A few months ago
Damon tipped the glass of warmed blood to his lips as he waited for his brother to arrive. All through the years he had cursed his brother's presence, but relished every instance he could make Stefan's existence a living hell. At times, very few times, Damon would look at his brother, with whom he had spend just about every moment since Stefan's own birth, and wondered if a hundred years was not enough to forgive him for the sin that was hardly a sin at all.
Katherine loved him. She loved Stefan more than she loved Damon. When Damon was rationale, he could accept that Stefan was not at fault.
But Damon had heard the shift in Stefan's tone. Even over the phone, Damon could almost see that flash of an expression on his brother's face.
Whatever it was that happened in 1883, in Manhattan, Stefan was involved. And whether it was Stefan at fault for what had gone down, or if he were to blame for the fact that Damon remembered nothing—Damon only wished he had been meaner, more violent, more cruel.
He glanced down at his hand, then curled it into a fist. He imagined the thickness, recalled the weight. He spread out his hand within an instant when he felt the phantom warmth of blood spilling onto his skin.
"I came as soon as I could."
Damon looked up and saw his brother stepping into the darkened room. When Stefan walked in and sat across from his seat, Damon nodded towards the bottle. He had painstakingly poured blood from a bag to an old wine bottle. Stefan shook his head, then cleared his throat. "Unless what you have in mind is a fight, or a physical confrontation, then I don't need to drink."
At that, Damon's brow arched. "Do you think this will lead to violence?"
Stefan leaned down and rested his elbows on his knees. He clasped his hands together and asked, "How much do you remember?"
"Just tell me what you know," he demanded. Again, Damon looked down at his right hand, felt an uncontrollable urge and felt himself turn.
"You feel her blood."
He snarled when he looked up at Stefan. He cut in, "Her?" When Stefan hesitated, Damon said, "Tell me. Whose blood, Stefan?" And why the hell would it matter. He had fed on many, killed many. But the feel of the warm blood ghost-like on his skin hung over him.
"I can't. I swore I would never talk about it again. It's for your own good."
"Whoever it is, Stefan, Katherine is coming after her." He remembered the face in his dream, that strange unfamiliar face, that voice and the way she said his name, the look in her eyes when his face was reflected there.
"After her," Stefan repeated, the trace of disbelief strong in his voice.
"I couldn't care less," he lied. His heart—or where it used to be when it was not the dry, useless husk—constricted at the thought.
"Blair Waldorf died," Stefan emphasized. Damon grasped at the name, thrown easily to the air, clutched it tightly to his memory. That she had died was not something to consider. Many people died before and returned with a vengeance. He did not know why it mattered to Stefan, who continued, "I saw her die with my own eyes."
"If she's supposed to be dead, Stefan, then someone screwed up. And Katherine has some grudge."
"Blair's alive," Stefan concluded.
"Seems like it," Stefan said somberly. "Damon—"
"Who's Blair Waldorf, Stefan? Why can I remember every kill—" felt anything or not, there was little remorse for most of them—"and I can't remember her?"
"It was a long time ago, and you asked to forget."
It was a show of weakness, one that Damon could not believe he would reveal to his own brother. Asking to forget was admitting incapability. There was nothing in heaven or hell that would make him so weak that he would rather forget, not when he could, at his choice, feel nothing at all.
Even without Dorota, Blair found that she needed to leave often enough that she had become quite the efficient organizer herself. She packed her bag neatly and put in nice short rows an organized kit for her toilette. It was not as if the Vanderbilt mansion would not have everything she needed, but a girl needed to be prepared and smell the way she always smelled. She would break out if she used some of the guest facial wash available in William Vanderbilt's estate.
She had to forego the towels of course. Even as a child she could always find anything in the Vanderbilt manor. Once, when she was twelve there happened to be an incident in the Vanderbilt mansion and William Vanderbilt used to recall it as Blair Waldorf getting lost. William Vanderbilt, with Nate following close behind him, found her wandering, he had asked her for what she had been searching for.
"The piano is in the salon, Blair," the old man reminded her.
Nate had nodded and said, "Remember Mrs Esperson played it at tea."
But Blair had taken Nate's hand and led grandfather and boy to the musty wing and straight through grand doors that opened to a ballroom. Large white tarps covered humongous furniture. There, Blair had let go of Nate's hand and proceeded to the centerpiece and pushed up the tarp, uncovering for the two the ivory keys that still trilled and chimed and vibrated with the purest keys.
"How did you know that was here?" William Vanderbilt had asked, because the room had only been inventoried and scheduled for restoral.
But it was no puzzle, no amazing discovery that had been made, Blair thought. She had always known every nook and cranny, every hidden door and revolving bookcase that Vanderbilt mansion had to offer. Instinct, she said. But for all intents and purposes, whenever she was in the Vanderbilt mansion, it only felt right that she was meant to be a Vanderbilt—where everything was familiar, where the air was haunting, where the lights were romantic.
Little girl dreams became young women's fantasies.
Three of them drove to the Vanderbilt estate the next afternoon. They rode in Nate's towncar, and Blair forcefully kept herself awake on the way. Beside her Nate's head was leaned back to rest. His sunglasses were on, and even through the tint Blair could tell that Nate had already fallen asleep. Beside her Katherine grinned and patted her knee. The woman held a notebook tightly in her hand.
"Do you want get some sleep?" Katherine asked. "I'll wake you up when we get there," she offered.
Blair shook her head. "I'm too excited to fall asleep." She did not need to tell the woman beside her, of course, that every time she closed her eyes she saw his looking at her, with those brilliant, vibrant, haunting ones. Those eyes had been spectacular in that moment right before he killed her. You do not tell a stranger that a man who miraculously vanished and appeared at will was haunting you in life and in your dreams. "What is that?" Blair asked, shifting the conversation to Katherine.
Katherine flushed, then said, "A list." She amended, "A wishlist. These are what I hope to find when we get to the Vanderbilt collection."
Blair extended her hand and asked, "May I see it?"
Katherine smiled, appeared to hesitate for a moment, then nodded. She gave the notebook to Blair. Blair flipped it open and saw pictures of various pieces of jewelry and a handwritten list of others. Blair stopped to touch the illustration of a familiar engagement ring. "Gorgeous, isn't it? It's the ring that—"
"I wore that," Blair said out loud. When Katherine looked surprised, she explained, "When we were younger, Nate and I were going to be engaged. To push us in the right direction our parents had him give me that ring." Blair shook her head. "You won't find that ring at the estate. It's in Nate's mother's jewelry box."
"I would love to see it."
Blair grinned. "Then you're heading in the wrong direction. The ring is likely in the Hamptons."
"But it's real."
"Of course it's real. It's the Vanderbilts. Ridiculous over-the-top diamonds are probably their bedazzles," Blair pointed out. Blair flipped through the notebook curiously. "This piano was still there a few years ago," she murmured. The pictures seemed too familiar, and Blair had never actually seen many of them in her visits to the estate. "These aren't too different from any other collection they show from old families. I don't get the rationale in pulling them out."
Katherine leaned over beside Blair, and Blair watched as Katherine flipped through the notebook untils he reached the very last page with content. There, Blair saw a cardboard photograph of a bed. For some reason, the air conditioner seemed too strong now because her entire body was covered in chills. She glanced up at Katherine, who looked at her intently with a thin smile on her face. "Have you seen this bed?"
"No," she whispered. Blair closed her eyes to ward off her distress, and instantly was overwhelmed by the feeling that the soft coverlet surrounded her, that her head was heavy on the down pillow. She was in the bed and she could not get up. She gasped for air and there was a noisy sucking sound and she could not satisfy her need.
"Blair, Blair, open your eyes."
And when she did it was that man above her, running bloodstained fingers through his hair. "Damon," she cried, but it was a mere choking sound.
He wiped the back of his hand under his nose and she saw her blood streak across his face. "I'm sorry."
His face faded slowly into black.
"Blair?" repeated a woman's voice.
Blair opened her eyes and she saw Katherine's look of concern. Blair gasped for breath. "What's so special about that bed?" she asked.
Katherine's brows furrowed. She glanced at Nate, who was still sleeping. Then she told Blair, "That bed is the reason for all the scandal about this collection. That was supposed to be the marriage bed of the Vanderbilt heir and his fiancé."
"And," Blair prompted.
"According to the scandal—which was kept in the strictest confidence by many of their contemporaries—that is where the Vanderbilt heir killed his bride," Katherine shared. "A knife—straight through her gut. The young woman wanted to break off her engagement and the Vanderbilt heir murdered her in cold blood."
"What does that have to do with my family?" she asked. "Why is the Waldorf collection in their possession?"
"Because, Blair, you are not the first Waldorf to have been contracted to marry a Vanderbilt." Katherine turned the page. "This is a portrait that they should rightfully return to your family, after that entire scandal. It's worth half a million dollars at auction, maybe more than two million once the full story is leaked." Blair found herself looking at the picture of the painting. "The Vanderbilt bride in 1883. Blair Waldorf."
Blair shut the notebook and dropped it on Katherine's lap. "You're after the money."
"Please," Katherine said. "I am after the truth, and single piece that I suspect is there."
"We should turn around," Blair said half-heartedly. "I don't want to have anything to do with your digging up some old scandals that will ruin a good family."
"Blair Waldorf kept a journal, you know. If you don't believe what I told you, then it's more reason for us to get there and find out for ourselves what happened, and why she was found in that bed dead over blood-soaked sheets."
It took a few minutes, but soon Nate woke up and removed his sunglasses. He nodded at the two and said, "Ladies."
Immediately Katherine gave a quick smile and said, "Rise and shine, Mr Archibald."
Nate grinned. He checked his phone and said, "The caretaker has already opened up the wing. Was there anything in particular that you wanted to see?"
Katherine turned to Blair, her eyebrows raised expectantly. Blair nodded. "I want to see the bed, four poster and mahogany, with carved peacocks on the headboard."
"All right," Nate answered.
Katherine nodded in approval.
Then, Blair said, "And Katherine changed her mind. When we pass by a bus stop, we need to let her off. It sounds like there's an emergency at the museum, right, Katherine?"
Katherine's eyes narrowed at Blair, then she forced a smile and nodded. "I'm sure our paths will cross again, and then you can tell me all about the trip."
The scents were overwhelming. The sun flowed through the tiny slits between the curtains. Damon narrowed his eyes, grateful at least for the ring that kept his skin warm instead of burning at the exposure to the sun. The body he held in his arms was soft and pliant and the scent of blood almost drove him insane. He pressed his lips on his nape. He felt the furious pounding of her heart, the flow of her blood in her veins.
He heard her soft murmur as she woke, and Damon sat up as she turned to lie on her back. He had discarded every last piece of their clothing through the night. He grinned when he saw her bare like the day she was born. He leaned down and kissed the hollow at the base of her throat, then made his way down to her breast. Blair buried her fingers in his hair.
The scent was powerful and heady and he fought off the animal inside of him as he liked a trail to her navel. Her hips bucked up and Damon grasped her thighs. They fell open gently and Damon positioned himself between them and kissed his way down.
"Damon!" she gasped.
He pressed a kiss through the nest of dark curls and looked up at her. He smiled at her nervousness, then looked down at the blood staining her inner thighs. He was going to turn, he knew it. But she had cried so utterly deliciously the night before, and powered through her pain with a charming determination, grabbing his arms and hiking her legs even higher still. It was playing with fire, but knowing she deserved something more, Damon slowly laid his lips on the bloodstain and breathed deep.
There was a little bit of himself there, but the taste and flavor was most robust of her, of Blair, a taste that equated to the fragrance that he would remember. This was her, sweet and salty and bitter and sour and everything in between. This must be how the universe tasted.
He climbed up her body and saw her tears rolling down her temples. He glanced at himself in the mirror and to his surprise, even with the blood on his tongue he did not change. He grasped her cheeks until she looked at him and then, he said, slowly, intentionally, clearly, "I think I love you."
And she smiled, grasping at his shoulders. "Do you even know what that means, Damon?"
"This," he said, thrusting his hips and pushing his entire length into her channel, which still held traces of the night before. This was love, he thought, when he could take her and lie with her, taste her and smell her as close as this without turning into something other than human. This was love, without compulsion, without the type of selfishness he had possessed with Katherine. This, with his lips on her neck and her heart pounding so close, without turning—this was love.
She was tight, unused to him still. Every time he entered her and pushed deeper he heard her gasp and felt her grasp tighten. All around him her scent enveloped them. She was different; this was different. She exploded around him into tight vise-like gripping motions. Damon laid his forehead on her shoulder when he came.
She curled with her head pillowed on his chest. Damon felt her grow heavy when she fell asleep over him. He closed his eyes and, even though he did not need it, slept with her.
Blair awoke with a start, and she looked at his face. He opened his eyes, waking as easily as deciding to sleep. The look of terror in his eyes broke his eyes.
"I woke up, and I couldn't feel your heartbeat." His being had terrified her, he thought, but then she said, "I thought I'd lost you."
He shook his head. Tonight, he would tell her. That was only right if he was going to spend as long as he could with her. "I'm here," he said. "But right now, I need to leave. I'll be back."
She nodded, her hair falling over her face. Damon reached up and pushed it behind her ear. He stood and searched for his pants. "Where are you going?" she asked.
The entire night there was no mention of the other man, but still his voice was cautious when he answered, "To meet your fiancé. It appears that he has some need of my service." It was another challenge, of course, to become a doctor in the eyes of this new community. Stefan could not have picked a more difficult lie. "Do you know why?"
"Maybe." She rose from the bed wrapped in a sheet and then pulled him for a kiss. Damon kissed back and they tumbled back on the bed.
Damon grinned. "If this is life with you, I won't do Vanderbilt any favors." She lay underneath him with her hair a dark halo around her head. He dropped a kiss on her lips. "We are too good to lose."
She laid her palm on his chest. "I know."
"I want us to be together forever," he said.
His heart swelled. "I want to spend the rest of my life with you." The rest of his life—eternity—perhaps there was still be blessing that came with Katherine's curse, and that Katherine's death did not end it all.
He waited for her answer, nervous in a way he had never been before. Until, of course, she answered, "So do I."
And then, he found the key to spending eternity sane.
He kissed her when he reluctantly tore himself away. Damon made his way out the corridor and met Stefan on the way to the office. His step was light and he nodded to his brother, even greeted him a good morning, something he had not done since they were both human.
Stefan's eyes widened. He grinned at the sight of his brother. "You bastard," Stefan exclaimed. He stepped close to his brother and sniffed. "The Waldorf girl?" And Damon refused to look his brother in the eye. Stefan shook his head. "You, my brother, are a masochist. I don't know why I never suspected it before, but you are certainly a masochist."
"Am I?" Damon asked. "She agreed to spend the rest of her life with me."
"So did Katherine," Stefan reminded.
"The difference is that Blair wants only me."
The two made their way to the office and Vanderbilt stood. There was a look of gratitude on his face that rendered Damon with a tinge of discomfort. But he would not feel guilty, nor would he back away. He took Vanderbilt's proffered hand and shook it.
Stefan took a seat when Vanderbilt gestured towards it. Damon slowly sank into his seat.
"You do not know how long I have searched for a specialist, and I have tried every one in Manhattan." Vanderbilt sat and looked towards Damon. "I am at the end of my rope. I will try anything—even young doctors still unproven, with your European learning you may just have a strange idea or two."
"Are you ill?" And Damon was almost ashamed that he relished the thought of it.
"No," was the answer, dashing a little of Damon's hope. "No. It's my fiancé."
Damon felt his brother's eyes rest on him. But he refused to look at Stefan. Not while his head whirled with the implications.
"Does she know?" It was Stefan who asked, because it was only Stefan who had the capability to do so.
"She does," was the quiet response.
What followed was the exact script that would have been expected, and the response was the same as what it should have been. Damon promised to do what he could and Vanderbilt swore to pay him the heaven and earth if he could heal his fiancé.
Stefan reached for him, but Damon walked out of the office ahead of his brother. He opened the door and looked up towards the staircase. He saw Blair standing at the top flight, watching him, waiting. She pushed her hair back and off her shoulders, then she raised her chin. She was not tentative, and it seemed that now she dared him to do what he will.
"Walk away, Damon," came Stefan's advice into his ear. "You do not need another chance to have your heart ripped out of your chest."
Instead, Damon stepped forward. He ran up the steps until he reached her.
Despite her bravado, Blair appeared relieved to have him standing before her. "You know," she said.
"You could have told me."
"And never have last night?" She shook her head. "Not for anything in the world."
He cupped her face and kissed her on the lips. "I will find a way," he promised her. "You are not going to die. You will fulfill your promise."
"I promised to be with you until the day I die." She played with his ruffled collar. "Doctor, that may just happen yet."
Damon took her hand and gripped it tightly, then looked back down to where his brother stood. The concern and the disapproval clear on his face.