A/N: I'm back again, this time with my very first shot at first person POV. I'm looking at switching between Damon and Elena POV as the chapters progress. I thank you all in advance for reading. This isn't an unheard of concept for a story, however it's also not what it may seem. There's a lot to unravel, and I plan to do so, much in a way I have with my stories in the past. This is a new challenge for me, and I very much look forward to it.
The story title is a song by Bastille. It was featured on The Vampire Diaries in season 4.
Thank you again for reading!
I hold my breath and count to ten as the wheels of our airplane touch down on the runway. I'm not afraid of flying, or landing for that matter. In fact, I'd almost rather still be in the air, where my future was still...in the future. I've been traveling for nearly 7 hours, including 2 layovers. I should be cartwheeling down aisle, doing jumping jacks that I've finally reached my destination. But I'm not.
Susan, the woman next to me on the aisle side of our row, shifts and unbuckles her belt, reaching for her purse beneath the seat in front of her. She's been a pleasant travel companion, all the way from Cody, Wyoming to here, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I've heard all about her 4 grandchildren and her plans to retire next year, and I've welcomed the easy conversation. It's kept my mind off my own life and the man sitting to my right.
His dark hair is sticking up on the right side, where he's been mashed against the wall for the last few hours, somehow lulled to sleep by the rock music blaring from his earbuds. He's awake now, staring out the small, finger-print smeared window.
"Thank God we're here," Susan says, reaching for my hand on the cold armrest. "I'm sure you two are, too." Her eyes dart to him, then back to me and she winks. "Before he died, my husband and I were always happy to sleep in our own bed after a long trip..." Her voice is full of love and longing, and I wish I knew what it felt like to miss someone that way. "Hang onto that one, dear. He's a looker."
The blood rushes to my cheeks, but I don't know why. It isn't like he can hear her over his music, and even if he did, it wouldn't matter. My smile widens and I hope she attributes my blush to affection and not the discomfort twisting my insides.
I manage a smile. Jesus, if she only knew the half of it.
She's right. He's easy to look at. It's not like I haven't noticed. He's got long, dark eyelashes even a woman would envy, and black stubble along his cheeks. He's focused on something out the window, and I can't help but notice the way his eyes crinkle when he smiles. I catch the reflection of his blue eyes in the window and quickly look away before he turns. This isn't the first time he's caught me staring at him. I can't help it. I'm hoping one of these times it'll trigger something.
He pulls the string of his earbuds with one gentle tug until they fall easily in his lap and slides his hand over my right one naturally, as if he's done it thousands of times before...and I'm guessing he has. I swallow and tip my head in his direction and his lips curve up into a lopsided smile. At least one of us seems comfortable.
Maybe it's because he's had a hell of a lot longer to figure out what to say.
"All set, Elena?" His voice is rich and deep, the timbre protective. There's genuine tenderness in his eyes, and I'm not certain what to do with it. My mouth suddenly feels like I've been sucking on a wad of cotton the entire flight. He may be calm, but I'm terrified.
It's not just him that makes me nervous; it's the whole damn situation. My name feels foreign on my lips, like it doesn't really belong to me. I didn't expect to wake up one morning and learn I'd slept through the last four years of my life. My early-twenties are practically gone, and I missed every moment of it.
The worst part is knowing the world kept right on going while I was away. He tells me it's only four years, and I know he's trying to comfort me, but it just isn't working. I can't get those four years back. They're just gone.
There are days I wish I'd tried to do this on my own. Having an almost-stranger tell me I survived when no one else did was bad enough. I don't remember my last night awake or the few years leading up to it, but I must've been able to make reckless decisions. No memories needed; the shiny diamond on my ring finger is proof enough.
"Stay by me in the airport. It's crowded and we'll have to pick up our luggage from baggage claim," he's speaking to me like I'm a child and I can't stand it anymore. I cringe and look away, but nod slowly so he doesn't say it again. I'm not naïve enough to miss how hard this must be on him, too. He didn't vow to sleep alone every night for four years while I lie in a hospital bed.
I hate not being able to do things by myself. For myself. I hate being told what to do; I guess that much hasn't changed. Memories before age 17 are as clear as the Midwest morning sky. Coach purses and Jimmie Choo's. Forced smiles and dinner parties. I spent my entire childhood trying to please my parents, afraid if I did anything wrong they'd stop talking to me altogether. We weren't close; often I felt like they had me just to keep up with everyone else in their social circle. But every now and then when I was small, my father would settle me into his lap and read me a story. It's that version I want to remember...not the rest of it. Not the loneliness.
I'm an only child, and the friends I made in boarding school were nothing like me. Their smiles were as plastic as a toothpaste ad, and I longed for something genuine. Someone who saw life differently than me...who didn't worry about small things that wouldn't matter in a day. Someone who could make me see things that way, too.
I needed someone to ground me...to bring me back to earth, because honestly, I could feel myself starting to float out of my shoes and I hated it. I remember not really knowing myself. I'd look in the mirror and see the scowl my mother often wore, or catch myself using my fathers disinterested tone, and as the years went on, it was harder to distance myself from their world. Truth be told, I loved them. What child doesn't love a parent or bend over backwards just to have them pay an ounce of attention to them instead of their work or their ladies' association?
So I forced myself to roll with the punches for my first 17 years. I was so afraid I'd have no one, like they always threatened would happen if anything ever happened to them. And I was right to fear the unknown, because this is the most disconnected I've ever been.
I feel nothing, just blank. My head is full of whys and what ifs and this beautiful man is sitting next to me, promising me he'll help me find the answers.
Three weeks ago...
I wake up in a hospital bed, surrounded by monitors and faces I don't recognize. The doctors ask me too many questions I don't know the answers to, and I want nothing more than to close my eyes and go back to sleep. To me, it feels like I've just been dreaming...and like any typical dream, time passes immeasurably. I had no way of knowing how long it had been since my eyes had last opened. And then I see a man with big blue eyes, staring at me like I'm a ghost. After a moment, his mouth parts like he has something really important to say, but he closes it quickly and tucks his hands into the front pockets in his jeans, settling for a generic Hi, Elena, instead.
Two words are enough; a surge of hope fills me when his smooth voice floats into my ears. It's warm and familiar in a way nothing else is right now, and I close my eyes so he can't see my tears doctors say I've been in a coma but they don't tell me what caused it right away. It's only been a few hours and I'm already to lost in my own head.
That afternoon, the medical staff leaves me alone with Damon for the first time since I've woken up. I don't know what to do or say, just that he's someone from life who's going to tell me about...me. His warm fingers push my dark wavy hair behind an ear and he looks at me in complete disbelief. Like I'm not real. Like he's afraid he's the one who's been stuck in a dream for too long. He brushes the backs of his fingers against my cheek just once, and I feel the cold metal of his wedding band against my skin. Instinctively, my eyes flick down to my ring finger and notice it's bare.
"So...you're really awake," he says. I think he must be reassuring himself. I wonder where my parents are and why this stranger is the one telling me all this.
After another few moments of silence, he pulls his hand away and settles it with the other one in his lap as he seems to struggle for the right words. It almost seems like he's in pain. I don't know why because I don't know who he is, and I'm afraid to admit it. Especially since he's looking at me almost affectionately.
I frown, caught up in the fact that I should probably let him know somehow, because unlike me, he knows exactly what's going on. I'm having trouble maintaining eye contact, so I glance down at my blankets to keep myself together.
Carefully, he begins to explain.
"There was an accident, Lena," he nearly whispers. I don't remember anyone ever calling me that, but I like the nickname...it helps me feel more like a real person. Like I really did exist before now. "Your house caught on fire..."
And though it's hard to feel much of anything right now, I do feel panic. Because I don't remember a fire, I don't remember the night that nearly took away my life. I don't remember a thing past getting my driver's license. The funny part...or not so funny part, is that it feels like just yesterday I was getting ready for a silly high school dance.
He says it's a miracle I survived the smoke inhalation, let alone the flames. My entire childhood home burned to the ground with my parents inside, leaving me with an inheritance, a trust fund and an insurmountable feeling of guilt knowing I'll never have the chance to make amends with them. The last memory I have is of wanting to rebel...to really piss them off. I wonder if I did, but he doesn't go into any of that right now.
I stay silent while he explains, refusing to believe any of it. He hasn't stopped to tell me where he fits into the picture. He's probably hoping the only part of my life I don't remember is that night. After he's finished, he squeezed my hand once and stands, insisting he needs a cup of coffee and that he'll be right back. While he's gone, I will myself to remember. Anything. Everything. Even one little detail. I strain so hard my head begins to ache, and by the time he's back with a styrofoam cup of hospital coffee, I'm angry with myself.
I think he can tell, because he settles back into the chair beside me and offers me a comforting smile. And I am comforted, but I don't know why. Is it because he's here? Because I'm not alone? Because he's my only connection to the life I used to know...even if I don't remember it?
"I'm sorry I keep staring at you. It's just really good to see you. You've been asleep for awhile," he says finally, a gentle smile forming on his lips. His thumb rubs over my left cheekbone. "I missed those pretty eyes." He takes a breath, as if waiting for me to say I missed him, too, but it never comes. Instead, he smiles with understanding.
"I'm sorry," I manage. I'm not sure if I'm apologizing because I've been gone so long, or because I don't remember him. My voice sounds different than I remember, and I frown.
"You're not sure who I am, are you?"
I shake my head, ashamed. I don't know how to act around him, or if the way I'm behaving right now is how I would've before. I find myself over thinking everything, as if I'm going to make a mistake and he'll notice and tell me I'm wrong. But he doesn't. He sits there patiently.
As his words sink in, I begin to wonder just how long I've been asleep. My eyes scan over his features, catching on his stubble. He's older than me. I think. How long have I been out? What exactly did I miss? "What year is it...? How old am I?"
He eyes me carefully, then reaches for my hand. I pull away, worried by the look he's giving me. "You're twenty-three."
"What?" My heart stops. I scoot up in the bed, searching for the mirror against the wall behind him, but I can't get a good enough look. "I can't be." I touch my cheeks, as if that would be any indication that I've aged. "I would know. I would feel it. I..."
"You were asleep for four years...19 when the accident happened."
Then why don't I remember the last two I was awake for before the accident? In my head, I'm still 17. I'm still a kid, for God's sake. But I'm not, and it's clear to me I have no idea who I am. Tears prick my eyes again, but this time I let one slide down my cheek, swiping it away with a hand before crashing fists down onto my hospital bed.
I know I must seem crazy right now. One minute I'm high the next I'm low. I'm a whole lot of nothing right now, other than completely confused. It hits me like a truck and suddenly I snap. I'm not angry with him...just everything else. I'm angry at myself for not being able to wake up for four years. For not being able to save my parents. For not getting the chance to tell them I love them before they went.
He lets the information stew for awhile.
"And who the hell are you to tell me all this?" I finally ask, harshly. I'm frustrated and overwhelmed and would give just about anything to go back to sleep. While his voice is soothing, I liked it a lot more when I didn't have to deal with this new reality. My blank life. I'm missing so many pieces of the puzzle; it's not even fair.
He scrubs his face with his hands for a moment and take a breath, bracing himself before he says it. Immediately, I know something's wrong. I can tell by the flicker in his beautiful blue eyes. He's someone I'm supposed to remember, someone I need to know, and my stomach churns as I wait for him to deliver.
"I'm your husband," the words fall from his lips in a sigh and I'm pretty sure I stop breathing. I stare at him blankly, as if I maybe misheard him. Talk about being blindsided. How much big information can a person take in just a few short hours? "I'm Damon."
I know his name because I've heard the doctors say it. I just didn't realize my last name was Salvatore, too. I blink at him once, then look away quickly because it's all too much. This man is sitting beside me, holding my hand...telling me he missed my eyes and somehow, he means nothing to me. I can't remember loving him, but must have or I wouldn't have married him. I don't remember love at all. Nothing more than the tough love of parents and the tiniest, squirmiest feelings in my stomach when I had a crush on a Ryan Wilson at the start of freshman year. Nothing this big. Nothing this...eternal.
I feel like a fool and I just want him to leave. It's hard knowing so little. Everything inside my head right now is either from my childhood or something I learned in the last hour. Nothing is my own. How can it be if I don't even remember the years leading up to my coma?
"It's okay, baby. Really..." he reaches for me again but I jerk away and fold my arms across my chest. I watch as his chest falls. He seems disappointed but I have to think about me. I'm being a baby right now, but I can't help it. I want to remember so badly. He's not just a friend like I thought he might be, and not recognizing my own husband scares me. "It's all going to be okay, I promise."
I get the feeling there's something he doesn't want to tell me.
"No. It isn't," I snap and I watch the color fade from his eyes. I immediately regret my tone. "I'm empty," I wave toward my head. I'm not angry with him for what he told me. Hell, he had to tell me. I know the doctors suggested he talk to me about my life, but I'm afraid of what's coming next. I don't want to find out we have a child I don't remember or some other horrifying truth. I can't even handle what he's given me now. "Please, Damon. Just go. I need some time alone to think."
His brow knits, but he doesn't push back. Instead, he nods. He's had four years to plan out this moment. I'm sure the doctors told him this could happen. They'd tossed around words like post-traumatic amnesia, but I'm left wondering if the memories will ever come back. I'm afraid they won't...but right now, I'm even more afraid they will.
I don't want to remember being stuck in a burning building while my family melted away. I'm terrified of these missing memories because I have a feeling my brain wants to keep them locked away. It's like I'm blocking something that's too hard to process, and maybe it's best to leave it alone.
"I'll let you relax," he offers, but his voice sounds sad. "And I am sorry. I didn't know how to tell you but I didn't want to lie. I know it's a lot to deal with all at once, but I figure it's better if you get to know the guy who'll be taking care of you when you get released. I'm not trying to scare you."
I'm staring at my empty ring finger when I hear the door close. I married young. I wonder what it's like to love him...if the wedding was an impulse decision or carefully planned out and anticipated? I don't know if my parents approved or if they ever really even knew him at all. And while he's been supportive of me so far, I have no idea what he's like or what he does in life. I don't even remember graduating from high school or starting college.
Mostly, I wonder how the hell I'm going to do this. How can I go home to a place that isn't home at all with a man I barely know? How can I trust my life with a stranger? I fall asleep with these thoughts clouding my head. The next morning when I wake up, I remember what he told me...all the things he said about me and about us. I tell myself that if I listen closely enough, someday his words will fall into place and serve as memories.
He shows up everyday to sit with me and I'm working hard not to shutdown on him like I did that first day. Somedays he's talkative and others he just looks sad, worried, like at any given moment I might decide to leave again. I tuck these thoughts in the back of my mind so I can revisit them later. I'm in no position to start analyzing him at this point, and I'm probably way off base anyway.
I wonder where he sleeps, because he always sticks around until around 10pm when the nurses tell him he has to go unless he plans on spending the night. He hasn't yet, and I can't blame him. It can't be easy having a wife who doesn't remember him. He probably hoped I'd open my eyes and wrap my arms around him. Instead, he's no more recognizable than the nurses taking care of me.
The doctors are still running non-stop tests and I feel like a lab rat. I'm anxious to get out of the hospital, even if I don't know where I'm going when I leave. It's then that I learn he isn't from Wyoming. Not only will I be leaving the hospital with him, I'll also be moving across the country. I'm not leaving anything behind I guess. Maybe it's better that I get away and just start fresh.
While I remember living my life as a teenager, I have trouble doing simple things now. Damon assures me the doctors have made him well aware of my current state. He says he's fully prepared for anything that happens, and I guess I should take comfort in that. I'm just not entirely comfortable relying on him for everything. Even if he is my husband.
It's finally our row's turn to shuffle into the plane's aisle. I sneak out after Susan, bidding her one last goodbye as Damon reaches up into the overhead compartment to grab our duffle bags. I can't help but watch as the muscles in his arm flex beneath his T-shirt. I'm not the only one who notices, either. Two teenage girls in the row we're passing giggle and he nods a hello before placing his free hand on my shoulder as we walk forward.
"We've got about an hour drive home," he says quietly, nudging me closer toward the front of the plane. "We can stop to eat, if you'd like. You're probably starving."
This place we're headed shouldn't be strange to me. Damon and I moved there three months before the accident, he tells me. I'm going home to my own bed, that I shared with this man, yet I don't remember kissing him or the way he tastes. I can't recall the way his hands feel on my skin or the way it sounds when he says I love you. I don't know what it even feels like to be so consumed by someone that I'd promise to feel that way forever.
The airport is as busy as he promised it would be, and though I really want to do things on my own, I'm happy to know one face in this crowd. I walk closely to him, bumping shoulders every once in awhile when someone knocks into us on the moving walkway. He hasn't reached for my hand since we got off the plane, and I'm grateful for the space.
I fell asleep when I was nineteen and he was 21. I was old enough to think like an adult, but I can't help but feel somewhat out of place...like I'm supposed to be more mature or just naturally understand my situation in life. I don't feel well-adjusted at all and I wonder what I'd be like if I'd never gone into that coma.
I was relieved to learn we don't have children. It's bad enough not remembering simple things. I'd never be able to take care of a child, nor would I want him or her to see me this way. I couldn't handle knowing I'd just checked out of consciousness for four years while he was left to take care of babies. I feel awkward enough knowing I'd been away from him so long and that he'd waited. At least I think he'd waited.
My head rattles with questions. Was he forced to choose if I got to stay alive? Did he visit me often while I was asleep? His voice was so soothingly familiar; I had to believe he talked to me in my dreams. It's so hard to remember what I dreamt about while I was away. It was a mix of familiar voice and sounds blended together. The doctors...and Damon, as well as the memory of my parents' voices. They all sounded so concerned, but at the time I just didn't know why.
We step outside and are hit with a blast of cold wind. It's November and the temperatures have already started to nosedive. I tug a pink and purple knit hat over my ears, letting my curls fall to the front of black peacoat, just below my shoulders. I reach up to touch the ends; it's shorter than I remember. I wonder if Damon had it cut on a regular basis to make me seem more like the woman he knew.
He brought a soft pair of jeans and a well-fitting red v-neck t-shirt to the hospital this morning, along with a cozy black cable knit sweater that buttons in the front, saying it was my favorite thing to wear on long trips. I nodded and thanked him, welcoming the comfortable fabric after a long, hot shower. They'd kept me in the hospital for a week and a half after I woke to make sure I was physically okay and mentally stable enough to leave, but this is the first time I've truly been free. I spent the last week and a half a rehab facility, talking to psychologists and neurologists and every other type of doctor deemed necessary for me to see before I was fully released. I went through the motions simply because I wasn't really in a rush to go anywhere. I'm not sure if they thought talking things through would help me remember, but it didn't. I'm still lost, still blank...it's just now I get to see the world again. If there's ever been hope that I'll regain parts of my past, I have to believe it'll come from being around the people and things I used to know.
I shiver a tuck my nose into the collar of my thick coat as we make our way to the car. Damon drives an army green pickup truck. It's not old by any means, but it's not fancy and new, either. I know it's only a car, but it tells me a little about him. It's clean and and the seats are soft and comfortable. I know the clothes don't make the man, but he dresses in a way that makes my mouth water and my heart calm at the same time. He dresses casually, but looks good doing it, and I get the impression he's not trying to show off. He's just naturally attractive, and it radiates off him in waves.
I wonder if that's what attracted me to him in the first place, or if it was something else. While he's given me basic details about where we live – Oak Hill, population 1,003 – and my favorite foods and music, we haven't gotten into the nitty gritty of us. The way we met...the way we fell in love and why on earth we decided to get married when I was only nineteen. Apparently after my little freak out the first day I woke up, the neurologists suggested he take things slowly.
He handed me my wedding ring just before we got on the plane. It's on my finger now, but no matter how hard I try, I can't conjure up the memory of the first time he slipped it on. I've taken it off and put it back on at least a dozen times since we left the rehabilitation center. I feel the same whether it's on or not, but I know I should feel guilty for not wearing it. Especially since the man beside me wore his for four long, tiresome years...even when I was away.
I'm okay with all of this...as long as I know I'm not going home with a stranger or someone who would take advantage of me. Everything about him so far suggests I'm going home with a really good friend. Sophie, one of the nurses who'd taken care of me over the years, seemed to notice my tension at first. After he left the first night after I woke up, she came into my room and told me I didn't need to be afraid of him...that he was a kind man whom I could trust. And I trusted her, because as far as I'm concerned, she knows him better than I do. And it's worked out so far. He hasn't tried anything – no kissing, no hugging, and other than the comment about missing my eyes, he hasn't said anything to make me feel uncomfortable. I wonder what he wants from me, or if this is all just a formality.
He rubs his hands together and breathes into them, the hot air coming out of his mouth in a white mist of condensation. His cheeks are pink and he looks full of life, totally real. I catch him staring up into the winter sky, whispering something once before he ducks into the car and turns the engine.
"So...stupid question," he smiles. "Do you still like pancakes?" His question is easy to answer and lightens the mood. Of course I still like pancakes. How could I not?
"And coffee. Real coffee...not that hospital crap," I stick out my tongue. I have no idea what I'm about to get myself into. I have to trust that when we get home, things will be as he said they'd be. I have to put my faith in an almost-stranger, and hope it's not the biggest mistake of my life. I can't afford to completely let my guard down. I remain on the defense, always aware...because I can't afford to just give myself away.
I don't know what I'm searching for by going home with him. Do I still want the things he says we used to have? Can I be the person I used to be? If I never remember our past, will I even want a future?
"I know just the place," he says, clicking on his seatbelt with a smile. "Best pancakes in the state. Eat two of 'em and you'll be full until breakfast tomorrow." His grin is wide and I notice dimples. He's tugged a red worn baseball cap down over his messy hair, but his bangs still rest across his forehead below the bill. His eyes are incredibly blue, his face still coated in stubble. I'm not so good at analyzing things at the moment, but I decide that he might be someone this new me would wanted to get to know anyway. Even if we weren't married.
I notice the little things about him, because I feel like I should. Everything from the way he walks to the way he opens my car door tells me a little more about the man with whom I'm about to be reacquainted. These past few weeks have been a challenge, but he's approached it in a way that makes me feel supported, not suffocated. I'm not sure if it's because I was always around medical attention when I needed it. I just hope he continues to let me find freedom and find myself, even if that means I'm not the person I used to be. Even if I can't love him the way I used to.