The next couple of days were peaceful. Lindsey and Damon spent time at the beach, and drove to Pensacola to the Naval Aviation Museum, which Damon found fascinating. It was one of Lindsey's favorite attractions, too, and they always had a new exhibit to see.
"I'm going to the store. I don't think I've really cooked for you, and since you do enjoy people food, I want to do that." Lindsey reached up to stroke his face.
Damon kissed her forehead. It was not terribly early, but enough that he was ready to get up. "So you can cook?" he murmured in her hair.
"I can. I'm a fantastic cook, if I do say so myself. I love to cook. It's a creative outlet when I'm not writing."
He grinned at her. "You're a woman of many, many talents," he said and kissed her suggestively.
She returned the kiss for a moment, then rolled away from him. "I need to get up." He watched as she went into the bathroom. He hoped, before too long, she would be comfortable allowing him to see her body any time. She didn't have a problem taking care of him any time, anywhere in the house. But, if more than her top came off, she wanted darkness. Even if he could see her pretty well no matter the lighting, she said too much light made her self-conscious. And since she was so passionate otherwise, he didn't want to ruin it. She had just nearly freaked out when he got in the shower with her. She wouldn't let him in until he turned the light out. And while a shower in the dark was erotic all on its own, he really wanted her to be more comfortable with him. She allowed him to bite her, but not see her naked in the daylight. It was a little strange. But he was interested in persevering.
Damn. He was getting downright domestic, but oddly, he didn't mind too much. He had plenty of bagged blood, and she supplied him with the fresh kind. And her blood made him high. He had heard from a drunk witch years ago that some humans just naturally had blood that produced euphoria in vampires. Lindsey must be one of those humans. He always felt high and happy after he drank from her, like he had smoked way too much weed, except he was clear-headed.
After they had a morning walk on the beach, Lindsey left to go to the grocery store. Damon decided to shower after she left. Sand got everywhere. He was getting out of the shower and thought he heard the door open. He went into the den. "Forget something?" he said and saw five men in dark suits.
"Hello Mr. Salvatore," one said. Damon started to run, but felt a sting in his back, and the familiar nausea of vervain. His last thought before he blacked out was that he hoped Lindsey wouldn't be captured again, either.
Lindsey pulled into the drive and saw two plain, navy blue sedans parked next to the house. They had Virginia tags. Simultaneous heat and ice ran through her body. Without even thinking, she reached in the glove compartment for the pistol Damon bought, thankful to have it. She shoved a fully loaded clip into the weapon and cocked it, then put another clip in her pocket. She was so glad it was a semi-automatic and not a revolver. She closed the car door as quietly as she could and crept up the steps. The idiots had left the door open a little, and what she saw was terrifying. She bit her lips to keep from screaming. It was worse than any horror movie.
Damon was lying on the floor naked, his body opened from sternum to navel, and four men were standing over him. A fifth was kneeling next to him and had a hand in Damon's body cavity. Damon was semi-conscious and was rasping curses at them. There was a small cooler sitting on the floor. Lindsey didn't want to think about what might be in it.
She could hardly breathe for her fear, but remembered her marksmanship classes and physically inserted herself into the routine. Slow your breathing. One foot slightly in front of the other, weight distributed evenly on both legs. Build your stability pyramid. Hands holding the weapon securely, but not too tight. Weapon at shoulder height. Make every shot count. She eased the pistol up and aimed it at the nearest figure. Inhale, silent exhale, fire. Without saying a word, she blasted one bullet into the man's shoulder, shattering it, then turned to the man kneeling next to Damon and shot into into the base of his spine. He screamed in agony, and in the time it took the Augustines to react, Lindsey had the pistol leveled at another of the men and was ready to shoot.
"My shoulder!" the one was wailing and the other was crumpled on the floor, unable to move.
"What do you think you're doing? You might have paralyzed him!" one of the men yelled, pointing to the man on the floor.
"I might have blown his goddamned head off," Lindsey said, her voice low and deadly. "And I will if you bastards don't get out of here pretty damned quick. Pick up your buddy and carry him with you, or he's Damon's next meal. And I'll slit his carotid myself. As you can see, I'm not afraid to use a gun. Or anything I can get my hands on. So you'd better leave and none of your kind had ever better bother me or Damon again, or so help me God, I'll leave you in a condition that makes anything Damon ever did look like kindergarten." The weapon was still raised and her finger was on the trigger. One of the men started toward her and she fired, grazing his shoulder. He backed up hastily. The men picked up their associate and the cooler and streaked out the patio door and down the steps. She heard them gun their engines as they left. Lindsey ran to lock the outside doors before she put the pistol on the floor. Then she went to Damon, who was barely conscious. She fell to her knees beside him. Gore was all over the floor and what looked like intestines were draped over his side. Her face blanched and she knew she was going to throw up.
"I don't know what all they got from me. My liver, I know. Maybe my pancreas, too," he whispered.
"Will it all regenerate?" How could she sound so calm? She was about to pass out. Her head was buzzing and she was seeing spots.
He nodded. "But I can't heal as quickly with this hole in my middle." He weakly took her hand. "Can you put whatever's hanging out back inside, and get the edges together to start the healing? If you can do that, my body will do the rest," he said, wishing he could compel her to not feel fear or nausea at the sight. He knew it was awful. He could tell by the look on her face.
Lindsey nodded and twisted her hair back into a knot. She grabbed some paper towels to keep the blood wiped off her hands and swallowed resolutely. Forcing herself to concentrate only on the task, she pushed the – whatever it was – back inside his body, held the edges of the wound closed, and tried to pretend she was just holding two pieces of a leather coat together.
She could see the skin at the top of the wound already starting to close, and had to assume the fat and muscle layers were doing the same underneath. She had to screw her eyes closed against the sight and swallow to keep from vomiting, but kept her hands on Damon's body. Finally, the skin looked like it was closed and she sighed. She rose and got two bags of blood from the fridge and gave them to Damon, after putting a folded towel under his head. She noticed for the first time the people had put down a vinyl dropcloth on the floor to catch all the blood. At that point, it was too much for her and she ran to the bathroom and vomited. Then, she collapsed against the bathtub and sobbed.
She didn't know how much time had passed, but she felt arms around her and Damon had pulled her to him.
"You don't need to move," she said.
"I'll be OK," he assured her.
She looked at his arms around her. "You need more blood. You're still white as a sheet."
"Couple more bags and I'll be better. Takes a little longer with the bagged kind,especially since they vervained me," he said absently.
"Fresh would be better?" Lindsey said.
"Always is," he answered, and then, realizing what she was offering, said, "No. I'll be fine with the bags. I don't want to do that to you. Not like this."
"It's what you need right now, Damon. I trust you not to hurt me or take too much. If you need it, take it."
He closed his eyes. "I don't want to take advantage of you."
"You're not. I offered. Wrist or neck?"
He sighed. "Neck would be less effort."
She pushed her hair aside. "It's all right. Go ahead."
He nosed in her neck and felt and smelled the pulse of her blood. He dropped his fangs and felt the veins under his eyes bulge as he found the exact spot and sank his fangs in. He drank and as always, her blood was so incredibly sweet, so delicious, and he had to take a breath before he started to drink again.
Lindsey barely felt his fangs pierce her skin, but the feeling of Damon's mouth on her skin was intoxicating, as it always was. He was gentle and she relaxed against him. She felt his tongue swipe the wounds and he kissed them. Then, she saw him bite his hand and he gently rubbed a little of his blood against the wounds, so they would close without a scar. Then, he put his hand to Lindsey's mouth. "Here," he said. "Drink. You need it, now. Won't take much."
Lindsey wrinkled her nose, but did as he asked, and after a couple of swallows, could feel her strength returning. She kissed his palm and he put his arms around her. "I'm so glad I got here when I did. I saw the cars and I knew. I just knew."
"I don't know what all they had planned, but it wasn't good. I thought I was a goner, and then heard the car engine. I heard you get the gun and load it, and I thought maybe I had a chance, then. Thank God for Southern women who aren't afraid to use a gun."
Lindsey chuckled. "Not the first time it's happened in my family. I could tell you a couple of stories."
"And then to sit there and hold that wound closed. You must be one of the strongest women I've ever met, to do that for me."
"Necessity," was all she said.
"No, courage. Pure, unadulterated courage."
Lindsey reached behind her to stroke his cheek. "I did it because I had to. I was terrified and half sick the whole time."
"I know you were. But you did it anyway."
"Like I said. It had to be done. How in the world did they find us?"
"I don't know. I'm still trying to figure that out," Damon said. "But one of them told me they had been waiting until I was alone. That has to mean something."
The ghost of an idea occurred to Lindsey and she started to get up. "I'm sure it does. I left the groceries in the car."
"Don't worry. You can get them later."
"Not the ice cream. I'll take the pistol with me." She needed some air, but didn't want Damon to think she was abandoning him.
He nuzzled in her neck. "I wish I'd been in a condition to really appreciate seeing you standing there, aiming that pistol at those bastards. God, you were so badass! Saying you might have blown his head off and you were ready to feed him to me, and if they ever came after us again, you were gonna make anything I did look like kindergarten!" He was facing her and his eyes were alive with admiration. He was grinning at her.
Lindsey turned beet red. "I was totally pissed off and scared to death. I didn't know what I was saying."
"The hell you didn't! You told me the demons would have to get through you first, and by God, you were right. You are my warrior angel." He folded her into his arms and held her close.
"I'm so thankful you're going to be all right," she whispered into his chest.
"Thanks to you, you kickass steel magnolia."
She shook her head. "I fired three shots from a pistol. That hardly qualifies as kickass. And one shot missed. I could barely hold the gun steady, I was shaking so bad. But I knew I had to do something, or I was going to lose you, and I couldn't let that happen."
"You didn't look shaky. And," here he removed the clip from her pocket. "You brought an extra clip. For five people." He grinned at her.
"You always take extra ammo. I didn't know what I'd find."
He laughed and then winced. He was still very sore. "Deny it all you want to, but you turned into Lara Croft in there."
"You exaggerate. Come on. Let's get you to the bedroom. You still need to rest."
"Join me?" he wiggled his eyebrows.
"Later, when you're feeling better and I don't feel like tossing my cookies again." She went into the den, picked up the pistol, made sure the safety was on and put it in the waist of her jeans with her T-shirt over it.
She was unloading the groceries from the car when a woman came running up. "What happened? I live next door and thought I heard gunshots!"
Think, Lindsey, think. She turned to the woman. "I am so sorry. My dumbass boyfriend is up there. He got drunk and thought it would be fun to take potshots at the seagulls from the deck. He's such a tool when he drinks. I had to take the gun away from him. Sorry to scare you."
"It's OK. I'm just glad no one was hurt!"
"Me too. I felt like shooting him myself. Know what I mean?"
The woman grinned. "Exactly. Have a nice day!"
"You do the same." Lindsey took the groceries in and closed and locked the door. As soon as she did, she heard from the bedroom, "Your dumbass boyfriend was drunk and shooting seagulls?"
She laughed. "I had to come up with something, and that's what popped into my head." She went to the doorway. Damon was looking disgusted. "It satisfied her and she left."
"O.K.," he acquiesced. "It is a pretty good story for being made up on the spot like that."
"Thanks. I'm a writer, remember?"
"C'mere." He patted the bed. Lindsey sat down and he took her hand and brought it to his lips. "Thank you." She stroked his face, so thankful she could. "Lindsey, you don't know how glad I was when I heard you outside. I can't even tell you." She could see how difficult this was for him. Even though he knew he could tell her anything, he had a huge problem with really expressing what she would call the tender emotions. "I was thinking, 'it's Lindsey and I know she's got my back. She won't let them take me without a hell of a fight.'" He gripped her hand. "Thank you."
She kissed him softly. "You're welcome. What are friends for? Try to get some rest, now. Do you need another bag of blood? I know the regeneration process takes a little time."
"Another bag would be good. It would speed things up a little."
"I'll get one for you." She left and returned with the blood, warmed this time.
Damon smiled his thanks. "I don't remember the last time anyone was this good to me. Maybe Mother."
Lindsey kissed his forehead. "We all need someone to take care of us once in a while. Get some rest while I put these groceries away."
He finished the blood and drifted into a surprisingly pleasant sleep, considering what he had been through.
Lindsey, on the other hand, put the groceries up, checked on Damon, then silently went out the patio door, walked down the beach a ways, sat down and cried. She had been so scared when she saw the cars, and when she saw what they had done to Damon, she was consumed with rage. How dare they use him as a science project? Damon might be a vampire, but to Lindsey, he was still very much a human being, and no human should have to endure something like that. No wonder he had flipped the switch on his humanity. It was either that or lose his mind, she imagined.
Lindsey didn't know how long she sat, watching the waves, but at some point, she heard, "Are you all right?" and Damon was sitting behind her on the sand, pulling her back against his chest, his arms around her, legs on either side of her.
She leaned against him. "You ought to be resting."
"Mmm-hmm," was all she said.
"I asked you if you're O.K."
"Getting there, I hope."
"I am so sorry about that," he said.
"Nothing for you to apologize for. Not your fault."
"They wanted me."
"So do I. Still not your fault. Well, in my case, it is. You shouldn't be so sinfully good looking."
She felt his chest rumble with laughter. "The eternal stud – that's me."
Lindsay smacked Damon playfully on his leg and absently ran her hand down his leg. He hummed with pleasure, and then she stopped. There was – something – behind his right knee, there right above the joint. What was that? Her sensitive fingertips probed it, and the idea she had earlier made sense, now.
"What is it?" Damon asked.
"That's what I'd like to know. There's something underneath your skin. It's small, feels rectangular. It's hard." She half closed her eyes as she felt it. "I'd be willing to bet it's a computer chip of some kind." She looked back at Damon, who was leaning over her shoulder. "What do you want to bet it's a tracking chip? They probably zapped you with it when they got you in Knoxville."
He reached down and Lindsey guided his hand to the area. He felt it. "I think you're right. I'm getting some kind of hum from it, but it's really faint. I just haven't noticed it. This thing needs to come out. Now."
"I agree, but I'll have to do it. Even you can't contort yourself around to see where it is, and I don't think you want to try it in a mirror."
"I can rip it out."
"No. Your body has been through enough for one day. Let me go to the store and I'll be back. You lie down and rest some more. That's an order. They won't be back today. If they come and I catch them, I'm shooting to kill this go-round."
Damon knew better than to use vamp speed back to the house, so they walked back. Lindsey got her purse and made sure the doors were locked. She had forgotten it that morning, which is how the Augustines got inside to start with.
When she got back, Damon was watching TV and said, "What did you need to get?"
"Something sharp enough to cut that thing out without ripping half your skin off at the same time. I wanted something to numb the skin, but couldn't find anything."
Damon gave her an odd grin. "It's OK. Vampires have a different relationship with pain than humans do. What did you get to cut the skin?"
"An Xacto knife. It's the closest thing I could find to an actual scalpel, which would be the ideal tool, but at least it's better than a razor blade."
"True. So if they could track me all this time, what took them so long to move in?" Damon wondered.
"I was thinking about that. They said they had to get you alone. They could probably pick up the signal at the mall and the hotel, but couldn't do anything about it. Too many people around. So they waited until you were completely alone. They probably figured I'd at least be able to call 911 or something. But it all went south when I showed up with a gun. Like you said – their arrogance gets them."
"That's as plausible as anything else. O.K. Let's get this done," he said.
Lindsey took a deep breath. If she could face actual intestines, she could make a couple of small incisions. "Lie face down on the sofa. I'll get the lamp over here so I have the best light. I don't want to cut any more than I have to. And please hold still. I don't want to nick a vein. Even if it heals, I don't want to get something major."
"I can handle it," he said, lying down.
She brought a lamp and set it on the coffee table, which she moved next to the sofa. Lindsey got on her knees and flexed her neck back and forth. She had to do this for Damon. He would heal. He would be fine. "O.K. Here goes." Once again, Damon wished he could compel the fear away, but Lindsey had shown she was a pro at doing what had to be done, even when she was scared to death.
She put the tip of the blade against the white skin, as close to the chip as she could possibly get and made a quick, deep cut. Blood oozed out and she wiped it with a tissue and made another incision at a right angle to the first, estimating where the short side of the chip might be. One more cut along the other long side of the chip and that part was over. She took a pair of tweezers and probed gently until she felt the edge of the chip. A little more delicate twiddling and she had it in the tweezers' grip. She exhaled again. "I'm extracting it now," and with a quick tug, it was out. She couldn't believe Damon hadn't so much as flinched throughout the whole procedure. She put a gauze pad over the wound and held it until it started healing on its own. "That's it," she said.
Damon turned his face to Lindsey and smiled tenderly at the sight. She was wringing wet with sweat. Her bangs were plastered to her forehead. He sat up and stroked her hair back from her face. "You've got a surgeon's touch. Thank you. Any doctors in your family?"
She sighed. "A couple of nurses and my great-great grandmother, who was what they called a root doctor. You know what I'm talking about?"
He grinned. "I sure do. After the war, the granny women were sometimes the only medical help around. Most of them could do nearly as much as a trained doctor could do. One dug a bullet out of my thigh after a battle." He indicated a faint, round scar on his left leg. "Since it happened before I was turned, I still have the scar." He touched Lindsey's face. "You've had a rougher day than I have." He tilted her chin up and kissed her.
"I'd call it even money," she said.
"I wouldn't. I'm pretty much OK, but you're still shaking. Go wash your face and I'll rub your back for you."
"You don't feel like it, I know. It's all right."
"I told you I'm OK. So humor me, how about it?"
Lindsey collapsed gratefully on the bed and it was with bliss that she felt Damon's hand on the bare skin of her back, simply stroking her skin. Then, he cuddled her close to his body.
"No one has done for me what you did – not a human anyway, not since the war."
She turned to face him and kissed him. "I'm so glad I was here. I love you, Damon."
He looked into her eyes and saw the love in them. He gave her that lopsided grin and drew his fingertips down her cheek. "I don't know if it's the same kind of love, Lindsey. I can't lie to you. But I can say I love you, too. Just please, don't expect too much. I can't be a perfect human. I'm not either one."
"Perfect? No. Human? Yes," she said and kissed him again. "I don't expect perfection. The only expectation I have of you is that you act like you've got good sense, which I know you do."
"Stop talking," he said and kissed her deeply. He winced and pulled back. "I think I still have some healing to do."
"I'm sure. I'll cook tomorrow. I think now is a good time to sleep."
"I agree," he said as he snuggled her to his chest and kissed her one more time before his eyes closed in weariness.
"How much I love you, sweet Damon," she whispered.