This is not a continuation of Gifts. It picks up maybe two days after the season four finale.
My adoration of Matt and Rebekah was nurtured during conversations with CreepingMuse, who then patiently, insightfully betaed this fic multiple times. Let us all raise a glass to her awesomeness!
Rebekah answers her phone after one ring.
"What are you doing?" Matt asks, his first words of the day raspy and thick.
"I wasn't sure you'd go through with it."
"You're an hour early."
There's silence on the line for a few seconds, but through the living room window he can see her in the back seat of a yellow cab, smiling an embarrassed smile. "I'm excited," she confides. "Are you excited? You're not going to back out?"
His initial response is a grin, followed by a quick, smeary face rub. "I need a shower and cup of coffee before we leave." He almost asks her to come in – he wants to and it feels rude not to – but Tyler asked that the place be kept mostly vampire free. And even if technically it's Matt's house now, it will always feel more like Tyler's. Tyler's mom's, really, so Matt doesn't feel right about changing anything.
"I'll be here… or, right, I could not creepily wait outside. So I'll go get some coffee, too. Good idea. And a muffin. Would you like a muffin?"
He laughs. World travel with an Original vampire is completely insane, but it's the thought of eating a muffin under these circumstances that strikes him as absurd. "Nah, that's okay."
She smiles again, to herself, and even though he'd maybe rather watch her smile a bit longer, it feels intrusive to see her when she thinks he can't. He lets the curtain fall back down over the window. "See you soon," she whispers.
He wasn't sure he'd go through with it either, but it looks like he will. His heart is beating fast as he steps into Tyler's shower. He's never been on an airplane before. Never had anywhere to go. And now this wave of adrenaline hits him, and it's about the airplane but also about embarking on an open-ended trip around the world with a hopefully well-intentioned vampire who is new to not eating people or snapping their necks. He can't ignore the possibility that this next chapter of his life could be fatally short. But he has to admit, there's something about her. She is hot, no avoiding it, and she doesn't hide her attraction to him. She saved his life, which should make up for killing Elena and almost killing him. He wants it to anyway, for her sake. Because she is trying to be good, and she's using him as a model, which may not be the smartest move ever, but it says a lot.
It has the potential to be a great trip, if he doesn't get killed or screw it up. He's got a T-shirt and a pair of jeans laid out on the bed; everything else is packed in a navy blue rolling suitcase he found at the back of Tyler's closet. It was either that or his own practice duffel, but he didn't think Rebekah would want to be seen with him slinging that over his shoulder, not to mention that the inside smells like a swamp. So borrowed suitcase it is, still half empty because Matt doesn't need much.
He considers slipping his letter jacket on when he glances at it hanging on the chair by the guest room door – his bedroom door. But he stops. High school is over. If he puts it on now, pretty soon he's the guy who still wears his letter jacket when he's 25, relying on the memory of high school's small victories to meet women, have a social life, feel good about himself. He decides in that moment not to ever be that guy whose best days were high school. He's going to embrace his future, however brief it is. Starting now. So instead, he grabs Tyler's leather jacket downstairs. "Thanks, buddy," he mumbles as he shrugs it on.
Rebekah is already on the doorstep when he opens the front door. "Ready?" she asks carefully, as if Matt is easily spooked. He might be – he's not sure.
"No," Matt attempts lightly. "But let's go anyway."
The plane tips upward and Matt can feel the tug of pressure or gravity or something on the back of his throat.
"So Ireland, not Italy?" he asks, pretending he's not freaking out at all.
"Italy eventually. Ireland first," Rebekah corrects him, leaning back against the headrest. "I have a surprise there for you."
Matt grins in spite of himself. "I have no idea where we're going, or when, or for how long. Every part of this is a surprise."
"Well, I'm kicking it off with a big one. Trust me."
Matt nods, glancing out the window as they climb into the morning sky. Someday, maybe, he thinks.
He doesn't know what he expected. Maybe a bus, or another cab, and then a small hotel in Dublin. Or a train; Europe loves trains, right?
He did not expect a helicopter.
"Is this the surprise?" he yells as they crouch, running, toward the open cabin door on the side of the helicopter, its rotor already whipping up a whirlwind above their heads. Matt tries not to think about Indiana Jones and faces being sliced off.
"Not yet," she yells back.
The helicopter lifts off the ground, hovers, and rises. It is terrifying and magnificent. Matt can barely make out what the pilot is saying, and soon he doesn't care. He leans against the harness so he can see the lush green hills below them in the dusk. The pilot points out landmarks Matt's never heard of and won't remember, gray brown squares of old stone that used to be castles or forts. None of it will stick. Matt is in a helicopter, hovering over Ireland.
The ride is over too soon. They land on a small island in a large lake, alongside a tall castle with long wings curling out from both sides like an attempted hug. Someone in a suit helps them out and away from the impossibly loud helicopter, while someone else gets their luggage. The pilot waves at them before he lifts off.
The helpful, suit-clad man gives them a shallow bow. "Welcome to Crom Castle, Mr. Donovan. It's an honor to host you here."
Rebekah beams. "Surprise," she sings under her breath.
"We're staying at a castle?"
"If I may," the man interrupts. "My name is Charles Cannigan; I'll attend to you during your stay. Anything you require, I am at your service." He gestures toward a heavy set of doors.
Rebekah takes Matt's arm as Charles leads them inside, down a wide hall dotted with floor-to-ceiling windows on one side. "This wing is reserved for your use. A boat is available as well, should you wish to explore the lake and environs."
Matt nods absently. This is a surprise, all right.
They stop in front of an engraved door, shining with lacquer and age. "Your suite," he says as he opens the door for them.
"Whoa," Matt blurts before he can stop himself. The room is enormous, walls and fabric and rugs a sumptuous, creamy white, with dark reddish wood furniture. Windows line one wall, veiled by sheer curtains.
Charles opens a side room. "A sitting room here, another bedroom, and a bathroom. We've taken the liberty of preparing a supper for you," he tells them, indicating a small table. "I am a phone call away at all times: my personal number is there on the desk. Please don't hesitate." He bows again and leaves.
Matt pushes aside a curtain, taking in the emerald green lawn, surrounded by tall trees and lilac bushes in full flower. Beyond a patch of forest, the disappearing light winks on the lake.
"What do you think?" Rebekah asks.
"This is so weird."
She swallows. "Good weird?"
"I don't know. This is… not my style."
"Actually," Rebekah counters, perking up, "this castle was built by the Chief of the Donovans. It's been the seat of your clan for generations. It's your home, in a manner of speaking. You belong here."
Matt clears his throat. Nothing could be further from the truth.
"I even had Charles prepare a family tree for you. To show you your history."
He turns to her and immediately regrets it. Her puppy dog eyes plead for reassurance. He looks back at the comfortingly emotionless lake. "Wow."
"What do you think?" she presses.
He should be thrilled. He should gladly take a sliver of ownership in this huge, fancy castle and some kind of historic lineage. He should, but none of it comes close to touching him. This world is hers, not his: she's the one with wealth and history. He's just an ordinary guy without a savings account. And no amount of research or travel will change that.
And yet, he knows she meant well. She is trying. So he puts on a smile. "I think I'm starving."
It's near midnight but Matt isn't ready to sleep. Rebekah has wandered off in search of the library. The moon is full, its light streaming invitingly through the windows. The night is warm and nothing about being inside feels right to him, so he goes for a walk.
He roams aimlessly, across a lawn that has to be bigger than four football fields, sloping down toward trees and the lake. The grass gives way to ferns and old leaves under the trees' canopy. Soon he's at the edge of the water. It laps against the rocks. He sits on a boulder and looks for constellations he recognizes, but he doesn't really know how.
What was he thinking, coming on this trip? It was a terrible mistake. It feels wrong to be so far from home, to try to be carefree, especially here. In a castle. He contemplates the ways he could get back to the states on his own. He could have Charles get him to Dublin and wait tables there until he made enough to buy a ticket home. Stay at a hostel. He could pull double shifts and get back to Mystic Falls in five or six months if he saved everything he makes.
Mystic Falls. The thought fills him with regret and the memory of dread.
The whole point of coming on this trip was to get away, to let Rebekah show him a world he had never seen, would never be able to see without her generosity. So it's weird – of course it's weird. But the alternative, more of the same dead-end life in the horror capital of Virginia, is unthinkable.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. Quit sulking and make the most of it, he tells himself.
"Here you are," he hears behind him.
"Fresh air," Matt says, turning. She's got that look on her face again, like he could be easily spooked.
"You hate this. You want to go home." It's not a question.
"I don't," he assures her and himself at the same time. "But this isn't going to be a tour of castles all summer, is it?"
"Just this first place, for you, because your family has a long, important history. Longer and more important than mine."
He takes a deep breath and decides in that moment to open up to her. To trust her a little. "My dad left before I was born. Never knew him. I met him once when I was a kid. He was an asshole. That whole side of the family – this whole side – I don't know them."
"I didn't realize."
Matt nods, stares out over the lake. "I'm not this person. I'm not castles and helicopters and I don't need three forks to eat dinner. I'm just a guy. I'm never going to be any different than that. Okay?"
"Yeah, okay," she whispers with a hint of a smile.
When Matt wakes up in the small bedroom off the sitting room, noon sun fills their suite. Rebekah is out, but brunch is laid out on the table, with a newspaper and a pot of coffee. He pours himself a mug and stares out the window. His thoughts are sluggish and his head is pounding: jet lag. He flips through the paper, page after page of local stories and soccer stats. It's weird not to have anything to do, no job to get ready for, no phone to call and check on friends. No danger to avoid.
Everything is fine, and Matt might be slightly bored. He smears red jam on toast and watches the lake while he takes a bite. He keeps eating until hardly anything is left, even the smoked salmon which he always thought he hated, even the roasted tomatoes that looked beaten on the plate. He's drinking the last of the coffee when Rebekah returns.
"You're awake." Her skin glows with a slight burn that darkens the freckles across the bridge of her nose. Her hair is pulled back in a loose ponytail, from which a few wisps around her face have escaped.
"Take a walk?"
"I took the boat into town, actually."
He's about to ask her what she found there but her lips are pressed tight and there's an intensity in her eyes, a plea. It occurs to him that she can't exist on toast and coffee for the entire summer. She'll need blood, and if she's trying to be good, she won't be able to get it anywhere but at a blood bank. All of which is her business, not his. "Oh," he says instead.
Rebekah's expression softens immediately. She sinks down into a seat across the table from Matt. "Did you sleep enough?"
Matt scratches his head, smoothing his unruly hair. "Is that even possible? I guess. The bed was really comfortable."
"Not too small?"
(The question is an echo of last night: "I'm gonna sleep in here," Matt volunteered, hovering in the doorway of the extra bedroom.
"But that bed is barely big enough for a child," Rebekah countered. "You could –"
"No," he interrupted, a little too loud, "this is better."
She took a sharp breath. "But -" she started.
He crossed the space between them in one step and gathered her, stiffly, into a hug. "Get some sleep," he whispered into her hair. He wasn't rejecting her, just… they weren't there yet.)
He shrugs, meeting her eyes. "It was a little small, yeah."
Matt watches a wisp of a grin flash across Rebekah's face and quickly vanish. "I've arranged for the helicopter today. We can stay in Dublin tonight, and then, well… where do you want to go next?"
"Me? I don't know."
"Anywhere, Matt. Where have you always wanted to go, since you were a child?"
"Honestly? No idea. I mean, the possibility was never real enough to dwell on it. Where do you want to go?"
"No, it's your turn."
"But I really don't know."
She makes a space in front of her on the small table and folds her hands there. "Well, what do you like to eat? We'll go wherever your favorite food is."
Matt sighs. "Burgers and fries."
"Back to the states it is, then," she teases.
"Fine, fine." He leans back, studying the ceiling. "Paris."
"Really?" she gasps.
That decides it. He grins without looking at her. "Definitely."
Her head cants to the side. "I'm surprised, to be honest. What do you want to see there?"
What was it she said in the parking lot? "The Louvre. And other stuff."
He locks eyes with hers. "I want to see every inch of the Louvre. They keep art there, right?"
"You should choose what you want."
"I don't know what I want. I don't really know what there is – I mean, Germany had Nazis; there's pizza in Italy. Spain has… bulls? But you want to show me the Louvre, and I'm sure there's stuff in Paris I'd like, too. They must have food there that's good."
"Amazing, truly. Croissants like clouds and magical sauces and the chefs, their technique is masterful. Oh, and! They have crepes!"
"Aren't those, like, pancakes?"
"Not remotely," she laughs. "They've got stands on every corner. You can get them slathered in chocolate, or filled with ham and cheese, or mushrooms, or strawberry preserves, or, I don't know, probably escargot even."
"You had me until escargot."
"That seals it. You're eating a snail in France."
Less than two hours later, they have tickets to Paris for the following morning and keys to two hotel rooms in a sleepy artists' neighborhood of Dublin. Matt feels right here, amid second-hand stores and a pub every fifty feet. Aside from the accent, there's something about this place that, even having never been here before, makes him feel at home.
He walks taller, offering his arm to Rebekah as they stroll the streets around their hotel. After dinner, they pass a pub with live music roaring from inside, loose and spontaneous. Rebekah asks to stop in; Matt suspects it's more for his benefit more than hers. At the bar, Matt yells over the din for a couple of beers, and then he follows Rebekah to one of the few empty tables in the place, near the band.
Matt is spellbound. The musicians are all seated in the far corner: two guitarists, both singing, a fiddle player, and a woman playing a wide, flat drum, eyes closed, face serene. Nothing amplified. The singers raise their voices in close harmony, not in English, and the style is folk-like, but somehow current. Real.
One song ends and the drummer begins a new beat, faster and more insistent, and the fiddler leaps in with a shrieking slide. There's a mounting cheer – the crowd knows this song – and then people begin to stand, making their way to small patches of empty floor, already starting to dance. They bounce and sway; some sing along.
Rebekah is carried away. She appears lit from within, dancing in her seat, just barely holding herself back. Normally, Matt is too self-conscious to dance – he may have danced in public twice in his life, including once at Homecoming sophomore year when Elena dragged him out onto the dance floor. But he is somehow disengaged from the world here, and at the same time newly plugged in. The energy in the room is infectious and one of the guitarists starts shaking his head as if to say "come on, man!" So he stands up and offers Rebekah his hand.
He pulls her up and into his arms. She looks like she's just been given a present. He has no idea how to dance to this music and Rebekah is much bouncier than he is, but they find a way to move together. He reminds himself that no one cares if he can't dance, that no one is watching him be hulking and awkward and not know where to put his feet. Rebekah stretches and curves with confidence, pressing into his chest one minute, leaning back against his arm the next, urging him this way and that.
The band doesn't let the crowd down, spooling out song after song with the same exuberant beat, winding the dancers up and keeping them there. Matt loses his inhibitions bit by bit, eventually pushing their table back with his hip to make more room for them. He picks up moves from the other dancers and even tries spinning Rebekah a few times. When the last song of the set slowly pulls into its final chords, he leans her backward into a low dip.
But she's heavier than she looks and he doesn't have the grip he needs and she didn't know what was coming so her footing is off and it happens too quickly to stop it: Rebekah hits the floor, mouth wide open in shock.
"Shit! Sorry," he mutters, crouching to help her up.
Matt and Rebekah end up at the bar with Deck, one of the guitarists and the nephew of the bartender. Over the next hours patrons leave, the rest of the musicians head home, and even the bartender eventually drifts away.
Matt likes Deck. He appears to be about ten years older than Matt, weathered but not too much, and full of stories about gigs gone wrong and women that made it worth it. He refills their glasses frequently from a bottle of whiskey he fished out from under the bar, and seems to have a mile-high alcohol tolerance.
At some point, maybe an hour ago, Deck left to go to the bathroom and never came back. Now Rebekah is curled around her glass, her eyes misting over with memory. Or with being snockered, as Deck called it.
She jerks her chin toward the door where Deck was last seen. "He reminds me of Alexander."
"Alexander who came back from the dead to kill me? Awesome."
"He wasn't always a killer. He wanted to be good. Not his fault he became a hunter."
Matt slugs a mouthful of whiskey he definitely doesn't need. Standing up is going to be a challenge.
She continues, waving her glass toward the kitchen door. "Maybe it's wishful thinking. Probably. But sometimes, he was… there was…"
"He was playing you, 'Bekah." Her eyes flash with delight for a second, and then she's back to staring into her glass. "Way I heard it, he wanted to kill you and your whole family. You couldn't trust him. I mean, you shouldn't have."
She swirls her drink, withdrawing into herself again. "He was good at heart. He acted like he loved me."
It's quiet for a while; neither of them is sober enough to measure time all that well. Matt lets what Rebekah said ferment, and at some point he starts speaking his thoughts aloud.
"I don't know if Elena ever loved me. But I loved her. I still love her."
Rebekah sits back on the stool, scowling. "Bitch."
"But she was your friend."
"We both wanted the same thing is all. Of course, we failed, so…"
Matt suspects the loss of the cure means more to her than a simple failed plan, but Rebekah sets her jaw and takes a swig and that is the end of that discussion.
"I mean before," she continues, "with you, with Stefan. Elena never actually opens her heart, even back when she was human. It's what kept you reeled in, and Stefan, and now Damon. Everyone loves her because there's this promise that she might love you back."
His first impulse is to argue because that doesn't seem exactly true. But leaving Elena and recent near-tragedies behind is part of what this trip is about, so he lets it go. "But you and Stefan, right? I don't get it. What is it about him?"
She traces along a scratch in the bar's varnish. "With Stefan, you can see there's something going on under the surface. He smolders. It draws you in; Nik saw it, too. He was jealous of both of us. That was a bonus. I was souring on Nik then – kind of a cycle, I guess." She rolls her eyes. "But your question: Stefan had depth. And he acted like he cared about me."
"You don't think he really did?"
She slowly drains her glass, then holds it out for a refill. "Maybe if I were human. But anyway, why did you and Caroline break up? Because of Tyler?"
He takes a swig of whiskey, holding it on his tongue until it burns. "No. She was…" There is a flicker of concern in his muddy, intoxicated mind about what he's about to say, but the thought fades before it can take hold. "He was into her, I guess, but I'm pretty sure she didn't cheat on me, if that's what you mean. It's just… she was a vampire. I couldn't pretend that wasn't huge. On some level, she wanted to kill me. I mean, I couldn't date a vampire, no matter how much she acted like everything was normal."
He stares into his glass, waiting for her to say something dismissive about Caroline, but she doesn't. And he has more to say, about how things are different now. But when he looks up, she glances guiltily away, first at her own drink, then at the door.
"It's late," Matt agrees, following her eyes.
She looks… something. Upset, maybe. "We should go. Plane in the morning."
They don't speak on the way back to the hotel.
When Matt goes to unlock the door to his room Rebekah stops him, touching his hand for a split second before yanking it away like it's on fire. "I'm a vampire and you're not an idiot. I've done bad things to loads of people, including you," she begins, "and I'm older than dirt and nearly impossible to kill."
Matt scrambles to follow what she's trying to say. His head is thick and slow.
"All the fancy things, the castle and… I'm not trying to buy your attention."
"I didn't think you were," he says, a reflex.
"My point is," she continues, straightening, turning to face him with a slight edge in her eyes, "you don't have to pretend. I know better than to expect you'll ever like me. You don't have to dance with me. I'll still take you to France and wherever else, even if -"
"I like you," he interrupts. "I mean, it's complicated, but… Bekah, I'm not pretending."