Title: Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder 1/17
Author: EdieZee
Rating: PG-13, possibly R later
Based on: TV series
Relationships: Damon/Elena
Disclaimers: I do not own anything. If I did, she would have chosen Damon.
Summary: As promised, Damon leaves town after Elena chooses Stefan.

Note: Yes, I know it's going to happen, but I kind of actually hate the idea of Elena being a vampire on the show (at least this early into it), so my story is going to have that not be the case. I don't know if my explanation for this (in chapter 2) is medically or magically possible. Just go with it!

"Fine. If she chooses you, I'll leave town too." – Damon, "Before Sunset" (3x21)

"Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own."
Robert Heinlein

Damon sped through the hospital down toward the morgue, for the first time in his unnaturally long life thinking that his vampire speed just wasn't fast enough. Meredith's voice, saying she had "helped" Elena, ran through his mind over and over again, yet he couldn't quite make sense of it; he knew what she had said, but he couldn't believe it.

He had to see Elena.

He had to see for himself.

As he ran down the stairs, the only thing that Damon could think about was the time he had forced Elena to drink his blood in order to keep her alive if Klaus killed her in his ritual. At that time, even though he felt remorse and was afraid she would hate him forever, he was still partly relieved at the thought that she would come back to him, one way or the other. But now…now he was torn. He didn't want her to be dead; of course, he didn't. Her safety was all he had worried about for so long. But she didn't want to be a vampire. And all he really wanted – even more than her love – was for her to be happy. Not willing to acknowledge it completely, he realized that part of him was hoping that Meredith was wrong about Elena being a vampire…even if that meant…

Forcing out that thought, he slammed through the stairway door and came to an abrupt stop in the darkened corridor. He could see through the window of the morgue at the far end of the hall. Elena was in Stefan's arms, her back to Damon. Stefan's face was buried against her shoulder. Neither one of them could see him. And that's when he remembered:

She had chosen Stefan. She would always choose Stefan…

Still – the temptation to keep going into the morgue, to take his turn at hugging her, was incredibly strong. So was the temptation to go in there and punch Stefan, even though it wasn't his fault. Even though hewas the one who had every right to Elena. But Damon resisted both temptations, looking down at the ground and clenching his teeth.

He wondered how long he would be able to resist. He wondered if he could handle going back to how they were before, with Stefan and Elena blissfully in love and him alone. Again. He wondered if he could suppress his feelings for her, go back to being the friend, the companion, the protector, but never the lover. He wondered if the bitterness at once again being the second choice would ruin the tenuous link he and Stefan had forged, or if they would go back to being enemies.

But…that didn't have to happen. He could actually keep the promise he had made to his brother.

He looked up from the floor, blinking back tears and feeling weak. He stared at the top of Stefan's bowed head and remembered the awe he felt holding his squirming baby brother all those years ago. A ghost of a smile flitted across his lips. He shifted his gaze to Elena's back, mesmerized for a moment by the fall of her hair. He would miss her. He would worry about her, especially about how she would deal with no longer being human. And he would love her, longer and deeper and truer than he had loved Katherine. This would be an eternal love. But now, she would be eternal too, which meant that, contrary to his and Stefan's original plan to resume their brotherhood after her natural death 60-some years from now, he would likely never see either one of them again.

I care about you, Damon…which is why I have to let you go.

Damon took a deep breath, slowly letting it back out. Now, he would the one to let both of them go.

Opening the door to the Gilbert house, Damon called out Jeremy's name. A few moments later, Jeremy started walking down the stairs to him, a stricken expression on his face.

"I take it you heard?"

Jeremy snorted half-heartedly. "It was kinda easy to guess when Ric's ghost showed up."

Damon's eyebrows shot up, even as a flash of grief went through him. He cleared his throat. "Do you know about Elena, then?"

Holding up his phone, Jeremy nodded. "They're on their way here. They should be here in about 10 minutes or so."

Damon offered a small, quick smile that didn't reach his eyes. As Jeremy reached the bottom landing, Damon took a step forward. "I'll take care of Ric's body. He'll be by Jenna, as soon as I can get the cemetery workers compelled."

Jeremy winced, then nodded again. Before he could say anything else though, Damon grabbed him by his shoulders. Jeremy tried to pull back, surprise on his face, but Damon quickly caught his eyes with his own.

"Don't move." Jeremy froze. "You will forget this unless there is ever a life or death emergency. No other reason. If you need me, call the number you have entered for Alaric. Do not erase it from your phone." Damon felt confident that compelling Jeremy was the best solution since he had his ring to prevent him from being the victim of any emergency. Damon paused briefly, then smirked. "And why don't you go ahead and keep paying the bill for it too."

Damon hesitated. "Give me until tomorrow. After that point, if Elena asks, I want you to tell her that I left town and I'm not coming back. That she shouldn't look for me or worry about me. She'll miss me, but she'll know it's for the best." Damon smiled almost a little evilly, knowing that Elena would recognize those words. A tiny, vindictive part of him couldn't help but hope that would piss her off just a little bit.

Squeezing Jeremy's shoulders affectionately, he let him go and rushed out the door before Jeremy could wake out of his daze.

Damon went to the boarding house first, knowing he didn't have time to take too much but unwilling to leave empty-handed. He moved quickly through his bedroom, throwing into a bag some clothes, a couple of first edition books, a few bottles of his favorite bourbon that he kept in his room for when he didn't want to go downstairs. He stood for a moment, looking at the bag and trying to ignore the fact that it was kind of sad that he didn't have anything truly important to pack after being around for over 170 years. Up until recently, he had just been so used to being on his own, not caring about anything, and taking whatever he needed when he needed it without remorse. Not to mention that, up until now, coming back to Mystic Falls had always been an option, even if it wasn't one that he exercised too often.

There was one thing he could pack though…

He left his room and went into Stefan's, making his way to the table where the picture of Stefan and Elena sat. Grabbing the frame, he looked at the two of them and contemplated ripping it so he could just take Elena's picture with him, allowing him to look at her without having to see their happiness over and over again.

Shaking his head slightly, he decided against it. After all, their happiness was why he was leaving in the first place. Maybe reminding himself of that by looking at the picture of them together would give him the courage to stay away when the temptation to return grew too strong.

Back in his room, he tossed the frame on top of everything else in the bag and zipped it shut. Taking one last look at the luxury that he would miss, his eyes fell on the bed, briefly thinking back to when she had kissed him as he lay dying. He pushed the memory out of his mind.

That would be one good thing about leaving town: there wouldn't be reminders everywhere

Damon sat on the cold ground, drinking morosely from one of his bottles of liquor. He sighed, then looked over at the freshly turned earth where the compelled workers had buried Alaric just a short while ago. Looking down, he played with the unfamiliar phone in his hands. Before Alaric was buried, Damon swapped his phone with the one in his friend's coat pocket. Now, if anyone tried to call him, they would have no luck, but Jeremy could still get a hold of him if absolutely necessary.

Putting the phone in his own coat pocket, Damon took another drink before looking back over at Alaric's grave. He smirked, then said softly, "you would never let me live down what I'm about to say, so I guess it's a good thing you can't come back to life again to mock me."

Damon hesitated, then sighed. "You were the best friend I've ever had, Ric, and definitely a better friend than I deserved. You were…truly my brother."

Grimacing a little, Damon turned his head to squint at the sun that was just peeking above the horizon. He got to his feet, groaning a little as he did so. Standing at the foot of Alaric's grave, he looked down one more time, then slowly poured the rest of the alcohol onto the ground, a final gift to his drinking partner.

"See ya, buddy."

Damon turned and walked to his waiting car. It was time to put some distance between himself and Mystic Falls.

FYI, according to .uk, the first known variation of the title of this story is "Always toward absent lovers love's tide stronger flows," by the Roman poet Sextus Propertius. There's your fun fact for the day!

Hope you enjoyed! More to follow…

For those of you who prefer the LiveJournal format, I will be posting this story concurrently there, on my page: .