Chapter 07: Choose Your Battle

Alaric stood between the kitchen and the living room, trying to figure out what he witnessed. He knew Damon had spoken with her when he snuck into her room through her window in order to get the doors unlocked so they could get back inside without raising her suspicion but he didn’t know what was said. As tempted as he was to try to plead for Stefan and Elena’s inclusion with the rest of their group, he knew that with what he’d witnessed so far with the changes in his niece, Bella would not be receptive at all to his presence.

Making his way into the living room, he found Bonnie flipping through her grimoire, Caroline painting her nails, with Jeremy and Damon watching a baseball game on the television. He went over and eyed his friend, still finding himself at a loss.

Damon looked up at him with a smirk on his lips. “How’s it going, Ric?”

“What are you up to?” Alaric asked instead, causing Bonnie to look up and around to make sure that Bella wasn’t nearby.

The vampire gave him the most innocent look he could muster. “I have no idea what you’re referring to. I thought I was called out to help with a Cold One problem. I’m working on it. You need to trust me,” he teased.

Alaric scoffed, pressing his thumbs into his eyes. “Why don’t you just tell me what you are planning. What did you find out this afternoon? Or better yet, how about when you were upstairs in my niece’s room?”

He raised his eyebrow and smiled. “Now why would I do that? We need to gain her trust and right now – the best candidates are Barbie and I. Myself more than Blondie. Don’t worry! I haven’t thought of sinking my teeth in your pretty niece’s neck – much.”

“Funny. Look,” he started before glancing around, “I just want this to be over with. I want to be able to give Bella some kind of piece of mind so she can start to heal and I can’t do that without knowing what the hell is going on around here.”

Damon stood and laid his hands on his friend’s shoulders. Looking into his eyes, he let out a sigh. “If there is one thing I have learned so far, it’s that Bella is a fighter. If there is something that you need to know and worry about, I’ll tell you. Deal?”

Alaric sighed in resignation. “I think that is the best I am going to get. So yeah, it’s a deal.”

Turning around, the vampire looked to the witch. “Any luck on the voodoo?”

“I’m still looking. I might have to get in touch with my Grams to see if she can tell me anything.”

Jeremy shushed them as he saw Damon’s face beginning to redden in his upset. “Chill. Bella will hear you and I’d like to hear the game!”

“Don’t make me break your neck again, Gilbert,” he threatened with a hiss. Looking to Ric, he pointed at him. “Go talk to her and get your shit straight so that she isn’t pissed at you. Let her take her issues out on my brother if she wants, but she’ll need you.”

Alaric looks towards the kitchen, an unsure expression crossing his features. “Right. Fix things. Wish me luck.”

“Luck? You need a fucking leprechaun buddy,” Damon joked as he patted him on the back before making his way to the recliner that Bella often claimed.

Glaring to his friend, he continued on until he found himself staring at the back of his niece as she moved around the kitchen as she prepared dinner for everyone. She was still, clearly, very upset as she slammed items around and closed cabinets with more force than necessary. He couldn’t help but have second thoughts to Damon’s suggestion. “Bella?”

The only response he got was the slight pause in what she was doing as her shoulders tensed.

He ran his hand through his hair with a sigh. “I’m sorry. I really didn’t know that they would all come out like this,” he quietly apologized. “There is so much going on here and with your dad’s murder…I called home for some advice. I really didn’t think…”

“Seems to be a lot of that going around.”

“What do you want from me Bella? I know I fucked up. I’m trying here,” Alaric pleaded with her as he fell into a nearby chair. “What can I do to make it up to you? Short of sending them back because I know they won’t listen to me as I didn’t ask them all here.”

Bella slung the frying pan in her hand down on the stove and turned to face him. Her face was carefully composed as she stared at him. “And why would you ask any of them here? Granted I can understand the whole Jeremy thing with his history about his parents that he told me, so I can let him slide. But I can’t see the reason for any of the others.”

His face pinched in a grimace as he truly regretted not being able to tell her what he wanted to, not sure if she was aware of the true danger she could be in. “I – can’t tell you. I’m still working on finding out the details but when I know more, I promise I’ll tell you but please, for my peace of mind, stay inside?” he asked her.

Her eyes narrowed on him, shaking her head and smiled to herself. “I’ve lived in Forks my entire life almost. I’ll be fine.”

“Bella – there’s been six deaths in the woods in and around Forks since I’ve been here. It’s not safe. Please. I don’t want to lose you too,” he repeated as he looked at her.

She couldn’t help but let out a sigh. “I don’t know Uncle Ric. You’re asking to change things that’s customary for me now. Give me time to think about it, okay?” she offered, her tone easing up as she relaxed slightly. “But I’m not going to change everything without justification. Now the food is almost done. I think you can finish it up but I need some space to clear my head so I’m going to go for my walk.”

Alaric went to open his mouth to object but quickly closed it before anything came out, knowing that she was right. If he couldn’t, or wouldn’t tell her why he didn’t want her out, then he had no viable reason to stop her. “Alright. Just be careful. We’ll be sure to save you a plate,” he agreed, reaching out to pull her into a hug. He couldn’t help but to smile when she leaned into him and hugged him back.

After he let her go, he followed and watched her as she grabbed her coat and left through the front door, but was curious about the look exchanged between Damon and her as she walked out. As soon as the door was shut, he looked to the vampire again who sat with a smug smile on his face.

“Well, I guess I will finish dinner,” Caroline piped as she jumped to her feet and started for the other room. Passing her sire, she smacked him on the back of the head. “You can at least go follow her to make sure that she doesn’t run into any trouble.”

“You know what? That’s a great idea, Blondie,” Damon said, standing with an exaggerated stretch. Pleased that his own plans were so far going as expected, he paused at the door. “You need to relax, Ric! I’ll make sure that I’m the only trouble she runs into!” he remarked, his eyebrows waggled suggestively.

Before the human could react, he took off in a blink, leaving Alaric standing in the house more worried than ever. “I’m going to shove a stake in that bastard’s heart one of these days,” he muttered.

“Don’t yet. You still need him and he’s purposely holding back information about these Cold Ones because of it,” Bonnie reminded him. “He’s playing his usual game, and unfortunately we have to play it as well in order to help Bella.”

“Maybe,” Alaric conceded eventually, once his temper calmed down. “But does he really have to be a dick about it?”

There was a pause of silence between each of them that the only sounds were of Caroline finishing up in the kitchen and the game on the television. When the player at bat got a hit and Jeremy threw his fist up in a silent cheer, he looked over at his guardian. “It’s Damon. You really have to ask that?”

~o.O.o~

Bella had made her way from the house, her frustration returning when she saw the two she’d dismissed not an hour before. She barely suppressed a growl as she glared at them, especially when Elena started to make her way for her only to be held back by Stefan. She couldn’t hear what was being said, but by appearance’s sake, she could see that he was clearly scolding her over something.

The corner of her lip twitched as it fought a smile. Continuing, she headed for the road, walking away from the house. Once she was out of immediate eyeshot, she begun to look over her shoulder frequently to see if Damon would soon be following behind. He had hinted that he would join her once she left, and she certainly wanted more answers.

She made it maybe three-quarters of a mile down the road with still no sign of him behind her, that when she turned to face forward again, she let out a breath and stopped short as she blinked at the sight. There he was, leaning casually against the trunk of a rather large maple tree. “How did you…?” she started to ask as she looked back behind her, blinking again as her mind sped to process what she knew.

What she knew was that he was clearly still sitting back at the house, watching the game with Jeremy when she left. That there was, in no humanly way that he could have made it to that point ahead of her. Her eyes glanced around and there were no cars parked and he was not out of breath if he had attempted to run that length of distance.

Damon looked up from his cell phone that he was playing a game on and smiled. “How did I what, Princess?” he asked. “Beat you here? That was easy.”

Bella kept her distance as she stared at him. Everything in her screamed out the threat that he posed but what she knew of the supernatural world, he didn’t fit. Running would be pointless if he was capable of moving that quickly. “What are you?” she demanded, her heart picking up in speed.

“Ooh, so quick. I can practically feel the judgment beginning and you haven’t a clue just how small you are in this big, bad world,” he boasted, slowly making his way to her. He circled around behind her, the movement causing her heart to skip a beat and sparking curiosity to rise in him.

“You are so – different. You are very good at controlling your emotions, Gorgeous. I was even surprised at your ability to keep your heart as calm as you had earlier,” he whispered into her ear as he pulled her hair back from her neck. There was that skip in her heart again and it made him smile. “You tell me, Isabella. You know exactly what I am.”

She glared up at him as he backed away from her, his smile so smug that she had the urge to smack it off of his face. The whole event felt like a replay of a sick memory from high school that she’d rather not relive. “Is this some sick joke to you? You said that you wanted to talk, so talk. Otherwise I’m going to go back to the house and tell Alaric that he can have his buddy find other arrangements to stay somewhere else.”

Damon’s smile fell, as did his arms to his side as she wasn’t up to playing along. He sniffed at her ultimatum and rolled his eyes. “Fine. I said we needed to talk. You have some dangerous secrets you’re keeping from your uncle and I want in.”

“I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about,” she denied, turning on her heel and started to head back to the house. In a blink, Damon was in front of her again and she stood frozen as he was before her with a wry smile on his face.

“As I was saying, I want in. If you think those shifter mutts are capable of taking down a dancing disco ball that’s obviously been eluding them for the last five years, then you’re sorely mistaken,” he finished with his arms crossed, waiting for her response.

All Bella could do was continue to stand there, her face carefully controlled as she stared back at him. However, her thoughts were running a marathon as they repeated his words unendingly. He knew what the Quileutes were, what Victoria was. No amount of denying would deter him from his knowledge, she could see. His capabilities that he’d already demonstrated in front of her already shown that he was something other than human.

“What are you?” she asked, her voice soft as her eyes stayed on him, perceiving him as a new threat.

“What do you think I am, Princess?” he smirked as he walked closer to her, causing her body to tense and step back. “Oh come on! If I wanted to hurt you, I could have fed and killed you and you wouldn’t have been able to stop me, Bella.”

His smile darkened as she visibly faltered as he knew that his choice of words would have struck a chord with her. Her eyes flickered over him and shook her head, still stubborn as she met his eyes. “No. You make it sound like you’re a vampire but you can’t be,” she argued.

Damon chuckled as he scratched at the corner of his eye, stopping just before her. His blue eyes drank her in, drawing in a deep breath and smiled at her scent. “Oh, but I am. What you know of vampires, are just pitiful imitations. Parasites if you will. Cold Ones like to flaunt themselves to make themselves seem more than what they are but in reality they are nothing more than walking insults to the truth. I’m the real deal, and if you want to get rid of the one that is giving you problems, I can help.”

Bella swallowed as she raised her chin, refusing to back down. “What makes you so much better than them? You say you’re a vampire, but all you’ve done is just make some creepy gestures that any horror movie obsessed freak could pull off. Granted the speed thing is a bit over the top, and – questionable…”

“You want proof?” he asked, almost demurely as he eyed her. He looked over her head, his gaze flickering past her to the road as his cocky smile lifted the corners of his mouth. “There is a car coming up the road. I’m feeling rather…parched. I think I’ll have myself a snack.”

She was silent as they stared one another down, a wordless duel for dominance in whatever messed up relationship they were searching for. Soon the sounds of the car reached her human ears and she balked first from the battle of wills, turning to her face to the direction of the car. In a blink she was moved from the middle of the road where they stood and found herself behind large bushes, out of immediate eyesight from the pavement.

Bella was able to see Damon as he was lying in the middle of the road, careless to the approaching car. He lifted his head and wiggled his fingers at her before resting again just in time for the vehicle to turn the bend. Recognizing the car immediately, she was tempted to stop what was about to happen but the more sadistic side of her held her back.

She wanted to see this strange new vampire and his claims.

As Jessica Stanley and Lauren Mallory jumped out of the car to check on the seemingly unconscious man, Bella couldn’t help but shake her head as she heard their comments about his being ‘hot’ and other lewd remarks before questioning what to do with him as he started to act as if he was coming to. Crossing her arms, she watched on as they helped him up, leaning him against the front of the car while they fawned over him to make sure that he was unharmed.

Damon smiled and winked over in Bella’s direction before he turned to Jessica and looked her in the eyes. “You’re going to be fine. You won’t scream,” he said, his voice soft and alluring, before repeating a similar mantra to Lauren.

The girl in the woods watched on as his face changed and he bit into their necks, his red eyes and black veined face looking over at her as she stared at him in a stunned silence. Pulling back, he licked his lips from the crimson fluid and grinned. As fast as it happened, his face was as human and smooth again, only smeared in blood before he bit his finger and forced a small amount of blood into the girls’ mouths. “You don’t remember stopping, you don’t remember seeing me. You both partied too hard and got a little rowdy with one another. Go home, take some iron, and clean up,” he said as he compelled them, stepping back as he watched them get back into the car.

As soon as they pulled away, he started for Bella, surprised to find her standing her ground as he approached in his bloody appearance. “Need anymore proof, Gorgeous?”

Her eyes dropped to his lips and the blood covering his chin, as it coated his neck. Blinking, she let out a breath. “You’re a messy eater,” she stated.

Damon froze at the unexpected response, cocking his head to the side. “I’ll admit, it was a bit exaggerated,” he drawled. “Though I was worse in the past. Mostly I drink from blood bags, or an occasional human. I’d be happy to drink from only you and leave everyone else if you’re willing,” he smiled, waggling his eyebrows.

“I think I’ll pass,” Bella answered as her eyes grew, first in fear, then in curiosity. “I do have a question. How are Jessica and Lauren both still alive?”

“Unlike your parasite friends, real vampires don’t have to kill our meals. While we could, and I’ll admit that I’m no angel, we don’t have to. We are capable of making our meals forget about our encounter and have them go on their merry little lives,” he answered with a satiric smile. It soon became softer as he bent his knees to come to her eye level. “I won’t hurt you, I promise you that. As much as Ric gets on my nerves, he’s my friend and you’re important to him – which means that you’re by proxy, important to me. Now, are you going to include me in your delusional little plot or not?”

Bella was slow to nod her acceptance, watching him as he turns to start walking away from her. “Hey! Wait! Are there more of you here?” she asked, her brows furrowing.

Damon stopped short, amused by her want of information. “Actually, yes, there are,” he admitted, turning to look at her again. “You’d be surprised just how well we blend in – and how well you are able to pick up on certain vibes. You, Bella, are an intriguing woman. What is it about you?”

“Who?” she demanded, ignoring his curiosity, blinking as the memories of the Cullens and her own particular ability they claimed continued to haunt her.

“You play hardball, don’t you? Here’s the deal. I’ll be frighteningly honest with you, as long as you don’t hold anything back from me. I don’t give a shit if you keep your secrets from Ric and the others, that’s between you and them. Hell, it was actually Ric and my pansy brother that called for me because they are in way over their heads with the Cold Ones. I do things my way and they don’t like that, but with you… It will be you and I against them, no holds barred. Agreed?” he proposed, his arms spread out in an unspoken gesture that she was able to read all too clear. What you see is what you get. He wasn’t planning on hiding anything from her.

“Deal. Now who is what?” Bella blinked, not quite prepared for blatant response she got back.

“Stefan, Elena, and Caroline are like me, vampires. Bonnie is a witch, quite a juju force to be reckoned with. Jeremy is a lowly human, but in the know. Your uncle, dear Alaric, is a hunter of sorts. He pretty good at killing my kind of vampire but knows we all aren’t that bad.”

She turned and moved slowly to lean against a nearby boulder as the weight of everything came crashing over her. “I’m hosting a fucking supernatural convention at my house,” she mumbled to herself.

“On the bright side, I already have Witchy working on a spell to keep out Cold Ones from the house that works similarly to the invitation mumbo jumbo that you need for us. You would have to invite one of them inside before they can enter. Caroline has been on protection detail when you’ve actually decided to hang around since they’ve arrived and not invited Saint Stefan and his pet inside. Kudos on that, by the way,” he grinned, making her glare back at him.

“Why are they so insistent on my inviting them in? Those two were nothing but asses?” she wondered aloud.

Damon shrugged a shoulder, appearing next to her. “Who knows. To them, I’m the bad guy most of the time. Even if I do have more experience, I never do anything right in their eyes. In this case, when it comes to walking disco balls, you have to fuck with their heads in order to get the upper hand. That just happens to be something I’m very good at, and I have experience with them.”

Bella pulled in her bottom lip as she looked around at the darkened woods. Any other time, she would have been nervous, frightened, that Victoria would be close by, ready to grab her. With Damon there, even as much of an irritating asshole as he had been thus far, she felt several degrees safer. “You’ll tell me more about your kind of vampire, right?” she asked, her voice dropping as it barely carried through the quiet of the breeze as it swept through the trees.

“Of course,” he said after a breath. “If you tell me more about your Cold Ones and how you ended up in this mess.”

The idea of letting someone else in on her history was something that she had a great deal of trouble with. “I became friends with a group of them that were living nearby,” she said, leaving out some details that she felt were too private. “At one point a group of nomads came through and one took a liking to me, and they managed to chase them off but one came back and they killed him but his mate has been coming around since, looking for revenge I guess.”

“And this – group of Cold Ones? What happened to them?” he asked gently, looking at her as she avoided his gaze. He could see the pain in her eyes, and the rage. He already knew, simply by the fact that she was dealing with the problem still, but by what he had learned through his observations of her with the shifters.

“They left, lost interest as their kind do I suppose,” she murmured, her fingers picking at a loose thread in her jeans. Drawing in a deep breath, she looked up at him and smiled. “I think we should head back.”

“Sure, but we have a few things to gloss over first, Princess. First, do you want to let everyone know that you are aware of what they are? Or let them continue to think you’re naive to their game? Second, your plan for the parasite. I overheard it while you were talking to your doggies. I don’t like it. Not an iota. It won’t work and it will only get you or one of your friends killed if you insist on going through with it,” he warned her.

Bella’s nerves got the best of her and she shot to her feet and shoved past him, pissed off at his demands but with everything she just learned, she could no longer ignore what he was saying. Turning back around again, she had her arms crossed across her chest. “You have a better idea? Tell me. What is this marvelous plan of yours?”

He wavered as he thought about how to truly answer. Damon slowly moved to come in front of her again, the dance she’d slowly become familiar with that evening. “Well it’s not like your idea is completely bad. There is no such thing as a bad idea. Only poorly executed awesome ones. Revenge is something I am very good at,” his voice husky, dripping with untold promise. “I will help you get your revenge on anyone your heart desires. Just say the word.”

They were caught in a stare down, a battle of wills as his icy blue eyes attempted to capture reigns of deep brown that had a fire lit brightly in them. Her head cocked to the side as a smile dangled at the corner of her lips, making him pull back as he raised an eyebrow curiously at her sudden change in demeanor.

“What if I were to ask to be changed? Would that be included in this deal?” she questioned, her eyes dropping down over his form rather predatorily that he had to remind himself that she most certainly was still human.

“Perhaps,” Damon answered slowly, curious now as to why she wasn’t a member of the supernatural world more than she was already. The sudden flirtation from her end was nothing short of suspicious. “I’m game to lend a helping hand with that, so if it’s something you want, we can start precautions considering that your life seems to be a constant code red.”

He saw the immediate backtracking in her eyes as her smile faltered. “Hm, and it wouldn’t entail three days of burning in the firey pits of hell?”

“Now what would you know about the burn, Princess?” he teased as he moved closer, standing over her to regain the power he previously held.

“I know enough, but if you must know, I had the pleasure of starting that process before their venom was sucked out,” she sneered as she waved her wrist up in his face, causing him to grab it quickly.

His eyes locked on the scar before moving up to meet hers. Bella never removed her gaze from his face, noticing as the muscle in his jaw twitch. Any and all sign of amusement gone from his charming features. “Does this have something to do with your asking if I’d change you?”

“Perhaps,” she countered, challenging him again, using his answer that he’d given her.

The corner of Damon’s lips twitched again before he brought her wrist up to his lips. His ears picked up the change in her heartbeat and they pulled back into a knowing smirk. “You’ll be relieved to know that our transition is much less painful,” he confessed, stepping into her personal space. “All you would have to do is drink my blood and I kill you. A couple hours later, you wake up and snack on a tasty human to complete the cycle and presto! A new baby vamp is born.”

“I have to drink your blood?” she repeated, her face paling at the idea.

“Yeah…drinking blood kind of goes with the territory of being a vampire. Like I said before, if it’s something you’re serious about, I would start you on it now as a precaution. On the plus side, you won’t have to worry about injuries or getting sick until you do turn,” he explained, confused by her reaction. “Don’t tell me that the girl who ran with imitation vampires and face werewolves has issues with blood.”

“Shut up!” Bella snapped at him, shoving him away from her. “You’re such an asshole!”

“That’s me, Gorgeous,” he grinned. “I recommend you get over this aversion fast because with what I’ve observed of you so far, I have the feeling that you’re going to need my blood.”

“I’ll think about it,” she glared at him. “Come on. Let’s get back before my uncle and your retarded friends burn down my dad’s house.”

Damon held out his hand as he zipped in front of her. “Shall we take an evening stroll or would you like the express route, mi lady?” he asked, waggling his eyebrows. Bella couldn’t help but to let out a laugh as she gave him her hand, shaking her head, wondering what it was she was getting herself into – and confident she was going to enjoy the ride.

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