Author's Note: So it turns out I couldn't stay away from these characters all summer. We'll be seeing new episodes soon enough, but I hope you enjoy this little diversion until then. We'll be getting a few different points of view on the Damon/Elena relationship with this story - first chapter with Matt, then I think Stefan, Caroline, Bonnie, Jeremy, and then finishing up with the genuine articles themselves. Don't be shy - leave a review and let me know what you think!
Chapter One: Bourbon
Matt glances over in time to see the tumbler slide past him and crash unceremoniously onto the floor.
"Way-to-go, quarterback," Damon smirks to himself.
Matt swallows his annoyance and stares at the broken glass for a moment, getting lost in the sharp edges and glinting shards. They shimmer like water.
The part of him that isn't desperately clamping down on his own hurt and guilt and unfocused rage revels briefly in the mental image of making Damon pick the mess up for himself. But as much as he might think he deserves a good beating, Matt isn't feeling suicidal.
He realizes he's still staring at the shattered glass, getting lost in a hazy memory of the night that hasn't once loosened its grip on him. At least it's four in the afternoon and the place is empty, so he can ignore his own responsibility for a few minutes. Pick up the pieces later.
"I'm out of bourbon," Matt holds up an empty bottle, just in case the vampire doesn't believe him.
"So get another from the back," Damon says slowly, as though Matt might be short a marble or two.
Then again, he's hanging out with vampires and witches and werewolves on a regular basis, so.
"You drank through all of that, too," the impatience creeps into Matt's voice now. "Shipment comes in tomorrow."
Damon's face wrinkles in disdain. "What kind of bar doesn't have adequate quantities of bourbon?"
"It's not my fault you could drink this whole town under the table and barely have a buzz," Matt mutters, clattering around on the shelf. "I have scotch," he offers, fingers closing around the neck of the bottle.
Damon makes a lazy motion with his hand that Matt interprets as resigned approval, and pours him a fresh glass.
"Don't you have a pretty well-stocked liquor cabinet at home?" Matt asks grumpily, thinking fondly of the days when Damon didn't practically live at the Grill. But that was two weeks ago.
Two weeks ago – otherwise known as the time before Elena was a vampire. The time before everything went even more to hell than usual, when their collective scales got dangerously tipped and Matt ended up on the wrong side of the life and death equation. Again.
Still, a derisive snort is the only answer Matt gets to his suggestion that Damon start treating his home like a place he actually lives. It isn't the first time in the past fortnight that the vampire turns a sip of the amber liquid into a gulp, either. Not that Matt's keeping track or anything.
Given his recently acquired expertise in this area, Matt would guess that Damon is only just starting to feel the effects of the two bottles he's consumed thus far today. Ever since Elena turned – and proceeded to move out of her house and into the Salvatores' for fear of hurting Jeremy (among other reasons, Matt can only assume) – Damon has been The Grill's best (and worst) customer. Matt wouldn't say he's moping – in fact, come happy hour when the place fills up, any casual observer would say the guy was having fun.
Reckless, alcohol-fueled, controlled anger sort of fun. But fun, nonetheless.
No, not moping, Matt thinks – but definitely hiding.
Matt can understand that. He understands – maybe better than anyone else – just what kind of dance Damon and Elena have been doing lately. Not that he actually understands it, mind you, but he's been privy to more than a few of her indecisive musings lately.
And of course there was that night.
"Don't you have somewhere else to be?" Matt looks down to see Damon staring at him, and the realization comes slowly that he's been mopping at the same spot on the counter for the last five minutes.
"Not really," he counters mulishly. "You?"
Damon raises an eyebrow, looking almost impressed, before going back to his drink.
It looks awfully tempting, that irreverence.
Screw it, Matt thinks, pouring himself a double shot of the good stuff before he can think better of it, and leans against the back of the bar.
"What are you doing?"
"What does it look like I'm doing?" Matt takes a steady swallow, feeling the burn. "I'm having a drink."
"Do you have to do that here?" and Matt can tell Damon expects that practiced glare to scare the measly human away. But funnily enough, Matt isn't all that spooked, because it's starting to dawn on him – horrifyingly – just how much he gets where the elder Salvatore's headspace is at right now.
Best friend dies, girl you love rejects you, no one missing you or asking for your help in whatever latest backwards turn their lives have taken… yea, that sounds familiar.
"Look, man," Matt sighs, "I know you blame me for what happened, but it really doesn't compare to how much I blame myself."
Damon lets out a bark of strangled laughter. "Oh, sure – I mean, I do blame Klaus, and BarbieKlaus – and of course my idiot brother, and the good Doctor Fell," he sneers. "And I've gotta throw myself in the mix somewhere, because obviously a little self-loathing is really missing from this party. So thanks for your permission, but you're at least sixth on my list, Donovan."
They hold each other's gaze for a minute, before both taking a healthy swig.
Matt wonders if that bitter sense of revenge is what's keeping Damon here – in Mystic Falls, if not on this particular stool at this particular bar. But he doesn't really think so.
See, Matt Donovan knows from being hopelessly in love with Elena Gilbert, and he recognizes the signs.
When Elena broke his heart, all he'd wanted to do was drink beer and sit on his couch and try to be even remotely interested in the airhead girls that Tyler threw his way. Above all, he wanted to avoid her, as much as all he really wanted was to be with her. And he did.
And Damon… well – he's doing all of those things, but Matt doesn't really have to remind himself that he was there in that truck, and Elena didn't just break Damon's heart. (And distantly, Matt knows just how far off the deep end he is if he's not even really questioning the idea that Damon has a heart to break.) No, for all Elena knew, she pretty much left Damon to die alone that night.
Come to think of it, Matt isn't sure why Damon isn't getting the hell out of dodge and never looking back. Like right now.
"You must really love her," he shakes his head. Damon's eyes – lacking any pretense of amusement – lock in on him like a laser, and Matt realizes with a sickening twist of his stomach that he's said these last few words out loud.
The two men stare each other down for a moment, before Damon pushes forward his now empty glass, as if daring Matt to say anything else.
Matt silently shoots back the remains of his own drink, refilling the vampire's tumbler with his free hand. And as business starts to pick up, it's easy enough to go back to his duties and whatever will divert him from his own dark thoughts.
Still, every time Matt looks over, Damon's gaze hasn't wavered from his half-empty glass, even when the usual distractions start wandering in. So by some twisted and unspoken agreement, Matt keeps the scotch coming, and Damon's ring taps out a dull, unsteady rhythm against the bar.
It sounds like drowning, and things that really aren't so hard to understand when you're finally paying attention.