Ordinary Loneliness

For All the Right Reasons

March, 2014

"So we agree. This has to end," Damon said.

Elena nodded. "It just did. It's over. We're over."

"Fine." He turned on his heel and started for the stairs.

"Where are you going?" Elena said.

"Where I should have been all this time. Where I should have gone once we got rid of Klaus, or at least once I figured out you were sired to me, except I was too damn selfish to let you go, and go back where I really needed to be." He continued up the stairs.

"What are you talking about, Damon? Where are you going!?" Elena yelled.

"Home."


December, 2013

"Hey girl. Good to hear from you," Damon said.

"It's good to hear your voice. Can you talk?" It was Lindsey.

"Sure. What's up?"

"Damon, I've got something I need to tell you." Her voice didn't sound right. What was going on?

He went outside, to the gazebo, where no one in the boarding house could hear him. "Lindsey, what's wrong?"

"I've got cancer, Damon. I'm O.K. right now, but it's pretty aggressive. I wanted to tell you."

Damon felt like all the air had been sucked out of his body. "Where? Oh God, Lindsey. Do you need anything? Is there enough money in the account to cover what you need? What can I do?"

"It's ovarian cancer. There's plenty of money in the account, and I've got good insurance. There's just one thing I need."

"Name it."

"You. It's too much to ask, I know, and I'm not asking you to move in, but please, will you come to see me?"

"Of course, I'll come. You know I will. There's some crap going on up here right now, but as soon as that's cleared up, I'll be there. I swear I will. I promise. But in the meantime, if you need anything else, call me. Money, transportation to another doctor. Anything."

"I think they're doing everything they can, Damon, but I appreciate it. Just please, come when you can."

"I will. I'll be there."

"All right. That makes me feel better. I love you, Damon."

"I love you, too."

Damon was beyond prickly the next few days. No one could get close to him. He wouldn't talk to anyone, except for nasty, cutting remarks. Even Elena wasn't immune, and he had taken to sleeping in one of the other rooms. But no matter what she said to him, he wouldn't open up. She was extremely irritated with him.

Finally, he unburdened his soul to Liz Forbes one late night at the Grill. She had been working a wreck and came in to find Damon at the bar. He poured out the whole story to her.

She sat silently for a minute or two, then said, "Damon, you know you need to go see her."

"I know, and I will. As soon as this all clears up, I will."

"All 'this' is going to be here when you get back. Go see her. You'll regret it for the rest of a very long life if you don't."

"You're not telling me anything I haven't said to myself a hundred times," he said.

"Then go. You know you need to. You talk about trying to be the better man. Well, here's a golden opportunity for you to do that. This crowd will hold it together while you're gone. If they don't, chances are you couldn't have done anything, anyway." Liz reached to take his hand. "Damon, this woman has done so much for you. Do this for her. You owe her this. Elena will understand, if that's what you're worried about. She'll get over it, in any case."

"You're right, Liz, but you usually are."

Still, he waited, and although he talked to Lindsey at least once a week, he stayed in Virginia.


March 2014

"You can't leave!" Elena yelled.

"Yes, I can," he said. "And I'm going to. Mystic Falls is toxic. I don't care about travelers, or witches or anything else up here, with the possible exception of my brother. Take care of Stefan. You do a good job with that." Damon was in his room, throwing clothing into a duffel.

"Y-you don't even care about me?"

He whirled on her. "I care too damn much! That's my problem! I can't see straight when I'm around you. I can't think straight, I can't do anything right. To coin a phrase, I need some space, Elena. I need to be where I'm actually wanted and needed for a change." He returned to his packing.

"Where's that?"

"Alabama."

"What's in Alabama? Or who?"

"Someone who really needs me."

Jealousy clawed at Elena's insides. "Who is she, Damon? I want to know."

He barely glanced at her. "We're over, remember? You don't get that privilege."

She grabbed him and pushed him against a wall. "Tell me!" she screamed.

He pushed her away. "Just some insignificant little human who saved my life a long, long time ago. It's because I loved her that I was ever capable of loving you. So you have a lot to thank her for."

"So you're just taking off to see her because you're pissed at me?"

Damon rolled his eyes. "Stop it. Now you sound like me, which is scary. It's not always about you, Elena. I know that's a revelation coming from me, since the past four years of my life have been pretty much solely dedicated to you, but I had a life before you were in it. And this woman you're so prepared to hate has offered me a home with her any number of times, but I had to get back to you. But now, I'm going to a home where I've always been welcome, to someone who wants to see me, and who needs me."

"I need you!"

He shook his head. "No you don't. You'll do just fine without me. You're a survivor, Elena."

"And this woman isn't?"

"It's tough when you have aggressive cancer and you're human."

"Oh. So she's just given up, or what?" It was a low blow and Elena knew it, but she was seriously pissed at Damon.

She found herself slammed into the bedroom wall, with Damon looking at her, his eyes as cold as she had ever seen them. "She has more strength than either one of us, and she's gone through a lot of pain in her life that you, Miss Popularity Cheerleader Princess, have never had to deal with. So don't you EVER imply that she's weak or somehow inferior to your perfect self." He stepped back and finished his packing.

Elena just stood against the wall. "When will you be back?"

"I don't know. I'll have my phone." He picked up the duffel and started down the stairs.

"At least let me kiss you goodbye," she said.

He shook his head. "Too late for you to be all understanding now. I'll call Stefan later and tell him what's going on. Ciao!" He went to the basement for blood and slung his bag and cooler into his car.

Elena ran after him, but he had fired up the Camaro and was gone into the night.


Damon was in Tennessee before he really calmed down from the scene with Elena. He was sorry about Aaron. He couldn't believe he had killed again, so many times, so callously. Well, yes, he could. He couldn't believe Elena would be so childish. But unfortunately, yes he could believe that, too. But mostly, he couldn't believe he'd left Lindsey hanging for three months, promising every time he talked to her that he would be there. Well, this time, he would be there, for as long as she needed him. To hell with Elena. To hell with Mystic Falls. For once in his life, he was doing the right thing for the right reasons. And if he had gone on to Alabama when she first called him, none of the shit of the past weeks would have happened.

It was nearly midnight when he left Mystic Falls, and he gained an hour going west, so he knew he would get to Lindsey's place about 10 or 11 in the morning. He had driven straight through, stopping only for gas and once to down a couple of bags of blood, which hadn't taken long.

Right at 10 a.m., he pulled into the gravel driveway of her house. Her car was there, and she must have someone looking after her yard, since it was still in good shape. About the time he got out of the car, the screen door opened and he saw Lindsey standing on the porch. She didn't fly down the steps as she did the last time, when he was here with Ric, but she did come to him at a fast walk. She got to him and said, "I'd about given up on you."

"I wouldn't have blamed you if you did," he said, looking at her. She had lost weight since 2011 -- a lot of weight -- and her face was thin, sharp, tired. But there was still life in her eyes. That hadn't changed.

"So how do you like the new me? That's what the chemo diet will do for you," she said.

Damon took her into his arms. "You're beautiful. You know you've always been beautiful."

"And you're still a silver-tongued devil." She tilted her face up and Damon kissed her, feeling better than he had in weeks. "Come on inside. I can't tell you how glad I am to see you."

"I'm here as long as you need me to be. I told Elena I was coming home."

She smiled at him. "And here you are."

"Here I am. Finally home with a woman who loves me."

They walked into the house and Damon could feel the horrible tension of the past weeks leave his body as soon as he got in the door. The peace of the place settled on him and he took in the familiar smells and sounds of the old home. "It's good to be here. I've missed this house." He sat on the worn sofa in the front room and pulled Lindsey to his lap. He held her close, soaking in her nearness, and as always when he held her, felt the demons back off.

"So what did Elena say about you coming to see me?" she said.

"I didn't give her much of a chance to say anything. She had already decided it was time we ended things, since we both agreed our relationship was seriously toxic, but then when I decided to come here, she wanted to know who had taken her place. I didn't bother to tell her you had a place in my heart long before I met her. But I needed to leave. It was very toxic."

"What are you not telling me, Damon?"

"What do you mean?"

Lindsey looked into Damon's eyes. "You know what I mean. What precipitated the break-up?"

"Long, ugly story, but it ended up with me killing one of her friends because I was so jealous." Normally, he would have just been disgusted with himself for losing control like that, but Lindsey made him ashamed and remorseful. She didn't even have to say anything.

"I'd have broken up with you too," she said wryly.

He nodded. "And she gave me a real tongue-lashing about it, but it was nothing compared to some of your best bitch-outs. It was all about how she had compromised her morals for me, once again, to stay with me in spite of my screw-ups."

"Instead of telling you that you're a grown man, you have more sense than that and need to act like it, that killing that person was an awful lot like the way a five-year-old handles his problems, that mature, adult men don't do that, even if they're vampires, that being pissed off and jealous is no excuse for murder, and that until you can get a handle on yourself that she's history? Like that kind of a bitch-out?"

Damon squirmed and looked away from Lindsey. "Yeah, like that. Just like that," he said.

"She needs to work on her technique. Shame is far more effective than focusing on how you made her bend her morals. You didn't 'make' her do a damn thing. She chose to do that. Much better to focus on the fact that you chose a bad path, and now you'll face the consequences of your decision, which include feeling like a worm and not having her around. Much, much more effective at achieving the desired result." Lindsey didn't drop her gaze from his.

"Which is?"

"You taking a moment to think about your actions before you start trying to emulate the worst in your little brother instead of the best."

"Ouch."

"Now we're getting somewhere. However, I've been up all morning and I'm tired. I know you are, too, vampire or not. I can see it in your face. It's time for my nap. Take me upstairs and let's both get some rest," she said.

Damon cradled her in his arms and stood. She hardly weighed anything. "Which room is mine?" he asked.

"Mine, of course, you ninny. Just because you acted like an idiot in Virginia doesn't mean I don't want you holding me close."

"I don't deserve you," he said.

"Clearly not. However, I deserve to have the best looking man on the Eastern seaboard at my beck and call and have him in my house and in my bed, being my chauffeur and my chef and my masseur, and whatever else I need him for." Her tone was smug.

"So you just want me for my looks?" Damon said as he took her upstairs.

"Not just for your looks. Also for your abilities to be a fantastic house boy. Looks don't hurt, though," she teased.

He placed her on her bed. "Lindsey, what am I going to do with you? Really?"

She patted the side of the bed and Damon lay down. She snuggled to him. "You're going to love me and I'm going to love you and we're going to take care of each other. How's that?

He sighed into her hair. "That sounds like the best offer I've had in years," he said.


That evening, Damon confessed his sins to Lindsey as they sat at her kitchen table. He told her about the killing spree, the virus, Katherine - everything. "And it wasn't even Elena who rejected me. And I killed, Lindsey. A lot of people. And I enjoyed it. God help me, but I did." His eyes were as anguished as his tone.

"Why did you lose it like that, do you think?" she asked.

"Because I was thinking she was the only person who saw good in me and if she couldn't stand me, what was the point? I was being the better man for her."

"The only person, huh?" Lindsey said, an eyebrow raised.

"I know. I was thinking you were sick and I couldn't burden you with all -- this. I know, I know. I should have just come here. If I had, we wouldn't be having this conversation. I knew you'd take me in, that you'd welcome me, but I didn't want to be someone else's problem -- especially someone who's been dealing with what you've been dealing with. Oh, God, Lindsey. I'm so screwed up. I know I am. In that moment, I wanted to kill! I'm a killer, a cold-blooded murderer who stalks people and rips their heads off. I'm no better than Stefan. At least he doesn't want to kill, unless he's high on blood. I want to. I like it! It's wrong, and I know it's wrong, but I crave the kill when I'm pissed off. I want something to hurt as much as I'm hurting and that's so wrong and oh God, I'm so sorry I did it and so sorry you're hearing all this. You don't need me here. I'll leave tomorrow." He put his head in his hands and sobbed.

Lindsey dropped to her knees beside Damon. "Oh, sugar," she said. "I'm so sorry you've been through all this. If I'd known the Augustines had you again, I'd have come up there and burned the place down around their ears! I do want you here. I need you here! You're already the better man, Damon! If you weren't, you couldn't love me like you do. Or Elena, for that matter. But you have to stay in control for you, not for me or Elena. For yourself. You're worth saving, Damon. I don't waste my time on trash." She took his face in her hands. "Look at me. Damon, I'm down to months. When I die, I want to have the peace of knowing that you're all right and in control, and that as soon as I'm cold, you won't tear through Alabama, leaving bodies. I need to know that you're going to deal with your pain in a non-destructive way, because you want to do it that way. That's the only thing I need from you besides your companionship."

"I don't think I can promise you that," he said, his voice still raspy with tears.

"Yes, you can. Because you've never gone back on your word to me, even once. Your word means something to you. And it means something to me." She sat in his lap, facing him. She wiped the tears from his cheeks with a paper napkin.

"I can't do this. I can't promise you something I'm not capable of doing. I can't not kill! I am a monster!" Decades of anguish bled through his cry.

At that moment, Lindsey's heart broke for Damon. She knew he had done awful things, horrific things, but she couldn't condemn him. He had been so messed up for so long, it was amazing he ever got through a day. Once again, she took his face in her hands, forcing him to look into her eyes. "You look at me. And hear me." Her tone was low, fierce. "You are NOT a monster. You are a good man who has done bad things. You have love, kindness and compassion in your heart. If you didn't, you couldn't show those qualities to me, but you do -- consistently. I believe in you, Damon, just as you are, right now. We're all capable of change, and that includes you.

"If you have to do it like the 12-Step groups teach, that's fine. Just for today, you will be the better man. Just for today. And you are going to do it for yourself, so you don't have to spend a long, long life in abject misery, like you have the previous 150 years. You've already made a start today by coming to see me. You're the better man today, already. I love you with all my heart, Damon Salvatore. I will not turn my back on you. And you give me your word this is a new day, a new start for you." Her eyes burned into his. So much for humans not having the gift of compulsion. Lindsey had it, Damon knew. Maybe not like a vampire, but she could make him do anything.

"It's a fresh start. You have my word I'm making a fresh start. For myself," he said, never dropping his gaze from hers.

"Good enough then," she said. "I'm taking you at your word. And now, all this has worn me out. Please carry me up to bed." She kissed him.

"Yes Ma'am," he said, standing with her in his arms. He carried her to her room and put her on the bed with infinite tenderness.


Lindsey was in decent shape, Damon found. She wasn't as energetic as she had been, but she was still able to work from home and mostly do what she wanted to. She tired easily, which she said was from the chemotherapy. Damon did anything remotely strenuous so she wouldn't tax herself. Even though he knew their time together would be limited, he was happy.

To his surprise, Caroline was the best source of information he had about the goings-on in Mystic Falls. She emailed him frequently, Stefan occasionally and Elena not at all. That didn't bother him much, also to his surprise.

His time was more or less taken up with caring for Lindsey. Not that she needed a great deal of hands-on care, but he did everything he could to make her comfortable and to ease the burden of day-to-day tasks. He hired a cleaning lady to come in twice a week and did a fair amount of the cooking himself, even though Lindsey did it when she felt like it. It was a much simpler, much more peaceful life, even though he knew the outcome. Still, he also knew he was doing this for the right reasons, not for selfish ones. Selfish would have been to have stayed in Virginia, and trying to get Elena back. But he wasn't altogether sure he wanted her back. For the first time in years -- maybe ever -- Damon's life had real purpose and meaning. He liked it. He had thought that keeping Elena safe and doing those things he did in Mystic Falls were purposeful, but looking back, he knew very little of anything he had done was really worthwhile. And since his confession to Lindsey, and since he had given his word to stay in control, he was at peace with himself, for a change. It had been a long time coming.


Damon was upstairs, rambling around in attic, sorting through books and old magazines to sell. So it was that Lindsey answered the knock on her door. When she opened it, she saw a beautiful young woman on her porch. She had long, dark hair, large brown eyes and a stunning figure. This had to be Elena. Couldn't be anyone else.

"Can I help you?" Lindsey asked coolly.

"Where's Damon?" she said without preamble.

"Upstairs. Why?"

"I need to talk to him, and you need to let me." Her eyes widened for a moment.

"Compulsion doesn't work on me, little vampire," Lindsey said. "Damon could tell you that."

Elena stared at the woman in the doorway. Her face showed the traces of illness, but she was still attractive. Her eyes were a coppery brown and deep set. They were also alive with suspicion and perhaps a little anger. No fear, though. This woman was not afraid of her. Of course, Elena hadn't been invited into the house, which did level the playing field, but she thought this woman probably wouldn't be afraid of her if she had walked right inside.

"I need to talk to him."

"He's in the attic. I'm sure he knows you're here by now, so if he wants to talk to you, he can come downstairs and do it. I'm not keeping him from it. Just remember one thing, Elena: you have centuries to be with him, if you both live that long. I don't. I have months. And I'd like to have him with me. You have a wide circle of friends, including his younger brother. I don't. I have Damon. He's it. If you have any humanity left in your soul, you'll go on and leave us be. You'll have him forever once I'm gone. And that's in the near future."

Damon heard the heartbreaking conversation and he came down the stairs. He had been wondering what it would be like to see Elena again, and even though she was still beautiful, still desirable, he just couldn't come up with the wild feelings of lust he formerly had. He came to stand next to Lindsey and he put his arm around her shoulders. She smiled gratefully up at him and he returned her smile. Elena felt like he had staked her. Only maybe once or twice had Damon ever looked at her with that kind of tenderness, that kind of love. "I'll take it from here," he said.

"All right." She went into the front room, where she could still hear, but wouldn't be seen.

Elena was staring at Damon as if she had never seen him before. He looked the same, of course, but there was something very different about him. There was a peaceful aura that he never had before. "Everything's gone to hell up there," she said.

He shrugged. "Not my problem."

"It's your problem if you can help solve it!"

He shook his head. "Nope. I'm fine with being where I don't have bullets whizzing around my head all the time."

"We -- I need you to come back. Please."

"No."

"You can't stay out in the middle of nowhere forever!" she exclaimed.

"I know. And it's not forever. You know that. And whatever is going on up in that hell hole called Mystic Falls can go on without me. I'm sick of it."

Elena snorted. "I don't believe you. You're too much of an adrenaline junkie to be happy where someone isn't out for your head."

"Even adrenaline junkies need peace and quiet sometimes. And I've found a little peace here. These people don't know me, except that I'm Lindsey's friend from Virginia. They like me."

Elena harrumphed. "Well they certainly don't know you, then. You must be doing one hell of an acting job if the people in her life like you. Either that or you've got them compelled out of their minds."

Damon shook his head. "Boy, are you ever bitchy today." He stepped outside and closed the door, muffling his voice. Lindsey wondered what he was saying. "So, here you are, coming after me, and jealous of a woman twice your age who has terminal cancer. I can't tell you how attractive that is, Elena."

"I love you, Damon."

"So stop loving me!"

"I can't!" she screeched.

"Then that's your problem. We've had this conversation before, if I remember correctly."

"Don't you still love me?"

He nodded. "Yeah, I do. But I stand by what I said before I left: we are toxic together. We're toxic to ourselves, each other and everyone around us. And frankly, I'm sick of it. I'm sick of the constant garbage that goes on between us when we're not having sex. That's the only time we really work, Elena, is when we're in bed. When we're not, we argue incessantly. And if we can't argue with each other, we argue with other people. I can't tell you how many fights I've picked with Stefan because I wanted to fight with you. That's toxic."

"I thought you might care about what's going on at home," she pouted.

"Vampire Barbie keeps me up to date, along with my little brother. And right now, Elena, this is my home. I've always been welcome here. Even when I came here screwed up and strung out, I was welcome. I'm just pissed at myself that it took me this long to realize where my real home was. I was chasing Katherine, chasing you, chasing Stefan, and on and on. And I've had it. For the foreseeable future, the only supernatural I want to deal with is me. And God knows that's enough."

Here, then, was the Damon whom Elena always knew existed. She knew he had a side that was warm, tender, unselfish -- the better part of his nature that he learned to ignore when he was turned. The only problem was, she wasn't the one who brought that side of him to light. Elena knew she was beautiful, but all her beauty, and all the good things in her personality, all the times she encouraged Damon to be the better man still weren't enough to produce the man she saw now. It was a bitter pill to swallow. "I miss you, Damon."

"Thank you," he said, but he wasn't being snarky. "But I have to be here, and I want to. You know I'm a selfish man. I do what I want, when I want. I've tried not to be selfish with you, but as much as I've wanted to avoid it, I still managed to do it, anyway. You told me once that when I got hurt, I pushed people away and then did something stupid. You were absolutely right. In every relationship in my life, I've done it. I've hidden from my feelings, turned them off, done horrific things to people - even to you. And you still care, and I thank you for that. But I've never been able to screw up my relationship with Lindsey. She's even more tenacious than you are. She's the one person in this world whose expectations are important enough to me for me to try to meet them."

Elena stared at him. "You love her. You've always loved her! You told me you love me, but it's always been her, hasn't it? Even above Katherine. Why the hell didn't you just stay here? Why did you get into a relationship with me? And Katherine, and the tomb -- everything. Why didn't you just stay here?"

"I've asked myself that a thousand times. But I thought Katherine was forever, at one point. And then you -- well, you were everything Katherine never was, and never could be. And I started loving you, and like the control freak I am, I was obsessed with you. And then you were turned, and the sire bond, and flipping the switch, and the virus, and all that shit -- and suddenly, we were good in bed, and that was all. But I was still hanging on to the hope that because you thought I was worth saving, we could make it work. But we can't. We just can't. Not right now."

Much as Elena hated to admit it, she knew Damon was right. And after all the craziness of their lives the past several months, he probably did need some down time. She never thought about Damon needing to heal, but apparently, he did. Maybe she did, too. She just didn't know if Damon would be able to let go and move on when the inevitable happened. But Elena obviously wasn't going to change his mind, so she supposed she'd have to take that risk. She sighed. "All right, Damon. I can't force you to do anything. Stay in touch."

"I will," he said. He watched her walk down the steps to her car with a sense of relief and when she pulled out of the driveway, he exhaled and went back into the house. Lindsey was sitting on the sofa, waiting for him. He sat next to her, lifted her up and put her in his lap. "I'm sorry about that," he said, breathing the scent of her hair. That hadn't changed.

"Nothing for you to apologize for, sweetheart. You can't control what she does. I'm surprised she didn't get here before now." She pulled his lips to hers and gave him a lingering kiss. "I love you, Damon."

"I love you," he said, returning her kiss and holding her close, wishing like hell he had come sooner and that this time wasn't going to end so quickly. So much had changed. She wouldn't let him bite her because she didn't want him ingesting the chemo meds. That was probably a good idea, since her basic scent had changed, probably because of the chemo.

The other thing that hadn't changed was her desire for him. At first, he had been very careful about showing her physical affection, until she said, "Damon, I'm not made out of fine china. I want you and I need you. It makes me happy." Well, if making love made her happy, he was willing to do it as much as she wanted to, or felt like. He couldn't make the chemo more effective. He couldn't keep her from feeling like crap after a treatment, but he surely could hold her in his arms and touch her and tell her he loved her.


A couple of weeks later, Lindsey answered a knock on the door again, since Damon had gone to the grocery store. A tall, handsome young man stood on her porch. He wore jeans and a jacket, and his hands were shoved in his coat pockets.

"Yes?" she asked.

He smiled. "Is Damon around? I'm Stefan."

Well, well, well. So this was the fabled Saint Stefan. Lindsey could see immediately why women were drawn to this brother. His green eyes were kind -- at least on the surface -- and he didn't look like he was waiting to come up with the next snarky remark. His voice was soft, and Lindsey could easily see the young gentleman who had been turned in 1864.

"Hi, Stefan. I'm Lindsey. Damon's gone to the store. He should be back in a little while, though."

"All right. It's nice to meet you. I'm sorry about -- your situation."

"Thank you. That's kind of you. Why don't we sit on the porch while we wait for Damon? If you like sweet tea, I keep some brewed. Damon loves it. Or unsweet. That's what I drink. But Damon likes his tea sicky-sweet."

Stefan grinned. "That sounds good. Do you have any lemon?"

"I keep those, too. I'll bring a dish. Have a seat."

"Thank you." Stefan wasn't offended that she hadn't asked him inside. He assumed Damon had told her about his past. Still she was willing to bring him tea and sit on the porch with him. She was an interesting woman.

She brought him a glass. "Make yourself comfortable. I guess you knew Elena showed up a couple of weeks ago."

He smiled ruefully as he squeezed several lemon slices into his tea and drank. "Yeah. She wasn't a happy camper."

"I'm not surprised," Lindsey replied. "Damon sent her packing. I don't think that's what she expected."

"It wasn't. This is awesome tea. Can't believe my brother drinks it, though."

"He likes it better than bourbon, if you can believe that."

"Not easily. So I understand you not inviting me in, but you'll sit on the porch with me."

Lindsey smiled. "Well, we both know your brother. If you lay a fingernail on me, you've signed your death warrant and you and I both know it. So I'll sit and drink tea with you any day. But no offense; it's just that one vampire in the house is quite enough."

Stefan chuckled. "I tend to agree with you. And when that vampire is my big brother, it's definitely enough."

She grinned at him. "So what brings you here? Just checking on Damon?"

"Mostly. But I wanted to meet the woman who has his heart."

"Me? That's Elena, I thought." Lindsey shook her head.

He smiled at her. "I did too, for a long time, until I talked to her after she got back from here. But when she told me about the conversation she and Damon had, it's pretty obvious that it's you. He loves Elena, but you're the one."

She snorted. "I find that hard to believe."

"I don't," he said. "Damon is the most contrary, ornery, stubborn person I know. So it makes perfect sense -- to me, anyway -- that he would fall hard for a woman who won't put up with his crap, as opposed to mostly dating girls who will take anything from him as long as he hangs around."

"Elena didn't strike me as that type," Lindsey said.

Stefan shrugged. "In some ways, no, and even less so since she was turned. But she was seventeen when we started dating, and she was vulnerable -- to both of us. And we were both determined to have her. Stupid, I know. And she'll get in his face, but not like you will, according to him."

"He's told you this?"

Stefan nodded. "Yeah. He told me about Nashville, and what happened there -- about everything. You've saved his life a few times, and brought him back to his senses more than once. Damon owes a lot to you. So do I. I appreciate what you've done for him. We don't always get along that well, although it's better than it used to be. But even though he's a gigantic pain in the ass most of the time, he's still my brother, and I still love him. I appreciate you not giving up on him."

"I know Damon has his issues. A lot of them. But underneath all the crap, he's a good man. He really is. And I love him."

"Elena's told him to be the better man, but she puts it as something he has to aspire to. You say he is already - he just has to do it. That's the difference, I think. Somehow, he sees Elena's version as some unattainable goal, whereas with you, he's already there. It's just a matter of what he wants to do."

Lindsey smiled. "Like you said, he's contrary. We've had that discussion, and I just told him he has to want to improve for himself. He can't do it to please me, or Elena. It has to be for him. Having said that, I think Elena and I do have a common goal, though: We both want the best for a man who's had a lot of sadness and betrayal in his life -- even before he was turned. Bless his heart, it's a wonder he does as well as he does, sometimes. He's so sad, Stefan. He'd never admit it, but he is. He pretends not to feel, but the truth is, he feels so deeply. He puts on a good show, acts like he's got this leathery skin, but he doesn't. It's so easy to hurt him." She sighed heavily. "I do wish I could take some of his pain away."

Stefan reached to take Lindsey's hand. "Lindsey, you do take his pain away. I know you do. When I've called him, I can tell a difference in him. I can't tell you how much it means to me though, to have someone who sees inside Damon. I used to demonize him, too, but I was just lashing out, myself. And you're right. He's dealt with things no one should have to face. He's been through hell and back. Some of his problems, he's brought on himself, no question, but mostly, he's just been screwed over, again and again." He looked up. "He's pulling on to the road, now. Nothing else sounds like that Camaro."

"It needs a fan belt. I can hear it squeaking," Lindsey answered, as the car pulled into the drive.

Stefan grinned. "You're right. It's really howling." He watched as Damon got out of the car, glanced at Stefan's Porsche, then went to get groceries from the back seat. "He's pissed at me," Stefan said with a chuckle.

Damon brought the groceries up the steps. "What the hell are you doing here, Stefan?" he grumbled.

"Nice to see you, too, brother. Just came to check on you. Nobody sent me here, if that's what you're driving at."

He raised one eyebrow, then turned to Lindsey. "Has he been behaving?"

"Like a perfect gentleman. Go set the groceries down and get a glass of tea. You'll feel better."

Damon harrumphed and went inside. He came back with a large glass with at least a whole lemon sliced into it. He sat on the swing next to Lindsey, who scooted close to him. He put an arm around her shoulder and smiled at her. She put her head on his shoulder. "So what brings you out in the middle of nowhere land?" he asked, his tone a little friendlier.

"Like I said, just to check on you. And to meet Lindsey." Elena was right. Damon was totally different. The tense air was gone. He was relaxed and as much like a human as Stefan had seen him in decades. Lindsey obviously trusted him completely, and Stefan had to say, something about her was soothing. She had a way of putting people at their ease.

"You planning on staying around?" Damon asked.

"Not long. A day or two. I need to get back home. I guess Caroline has told you anything worth knowing."

Damon chuckled. "Yeah. Who needs a newspaper when you've got Vampire Barbie on the beat? I swear, she knows everything about everybody. She's a lot easier to take in emails."

"C'mon. She's not that bad. You're still pissed at her because she kicked your ass after she was turned. You deserved it."

"I did. I know. But she's still just too perky for me. I'm not sure vampires are supposed to be -- perky." He took a long drink of his tea as Stefan laughed.

Lindsey looked up at Damon. "What did you do to Caroline?"

Damon looked up and anywhere except at Lindsey. "Well, let's say I wasn't very nice to her."

"That's an understatement!" Stefan hooted.

"Shut up, baby brother. I didn't ask for your analysis."

"So, are you going to tell me?" Lindsey pressed.

"Well, it was when I first went back to Mystic Falls, and I was still kind of off the rails. We, um, dated for a while. Didn't end well."

Lindsey shook her head. "And now she and Stefan are talking, and Elena was Stefan's girlfriend first, and then went to you. You two really, really need to stop dating the same girls. That's just destined to end badly."

"It always has," Stefan said with a grin. He liked this woman. A lot. When Damon and Elena were together, the air between them was nearly combustible. But with Lindsey, there was peace. Their feelings for each other ran deep, and he saw, as Ric had noted years before, they interacted a lot like a long-time married couple. Damon seemed -- content -- with Lindsey. He had never seen Damon content with anything before.

She reached to scratch Damon's jaw, a gesture Stefan found endearingly intimate. "Well, he's behaving himself admirably these days," she said.

"Yeah, well, she's threatened me with a messy death involving bourbon and fire…" Damon answered, his voice trailing off.

"Oh really?" Stefan said. "That does sound bad. I'd keep my nose clean if I were you, then," he teased.

"Shut up," Damon snapped. Lindsey elbowed him. "Ouch!" he squawked, but all he got for his trouble was a very dirty look, to Stefan's delight.

"I'm going to put the groceries away. I know you two probably have brother stuff you need to discuss." She ruffled Damon's hair and patted Stefan's shoulder.

"I can get that stuff," Damon said.

"I can do it. I'm not gonna drop dead any time real soon. That's still a few months away," she joked. She saw the stricken look on Damon's face and kissed the top of his head. "Sorry, sugar. But I'm good." He nodded and watched her go into the house.

Stefan sipped his tea thoughtfully. "Damon, she's the best thing that's ever happened to you."

"Don't you think I know that?" he said. "I'm nowhere near good enough for her."

"Nope, you're not. But she doesn't feel that way." He put his glass on the table. "Have you talked about turning her?"

"Talked. But she's not interested. She said there are some problems she doesn't need."

Stefan laughed at that. "Keep talking. I know how persuasive you can be."

"You want her to be a vampire?"

Stefan shrugged. "I want her to stay in your life, Damon. You're better with her. You don't do stupid shit when you're with her. Can you deny it?"

He shook his head. "No. But I don't want to change her essential nature. She's too good. I don't want her to have a predator's nature."

"Damon, if we've learned anything over the past hundred-plus years, it's that we make our own choices. Every time I've turned the ripper loose, it's because I wanted to. I made the choice. You've made your choices. We all have."

"Look brother. When I'm with Lindsey, I feel more human. I don't feel the cravings, the blood lust, nearly as strongly. I don't want to change that about her."

He nodded in understanding. "When I'm with Caroline, I don't feel the lust nearly as much. So it can happen that way, too. I think it's about who the person really is, not whether they're a vampire or not. Caroline was a sweet, caring person before she was turned. She's toughened up, yes, but she's still sweet and caring. She wants the best for everyone. From what you've told me, from what I've seen, Lindsey's already tough. She doesn't let people push her around. She deals with you, for God's sake!"

Damon snorted. "Well, that's the truth."

"Seriously, brother. I think you need to stay here. Elena will get by without any of us. But I think you and Lindsey need each other."

"I'm staying. Until…" he said.

"If I'd known about her sooner, I'd have told you to get your ass down here as soon as you knew about the sire bond."

"I wish I had. You don't know how much." He grinned wickedly. "You know, I never could bring myself to get rid of Katherine, permanently. Lindsey would have done it, enjoyed it and never lost a second of sleep over it, especially if she thought she was protecting me."

Stefan chuckled. "She reminds me a lot of the women we grew up with. You know, the ones who'd protect their families with a shotgun, and then stitch a sampler."

Damon nodded in agreement. "I've thought about that several times. She's nothing like Mother, but she reminds me a lot of Irene Fell. Remember Irene?"

Stefan grinned. "Do I ever! Not even five feet tall, raised five boys and three girls and kept those boys in line with the buggy whip. She ran off an entire Yankee platoon by shooting at them from the second-story window. Emptied the shotgun, reloaded and emptied it again."

"I remember," Damon said, laughing. "She wasn't about to let them on the place if she could help it. She ran their asses all the way back to the river! Lindsey did exactly the same thing when some Augustines came calling in 2004. She would give her last dime to someone who needed it, but start after her or her home? Hell on wheels. One of them must have shimmied up the post in the back and came after me with a crossbow. I took care of him and dumped the body off the porch. Know what she said when I came back inside?"

"What?"

"'One down, six to go.' Can you beat that? I'm not about to piss that woman off, if I can help it. The bourbon and fire? She'd do it. She's tough as nails. When we finished with them, there were four of the seven left and they carried their dead with them. I had to get rid of the second car. She was shaking like a leaf when it was all over, but by God, she was right in there with me when it counted. She's so much like so many of those tough ladies we grew up with. Maybe that's what I love about her."

Stefan grinned. Was this really his cynical, arrogant brother? Hard to believe. "If we'd had the women fighting on the front lines with General Lee, we'd have won."

Damon chuckled. "Yeah. No doubt."

Sobering, Stefan leaned over to Damon. "I'm gonna get out of here. I'll drop by tomorrow before I drive back. I like Lindsey. I like her a lot. If you can convince her to turn, I'd be thrilled to have her as a sister-in-law." He grinned at the shock on his brother's face as he went down the steps, got in his car and left.

Damon finished his tea, grabbed Stefan's glass and went inside, very pensive.

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