An Unexpected Return

Disclaimer: I don't own a thing (that is part and parcel Vampire Diaries) but I don't let that stop me.

A/N: This story is dedicated to BadBoysAreBest who thought this idea was worth running with. Thank you.

*This story takes place in a weird alternate timeframe somewhere in the near future, which ignores the Elijah and Klaus fracas for the most part because it's not relevant to this story and I don't want to make assumptions on how that will resolve itself. It is also an ensemble piece but will focus heavily on Elena/Damon and Stefan interaction.*

The sleeper wakes:

Damon Salvatore woke up to the sun streaming in laser bright through a gap in his curtains. He growled at it and the foggy ache behind his eyes and reached a somnambulant hand out towards a spare pillow, thinking of blocking out the offending sunshine with Egyptian down filled cotton. Instead his questing fingers smacked against cool moulded glass – oh right. Cracking open one eye blearily he peered at the mostly empty bottle of bourbon nestled on the pillow beside him. That would explain the headache then.

He flopped over on his back, sheets twisting tight around his hips, and in so doing his foot ended up nudging another bottle, discarded at the foot of his bed, onto the floor. Raising his head from the pillow (ignoring the way a dull lance of pain speared down from the crown to the base of his skull as he did so) he noted a further bottle of cheap whiskey perched on top of his book pile beside the bed and a mostly full bottle of Port left open on his dresser. Huh, okay then. He didn't remember drinking all that much last night. Did he? Letting his head drop back into the puffy softness of his pillows he tried a quick mental recap of the previous night's activities. Let's see he remembered snarking at Stefan, annoying Elena due to his perceived lack of empathy for some pointless thing or other, going to the blood bank to pick up a new stash of bagged lunches, telling Caroline to stop mooching off his stash and then...Blank. Nada. End of transmission, which was...weird. Damon raised the bottle on the pillow next to him up to the light and appraised the fifth or so of liquor left inside suspiciously.

He was a vampire, he didn't get blackouts; it was physically impossible for him to drink himself into an unconscious stupor, and he should know! He'd put in a lot of hours of practice in the last hundred and forty odd years and he had never managed it. Fuck he had literally spent days upon days tanked up on booze and still had complete recall of everything he had done during that time. He'd tripped out on hard core pharmaceuticals and still not attained that vaulted state of oblivion. Had someone spiked his booze with vervain? The only time he'd ever been floored to the point of having zero awareness for several hours was after Stefan had used Caroline to roofie him that one time...but that didn't make sense. He and Stefan had been mainlining vervain extract for weeks now and while a decent tolerance took more time than that to build up, he still should have had enough in his bloodstream to counteract the full effects of the plant.

"...Screw this..." Flinging the bottle to the ground (he'd worry about cleaning up later) Damon surged up in bed and then swore loudly as pain like a freaking bear trap bit down on his brain; flash bulb bursts of searing white light exploded before his eyes and a burning tin-foil taste at the back of his throat made his fangs descend. What the fuck? His chest seized, lungs contracting and his cold dead heart made a very determined attempt to dive bomb his stomach. For the first time in a hundred and forty-six years Damon Salvatore felt like he was about to spew his guts – quite literally – all over his eiderdown.

Uncoordinated and lurching like Frankenstein's monster after an all-nighter Damon threw off the bedsheets and half ran, half threw himself across his room to his en-suite (thankful that there was no door standing between him and the adjoining annex because at that moment he would have gone through it in his haste to get to the toilet bowl in time).

Vomit is never fun, but it is even less pleasant when it's black as tar and stinks like rotted blood and stomach acid. Five minutes later, dry heaving and head pounding like a damned mariachi band had set up band-camp in his cerebral cortex Damon pushed back from the toilet and scooted back a little so he could rest his back against the cool porcelain of the tub. His ribs burned, his throat felt like he'd imbibed a couple of litres of sulphuric acid just for kicks and strange yellow and green splodges, reminiscent of those ink-blotch drawings psychiatrists used to use to tell how crazy someone was, kept falling like rain in front of his stinging eyes. Tilting his head back, while trying not to taste the filth coating his teeth, Damon moaned low in his throat. He felt like shit, or to use that oh-so-ironic adage, he felt like death warmed over. Dying had not felt as bad as this did. How was it possible that he felt like crap to the ends of his freaking hair? He was dead; he was supposed to be immune to this stuff.

Eventually, after a few moments of waiting to see if his internal organs were planning any more cute little surprises (diarrhoea anyone?) Damon levered himself up and stumbled towards the shower. His skin felt hot and itchy and a permanent twitch had started between his shoulder-blades making him fidget like a horse attacked by horseflies. After showering, ignoring the way his skull felt like it was sliding apart in pieces every time he moved his head, Damon brushed his teeth a half dozen times and gargled a couple of capfuls of mouthwash until his gums went numb, eradicating the last of the vomit taste from his mouth. Shaving and dressing proved to be a chore he seriously doubted was worth the effort except for the fact that he had a Council meeting sometime this afternoon (if it wasn't afternoon already) and he had an image as a conscientious white-hat town saviour to maintain; skipping out on a meeting he was supposed to be chairing just wasn't an option.

(Damnit but he missed the days when he was the big bad of this town. No one expected him to go to committee meetings in those days. How was it that he was the one doing this stuff? Stefan was the actual Galahad-wannabe, after all.)

Washed, dressed, and as fit for polite society as he was ever going to get Damon walked out of his room and made the (way longer than he remembered it) trek down the hallway to the stairs. It occurred to him as he gripped the banister rail that it was probably not a good thing that the walls appeared to be melting and the floor of the entranceway seemed to suppurate like a carpet of maggots having an orgy. Still his mind was mostly filled with just getting down the stairs (and since when did going down a single flight of stairs make him wheeze like a fat, fifty-something-year-old with a thirty-a-day habit?)

Once he reached the bottom of the stairs he stopped, one hand still clutching the banister while the fingers of his other hand tried to massage out the persistent stabbing pain jabbing away at him behind his eyes. His brain felt swollen, his actual brain. Even for a dead guy that could not be good. Dully he wondered where Stefan was, because there was clearly something not right going on here and his little brother should know about it. It was even possible (though not likely) that Stefan might have an explanation.

He'll be out in the paddock with his journal. He likes to write under the old oak, the one with the knothole in the trunk. Or he might have ridden out to town with father to visit Mister Gilbert.

Right...what? As soon as the thought had come to him Damon felt a wash of incredulity flood him. Where the hell had that thought come from? Father was dead, the old paddock was now a dunk'n'donuts and why was he even thinking these thoughts in the first place? Yet for just a moment it had seemed real; the old oak, the thought of being home at the Salvatore estate. So real in fact that looking around the familiar confines of the boarding house Damon suddenly felt out of place and cut a drift. The pain in his head would not quit and his throat was parched. Licking his dry lips with an equally dry tongue Damon wondered if he should call his brother.

Call Stefan? How? There does not appear to be anyone in this house to hear me call. I wonder; does this boarding house not have a staff? Perhaps some house servants; it appears well cared for.

It was a rather grand place, Damon decided, walking over to the entranceway to the main parlour with its massive stone fireplace and elaborate crest of arms. He thought it was a little over-done personally and the windows did not allow sufficient light to enter the room, but he could certainly appreciate the wealth and grandeur on display. Walking around the room he wondered who owned the property; he knew everyone in the town but he was sure he had never visited this abode before. This seemed a little odd. Father had helped found this town after all, had set up a plantation when there was nothing for miles but forest and fallow fields (as he took great pains to remind both his sons on a regular basis). Giuseppe made it a point to visit with all the wealthy and influential settlers who came to town. Still perhaps he had made a visit with Stefan while Damon was away with General Groom's militia? Yes, this was probably so, and Damon himself must have come to make his own acquaintance with the owner now he was home from the war. Grimacing a little he hoped that he had not over-indulged in regards the after dinner aperitifs and disgraced himself. Considering the intolerable pain in his head it was perfectly plausible. He would have to offer apologies, (as well as thanking the man for allowing him to stay the night as a guest) to the master of the house as soon as the kind sir returned.

Resolved to his course of action and still feeling somewhat out of sorts (really, he was not in the army anymore he must make an effort to stop drinking quite so much) Damon slipped into one of the large wingback chairs facing the cold fire place and closed his eyes gratefully. His return home had not been without its difficulties, not that he had expected Father to accept his choices with good grace, but he did not regret escaping the unending carnage and the vicious pointlessness of the war. He had done only what he had to do to save not just his life, which was perhaps the least important fact, but rather he had to leave to preserve the last of his honour and integrity. Compared to the slow erosion of his morals he had experienced in those endless months of starvation, futile infantry charges, and trench misery, being considered a traitor and deserter by a bunch of well-heeled old men who had never seen the light die in a man's eyes inches from their faces, was as nothing. At least Stefan supported him. It was good to know his absence had not weakened the affection he shared with his brother. If nothing else Damon kept a civil tongue in his head for his brother's sake. Stefan did not deserve to be caught up in the acrimony that ever brewed between Father and him.

The sound of a door opening snapped Damon to attention, his muscles suddenly a-fire with the same twitchy reflex he had learned in the army and had yet to shake now he was far from the battlefield. He jumped to his feet, swaying for a moment as pain blossomed behind his eyes, and was at the doorway to the main entranceway in less time than it took to tell of it.

A man slipped into the house. He was of good height and build and wore his hair cropped close to his head. He had an honest and open expression in his clear eyes that Damon thought spoke of a trustworthy and forthright character. Still the man seemed surprised to see Damon hovering in the threshold between the parlour and the entranceway.

"Damon?" The man questioned as his hand moved with careful casualness to his trouser pocket, "Is something wrong?" The man's eyes flicked over Damon; up and down and then up again. His amiable expression shifted into something less open and something in his posture suggested this man could handle himself in a fight.

"I..." Damon began, his throat hoarse. He licked his lips once again frowning a little as he cut his tongue against sharp canines. He cleared his throat and fell back on the manners his father had literally beaten into him. "Forgive me sir, but you appear to have me at a disadvantage. Have we met?"

The man blinked then, expression cracking open in complete surprise before closing down into disapproval, "That's a joke right?"

The man strode further into the hallway; sensing something almost aggressive in the man's approach Damon shifted back a half step. He was not one to shy away from a fight, but he would prefer not to start something simply over a case of mistaken identity. He cocked his head to the side and offered the man a slight smile (which seemed to unnerve his visitor more than assure him) "Oh I'm quite serious, sir. I have absolutely no idea who you are." When the man stopped short in his approach and blinked at him again Damon seized the opportunity to continue. "In fact could you tell me who the master of this house is? I'm afraid I seem to have...misplaced my memory."

The fair haired man stared at him for a long, long moment. Damon stood passively by under that scrutinising stare and wondered vaguely why the taste of his own blood in his mouth caused his stomach to cramp and his gums to ache. His head, needless to say, continued to pound incessantly. Finally the man spoke.

"Well damn," he breathed out, "this can't be good."

Damon wholeheartedly agreed.