A/N: This story is set just after the episode Rescue Me, though, that being said, there'll be no mentions of Liv or her brother or the travellers or Markos. Just imagine this as a universe where everything currently isn't going to Hell and everyone has time to do normal teenager stuff.
This story is Delena-based, and I can assure you my OC won't be getting in the way of that. My OC... well, you'll find out more about them later. I should also warn you that this story involves some scenes of graphic sickness on Damon's behalf, so if that's not your thing, you might as well turn back now. If you're still here, then by all means, read on.
Stefan rarely dreamed nowadays.
Of course, that wasn't entirely true. Thousands of studies had proved that when a person claimed not to dream, it wasn't that they didn't, it simply meant that they couldn't recall them. Stefan wasn't sure if it was the same for vampires, but it didn't matter. Whether he chose not to dream or couldn't physically wasn't an issue. Honestly, it was safer. Ever since he let Elena go, he had worried constantly about whether the next dream he had would take the form of a life they would never have together. Then, of course, things were made worse when he had been attacked by Silas. He no longer feared the dreams where he and Elena were happy; instead he would have revelled in them had it meant not reliving drowning a thousand times over. The pain of his lungs collapsing in on themselves, weighed down by gallons of water rushing down his throat, suffocating him. He'd had nightmares that bled into his reality, sneaking up on him even when he was conscious. The late Katherine Pierce had helped him with that, but even still, Stefan didn't let himself dream.
It was why, in the dark depths of his attic bedroom, Stefan was startled to find himself awoken by a loud THUMP before the first light of day had even bled through his window.
It was odd that just a few days ago, the Salvatore Boarding House had been crawling with life, both the living kind and the undead. Jeremy had been living there - the only human heart beat -alongside Elena. Now, Jeremy had moved in at Tyler's house and Elena… Elena had moved back to Whitmore. It had been a hard choice, Stefan knew that. And, though he despised the fact that Elena had chosen Damon over him, he still felt bad for the both of them, knowing just how hard this strain on their relationship was. In many ways, Elena and Damon were toxic for each other; it was the reason why the two had more or less mutually agreed to keep their distance. But there was also a connection between them, an electric spark that Stefan was more than aware of that made keeping their distance a very hard promise to keep. Despite everything, Stefan couldn't deny the facts. Elena and Damon were in love and the realisation that they were toxic together wasn't going to stop that.
So, at present, the Boarding House was once again home to the Salvatore brothers alone. With eyes still dazed from a dreamless sleep, Stefan reached blindly out towards his nightstand, grasping hopelessly for his phone. Once he found the device, he switched the screen on, squinting momentarily as the time blared brightly against his face.
Curiosity spiked at Stefan's mind. The sound he heard had definitely come from within the house and, considering Damon was the only other person residing inside, it wasn't much of a jump to guess who had been the cause. Still, Stefan couldn't help but wonder what his older brother was doing at three in the morning.
The noise came again, and this time, confirmed Stefan's suspicions. With the use of his heightened senses, Stefan could pinpoint the sound to its exact location. Damon's bedroom.
Stefan stifled an eye roll. If Damon was awake, it probably meant he'd never been asleep in the first place. Ever since their mutual semi break-up, Damon had been drinking himself into a stupor at any chance he got. Emotions were not Damon's strong point, after all. He either cared too much or not at all and, honestly, Stefan wasn't sure which one made Damon more dangerous. As of now, Damon hadn't done anything too reckless, but Stefan knew that was all for Elena. Damon still felt like he could be redeemed in her eyes and Stefan knew his brother didn't want to do anything to screw it up. Not after what he had done last time. Not after killing Aaron.
And, of course, despite everything Damon had put him through, despite all the years of pain and suffering, Stefan still cared about his brother, how could he not? He cared enough to know that Elena was probably the best thing that had happened to Damon in a long time. Though Damon would never consider himself the hero of any story, Elena kept him on a path that tore away from bloodshed and disaster. Elena made him good; Elena made him happy. But there was no Elena, not right now… which was probably why Stefan was forcing himself out of bed at three in the morning.
Stefan was just preparing for the inevitable lecture he'd be giving his brother about drinking away your problems (and more importantly draining the house of booze) when the next sound caught him off guard. The loud, unmistakable CRASH and clatter of something shattering.
A spasm of panic rocked Stefan as he stood deadly still, rooted to the spot. Closing his eyes, Stefan willed all of his concentration into his heighted senses. The crash had come from Damon's room, but that wasn't all. The noises continued. He thought he could hear a struggle, at the very least a sound desperate enough to warrant someone's attention. Stefan's defences rose all at once and, without a second thought, he blurred out of his bedroom.
The tap in the bathroom of Damon's ensuite was running at full blast, very deliberately distorting the sounds of anyone that might be inside. Still, Stefan could hear something, however faint, from within. A sound of desperation, of pain. It was what fuelled Stefan's next move as he barged directly into his older brother's bedroom at gone three in the morning.
The first thing Stefan noticed was Damon's bed. It was empty, the sheets ruffled, halfway pooled across the floor. There were an array of scotch bottles and empty glasses lying scattered on various pieces of furniture and, as Stefan scanned the room, he noticed a vase that had once sat on the drawer closest to the bathroom was now shattered into jagged pieces strewn hazardously across the wooden floorboards. None of this was important to Stefan at that moment though, for now that he was stood inside Damon's bedroom, not even the running faucet could mask the sounds that his brother had so desperately wanted to hide from him. With a sinking feeling in his gut, Stefan recognised the sounds as someone retching.
Vampires rarely threw up. It was the ultimate 'fuck you' to a vampire's lifestyle to get sick with the very blood that kept you from slowly and painfully desiccating into a mummified husk. But, despite that being said, there was no denying what lay directly in front of Stefan's eyes.
Damon was knelt in front of the toilet, his face partially obscured by his own dark locks of sweat-soaked hair. Stefan felt a sudden, very unfamiliar surge of fear clench at his gut as he stood there, practically paralysed in the bathroom's entryway. That was, until, Damon choked with another violent heave that sent a torrent of stale, undigested blood plummeting into the toilet bowl. He didn't look good, even in the dim setting of the bathroom it was hard to overlook how pale he was. Damon's breathing was coming out in short ragged gasps as clutched onto the toilet seat and, though Stefan's chest was tight with fear, he knew he had to do something, anything to help his brother.
"Hello, Stefan," Damon said, shocking Stefan out of his thoughts. Damon's voice was choked and dry, but he still managed to sound thoroughly unimpressed by his brother's presence in his bedroom.
With that said, Stefan finally found his voice. "Damon, what happened?"
Damon shrugged weakly before bending in over himself; a painful grimace etched his features as he wrapped one arm tightly around his abdomen. "I don't- I don't know," he choked.
"What did you do?" Even as he spoke, Stefan was moving, somewhat unthinkingly, towards his brother.
"Why do you think it was something I did?" Damon asked with faint indignation. Grimacing, he spat blood into the toilet bowl.
The smell of stale blood mixed with acidic bile was unappetising to say the least. Still, Stefan leant down over his brother and, very carefully, hooked an arm under his shoulder. Stefan could feel the panic slowly rising inside of him as well as hear dozens of voices from his own psyche that were scrambling over one another in an attempt to rationalise what was going on. Vampires couldn't get sick, not in the conventional sense and Damon… Damon hadn't been out of Stefan's sight in the last two days. As the panic escalated to dread, Stefan heard Damon give a faint whimper from where he was knelt against the floor, partially held upright by Stefan's lingering grip. Stefan closed his eyes. Projecting negative emotions was not going to help Damon; he had to remain level-headed for his brother's sake.
Swallowing hard, Stefan gestured towards the toilet bowl. "Are you-"
Damon seemed to sense what Stefan was about to ask for he suddenly shook his head, closing his eyes tightly as he did so. "Gimme a minute," he gasped, pulling himself out of Stefan's hold just enough to push himself back towards the toilet bowl. Stefan gripped Damon's shoulder in an unconscious gesture of support. He didn't know what was wrong with Damon, but he knew his brother needed comfort; anything to show that he wasn't alone in this. Not anymore.
Within seconds, Damon's faced paled as he swallowed convulsively. With a few painful gags he managed to vomit up what Stefan hoped was the last of the blood causing his brother damage. Damon was left violently dry heaving into the toilet before he managed to catch his breath, his forehead pressed firmly against the cool toilet seat, shoulders taut with the added stress that had been weighed onto his body. Finally, Damon gave a curt nod, though his eyes remained closed. "I'm done," he murmured.
Stefan stood at a respectable distance from his brother as he waited for him to regain some of his strength. He knew if he tried to help Damon outright, he'd probably be refused. Stefan knew his brother and the one thing he knew Damon hated above all else was being seen as weak. If Stefan could help Damon without bruising his ego in the process, he'd count today's course of events as a minor win on his side.
Damon managed to pull himself away from the toilet, flushing away the contents with a look of mild disgust on his face. Afterwards, he propped himself against the bathtub, his legs – very uncharacteristically - drawn up against his chest. His arms dangled limply across his knees as his eyes glared brightly outwards at nothing in particular. Stefan couldn't pretend he wasn't getting impatient, because he was. Everything about Damon's demeanour was wrong, and maybe not everyone would have been able to see that, but Stefan had had a century and a half's worth of practice. Damon was sick; which was impossible in itself, but there was something more terrifying to Stefan in the way that Damon was sat, so thoroughly exhausted, against the bathtub. Stefan folded his arms across his chest, rocking back on his heels.
"You need to rest," Stefan noted finally.
Damon blinked slowly, dazedly, as though he'd been somewhere else entirely. "Just gimme a minute," he croaked, wincing at his own strained vocals.
Stefan felt his fists clench. "If you're done, then you need to rest."
Damon shook his head. "I-I can't."
There was something entirely vulnerable about how Damon spoke that made Stefan immediately stiffen. "What do you mean you can't?" Stefan asked warily, feeling the all too familiar sense of dread creep up on him again.
Damon wouldn't look at Stefan, and this time there was no exception. He kept his gaze fixed firmly on the furthest wall even as he tried to explain himself. "It's too bright."
Stefan's gaze immediately moved to Damon's ring finger. "You have your daylight ring," he said before turning back towards Damon's bedroom. The sun hadn't risen yet; the only light in the room came from the artificial ones on the ceiling. Stefan's brows knitted together in confusion. Come to think of it, none of the lights had been turned on in the bathroom.
Damon tilted his head towards the bedroom, evidently proving Stefan's dawning suspicions correct. "The lights were giving me a headache," he said before swallowing thickly. "It made me sick."
Stefan frowned uncertainly. What did it mean if a vampire suddenly became sensitive to any form of light? "When did this start?" Stefan asked abruptly.
Damon shrugged; his eyes were beginning to droop. "When I woke up," he muttered.
"Not before today?"
Damon shook his head.
"So this all came on during the night? You didn't feel sick at all yesterday?"
"I think I'd recall if I felt like I was dying, Stefan," Damon said sarcastically as he brought his head down to rest against his knees.
Stefan's gaze, which had been intensely fixed to the floor, suddenly targeted Damon again. "What's your diet been like?"
Damon snorted weakly. "No vampires, if that's what you're worried about."
"It wasn't," Stefan said grimly.
Now it was Damon's turn to look at Stefan. His eyes were glazed with an underlying exhaustion that he was obviously trying to keep hidden, but he still managed to look offended by Stefan's accusation. "Oh come on, a few days without Elena and you think I'm back to eating people?"
Stefan might have had more reason to believe the hurt in Damon's voice had it not been for his recent derailment involving a certain British-accented ex-cell mate of his. Stefan sighed in exasperation. "I don't know what to think right now, Damon."
Damon managed a very telling eye roll before tearing his gaze from Stefan once again. "I haven't drunk from anyone, okay? Hell, you've been watching me often enough to see that. Besides who would I drink from? Half of this freaking town is on v-vervain." Damon's last few words were cut short as his chest heaved and he was launched into a very abrupt coughing fit.
Stefan immediately abandoned his plan to give his brother space and instead moved to his side. He held Damon steady as he continued to cough harshly into his hand, his body wracked with pained shudders. Finally, the coughing fit abated, leaving Damon breathing roughly, his eyes bright and bewildered. Evidently, the coughing was a new symptom.
"You've got to lie down, Damon," Stefan said once again, this time his voice more sparing. "At least until we can figure this out."
Damon looked to his brother incredulously. "Have you not been listening? I can't go out there, unless you want a repeat of this," Damon nodded unenthusiastically at the toilet, "then I suggest you do something about it."
Stefan nodded his understanding. "I'll turn the lights off; draw the curtains for when dawn comes." Taking a deep breath, Stefan moved towards Damon's bedroom, throwing a final few words over his shoulder as he did so: "Stay there."
Damon pressed his face against his knees dejectedly. "Like I have a choice."
Once the curtains were drawn and the lights were turned out, Stefan began the very arduous task of coaxing an exhausted Damon back to bed. Damon leaned heavily against Stefan as he dragged him the short space between the bathroom and his bed which raised all kinds of red flags in itself. Then, of course, there was the fact that under such close proximity it was hard to ignore the fact that Damon's body was practically radiating heat, and with it, the raw scent of growing sickness. None of those were good signs, and none of them made any sense. When Damon was finally laid out against his mattress, Stefan sank into one of the armchairs near his bedside. He could practically hear the gears clanking in his head as he tried to figure out what was happening to his brother.
The moment Damon hit the sheets; he fell into a barely conscious state. His chest rose and fell unevenly, giving way the only sign to Stefan that he was still awake. Now Stefan had nothing else to do except assess the state Damon was in. His forehead shone with the first trickles of sweat from an oncoming fever, but Stefan had expected that, especially after he'd felt the unnatural heat that emitted from his brother's body. Moving his gaze downwards, Stefan could see that Damon's eyes were lightly shadowed, just barely visible under the dim light that bled in through the cracks under the doorway. He had exhausted himself, of course he had. His body had just rejected the only food source that would do him any good.
That was all Stefan could think about. If Damon was telling the truth and he hadn't been drinking from any live blood-sources, then blood contamination was practically out of the picture. It was a very rare circumstance anyway, like a Chinese whisper that got passed down from vampire to vampire. Stefan remembered Lexi joking about it once or twice; but that was in the old days, back when blood diseases were a lot harder to track. Now with modern technology, 'contaminated blood bags' was a very unrealistic concept, especially for what was happening to Damon. From what Stefan could remember, blood poisoning only affected a vampire's digestion. They'd reject the blood and, after a few hours, they'd be back to terrorising helpless victims again. Damon didn't look like he'd be doing that any time soon.
"What're you doing?" Damon's voice croaked.
The younger Salvatore glanced down to meet a pair of fever-glazed blue eyes in the darkness. Stefan felt an immediate twist of guilt in his stomach; simply because at the moment there was nothing he could say or do that could possibly help with Damon's situation.
"I know this is a stupid question," Stefan said quietly, "but you haven't been near any werewolves… or hybrids recently?"
Damon flashed a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "You think I was bitten?"
Stefan shrugged exhaustedly. "Or poisoned with their venom… it's the only thing I can think of that could cause these symptoms."
Damon's eyes softened before he gave his brother a scrutinizing look. Stefan knew what he was doing; after so many years of the two being enemies, it was still hard for Damon to accept when Stefan was truly trying to help him. When Stefan showed that he actually cared. Finally, Damon shifted against his pillow, but Stefan didn't miss the small wince of pain he gave as a result. "I hate to disappoint you, brother, but I've been on the receiving end of a wolf bite before." Damon glanced away from Stefan, looking mildly dejected. "I know what it feels like and this," he shook his head tiredly; "this isn't it."
Stefan wasn't sure what to make of that answer. On the one side he was grateful. Grateful for the fact that he wouldn't have to track his way to New Orleans and beg Klaus for the cure. On the other hand, this left him off right back where he started. He didn't know what he was dealing with, and, more importantly, he had no way of telling whether it could be fatal.
Stefan felt his fingers clench firmly into the leather arms of the chair. Damon noticed it too; though his eyes only flickered lazily before he shifted in position. "I'm tired," he said finally.
"Then sleep," Stefan muttered.
Damon looked at his brother accusingly. "With you watching me like some kind of guard dog? Pass."
Stefan's eyes narrowed. "I can't leave you."
Damon groaned exaggeratedly and, using his arm as leverage, managed to roll himself onto his back. He glared up at the ceiling, placing his arms across his chest. "I'm not gonna desiccate in the night, you know."
Stefan rolled his eyes in exasperation. He supposed he should be relieved that Damon still maintained his usual air of sarcasm, even when he had just vomited up his only food source. Still, there was something that sounded forced about it now, more so than usual. "I'll check on you in a few hours," Stefan agreed after a few moments of consideration. "If something happens or you get sick again, you tell me okay?"
Damon only rolled his eyes in response. There was nothing of the vulnerability Stefan had witnessed when Damon had been recovering in the bathroom. All of his usual defences were back up and running, but Stefan knew that wouldn't be enough. He could see it in the way Damon's chest hitched before it fell, the way that, even now, sweat continued to trickle down across his forehead. Stefan made a mental note to bring some cool cloths in after Damon's few hours were up. He wasn't going to leave him too long, he told himself. Just long enough for Damon to get some decent rest. In that time, he'd try to think of anything else that could cause sickness in a vampire because, so far the list wasn't very long and… the further he gave himself time to think about it, the closer he came to a very unsettling theory.
With a final nod in Damon's direction, Stefan left his brother to rest.