warning(s): violence, minor character death
word count: 8,740
summary: Damon's never been one to consider the consequences, so when his cowardice causes the demise of his first love, he'll do anything to make it right. Including making a deal with a witch. [reincarnation fic]


VI.

1912

"Stop fiddling so much, you look fine."

Matthew frowns. "This tie is too tight."

Damon rolls his eyes. "Hardly. You're just not used to dressing like this."

"If I had to choose between dressing up like this every day and how I dress at home, I'd gladly leave city life behind me."

"Mystic Falls is hardly the city. Besides, it's respectful to wear a suit to a funeral." He grins. "We're nothing if not respectful."

With a snort, Matthew shakes his head. "So who is it you lost then?"

"Zachariah Salvatore, a distant nephew." Damon casts his eyes over the cemetery, various unfamiliar faces crowding around the Salvatore crypt, all dressed in black.

"You know him well?"

"No, but I was feeling particularly nostalgic."

"For a funeral?" Matthew raises an eyebrow.

"For home." He tucks his arms behind his back as they walk closer. "I'm surprised Auberine was all right with you joining me on this trip. Frank's hardly a year old."

"Plenty of family to keep watch over them. I talked to Remy before we left too. He said he'd keep an extra eye out for any strangers."

Damon hums. "Married life suits you well. Auberine seems to have settled in nicely. If you're not careful, she'll become Birdie Mae's favorite, after Frank anyway."

Chuckling, Matthew shook his head. "Ber loves her just as much."

They reached the crowd then and fell silent as the funeral began. Damon watched curiously, listening distantly to the prayers that were offered and the vague words of sympathy that are passed to Zachariah's friends and loved ones. His wife is the only one openly weeping, holding an embroidered handkerchief to her mouth as her shoulders shake. Her free hand rests on her son's shoulder; Tomas is hardly ten years old and far too stoic for his age.

When the funeral eventually ends, Damon turns to Matthew. "How would you like to see the rest of town? I believe my house is still standing, though I'm sure no one lives in it…"

"Sure. But first, I was hoping you might show me where mama's mother was buried."

Damon looks back to him, surprised, his brows hiked. "Emily?" He nods. "Of course."

They're walking away together, side by side, when Damon hears a familiar voice, and his feet stumble to a stop.

"Damon?" Matthew asks.

But he shakes his head, his ears extended to that voice in the distance.

"…I'm sorry. I don't mean to be... inappropriate. But no one seems to be willing to discuss the details of Zachariah's death."

Turning his head, Damon searches out the source, and finds his brother standing in front of two young women, one of whom suggests that Zachariah was, in fact, murdered. Damon's heard the gossip as he and Matthew entered town, that founding family members have recently been the target of an unknown assailant.

Matthew follows his gaze. "Who's that?"

Damon turns to him, and then frowns. For a moment, he considers lying and drawing Matthew away, but there's something heavy in his chest that tells him not to. Truthfully, he's missed his brother, or at least the man he was before he was turned. Wariness fights valiantly against nostalgia.

Taking a deep breath, he lets it out on a sigh, and answers, "My brother."

Matthew's brows tick up with surprise. "He's like you?"

Damon pauses. "I suppose we're about to find out."

A crow caws nearby, and Stefan turns to peer at it.

Taking a step toward his brother, with Matthew keeping pace, Damon says in greeting, "Have you been eating the relatives again?"

Stefan startles and takes a step back in surprise as he turns to face him. A faint smile turns his mouth up. "Damon…"

He tilts his chin down. "It's been a long time, brother."

"It's been almost fifty years…" He pauses a moment before telling him, "I found your letters. Or, as many as I could."

Damon swallows tightly, casting his eyes away to keep his composure. So many letters, filled with so much fear and guilt. Freely written, no filter on his worst insecurities.

"You're still with the Bennetts then?"

A muscle ticks in Damon's cheek before he waves a hand beside him. "Matthew, this is my brother, Stefan Salvatore. Stefan, this is Matthew Bennett, Birdie Mae's eldest son."

With a friendly smile, Matthew holds a hand out for Stefan to shake, which he obliges. "Do you two need some time to talk?" Matthew wonders, looking between them.

"No," Damon answers quickly. He looks to his brother briefly. "We're only passing through for the funeral. I was going to show Matthew some of the sights before we return."

"I could join you," Stefan suggests, looking hopeful.

"I'm not sure—"

"You should," Matthew intervenes, looking to Damon encouragingly. "Fifty years is a long time. Haven't seen Sandrea for near on eight, and I miss her more every day."

The meaning of his words are heavy, and Damon feels them weighing in his gut. While he doesn't argue, he can't help but feel some reticence at Stefan spending any significant time around Matthew. While Stefan appears comfortable and not as desperate and sloppy as he once had, Damon's instinct is to keep himself between the two, just in case.

Seeming to read that in him, Stefan lifts his chin in defense. "I'm not as I was before, Damon. You needn't fear what I might do."

"I don't fear you, brother. I fear for others around you." Damon stares at Stefan seriously. "Matthew is under my protection. Whatever happened here, whether you had a hand in Zachariah's death—"

"I didn't."

"—is no business of mine. So long as you don't harm Matthew."

Stefan grinds his teeth. "I promise you, I am no more threat to Matthew than you are."

"And I should take your word for it?" Damon's brow arches. "Is Alexia with you? Is anyone here that can help your curb your appetite?"

"Alexia and I have parted ways. She felt I was strong enough that I didn't need her guidance every day. We're still friends, and should I need it, I know she's there. But I'm telling you, I'm not as I was."

"Even if that's true, it's too large a risk."

Stefan stares at him, barely hiding his hurt, and nods as he turns his eyes away.

"I'll take it," Matthew pipes up. "The risk, I mean."

Damon sighs. "Matthew…"

"It's my life, isn't it?" He grins as he claps Damon's shoulder. "We're only here for so long. What's one night? Mama would tell you to enjoy it."

Grimacing, Damon glances back to Stefan, who's looking hopeful once more.

Gathering his courage, Stefan inquires, "Grab a drink with me? Both of you." He smiles at Damon. "I've missed you, brother."

While he still feels the persistent need to get away from Stefan and what he represents, he relents under his brother's heavy stare and Matthew's encouraging grin.

"Sure. Why not?"

Stefan's smile widens, and he nods happily, moving to stand at his side.

Together, the three of them walk away.

Afternoon has bled into evening when they find a fair is in town. With a bottle shared between the three of them, they wander inside a tent to find a boxing ring at the center.

Waving his hand toward Matthew, it smacks against his chest as Damon says, "Don't tell your mother where I brought you."

Matthew laughs lightly. "Gladly."

In the ring, a beautiful red headed woman takes on a man, hardly breaking a sweat as she knocks him out cold and raises her arm in triumph.

Damon skirts around the collected crowd, watching curiously, while Stefan and Matthew crowd in on either side of him.

"One hundred dollars to any man who can beat me," the woman taunts the room, casting devilish eyes about.

Briefly, Damon is reminded of Katherine, of the twisted personality she hid behind coquettish smiles and an innocent beauty. There's an oddly beguiling aura about this woman. Something sinister that lurks behind honeyed looks. Bonnie was the opposite, lips that were often upturned in a smirk, but behind all that gumption she was just as young and hopeful as he was naïve and lovestruck.

"So, what's the story here then?" Matthew wonders, taking a drag from the bottle as he looks between them.

Stefan's face twists with shame. He casts his eyes around to make sure no one is listening and then leans a little closer to share. "We were turned at the same time, Damon and I. But my control was never as strong as his. When I drink human blood, I become obsessed with it."

"A ripper," Matthew says knowingly.

"Yes, a violent one." Damon grinds his teeth. "After your grandmother passed, I had a duty to your family, and I decided it was safer if we left Mystic Falls."

"And me," Stefan adds.

"I had to do what was right for them. You were out of control. A danger to anybody you met."

"And you were my brother," he stresses, staring up at him. "I needed you."

"You had Alexia," Damon defends. "She promised she would help you and, as you've repeatedly said, she did."

"Regardless, it would have helped to have you there."

"I promised Emily—"

"Why didn't you return? After you found them a safe place. Why didn't you come back for me?" When Damon doesn't answer, Stefan stares at him knowingly. "Because you were ashamed of me. Of what I'd become."

"Because I couldn't help you. I had no idea what you were going through or why you were the way you were. It was like a sickness and I had no cure. So I did what I could do, which was keep the Bennetts alive and well."

"And now? You still guard them from me. Still think I'm a threat to them."

"You think you're the only ripper I've met?" he snaps. "The last one nearly destroyed this family. I won't let it happen again."

Stefan's brow furrows. "So that it's then? I'm an enemy for the rest of my life?"

"You're a threat that I can't afford to ignore." Damon swallows tightly then, and looks away.

"I've found control. I don't feed from humans. I only consume animal blood. Damon, please…" He reaches for him, squeezing his arm beseechingly. "What do I have to do to prove myself to you?"

Damon looks down at Stefan's hand, but before he can push it off, or argue, or say something he might regret, Matthew intervenes.

"Think you might need some fresh air, hm?" he suggests, tugging on Damon's shoulders to release him of Stefan's grip. "I'll stay here. Keep an eye on things."

Damon frowns at him, and looks to Stefan.

Somewhere between exasperated and hurt, Stefan tells him, "He's safe, I promise."

"We both know if I needed to, I could defend myself just fine," Matthew adds, nodding. "Go on, get some air, maybe have something to eat…"

Lingering a moment, Damon eventually nods, and turns to leave. He keeps his hearing tuned to them, however. He's unwilling to go far, but Matthew's right. He hasn't eaten since the day before, and part of his animosity toward his brother may be stemming from that. Further, he knows Matthew is powerful. If Stefan were to attack, Matthew would be able to hold his own, at least until Damon returned to help.

Making his way outside the tent, he takes a walk, searching for an easy target to feed from. The cool, fresh air feels good, calms him from his earlier defensiveness. He wasn't expecting to see Stefan today. For years now, he's been wondering where his brother was and if he was well, but now that he's here, he has no idea what to do. He wants him to be okay, even wants to reminisce with him, but there's a resentment that bubbles up as soon as he remembers just what his brother is at his core. A ripper. He can hear Sandrea's cries in his ears and it sends his heart to his stomach.

It isn't long before he's behind the tent, drinking from a young woman's neck. He plans to let her live; to compel her to forget and feed her some of his own blood to close the wound. But then another woman is there; the red head from the boxing ring.

"How sad. You're doing it all wrong."

Damon whirls toward her, sneering at her condescending smirk. As his victim slips limply to the ground, he draws a handkerchief from his pocket and blots the blood from his mouth and hands.

She walks toward him, hips swaying enticingly. "Bad vampire…"

"I hadn't realized I'd asked for an audience, nor a judge." His eyebrow arches. "If you'll excuse me…"

"What's the hurry?" She smirks. "Your witch is fine, I'm sure."

Damon snarls, his eyes turning a bloody black and the veins of his face becoming more pronounced. "Stay away from my witch."

The woman tuts, rolling her eyes. "Don't be so obvious."

Damon flashes forward, grabs her by the neck and pins her to a wooden pole. "If you've touched one hair on his head—"

"I haven't," she chokes from beneath his hand, though she doesn't look surprised or even worried. If anything, she seems somewhat amused. When his hand loosens a little, she continues, "He and your other compatriot are attempting to arm wrestle for spectators."

Damon blinks, then frowns. "If you're lying—"

"I have no reason to." She presses a hand to his chest, but doesn't push him away. Instead she slides a finger under the lapel of his jacket to skim over his vest. "What makes a vampire beholden to a witch?"

"It's no business of yours." He releases her neck and steps away from her, straightening his clothes to gather his wits. When he's done, he side-steps, eager to take his leave.

She moves to block him. "Tell me, what pleasure did you find in the woman?"

"Her?" He looks back to his victim. Her breathing is shallow, but she's alive, at least. "I wasn't seeking pleasure. I was hungry, she was there; it's a very simple concept."

"A woman isn't just for food," she tells him, sounding greatly offended. "She's for pleasure."

Damon hasn't been tempted for some time. Katherine was different. He gravitated to her when the guilt and sorrow was fresh, when he'd thought there was no chance he'd ever have his Bonnie back. But now... things are different. He lives and breathes for the day the comet will return and he will have her back. And Safe offers little to sway his thinking.

Smiling insincerely, Damon's eyes narrow at her. "I have known a great many women in my life who would argue that their purpose far transcends pleasure or food."

He begins to walk away, but she takes his arm to draw him back, forcing him around to face her. "You've spent too much time surrounded by mediocre humanity," she accuses. "What is being a vampire if not relishing in the pleasure of it?" Her hands wander across his front enticingly as she grins up at him.

Damon catches her wrists and keeps them subdued. "The humans I surround myself with are far from mediocre. And what pleasure I seek as a vampire is not due for another ninety-seven years. In the meantime, I'm spoken for."

She twists her arms to rid them of his grip. "We are all spoken for in some way." Backing up, she turns on her heel to leave, and grins at him over her shoulder. "If you change your mind, I can show you a way to live that will make the time pass more swiftly."

As she disappears inside the tent, Damon lingers a moment longer. He turns and walks back toward the woman he'd been feeding on. Lifting her up, he seeks out her pulse, and finds it still steady under his fingers. Feeding her his blood, he wipes her neck clean and watches the wound close. When she startles awake, she's confused, but he compels her to reason and sends her on her way.

Alone once more, he takes a moment to gather himself, and then starts back inside the tent.

There are new people fighting in the ring, and the crowd cheers them on heartily. Damon bypasses the sight, seeking out Matthew and his brother. When he finds them, he pauses, alarm bells sounding in his ears. The red-haired woman is smiling at each of them, leaning on the table and laughing at something Matthew says.

Damon's teeth grind before he makes his way over.

"Damon, this is Sage. She was fighting earlier," Stefan introduces.

"We've met," he replies curtly, standing protectively at Matthew's side. "It's late. Matthew and I need to be going."

"You're not staying?" Stefan asks, frowning. "You should at least stay until morning. Matthew wanted to visit Emily's grave, didn't he?"

"Perhaps another time." Damon looks to Matthew severely.

Seeming to understand, he stands from his stool. "It's fine. I'm sure we'll make our way back through town another day." He grins good-naturedly. "Or maybe Stefan can visit us sometime."

"I would be happy to," Stefan agrees, nodding.

"You're sure you don't want to stay? The night's only just beginning," Sage says, eyeing each of them.

Damon frowns at her. "Enjoy yourselves, truly."

She smirks suggestively. "Oh, we will."

Matthew circles around behind them and Damon follows, pausing at his brother's side. He casts wary eyes toward Sage. "You should turn in too," he tells Stefan. "It's been a long day."

"I will," Stefan agrees. He reaches for Damon, a hand settling on his shoulder. "We should visit again soon. There is… much I'd like to talk about."

Damon stares at him a long moment, at the uncertainty and sadness clouding his features. With a sigh, he reaches for Stefan, and pulls him in for a hug. "No matter what you've done or what you do, you'll always be my brother."

"You mean that?" Stefan's hand grips the back of his jacket tightly. "I have doubts sometimes… It would seem you've found family elsewhere."

"I can have more than one family." He squeezes him one last time before he releases him. "Take care, Stefan."

He stares back at him, and nods. "And you."

Moving to stand by Matthew, he looks back just once, dismissing the coy smile on Sage's lips, and focuses on the faint smile on Stefan's.

Later, he would wonder if he should have stayed, if he could have stopped Stefan from the spiral that was to come, if he could have helped avoid the birth of the Ripper of Monterrey. But fate stepped in quite unkindly, and sent Stefan down a path that Damon could not follow.


...


"Seems every time I see you lately, you've got something heavy on your mind," Carlisle says, taking a seat in the chair across from him as he fiddles with pulling his boots on.

Damon glances over at him, half-smiles. "Remembering simpler times, I suppose."

Carlisle hums. "Things only seem simple when they're far away. When they're up close and you're going through 'em, that's when they seem hardest."

"You make a good point."

"Birdie Mae's expecting me for supper." He dusts his hands as he stands from his chair. "Nice enough out, I was gonna walk over. You going?"

"Not tonight."

"Suit yourself." Carlisle nods at him in farewell before he lumbers down the stairs and starts the walk down the path leading toward Birdie Mae's.

Damon's attention turns back out to the field, and with it, his mind wanders, to a time when things seemed so very simple, and so very right…

1861

Bonnie sits high atop a horse as he leads it through the field by the reins. Her knuckles are white, she's holding on so tightly, and her eyes are wide with worry.

"She won't throw you off," Damon assures, grinning.

"You don't know what she'll do! Just because she hasn't yet, doesn't mean she won't!"

Shaking his head, he continues walking. "She can tell you're nervous."

"Anybody with eyes can tell I'm nervous." Bonnie gnaws at her lip. "I don't like it up here. Why can't we just groom her back in the barn?"

"She needed a walk, and the barn smells."

Her mouth ticks up in amusement. "Well, we wouldn't want to offend your sensitive nose…"

He looks back at her, a brow raised. "Are you teasing me, Miss Bennett?"

"And if I am?"

He grins slowly, and then draws the horse to a stop.

Eyeing him warily now, she frowns. "What are you doing…?"

"Enjoying a day of riding. Isn't it obvious?"

"Damon…" she says warningly.

Ignoring her, he steps back, and with the ease of a practiced rider, he draws himself up and onto the horse, seated just behind her. "There. See?" He takes the reins, gives the horse a gentle nudge with the heel of his foot, and they're moving.

Bonnie's breath catches, and Damon can feel her grow tense in front of him.

"Calm down. She's a good horse." He lowers his head so his cheek brushes her temple. "I promise you, you're safe."

"You can't make promises like that," she whispers, but her hands fall to his knees, gripping the fabric of his trousers tightly.

"Like what?"

"That you can't possibly keep."

He hums, drops a kiss to her cheek, and says, "I have every intention of keeping it."

"Intention guarantees nothing. The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

"Have you been reading that proverbs book of Stefan's?"

"I have, and so should you. You might learn something."

"Heaven forbid." He smirks, nuzzling her neck with his nose. "Do you think I'd truly let anything happen to you?"

"I think some things are out of your control, whether you believe it so or not." She leans back then, resting against his chest, and reaches a hand up, her palm brushing his cheek. "I have faith in you, Damon. It's the rest of the world I hope little for."

Humming, he presses a kiss to the hinge of her jaw, and covers her hand with his own. "The world cannot touch us."

She smiles gently, softly, and turns her head to see him. "If only that were true."

If only.


...


1913

Damon finds her by a creek, her feet are buried against the craggy rocks and the ends of her tattered dress skim the top of the water. He watches her a moment, her eyes distant, rimmed red and puffy with tears she's long since cried. Ailish isn't the same little girl who used to follow him at a distance, curious and stubborn and eager to know someone she shouldn't. She's a woman of nineteen, and her hands cradle her stomach, where a baby once grew, and was now laid to rest in the dirt.

"I named him Alby," she says, as if she knows he's there, but she hasn't once turned her head, staring out into the woods, gaze hollow and absent. "Papa said he wasn't strong enough. That the weak die so the strong can prevail…" Her throat bobs as she swallows. "He was mine."

He walks toward her slowly, keeping an eye out for any sign she might snap. Remy warned him that her being sensitive could mean she wasn't as in control of her other side, the wolf that would want to tear his flesh from his bones without remorse. And there is rage there, it fires up inside, met only by her own fragility in that moment.

"He was beautiful," she whispers. "I held him, here in my hands, as he took his first breaths… And his last." Her fingers curl into her palms, and he can smell the blood as her nails score her skin. "Some of the girls, they think it was my fault. I was too reckless. I didn't rest like I should. I made him weak." Her teeth grit in a snarl, but a tear trickles down her cheek.

Damon reaches for her, unfurls one hand and binds it with his own. "They're wrong."

She looks to him then, searching his face for any sign of deception.

"They're wrong," he insists. "Sometimes, life is cruel. It takes away good people, strong people, for no other reason than because it can. And we're left behind to suffer their loss." He strokes a thumb atop her hand. "But if I've learned anything, it's that having the right people by your side will help you through just about anything."

Ailish sniffles then, her shoulders slumping, and she doesn't quite look like the fierce wolf he's come to know. She returns to looking like that little girl that trailed at his heels, looking for a friend in someone who should be a foe. "Will you help me?" she asks, her voice as fragile as newly spun glass.

He squeezes her hand. "I will."

She leans over then, and rests her head against his shoulder. And Damon wonders when it is he became any good at helping others grieve, when he's still not mastered the art of it himself.


...


"Have you ever met a ripper?" Damon wonders, arms tucked at his back.

"Two," Remy tells him. "They were terrorizing a small town. The victims were left to rot in the streets, propped up like dolls, sitting on porches, standing in shops… We dealt with them."

Damon hums, his mouth pursed. "My brother is a ripper. He claims he had it under control for a time. That he was surviving on animal blood. But… Last year, he was tempted by another vampire, and any progress he made was destroyed." He frowns, coiling his fingers in tight against his palm. "I knew she was deceptive when I met her, but I left her in his company. I prioritized Matthew and decided to leave, knowing that Stefan was with her."

"Your brother is his own person. Any choices he makes are on him."

"But aren't mine on me as well? If I knew she was trouble and I didn't tell him… If I left him with her… My choice was to do nothing. She'd made vague references to Matthew, to myself, and I knew, deep down, that she would only lead to suffering. I could have asked Stefan to come with us, but I was still so…"

"You didn't trust him."

"Not completely." He sighs, his shoulders slumping. "I love him. He's my brother. And no matter what he's done, I'll always love him. But I've seen what he can do. I've seen what he becomes. And I couldn't risk Matthew's well-being." His brow furrows. "But did I risk Stefan's instead?"

Remy sighs, strokes his fingers over his beard thoughtfully. "Maybe you did."

Hurt, Damon looks to him.

"Sometimes we make choices that don't turn out the way we want. Sometimes we prioritize people because they need prioritizing. Matthew's human. He's a witch, but he's more fragile than your brother. Stefan may be your family, but he's also a vampire, capable of defending himself better. You thought he could handle temptation; you were proven wrong. You can't know what anybody is going to do. You just prepare yourself for the worst and deal with the fallout."

Damon hums, his gaze on the ground as they walk. "I fear he won't forgive me."

"I wonder if he thinks the same of you."

Brow knit, he turns questioning eyes on Remy. "How's that then?"

"It's no secret that you're not… fond of your own kind. Maybe even because of what Stefan's done in the past. If he is this… Ripper of Monterrey, then he could be worried you won't forgive his latest… slip."

"You've heard of him?" Damon's mouth turns down. "I have no evidence it's him. Nothing but a feeling in my gut."

"I trust your gut." Remy shakes his head. "The point is, sometimes we have to separate what we think we know from who we know it about. Which part of Stefan matters more to you? That's he's a vampire or that he's your brother."

"That he's my brother, of course."

"Then you find a way to make it work. Sometimes it's the fear of becoming something that allows us to become it. With werewolves, the ones that fight their nature have a harder time with the change. The ones that accept it, accept who and what they are, find their balance."

"So I have to accept that he's a Ripper."

"He needs to accept he's a Ripper. You need to support him in getting there."

Damon sighs. "I'm not even sure where he is now… And I have to stay, to watch over the Bennetts."

"You have friends willing to help you. Me and mine can keep watch over the witches." Remy claps his shoulder encouragingly. "Family gets you through the worst of anything. If you're willing to let them help."

He smiles faintly. "I suppose I'll find that out soon enough."


...


Brother,

I have thought of you often since last we met. Of the choices I made, and the choices I dismissed. Of leaving when perhaps I should have stayed. Of not trusting you when you needed it most. These are things I regret. Things I'm certain I will regret for many years to come…

I fear that my decisions have had an unforeseen influence on who you are, who you have become, and who you will be. Or perhaps it is my own arrogance that I attribute your choices to my own. I am not without a steady reserve of ego. But if it was in fact my lack of belief in you that led you down this path, know that it was never my intention. When we said our farewells, I meant what I said. You are and will always be my brother, in blood and mind and heart.

When the time comes that our paths cross again, I hope that my trust and belief in you will be renewed. That you will have righted your path once more, as only you have the strength to do. And that we will come together as the family we were meant to be. The Bennetts are not my blood, but I swore an oath that I intend to hold. I will not, however, eject you from my life so completely. Matthew has asked about you, if you're well, if I miss you, if you might visit sometime. They're good people, Stefan. Loyal and loving and full of more forgiveness than I have ever deserved. I think you would like them, and they you.

When you're ready, I would like for you to meet. I would like for my families to be whole.

Sincerely,
Damon Salvatore


...


Damon is not one for gardening, so how it is he wound up knees deep in dirt, helping to pull weeds, he has no idea. But Paula was using the situation to her advantage.

"How come? You took Matthew with you when you went traveling," Paula points out.

"Matthew joined me at a funeral, Paula. We weren't exactly taking in the sights."

"Well, it's more sights then I've seen." She frowns. "I want out. I don't wanna live my whole life out here. I want to see what's outside of Salem, what the rest of the world's got to offer me."

"The world is dangerous. At least here, you're somewhat safe."

She harrumphs, throwing her small shovel down. "I ain't gonna hide my head in the dirt so nothing ever happens to me. Sandrea was killed right here in our front yard. If danger wants to find me, it'll come as it pleases. I'd at least like to see some things before I go!"

Jaw drawn tight, Damon sighs, and leans back. "What happened to Sandrea isn't liable to happen again." He feels a tightness in his throat.

"Even if it ain't…" Paula stares at him, her mouth set in a line. "I ain't a doll. I'm not gonna sit on the shelf lookin' pretty for all my life. I want more than what I have here. I want to see New York like Aunt Gemma did. I want to see more than just the same old faces here in Salem." She shakes her head. "You don't have to like it, and you don't have to take me with you, but one way or another, you mark my words, I'm gettin' outta here." With that, she returns to her gardening, and Damon is left to sit and stew and worry.

It takes him nearly a half hour before he says, "I'll speak to Birdie Mae. It's better to have a chaperone than to go out on your own… We can make a plan, decide where to go and where not to, and how long this little trip will take."

Paula grins widely. "Don't look so sad, Damon. It'll be fun, I promise."

Oh, he wasn't so sure about that. While part of him understands her excitement about seeing the world and exploring, another part of him wants to keep her safe in the small town that had become home. Aside from Quinn, it has served them well, but now, with Paula wanting to see more, he wonders if perhaps the others will want to as well.

How long will it be before they were all moving on and spreading out? It's much easier to keep people safe when they're all together, and much harder when the distance is so far. He'll adapt, he knows this. He has to. But that doesn't stop the worry from bubbling up in his stomach. He listens with half an ear as Paula talks about the places she wants to see, all the while wishing the Bennetts wouldn't grow up so fast.


...


Some days, he gets lost in his memories of her. Drowns himself in their stolen moments, where time was forgotten in favor of having her close, listening to her talk and laugh and argue with him. He shuts out the world for a time, forgets his responsibilities, and lets a wave of nostalgia and regret and heartbreak tow him away from reality, leaving him swamped in her scent and sound and touch.

1858

"Someone will find us," Bonnie tells him, shaking her head. But she doesn't pull away when he takes her hand and draws her closer. Biting her lip, she looks down at how their bodies are pressed together. "This isn't how the other ladies dance... How it is at those parties your father throws…"

He shakes his head. "No. Because that's all for show. Pompous people trying to look sophisticated…" His hand slides around to the small of her back before he takes a step to the left.

Bonnie copies his movement, a hand gripping tight to his shoulder. "I think it looks pretty… All the twirling and jumping…"

"Do you want me to twirl you, Miss Bonnie?" He smiles down at her, taking up her fingers and turning her in a circle, close enough that the fabric of her dress brushes against him.

Bonnie laughs, a little breathless. "Do it again."

He grins, and does as she pleases. Twirling and twirling and twirling, until she's dizzy with it, and she rests her back against his chest, her head atop his shoulder, closing her eyes as the room spins all around.

"How was that?" he wonders, wrapping his arms around her and swaying them side to side gently.

She hums. "I like the way we dance."

Damon presses a kiss to her ear. "Me too."


...


1914

It's Ailish that tells him. She arrives on the porch of Birdie Mae's house, wringing her hands, streaks of blood crawling up her arms, her mouth set in a vicious snarl.

He steps outside, still pulling his suspenders over his shoulders. "What's happened?" he asks, brow furrowed.

"They killed him." She balls her hands up into the fabric of her shirt, twisting it under her fingers. "Remy's dead."

Damon's heart lurches. "What…?"

"I found him out in the woods. He's in pieces. Papa says it's been coming a long while. That some of the other pack members got angry that he made a pact with you, to protect you and yours." She juts her chin toward the house, to where a sleepy Birdie Mae has crept out from her room to see what's happening.

"His own packmates killed him?" Damon scowls. "What'll be done about it?"

Ailish shakes her head, her eyes narrowed in a glare, set far away on the woods. "Nothing," she spits. "The leaders might be excommunicated, told to lead the pack and never come back. But none of 'em are gonna pay with blood." She unwinds her hands from her shirt then and reaches for him, fingers digging into his chest like claws. "I want their blood."

Damon stares down at her a long moment, at the fine tremble that runs through her narrow shoulders, the dirt and blood that smudges her skin. He'd known Remy for some time; he considered him one of his fondest friends. The idea that his death would not be avenged sat wrong in him, like a lead weight in his stomach. A wave of anger and a deep, desperate desire for retribution floods through him.

He turns his head to see Birdie Mae, standing tall, her chin raised high. "You know what it means if you do this…?" she asks him. "You go to war, war follows you home."

If he exacts revenge on the members of the pack that killed Remy, the pact between the Bennetts and the wolves would be nil and void. And with a full moon around the corner, that was nothing to scoff at. But could he actively choose to allow Remy's death to go unpunished? Was that something Remy would ask of him?

"Damon…" Ailish stares up at him with yellow eyes, desperate for blood, for vengeance, for a balm to her grief. "If you won't…" Her hands drop to her sides. "I will." She turns on her heel and marches down the stairs, barefoot and rippling with rage.

He watches her a moment, before he turns to Birdie Mae. "If it were me, he would make those who killed me pay for my death."

"Remy was an old soul. Ain't no way he didn't know what could happen if he went making deals with vampires and witches… He lived a good, long life, did what he had to do, said what he had to say, made friends with the folk he wanted to."

"You think I blame myself for his death?"

"Don't you?"

Damon frowns. "I'm not certain."

"If you go chasing revenge, you best be ready to die for it. Takes just one bite from a wolf and you won't be here any more. Not to watch out for me or mine or for Ailish neither. Sometimes what we have to do means more that what we want to do."

"If they killed Remy because of the deal he made with me, then there's a chance that they'll kill anyone related to that deal… There's no reason to honor the promises we made to each other if he's not here to uphold them… They could come for you, for Carlisle and the children too."

"We ain't your excuse to spill blood, Damon. Don't use us as one. You want to kill the wolves that killed your friend, you go on and do that. But don't do it in my name, I won't have it."

"What if it were you?" he wonders, taking a step toward her. "Was it any different when it was Quinn?"

She flinches. "I didn't force you to kill him."

"You wouldn't have stopped me." His brow furrows then. "I've put distance between myself and my brother, for years, because of what he is, what I saw him as. But if you want the truth, we aren't so different… I love blood. I would bathe in blood without an ounce of shame. I curb my appetites, I release my victims, but I still use them. I still enjoy what I take from them. And death, killing, it doesn't blacken my soul as much as it should. Quinn deserved to die. For ever touching a hair on Sandrea's head."

Birdie Mae lifts her chin, angry and sad in equal measure.

"Anyone who dares to come after you, after any Bennett, will have to answer to me." He stabs a finger at his chest. "And I won't weep for the loss. I won't regret their deaths. Not one moment. If that makes me a monster, then I'm a willing one. Because if it is the only thing I ever do on this earth, it will be to keep those I love safe. You, your family, Stefan, Ailish, and Remy, you are all mine. My people, my family, my friends. Anyone who threatens that, for any reason, will die by my hand."

Birdie Mae doesn't answer right away, just takes him in, lets his words hang in the air. And then she nods. "That's the way of it?"

"It is."

She nods.

Damon stares at her. "You're right though. It won't be in your name. Any blood I spill will be in mine."

With a hum, she takes a deep breath, and walks toward him. "If this is what you wanna do, I won't stop you… Not 'cause I believe in it, but 'cause I know you. Know how you think. How stubborn you are…"

His mouth ticks up faintly.

She nods. "They'll be waitin'. Waitin' for you to slip up, make a mistake, give 'em a chance to get you first."

"Then I'd better move soon." His eyes turn a bloody black while his teeth lengthen in his mouth. "There's no time to waste."

Unmoved by the other, darker side of him, she reaches up to pat a hand over his heart. "Be safe."

He smiles, all teeth. "Of course." He walks to the stairs then. "You as well."

As he makes his way toward the treeline, where an anxious Ailish waits for him, he hears Birdie Mae's voice, twisting and turning an incantation around, a protection spell for her and her blood.

Damon presses a hand to Ailish's shoulder, squeezing. "Let's go hunting..."

She smirks back at him, and then runs into the woods, wild and free and out for blood.

He flashes after her, fierce and unleashed and eager to do damage.


...


The chase is his favorite part. Sure, there's something beautiful about rending flesh from bone, head from shoulders, heart from chest. But the chase is glorious; the anticipation makes his blood sing and his heart pound and every sense turn on high. Here, he is a predator. Here, he is an animal. Here, he is the darkness. The monster. The eater of souls and hearts and man alike.

Damon follows them through the trees, listens to their hearts hammer, smells the fear and terror and rage that wafts off of them. He lets them think they might make it, might outrun him, might outfight him, but in the end, there is no chance. They get in a few hits; they outmaneuver him a time or two; they snap their lethal teeth at his loose limbs. But none of them bite him like they need to. None of them are quick enough, smart enough, elusive enough, to get away.

And so they don't.

Between him and Ailish, the perpetrators fall. They lay in pieces. Bloody and separated, broken and defeated. And in the center of it all stand the victors, alive with retribution and dead with grief. And then the others come, the howling, angry, blame-ready pack.


...


Damon sits on a fallen log, blood dripping from his hands. Scratches can be seen across his face, arms, chest and legs, slowly but surely healing.

Ailish paces in front of him, chest heaving, blood and dirt streaking her skin.

Her father stomps toward her. "You attacked your own pack members," Roibeárd accuses. "You conspired with a leech! There's no excuse for that."

"What excuse was there for killing Remy?" she snaps back. "He was our leader."

"He was a traitor," Roibeárd shouts. "Siding with the vampire, making deals with the witches… Those aren't our ways."

"Not your ways!" Ailish yells, turning to face him, her heart pounding and a vein throbbing at her forehead. "Remy was pack. He was family. And you all let him be killed. You let the real traitors that killed him walk free. Well I didn't. I made a choice, the only choice, and I made them pay for their actions."

"And him?" Roibeárd points to Damon. "What part did he play?"

"If I remember correctly, I pulled the spine from one, beheaded another, and unseated a third's heart from her chest." Damon waves a bloody hand around. "Less than I wanted to do but I had to be careful. Your bite is particularly cruel to my kind."

Roibeárd growls at him, eyes an eerie yellow.

Ailish steps in his path, her chin held high. "Damon was Remy's friend. He was our ally. When the hunter came, he was the one who saved us. He has never harmed any of you. Never asked anything except that we spare the Bennetts. He is not our enemy."

"He is a leech," Roibeárd bellows.

"He is my friend," she roars back, and slams a fist against her own chest."And if you want his end, I'll show you yours."

He pauses then, eyes narrowed on her. "You'd challenge my right as leader?"

"Remy was my leader." She spits in the dirt at his feet. "You're no leader of mine."

"I am your father. Your blood."

She bares her teeth at him. "I am my own wolf." Her foot slides back for balance as she readies herself to lunge.

Damon frowns. "Ailish."

"What?"

"You can't risk yourself for us."

"I can," she argues, mouth set stubbornly. "And I will."

Damon stands, somewhat amused when the rest of the pack stiffens warily. He holds his hands up to show he is no threat. "Your father is a smart man. He knows that killing me means that the Bennetts will exact revenge… There's enough of them, enough power between them, to wipe out this entire pack in a blink." He snaps his fingers for emphasis.

Roibeárd scowls, but doesn't argue different.

"Remy made us an offer once, to live together in peace, offer each other some semblance of safety… I offer something else." Damon casts his gaze across the whole pack. "The wolves that were killed here today were traitors. They killed Remy and paid for their choices. I have no quarrel with the rest of you. But the suspicion will always be there…" To Roibeárd he says, "And if you were to make the same decision that Remy did, it makes you a target. That hardly seems fair."

"Then what do you propose?"

"We'll leave."

Murmurs break out over the crowd.

"What?" Ailish asks, a cry more than a question.

"It's time we moved on anyway," Damon continues. "It's only a matter of time before townsfolk begin to wonder at my lack of aging. And the Bennetts are curious about what the world might have to offer them. They'll renew the spell on the woods to keep you and yours safe during the full moon. And you let us leave, without bloodshed. No one else has to die today."

"Damon," Ailish says, quiet, confused, and seeking understanding.

He squeezes her forearm to quiet her, and though her mouth closes, he can see the stubborn set of her chin.

Roibeárd peers at him a long moment, before looking back to the pack. And then he nods. "You leave. Immediately. And you don't come back. Or the only blood gettin' spilled will be you and yours."

"We'll need a day, to get everything packed away."

"Fine."

Damon holds a hand out then, and while Roibeárd eyes it with distaste, he reaches back. It's a brief shake, with both of them drawing away quickly.

With little more to say, Roibeárd turns on his heel and walks away.

The pack slowly dissipates, going their separate ways.

Ailish turns on him, tearing her arm from his hand. "You're leaving?"

"It's a choice I made long before this," he tells her. "The others have been talking about it. It's time to move on. We've been here too long already."

"This is their home. It's your home."

He smiles at her gently. "It's your home, Ailish. And it always will be."

"If you leave…"

"I can visit."

"You can't. You heard what Papa said…"

"Then we meet somewhere. A halfway point. I'll bring Paula to visit too." He shakes his head. "I'm not leaving you."

"You are!" she shouts, and shoves at his chest, making him stumble back a step. "You said you were my friend, my family."

"I am. I always will be."

"Liar," she accuses viciously. "You're leaving me, just like Remy did, like Alby—"

He takes her shoulders into his hands and holds her still as she struggles. "They didn't want to leave you, Ailish. I don't want to leave you. But I have to take care of the Bennetts. Sometimes what we have to do means more that what we want to do…"

Her eyes fill with tears. "I'll be alone," she whispers hoarsely. "I don't wanna be alone."

Damon pulls her in for a hug, wrapping his arms around her tightly. She clings to him, fingers knotting in the fabric of his shirt.

"You'll be okay. You're strong."

She buries her face against his chest and just holds on.


...


Remy's body burns on a pyre. The pack surrounds him, hands bound together, and sing a song, a prayer, a farewell to their fallen leader. Ailish sings the loudest.

Damon watches from the cover of the trees as the fire grows higher and higher, consuming what's left of his friend, sending black clouds of smoke up to the heavens.

He turns and walks back through the woods, to rejoin the Bennetts who are busy packing up. It seems Birdie Mae had expected something like this when he'd left that morning; she'd already been getting things ready for the move.

Damon comes to a stop just outside of Carlisle's porch. He's smoking a pipe and staring out over the field.

"I'm sorry," Damon tells him. "If I hadn't attacked the other members of the pack…"

"Apologies don't do much but make us wonder about things that aren't." Carlisle leans back in his seat and turns his gaze to Damon. "Was a time when I feared what something like you might do. Could do. To me and mine. I don't worry anymore."

"Have I been tamed?" he jokes flatly.

"No. Not nearly." Carlisle shakes his head, and takes another puff off the pipe. "Way I see it, it's better to be your friend than your enemy. You keep what you love close. Never let anything bad touch it. And when it tries to, you make sure it never touches nothing ever again. Could be, some people think that's something to avoid, get afraid of…"

He hums, and raised a curious eyebrow. "But you don't?"

"I think we all got a little darkness in us. Some of us are better at keeping it down, snuffin' it out, makin' like it was never there. Some of us embrace it, let it take us over, become us. And some of us… Some of us let it loose when it needs to be loose." He shakes his head. "If I could'a killed Quinn with my own two bare hands, I would. Wouldn't regret one second of it neither. As it was, your hands were faster."

Damon blinks, unsure how to respond, and simply stares at Carlisle a long moment.

"Some would say there's a monster in you, Damon Salvatore…"

He swallows tightly, and tucks his arms behind his back, a hand around his wrist.

"I say there's a human in you."

With that, Carlisle stands from his chair. "Come on now… These old bones need some help packing." He makes his way inside, leaving the door open behind him.

Damon hesitates only a moment, and then he follows Carlisle up the stairs.


author's note: i've had most of this chapter finished for a while, but then became distracted with other stories and fandoms. my bad. on the bright side, now i'm very tvd focused, so here's hoping i get out more updates. please don't ask for any stories specifically. i'm doing what i can when i can.

this marks the transition toward the city. the bennetts are leaving the small town life behind. well, most of them. and are branching out and beginning their lives and families elsewhere. we'll still see ailish and her family though. damon's good to his word.

someone asked for a little more bonnie too, so i hope this satisifes. there will be more flashbacks as we go forward.

I've noticed quite the decline in reviews lately, so if you can, please try to leave a review!

thanks so much for reading,

- Lee | Fina