Fire. All of the women he had ever...cared for...had made him think of fire.
Damon mused on that, as he moved through the air currents, his mind still reeling from the night's events.
Bonnie had given him that look...it was a horrible, yearning, welcoming look. Then Stefan and Elena...
He had walked away. Of course.
That damn look.
It made him think of her...
He had been young when he met her, but he could still remember it. Her family had come to work for his family. He had been outside, playing swords when he had seen her. A girl with hair so red and long, it almost reached the ground. She was watching him and his friends as they fought. Seeing her had distracted him, and one of the boys had gotten a hit on him. The swords were wooden, not fatal, but bruising. He had hit the ground with a groan.
Her laughter had sounded and he had turned on her, the games forgotten, something about that laugh had hurt his pride. "Silence, girl, go back to your chores!"
The look on her face had stricken him, it held such hurt and surprise. The girl had stood, given a curtsey and disappeared.
Later, he had felt guilty, sitting by himself, in the top of a tree. He had recognized her. Her family was foreign and her red hair was a rarity in Italy. Her family was in servitude due to a debt to his father.
"You will fall if you stay up there much longer. A breeze is going to knock down one of the limbs," the voice was heavily accented, but the Italian was clear.
Damon looked down and saw the girl. In the setting sun, her hair looked like fire. It flowed down around her shoulders, not tied back at all. He wasn't sure what else to do, so he scrambled down out of the tree, and regarded her silently.
She game him a small smile and curtseyed again. "My name is Erin, lord."
Damon didn't know what to say, and that surprised him almost more than her straight-forwardness. Finally he stuttered out the only thing he could think of. "I'm sorry, for yelling at you."
Erin shrugged. "I am your servant, lord, it meant nothing."
Damon frowned. "What were you doing? Watching us?"
"I normally don't come near the house, but I had finished for the day, and wanted to see the house." She grinned. "I wanted to see the Demon in action. I've heard of your sword skills."
Damon blinked. "Actually, I don't like it when people call me a demon...it's annoying."
"Then I shall call you that every oppurtunity I have. It will help your ego." She glanced up as a breeze picked up, and reached for his arm, pulling him forward.
Damon stumbled towards her and realized as he looked at her that she was the same age as he. "What are you --?"
He stopped mid-sentence as she released him and he turned at the crash behind him. Two tree limbs lay on the ground. Glancing up he saw the limb he'd been sitting on moments before was gone.
Turning back around he realized Erin was also gone.
2 years later
"Annoying," Damon said coolly.
His father made a dismissive noise. "But she is lovely and her family very well off."
"She hasn't an intelligent cell in her."
"Oh, honestly, Damon, she doesn't need one," his father glanced at him to let him know exactly what he meant and Damon couldn't help but grin.
"I'll consider the lady."
"That's all I ask."
Damon excused himself and went out to the stables, pulling out his horse, Demon, and mounting him in a fluid motion. Slowly he guided Demon along the southern fields, overlooking the vines that were bursting with fruit.
The bustling group of women with baskets came towards him, each curtseying and moving around him. One girl stopped. "You're in the way, Demon."
Damon looked down at the girl and his retort died on his lips. "Erin?"
Erin's eyes widened slightly. "It was a jest, lord."
Damon frowned, surprised at her. "It's fine. How have you been? Saved anyone from falling limbs recently?"
Erin's eyes widened and he saw her glance towards the other women with baskets. He also turned to look at them, and realized from their faces, beet red, that they'd been watching them curiously just a moment ago. He frowned and looked back at Erin, who was no longer looking at him, but at the ground. She curtseyed and moved past him to the vines.
Surprised, and oddly, hurt, he watched her go, and then gave each of the other women a scathing look before turning Demon around, and going back to the house. They would keep their mouths shut, he was sure. Still...he had spoken to her since that night only in passing greetings, occasionally nodding at her, otherwise never acknowledging her.
She had occupied his thoughts though, every day he had thought of her, watched her. She never let her hair down anymore, always keeping it in a tight braid, and he had often wondered what it might feel like to undo it himself, let it cascade along his fingers. She had grown in the two years, they both had. She had grown taller, her skin tanning each summer. She had grown more beautiful. This was the first he'd seen her up close in a long time. Her eyes were still green, but her face had lengthened, giving more dimension to her. Her body...well...she had rounded out to say the least.
Those thoughts kept him smirking for the rest of the day.
It was late in the night when he went out to stand on his balcony, breathing in the air and sighing it back out.
Suddenly though, he heard a voice singing in the distance. Straining his eyes, he could see a figure walking along the top of the hill in the southern field.
Following intuition, or instinct, or perhaps just curiosity, he crept to the stables and snuck out Demon, riding him quietly up the hill. Closer, he realized the voice was female, but the song foreign, the language foreign. Closer still, until he saw the girl and his breath caught as the moonlight caught her.
Erin turned and watched him, silent now. "My lord."
Damon slid off of Demon and bowed to Erin. "Milady."
Erin chuckled. "How mocking, Demon."
Damon straightened. "No, not meant to be."
There was an awkward silence between them for several moments, then Damon frowned. "The song you were singing, what is it?"
"A lullaby, it's my mother's language." Erin smiled. "It's one my mother sang to me and my brothers."
"I've seen your brothers, they work hard."
Erin nodded. "They do." She tilted her head to watch him. "The women, they speak of you, they talk about you seducing servants. If you're here for that, I'll tell you now, you'll get nowhere."
Damon blanched. "No. Never. I just wanted..." He trailed off. He wasn't sure what he wanted.
"A friend." Erin was smiling at him again. " You don't have any true friends, you know. That's what you want."
Damon hesitated. "Can you read my mind?"
Erin burst out laughing, but after a moment calmed and shook her head. "No. No, Demon, it is just that your loneliness radiates brightly. It burns those around you. You're like fire."
Damon grinned. "That's a compliment. Do you always come out here at night?"
Erin shrugged. "My father and brothers trust me. Since my mother died, I can do anything I want. Much like you and your brother do anything you want."
Erin turned away from him abruptly and pointed up at the sky. "My father says you have stories about the stars, myths. They are much different from the myths my mother teaches me. Would you like to exchange stories?" She turned back to him and held out her hand in invitation.
Damon bowed again. "It would be a pleasure." He stepped up beside her, taking her hand, realizing she smelled slightly like lillies, and pointed up. "Do you see that shape there, the one like a man?"
Damon was waiting two nights later as she walked up the hill. "Hello again."
Erin smiled at him brightly, and he thought that her smile might be her very best feature. "My lord."
Damon had brought two blankets for them to sit on, far enough apart for propriety. He laid them out and motioned for her to sit.
"Actually, Demon, I have a favor to ask you." She puled her hands from behind her back and he saw two wooden swords. She tossed one towards him that he caught easily and kept the other for herself. "Teach me."
Damon hesitated, unsure. "I don't know if that's a good idea."
Erin laughed and gave him another brilliant smile, then held her sword up. Her other hand came and motioned him forward. "Come on, Demon."
Damon couldn't help but laugh, "All right."
They sparred for what seemed like hours, Damon giving her pointers. She was a fast learner. Eventually, Damon had to jump back, actually giving her ground, and he held his hands up in surrender.
Erin grinned. "Excellent." She feinted a move at him, her sword tip coming to rest just beneath his chin. Then, something in her eyes changed, they lost focus and she gasped. The sword point jabbed his adam's apple just hard enough to hurt him and make him step back.
Erin dropped the sword and stumbled back away from him. "Ash," she whispered.
Damon took a deep breath and stepped towards her. "Erin?"
She held up her hands as though to ward him off. "Ashes."
Damon froze and glanced around. "Ashes of what?"
Erin looked away from him and took a deep breath. When she looked at him again, her eyes were bright with unshed tears. "I'm sorry, I have to go."
"Wait, Erin." He frowned at her. "Please, don't run. Talk to me."
Erin straightened, and he realized she was much stronger than he thought, at least strong in will. "I don't need to talk to you."
"All right." He stood still, unsure of what to do. "Well, at least stay, I'll tell you more myths about the stars."
She stared at him for several seconds. "Would you be a bitter old man, dying in bed, surrounded by people who love him?"
Damon just stared back at her. "What?"
Erin looked away from him and sighed. "Old men that die in their beds are bitter by nature, I think. They know that their lives have been wasted."
Damon shook his head. "Are you all right?"
Erin gave a bitter laugh. "Oh, yes, I'm fine." She set her hand on her stomach and winced. "Just a bit of a stomach ache."
They were silent for several moments. Then, Damon looked up at the stars. "Want to hear some more myths?"
"I dream of ashes that aren't ashes. I dream of an old bitter man, dying in bed, surrounded by his family."
Damon frowned. "Who's the old man?"
She shrugged. "Sometimes, I think he's you. Other days, I think he's just someone I imagined. Those days, I see demons in my dreams."
The weeks passed in a flurry, turned into months. They spoke of everything. There was nothing that was hidden between them. They spoke of Damon's dislike for his brother, the jealousy that Stefan was always better no matter what Damon tried to do. They spoke of Erin's dreams for her family to return to their native land, a land that her mother had barely remembered from childhood. They spoke of the well-to-do women the Damon was forced to meet at gala's, in an attempt to marry him off.
Erin laughed as he told her of the latest gala, a flurry of annoying, unintelligent women who couldn't carry a conversation to save their own lives. They were sitting in the middle of the vines, eating the grapes, a blanket spread out for them to sit on. "They force you to dance with these women?"
"Yes, it's usually a disaster."
"Why, can they not dance?"
"Oh, they can, but there's no feeling to it, just a...means to an end."
Erin nodded, a wistful look on her face. "My father and mother used to dance when I was young, then my father would dance with me, and my mother with my brother."
Damon was quiet a moment, then stood and pulled her to her feet before she could protest. He took her hand in his and put his other hand on her hip. "Follow my lead."
The first few moments, she stared at his feet, following his steps haltingly. Finally though, she began to catch on and clinging tightly to his arms she began to laugh as he swung her around. It was a long time before they stopped. Damon was looking down at her, his heart racing as she grinned up at him. He had the sudden urge to kiss her.
Erin pushed away from him suddenly and went back to collapse on the ground. "Well, anyone who can't feel a passion for dancing, isn't doing it properly, Demon."
Damon laughed. "Thank you, I think." He sat down as well, and grinned at her. "Those women don't want me though, they want the family name."
"So you won't marry one of them?"
Damon shrugged. "I will, eventually. I'd just like to actually love the girl first."
Erin looked away from him. "I should get home, Demon, it is late."
Damon nodded and stood to go, helping her to stand and watching as she began to walk away. Just as he turned he heard her call him. He turned back and saw her standing at the end of the row, facing him.
"You will love four times in your life, Demon. The first two...will have tragic ends. The third...was never meant for you, and I'm sorry. The fourth...If you do not take a chance, she will slip through your fingers."
Damon frowned, but only nodded. He knew better than to ask about how she could know these things. "It sounds as though I may have a lonely life."
Erin was still a moment, then nodded. "I'm sorry. It will be a long and lonely life, with your memories the only thing to keep you warm. I would change it if I could."
Damon watched as she turned and left. He knew in that moment that he loved her.
It was almost a month later that Erin had a pain in her stomach and didn't come to the hill. Damon worried about her constantly, and snapped at Stefan just as constantly. Finally Stefan cornered him in the stables, as he readied Demon for his trek to the hill to see if Erin would be there.
"You have to stop seeing her."
Damon turned to him and bit back on his sudden fury. "Don't concern yourself brother."
"Damon, this is serious. You could ruin her reputation and your own."
"I don't care what anyone thinks of me."
Stefan stepped towards him, wisely staying out of arm's reach. "Do you care what they think of her? You've been careful and quiet. Eventually though, someone will see besides me. Her brothers may challenge you. Will she still love you if you kill her kin?"
Damon looked away from him and Stefan gasped softly. "Oh."
"She doesn't love you, or at least, she hasn't told you if she does." Stefan shook his head. "Damon, end it, now. Before you get hurt even more. Please."
Damon said nothing to him, mounting Demon in quick, angry motion. By the time he reached the hill, Stefan's words were swirling over and over in his mind, his anger building.
His anger vanished in an instant, as though it had never existed, as he saw Erin's figure on the moonlit hill.
"You're better now?"
Erin turned to him, and he thought she seemed pale, thinner. Then she smiled and he dismissed his concern. As long as she could smile like that he wouldn't worry.
"I found this, at market, and I thought it would look perfect on you." He reached out, handing her the long green ribbon.
Erin accepted it, truly smiling now, until she examined it closely, then she looked alarmed. "This is silk! Good silk!"
Damon couldn't help but give a cocky grin. "I hope so for what I paid."
"No!" She tried to force the ribbon back into his hand. "I can't accept it."
Damon took the ribbon from her and, still smiling, moved around to her back, slipping the ribbon up and around her ponytail, securing it tightly. "Well, you got to."
"Because I can't take it back." He stepped around to face her and smiled. "It looks lovely."
"Thank you," she said shyly, looking up at him.
Damon stepped towards her, wanting to kiss her, to show her how he felt.
She stepped back though, and acting as though nothing had happened, she turned to the night sky. "It's too cloudy for myths."
Damon stood there amoment, trying to compose himself. He wasn't sure whether to be angry or amused, or just horribly disappointed. So, he too, looked up at the stars.
"Demon?" Hellooked over at her and she was smiling, still not looking at him. "Thank you."
Damon smiled, unsure why, but knowing knowing she wasn't thanking him for the ribbon.
She was thanking him for the almost-kiss.
"My father arranged it." Erin said it so sadly, so slowly.
Damon didn't think he could breathe. "Who?"
"I don't even know his name," she gave a humorless laugh. "It is a good match. He's smart, and hard-working. Evidently, he's been admiring me from afar. He passes the fields and has seen me."
"I'll stop it," Damon said coolly, confidently.
"No." Erin looked at him. "He's a good man. He's done you no harm."
"You don't want to marry him. You don't love him."
Erin sighed, looking up at the stars. "Would you marry for love, Demon?"
The silence was longer this time, and then, softly. "No."
Damon couldn't take it anymore, for months he had thought of doing it, and now he knew he had to do it or he would die. He took the few steps towards her and pulled her into his arms, pressing his lips firmly down on hers. He felt her whole body go stiff with shock, and then suddenly her arms went around him and she was kissing him back.
Damon had kissed girls before, many women even, but never like this. Warmth spread through him and his arms tightened around her. He reached one hand up and pulled her hair tie loose, and the actual feeling of her hair in his fingers was a thousand times better than his dreams.
Her hands were caressing his face, his chest, and oh Lord, she was moaning.
He pulled back suddenly and stared down into her face. "You're so beautiful."
She opened her eyes and smiled at him. "Thank you."
"Umm..." he stopped, suddenly unsure what to do or say.
Erin shook her head at him and pulled him towards her. "Stop thinking."
Damon nodded dumbly and did as he was told.
Later, they lay together, looking up at the stars. Damon held her close as she began to drift to sleep. "I'll talk to your father, and to mine. We'll think of something."
Erin turned and looked at him, then reached up and touched his face gently. "I love you, Demon. Never forget that."
"Wake up, Damon."
Damon opened his eyes and saw Stefan's face, and knew immediately something was wrong. He glanced towards the window, late afternoon sun pouring in.
"What is it?"
Stefan watched him a moment. "She left this morning. A priest married them this afternoon."
Damon frowned, what was his brother talking about? He sat up in his bed and reached for his shirt. "What?"
Stefan waited on him to dress and splash water on his face. "Damon... Erin is gone."
Damon turned to stare at Stefan, shock plain on his face. "Impossible."
Stefan shook his head. "Damon, she married her husband this afternoon. They've already left for his home."
Damon stood there a moment more, then ran.
He spurred Demon harder than he ever had and when he topped the southern hill, he didn't have to go any further. Sitting on the very top of the hill, stuck upright in the ground, was a wooden sword, a green ribbon wrapped around the hilt.
It was several months later that Damon was standing on his balcony, sipping what might have been his hundredth glass of wine. He was drunk, but not nearly enough. Stumbling, he began his walk. It had become sort of a routine now, he would walk to the southern hill, and pass out there. Usually he woke up before anyone missed him and sometimes Stefan woke him and took him back to his rooms.
This night, he made it to the hill and stared up at the stars.
Fire. He realized that's what she was. Fire. Her hair, her attitude, her touch. Pure fire.
Fire. That's what he saw in the distance, coming closer. He frowned, focusing through the haze. A torch, someone had a torch... coming up the hill.
He stood, sobering instantly at the sight of her. "Erin?"
Erin came up to stand almost 15 feet from him, holding her torch tightly. "Demon."
"What?" He stared at her. "Are you real?" He had imagined her before.
Erin nodded. "Yes."
Damon took a long moment and just looked at her. Her hair was bound back, and her clothes were looser on her than normal. She had lost weight, a lot of weight. Her face was too thin, and he had a feeling that if he saw her in normal light, she would be pale. Her eyes had dark circles under them, and her eyes...there was no more light in them, no more spirit. "There's something wrong with you."
Erin raised an eyebrow at him. "Very good." She took a deep breath. "Of course, I suppose the alcohol's made you far more observant than before."
He felt sheepish, then suddenly furious. How dare she criticize him, this was her fault! "Why did you just leave?"
Erin sighed. "I thought it would be easier." She winced slightly. "I can't stay long, I'm just visiting my father."
"What's going on, Erin? What do you want?"
Erin stared at him a moment. "I have visions, Demon. I always have, since I was young. My mother told me that she had them too. She had a major vision before she died. She told me to stay away from you. She didn't say your name, but she told me that it was dangerous to care for someone who plays with swords, wooden or not."
Damon shook his head. "I don't understand."
"I just want you to listen, please."
Erin sighed. "I haven't thought about you, I pushed you out of my head as much as I could. Then last week, I had a vision of you. I've had visions of you before, strange ones. I always thought it was so weird when I was young. Before I met you even, I called you Demon. You haunted me. I saw you doing things, things that didn't make sense." She looked up into his eyes for a moment, then back down. "It all makes sense now."
Damon frowned. "What's going on, Erin?"
"I'm dying, Damon. I'll be dead within a few weeks, maybe less. It's a sickness like my mother had. No one knows except me. I think Edmund knows there's something wrong, but I hide it better around him."
Damon felt as though his heart was breaking, again. "Erin?"
Erin shook her head. "I knew it was going to happen. I was going to stay away, die and never let you know. I had to see you though. I had to tell you..." She took a deep breath, wincing again. "You're going to have a very long life, longer than most. I've told you before it will be lonely, and it will be. You are going to suffer Demon. I'm sorry. You have to know though, you have to hang on. You and Stefan, you're all each other is going to have. I wish I could say it would be different."
Damon shook his head. "Erin, I don't understand."
Erin was silent a moment, then stepped up to him, looking him the eye, so close their breaths mingled. "There will be a clearing, Damon, and you'll walk away. If you keep going, you will always be lonely. You will be surrounded by people who care for you, but you will be lonely. You can go back, Damon, and you won't be lonely ever again. You have to take the chance, Demon."
Damon stared down at her and leaned towards her, wanting to kiss her. He opened his eyes when she wasn't there to kiss. She was several feet away again, her back to him. "Erin, I love you. Stay with me, I'll find a doctor to heal you."
Erin smiled at him, but it was a mere shadow of the brilliant smiles she'd given him in the past. "If I stayed Demon, your life would be very different." She looked away from him, gazing into the distance. "We would marry, but I would still die. You would be that old man, dying alone in his sleep. You would be bitter in the end, hateful." She turned back to him. "Damon...you weren't meant to die a gray old man. Old, yes, very old. But not gray, and not bitter or hateful. You were meant to be a better man."
Damon wanted to shake his head, to protest, argue, anything. Instead he found he was frozen to the spot and no words would come to mind.
"Remember the fire, Damon, let it warm you forever."
Damon watched as she walked away, but he didn't think he would ever be warm again.
It was a few months later that Stefan came to him. He was going over some accounts and looked up as Stefan walked in. "Yes?"
"Erin's father and brothers need a few days off, to journey to-"
Damon nodded, cutting him off with the gesture, not looking up. "Fine."
Stefan walked out and Damon stopped his work, staring out at the day for a moment, then going to back to work.
It was the next month that Katherine had come into their lives. He had thought of her as a lamp's flame, sheltered and short-lived. Eventually though, when he tried to think of Katherine and flame at the same time, he thought more of ash.
Elena was a candle, burning bright, the first person he'd cared for since Katherine had died. He had known though, even if Erin's words hadn't been repeating in his head, he would have known Elena was never really his, she was always Stefan's.
He was watching Elena that first day, marveling at her resemblace to Katherine, when sun caught a glint of red and he had turned and he had frozen. If Elena was the reincarnation of Katherine, this girl was Erin born again.
He almost stepped out of hiding, watching this girl walking up to Elena, calling her and laughing.The two of them stopped, laughing and talking, and Damon strained his hearing, thoughts of Katherine and Elena gone from his mind.
He almost laughed at the name, so classic. He watched them disappear around a corner.
Everything that happened with Elena, the girl was there, and he was watching her, even as he loved Elena, and he did, certainly. He loved Elena's light, her fire, her defiance. Finally he loved her because she was loving. Then she was gone, the flame burned out.
Bonnie had called him back, he and Stefan both. When he saw her again for that first time, he realized he cared. It wasn't love, but it was something. It wasn't just that she looked so much like Erin, because she didn't anymore. He knew that, just like Elena hadn't looked like Katherine. This redhead was a completely different person. He knew that, felt her strength. Her flame wasn't just a small flame, it was a full-fledged fiery furnace. It made him smile, and it made him warm.
Matt didn't deserve her. That was obvious from the moment he realized the boy cared for her. He refused to think even for a moment that it was jealousy that made him dislike Matt so much, so oviously.
He watched her the entire ordeal, and decided at the last moment to step into battle, not on the side of Stefan, because it had never been about Stefan. It was about fire, and not even an Ancient like Klaus could stop fire.
Then she had looked at him, and that look had been so welcoming.
Damon made lazy circles in the air, still able to see the clearing below him. They were still there, dancing and talking and hugging. He could see a flash of red hair though, at the edge of the festivities, participating, but holding back. Looking for something.
No, it wasn't love, but he did care. She cared too, he'd always known that. Still...it was hard to hope...hope...could burn him worse than fire. Hope could consume him.
She was looking up, and he realized she knew that the circling bird was him. He dove into the trees to the west of the clearing and changed back. He looked up and started towards the clearing, then heard her coming. She was walking slowly and when she emerged from behind a tree he kept his face cool. She was staring at him, and slowly she began to smile. "I dreamed this, you and me, right here."
Damon rose an eyebrow at her. "Oh?"
Bonnie chuckled. "Yes. Come back to us." She stepped forward and held out her hand towards him. The image, the gesture, reminded him so much of Erin, that he almost laughed aloud. Instead he stepped forward and took her hand. It shocked him almost as much as it did her. He smiled at her slightly. "How did the dream go?"
Bonnie opened her mouth, closed it, then grinned. "There was fire."
Thank you for reading, please review!
As always, I'm just borrowing the characters, LJ Smith owns them all (but I'd gladly buy Damon)