Disclaimer: Still not mine.
Author's Note: The rating has been bumped up due to events of this chapter, just to be safe. I thought about making it full on smut, but that takes me forever to write, and it is my goal to have this story completed before the season 4 premiere. So this is what I went with.
Dedication: StridingFreedom requested a chapter like this in a review for the original one-shot this story was, so this chapter is dedicated to StridingFreedom. Don't worry, kat st james, a chapter is coming up for you as well!
Keep You Here And Human
It was decided fairly quickly that Elena couldn't keep living with Jeremy. Not right away, at least. As loathe as she was to leave her sixteen year old brother living by himself with absolutely no family or adult supervision, she knew it was better than him living in a house with his vampire sister who might or might not have enough discipline to not eat him at any given moment.
So, within twenty-four hours of her transition into her new life, Elena had moved in with the Salvatore brothers. After all, they did technically live in a boarding house. They had more spare rooms than they knew what to do with. She just had to choose one. She carefully selected a room that seemed to be equally distant from both Stefan and Damon, not wanting them to view her choice in bedrooms as a sign of her preference. Within an hour, while she was packing up some things from home, the industrious vampires had made the room ready for her, and she knew she'd be welcome to stay there for as long as she needed to.
She didn't even get a chance to settle in before her entire world shifted again.
The memories came in flashes, and at first, Elena thought she might be having a seizure. She just suddenly remembered history that she had never known. Events that might have changed everything in her life, if Damon hadn't compelled her to forget them.
As soon as the past started dropping into place in her mind, Elena raced up to Damon's room, completely forgetting that she had a sanctum of her own to hide in and ignoring that she was mid-conversation with Stefan. She didn't want to expose him to any reaction she might have over what might have happened that Damon had seen fit to make her forget.
She had met him first. She winced as she saw his face in her mind, only minutes before her parents died. The memory didn't hurt her. However, she could guess how Damon must have felt when she told him, "Maybe if I had met you first." That knowledge was tearing her apart. Even though she knew it was Damon's choice to delete her memory, and therefore his fault that he might have ended up regretting it, she couldn't help but feel heartbroken on his behalf. She'd practically had to rip her own soul out in order to let him go, and she hadn't even known how much worse it must have been for him.
Elena collapsed on Damon's bed while her mind continued to fill itself in. Second by second, she remembered more details of their real first meeting, which hadn't been the awkward moment that Stefan interrupted, like she had originally remembered. It had been...magical. She had been feeling so lost that night, so unsure about everything, particularly about her relationship with Matt.
And then suddenly, a stranger had come into her life, and she'd felt more passion for him, not even knowing his full name, than she'd ever felt for Matt. He was a beautiful man that she'd never met, and yet he somehow knew and was able to put into words what she was only just discovering about herself. You want a love that consumes you.
She froze as she remembered those words. Isn't that what she told Matt? She should love the person who made her glad to be alive...but Damon consumed her. That was the exact word that she had used. She had wanted Damon so badly that first night. It hadn't mattered that she had just met him, that he was older than her, or that he had thought she was someone else at first.
Elena was horrified to realize that, before Stefan had arrived to complicate matters, she had felt a pull like she'd never known before toward Damon. If Stefan had never come to Mystic Falls...
Well, if Stefan had never come to Mystic Falls, Elena would have died at the bottom of the lake, as she later would anyway, the only difference being that she wouldn't have come back the first time.
So, she corrected herself, if Stefan had never come to Mystic Falls and her parents hadn't driven off the bridge, she would have been with Damon. There was no question in her mind about that.
Before she could think any more about what it would have been like, Damon entered his room. He took in her form, lying across the foot of his bed with one hand thrown over her eyes and the other pressed to her temple, as if she were trying to massage away a headache. When she heard his motion, she dropped both hands back to the bed and turned her eyes to him. A crease appeared between them as she stared at him, waiting for him to speak first.
Damon smirked. "So this is why Stefan was pouting."
"I met you first," Elena blurted out, unable to hold it in for another second. She needed Damon to say something, to make sense of her jumbled thoughts. Part of her wanted to lock herself in her room and re-examine every moment she and Damon had ever shared, looking at each with the knowledge that he'd known her first. Even though she knew she would only drive herself crazy by doing that, the temptation was still there.
He closed the door behind him and then leaned against it, not sure if she was in the mood to allow him any closer. He'd thought about if or when Elena would regain this memory about a zillion and five times over the last year, but the more he'd fallen for her, the less he'd had any idea what he would say when the time came to explain himself. Now, despite the fact that he'd known this moment was coming, he still couldn't find any excuse for what he'd taken from her...and she hadn't even mentioned his second act of compulsion yet. The only words that came to him were "Yeah...you did."
She stopped looking at him, choosing to gaze at the ceiling again. "Part of me wants to apologize," she admitted. "For every time that my decisions were based on knowing Stefan first. But for once, I know that this wasn't my fault. I couldn't have known any better. This one's on you, Damon."
"Don't you think I know that?" he asked harshly, drawing her eyes to him again. He saw the hurt there, and he knew it would only get worse when she remembered more. "I'm not a person who has regrets. But I do regret that." Not one to let himself or anyone else dwell on his weaknesses, Damon quickly switched the subject back to her feelings on the matter. "You know now, though, finally. So tell me, Elena. How do you think things would have been different if I'd never taken that memory?"
Elena's mind spun off into wild fantasy for a moment, of stolen kisses and town events where her arm candy was Damon instead of Stefan, but she quickly pulled herself back to reality. He wasn't her Damon back then. "I would have been your blood bag instead of Caroline."
He raised one infuriating eyebrow. "Do you really think that's true?"
She thought about it again, going over the way Damon was with her in the beginning. He'd always been a little different with her. Slightly more honest with her than he was with anyone else. Just that tiny bit gentler, both with her body and her emotions. Even in moments when he was supposed to be threatening her, like when he'd fed her his blood and told Stefan he'd snap her neck. Looking back, she realized that he'd held her firmly, preventing her escape...but his hold had also prevented her struggles from injuring herself, and really, it hadn't even been painful. Just mildly uncomfortable. And as he released her, the way he ran his hand down her hair and arm...it felt like an apology, either for scaring her or using her as his pawn, she didn't know. And then, after everything, he'd been sure to keep her steady on her feet until Stefan's arms could hold her up again.
"No," she finally said. "You wouldn't have done that. Not to me." Before he could push her any more, she went on the offensive again, trying to keep him from asking the right questions. "But you did do it to Caroline. We can talk all day about what would have been different, but it's not. You treated Caroline like your own personal fast food joint. You turned Vicki. You snapped my brother's neck." She sighed and sat up, folding one leg underneath her body and leaving the other to dangle off the edge of his bed. "I've forgiven you for all that, Damon. But it's still there. Our history is still our history. Yes, it could have been different, but that doesn't change the past."
"I know nothing changes, Elena. You think I believe in do-overs? Me? I'm not asking you to pretend that meeting me first glosses over anything I've done, good or bad." He made sure to catch her eyes before he went on. "All I'm asking is for you to really think about it and tell me how it would have gone if you'd met me, the person I am right now, not the person I was then, before you'd met Stefan."
Her eyes widened, and she looked away from him, muttering, "Damn it." That was the right question, the one she had really hoped he wouldn't ask. Because she already knew the answer, and she didn't want to think about it anymore. "You're missing the point," she said quietly.
"Since you're saying this is all pretty much pointless, I'm not sure how I can be missing the point." Damon narrowed his eyes at her, and she felt his glare, even as she refused to meet his eyes again. "What I am sure of is that you're refusing to answer my question. Why?"
"Because Stefan would never have had a chance!" Elena yelled, startling even herself.
In the silence that followed her confession, she heard something break downstairs, and she flinched. Stefan had heard her, and he'd been hurt by her words. A moment later, she heard the front door open and then quickly slam shut. They were alone now. She'd have to smooth things over with Stefan later, though she knew, ultimately, there would be no way to leave both Damon and Stefan undamaged. That was the corner she had painted herself into. No matter which way she moved, she would harm someone she loved, and she would suffer for the pain she caused.
"That was what you wanted to hear, wasn't it?" Elena asked, searching his face for some clue of what was going through his mind. "Does it help you to know that, Damon? Does it help anyone?"
"Does it help me to know that I'm not crazy? That I'm not the only one feeling this insane connection? That I'm not, once again, in love with a woman who is incapable of loving me? Yes, Elena, it helps."
All of a sudden, Elena's eyes went out of focus, and she stopped talking. She seemed to stare into the distance, and Damon knew she was looking into her past again, regaining the second thing he'd taken from her. The seconds ticked by, and he remained frozen, still standing with his back to the door, torn between moving closer to her and fleeing the house. Or maybe the town.
Except he'd promised her that he wouldn't, no matter what.
Her eyes came back into focus, back to the present. "So that's what happened," she whispered, and then, despite how much she was trying to control herself, the tears came.
That made Damon's decision for him, and he went to where she still sat on his bed. She shifted around so that both her legs hung off the side and then launched herself at him as soon as he got close enough, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck. Surprised, he hesitantly embraced her while she sobbed into his shoulder. He was so distressed by her tears that he barely even noticed the position he found himself in, standing between her open legs, alone with her in his bedroom.
After a few minutes, she pulled away and hit him in the shoulder she'd just been using to muffle her tears. She was surprised when he stumbled back a step before returning to her. She wasn't used to her new strength yet. "Why?" she asked. "Why would you take that from me? You let me keep all the horrible things, and you take that away?"
"You didn't want to hear it," her murmured softly, stroking his hand over her hair in a motion he hoped was comforting. "I could see it all over your face. You probably already knew, but you weren't ready to believe it."
Elena looked up into Damon's eyes, trying to discern if he was really that dense. What she saw there destroyed all of her anger at him in a moment. New knowledge burned in her, and she knew that, even if she chose Stefan, Damon would keep a good-sized chunk of her heart for all eternity. "God," she whispered, touching his cheek gently. "You are so broken, aren't you?"
He put his hand around her wrist, removing her fingers from his face. "I'm fine," he said shortly. "You're the one who's crying here, not me."
"That's not what I mean, and you know it," she scolded him. She drew her arm back from him and caught his hand in both of hers when he tried to release her. She pulled him closer as she held his hand to her chest, right over her heart. He stared at her, confused at her refusal to let him go. "You want to be loved more than anything in the world." Damon opened his mouth to object, but she cut him off. "I know you'll never admit it, maybe not even to yourself, but you know how they say actions speak louder than words? Well, your actions scream. But there's not even the tiniest part of you that thinks you deserve the love you want so badly."
Damon's voice echoed through her memories, while the present Damon that stood in front of her seemed lost for words. I don't deserve you...but my brother does.
He searched her face for clues as to what was going through her head. Finding none, he asked, "What exactly are you saying, Elena?"
She took a deep breath and really thought about whether or not it was wise to elaborate on her words. It didn't surprise her that what ultimately made her decision was how much Damon needed her to do so. "What you thought my reaction was that night...it wasn't an unwillingness to hear what you were saying. It was conflict."
"Conflict," he repeated, his voice lacking any understanding.
"Yes, conflict. At the time, I was already debating whether or not Stefan was the best choice for me. Not only for my safety or my family's safety, and not only because he was a vampire. I mean, yes, there was that. I was definitely wondering if there was a way out of this madness, even if I had to give him up. But I was also debating Stefan himself. I hadn't really stopped to consider whether he was right for me until that time. And then you showed up, and you'd just rescued me from Elijah, and you brought my necklace back to me, and you were saying such wonderful things...that was the first time, Damon. The first time I ever really thought about what it would be like if I was with you, not Stefan. And then..." She sighed, knowing how much he'd be kicking himself for this. "And then you told me that I should be with your brother and compelled me to forget you were ever there. And maybe that idea just festered, and I went back to Stefan. I don't know. I can't know if that's how it happened...but I know I didn't have any new doubts about him after that night. Not until he ran off with Klaus, anyway."
Damon looked away from her, finding the information she'd given him equally wonderful and unbearable. "I screwed it up again, didn't I?"
Elena remembered with perfect clarity what Damon had said during her transition. If the person you love benefits from being let go, then it's the right thing to do. "Yes. And no." He looked back at her, completely lost. She rushed to explain. "There was a part of me that was glad you weren't going to let me remember. Not because I didn't want to know, but...I just thought things would be so much simpler if I could let you go. And I would never have been able to do that after what you told me. So I didn't fight you, even though I wanted to. My point is...we were both wrong, Damon. But I know you were trying to...do the right thing," she said carefully, hoping he would remember his words to her as well as she did. "So I'm not going to sit here and punish you for that."
He leaned forward, resting his forehead against hers. She finally released his hand, but only so she could wrap her arms around his shoulders, anchoring him to her even as she scolded herself for doing so when a decision hadn't yet been made. The hand she'd released trailed up her back and under the fall of her hair to caress the back of her neck. It would take less than a second for him to pull her lips to his, and they were both very aware of it.
"God," he murmured, marveling at her seemingly endless supply of forgiveness, "I really don't deserve you."
"No," she agreed sadly, "you don't."
His head snapped up, the hurt radiating from him at her confirmation of every bad thing he believed about himself. She realized instantly that she should have let him in on her thoughts before she'd said that. He tried to pull away again, but she wouldn't let him. "No, Damon. No. Not like that. You...you deserve someone who can make a choice. So does Stefan. But instead...you've got me." She bit her lip and looked down. "I know I'm hurting you both every day that I let this drag on. But I just...can't."
With considerable effort, Elena kept herself from crying. She had only been a vampire a few days, but so far, her very least favorite thing about it was her complete lack of control over her emotions. Whenever she got even the slightest bit sad, or even when she felt bad about what she inflicted upon Damon or Stefan, she was instantly depressed, and the tears would come. She was learning, though. She had to, or she'd be a wreck more often than not.
Damon watched her almost crumble and then pull herself back together, and he felt a bit of pride for her. "Elena...honestly, I don't care anymore whether I deserve you or not. The only thing that matters to me now is what's going on in your head. Well, that and keeping you safe and, if possible, happy. The point is, if you want me, it doesn't matter that you're way too good for me. Yes, our history will always be our history, like you said, but you and I both know that it's not our whole story."
The depression passed as quickly as it had come, and Elena was suddenly painfully aware of the lust that always simmered at the back of her mind whenever she was close to Damon. Like everything else she felt, it was magnified now that she was a vampire. Magnified a lot, from the feel of it. Her skin tingled where his fingers touched, and desire pooled low in her belly when she finally realized the provocative position they had managed to tangle themselves into. Just like the tears, she tried to force that feeling away, wanting to continue their conversation, not give in to her urges before she really should.
"I'm not too good for you, Damon. I just wish...I wish you would stop seeing only the worst in yourself. There's so much good too, and you don't believe it. God, do you even believe me when I say I love you?"
Damon winced, and she knew it wasn't because the words themselves hurt him, but because he feared they wouldn't come again once everything settled down. He took a deep breath, thinking of the best way to not answer her question, and he suddenly went stiff in her arms. He had caught the scent she was giving off. When he looked into her eyes again, his pupils were dilated, and she could see the tension in him, all the effort he was putting forth in order to not take advantage of the situation. "You need to leave," he said, his voice tight, but even as he spoke, his left hand grasped tighter into her hair, gently pulling her head to one side, while the fingers of his right hand trailed over the sensitive area near the quickening beat of her pulse.
"I know," she gasped. "And I will, but not until you answer my question."
"Elena," he groaned. Her eyes were growing more hazy with lust by the second, and he had to stop himself and her if he didn't want to risk her rage and guilt if they gave in. "Listen to me. I need you to leave this room right this instant because I can only hold myself back so much. If you let yourself do what you want right now..." He pulled her closer and whispered into her ear, only barely resisting the temptation to touch his tongue to her. "I'm not strong enough to stop you."
Elena was completely lost. She was trying to fight against the feelings inside her, but she was losing quickly. She was thinking very naughty thoughts about him, which turned her on, which caused her to think more naughty thoughts. Images kept flashing through her mind, not misplaced memories this time, but every fantasy about Damon she'd ever tried to deny rushed through her head, there just long enough to heighten her arousal and then gone again. Every second, it got more intense. "Oh my...what is happening to me, Damon?" She couldn't stop herself. Her fingers scrabbled over his forearms, desperate to touch him. Her hips canted forward without her telling them to, coming in to contact with the front of Damon's pants, giving her another clue as to how very affected he was.
He hissed and dropped his hands to her hips, holding her still. "You know what's happening. It's just like the bloodlust, or the depression. Everything is stronger now. And just like the bloodlust, I will help you learn how to keep your emotions in check...but not right now. Right now, you're either staying or you're going, and you need to make that decision very quickly, before your body makes it for the both of us."
"I'm going," she assured him, but her legs wrapped around his waist and pulled him closer. Her body was no longer under her command. Damon was wrong. She'd felt bloodlust. This wasn't like that. She felt like she needed Damon's hands on her more than she'd ever needed a silly thing like oxygen. And it wasn't like the depression she could barely control either. She understood that it was just a magnification of whatever sadness she was feeling. What was coursing through her veins now...could not be a magnification of anything she'd ever felt before. She'd lusted for Stefan. She understood that emotion. But what she'd felt then couldn't compare to what she felt now, even magnified a thousand times. "I'm going," she repeated. "But not until you answer my question. Do you believe me when I tell you how I feel, or don't you?"
Damon growled. How could she possibly be thinking clearly enough to ask questions like that now? However, if it would get her out before they gave in and she could use it as another reason to hate him for a few months, he would give her the damn answer. "I believe that you believe it."
Elena stilled, shock overriding the lust for a few seconds. Barring all of the deaths that had taken place around her, that might have been the saddest thing she'd ever heard. "That's...not good enough," she whispered. Then she pulled his lips to hers.
It took a few seconds, but with the very last of his self-restraint, Damon dragged himself away. "Not if you're going to hate me tomorrow for it, Elena. Me or yourself."
Elena focused on his eyes once again and forced down her feelings as much as she could – admittedly, not much – so that she could be sure of the decision she was making. "Damon. I am staying. Not just because I feel like I might die if you take your hands off of me, but because I want to. Insane lust aside...I've wanted to for a long time. So we'll deal with tomorrow when it comes. But I won't regret letting myself have what I want for once."
There was one tiny part of Damon that wanted to ask about Stefan and how they were going to field his reaction. Another part of him wanted to ask if this meant she was finally making a choice, but he knew better. If this was her making that choice, she'd make it a lot clearer. Ultimately, his decision was made by his unrelenting, overwhelming need for her. He captured her lips again and pushed against her, causing a low keening sound to come from the back of her throat.
He moved his fingers to the buttons on her shirt. "No regrets?" he asked one last time, one eyebrow raised in the way that he knew drove her crazy.
"No regrets," she swore, pulling him back to her again.