The next morning, Lindsey got up early. The pain wasn't as bad. She
took two more pills, managed to choke down some toast and coffee and
went back to bed. She lay there a long while, pondering the
contradiction that was Damon Salvatore. He was arrogant, vindictive,
homicidal and dangerous. He was also sweet, considerate and even caring.
He tried so hard to hide his feelings behind the menace and the sarcasm. It was the only way he could live with himself, she thought. Only by acting as if he completely accepted himself and his condition, by adopting that go-to-hell, humans-as-bloodbags attitude could he keep from going bonkers. When the bloodlust was on him, she had no doubt he enjoyed killing, but she could tell by the look in his eyes that he regretted much of what he had done. Not that she would ever get him to admit it – probably – but he did. The only way he kept his sanity was by comparing himself to his brother, and coming out ahead. Damon had never been a "ripper." That was his one-up on his brother. Not even considering his devastating good looks, Damon was one of the most intelligent men she'd ever met, and that was a turn-on for her. Brains trumped looks in her book anyway, but when they came in a package that looked like Damon, it was enough to make Lindsey fall head over heels for the man. And that, naturally, was the course of action guaranteed to break her heart and destroy what shreds of self-esteem she had.
She finally decided to get up and went in to the den. Damon had flaked out on the sofa which was, she had to admit, much more comfortable than the futon. She sat in the recliner and watched him. His back was to her, but even that portion of his anatomy was beyond beautiful. He looked like a Renaissance sculpture. No, he wasn't muscle-bound enough for that. She considered his form and decided he was much closer to classical, Greco-Roman sculpture. In fact, there was one he reminded her of – the discus thrower. That was it. It was a marble sculpture she remembered seeing.
Damon turned over, giving Lindsey an unobstructed view. She had never had the opportunity to really admire him. He was beautiful. His lashes were long and dark and feathery over his eyes and he had a very light down of hair on his chest. Every muscle was outlined perfectly in the sun slanting in through the window. If ever male physical perfection existed, it was wrapped up in Damon Salvatore.
Looking at him suddenly made Lindsey want to put on one of those head-to-toe black cloaks some Muslim women wore, just so he wouldn't see her. She looked at him, and felt even plainer, more dumpy and awkward than ever. Why would this gorgeous man ever give her a second look? In the real world, he wouldn't, she knew. And this wasn't the real world. She pulled the afghan around her more closely, got up, went back into the office and quietly closed the door. She really wanted to die.
Damon sat up. He had known when Lindsey came into the room. He watched her through his lashes as she looked at him, and the train of her thought was as plain as if she had said it all out loud. She had been admiring him, a half-smile on her lips. Then, she looked down at herself and the smile faded. All the life went out of her eyes as she glanced back at him and back at herself. Then, she silently stood, wrapped the blanket around her, as if to hide herself, and went into the office.
Damon never really went through an awkward phase or struggled with weight, wearing glasses, braces, etc., but he did intimately understand the psychic damage it did when you were always told you were never good enough, brave enough, strong enough, that you just didn't measure up to anyone's expectations. Because of that, he could clearly understand how Lindsey never felt as though she were good enough for anyone. She had no family to turn to for support; she had to make it on her own. Lonely and screwed up. Well, didn't that just describe the pair of them to a T?
He fed, had some human food and looked at the crumbs on the table that indicated Lindsey was surviving on coffee and the occasional piece of toast. Dry toast, at that. Maybe she was trying to subtly starve herself to death. He wasn't sure about that, but he knew she would get sick if she didn't eat more substantial food. And she was back in that damned room, door closed, crying her heart out – again. He tried to feel contempt at her for being weak, but he knew it wasn't weakness. It was pure terror, anger, hurt. She was scared to death, and the only way she could let it out was to cry alone. How could he fault her for crying when he was drinking like a sailor on leave, and probably three times more than he normally did? Speaking of which... he found the bourbon and poured a glass to calm his nerves.
He went to the office and tapped on the door. Nothing. He opened it a crack and peeked inside. Once again, there she was, curled into a ball on the futon, looking catatonic. She stared at the wall, hardly blinking. He was no psychiatrist, but Damon knew the signs of depression when he saw them.
"Yeah?" Her voice was a monotone.
He sighed. "I'm a little worried about you, and that's unusual for me. Actually, I'm a lot worried."
"Well, I am. How can I help?" Imagine Damon Salvatore wanting to help anyone but himself. Stefan would pass out. Screw Stefan.
"Find a way out of here. Or just snap my neck like you threatened to. I'll take either option."
It was the flat affect in her voice that really had Damon concerned. She just seemed completely lifeless.
"I was pissed, Lindsey. I didn't mean that."
Damon closed his eyes. That time, there was pain in her voice. "You're not just quitting and giving up, are you?"
"Why not? I have nothing: no family, no employment, and I'm a guinea pig in a research project run by a bunch of psychopaths. I'm sorry, but it just all crashed down on me and I'm having a really hard time, right now."
"You've got me," he said with a half smile.
"And I'm thankful," she answered, and her tone was sincere. "More than you know."
He sighed and sat down on the floor next to the futon, knees up, back against the frame. "My dad despised me. I couldn't deal with the battlefield anymore, so I deserted and came home. Plus, I was completely under Katherine's spell. But him hating me started years before. In fact, I don't know how it started. I just remember one day, suddenly, Stefan was the one who did everything right, and I did everything wrong. Stefan was going to be a doctor, make something of himself. I obviously had no ambition and nothing to show for my education and battlefield experience except being head over heels in love with a woman who played Stefan and me against each other. I was a failure and a disappointment." He took a long pull on his bourbon. "How ironic was it then, that Stefan was the one who tore Father's throat out and killed him, not me?" He knew Lindsey was listening to him, but he didn't look at her. "By the time Stefan and I were turned, the only people on the plantation who gave a damn about me were the slaves. They were the only ones who cared whether I lived or died." He glanced over at Lindsey, and she nodded slowly.
She sighed. "My sister and I have been estranged for years. She got mixed up with this drug dealer and was stealing money from my parents. I called the cops on her and they arrested her idiot boyfriend, and my parents changed all their bank account information so she couldn't get to it. Then, after Daddy had the heart attack, he and Mama gave me power of attorney over their affairs and made me the executrix of their estate, what little there was. I also got the house. My sister couldn't be trusted. Daddy died a year after the heart attack. He had kidney failure. I was 26. Mama died five years later. And my sister and I haven't spoken since. I don't even know where she is. I told her when our parents died, but she didn't come to either service. She knows how to get in touch with me, but I haven't heard from her. I still live in their house. If I'd gotten a job here, I'd have sold it, but that didn't happen, obviously."
"What happened to your mom?"
"Breast cancer. She wouldn't go to the doctor, and it was just too late by the time they found it. What about your mom?"
"She had tuberculosis. She was planning to go out west to take the desert cure, they called it, and I would have gone with her, but she died before she could get there. Then, I was in school and then the war..."
"What did you do after the war and everything?"
"I knocked around the South for a couple of years, but conditions were so awful, I did what a lot of ex-Confederates did: I went to Texas and served in the Mexican army for a while. I worked on the railroad, punched cows, you name it."
"Wow. You were a cowboy?" Lindsey was smiling, which pleased Damon.
"I sure was. I always loved to ride, and I could shoot, so it wasn't like it was something I couldn't do."
"Yeah, I can see that. So, when you were with the railroad, I know all the line girls and opium dens followed the railroad camps, so I can see where you got your blood supply then, but what about when you were running cows? On a trail drive, you might be a week or more between towns. How did you feed?" Lindsey was still picturing Damon dressed like a cowboy – jeans, a black shirt and neckerchief, a black, flat-crowned hat like the Californios wore, maybe with a silver concho hat band and black boots. The image was mouth-watering.
"You are such a reporter," Damon answered, shaking his head, bringing her back to earth. "I always gave Stefan hell because he feeds on animal blood. But I always volunteered for the night shift on drives. Cow's blood works when you can't get the other kind. It was easy to pick two or three calves a night. Getting through the hide is the worst part. The blood isn't too bad. And I never drained the calves. That was money out of my pocket. Didn't need that much blood, anyway. And the calves hardly noticed. So I made it all right. Then, when we got to a town, well, the saloon girls were always willing."
"I have a life-sized picture of you punching cows." And what a picture it was.
"Don't even go there. It was miserable work."
"When did you go back to Virginia?"
"Late 1890s. Things were better, economically, and the boarding house was built by then, so my nephew offered me a room there, if I wanted it. I stayed there on and off."
He turned to look at Lindsey, who was obviously pondering something.
"What is it?"
"So how do you transact business? I mean, you have to have a driver's license to do anything. Compulsion can't do everything for you. And you have to have a Social Security number. You can't live completely under the radar all the time. Especially not these days. Not since 9-11."
Damon laughed. "That never occurs to most people. The truth is that there are vampires who rotate in and out of federal and state offices. Their job is to find vampires in the system and update their dates of birth every 10 years or so. Right now, my driver's license says I was born in 1979. In ten years, it will update to 1989 and so forth and so on. Same with my Social Security number. I'll never turn 65, so I'll never need it. And, every 80 years or so, or until the system collapses, they'll change my social. You can't have someone living for 100 years with the same Social Security number."
"So what happens to your old one?"
Damon gave her that lopsided grin. "It'll show I died in Virginia. I don't know how they keep the tracks completely covered, but they do."
"Wow. Who knew? Your tax dollars at work." She gave him a wicked grin. "So the people in the IRS really are bloodsuckers. It's true." She chuckled.
Damon was glad to hear her laugh. He had a feeling she still wasn't in a good place emotionally, and he didn't want anything to happen to her. And shock of the century, it wasn't because he knew if something did, he'd be next. No, he liked Lindsey Hargrove as much as he had any human in decades, and if nothing else, was determined the Augustines weren't going to get another victim.
He heard something in the den. Sounded like something slid under the door. "Sit tight," he told Lindsey. "I heard something in the front room." He left and came back almost immediately, carrying a folder. "Look here," he said. "Apparently, the powers that be have approved our little excursion."
"Yeah. It's a packet with all the details." Damon looked at Lindsey and his eyes were twinkling. He handed her the folder and went into the bedroom and closed the door. Lindsey waited several minutes, looking over the package, and then went into the bathroom, where Damon was waiting on her. Vent fan and faucet on, and no one could hear them.
"We'll go along with everything this time," he said. "Let them think we've accepted the situation. Then, when they let us out again, we're outta here. We can't depend on them to turn you loose, with the chance you might talk."
"Who'd believe me?"
"Yeah, but they don't want to run the risk. What I can't figure out is how they compelled me to not compel you. Not that I want to, but vampires are usually immune to compulsion."
"Chemically induced, like a vervain compound?" Lindsey theorized.
"Could be. And that's scary, too, when that crowd can compel a vampire."
She was looking carefully at the pages of the information packet. "Wonder what this means?" she said, showing Damon a series of letters that bordered the inside of every page: CE/HVCP.
He studied the letters. "Who knows?"
Lindsey got a faraway look in her eyes and Damon could all but see the wheels turning. "C-E. C-E. How about co-existence? And then the H and V obviously stand for human and vampire. So the second C and the P. What's that, I wonder?"
Damon grinned at her. "Girl, your brain is scary. Makes perfect sense. We'll just have to think about the other two letters. But I'm willing to bet the first four are just exactly what you said."
"I can hardly wait until tomorrow. I know we'll have to come back, but to get outside, even for a couple of hours... Fresh air. We've been cooped up here too long."
"Really. Get outta here now before they start thinking you drowned in the bathtub."
"I know." She left the room with the packet. She wanted to look at it. She'd been too terrified before, but now she wanted to look over the information very carefully. Sometimes, you could tell things about an organization by how they put together written material.
Both Damon and Lindsey were ready to go at the appointed time the next morning. At 10 a.m. sharp, the door swung open. Three men and one woman, all in dark suits, stood outside. As they walked into the hallway, they saw the man Damon had seen – Mr. Body Armor and crossbow.
Lindsey glanced at Damon. "The president doesn't have this much security," she murmured, knowing he would be able to hear her. He smirked.
It was hot outside and it was bright. Their group ushered them quickly across the parking lot to a large SUV with dark windows. One of the men opened the door and gestured for them to enter the vehicle. The information packet contained two $50 bills – one for each of them, Lindsey guessed. She had one in her purse and gave the other one to Damon. One of the men got in on the passenger side, one in the back seat. The other two were in another vehicle. Lindsey was glad she had the door on one side and Damon on her other, not one of the men. Damon stretched his arm out across the seat back and scooted closer to her, so as not to touch the other man.
The trip was made in complete silence, which was unsettling. No one said a word to either Damon or Lindsey. She looked out the window to see as much as she could through the dark glass. She could more or less make out where they were and knew Damon was looking through the windshield. With his augmented vision, he could see landmarks more clearly at a distance.
They turned into a parking lot and Lindsey could see the grocery store. Now she knew where in town she was, and if they came back, that could be a real advantage. Before they got out of the vehicle, the man in the backseat said, "You are expected to follow all the guidelines. Any deviation and you will immediately be taken back and will face repercussions."
"I understand," Lindsey said.
"Yeah, yeah. Just let us out of here, how about it?" Damon said, shooting the man a look Lindsey wouldn't want turned on her.
The man actually had the sense to look a little nervous and he unlocked Lindsey's door. She got out and started for the store's entrance. She had an expression on her face that made Damon wonder what was going on inside her head. Once inside, he lost her for a moment, until his hearing picked her voice out, talking to someone. "Thanks for letting me use your computer," he heard her say. "I won't be a minute."
The grocery store was following the latest trend of installing a Starbuck's in every location and Lindsey had already scored a latte and was using some girl's laptop. He grinned as he watched her fingers fly across the keys. She was obviously searching for something, and as he watched, her eyes widened at what she found. A few more clicks and she was looking again, and once again, looked shocked at the results. She shook her head. She cleared the search history, thanked the girl again for the use of the computer and stood. She caught Damon's eye, but her expression revealed nothing. Damn, but she was good at keeping a poker face, he thought.
She left the dining area, and their handlers were waiting on them. "Just had to get a latte and check my email," she said, knowing the security detail wouldn't make a scene inside the store. And she hadn't taken much longer than that to do whatever she was doing, so it made sense.
He had a cart and as they were walking, they got far enough ahead of the security detail that Damon asked, low, "What were you looking for?"
"The letters we found on the information," she said, barely moving her lips.
"I'll tell you when we get back."
"O.K." and he knew he would just have to wait to see what was going on.
Lindsey picked out a selection of fruit juices and so forth, but very little actual food. Damon was getting downright worried about her.
"Get something more substantial, how about it?" he said.
"My appetite is pretty much nil these days," she answered. "Everything tastes like sawdust."
He sighed. "O.K. I can't force you."
"And I'm grateful."
"You might like my kind of compulsion," he teased. Lindsey just rolled her eyes at him and he smirked at her.
Lindsey wouldn't say anything about what she found until that night, when she and Damon went to bed. Somehow, she managed to smuggle a small dry erase board and a marker on to the checkout lane, so they could write notes to each other in silence. Once again, Damon had to applaud her ingenuity.
She got the board and wrote, "Checked a couple of weirded out conspiracy websites for the Augustines."
He nodded and wrote, "Anything?"
"Yeah. They're everywhere on the conspiracy boards."
"Really?" Damon said aloud.
"Really," Lindsey answered. She cleaned the board and wrote, "CE/HVCP = Co-existence/Human Vampire Conception Project."
Damon's eyes widened and he looked at Lindsey in absolute shock. "Holy fucking shit."
"Yeah. Tell me about it. I didn't get as much information as I wanted, but here's what someone claiming to be another of their vampire captives said," and she wrote, "Injected him with stuff that made his genitals swell and then they made him ejaculate and artificially inseminated the girl they captured. Someone asked what happened then, and the vampire said the girl did get pregnant, but miscarried and bled out. She died."
"How did he get away?" Damon scribbled on the board.
Lindsey wiped it clean again. "Said he jumped from a tenth story window in the daylight and hid in a dumpster until dark."
Damon exhaled noisily. "Did you read anything else?" As if that weren't enough.
She nodded and wrote, "The project is trying to create half-breeds that don't need blood, but who heal like vampires, presumably for research purposes, particularly organ transplants." She cleaned the board.
Damon had gone very, very still. Finally, he nodded slowly. "That makes sense, considering some of the things they did to me and Enzo," he said.
Realization hit her. "You mean, they h-harvested your organs?"
"Yeah. Except my heart and my brain. In the five years they had me, I regenerated nearly every part of my body at least once. Bones, skin, muscles, organs, eyes – you name it."
Lindsey put her hands to her mouth. The idea of Damon being skinned alive – being deprived of his beautiful eyes – it was too horrible to contemplate. Tears filled her eyes. "Damon, I am so very sorry. I know that can't begin to cover it, but I am. Nobody should have to go through that. I don't care whether they're human or not. I mean, that's like, Holocaust, Josef Mengele kind of stuff, and I didn't think any more like him could possibly exist. And they call you a monster. They're the ones who aren't human." Here, she took his hands. "I'm just so sorry. No wonder you did some of the things you did. It's a miracle you can function at all."
At her words, something ice-cold in his heart started to warm, for the first time in decades. He had felt kindly toward her, felt she might be a friend, and she was here, holding his hands and genuinely hurting for him and with him. She was entering into his pain. And knowing what she said about her ability to get into someone's head when she was interviewing them, Damon had a feeling Lindsey truly was feeling just a small speck of his suffering, and the fact that she was voluntarily doing so, out of nothing other than a caring feeling for him – the fact that a human was willingly feeling his pain – brought him a peace he had not known. He understood why people felt safe unburdening themselves to her.
Damon looked at Lindsey, seeing only concern, only compassion in her eyes. He nodded and said, "Thank you," softly. He tentatively loosed her hands from his and put his arm around her shoulders. She put her arms around him and held him wordlessly. She raised her hand to stroke his hair and pressed a soft kiss to his cheek.
She looked up at him. "Go feed and then let's go to bed. I think we're both tired."
He nodded, then kissed her hair and went to the kitchen. Lindsey showered and when she came out, Damon was in bed. When she slipped in beside him, he immediately turned to her and gathered her into his arms. "You're better than a teddy bear any day," he teased.
"Nice to know I'm good for something," she said dryly.
"You are." He was silent for a few moments, then kissed her ear and whispered, "Thank you, Lindsey."
She patted his arm. "You're welcome, Damon. Good night."
Damon could tell she fell asleep fairly quickly, but he stayed awake a while. He had to get them away from here. Their time was running out.