Title: Footsteps of a Traveler
Chapter Rating: Teen for mild sexual tension.
Chapter Content Notes: Mild sexual tension, kissing.
Chapter Word Count: 4078 words.
Author's Notes: Many thanks to all of the wonderful comments that I got on chapter one! I appreciate all of the support so much more than I can possibly tell you. Much love to all of you.
New Notes on 12/19/12: I have added another scene at the end of this chapter in preparation for chapter 3. Please re-read this chapter!
[[ … Chapter 2: Discovering … ]]
"Dad, really. I'm fine. It was just nerves." Jeremy reached up and rubbed the back of his neck. "More embarrassing than anything." But his father didn't seem to be listening to him. Instead, he sat on the edge of the bed and put his hand against Jeremy's forehead. Jeremy felt his pulse jump at the contact, at the familiarity of something he'd finally resigned himself to admitting that he'd never have again.
"I know you miss her, Jer," his father murmured, and he let his hand slide up just enough to ruffle Jeremy's hair. "We all do."
"It's not fair," Jeremy whispered, and he couldn't stop his throat from tightening, couldn't stop the way his breath hitched. His father's pulled him close, and Jeremy let himself sink against that solid chest, let himself savor a touch that he'd almost forgotten. It wasn't fair. Why did his father get to live, but not his mother? How had she even died?
"No, champ. It's not." His father hugged him just a little more tightly, until Jeremy could stop himself from crying. Only then did he get up, lightly push Jeremy back against the bed, and pull the blankets up. "Now, get some sleep. You have school tomorrow."
The door had barely closed before the window opened, and Jeremy blinked very slowly up at Damon. A hand was already pressed against his forehead, and Damon was frowning, as though he had to reassure himself that he hadn't made Jeremy sick by inventing the excuse. Jeremy wrinkled his nose, but he knew better than to try to stop Damon. Damon would do whatever Damon wanted to do.
"How much have you changed? What's different?" Damon's eyes narrowed, and Jeremy had to stop himself from making certain that he still had his bracelet on. It was strange to see Damon this intense, this driven, especially after spending so many months with him before he'd turned. The past one hundred and forty-five years had changed him. Jeremy supposed that it would have changed anyone.
"I don't know yet. I haven't actually had enough time to make a list, you know?" Jeremy sighed and glanced toward the door before he looked back at Damon. He frowned when he realized that Damon was looking past him, his eyes locked on the door that led to the bathroom and, just beyond that, Elena's room. "She's not Katherine," he said quietly.
"How does that work? You're you, but she's not?"
Jeremy sighed. "It's an unrelated issue. I got sent back by accident. There's only one of me. Elena... she's a doppelgänger. She and Katherine are separate beings, related only in the fact that Katherine's her ancestor." He pulled his legs up on the bed, self-consciously tugging on the ends of his pajama pants' legs.
"But not yours?" Damon's eyes finally moved from the door to look up at Jeremy, and he stretched out over the bed. He looked ridiculously at ease given that Jeremy had never seen him lay on that bed. But then, Damon was the kind of guy who looked comfortable in any bed that he touched, Jeremy was pretty sure of that much.
"I don't know," he answered after just a minute. "She's not... Elena isn't my sister by blood. She's my cousin. Uncle John is her father. She doesn't know yet."
"How do you know?" Damon folded his arms under his head.
"I'm supposed to be sixteen, not fifteen. Emily must have used the comet in order to power the spell.." Jeremy waved a hand, trying to indicate that they were rapidly getting out the bounds that he understood. Damon reached up and caught his hand, frowned at the chipped black polish on the nails, and sighed loudly. Jeremy blinked as he heard Damon pass by but didn't see anything more than a faint blur.
Then Damon was back with the bottle of acetone and a handful of cotton balls from the bathroom. Jeremy laughed a little as he realized what Damon was about to do. "What are you? A teenage girl?" He didn't jerk his hand away though, even as Damon raised an eyebrow and started to take off the polish.
"I'm not the one who wears nail polish," Damon shot back. His eyes lowered to Jeremy's hand, and Jeremy tried to ignore the way his heart seemed to thud even louder in his chest. Damon's smug grin did little to help that effort though. "If you're going to wear polish, it's going to look right. This chipped crap is terrible."
"You just want an excuse to touch me," Jeremy murmured, and his breath caught at the way Damon's head lifted.
"I need an excuse?" Damon leaned up, and Jeremy made a low noise as Damon stopped just out of reach. His lips were maybe an inch from Jeremy's, and briefly, Jeremy spared a thought for the bottle of acetone that Damon had, at some point, set on the nightstand. "You don't want me touching you?"
"Damon..." Jeremy swallowed, and then he leaned forward. He scowled when Damon leaned back just enough to maintain the distance. "That's not fair."
"Not fair?" Damon laughed softly, but it was silky, dangerous, and then his hands were in Jeremy's hair, holding him still, keeping him exactly where Damon wanted him. Jeremy shivered, and he must have made some sort of noise when Damon's lips brushed over his, because Damon smiled, the slightest flash of teeth. The very tip of his tongue touched Jeremy's bottom lip, and Jeremy closed his eyes, well aware that this was a lesson in who was in control.
Damon didn't kiss him though, only pushed his tongue farther into Jeremy's mouth until he licked Jeremy's tongue. Then the touch was gone, and Damon's lips moved just over Jeremy's, whispering into his mouth, "Not fair was you deciding to leave me for one hundred and forty-five years, Jeremy."
Jeremy jerked back— tried to, at least— but Damon held him fast. When Jeremy started to say something, Damon's finger touched his lips, stopping him before he could even get his mouth open.
"Not fair was leaving me a fucking letter," Damon's hand tightened around the hair he was still holding, "and expecting everything to be exactly the same when you finally did show up. Not fair was letting me fall for you when you knew that you couldn't stay, knew that you were going to make that choice for me."
Damon kissed him then, with his finger still in between their mouths, and when he drew back, he was breathing a little more harshly than Jeremy would have expected. Granted, Jeremy realized after just a moment, it wasn't like Jeremy was the epitome of self-control either. He licked Damon's finger, and when Damon finally pulled his hand away, Jeremy looked up at him.
"I didn't leave you," he said quietly, his own hands lifting to bury themselves into Damon's hair. "I died, Damon." He hadn't thought the entire thing through, he knew that. He was very aware that he had apparently tortured Damon in practically the exact same way that Katherine had before. "You could cut me some slack," he added, and he felt his stomach clench when he didn't get even the faintest smile from Damon.
Instead, Damon pulled back farther, until they weren't touching one another, until he was sitting on the opposite end of the bed. "You didn't have to. Emily didn't have to cast that damned spell right then."
"What would have been different?" Jeremy frowned, and he started to reach out again, to close the distance between them himself, but he couldn't make himself do it. Damon had been the one to move away, the one to separate them. "You and I could have lived happily ever after in 1864, Damon? Was that your big master plan? I'd be dead now in that case!"
Damon's eyes cut over toward the door, and Jeremy cursed under his breath, well aware that he was being loud. Much louder and someone would come in to check on him. "Damon, this was the only way."
"Not the only way, Jeremy."
But before Jeremy could say anything, the door was opening and Damon was gone, the open window the only sign that he'd ever been there to begin with. Jeremy sighed as he looked toward the door. Elena wrinkled her nose a little, her hand holding open the door as she surveyed the room.
"Is that my nail polish remover?" She walked over to the bed, spied the bottle and the cotton balls on the nightstand, and she smiled so brilliantly at him that Jeremy forgot he was supposed to be angry with her. He couldn't be, not after months of staring at Katherine, at watching Katherine twist and use Elena's face to do and say such horrible things.
He wrapped his arms around her middle, buried his face against her stomach, and hugged her close, and she laughed a little before she let her hand brush against his hair. He was muffled against her shirt when he managed a quiet, "I'm sorry for getting angry this morning."
She made a soft noise and eased him back onto the bed before she sat beside him. Without asking, she picked up the cotton ball that Damon had been using and started to take off the last of the polish. "It's okay, Jer," she said, offering him another smile. "You weren't feeling well. Besides, I just can't believe I was so... out of it that I didn't notice. Tomorrow will be different."
"When we smile tomorrow, it will be believable," Jeremy murmured, and he knew, knew, from Elena's face that their mother must have died during the car accident. Or, at the very least, she had died around the same time.
I will no longer be the sad little girl who lost her parents. She had written that in her journal before he had changed things, before The Trip— as he had begun to label it. Had she written something similar this time? I will no longer be the sad little girl who lost her mother?
He watched Elena as she worked, her smile faltering just a little. She didn't look up though, didn't give him any indication that she thought he might have read her journal. Maybe she hadn't written it then.
They stayed quiet as she finished his nails, and after raising an eyebrow at him, she carefully painted a fresh coat of black over them. It wasn't until she had wished him a goodnight, had taken her things back into the bathroom that he realized something.
When had his nails been painted?
He stared at them for several minutes, his brow furrowing. From Elena's reaction, his hair had changed when he had come back. He had clearly carried the wounds with him, but he hadn't painted his nails black in 1864, and he hadn't had time to do it since he had returned.
He felt his breath hitch, felt the prickle of unease running under his skin as he stared at the glossy black polish. It was the only remnants of their Jeremy. He had replaced their Jeremy, stepped into the time flow and just... overwritten him.
Jeremy bit his bottom lip.
He'd murdered himself.
He didn't sleep much that night, went through his morning routine mechanically, and without a word, he caught a ride with Bonnie and Elena on their way to school. Bonnie didn't even seem to notice him in the backseat, and she was laughing and cheerfully chatting about being a psychic. Jeremy wondered if she had any idea how much that idea was going to change her life.
For the second time in as many days, he bolted the instant that the car stopped, and it wasn't until he reached his locker that he let himself stop. He pulled out his backpack, closed the locker, and simply leaned his forehead against it for a moment. He couldn't stop himself from thinking, couldn't make himself let it go. Suddenly, there was a hand over his eyes, and Jeremy gasped as someone whispered in his ear, "Guess who?"
Jeremy's heart stopped and he breathed out the name— Anna— before he spun around and wrapped his arms around her. Her eyes widened, but she kept her smile as she laughed and patted him on the arm, glancing down the hall.
"Jeremy! It's not like we didn't spend all summer together!" She reached up and pushed her hair back, and Jeremy let her go slowly, forcing his arms to drop back to his sides.
"You and your mom made it out then?" He shouldn't ask, shouldn't let her know that anything was different. But he had to. He needed someone besides Damon and Stefan, and he couldn't tell Elena. Not yet, at the very least.
Her eyes widened a little more, and she wrapped her hand around his arm, staring at him intently. "You remember?" Her pupils narrowed to pinpricks, but Jeremy didn't care. He had his bracelet on.
"Long story. What are you doing here, Anna? When did you get here?"
She hesitated, and after just a minute, she pulled him into the nearest empty classroom. School wasn't scheduled to start just yet, so they still had a few minutes. The classroom wouldn't fill until the bell rang, after all. She hoisted herself up onto the first desk that they reached, pulling Jeremy close to her. Anyone walking by would just have mistaken them for a couple looking for a private place to sneak some kisses. Jeremy wasn't entirely sure how he felt about that.
"I came back to Mystic Falls a few months ago. You don't remember that?" She took his hands in hers, and she made a low noise as she traced the scar across his palm. Jeremy felt his heart racing. He had used the same hand to feed both Anna and Damon. Somehow, seeing her fingertips sliding over the scar made him feel dirty. Cheap.
He jerked his hand back. "No. I remember the round-up, and I remember yesterday. I woke up here. It's a really long story, Anna."
"You really did travel through time." Anna laughed a little, and Jeremy frowned as he looked at her. "I read your letter to Damon," she explained softly. "Stole that damned book from him a few years ago. Got it back to him before he could kill me for it." She reached up and touched the side of Jeremy's face, as though she couldn't believe it. "You look exactly the same."
"You don't." Jeremy glanced over her, a faint smile on his face. "Is your mother okay? She... she did get out." He wasn't certain if it was a question or not.
Anna's smile widened. "She did. We did, thanks to you. I'd ask how you did it, but it doesn't really matter, does it? I'm glad that you're okay. Damon said that you'd died—"
"He did die."
Jeremy shivered at the sound of that voice, at the feel of Damon's fingers wrapping around his wrist and pulling him back, away from Anna. He turned around to look up at Damon, and he wondered for just a moment how Damon had gotten into the room without Jeremy hearing the door. A quick glance answered that question: Damon had simply left it open.
"Am I breaking up your little tête-à-tête, Jeremy?" Damon pulled him in close, and Jeremy made a low noise. He couldn't stop himself, couldn't control his response when Damon was like that. He looked back toward the door, and he quickly made himself step away. He needed the distance in between them so that he could think. The last thing he needed was it getting around the school that he was in some kind of relationship with Damon Salvatore.
"Not at all, Damon," Anna responded, sliding off of the desk. She offered him a brilliant smile, and Jeremy envied her for her ability to do so at a moment's notice. She didn't step any closer to Damon. If anything, she looked ready to run, ready to get some distance of her own in between herself and Damon. "We were just talking. First time since he got back." She hesitated only briefly before she lowered her voice and added, "He saved my life, Damon. I wanted to thank him."
Damon glanced between both of them, and Jeremy watched his hand clench before he finally forced it to relax. His expression never changed though. He still managed to somehow look at ease. "Did you thank him then?"
Anna sighed loudly, rolling her eyes as she turned to look at Jeremy. "Thank you for saving my life in 1864, Jeremy," she said, and she held out her hand. Jeremy glanced up at Damon, who nodded just slightly, before he took her hand and shook it slightly.
"You're welcome, Anna." He felt like he was being graded, judged on how he reacted to her. Granted, Damon had spent over a hundred years carrying the belief that he'd murdered Jeremy. He supposed some possessive tendencies were to be expected.
Damon nodded sharply, and their hands dropped to their sides. He pointed toward the door, and Anna ducked her head with a little smile. She cast one look toward Jeremy— see you in class, she mouthed— and then she disappeared into the hall, pulling the door shut behind her. There were just a few more people now, beginning to mill around and grab their things from their lockers. The bell would be ringing soon.
Jeremy grabbed Damon's hand, pulled him back into the one corner that afforded them some degree of privacy. He didn't— couldn't— hesitate as he pressed a quick kiss to Damon's lips. He was trying to reassure him, to give him some degree of comfort in whatever screwed up relationship they had managed to find themselves in.
Damon kissed him back softly, sweetly, and when he pulled back, he offered Jeremy the shakiest smile that Jeremy had ever seen on his face.
"What are you even doing here, Damon?" Jeremy asked lowly, and Damon stepped back, gave him some degree of normalcy. They didn't want anyone walking in on something awkward.
Damon glanced down at his hand for a moment, and when his eyes lifted again, Jeremy shivered. "You really don't remember, do you?" A slow smile spread over his lips. "I have an after-school art program, Jeremy." He pitched his voice low and added, "You'll sign up for it, won't you?"
Somehow, Jeremy doubted that he was agreeing to just art.
The after-school art program clearly had not been Damon's brightest plan. He'd spent the entire afternoon staring at Jeremy, smelling Jeremy, remembering the taste of Jeremy's blood on his tongue. It had been his very own special brand of hell. Had he been more like Stefan, he might have considered it penance, of a sort.
He'd always intended to use the program as an excuse to get closer to Jeremy. Stefan and Zach had both been aware of that, and while Zach had some reservations about it, Stefan had assured him that he would be there to keep Damon in check. As though Stefan could hold his own against Damon. Even with him drinking human blood, Damon was the better killer because he wasn't afraid of it.
As he leaned over some kid's shoulder to look at their work, his eyes cut across the room toward Jeremy.
Hadn't been afraid of it.
Hell, he didn't know what he was thinking any more. If he was thinking at all.
He'd never expected to see Jeremy again. Not his Jeremy.
But then again, this wasn't his Jeremy exactly, was he? He wasn't quite tall enough, even if he did still have most of the muscle that Damon hadn't remembered him having until he'd seen the present Jeremy for the first time. It was as though his body had compromised when he came back, split the differences between the two, halving how bad the scars were, halving how much height and muscle he'd gained. And clearly Jeremy had noticed, because he kept fidgeting in the chair, kept shifting and sketching and then trashing it only to start all over again.
Maybe that wasn't just the discomfort from how much his body had changed. Maybe it had something to do with the way Jeremy's eyes kept darting up to glance over at Damon, before they darted down to focus again on the paper he was drawing on. Damon grinned slightly as he worked his way around, making himself stop and critique, reminding himself that if he actually wanted to keep this class, it would need to be something that could stand up to scrutiny.
Not that he was so sure he still wanted it. Not if Jeremy remembered and he didn't have to win him over, coax his way into Jeremy's graces again.
When he reached Jeremy's sketchpad, he stayed there for a second, just watching him draw. How many times had he seen Jeremy drawing back in 1864? How many times had he tried to remember what it looked like, remember the way Jeremy's fingers smoothed over the paper, blurring his own pencil lines without seeming to realize it? He could feel his grin softening as Jeremy smudged some of the edges, giving the impression of shadow and form to his sketch of the objects Damon had stacked in the middle of the room, and Damon drew a deeper breath as he leaned in over Jeremy's shoulder. He could still smell the lake and the blood (his own blood, his human blood), even though Jeremy had showered. He could smell the soap and the shampoo too.
"I've always enjoyed watching you draw," he murmured quietly into Jeremy's ear, and Jeremy jerked, looked up at him with wide eyes that made his grin sharpen. Then he made himself move on to the next kid, reminding himself that he'd been the one deciding to do this. And he'd known that he wouldn't be able to linger on Jeremy alone. He hadn't wanted to put him in that sort of situation, where the gossip would push him away from Damon after all.
He glanced back at Jeremy though, and no matter how good the other kids were, they weren't Jeremy. He was perhaps moderately biased.
By the time the class let out, he'd had enough of this penance thing, was willing to just walk out and drag Jeremy with him, find somewhere they could be alone and—
He glanced up at a slight rustling noise, watched as Jeremy started to move the objects he'd piled up for them to draw.
"Staying behind to clean up, Jeremy?" he asked, grin widening sharply, and Jeremy smiled back at him, tossing a ball between his hands before he put it back on the shelf where Damon had found it.
"Seems fair. You started an art program for me, after all."
"Is that what I did?"
"Well, you sure didn't do it in the present I came from," Jeremy retorted, and he glanced up at Damon, his smile warming. "I... What were you planning on doing? Seducing me?"
"Something like that," Damon replied, and he stepped in close to Jeremy, breathing him in again. He didn't think he'd ever get enough of that smell, of the way he could smell his blood very slightly on Jeremy's skin. "Planned on something with you at least."
"You're always planning something." Jeremy leaned in close to him in response, and Damon reached up, brushed his fingers against Jeremy's hair, getting it back out of his face. "I'm glad you're here," he said quietly, and Damon raised an eyebrow, trying to ignore the way those words hit, the way he had been, on some level, waiting to hear them.
"Like I'd be somewhere else," he muttered, and he wrapped his arms around Jeremy. He could hear the other kids, but they were across the building by now, spilling out into the parking lot where rides and cars waited, or where friends who had participated in other after-school activities waited. Jeremy had been planning on walking home, so there was no ride for him. No ride except Damon's car, of course. Damon's fingers skated up Jeremy's back, and he enjoyed the way Jeremy shivered for his, his hand coming up to tangle his own fingers in Damon's shirt.
He enjoyed it all the way up until Jeremy flickered, vanishing for just a second, Damon's fingers going right through him before he reappeared. Damon snarled instinctively, his hold tightening on Jeremy as he hissed, "The hell is that?"
Jeremy's eyes were wide as he looked at Damon, swallowing and shaking his head half-helplessly. "Damon, I have no idea. What's going on?"