Wow you guys! I'm so speechless because of all your wonderful reviews to the last chapter! Was not expecting that! So thank you sooooooo much! Guess what they did to my musie :) They made her speed up. So here's the next chapter already. Special thanks to my dear dear NyEspi (check out her exciting new story "Uninvited"!) who always helps me through my crises! And also the wonderful ElvishGrrl (read her beautiful oneshots "Gone" and "Forever"!) who magically made all my mistakes disappear :) Also, TVD does not belong to me. Bummer, I know. That's it. Please enjoy and let me know what you think :)
"Man has not one and the same life. He has many lives, placed end to end,"
Damon was sitting in his bed. Always just sitting. Had been for weeks now. And usually it was killing him. He had started to hate this bed, hate this hospital. He hated sitting around, sitting still, he needed the exercise to clear his head, could only ever really think when he was running through the park back home, Lake Michigan on one side, Lake Shore Drive on the other. Jogging in the woods in Mystic Falls had been fine, too; leaving his apartment at sunset, seeing the last golden rays illuminate his way towards the small forest road and then diving into the already darkened ocean of trees, feeling the difference of the soft, moist ground beneath his feet, in stark contrast with the harsh concrete they had been pounding on seconds before, his lungs greedily filling with the scent of pine, moss and dewy grass. The air was cooler here than it was among the houses of the small town, where the summer heat gathered in the cracks of the stone walls and emanated from the tar till late into the night. He longed for the rush of fresh air against his heating skin, longed for the slight burn in his muscles, longed for the sense of strength, speed and agility. Sitting in this bed for he didn't know how many days, unable to flex a single muscle without pain, unable to even stretch without suffering, it was wearing on him, making him feel less and less human.
The worst thing was that he had gotten so used to the hospital that it didn't feel foreign to him anymore. The sweet and alcoholic smell of disinfectant had surrounded him for too long, crept inside his nostrils, probably seeped into his skin, so that now he couldn't smell it anymore. It was just air. The humming of electricity was just ambient noise. He dreamed of just getting up and walking out of this place and moving, running and never stopping again. He also dreamed of a stiff drink in a good bar. Or even a mediocre bar. Any bar would do, really, as long as they served bourbon. Bodies squeezing past one another in the crowded room, voices elevated to be heard above the constant noise of music, clinking glasses, laughter, flirting, bickering, whooping.
It was so quiet here, always so quiet, always just steps of invisible people behind the door that shut him away from the world, sometimes the wailing of the sirens when a new patient was delivered to the emergency room, sometimes the rustling of the wind in the trees outside, the crunching of tires on the gravel when one of the faceless nurses left the window open, sometimes voices of someone talking to someone else in the hallway, laughing with someone else. He had always liked solitude, preferred it infinitely over the company of one of the many people who bored or annoyed him. But it was only desirable when it was a choice. Being confined to this room now, only hearing people pass by his door, almost mocking him, he felt, with their complete ignorance of his presence behind the walls, it was the worst kind of loneliness. Even when someone did enter the room, because they had to, because he needed to be fed or washed and was still embarrassingly incapable of doing any of those things himself, they were only a monument to how alone he really was. Floating voices rushing from one end of the room to the other, chattering about things he didn't care about, doing things he would never know about. Voices like the sharp and unplaceable British accent of the nurse who told him her name was Rose and who he imagined to be pretty, or the benevolent, slightly southern drawl of the one that asked he call her Mabel, the one who told him she was actually happy he couldn't see because young, handsome fellas like himself would only use her last name, once they'd read it on her name tag and she would much rather he didn't. Sometimes they touched him, when he needed to be moved to the bathroom or when they wanted to make sure he didn't spill food all over himself. How much he longed for and hated those touches. He hated the charity of them, hated the necessity, hated that he was touched because someone else was forced to touch him, not because they wanted to. How much he missed the soft caress of a girl's hand on his skin, the moist press of her lips against his, how much he missed other things, too. That was another reason why he missed the bars – there were always plenty of willing women just waiting for him to take them home. Busty blondes, slender redheads, short brunettes who had to stand on their toes and cling to his neck to kiss him.
Today, however, wasn't like that. He could see. Who cared about sitting in some bed when your brain was too flushed with new impressions to register the achy pressure of the mattress against your softening muscles? Who cared about the fact that the only picture hanging on the empty white walls was hideous, when it was so infinitely better than utter blackness? Who cared that shapes were still somewhat blurry? There were shapes, for God's sake! And colors! Mostly different shades of white, but how glorious was the speckled linoleum floor, how amazing the red upholstery of the chair by his bed, how clear and friendly the green of the door! He had even tried watching TV, wanting to soak in the iconic visualness of the whole world at once, but it had given him an instant headache. So for now he contented himself with seeing his room. It was a pretty spectacular room, he thought. There were gleaming chrome appliances next to his bed and wrinkles in his sheets. He could have traced those shadowy crevasses and highlighted hills for hours. What a wonder it was that white could turn into grey or black simply through lack of light.
The door burst open and in the doorframe stood Elena. He had to smile. She always knocked, polite little thing that she was. But not today. Her wide eyes stared at him but she was too far away, too blurry for him to make out the emotion they might be filled with. She didn't exactly rush to his side, she limped, hectically alternating crutches and her healthy foot until she reached him finally and just dropped the walking aids to the floor, plopping herself unceremoniously on the bed, her broken leg hanging off the side, her healthy one curled under her, essentially falling against him, closing her arms in a tight embrace around his neck. Her smell was familiar as it suddenly puffed up all around him and enveloped him in a cloud of hinted vanilla and barely-there lilac. But he could see her now, too. Or parts of her at least. He could see the sun-kissed skin of her long legs disappear under the denim cloth of her skirt, could see the tips of her shiny hair fall down the purple stretch of her tight shirt pulled across her back, could see his own hand, crudely wrapped in gauze, slowly moving across that back as he hesitantly wrapped his arm around her in return.
She pulled away finally, but only a little, her hands still resting on his shoulders, her face only inches from his. Her eyes looked at him the way he thought a researcher would, inspecting and cataloguing. "How are you?" she asked, her intense stare never leaving his eyes.
"Uhm… good," he replied, overwhelmed by something. What though? Surely not her question.
She giggled lightly. "I mean, how do you feel? Can you see? Everything?"
He smiled bashfully and shrugged. "It's still a bit blurry. But, yeah."
She kept quiet, looking at him expectantly. There was more, she knew there had to be more. He glanced towards the window quickly, but there was nothing to see, the shades were lowered so he wouldn't be blinded by the bright sunlight.
"It's incredible," he finally relented and he saw her eyes light up, a smile filled with excitement and glee forming on her lips. "Thanks for wearing purple," he added. "Hadn't seen that yet." She giggled again. He had been wrong, he realized. Hearing her smile was not better than seeing it. Her whole face lit up and while that was an incredibly clichéd and also completely insufficient way of describing what was happening - one that didn't do her justice - that was exactly what he saw. The skin on her forehead relaxed while it tightened around her eyes, crinkling the corners joyfully and drawing attention to the twinkle glistening in them. Happiness was written on her slightly raised brow, on her curved lips, on the swell and flush of her cheeks. He wondered why she was this happy. Just for him? It seemed too strange. He had never known anyone who got this excited for someone else. Like his happiness contributed to her own. Not in the way where you're happy for someone else, but as if the simple fact that he felt better brought her infinite joy.
He couldn't help but remark, "You look different."
Her smile subsided slightly and gave way to a curious look. "I do?" she asked, leaning back a bit further and self-consciously running a hand through her hair.
"Yes," he replied. Now it was he who was scrutinizing her. His eyebrows squeezed together slightly as he tried to pinpoint what exactly looked different. He couldn't make out any actual change. It was more a general impression he got. Like her eyes had become deeper or more full of life, maybe.
"I don't know," she said, dropping her eyes as if to inspect herself, wanting to see if she might be able to make out any differences. "I didn't do anything." She looked back up at him, waiting for an elaboration on what exactly he thought had changed about her, but he was still just studying her. "Good different or bad different?" she finally asked, cocking her head to the side.
He had to smile. "No, just… Never mind. You look good. Relaxed."
"I feel good," she confirmed. "When did they tell you?"
"They told me Friday that they wanted to try today. At least run a few tests, see if there was any progress," he recounted.
"Why didn't you tell me?" she asked. She leaned back against the foot of Damon's bed. It felt strange, sitting so close to him now. It felt more invasive. Like his blindness had built a barrier that had to be overcome by touching and like that barrier was now gone and touching him had suddenly become strangely intimate. He looked at her with eyes that seemed to not yet be adjusted to seeing again. A penetrating look that was unguarded, the way people only dare to look at you directly from behind sunglasses because they think you won't notice; as if he was looking at her, inspecting her, but not aware of the fact that she could see him, too.
"I wanted to be sure there was something to tell," he explained and she understood. She knew how high her own hopes would have been, had he told her there was a possibility he might be able to see again, and so soon. And how devastated she would have been, had the results been negative. She couldn't even imagine the emotional roller coaster he had to have been on all weekend, waiting for Monday, hoping against hope, while at the same time fear had to have been clutching at him, conjuring up scenarios in his mind of all the things that could go wrong. She just wished he would have let her be there for him.
There was a knock. "Yeah?" Damon said, turning his head towards the door. It opened and a nurse came in, smiling and pushing a cart with trays in front of her.
"Hi Damon," she beamed. Elena saw Damon looking at the woman, trying to place her, searching for clues that might tell him who she was. "How are we doing today?"
Recognition suddenly spread across his face. "You're Rose," he said, pride in his voice.
"I am," she confirmed, smiling happily. "What gave me away?" she asked, laying the accent on extra thick and winking at Elena.
"Well, you always sounded pretty, so when I saw you it was my best guess," he returned, with a smirk and a wink himself.
"Always such a charmer," she said, while rolling her eyes and lifting one of the trays off the wagon. "Here's your lunch. At least you can't talk with food in your mouth, am I right?" At the last part she threw Elena a conspiratorial look.
"I guess I'll… get going," Elena offered, scolding herself for having forgotten about the time. She always came after lunch, always.
"Oh, do you have plans?" Damon asked, while opening the juice.
"No, I just… didn't want to intrude," she attempted to clarify.
"Don't be silly," he objected, earning him a smile from her as she leaned back against the foot rest.
"Well, I'll finish my rounds and then come back in about half an hour," Rose announced, before leaving the pair on the bed.
Elena was amazed that he let her stay. It was as if his confidence had returned along with his eyesight. It made her feel giddy to be able to share this moment with him, his first day of being able to see. The bubbles inside her made her chatty and so, while he ate and watched her carefully, she talked. He didn't seem to mind. He seemed to enjoy just being able to watch her move her hands and shake her head. She did catch him glance towards the window distractedly from time to time and had caught him doing it before. She couldn't blame him really - he'd been cooped up in this room for weeks.
"How are you with the wheelchair?" she asked, catching him off guard.
"What do you mean?" He looked at her, surprised.
"I mean, can you go places in the wheelchair?" she persisted.
He looked at her curiously, trying to figure out what she was up to. "I can. But why?" he asked, further disconcerted by the look in her eyes. "What's that look?" he asked, almost accusingly.
"What look?" she asked, smirking at him.
"That." He waved in her direction with his fork. "I've never seen that look before. You're up to something." There was a glint in her eyes he couldn't place. It might have been mischievous if he didn't think her incapable of mischief.
She laughed a light laugh that made her silky hair fawn across her shoulders. Then she got up, laboriously picked up her crutches, and hopped to where the wheelchair was standing, rolling it over to stand beside his bed. "Come on then," she said, excitement in her voice.
"I can't get into it by myself," he bit out, clearly uncomfortable.
"I'll help you," she offered, earning her a rather skeptical look from him.
"You can barely stand yourself," he huffed, which she only waved off, pulling at his blanket.
Grumpily he scooted to the edge of the bed, dropping first his healthy leg off the edge and then slowly heaving the casted one off the mattress as well. Elena stabilized the wheelchair and then came to stand next to him, balancing herself against the bed so he could use her to steady himself while turning around. She held him by his lower arm while he was supporting himself on the armrest of the wheelchair, lowering himself into it as carefully as possible. He could move, but it was clear that it still hurt. When he was finally settled, he pulled his broken leg up onto the extended and elevated footrest. Elena placed her crutches in his lap with a smirk and started pushing the wheelchair towards the door, awkwardly hopping after it.
"Seriously? You want to push me somewhere like that? You're gonna fall and break your other leg as well," he warned testily.
"Oh please," she simply waved him off, while hopping around him to open the door and push him through it.
"Where are we even going?" he asked, still grouchy, as they moved slowly down the hospital corridors. Elena didn't reply, though. She busied herself with pressing the elevator button and pushing him inside. When she hit the zero, indicating they were going to the ground floor, his complaining stopped immediately. He had a pretty good idea of where she might be taking him. And it was the best idea ever. When they reached the lobby, Elena hopped in front of him for a second and pulled something out of her purse.
"Here put these on," she said, handing him her big, round, girly sunglasses.
"Yeah, absolutely not," he declined, looking at her like she was crazy.
"You have to go gentle on your eyes. Come on," she insisted, leaning forward to put them on his face herself.
"Thanks," he said in a gruff tone. "Now I look like Paris Hilton."
"If you're a good boy, I'll get you a Chihuahua for Christmas," she promised cheekily and hopped back behind the wheelchair to finally push him outside. As the automatic doors to the hospital's backyard parted, a soft breeze of warm air rushed towards them and gently stroked across Damon's bare arms. He could suddenly smell the grass, the earthy smell of the flower beds, a slight hint of roses. It smelled like heaven. As they left the building, the sun hit first his legs and then crept up his torso until it shone on his face and warmed his skin like a caress. He had forgotten how wonderful sunshine felt on your skin.
"This is great, Elena. Thanks," he said, awkwardly trying to turn around to face her but unable to twist that far.
"Mhm," she said, pushing him further onto a patch of grass and under a rather large maple tree. She locked the chair in place with the brake and came to stand next to him. "Ready?" she asked.
"For what?" he returned, puzzled.
She held on to the arm of the wheel chair and slowly lowered herself to the ground, bending her healthy knee while extending the broken leg in front of her, until she was sitting on the grass. Then she scooted over a bit a padded the ground next to her, as if to encourage him to join her.
"You want me to sit on the grass?" he asked, looking at her with bewilderment. She just nodded. "I'm good in the chair, thanks," he brushed her off.
"Come on, please?" she persisted, throwing him her cutest smile.
He hated that smile on girls. They always thought they could get men to do whatever they wanted them to do just by smiling. It hadn't worked on him yet. In his opinion, it was a weakness of character on their part to try and exploit that imaginary power.
He rolled his eyes and pushed himself out of the chair in annoyance. He slowly lowered himself to the ground like Elena had done, knowing full well that he had to look like a fool. Luckily there was no one around to see him embarrass himself. When he had managed to finally reach the grass without inflicting any additional injuries, he scooted next to her and threw her a disdainful look.
"Happy?" he asked huffily.
Elena just nodded and then let herself sink down until she was lying in the grass, never leaving him with her eyes. He rolled his eyes – not that she saw it, because of the shades – and leaned back, until he was lying on the ground, as well. Elena pointed to the sky above them and he turned his head, facing upwards. His gaze wasn't met by clouds, however, it was met by thick leaves, swaying in the gentle breeze, shimmering in all different shades of green. He lay quietly for a while, just contemplating the brilliant color pallet above him.
Elena finally broke the silence. "When I was a kid, I used to lie under the tree in our backyard. I used to paint, when I was little, and I always tried to paint a tree like this, with all the different colors that come from the layering and the sun. I never could. It's too intricate. But I was always happiest lying under that tree and thinking of all the things that would still happen in my life. I thought I would meet a prince… from Monaco or something… and become a princess. Or you know… a famous painter." She giggled.
"Is that what you want to be?" he asked, turning back to her. "A painter?"
"No." She shook her head vehemently, waving him off. "That was just when I was little."
"What do you want to do now?" he questioned her further.
"I don't know," she admitted, looking back up at the leaves. "I haven't thought about that in a long time."
"Why not?" he asked.
"Don't know," she sighed. "Didn't seem all that important."
"What are you talking about? The future's the only thing that's important," he objected.
"Look who's talking," she scoffed.
"Exactly. And where has that gotten me?" He turned his head back towards the sky as well. "If there's one thing I've learned from all this shit, it's that the future's the only thing we can change."
Elena turned to look at him. He looked like a statue, with his strong chin, his chiseled jaw and his fine cheekbones. She could have simply lain there and watched him for hours, like you would a painting. With the bandages gone and his hair falling messily across his forehead, covering most of his scar, you couldn't even tell he had been hurt. He looked so young, so calm, so content, an almost invisible smile on his relaxed lips, that Elena's heart clenched at the thought of all the pain that was in his life. His own pain, the pain of the people he loved, the pain he felt he needed to inflict upon others. She couldn't help but believe that he could have been a very different man, maybe could be a very different man still.
"Change to what though?" Elena mused.
"Whatever you want. You, Miss Gilbert, are a bright, beautiful young woman. Your future can be anything. You should travel to Monaco, look for that prince."
"Oh, I've gotten over the prince thing." She shook her head. "Too much waving at crowds and such."
He chuckled lightly. "Fine. No prince then. Doesn't mean you shouldn't think about what else could make you happy."
"I see the tree is working its magic on you," she countered with a sly smile. "See how inspiring it is?"
"Guess so," he agreed, still staring up at the rustling leaves. Then he turned back to her, lowered the sunglasses and fixed her with his eyes. "Thank you," he said. "For taking me here."
She felt her throat go dry a little. "No problem," she returned.
"Promise me you'll think about what you want," he continued.
"I promise," she vowed, her voice barely above a whisper. She remembered that ever since she met him, she had thought Damon was dangerous. She realized now that it had never been his leather jacket, his cruel smirk, his thinly veiled threats or his imposing posture. It had been his eyes. She had almost forgotten how remarkable they were. They were full of everything he felt. Sadness, pain, loss, passion. God knew how terrifying they could be when they were filled with anger. But right now there was no anger in them and still Elena was just as terrified. She remembered how she had felt when they had first met, when he had looked down at her sitting under a tree, when he had leaned in to kiss her cheek the night of the Founders' Ball, when they had danced. She remembered the tingles in her stomach and the flush on her skin. She also remembered how foolish she had felt every time. His eyes could switch from passionate to ice cold in a second. He could look at her curiously, intrigued even, and then turn around and dismiss her.
She knew how dangerous it was to accept what these eyes wanted to promise. She had sworn that she would never trust the look in them. She also knew that she would easily drown in them if she allowed herself to. Get lost in the icy shade of blue, get pulled into their depths, get tangled up in the whirlwind raging behind them and finally be dragged under. He wouldn't even have to try; she would only have to give in. She realized that she had never been afraid of what he might do to her, she was only afraid of what she might feel for him. She wasn't afraid of him, she was afraid of herself.
Suddenly her cellphone chimed and Elena jumped up, startled nearly to the point of a heart attack. She pulled it from her purse and quickly answered.
"Hello?" she said, surprised at how out of breath she was. Her heart was thumping loudly in her chest.
"Elena?" She recognized Jenna's voice. "Where are you?"
"I'm at the hospital," she explained, wondering what time it might be.
"No, you're not," Jenna disputed.
"Uhm… yes I am," Elena persisted. What was her aunt on about?
"Elena, Mr. Fell just called me to ask where you were because you didn't show up for your appointment. So where are you?"
She dropped her head onto her knee that she had pulled up to her chest for balance. "I'm so sorry Jenna, I forgot. But I'm here. I'll go see him right away."
"Elena, what's going on?" Jenna asked, worry clear in her voice. It annoyed Elena. Just because she was hurt that didn't mean she had to constantly be taken care of.
"Nothing, Jenna. I just forgot. Something came up. I'll go right now." She knew her tone was harsh.
"Alright. Are you coming home right after?" Jenna questioned, sensing that further discussion made no sense at this point.
"Yeah, sure," Elena replied, before hanging up and turning around to Damon who was still sprawled out in the grass, his muscular arms folded behind his head, his shirt pulling tightly across his torso. "I gotta go," she announced regretfully.
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