A/N: I apologize in advance for this. It's choppy, disconnected, fairly OOC, but I really just needed to get this out of my head. I hope you enjoy it. Huge thanks to my twitter-mistress, PleaseBeKidding, for inspiring it!
Disclaimer: Made for fun, not for profit! Anything recognizable belongs to LJS, KW, or JP. Or someone who isn't me.
Even though I've known Mr. S my whole life, my earliest memory of him isn't until I was six years old, when I stole something from his house. I didn't realize at the time what I'd done, and when I revealed my transgression years later, he simply chuckled.
While my mother and Mr. S were having tea, I'd gone in search of the cat.
(Apparently, Mr. S had a serious issue with dogs. He absolutely hated them.)
I was on the second floor, in one of the spare bedrooms, scrabbling through the dust bunnies under the bed, when I found a box. It wasn't fancy; it had nothing written on it, no clue as to what was inside. Forgetting the cat entirely, I clutched my new prize, dragging it out from under the bed and crawling into a corner, lest the adults come upstairs and find me before I could thoroughly explore.
I blew the dust off the lid before dropping the faded cardboard to the side. This, I decided, was an old box. Like, Mr. S old. Which makes sense, in retrospect. In any case, I opened the box, and found a wealth of old photos. The colours had faded a little, the edges were torn, the images scratched a little over the years. But I didn't care.
The photo on top of the pile changed my life. There wasn't anything odd about it, just two men smiling. But to me, it was perfect. It was happiness.
It was a sunny day, and the pair were outside, sitting in plastic chairs that stick to your body when it's too warm. My young imagination created a world where a warm breeze blew, ruffling black and sandy hair as the men chuckled to each other, sharing a secret glance. The black haired man, shocking blue eyes locked on a spot on the table, was leaned into his companion, lips to the other man's ear, whispering something.
The other man was smiling all the way to his eyes, grinning at whatever the blue-eyed man was saying. They were close, a little too close, but I didn't notice back. Arms slung casually, and yet overwhelmingly possessively, across the backs of chairs.
They were perfect. They were happy, and they were perfect.
I stole the picture.
Mr. S had lived in our town since before I was born. Asking around, no one quite knew when he'd arrived and settled, whether he'd been alone, or had a family. But everyone knew that he wasn't from town. And so, even after all the years that he'd lived among us, he was still an outsider.
Mr. S was old. So old, in fact, that he'd been elderly for as far back as I could remember. I'd spent my whole life visiting him with my mother at least once a week, if only to keep him company. And when my mother died, I kept up the (at times, awkward) tradition. I had thought, as a child, that we'd been his only guests.
When I was twelve, my father passed away, and for weeks, I was plagued with nightmares. Finally, Mr. S offered to have me spend a night at his house, so my mother could get some sleep. It was that night that I realized that Mr. S certainly had other visitors.
Sometime after midnight, I heard a thump from down the hall. Mr. S had gone to bed shortly after I had, so I thought that it must have been him going to the washroom. But as my heartbeat slowed down, and I began to doze off, I heard a voice through the walls. A deeper, younger voice.
When I was fourteen, my cell phone died while I was talking to my secret boyfriend. I panicked, as any teenage girl would, hoping to any deity who would listen that he hadn't taken offence to the inadvertent interruption. As quickly and as quietly as I could, I crept down the hall from the spare room to Mr. S' bedroom, where the landline was still plugged into the wall. With a soft sigh of relief, I plucked up that handset and thrust it to my ear.
I didn't hear a dial tone, only the distant and tinny sound of two voices.
"- said I don't want anymore, Bonnie." It was Mr. S and he sounded annoyed and... exhausted.
"He'll come and talk you into it, you know that, right?" came the exasperated response from an older woman. "Why not just save us all the time and -"
'Bonnie' was cut off abruptly, and there was a scuffling noise, then two voices arguing in hushed tones.
Finally, "Ric, don't make me drag my ass all the way out to your frozen hell and pour this down your throat."
The line went quiet for a long moment, until I was convinced that everyone had hung up. Then I heard Mr. S' weak voice rasp through the receiver.
"I'm just so tired, Damon."
Silence again, then...
Like a bolt of lightning, I recognized the voice. This 'Damon' was Mr. S' mystery visitor from years before.
"You remind me of someone," Mr. S told me on my seventeenth birthday.
By then, we'd moved his bedroom to the main floor, where the den used to be, because he couldn't take the stairs anymore. I would come by every day to tidy, but he never let me into his room. He insisted that the day he couldn't make his own bed would be the day he would let himself die.
He was still able to make his own bed long past my seventeenth birthday, and so we sat, cake and coffee on the table, in comfortable silence until he'd spoken. I'd frowned at him, taking in his shaking bottom jaw, his trembling hands, thin skin, and intense gaze. Then he smiled, just a little. Just a grin that reminded me so strongly of the sandy-haired man in the happy picture that I knew immediately that it must have been him.
"Who do I remind you of?" I asked, after a moment of silence.
"Just a girl," he wheezed, settling back in the couch. "Just a girl with brown eyes and brown eyes."
"But I have blonde hair," I protested through a mouthful of cake. "And green eyes."
His own eyes twinkled with mirth and wisdom and he nodded slowly.
"She had a great heart," he whispered, covering my warm hand with his cold one. "A great, great heart."
In my teen years, to avoid distraction, Mr. S allowed me to use his home as my own personal study hall. No one else in town would go near the house, childhood legends of hauntings – witches, vampires, wolves, and a man who wouldn't die – had assured Mr. S his privacy.
He seemed to like it that way. In all the time I'd known him, he never intimated that he would like more company, that he wanted visitors. He tolerated my mother's presence, and my own, simply, I believe, out of habit.
I was in his parlour, pretending to write an essay when I was, in reality, playing solitaire on my tablet. It was a snow day, a blizzard having struck the night before and shutting all the schools. Not that it made a difference to Mr. S; he never left his home.
"Do you have a family?" I blurted, blushing when I realized what I'd said.
He chuckled a little, limping into the room and inching himself into his chair, sighing at the weight lifted off his feet.
"I -" he began, reaching up to rub his eyes. "Yes, I have a family. I had a son and a daughter, but they've died, now. I had people that I've loved, and they're all but gone."
"You had kids?" I exclaimed, surprised. How had I never known this?
His eyes were locked on a spot on the wall, just over my shoulder, and his gaze darkened.
"They were... borrowed, you could say. They... adopted me, in a way."
A shadow passed over the room, and the air became heavy. I didn't want to know what had happened to his kids, but I did need one more answer.
"Is it her, that I remind you of? Your daughter?"
At that, he laughed bitterly. "Yes, it is. But thank God you aren't identical." He shook his head and leaned back, letting his eyes drift closed. "That would be a terrible omen for you."
It was years before Mr. S finally produced a picture of his children, and to be quite honest, I was surprised. The girl was as he had described, forever captured at the height of her young beauty, long chestnut locks that spilled over one shoulder, brown eyes reflecting laughter as she leaned back into a tall young man with the same dark hair and dark eyes, but paler skin and a sort of half-smirk that made him seem friendlier somehow. Mr. S was on the young man's other side, with a hand on either of his children's shoulders.
I frowned as I took in the image in my hands until Mr. S asked me what was wrong.
"It's just... I thought your son had blue eyes, that's all."
Mr. S lived in a very modest two-story home. The basement was packed solid with books. Just books. The main floor housed the kitchen and dining room, parlour, and a den, later Mr. S' bedroom. On the second floor were two bedrooms: the master bedroom, and what I referred to as my room.
It always smelled a little of pepper and something distinctly masculine that I could never put my finger on. And as the years went on, and Mr. S became limited in how much he could clean, the house developed a musty smell, but it always felt safe to me.
It was something about the elderly man that translated into his home. He was solid, wise, exuding fearlessness even though, truly, in our small Michigan town, there was nothing to fear. His wit was biting, and came when you least expected it. And so, too, did his acts of generosity. He spent years acting cold and dismissive, but when it came down to it, I believe he cared about me, in his quiet way.
He collected empty bottles of bourbon, though I know that it was only an excuse to drink all the bourbon he could. As he aged, I found myself scolding the poor man and plucking glasses from his grasp.
"Can't you let an old man die in peace?" he would grumble.
"What do you mean, 'die?'" I would murmur, making my way to the kitchen to pour the stuff down the sink. "You'll never die."
I was wrong.
My mother died when I was eighteen, a few months into my first semester of college. I was in school for nursing, and it seemed to make sense that I would move in with Mr. S. Since my father had died, he had slowly, quietly, become a pillar of my life.
One afternoon, I was in my room, working on a dissertation, when I heard a thump. It was a thump I'd heard before. I sounded like someone had leapt in through a window, and landed in a crouch. There was a shuffle, as the intruder shuffled his feet, most likely spinning in a circle. It was Mr. S' 'visitor', trying to find his bearings after having entered the wrong room. As I heard the footsteps grow closer and then fade away, down the stairs, he muttered to himself, most likely grumbling at his mistake. I chuckled to myself, shaking my head, before realizing that it was really odd for me to feel so close to a stranger who frequently broke into the house I lived in.
Mr. S died when I was twenty four. It was like something out of a story; a perfect spring day and he seemed well enough for me to take him outside for the first time in weeks. I used the lift to move his wheelchair upstairs and out onto the balcony above the garage, and truth be told, he seemed younger, younger even than I could ever remember him being.
For hours, we sat, and he told me stories like he did when I was younger: Strange tales about vampires and witches and all sorts of supernatural nonsense. A story about a beautiful teenage girl with a heart of gold who couldn't fight fate. The tale of two brothers torn apart by a vindictive woman, and then how that woman had become so bitter and cruel.
I'd left him alone as I went to prepare us lunch, and while I was in the kitchen, I heard a familiar thump. Sometimes, it felt like I knew that thump better than the sound of my own heartbeat. I smiled as I stirred our soup and doled it out into bowls.
The visitor's voice drifted down the stairs as I headed back up with the tray of food.
" - can't just give up, Ric!"
A wheezing breath. "I'm not giving up, Damon. You know that. I've already lived longer than I should have. This is going to happen."
There was a crashing sound, and I rushed down the hall, lemonade sloshing over the sides of the glasses. The blue-eyed man from the picture was there, his back to Mr. S, shoulders hunched with a pain I couldn't even contemplate. The patio table was flipped over, the glass shattered.
"Don't say that! It isn't true! I can fix this! I can fix you!"
Damon turned around, and I felt a stabbing fear that I would be discovered, as though I were watching something secret and forbidden. But neither man seemed to notice me at all.
Mr. S reached out, his pale, fragile hand shaking as his intelligent eyes held Damon's gaze.
"There isn't anything to fix. I'm not broken. I never was."
With a shuddering gasp, Damon stepped forward and then fell heavily to his knees, grasping the outstretched hand in both of his own. After a long moment of silence, Mr. S spoke again.
"I love you," he whispered, leaning to press his forehead to Damon's. "You know that. I'll always love you."
"Then stay," Damon croaked. "Don't leave me."
"I'm not," Mr. S answered, leaning back in his chair again and closing his eyes. "I'll be with you forever."
And just like that, I realized what was happening. I'd felt like I was watching a story unfold from the outside, forgetting that I existed in the same reality as the men before me. I coughed a little to announce my presence, and shuffled onto the balcony.
I blinked, and Damon was back on his feet, next to the upturned table, glaring at me like I'd cancelled Christmas forever.
"You didn't bring me bourbon," Mr. S complained as I set the tray down in front of him.
I snorted. "I haven't brought you bourbon in at least two years. I'm your nurse, not your girlfriend." I turned to Damon. "Can I get you anything, Mr. -?"
He smirked, shaking his head dismissively before looking past me to Mr. S again. "What about her? What does she know?"
Before I could register my indignation at being referred to as though I were furniture, there was an answer from behind me.
"She doesn't know anything, Damon. And when I'm gone, you leave her alone." I jumped when he reached for my hand, and I turned around. "Just ignore him; he's a dick. Sit down and enjoy your soup."
I did, and silence fell over us. The tension was thick as Mr. S hummed, I sipped, and Damon seethed. Finally, he kicked at a piece of broken glass and scowled.
"Well if you're going to die, could you hurry it up? I don't have all day here."
I blinked confusedly for a second before whipping around to face Mr. S.
"You don't actually think you'll die today? You're stronger than you've been in months! You – you won't ever die!"
He had the nerve to chuckle and smile serenely at me. "It's my time, child. You've done the best you could for an old man who outstayed his welcome."
"If you keep talking like this, I'm going to bring you in to the hospital," I scolded him.
Damon barked out a laugh, and Mr. S sent him a stern look.
"Listen," he said to me. "Could you please go into your room and check under the bed for a cardboard box?"
I glared at him before finally sighing and nodding, leaving without another look in the visitor's direction.
Almost out of spite, I took my time searching for the box. I found it easily enough, but rebelliously, and for the first time since that day as a child when I'd set eyes on it, I opened it and rifled through. There weren't only pictures in there, after all. There were report cards for Elena and Jeremy; legal documents to houses in a place called Mystic Falls, and a birth certificate listing an Alaric Saltzman as having been born in... 1979? That couldn't be right; Alaric was Mr. S' name. He must have been named after his father, I deduced. He couldn't possibly be over a hundred years old!
I read for what seemed like hours until I heard footsteps down the hall. I looked up to see Damon leaning in the doorway of my bedroom, looking exhausted.
"He's gone," he said simply. "He just – He's gone."
As though I were on autopilot, I pushed past him to the balcony, pressing a stethoscope to Mr. S' chest and searching in vain for a pulse that wasn't there. Tears burned behind my eyes and I crumpled over the arm of his chair, both hands gripping his forearm in a way that would have been painful if he hadn't been dead.
"He really cared about you."
I jumped, gasping. I'd forgotten about the visitor who now stood next to me, the box on his hip, his free hand on my shoulder.
"He talked about you a lot, you know." Damon snorted softly, his eyes on Mr. S' cooling body. "He was always a sucker for orphans."
Then he squeezed my shoulder and turned away, heading for the balcony of the railing as though he was ready to jump off.
"Wait!" I called. He stopped and turned to face me.
Everything seemed to hit me at once: The stories. The box. The conversation between Mr. S and Damon. How could I have known someone my whole life and not known them at all.
"Who was he?" I breathed desperately, feeling faint.
Damon hesitated, eyes skipping from me to Mr. S a few times before he drew in a long breath and answered.
"He was a good man. He was the best man. I loved him. I still love him." Another long breath. "And he's been my entire world for a hundred years or so."
"But how -?"
He only winked and smirked, backing again toward the ledge.
"Have a nice life, beautiful. And check your phone. I'd expect something from him before the week is out."
And with that, he jumped, and I was alone.
I went through the motions of my life in the time that followed Mr. S' death. I arranged the funeral and burial, and was not in the least surprised when only a handful of people from around town showed up. And true to Damon's word, less than a week after the death, I was informed that; "As per Alaric Saltzman's last will and testament," all of his earthly possessions were bequeathed to me.
As I searched the house, tiptoeing and trying to shrug off the feeling that I was intruding on someone else's life, I kept an eye out for any evidence that Damon existed. He was the only other visitor that Mr. S had ever had, and, somewhere in the back of my mind, I had started to believe that maybe, he hadn't existed at all, and had been a figment of my imagination designed to comfort my grieving mind.
The house was empty of any trace of the man.
One month after Mr. S had died, I found myself had his grave. I had brought flowers, and said a few prayers, and then just sat and thought. Suddenly, it seemed, it was dark, and the wind grew cold, and I shivered, looking around.
"You'll catch a cold. It's freaking frigid out here."
From the shadows appeared the black-clad figure of a man, the paleness of his face a stark contrast to the blackness around him.
I ignored his statement, turning back to the wooden grave marker.
"He used to tell me stories about vampires and magic," I whispered as Damon stopped next to me, his shoulders stiffening. I turned my face up to his, meeting his cold eyes. "So, your dad was friends with Mr. S, right? That's why it looked like you in that picture with him?"
With a soft smirk and glint in his eye, Damon winked and backed away.
"See you around, kid."
I never saw him again.
AN: R&R guys!