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Tell me about the dream where we pull the bodies out of the lake
and dress them in warm clothes again.

 

It’s two full years before she leaves them. Two years after Stefan is found and recovered and lulled back into some kind of normalcy; since the acceptance of certain truths, and the submission they embrace. Two years she is between them and beside them. All that time, she’s waiting.

She waits for the other shoe to drop. She watches the yielding expanse of their bodies and yearns to be able to let go. She waits for lucidity, for the universe to speak to her and tell her the way to be. How to be here, be with Stefan, with Damon. Be with them and in them and under them and over them and through them. She does it, and she lives it, but she doesn’t know how to be it. She waits as long as she can.

She waits for the fragments to knit into a whole.

When the voice finally speaks up, a thrumming song in her belly, she gasps at its clarity and understands, with pain, what it means. She’s done waiting.

It’s a Monday morning. She cries as she tells them she’s stayed as long as she can, but she cannot any longer, that this just isn’t enough. That finally her life is speaking to her. Her tears burn their skin as she pulls them close, turns, and walks away.

She does not look back.

 

***

 

The deed to the house lies on the entryway table, next to a vase full of wilting daisies. She brought them home just last week. On top of it is a notarized letter granting ownership back to Messrs Salvatore and Salvatore. The men in question stare at the paper as though waiting for it to speak, to explain all of this to them, to help them accept what they already understand.

Finally, Stefan picks it up. He folds it carefully and places it in the drawer. Turns to face Damon.

“It’s enough, Damon. Let it be enough.”

Damon’s jaw ticks for long moments as his eyes search his brother’s. Then at last, he nods once. Of course it’s enough. He relaxes a fraction, and Stefan takes the opportunity to brush a lock of hair off his brow. His touch is gentle, almost unsure. Damon reaches up and grabs his brother’s hand. Except enough just isn’t.

“Don’t.”

“Don’t what?”

“Do that gentle, sweet Stefan thing you do. Don’t be good. Make it worse.”

Stefan searches his brother’s face.

“Please.” Damon’s eyes are desperate. Stefan tilts his chin towards his brother, hand moving over Damon’s sternum. Looks back into Damon’s eyes, just a glance. And then shoves him hard.

Damon crashes across the room in a heap. His eyes darken and a low growl starts deep in his chest. Yes. This is better. So much worse. He has no time to prepare before Stefan is on him, fangs gnashing and fingers scrabbling, ripping fabric and making pinching, insistent demands.

They fight each other even as they cling and search out necks, mouths, tongues. Damon has his arm against Stefan’s throat, pressing him to the floor. Stefan punches his brother in a sharp succession of thuds, rolls them again. They paw, scrape, hit, and snarl.

They leave bruises and bites on each other. Damon wishes they would scar. Knows they won’t. So much worse.

 

***

 

Damon’s rage is equal only to Stefan’s despair. They part soon after.

It’s too much. They’ve fought and rutted and bled to exhaustion. It’s taken them over; they’ve begun to plod where before they sprang and leapt. She’s drained them with her absence; they’ve drained each other.

Stefan sits at his desk and stares at nothing.

“I’m tired, Damon.”

“So sleep, then.”

“Too tired to sleep.”

“Then what the fuck, Stefan?”

Stefan looks over at his brother. Damon is sitting propped against the head of the bed. Their bed. Stefan looks at him for a long moment. Long enough for Damon to see into him. Long enough to understand.

He’s gone the next morning. Drives off in that ludicrous little car of his without a goodbye. Damon tells himself he shouldn’t be surprised. Stefan’s always had one foot out the door. Doesn’t make his fist hurt any less when he puts it through the nearest wall.

 

***

 

How it was late, and no one could sleep, the horses running

until they forgot they are horses.

 

It takes five years for Damon to find him. He falls through Stefan’s apartment door in Greenwich, reeking of booze. Slurs something about wishing Stefan weren’t such a goddamn slippery prick; grabs clumsily onto Stefan’s forearms, drags himself to his feet and breathes a rancid cloud of air into his brother’s face. His eyes struggle to focus for a minute, and then they grow glittering hard. He steps back, then slams his fist into Stefan’s gut.

Stefan grunts at the impact, then sighs in resignation and allows himself to go slack when Damon throws him against the wall. Merely rests his hands on his brother’s hips and presses into him as Damon’s fangs scrape over his jugular, cups his face as Damon relaxes and pulls away from Stefan’s neck, looking small and lost.

“Okay, Damon. I hear you. Okay.”

Damon’s eyes are wet now, but his hands are fisted into the lapels of his brother’s shirt so hard a seam rips.

Stefan leans in and kisses him, the barest touch.

Damon lets out a sound that resembles a groan, a dying animal. He rears back and splits his brother’s lip.

Stefan drops his hands to his sides and licks the blood from his mouth. Smiles softly when Damon’s focus follows the path of his tongue.

“Shh,” he says, “shush now.”

That really sets Damon off. Stefan acts the part he chose; becomes the conquest. He braces himself for the onslaught. Damon takes his prey.

Later, when they’re curled around each other in the quiet hour of dawn, Stefan speaks.

“I worried about you, you know.”

Damon grunts. “Yeah? Did you lose a lot of sleep on my account? I dearly hope so.”

“I just worried I’d have to bail you out of some stupidity that might get one or both of us killed.”

“I wanted to kill you tonight.”

“No you didn’t.”

Damon smirks, finally relaxed.

“No. I didn’t.”

He moves in closer to Stefan and tucks his head under his chin. Breathes him in deep and closes his eyes.

“I promise I’ll try not to leave again. It was just – well, you know.”

Damon tenses. When he speaks, it’s with careful measure.

“I know. And I promise that if you go again, I’ll make it hurt.”

Stefan smiles into Damon’s hair.

“Fair enough.”

The beasts sleep.

 

***

 

It’s not like a tree where the roots have to end somewhere,

it’s more like a song on a policeman’s radio

 

They see her again eleven years later. They aren’t looking for her, but there she is. Walking through Central Park, of all places. Her hair is shorter; the baby she has strapped to her chest tugs on the ends of it. She doesn’t seem to notice, preoccupied as she is with dragging a little girl along by the hand. The child is obviously dissatisfied with being made to walk in a straight line.

Damon clenches and unclenches his hands. He starts to move forward with intent, but Stefan grabs his arm.

“No.”

“Stef – “

“No, Damon.”

Damon shakes his head but concedes, turning to walk the other way with his brother. He chances a glance back, and sees her standing there. Staring after them. Her eyes are large and deep. The corners of her mouth turn up just a bit before Damon squares his jaw and turns his gaze forward again, away from her. They keep walking.

They don’t talk about why, but they mutually decide a move is in order. Some place different. They settle on Italy, since they’ve never visited their motherland at the same time. They get lost amongst the ruins. Years slide by unnoticed. They tell each other that everything is as it should be.

They do not see Elena again in her lifetime.

 

***

 

how we rolled up the carpet so we could dance,
and the days were bright red,
and every time we kissed there was another apple
to slice into pieces.

 

They hear talk of Katherine in northern France and decide to pay her a visit, only to find she’s been killed by one of her vicious young playthings. They corner him in a downtown Paris café. The man brandishes her necklace like a trophy. Tells them how he tricked her, ‘staked the whore’ while she slept.

The brothers make sure he screams for weeks before ending him.

The beasts murmur, and shift.

 

***

 

Look at the light through the windowpane. That means it’s noon, that means

We’re inconsolable.

 

She was so bright, Elena. (She flared between them, Katherine.) They burned, warmed, engulfed, and then were gone. Ashes to ashes. Embers to dust. The glow they left in their wake is hardly enough to cling to, though they try. They do try so very hard.

 

***

 

They see her crossing the street one drizzly afternoon in London. The sight of her stops them cold. Stefan takes Damon’s elbow in his hand. Cups it gently, just a presence. Acknowledgement.

Katherine has been dead for more than two centuries. And Elena… Though they do not speak her name anymore and the years have swallowed her face, she is still inside them, ever present.

Funny how they thought there would never be another. That Katherine and Elena had been the last. But here she is, bright as a new penny, looking at the two men a little warily and then quickly passing them by. They turn as one and watch her retreat. Wisps of mahogany escape the braid hanging down her back. Her umbrella crowns the air around her like a halo; her boots slosh through puddles with sure, quick steps.

She’s about to round the next corner and pass away from their sight when it happens.

She looks back.

There is a tiny hitch in her step when she sees that they are still watching her. She nearly stumbles. Stefan’s touch at Damon’s elbow tightens into a sharp grip as he feels his brother tense. She rights herself and, looking quickly away, hurries her gait and disappears.

 

***

 

Her name is Shannon. Shannon Davies. She’s twenty-three, unmarried, and attending university. She studies biochemistry and likes coffee with milk. She has a cat named Cove who is just the cutest thing ever, you should see him.

These are the facts Damon coaxes out of her before he turns her.

After, he tells her what she is, and who. Or, he tries. She examines her darkened, veined eyes and sharp teeth with fascination. She looks at every inch of herself with a clinical precision that makes Damon shiver. Then she looks at him and smiles.

“I can be anything I want, now.”

Damon’s not sure he likes the sound of that.

Stefan cannot believe what his brother has done. He yells. He pleads. He chastises. But Damon purses his lips and stays mute. Shannon slinks out of their room without a stitch on, thick book in tow, and sidles up to Stefan. She gives him an innocent smile and asks if he can help her translate her Latin.

“See, Stef? She just wants help with her studies.” Damon’s smile is knowing.

Stefan frowns, but stops protesting. Shares an uncertain look with Damon. This conversation is not finished. But it is finished enough for now.

The beasts growl and pant.

It’s reckless, intense, unstable. All the things they have not been for a multitude of years. Disquiet and discomfort. Ecstasy. She sparks and they both burn. It feels good and new yet familiar and wrong. The brothers forget about being tender and easy with one another. It’s a six-month fugue of sex and partying and excess. Yet the more Shannon Davies embraces her new reality, the more inertia forces them all to spin.

Their girl’s got a flair for bloodshed, despite their careful instructions on the art of peaceful hunting. Shannon rips her way through half the travelers at a youth hostel near their flat before Stefan catches her and brings her home.

She rails against both of them, snarling and snapping.

“What are you even?” She shrieks. “You’re not vampires! You’re hardly human. Are you even men?”

They cajole, attempt to sooth. She spits at them.

“I’m not your little toy, your memory box. Quit kidding yourselves. Those dead women have nothing to do with me.”

She smiles cruelly at their anguished and pinched faces.

“You’re both laughable.”

These are the last words she says before Damon stakes her.

They don’t speak as they bury her in a small thatch of trees in a park near their home. They dig and sweat. They cover her with rich, peaty soil. The soft snicks of the shovel slowly cocoon her in the earth.

After, they stand side by side over her grave. When Damon speaks, his voice comes out an uncharacteristic whisper.

“Just once, I wanted to keep her.”

There’s a long pause before Stefan responds.

“I know.”

Damon shifts his weight on the handle of the shovel.

“What’s wrong with us?”

Stefan sighs.

They stare at the mound of fresh dirt.

 

***

 

Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us.

 

Stefan knew that this would not be easy. That Damon would hurt him for it. He’d promised, after all. They both had.

Damon just stares at him placidly. Doesn’t blink. Doesn’t speak. Doesn’t react in any way.

“You understand, don’t you? You know why I have to go.”

Damon stares.

“After – I can’t - what we did to that girl…” His eyes plead. He talks and explains, waiting for the explosion. Waiting for Damon to be Damon.

When he’s said all he can think of to say, a hush falls.

At length Damon rises, walks down the hallway to their room, and quietly shuts the door.

Stefan’s an expert on the finer forms of torture, but he’s fairly certain he’s never felt pain like this.

He leaves the front door open when he goes.

When he looks back, it’s still gaping, swaying gently.

 

***

 

After the regret and unease (that might be panic) sets in, Stefan returns to England, hat firmly in hand. But Damon is gone, and no report of his whereabouts can be found. Stefan cannot understand it. He spends a number of years trying to find leads, but nothing ever pans out. Damon has, quite simply, vanished.

Stefan clings to the small kernel of reason he still possesses, and keeps going. Wonders how he could have been granted so many years to live only to fuck his life up repeatedly. To try to keep it together and then watch everything fall apart at the seams.

He wishes his brother were as clumsy as he is. But Damon is too clever, and he hides well.

Stefan wishes he understood mercy or forgiveness. Years ago he thought he might. But he was young and he was wrong.

He understands now what it means to need, though. He never knew what grace was until he had to go without.

He knows now. He is starving with need for it.

 

***

 

These, our bodies, possessed by light.
Tell me we’ll never get used to it.

 

It’s been four hundred ninety-eight full years since he left Mystic Falls. Or, what was once Mystic Falls. In the intervening centuries it’s become part of the great urban sprawl that developed out of Lynchburg and Charlottesville. The sheer density of people and buildings overwhelms him. Nothing is familiar.

He drives through a complicated set of turns and exits before finally arriving. The Boarding House, as it’s now called, sits in the middle of one of the city’s historical areas, small oases amidst the concrete desert. The property is abutted on all sides by development. He’s relieved he had the good sense before he left to make sure it would always be held in trust.

As his car ambles slowly up the long drive, he wonders if the caretaker will be around to let him in.

There’s no answer when he knocks, so he decides to wander the grounds. The sun is high and bright in the late August sky. He takes off his jacket and lets himself soak up the heat. The air is hazy with it.

He sees a bent figure near a garden that he doesn’t remember being there before. The caretaker looks to be pulling weeds, yanking them out of the ground and tossing them in a nearby basket. Stefan approaches.

“We’re closed for tours on Mondays,” the man says, not pausing in his work. His voice is distracted and gruff. “We’ll be open tomorrow, eleven am.”

Stefan continues to stand still, casting a shadow over the ground.

When no reply is forthcoming, Damon stops and looks up.

“Oh,” he says, as he stands and brushes the dirt off his hands. “Hi there, Stefan.”

Stefan gapes at his brother.

Hi there?”

“You come for the tour? Like I said, I only do them Tuesday through Saturday.”

“Damon, I – “

“Never mind,” he interrupts. “You’re family. I guess I can make an exception. Come on, I’ll show you the works.”

He walks past Stefan and marches towards the house.

Stefan blinks and gives his head a shake. Unsure what else to do, he follows his brother.

When he reaches the foyer, Damon is already talking.

“… original wood paneling, dating back to the mid 18th century. You’ll notice the craftsmanship and detail typical of 1700’s American colonial architecture.”

“Damon.”

“Much of the furniture in the rest of the house has been updated, with modern fixtures in the kitchen and baths. But here in the grand parlor the furnishings are mostly original.” He nods to himself and turns towards the west end of the house.

Stefan huffs in frustration.

Damon.

“Now if you’ll follow me, I’ll show you the fully-refurbished library, complete with an antique humidor owned by the first Salvatore to immigrate to Virginia Colony in 1767.”

“Damn it, Damon. Stop.

“Sorry, Stefan, we’re on a bit of a schedule here. I’ve got work to do before tomorrow.”

He continues towards the library.

Stefan’s eyes darken, but he controls his rising ire.

When they reach the library, Damon sweeps his arms around the room.

“And here’s where the books live. Really old, no one reads books anymore, all very modern now, blah blah. And that concludes our tour, since you already saw the grounds. Please help yourself to a cookie on your way out.”

Damon tries to pass his brother, but Stefan catches his arm and swings him around again.

“Damon, listen to me. I’m sorry.”

Damon shakes free of Stefan’s grip, meets his gaze with cold eyes.

“Whatever. Not interested.”

Stefan presses his lips into a thin line. His nostrils flare.

“Fine, just tell me this. How long have you been here?”

“Hmm, let’s think. Since, oh, about a week after you left London, skirts a-flutter.”

Stefan nods slowly, understanding dawning.

“Almost eighty years. Another lifetime. I searched… And you’ve been here the whole time.”

Damon shrugs, seemingly indifferent but unable to mask the tension snapping through every muscle.

“Guess so.”

“You were never hiding at all. I thought – “

Damon laughs, a shrill bark.

“You thought I was hiding? That’s rich, Stefan. Hiding’s your bag, brother.” He sneers with contempt. Takes a couple deep breaths, seemingly warring with himself over what he’s willing to admit.

“I was waiting, you arrogant, colossal asshole.”

He forcefully pushes past Stefan.

“Now do me a favor and get the fuck out.”

He disappears into the depths of the house. Stefan stands there a moment, processing, then follows.

It doesn’t take long to locate him. The door to the master suite is ajar. His hand hovers over the wood before decisively pushing inside.

The first thing he notices is his brother’s back as he stands in front of the window.

Then he notices the room.

Stefan’s too old to be surprised by much these days. There came a time a long time ago when he understood that he had seen everything, and that was pretty much that. So he is quite taken aback at the sight before him.

They are everywhere. In frames and tacked up with pins and propped on the bookshelves. The images are yellow with age, but still vibrant in their way.

Here is Katherine, her tintype portrait faded and frozen in silent beauty. She’s just barely there, the rest of her face lost to oxidation.

And there, on the table next to the computer, Damon and Alaric are looking at the camera with campy, pursed lips. A collage on the wall of three friends: Elena, Caroline, and Bonnie, smiling and holding hands and being silly for the camera.

There’s Damon with Elena dressed in formal wear, dancing. And Elena and Stefan, kissing and grinning faces in a strip of photo booth shots. On the bookshelf, Elena and Jeremy in stilted poses that look like school photos or some such.

On the mantle above the fireplace there is a long row featuring the three of them. They move in sequence. First there is Damon and Stefan leaning against Stefan’s old roadster, looking casual and grinning. In the next, their faces are partially blocked by an extreme close-up of Elena staring intently at the camera. Then they’re laughing as Elena appears to be racing to get between them before the camera flashes. There are several more of these, all with Elena in various states of trying to position herself with them. Finally, another close up of just their faces, Stefan and Elena with cheesy smiles and Damon with a smirking grin.

On the nightstand, there are two photos. The first is a candid snapshot of Damon and Stefan in New York, right around the time they left. They’re at a party and Damon is lit up with laughter at something happening off-camera. Stefan is smiling too, but his focus is entirely on Damon’s face.

The second one is grainy and worn. It’s been placed in a frame too big for it, and Stefan can see the scuffed edges, as though it had been held many times before being put behind glass. It’s of Stefan in profile, sitting at the dining room table downstairs. Must have been taken in the 1960’s or 70’s, because his hair is ridiculous and the collar of his shirt rather larger than the styles have been for many decades.

Stefan doesn’t realize he’s crying until a droplet splatters on the glass.

His breath hitches.

“Thought I told you to leave.”

Stefan looks over at his brother, eyes undone.

“Where did you find all of these?” His voice is a hoarse croak.

Damon does not turn from the window.

“The pictures? They were in a heap in a box in the back of the closet. I think Elena was going to make an album or something. Guess she left it behind.” He glances over his shoulder at his brother. “Please go.”

Stefan doesn’t ask why his brother displayed them all the way he did. He knows already, and precisely. He has been schooled in the ways of loneliness and need. It was a lesson that took a very long time to learn. For the millionth time in his stupid life, he feels ashamed.

“Damon,” he begins, “I’d like to stay. If that’s alright.”

Damon is in front of him in a flash, snarling around his fangs as he grabs Stefan’s neck.

“And what the fuck is ‘alright?’ It’s not alright. It’s never been all right.”

Stefan gasps, his face reddening from the sudden pressure on his throat.

“I know,” he says. All he can manage is a whisper. “And I’m s-“

Damon gives him a violent shake.

“Do not say you’re sorry. I already know that. There’s nothing I don’t know about you, brother. But do you know me?” He adjusts his grip on Stefan and buries his fangs in his carotid. He growls and gulps, squeezing Stefan’s neck harder with each pull.

Stefan groans, grabs Damon’s wrist, but doesn’t try to pull him away. Damon worries at the wound he’s made, rips his teeth away and looks into Stefan’s eyes, mouth dripping.

“Do you know me now?”

“Damon – “ Stefan gasps. “I can’t-“

Damon lets go.

Stefan falls to the floor, choking. He watches Damon sit heavily on the side of the bed and rake his hands through his hair, growling with every exhale. Stefan splutters and gasps, trying to regain his breath. He struggles to get the words out.

“I. know. you.”

“Bullshit.”

“You waited. For me.”

A pause.

“Yes.” Teeth clenched.

“I’m here now, Damon.”

“Fuck you.”

“I won’t go. I refuse.”

“Is that so? And what if I make you?”

“You won’t.”

Damon rolls his eyes, wipes a hand over his mouth. Stefan’s always been a smug bastard, he thinks. “Oh yeah? And why’s that?”

Stefan props himself on one elbow and looks up into Damon’s bloodied face. Feels the need pawing at him, the beast clawing him inside.

“Because I do know you. You’re my brother. That’s deeper than any other love.”

Damon’s eyelid twitches. He keeps his gaze locked with Stefan’s.

“You know, when you say melodramatic shit like that I get an overwhelming urge to pull your heart out of your chest and feed it to you.”

Stefan’s still breathing a little hard, clutching his free hand to his torn neck. But he manages a grin.

“That mean you’ll let me stay?”

Damon growls again.

“That means you’re on tour duty Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays until I decide differently.”

Stefan drags himself up to a kneeling position, risks a hand on Damon’s leg. “I can accept that. But answer me one thing.”

Damon looks at him warily.

“What?”

“Why are you giving tours of our home? It’s… well, it’s weird, Damon. Even for you. Especially for you.”

A sarcastic grin spreads across Damon’s face. “It’s part of our fabulous deal with the Greater Lynchburg Historical Society. We provide free tours to the public, and in exchange the society president doesn’t bulldoze the place and put up more high rises.”

“You mean it’s a bribe? Who on earth would have the gall to extort us?”

“Pfff. Who else? My annoyingly chipper, endlessly blonde, and irritatingly competent progeny.”

Stefan’s eyes widen in disbelief.

“You mean she’s still here?”

“I know, right? She’s half a millennium old now. You’d think she’d be quit of this place, but no. She fucking owns this town. Caroline’s got me by the balls on this thing.”

Stefan nods, smiling warmly now.

“We’ll go see her soon. I’ll talk to her.”

“Yeah, good luck with that.”

“Caroline always liked me.”

“She liked me too, well enough.”

“She loathed you, Damon.”

“Heh. Yeah. Suppose I earned that. But she still won’t let you stop the stupid tours. Mark my words.”

They exchange knowing smiles.

Stefan looks around the room, at all the faces they love, before returning his gaze to the one he’s always loved best.

“Hey, Damon.”

“Yes, Stefan?”

“I missed you.”

Damon places his hand over Stefan’s and squeezes.

“Yeah, Stef.”

When their mouths meet, it isn’t violent, like both of them expected. It’s tender and full of promise. It’s a kiss of old lovers and new crushes. It’s all of the fragments finally healing into a whole.

The beasts are content.

Damon pulls his brother onto their bed, letting him cover him. Stefan tastes like anguish and blood, of death and birth. Of life.

Damon tastes like home, and Stefan sighs into him as he remembers what it feels like to be filled with grace. To burst with it. Like water and sun and benediction.

He thinks that maybe enough really is enough this time.

 

Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us.
These our bodies, possessed by light.
Tell me we’ll never get used to it.

 

 

fin