Elena tried not to be sick as she read the articles posted to Damon's closet door. There were sightings every where, from Florida all the way up to Maine, each one marked on the map with a push pin and random markings. Bodies dismembered into several pieces, placed back together, blood covering every inch of homes, children mutilated, all up and down the coast. There were endless articles; all with similar stories, similar massacres, and Damon had kept it all from her. He knew where Klaus had been this whole time, whereas she believed that he didn't give a crap about his brother, but she was so very wrong. When Damon had been cured, she thought he would have tried to win her, but he never brought up what happened on his death bed. They never talked about it, even if he dropped sarcastic comments; they never talked about it together. He spent a lot of time with Andie, and that was it, occasionally checking on things, but it was never like it used to be. Often her thoughts were proven wrong when it came to Damon, and she felt horrible for thinking he was so emotionless.
She glanced up seeing the door open, revealing the owner of the room. As soon as she could see his face, all her anger deflated. He looked horrible, almost like he was going to be sick. She dropped the papers, all thoughts of Klaus and Stefan gone from her head, and made her way to him. "What happened?" she asked, reaching out to touch his arm, not liking the way he shied away from her. They had gotten so close the last two months, they were all each other had. "Ric said you went to pick up Andie." She didn't really like the reporter, and she didn't really know why, but she knew Damon cared about her, so she kept her opinions to herself. But she wasn't going to lie; her heart nearly broke when Ric told her Damon had left.
"I did," he said, shaking his head. "You should go back to your party."
Her eyes narrowed a little as she studied his features a little bit more. She had seen this face before, and it broke her heart. The sadness in his eyes, as he struggled to keep his front up around her, but she had this way of bringing it out in him, whether he wanted her too or not. Maybe he had a fight with Andie or something. Without anymore words, she slid her arms around him like she had done every other time he needed her. But this time it was different. This time, his head dropped to her shoulder as he accepted her hug, molding her close to him. The grip around her waist was almost painful, reminding how often he refused her comfort, when he so obviously needed it. "Stefan's not coming back," he whispered.
She hadn't been expecting Stefan's name to come up and she frowned before pulling back slightly so she could see his face. "Tell me what happened," she said softly. Damon always listened to her, no matter what she was upset over, he always let her vent and she so desperately wanted to do the same for him. Damon always made her feel better, and she did not want to see him like this.
He removed himself completely from her embrace, taking the warmth with him. "I got a text from Andie that she needed a ride and when I got there, Stefan was there," he said, collapsing heavily on the end of his bed. He seemed to stare at some invisible object on the wall in front of him as he relayed the events of the night to her. "Stefan made her jump from a ledge close to the roof while he threw me across the room. There was nothing I could do to save her. He killed her so that I would stop looking for him."
Elena stared at Damon's bowed in horror as realization started to sink in. She glanced over at his closet, her stomach churning even more, as the all the pieces began to fall into place. "Those… are Stefan's victims?" she whispered more to herself then to Damon. She thought… she thought Klaus was maiming the countryside, but Stefan? She couldn't even wrap her mind around sweet, innocent Stefan doing half the things she had just read. She definitely couldn't understand why he would go after Damon's girlfriend and kill her in cold blood. Her eyes went back to Damon who had fallen back onto the mattress, his eyes closed, the muscle in his jaw so tense she was sure he would break it, and she pushed all her other concerns aside. She chewed on her lip as she locked his door, to keep wandering drunks out and kicked her heels aside before sliding next to him. "Did he hurt you?"
"No," he said simply.
Elena swallowed past the lump in her throat as her hand curled around his where it rested on his stomach. She leaned against his massive pillows, her legs curled under her, much like they had been when he was dying. "I'm so sorry Damon," she whispered. Stefan wasn't her responsibility, but she felt like it was a little bit her fault. Damon had been looking for his brother, for her benefit and for his own, but she knew he was just trying to make her happy again, and he had pushed too far, costing him Andie.
"You shouldn't miss your own party."
Elena couldn't help but snort, despite his effort to change the subject. "Caroline went over board with this," she said softly. "I told her not to have a big party; I just wasn't into it this year. Besides, rather be here. You could use a friend." And she had promised herself when he had been cured she would always put her best effort forward to keep their friendship strong. They would always say or do things to hurt the other, but they always forgave each other. They were hard headed, both of them, and that was never going to change, so they had to make adjustments. He almost died thinking she wouldn't forgive, and that feeling made her queasy.
"Is that why you were snooping?" he asked one of his blue eyes cracking open to meet her face.
"I didn't mean to," she said, staring at her fingers as they drew invisible patterns on his knuckles. He just lay there, allowing her to have all these intimate touches, never once advancing on her. She had used Damon's room over the summer, not wanting to be surrounded by Stefan's memories, she often found herself in her just to relax, and try to calm her nerves. "I just… needed a breather and your closet was open. I thought you were tracking Klaus, not Stefan."
"I have nothing to hide from you Elena and I would never lie to you," he said, both his eyes opening, his fingers curling around hers in a comforting squeeze. "I don't care if you find things and I'll tell you anything you want to know, I just hadn't found Stefan yet and I didn't want to get your hopes up. Tonight was the first I've seen him since he left."
"It's bad isn't it?" she asked softly, resting her head on his shoulder. Like always Damon had been looking out for her, making sure she was okay, not wanting to drag her across the country only to be disappointed when they didn't find him. "Worse than the last time he as on human blood." She never thought she'd ever be afraid of Stefan, and when he had killed Amber at the pageant, she thought that had been the worst of it. Stefan had hidden such a large part of him from her, a very dangerous part. She had seen Damon do some pretty horrible things to her and to the people around her, but never like this.
Ever so slightly he leaned his head against hers, seeming to relax bit by bit in her presence, allowing himself to seek comfort from her, just being close to her. "Yeah," he said softly. "He's bad. Even… even if we free him from Klaus, it'll never be the same. He killed Andie so that I would stop looking for him, he could have so easily killed you instead. I'm sorry Elena, I know that's not what you want to hear, but I don't know what else to do."
She didn't want to believe that Stefan could so easily turn on her, so easily forget everything they had shared. Just to make a statement, killing Andie, she just didn't understand. Elena sighed sadly. "We should get out of here," she said. They needed to get away from this house, away from the memories that were haunting them both.
"And go where?"
"Anywhere," she said. "Just let me change." She kissed his cheek before hopping off the bed and grabbing her heels before he could change his mind. She slipped into Stefan's room, ignoring the pang of heart that ripped through her chest, and unzipped her dress before pulling on jeans and a black blouse. She nearly leaped out of her skin when Caroline appeared. "Hey," she said, pulling her hair into a ponytail.
"Are you leaving your own birthday?" Caroline asked, folding her arms.
Elena chewed on her lip and faced her friend. "I'm… going out with Damon," she said softly. Caroline was probably the only one who could see the connection between the brunettes, and she hoped that would be a free pass to leave her own party. She knew Caroline had worked hard and she had planned to suck it up and deal with all the people, but Damon needed her, and a birthday bash from hell wasn't going to keep her away from him. "And I wish I could tell you right now what is going on, but I can't tonight."
Caroline seemed hesitant, but relaxed her aggressive pose. "Just be careful, okay?" she asked. "I know Damon cares about you, but you're both in a bad place right now."
Elena followed Caroline out of Stefan's room, finding Damon leaning against his doorway, having also changed his clothes into his usual casual black attire. "I'm ready," she said sliding her hand into his, without thinking. All Caroline would have to do was turn around in her trek downstairs and see what was going on.
"We'll see," Damon said with a chuckle. His fingers tightened around hers gently, as he led her through the sea of people that neither of them knew. He was happy he had taken extra steps to park his car away from the party; otherwise, they would have been stuck in a stationary traffic jam of teenage vehicles.
She began to loosen up as they pulled away from the house, the tension seeping out of her bones as Damon's presence washed over her. "Thank you Damon," she said, her hand finding his over the center console. She didn't know why she had this sudden change, this need to touch him, have him physically close to her all the time, but it felt nice, it warmed her inside and she didn't want to question it. For so long she had been miserable and sad and she was tired of feeling like that.
"What for?" he asked, glancing at her. "It's your birthday. And even if it wasn't, I would do anything for you Elena, if you let me."
"I know," she whispered, staring out the window watching the trees pass them in a blur. "I'm just not ready Damon." She missed Stefan dearly, she still loved him. She cared about Damon, more than she would ever admit to anyone, but it wouldn't be fair to lead him on if she wasn't sure. He would treat her like a queen, this she knew, he would do everything and anything she asked him to, but she wanted to be able to do that in return and right now, she just couldn't. As much as she cared about him, she couldn't give all of herself to him. "Don't think either of us are."
"Relax Elena," he said, squeezing her fingers as he brought them to his lips, such a simple gesture, but it made her heart skip a beat, and she knew he heard it. "I'm fine being your friend. Regardless of how I feel about you, I would never ever pressure you into anything with me."
"I know," she said nodding, a smile curving on her lips when he pulled into the park. She didn't know what she expected when he had started driving, but she never would have guessed Damon would bring her here. "My parents used to bring me and Jeremy here all the time." When they were younger, they spent countless hours here on the weekends, causing mayhem, like a normal human family. And when her parents were gone, they avoided such memories, but she welcomed them on a night such as this.
"I heard you tell Stefan once," he admitted. "Just filed it in the Elena part of my brain."
She raised an eyebrow. "Isn't that like… you're whole brain?" she teased, getting out of the car. It had been so long since they joked together, nothing looming over them, just two friends able to talk and hang out with no pressure, no strings. They just were and she loved that about them. They didn't need a label and they didn't explain themselves to anyone, and she wanted to keep it that way as long as possible. If they called it something, that would open up a whole can of worms that she wasn't ready for.
His eyes were dancing with laughter. "Funny," he said following her to the swings.
"I like that I don't have to tell you everything," she said softly, offering him a more serious comment. "You just know. And somehow, you make it better."
Damon smiled a little and took his place behind her as she sat on the rubber swing, secured to the red metal structure by rusted chains. "I can't imagine going through what you did, losing both your parents then having this world thrown at you," he said softly.
"I think… having this world thrown at me, made me not really face losing my parents," she admitted as he pushed her gently. She never talked about her parents death with anyone, maybe told people the facts about the accident, but not even Stefan knew how she had felt after losing them, or even finding out that Stefan was the one that saved her. She just couldn't bring herself to ever burden anyone with the grief, but Damon was different. He saw her as a strong woman, and he didn't expect her to fall apart, but it was nice to know that she could with him. He would pick up the pieces, anyway he could, and he didn't feed her garbage about how everything would be alright. "And I had to take care of Jeremy. How did you cope with losing your parents?"
Damon snorted. "Well I didn't have a reaction to Stefan killing my dad," he said with a shrug. "Hated the man. Our mom passed away when Stefan was young, but it wasn't easy for either of us. We didn't have the medicine we do today, so she got very sick. And much like you, I tried to fill the role and take care of baby bro, but my father never saw it that way. Thought I corrupted Stefan, thought I was the evil child."
Elena stopped the swing gently, her sneakers dragging in the compacted dirt making the swing come to a stop, and Damon leaned over her shoulder a little with questioning eyes. "I'm sorry," she said, resting her head against his. "No child should ever be without the love of both their parents."
"There's worse things in the world, Elena," he said softly. "At least for me. And I've lived a long time, and I've come to terms with most of choices I've made, but nothing can compare to the thought of losing you." She could feel the lump forming in her throat, but Damon gently helped her off the swing. "Come on, it's a big park."
She didn't mind that he changed the subject, but she knew how important his words had been. Everyday she learned something knew about Damon, good and bad, and she filed them in the Damon part of her brain, much like he did with her. He was interesting, she wanted to know about his life, the places he went, the things he'd seen, but they had time. There was no need to rush. Elena tucked her hand in his, allowing him to lead her through the various jungle gyms painted in every color from a Crayola box, and sandboxes filled with various colors of sand and toys. "I thought today would be horrible," she admitted. "Didn't feel like there was much reason to celebrate."
"You looked stunning in your dress," he offered. "Although, you look stunning in anything… or nothing."
She smacked him playfully in the ribs, earning her a poke to her side causing a laugh to bubble out of her. "Is that all you think about?" she teased.
"Of course not," he said in mock offensiveness. "I think about holding you and kissing you and falling asleep beside you every night."
Elena's heart did a flip flop at how honest and sweet he sounded. "Really?" she whispered. "That sounds nice."
Damon half smiled in the way that made her knees weak. "We'll have to try some of them," he said tangling his hand with hers.
"I would love that," she said leaning her head against his arms as they walked the path under the moonlight.