Barking Up the Wrong Tree
Disclaimer: Not mine, just borrowing, obviously.
Summary: The holidays have Damon in a black mood and Elena can't help pestering him about it.
Time for ye olde Christmas one-shot.
"No. Absolutely not." Damon's tone was firm and he walked around her, further emphasizing that the topic was closed.
"Why not?" Elena asked, not for the first time. She looked around at the boarding house's massive central room. As always she was surrounded by the ubiquitous dark woods and heavy fabrics of years gone by. "A tree and a few decorations would liven up this place."
"Elena," Damon sighed, "in case you've failed to notice, I'm dead. I see no reason to liven up the place."
"Go decorate your own house. Put up as much tinsel and garland, and as many twinkly, sparkly, little lights as your heart desires," he said in a singsong, then his voice dropped to its normal cold level. "Just don't touch my house."
"Do you enjoy being the local Grinch?"
"Yes, Elena. My heart is a million sizes too small. I'm awful. I steal candy from small children. As a matter of fact, I eat small children for Christmas. They're like tasty little treats for my stocking."
"Don't worry." He smirked. "I check with Santa first. I only eat children from the naughty list."
"Please, tell me that's not true," Elena begged.
"Well, of course," he said as if she was an idiot. "Maybe the American educational system has failed you, but Santa's fictional." He gave her a wicked grin. "I make my own naughty list and spend Christmas Eve taking them out one by one."
Elena glared at him. "That's so not funny."
"Who said I was joking?" he replied snidely.
Elena had turned and was just about to give up and leave when she realized what Damon had been up to. He'd easily and effectively distracted her as well as pissed her off, not too badly, but just enough that she wanted to be away from him. In short, he'd managed to manipulate her into doing exactly what he wanted.
She turned back around and faced him with her hands on her hips. "It won't work."
"Damon, I practically live here anymore. Not to mention that you and Stefan signed the house over to me. Technically, it's my house. If I want to decorate, I can."
Damon narrowed his eyes dangerously. He'd already been in a black mood, and Elena realized she may have just pushed him too far. He stalked toward her, crowding into her space until she was backed up against a table with nowhere else to go, her heart pounding in her chest. "It is my house," he enunciated carefully. "I can compel the lawyer to put it back in my name just as easily as we signed it over."
"Why is this such a big deal?" she managed past her constricted throat.
"You tell me," he shot back.
"I just… things have been so… awful." She couldn't quite keep the hint of tears from her voice. "I wanted to do something normal, something… nice."
Damon froze, and she wondered if it was a tiny flash of guilt she saw in his eyes for being so adamantly against her wishes. Then his face hardened again, refusing to be swayed.
"Is it really so bad?" she asked.
Abruptly, he backed away as if he'd been burned, but he schooled his expression into his customary practiced nonchalance. Before he even spoke, Elena already knew he wasn't going to answer.
"Fine." He gave her a condescending, placating smile. "Make eggnog. I'll spike it and we'll both be happy."
Elena watched him while her heart returned to a more normal rhythm. He walked to the liquor cabinet and shoved several of the bottles in front aside, finally seeing what he was after. She could only assume he was going for the good stuff that he only drank on special occasions, be they especially wonderful or especially dreadful. The knowledge that he was troubled enough to break into his private stash piqued her interest. There had to be a reason he was being so obstructive.
"What's the real problem, Damon? Just tell me and I'll leave you alone."
She saw the muscles in his jaw tighten, then he took a slow sip from his glass as he mulled over her offer. She knew how little he liked to explain himself. He liked talking about the past even less. Damon lived in the here and now and he moved forward with little to no consideration for others, for their thoughts or their feelings, especially about what he was up to.
"Elena, has it ever occurred to you that bringing a Christmas tree into a vampire's home is the equivalent of putting an entire collection of loaded guns on display in your living room?"
No doubt it was another dodge, but it was the last thing she'd expected him to say. "I… But…"
"Yes?" He cupped a hand to his ear for emphasis. "What was that?"
"You just wanted to put a handy assortment of pointy objects that will kill me within easy reach of anyone who comes in the front door."
Elena frowned. She'd never actually thought of a Christmas tree as lethal and she suddenly felt very foolish for thinking one would make a beautiful addition to Damon's home.
"A fake tree?" she tried. "You have to have something to put presents under."
"Save the money and buy me a better present." He gave her pleased smirk. "Less tree, more for me."
Elena shook her head. "You are such a child."
"It's beside the point anyway." Damon's expression darkened. "When I was a boy there were no Christmas trees. All of that came along later. Then Hallmark got hold of it and we ended up with mall Santas, and black Friday, and nonstop Chia pet ads."
Damon's mood was so mercurial she wasn't sure how to react. "I just thought it would be pretty," she said weakly.
"As you so kindly pointed out, you practically live here. I have plenty of pretty to look at."
Elena self-consciously tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "Ok, no tree. But there are other things. Lights, ribbons…" She tried for a smile. "Would you feel better with blood pudding instead of figgy pudding?"
He simply raised an eyebrow. "One, blood pudding isn't pudding. Granted, neither is fig pudding. Two, it's made with animal blood. That's not my poison. That's S-." He quickly cut off what he was going to say and amended it to, "That's not me."
Stefan was still gone and Elena saw the barest hint of longing cross his brother's face. Christmas was a time for family and Damon's only living relative wouldn't be anywhere near him. That thought reminded Elena of what she'd been trying so hard not to think about and why she'd wanted to distract herself with decorating in the first place. She didn't want to think about Stefan. She didn't want to think about everyone who was gone now and would never come back. When she let herself think about it, the weight was almost crushing.
"Is that the real reason?" she asked quietly. "Because he's gone?"
Damon let out a derisive huff. "I've spent nearly every Christmas since we turned without him, Elena. Some while he was on the wagon, some while he was off."
"Did you spend Christmas with anyone?" The thought that he'd spent several lifetimes of Christmases alone was heartbreaking.
He shrugged off the question. "Depended on the year."
"That's… seriously depressing." When she thought back, she had memory after memory of Christmas mornings with her parents and Jeremy, parties with her friends, so many beautiful, joy-filled memories.
His smile turned bitter. "The glamour of the vampire life never ends."
"I'm sorry," she said.
He became very still and his eyes didn't move from her face. "What for?"
"That you've been alone so long." Even surrounded by people, she sometimes got the impression that he was still alone.
He blinked in surprise and the only tell that he was affected by her words was that he took another sip from his glass. "Well, we can't all be universally beloved like you, Elena."
Elena frowned. There was no resentment in his tone, but she could tell there was so much more behind his words than what he was saying. She wondered about his family when he was a child, about his mother and father, about Stefan when he was still human. She wondered about Damon and his years after he left Stefan behind. The problem was that she doubted Damon would ever tell her, and maybe it was best that way. Damon's path after he was turned had been a descent into everything that was brutal and vicious. It was only now that he was coming back into some semblance of his humanity.
Elena pursed her lips. "Ok," she said, "I propose a compromise."
"Do tell," Damon replied airily. A gleam appeared in his eye, and Elena smiled. The people they loved might be gone, but maybe they could find their own modest bit of happiness, at least for a little while. With the way their lives were, even a few hours of peace would be a gift in and of itself.
"You let me put up a few lights, maybe a little tinsel, but absolutely no pointy objects that can be used as weapons."
"And I'll let you spike the eggnog and get so drunk you won't even care that Caroline can't quit talking."
"Hmm." He frowned as if deep in thought. "I'm not sure a vampire's metabolism will even let me get that drunk."
"Fine." Elena had to fight to keep from laughing in triumph. He hadn't outright said no. "I'll let you spike the eggnog and I'll keep Caroline away from you."
"Now that is a Christmas gift." Damon put his glass down on a side table and walked toward her. He held out his hand and she took it, a tiny zing of awareness running down her spine at the contact. "You have a deal, Miss Gilbert." He bent at the waist, a very old-fashioned sort of gesture, and raised her hand to his lips. He kept his eyes locked with hers as he kissed her hand, his warm breath brushing across her knuckles, just before his lips touched her skin.
She let out a tiny gasp of awareness, and as often happened these days felt as if she was caught in the gravitational pull of his overwhelming personality. With just a glance, he drew her in as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
At that very moment, she determined that no matter what had turned him against the holidays, and no matter how hard it had been since their lives had turned into disaster after disaster, they would find a way, at least for a little while to be happy.
"We'll make this Christmas different, Damon. We'll make it better."
His mouth curved into the tiniest smile. "It's what you do, Elena," he said softly. "You make it better."
Damon released her hand and backed up a step, clearing his throat, embarrassed at having said something so honest. He turned around and began walking back toward the table where he'd set his glass. He picked it up, took a sip, and headed for the nearest exit. "I'll leave you to your decorating," he said over his shoulder. "Let me know when the eggnog's ready."
Elena took a second to collect her scattered wits, as well as to let her rose-red cheeks cool down. Then she smiled and headed for the front door. She had decorations to buy.
A pleasure, as always. Merry Christmas, everybody!