The next day passed in a haze.

Bonnie wasn't really sure what was going on. It felt like her life was in some sort of hazy dream that she had just woken up from, and everything was so disorienting. The blood of her mother had washed away after one simple rinse, but Bonnie could still feel it on her hands. Years of separation, years of mystery and abandonment, and suddenly one moment Bonnie awoke to find Bethany dying in her arms. She felt shock deep through her entire body, a numb feeling of grief and confusion that she couldn't even begin to describe.

Months of memories had vanished as well.

She didn't know why her mother had erased her memories, but the more she pieced together, the more she feared. Everybody was treating her with kitten gloves, too.

There were too many questions. She'd already gathered enough details to hazard a guess about some things. Sometime in the last few weeks, Bonnie had turned into a vampire. The thought was nausea-inducing, terrifying on a scale that she couldn't even properly imagine. And her mother had sacrificed herself to turn Bonnie back. There was an ocean full of other events that had transpired – Elena was a vampire now, too, and there was something about Stefan being temporarily dead? Bonnie could barely wrap her head around it. Normally one to hunt down answers with a tenacity that would do a pit-bull proud, Bonnie found herself worn numb with too much information and not enough explanation.

What the hell had gone on the last few months?

The more important question nagged at her. Did Bonnie really want to know what had happened the last few months? Her mother's death was like chloroform over her mouth, and Bonnie just wanted to slip into oblivion and never emerge. She'd cried her eyes out a dozen times over, and just when she thought she had everything under control, she'd start all over again. God, she was so exhausted. So confused.

This was too much to handle in a single day.

To say Damon was in a foul mood would have been the understatement of the century. He almost preferred to leave and get shitfaced drunk on some virgin girl's blood, but things needed to be tended to. Elena had transitioned over, but the first few days were chaotic and even if Stefan had a hold on it, Damon wanted to stick around just in case a little tough-love was needed to keep Elena's cravings in line.

Then there was Bonnie.

Jesus fuckin' Christ, it was like somebody had ripped his guts out and decided to slice 'em into puree. She didn't remember a thing, not a goddamn thing. She spent half her time in some haze of grief over a mother who didn't deserve such nostalgia, and the other half digging for answers he knew he couldn't give her. He'd already warned everybody else off from mentioning anything about the lifebond, or the relationship that had sprung up between them over the last few months. Anything else was fair game, but Damon knew the news of their intimacy would do more lasting damage than anything. He knew Bonnie; he knew her in a way that few others did. It had taken a long time and more than a few close calls to certain death for them to confront their feelings for each other; it wasn't something she could be told. Telling her about it would have been the same as scaring her off for good.

Damon needed to handle that better, but how? He had no fucking clue.

He poured himself a glass of blood, when Bonnie walked into the kitchen. "Hey," she greeted. "Where is everybody?"

"Out," he answered, because he really didn't give a fuck in that moment.

She tipped an eyebrow up, sensing his mood. "What has you so pleasant this evening?"

He gave her a nasty smile. "This is my normal charm shining through. Overwhelming, isn't it?"

"Oookaay," she drew out the word, then turned towards the fridge.

He watched her out of the corner of his eye as she bent over and rummaged for some food in the back of the fridge. She was wearing some skinny jeans and a pair of tanktops, one over the other, red and yellow. Her waistline was showing a little through a crevice between her pants and shirts, and Damon remembered how particularly sensitive she was in that spot, at her back, whenever he pressed kisses into it.

Bonnie pulled back. "You hungry?" Damon looked over at her with a raised eyebrow. "I wanna go grab something to eat," she continued, entirely oblivious. "Up for faking interest in some human food? I need to get out of the house for a while."

It was as good an offer as he was going to get from her. "Yeah, sure. I could stretch my legs."

Instead of going to a restaurant, they went to a bar. And instead of the Grill, they went somewhere new. He suspected that somebody had already mentioned to Bonnie that her mother had destroyed the Grill twice over because of some "misunderstandings," and Bonnie seemed to be in a mood to avoid thinking about anything remotely serious for the evening. Damon was fine with that, mostly. He knew he had to find some way to bridge the distance between them, but at least Bonnie was treating him like a friend that she remembered from all those years ago, rather than a pariah. It was a start, and he needed to build off that – but he knew the normal seduction tricks wouldn't work on Bonnie.

He liked the sharp angles in this new bar. It felt clean and crisp, minimal with luxury, the kind of bar where he could sit and have a drink and brood about the future without constantly being confronted with familiar faces. He should have tried this place out a long time ago.

"Elena's going to be fine, y'know," Bonnie told him. Damon looked over. "I know you're worried. Broody Damon has a distinct flavor to him, and I'm telling you, she's going to be fine."

His smirk was a little rigid, simultaneously amused and pissed off that she was making all the wrong assumptions for all the rational reasons. Elena would be all right because she had Stefan. And who did Damon have? No one. Again. It was the story of his life, and he could've sworn this time it was going to play out differently. He had been so sure.

He motioned for the bartender to give him another round, while Bonnie continued to study him. "So," she spoke up, sighing. "How bad was I as a vamp?"

Damon flashed her a smile. "Relax, witchy, you don't have much to feel guilty about. The only person you killed was Ethan, and trust me, the son of a bitch had it coming."

Bonnie absently flicked her glass of wine with her fingernail, listening to its note, buried underneath the animated chatter of patrons plied up with booze. She flicked a second time. It sounded identical to the first, and Damon just continued to watch her.

"You all right?"

She looked up at him. "I know people are hiding something from me."

He tried to play it off, to keep it cool, but he suspected his body tensed up anyway and Bonnie noticed. "Yeah?"

"Cut the bullshit, Damon. I may be grieving, but I'm not an idiot. What is everybody not telling me?"

"Why are you asking me of all people?" he tossed back, and he threw an arm over the back of the booth, attempting to appear more casual as a sudden flare of hope shot up through his stomach. If she suspected, if she felt some déjà vu or something—

"Because you won't bullshit me," Bonnie answered. "You won't sugarcoat it for the sake of saving my feelings. I need that right now. Everybody else is too concerned I'll break like China glass."

His lips curled into something resembling a smile. "And I'm the guy who'll tell it you straight, even if it hurts you."

The irony was thick enough to choke.

"Aren't you?" Bonnie challenged with a lifted eyebrow. "C'mon, Damon. Tell me. What is everybody hiding from me?"

That you're in love with me. I'm in love with you. We're supposed to be lifebonded. We've fucked, we've made love. We've seen each other die. I've spent hours watching you sleep, and for the briefest of moments, even with all that shit hitting the fan, I was stupid enough to believe this time it'd be different. That'd I'm a fucking idiot over you, and you don't have the faintest clue.

"Nothing, witchy," he supplied, and took a sip of his beer. "You're being paranoid."

"God, you're a fucking idiot," Lucy told him, the next day.

Damon wasn't in the mood. "Seriously, not the time. I feel hungover like a—"

"Little bitch?" Lucy supplied, unsympathetic. "Because you've got the balls of one."

"That doesn't even make any sense."

"She's making plans to leave town," Lucy told him. "Tomorrow. She plans on living up to her promise to that bitch, and never coming back to Mystic Falls."

He turned back to her, sneering. "And what do you expect me to do about that?"

"Oh, grow some fucking balls and tell her what's going on!" Lucy hissed, angrily. "Seriously, are you a badass vampire or not? You've told everybody else to back off, fine. It's not our place to say – but if you think for one second that I am going to let my cousin live in ignorance about something this big in her life, guess again. Tell her, or I swear to god, I will."

He got in her face. "You can't just tell her that. That isn't something you're told out of the blue. I spent the last few months figuring her out, remember? You were the one that told me she has a tendency to bolt. Tell her this, and I won't have a shot in hell."

"So, what? Your big plan is to let her leave Mystic Falls? Since when are you such a dickwad coward?"

"Bite me, witch," he growled.

Lucy rolled her eyes and turned away. "Maybe you can talk some sense into him," she told someone, and Damon turned around to discover Stefan standing in the doorway. With a roll of his eyes, Damon threw himself into a slouch on the sofa while his brother gave a brief acknowledging nod to Lucy. "Beat him if you have to," Lucy advised on her way out.

"Is it me," Damon began, staring at his brother, "Or is the idea of you giving me girl advice a little trippy?"

Stefan walked forward. "Lucy's got a point. Bonnie deserves to know what happened between you two. She has the right to know."

"Can we skip to the end of this little song and dance? You always knew I was going to screw it up with Bonnie. Just surprised I did it this quickly?"

"Damon, you can get her back."

He offered a laugh. "You have any idea the number of things that had to transpire before Bonnie even acknowledged her feelings for me the first time around? I literally died. Making this girl fall for me once was a miracle. It ain't something that happens twice."

Stefan was staring at him in disbelief. "Damon Salvatore, giving up on the girl he loves. Hell surely must be freezing over."

Damon's eyes flashed, warning. "I'm not giving up."

"Could've fooled me."

"Yeah, well," he paused, unsettled as he planted a foot against the table. "Everybody has their limits, Stefan. Even me."

The flames of her mother's funeral rose into the night sky. It was an old-age custom to spread the ashes of a witch across the land where she died. Bonnie hadn't been up to making much of the arrangements, but Lucy had stepped forward and managed to get a pyre set up not only for Bethany, but for Felicia Heritage as well. Bonnie remembered nothing of Felicia, but she knew enough to know that apparently the other witch had been instrumental during the final battle against Ethan.

Ethan. Felicia. These names meant nothing to Bonnie. They were names of strangers.

Lucy stepped up beside her, holding out her hands to show two gleaming red stones. "I found the second one on Felicia's body," Lucy informed. "With these two stones, magic could very well be limitless."

Bonnie struggled to wrap her head around it, this Spell of Undoing. "We have to destroy them, or separate them. Get rid of them somehow. No one can ever know about them."

"Easier said than done, cuz," she said, then sighed. "We're going to have to do this sooner rather than later."

Bonnie nodded. "We can do that as soon as we leave tomorrow. Figure out a place to—" she took one of the stones in her hand, and turned it over in her palm once. "I still can't believe something so powerful is so small."

"That one you're holding?" Lucy said. "That one has the power to perform the Spell of Undoing. This one?" she held up the second stone. "I'm thinking this one is the other half of the equation."

"The other half?" Bonnie repeated in confusion.

Lucy opened her mouth to respond, but then looked off into the distance as something caught her attention. Bonnie followed her gaze, and to her shock discovered Matte Wittiker standing at the far end of the wooded area, the flames of her mother's pyre roaring between them. Bonnie froze. Ben's death was another solid weight around her shoulder, and though she didn't remember a thing about the circumstances of his death, the idea of facing his kin required quite a bit of courage on Bonnie's part. From what she understood of the situation, Matte had taken the stance that Bonnie had been responsible for Ben's death.

What was she doing here, then?

"Give us a moment," Bonnie said to Lucy.

Lucy paused, then nodded and left. Matte took the opportunity to circle around the two pyres and approached Bonnie from the side. They stood standing next to each other for a long beat, both at a loss of what to say, before Matte offered a dim, sad smile.

"I'm sorry about your mom," she said.

"I'm sorry about your brother," Bonnie returned.

Matte flinched and looked away. "Yeah, well…" she trailed off, awkwardly, and both of them stood in pregnant silence for several long moments before she picked up the thread again. "Ben's message," Matte continued softly. "Tell Jeremy I finally listened and took it to heart."

"What was it, if you don't mind me asking?"

"That his death wasn't your fault," Matte replied. "That I shouldn't blame you."

Bonnie didn't know how to respond to that, mainly because she had no way of knowing one way or another where the responsibility of Ben's death should have landed. She felt heartache and guilt over the loss, but she doubted that meant much in terms of true responsibility. Of course, everybody else had told Bonnie that she had nothing to feel guilty about, but that's just what people had to say. It didn't mean much.

But coming from his sister, it mattered more than most.

Matte offered a small smile. "I know more than anyone that Ben had a hero complex. He always rushed into things and tried to make them better. It was his nature. I'm sorry I blamed you for his death. That wasn't fair of me."

Bonnie hesitated, then reached forward to take Matte's hand into hers, and turned, staring at the fire again. They stood side-by-side, and soon Lucy returned and took Bonnie's other hand. The three witches stood before the two pyres, and it was somehow appropriate. Fitting. There was a sacred calling to magic, and the end of two powerful witches such as Bethany and Felicia deserved a private send-off like this.

She thought that her mother would've approved.

It was near midnight when Bonnie quietly walked Matte back towards her car. "Sorry I gotta split already, but I've got a long drive ahead of me, and I just—"

"You can stay the night at my place," Bonnie cut in. "Or, I mean, the Salvatore place. They've got more than enough room."

Matte snorted. "Yeah, tell your boyfriend I appreciate the offer, but I doubt I'd feel comfortable staying at the place of two vamps."

Bonnie blinked. "I'm sorry?"

"No offense," Matte went on to say, quickly. "It's just I'm not as comfortable staying with vamps as you are. You know how it goes."

"No, wait, back up a second. My boyfriend?"

"Yeah," Matte responded, lifting an eyebrow. "Damon Salvatore."

Bonnie paused, then burst into a small bubble of laughter. "Oh, god, Matte. No. Just, no."

"Oh, c'mon, Bonnie, don't even try to deny it. I saw you two together."

"I have no idea what you think you saw, but there's no way—"

Matte rolled her eyes. "Really? You're honestly gonna stand there and tell me you didn't hit that?"

Bonnie's eyes bulged out a little. "Hit that? That, as in Damon Salvatore? Yeah, I am going to say that with reasonable certainty."

Matte shrugged and offered Bonnie a disbelieving look. "Whatever. Your loss, I guess. I could've sworn you were together. I figured that was why Ben was so jealous of him."

Ben was jealous? Of Damon? Bonnie was having trouble wrapping her head around all the craziness that Matte was sprouting, so she thought it best to just leave it alone without remark. Changing the subject and trying her best to shake off that… strange topic, she bid Matte goodbye and watched her load into her car and drive away.

A few seconds later, Lucy approached her from behind. "Ready?"

"Yeah," Bonnie said, still a little thrown. They walked towards Bonnie's truck quietly, before she broke the hush with a small laugh. "You won't believe what Matte just implied. She thought Damon and I were together. How crazy is that?"

She tried to play it off as a joke, but Bonnie was strangely keen on watching Lucy's reaction to it, and if she hadn't been paying such stark attention to it, she would've never noticed the way Lucy's expression froze. Lucy recovered a second later with a smile, easygoing enough, but Bonnie wondered about the split second reaction.

"Oh, yeah," Lucy offered, wryly. "Crazy is one word for it."

Something about the sardonic tone wafting off Lucy made Bonnie pause mid-stride. She watched as her cousin circled around the tail-end of the truck and got into the vehicle without further comment, but a small bout of uneasiness had settled into the pit of Bonnie's stomach. She couldn't even name the impetuousness, but Lucy's weak denial caused a faint flutter of nerves. Bonnie wanted to press the issue, but then again, she also didn't want to appear foolish. Damon Salvatore? God, she couldn't even be stupid enough to even entertain the thought.

She tried to shake her nerves loose, getting into the truck quietly.

But the faint fluttering emotion stayed, stubbornly.

Everything was packed.

It was time to leave Mystic Falls again.

It was strange, this homesick feeling that Bonnie felt, when, for all intents and purposes, she couldn't remember 99% of the things that had transpired while she'd been staying here. And majority of that had been the usual anarchy and mayhem that she'd come to expect of Mystic Falls. But for better or worse, even though Bonnie had spent the better part of the last decade avoiding this town like it'd bring the plague, it was still her hometown.

Her mother had a point, though. Mystic Falls brought more than its fair share of heartache and pain. She'd long ago buried a grams and a father here, and now she had laid her mother's ashes to rest over the eastern woods. A part of Bonnie couldn't wait to get out of this town fast enough.

She'd miss her friends, though. The one setback to keeping her promise to Bethany was that she could no longer keep up the hope or pretense of one day returning to this place, growing old alongside her childhood friends. Not that she'd have anyone to grow old with, exactly. Elena and Caroline were both vampires now.

Jesus. Her life was weird.

Shrugging her shoulder bag on, Bonnie walked out of the Salvatore boarding house and into the sunlight. Lucy was loading her stuff on the back of her father's truck, and Elena, Stefan, and Caroline were standing to one side, waiting. Bonnie made her second rounds of hugs and goodbyes, having already bid her farewells once before the previous night with Jeremy and Tyler, and this round was ten times worse. Her running mascara threatened to turn her into a walking mess with all the tears that threatened to spill loose, but Bonnie tried not to turn into a sobbing mess again.

Caroline was the last one to hug her. "Stay in touch," she whispered, sniffling a little. "Just because your mom doesn't want you here, doesn't mean you won't always have a place."

There was a little malice in the words when Caroline mentioned her mother, and not for the first time, Bonnie wondered if there was a whole lot more to the "misunderstandings" that everybody kept mentioning when telling the tale of Bethany's stay in Mystic Falls. Bonnie got the sense that everybody was trying to protect her from some messy truths, and though she'd tried to get the entire story, everybody was apparently on the same page. To be honest, Bonnie was a little too worn thin with grief to press the issue too hard. Maybe one day, but not any time soon. She wasn't ready to learn the ugly truth about a mother who had just died in her arms. Bonnie wasn't really ready for much, after that.

"Leaving without saying goodbye again?" a voice rang out.

Bonnie turned to find Damon perched against one end of her truck. Suddenly, everybody else found elsewhere to be, because the entire area quickly cleared out and it was suddenly just him and her. Bonnie felt the air thicken with some type of atmosphere she couldn't describe, but she wondered if it was just her overactive imagination acting up; Matte's words had the annoying habit of staying lodged in her dreams all night long, rather taunting. And explicit. Very, very explicit.

"Again?" Bonnie returned, trying for an even tone.

"You left the last time without any goodbyes," Damon told her.

Bonnie had to pause to think about it, and realized he was right. The last time she'd left this town, six years ago, she'd been an absolute mess. She hadn't been thinking about much, and apparently saying goodbye to Damon hadn't made the list. She flinched a little, offering a shrug of apology, then walked forward to give him a hug as well. She doubted that Damon was the hugging type, and she might not have even tried six years ago, but she felt like it was the right gesture to make.

What she hadn't anticipated was the way Damon felt, wrapped up in her arms. There was that damn faint fluttering in her stomach again, acting up. The scent of his cologne was familiar and enticing, and Bonnie fought back a rush of goose bumps that broke out across her skin. He held on tighter and for longer than necessary, and Bonnie found herself in strange agreement with the reaction. When she finally pulled back, her throat was dry, and she tipped her head up, slowly, staring at him.

She wasn't expecting him to dip his head and press a chaste kiss to a corner of her lips, but she didn't argue with that either. Heat and something far more potent, far more dangerous, flooded through her, and for a second, a reckless impulse took up where Bonnie wanted to kiss him again, wanted to shift that last inch to the side and kiss him full on the mouth.

Whoa. Déjà vu.

She stepped back with a sudden jerk, and straightened herself.

Something had just happened. Something had flared inside of her, and Bonnie didn't have the faintest clue what to call it, but it was throwing her bearings in every direction. She connected her gaze with Damon, and he was watching her intently, an expression on his face she'd only ever seen him give Elena.

Bonnie panicked. "So, um, look. I'll see you around? I mean, not around. I'm not going to be around. But I'll see you when I see you?"

God, she was rambling, making an idiot out of herself.

Damon's face fell, just for a second, but Bonnie saw it, and that just made her panic more. "See ya, witchy. I might even visit you at college, if I'm ever nearby."

What did that even mean? Since when did Damon have any reason to go north towards Salem?

Before anyone could say anything else, Bonnie climbed into her truck and honked the horn for Lucy to join her. She wrapped her hands around the steering wheel, trying in futility to tame her erratic heartbeat, convincing herself that the moment she had just shared with Damon was all in her head. She ignored the pointed look Lucy sent her way as she climbed into the passenger seat, or the way that Damon's eyes followed her; she barely waved farewell to her friends as she pulled the truck into reverse and sped down the driveway.

"Crazy," Lucy remarked, in a rather knowing tone. "Huh?"


Three months passed.

Damon had a plan. It involved him making a trip up to Salem, showing up one day out of the clear blue sky under some yet-unidentified excuse; he'd build upon their friendship with a slow and steady seduction until Bonnie wouldn't even know what hit her. He couldn't just rush into it, though. He had to be patient, and think of a damn good excuse that would necessitate him being near Salem for at least a few weeks, maybe even a few months. Until then, Damon formulated every move like was playing a well thought out game of chess. Bonnie would require some measure of wooing, he figured.

If Damon had bothered to ask anyone – and he didn't, pointedly – they would have told him that he was playing the "slow and steady" plan of his a little too slow. Obviously they'd forgotten that he was the same guy that had waited a hundred and forty years for Katherine; not that it had done him much good, in the end. But he knew that he had to let things simmer down before trying with Bonnie again. Bonnie needed time. She needed to get over her grief, and recover some semblance of equilibrium before he stormed the castle and started sweeping her off her feet.

Or so he told himself.

A small part of him idly wondered if he wasn't using that as an excuse to hide from the sting of rejection again. There were only so many times a guy could have his heart ripped out of his chest and stomped upon before he got gun-shy, no matter how stupid in love he was. But he had a plan, and those were nifty things to have if he wanted to keep himself sane during the waiting.

In the meantime, he kept himself busy the way he normally did – helping Elena with her transitioning, keeping the Counsel in the dark with his secrets; he enjoyed a nice little rough and tumble with some of the vampires that Ethan had left behind in his wake, and cleaning up the town in the aftermath of Bethany Bennett's escapades was more than a little time-consuming as one-after-another witch and warlock was drawn towards Mystic Falls in the hunt for the red stones and the fabled Spell of Undoing. Thankfully, Lucy and Bonnie had handled getting rid of the stones as expected, and beyond a few harrying close calls, they'd managed to keep everything under wraps.

It was business as usual in Mystic Falls.

Which was why, one random Tuesday, when Damon walked down the stairs of his house, he was shocked to discover Bonnie moving about in his kitchen, putting groceries away in his fridge.

"Um," Damon began, confused. "Hey."

"Hey," Bonnie returned easily, head half buried in the fridge. "Your milk's expired."

Damon stared at her. "And you felt breaking into my house was a reasonable step in fixing this problem?"

Bonnie pulled back and made a face. "Elena let me in."

He nodded slowly. Why hadn't Elena mentioned that Bonnie was back in town? And speaking of, "What are you doing back in town?"

"Nice to see you, too, Damon."

"No, no. It's just, correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't there some sort of deathbed promise you had to keep?"

"God, you're such a sensitive soul," Bonnie tossed back, wryly.

There had to be reason she was back here, and his mind began listing out possibilities. "Is there some type of deadly warlock in town that you need to take care of?" He paused, snapping his fingers. "No, wait, don't tell me, Caroline's been afflicted with some type of curse that makes her allergic to make-up, and you're here to fix the problem before she resorts to suicide as her only option."

"Don't make fun of Caroline's make up," Bonnie warned. "I did that once and I greatly regretted it."

He came by to lounge against the fridge next to her. "Seriously, witchy, why are you here?"

She regarded him with some meaningful look, though he couldn't identify it. "Anyone ever tell you that you're a Class A asshole?"

"We're retreading old ground here, Bonnie."

"No, seriously. I get that you're the living undead, and you have a certain quota of villainy to accomplish, but the levels of sheer assholish behavior—"

"Is there a point to this? Or are you just trying to turn me on—"

"I missed you."

His heart slammed into his ribs and stuck there. For a beat, he thought he imagined the words. She suddenly looked skittish, and he didn't know what she meant by those words – he knew what he hoped she meant by them, but the possibility was too remote, too impossible.

"I missed you," she repeated, meeting his gaze. "And for the longest time, I couldn't even figure out why. You could have told me from the beginning, but of course you didn't. Asshole."

"Bonnie," he began, faintly, trying to marshal his thoughts together.

But she stepped forward, sliding into his arms, and without pause or forewarning, just kissed him. For a beat, Damon was passive in the kiss, adjusting to idea of being thrown from one end of the pool to the other, but then he was pressing forward, threading one hand into her hair and the other pulling her waist towards his. Her hands eventually landed against his chest, and the entire time, in the back of his head, he wondered if this was just too good to be true, if he'd wake up any second now with sheets wrapped around his naked torso. But her lips tasted like strawberry lipstick, and the embrace was too soft, too heavy for a dream.

When she pulled back, he had to take a moment to catch up with his racing thoughts. Like a fingersnap, all the cracks in him had sealed up and disappeared. It was scary, the power she had over him. He should have hated it – he'd spent the last few months resentful of it – but suddenly it didn't matter in the slightest.

"How?" he finally managed.

"Two red stones," Bonnie informed him. "One to perform the Spell of Undoing, and the other could be used to reverse it. Lucy helped."

Lucy helped?

Still processing everything, he held his breath. "How much do you remember? How long have you known?"

Bonnie pulled back a little, and that distance cut him up a little so he followed her forward and pressed her along a kitchen cabinet, trailing a few stray kisses to her neck and jaw. Bonnie made a small noise of pleasure in the back of her throat, rather small but telling, and managed, "I think I knew from the first moment I left Mystic Falls behind. Things kept nagging at me. I felt like I was losing my mind."

He knew the feeling. Being apart from her these last few months had made him feel six different types of crazy. Now his mind was leapfrogging forward, already calculating the distance it would take to reach his bedroom or whether he honestly cared or not if Stefan would walk in on them in flagrante delicto in the kitchen.

"I finally tracked Lucy down again last week," Bonnie continued. "She still had the other red stone, and I convinced her to give me back my memories. It didn't take much convincing, actually."

He made a mental note to send the witch a lifetime supply of the finest liquor this side of the Atlantic Ocean, as well as some naked pictures of Alaric just for the hell of it. He could probably give her a few pointers on how to get the former history teacher in bed. The guy was ridiculously easy when plastered.

She tipped his chin up. "Why didn't you say anything to me?"

"Yeah, 'cause that conversation wouldn't have ended in you doing a Wile E. Coyote exit through a plaster wall."

"You could've tried," Bonnie insisted, then sighed. "Lucky for you, I still have the brains in this operation."

He snorted. "Yeah?"

"Yeah," she returned. "And I told you when we first started this, I'm not going anywhere. Didn't believe me?" She paused, waiting for his answer, and the silence seemed to be enough of one because the truth was, in the back of his mind, he was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Guys like him didn't get the girl; they just got the pain. She saw it too, in the way her eyes darkened. "What is it, I wonder, that could convince you I'm in this for the long haul?"

"I can think of a few things," he suggested, wagging his eyebrow.

He lifted her up by the waist, and she wrapped her legs around his torso. Damon carried her all the way across to the nearest room, which turned out to be the library, and then collapsed onto the sofa with her nestled underneath him. She reached forward and stripped him of his shirt, and he began working on unbuckling her belt, kissing her senseless the entire time. She moaned against his mouth, then planted a hand against his chest and pushed him back.

"Wait, wait," she insisted.

He groaned. "Seriously, Bonnie, you're trying to kill me here."

"Lifebond with me," she said.

Damon froze, then jerked back. "What?"

She pushed messy bangs out of her eyes. "Temporary, one-sided, broken, severed, repaired – we've done this a thousand different ways, but never the right way." She paused. "You know what I realized when I got my memory back? I want you with me, Damon. For the rest of my life. So," she held her breath. "Lifebond with me?"

There was a pause, a hesitation.

"You're messing with old magic, Bonnie," Damon refuted. "You don't know what that means. You don't know what you're handing over to me."

He knew. He knew better than anyone, having already lived through his side of it once before. Having it ripped away was worse than losing a limb, but the prospect of getting it back again was a scary notion, especially since he knew what it would cost him if he ever lost it again. He couldn't survive that, not again.

"The right way," Bonnie promised. "You and me, the full effect. You won't be in it alone, this time. If that's what you want?"

She was so open about it, so earnest. Damon drew a single strand of her hair around his finger, and wrapped it in a coil. Leaning down, he captured her lips in another frenzied kiss and pushed her back onto the couch, covering her body with his. They began removing clothing again, idly and then frantically, and he whispered a quick word of consent into her ear. She smiled, reaching for his belt, undoing the cinch, and the entire time, in some breathless whisper, she began a chant.

Soft, powerful words passed between them, as Damon kissed a row of kisses along her sternum, down her stomach, towards her belly button. He pulled down her panties with a single finger and grinned as she stalled on a word, pausing briefly in her chant to stare down at him with dark eyes. The magic flowed around them, connecting them, immersing them in a garland of waves, of energy. He kissed his way back up her chest, pausing to flick his tongue over a nipple, just to hear her gasp again. He grinned wickedly, and smiled into the ridge of her shoulder as she neared the end of the spell.

He waited until the last possible moment, until he had it down to the wire, and with the last utterance of the spell, he pushed inside of her and the magic flared. Its power was old and potent, and Damon felt it solidify in place, both ways, so that he could feel her just as much as she felt him – and it was like he was complete again, whole and unscathed.

"Damon," she breathed against his throat. "I love you."

He knew that, could feel it in his veins, just like he knew she could feel what he'd been harboring for her this entire time. It was entwined and inescapable.

He couldn't help but tease back, softly, "Just remember who said it first."