Terms of Endearment
by Sandrine Shaw
"You're a dick," Jeremy says. The door bangs shut after him as he strolls into the room with a bottle of blood in his hand, flopping down on the armchair next to the fireplace.
Damon winces. It's the first thing the kid has said to him since Damon and Enzo kidnapped him to use him as leverage against Bonnie. All things considered, it's a small miracle that Jeremy's talking to him at all rather than coming after him with a sharp piece of wood. It would probably have been wise to avoid him, but as it happens, Jeremy is one of the few people Damon can be around right now without wanting to take a bite out of him.
"Tell me something I don't know," Damon says, making Jeremy snort in what could be amusement or derision but is most likely a bit of both.
He throws the bottle at Damon who catches it easily, fangs dropping when he uncaps it and the rich, sweet scent of blood fills his senses. It's probably Stefan's, or perhaps Elena's, who's locked away with Matt somewhere and on a similar diet Damon has contributed to more than once in the past week. He downs the bottle in one go – a coppery rush down his throat, burning like good, strong whiskey. When the red mist before his eyes settles, he expects to be alone in the room, but Jeremy's still sitting in the same spot as before, watching Damon's face transform back to human. He doesn't flinch. Even now, it's plain to see that he's not in the least bit afraid of Damon, and Damon can't figure out if that's brave or stupid or merely fatalistic.
He sighs. "Why are you here, Jeremy? You going to rub my nose in how much I messed up? How Elena won't forgive me this time? Because, trust me, I don't need you to tell me how much you all hate me."
Jeremy's mouth curls into a grin that seems oddly self-deprecating. "Yeah, right. Dude, do you have any idea how fucking hard it is to hate you? And believe me, I fucking tried."
Damon waves it off, the glib response ready on his tongue. "Hating people is always exhausting. That's why all those neat little self-help books tell you to let go of negative emotions. Make love, not war, blah blah blah."
"You read those a lot?" Jeremy fires back. Before Damon can get a word in and pick up their bickering with a snarky comment of his own, Jeremy presses on, the sharp, unkind humor gone from his voice and replaced by a seriousness that instantly makes Damon wary. "No, I mean you specifically. It was pretty easy to hate Katherine or Klaus. Even Kol. You, though..." He shakes his head. "With your stupid smartass remarks and your anger management issues and the way you keep trying to push people away because you can't stand the fact that you might care about anyone other than yourself because you're afraid they'll end up leaving you anyway when they figure you out. Except that we've already figured you out. I've seen you at your worst, and I'm still here."
"Careful, Jer, that almost sounds like a declaration of love," Damon jokes. It's an attempt to steer the conversation away from the heavy, emotionally charged topic back to their usual banter. He expects a response along the lines of In your dreams, dick, some exasperated comment about his inflated ego.
It doesn't come. Jeremy remains silent – uncharacteristically so, when he's normally never short of snarky little quips to counter Damon.
When Damon looks up, Jeremy averts his eyes, a tell-tale blush rising to his cheeks, and Damon realizes with a sinking feeling that what he thought was a joke was actually an inconvenient truth he inadvertently stumbled upon. "Aww, shit, Jeremy."
He's not sure what he's going to say. It's too big, too unexpected, and Damon is bad enough at dealing with other people's emotions as it is without having to accommodate the unhealthy crush Elena's baby brother harbors for him.
"Look, I–" He searches for a helpful thing to say. Under regular circumstances, he wouldn't bother and just make a cutting remark, a taunt intending to cause the maximum amount of hurt with the minimum amount of effort. It's Damon's default reaction to people suddenly burdening him with their emotions. But he almost had Jeremy killed less than seven days ago, so he figures he should cut the kid some slack.
He's almost giving himself an aneurysm trying to figure out what the protocol in this situation is for people with more empathy than the average sociopath. It's a problem he usually tackles with the 'What would Stefan do?' approach, but frankly, the idea of Jeremy admitting to being in love with Stefan is making Damon's head hurt.
Damon's dilemma is probably written all over his face, because Jeremy seems infuriatingly amused. "You can stop trying to come up with a nice way to say 'thanks but no thanks'. It's cool. It doesn't matter."
The nonchalant attitude is jarring, and for some reason, it doesn't sit well with Damon. "It doesn't matter? What the fuck, Jer? You can't just tell me–"
"Damon. Look, I've had a crush on you since I was a stupid 15-year-old –"
"And now you're a stupid 17-year-old," Damon interrupts him. Sure, he was trying to be kind, but there's a limit to everyone's kindness. His just happens to be a little lower than most people's.
Jeremy doesn't seem to be taking offense, though his reply is a little sharper than before. "And you've tried to kill me at least three times."
"My point exactly."
"You saved my life more than that," Jeremy reminds him.
As if Damon needed the reminder. He stands and starts pacing the room, frowning. "I'm not sure if it cancels each other out like that."
"I'm not sure either. That's not what I'm trying to say, okay? It's not important. I'm with Bonnie, and I know you're in love with Elena. I don't expect shit from you. I don't want you to change who you are, but if you're trying to push me away, it's not going to work, even if you're being a dick. You wanna be rid of me, you're gonna have to kill me. Pretty sure the same goes for Elena. And Stefan, and Bonnie, and even Matt."
It's hard to accept what Jeremy's saying. Harder even after Katherine's little break-up speech when she was pretending to be Elena. Jeremy's offering him the absolution that Damon knows he doesn't deserve and isn't sure he wants. It's something that continues to astonish him even from Stefan, who's bound to him by blood and will eventually forgive him for whatever transgression he commits, given enough time. Coming from someone other than his brother, he's even more at a loss as to how to handle a sentiment like that.
"Matt's in love with me too?"
Unlike before, the joke works exactly the way Damon expected it to. Jeremy rolls his eyes. "Sure, we're having weekly support group meetings about how we can't deal with our unrequited feelings for you. We share a six pack or two, and then we cry a lot and jerk off to pictures of you."
Familiar ground at last. Damon's lips twitch. "Smartass."
"Dick," Jeremy counters, smiling, and Damon knows that they're going to be okay.