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there is no sweeter innocence (than our gentle sin)

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The hovering had started again; it always did as soon as she walked into the room. A few glasses on the liquor cart were lifting up into the air. Not a significant height, but enough that he was aware his powers were reaching out, reacting without his direction. He gnashed his teeth irritably. It wasn't that he was unaware of the effect she had on him, he was and he didn't need his powers making it any more obvious. The part that bothered him was that the display itself was so obvious and he didn't want her to know.

This had been going on for a while now. In fact, if he really looked back, it had been going on as long as he'd known her. In the beginning, he chalked it up to her always pushing his buttons, second guessing everything he did, so his powers lashed out along with his temper, attacking gravity. But now he found it happened even when he was calm. All she had to do was catch his attention and things started floating. It was driving him nuts; he was supposed to be in control and she was taking that from him, willfully or not.

Damon had always been the type of person who cared too much. He cared what others thought of him even as he was trying his hardest to appear like he didn't. He was doing something right in the acting department, though, because the majority of people readily believed he was an asshole who couldn't care less, and he worked with that, because it shielded him from any kind of expectation. If they didn't expect much for him, he didn't have far to fall from grace. But there was one aspect of his life that he had no ability to shield himself from; when it came to love, he fell hard and without a safety net. There was no halfway for him.

In the case of Bonnie Bennett, he was almost entirely sure that from the moment he set eyes on her, something, be it fate or destiny or some grand plan, had been triggered. And it had been fucking with his magic ever since.

"I knew a Salvatore, once. Did I ever tell you that?" she asked as she plucked up one of the hovering glasses and filled it with bourbon.

"No," he answered.

In all honesty, in the two years he'd known her, she'd been carefully tight-lipped about her history. She'd blown into town abruptly and turned everything on its head, befriending Caroline first and then Elena, creating a space for herself in their previously unchanging group. Other people came and went, but Caroline, Elena, Stefan and Damon were constants; friends since they were children, growing up and into relationships with each other. Bonnie had been an outlier, an unexpected addition that had rocked the boat in, mostly, positive ways. Even if he did attach much of the worst happenings in Mystic Falls to her, given her supernatural attachments and just what kind of pain they had caused, she had done more to keep them safe than to cause them harm. Protector of their group or not, however, that didn't make her any less of an enigma.

His eyes swept over her, happy to do so when her back was to him, so she couldn't give him that knowing grin of hers. The floaty maroon top she wore was careful not to hug her curves; she habitually wore clothing that almost always hid her figure. A habit of trying to blend in, he supposed, not that she was doing a good job of it. To his thinking, Bonnie would always stand out. Authority radiated off of her, a vibration mimicking a pulse she no longer had. While her heart didn't beat, there was an almost eerie throb of power that flowed from her. He could feel it; a tingle in his fingertips.

As she started to turn back toward him, Damon dropped his attention back to the grimoire and let out a long-suffering sigh. He flipped a page and wondered how long it would take for her to get the hint he didn't want to talk. He'd adopted a flimsy defense of ignorance when it came to Bonnie. He pretended he didn't notice or care about her, that he was irritated by her mere presence, and, given the long held tension between vampire and witches, there was good reason to believe it was genuine. Only they had a history together, of fighting side by side to keep those they cared about alive and safe. They'd seen each other at their worst, at their most worried, at their weakest points, and there was no forgetting that.

Not for the first time, he wondered how it was he got himself mixed up in this bullshit. And why, of all the places he could be right now, he was sitting in the Bennett Boarding House. Sure, she had a collection of books on the occult that would make his family drool, but accessing that information came with a price. Namely, being around her. Which, as he'd long learned, was difficult. What made it worse was that he kept bringing it upon himself. It wasn't like she dragged him to her house. Sometimes it was almost a compulsion, a need to be around her, even just to see her. A few days would pass and he could taste it on his tongue, aggressively potent, the feeling that he was missing something. So, more often than not, he'd find himself at her place, in her space, sharing air with her. For whatever reason, she let him. She let her home be his place to practice and learn and spend hours stuck in his grimoire. Sometimes, he didn't even look up to see her, just having her energy in the house was enough to comfort him, to let him unravel his powers and see where they might take him. After two years, her place felt more like home than the apartment he rented

Despite himself, of all the people in Mystic Falls, he preferred her company to most of them. Depending on Stefan's broodiness level, all of them. Still, his default setting when uncomfortable was irritated, and he donned that mask well.

Bonnie walked over, putting a glass of bourbon down on the table and pushing it toward him.

He glanced at it and then at her.

"Don't worry," she said, her mouth turning up at the corners. "It's blood free."

His nose wrinkled. "You add blood to your bourbon?" He grabbed up the glass and took a sip. "That's sacrilege."

She snorted, moved to the arm of the couch, and perched on the end of it, crossing her legs as she went. He stared at her from the corner of his eyes; for such a short woman, her legs always seemed distractingly long. Judging by her knowing grin and raised eyebrow, she knew it too.

A few knick-knacks on the fireplace mantle shifted under his fluctuating powers and he tore his eyes from her, clearing his throat and focusing on the fire burning away ahead of him. "You, uh, don't have anything better to do tonight? It's Halloween. Shouldn't you be out munching on innocent victims? It's probably the only night of the year that having blood dripping down your chin isn't suspicious."

She wrinkled her nose up in a way he refused to admit was cute. "Halloween gets old after a few years. Sure, it gives me the freedom to shed the 'normal teenage girl' shtick, but after about three overly exaggerated vampires pass you by, hissing and putting on that awful 'Transylvanian' accent, you start to get bored… And semi-murdery."

"Right. Because you're not always murdery, semi or otherwise. You have to be provoked," he muttered, thumbing through a few more pages, keeping his gaze down and on his great grandfather's flowing cursive.

"It sounds like you're trying to provoke me…" Bonnie hopped down from the arm and dropped herself beside him, close enough that their legs were pressed together. A few pots and pans, hanging from the ceiling rack in the kitchen, began to sway. "Probably not a good idea, Damon. I'm in a good mood tonight. Don't ruin it."

"Or else…?" He turned to her with a mocking smirk. "You know, I'm not just reading up on this witchy stuff for funsies… A vampire is a vampire, and whatever I learn will work just as good on you as it will on your former bestie, Katherine."

Bonnie pursed her lips at him, her eyes narrowing. "Threats, still, after everything I've done for you…"

"Right," he scoffed. "Like feeding on my brother and compelling my ex-girlfriend to tell everybody she met that my mustang was compensation for my skills in the bedroom."

Bonnie waved a hand dismissively. "In my defense, I didn't really need to compel Caroline to do anything. She's not your biggest fan, if you haven't noticed, so she was happy to knock you down a peg or six. And as for Stefan, he was a more than willing victim at the time… You'd be surprised how many people will offer up their necks when a pretty girl wants to suck on it." She flashed her teeth at him as a low chuckle left her. "What's the matter, Damon, mad I picked Stefan over you? After all, it seems like an on-going issue of yours… First Elena, then Caroline… Now those two, Caroline and Stefan, they're cute… Not like the dysfunctional thing you and Elena had going on."

"We weren't dysfunctional." He snapped his grimoire shut, covering a wince when various books lifted and fell abruptly against the shelves they occupied. "We were complicated."

"Yeah, I got the Facebook update on that one…" Her brows hiked. "You know, she's been spending a lot of time with boy-next-door Matt Donovan lately. I can't blame her… It's a lot easier to date someone normal than it is to deal with all the witchy juju that comes with a warlock." She tipped her head, staring up at him, her dark curls tumbling down her bare shoulders. "Come on, just admit that you're having girl problems. We can bond over bourbon and I can give you advice. I've only had five hundred years of experience." She leaned in close and whispered, "I think I can teach you a thing or two."

He stared down at her, her bright green eyes glittering up at him. The tension was thick, overwhelming even, and he could feel heat prickling over his skin. His gaze dropped down to her mouth, watching it stretch into a grin. She had beautiful lips; full of sin and promise. She was nothing like Caroline; controlled, self-conscious, never-felt-like-she-was-good-enough Caroline, who only ever wanted to be loved and accepted for who she was. And she was nothing like Elena; empathetic, sacrificial, never-quite-sure-who-she-loved Elena, whose heart had trouble settling on just one person. Bonnie was smart and a little dark; she was careful about who she aligned herself to but protective of those she liked. She lashed out when she felt cornered and she could act more than a little superior when she felt she wasn't being listened to.

The first time he saw her, he could admit that his breath caught. She was beautiful and graceful and walked with the kind of hypnotic confidence that drew the eye. He'd been at the school, picking up Caroline from cheerleading practice. It was at the tail end of their relationship, when they realized that they were both falling for other people and only holding on to each other because they were familiar. It still hurt when she walked away, especially since he knew how she felt about his little brother. Stefan, the guy who, despite dating Elena, had Caroline tethered to him too.

Bonnie was new to the school, seemingly the same age as the girls around her, all of whom were happy to invite her to join the cheerleading squad after she'd impressed them with her supernaturally graceful moves. She walked beside new friend Caroline as they moved through the parking lot and when Damon looked up he found her looking right at him. If he'd had to describe her, it would have been the eye of the storm. The center of chaos; unrestrained beauty, power and control just waiting to explode and rain down vengeance and glory on all around her.

He still saw her that way, only now he had a healthy abundance of suspicion. He knew to steer clear of her, to be wary of her motives, to recognize that she would always be the predator and he the prey. There was something inherently sexual about that, though, and his body saw fit to recognize it at the worst moments. His mind, too. He'd been dreaming about her for months. Maybe from the very beginning, but more so lately. The kind of dreams that left him hard and aching, waking up in the mornings with his hand already shoved down his pants, pumping inelegantly as he closed his eyes and focused on the curve of her lips and the way she said his name, somewhere between annoyed and suggestive.

Things had been, unofficially, over with Elena for weeks now. They never quite put the nail in the proverbial coffin, but things were strained and they'd been intentionally avoiding each other for a while. She was going off to college in a few months and some part of him was relieved that he wouldn't have to see her as much. Well, as long as Katherine stayed out of sight. It surprised him sometimes, how someone like Bonnie —who, in the time since she'd returned to Mystic Falls, had nearly gotten herself killed more than a dozen times saving Caroline, Stefan, Elena, and even him— could possibly be friends with someone like Katherine. Sure, Bonnie could be reckless; she could tear out the heart of an enemy without flinching, would kill anybody that dared to threaten those she cared about. But the fact that she cared put her that much more at odds with who Katherine Pierce was. Or at least who he saw her as.

"What were you like?" he wondered suddenly. "As a human."

Bonnie's face cleared of its previously coy smile as she leaned away, tucking herself into the corner of the couch. "Why?"

"Curiosity." He shrugged, sitting back to face her. "Come on… It can't be that bad." He wiggled is eyebrows. "You aged nicely."

She snorted, a faint smile pulling at her mouth. "I was… young. Naïve… Lonely." Her amusement fled then and she pushed off the couch, making her way back toward the liquor cart. "I lived with my father just outside of a fishing village. People like us weren't… common to the area, so it was difficult to maintain any kind of life comfortably. But we had a small home, a shack really, enough for us to get by. My father worked a lot, and when he didn't, he was begging for work wherever he could. He tried so hard to keep a roof over our heads that I barely ever saw him…" Her lips turned down then. "I never knew my mother; she left when I was young, and my father… He didn't talk about her. For the longest time, I convinced myself that she never meant to leave. That something happened to her, but she would come back one day… She never did though. It was just me and my dad, and that usually meant I was left to my own devices."

He tried to imagine it, little Bonnie Bennett in the fifteenth century, smelling of fish as she helped descale and debone them. He tried to think of her on her own, putting on a show like she was so strong when she was really just a lost little girl, in need of parents who loved and cared for her. It wasn't that much of a stretch of the imagination to think of her telling her dad she was fine, she was okay, she understood why he was never around, all the while crying herself to sleep each night, sad and lonely.

The boarding house was abnormally silent then, as if his powers had reached out and steadied everything into stillness, his mind preoccupied with the image of her that his head had conjured. He was used to her being strong, untouchable, a backbone of steel that wouldn't bend for anyone. So the idea that she was human, fragile, fallible seemed so contrary to what he knew. But not wrong. She had to learn to be strong, to be stubborn and confident, and it made a lot more sense now.

He eyed her curiously, trying to meld the two images, and watched her chin raise up, her eyes taking on that steely glint that always made pride stir in his stomach. Bonnie was no wilting flower, even when Katherine or Klaus or any number of enemies came for her, even when they brought her to her knees, she faced adversity with bravery, willing to die as long as her head was held high. Her courage was unmatched and she was never more beautiful than when she raised that stubborn chin and stared adversity in the eye.

But thinking on that, on who she was now, only made him wonder what brought her there. What made her into the vampire she was? He had so many questions and he never realized until just that moment that he could actually have answers.

"So where did things take a bloody turn?" he wondered.

She cast her eyes away, looking at the fire for a long moment, and then she pushed up off the couch. Her voice was casual, devoid of the previous emotion as she regaled him, "It was 1493, I was nearly nineteen and I was on my way home from the market when I heard noise coming from an abandoned shed just off the main road…"

The shed was dilapidated to the say the least; boards were falling from it in various places, the door was barely hanging on, and the scurry of feet underneath told Bonnie that rats had taken up residence below. Curiosity had plagued her since she was a child, and this time was no different. Her father might have told her that it would only serve to harm her in the future, he would scold her for not thinking clearly, but that could not stop her hands from reaching up and pulling the rickety old door open. She climbed the dusty stairs and leaned forward, peering inside the shed to find a patchwork of spotty sunlight reaching through open slats and dark shadows penned up in the corners.

A girl was curled up in one such corner, her head bowed against her knees. The dress she wore was in tatters, dirty and torn. There were twigs in her long dark hair and mud clumped in various places. Even from where she stood, Bonnie could smell a pungent odor coming from her, as if she had been bathing in the leftovers of a chamber pot.

It was only concern for the girl's pride that kept Bonnie from covering her nose from the foul smell as she stepped inside, crouching down so not to scare her. She shuffled closer, peering at the girl and offering an encouraging smile when she looked back at Bonnie through the hair that fell over her eyes.

It was only when she was well within reach that she realized the mud that clung to the girl's dress was not mud at all. It was blood. Old and dry, it had darkened and stung the fabric with the terrible mark of death. Bonnie's first concern was that it was hers. That the girl had been injured or, more than likely, had her innocence stripped from her by some strange man who thought himself entitled to her body. Bonnie's stomach twisted at the very idea and her heart clenched with compassion. 

"My name is Bonnie," she introduced herself. "I want only to help you… Are you hurt?"

The girl did not answer, staring at Bonnie, her shoulders drawn in tight, narrow and trembling as her hands, brown with blood or mud or a combination of the two, tightly gripped her knees.

"Has a man done this? Were you attacked?" She stared at the girl searchingly. "Please, I can help you. I will take you home. I do not have much to offer, but there is food. Fish, mostly, and bread I made fresh this morning..."

The girl lifted her head a notch and, very slowly, turned to look at her properly. Under all of that grime, Bonnie thought she might just find a pretty face.

But the girl's lips trembled and her eyes closed, tears spilling down her dirty cheeks. She opened her mouth only to release a cracked, muffled noise, and then, in a voice heavy with turmoil, she whispered, "I am sorry."

Before Bonnie could ask her for what her apology was meant to atone for, the girl shed her visage of vulnerability and lunged from the shadows. She gripped Bonnie by her hair and angled her head back, her teeth hungrily piercing her skin and digging deep inside her. The pain was enormous; it throbbed from her throat and radiated down her shoulders.

Bonnie sucked in air, thinking to scream, but whether it was the rapid blood loss or the agony, nothing but a faint whimper left her lips.

Soon, she found her body beginning to slacken. She was slumped forward on her knees, her head lolling back, eyes set upon a hole in the ceiling of the shed. She could make out the clouds high above, slowly inching along the blue sky. She wondered idly if this would be her end. If her father might one day stumble upon her body, drained of blood, her curiosity having finally torn her from existence. A tear trickled from the corner of her eye, not for herself, but for him. He who had lost his wife and now too would lose his daughter.

And then, just as she was sure Death's fist had come to knock at her door, the girl released her terrible teeth from Bonnie's neck. Instead, she cradled Bonnie in her lap like a mother might a baby. Her chin was wet with Bonnie's blood; it leaked down her neck and dripped to the front of her chest, staining Bonnie's too.

"Are you afraid?" she wondered, peering down at Bonnie curiously, veins rippling beneath her eyes and atop her flushed cheeks.

Bonnie stared up at her, numb from head to toe. "I am not," she murmured. And she was not; in fact, in that moment she felt… content. Ready, even. If Death so wanted her, she would allow him to take her.

The girl, however, was not so keen to let her go, despite being the very reason that Bonnie's life drained from her. She stared at Bonnie, her brow furrowed thoughtfully and her mouth pressed in a line. She cupped Bonnie's face and let her thumb trace the apple of Bonnie's cheek delicately. And then, with no warning, she raised her own arm up and she bit into her wrist, spilling her own blood; she pressed the open wound to Bonnie's parted lips, where her breath rasped. Blood filled Bonnie's mouth and trickled down her throat, warm and thick, coating her tongue and her teeth. In a tired, dying haze, she swallowed it down, still struggling to breathe.

The girl began to hum under her breath then, a tune Bonnie had not heard before, a song in a language she had never been privy to. A lullaby, she thought, the sweet sound of a mother's voice reaching deep into her soul to caress it into slumber. The girl stroked Bonnie's hair back from her face soothingly, staring down into her eyes, a faint smile at her lips, and just as Bonnie was ready to close her eyes and accept her fate, she felt those same soft hands circle her neck and—SNAP!

Bonnie, now standing by the drink cart once more, finished off her second glass of bourbon, her jaw ticking at the memory.

"When I woke up, she was still with me. She told me we would be friends; that my kindness had spared my life and endeared me to her… She said that we were sisters now and we would watch out for one another; that I would never have to be afraid, because we would always have each other. She didn't know it, I was probably a means to an end, but I needed that then. I loved my father and I know he loved me, but there were days I forgot what he looked like, he'd been gone for so long… So, when she told me we would always be together, I believed her. We stayed in that shed until it was dark, and then I went with her. I left everything behind. I drank from a merchant in the dockyard to complete my turning and she compelled us a ride on one of the ships, to somewhere new, somewhere we'd never been before, somewhere we could start over. We spent years, centuries, exploring the world, compelling everyone around us to give us everything we could ever want."

She smiled, her eyes lost in the past. "Katherine was different then. She wasn't so… vindictive. When I knew her, she just wanted to live. She wanted to see the world, make it bend to her will, to find love and never let it go. She was wild, especially for that time, but she was free. I've never seen anyone so free…"

Damon watched her, the affection and the nostalgia making her look almost ethereal, her face glowing with wistful adoration. "You loved her."

"She was my best friend. My sister." Bonnie looked at him seriously. "I would've done anything for her."

"Obviously the sentiment wasn't a two-way street." He frowned at the fact. "So what happened? Why'd you two split up the band?"

With a sigh, Bonnie continued with her story, "Katherine didn't like setting down roots, so we'd only stay anywhere for a short time, move on before anybody got suspicious about how we never aged… It was surprisingly easy after a while. And fun. It was freedom in its most sincere form. And I loved every second of it… until things changed.

"It was 1864, and we were right here in Mystic Falls… Katherine had spun a story about being orphaned, her family killed in a fire, and one of the founding families asked her to stay with them. Giuseppe was a… stern man, but he was wealthy and he had two sons that he probably hoped would catch Katherine's interest. They did, both of them. Katherine can be… greedy. Why have one when you can have two? So she decided she would have them both and they would love her like she deserved. And one, Nicoli, the youngest, he did love her. He was devoted to her every whim."

"I think I see where this is going…" Damon said, watching her as she began to pace in front of the fire. He stared at her searchingly. "Giuseppe was an ancestor of mine… He was also a warlock. Which means he couldn't be compelled."

Bonnie nodded. "Katherine didn't know that. When she told Nicoli to do something, he did it out of love. She mistakenly thought it was from her compulsion. It wasn't until she tried to seduce the eldest son that she knew something was different about them. After countless rejections, she realized compelling him didn't work. She thought, at first, that it was vervain and she asked me to look into it. Given the time period, I was seen as the help, so I could blend in, move unnoticed around the house… I searched his room for vervain, but couldn't find any. I touched his things, but nothing burned, nothing gave him away. Katherine became obsessed; she needed to know why he wouldn't submit to her."

"She never suspected he was a warlock?"

"Female witches were far more common. Men were overlooked. They were accepted more by society. Women, if they stepped out of line, it was so easy to call them a witch, powers or not. Katherine had only ever known female witches. She'd never encountered warlocks before. We should have known. It was our mistake… We were too brazen; we thought we were untouchable."

"Giuseppe's eldest son, his name was Damian. I was named after him."

"Rinaldo Damian Salvatore, but he hated his first name, so he went by Damian…" Her gaze dropped, staring deep into the fire for a moment. "He was a good man… Kind. He never used his powers to hurt others, only to help them. He was practical and shrewd and…" She swallowed tightly before casting her eyes around the room. "This house was his, did you know that? The Salvatore's lived in the plantation house, mostly, but the boarding house was where they earned a lot of their income. Damian took over running it; he had a good head for business. Sometimes, when Katherine was busy, I would sneak away and stay here. It was quieter… There wasn't so much noise and…" Her lip curled in a sneer, "no expectations to bow in servitude."

"He left you the boarding house in his will…" He stared at her curiously. "You were… what? Lovers? Can't see that going over well with Katherine."

"We weren't. We were friends." Her mouth turned up fondly then. "Which I needed a lot more of back then. When Katherine asked me to find out more about him, I started working more at the boarding house and he went out of his way to talk to me. He treated me like a person. He never saw me as a servant, but as a friend… Damian was a good man." She turned to face him, her expression gentle. "You live up to his name, if you were wondering."

He had been, especially given how fondly she spoke of him, but he wouldn't admit it. "How'd it get turned around then? Giuseppe figured out what Katherine was?"

Her expression darkened. "He suspected something was off about Katherine… He was going on a hunch though, when he put vervain in the water. Katherine was smarter. She always was. Smart and cunning. She'd compelled the staff early on to keep her updated on the goings on in the kitchen. It wasn't the first time we'd had vervain served to us and she wanted to be prepared. One of the cooks came to her ahead of time and told her that something was added to the water, so she made sure that a second jug would be put near her and her glass would go untouched by vervain… And it worked, of course. As soon as she took that first drink, Giuseppe believed she was human." She paused. "But he was still suspicious and Katherine needed a scapegoat."

Damon's mouth turned down, the pieces falling into place in his head. "You."

"She compelled the servant with the vervain water to bump into me where Giuseppe would see us, so he would see that I burned where the water spilled on me. That way all of his suspicions would turn to me instead. It worked. Giuseppe knew I was a vampire and Katherine got to play the innocent victim who had no idea who she employed… The table was full of hunters and they surrounded me. I had no way out and they were all armed. They dragged me out and, if everything had gone to plan, I would've been stuck in that tomb with the others."

"But it didn't go to plan…" He half-smiled knowingly. "Damian got you out."

"He did." She nodded faintly. "He knew what I was. I never told him, but he knew. He snuck me out while everyone else was distracted and he hid me in the boarding house while the church burned. I knew I had to go, I couldn't stay there after that. Katherine had already left town, as soon as they dragged me away. She left a parting gift though, Nicoli was drained dry by the time Giuseppe got home. I went on the run and kept my head down, tracked Katherine for a while on a wild goose chase for revenge…"

"And Damian?"

"I visited him. He survived the war and carried on his duty as the remaining Salvatore heir. He married a few years later. She was a nice woman, Claire; a soft hearted witch from a neighboring town. They had four sons and they lived long, fulfilled lives…" She smiled to herself, lost in her memory. "I went to him on his death bed. He was still so handsome. And his eyes… They were still so full of life and joy. I thought it might be his magic that did it. He never really practiced much, only when it was necessary to help others. It was too out there for him, I think. But his sons did, and they were powerful. They helped me out of a few scrapes over the years. I promised him I'd always look out for them, for anyone in his line…" Her mouth twisted in a grimace. "That night that I bit Stefan, I didn't know who he was. He was just a handsome boy playing pool. I regret that. I didn't hurt him, I was careful, but Damian… he would have been disappointed. I never drank from him, from any of the Salvatores before Stefan. I made a promise, and I keep my promises."

Damon stared at her, looking so self-righteous and, in an odd way, frail. "Did you love him?" he wondered, an oddly hollow feeling in his gut.

She raised her chin and stared down at him imperiously. "I told you. We were only friends."

"You can be friends and still have feelings for him. Just means they weren't shared." He shrugged, raising his glass in cheers. "Trust me, I know how it feels."

She pursed her lips, her eyes turned away in thought. "Maybe. Maybe I could have, if things were different… In the end, he was the only one I ever trusted that deserved it."

Damon hummed, watching her stare off thoughtfully. "So he dies, leaves you the house, and you keep an eye on the offspring for a few decades, lose track of us, apparently, and then go off and do you own thing… What brought you back here? Can't imagine the memories are in your Greatest Hits collection."

"I pass through from time to time. It's been fifteen years or so now. I didn't recognize you or Stefan. You looked so different when you were little." She grinned then. "We met once. You probably don't remember. You were only six. You'd just gotten off the bus from school and you were walking home. You had a football with you; you took that thing everywhere. You kept throwing it up in the air and catching it, but you fumbled it—"

"And it fell into the street…" He nodded. "I remember. I ran out to get it, nearly got hit by a car. There was a horn honking… I closed my eyes and when I opened them, I was standing on the curb." His brow furrowed as the fuzzy memory became so much clearer. "There was a woman… I remember thinking she had the prettiest eyes. She scolded me for not looking where I was going, told me she wouldn't always be there to save me and I better smarten up." His mouth turned up at the corner. "Pretty… but mean."

Bonnie rolled her eyes, but her mouth tugged with a smile. "It worked, didn't it? You stayed alive."

"Always look both ways, too." He winked up at her.

She ducked her eyes and shook her head. "I came back because of Elena… I heard news that Katherine was back in Mystic Falls, so I came to see for myself. Imagine my surprise when I found Elena Gilbert instead. Looks just like Katherine, but that heartbeat is hard to ignore."

"I can see why you'd come and check it out, but why stick around?"

"I was curious."

"Or you were hoping if you found out about her that Katherine would too," Damon accused knowingly. "Maybe that wild goose chase wasn't so over."

"Sure, in the beginning I saw an advantage to the situation. But that was before I knew Elena. Before I got to know Caroline."

"And became besties with them, right." He snorted cynically. "How does a five hundred year old vampire relate to eighteen year old girls again?"

"I wasn't so much older than them when I was turned… They made me feel human again. Gave me someone to care about, to watch out for."

He clucked his tongue. "Well, considering Care's a vampire now, I might have to dock you points for the protection piece."

Bonnie winced and Damon found himself grimacing in regret.

"Sorry…" He frowned. "I know you care about her. I didn't…"

"No, you're right. I shouldn't have given her my blood. But… I couldn't lose her. I didn't think Katherine would push it that far. If anybody deserves to be pissed, it's me, not her. So where she gets off playing the victim card…" She shook her head angrily.

Damon leaned forward, dropping his glass to the table, and stood from the couch. He rolled the sleeves of his shirt up his arms as he walked toward her, even as a thudding in his heart reminded him that she was dangerous and he shouldn't be playing with fire. He wasn't sure what it was, anger at himself for so willingly walking closer even against instinct, or maybe just a desperate need to avoid the intense emotional outpour he'd unintentionally encouraged; he would happily blame either for what he said next.

"You know, now that I've heard all that, I've gotta say, your street cred is really shot."

She raised an eyebrow back at him. "Oh really?"

"Yeah, I mean… Poor, half-orphaned Bonnie back in the 15th century, just wants someone to love her, spends three-hundred-plus years running around in a semi-sapphic relationship with her best friend, then said bestie turns on her, nearly gets her killed, and she goes on to spend the next hundred and fifty years pathetically looking out for the family of the only man that cared about her, who she was too chicken to go after… Not looking so badass anymore, are you, Bennett?"

Bonnie turned abruptly and, before Damon had time to blink, she had him pinned to the couch he'd just left. She sat in his lap, her knees on either side of him, her hand balled up in his shirt, fist pressed atop his heart. "Do you know how easy it would be to kill you?" She stared at him searchingly. "You boast a good game with your grimoire and your little aneurysm spell, but remember something… I'm older and stronger than most of the vampires you've met. Those little games won't work on me." She leaned in, the tip of her nose dragging gently down his cheek. "If I wanted to kill you, you'd be dead… I could paint the walls with your blood. I could bathe in it. Lick it from my fingers as I tell poor little Stefan that big brother just couldn't stop poking the bear."

"Last I checked, you were more kitten than bear," he answered, meeting her eyes. His hands fell to the tops of her thighs and slid up to her round hips, dipping into her narrow waist. "Do you think about him, huh? When you look at me, is it him you're seeing? Damian…"

She swallowed tightly. The fire flared up in the grate, twisting and turning with a sudden influx of feelings on his part. Jealousy never looked good on him, he knew that.

He stared at her searchingly, his brow furrowed. "Is that why you do it? Why you spend so much time around me. Why you constantly second guess me. Why you watch me, all the time. You think I haven't noticed? How your eyes follow me everywhere, how you step in front of me when there's danger. I don't need your protection, but that doesn't stop you from offering it up. So what is it? You making up for lost time, instinct, what?"

Bonnie let out a long, shaky breath. Her eyes darkened, veins rippling dangerously beneath them. Her brows were arched and her lips were drawn back from her teeth in a ghost of a snarl. It should have disgusted him, should have reminded him of her dark nature and stripped any desire he had to have more of her, but it only served to ignite the blood in his veins, sending it spiralling through him with an unfettered need for more. She always did this, intentionally or not. She made him want her, made him crave her. Made him miss her when all he wanted to do was forget about the pint-sized little vampire that had invaded his life and his head and, though he tried desperately not to admit it, his heart.

"I said you lived up to his name, Damon, I didn't say you were him. I may be old, but I don't have dementia. I can tell you two apart by a mile."

"Then why?" He tilted his chin forward, until his lips were just a whisper from hers.

"Maybe I just like fragile things pretending to be strong," she murmured, sliding a hand up to his chin, her fingers delicately tracing his lower lip. "Pretty little warlocks playing at games they've already lost." She flattened her other hand against his chest, tapping her fingers in tune with his rapid heartbeat. "What kind of answer were you hoping for, hm? Did you ask about my life so you could find a chink in the armor, something to use against me when you don't need my help anymore? I'm not so easy to get rid of."

"Who says I need your help now?"

Her mouth turned up, amused, showing off a sliver of fang. "Is that what you want, little warlock? You want me to leave town, leave you to watch out for your very breakable, very human friends? Hm?" Her eyes widened. "Let them drain you dry looking for a way to keep Elena alive? Because that's what they're doing, isn't it?"

She shook her head knowingly. "Caroline left you for Stefan and Elena wanted you but loved Stefan but just as quickly fell into Donovan's arms. Don't get me wrong, I'll save her neck from the chopping block any day of the week. But at least I know that at the end of the day, any one of you would let me burn in the sun if it meant saving her. And there you are, so willing and eager to put yourself on the line for a girl you're not even sure you love. For a girl who's already moved on. It's a cycle with you, isn't it? It's like you look for ways to hurt yourself, to prove to yourself that nobody could ever love damaged Damon. Not since mommy dearest died."

He flinched, but Bonnie merely nodded. "You think I don't know your story? You were my job. Keeping you and Stefan and your uncle alive, it was all Damian asked of me. So I did it. And when things got tough, I showed up. I might want Katherine to pay for what she did, but I gave my word to keep you alive. So you can push and push yourself to save Elena Gilbert, and I will pull you away from the edge, every single time. No matter the cost."

Damon stared up at her, clenching his teeth tightly. "So that's it, huh? My own little guardian vampire?"

"A 'thank you' wouldn't be misplaced," she told him, pushing up so she was sitting atop his knees. "Didn't you have work to do?"

Before she could leave his lap, he squeezed her waist and pulled her back in. "Is that all it is? Huh?" he demanded, sneering with a misplaced flood of anger and jealousy. "Loyalty to him? Holding up a promise made over a hundred years ago?"

"What are you looking for, Damon?" she sighed. "A declaration of undying love?"

He shrugged. "If you have one to offer, sure."

Bonnie's eyes narrowed. She reached for him, hands falling to his shoulders and very slowly gliding up his neck. One hand buried at his nape, teasing his hair, while the other slid around to the front, her fingers tracing down his throat. "Is that what you want? Hm? You want me to love you?"

He watched her, his brows furrowed. "Would that be so crazy?" He raised a hand to twine a lock of her hair around his finger. "We have chemistry, sexual tension you could cut with a knife… We both just want someone we can rely on, who we can trust to stick around…"

Her eyes hardened along with the steely set of her mouth. "I'm not your consolation prize. I'm not going to fit into that Elena-shaped hole by your side. I can't be that sacrificial; if I was, I wouldn't have lived this long. The world is full of choices, some that benefit and some that hurt. When it comes down to it, I have to make the choice that lets me live another day."

"See, you say that… You say you're not the martyr, but I've seen you go head to head with your best friend of five hundred years to save Caroline. I've seen you tackle a werewolf so Stefan wouldn't be hurt. You've faced off against the Original vampires to keep Elena alive. You've stepped into the ring anytime anyone so much as glared in my direction. If it came down to it, admit it, you'd take a stake to the heart for any of us." He tucked his hand in her hair, curved around her neck. "You want to be strong, you want to keep your distance, you want to believe you can walk away from us, but the truth is, you can't. You spent too long wanting a family, wanting friends who would have your back, and now you have them. We're not perfect, some of us make really stupid decisions and do really stupid things to save each other, but we're all we have. And you're a part of that. You always will be."

"I can walk away." She breathed quickly through her nose, her chin wobbling. "I can leave you."

"You could…" He stroked his thumb over her skin delicately. "But you don't want to."

Bonnie dragged her tongue along her bottom lip, long and slow, before she bit down on it, staring at him. "You know what the funny thing is, Damon… You have a fickle heart. You want love, you're desperate for love, but you always pick people who are destined to leave you. You knew Caroline liked your brother, but you dated her anyway. You knew Elena wasn't over Stefan, but you still tried to get her to love you more. I'd put money down that every one of your girlfriends left you with a broken heart that you expected long before you were ever together. So this, you, wanting something with me… That's just an omen. A flashing neon sign. Maybe we'll last a few months or a few years, but eventually, something is going to happen. You'll sabotage us or you'll convince yourself that I love someone else. And then that family I had, those friends I gained, they'll all have to pick sides."

He shook his head, but she didn't let him argue.

"Stefan will pick you because you're his brother, Caroline will too, because she loves Stefan. Elena will try to stay neutral, but she knew you first, and, despite everything, she did love you. And then poor little Bonnie Bennett gets left out in the rain until some Big Bad rolls into town that your grimoire can't explain or get rid of. And you'll be knocking on my door, begging me to help because I have to still care. Because they're my friends too." She scoffed. "I don't need magical powers to see where that road leads. And the last thing I'm going to do is indulge it." She skimmed her hand up and ran her thumb along the line of his jaw. "But, because I'm a creature of curiosity…"

She pressed herself in close, her front fitting against him, back arched. She kissed his chin first, nipped at it, before she slid up and hovered just over his lips, breath warm against his mouth. She stared into his eyes before she tipped her head and leaned in. Their lips slanted together, warm and gentle, feeling each other out. And then he let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding and her tongue dabbed at the seam of his mouth. Soft and coaxing became hard and demanding in a split second. He slid a hand down her back, the barest skim of his fingers making her shiver, and then pressed his palm down flat against her, drawing her impossibly closer.

The pictures rattled against the walls, the furniture seemed to bounce in place, and the fire licked up the chimney chute, sending off bursting sparks.

Bonnie sucked on his top lip, her teeth lightly scraping, followed by the soothing sweep of her tongue. She tugged on his hair, directing his head where she wanted it, only to grin when he did the same to her. Give and take, back and forth, yin and yang. His hand slid beneath her tank top, fingers warm against her skin, and moved up her back.

He paused in kissing her, opened his eyes, and said, "Braless? You naughty vampire."

"Considering you spend ninety percent of your time going commando, I'm not sure you get to judge," she replied.

His mouth ticked up at the corner, lips swollen and red from their kissing. "Should I be flattered you pay so much attention to what's going on under my clothes?"

Bonnie rolled her eyes. "You should be flattered I pay you any attention at all."

He chuckled to himself, a low rumble from his chest, and watched her pupils dilate. He stared up at her as he started dragging her top up her body. "How far does this curiosity go, anyway?"

"How far do you want it to go?" she answered, watching his progress as her shirt paused just under the swell of her breasts.

"Well, since you've already mapped out the course of our doomed relationship…" His eyed widened for emphasis. "I'm guessing this is a one-time thing. What I'm wondering is if it ends at a really hot make-out that you quickly pretend didn't happen, no matter how many references I make in front of people. Or if this is a one night deal… No regrets, no take backs, no 'we never should have done this' in the morning…" He pressed his hands flat against her shoulder blades and brought her forward, until they were eye to eye again. "So what's it going to be, Bon…?" Entirely too serious, he wondered, "Are you going to regret me?"

Bonnie stared at his mouth for a long moment before she raised her eyes to meet his. "Regret and love go hand in hand. At least if I regret you, you'll know I really cared." With that, she took her own top off, tossed it to the floor, and leaned back in to kiss him.

He could have, probably should have, stopped her, told her that he didn't plan on being a name added to the list of people who hadn't been what she wanted or needed. That he wouldn't be like the father who was never home or the best friend who sacrificed her for herself or the man she could have, but never had a chance to, love. He wouldn't be the guy who only called on her when he needed her, or the friend who saw her as the wild card that would save them from any jam they got into. He wouldn't show up on her doorstep one day, years down the line, using old friendships or old promises to guilt her into helping him. And he wouldn't throw what time they did have back in her face so she wouldn't take her much deserved revenge.

He didn't know where this thing between them was going. He didn't know why he could always feel her in the room, like a bolt of energy connected them and pulsed every time she was near. He didn't know why, when shit hit the fan, his first instinct wasn't to make sure Stefan or Caroline or Elena were safe, but to see if their resident vampire, who was, by all standards, a lot more durable than any of them, was holding her own against whatever enemy they were facing that week. He didn't know why arguing with her felt so damn good. Or why hearing her voice simultaneously put him on edge and put him at ease. He didn't know why finally being able to touch her felt like a weight was lifting off of his chest, or why hearing her tell him their relationship was doomed before it started made him want to prove her wrong.

But he knew that it felt good, it felt right, to have her in his arms. He knew kissing her felt different from his previous girlfriends, it felt somehow new and comfortable at the same time. It felt like home and tasted like fire. He knew, as much as she was stronger and older and far wiser about all things supernatural, he felt equal to her in ways that he never had with others. He didn't feel lesser, like he wasn't quite enough, but instead like she was holding him up to a standard and he always met it. It wasn't that he could do no wrong, but that he actively tried to be the best of himself and she recognized it.

And he knew, if given the chance, he could fall in love with her. He was already halfway there.

There was a weird contrast between the heat coming off the fire and the cool quality of her skin. She was smooth and soft, despite her supernatural strength. There was a scar by her belly button that she must have gotten before she was turned. He rubbed his thumb over it affectionately, wondered how she might react if he laid her down and searched out every scar on her skin just to kiss them, to feel what old vulnerabilities tasted like on his lips, to suss out the stories between each very human interaction with the world.

She was so tiny compared to him, small and seemingly delicate, like lace interwoven with invisible threads of steel. He stripped her shorts off of her and the flimsy black underwear she wore beneath them before letting her sit, nude and beautiful, in his lap once more. His hands skimmed over her shoulders, tracing down her arms, his thumbs rubbing circles around the points of her elbows and the absent pulse at her wrists. He dragged his fingertips down her palms and traced the lengths of her fingers. He smoothed his palms down her sides, from her underarms to her hips, before he slid his hands up her front, over her flat stomach and up, up, to cup under her breasts. She arched into him, covered his hands with her own, their fingers slotting in between each other's. He briefly wondered what her heart might have sounded like, what it would have felt like under his hands or his cheek pressed to her chest. He wondered how warm she would have been when she was alive and if there was anything that scared her, anything that made her humanity shine all the brighter.

She released his hands so she could walk her fingers over his chest, her teeth pressed into her bottom lip. Her exploration was slow, her eyes taking him in with the reverence of someone who wanted to remember every small detail. She touched him like his skin was braille and her fingers were reading every line of him, the knowable and the unknowable. The parts of him he kept hidden behind bravado and sarcasm. The weaknesses he pretended didn't exist, like fear and want and hope.

Bonnie was confident, perched in his lap without insecurity or uncertainty. She was proud and beautiful and stunningly real. There was perfection in the imperfections. Honesty in old, long healed, scars. Her dark hair fell down her back, curling around her shoulders, soft around her face. She looked young. Even her eyes, usually shadowed with a past he couldn't begin to truly fathom. But there, in front of him, with her fingers memorizing the arch of his cheeks and the stubborn lines of his jaw, her eyes were bright with the kind of joy he'd long learned not to associate with himself.

He'd seen love. He'd seen it in Caroline and Stefan when they looked at each other. In Elena, first with Stefan and now, more recently, building slowly with Matt. He saw it in Vicki whenever Jeremy made her laugh. And he wondered, as he looked up at Bonnie, if his eyes were as bright as hers, as hopeful as hers were now. He wondered if his smile was as goofy as it felt, or if people looked at him looking at her and knew it was only a matter of time. He wondered if she'd been right all along, that he'd picked girlfriends knowing they would break his heart. And if maybe he'd done it because he was always meant to end up here, to find her, to love her.

Maybe that was life's fucked up offering for screwing them both over. Maybe it was life's way of giving her someone who would love her without reservation, who wouldn't turn on her to save their own skin, who would be there whenever she needed them. And maybe it was life's way of giving him someone who could love him as completely and as deeply as he needed. Who wouldn't turn their eye toward Stefan or somebody else. Who wouldn't run from the weirdness that was his magic. Who could, and would, survive anything the supernatural world had to throw at them and, judging the last two years, it was a lot. Maybe this was as close to balance as they could get. A vampire with a warlock, yin and yang, light and dark.

He was sure she wouldn't believe that. She was too jaded, too sure that love would only end in loss. So as he turned them over, pressing her down into the couch and settling comfortably in the cradle of her thighs, he decided that the only way to tell her would be to prove it to her. They would have tonight, with no regrets, and come tomorrow he would show her that he could be dependable, he could pick her first, he could trust and be trusted, he could love her and stand by her and never falter.

And he got that it was a big order to fill. It was a huge role for him to fit into. But it was one he'd always wanted. One he'd thought he was taking on but never actively put himself into for his previous girlfriends. Because he expected them to want someone else, to leave him in the end, so why put any real effort into being what they wanted or deserved when it would end in him on his own? It was a shitty way of looking at it and that was why he never tried to analyze it before. But that was what it was. There was no point in sugar coating it. He didn't want to make the same mistakes this time. He didn't want drop the ball before he ever picked it up.

Bonnie's legs wrapped around his waist, her ankles crossing at his back. She smiled up at him, one of her rare smiles; not a smirk or a grin, but a soft, genuine, happy smile. She laughed when he kissed her neck, teasing her skin with his lips and his teeth, nipping at her collar bone. She skimmed her fingers through his hair and stroked his shoulders as he kissed down her chest, licking circles around her nipples and tugging on them gently with his teeth. She arched up into his mouth, letting out a stuttered breath as he kissed around the curve of each breast, nuzzling against her as he licked down her stomach and kissed the scar on her tummy. She bit her lip as he untangled her legs from him and spread them open for him to nip at her thighs, kissing down, down, down, until he reached her center. Her head fell back as his warm breath fanned over her and he closed his eyes for a moment, just drinking in the scent of her. Her arousal was intoxicating and, for a moment, he was lost in a ripple of energy that made its way through his body and left him in a pulse, making the fire roar up briefly and the window panes rattle. She shivered, and he wondered if it was from anticipation or from the power surge she'd felt leave him and echo around them.

Pressing her knees back against her chest, he focused his mouth on her, licking up her slit and teasing her open, pressing suckling kisses to her warm, wet pussy. He liked the way she tasted, salty with a faint tang. He especially liked how she reacted to each flick of his tongue, on a mission to become intimately familiar with every inch of her. Damon had always been more about his pleasure than his partner's, but he recognized early on that it was always better to give if he wanted the return to be as good. In this instance, however, he wasn't thinking about how Bonnie might return the favor; instead, he was thinking about how beautiful her face looked when she was right on the edge. She watched him, her teeth digging deep into her lip, her fingers twisting around his hair, her hips rocking up to meet his tongue. She was all tensed up, every muscle coiled, and the more he licked her, the more he knew that her release was going to be stunning.

Bonnie was a master at restraint. She was stubborn to the point of confining herself. Be it blood or protection or sex, she held control. She never killed unless necessary, she always had a Plan B and a Plan C for any situation they got themselves into. And right then, as he was eating her out like a champ, she was trying desperately not to give up complete control and let him wring every last bit of pleasure he could from her. But if there was one thing they were evenly matched on, it was tenacity. Damon made it an art form, his tongue swirling and tracing and drawing across every inch of her, suckling her clit as he curled two fingers inside her and pumped them slowly. His chin glistened with her, his tongue firmly imprinted with her taste, and he stared up at her, his eyes bright and promising as he slid a hand over her stomach soothingly and focused every bit of his energy on making her fall apart.

Eventually, she gave in; she twisted and writhed, panting his name as he made her come, once, and then again, before he climbed back up her.

She hummed as he kissed her, tasting herself on his tongue, and wrapped her arms around him, gripping his back as she pressed herself to him, her skin warming from his body heat and the fire. He kissed her cheeks and her nose and her eyebrows, he kissed her chin and her neck and her shoulders, before he slid inside her slowly, inch by inch. And her mouth fell open on a sigh, her head pressed back against the couch, her eyes briefly closing.

"Beautiful. You're beautiful," he said against her mouth, tugging on her bottom lip with his teeth as he pulled out, only to dive back in, deeper and quicker.

"Damon." She grunted, digging her nails into his shoulders. "Like that. Just like that."

Bonnie knew what she wanted. She knew what she liked and what didn't work for and she wasn't afraid to tell him. She didn't muffle the noises she was making, letting herself get loud, cursing under her breath. She enjoyed herself, unapologetically, seeking out pleasure with every twist and roll of her hips. She grabbed his hips and directed them exactly how she wanted them, quickening and slowing his pace at her leisure.

If Damon believed in heaven, and he was never quite sure he did, but if he did, he would describe it as what he was feeling right then. Buried inside her, wrapped up in her arms and her legs, her breathy voice crying out against his ear, his mouth kissing her neck and her shoulders, panting against her. Her nails leaving little crescent moons in his skin and the way her heels dug into his back and his thigh. How tightly she squeezed around him when she came, the look on her face as her head fell back, and the silent scream as her orgasm tore through her.

Heaven was knowing that he gave her that blissed out look on her face, that satisfied smile that stole her mouth. It was how she kept moving under him, so eager for more, her hands digging into his and pulling him as deep as he would go while her teeth bit at his lips. It was how she stretched underneath him, hand curled around her breast, tugging at her nipple in time with his thrusts. It was knowing that they had all night, that eventually they would leave this couch and climb the stairs to her room. That he would be able to spread her out over that huge bed she called her own and taste every inch of her, from her ankles to her ears. And he was going to; he was going to make the absolute most of all the time they had before reality came swooping back in.

Bonnie gave as good as she got, turning them over on the couch so she was perched in his lap, riding him through her own orgasm and teasing him close to, but not quite letting him have, his orgasm. She kept it going, squeezing around him, her fingers smoothing over her clit and circling around his shaft at random. She watched his face for any sign that he was about to tumble over the edge and then she would slow down, rub her hands over his stomach and his chest and down his arms, soothing him even while she kept him teetering on the cliff of his climax.

It felt like it went on forever, the muscles in his legs and abdomen strained. And then she would pick up her pace again, moving her hips just right, until he was nearly desperate, fingers digging into her thighs, her name leaving his mouth, a litany. Finally, when he was incoherent with pleasure, she let him have it. She fucked him hoarse, their hands gripped together, her mouth working down his neck, incisors scraping but not breaking his skin. And he came whimpering her name, one arm gripped around her back, hand squeezing her shoulder so tightly it would have bruised a human.

Sweat cooling on their skin, they collapsed back to the couch, her head pillowed on his chest, ear over his heart. He stroked his fingers down her arm, his free hand peeling her hair back from where it was stuck to her skin, holding it up off her neck as he pressed a somewhat sloppy kiss to her forehead.

It was a few minutes before they could talk; his tongue felt heavy, stuck to the roof of his mouth, while the rest of his body was completely loose. He felt light enough, he wouldn't be surprised if he started hovering mid-air. It wouldn't be the first time. The last time it happened, he'd been dreaming about her, a hazy memory he couldn't quite remember when he woke, except for the way she smiled up at him.

"Your heart skips," she murmured.

"Hm?"

"Your heart, it skips when I walk into the room. It's a thing." She half-smiled, raising an eyebrow. "Should I be flattered?"

He stared down at her. "Do you always listen to my heart?"

"It's a good lie detector." Her nose wrinkled in the same way it always did when she was getting defensive.

"You didn't answer the question…" He traced his finger around her ear. "Mine specifically, or everyone's?"

There was a pause before she admitted, "I used to listen to all of them, in the beginning. But lately… Yours. Just yours."

"Hmm." His fingertips dipped down beneath her cheek and around the shape of her mouth. "What does Stefan's do when Caroline walks into the room?"

She went still for a moment.

"Or Donovan's, when he sees Elena."

He could feel the tension in her body, like stone on top of him.

"When I was growing up, my dad told me I was a dreamer," he told her. "I'm not like Damian. I wasn't practical. I was never happy with normal; I wanted something bigger than what life had to offer me. So I was glad when I found out I was a warlock, because that meant I was special, different, that I could make things happen that wouldn't if I was just some boring schmo… I bet you weren't like that. You never wondered about vampires or witches, you just wanted to exist, to be happy. And then Katherine came along and she offered you the world, and for the first time in your life, you wanted something for yourself, something you never let yourself imagine before. So you took it, you took the world by the horns and you bled that sucker dry.

"Then reality came knocking and all good things came to an end; Katherine turned on you and you realized that you weren't as free as you wanted to be. The one constant you had was gone and you had to figure out how to make it out there on your own. Which is why Damian mattered, because he showed you that people could still love you, could still be loyal to you, only he died and all you had was a promise you made to him and a house too big and too empty for you to stand being in for too long. So you wandered and you lived on your vengeance and you came home to check up on the Salvatores out of duty.

"Fast-forward a hundred and fifty years to where you see Elena, and it was like a second chance staring you in the face. She looked like your bestie, but she was better than her, kind like Katherine wasn't, sacrificial like Katherine couldn't be. The type of person who wouldn't let you take the blame for her mistakes. And you met me, someone named after the only guy you ever trusted, only I wasn't steady and predictable like good old Damian, so you weren't sure what to make of me. You weren't sure you could trust me… But I'm still here. Even if I know you could kill me, promise or not. Even if being with you means being just a little bit closer to death and danger. Even if I've spent my whole life expecting every woman I fell in love with to look for someone better. Even though I know getting you to fall in love with me is going to take work and I'm probably going to make a lot of mistakes that make you second guess whether I'm worth sticking around for."

He stroked a hand down her back and drew circles around her shoulder. "My heart skips when you walk into a room. I can feel you there before I see you. And I think, if your heart could, it'd do the same for me."

Bonnie turned her head, her chin balanced on his chest. "That's what you think this is? Happily ever after tied with a bright red bow? History's taught me it's never that simple, and as soon as you start to think it is, that's when it proves you different."

She tried to get up, but he pressed a hand to her back to stop her. In his defense, it wouldn't take much for her to get up, whether he wanted her to or not. She was stronger than him by a mile and, despite how much he wanted her to stay and talk, he wouldn't use his magic to force her. Still, when she chose to yield to his hand, it said a lot.

"I'm not saying it's perfect or it won't get complicated or that we won't fight, because it's not, it will, and we always argue, it's part of who we are. But I am saying that if you gave us a chance, we could be good. Better than good." He stared at her searchingly. "You don't need to decide right now. We have tonight even if you want to forget it tomorrow."

"You say that, but I know you, once you set your mind to something, you're a bloodhound." She pressed a finger to his lips to stop him from interrupting, "Pun fully recognized and ignored, shut up."

His mouth twitched in amusement, but he let it slide, nipping at her finger all the same. She raised an eyebrow, but merely tapped his mouth before drawing her hand away.

"I can be a little more focused than the average person," he admitted.

She snorted.

"It's part of my charm."

Bonnie rolled her eyes and tucked a hand under her chin, palm flat against his chest. "It would be smarter to just get this out of our systems and move on. We have bigger things to focus us. If you haven't noticed, this town is like a bad guy magnet."

"I have picked up on that, yeah… Which means we should probably enjoy the good things while we have them."

"Careful, Damon, I might start to think you actually care."

His expression was entirely serious as he stared at her. "Would that be so bad?"

"History tells me yes."

"Well, history blows. So why not make a new history, starting here, with us."

She smiled down at him faintly. "It's a tempting offer."

"I sense a 'but' coming, but I'd rather pretend it wasn't. So…" He reached up and brought her head back down to her chest. "Rest. We'll get a shower in a little bit, maybe something to eat, and then you can introduce me to that giant bed you have upstairs."

She was silent for a long moment. "And then?"

"Either we have one night, or we make history… You can decide in the morning."

She hummed quietly, but didn't say anything more. She did, however, snuggle a little closer, and he took that as a good sign.