A week after Stefan's visit, Lindsey signed for a Fed Ex package. It was a large envelope. She saw the return address and quickly ripped it open. She read the letter and nearly dropped the rest. "Damon!" she called.
He came running into the den. "What is it?"
"I've been accepted to the clinical trial at UAB! Remember when I had the full body MRI and CT scans? They were checking to see if the cancer had moved into my liver, pancreas or lungs. It hasn't. The chemo stopped it. That was the criteria for getting into the program. Dr. Cai says this is by far the most promising trial he's seen for my kind of cancer, and he really pushed hard to get me admitted."
Damon's eyes were bright. "So, are we talking remission?"
Lindsey smiled. "At least. If it works like Dr. Cai hopes it will, we may be talking the other 'c' word."
"Cure?" Damon hardly dared to say it out loud.
She nodded. "Maybe so. But it's better than the prognosis I've got now, for sure." She checked the letter. "I have to be in Birmingham in the morning."
"All right. We'll be there. What kind of therapy will they be doing?"
"They'll harvest my T-cells and genetically engineer them to fight something in the cancer cells that they need to survive. According to Dr. Cai, it's been super successful in other cancer treatments, so they're expanding the horizon. In the letter, he says he's very optimistic, and for him…"
"That's nearly a cure, right there." Damon didn't like Lindsey's doctors, and especially not Dr. Cai, whom he called "Dr. Doom." He was convinced the man was incapable of smiling, or of delivering positive news. So his optimism was a real reason to hope.
"I'll be up all night filling out all this paperwork," she said.
"No you won't. I'll help." He folded Lindsey into an embrace and then picked her up and swung her around. "This could be the answer we've been praying for," he said.
Lindsey grinned at him. "I knew I'd been praying, but didn't know you had. I didn't think you and the Lord were really on speaking terms."
Damon raised an eyebrow. "For you, I got back on speaking terms with Him."
Lindsey stroked his face, her eyes soft. "Glad to hear it." She didn't pursue it, though. She was just happy to know about it. "I've noticed something. It just now hit me," she said.
"You're wearing brighter colors these days. Not nearly as much black and gray. Like that chambray shirt you've got on now. It's light blue and I really like it. Makes those gorgeous eyes pop."
He grinned. "Maybe I don't feel as black and gray as I did."
"I hope you don't." She slipped her arms around him again. "We'll need to leave about six in the morning so we can get to the appointment in time."
"I know. We'll make it," he said.
"I trust you," Lindsey smiled. Damon went upstairs and she sat on the sofa, bowing her head and once again, giving thanks he was there. He did everything: drove her to appointments, badgered the doctors for answers, helped her when the chemo made her sick. She lost count of how many times he had carried her to bed, helped her bathe, brought soup to her when she was too weak to get out of bed, and even fed her. The chemo made her skin sensitive for several days, and he would brush her hair with infinite tenderness. No one in Virginia would recognize this Damon, she thought.
Lindsey had thanked him for his presence. "I didn't mean for you to stay this long, but I'm glad you're here. I didn't intend for you to put your life on hold for me."
She was lying on the bed, sick from a chemo treatment, and he pushed the hair back from her face. "I don't mind. There's nothing in Mystic Falls I want to go back to, I promise."
"Still, I hate it that you've found yourself being my caregiver. That wasn't what I wanted. There's nothing in this for you."
He kissed her forehead very gently. "I know. I took it on all by myself. For the first time in recent memory -- maybe ever -- I'm doing something right for a change, and I'm happy to do it. So what if there's nothing in it for me? Fresh start, remember? But there is something - I get to be with you."
"What about Elena?" she asked.
"What about her?" he shrugged. "The longer I'm gone, the more I realize how radioactive that relationship was. Ric said a long time ago we would either be the worst or the best for each other. It started out as the best, but now it's the worst. This woman named Tessa said the universe didn't want us together, and I'm thinking she was right. But I don't give a damn what the universe wants for you and me. I'm keeping you as long as I can." He kissed her again.
"You're a romantic, Damon. You try to hide it, but you are."
At the clinic at UAB the next morning, Lindsey listened intently as Dr. Cai outlined the treatment procedure. "I will draw blood -- probably a liter or so -- and we will harvest the T cells and treat them to target the cancer cells. Then, I will infuse them back into your body."
"When will you do this?" she asked.
"The infusion will be ready in about 72 hours. So come back Saturday and get the treatment. Then, we wait. If, in two weeks, the number of cancer cells has dropped, we infuse again, up to six treatments, every two weeks. After the end of six treatments, I fully expect you to be in remission."
"What are the side effects?" Damon said.
"Well, aside from giving up a liter of blood today, there shouldn't be any. Perhaps mild nausea, but for Lindsey, well, she has been through two rounds of chemotherapy. What is a little nausea?" His accent was thick and he spoke slowly.
Lindsey laughed. "I won't even notice 'mild' nausea. I'm just so thankful I'm in this trial."
Incredibly, Dr. Cai took her hand. "I am glad too, Lindsey. I want you to beat this. I think you can."
She put her hand on top of his. "Thank you, Dr. Cai. You've taken such good care of me and I appreciate it so much." The man looked downright pleased. Damon had never seen that much emotion on the doctor's face. He was actually impressed.
Lindsey stood on the balcony overlooking downtown Birmingham, after they reached the hotel. Damon could guess what might be going through her head, but he was willing to wait her out, as to whether she wanted to talk about it or not.
"Twelve weeks," she said.
He went to stand beside her, leaning his elbows on the railing. He looked at her, but didn't say anything.
"Twelve weeks. It's just a blip on your timeline, but that's the amount of time they were saying I had left. Twelve very short weeks. It seemed so long when I was in school, and out for the summer, but now, it's nothing when that's all you've got. But if this treatment works, that's not all I've got; it's just how long the treatments will take." Her voice was soft.
Damon remained silent. He didn't want to interrupt what she needed to say.
"And all this while, I've been hoping I'd live, but preparing myself to die. Now I can hope to live again. But my pragmatic side tells me to make the preparations anyway, since nothing is certain. Oh! That reminds me. I've got something for you. I found it at the craft show we went to last weekend. I just forgot I had it, but it's in my purse. Chemo brain, I guess."
Damon was used to Lindsey switching topics like that. He figured he'd hear more once she'd more fully processed the import of what Dr. Cai told her. "Yeah? You got me something? What is it?"
"Remember the Cherokee jewelry maker I talked to?" she said, digging through her purse. Damon saw it was the Coach bag he gave her all those years ago.
"Well, he had something very, very interesting that he got from a friend in the Southwest. I saw it and had to have it for you." She handed him a small parcel, wrapped in newsprint.
Damon looked at the package and then at Lindsey. He tugged the scotch tape off and opened it up. His mouth dropped open and his eyes widened. Inside the paper was a Native American thunderbird, crafted from lapis lazuli. The wings were accented with silver, and the beak was silver. It was, quite simply, gorgeous. There was a silver loop at the top so he could put it on a chain. He looked up at Lindsey. "I don't know what to say."
"Do you like it?" Her voice was anxious.
"It's beautiful. Exquisite. I can't believe you found this."
"Well, I did. I always told you that you needed something besides that hideous ring. Maybe your witch friend, Bonnie, can do the daylight spell on it. That would be great. You know, in the interests of a fresh start. Put the last of the old stuff behind you with that ring, and wear the thunderbird instead."
Damon smiled. "It's incredible. Thank you so much." He held it up and looked it over. "What's this on the back?"
Lindsey grinned at him. "It's your name in Cherokee. It's a phonetic alphabet, so it's syllabic. See? Here's the first syllable: 'Da' and then 'mon.' And I did some research on thunderbirds, and it was really interesting."
"Is that so?" Damon was pleased by Lindsey's enthusiasm.
"It is. Thunderbirds are in a lot of different Native American cultures. You know they have big wings, and when they flap their wings, they cause rain and thunder and lightning. Also, in some traditions, they can take off their feathers and beaks and be humans. And then, the most interesting thing about them? You do not want to piss off a thunderbird. They have bad tempers." She grinned hugely at him, and he had to laugh, too.
He looked at the piece again and held it under the lamp to bring out the color. "It's really beautiful. I think I can say it's the most beautiful gift anyone has ever given me." His daylight ring looked even more gaudy in comparison to the thunderbird's clean, strong lines.
"Really?" Lindsey beamed at him.
"Really. I can't wait to get a chain for it so I can wear it, as a token or not." He put his forehead to hers. "And whether I get the spell on it or not, when I put it on, it will be there for good. And I promise you that." He put his arms around her. "Thank you. It's so beautiful. I can't even tell you," he whispered in her hair.
When Lindsey went to bed for a nap, Damon went out on the balcony and called Bonnie. "I've got a question for you, Bon," he said.
"If it's a spell to heal the woman you're with, I'm sorry. That kind of thing is out of my hands. I wish I could help, though." Her tone was refreshingly free of judgment.
"Not what I was gonna ask, but thank you anyway. No, I was wondering can you transfer the daylight spell to something else made of lapis?"
"If I knew what it looked like, but a daylight token has to be a gift. Someone has to give it to you."
"Really? Never knew that."
"It's part of the spell. What did you want to transfer the spell to?"
"A pendant. Lindsey gave it to me. She hates my ring."
Bonnie chuckled. "Well, I have to say, it's not the most attractive piece of jewelry I've ever seen."
He snorted. "Lindsey's not that diplomatic. She says it's an ugly hunk of bling."
That got a full laugh. "She's right. I hate to say it, but she is."
"I know. And I'm making a real effort to put the crap behind me. This ring is a reminder of Katherine that I don't want."
"Can't blame you for that. I'm not at home right now, but I will be tomorrow. Get your chain and have it on the pendant, and then text me a picture of it and your ring side by side on a table or something. Also, text me a picture of the back of the pendant, just to be on the safe side. What kind of token is it, anyway?"
"It's a Native American thunderbird. It's beautiful."
"Sounds like it. Oh, and if you can get your friend to put it around her neck, and then put it around your neck, that's supposed to be extra powerful. When the giver of the token wears it and then puts it on you, that's giving you the gift of light and life. I've gone back and done a lot of reading about the spell, and according to another grimoire I found, when the giver puts the token on you, then he or she is supposedly also giving you a spark of their spirit. Cool, huh?"
"Very cool. Makes me glad Katherine never put this ring on me. I'd be more of a basket case than I already am. I'll send you the pictures tomorrow, Bonnie. Thank you for helping me. What do I owe you? A pint of the best vamp blood in the South?"
Bonnie snickered. "This is a freebie. From what Stefan and Caroline have told me, you're doing a good thing for your friend, and it's for all the right reasons. I don't mind helping you make her happy, and I have a feeling if she went to the trouble to get this for you, it would make her very, very happy if you wore it as your daylight token."
"Thank you, Bonnie. I really do appreciate it."
"You're welcome, Damon. Talk to you tomorrow." She clicked off the call. She was actually at the boarding house, getting ready to go to Richmond with Stefan and Caroline. "He's different, Stefan. You're right. Even his voice sounds different. I mean, it's the same old snarky Damon we know and love, but the -- the malice has gone. It's just not there anymore. You sure this woman is human?"
Stefan nodded and laughed. "She is. Completely. She's as human as they come. And just an ordinary person. But she loves him unconditionally. She doesn't give him a free pass when he's a jerk, but she doesn't throw the past in his face. She holds him accountable for his behavior. Somehow, she figured out how to deal with him."
"She treats him like a man, not a child." That was from Caroline. Stefan and Bonnie looked at her, a little surprised. "We do email a lot," she said. "And that's the impression I get. I think we always were prone to treat him like a dangerous, wayward child or a rebellious teenager. Or some kind of psychopath. So that's what we got. Even Elena treated him like a kid who needed fixing. Lindsey doesn't. He's an adult male and that's how she treats him -- probably because she was an adult when they met. I think that makes all the difference."
Bonnie and Stefan looked at each other. Sometimes, Caroline knew people better than they knew themselves.
"Care Bear, I think you have a point," Stefan said.
The next afternoon, Damon took photos of the ring and both sides of the pendant and sent them to Bonnie. She called him immediately. "Wow," she said. "That necklace is stunning. And I have to say Damon, it is going to look exceptionally hot on you."
He snickered. "Thanks, Bon-Bon. You ready to do your witchy stuff?"
"Sure. Just leave me on speakerphone so you can hear me." She chanted something in that odd witchy language. Lindsey didn't like the sound of it, but she knew Damon trusted Bonnie, so that counted for something.
"All right, Damon. Hold it in your hand and let the sun shine on you so I'll know if the spell transferred or not."
He picked up the pendant and then, squeezing his eyes closed, allowed the sun to shine on his hand. Nothing but the usual warm sunlight. He sighed in relief. "The spell transferred, Bonnie. Thanks."
"You're welcome. Now, have Lindsey put the necklace on, let the light shine on it and give it to you. When she gives it to you, she needs to say your name and say, 'I give you the gifts of light, life and spirit.' And then, you take it and say, 'Your gifts I receive' and put it on, and we're done."
Lindsey did as Bonnie instructed and stepped into the light so the sun would shine on the pendant. Then, she took it off and put it around Damon's neck, and said the required words. "Damon Salvatore, I give you the gifts of light, life and spirit." Her voice wanted to break, but she steadied it.
He took the pendant from her, almost reverently, and fastened it around his neck. Lindsey saw tears glistening in his eyes as he said, "Your gifts I receive."
"That's it," Bonnie chirped over the speaker. "Nicely done. Can you stand in the sun, Damon?"
He tried. "Yeah. Feels good."
"Wonderful. Now don't throw that ring away, or get rid of it. There may be some residual magic in it and you don't want it getting to anyone who might misuse it. Keep it as an heirloom or whatever. You've started a trend, Damon. Caroline has been scouring the internet, looking for something for Stefan. She hates his ring, too."
"The only one who thought they looked good was that heifer Katherine, whose only good taste in anything, ever, was in men!" Lindsey opined, as Bonnie howled with laughter.
"I hope we can meet sometime, Lindsey," she said.
"Me too, Bonnie. Thank you again."
Lindsey turned Damon to face her. "Lord help, that necklace is hotness personified on you. I think I did a good day's work, buying it for you."
Damon looked in the mirror, turning his neck this way and that. "Well, I am the eternal stud, after all," he smirked.
Lindsey threw a sock at him. "You're an egomaniacal wart, is what you are," she said.
He laughed out loud. "Your vocabulary never ceases to amaze me." He sat beside her on the bed and drew her close to him. "It's beautiful. But it's more beautiful because it's a gift from your heart."
"It is from my heart, for sure," she murmured.
He pulled back and grabbed his phone. "Let's get a picture of us and send it to Bonnie, so she can see the necklace on me."
"Damon…" Lindsey protested.
"Nope, get in the picture," he insisted.
She sighed and put her chin on his shoulder and leaned her head to his. "Smile!" he said and snapped the photo. He looked at the result. "Love it."
He held the phone to Lindsey so she could see, but she held up her hands. "You know I hate having my picture made, and I hate the way I look in pictures. I'll just get depressed if I look at it."
Damon shook his head. Some issues just didn't go away. Still, he emailed the photo to Bonnie, with a thank you note.
She got the email and opened it. She looked at the photo and touched the screen. She jerked her hand back. The darkness she always felt around Damon -- it was gone. She couldn't believe it. She looked at Lindsey, her chin on his shoulder, leaning in to him, smiling. The token looked incredible on Damon -- as if it had always been destined to belong to him. Maybe it had.
Lindsey was attractive -- not beautiful -- but there was something in her eyes… Bonnie sensed a toughness that wasn't easily overcome, and had a strong feeling Lindsey was one of those people who could become a force of nature, if the need arose. Plus, there was an essential "rightness" about the two of them together. Tessa had seen only one side of the equation. It wasn't that Damon and Elena didn't belong together because of the whole doppelganger mess; it was because Damon's heart was engaged elsewhere all along. Tessa just didn't see it, or not clearly, as Bonnie did. But in this photo, it was obvious. She texted it to Stefan and Caroline.
Stefan called her immediately. "Is that really Damon?" he said. "I mean, I know it is, but he looks… He looks like he did before Katherine. Before the war."
"I know. The darkness is gone. I don't feel it there anymore."
"Is the daylight spell supposed to do all that?"
"If you say the words of gifting over the token, I suppose it can, if it's with the right person." She explained the full spell and said, "So what Lindsey gave Damon was actually life, light, spirit…"
"And love," Stefan said.
"Makes me wonder how we'd have turned out if someone besides Katherine had given us our rings. Look at Caroline. You and Elena gave her ring to her."
"Don't beat yourself up, Stefan. There weren't any words of gifting said over your rings at all, so I doubt anything of Katherine wormed its way into them." She didn't know for certain, but that was one worry Stefan did not need.
Three months later…
Damon and Lindsey were in the steakhouse in Birmingham where they ate all those years ago after their escape from the Augustines. The results were back, and apparently, the trial was a success: Lindsey was in remission. Damon, not surprisingly, was in a mood to celebrate.
She had to wonder if that damn daylight ring hadn't been the cause of a lot of Damon's problems -- that and not having anyone around he could trust. There were still flashes of the old Damon, of course. People didn't change overnight, after all, but Lindsey could see improvement every day. He was more tolerant, more easygoing. Little things didn't get under his skin as much.
He scrawled his name on the credit card receipt, and Lindsey smiled at it. Damon had never felt the need to update his handwriting style. As he said, it made it difficult to forge his signature. Lindsey both loved and envied his elegant, copperplate handwriting. It was part of what made Damon unique. He described the hours spent with his tutor, carefully writing in a copybook, with pen and ink, trying to write without blotting the page. "I'm not wasting all that effort by changing the way I write," he said.
"If you still didn't tire so easily, I'd take you dancing to celebrate," he said.
Lindsey chuckled. "I'm so full I can hardly waddle as it is. I'll take a rain check, though. But thank you for dinner. It was delicious."
"I'm just thankful we made it this far," he said as they walked out.
"Me too. Me too," she answered, as she tucked her hand into his arm.
Damon glanced at the calendar. He had been in Alabama over six months, and he could say honestly that he had never been happier. His life had a stability and a constancy he never realized he craved. He thought about himself when he first arrived in Mystic Falls six years before, and he hardly seemed like the same person, for which he was thankful.
Two months later, Lindsey was still in remission and no longer looked like a sick woman. She looked happy and healthy, because she was. Damon made her so happy. She had regained enough weight to fill out her face so it lost its sharp appearance, and so she was soft to hold, but she no longer felt fragile in Damon's arms. She said she was happy with the way she looked for the first time in her life. Damon was thankful for that, too.
They were driving back from Birmingham one night. The two-lane road was dark and even though Lindsey kept her speed down, people were still driving too, too fast. Suddenly, the headlights from an 18-wheeler were on their side of the road. Lindsey did everything she could to avoid the vehicle, but it was no use. The crash was head-on and sent her car careening down the bank, plowing through the guardrail and into the trees. Then, silence.
Several minutes later, if anyone had been looking, they would have seen a figure carrying a person away from the scene. Damon knew he had to get Lindsey home, into her own bed. She had his blood in her system from their lovemaking just that morning. His fingers had itched to snap the neck of the obviously intoxicated truck driver, but he restrained himself. Lindsey wouldn't want him to do it. So, he carried her lifeless body back home and gently laid her in her bed. He hadn't wanted this for her, but that was the way the cards fell. He closed all the curtains and settled in to wait.