whether in the new Lord of the Rings movie Gandalf should have just let the dwarves use the eagles the whole time and saved them a whole bunch of bullshit traveling. To which I hit the mute button on my headset and explain that if they did that, there wouldn't be a fucking movie and then I unmute, asking what hospital the fourth kid is going to.

The one percent calls are when everything stops. When I can no longer hear my coworkers comparing Facebook photos and when I stop trying to remember the name of the girl I was going down on last night while I'm typing in a policy number or an address.

Because the one percent is when they're dead.

"Fatalities" we call them. Thanks, management, but they're dead. Lawyer calls in because his client's daughter was killed by a drunk driver. Husband on the phone, wife was in a roll over. Daughter calls, her dad had a heart attack while stuck in traffic.

The one percent is when I'm my mother's son. I'm no longer looking to get drunk or laid or wondering when the new part for my car is going to come in. I'm just a faceless man that listens to you tell me over the phone all the stories of your deceased son or daughter, your best friend, and how excited they were to go on that trip that they're not going to make now. I'm the one whose voice drops to quiet and calming when I tell you to take your time and that if you need a minute, I'll hold. That way you can put the phone down and cry where you think I won't hear you, but I do. And when you come back, I pretend that I didn't.

They try not to cry when it's a relative, but they usually do. Sometimes they're numb because it's been a few weeks or they're calling on behalf of someone they're representing. But it doesn't matter because it's the first time I'm hearing it, and I don't care who you are: if any part of your psyche isn't permanently lodged in the Sociopath column, it hits you. And you never get used to it. Not when you have to get their names and hear how they died. Because they were real, and now they're…not.

But this is my job and I have four point two seconds to recover after spending an extended twenty minutes talking to you, sharing a smile about the life your loved one lived and hearing you get choked up about the one they're going to miss. I have four point two seconds to pull it together after you let me in your family for twenty minutes, and then we say goodbye.

Four point two seconds, then two new beeps and a new voice, a new problem, a new version of me.

Joking with a customer about how their car always breaks down because it's a Ford and yeah I drive a Dodge and eat Hondas like they're made out of graham crackers. Listening to them berate me because they didn't pay their bill and there's nothing I can do about the asshole that busted out their windows. Talking like a speed addict because they're late for a meeting and they need to get this accident reported and off the damn phone after being on hold for so long. Trying to remember to be patient when the old lady wants to tell me all about her cats and how much they love the squirrels that live out of her bird feeder when all I need is the location of where she hit that mailbox, but her kids are grown and her husband passed away and she has no one to talk to and I can't hang up without getting fired so I'm fair game.

Four point two seconds between my two beeps to wonder what I'm going to get the next eighty-six times, four days a week.

I had a suicide once. Guy put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger, and the woman from the tow company who reported the claim told me to make sure the inspector brought a hazmat suit. She didn't have to explain to me that it was because the guy's brains were all over the inside of the car, but I have to pass that message along. Appropriately. Because we are a Fortune 500 company and no one likes to see the words "Bring a smock for the brains because the interior of the car looks like the one from Pulp Fiction" in official documents that can be used in court proceedings. However, that sentence translated to a business-acceptable alternative? Not exactly part of my official training.

I practically have a degree in euphemisms now. I also now understand why in my interviews they fired the weirdest questions at me at light speed and seemed to be very interested in how I answered. Can't do this shit and not be quick on your feet. There's no time to stumble or stutter, and you're supposed to be the professional who the mystery caller can trust to turn their mess of a reality into a something that can be summarized into pre-determined categories.

"It was pouring rain outside and I was late for work and I'm not sure what happened but I think the guy in this blue sedan tapped his brakes and I was worried that the truck behind me was going to hit me but instead this girl in a red Camaro between me and the sedan hit her brakes because of the sedan and when I tried to stop, I slid because of the rain."

Translation: Insured driver rear-ended claimant vehicle.


"My girlfriend locked my keys in my car."

Roadside Assistance.

Transfer call.


"I need to report that my sister was killed in an accident last night…"


But it's a job. A job that pays my bar tabs and feeds my car gas and keeps me on Ramen noodles so I can afford the designer cologne that is some sort of a Pavlovian trigger for getting Class A blow jobs.

A job that I am currently on the verge of being late for.


I swipe my badge at the door and duck my way past the pack of smokers who are on their way out to take a break, half-jogging down the parallel cubicle aisles with everyone facing forward like we're in an oversized classroom, and earning a whole bunch of snickers from my peers who know they all did the same damn thing when they got here and I'm finally at my desk.

My fingers fly over the phone as I log in with a whole bunch of numbers that tell my employer everything about me except for my condom preferences, and I'm officially on the clock with thirty-seven seconds to spare before I get marked for being late. Again.


"Shut up," I tell Ric, who sits across the aisle from me, but one desk back so he has a perfect view of the back of my head every single day. Lucky him.

"Wasn't gonna say anything," he smiles and continues his super busy morning of leaning as far back as possible in his chair, waiting for a call to come in.

I take out my keys and my phone and drop them in my top drawer, firing up my computer. The rest of my desk is bare apart from my desktop monitor and the phone of evil, and it makes my designated spot stick out like a sore thumb in the sea of disorder. Even Ric caved and hung up a poster of a basketball team, and there's a picture of him and his girlfriend, Jenna, on his desk that I think he only put up because she comes by every once in a while.


"How's it been?" I ask Ric, putting on my headset and my finger hovering over the Auto In button that I really, really don't want to press. I glance back at him and he's lounged back, now vertically throwing and catching a baseball.

"Massive blizzard in Boston last night, so we're gonna get a whole bunch of 'wicked-icy roads, man, wicked-icy,'" he says and I snort, "but their power is out right now so we shouldn't get slammed 'til later. So far it's been slow, about four minutes between and just a bunch of Saturday night hit and runs and Sunday vandalisms."

"Sweet," I say and press my favorite button, and no beeps for me. Yet.

Four minutes between calls is a lovely luxury, especially on a Monday morning. But I give it thirty minutes before those TV monitors at the end of each row, the ones that so nicely count everything, light up like a damn firework show. Because everyone assumes they can't report their shit on the weekend despite the fact that our phone lines are open 24/7, so Monday morning? It's a bitch.

"So," he grins and tosses the baseball at me, and I sling it right back. "What color was last night?"

"Brunette. Jealous?"

He shrugs and tosses the baseball back a little harder. "You gotta pay for it. I just gotta go home."

I chunk the ball at him. "I don't pay for shit."

"You buy their drinks?"


"Then you're paying for it," he smiles and throws the baseball again.

"Dick," I mutter and halt my windup when Little Miss Perfect comes running down the aisle between us.

"What time is it?" she gasps and throws her purse down on her desk that's adjacently across the aisle from me, sitting directly in front of Ric so he not only gets a view of the back of my pretty hair, but hers too.

"Good morning to you too, Elena," I purr and toss the baseball at Ric. "Nine after," I tell her and she doesn't even hear me because she's already logging in her phone and shuffling her stack of scrap paper around, silencing her cell phone and turning on her computer and trying to find a place to set down her coffee between all her pictures and fake flowers and the multitude of testosterone killing shit that is eating her workspace. I don't know how she lives with that kind of clutter for forty hours a week.

She turns around and looks at Ric. "Did you hear about that blizzard in Boston?"

"Yeah, none coming in yet," he tells her and she lets out a sigh of relief.

Massive storms to us are a big fat neon sign that we are about to be very, very busy. I pay more attention to the weather now than I will ever admit in front of a skirt that comes above the ankles.

"What's got you all in a tizzy?" I ask to Elena's back and catch the ball Ric throws at me.

"Nothing, thank you," she says sharply over her shoulder and turns back away.

I hold up my hands and make a mockingly apologetic face at Ric that makes him snort, and pitch him the ball.

"Elena, I'm going to grab some coffee. You want me to put something away for you?" Ric asks her and she swings around in her chair with a face like he just offered her a million bucks.

"Thanks, Ric," she breathes at him, and hands him her packed lunch. Which is probably her standard salad with light dressing and if she's feeling really naughty, maybe even some carrot sticks. Oooh.

Because God forbid Elena not be sensible and perfect about something, or buy food from the café that has a calorie count over 300. The fucking horror.

"No problem," he smiles at her and yeah, that face is Jenna's doing from when she cut off my best friend's balls.

"I would like a muffin. Thanks for asking, dick," I taunt and Elena whips around to glare at me.

"Do you mind watching your language? There are people on the phone, Damon, and even if they can't hear you, I can."

"My bad," I drawl and she rolls her eyes at me.

It's not like me and Elena are exactly bosom buddies, but Jesus Christ, the girl needs to get laid, and bad. When she first started working here I was more than happy to help her out with that, too. Not that she took me up on the offer. Whatever, her loss. She's still hot as all hell though, petite with a rocking tight body that's just a little bit curvy, big doe eyes and long brown hair and she always dresses like she's on her way to church which makes me want to repeatedly defile her in one. But she treats me like I'm some annoying kid brother and it's not exactly making me pant after her.

"Look, I'm-" she starts, but doesn't get much farther when my voice cuts her off.

"Claims reporting, this is Damon," I smile at her when a call beeps in, and I turn towards my computer.

Yadda yadda yadda, red fish blue fish, yes, no, here there everywhere, here's your claim number and we'll call you at this time at this number and peace out, buddy.


I turn back to the aisle as Ric saunters up with a coffee in hand.

"Where's my muffin?"

"I ate it," he tells me and I scoff.

"Damon," Elena sighs at me and I arch an eyebrow at her. "I'm sorry I snapped like that, I just— Claims reporting, this is Elena. How may I help you?"

I glance at Ric and he mouths, "Did she just apologize to you?" and I shake my head with a shrug.

"Uh-huh, no, I—Yes, I do understand…" Elena tells whoever is on the other end of her phone line and I tune it out.

She is the delight of every single person that has the good fortune to get her when they call in. I spend forty hours a week listening to her giggle with customers, being gracious and charming and empathetic and management just loves her and it's so fucking annoying. Because she's good at what she does, I'll give her that, but so am I. Not that anyone cares because I'm always late and Elena is pretty. Well I'm pretty too, dammit.

"You should come over tonight and drink some decent whiskey I scored off Jenna's dad," Ric tells me. "You know, instead of having an eight-dollar beer at a bar like an overage frat boy."

"That would be a no."

He shakes his head with a laugh. "You can go one night without having to look for your clothes on someone else's floor."

"Nope. Really can't," I smirk. "Besides, Jenna's mad at me."

"Only because the last time you came over you tried to hit on her niece."

"Bullshit, she hit on me," I protest.

"She was sixteen, Damon," Ric scowls at me and I shudder.

"Yeah, they should be forced to wear a sign that says 'Ripe For Getting You Arrested.'"

"Or, you could just not hit on everything that walks."

"She hit on me!"

"No, I really don't… Now, please…" Elena pleads and both Ric and I look at her.

She has a hand over her mouth, nodding dejectedly at whatever the person is telling her. I switch my phone into a break mode so I'm not in any danger of a call coming in because something tells me I may want to be call-less when this ends, probably badly.

"That's no reason… Sir, sir, I understand that you're upset but I am not… Sir, I am going to ask you politely to please not speak to me that way or call me that," she tells him and Ric raises his eyebrows at me, reaching forward to change Elena's phone settings so it automatically switches into her break time after the call ends.

"What the fuck?" I mouth at him and he shakes his head.

"Excuse me?" Elena gasps. "Sir, I am not… Hello? Sir?" She looks down at her phone and confirms the line is gone, and yep, the fucker just hung up on her.

No one says anything for a minute, and Elena is sitting very, very still, but it doesn't hide the way her hands are shaking.

I look a little closer, and I swallow when I notice her eyes are also watering.

Damn, she didn't need to start her day that way, not when she has ten hours ahead of her and she was already late. And Elena is never late.

"Elena?" Ric prods gently and it burns her back to life, her back straightening in a way that makes me lean away from her, even though there's a good four feet between us across the aisle.

"Fuck this," she grits out and throws her headset on her desk, storming to her feet and stomping down the aisle towards the break room.

Ric and I both look at each other, because we have never in the last three years that she's worked here, heard her say that.

Elena is patient. She is soft and innocent and practically spends all her time between calls on the internet looking at pictures of puppies and kittens and reading articles about how to save the world. She always cries when people die, taking the fatalities hard and the rare assholes even harder because everyone adores her and she can't cope with the sense of rejection, but she doesn't curse. And she doesn't walk off.

I jerk my head for Ric to go after her because something about being a guy and seeing a girl do that makes me switch into a pre-determined setting where I have no idea what needs to happen, other than maybe giving them tissues and being very quiet, and Ric is better at that than I am. That's why he's ten minutes from being on one knee with a ring box. I'm better at the 'Here's your tequila shot, sweetheart, I'll drive and where did you say you lived?' interactions.

"I can't man, my break's over. I gotta get back in," he tells me and points at the monitors, which are lit up red with calls holding and he puts his headset back on. I flip him the bird as he hits his Auto In button, turning towards his computer. "Claims reporting, this is Ric…"

"Fuck," I scowl and check my time. Yeah, girl is about to burn up my whole morning break. And I've been here for all of twenty minutes. Awesome. Employee of the year, right here, baby.

"You owe me," I hiss at him and toss down my headset, rolling my neck.

I get up and head towards the break room, where I can definitely hear the sounds of Elena softly crying.

Don't be a dick. Don't be a dick. You are a professional listener to crying women and if you can do it on the phone it shouldn't be that hard to do it in person.

Except that I hate looking at their eyes getting all red and puffy and their makeup smudging and God, I wish I had a drink that was twelve times stronger than water or coffee.

I find her sitting on a couch with her one-inch heels kicked off and her feet curled under her demure gray pencil skirt, her shoulders shaking and a roll of toilet paper in her lap.

So, I am officially useless.

I swagger over to the vending machine like it's where I was going all along, getting a package of Twizzlers. Neither of us says anything when I plop down on the opposite end of the couch and tilt the opened package of dye-and-chemical-laden candy towards her.

"Cancer?" I offer politely, and she gapes at me before bursting into tears.

Yeah, so that sucks.

A/N: So there it is! The first chapter! I cannot wait to hear what you guys think, and we'll be rolling on a weekly posting schedule like normal so don't forget to hit those buttons! I love you all endlessly, and hope to see you next chapter!