"You're not with her," came the obvious statement, uttered by his obvious brother, to point out the obvious. Damon snorted and glared at Stefan as the younger Salvatore walked towards him. "You left Mystic Falls so suddenly, without a word even to Elena."
Because really, Damon hardly left Elena out of his plans. At least not until he started to remember.
"I would have thought you'd have found her by now."
Damon gritted his teeth, then stressed, "I don't care."
"Let Katherine have her."
Stefan shook his head, and when his brother lips curved into that knowing, understanding smile, Damon wished he could slam his fist into Stefan's mouth. But he was too tired to even commit violence. And then Stefan declared, "I would believe that if I only knew the brother I had after you had forgotten her."
"That's who I am," Damon snarled.
"Not all of you," answered Stefan. And then, with a hint of reluctance, Stefan placed a hand on Damon's shoulder. "But I remember you, Damon. I remember who you were before you went to war. I remember who you were that year with Blair."
Damon glanced at his brother. "That year was erased. That isn't who I am. Don't you get it? I'm every one I killed since I let Katherine turn me into this."
"But I was there, Damon. I knew the brother I could have, knew the man you were capable of becoming."
"It was unnatural," he spat. Damon remembered little of it, from the memories that visited him at night. And right there when he was in the dream it felt so right. Not—at least—the moment he woke up.
"Everything we do that's worth staying for is unnatural."
And that was what he thought, so despite his better judgment he came to her. Only to find the expression he relished most in the eyes of others, but not from her. "She's afraid of me," he confessed.
"That's because she doesn't remember," Stefan told him. And then, came the question, "What did you first remember, Damon?"
But that he was unwilling to answer. But Stefan knew it all. That was what he said. He had been there. He had watched it all. But Stefan was not part of that first memory. If everything that Stefan claimed was true, then perhaps in that he would oppose. "Why do you need to know?"
"Because if that is what you remember, then that must be the most intense memory. And that must be what she remembers about you." Damon refused to answer, and then Stefan offered, "Was it the moment she died?"
Damon narrowed his eyes. Stefan had always been a wimp, even using gentle words for something that was natural to them. But Damon could still feel the rough texture of the wood that he had gripped and thrust into her, heard the choking gasp that followed, felt the blood stain his hands. He steeled himself, then admitted, "When I killed her."
Meanwhile, Nate Archibald's towncar rolled to the stop over the paved driveway leading up to the grand Vanderbilt estate. It was already dark out and Blair was the one who shook Nate awake. She stepped out of the car and looked up at the darkened windows. The breeze blew a chill against her skin. She had been to the estate dozens of times since they were children, but only then did Blair notice the number of windows and rooms, the vastness of the place.
And then, for the first time, she felt her own gaze pulled to particular areas of the estate she had not before paid close attention to. Her eyes drifted to the left, where French doors led to a secluded marble statue garden. It was there that she and Nate first experimented a kiss when they were younger, but oddly enough another kiss teased at the periphery of her memory—one kiss not so young, not so innocent, not so delightfully happy.
Her lips parted when she felt and heard the labored breathing, imagined warm lips on her temple.
She started and looked up at Nate, who rubbed sleep from his eyes and reached out a hand.
She blinked at him and said softly, "Something happened here."
Nate sighed. "I'm sure a lot happened here. It's a political family," came the dry joke. "But sleeping in the towncar isn't as relaxing as one would think. Let's get some sleep."
He led her to one of the guestrooms, and Blair was infinitely grateful that they were strong enough to remain friends despite the way that their relationship ended over and over. After all, she and Chuck were never this friendly when they were broken up. They were more adversaries. "Are you sure you're alright with this, Nate?" she asked when they stopped outside the guestroom door.
"You and I are mature adults," he said to her. And then he shrugged, "Or we weren't as in love as we used to think we were."
"We're not mature," she answered, giving her opinion on the choices presented.
She closed the door and said goodbye. Blair crawled into the bed and stared up at the ceiling. She willed for sleep to come. Within moments she felt her collar constricting around her neck. She sat up and unbuttoned the top few buttons and lay back down again. Still, sleep would not arrive. Blair rose and opened her bag, then drew out the small travel bag she carried with her favorite night gown.
While other girls carried only the bare necessities, Blair knew she hung with people with enough resources that she only ever needed the most personal belongings. She faced the full length mirror as she removed her clothes and changed into her night gown. She stared at her reflection in the mirror, and jumped when she saw movement behind her. She whirled around and found the room empty.
She gasped in disbelief. Slowly, carefully, she turned back around and looked at her reflection in the mirror. She looked behind her in the reflection. Her eyes widened when he saw a young man stumble into the room. His dark blonde hair half-covered his face. He leaned back against the door and sobbed aloud, raised his hands. Blair watched in horror as he looked at his hands and arms drenched in blood.
"Vanderbilt!" came the muffled call from the other side of the door.
She felt as though she were right there and then. Slowly, she turned around, half-afraid that like earlier the vision would be gone. But she stood there and saw the young man slide down onto the floor, staring at the blood in disbelief.
"Vanderbilt, open the door!" came the same voice, the same cry. Vaguely she recognized it as the voice of the stranger in her room. "Open this or I swear to heaven I will break it down." It was a threat, and it sounded very real to her.
Damon, she thought. And he would do it. He could do it.
And to her surprise, the man stood and pulled the door open. Blair watched in morbid fascination as Damon's furious face darkened more, and mottled, darkened vessels bulged under his eyes. She waited, because for sure he seemed capable of killing this man, this Vanderbilt. But then, the face changed and Damon was again that man in her bedroom. Quietly, firmly, purposefully, he said, "It was the right thing to do."
It was a split second. Damon turned and walked away almost immediately after. But there was a split second where she saw the look in his eyes and she understood the universe. The door closed behind Damon, and the room faded back into the modern luxury of its décor. Blair walked towards the closed door and opened it, almost as if she would still be able to see his figure fading away. She followed by instinct until she was walking aimlessly through the corridors, down the staircase and finally, Blair saw the dim light outside through the glass French doors.
She walked closer and closer until she could see the figure standing outside, watching her.
"Damon," she whispered.
She opened the doors and the breeze blew in. She did not mind the cold, even in her nightgown. It was warm where he was, she knew. Blair walked towards him. He walked towards her. He touched her face, his look puzzled. When she tried to speak all that came out was a sob.
"You're back," he said to her. "You're really back."
And despite the name, despite the way ghosts of her memories haunted her in her dreams and everywhere she turned, she knew nothing. "Who are you?"
He answered, "You know who I am. That's why you're here."
And she did not know why, but she started crying silently. Undefined feelings overwhelmed her. "You killed me," she whispered, this time unafraid.
He closed his eyes and laid his forehead on hers, just like he did once upon a time, then nodded. "Just like you asked." He swallowed. "And it killed me every damn time I remembered."
"I'm sorry," she apologized.
He breathed her again, muttering an affirmation that the scent was hers only. And she found herself responding and yielding as his mouth moved over hers.
"How is this possible?" was his soft utterance, and she did not even attempt to respond. He held her by her nape and Blair's arms locked at his. She pressed her body up and close to his. His lips moved to her ears and she felt the most pleasant pain when he bit at her lobe.
"Damon, we have to—"
He stopped, gasped her arms and looked up. The sudden loss of his lips left her reeling, and Blair turned to him and saw the calm, calculating expression his face. He then appeared shuttered and his face darkened.
And that was when he looked back down at her and said, "Someone's here."
Blair's heart raced. She and Nate were the only ones that the caretaker expected. Nate already told her that everyone else in the family was otherwise occupied. And then she felt his palm rest over her heart.
"There's no need to be nervous, Blair. I'm right here," he assured her.
And then finally she heard the steps move closer and closer. The light out in the corridor turned on. Two figures stopped just outside. Blair breathed in relief when one of the new arrivals turned and turned. "It's just him," she whispered. Her heart skipped a beat when the other looked towards them.
Damon stepped in front of her at once.
"You didn't think you could leave me out of the great discovery, did you, Blair?" came the oozing, charming voice.
"Katherine," Damon said in a clipped voice.
"Damon, darling." Katherine's face broke into a big smile. "Look who I found!"
Damon's hand closed around hers. And then he acknowledged, "Tripp Vanderbilt."
"That's it?" Katherine exclaimed in disappointed. "That's how you greet him? I would have expected something warmer. I mean, how long has it been?" Katherine placed a hand on her hip. "Oh how could I have forgotten? It's been more than one hundred and twenty years."
Blair turned to Tripp Vanderbilt, who shook his head and chuckled. "Your friend is amusing," he said to Blair. "Glad I ran into her. Imagine the coincidence. Nate still asleep?"
Blair glanced up at Damon first, whose eyes narrowed as he regarded Tripp. "Why don't we check?"
Damon smirked, "Still the same old Katherine. Still need compulsion to get what you want."
Katherine's dark brows rose. "I never needed to compel you," she pointed out. "I bet Miss Waldorf doesn't know that."
Damon's jaw tightened. "Not here, Katherine. Not now."
Blair walked past Katherine, and she felt the chill of the other woman's gaze when she got closer. "Not now," Katherine agreed. "Right now there's something I need from this place." Katherine looked around. "Gorgeous. And to think all this could have been yours if you kept away from the bad influence," she pronounced, jerking her head towards Damon.
Blair glanced towards Damon, noticed his shoulders were not as raised as they were, saw his stance not as straight. This woman—Katherine—was powerful. She held too much power over him. She may not understand the memories or the references to the past, but she knew enough about bitches. And she knew enough about men who loved bitches. She stopped right in front of Katherine, and said, "What's all this compared to a day with someone I loved and who loved me back?"
"He loved me first."
She wondered when the mysteries boiled down to something that seemed eerily like high school drama.
"Last I checked," Blair challenged, "Damon was looking for me and you were chasing after us. Who's after you?"
Katherine's eyes narrowed. She glared at Damon. "Get her the hell out of my face or I'll rip her heart out."
Blair looked back at Damon, who regarded her with his lips curved in gentle amusement. She grabbed Tripp's arm and led him away. As they walked, Tripp shook his head. They climbed up the stairs and Tripp blinked.
"Blair Waldorf," he said in recognition. He looked around and said in realization, "I'm in grandfather's estate."
"You are," she acknowledged.
"Why?" he said.
Blair exhaled. "Tripp Vanderbilt, don't tell me you're high," she said lightly. "It doesn't matter. I won't tell anyone. Go and get some sleep."
Tripp made his way up alone, and Blair raced her way back down. Around her, the corridor slowly faded into gray, until the décor faded into something else entirely—something even more familiar. Blair whispered, "No. Not yet."
And then she found herself walking towards the French doors. She saw her reflection in the mirror, and saw the pale, dry lips, the sick hue of her skin. Blair stopped and looked down at herself. She was gone, almost. She turned to the garden and saw Damon, and everything was better. Damon was in a heated argument with his brother.
She walked towards them and opened the doors, then heard the words.
"Nothing is helping her. Not us, not the dozens of doctors they've already hired."
"Then you know what to do," Stefan stated.
She gasped, and was caught in frozen horror as Damon wiped blood from his mouth. She saw a foot thrust out from behind a marble archer.
"I will not turn her," Damon muttered.
"Then you will always be miserable," Stefan argued. "I wanted to spend the rest of our lives together, with all our adventures." Instead, after Katherine's death, Damon had been miserable and spent every damn day making Stefan's life miserable as well. "This can make you happy."
"I love her. You don't curse someone you love."
"Even if it means that you will get everything you wanted? She will be with you forever."
She pulled open the doors and stepped outside, allowed the breeze to blow into her face. Stefan looked up. Damon wiped his mouth on his sleeve. Blair walked towards him and he cringed when she touched his face. He forced his face to turn back, but failed miserably in the short time since he fed. Her eyes were full when she asked, "This is what you are?"
"No," he answered, and he could feel the desperation in his voice. "What I am is who I am when I'm with you, Blair." All those times they were together, when even in the most intense moments, he remained human. "This is how I survive."
She nodded. He closed his eyes when she laid her lips on his mouth, still stained with a fresh kill. "I want you to let me die," she told him softly, too soft, but enough that his sharp ears caught the request. "I love you, Damon, but I don't want this." He nodded. "If you love me, like you said, you're going to let me die."
And then she felt the world fade back into her reality. Blair looked up and found Damon and Katherine standing before her. She licked her lips, then said, "You're a vampire." Damon nodded. "That's how you're still here. Now why am I?"